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 »
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?
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.
September 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
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.
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
i might not have sought comfort
by carving into my arm
or burning my flesh
or diet pills or laxatives that
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
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
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
we could actually transform
all of the violence
that chains us.
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?