Aug 14

Bipolar Nature

I am amazed that a one hour stop en route to a meeting in Duluth at Jay Cooke State Park in northern Minnesota keeps generating thinks day after day.  As I viewed the pictures in the slideshow again from yesterday’s blog post titled ”Barefoot on the Rocks,” two photos caught my eye and reminded me of some thoughts I had while taking the pictures a few days ago.

First the pictures; then the explanation.

The photo below shows the “raging” St Louis River – the website for Jay Cooke State Park actually uses that exact term to describe it.

The second photo (below) shows a serene “brook” or “creek.”

The amazing thing about these two photos is that these are not in totally different locations – they are right next to each other – in fact, they are the same river.  The view of these two locations side-by-side could be seen below, but I did not think ahead to this blog post and actually take the photo.  If I had, though, it would have been spectacular.

Considering these two contradictory scenes makes me consider my own emotional self.  (I did mention that there are some things I might reveal in this blog that I might not say out loud!  Here is one of those.)  While I have never stood up in front of a large group of people and declared this as part of who I am, I have recently been diagnosed with a mild form of bipolar illness.   The psychiatrist that diagnosed me in March of 2010 and put me on medication actually said that I simply needed a little regulating.  I realize that this blog post is sort of public forum, mass revealing of this somewhat private “condition.”  I have shared this with some in the past eighteen months as it seemed appropriate; however, not even every family member or close friend probably knows this about me.  I have not kept this from anyone maliciously in the same way that I did not decide this afternoon (now evening) that I should tell the world.

Although I do not experience massive highs and lows that one could find in some people’s lives, I do go through life (when not medicated) with some fury that follows by “crashes” (as I call them) that can put me in bed for a couple of days.  I had been incorrectly diagnosed and treated for depression at various points in my life, and the medications had always been just a little too effective, sending me into very productive times that would eventually turn into an inability to focus, frequent car trips across various states (not always a bad thing…), or the ending of some stage in my life with a drive that could hardly be explained.  The psychiatrist actually said that he would love to medicate most Italians.  Haha!

The first photo of a raging river swiftly moving down the river and crashing down in beautiful waterfalls reminds me of myself in “manic” times.  Many friends, co-workers, or acquaintances have experienced the Stacy that exists during these times.  I become a grand idea producer and a far-more-than-usual prolific writer of whatever needs to be written at work (policies, letters, etc.).  I over-commit to things like school boards, more responsibilities at work, and new programs at church.  In these times, I rage forward like the St Louis River, and then, like the waterfalls, my energy crashes and changes into foam that floats on the water.

The other photo shows the same river, but this side of the river is much more calm in its pace as it slowly meanders downriver and then slides over the rocks to join its counterpart at the bottom of the falls.  As I took at this side of the river, I sighed deeply, feeling its peaceful approach to life.  This part of the river reminds me of myself as well – not the non-manic or “depressive” side of me – but rather as the one who is doing all she is supposed to be doing.  Medication only goes so far in helping me manage the raging and falling that my energy does.  If I do not do my part in eating well, avoiding caffeine (I write as I sip on a Coca-Cola), exercising frequently, and sleeping long enough and often enough, the medication is pointless.

As I wrote this post, I desperately wanted to put together some inspired analogy about how both of the parts of the river are beautiful, blah blah blah, but it just kept dead-ending into something that I did not intend or like.  I took a break, drove to Uptown, and cleared my head.  As I drove, I realized that the problem I had with the analogy was that it focused so much on these two snapshots of the St Louis River – one calm and one raging before crashing.  I realized that I hardly knew the river.

When I returned home, I researched the river more and discovered some interesting things about it.  The St Louis River is nearly 180 miles long.  It rages and meanders through parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin before dumping into Lake Superior.  This fast moving river hosts the only opportunity for whitewater rafting in Minnesota and has rapids that are recommended only for experienced paddlers.  From my two snapshots above, I could not have guessed these facts about the river!

I wonder sometimes if this is how we are with the people around us.  We see people in snapshot moments and make life-long determinations of who they are, what their character is like, and if we can be friends or colleagues with them.  Maxwell Gladwell takes this concept apart in his book Blink (available on Amazon for only $9.92 or free at your local library).  He talks about the millisecond snap decisions we can make about others based on everything but actual knowledge of them.

Even more interesting is how our label and diagnosis laden society makes it easy for us to make snap decisions about people based on a word that has been given in an effort to help us understand behavior better.  Instead of helping us, often these labels hurt us.  Perhaps I am overly sensitive to this now that I have my own label, but I know I am right as I work in education, talk with others about ministry, and just eavesdrop at coffee shops.  When I hear things like, “that poor woman – she has a bipolar son and a husband with depression,” I am not hearing empathy from that person but rather a clucking of the tongue and a tone that insinuates that the one speaking has taken a label and missed the river for the snapshot.

My two dimensional photos, no matter how beautiful and breath-taking, cannot fully describe the 180 mile magnificence of the St Louis River.  A diagnosis, though helpful at times, does not replace the full understanding that comes with a relationship with someone.  When we focus so closely on the diagnosis or label that someone has placed on another person, we lose sight of the whole of that person.  There is so much more know, so much more to discover, and so much more to enjoy.

More than once since I returned from my diagnosing meeting with the psychiatrist in March 2010, Kerry has demonstrated this to me.  He refuses to see me as “his bipolar wife.”  He refuses to see me as a snapshot.  In his mind, I am and always have been Stacy – full of quirks, annoyances, and fun.  While the diagnosis helps us to manage the negative impact that the bipolar tendencies can have on our relationship and our family’s life together, we refuse to let it define me as that snapshot.

If rivers could talk, what more would they tell us?  Would we take the time to listen?  Or are we content to see the two dimensional photograph?

And what about the people in our lives…

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  1. Excellent – excellent! Thanks for sharing insight, challenges, and encouraging reminders.

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