Friday, January 29, 2010

On Writing

Write. It is right. It's your right. With all your might. Write.

"It's harder to be friends than lovers
And you shouldn't try to mix the two
Cuz if you do it and you're still unhappy
Then you know that the problem is you."

--Liz Phair

I think I'm lonely. I am getting pushy with possible friends. I want people to like me. I'm out of my element, fishing for compromise. "Please be my friend, I'm just so needy!" Not a good place from which to make friends.

But it's true. I need someone. A good guy friend to hang out with. Somebody who used to drink but doesn't anymore (just to make it easier for the both of us). Or some writer friends, a club that meets weekly and just chats about this and that. Maybe over a snack or tea?

I think what's really going on here is that I'm feeling sorry for myself rather than do the writing. I'm procrastinating writing like I think I want to write by playing the woe is me game. And I'm good at it-- got a triple word score on my last turn. King me.

There are so many things holding me back-- fears that include looking stupid, not being able to say what I'm trying to say, mold-- it's nasty stuff, y'know. I fear success. I don't want to lose my freedom of lifestyle to the paparazzi machine. But whatever-- cross that bridge when the traffic cop waves you through...

Oh blessed Hell-- I want to sit down and start writing and not stop until I've finished saying what I want to say! Is that too much to ask? Can't I just start rollicking through the verbiage and create some waves to buck my life into motion? Isn't it just a matter of writing for writing's sake and the rest falls into place?

I want a writer's life. I want freedom to create worlds and commemorate the past. I want to push myself to type and just get it all out, to not worry about the editor-- to spit in the editor's hair so that he leaves me alone while he goes to wash himself.

I want to struggle to make sense of myself and my life. I want to read about things that are affecting me. I want to write my story of a bipolar life. I want to remember the details of my psychotic episodes.

But I want help, too. I want people in my life. I want friends. I want to know that I can put out some ideas and that I'll hear back whether they fly or not. Now there's a pie in the sky idea-- friends that can fly. I want that!

There's no set direction here tonight, just that I am trying to write, and I'm trying to do it without holding back. I feel like I've got the reins firmly in hand, and that I might need to let them go and see where this little horse and pony show will take me...

There are those out there that I respect, and I know them. I've met them. Some of them. I seek their approval, their accolades. I need stroking. Why is this? Because I don't listen to myself. At least, not when I'm telling myself I'm good. I more readily will point out my faults than to compliment myself. So I'm needy for compliments. Because I'm self-conscious and lack confidence.

I'm most comfortable with my humor. A nod to my father for this skill. We grew up laughing and making each other laugh. That's a great gift. Greater than gadgets or the right clothing. We're skilled with rapier sense of humor. Priceless.

So there's more, of course. So much more. But enough for now. It's time I should break for dinner. Nourish the belly, nourish the soul.

Or something like that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SARK Retreat

It was a wonderful, enriching, supportive weekend.

My wife and I attended the SARK Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper Writer’s Retreat in Big Sur last weekend. Over twenty people gathered to play games, write from prompts, and just generally grow with each other. We learned to spread our wings, not fear flying, to trust, and to love ourselves. In fact, we were encouraged to hug ourselves regularly!

We met Magnus, the “curator” at the Henry Miller Library. He also assisted with the logistics of the conference, helping out here and there. He gave a reading of one judge’s rendered opinion on Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer– a scathing, ruthlessly bitter piece of vitriol that attempted to cast Miller’s soul to the depths of Hell. A very entertaining reading. And then Magnus played some guitar and sang for us, “Marylin Monroe Didn’t Marry Henry Miller!”

The food was first rate. New England style Clam Chowder with an ocean of clams, Bolognese sauce that was balanced tangy and sweet, desserts so yummy, breakfast right scrumptious– personalized omeletes made right at the buffet to your specifications. Lots of fresh fruit, locally grown– even the oatmeal was good, with berries and a bit of brown sugar.

But the real nutrition of the event came from SARK. For those of you not familiar with her, her full name is Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, and she’s “written” several best selling books on personal transformation and the like. I say “written” because she more acurately draws her books by hand. They’re manuscripts of artwork, with flourishing color.

I first encountered SARK in a small bookstore in Mt. Shasta City. I was struggling with my life, depressed, and in need of change. In need of direction, help, assistance– whatever, I needed to flip a “u-ie” and get back on track towards the living. SARK’s book “Make Your Creative Dreams REAL” found me that day. It was so pleasantly colorful, and the message was so approachable and supportive that I just knew it was going to help me.

This was my second workshop with SARK, and some of the things were review, but this time I really connected with new messages of self-love and self support– self belief that I can do whatever I truly aspire to do.

At one point, during a small break in the workshop, SARK pulled me aside and told me that my writing was very good, and that I should be writing whatever it is that I feel I should write, with no holding back.

So here you are, folks. I’m putting it out there. Because I’m allowing myself to believe in myself. I can do this. I shall do this. And may you all enjoy the ride with me.

Thanks for reading. Blessings for you all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

From Pudding to Freedom

They must have administered something to me to help me sleep. I was groggy when I "woke up" and noticed that I was back in the ambulance. We got on the highway and drove for quite some time. I didn't know where we were going. I was calm, tired, in and out of sleep. Good drugs.

I remember when we got to where we were going, I suddenly sensed a threat to my well being. My well being was not something I should have been in charge of at this point, and the attendants knew this. But when they tried to escort me through to my new "home" I darted away, making some sort of escape attempt. I ran into the nearest room and closed myself in the closet. This was not viewed as good behavior, especially since it was the room where a woman was staying. She was unimpressed with me, I gather. So the attendants got a hold of me and moved me somewhere else... again, my recollection of this phase is sketchy at best, so I don't know if they had to medicate me some more to get me to cooperate, what was going through my mind, or how long a period of time passed before I was allowed to become alert enough to take note of my surroundings and begin to make sense of it all. What I do know is that I woke up in a room with other people in it-- like a community recovery room with about five beds in it.

I first woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of one of my roommates snoring. When I met him later, I was thrown by the apparent disorders and maladies he was suffering through, and then I was surprised to see him be the first of us to be released on his own recognizance. I guess maybe he didn't have the insurance coverage that the rest of us in there did, or something. But for a little bit there, my confidence in my judgement and perception was shaken. Hard to say what the logic behind it was, but then, logic ain't in extra supply at a psych ward.

Soon, I settled into the schedule, started receiving visitors, having regular meals, participating in group sessions. The food was good! I started learning the names of some of my fellow captives. I won't relay them here, but it could be said that I made some friends. One of the friends was a bunkmate of mine-- he slept across the room from me. He seemed really put together, and he had a great sense of humor. We immediately began referencing "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest" and started to plot which sink we would be wrestling from its place and tossing through a wall to gain freedom, blessed freedom.

But he also had his moments of pained expressions, where when we were trying to communicate, an obvious discomfort would form in his thoughts, and he'd struggle to hold back tears. This didn't react well with my own thinking, as I would take it personally, as if he were trying to tell me something but was saddened by my inability to figure it out. When I'm sick, I do a lot of internal suffering, rampant thinking without regular check-ins with others. This is part of how the disorder thrives and torments its subject.

There were other friends as well. One night in particular, I woke up early and couldn't get back to sleep. There were a couple of ladies who were up at this time as well. I think it was like 3 or 4 am, and we sat there watching a movie. What movie, you ask?

Crazy People.

It was very funny, the little bit that we watched. And we were all crazy too. I don't recall why we stopped watching-- maybe because we were getting too loud, and it was by then "late" enough that I could take a shower, something I was looking forward to, as I'm sure others were as well. But I wonder how funny the movie would be now?

I think it was on this early morning that one of those ladies showed me the secret drawer that held the pudding. Chocolate pudding in individually wrapped packages. It was like finding the candy dish at grandma's, without your parents there to limit you to one piece. But I was careful not to overdo it, because I knew that everything I was doing was being monitored, and I didn't want to create some further treatment scenario by getting out of control. This was also why I desired to take a shower-- I thought that the sooner I could display normal hygenic habits, normal sleeping habits, and normal speech and social patterns, the sooner I could get out of there. But the pudding made me think twice about leaving. Okay, not really. I was motivated to get back home.

I think it was also at this facility that I met a woman that had tried to kill herself. She had taken a lot of pills of some sort, and it had hit her liver hard. Most of her liver was destroyed. She had been in a coma for a few days, but now was recovering. Her skin color was a yellow-green, and her eyes seemed to bulge out of her head. She looked like she was unreal to me. I was still kinda manic, so I was tickled to talk to her. I hope I didn't bother her much. But she seemed almost animated, like a special effect in a movie or an hallucination. I would see her again several weeks later, and she would be doing well and would look more human than amphibian. I did not tell her this, however.

After about a week's stay at Sequoia Hospital, I would gain my release. And this time, it wouldn't take a kicking and screaming fit. It did however require my signing of a few documents; one of which was a waiver of my right to own firearms for 5 years.

Of course, if I violate that edict, and they produce that document, I suppose I could always plead insanity.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mania Continued

Okay, so it was the Academy Awards, not the Emmy's. That's the Oscar's, right?

I'm still making my way around to the pudding...

I kinda felt like Hannibal Lechter, all strapped in, propped up at an angle on the stretcher. I was taken to Valley Medical Center in San Jose and checked in. It's strange, you think you know what's going on, but you don't, exactly. I have memories of things there-- people there. But the thoughts, racing as they were, twisted everything into a more psychotic cocktail.

The stupid thing was that they told me to just "sit tight" and wait. For what, I don't know. So my mind tried to figure it all out. Like it was a big game. I was the rat in the maze, and I had to find the cheese. Or the pudding.

I was shown to a large waiting area, like a cross between a hotel lobby and an airport gate. There were couches and chairs but no magazines or television. Not that I could have kept my attention on an article or tv program for more than 15 seconds.

Once I was in this "living room" of sorts I noticed a few other "inhabitants" who were standing, sitting, or lying down. There were workers walking through quite regularly, but they had purposes that didn't involve me. There was a security guard sitting at a desk to one side of the room, over by the entry door, which was assumed to be the exit as well. All of the patients were asked to stay on the far side of the black line that was painted on the tile floor in between the guard's desk and the "living/waiting room". Anytime somebody started to wander over the line, the guard would remind that person to stay on the other side of the line.

I started to recognize my cohabitants as people I had already met in my life. The woman lying down on the couch attempting to sleep looked a lot like the woman from the chiropractor's office I had been going to. A thought as innocent as this soon morphed into some elaborate relationship that involved us sexually, criminally. I thought the reason we were both here in this holding tank was because the authorities were sorting out all of the criminal details of the horrific transgressions of the madman-- as if I were Charles Manson and she was one of the minions. But as soon as these thoughts would develop, I was distracted by new thoughts. Nonetheless, all thoughts set up the possibilities to build upon later. And so it would happen.

There was another male that reminded me of a friend from grade school. My mind rapidly concocted that he was about the same age as me and could well be my old friend. I determined that he must be a detective-- he wore a badge, I think, but was in plain clothes. I tried speaking with him several times, but he was working on something that didn't involve me. I was overzealous though, and got too close to him such that he yelled at me. "Don't touch me, Michael! You gotta stop touching me!" I apologized but still held on to the idea that we needed to communicate. What, I haven't a clue.

As time passed, there was more and more activity. At least, it seemed to me. Perhaps it was just my mind cranking up and whirring like a top. As I got more information to augment my schemes, they interwove and rippled my reality. I soon thought that I had super powers, and I revisited the criminally insane scenarios. There were several authorities-- police, nurses, attendants-- and I would speak to any of them. And I would speak out of all sides of my mouth, trying to be discreet about the information that I knew they would be impressed with... That I was providing as an informant, someone on the inside, taking great risks to talk to them.

Nobody seemed duly impressed, but this didn't deter me. My vigor for my work was endless and voracious. I was the social butterfly of the group. Flitting from ear to ear, as if collecting and allocating nuggets of pollen.

At some point I caught the eyes of another patient. She didn't speak a word, only stared at me intently. I moved towards her, and she motioned with her head toward the wall to her right. There, where she had pointed, was a phone. It was as if she were showing me the way.

I moved to pick up the phone, but she then moved closer. Now she used her words. "You can use the phone if the nurse says you can." Or something like that, I imagine. What I remember isn't specific, but I think that I was swept up in the drama of my own thoughts such that I felt she was passing me a secret token that would allow me access to another dimension in this riotous game.

I tried talking to another attendant, drawn to him because, of course, he looked familiar. He was working in the medication booth. I asked if I could have some drugs. He said no, that I needed to calm down and get real before I would get any drugs. It was from him that I first heard the talk about me detoxing from alcohol. I didn't remember being drunk when I got in there, but he said that I was admitted with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit (for driving, I guess. But I hadn't been driving. Or drinking, for that matter. I hadn't had a drink in over a day, and that had been just one beer...) So I was being treated like a detoxing alcoholic.

Now, I don't know to this day if they flubbed that; if they mixed up some of my records with somebody else's, or if they just figured that was what was wrong with me from the symptoms I was displaying. But it's an interesting piece of the puzzle that I may never figure out.

My psychosis advanced in this methodical, steady way. After some time, my active mind needed to get my body active. I began playing games, running around. I kicked off my slippers and tried to break dance. I still hadn't slept more than a few hours in the last several days, so things were coming undone. Thankfully, I kept the rest of my clothes on.

But the activity only brought more stimulation. I continued my "work" by following my mind's whim, identifying all people familiar, and imparting "knowledge" on anyone who'd listen. And even those who didn't want to listen.

I soon was acting in a way that was making other people uncomfortable. A team of attendants was called in and set forth on collecting me. They explained that I was making others uncomfortable and they assisted me to my own private room. I pretended to struggle and screamed for the audience, slipping in words for the staff at just the right volume and timing. I interpreted the whole scenario as a way to escape, or that I was actually being escorted out. All part of the game, again.

I was strapped into place on a bed and the lights were turned off. And soon, thankfully, I slept.

Next: Transferring to the Place of the Pudding

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mania, Part One

Most of all, I remember the pudding.

Okay, so that's not true. But the pudding was a cool "fridge" benefit. It was surely there for everyone and anyone who wanted some, but it felt like we had privileged upon it. It was located in the bottom drawer, almost a "hidden" drawer at the bottom of the fridge. Where you'd expect moldy vegetables to be languishing-- the "crisper" if you will. But it was full of individually portioned cups of chocolate pudding.

It's a good memory from a time when good memories were scant and unaccounted for. For this was a time when I had been hospitalized because I was a danger to myself and others.

I had been taken off of my regular medicine, the cocktail that I'd been taking for almost six years, because of an unwanted side effect-- my platelets level was dipping into much lower than normal territory. I had to watch any bruises or cuts while I ramped off of the Depakote and readied myself for a different medication. In the meantime, I continued to take my anti-depressant. This would prove to be a mistake.

After about a month of being off of Depakote, I slowly started to exhibit symptoms of mania. I stopped sleeping more than a few hours at a time. My mood was uplifted and uplifting-- I can be quite entertaining when I'm feeling the confidence that mania brings. I talked more, and more rapidly. I was much more active and willing to do things-- much more extroverted and socially interactive.

And I began to put a lot more stock in my thinking. But my thinking was starting to race, and it would lead to rapid crystallization of logic and magic. So magical and unexplainable morphed into apocryphal but understood. As though a higher level of meaning existed that wove the loose ends into a macrame masterpiece, one that would take too long to try and explain with our uncoordinated language.

We had gone to Santa Cruz, my wife and I, and we had a good time. I was charming and polite and under control for the trip, and even thought to take an extra Klonopin to help me get some sleep. It didn't work, unfortunately. When we got home, all Hell soon broke loose.

My wife wanted to watch the Emmy's, so we sat down to do so. We were hungry, so she started foraging for food. She brought me some chips and guacamole to munch on. I began eating the guacamole with my fingers, skipping the chips.

As I watched the proceedings, everyone showing up and walking out onto the red carpet, showing off their duds and beautiful bodies and cheek bones and sculpted eyebrows... I began to sense that this was all a villainous farce. Each person would flash their smile and squint off into the flashbulbs as somebody perkily powdered them with polite, superficial questions. I soon lost myself in this wretched scenario, sub-consciously concocting an elaborate conspiracy of wealth and power, brought to our homes by outlandish evil. So compelling was this mind-scene, this panoramic paradigm of the putrid, that I lost the intellectual and practical utilities of my mind and reacted. Violently.

I tossed the bowl of guacamole at the wall. It shattered and splattered. I leaped to my feet and lunged at the television. I grabbed it and pulled it out of the bookcase, then slammed the tube towards the floor. It's a wonder it didn't explode.

I was full-fledged manic now. And I don't recall the progression of events. I threw furniture, I screamed at the top of my lungs, I yelled about how I had been "F***ed by George Bush!!", among other things. I broke a chair. I ripped off all my clothes and threatened to run around the neighborhood. My wife tried to calm me down, figure out what to do, how to help. She followed me throughout the house as I rampaged. Soon, she dialed 911.

The rampage didn't last very long, thankfully, because I'm not in very good shape. So I was out of breath and collapsed on the floor in the living room when the police arrived. They helped me get into some sweats and helped me onto a stretcher. I can remember thinking that I was an undercover policeman, and that I just needed to tell the officer that I was "working" and he would understand. As if I were in a narcotics sting operation or something and was just under the influence as part of making the deal that would net our offenders. Or something.

They went ahead and strapped me to the stretcher, although not tightly. They were very kind about it all, explaining that they didn't like to use the straps unless they really had to. I guess I was a bit of a flight risk, just because I was so unpredictable.

This was my second manic episode. So my wife and I both were a little better equipped to deal with it. And still, it was a total tornado. But we did okay, we got me the help I needed.


NEXT: Mandatory 72-hour hold at the County Psych Ward

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Don't Imagine You'll Wanna Hear This

I'm up late. Or is it early? It's both. It's one eleven pacific standard time. And I'm not sleeping. Should be, but I'm not.

Instead? Well, at least I'm writing.

Why do I write? Oh, let me count the reasons... There are so many. I write to produce something that I can look at and view as an achievement. I write because it gets my blood flowing, my brain going, my ego stroking (right now it's a four-stroke; hope to upgrade to a V8 later this month...)

I write because it heals me. It's therapeutic. It strengthens my resolve in facing my problems and challenges. It clears my mind of a lot of chatter and brings forth the important words, the ones that need to be expressed. Somehow, the process of writing de-muddles my mind.

So. Last year, kind of half-assedly, I managed to write a blog entry each month of the year. This is an accomplishment, yes. But I want to take it bigger. So this year...

Well, who knows? I'd like to write everyday, but I've already missed one. So. Instead, I will look to make at least 2 blog entries every month.

How's that for fried potatoes? Are we cookin' with fire?

So, to get to what it was that I was originally going to blog about... Well, you're not going to like it. I assume that this is not a way to win friends and influence people. But I'll leave that to Mr. Carnegie and his blog.

Truth be told, I've been having some suicidal ideation again. Maybe it's from the sustained feelings of wearing a leaded hair shirt with matching pants and socks. And the lack of passion for anything. The severe dislike of my job, my bloated body, my stressed clothes.

Maybe it's the lack of writing.

Could be. I could use more discipline, more structure in my life. Perhaps if I wrote for an hour everyday, whether it makes it here or the trash, maybe it would improve my life.

Because for the better part of two years now, I've been down. "I've been down so long, bein' down don't bother me..." You can sing that last part. I did.

Don't whip up the worry works-- I've been "passively suicidal" before. No attempts. That's a good record, in my favor. It may tell me that I'm not capable of suicide. But I don't want to get overconfident or anything.

No-- my intent here is not to worry my readers that my welfare is threatened. But the truth needs to be told. I'm battling depression, and it kicks my ass now and then. And I'm in treatment-- I see therapists and psychologists and I take medicine as prescribed. But this disorder that I'm labeled with-- bi-polar disorder-- is chronic and incurable. One can hope to manage the symptoms, but there isn't a vaccine or behavioral "trick" that fixes it.

When I was in high school, I'd often stay up all night, listening to music, writing, dreaming about a time outside of school... These may have been my incubating manic tendencies. In college, they were greatly pronounced at times-- like going nearly 48 hours without sleep when I first traveled to Grinnell. By this time I had started drinking, and by my sophomore year I was experimenting with drugs like marijuana. Only recently did I learn that there is a very common incidence of co-occurring conditions; that is, most people who are diagnosed bi-polar also have a history of drug use/abuse. The condition elicits self-medicating tendencies.

I had thoughts of killing myself when I was in high school. It wasn't born entirely out of loneliness or isolation. Rather, I had a curiosity as to what would happen. I have retained that curiosity to this day.

What happens to our thoughts when we die? Do they cease to exist because our body is no longer functional? Our thoughts aren't tied to any particular part of the body when it is functioning properly... Where is the mind located? "Oh, the brain is not the mind, and the mind is not the brain." Sing if you wish.

I don't know where this boat is pointed, but I suppose it's downstream.

So. It's not like I'm wandering around, looking for a death trap to fall into. But I get frustrated. My flexing wiry nerves get worn. I get sick of fighting. I fall down. And sometimes I lie there a bit. But I keep getting up.

I'm downright sick and tired of not being happy. I'm not asking for a zip-a-dee doo-dah and a lollipop the size of my head. I mean inhale, exhale. Contentment. Purpose. Direction. Passion. Without all these damn strings attached!

I hate the shakes. They wear at me. I can't pick up my pills. Then I can't hold them long enough to get them to my mouth. Blast! It's a conspiracy!!

When the little things start to anger me, I know my skin has worn thin. Deep breathing and centering skills help me find the auxiliary body armor.

I will not let this disorder conquer me. But I feel like I need me back. That all this fighting and struggling, through changes in medications and doctors, through quitting drinking and staying sober for over 600 days now-- that I've misplaced Michael, and am left with a dull, fragile shell.

Or maybe I'm standing to the side, holding onto this shell. But instead of a shell, it is my shedded skin.

I am transitioning, I know. It's just hard to note progress sometimes.

So thinking about killing yourself is somewhat necessary, I think, sometimes. Because you've got to die a little to shed that skin. It won't peel if it's still alive. What's alive stays with you.

I want to find peace again. For me, for my wife, my family and friends. So I'm working on it. And I'm leavin' no stone unturned. I may not find all the answers I'm looking for, but I have faith that I'll find the important ones.

Blessings to all who read this. May you find peace and thrive.