Bipolar Futures:  Saturday 

Dreams are something I want but rarely get in the form I desire these days.  When I sleep, the mix of medication and a CPAP machine decreases the chances I’ll have meaningful dreams at night.  When they punch through, however, they tend to do so when I’m really relaxed or under intense pressure.  Always the crest of the big wave or the valley, never during gentle ripples.

When I woke up Saturday, I knew I’d dreamt of something because I was clenching my teeth.  My mouth tasted like chalk and my tongue could feel the rough places carved out from the pressure.  I brushed my teeth to get the taste out, not letting the mysterious dream keep me off balance for the rest of the day.  Besides, I knew what it was after a while anyway.

I have a genuine fear of success.  When things get a little bumpy or even spiral out of control, I’m always amazed at how ready I feel.  I might still be panicking, ripping and running to make sure things don’t go too pear-shaped, but that’s a relatively comfortable position.  I don’t know if it’s from becoming an adult in a labor movement where we lose more fights than we win or the byproduct of three decades of American racial education but I seem to have inherited the natural idea that I am never going to get what I want.  So when something good happens I get nervous.  I wonder what I’m about to lose to make up for whatever I’ve gained.

So when I sat down for breakfast (salmon and fruit) after meds, I turned on some Johnny Hartman and allowed myself to humor the possibility that I’m not going to spend this time from that place.  I need to work from a place of abundance, hope and mirth.  Why waste this tremendous gift on negativity?  

Seeing that I was nervous and scared of all the good things, feeling like there was no plan, I started with my Dreambook first.

The introduction describes the book as an opportunity to align your goals with the creation of ritual.

Ritual brings order, specialness, context and focus to our lives. The opening and closing, or the initiation and conclusion of a ritual aligns our intention with our actions, and it sets the stage for
the action to be as effective as possible. Ritual grounds us in the present; it rescues us from dwelling on the past and worrying about the future.

You probably already have some rituals – like brewing a cup of coffee and sitting down to plan your day. We believe it’s worth bringing more awareness to these rituals, and consciously forging new ones, even if their value is entirely subjective. Your experience of your day and your life will have a structure and specialness that’s meaningful to you.  Wouldn’t it be worth it?

You will see objective change, too. As you implement healthy rituals, your outlook will change, your beliefs may change, and the world you create around yourself will change. Don’t just dream and set goals, ritualize their actualization.

The book is set up as six sections:  

Connect, where you connect to what is important to you,

Dream, a place to think up whatever you want,

Craft, using mind maps to make the Dream section real,

Ritualize, where we create ritual to keep it focused and fun, 

and Plan, which ties it all together with a dose of gratitude.

The book actually gives you a lot to work with in the beginning, asking critical questions about what you want out of different areas of your life.  Being guided in the Connect portion was really helpful because I could treat it like a conversation between myself and an old friend.

You are then asked to think about the characteristics that define you, referred to as Core Values and Gifts.  I really enjoyed this part as I feel most of my life does not allow for much positive reflection.  

You are then asked to define your Purpose.  

As I settled into the process, I let myself relax into the pages and talk generally about what I’ve wanted as Vision.  The book asks you to envision yourself three years from now.  What will you look like?  What will your life look like?

After a nap, I moved into the Craft section in the late afternoon and I truthfully spent the rest of the day there.  

One reoccurring theme made itself present as the day progressed:  mental health and organizing melt together quite well for me, and not just in terms of taking good care of my brain.  I have a hunger to do more with my voice and love for organizing.  I also value our ability to travel and want Justice to see as much of the world as he possibly can.

Paris, KY doesn’t have many streetlights, so it got dark quickly.  Around 8 PM I realized I’d spent 8 hours solid working on my Dreambook so I stopped myself and watched an old movie.  Before I knew it, 10 PM rolled around and I found myself exhausted.  I went to bed, tired but not nervous in the slightest.

Ode to the Overcommitted

I first heard this song in college on a set of stone steps.  It was the first time I’d ever heard Charles Mingus, and it was glorious.

The way that first set of notes from his bass hit my ears you would think it was the first time I’d ever heard notes played in sequence.  I was enthralled by the quickening pace that would get slowed by story.  So full of risk it felt like I was breaking the law just listening to it, I did my best to cling to it for as long as I could.  I learned later that this is a classic example of the bold, hilariously risky stuff that makes Mingus great.  Who in their right mind does 12/8 like this?  Charles does.  Take us to church, bruh.

Today is for risk takers.  For people who are breathing new life into old rhythms, inciting mental riots, and being nasty women and bad hombres and crooked media.  

It might makes sense to listen to this glorious track in the moment… or something else.  Or nothing.  Do you.

Let’s start by recognizing our breath.  Feel the in and out, filling lungs, emptying lungs.  At this point I love to listen for wildlife.  Sometimes you get a surprise you weren’t expecting, like an (escaped) yellow bird in your driveway,

or just beautiful empty space.  Either way, relax into the air around you and inside you.

As we focus on nothing but air, let’s slowly add bodily functions.  How’s our gut?  How is our heart?  What beats and churns inside that we don’t recognize?  Let’s spend some time allowing those rhythms in that we pretend to ignore, even as we build entire galaxies with their raw materials.

Now that we’re sitting in our own 12/8, let’s check in.

Have our basic physical needs been met today?  Water?  Food?  Sleep? 

Have we taken care of our minds today?  

How is our spirit?

What hurts?  What does that hurt want?

What feels great?  What feeds that good feeling?

Assess what is broken and if you can, tend to it.  It’s your time, whether you want to admit it or not.  How will you spend it?

Either way, have a glass of water.  Possibly two.

The hits just keep coming.

Charleena Lyles.

Nabra Hassanen.

A building full of people.

Some folks leaving service.

… and a sick asshole who can’t stop Tweeting about himself that we are literally paying $89.71 an hour to be anything but a sick asshole.

Some days it’s enough to tear out your hair. We are adapting poorly, but we are adapting.

Podcasts are timestamping their broadcasts because news comes so quickly.

Bars offer drinking games to make sure we can at least get plastered while the bastards screw us.

We make jokes and live life.  But we still feel it and it is wearing us down.  I can tell because I see people slowing down their activism.  I am watching fewer phone calls get made, actions get smaller and more local, and people are whispering to me that they are burnt out but don’t want to tell anyone.  Our mouths writing checks that asses can’t cash.  Not that I think everything that has been happening with new activist energy is great… just saying what I see.

Chronic conditions force adaptation in ways that are often unpredictable.  Dealing with living as a person who has permanent mental health concerns feels very different than addressing an acute symptom.  It’s definitely better (holy shit yes) but not without serious costs and I can say with certainty that at first it was all about crisis management.  I wanted to avoid hypomania so I focused all of myself on that.  It helped in the beginning but became less tolerable later.

I think the turn was about power.  I’ve talked about these times before but the real surge started when I approached the problem as one of agency and vision.  I had to stop being against illness and start to be for wellness with dignity and power.  

How can I manage what is going on while getting what I want and need?

That time really changed my relationship to organizing work as well.  I still love a tight commitment, but I’ve stopped demanding comrades sacrifice every waking moment to shaking the earth.  I now recognize organizing as less rapid fire, Bisquick pancake meal and more insistent, slow stir of a roux for the dopest dish.  I can’t do it sick and frantic.  It’s just no longer what my mind will tolerate constantly.  Why would I expect that of people I claim to love?

We can’t replace that sick man with another sick man and call it progress.  It’s the same with a sick system or a sick culture.  Being well means acknowledging that the new wine can’t be held by the old wineskins.  So what we do needs to be impacted by our wellness too, even when it hurts.

Hustlers, don’t stop hustling because it’s how we do and there is joy in it.  But recognize that the humanity we fight for is mortal, complex, and full of need and desire and hunger.  It’s why we fight, so don’t push back against it.  Get some sleep.  Visit uncles and aunties and tetas and nonnas and mop-mops.  Swing on back porches and catch fireflies with your folks. Feel that summer heat (stay hydrated tho) and live life.  Recognize that you are a human in humanity as well.

But when rested, fight smart.  Because when we fight, we win.


Bipolar Futures:  Friday

The decision to spend my birthday away didn’t take much.  While I love my family and friends, I don’t get energy from other people as an introvert.  It’s all a drain anyway and it’s not anyone’s fault — it’s just the way I’m wired.  Normally I sneak a little me time at a movie theater or a long lunch someplace and I’m good for a while.  But there have been two big things that have shown up and taken up emotional space:

1.  I sent in a letter of inquiry to the Open Society Foundation for their fellowship program asking them to fund work and to my amazement, I was accepted and asked to submit a full proposal!  I wrote the proposal and sent it in, now left to just wait patiently for it to be read.

2.  I’d been (tentatively) invited to visit Korea as part of a peace delegation!  At that point, I had no details and no real plan for getting there or anything else.  Again, I would just need to wait.

These are happy things that feel good, but they also command a lot of generative space.  They require that I make time and room in my mind for things that may not work out at all or become huge opportunities for great things.  Either way, my life will change a lot over the course of the next year and moments like these, pregnant with potential, can really disorient me.

Taking time away was about regenerating, to be sure, but also was about clearing space to dream without all the mental clutter.  I wanted to wrestle with these big things without other people or ideas.  Just me and some paper against the world, planning and dreaming away from others’ approval.

Friday, I left the house in the morning with the idea that I was going to set myself up on the first day, think and write on the second day, and take up space on the third.  Anice gave me a reprieve from getting J out the door on my birthday, so I spent the morning packing clothes and my backpack.  Inside the backpack, I had a few special items:

–  iPad Mini from Pop

–  laptop

–  all my Black Panther graphic novels from Katie and Dave

–  Emergent Strategy by brilliant strategic mind, adrienne maree brown 

… and my special gift to myself this year, a Dreambook from Dragontree Apothecary with dreamy blue landscape cover.

*pictured is not my actual dreambook

I also brought along my robe and slippers so I could lounge in relative comfort, but packed those in a separate bag with my lymphedema equipment.

My destination was about an hour and a half away, so I settled in and took my time out of town.  Normally I would listen to a podcast or something soothing, but I was so amped I ended up listening to Bruno Mars for most of the drive to my first stop:  an Amish market in Berea, KY.  

Old Town Amish Market was a place I remembered from a visit with a good friend, so I knew where I was going despite having never been inside.  Reviews online were good, especially when it came to salt rising bread.  For the uninitiated, salt rising bread is a dense bread that is commonly made out here in Appalachia, though it has other names in other places.  The loaf I picked up was mildly cheesy in its taste.  It makes for great sandwiches and toast.  
I picked up some of the salt rising bread, fresh fruit, cheese, roll butter, and some cheese curds for Anice.  From there it was on to a grocery store for the rest.

I hit a Whole Foods in Lexington and picked up the centerpiece of my plan for meals:  lots and lots of fresh fish and a bag of baby spinach.  I’d been starving for a decent piece of fancier fish and landed a massive plank of swordfish.  The fishmonger saw what I was trying to do and pulled from fresher stock in the back to suit my needs, adding that he also had some nice salmon as well.  I took him up on it and went off in search of a few treats.  I finally settled on some New Belgium watermelon and lime beer and a few bottles of honey green tea and elderflower soda.  The soda turned out to be a great choice for reasons I’ll explain in later posts.

Loaded up and ready to see what awaited me, I hit the road.

Bourbon County, in addition to being what remains of what was a larger part of Virginia with the same name, is also where some of the finest thoroughbred horses in the world are raised and maintained.  Most of what you pass on Highway 68 is essentially one large retirement home for previous Derby winners (including the famous Secretariat,) left to sit around and get laid for the rest of their lives.   Needless to say, the country roads that wind their way from Lexington where I started to my destination, Paris, were to be believed.  Gregg Allman had passed shortly before my birthday so it seemed right to turn on some Allman Brothers as the speed limit decreased and my car matched pace with galloping horses in free fields.

I knew I was getting close when yard sale signs began popping up and the homes began to get closer together.  The roads went from three lane, to two lane, to one way very quickly.  When I arrived, I was a little overwhelmed by just how cozy the town actually proved to be.  The main road was still one way and remained decorated from Memorial Day, flags flying everywhere.  The town reminded me of old Archie comics with the quaint storefronts and people having conversations about whatever casually with firefighters and police they seemed to know intimately.  Everyone (I mean, EVERYONE) waved and smiled as I drove past looking for the address.  

The owner called at just the right time, waving to me from the window of the apartment above a store that sold women’s clothing.  From the outside, the place was fairly hidden and plain.  Inside, the home is truly a masterpiece.  

Entryway with my jolly green sack
Living room
Bedroom and additional sitting room

The owner was fantastic, giving me a brief tour and showed me what needed showing.  He then excused himself after wishing me luck, wasting no time as we both knew I had grand plans.  He did note, before he took off, that the floor was nearly 200 years old (!) so I should keep my shoes off and generally take good care of the Swahili coast pine I was walking on.  For the entire weekend I made sure to do so, mindfully walking with love and care for these floors that had seen so much.

I unpacked what needed unpacking, refrigerated what needed refrigerating, and put the different rooms and workspaces together.  Once I had things where I wanted them and there was nothing else to do, I got nervous.  I hadn’t been alone with my thoughts in this way for months and stuff started to rush into the vacuum.  Old emotions from bad dates I barely remembered, oversimplifications and asinine decisions, bad reads of situations… it was all showing up.  For once I took my own advice and got a glass of water to cool myself down.  It helped to focus on the immediate need and after a minute or two of silence I could reposition and reach for understanding.  I was there and everything was okay.

Quickly I decided that my first night would likely be a night to spend contemplating the next day with Chet Baker in the background.  I ate well that night, knowing that tomorrow would be a solid day of personal work.  Sleep came easy.


About a month ago, I started feeling good about myself and I immediately was worried.  

I woke up with songs in my heart.  Justice and I had some fun in the mornings, playing with matching games and puzzles.  Things felt like they were moving in a positive direction.

When J was at school and I was sure I had space for myself, I went through a checklist and started listing the things affecting my mood:  

sunshine (vitamin D boost!) 

warmer weather (rise in body temperature!) 

longer daylight hours

calendar full of exciting things

… and felt pangs of sadness.  

I became worried because I know that good stress is stress.  

I became worried because I know what “normal” life feels like and this better feeling seemed more like 

But I was most worried because I’m pretty much conditioned at this point to assume the worst about everything, including myself.  So what does it mean when things are going well?  What bad thing will balance out my good time?

One and one half psych docs ago, I asked this question during an extended appointment.  I was curious, shakily emerging from my second hospitalization.  I felt okay but felt so insecure all the time.  Doctor D was helpful and careful with me always, but she was blunt.  She told me that I needed to actually recognize that things are never one direction all the time.  Life, she said, is supposed to shift and change.  What can remain constant and consistent is my reaction to it while adding new information along the way.  Knowing that I was uncomfortable with a lot of self-help language, she went for raw honesty.  She acknowledged that when it comes to this part of treatment people have the hardest time.  There are regiments that feel like they lead to tangible results for when you are “sick” but when you are “well” it’s about maintenance.  But when mental health is on the line, there’s so much more to lose the farther along you get.  One false move and you can end up losing everything you’ve built.  

For bipolar folks, there’s also the added pressure of needing to know the crash that is coming.  Some in community forums liken it to waiting for a stock market to crash after a meteoric rise or the ominous building of a large tsunami wave.  I wonder if this crash is waiting for me after one too many all-nighters or I accidentally cut the wrong dose, but I know there are triggers that I can’t even imagine.

So what do I do?

Usually I’d slide some language about things being complicated, no answer to these trick questions or something… but that wouldn’t be true here.  I already know what to do.  

Real talk, my best play has consistently been to dare myself to confront this discomfort and make it clear to myself that I’m in control of the moment I am presented with.  I may not have a handle on all things seen and unseen, but I can certainly face it with realness and honesty.  That fake shit was likely (micro and macro) what got me here in the first place.  Acting like I’m okay with being abused by my own work practices and emotional disconnection gave me pieces of my tattered mental state.  While I shouldn’t give up and check out every time, I should see the value in leaving things that don’t suit me AND stay with those that maintain me.  

I don’t need to feel sick to know what well feels like.  But it is okay to remember, giving light to those dark places and memories.  

“I’m Doug and I’m an alcoholic. One of the things I do for a living is count. I count votes. Yays, nays, neutrals, abstaining. And I’m good at it. But the most important count I do has nothing to do with work. It’s the number of days since April 4th, 1999. As of this morning that’s 5,185. The bigger that number gets, the more it frightens me because I know all it takes is one drink for that number to go back to zero. Most people see fear as a weakness. It can be. Sometimes for my job I have to put fear in other people. I know that’s not right. But if I’m honest, like the fourth step asks us to be, I have to be ruthless. Because failure is not an option. The same goes for my sobriety. I have to be ruthless with myself. I have to use my fear. It makes me stronger. Like everyone else in this room, I can’t control who I am. But I can control the zero. Fuck the zero.”

– Doug Stamper, House of Cards