Archives for 

substance abuse

Psychiatric Disorders and Geniuses

A lot of people like to think of themselves as geniuses.  Probably even more people with psychiatric disorders like to think of themselves as geniuses.

MichelangoWho can blame us – with examples such as Albert Einstein, Edgar Allen Poe, Beethoven, Michaelangelo, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton… just to name a few.

As all of these stellar personalities are now deceased and most died before the advent of modern psychiatry, we can only surmise their disturbance – their genius however is clear.

Aristoteles, a Greek philosopher, once said, “There is no genius without having a touch of madness.”

Today, most who are diagnosed with a mental disorder– be it bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or even major depression, would be classified in previous times as “mad”.

A recent article in Psychiatric Times, by an actual physician – Nicholas Pediaditakis – attempts to link the occurrence of major mental disorders and geniusFreud called the difference in “temperament” of genius from that of “normal” people – “narcissistic neurosis”.

The basic theory as proposed by the author of the article says that people with certain mental disordersbipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and OCD in particular – ‘tend to “think” the world rather than “feel” it.’  He goes on to say that many are dysphoric and tend towards feeling a void and aloneness within themselves which can often lead to substance abuse and suicide – all too true.  His conclusion is that these illnesses cause an absence of adherence to social norms, not because you want to, but because you have to – but that it frees up parts of the brain for creative processes.

In addition, many artists, actors, comedians, writers acknowledge that much of their creativity comes from painpsychic pain not physical pain that is often experienced by those with mental disorders. This doesn’t seem to translate to genius in science, math, or other concrete areas, but the idea of a mind that has free space to concentrate on specialty areas does fit.

While I, personally, find offense in part of his statement (the part about wanting to think rather than feel) – I also find it true.  I, and those I know, would rather “think” rather than “feel”, but often we feel too much and cannot stop.

Aside from my bristling at the implication that mental illness is a choice – I find it amusing that science may be able to prove that there is a “mad genius” in me – someday.

Melissa Lind

A genius with a psychiatric disorder.

Robin Williams – Another Life Lost Through Mental Illness

Another Life Lost Through Mental Illness

I recently wrote about “Celebrities and Bipolar Disorder,” many of whom are also drug addicts, alcoholics and suicide victims – but the recent death of Robin Williams has brought the issue of other mental health disorders including depression – and suicide to the front of my mind once again.

Of course, you know that Robin Williams died of “asphyxiation” – notable suicide by hanging. At first we were shocked, then sad as a great talent was lost. In a few days, many people will become angry at him. Many people don’t understand depression; some don’t even believe it exists.

Robin Williams - Depression KillsRobin – and I call him that purposefully rather than the more proper journalistic reference “Mr. Williams” or simply “Williams” – has made an impact on my life and that of my children. Like many people, I felt like I knew him. I haven’t seen all of the 80 movies he was in, but my personal favorites were the movies that were not comedies. He was a gifted actor and a tremendously funny man.

I said I “felt” like I knew him – but I didn’t. My children “feel” like they knew him – but they didn’t. I don’t know much about his childhood – other than that he was raised in a family where, though there was probably plenty of money, he spent most of his time with nannies or alone. He obviously had a brain that never quit – which leads me to believe he may have had ADHD, he certainly had troubles with substance abuse and he had periods of severe depression, one of which led to his death.

People are already questioning why such a talented man – who had given so much – would “go and do something like that.” Many of those people will feel like he was selfish – as many people feel like suicide is the ultimate in narcissism. Under all that hilarity, under all that spectacle, under all that talent, was a seriously sad man.

Never mind what we don’t know about his childhood, over the course of his life he had great success and tremendous loss, with the making of fortune and fame and the loss of loved ones and money. He ultimately chose to end the pain himself.

Metally Ill - Robin WilliamsDepression is not something that can be shared and Robin was a “smiler.” Even in my life, though I am not a “smiler” – when I am having great difficulty, I do not contact the people who matter. I do not call my friends; I do not call my family; I sit in my difficulties alone.

Like many comedians, Robin learned to be funny to cover pain and to cover loneliness – and to get attention that he craved. Mental illness is difficult to understand and even though we mourn his loss – we should reflect on who in our lives might be feeling the same pain.

Maybe – likely not, but maybe, if he had the kind of support he needed, if he had not felt like he always needed to be “on” he would not have felt the despair so strongly. Maybe if mental illness and substance abuse weren’t still stigmatized, maybe he could have gotten the help he needed.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Another famous actor – once said in a famous movie – “Momma says that dyin’ is a part of livin’… I wish that it wasn’t.” Unfortunately, some people feel they must choose to die early. Robin did.

Melissa Lind

Another famous actor died because of mental illness

Bipolar Disorder and the Famous

Celebrities and bipolar disorder

Kurt Cobain - Bipolar MusicianKurt Cobain (1967-1994) American “Grunge” Musician – diagnosed with bipolar disorder and known drug abuse, suicide from self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Bipolar disorder can be a devastating disease.  Some people might also claim it is a gift in a sense.  There are a lot of famous people with bipolar disorder – and a lot more who are suspected of having it but have never been diagnosed – or just haven’t admitted it.

Kay Redfield Jamison is one of the most well-known people with bipolar disorder as she has been a pioneer in removing the stigma associated with the disease – and other mental health disorders.  Jamison is the author of the book Touched with Fire which has had resonance with people around the world, but she isn’t the only one.

People alive today that are known to have bipolar disorder

  •  Adam Ant (musician)
  • Russell Brand (comedian, actor)
  • Patricia Cornwell (author)
  • Richard Dreyfus (actor)
  • Patty Duke (actress)
  • Carrie Fisher (actress, author)
  • Mel Gibson (actor, director)
  • Linda Hamilton (actress)
  • Jesse Jackson Jr. (politician)
  • Margot Kidder (actress)
  • Debra LaFave (schoolteacher convicted for having sexual relations with student)
  • Jane Pauley (journalist)
  • Axl Rose (musician)
  • Britney Spears (singer-songwriter)
  • Ted Turner (media mogul)
  • Robin Williams (comedian, actor)
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones (actress)

Deceased

  • Kurt Cobain (musician, songwriter)
  • Ernest Hemingway (author)
  • Margeux Hemingway (actress, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway)
  • Abbie Hoffman (activist)
  • Vivien Leigh (actress)
  • Marilyn Monroe (actress)
  • Sylvia Plath (poet)
  • Edgar Allan Poe (poet, author)
  • Jackson Pollock (artist)
  • Frank Sinatra (musician, actor)
  • Brian Wilson (musician)
  • Amy Winehouse (musician)
  • Virginia Woolf (writer)

This is only a short list of those who are known to have bipolar disorder as there are many more – and many more than that is suspect, including some who are alive today.  Mostly these are celebrities – known as bipolar only because they are famous.  We can guess who might have bipolar disorder through the news stories about repeated brushes with the law involving drug and alcohol abuse and bizarre behavior.  We can also look at the list of the deceased and see how many of those have died through suicide.

It seems that there are an abnormal amount of celebrities with bipolar disorder – or that more people with bipolar disorder are celebrities.  It is doubtful that either case is true, simply that the bipolar person is a “shiner” – usually amazing in their accomplishments at the best of times, and tremendously tragic at the worst of times.

In many cases, we learn of a famous case of bipolar disorder when a celebrity has a notorious (or repeated) encounter with the law – often involving alcohol or drug abuse.  Also in many cases, these encounters will continue until the person is diagnosed, incarcerated or dead – or a combination of these events.
Substance abuse and bipolar disorder often go hand-in-hand – whether this is because the person is self-medicating or because their brain tells them the rush is good.  Many people – not just celebrities “hide” behind substance abuse as an excuse for wild and unusual behavior.  Think of the celebrities who have gone on very public benders, breaking into houses, repeated visits to jail, long and dangerous rants in public, lewd and dangerous behavior.  This is not normal– even for a drunk.

It is a sad fact that substance abuse is more readily accepted today than a mental disorder – but it is.

Think about that the next time you hear of a celebrity doing something heinous – or a series of something’s heinous – or a celebrity committing suicide.

The Last 48 Hours of Kurt Cobain

Abuse, bizarre behavior and bipolar disorder often go hand-in-hand.

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose.

The average bipolar patient will see three mental health professionals before getting the right diagnosis. In fact, one-third of bipolar patients will not be diagnosed with the disorder until more than 10 years after they first seek treatment.

There is a lot of similarity between the symptoms of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions, but that isn’t the only reason why it is so difficult to diagnose. Here are some of the complicating factors:

Bipolar Disorder PatientThe patient only talks about depression – as bipolar disorder is a condition that has periods of depression alternating with manic episodes, many patients present when they are depressed. This is particularly true when a patient seeks treatment for themselves. Manic patients feel good or at least energized and are unlikely to believe that anything is wrong. Either they feel terrific, or they are in a heightened “bad” mood – and likely to blame that on other people or life circumstances. Consequently when they first seek treatment – they only profess to the depression as that is most bothersome.

Bipolar disorder looks like anxiety – in actuality, many, if not most bipolar patients also have some type of anxiety disorder. Consequently it may be very difficult for mental health professional to root out bipolar disorder. If patients are seen as agitated, hyperactive or fidgety, they may be only asked about anxiety or given a self-rating scale for anxiety. This would immediately lead the practitioner to diagnose an anxiety disorder – unless careful investigations were done.

Substance abuse can be complicating the issue – many bipolar patients spend years self-treating with substances of abuse. This includes prescription medications, recreational drugs and alcohol. There is not any particular drug that is more often abused by bipolar people as a whole – some will choose alcohol, some will prefer stimulants, some will choose pain medications – all of which will mask the symptoms to some extent. In some cases, the substance abuse appears to be more problematic than anything else and in cases of addiction; the substance abuse must be treated before an accurate evaluation can occur.

Denial is very common – Denial is a nice way of saying dishonesty. That would be lying. This sounds very harsh but in many cases, bipolar patients will not be honest about difficulties that they have had. It may be subconscious dishonesty in that they, themselves do not really know what the problem is. Lack of awareness is common but outright denial is also common. Many bipolar patients absolutely refuse to accept the diagnosis when it is first presented – even after years of not being treated properly. Oddly, this may make it more likely that the practitioner believes that the patient has bipolar disorder but such outright denial delays treatment.

These are just a few of the reasons why bipolar disorder is so difficult to pin down and, unfortunately, delayed treatment can have huge life implicationsBipolar disorder is one of the riskiest psychiatric illnesses to have and can have severe consequences for the patient who is not properly diagnosed and medicated – including job losses, family disturbance, institutionalization, jail and even death.

Bipolar disorder affects not only the patient himself – but family and loved ones as well.

Why is it so difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder?

Is It Really Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder is one of the hardest disorders to diagnose

Borderline Personality DisorderMy diagnosis is formal and was made by a professional.  Don’t use this to diagnose yourself.  We’re all people, we’re all different.  While I match many of the diagnostic criteria, I don’t match them all.  However, if you haven’t been formally diagnosed and you’re reading this and nodding your head, you may want to talk to a professional about it.

So here goes.  What makes Bruce Anderson suffer from Borderline Personalty Disorder (and what doesn’t).

Signs and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder:

1.  Feels emotions more easily, deeply, and longer than others do—CHECK.

Is this a bad thing?  Sometimes.  But sometimes it’s good.  If I wasn’t able to keep those emotions running high, I could’ve never written my prizewinning screenplay, which is emotionally brutal and makes everyone who reads it cry.  But when I get hurt, it takes a long, long time to shut it off.  Something most people get over in a few hours can take me a few days or more.

2.  Exhibits signs of impulsive behavior, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, unprotected sex, and reckless spending or driving—CHECK.

I smoke.  I drink.  At one time, I did drugs.  I’ve fathered two children that I love, but never intended to have.  Casinos are very dangerous places for me.  But I drive like an old man, very slowly, most of the time.

3.  Self-Harm and Suicidal Behavior—CHECK.

The scars are mostly faded, but the razorblades and lit cigarette were once close friends of mine.  So are booze and pills.

4.  Unstable, intense personal relationships—CHECK.

Married twice.  More girlfriends than I can count.  Every relationship ends in tears, usually mine.

5.  Black and white thinking—NO.  Well, MAYBE in the moment.

But I’m pretty realistic when it comes to how I see others.  I realize that no one is all-bad or all-good, though I do have a tendency to idealize my romantic partners.

6.  Manipulative behavior to obtain nurturance—DOUBLE CHECK.

Maybe even triple.  I’ll do anything, things I’m terribly ashamed of later, to get that feeling of being loved and cared for.

7.  Poor sense of self—CHECK, but not so much anymore.

It took me to the age of almost forty to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.  I want to write and teach, and I’m doing just that.  And it feels good.  At the same time, it is sometimes hard for me to know what I value and enjoy.

Do I really write because I like to?  Do I really teach because I love it?  Maybe.  It could be just that I’ve found that I’m good at both, and being good at both gets me attention and admiration from others.  I’m not really sure that I enjoy anything.

8.  Dissociation, feeling empty, or zoning out—CHECK.

Now, everyone zones out from time to time, but probably not to the same level that I do, and probably not for the same reasons.  Periods of high emotions can make me shut down at a cognitive level.  I become so preoccupied by the wave of emotion crashing over me that I can think of nothing else.  Sometimes, this is nice.  Like that first feeling of new love where my heart goes all aflutter.  That’s AWESOME.  But most of the time, it’s a negative emotion that has
my attention.  And that pretty much sucks.

Well, those are pretty much my life in a nutshell.  Sucks to be me sometimes, but not all of the time.  I gotta try to remember that.  Until next time.

Your bother in arms,

-Bruce

Read more from Bruce Anderson here: How I Became the Freak in the Corner

(A page that tells his story from the beginning and has links to several of his articles)

Treating Borderline Personality Disorder

Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder

Signs and Symptoms of BPD