The Motherfucker Gene

August 21, 2016 § 1 Comment

One of the things that’s haunted me most about living with mental illness is my inability to explain or account for it–to myself or to others. My earliest internal experiences of anxiety, for instance, was of being strange to myself, having thoughts and feelings that not only overwhelmed me but that didn’t make sense, thoughts and feelings that felt somehow other to myself. Part of me but different from me at the same time. I had no language for what I experienced, which caused secondary trauma when I could not communicate my distress to anyone–or when I tried, later, and was met with confusion, skepticism or inadvertent invalidation. After all, the things I felt and thought didn’t make sense to me–why should they make sense to others? It didn’t make sense: that I would fear vomiting so much, for instance, that the arrival of a letter in the mail after school one day in 4th grade, stating that I had been randomly selected to audition for a kids’ game show, would make me ball up on the couch crying. To do that I would have to travel out of town! And if I traveled away from home I might get sick! I knew it didn’t make sense, and I was embarrassed. I knew I couldn’t tell anyone the real reason I was scared. It was too weird. But I was filled with dread and despair and a desperate feeling of being unsafe nonetheless. « Read the rest of this entry »

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a dream, some thoughts

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.

brave-little-toaster-lightning-lamp

Lampy_and_lightning_by_Ominous_Impression

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?

Why I Had to Leave My Job

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:

I am writing to let everyone know that effective at the end of this month, I’ll be leaving as staff.
My reasons are simple: I am a person with a disability–albeit invisible most of the time–and find the organizational culture to be ableist (and also transphobic [I’m not trans but my friend who works there is]) in ways that are really upsetting. While we as an organization are badass and do powerful, important work in the community, the internal dynamics of the organization also feel unhealthy for me.
It’s not because I am incompetent or defective or abnormal or weak or fragile or lazy or uncommitted or don’t want to help others–that is ableist.
It’s not because I’m not up to the challenge of social justice work–that is ableist.
It’s not because needing to take care of ourselves is selfish and individualistic–that is ableist. We take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others–whether those others are children, parents, partners, or the community.
It’s not because, as someone with privileges of color and education and sexuality, I have the luxury of drawing boundaries around my time. I do have those privileges, but I draw boundaries around my time because I actually don’t have a choice. There are very real consequences for my health and for my child if I don’t draw those boundaries. Like privileges of color or gender identity or sexuality or education, there are also privileges that come from not having medical conditions or life circumstances that interfere with your ability to work all the time, even when it’s the work of social justice movement building.
It’s not because part-time workers are not doing their fair share and causing full-time workers to work too much. That pits workers against each other and undermines solidarity and teamwork, when in fact those are policy decisions outside our control as workers. Or, if they are in our control, they are collective decisions that we are all responsible for.
The deeper problem is that requiring full-time staff to work 50+ hours a week and be available at all times privileges a certain kind of ability. Who can live up to that kind of demand except someone who is able-bodied and without significant responsibilities to vulnerable others?
As I’ve learned from the disability justice movement, it is not people with disabilities who are the problem; the problem is social environments that are disablING. This is as true of social justice spaces as it is of wider society.
As [famous indigenous rights activist] told me a couple weeks ago, you need to take breaks when you need to, in order to keep going in this work. She said that when she was at the peak of [famous indigenous rights movement], she got really sick and was forced to stop for awhile. She said she was forced to take a break for a few months. And yet when we hear her speak, it seems like we only see an icon of strength and toughness and refusal to give up. We don’t see the person who gets sick and depressed, the person who wants to give up, the person who wants to do self-destructive things, and who needs to take a break so that it doesn’t get worse, so that she can keep going in a good way, coming from a place of love and healthiness. There’s no good way to talk about those kinds of things here, so we don’t learn good ways to handle that aspect of the work for ourselves or to support each other. We’re expected to keep a stiff upper lip and just keep pushing even if we’re hurting, because that proves your dedication to the community–and that’s ableist. I was so appreciative that [she] did talk about how hard it is and so appreciative that she helped me see that when I get depressed and want to give up, all I need to do is listen to myself and take a break when I need to. So that I can keep going.
So that’s what I need to to do. I feel like it’s hard for people who don’t live with (what we call) mental illness to understand, because for you it’s easy. You don’t get anxious or depressed or manic when you get stressed out–or you don’t get stressed out as easily–and you see other people who do as lazy or selfish. That’s probably just internalized stuff that I’m projecting, but that’s how it feels.
In any case, I love you all and I will always support the work [you do] in the community. I’m not angry at anyone, and I want you to know that I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned. [Description of various loose ends I’ll tie up.] I’ll be around and want to stay engaged in the community when I can. Because I care very much about the work.
After [x date – originally the end of the month, but I later decided not to go back at all], I do need a much more flexible, non-staff relationship to [organization]. I won’t be able to help with [super big huge community events coming up]–the intensity of the pace and the long hours involved are just too hard for me at this point. I hope you can understand.

***

That’s my story. :/

nuff said

September 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

found this on the table at work. i could tell it was written by a madman or woman in that it spoke so directly to my own experience.

CIMG0233

giving in to breaking down

April 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

for the first time in my life i am not pushing through what’s happening (in a nutshell: depressive crash following many weeks of anxious/agitated/manic energy). i am not keeping going pretending everything is okay. i am giving myself permission to say: i am unwell, and i need to take a week off so that i can get everything taken care of so that i can get better. so that i can get my diagnosis, see my therapist, see a shrink, go to the hospital if i have to.  it is such an incredible liberating relief. my whole life i have managed my symptoms by not talking about them, by trying to appear normal, by pushing through them during the day and collapsing at home. even when i hurt so bad i wanted to die. even when i was so anxious i could not eat or sleep.

what if everything you thought was your life was actually a symptom?

March 24, 2014 § 2 Comments

okay, “everything” may be an exaggeration.

been thinking about this lately, tho. it would take too much time and energy to elaborate much on all the life things that now look like symptom things, but the long & short of it is that i have begun to suspect that the overarching, lifetime pattern emerging from my many symptoms and episodic waves of symptoms point to bipolar. or, to follow the interesting reading i’ve been doing on new paradigms for thinking about and diagnosing bipolar–

see here: http://www.psycheducation.org/depression/02_diagnosis.html#soft

–that i have a significant degree of bipolarity.

according to this quiz here:  http://www.psycheducation.org/PCP/launch/downloadMoodCheck.htm

fill it out yourself, even. if you have episodes of depression plus other stuff, you may be surprised, as i was.

in recognizing an overarching pattern whose big picture has emerged only over a lifetime, i’ve had to reevaluate aspects of and events in my life that i always just assumed were part of my external reality or set of circumstances.

the most recent for-instance: the love-at-first-sight encounter that tripped off a massive existential crisis that led me to pull the plug on an academic career and come home to figure out how to apply my academic/theoretical training to the work of social movement building. was this just an unexpected turn in my life, a legitimate moment of crisis in what i wanted to be doing? or was it in fact an episode of manic depression?

or, was it some more complex interplay of the intense and the ordinary, the internal and external, the symptomatic and the circumstantial? genetic predisposition to disabling freakouts meaning that falling in love and having to make hard choices about vocation tripped some switch in my brain that unraveled into illness?

at the end of the day, i do think i made the best decisions  for myself despite (or because of) illness. and maybe my decisions were in some way unconsciously self-protective: i could not continue as expected because i was having lots and lots of symptoms, and i needed to adjust my circumstances (work, location) to my reality (history of alternating episodes of disabling depression and anxiety/agitation that have made it difficult for me to function).

at the end of the day, i find myself in a valuable relationship with the person i fell in love with, even if that relationship has its own day-to-day challenges that arise from the cohabitation of two probably bipolar people. i have a close relationship with a daughter who is brilliant and creative and loving, even though i worry about how my symptoms will impact her. and i am doing work i find greatly meaningful and creative–even tho is has also begun to be deeply triggering (of anxiety and hypomania mostly). but i think that those symptoms would be triggered irrespective of my love or family or work circumstances. after 30 years of living with various symptoms, i think maybe my tendencies and intensities are portable, part of a brain that leans that way: that is the conclusion i am beginning to come to. that is the reflection i have begun to recognize in some of the diagnostic literature i’ve been reading.

 

in any case:

if i were never so intense

if the atomic age of panic

and longing blackhole deep

to begin with

had not exploded inside

my five year old brain

i might not have had to rasquache

dysfunctional attachments

i might not have sought comfort

by carving into my arm

or burning my flesh

or diet pills or laxatives that

even now

poison the taste of cheap chocolate.

i might not have wanted to die

when my love went unreturned

or chased after abuse or indifference

i might not have fucked up

the transmission of advantage

afforded by the fragility of minimal

family mobilities–

poverty to working class to

professional to professor

in just two generations.

 

if i were never so intense

i might have stayed at rice

i might have taken the tenure track

position i was offered

i might not have felt things

so strongly, so quickly

so blindingly brilliantly

so quasi-mystically that

i had to leave my marriage

on the drop of a dime

i might not have married

to begin with

or stayed on

for ten years

hiding from strong feeling

 

but if i were never so intense

i would never have loved

those i have loved

as hard as i did, and do

i would never have written

zines and novels and poems

i would not have gotten in

to rice or davis

i would not have gotten

the offer from kansas

or from stanford or duke

i would never have  sat

all the summer before seventh grade

taking notes from medical manual

trying to understand the dynamics

of immunity

or before computer screen for

seven years, to finish

a dissertation, a degree

trying to understand, to understand

i would never have prompted

my mom to observe

even back then

when you were into something

you were really into something

 

and likely i never would have carried you

to term, and

i never would have loved him

enough to leave

i never would have been crazy enough

to say no thanks

when i was supposed

to say yes, crazy enough

to say yes

to myself, to come home

to suppose that through

the fury and intensity

of our bodies and words

together that

we could actually transform

all of the violence

that chains us.

are you doing the things you know you need to do?

March 6, 2014 § 1 Comment

today i wake up not wanting to go to work because i have been going at it so hard that i deserve time off. don’t i? no, today i wake up vowing that i’ll go in early but i’ll leave early. this time. past two days i have been working compulsively, unable to go home, unable to turn off, when i get the internal signal that i’ve should–or even when i’ve made very deliberate decisions for myself that i need to leave at a certain time. my overall goal is to work at something less than full capacity, and much less than over capacity, so that i have something on reserve. so that i am not always rushing, frantic, manic, driven, taken over, swept away. today, today is the day when i leave at 4:30 or 4 instead of 5:30 or 6 or 6:30 or 6:45 like yesterday. g was supposed to call 5:30 from ft worth to check in, to make sure i was out of work like i wanted…but he has been sick with depression and texted saying he did not want to talk, that as company he was no good. to punish myself, to punish him for abandoning me, i worked too much when i’m already at a deficit; i didn’t bother to leave 5:30 as intended. if no one cares about me, if no one is around to object, then why should i bother caring for myself. of course i know that doesn’t work, is self violence and subtle terrorism, but it is so much easier somehow to run roughshod over my own boundaries than to listen to my body and follow through. than to open the wound of, i was depending on you. i needed you. where were you.

today i wake up turning over in my mind a dream i had in the early morning hours, of almost vomiting from the smell of raw chicken that i had stashed beneath the rickety particleboard floorboards of a garage apartment i had inherited from miguel. trying to clean the space, not knowing where to begin. and then floorboards began to buckle and cave and collaspe, revealing a plastic container with rotting raw chicken from a year earlier stinking in a soup of rainwater. i found a plastic bag, i dumped chicken and water into the bag and tied if off to throw away, but caught a whiff unexpectedly and gagged. i sat in the doorway of the garage, struggling with the spasms seizing my throat and gut, tasting the contents of my stomach at the back of my throat. finally it passed and i kept cleaning. but that was the dream, so real and intense it felt like really vomiting. and when i wake i have a sense of dread because of it, as though it is premonitory, and i google “vomiting dream” to read the standard stuff, return of the repressed and etc. something i didn’t want to deal with or discard properly suddenly revealed, returned to me in a neglected form that was repulsive. there are only two anxiety dreams that i have recurrently–that i am watching others vomit, that i am vomiting–so this was one of them.

the lingering question for me though: why is it we cannot do the things we know we need to do? from where comes an impulse to self-jeopardize that is so strong it cannot be resisted? i know i know i know i need to do certain things to stay healthy and stable: i need to not work at full capacity. i need to allow time for meditation and exercise and just time to do nothing in particular, to have an ordinary evening where i just come home. i need to have enough time to take the supplements i need to take as replacement for SSRI. i need to i need to i need to but i don’t. and i witness others doing the same. are you going to the gym like you said, are you going for bike rides, meditating? if not, why not, when you know that these things keep you stable?

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