Dancing on Thin Ice

To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. —R.W. Emerson

Category: Madness

elucidating the bipolar experience

The following paragraphs are from An Unquiet Mind1 by clinical psychologist Kay Jamison, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder, who is herself bipolar. Writing as both clinician and subject, Dr. Jamison vividly describes what it’s like to be manic-depressive.

There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere this changes. The fast ideas are too fast, and there are far too many, overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friend’s faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against…. you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and emerged totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.

It goes on and on, and finally there are only other’s recollections of your behavior…. your bizarre, frantic, aimless behaviors….. for mania has at least some grace in partially obliterating memories. What then after the medications, psychiatrist, despair, depression, and overdose? All those incredible feelings to sort through. Who is being too polite to say what? Who knows what? What did I do? Why? And most hauntingly, when will it happen again? Then, too, are the bitter reminders….. medicine to take, resent, forget, take, resent, and forget, but always to take. Credit cards revoked, bounced checks to cover, explanations due at work, apologies to make, intermittent memories (what did I do?), friendships gone ordained, a ruined marriage. And always, when will it happen again? Which of my feelings are real? Which of the me’s is me? The wild impulsive chaotic, energetic, and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, disparate, suicidal, doomed, and tired one? Probably a bit of both, hopefully much that is neither. Virginia Woolf, in her dives and climbs, said it all, “How far do our feelings take their colour from the dive underground? I meant, what is the reality of any feeling?

The highs are indeed stellar; if only I could forever remain on that plane of experience and awareness! Inevitably comes the fall from grace, when psychosis shatters the mirror of my Self into myriad fragments and darkness descends on the landscape of my mind.

1 Jamison, Kay Redfield. 2005. An Unquiet Mind. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

interview on healthyplace

Sorry about the advertising at the beginning, but it only lasts for a minute or so. For some background about the interview, refer to Holly Gray’s post on the TV Show Blog Living With A Mental Illness Isn’t Always Living.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

there are times

. . . when I think it’s just too damn bad that abortions weren’t legal in 1949.



The peculiar document that passes for my birth certificate.

Then again, I sometimes wonder what happened to the two children by presumably different and also unnamed fathers my mother gave birth to before me. Poor Edith, that home for unwed mothers must have been a dreadful place. When I was a child, single mothers were either widows or divorcees and “unwed mothers” were social outcasts commonly labeled as sluts or whores. I remember it well as an object lesson in hypocrisy.

Even though I have no way of proving it, it’s very likely my mother was also manic-depressive. While not conclusive, the details on my birth certificate—three children born out of wedlock by the age of twenty-four—strongly suggest sexual promiscuity, a symptom of bipolar disorder circumstantiated by numerous psychiatric annals, not to mention my own experience. What is certain is that in the ’40s and ’50s, manic-depressives were sometimes surgically “cured” by prefrontal leucotomies (the tragedy of Rosemary Kennedy is probably the most famous example of this).

Inasmuch as I’ve been unable to unearth any record beyond my birth certificate of Edith Yearwood’s existence, including a search of the Social Security Death Index, I fear she may have been institutionalized only to die an anonymous death. I hope I am wrong. If by chance you know an eighty-five-year-old woman named Edith Yearwood, originally from the state of Washington, please tell her James Lee sincerely wishes her well.

inner voices


These are some of the characters that like to have shouting matches inside my head, the manifestations of my psychosis. My particular brand of psychosis involves the fragmenting of my Self and my reactive comprehension of who I am. My thoughts and feelings take on lives of their own, becoming disparate inner voices over which I have no control, each of which is like a different “me.” I lose all sense of who I really am and thus my connection to reality is severely impaired if not altogether broken. Personal continuity is irrevocably fractured and I disengage from people and projects—my life—until such time as the episode ends and there is once again only one “me.” Then I am faced with the daunting and often humiliating tasks of repairing relationships where possible and of rebuilding my life from the pieces into which it has been splintered.

While the language I use here is deliberately non-clinical, my descriptions are subjectively accurate and true.


This poem by J.C. Squires so perfectly and elegantly describes what happens inside my head, I wish I had written it.


I and myself swore enmity. Alack,
Myself has tied my hands behind my back.
Yielding, I know there’s no excuse in them—
I was accomplice to the stratagem.




Dispossessed within the raging battlefield of my mind, hounded by thoughts and feelings over which I have no control: a casualty of my own psychosis. As to medication, I might as well be taking aspirin.

It took me half an hour to write this.

Note to the bean counters at Wellcare: go fuck yourselves.

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