Madman’s Odds

Today, I’m sitting with contemplation. 

Sometimes it helps to close your eyes, sometimes it helps to keep them focused on a blank space on a wall or a picture you like. Do what you need to do. But I want you to imagine a dot. Let that dot be any color you (or it) want that dot to be. Keep that dot in the center of your eye/mind and start to work on your breathing. Start by just breathing in and out regularly. Feel the air enter on the breath in, then feel it pass on the way out. Repeat but with each passing breath, let the air flow a little deeper. With each breath, keep your eye on that dot. Try to make more and more space in your mind for the air and the dot. Focus. Repeat this for a while.

Now, make some space for your inner monologue.  Ask yourself:

What’s troubling you this week?

What are you looking forward to?

Sit with these questions, remembering that there is no right way to answer anything in this space.  Trust your inner monologue’s voice, but remember it doesn’t necessarily need to be right. 

Today marks a milestone I didn’t think I would reach.  I’m three years from a difficult 30 day period where I publicly wrestled with being Bipolar II.  I’m in love with this period of my life and I mean that sincerely because it is a sincere love.  This love is truthful, shot full of holes and complex.  I struggle with this period because it is such a great and worry-filled time.  I learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of.  My attitude changed toward uncomfortable things.  I sit with a lot more than I used to because of that time and space, making my non-contemplative time useful and stiletto sharp.  

Three years later, I’m doing shit that I could have never done in 2014.  I live in a place that I like.  My child knows who I am and we have a friendship that is full of mirth and secrets.  I am still married to the same person and we like seeing each other.  I travel the planet, unlocking doors and seeing dangerous things.

But I know the real deal.

73 percent of us have a relapse in a five year period.

90 percent of people who are Bipolar 2 get hospitalized at one point.

Comorbid substance abuse is common, occurring in 50 percent of us.

So I’m constantly standing on the cliff with my other mind, wondering who will make the first move.  Will I notice a slight change and transform into a different person?  Will I just fall off?

Research says that the best way to prevent relapse is to be ruthless about your symptoms.  Even the slightest change is to be met with vigor and challenged without mercy.

So I talk to my doctor.

So I talk to my wife.

So I play with my son.

We don’t wait.  And we reserve all mercy and forgiveness for my real self.  The symptoms, while a part of me, ain’t me.

Unlike Rakim, I know that I know the ledge.

This space will get more regular.  



This is month is a wedding anniversary for me, it’s true. But it’s also my mental health anniversary.
A picture that Anice put up recently shows me having some fun in a park. That photograph does not show the feeling of needing to withdraw from everyone, my anxiety over a new job that felt strange and cold, and the creeping dark sadness that began to eat the joy I felt in everyday silliness. I fought hard but couldn’t quite overcome it by myself. For a long time, I stayed there.
Ultimately it took two things that most people who are depressed, bipolar, or in some other mental health distress don’t usually have in the United States: time and money. My gracious wife, who was right there with me struggling through as I wandered around a lightless room looking for the way out, gave me space and the ability to not work while I managed my mental health the best I knew how.
On this vacation, we spent some time in an underground city in Kapydokya (Cappadocia.) Our amazing guide, Ali, lead us down and showed us the life of people under siege by invading forces. He told us that because of the ingenuity of the people there, the residents could live their lives underground for months. Their grit and determination was so feared that it was said that if a snake bit residents of that city, the snake would be the one that died.
At one point the tunnel system narrowed and, being a large person, I had a hard time getting through. Some passages were so small that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to keep from getting stuck. On our way out, I was headed through one tunnel that narrowed in a way that left part of the passage dark. But I could see that there was a bit of light at the end with others waiting. I could hear voices saying “he’s coming, let’s wait” on the other end. Knowing that there were other people waiting for me, I adjusted and determined that if I was coming out I was going to emerge as myself and not shriveled. I ducked out of the other end with a smile, saying “Hey! How you doin'” to Anice and Ali but also a very surprised Chinese couple who laughed at the image of me, Afro first, coming out of the rock doorway.
Later, Anice and I were talking over our end-of-leg shisha (now a tradition on this trip) and she commented briefly about this anniversary. I recalled this recent event, my emerging from the cave, and I mentioned how it felt connected to my experience in a different dark place years ago.
It took a long time (nearly a year in crisis and the deep passion of recovery) but I made it out of my metaphorical underground city. But I am always aware of the still open question of why our bodies create the city to begin with. What is the evolutionary necessity of the darkness? Why do some people have it and some people do not? Why is depression (and all the rest) such an intimate part of our system? Is it a warning? Does it come to bring another gift? I’ll never know for sure.
I am constantly infuriated by people who insist that I/we/people “snap out of it.” I know, just like so many of you do, that if depressed people could they’d walk right through that door into “happy/sad/driven/whatever” and not look back. The only thing that seems clearer with each year is that the problem is never ways out. In that tunnel system underneath Kapydokya there were multiple ways in and out. What you really needed, invader or resident, was the will to go through one even if you can’t see the way out of the other side. That will is expensive to obtain, and not available to everyone, but is the real issue.
On this anniversary, I want to thank everyone that waited for me on the other side of the tunnel with patience and grace. I want to thank all the people that communicate with me about this weird thing that feels human and real one minute, alien and foreign the next. I want to send a special shout out to my folks still alive in their cave system, struggling to understand what is happening. I hear you and remember. I’m waiting on the other side for you, cheering you on (with patience!) Do what you need to do and love yourself. May no snakes bite you, but if those bastards do, may they be the ones that die. We’re tougher than they think.
I’ll have more to say later but I’m out of pistachios.