Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Emotion versus Mental Illness


My favorite commenter, "Anonymous," wrote in to my Duckiness post to say that it was good I could post something totally silly without being told I need more meds. Oh, if life were that simple. And it is true that once someone has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, not only does the world question their emotions in a black & white "are you sick again?" kind of way, but patients don't trust themselves to feel for it's own sake.

If you're not sick, then being asked if you took your meds is insulting and degrading. And so I thought I'd put together some guidelines for Emotion versus Mental Illness. I'm inventing this as I go, with no evidence-based anything, so take my suggestions at your own risk.

  • If you are ultra-successful, rich, brilliant, gorgeous, famous, and comfortable with your diagnosis, you may want to consider telling people you have a mental illness because it decreases stigma and people like being with the ultra-successful rich, famous, brilliant and gorgeous and won't care that you have a mental disorder. It helps even more if you're charming.
  • If you're not ultra-successful, you may want to pick and choose who you tell that you've been ill and are on medications. This isn't always possible, especially if your illness is evident to others or if the presentation of your symptoms resulted in a hospitalization. It's good to tell close family members.
  • If multiple people are looking at you strangely, or commenting on your behavior, or saying you need medications, you might want to at least entertain the option that you could be sick. Unfortunately, poor insight and judgment are symptoms of mania.
  • Tell the people close to you not to make medication jokes. It confuses the issue if you seriously do need medication changes, and it's rude, degrading, dismissive, and disrespectful. There, I said it.
  • If you want to be silly, go for it. Be silly when you're well so that being silly is part of your baseline personality and no one equates this with being out-of-character. You'll note the duck invaders did not come after me, rather they said, "There's Dinah posting yet another stupid duck post." If I'd posted about why chocolate should be outlawed and made into a controlled substance, those same duck invaders would be asking "What's wrong with Dinah?"
  • Mental illnesses come as constellations of symptoms. There is no "Sending out silly duck stuff" as a symptom. People think about mania when the ducks are combined with more energy, racing thoughts, a decreased need for sleep, increased mood OR irritability, and other symptoms of mania. Know the list and if someone bothers you, say, "I posted about ducks, I do not have any other associated symptoms." Recite them if necessary. If you do have the other symptoms, refrain from posting about ducks. I don't want Posts Duck Blog Posts to show up anywhere in DSM-V and these days you just never know.

  • No one controls how any other person thinks of them or judges them and it's not reasonable to live life ruled by a desire to be perceived in a certain way . It's another form of poultry, but Don't Let the Turkeys Get You Down. There are a lot of turkeys out there.

Moods happen on a spectrum. Some people have large variations in their mood---large enough or severe enough such that it causes suffering, and we call it an illness. Some people don't have much variety to their moods and live in a calm, even-keel place, and it's great that we have such people. But, I absolutely promise you that if we lived in a world where everyone had a very narrow range of mood, this would be one terribly boring planet. We should celebrate our diversity, not condemn those who like ducky stuff.