I left Pasha’s (my psychiatrist; I call them all by their first names to level the playing field) office with a diagnosis and a prescription for Zoloft, but no substantive information about bipolar mood disorder. I still didn’t understand what was wrong with me and I was frightened and fearful. I decided to spend the following few days doing research at libraries and bookstores. (It was 1993 and I hadn’t even heard the word “Internet.”)
The next afternoon after my depression lifted, I went to the UCLA Biomedical Library. I don’t know what I expected to find there. It had been a long time since my undergraduate days and I had been a history major besides. Still, I bravely walked into the stacks and picked out a few dozen books, most of which turned out to be incomprehensible. My initial reaction was that my inability to understand the material was due to the virulent nature of cancer-like depression cells, which were destroying my healthy brain cells.
After an hour or so, I realized that even if I had felt well, the books were too technical. The authors, mostly psychiatrists, were talking about epidemiology, the Kraepelinian Synthesis, biochemical models, and pharmacological studies. I wanted to know how to define my illness, how many people had it, how they dealt with periods of unparalled sadness, and what the treatment options were.
I wanted someone to explain to me why this illness was classified as a mental one, with all the attendant stigma. Most of all, I wanted to find a cure. Exhausted by my experience, I went home and slept for two hours.
The next afternoon I drove to my neighborhood library and later to a bookstore specializing in psychology. I talked to librarians and booksellers but they were of little help. Nobody knew anything about manic depression; all they could do was direct me to the psychology section. Once again I skimmed a bunch of books that didn’t help me. After a few more wasted hours, I returned to my car with a sense of futility and began crying.
Just another clueless L.A. woman weeping in her Volvo station wagon.
I rested my head on my steering wheel and fell asleep for about twenty minutes. When I awakened I knew what to do. There was an alternative bookstore I used to frequent many years earlier. It was one of those whole-earth incense-burning places where they have loads of books on psychology, healing, and spiritualism. From what I remembered, their salespeople knew their stock.
Wrong again! My salesperson, whose name tag read Lark and who wore a wrinkled rock and roll T-shirt over a long black skirt, knew nothing about psychology. When I asked her to recommend some books on unipolar and bipolar depression, she slowly walked me over to some tall shelves and said, “Here.”
“Here?” I asked, pointing at literally hundreds of books on four bookshelves. I was overwhelmed by the selection.
“Yeah,” she distractedly answered.
I loudly sighed.
“Well, um, they’re kinda mixed together,” she slowly responded as she turned to the first bookshelf and started reading aloud the names of books in which the illness was the title. “Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Cognitive Disorders, Depression…”
“They’re listed alphabetically,” I said.
“Lark, I’m really sick,” I said. “I have no energy. I can’t look through all these books. I need help.”
“Wow,” she said.
After observing her lack of movement, I said again, “I need help.”
“Oh yeah. Just stay right here, you know,” she said, patting my shoulder.
I thanked her and began perusing the books when a second salesperson, Virgil, appeared. He looked worse than I felt. It might have been transference but his appearance—a pale white pallor and anorexic physique—bespoke an aura of illness.
(to be continued)