Category Archives: Psychology

steering my boat


This is as complete of a story as I can make of some things that I have either done or have had happen to me in the last couple of months since I last posted my rant about psychiatrists, medications, and mental health in America.  Since that post, it’s pretty easy to break time down into three main chunks: that last post until 7/11, 7/11-22, and 7/22 to now, 8/23.

Between my last post and 7/11, I basically ranted and raved on Twitter about the various mental health-related injustices of the world and researched that and related topics until I had circled back to The Icarus Project, the first serious alternative mental healthcare website I ever ran across.  They’re often classified as anti-psychiatry, but they’re just highly critical of psychiatry.  As am I now.  I need meds: I’m not stupid and I’m aware enough of my mental and emotional processes to understand that I need chemical help from time to time.  But not to the extent that Western psychiatry insists I do.  Nor should many of the thoughts and thought processes I have be dismissed as pathological.

Around the same time, a terrible old feeling set in, the sensation that “every day is exactly the same” that I had for at least four years, if not more.  I had been taking an antipsychotic fairly regularly for about 3 weeks, at first for sleep problems, then for anxiety, then just for basic mood maintenance.  That sucker kicked in and life ground to a halt, just like it had been the year before when I was taking meds I didn’t need.  After three days of joyless existence, I said, “Oh hell no, we’re not doing this shit again,” and I threw two meds in the trash after making sure I wasn’t taking a dose high enough to require tapering (I wasn’t).  Luckily I was using a mood tracker by then, so it was easy to quickly identify what was wrong.  I also shot off an email to my old acupuncturist in the hopes she could help.

Serendipitously, pretty much at the same time I decided to take a different approach to treating my mental illness, my oldest and best friend sent me a link on 7/11 to a regrettably now-deceased gentleman who had had a very similar experience to mine.  A couple of clicks later and I found myself at the ACISTE website: the American Center for the Integration of Spiritually Transformative Experiences.  That pretty much kicked a door wide open and I spent the next few days reading about things like spiritual crisis, spiritual emergence, spiritual awakening, kundalini awakening, and several related topics.  I looked at the list of bipolar/mania symptoms and compared it to the list of typical “awakening” symptoms, and there was no comparison.  A skeptical psychiatrist would accuse me of seeing what I want to see, obscured by faulty mental processes, but I’ve got a really strong reality check in the form of a well-rounded and intelligent yet open-minded husband who has no problem telling me if I’ve got a really wacky idea, and that’s not the feedback I was getting.

7/17 began like most days, but it was pretty clear by mid-morning that my mind had taken off on a journey of its own, though not like the one it went on in May.  I took note of it with more than a bit of alarm, but I felt pretty good and fairly grounded.  I sent an email to X letting him know what was going on upstairs with the admonition DO NOT CALL MY SHRINK.  I DO NOT NEED HIS HELP YET.  I did ask him to call the pharmacy and refill one of my scrips, though, just in case.

The details of the next five days are important, but I’m still sorting them out, and they’re very personal, so I’m not willing to share much from all that, except to say that I had a divine encounter, and no one can tell me otherwise.  Anyone who wants to argue with me needs to watch Contact and then we can talk.  Just be prepared for a lengthy discussion about Occam’s Razor.

I will say this, though: you know that scene in The Matrix where Tank plugs Neo in for the first time and teaches him ju-jitsu in five seconds?  That pained face followed by “holy shit I’ll have some more of that please”?  It was a lot like that.  While surfing.  Now I’m on shore emptying my head as fast as I can, and learning to accept that I will never, ever be able to chase every ball that my brain spits out.  As such, I’m learning to be selective about which balls to chase, knowing that if I let one go, if it’s really important I’ll circle back to it, or it to me.  It also means I’m glued to my phone most of the time, because at the moment I need access to one of my apps to record my thoughts, pictures, photos, etc., or just to listen to music or something else audio: my ambient environment has become exceedingly important to me after ignoring it for…I don’t know how long.

My little trip was over by 7/23, and I pretty much took the week off.  I didn’t tweet, I didn’t blog, and at the time I had not yet resumed the practice of keeping a daily document, something I began in June and promptly dropped around the same time as my last blog post, though I was tweeting madly at the time so there’s a record of my thoughts until 7/17.  I was reading, though, mostly topics I was once familiar with but had abandoned long ago: magick, witchcraft, and astrology, mostly, with a heaping helping of Hinduism and a dash of Buddhism, largely set in a Jungian structure that I shaped to my own purposes.  My spiritual framework is, um, eclectic and syncretic, to say the least.  There’s something to offend and/or please everyone in my world, depending on their viewpoint.  Monotheists?  Well, we need to talk about dualism, but sure.  Polytheists?  Ah, my people!  Agnostics? Would love to chat.  Atheists?  If you’re one of those dickhead atheists that is basically a fundamentalist without belief, then no, not unless you’re willing to talk about how you missed the point and wound up right back at dogma.  Good work.  Witches?  I’ll see you folks in October, it’s been too long.  Magicians?  See the witches, but if one of you can talk chaos, we need to sit down.  Did I miss anyone?

By the end of that week, I was back to “okay, I must write some of this stuff down before I forget it” and resumed daily writing on August 1, Lughnasadh.  I’ve managed to write something, sometimes a lot, almost every day since then.  I have a lot of mental energy in the morning, so I get up, usually with X around 7am, make coffee, listen to music and fiddle with my phone while I wait for it, sit outside and smoke and either think or fiddle with my phone some more, and until this past Monday, then I went back upstairs and sat in bed and worked all morning until lunch, ate, then did less mentally strenuous stuff in the afternoon unless my brain was on a roll I couldn’t stop, a common situation I’m working to address.  I also try not to “work” in the evenings, again, unless my brain just will not shut up, in which case I’ve gotten used to watching/not-watching a movie or show while I take notes and do stuff on my phone.

I had already undertaken the task of creating a timeline using Facebook, Twitter, emails, and blog posts to reconstruct, as best as I could, my mental state since October of last year, which was when I first posted after months of silence, but before I had stopped taking the most offending meds.  I had also begun the daunting but fascinating task of looking at the astrological transits for certain important dates.  That would turn out to be a very eye-opening exercise.  Let’s just say I no longer doubt the validity of astrology, though I’m willing to bet I don’t use it the way most astrologers do, not entirely.  That’s another post, though.

After a few days of sorting, collating, collecting, and condensing data from various sources, I had enough information to spit out a bullet list of important points.  I showed it to X and he was like, “hmmm, that needs fleshing out”.  Right.  I kept at it, being slightly desperate to share my experience with someone, as I had been fairly tight-lipped about the inner goings-on of my head.  At the same time, I was anticipating my next shrink appointment and wondering what in the hell to tell him.  I couldn’t figure that out until I ran it all by X, so one day I did my best to give him the Reader’s Digest version of the previous 2.5 months: seven pages came out.  I waited for his response with a bit of trepidation, really hoping I didn’t get, “honey, we need to talk about your medication”.

I didn’t.  I got, basically, “that’s really beautiful and wonderful and I hope you chase as many balls as you can because that’s great stuff, and you shouldn’t tell ANY of it to your shrink, because he doesn’t care about that and he’ll take it the wrong way”.  Ah, validation two ways.  With that, I was able to silence the ongoing anticipatory argument I kept having in my head with my shrink.

Everything has just kind of shifted and clicked into place since then, and shifts and clicks again every time I get a new tool, or make a new connection, or rediscover something old I left behind for whatever reason.  I sort of feel like part of me has been keeping an eye on myself for a really long time, and whenever I dropped something important, it would pick it back up and tuck it into my subconscious for safekeeping, knowing I’d need it one day.  When I need something, I don’t have to look too hard for it, if at all (with the exception of my truck title, but that’s another story).  Typically I’ve already encountered it and just need to remember it, or it’s something I’m already using and need to look at in a different way.  Sometimes it’s a book.  Sometimes it’s a movie.

Sometimes it’s a person.

At some point during the last couple of weeks and doing my best to record the not-always-predictable stream of thoughts in my head, I was like, “okay, I have to find someone to talk to about this stuff”.  I started wondering about local therapists that wouldn’t immediately throw me out of their office and send me back to my shrink, and one of my old therapists from when I went to the local sliding scale clinic popped into my head, and not for the first time since I stopped seeing him five years ago.  “THAT GUY” I said.  Okay.  So I sent an email with the hopes that he would remember me, and he did.  He also had biweekly appointments available on Wednesday mornings.  Perfect.  I’ll save my first visit for a separate post, but I feel fairly confident in saying that I have found the right person to be my guide for the time being, something that just about every awakening forum on the internet says you should do.  He seems to speak all my languages, and that’s a really tall order right now.

At the moment, I’m trying not to get lost in the details or burden myself with too many tools.  “Keep it simple” really is my motto right now, and if I’m trying to organize something and it’s in groups of more than four, I know I need to scale it back.  I try to start with two.  Too much?  Fine, just use one.  Once I can handle two of something, I move onto three.  Then four.  Those are pretty much my instructions from the Universe, for lack of a better term, for the foreseeable future, which really grates against a couple of parts of me, but there’s that whole “trust the process” thing, so I’m just going with it.  Most of my anxiety and impatience comes from a practical perspective.  X has been the main breadwinner for a damn long time, and since I began slowly checking out one psyche aspect at a time beginning ???, he has slowly done his best to take over the running of the house and caring of the family.  It’s high time he had some help, especially if we have any hope of having a decent retirement and not working ourselves into the grave.  But that’s way, way in the future and I’m not supposed to think that far ahead, so I just have to pull back sometimes and go back to contemplating things and putting them together.  My head is working on something.  I don’t know what it is yet, but I know what it’s made of, so I’m pretty sure the result will be pretty interesting, and it will come along at the right time.  Somewhere down the line, maybe sooner than I need but probably longer than I want, everything unfolds.

Until then, I start each day with either passive or active excitement for what the day might bring.  Sometimes I have a plan and wake up all ready to go, or even before I’m ready to go, like yesterday when I woke up at 2:30am for no good reason despite being dog-tired.  Other days I’m just open to whatever comes.

At the moment, I see my internal thoughtstream like a river flowing through a forested mountain range.  Each day I get up and hop into my mental boat and push off.  Some days I have an idea of where I’d like to go, but I don’t always wind up there.  Rarely, in fact.  So often that I have largely abandoned that mindset and just start paddling.  I make notes and observations as I go.  Some days the trip is fairly placid and occasionally even boring, but not usually.  Sometimes the river is merely a passive vehicle and my job is to observe the scenery.  Other days the river is turbulent and I have to pay more attention to it than what’s around me if I don’t want to capsize.  Some days are like today: the river is very slow and wide with a lot of eddies along the banks to get stuck in: those are frustrating days.  Sometimes I’m in unfamiliar territory I don’t recognize.  And sometimes I can’t find a safe place on the shore to park my boat for the night so I can get some sleep, so I stay there.  I don’t like sitting still so I usually just keep paddling.  Those are the nights I wake up early, if I ever went to sleep, and just think, surf, read, take notes, watch YouTube, and generally follow my desires.  A potentially bad time is when the river is flowing so swiftly I can’t reach the bank, and I just have to ride it until the current slows and hope the rapids aren’t too bad and the rocks are few.  And it always does eventually.  If it doesn’t, I have “dams” up and downstream to control the waterflow, with meditation and other tools, and block it if utterly necessary with drugs.  Most of the time, though, I am happy to hop into my mental boat, even excited on occasion.

Every now and then I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m not getting on the river today,” and that is totally fine.  I may be under the guidance of divine influences, but I’m the one in control of this ride (mostly), and if I don’t want to ride that day, most of the time I don’t have to.  Sometimes, though, my psyche is like, “Ok, come on, let’s go, we’re going on a trip. Nope, not telling you where we’re going, just sit down, shut up, and hang on.  And pay attention, there’ll be a quiz.”  I just sigh internally, reach down and tighten the laces on the combat boots my inner self is still wearing from 1995, and get in.

Working on myself is fun, but it’s hard.  There’s a lot of locks to pick in here.  And secret passageways.  And the occasional booby trap, though since I’m the one that made them, they can’t really hurt me.  All they do is slam the door shut and send me back to where I was.  It just means I’m not ready to look there yet.  It’s all good, everything circles back around eventually.  For now, my psyche has a torch, a key, and a dog, and that’s pretty much all I need.  She wanders, I observe and take notes, and at some point we get together and see what we have.  Right now I’ve got an assload of really interesting data that doesn’t pull together to really go anywhere solid, but I have total faith that a pattern will emerge.  Scientists laughed at pilots for two decades before admitting the existence of the jet stream.  Just because I see something others don’t doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I leave you with my favorite quote for the week from Matrix: Reloaded

We can never see past the choices we don’t understand. – The Oracle

When the Windows Darken and the Doors Close


Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 read so many headlines on June 8 and the days following. Not to be indelicate, but the general sentiment that seemed to be felt by people probably would have been voiced by Anthony as, “What in the ever loving fuck?” No one understood. No one ever understands when a famous person, that pinnacle of the American dream, could possibly kill themselves when by our standards, they had “everything”.
I myself was still in the grips of a pretty fierce manic episode that had begun a few weeks before, spiraled up into a genuine psychotic break, and then settled back into a pretty standard orbit, albeit a rather high one. So when I heard Mr. Bourdain had committed suicide, it registered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to read about, not just yet. As a person who has had three family members and one good friend kill themselves, that was a little too close to home, and his death struck me between the eyes much like Robin Williams’ had, yet another famous death that nearly no one understood until it was revealed he had been suffering from Lewy-Body dementia, an unfortunate brain disorder that can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Then I “crashed”, much in the same way I suspect Anthony did, but I’ll get to that. I had been through a really transformative experience that was still unfolding, yet from the outside perspective of my doctor, and likely my husband, it seemed immediately apparent that I needed some sort of medication, ostensibly to keep my mind from sailing away again as it had a week or so before. So he stuck me on some new-fangled drug that was supposed to be very mild and not hit me like a hammer like so many other antipsychotics can. And so I spent the next couple of weeks really enjoying my life, my husband, my child, and regular everyday activities as I had not in, well, DECADES.
Just like Anthony had, as detailed in the article linked above. He was really looking forward to a trip to Hong Kong where he would be doing some filming. According to those closest to him, they had never seen him so excited, and he was doing things he didn’t usually do, like constantly emailing and texting about publicity and other things that needed to be done towards realizing what he was calling a serious pinnacle of his work. However, after he died, other friends reported that he was in a “dark mood”, which was presumed to be a result of his grueling work and travel schedule.
Reading those words in the article, I understood precisely what had happened to Anthony Bourdain. He “crashed”. He went from whatever speed his incredible mind usually sped along at, to zero, slowly enough for people to notice his “dark mood” but too quickly for anyone to realize what had really happened to him and stop the inevitable trajectory of his path.
Strange things happen when you crash, and crashing happens at different speeds for different people. I wasn’t around Mr. Bourdain, of course, but it seems like his crash took at least a few days, and no one will ever know what triggered his deceleration. It could have been anything, but whatever it did eventually made his mind focus too hard on the negative potentials of what he was doing, most directly his Hong Kong project, until the excitement, adventure, and hope of the project was thrown into doubt by his own mind. I’m willing to bet he struggled mightily with himself for some unknown period of time in an effort to reassure himself he was on the right track, but if your mind has betrayed you, it does not respond to logic. It gets stuck on bad things, like an anchor dragging the bottom of a rocky ocean, until eventually you grind to a halt or go in circles.
My crash happened very quickly, within the space of hours. For example, Sunday afternoon was a wonderful time spent with my husband. Eight hours later, at midnight or so, all those good feelings were gone. *snap* Just like that. It was like being hit in the face with a board. The whole next day, I could palpably feel every good feeling I had recovered since my break slowly sliding away one by one, hour by hour. By the time dinner rolled around and my husband and I went to Jim’s Diner for the first time in the few weeks since my break, I had gone from a wide open spacious world full of possibility to a tiny, dark room with blackened windows, pinpricks for light, and every single door nailed shut save the one that Mr. Bourdain decided to walk through, very likely in a snap judgment.
I had at least two things it doesn’t appear Mr. Bourdain had. One: I wasn’t alone. I’d really rather not entertain what might have happened had I been alone. Which makes me wonder what might have happened with Mr. Bourdain had someone bothered to check and see why he didn’t come down for dinner the previous evening, which was extremely unusual. Anthony Bourdain miss an exquisite French meal? That should have been a major warning bell and while I’m sure those people are already kicking themselves for not checking on him, that may have been a crucial missed opportunity. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those circling the drain, as it were, so assure others they are fine, for a variety of reasons, and so it may not have mattered if anyone checked to see why he did not come down for dinner.
The other thing I have that maybe Anthony didn’t was an inner guiding “voice”, although I can tell you that no matter how loud that voice may usually be, when the windows darken, the walls close in, and the only exit left is marked DEATH, that voice becomes subaural and the only way it works is if you believe it’s still there. I also had the personal knowledge of knowing four people who found themselves in that tiny, dark room and went ahead and took that exit, and I know what happened to the rest of us when they made that choice. My inner voice said “nuh uh, we’re not doing that”, and after I was done crying into my eggs and hash browns, my husband took me home where I crawled into bed and stayed there, where I knew I’d be safe.
Maybe Anthony did have a voice, but it grew too dim for him to hear anymore, AND he no longer believed it was there. That’s when the normal laws of emotional logic fail to meet the standards of the average happy person and the person in the dark room begins operating by illogical standards and faulty assumptions that seem like perfectly reasonable explanations for whatever conundrum they are faced with. There has been more than one instance in my life where I was absolutely convinced that I had been born cursed, due to some repeating circumstance or inability to wrench myself out of some bit of bad luck that was too reminiscent of past situations. When life shoves you back into the same shitpile you’ve tried so hard to get out of so many times, it can be hard not to think that the Universe wants you to stay there. Maybe Anthony found himself in front of one of those shitpiles and instead of deciding to go around it or try cleaning it up, he just said, “fuck it.” Only an individual knows when they reach the “fuck it” point, and so that will likely just have to remain one of the mysteries that surrounds Anthony’s death.
There’s a third element at play here, something that I believe both Anthony I possessed, and I still do, seeing as how I’m alive, and that’s something I can only call gumption. Gumption says “fuck that noise” when faced with an obstacle, and will help you find any way around it, over it, through it, or will hand you a weapon so you can smash that fucker to bits. Anthony had goddamned buckets of gumption, and I loved watching him use it when I watched his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.
This is a man who, when presented with a not-so-carefully prepared and barely cooked rectum of some African animal and told it was a delicacy, you could almost see him put that gumption hat on and say “okay, fuck it, I’m eating asshole today”, a decision that would ultimately send him wretchedly sick to the doctor. But that was Anthony: irreverent, bold, adventurous, and always ready for a drink and a cigarette, when he still smoked, along with whatever audacious food would keep him and his eating and travelling companions going until they passed out from food, fun, and booze.
I had a child in the years following “No Reservations” and so I was too busy to keep up with his new shows, but from what I did see, it seemed that he actually did have some reservations now. He’d had a child of his own, quit drinking and smoking, got married, and seemed to be a pretty happy guy. Something was missing from his shows, though. He’d lost some of his gumption, for whatever reason. And I can only assume that he kept losing it over the years, or else he might not have found himself in a French hotel on June 7 / 8, in a dark room with only one even darker exit that has only one lock: your own will not to go through it.
It’s been determined by French authorities that Anthony had no drugs or alcohol in his system, so those very normal indicators of suicide were not present. And sadly, even if there had been something like antidepressants or antipsychotics in his system, it might not have helped. That drug my doctor put me on? I’m pretty sure it CAUSED my crash, and so is my husband, and so we’re going to have to have a long talk about being careful with what drugs we use to treat me, because they’re supposed to prevent finding yourself in that dark room, and now I’ve found myself there twice in the darkest place I’ve ever experienced in my life, and believe me, there have been plenty of times I have found myself in very dark places indeed.
I’ve still got my gumption, though. It may dissolve into puddles of tears as it did this morning, as I sat smoking and drinking my coffee, much like Anthony did so many years ago before he cleaned up his act, so to speak, yearning for the happiness that had been given to me a few weeks ago, and then snatched away so quickly I barely had time to notice it was gone until I went to access it and found that it was missing. It was like someone had brought my long-dead cat YinYang back to life for a few weeks and then murdered him in front of me.
But yes, I’ve still got my gumption, and I still have my Voice, and by the Goddess it doesn’t matter if that room shrinks to the size of a closet and that big black door looms so wide and tall I may fear I’ll fall into it, I will NOT go through that door.
While I had my psychotic break, I went walking with the Goddess to many places, and I even became different people so I could properly experience what she was showing me. At one point I noticed someone was accompanying us as we walked, and I looked over and it was DEATH. I wondered why he was there, and she said it was because we were in his world now, but I was safe. He wasn’t there to take me, he was there to show me around, and also to remind me that he’s always there, a lot like that door to Crazytown I swear I woke up in on May 21.
I’m not afraid of DEATH. I’m afraid of that tiny room with the blackened windows and shrinking walls that only has pinpricks of light that go out one by one if you can’t manage to push the walls back to a manageable distance. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear a lack of choices. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear the after effects it has on those who are left behind who are often left with unanswerable questions unless the person was premeditated enough to leave a cogent suicide note, which is very often not present.
And that’s probably something more important than most other things that have kept me away from that door: knowing what suicide does to other people, even if they do know why, like Robin Williams’ family. So I hope that dark room never shrinks so small that the pinpricks of light that represent the people that love me disappear, like they did for Anthony.
I’m sorry your world shrank, Anthony, a person for whom the world was truly a majestic, giant place full of excitement and opportunity which you always seemed so eager to pursue. There was always one more place to go, one more new noodle to try, one more exotic drink, one more club, one more person to show you something you hadn’t experienced before. I don’t know what happened to you that made those big wide walls start to close in, but something tells me it took a long time, until finally, in that French hotel room, after you had crashed for whatever reason, the walls finally became so close and so dark that all glimmers of hope disappeared, and you walked through that door. I, along with everyone else I imagine, will probably always wonder why you didn’t say “hey, the world doesn’t seem as big and as hopeful as it used to, is something wrong with me?” Maybe it frightened you so much you couldn’t say anything, which is so often the case for people whose walls begin to close. Even I, a person who has walked alongside DEATH my whole life and stared at that door a few times myself, will not understand what happened to you until I myself pass through that door, very hopefully not by my own hands, and get to ask you “hey man, what happened?” It’s the question all of us who are left behind by the suicidal ask ourselves, and it haunts us our whole lives.
Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Chris Cornell. Layne Staley. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on of those shining souls we admire and are inspired by, and are then kicked in the gut when they leave so suddenly. I was listening to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”, one of Chris Cornell’s bands, and it occurred to me he may have left a message for us in his lyrics
I’ve put millions of miles under my heels
And still too close to you, I feel
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite movies, “A River Runs Through It”. In it, Tom Skerritt’s character, a Presbyterian minister, is giving a sermon in which it is plain to his remaining son, played by Craig Sheffer, that he is talking about the death of his younger brother, Paul, a charming young man played by Brad Pitt who found himself in trouble with gamblers, with a predictable result. And he says the following:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Later he narrator ends the movie with this:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I’ll listen for you at the rivers, Anthony, along with everyone else we, and I, have lost over the years. And hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilling life, I will meet you at the appropriate time at that river, and you’ll answer the question we all have, and then we’ll sit at a great table and eat and drink to our heart’s content. I’ll even eat durian fruit with you and maybe you can introduce me to a noodle I actually like. But I’m not eating asshole. Fuck that noise. 🙂

Swimming in Glue


I recently stopped taking one of my drugs that my shrink has actually been trying to get me off of for some time now.  I’m not now entirely sure why I was so resistant, in hindsight.  When I first started taking it, I think it was doing me some good.  But after a while, it had the effect of laying a thick layer of cobweb over everything in my life, inside and out.  I didn’t notice it at the time because there were other forces in my life that were essentially doing the same thing.  So it was kind of a double whammy, mentally.

I don’t remember exactly when I started taking this particular drug, but I’m willing to guess it was around four years ago, because that’s when all of my online activity that amounted to anything more than a Facebook post came to a screeching halt.  I just didn’t have anything to say anymore.  I was mute.  I thought it was just a result of the bipolar disorder or the OCD or PTSD or anything else that is wrong with my brain.  And I do think those things have a muting effect on me.  But not to this extent.  What had been an annoyance had turned into a serious problem.

I couldn’t meditate anymore because I couldn’t focus or concentrate, both of which you actually need to “empty your mind”.  I didn’t write anymore or go anywhere because I didn’t have anything to say.  All I could do was parrot back whatever was on my Facebook feed, I’m sure to the annoyance of my friends.  I know I got unfollowed by at least a few people because all I was doing was echoing the background noise of the social network without really adding anything to it.  I didn’t do art anymore because I had absolutely zero desire or passion to create anything (still working on that one: I’m hopeful it will come back).

So I spent four years reading Facebook, reading the news, reading Wikipedia, or watching a tv show or movie.  After about a year, I stopped getting dressed.  I just stayed in my robe all day.  I didn’t see the point of getting dressed if I wasn’t going anywhere.  If I was going to be numb, I was going to be comfortably so.  I grew to accept my fate, that I would just live out my days on social media and watching tv and movies until I either keeled over at home or had to be wheeled into a nursing home.

Then I ran out of that drug, and I didn’t feel particularly bothered to refill it for a couple of weeks.  Around that same time, I began to realize I didn’t feel DEAD inside.  I was enjoying my shows more, actually engaging with them rather than just using them as a way to fill the time until I could go to sleep again.  I was also less likely to doze off while watching said shows and movies.  I got it refilled, but I decided not to take it unless I was having what I call a “hamster wheel” day, which is when thoughts get trapped and just go around and around like hamsters on a wheel.  It doesn’t happen very often and it’s not like anything bad happens when it does, but it’s an unpleasant state of mind, the brakes upon which can be applied with judicious use of the right drugs.

I guess about a week ago, I became more interested in Facebook again.  I hadn’t really been on in quite some time: I had been watching tv shows and movies almost non-stop from the time I woke up until I fell asleep for months on end.  It was just suddenly much more interesting to me than it had been in a long time.  I started posting again.  Not just reposting stuff from other people and groups, but making longer posts of my own about my own life, not someone else’s.  I felt like interacting again, though not quite enough to get out for parties and social gatherings.  I’ll get there, though.  I am still a hermit at heart, after all.

I really don’t know what happened.  It’s like a switch flipped in my head.  I feel like writing again, which means I actually have something to say, which means my brain is working again after having been in standby mode for the last four years, or longer: I’ve been taking this class of drug since 2011.  I restarted my blog and renamed it and made a Twitter account to go with it and a Facebook group.  Buddhism is interesting to me again.  I had some “a-ha!” moments while reading, of all things, the blog of a Christian pastor over the New Year holiday.  A bunch of things clicked and I suddenly no longer felt the need to be seething in anger at the election of DT (I will not call him “President”, nor will I say his full name: he’s just “DT”).  Not that anger is inherently bad or anything.  It’s an excellent motivator.  So I’m going to stay at least offended by the presence of this narcissistic child in the house recently occupied by someone who is everything DT is not.  But I refuse to allow myself to be filled with hate.  It’s unproductive.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  But that’s another post.

I’m glad my bipolar disorder and other issues aren’t so severe anymore, such that I don’t need such intense medication anymore.  Now that I have this stuff out of my system, I can get back to a mindfulness and meditative practice, both of which were two of many things that just came to a screeching halt in the last few years, which was a pity because of all of the lifestyle changes I had been trying to make, those were the most likely to help me.  I’m not condemning these medications.  They’re life-saving for a lot of people.  And when I was first given them, I was led to believe I needed them, and maybe I did.  But I don’t anymore, and unless something drastic changes with my mental health, I will never take them again.  I still have other meds I have to take, so it’s not like I’m ignorant of my mental health.  I’m just a lot more questioning of what is asked of me by my healthcare professionals.  They may be general experts in their fields, but I am the ONLY expert on this particular body and mind.  I know a lot more about them now and I’ll be sure to take that knowledge with me whenever I have to deal with healthcare workers in the future.

A Quiet Year


2014 was largely uneventful for me.  Which is good.  I like quiet and uneventful.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a good year: it was.  My husband’s job got reorganized and in the process he got a raise and the ability to work from home.  Which was a good thing, because I quit my job at the end of March.  And thank heavens.  I didn’t realize how much I was disliking my job until I quit and didn’t have to do it anymore.  My position had evolved from that of a very simple clerk to a part-time office manager, amongst other things.  I was the only employee and as such had to wear a lot of hats.  It got to be too much stress for me after a while.  The position just became too complicated over time.  So it was time for me to move on.  Unfortunately I didn’t do so in time to not have stressful feelings about the dojo, which means I haven’t been to class since I quit.  It was a mistake to have my boss be my karate instructor.  Now I can’t separate out my feelings about her two roles in my life.  She was difficult to work for, but because of our relationship, neither of us felt comfortable addressing any troubles.  It led to tears and bad feelings after a while.  Which is unfortunate.  One of the reasons I wanted to quit was so that my training wouldn’t be affected.  It seems I was too late on that front.

And that was the big event of my year.  Which on the one hand sounds a little sad, but on the other hand, like I said, I like quiet.  Quiet is good.  It’s given me the chance to get my mental health in order, for the most part.  I had some episodes over the summer, but I recovered from them quickly.  Overall I feel better than I have in quite some time.  I seem to have a good med regimen going.  I sometimes don’t want to get out of bed, but it’s not because I’m depressed.  I’m mostly bored.  An unfortunate side effect of my meds and of being down for so long is that my creativity has been sapped.  I have a lot of free time on my hands that I could be using to do any number of creative pursuits, but I’m not.  I find being creative incredibly difficult.  This is a common problem for bipolar people.  The meds that even us out deaden us in other ways.  They make us “flat”.  I’m not as flat as I’ve been in the past, thank heavens, but my personality is mostly gently rolling hills rather than valleys and mountains.  Which is good.  Too much up and down is bad, but it makes the scenery kind of boring.

Consequently I read a lot and watch a lot of tv and movies.  Which are things I really enjoy, and doing enjoyable things is important when you’re mentally ill.  I’m just not very active, which isn’t good.  I’m old enough now (43) that my body’s activity will only continue to decline, and I’ll have to work damn hard, harder than I would have had to ten years ago, to regain strength that I’ve lost.  That will be my big goal for 2015: to become more active, and to lose some of the extra weight I’ve put on.  I’m all for body and fat acceptance, but I’m unhealthy.  If I want to have a nice long life, I need to lose weight, and that’s that.  It’s not as hard as one thinks, really.  I just have to stop bingeing at night and cut down my carbs.  That combined with a walk every day would get me to where I want to be, though it would take a long time.  I know how to eat to be more healthy.  I just need to do it.

Motivation is something else I want to work on this year along with creativity.  They kind of go hand in hand.  If I want to be motivated to get up every day, I need to have something to look forward to.  I just need to find the kinds of creativity that will mesh with my mental capacity.  I like building and fixing things.  I also like putting things together, like beads and tiles.  I’ve always wanted to get into fixing and refinishing furniture.  Maybe that’s something I should afford myself the opportunity to do.  Whatever I do, it has to battle the anhedonia that has slowly settled into my life over the last few years.  It’s no longer an artifact of my mental illness: it’s just something I’ve grown used to.

I do have something that will give me a lot of motivation to get up in the morning, though it will be a few months before I can do it.  I’m going back to school, after 14 years.  I only need about 30 more credit hours in order to get my bachelor’s degree, so I’m going to finally finish it.  It will take me a couple of years because I can only afford to take 2 classes at a time, but I’ll get there!  And once I have a degree, my earning potential will really go up and I’ll be able to find real jobs.  Now I just have to figure out what to major in.  Once I pick it, I can’t change it again, because all I have left to take are major concentration classes.  I also think the University has rules about how close to graduation you can change your major.  I’d really like to major in microbiology, which was my absolute favorite subject when I was in school before.  Whether or not that college will let me transfer in is in question.  That’s the question for all of the potential colleges I may want to transfer into.  I may just be stuck finishing a Religious Studies degree.  Which I suppose wouldn’t be horrible.  It’s what I call a “ditch digging” degree, though, because that’s about all it’s good for.

So I have that to look forward to.  We also have some other potential big plans in the works, but we’ll have to talk about those later.  🙂  Let’s just say I think there are some big changes coming in the next few years.  All for the good.  For the first time in a long  time, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

Stigma


I’ve watched the phenomenon of the Ice Bucket Challenge with some interest.  At first I didn’t understand it.  I wasn’t clear as to how dumping  buckets of ice water over people’s heads was raising money for ALS.  A friendly discussion enlightened me as to how the awareness had raised millions of dollars, as well as giving people a brief glimpse into how an ALS patient feels.  Both goals of the Ice Bucket Challenge intrigued me, being a sufferer of another sometimes deadly and underfunded disease, bipolar disorder.  I also have friends who suffer from clinical depression.  Was there a way to mimic the effects of that disease, or at least depression?  Mental illness research is underfunded in large part because people don’t understand it, and people always fear what they don’t understand.  If there could be a way to make a neurotypical person understand what it’s like to be depressed, or autistic, or schizophrenic, people might be more sympathetic.

Even if there are ways to simulate the effects of various mental disorders, there still remains the stubborn refusal of a large portion of society to accept that mental illnesses are diseases just like illnesses that cause physical symptoms.  Mental illnesses also have their origins in physical processes: their symptoms just manifest in the mind instead of the body.  And some people do have physical effects because of their mental illness: body aches and pains, fatigue, and clumsiness are just a few.  Yet there are still those who insist that taking medication is a weakling’s solution to a problem that can be fixed with diet and behavior modification.  This attitude typically manifests as, “If you only did more of activity X, you wouldn’t be depressed.”  Part of this problem is perpetuated by the fallacious assumption that most people get depressed.  No, most people get the blues.  Having the blues is an entirely different animal than having clinical depression or other mental illnesses.  Its effects may be somewhat mitigated by diet and lifestyle changes, but you cannot cure mental illness with those things.  Nor is it appropriate to compare the effects of the blues and those of depression.  One is a temporary state of lowering of mood that can generally be affected by making some basic changes in one’s life, while the other is a debilitating state of existence that can generally only be helped with therapy and/or medication, and sometimes even then it is nigh on impossible to get to a place of stability because psych meds work differently on everyone.

It’s bad enough to deal with a public perception of being weak or just lazy, but it’s quite another to deal with unfounded fears fed by mass media.  Tell someone you’re bipolar, and they’re likely to take a step or two back from you, because there’s a societal presumption that bipolar people are inherently unstable and therefore dangerous.  This myth is propogated by media that focuses on the most isolated, sensational stories they can find about mental illness.  Fear of other people’s judgment causes a great number of bipolar people (and those with other mental illnesses) to not say anything to anyone about their illness.  This causes isolation, which is not healthy for people with mental illness, moreso than with neurotypical people.  We need support networks if we’re going to stay healthy and balanced, and we don’t get that if we have to hide.

The only way to combat the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it, which makes most people very uncomfortable.  People don’t like the notion that something could go wrong in their brains that would cause them to behave in abnormal ways.  However irrational, there is still a public perception that mental illness can “catch”.  Which in one way can be true: it can be maddening to deal with the mentally ill.  They display behaviors that neurotypical people classify as things that can be changed with behavior modification and lifestyle changes.  And for most people, that’s true.  An attitude adjustment, a shift in diet, some exercise, and maybe some counseling will set most people back on the path of happiness.  Unfortunately that’s just not true with the mentally ill, some of whom do display behaviors that can frighten others.  People’s fears and assumptions combine in a way that essentially shuns the mentally ill from greater society.

This societal attitude manifests partially as a lack of funding for mental illness research.  Despite being one of the most costly and prevalent causes of missed work and disability, mental illness gets very little attention unless a pharmaceutical company is marketing another antidepressant or antipsychotic.  True research into the causes of mental illness falls far below that of other chronic illnesses.  Until this situation is rectified, mental illness will continue to be one of America’s biggest and least talked about problems.

Prevailing social attitudes are slowly shifting as more people are diagnosed with mental illness and public education increases, but there still remains the stubborn perception of many that the mentally ill are just making excuses for wanting to be lazy, that we could be doing more to “cure” what they don’t see as a legitimate disease, just a fault in the human spirit.  We are asked stupid, rude questions like, “Have you tried not being depressed?”  As if we want to be this way.  Even loved ones of the mentally ill will make erroneous assumptions about someone’s behavior and attribute ALL of a person’s actions to their mental illness, constantly asking them if they’re on their meds.

Public perception of mental illness is unlikely to change until the mass media stops latching onto every isolated incidence of violence that MAY be due to mental illness (and not all are: some people are just mean).  There need to be more stories sympathetic to the plight of the mentally ill, that shed light on the various conditions instead of pushing them back into the shadows.  More research needs to be done on the brain to determine the causes of mental illnesses so that they can be treated more effectively.

I do my part by writing these blog entries (that very few people probably read) and not letting my shame and embarrassment about being mentally ill impede my ability to write and talk about how my illness affects me.  I have a zero tolerance policy with people that treat me with kid gloves or avoid me because I’m bipolar.  Fortunately, I have friends with mental illness, and my friends who don’t are very supportive, educated, and understanding.  Not all people are so lucky, though.  It’s those people who need our help the most.

If you know someone with mental illness, in particular one of the more misunderstood ones like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, don’t be afraid of them.  If they’re doing things that frighten or upset you, tell them: they may have no idea that they’re misbehaving.  Talk to them about their disease and ask them how it affects them.  It will help ease your own fears and make the other person feel understood and not so alone.  If they’re unable to talk to you about their disease, do your own research.  Be a good advocate for their health, and if they’re a danger to themselves or someone else, don’t be afraid to call the police if they’re unresponsive to communication.  Most of them will thank you for your concern afterwards.  The ones who don’t are in some ways the people that deserve our sympathy and understanding the most, for they are living in hell.  That is probably the most important thing for neurotypicals to understand about the mentally ill: we do live in hell and would probably cut off limbs to be right in the head again.  We don’t want to be this way, and most of us are doing all we can to mitigate the effects of our illness.

I leave you with this handy graphic that will hopefully illustrate how silly it is the way we treat people with mental illness.

Transformation


I have to change a lot of things about my life, and I don’t know how to do it.

Maybe I should back up.  Last year I went to the hospital for chest pains, which were diagnosed as acid reflux (which is crap: I know what that feels like and that wasn’t acid reflux).  About the only thing useful I left the hospital with was my cholesterol level and a clean cardiac stress test.  After I went home I was determined to be healthier so I could lower my slightly elevated cholesterol level and lose the extra pounds I was carrying.  And for a while I did pretty well.  I stopped eating as many carbs, lost a few pounds, and was exercising almost every day, even if it was just a walk.

Then the same thing that always happens to me when I’m trying to keep habits going happened: something disrupted the flow of my activities and I never re-established them.  In this particular case, it was the loss of one of our vehicles, so I could no longer go to karate class or yoga class at night.  Did I do the right thing and just keep walking, lifting dumbbells, and going to the gym when the car was available?  No, of course not.  My progress was disrupted and I couldn’t get it going again.  Then the holidays happened, beginning with Halloween.  Gain five pounds.  Thanksgiving.  Gain five more pounds.  Christmas.  Five more pounds.

By that point, my eating habits were also disrupted and I had developed a nasty sugar addition.  Unfortunately, I also suffer from bipolar disorder (and some other things), which means I’m anywhere from severely depressed to mildly melancholy just about all of the time.  This makes it really hard to get the motivation to do things like exercise and eat healthy.  Plus, I’m miserable when I feel like that so I want to make myself feel better, and one of the ways I do that is with food.

And so it has gone for nearly a year now.  Before Halloween last year I weighed 203 pounds: today I weigh 239. My cholesterol is 207, slightly elevated.  I also have borderline high blood sugar.  I’m also in the grips of a profound apathy generated by my diseases and the drugs I take to deal with them.  Really, I’m not sure what other obstacles I could possibly have to getting healthy, other than physical disabilities.  It’s hard to think positively and come up with a plan for change when I’m halfway to miserable most of the time.

Unfortunately, all of the things that will make me feel better are the very things that my disease and drugs make it extremely difficult to do.  Above anything else I could do for my health, I should exercise, preferably an hour a day, hard exercise (according to my shrink).  If I want the effect of a good mood after a workout, I have to work my ASS off.  My brain just doesn’t come by  those happy chemicals easily like they do for everyone else.  So it’s not just enough to get any old exercise: it has to be HARD, and I have to do it for a while.  Which makes it even more difficult for me to want to get up and go do it.  It’s difficult just to go on a walk.

The other thing I can do for my health that would have the greatest impact is changing my diet.  Eating less and eating differently would make me lose weight and shave points off my cholesterol level, plus help regulate my blood sugar.  It also helps regulate my mental health to be on a healthy diet free of unhealthy fats and sugars.  If it was just me, this would be relatively easy.  Unfortunately, it’s not just me: I have to take my family into consideration.  I have a child who hates beans and only likes a very few vegetables, which means my primary non-animal source of protein isn’t available to me (I won’t cook two different meals, one for me and one for them, that’s insanity).  I could just go ahead and cook what I’m going to cook and tell her she just has to deal with it, but then I have the mental stress of a food battle at every single meal.  She’s 11: she doesn’t care that this is healthy and will make her live longer.  Kids think they’ll live forever already: what the hell is a new diet going to do for them?  She’ll just see it as a form of punishment, and every meal will be tinged with sadness and anger.  Why the hell would I want that?

So on the one hand, I have to fight with myself, and on the other hand, I have to fight with my family.  No matter where I turn, there’s a battle.  I feel like I’m going to war with no army and everyone against me.  I feel doomed to failure before I’ve even begun.

So here I am, stuck.  Even if I didn’t have to fight with my family about food, I have no idea how to cook without basing every meal on meat. It’s just how I grew up: meat, starch, vegetable.  I’ve had meals that were nothing but vegetables.  They were tasty (sometimes) but I was hungry again an hour later.  I honestly don’t know how people live like that. I also don’t know how people live eating the same meals every week, or sometimes every day.  I have to have a LOT of recipes in my repertoire or else I get sick of eating things and wind up going out.  There’s a plethora of food websites of every imaginable cuisine available on the internet, but you never really know if something’s going to be good until you try it.  Which means I also have to have a known backup dinner available when we try new things, or else we just go out.  It’s all a fuckload of work that makes me hate food and cooking, things I used to enjoy.

I know there must be a way out of this situation, but I feel blocked at every turn.  And I’m very low on spoons.  It makes all of the changes I need to make overwhelming: diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, water, yoga, etc.  The things I need to do to get better are the very things that being ill makes it hard to do.  It’s a nasty negative feedback loop.  But if I take things slow and small, and start with what’s easiest, maybe I can start to dig myself out of this rut.  I didn’t lose all of my habits at once: I won’t be able to re-establish them all at once either.  Now I just have to pick what to start with. What will give me spoons, and not take them away?