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I have this belief/experience that, in order to keep pushing, I’ve got to do enough crying. My last therapist (until 7 months ago) used to say that all of us who are conscious have been living in trauma since the ’16 election. If we want to be a useful instrument of Spirit – if we want to genuinely make a difference – we need to do everything we need to stay emotionally healthy, including to let the tears come out when they want to.weeping
Some people, especially guys, have a hard time tapping the well of sadness and grief. I was unable to cry for many years. A close friend said, “I think it’s your psych meds.” When I ran this idea past my really very good psychiatrist, who I trusted a lot, he said, “Probably. The drugs that seem to work for bipolar tend to shave off the biggest highs and lows, but also seem to somewhat numb what’s in between.”
I am now engaged in a process – in collaboration with my current shrink, who regards it as a worthy experiment – of weaning myself off of all of my psych meds. At our last meeting, I told her that I especially want to get off of Lithium – which I have never (over 15 years) felt good about and which the friend who is going to hook me up with psilocybin for treatment resistant depression has found in her online research to interact badly with the psychedelic.
Lynn Howard said, “We’ve been already weaning you off of Cymbalta. This month we could take you off it altogether. Why don’t we do that first – and then next month we can start weaning you off of Lithium.”

That made sense at the time – and is what I set out to do this month. But some intuitive/unconscious process stepped in and had me do more. I had all my meds lined up on a table – a.m. on the left side and p.m. on the right side. Lithium I was meant to take 300 mg. a.m. and p.m. I had one bottle of Lithium and planned that, after I took it in the morning I would slide it to the right to take it in the evening. But about a week later, I realized that I had not been sliding it back and forth – I had been leaving it on the left (morning) side and only taking it once a day, 300 mg a day instead of the prescribed 600 mg.meds - cartoon

I thought about going back up, but then thought, “You very much want to wean yourself off of Lithium. You have been at this lower dose for a week and there has been no negative consequence that you can track. Don’t go back! Keep it here and at your next shrink appointment in two weeks, come clean and then negotiate to go lower still.

I really think that some of the intense aliveness and joy I have been feeling lately has come from getting off these meds – Cymbalta and now Lithium – out of my bloodstream. I think that they have never been any good for me – maybe have been in some subtle way poisoning me.

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Soul Friends

When I moved into Battery Park Apartments a year ago, for a week I liked most everything.

building front

Battery Park Apartments

Then, after a week of being up and mostly liking everything, I crashed and hated everything – especially my neighbors. . But the symbol of what I wanted to avoid in my neighbors – the woman I most wanted to avoid (she helped me to write this part – and insisted I use her real name) was Diana the woman out in front of the building – all day every day, in overalls every day.  Chain smoking all day every day. Smoking is not allowed anywhere in the building. Like light the next cigarette off the last cigarette just before it burns your fingers – all day every day. After long hard struggles over a couple of years to get off of cigarettes, I had eight years ago gotten free. Her especially I wanted to stay clear of.

with diana

Diana with my Toni (RIP 10/1/18) – they adored each other.

So I went three weeks down.  Then I had a stroke. It didn’t kill me. It didn’t leave me paralyzed – or with any long term symptoms except some balance issues, and the risk of having another.

Three days later, I checked out of the hospital a new man. I had had my brush with death and had come back from the brink.  I was more than happy to be alive. My depression had passed and I was again wonderfully up. I wanted life – all of it. I wanted to embrace my new apartment – including my neighbors.  So when a friend picked me up at the hospital and dropped me off in front of Battery Park apartments with my little overnight bag there were no parking spots. “No I’ll be fine getting myself in, really”.  

In front of the building, the icon of Battery Park Apartments – the woman with the overalls and the cigarettes. 

“Ok, I’m gonna make friends with her first.”  “Hey, how ya doin?… Nice day, huh?… Can I bum a smoke?”

From there began one of the most amazing friendships of my life.  I discovered that – although her schooling, back in Mexico and here in Chicago was sparse and lousy – Diana was extremely smart – brilliant in some areas, interesting, a great communicator… able and willing to share deeply about herself as well as being a world-class listener.  Extraordinarily generous.

To qualify for the rent-controlled senior living facility, I had to reduce my income. I had to give up the job I loved and which was perfect for me as a cashier at Earth Fare. I made a deal with the Devil. I left my beloved job to live in a high rise apartment downtown – none of which agreed with me.

By the time I had lived there 8 months, the life energy had dripped out of me – drip, drip, drip. I was hospitalized for suicidal depression. I came out of the hospital after a week feeling good and staged the triumphant Majo’s Comeback Tour poetry concert. Two weeks later I was back in the hospital – for two weeks this time and this time nothing helped – I came out after two weeks as depressed as when I went in.

One morning at 3 a.m., a week after I got out of the hospital, walking my beloved dog Pancho through the deserted streets of downtown, it got clear to me: “I’ve lost my integrity. I gave up my job and moved to a high rise downtown because my many genuinely loving friends wanted me to – thought that, after two years of genuinely too much moving around, it would be good for me.”

By that afternoon I had gotten my job back and had started making plans to move. Having reclaimed my integrity, these changes came startlingly easy. Diana and I are clear that we are soul friends and will never let go of each other.

My bipolar disorder is still very out of control, but I am consistently happy. A few things give me respite from the physical pain that is the core symptom of my depression. Reading the Washington Post online distracts me from the pain a little. My dog makes me happy. I’m writing a lot and that makes me really happy. Engaging with friends – even on the phone – makes me happier still. But the thing that consistently makes me really happy is serving my customers at Earth Fare. It’s show time. I get to use all my people skills, especially my passion for validating people and my gift for comedy. People leave my line happy. I’ve started posting my work schedule on line so my friends and devoted customers can come to the store when I am there.

Now there are the changes at Jubilee. I don’t know Amy – have never talked with her. In a series of exchanges with her on Facebook, I discovered that we are on the same page spiritually.

In the middle – still – of some fair level of chaos and change, I really do believe that all shall be well.

(Read the – very different – 15-minute version of this story, featuring the “ersatz family” of Majo, Diana and little yorkiepoo Toni here.)

 

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Tobacco is yang.

My old macrobiotic friends, obsessed with Eastern medicine, mostly smoked – at least some of the time.  They had an explanation for it.  “Tobacco is yang.  When you are too yin – expanded, ungrounded – you crave to be more dense.  Tobacco helps with that.”

There is no question, in my experience, that I more crave cigarettes when I am manic.  The craving can be absolutely irresistible.  It has become for me a diagnostic criterion for mania.

Two weeks ago I had this kind of craving for tobacco.  I was, indeed, more manic than I had been for a long time.  Was it the Cymbalta – my new psychiatric drug that is touted to help both depression (after four brutal weeks of depression) and physical pain (the key symptom of depression for me) – which is neither helping my depression nor my pain, but I think is actually producing a toxic reaction?smoking old head

I picked up a pack of cigarettes and they kind of helped.  They didn’t really take the edge off the physical pain, but they were a familiar comfort – a little treat to reach for.  After ten months clean, this was actually a huge setback for me – but I was so out of control that I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

After two weeks of smoking, my body seems to be re-asserting itself.  My lungs have had enough.  I think my whole body is hurting.  It is, actually, the very last thing I need on top of the other assaults on my bodily/personal integrity.

I just went outside with my dog for a last pee – and what i intend to be my last cigarette.  I will go to bed now and sleep it off. Tomorrow I have Jubilee and several other positive experiences.  It’s a good day for a new beginning.

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Usetabe, my mania and depression would each wait for their turn.  They would politely wait for the other to spend themselves and then they would come back.

(This is not totally true.  One time probably 20 years ago, I was driving through Chicagoland and, over the course of 30 minutes, watched my state change from depressed to manic.  I swear I heard the mania say – I think out loud – “I’m back – and I’m not ever going to let you out again.” Dream on.)

In the last two weeks, I’ve been having an experience I never had before: mania and depression (which means for me painful physical contraction) have not been literally co-existing, but very rapidly alternating.  My cycles usually mean 2-3 weeks up and 2-3 weeks down.  Lately, this more “fair” alteration has been getting way more imbalanced: four weeks depressed, three days manic – stuff like that.  The sequence has not been totally without logic.  The issue seems to be engagement.  When I wake up at night (and am in no kind of connection), I am in pain – enough so that I get up at 1-2-3 o’clock and go looking for diversion, anything to take my focus off the pain.  Some things help:

  1. reading the Washington Post online takes my mind off the pain.  (I have a pathological obsession with this year’s presidential politics.  I’m about to put my new “Warren” bumper sticker over my old “Kamala” bumper sticker.)
  2. Better is to be richly engaged with a good friend – like my friend Amanda last night, on her beautiful front porch, with our mutual fascination by my psychological process (and her commitment to keep me alive) and our mutual admiration for my little dog Pancho.FB profile 4-19When I took Pancho for a walk – and me for a cigarette (see “Tobacco is yang”) – the pain tried to come back, but mostly still did not because I was still engaged with Amanda.  I was going over something she had said.  I was thinking of things I wanted to say to her.  I had left her physical presence, but we were still connected – and that protected me from the contracted depression.
  3. the best distraction for me these days is cashiering.  Customer service.  I have to be on.  Focus.  I’m living out my mission.  I can get through a whole 4-5 hour shift and only feel pain during my break.  When I swipe out at the end of my shift, the pain starts to re-assert itself and is in full force by the time I get to my car.  Corporate has been cutting the work-hours for every department in the store and I never get the 24 hours I theoretically signed up for.  I always wish for more hours, not just because I need the money.

 

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When I talk about “depression”, for many years now I have mostly meant very painful physical contraction – like every cell is in a vice.  It’s my little code.  A long ago I gave up trying to tell psychiatrists about it, because they didn’t know what I was talking about.  It didn’t fit their models, they apparently had never talked about it in school – so they couldn’t deal with it.  They pretended I hadn’t said it.  They translated it to the mood changes that for them mean depression.  They argued with me about it.

Sometimes the physical contraction precedes the mood change by 1-5 days.  It can get depressing being in chronic pain for days on end.  I once went through a seven-day cycle of “depression” that was strictly physical pain – it finally lifted with never a mood change.  The pain doesn’t co-exist with mania – they alternate like mania and depression.  A clear diagnostic that I have shifted into a manic state is that the pain is gone – maybe immediately, maybe evaporating over the course of a few hours, but finally totally gone.

Lately I have again gotten much more assertive with the psychiatrists about this.  “The despair that twice in the last five months brought me so close to taking my own life was all about physical pain that had lasted longer than I knew how to tolerate (40 days – I know, I’m a light-weight) and I could think of no answer but to do anything I could to escape it.  You must treat the pain!”

They have lately been listening to me, taking me seriously, and trying.  They gave me muscle relaxants – so far no help that I can tell.  They suggested Vitamin D and Tylenol, which I have used but never seen any help.  They gave me a benzo – ativan.  I seem now not to be able to sleep without it, but I can’t tell that it has helped with the pain.  They put me on Cymbalta – which, when it works, is supposed to help with both depression and physical pain.  My mania and pain are worse and I think I am having a toxic response to it.  My shrink reduced it, but I want it reduced even faster.

 

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Something New (2007)

I am old
This life is old
These bones are old
These thoughts, old
These fears, old
These hopes are old
These dreams are old
From where might come something new?

I have searched the horizon
For a sign of hope, from anywhere
My ship to come
A rescue plane to pick me up
From this desert isle
“This is Radio Majo
 
Come in, come in – is there anybody out there?”

I’m giving up
There’s nothing out there
But the ghosts of my life past
The phantasms of my wandering
In this landscape of broken dreams
Giving up…
Giving up…

But what is this?
When I give up
Something rises…
When I give up
Something rises…
When I give up
Something rises…

I have become so empty
Empty of hope
Empty of the will to try
Empty of sails on that so-empty sea
Empty of a dream of what might come
Empty of what I thought was me

I have become so hollow
So transparent
So lacking in mass
That my empty has turned to light
My empty has turned to light

This gentle breeze
Stirring beneath my hollow limbs
Lifts me – oh so slightly
Up
The golden sun, which shines on
Nothing that I want
Begins to shine
Through me

I have become
So empty
So hollow
So transparent
That the breeze lifts me up
And the light fills me up
My being in this world
So exhausted
So used up
So empty
That I am become
A being of light

Like no one I remember
But one I recognize
Was hidden, covered
So encased in doing
‘Til I could do no more

I will continue to give up
Life will show me how
It is one more thing that I will not do
In this empty, used up

Hollow, radiant now

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Today I will be asking my psychiatrist for her support and guidance as I gradually wean myself off of psych meds.  This process will probably take several months.  Here are some of the words I hope to remember to say to her today. Maybe I will just start the session by reading this. It takes 3 minutes – my insurance is paying for the 30 minutes. It’s my life at stake.

My dear friend Amanda – deeply grounded social worker and psychotherapist of many years – likes to say to me, “You have taken these meds for 30 years. You feel totally sure that, aside from 6 months on your first med ever, Zoloft, none of them has ever helped you. But you keep taking them – why? You know there are risks from taking such powerful medications for so long. Why don’t you just get off them all and find out who you really are?”headache-pain-pills-medication-159211

That last sentence came not from Amanda, but from me. Why do I continue to take these meds that I feel sure are not helping me? Guilt and shame. I feel that anybody who experiences such powerful and painful ups and downs “should” take meds – it’s just assumed in this technological society, right? And, when people – hearing for the first time that I have bipolar disorder – ask me, so often almost the first words out of their mouths, if I take meds, I want to be able to say, “Yes.” To say “No” would risk their disapproval, their judgment that I am irresponsible. Most of them assume innocently that meds make these things better – not realizing that for a lot of us, not just me, they really don’t.

I have recently taken some very big steps towards my own integrity. Since I returned to the job I loved, but gave up in order to keep my current subsidized apartment – a move that so many of my loving friends strongly pushed a year ago – and am making plans to leave this apartment, which i have never liked, the life force is flowing back into me. That life, which had drip-drip-dripped out of me for the last year, leaving me finally so depleted that twice in three months I drifted precariously close to ending my own life.

Now that I am reclaiming my integrity my listening to my own inner guidance, my inner landscape is no longer one of darkness. Even during the difficult biochemical turndown that hit me in the last week, I am stronger and more optimistic than I have been in years. The choices I have recently made towards my integrity have released a new level of confidence, integrity and assertiveness that have me handling all manner of little decisions and interactions in ways that support my aliveness.

The next step towards my aliveness, my integrity – quite obvious to me – is to stop taking the pills that I resent, that I have never trusted, that I think do me no good, and that have so many subtle and obvious side-effects. I want to get off them and see who I really am. Any risks in doing so are, to me right now, totally acceptable.

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