When someone assaults my mental health, I suffer gravely. Recently, I got called a loser, a control freak, and — worst of all! — a Liberal by someone who didn’t like that I contained his rant in a support group. The person in question had admitted to not taking one of his meds, so there is reason to forgive his crazed outburst, but I felt as if the whole group had jumped on me. Only this one person said anything.
I have to fight this variation of catastrophizing every time I find myself in a conflict. I find the slightest grain of truth in what is said about me and turn it into a crippling self-indictment. If this small piece is true, then am I a bad person? I ask. Should I leave the group? Do the others in the group want me gone for being a troublemaker (a question I ask even when I keep my temper and the other person is by any reasonable estimate the one wholly in the wrong). My anger should be placed outside my self in these situations and directed at its instigator. The onus is not on me.
Friends urge me to see it not as my problem, but as the other person’s. But how did I get into this situation?, I ask. Should I have kept my mouth shut?
I once had a therapist who would have made me feel miserable about this whole affair. In her eyes, it was my poor interactions with the world that led me to these crises. Someone else once said “It takes two to tango” when I was under siege by a borderline. I am thrall to this stupid, American insistence on balance, on not taking sides. And I give it my blessing.
Everyone seems to have a friend who has been helped by medical marijuana. When my wife had chemotherapy, we had it as a backup in case the anti-nausea drugs did not work for her. Glaucoma is a disease with medical research backing the effectiveness of medical marijuana. But the medical marijuana industry goes beyond what is proven by science. It welcomes those who use it for many other diagnoses despite the absence of peer review studies. In other words, if you can get a doctor or a nurse practitioner to write you a script, you can get high legally for any disease you can name. And the worst of the lies medical marijuana prescribers and retailers let fly is the lie that marijuana helps the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Here is my full disclosure: First, I do not oppose legalization of marijuana provided it is regulated at least as well as alcohol. There need to be laws governing its sale to minors, bans against driving under the influence, etc. But other than that, I have no problem with seeing it available as a leisure drug. There’s considerable evidence that the liquor industry does not want this, but alcohol is worse than cannibis in some regards. Second, I have smoked marijuana. Here is where my strong feelings about the subject come from. When I was in college, I was talked into toking by my peers. They did not force it down my throat, they did not blow smoke into my lungs, they did not deceive me in the sense that they told me things that they knew were not true. I started using the drug by my own choice.
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A week ago, I took a walk along the shore of the Newport Beach peninsula with two friends. It was a strange day — the fog did not lift until four o’clock in the afternoon. Our walk took us along the beach and then through a neighborhood with small but expensive houses that had Mercedes, BMWs, and Ferrarris parked in their garages. The thick mist reached in through streets that ran to the sea.
What a metaphor for existence! We moved in clear spaces but what was ahead was obscure to us, its nature only being revealed a little at a time. It reminded me of a short story where a tapestry predicting the future was uncovered only a few minutes before its events would unfold. Not all of us moved at the same speed — one fellow staggered well behind us so we stopped frequently to let him catch up. When the sun came out in the late afternoon, we had a taste of the clarity of our life journey to come that we craved but could never have. At the end of our walk we returned to our cars and fought the rush hour traffic to get home.
When you are depressed, society forces you to lie. The American cult of Positive Thinking demands that we do not speak ever about our unhappy experiences or moods. If you live in Europe and someone asks you how you are, it is perfectly fine to say “Well, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep last night” or “I’m a bit down today”. Here in America, you are expected to say “Good” or “Everything’s all right.” If you stray even as far as saying “Fine” or “OK”, the alarm bells in the questioner’s head go off. This is not satisfactory. This suggests creeping negativism and negativism, the Positive Thinker believes, must be ever and always avoided and suppressed.
If you tell the truth, you find yourself saddled with guilt. Other people don’t want to hear about your bad day. They might mock you, call you a “downer”, or tell you to “cheer up and get with the program.” Your bad mood is a burden to others: they don’t like the suggestion that they have to spend a little time listening to you or that they might be a contributing cause. So you say that you are doing well. In summary, you feel guilt for having ruined their day when the reality is that they have ruined yours with their insensitive expectations of a life free from “negative people”.
Your feelings count. Avoid the Positive Thinkers because they are poison. Find people who are real. They have good ears and just hearts.
I have a crowd of relatives and friends at my house of dreams. They are in every room. I walk into the kitchen and discover that someone has tried to bake a cherry pie in the microwave and the tin pan has melted through the bottom of the oven. I conclude that my friend Mary is responsible, so I go looking for her. Another visitor confesses to the blunder. I catch him as he is trying to go out the door. As I prepare to get him to buy a new oven for me, he slips out and rushes to an airplane that will take him to Europe.
A cult has grown around the memory of dead supermodel Gia Carangi, mostly due to the movie of her life with Angelina Jolie in the title role. The film explores many facets of her troubled personality including her drug use, her obsession with her lover, her bisexual promiscuity, and her death from AIDS. Her problems, we are led to believe, stemmed from her drug use which made her irritable, anxious, depressed, hyper, and in the end terminally ill with HIV.
Many have speculated that Gia was bipolar. This could be a strong post-mortem diagnosis given her interludes of manic behavior and severe depression. A Gia Carangi fan site says
Gia frequented New York’s jet-set night spots, such as Studio 54, and developed a heroin problem during the latter part of her life. Because of Bipolar Disorder, Gia experienced extreme mood swings and would walk out of a fashion shoot if she didn’t feel like doing it. She constantly medicated herself with heroin. Carangi made several attempts at fighting her heroin addiction, attending rehabilitation centers multiple times. In 1983, she was profiled on ABC’s 20/20 magazine, in a piece focusing on the dark side of modeling. In June of 1986, she was diagnosed with HIV, becoming one of the first famous persons to be diagnosed with the disease, and also the first famous female diagnosed.
The makers of Gia completely overlook the possibility that Carangi’s eccentric behavior was driven by an organic brain dysfunction. None of the semi-fictional “interviewees” alludes to bipolar disorder though likely symptoms are depicted.
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Shortly before my hospitalization for a mixed state came the 2004 election. I crashed and crashed hard after the results. Politics is a fascination of mine but obsessing about it is not my friend. When my expectations are high as they were in 2004 and the hope I feel is unrealized, I take it very hard. The mix of anger and disappointment plus certain medications I was taking for depression at the time pumped me up into a mixed state. One day, when I had enough of it and of other life issues, I texted my last will and testament to my wife and sat down on a log to study my veins for the right place to cut. A timely phone call from my psychiatrist saved me.
The 2004 election was cordial compared to what has happened since 2008. Elements on both side but especially the right have been whipped into a frenzy by their respective leaders. We hear stories of blatant racism and sexism, two faults that have been hidden until the recent elections. We see them not only in the political arena but also in the news media and on the streets of our cities. Some such as Fox News are instigating their viewers to greater and greater heights of denial and fear while others just give the demagogues air time by covering them without comment. We see black men strangled or shot dead with no justice leveled against their killers. And respect for the police — even the good cops — sinks lower and lower.
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I seem to accrue more and more diagnoses to cover my symptoms. Two months ago, I handed my therapist a pile of questionnaires. A week later, she confirmed a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (without hyperactivity). Two weeks ago, the day after I transferred her findings to my psychiatrist, I began taking Vyvanse.
Having traveled the country of mania before my acquiescence to mood stabilizers, I worried what this daily ingestion of a stimulant might incite in me. The night before I began, my entire body cramped up in dread of losing control. I took the capsule on schedule and went about my day. The kitchen table was a project which had defeated me in the past, so I decided to try it as a test. Somehow I saw the difference between necessary papers and trash, a distinction which I had had trouble gloaming onto before. I packed some of the contents into three boxes, stacked a few books and tablets, and crammed everything else except for my laptop and an iron mouse paperweight into a plastic bag.
Was this mania? I checked for the other signs: Paranoia? No. Grandiosity? No. Irritability? No. Impulsiveness? No.
What I feel now is nothing like mania. I don’t jump to fulfill every whimsey, running up credit cards to their max. I think of myself as just a human being not all that much different from others. The spies and government agents who used to follow me when I was in the throes of bipolar disorder don’t lurk next to the cable hookup outside. I am clear-headed and able to motivate myself. I have discovered that for the longest time I was more depressed than I had realized.
Such a map I lay out. Dismal forests overrun with kudzu swamp my head when I go untreated. This pill, I hope, closes the gap created by the last of my debilitating symptoms. I set my keys and wallet in the same place each night, keep the table clear, and go through the mail every other day for junk mail and old magazines. I find the energy to experiment with my camera and make no excuses for my sluggishness because I just don’t feel that way anymore. The only thing that remains lost to me is my poetic imagination. This new country reserves no place for it, so far, but I shall plow the field for it soon.
I arrived at an epiphany this week. The anger of others frightens me not because I fear violence, but because I dread their rage to be unending. When I contemplated where this might have come from, I remembered how things were in my family when I was growing up. First, there was the continual picking of fights by my mother and brother particularly. Then grudges were held — for years. My mother needled me about things I had done in high school forty five years after the fact! Finally, I had no escape even when I became an adult. I dreaded coming home because these scenarios would be repeated over and over again. I had dreamed of leaving this all behind when I went off to college, but adulthood failed to bring me the freedom I craved.
To survive, I developed a number of behaviors. One was to simply avoid getting into any situation where people might fight with me. I isolated. I avoided parties and other social gatherings. I visited my mother as seldom as possible. I should note that not only was the anger of others an issue, but my own anger was a problem. Rage was a second behavior that could quickly get out of hand — though I never hit anyone or threatened to do so. I kept my feelings bottled up for ages without seeking insight into them. Thus from time to time after weeks or months of provocation, I would explode. The purpose of this rage wasn’t to get people to do what I wanted, usually, but to get them to leave me alone and let me do my work. (In my family of origin, there was a duplicitous code whereby I was expected to study, but could be interrupted at any time. I fulminated to try to protect my working time.) Finally, I ran when people attacked. An example of this: One time I went for a job interview where the interviewer started shouting at me. Instead of telling her that she was out of line, I murmured some apologies, left, and drove as fast as I could to get back home. So even though I was more than willing to protect my workspace, I was a coward when people abused me.
Adult life demanded that I make changes, but I did not dare to carry them out until after my mother’s death. I finally allowed myself the freedom to react assertively to rage — apologizing where I had to and standing up for myself when the other person’s apprehension of the facts or my intentions were wrong. My exercise of these has not been perfect, but at least I am standing my ground more. And I try to hear people out more so that we don’t reach the point where they attack me.
This self-empowerment is changing my life. I have less to trigger my anger or my bipolar episodes, especially the depression. A new dream envelopes my mind, a dream that goes beyond hope and manifests itself as self-confidence.
I 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.
Notice 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.
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!