Author: Lisa Graas
•10/02/2002 05:57:00 PM
Shawn McElhinney writes on his blog....

and I respond....

Thanks, Shawn for encouraging me to do this. It was a good idea.

It would seem that a lot of people became rather upset by the comments I made on my blog about "Catholic Bipolar Disorder" as diagnosed by Dr. Greg Popcak. Even my closest friend (a Popcak fan) didn't "get it" when I became upset about it. I am confident that everyone who is open-minded, somewhat intelligent and compassionate may be able to see if they will only hear me out.


There are some key components to the problem which, if ANY ONE of them had not been present, I would NEVER have gotten so upset. (1) Dr. Popcak is a professional in the field of psychology; (2) Dr. Popcak is widely read; (3) the term "bipolar disorder" was used rather than a general reference using the word "bipolar" which is a word that can apply to many things; (4) Bipolar disorder is widely misunderstood (and I do not know of any work that Popcak has done to dispel the myths about bipolar disorder); and finally (5) twenty percent of bipolars commit suicide and this is largely due to the combination of the illness itself and the lack of support (misunderstanding) we receive from family, friends, the culture and the medical community. My doctor is wonderful. Many are not. Please note that before this happened, I had never read anything by Popcak but I respected him because of things I have heard about him from other Catholics.

Bipolar Disorder used to be termed "manic-depression". Due to the fact that the vast majority of people misunderstand the illness, a stigma became attached to it. Therefore, the name was changed to "bipolar disorder". Well, guess what. It is still misunderstood and there is now a stigma attached to it, and so now they are thinking of changing the name to "Van Gogh's disease" since the painter Vincent Van Gogh suffered from it. (If you'll remember from the old Don McLean song, he committed suicide. "Starry starry night..." and all that.) Since I mentioned Van Gogh, I can mention the GOOD PART about having bipolar disorder. Bipolars are generally (not always, but generally) more intelligent and more creative than the average person. I have consistently scored very high on I.Q. tests since I was a child and that does not go away when I take medication to deal with the bad stuff, thanks be to God. While only 1% of the population is bipolar, the percentage of bipolars in the community of famous creative and inventive people is much much higher. Bipolars have contributed much to the world. Even so, the name keeps changing because no one cares enough about people with this disorder to take the time to learn about it. Misunderstanding leads to abuse and rejection from the people you love which, in turn, leads to suicide. Misunderstanding is a very important topic when it comes to discussing this disorder, because it is the worst part of having the disorder. When you have an illness that makes you think you are not loved, it doesn't help to have people abuse you by saying you are not really sick and should "lighten up" or "get off your butt".

Bipolar disorder is genetically inherited. There are at least four people in my extended family who have this and none of them are people I was exposed to when I was growing up. I was not "influenced" by family members who have it. They have the gene and I have the gene. It's as simple as that. It is caused by an inability of the brain to "uptake/re-uptake" certain chemicals in the brain that affect mood and other things in the body.

I do not care to go into all the symptoms of bipolar disorder when this is so easily found out in many places on the internet. If you would like an explanation of bipolar disorder that is interesting, informative and written in laymen's terms, please see The Mercurial Mind, a website that is noted as one of the best sites for educating the average person about this illness. My symptoms are somewhat like what you will find on The Mercurial Mind site, however some of my symptoms are different and more severe. I believe the woman who testifies on the site has been diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder which is a milder form of the illness. My diagnosis is Severe Mixed Episode Bipolar I Disorder with Mood-Congruent Psychosis. That is not just something I got out of a textbook. It is what I live on a daily basis. It is the name that the medical community has given to the hell that I have lived for much of life.

Thankfully, I have mood-congruent psychosis rather than mood-incongruent psychosis. With the latter, you begin to think that the federal government is sending helicopters to your house to take you away and things like that. When people who have this illness, and certain other chemical problems in the brain, believe such things, it is not their fault. You wouldn't blame someone dying of cancer who hallucinates, and yet you (some of you) will say that bipolars "just want attention". It is the disorder that is to blame and not the person. Unfortunately, the person does get blamed most of the time. As my husband has told me, "If you had a broken arm or something it would be different because I can see that. I can't see this because it's in your head." It is also difficult for people to understand how it is that you cannot control your behavior when it is "in your head". Psychosis means that you lose touch with reality and believe things that are not so. It has nothing to do with willpower. Some bipolars have described it this way, and I would agree. "It is as though you are sitting back and watching yourself do things that you don't want to do, but you have no control over it." Sometimes I do things and then, two days later, I look back on it and realize that I was not in my right mind. Then I have to go back and repair the damage that I did even though I was completely insane when I did it.

I have pressured speech. When I am doing the laundry, I might shout out, "Damn you, Lisa!!!" Usually, that's what I say. "Damn you, Lisa!!" It comes out of nowhere. I have NO control over it. Lots of people blurt out things they don't mean to say. This is not like that. I have even thought at one point that I might be possessed by a demon. It is like another entity has taken over my body and speaks "Damn you, Lisa!!!" It is frightening. Very frightening. I never knew with certainty what it was until I learned about bipolar disorder.

I have violent jerking of the body -- sometimes my arm, sometimes my leg, sometimes my whole body at once. This is another thing that made me wonder if I might be possessed. Now that I am on Lithium, my body no longer jerks but I have tremors that are sometimes so widespread in my body that my body actually vibrates. I feel like a LazyBoy recliner, especially when my toddler sits on my lap. She likes the fact that mommy vibrates. I do not.

Most people who are bipolar swing between mania and depression. Some cycle rapidly (swinging from month to month). Some are ultra rapid cyclers, swinging from week to week. Some are "ultra ultra" rapid cyclers, swinging day to day. I am "mixed episode". I have symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously throughout the day, every day, without a vacation ever. I have extreme fatigue ( a symptom of depression ) but also body jerking ( a symptom of mania ). I have an inability to concentrate (depression) but floods of ideas (mania). I am sometimes irritable and can be downright demonic at times. It's not my fault. When I say it's not my fault, people grumble. They think I'm lying. They think it's a cop-out, as if I actually ENJOY living in this hell. I will never understand it as long as I live, but I trust that it is for a reason that I have this, so that God may be glorified in some way, and for that, I am grateful that I have it.

Speaking only for myself, I am happy to be misunderstood. I am grateful for the opportunity to suffer in the abyss of loneliness which comes with depression and then to have others pile more pain of loneliness onto it as they reject me. Mother Teresa said that there is no greater pain than the pain of loneliness, but you see, it is in suffering that we are brought closer to God, and since my pain is often that of loneliness, I can rest in His closeness to me because He gives back to me much more than I have ever lost, and I know more bliss than any of those who may persecute me, so I truly feel sorry for the ones who misunderstand and persecute. I do. It is a great source of sadness to me to see people persecuting others, however, because I know they (the persecutors) are missing out on this gladness that I have found in the arms of God and they are also piling pressure to commit suicide upon those who know neither understanding nor God, hence more suicide. They don't commit suicide because they don't want to live. They want to live. They commit suicide to end the pain.

It is not my pain that I cry out for. It is the pain of those VERY VERY MANY bipolars who do not have God in their lives. Many don't even come close to knowing the Catholic faith and the hope that we have in our suffering, and even if they did have their Catholic faith, it is very difficult to progress on the path of holiness when your willpower is so damaged by disease, you know? It is for those that I cry out. Misunderstanding does not hurt me personally because I know that it brings me closer to my Lord, but when you pile misunderstanding onto those suffering souls who know not God, you are adding to that pile of bodies -- that 20% of people with bipolar disorder who commit suicide. I do not go to bipolar discussion forums because when 20% of your friends kill themselves it gets rather old, especially since you know that many of them would never have done it if only people had loved them enough to understand the illness and to make sure that others understand it, as well.

Thanks for hearing me out.

In the Love of Christ,
Lisa

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