The hard drive on my husband's computer is about to crash. You know it because it is extremely slow. It takes forever for it to boot up, and long minutes for an application to open- if it opens at all. The mouse is sluggish and the hard drive whines. But that's not all. The computer actually tells you it's dying. When you start up the machine, before Windows even loads, a message along with a lot of other code displays against the black screen:
"Status Bad S.M.A.R.T. Error Detected. The IDE Hard Drive is operating outside of normal specifications. It is advisable to immediately back up your data and replace your hard disk."
Wouldn't it be great if your BRAIN could send such a message to you (or to your clueless doctor) that it had a bad "SMART" drive? That the IDE (ID?) was operating "outside of normal specifications?" Wouldn't it be even greater if all you had to do was back up your mind/data and replace your brain/hard drive?
Oh, if it were that simple! But we aren't machines, although science keeps insisting we are a kind of biological "machine." Our bodies and brains run on electrical impulses that fire neurons and nerves. But we are so much more than that. That's the tragedy of our brain disorders- they are unique in that they steal your most important sense: your senses of perception. Arms can be replaced by prosthetics. Heart valves can be replaced with synthetic valves, or even in some cases with valves from a pig or monkey. It's been done. Organs can be replaced with donor organs. Even hands and fingers have been reattached in some cases. Or faces. But the brain is another thing. No replacement part for that. The best they can do in the operating room is remove bad sectors, sort of like defragmenting a disk drive. But once the brain cells go, that's all she wrote. But what about a brain that just doesn't work right? What about brains that have their chemicals all wrong and not firing properly as a result? It's only been in the last 20 years or so that science has begun to address the chemistry of the brain. Before that the standard of care for mental illness was psychotherapy. Talk as medicine. Trying to peel back the psychic layers and cure neurosis with behavioral modification. That or locking you up. A long time ago they use to throw insane people into pits filled with snakes. The idea was to "shock" the insanity out of them. If they weren't insane before they were thrown in, bet they were when they came out. So how could they tell if they were cured or not?
Science now has a better, if still foggy understanding of mental illness. They realize that many mental illnesses are physiological in nature, not psychological. It's easy to see why they use to be confused. If your brain isn't working right and the neurons are misfiring, that would cause most people to react in a weird way. I think a lot of insanity is really normal minds reacting to a sick brain.
If you saw a normal person with bugs crawling on their skin and screaming and running around trying to brush them off, you would try to help them get the bugs off. You wouldn't tell them to stop screaming and stop running and brushing at their arms and body. But what if you didn't see the bugs? You would call the men in the white coats. Because obviously, you'd think that person is crazy. Perhaps that person isn't crazy at all. Maybe they are having a sane reaction, a reaction any "normal" person would have to being covered by disgusting bugs. Just because you don't see the bugs doesn't mean the other person doesn't. They see them. So they are having a real reaction to a perceived event. I think mental illness is a disease of perception. My husband once saw bugs on his arms. And on the walls of his hospital room,too. Fortunately for him it didn't terrify him. Rather he was bemused. In his highly medicated state, his brain was telling him they were there. He held his arms up and wondered at all the flyfishing bugs on them (he is a flyfisherman). No one said he was crazy. We all knew he was reacting to the medication. "Too much happy" the nurse remarked, referring to the painkillers he had been given. When the drugs wore off, the bugs disappeared. If every person who saw bugs after taking drugs were diagnosed as insane, the world would be full of crazy people. Maybe it is, after all. Maybe we are all just a little "crazy."
If I hear my husband screaming and yelling in the living room, shouting obscenities in an angry voice, I don't think he is nuts. I know he's probably watching a football game and his team is losing. Or winning. Whatever. I know this because this happens a lot during football season at our house. But my visiting friend might think he is an enraged maniac if they didn't know. They might run out the door in a panic, punching 911 on their cell phone before I could explain. Now who looks crazy? It depends on one's viewpoint. To my husband, the crazy woman is the lady running in terror out of our house and screaming into her phone. To her, my husband is the crazy person screaming and cursing and jumping to his feet, tortilla chips flying everywhere. It's all a matter of perception. There's that word again.
A warning in black and white on your forehead would be great; it would lend a lot less confusion to the question. "Your S.M.A.R.T. drive (funny how the drive's initials form the acronym for what we all want to be) is operating outside of normal specifications." No room for doubt. Better back up your data, because your hard drive is going to die. Soon. The warning is clear and unambiguous. Better do something now. Because later may be too late to save your SMART(s). We don't get such a warning with brain disorders. No flashing neon sign. Not even a message on our computer screen. But when your perceptions start going wacky, when other people close to you express concern, that can be your sign to get help, tell your doctor, adjust or change your meds. When what your are perceiving is not logical or doesn't make sense to your mind, that can be your signal that you need to take action. The warning implies hope. Why warn if nothing can be done? You're not a lost cause. You can't replace your brain, but maybe there are medications out there that can help it work better. Just don't throw away the mind with the bathwater. Take it easy on yourself.
Meanwhile, use your mind to compensate as much as possible for your broken, "crazy" brain. Because your mind isn't crazy, though that's what people tell you. It's stressed out, yes. Wouldn't anybody be freaked out by what goes on in a crazy misfiring brain? It's my brain that's crazy, not my mind. I know we call ourselves crazy, insane, daft, demented, lunatic. I've heard it all, and it's easy to internalize what you hear all the time. But really, it's just you trying to cope with the craziness going on inside your brain. You are not your brain just as you are not your pancreas. They don't call diabetics crazy, but have you ever seen one in a diabetic crisis? They act crazy. They get irritable, emotional, irrational, paranoid and panicky. It's because of the extremely low blood sugar. Fix that, and they are fine again. I wish fixing my bipolar brain were as simple as having a glass of OJ or a piece of candy! Not that diabetes is that easy to control. I come from a family of diabetics. And I've watched their struggles with diet and insulin, always trying to keep the level of sugar in their blood within a certain range. It's hard. Thank goodness for insulin, before that diabetes was a death sentence. I have a related problem, except mine is with hypoglycemia. That's where I have a weird reaction to too many carbohydrates. My blood sugar tends to go up slightly after I eat them, then overreacts by diving down too low. So I know what I'm talking about when I describe a diabetic crisis (extreme low blood sugar level). There's this sinking in your stomach and a feeling of impending doom. You shake and shiver and sweat all at the same time. Your knees get real wobbly and your brain gets fuzzy. You can't think clearly and your perceptions change. You get real irritable, even angry over the littlest things and feel like everyone's against you. Actually, it feels a whole lot like hypomania. Or the pause just before you crash into depression. Familiar anyway. And I'm not any more crazy when my blood sugar is low than than I am when I'm having a hypomanic episode or going into depressive free fall. I have auditory hallucinations sometimes when my bipolar is acting up. The first time it happened, it sounded like the devil was bouncing a basketball in some infernal gymnasium and laughing maniacally. At first I thought it was real. Then my sane mind realized it couldn't be and I thought I was going crazy. I wasn't crazy, my brain was getting it's circuits crossed and giving me wrong signals, that's all. But it made me feel crazy. And scared. It turned out to be a bad reaction to Lithium.
So while my brain is "crazy", and I can't always rely on the perceptions it gives me, my mind is not. My mind is fine, thank you very much. It's gotten me through a shitload of grief dealing with my broken brain. It's done a pretty good job, too. I'm proud of my mind. When my meds are doing their thing right, my brain cooperates with my mind and I'm on top of my game. Everybody's happy. Never know I was sick. I have a brain disorder, not a mental illness. It's not my mind that is broken. I had a mental breakdown once. Then it was broken. I was truly out of my mind for a while. No one home. Porch light out. For a while, but not permanently. It mended. Minds can mend. Brains can't. Sometimes people have broken minds for a long time. Sometimes even their whole lives. Maybe that is true insanity. When living with the craziness in your brain finally cracks your mind wide open. When your mind joins your brain and leaves the building with it. But a broken brain can often be helped. Hopefully before it drives the mind into insanity with it. Hell, even people with broken minds can be helped. Medications can adjust the chemicals that make your brain give wrong signals to the mind. then the mind can start to heal from the trauma of living with a "crazy" brain that distorts the perceptions it sends the mind. Not a permanent fix, but at least control some of the major symptoms. The scientists don't know exactly how most of the medications work, they just know they do. So until they find a permanent fix for mental (brain) disorders, a way to make your brain permanently work like it's supposed to, remember; insanity is all a matter of perception.. Anybody would act crazy sometimes if they had to live inside my brain.