There is an African drumming circle outside my window. It is 9:00 pm. Why are they playing in the dark? When I looked out the window, I saw someone standing with their back to me. Perhaps she or he is the music therapist running the group? This group is quite good. What a treat.
“Nurse, what can you tell me about the African drumming circle?” “What African drumming circle?” “The one outside my window.” She came into my room. “I don’t hear anything.” “Look, see that long white thing? Isn’t that a pants leg?” “Maybe. I will go outside and check for you.” When she returned, she broke the bad news. There was no African drumming circle, the pant’s leg was an ashtray and I am hallucinating. This visit to the hospital was the only time I have ever been psychotic. At least I had a pleasant hallucination.
I have bipolar II disorder. My ups are less extreme than a full mania and are called hypomanias. My hypomania is usually characterized by irritability that can turn into a non-violent rage instantly. I call it going from zero to asshole in zero seconds. However, I never name call and the content of my words is usually spot on. I am the logical fallacy avoiding, articulate asshole.
I have been told that my delivery method obliterates my message. I guess it is like a defective postal machine that folds, spindles and mutilates the mail passing through it. First, there is my diaphragm-supported bellowing. Then there is my facial expression. I know it is unpleasant, but that is all anyone will tell me. Is it one of rage, contempt, disgust or something else entirely? I am not sure I want to know.
It turns out I frighten some people. I was shocked when I first heard this. After all, I was always picked on as a kid. In general, I am soft spoken and sensitive to other’s feelings. I have been told that it is the contrast between the two that is so disconcerting.
It is not my intention to frighten anyone or to piss them off. I have no idea how I am coming across. This lack of insight is a part of the disease. I think I am being emphatic, but I don’t realize I am being rageful. When the rage passes and I am told how I behaved, I feel remorse over my behavior combined with resentment over not getting my needs met. When I look back on past hospitalizations I feel this confusing mix of shame and anger. It is no wonder I don’t want to go back.
I could never work in the psychiatric field. I lack the patience for it. I know it must be hard to fulfill one’s work requirements while looking after dozens of people who are out of their minds; Each of us is responding to his or her disease in a different way. The professional must be evaluating each interaction to decide whether the patient is being honest or manipulative.
What I need most from staff when I am in a rage is to know that they are in my corner fighting for me, that they care and display other signs of warmth that show me it is a safe world after all. Yet this is what the other person feels least like doing. “This man just read them the riot act and now he wants reassurance?” Yes. A kind word brings me back and makes me human again. It is the lack of warm and connection in my world that makes me sick. My greatest fear is that we can never get our needs met in this world. I fear that the world is a cold place run by people who at the very least are incompetent and at their worst are malicious. It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.
However, I am sure I am not the only psychiatric patient who has uncontrollable outbursts and find the common reaction to his outbursts to be proof that the staff can’t be trusted. Aren’t psychiatric caregivers taught about patients with my condition? What are they taught is the best way to handle someone with my issue? A kind word turneth away wrath…at least it does for me.
©2016 Stephen L. Martin
Painting: Richard Dadd – The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke An unfinished painting that Dadd worked on for nine years as a psychiatric patient in the Bethlem Royal Hospital.