The Luxury of Commitment

October 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

Right now G is outside on the porch scrolling through his phone–I can see the light from the screen through the dark of the window from where I sit inside, typing on the bed. He’s been more depressed this year, more frequently and worse, than in the two years prior, since his last major break. It’s not as extreme as it was then, but it’s worse than it has been for awhile. It started at the turn of the year and it’s autumn now, as indicated today by first real cool front. Got real bad during the summer, after a three-week school program in Ecuador that allowed him to imagine himself a different person, doing different things in a different place. Then back home to real life and the reality of being a person with bipolar, with depression–in part, I discovered, because he’d been taking just half his mood stabilizer after he got mad at his last psychiatrist and neglected to refill his prescription. He’d been making do with half doses while in Ecuador, high on the intensity of studying abroad, high on everything new, on the fantasy of a new self.

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Make Anorexia Boring Again

July 14, 2017 § 1 Comment


Inpatient hospitalization: as boring as it gets. Photo: Netflix.

Been reading and hearing a lot about To The Bone, a new Netflix movie on anorexia out today. Like a lot a lot–mostly mixed reviews, with most of the criticism centering on the inherent trickiness of representing anorexia cinematically (see here. And here. And omg, here!). Because it is an illness that already depends so heavily on the visual, specifically a glamorization of wasting, creating an accurate portrayal in film seems to unavoidably risk playing into the core logic of the disorder. Any visual representation–and maybe any representation at all–becomes thinspo in the end. Anorexia is like a meaning machine, transforming every attempt to disrupt it into a tactic of reproduction. (Actually, depression works a lot like this too, which is why it’s frustrating as fuck to try to help with someone who’s depressed. Any possibility offered, any interpretation of reality that counters that of the depression, automatically gets converted into evidence of total impossibility.) « Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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?


July 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

i told my dad: so just leave now. or maybe: when that day comes, go ahead and go. but i’ll cut off the relationship. and i’ll be very angry. and i won’t want to stay in touch. when he said that after my mom died, he would rejoin the seminary and renounce his earthly family.

i know i am dreaming about g. i try not to stand in the way when waves of grief overtake me. i cry in public, sitting in my car in the bank teller line or on the bench as x plays on the jungle gym. it’ll pass if i just let it happen. grief like he’s dying. it feels like he’s dying.he’s not going to get better. it’s too hard, and there’s nothing that works. i know that’s the story spun by his illness. my story, triggered by his illness, is this: i’ll always be left. if i love someone, that person will leave. if i love someone, that love will make the person leave. it is my love itself that will make the beloved withdraw, ambivalent. my love is disgusting in its excess. my love is painful to experience, as the imminence and inevitability of abandonment. this is the story. this is the story. as soon as i type it out i feel my chest constrict into panic, my eyes burning.

so i try to change the story. i sit in front of my altar where i have placed the candles i once bought for myself when i moved to the little house in west sacramento, finally alone, finally on my own. there is the clay sculpture of the dark skinned ocean goddess, her skirts flowing with jellyfish, her arms bearing coral. there is the ceramic box cradling two origami swans that my friend sat folding without thinking at a meeting once. the requisite virgen vela. a streamlined wooden figurine of mother mary–different from la virgen–with eyes downcast and hands folded in prayer. a gift from my mentor, my surrogate grandmother. i light incense and work on changing the story.


of course he wants to die; he’s depressed

many people face this situation–disability, unemployment

there are always things we can do to get better

i believe in the possibility that things can get better

and so i pray:


may i be fearless in the face of loss

may i be courageous

may i be curious

may i be kind to myself

may i stay open and tender

may this suffering awaken



and when you are gone

i still have my writing

i still have my daughter

my family

my work in the community

i have a chance to breathe

and not to worry

until you return.


it doesn’t make the grief go away

it doesn’t change the reality of loss

but it changes my relationship to it.

it doesn’t make the fear go away

yet it cultivates a fearlessness.

a friendliness that greets and bows

and says, yes, please come in,

i know you.

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