We are not alone

PrincessAt age 11 I was hooked on classics.  No, not Bach.   Asimov.  Heinlein.  Bradbury.  I was heavy into Science Fiction then as now.  May 25th, 1977 was the day everything changed.  That’s when Star Wars came out.  I pity anyone who hasn’t seen it in a theater.  That first scene, when the Star Destroyer goes overhead, the audience looked up.  The damn thing was so big, the shot so amazing, so convincing, we were sure it was only a few feet over our head.  3P0 walked, talked and worried.  And a lovely princess stood up to a black beast and made us all cheer.  NOTHING would ever break this girl.

CarrieI’ve had an intellectual crush on Carrie Fisher for 36 years.  When I heard she was Bipolar I was horrified.  She was diagnosed in 1980, but didn’t accept the diagnosis until 1985. There she was, bright eyed, that lovely voice rolling with laughter with an undercurrent of steel that helped the Rebels win, telling the entire world not only that she had a severe mental illness, but she was fine with it.  It’s one of the things that makes her who she is.  She’s not blowing it off, but she’s dealing.  Not only that, but she’s being honored for that fight.

Princess Leia and I fight the same battle.  Every single freaking day.  Way to go girl!  She gives me hope.   (Notice how I avoided “A New Hope”?  I hope you appreciate the self discipline that took.)

Brandon MarshallIs sports more your thing?  Let’s talk football, and another inspiration of mine.  Brandon Marshall, the former Denver Bronco. You might think he’s an odd choice, as he was essentially run out of town.  Drafted in 2006, he was charged with misdemeanor battery in 2008 (jury found him not guilty) and arrested for disorderly conduct in 2009 (charges dropped).  When he played for the Dolphins he was stabbed in the stomach by his wife.  The Dolphins traded him to the Bears after he was accused of hitting a woman in the eye.  Why does he inspire me?

Brandon Marshall suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, which is another issue I suffer from as well.  And let me tell you, I HATE that name.  You can’t imagine how many times I’ve been asked if I’m “borderline crazy” and when I’ll know for sure, one way or the other.  Ha. Ha.  It is to laugh.  BPD may have the silliest name of any mental illness out there, but it is a very serious disease.  It’s defined by black-and-white thinking.  You love someone one day, they’re your bitter enemy the next.  There is NO gray area whatsoever.  It leads to very intense, highly unstable relationships resulting in, among other things, a lot of job changes if you’re not diagnosed.

But Brandon Marshall IS diagnosed.  It took a while, and 2 jobs, but he got there.  He’s even married still.  Considering the strain BPD puts on all relationships, that’s a miracle.  *applause*  He told the press in 2011 not only that he has it, but that he hopes to spread awareness about BPD by becoming a spokesperson for the illness.

Royce whiteFootball isn’t your thing?  How about basketball?  Another name has been added to the list of heroes, and I’m so proud of this young man.  Royce White, rookie player for the Houston Rockets.  Talk about gutsy!!  He didn’t just tell the public he’s mentally ill (he suffers from an Anxiety Disorder).  He told the Rockets, with quiet dignity, that a mental illness is exactly as legitimate as a physical one.  He has special needs, they need to be addressed.  The Rockets disagreed, a labor dispute ensued, he was suspended for 3 weeks.  He held his ground.  On January 26th 2013 Royce White was reinstated, the two having come to a “mutual agreement”.  He put his entire career on the line to prove that mental illnesses are legitimate, and won.

weWOW!!

Princess Leia can handle this.  Brandon Marshall is dealing with it.  Royce White just fought so people after him might be taken seriously.  I can do this.  So can you.  We’re not alone out there.

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Today is my Birthday

A few years ago we were encouraged to keep a journal, under the assumption that 12 months later so many unexpected things would happen that the journal would offer powerful insight. 12 months after that challenge was issued, they were right. I was startled by the unexpected results, in that hardly anything happened that year of note. Of course… that was the last year I can say that about, but I digress.

At the moment I feel something similar. One of my primary and least likely goals was to survive 10 years after my diagnosis. Today is the anniversary of that 10th year. During the last decade I tried to imagine this day and always came up short. In many of my therapy sessions they’d ask “where do you see yourself in a week? A month? A year? 10 years?” I could never answer.

So here I sit, trying to somehow take an assessment of the last 10 years and what it all means. And I find that instead of a raucous celebration, I feel an odd sort of numbness. A bewildered sense of “now what”? I have climbed the mountain. What do I do next?

I suppose I should start with the obvious. My diagnosis is, specifically:

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) AKA “rapid cycle bipolar” (ok, I admit it. This is in ADDITION to the Bipolar I diagnosis, not instead of)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Prosopagnosia (face blind)
  • Anterograde amnesia
  • Degenerative Disc Disease in 5 disks
  • Possible stroke (undiagnosed)

Looking over this list, my knee-jerk reaction is to strongly advise anyone who enjoys good health to thank God every single day, and never take a moment of it for granted.

But what else?

I’m typing in the dark. The sun is setting but I haven’t opened the windows yet. Everything in this house is designed to combat heat and the Great Oppressor who delights in cooking us daily. Because of this, the only light source currently is the monitor. Looking down, I can see the scars that cover my arms in stark 3-D. The left arm is Much worse than the right, because I’m right handed. There’s a large round scar on the back of my left hand, and criss cross lines moving from wrists to elbow. The darkness does not reveal similar scars covering both legs, from knee to ankle. Most of these were inflicted in the first two years after the diagnosis, which means the freshest is 8 years old. Even still, they’re dramatic. Especially in this light.

Why the hell would anyone do that to themselves?

A mental illness acts on its own accord. Just as a tumor grows and gets larger without asking permission of the body it inhabits, so does a mental illness act without asking permission of the host. The best way to describe it is a parasite that occasionally takes control.

The Beast within makes a person numb, controls the exterior, including speech and motion. One way to bring myself, my lucid self, back to the forefront was by pain. If I could just FEEL something, my true self would react.

In this way, I fought for my life. I brought myself back. And then retreated. And brought myself back again. And on and on. It’s not the story of my life. It’s actually the story of my death. Whatever had been me died ten years ago today. The scars are her epitaph.

What came after? For a time there was the crucible of simple, pure madness. One that proves Nietzsche was right. After that was silence. A stillness of mind and body that, in retrospect, has more in common with death than life. Gestation, perhaps.

What do you think an infant experiences as it’s born? Discomfort certainly. The area is too small, and it can’t breathe. The lights are too bright, and it’s cold. There’s pain, and noise, and a desperate unhappiness that an uncongealed brain simply can’t take in. And so it wails, a piercing sound of confused betrayal.

That’s what happened when I woke up. It was sudden. It came with a question. “Wait, how can that be right? This doesn’t make sense, because …” This phrase ushered in everything I am now. It took maybe six years, and some part of me wonders if I shouldn’t be starting the first grade this September. In a certain way it would make sense.

Ten years. I have survived, and to what end? I used to think that Earth defined the pointless. That humans only existed to breed. A life, a death, the species propagates, and who cares? But now one thing I’ve come to understand is the journey. The part of this which can not be seen, unless gifted with a very special vision.

And that, at last, is the point. The answer to life, the universe and everything. The understanding of the journey, the paths that have been travelled, the promise of the destination, the lessons learned along the way.

Unless I had died, I would have no chance to live. August 17, 2001, was the best day of both my old and new life. It took ten years to understand that. But what is ten years, when on the path?