Bipolar Disorder…And Me…Discovered & Embraced
By M. LaVora Perry
For almost 40 years, I struggled with depression and a nagging feeling that something was “wrong” with me.
In 1983, at age 21, I’d dropped out of college because I had been too depressed to get out of bed and attend class. A few months later, I spent seven weeks in a mental hospital because I’d abused LSD and other drugs, including the bottle of antidepressant medication I’d tried to overdose on. The drugs had made me manic and psychotic. I didn’t sleep, I had excessive energy, and I thought God was telling me to do things like set my high school photograph on fire, which I did.
In my mid-twenties, I stopped doing drugs.
Ever since 1987, when I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a member of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Nichiren Buddhist association, I chanted (prayed) to completely overcome depression. I also held onto a vision of the person I hoped to be–confident, able to fully love and appreciate me, happy. I’d wanted to be this person since I was a teenager. I thought I’d be her by my fortieth birthday. But I wasn’t.
My longest episodes of depression occurred between 2008 and 2011 and left me unable to get out of bed and, eventually, led to thoughts of suicide. Basically, I was depressed for a year, six months at a time. I took an antidepressant, which helped. Or so I thought.
I was so depressed, I rarely chanted; although I usually recited my daily Buddhist prayers. I was so low that sometimes it got on my nerves to hear my husband and 15 year-old daughter chanting. But other times I was glad that at least someone in our house was chanting a lot, because I sure wasn’t.
Even so, I made myself chant my few Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’s with energy and I fulfilled my responsibilities as an SGI East Cleveland District leader the best I could.
I began to realize that I didn’t want to have to chant simply because I felt afraid, depressed, and suicidal if I didn’t chant. After all, I thought, there were plenty of people who didn’t chant and who were not depressed and suicidal like I was. I wanted to cure myself of fear and depression once and for all. So I chanted to do that. And I took action.
I returned to psychologist Jessie Gordon. I’d first visited her for a few months in my 20’s, after I was released from the mental hospital. During my first therapy session with her in March of 2011, I told her I wanted to deeply connect to people.
I also told her that, as a Buddhist, I believed I was the universe, one with every person, place, and thing. She asked if this belief made me happy. I had to admit it didn’t. I believed in Buddhist theory, but I was still miserably depressed.
Jessie asked many questions and listened to my answers. Then she said I was holding a major grudge against myself and that the person who I needed to deeply connect with was me.
Later, I cried in one session when I realized that, as I neared my 50th birthday, I was afraid I would die without ever being truly happy.
Jessie encouraged me to keep chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in front of my “mirror”—the Gohonzon [the spiritual mirror, in the form of a paper scroll with "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" written on it, that Nichiren Buddhists focus on while chanting]. She encouraged me to listen to my inner voice and pay attention to what I had to say.
Finally, after several sessions, and after chanting to totally embrace the wounded little girl within my heart, the little girl who felt like no one really heard her or knew her, one day I got it:
Instead of looking for someone else to listen to me, know me, and be my friend, hero, and protector, I had to be those people for myself. I was the only person who could always be there for me and totally fulfill my needs. I was the only person who could take my final journey with me—Death–all the way to the end.
Ever since I was a very little girl, I’d felt a huge hole in my soul. I discovered that even though I was chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I never filled that hole. I’d built my Buddhist practice on top of it; so even though I chanted, I felt incomplete because I was looking for someone or something outside of me to fulfill me. It was like what Nichiren said in his letter “On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime”:
“Even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but an inferior teaching….”
During my time of awakening, I discovered I have Bipolar Disorder, a mental illness that runs in families and that is also known as manic depression.
The kind of serious depressions I’ve had since I was a teen are typical for someone with Bipolar Disorder. These depressions cause Bipolar Disorder to often be misdiagnosed as clinical depression. That’s the diagnosis doctors always gave me.
But unlike someone with clinical depressive disorder, I’ve also had bouts of hypomania–times when I’ve felt naturally high. I never recognized my hypomania episodes as being a problem because, although sometimes I got violently angry during them, sometimes being hypomanic felt good. However, during those “good” hypomanic times, I did abnormal things–like rarely sleep and spend so much time working, or doing SGI activities, that I neglected myself and my family.
I realized that the antidepressant I’d recently taken had made me hypomanic because antidepressants can do that to people with Bipolar Disorder. I learned that my psychotic and manic reactions to LSD and the antidepressant I took in my twenties were typical for someone with Bipolar Disorder. Like other people with Bipolar Disorder do, as a young adult, I’d abused drugs to end my suffering.
Before I learned I had Bipolar Disorder, after doing some research on the Internet, I’d started a natural treatment for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)–severe depression and anger that I experienced monthly before my menstrual periods. I found out that PMDD can be worse for women with Bipolar Disorder.
The treatment I used–natural progesterone cream–totally stopped my Bipolar symptoms. Progesterone is a hormone–a chemical messenger in the human body. The natural progesterone cream I use is similar to the hormones our bodies make. Natural progesterone corrects the chemical imbalance in my brain that caused my depressions and hypomanic episodes.
This may sound funny, but it thrilled me to learn I was Bipolar. I finally knew what was “wrong” with me—I had a brain condition I was born with. And, best of all, I had found a cure for it.
For 24 years, I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and helped other people chant–even when it seemed like I’d never be truly happy. By practicing, studying, and sharing Buddhism in the SGI, I believe I empowered myself to find the therapist I needed and a cure for my depressions.
At last, I feel like the woman I always hoped to be. I’m deeply connecting to me–flaws and all. I judge myself less; so I judge other people less, and I feel closer to them.
I’m chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a joy I never felt before and I’m reading Nichiren’s writings with fresh eyes.
More and more, I understand that I alone create my reality. I no longer feel like I must earn a certain income, do a certain job, own certain things, or be praised, approved of, noticed, heard, or understood by other people in order to be happy.
Sometimes I slip into my old ways of thinking. So I have to go back to recognizing that I am limitless and that, at any moment, I can change anything just by changing my thinking, my attitude, my determination. It’s like SGI President Daisaku Ikeda said: “When your determination changes, everything will begin to move in the direction you desire.” So I return to the realization that when I change the only person I can truly change—me—I can do anything I set my mind to.
What I like best of about my new self-discoveries is that, within my heart, I have found an endless supply of all I will ever need. The hole in my soul is filled up with me. It feels so good to–at last—listen to, know, love, and fully enjoy and appreciate being myself.
Of course, my experience is all my own. If you’re wondering about your health, see a health professional you trust.
Also, there are several recognized types of Bipolar Disorder. I have Bipolar Disorder II.
WebMD is a good Internet source for learning more: http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/default.htm.
Below are other websites that helped me.
Nichiren Buddhism as practiced by members of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) http://www.sgi.org and http://www.sgi-usa.org
WebMD Bipolar Health Check (a tool to use to see if you, or someone you know, may have Bipolar Disorder)http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-health-check/default.htm
Curing Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia by Doris King, CMHP http://www.dorisking.net/book.html (I emailed Doris King to find out how she’s doing. She told me “Progesterone saved my life. I get scared when I think of how my life would be without it.”)
“Facts about Progesterone Cream” by John. R. Lee and Virgina Hopkins http://www.johnleemd.com/store/faqs_progest_crm.html
(John R. Lee is the M.D. whose theories Doris King, and I, followed.)
“Creativity and mental disorder: family study of 300 000 people with severe mental disorder.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21653945
AND, BP parents pass our creativity onto our kids: http://fyiliving.com/mental-health/depression/do-parents-with-bipolar-disorder-breed-creativity/)
“Back to School with Bipolar: How College Can Unleash Mania” http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/21/health.bipolar.college/index.html
NYT: ”Expert On Mental Health Reveals Her Secret” (After overcoming severe mental illness as a young adult, Dr. Marsha Linehan went on to develop a breakthrough mental health treatment that is used worldwide) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/health/23lives.html
The Miracle of Bio-Identical Hormones by Dr. Michael E. Platt http://www.amazon.com/Miracle-Bio-Identical-Hormones-2nd-ebook/dp/B001N2ZWL6/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2
M. LaVora Perry Bio:
M. LaVora Perry is a freelance writer and the author of the critically acclaimed children’s novel, Taneesha Never Disparaging, a funny and tender story about a feisty 5th grader who is taunted by her imaginary evil twin and a very real, very mean bullying teen. Visit M. LaVora Perry’s website at http://www.mlavoraperry.com/
Back to Stories