“The old paradigm is for us to avoid emotional pain at all costs while remaining ignorant of the lessons that are available to us.” – The Depression Advantage1 The medical definition of “insight” reads, “understanding or awareness of one’s mental or emotional condition; especially: recognition that one is mentally ill”2 By that definition I have no insight because I don’t recognize my condition as an illness.
Allow me to suggest that insight is the ability to recognize my condition and all of the aspects associated with it. It means not only recognizing the cause of the condition, but the whole experience.
My anti-psychiatry friends ask me why I work with doctors and therapists. Some accuse me of being a sell-out or a stooge for the pharm industry. They think that the way to change the system is to oppose it completely.
I don’t agree. I think the way to change the system is to work with it, not against it. If we can find ways to influence the thinking of those who are working with the greatest number of people, we will have the greatest effect. Communicating with them as a partner is the way to do that.
My daughter Kate and her friend Kelsey are in medical school. They have not decided yet what to specialize in, but if they choose to be General Practitioners they will be the front line in catching mental conditions. They are taking a class now about psychiatry and have been learning about suicide. Their assignment is to interview several people so they can get a first hand feel from those of us who have attempted or seriously thought about it.
One of the first steps toward getting Bipolar In Order is to learn the difference between what we feel or experience and how we react. In our first workshop and in our support group meetings we have an exercise that helps. I want to share it with you here and see how it works without as much guidance or background.
One of the main stumbling blocks to getting Bipolar In Order is the belief that we have no choice in how we react. When presented with the fact that we do, I always hear “what about the times when it is too intense?” or “what about when I go to bed happy and wake up depressed?” “Surely we have no control then?” While it is currently true for most people, with training and practice we can learn to have the choice in an ever increasing range. Eventually we can get to the point where nothing is too intense.
The diagnosis of mental illness is the most dangerous time for many of us. Overwhelmed by fear, confusion and the numbing effect of over-medication, we are vulnerable to any messages that can have long-term consequences. It was during my first months after diagnosis that I fell victim to the myths of mental illness.
As I was trying to make sense of what was happening to me, I was given a list of the most offensive comments anyone could say to the mentally ill. I’m sure you’ve heard of at least some of them. Examples include: “snap out of it,” “you can do anything you want to if you just set your mind to it,” “get a grip,” and the worst one of all, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
While the Advocates are well intentioned, the result is quite the opposite.