The teacher is standing in the center of the room holding up a flip chart. The subject is mathematics. She has divided the test into two kinds: one for those who like math and one for those who hate it. The second part features an algebra problem in which we are to figure out how many deer (or ducks) and how many does (or ducklings) are featured in the problem. I wrack my brain looking for a trick answer, but force myself to awake. When I go to sleep again, the problem is still there and I keep waking up and falling back to sleep to find that the problem is still there, begging for me to answer it.
Coming out of a manic episode can be a struggle when we start to consider or hear about the things we did while we were in episode. I have many sorrows to relate: there was the time, for example, when I decided to have a race down a crowded city street in Palo Alto with another person — possibly also bipolar — who cut me off.
I put the pedal to the metal and swerved around several vehicles, cutting them off as I had cut off the jerk who — in my mind at least — had started it all.
My wife was in the seat next to me, clutching the handle in front of her and all but screaming for me to slow down.
I did manage to realize what I was doing after a few cars honked at me and flipped me off.
No one got hurt, but afterwards I felt badly — I had lost control — that I had come so close to the point where I might have ended up in jail or on a slab in the morgue next to my wife.
There’s a scene in The Silver Linings Playbook where the main character is so frantic looking for his wedding video that he knocks his mother down by accident. This is the kind of violence that people with bipolar disorder are mostly known for. Like the Bradley Cooper character I never set out to harm people, but I came too close for their comfort. People were afraid of me.
Therapists often tell us to forget about such things, to write them off as “things we did in mania”. They are trying to save us from the daily self-torture known as guilt. Every time we are reminded, we think we must put ourselves on a rack and stretch until we cry out.
But I don’t think that is a very good answer because I have seen people give themselves too much license. “I did that in one of my episodes, so it is OK.” They miss the point: many of the things we do in mania are harmful. A few of us have spent large amounts of money — run up credit cards and stolen to feed the rampant materialism of mania. We may choose to ignore the anger that overwhelms those around us. Or the acts of vandalism — one guy I know put a hole in the wall with hist fist — that frighten those we love.
I don’t think the answer is feeling guilty but part of my recovery has been to feel a proper amount of shame for the demonic releases that I perpetrated while I was high on my illness.
Guilt doesn’t do anything except make us feel awful. It is torturing ourselves over and over again for the things that we did.
I prefer to engage in shame. What is the difference? Guilt punishes us repeatedly. Shame reminds us that the thing we did was harmful. We don’t muse over it, we don’t spend our time getting the high again or inflicting emotional damage like an experimental psychologist might electrify the floor of a cage to punish a rat.
In guilt, we keep revisiting the scene of the crime. In shame, we simply say “What I did was wrong. And I will not go back there.” This means that we take steps to prevent future episodes of mania and live as responsible human beings. Our episodes are no longer an excuse: they are things we avoid.
I am on a cruise with my brother. There seems to be a writing conference going on. We meet someone we both knew in Boy Scouts. My brother comments that the range of people on the cruise seems narrow and the friend agrees. I find that I am sitting in the chair that one of the instructors is using to teach a class in film. He makes sure that every item in the scene is where it should be and asks me to focus the frame while he puts the last touches on it. Just don’t press the shutter he says. I wait in his seat — a little proud that he asked me to fulfill this function for him, until he is ready and can start. I step back when he is and then a man with a ragged beard and round glasses from the port asks me to help him find some film in the shop. The instructor has a reputation as a bigot, so I take the man behind a wall where he won’t be seen. We find all kinds of film and recording tape, but no Portra which is what I suggest and what he wants. Someone sees that the man is Middle Eastern and goes to tell the instructor. “You need to get out of here,” I say to the man. He runs. When the informants return, another person in the shop derides them. “You don’t even know if he was a Muslim or a Christian,” he says. “What business do you have harassing him?” Another man calls out that he was a “zohmay”. Before I can find out what that is, I wake up.
An alien made of mint jelly becomes my companion. I have it teach the Toastmasters to dance, then take it to the Opera House. I reach the top of the stairs. And either they won’t let me in or I decide that I didn’t want to go in after all. So I go down another set of stairs, but they get narrower and narrower as I go until I am standing on them with just my heels. A surge of fear wakes me.
A scandal erupts. During a Super Bowl, a fan sneaks onto the field wearing the uniform of his team and catches the ball for a winning touchdown. Now several weeks later, the opposing team wants the result repealed because the winners had an extra and illegal man on the field. The winners, of course, don’t want the final score changed and say that they can’t do anything if someone gets onto the field without their knowledge. They point out that he is now a member of the team despite the fact that he is short for a football player.
There exists a class of life coaches and therapists who urge us to get rid of our self-condemnations. The way to mental health, they insist, is to become a sociopath who feels no remorse for what he has done. In the course of my life, I have done wicked things. Much of it was done while in the thrall of my disorder. I have never physically hurt others since my early teenaged days, but I have put a serious fright into a few. I do not want to repeat these. My healthy shame is a signpost to the past: “Do not go back there.” And I heed it.
My mother demonstrates how to feed an angry cat a treat by stuffing it through the ear. I get on the phone to talk to an old friend and while he is going on and on, he lets it slip that my brother-in-law found him a job at Stanford. When I ask about this, there is only silence on the line and bright unfocused colors in the room.
I am walking next to a cemetery which once needed to be rearranged. Space was tight. The last time I was here, I met a man who had been in charge of the reorganizing and told him that I was the one who saw that the three graves needed to be moved. He thanked me for my contribution.
I go into an office building where I used to work. I walk the hallways – illegally because I don’t have clearance — looking for someone I knew from those days. I give up and go to sit in a big easy chair in the cafeteria. I fret that they will kick me out, but then I remember that this is not a restricted area.
Support for drones seems largely based on the idea that they are “cool” — as if they were as miraculous as an Ipad. Drones are “the way” to take out “enemies of America” — they require no American soldiers to be on the scene as they execute malefactors who haven’t necessarily be given due process of law.
But even if court proceedings are followed, drones are not so discrete that they will take out only one person in a house. Nor will they circle overhead while non-targets leave the premises. Imagine if the death penalty were applied so that not only the criminal was killed, but also his family and friends. The only way you can justify that is by resorting to the lame, unproven claim that they “must have been helping him” or by muttering some shibboleth about “collateral damage”. Has human life become so cheap?
That is what you support if you think drones are a good idea.
A few people on Twitter are angry with me at this moment. The news of the drone base has me upset and I have criticized it openly. Even though I did not confront these individuals and have said nothing to anyone unless they have directly addressed me — and I dare say that those who have will tell you that I have been more than civil towards them as I expressed my point of view and they, too, have been civil in return — a few have blocked me or unfollowed me without a word.
I think I owe people an explanation of my position and some perspective on where it stands in the greater thread of progress that the Democrats have waged against the #GOP in the nearly fifty five years of my life. First, I do not believe that criticizing any part of the country’s agenda makes me bound to reject the whole. This stretches to my support of President Obama, which is unwavering. Second, I am as I have long been a pacifist. To be one in these United States is to be a creature who has to live with a lot of disappointment in his fellow Americans and his leaders. I nevertheless remain true to this belief. But as my first point says, it does not follow that my objection to the drones is a call for abandoning the Democrats. They have been more sympathetic to my views than the alternative. And there are many key issues on which they are dead on, necessitating an appreciation of what I shall call “the long agendas” of ending the power of racists, sexists, and others who do violence by law and by physical force to other human beings.
I put the progress of the peace movement in converting this country to be at about the same place as the civil rights movement was in the 1920s. Only 17% of my fellow Americans feel like me that the drones pose serious moral and credibility problems for our nation. Some people say that there may be just no other way to deal with American citizens and others who work against the United States than to employ these drones. Since the disastrous Vietnam War and — with greater fierceness since 9-11 — our country has become obsessed with being the world’s peacekeeper. We have become bellicose, using our war machines to hammer anything so hard as a mushroom that stands in opposition to us. The situation is not so dire under Democrats, but I worry about what that other party — the party that has recruited racists and sexists to its ranks — might do with the recently revealed white paper. Let us not forget that this was the party that told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that water-boarding was not torture. They could get away with it because only a decided minority of Americans stood in opposition to the base principle that there could be such a thing as a Just War. In the hands of the GOP, that phrase is a rubber-band that can be stretched to condone many unjust acts. In my experience, once they get you to admit that there are any circumstances in which violence is justified, the Republicans will reach to atrocity.
Instead of declaring that we cannot trust the Democrats ever again, we must set ourselves to the task of making more than 17% — yea, over 50% — feel that the concept of Just War is flawed and needs replacing. But that will not happen tomorrow and it may not happen in my lifetime. I am willing to wait and continue to hope.
There are other long agendas that deserve our continuing attention. Racism is not dead. Sexism sniffs around the skirts of women. Homophobia is rife and unapologized for. A pernicious lie that global climate change caused by human activity is a myth keeps us from facing a very real and present threat. The GOP still thinks that it can bring down health care for all Americans and it has no problem holding the country hostage so that it can build a Randian dystopia in the place of a society that is not merely collectivist as its enemies claim, but one that also champions the rights and pursuit of happiness of all Americans as individuals.
Though I ache to see Obama capitulate to the homicidal instincts that have seized American society because we cannot accept the shame that Vietnam laid at our doorsteps, I will not step away from the Democrats because these fights are also important and because important strides remain to be made and might be lost if we drop our guard as we did in 2010.
As for peace, it has to be a long agenda.
My mother has fallen on bad times — she is very sick and leaves my brother and me to look after her business. When she comes back, she thanks us for getting most of it done, but there is still the matter of the electricity bills. She kneels on the floor and goes through them with a man from the utility, stacking them neatly in little piles on the floor.
One theme that has appeared in my dreams lately is reconciliation. Specifically, people who have wronged me in the past — parents, bosses, etc. — come to me as I am sitting reading a large illuminated book and tell me that they are sorry for having underestimated me or for having bullied me.
Another dream: I realize that I have been skipping physical education and English. School officials take me to my Advanced Placement English class and tell me that I am being removed to a lower course with another fellow.