Monday, May 17, 2010

What's it like?

 My friends tell me I have been conspicuous in the blogosphere by my absence. My apologies to everyone, but for two months I was very busy being Bipolar. About all I had to say was, "Owww!" and "Leave me alone."

Which leads to the touchy question: what's it like to be mentally ill? I doubt there's a perfect or universal answer, but I've thought of a useful metaphor.

If one is only asking about Bipolar Disorder, I would say it's like having premenstrual syndrome all the time. I realize that leaves the fellas in the dark, but it's the best I can do, and quite accurate.

On the larger scale of any mental illness, though: what's it like?

I'd say it's like having a baby screaming in the next room. Forever.

What do I mean by that? Well, for instance it means you are always a little distracted from what's happening in this room. The distraction can range from tiny to total. In my own life, it means I miss a lot of very obvious things that anyone else can see. I feel like that mythical member of the Argonaut crew - what was his name again? - who could see things miles away and years into the future, but was always running into stuff that was right in front of him. I have taught myself a laser-like focus so as to ignore that screaming baby, and anything outside that cone of attention is just lost. I have managed not to notice that people are saying hello to me, that a tree across the street has been brought down and cut up by huge machines that sat there and growled all day, and that the house next door was having its front completely remodeled and projected about ten feet further into their yard. Yes, really.

The screaming baby also makes social interactions difficult. You miss obvious social cues. You can hear the baby as loudly as you can hear the person talking to you - or louder, in which case you may give some very disjointed answers. The screaming in the other room can make you upset even when there's every reason to be happy - in this room. You can make stupid mistakes over the simplest things. Because you are always under an extra pressure the people around you don't have, tiny things stress you out much more easily. To people around you, it looks like you're overreacting. They can't hear the baby.

Sometimes you have to leave the room altogether to go take care of that baby, to try and soothe it.

Here's the problem. Nobody really knows why the baby is screaming. That makes it hard to give it what it wants.

You can feed it drugs, either legal or illegal. That may stop it or at least get it to pipe down for a while. Then again, it may not. You can drown it out by really wild or dramatic living. Or you can develop some ear-plug activities that temporarily mute it for you. My ear plugs are reading, writing, music, and frozen yogurt (sex often works, but that's not guaranteed). Some people use TV, or shopping, or sleeping. There are any number of minor addictions that can serve.

But it's only temporary. Because you have to stop reading, or running, or knitting, or the drug wears off, and you can hear the baby screaming again. Like I said, we don't know what's wrong. We can't fix it. And it doesn't matter much if you love your baby or not, or whether your doctor is good, or whether you get therapy or live in an upscale neighborhood. It's not about this room where everybody is partying; it about the dark inner room where the baby is, a baby you don't remember ever wanting or birthing. It is just there, and it is your responsibility.

And sometimes that baby screams so loudly that EVERYONE can hear it, and it totally ruins their party. Well? What are you supposed to do about that? Smother it? If the baby dies, you die.

So if you are one of the lucky ones who has no baby screaming in their mind, next time a PASC friend of yours does something weird or rude or totally unacceptable, perhaps you can consider their burden, not just your own.

I would be interested to hear from PASC people what they think of this metaphor. If you have another metaphor you use to help explain your condition, I'd love to hear it. I'll add it to the collection.


[PASC = Prone to Altered states of Consciousness]