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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Bipolar - Just Get a Little Self-Control


I posted something about bipolar the other day and was shocked to get back two of those "it's not real, they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a little self-control responses. God help the people who said that. It's like telling someone with cancer to just grit their teeth and stop having cancer.

That attitude, all too common in the Christian community is just so entirely wrong that I can't find words to express how appalled I am at that attitude. I've worked for 40 years with people with mental illness and other disabilities. I have two immediate family members with bipolar disorder.
And I'm here to tell you that bipolar is a physical disability. It affects the mind, but it has physical causes. Imagine, if you will that you lost control of your emotions. One minute you are depressed, another you are angry and another you are exhilarated and it has absolutely no relation to what's going on around you, other than that stress can trigger the onset of a new fresh emotional hell. Your mind searches for a reason for your anger, depression or exhilaration. The emotions are entirely a response to chemicals in your physical brain. 

The brain of a person with bipolar or schizophrenia or Asperger's for that matter, inexplicably shoots out neuro-transmitters that trigger often violent emotion, delusions or voices in your head if you're schizophrenic and YOU HAVE LITTLE OR NO CONTROL OVER IT.
I have a child in prison because he felt "better" on his meds so he decided to stop taking them and then confessed to a crime he didn't commit because he thought he could save a child by manipulating the legal system and in his deluded state thought he could get away with it. My wife deals with the side effects of medications she has to take to keep from experiencing wildly fluctuating emotions that confuse her mind and impair her judgment.

Carrie Fisher made her struggle with bipolar very public
hoping to help others escape the stigma of mental illness..
Just because you cannot see a wound or find a tumor on x-rays doesn't mean there's not something wrong. To say that people with bipolar should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps is simply ignorant. Humans do not possess a disconnected "soul". The soul resides in the organic machine that is the brain. When God made man he first made a body from the clay and then breathed life into it. Only then did man become a "living soul". If the machine is messed up, the soul is in trouble. That is why the Psalmist said, "He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust."  (Psalms 103:14). 

Most people with mental illness no longer have any bootstraps to pull themselves up with.
Some mental conditions CAN be treated with behavior change, abstinence from drugs or alcohol or talking therapy in the same way we can fix a computer by reinstalling the software or moving the magnet away from our hard drive. Medication is a crapshoot at best because what's going wrong in the brain varies from person to person and there are no X-rays, CT Scans, MRIs or PET Scans that can detect anything other than secondary level effects.  

For instance, with kids who have true Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (and there are other disease including bipolar which mimic ADHD), a PET scan reveals lowered levels of glucose in the attention centers of the forebrain.
They don't know what causes this and the only treatment they have for it is to administer stimulants which logically should make it worse. It doesn't. Stimulants like Ritalin and Cylert re-energize the brains attention centers and help the person with ADHD to focus and from there to "have a little self-control".

Self-control, talking therapy and "good discipline" only work if the underlying hardware (the human brain) is functioning properly. It's like trying to install new software on a damaged computer. If the organic hardware that is the brain is not working properly, often the best you can do is try medication, therapy and other work-arounds to achieve the best quality of life possible under the circumstances. It's unlikely, however, that you're going to fix it. You can slap a patch on your leaky lifeboat while you are at sea, but don't expect it to be able to take a lot of pounding from the sea.

Even medications are not all that accurate in treating specific conditions because we cannot see inside the living brain to find out what bit of it is not working and we do not have the ability to fix the delicate mechanisms of the brain.
The best we can do is cut out tumors, but there aren't any surgeries available to "fix" bipolar. You can only diagnose it by its symptoms. It's kind of like trying to fix your car's engine without opening the hood or taking the engine apart. 

Other attempts to mechanically cure mental illness through surgical means have resulted in some horrific solutions like lobotomies and electro-shock.
These do violence to the mind. It's like using a hand grenade to clean out your closet. Such radical solutions may make the person more compliant or less violent, but the mind is irrevocably altered in the process.

With bipolar and other mental illness with a brain defect of some sort as the cause, all you can do is try different medications until you find one or a combination of meds that give the person some relief. 
For example, if your computer has a defect on the motherboard, the software won't work properly however much you want it to. If you have a defect in the brain, no amount of gritting your teeth or efforts at "self-control" will work effectively to make it go away. The best we can do is create some sort of chemical workaround or some intense therapy that works around the problem. The defect doesn't go away, though. It remains there lurking in the background for the rest of a person's life. It's why addicts say they are never cured. They're only "in recovery". Addiction, however it's caused, makes physical changes to the brain that you will have to deal with the rest of your life. The brain is too complex for mere humans to dig around in it to fix the problems. The best you can do is to try to control the neuro-chemicals through medication and fix the damage through therapy. It's tough to do.

There's a reason Robin Williams played mentally ill people so well....
The landscape of mental illness was all too familiar to him.
The #1 side effect of uncontrolled bipolar is suicide. Bipolar isn't a made-up excuse for bad behavior. It's a real disorder. It can be traced genetically through multiple generations of families and you better pray to God you don't have the genetic marker for it yourself, because one day a physical or emotional trauma may trigger full blown bipolar disorder. Left untreated or left for the person to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, bipolar may drive you to the point that one day you find yourself sitting in a porta-jon on a California beach with a shotgun in your mouth like a former preacher/evangelist and good friend of mine did. He did not survive. My wife's uncle did not survive his final bout with bipolar. He went to bed, rolled over to face the wall and starved to death in that position. Her niece's life is a wreck because of her bipolar. We've been to the ER and mental hospitals five times with my wife's bipolar. She's not a bad person. She's just overwhelmed by it from time to time. 

A lot of famous people have successfully coped with bipolar and some not so successfully. A lot of them have lost or ruined their lives as the disease progressed. Earnest Hemingway killed himself. Mel Gibson's disastrous bipolar psychotic breaks are famous and nearly ruined his career. Robin Williams killed himself. People like Winston Churchill, Ben Stiller, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Dreyfuss, and Jim Carrey have all struggled with bipolar. You can also add Vivien Leigh of "Gone With the Wind" fame, Carrie Fisher, whose youthful drug abuse has been tied directly to attempts by the actress to self-medicate her then-undiagnosed bipolar, Jean Claude Van Damme, Linda Hamilton, Vincent Van Gogh, TV journalist Jane Pauley, Marilyn Monroe and Patty Duke all have struggled with bipolar disorder. The disease is often fatal if untreated and unmonitored.

So before you tell someone else that's sick to pick up their bed and walk, please make sure you are Jesus! And remember, Jesus first healed the demoniac's mind BEFORE he healed his soul.

© 2017 by Tom King