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Mental illness is not a moral failing.

November 23, 2020

Last week, I was struggling to understand why I got involved with Jeff. After all this time, I still struggle with the belief I initiated the affair due to my own moral failing. This week, I am reading a book by Julie Fast, Taking Charge of Your Bipolar. I’ve realized a lot of things. I've realized it's not moral failing.

Before I moved to Louisville, I was working very high profile, high stress jobs, traveling a lot and operating at superstar level. I was addicted to that lifestyle. It fed my mania, in a way that appeared on the outside to be positive. I was extremely effective, with good follow through and excellent output. I had it going on. I was the shit and I knew it.

When I moved to Louisville, and began to fail at one job after another, I lacked that same stimulation. Along came Jeff.

What people don’t realize is mania is triggered as often by positive stressors as negative stressors. So with Jeff, I was up and down and all over the place. When he was paying attention to me, I was up. When he wasn’t paying attention to me, I was up. I lived in a constant state of vigilance. I lived in a constant state of mania.

Being manic is exhausting, which resulted in disturbed sleep patterns. I could not get on a regular sleep pattern, and instead was up all night and slept all day. The exhaustion and the shame of not being able to function “normally” resulted in profound depression. Add in the mania and you have what is referred to as “rapid cycling bipolar”.

At one point in June 2017, having not slept for five days, I began having auditory hallucinations. I checked myself into the Brook. My stay at the psych hospital was helpful. It was a full stop. It forced me to sit in my room and think and write for eleven days. It stopped the suicidal thinking, at least for a time. But my medications weren’t right, and that wasn’t resolved during my stay. In fact, I was prescribed more anti-depressants, which I now know trigger mania. It’s amazing the on-staff psychiatrists know so little about drugs for effectively managing bipolar.

When I came out of the hospital, I had no income. That is terrifying in and of itself. I had failed at three jobs at that point. I failed due to issues with memory and cognition, which resulted in loss of productivity. In addition to not having an income, I didn’t know who I was anymore. Without my career, without my high income and my ability to problem solve and be effective, I felt I had no worth. Although it has taken me years, I now define my worth in very different ways.

I was a fucking mess. I tried, every day, to get myself turned around, to get my head above the mire of pain and uncertainty within which I was living. I failed, time and again. Now, looking back, I realize I did the very best I could, every day. Some days my best just wasn’t very good.

So, I got involved with Jeff for a very simple reason. I was mentally ill, with an addictive personality, and he supplied the intermittent rewards I craved, that I felt I could not live without. Together, we managed to make quite a mess of our lives. But the underlying cause had little to do with my moral code, and virtually nothing to do with him. It had everything to do with my mental illness.

“I have two moods. One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs…. Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.”

-Carrie Fisher



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