I do not have a lot of faith in the profession of psychiatry. I am familiar with the work of Jung, and only somewhat with Freud, and I regard them both as brilliant men and trailblazers. Freud came to the conclusion that children abused before the age of five would not remember that abuse even as it affected them for life. I think that is a brilliant insight.
Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is taken from the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. I am somewhat confident that it is a real thing, and in fact have a been exposed to it both at work and in my personal life. However, psychiatrists are pill dispensers first, diagnosticians second, and the DSM contains hundreds of disorders that have been voted on by members of the profession. I don’t buy that, don’t buy any of it, don’t imagine that there is ADD or defiant personality disorder or anything else. There are just people in pain.
People go through stages of growth, and have periods of high and low tension, for instance, during a divorce. Such times of trauma can lead to anger and depression, but people have to go through those things, not around them. The pills psychiatrists prescribe offer an artificial way around anger and depression.
I have a theory about antidepressants – I think they work for a brief while and then the return diminishes, and people start to flatline. Once in my single life I considered dating a woman and was chatting her up, trying to find if there was mutual interest there. She confessed to me that she was on Zoloft, and for that reason was undatable, as she had no sex drive. Maybe she just wanted me to go away, and if so, got her wish. But as I see it, the antidepressant had shortened her range of feeling, both on the negative (depressed) side, but also on the side of joy. She was caught in the effects of a drug that was robbing her of her humanity.
Two of my three older brothers were said to be bipolar, and indeed they were in misery. I could not bring friends or girlfriends around the house, as I was ashamed of them. I accepted all that I was told about manic depression, and thought the psychiatrists knew what they were doing when they sent Tommy away for electroshock therapy, and put Joe on drugs that kept him in his room when he was not working his job.
It would take me years to forge a new opinion of their condition (all of my birth family is now deceased). A little family history is in order. My Dad’s family lived on a small dairy farm near Great Falls, Montana. Dad was born in 1917, and sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, he walked into the barn to find his father swinging from a rafter, dead. He was traumatized. They all were but Dad especially because he found the body.
Dad somehow found the money to pay for a monument to Grandpa, a very large headstone in the Protestant cemetery in Great Falls (suicides were not allowed to be buried in the Catholic cemetery). I saw that headstone some years back, and to me it screamed of guilt, Dad’s guilt. This is the thing about suicides – it is those left behind who suffer. There is still a lot of anger in that family, in the aunts and uncles and cousins. It lingers.
One day when I was very young, and trust me, I will tie all of this together, I was banging on the piano in our living room when Tommy came out and told me to stop. I did not stop, and when he came out again he caught me with a roundhouse fist to the jaw. I woke up groggy, but do not remember pain. Where was Mommy? Where was Daddy? I recall being alone, but am told that in trauma young children often block things out.
What Tommy did was pay it down. I did not realize it at the time, and would not for many, many years. I then came upon information in a book about PTSD, and how its symptoms are often misdiagnosed as manic depression or even schizophrenia. What if, I wondered, Tommy and Joe were beaten up as kids, and what if their “manic depression” was really PTSD? Who would have done the beating? Could it be that man with the drinking problem, the one that found his dad hanging from the rafters of the barn? He seems the most likely candidate.
One more aspect of this from another viewpoint, that of my third brother Steve, who went on to become a Catholic priest, and was widely admired. Maybe in that same book, or somewhere else, I read that super achievers are often smart kids who figure out that the way to avoid physical abuse in an abusive household is the be perfect. Steve was indeed that, star student, good athlete, and most importantly for a Catholic family, a priest. Could it be that his choices were dictated by doing his best to avoid getting beat up by his dad?
I do not recall my Dad ever beating me up. When Joe spoke at his funeral, he made allusion to dad having to kick his ass every now and then, as if he had it coming. Both Joe and Tom died unmarried and childless, each rarely experiencing anything resembling happiness.
Manic depression, unlike say … narcissism, is hard to diagnose. It is characterized by periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood that last from days to weeks. What if it is temporary, and caused by trauma. Does it go away? I think yes, it would go away, so that a person suffering this “disorder” might find comfort and happiness as his thoughts cleared up, and his circumstances improved. I believe that “bipolar disorder”, as it is now known, is a rare thing.
There are a lot of dysfunctional households in this country, and in those households we will find a lot of alcohol abuse and violence affecting kids. I was lucky in that I did not catch it from dad, and being the youngest really only experienced the tail of the comet. Tom, Joe and Steve all had much more to cope with than I did, although I cannot say I was happy in that household. I was not. I did not attain true happiness until my early forties when I went not to a psychiatrist, but a therapist, who helped me understand my family, my choices in life, and who, knowingly or not, set me free. Because of him I was able to get my head straight, meet a wonderful woman, and go on to lead a happy life.
I started out by ragging on psychiatrists, and I stand by that, but I believe in talk therapy. If any reader finds his or herself in an untenable situation, I urge you give it a try, and keep trying until you, like me, find the right therapist.