Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Normal

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts. It's the consequence of three things.

First, the academic year here at the Army War College has again gotten underway. I've been very busy.

Second, I've felt tired a good deal of the time, for reasons I don't really understand. I had supposed it might be a manifestation of the mood disorder. The disorder takes a variety of forms, including a waxing and waning of energy level. But after living with this frequent fatigue for a while and talking it over with my therapist, I don't think that's the case. It seems to be more physically based. It may be simply that it's taking me longer to get used to my workout regimen than I anticipated.

Third, I haven't had much to tell you.

Actually, that's not quite correct. I've got plenty to tell you. I'm just not that anxious to do it.

It's funny. On the one hand, I grew up with, and to some extent have internalized, the stereotypical American male tendency to play the strong, stoic type. On the other, I've had a lifelong itch to share what I think, feel, and believe--it's the central trait that has made me a writer. And I can think of few things more worthwhile than to communicate candidly about what it is like to live, day in and day out, with bipolar disorder. So you'd think it wouldn't bother me to get on with it.

But despite everything, there's still the urge to keep silent, to just be "normal." As if anyone were normal. And yet the desire to be "normal" exerts a powerful tidal pull, intensified by the ubiquitous signals in our society that reinforce it. It puts me in mind of a soliloquy from Equus, Peter Shaffer's amazing play. In it, the psychiatrist Martin Dysart meditates on the nature of his work:
The Normal is a Holy Ghost. . . . The Normal is a murderous, non-existent phantom. And I am his priest! My tools are very delicate. My compassion is honest. I have honestly assisted people in this room. I've talked away terrors. I have relieved many agonies. But also--beyond question--I have cut from them parts of individuality repugnant to this God.
As I hope by now is obvious, I consider bipolar disorder an illness that I happen to have. I don't think of it as something that defines me and certainly not as part of my individuality. I wince every time I hear phrases like "he's bipolar"; to my ears it's the same as saying that someone with cancer is cancerous. No: the part of my individuality repugnant to this God is the part of me that has the courage to be genuine. And neither my psychiatrist nor my therapist nor my friends try to cut it from me. All too often, I want to cut it from myself.


Barb said...

I would have liked to have coffee on my recent trip to Columbus, but I didn't think you were in Ohio. Maybe next year!

However, the post on your other blog with the link to the article you wrote on Churchill and depression made me realize that I haven't been managing my own bipolar disorder. I started seeing a therapist again yesterday (and will be doing so weekly), and also yesterday, I realized that since my diagnosis, I've defined myself as a bipolar person rather than a person who has bipolar disorder. One of my goals is to learn to make that distinction.

Thanks for the help and support you've given me in the past, and perhaps unknowingly, in the present.

Mark Zamen said...

This post presents a good picture of the uncertainties and frustrations of many of those suffering from bipolar disorder. You seem to have your life in order and to be dealing with this affliction quite well. Many manic-depressives are not so fortunate. As you know, the real-world ramifications of not finding the balance you have can be catastrophic. Just how much so can be readily seen within the pages of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a bipolar man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles for stability and acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at

Mark Zamen, author

Mark Grimsley said...

Barb - You're right, I probably wasn't in Columbus. I return only once a month a so, and then usually just for the weekend.

Mark - Thanks for the compliment and for passing along the link re your novel.

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