Dr Judith Guedalia

Soaring In Our Minds To Heights When Stuck On Earth

By Dr. Judith Guedalia © 2008 with Chaim K.

To be honest, almost all of the cases or people I see cause my brain to take flight and "soar" to points unknown.  This statement may seem like I have finally "blown a gasket" myself, but the metaphor of "blown" set me thinking about the highs and lows - Chaim K. (among others) experiences.


Today many people (layman - or others who are not licensed to do so) are wont to give diagnoses. The "new-flavor-of-the-month" is Bipolar Disorder.  All of sudden, all sorts of people with varying behaviors are arriving at the doorsteps of professionals, saying they are sure they are Bipolar; my son/husband/wife/sister, etc., are Bipolar.  This is generally said with extreme finality as, were "Borderline" and "ADD" the diagnoses of choice, in the past.  As with any label and especially a medical/psychiatric diagnosis, extreme care and professional training needs to be behind the statement.

That said, what is Bipolar Disorder?
As the word sounds, the disorder involves behavior that is "poles" apart.  At one end Classic Bipolar disorder (or Bipolar Disorder I), which is characterized by episodes of mania and episodes of depression.  In a manic state, a person may have extreme euphoria or optimism, to the point of impairing judgment. She may be hyperactive and stay up all night, talk and move extremely fast, have increased sexual drive and decreased inhibition.

Seventy-five percent of manic episodes include delusions of some sort (most often delusions of grandeur). This is one of the reasons it is sometimes confused with schizophrenia. Untreated manic episodes can last for weeks or even months. Conversely, during a depressive episode, the person can feel hopeless and personally worthless. He may lose interest in his normal activities (including sex), have very little energy or motivation, be unable to concentrate, and have disturbances in sleep and eating habits.
Just being "blue" and just being "over-active" do not define a person suffering from Bipolar Disorder.  While "depressed" may be easier (?) to define, Manic is only defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) IV criteria. 
I digress; I am responding to my need to think/work "outside-the-box" and try to figure out/help what is happening with a patient who has "highs" and "lows" which do not fit the diagnosis of Bipolar.
Chaim K. was scheduled to come for his weekly appointment.  Our conversations and his mood seemed on an even keel; this of course made me wonder when things would change, as they usually do.
Who are the people in literature − others' and ours − who soared high and fell low? I wondered.

What can I learn from their stories and share with Chaim K.?

Icarus the character in Greek mythology came to mind.   In Greek Legend, he is the son of Daedalus and is commonly known for his attempt to escape Crete by flight, which ended in a fall to his death.  

Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took off, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, or too close to the lake. Overcome by the "high" that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky, curiously, and in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted his wings. Icarus died and fell into the sea. (Wikipedia.com)
Who do we have? I thought of the two sons of the Priest Aaron who felt "above" others and brought their own - "forbidden"- offering to the Holy Tabernacle.  They were killed.
When does believing in oneself become deadly? Is optimism, to an extreme, become heretic? Can a certain type of self-believing be creating a new reality? Is optimism more narrow - can it be defined as appreciating something or projecting hope on a thing that already exists and will impact positively, therefore being less "interfering" in G-d's world? *
In the rabbinic story of the Pardes (also understood to be Paradise) four famous scholars entered the Pardes: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rebi Akiva.  Rebi Akiva told them, "When you come to the place of Pure Marble Stones, don't say, 'Water, water,' because it says, 'He who speaks falsehood will not stand before my eyes'" (Tehillim 101:7). 

Ben Azzai gazed at the Divine Presence and died, and with respect to him, it says, "Difficult in the eyes of G-d, is the death of His pious ones" (Tehillim 116:15).

Ben Zoma gazed and went mad - to him the following verse may be applied: "Have you found honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for you, so that you do not consume too much and have to vomit it . . ." (Mishlei 25:16).

Acher "cut off his plantings" (i.e., he became a heretic and his decedents were lost to Judaism). Rebi Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace (Chagigah 14b).
I don't profess to understand this very difficult story, but the manifest meaning (on the surface) seems to be, that these very holy men entered a hallowed place and were warned to keep a low profile, three did not heed the instructions and the results were devastating to all but the only one who did − Rebi Akiva. One might say it was a "fall" from their lofty positions.

Continuing my search for more ideas, (and Has VeShalom not to compare "sources") my son pointed me in the direction of Elie Weisel's Nobel Prize acceptance lecture (I had the temerity to "edit" it for use here. (For the entire speech see: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1986/wiesel-lecture.html)
Elie Weisel told this story:

"A Hasidic legend tells us that the great Rabbi Baal-Shem-Tov, Master of the Good Name, also known as the Besht, undertook an urgent and perilous mission: to hasten the coming of the Messiah. The Jewish People, [and] all humanity was suffering too much, beset by too many evils.  They had to be saved, and swiftly. For having tried to meddle with history, the Besht was punished − banished along with his faithful servant to a distant island. In despair, the servant implored his master to exercise his mysterious powers in order to bring them both home.

" 'Impossible,' the Besht replied. 'My powers have been taken from me.' 'Then, please, say a prayer, recite a litany, and work a miracle.'

" 'Impossible,' the master replied, 'I have forgotten everything.' They both fell to weeping.
"Suddenly the Master turned to his servant and asked: 'Remind me of a prayer - any prayer.' 'If only I could,' said the servant. 'I too have forgotten everything.'

" 'Everything - absolutely everything?' 'Yes, except - 'Except what?' 'Except the alphabet.'

"At that, the Besht cried out joyfully: 'Then what are you waiting for? Begin reciting the alphabet and I shall repeat after you...' And together the two exiled men began to recite, at first in whispers, then more loudly: 'Aleph, beth, gimel, daled...' And over again, each time more vigorously, more fervently; until, ultimately, the Besht regained his powers, having regained his memory."
Weisel then told his own story of the Holocaust and added: "The next question had to be, why go on? If memory continually brought us back to this, why build a home? 
"Of course, we could try to forget the past. Why not? Is it not natural for a human being to repress what causes him pain, what causes him shame? Like the body, memory protects its wounds. When day breaks after a sleepless night, one's ghosts must withdraw; the dead are ordered back to their graves. But for the first time in history, we could not bury our dead. We bear their graves within ourselves.  For us, forgetting was never an option.
"Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future. Does this mean that our future can be built on a rejection of the past? Surely, such a choice is not necessary. The two are not incompatible. The opposite of the past is not the future, but the absence of future; the opposite of the future is not the past, but the absence of past. The loss of one is equivalent to the sacrifice of the other."
When Chaim K. came in, he was indeed experiencing an extreme "low."  I mentioned to him that I was concerned about him to such an extent that I did some homework.  I read all the different "pieces" of "my homework"; and I cried as I read him Eli Weisel's words.
What I hoped he heard was: "Please don't forget how you feel now, but remember your life has meaning; you are the future of a lost generation; you give so much to the world and your family and those who know you; We all do what we can to deal with painful memories and feelings of loss of control, and as the story of the Besht teaches, we can get ahead, one letter at a time.
But what I said was: "Look what you did to me now, my eye make-up is all runny and my nose is red from crying!" 
Chaim smiled, and we reconfirmed our appointment for next week.


*Please see my hypothetical questions, as heuristics −commonly an informal method −is a tool to help solve a problem. Its use, particularly, is to rapidly come to a solution that is reasonably close to the best possible answer, or "optimal solution". Heuristics are "rules of thumb", educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense; homiletics, may be defined as the study of the analysis, classification, preparation, composition and delivery of sermons. (Wikipedia)  www.pendulum.org/diagnosis.html


Originally published in the Jewish Press on November 26, 2008.

Tags: Bipolar Disorder | Chaim K. | Classic Bipolar Disorder | DSM | Episodes Of Depression | Episodes Of Mania | Jewish Press