Losing My Identity

4 Dec 02 – Diary
Went to see my therapist today. Was sufficiently scared on how I was feeling to want to talk with someone. I spoke to her about the stuff on the previous page, including that I was feeling suicidal. It felt good talking to her for three reasons – it was good to get it off my chest and to have someone to talk to who would listen to me, especially someone who wasn’t close enough to get personally involved. Therapists are great that way. It also represented a healthy milestone – I was not feeling good and I went out and seeked help. Normally I would just agonise about it internally. Having a second head to help me think is useful. Finally, it was also the first time that I had ever told anyone that I was feeling suicidal – I usually don’t talk to anyone about my suicidal impulses. Doing this represented a breakthrough of sorts – now that I have been able to talk to someone, I feel that it is more likely that I would do it in the future. That’s a safety valve that I have been missing.

My therapist (B.) and I spoke about what has been happening and I realised that the horror / hopelessness I have been feeling stems mostly from not being able to sustain any project. My current imagery is that of being stuck in the here and now without having a future or even being able to imagine a future. Or of sitting on the sidelines and watching the world go by and not being able to take part because I can’t keep up with the people.

I am deeply envious of of my cousin who is training for a marathon or my roommate who is doing her MBA part-time. Neither of them is fitter or more intelligent than me, but I can guarantee that they will succeed in what they aim for and I will not be able to attain either achievement.

And this is what I mean that the world is going by. My friends will in their everyday lives do the little or big things that move their lives one step further on – you could say they move on further down the road of life. I won’t be able to do that. I’m trapped at the location I am at and I can’t achieve any more. And so they will leave me behind.

B. mentioned that although we don’t usually talk about it, everyone creates a script for their futures. We will get a good job as an accountant or a doctor, we will get married before the age thirty, we will have two children, we will own a house by the time we are thirty five, we will raise the kids, we will go on the dream vacation to Australia within the next eight years…and so on. And although real life doesn’t follow the script exactly, and although the script needs adjusting from time to time, there it is providing a structure for the future and the actions we will take.

My problem is that I can’t seem to develop one. I mean I can create a general life script, but I know that anything written for more than three weeks is pure fiction. And because I know that, the script is effectively meaningless. So unlike most people who have some tapestry of a future life, I have a piece of blank cloth with a little bit of writing in tiny letters on the bottom right hand corner. And I have no idea what else to draw on the cloth that won’t be fake.

It is generally assumed that not being able to remember your past denies you of your identity; there are lots of stories about people with amnesia. But I am realising that it is equally true that not having a future just as effectively robs me of my identity. If I can’t cast forward my dreams, then there is no person inhabiting my body now.

The neurologist / author Oliver Sacks has a book called “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” In it, he discusses what it is like for the brain to have various impairments in the regular processing of information. This sounds very dry, but the book is fascinating, beautifully written, and accessible for casual reading. The story in it that caught my attention though is that of a man who can remember his past up to about twenty years previously, but after that cannot remember anything for more than a few minutes. This person survives in the present by making up stories of what is happening around him (confabulating) based on memories of twenty years ago. Obviously this cannot work very well, and although the man cannot remember what is wrong, Dr. Sacks writes that there is a haunted look in the man’s face as if he understands at a deeper level that there is something profoundly wrong with him.

I feel that way. Although I can remember my past, I can’t create a future and it is as difficult to survive in the present not knowing where you are going as it is not knowing where you came from. Like the man with no memories I make up a story to get me through what is happening now, but that story varies dramatically with my mood swings. Although whatever story I create at the moment can get me through the present, I have the same haunted feeling that there is something very wrong with my inability to maintain a steady and slowly evolving story of my future.

I saw the movie Memento the other day. The surface story is about a man who has lost his memory but is nevertheless searching for the person who killed his wife. Although this sounds like a peculiar storyline, the way the story is put together is superb and it is probably one of the best movies of 2001. Like the description by Dr. Sacks, it is a story about a man trapped in time, and so far it is the best visual statement of how I feel.

B. was suggesting that perhaps my depression causes a fragmentation of my identity and that some of the things I do – disappearing for a few days, shutting down and not thinking for the period I am depressed is a flight mechanism I have to prevent the further fragmentation of my identity. Maybe.

My roommate has also taken to asking me if I am manic or depressed when I walk into the house. Apparently, she can tell my mood just by how I act or look in the first minute that she sees me – I don’t even have to talk. She has also been accurate most of the time. I am impressed – mostly because I didn’t realise that the moods showed so clearly. One of my aunts can also tell my moods simply by the way I sound over the telephone.

Our mood swings may often be subtle, but apparently they aren’t that subtle.

8 Dec 02 – Diary
I’ve just finished reading a novel by Connie Willis called “Passage.” I’m not going to try to explain the plot because the book is nearly 800 pages long. But central to the plotline is the idea that even when there is a breakdown in the ability of the body to send accurate messages to the brain (and vice versa), the brain nevertheless intercepts all incoming messages from the body or other parts of the brain and tries to manufacture a coherent image based on the information it is receiving.

If the incoming messages are incoherent, the brain doesn’t give up – it still tries to create some semblance of a reality that makes sense based in part on the messages it is receiving, in part on information pulled from memory, and in part from the brain’s understanding of what a sensible reality is.

The book has nothing to do with being bipolar, by the way. Nevertheless, the concept of the brain trying to create an functioning reality when the body starts failing is central to being bipolar. One wonders how much of what us bipolar people do or think or experience is based on our brain trying to chart a sensible or meaningful course as our neurotransmitters (or hormones, or whatever it is that underlies being bipolar) go haywire.

It might explain my disappearing, and it might explain why remembering depression episodes is so hard. And it might explain why I can control my mania but not my depression. I haven’t fleshed out any of these ideas, but there is a feeling that there is a partial answer on how to cope better with being bipolar somewhere in these thoughts.

I’m still way too close to being suicidal by the way. I hope to remember to tell my therapist this on Wednesday to get her feedback. The strongest sensation I deal with on a day to day basis is a fear – as if I am unconsciously aware that there is an essential wrongness to how I am operating because either my perception or interpretation or decision making mechanisms are malfunctioning. I fear that I could very easily come to believe that life is not worth living and that I could decide to do away with it. And at that time, suicide will feel like the most sensible, rational and right thing to do. Scary, that.

10 Dec 02 – Diary
I’ve actually been holding together quite well for the last few days. I’m not sure exactly why but I’ve been somewhere between normal and moderately hypomanic. Perhaps it’s because I’m on an extended manic period and I have yet to crash.

Perhaps it’s because anger and fear are indeed a wonderful carrot and stick – anger because the desire to be bloody minded, and continue when I know that my world is in tatters, is actually a pretty decent carrot.

And as a stick, it’s hard to beat the fear that my life expectancy will be extremely short if I am not careful.

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