Black and Crazy

My music is evidence of my soul’s will to live.
–  Charles Mingus

Off of the cafeteria, past the puzzles that smelled like cat pee and the front desk where we got our medication, I would sit with Carlos (not his real name because nah bruh.)  We would talk when we didn’t want to be with the main group.  Some of them were really intense and I would struggle with my introvertedness around them and want to be alone.  Being with Carlos was easy because he would do all the talking.  He was Bipolar I, moods cycling so fast that sometimes he’d need to leave the room so he could get himself together.  He would feel things with the intensity of solar flares. Love, rage… all of it was a torrent of emotional river water that he couldn’t contain.

I asked him what landed him in there and he told me about his wife/fiancé/girlfriend.  “I love her” he would say, punctuating every sentence with it like a period or exclamation point.  He told me, while declaring his love over and over, that she broke it off with him and so he went to her house (I love her) and knocked but she didn’t answer.  He looked in the window and saw she wasn’t home (I love her) so he cried and cried.

But then he got mad.

He cried as he threw bricks and mud at her front door, screaming her name.

He cried as he broke all her windows, screaming for her.

He cried as he fought the five police officers that showed up to get him.

I asked, at this point concerned about whether we should be talking about this because he was getting upset, if that’s what got him in here.  But he kept going.

That stuff landed him in jail.  No mental health professionals.  No evaluation.  Just a few nights in the drunk tank, charges, jail time.

When he got out, he fought any and everybody.  He described going to the mall and challenging gang members to a fight by insulting them repeatedly about their gang. When they finally responded, one of them recognized who he was and told his folk to back off.  Carlos was known to fight, and likely hurt, anyone.  People said he was crazy.

They tried to walk away but he followed them.  They laughed it off and got into their vehicles, but he climbed onto the hood of one member’s truck.  He stomped and clawed and urinated on the windshield, screaming for them to come out and fight.  Frustrated, they sat idle until the police came.  Officers looked up Carlos after getting him to come down.  They saw that he was known for this behavior.  Rather than put him in jail, where he could find more people to fight, they sent him to be with us.

At this point, I was amazed and silent.  We sat there together, letting the empty space sit with us.  He broke the spell by asking me why I was there.  I told him and said the story wasn’t nearly as exciting and he said:

“Nah, never that.  Big Black dudes get shot for what I did.”

He told me that he had never been in an institution with a man my size that had a violent incident.  He didn’t believe it wasn’t possible but he certainly felt it wasn’t likely.

We just don’t survive.

People ask me sometimes if I learned something about myself in that strange period where I went into a hospital twice for the same illness and got two vastly different treatments.  I got a lot out of it and I’ve written about some of it.  But I’ve been scared to talk about Carlos and my central lesson:

Don’t you dare be both Black and crazy.

Don’t you dare show up vulnerable and scared because you’ll end up powerless if you wind up in the wrong place.

Don’t you dare show anger or frustration because if you do, you could be suicided or erased from society’s collective memory.

Don’t you dare mourn the loss of your mind because you could end up being labeled permanently sick if you stay in your grief too long.

You could end up like Michelle Lee Shirley.

You could end up like Rodney Hess.

Lucky for me, I was born to love breaking the rules.

My Black and my crazy belong to me.  They aren’t something I would ever give away if I wanted to.  They don’t sit in a box, waiting for me to take them out when it suits me.  I can’t push them out of the way when someone is misunderstanding me.  They sit out front, their desire to be seen and heard so much more important than my fear.  Crazy, for a long time, wasn’t something I would hang onto but after some time away with the puzzles that smelled like urine I found we could get along just fine with a few rules.  Black?  That one has been a lot harder.  The baggage felt heavier and the price seemed so high that I just didn’t want to pay it.  It gets easier and lately, I’ve felt closer to my Blackness than ever as I raise a son who wants to see it in all shades and sizes.  So much of life waits for us when we recognize things that feel like burdens as gifts we may not understand how to open.

My Black and my crazy are here to stay.  They’re gifts, regardless of who wants to punish me for having them. I’m going to polish them like rubies, ready for sunlight to travel through their complexity.

 

#blacklivesmatter

#bipolardispatches

Psychonautics:  Adderall

Psychonautics (from the Greek ψυχή psychē [“soul”, “spirit” or “mind”] and ναύτης naútēs [“sailor” or “navigator”] – “a sailor of the soul”) refers both to a methodology for describing and explaining the subjective effects of altered states of consciousness, especially an important subgroup called holotropic states, including those induced by meditation or mind-altering substances, and to a research paradigm in which the researcher voluntarily immerses himself or herself into an altered mental state in order to explore the accompanying experiences.

There has been a desire to discuss medication burning within for a while.  This is my humble attempt to explore the reasons why I take medication and the effects I experience while on those drugs.

I’m dedicating this series to Peter Hardie, my favorite voyager.

Let the meek inherit the earth.  The brave get the ocean.

The first ADHD drug I took was Adderall.  I got it in a strange way, completely because I asked for it.  I was seeing a therapist with my wife and he recommended I get some kind of treatment for the ADHD, settling on that drug because he took it and liked it.  My primary care prescribed it when I asked without a lot of discussion or rumination over the side effects, etc.  In general, that primary was my least favorite but I appreciated that he didn’t question my request for treatment.  He respected my needs and moved ahead with what I asked for.  This was way before my bipolar II diagnosis.

Chemistry:  Adderall is made up of two drugs that are, for lack of a better term, amphetamines. The risks of addiction are moderately high and I am sure I don’t need to tell you the stories as they all made the news.  25 percent levoamphetamine and 75 percent dextroamphetamine, though it is definitely 100 percent stimulant.  Drugs like Adderall work by increasing the dopamine, a chemical messenger that communicates feelings of pleasure and makes you more motivated.  It’s (supposed to be) a slow and steady increase but… it definitely didn’t feel that way.

Ride:  That first dose was wild.  I took it and felt nothing for the first hour.  I went for a walk in the neighborhood and right as I hit the intersection of Forest Glen and Georgia, I could feel the drug starting to take effect.  

At first I got the sweats and felt a little jerky.  After that, it was like I had discovered an instruction manual for life that had been held back for years.  I remembered things I had long lost and struggled less with mundane tasks.  Listwork got easier and I saw   When I would settle into the dose, I found that the drug would get really rough with me around lunch.  It almost felt like it was beating my mind into order even if I cooperated.  Plus, when it would wear off I would get really angry for no reason.  But because I was getting med management through a primary and a therapist, I didn’t discuss the feelings with anyone really.  I just thought they were part of the whole experience so I laughed (haha wtf) it off.  When I finally switched to a different drug, it was such a relief.  

Brainfeel:  It was my first ride, so I like to compare it to Sidney Bechet: emotional… reckless… and large.  While masterful and an awakening of what ordered thinking can do for the mind and spirit, the drug can feel aloof and self-centered.  Bechet’s broad vibrato and warm second act aside, he got into gun and knife fights on the regular.  Can’t abide by that… I’ve got enough problems.

Verdict:  I dropped it for another, though I don’t regret it.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Language

I mixed it up this morning and instead read a poem to myself.  Find a relaxed rhythm and practice your deep breathing as you recite it.  I find it helps when I feel disconnected and wordless.

I, you, he, she, we

In the garden of mystic lovers,

these are not true distinctions.

–  attributed to rumi, but maybe it was shams of tabriz after all

Speaking is not an easy thing if you are me. I’m starting off with a thousand thoughts and most of them are totally inappropriate or irrelevant.

Why do we need to introduce ourselves so frequently?  

Do I need to pee?

Penises are weird.

I really like corned beef hash.

When Justice reads magazines while on the toilet, is he understanding what is in them?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Regardless of whether I am on my potent drug cocktail of legalized methamphetamine and anti-psychotics or not, I am white-knuckle holding on to my overactive mind like a climber on a mountain whose face is constantly changing under his fingers.  It can sometimes feel like my neurons race like cars in The Italian Job (Caine not Marky Mark) and I’m just barely maintaining some semblance of ordered thought.  I get worried that I won’t be heard or, worse, misunderstood.  

Misunderstood is a terrifying place because I’ve noticed that we are a society of people silently waiting for a course correction.  That’s easy here in the safety of this medium.  Sad sentences that need pep can be rewritten.  Nervous tangents can be reordered into brilliant strategic lines or deleted if too ephemeral.  You don’t even know it but I usually have five versions of the same post going at once in Drafts.  Some of them would probably seem like (even crazier) rantings or bizarre non-sequitur listicles.  (Haha my mind stumbled into “listicle and testicle don’t necessarily rhyme but they sure make me laugh” and now I’m giggling.)

But face-to-face?  Or in a group setting?  Misunderstood goes from “oops” to “man, that was fucked up” so fast.  People are happy to turn a thing that you said into who you are without so much as a disgruntled grimace or polite smile sans eyes.  Add to that my issue with overanalysis and obsessing and I may as well stay home.  So I do, more often than not.  I lose friends and make my poor extrovert wife uncomfortable.

Sometimes I wonder if my introversion can be both a natural, genetic thing that was just part of the package AND an outgrowth of this thing I’ve got going on.  Am I what people sometimes say about me (behind my back?)  Is there something else that I should be or could be doing?  Seven years ago, I got fed up and decided to learn more. 

The first thing that I found out was that this has a name:  anomic aphasia.  Also known as dysnomia or nominal aphasia, it is typically linked to people who have had brain damage but increasingly (with no small amount of controversy) it is being seen as a regular part of the cornucopia of delightful experiences that go along with ADHD and Bipolar.  Word finding difficulties are usually linked to increased stress with us neurodiverse folks, so there is a tendency to avoid situations where it could manifest.  Countless folks talk about it with pain and regret as a result, recalling times where the experience would spiral them into depression.

So what do you do?  

There’s lots of helpful clinical advisors ready to mix in with suggestions.  I personally like Marla Cummins for her pretty straightforward analysis, but find stuff that works for you.  I’ve found that some suggestions, like sharing your difficulties, require Jedi-like emotional control as most people are judgemental shitheads about it… so maybe think hard about how you’ll handle this kind of thing at, say, your job.  Calling Fletcher or Clarence a flaming turdburglar for laughing when you can’t remember a synonym might be out of line if he’s your boss.

On the macro, I have had to work hard at not letting the judgment and general douchbaggery make me bitter while balancing my constant battle with downshifting moods.  Unlike most people, my emotional reserves start out closer to “E” and I can find myself either wounded or dangerously numb after these bouts with wordlessness.  Part of the problem is with other people, so I should totally avoid putting the blame at my own feet.  But I have a deeper responsibility to maintain perspective.  

Despite the whispers calling me a moron as I walk away, I need to be mindful that life isn’t one long, continuous day.  The word salad that comprises my mind is sometimes delicious, full of flavor and meaning and avocado, which is good for you and filled with vitamins.

What rhymes with avocado?

Looks like rain.

Penises.  Still weird.


#bipolardispatches