November 11, 2017 § Leave a comment
i remember the way limbs would twitch
while falling asleep
from the time before
on lithium. not my limbs or
my bloodstream or my
bipolar this time but
those of the one
i sleep beside / and what does it mean
does it make a difference
whether he calls me girlfriend
or partner or wife,
is how he introduced me this time
to the PA at the appointment
at the office where i went
after the hospital
because you never saw
the actual doctor, only
the PA–why? and where
i had to be
just a little bit
of a bitch, i had to go to
bat, be all
so have you heard
of such and such research
on light therapy–is that an option?
and, i know latuda
is good for bipolar depression
specifically, and three years ago
it wasn’t generic yet; is it now?
i hate it when doctors
don’t explain the shit
they really should, when
they lack imagination
to suggest other options,
new things you might not
have thought of yourself
when suicidally depressed.
i hate it when doctors
don’t ask you the questions
you might not have known
to ask yourself
because you cannot
advocate for yourself or even
take yourself to the doctor
when it’s actually
you have to be dragged there
against a brain screaming constantly
not my brain this time, no,
by the grace of god but how
do you think
i would know otherwise
what a doctor should be asking
October 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
i’ve been thinking about this a lot since my partner and i are considering having a child. i really want another child, but i’m terrified by the prospect of what his genes and mine together might produce. something like a 27% chance of the child having bipolar, and an increased risk as well for schizophrenia and autism. i love my life and i don’t regret being alive or being brought into the world. i wouldn’t say that suffering has outweighed meaning or purpose or creativity or joy or beauty. and i don’t believe for a second that people like me, like us, shouldn’t be in the world. but i worry about knowingly handing my child the suffering of suicidal depression, the chaos of mania, the disabling dread of anxiety, the terror of psychosis.
anyway, thinking about that has got me wondering whether bipolar people attract each other, and what the nature of that attraction is. « Read the rest of this entry »
April 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
the two years i was up in the midwest, teaching at a university there on a postdoc, i was frequently so sad that i wanted to die. i was able to keep functioning–getting myself to campus, showing up to teach class and hold office hours, taking care of my daughter–but only barely. the threat of total breakdown was constant and real, pushing up beneath the thin surface of my game face.
it’s hard to articulate the nature of that kind of pain, to give words to what that experience feels like. i can tell you that i cried every day: i woke up and cried until i went to work; i came home from work and cried again. on some nights when my three year old daughter was with me, i felt so incapable of meeting her demand for engagement that the best i could do was lay beside her on the couch as i let her watch her favorite movie at the time–Charlotte’s Web–over and over again. the nights her dad would pick her up from my house, i would collapse from the relief of not needing to pretend i was okay. i felt absolutely left alone in a grief that seemed bottomless. i longed for someone who would recognize my suffering and hold me, shelter me, take care of me.
i remember only a few things breaking up that experience of abandonment. once i found myself alone with an activist acquaintance in the endangered wakarusa wetlands–we were the only two people who showed up to a meeting to plan construction of a boardwalk over the wetlands, a desperate effort to preserve them from destruction. it was january in kansas. the water was frozen white and the wind blew itself hoarse across the marsh reeds and grasses. with no meeting to hold, we walked aimlessly together through the wetlands, beneath the slate grey tumult of a cloudy sky already growing dark at 4pm. he pointed out to me where the boardwalk would start and where it would end. finally i confessed to him that i had been so low i didn’t know how to continue. i may have mentioned why, but the depth of my pain was so great that i probably didn’t try to explain in any great detail.
but he told me he had been depressed too. he had fallen in love with someone, a friend, and they had started seeing each other secretly. she had a boyfriend and a small child; her boyfriend was a friend. had been. he’d found them out and then it became impossible for them to continue seeing one another. so now he could only ache for her, for what was lost and what was impossible.
the only thing that makes it better is that i feel like i learned some things, he said.
what did you learn?
that i am capable of connecting with someone in that way, he said. i wasn’t sure if i was. but because i know now that it’s happened before, i know it can happen again.
the point here is not actually that lesson but just to remember with gratitude, for what helped me feel just a little better, a little less alone, for a little while.
one of the other things that lifted–not my depression, but my loneliness, my sense of abandonment–was an album i listened to almost every day as i walked to campus, kid cudi’s “man on the moon.” the way he talked about his own experience in “soundtrack 2 my life”—
i’ve got some issues that nobody can see
and all of these emotions are pouring out of me
–felt absolutely identical to my own. and when in “heart of a lion” he sang
at the end of the day, day
my mama said
don’t let no one break me
let no one break me
at the end of the day, day
nobody ever could stop me
ever could stop me
at the end of the day, day
you can’t regret it
if you were trying
if you were trying
at the end of the day, day
i’m walking with
the heart of a lion
heart of a lion
when he sang that i felt my suffering understood and redeemed; i felt dignity was possible even in the face of breakdown. that despair might be transformed not to hope, but to courage and determination, to power and survival.
all of that is a very long prelude to what i ultimately wanted to write about, which is that i listened to “man on the moon” again today for the first time in awhile–from a vantage point of stability this time, fortunately–and was still struck by how well he captures the experience of a profound sadness that is only heightened by an accompanying terror of insanity, breakdown, failure.
it made me wonder about him, whether he’s like me and g and people like us–so i googled “kid cudi depression” and felt vindicated to find this article.
glad to see he’s doing the coming out thing. and like the brief flash of understanding that broke up the dark cold of a kansas january for just a few minutes, i’m grateful for the presence and companionship of his work as i struggled just to put one foot in front of the other, knowing that if i didn’t i would fall to the ground forever, unable to get up.
sounds dramatic, but that’s what it was like.
January 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
had a dream last night that the demographics of district 9 (one of the historically affluent white northside districts) had changed, and that they elected a woman with bipolar to city council. when questioned by skeptical media commentators as to whether she could effectively do the job, she responded with confidence: of course she could; the only difference was that when she became overwhelmed, she needed to take breaks. but that was all.
when i read that, i felt vindicated, because i knew my old boss was reading the same news account and consequently would see that, insofar as this councilwoman’s experience was exactly the same as mine, my requests for accommodation were valid.
hey, but does anyone who’s been diagnosed bipolar question the diagnosis when they’re not in an episode? when i’m functioning well, i can’t imagine having ever functioned poorly or that i’ll ever function poorly again. and when i’m functioning poorly, i can’t imagine a way out. each experience is completely incomprehensible to the other.
yeah, right now, in a non-elevated state–and those states feel so infrequent and so incomprehensible–tho i guess i have had two in the past 5 years–but yeah, right now, i’m feeling like the more accurate diagnoses are “anxiety” and “borderline” (which really just feels like attachment difficulties or maladaptive defenses that formed secondary to a primary, probably biophysical anxiety condition). because i have those experiences so much more frequently than elevated states. and because i never have depression or self-injuring impulses outside of intense relationship anxieties. and because the two diagnoses have a lot of overlap and are frequently mistaken for the other. and because my anxiety seems impervious to the mood stabilizers i started taking after the bipolar diagnosis. and because i don’t actually feel anything on a mood stabilizer–tho i can’t tell if not feeling anything is testament to the effectiveness of the meds. like, would i be feeling something i’m not if i weren’t taking it?
but when i have been elevated, it does feel different than any other set of experiences i’ve had. it’s not anxiety, not depression. elevation feels unfamiliar, relatively, compared to the duration of time i’ve lived with other symptoms (all my life, pretty much). what it feels like is anxiety ramped 10-fold or more. like a huge outpouring of energy that simultaneously drains me to the point of collapse. like i am borrowing energy on credit. like i am a conductor or channel for an electrical current whose voltage is so huge and powerful that it blows my circuits. all my metaphors are energetic, electromagnetic. it’s like the scene from the brave little toaster where lampy charges a car battery by harnessing lightning, burning himself out. coughing sparks.
i can remember that experience, kind of. i remember that it’s huge and scary, but also awesome in its power and intensity. and yet i’m still like, well, maybe it was a one-time thing. maybe it was something else. i’m like, c’mon–do i really have bipolar?
November 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
i don’t know what to make of this, this pattern of selling myself well and then being unable to handle it and making an incendiary exit. one thought is that there is some core validity to my reactions–like, there really is a lot of bullshit at any job. and wage labor itself is inherently bullshit. but then, i also think that most folks have a less intense response. they have thicker skin. my propensity for intense emotional states means i’m more perceptive, more attuned to internal contradictions and dysfunctionality, but in a way that eventually becomes painful and self-jeopardizing. in most employment efforts i’ve undertaken, my pattern is to get progressively more and more stressed by bullshit and eventually unable to handle it. my mom used to roll her eyes and say, “it’s just a job,” but i knew that what i was experiencing was the reality of labor’s alienation under capitalism!! for instance. it’s always been easy for me to see the macro in the micro, the political in the personal, but also very hard for me to handle.
in some jobs, like waiting tables at denny’s or working at a dry cleaners or beauty supply shop or whatever, the bullshit curve is very very short. like 2 days to a few months max.
in other jobs, where i’m doing work that is meaningful to me, i’ve been able to function well for a time, before getting more and more distressed. in my last job, for instance, i did fine for about a year and then became increasingly anxious and overwhelmed before essentially imploding. but a lot of that was also because the organization itself was actually unhealthy (see this post).
the longest i stuck with something was the almost 8 years i was in grad school. even then, i was pretty fucking disablingly anxious ALL THE TIME. but the work rhythms of academe allowed me to manage that better than a 9-to-5. i could work when i was able and not work when i wasn’t. or, even when i was very incapacitated by anxiety or depression, i could still do my work cuz it was more solitary than public. except when it wasn’t–in which case i was having panic attacks in class.
but the anxiety also eased up significantly when i was done with coursework and just writing my dissertation. it was really minimal when i was dissertating and working as a research assistant rather than teaching. as an RA i had no public performance to manage. my work spoke for itself and that was enough.
but the good thing about getting older is that your patterns appear with greater clarity. and when your patterns and triggers become apparent, you can devise workarounds. so as i take a few months off from paid employment and think about what comes next for me, meanwhile trying not to internalize a view of myself as failed and incompetent, i’ve put together this list of things i’ve learned about what kind of work does and does not suit me. it’s a nice sort of balance between “i’m defective and unfit for survival” and “wage labor under capitalism is slavery” (which of course it is). anyway:
STUFF I CAN’T ABIDE FOR LONG:
–highly stressful, chaotic work environments, even if the work is meaningful
–boring and repetitive service industry jobs that feel meaningless or actively exploitative
–jobs that require extensive public performance–being socially “on” for long periods of time
–jobs with intense hours or which require relentless output without periods of rest and recuperation
–jobs with a lot of internal dysfunction or motivation through criticism and fear
–jobs that expect you to put caregiving work, health or community involvement second to productivity
THE FLIPSIDE OF THAT: STUFF I CAN DO SUSTAINABLY:
–jobs where folks are laid back and chill
–jobs where i can make my own hours and control the intensity of work flow
–jobs that allow me to balance work and caregiving responsibilities
–jobs that require lots of thinking work – the ability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time
–jobs that offer a lot of space for self-motivation and execution of long term projects
–jobs that are relatively solitary and which reward individual creativity
so, it seems like i should either go back to academia (in a more flexible adjuncting kind of capacity that allows me to do other things); look for a research job (they must be out there); figure out how to freelance the stuff i’m good at (writing, teaching, researching, community organizing); retrain for some new skill set that allows for self-employment (therapist, acupuncturist); or enhance training i already have so as to obtain more stable, reliable work (get a sociology master’s or MFA so that a community college hire is more feasible; get my alternative certification to teach high school English). but, also, i think i could still do the paid organizer/social justice nonprofit work IF the organization was internally healthy and accommodating.
October 22, 2014 § 5 Comments
Y’all madfolks (and non-madfolk allies) might not know that in my other life–when I’m not blogging about bipolarity or whatnot–I work as a social justice organizer and community educator. Or that in my previous life I was an academic, that I came up in the academy writing about issues of embodiment and was greatly politicized there around issues of disability justice. Anyway–
I made the decision to leave my current position the other day at a community organization that does impressive and absolutely vital social justice work in my hometown. This organization is very effective in challenging the broader powers that be, but the internal dynamics are also very difficult. I’ve come to believe that this is because of the constant confrontational stance we deliberately take vis a vis power structures–we end up turning on ourselves in ways we become accustomed to position ourselves in relation to oppressive forces externally. So there’s a lot of bickering, a lot of unnecessary meanness, a lot of public scoldings. There’s also a kind of manic intensity to the work that makes it really hard to draw boundaries and take care of yourself.
Leaving was a hard decision for awhile, and for awhile I didn’t know I was even making it–I just kept hearing a little voice whispering slow down, take a break–and then, yesterday morning, it became not hard at all.
What happened was this: the past few weeks have been stressful and I started getting sick. Physically, but more problematically in terms of its disruption to my everyday functioning, mentally. I started having a lot of anxiety and then began to rev up and feel manic (er, hypomanic I guess). When that happens I don’t necessarily need to do anything more than scale things back and slow down. Reduce my stimulus. Focus on one foot after the other, cautiously. I still feel that if I had been able to just take like a month off last spring, I wouldn’t have needed to go into the hospital. But I wasn’t able to–or felt I wasn’t able to, plus I was manic so I didn’t want to stop–so I just kept getting worse and worse, and then I crashed into depression and had to take a week off anyway because I became unable to work. And at that point, I was having so many symptoms that, even with a week off, I could not put off psychiatric care even a few days, at which point I checked myself into the hospital. At that point I had just been diagnosed and was completely unmedicated, so I was desperate to see someone and get on the right meds so that I could keep going without having to break down completely. So that’s what happened last spring, and why since then I’ve been very concerned to maintain boundaries around my time–because if I get too stressed out or can’t keep a regular schedule, I start having symptoms.
Now, my boss knows about my bipolar diagnosis. I was very open with my coworkers about getting diagnosed and going to the hospital. (Though I did not tell anyone about my even more stigmatized borderline diagnosis–ha.) And I’ve had conversations with my boss about the kinds of things I need to do to maintain stability and how that affects my performance at work. So when I started having symptoms this past week, I decided that I would let people know that I needed to scale back some of what I’d been working on. What always tips us over into dysfunctionality as an organization is that the amount of programming we do is very intense–we basically have a big community event every weekend, plus long term planning for even bigger community events–and then, because we are also a social justice organization, we feel compelled to jump in as community organizers when urgent issues arise. Which they always do. And which is okay, because we care about those issues. But it’s just that little extra when we’re already at capacity that ends up making me sick.
So yesterday when I went into work, I told my boss that I had been having a lot of panic and manic energy and requested that some of the organizing work be delegated to other folks so that I could focus just on programming, thinking that if there was a more critical need it was the programming we were doing. In other words, I told her I was getting sick and asked for accommodations. She got very frustrated and irritable and scolded me by saying that if I delegated those tasks, I’d be putting more pressure on the full time workers who were already doing a million things and staying till 9pm every night etc. She granted the accommodation, telling me just to focus on the organizing work, but she also made me feel like shit in the process and implicitly suggested that it was my illness that was the problem, not the insane workload or how we divide up the labor.
(Note that “full time” at my work means available for *everything* and willing to work as much as it takes–sometimes 50-60 hours a week–to get it done. Note too that I am the ONLY worker in the organization with a child. Or a partner who also lives with psychiatric disability. And so the stakes involved in my staying stable are high.)
After this exchange, I left the building because we were asked to move our cars from the lot for other folks who needed to park there. I texted my boss that I was very upset from our conversation and that I was taking some space to cool off, would return to finish something I had left unfinished, and then leave again. I called my partner and cried. I called my mentor and cried. She told me to come over to her house right away, where she reassured me that what happened wasn’t my fault. Afterwards I went back to work and finished what I said I would finish. And then I left again.
Somewhere between work and home I came to the understanding that I’d had enough and needed to leave, and started composing a letter in my head. When I got home, I wrote it all out and sent it to all the staff members and the board of the organization. Before I paste the letter here, I should say that I’ve left other intensely stressful jobs in dramatic ways and I wonder what this means–is it part of my illness/instability, that I become so anxious that I get crazy? Or am I more attracted to crazy, high stress work environments because of my own intensity? Or is the world just generally unaccommodating to folks more vulnerable to panic and affective/energetic swings?
Anyway, here is what I wrote, with apologies for the funky formatting–for some reason when I paste text, it loses its paragraph returns:
That’s my story.