Not all bipolar swings are inherently negative. A downward swing towards depression, if examined from an objective standpoint, can be a time for reflection and constructive introversion. Sometimes, one has to distance or disconnect oneself from the usual stimuli of the outside world to take stock, recover strength, and realign thoughts and goals. By the same coin, a upward swing — not necessarily into full hypomania — can be a boom time of great creativity, channeling energy into endeavors that suit one’s goals.
This takes time, practice, the help of a therapist and loved ones, and a good amount of hammering out new pathways in one’s thought processes and emotional self-examination. It isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
It also eats up a bunch of spoons.
If you’re not familiar with the Spoon Theory, I expound upon it (and reference its source) here. Most spoonies deal with a purely physical ailment — fibromyalgia, endometriosis, auto-immune diseases, etc. Mental illness can qualify as well — bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and so on. If you get a flashback, a sting of anxiety, or enter a mixed state, you have to spend time and energy dealing with that state of being before you can move on to something like sleeping, or eating. You spend spoons you’d otherwise spend elsewhere.
It can be easy to realize, in retrospect, that we haven’t taken steps towards reaching our long-term goals. We might even look around us and see all sorts of things that could be addressed, in terms of chores or self-care. I feel that it’s important to keep focus on the fact that our worth is not tied to our productivity, no matter what this modern capitalist dystopia in which we find ourselves might say. We can, and should, find self-worth in who we are and what we cultivate in ourselves and the world around us.
There are two factors that inform the ways in which we contribute to the world around us: willingness and ability. If we have the willingness to contribute, but not the ability — be it because of spoons, money, skills, or other resources — that has worth, in and of itself, and in my opinion, does not get recognized as much as it should. On the flip side, if one has the ability to contribute, but not the willingness… well, that’s a completely different kettle of fish.
In the aftermath of those moments of introspection and personal re-alignment, the next step is to examine what is worthy of focus, and what can be set aside, at least for now. For example: I haven’t spent as much time writing as I have in gaming. I even tried my hand at streaming Hearthstone again over a couple of weekends. The thing is, there are only so many hours in the day and I only have so many spoons. And, let’s be honest, I’m a better writer than I am a gamer. I may get myself to Legend rank in Hearthstone, but I doubt I have the time and bandwidth to both cultivate tournament-level skills in that game and finish the writing projects that may actually achieve my long-term goal of writing novels as my primary means of income.
So it’s time to focus on that, and get the words out, and get this shit done.
For whatever it’s worth, May is Mental Health Month, and as we go through it, I’m going to also take time to reflect on how I’ve been improving over the last few months, what I can bring up in therapy, and how I can continue carving new and healthier neural pathways. I hope these experiences, and my words, prove helpful to you. It can be difficult for me to remember that focusing on myself and the way forward is not selfish, in and of itself; rather, if I do not build myself up, and celebrate myself, the world will be all to happy to tear me down and strip-mine me for useful material the way they have our planet.
It’s a statement I’ve said many, many times, especially in the last year or so. I said it several times when I wrote this post back in January. Even in these last few months, I’ve changed, I’ve moved forward — even away from that very post! — and come more to terms with who I used to be and how I’m not the same. Those around me can see the change, and they’ve celebrated, even as the change has continued on a daily basis.
I want to believe other people can change, too.
People who love me, who have been there for me, and seen these changes, have said that not everybody can do what I’ve done. That there’s something special or singular about how I’ve seized myself, pulled myself apart, and discerned what about me was toxic and needed to be discarded — and, to be clear, there were indeed ugly parts of me that spread toxicity and had to be destroyed — and while I deeply appreciate that, the way I’ve moved forward has come down to belief in myself. And I believe, if I may talk circularly for a moment, that anyone can believe in themselves, and foster their better natures.
It has been hard for me, there’s no mistaking that. For years, I relied more on the opinions and support of others, even going so far as to turn down my own feelings to make room for those of others. Among other learned behaviors, I’ve had to face that one down, and shake it off to the best of my ability. This one in particular is weird and sort of sticky, and it still comes up now and again. But I’m still doing the work to get myself free of it, once and for all.
As hard as it’s been for me to find the ways and means within myself to believe in myself, I know that part of it, at least, has come from others believing in me, even when it hasn’t been convenient, or when others might have told them that I’m not worth it. And what was said was not entirely without cause.
I’ve shed so many useless and toxic and ugly parts of who I used to be. Even now, I look out for them and put them down whenever I can. Because the world deserves better than that. And, given the chance, I show who I have become, in contrast to who I was and the thing I was reported to be. I grab hold of my light and push it upwards as a beacon, throwing back darkness that I might myself have perpetuated at one point. I stare into that darkness, seek to banish it, to drive it away from myself and those I love.
I ask that toxic ghost, straight up, who the hell it thinks I am.
In the midst of the darkness I once threw over myself, some people still held on to the belief that I was worth it, and their belief in me. It protected and kindled that spark of light within me; it fostered in me this belief I now have in myself. It’s helped me get and be and do better. I might have arrived here completely on my own, and there’s a lot of work I had to do for and by myself, but knowing that someone, somewhere, believed in me, even in spite of my failures and ugliest moments — that made things easier, made my goals clearer, motivated me to work twice as hard.
That’s what I’d want people to do for me, even — or especially — when I’m at my worst.
And that’s what I want to do for the people I care about, even — especially — when they’re at their worst.
Maybe it’s a waste of my time. Maybe it won’t be worth it in the long run.
But it’s something about me that hasn’t changed.
And I don’t know if it will. Or if it should.
People out in the world chose to believe in me, because they wanted to believe I could be better.
And they were right.
I want to believe in others. In the world. In you.
And I really, really, want to be right.
So here I stand. Holding up this light. Hoping. Believing.
Because I want to believe.
I challenge you to believe, too. And if you can’t believe in yourself, believe in me.
While finding my groove with the new gig, and making plans to return more prominently to the Internet, I’ve been reconnecting with some of the music of my younger years. I’ve always loved Dave Grohl and his bands, especially the Foo Fighters — hence the pin I wear on my overcoat, right next to my Safety Pin and under “America Is Not The World.” Partnering with an audiophile and general music wyzard has brought Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Audioslave back into my life in a big way (also, you know, Seattle), and has introduced me to Big Wreck. Assembling a station on Pandora — which you can listen to here — has also reminded me of one of the seminal yet forgotten bands of my youth: Days of the New.
At the time, I was a bit less fully self-aware, and Days of the New was good stuff, but not quite in the same vein as Creed or Evanescence. While bands of that ilk have faded as my tastes and perceptions have grown and expanded, Days of the New comes back and strikes resonating chords. The vocals of Travis Meeks sit very comfortably in my range, which is always a plus, But the lyrics are what hitting those strings within me. There’s something simplistic about it, something raw and real, unfettered by artifice or hyperbole.
One song that keeps coming up is “Not The Same“, and… well, duh.
If you know me at all, if you’ve been paying attention, it should be obvious that I’m not the same. Sure, at this time last year I was trying to be more self-aware, more constructive, more this version of myself, but there was a piece missing. I wasn’t motivated to do it solely for my own good. I was doing it, if I’m honest, for the benefit of others.
Oddly enough, it was the behavior of others that made this clear, and I once again had to change.
There’s some sentiment out there that talks about not changing who you are. Songs have been written about it. About not letting the world or other people change you. And there’s some truth to that. However, if I hadn’t taken it upon myself to change myself, I would not be where I am now. And, as a direct result of these efforts, I am not the same.
Two years ago I was blinded by various distractions, misconceptions, perceptions, and unacknowledged fears and issues. That left me open to be blindsided by drama and truths that had to be addressed. It kept me from being honest.
Last year I was broken, trying to put myself back together, and overly reliant on others to help me do it. That left me open to be exploited and, subsequently, discarded; to be tossed about with my hands off of the wheel until the shifting winds and waves threw me out to sink or swim, with little in terms of a lifeline in sight. It kept me from acknowledging and cultivating my own strength and worth.
This year? This year, I am not the same.
And anybody who thinks I am is a fucking idiot.
I was asked the other day who I’m writing this sort of thing for. If I’m directing this rhetoric at individuals in particular, in some misguided hope I can change others. The truth is, if someone sees this, and as a result sees me differently, that’s great! I won’t deny that I maintain a glimmer of hope that being this vocal and this open and this persistent in telling my side of the story can put in stark relief the selfish wants and callous gaslighting of others.
But when you get right down to it, I’m telling my story because I’m sick and tired of holding my tongue when it comes to driving my own narrative. I’m taking the pen back from others who’ve held it. Around this time last year, I put out some kind of weak-ass bullshit about “hey, it’s okay if you need to see me as a villain, that’s fine, if it helps you heal I’m all for it” and so on and so forth.
I’m not the same. I refuse to let myself fall back into those old patterns, those useless ways of thinking. And if some trifling, myopic people want to try and write me into a corner where that is all I do, it’s in my best interest as a human being capable of change and worthy of love and respect to snatch the pen from their hands and say “No. You do not get to dehumanize me in this way. Look to your own life and the ways you can make it better without making the lives around you worse.”
It isn’t easy. I still struggle with things. I can have a learned behavior kick in as a reaction to a situation that’s no longer relevant, or as a habit that I need to change. And while the results of such things are not okay, the fact that I want to change these things is okay. It’s better than okay. It’s what defines someone who is doing their utmost to act like a gorram adult.
I’m not the same.
Thank every single star in the sky for that.
Tuesdays are for telling my story.
Seriously, fuck off with your weak-ass bullshit, you bunch of trifling-ass bitches.
It’s a question I’m asking myself on a daily basis. Months after so many people made up their minds that the answer was a resounding ‘NO’, I’m still asking it. I lose sleep over it. I wake up with my guts in knots thinking about it. I find myself disengaged from the world around me, trying my best to lose myself in work, and distracting myself with media and gaming to avoid the question. But I keep coming back to it.
I want to believe that I am. I want to believe that just by asking the question, seriously pondering it, at least shows a glimmer of hope that it might be true. It’s a spark, the embryo of a flame, and if I can hold on to it, nurture it, stoke it with the right questions and breathe life into it gently, it will grow, and maybe shine a light that will show my true Self, even to those who made up their minds.
People can be wrong. I have been wrong. I’m trying to make it right, as much as I can, without imposing myself or pushing for unwanted direct contact or making people uncomfortable. I’m trading my discomfort for the comfort of others. The way I’ve always tried to do, even if it’s proven unhealthy for me. My brain’s wired for that behavior, and rewiring it has proven very, very difficult.
How could I ever put myself over others?
That’s the question this line of thought brings to mind. In moments of weakness, of hypomania, of knee-jerk reactions, I know I can behave rashly, even put what I want or feel above what others want or feel. But how can that be, when the other 99% of my life is spent worrying myself literally sick over what others think and feel? How is that I can, and have, lost my grip on my empathy? Is there a way for me to prioritize myself, my health, my well-being, in such a way that such an awful thing never, ever happens again?
I’m scared. I’m scared of a lot of things. Running out of time, losing what little I have left, failing and falling again to the point I don’t see a way out, with no strength left to save myself.
I’m scared I’ll never fully recover.
I’m scared I’ll lose my way again, in spite of the progress I’ve already made in the Work.
I’m scared that, in trying to prioritize myself, in convincing myself that yes, I am in fact a good man, I’ll get too caught up in my positivity and hype, to the point that my privilege and intelligence and empathy become things I exploit; I’m scared I will truly, thoroughly become something I loathe, that I would never, ever choose to be.
I know people exist who feel no guilt or remorse for the choices they make. The people who twist the facts to fit their own narratives. The people who never check their perceptions against a sequence of events or the proven nature of the people around them. The people who are so wrapped up in themselves they give nary a thought to the feelings or well-being of others. Their only goal is self-advancement; their primary concern is how far they can propel themselves above others. They leave reputations, relationships, communities, even bodies burning in their wake, and they are so myopically focused on their own goals they do not smell the rancid smoke for which they are responsible. And I’m scared of becoming one of them, rather than merely being accused of being one of them.
I’m scared that no matter how ‘better’ I get, it won’t be ‘good enough’. It won’t be proof enough that I’m not who they have said I am, who they may still believe me to be.
Why do the opinions of others matter?
Being honest about my role in the discomfort of others has been taken as implicit confession of guilt towards simplistic accusations. Maintaining distance and holding space has been seen as ‘ghosting’ or disposing of people I still consider important to me. Expounding upon my moments of crisis have been called ‘manipulation’ and ‘attention-seeking’. Asking for help is seen as weakness, and an excuse to scapegoat me, gaslight me, and kick me while I’m down. Openly seeking discussion about my thought processes and unresolved guilt, and fighting the stigma of my bipolar disorder, are categorized as trying to weasel out of taking responsibility for my actions. Why do I care about what people like that think?
Anybody who knows me, who has taken the time to engage with my Self, knows all of that is bullshit. Some who have made efforts in the past to forge a friendship with me that goes beyond public perception have fallen in with the toxic thinking that fueled the ways I’ve been used and abused. Even as some write me off, I struggle to understand them, to imagine them complexly, to comprehend their motivations. Some said what they said to further their own agendas, some reacted out of triggered disgust, and others merely disengaged to avoid dwelling on painful or problematic subjects. Why do I still hold space for them?
It’s been asked of me by people who have shown they truly care about me. True empathy has been expressed by those still connected with me who’ve seen the evidence of the Work but have also been privy to me asking these questions, struggling with these concerns, ruminating over these opinions. Why do I devote any firing of synapses to people who have shown me how little I actually matter? Why do these phantoms take up any space in my head or my heart? Why can’t I just write them off, let them go, move on with my life?
“I know it’s easier said than done” tends to follow those questions, and I know how true that is. Anybody acquainted with the grief that comes with the loss of a close family member or friend knows that it’s not a once-and-done obstacle that you just ‘get over’ and you’re finished, congrats, here’s a medal. It’s cyclical. It comes and it goes. You miss people, you miss them every day, sometimes just in the back of your mind, sometimes like a vice grip on your heart leaving you unable to move. January is particularly hard for me because of grief like that. For me, for a couple of people, the grief is worse because I know they’re still alive. They’re still out in the world. I know they’re hurting. I know they’re dealing with pain, loss, and questions that I understand, that I experience myself, that I might, just maybe, be able to help with.
But I don’t know if I can. I err on the side of caution. And it breaks my heart all over again.
Even if I felt I could, would I? Or would I keep my distance because I’m too scared of fucking it up again and causing more pain and who knows if they’d be open to that sort of interaction anyway?
Should I even be writing this here?
Even now I’m questioning my motivation for putting this out into view of the public. All of this is rooted in my struggle (and occasional inability) to cope with everything that’s atypical of my neurological system. Bipolar disorder, PTSD, social anxiety, the massive guilt complex — it’s no more ‘normal’ than the political situation in our world today. I’m on medication; I’m in touch with professionals; I’m studying meditation, neurological solutions, psychology and everything else that makes up the Work. Writing is a part of it — it’s a part of me — and a contribution I can make towards both my well-being and awareness that helps the well-being of others is to fight the stigma by talking about it.
I know that a lot of this stuff can or would make people uncomfortable if they bothered to read it. Hell, writing it makes me uncomfortable to the point I’ve put off writing it, even longhand in a journal, to say nothing of on this silly blog. Causing discomfort in people in general, especially people I care about — even those who might have stopped caring about me some time ago — falls squarely in the category of ‘shit I don’t want to do.’ For all I know, all of this claptrap about the Work and how I feel and what I’m dealing with may get extrapolated and twisted around into ‘yet another bid for attention’ and thrown into the mental garbage along with the person so many people decided I was, without bringing things directly to me or imagining me complexly. This might challenge those perceptions, which will make people uncomfortable, and much like I do with my guts in asking these questions, they’ll twist themselves around to avoid that discomfort and maintain the illusion that they know exactly what happened and exactly who this or that person was and exactly what the facts are despite not having all of them.
But I also know that without discomfort, there is no growth. And as much as I want to, as deep as I have looked within myself, I have struggled and failed to find the answers for the questions I’m asking. And I have to keep asking questions, deep ones, uncomfortable ones, if I ever want to untangle those knots, heal these wounds, kindle that beacon, progress in this Work. Which brings me to the last one.
Am I asking the right questions?
Right or wrong, for better and for worse, I’m going to be struggling to find the answers for a long, long time.
I’m with my family for the holidays. It’s been a refreshing and recharging trip so far, mostly just me and my partner in my childhood home with my parents occasionally checking in with us at they go about their daily lives, preparing for the big events of Christmas. My sister and her family descend upon the house this afternoon, bringing a whirlwind of excited activity, barely retrained delight, exuberant emotion, and probably a tantrum or two. That’s life. That’s my family.
I know not everybody has a family like mine. I know the experience of gathering around the tree on Christmas morning in matching pajamas and watching children tear away bright paper from new toys isn’t something everyone gets. A lot of people have families who aren’t this in touch, who don’t have this connection. Some people barely talk to their families at all. Others wish they didn’t have parents. Still others wish their parents were still with us.
For me, I wish this house was big enough for me to invite everyone who may be alone or who might feel isolated this year, and have them join in this atmosphere, if they’d feel comfortable doing so.
I long ago swore that I would do two things when it comes to my family: I would not take their love, generosity, or honesty for granted, and I would do my utmost to share the gifts they continue to give me with those around me. Considering how my family continues to support me, I think I’ve got that first part pretty much nailed. As for the other… let’s just say there are times in my past when I wish I’d been better at listening, being receptive, and taking a moment to pause and reflect before choosing my response, rather than simply reacting.
At my last family reunion, I saw a lot of small humans reacting rather than responding. Upon reflection, it seems that there are some folks who never really grew out of that impulse. It took me quite a while to get to a point where I can do that semi-regularly, and I still have my share of mistakes and knee-jerk reactions. Hell, at times I wonder if a tweet I send out or a blog entry I post is too much, or goes too far, or needed to be worded better, if sent at all.
Family, at least my family, understands that. They’re good at holding space for me. They see me and all I could be, rather than what I’ve failed to be. They’re patient with me, as the parents in my family I’ve seen are patient with their children. I’ve been forced to grow up a lot in the past year. When the people I’d chose to be part of my family turned on me, I had to grow up even more. And my blood family was there for me, behind me and loving me, every step of the way.