The Commons
Voices / Reflections

‘The disease is personal. The treatment is that elusive’

A ‘Lamatical-Cymbalta-Clonazepam-cranial-sacral, road-biking, chainsawing manic-depressive’ offers vignettes and observations about his journey through, and life with, his illness

DAVID BLISTEIN wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He is no longer depressed. He is no longer manic. Not to worry. But between Oct. 14, 2005 and the summer of 2007 he went through what’s been described as a “major depressive episode with dysphoric mania.” He describes it simply as “brain chemistry gone ballistic.” These are excerpts from a book he’s writing on that period, in the hopes that it “may cast some light on the darkness for me and my fellow travelers—as well as the people who care for and about them.”

Originally published in The Commons issue #127 (Wednesday, November 16, 2011).


If you have a heart attack, you have a heart attack. If you have cancer, you have cancer. If you have diabetes, you have diabetes.

These diseases, horrific as they may be, have names. In general, medical professionals know what is going on inside you — and which medicines or procedures might help. Or at least how they work…or why they might not.

What we call “depression” has many names. And — despite all the talk of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine; of SSRIs, MAO blockers, and tricyclics; of cognitive therapy, shock therapy, and homeopathy, naturopathy, and shaman therapy—diagnosing and treating it is a crapshoot.

As far as I’m concerned, the most trustworthy healers — whether western or eastern, traditional or alternative — are those who have the wisdom to admit they don’t really know what’s going on, but do have the experience and sensitivity to intuit what might help.

I’ve read the diagnostic criteria for major depressive episode, manic episode, cyclothymic disorder, hypomania, bipolar 1, and bipolar 2.

At various times I could have met all of them.

* * *

Not only are there many names for this disease, there are countless treatments, many of which I had the pleasure of experiencing. All of them work for some people. None of them works for all. And only a few, if any, work for most of the people most of the time.

Sometimes I think they should throw out all the fancy terms and give diagnoses based on our current way of dealing with it.

In other words, at one time I was a fairly high-functioning Celexa-Wellbutrin, acupuncture-ing, business owning, gardening, road-biking depressive.

For several years I was a barely functioning, try-just-about-anything, exercising-like-crazy, manic-depressive.

Currently, I’m a stable, productive Lamictal-Cymbalta-Clonazepam, cranialsacral-ing, wood-stacking, road-biking, writing-a-whole-lot manic-depressive.

And, by the way, before all that, I was an extremely unpredictable cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking, vitamin-taking, “self-medicating” manic-depressive.

But, to provide a “precise” diagnosis of anyone, you’d have to add details about gender, weight, genetics, hours of sleep, diet, the number of close friends ... the list is endless.

The disease is that personal.

The treatment is that elusive.

* * *

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Comments (1)

Topic: COMM-0127.opin.refl.blistein
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Caroline Carr (London, UK) says...
I love this article. Down-to-earth, common sense. Thank you.
17th November 2011 1:04pm
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