Pre-med Daniel

Yesterday, I posted the following on Facebook.  It was intended to be funny, but also a little informative.  Excuse the politics.

Me, before afternoon medication:

You conservatives who dish it out but can’t take it when someone throws a few hard facts at you, you’re the real crybabies around here!  Do you need a safe space?  Can I call you a waaaaahmbulance?  You’re gonna need it when I’m done with this safety pin!

Me after meds:  Let’s watch Friends

It got a lot of laughs and it elicited this response from a dear friend:

Oh, pre-med Daniel sounds like someone I can get behind. lol.

And then my wife responded:

I don’t think you would enjoy this version as much as you might think.  My sweet husband becomes a tortured, miserable soul in that state.  I’m so thankful for the quality healthcare we are so fortunate to be able to access.

It’s important to me to have a sense of humor about myself.  I want people to see that I don’t take myself so seriously that they have to tip-toe around me all of the time.  But to my wife, it’s not funny at all.  She’s seen what kind of havoc my illness can make.  Most people have not seen that at all.  I’m not even sure people believe that I’m sick.

What my friend wrote did not bother me at all.  I like parts of pre-med Daniel quite a bit.  Maybe he is a tortured soul, but he’s also a full-blooded living soul.  Part of my joke is that my meds take the fire out of me.  I’m reduced to watching Friends on a continuous loop with my wife whereas I used to be out partying and carrying on and writing novels and coming up with inventive ideas for new software systems and planning recitals and doing open mics.  People did like the pre-med Daniel, at least the people who didn’t have to live with him.

But, I’ve come to an acceptance.  There’s no way around it.  My unmedicated illness is incompatible with the lifestyle I’ve chosen.  I want to stay married.  I want a steady job.  I want to be a good parent.  I want be the kind of church leader than people look to as a model for Christian living.  Medicine is the only option for me if I want this lifestyle.  I still get out once in awhile.  I still write a little.  I don’t have the software ideas anymore, but I like working with other people’s ideas; refining them, improving them.

It’s all about goals.  If you are reading this and want the lifestyle I have, take your meds every day.  If you want a life of unfettered freedom, then maybe you can get away with no meds for awhile, until you lose all freedom in jail or in the hospital.

 

 

 

A Few Thoughts about My Interview about Social Media and Bipolar

I recently gave an interview with a doctoral student about mental illness and social media.  He posed some really interesting questions, and I really enjoyed working through them with him.  I’ll be following the progress of his study which in part may be seeking to find ways of supporting people with mental illness through social media.

We talked about stigma.  I said that just by sharing our stories, we are helping to break the stigma.  And when we can help to educate through social media, we need to have the courage to do it.  The world and our friends and family need to get a better picture of what mental illness looks like in a person.  It may not be what they expect.

To be honest, some of us are doing everything we can to reinforce the stigma.  To a large degree, we cannot help it.  Not every one of us has access to the kind of care required to keep us well.  But wellness is a part of illness that not everyone sees.  Perhaps people see a well person and think that that means they do not still have a mental illness, for instance.  “Glad you’re better!  I suppose everyone goes through a patch of bipolar once in their life.  They thought I was bipolar when I was teen.  I was using a lot of drugs!  But I got over it.”  (implication, maybe you should get over it).

But when we write and network and reach out, we can break those stigmas.  We can humanize our illness for people.

I don’t want to rehash the interview.  This guy’s work will speak much better for itself than I will.  But I am a little more mindful at the moment.   I’m thinking about how the bipolar community is with each other.  He asked if I’d ever received negative comments on my blog.  I said “Never!  Bipolar people don’t treat each other that way.  We’ve all been beaten up, belittled, discarded, and judged too much to treat each other that way.  I get nothing but support.”

And that’s a true statement for me.  I’ve received nothing but support and solidarity from my readers.   For that, I’m am so very grateful.  There’s never been a better time in history for people with mental illness and social media is an important part of that.

If you would like to participate in this study contact John Naslund @naslundj or click here to take the survey

Attempted Listening

 

stock-photo-good-listener-words-on-a-name-tag-sticker-to-show-you-are-sympathetic-empathetic-and-understanding-215663989One of my wellness goals is to be a good listener.  I’m pretty good when I’m well, but when I get revved up, I’m not good at it at all.  All I can do is talk about myself, get defensive, and give criticism instead of support.  Men, in general, struggle with listening because we are problem solvers.  That’s how we support.  We offer solutions.  But often women don’t want a solution, they want to be listened to.

Recently, my wife and I took a long walk.  This is our time to share a little more in depth than usual.  We take a good 30 or 40 minutes or more.  Lately, she’s done the talking which gives me a good chance to practice being a good listener.

I’ve recently become an AA sponsor, and I’ve learned a few things about supporting someone.  Sometimes, it’s my job to tell him what to do, but mostly it’s me working with him to solve problems.  I’ve learned to help him draw out his own wisdom with prompting sorts of questions.

That’s all well and good, but within five minutes of the walk I was shouting.  I don’t even remember what about, but my afternoon Seroquel had not yet kicked in.  But as we walked, I was able to zone into being a support just like I have been for my sponsee.  I decided that I would treat her as a sponsee except for the part where I tell her what to do.

I listened and reflected which means I repeated back to her what I understood her to be saying and asked if I got it right.  Then I  began asking prompting questions once and awhile.  How does that make you when our daughter acts that way?  Do you resent her?  Do you blame me for her bipolar.  Even a little bit?  And then I validate her feelings.

Wowsers, I sound like Mister Right!  But alas, this is very hard for me to do when I am struggling with manic symptoms.  Right now, I’m in an accepting mode.  There is no perfect cocktail of meds anymore…at least not since February.  I have to learn what most other bipolars are trying to learn:  how to deal with periods of mania without the full support of meds.

When my wife shares her feelings, I get defensive.  All I hear is blaming.  I get agitated and loud.  And when I say loud, I mean trained opera singer loud.  And she is very sensitive to loud sounds.  I feel terrible later.  In those situations, I start off wanting to be helpful, but it quickly goes awry.

One strategy we’re trying is not to engage in conversation until my afternoon dose kicks in.  I come home, take my medicine,  practice music, then make dinner.  By the time that is done I’m cool as a cucumber.  We haven’t figured out weekends, though.  It’s a different pattern.

So now we have our walks after dinner when I can listen.  The remaining problem is that I don’t perceive her as wanting to listen to me.  My wife has been subjected to so much with suicide attempts, adultery, verbal abuse, crazy letters to her parents, and public embarrassment so much that she has decided it’s her turn to be selfish.  I haven’t argued with that.  How can I?

But the truth is that I ask little of a partner when it comes to service and she gives little.  So, it works most of the time.  It’s not that I wish she would give more,  it’s when she asks for too much of me that I throw it back in her face.  This happens far less.  I’m getting better at saying no when I need to say no.

For now, I want to be the listener.  After all, she’s had to listen to my crazy bullshit for over half her ever loving life.

Crush

I’ve developed a crush on a new coworker.  She is tall, dark-featured, and curvy on top, and gorgeous.  I’m attracted to tall women, but I’ve never been involved with one.  The temptation is there.  I have not flirted, but she seems open to it.  I’ve learned to read the signs over my unmedicated years of womanizing.  I’ve caught her making very steady, direct eye contact with me many times.  In a recent meeting, I returned her gaze and before I could even think about it I winked.  A wink can be nothing, but it can be everything. This game is such a subtle thing until it’s not.

I have a history of bipolar-related infidelity.  I’m not exactly level right now, but I’m not too far gone.  Like I said, I haven’t flirted one little bit, but my resolve is low.  One manic episode and I could make something happen very quickly, or get fired trying.  My building has many opportunities for privacy including private shower rooms, a fitness room that is usually dark and empty, stairwells, and elevators. On some level, I already have a plan.  I’ve come close to pulling her close and kissing her in the elevator or on the stairs, but I REALLY don’t want to go down that road again.  I really don’t want to end my marriage.

But the honest truth is that in my state, even though I might not make a move, if she did I would be nearly helpless.  She’s too alluring and I’m just manic enough to get hypersexual enough and starved enough to give in.  I haven’t had regular sex since my diagnosis in 2011.  It’s just not happening with my wife.  I’d make a pretty good monk.

So I have a rule that is keeping me safe so far.  I don’t seek out any social interaction with her.  If it happens, it happens, but it’s brief.  I keep on moving.  I do not linger anywhere with her.

So am I just a cheating jerk?  Well, I certainly have been, but it’s not so simple.  I’ve covered hyper-sexuality and crushes before on this blog.  Take your pick.

Recurring Fantasy That May Save My Ass

Daniel Undone

Honest Confession

Open Channel

Fessing Up To My Wife About Recent Hyper-sexual Symptoms

What Can Be Forgiven

Healing After Bipolar Infedility

What It’s Like To Be Hypersexual with Bipolar

Hypersexuality: Picking Up the Pieces

I’ve described it as the euphoria to beat all euphoria.  And I’m so very confident when I have it.  I know how to make myself attractive.  And I’m highly, dangerously impulsive.  How I’ve stayed faithful for the five years since my diagnosis and reconciliation is really a marvel.  I’ve surprised everyone.  Cheating is a Pandora’s box.  You may wonder about it for years, but once you’ve done it and know how easy it is to do…

But I’m not a jerk.  I’m actively fighting this by taking care of myself and by making rules which if obeyed ahead of time will prevent me from being in a compromising position.  But it’s just so easy, cheating.  It’s as easy as making the right kind of eye contact in the right place in time in the right mood.

So this crush…it won’t pass, they never do.  I still have crushes from childhood.  But if I do not put out the vibes, maybe she will leave me mercifully alone.

 

 

 

The Way We Feel and the Way We Behave

130922-130551Plato said “An unexamined life is not a life worth living.”  It is crucial that those of us with mental illness and addiction examine our lives very carefully.  I’ve done so with therapy, AA, mindfulness, and writing.  Through this blog, I unravel my own hidden truths.  It’s crucial because without self-awareness there is little possibility of getting better.

Last week, I forgot a morning dose of meds.  I was as close to normal during the day as usual, but in the evening I became combative with my family.  I was self-aware to the extent that I knew that my behavior was problematic even as I experienced it, but it didn’t stop me for awhile.  Eventually, though, I went to be by myself for awhile.  That’s something I couldn’t do just a few years ago. But yesterday was different.  I forgot my meds again.  I remembered what happened before and I began to prepare myself for a bumpy ride.

First, I told my wife that I might need to isolate myself that evening.  I then began to formulate a plan.  I cancelled an evening engagement.  I envisioned myself being kind and pleasant to be around.  And you know what?  It worked.  I was a goddamn delight!  I was self-aware.

I know myself very well by now.  I do not hide my truths from myself.  I may not always do something about it, but I’m observant;  observant of my thoughts and feelings.  Feelings are important.  We learn about ourselves in powerful ways when we examine how we feel about things;  how we react.  It helps us understand why we feel the way we do, and enables us to change the way we respond behaviorally.  This is what allowed me to change my behavior last night.  I knew that just because I felt a certain way didn’t mean I had to behave in a certain way.

This is key to people with bipolar.  It is an illness of feelings.  Our feelings betray our reality.  We act on an altered reality in part created by feelings.  We must separate our feelings from our reality in order to stay grounded in the real world.

This is My Brave: My People

u7b6o1-vMy wife recently took me and my daughter to an event called This Is My Brave, which is a story telling event like The Moth except on the theme of mental illness. I didn’t plan to go, my wife sort of sprung it on me.  I love stories and I love telling stories so I was pleased to join her.  I wondered if it might be the kind of thing I could participate in in the future.  Primarily, we went to support a young woman with schizophrenia whom we’ve know since she was a child.

At first I was analytical.  Couldn’t I do a better job than that dude or this lady?  I should be up there, but then a marvelous thing happened which took me out of my ego-filled head and into my gut.  An older woman headed for a guitar on a lower stage.  It took her a good three minutes to get ready.  She was like a human sloth.  She looked to be around 70, but mental illness can prematurely age a person so who knows.  She began talking about bipolar and all of the important artists, writers, and musicians who had it.  Then she told the famous story of Winston Churchill, who she said was bipolar, in which he was invited to speak at a graduation.  His speech was two words:  “Don’t Quit!”  She said it several times, each time more enthusiastically than the last.  Then she launched directly into some badass guitar strumming.  She was transformed from an elderly woman with barely enough dexterity to pick up a guitar, to someone who might be playing late night gigs in local bars.

Her voice was a blend of Joni Mitchel and an operatic soprano.  She sang an elaborate, inspiring song of optimism with a refrain of “Don’t Quit!”  On the high notes she would lean back and raise her head.  It was glorious.  I was moved to tears.  When she was done, the audience gave her a very enthusiastic applause and she took a stance of triumph, her head pointed dramatically to the balcony and her eyes closed.  She held it a good 8 seconds after the applause had died.  She was one of my kind.  She was living in a different reality than the neuro-normatives in the crowd.

After the show, I looked for her near the stage.  Someone was helping her down the steps.  When she made it to the floor, I touched her on the shoulder to get her attention. I said,  “You made my whole week with your song!  Thank you so much!”

“That’s wonderful!  I’m so glad.” she said.

“I’m bipolar!” I exclaimed.  And there was something so freeing about saying that in an environment which was embracing people with my illness.

“Ah,”  she said.  “There are so many wonderful contributions to the world from people with bipolar!”

She looked around the old theater in wonder, gesturing.  “Artists, philosophers, writers, musicians.  We’re important.  We MATTER.”

I asked for a hug and she embraced me warmly.  As she held me, she patted my back and said, “Yes, yes.  So important.  Never quit.  Never quit.”

My wife had a different experience.  She suffers from PTSD because of all of the trauma our kids (who have mental health issues) and I have subjected her to.  The last performer had been a woman who had lost her 22-year-old son to a mental health related suicide.  We almost lost our son as well.  It was a trigger for her.  She fled the building as soon as the show was over and I didn’t notice.

I was too stoked.  I wanted to meet and thank other performers.  When I found her, she was outside on the street corner upset.  Upset over the show, but perhaps also that I had not noticed her struggling.  I felt bad and tried to demonstrate a little compassion, but I did not want to give up the feeling I was having.  My daughter, also bipolar, and I were both very excited.  We chattered on about it in the car.

I told my wife that I met the woman who sang “Don’t Quit!”.  She said, “She seemed a bit off to me.”

I said, “She’s not off!  She bipolar.  She’s like me.  She’s my kind!”  Then I realized something.  I’d never really been around my own kind other than my daughter, whom I adore.  Why is that?  Why are there support groups for people who live with people with mental illness (NAMI) but not one for people living with mental illness?  To my knowledge my town does not have that, unless you are admitted to the hospital.

But my wife dismissed me, “You’re not as much like that woman as you think.”

I wondered if she was right. I pass for normal most days. At least I think I do.  But I said, “Hun, I’m holding back all the time because I don’t want to scare you.  My whole day is pretending to be a normal person.”

In reality, I want to sing down the halls at work. Pick fights.  Get personal.  Kiss a strange woman in passing.  Rant. Stay up all night.  Get in a car and drive to San Francisco to see the opera and dance all night.

But I’ve taken on responsibilities which I take seriously.  I chose to have a family.  I cook and shop for my family.  I manage our budget obsessively. I care for my wife.  I give her whatever I can give.  I direct choir at a church.  I’m a software engineer by day.  I parent my kids.  There’s no room for my natural state.  I’m the most compliant bipolar you’ll meet.  I do everything the docs tell me to do because I don’t want to lose it all.  I almost did.  I walked away once.  Moved out.  Stayed up screwing, drinking, and smoking every night until I was too sick with pneumonia to be any fun.  That’s how my wife found me.  Spent and dangerously sick.

I don’t think my wife anticipated what this event would mean to me. We had come to support an important person in our lives.   It was a good event for showing support  for people with mental illness, and that’s what I expected to do.  It never occurred to me that I would be the recipient of support.  Those of us in the theater with mental illness were the part of the crowd who may have been in the greatest need. For once, it was our party.  These were our people.

EDIT:  I found a support group!  Trying it out tomorrow.  

Are You Beyond That Point?

d8299d95a25cdd7f9843a91ccdd84b9dA few nights ago, I was having a lot of symptoms of mania.  I’ve been struggling this year.  I have to say “this year” now because I can no longer say “this week” or “this month”.  I’ve been struggling since February.  So, I was intense, disconnected, and not fully rational.  There was no talking to me.  And so my wife asked, “Are you beyond that point?”

This is her fear, now that she understands.  Mania is an altered state.  It fucks with your brain and causes you to perceive the world inaccurately.  I can’t help it when that happens, but I can be aware that it is happening.  I’m like a lucid dreamer except that I can’t really fly.  But there’s a point at which I’m no longer lucid.  My altered reality becomes the only reality I’m aware of.  I begin to speak and behave as if that is my reality.  That’s what crazy is.  Crazy is when you are behaving normally within the context of an abnormal perception of the world.

The reason this is my wife’s fear is that when I reached that point in the past, I did lots of hurtful things.  She essentially lost her husband for awhile.  She’s worried that she will lose me and that I will betray her again.  It’s like those werewolf movies.  He’s in there enough to tilt his head when you say his name, but he might kill you anyway.

The truth is, that I don’t know if that point still exists.  I haven’t reached it since my treatment began.  I wonder if perhaps I’m so much more self-aware now that I will always be aware enough not to do harm to my marriage or anything else.  But I don’t know for sure.  I feel that I have to live under the assumption that I’m fully capable of returning to an altered, deluded state.