Bipolar Thoughts

Can’t Watch It

There is a point, once you have played an instrument long enough, that watching other people play becomes challenging. Actually, to be perfectly honest, it goes both ways. Watching most people is a challenge while watching a few becomes extraordinary.

I think a lot of it is that the mystery is gone. You understand how everything works, you know how you would approach it, and you are looking for that person to either make the logical choice, or completely surprise you. When something isn’t as profound as you could imagine it being, you get frustrated. When something is derivative, or too easily come to, or too obvious, you are upset, and when something is poorly executed you are furious.

I imagine the experience is similar for anyone who has practiced practically anything for long enough.

Those people who do surprise you though, they become your heroes. You know that they understand this thing better then you do, their creativity is something to be idolized. You want everything to be more like them.

And in this way, being a musician is not a lot unlike being mentally ill.

I hate to state the fact that a lot of the exterior stigma associated with mental illness is only worse within the community. We listen to someone’s story and decide if what they are feeling is real, if they are really suffering or not. We judge them on comparisons to our own history. We listen for key words that tip off whether or not they ‘get it’. We rate a group session into a weird gameshow of ‘who has it worse’, or we divide everyone into groups of severity.

The way you basically introduce yourself in a hospital is your name, your illness, and if you attempted suicide. A common second question is what meds are you on. Substance abuse is expected, depression is a given, and everyone has a horror story. But for some reason, we love this game we play. Some people clearly have a need to win ‘most troubled’ in the unit, even if most are just putting in their time.

Eventually everyone opens up in group, given long enough and enough drugs. And when they do you start to feel a bit like an accomplished musician. Most people have a story similar to yours: depression, no sleep, trigger, often financial problems and substance abuse, family doesn’t know how to deal with it, some complaint about meds. Occasionally they will throw a suicide attempt in there, but I have mentioned before, suicide attempts are somewhat rare in a psych ward, surprisingly.

Sometimes the stories miss the notes you are expecting, but not on purpose. They leave out a big trigger, or they say their sleep and appetite is just fine, or they mention too short of a window for their depression and you start to question why you continue to listen. Clearly this person hasn’t reached where you are, they don’t know what it means to have mental illness, and they probably don’t belong here. All dumb thoughts that most people in a group session have had.

But every so often a person with an incredible story, or who came from extraordinarily bad circumstances, or who is experiencing things on a level you cannot imagine, will captivate the entire session. The entire room will be wiping away tears by the end and everyone will recognize that this person deserves the best help that can be offered. It is not uncommon for this person to become a bit of a rockstar on the unit. Everyone begs them to sit at their table for lunch, they are always followed by an entourage wherever they go, they are well respected and taken care of.

And even if you don’t bow down to that level of servitude, that person becomes a hero of yours. The fact that this person was able to get through that story inspires you to get through your own.

A friend and band-mate of mine for a long time used to tell me that he liked to watch any band play because there was something inspiring to see every time, everyone was creative, he could learn from everyone. It is easy to be inspired by greatness, and it is just as easy to pass over mediocrity, but I would probably learn more by watching everyone I can. We all have an important story, right?