I know this is off schedule on a Friday, but since my goal with this blog is to raise awareness of mental illness, to support others dealing with it, and to kick stigma in the face, I really can’t go without mentioning it.
You know what I think?
My illness does not define me. It’s part of me, it always will be, but it is not the boss o’me! And yours isn’t either. I’m gonna fight and I’m gonna laugh, and I’m gonna spell words wrong because it’s funny to me.
I added a frame to my personal Facebook profile picture. I thought about changing the photo to something a little bit less…disturbing. But I did not because the picture is funny, and that’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to flip my bird at bipolar and live my life the way I do.
Do you know how strong you are because you got out of bed this morning? Because you face each day the best you can and you keep going and you find beauty and laugh because there are goats? (That may just be me.)
You are a warrior, a lion, a superhero, whatever image speaks to you.
I am going to continue to laugh at pretty much everything, talk to people in my real life, and write this blog, it helps me and I hope others find something they can use here too.
Anyway, that’s about it. Be strong and when you feel overwhelmed, please seek help.
I’m listing some links for you from Mental Health America and NAMI where you can find information, resources, banners, and frames if you are comfortable using them.
Hiding is exhausting, fear is debilitating, and shame is just plain bullshit.
I have heard there is a scholarly debate around whether “subconscious” is a legitimate or even helpful term.
I thought I’d peek at this from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic layperson, as pretty much a thought exercise. This sort of thing is fascinating to me, how the mind works, how my mind works, how to better understand and make friends with it. I’m curious what all of you think as well.
What started this was a terrible series of waking dreams and hallucinations I had for a few months last year. I was writing it up to be a three-part article but realized it was outside the scope of what I’m trying to do here, so I’m going to make it a short story instead. I feel that by writing it out, I take power away from it. Plus it’s just objectively scary, and I think it could make a good story.
Anyway, these visions stemmed from my own mind, from my own fears and loathing, a creature made real from my subconscious. It was from that dark, repressed place in the back of our minds where things we haven’t dealt with lurk and wait to leap.
It is part of me, yes, but not consciously, something behind that. Something I can’t control until it’s addressed.
“The unconscious contains all sorts of significant and disturbing material which we need to keep out of awareness because they are too threatening to acknowledge fully.”
So I found that the term “subconscious” was being reframed in some circles. That the idea of a separate part of our minds that could hide dark or even dangerous thoughts was essentially the equivalent of “the devil made me do it” and needed to be removed as a concept. I don’t generally defend Freud, but I bristled at this right away.
Many years ago there was a fairly heated debate in one of the bipolar groups I was in, regarding how we refer to ourselves – “I have bipolar disorder” vs. “I am bipolar.”
Although I wrote this off as nit-picky, I do think they each made interesting points.
The pros and cons came down to this; “I have bipolar disorder” indicated that it was not who we are. We are standing next to it, maybe even holding its hand, but it is only part of who we are and does not define us. But those opposed to it felt it was being held at arms distance, that it showed a degree of shame, as in, that’s not really me, it’s this thing I won’t hold. This is dangerous, it was said, because it allows for “the devil made me do it.”
“I am bipolar” says I own this, it is part of me and I’m not ashamed. It is not arm’s length from me, it is part of my being. But those opposed to it felt it was making it too front and center, that it was made to be a defining trait that could become a crutch.
Honestly, I have no dog in that semantic race. I see the points on all sides, but I think it is a waste of our time. It seems like an excuse to not deal with bigger issues like, how do I get this creature out before it engulfs me, for example.
But I think that conscience vs. subconscious is valid to look at. It got me thinking about where our dark thoughts live, and how we disavow them.
This thing I saw even in the daytime, was a clear manifestation of my inner doubts and loathing, feelings of worthlessness and burden. I created it and gave it flesh. I figured it was those feelings and fears lurking in the box in the back of my rational mind that had been ignored for too long and burst out and had to be destroyed by, in my case, a ritual that involved my husband, incense, a symbol of success (my book) and screaming “Fuck you! I’m not worthless!” until my throat hurt. But everyone is different.
The debate around the subconscious, or the Id, as I understand it, involves the arms-length argument. If I keep my demons a separate part of my mind, I have no control over what happened, in any real way. In any way that I could stop.
The devil made me do it.
I never felt that creature wasn’t part of me, I know perfectly well what it was. But I also don’t feel good about owning it. It was so horrible and so present that I was afraid I had lost my mind for good. I was afraid that it was the beginning of watching myself slip slowly into absolute insanity from which there was no coming back. I was starting to think that this “thing” would literally kill me.
It could not physically do so, but could I die basically of fright? And if I did, would it essentially be deniable suicide?
But if I embrace it, if I stop referring to my demons as my subconscious, if I remove that word and concept, would that be healthier? Or would it hurt me more, would it make it too present in which case it could stroll back in faster? And can that even be done, the way the brain is wired? We can’t keep all of our thoughts in the fore of our minds, it’s simply not possible, I don’t think.
I don’t have answers to any of these questions, as I said, this is really just a thought exercise.
So many thoughts are bubbling up, so many feelings are being addressed, but so few answers. I will, of course, run all this by my therapist, and I might write another article once we talk about it. But in the meantime, I want to see what you think about it. I’ve seen that some of my followers on this blog have initials after their names, I’m always excited to hear professional insight.
Whatever the subconscious is called, however it’s conceptualized, I hope that I have calmed it down for the foreseeable future. The thing that crawled up my bed, the thing I saw in the daytime, the thing that hated me with fire and wanted me dead, scared the hell out of me. I would very much appreciate never seeing it again.
What are your favorite films from childhood? Some of them stay with us, mark us somehow. The boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory scared the hell out me, but left a picture of surrealism I didn’t have before.
I have many of these, but for me, there is one that stands alone, the chocolate to my vanilla, Star Trek to my Star Wars, Beatles to every other band ever.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Like so many things in my orbit, it has a deeper backstory than just “I like it.” Considering that I have bonded with a tiny spring I found on the carpet, this is not really a huge surprise.
When I was a kid, I was a very tall, very odd, spectacle-wearing, sci-fi loving, bookish, and awkward nerd. My love of the fantastic, the bizarre, my gallows humor, poetry, and music have been with me so long that I don’t know what came first, the odd wiring in my head or the odd wiring in my head as a response to bullshit.
Music especially was in my veins. Both my dad and my sister were/are musical, and it was a constant in my life. Sports, military, guns decidedly were not. But all I saw in movies and TV were that strong, powerful, square-jawed men would destroy all the alien threats. This is one reason I love The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu is issuing a warning, and the world comes together to listen after a nonviolent demonstration of power, and a sweet ass robot.
But I digress.
The ideas that I was saturated with were that music and art and literature and especially poetry were for people who don’t fight, but the world is safe from tyrants and giant ants because of manly men. Men with guns. Men who fart and don’t apologize.
So in 1977, I was nine years old, and my friend’s parents took us to the movies to see this new film, Close Encounters. Immediately I was hooked. My eyes were wide, my mouth slack-jawed, my head jutted forward for most of the film, according to my friend’s mother.
The domestic scenes with Roy and his suburban-hell-scape-dwelling family pulled me out a little. I “knew” all of those people and it was uncomfortable. It’s also best to not think about the fact that Roy straight up abandoned his family, the equivalent of “I’m going to buy cigarettes…” without the ending “…in a spaceship.”
And Roy’s obsession, the creeping, crippling insanity, using art to make sense of it all, and his ultimate vindication was like a soft creature hugging me from behind, whispering “it’s ok, you’re just as you need to be” into my ear.
Imprinting can be as simple as an overheard response as well. My friend’s parents were hippies, and when Roy and Jillian were driving towards Devil’s Tower and they saw all the animals on the side of the road, my friend asked “Did the military do that?” her mother’s answer was a scoff and an “Of course they did. Bastards.” A fertile seed was planted in my anti-authority soil.
Much of the film was smart people doing smart things. The mapmaker recognized what the signal was, the air traffic controllers coolly handling an unknown potential threat, the French man leading the team having doubts about what the military was doing, these were the heroes.
Oh, by the way, 42-YEAR-OLD SPOILERS!
All of this built to the scene that defines the movie for me, the final scene when the aliens arrive. This is the part that grabbed my heart and my mind and every single thing I was and am.
From the second the nerdy looking keyboardist climbed up on the platform, put on the headphones, and started to play the five tones, I was gone. Those five tones, that salutation to this alien presence, the responses from the mothership, that is enough to inspire wonder and awe from anyone with a pulse.
But it was far more for me. All the soldiers, all the guns, and the only thing that mattered at all was the nerdy keyboardist and the five tones.
Music was the tool. It brought them here. And with it, we spoke to them. Up a major third, down an octave, my language. My kind made this. My kind is important.
My kind speaks to aliens.
When the ship opened and returned all the people, some of whom generations of their families had lived and died wondering where they went (I don’t think too much about that either,) and they chose Roy to go with them, I don’t believe I was ever so jealous. I wanted to go away with aliens who spoke music. I sang the five tones to myself, sat on my bed doing the gestures, waiting to be taken away. In a sense I was I suppose, for a little while.
That film, that science fiction film with some troublesome plot points, was etched into me and has never left.
My husband and I finally made it to Devil’s Tower a few years ago.
As we drove towards it, it grew larger and larger, just like in the film.
My heart raced, my mind absorbed every inch of it, every scrape down the sides. The mountain is sacred to several tribes, so we tread lightly.
We arrived, got out of the car, and there it was right before me. Near the end of the film, Claude Lacombe asks Roy “What do you want?” his reply is “I just want to know that it’s really happening.” I felt like that, just for a moment, I felt exactly like that.
I was nine again.
Recently we got to see it with the music performed by the San Francisco Symphony.
Before it started, there was a short bit with Jeffery Anderson, Principal Tubist, outside Davies Symphony Hall, playing the tones on his tuba, the hall responding as the mother ship.
Those five tones always shake me to my core and fill my heart. I lose a breath, close my eyes, cry.
This film came to me at exactly the right time. It became a comfort and a joy. I’m 51 years old now, and my heart still beams when I watch it.
I’d love you to leave a comment about what fills you like this, whatever it is. But if you don’t have something, I encourage you to find it.
It’s not too late to feel childlike wonder. Not ever.
It matters to me because I was first and foremost a poet, from my very early days. I was proud to call myself that, it was a title for me, an identity, something that set me apart from others. I could play guitar, albeit poorly, I could sing, and I wrote poetry. I put my heart on paper and bled my very soul.
I was a bit dramatic.
I don’t remember not writing, hunched over notebooks, scraps of paper, diaries, recording my life and joys and traumas in one of my only outlets. It was the only power I had, creating worlds, recording events, finding some escape with a skill that, as far as I knew, not many others had. The fact that not too many people understood it, or valued it, made it somehow more enticing. They didn’t like it because they didn’t understand it. They made no effort to understand it. I still kind of feel that way, actually.
Years later I would major in Creative Writing, with a focus on poetry. One of the worst mistakes I ever made, by the way. It placed a watcher on my shoulder I never had before, it silenced my voice, took my muse, and left me a shell of a person. In fairness, the watcher was the gasoline, but the excessive, crippling drunkenness and black depression was the match that blew it all up. I did not get my degree.
It was not all bad though, it gave me stories I managed to write to long term memory.
I transferred to UC Santa Cruz from Ohlone Junior College in Fremont, CA. I was accepted with the understanding that I complete in summer session two courses I missed, astronomy and statistics. Math and I are not friends, it’s just a jerk, actually, so this was not a good thing for me.
Sitting in my seat, I looked around the room and saw 40-some people, all of them artists, staring at the professor like deer in the headlights, trembling slightly and clutching a copy of “Leaves of Grass” all of us simply not wired this way, all of us taking General Education classes in the summertime.
That fall semester, UCSC canceled Creative Writing and I, and all the other poets were lost. We sat under the shade of a tree, dressed in black, shunning the sun the Math majors were prancing in, chain-smoking and silent. In hindsight, this is a pretty funny picture.
So a quick romp in and out of San Francisco State, and that was that. No more hope of a degree, no more poetry in my heart, a whole lot of booze.
It took 25 years to get this back. Twenty-five years later I finally got my muse back.
And now, it is National Poetry Month.
Does anyone still care?
I was just at City Lights bookstore here in San Francisco for the 100th birthday party of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was packed with people, blocking the streets, crowding the store, an entire day of poetry readings and positive, glowing, happy energy. People just beaming, surrounded by like minds.
Some of those people were poets, I’m sure, some not. It doesn’t matter. What brought them there was poetry and the celebration of this amazing man and the haven he created. He just released a new book, at 100. I have released one in 51 years. I’ll get right on that.
Poetry does matter. It matters like the air we breathe, like laughter, like tears, like fire, like rage. It matters to every abused child who uses it to escape.
Worlds are built. People are created. Flight and magic and vengeance and mirth made real.
Do you write? Do you want to? Then write, for crying out loud! Who cares if it’s good? Does it make you happy? Were you filled in some way by writing it? Then write more. Keep it private if you like, or show it to only those people you trust to hold it gently.
If you write and you would like to share it, do put it in the comments. I love to see poetry proudly offered. I love to see art of any kind.
I’ve included a link to my book as well.
My advice to you, for what it’s worth, whatever you do, whatever your plans, for fuck’s sake don’t take a poetry class!
It’s been three years ago this month since I started this blog, and I’m feeling reflective.
It’s my first, and I have been slow to get moving, but I’m starting to get my groove. I have shared great times – my first book – horrible times when I could barely write – the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings – and simple daydreams.
And an article about goats because goats are funny.
I started N&L to speak to, advocate for, and comfort people like me, people with mental illness, addiction, trauma issues, or a combination of those. It’s been my hope that my voice could reflect both the struggles and pain we face, but also the joy and silliness and dark humor that keeps us alive.
So, Nightmares & Laughter.
I have shared snippets of my life and pictures of my home and pieces of my history that I thought hard about before I hit Publish. I think it’s helpful to see the writer in their natural habitat, make them a human, a human adult who has a stunning amount of children’s toys.
This anniversary also marks three years since I’ve been unemployed. I have been using this time to live some dreams; finish my book, start a second one, work on photography and painting and basically mess around in my studio, write this blog, panic about money, live the life of an artist, the life I’ve always wanted.
Now it’s three years later. I’ve covered a lot of ground, and sometimes I think I’ve nothing left to say and stare at the screen whimpering (every writer just nodded), but I always find something. I write what is interesting to me and I hope it’s interesting to you as well.
To those following N&L, I want to say thank you so much, I will continue to write articles that you will enjoy getting an alert for, articles without sentences like this tortured mess.
Soon I will get a job, but I will keep writing and making art. And someday, someday I will get paid to do it. Someone will find this blog and say, “hey, let’s give her all of the money!”
“The vision of World Bipolar Day is to bring world awareness to bipolar disorders and to eliminate social stigma.”
Although this is specific to bipolar, it also addresses stigma for all people with mental illness. Most of us suffer from stigma in one way or another, and a community can help tremendously.
You are not alone.
There are many resources for you, so many people who have dedicated their lives to keep you safe and to educate those who are not dealing with mental illness.
Don’t forget self-care. What do you enjoy? What makes you smile and feel good? Can you get out and take a walk? Read a good book? Make some art? Enjoy a giant collection of a mouthless white kitty that makes you so happy you nearly burst when you get a new one?
If it is too much right now, and you are past the point of activities making you happy, here are some additional links for you.
You are not alone.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
Now, I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, I acknowledge this and have seen people respond poorly to it before but, well…
Let’s set this up. A friend posted a picture on Facebook that was unpleasant. I responded as I do, a comment that was so over the top, so fantastically inappropriate, it did not occur to me that someone would take it seriously.
Someone took it seriously.
Now, I don’t know this person, nor does she know me. Rather than give me the benefit of the doubt and ask what I meant, I was attacked with burning poison darts right out of the gate.
Shocking no one, there was no discussion to be had.
This woman decided I was evil incarnate (seriously, she called me evil) and in a block of text ripped apart my character, motives, and worth as a person. I suggested that might just be a bad idea, with a reminder that she had no idea if I was in a serious depression and if that might be the last straw to cause me to take the 15-minute stroll to the Golden Gate Bridge.
A laughing face reaction and a “Poke” were my replies. Did you know that Facebook still has a “Poke” thing? Neither did I.
She made a fine point that she was 70. She’s 20 years older than me, and therefore I have no voice? Something like that. She was sputtering by that time.
My point is simply this, you don’t know what’s in a person’s heart. You cannot read their mind. If an offhanded comment hits you the wrong way and your response is to go on a spittle-spewing, hate-filled, character destroying attack, maybe it’s time to go ahead and glance at oneself in the mirror. Maybe a response that is juuuuuust a tad over the top is trying to tell you to look inside, instead of ascribing hideous motives to someone you know nothing about.
This brings me to triggered. Like so many other things that started off with good intentions, this has become a means for some to behave as our not-at-all-irrational 70-year-old did. To expect the world to cater to their specific issue or pain, for the world to be sensitive to them or they’ll be hell to pay. Something there seems kind of incongruous to me.
The likelihood that I would have been in a depression is good, the way the world is, a recent death in the family, I well could have been unable to handle such an attack. What if I had taken that walk? Why am I not afforded the same consideration she demands?
Well, because she was triggered. Because I hit something deep inside her and she lashed out. I get that intellectually, but it doesn’t excuse it.
Now, I was not in a depression, and I just found the exchange surreal and annoying. I tried to explain my joke, explain gallows humor, but that just made her angrier.
Triggered is being misused. It is not meant to be cover for potentially dangerous behavior.
It was meant to be a tool for healing oneself. Someone says something, it hits a button, I get triggered. OK, I get to a safe place, and I try to examine why that statement hit me so hard. What should I be looking at? What should I work on, speak to gently, and try to heal?
What is the triggering trying to tell me, about me?
What I said was from the way that I cope, the way I survive, I was not setting out to hurt anyone. Her comment, on the other hand, was intended to hurt me, was intentionally vicious. There was simply no discussing it. I am evil, and she is the victim.
Oh, it’s not real easy right now to give the benefit of the doubt, I get that. Nerves are frayed, tempers on edge, and patience is wearing real thin.
But this is all the more reason to practice kindness whenever you can. Smile at someone in passing now and then, say something nice to someone, anything at all. Tell your best friend you are going to bake brownies for them and wrap them up with a Hello Kitty plushy. Hypothetically.
But try, really hard, to keep that hair-trigger venom in your pocket.
I hope this woman is able to see and address these unknown issues, I really do. But they are not my issues, and my voice is not going to be silent on the chance that something I say will hit someone the wrong way. My humor is my humor, my voice is my voice.
OK, I love the show Family Guy (and The Orville is the only Star Trek on TV right now, and if someone can get this to Seth McFarlane tell him he has a group of geeks who will forever be grateful for that show.) Anyway, Family Guy sets out to offend just about everybody at one point or another. For the most part, I think it’s hilarious, but there was one little throw-away that got to me.
It’s one of the cut-aways he does. Margo Kidder comes to dinner and then is depicted as going “crazy” screaming and gibbering, flailing her arms around and leaping out the window.
For those who don’t know, Margo Kidder was bipolar. She was homeless for a time, lost everything, and died very young. I am also bipolar, so this hit me hard. I actually had to turn the channel to regroup. I was angry, how dare he make fun of her! How dare he make light of mental illness! Fuck that guy!
After I calmed down it occurred to me, I think “Prom Night Dumpster Baby” is hilarious. I expect that song hits some people very badly. I think it’s damn funny.
So how is my pain greater than someone who had a miscarriage, or stillbirth? I cannot imagine a worse pain, I cannot imagine being in that position and seeing cartoon babies swinging around their umbilical cords like canes as they dance. To their eyes and hearts, that must be unspeakable.
But I thought it was hilarious.
Not because I have no sympathy for them, I have a dear friend who lost her little baby. It just struck me as funny. But I totally understand someone else hating it.
As I hated the Margo Kidder bit. I hated that with every fiber of my being.
But do I think Seth McFarlane is a heartless asshole? Actually, I have no idea, he might be. But I know that that bit hurt because it is specific to me and my pain. But my pain is not worth more than people offended by any other of the thousand inappropriate bits in Family Guy.
The point is, I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s doing these things to be hurtful or if he’s just super juvenile and dark like me. I don’t know his intention or his heart, all I do know is that he’s smokin’ hot…sorry, trailed off there.
Taking it back to the woman in question, she intended to hurt me. She was attacking based on no information and was not interested in getting it. She didn’t listen when I tried to explain it, she didn’t have an ounce of compassion when I told her I well could be suicidal, all that mattered was that she was offended and hurt and seemingly thrilled to have someone to unload on. My husband and I refer to that as sitting on the edge of your chair in cat-like readiness hoping to be offended. Offended as a drug, as a shield, the opportunity to be better than, more righteous than, more adult, (I’ll give her that one, I am shockingly immature.)
If I can offer a takeaway, it would be this. If you are offended by something, if you are “triggered,” please use it as an opportunity to look inward and see why. Maybe you can sit with it, embrace it, speak to it softly, and try to heal it.
Come back after you calm down and ask if you can talk about it. Maybe you get rejected, maybe not. But you tried to be heard.
I know one way you will not be heard, and that’s when you call someone you don’t know evil. That’s likely to shut down any consideration for you.
One last thing, in all of the interwebs someone reading this must know Seth McFarlane. Just sayin’.