I’ve struggled with whether or not to pursue this task, this endeavor, to write about this subject of the troublesome and at times tormenting thoughts that inhabit the minds of those that suffer from [a few of] the forms of mental illness or behavior disorders—most particularly schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, told from the “insider’s point of view.” Pondering the challenge of approaching discussion about these illnesses in a way that might become meaningful to “normal” people—those that don’t suffer from these often thought “peculiar” or merely “overly exaggerated quirks”—has caused me great pause.
One thing I’d like to make clear, first off, is what most of us consider to be “thoughts” are those workings of the mind over which we have control, instigate, or entertain intentionally. That’s not what I’ll be talking about here, for the most part.
What I will be touching upon briefly are racing thoughts, imagery, sounds and, yes, even voices that daily run the minds of many individuals…all against their will. Much if not most of the time, these goings-on in the minds of people that suffer from one of these fairly common illnesses are unceasing; obliterating the ability to concentrate, create, or even carry on a regular life. Ironically, sometimes this cacophony of the mind, which can give way to remarkable expression, is often beautiful and, typically, heartbreaking.
In a world where so many people declare to “be” or “have” ADHD or BPD, and even claim these as some badge of distinction, those that actually bear with these maladies would do pretty much anything to be rid of their affliction. Interestingly, our society has largely remained indifferent to mental and behavioral disorders in general; fear and/or disdain are still very real and very much the widespread view. Even still, much of our population balks at the validity that such illness truly afflicts individuals in a measurable way. And, if general, public ignorance isn’t frustrating enough for these individuals, more and more lazy people that simply don’t want to work and contribute to society are asserting some disorder for their “inability” to hold employment, but to draw government subsidies and welfare. It’s true a few bad apples can spoil it for all. It seems you’ve got to appear “crazy” if you want to be lazy in today’s society!
Arguably one of the cruelest ironies that remain in a society that decries prejudice and intolerance is the perpetuation of outdated and exaggerated stereotypes by the entertainment industry. There are quite a variety of comedies or dramas that depict sufferers of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other behavioral or mental diseases with such atypical characters that continue to distort public perception in a way that only nurtures the apathy I’ve mentioned previously. And don’t underestimate the powerful influence the media—news or entertainment—has over public perception and belief.
The drama, Black Box, starring English actress, Kelly Reilly, visits the life and mind of Dr. Catherine Black, a talented brain specialist, with bipolar disorder. Dr. Black’s brilliance, in part, is attributed to her regular disregard for medical prudence by discontinuing her own prescription drug regimen in order to “experience her BPD unmasked” and maintain some sort of on-going sensitivity to her illness at its very core. Of course, her history of non-compliance with her psychiatrist’s orders causes Dr. Black major other problems in her life all around. The TV show, Perception, starring Eric McCormack, centers on a—you guessed it—brilliant neuropsychiatrist who is a “highly functioning schizophrenic,” using his own, personal history of schizophrenia to aid the FBI in solving cases. In Silver Lining’s Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper both gave very convincing performances of two individuals living with BPD, the disruptive nature of manic-depressive mood swings that accompany the disorder, and how this relatively common, chemical, problem can significantly dishevel a person’s life and even the lives of his or her loved ones; but how well did this film effectively raise public awareness toward real understanding tempered by compassion?
This is not to say the general public—at least in part—hasn’t grown in awareness of bipolar disorder, ADHD, ADD, or even schizophrenia, or even increased in sensitivity; these have almost become buzzwords in their own right. But when one delves deeper into these all-but-ignored mental illnesses, one can easily ascertain for his or herself such alertness is superficial at best and only serves to make light of a very serious problem within our society.
Sadly, the prevailing attitude of, at least the American general public, seems to be one of apathy. Most people just don’t seem to care: don’t care to know or learn about it, don’t care to deal with it, and don’t care to make accommodations in their lives or communities for “crazy” people. At least this has been my observation.
The truth is the knowledge or awareness of these and other more complex mental disorders has existed among our population for generations. However, their incidences have long been regarded as oddities better left hidden or not spoken of except in psychiatric institutions or some other “appropriate” seclusion where the risk of their coming into light can be kept at bay. Many have frequently ascribed mental illness to “chemical imbalances” in the brain; this vague, even noncommittal, assertion has fallen under much closer scrutiny.
Modern-day brain and medical science have confirmed what many psychiatrists have long suspected: namely, that mental illness is highly hereditary—not at all unlike cancer. The growing theory among the psychiatric community is there are viruses dormant in everyone of us—kind of like the virus that causes cold sores—that bring about or cause mental illnesses but tend to manifest in only a relatively small percentage of the population. Oddly enough, this theory has been around for more than a few decades.
Now, I neither want nor intend to come across so preachy; that’s really not my aim here. But what I do want to do is safely invite you inside the minds of a couple of individuals that live—and deeply struggle—with thoughts that control and beguile them toward self-destruction. I often think of this kind of brain disharmony as being like temptresses of self-destruction, seducing these victims—prisoners—of brain chemistry to seek seclusion or even death in order to escape scorn and the psychological pains of what is truly, for the most part, inescapable torment.
So, how do we gain empathy for someone suffering from an affliction that is alien to us? How do we acquire even an inkling of what it must be like to “walk in the shoes,” of someone who is mentally ill when mental illnesses are so elusive in nature? How can a person do this without spending a great deal of time researching how such persons live, struggle, and survive?
One way, I feel, a person that is open to broadening his or her mind and understanding what it’s like to live with mental illness is for that person to “see” into the mind of individuals that have expressed some of those tumultuous thoughts that lead to or accompany radically fluctuating emotions and behaviors. In the interest of time, I have included the thoughts of two individuals I’ll call John and Tabitha. These expressed thoughts and feelings are brief, not narrative. These are typically blurbs, if you will, that have been jotted down in an effort to gain some sense of focus or control over the jarring, racing thoughts and their resulting feelings. Many of them might seem odd or nonsensical to you; but I urge you to open your mind to comprehend and your heart to feel. John and Tabitha’s names, here, of course, have been changed to preserve their privacy.
John, bipolar disorder patient.
“It’s the never-ending pursuit of that elusive something or someone, which always seems to have just barely slipped around the next corner…and the equally persistent—yet evasive—hope that I’ll catch up, and the apprehensive chase will come to an end.”
“I feel like there’s got to be someone that I can talk to about my feelings and that by so doing the persistent-yet-evasive hope can or will be relieved. I feel this almost constantly, but I get caught up in day-to-day activities and “forget” the apprehension for a short period of time…and when I pause, the pressing urgency of that evasive hope returns.”
“It’s not just about anxiety, but it’s also about agitation. Sometimes it’s almost as if I’m trying to suppress an explosion; siphoning off pressure bit by bit.”
I’ve been hearing music in my head. Not like what happens when you get a song “stuck in your head,” but audible music, as if coming from just the next room. It can be quite maddening. I guess I should enjoy it. It’s better than when I hear voices. Fortunately, the times I do hear voices, they’re not taunting me or telling me to do things. It’s more like echoes from the past; coming back around from somewhere in space. I can’t really understand conversation or anything, but I do hear different voices—and they’re not my own. Trileptal has helped with these disconnected thoughts a fair amount.
“My life feels like a neuron misfiring to a phantom limb that’s never been there …where success, can never be reached, just like that limb that can be felt and yet doesn’t exist.”
[[Author’s note]]: Notice the lucidity of John’s next comment:
“The most troubling aspect about anxiety disorder is how absolutely convincing of their accuracy do the feelings of pointlessness and hopelessness manifest…to the point of seeming undeniability…coming dangerously close to victorious conquering over caring for, or preservation of, self.”
Tabitha, MDD and schizophrenia patient.
“Each of my days is an non-stop back and forth between glints of promise that would give me hope, and crushing hopelessness. I see other people living apparently normal, productive lives, and I momentarily feel like I, too, could have that…only to be “knocked back” by that hopelessness “volley” again and again…”
“A Thousand Loose Threads”
I have this very real fear I will always (subconsciously?) be unable to carry out any admirable pursuit in life, because I have somehow been deeply conditioned to make a detour somewhere along the way; a detour that never leads back to the path from where I departed. A thousand loose threads; none of which are connected… except to me.”
“I don’t know if I’m getting worse or it’s just that my meds have become less effective, but it’s getting to where my thoughts get away from me. Ex: I’ll be praying (silently) and next thing I know I’m talking about something odd and unrelated; not even praying anymore. But this happens in other circumstances, too. It’s like my thoughts are being hijacked.”
Depression especially strong this morning.
“What a terrible trap this is…a prison really. I can’t escape. I can’t simply leave. My presently pointless existence apparently is integral enough for my sudden departure to inflict undue pain on a select few. The other day, ______ said the reason my (former) best friend (diagnosed ADHD) no longer wanted to be my friend was because of my frustrating ways and personality. I don’t blame anyone or place any fault. Still I wonder how I could be so misplaced. I don’t belong here.”
In the essence of time and space, we’ll need to allow these few examples suffice in order for you to get at least a glimpse into some of the discord that is very characteristic of the minds of sufferers of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder. I hope this article has sparked in you a degree of compassion and understanding in you that could change your point of view of how you perceive and regard people that suffer from these very real illnesses.
You know? It’s ridiculous to think, with all of the sickness and disease the human body can acquire, the brain would somehow be exempt from illness. And it’s especially ludicrous—and not to mention downright ignorant and boneheaded—to think people that suffer from these psychological problems are somehow deserving or at fault.
You wouldn’t tell a friend or other loved one with cancer to “just deal with it,” now would you? Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other such mental disturbances are just as real…and yes…just as serious.
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