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.

Shame and Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma

First posted in August 2012 Shame And Regret: The Sting of Social Stigma has more of a wallop five years later than four years earlier. We as a race must get something out of persecuting the disenfranchised and marginalized friends, family’s, lovers, idols, and heroes. Maybe we ought to look inside ourselves and find that kernel of fear. Then erase it. And then get back to being compassionate brothers and sisters.

 

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Why are we ashamed by what we do?  We do what we choose to do because we stand to gain something.  Yes, some people are forced, say at gun point, to compromise; some are coerced through drugs and alcohol; and yes, some actions are purely altruistic (ashamed of philanthropy?).  It’s my opinion that consciously withholding or denying or lying about our actions is caused by fear.  Not a generic fear, but a two-tier fear.  The first tier-fear: judgement by others is beyond your control; but the second tier-fear: consequence sits squarely in your lap, and which, by the way, you’d already equated as a potential cost of your unprecedented action.  We all know this simple truth: We have absolutely no control over the actions of others.  That said, we can remove the first tier-fear: judgement by others; we now find ourselves staring down the steely barrel of culpability: we encountered a situation, measured consequence against benefit, and toed the line or stepped across it.  So shame and regret were considered well before we pandered to our hunger, thirst, or warm body (emphasis on warm).

The best possible precursor to a mental illness diagnosis was, until 1973 its own mental illness: homosexuality.  Coming out as a gay man taught me the valuable lesson that there will be people who can’t distinguish between my sexual orientation (which places me in a specific group) and who I am (in general terms) as a fellow human being.  Having learned that lesson years ago I was well prepared to face similar discrimination based upon my mental orientation, i.e. mental illness, e.g. bipolar disorder.  And yet, what is there to be ashamed and regretful about?  Don’t carry the burden of Shame or wear the shackles of Regret; never apologize to anyone irritated by what you have, especially if what you have is a medically recognized disease.

Recently I conducted a thoroughly non-scientific giddy-up poll which asked: What diseases do you think you’d be ashamed to admit having?

Answers?  Anal warts, vaginal herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea. . .what?  Anal warts? Venereal diseases? According to our non-scientific poll of middle-aged men and women, they said that carrying a sexually transmitted disease is the only other human affliction besides mental illness that they would be ashamed of having and which also carries with it a damning social stigma.  STD’s are the result of risky and unsafe sexual activities engaged in by choice. Does mental illness really belong in their company? Really?

Shame and Regret are burdens that those who choose to remain ignorant and judgmental should shoulder.

Not me.  Not you.  And certainly not the neighbor, best friend, Richard Dreyfuss rdreyfuss2
parishioner, bowling buddy, Ryan Phillippe, phillippeprom date, recipient of the first kiss, Girl Scout, Teddy Roosevelt (yes, really), Girl Scout Leader, Sinéad O’Conner, full back,  Metta World Peace ,
mettapeace offensive line coach, movie star, Burgess Meredith, Opera Star, Ronald Braunstein, famous orchestra conductor, infamous commuter train conductor or any one of the other 25% of our world’s population. How about the other 75% of the world’s population loosen the reins of their prejudice.

The Dead’s Etiquette: Returning To Sender

Self-designed stamp for the return of mail to sender.
Self-designed stamp for the return of mail to sender.

Emily Post let me down. Abby offered a half smile. The Post Office just stared at me.

My question was always the same: “At what point can I stop stamping to return my deceased brother’s mail?

Just last week he received a stack of mail three inches high! Perhaps they’re thinking of him as Deadbeat rather than Dead.

He died four months ago at which time I rented a P.O. Box in my neighborhood and had his mail forwarded to it. I designed the “return deceased” stamp. And each step was more painful than the last. With each envelope I was reminded that at some point in my recent past my brother for 58 years disappeared. Poof! Extracted like a tooth, and like an extracted tooth a hole remained reminding me that something had occupied that hole, something I took for granted as permanent.

I still cry when I’m reminded that he’ll never return as though he was exploring the far reaches of dense jungle. And with each damned envelope which I mannerly stamp “Addressee Deceased,” I ache with longing which tumbles to tears then swells to a contemptible bitterness toward companies which mechanically spit out statements completely void of sympathy or understanding or humanity.

I think it’s time to treat their mail like my best friend brother was treated: simply disappear.