- A rare digression from art, November 13, 2014
- Endless inevitable circles, April 8, 2015
- Addendum to ‘Endless inevitable circles,’ April 8, 2015
- I’m still here, April 21, 2015
- Somebody’s hope, May 22, 2015
- Lord Byron syndrome, May 24, 2015
- Turning into Don Quixote again, right on schedule, May 25, 2015
- The Strong, May 27, 2015
- Today, May 28, 2015
- Conscientization vs. Stress, June 1, 2015
- Bipolar smoke signal: Edema, June 8, 2015
- “Do I dare to eat a peach?”, June 13, 2015
- Grief vs. Me, June 20, 2015
- My Umbrella, June 27, 2015
- The never enough, August 2, 2015
- August, August 24, 2015
- Bipolar disappearances, September 3, 2015
- Leaving Dayjob: Postscript, September 30, 2015
- Fragment: The answer is in the question, October 27, 2015
- I will survive – that’s my job, November 3, 2015
- Fragment: Inner resources vs. stigma, November 8, 2015
- Hell – November 13, 2015, November 14, 2015
- Vigil for twilight, November 22, 2015
- Fall, December 7, 2015
- Fragment: Personal Equinox, December 10, 2015
- The cave, December 19, 2015
- Fragment: Hypomania, December 25, 2015
- Fragment: Anxiety, December 30, 2015
- Fragment: Saturday morning mania, February 20, 2016
- Fragment: My chronically Bipolar 1 brain, March 12, 2016
A rare digression from art, November 13, 2014
I am pretty sure I have a (probably) mild case of PTSD as a result of being racially profiled for a number of months in a dayjob setting. My state of mind around that did not come to a head until recently, when I told my supervisor what happened to me and how I felt about it. After that, it was like a dam broke. Since the dam broke, I am extremely distrustful in public; I am uncomfortable to the point of irritability if there is not at least 12″ between me and anyone else on the subway; I am on my guard that someone is going to openly express hatred against me whenever I am in public; and I am often very hostile in public when I think someone is trying to “force” eye contact with me.
Endless inevitable circles, April 8, 2015
After midnight. My homeless neighbor is downstairs on the sidewalk, raving worse than he has late at night for months. For the past few days he has been like this all daytime long. He has been saying, apparently to his voice, Robert, over and over, “I love ya.” Monday morning he told Robert, “What I’m trying to do right now is really hard.” I have seen him sleeping during the day the past few months, which he didn’t do before. I can’t help thinking he has been trying to stay out of trouble and not make noise in the middle on the night. But he can’t seem to help himself. Yesterday I asked him how he’s doing and he said he was hungry. I got him some carryable food items and asked him if he thought he might need to talk to his doctor. As he always does when he is raving this bad, he stopped to be polite to me and then went right back to violently rocking backing and forth and talking to his voice. I have known so many people, mentally ill and otherwise, who succeeded in pulling themselves out of their own cr*p and getting the best of their suffering. It is such a mean trick of Nature that people like my neighbor, mentally ill and otherwise, can’t stop going in the same circle that grinds him under his own feet over and over again.
Addendum to ‘Endless inevitable circles,’ April 8, 2015
Yesterday, I called out a spammer (who probably calls himself a terrorist) on Twitter for attaching two of my videos (and about 75 to a hundred other artists’ Vimeo vids) to his hate speech. I also blocked an obscene troller from my Sylviatoyindustries page.
In the midst of all this I had the strange, get-some-perspective-on-all-the-bullshit experience of interrupting my homeless neighbor with a bag of food. My neighbor (between about 6 a.m. yesterday morning and 4 a.m. today) was nonstop arguing with his voice named Robert about how difficult his life is right now and repeatedly telling his voice no matter the voice’s loud abusive response “I love you, I love you”). I interrupted him with a bag of food in the midst of a struggle that is so painful to hear and to watch, it’s impossible to imagine how difficult it is for him: My neighbor is arguing with a psychotic voice about his drinking – the voice wants to drink and my neighbor is trying not to. But when I brought him the food, he immediately made eye contact with me and thanked me like anybody else whose mother taught them good manners. After a few moments of decency and respect, he went back to negotiating with his voice.
How much benefit of the doubt do you think I have left this morning after listening to my neighbor’s struggle nonstop for the last 24 hours – how much benefit of the doubt for any hipster-troller who hides behind his own narcissistic self-imagined coolness, righteousness, moral superiority, and cleverness, but who can’t man up like my alcoholic, schizophrenic, homeless neighbor?
All you morally superior people who want to tell everyone else how to live and destroy anybody who disagrees with you: get a new goddamn set of gonads because the ones you’re wearing clearly aren’t working.
I’m still here, April 21, 2015
Weekend harassment on FB by someone I’m sure friended me because I write about being bipolar. He is now blocked.
It is difficult for me to reject other mentally ill. But if I set any kind of example, consider this: I did not survive suicidality, mania and depression, hold down dayjobs for 45 years and make all that art by being codependent and enabling.
20 years before I even knew what manic depression was, it was clear to me that if you know you’re a train wreck waiting to happen, it is a bad idea to be on the same track with another train wreck waiting to happen.
Unfortunately, that limits my ability to make commitments, but.I’m.still.here.
Somebody’s hope, May 22, 2015
Today is a good day. I am not sad, the weather, while not sunny, is pleasant, and there is not a whole hell lot of stress in my life. But while I was at Macy’s looking for stretchy green pants to make my Sumo body’s legs, I had the weirdest, saddest thought. Chroma green pops and I grabbed everything that color for inspection. Bright green was really popular quite a while ago and it was a difficult search. At one point I grabbed and immediately let go of what was not pants, but instead a flimsy, polyester Chroma green eyelet skirt. I thought, “There goes somebody’s hope.” Somebody’s hope. I don’t know why I even had that thought, let alone couldn’t dismiss it. The skirt was not particularly ugly or strange, and it would only be tacky on somebody too old for it wearing cheap high heels. But that thought, “somebody’s hope,” would not go away. And neither would the image of some little woman (I was in the petites section), between 25 to 40, shopping while worried about her kids, her disaffected husband, her sick parents, her ungrateful boss, etc. In my mind, she picked up that skirt, which would suit her because she was still sufficiently youthful and tiny. Touching the skirt and knowing it was marked down made her smile. Perhaps that imaginary young woman would get a few more moments of hope from that skirt after she bought it and took it home. And then one day it would be old and faded and probably ruined by some stain, child or mishap. It would have become a disappointment. It would be the antithesis of hope. How often does the hope that “things” represent, fade while unresolved disappointment remains until the next brand new, shiny bit of hope is purchased or comes in a gift box?
Lord Byron syndrome, May 24, 2015
There is a phase after diagnosis of Bipolar 1, the illness with the colorful feature of mania/hypomania, during which you feel (and probably act) like some kind of celebrity, as if Bipolar 1 is a cool kids badge of honor – a sort of Lord Byron syndrome. I know that sounds mean, but dealing with being Bipolar 1 is a matter of life and death for me at least one week out of every year; and it is a whole lot worse than that for folks who spend their depressive episodes in the belly of the Beast eons longer than they spend manic or hypomanic. I am writing about this because of several articles I read this morning that I was going to share because their author is so talented and interesting and, yes, entertaining in a cool kids kind of way. But just as I was about to share, I had a feeling of uneasiness and memory of my own brief phase (brief, relatively speaking, but much too long) my own Lord Byron phase of bipolar celebrity. I thought: “This stuff is dangerous, not helpful. The writer is too into it – way way way too Lord Byron – and is a person who never came out of that phase of Bipolar 1 celebrity.” I went back to a well-penned couple of paragraphs that I had just read; and I re-read them a few more times. It hit me: “Jesus Christ! Didn’t the doctors say anything to this person about stress! This person who claims to have no substance issues is addicted to stress!” Horrible thought. Red flags all over the place like a swarm of malaria infested mosquitos. Completely ruined my enjoyment of the two articles. I am convinced that all the medication in the world can only put a flimsy little bandaid on a Bipolar 1 who is not educated about the devastating repercussions of stress. Decided to share this link instead. Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction, by Rajita Sinha
Turning into Don Quixote again, right on schedule, May 25, 2015
The Strong, May 27, 2015
I love this song and have sung it inside my head through many a dark time. As I gingerly nurse mixed affect (“During a mixed state, you might feel very agitated, have trouble sleeping, experience major changes in appetite, and have suicidal thoughts. People in a mixed state may feel very sad or hopeless while at the same time feel extremely energized.” National Institute of Mental Health.), knowing it might be a long stretch, the things that I always remember during extended mixed affect.
This particular episode began at the end of April and those things that I remember because they happened at times in the past when I felt like this. All of the cloyingly sad ghosts are appearing. But I am on the case, still not suicidal nor manic nor crashing and I do not feel as crappy as I felt yesterday or the day before.
This morning I remembered Jerry Butler’s song and for the very first time thought: “That’s not true.”
Nope, not true. Especially during the delicate years of mental illness, the years that separate those with a functional future from those with a nonfunctional future: adolescence to about age 27. During those years, the weak often survive the strong by latching on to the strong. Young people are mercurial – that’s their job. Young mentally ill folk are mercurial and full of chaos. Mercury and chaos make a toxically potent blend.
I hated high school and I was miserable until the second semester of my senior year. By that time, I had long ago abandoned my strong person, Linda P., who was one of my classmates and “adopted” me because I lived down the hill from her. I was not weak because I was mentally ill – I didn’t even know yet to call it that. Knowing there was something funny inside my head probably was my greatest strength. I was weak because I was so immature and fearful, and felt terrible about myself even in my sleep.
I don’t know why Linda liked me and was so kind to me. I was emotionally numb from ages 15 to 17 (neutralized, stuck-in-limbo-or-call-it-Purgatory, between a rock and a hard place, dissociative, mixed affect). I imitated normalcy because I thought it would eventually (maybe by the time I was 22 or 23) relieve my misery. I don’t know whether I liked Linda or not because I just couldn’t feel anything. During junior year I had to abandon her because around that time, while we were together, she cried ceaselessly; and when she tried to explain, she was incoherent and confusing. I thought she was getting into trouble with boys and that she might get me into trouble, too. I was so weak and so lacked faith in myself that my solution to danger was completely avoiding it. Also, Linda’s parents made me very uneasy because they were overly happy to see me and hospitable whenever I came, but always harsh and unkind to Linda. When my mother questioned me why I didn’t want to be friends with Linda anymore, I refused to talk about it because I simply couldn’t explain it.
A few years before she died that my mother mentioned Linda’s mother had passed. Mama went on to talk about how Linda had been molested by her stepfather, got married when she was barely out of high school and committed suicide when she was 19. My mother was surprised that I didn’t know Linda had been molested or that that was her stepfather not her father. I did remember back to the time when Linda died, my mother said “he sure was sorry,” meaning Linda’s stepfather.
The strong do not always survive. The weak, if they want to survive, often must instinctively burn bridges from time to time.
Today, May 28, 2015
I am feeling better. Sleeping better. Eating better. Keeping up with my daily life better. Not dragging along behind myself. I have written every day this week. I can only do that when I’m crazy. I will miss it until next time.
Mixed affect – well, this afternoon I came upon a perfect description – mixed affect is like I stepped on poop and no matter how meticulously I clean it and myself off, I still smell poop, I can’t stop feeling like it’s still there, it skews my feelings about myself and no matter how loud or often I repeat to myself that it’s inside my head, I can’t help thinking everybody else smells it too and hates me for it.
In mixed affect, I feel like I can’t do anything right. Even though I’m in my sixties and I know better, that people who know their poop stinks and worry about it are unlikely to be inappropriate.
Conscientization vs. Stress, June 1, 2015
One of my grandma in-laws that I was so lucky to have acquired when I met my husband developed a severe case of shingles when she was close to 90. It is so strange the terrible things that happen to other people that teach you valuable lessons. I can’t remember the exact details of the telling of the story, but in a nutshell, Grandma’s doctor said that one of the difficulties in recovering from shingles is that stress makes the condition worse. She was in so much pain and the pain was so stressful that I don’t know how she ever recovered. My therapists and psychiatrists were just trying to get through to me about stress around that time and when we talked about, it made me so angry that it felt like an accusation that “stress is a physical response.” I felt like and still feel like, considering that I’ve had mood swings since I was 3, that I have done a good job of keeping myself in one piece. It made me so mad until I finally grasped that stress is not my fault anymore that it was Grandma’s fault. I am thinking about this today as I wonder what I can do to decrease my stress factors (overwork being at the top of list and wanting other people to be happy being a close second). I think I have to accept that for whatever reasons, I am one of those people who is more susceptible to having physical problems (bipolar disorder being at the top of that list) because of stress. It is going to be difficult for me to chill on my lifelong bad habit of working too hard – I’m not even going to try to stop wanting other people to be happy – but I have found myself wondering today why, during family time last night (Game of Thrones), I was working on a marketing campaign the whole time. Conscientization.
Bipolar smoke signal: Edema, June 8, 2015
Finally found an article about bipolar edema – what I’ve been looking for about 2 years. Hopefully I will be able to find more. Nothing tells me I am cruising for a bruising bout of affect like puffiness in my left ankle. If both my ankles are puffy, it means go into a dark silent as a grave room, cover my eyes with a cold pack, put in earplugs, take Benadryl, drink as much water as I can tolerate and keep telling myself it’s like having a menstrual migraine. I am thinking hard about this as I monitor my not-as-bony-as-normal left ankle, drink tons of water, try to ignore the very loud noise inside my head and hope for the best. I will share whatever additional research articles I find. “Acute Manic Episodes Linked To Increased Edema Risk.” (Lucy Piper, Senior medwireNews Reporter, September 5, 2013). The abstract link isn’t working, but the summary is good and will help guide toward further surfing.
“Do I dare to eat a peach?”, June 13, 2015
Reality has been kaleidoscoping all week, a week that seemed nine days long. If you have ever seen things that you weren’t really sure were there, heard things that it was clear no one else could hear or felt like other people were reading your thoughts, you know what “kaleidoscoping reality” means. I have been uncomfortable all week long in spite of being very productive and receiving an unusual amount of positive feedback about my work. Uncomfortable, that is, after I stepped outside at 2 p.m. to get some air and buy a peach on Monday and immediately realized that I was paranoid for absolutely no reason. “Do I dare to eat a peach?” Dare I enjoy good work and satisfaction? Yes, partly because I’ve been expecting something like this to happen right about now and partly because I’ve had so much practice at avoiding projecting the negative thoughts and letting them affect my behavior. Neurochemistry gone whack job. That’s all it is – no point in trying to give it any more meaning than that. As soon as I got home, I did a puffy ankle test and decided it would just be asking for it to go all the way up the hill in the heat to the store past homeless men and construction workers. I took an antihistamine and some ibuprofen and drank a lot of water for the rest of the day. I tried not to worry and hate myself. The next day I felt the need for a walk and I really did have to go to the store, anyway. Oh, if you could hear the inner monologue and pep talk – like trying to convince yourself that there’s no bogeyman when you’re terrified in the dark.
‘Of course there’s a bogeyman. Of course all eyes, thoughts and minds are on you specifically as you’re walking down the street. Of course you’re going to yell at anyone who tries to make eye contact with you.’
‘Of course there’s no bogeyman, only your fear projected on the shadows. Of course all of these people have their own selves and lives to think about and barely are aware of you and each other. And, goddammit, why would you ruin someone’s day by yelling at them?’ That was Tuesday and Wednesday and it seemed like two more Wednesdays while my ankles stayed uncomfortably puffy, my skin felt like I put it on wrong, anxiety welled up from nowhere and for no reason and my sleep disturbed. I forced myself back to sleep several times this week at 4 or 5 a.m. It is rather a new thing that I can do that. And all this week the inner monologue continued, along with the water and an antihistamine or anti inflammatory here or there. I realized that tending to my affect this way, mitigating without force or stress is like vigil or tending a garden or any other kind of waiting to see what happens. This morning I woke up way too early again. But for the first time in days, it feels like my skin fits.
Grief vs. Me, June 20, 2015
I decided that it was not practical not to tell my new doctor at my first physical with her that my mood swings (read mixed episodes more hypo than depresso) have been more pronounced. Although I was disappointed that her reaction was more stereotypically underinformed than I would have expected given her youth, I am glad I decided to discuss it with her. It made me think back to the relatively long period of years (2004-2009) when in spite of keeping myself under ridiculous amounts of pressure (long-distance relationships with professional galleries, artistic direction of theater company, full time paralegalling, studying to become a commercial videographer), I maybe got bitchy in July and hyper around Christmas and depressed the first few weeks of August. That was it. Not so horrible, really. New Year’s Day 2009, I shot up suddenly in bed and knew there was something wrong with my mother. I’m not psychic. I had an epiphany that she hadn’t sounded quite herself in the previous few months. I figured she’d been masking. A few months later she told us she had to undergo biopsy. Then there were more tests. A number of months later, she was diagnosed with 3rd stage Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The following summer, she underwent chemo that nearly killed her. In October 2011, she died. Grief begins for me, and everyone else I would think, once you know a loved one is dying. Grief is normal. In August 2010 I went to Nebraska to help out during my mother’s recovery from chemo. That August I had the worst depression I’d had for almost 10 years. It had been so long that I’d forgotten how physically awful depression feels. Considering the circumstances, I don’t think it’s out of proportion to reality for a person who has frequently had depression in August to have it more profoundly the August after chemo nearly her mother in July. But she did not expect to live for a long time after that and so grieving continued. I feel that my first year of grief after her death also progressed normally. But my moodswings, though not yet more frequent, were more pronounced. They were mostly extremely uncomfortable hot-and-cold mixed affect. When I say uncomfortable, I really mean it physically all over my body, as if my skin was on wrong. Depression is cellular. Mania is cellular level explosion. And as I entered my second year of grief in late 2012, I found out one of my friends, several years younger than me, was end stage cancer and was not expected to survive more than a few months. I was a visitor during her hospice. (I think if I had not done that, the grief of the unfairness of death at her age added to the grief I already had would have been unbearable. People visit and help out during hospice mostly to make letting the person go easier.) I started a new job, my last dayjob, a few months later. In July or August (after the worst few weeks of July mania that I had had since 2008) I realized that the 80s something owner of the small building I worked in was having more frequent absences; and that every time he came back to work, he was thinner. By October his beautiful suits nearly swallowed him whole and he kept wasting further. He died the day after Christmas 2013. It was a profound, traumatic experience to witness his employees grieve. Some of whom had spent most or all of their careers in that office. Each year since 2010, my moodswings, which since I was three years old have fallen closely along classic Bipolar 1 seasonal patterns, have become more pronounced and intense. However, as the end of June approaches, I do not have nearly as much anxiety as usual about entering July, my worst manic month. Although I couldn’t get back to sleep this morning (possibly because I’ve been trying to write this for days), I have much less disturbed sleep and am getting more sleep than I’ve been used to getting during the last five Summer bipolar seasons. Perhaps I am normalizing a bit and my symptoms will ease up for the next while or so.
My Umbrella, June 27, 2015
There was a time during my personal dark ages when I was pretty sure that as I walked down the street, everyone was thinking at me. They hated me; they laughed at me; they thought such terrible thoughts about me that after years of medication and behavior modification therapy, I can’t even find that part of my brain to remember what those thoughts were. Just as I put a face on the voice inside my head as a child and called her my middle name, Susan, I confounded my paranoia (a putrifying rose by any other name … ) and demonized strangers. Though I was not exactly directly blaming them for the chaos inside my head, for about a year and a half, I periodically whacked a male stranger upside his head with my umbrella. I did not do this inside my head. I did it, literally. It was violent and horrible. And like I said, medication and therapy erased the path to the part of me that had some esoteric reasons for it, which I explained to myself and my providers through the elaborate, sometimes even eloquent, anti-logic of paranoia. Over the past year – longer, really, probably since the Trayvon Martin murder – as there has been gradually more disclosure about police shootings and other police violence affecting African Americans in particular, I have watched happen in American social media and “popular news” sources the same anti-logic that used to happen inside my head. I am coming out a clinical depression that is so mild and brief (about 17 days) compared to what happens to a lot of people I know that I am ashamed to mention it except that it gave me a bit of writer’s block. I am very grateful for the medication and therapy that helped me off the path where fear only leads to more fear and anger that one is afraid. I am grateful that I was able to change my thought patterns. A few years ago at my favorite shoe store, they gave me a beautiful umbrella. It is so big that 4 or 5 people could shelter under it. It does not fit into a handbag, of course. I am grateful that I can safely carry it nowadays. I love my umbrella.
Summer – Still, July 18, 2015
It is the middle of Summer. And there is too much light, too much noise, too much going on and too much too much. Even though I am able to spend so much time alone nowadays – even though I have so many years perfecting introversion and my cave is just how I like it – I feel like I’m never going to have peace and quiet ever again. I find myself logging onto social networks, feeling scorching light and heat, and immediately backing away slowly. Backing away from the madding crowd. Backing away from the frenzy of trying to make Summer keep its illusory promise. Backing away from everyone who is pumping Summer before it runs out (again) and never gets older (even though we do) and takes so long to come back, it seems like it’s never going to come back before it’s even halfway gone. Backing away from illusory promise into the comfortable darkness of the cave.
The never enough, August 2, 2015
August, August 24, 2015
August is such a buffer for me, particularly for the last twenty or so years when the month has ended with a trip to my beloved in-laws’ Cold Creek home in the Toyabe National Forest outside Las Vegas. Cold Creek is the desert. It is dry, clear, clean and crisp. In my catalogue of descriptions of bad affect, dry, clear, clean and crisp is exactly the opposite of depression, mixed affect and barely manageable mania/hypomania – which are humid, oppressive, vague and torturously endless like July in New Jersey. It is unusual for me to have weeks (3 1/2 so far this month) of comfortable hypomania that is just enough for me to be nice to practically everyone but not so energetic and relentless as to be annoying to anyone besides myself (i.e., difficulty focusing on my work, etc.). I know it is hypomania because most nights, I cannot stay asleep for more than 4 or 5 hours. Now, as my affect slowly glides to a normal plane, I do not seem to be crashing. I haven’t even had a migraine or even prodrome, which always happens when sleep begins to come easier again and I can follow a whole paragraph of thought. I am a morning person and I tend to go through periods of sundowning sometime past 4 p.m. even when I’m manic. What has been really lovely about this month of comfortable hypomania is that on a number of evenings, sometime after 5 p.m., I have had the unusual and wonderful feeling of wellbeing and the sense of having a good life. I am so glad that feeling is now part of my memories.
Bipolar disappearances, September 3, 2015
One of my favorite “quirky” movies, DISAPPEARANCES, is an existential, atmospheric periodic piece starring Kris Kristofferson as “Quebec Bill Bohomme. “‘Bill’ is a hardy schemer and dreamer, who, desperate to raise money to preserve his endangered herd through the rapidly approaching winter, resorts to whiskey-smuggling, a traditional family occupation.” Wikipedia. Bill habitually makes promises he cannot keep, that he probably knows he cannot keep. He puts himself and his family in jeopardy habitually, and always winds up losing. His son, who worships him, has to pick up the jagged pieces left in Bill’s chaotic wake and try to make sense of it, as if one could make a man out of himself with mismatched jigsaw puzzle pieces. I have been thinking about bipolar disappearances quite a lot this past week after I saw my BFF, M, from my years in New York for the first time in 30 years. I found her via the Web last year after having tried many times in the past. I hated disappearing from M – leaving so suddenly with yet another meaningless explanation. I had wanted to explain “why” ever since I was diagnosed 10 years after I left New York. M is a natural born healer and taught me some of the most important things I know. Our friendship was a bridge that I really regretted burning. When I told her I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after I moved to California, she was surprised. She said “I never saw any of that.” When I say “bipolar disappearances,” I am not talking about suicide. Bipolar disappearances are more complicated than that, since bipolars, like everyone else, have a trillion other things going on in our lives. We embarrass ourselves while manic and never can show our face again. We suddenly are swooped home from college by our parents and wind up with gaps in our academic records. We have bad boyfriends and girlfriends who take us for a ride. We get dumped and are serial dumpers. We pass out at parties and never get asked back. We leave town without having a good reason and never return. I am still working on this.
Leaving Dayjob: Postscript, September 30, 2015
I am finally almost finished with a project (Passages, a Myth) that I started in 2013. I will be able to go back to my VOICE project soon and I am so excited. VOICE has 3 characters who are all facets of the same person. One of the three observes the other two, the dysfunctional character and the character who is in denial. The core conflict of VOICE is that all three characters want the same thing – control of the Self – without having to share with the others. The McGuffin of VOICE essentially is the original self. The pivotal character is the personified psychotic self, who entices the antagonist, the manic self, into taking excursions into outer space. I probably could make a whole series out of VOICE, though I hope I get a few other good ideas before I die. It is a real personal triumph for me to be able to make up stories about my affect and psychosis even when I’m not feeling crazy.
I retired recently and immediately starting working movie projects fulltime during what used to be my dayjob hours. It has taken me only six months since dayjob to get back the peace I started losing at 8 when my voice started and my depressions got harder to mask. I retired at the end of March and almost immediately started an uncomfortable cycle of repeated mixed affect and depression. It figures that as soon as I was free, I went to my most reliable, my most familiar, my most dependable and predictable (because sooner or later, it always comes back) place since I was a baby.
I have some really strong views about treatment, most of which in my opinion has to do with staying functional in society. I was functional managing myself (i.e., always had a job as an adult, stayed in most jobs for at least two years, moved by myself and established homes for myself several times, mostly because of pursuing my dreams as an artist, established myself in several different art careers, succeeded in staying married, etc.), completely functional without therapy or psychotropics until I was in y early 40s. While I’m grateful for the treatment that I had after that, mostly because I’m sure that it helped me stay married, after years of treatment and now about five years without treatment, I am skeptical about what “functional” means.
I have written before about my homeless neighbor, George whose real name is Mike and whose bad voice is Robert; and I recently wrote about not wanting to call the cops when I saw him dancing around with Robert naked in the middle of the night. I did not want to call the cops because he wasn’t hurting anyone and my guess is that the yelling between him and Robert is about some very bad and deep hurt that happened to HIM long ago that he has found his own way to live with without doing anything harmful to anyone else except people like me who cannot sleep through noises made by humans.
This summer, while admittedly stressing myself out while making two difficult and complicated movie projects and probably worsening my cycling bad affect, just stayed indoors as much as possible when I was most irritable so that I wouldn’t take my bad chemistry out on anyone else. My poor husband grew pretty weary of my hypochondriac talking about my bad affect, but it helps me not to be a bitch if I describe how terrible it feels. I think describing it helps me get and keep perspective on it; and in fact, the mixed affect episodes gradually got shorter and less spiky.
I am pretty sure that I am mildly Asperger’s and that that has a lot more to do with why I’m glad I don’t have to talk to anyone (excluding family, of course) if I don’t want to nowadays. I have to say that if somebody gave me a choice between Asperger’s and bipolar disorder I, I would stay bipolar. That has been my greatest asset and paradoxical safe place all my life, as there is nothing as satisfying as learning how to get along with myself and manage to have a life no matter my mood.
I don’t give a damn anymore about the fact that I will never feel comfortable in society. I probably proved whatever I had to prove about that a long time ago.
Fragment: The answer is in the question, October 27, 2015
I had a difficult adjustment (lots of anxiety and sense of dread) during the transition from summer to fall; and now I am having what cannot be anything other than SAD with even more anxiety, dread and sense of doom. I really and truly do have a wonderful life (and the word, Capra-esque, brings out the meanness in me and makes me snicker). I am being slapped around by anxiety starting about 15:00 every day, my short term memory goes out the window and I start thinking about my own death. Since 2011 when my mother died, I have watched people die during the fall and winter. I seem to expect vigil to start in October. But it occurred to me during my insomniac last night that why wouldn’t a human animal with instincts inherited from cave dwelling ancestors who had anxiety, dread and a sense of doom about what they were going to eat as the days grew shorter and colder 200,000 years ago – why wouldn’t that anxiety be etched more deeply in some folks’ genes than in others? My ancestor, myself.
I will survive – that’s my job, November 3, 2015
Fragment: Inner resources vs. stigma, November 8, 2015
My neighbor George whose real name is Mike and whose bad voice is Robert has accepted himself the way he is. It is really clear that he doesn’t hate himself for what the rest of us in the neighborhood see as limitations. I have learned quite a lot about what “adjusted” really means from him. It’s ironic that something so near as self acceptance and an inner “safe zone” (in my opinion, absolutely essential to adjustment) are so distant sometimes. I think if your mood, anxiety level, distracted thoughts, etc., make it difficult or impossible for you to interact normally and you try to mask it because it would be horrible if people thought of you or reacted to you as crazy (i.e., stigmatize you), if masking fails (or you’re not lucky like Mr. Magoo) and you can’t find a “safe zone” inside yourself, you can become angry and frustrated and lash out. You have stigmatized yourself and created a vicious cycle like a dog that’s biting its own tail and can’t stop. No inner resources + stigma + anger/fear/anxiety = a really bad situation.
Hell – November 13, 2015, November 14, 2015
I have had serial dreams since childhood. All of those dreams have been anxiety dreams, most of which eventually resolved. As a child, I had a phobia of basements and frequently dreamed into my twenties that there was a monster in the basement. If I tried to go into the basement, the monster would run up the stairs to would chase me out and I would barely make it to the door to escape. In my mid- twenties, I began dreaming that I got further and further down the stairs each time. Finally, I got all the way down the stairs and chased the monster out of the basement. I also began having dreams in my twenties that sometime in a distant past I had killed a person, some unknown man who had hurt me or tried to hurt me, and that the homicide had either remained a mystery or someone else had been blamed for it. In those dreams, I was always afraid of being found out. Of course, whether I finally succeeded in chasing it out of the basement or not, there was never any monster in any basement of any house I ever lived in. Most likely, in the beginning, I had found my godmother in the basement with the neighbor’s husband. I am pretty sure he was the “monster” in my dreams. I never murdered anyone, either. Most likely, my dreams of “being found out” stem from empathy and survivor guilt. I was coddled by my parents and teachers, and was frequently “adopted” like a pet by peers who protected me from bullies. I saw the awful things that happened to children who had been singled out and targeted – someone always got singled for reasons I still don’t understand – and the crowd mentality was that was just the way it was and both the bullies and the bullied (and everyone else) just had to accept the way things were. The monster in the basement and my anonymous homicide victim both were made of the same stuff as sadness, anxiety, fear and anger. I began suffering from depression when I was still a toddler and I fought my bad thoughts and feelings as soon as they began to happen. I felt guilty for having bad feelings and was always trying to conquer them. I really did live in a double bind of a hell inside myself. Mental illness is always a long story. There is a lot of potential for roots to grow during a long story (or threads or trails of breadcrumbs or well worn paths, whatever metaphor works). I know exactly where my bad feelings are because of the roots I have grown living with mental illness since I was a baby. I always go back to my roots when I am trying to solve a personal problem, faced with making a critical decision or merely find myself at a crossroad. Nothing is more familiar or dependable or true for me than those roots that grew from bad thoughts and feelings. I made myself a promise in my early 20s while recovering from what they called in the old days “a nervous breakdown” – the old days, when they gave uncooperative girls shock treatment and manic depression was a horrible disease like rabies. I promised myself that I would not ever let myself die in a bad thoughts and feelings state of mind. I called my ideal way to die “warm.” For some reason I can’t remember, I associated sadness, anxiety, fear and anger – i.e., depression – with being cold and having bad circulation. I still intend to keep that promise to myself. And now that I am in my mid 60s, I am fanatical about it. I know what “warm” is. It is simply, consciousness of being alive! Yesterday, I did not feel well and I was in and out of sleep. When I was finally awake enough to understand what was happening in Paris, I felt survivor guilt and started to cry – not for the victims, but for the murderers, the angry, fearful, anxious, sad murderers, any of whom were subject to knowing, finally, in the moments of their deaths when it was too late, what it is to be alive.
Vigil for twilight, November 22, 2015
I am awake at nearly 02:00 and hoping to stay awake in order to avoid having another anxiety dream like the one that woke me up half an hour ago. I woke up with the same migraine that seemed to be trying rule my life all day yesterday. It’s so interesting how humans personify pain and unpleasant emotion. I have been having a lot of anxiety dreams for the past few weeks – ever since I became aware of the change in light near sunset. It happens every year (and for as long as I can remember) that as soon as I become aware of twilight happening before 18:00, anxiety sets in. My seasonal anxiety disorder makes me cringe every year for several weeks, beginning at some point before Thanksgiving as if doom is about to swoop down like a cloud of murk and death and smother me. I used to believe this feeling was some sort of PTSD, i.e., a forgotten memory of something horrible thing that happened in November. But having annually combed my memories for decades, often while in psychotherapy, I think that if this dread does arise from a memory, it is not my memory. I believe my dread is cellular neurochemistry – a fragment of instinct inherited from some cave dwelling ancestor whose baby died at first frost or whose family starved because the men never returned from hunting one day. I believe that I have anxiety in autumn because awareness of the change in light triggers my body to do that. I am hypervigilant. I suddenly break out in hives for no reason while doing housework. I hoard. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about my seasonal anxiety except wait for it to be over and hold vigil for twilight at 18:00 on January 31st.
Fall, December 7, 2015
So, I have solved my personal mystery of Fall. That does not mean the mystery will not reenact itself again next year and so on like it has every year since I confronted October at sundown by the big tree in our front yard late one windy afternoon when I was 9. I was already crazy at that point, meaning I had been hearing my voice for a while and I knew that every once in a while for reasons outside my control and understanding that from time to time, I disappeared from myself for a while. That particular October in Denver in 1960 or so was about a year or two after my first haptic hallucination, which happened in August or September by the big tree in our front yard. That day, the whole sky lit itself in lavenders, pinks and oranges just for me, and smiling faces appeared and made me feel special, and told me I could do and be anything I wanted and my life would be perfect when I grew up. I believed that my life would be perfect for a long time (the kind of never ending time that only children can sense) until, when I felt myself disappearing in a horrible way that was the worst feeling that I had ever had, I went out to the tree that October to try to make my vision and myself return. Flash forward to many years (the kind of never ending years that unmarried, undiagnosed manic depressive, migraineur women in their 30s have), those many years of feeling like October is too windy, cold and piercingly orange, and trying to kill me with light; and then dumps me into the deep, dark hole that is November. Flash forward to many years of trying to scramble out of November in time to get a running start on taking care of a husband with winter S.A.D., and realizing one day that it’s been years since I had to call in sick for two days in a row in November. Flash forward to eight weeks ago when I realized I was disappearing but I wasn’t worried because I had a plan, a big project like I have had every fall for years (the kind of years that only middle-aged women who aren’t afraid of anything anymore have) so I wouldn’t lash out when October began its manic war against me and so I wouldn’t land at the bottom of November without a net. The voices in the sky were right. My life is perfect. It’s the only one I’ve got.
Fragment: Personal Equinox, December 10, 2015
I had been having “personal summers” for 7 years when I first heard the term used by my hairdresser (one or two years younger than I am) when she was 52 and had to go outdoors for a few moments in the middle of flatironing my hair. I like the idea of “personal seasons” as a euphemistic reference to moodswings, hot flashes and other sometimes seemingly supernatural phenomena. I woke up this morning in just such a season: my personal winter solstice that so often happens exactly on December 1oth of the year. When my personal winter solstice happens (smack dab in the hot and cold middle of the holiday moment when the walking wounded freely roam society in their true form), when my unique equinox occurs like a blue moon or Mars + Venus copulating, it is as if someone turned on a light inside me or changed a dead, defunct, burned out and used up light bulb inside my head. When that light switches on, for which my research has not found an explanation (probably because it’s rather desirable, yes?, and not a problem or dysfunction or disorder or anything that might make one a threat to herself or others, no?), when that light switches on, it is as if the dam that is usually activated the second of week of October to prevent my mixed affect from spilling onto and crushing the dead and dying leaves on the sidewalk. It is as if whatever causes weeks of tumultuous sleep, waking anxiety and nightmares gets bored, strikes its tent and moves on.
The cave, December 19, 2015
I picture “the cave” quite often. Not from the outside, but from the inside. I am inside the cave with kinspeople, children (some of my own, I imagine) and a few stragglers (orphaned by their own tribes) picked up along the way. There are about 20 or 30 of us. Right now, a few days before the winter solstice when it is so dark outside and even darker in the cave – where the fire is small because none of us wants to go outside for wood; none of us wants to leave the heat of each other’s body. Besides, if we use too much energy, trudging through the snow, digging through the snow for sticks and twigs and chunks of wood – if we use up too much stored energy, our own fat – we will have to risk losing even more stored energy to go hunting. We will have to risk being hunted ourselves by other creatures as hungry, lean and desperate as ourselves. In the cave, I am a survivor. I conserve myself. I conserve the resources in my environment. I share the heat of my body. I share anxiety, fear and hunger. No wonder there is such an anxiety driven paradox of inertia plus frenzy in the last days of our calendar. No wonder there are celebrations of hope. There are potent bits of memory in our DNA telling us “live as well as you can but do not assume winter will not kill you.” Sylviatoyindustries on Amazon.
Fragment: Hypomania, December 25, 2015
As seems to be scheduled every year for Christmas Eve, I have insomnia and am suddenly quite hypomanic. My “manic rash” flared all over my shoulders, neck and scalp; and the noise in my ears is deafening. I took a couple of aspirin for the inflammation flare up and then was lucky to get into a couple of chats with good friends, which relaxed me – perhaps the stimulation of chatting has an opposite effect on introverts. Once I was relaxed and less anxious about getting to sleep (perhaps sufficiently that my green tea trick will work, i.e., I make the tea and by the time it has steeped, I have fallen asleep), once I was calm enough to ignore the noise inside my head, I remembered a moment by the kitchen window yesterday between rain showers when sunlight glanced off the wet roof. In that moment I thought quite clearly, “I can already tell that there is more light.” That’s absurd, of course, since it is only 4 days since the winter Solstice, and the day was not any longer today than it has been for the past week. But that switch in my brain that is always scheduled to click on at the end of December was triggered by something akin to a perceived change in my environment. Now I must be vigilant and more diligently manage my stress level. I am not afraid of mania because number one, I hate the way it feels; and number two, I don’t need mania to be creative and productive. I can’t even think in a straight line when I’m manic – it mystifies me how people can get anything done in that state. I usually know I’m hypomanic/within no more than a day after onset. I never seem to now I’m depressed, however, until it’s almost over. So, I found this rather radical article in Psychology Today by Tom Wooton, author of Bipolar Advantage, very interesting in regard to self-managing depression – which without awareness of the depression, one cannot do. No Longer at the Mercy of Our Moods. Writing in this blog also relaxes me. It is time for my tea. Good night.
Fragment: Anxiety, December 30, 2015
I have so benefitted lately from a few friends’ sharing about their experiences with anxiety disorders. Armed with new knowledge, I am suddenly more conscious of how much more anxiety than usual I have. That surprised me, since my current episode of hypomania is the happy kind, not the cranky kind and certainly not the mixed kind. Fortunately, I am highly motivated to seek relief for what I call “manic rash,” which is very inflamed and painful quite often during a day on which I gave up pretty early trying to get anything done except laundry, cleaning and very simple cooking projects. Although I learned a lot about stress management during my therapy for bipolar disorder after my diagnosis in the early 90’s, I honestly don’t remember any of my providers spending a lot of talk time on anxiety. Fortunately for me, years before I was diagnosed as Bipolar 1, I had excellent and successful individual and group therapy for bulimia and agoraphobia. That experience has been very helpful. And until last month, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about my own anxiety. But I didn’t. If not for the recent generous sharing of friends, I might not have become aware of the extent to which anxiety affects the intensity and progress of my hypomania. I also found this very helpful article by Chris Aiken, M.D., on MoodTreatmentCenter.com, Mania (Elevated Mood).
Surprisingly, anxiety levels are generally higher in mania than in depression . Mania can activate the body’s fight or flight system, causing tremor, racing heart, muscle tension, and insomnia. This can peak into a full panic attack.
Manic anxiety usually worsens in crowds, during arguments, in over-stimulating environments, or after lack of sleep. The body’s threat level is on alert, causing everyday worries (e.g. money, safety, health) to turn into paralyzing fears.
It is a paradox that mania causes anxiety, because it can also cause a fearless state where people do dangerous things. Actually, it is a terrible state to be in when anxiety and impulsivity overlap, and it has been linked to suicide and drug abuse.
Fragment: I always wake up with anxiety on Sunday morning, January 31, 2016
I always wake up with anxiety on Sunday morning. The feeling I have this Sunday morning is grief that I will die one day. I am not depressed and I am not having suicidal thoughts. It simply seems that the empty well of the beginning of the week must be filled up with something unpleasant as some sort of reality check. That is, having done so much of what I damn well pleased until it was no longer defiance, rebellion, and struggle born from rage, but instead became my life, love, and labor, having done that – and rarely experiencing misery anymore – my grief about my death merely helps keep me grounded and hardheaded.
Fragment: Saturday morning mania, February 20, 2016
I did not know I was manic until I burst into tears when the Swiss filter tipped and almost spilled the coffee grounds into the Chemex carafe. The couple of teaspoons of water with a thimbleful of coffee grounds spilt on the floor was such an emergency – even thought it absolutely was not – that I started to cry because I had brought way too big emotions into the kitchen with me. Way way way too big to comfortably fit inside my skin without inflammatory explosions. I was jittery and anxious, and the rashy, itchy feeling that I’ve had for days was spreading up my arms to my neck. Anxiety + rash made me too clumsy to hold the Swiss filter by the handle without scalding myself. Well, that and I was too crazy to notice that the kettle spout was pointing in the wrong direction half an inch from my wrist. That was the prodromal moment when the rash raced onto my scalp. A fiery scalp is my final warning. And before I even thought, “manic,” I flashed back on a million anxiety-ridden Saturday mornings (and plenty of other mornings except maybe Sunday, which I associate with depression and feelings of doom), Saturday mornings that each were an inevitably bad day before noon because I woke up with panic and way way way too big emotions. And once I thought “manic” and rhymed it with “panic,” well, a small miracle occurred; and this Saturday’s morning mania did not devolve into a nightmare that inevitably ends with me yelling at my husband as if that crazy neurochemistry has anything to do with him or spilt coffee or anything else besides itself.
Fragment: My chronically Bipolar 1 brain, March 12, 2016
This past week I found the perfect analogy for my overstimulated, way way way off-schedule for 5 days Bipolar 1 brain. I now have a much more profound understanding of what “chronic” really means. In the case of an overstimulated, way way way off-schedule for 5 days Bipolar 1 brain it means pinging and repinging and repinging and repinging et cetera on itself, and on and on and on, easily pinging harder all over again for even longer and longer if it comes into contact with anything solidly resistant or immovable (in my case, excruciating awkwardness negotiating anything beyond very simple social interaction despite the presence of adequate adult social skills).
I should have fizzled out and dropped dead from the sheer exhaustion of adjusting and readjusting years ago; and it’s no wonder I live with noise inside my head, which is worse, of course, depending on the frequency of pinging and repinging (pun/double entendre intended!). I have been retired (i.e., my art workday now starts at 7 a.m. instead of 7 p.m.) for one year. I do not have to be around people if I do not want to. My 5 days of overstimulation was spent doing things that I wanted to do with people I wanted to be with – and still, I went so off-kilter that it took 4 days for me to feel stable.
I really am astonished that I was ever able to hold a dayjob.
Bipolar Disorder and Work Loss Bipolar disorder affects many aspects of an individual’s life and greatly interferes with a person’s ability to find and maintain employment. The evidence indicates that a majority of patients with bipolar disorder are not employed and many others are employed only part time. Job-related difficulties are common, and patients with bipolar disorder tend to have higher rates of absenteeism from work compared with working individuals without bipolar disorder. A limited amount of data suggests that appropriate treatment may improve occupational status among patients with bipolar disorder. The ability to work is closely related to functional recovery, which tends to be incomplete in a majority of patients with bipolar disorder. – Charles L. Bowden, MD, Am J Manag Care. 2005;11:S91-S94. See more.