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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Bipolar Disorder: Research proves that... it wasn't a choice

Note:  This blog hasn't been the same lately.  I don't know if I should keep going or not.  What do you think?

The night before...
The recent state of this blog is reflecting my personal life, and it has nothing to do with just turning 40.

40 is the biblical number of completion.  Moses was 40 when he fled Egypt and it was 40 years later when he returned to lead his people to freedom.  It was 40 years after that when the children of Israel arose to take the land promised them.

Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting and being tempted by Satan.  Only after that did He begin His ministry.  Noah and his family endured rain for 40 days and 40 nights.  No doubt there are other examples.

(I haven't seen the Noah movie.  I don't plan to either.  When I heard there were Ents in it, and Noah tries to kill his granddaughter, I knew it wouldn't get my hard-earned money.)

Many people would turn 40 with dread.  It didn't even register with me.  I guess one of the reasons is that I'm just happy to have survived my 30s: a decade that very nearly killed me.  I'm not kidding.  It certainly did see my life almost destroyed in too many other ways.

For the past few months things have gone very horrible in my personal life and I'm struggling to understand the whys and the hows of it.  I'm no closer to understanding.  God isn't providing any wisdom, but I guess He doesn't have to to begin with, does He?

Last week though, He did provide something that, well... it has come as both a great relief and a saddening understanding.

It was a friend with a far more brilliant mind than most who passed along the news to me.  I'm glad she did.  In the week since I've studied everything I can about these findings and more than I can express in words, I have felt a tremendous burden lifted from my heart and soul.

Last week new research was published by a team at the University of Michigan, having to do with bipolar disorder.  Which has been the biggest bane of my existence, for far longer than I initially realized.  My bipolar intensified severely beginning more than ten years ago and if it hadn't been for counseling and coming across the right combination of medication, I would probably be dead.

The researchers at University of Michigan took skin samples from volunteers who did not have bipolar, and an equal number from those who are afflicted with bipolar.  Those skin cells were induced to become stem cells and with further coaxing, made to develop into neural tissue (something that never ceases to amaze me).  For the first time, the behavior and function of bipolar disorder neural cells could be examined at length.

Neurons of Bipolar Disorder individual
(photo credit: Univesity of Michigan)

The findings were extraordinary.  The neurons of those with bipolar disorder were found to function radically different from those of "normal" people.  For one thing, they communicate with each other drastically different from mainstream neurons: at times uncontrollably.  Signals can often spin out of control.  There are more genes which express themselves into receptors for calcium ions, needed by cells to send signals to each other.  There are far more synapses and dentrites present than those of non-bipolar individuals.  It is now believed that bipolar neurons are already activated at the embryonic stage and continue to affect brain development throughout an individual's life, manifesting especially in the early years and young adult phase.  Additionally, the researchers discovered how lithium "calms" the neural activity down, though its effectiveness can differ from individual to individual.

Another group of researchers a few weeks earlier announced that 3 genes have been found which are associated with bipolar disorder.  Between that and the study of bipolar neurons, it is truly an exciting time for bipolar disorder research.

It's stuff like this that makes me thankful for modern medical research.  And this is only the beginning.  At last, science is starting to have an understanding of bipolar disorder and how it may be treated.  In the future, treatment may be possible for those with bipolar on an individual basis, instead of trying one drug cocktail after another attempting to control it.

But even so... I have a mixed reaction to all of this.

Because now I know that there wasn't a choice. There was never a choice.  None at all.

I was going to have bipolar disorder.  I was going to have bipolar disorder.

For those in the future, there may well be effective treatment for bipolar disorder.  But for me, it is too late.

From before I was ever born, the chromosomes were poisoning the well.  The neurons were working their mischief.  Subtly altering how my brain was developing.  Making seemingly inconsequential shifts in my brain's structure.  Setting up a time bomb set to explode years down the road.

It was going to happen no matter what.  We know without any doubt now.

My grandmother, we are now certain, had bipolar disorder.  Her father before her suffered mental illness and we also now believe it was bipolar.  My grandmother had two children and each of those have two children.  Neither my father or aunt have bipolar.  Nor do my sister or my two cousins have bipolar.  Instead the genetic roulette wheel landed on your friend and humble narrator, Robert Christopher Knight.

I guess if it had to be someone, I should be glad that it was on me.  Bipolar disorder is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  If somebody had to lose the dice roll, I would volunteer myself rather than see anyone else suffer.

I have bipolar disorder and from the earliest possible point, it was something I was doomed to be hit with.  There is a sense of relief and vindication (as one commenter on this blog put it) in knowing at last that this wasn't a "character flaw".  One of the things that being bipolar has taught me is that the mind and soul are two VERY separate things.  There is the flesh, there is the mind, and there is the soul.

My heart and soul are untouchable by bipolar.  But this fallen world can - and has - done plenty of damage to my body and mind.

It was a disability that was poised to strike without my having a say in the matter.  Another thing that bipolar disorder has taught me is to have a much deeper humility and appreciation for those things that I do have, because there are many people who are worse off than I will probably ever be.  You can't understand a disability until you yourself have one... and I pray that nobody else would have to suffer a disability.  Especially this one.

I am relieved.  I am thankful for the new research.  And at the same time I have a sense of grief.

Bipolar disorder, I see now, has always been there and making me "different" from others.  Bipolar disorder has destroyed opportunities which I regret were missed.  It has cost me friendships.  It cost me my marriage.  And lately it has come very close to completely derailing my freelance writing career.

And apart from a regimen of medication (which sometimes is not completely effective) and regular counseling, I never stood a chance to not lose all of those things.  Things that were very precious and dear to me.  And still are.

But again, if a person, especially a person in my family, had to be hit with bipolar and suffer the consequences of everything associated with it, I would rather it have been me and not them.

And yet, I can't bring myself to rail against God for any of that.

Have I cried out to Him before because of this?  Absolutely.  But this is something that I just can't find a reason to charge Him with anything.

Because if He knows that I have this and was always going to have bipolar disorder, then I have to trust that He understands completely, and even better than I possibly could.

I have to trust that God didn't allow this to happen without some purpose.  What that purpose is, I have no idea.  I may never have any understanding of it.

I trust that God knows all of this, and that in His own time He brings healing.  He brings restoration.  He brings wisdom.

And He brings hope.

I have a hope now that those yet to come will never have to go through what I have because of bipolar disorder.  If I can play any part in that, however small, then I will consider that to be the greatest honor that one can have in this life.  I may have had no choice in being hit with bipolar disorder, but I can and do choose to do what I can to help others who have this devastating mental illness.

Actually, come to think of it... that isn't really a choice at all, either.


Unknown said...

Glad to see you posting again, Chris, and to find that you have found some peace. Happy Belated Birthday!

One thing I found interesting was your observation of the number 40 from a Biblical perspective. I used to love looking at Biblical numerology, but I always saw 40 as the number of Probation/Waiting/Trial and 7 as the number of completion. Still, I will grant that from a different perspective, 40 could be viewed as the number of completion. Very interesting.
Side note: It would be sad to see your blog go (I have learned and been introduced to so many things here), but that is a choice only you can make.
May you have a good day.

Jenna St. Hilaire said...

I hope you don't stop your blog! It's worth keeping around, even if you rarely post. Like I've said before, you inspired me to get started, so I would be sad to see it go. :)

Deslie said...

I get what you're saying but Roxanne is right. It's 7 that is the number of God's completeness and completion. 6 is man's number, made in God's image but always incomplete. 3 is a number of completeness also example: the trinity. And 40 is the number representing testing and trials, and probation. Jesus went through 40 days of testing and temptation, to show that he would know all the temptations that man experiences. The Israelites were tested for 40 years in the wilderness. The rains fell for 40 days. Moses was tested in exile for 40 years before returning to Egypt. The spies spent 40 days in Canaan. God gave Nineveh 40 days to repent of its sins before it would be destroyed. But 40 is also the number of a generation in the Bible. Isaac was 40 years old when he first married.

Look at it this way: your probation is over and you've come through the testing. Now is when God is going to use you the most (:

Anonymous said...

I vote for you to stay and keep blogging. Its a very rare gift to put yourself so vulnerable and out there and write with such eloquence. Please stay. You are an anointed inspiration for so many.


Anonymous said...

Keep writing. You may never know who reads your blog and is helped by it.

Anonymous said...

We have a choice in how we deal with it, take responsibility for it, and to not blame my friends and family for it. That was my choice.

Chris Knight said...

I have never blamed friends and family for it.

I have done my best to make up for the things I did because of this.

Admittedly, it has been frustrating. I have not found forgiveness from everyone who I have hurt. And forgiveness is something that I desperately need.

This condition is my own to bear. I've never said it was the fault of anyone else.

For sake of those who do have it, I ask that their loved ones do realize and to please understand: this is not the fault of the person with mental illness, either. And more than few others, they need encouragement and relationships that they know they can depend on to be there when they need them.

At the present time I am enduring a worse than usual bout with bipolar depression. It's something I wouldn't wish on anybody. Loved ones have said they are worried about me, but there is nothing they can do: it has to be endured, my myself. All I can really ask from others are their prayers.

Chris Knight said...

Just for sake of discussion...

There is one person (among very many) who more than most, I have wanted to understand that the disease was never my fault. But even so, the things that I did because of bipolar are things that I will regret for the rest of my life and can never, ever truly forgive myself for.

Only recently, actually when this study came out, that it occurred to me that this person really did have to sever our relationship for sake of personal safety and happiness.

This person may never fully accept that I inflicted pain because of a disease, but neither can I fault this person for leaving the situation.

Does it hurt? Like I said, I will carry regret for the rest of my life about this. But I cannot hold that person responsible for something that, for whatever reason, God allowed me to have.

Someday, I have to believe, none of this grief and confusion will ever matter. Until then, I do endure it and beat myself up over it. But we are promised that this world isn't all that there is, and that we have a hope and a future which only God can give.

It makes the pain in the meantime a little easier to endure.

Anonymous said...

Let me preface my following comment by first stating that I admire your blogsite for the political comments, and reviews of movies and/or television series. What I don't wholeheartedley agree on is your statement of "God" giving you this disease called bi-polarism. No, I cannot state that I have this disease, however, I have lost the use of my right leg by an explosive device while stationed as a United States Marine. I cursed and cursed God out till I was blue in the face for the better part of two years, and blamed everyone else for my situation, and never really accomplished anything out of it, except more anger. Finally, I learned to deal with what I was dealy, and am happier for it. What I am trying to say is that we all need to adapt to our individual situations, overcome what was in the past and move on. You seem like an intelligent and nice guy. I don't know what your story is, but you can move on from the blame scenario. I'd like to be able to just jump, skip, or walk, but it ain't happening. I've adapted. Except your actions for what they are. Your actions, and not God's. Thanks for letting me give my two cents worth of advice. - Jeff :-)

Anonymous said...

As someone who suffers from a bipoler disorder, I agree that it is not a choice, but I can control some of my reactions through the awareness of my situation, medication, and not blaming others for what I have done.

Chris Knight said...

Awareness of the situation has been a HUGE help to me! It took me a long time but when I go through the depression especially, I remind myself that this is part of the bipolar. That it will pass, as they all have passed previously. It lets me bear through it until it passes.

Regarding blaming others: my own issue is that I blame myself for this, instead of the bipolar directly. I've tried to be forgiven for the things I've done because of bipolar. Some have done that. Some have not. And it grieves me every time I have to think of someone I've hurt and knowing that they haven't forgiven me.

This thing really does wreck havoc with one's life, doesn't it?

On a related note, over the weekend I finally read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. She puts into words far better than I possibly could what it is to be manic depressive/bipolar and be driven to such extremes of mood that loved ones do get hurt. It's a *very* fascinating book and I'll definitely recommend it.