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Death, Luck, and Going On

square833I count my deaths. The times when I fell down and hit my head or hit it on the top of a door frame (a hazard of being six foot six and a half inches). The time when I ran a red light and nobody hit me. The time I put on the brakes in a heavy rain and spun around and around in a circle. The time when I was rear-ended. The time — I was four — when I stuck some wire in an electrical plug and felt the juice starting to flow into my hand. The time when a dog should have mauled me. The times I was knocked about by family or other kids so hard that I heard the scream of my brain. The time when I ate raw elderberries and needed to have my stomach pumped. The times I was bitten by wild animals and should have gotten rabies. The times I ate dodgy foods from the refrigerator. The two times when I was hit by a car — one as a boy and one as an adult. I should be, by these counts, in the grave and forgotten — a presence beneath a tombstone becoming diffuse in the dirt. But I don’t even have a scratch.

What to call this existence that I am in? Heaven? Certainly not. Hell? It seems so at times. Purgatory? More likely because there are lengths when life is not excruciating. What it all shares is an unyielding guilt for having survived to do so little, to be of such little impact. I mark that I have been an embarrassment and a mistake in other people’s lives. I’m sorry, so very sorry. But I can’t help being around. This thing will end when it ends. It is not for me to decide.

Selfies and Narcissism

square832Notice how people with no clue of the personalities of the people who post selfies jump to the conclusion that they must be narcissists? Appreciation of the complexity of motives driving self portraiture lies beyond the capacity of their minds it seems. I, however, believe the problem is ignorance which fuels too hasty judgements.

I have taken selfies for several years now. Many artists and photographers do. For most of us it is an exercise in our art, an experiment in composition. For many years, I did not like having myself photographed. It was a shock to see how people saw me or how I presented myself to the world. My wife, for example, seemed to include my then-ample-belly in every one of her photos of me. When I was young, I did not like my lanky frame. When middle-aged my stomach. Now in my late fifties, I don’t care about these things so much because I have spent a lot of time desensitizing myself to my own face and body. This isn’t narcissism: it is self-experiment and rehabilitation.

What about the young woman who shows her cleavage or her legs? I have to ask why the obsession with how young women choose to present themselves? I will grant you that there are narcissists among them, but the focus on young women in particular rankles of sexism. There are men who like to present their six-packs. And men and women who are not so pretty and fit who still show their faces and bodies. Are these narcissistic or are they merely trying to show the world that they, too, are attractive?

It is no sin to like your face and body. Calling others ugly or narcissistic because they don’t measure up to your standards of beauty or privacy strikes me as more contemptible. I have come to like my face and I like the faces that others post, too. It’s not all about me, but about the comeliness of the human race. Instagram, Snapchat, and Dailyboother when taken as a whole celebrates us for what we are. Human beings are meant to be seen.

Check out my new blog

No, I am not closing down Pax Nortona. I am merely making some separation. Chaparral Hiker is devoted to my adventures in the brush and beyond. Hope to see you there soon!

Mood stabilizer

I foreswore
anguish
for a silver dawn
but I also
gave up
rabid joy.

Colors

square831Awakening brought a turbulence of thought. The Supreme Court decision, troubles online, and other matters swept through my head — and like a white water raftsman passing through the Inner Gorge, I thrilled to every second of it. Fortunately, I had an appointment with my therapist. I dressed, ate, walked the dog, and then got in the truck for the drive to Laguna Hills. Enroute, I came to a rise on El Toro Road. A pair of bikers mounted the crest. One wore Day-Glo green-yellow and the other a pink so bright to my hypomanic eyes that I averted my gaze so that they wouldn’t hypnotize me. Then I saw the double yellow lines streaming over the top. They had never seemed so brilliant as they had at that moment. I knew by this that my mood was surging with the slope of the road.

“There are certain difficult things that I need to do,” I told my therapist, “but I can’t do them now because I would enjoy them just too much.” She laughed because I was laughing hard.

On the way back, I saw a cop car stopped by the side of the road, its lights flashing. It started moving as I approached, then picked up speed, turned a corner and vanished into traffic. A second sheriff’s deputy came from the opposite direction. Then as I came to a stoplight, a third one entered the intersection, slowing at the crossroads before zooming to the scene of all the excitement, its lights flashing white yellow red, white yellow red.

Broken Water Main

square830The street was slick as if we’d had a good rain. The closer we drew to our light at the crest where Saddleback Ranch and Glenn Ranch met, the wetter the road. It was flooding near the top. A pair of police cruisers hedged off the road. In the darkness, I could see a blue-white geyser shooting into the air in a steady torrent. A firetruck stood at the ready. At the other end, more police cars blocked off the road. We splashed past our usual turn and made a left at El Toro. Lynn and I schemed about what we would do if our water was cut off by the burst. “The only water we’ll use is for drinking and flushing the toilet,” she said. “I have Gatorade on hand,” I added helpfully. When we got home, we turned on the kitchen tap expecting it to scream as empty plumbing does. But a stream bubbled into a glass and I drank it.

On Self Revelation and Its Risks

square829Self revelation is the most dicey thing that a blogger can do. You put yourself out there hoping for help and support, risking being attacked or ignored. Mental health bloggers have perceived this, I think — as well as sensed opportunities for fame — and made a transition to writing advice columns for people with their illness. (I’ve remained stubborn and keep writing about how my mind works.) There are those vagabonds who come by a page for the purpose of harassing you because you have a mental illness. These are easily dealt with. The silence is worse. Your words disappear onto a hard disk and are never removed. Worst of all are the people who read what you write and then make a comment like “Well, you told us how you feel.” Behind remarks like that I hear a resounding “shut up”.

PTSD and Bipolar: Vampires in the Warehouse

square828I’ve been dreaming of vampires lately. The vampires work normal jobs as clerks in huge warehouse stores. You pass through the aisle and then come to the checkout stand where the vampires are waiting for you. There are people who kill the vampires, but when they do, they turn into vampires themselves. Nicholas Gage is one of the vampire hunters. This is never a good sign.

The stigma I have experienced for being a sufferer of PTSD is worse than that I experience for being bipolar. Though bipolar disorder is not what some call a “casserole illness”, I can at least talk about it without people telling me that my symptoms are figments of my imagination. Standing up for the reality of my bipolar disorder was hard with my mother to be sure, but it was harder to speak about what my childhood had been like. Like many abusers, she denied her part in the emotional and physical abuse perpetrated against me to the very last day of her life. After she died, her friends told me what a great person she was. They did the same for my father. I have learned that the most beneficial salve for this is simply to remind myself that there exist as many different perspectives on each of us as we have relationships. But this comes dangerously close to buying into the denial about what was done to me.

Things continue to trigger me. The other night I was facilitating a support group when a man walked in from the street. We were mid-meeting and were about to listen to a fragile member. “Do you understand what the group is for,” I asked. “I saw the sign that said ‘Quakers’ and thought this is where the Universe wants me to be.” “This is for people living with depression and bipolar,” I said. His eyes lit up. Had he lucked into the right place? I asked him his name. He started bragging that he was a certified NLP therapist.

I held up my hand. “You’re trying to control me,” he protested. “We’ll get to you in time. First we listen to Regina..” Our NLP therapist took a seat and leaned forward hungrily. I focused my attention on Regina so that the other members of the group would do the same. When she was finished, I made a remark or two, then asked if other members of the group had feedback.

Mr. NLP rattled off a series of probing questions that, in his mind, established him as creditable. The look on his target’s face suggested that she was overwhelmed. Other people looked scared. I held up my hand. “This is inappropriate feedback,” I began.

“You’re trying to control me,” he shot back. “I’m the facilitator of this group,” I replied. “I’m supposed to do that.”

Insert the standard paranoic lecture about people who get off on having a little power into the mouth of Mr. NLP here.

I pointed to the door. “Out.”

His protestation that I couldn’t make him leave was drowned out by five angry women telling that, indeed, he had to go. My wife rose up and crossed the room to hover over him. “You have to leave now!” she said. He stood up and started accusing us of being a bunch of whiners who he could cure. He called my wife bipolar. I followed them to the door where he made his exit. There was shouting, yelling. I saw that the affair was over, so I went back into the meeting room where one member sat calmly in her chair.

“We can just talk you and me if you want,” I said, craving calm.

Lynn came back. Then Regina showed her face at the door. The two other women came back. They requested that we secure the Meeting House so he couldn’t sneak back in. Lynn locked the doors.

I held a moment of silence, then let people talk about what had happened. Many expressed their fear that he was going to be violent. One woman needed to use the bathroom. Lynn went with her. A frantic feeling filled my gut, one of panic not anxiety. I returned the focus to Regina, then continued through the circle. When it came to me I reported that I was shook up and scared. The other members made it clear that they did not fault me.

Afterwards, we gathered in shocked silence in the foyer. Everyone had brought out their cellphones and studied the keypad as if memorizing the correct configuration for Nine One One. I told people that we would all leave together. We went from car to car, checking the back seats as I had learned to do on a college campus years ago. I was the last to leave.

The people in whom I confided my feelings of being scared laughed them off. One person spoke of how she would have liked to have handled the guy and implied that my accompanying people to check the backs of their cars before they left was “oh so American”. “I don’t have that problem because I have a bicycle,” she said.

It has been a chore to write about this in the aftermath of the event itself and the facetious commentary. One fellow survivor of abuse observed on Facebook that people will often shut down the victim relating their experience by outright denying the abuse or otherwise belittling the telling of it. He writes:

It closes the doors for someone to talk about their feelings and forces them to keep it inside. This can destroy a person’s life. Many suicides result from this. Once any of these lines are used, the person may loses trust with the person who used one of these lines. Unfortunately much of this comes from family. The ones who we are supposed to trust to talk about our feelings are the very ones shutting us off. This forces us to seek friends or even strangers to talk to. This type of abuse is worse than the original abuse we went through.

I am worried for myself. I’ve detected faint flashes around the rims of my eyes. I feel the panic of the dream — that there are vampires around me and people treat it as a joke. Worse, I fear signs that I am becoming abusive. Or that my confessions will brand me as untrustworthy.

The final stigma of PTSD that haunts me is the implication that because I don’t have “a thick hide” I am unfit for being in a leadership role among people enthralled in the suffering of mental illness. My sensitivity is a mark against me even though I feel and others have told me that I am more empathetic because of it. This feels like the final revenge of my dead parents: when I was young, it was always my protests that were the problem — not their considerably more violent rages. For the longest time, I have not stood up for myself and when I have done so, I have done it badly. Now it is my sensitivity — my feelings of upset by encounters with aggressive people — that is labeled the problem. Don’t feel. In cases like the one I have just described, I have felt a distinct uneasiness and shame for having allowed the situation to develop. As I told Lynn: “I am sorry that I put you in a situation where you felt you had to act the pit bull.” After all of this, I am the vampire. So far those with whom I have talked about this have not gainsaid me.

The Same Places

square827I’ve been thinking less about what it means to live with bipolar disorder and more about what it means to be human. But I have not yet stopped looking at what is wrong with me — damn those memories that strobe in my brain at the slightest trigger — and moved on to being the kind of person that I could be given the burnishing of my life history. I do things to fill the time. My steps on the trail resound with classical musical, my eye finds fresh subjects for the camera, but I end up in the same places, seeing the same things. And I haven’t dreamed in weeks.

Boadicea

square826There in the half darkness sits a cat, the white fur of her neck mounded like a cravat, a tabby shield over her heart.  A loud, uneven purr pours out of her nose.  She waits for my service, first as waiter, then as warmer on the bed.  This is my companion when the disturbances of the night interpose themselves between me and the equanimity that I covet.  I am a bore, but she is a cat and requires no conversation.

A Cage for my Chaos

square825People talk about being shocked by the diagnosis: The diagnosis did not throw me for a whirl — all the confusion stemmed from the sense of being different but not knowing how. When the hospital psychiatrist looked at me across the table and asked me if anyone had ever suggested to me that I was bipolar, I began constructing a cage for my chaos.

Walking with Trail Bikers

square824A red jacket or shirt serves to show them that I am there. My ears stay pricked for their sounds: snatches of rapidly approaching conversation, a circle of clicks from their wheels, and a whine not unlike the wind blowing through electrical lines. I watch out for them and they watch out for me. One hit me a few weeks ago. A shout and the scream of brakes told me that he was coming in an uncontrolled sloping fall down the trail. I stepped up to the raised dirt siding to avoid him. Alas, he had the same idea. His handlebars punched my lower back. He fell sideways. I took two steps forward and bit down so hard that I cracked a temporary crown. There was no animosity between us afterwards. The day was hot and salved my spine. I walked off the pain and the surprise.