Author: Lisa Graas
•6/13/2007 09:31:00 PM
It has been a long time since I saw anything on the net about bipolar disorder that made me angry. I admit that I am angry about something that I've just found, but I am trying very hard to be amenable about it. The article that I am referring to is on the website of Raymond Lloyd Richmond, PhD, of San Francisco and can be found HERE. It is an essay that addresses, in part, the cause(s?) of bipolar disorder. I call it an essay because I want to emphasize that the comments within it are Richmond's opinion and do not have any basis in known science. Neither does he provide any references to support his views.

Richmond provides a great deal of helpful and truthful information in his essay. Unfortunately, he also claims that bipolar disorder has multiple causes despite universal scientific agreement that there is only one cause -- abnormal chemical processes in the brain that are generally believed to be passed on genetically. While Richmond comes short of claiming that bipolar disorder is partly a character flaw (and he even seems to try to temper justice with mercy, so to speak), his implication (seemingly due to omission and not commission) that there is some level of free will involved in the complications we suffer from the illness is enough to provide plenty of fodder for those who choose to believe that mental illness is not much more than a character flaw. To summarize, Richmond's intent seems quite good, but his comments can make the climate of bigotry in the world, and especially among the Catholics who are his target audience, decidedly worse.

Dr. Richmond seems to want to convey that there is no free will in the subconscious mind. I agree with him. I just believe he is very far from being clear on the role of the will. I don't want to delve so much into what he said as I want to provide accurate information for people who are curious. Allow me to explain it from my point of view.

The only distinction between conscious and subconscious thoughts is the level of awareness one has. In consciousness, we have awareness of the content of our thoughts. In the subconscious mind, there is no awareness of them at all. That is the only distinction. If there is no awareness, there is no free will involved.

We have conscious thoughts at the same time that we have subconscious thoughts. In our conscious mind, we have awareness whereas we have no awareness of the things that are going on in our subconscious mind. The terms "conscious" and "subconscious" are necessarily separate in their etymology, but in the working of our minds they do not truly act separately. The division is not so clear. No matter what state of mental health a person is in, we all know that subconscious thoughts influence our conscious thoughts and vice versa. While awake we slip in and out of our awareness of specific thoughts so there is an ongoing relationship between the conscious and the subconscious mind.

Do we have any control at all over our subconscious thoughts? I am no psychologist but I believe (until someone shows me otherwise) that there are a couple of ways that we can influence our subconscious thoughts. (Oh, now I really should go get the Summa Theologica for this, but I think I'll wing it.) One is by working toward developing habits in our thought patterns in our conscious minds. As noted earlier, our conscience minds do have an impact on our subconscious minds. (Please email me and explain it to me if you think otherwise.) If I tell myself over and over and over again that I need to do (A) or (B) because they are paths to holiness, then eventually, with the help of God's grace which leads me in His ways, I will choose to do one or both of those things and, if I really have a lot of grace and desire, I will find joy in those things. We develop habits in that manner and the habits lead to the desire and the desire is fulfilled with joy and grace flows and there is redemption.

The other way that we can influence our subconscious thoughts is to get down on our knees and PRAY for that grace.

I hope that I have helped to explain something about the role of the will in Bipolar Disorder, the role of the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. I wrote to Richmond about his essay and I must admit that I was a little harsh in my tone with him. It is important that we all discuss these things rationally if we are ever to make spiritual progress regarding the place of our mental sufferings in the sphere of redemption. I started the Bipolar Catholic group at Yahoo not because I thought I have all the answers, but because I have so few answers and I thought others might feel the same way. We all need to work together on this journey and that includes my putting aside my hard feelings when people like Richmond disagree with me. I will still fight the fight, though, against bigotry just as I believe Dr. Richmond wants to.

Please note that I have read very little from Dr. Richmond's website apart from the essay I've commented on. I am not aware of his expertise or lack of it. I'm merely responding to one essay.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/31/2007 01:17:00 PM
Feast of the Visitation of Mary

To view today's readings you may click HERE. Today we are taught about the joy that was felt by Mary because of the coming of the Messiah. Mary speaks of what God has done for her, but she also speaks of what God has done for all of humanity. As she tells us, He shares with us His mercy, His strength, protection and nourishment. Because we know that all goodness comes from God, we know, especially when we read the Magnificat (from today's reading), that all mercy comes from Him. All strength comes from Him. All protection comes from Him. All nourishment comes from Him. So do not fear. All goodness is in His hands and will be poured out to you in whatever form is according to His will for you. Make haste to give Him thanksgiving. Open yourself to Him and He will fill you with His goodness. He has GIVEN this to us through His son, as we learn in the Magnificat and throughout the Scriptures. Don't turn your back on Him. Let Him in. Say "yes" to God as Mary did and help to bring His fullness into the world more completely.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/30/2007 03:00:00 PM
Today's Readings (May 30) which can be read HERE seem to epitomize the state of mind one must have in order to truly seek wellness. The first and second readings are both from Psalms. We can see in these readings the crying out to God for help but the crying out is not that of a lamentation. Rather, it is spoken by one who believes that God will fulfill these things asked for. And why do we have this joy that our needs will be fulfilled a hundred-fold? It is answered in the Gospel reading when Jesus says: For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
When you ask for help from the Lord, do not do so in a state of despair. He does not want us to despair. Ask Him to help you with a spirit of knowing that HE WILL FULFILL these things for you. We all know that when one is suffering from depression, it is possible to feel joy in the heart just as a person who grieves the loss of someone dear can also smile at something pleasant, albeit briefly. Be as joyful as you can because all has been fulfilled within His plan.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/30/2007 02:05:00 PM
Attaining Mental Health

You've heard it too many times. Bipolar Disorder is "incurable". Indeed, it is true that there is no cure for this horrible illness, however there are a lot of things you can do to help yourself cope with the illness and to make life a bit more fulfilling. I'd like to give you some tips but first it would probably be best to give you a brief overview of my symptoms:

Here is a very basic overview. I have "mixed episode" bipolar which means that I have some depression symptoms and some manic symptoms at the same time. Sometimes I have paranoid delusions. I have been diagnosed with both panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As you can see, I have a lot to deal with. Indeed, on a daily basis it is difficult for me to function beyond the basics. I do far better, though, when I utilize certain coping skills. Here are just a few:

1) Take your medications according to your doctor's directions. Never believe that you know better than he does because I can promise you that you do not, even if you are a doctor yourself. Listen to your doctor and follow orders.

2)Call your doctor if you are having problems functioning or if you are exhibiting behavior that is radically different from the way you are normally. Also call if you suspect that you are having side effects.

3)Find out where you need to go in case of an emergency. I have been to the hospital's emergency room several times due to suicidal thoughts. There is a crisis unit locally where I can stay for a minimum of four days and be seen by a doctor each day. Take care of yourself!! Seek medical help if necessary, especially if you are suicidal. Mentally healthy people do NOT consider suicide, so if the thought crosses your mind, be on guard and know where to go for help.

4) Join a support group. Ask your doctor to help you find one or join one online. The link for our Bipolar Catholic support group is in the links section, but you don't have to be bipolar OR Catholic to join as long as you respect the rules.

5)Educate your family and friends. It's not necessary for you to make them experts on the details of your illness. Just let them know what sort of behaviors they might see in you and let them know what to do in case that happens. If possible, have one close friend to confide in. Find one or two people who are willing to do things like provide transportation or accompany you to Mass if necessary. Don't miss the Sacraments. You need the grace.

6)Be honest with others and be honest with yourself. It is especially important that you remember to be honest to yourself because there are so many incidents throughout the day when we need to take that to heart.

7)ALWAYS SEEK WELLNESS!! Do not give in and give up!! Be ready to analyze your situation at a moment's notice. Don't let anything get in the way of your wellness, especially if it's a change that you can make yourself. I cannot stress this rule enough, that you should always be seeking wellness.

8) Read the Lives of the Saints. The link to the Patron Saints Index is in the links section. Remember that the Saints are almost invariably known only by their faith in the face of suffering.

I'm sure there are more coping skills but these are the most important ones to me. I hope they can be of help to you, too.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/29/2007 10:34:00 PM
What is Rapid Cycling?

The definitions of rapid cycling vary between individuals because there seem to be different manifestions of bipolar disorder that could be termed "rapid cycling". For the well-known definition, try this one at About.com. The folks at About.com have been awfully good to me and I think they know their stuff, but in this one particular instance I will have to disagree. In fact, based on what I've been hearing from others with this illness, a lot of people would disagree with About.com AND with me. As I said, the manifestations vary.

In my case, it can be rather complicated. Suffice it to say that I can "cycle" many many times in one day. Some people refer to this as "ultra ultra rapid cycling" and I think that's a good name for it. I have what is called "mixed episode" Bipolar Disorder. I have some of the symptoms of depression and some of the symptoms of mania at the same time and in different combinations at different times. When those combinations change, that is, when my mood changes drastically, it is a "cycle", so when the changes come rapidly it is called "rapid cycling". Sometimes it is like being on a bungie cord although the "bounce" doesn't occur quite as quickly as that. In my case for the past several days, the "bounce" has occurred about every 10-20 minutes.

Mixed episode bipolar disorder is arguably the most serious kind of Bipolar Disorder. In my case, my episodes don't last "at least one week" as the diagnostic criteria manual states. My episodes, if an episode is basically what the medical community says it is, are ongoing. What I personally refer to as an "episode" is when I get psychotic because psychosis is the biggest variation in my emotional spectrum. The bottom line, though, is that I am here and I am surviving and I am learning how to get some fulfillment out of life because I have placed all my trust in God our Father. You can do it, too. Just trust in Him, okay? Open your heart to Him and listen. He will be there.

God's blessings to you.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/29/2007 12:12:00 AM
The Baptist Sunday school teachers did teach me one thing. They taught me this little song.

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong.
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

Now, before you lovely Catholics start making fun of that song, just pay close attention to the words. There is some high theology in that little number. Remember that Jesus loves you. Trust that Jesus loves you. KNOW that Jesus loves you. And don't just know it now. Know it every minute! Especially when you are at your lowest because when you are at your lowest, you are closest to Jesus who was brought down to the lowest point possible by we sinners. Close your eyes, little children. Be at His side. Carry His cross. Wipe His face. Give Him drink. Love Him. He loves you so.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/28/2007 10:35:00 PM
In just a few days I will be headed to Massillon, Ohio, to visit Father Gretchko at the National Shrine of St. Dymphna. Actually, I first made plans to visit the Shrine and then met Fr. Gretchko, the priest in charge there, via email. He is very accomodating, I must say. He is also a parish priest and I hope to visit his parish and attend Mass there when we go.

About St. Dymphna, follow the link here and learn more about her. She is loved and counted on by countless Catholics with mental illness, and for good reason. Her mentally ill father tried to rape her. She refused and he lopped off her head. Yikes! St. Dymphna was a princess so she is also patroness of princesses.
Author: Lisa Graas
•5/28/2007 09:14:00 PM
I have returned at last. I am hopeful that this blog can be of help to someone. Perhaps it can also be of help to me.

Okay, so what have I been doing with myself? I've basically been riding the roller coaster which is my life. Right now I am angry. Damn angry. I suppose it's chemical. In fact, I know it is. It's enough to make someone want to stop taking the meds. I know a lot of people say that's Satan talking to me, but I have also heard of people going off their meds successfully. The nature of my illness is severe, though. I think I am ultimately too afraid to go off my meds.