Saturday, October 14, 2006

You'll never guess my secret identity...

At least, I hope not.

I've been watching "The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive", and it's amazing.

Actor Stephen Fry made this (BBC) documentary about his and others experience with bi polar disorder. My bf got me a copy and it's almost TOO much to watch. I have been pausing it again and again, so I can absorb what came before. There are a variety of experiences described in the film, but in particular, Stephen Fry's description of his particular brand of depression has been a bit like hearing myself talk.

I was diagnosed bi polar II (a less mania oriented version) late last year, and as much as I am ambivalent about that diagnosis, it fits me to a tee. It explains why I have been able to experience crippling depression right before or after being on top of the world. It explains why I get amazing flashes of inspiration that seem to grip me from head to toe and will not let go. It explains why these things hit me one after another in a seemingly endless and self-perpetuating cycle, time and time again.

When I worry that I will never be normal, I remember that I never have been normal, and that I quite like it that way, thank you very much. But having a brain disease (as a true depressive or mood disorder is) is not cool. I mean that in the literal and figurative senses. While I was nearly always glad to share my depressive history with people, I have been far more reticent to share my newest diagnosis. I don't feel very good about it (although I am trying valiantly to not feel shame), and I've had some poor reactions when people have been told. Granted, all of the poor reactions were from people for whom I have little respect, but still. Doesn't make me feel very confident about sharing.

In the first hour Stephen Fry asks a man who was driven to throw himself in front of a truck during his most intense manic (to the point of psychosis) episode if he regrets being this way, if he'd change the fact. The man says no - he has "walked with angels", and that has made it all worth it.

Well, I haven't walked with angels, or indeed seen anything really amazing *but not there* in my time, but I think I wouldn't change this if I could. Okay, maybe if I could go back in time and grow up as an average (read: non-depressive) person, I'd do it. But right now it's difficult to imagine my life moving forward without the bursts of energy and the creative periods. I do wonder though, what my life would be like if those periods of creativity and motivation were not interspersed with periods of intense depression and the recovery time that follows. I also get angry. Angry that I wasn't diagnosed sooner, that I was left to twist in the wind for so long. Angry that I am "sick". Angry that I wasted so much time in the past year being sad and confused.

Alas, that doesn't get me anywhere. So pick myself up, dust myself off, and move on.

Stephen Fry introduces his documentary by saying he hadn't spoken out about his bi polar disorder for more than 10 years, but felt it was time to do so. I'm taking his words to heart - I won't wait 10 years to talk about it. A few weeks ago I found out that an acquaintance of mine is a mental health worker, and we struck up a conversation about outreach. I know at some point I will do some kind of community outreach, but I don't know what form it will take.

What is really nice about this documentary is that it is a personal journey, and a quest. Not a dry recitation of "this is the diagnosis, these are the symptoms, this is the medicine one takes", but rather a really interested look at what it means to be bi polar. One of the things that makes me so angry about our health care system is how it medicalizes mental health care. I'm beginning to believe that us bi polar folks end up thinking a bit differently than most people (not better nor worse, just differently), and while meds can help mitigate extreme highs and lows, they aren't going to 'fix' other problems. Having medications can be essential, but talk therapy (GOOD talk therapy) is what kept me alive this year when little mattered to me.

Torrent-y types will have little problem finding this on the intraweb. Highly recommended.

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