Yesterday I chose to celebrate Carrie Fisher’s life, in total, not the part of her that brought so much awareness to bipolar disorder.
I did this both because Carrie Fisher was an incredible person with a wit that maybe surpassed Dorothy Parker’s, or at least she was a Dorothy Parker for baby boomers and those who came after us.
I found it surprising when a few people dissed me for not paying homage to Carrie Fisher/bipolar when she was so much more than that.
When I was in high school a psychiatrist couldn’t figure out what my problems were. I was exceptionally articulate and explained my suffering. But he chose to see a non-compliant girl who had a much older boyfriend, and instead of getting the “A”s she should have been getting–I knocked IQ tests off the charts–got way too many “C”s. Nobody believed that I really did study.
Instead of getting to know me he gave me Thorazine. As I wasn’t psychotic it put me to sleep. I took myself off it after a week of feeling like a walking zombie.
Much later I told another psychiatrist about this. I remember how he looked at me when he said: “You? You wouldn’t even be neurotic if it weren’t for all the strange problems you have.” (He had taken the time to know me and by this time I was a “successful,” well dressed adult who knew how to talk to people so they listened and understood what I said.) “Thanks,” I said, “I’m a New Yorker. If I’m not neurotic what am I?”
This morning I realized that I chose not to talk about Fisher’s being bipolar and bringing awareness to it because I come from that line of New Yorker who thought therapy was something almost everyone went to, and that everyone had problems.
When Fisher was first Princess Leia I was living with a man I came to realize was an undiagnosed bipolar (called manic depressive then). I tried getting him help but he resisted. Nothing was wrong with him; it was the rest of the world that had problems.
I realized that was a big difference between us. I looked to myself first to blame any problems on. He began to blame his problems on me and I took the blame at first.
I have one great trait–an instinct for survival. I found him an apartment, paid the first and last month’s rent, and then he stalked me. But that’s another story.
As an adult all therapists took me seriously. None typed me. We searched for answers and there weren’t any. I wasn’t bipolar though I had some of the symptoms. I wasn’t autistic though at times I begged to be labeled as one.
There was much that I wasn’t. My father liked to call me shy. That was the last thing I was though I seemed it.
I was anxious; anxious to the point of anxiety and panic attacks. That I functioned as well as I did was a miracle.
When I was almost 57 I found out the name of my problems. Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD). There wasn’t any help around for adults.
I should have stayed in New York and been one of the people who ensured that there was help. But I knew nothing about NLD. I did know myself and had figured out a lot of my problems on my own.
I should have run into therapy because everything I read about NLD was so negative. I shouldn’t have been able to have lived my life according to the research. But I had.
I felt defensive and scared. I began rewriting my story so that I was a loser instead of a person who had made friends more than easily as a child, once I entered college, and after. I saw my career success as insignificant.
I was angry that I thought because I had unknown problems I shouldn’t be in love or have children. Now that I knew what the problems were it seemed so obvious that what my friends told me–that I would have been a great mother–was true. I know that this paragraph contradicts the above ones but life’s not a neat ball of yarn. It’s raveled, knotted, and thrown into a closet when company comes because it’s too much to deal with.
I have written extensively on NLD, but I’m so tired of it. Unlike pure anxiety syndrome, ADHD, bipolar syndrome, few people have heard about it or care.
I learned about it just as Facebook began in earnest and there are NLD groups that I learned a lot from but had to leave because instead of empowering me they did the opposite. I felt so small. Defeated really.
It’s a neurological problem–but funny in the very ironic sense–it can also mimic everything I have stated above so yes I understand why it confuses even the “best” therapists.
I know of at least one professional who asks everyone who might have anything to do with Facebook groups if they know me. If the person says yes, he proceeds to make fun of me. I have always clearly stated that I write about myself. That because of the dearth of material I’m my own best case study. I hesitate to write about others because I’m scared even if they tell me everything they know I will get something wrong.
That’s also kind of funny as I was a licensed social worker from a “name” school who was known for the quality of her assessments at work.
I just lost confidence when I learned about NLD, and no matter how many people liked/related to/found my writing fascinating in the good sense, there were always people who lived to tear me down. And those are the comments, emails, messages that stay with me.
Please don’t think I’m negating Carrie Fisher’s contribution to understanding mental illness. That’s the last thing I would do. In large part due to her more people understand bipolar syndrome.
she was so much more than mental illness. Maybe her illness contributed to her wit, helped make her the person she was. But it didn’t define her.
I can’t imagine wanting to be defined by NLD though I know it contributed too much to who I am.
I have spent the last couple of years stymied, almost paralyzed because I want people to know me for the totality of my writings; not just as the girl who got NLD wrong–according to some “experts.”
I want my humor to shine through and I’m told that I used to be very funny. This obsession with a syndrome I never heard of ten years ago isn’t worth the agony.
I’ve often wished I could write one of those omnipresent “9 Ways to treat a person who is having a panic attack;” “11 ways to treat a friend with anxiety” but I can’t as they never come out the way I want them to.
Actually in these past nine years I sold an apartment, went south, bought and renovated a house, and became friends with people who are very different than me or the people I’m used to. That’s an achievment I never gave myself enough credit for. I was too busy defining myself through the eyes of others.
If I take away the obsession with NLD, I like myself, I really like myself! (Sally Field’s still alive; don’t worry.)