Wednesday, August 11, 2010

At 2 Kilobunnies!

I'm listening to Mozart's Divertimento in E flat major, KV 166, as I write this.  More about that later.

For now, make a joyful noise!

I am four weeks out of my depression now and it is heavenly.  How can I express the joy of not being depressed?  Of being able to attend to life's little details without fear?  Of having the courage to confront people, places and things when they upset me and swiftly resolve the emotional matter at hand?

Through long practice I am quick to forgive.  That is, my practice is not to let things fester in relationships, to expose any block to honest relations as early as possible in the course of conflict.  This does not mean I meekly submit to the other person's position; quite the contrary, I am willing to fight for my own.  But when the process is completed, I want the way between us to be cleansed, for pure water to flow from one heart to another, unimpeded by the secret dissatisfactions with others that plague us. 

After suffering depression for two-and-a-half years of the last four, I am ready to take my place in society again.  I have plans for the future, plans I do not feel at liberty to share, but they are achievable so long as I maintain vigilance over my mood.

Manic-depression is much like diabetes in this regard; adjustments in dosage and sometimes medications must be made frequently in order to anticipate the direction in which the mood disorder is progressing when the internal milieu changes.  In other words, when Kathleen told me tonight (as I recall her saying, though she denies it), "You've crossed the line into mania."   (She denies saying this but admits that she said I "was out there" and chose to eat her dinner separately. 

What did I do?  Object to her assessmen?  Defend myself?  No, I went straight to the medicine cabinet and swallowed 10 mg. of Abilify (a third-generation antipsychotic) to temper the rise in my mood.  I was not delusional, I was not physical or combative; let's just say that my engine was running too hot.

It is not uncommon after a serious depression to slip into mania in rebound, because you feel so good and it's such a relief that you want to feel better and better until you feel too good.  What is that like?  Here are a few examples:

1) Listening too fast  (I leap ahead in conversations, confident that I have deduced the point being made before the other speaker is finished.) 

2) Increased physical energy.  My pace in my daily one-hour hike with J. Alfred has increased.  Sometimes I walk him at night as well.  (Picture below.)

3) Reduced need for sleep.  For three nights in a row I needed no more than 4 hours.

4) Creative thoughts that encompass a variety of disciplines, from theology to medicine.  My mind generates hypotheses and systems of categorization and comparison, including the design of clinical trials in psychiatry.  Strangely, I feel drawn to the field again; indeed, it seems as if I never left it. 

5) A tendency to impute to others my irascibility.  When to myself it appears I am only protecting my boundaries, others may perceive an overreaction.

6) Decrease in appetite (with accompanying, thank my stars, weight loss).  I feel ike an air fern, like I could live on air.

7) A heightened sense of wonder towards everything, but especially toward the glories of Nature--the cliffs of Mendocino, the tunnels and arches of rock that pierce them, can overwhelm me almost to the point of joyful tears.
My training in psychiatry was rudely interrupted at the age of 29 by a bipolar depression necessitating ECT.  In discussing my illness with the department chairman, a warm human being named Floyd Westendorp, it was decided that psychiatry was too close to home for a good prognosis.  I might have been set off by other mood-disordered patients, something I call "cross-kindling." 

Kindling is a change in the mood regulators of the brain, a cascade of increasing activity in mania and decreasing activity in depression.  In depression there is a paucity of thought, an obsession with the same problems over and over in mind-numbing repetition without solution.  In hypomania, which is as far as my present mood has ascended, thoughts flow like water, ideas flock like birds, vistas open up that stretch an entire lifetime.  It's spring in Craig's brain, though small compensation for depression-- depressions outnumber mania and hypomanias 3:1 in bipolar disorder.

The point is, I'm managing my illness and listening to that best observer of me and my mood, my wife.  I know she has my best interests at heart, and if she opines my engine is running too hot I've got to cool it down, both for my benefit and the relief of mankind, as left unchecked I can become rude, insistent and physically coiled like a snake ready to strike.  I'm hyperalert, able to monitor more stimuli, able to solve near any problem with amazing alacrity.

When coming out of a depression the brain, often with the assistance of medications, can overshoot the target and bring on mania, in whose wake destruction usually follows--disrupting the lives of everyone close to the patient.  This is why psychiatrists more fear mania than depression; there are liability issues.  This is also why psychiatrists will make a depressive wait for a month to get an appointment, but upon hearing that a patient is manic, will make room for them in their schedule that day.  This is is a sad state of affairs, as to the patient the depression seems more of an emergency than the mania.  But how are doctors to know this unless we, the sufferers, tell them?

Many doctors are dense, more attuned to the imposition of science on the human body than to the body's natural signals.  In each of us lies the secret to healing, but it takes a very good clinician to tease that process out, one who respects the experience of the patient, even if it includes psychoses--which can be powerful, life-changing visions.  Psychiatric patients need to be treated as whole creatures, not collections of symptoms.  The rude classifications of DSM IV, the standard manual for psychiatric diagnosis, are primitive and operational by necessity, but qualifying for five of nine traits in a personality disorder doesn't tell the patient or the clinican what the actual damage is; that must be worked out over time, with much patience, effort, and appropriate time for the patient to muse upon past hurts and fears, understanding their origin and learning to forgive in order to attain true freedom, which is peace of mind.

Since taking the Abilify I have calmed significantly.  My typing is not rushed.  It is easy for me to focus.

One thing I did while still depressed was to order the entire works of Mozart--170 CDs--for mental health.  I thought by listening to the master of reconciliation in music that I might reconcile with myself, and it's working.  It's been especially wonderful recovering from depression to the soundtrack of Mozart.  Like the Grateful Dead, his music is essentially happy, buoyant, often light and uplifting.  A recent study, in fact, maintained that classical music was of help in depression, and Mozart was mentioned as an example.

I've been devouring medical journals of late.  I feel a call back to science and away from poetry.  How this plays out remains to be seen.  But I'm glad, I'm so glad to have a life, and a solid ambition for the future. 

2 Kilobunnies,


p.s. Above a picture of J. Alfred Prufrock and below a link to the ten professions most afflicted with depression.

Workers and depression risk


  1. Excellent post, Craig. I continue to be amazed at how you can detach yourself so well from your symptoms and "observe" yourself, then express what you see. Must be your medical training automatically kicking in when you're in a depression. I'd have you as my doctor anytime. Glad you're feeling better. You deserve the relief! I'm on Abilify too, but as an augmentation to my antidepressants. It's done wonders, but I live in fear of my depression returning. I had severe depression all last winter and now if you show me a photograph with snowfall in it my stomach falls out. Lots of dread left in me.

    To your continued good health!


  2. Thanks, Richard,

    Stalwart follower of my journey. And thanks for the vote of confidence; someday I hope I might be allowed to be your doctor--but there are hurdles to jump first. Sorry about winters!

  3. Most people have heard of Eliot’s Prufrock even if the don’t like it and there are good reasons not to like modernity. America’s best poems are all from the Nineteenth Century: The Raven, The Night Before Christmas, The Wreck of the Hesperus. Prufrock dates to the beginning of the Twentieth and today, seen by us from the perspective of a hundred years, it is, regardless of its merits, something like a monument in time. It is the last instance of the written word before the written word was wiped out by new technologies. About the time of Prufrock radio and cinema came on line, to be followed over the decades by television and Facebook, all language killing devices in general, and written word killing devices in particular. Note: Pie Eater says that Facebook is the undead.

  4. Strange comment as the only reference above to the poem is the name of my dog, "J. Alfred Prufrock" (also called "Scout" now for reasons I may detail in another dog blog here).

    So why you need to spout off about a poem I never discussed to make your point I'll never know, because you're preaching to the choir, except that
    language isn't dead. Just buy my new book above and you'll see.



  5. I am old and I remember. You are the guy who put Eliot and Prufrock on the web. I read your lengthy critique which at one point was on a web page. I agreed with some of it. I am within my rights to raise the matter anew on your blog now because it is ancient history. The type of thing you did then cannot be done now, cannot be done on Facebook, or if you do it one Facebook, I will not see it.

  6. CE:

    I put the story on the Scarriet blog. Feel free to go there and flame it. You cannot hurt my feelings.


  7. What a strange exchange above. Anyway, congratulations on your new improved mood! Here's hoping it continues.

  8. Thanks, Twitches.

    What's even better, I now believe, after long suffering since the age of 13, that I have been healed of manic-depression once and for all.

    This week I had the greatest experience of my life--I felt the Holy Spirit heal my manic-depression. And I'm a non-pentecostal Lutheran. Still I can't deny what happened. But this means I can close this blog, finally, with a happy ending.


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