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I realize I’m a little late for NAMI’s Mental Illness Awareness Week (first full week of October) but these words didn’t come to me until yesterday and I figured they didn’t need to wait for some arbitrary date on the calendar to get put to paper.  So, here goes…

In order to even begin to understand me, my behaviour – my journey, a discussion of my mental illness (health?) is imperative.  For those of you who may not know – I have bipolar disorder.  Bipolar Disorder Type II or Bipolar Depression, to be specific.  I am NOT bipolar; I HAVE Bipolar Disorder. The illness does not define me although it affects and informs every bit of my present, past and future. I have found that an understanding can sometimes help people to “handle” things better.  (That’s always the case, though, isn’t it?)

So – here goes my attempt to “explain” the inexplicable.

There’s a great book by Kay Redfield Jamison called “An Unquiet Mind”.  It is a memoir of living with the triumph and heartbreak which seem to exist concurrently within the brain of someone so…blessed?  afflicted?  Do I have to choose just one???  Almost anyone who lives with mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder will tell you that they vacillate between the belief they are blessed and the belief they are cursed.  For most of us, it’s both.

Anyhow…The material in Dr. Jamison’s book was powerful for me on many levels but the one thing that sticks out in my mind was the absolute relief I felt when I realized that I really wasn’t alone – there were others who walked this path – for generations without the help of modern understanding – and others on this journey with me today…They prove every day to be up to the task of supporting a member of their cohort when asked.

The relief was most profound when she focused on the title issue – our unquiet minds…it was EYE OPENING for me.  It took reading it there, seeing it in black & white, for me to truly understand some of the separation I’ve always felt, even from those closest to me…

Okay – you know when you ask someone what they’re thinking about and they say “nothing”?  I always thought they were lying to me.  It is SO FAR outside my realm of comprehension that a person could be thinking about nothing that I just assumed they did not want to share their thoughts with me.

If You’re one of those people who can quiet themselves to the point they can think about nothing – then I’m not SURE I can help You understand – but here’s the best analogy I have:

A washing machine…

Most people have a few important things they need to think about at any one time.  I don’t know how many but, say, for argument’s sake, that it’s 3.  So, we toss 3 pieces of cloth into the washer…

Then, we usually have those things which need to be dealt with, but not urgently – like maybe this week.  For the sake of argument, let’s say there are 5 of those…5 more pieces of cloth into the washer

Now we’re to those things which must be done this month – we’ll say 10 – into the washer those go…

I could continue; however, at this point, we have 18 scraps of cloth in the washer…

Now, as I understand it – people fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to live life with balanced brain chemistry, are (generally) able to pick out the three important things, address them and then shut their brain down and move on or go to sleep.

Nope. My brain is like that washing machine when it’s turned on. But it’s like that ALL THE TIME. ALWAYS.  The agitator is ALWAYS circulating those 18 scraps of cloth…and they’re all the same size so when they’re moving around like that, it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s important and what isn’t – so you just grab the first one you find when you reach your hand into the washer. (A dangerous maneuver anyhow because you’re not supposed to do that with the agitator going.  Oh, wait…but my agitator NEVER SHUTS OFF!)

Now, when the washer is full (if you know me, you have no doubt what this looks like), it seems to automatically start the spin cycle…

When all those pieces of cloth get spun up against the wall of the washer tub, it becomes nearly impossible to tell where each one begins and ends…so you just reach in and start pulling…and they come out in clumps now…you pull one and get three – which pulls along 2 more…until you’re left with an armful of cloth, no idea where to start folding – and a washer with the agitator still going (it never stops, remember?).

That’s where addiction comes into play (food, sex, tv, books, etc.).  SOMETHING has to go into that washer and allow it to keep agitating so it doesn’t burn up the motor. *deep breath* So – we feed the washer with something it likes while the issues which were inside just lie in our arms waiting to be managed…but there’s not enough washer space anymore to lighten the load in our arms and we can’t sort stuff with our arms full!

Aw, hell – that made sense in my head…maybe it will make sense to You on some level, too.

For those of you who are in the position of dealing with me during these times, or if you are in the position of caring for someone else who lives with bipolar disorder, I’m trying to explain to you that my nerves, my fear, my concern, my – whatever I’m feeling – aren’t about YOU.  My run-off-at-the-mouth syndrome isn’t ONLY because I’m nervous – it’s because there’s so much inside this mind that it won’t stay in there…it’s got to come out somehow!  >grin<

The upshot is – if You ever ask me what I’m thinking – be prepared for the list – in no particular priority order, I’ll tell You about the laundry that needs to be done, the vet appointment I have to make, how I LOVE the anthem we’re singing on Sunday, why I need to call my sister, what I am thinking about putting in Bryce’s Christmas stocking, how I lost track of that girl who was in my 11th grade English class, what I need to get at the store when I go, how my niece is doing in school, wondering what Bryce is doing, what did Catherine mean when she said that to me last week, etc., etc., etc.  See what I mean?  It’s probably enough to make you dizzy and I wonder how anybody can LIVE without their washer going ALL THE TIME????

Okay – that’s probably pretty convoluted and you’ve probably decided I’ve gone off the deep end.  (Which is not to say that You would be WRONG, mind you…)  I hope through all the twists and turns, You’ve found what I wanted to convey.

I should say here that treatment (pharmaceutical and behavioural intervention) makes the washing cycles easier to manage…it manages to slow down the agitator a little, provides the ability to apply a little more logic when it’s time to sort out the laundry.