Play Acting

by lifeonaxis1

A couple of days ago my friend called me to ask a favor.  I’m not really in any condition to be doing favors right now but I value this friend and trusted that she wouldn’t ask for something she didn’t think I could handle, given she has an idea about what is going on with me.  So I said shoot.

Before I get to the question, I should explain that my friend and I are both graduate students in psychology, she in clinical and me in research.  She was my very first friend in graduate school and I am lucky to know her.  We are both teaching summer school classes right now at different times of day.  Being a clinical student, it is only natural that she teach abnormal psychology.  She has come with a great instructional method to help students learn about the different disorders: have someone act them out and let the students “clinically assess” what they think the disorder is using a set of guiding questions.  Students love it and get involved, and it makes abnormal psychology more accessible and less daunting… I mean, have you SEEN the DSM?  It’s inches thick and wading through the countless constellations of symptoms, many of which overlap (…and we’ll talk about THAT later), to come to a conclusion would stop even the biggest overachiever in their tracks, especially for a very short summer session class.  So, this is a really great opportunity for everyone and some fun (…?) for other graduate students who want to act out the symptoms they study.

So, when my friend called and asked if I would be willing to act out a mental disorder in her class, I couldn’t stop the laughter.  How totally appropriate, I thought.  See, late last year I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.  About two weeks ago, that diagnosis was changed to Bipolar 2.  I haven’t been able to accept Bipolar yet and told her so, but told her I could ACE depression.  That’s perfect, she said, because they would have only discussed mood disorders so far.  I laughed again at the thought that something educational would come out of this abysmal feeling that seems to define my life these days.

Doing something like this would fit well within my snarky and often inappropriate sense of humor, so I agreed.  I also told her I’d be *happy* to model substance abuse later, because I’d pass that with flying colors too.  She said she’d be sending a list of criteria that I could use as a guide and I laughed again and told her I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need it.  I did take a quick glance the day of my “performance” and only had to adjust the duration of symptoms to two weeks to model an acute episode, instead of the months and months and months that I have actually been experiencing them.

No problemo.

The past two or three weeks have been especially horrific anyway so that works out perfectly in some twisted way.  My sister had been hospitalized (for threatening suicide…what’s called a 5150 or involuntary psychiatric hold in psychobabble), certain members of my family made the situation worse if you can believe it, I broke up with my boyfriend relatively spontaneously, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2, and I eventually imploded.  Couldn’t function.  I had a dinner planned with friends for my birthday, and I seriously considered sending someone in my place.  I made it, but I was so disoriented and disorganized that I couldn’t hold conversations, finish sentences, or make much sense of anything.  I nearly cried several times.  I got lost on the way home…a 10 minute drive.  After that I decided I couldn’t deal with other humans so I just sequestered myself away.  Didn’t go to work, and I was already behind.  Missed all meetings without notice.  This went on for about two weeks before my advisor sent out an email blast to the entire program asking for my whereabouts.  I didn’t know this until my good friend, the one I am speaking of today, showed up at my door to make sure I was still alive.  Apparently she and several others had tried calling and texting, but I either didn’t know or didn’t care.  I hadn’t showered in I don’t know how many days.  The only person who had seen me in my dismal state was my now ex-boyfriend, which was weird as you might imagine.

My friend gave me the basic rundown.  People all over the department were networking and calling each other to get news and find out if I was okay.  I would have cringed, but I was too depressed.  Thank goodness my friend is a trained clinical student because someone unfamiliar with my mental state could have made things a whole lot worse.  She and her husband sat with me and my ex-boyfriend for maybe 3 hours to assess the situation, let me know about my advisor, and decide on a course of action.  See, while I was MIA, I was supposed to be grading the final exams in the class I TA for…a graduate class, mind you, with my peers.  I had already been doing a shit job teaching the lab section and I didn’t even make the last session (fortunately I gave 30 minutes notice…pfft), so things in that area were already on edge.

With everyone sitting there in the room, talking about this, I was forced to confront my problem and recognize its severity.  With no one around, it is very easy to check out completely.  In fact, I had checked out for I don’t know how many days, alternating between sleeping 14 hours a day and playing Plants vs. Zombies non-stop.  I don’t think I even stopped to go to the bathroom–I just brought it along with me.  I alternated between ordering pizza and subs from places that deliver.  My poor dogs were completely neglected, exercise-wise.  I was completely sedentary, with the exception of my thumbs and pointer fingers.  My elbows ached from holding the gaming system in one position for so long.  My sleep cycle had completely shifted, so I was awake at night and slept during the day.

For a brief moment, my apathy waned a little and I saw the downstream consequences of failing to contact my advisor, and of disregarding my TA responsibilities.  I had help from 3 people to write an email…really, they wrote all of it and I just nodded in weak approval.  I felt I should have called, but that was about as likely as scaling Mt. Everest at that moment.  The email was sent with my having agreed to do most of the grading I had been assigned to do.  Despite my promises to do the grading right then, my friend (correctly) speculated that I would resume playing Plants vs. Zombies and forget about the whole thing…I mean, I had actually brought it out during this whole pow-wow about my major malfunction, so she had some decent evidence to back her claim.  She packed me up and brought me to her house and checked on me every 30 minutes to be sure I was still on task.  I maintained something resembling “focus”, but mostly because I found graduate-level, advanced statistics essays to be REALLY, REALLY CONFUSING, and had to read them several times over, sometimes cross-referencing other answers (also several times), along with reading notes from when I took the class.  I had virtually no working or short-term memory so reasoning through a problem was out of the question.  It was exasperating, although possibly one of my shining moments in persistence.

With a little help from my friends, of course.

So, back to acting out mental disorders.  I arrived at the specified time, thanks to my Google calendar (which I cannot live without right now; if something isn’t written down, it’s not getting done, and I have about a minute to get a thought on paper before its lost to the wind).  Before heading in the classroom, I was giggling at the deception I was about to embark upon.  I was “acting out” symptoms that were a very real part of my life, as a patient with a new name and new identity.  But the experiences and the emotions…those were all mine.  I told them everything that had been going on.  I cried a few times, especially when it came to my sister.  They arrived at the correct conclusion, of course.  Everyone cheered and clapped at my “wonderful performance” and I made some offhand comment about loving the theater (…not).  They were totally convinced, they said, and one person said I should even consider going into acting.

Boy did I pull the wool over their eyes.

It was an interesting experience, but it was difficult after the “performance” was over, and they were discussing my symptoms.  I had to hold back tears then too, but my back was facing them at that point so it was okay.  It was also hard not to cry when they had to rule out manic symptoms.  I’m not ready to accept bipolar yet.  It changes everything for me.  My plans for my future, as they stood pre-diagnosis, would be impossible with a condition like bipolar.  At least, that’s how it feels.

But those are topics for another entry.