THE TRAIN THAT DRIVES MY BRAIN

Briefly stated, if yesterday at 2 a.m. in the morning when I went into the kitchen with that manic freight train driving my brain was five years ago, I would have run back into the bedroom, turned on the lights and yelled at my husband for leaving a mess for me to clean up. I have a friend, who in spite of having had a whack manic for a parent, could find the silver lining of a black hole right as it was swallowing the Milky Way whole. She says, “maybe manics just mellow out.” No, we don’t, we just keep getting worse largely out of the bad habit of fueling the engine of that damned manic train – which is why in the pre-antipsychotic med days so many of us spent the rest of our lives in asylums.We don’t get better. We either get and stay on the right meds if we’re lucky enough to find the right meds AND THEY KEEP WORKING and/or we have an epiphanic awakening when our own manic voice jars us to the awareness that we are adding fuel to the bad neurochemistry that is freight-training our brains to hell. I have not been lucky with medication. The only non-antipsychotic medication that worked for me stopped working after 10 years. The only nontraditional antipsychotic that worked for me is one Anthem won’t pay for because it’s “not indicated for bipolar mania.” THAT’S crazy, but I had to get over it. In my late 50s, I had finally hit my stride as an artist, I had a successful marriage and I really liked myself. I did not want to put all that on hold to start experimenting with psychotropics again. When I was manic, I just held on tight and tried not to be mean.And then one summer 4 years ago, I started actually listening to what my homeless neighbor George was ranting about down on the sidewalk in the middle of the night. He argued with a grisly, cruel voice named “Robert.” When Robert bullied George, George would cower and cry at first. But as the hours passed, George would be calmer and more confident, even kind to Robert; and eventually, by daybreak Robert disappeared. It was a masterclass in coping. George can’t talk away the bad neurochemicals (Robert) and neither can I. But after listening to George adjust his responses to the chemistry and calm himself down, I understood that I have choices about how I respond to my own bad neurochemistry: the runaway train is going to stop when the neurochemicals are out of my system and no sooner; but if I don’t add fuel – if I try to put the brakes on instead – well?Well, I probably won’t yell at my husband in the middle of the night for spilling a little cacciatore.Credits: Video and stills from my experimental film, VOICE, A PERFORMANCE ART MOVIE (2016), about a bipolar woman whose psychoses start traveling in outer space when she enters therapy.This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

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