Oh, those wacky bipolar performances!

In a recent article I addressed the challenges of “coming out” in public.  Do you tell people you’re mentally ill and face the resulting backlash?  Or do you pretend that everything is normal while still displaying symptoms?  Neither seem like a good option, and there’s no third choice.  I’ve also mentioned how much I admire Carrie Fisher (as well as many others who speak in public about mental illness).  Her straightforward attitude regarding her struggles gives me a great deal of courage.

carrie fisherMs. Fisher was briefly hospitalized recently after an incident on a cruise ship.  According to reports she appeared drunk, her behavior erratic.  Was she drunk?  Maybe.  Or she might have been on one of any number of mood-altering drugs commonly prescribed to bipolar patients.   Look at these headlines:

Carrie Fisher Heads To The Hospital After Her Wacky Bipolar Performance On A Cruise Ship! (Perez Hilton)

Carrie Fisher briefly hospitalized after bipolar episode during bizarre performance on cruise ship (NY Daily News)

Vs.

Carrie Fisher briefly hospitalized (CBS News)

Carrie Fisher discharged from hospital after bipolar episode on cruise ship (Toronto Sun)

Arg.

I can not speak for Carrie Fisher.  But I have taken a drink more than once. I don’t like alcohol and I hardly ever drink socially.  But when the anxiety of a manic phase becomes too much, when the buzzing gets too bad, I have few options.  Narcotics?  Sure.  I have bottles full of the things, a different color for every occasion.  Problem is, one pill can last for hours, sometimes days, long after the symptoms have worn off.  In almost all cases the side effects from a tranquilizer are much worse than the symptoms of mania.

bacardiberry5 Alternative?  A shot of Bacardi.  I was doing that LONG before I was diagnosed – all through college in fact.  For a while I was worried about becoming an alcoholic.  I used to just grab a fifth and down a few swigs.  Yeah, Janice Joplin lite.  The effect is nearly immediate, it doesn’t last nearly as long as pills, and I can FUNCTION.  The buzzing emotions calm down.  Now that they’ve started flavoring the rums, it almost tastes good.  Sort of.

Of course, there are a few downsides to this.  Empty calories for a start.  During my heavy drinking period I pudged out quite a bit.  Not pretty.  And, of course, alcohol is addictive.  Once you reach the point of addiction any benefit a person may receive from doing a shot is negated.  Now you have two problems – you’re still bipolar and now you’re an alcoholic.  Joy.

There’s also a third downside which only becomes apparent as the cycle progresses.  I only need to drink when I’m manic.  I get the jitters, I start to spaz, I need to calm down  fast.  But when the mania phases into depression… then what?  I start to feel awful, I reach for a shot.  And I immediately feel worse.  What makes the manic phase bearable makes the depressive phase a living hell.  But it’s not always obvious when the phases have switched, except in retrospect.

 
we Carrie Fisher, wherever you are this morning, I salute you.  As always you give me courage.  Courage to write, to get the word out, to continue to champion the cause of those who struggle with mental illness.  It’s not a sexy fight, but hey – someone has to do it.

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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.