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“…studies show that the worse side effects a patient experiences, the more effective the drug. Patients apparently think, this drug is so strong it’s making me vomit and hate sex, so it must be strong enough to lift my depression. In clinical-trial patients who figure out they’re receiving the drug and not the inert pill, expectations soar. That matters because belief in the power of a medical treatment can be self-fulfilling (that’s the basis of the placebo effect).”

Perhaps I should explain the title of this post.

You’re all familiar with the philosophical riddle, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Well, an article in the February 8, 2010 issue of Newsweek magazine (“The Depressing News About Antidepressants,” by Sharon Begley) about antidepressants had me wondering; if a pill that is swallowed that is basically sugar, with no chemical component that might effect serotonin, works because we “believe” it works…does it “really” work?

“…scientists who study depression and the drugs that treat it are concluding…that antidepressants are basically expensive Tic Tacs.”

I’m a firm believer in the power of the mind. I’ve witnessed first hand how thinking can make it so. I do believe that, in some instances, there is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. BUT…

But, the chances of it working are about as good as your chances at the blackjack table in Vegas. Sure, sometimes you’ll draw an ace and a jack, and sometimes people get better because they believe they will, but not always. If just wishing could make it so, I’d have a brand new Maserati (GranCabrio convertible in Blu Oceano with a Sabbia interior) sitting in my driveway.

Here’s another question I had after reading the article: What happens to the placebo effect after people read an article like this one? Great! Now the pills that don’t really work, really don’t work because we’ve lost faith in them. Now what do we do?

The power of positive thinking has its place. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to practice that in your daily life, pills or no pills. Accentuate the positive, as they say. But also, be realistic. But wait, how can you be realistic and hope to cure your depression with blind faith?

But then again…I’ll bet there are a number of Pharmaceutical sales reps out there who do have Maseratis in their garages because they visualized them. Because they held a picture of them in their mind and repeated a mantra over an over again while they fudged the test results and made promises to general practitioners that the pills couldn’t possibly deliver.

If placebos can make people better, then depression can be treated without drugs that come with serious side effects, not to mention costs.”

Hey, it’s worth a try. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to try an experiment of my own. Here’s a photo of the car.

If you would just stare at it for a few minutes and repeat over and over, “A Maserati in Marco’s driveway,” I’ll let you know what happens. If I go out there tomorrow and there’s a blue convertible, I’ll be first in line to refill my prescription for Zoloft.

But until then, I’m remaining drug free!!!!

As long as it provides clear objectives, clear rules for action, and a way to concentrate and become involved, any goal can serve to give meaning to a person’s life.”Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

I am not playing the game this year.

I am not making any New Year resolutions.

I am perfect just the way I am.

You are perfect just the way you are.

I am however setting goals.

What is the difference?

To me, a resolution implies changing something that doesn’t work.

The implication is that something about me is broken and I need to fix it.

Instead, I prefer to set specific goals that I want to accomplish.

I don’t need to be fixed.  I can’t be fixed.  But I can evolve.

While striving to improve myself, my life, I will focus on the things I want to achieve.

I will not focus on the aspects of myself that I don’t like or that don’t seem to work.

We are human beings, and as such, we are works in progress.

I expect to be unhappy a certain portion of the time.

I WANT to be unhappy a certain portion of the time.

If I were satisfied with everything, with the status quo, I would be stagnant.

I would be dead.  In order to grow as human beings we need to occasionally feel discomfort.

When there are too many demands, options, challenges, we become anxious; when too few, we get bored.”

My disorder complicates my life.  My disorder is my discomfort.

But it also challenges me to search for new ways to give my life meaning, to give my life balance, to give my life substance.

If my life were perfect I would be bored.

There is no good without bad, no happy without sad.

To strive to be happy all of the time is foolish.

Perhaps, instead, we should strive to be happy/joyful once each day?

Perhaps, instead, we should strive to make someone else happy/joyful, once each day?

To that end, once again I offer up a little levity in the form of Calvin & Hobbes.

Tear up your list of resolutions for this year.

Don’t buy in to the need to change.

Instead, buy in to the desire to grow.

Maybe that seems like semantics, but to me there is a huge difference.

Resolutions are based on fixing something, and that’s negative.

Goals are positive; they are something to strive for.

What counts is not so much whether a person actually achieves what she has set out to do; rather, it matters whether effort has been expanded to reach the goal, instead of being diffused or wasted.”

Being bipolar is a daily challenge.  But it is also a blessing.

I am who I am because of it.  I mean really, who else would I want to be?

Okay, so that’s a rather long list, but it’s also beside the point.

I am who I am so I might as well make the best/most of it.

To all of you who have taken time out of your busy day to read these words I thank you.

I write them in a vacuum, but I know from the stats that they have a life beyond my keyboard.  My GOAL for the New Year is to keep writing.  To write more.  To add value to your life by sharing what I know, because you add value to my life when you share what you know.  We are all in this together.

Happy New Year!!!!!

Marco

“The good news is that there is a way out of the dark forest.  The bad news is that the way leads through hell.”

I thought my life would seem more interesting with a musical score and a laugh track.”  Bill Watterson

As most of you know, I’m only in this for the money.  And of course the fame.  And the accolades.  And the….

Did you know that Comments cure depression?  Well, that’s not really true, but they can lift it temporarily.  Nothing brightens my day more than seeing a number or two lit up in the “comments” section.  No matter how old the post is, or how inconsequential you think your comment might be, leave it anyway.  Some days that’s my only reason for living.  Well, maybe not the only reason, but you know what I mean.

I’ve decided to keep it light today.  I’m still in a New York state of mind.  Still reeling from the culture and the cuisine, the noise and the theater, the museums and the cab rides.  I am operating on sensory over-load and loving it.

I thought that I would share a few more of the Calvin and Hobbes pieces that I love so much.

I adore his honesty, his self-centeredness, his unwillingness to change to suit other people’s expectations.

BUT, he’s also a good reminder of how we SHOULD be.  I like to think that I’m a good person.  I like to think that I do nice things.  And while I am and I do, is it really enough?  Being a good person means more than being moral and conscientious.  It means actually going out and doing something to make the world a better place.  I recycle, I’m kind to animals, I contribute to food banks and occasionally to pan-handlers.  But what am I REALLY doing to make the world a better place?

Okay, I promised I was going to keep this light.  Must be all of those New Year’s resolutions creeping into my subconscious.

Like it or not, Calvin is a child of our times, raised on the cusp of Twitter and Reality TV.  And he makes no excuses for it.

I like an audience as much as the next person.  Not as much as John or Kate or any of the newest of the string of celebrities for celebrity sake (e.g., Tiger’s female entourage climbing out of the swamp to get their 15 minutes.)  But I can also BE a good audience.  And that brings me to the Special Gift portion of our show.  My fellow blogger and mood-swinger, Sarcastic Bastard has given me many chuckles over the past year, and I am hoping to return the favor with, “The Ladies Who Brunch.”  It is a photograph I found years ago.  I have no idea who these women are, but it makes me smile every time I look at it.  And it reminds me not to take life so seriously.  I hope she, and YOU, enjoy it, that it puts a smile on your face as well, and that it encourages you to kick up your heels a bit more in the New Year.

"The Ladies Who Brunch"

And remember: YOU MATTER.  Well, maybe not to me, but to someone, somewhere…..

Thanks for playing.

Love, Marco

P.S. CALVIN & HOBBES FANS: See more at:  There Must Be More to Life!

Genuine beginnings begin within us, even when they are brought to our attention by external opportunities.  It is out of the formlessness of the neutral zone that new form emerges and out of the barrenness of the fallow time that new life springs.  We can support and even enhance the process, but we cannot produce the results.  Once those results begin to take shape, however, there are several things that can be done.  The first is, very simply, to stop getting ready and to act.  Getting ready can turn out to be an endless task, and one of the forms that inner resistance often takes is the attempt to make just a few more (and then more, and again more) preparations.” “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes,” by William Bridges

I had a foul epiphany the other day.  Well, actually, it was more like a fowl epiphany.

I stopped off at a mall close to my house to run a few errands.  Being as I live in California, it’s an open-air mall, irrespective of the fact that it’s Northern California and several of the months here are more often than not, cold and rainy.  Anyway, the first thing I noticed was this twenty-foot high orange and brown wooden turkey with a bobbing head.  Now I wasn’t surprised so much by the turkey (it shows up every November and doesn’t depart until after the New Year) but I was surprised by the whole “Groundhog Day” effect that it had on me.

You see, this turkey is hollow.  It has a door in its side that opens up so that you can donate canned and dry goods to the local food bank.  It’s something I do every year.  Only this time when I saw that damned turkey I could have sworn it was only a couple of weeks ago that I had been shoving boxes of pasta and tins of tuna into its hollowed-out butt.

Now, here’s the thing.  I’ve been starring at that mechanical turkey every holiday season for the past twenty plus years.  I’m sick to death of that Turkey.  And it was a stark reminder of how boring my life had become.  How risk free.  How safe.  And I swear to you, the second I laid eyes on it I vowed that it would be the last Thanksgiving I would ever have see it.

I’m an East Coast person.  Born and raised.  And though I was transplanted to Northern California more than two decades ago, my roots never took.  Every year I vow to move away, back to New York or Boston.  Back to someplace that makes me feel more alive.  And here was this gigantic three-dimensional reminder that another year had passed.  Another year spent daydreaming instead of taking action.

When the time comes, stop getting ready to do it—and do it!”

What is it about the familiar that keeps us so chained to the status quo?  Why would we rather suffer in a toxic environment than try something new?  It’s one of the reasons (I repeat, ONE of the reasons) people stay in abusive relationships.  The “known,” no matter how detrimental, feels like a safer choice than the unknown.  I’ve seen videos of children screaming to be returned to their parents, even though their parents were abusive to them.  We crave, (consciously or un) sameness.

I had some relatives from South Florida visit not too long ago.  They borrowed my car and drove up to Napa for the day.  They were rather disappointed by the trip.  Seems that they stopped and asked several people if there was a “Bennigans” around.  There wasn’t.  They were 3,000 miles from home, in an environment that is nowhere near theirs, and yet they wanted to duplicate the same experience they have in Palm Beach.  They wanted the familiar.

Now, I’ve never really been one to play it safe.  Or so I thought.  But to tell you the truth, the idea of actually implementing a plan that would take me far away from that turkey, that would uproot me from everything I know, regardless of how boring it is, scares me to death.  Why is that?

But like I said in my last post, there are two different kinds of learning, and this one was the experiential one.  I got it on a gut level.  I would rather die doing something new than live forever doing the same old, same old.

And like they say in “Pippin,” “I want my life to be something more than long….”

“Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin

Everything has its season

Everything has its time

Show me a reason and I’ll soon show you a rhyme

Cats fit on the windowsill

Children fit in the snow

Why do I feel I don’t fit in anywhere I go?


 

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky

 

Every man has his daydreams

Every man has his goal

People like the way dreams have

Of sticking to the soul


Thunderclouds have their lightning

Nightingales have their song

And don’t you see I want my life to be

Something more than long….

 

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky


 

So many men seem destined

To settle for something small

But I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all

So don’t ask where I’m going

Just listen when I’m gone

And far away you’ll hear me singing

Softly to the dawn:


 

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky.

Pippin: Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Toxic Cleanup

Choose to be HappyMastery of some of the most extraordinary things has to do with just being willing to do the dumb, boring stuff over and over again and to like it while you’re doing it.  That’s how anyone becomes great at anything.”  “Choose to be Happy; The Craft and the Art of Living Beyond Anxiety,” by Swami Chetanananda

 

I had one of those “Ahh ha!” moments recently.

There are two levels of understanding.  There is the intellectual level and then there is the gut level, the level where you actually experience knowledge in a new and enlightened way.

I save things.  I accumulate stuff.  I’m an information junkie and a bibliophile.  Then there’s the whole abundance issue where you can never have too much of anything because at one time in your life you never had enough.

Now, I’m not in any danger of Oprah showing up at my home any time soon with a cleaning crew and seven dumpsters, but it’s all relative.  Are the stacks of books sitting in piles around my house any less toxic than the bags of clothing or the boxes of canned goods lying around in others?

Anyway, I was on vacation recently.  Ten days away from home with only two suitcases and a carry-on.  (Of course I always over-pack because abundance issues apply equally to hotel rooms as they do to living rooms.)  But, it wasn’t until I returned home that I realized how stressful my environment had become.

Because of my mood disorder it’s hard to be “present.”  At home there are always things to do, projects to tackle, books to read.  The list is endless.  Those things gnaw at you without you ever really knowing it.  It works on a subconscious level.  Even if you think you’re enlightened enough to “know” that that’s what’s going on, there is a huge difference between knowing and experiencing.

It occurred to me that whenever I go away on vacation I’m a lot less likely to get depressed or to have serious mood swings.  Although I must admit that trips away from home do make me more prone to mania, if only by virtue of the stimulation to be found in new situations and in foreign surroundings.

But here’s what I discovered: the limits of a hotel room are not really limiting.  They are empowering.

At home I have what seems like ten thousand shirts.  On vacation, seven.  (Okay twelve, but who’s counting?)  And most of the shirts at home aren’t ironed, because, well, I hate to iron, and I have ADD, and anyone who has ADD knows what I’m talking about.  So whenever I go to get something to wear, I’m overwhelmed by the choices and then depressed and angry at myself for my lack of discipline (for not having ironed most of them) and for my lack of motivation (for not having the energy to iron them.)

I never leave the house without a book in hand; so then I am forced to make another decision.  Which of the thirty books I’m in the middle of do I take with me?  (Hint: it’s usually a lot more than one as well as a few more I want to start.)  On vacation, if only by necessity, I’m limited to a few (okay, six, but that’s not really the point.)  Same thing with food (too many items in the fridge and too much energy required to prepare any of them.)  Don’t you just love the brevity of room service menus and the simplicity of preparing breakfast by making a quick phone call while still in your pj’s?

So, three things happen repeatedly at home.  I am overwhelmed by choices, I am reminded by those choices of why my life isn’t working, and I chastise myself for my inability to limit, maintain or prepare my stuff.

Now, I know it’s a lot bigger issue than just a little de-cluttering of my environment.  I know that it’s going to take a huge amount of energy to resist bringing more and more stuff into my house.  I know that I have to hold myself accountable for each and every decision, for each and every purchase, for each and every justification I make to warrant those (reactive) choices.

I don’t think I’m alone in beating myself up for such things, for thinking I should know better, be stronger, work harder.  And I’m not alone in placing blame on a mental state that makes even the simplest of tasks (like making coffee) seem insurmountable.

But I do believe, as I have said before, that most us are guilty of accommodating our disorder to some degree.  We make room for it.  We justify it.  We let ourselves get lazy and complacent, which only adds to our discontent.

But perhaps that’s just me.  One of the hardest things about this disorder is knowing what’s real and what’s imagined.  What I’m capable of and what I cut myself too much slack for.  But I digress….

Oprah, if you’re reading this, have your producers e-mail me so I can tell them which address to deliver the dumpsters to.

 

“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.

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.