On Manic Crashes and Failed Relationships…

There is a part of the human brain that is designed to protect us from the end. As Hobbes once stated: there is a greatest evil, the fear of violent death around which a political community can be oriented.

Without that there can be no political structure, and in such an instance:

“There is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Hobbes, Leviathan, XIII.9.

Psychologically, the mind has evolved to protect us from this greatest evil. To Hobbes the greatest evil was a society in which the sanctity of life was not protected. To a sufferer of mental illness the greatest evil is doing harm to oneself or unto others.

Indeed, focusing too much upon this evil either personally or as a society creates and environment in which life is more likely to become nasty, brutish and short.   Instead, we must care for others and ourselves before we invite disaster, and though proper self-reflection adherence to the rules of society must be accepted for the greater good.

What does this philosophy have to do with a manic crash? As a sufferer of bipolar I must admit that my depressive side has not been a danger to myself. I may not be fun at parties when I am depressed, but it is when I am manic that I have come close to doing myself permanent harm. It is not unusual for a sufferer of a manic episode to become elevated into frenzy; personally insomnia during my mania has thrown gasoline onto an already smoldering fire.

Furthermore, there is some strange part of the mind that upon seeing the end must renounce it. That is why, in all tendency, a sufferer of bipolar will surge right before a crash in one spasm of denial. There is quite a parallel to the above Hobbesian quotation as the chance for meeting a violent end in this scenario is all too real.

And what of relationships? In my experience denial is an equally powerful force here as well. Once it has become clear that a relationship is irrevocably broken the urge to avoid this realization is quite strong. In fact, a relationship may often undergo a brief Indian summer before the cold winter wind starts to blow. In my personal life I said goodbye to a woman I had spent several years with. In Chicago halfway along a cross-country journey we said our goodbyes. Reviewing pictures of our trip I remember how happy I was at the time, my smile in these pictures was a good bit broader than normal and in the photographs we stood closely, wrapped in one another’s arms. Afterward, I flew back to the East Coast, while she preceded her drive to California. It was the end of a relationship that I believed would last forever. Indeed, life changes slowly and then all at once. One fine morning, I was shocked to hear the news, although I should not have been.

The important aspect of this with regard to self-preservation is that in the beginning of an episode, one never needs to move quickly. During a crisis one’s mental faculties are gradually mulled into submission, this is not a quick process. It is one that takes at least several weeks. Knowing one’s warning signs is paramount; personally my warning sign that precedes dangerous episodes is lack of sleep and racing thoughts. To counter this I must on occasion rely on medication that will force me to slow down. Unfortunately, to the manic brain slowing down is an undesirable outcome. It is the foolish aura of invincibility that prevents one from slowing down. I must reach higher, stretch my arms further in willful disregard that one fine morning things will not be the same. Evolutionarily slowing down could mean death, thus the human brain has evolved to continue dumping dopamine onto tired synapses. Perhaps this is a natural mechanism that protected our progenitors, but can lead to harm in this day and age.

The point of my story is this: nearing the end of an episode it is too late to devise a plan to avoid disaster. We plan evacuations in advance of a fire because when a fire is raging it is too late too plan. Likewise, sufferers of mental health afflictions must have a plan in advance. Know your warning signs, have a plan and if need be call your doctor. Because if you don’t plan in advance it will be too late when the time comes…

How Do You Cope with Depression?

I had a conversation with a depressed friend that centered on the question of happiness. In short, my friend asked me in no uncertain terms: “why does life suck so much?”

My contrarian instinct kicked in and I immediately responded that life does not have to suck. On a very fundamental level we choose to be happy or not, although often we do not perceive this to be a choice.

I am not trying to blame someone for feeling unhappy; however, I do feel the need to lay some responsibility at their feet. Unhappiness can be the result of action or inaction. Rarely does someone actively seek unhappiness, however, tacitly we often find it. Being unhappy may be the result of a failure to act. We fail to do things that make us happy, often we fail to stop doing things that make us unhappy. These things can be quite simple; perhaps I spend one hour every day doing something out of pure enjoyment. They can also be maddeningly complicated; perhaps I refuse to quit a job that saddens and limits me. Obviously, in the latter case other considerations cannot be overlooked. Personally, I have lost jobs and later realized that I should have quit years before, although financially it can be difficult to do so.

There is a huge dichotomy in the United States: on average we are exceptionally materially wealthy, but often we are poor in the currency of happiness. If you disagree that we are exceptional wealthy, consider the vast stretches of human history where the luxuries now enjoyed by the poor were once beyond the contemplation of a King. Clean drinking water was once a luxury.  I do not want to make light of someone’s personal difficulties, but why don’t you consider expounding on the travails of your day-to-day existence to Anne Frank, Joan of Arc or Mahatma Gandhi? People would kill to have the things we take for granted, and in the past people have.

On the other hand, surveys indicate that happiness among American’s has largely stagnated (http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Psychology_of_happiness – See Attached Figure). Discussion of this topic could be the subject of an entirely different post, but sufficed to say that material wealth and happiness have completely decoupled in America over the past sixty years (the reference above was before the financial crisis [published in 2007], thus there is a case to be made that the trend could be stronger or weaker today). I think the conclusion from this data is clear: wealth is not correlated with happiness thus poverty should not lead to depression. Indeed, some of the poorest people in the world are probably the happiest.

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So my response to my friend’s query has an intention. If life is making you unhappy, you need to change the way that you approach life. Life is not going to change to fit you; instead you must strive to pursue happiness. Without a doubt this task is more difficult for sufferers of depression. Unfortunately, society often emphasizes the wrong things, preaching material wealth as a panacea for all our problems. If happiness depends on the size of your house, the make and model of your car or the brand of clothing you wear, you may be setting yourself up for failure.

While there is clearly not one solution to the problem of depression, I personally enjoy making life into a game. Watch silly YouTube videos, play sports, read, reflect and enjoy movies that speak to you – ideally you should use these hobbies to relate to other people and build lasting relationships. For the cost of an Internet connection, late fees at the public library and gas to drive to beautiful places, you can increase your quality of life far beyond simple monetary considerations.

Don’t be ashamed, life is short: make it fun…

Don’t Give Up: You Have Too Much to Live For…

The idea for this blog post came from a discussion at a support group that I attended. No names will be provided and any relation to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Even the first person is not necessarily personal…

How does one come to grips with the concept of suicide? The idea of self-murder and all the meticulous planning it entails is antithetical to life. Yet, simultaneously the urge toward self-destruction is very human and cannot simply be repressed. Indeed, some of the most poetic words in the English language have debated the sanctity of life:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question – Whether ‘tis Nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep – No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished…”

Hamlet (3.1.64-73)

To speak from personal experience, I am acutely aware that questioning one’s existence is an essential part of being human. Bipolar mania and the ensuing depression are interwoven into my very DNA. A long-time sufferer of Type I Bipolar Illness, I know that it is easy, far too easy, to lose oneself in a cycle of self-loathing. To question one’s existence, to spin ever downward in a violent spiral toward the ground, to need sleep because you haven’t slept in a week, I understand all these things…

However, this is not a forum for me to expound on personal trials and tribulations. Instead, I am trying to offer advice. Do not continue on that downward spiral: stop looking down. It is difficult, nay impossible, to forget one’s troubles by refusing to think about them. The very act of telling yourself to forget is a reminder and a more fitting mental exercise is to focus your thoughts elsewise. Stop thinking of all the reasons not to stay, instead focus on all of the reasons you have to live.

Everyone has something to live for; your purpose could be as simple as brightening a stranger’s day with your smile, listening to your favorite song or feeling the sun’s warmth on your skin. Alternatively, your purpose in life could be as deep as refusing to abandon the people who love you the most.

I was lost once, but the memory of one person who loved me held me back. My feet right up to the edge, I was desperate not to be swallowed into oblivion. So instead I looked up and blinded by the memory of one person who loved me, I continued…

Never give up: You have too much to live for…

And if you need help consider visiting: 441 Park Ave., San Jose CA 95110, calling 408-287-7428 or accessing http://www.actmentalhealth.org.

This is the ACT for Mental Health Blog…

ACT for Mental Health is a non-profit therapeutic community center dedicated to providing low-cost counseling services to those in need.  The posts on this blog are written by volunteers: some are inspired by in-house discussions, while the inspiration for other posts may come from any aspect of life.  In either case no names will be provided and any relation to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.  Even the first person is not necessarily personal…

This blog is dedicated to addressing aspects of mental health.  While it should not be taken as advice, it will hopefully prompt readers to consider the services that are offered at the lowest cost possible.

If you, or a loved one, require help please consider one of the following options:

Visiting: 441 Park Ave., San Jose CA 95110

Calling: 408-287-7428

Or Accessing: http://www.actmentalhealth.org

We are always here, ever-vigulent and want to help individuals and the community take ownership of their mental health.

Best Wishes,

The ACT for Mental Health Team