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Paradise Lost meet Dante's Inferno

Updated on May 29, 2009

Gustave Dore. Illustration for Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (1308 - 1332). 1867

Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (1308 - 1332). 1867
Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (1308 - 1332). 1867

Almost ten years ago now it was decided by those in the know that I suffered from Bi-Polar disorder with a splash of schizophrenia thrown in. In order to prevent me from attempting to buy a helicopter on credit, or work through yet another year without sleep I was swiftly medicated with an interesting and varied cocktail of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and mood-stabilizers. Initially the meds were a godsend and I soon found myself back on track and managing, without hitch, a fairly ostentatious career.

Until a few years ago, I led a completely functional life and as long as I took my meds faithfully every morning and every evening, I could pass for a reasonably sane, if slightly eccentric, human being. As such, my 'mental health' is not something I have generally had need to openly discuss with people.

Unfortunately Bi-Polar disorder, like Alzheimer's disease, is a progressive condition and as the years passed I have found myself and my daily life increasingly dominated, if not by my condition then by the side effects of the medications. The meds for these disorders generally have a very short half life and as a result have to be taken at the same time every day. Miss a dose by an hour and with-drawls set in. Neglect to take the meds for a day and by the next morning I am crawling on the bathroom floor scraping blood from the tiles with my finger nails.

The meds are also prohibitively expensive which doctors seem to neglect to mention prior to committing one to a lifetime of pill popping (To be fair however, they do warn not to simply cease taking the meds for fear of stroke or death).

So after bankrupting ourselves in order to sustain my little drug habit, it was clear to both my husband and I that it was time for us to take the plunge. I had to make the inevitable descent into the depths of that societal morass that everyone, who believes themselves to be better, simply dreads - County Hospital.

We do not own a car and so I took a bus into LA on that day. For those of you who know Los Angeles, LAC-USC Medical Center finds itself in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles.  This is not an affluent suburb nor does it sport scenic landscape or tidy gardens. Starting out in quiet, leafy residential Pasadena, it was almost impossible for my overzealous imagination not to conjure up images from Dante's Inferno as we made our way through affluent South Pas and San Marino into Alhambra, Monterey Park and Boyle Heights.

On arrival at the Psych Clinic, I had without doubt arrived in purgatory. Not only was I in a full state of with-drawl, but for the first time since my diagnosis ten years ago, I found myself surrounded by others in a similar state of dysfunction.  One would imagine this to be comforting; is it not a fact of life that 'birds of a feather' come together for the simple fact that there is comfort in recognition and familiarity? This was not so for me. For so many years I had avoided this very situation, hoping that in ignoring others with my condition I could pretend to be more functional. Now, looking around at these familiar souls; some pale and jittery from a lack of meds, others comatose, some painfully still and waiting, one shamefully disheveled and spouting prophetic nonsense, I felt paralyzed by the realization that at one point or another I had embodied each and every one of these characteristics.

Gustave Dore. Illustration for Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (1308 - 1332). 1867
Gustave Dore. Illustration for Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (1308 - 1332). 1867

Soon I would be just as agitatedly pacing the room as the man talking to Jesus, and while I may only be privileged enough to hear the voices of kittens, my bloodshot eyes and pale countenance put me right in his league. While horrifying to see myself reflected in each and everyone of these 'maniacs', I simultaneously felt humbled in the company of these individuals who had each, in their own way, dispensed with all forms of social conventions and niceties. We all know that anyone or anything that does not conform to what we know or are comfortable with is immediately threatening and as such is alienated or ostrascised. I have spent much of my life in an unforgiving state of judgement and have alienated many. In the clinic that day I realised that I needed to learn generosity, kindness and most of all understanding. Because I do understand. And if I have learned anything through this experience it has to be that there is nothing more precious than someone who can forgive an outrageous outburst and understand an antisocial moment.

I have been judgmental, caustic and cold, but over time I have mellowed and am truly attempting a more optimistic outlook. I try to find positive reasons for every piece of shit that 'Life' enjoys hurling at us while sipping on her lemonade and nibbling delicately on tennis biscuits. My little trip into 'purgatory', was long overdue. Instead of waking up feeling sorry for myself as I have been doing for so long now, I wake up with the acknowledgment that I am thankfully still in command of much of my will. I retain most of my cognitive ability and on most days am fairly capable of taking care of simple responsibilities. I live in a loving, caring environment where others ensure that I have regular access to my medication and that I take it regularly. I have been spared visitations by the 'Voice of the Almighty' and am living an adventure that, while at times can be terrifying, should be embraced, accepted and shared as much as possible. I have led an amazing life, realized many of my dreams and have this  exciting new experience just waiting for me...

Gustave Dore. Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667). 1866
Gustave Dore. Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667). 1866


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    • profile image

      Tim 2 years ago

      Thank you so much for this article!

      Beautifully written, as someone who has a history in psychiatric disorders this is very moving to read. Good luck on your journey, may every step that you take be blessed!

      Greetings from the Netherlands

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 5 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Encouraging. Thank You.

    • freelancewriterva profile image

      freelancewriterva 7 years ago

      Why is it hard for you to take on responsibilities? the reason that I am asking is that someone I care for dearly is suffering from the same problem.

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 7 years ago from UK

      Well. .. What a privilege it is to meet you even through this medium. Your pencil is sufficiently sharp to come up with an exceptional description of a condition that most of us do not understand or have a means of accessing. How interesting you have made the whole casual telling of what must be a very serious condition for you.

      Thank you for this and I hope to be able to read more from your sharpened pencil...

    • pearlgearl profile image

      pearlgearl 8 years ago

      Thanks for the well written article Alice. Nicely written.

    • Alice Grey profile image

      Alice Grey 8 years ago from Pasadena, California


      Your comment has touched me deeply. Knowing that I have been able to help someone else cope with this debilitating condition in some small way, helps ME get out of bed easier on those difficult days.And yes, I also LOVE my bed. But I have found that if I find one small task to accomplish each day or if I've had a bad day, I try and find one good thing to focus on about that day and it really helps.

      Strength to you, I know you can do it.....

      and Thank YOU.

    • profile image

      Alice Grey 8 years ago


      Thanks for the reference. 'An Unquiet Mind' was in fact the very first piece of literature on Bi-Polar and another person's battle with the condition that I ever read. I have read it several times subsequently and continue to lean on it as a source of comfort and inspiration.

      Thank you for your kind words .... strength in your own struggle...

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Well-written and intersting Hub. I admire the way you managed to get through all the shit. I know about the depression bit having battled with it myself for many years. I once read Kay Redfield Jamisons's book on bi-polar called "An Unquiet Mind" - have you come across it?

      Love and peace


    • profile image

      Jewell 8 years ago

      I'm not sure what I "should" say to you but I will say what I "need" to.. I was just looking for The Divine Comedy Series and stumbled onto this blog, but I couldn't be more thankful. I have long been suffering with similar circumstances and you have helped me realize that I can't hide in bed anymore. I think I have been hiding behind my mental health and using it as an excuse not to live. So, to put it simply, Thank you for the eye opener and inspiration. I hope you are still maintaining your optimistic outlook and that I can teach myself to do the same. Thank you..

    • Alice Grey profile image

      Alice Grey 8 years ago from Pasadena, California

      Thank you for kind words and the great quote. I adore Churchill!

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      When my friend, Linda Palucci, wrote an ebook about her battle for survival following the death from cancer of her husband, she quoted Winston Churchill: "If you're going through Hell, keep going." It appears you've done exactly that -- in Dante's Hell. I admire your ability to keep maintain your sense of humor through all of life's vicissitudes.

    • Alice Grey profile image

      Alice Grey 8 years ago from Pasadena, California

      Thank you much! Yes, my husband is wonderful....he allows for all manner of quirks and idiosyncrasies. But then I will add that he can be a bit of a handfull himself so we give and take appropriately ... :)

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Alice, you must have a very supportive husband. Mine wasn't so accepting when I went through a spiritual awakening in 1999. He freaked and I can understand why.

      Congratulations on surviving purgatory and hell and transcending into life.