“In the land of the blind, the one
eyed man is an hallucinating idiot.”
“…real mental illness is boring. Depressives are toxic and dull. Manic depressives are irritating. People with schizophrenia or autism are largely indecipherable.
Most of them are best treated not by charismatic psychoanalysts who carefully excavate the early, repressed trauma that has “led” to their illness, but by doctors who administer psychotropic drugs of one kind of another.”
Tim Lott, “Losing The Plot”, Guardian Unlimited, 12/12/06
“…although I can’t change my fucked up brain chemistry I can change some of my behaviour. I’ve no way really of knowing whether the pills are doing any good until I start looking after myself a hell of a lot better.”
“A Few Home Truths: Bipolar is not a get out of jail free card”
Puddle Jumper’s Bipolar World
There are no benefits to Manic Depression, and the disease gives us no special abilities. We are not better gardeners, writers, lovers, photographers or thinkers because a disease forces our brains to overdose our system with chemicals. Manic Depression is something that fights against us, not for us.
It may seem like heresy but I know for a fact that I would be a better writer without the Manic Depression (MD). I know this because in the past twenty months I have written with more frequency, more clarity and better quality on the medication than I ever did off the medication. When we’re depressed MD prevents us from being able to concentrate or even move, when we’re manic we can’t slow down long enough to complete a project.
I find the writing I did while Manic is wildly imaginative in a ‘blindfolded while finger painting’ sort of way. It’s fun to look at, kind of exciting to read and an interesting insight into the state of mind I was in, but essentially it’s just scary and disturbing to realize the writer who looked at white clouds turn grey and instead saw snakes falling to earth was me.
When I was depressed my writing was depressing, that’s natural. But the disease keeps us depressed much longer than is natural so, of course, I wrote more depressing pieces than not. I was more introspective than some just for the fact I was forced into believing that my depressions had weight, that they were important. But there are no meanings behind the feelings, so we invent them. Mother didn’t recognize your genius in those paintings you brought home in grade seven? Well then, she never loved you and that’s why you’re so depressed now that you’ll write a three page, single spaced short story about a big frowny-faced bear who devours all of the light inside you to justify the depression. To give the meaningless depression meaning.
But Manic Depression has no weight. There may be some depressing, horrible, tragic shit in your life story, but Manic Depression didn’t kill your dog, MD didn’t divorce your parents, MD didn’t kill your best friend in a drunk driving accident before you could apologize to him. Manic Depression did, however, prevent you from rationally dealing with those problems.
This is why books like “Touched By Fire” are so frustrating. It’s very easy to produce lists of people who had a disease, then pin their genius on that disease. Ernest Hemingway was a genius, he was depressed, therefore his books came from his struggle with depression. As if no book has ever been written without Manic Depression as the muse, as if there aren’t millions of non-artists with Manic Depression. For every Ernest “Brains On A Wall Genius” Hemingway there are ten million poor illiterate bastards who are too depressed to make it out the front door of the Shelter to get to their intake meeting at the welfare office.
When I was eating lunch at the Shepherd’s Of Good Hope everyday I didn’t see any authors, all I saw was a bunch of men and women who just barely managed to fight their depression back far enough to make it for soup, salad and an egg sandwich. I certainly wasn’t a writer then. I went a decade between poems, even the written ones were never submitted for publication. I once spent the better part of a year living on Ma*ty’s couch (not his real asterisk), not because it was comfortable, certainly not because I was exploring my inner muse, but because I couldn’t sustain enough momentum to leave his apartment let alone find a job and appear at that job enough times to get paid so I could afford my own couch in my own apartment.
MD might bring an increased level of introspection, but being introspective does not bring reason. Under the influence of MD we believe we’re contemplating the heavy issues which make us who we are, which make us “Us”, but for the most part it’s a lie. I have a tape recording made back in 1988 during a camping trip when my friends and I were baked on weed and mostly drunk. On the tape we discuss grapefruit for thirty-five minutes. Somehow by the end we decided it was logical that grapefruits were a perfect analogy for the perfection of the universe.*
That’s MD-style introspection. People without our disease can attain that level of awareness and understanding from six glasses of red wine and playing Dark Side Of The Moon on ‘repeat’ for the evening. Some artists with cancer have made art about their struggle against cancer. It doesn’t mean the cancer gave them some special insight into the world, fighting the cancer just focused their attention on a specific period in their lives and some artists with MD manage the same despite our disease. Manic Depression is not an automatic PhD in philosophy, it’s not even a college entrance course in self-awareness. It’s a disease with a decent soundtrack that, left untreated or treated poorly, will kill you slowly, or sometimes quickly.
*Then someone (T** or De*n) tossed an aerosol can into the fire. The explosion started a fire in a pine tree. The last thirty minutes or so of the tape is us trying to put the fire out, then trying to find someplace to hide from the Park Ranger. It finishes with him yelling at us that he has our boom box and if we want it back we should come out… this is also the origin of “All Hail The Grapefruit, Fear The Seeds”, which later got me an ‘A’ in college… you can — for whatever reason — find out more on the origins of Salted and Fear on my Frequently Unanswered Questions [FUQ] page.