PSA for Today

I just/finally finished Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, and, while the end of the month review will be forthcoming, I had to take a few minutes to discuss one of the major concepts the novel deals with, as it's something that has unfortunately been a huge part of my life.

For those unfamiliar with the text, it's about three college graduates stuck in a love triangle. The novel follows them through their late college years into the year following their graduation. Madeline is the one coveted by both Mitchell and Leonard; she chooses Leonard, while Mitchell sets off abroad instead of dealing with the shitty economy of the 1980's recession.

Madeline and Leonard's relationship is quite tumultuous, given that he is bipolar, which is where my connection to the novel comes into play. Stop getting excited- this isn't me announcing a personal diagnosis of mental instability to the world (I'm admittedly moody at times due to running out of cereal or the dog waking me up at 4 am). My father suffered from this mental illness and eventually took his own life when I was a freshman in high school, making me a decent judge of how people with the illness act and how it impacts those around the person. I went into the novel on the lookout for bullshit, but am pleased to say that I feel Eugenides did a good job portraying a bipolar patient. Leonard had highs and lows, his medication was ridiculously hard to stabilize (this was a huge part of my dad's struggle), and those around him felt a wide range of emotions ranging from anger to helplessness to frustration in regards to his behavior. One day Leonard would be throwing parties and leading midnight adventures to casinos and then a few days later he would disappear. Eugenides obviously did his homework- not sure why I had any doubt.

What frustrates me is the false perception of manic depression/bipolar disorder many people have. The word is thrown around constantly for people who are emotional or at times unstable. Let me tell you, there is a definite difference between being moody or depressed and actually having this disease. While I'm not a doctor, healthcare professional, or sufferer, here are some of the more interesting aspects of the disease:

- More than 50% of cases start before the age of 25 (although they aren't necessarily diagnosed til until later)
- Can't be "cured," just managed
- Mania is more than just being hyper; it generally includes fast talking, breathing changes, extreme distraction, prolonged periods of feeling "high" or even irritable, sleep changes, unrealistic expectations, or risk-taking (impulsive sex, spending sprees, etc...)
- The severity of the cycles can differ
- People who are bipolar often have greater risks for anxiety disorders, substance abuse, thyroid problems, migraines and even diabetes
- Genetics play a risk; children who have a parent or sibling are 4 to 6 more times to develop it (so if I stay clear then my kids won't necessarily have the heightened risk). The odds are low already, though, so don't let the statistics fool you. And of course genes aren't the only risk factor- hello nature vs. nurture
- There are lots of available medications that continue to produce more favorable outcomes, but there are still side effects and balancing issues
- Obvious increased risk of suicide
- Those that feel they have symptoms or know someone who may should consult their doctor

And that's my literary-inspired PSA for the day.

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry your father and family experienced this disorder. My grandpa had it, and he was in and out of mental hospitals when my mom was growing up. He was given shock treatments that they no longer do. According to my mom, he started doing better when Lithium was invented.