February 26, 2013 – Bullying

I was driving home today (with a migraine), and I listened to a story on NPR about the long-lasting psychological effects of bullying. I had to think back to my own youth and wonder what context it played in my life today. I had a pretty bad home life, and I was bullied and picked on relentlessly throughout elementary, middle and part of high school. I was a very quiet and mild mannered child. It is very conscientious of others. I rarely stood up for myself, but would stand up for others. I was raised early on as being a Baptist and was taught to always turn the other cheek. When I complained about bullies at school, I was told just to ignore them and that they would eventually leave me alone. Perhaps that strategy works for some, but it certainly did not in my case. I was tall, lanky and very thin in school. I wore glasses, and overall was considered to be geeky. That was before being geeky was acceptable. I had very little interaction with other children in my early years. I was homeschooled until the second grade. I was held back in the fourth grade because I hadn’t been mature enough according to the teacher at that time, whether that was true or not I don’t know. Given my home environment mixed with being picked on constantly in school, life was very miserable pretty much all day every day. The story talked about how being bullied in school affected people even a decade after having left school. There were also people that they talked about who weren’t just bullied, but both bullied and were bullied in school. That got me to thinking about how I handled things. In middle school I remember getting into fights a lot by eighth grade. Again, I was a quiet, meek and mild mannered child. Everyone has their breaking point. Around the beginning of 8th grade, I had reached mine. I remember only starting about two fights, at least where I threw the first punch. The rest of the time, either I was attacked outright, or it took a moment where I was being picked on, in talked back at the bully and insulted them or said anything that was necessary to get them to at least throw the first punch. You didn’t get in as much trouble if you didn’t start the fight. By 10th grade I was still tall and skinny and fairly geeky, but I could scrap. There was nothing I liked more than to have some arrogant jock who loved picking on everybody come at me and for me to have a chance to humble them and their attitude.

Based on what the psychiatrist who authored the study, those who were both bullied and were bullies themselves had a tremendous amount of psychological problems spanning at least a decade after having left school. The two common things that they mentioned or panic disorders and suicidal thoughts. I do remember having many suicidal thoughts and having come close many times while in school. While in school, the suicidal ideation was result mostly of the home environment and had little to do with the school environment. For many children though, I can see where school alone would be more than enough to drive one to that point. I know for me, I did have a lot of problems after having left school and home. I did have problems with panic attacks, and I certainly thought a lot about suicide in relation to my childhood and adolescence. It’s odd, because when I write about this I feel nothing, but I know at the time I felt so much that it was hard to contain.

There seems to be a push to try to shelter children from many of the harsh realities that exist in adult life. I don’t know if the theory is that if we raise children in an emotionally sterile environment that this will create complete harmony in adult life, but I’m left wondering if this will do more damage than good in the long run. I’m not saying children should be bullied relentlessly. I do think something needs to be done about that. However, anyone who is entered the workforce finds out right away that often the most aggressive or even the prettiest candidate for a position will likely get it before the most qualified or well-suited for the position. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe have worked in the wrong fields, but this has been my observation. I think the children should get a fair amount of adversity while growing up so they can at least get a chance to develop some of the skills that will be very necessary to simply get through adult life. I think by addressing every small emotionally uncomfortable event in a child’s life and treating it like it is something much larger than it is, we run the risk of raising a generation of hypersensitive children. There also seems to be a culture of not wanting to discipline children at all and trying to reason with them as if they are small adults. This flies in the face of what we know about the emotional and psychological development in children. There seems to be an utter lack of discipline with children in American society today. Every time I go to the store, I can expect to see at least 2 to 3 children in complete meltdown mode over having not gotten their way over something so simple is not getting something they want, or simply wanting attention. I don’t find that to be very odd, so much as I find it appalling that the parents either do nothing, or attempts to reason with a three or four-year-old is if they are in adult. I know when I was that age if I threw a tantrum in a store like that, it would either be addressed immediately or even worse when we get back to the car. Regardless, I knew better. So did the rest of the kids of my generation. There’s no fear anymore. I don’t think it’s realistic to believe that raising a child with nothing but positive reinforcement is a sane or logical idea. I was abused. There is a line between discipline and abuse. There were many times where I earned that smack on my butt and it wasn’t abuse. It may have taken more than once, but I did learn to not keep doing the same thing.

I honestly believe that the solution to bullying starts at home with the parents, but they have to be allowed to actually discipline their children. Respect is not only earned, it is learned. If a child is basically told that they are never wrong, and that there is essentially no punishment, respect will never be learned or earned in relation to their parents. Teachers have even more restrictions on offering any sort of discipline to children. It’s a nice notion that bullies can be reasoned with like any other reasonable person. In some cases, that may be true. As we have learned as adults though, some people may be intelligent enough to reason with, but they will simply choose not to. Not everybody wants to do the right thing. Not everybody is self-conscious. Not every person lays awake wondering if they could have been better at some point in their life. Some people just want what they want and don’t care about anyone else but themselves. I think that a disturbed individual who is acting out in an aggressive manner who is actually struggling internally with feelings that they simply don’t know how to process deserves compassion and the time necessary to work through those issues. I don’t think every bully is the person I just described. Sometimes an asshole is just an asshole and should be treated as such. In short, sometimes a bully just needs to be put in their place by anyone capable of doing so that happens to be around.

February 20, 2013

So many thing that I’ve wanted to write about for the last few days.. Between work, things outside of work and beginning to get sick I’m just too exhausted to commit to writing anything right now.

As a side note, a friend of mine and I explore and photograph old abandoned places all over New England. Over the last year we’ve seen many of our favorite places either demolished or burned down. I heard last week that this whole suburb which was abandoned about 20 years ago now will be demolished in the coming months, so I’m guessing we should get back out there in spite of the winter and get any last photos that we’ve been wanting to get. It’s sad – these places have such character. This is kind of a crap image from that property that I hadn’t posted anywhere.

Abandoned House - Southern Rhode Island
Abandoned House – Southern Rhode Island

Not so long ago – The story of us.

I remember going with B to her brother and sister-in-law’s house for a BBQ and drinks one summer day. We had gone a few times before, but this was the first time that you had been there when we were. My eyes must have lit up on the first sight of you – B hated you from the start. Your hair was long and red, your eyes a pale blue0green. Your milky tone made both your eyes and hair stand out. I’d only seen beauty like yours a couple of times in my life, one was a singer and another was an ex of mine. Your genuine smile and laugh were a breath of fresh air to me. There was a genuine and sincere air about you. You came to the party wearing scrubs, having come right from work to the party, and even those looked beautiful on you. We never spoke directly, but we’d see each other at later gatherings. You’d later tell me that the one time your laptop was acting up was an excuse to stand next to me while I worked on it. I had no idea that the attraction was mutual, given that I’m oblivious to such things.
Continue reading Not so long ago – The story of us.

February 11, 2013 – Randomness

Last week a friend of mine called me when she was very upset. We haven’t seen each other for over three years, though we only live about an hour apart. I was taken a little off guard when she said she had forgotten what my voice sounded like. I still remembered hers. In fact, her accent has changed slightly. She asked for a male perspective on some things, which I gave her, but with the disclaimer that I’m far from a typical man. Either way, we spoke for a little over two hours, I gave my opinions and the call ended well. There is one voice I don’t remember, but skimming my memory, Dee’s voice is the only one I don’t remember. I can barely remember her accent.. She had grown up here in the US and moved to the UK sometime in her late teens to marry a lawyer that was a little older than her. While in… I can’t even remember what part she was in now. Either way, she had picked up some of the local accent which always got to me. I remember that it was a mix of a mild southern drawl and a British accent. I can remember that, but not the actual sound or tone of her voice. It’s strange how memory works. I have large holes in my memory. In some cases, entire years are missing, or are a vague blending of fragmented memories from years spanning over the course of a decade with no real timeline. They just.. Are. It’s hard to recount things is any order. My mind certainly doesn’t store things in order. A few weeks ago I found my only picture of Dee. A small square picture that’s all of about 2″x2″. I had lost that photo a long time ago, or so I thought. I felt so guilty about having lost it. There’s the only thing I had left that was physical or tangible to remember her by at this point. I had beat myself up so many times for having lost track of it. I couldn’t remember what she looked like. How can you forget someone whom you loved so much? I’ve heard many things relating to loss and death.. Most of which to offer comfort in some way. Time heals all wounds, or that she’s still out there looking over me – that sort of thing. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, I can assure you that at least for me, it doesn’t. Time allows you to get past the visceral pain and reaction and basically learn to live with it. At best, my soul has horrific scars. As far as her still being out there.. There were times when I literally felt what I believed to be her presence in the years following her death. I don’t know if there was anything beyond wishful thinking than that. Whatever it was, it was a comfort to feel that at the time, so I’ll leave it at that. Memory has always been a battle for me though. Even when I’ve tried so hard to remember even the most basic of things from day to day I struggle. It’s more than mild absentmindedness. I’ve worked out a system of notes and such to get me through the workday, and it rarely ever fails me. Though she thinks it’s ridiculous to do so, I’ve asked my wife to write down a list of things she wants or needs me to take care of on the notepad in the kitchen. It may be ridiculous, but since she started doing this regularly we’ve had no more arguments about what I should or shouldn’t have done. When it comes to big things though, how much of our memory is wrapped up in emotion and not details? Studies have shown that even traumatic memories aren’t consistent over time. In general, what’s remembered isn’t reliable at all. When I look at the past, I’m at a loss as to how much of what I remember is accurate at all as far as details. I had a therapist once that told me that the details aren’t all that important, what’s important is what I’m left with and am dealing with now as result. To some degree I see the logic in that, but I think whether something happened or not does bear some importance. It is odd though, living with so many large gaps. There’s so much unknown. It’s strange living while having little to no past, really. At least in my mind I don’t. At times I feel like a fraud, like I’m living a lie of some sort. As if I’m occupying a body and playing along in a role in a life that is foreign to me. I have been diagnosed more than once as being mildly dissociative in relation to my youth, but to my knowledge, it was never explored much. That would explain the gaps in memory, but what does that make me? A host? An alter? These things don’t keep me up at night, but they do cross my mind now and again. One could argue that we aren’t the mere sum of our past experiences. I would argue that I know who I am, but I don’t know much about where I’m coming from, but what little I do know, it’s not from a pleasant place. I’m here, and I’m good with who I am – I like me, a lot. I just don’t know how the hell I got here sometimes.

So many random thoughts today… I can’t seem to focus. I’m completely exhausted. The blizzard left somewhere between a foot and two feet of snow here. The power was out for a good portion of the blizzard and my wife was mandated to stay on at the hospital on her floor. She wasn’t happy about not being allowed to come home, but she was better off there – at least they had heat. I spent most of the time in the car while it was idling to stay warm. Luckily I had a number of friends who helped me pass the time by texting.

February 3, 2013 – Hypocracy

Today’s entry is a mix of social commentary on a few things. It is in some ways about how mentally ill people are seen by and treated by society in a larger context, but it’s about people that don’t suffer from mental illness as well. These are merely my observations. I may be completely off in my viewpoints, but this is where I’ve arrived at with things at this point in my life.

I’m often puzzled at hypocrisy. There’s overt and willful/knowing hypocrisy such as that by politicians and lawmakers, but there’s also the more subtle everyday hypocrisy that all of us have in the way we conduct ourselves to some degree. I think a lot of it goes back to stereotyping or generalizing. I realize the irony in my saying this as I’m making sweeping generalizations about people in general. I think in most cases when one passes judgement on another it’s often misguided. How many times have you felt misunderstood in your own life? How many times have you been judged unfairly? How many times do you believe others would feel differently if only they knew you better or had a more clear picture of a situation? I make great effort to not pass judgement on people. Everyone has their reasons for doing things. Sometimes they are bad reasons, misguided reasons or simply for reasons even they can’t quite comprehend. My line for passing judgement is when others try to oppress others from having basic human rights or try to force ideology on others. The two often run hand-in-hand.

I’ve been pretty disturbed in recent years at how willfully ignorant and intolerant some people are.. A lot of people, actually. I say willful ignorance because in this country and all wealthy countries, access to information is everywhere. Even if you’re somehow missed by the formal education system you can still go to a library which is free and read. You can expand your mind and your thinking at will. Ignorance and hate has no place here unless it’s willful. Some people are deserving of hate. I’m not going to say that things are purely black and white when it comes to hate. Murderers, rapists and child molesters aren’t undeserving of hate. I think with some things the line needs to be drawn and upheld. I think that when a large group of people is denied equal or even basic human rights, we’ve failed as a society. I look at how women, gay people and those of Arab descent are treated and in many ways, overt or not, persecuted and I’m outraged. I know gay people. They are the same as the rest of us, The same goes for Arabs. It shouldn’t need to be said that women should be treated equal in this country, but there are some that wish to strip away the ground that has been gained on women’s rights. People with mental illness are also often misunderstood, mistreated and stigmatized. Until last year I hadn’t had to face stigma in my own life at all. Because of my mental illness no longer being kept a secret, I’m stigmatized or feared by some family members and by those that I’ve known for years. I’ve made attempts to just have a conversation about what I’m going through on a personal level, but because that struggle that so many have seen over the years now has a name, that willingness to be understanding seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. The short-sightedness of some is astounding. People I’ve known for years and have respected have recently spewed forth astounding ignorance as it related to mental health, civil rights for women and gay people and even people of Arab descent. Reasonable people. People that are well educated. Where does this blind hate come from? I just don’t get it. My viewpoints are pretty simplistic. If you disagree with something, simply don’t do it. Don’t want abortions and feel strongly about it, even in the case of rape or incest? Don’t have an abortion no matter what happens in your own life. Don’t want gay people to marry? You’ve nothing to worry about – let others to do what’s as equally natural for them as it is for you in your own life. Don’t want women to have reasonable access to birth control? Think of every time you wore a condom or pulled out in time without enough of your love-potion staying to get the job done. Also, don’t use pills to get hard – that’s not natural either. Don’t want your children to be taught evolution in schools? Put your money where your moth is and send them to a private school of the ideology you subscribe to. Don’t want Muslims to have a mosque in your neighborhood? Pray about it in one of the many churches around you while defending your right to practice your freedom of religion or to keep a wide selection of semi-automatic weapons.

The recent mass-shootings have started a lot of monologues about mental health in this country. I say monologues, because I’ve yet to hear anyone wanting to speak other than to wait for their turn to talk – anything but have an actual discussion. I’m not minimizing the horror of any of the mass-shootings in any way when I say this, but with 300,000,000+ people in this country, the shootings are a statistical anomaly. There’s no amount of mental health care reform that could have prevented these shootings from happening. If not by the ones that did it, but by others at some point. Alcohol and cigarettes kill scores of people every year. They are completely legal and unregulated for those purchasing either or both. As for gun control. I have a gun. I’m mentally ill. I used to have several guns for target shooting – it was a hobby. I was moving to a state that banned one of those particular guns, so I gave it to a dear friend who happens to be free of any major mental illness. I didn’t need it. The one in the house now is a small rifle I’ve had since I was a child. I keep it for home defense in the extremely unlikely and frankly improbable event that someone breaks in while my wife and I are home, or if she’s home alone. It’s semi-automatic and a .22 caliber. Anything more than that or a shotgun if you’re particularly paranoid simply isn’t necessary. The ignorance about guns themselves that both sides of the issue are spewing out is appalling. These are people wanting to make policy? The most rabidly outspoken gun proponents talk about the “crazies” and the same government that they claim to need defending against to protect their rights to hold their guns so that if that same government ever gets past their comfort zone that they can spearhead some revolution. I’m mentally ill. I have Bipolar disorder and suffer from PTSD. I’ve been hospitalized once for depression. I’ll likely not be able to obtain a firearm legally from this point forward because of those things. But I’m not on television telling everyone about my wet-dream of shooting hordes of government agents storming my lawn to come take away my guns and freedom. Who’s more dangerous – me, or the one that really believes that? I will admit, I am paranoid about people with guns, but not of the government, or mentally ill people like myself, it’s of these nut jobs.

January 30, 2013 – On loss, hope and new beginnings

This isn’t exactly a journal entry.. It’s more of a reflection on things and where I’m at. I saw my therapist tonight and as part of the narrative therapy, she wanted to me write about my life now. Given how much things have changed in the last six months, now is a good time for reflection.

Continue reading January 30, 2013 – On loss, hope and new beginnings

January 20, 2013 – What it’s like

Having bipolar when it’s untreated is more like a state of being than it is having a disorder. You know something is off, but you can’t place your finger on it exactly. It’s that uncontrollable rush of feelings. Sometimes they are situational  but they are way, way out of proportion to what’s going on. That’s the part that hits you later after the moment passes.. The confusion, or guilt, remorse, humility or any number of other reflective feelings where you look back and wonder if that was even you, and if so, how the hell did that seem like the thing to do?

So, what’s it like? For everyone it’s different. I see that reading other’s accounts of it. Clinical texts seem to water down the experience with jargon and within a couple of sentences it states that being bipolar and being untreated can be devastating in someones life. It doesn’t get into the visceral reality of that statement. The lost jobs… The failed marriages (plural, in my case).. The spending money that you don’t have… The situations you find yourself in.. One word can’t possibly sum up all of the pain and anguish of it all.

There’s two sides to being bipolar, as the name of the disorder implies. The focus in the media seems to be on the negative, or extreme mania. We live in a culture that likes to sensationalize things. That’s a rant for another day. Regardless, this is my experience. This is my day to day life.

I wake feeling neutral. Not happy, not sad – just neutral. I go about my day and remain neutral, then an idea hits. It might be related to something I’m working on or doing, or it can be pulled from the endless streams of thought that go on in my head. It may be something I heard or read days prior. For me, these are grand and complex ideas. These are ideas that you grasp such an understanding of something that it’s nearly impossible to contain. For me it’s a complex web. I literally see a web in three dimensions that see every facet of an idea. The good, the bad and all of the possibilities. It’s rational – I don’t get the delusional skewed perceptions that I’ve heard that people with bipolar I get. They are sound ideas as I can still see them as very sound and valid when I’m not in this state. I’m a practical man. This flood of thoughts on something may seem overwhelming. It is. And I have them about several things concurrently. Unrelated things. I struggle to keep it in my head, it’s something I want to write about, or somehow get down on paper. The web will break down, usually within a few hours. That would seem like a long enough time to get it down, but these thoughts and facets are so complex that hours isn’t enough time. Sometimes I manage to get several pages of a summary. I won’t be able to harness it after the web breaks down only to be replaced by a different idea. This sounds wonderful, right? It is. There’s nothing like feeling that you fully get a problem or a solution. I’ve solved terribly complex problems in this state of mind. Part of my work involves programming. I’ve written code that’s so complex and flawless that I spend hours going through it line by line just trying to understand it later so I can maintain it.. Or explain it to my boss or director. I have one brother who’s the same way as me, we’ll talk on the phone for hours, ideas firing off from each other.

This sounds like a great problem to have, and in many ways it is. If it’s focused toward helping someone with an issue or problem in their life, that high-powered analytic thought process mixed with life experience is golden. The downside of it? I can’t shut it off. It’s always there. The less external distractions, the more these wild-fire thoughts go all over the place. You can’t get to sleep like this. I have to take powerful, powerful medications to sleep when it’s like this. I’ll usually let it go for up to a week before medicating. Most nights I’ll get 3 hours of sleep, and it’s broken sleep at that. Have you ever tried to quiet a noisy mind? You try to start your own controlled thought process – “sleep. sleep. sleep. sleep…”. Eventually physical exhaustion will take over and I’ll fall asleep. I wake an hour later. Racing thoughts again. Repeat. It’s not a lack of focus, it’s hyper-focus. It’s just not controlled most of the time. Don’t try to convince me of anything when it’s like this about something I am focused on.. I should have been a trial lawyer. It doesn’t shut off.. Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for days. I can’t remember this ever lasting more than a week. I can be in the middle of this and my mood flips to depressed. The worst part – if both happen at the same time. Imagine having ideas you can barely keep in your mind while trying to focus enough to hold it all in at work, with friends, with your spouse.. Just doing things in public.

It leaves as quickly as it hits. It’s immediate silence. Absence of thought. It’s like finally reaching ground if you’re drowning. You don’t want it to go, but you sure as hell don’t want it to stay. Then the depression comes, sometimes only minutes later.. But the depressions are always after this. Always. I’ve lived like this for my entire adult life. Blinding moments of brilliance followed by crushing depressions. Bipolar, indeed. While all this is going on, my emotions run on an independent tract of their own. They usually aren’t related to any external stimulus or the thoughts rushing through my mind. They just are.

Lamictal changed that for me last fall. I’ve been reaping nearly full benefits from it since early December. The racing thoughts still hit and the wild expansive understanding of things, but it passes more quickly. Usually within a few hours. I had kind of worried that this part of me would be gone, as I’ve heard so many people describe with being medicated for bipolar disorder. It didn’t leave, but it takes the edge off. I can manage. I can focus enough to get through the workday without needing pages of notes. I need notes to get through the day. I’ll forget things. Even when I’m not in that winding-thought mode, the thoughts still race. I’ve never been able to meditate. I’ve sat in a Buddhist temple and my thoughts, much like sleep, are “Quiet. Don’t think about anything. Quiet. Don’t think about anything”.

I’m still coming to grips what this means in my life. I’ve lived with these ups and downs my entire life. A quieter mind is odd. Feeling things associated directly with what’s happening externally is so foreign to me. For once my thoughts and feelings are in alignment. They are doing the dance together that comes so naturally to others. I’m still me, minus the megaphone.