These are some of the books I’ve read to understand better what happens in my bipolar brain. They help me live with the disease, work with it, manage it as best as possible. Again, books, books, books—how do people go through life without them?
The information in these tomes isn’t pretty. Here are some tidbits about my mentally ill brain that have made me pause:
Bipolar affects around six million people in the U.S. It causes brain damage. We live nine to twenty years less than the average life expectancy. Our brains shrink through the years. You can see this in MRI scans.
As we age, the manic episodes (madness) become more intense and frequent. This pattern of collapse occurs in all bipolars, whether we are un-medicated, under-medicated, or medicated.
There is no “cure” for bipolar.
Dr. Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University says that those with bipolar have “a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day.” Yes, our life is shorter than that of a chain smoker.
That’s all pretty bad shit.
But, I prefer knowing it. I can construct my life around the info. It’s not all bad news; more research shows how we can take care of our brains (Lithium is being studied again, as it seems to have a regenerative effect on brain cells).
My father died at 91. My mother is turning 91. She eats like a horse and is still very sharp. So, chances are, I’ve got good genes. But I don’t put any stake in that anymore. The studies are holding true: I’m 56, and the psychotic breaks happen more frequently, sometimes twice a year. Every winter promises an episode, no matter how much we all prepare for it. I came out of this last one exhausted, and now, five months later, still feel its effects.
The length of my life—which, yes, I hope it’s long!—isn’t my priority. My concern is now, the ongoing now of existence.
I hate wasting time. As a man who happily believes in no gods, I know that this is all we’ve got, so I want to make hay while the sun shines (when people ask why I’m an atheist, I say that, as a man with a mental illness, I try to keep my delusions to a minimum). I think about existence on a daily basis; and, as we all should do, I consider my own death from time to time.
I take Thoreau’s words to heart, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I go to the woods every chance I can—the forests of the mind, the places where we all should spend a little more time. Those places are frightening, yes; yet, who are you, if you don’t confront your fears? You are not, fully, you.
Next week: the love affair of madness and art.