Highs and Lows

While in the hospital this past week and as I have been resting since my return, I have watched several episodes of “Law&Order: SVU.”  This is my favorite television of recent history because the detectives are likeable and the stories are engaging.

One of the episodes that I watched focused on the college-aged daughter of Detective Stabler.  She had broken into some people’s house and had taken a shower in their house.  Additionally, she had stolen the wife’s diamond necklace.

As the story unfolded, the daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  Because she was an adult, she could refuse to take medication or to use her mental illness as part of her defense even though she had clearly been in an untreated manic state when she broke into the house.  It was clear that she needed psychiatric care more than she needed prison.

As the story continued, details were revealed about Detective Stabler’s mother who had gone her entire life as a woman with an un-medicated case of bipolar disorder.  Stabler visited his mother and asked her to speak to the judge on his daughter’s behalf.  Although grandma refused, she eventually spoke to her granddaughter.

I know that these characters are fictional, but the interaction between grandmother and granddaughter was a beautiful moment.  Their descriptions of the highs and lows – the dreams and the sorrows – were perfect and moving.

The higher you fly, the farther you fall.

The grandmother said this at the end of their conversation, and the granddaughter agreed to get help.

Without a doubt, agreeing to be medicated for bipolar illness has its benefits.  Both the extreme highs and lows of this illness have their dangers.  At the same time, though, being medicated means that we give up something…those great feelings of being able to do anything that we put our minds to…and that is hard.

Upon my diagnosis of bipolar tendencies a few years ago, I had a choice to make: to medicate or not to medicate.  Ultimately, the need to slow the racing mind was what convinced me to agree to the medication.  I had originally been on a dosage that took all of the wind out of my sails. At first, this was comforting.  Eventually, though, my psychiatrist and I agreed that the medication was taking Stacy out of my personality. She adjusted it to a lower dosage which now keeps me safely from going too high or too low and which is low enough that someday I could come off the medication completely.

This is not the experience of all with bipolar illness.  For some, the polarizing pulls are so strong that a lifetime maintenance – much like insulin for those with diabetes – is necessary.  There is no standard “one size fits all” answer to this illness in the same way that most illnesses have varying levels of needs and experiences.

It is a mistake for anyone to think that we can simply apply the same answers to anyone with a single diagnosis. Within most illnesses there is a range of experience, a range of needs, and a range of answers.  Only professionals can truly decide how to accurately diagnose someone or choose whether or not to medicate.

With the large number of web resources, we have a tendency to research and determine our own diagnoses before seeing professionals.  We also tend to talk to friends or relatives before we see a doctor.  All of those things are good, but they should not replace someone in the medical field whose knowledge of medicine would allow them to help us.

I am thankful for the awareness that is out there about cancer, diabetes, bipolar, and all of the other illnesses that plague our world.  When we need help, we should seek it without embarrassment.  When we can, we should ensure that our bodies are healthy so that we can take the best care of ourselves at all times.

Above all, we need to recognize that we all have varying experiences and needs.  What I experience will vary drastically from another person with a similar diagnosis.

And that, my friends, is what has been bouncing around my head the past few days while I have been recovering from my recent stint in the hospital.

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