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.
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 »
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?
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 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.
May 14, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.
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?
January 1, 2014 Enter your password to view comments.