Saturday, February 26, 2011

Where Mental Illness Comes From © Megan Snider

"(...)And if you hate me,
Then hate me so good that you can let me out
Let me out, let me out
'Cause it's Hell when you're around."

--Damien Rice, "Rootless Trees" (Click to listen)

Neurologists, psychiatrists, and doctors all fail us. Sometimes they may be able to tell us what is wrong when we tell them where it hurts, but when we point to the brain they are mystified.

I have a firm opinion on the origin of mental illness which I will share with you. I believe that all mental illness is borne of fear, helplessness, and hopelessness. I once recall explaining to someone that if a Schizophrenic runs out into the street screaming, he is not doing so out of a demented urge to hurt another human being—he is doing so out of fear and desperation.

The actions of the mentally ill are scrutinized and scrutinized over and over and constantly labeled incorrectly without any care for the sufferer or the stigma placed on him for his condition.

Nothing is scarier than watching, knowing, and waiting as your whole world shrinks around you, as relationships are ruined, as your mind is attacked day after day for and worried raw for hours on end. Nothing is worse than losing your faith in doctors, science, and medications when they are the only things that can supposedly help you. After a while of seeing all your options fail, you are only full of wailing and wasted dreams. The gleam in your eye slowly dulls and you become a prisoner, wrapped in chains of fear and tethered to walls of agony.

The origin of all mental illness is fear—not perversion, not deviance, and not the ravings of a warped mind. It is unbearable to be so crushingly gripped by terror all the time. Your heart pounds too fast, your mind races, all concentration is gone, and all semblance of a normal life leaves you. Mental illness is an all too intimate acquaintance with terror. The tangles roots of which slowly climb the length of you until you are completely engulfed by them. You are immobilized, agonized, torn apart, labeled by the psychiatric and medical society, and made to feel as if you are an exhibit in a modern day freak show.

The sensationalist media confuses us about mental illness, until we routinely believe that everyone with a mental illness is a violent threat, secretly wanting to kill us. This could be no further from the truth. Words like “psychosis” become misunderstood and overused buzz words. How many people actually know that psychotic people are not normally dangerous—and if they are it is usually first self-inflicted?

All people with mental illness want out. They want out of the confines of their brains which torture and terrifies them. It haunts them and hunts them down. Who wants a life like that? I dare anyone to openly admit they would like to be shut up inside the confines between the space of their ears for an eternity.

I’ve seen bumper stickers that proclaim, “I do not suffer from mental illness; I enjoy every second of it.” This statement was obviously written by someone without mental illness and carries the same stigma and degradation that the mentally ill are used to. They are made fun of and labeled because they are misunderstood.

Making fun of mental illness is right on par with making fun of cancer. Both are uncontrollable and eat you alive. Mentally ill people have to juggle a complex and scary relationship with their own psyches when all they really want is to be let out of their own version of a private Hell with room for only one.

© Megan Snider

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bipolar Disorder and Impulse Control © Megan Snider

“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It's a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.”

--Carrie Fisher

This is my second edition of this blog as the first one mysteriously dissappeared on my laptop. Be gentle with it.

People are under the misconception that people with Bipolar Disorder move through life exhibiting “Happy Exhibit A” and “Sad Exhibit B” when in reality this could be no further from the truth. Bipolar Disorder is a complex illness and at its root, as that of any mental illness, is a complex host of twisting and turning emotions that are tangled into a web of pain and agony that stretches across the person’s whole persona. They do not roll out of bed one day cuckoo happy and go to bed the same night sobbing uncontrollably.

A lot of people also make the mistake that mania is a happy time for Bipolar people. However, mania is not synonymous with “happy”. Mania can be a very threatening and scary time in a Bipolar person’s life where they are unable to connect events in any meaningful order and instead the world seems to have been turned on its head. Interpersonal violence and assaults can occur during this time that would normally never happen. Bipolar people emerge from their manias shocked and deeply hurt by what they have suffered through.

Bipolar people are not beings with predetermined emotions that feel happy one day and sad the next. They are often highly sensitive, creative individuals with deep longings and yearnings to be fulfilled. During mania they cannot understand the world around them, they have a classical lack of insight that is seen with mental illness, and may internalize perceived gestures as slights and offenses when in some cases there was absolutely no catalyst for the action.

I use this analogy a lot when dealing with mental illness. Going through a cycle of mental illness is like losing your eyesight. I remember vividly getting my first pair of glasses and putting them on. Suddenly I could see! But, before that I had had no knowledge that I had been unable to see and had been pressing my nose up to the T.V. to see my favorite shows. One day I did not wake up with perfect vision and the next wake up with damaged eyesight. It is a gradual slipping process. You begin to lose your footing somewhere along the way and signs are harder to make out. After a while everything is fuzzy and all you know is that things are making much less sense.

Fear, desperation, hurt, agony and confusion all build up within the Bipolar psyche. Over time these feelings metastasize and choke out the good aspects of a Bipolar person’s life. Conversations may become one sided; empathies are divided down the middle. Bipolar people may only see the world as rallying against them and everything they stand for. Paranoia and fear grip them as hard as icy death. Well-behaved gentlemen and ladies become caricatures of their former selves and may become isolated and overwhelmed with emotional stimuli.

Risperdal (Risperidone) is a medication particularly effective for the anger-fueled manic. It is used to treat Schizophrenia, Bipolar mania and aggression issues in children of the ages of 12. It can help suppress the paranoia, deep hurting wounds and anger that arise out of full blown manias.

I encourage you if you know a Bipolar person or a mentally ill person to talk to him or her. Society has let them down, medication has let them down, and doctors set up to help them have let them down. They have few outlets, resources and methods of release. Sometimes talking, even though the conversation may be skewed, would be enough to help one mentally ill person shoulder his or her burden alone. Let them know you care. Bipolar Disorder, like every other mental illness, has no cure. There are attempts to control or suppress it but the effectiveness of these methods hinge solely on the individual, the therapy and the medications prescribed. Don’t mislabel or misunderstand mental illness. Sufferers already undergo enough stigmatization as it is.

© Megan Snider


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mental Illness and Demonology © Megan Snider

"The tendency to turn human judgements into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world."

--Georgia Harkness

To begin with, let me fully state that I do have religion and believe in my own personal God. However, I do disagree with the church's inability to recognize and ease mental illness. The Bible commands us to care for widows, tells us lepers were healed and the blind made to see, but little is broached on the subject of mental illness. We see demon possession in the Bible and many pastors and church goers wrongly turn a case of mental illness into a case of demonic possession.

Let me emphatically say that mental illness is both a serious physical and mental condition. It should be given the same consideration, care and empathy that cancer, moral wounds and traumatic injuries are given. It is just as grievous to live with a mental handicap as it is to live with a physical handicap.

There are a lot of people that say to me that if I have enough faith, I will be delivered. The problem then becomes my heart and not my brain. Would someone be as so cold as to suggest to a cancer patient that they are withering away and dying because they simply do not have enough faith? I believe in miracles and divine intervention, of course, but I also believe in science and methodical thought. If you were ill with a disease which there was a medication for would you go to the pharmacy and retrieve the medicine or would you pray away your fever? I think a combination of both would be sufficient.

I do not believe people with mental illnesses are inhabited by the devil no more than I believe someone with any other disease is inhabited by him. This is a tragic mistake to make that further stigmatizes the mentally ill and causes them to lose what frail hope they grasp on to in their lives.

I will say that it does certainly feel like your life has been taken over by some demonic force if you battle with mental illness. The blow of the diagnosis, the struggle of each day that goes by, the suffering, the loss of function, the loss of joy and stability and pride all work together to crush your spirit. It feels like you no longer may exert control over your life, but rather it is being sabotaged by some unseen agent and every time you try to remedy your dire situation you are sent reeling backwards, deeper into a pit that you could never hope to climb out of.

The light for those of us with mental illness is already sufficiently dim. Do not lower its level even more by suggesting that we are of demon seed or devil spawn. This is inaccurate, untrue, ignorant and simply cruel. Do not cast the blame for the disease on the one that is suffering. Do not make us search ourselves with any more anxiety and fear wondering if we perhaps have been not only cast of by the "normal" perimeters of the world and of those of heaven as well.

Keep your faith, if you have it and keep it even closer if you are mentally ill. Seek all the treatment you are able to. Supply yourself with enough courage to get through each day and do not be ashamed of your failures. Each victory, no matter how small, should be celebrated as a milestone. Even if one day you are well and the next day you are sick again, do not blame yourself. You are not evil. If you truly believe the human being was created in God's own image, then how can you be?

© Megan Snider