This is my first post in a while, and it’s important to explain why, not just to you, but to myself as well. Walk with me.
I recently had a major experience that I need to share, but in order to get the right context, you have to read a couple of older posts first. It all comes to bear, believe me.
Acceptance and Avoidance is the post I made back in 2011 just after seeing a shrink for the first time after many years of suffering from a variety of mental health problems. It marks the second major attempt by me to treat a lifetime of those problems with medication. But you also need to read 750 Words: Waking Up as it describes part of the history and thought process behind what happened.
In between the above post and the one linked below lie an odd tale lasting seven years long, but which had begun much, much earlier in so many ways. I haven’t gone back through the posts yet but I’m going to, because they tell a story.
Swimming in Glue is my most recent post before this one. It represents the day I wrote about how my brain actually seemed alive and active for the first time in, wait for it, seven years, because over the previous several months to a year, I had slowly stopped taking one medication after another, with supervision, primarily because they were doing far more harm than good. It is also the first completely unnoticed, or noticed and disregarded by me, indication that I was headed for what polite society calls a nervous breakdown, and what psychiatry calls a psychotic break. This post marks the day I created Bipolar Bodhisattva and ended Tempest in a Tibetan Bowl. *taps plays*
Now just let me stop you right there if you’re thinking, “Well of course you had a break, you stopped taking your meds. You’re never supposed to do that, it’s stupid.”
In general, you are correct, but as both my shrink and I agree, there does come a time to abandon a harmful medication regimen with the knowledge that an “episode” could occur at some point in the future, but the tradeoff in terms of quality of life are just not worth it, depending on your situation. Obviously some people should not ever go off their meds because they are potentially dangerous to themselves or others when they are, and sometimes these are the people professionals and loved ones struggle with the most to get them to stay on their meds. I’m not talking to those people. This is not an anti-psychiatry or anti-drug rant. Quite the opposite in fact, though I may have to make that clear in a separate post for the sake of brevity.
Back to Swimming in Glue. In case you missed it, my life had essentially become a black pit, where in the words of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, every day was exactly the same, as I believed I could see the future, because I repeated the same routine. Literally, and yes I’m using that word the way it’s supposed to be. It is the ultimate depressed yet not suicidal person’s utterance of despair and if you’re living it, this is my gift to you from the wall of sound that is Nine Inch Nails. Belt it out when no one’s home or you’re in your car cursing traffic, it’s fucking awesome to sing and because you’re living in it, you essentially already know the lyrics. It helps, believe me.
I made a couple of Facebook posts about how much better I was feeling. When you boiled all of my self-deprecating behaviors down to a single cause, the plain fact of the matter was that I couldn’t think or feel at all anymore. I had finally achieved a state of nearly pure anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure. And that process had begun many years before.
And so I fucking delighted in the sound of my own laughter again, and whereas Facebook had previously become a place to plant myself during my waking hours just to pass the time until I could go back to my bedroom to watch Netflix until I fell asleep (and sometimes I didn’t), it was now a source of entertainment as I followed a few pages and groups that did nothing but spit out funny stuff into the massive timestream that is the Facebook news feed.
So did my husband and child, who often peered in to see what was so goddamned funny. I had fun sharing with them again.
However, it was impossible for me as a compassionate human being to ignore the utter flaming shitstorm going on in America today. You-know-who will never be referred to by anything other than what I just said, his initials, or he-who-shall-not-be-named. Call me superstitious or whatever, but I took a lot of ancient history and mythology classes in college and I know the power of words. But we’ll get to that eventually.
At first I tried jumping into the news posting game, seeking out real news sources from marginalized communities in an effort to shed more light on their plight. It quickly became apparent that no one cared anymore out of futility, they cared but could no longer stand in the blast wave of the news anymore (right there with you now, folks), they cared but they were fucking sick of their news feed being piled with this shit, or they just ignored it because it was just more chaos adding to chaos. I was not making a difference.
So I sought out some kind of online discussion group hopefully headed by reasonably minded people who were capable of rational discussion not clouded by belief, ignorance, or fear. And I found one! I happily joined and spent about two weeks engaged in discussion with these people.
I left even more disgusted with the state of the world than I had been before and utterly despaired at any progress taking place in a world where it is argued that the concept of agnosticism is “peak dumb”, apparently even beyond atheism, a concept that absolutely befuddled me. Hint: I’m an agnostic. Fight me. Bet it doesn’t mean what you think it means.
But even worse was the exclusion of a group of people attempting to wrench their own identity away from that of the very white straight mainstream of America, only to have the same judgment they had seen used to exclude any number of groups of people turn right around and do the same goddamned thing to them. They were basically telling a group of people, some of whom may actually be suffering in some way in their life, that even if their suffering existed in reality, which it probably didn’t, their suffering wasn’t great enough to join their club.
I kind of snapped. I started to write a lengthy retort, but realized it would fall on deaf ears. I was a person throwing a small cup of water onto a raging fire thinking it would make a difference. The very detectable alarm that rang on Election Day 2016 rose to a fear inducing high-pitched whine to my inner “ears”, and I began to write Facebook posts that weren’t angry, but definitely boiled down to “Are you seeing the same shit I am? This is fucked up, right? Okay, just checking.”
Now, I don’t remember exactly how, but I found myself thinking about one of my favorite people in the world and his now famous painting, The Starry Night. Yes, Vincent van Gogh, the terribly troubled and hilariously unrecognized painter from the late 19th century who did crazy things like cut his own ear off for a lover, and killed himself at the age of 38 following the most prolific year of his life. He is probably one of humanity’s most bafflingly tragic figures, and he fascinates me, as do his paintings, but The Starry Night in particular. I bought a poster of it a few years ago and it’s one of the prettiest things in my house.
Well, I felt moved to write something about Vincent and his painting, and I did so in a verbal style that had been developing over the prior few days, in which I would generate run-on sentences completely lacking in punctuation in an effort to “carry” the reader through the stories, which were always brief since the brain likes to take a virtual breath when it reads, and I wasn’t giving an opportunity to do that. I thought I was being cleverly creative, and at first I was. Some of the stuff I wrote was truly brilliant and I intend on sharing them someday and perhaps attempting to duplicate the effort. However, when you read the text, you’ll probably see how my language expression was simply a manifestation of an impending problem. Get ready, take a deep mental breath, and hang on.
Vincent van Gogh looks out of his asylum window at night and sees things no one else does and knows no one understands what he’s showing them but he paints anyway not knowing that someday someone will look at his vision and say my god that’s fucking beautiful I have to show this to everyone and the Starry Night sky is revealed to the world and they love it and wonder why such obvious genius went so unappreciated for so long and now almost everyone knows who Vincent van Gogh is and most of us know he cut his ear off and killed himself when he was way too young and recognize the tragedy without fully grasping that his torment at least partly drove what he saw as well as his will to paint and so a lot of us look at Starry Night and see a unique vision of the night sky but some people can see a bigger picture of a tormented man looking out of the window of an asylum and painting a night sky he thinks no one will ever appreciate because it’s the only way to find peace unaware we will all someday see with his eyes and marvel quietly.
I still think it’s pretty damned cool and I’m going to do something with it, but anyone with a brain, or bipolar disorder, immediately recognized a warning sign of a manic episode.
I’d had them before, and they were typically pretty benign and generally fairly constructive and creative in nature, so I didn’t give them much thought and neither did anyone else unless I was having trouble sleeping. That had been a problem since I was a child, though, so I didn’t see it as an alarm bell.
This was different, though. Thanks to Facebook’s ability to finally let you search your own posts, I discovered that the ramp-up in my brain really did take me all the way back to early January when I established Bipolar Bodhisattva, a concept I thought was neat but did not truly understand until I emerged from the chaos of my breakdown.
The details of my breakdown and my emergence from it, I’m going to call the Anarchist’s Caravan, after two songs by my favorite band that I’m not going to tell you because they’re the band GenX America loves to hate. No, not Nickelback, I’m not that bad off, give me some credit. If you love them, you love them, and if you don’t, you don’t. There’s not much middle ground with this band, but you’ll figure out who they are if you keep up with the posts I’m going to be making a lot of from now on. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Basically I used the power of an amazingly loving, understanding, and compassionate companion along with our child, my close friends, plus eventually that very same shrink I went to back in 2011, along with the ability to truly listen to my Inner Voice in order to hear what I needed, and it said, “Sit down in front of your computer and start listening to music. Right now.”
I feel I should leave you here with the knowledge that the power of music, which is itself driven by so many other influences, led me back to sanity and a world still filled with chaos, but one that did not fill me with dread anymore. Yes, I went technically “crazy” for a little while, and we’ll talk a lot about that word “crazy”, but I swear to you now I had an epiphany or a vision, and I am now driven by the historically and fictionally proven knowledge, belief, and hope that one person does have the power to change the world, even if it’s just enough to prevent disaster. Also, that in just about every story that forms our collective fictional reality, light always overcomes, yet does not destroy, the darkness. We need the shadows to make the light more precious.
We just live in a time when we are told that light is dark and dark is light and nothing is true. Well, in my few days on the most intense part of the Anarchist’s Caravan in my head, I peeled those layers back and kept peeling until I was so far out there it would take a couple of weeks before I would make enough sense that I could stop speaking in vague terms like the Voice and the Conversation talking about the Point which everyone got but keeps disagreeing over. And I’ve been writing the whole time, which means I have this wonderful bread crumb trail to follow through my thought processes, which while jumbled, still yield great things I feel compelled to share. No, I didn’t solve the quandary of the quantum universe or anything, but dammit, I’ve got shit to say!
And sure, I did experience the one thing all people who fear the word “crazy” fear, but I came back with something to share. And in that sense I feel a bit like Eleanor Arroway from the movie based on Carl Sagan’s book Contact. At the end she is trying to convince people that she actually did go somewhere for many hours, despite the Earthly physical evidence to the contrary. She is desperate to share her vision but knows all she can do is make a wish that the hope she experienced will somehow catch. So if you’ve read this far and are curious about everything else I have to write down, and there’s a lot, you either have what you need to progress further or not. If not, here are some words from “that band” that echo Carl’s immovable truth that “we are all made of star stuff”.
I am made from the dust of stars
and the oceans flow in my veins