Another Hockey Mask: Andreas Lubitz


square855I must tell the truth here: I do not understand what Andreas Lubitz did. In my suicidal fugues, I thought of many ways that I might kill myself that involved others such as throwing myself in front of a truck or crashing my car into a tree or driving it off a cliff, but the idea of taking others with me — that wasn’t the self-annihilation that I planned. When I came close,I found a secluded place where someone would eventually find me. That was the maximum involvement of another that I planned. Though I thought capital punishment might work for me — and send a message to those who loved me — I did not want to assassinate others.

>Rumor has it that Lubitz was going through some catastrophic issues with his girlfriend. He knew that he was ill and he was seeking treatment for it. The day of the crash, his psychiatrist issued a sick leave note. Andreas did not use it, however, and his doctor could not call the airline to tell them that he was at risk. But Lubitz did not stop at ending his own life:

Andreas Lubitz was breathing, steady and calm, in the final moments of Germanwings Flight 9525. It was the only sound from within the cockpit that the voice recorder detected as Mr. Lubitz, the co-pilot, sent the plane into its descent.

The sounds coming from outside the cockpit door on Tuesday were something else altogether: knocking and pleading from the commanding pilot that he be let in, then violent pounding on the door and finally passengers’ screams moments before the plane, carrying 150 people, slammed into a mountainside in the French Alps.

In a different article, The New York Times reported that Lubitz concealed his illness from those closest to him:

Peter Rücker, a member of the flight club where Mr. Lubitz learned to fly, told Reuters television on Thursday that he knew the young man as a cheerful, careful pilot, and that he could not imagine him committing such an act.

Online, Mr. Lubitz appeared to be a keen runner, including at Lufthansa’s Frankfurt sports club, and had completed several half-marathons and other medium-distance races, including an annual New Year’s run in Montabaur in 2014.

A Facebook page with a few tidbits of his possible “likes” was visible Wednesday but had been removed by late morning on Thursday. It showed a photograph of a young man near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, though there were no clues to when the image was taken or any other details….

Data from the plane’s transponder also suggested that the person at the controls had manually reset the autopilot to take the plane from 38,000 feet to 96 feet, the lowest possible setting, according to Flightradar24, a flight tracking service. The aircraft struck a mountainside at 6,000 feet.

Before Mr. Lubitz, 27, a German citizen, set the plane on its 10-minute descent about half an hour into the flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, the cockpit voice recorder picked up only the usual pilot banter, “courteous” and “cheerful” exchanges, the prosecutor said.

Then the commanding pilot asked Mr. Lubitz to take over. A seat can be heard being pulled back and a door closing as the captain exits the cockpit.

Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, takes the position that nothing could be done, that even the best system in the world cannot protect the public 100% from such disasters. And they are confident that they have a good one.

I am not a big fan of willy nilly violations of confidentiality. It seems to me, however, that there should have been a way for the doctor to tell the airline that Lubitz was a danger to self and others and see that he was grounded. There should be ways for the pilot to open the door from the outside of the cockpit or to place a toilet inside the cockpit so he doesn’t have to enter the passenger section of the plane. So many things can have been done differently, but I am afraid that this is not where the media, public opinion, and politics will take us. The Times’ restraint will almost certainly be accompanied by more shrill attacks on the mentally ill among us. Lubitz, I dread will become another hockey mask, another poster child who will be held up as a clarion call for denying the mentally ill their confidentiality. Laws stand before Congress that call for allowing “caregivers” to be informed of what goes on between psychiatrists and the most severe mentally ill. Will Andreas Lubitz’s crash take us another step? Who else will psychiatrists be forced to inform? How will confidentiality be broken after this incident? Who else will be able to enter the circle that HIPAA laws now defend? I shudder at the possibilities.

We must look, I think, at another major factor in this crash: stigma. Some out there think that stigma like racism no longer exists or impacts on lives. Believe me, it is alive and well. I know people who have lost jobs because their employers found out about their illness. We are told that we are ax murderers even though we have no history of violence or making threats. Friends decide that they want nothing more to do with us. Spouses panic and file papers for divorce. Now they will say that we harbor these impulses in secret, that we are all ticking time bombs.

Andreas Lubitz kept his illness a secret, I suspect, because of what would have happened to him. He would have lost a lucrative job. He might have found himself unemployed for months or even years. Friends would shun him. He would find himself very alone. In the final analysis, because he could not reveal his ache — because he could not talk about it without bringing an end to the life he had worked so hard to create for himself — the pressure built on him. When he found himself alone at the controls of the jet, he forgot the passengers. Only his pain was real to him and he ended it in the most powerful way he could.

In Defense of Nudes

square854I don’t do nudes — at least so far — largely because I am shy about working with nude models. When I say “Let’s do some ahhrt” (reference to the movie “Gia”), I see my models with their clothes on.

Recently some shouted out that a favorite model site ( of mine is a place where “pornographers stalk”. Many models do pose in the nude there, but I think the person who made this statement makes a fundamental misunderstanding, namely that nudes are the same as pornography.
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Grandiosity, Branding, and the Purposeless Driven Life


square8532Any inclination of mine to become a famous bipolar author — the kind that writes a best-selling book, gets invited to national conventions, gets coverage in the national magazines, etc. –is curbed by one reality: that I live with bipolar disorder and one of my symptoms is grandiosity. Grandiosity — for you outsiders — is different from narcissism in that the latter is strictly an extreme self-love while the former is a beyond-passionate-conviction in a crusade and the belief that one is ordained to be the leader of that crusade. It is a thing that easily falls into a shambles as people are scared away by our hyper-exuberance. As we ramp up into psychosis, we may style ourselves as prophets or even God him/herself. I have been there — once I talked a Quaker Meeting into sponsoring me for a trip to former Yugoslavia in the middle of the 1992 war when I had no clue why it was important for me to be there, other than it being important for me to be there.

Oh, I developed a rationale for my spiritual mission, and I did interesting things such as become one of the first non-journalists to report first-hand on a crisis using the Net. The governments over there didn’t like me much but that is to be expected when you know the Truth and report it through that warped, half-melted lens. The incident leaves me with several doubts about myself — where was this belief that the Spirit was calling me to do this really coming from? and Should I repay those who financed me now that I am disabused myself of the sacredness of my mission? I believe some people — quite a few — tell you that I did good and maybe I did. Others grew to hate me. Since my diagnosis, I am wary of any motivation which suggests that I alone possess a message that should be heard.

A minister friend told me “Joel, you’re a leader.” I don’t know what to do with this since people seem to ignore me out there on the Net. The other thing is that I detest branding. The word smacks too much of the days when cattle were seared on their buttocks. I see many people get out there and become pundits in this disease, but I have to ask for myself “But what else?” As I have said before, I think it is healthy for us to remember how our actions in mania have disturbed the lives of others. These memories can help us identify warning signs of impending psychosis. Two things I watch for: first, just repeating what everyone else is saying. Second, believing that the uniqueness of my voice and activities entitle me to special consideration and respect. I don’t want to be one of those people who says what everyone else says, I don’t want to dress in business suits for talk shows (though I will go if invited), and I don’t want my “brand” to define who I am as a human being anymore than I want people to say “Joel Sax and Bipolar Disorder are the same thing.”

When you experience grandiosity — and its close cousin religiosity — it can destroy what is truly unique about yourself as you sacrifice your very identity as you crash around promoting the Cause. Someone says something interesting? You’ll say it, too, because you want them to join you in The Vision. If someone contradicts you or questions you, they become The Enemy. Paranoia easily enters when Grandiosity opens the door.

I never liked defining myself as functions, so branding never appealed to me. It has been for the better and for the worse. On the one hand, it has freed me to do many things that might be denied me if I labeled myself too narrowly. On the other, it has two negative effects. First, it denies people who think like this a way to condense you into a handle. (I tend to test as hyper-perceptive so labeling feels poisonous though I do it so others can crudely understand what I am on about.) Second, it can lead to a lack of focus: just what am I supposed to be doing in this world? That is a problem that has hounded me since I got my degree.

The idea of purpose also disturbs me. I had a purpose when I was manic. It drove everything I did, reaching into every moment, every interaction. Then in the emptiness of depression, the feeling vanished. I was a dead leaf floating in a brackish pond unable to act. Was this loss of motivation, a product of my attitude or my illness? I suspect the latter. Just like the admonition to exercise, the insistence to set goals is demanding of depressed me to do the impossible.

But purpose or no, I continue to write and take photographs because I do have my own experiences to which few others can relate. I’ve come a long way from my mania days when I felt my gifts were the only ones worth having. As for fame, I have learned to do many things without crediting them to this face. Leadership has changed from being the center of attention to being the one who ensures that things get done, often without fanfare or recognition. I shy away from calling this a purpose because that reminds me too much of the days when I thought I was God’s anointed. Things get done by me because I see that they need doing. That is what drives my volunteer activity, my blog, and my photography. I take satisfaction in what I do and celebrate the contributions of others. I hope people can learn things from me. I hope that the tendrils of the grandiosity kudzu don’t wrap me so completely that I become scattered, unfocused, and certain that I am more glorious than others.

Bipolar in the Family

square851My father had PTSD from being only one of three men in his company to survive the battle of San Pietro. My maternal grandmother suffered from depression so badly that she spent most of her life in bed. My mother, it seemed to me, was just mean. For this reason, I kept my diagnosis a secret from her but someone told her. One Thanksgiving she made a disparaging comment about people who “thought they were bipolar” and looked right down the table at me. The faces of the other family members turned to see how I would answer. In the days before I went on mood stabilizers, I would have risen with a fury and blasted her with a confused twirl of invective. But I sat calmly and mentioned how hard it was for psychiatrists to make a diagnosis, perhaps harder than for other medical specialties. Someone changed the subject. I got up to get more turkey.

This confrontation pretty much ended our relationship. Even though she lived only 50 miles away, I only visited her on Thanksgiving after that. We seldom if ever talked on the phone. When she was dying of a brain tumor — she had moved to Portland, Oregon to be closer to my brother — I waited to hear that she wanted to see me. The call never came.

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Why We Shouldn’t Let Our Loved Ones Do the Talking about Stigma

square850Glenn Close is a woman who I admire for her dedication to her sister and her resolve to upend stigma. When Jessie Close was 51 years old, Glenn drove her to McLean Hospital in Boston where she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Their commercials questioning the labels applied to mentally ill family members and their relatives are known to millions. We have every reason to admire and respect her for her work. But recent research suggests that maybe family members aren’t the best ones to be talking about stigma.

The research has nothing to do with the political issues surrounding mental illness. A pair of researchers looking into the rise of a culture willing to accept same sex marriage outline a successful strategy that we who live with bipolar disorder and other organic brain dysfunctions can employ:

Michael LaCour, a UCLA doctoral candidate in political science, and Donald Green, a Columbia University political science professor, have demonstrated that a single conversation can go a long way toward building lasting support for a controversial social issue. In addition — nearly as surprisingly — the effect tends to spill over to friends and family members.

The key is putting voters in direct contact with individuals who are directly affected by the issue.

What LaCour and Green discovered is that voters aren’t very moved by impassioned but otherwise unconnected individuals. I have supported same sex marriage since the late eighties, but I doubt that I have convinced anyone to change their mind. Why? Because I am not gay. Gays and lesbians have greater success persuading people to change their mind about same sex marriage and keep them changed. In the study:

The gay marriage canvassers asked voters what they enjoyed about being married (if the subjects were married) or the benefits they’d witnessed in the lives of married friends and relatives (if they weren’t). Gay canvassers then revealed their own sexual orientation and explained that they longed for the same benefits the interviewees had described, and straight canvassers discussed how they hoped a close relative who was gay could enjoy the benefits of marriage.

The average length of these conversations was only 22 minutes, but the visits had dramatic effects.

In follow-up surveys three days later, the researchers found that attitudes were unchanged among the voters who discussed recycling and those who weren’t visited by the interviewers. But among those who spoke with canvassers about gay marriage, support had jumped eight percentage points.

“The change was equivalent to transforming a Midwesterner into a New Englander on the issue of gay marriage,” quipped Green, an authority on research methods in the social sciences.

Within three weeks, however, conventional wisdom kicked in: Support for gay marriage among the voters who had been approached by straight canvassers retreated to where it had originally been; any effect of the conversation had been wiped out. Among voters who had been approached by gay canvassers, however, the attitude shift persisted. In fact, support for gay marriage among that group grew even further when the Supreme Court handed down its decision — jumping an additional seven percentage points. The researchers also found that among these voters’ the support remained a year later.

Our family members mean well when they speak up about the prejudice that afflicts their loved ones. It is people like me and you, however, — people who have lived through the pain of prejudice and ostracization — who stand in the best position to change hearts and keep them changed. The best any family member can do is give a secondhand report of their loved one’s experiences. We — the ones who have mental illness — put a human face on the issue. We are the best ones to talk about how it feels to hear people call us dangerous psychotics and losers, to lose jobs because our bosses and coworkers see us as threats. We know what the disease has done to our minds. We can move souls to greater understanding and action by telling people what it is like to live among paranoid normal people. No family member possesses this experience.

The struggle is ours.

There are two obstacles that I can see. One is that family members may not like seeing us speaking for ourselves. They have their own carefully crafted agenda about stigma that sometimes does not serve our interests. They may fear that we will upset all the hard work that they have done changing hearts and minds. In their eyes, we may be unpredictable and untrustworthy, a message which ultimately undermines the cause of stigma prevention by perpetuating it.

Contradictions such as this cannot be allowed to stand if we are to succeed.

The second is our self-stigma, our belief that if we come out we will be shamed for it, that the attacks of a few idiots will wound us beyond recovery. We may doubt our strength to advocate for ourselves. We may fear being stimulated into an episode. These can be realistic concerns, but we can take steps to limit their power over us. The strength we need is in us. No one but us knows what it is like to live with the economic and social losses driven by the disparagement of our sensitive minds. We can start by asking people what it means to live a life free from the fear of being left out and then tell them about our own experiences. Silent we can do nothing for ourselves. The advances made by our unafflicted friends and families will not last. Only the truths that we alone know can bring us the understanding and resolve of those who persist in ignorance because we are strangers to them.

A Different Face of Bipolar Disorder

square849To look at me, you wouldn’t think I was much of a bipolar success story. I can’t claim an impressive degree. I dress casually. You wouldn’t call me professional-looking which is the watch cry of our time. Bp Magazine won’t put me on its front page any time soon; I won’t be featured as a model of recovery. Many people will rush to judgement based on my sometimes slow demeanor that I am not very smart and in my low moods I am inclined to agree. I am a different face of bipolar disorder. My “fame” comes from industriously providing information and linking people living with the illness to one another. I do not seek to brand myself or put head shots out there as if I were an important personality who had beat the disease because I still live with it every day of my life. I have no secrets to impart, just my life experiences in which you might or might not recognize yourself.

Most people don’t. I am a bit of a freak.

This obscurity does bother me at times. When I read articles by bipolar pundits, they sound a lot like all the other bipolar pundits and I don’t want to be like that. Why don’t they look for people like me who bring a different perspective? I don’t know. I have trouble just getting people to read my blog because it isn’t like all the other bipolar blogs out there. And I am not one of the faces of recovery that the national organizations like you to see. I am not a self promoter. I don’t shave. Among some people in my region, I have a bad reputation due to a manic episode that I had a few years ago. The bad mouthing of certain people hectors me still. Those that know me intimately don’t believe the rumors, so I have few but good friends. I think it is more important to be there for individuals than to be famous, more important to work on creating something insightful than in presenting myself in the manner that we have come to expect of our spokespeople.

Mine is a face that disappears from the memory. People who have met me in person and known me online, forget what I look like. They see me in my casual dress and my hulking figure someone who shouldn’t be remembered at all, who doesn’t have a message that deserves to be shared. But I, too, live with bipolar disorder. I, too, have my stories. May I have the courage just to tell them without preaching at you.

Another Day of Feeling Bad

square848It’s the damn wind again, a Santa Ana blowing off the mountain and against my door. Combined with the heat, it gives me a headache and a stiff feeling all over my body. Plus I have been sneezing.

At first I mistook this for a depression. Friends counseled me to seek out some sunlight. As soon as I went out the door, though, pollen blew up my nose. This disabused me of my theory and I went inside to take some Tylenol for my headache.

Daylight Savings Time certainly doesn’t help.

Bipolar brings on the worry that I am seeing the signs of an imminent mood swing. A cold, the flu, or allergy attacks in their early stages cause me to worry that I am sinking. Then I get a clue as the symptoms worsen and I let go of my dread.

The dog feels the effects, too. He has been pacing nervously up and down the hall, his claws clicking on the wood laminate flooring. I get up from time to time to join him and he follows me. This is the madness of the foehn, the agitation that the drop in air pressure here in the valley brings from the mountains. I hate this part of March and wait impatiently for it to just go away.

The Disaster of Daylight Savings Time

square846I was in the middle of an interesting if not entirely pleasant dream when the the alarm went off. I struggled into consciousness like one struggles to get to the surface when one has plunged too deep into a lake or the ocean, found the alarm, and turned it off. Sleepiness wrapped my head.

I was in this sorry state because the clocks had been set ahead. Eleven o’clock was actually ten o’clock. During the night, a thief mandated by Congress had stolen that hour. I felt terrible and cursed Benjamin Franklin because he was the one who invented Daylight Savings Time.

“It’s a good thing because we gain an hour of sunlight,” someone said to me. No, I pointed out, you have just as much sunlight in each day as you would have had if the clocks hadn’t been set ahead. The same number of hours and minutes were given to us regardless of where the sun was when it was noon. The only thing that had changed was when it would be noon.

The time change has been linked to an increase in road accidents and stock market slumps. The good news is that we consume less oil and crime rates drop — for a few days.

DST is the bane of people living with bipolar disorder. Just when we have adjusted our internal clocks to the real time of day, we are forced to jump ahead. Finding your sleep interrupted in its true cycle does not help the mood. Many complain about how it disrupts their or their loved ones’ “circadian rhythm just enough to trigger a chain reaction toward mania.

Waking up at the earlier hour profoundly afflicts me. My body clock has a certain cycle which DST cleaves into. Circadian rhythms say that it is not yet time to wake up, but I am forced to anyways or I lapse into a different waking schedule that has me arising at a later hour. Everyone thinks of DST as an extra hour in the evening, but it also means one less hour in the morning. 7 a.m., for example, is really 6 a.m. Your body says it is 6 a.m. and you feel like it.

Strong sleep medications are recommended for adjusting to DST and for crossing time zones, but I find they don’t solve the core problem. My inner clock is affixed to the real hours of the day for a long time. Only when the hour falls back do I feel well again.

Three percent of Americans — at least — feel like I do but our health means nothing to the majority who only think of the barbecues and time playing tennis in the park. I think many more do nothing at all with the shift of the clock. They remain strong advocates nonetheless because they have bought into the “extra hour” and cannot see its harm. Or they are unaware of its real effects. I would like to be rid of this Demon, but I have no hope for that — in this state at least. So I deal with the feeling of my eyes turning to the left as they seek the true rhythm that they know is theirs and strive to find in the darkness behind my face.

clock photo


square845My mother has invited me for dinner. I know the purpose is to marry me off to one of the daughters of friends who have come. I’m late, so everyone has eaten and my dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes without gravy have been set aside in a glass bowl in the kitchen. One of the women has been in a car accident recently and so she is swollen and unable to walk. She keeps her forearms hidden beneath the table so I suspect she has severe bruising and perhaps a compound fracture. I get up to fetch my dinner and go into the kitchen where I run into another young woman. This one tells me about the problems she has with her English major. I suggest that she look up a criticism technique called close reading. I have been separated from Lynn for some days, so when I sit down again, I pull out my cell phone and call her. When she doesn’t answer, we all go looking for her. We find her walking on the slope of a large drainage channel. She doesn’t talk to me but to one of the women and she starts talking about how important her work with the homeless is and how I need to realize just how poor they are. I am telling someone that she is turning into a girlfriend I had in the past when the alarm rings and I wake up.

Loser Who Thinks Too Much

square844Both those terms have been used to describe me. An insult just doesn’t stab, it leaves a wound — not a scar, but a bleeding dripping lesion that comes to you in your worst depressions and sometimes — like now — when you are feeling just fine. I am a loser because I have not worked since I was 33 and do not have kids. I did not make a million in Silicon Valley and no one buys my photography or my writing (which I haven’t tried to sell in a long time.) Never mind that I have been married 27 years to the same woman, never hit or threatened to hit her or called her a vile name. I am a loser, a pariah.

The isolation of bipolar disorder is hell, but the isolation of my personality is worse. When I take tests such as the Myer’s Brigg, I keep scoring in the rarest categories. Less than 1% of people out there share my characteristics. We wander around, seldom meeting each other. The way we see the world, the things we strive for just aren’t appreciated or discerned by the rest of you out there. You come onto my blog, read my accounts of my illness or other aspects of my life and you don’t get me. I am a cipher, a shadow on the wall swept by the wind, a curiosity that cannot be. I, like others of my kind, feel alone. No wonder so many of us end up in monasteries or convents.

An article from a 2010 issue of The Guardian cites a pundit who believes that the InterNet has destroyed our ability to think deeply. All the shallowness of our political talk, our inability to concentrate works of art that encourage us to probe our minds, the simplistic and self-serving grasp of religion — those things I believe have always been there. InterNet debates are only emblems of a longtime tendency for their participants to refuse to engage with people who disagree with them, to damn new ideas with oversimplifications and patronization, to mock differences. People have always told me that I think too much, even educated people. They twisted the gifts of my mind into a curse. So I hide from them. I do not speak of my cogitations in any place other than here. Yes, I pretend to be something that I am not, but what am I supposed to do when I am so alone and the mass of human beings cannot and will not trouble to understand me?

Bipolar disorder with its wild antics and chilling depressions hogtied me for the longest time. I’ve come out as a new person, but the rest of you remain the same. Freak is how you thought of me when the disease ran my thoughts and freak is how you think of me now that I am in my right mind. Was it worth it?

The InterNet Argument Addict

square843Difficult to end when I am feeling stable but energized and impossible when I am manic, InterNet disputes are a drug of choice for me. I just ended an exchange that went on for over an hour with someone on Facebook. She would not stop and neither would I. It seemed to me that no matter what I said to refute her, she kept repeating the same thing over and over. My ire was up: I had a defense to make and, equally important, someone to skewer. Then in the middle of it, I realized that I had become a Facebook Mr. Hyde, shared one last anecdote, and announced the end of my participation. Others have responded to the thread since then and I have not read what they said. Whether they indict me or stand up for me, I shall not involve myself anymore.

Someone is wrong on internet

Long ago — on the abUSENET, I learned that it was a waste of time arguing against the trolls and cranks of the Net. If I spent a long time preparing an intelligent rebuttal to something they said, they’d dismiss it with a brute-force remark or lame witticism. Some even went so far as to create robots that would repeat the same argument every time certain key words appeared anywhere in the newsgroups. You could easily exhaust yourself fighting these. I gave it up for the Web because I realized that the newsgroups were a waste of time.

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