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Monday, January 1, 2018

I'm Choking

I’m choking.  I sit here choking while I write this.  I don’t want to be writing.  I don’t want to be doing anything and I want to be doing everything.  I know I’m in the middle of a mixed episode because this is what it does to me.  I choke while my demons scream at me and I can’t fight, I can’t flee, so I freeze.  I can feel the now familiar strain in my throat that will not move.  It’s like trying to push a bus uphill, getting angrier and angrier that you aren’t moving upward and you’re not moving downward.  This is my least favorite phase of this horrible disease.  Writing this now is forcing me to watch myself choke with no one around who can actually see me to help.  I’m impossible to understand.

There are three main phases to bipolar type II.  They can come in no particular order, each of them can be triggered by external circumstances or they can shift with no warning.  Depression
A mixed episode (technically a form of hypomania)

It isn’t as simple as this, however, hypomanic episodes can turn into eating disorders and anxiety disorders quickly.  The racing mind can turn into obsessive compulsive disorder.  The instability of each phase will inevitably look drastically different than the simplified Diagnostic Manual definition and any experienced psychiatrist knows this.  Bipolar II is hard to diagnose for these reasons.  People will only go into a doctor when something is wrong, but no one ever shows up, undiagnosed, and says, “I’m just so happy, doc.  I mean, everything is perfect in my life!”  If you don’t know what you’re looking for, if you don’t do a screen for bipolar II (and many general practitioners don’t) you would be dismissed as a well adjusted individual with a healthy body and a positive outlook on life.  So, people only see the doctor when they’re depressed, anxious, compulsive, etc. which concludes them to treat them for those disorders which will not actually treat bipolar II and, in some cases, the medication used for the wrong treatment can even cause hypomanic or mixed episodes.  Not.  Good. 

I’m having a mild mixed episode today.  I always choke during a mixed episode.  I’m always stuck with my demons during a mixed episode, up and down, angry, bored, lonely, and completely dysphoric.

As I walk my dog, Abby, past a Lutheran church a few people bounce out of the church, happily walking to their cars and call out to me in friendly greetings, telling me that they like my dog, that she is beautiful.  Abby is a mutt of some sort, perhaps a border collie/greyhound mix.  She’s about 45 pounds, black and sleek with long slender legs, little white socks, and a blazing white chest.  A friend of mine has always said she looks like she’s wearing black spandex.  At thirteen years old, her face is going quite grey, but she has the energy of most dogs half her age.  I smile a thank you to the church-goers even though I wish they weren’t speaking to me at all.  Abby trots on.  They all look so happy walking out of that church and I briefly think about coming back and going inside.  I was raised Catholic.  I’m no longer Catholic.  I’m not even a Christian and haven’t been for a very long time.  I suppose I’d consider myself agnostic.  And just look how happy and stable I am, I chuckle lightly to myself.  I don’t believe that heaven or hell exist as some sort of places other than earth.  I believe whoever, long ago, came up with the concept of heaven and hell was most definitely bipolar.  It can be absolute heaven and it can be the worst sort of hell.  All of it exists only in your mind, which sometimes becomes the scariest place imaginable and sometimes the most beautiful creation in all of the universe.

I would do almost anything to stay in a state of hypomania all of the time as I think anyone would if they could experience it.  It’s the happiest you ever been.  You’re charming, attractive, energetic, smart, fit, and you see the universe as a giant connected web of beauty as though everything on the planet is in perfect order.  You can accept horror and death because you can see the magic, the science, and the beauty that is the entire universe.

For me, hypomania is beautiful.  I see signs from the universe everywhere that steer me into perfect, serendipitous, connected experiences.  I may even be psychic at times.  I can work out twice a day, forming my body into whatever beautiful shape I want.  I dance for hours in my living room, feeling each muscle in my body work to move in exciting glory.  I sleep for four to five hours and wake up perfectly refreshed and deliriously happy.  I can learn anything, I can do anything, my life is exciting and I can make it more exciting.  I plan trips, I meet new friends, I have a perfect social life, a perfect job.  Everything is exactly where it is supposed to me and I am completely, down to my very being, happy.  

For a very long time, until my diagnosis, I thought that this was how happy was supposed to look.  This was what happy people experienced when they were aligned with who they truly are.  I thought at times that maybe I was near enlightenment.  My first episode of bipolar II that I can remember distinctly was depression, so when I finally reached a happy form of hypomania, I thought I had finally, for good, overcome depression.

The beginning of 2017, however, marked the year of the diagnoses as the worst sort of hell descended upon my brain, a great, rolling earthquake of fury, destruction, pain, and death.  I had been prescribed a type of SSRI which would hopefully combat my ever growing depression which had deadened my soul to an unrecognizable smattering of grey.  I later discovered this drug that was prescribed was known for triggering mania in people with bipolar disorder.  And it triggered it in me.  At first I was happy, a new wave of life came over me and I saw rainbows again!  Then, I could not stop moving.  My body jittered beyond my control dancing and cackling.  My feet and hands were no longer mine.  I got scared.  That’s when the earthquake roared with apocalyptic force, the aftershocks aimed right at Andy.  There was rage, self-harm, and the thoughts of death were constant.  I saw death everywhere.  Along the side of the road, in the news, on Facebook, in the hearts of family and friends- we were all going to die.  I looked into Abby’s eyes and I was obsessed that one day, when the spark of life was going to leave them, I would be incapable of continuing on because somehow her life was also mine.  I could not keep death from happening and that caused me the most extraordinary amount of pain.  The rage, the pain, the self-harm, the earthquake that was destroying the life in front of me was a mixed episode, a kind of hell about which I still have nightmares. 

This is the story that led up to, “How My Dear Friend Saved My Life.”  

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Life You Had Planned

Last week, when I crashed back down again, not only was I dealing with an episode of incredibly dysphoric depression, but on top of that I was really upset because I had been doing so well for about two weeks.  I felt so stable.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way in my entire adult life.  I didn’t even know that was possible or that’s what I’d been missing.  I didn’t know that feeling existed let alone that I could experience it.  I had a glimpse of stability heaven and it was suddenly taken away.

I was so incredibly disappointed not only in my treatment but in myself.  I couldn’t stop thinking, “What had I done that triggered this?  What did *I* do wrong?  Obviously, I was being punished and if I could *just get it right* all of the pain would stop,” or maybe if I was doing something different, something right, if I was living my “right life”.  In my head it was, “if I lived closer to my friends… if I wasn’t with Andy… if I lived in a place I liked… if I had a job that I liked… if I could go on a solo trip… if Abby wasn’t getting old,” maybe I could lead the life I have always wanted.  After all, I wanted friends, travel, adventure, animals, laughter, sangria, stories, writing, culture, food, dancing, long walks, confidence, strength, resilience, self-trust, love, independence, peace…

I explained all of this my dear friend J because she suffers from a couple of autoimmune diseases and we often talk about coping with a chronic and invisible illness, but one sentence she said really stuck with me:

"You're losing the person you thought you were, the person you've been your whole life.  I kind of think that's worth grieving over."

It is.  It truly is.

It’s so hard to let go of the person I thought I was and that I wanted to be.  I’m not saying that I’ll never have those things in my life, but I don’t have the control over getting them that I thought I did.  I am not the person I thought I was, or thought I would be.  It could be true that I will have an even better life than I could possibly imagine.  I’d like to think that maybe one day all of this will teach me how to savor the good moments.  Maybe this illness will teach me, will give my life greater depth than I would have had otherwise.  Or maybe it won’t.  I don’t know.

Joseph Campbell says, “You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”  It’s different than resignation and healthier than resistance.  I can’t begin to know where to start to build a new me and a new life, but I’m guessing it’s by grieving over the loss of my old life and old expectations. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Hopeless isn’t a strong enough word to describe the hole one sinks into during depression, whether unipolar or bipolar.  For mentally healthy people, “hopeless” has a more temporary feel to it, a situational circumstance that seems hopeless- it’s not the way they view the world, life, or themselves. 
I looked up “hopeless” in the thesaurus and found words that aren’t quite the same as hopeless but hopelessness does contain a part of each of them for someone who is suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, and various other forms of mental illness.  When we say “hopeless” what we mean is:


I don’t think there are enough words in the English dictionary to capture hopeless in these mindsets.  We use phrases like, “depths of despair” and truly know what that means.  We swim these depths, the middle of a murky ocean where there is no sunlight, no bottom, no way to tell where we are in the world or who we are anymore.  We keep swimming but, as we’re hit by complete vertigo, we don’t know where to swim, which way is up.  All the while our oxygen is running out.  We’re trapped in ourselves and engulfed by nothingness.

Sound terrifying?  It is.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

How To Deal With A High School Kitty

I had a dream last night about a girl from high school, let’s call her Kitty.  She was one of those archetypal high school villains- pretty, loud, cruel, difficult, dictatorial, and somehow popular but you don’t know why.  Anyone in my class from high school will immediately recognize to whom I am referring.  I don’t believe that Kitty could have possibly had any true friends in high school, although she would jump around between a few acquaintances every now and again.  I understand that in high school we all aren’t yet very good at relationships, and for some that skill set never develops.  In high school we barely know ourselves, if at all, and we are at the early stages of practicing how to actually be relationships, friendship or otherwise.  I’d give her a break for that.  I gave her a break many times in high school, at least I tried to.  Maybe her low self-esteem led to cruelty.  Maybe her brash declarations were because she never felt heard at home.  Maybe she was just a borderline sociopathic, mean-spirited, manipulative, genuine bitch.  I’ll never know.

One day at school, Kitty pushed one particular girl too far, and this time a brave, heroic woman fought back.  She doled out fists in the face and took fistfuls of hair from Kitty.  In my memory, the applause echoed in the hallway and continued well after the girls were pushed down the hall toward the vice principal’s office.  I don’t generally support violence, yet how does one admonish foul behavior when she takes no notice in the boundaries people set with her over and over again?  How does one respond when you’re in a setting and are forced to be near and even work with people like this?  I didn’t know then so I never crossed her personally, I never fought back when she aimed her pointed spear of verbal brutality at me, but I kind of wish I had rather than absorb her action at personal cost of my self-esteem.
Returning to my dream last night, Kitty was executing a flamboyant rant in my direction, cruelly declaring all the reasons I should be shamed and excluded from society, as high school villains do to nearly everyone at some point.  In my dream I just hauled off and punched her in her pretty, delicate, perfect little jaw.  It felt damn good.

When I awoke this morning, I did feel a bit guilty.  Maybe it was my mother’s disappointed voice in my head, or that I genuinely don’t think punching someone in the face is a decent tactical way to “set a boundary”, or maybe it was the good old fashioned Catholic guilt that plagues me upon waking every morning.  All I know is that this morning I realized I can’t expect myself to constantly be able to show every human being empathy all of the time.  I’m not the Dalai Lama.  I didn’t have years of intense and consistent training since birth to guide my mind toward peace in every situation.  I was guided by a religion of dogma where one was expected to behave in certain ways and shamed for having normal human responses.  Instead of understanding our own minds and responding with self-compassion, we were led toward repression, passive aggression, and even full on aggression instead of peace.  But that, my friends, is a whole other post.

The point of this whole post, maybe the entire dream, is that I finally have my own permission to grant myself compassion in this arena: if I can’t figure someone out in a way that leads to empathy, that’s okay.  What’s more, if I keep struggling to find compassion for someone and instead lean toward repression, passive aggression, I’m doing much more damage to myself and those around me.  I need to be more aware of when this happens and return to a state of self-compassion first before deciding on a solid boundary setting plan or whether to walk away altogether.  I’m not always going to think or behave like a holy human being.  Good grief, talk about pressure!  Instead, this time anyway, I can refrain from feeling guilt when I think to myself, “Fuck that girl.”  I get to enjoy the relief that I’ll never have to deal with her again and I get to choose how I respond to anyone I come across that resembles her.  How will I respond?  I have no idea right now, but I intend to respond with self-compassion first and then I get to choose.  I GET TO CHOOSE.  And that feels damn good too.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

There Can Be No Lotus

I don’t even know where to begin.  I have so much to share, so many stories, perceptions, and interpretations I need to convey and they’re just pin-balling around in my brain so quickly I can’t hang on to one concept for long enough to compose anything worth reading.  I’m stuck in the mud.

And that right there is the problem.   I’m already judging it before it’s even formed into a remotely recognizable shape in my brain; the stories can’t form themselves because I already assume they’re not worthy of form in the first place.
We all know writing can be hard, but it’s the vulnerability that is extremely hard.  I’m friends with some extremely intelligent people.  Not only am I afraid of judgment from others about the contents of the writing, which is raw and exposing, but also about the actual quality of the writing itself. 

Nothing I’ve said so far is news to anyone who’s written anything or thought about writing something.  However, no one really talks much about the process of finding a way to do it anyway.  I’m not talking the generic sort of, “I was scared but I did it anyway” bullshit.  Yeah, I get that.  I do that all the time.  I share stories that let people momentarily peek into the horror of my mental illness.  I VOLUNTARILY share this, people.  Do you think it’s easy?  The self-criticism I experience is stifling (see first paragraph above).  Do you think I don’t feel terrified every time I click “post”?  Generic encouragement now makes my eyes roll.  What I’m interested in, what truly encourages me, are the stories and detailed descriptions of the self-doubt sludge that slides through you as you attempt to do anything important or anything that makes you vulnerable.  Rarely do I hear about these inner most judgmental voices from others, rarely do I get to discuss the exact form of terror they experience as they take a chance.  I want people to describe the sticky goo of fear and judgment that tries to squish them into the perceived safety of the status quo.  Sure, most people will admit to having self-doubt and judgment, but what does that look like for each individual?  You’ve heard the saying, “if it was easy, everyone would do it,” yet the things that make it so hard and so interesting are the things we don’t discuss.  I want to hear people’s own unique experiences when it comes to actually putting something out into the world.
I’m guessing that if you’re reading this now, you experience times when you’re frozen because your rain boots are stuck in the thick mud of self-judgment.  I want to hear that shit.  I want to pull myself up so I’m standing next to you, face and hands covered in that mud.  I want to laugh at ourselves and at the ridiculousness of our own judgments which we take so seriously.  I know people don’t like to feel vulnerable, but every time you are you’ll find a large group of people nearby thinking, “oh thank you.  I feel the same.  I thought I was the only one.”  Moreover, that’s the really good stuff!  That’s the stuff that makes you interesting, that gives others an incredible amount of insight into who you are, and also gives you the opportunity to feel less alone in the world.  Let’s encourage each other to be interesting, productive, creative, kind, people by sharing this stuff with each other; whether you share it teary-eyed over whiskey or through a self-deprecating humorous anecdote, just share your story.

As for my writing, maybe I need to accept that I’m stuck in the mud for now and remind myself that I always find my way out eventually.  Besides, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Tiny Paragraph of Hope

Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, I caught tiny glimpses of my Self, like rays of sunlight that break though the shadows of trees as you drive down the highway.  They started when I was looking at myself in the bathroom mirror at work.  As I was fluffing my French-looking hair in the mirror, I imagined myself in the bathroom of a Parisian restaurant.  For just a tiny moment it was as if the veil of illness caught the wind and I felt my Self peak through.  I tried not to overthink it or make a big deal out of it in case I scared my Self away, but the glimpses kept happening throughout the day.  Tiny rays of light.

Don’t misunderstand the meaning of "rays of light"; they aren’t the same as happiness.  I have had moments, even hours, of happiness during this phase of illness but they aren’t the same as feeling like my Self.  Inversely, I am not always happy when I feel like my Self, but there is something about the consciousness that changes when the veil of illness lifts.  I can see clearly again.  For now, it comes in tiny glimpses but maybe, just maybe, it will grow into minutes, hours, days… 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pop! the cork

My mom has always been able to show love without any expectation of anything in return.  Not only has she always been generous with her time, energy, money, and hugs, but she used to pack my lunch and put notes and stickers in it, write me notes in lipstick on the bathroom mirror, give me little presents that she knew I'd like, drive me to dance classes, horseback riding, cheerleading, acting, gymnastics, softball, soccer, summer camp or whatever else I wanted to try.  She served me food only for me to complain about it.  She would wait with me for the school bus so I didn't have to wait alone and then she'd run back inside right before it came.  I pulled her out of bed in the middle of the night, more than once, to cry about how stupid boys were while she herself was fighting melanoma and my dad lay sick in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant.  Even though I’m certain she was exhausted, she hugged me and patiently let me cry into her chest as I’d done as a small child and for that moment I was a normal teenager and she was a normal mom and I forgot that death was always leering at my family, just around the next corner.

I could go on and on listing the generosities of my mom and perhaps I should, but the point of this post was supposed to be to say that I wish I were more like her.

I want to love like that.  I want to write notes, to give hugs, to unabashedly tell someone how absolutely gorgeous I truly think they are without any sort of expectation of those things in return.  I want to play, be silly, ceremonial, and dramatic without expectations of others to join in, unless of course they want to.

Then, of course, I feel that old choking sensation.  Just at the base of my throat below my voicebox, beyond that lump.  

Emotions get stuck.  I get stuck.  I gulp all of that down into my chest, where it presses against my ribcage for days and weeks and months.  And years.  

I wonder why my chest hurts, why my tummy hurts.

I used to write poetry.  Looking back on one part of one poem in particular I think it is perhaps about the release of this very thing I dream about being able to do.  Here is that poem.  I still think it is one of my favorites...

in my naval, golden and bubbling
Sweet champagne
that sparkles up to my throat where it rests, corked and quiet

Every kiss, a sip
Is it luscious on your lips?
Does it tingle on your tongue?

Pop! the cork
The world is thirsty

Snail Steps

Snail Steps