Back To Level

detalleniveldeburbujaFor 3 months, I’ve been struggling with bipolar mania which means I write on another blog.  My doctor is trying out another medicine with me, and yesterday it appeared to kick in.  I’m level, which means my mood is within a normal range.  It feels really good.

At first, the mania feels good.  I’m energetic, but eventually I feel overloaded.  I’m glad for a break, and I hope it’s a long one.

I wrote over 50 posts on my anonymous bipolar blog in that three months, plus 20k words of a memoir.  That’s about 60k words total.  I tend to write a lot when I’m manic.  If the level trend continues, I will be returning to this blog and drifting away from the other.

That means more stories, more searching for meaning in life, more observations, and more rants.

There have been many people in my life, maybe even you, who have supported me through this and have shown me patience.  I am so grateful for these people.  This has been so different than my last major mood event in 2010-2011 when I was not yet diagnosed and no one knew what was wrong with me.  Having a support network and medication has made this tolerable and not destructive.  It wasn’t nearly as bad an episode, but it could’ve been with all of the support.

Thanks guys, and look for Wally World or Bust posts starting next week when we depart for Orlando, Florida!

The Grief of Nostalgia

Christmas candles lit, England

nostalgia (origins) – a return to grief

It’s too early to think about Christmas.  I know that, but I feel myself sinking into a longing for it.  I know where that leads, and I’ve written about this before.

My seventh Christmas was a real sweet spot for me as far as Christmases go.  There was a moment that couldn’t have lasted more than 10 minutes that ranks as one of the greatest memories of my life.  I was in my front living room in our house.  We had a live tree with presents under it.  My mom had just given me permission to light the candles by myself for the first time.  An album was playing on the hi fi.  I believe it was somewhere in the neighborhood of a Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians Christmas album.  I was by myself.

I can’t tell you exactly what made that moment so perfect, and I’ve tried to recreate it with the smells and the music and the sights of it.  Scotch tape, burning candles, cedar tree, cozy music, low lights.  But ultimately I fail, because that house had a unique smell.  That candle  had a unique smell.  The weather had a unique smell.  That town has a unique smell.  And seven-years-old is irretrievable.  I have ached over this.

Nostalgia is really a kind of suffering.  It triggers depression for me.  It is a rejection of an unsatisfying present moment in exchange for the ghosts of better days.  Those who live in nostalgia are said to live in the past, but the past is dead.  The past does not really exist anymore, so a chronic nostalgia junky doesn’t even live in the past; they live in the present with no awareness of it.  They do not experience it at all.  It’s a longing for something that no longer exists.  It is a grief.  Those of us who suffer from nostalgia are grieving the loss of what we perceive to be better times.

It’s good to have remembrances and traditions.  But I’m talking about obsession.  Have you ever had a family member insist on a tradition that no one else likes?  They get angry at anyone who tries to disrupt it.  This is not happy nostalgia.  This is painful nostalgia.  It is hurting that person and the people around them.

There’s a movie called Cinema Paradiso in which a boy falls in love with a girl in his little Italian village.  She moves away and he does not know to where.  He spends his life trying to find her and living off the memories of her.  There is a theme in the musical score which represents his longing.  He suffers from powerful nostalgia.  When he finally finds her, they are middle-aged.  She is married.  They drive off together and have sex in the car, and that is all.  She must return to her home.  All of his pain and suffering are expressed in an ultimately empty act of lovemaking.  There is no closure for him.  He is empty, and the theme plays on.

I became obsessed with this movie and the song.  I lived off of his nostalgia as if it was my own.  I know that I should never watch the movie again.  It would trigger a depression that could last for weeks.  There are songs and movies and books that I can no longer experience without consequences.

But I have discovered how to battle nostalgia.  I seek out the moment.  I smell, see, hear, taste, and touch what is in front of me.  I make new traditions.  I watch new movies and listen to new music.  The truth is that what I long for in the past are moments in which I was fully present.  Kids know how to do this.  That may have something to do with why our most powerful memories are from our childhood.  We long for grandma’s peach pie, that one Christmas with a rare snow, the songs our parents danced to…because when we kids, we were fully immersed in those moments.  But we are just as capable of experiencing powerful moments in the present which we will one day look back on with happiness.  We will overcome the grief of nostalgia.

No Matter What, You’re Still You. Really?

105497713_1d9d31df3aRecently, due to an elevated level of mania, I cancelled my church choir rehearsal.  For the first time, I told my choir exactly why I had to cancel, and people were supportive.  I’ve decided to be candid from here on out.  I will not be ashamed.  When I finally returned, at the end of the rehearsal, we expressed our joys and concerns.  I thanked the choir for their understanding and assured them that my new meds were helping me be more functional again.  Afterwards, a woman approached me.  She has a brother who is bipolar.  She said, “Just remember that no matter what, you’re still you.”

I was deeply touched, not only because of her concern, but because one of my favorite songs is You’re Still You by Josh Groban.  I don’t really know exactly what the song is about, but I love to sing it aloud frequently.  I attach my own personal meaning to it;

It seems kind of like a love song to someone who is about to die.  Honestly, I’m not sure and I don’t really care.  It’s the phrase “after all, you’re still you” that I focus on when I sing it.  And I’m not applying it to myself really.  I’m offering it to someone else for encouragement and support.  I don’t really know what to do with it for myself.

I’m going to break this down and figure out what this phrase really means.  “You’re still you” implies, first, that there is something called a you or a me. A me is something that must be definable.  It is the qualities that make up who I am.  So when someone says to me “you’re still you”, that means that there is something that makes me unique.  I’m not you, I’m me.  I accept that there is a me.  I think the way I think.  I feel the way I feel.  I behave the way I behave.  I have a unique combination of qualities and abilities all of which make me me.

Then there’s the word “still”.  This is where I get a little hung up.  “Still” implies that there might be another thing that isn’t me; otherwise, you would only have to say “you’re you”.  So there must be something other than the essential qualities which comprise me.

At another moment, the same woman said either ,”You seem yourself again,”  or “You seem back to normal again.”  I can’t remember which.  The first implies that I wasn’t myself while I was manic.  The second implies that I was abnormal when I was manic.  In  the first case, if I wasn’t myself, then who was I?  I can’t be someone else, but I can behave in a way that is not characteristic of myself.  So, in that case, I don’t have another self, but I have another configuration of self.  The configuration where certain qualities like patience change to impatience.  Or a quality like humility changes to braggadocios.  So what she’s really saying is you’ve returned to your normal configuration.

Have you ever messed up the settings (configuration) of your phone?  The ring tone isn’t what you want.  The screen is too bright.  You can’t find your favorite app.  Something in the configuration is changed, and your phone won’t work the way you want it to until you fix it.  That’s what bipolar is.  Our configuration get’s messed up and we need medication to get the settings back right and therapy to learn to deal with the settings that the medicine cannot get back right.

So back to “you’re still you”.  I suppose I could ask her what she meant, but I think I’ve got it.  She’s saying that although I may feel, think, and behave differently, my identity, my self continues on regardless.  She’s saying that I needn’t lose sight of me;  that I should never say that I am a horrible person because of what I’ve done, but that I’m a good person because that’s the way God made me regardless of what havoc my illness may cause.

And this is where I struggle.  I do not feel like myself, think like myself, or behave like myself when I am sick.  That’s the way it seems to me. Even my appearance changes depending on how far gone and how long gone I’ve been.  People look at me, or experience me in some way and say, this is not the guy I know.  This is someone else.

But here’s what I’ve learned over years of treatment.  There is a part of my mind which transcends my self.  Let’s call it the Observer.  When my consciousness is in the Observer, then I can observe what I am thinking, feeling, and doing.  I can look at it and think, “This is a manifestation of bipolar symptoms”;  kind of like a lucid dream.  If I can do that, then there’s a better chance that I can better control the situation.  Maybe that Observer is the true me.  Maybe the other stuff is simply the product of genes, environments, and ego.  Maybe that stuff is the vehicle, and the Observer is the driver, at least when it is awake. These are good maybe’s.  These maybe’s open up the possibility that I can, at least at times, transcend my disorder.  It opens up the possibility that “you’re still you” can be applied to me.

Opossum My Possum

13151443_10154228036930152_5090480380671360651_nYesterday afternoon, I logged into Facebook (professional way of saying I’ve actually been logged into Facebook at work since 2015) and saw this picture on my wife’s wall with the caption “First I smelled it, then I saw it. HOW?!?!?!”

It took me a moment to be sure what it was.  Was it a racoon?  A lemur? A monkey?  ORRRRRR a possum?

The next question was:  are we sure this is dead?  But if it smelled bad then it was undoubtedly dead.

The NEXT question, then, is HOW?!?!?!, as my wife put it.  How did a possum end up seemingly slung over my backyard fence dead?  I’ve seen possums walk across the tops of fences three or four times.  They are very deft creatures to be admired, even though they are extraordinarily repulsive.  Certainly it must have been walking across the top of the fence.  Then what?  It slipped and fell in just the right position to be stuck?  Look how it’s little nasty feet can’t quite reach the cross bar.  That would mean that it slowly died on my fence unbeknownst to me.  I showed my backyard to a realtor on Monday and neither of us noticed this.  Was it there struggling for it’s life?  It certainly wasn’t making any noise, if so.  I’ve never heard a possum make any noise other than a hiss.

A second theory, because possums are so deft, is that it had a little marsupial heart attack and sort of jumped up and around into this position flat dead on the spot.  I prefer this theory to the slow death one.

Another theory seems very far fetched, but is it really? We have new neighbors on the other side of that fence.  I know absolutely nothing about them other than they look like college kids.  What kind of people are they?  Dunno.  Are they the kind of people who would shoot a possum and sling it over our fence?  Dunno.  But it seems nearly as plausible as he other two theories.

Final theory, raccoon assassin.

13178792_1399602410065931_1628885019297005929_n

So it’s about thirty minutes until quitting time and I’m running scenarios in my head about how to deal with this tragic possum situation.  I’ve removed a possum from my backyard before, but it was dead in a garden and mostly decomposed.  Shovel, bag, trash can, done. But this was a radically different scenario.  This was one was fresh.  It would smell foul enough to gag a person. It would be more than bones and fur.  I concocted two plans.

  1. Put on gloves. Put a bag in a utility bucket.  Use a shovel to poke the carcass off the fence onto the ground.  Shovel the carcass into the bag, tie, put in trash bin.  But see, this has a flaw.  That possum is slung exactly half way over the fence.  To poke it over the fence could easily become dragging it over the fence for which the shovel is ill-equipped.
  2. Put on gloves.  Lift the bag up to the back-end of the possum and GRAB the body with the bag until it DROPS into the bottom of the bag.  Put in the trash bin.  Now, I know everybody knows the difference between poking or patting a person and GRABBING them around the waist. I gentle pat is something friends do, but grabbing around the waist is a very intimate gesture reserved for romantic partners or lifting a baby.  So the idea of grabbing this carcass around the waist even with gloves and a bag is a huge barrier for me.

And so I brought in a couple of coworkers to look at the picture and problem-solve with me.  This is how the decision was ultimately made.  One of the guys says this.  “Ok, is the possum bloated?  Because if it is and you handle it, the bloated gas could be released from the body into your face or mouth and you don’t know if that possum is carrying a disease.  You need to call animal control.”  And this next part is what created some insecurity about the whole plan.  “And when you call, tell them you’re afraid for the safety of your kids and pets.”

To which I responded, “But my kids are 16 and 18.”

And this is said emphatically, “They. Don’t.  Need. To know that.”

So, at that point, because of the gas, I resolved to call in the animal control.  But that was not going to be a simple operation for me:  the mywifesaysimcomplicated guy.  I have two things I have to address here.  1.)  Real men remove dead animals from their property, and I have done it before.  2.)  If I have to mention I’m concerned about the safety of my children, then it seems like there’s a possibility that they won’t come out under every circumstance.  Like they might say, “Ok, sir, you’re telling me, that your pets are indoor and your kids are basically adults, and you’re a grown-ass man, and you’re asking us to send a person (who happens to be a woman half your size) to retrieve a smallish possum which is already hanging neatly on the fence for you?

And so I called my wife.  I said, “Hey, so you need to call animal control.”

She says,  “Hmmm.  Can you do that?”

I say, “Weeeellll, I think it would be better if you do.  It would be better if a woman calls.”

She says, “Babe.  I don’t want to.  Please just call.”

Nothin’ doin’.  So I look up “animal control norman” on my Google Maps app and what comes up is “City of Norman Animal Welfare”.  I read about it.  It’s about strays and adoptions.   It says nothing about removing dead animals.  But I call anyway, and I absolutely have to begin the conversation this way.

“Hello, yes, I’ah I am not sure if I’ve dialed the right place, but I’ve got a dead possum situation.  I’ve removed possums before, so…but this one is really peculiar. It’s hanging over the fence…so that’s a little weird, right?  I mean, I just don’t feel like I should be messing with it.”

“Sir, you want the animal control dispatch.  I’ll forward you to the dispatcher.”

She forwards me.

“Yes, animal control dispatch, how can I help you?”

I was out of wind and ego and worry by this point, so I simply said, “Can you pick up a dead possum?”

“Please give me your address.  Will you be at the residence?”

“Well, my wife will.”

“We’ll be right out.”

Simple as that.  None of my fears were realized.  Just “address please, on our way”.  No overt or implied judgement.

I let my wife know that they would be over soon and that she needed to be there to let them into the backyard.  When I got home she explained that the woman who came out speculated that it’s little feet may have gotten stuck on the fence.  She’d seen a cat hanging dead just like that earlier in the week.  I shuddered at the thought.

I enjoy the look on people’s face when I say that I’ve actually eaten possum.  I found it to be delicious, relative to it’s repulsiveness.  And so when my wife said she couldn’t eat the leftover roast chuck roast for dinner thinking about the dead possum, I had enough concern for her not to mention that the texture of chuck roast is very similar to possum roast.  That might have been the last chuck roast I cook in our house.

And now I will leave you with one last image.  My wife said,  “Oh, and when she removed the possum, it left a big wet spot on the fence.”

 

#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth

mental_health2

Wow.  There are a lot of mental health related months, weeks, and days.  But this is a good thing.  It needs a spotlight.

In 2014, there were an estimated 9.8 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with SMI (Serious Mental Illness). This number represented 4.2% of all U.S.

adults. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/serious-mental-illness-smi-among-us-adults.shtml

And that’s just the folks who have been identified as having SMI.  I suspect that millions more are untreated, undiagnosed.   That means that if you have 500 Facebook friends, at least 21 of them have a mental illness, which means everybody knows somebody whether they know it or not.

SMI is defined by the  National Institute for Mental Health as the following :

  • A mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder (excluding developmental and substance use disorders);
  • Diagnosable currently or within the past year;
  • Of sufficient duration to meet diagnostic criteria specified within the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV); and,
  • Resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

There are so many issues facing people with mental illness.  The availability of treatment is at the top, but so is stigmatization. Here are common myths/stigmas.

Myths about Mental Illness

Ten Common Myths

Here are ten common myths about mental illnesses.

Myth #1: Mental illnesses aren’t real illnesses.

Fact: The words we use to describe mental illnesses have changed greatly over time. What hasn’t changed is the fact that mental illnesses are not the regular ups and downs of life. Mental illnesses create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems with effective treatments. When someone breaks their arm, we wouldn’t expect them to just “get over it.” Nor would we blame them if they needed a cast, sling, or other help in their daily life while they recovered.

Myth #2: Mental illnesses will never affect me.

Fact: All of us will be affected by mental illnesses. Researchers estimate that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. You may not experience a mental illness yourself, but it’s very likely that a family member, friend, or co-worker will experience challenges.

Myth #3: Mental illnesses are just an excuse for poor behaviour.

Fact: It’s true that some people who experience mental illnesses may act in ways that are unexpected or seem strange to others. We need to remember that the illness, not the person, is behind these behaviours. No one chooses to experience a mental illness. People who experience a change in their behaviour due to a mental illness may feel extremely embarrassed or ashamed around others. It’s also true that people with a history of a mental illness are like anyone else: they may make poor choices or do something unexpected for reasons unrelated to symptoms of their illness.

Myth #4: Bad parenting causes mental illnesses.

Fact: No one factor can cause mental illnesses. Mental illnesses are complicated conditions that arise from a combination of genetics, biology, environment, and life experiences. Family members and loved ones do have a big role in support and recovery.

Myth #5: People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.

Fact: Some people try to predict violence so they know what to avoid. However, the causes of violence are complicated. Researchers agree that mental illnesses are not a good predictor of violence. In fact, if we look at mental illnesses on their own, people who experience a mental illness are no more violent than people without a mental illness.Excluding people from communities is linked to violence. And people with mental illnesses are often among those who are excluded. It’s also important to note that people who experience mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent.

Myth #6: People don’t recover from mental illnesses.

Fact: People can and do recover from mental illnesses. Today, there are many different kinds of treatments, services, and supports that can help. No one should expect to feel unwell forever. The fact is, people who experience mental illnesses can and do lead productive, engaged lives. They work, volunteer, or contribute their unique skills and abilities to their communities. Even when people experience mental illnesses that last for a long time, they can learn how to manage their symptoms so they can get back to their goals. If someone continues to experience many challenges, it may be a sign that different approaches or supports are needed.

Myth #7: People who experience mental illnesses are weak and can’t handle stress.

Fact:  Stress impacts well-being, but this is true for everyone. People who experience mental illnesses may actually be better at managing stress than people who haven’t experienced mental illnesses. Many people who experience mental illnesses learn skills like stress management and problem-solving so they can take care of stress before it affects their well-being. Taking care of yourself and asking for help when you need it are signs of strength, not weakness.

Myth #8: People who experience mental illnesses can’t work.

Fact: Whether you realize it or not, workplaces are filled with people who have experienced mental illnesses. Mental illnesses don’t mean that someone is no longer capable of working. Some people benefit from changes at work to support their goals, but many people work with few supports from their employer. Most people who experience serious mental illnesses want to work but face systemic barriers to finding and keeping meaningful employment.

Myth #9: Kids can’t have a mental illness like depression. Those are adult problems

Fact: Even children can experience mental illnesses. In fact, many mental illnesses first appear when a person is young. Mental illnesses may look different in children than in adults, but they are a real concern. Mental illnesses can impact the way young people learn and build skills, which can lead to challenges in the future. Unfortunately, many children don’t receive the help they need.

Myth #10: Everyone gets depressed as they grow older. It’s just part of the aging process.

Fact: Depression is never an inevitable part of aging. Older adults may have a greater risk of depression because they experience so many changes in roles and social networks. If an older adult experiences depression, they need the same support as anyone else.

These myths—and many more—exclude people with mental illnesses from our communities and create barriers to well-being. If we want to reduce the impact of mental illnesses on our communities, we need to learn the facts and start with our own assumptions and behaviours.

What Are the Effects/Impacts of Stigma

Stigma limits a person’s ability to:

  • get and keep a job
  • fit in at school without being bullied
  • find a safe place to live
  • attend college or university
  • receive adequate health care (including treatment for substance use and mental health problems) and other support
  • be accepted by their family, friends and community
  • find and make friends or have other long-term relationships
  • obtain insurance or loans
  • volunteer within their community
  • take part in social activities

Prejudice and discrimination often become internalized by people with mental health and substance use problems. This may lead us to self-stigmatize, meaning we:

  • believe the negative things that other people and the media say about us
  • have lower self-esteem because we feel guilt and shame

Prejudice and discrimination contribute to people with mental health and substance use problems keeping their problems a secret.

As a result:

  • we avoid getting the help we need
  • our mental health or substance use problems are less likely to get better, and in many cases get worse
  • we may become isolated, depressed and are at an increased risk of suicide
  • youth may experience increased drug abuse, suicide attempts and teen pregnancy
  • we may lose hope in our ability to recover

This myth that we all get depressed eventually is important to consider.  I’ve seen statistics that say that 1 in 4 people experience mental illness at some point.  But I don’t see it that way.  25% of the world is not mentally ill, folks. Yes, we all experience the occasional blues, but that is not clinical depression.  Many of us exhibit some obsessive compulsive tendencies, but that is not obsessive compulsive disorder.   Many of us experience the occasional mood swing, but that is not bipolar affective disorder.  When you say you have any mental illness but don’t meet the diagnostic requirements, you belittle those who do.  You’re saying, look at me, I get a little anal retentive about the dishes and I can still function, why can’t you?  I struggle with anxiety, but I meditated and it went away, you don’t need drugs, just do what I did.  Or I know what you’re going through, I was so happy yesterday, and now I want to eat a lot of ice cream because I had a rough day.  Or, I’ve suffered from mental illness just like you, and it wasn’t so bad, and I got better.  No, you do not know what it’s like.  4.2% is a lot of people, but relatively speaking, it’s almost no people at all.

I’ve been fortunate in that I’m not aware of having been the victim of stigma.  I surround myself with understanding/supportive people.  I’m also a very high functioning bipolar.  If I ever had a breakdown which greatly impacted my job, then perhaps it might be different.  But when things are looking bad, I communicate with my employer.  HR departments understand the law and the protections.  Bipolar is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), just like any other disability.  The law was designed to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in hiring, job assignments, promotions, firing, pay, layoffs, benefits and other employment-related activities.  I can’t say whether this fights stigma directly, but it does prevent a person with a mental illness from being treated unfairly because of it.

I’ve committed myself to fighting stigma over the last year.  I’ve taken a personal risk in doing so, but awareness is key.  Those of you who know me can say you know someone with a mental illness.  You can see that the stigmas are baseless in many cases.  But I acknowledge that I am the beneficiary of  good employment with good insurance.  I might look a lot different without that.  I must ask, would I be looked at the same if I didn’t have it so good?  Would you want me working for you?  Would you feel comfortable with me around your kids?  And if I were single, would you want to be involved with me?  I have nothing but sympathy for those who cannot get the treatment they need to function.  Nearly half of people with a mental illness are untreated.  Many of them are in prison.  Many are drug addicts and alcoholics.  Many are unemployable.

So what can you do?  Make yourself aware is the starting point.