Psychological disorders are so often misunderstood. Individuals suffering from mental disorders are often expected just to snap out of it, get back to work, and stop acting crazy. Now, we understand that mental disorders are brain disorders. It is not always important to know whether they are caused by genes, traumatic experiences, childhood abuse, use of illicit drugs, or experiences of dislocation and loss. Regardless of the cause, it is important to appreciate that the illnesses are real and brain-based.
Below is an essay from a patient of mine. In it, she describes vividly her experience with bipolar disorder.
I have bipolar disorder, which means that I cycle between suicide-slit-your-wrists-girl and cocktail-hour-party-girl. When I first was diagnosed, the doctor had linked it to a high IQ. Perhaps this illness is a payback; I don’t know what I am paying for, I just know that I have the disorder. I have cycles of depression and mania that both confound and control me, while I am helpless to do anything but to watch it unfold. I have lost friends and family and loved ones because of how this debilitation consumes me. There are times when my depression is so crippling that I feel like a dislodged flower, losing more life with each passing hour – but praying that this time when I show up to see my doctor, s/he won’t have forgotten my appointment. On the swing side, my manic episodes range from feeling like the sun can’t melt my wings to feeling like the man who is running flat-out for the train but has suddenly realized he never bought a ticket and isn’t carrying his wallet. It’s all hat and no cattle. With both of these mood disorders, I rely heavily upon my doctor – not that we always or even often agree – and on my meds. I kick and grunt about the side effects of the various drugs but I know that one day I will feel better – whether that means breaking free of my depression or finally getting some sleep after having been up for days. Over the years I have found that my inherent frustration with this disease has caused me to expect that one day my doctor will open his little black bag and actually pull forth life from it. Until then, I remain hopeful that I am not the last line.