A short essay about having two minds as a condition of bipolar disorder, related to the theories of Dr. Frederick Schiffer.
“For that person must not suppose that a double minded man unstable in all his ways will receive anything from the lord.”
I came upon this passage in the Letter of James in the Bible and found it deeply disturbing, for it describes me, a person with Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder, which is defined as an oscillation between poles of depression and mania, or two polar opposites, which could be taken as two alternate types of mind. One is high. One is low. One is super happy. One is extremely sad. Although this is much too simple an explanation for the mental conditions, I will use it for the purpose of its stated duality. Assume for the moment, bipolar could mean there are two minds.
If this is true , I am truly double minded, and this double mind is more than just the dilemma spoken of in this passage, where on one hand a man or woman wants to believe in God, but on the other doubts of God’s existence. Although I can fit myself in this category, my double mind is a true two mindedness. There is one side that is left handed; one side that is right handed. One side that is female. One side that is male. One side is positive; one side, negative. One side goes one way; the other, another. It is a dual of opposites, a constant contradiction of self, tiring, and maddening. Life is a ride between beings that can plummet the abyss of despair and shoot to the zenith of joy.
It is as if I am in passage between sequential beings. My two selves don’t exist simultaneously. I switch back and forth between the two. For example I wrote some time ago about two Carls: one who was competent, compassionate, and calm and the other who was conflicted, compulsive, and crazed. They were not the same being. Calm, competent, and compassionate Carl appears after crazed, conflicted, and compulsive Carl gets completely beaten up by a severe down. I believe that crazed Carl becomes so weakened by the attacks of what I call “the Black Brain,” where the right hemisphere of the brain actually hurts and all thoughts are negative, the body is stiff, and complete exhaustion is a steady state for days even weeks that crazy Carl is unable to exert his personality. It will be days, weeks, or even months before crazy Carl’s energy is restored and he can express his force. This is weird.
In the meantime calm Carl has free reign to display his character. The people I worked with at this time in my life use to say to me they would “wonder which Carl would show up on any given day, a mean demanding Carl, or an agreeable caring Carl.” In situations where crazed Carl would lose his temper in the stress of a situation, or at the error of an individual, calm Carl would react coolly, seeking with compassion a way of resolution. He would not try to bully. He did not pick up the papers and throw them across the room. He did not storm away shouting expletives. Calm Carl handles a situation with skill and got his team members to do what he needed without rancor. Calm Carl is a good manager. He gives a helping hand with a smile. He understands others, and can work with their weaknesses, accepts them, and gives others strength. Crazed Carl is a dictator. He says lead, follow, or get out of my way. He accepts no incompetence. Neither self will stick around for long. Gradually calm Carl is worn down, stress takes its toll, and crazed Carl reappears, until the next severe depression. It is a gradual cycle from one Carl to the other. It is confusing to other people. It is confusing to him.
Could it not be that to be bipolar is more than just an extreme variation in mood, but an alteration in selves? The mind could be moving its locus of dominance from one hemisphere to another. Humans, I think, are naturally a dual-minded species. They have two hemispheres in their brains, which act in concert with one another, but generally one is dominant. A person, who is right-handed and right-eyed, operates mainly out of the left hemisphere of the brain. A person, who is left-handed and left-eyed, operates mainly out of the right hemisphere of the brain. Apparently there is this cross wiring in the brain. What if the cross wiring is messed up? That is a whole other question I am incapable of answering since I am no scientist. I am only a left-handed person, who is also capable of being right-handed. When tired I pick up a pencil and begin to draw or write with my other hand. All I know is I have always thought differently as if the wiring in my brain does not operate by the standard rules. This has to be why I suffer from Bipolar Disorder, why I have periods of super severe depression, “Attacks of the Black Brain” as I call them, where I have to go to bed for periods time in order to recover, why I have periods of supreme exhilaration when I will stay up for days writing painting, sculpting, and designing, and why I often feel like I am two different people.
Another way I am two people is that I carry on a dialogue in my head. I think many people carry on dialogues with a secret opposite in their head. It was said the Lincoln did this. He too suffered periods to severe depression. Mine began as a child. I spoke with my Teddy Bear. The bear became an Indian, a cowboy, a sea captain, and finally a female. The female had many different names. In the end she became Carlotta. I think of her as my muse. Carlotta has many opinions, and gives me her remarks as we travel along. Often she criticizes my driving. “That was a stupid move.” I hear her say when I cut off another driver on the freeway. She is usually right. “Yeah, you were right that time, I will reply.” I am not hearing voices. Ours is a silent dialogue, but I can imagine what it would sounds like, and what the look in her eyes would be. I imagined her for my book “bipolar bare” and we carried on many dialogues about my disease.
Carlotta even became a dominant personality when I was addicted to drugs. At the nadir of my affliction with Bipolar Disorder, when I had given up hope of recovery from depression and drug addiction, I became Carlotta. I crossed dressed and went out on the town. I was my other self. I loved this descent into the most self destructive behavior I have ever done. I wanted to kill Carlton, and I used Carlotta as a way to do it. The only reason it did not succeed was because Carlotta, the female me, actually liked living too much and would not let me commit suicide. As much as I tried to kill myself through drug overdoses or sexual endangerment, Carlotta held me back. Each time at the brink of a deathly situation, she would say no. She wants to live, and would walk away, leaving negative Carlton to suffer failure once again. It sounds complicated. It was. Only because Carlotta was draped in the female mask and carried an ice pick in her purse for protection could she be strong. The Carlton self was weak and ready to give into a mugging or one last excessive toke of crack. The adventurer Carlotta laughed, “Didn’t we just have fun?” she would say. Carlton would cry, “Why did you let it happen? Why didn’t you let me die?” “I love life too much,” would be her reply.
Dr. Fredric Schiffer M.D wrote a book Of Two Minds that contends that each human has two minds. Based on the knowledge that the left hemisphere controls the right eye and the right hemisphere controls the left eye, he devised experiments using special glasses to evoke responses from one hemisphere alone. I made a pair of his special glasses and tried to redo his experiments. I wasn’t very successful, but I had fun trying. Schiffer’s theory is that many people’s difficulties in life, depression, anxiety, and the feeling of worthlessness are the manifestation of an immature traumatized brain hemisphere influencing a mature brain hemisphere. The traumatized hemisphere works in the background of the dominant mind frustrating that hemispheres ability to function as a complete whole, and integrated entity. The immature mind undermines the mature mind through its view. Thus the complete person is threatened by life’s circumstances.
I found Schiffer’s hypothesis challenging and that it dovetailed with my own sense of two selves, but I don’t know if I agree that one self is a mature self and the other self, immature. However there may be something to his theory of trauma as causation for the division of selves. There being a dominant mind and a recessive mind also makes sense to me. I have several dominant Carls in opposition to several recessive selves. I think of the left-handed me as a dominant personality with a right-handed me as a recessive personality. The right-handed I appears quite often and quite unexpectedly. I will reach for something with my right hand then wonder why I didn’t use my left. There is crazy Carl who is a dominant personality. He is full of energy, strong willed, and dynamic. He gets attention. He is also prone to fits of anger, and tantrums. Maybe this is an immature self that has never grown up. Crazy Carl is opposed by calm Carl. Calm compassionate and competent Carl I have seen a lot more of lately since I have taken bipolar medication. My psychiatrist believes he is the grown up Carl. So maybe these dual selves are now under chemical control. Then there is Carlotta, the female self of Carlton. My muse always talks to me. She never goes away, but she is truly recessive now. I can call her up at a moment’s notice, and she will give me an opinion. Her physical presence is gone with the drug addiction. She’s OK with that. She tells me she likes Florida where she now lives and can lie in the sun nearly bare.
And Carlton, he thinks his two minds are working pretty well together these days. He does however dispute James. Two minds are a common occurrence, especially among the mentally ill. Having two minds gives a special perspective to those given the gift of having it, and if you can use them without going mad, that is the difficult part, maybe you can make a special contribution to the world. A loving God would not deny a double- minded man, for he to is two too human.