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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

September 30th, 2011 (02:19 pm)

I just posted this to bipolarowls, and I realized as I wrote it that I was articulating a lot of things about bipolar and identity that I hadn't fully put into words before, and it felt important. It's not that well-written, but it feels true. So I'm reposting it here, partly for my own future reference and partly for other people to see. I'm cross-posting everything lately.

The mod of bipolarowls asked people what they thought about the concept of bipolar and identity: whether people feel like they *are* bipolar or they feel like it's something separate. What I came up with is a cross between a meditation on that idea and a self-history.

I have had a lot of trouble with [the issue of bipolar and identity and whether/how they are separate] in the past, and still do to some extent. Part of what's made it hard for me is that although I always was bipolar (spectacular temper tantrums as a kid and one quasi-suicide attempt, depressed all through high school until I got hold of some Zoloft late in the game, a couple of mixed-state episodes in the couple of years I was on the Zoloft), I did have some good, stable, happy years in high school, in between the mixed states. I didn't have my first real manic/depressive episode until college, when it hit me like a ton of bricks. So I do feel like I know who I was in a mostly-stable and happy state, even if it was tenuous. Then when I went to college it just... I mean, I went crazy, that was all. I've never been fully stable since, although I've had okayish periods where I was only a little depressed. And the medications have been at least as difficult to sort out from my identity as the bipolar, honestly; neuroleptics slow me down too much and make me mentally and physically slow, Depakote skews me depressed, but Lamictal and Zoloft together will kick me manic if I don't take the neuroleptics. As my most recent entry says, I've never yet found a good balance that lasts more than a couple of days. And it's really hard. One of my therapists told me I was lazy, and I assimilated that as part of my self-image -- it took me *years* to realize that I was not and am not lazy, I was just depressed. (How a therapist could not recognize that I don't know, but this therapist... had issues.)

In some ways I have come to terms with the bipolar/identity issue by coming to terms with another issue: when I was born I sustained a right-brain injury courtesy of some badly handled forceps, and I have something called nonverbal learning disability in addition to bipolar. So I know that I would have been a very different person if the doctor hadn't fucked up with the forceps and dented my head. I mean, like, up until two seconds before I was born, I was a very different person. But... now I am who I am. I'm disorganized and I have trouble focusing and I have no sense of spatial relations and I'm clumsy and fall over a lot. And I've come to realize that that's just who I am. So I'm disorganized and ADD-ish and clumsy and lost all the time; I've learned to handle that stuff, and now handling it is part of who I am -- what's shaped me into the person I am. It's the same with bipolar, I think. I'd have been a different person if bipolar didn't run in my family or I hadn't happened to get it. But I have it, and I'll always have mood swings and I'll always be coping with that. And that's who I am. I don't even really think of it as a "part of me"; it's integrated through my whole life. It's not all bad and it's (definitely) not all good, but whatever it is, it's me. I can't think of it as a separate thing the way [a woman that the OP mentioned] does, because I don't really think there is a "me" that's not bipolar. Sometimes I'm not even sure I'd want there to be. I don't know who I'd be. I have the occasional stable patches that seem tantalizingly like "normal", but they're just another stage, and all of the stages shape me -- all of them *are* me. You know?

I know that's not everyone's perspective and I don't mean to imply it should be, but that's the way I've worked it out, and how I cope with it.


Posted by: Kat (kindness_says)
Posted at: September 30th, 2011 08:25 pm (UTC)

Mm. Yeah, the subtle line between "being" something and "having" something and how different people perceive it can be really interesting.

I enjoyed reading this. =) And yes! to your other response.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: September 30th, 2011 11:40 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I've heard some people complain about how the common phraseology is "so-and-so is bipolar" instead of "so-and-so has bipolar." They point out that people don't usually say "so-and-so is depressive", and that "bipolar" is often used as a noun and that no one ever says someone "is schizophrenia" or whatever. I guess it's part of the same movement towards using phrases like "people with developmental disabilities," which I appreciate. But I don't have a problem with saying I am bipolar because, well, see above.

Posted by: Ginger Honey (sweetgingertea)
Posted at: September 30th, 2011 10:32 pm (UTC)
afternoon tea

Even though it's similar, but not the same- I kinda feel the same way about my trauma issues. I would be a different person if I hadn't had the trauma, and sometimes the effects of the trauma are a real pain. I know as I heal I can move to being less affected, but it's there at the core of my thinking, you know?

Also- I have never thought you were lazy.

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: September 30th, 2011 11:24 pm (UTC)

Yeah - I have been close to survivors of some pretty horrendous abuse (family and friends both) who have said that as awful as the abuse and its effects were/are, they aren't sure they would want to have had a different life* because it's been such a huge part of shaping who they are and they are proud of who they are.**

I'm glad I don't come off as lazy, too, although if people on the Internet could see how much time I spend lying around in bed hating myself when I'm depressed I know some of them would think I was! But I know you wouldn't, and I appreciate that.

*I should note that I'm paraphrasing and I may not be getting the nuances of this right; it's a very difficult concept to process, I'm told, and I'm a degree removed from it, plus different people feel/understand it differently - but there seems to be a common ground there.
**More paraphrasing. But knowing them, *I'm* proud of who they are.

Posted by: Morgan (banshea)
Posted at: October 1st, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
I am up past my bedtime and might be rambling

The people who have earned my greatest respect often turn out to have been the people who have had the proverbial crap beaten out of them by life. People react to hardship differently, but it seems to have a positive formative effect for many, whether that means tapping into reserves of strength or depths of empathy for others or what have you.

I never asked my grandmother if she wished her life had been different, but I know that her experiences with abuse led her to treasure kindness all the more, to the point where she was utterly convinced that all the problems in the world would be solved if people just loved each other more, and was fully prepared to lead by example. And while she probably would have benefited from going straight to college out of high school, the fact that she had to wait until later in life and ended up at UC Berkeley in the 1960s meant that she honed her sense of justice and social obligation in a way that probably wouldn't have come out of she hadn't been in that place at that time (and she probably wouldn't have been, if she'd been allowed to go to college when she was 18).

There's the line of thinking that says things happen for a reason, which is something that I don't really like for reasons I can't quite put my finger on at the moment. It's kinda rationalizing blind optimism. I find it better to think that things tend to work out okay if you're willing to let them.

Posted by: Pirate Jenny (deliriums_fish)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2011 05:15 am (UTC)

I feel a little differently about it than you do.
F'r instance, my bipolar didn't rear it's head until I was 18. I'd had my Sensory Integration issues since I was a baby--and my OCD since I was a child--and that did shape me, but the bipolar came as a complete surprise to me (and my family). And I'm bitter, really bitter, about it, because I remember what it was like to be without it.

One other issue I have with my bipolar and identity is my medications. Dr. G especially thinks I would be a different person if I weren't on as many medications. I know I would be able to concentrate more, have more energy, maybe be more creative if it weren't for the metric shitton of drugs I was on.

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