Replying to a Mother’s Rueful Response

awrittenletterDear Mrs. Donahue (names are changed),

Thank you very much for your kind words. I wish I could take credit for my writing style but alas, like my blue eyes, my writing was implanted long before I discovered it. And I doubt that beautiful language is lost on you: my job is to inspire the reader to take action or offer empathy. See, you took action! Your comment had a tremendous effect on me; it was your honesty and so, in return, I will attempt to answer your concerns as best I can.

Is your very bright son Bipolar I or Bipolar II? It’s generally thought by those who have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder that life feels better when they’re off medication; which it does at the onset of mania. But (in my case) mania begins to spoil quickly (like peaches), and then the paranoia, insomnia, and hateful accusations begin to fly; if there’s no intervention (hospital, doctor, therapist) my thoughts begin to darken like storms in Nebraska; my withdrawal begins like clouds gathering on the horizon and continues to descend getting ominous and threatening; until the eventual cloudburst of suicidal ideation, developing a plan, and at its worst, scheduling a date. Your impression of his life on and off medications may be accurate, but rather than compartmentalizing your observation, let’s look at it comprehensively: ON MEDS: Ability to function (personally, academically) and a sweet disposition; OFF MEDS: High degree of intelligence and violent. It’s important that your son understands that mania is a false reality often unpredictable and usually misleading. Mania joegordonlevitt-manicprovides “out-of-the-box” thinking, grandiose ideas, risky behavior, and poor judgment. Contrary to what patients who abandon their meds think, their manic behavior is not their true behavior: It’s their mentally ill behavior gratifying their indulgences and oblivious to any consequence. You might want to read my post “Bipolar is not an insanity defense.” Whatever actions he takes while manic and unmedicated will be his responsibility. If he breaks the law he could find himself in a lock-up, brought to trial, and sentenced to the general population of a county jail or state prison to serve his time. And our It’s a risky and poor decision. We all hate our meds: for some, it prevents mania, for others it prevents suicide. His meds keep him safe.

He’s got to come to grips with his “new normal” or he’ll always want to transgress to the embolden and manic life. In the past four years, I have ingested a surprising number of medications (29 pills daily), all of which failed. A friend mentioned Adderall. I now take a tightly monitored volume of Adderall’s generic cousin. It’s the only medication which plucked me from the depths of my depression. Adderall makes you very focused, like an English Pointer zeroing in on a quail; too focused sometimes, almost to obsessive, waving off distractions, even meals. I’ve thought that I’m merely a puppet following Adderall’s direction.  But it’s the only medication that’s made a significant impact on my mood. Every morning I have two choices: 1) Swallow it; or, 2) Don’t swallow it. I swallow it because I’ve weighed the consequence of not swallowing it, and the outcome is, in a word, glum.

When your son turns old enough to be an adult you’ll have to let him go. I strongly suggest that you find some kind of parental support groups, perhaps a therapist to work with you. But remember, it’s impossible to reason with a manic person and it’s impossible to reason with an unreasonably depressed person. When the bipolar patient’s behavior indicates he is manic or depressed and living out-on-a-limb they forfeit rationality and decisiveness; they adamantly oppose responsibility as a clumsy and conspicuous trick by law enforcement or psychiatrists to admit their participation in some wacky activity; they denounce medications as a straightforward blitzkrieg against their mental resistance.  At some point we all return to face, with shock and awe, our manic (or depressed) annihilation of what-was-formerly-known-as-life, understanding that some relationships sustained too much damage and were bulldozed; while others weren’t inhabitable without repair. That’s when you face the costs of abdicating meds to unleash the real you.  And yet you know that the real you would never destroy relationships which you affectionately admired.

He knows precisely what to do because you loved, cared, and taught him.

Now, it’s his life to live complete with failure and success.

Oh yes, and bipolar disorder.

Pages From The Past (Journal Entries, 2010)

The vestiges of my past hang at the back of my closet: Suits, shirts and ties organized by color and pattern; shoes and belts; whimsical cufflinks rest in velvet-covered nests in a wooden box; kaleidoscope silk kerchiefs lay folded in a drawer next to ironed linen hankies.  These things wait, set aside or put-away once the armistice had been agreed.  But these armaments which were once crucial to my survival now gather dust in a similar fashion to the life which wore them.   Like a warrior returning from a campaign, I now stand in unfamiliar territory: what once was my life is now my past.  I wish my reinvention were as simple as a down-sizing or relocation or economical result; but mine occurs as the result of a collapse of comprehensive proportion; I simply went mad.

My madness manifested itself in a broad incapacity to hold things together:  think Pandora’s box unhinged, and all of life’s graces emancipated from the mind which held them captive; a purging, or emptying of clutter; raging torrents of once-organized-now-disassembled debris of thoughts; memories like photographs tossed to the winds; a palette of emotion falling face down, once true colors now soiled creating strange and unpredictable influences; flair, forte, savvy and knack bundles ripped open, their dusts snaking across the ground or swirling in the air; fresh conversations gushing at first but slowing to the trickling of archaic chitchat; a tool shed of implements strewn across the prairie; and an inky sense of dispassion swabbed across its interior.

Blindness eventually annexed madness: an incapacity to witness authenticity:

June 26, 2010

 Yesterday turned into one of the worst days I have had in a very long time.  My niece is visiting us and I guess I was a little edgy about that: she’s a precious yet precocious girl; but having someone new in the house, especially one with such unbridalled passion for life is, well, overwhelming.  And the places that I normally go to enjoy quiet time, the lakefront for an early morning walk with Jenni, was filled FILLED with people in various colors of spandex and rubber all waiting for the start and/or finish of some race or another.  Therefore, the cadence of steps while walking a dog was intermittently interrupted by throngs of sweaty people moving in packs like gazelles down the savannah.  It just didn’t turn about the way I had expected, and change is incomprehensible.  My partner of 25 years is such an incredible sport through all this: so supportive and understanding.  And while I like the euphoria and focus the Adderall does provide, it also gives me a sense of urgency about things which I am am uncomfortable wth and unfamiliar.

By the time my group support meeting rolled about I was already feeling very irritiable, and had it not for my niece’s preference to remain sequestered in our Edgewater home as opposed to an adventure amidst world-class art and history museums, my other choices were a room full of depressed or manic middle-aged gay men (where are all the young and beautiful depressed or manic gay men I’ve often wondered) or the crippling jaws of a ravenous city whose downtown was infested by oblivious and awed visitors, unaware that the city is our home, not some ruin on the mediterranean; given those bleak options I may have opted to simply stay in the relative safety of my backyard and enjoy its serenity.  Perhaps there’s nothing I really want besides not having this mental illness, as it wreaked havoc on my yesterday.

The breakdown which occurred emptied out the contents of my mind; in the past two years I haven’t so much as been piecing them back together as much as letting old things back in if needed.  There are some memories best forgotten; there are some experiences best left in pieces; regrets seem to have their own distinct pile; I do feel somewhat hobbled together, as though the first me, the pre-breakdown me accumulated things like an attic; and for the most part many of these things, while important at the time, ceased in their importance, and therefore were forgotten.  There are piles and piles of those things; there are sharp pieces of glass and mirror strewn everywhere, memories of moments when my appearance seemed important: but more that anything, there is an emptiness I feel, as though I were walking about an outdoor market an smelling and squeezing and weighing items which might make their way into my mind: the harbor this morning; Jenni in a puddle; Nick’s smile after his first mouthful of a warm dinner on a cold night; winning at cards; I want to learn to be okay with less.  Less is lighter and mobile.

June 28, 2010

The Adderall seems to make me very anxious and quick to draw conclusions.  I find myself to have a very short fuse.  Without the Adderall I felt that the world was moving slowly. That my mind wasn’t filled with this scratching sound, as though the inside of my skull was being scratched by long fingernails; or white noise which fills my head with noise.  I find I am soothed when I am surrounded by quiet and calm; I find that when I ride my bicycle I am surrounded by quiet and calm and the errant tinkle of a passer-bys bell.  I haven’t felt euphoric since the first dose of Adderall a week ago.  What I do feel is a need to move.  To be doing something.

I’ve been waking earlier than normal these past recent weeks.  Because of that I have been taking Jenni out for her walk.  When I was struggling with my sleep meds for the past year, Nick has been kind enough to get dressed, even in the harshest of conditions, and take Jenni for a walk.  She doesn’t seem to mind the weather, though.  There were days upon days when I literally couldn’t pull myself out of bed in the morning.  And on quite a few of them I’d find myself sleeping past the time Nick would leave for work.  It was all a very difficult time, and not one in which one learns very much; I was dealing with all the symptoms of mania or depression that I never really spent much time on me, or what I would do.  One of my biggest losses is my lack of desire.  There’s nothing propelling me towards anything.  It’s not that I feel adrift.  It’s that I don’t really feel anything.

In these past two years I have surrounded myself with an environment in which I feel safe.  It is quiet when I need it to be quiet; there are guests when I know there should be guests; I can nap when I feel tired (which is still daily); it’s as though I’ve created this little world in which I live.  And I’m very comfortable here.  It’s when I venture outside of the environment that I feel most terrified; crowds; noise; hostility; aggression; these are the things which unnerve me.

The coffee is set to brew at 6:00 a.m.  We’ll load into the car after that and go to the lakefront for a walk.  I hope that this too doesn’t become common place.  I just wish I knew what was normal from what has been reengineered.  I yearn for the mental march of my first fifty years; these past two year of reconstruction have been uncomfortable and confronting.  Much like, I assume, the construction of an adolescent.  Except that society accepts the adolescent, where society shuns us.

 July 7, 2010

The anniversary of my breakdown was met with a variety of emotions: On Sunday, 4 July my partner and I were on a bike ride from Winnetka to the Botanic Gardens.  It was a warm and muggy morning and we had already logged a 1.5 hour walk with Jenni earlier that morning.  But there were a number of bicyclists already on the narrow trail and often they would pass us at a high rate of speed or say “on your left” to alert us that they were passing.  All these things seems normal enough, but for me they were very stressful.  Eventually I couldn’t even achieve the Botanic Gardens and had to stop by a lake and under some crab apple trees for a rest.  More than physically tired, I was emotionally tired and felt myself on the verge of tears.  I was deeply saddened by the reflection of my former self, my post two-year self and his physical and mental strength to ride a bike in a crowd, and this present timid, cautious, and moody bicyclist rattled by the velocity by which he was being passed.  After some time had passed Nick graciously offered to ride back alone to the car and return, but I idiotically and stolidly mounted my bicycle for the return trip to Winnetka.  Once back on the trail, again we were passed by menacing and reckless cyclists which aggravated my sense of diminished capacity, and which catapulted to the present my mentally weakened state.  This sadness disintegrated into an overflowing of tears and weeping which sidelined our forward progress towards Winnetka.

July 10, 2010

It feels as though I’m sinking into a lower depression.  The days seems harder to muddle through, and without the Adderall, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be of much use.  Nick being on vacation is making me a little nervous as I know that he likes to be busy, and frankly, though I provide a lot of the housework around here, I’m afraid that he’s going to want to do more than I’m used to doing.  So I will try to keep up.

The crying spells from last weekend alarmed both Marge and I and it’s something I should start to talk to Corey about.  Perhaps we should start experimenting with anti-depressants again.  I’m not too concerned that they will trigger mania; mania would be a relief from this constant, senseless existence.