The sadness comes, I disengage:
Or days may fly where I don’t sleep —
There is no reason, rhyme, or rage
That can my wholeness sane me keep —

I do not understand, or see
The unknown etiology
Of why my moods just must be so
And go where’re the winds

May blow

Approximately thirty-five years ago, I was told by a series of doctors that I was manic-depressive, a condition now known under the term “bipolar disorder”.

This renaming followed the usual rule that any new term for a medical condition must have at least one more syllable than the old one.

As one may ascertain from the two terms for this condition, those who have it tend to vacillate between “two poles”: mania and depression. The latter condition is familiar to almost everybody, at least by name: the former, less so, as being wildly out of control and energetic is not always viewed as a problem.

When it reaches the level of mania, it is. Believe me, it is.

I’ve been dealing with this condition for the better part of four decades now. Like dealing with my epilepsy, it is part of my daily routine. It’s not a big deal in my thoughts anymore, unless I have had a “bad day”.

Like yesterday.

In a typical day, I need to (a) stay away from any kind of mood-altering substances (notably alcohol or sugar); (b) make sure I get some elevated-heart-rate exercise; (c) take my medicine in the prescribed amounts at the appropriate times; and (d) get adequate sleep.

Yesterday was my third consecutive day where I didn’t do (b), but did do (a), and decidedly non-wacky hijinks ensued.

I turned into a horrible person, basically.

On my best days, my life is severely limited in terms of my flexibility and ability to socialize because I am trying to make sure I do the things I need to do to be a reasonably pleasant and functioning human. When that fails, I am reminded again what happens. Because I don’t feel sick when it’s happening, I just feel like I’m a monster.

Because mental illnesses are diseases, just like other illnesses, we are told we should feel no shame over them. However, my experience is that people who have physical illnesses also struggle with feeling “less-than”: I know, I have one.

When I asked my doctors, back in the day, what caused this condition, I got various answers: however, their answers can be grouped into three general categories, as follows:

1) My genes suck.
2) My brain structure sucks.
3) I have some other equally sucky condition that causes this as a side-effect.

No matter which of these causes is THE cause in my case, I feel just as bad after knowing it, or possibly worse. Because none of them is of the “oh, this was caused by a bacteria or virus” so I can blame black rats migrating across European trade routes or something.

Nope, no one to blame, just defective old me and my broken brain and/or genes.

One thing that has helped, however, is realizing that problems of the sort I have are in the nature of a continuum; everybody has challenges along the way when it comes to issues of physical, mental, and emotional health.

Many — perhaps even most — people hide these challenges, however. Or never come to grips what the nature of what their particular challenges are.

Every one of us is born with different tools, in a different place, at a different time. Each one of us is faced with different limitations; we all each have different abilities, and differing experiences to draw upon. And we’re all just doing the best we can, given where are and what we have to work with.

And I’m just trying not to be a monster.

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One thought to “Etiology”

  1. Sorry to hear this Owen. My daughter also lives with epilepsy and manic depression so I really do appreciate how difficult it can be, and how misunderstood.

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