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Archive for October, 2009

“A few observations about the complexity of an illness that is so much a part and parcel of one’s temperament.  But most importantly [about] the role of love in recovery.  Love as sustainer, as re-newer and as protector.”:

Jamison-An Unquiet Mind“After each seeming death within my mind or heart, love has returned to re-create hope and to restore life.  It has at its best, made the inherent sadness of life bearable, and its beauty manifest.  It has, inexplicably and savingly, provided not only cloak, but lantern for the darker seasons and grimmer weather.

I long ago abandoned the notion of a life without storms, or a world without dry and killing seasons.  Life is too complicated, too constantly changing, to be anything but what it is.  And I am, by nature, too mercurial to be anything but deeply wary of the grave unnaturalness involved in any attempt to exert too much control over essentially uncontrollable forces.  There will always be propelling, disturbing elements, and they will be there until, as Lowell put it, the watch is taken from the wrist.  It is, at the end of the day, the individual moments of restlessness, of bleakness, of strong persuasions and maddened enthusiasms, that inform one’s life, change the nature and direction of one’s work, and give final meaning and color to one’s loves and friendships.”   “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness,” by Kay Redfield Jamison

I was brutally and viscously attacked this weekend.  Granted it was only a verbal lashing, but it was by a “supposed” friend while he was a guest in my home.  But it was the intense animosity and the volume at which it was hurled that has left scars far greater and deeper than any he might have tried to inflict physically.

I share this with you because of what it means to me as someone who suffers with a mental disorder.  Because, while his outburst about my mental state failed to make me feel stigmatized, his behavior did (does) make me feel marginalized.  And that is unacceptable.  Bordering on unconscionable.

No one has the right to stand in judgment of you or your mental capabilities.  Least of all someone who acts self-righteous, who professes moral superiority, who thinks they have the right to determine what is and what is not acceptable behavior.  Especially when they themselves act hypocritically, because, for the record, accosting someone while a guest in their home and then sneaking away without leaving a note or saying goodbye to the other members of the household is not acceptable behavior.

The truly sad part of this story for me is that I lost a 15 year-long friendship that I cherished.  Not with him, but with his wife who stood by and said nothing while he repeatedly insulted me. Would his behavior have been tolerated had he attacked someone in a wheelchair?  Someone with mental retardation?  Someone with anorexia?  Is abuse leveled on someone who suffers from a mental disorder any less reprehensible than an attack on someone with a more physically apparent disability?

But, even as I mourn that loss I am left with the feeling of being empowered, renewed, reborn.  It has reminded me of two of my favorite (and empowering) phrases: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and “Consider the source.”

I present this video as a gift to him.  To enlighten him.  Sadly he will never see it because as far as I know he has never read my blog.  If he had, he might have seen my mood swings for what they were, the unfortunate influence (or deficiency) of certain chemicals in my brain.  But the truth is, I make no secret of my disorder and he is well aware of (or at least he should have been) the fact that my mental state is compromised.

Personal Reflections on Manic-Depressive Illness

I can only speak for myself, but I have no doubt that most of us who struggle with a mental handicap (be it bipolar disorder, chronic depression, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.) struggle with low self-esteem.  The one thing that I feel is my saving grace is the gift of self-respect.  It doesn’t completely compensate for my disorder but it certainly makes it tolerable at times.  While I may not be the most successful or accomplished person, nor the smartest, nor the most humble, nor the bravest, I am a human being who deserves, no DEMANDS to be treated with respect.

And so I declared at the end of his tirade: “You and I are no longer friends.”  I chose the high road and did not stoop to his level of name-calling, etc.  Although I did slam the door rather aggressively on the way out of the room.  I’m bipolar, hear me ROAR.

That is my gift to you today.  Own that for yourself.  RESPECT.  Challenge anyone who dismisses you in any way, shape or form.  Confront anyone who dares suggest that your role or your contribution to life or society is any less valuable than theirs.  Do not take any slight or insult lightly.

Whatever your own personal handicap is, I guarantee you that you have other gifts that more than make up for any shortcomings or challenges you might face.  Stand up for yourself.  Refuse to be stigmatized or marginalized.  Never, ever, under any circumstance, allow someone to disrespect you.  Never let their ignorance and small mindedness affect how you feel about yourself.  I honor you.  Please honor yourself.

A mental disorder is biological.  Ignorance is not.

To all of my good friends and followers who remain loyal, who take the good with the bad, who love unconditionally, I am thankful.  I am humbled by your humanity and forever grateful for your acceptance.  Please feel free to add your comments here.  The support of my family, friends and readers has meant the world to me, and has been another, not so small, saving grace.  Please know that I am here for you as well.

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Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life“…attending to…deliberately selected targets, or even making a conscious decision to “veg out” for a spell, you would have had a far better experience than many of us have much of the time, captured by whatever flotsam and jetsam happens to wash up on our mental shores.  In short, to enjoy the kind of experience you want rather than enduring the kind that you feel stuck with, you have to take charge of your attention.”  Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life,” by Winifred Gallagher.

Is everyone bipolar?

Glenn Close PSA

I used to think I was unique.  Yes, a mental disorder is not something to be proud of, and I would give it away with no questions asked if I could, but it was one of those things that made me the individual that I am.  Now it feels like I’m just one more voice getting lost in the crowd of commercials and PSAs that make mental illness seem like the chic new accessory this year.

I’m all for removing any stigma attached to it, but quite frankly, I don’t feel stigmatized.  Maybe that’s because I’ve been in therapy for thirty years.  Maybe that’s because I’ve tried every drug (unsuccessfully) as soon as it hit the market.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always been more concerned with “getting better” than I have been about what other people might think.

Or perhaps I just live in a bubble of educated, liberal people out here on the west coast where I feel comfortable discussing my illness, writing about my disorder and sharing my challenges in conversations, without feeling the need to withhold my condition.  Without feeling the need to pretend to be “normal.”  In some ways it’s good to be “out of the closet” about your condition.

I’m also torn between the idea of talking about the disorder and trying not to think about it at all.  There’s a saying: What you think about persists.  The more I think about my disorder the more I’m aware of it.  And the more inclined I am to use it as an excuse for not accomplishing what I want to in my life.  It becomes a crutch.

Like the quote above from “Rapt” implies, your life is about the things you focus on.  Does focusing on being bipolar help me discover ways of dealing with it, or does it keep me mired in it?

The more I talk and write about mental illness, the more aware I am of it.  The more of a focus it has in my life.  I don’t want my life to be ABOUT being bipolar.

Do these conversations do more harm than good?  Perhaps not if you’re someone like Glenn Close’s sister who doesn’t have a diagnosis yet for what you’ve been suffering with.  In that case, disseminating the information is a good thing.

That being said, I do think it’s important to have the dialogue with our loved ones. They need to understand what’s happening with us as much as we do.  I’ve discovered that it’s a dance.  A dance very few people are capable of engaging in.But families need to not only understand, but accommodate our disorder, and that can be very difficult for many reasons.

So for now, I’m happy to be part of the conversation as long as it’s helpful.  But as usual, I don’t have any answers, just more questions.

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Michael Buble "That's Life"I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet,

a pawn and a king.

I’ve been up and down and over and out,

and I know one thing:

each time I find myself, flat on my face,

I pick myself up and get back in the race.

“That’s Life.”  Lyrics by, Dean Kay & Kelly L. Gordon

Ok, so I’ve reached rock bottom.  I hope.

Needing a respite from rejection I stopped sending out novel excerpts and short stories to literary magazines and agents.  Unfortunately, that hasn’t put an end to the negative responses.  Yesterday I received another form letter from Berkeley Fiction Review.  It was a lovely little missive submitted to me in response to a story I sent them on December 1, 2008.  Ten months ago.

That’s not the worst of it.  The rejection that’s been the hardest for me to take is one that never came.

Several months ago I volunteered to teach prisoners at San Quentin.  I sent them cover letters, resumes, a detailed suggested syllabus and numerous e-mails, and in return I received nothing.  No acknowledgement.  No “thanks, but no thanks.”  No “message undeliverable.”  Nothing.

What little self-esteem I had left was shattered by the realization that I was being rejected by the California prison system.  By virtue of their non-response, I was being told that I was not even worthy of teaching writing to convicted felons.  Here I was, willing to risk my life working side by side with individuals incarcerated for crimes they’d committed against society, and I, a law abiding citizen with a MFA and a desire to do something positive with my free time, was being told by the University Prison Project that I wasn’t even worthy of a dignified response.

My bipolarity is a blessing and a curse.  In some ways I believe it is partially responsible for my creativity, my desire to write in the first place.  But it’s a challenge because of the inconsistency it causes to my attention, to my ambition, and to the very source of my creativity.  So, here I am, trying to navigate the biochemical fluctuations in my brain without pharmaceuticals, while still being plagued with the emotional/ego issues that affect every one: fear, stress, rejection, etc.

I never know if my reaction to something is nature or nurture.  It would be ideal if I could separate them, study them independently, but I can’t.  Is the hopelessness I feel relative to the situation?  Is the despair triggered by the rejection or does the rejection merely amplify feelings that were already there?

I can be overly sensitive, susceptible to depression from even a simple (and perhaps unintended) slight.  So how do I forge ahead when I can’t be sure of what’s real?  Are others just insensitive brutes incapable of recognizing my significant talent?  Or is my wavering ego incapable of coming to terms with the fact that I don’t have any talent, that they are right?

I don’t profess to know why other writers have chosen to take their own lives, but I do believe on some level it had something to do with either the process and/or the business of writing.  You see, the thing with writing is that there is no right way, no one-way.  It is (to some extent) subjective, even to the author.  The brilliant sentences, the beautiful metaphors, the inspired alliteration that made it to the page yesterday, today sound flat, tired, clichéd.

That’s life

and I can’t deny it

many times I thought of cutting out

but my heart won’t buy it

but if there’s nothing shakin’ come this here July

I’m gonna roll myself up

in a big ball

and die

For various and unknowable reasons, the following authors died at their own hands.  Gifted individuals who had managed to make a name for themselves, support themselves doing what they loved, at some point decided that life wasn’t worth living.  The thought that these artists had come to such a conclusion even after they’d achieved success (and became the basis by which others would be measured), scares me to death.

The Snows of KilimanjaroThe lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some super-rhino.  There was no man smell carried toward him and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side.  Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach.  He trotted, heavy, big-footed, swinging wounded full-bellied, through the trees toward the tall grass and cover, and the crash came again to go past him ripping the air apart.  Then it crashed again and he felt the blow as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the high grass where he could crouch and not be seen and make them bring the crashing thing close enough so he could make a rush and get the man that held it.”  “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” by Ernest Hemingway.

Being There

Once in a while Chance would turn off the water and sit on the grass and think.  The wind, mindless of direction, intermittently swayed the bushes and trees.  The city’s dust settled evenly, darkening the flowers, which waited patiently to be rinsed by the rain and dried by the sunshine.  And yet, with all its life, even at the peak of its bloom, the garden was its own graveyard.  Under every tree and bush lay rotten trunks and disintegrated and decomposing roots.  It was hard to know which was more important: the garden’s surface or the graveyard from which it grew and into which it was constantly lapsing.”  “Being There,” by Jerzy Kosinski

Fear & Loathing in Las VegasBy this time the drink was beginning to cut the acid and my hallucinations were down to a tolerable level.  The room service waiter had a vaguely reptilian cast to his features, but I was no longer seeing huge pterodactyls lumbering around the corridors in pools of fresh blood.  The only problem now was a gigantic neon sign outside the window, blocking our view of the mountains—millions of colored balls running around a very complicated track, strange symbols & filigree, giving off a loud hum….”Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” by Hunter S. Thompson

Like the song says, “I’ll pick myself up and get back on my feet.”  Or, perhaps, “Roll myself up in a big ball and die.”  Only time will tell.  But for now…I’m still writing!!!

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