The Invisible Plague

I’m not doing so well. I had a steroid-induced hypomania for about two weeks, and a subsequent crash. I was able to continue working through it, but I’m going to need a few days off to completely level out. Unfortunately I work for a company with only 5 people, and I do the testing so that we can ship product and bill the customers for all our hard work. It’s hard to get even one day off. I took off on Friday and had to take calls all day long. I might as well have gone in.

I really enjoy my work. Engineering is just as creative as any of the humanities. The main difference is that it attracts linear-sequential people and reductionists. That trait and that philosophy can be real creativity-killers.

Hypomania, or mild mania, can be socially and financially devastating. It’s the reason I sought treatment for the bipolar disorder. “Why do I get so stupid and unreasonably optimistic over and over again?” “Why do I keep making the same mistakes?” Hypomania by definition doesn’t include psychosis, so the impairment is completely due to over-optimism. As an engineer I have Mad Skilz at reality testing.

I usually avoid steroids for that reason, but my back is a mess from the accident last year and I got an epidural to have some relief from the pain. I also avoid painkillers because opioids are a guaranteed depression. There is a DSM-IV code for opioid-induced mood disorder.

Hypomania is exhilarating. Without an occasional hypomania, life is in shades of grey. Dorothy in Kansas. All bipolars have to accept that the price of avoiding hell is to give up heaven.

No meds stop mood swings completely but they make them tolerable and easier to manage. It takes a bit of effort to avoid triggers like lack of sleep, stress, etc. I do ok. A lot of folks on the list and the forum will never do ok. There but for the grace of God go I, eh?

I saw a book online while maintaining the forums this morning. I think you know the researcher EF Torrey? He has a new book called “The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present.”

I don’t feel like a deadly bacillus. Mental illness isn’t contagious! You can read everything I write, you can shake my hand and even drink from my glass, but you won’t catch get bipolar disorder from me. So why call it a plague? Why not focus on the triggers that cause a simple genetic propensity to become full-blown mental illness? Is that the point, to avoid implicating societal forces like the switch to strict industrial time constraints in the time frame Torrey’s book covers? Which, incidentally, was fueled by the shortage of workers in post-Plague Europe, but that’s another story. I’m a history buff and I really get into anthropology.

Refer to Edward T. Hall’s “The Dance of Life: The Other Side of Time” for a fascinating exploration of the perception of time as defined by our cultures.

And if you like rock, listen to Dire Straits “Industrial Disease.”

How does Torrey plan to eliminate mental illness? Does he want to go back to forced sterilization? Take biopsies of unborn children to identify and abort diseased DNA, thereby destroying even the unaffected siblings? Or is he content to make a good living calling us names? “Plague” indeed!


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