Monthly Archives: October 2012

Dante

Dante Alighieri wrote an epic poem called Divine Comedy. The first part of it is probably most well known, and that is Inferno. The short version is:

Dante ends up lost in a wood, and despairs that he cannot find the way to salvation. Conscious that he is ruining himself and that he is falling into a “deep place” (basso loco) where the sun is silent (l sol tace), Dante is at last rescued by the Roman poet Virgil, and they begin their journey through Hell.

The inscription on the gates of hell is “Abandon Hope, all Ye Who Enter Here”.

Dante and his guide Virgil travel through all of the circles of Hell, each set aside for a particular sin, and each sinner being punished and tortured in a specific way.

At the centre of Hell, Satan is imprisoned in ice, weeping and trying to escape, but his escape attempts trap him further. Dante and Virgil escape through the centre of Hell by climbing down Satan’s fur and pushing through to the other side of the earth. Dante feels the change in gravity and is afraid they are going back to hell, but they emerge on the other side just as the dawn is coming.

I’ve documented my manic episode. Now, this is my inferno. Now it’s my turn to journey through hell. At the beginning of the week I could tell I was “falling into a deep place where the sun was silent”. Imagine that. Imagine a hole so deep you couldn’t see the sun. How trapped would you feel? How claustrophobic? How long could you hold on to hope?

And since then, I’ve been descending through hell. At first, my concentration started going bad. Well, it never really recovered from the manic episode. Then, my motivation started lagging. It started to feel extremely difficult to just get out of bed, to go to class. Unless you’ve felt bipolar depression, you will not understand how futile it feels when someone tells you to just go to class, when you know that you have very precious little energy and if you expend it on class, what’s going to keep the dark thoughts at bay during the night when you’re not in class?

I am constantly tired. I have trouble sleeping at night, I keep waking up, I stare at the wall. Because of this, I spend a lot of time during the day in bed, staring at the wall, or the ceiling.

My thoughts are slower, it takes me longer to think of the words I mean. It makes me feel dumb. I don’t understand things, no matter how many times you explain them.

There is a pervasive sense of agony. You know those old commercials, “depression hurts”? YES IT DOES. My body shakes and my throat clenches and I can’t eat and my chest aches and I can’t breathe and I can’t cry.

And I constantly, constantly, just want to lay down and give up.

No, not “call the ambulance” give up. I’m committed to something on Sunday which is enough to pull me through. I see my doctor on Monday and she will likely hospitalize me then. I will lay down, give up, let the professionals take over, and get through this.

It will end.

It will end.

I feel like it won’t, but

It will end.

And thank you to my guide “Virgil”.

World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day. I don’t know the stats for every country, but here in Canada, 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. So for two reasons, I am going to expand the scope of this blog.

The first is because mental health advocacy is important. A lot of people have misconceptions about or don’t understand mental illness. This misunderstanding leads to hurt. Families are hurt. Sufferers are hurt.

The second is because I just went through something profound, and god damnit I need to talk about it.

In addition to having Asperger’s Syndrome, I also have bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed when I was 24, in 2008. A manic episode led to a hospitalization, which led to eventual depression. While I was hospitalized, quite a few doctors consulted and the consensus was Bipolar I. There are two types of bipolar diagnoses, I and II. II is more mild, and usually doesn’t include manic episodes, only hypomanic ones. Hypomanic means sub-manic. In the extremes of Bipolar I, the diagnosis can also include psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. I am one of those statistics.

I was diagnosed when I was 24. I’m 28 now. That’s 4 years of learning to deal. I’ve gone from being a hospital patient to actually functioning at university. And for the last 2 years, I’ve been completely stable. Not a single episode of mania or depression. Until the beginning of October.

There is usually a build up to a manic episode. There were signs I missed. I started exploding with poetry. I got a tattoo, which was a little impulsive. I was confident and happy but happy is ok and happy is good so it’s hard to miss the line where happy turns into HAPPY!!! and all of the sudden you’re superman.

So things really started slipping on Sunday the 30th of September. I barely slept that night. As Monday wore on, my energy levels kept climbing. I still wasn’t sleeping. I started writing lots of music. At first, it was good music. I took a string quartet assignment that we were basically assumed to add a second violin part to and choose which part to double, but instead I rewrote the entire thing and added running eighth notes everywhere to sound like rain falling. I actually thought I could do better than Handel. Like I said, at first, it was good music. I just got that assignment back and got 100%.

The energy levels of someone in a manic episode are insane. I wasn’t sleeping, but I felt like I could run a marathon or two. I am usually pretty shy but suddenly I was talking to everyone. EVERYONE, whether I knew them or not. I was talking fast. I was intense. My attention span eventually dwindled until I couldn’t spend more than 5 minutes on something.

The only thing I COULD focus on was a string quartet I had started writing. I had based it on the interval of the perfect fifth, and I was convinced that there was some secret in that interval and if I figured it out I could write a piece that would revolutionize music as we know it. This string quartet kept getting more and more complex. I need to bring the sheet music to my prof so we can make sure a human being could still play it.

So I wasn’t sleeping, I was barely eating, I was talkative, I was writing music, I was obsessing over intervals. That idea that I needed to figure out the secret of the perfect fifth? That happens in mania. It’s a delusion of grandeur. But it got worse.

Eventually by Friday, I knew I was approaching that line. Bipolar people will understand the line, the line where on one side you know you’re acting abnormally and probably need help, and on the other side you’re blindly unaware that you’re totally insane. But I’m in Canada and it was Thanksgiving weekend, so I couldn’t see my psychiatrist. Instead, I decided to see if the hospital could give me something to help me keep a lid on it until I could see my psychiatrist. By this point, the mania had ramped up so much that I COULD NOT SIT DOWN. I waited for the bus while pacing, waited in the hospital waiting room while pacing (after telling the admitting person EVERY THOUGHT IN MY HEAD EVER), and eventually whipped out some manuscript paper so I could keep working on the perfect fifth secret. I’ve read over all the music I wrote on Friday night, and it is unintelligible. My brain was churning out insanely fast thoughts, and they just didn’t make sense. And the delusion was deepening. After seeing all of the sick and hurting people in the hospital, I was ABSOLUTELY SURE that I needed to figure out the fifth secret so I could heal everyone’s pain. I personally felt their pain and felt even more driven to figure out the secret so I could help them.

Eventually a psychiatrist saw me and within 5 minutes told me I was manic. I explained about the fifth thing to him and he said it was part of the mania. He made sure I was going to see my psychiatrist ASAP and prescribed me something until then.

And today is the first day I’ve really felt normal again. Normal is subjective, and it’s pretty hard to define, especially when you’ve been manic for more than a week. I still have trouble concentrating, I’m still a little distractable, but I don’t feel like I’m going to explode. I also don’t feel like I’ve been personally chosen to save the world.

But why am I going so public with this story? I know that some people who know me personally read this blog. I think I’m doing it because people need to realize that EVERYONE has a secret story. I am lucky that the worst of this happened during Thanksgiving weekend and I was largely alone and there were not very many people around to alienate, but during the week before, when things were ramping up, nobody even knew that this was something more than just me being hyper.

EVERYONE has a secret story. There are so many things, especially when it comes to mental health, that people don’t want to talk about. If you’ve read all of this and want to write me off as a crazy person, go ahead. But I bet that if you know me, you’d never have guessed I have this story to tell.

Please, PLEASE, don’t be afraid when it comes to mental health. Talk to someone. Talk to everyone. Get these issues out of the dark so that people don’t have to suffer in silence any more. I am not afraid.