- Education and Science
Paradise Lost meet Dante's Inferno
Gustave Dore. Illustration for 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.
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
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...