An electronic newsletter of the Coalition's Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery
The Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery provides assistance to the New York City mental health provider community through expert trainings, focused technical assistance, evaluation, information dissemination and special projects.
In honor of Recovery Month, S. A. Green volunteered to describe some of the many emotions she experienced in the years after her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Her essay provides glimpses of feeling angry, betrayed, confused, determined, elated, fortunate, glib, and hopeful, sometimes in unexpected ways.
When I went to the drugstore to pick up my medication, the pharmacist informed me she could not fill any of the prescriptions for psychotropic drugs. I insisted she was supposed to do so according to Timothy’s Law, state legislation to ensure that insurance companies cover physical health and mental health medications alike.
Perhaps inadvertently, she said, “You’d be surprised at all the things we’re supposed to do that we don’t.”
When I looked for a psychiatrist, I wanted someone who was not influenced by drug companies. Instead of asking prospective providers where they went to school, or whether they were board certified in psychiatry and neurology, I asked about their relationships with pharmaceutical companies.
I started seeing a psychiatrist who told me he had cut his ties to the drug industry--until one day he suggested I consider an exorbitantly, and unnecessarily, expensive formulation of a particular medication for possible future problems.
Did he want to muzzle me chemically, like Russian dissidents who spoke truth to power, and received a diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia”? Like them, I showed symptoms of “perseverance” and “struggle for truth.”
Confusion is having more pills to take than you could keep track of if you were normal—and then trying to keep track of them while you are on those pills, and psychotic.
I remember a morning during an episode of depression, when I was supposed to get ready for work. I knew I was supposed to get out of the bath tub, dry myself, and get dressed. I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the tub. I thought about bending forward, and grabbing the sides of the tub, but even the thought of doing so overwhelmed me. I thought and I thought about how I would get out, and it struck me that it had been easier to write my doctoral dissertation than it would be to get out of the tub.
Somehow, eventually, I did it, making little waves. Maybe I did it the way flowers sprout from cracks in the asphalt—cracks I believe they make in their blind struggle to reach towards the sun.
Being manic had its good sides, especially when I was a square twenty-something who didn’t do drugs. It broadened my experience with the spectrum of elation.
During one episode, I roamed the streets in the wee hours of the morning with a stranger who was used to artificially induced highs. He said, “I don’t know what you’re on, but I wish I had some of it!”
My manic self would think, “But yes, I can bottle it! I can sell spirits of mania in blue glass bottles, each with a message, like the ones sailors toss from a sinking ship, hoping that the message can find a reader. And let me see… these glass bottles at the discount store on the corner are a bargain. Let me order a few dozen, so I can have prototypes on hand for the next convention of behavioral health providers...”
Whether you want to start a business, jump into an affair, plan your presidential campaign, or conduct an imaginary orchestra in your living room, the elation in mania gives you energy, self-confidence, and an infectious happiness that makes people say, “yes.”
Before I decided to marry, my only reservation was that if I ever wanted to commit suicide, I wouldn’t be able to because it would make my husband look bad. I didn’t consider whether I’d submerge my identity, or like my in-laws. What I feared was that I would lose the only true out I’ve had when I need out, whether I would lose the only sure coping mechanism I would have if the Black Dog of depression returned, this time with puppies in tow.
My family and friends take me to hospitals in the middle of the night, visit me in psychiatric wards, and insist I see doctors when I think, with manic exuberance, I've never felt better in my life.
But they do one thing more. They prevent me from taking what cripples so many people with mental illness: the sick role.
“When do you want to come back to see me?” asked my psychiatrist.
I liked him. He was smart, decent, and genuinely cared about me. Since we lived in a small community, we had “dual relationships,” if not "triple relationships." He didn’t want to complicate matters further, or risk exploiting me, so he never charged me for visits.
We had already established that I wasn’t quite myself, but he didn’t know I had no idea what day, month, and perhaps year it was. I said smoothly, “Oh, I don’t have my appointment book with me. Can I call you?”
Concealing impairment, adaptive at work and at school, but not everywhere, had become an inseparable part of me.
We have images of mass violence welded to mental illness, and disparities in health and mental health care. But we also have peer services, supportive housing, trauma-informed care, crisis respite centers, and more.
I do not foresee an end to stigma and discrimination in my lifetime, but I am hopeful for the next generation.
The opinions expressed in RECOVERe-works do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editor or the Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies.
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