Archive for the ‘depression’ Tag

Internet Pornography: Use Your Head   1 comment

The other night I found myself out of 25mg Topamax tablets.  I take 125mg in the morning and at bedtime as a mood stabilizer.  So I used a pill cutter to quarter a 100mg pill and more or less jerry-rigged the right dosage.  When you’ve been bipolar as long as I have been, you learn to improvise.

Well that protective covering on pills is there for a reason.  I woke up around 3am with my esophagus burning and the sensation spreading like a heat wave across my chest giving me horrific heartburn. When I stood up to go into the bathroom so did the contents of my stomach.  It’s like there was a wide open freeway between my stomach and mouth and not a toll booth in sight.  I felt like I just had the Imperial Indian Buffet and washed it down with a glass of whole whipping cream straight out of the container to achieve this level of heartburn and acid reflux.

Needless to say I stayed home from work that day.  And like any intelligent professional, I spent the afternoon looking at porn on the internet.  Obviously I’ve already seen some of it, but I never really crawled into the dark alleys and under the bar-stools before.  The thing that struck me is just how predatory in nature it is.

Of course, logging on is your decision.  But there is an amazing plethora of sites to connect with women who want sex in your area, sites to view and chat live with women, sites for married people to discreetly meet other frustrated souls for sex, sites to satisfy any fetish under the sun, sites for fetishes that haven’t even become fetishized yet, and hundreds of sites to get an escort to a hotel room within an hour.   You can have college girls, MILFS, cougars, dominatrixes…. Anything you want right there for the pickin’ if you have a cell phone and credit card.

And all of  the sites have free trial offers with features so limited the horny can barely enter their credit card numbers fast enough to become full members.  Most sites out of kindness keep automatically charging you monthly so your membership will never run out.  However trying to get someone on the phone to cancel is harder than finding a good restaurant in Dayton, Ohio.

Personally, I love how the porn industry has made the internet their home.  I remember the days of seedy adult bookstore like shacks set back from the road with gravel parking lots where customers never made eye contact. Also, there was the risk of embarrassment being seen in the adult section of your neighborhood video store by someone you know.   It even took guts to buy a Playboy at a Seven-Eleven when I was coming of age in the late 70’s.  I would have rather tried to buy beer and cigarettes.  Getting busted was far less humiliating.

But the internet gives you complete privacy to wallow in your fetishes. It even offers live video striptease where you run the show making the girl do anything you desire. You almost expect her hand to reach through your computer screen and grab your crotch.  Although it hasn’t ever happened as far as I know,  many of the girls are only too happy to meet later for a drink.

Theoretically the internet has given voyeurs the best quality and most choices of porn the world has ever seen.  And perverts are a small segment of the audience.  Everybody gets horny or curious and takes a peek at one time or another.  It’s human nature.  But if you are a bipolar male, and I am speaking to you as one, internet porn can make you obsessed.  Since we all often suffer from some degree of obsessive compulsive disorder, or are frequently looking for distractions to take our minds off of our undesirable mental states, it’s easy to get sucked into this world of free trial memberships, escorts just waiting for your call, married but horny sites filled with frustrated women who are dying to meet you and swingers and sex clubs which can make all your hidden desires come true.

Internet porn is addictive and it never sleeps.  And except for the really raunchy things, I liked it all to some degree.  But I also see my bipolar side becoming obsessed with it.  Some of the sites are so sophisticated you can talk live in a private session with a naked girl. Subconsciously I thought the longer I stayed online the greater my chances.  Chances of what? I had no idea.  Maybe there is a naked girl lurking out there in cyberspace waiting for me.

This was the beginning of classic Obsessive Compulsive Behavior.  If I had not been consciously looking for how and why it kicks in with internet porn, I might have become a customer.  And of course I made a conscious effort not to let it run my life by becoming an addiction.  I headed it off at the pass.  The problem is a bipolar male unaware of internet porn’s power to become another manifestation of his OCD can get sucked in with ease.

I’m a 46 year old heterosexual male.  I like to look at naked women and those in sexy lingerie.  I am very careful not to spend an inordinate amount of time online looking.  I think most bipolar men feel the same way I do and have a modicum of self control not to let it run their lives.  Online porn is not the problem, it’s people who can not  make it fit proportionally into their lives.  Porn just happens to be the catalyst.  But you can just substitute obsessive hand-washing for internet porn and you see the same behavior pattern.  Bipolars have to be vigilant not to become addicted.

I also see too much pornography having an emotional downside.  It makes women look less like people and more like objects men use for sexual gratification.  Moreover, many of these women are sex professionals, so when a spouse or a girlfriend can’t perform at their level, or won’t recreate specific scenarios, it can cause problems in the relationship.

Unfortunately, I am not able to speak about bipolar women and their usage of internet pornography.  However, if in the comment box women would like to write about their experiences, thoughts and concerns on the subject, I’d be more than happy to post them for all to read.

In conclusion, remember that sex and being bipolar can be a very tenuous combination.  Even the most self aware regarding their Bipolar Illness are still affected by hormones to which they have little to no control over.  When common sense might tell you enough internet porn for the day, your penis is telling you just a few more pictures or movies.  The feeling of excitement is overpowering.  And when the little head is talking, the big head isn’t listening.  And that is exactly why the internet porn industry has become so successful; guys can’t resist the excitement and keep coming back for more.

So, as a bipolar man, I say enjoy the pornography the internet has to offer.  Just understand the mechanics of your mind and don’t let it become an obsession.  It’s not a particularly savory one.  Nobody ever says, “Yeah, Bill is a great guy.  Did you know he spends five hours a day looking at internet porn?  He’s really committed.  I don’t know how he manages it with a family and part time job.”

Bipolars in Memorium   Leave a comment

If you can, think back to the 1950’s.  If you can’t, pretend you were alive then.  Big winged chrome adorned cars.  Ranch homes with long wooden HiFi-record player  consoles, black and white TV’s with rabbit ears on which to watch The Honeymooners and Leave it to Beaver, men wearing dark suits with narrow ties even when eating dinner at home and wives always in long hoop skirts with their hair looking like it was done from a mold.  All this with a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and some Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to shake things up.

Then imagine you are a severely depressed woman to the point you are having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.  You can not understand why everyone else is so happy and you are always so sad.  People have been telling you to “snap out of it,” but you can’t seem to crawl from beneath the heavy wet blanket of depression that has descended upon your world.  Everything you see, school buses, people walking to work,  the late afternoon sun, inexplicably bring on despair.  Every smell recalls unwanted memories.  Just taking a breath is exhausting.

Your husband forces you out of bed in the morning and pushes you to do to household chores, but even getting dressed brings you to tears.  Your clothes feel confining and uncomfortable.  They remind of going outside, which terrifies you. You can’t help but ask yourself over and over, “Why is this happening to me?  Does everybody get depressed like this and I am too weak a person to cope?”  You question whether you need to see a psychiatrist, but abandon the idea instantly when you think of the negative stigma it could bring on you and your family.  Only crazy people go to psychiatrists.

As soon as your husband leaves the house you climb right back in bed and sleep the day away.  Being unconscious is the only thing that brings you any relief from this painful existence.  Around five o’clock before he returns you force yourself to get dressed and through confused tears pour yourself a martini.  It’s the only thing you look forward to these days.  The warm sensation of the gin going down your throat into your empty stomach is comforting.  So you have  another.  By the time your spouse arrives home the alcohol partially washes away the sadness and you can lie about the productive day you had at home.  You light a Chesterfield King and stand in the kitchen with your apron on as if you were getting ready to cook.

But your husband sees through it all.  It’s obvious you are drunk and it triggers an argument, which leaves you running into the bedroom screaming, the martinis turning your mood from drunk to major funk.  You’re at your wits end.  Life is getting too painful to live.  There is nothing good left in it for you. Nothing makes you happy. And the alcohol in your system gives you the confidence to take an entire bottle of aspirin, the only available pills in your domicile.

So, you gulp down the chalky tasting pills with some water and lay down on your bed waiting to die.  Pretty soon it will all be over.  You can hear Gene Autry singing his cowboy music softly playing on a tinny sounding AM radio in the house across the street.  It’s almost surreal.

Suddenly you are jolted awake by an imaginary alarm in your head.  You find yourself strapped to a gurney in a padded room with the door closed.  Your stomach aches like you did one thousand sit ups, your esophagus burns like some one tried to strike a sulfur match on it and your head is pounding to the beat of your heart.  You also realize you’re laying in the moisture of your own urine.    It is slowly becoming clear that you are in a hospital.  People keep walking by and pressing their faces to the little square glass window on the door as if to see if you are still there.

Finally after about twenty-minutes the door opens and two orderlies in white coats looking more like truck drivers and a nurse in full uniform walk in.  The nurse tells you they had to pump your stomach last night as you tried to kill yourself.  Your husband had described the months of depression to the doctor and everyone has decided the best thing to do is shock therapy.

You almost break the restraints as you let out a scream.  “No!!”  You’ve heard about shock therapy.  You could lose your memory, become inert or your whole personality can change.  They tell you it’s modern medicine and not to worry, but you just scream even louder.

A shot to the arm of something almost immediately puts you in a state of partial awareness, but you are too drugged to stop what is about to occur.  As they wheel you toward the place where they do the procedure, you see patients in the day room wearing hospital gowns.  Some are talking to themselves, others sit and just stare.  A few are watching static on a television, smoking cigarettes and laughing.  A person you can’t see shouts “Good luck.  You’re in for the shock of your life.”  You can hear laughter from all corners.  The entire ward smells like a bathroom.

I can go on forever with this scenario.  The bite guard they shove in her mouth before they put the electrodes on her head.  How little doctors knew about shock therapy in the first place in the 1950’s.  The readiness to do it.  The cataclysmic outcomes.  And this being a better choice than a lobotomy, which was the treatment des jour until electroshock became a more sophisticated technique.

This is an imaginary scenario, but I promise you it mimics what went on in the 1950’s when someone suffered from severe Bipolar Depression.  Actually, this was probably a tame version.  And the stories get worse the further back in history you travel.

I took Memorial Day not only to think back on all the soldiers who have fought and died for our country, but for all the bipolar people who have suffered with the illness, bore the unnecessary shame and got no support.  And when things got bad ended up in the hospital for shock therapy and or enough medication to make them not have any feelings at all.

Or, the ones who self-medicated with alcohol or anything else they could get their hands on. These unfortunate souls ended up on the street seemingly crazy from drugs until they got arrested and put in the hospital for the criminally insane, died of an overdose or committed suicide when they couldn’t get anything else to quell the profound sadness.

Even if we are having a difficult time with our medications, depression or manic episodes, Bipolar Illness is an identified disease, there are many medications that can help curb the effects, mental wards are not archaic and shock therapy is a very last resort and done in an extremely scientific manner minimizing discomfort to the patient.  Most importantly, although mental illness still has a stigma, your sister going to a psychologist does not mean you will have to kill her for disgracing the family.

So when you get a chance, take a little time to remember those bipolars who have gone before us.  It was a lot rougher even in the 1980’s. While the happy go lucky were getting mullets, bipolars still suffered without the medications available today.  I’m not saying we should all be glad to have the disease, but let’s be glad we have it in 2012.  Because, I think I’d be the guy on the street in the 1950’s… Self-medicating, depressed and dying in some alley, with no idea help was just around the corner in another 60 years.

They Can Cure Your Bipolar Illness: “Where’s the Beef?”   5 comments

A couple of years ago I was out with a friend and he asked if I minded if we stop at his chiropractor’s office so he could get a quick adjustment.   He said it like he was going to get a quick car wash.  I’m waiting for the day when chiropractors actually have drive through service.  They can administer back treatments while patients sit comfortably in their cars.

Actually, I did have some idea of what is going on in those pseudo medical offices.  Doctors of Chiropractic, not to be confused with Medical Doctors who went to medical school, believe all illness comes from the back being out of alignment.  They find these things call subluxations, tell you they are keeping you from realignment and schedule you for as many follow up treatments as possible to straighten out your back and liposuction the fat out of your wallet.  They use contraptions that vibrate your back to loosen things up, apply moist heat and administer a good ole fashioned cracking now and then.

Chiropractors usually tell you things like one leg is shorter than the other and that’s why your back is so out of alignment.  The one I went to told me my left leg was the shorter one, which was causing all the problems I didn’t know I was having.  When I slightly changed my position on the examining table, my right leg suddenly became the shorter one.  I was going to keep flipping back and forth between legs but I thought the chiropractor’s head would explode.  The whole thing was harmless.

But when a chiropractor told me he could cure my Bipolar Illness and that the psychotropic drugs that have been keeping me from killing myself were actually killing me, it practically blew my shorts off.  This was dangerous talk.  What if some poor clinically depressed soul ate this pablum, went off their medications and got so depressed they found themselves with their lips wrapped around a 357 Magnum trying to get up the courage to end it all?  This is where chiropractors need to stop playing doctor and call in a real one.

Recently I’ve noticed there are less chiropractors and more Holistic Cure Practitioners popping up.  Some of them also have chiropractic credentials which make them the Harvard Scholars of alternative medicine.  Some I really like.  They simply believe eating differently, taking some food supplements and vitamins will increase my overall health, I’ll feel less tired and more alert.  And I wholeheartedly believe that.  It’s the militant ones who have it out for the medical community calling any type of treatment unnecessarily invasive and yes, even deadly.  I often wonder how they non-medically treat themselves if they shatter an ankle while making a holistic house call?  A little eye of newt?

But apparently the holistic health practitioners have joined the chiropractors who first blazed the way for non-medical professionals  to wear white coats.   They purport they can cure a cadre of serious illnesses, including Bipolar Disease, using natural remedies.  Again, it’s this suggestion to discontinue medical treatment in favor of 100% holistic treatment that can be deadly.  Lets face it, we all know not one of these holistic miracle treatments or chiropractic “procedures”  have ever done anything to cure Bipolar Illness.  If it could, there would have been hundreds of studies and tests done to validate this claim.  And the chiropractor or holistic practitioner who discovered it would reap great fame and fortune.  I’d like to ask one who “has the cure” for Bipolar Illness why they have such an aversion to winning the Pulitzer Prize in medicine with their cure?

Do not assume it’s only the gullible who fall for these holistic cure-alls.  It’s also people with terminal diseases conventional medicine can no longer help.  And why not?  It’s harmless, probably good for the body and makes patients feel like they have a fighting chance.  I would go holistic too if I were in such a situation.

The other group of people who get taken in by the “I can cure your depression or Bipolar Disorder” holistic practitioners are the really smart individuals.  A lot of them are severely depressed and at the end of their rope.  Maybe they haven’t found the right medication yet.  Or, they don’t want to accept what their doctor is telling them, like they will have to be on medication for the rest of their lives.  It could be that the side effects are extremely uncomfortable, maybe unbearable.  Whatever the reason, they are frustrated with conventional treatment and holistic medicine is so simple and seems to make perfect sense.

A close friend of mine who is highly educated and definitely an independent thinker ran into a holistic practitioner.  She mentioned she suffered from depression and as I’m sure what is now a reflex, the practitioner said he could cure her.  I can not recite verbatim everything she told me he said, but apparently her depression came from her back.  I thought, “Wow, this guy is old school.” And, of course the remedy is eating raw foods, no sugar and taking these holistic poultices which I’m sure are not inexpensive.  But what was amusing about this guy is he had a prop.  My friend showed me a piece of paper he wrote on that looked like it was in Arabic.  Apparently it contained all kinds of diagnosis, instructions and names of horrid tasting concoctions to dump down her throat.  I think it was supposed to look like a typical doctors prescription with sloppy handwriting and medical symbols a patient is not supposed to understand.  In this case, a doctor could not understand them either.

I wondered;  did this guy have any kind of degree?  If so, did the degree relate to holistic therapies?  And what is his basis that the medical community is treating Bipolar Disease incorrectly?  I know medication keeps me from constant suicidal thoughts and I can more or less function quite well in the world.  I am satisfied with my progress at this point in time.  Does any rationally minded person really think taking me off my medications and making me eat raw foods and herbs will cure my Bipolar Illness?   Please,  just show me two clinically diagnosed Bipolar II patients who were cured in this manner and I’m a believer.

This blog is not to condemn chiropractors and holistic heath practitioners.  Some work in conjunction with medical doctors and I think it’s an incredible combination.   It’s a team that treats the body and the soul.  And I do believe in holistic remedies for certain ailments or just to keep healthy.  Plus, I’ve met some amazing chiropractors working in physical therapy centers using their knowledge of the skeletal and muscular systems to be highly effective as trainers and rehabilitation experts.

I’d just be ware of anyone trying to look like a doctor but really isn’t.  Or someone who is not a doctor telling you they can cure Bipolar Illness naturally.  No matter how frustrated you are with your current bipolar treatment regimen, ask the practitioner for credentials.  Ask for explanations on all procedures.  Ask why they aren’t covered by insurance?  Ask if you can meet other Bipolar patients like you they have completely cured?  Ask why the medical community doesn’t recognize their cure for Bipolar Illness?

Once you get the answers, the right decision will be immanent.   In my opinion, in regard to non-medically based cure-alls for Bipolar Illness you have to think about what Clara Peller said in those 1980’s Wendy’s television commercials. “Where’s the beef?”

Statistics: The Thing Standing Between Bipolar Treatment and The Truth   7 comments

People were so gullible back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  “9 out of 10 doctors recommend Pall Mall Cigarettes because they are less harsh on your throat. ”  “In a side by side comparison, Lincoln is better than Cadillac.”  “More people trust Goodyear than any other tire.”  I’m paraphrasing, but you get the gist.  And people believed this stuff.  Nobody was calling out for Google Analytics, or even for Pall Mall to simply show how they conducted their survey.  All you had to do is make the claim and everyone assumed it was fact.

Before you start musing at people’s low level of bullshit detection back then, we are still eating up the same statistical nonsense in 2012.  It’s just packaged differently.  Take the Bipolar Disorder drug Lamictal.  According to Wikipedia, between 5% to 10% of patients taking Lamictal will develop a rash, but only 1 in 1,000 patients will develop a serious rash. Plus only 1 in 50,000 patients die from the rash.  This is an un-cited claim according to Wikipedia.  The information powerhouse aggregator went on to say that 9 out of 10 doctors smoke Marlboro Cigarettes because the brand gives them steadier hands in the operating room.  Personally, I’d like my doctor to smoke Marlboros while he’s actually operating on me to insure the very best outcome.

Most people reading this aren’t looking for citations.  Wikipedia has credibility because it says so.  And if 1 in 50,000 actually die from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (the killer rash), those are pretty good odds.  They are willing to take the gamble if they are suffering from bipolar symptoms and Lamictal is their greatest hope.

Wikipedia downplays the killer-rash statistic, as does its manufacturer GlaxoSmithklein.  But just getting the rash must be scary.  The patient doesn’t know if it’s “the big one.”  And 5% to 10% of patients will get it.   That’s at best 1 in 20 people.  Maybe 1 in 10.  I see these very same statistics influencing people not to try Lamictal,  So you see, we really have not evolved from the 1950’s and 1960’s vulnerability to marketing mind melding.  Any statistics can be made to lean in any direction you favor.  It’s the interpretation you chose to believe that makes up your mind.  However,  I don’t think anyone can argue the Lincoln is a better car than the Cadillac.  Everyone says it has a better ride.  Everyone.

Personally, I chose to flirt with death and take Lamictal for my bipolar symptoms.  Fortunately, I did not get the rash.  I also didn’t know any of the rash statistics.  I just trusted my doctor when he said getting Stevens-Johnson Syndrome was very remote.  And the minute a rash developed he’d stop the medication.   Notice how I used the phrase “I trusted my doctor.”  I think when the drug manufacturers and web sites are whipping statistics at you for their own less than altruistic reasons, you need a doctor or knowledgable advisor you can trust.  Someone from the real world who can talk from experience, not an Excel Spreadsheet.

Years ago when I was just out of college and had started my first job, I had a crippling attack of depression hosted by my bipolar illness.  It was a Friday night and I was rolling around on the living room floor shaking, unable to keep still and telling my then girlfriend that I wanted to die.  I couldn’t get through to my usual psychiatrist and I needed something to help me sleep and keep me from killing myself over the weekend.  One of my Dad’s friends had a brother who was a psychiatrist who I called at home and he said he’d see me first thing Monday.  But to get through the weekend he wanted me to have a glass of wine and a couple of Benedryl whenever I needed it to calm down.  He hadn’t met me yet and did not want to start pumping drugs into me site unseen.  From 30 years of practicing, he knew this was unorthodox but safe and effective.

I didn’t do it.  I was so depressed I ended up overdosing on sleeping pills and was taken to the hospital.  But I admired the doctor’s practical grass roots approach to getting me through the weekend.   He had excellent credentials, 30 years experience and a solution, albiet a little off beat one.   I trusted him more than a statistic.  I’m sure there are many statistics telling you not to mix even Sweet Tarts with alcohol.  However, we all do it now and then usually to no ill effect.  The doctor knew this.  He was being practical and compassionate toward my deteriorating condition.  He also definitely agreed more people trust Goodyear than any other tire.

For these reasons, I am not a big fan of the statistic, especially when it is not cited or the fine print is a disclaimer for it probably being inaccurate.  I also detest when people just make a claim citing everyone as their source.  My grandfather, a Philadelphia native and its biggest cheerleader, used to tell me things like “Philadelphia has become the restaurant capital of the world.”  I’d say “Pop, where the hell did you hear that?”  And he’d say, “Hear it?  Everyone knows it!”  He also smoked Lucky Strikes because LSMFT.  (Lucky Strikes Means Fine Tobacco).   How could you argue with that kind of logic?

So when negotiating the bipolar landscape of doctors, medications and therapy, do your research.  But don’t believe everything you read, even the statistics.  Find people you trust and talk with them.  Statistics are not real.  They are man made.  Experience is real.  And someone you trust to help you evaluate it is invaluable.  Just please always remember, Michelob is the right beer when you’re having more than one.  At least that’s what they say.

The Suicide Not-Line   Leave a comment

Twenty years ago, when I first moved to San Francisco from Philadelphia, I found myself in the City by the Bay not knowing a soul.  I had just started a new job but had not formed any relationships with people meaningful enough to socialize with outside the workplace.  So I spent my evenings and weekends in my tiny studio apartment staring at my telephone waiting for it to ring.  It never did.  If cell phones were commonplace in those days, I would have called myself just for the thrill.

I was starting to get lonely and depressed.  I didn’t want to go back to Philly, I just wanted to have more of a life in San Francisco.  Then it occurred to me to try doing some volunteer work.  I could do something worthwhile and hopefully meet new people at the same time.  Moreover, I wouldn’t be sitting in my apartment ruminating on the fact I was sitting in my apartment.

Since I was feeling a little suicidal myself, circular logic told me the best place to volunteer was the San Francisco Suicide Hotline.  In my state of mind I was a little worried I might not be able to talk anyone down and actually tell someone to “go for it,”  but I decided to see what it was all about.  The orientation was a disaster.

I came right from work in a double breasted suit and silk pocket square looking like a little mafia boss.  Everyone else was counter-culture San Francisco with tattoos, floppy hats, rings, piercings, ripped jeans and serious looks of consternation on their faces.  They all looked like society was torturing them in some way.  And all mobbed up I probably looked like a commercial for everything they were against.  However I couldn’t understand how they were going to keep people from killing themselves.  I imagined someone calling the hotline with thoughts of suicide and the slacker on the other end saying, “Man, stop feeling bad for yourself.  People are homeless in San Francisco.  And, they cancelled the Clean Needle Program.  But all you can do is think about your own problems.  Maybe if you cared about other people you’d realize there are other things more important than you and your silly suicide.”  Other end of the line.  “Click.  Bang!”

There really wasn’t much of a training.  That would come on the job.  Now that I thought was kind of dangerous.  You can learn to make fries at McDonalds on the job, because if you burn them you simply wasted some frozen-processed potato like things.  The assistant manager doesn’t die.  And everyone wanted “phone time.”  The Suicide Hotline actually had more people than shifts and I can’t imagine the phone was ringing off the hook.

The most insulting part was that some volunteers and a coordinator actually spoke up against me being part of it.  Probably because I was wearing a suit and didn’t look disheveled,  convinced everyone is a fascist and wasn’t angry at the city of San Francisco for one reason or another.  In their innate ability to read people, it never occurred to them I chose to work at the Suicide Hotline because I was bipolar, had attempted suicide in the past and felt I knew the right way to help someone in crisis.  It probably also didn’t cross their minds I had a job and was required to dress like John Gotti.  Well, I was required to wear a suit.  I just preferred the double breasted mobster look.  Don’t ask.

So the San Francisco Suicide Hotline would have to save lives without me.  I later went on to volunteer for other non-profit groups which I found very welcoming and fulfilling.  But that was not my last experience I had with suicide hotlines.  Several years ago I was to become a customer.  My medication was not pulling its weight so I was extremely depressed, in financial turmoil, my business was drinking saltwater, my girlfriend and I were at odds on couple of major issues and I felt I was ready to check out.  So I got drunk, climbed inside my too fast for its own good Mustang and headed for the 280 Freeway where I knew of a suitable cliff to drive off incurring certain death.  And getting drunk was the only way I had the nerve to do it.

I drove like a madman toward the freeway and stopped short of the on-ramp, pulling over to the side into a parking lot.  I was scared to die.  I called information and asked for the suicide hotline.  I don’t know if it was national or local, I just took what they gave me.  And I got a kid who couldn’t have been more than 25 years old asking me what was so horrible in my life that I want to end it all?  I was 44 years old.  I owned a failing business.  I’d been married and divorced.  I had a 11 year old daughter.  My finances were in severe peril.  And, a guy who probably still lives with roommates and smokes a bong the size of an alto saxophone is going to tell me it’s not all that bad and I’ll be OK?  I thanked him for saving my life, disconnected him and laughed aloud at the whole situation.  Then I fell asleep in the driver’s seat.  It was not my night to die.

I think suicide hotlines and the volunteers who man the phones are doing a noble thing.  The problem is, they have to be peer to peer, matching the right volunteer with the right callers.  Someone they can relate to, if nothing more than just being in the same age range.   Now I know suicide hotlines don’t have a stable of volunteers with numbers on their backs just waiting to be called up for the right situation, but there must be some way of asking a few quick questions when the person in need calls to better match them with an appropriate lifeline.  One size does not fit all.

Teenagers want to talk to other teenagers.  Thirty-somethings want to talk to other thirty-somethings.  Guys in their forties want to talk to girls in their twenties.  We all want to talk with someone with whom we can relate.  Or at least someone who has the same frame of reference.  You both remember Woodstock, saw Michael Jackson missing a glove in concert and O.J. Simpson not fitting into his in court.

So thank you suicide hotlines for the good work you do.  I’m thankful you are there for the people who have nowhere else to turn.  And I hope you can continually improve matching the right counselors with the right callers.   I understand when staffed by volunteers, you may not be able to get the full spectrum of age groups and experience you would prefer.  But as long as counselors aren’t asking people in the throes of suicide to donate their body parts for an art project, I have to believe you’re doing a lot of good just by simply being there.

Being Bipolar and a Parent: The Extra Step   1 comment

A few weeks ago we took my girlfriend’s 5 and 7 year old daughters out for pasta on a Saturday night.  As young children do, before their food came they spent a lot of time squirming in their seats, disappearing under the table and bemoaning their food was taking so long to come out like a couple of starving children from Ethiopia.   When the food finally came the older girl proceeded to eat her pasta by sticking her face in the bowl and slurping the tomato sauce stained  pasta directly into her mouth like a cattle eating out of a feed bag.  The younger one just fidgeted in her chair and intermittently blasted out some ear piercing shrieks  like she was being operated on without anesthesia.  Then she went into a tearful diatribe about not liking her pasta and wanting ice cream instead.

If the girls were my younger brother and I, we wouldn’t have gotten past the seat squirming.  My father’s hand would have quickly and silently shot across the table like a python snake snapping out its tongue and cracked us both in the head “Three Stooges style,” telling us to “cut it the fuck out and sit quietly or there is going to be a war!”   And if one of us dared to be a kid and creatively ate our pasta, or spaghetti as it was erroneously called in the 1970’s,  my dad’s lighting arm would make another appearance and connect with my head once again, this time even harder.  “Goddamn it, use your manners.  Don’t eat like a fucking slob!” he would sharply whisper now with the venom of a python.  If my father had these girls as daughters, they’d be “scared straight.”

At thirteen, my own daughter can be extremely sassy.  Now and then she’ll call me by my first name, scream at me to wake up early on a Saturday morning because she is bored and disappears into the ladies room for the better part of a half hour when we go out to dinner to text her friends.  If I did any of this at thirteen  to my father,  no matter where I was going,  his foot would have helped me get there faster.  And he’d scream at me so loud dogs in the neighborhood would start barking or an entire restaurant would grow silent and  just stare at the purple-faced man at our table.

I always vowed to myself mid-head-cracking or ass-kicking that I would never lay a hand on my children no matter what they did, unless they did something unforgivable like spill their milk.  And I’m proud to say that I stuck to this policy, but I found being bipolar made it a lot more challenging.  There were a lot of times I wanted to grab my daughter and “shake some respect for me” into her.  Or, snatch my girlfriend’s seven year old’s pasta and say “Stop eating like a goddamn slob or go take the bus home.”  And, tell the little one in a matter of fact voice “Now it’s no ice cream for a week whether you eat dinner or not.  As a matter of fact, no food for a week.  How-do-ya like that?”   To a five year old you might as well tell them they are going to an orphanage run by bears.

But I knew this was not appropriate parenting,  And patting myself on my back for never hitting the kids isn’t a great accomplishment either.  It’s expected.    However being bipolar and dealing with my own related issues does make it harder for me to curb my emotions.  And I’m sure there are others reading this out there just like me.

Often times I may be depressed and want to sleep all day but promised to do something with my daughter or my girlfriend’s daughters.  My head is already in a bad place going into this activity.  Then kids being kids, burn down the shopping mall we’re visiting.  I want to explode and put the fear of my father into them with everything going on in my head.  But that is when I have to force myself to take an extra step, realize they are just kids playing with the flame thrower, and tell them this kind of behavior is not ok and stop napalming Abercrombie and Finche.

I find this approach usually works.  It just takes the self discipline to put your depression, anxiety or whatever else you may be experiencing aside for a moment and rationally deal with the children.  And I derive personal satisfaction for parenting the right way and not adding another layer of misbehavior on which to second guess myself about in my already over-burdened bipolar mind.

The thing to remember is that kids are kids.  Babies will cry incessantly for seemingly no reason.  Kids start out life eating like slobs.  Teenagers will be disrespectful to their parents.  It’s all part of growing up and out of child-like behaviors.  But kids are immature until we as adults show them the right way to act.  No matter how annoying it can be, you can’t get mad at them for being kids.  And when you’re bipolar and in a bad way, you have to work a little harder to remind yourself of this instead of adding your inability to parent to the list of things currently torturing your obsessive mind.

This is in no way easy.  (I have slipped up and yelled at my daughter on a handful of occasions.  As an overly-dramatic thirteen year old, she’ll contend I yell at her all the time.  I told her to go spend some time with her grandfather and then get back to me on that).  But it can be done.  However, as with everything else, raising children is harder when you’re bipolar.  It’s difficult enough to take care of ourselves,  little yet needy children.  But it can also be the greatest accomplishment of our lives.

Religion: Adding Another Layer of Depression?   Leave a comment

This past weekend the world’s Christians celebrated Easter, or the resurrection of Christ from the dead.  Every September Jews fast for an entire day while they pray in synagogues from sun up to sundown so they can be inscribed in the book of life.  Last year some people were draining their bank accounts because after the impending rapture money and worldly possessions would be useless.  And all religions warn  if we do not accept god into our lives, we are going to experience some sort of awful discomfort upon death for all eternity.

I’m not here to comment on the validity of people’s beliefs.  I just want to comment on religion’s side effects.  And in my opinion, it causes depression and anxiety in many people with bipolar illness.  Depression if you are not living up to your religion’s expectations and anxiety if you are trying to but tangible things in your life are taking precedent; Like work, therapy, getting enough sleep, exercising, etc.  However if you’re lucky enough to be OCD, religion does provide a constant diet of repetition.

When someone is bipolar they need to keep a constant vigil making sure they balance the right medications in accordance with their sometimes unpredictable mood swings.  At the same time, they have to navigate interpersonal relationships, school, employment, family, friends, bills and all of the daily sagas life throws at them.  It’s delicate work.

Now tell this person in addition to everything else, they have to make it to confession, church, the synagogue or the carpet remnant facing east five times a day or they will be smote down where they stand and/or spend eternity in hell.  (To me eternity in hell is spending all day in Yum Kippur services with an empty stomach listening to my father hum the prayers to which he doesn’t know the words.)  If they believe it,  it’s another hundred pounds of weight dropped onto their already heavy bipolar bench press they have to find a way  to lift.  If they don’t believe it, they are treated to the guilt imposed on them by family and friends of faith labeling them “in need of saving.”  Just one more burden to bear for the already over-extended bipolar mind.

I don’t know if there is a solution.  As long as there is fear of the unknown, there will always be religion.  And some bipolar people will believe, and some won’t.  For those who believe, I urge you to not allow it to take precedent over your bipolar treatment.  Because, if you lose control of your illness, you will not be able to be of service to your religion.  And I don’t believe anyone’s god wants them to suffer physically or mentally.

If you are bipolar and a non-believer, remember that guilt is a feeling you create, not someone else.  People have a right to their beliefs and concerns for your soul.  But don’t take on the burden of someone else’s religion because you feel you should be religious.  Or, because it will keep the family peace.  Focus on yourself and your bipolar treatment regiment.  You are your own first priority.  Sitting in church with your family out of guilt isn’t going to replace missing the group therapy sessions you find so helpful. Or the workout routine that seems to really cut through your depression.  And you should be able to do these things without feeling like your are mortally wounding your family members.

Religious beliefs are a spiritual decision.   But how you deal with bipolar illness is a life and death decision.  You have the right to prioritize your life in order of urgency without penalty.   Then, whatever you religious beliefs, do good works on earth and random acts of kindness and you’re bound to end up in a good place.