I was relieved and terrified when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic-depressive illness. Relieved because I now had a name for the problems that seemed to be associated with my severe mood swings, but terrified because I was accepting that I have what my father had. And he was committed to a mental hospital.
As a psychotherapist who makes his living helping others, it took me a long time to “come out” and tell the world I had what the experts say is a serious mental illness. I worried that no one would want to pay money to see someone who was “crazy.” There’s still far less stigma attached when you tell the world you have a physical illness like asthma than telling the world you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder.
In an article, “Being Bipolar: Living in a World of Fire and Ice,” which I wrote forty years after I became a licensed psychotherapist, I said,
“Most people don’t know I’m bipolar. After years of loving kindness shown to me by my wife, therapy with a caring and skilling therapist, and medications to help keep me in balance, my illness is in remission.”
Holiday season is often a time of ups and downs. It is a time of celebration with family and loved ones. But it can also be a time of stress where old wounds and trauma surfaces. With Covid still present in the world and in our lives, there are added conflicts. Should I stay home and stay safe or celebrate with those I care about? Choices are not easy. That’s why I decided to offer some holiday gifts of my most helpful and healing programs.
I had already written 14 books when I finally wrote about me and my father and our own healing journey. In My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound, the first chapter was titled, “Mad Father, Dutiful Son.” Here’s how it began:
You can listen to the audiobook of My Distant Dad: Healing the Family Father Wound here.
I’ve been a psychotherapist specializing in gender medicine and men’s health for fifty-two years. Although my business card says, “Jed Diamond, PhD, Helping men and the women who love them since 1969,” I’d really been doing this work since the drive to see my father at Camarillo State Mental Hospital in 1949. I grew up wondering what happened to my father, whether it would happen to me, and I how I could help other families avoid the pain and suffering I lived with.
I went to college and earned my bachelor’s degree and later a master’s degree in Social Work and PhD in International Health. The dissertation for my doctorate, which looked at the different ways men experience depression and a new “male depression” scale that I developed, was published. It was titled Male vs Female Depression: Why Men Act Out and Women Act In. The academic publisher sells it on Amazon for $111.00 (I hated that they are charging so much, but I couldn’t do anything about the price). I decided to publish it myself on Scribd, in order to make it more widely available. You can read the whole dissertation here.
The Old Paradigm of Mental Illness Asks, “What’s Wrong With You?”
After I graduated from college I attended medical school at U.C. San Francisco. I thought I would become a doctor, then a psychiatrist, and hopefully get answers to the questions I asked myself as a five-year-old: What happened to my father? Would it happen to me? How can I prevent other families from suffering as our family did? It soon became evident that the study of medicine at the time, put little emphasis on “mental problems” and psychiatry at the time focused on finding the right label for the problem and then giving a drug to fix the problem.
Unfortunately, things have not changed a great deal in mainstream medicine. Those working in the field are still required to choose a diagnosis (at least if you want to get insurance reimbursement) from the 157 different choices in the most recent Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Although, like many clinicians I went along and picked a diagnosis when I saw clients, though it never seemed to fit what was really going on with the person coming for help and never guided me toward an appropriate approach for helping them.
In my article, “Misunderstood, Mistreated: Real Healing for Anxiety, Depression, Addictions, and More,” I quoted from Gary Greenberg’s The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry:
“Whether it’s correct or not, in medicine real entities are those that have a biological basis, where you can find the causes and the boundaries of a disease through biochemical means, whether that’s by culturing tissue, or looking under a microscope, or doing a blood test, or whatever it is you do. The problem with mental illness, or with psychological suffering in general, is that it’s very difficult to come up with those biochemical assays. In fact, I shouldn’t say, ‘very difficult,’ but rather, ‘at this point, impossible.’ How much of our suffering should we turn over to our doctors—especially our psychiatrists?”
A New Way to Live with the Ups and Downs of Life
In his book, The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm, my colleague Eric Maisel says,
“I would like to see a mental health revolution, and I intend to describe what the contours of that revolution look like.”
He goes on to say,
“Perhaps the billions of people worldwide who suffer from emotional and mental distress may be helped by realizing they haven’t been infected with a ‘mental illness virus’ that a chemical can cure and that they haven’t succumbed to some mere ‘psychological issue.’ Rather, they are having a painful whole-being reaction to the nameable, predictable problems of living. That would amount to an earth-shattering change, a genuine paradigm shift, and it would begin the process of helping sufferers finally reduce their emotional pain.”
For years I resisted the idea that I had a “mental illness virus” that required a diagnosis and medications. I also was fearful of accepting the reality that I was suffering and causing my family to suffer because of symptoms that included hypersensitivity, irritability, anger, compulsive work, anxiety, sadness, withdrawal, numbness, and loss of energy.
Two things finally helped me to reach out for help and to find a doctor who was more interested in helping me deal with my “whole-being reaction” to the problems of living than giving me a diagnosis. The most help came from my wife, Carlin, who was firm in her feedback that “something is wrong,” but offering loving support for me to decide what was wrong and how to deal with it. She wrote a wonderful book, whose title alone, Love It, Don’t Label It: A Practical Guide for Using Spiritual Principles in Everyday Life, helped me recognize the difference between naming a problem and being labeled by someone who doesn’t see the whole, complex, person I am.
The second was reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, An Unquiet Mind: Memoir of Mood and Madness. Dr. Jamison is one of the world’s experts on mood disorders and has written a textbook on the subject. The fact that she could come out and share her own healing journey encouraged me to accept myself and begin my own.
When I read her description of her pain and suffering and how it impacted the people she loved, I broke into tears. I heard my own pain and desolation in her words:
“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief; you’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re ‘not at all like yourself but will be soon,’ but you know you won’t.”
Fortunately, things are changing since An Unquiet Mind was published in 1995. Now there are more healers that can help the person and their family. I’m happy to say, my therapist helped me. My wife, Carlin, and I are still together after 41 years of marriage, but more importantly what we have learned has enabled us to find the joy and contentment that we had thought were lost forever. Indeed, a new mental health revolution is beginning.
If you are drawn to the “new future of mental health,” check out Eric Maisel’s work here. If you’d like to stay connected with me and my work, I invite you to join me at MenAlive. If you’d like to take advantage of my special holiday gifts, here they are.
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