Category Archives: Mental Illness

Chronicling these orange times

punchcheetoWrite.

Online this weekend, I saw a meme or something that a Facebook friend had shared. The gist of it was: “If you sat in history class and ever wondered ‘What would I do?’ look at what you’re doing now. That’s what you would’ve done.” That led to a bit of soul-searching because, to be honest, I’ve done nothing since Trump got in.

I see friends attending protests and rallies, and I feel sick to my stomach. Those crowds! Am I going to let my deep-seeded fear of crowds prevent me from exercising my right to protest? Yes. The last thing a protest needs is some guy having a panic attack in its midst –it would take away from the Trump-hatred. Nor have I done that mystic act of telephony and called my representative. That’s due to a combination of a fear of cold-calling and a fear that Congress has already been neutralized via Executive Action.

I know I live in interesting times (in the full sense of the Chinese curse). However, years from now we will emerge from these dark times, all of us dancing around a maypole with a rotting orange head stuck to the top. On that joyous day, or maybe the day after, I’m sure the storytelling will begin. It’s then I see what my contribution –at least to my own sanity –can be. I can chronicle. I can commit to ones and zeroes what I see going on, at least with myself. I cannot live thru this time without an outlet, and words have always been an outlet for me.

This blog has been moribund for months because of some intense writers’ block. I felt I had run out of things to say. I was at the end of having experiences worthy of writing down. Frankly, I was tired of writing about my bipolar disorder. I felt writing about it was giving it too much power. So I stepped back for a while. Also, the election came as such a blow, it knocked my will to write out of my fingertips.

Then, on Saturday night, I found myself slumped on the kitchen floor, muttering “fuck”-s, and punching myself in the head. This was not good. This was about the time my Facebook feed was filling up with horror stories about he Muslim ban. I read the stories about people with Green Cards not being allowed to return home. Anger rose inside of me. I knew people were protesting en masse outside of JFK, but that just led to a growing feeling of impotence: A) I was in Columbus; and B) see fear of crowds above. All of a sudden, that anger and impotence I felt directed itself towards me. I started punching my head. I felt like I deserved it for not being at a protest. Luckily, my sister was within earshot and could come into the kitchen to calm me down.

I don’t like that Donald Trump makes me want to hurt myself. I don’t like that my anger towards him makes me feel my mental illness acutely. You know how when you’re in a nightmare, and you try to scream, but all that comes out in real life is a whimper? I don’t like feeling like that.

Side note: It’s the people who aren’t angry who are mentally ill, amirite? Wait, maybe “mentally ill” isn’t the best word for these people… It takes away from those of us who are legit mentally ill. I’ll suggest facist-philic for those other folks.

My mom always used to tell to not fight back at bullies. “You’re just giving them the reaction they’re looking for.” BULLSHIT! Trump is a bully, and he wants me slumped on the kitchen floor punching myself in the head. So I have to fight back. Maybe I won’t be showing up at any protests any time soon. I have to work up to that. (Do people even protest in Columbus? If so, invite me to one. I’m far too delicate a snowflake to show up to one alone when I’m ready.)

What I can do is write down what’s happening in my corner of the world. I know I’m going to want to read these words when we are free of the Orange Man. I would suggest everyone journal or something. Get your feelings down. Get the facts down. I have a feeling we’re entering a time when history, especially personal history, will matter.

Extra bonus: time spent at the keyboard is time spent not punching myself.

Write.

 

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For art, go stand by an eagle.

It was the first day of kindergarten, and free time had begun. Importantly, I had done everything Miss Petersen had said to do –to the letter. In fact, I was pretty impressed with myself for having identified and found an eagle in the visual cacophony of the kindergarten classroom at Manasquan elementary. There I was standing underneath the flag to which we had earlier learned to pledge our undying allegiance to the great man who made America possible, Richard Stanz, and yet I still had no painting supplies in my hand.

I had art to create. I felt I had done some amazing work with finger paints in pre-school, and I was looking forward to seeing what I could do with an actual brush.

“Everyone who wants to paint, go stand by an eagle.” Those were her words. Eagle. I know –it made no sense. Some kids went into an alcove and stood by big, propped-up boards. I didn’t know what you called those big, propped-up boards in the alcove, but they certainly weren’t eagles. I looked around the room. You could say I had an eagle eye. (Sorry. Not sorry) We had a bird book at home, and eagles looked exactly like what was at the tip of the flagpole at the end of the blackboard by the classroom door. So I stood there. Certainly she would get around to me sooner or later and lead me to that arting heaven I was promised in church. But she never did. Why did Miss Petersen hate me? I had half a mind to tell on her to Richard Stanz if I ever met him. Continue reading For art, go stand by an eagle.

Aqua-Possum

Right now, here in Ohio, it’s about 92 and humid today. This got me thinking about pools. That in turn got me thinking about the first important lesson I ever got in a swim class…

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Youth swimming was a big deal at the Strathmore subdivision’s pool. Whether you were a pollywog or a tadpole or a minnow determined whether you could use the intermediate pool or were relegated to the kiddie pool. The big, big pool was beyond all our dreams and was only for those who graduated into levels with exotic names like “beginner” and “advanced beginner.”

I was five and just trying to get myself from tadpole to minnow so I could flop around unhindered in the intermediate pool. No one ever pooped (hardly) in the intermediate pool. Once you’re past pooping indiscriminately, the thrill of swimming with poop kinda diminishes. To get away from the poop, one had to learn such difficult moves as holding onto the side of the pool and kicking and pushing off from the side of the pool –all real minnow material.

But standing between my minnow badge and me was the instructor, Scott. He was a high school guy with hair that looked the same dry as wet, and, in place of regulation swim trunks, he wore too brief cutoff denim shorts with extra fringe. All in all, he gave the impression more of someone who herded children into a windowless van than into the shallow end of the intermediate pool. Continue reading Aqua-Possum

Bernie’s Bullies, Hillary’s Harassers: An Empath Tries To Survive Facebook During the Democratic Primaries

SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!

There. I said it. It needed to be said. You are hurting me with each post. Every “funny” meme you shared feels like an interestingly treaded boot on my chest. Every poll from an organization I’ve never heard of that you’ve clicked LIKE on is a knitting needle slowly inserted into the empty space of my eye socket. Every think piece from liberalspanktwaddle.org showing why whoever has no chance or every chance feels like watching this week’s Super Bowl Halftime Show again… without Beyoncé, or Bruno Mars, or even Coldplay’s hot drummer. Everything you post is pure torture.

Yes, I am a delicate little flower.

Deanna_loses_her_empathic_abilitiesMore correctly, I am an empath. Now you may only be familiar with empaths from the character of Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. You remember her –the woman with the curly hair that sat next to Captain Picard on the bridge and said things like “I sense deception” whenever the plot called for it. Most of the times being an empath came in handy. However, once a season, whenever the actress’ contract called for her to be the focus of a story, Troi would clutch her head in pain and slump against the bulkhead because the vibes or whatever were just too much to bear.

It seems every time I log on to Facebook lately, I end up slumped against a bulkhead, and I’m sick of it. Continue reading Bernie’s Bullies, Hillary’s Harassers: An Empath Tries To Survive Facebook During the Democratic Primaries

Choosing songs for your Dismal Day: A countdown.

Go ahead and admit it, you’re really feeling down today. Just let it wash over you. Go with it. There’s no shame in having a little free-floating depression. I know… I been blessed with a brain that cycles in and out of an unmoored depression on a daily basis.

I want to help you with your Dismal Day. My advice for you is to listen to some music. “Wow, what a facile suggestion, Chris. Gee, thanks,” you’re saying now as you put your ear buds in.

Stop before you hit random and sink into the couch.

You can’t just hit random.

At least not right off the bat. Curating a depression playlist is one of the most important tasks to make the most of your Dismal Day. I know for me that listening to music is, on some of the worst days, all I have. Choosing those songs not only occupies my brain away from the dark thoughts, the songs themselves can focus my attention away from “What’s the fuck with your life, Chris?” to “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?”

Or any other of the billions of questions that song lyrics bring up. That’s my universal bit of advice. Find something with lyrics. Listening closely and actively to the lyrics is the best medicine for shutting down that little hamster on a Mobius Strip that your brain’s become today.

I’m not going to offer up specific songs except by means of example. My taste in music is not going to match up with yours. Do what you will with the specific examples I’m tossing off below –focus instead on the wayfinding aspects. I guarantee you that, while curated music may not lift you out, it’ll stop you from sinking deeper.

#5

Songs that take you back to a specific time and place. It goes without saying that this place should be a happy place, a place you felt welcome. Try to choose as specific a memory as possible, one not saddled with a lot of baggage. I would steer away from the song you danced to at your prom if, let’s say, she ripped your heart out later. So “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger is off my list.

But… “You Got Another Thing Comin’” by Judas Priest does the trick because I have this very pleasant memory snippet of dancing with Amy Burns to it at a post-game sock-hop junior year of high school. After two years at this school, I had finally worked up the nerve to attend a game and a sock-hop. We were just bopping on the dance floor, and, when we got to the chorus, Amy screamed it at the top of her lungs, poking her finger into my chest to the beat. Weird yes, but I finally felt I belonged at Dublin High.

Or maybe you remember the first time you heard the song. My favorite pop song of all time, and one that I always turn to when I’m down, is “Bad Time” by Grand Funk Railroad. This is not because it’s the “best” pop song ever. It’s because the first time I heard it I was curled up in the back seat of my parents car driving back to our house on Long Island after a fun day in Manhattan. We had seen Grease on Broadway and eaten in fancy French restaurant where I serenaded the table by playing the crystal water glasses. As the notes poured out of WABC-77AM, I felt safe, warm, and, most of all, sophisticated. It’s that feeling I return to whenever I hear “Bad Time.”

#4

Songs from when you first realized you were “different.” Yes, as shown above, some songs can engender a warm, fuzzy sense of belonging. However, if you’re compiling a playlist to listen to on a Dismal Day, chances are you’re not feeling like you belong anywhere. So why not drill down into that feeling of alienation with some selections from when you first felt like you didn’t belong. We all had that time, usually around the age of 12 or 13, when we first turned to music to express our butt-hurt at the horrible, epoch-shattering injustices that were being heaped upon us. Today’s problems may seem insurmountable, but 12 year old you’s problems got solved. Go back to what got you through that.

I repeatedly choose “The Logical Song” by Supertramp. My mom and dad had “tricked” me into going to a private school just as I was starting to settle in, after three years, into the public school where I was. “Just take the entrance exam. If you pass it, we’ll know you’re getting a good education in the Virginia Beach Schools.” How could I have fallen for that? It’s not the angriest sounding song, but, again, listen to the lyrics and imagine how deep and angsty they sounded to a 12 year old in my situation.

#3

In for a penny, in for a pound: Really, really depressing songs. Just go for it. You’re depressed today. Embrace it. Wallow in it. Spread it all over you like off-brand suntan lotion from the Family Dollar.

Now this requires a little pre-planning. Have a few of these types of songs ready to cue up before the day gets dark. You definitely don’t want to be digging around trying to find sad songs when you’re already sad. It’s the emotional equivalent of hunting for a flashlight in the basement after the lights go out and the ice weasels come.

“I’ve Been Destroyed” by Mantler (or Marker Starling). You’ve never heard this song before, but it’s a doozy.

“Alone Again, Naturally” by Gilbert O’ Sullivan. Sadness doesn’t need to be obscure: Number one for six weeks in 1972. Fifth most popular song of the 1970s.

Remember, a song doesn’t have to sound sad to be sad. Perhaps the artist met an untimely fate. “Valerie Loves Me” by Material Issue sounds upbeat… until you find out that the lead singer took his own life five years after this song came out, reportedly over a relationship gone bad. This song now serves to remind me that I will not go down this path. Dig out your favorite rock n roll cautionary tale and give it a spin; it’ll do more than you think.

#2

Find some well-curated nostalgia. By now you’ve figure out that I’m not a big fan of discovering new music when you’re depressed. That new song will cuneiform onto your brain in this delicate state, and when you hear it at a future date, it will bring you back to this Dismal Day. Instead, take advantage of the amazing streaming universe in which we now live.

  • Remember an old peppy song, search for it on YouTube, and, when you find the video, click on the “Mix” choice. It works surprisingly well, and as a bonus, you occasionally get amazing videos to watch. I’ve been feeding off of “Heavenly Pop Hit” by the New Zealand pop band The Chills for three days now.
  • Your iTunes still has a mess of streaming radio stations. They never took those away thru the various iterations of the platform. There are literally hundreds of stations that play nothing but songs from the 1960s/70s/80s/90s. That should come as no surprise. But today, why not mix it up a bit? Shift a decade out of your comfort zone. Or maybe listen to a station from Germany or France. After all, there’s only so many times you can hear “Come On Eileen.”
  • I’m a complete chart nerd, and I listen old recordings of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 each weekend morning, the times I’m most likely to wake up depressed –one from the 80s on Saturday morning and one from the 70s on Sundays. Casey was a treasure, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a few years ago when he passed away (and his wife stole his corpse) (Links to an external site.). Casey should appeal to two aspects of your Dismal Day: First, a sense of order. You need order today to keep your mind occupied. Second, Casey doesn’t judge. All songs are equal in his velvety voice; he only cares about the numbers and the trivia. You can find old broadcasts of AT40 by downloading either the TuneIn or iHeartRadio apps and searching for “American Top 40 the 70s [or 80s].” Furthermore, the iHeartRadio app has a dedicated station that plays nothing but AT40s.

#1

Pretend you’re singing. I know it’s too much to ask that one ask you to sing, much less dance, when you’re this depressed. But maybe you can pretend to sing. Find some songs that you’ve always pictured yourself singing. I don’t mean in the shower; I mean singing instead of the artist who does it now. For example, whenever I hear Oasis’ “Morning Glory” it’s not Liam Gallagher singing it’s me. And you know what? I rock.

I also rock when I’m Billy Ocean…

And when I’m Paul McCartney…

So now, go inside, curl up, and find some music because you know what, too?

You rock.

Open letter to the friend who broke up with me because he thought I was too much of a suicide risk…

Dear _____________________,

First of all, I would like to point out the not-inconsequential fact that it’s two and a half years later, and I’m STILL HERE. I am not dead. I did not do myself in. Obviously, this must be a bit of a surprise for you, considering how close you must’ve thought I was to… to…

Just how did you fantasize I was going to do it? It’s still an odd feeling that someone besides me was contemplating my demise. How far along in the planning stage were you. There has to be some point where thinking about someone else’s upcoming suicide turns into plotting their murder.

Especially when you turn your back. Suddenly. After eight years of friendship.

I still remember that night you cast me out. Things weren’t going so well for me: I had just spent a week on a disastrous vacation that I thought would relax me but turned out to be basically was one long, extended panic attack, and also I just found out that I was in real danger of being evicted from the apartment I loved. I had had a therapy appointment that evening. The therapist, realizing I was in a fragile state, told me to call a friend to talk when I got home –just to stay connected.

Before I left her office, she made me write out and sign a sheet of paper stating that I would not harm myself. I know that might sound stupid to you, but making a promise to someone in writing really makes you step back and think about offing yourself. She also made me promise that I would call a friend. She asked me whom I could call. Yours was the first name I said.

That’s how much you meant to me. You meant so much that I felt I could actually call and talk to you. On the phone. With voices.

I’m not sure you remember the message I left. It was nothing special, just something along the lines of “Hey, it’s me. Had a really rough therapy session, and she said I should call someone to stay connected. Could really use to hear a friendly voice tonight.” Something like that; I can’t remember the exact words I used.

I ordered some pad thai and waited for you to call. When you can’t talk to someone, occupying your mouth with pad thai is the next best thing.

You never called. I went to bed, taking an Ambien to make the day go away.

Then, just as I was drifting off, you TEXTED back. Texting to return a phone message is always a bad sign. Right off the bat, I knew it was bad: “I don’t think I can do this any more,” you wrote. After going on a bit about how I was shiftless and lazy –“At least get a job at a grocery store! Do something!” –you got to the corpse of the matter. “I think you’re going to end up killing yourself, and I can’t be around for that.”

Well, I know you can’t be around for my suicide. That would be sick, just sitting by and watching as I… seriously, how did you imagine this would go down? I bet you were thinking pills. I’ve always have had a lot of pills hanging around because of my Bipolar II condition.

I know you thought you knew all about Bipolar because of that one friend you had who experienced the manic episodes. Not to diminish her suffering, but she has Bipolar I, a disease as different from Bipolar II as Diabetes I and II are from each other. But no matter how often I tried to remind you of this fact, you always insisted on telling me that she had it a lot worse than me.

And on a side note: Never compare one person’s mental illness to another’s, especially when they are different types. You will look like a fool, and will make at least one of the ill people feel even worse.

That’s what sucks about Bipolar II: It doesn’t have the spectacular manias of Bipolar I. Instead, it has a guy sitting on the couch in his underwear watching an Ancient Aliens marathon. I spend a good chunk of my days praying for just a sliver of mania. That what hurts so much about you wishing I would just pull myself together. You don’t get it… That’s the main symptom of Bipolar II –not being able to pull oneself together. Sorry it, and I, wasn’t exciting enough for you.

But I’m used to friends breaking up with me over it, though none have ever done it as cruelly as you. Mostly they just got sick of my whining or whatever. “You’re so passive,” said one. “You lean on me too much,” said another. I could go on and on. Yet, however horrible I feel these guys may have been at the time, I know they would’ve stuck around long enough to make sure I didn’t slit my wrists. (I have a funny feeling you think I would’ve slit my wrists. I don’t know –you just give me that vibe.)

Now, after two and a half years, I still trust people just a little bit less. I had always felt that most of my relationships were on a knife’s edge –that’s just the way it goes with mental illness –but what you did to me intensified that tenfold. I felt I had a special relationship with you, that I didn’t need to sugarcoat what was going on. It may sound weird, but it’s like we shared responsibility for the friendship. Listen, I know it’s hard being friends with the mentally ill because we don’t do normal things. But I like to think that at least 51% of those not normal things are somewhat charming and more than make up for the other 49%.

However, apparently I did need to sugarcoat. Looking back, it seems to me you were you silently judging me every time we hung out for those eight years. I still hardly trust anyone to know what’s really going on mental-wise out of fear that they will throw up their hands and say, “No màs,” the way you did. I have a very small circle of friends left, whom I cherish, but thanks to you, I’m constantly expecting THAT text. And that’s not fair to them.

That night I texted back, “Just wanted to talk to a friend.” That was the last time I’ve ever had any communication with you.

But I’m still here. I’m slowly learning to trust again. And I want to thank you. Not for the trust stuff. You can rot for that.

I wanted to thank you because each time I have a suicidal ideation –and with Bipolar II, they come fast and furious –I know that NOT killing myself would be the biggest “fuck you” to you imaginable. And that “fuck you” is a huge incentive to keep going.

 

Three affirmations arising out of 2016: Week One.

Try to type “affirmations” without sounding like a d-bag. Go ahead, try.

The first week of 2016 has been full of affirmations. I’ve been encountering the word everywhere –in print, on signs, in casual conversation. Even my friend Damian referred to his liking a photo I posted on Facebook as “affirming the photo.”

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The affirmed photo. Highbanks MetroPark.

But before I go into detail about any more of the instances, I need to acknowledge how silly I feel writing about affirmations. Yes, I’m a silly, self-centered man for foisting my New Year’s affirmation encounters upon you, but it’s deeper than that… I feel silly even typing “affirmations.” I wish there was a font that adequately conveyed the voice I feel I need to use to whenever I say the word “affirmations.” My normal voice will not suffice, mainly because it feels weird to hear “affirmations” in my own voice, in my own head, thru the bones in my face. I feel that “affirmations” is best said in a voice and timbre similar to that which I use for the outgoing message on my phone –the voice that’s acutely aware it had to go thru speech therapy in the fifth grade along with all the other boys who couldn’t throw a ball.

Affirmations: I say it deeper, but more out of the body. Like there’s a speaker playing a self-help cassette an inch in front of my face. And I’ve taken a couple Quaaludes.

Affirmations. Continue reading Three affirmations arising out of 2016: Week One.

Flammkuchen, or I storm out of a German restaurant.

“Hey man, great shirt!” said the guy at the bar.

Didn’t he know I was storming out of the restaurant? I thought I made it very clear to everyone involved that I was storming out. I had thrown down my napkin purposefully. I had been walking in a straight line, avoiding eye contact with all the shocked (They were shocked, right?) patrons. I felt I had done everything short of a curt “I said GOOD DAY!”

Yet here was this guy looking right at me and smiling like a goon.

IMG_3953“Thank you,” I mustered because, let’s face it, the t-shirt was great –all pleasingly ill-fitting in all the right places, with three-quarter length sleeves and a design that cleverly mimicked the logo for the punk band Black Flag, replicating their logo with cats and changing the name of the band to “Cat Flag.”

Also I felt it was important to acknowledge the compliment because doing so would snap me back to earth, to get me back on my mission, which was to enjoy visiting my friends back in Brooklyn. My mission was not storming out of restaurants. There are plenty of restaurants out of which I can storm in Columbus.

Of course, no one walks into a restaurant planning to storm out. Yet… Black Forest Brooklyn, a very brownstone-y take on the traditional German Biergarten in Fort Greene, had messed with me before. My friend Greg, who I was with this night along with two others, and I had each had escalating bad service experiences here. I mean, the food is good and the room is pleasingly airy, but good luck getting your check. Continue reading Flammkuchen, or I storm out of a German restaurant.

CLEAR YOUR MIND! NOW! DAMMIT! BOWL! SWING HEIGHT! SWING HEIGHT! DON’T THINK ABOUT KITTENS!

gutter-ballThe ball veered left. It went into the gutter. Less than halfway down the lane. The bowler turns around for the sad Charlie Brown shuffle back the little step at the beginning of the approach. Those strips of wood are so narrow; why don’t they use wider strips, or even narrower strips? He makes it all the way to the little fan. Can he pretend to dry his hands long enough for the ball to return without looking up and seeing the disappointed looks on his teammates’ faces?

Every pin fucking matters, and you’ve just fucking missed ten of them you fuck! This is important stuff, this Monday night league of bowling homos. People aren’t giving up their MONDAY nights to watch you throw gutterballs.

He wants to punch his head so bad, but he knows how much that scares people.

But it feels so good. In a hurtful way.

He takes a deep breath, and, in doing so, makes the mistake of looking up. One of his teammates, the one who takes care of the paperwork because no one else understands it, looks right at him. The bowler knows a lesson’s coming. He knows it’s coming from a pure place of respect, concern, and brotherly love, but he dreads it nonetheless.

The team mate, the one who does the paperwork, delivers the lesson. From back at the table he holds the back of his hands to his head and flicks his fingers out in a poof moment. It’s reminiscent of the “you just blew my mind” gesture, but the bowler knows it means “Clear your mind!” Continue reading CLEAR YOUR MIND! NOW! DAMMIT! BOWL! SWING HEIGHT! SWING HEIGHT! DON’T THINK ABOUT KITTENS!