Thursday, February 4, 2010
In two of my most recent blog posts - Bipolar in Flux and Visionary or Out of Touch - I made it clear that my friend Tom Wootton’s just-released “Bipolar in Order” is the worst piece of crap ever assembled between two covers. Besides the book being extremely badly-written and a blatant advertisement for his workshops, the author displays a complete ignorance of an illness he claims an affinity to.
But my first two pieces were actually highly-complimentary, focusing on Tom as a visionary who got us thinking that our manias and depressions, with mental discipline, could be turned to our advantage.
“Normal” people don’t have a chance against us, once we get our disorder “in order.”
Love him or hate him, you really have to admire Tom for putting that thought out there. Tom is by far the best public speaker I’ve ever come across in the field of mental health, and early last year I decided to view the master at work by checking out some videos of his talk segments. Here is what he said in his intro:
Some of you are going to think I’m crazy, which is true. I’ve got bipolar I, extreme manias, totally out of control, extreme depressions, and schizophrenia ...
Schizophrenia? My brain initially didn’t process the statement. It was only a day or two later that something went off in my head: “Did Tom actually say he had schizophrenia?” No, I thought. My mind is playing tricks on me. I actually went back and replayed the thing.
Yep, Tom actually said he had schizophrenia.
When we first met in the summer of 2006, Tom had been representing himself as someone with bipolar. His book from that year, "The Bipolar Advantage," focused exclusively on mania, with a work-in-progress on depression.
In the video I viewed, Tom referred to his own delusions and psychosis and paranoia, which I have no reason to doubt. After all, many depressions and manias come preloaded with these symptoms. But schizophrenia? There is a lot more to schizophrenia than psychosis and delusions and paranoia. Psychosis gets all the attention, but a major reason antipsychotic medications are not a magic bullet for schizophrenia is they fail to address the many cognitive dysfunctions associated with the illness, as well as the “flat affect” features.
Moreover, the DSM mandates a minimum time requirement of six months. This threshold is totally arbitrary. What is important is that the experts view schizophrenia as a long-term “chronic” illness, as opposed to the “episodic” nature of mood disorders. In other words, hallucinations and other psychotic features that occasionally come and go do not rate as schizophrenia, which is a good thing as otherwise four percent of the population would be walking around with a schizophrenia label instead of just one percent.
But if Tom truly had schizophrenia, why didn’t this come out in “The Bipolar Advantage,” which was largely autobiographical? Why didn’t this come out in the numerous conversations I had with him? More important, why didn’t it come out in a workshop I saw him present in Orange County in late 2006?
I had just moved to southern California. Tom was giving the talk under the auspices of a county mental health agency and here was the catch: He couldn’t just talk about the depression and bipolar advantage. It had to be something like the mental illness advantage. His talk had to include everyone.
The organizer of the workshop proved extremely efficient in busing in a large audience comprising those using county mental health services. This was not your typical DBSA segment that Tom was used to addressing, people with an “invisible” illness who do not stand out from a crowd. Far from it.
A number of individuals wheeled in grocery carts with their possessions. A good many looked lost and disoriented, some with thousand-mile stares in their eyes. The dress code was highly eclectic, featuring thrift shop specials, often randomly arranged. No doubt, individuals with depression and bipolar were well-represented, but it was clear Tom was addressing a large number with schizophrenia.
“Hey, I’m no different than you,” Tom could have told this group of people. He could have disclosed his struggles with schizophrenia and had everyone eating out of his hand. Instead, it was clear that there was a separation between speaker and audience. Tom gave a masterful presentation, of course, but afterward he admitted to me it was the toughest audience he had ever faced.
Naturally, I concurred. After all, what could he possibly know about schizophrenia? It turns out absolutely nothing.
More to come ...