Don’t get me wrong, I love psychiatry. It has given me the language to understand what happens in my mind when I am sick. Diagnosis is a wonderful, wonderful thing, because, once you diagnose something, you can focus on strategies to confront it. That’s what you get from studying the disease you suffer.
But psychiatrists suck at poetry.
Bipolar. Bi, meaning two; polar meaning the two ends of a pole. That is so abstract! And we’re talking poetry, Doctor. Give me an image.
And then there’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jesus H. Christ, that’s about as milky as you can get. Post sounds like the mail system. Traumatic, that’s the only word in there that might raise an emotion from a reader. Stress, hell, everybody feels stress and talks about it these days. And Disorder, that one pisses me off, because it sounds like, “Well, just put it in order!”
I like to reach back for the heartier words and images that our ancestors gave us. Shell shock for instance, says a lot more than PTSD. It reaches back to World War I: psychological disturbance caused by prolonged exposure to active warfare, especially being under bombardment. You might say, “Well, that’s just for soldiers.” Wrong! ongoing sexual or emotional childhood trauma is its own war. Rape, beatings, anytime a human being inflicts such pain on another, it ignites a lifelong battle in the brain.
Manic depression is a little less abstract, though it doesn’t do much to rouse the realness of my disease. And don’t get me started on mood disorder, that one pisses me off to no end. I say mood, you might say Moody Blues, or just the basic You’re in a bad mood, which means I’ll get over it soon enough.
Let’s make the disease real: Bipolar is insanity. It is the devil raping you in your dreams and in your waking hours. Okay, that’s a little too much, the psychiatrists can’t use devil in the DSM (“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” published by the American Psychiatric Association). But, they’ve got to use some words with a little blood pulsing in them, and not the flaccid, impotent, ameliorating terms that try to cushion the horror of the disease.
Let’s try this simple one: Madness. When a bipolar person has a psychotic breakdown,
they have gone mad. This diagnosis helps me be more honest. That’s why one of my medications is poetry, such as the work of Robert Lowell, who suffered the same madness, and who once wrote
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . .
I myself am hell
Stick that somewhere in the DSM.