The Bipolar Lens

My view from the rollercoaster.

Alone Again, Unnaturally

Why Do We Isolate When We Most Need Contact?

I'm going through a financial meltdown right now, like so many other Americans. But unlike those other folks, I haven't turned to family or friends for a pat on the back, a supportive hug, a few well-chosen words of wisdom. Much as I secretly long for it, I think sympathy would kill me.

This blog is the closest I've come to a public cry for understanding. And I offer no answers, only pose the dilemma.

It's important to distinguish between situational and chemical depressions - you have to know the nature of the beast you're dealing with. Situational depressions arrive in response to some calamity; they ache, but they yield to really good therapy. Chemical depressions swoop down out of the blue, for seemingly no rhyme or reason. They grind your soul into a pulp, and yield to nothing but time.

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I can deal with situational depressions, much as I hate them, and hard as they are on my health and well-being. So when my finances first started falling apart, I told myself, "It's only situational. You'll get through it, just like you have before."

I laid myself bare in therapy. I worked tirelessly to change my distorted cognitions: black and white thinking, all or nothing propositions, knee-jerk catastrophizing. It helped, a little - but only a little. Pretty soon I found myself unable to sleep, possessed by heart-pounding anxiety when I was awake and death-grip nightmares the few hours I slept.

Ten, eleven, twelve days rolled by, and my sleep was diminished to less than an hour a night. I knew this was dangerous territory for a bipolar person: lack of sleep is a prime culprit for triggering mood swings. My psychopharmacologist urged me to reduce my anxiety somehow, because he'd already maxed me out on all the available sleep meds. I knew he meant well, but that was like ordering a tornado to stop whirling mid-storm.

At some point around the fourteenth day, I realized chemical had finally trumped situational: I was officially depressed. I knew because I didn't want help anymore, from my doctors or my friends or well-meaning strangers. I turned Garbo-esque: I simply wanted to be alone.

With a vehemence I can barely describe, I couldn't stand the thought of anyone trying to soothe me. I couldn't bear to be touched, even for a second: the stimulation would short-circuit my already overloaded nerves. I didn't answer the telephone; I let my email fester unchecked. I erected a prickly, thorn-strewn wall between me and any possible sources of help.

Why, when I most need the comfort of others, do I adamantly refuse to be held? Why do I shrink from the extended hand, that might be just what I need at the moment? These questions sting, because I don't like admitting that I don't understand my own behavior. I know that other people isolate when they're depressed, but I've never had the courage to ask them why. I'm afraid that it might just shed some light, make me less inclined to follow my dark, twisted instincts.

I need help. But infinitely more than that, I need to be alone. The cruel and baffling paradox is, I just don't want to be left alone.

 

 

Terri Cheney is the author of Manic: A Memoir and The Dark Side of Innocence: Growing Up Bipolar.

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