Beyond my diagnosis – A Speech at Toastmasters

Posted on March 2, 2017 in Agitation Mixed States Suicide

This is a speech that I gave for our club’s International Speech Contest. I am afraid that it did not come out as neat as this text — about two thirds of the way through I lost track of where I was. But I came in second nontheless.

square951My rage was volcanic; my despair, oceanic in its depth. I texted my last will and testament to my wife, then found a log in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park where I could sit and map out the best way to cut my wrists. That was the whole plan. That is how I decided to end the pain. Alone.

But then my cell phone rang. I picked it up. It was my psychiatrist. She asked “Are you all right?” I let her talk me into going to South Coast Medical Center. I agreed to put my mind – my brain – in a place where my opinions about its wellness could be measured against the opinions of trained outsiders.

First thing I did when I got there was demand my diabetes medications. The nurses stared at me, then made some notes that I can only presume mentioned the fact that I had almost carried out a suicide and now wanted drugs that would keep my pancreas healthy for an indefinite length of time. The next day I met my in-patient psychiatrist. He leafed through my charts, then looked up at me with tired, kind eyes and said “Has anyone ever told you that you were bipolar?”

This was when my recovery began. I finally received the right diagnosis. But to understand what happened next, let me share with you a concept out of medical anthropology and biopsychosocial psychology, that of the disease versus the illness.

Now I have a disease – it is called bipolar disorder. My brain is compromised. It’s something that I handle through medication. Around this kernel are other things like the anxiety I feel when I am in episode, the bad habits I follow as a way of coping. But it doesn’t end there. There’s also the effect that my disease and my handling of it has on my wife, on my friends, and my extended family. How my culture sees that disease, especially in negative sense of “stigma”. All of that plus the actual disease is my illness.

The first thing I had to learn – the thing that anyone with half a resolve to overcome bipolar disorder has to learn – was that while there are parts of having this illness that only I could fix, there are many more parts that I needed to get help to fix. I had to turn to others if I was to muddle my way through.

One day, I decided to go to a support group. I was scared to death. Two women got into a fight! Then I looked around the room, took a deep breath, and said to myself “Everyone here is mentally ill. Including me.” I listened and I not only heard my story, but I heard of better ways to cope. I opened my mind to being helped by others, help that went beyond my secretive appointments with my psychiatrist and my therapist. Eventually I reached beyond the support group and participated, once more, in the world.

It is the great lie of our time that we can do it all by ourselves, that we just unlock our hidden potential and become super humans. I know of no one in my experience – and you can’t name anyone – who has gotten where they are without help from others. It was the nature of my illness, in part, to believe that I did not need other people, that it was in my power to become a god.

In psychiatry, that is called grandiosity. Eventually it leads to depression. My recovery depended on letting go of that delusion as soon as my medication and insight allowed. To get beyond my diagnosis, I had to trust others.

And isn’t that what Toastmasters is all about? Yes, we put in the work to become better speakers by practicing in front of the mirror, but we come here every week to get beyond that poor, silly diagnosis of glossophobia – fear of public speaking. We come here to see our story play out before an audience. We come here to gain insight from others about our affliction and how we can overcome it. We come here to share our experience to help others. That is how we succeed. Together.

I could not control my symptoms, overcome my anxiety for public speaking, or become a Mensch – a better human being – without engaging in a grand contract between me and the world. You are part of that world. I am part of yours. Together let us flourish.

Keen Ocelot

Posted on February 17, 2017 in Originality & Creativity Poems

I cut my mixmasters and all the computer hears mouse;
I screech my shrews and all is howl again.
(I storm I walk you up inside my harlot.)

The penises go running out in turbulent and grim,
And hard uterus chomps in:
I chew my aardvark and all the hamster imagines treason.

I heaved that you lofted me into hole
And trick me faint, bleated me quite hollow.
(I storm I walk you up inside my harlot.)

skyscraper manages from the house fire, cell phone’s pools screw:
sandpaper bar and menagerie’s bolt:
I chew my aardvark and all the hamsters imagine treason.

I sandwiched you’d sniff the way you seal,
But I drift rough and I drum your pancreas.
(I storm I walk you up inside my harlot.)

I should have pacifisted a nail instead;
At least when finger phrases they photograph back again.
I chew my aardvark and all the hamsters imagine treason.

(I storm I walk you up inside my harlot.)

– Joel & Sylvia Plath

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Write about saying goodbye

Posted on February 9, 2017 in Prose Arcana Relationships Writing/Darkness

square950I never said goodbye to her, never broke the connection properly. We had one last difficult conversation and that was it. She slammed the phone down as a screw you and that was it. I didn’t want her to marry that German. As far as I know, she did. I thought there was something special, something divinely sanctioned because we met in the Sistine Chapel. Shouldn’t that have been a kind of imprimatur? But time apart worked its fell magic on the little pieces of a relationship that we had. Damn Time, damn Love. I had fallen into a funk and wasn’t able to act properly.


Where the road leads

Posted on February 6, 2017 in Prose Arcana Travel Writing/Darkness

square949I love to travel, especially to drive. The Miles. That is my name for it, for the black asphalt leading on and on, the yellow or white lines down the middle, and the sense of euphoric freedom even though I am constrained to the limits of the highway. But I can stop at any time to walk a bit in the sagebrush or a forest or a prairie to enjoy the little things one finds at one’s feet: new grass, a few yellow wildflowers, a lizard, or a pretty agate worth picking up and pocketing. A road is an adventure, the reason why the journey exhilarates me so much. I love arriving, but I love going, too.


National Delurking Day

Posted on January 14, 2017 in Festivals Site News Web Sites

square948Today is National Delurking Day. This is an invitation to all those who give a quick scan to blogs but never comment to break the silence and let mystified and unpraised bloggers such as myself know that you are here. Not on our Facebook pages where likes are cheap, not on Twitter, not with the like and dislike buttons at the top of this article, but in the comments.

I am supposed to have hundreds of hits every time I post an article, but I rarely hear from my readers. Are you bored? Offended? Fascinated? Blown away? Is there something you want me to write about? Ring a bell, blow a horn, and comment!

Delurkers delurk!



Posted on January 11, 2017 in Dreams

square947My niece (I won’t say which one because I think my mind just pulled one of them out of a fold in my brain) tells me that she is divorcing me. I take this very hard and move to the streets because I think the whole family is against me. A friend of mine — who is also homeless — announces that she is going to move to the mountains. I prepare to follow her. The niece apologizes and begs me to come back to the family, but I am set in my ways and remain one of the homeless.


After the Rain Stopped

Posted on January 10, 2017 in Hope and Joy Weather Writing Exercises

square946I looked up into the winter sky — rain is our snow here — and saw Vega, alone in the darkness like a tiny hole someone had pierced with a pin to let the light through a piece of black satin. I stared at it, then made out filaments of cloud portending the next storm, which was forecast for just a few hours hence. After this rain, I knew there would be other rain, other storms. A few hours later, after I had come home, Vega had disappeared behind a new bank of clouds. I had lost my friend in the night. She was gone. Later I heard the finger taps of the next front on our skylight. Rain led to rain. We found peace together, the hidden firmament, the weather, and me.


He was the kind of man who….

Posted on January 9, 2017 in Abuse Adolescence Childhood PTSD Relationships Writing Exercises

square945lost his temper and then worried that I sometimes exploded in return. It was uneven. He wanted to be honored as a father — he quoted the commandment incessantly as if he were a river in flood. Not for a moment did he consider the example he set by his violence towards his children or the arguments he had with his wife. The war had warped him, perhaps — he was one of only three survivors of his company of one hundred men to survive the [[Battle of San Pietro]] — but there was a template he followed laid out, I was told, by his father. My heritage is filled with mysteries — why in a family filled with nice gentlemen was my grandfather so mean? My father was the defender of his brother and sister: he knew to blunt the sword of abuse, so why was he so cruel to us?

Whenever I speak of the terrors of my childhood, my mother used to lay the entire blame on him. This was not fair. She contributed as much if not more. He also had his moments of kindness.

There are things that I wish to say that I am not ready to share. If I can get them down in a journal, I will be sure to post them here.

A movie by John Huston about the Battle of San Pietro.


The person I most admire

Posted on January 2, 2017 in Recent Silicon Valley

square944I’ve lost him. The whole family has lost him. One time at a wedding, someone was filming us. I said to the camera: “Denos is one of those disgusting people who everyone loves and, dammit, so do I!” What he had survived! Nazi occupation during World War II was an early one. Then at the end of his life, multiple myeloma, a painful bone cancer. He kept a smile on his face until shortly before the end when he told his daughters “I an not feeling very well.” When I was struggling with depression, he took me in as his son because he knew I had lost my father. Denos, you were proud of me or so you said. Thank you for living.


Last Thoughts for 2016

Posted on January 1, 2017 in Advocacy Authoritarianism Campaign 2016 Commons Theft

square943People say that 2016 was a terrible year. The election was vicious. The wrong person not only won, but he did so by stealing it from the True Popular Vote winner by the mechanism of the Electoral College. I could go on, but to tell the truth I anticipate that 2017 will be worse because of the power given to an evil man and a host of other evil men in Congress and, soon, the Supreme Court. It grieves me to see so many friends suffering from worry, all but chewing their wrists in grief or threatening suicide. Social Security and Medicare are at risk. So many people I know will suffer — they may become homeless or sick beyond help. This is not a world that I want to see. I will fight but I am afraid that I will lose.


Two New Cinquains

Posted on December 19, 2016 in Civic Responsibility Poems Publishing Television Travels - So Cal


It is
Time for the press
To stop treating smart people
As kooks, dumb people as geniuses.
Wake up!


Centipede crawls
Over concrete bridges
Pointing toward far Sacramento.
The Five.


Write about being a long way from home

Posted on December 12, 2016 in Fascination Vacation 2015 Writing Exercises

square942When I look by the seaside, my seaside or any other, I look out to the horizon and imagine the earth falling away over the edge. I have done this in Senegal, Greece, Mexico, Canada, and California. The effect is the same, but when I am away from home, I imagine my fingers skipping over the water to the place have come to belong. Being away from home is already on the same plane, though I am filled with excitement about being in this new place, seeing what I am accustomed to and things I am not accustomed to like feral cats that nobody ever feeds, vendors who press their watches to your face, and women who seek to impress you with the fact that they are second wives.

I keep meaning to write about Senegal. I have let you down on this. As time passes, I will make good on this.

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