(What Was) Sleeping

I think my experiences with sleep are pretty typical right until I got into college.

At College of Wooster, I experienced my first hypomania as a freshman.  It is often an electric feeling of euphoria, seductive and arriving with a difficult price tag.  Hypomania, for the uninitiated, is best described as 

“Just what we’ve hoped for, just what we’ve wanted, but it may not be exactly what we need, like a sweater ordered from a catalog that doesn’t fit quite right. We love the looks and how it feels, but it just doesn’t match the rest of our emotional wardrobe. The gift of hypomania, enjoyed while it lasts, ultimately must be returned.” (Shoutout to International Bipolar Foundation for that nugget.) 

The problem with running headlong into that in school is that you typically seem pretty similar to just about everyone else:  risky, sexually charged (yet frustrated,) silly, thousands of ideas in your head all the time.  I knew something was wrong when the paranoia increased, but I kept it hidden (so I thought lol.)  I left that school for an HBCU, citing a discomfort with the whiteness of the place.  Really, I was afraid of everyone all the time.

By the time I got to Virginia State University, I was sleeping seven hours a night.  I’d wake up in the morning fearful of communal showers, breakfast in crowded cafeterias, and interactions with just about everyone.  I learned when meal times were least crowded and would show up, sometimes so early or late that I would be the only person there.  After a while, I could go three or four days without speaking to people.  Even in class, I would say so little that professors stopped calling on me.  Slowly, paranoia became a pseudo-productive partner that filled a void where other human beings had been.  I could write a paper without outline or works cited (hyperfocused as fuck) but had real difficulties handling conversations that lasted longer than ten minutes.  I would go to my room and obsess about what I said, or didn’t say. 

Then, a friend I had a huge crush on at College of Wooster died. I withdrew and stopped doing things that I liked. I practically disappeared on campus and failed my first semester. I cried a lot in private. In public, I got pretty good at faking it. The weird thing was that the depression (now part of what I know was a mixed state) couldn’t override the paranoia. I wasn’t paralyzed by my sadness as was typical… I was just looking over my shoulder hoping no one would notice how sad I was. The paranoia told me to stay up later and focus on whatever I could find online.  I settled into Democracy Now and old kung-fu movies.

Paranoia ate sleep, so I got down to five hours but woke up feeling better refreshed than I had before.  Conversations got easier and more fluid, but I thought about them more often.  I started speaking more in class and even having casual conversations with people.  I made friends.  At night, I had more time to do research for homework but I was also in chat clients much more.  I spent a lot of time on mIRC trading bootleg movies and music.  I read two to three books a week.

When I got down to four hours, I felt like a superman.  I no longer noticed the obsessing and the paranoia had consumed a lot of my sense of self-awareness.  When I talked, it felt like I was making a grand pronouncement.  It seemed like people hung on my every word.  High on myself, I stopped sleeping.  That next semester, I got incompletes in every class.  I would later fail most of them.

The last year and a half was a blur that is a mix of real event (direct actions, presenting at the Holocaust Museum) and things that could have been crash dreams (did I really get asked to leave school?) had while drunk and/or high.  There were plenty of things I did well and I really do have fond memories of that entire period.  Some of the people I met during that time became real friends.  I’m grateful for all experiences, altered states or no.  It is what has made me myself.

But I can’t front.  

I’m pretty pissed off that I spent nearly eleven years outside of a diagnosis.  I’m furious that because our society can’t stand the frailty of human thought that my condition wasn’t treated.  I struggle daily with blaming other people or myself for not doing something.  The only thing that brings me back around is acknowledging that it is 2017 and the drug that I take every day is only three or four years old.  Understanding what happened to me — what is still happening every day to other people — seems arcane to many smart people, even now.  Mysterium tremendum inside a skull cavity.  

Buried in that anger and resentment is also all that hypomania, I think, waiting to come out and dance all over my well-constructed, meticulously cared-for flower bed of mental acuity.  Together, mashed up to pulp and shaped into a figurine, it sometimes feels like another identity that I suppress every day with drugs and parlor tricks.  I know that the pulped figure is there because when I slept pre-CPAP, I tasted blood and battle in my dreams.

The scene reminds me of old Mars pictures, lots of red rock and unfamiliar starry skies. I (we?) would be standing on the bleeding edge of a sharp cliff, watching with anticipation as an intense battle raged below.  The dream felt so real that I could hear the clanging swords and smell the smoke from bonfires and boiling tar.  I could taste the spraying blood as people were cut in half or run through.  When I was ready, i would fling my body off the cliff.  Sailing through the air, approaching what felt like terminal velocity, I would scream… but not in horror.  I apparently was having the time of my life.  

These dreams would come in 2006 in my garbage filled apartment in Nashville where I slept in a tent.

These dreams would come in 2008 while living with my soon-to-be wife.

These dreams would come in 2010 when I contemplated quitting my job in frustration and confusion.

They stayed with me through a hospitalization and three campaigns, including the one where I nearly lost my mind completely.  The only thing that pushed the dream down is a CPAP machine and my life has been bizarrely rewritten as a result.

Recently, on a work trip to Miami, my power supply for the machine was misplaced after a change in rooms midstay.  I admittedly panicked, checking CPAP.com for replacement adapters and generally just freaking the fuck out.  It was found the next day and I was just fine… but the night I didn’t have it I (of course!) had a 3D IMAX version of The Dream that was so real, my shirt was soaked with sweat and I had to brush my teeth and eat mints all day long to get the coppery taste of blood out of my mouth.  It had been waiting for the moment… and there it was.

Now I know, years later, that I sleep to reset the clock.  I fear missing a day or an hour, overblown or not.  Sleeping apparently does more than keep me alive and functioning.  It keeps the other (real?) me — the electric me — from waking up.  I wish I could tell you that this ends with a peppy “we will win” conclusion.  I have no solutions to this puzzle.  All I can do is rest well and hope that when my electric me comes out, he will at least be pointed in the right direction.  

Open Letter

I’m not a doctor, I don’t need to right about any of this… I just feel it to be true.

Dear friends,

Most of you are crazy.  Not all the way crazy… just a little bit.  Like, 5% at most.

Congrats!

In terms of genetic lotteries, you just hit the neurological Powerball.  To be able to see past the logical straight lines and touch a stray string on the bottom of the tassel of the robe of God for brief milliseconds is a minor miracle.  Appreciate it for what it is.

Don’t be afraid of it.

The fact is, just like most of us are two paychecks (or less) from living on the street, most of us are a bad car accident or illness or other crisis away from mental health issues.  It’s just what comes with the human condition.  Depression affects an astonishing 6 percent of us every year.  That’s nearly 15 million people every year in the United States alone.  You might be heading toward depression right now.  Besides being tenacious, shitty, destructive, and all the other adjectives, depression is a condition that in many cases can pass.  How and when and if it passes is a personal, specific thing and many times you won’t have control over it.  The same goes for mania and other conditions.  Like a wave, it moves on and might return… or not.

Don’t be afraid of it.

People who don’t ever have a problem with mental health in their life are kinda lucky but man… the company you keep as a bonafide crazy person really can’t be beat.  Jimi Hendrix.  James Brown.  Ray Charles.  Nikola Tesla.  Georgia O’Keefe.  Silvia Plath.  Jim Morrison.  Nina Simone. I could name a bunch more, creating the greatest party in the universe, and it would not adequately describe just how much we gain from people who are neurodiverse.  We bring joy and beauty and hope and all the feelings.  We also make the impossible possible with imagination, force of will, and occasionally psychotropic substances.

So when I pick up the paper, read the news online, or pass a TV… and I see someone in crisis who is doing something unthinkable, I feel a worry for that person.  I do not feel this worry just because of the harm that they are doing.  I feel worry because I know that they will be mistreated and in many cases discarded by a society so afraid of its own mind that they relegate its exploration to those they deem madmen, or addicts, or mystics, or learned people who have been in school forever.

In an art class, the teacher described kintsugi as a Japanese art that is often popularly referenced as filling cracks in pottery with gold.  With a look of revulsion, she informed us that it goes so far beyond this and really is more of an external expression of philosophy that treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.  This is in line with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, (in a very basic sense) the embracing of flaws.  Imperfect and incomplete.

I’ve been reading a bit about it and came across this passage:

“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is illuminated…”

the author goes on to say:

“The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware is too subject.”

(For more, check out Flickwerk.  You can download it as a .pdf)

I think we need to decide as people who want a better world whether or not we want to carry some of the truly harmful and insidious things from this old one into what we create.  One of those things is the idea that people are permanently broken or dangerous because they, at some point, have hurt or scared or disappointed us.  Maintaining a distance or keeping harm away from each other is vastly different from throwing away the key, and we don’t call it what it is.

I used to think long-term incarceration was a good move because it was cheaper or easier or even safer… but that’s all bullshit.  I know now, in my heart, that many of the people who would put me in a box with no windows for eternity or kill me would do so because they would rather be dead than face their own fragile yet impossibly elastic mind.  I know because I felt the same way but when faced with no other choice, I told myself not to look away.  There was nothing else to see.

I love you, so I feel a duty to tell you the truth.  I’m 15-20 percent crazy, so there’s a good chance that you probably think I am full of shit anyway, but I need you to know that there’s nothing on the other side of the dividing line between madness and everyday life that doesn’t have your face staring right back.  It’s all you.  Sometimes it just breaks through and there’s nothing you can do but look at what is broken by what comes, beautiful and shiny or not at all.  

But you don’t have to face it completely alone.  People will show up with food and water and blankets and a broom for the mess, but only if you wait for them and let them know that you need help.  It might take a long time and they might not do it all the way right.  You won’t be the same afterwards and it might not feel like it once did, but you will still be you.  That never changed.

Don’t be afraid of any of it.  It’s just you.  What would you be if you welcomed what you face?  How do we show up when our cracks aren’t just healed but illuminated?  Who are we when our rough places shine like the dead stars we are formed from?  When the bag of diamonds of our minds are revealed as belonging to us, what light illuminates the dark?

Wabi-sabi as all hell.

#bipolardispatches

Quiet

There’s a lot going on out there.  I’m on airplanes and trains, though mostly I’m in my car driving as of late.

Sometimes when the scenery gets good to me I try to tune out all the sounds around me one at a time until all I can hear is the sound of the road.  I let the beat on the ground narrow my vision for a few seconds so the road stretches out in front of me.  I let go quickly, widening so I can see everything in front of me.  I’m especially fond of moving past Sideline Hill rest stop, riding the breeze over the turn and seeing the valley stretch out in front of me.  I’ll let the road talk me over that hill and, when I’ve had enough I’ll put something on.

Since I’m on the move, I figure you are too.  Find your own quiet place and just let the feeling of free travel move through your skin, muscles and bones.  Let the very concept of borders, deadlines, and strategic plans move to the back of your mind as the air gently pushes it along.  Isolate the thoughts that create noise, or actual noise, and let each fall back.  Even if it’s only for five minutes, give yourself the glorious gift of quiet space.  It belongs to you.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Let that sound in.  Just focus on that.

With the rhythm of your breath as a four four time, cut time, waltz… check in.

Do you hurt physically? Where is your body in this moment? Can you address your pain? What can be done immediately? Short-term? Long-term?

Do you hurt mentally? What is on your mind? How are your thoughts organized? Can you address your pain? What can be done immediately? Short-term? Long-term?

Do you hurt spiritually? How are you taking care of your spirit? What is on your soul? Can you address your pain? What can be done immediately? Short-term? Long-term?

Have you slept recently? If not, sometimes answers can be found in our dreams and rest. Rest if you can.

Have you eaten recently? If not, sometimes answers can be found in the solace of a nourished belly. Eat well, sitting down and focused on your food, if you can.

Have you had a glass of water? If not, sometimes answers can be found in this basic liquid. Drink a decent amount of water (I’d go with a pint this week, if you can handle it) and feel the feeling of it going down. This one is a little non-negotiable.

Check in again and if all is well, take care to let the world in at your pace.  Remember yourself.

Well, it has been a revealing 90 days (or so,) and we’re all wondering what it means for the future.  Yes, I’m talking about the Burnt Sienna Bromonster… but I’m also talking about the rest of us.

Right after the Inauguration, things really picked up just like how things really picked up after 45 took the election just like how things really picked up after 45 started looking better in the polls just like… you get the idea.  And I had it all figured.  My work plans were tight like my sciatica.  Wifey and I have this work travel thing locked up in terms of schedule so we felt like the bobsled team from Cool Runnings (feel the rhythm!  feel the rhyme!)  Though we were missing each other, there was so much importance attached.  Resistance!  Resilience!  All the other “R” words!

Then January became February and February became March.

April is here now and I’m staring down Easter.  I spent March in five different states and I feel … weird.  Not “people should worry” weird definitely but “was this what I intended” weird, maybe?  A kind of ill-at-ease that began to force me into a crouch psychologically was pushing at my back.  It almost felt like I was a car with a mysterious knocking sound and a “check engine” light on.  Knowing that I couldn’t solve this issue with my usual tools, I found a time to see my brain mechanic.

We went over a lot of stuff since I switched to full hour appointments post-inauguration.  It had become clear that I need a place for my mental jumbles and as I have mentioned in prior posts, I am happy to use the facilities provided to dispose of said jumbles any way I please.

One thing we worked on was the idea that I generally don’t appreciate all this travel because I’m around people all the time.  I love people…  I just don’t like them.  I’ve always been this way.  It always feels draining like some kind of emotional vampirism.  I went deeper than I have previously, sometimes even saying things that made me cover my mouth with a horrified “man, that wasn’t nice” look on my face.  When I was done, we talked about ADHD.

According to Doc, folks with my particular predicament often have this issue.  Dealing with people can often feel really draining because my mind has trouble with all the options the interactions offer.  All that data pouring through can be too much.  So maybe I’ve naturally grown a kind of protective shell to keep myself from taking in too much.  The technology probably has served me well over time, but requires a different way of operating in the world to work effectively.  Medication can help but, as always, it’s a half measure.  The rest is up to me.

We agreed, then, that quiet time is important.  I left feeling stronger and more resolved… but with new questions.  How will I find this elusive time to just be quiet?  Does quiet mean alone?

To quote Jay-Z, there are no answers to these trick questions.  There’s probably a “yes” and a “no” in there somewhere.  Really what I need to figure out is what I want my showing up to look like and how I plan on getting there.  I need to give it time and remember myself, quiet as kept or loud as fuck.

#bipolardispatches