Tag Archives: mental illness

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.

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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.

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!

Your stupid bumper sticker makes me regret an old Halloween costume… good job.

I’ve seen your bumper sticker, and it’s not awesome.

I want to crush this particular silver Honda that I see driving around the Clintonville section of Columbus. I’ve been behind it at the light at Henderson and High, and I had to fight the urge to rev up my Volvo and give them a good smack in the ass. The other day I chanced to park next to them at the Krogers. To make a long story short, they’re lucky I was in more of a depressive mood than an impulsive mood. Otherwise, I would’ve keyed a penis into the trunk of their car. First of all, this would have fulfilled a lifelong dream to draw a penis on something; I feel I’ve missed out on something by never having done that. Second of all, they had this bumper sticker:

bibumperWTF?!? I’m so glad you find the disease that’s repeatedly derailed my life so effin’ amusing. Now, before you go and accuse me of having no sense of humor, trust in the fact that I find myself very amusing. Hell, I used to do improve: Yes… And take a look at these other great disease-related bumper sticker ideas I’ve come up with on the fly:

  • Diabetes is sweet.
  • Hypertension makes my blood boil.
  • It grows on you.
  • Amputation makes me hopping mad.
  • I don’t see what’s the big deal is with glaucoma.

There. Call Cafepress.com: I have five good pieces of merch they can sell alongside the 49 different versions of “I hate being bipolar/it’s awesome.” You can wear it, drink out of it, mouse on it, and, of course, slap it on your car’s ass. I wider Google search brings up 6,100 hits for the bumper sticker and 53,300 for the t-shirt.

I get it; you find an inherently humorous juxtaposition in the bipolar. One minute crying, next minute laughing, next minute crying again. Those people must cycle through all two available emotions thirty-seven or thirty-eight times a day. Continue reading Your stupid bumper sticker makes me regret an old Halloween costume… good job.

Judgey, Judgey

Who’s judging whom?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about an awful encounter with a new psych doctor at North Central Mental Health –via Stonewall Columbus, the LBGT organization in Columbus. In a nutshell: One Dr. Bela Agabalyan assumed I was some sort of Klonopin addict (because Klonopin is so fun) and induced a panic attack with her slouchy demeanor and accusatory behavior.

FUN SIDE NOTE: I filed a formal complaint against her, which came back finding no fault on her part. I discovered what may have been the reason for this when I got my so-called “continuation of care” paperwork from North Central. For my diagnosis she listed Substance Abuse and Borderline Personality Disorder. For the record, I have neither. Also BPD requires a lot more diagnostics than carping at someone for 20 minutes about how he’s just in the whole mental illness game for the Klonopin.

The good news is I believe I have finally found an organization through which I can get the proper care –and Klonopin. The only downside with AccessOhio is that I have to see a case manager, Peter, each time I go in. Normally, I would think this was just typical bureaucratic hoo-ha, but Peter’s office decor really gives me pause.

His walls are covered with diplomas and memorabilia from Bob Jones University, an ultra-conservative Christian “school” in South Carolina. You hear about the joint every four years when presidential candidates you would never vote for in a billion years stop by to pander to the haters who bleat every second about how much Christ-like love they ooze. I could take this memorabilia on its own. After all, every second inch of wall in Columbus is covered with some sort of paper from THE Ohio State University. But consider what Bob Jones III, the Chancellor of the “university” has said on the record about his feelings towards the gays:

From the AP in 1980: “I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted, but it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality.  I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.”

So, I’m sitting in this case manager’s office teetering on the edge of full-blown homosexual indignation. After all, mouth-poop like the above gave cover to all those bullies –especially the Young Life crowd –who felt they were “right” to throw things at my head. Worse yet, it reinforced the idea in my own head that I was somehow misshapen and wrong.

Oh, this hater’s gonna get it. I’m on the edge of my seat, just waiting for him to say even the slightest judgey syllable. Then I will stand up and declare, “I am a homosexual American! You have grievously wounded me. Good day, sir!” Then I storm out, making sure my ass looks good doing it because you know all the haters are picturing us gays naked 24/7. Why else are they so concerned? Continue reading Judgey, Judgey

Stigmata by notecards

stig·ma /ˈstiɡmə/ —from the Greek, a mark made with a pointed instrument.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which people stigmatize people with mental illnesses a lot in the past few days. This is not because the idea got stuck on the Mobius Strip in my brain, and I can’t let go of it. Eh, who am I kidding? Of course that’s that reason. But at least I had a couple good catalysts.

First of all, a friend of mine in San Antonio was going on a Walkathon for NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a group dedicated to fighting the stigma of mental illness. She’s a good person, and it was heartening to learn she was doing this.

The second reason was a flood of pictures on Facebook from a former friend’s birthday party. Each time a picture of a current beloved friend embracing this ex-friend came down my feed, and before I could delete it, I wanted to scream, “How could you betray me? Don’t you know how awful this [person]* was to me? I see your embrace of him as a rejection of me.” Then I would jump up and down, pointing and screaming at the computer, “J’accuse! J’accuse!”

[*Trust me, I came up with some pretty good, really descriptive, devastatingly cutting epithets for this person, but upon editing they all seemed as petty as him. So, I just reduced him to generic “person.” Trust me, if I could find something more boring I would.]

Luckily, I had the wherewithal all Sunday afternoon to practice my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. While the immediate response going through my head may be that these friends of mine must obviously hate me as much as this [person] hates on me, the more rational response is that people like a party; that they don’t know how this [person] rejected me overnight in the coldest manner possible; and that people can’t be expected to take my warped and crushed feelings into account every time they pose for a picture.

Yet, the stigma of people being assholes towards the mentally ill is not the most insidious kind of stigma. Trust me, I could write volumes on how this [person] (and his boyfriend) erased me from their lives because they thought a coping mechanism of mine –when stressed I find a quiet place to shadow box a wall, a very private action –was directed at them. Or I could write about how another ex-friend –God, I so want to name names here –shut me out of his life after I called him on the phone looking for a friendly voice to talk to during a period of heavy stress, saying that the had to cut me off because he was worried I was too much of a suicide risk. Or, heck, I could talk about the guy a bar last week who, after asking why I was wearing long pants on a warm night, got flustered when I answered him honestly: “My cargo shorts were covered in deadly Cheetos dust.”

“I don’t know how to respond to that,” he said as he backed away like I was stroking a king cobra.

No, the worst stigmatizers are the ones who think they are helping you. Continue reading Stigmata by notecards

Last 1973 a D.J. Saved My Life. [Part #1: Introduction; Dad]

Recently I made what I trust is a correct decision and opted against that suicide I was planning. [Don’t worry; everything’s great now, even if everything still sucks.] I cannot possibly overstate to you one factor in my decision: I have serious reservations about the availability of popular music in the afterlife, be it as cherub or as wormfood. I would miss music too much.

This close call has led me to think a lot of grateful thoughts about how music got to be such an integral part of my life.

It always knocks me slightly off kilter to walk into someone’s place and not hear music. Why don’t they have music on? They’re just walking around their apartment in silence? Is their version of silence actually silent? They have to have voices like everyone else, right? I would kill to swap the voices in my head with the voices in their head for five minutes. How can these people walk around not wanting to have the voices in their heads silenced? Do their voices tell them things like “You’re lookin’ swell today, Greg! Keep up the good work!”? When they close their eyes do they see one of those old Successories™ posters from the 90s? Do they recite to themselves that “Footprints in the Sand” tale?

My voices say things like, “You know you’ll be first on the conveyor belt when they start up the Soylent Green factories. Let better people snack on you.” I could try to drown that out with “Footprints in the Sand,” but that story just reminds me that the middle toe on my left foot has been hurting for weeks now. I assume it will need to be amputated. That’s why I always have music on whenever I can help it. Right now it’s the “Mellow New Years” playlist and The Posies’ version of “O-o-h Child.”

As a lot of bipolar folks will tell you, our minds tend to wander. Music is a low fence that keeps me from sauntering out of the yard and into dark traffic. Eventually I get back to the task at hand.

As soon as I got a radio in my room around the age of 8 or so, it went on, and it stayed on. The only reason I ever turned it off was I was leaving the room, and I only did that grudgingly because President Ford told us to. I would lay awake at night tuning in far away AM stations, feeling an electricity whenever I tuned in a station that began not with a boring W, but with the exotic K or even the weird-tingly-feeling causing C. Even in far away Canada they listen to the same music we do. Somewhere, some other kid was listening to “Kung Fu Fighting” at the exact same time. I’ll take connection where I can get it. Continue reading Last 1973 a D.J. Saved My Life. [Part #1: Introduction; Dad]