There goes that idea . . .

Oops, I did it again . . . no, I’m not Britney, but it seems she and I may have some things in common: mental illness and/or personality disorders.

As I watched her transition from a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Mouseketeer to teen pop sensation through to her very publicized and very famous meltdown in 2008, I may have criticized some of the choices made in marketing her and making her transition from kid clean to teen queen, however, I always felt that she needed more compassion, empathy, and acceptance. Perhaps I saw a bit of myself in her. At any rate, the reality is that the stigma around mental health issues is so great that this beautiful and talented young woman garnered much derision, criticism, and various forms of bullying by media, anti-fans, fans, family, and the court system. She fought her way back and continues to pursue her life in the context of whatever her mental health issues are and within the confines of medical and court systems that have deemed her unfit to see to her own affairs.

The disparity between how she has been treated in terms of access to treatment as well as restrictions on her autonomy as compared to the thousands (millions?) of people with mental illness who do not have her combination of talent, money, and celebrity is damning in our society and illuminates exactly how much prejudice and stigma there is, not just in relation to mental health issues, but also in regards to the child entertainment industry. It is my humble opinion that had she not been a child entertainment commodity and treated as such by the adults in her world, the signs and symptoms that spiraled out of control in 2008 could have and might have been recognized and addressed prior to the devastating events that her own young children wound up subjected to. I suspect that the signs were there and evident, yet minimized, ignored, and possibly incorrectly medicated so she could continue to perform, entertain, and earn millions for the people around her. If my suspicions are true, then, those in a position and with a responsibility to help her failed her because of their own blind ambition, unwillingness to take on a battle they didn’t have the time or inclination to pursue, or unrealized mental health and personality disorder issues of their own.

Adults and children who are seen as having something to contribute to the benefit of others, i.e. earning them lots of money, are at risk of having their needs and symptoms overlooked until they reach a point where other people’s benefit is endangered. Then they can be forcibly treated and have legal restrictions placed on them so that their issues don’t interfere with the flow of other people’s lives. On the other hand, those of us who are not recognized as having extra benefit or contributing more than others are at risk of being marginalized and if our conditions and issues affect our ability to provide for ourselves, we may wind up stripped of housing, family, and access to treatment.

There is a middle scenario. The place where someone dealing with the biochemical, developmental, and neurological issues that affect one’s behavior, personality, and thought has encouraging, safe, supportive people around them who support their autonomy AND recognize that even the most functional of people needs assistance at times. This middle scenario includes access to consistent treatment and care with knowledgeable and skilled medical and mental health personnel, capable of working WITH the patient in identifying all the symptoms, triggers, and sources of what is happening as well as in determining constructive courses of treatment.

I suppose that third scenario does happen for a fortunate few, however, at least in these United States of America, it is anything but the norm.

A couple of days ago I posed this question


One of the people I have recently opened myself up to responded with a link describing Cyclothymic Disorder. Since she is an MSW of Social Work and an Assistant Professor at a state university, has worked in various aspects of child welfare and social service organizations, and has experienced her chronic health issues herself, I valued her input. This is what she had to say about it:

“People with cyclothymia usually go get treatment for depression and do not recognize the hypomania because it feels kind of good/the bad part is the “down” that comes after, which feels/looks like plain old depression. However straight depression meds can make the negative symptoms (poor sleep, agitation, anxiety) of hypomania worse, so having a good diagnosis is important. Your complicating factor is the fibromyalgia, because pain-related factors and depression-related factors are so connected, and because it’s typical for people who are having non-flare days to feel motivated, hopeful, “hypomanic” even in their desire to accomplish much- and the overwhelming pain crash looks similar to the normal transition between hypomanic and depressive stages. It’s tough to figure out. One of the ways it is done is through pharmacology- if lithium helps then it usually means the cychlothymia diagnosis is right. Backwards diagnosing. Art+Science, most of this stuff we call medicine.”

So, what is the idea that went and what was it I did again?

The idea that moving into an isolated manufactured home only two years younger than I am on the bank of a river and five miles distance from the main road would be the place to move for our family where I would be on my own and away from the services and little bit of socialization I get now. What I did again, was to take that situation and idealized it in my head. I got the spinning, racing thoughts that seemed to be problem-solving and thinking outside the box for identifying creative solutions to our housing and cat dilemmas. I couldn’t shut off my brain or close my mouth and let the unfamiliar and unaccustomed feelings of excitement rule and reign. I created unrealistic expectations, packaged them up, put a bow on them, and handed them to Keith, knowing that his personality issues would not respond well if the situation didn’t pan out. The problem was, I didn’t honestly believe they would not happen and the compulsion to share was so strong that despite my knowledge, understanding, and intent, I bulldozed through anyway.

At least now I have a new place to start on my Do-It-Yourself journey of figuring out, managing, and working through the symptoms of the last 30 years of my life with this apparent “mild” form of Bi-Polar Disorder.