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

for awhile

after the hospital

but stopped

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

an emergency,

you have to be dragged there

against a brain screaming constantly

for death–

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

but isn’t

bipolar marrying bipolar people

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 »

Thanks Kid Cudi

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.

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.



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?

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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. :/


April 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

“I could hike faster and stronger while manic.  On a hike, I remember looking from the top of a viewpoint over the city and freeway, thinking ‘it’s all magic.’  That isn’t too crazy of a realization, since we know from advances in physics that things really are glued together with a sort of magic at the deepest level.”



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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