Monday, August 11, 2014

Hah. Choose that, a-hole.

If happiness is a choice, so is not having cancer. Still stuck with diabetes? You're not choosing hard enough. Choose harder, it's your choice to be sick and therefore it's your fault and you deserve it. Listen to my inspiring message of self-righteousness. If it makes you feel shitty about yourself that's because you're a shitty person who does not deserve to be happy and healthy because you are too stupid and/or lazy to make the right choice. *insert inspirational background image here* (and then go f*** yourself.)

I get it, there are some things that I can (and do) choose that may help me feel less miserable. I could certainly choose to be more miserable than necessary. That's easy. But choosing to not be miserable and choosing to be happy are two different things. My brain does not produce and/or respond to neurotransmitters appropriately. Seratonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, all that good stuff, is either in short supply or is quickly consumed or the receptors are not very receptive or something. That's what it means to have a mood disorder. Most of the time, if life is an emotional landscape ranging from sea level to the peak of Mount Everest, I'm stuck in Saskatchewan. On a good day, I might get a few negligible hills and valleys (think Edmonton... still eerily flat). But I rarely, if ever, get to BC. I vaguely remember what BC feels like. I was there in my childhood sometimes. I know that "extremes" like happiness and sadness exist, I just... only get to look at the postcards. And, being stuck on the prairies, I'm more likely to fall in a hole than find a mountain to climb. Sure, I could choose to manufacture a mountain for myself, but then I am likely to fall into the gaping pit I just dug to get the dirt to make the hill. What a waste of time and effort, and all for something fake and, in the end, harmful.

So, suggesting that someone with a brain like mine should "choose" to be happy is rather like suggesting we "choose" to levitate to a higher elevation. Ain't no mountains here, just willpower. Maybe instead of shaming me for being stuck out here, you could invite me to visit your cottage in the BC Interior for a weekend. Those little tastes of happiness are what sustain me through the long, dark prairie winters of "oh hey your dysthymia just shifted into full-on depression mode". A girl can only "choose" to jump so high, you know.

Monday, August 04, 2014


Seeing the hills and trees in their proper place, filling the void between ground and sky, and breathing the air that tastes of sweet clover blossoms and sun-warmed forest makes me feel desperately homesick.

Although it has been sixteen years since I was uprooted, it still hurts to be torn away from my homeland again. I weep helplessly as the bus careers through my beloved mountains, not knowing when I will escape and return to them once more.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mental Illness In the Media

Recently, I have seen episodes that deal with mental illness on a couple of favourite shows. The first one, an episode of Doctor Who involving Vincent Van Gogh, was absolutely spot-on. The second, an episode of Drop Dead Diva in which Jane's mother is arrested for erratic behaviour and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, both wins and fails horribly.

Vincent Van Gogh, for those of you who do not have an interest in history, art, or art history, was a Dutch painter whose art was not recognised or appreciated during his lifetime. He is now considered one of the most influential painters of all time, and his style influenced a number of expressionist and modernist artists. Van Gogh is the dude who chopped off his earlobe and gave it to a prostitute after a falling-out with a fellow painter. He is known to have suffered bouts of mental illness, growing in intensity and frequency towards the end of his life. He committed suicide in 1890.

In the Doctor Who episode "Vincent and the Doctor" (link contains spoilers), Van Gogh is seen enduring extreme mood shifts, moving from apathy to melancholy to wonder and delight to irrational anger to deep existential despair, and so on. The Doctor does not seem to scorn or pity him, but rather treats him with compassion. Through the events of the episode, Van Gogh falls sort of wryly in love with Amy, the Doctor's companion, and what one would presume to be the hallucinations of a man grappling with schizophrenia or an over-fondness for absinthe are shown to actually be an invisible homicidal alien whom only Van Gogh can see. After the thing with the alien is resolved, and Van Gogh is treated to a glimpse of his future fame and popularity, Amy eagerly rushes back to the art museum to see if there are new paintings there. She thought that their twenty-four hours of good times and happiness would have magically cured Van Gogh's malady and prevented his suicide. Much to her dismay, Van Gogh's suicide still occurred. The Doctor, while consoling her, says "The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things."

Apparently some have criticized the episode's ending as "utterly pointless" or unnecessarily emotional. I have to say that I was greatly impressed with the fact that Van Gogh was not miraculously cured in one day, as so often happens in tv shows or movies. He has a great day, and gets to see amazing possibilities in the universe. He sees that his legacy is much more far-reaching than he ever could have dreamt. But none of that changes what is ultimately an organic disorder. His neurotransmitters are still messed up. His brain still is not functioning typically, and he is not able to regulate or temper his moods. The thing about mental illness is that it is not rational. If we could just decide to feel better, or if we could just have one wonderfully joyful day, and that would magically make our neurons fire properly and our bodies produce the correct balance of chemicals to make us feel emotions appropriate to the situation, those of us living with mental illnesses would gladly pursue such options! The Doctor's little speech is also very important; just because life is filled with such persistent darkness and despair for so many of us, that doesn't mean that wonder and joy are not also present. And it also doesn't mean that the wonder and joy are able to dispel the darkness. Neither does it mean that the darkness makes the wonder and joy shine any less brightly, nor does the darkness diminish their significance and importance. The end of the episode conveys an important message to the family and friends of people who grapple daily with mood disorders and mental illnesses: Everything you do to shine some light and happiness into our lives is important. We need your joy and compassion and encouragement. However, there are times when nothing you can do is able to make us feel better. Sometimes, it might seem like nothing you do can help or make any difference. This is not your fault. This is not our fault. It simply is what it is. And never believe that your kindness and love are in vain; they matter greatly to us.

Right. I got kind of wrapped up in rambling/ranting over Doctor Who for a bit there. Sorry. The second episode I want to mention, the latest Drop Dead Diva episode, was kind of a disappointment in contrast. Don't get me wrong, it actually started out pretty good; it just falls short, as so many of the series's episodes do, of escaping the morass of popular perception.

I have been watching Drop Dead Diva in the hopes that it will somehow become less shallow and live up to its glimmer of potential. The first few episodes were great, if you ignore the theological implications; an aspiring model is on the brink of success, dies ironically, has a temper tantrum at the pearly gates, and hits the "Return" key on the keyboard, which apparently returns her to life on Earth -- except she wakes up in the body of Jane Bingham, a brilliant, selfless, overweight lawyer. The series wonderfully addresses the fact that body chemistry plays a part in things like food cravings; Jane thinks that her willpower can whip this body into shape in no time, but finds that things she would have shunned in her previous life (like doughnuts) overwhelmingly irresistible.

In this episode, Jane's (new to her) mother is arrested at a shopping mall, and in the course of getting her out of jail and dealing with the charges, Jane has to deal with her outrageous behaviour. When drug and alcohol tests come back clean, the judge orders a psychiatric assessment, which turns up a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. A lot of what is portrayed can be part of an accurate picture of bipolar disorder. The mother is intent upon having fun, despite possible consequences; in fact, she behaves as if the consequences do not apply to her. She has a hair-trigger temper, and is extremely defensive about her condition. It turns out she was actually diagnosed fifteen years prior, but did not like how the medication made her feel. She describes looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person she saw there. The prosecuting attorney mentions that she has escitalopram (brand name Lexapro or Cipralex) in her blood, as detected by the aforementioned drug test, and claims that the medication is known to induce a manic episode in patients with bipolar disorder. It turns out the mother had asked for the antidepressant, presumably because she preferred to avoid her depressive states. The mother agrees to follow a course of treatment involving medication, outpatient therapy, and exercise, and is released into the custody of her ex-husband (Jane's dad, of course) who wants to get back together with her as long as she takes her medicine. The major focus immediately shifts to medication therapy. Later, presumably that evening, the mother is portrayed as being magically back to normal, even though medications used to treat bipolar and other mood disorders typically take weeks or months to take full effect. There is an unspoken implication that the mom is now cured.

I cannot even begin to address how bad and wrong and awful this is! The world needs to see realistic portrayals of mental illness and its treatment, not this stupid fairy tale.

Today, the score is Drop Dead Diva: 0, Doctor Who: >9000.