I can’t seem to get any work done today, so I thought I would write about why… part of it is stress: since Mom has developed dementia I am stressed out a lot, and guilty though I am admitting it, that makes me tired. This sounds like a cheap excuse, but the truth is that I have anemia, and anemics get tired easily… my psychiatrist told me that one symptom of anemia is that you tire easily and other is that you sleep a lot… and normally I am fine, but with Mom sometimes not realizing who I am, and looking for me, I get stressed out even when she is perfectly lucid. It is an odd situation: both of us have psychological troubles with physical bases. I hope it is not gosh to write about these problems on the Internet.
I have tried to explain my illness–Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder–to people… and somehow they never seem to understand what I mean. Yet there is always one central image that explains everything to me and nothing to anybody else: I live in a Kaleidoscope. Everyone knows that the Kaleidoscope is a long glass contraption with a marble at the end. You point the marble in the direction of any background you like–including the sky but preferably not the sun–and turn the marble, causing different patterns to occur inside the Kaleidoscope to the person looking into it…
As I look into the heart of Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder, I experience a distorted reality that nobody else can understand… It is like a couple of lines from one of my favorite songs in Middle School (“Runaway Train”), when I was first diagnosed with Major Depression (it is often the case that Depressed patients if they are Depressed in childhood develop Bipolar as adults):
I can go where no one else can go
I know what no one else has known…
To the real mental patient, understanding is rare… even the patient’s parents may wish to deny the patient is really ill and not just “faking it” and if the patient is a child, well, that compounds things… why? Because sometimes other children see the symptoms and just don’t understand the pain underneath. They blame.
Despite what people think of Jews and Judaism, I believe I found understanding and acceptance at my shul… I won’t name names among my friends, but they all know I am ill and do not blame me. I have one friend who was also ill as a kid but is not now and became a psychiatrist because of it… and my first rabbi at Hebrew Congregation was especially kind to me about my illness: he never saw that my being mentally ill made me less than worthy of becoming a Jew. This was even though he was very Orthodox and perhaps a little rigid in other ways. He knew about my nervous breakdowns and yet did not judge… really, I don’t think the New Testament meant to say that Jews were more judgmental than other people, but anti-Semites have interpreted it that way. However, I can’t really know anymore… perhaps a person has to belong to a faith to really understand it.
As for the Kaleidoscope… a mental patient often sees the world through a distorted lens. Just as the cut glass tears into the psyche, so looking through it makes the world appear to have things in it that are not there and cause things to vanish that are. And this broken world which the patient sees is both painful and beautiful… sometimes there is even an illusion that it is not worth leaving if the patient could… and yet at other times it is so awful the patient wishes he or she could die.
My illness–Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder–involves mood swings and verbal ideations… In fact, half of all Bipolar patients also have Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder, and half of all patients with one of these latter diagnoses have Bipolar. Yet for me it will always be a Kaleidoscope… in a world like Ravel in one of his stranger melodies.