Monday, April 26, 2010

Some thoughts on Bipolar Disorder: SCATTERSHOT by David Lovelace

I'm currently reading Scattershot: My Bipolar Family, a memoir by David Lovelace, and thought I'd share some of what I've read with you. This post is not a book review. Scattershot is the author's account of bipolar disorder's effects on his family—he's a bipolar, too—and how he spent his life running away from it, and finally learning to embrace the profound creative gifts that come with it. Bipolar Disorder is of special interest to me (no, I don't have bipolar) and I've been reading up a lot about it on books, blogs and other websites.

I bought Scattershot at the Changi Airport in Singapore on the way back to Malaysia after attending the ASIAN Financial Services Congress (AFSC). I'm now at page 114 of the book, at the part where he went to Colorado College but I want to share from page 106 and 107:

At the age of twenty, I had only experienced half the disease—depression—and an accurate diagnosis was unlikely. Instead I spent years believing that my agitation and unhappiness were my fault, and my periodic depressions simply confirmed my self-loathing. Increasingly, fear and anxiety made my decisions. I found stopgap solutions and sad little hideouts. It would have taken full-blown crisis to pull me out my trenches. I didn’t want this disease. I had no intention of stepping out to meet it.

Denial was difficult, not yet. No one in my family had experienced mania. My father and brother weren’t sick at all. My mother suffered from depression, she could get delusional, but her quiet paranoia always passed. On average bipolar disease—aka mania depression—hits patients in their late teens and twenties. My father held out into his fifties. Classically, the disease hits in adolescence, as it did with me, and it most often descends like black death. My father, brother, and I had six years before shit hit the fan.

From these pages onward, Scattershot gets more serious describing bipolar disorder i.e. the brain’s inability to regulate emotion. It’s a brain disease and biological in nature. Depression, as Lovelace mentioned, is a painfully slow, crushing death. Mania is the other extreme—fun and frightening. Bipolar type I patients experience both extremes while Bipolar type II suffer mostly from depression. What makes it dangerous leading to being suicidal is—again quoting the author—“results from the impulsive nature and physical speed of psychotic mania coupled with depression’s paranoid self-loathing.” Lovelace also briefly talks about “rapid cyclers.”

Lovelace said he has benefited from the state of hypomania (that semi-lucid phase before mania) and described it as seductive; it’s a brilliant state charged with poetry, charisma and sex. It’s a gift but then he also said he imagine cocaine addicts feel much the same way.

Another interesting thing is this: there are two neurotransmitters that are of special interest to bipolar i.e. serotonin and dopamine, which produce pleasure. They become problematic when the brain cannot regulate their movement. Coincidentally, I tweeted about these two hormones in February this year and now I can imagine what could happen when they’re in an over-heightened, uncontrolled state.

21st February @ 6 p.m. GAIN THE CARDIO EDGE: One of the key hormones released when you exercise is serotonin, which is a mood booster. You feel great!

21st February @ 8 p.m. GAIN THE CARDIO EDGE: The other key hormone released when you exercise is dopamine, which affects learning and attention. You're focused!

I will be sharing more about Scattershot and other resources on bipolar disorder as I go along. It's a very readable book and Publishers Weekly (starred review) describes it as this: "Lovelace's poetic prose is both matter-of-fact and haunted, capturing the unpredictable rhythms of mental illness."

If you have materials that you could share with me, or have experience as a bipolar supporter, I'd love to hear from you!