Community Contributions: An Existential Sci-Fi MashUp

Still crazy overwhelmed at work, so here’s the second Community Contribution post. I’m mashing up two proposed discussion topics because I think they’re related.

1. I was offered this link. It’s an article that describes a surgery purported to cure depression.
2. I was asked “Who are you when you’re not bipolar?”

I should say that the idea of this surgery sounds like science fiction to me. The idea of a surgical approach to mental illness does not sound like science fiction, but this surgery sounds like science fiction. My attachment to and reliance on my blackberry already makes me wonder if I’m a cyborg. Electrodes implanted in one’s brain might really make them a cyborg. That makes me nervous.

Still, even if it’s science fiction, the opportunity for a surgical ‘cure’ for the (as we’re always reminded) ‘incurable’ does imply that a person would be restored to themselves after the removal of an illness. I’m never not bipolar, but if the disorder magically disappeared, the question of what of me would be left is an interesting one. The question of whether I’d want to be that person or if that person would be so foreign to me that I wouldn’t feel like myself is also an interesting one.

Personally, I don’t think I’d do it, because I’m already me…but that’s just me. My self-conceptualization is a little complicated, maybe: I am not my disorder, and my diagnosis is not me. But I was diagnosed largely for being me. I’ve had symptoms for most of my life, they just weren’t severe enough for diagnosis until ten years ago. Maybe I could put it this way: Sometimes I get in my own way. Sometimes my symptoms get in the way of being myself, despite the fact that those symptoms are part of me, the result of the way my own personal brain works. What are the odds that this makes any sense and isn’t completely circular? Again, that’s just my take on myself.

So that’s the discussion topic: If there were surgery, would you consider it? Who do you think you’d be? How do you conceive of yourself relative to your disorder? Think you’d be you with electrodes implanted in your brain? What’s the difference between surgery and meds?

  1. The electrodes thing makes me think of ECT and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest, thorazine and all that fun stuff. Those things took every bit of a person out of the body. ECT has changed a bit so it’s not like it was… I was referring to the old ECT. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want anymore change with my brain. I like certain aspects of me I know are related to being MI, more specifically BP.
    when I first started meds, the most immediate effect (besides my mood) was on my art. I didn’t have the same feeling when I did it, I didn’t have the same impulse to do it, I didn’t need it on the level I had before. It was another piece of my self-definition and it was disappearing. It’s taken me five years to deal with that, and by deal, I mean have the courage to look at it and look at myself in relation to art, not just my art, and being willing to do art differently.

    But, I allowed that change because I needed the most important change (my moods) if I wanted to be with the people in my immediate family (children, wife). so those of us on meds already get a taste of who we may be or become without the disorder. I can’t separate the two for the most part. The art was huge, obvious. But other than that, I think the disorder has permeated everything I think of as me and that’s not such a bad thing. If everything had changed, I don’t know what I’d have done with myself. Probably go crazy. Go figure.

  2. Alan Smithee said:

    Yes, I would consider the surgery. However, I thought for some reason that it didn’t implant anything, it just burned some parts of the brain that were hyperactive (seretonin re-uptake thingies, I was thinking?). I have always looked for a permanent solution to my problem. I do not like the idea of “functioning.” I do not like the idea of being on meds for the rest of my life. I do not like just getting by. It’s like a tumor that is now in remission, but by god, I don’t just want the tumor to stop growing, I want it out of my frickin body.

    Who am I without my depression? Right now all that comes to mind is an old whiteboard that’s been erased, leaving black smudges in some places. If I never had experienced this illness, I figure I would probably be less inquisitive, less hyperly (or hypo-ly) self aware, less funny. Less creative. But now I’ve experienced it for… oh. FOURTEEN YEARS, I feel like I could get rid of it and still keep these likable qualities about myself.

    • Nice, Alan! I find quite a few MI people who have great senses of humor. We have to to survive. I think I’m afraid to not just get by. What else is there? What if there is nothing? Gotta love the buddhists but hey I don’t care for nothing. I don’t know. My brain is going out on me again. Glad there’s a place to just be.

  3. Jen said:

    I wouldn’t have surgery on my brain unless it had been done many, many times, successfully, for many years to treat my illness. I don’t have Bipolar Disorder, technically, what I am labeled with is Schizoaffective Disorder. Haven’t heard of any recent surgeries for that. It is an interesting question to ponder about “functioning”. I tend to think I like “functioning”, but what I mean by that might be better stated using different words. I’ve never really thought about the problems inherent with using the word “functioning” much, so I’m glad you brought it up. I think of “functioning” as being able to live my life the way I want to live it. When I was psychotic, perceptual problems and complete psychosis ruled my life. I was a prisoner to my illness, doing things every day because an auditory hallucination or a delusional thought told me to do it. I attempted suicide many times because of this. I nearly died. I became homeless on several occassions. I was not happy. I was not living my life to the fullest of my abilities. Today, I live my life on my terms, not my illness’s terms. I am a slave to medication, unfortunately. Every two weeks I get an injection of Risperidal Consta. This is part of what is required for me to “function”. A better word might be to simply live happily. I was not happy while psychotic. I was terrified, lonely, confused, lost, forced to do things I did not want to do. I was not happy. Today, I’m happy. I don’t think the meds I take are happy pills. I think they allow my brain to cooperate with my desires to the extent that I can do the things which make me happy, and that was not the case before I was on these meds. So I take them, knowing all the while that they’ve made me become obese, when I used to be very thin all my life, and knowing that I am now pre-diabetic from the obesity, and knowing that this is a big risk and a big sacrifice to make in order to be able to live happily. But when I couldn’t function, I was often a danger to myself, or in danger of harm from others. I was assaulted on numerous occassions when I could not think clearly enough to do what I needed to do to protect myself from such harm. Of course, one can be assaulted any time of the day or night when one is mentally stable, and not be able to prevent it. But the incidents I am speaking of would not have happened if I had not gone into situations that were clearly dangerous, which I would not do when I am able to think clearly and “function”.

    • said:

      Jen…Having read through a bit of your blog and reading your comment here, I am encouraged. Thank you for your honest and thought-through response. You’ve touched on a number of themes on which we’ve recently started discussions (thoughts on our meds is a recent one). (I say “we” because, while I am the primary writer here, I take queues from topics suggested by others.) I am encouraged because you seem to have defined “functioning” for yourself, while others are often categorized in boxes by others with diagnostic manuals according to their functioning levels. More than anything, I’m encouraged by the statement “…I live my life on my terms…” Thank you.

      • defined by others with diagnostic manuals…Although I argue with you (for lack of a better word) around MI versus nonMI having to be functional and that is all our function, I agree with you that some rely too much on those textbook definitions of other people.

  4. Meredith said:

    ok, I figured this was as good a place to put this as any. website:
    I did not read his book nor do I want to (well maybe as a bit of curiosity). He is following me on twitter:
    Shay Villere
    I get a creepy feeling from him, just the picture, but then, oh those tweets. Oh my gosh. I couldn’t help myself. Before I even went to his website, I DMed him and asked, “do you even REALLY know anything about it? clichés all of them,” referring to his tweets. But apparently, he is bipolar. who knows. Anyone can fake it now over the internet just to sell a book. you be the judge.

    • said:

      Hey Meredith. I just followed the link. It seems that pretty much the entire book/manual is on the website in sections. The book itself is available on lulu. While this is not a forum for denying anyone his or her perspective on our respective disorders (and thus I will respect his perspective), I will caution anyone who follows the link and reads the book, that it does not — in any way — seem to respect that we all have our ways of coping, our own personal definitions of what we go through, and our own perspectives on mental illness. I will congratulate Shay on finding his way, but advertising his way as THE way rubs me the wrong way for the obvious (contrary to the Central Thesis and basic axioms of this site) reasons. I am tempted to quote what I read. Instead, who wants to put this on the future reading list?

  5. Jess said:

    Hmm…this is interesting. I was at a research convention where the Dali Lama moderated it and one of the presenters (from Canada) spoke about how there was a procedure where the doctors stimulated a part of the brain (the patient is awake) and then talks with them during it. This is for the severely depressed person, and it can help them get to moderate or mild forms of depression. Then they could be treated with talk therapy or what have you.

    There’s also something calld Deep Brain Stimulation too:

    These are all interesting options to think about. Who knows.

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