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  • Writer's pictureScott M Williamson

Memoirs of my very own madness

Updated: Aug 26, 2021

This article by David Antrim affected me so powerfully when I read it last night, and so paralleled some of my own experiences (I wept through half of it) I want to share it before I chicken out.

Warning: per its title ("The Hospital" or "Finding a Way Back from Suicide"),

it is disturbing and is not an easy read. And for those who saw my FB post, below is a similar version of that.

If you would like a playlist to accompany Antrim's article or a mental wellness major work to listen to, here's a 55' symphony, a 4-movement journey from dark to light. It was a key part of its depressed composer's "awakening" following a rough patch in early Soviet Russia 100 years ago, before he had a second career and made his name here. It's Rachmaninov 2nd symphony. Listen to how the string lines at the opening arch upward and seem to stretch and wake up as at dawn, after sleep. The 3rd movement's adagio is a song-without-words that would be borrowed and adapted to suit lyrical acts from jazz to Barry Manilow, Disney soundtracks to John Williams. If each of its movements is a story or chapter in our memoir or story, the finale is a high-octane ride, an energetic roller-coaster affirmation to whatever questions remained from the beginning...

I started a series of tests today to try and get a better understanding of how my neurologically diverse brain is functioning and how medication may be affecting it, and how recent fainting spells and seizures fit into the latest diagnosis. I've been in treatment for manic-depression for decades. I started working with Psychiatrists and Nurse Practitioners a decade ago, and have been on (and off) ever-shifting medications since 2012. Most recent, for the past 10 months, Lithium.

A seizure strong enough to call 911 last month has prompted a more pro-active and aggressive care approach, for anyone interested. The fact I'm being pro-active is itself a win.

I have come close to admitting myself to the psychiatric wing several times over the past year, during which I struggled with suicide more than in any of the previous 35 years I've ideated, planned or even come close to attempting it. One of the things I appreciated about Antrim's memoir of his journey was his honest appraisal of living as a suicide. We tend to be forgotten between victims and survivors.

Those episodes are so scary. And the scariest hypo-manic episode I've had in a decade of such seasonal occurrences prompted me to seek more help last summer. I feel lucky my episodes of sleeplessness, endless energy, multi-part fugues of ideas and restless irritability haven't been enough to hospitalize me yet. I've been able to (at times just barely) manage. And always with help, from loved ones, family, friends, colleagues who get it and share this journey with bipolar disorder (or manic-depressive illness) and addiction.

I have even more gratitude now at the fact I've been able to work steadily, at a high level and enjoy a decades-long career with so many successes literally around the world. So. Many. Wins.

That I can write this before heading to the lab today is unprecedented for me. Another win. I feel better mentally and physically this month than I have in over a year. I am so grateful to have good care-givers and even better friends who are doctors in the field and help point me in the right direction.

One of the hardest things to do when I'm feeling sick this way is to ask for help. Depression can perform the biological equivalent of hibernation and help some of us get through tough winters.

And in that faux comfort zone it's easier to merge with introversion until you've folded completely into yourself.

It's funny how many perfectly-intentioned friends say, "just pick up the phone" even after reading the above. Even the slightest of "normal" or everyday efforts can seem insurmountable when you're depressed. Just picking up the phone feels impossible. Maybe tomorrow you'll be able to.

I'll continue to move forward managing my (relatively mild) bipolar disorder and its attendant mood swings, insomnia, death wishes and absolute listlessness. The unpredictable and unprompted though demonstrable bouts of extreme emotion.

I'm trying to find clearer and more helpful ways to express these things with hope for more normalized conversations around mental health and suicide. We deserve no less. We will be better off for it.

Neolithic subterranean town,

Orkney Islands, Scotland

To paraphrase an astronomer's epitaph:

we have stared into the abyss too long to be afraid of its depths.

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