Archive for category Observations

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. What About ‘Indigo Rose’?

By including manic depression, AKA bipolar disorder, within its purview, the writers of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have finessed the issue of whether bipolar disorder is an illness, i.e., a mental illness, or a disorder, i.e., a mental disorder. They seem to be favoring the ‘disorder’ label even though within the DSM they refer to it often enough as a mental illness. So which is  it, a disorder or an illness? It seems to me that we who are atrabiliously disposed should be the ones to decide this, this our affliction. our condition. Some professor at UCLA, whose name escapes me at the moment announced to the scientific world couple of years ago that in fact it isn’t an illness. I apologize for not being able to remember his reasons for saying that, but never mind. I think the writers of the DSM favor this view, too, for within its pages they often put quotes around the designation mental illness.

I recently ran across yet another name for it in Howard Becker’s “Outsiders”, in the chapter on labelling theory. He used the term “mental difficulty.”  “We see that activities thought deviant often require elaborate networks of cooperation such as could hardly be sustained by people suffering from disabling mental difficulties.” Other possibilities abound:  disease, infection, complaint, condition, affliction, malady, sickness, illness, ailment, infirmity, irregularity. Malady has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? It has about it connotations of suffering, no? And I find that most satisfying. Some others don’t mince words:  derangement, insanity, madness, unbalance, but these seem so negative to me, so tainted with stigma. The fact that the DSM long ago finessed this whole issue by labeling it a “disorder” has occurred to me, of course, but for the moment I’m choosing to ignore that.

At a recent pdoc appointment, I looked across the desk at my pdoc and announced to him that I was “insane,” something that only recently occurred to me. I wasn’t expressing an opinion as much as I was testing the waters, so to speak. I wanted to see his reaction, for I expected, or  half expected or hoped anyway that he’d demur at it, that he’d reassure me that I wasn’t insane or words to that effect. but no, he didn’t. He just nodded his head in agreement, with maybe a faint smile glimmering there for the briefest of moments on a face which is usually devoid of any expression that could be construed as judgmental. I was disappointed. So, dear boys and girls, what say you? What shall we call this thing, “this hidden impulse, this incalculable force –this thing [we] care for and [don’t] talk about—oh what is it?” This last is a fairly accurate paraphrase of something Virginia Woolf wrote in “Day and Night.”

Well, in the end, to quote Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So, then, instead of referring to it as bipolar disorder, what say we refer to it as the “indigo rose?” A mighty smiting thing, this indigo rose, for sure.

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Alternate Universes—Alternate Mes

‘They’, the ubiquitous they, my favorite ones being the ones at UCLA. Why UCLA? Well, the UCLA they are always saying things that appeal to me greatly, e.g., they said that manic depression shouldn’t be regarded as an illness; it’s not, and that it’d be a sad, sad day for humanity the day that some other they figures out which genes are involved with the end result that fetuses, the world over, that have the bipolar genes would likely be aborted, because, as everyone knows, bipolar children are such a pain in the ass to rear, with the consequence that there’d be no more Beethovens, or Mark Twains, or Sylvias. No more Brad Delps or Brenda Fassies. No more walls of sound or James Joyces. Anyway, I digress.

This they that I introduced in my opening paragraph claim that there are multiple universes, an infinity of them. Given what an egocentric sod I am, the first question that came to my mind upon hearing such good news was, “Will I be present in any of them?” Yes, I will. I will be present in a subset of this infinitude of universes. While this subset with me in it won’t be as extensive as the set from which it is derived, nevertheless it will, of course, be infinite in extent. Fine. I look forward to it. I can hardly wait and am just beside myself with anticipation. But hold on there a minute: will I still be bipolar in this infinitude of alternate universes, in some of them? I hate to break it to you this way, kids, but manic depression transcends infinity. Every last single alternate you will have an unquiet mind. There is no escape. Take heart, dear ones, in knowing that God has singled us out; He has grand plans for us, no?  For in this universe, the local universe, all the freaky people make the beauty of the world, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.

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¡Loquacious! ¿Moi?

Loquacity—the quality of talking a great deal—is my middle name, so to speak, for I’ve been a talker all my life, and now at 77 I’m beginning to fear there’s no  hope for it except, of  course, the usual one, and by that I mean that my natural demise will do the trick as opposed to an abrupt and violent patricide, say. by a family member, overcome by my endless palaver and driven by despair therefrom to seek surcease therefrom via the family hatchet, which I  have, foolishly some say, kept handy all these  years, hanging on the wall in the garage nearest the door back into the house.

Usually they don’t come at me brandishing a hatchet or whirling a scimitar. No, usually my listeners just get up, mid sentence, and walk out of the room and into the kitchen where they join in any conversation already in progress amongst those who’ve abandoned me earlier in the evening. I pay it no mind; it only serves to renew and redouble my fervor as I continue on with any survivors.  In my own defense I do finally stop talking when the last listener bails out, i.e., I’m not totally without principles, i.e., some of my fellow manic depressives, when faced with this situation, have been known to feign madness or senility and to commence, without dropping a beat, simply mumbling to themselves. I, however, as I’ve implied, do follow a set of rules, or guidelines if  you will, and over the years, after much refinement, have come to realize how invaluable they are. I’m thinking I should make them available to the general public, or at the very least, to the RNC, as an aid to party members seeking reelection.

• Don’t be afraid to repeat  yourself.
• Do make an effort to breathe, but be quick about it lest a listener take advantage of the pause to    interrupt you.
• Avoid all eye contact with your listener(s), as that will only encourage them to butt-in.
• The ricocheting bullet can serve as a good metaphor for this.    Works equally well whether in your  prose or  your      conversations.
• Don’t be afraid to repeat  yourself.
• Ignore any MEGO reactions on the part of your listeners; counter them with a MEGO of your own.
• If your listener attempts to join in in your verbal stream, however briefly, ignore him/her and just keep
talking.
• Never lose sight of the fact that none of what you’re saying needs to make sense; don’t fret over that.
•Your only goal is to free as many words as possible from the fetters of unspoken thought, to fill the
air in the room like confetti from a canon.
• Your train of thought, if any, need not be continuous and is free to jump around—a lot, even.

According to the DSM V, bipolar disorder is often marked by excessive involvement with pleasurable activities, and chatting is right  up there near the top of my list of pleasurable activities, so that sort of explains, not that I feel compelled to explain myself necessarily, my penchant for palaver; one is comforted knowing where such things originate in one. No? Or why. It isn’t enough to just say that I have a bubbly disposition, for ‘bubbly’ doesn’t begin to convey the enormity of what some would call an affliction. To paraphrase Redd Foxx, such loquacity goes clear to the bone; some go so far as to suggest it borders on the pathological.  Who is this ‘some’ I keep referring to, and how is it they have so much to say on just about every and any topic? ‘Some’ ( cf. ‘others’) is a collective noun designating a small, outspoken group of people who surely must suffer from manic depression themselves—some never shut up!

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Parting Words on Being Parted Out

After 50 years or so in the LLNL harness, last week Staff Relations called me into their inner sanctum and asked me to resign my position; they said I’d get a ‘buy out’ if I granted them their request. “This is all strictly voluntary,” they said, “You don’t have to do it, but be aware that a ‘buy out’ may not be offered in the future if you decide to resign at a latter time.” It didn’t look like there was any wiggle room here, so I played the ‘compliant employee’ card and resigned, and in the process composed the following prose:

The Barn Book

Fresh out of grad school, I showed up that first post-cooler day in 1964 carrying my very own copy of the Barn Book (neutron cross sections), with my trusty K&E buckled to my belt—I was 27 years old, neutron savvy and a whiz on the slide-rule.  Johnny Foster was LLNL Director and Sid Fernback was the head of its Computations Department. My only experience with computerized numerical solutions to differential equations had been recently gained in a but one semester class devoted to the subject; the largest program I had ever seen was the one I wrote in FORTRAN, ~100 lines, for a term assignment. Needless to say, I was not prepared for what happened next; I was assigned to one of A Division’s weapons codes, one that consisted of over 22,000 lines of assembly code. Not only that, no self respecting weapons designer would be caught dead without a Marchand electro-mechanical calculator capable of calculating to 15 significant digits. I stowed my Barn Book on my bookshelf, locked my K&E in a desk drawer and sat down wondering just exactly what had I got myself into—I felt so overwhelmed. Fast forward 50 years—still overwhelmed, still wondering.

When I look back over my 50 years of stuff, what leaps out at me is not my accomplishments and I’m almost positive there were some. No, it is the bugs I encountered, the ones that brought me to grief, sturm und drang, and made me doubt myself. Yet it is these I slew, each in its turn leaving the road stretching out behind me littered with their bloody corpses. No milestones here; gravestones is more like it. I could regale you with a recounting of the blow by blow battles I’ve fought over the years, but I won’t—except for one: George Bing, A Div physicist, was using my code to calculate the yield of a very modest device. The expected yield was just a few kilotons, but in trying to get the most detail possible out of his code runs, he had divided his design into a 100 zones. This was computationally the largest size design my code could handle. Up to this point, for most designs, the usual number of zones was significantly less than this to keep the cost of the computation down. Well, unbeknownst to me, the real maximum size computation was 99 zones; not 100. So? Well, at some point during the simulation, once fission was in full bloom, neutrons would begin to reach the surface of the device­—what was supposedly the hundredth zone,—at which point they would magically reappear in the first zone. The yield went through the roof and so did George who was paying for such ridiculous results. This was my very first bug and my very first experience with the confusion that existed just about everywhere over zero-based indexing. Back then, physicists (and FORTRAN programmers) were all wired for 1-based indexing, but assembly languages all used 0-based indexing. But that’s enough about me, for now; next I want to talk about Egbert Gittens.

Egbert Gittens

I think I Egbert’s and my paths crossed sometime during my first year at this place; he was a conspicuous figure, and was so for many reasons, not the least of which was his attire. Female employees were subjected to a strict dress code, i.e., figure hugging attire was verboten and nothing could jiggle., There was no dress code for male employees. Livermore, locally referred to as ‘South Hell’, in the summer time is quite hot, so the physicist who wagged the tail of the LRL dog back then, decided that suits and ties were out, and Bermuda shorts and sandals were in, especially in the summer. And not only that, titles were out, too, and we’d all be on a first name basis with each other. Now while the shorts were strictly hot weather attire, the sandals (always worn with socks) were more or less worn year round. Sid Fernbach was a bit of an anomaly in this regard; he wore expensive suits and bow ties to work every day, but with sandals and socks-white, cotton gym socks.  Egbert wore expensive suits and ties to work every day too, but with proper shoes and socks, and that was one of the first things that brought him to my attention. That, and that he had a very scholarly air about him, a professorial presence. He was not a technical person, but had received a classical education in Jamaica where he was born.  He spoke with a Jamaican accent in a resonant voice that would’ve rivaled that of Paul Robson had Robson been a tenor and not a baritone. So, to sum up, he was a striking person, a resourceful person, and energetic and full of ideas—altogether engaging. It was Sid who hired Egbert. He belonged here.

Somewhere along in the early history of this place, Egbert decided he wanted to write physics codes too, since that was after all the raison d’être of this place. With the help of people like Dick White, he learned enough physics and FORTRAN to be able to come up with a program of some kind, and this he’d carry with him as a large deck of IBM cards in a box. He always had it with him, it seemed. To my knowledge he not only never got any computer to compile his program, it was a rare day that he even got one to read in his deck of cards. (He didn’t understand that it was not enough to  just enter a sequence number in columns 73-80 of each card; the cards had to be in the right order when read in, in order for the FORTRAN compiler to make sense of them.)

Similarly he didn’t understand that the various steps to be performed in any procedure involving a computer had to be performed in a prescribed order, that it wasn’t good enough to create and follow a procedure of his own design, i.e., one that made sense to him. Consistency was not his forte. So, over the years Egbert would be moved from assignment to assignment, and then when found wanting, moved to yet another. Sid was his guardian angel, and wouldn’t hear of him being let go. I eventually left A Division, but before I did so, I was there during the time that Egbert was the CalComp operator. The CalComp was a computer controlled plotter, one that Lab physicists would use and rely on in their design work. It could produce high-resolution plots in multiple colors of ink on a roll of graph paper that was a meter wide. Its computer would inform the operator when it was time to unload the ink cartridge from the plotter head and insert one of a different color. These ink “cartridges” were basically designed along the lines of a Rapidograph ink pen, i.e., somewhere within the business end of a cartridge could be found a cylindrical lead weight attached to a short length of ridged wire about the thickness of a human hair. By shaking the cartridge up and down vigorously, this wire would slide up and down inside of the tube that delivered the ink to the graph paper. The cartridges had to be shaken up every so often, especially if they’d been inactive for a while in order to get the ink to flow properly again as they had a tendency to clog up. Otherwise the plotted lines would be full of blank spaces or faint gaps when the ink would have temporarily stopped flowing, or blobs and gushes of ink once it resumed flowing again. The CalComp was temperamental, to say the least, but in Egbert’s hands it was positively demonic. It wasn’t good enough for Egbert to just shakeup these cartridges; he had to dismantle them completely and give each one a good cleaning before inserting it into the plotter head. Because he was so conscientious, he would methodically clean all of the cartridges at the beginning of his shift. That doesn’t sound so bad, now does it? Actually, it was the responsible thing to do. However, as Egbert cleaned all these cartridge, smudges of indelible ink of various colors would end up on his fingers, the front of his fancy, starched dress shirt, his expensive tie, and his face, especially on and around the lips. (Some of the ink pens would be so clogged he’d have to resort to blowing through them.) Unfortunately and invariably the finished plots would be festooned with Egbert’s Technicolor fingerprints.  There for a while, each morning would begin for me with a serenade of howls, roars and screams from the physicists on the third floor of building 111 as they unfurled and viewed their ‘decorated’ plots from the previous night’s CalComp production run. By the end of Egbert’s tour of duty at the CalComp, they didn’t just want him replaced, they wanted him dead—most likely drawn and quartered. But Sid was deaf to their laments so Egbert stayed where he was…for a while.

For those of you who never knew him, Sid, more than any other person at this Lab, as the head of Computations, was responsible for ushering in the age of the super computer, because it was he, using Lab funds and Lab computer scientists, who spec’d and then financed their creation and acquisition early on.

The Lab as Sanctuary

Okay, this by way of introduction to what I really wanted to say: the management at our Lab is compassionate, empathic and caring, and committed to seeing that each of us gets a fair shake at what s/he needs in order to thrive in his/her various assignments. I have been here 50+ years and what I am saying here is true, for during these 50+ years I have been the recipient of such largesse on many occasions: once when my wife was being treated for cancer and I was her principal caregiver, management looked the other way when I shifted my hours from day shift ones to night shift ones; once when the DOE revoked my clearance having discovered I am a manic depressive, the very next day NSED management found me an office in an open area and an unclassified assignment for the 9 months during which I had to fight like hell, in court, to have my DOE clearance restored; and once after 7 years in A Division when I came down with a case of scruples and had been asked to resign from the Lab, Sid Fernback came to my rescue and gave me an office and assignment in Computations.

Okay, I’ve dragged my departure out as long as I dare; it’s time to go. The pleasure has been all mine I assure you. I love you all and will miss this place like hell.

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Finding the the L-point(s) in the treatment of manic depression

It seems to me that some smart psychologist or psychiatrist somewhere must have written of this subject, this dilemma: If we suppress the patient’s dopamine levels to quash the symptoms of his/her manic depression, we run the risk of inducing a kind of Parkinsonism (PD) in him/her, the more the more, and vice versa—if we suppress the patients dopamine levels not so much as to leave him/her in some kind of PD state, we run the risk of putting him/her into some kind of perpetual manic or hypomanic state. Is it possible to find that critical mixture of meds, the Lagrange point, where the ‘forces’ of PD and the ‘forces’ of manic-depression are exactly balanced, allowing the patient to remain stable, i.e., stationary relative to each of them?

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point The Lagrange points mark positions where the combined gravitational pull of the two large masses provides precisely the centripetal force required to orbit with them. As seen in a rotating reference frame that matches the angular velocity of the two co-orbiting bodies, the gravitational fields of two massive bodies combined with the satellite‘s acceleration are in balance at the Lagrangian points, allowing the smaller third body [the satellite] to be relatively stationary with respect to the first two.

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Hey, Kay! Give me a break, okay?

From Kay Redfield Jamison’s “An Unquiet Mind: “There is nothing good to be said for it [bp depression] except that it gives you the experience of how it must be to be old, to be old and sick, to be dying; to be slow of mind; to be lacking in grace, polish, and coordination; to be ugly; to have no belief in the possibilities of life, the pleasures of sex, and the exquisiteness of music, or the ability to make  yourself and others laugh.”

Gee, Kay. You’ve not given this old codger much wiggle room, now have you? Is this what I, at 76, have soon to look forward to? Of the options you’ve listed, the most devastating will be the loss of laughter in myself and that I could always coax it forth in others, and do so simply by being me.

I can and am prepared to do so, I think, in my approaching dotage, be accepting and accommodating of sickness, impending death, the loss of grace and polish—if indeed I ever was graceful or polished—trolldom, monumental cynicism, unrequited love, and deafness, just so long as my mind—my one unflagging joy—is still with me right up to the very end. I want my last words to be, “Mother of God, what a show! Thank you, Lord, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, bent mind and all.”

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Is melancholy necessarily endemic to an impending dotage, and therefore inevitable?

Last night I slept very well and awoke feeling much my old self, a feeling that lasted into my midmorning only to be gradually overtaken by melancholy by lunchtime. I know, of course, that when I report to the lovely Dr. Furst, this bit about today’s ascending melancholy, she’ll want to know ‘why’ and ‘over what’ and ‘what do you think about that?’ So I might as well take a stab at these now rather than later, say after seeing her next Wednesday:  Just now as I was driving back to Building 233 where my office is located, returning after buying a large cup of Cafe Americano (and a scone of course) at the central cafeteria, my route taking me past much of the history of LLNL, I was taken over by a sense of “utter heartbreak and loss” to quote Malcolm Lowry. And I wondered if that were the fate awaiting all of us aged, especially those of us who feel they’ve outlived their usefulness or that there’s nothing left, and that as George Carlin quipped as how in the bottom of his breakfast bowl was inscribed—instead of a happy face, or ‘Have a nice day,’ or ‘You’re beautiful’— ‘All gone, dummy!’ This sense of loss is palpable.  So is this just par for the game? Is it that a sense of loss is endemic to old age and that that necessarily and inevitably  leads to melancholy, as surely as the seasons cycle each year from Spring into Winter? So, am I blue because it’s Winter now, and my body has become so keenly aware of my arthritis and tendonitis, and their attendant aches and pains, and my mind, of how a sought after, but less than familiar, name or word or even a complete thought will, more often than not, elude me. These serve as a constant reminder that soon simply walking the dog will be out of reach, not to mention caring for Maria’s garden—a sanctuary of sorts for her resident skunks, possums, raccoons and flocks of birds. Although my mind and my fondness for words seem as sharp as ever, accessing and embracing the new, e.g., writing, has become increasingly difficult to pull off. Bugger!

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What’s it like? Here’s an old, but not faded, ‘snapshot.’

From: MACINDOG

Date: Sun, 25 May 2003 14:15:32 -0700

Subject: Yeah what?

I’ve probably always been BP1, or what my pdoc describes as “suffering from a mood disorder.” That’s because all my life I’ve ping-ponged between uppish and downish moods more or less on a daily basis. One moment I’d be the zany wit of the party, the class, the dorm, the, the, the..and in tears the next. Sometimes after a couple of visits to each pole (¿mood?), I’d settle into a peaceful, blah kind of place. My doctors kept leaning on me that I was suffering from depression and I should take an AD and be cured. Yeah, right!

I won’t bore you with the details with which you must all be familiar in your own lives and struggles. Let me just finish off with a cautionary tale: Last fall my pdoc started me on Parnate, and all went well for a few weeks, i.e., I felt great, the world was my oyster… And then, and then, and thennnnnnnnnn…BP1 came to visit. I eventually figured out what the problem was and tapered off the Parnate, but not before the damage to my life was done. Everyone in my family and at work thinks I’m a dangerous nutcase. Maybe that’ll go away with a long sustained siege of well-behavedness. Anyway, the post Parnate period culminated in a severe, deep depression. I was suicidal, so much so that I now know what that means and how it progresses through stages, which no shrink I’ve ever been to has bothered to tell me. You know: 1) you pick a method, e.g., helium is what I was going to use (and when I’m down, still will use); 2)you make tokens or accumulate mementos of you to give to those who will understand and these may or may not be people you love; you apologize to those you love, and it doesn’t matter how the apology goes or what it is seemingly for, underneath it’s always an apology for having existed, you apologize for your existence, and make no mistake, these are not self pitying, but rather are heart felt, and very likely the only thing you do or can feel; 3)you finish your journals, or rather tidy up any loose ends therein; 4) you pass out the tokens and mementos to those for whom they were intended; 5)you destroy the journals, e.g., throw them in the trash, or maybe give them to someone you think might be interested, but probably not; 6) you drink the juice, take pills, jump, lie down in the water, walk out into the freeway, breath the gas or the exhaust, take off your clothes put on the adult incontinence diaper and climb into bed with a breathing mask, the cylinder of helium (full!!!!, you need to check ahead of time) and tubing (that fits, you need to check ahead of time) to connect these, sit down naked in the cold, cold night, or feeling your way, climb up into the tall, tall tree taking care to not fall out because one hand is sort of occupied with the rope, sit down to contemplate the room when viewed thru’ the thin film of a plastic Walmart shopping bag, fetch the shells for the shotgun that has been leaning against the back wall of your closet for very, very long time, it seems, behind all the clothes that no longer fit you, and climb into the rocking chair for that is the only chair that will lean over backwards far enough to allow you to eat the barrel without choking on it or chipping your teeth. I suppose you could have an accomplice help you get yourself started down the throat of one of those industrial strength shredders that the city uses in the fall when pruning the street trees. But probably not. My advice is to eschew having to rely upon an accomplice. In the case of the shredder, removing your clothing first and smearing your body with a couple of tube of KY should do the trick. But what if it doesn’t? What if you get stuck and can’t go any deeper than somewhere just above knees.

I do enjoy watching myself type through all of this, and of course, I’m sorry and do apologize; kind of cathartic. If you want real,honest information that’s has no trace of a BP flavor visit

http://www.churchofeuthanasia.org/

Anyway, as I was saying. After having been thru a several months long sustained, truly manic experience, and after having been helped by a therapist to talk me out of seriously pursuing, or actively pursuing oblivion as a way out, my life has been changed and while I’m probably not BP2 or BP1 and never was, because of the Parnate, I am now. Or maybe I always was and the Parnate was the catalyst that made them bloom. I carry with me now the memories, the not so destructive ones, of the intense pleasures to be found in mania and enjoyed and look forward to visiting them again and again and again. I now know how to do myself in and am prepared to resume my progression thru the stages-I have prepared my token which I will give my therapist whom I love terribly and god I hope she doesn’t mind, too bad if she does, I can’t help it. I’ve found out where a normal person can buy canisters of helium (party supplies, for blowing up balloons), and this is how I live. The Lithium turns down or negates any intense desire to revisit my beloved hypersexuality, and turns thoughts of suicide into a source of amusing discourse, something to be mulled over as simple abstractions, impersonal and remote. And inside I resent, deeply resent being turned down, or having all the suffering I experienced while on the road to serenity and oblivion be trivialized, delegitimised. As if they (“they”) are saying to me, “Yes, your tits were in the wringer, but they aren’t now, so the pain doesn’t matter. Yes, your nipples will always be black and blue giving your chest the appearance that you were attacked by a psycho tattoo artist bent on adorning it with a happy face, who only got as far as the pupils of the eyes, before we stopped him. So it doesn’t matter.”

I don’t remember being like this before. I don’t. I don’t think I was, or if I was, it wasn’t as intense. It’s at times like these, when the mood switches come so close together, one following closely on the heels of its predecessor or should that be precursor. Sometimes the switching is so rapid there is no time to act, to be either depressed or find the button on my pants. I feel like my soul is being shaken like a rat by dog. Mother of God, get me out of here!

Ooooo, I see by the clock in the upper left (lower right for PCers) of my screen that is time for a hit of Lithium, as if I couldn’t tell, yeah, as if you all couldn’t tell.

To you all, I am so sorry to be such a pain in the ass, but I got “nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.”

I need to stop; I’m ramping up so quickly now I can barely type, and thoughts are flowing faster than I can render them black onto white. Is it that “God has left me here to read signatures of all things.”? And that is what I am, a signature? Yes, but of what exactly?

 

Bruce

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“What’s it like to be hypomanic?” revisited.

At first glance the term hypomania seems like an oxymoron, i.e., a little bit of a lot, but in my world, the hypomanic mood state is a real one. In it, the “victim” experiences what psychiatrists and psychologists like to refer to as a reduced (hypo-) form of an extreme state (mania). But their jargon tends to gloss the truly significant differences between the two. In mania, the victim has no or very little control over his/her thoughts, emotions and reactions. Their innate sexuality and/or moral convictions give way to hyper-sexuality and/or hyper-religiosity, and this is just for starters. They have a propensity, unless they are Scottish, to spend and/or give away large sums of money; one might even say ‘with abandon.’ They are compulsive and impulsive to a fault, and as their lives converge on the shambolic, their lives become indistinguishable from chaos, and this to the extent that their speech, and even their thoughts, grow increasingly incoherent, incoherent but yet not disorganized as in schizophrenia, but I may be splitting hairs here.

“Yes,” you say, “That’s all well and good, but what does mania feel like?” Well, for one thing, while it may feel pretty grand at the outset, by the time it reaches full-blown status, it feels pretty damned dreadful, like the difference between ‘warm’ and ‘fucking, scalding hot,’ or the difference between feeling animated and energetic, and feeling totally taken over by frenzy. Make no mistake, the manic state is damned dangerous and likely to wreak great destruction in the lives of its victims and their families—”tornado in a trailer park” I like to think of it as. And that’s why psychiatrists are so quick to pounce on the hypomanic state, because they see it as nothing more than a “wide spot” in a very narrow road that leads straight to hell—mania. And for the most part, their view is the correct one, although I know a few manic depressives who are living their entire lives (so far) in a hypomanic state. They lead happy, energetic, creative and productive lives, but do so only for as long as they can elude the frenzy of which hypomania is so often the harbinger. “All their sanity and wit they will have vanished, I promise, it’s just a matter of time,” and they rip off all their clothes and run naked down the middle of the street singing (if they’re lucky) or screaming (if not).

But what of hypomania; that’s what I really want to talk about. “What’s it like?” I’m sometimes asked. “You feel like you’re in love,” I say to them then.  But with whom? You’re in love with someone you have yet to meet but hope to meet soon, very soon, and the expectations exude from every aspect of your being leaving you thoroughly intoxicated with anticipation and enthusiasm. And it feels like you’ve been set free. It’s as if God has just whispered in your ear that you cannot die. And in your very soul you know that there is nothing beyond your capabilities. “Nothing,” you repeat to yourself as your head fills with plans and projects, one piled upon another. Needless to say, hypomania is addicting, addicting as hell—as addicting as meth, I’m told by the few bipolar tweakers (crack heads) who cross my path—in that, like meth, having experienced it once is enough, more than enough, to leave you longing for its return ever after.

I had been actively manic-depressive for the better part of 6 decades, before someone noticed—my family doctor—and sent me to a psychiatrist, so, in some sense then, that qualifies me, or should, as an expert, of sorts, at least among the laity, on what it’s actually like to be hypomanic. (The aforementioned laity, it seems, is very uninterested in what it’s like to be depressed.) So, over the years since my diagnosis, I have been asked many times what it’s like, and have tried many, many times to explain and describe the experience. I’ve not been successful according to my family and normy-friends. The claim is, they say, that it’s not possible to make them understand, sort of in analogy to the impossibility of making the deaf understand what it’s like to hear one’s  friends laugh, say, or what it’s like to hear Beethoven’s 9th for the first time . Still I persist. My latest stab at it: when mania takes you that all-pervasive feeling of emptiness that is always there will vanish, the weight of it lifted from your shoulders leaving you light as the air we breathe. And life will suddenly have meaning, a meaning which had always eluded you in the past, but what that meaning is is not clear, but that there is a meaning is a given.

I’m thinking now, back to a time before doctors were permanent personae in the drama of my life, and while my affliction was present even then, for I seemed to be affected by everything in the universe. I didn’t think constantly about it. For that to happen, it had to have been given a name, and this required the active participation of doctors—doctors have names for everything, and I suppose I should be reassured by that, but I am not.

And now that they have put a name to it, I find myself thinking about it all the time; it has assumed a role in my life, one commensurate with its effect—it’s in my every waking, idle thought. “But surely you are more than it,” others are fond of reminding me, and while I agree with that in principle, the truth of the matter is that much of the time it holds sway. It’s as if my soul came equipped with an ear trumpet tuned to detect every sound in the universe, down to the last audible tick, click and creek. How can I not think constantly about my madness when its cacophony, furious at times, if not altogether ardent, constantly reminds me of its presence like the shrills of one tormented by love—supremely seductive and yet somehow tainted? And of its attendant hypomania, what of it? The longing that used to fill my heart to overflowing has in time given way to melancholy, and I am often overcome with sorrow at the loss of my beloved hypomania, now denied to me forever by modern medicine. It’s in moments of reflection such as these that the tears are quick to come.

I keep a mood chart, and as I look back over this chart which extends backwards in time clear to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, I see how each day’s entry begins with “Okay.” Occasionally there’ll be a “Not Okay.” I’m such a simple soul, I dutifully keep my mood chart every day, rain or shine. I keep hoping one day my entry will start with “Wow!” or “Holy shit” or, may it please God, best of all, “I’m back!”. What do you think? It’s manic depression at its poignant best, no? “I’m back!” will be the first words out of my mouth when once my beloved hypomania returns. I ache for it. God forbid I ever come down with cancer, but if I do, swear to God, I’m coming off my fucking meds. If I have to die, let me die a free man and not all doped up on meds. Let me die the way God made me and intended me to be—crazy!

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Jung on longevity

I read a lot (during the times that I’m not mindlessly absorbed watching old college football games on muh cable Tee Vee) and lately I’ve been reading “Play It Again” by Alan Rusbridger, current editor of the Guardian. In its introduction he writes, “[Jung] wrote of how, as we approach the middle of life, we may well have succeeded ‘socially'; that is, had children, become more comfortable materially, perhaps even gained status or modest recognition in our chosen field. But, at the same time, he said, ‘we can overlook the essential fact that the social goal is attained only at the cost of a diminution of the personality.’ ‘Many—far too many—aspects of life which should have been experienced lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories,’ he wrote. But all is not lost, because sometimes these memories ‘are glowing coals under grey ashes’.

“For Jung, middle age and the years that follow may in fact constitute our chance to do something about these ‘glowing coals':

A human being would certainly not grow to be 70 or 80 years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species to which he belongs The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage of life’s morning. The significance of the morning undoubtedly lies in the development of the individual, our entrenchment in the outer world, the propagation of our kind and the care of our children. This is the obvious purpose of nature. But…whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the morning must pay for so doing with damage to his soul. Moneymaking, social existence, family and posterity are nothing but plain nature—not culture. Culture lies beyond the purpose of nature. Could by any chance culture be the meaning and purpose of the second half of life?”

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