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Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

I know how it feels to be passed by. I know how it feels to allow someone else’s success to be my own failure. I know all too well how hard it is to battle a nasty inner voice.” @AmericaFerrera

america-ferrera-triathlete

Inspiration is all around us. I found a little bit of it the other day in the New York Times in an essay about training for a triathlon by America Ferrera: “How a Triathlon Helped America Ferrera Defy Her Inner Critic.”

With every step, stroke and pedal, I turned “No, I can’t” into “Yes, I can,” “I’m limited” into “Look what I’m capable of,” and “I’m weak” into “I am whole, healthy and strong.’” @AmericaFerrera

You’d think that someone who is as successful as she is in her chosen profession would be beyond negative self-talk. Especially with so many agents, publicists and studio execs kissing her (bad)ass on a daily basis.

But no, she does it too. It was also nice to hear someone who is in the public eye openly admit to being human and fallible. I find that refreshing and inspiring. I have to admit that blogging about my own psychological challenges feels a bit strange at times. I’m not one who likes attention, I dislike most reality TV shows, and I was raised not to “air my dirty laundry in public.”

BUT, if no one aired their dirty laundry, how would we know that how we feel is also how a lot of other people feel. We can only learn and grow by sharing what we know, by being honest. So hopefully you appreciate my contribution to the noise as much as I appreciate America Ferrera’s.

And who isn’t guilty of negative self-talk, even though we know it’s not good for us. And it can be as innocent as calling yourself stupid if you make a minor mistake. I’ve called myself that just for dropping something. And each and every one of those comments chips away (subconsciously) at your self-esteem.

I have to admit that I have tried to use positive reinforcement on myself, but it always sounds silly or lame. Or like Donald Trump. “I’m Awesome!” “I’m Huge!” “I’m a force to be reckoned with,” etc., etc… So even if I don’t do that, thank you America for reminding me not to do the other.

I finally got my answer to that question: Who do you think you are? I am whoever I say I am.” @AmericaFerrera

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When you think like a designer, when you are willing to ask the questions, when you realize that life is always about designing something that has never existed before, then your life can sparkle in a way that you could never have imagined.

designing-your-life

It’s been six years since I last posted something here. Inertia is a BITCH!

Life has taken a lot of twists and turns since then. I finally moved away from Northern California (and that damned mechanical turkey) (see my Nov. 24, 2009 post “Giving Thanks for an Epiphany“) and relocated to the East Coast. I’ve also begun to experiment with pharmaceuticals again, which I am not happy about. But with all of the stress that comes along with moving, and aging, etc., I felt that it was time to reach out to some new doctors and see if there were any new pills worth popping in an effort to stop a downward spiral. Yes. And no.

For a few months I was on and off some medications I had tried before. Since I couldn’t remember what I had taken, how many milligrams, and in what combination with what, I let the doctor convince me to try things I had already tried, like Abilify and Wellbutrin. When there was no luck with those, he was convinced that I would see some relief with Latuda, a drug I had never tried before but which I was aware of thanks to Sunovion‘s unrelenting TV advertisements. Since it seemed to be working for everyone else, why not me? Well, I don’t think I took it long enough to find out. I had to stop it cold turkey because it was making me want to crawl out of my skin. There’s an actual term for that side-effect. It’s Akathisia, which is also something I was quite familiar with.

On to a new doctor. And here I am, starting my second week with Rexulti, and upping the dosage from 1mg to 2mg.

I’ve also been seeing a counselor/therapist of sorts who has been trying to get me to try things like DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). (He confessed last week that he didn’t think DBT would necessarily do me any good, but that having to adhere to the schedule might.) He also wondered, out loud, if perhaps my expectations were too high. “No,” I replied immediately. It wasn’t something I had to think about. “I’m trying to get from black to grey,” I said, “so, no, I don’t think my expectations are too high.”

Anyway, I’m at my desk writing again, so that’s something. And I feel it’s the only thing that keeps me sane, keeps me committed. The unexamined life is not worth living. But then neither is the over-examined life. But just by sitting at my computer THINKING about what works and what doesn’t, encourages me to keep trying. To re-establish all of those daily activities that have some impact, however small, on my mood-swings or depression; like eating right and exercising. And writing. So even if this new drug doesn’t work, I’m fairly certain it will be the last one I try, so I’m going to need something else to fall back on.

Be well, Marco

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I have a good memory. Actually, I have an excellent memory when you take into account all of the drugs and alcohol I’ve consumed to manage my moods over the past three hundred (or so it seems) years.

But there are times….

My significant other and I were doing a bit of purging the other day. You know, getting rid of clothes we haven’t worn in 10 years, bikes that are old and rusty, books (and more books)…things like that.

And there, sitting on the floor of one of the closets, still in the box, was a Rubbermaid Ironing organizer. In fact, the box has been sitting on the floor of that same closet for at least several years (or so it seems) right next to the ironing board that rests on the floor, and the iron, which sits on a table to the left of it.

I, in one of my bitchier moods, asked why it was still in the box and not attached to the wall as it was intended (and clearly wanted) to be. I was told that it was something that I had purchased, and then questioned as to why I hadn’t taken the initiative to install it.

Well! I would never purchase such an item. First of all, I don’t iron. I purposely by drip-dry shirts, wear sweaters even in summer, or pretend to be an aging Yuppie instead. Anyone who knows someone who has ADD and/or bipolar disorder knows that we would rather have a root canal than iron something. It’s just one of those chores (like making coffee or doing dishes) that makes us, dare I say, crazy. Or crazier.

But the truth is, the more I thought about it, I could just see myself (although I STILL don’t remember) in a frenzy at the local Bed Bath & Beyond, loading up a couple of shopping carts at once in an effort to get my life back on track, organized, simplified. I can see canisters and fussy little boxes, clip boards and pegboards, soap dispensers and paper towel racks spilling over into perhaps a third cart.

Did I purchase that odd little item? I don’t know. But what I now realize is that I shouldn’t have been so adamant about the fact that I would never have purchased such an item because when I’m in a manic state, even though I may seem, even though I may feel, lucid, it is a sort of delirium. And while I stand by the fact that 99 times out of 100, I will remember events correctly, I can’t be certain that 100 percent of the time, I didn’t do or didn’t say something that I just don’t recall doing or saying.

How is your memory?

P.S. Yes, this is my attempt at an apology.

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Many people today are infatuated with the biological determinants of things. They find compelling the idea that moods, tastes, preferences, and behaviors can be explained by genes, or by natural selection, or by brain amines (even though these explanations are almost always circular: if we do x, it must be because we have been selected to do x). People like to be able to say, I’m just an organism, and my depression is just a chemical thing, so, of the three ways of considering my condition, I choose the biological. People do say this. The question to ask them is, Who is the “I” that is making this choice? Is that your biology talking, too?” The New Yorker, March 1, 2010: HEAD CASE: Can psychiatry be a science? by Louis Menand

I seem to have been in a downward spiral for the past few months. Thus the lack of postings. Miss me?

I can blame it on a lot of things. The weather. The news. The economy. Dick Cheney. The fact that I am forced to deal with bad brain chemistry without the aid of medication.

But whatever the cause, my depression, and the cause du jour, is not a CHOICE.

Yes, the pharmaceutical companies have gone astray and led their Mercedes Benz—home in the Hamptons—trips to Paris aspiring doctors along with them.

I don’t have a problem with people taking Paxil for shyness, Xanax for anxiety, or Wellbutrin for weight loss. But I do have a problem with people assuming that whatever it is that I take (used to take, actually) is a cop-out.

The decision to handle mental conditions biologically is as moral a decision as any other. It is a time-honored one, too. Human beings have always tried to cure psychological disorders through the body. In the Hippocratic tradition, melancholics were advised to drink white wine, in order to counteract the black bile. (This remains an option.) Some people feel an instinctive aversion to treating psychological states with pills, but no one would think it inappropriate to advise a depressed or anxious person to try exercise or meditation.”

For the record, there are those of us who are treatment resistant. But even if you’re not, why would anyone assume that you would choose to take a prescription medication if you didn’t have to?

Yes, we have entered the age of pharmaceutical advertising (TV, magazines, billboards) in which even the most obscure diseases and disorders are woven into our subconscious minds. Come to think of it, my legs do tingle from time to time—maybe I should be taking something for restless leg syndrome. I’ve also noticed I’ve been a little gassy lately—I’ll just bet I’ve got me a mild case of GERD. And even though I’ve no idea what Fibromyalgia or COPD are, according to recent commercials I have a number of symptoms for both, so…yeah, I’m going to self-diagnose (since that’s what those advertisements seem to be about anyway, and it doesn’t seem all that risky when you consider that “…psychiatrists reached the same diagnosis only twenty per cent of the time…”) and demand my doctor prescribe an assortment of pills and caplets for me to ingest that may or may not work, but that will certainly cause dizziness, nausea, constipation, tremors, dry mouth, blurred vision, weight gain, diminished libido (which in all fairness, may be attributable to the weight gain) and suicidal thoughts. Yeah, give me some of that.

Exercise? Diet? Meditation? All good options. IF you can drag your sorry ass out of bed.

We seem to be living in a very strange time (but then, when haven’t we?). Scientists discovered (in many cases, accidentally) that some drugs had a positive effect, on certain psychological disorders, in a few people, under certain circumstances. And, this being America, land of opportunity and quick fixes, we of course decided to take it one step further. Why feel good when you can feel great? My girlfriend just dumped me—give me a pill. My stock portfolio is in the toilet—better take a capsule. My favorite sitcom just got canceled—better up my dosage.

You know what, that’s what cocaine is for, not Prozac. And quite frankly, cocaine (the few times I consumed it years ago) did more for me than Abilify, Prozac, Zoloft and all of the others combined. WITHOUT impinging on my libido.

For those of you who are suffering from symptoms that are far more profound and harder to treat, and find any kind of relief at all in pharmaceuticals, I am truly happy for you. Whatever relieves you from some of the horrible effects and consequences of depression or bipolar disorder, ADHD or OCD, go for it. And I promise you, even though it’s not for me, I won’t be one of those people standing on the side-lines accusing you of copping out.

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“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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Applause I’m a thousand different people, every single one is real

I’ve a million different feelings, OK but at least I feel!

And I feel rotten, yet covered with roses

Younger than springtime and older than Moses

But alive, but alive, but alive!

“BUT ALIVE” (From Applause)

Lyrics Lee Adams/Music Charles Strouse ©1970

I took a road trip the other day, a few hundred miles up to the mountains.  I needed a little quiet, a little break from the noise.  A cabin in Tahoe where there is no Internet and no TV to speak of.  No updates on Sarah Palin’s “genius” career move.  No magazine subscriptions arriving in the mail containing partially nude photos of Levi Johnston.  No Michael Jackson retrospectives, no quick, but unfortunate glimpses of Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney or Governor Sanford as I speed date through five hundred channels. 

AHHHH!!!  Two days later I am a new person.  Refreshed.  Focused.  Ready to take on the world.  Okay, so I’m a little manic, operating on only three or four hours of sleep a night.  But the truth is, that’s all I need sometimes.  Why do I continue to try and live under other people’s circadian rhythms?  

From now on I will embrace the dark, working well past midnight, or dive into the day, even though it’s only four AM.  

Perhaps I am enjoying the mood because of a spell I was put under during the drive, thanks to XM radio.  I was tuned into a Broadway musical station for a short while (God there have been some bad shows) when they played Lauren Bacall singing “But Alive,” from Applause.  Now I loved it because she can’t sing for shit, but here she is, on the Broadway stage, in a musical.  The star of the musical.  (note: this might seem contradictory to my comments about people not deserving fame, but the woman “earned” her celebrity as an actress years ago.)  Not long after that they played some song from “Hairspray” with Harvey Fierstein on vocals.  Now I love Harvey, but he can’t sing either.  In fact, compared to Harvey, Lauren has a great voice.  (note: Harvey also “earned” his celebrity long before he was staring in musicals.)  But I digress.

My point (does there really have to be a point?) is that I was energized by hearing “But Alive.”  Not only is it peppy and uplifting, it’s got a great message.  A message that I also found hysterical.  Me, driving alone in my car trying to balance out my moods and listening to Lauren Bacall singing (rasping) about multiple personalities.  

If it isn’t already, I officially nominate it for the Bipolar Anthem, to be played at all conferences, seminars, meetings, therapy sessions, or any damn time we feel like it.

So, here are the lyrics.  Just watch the first couple of minutes of the video.  After that it gets kind of weird and requires all kinds of disclaimers about portrayals of homosexuals (kind of “Boys in the Band” meets “All about Eve”).  ‘Nuff said. 

I feel groggy and weary and tragic

Punchy and bleary and fresh out of magic

But alive, but alive, but alive!

I feel twitchy and bitchy and manic

Calm and collected and choking with panic

But alive, but alive, but alive!

 

I’m a thousand different people, every single one is real

I’ve a million different feelings, OK but at least I feel!

And I feel rotten, yet covered with roses

Younger than springtime and older than Moses

But alive, but alive, but alive!

 

I feel wicked and wacky and mellow

Firm as Gibraltar and shaky as Jello

But alive, but alive, but alive!

I feel half Tijuana, half Boston

Partly Jane Fonda and partly Jane Austen

But alive, that’s the thing, but alive!

 

This kaleidoscope of feelings whirls around inside my brain

I admit I’m slightly cuckoo, but it’s dull to be too sane!

And I feel brilliant and brash and bombastic

Limp as a puppet and simply fantastic

Frisky as a lamb, lazy as a clam

Crazy but I am … alive!

 

This kaleidoscope of feelings whirls around inside my brain

I admit I’m slightly cuckoo, but it’s dull to be too sane!

And I feel brilliant! Bombastic! Super! Fantastic!

Alive! Alive! Alive! Alive!

“BUT ALIVE” (From Applause)

Lyrics Lee Adams/Music Charles Strouse ©1970

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