Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Genetic Roulette

Spring in the Appalachians is beautiful. The mist wreaths the hills in lacy trails of cloud stuff, and lingers far into the morning before the sun reaches all the way into the hidden places to burn it off. Visiting from Minnesota, my winter-weary eyes drank it all in--the trees, the hills, the rhododendrons in full bloom, a riot of living color. The view from the window of my cousin's house, perched halfway up a mountain, looks like something you'd see on a postcard.

We sat around the table after dinner, admiring the view while we sipped white wine and talked about people long dead, and places I'd never seen. My parents moved to the States when I was not quite four, and ever since then the Atlantic Ocean--and an emotional gulf even wider than that--has divided my family.

The conversation turned to my grandfather, who died of lung disease caused by exposure to mustard gas during WWI. My father barely knew him--he'd been only three when he died. My cousin, whom we had met only days before, had a different version of that story to tell.

Turns out that my grandfather was terrified of living through another world war. So terrified that in 1939, he took his own life. It is speculated that his sister, a nurse, obtained morphine for him in order to "help him along."

A year or so later, on the other side of the family, my grandmother was stopped from committing suicide when she attempted to step off a bridge with my infant mother in her arms.

My mother tells me now that her family are all "a miserable lot." I've a cousin who has attempted suicide. Another cousin who, although undiagnosed, most certainly suffers from bipolar disorder. I've another cousin who battles recurring depression. I have a brother who is currently being treated for depression. And those are just the ones I know about.

This is my genetic legacy.

This is what I may pass on to my own children.

I look into their bright and happy faces now, and I can't help but wonder...are they going to have to worry about the Beast as well? Will they, too, frantically check behind all the doors in their minds, scrutinizing their behavior, wondering if the joys and griefs of their lives are pathological?

Would I have played genetic roulette with their lives if I had been diagnosed earlier?

I don't know. I honestly don't know.


Anonymous said...

I think this doubt is one of the most damaging aspects of a diagnosis. Diagnosing bipolar (and any mental illness) is extremely fishy business, and the scientific basis for a genetic component is not terribly compelling, especially given how easy it to "see" mental illness if you expect it to be there, and how difficult it is to sort genetics from environment in family studies. It sounds like you're doing right by your kids from what little I've read.

Lynn said...

I am new to this blog, but have taken the time to read some. If I am out of line, just ignore me or tell me to bugger off, okay? I just recognize suffering, as I suffer, too, and would like to leave my humble opinion in case you would like to consider it. I will warn you, it is NOT a popular opinion. There. Ya been warned.


Be it depression, anxiety and panic, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, or many other alphabet soups, I think many of them have something in common. And I don't think it's genetics. And I further do not think that people need to just be generally drugged up, either. Especially not if they are opposed to it. I don't think mental illnesses/ disorders run in families, I think trauma does. If someone had a scary childhood for some reason, or if they have been abused or otherwise traumatized, it would not be normal for them to be 'normal'. This is not how people work. These things leave their mark behind. It happens that we all naturally want to run from addressing these things because they are so unpleasant and this is how we all perpetuate the medical model even when it is not a conscious goal to do so.

I have suffered all of my life from anxiety and panic. I suffered through antidepressants that made things worse and I had to get off of them. I have heard of people being diagnosed with bipolar when antidepressants cause them anxiety and overwhelming anxiety is what happened to me. The problem is not that I was bipolar, it was that I NEEDED some low level depression going on in order to keep my fear and abuse memories from coming to the front of my mind because I was not yet ready to deal with them. When the 'depression' was taken away, I had no protection and was innundated with intolerable affects. I am not the only one who has had the experience of being diagnosed with something after having endured trauma. The brain does whatever it deems necessary to keep things going and if something upsets the balance there can be hell to pay. I am of the school that, if we can process and work these things out in our minds, our problems will be much less. It's a long, hard road, but it is redeemimg in the end. I still suffer and I have a long way to go yet, but I am better than I ever was and I know what the problem is now. I am not the problem. The things that were done to me are what the matter is. That helps.

I wonder if you could look at the 'Big Mania' that you seem to be so frightened of. Must you really hold yourslef responsible for whatever it was that you did if you forsake this label? Must you really? Behaviour like that doesn't just come out of nowhere. Something caused it and I am quite certain it was not caused by being a horrible person. Quite certain. I wonder if you could just look at yourself and see that you have suffered and that you deserve to have compassion. Can you decide that whatever 'horrible' things you have done, you have done due to some suffering that you have encountered in your life? I don't think there has to be a choice of bipolar or horrible person. Why must those be the only choices? What other choices can you think of that would have you treating yourself with respect and compassion?

Just my two cents. If you think it blows, you can delete it. Peace to you, Jazz.

Jazz said...

Just my two cents. If you think it blows, you can delete it.

No, I think what you say has a lot of merit, Lynn. I think that many of us are drugged up when probably what we really need is compassion, understanding, and some good, competent therapy.

I don't know how much of this blog you've read, but I also got a lot worse on antidepressants, and I'm now off most of the meds...still tapering off my last one, but hope to be done sometime this summer.

I honestly don't know what the real reason is for this opinion not being popular, but I imagine it has a lot to do with someone's bottom line, be it pharma, which wants to keep us all on meds for their own profit, or the insurance companies, which don't want to pay for therapy (I think I'm allowed twenty sessions a year on my current insurance--and if I'm seeing a psychiatrist for medication management, those appointments are also considered therapy.).

In my own case, I'm starting to understand that yes, as a child I did experience trauma, although it wasn't the abuse kind. I was already an anxious toddler with separation anxiety, and when I was three and a half, my parents up and moved me from England to America--my home was gone, my nana, whom I adored, wasn't there, people spoke differently, the food was different, the kids I was used to playing with weren't there, I had none of my toys or the furniture I was familiar with because that was all on a boat coming across the ocean, and would not catch up to us for three months...It's only recently (in the last few months) that I've started to look at that uprooting and realizing that yeah, that was really traumatic for me. And I think it had a lot to do with the anxiety I've experienced for most of my life. I do a lot of journal work, and it's something I'm concentrating on pretty heavily right now.

As far as the bipolar diagnosis goes, I'm starting to question that, as you'll see if you read some of my more recent posts, especially today's, entitled "Hope."

Whew. Sorry for the lengthy reply! Just want you to know I agree completely with what you've said. And as far as deleting comments--I would never delete a comment simply because someone didn't agree with me...which, actually, you didn't, I find your thinking much in line with mine.

Have a good weekend, and thanks for stopping by!