Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Diagnosis

My astrology chart shows Neptune in the 6th House at the time of my birth. In other words, I was born to have a mysterious illness that would be difficult to diagnose. I was 26 when at last someone told me I was manic depressive.

My response was, “Finally! Something that makes sense!” Because I had known for a long time that the world I saw and reacted to was not the same as the one everyone else did.

Insanity, if one dares to use the word, is hard to pin down, hard to tell someone, and usually hard for them to hear, my experience not withstanding. Some people will be told over and over for the rest of their lives without ever believing that it’s true. Hardest of all, even if they do believe, is to get them to start treatment.

Why is this? Why do we find it so hard to believe that the world inside one person’s mind is not the same as that of everybody they are standing with?

I remember long summer gabfests between college semesters. We were always batting ideas back and forth languidly, like a ping pong game where nobody was keeping score. The only point was to stay out in the garage away from the ‘old’ people. Time and again the conversation turned on existence and perception: how do we know that anything outside us exists? How do we know that we exist? How do we know that two people who say “blue” are actually seeing the same color? Maybe their blue is my green, or puce for that matter. All we know is that we are giving it the same name, that we both perceive something.

I never found it much of a stretch to believe that my head was different. After all, I’d been told over and over again that I was too sensitive - that I was uptight - that I was too serious - that I was way too dramatic - no matter what the stimulus, someone somewhere would say my response was too big, too little, or flat out wrong. Yet I was only reacting naturally to what I saw and heard. Obviously they were seeing, hearing, feeling something different. Theirs was a blander, less upsetting world, without tricky double meanings and barbs in every casual glance.

With time, with medicine, I learned to react less, to pretend to be less upset and in pain. Within a few decades, I was able to convince the most exacting critics that I was no longer scary and abnormal. And now, with 40 years practice, I have come to understand that everybody’s universe is different, that no one lives on the same planet, that our entire lives are a holodeck geared to the needs of just one person. The miracle is that any of us see anything remotely the same. And language, a shaky tool at best, is often the only thing that allows us to think we have so much in common.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She is currently recording it as an audiobook and CD set.  Deborah has also published two novels. Her books are available at, Kindle Editions, iBookstore, and other major vendors; or you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at She has also narrated a guided meditation CD with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker. Check out sound samples at