Fighting the Stigma of Invisible Illness

Liberty

Stigma: “A mark or token of infamy, disgrace, or reproach” – the Free Dictionary. Synonyms: blot, brand, onus, slur, smirch, smudge, stain, taint. Sometimes I feel like a walking exemplar of stigma. I feel stigmatized for so much of who I am. My Mental Illness /Manic Depression, (“You’re just making it up”), my Chronic Intractable Pain (“You don’t Really hurt that much”), being Gay (“You’re sick and going to hell”), being on public assistance (“You’re just a leach on the economy”), my Migraines (“You must want to have them”), my Fibromyalgia (“You’re just faking it”), even my very Core Being filled with Invisible Illnesses (“You’re just a hypochondriac”).

All of these are hurtful to hear, but some of them are downright dangerous and cause me a lot of suffering and despair. They cause me to fear for my life at times in fact, like now when there’s such an outcry over mental illness in the media and calls for registering us and locking us up and putting us in hospitals or prisons or somehow denying us our civil rights. It’s a scary time to have these illnesses or conditions. But it’s been worse throughout history.

Mental illness has always frightened and even terrified people and understandably so. It Is scary. It’s scary to live with it. People have almost always reacted to those of us with mental illness with distrust at the very best and loathing, disgust and violence at the worst. They locked us up and put us in prisons and mad houses and experimented on us in hideous ways (look at Adolf and his minions and what they did to us). It’s been like that all thru history, but we supposedly live in more understanding times now, don’t we?

It’s a terrible and frightening way to live your life and if you don’t live it it’s hard to understand it. And understanding is the basis for combating stigma and we’re not getting it. We’re getting knee jerk reactions instead of calm logical discussions and solutions. We don’t need more lockdowns, we need more health care to find those who are on the edge and help them before they cause harm to themselves or others, tho most of us harm ourselves far more than we do others. What we’re really facing is Stigma. So where does stigma come from?

Fear is the basis of stigma, and ignorance is the basis of fear. When people don’t understand something they often become fearful in general. If people respond with a fearful attitude towards life that leads to all sorts of potentially unwarranted assumptions and reactions, not reasoned responses. Fear and ignorance are the enemies, so how do we respond to them? We respond with education and logic and examples of why it’s OK to not be afraid.

We respond by letting people see us as who we are and letting them get to know us so they can see we don’t pose the threat they fear. We show them the truth and not the distortions of the sensationalized media presentations they see and hear all over. In short, we come out about who we are, however that may work for you in your life.

I’m a strong believer in coming out about who we are, whether it’s mental illness or being gay or whatever your issue is. I believe that if people get to See who I am, with all my Invisible Illnesses, then they can see that I’m a decent person and that my condition isn’t one that need cause them distress. I’ve found this to be true on countless occasions and I do it every opportunity I have when I can afford to make that commitment of time and energy. And it does take a commitment and energy to do it. It’s not a decision to take lightly.

I know there are situations where you just can’t do this and it would be literally life threatening to do so. I’m not generally talking about those times tho perhaps those are the most important ones. Look at the Civil Rights Movement. People put their lives on the line then to make the point that they deserved dignity and we may have to do the same on this occasion. We may have to become Visible.

It scares me frankly but I’ve done it and it’s been totally worthwhile and I’ve changed people’s attitudes with my actions. When passions run high it’s a hard time to appeal to the rational side of a person and they may not listen to you even tho you’re making good sense and they may know better in cooler times. But when you can do it I think you need to try to overcome your invisibility.

But there are true bigots and racists and people who are so prejudiced towards you and who you are that no amount of friendly talking is going to ever change their minds. These are the ones that it may be wisest to avoid at times when they hold power over you, but ultimately they’re the ones who need to be changed the most. But it’s not gonna happen and I’m at a loss as to how to deal with them sometimes.

Some people are just haters and that’s the way of life I’m afraid. They think they know better and they’ll tell you to your face why you’re evil and sick and deserve to be stigmatized without a qualm. It may or may not be appropriate to love your enemies but it’s definitely wise to at least recognize them.

I don’t mean to say that people can’t change. I’ve seen them do it. But some issues are so deeply entrenched in people’s psyches that it may be impossible to root out the cause of those prejudices and feelings. These are the people who need help in my opinion. But sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

So help for them may come in the form of stopping them from behaving in hateful ways, and that may mean blocking them with laws for hate crimes or taking away their rights until they learn to play well with others. I’m sorta hard line about this and think that these people are the true criminals and should be the ones who are locked up, not those of us who are sick and ill, or who are gay or different in other ways.

We need better education but we also need laws to protect us and our civil rights, not laws that block us from being who we are and take away those rights thru forced commitment when it’s not necessary, tho I believe there are times when it is necessary. Sometimes you have to lock someone up for their own protection or for society’s and I have no problems with it as long as their rights are protected with due process, which is very tricky. Which is why we need good laws and intelligent discussions of them made in reasoned situations and not in the heat of passion.

So what I’m saying is that stigma is a real force in the world and causes untold misery and harm to people like me and my fellow Invisible Illness sufferers and friends. I’m saying that in order to fight it we need better education and health care, and laws to protect us and society from people who hate and people who kill regardless of their motives or reasons. It’s all connected and there are no simple answers to any of this. I’m not pretending there are.

But I believe any intelligent society, which I believe this is, is capable of identifying workable solutions to these kinds of problems. In fact it’s a mark of a reasonable society that we Do find solutions to these kinds of problems. But I don’t believe we can leave it in the hands of the politicians alone and I think each of us has to take a stand and do what we can in our own lives and working together to create a decent society. It’s hard work and it can be dangerous but it’s required of good citizens. I hope I’m one of them and I hope you are too.

Fighting Stigma Together,

Steve

Risking Safety

Waterfall and Path

I just read a great post on the “2B Aware” site that posits an interesting Question. As the writer, Snarky Faith suggests: “There are two basic needs that we are hardwired for in life: security and significance.  We want to feel safe and, at the same time, know our life truly matters. The only problem is you can’t have it both ways.” Snarky went on to talk about this in detail and it made me take a look at my own life and how this concept has played itself out over time.

I’ve always been one who has chosen to take a path of risk, of taking chances, to try to make something significant of my life and do things that I thought of as important to help humanity and the world of Nature. Whether it was planting beautiful gardens or managing a food co-op, producing mind changing music and events or providing a safe place in a non profit educational center for people to come together to express their ideas and change the world. I’ve taken chances and it’s been a great life.

But when I was 45, some 17 years ago now, I was stricken with an episode of Bipolar Disorder and a physical breakdown that so drastically changed my life that it has never been the same since. I haven’t been able to work a job since then and have been on disability for this whole time. It’s changed my whole world and it has changed how I view the concepts of risk and safety.

I used to feel safe even when I took risks because I believed that I was invincible. It’s a part of that hypomania that so often goes along with those of us who are Bipolar II and I was no exception. I felt I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to do and I usually succeeded in it. I was changing the world and that’s what mattered to me and I was mostly content with that choice. I took extreme risks with myself and my well being and with my security most of all.

When I had the breakdown and things changed I had to make my safety and security the top priority. I had to take care of myself for a change. Put myself first instead of everyone else. I had to look at what I’d done to my health and my psyche by being so out there on the front lines of the struggle to make a better world and I saw that it cost me a lot. I realized I could no longer afford the cost. I was broke and living on a shoe string, tho I’d always done that, but this was extreme and I had to make decisions differently than I ever had to before.

I’d always been able to create a job for myself doing something worthwhile, or else joining with others who were, such as with the food co-op or the collective cafe where we provided good food for pe0ple. Same with the cultural collective where we presented gay mens music that had political content to it in the early 80’s, a time when most of gay culture was vapid and into who looked the best and who was sleeping with whom. I tried to offer different options for people to grow and change to become more fully themselves.

But when I couldn’t count on myself to be able to create work for myself anymore, and I certainly couldn’t work for anybody else because I was so messed up in my head and my body so trashed as well, I found that I longed for safety and security like I never knew I needed. I needed a change and it took a long time to create it in my life again. The change I needed was Love and I finally found it after much searching and longing.

I’ve changed a lot in the years since then and am now in a secure relationship. This has made a huge difference to me in terms of both my financial security and my emotional stability. I am loved and it’s not that I wasn’t before. I was. But this is different. This is a lifetime partnership that gives me a stability I’ve always lacked. I’ve come close to it in the past but it never was quite right for me or my then partner. Now I have something where I can feel safe for the first time in my life since I left home  as a youth.

I’m not taking risks like I used to. I’ve discovered that living with so many illnesses is a constant form of risk taking every minute of my existence. Like the Bipolar disorder or the chronic pain as well as all the other things I have to deal with it’s all overwhelming to me and it’s all I can do to stay a somewhat stable course most of the time even now. To take a risk with that stability just seems plain dumb. I absolutely Have to love myself or I’ll die.

But I feel like I’ve abandoned my calling in some ways. I still talk to people and I try to say things that are helpful in these blogs and in my life. I write letters for organizations I believe in and do a little activist work in that way. But it’s nothing compared to who I used to be. I just can’t do that anymore and I have to say I miss it.

I haven’t abandoned the struggle but I have to approach it in a different manner and put myself first, something I see that people who are involved in social change often don’t know how to do, as I’ve seen firsthand in many years in the trenches. The rate of burn out in social activists is high, and I’m just one casualty of it.

So what’s the answer to the questions that I began with in this post?  Do we have to choose security or significance or does the indecision make us melancholy and depressed as the writer of the article suggested.? I think you can have both. I think there’s a way to love yourself and your life and still to love the world and be engaged in it and take what risks are appropriate. The thing is to learn what battles are the ones to fight and which are the ones to let be. At least that’s how I see it.

What do you think about this quandary? How do you live your life? Have you made a choice towards one or the other or do you try to embrace both as I do, and are you happy at it whatever your choice? As you can tell this has been and is still a struggle for me and I suspect it is for many of you too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter if you’d be willing to share them.

May you find Peace, whatever your choice,

Steve

PS. Thanks again to the “2BAware” site for posting this article that got me off on this post. Read it. It’s a great site. The article is called “The Most Important Decision  You Can Make”. http://www.2baware.net/self-awareness/the-most-important-decision/#more-2914

 

Despair Takes a Holiday

Breaking Clouds

Well I knew it was bound to happen. I knew that if I just waited it out I’d feel better in awhile. Not that I’m not still depressed. I am. But I feel like I’m in a strange sort of bipolar mixed state, where I’m depressed but also a bit hypomanic and so I was able to do things like go for a walk with my partner earlier today in the brief Seattle winter sunshine, and to go to an appointment with my Oncologist later on.

He told me my PSA is way down and I still have no trace of the prostate cancer that attacked me a couple of years ago and caused me to undergo Brachytherapy surgery, the kind where they insert radioactive pellets inside your prostate. We used to joke that I glowed at night and it made certain things easier.. ahem…. Geez, if I can joke like that I Must be better eh?

Anyway, in looking at some things in my past, I’m clearly doing pretty OK now. I’m still dealing with some severe problems, and I’m still upset about them. I don’t like it when things get me down like this tho and I had to first just give in to them and let them drag me to the bottom of the Pit of Despair. Then I wallowed around down there for whatever length of time I seemed to need to and then I started to come back out again, like now, finally.

That began yesterday and I’ll credit my counselor for at least a good part of it. It helps to have someone who’s known you for years as a therapist and can tell you that you’re in a depression and not thinking clearly. I knew I wasn’t OK, but I couldn’t really grasp it and hold onto it till we talked and I got the objective observation that I was over magnifying my problems as I usually do when I’m in that state. So, thanks to him and to good counselors everywhere who help us out when we’re down.

I also talked to my partner about my troubles and the issue that has me most in despair – my sexual dysfunctioning. He can’t do anything about it and neither can I but it helps to have someone to voice things to when you’re struggling with an issue that affects you both, even if it’s a problem with my body. He doesn’t judge me for it and is simply there as I need him to be and it helps so much.

I’m lucky to have a lover in my life who is so unflappable even if it galls me sometimes when he doesn’t react the way I want him to, like I do in other words….<grin> He’s a blessing in my life and I’ll keep saying it as long as we’re alive and together, hopefully forever.

They say Life is Uncertain and that you should eat dessert first. Well I haven’t been eating much dessert but I have had a few holiday cookies. And I’m letting the spirit of the season infect me as much as I can. I’m just not up to writing holiday cards yet, but I will be in time. But I have worked at decorating the house and yard with lights for the Solstice, as you can see on my other blog in my most recent post called “A Garden Of Lights”. How can you stay depressed and write a post that glowing, literally?

I’m lucky to have 2 blogs going at once. I decided when I started them that I’d always be positive in my Gardening blog and I have been. I leave my troubles to this space where I purposefully use it as a place to talk about the hard things in my life. Kinda Bipolar I guess but it works for me.

This blog is so helpful to me, to be able to share my thoughts with the world, whether anyone reads it or not, tho I do so appreciate the readers and the feedback they give, believe me. Talking about my problems has always been one of the ways I do best when I’m in a stew and this blog allows me to do that. So thanks for reading it.

I’ve also done some conscious work on myself in the last few days, and I’ve allowed things to just shift of their own accord, in the Way of the Spirit of Life. Time does heal me when I allow it to. My motto of “Give it Time” is true for me and has been for years. I just need to remember it and not get all twisted up in my angst and anger at my problems.

Tho actually anger can be a good sign I think, compared to bleak despair and depression. Anger has energy to it and helps me shift out of things faster, as long as it’s appropriate and not directed at the wrong targets. I’m careful to not just vent, a lesson I learned from a boyfriend years ago who did that to me. I thank him for the lesson but I don’t allow people to vent at me anymore. It’s damaging and I don’t do it to others if I can help myself, and I usually can.

So even tho I’m still unhappy and having to struggle to maintain a decent state of mind, I do seem to be taking a brief holiday from my despair and I’m grateful for that. It’s good to have breaks in the drudgery. Who knows where I’ll be at tomorrow after all? The one constant is Change and I know that one all too well. I’m glad I’ve changed a bit recently and just hope that it stays with me for awhile. I hope the same for those of you who are struggling with your own demons right now too. Hang in there and give it some time. It’ll change….

In a Holiday Spirit,

Steve

I’m Losing It

Losing It

I usually try to stay positive in these posts. I may complain a bit about the hard things but over all I try to offer useful suggestions from my own life that maybe can help out some and talk about ways I’ve learned to deal with my illnesses and troubles. But I find I can’t do that today. I’m at the bottom of the Pit and all I can see are the slimy walls of my dungeon. And the thing is, I know I’ve put myself here and I can eventually get out, but I just Can’t do it right now.

To be fair I’ve had some setbacks lately. I’ve had some things happen in my life that I needn’t go into because they’re just things after all and it’s not the things so much as my response to them that matters. And my response isn’t what I usually  can muster up. Usually I can look at the things and see where my thinking has gone astray and turn my mind to better things and thoughts. I can change my reality and be OK with it even if I’m not happy exactly.

But I’m really suffering right now and it’s bleak and all I want to do is die. I want to take a knife and slice up my wrists like I did one time when I was psychotic. I want to take all my morphine at once and never wake up. I want to drive my car into a freeway embankment and crash and burn like my soul feels it’s doing. I want to simply cease to exist.

Of course I’ll do none of those things. I just need to vent sometimes and now is one of them. I tried to give thanks for the good things in my life, and the thing is, it doesn’t help worth crap. None of my multitudinous bag of tricks is working for me right now and I feel powerless and hopeless and defeated and I hate feeling like this. I hate it when life gets the best of me and I can’t respond and can only react to it. It’s not how I think of myself and it’s awful.

But it’s not so uncommon. I feel like this a lot I’d say and I’m in a minor mixed state of Bipolar right now I think. In other words I’m enraged about my state but am too depressed and apathetic to do anything about it. I won’t kill myself be assured. I have too much to live for and I know that. But who cares? I don’t right now. So what if I die? Who’ll miss me? Well, a lot of people would and I know that and it keeps me from doing something stupid. But I still feel this way.

I know this is going to make me sorry when I post it. But I’m going to anyway. I know that there are a lot of other people out there who feel exactly the same way I do and can’t give voice to it because they’re in even worse shape than I am. Or maybe they’re just too reticent to speak bad vibes on here. I dunno. Maybe they’re just smarter than I am.

I just know that it helps me to talk about it and so I am. And I believe in keeping it Real so I talk when I need to. Sure I have a counselor and I’ll see him next week. And I’ll talk to my partner and friends and explain what I’m going thru. And it eventually will change I know.

That’s the one continuous thing in the universe. Change. It Always will change and sometimes it’s for the better and sometimes it’s for the worse. But it never stays the same for too long. Or maybe it is too long. It feels that way to me right now. But it’s what I hold onto and it gives me the courage to stick with it and just let go into the flow of things and let life work its magic on me. It can do wonders.

I’m reading a good book now called “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman. I highly recommend it. It posits that our emotional IQ is far more important in how we are able to live a good life than our academic IQ. I’ve known this for years and it’s very validating to read a scientific discourse on it.

I score pretty high on it actually. I’m terrifically empathetic and I can  put myself in someone’s shoes without a thought. I understand my thinking and I can change my thoughts at will much of the time. I’m resilient and I reinvent myself frequently and with good results. But too often, as now, I’m also a  Slave to my Passions and that’s my downfall. My emotions become my reality and I Know they’re Not, but I can’t get out from under the whip.

I know it’s because of the Bipolar disorder and I could just blame it on that, but it seems too facile and easy to do that. It feels like it’s my fault still and I have to do something to overcome it nevertheless. Even tho it’s a debilitating illness and I can’t stop it anymore than I can stop hurting so much by some miracle. I’m still responsible for how I feel at the basest level. We all are I believe.

I’d really like to end this on a positive note but I don’t know how to do that right now. I’ll just say that I know things will be better in time and I’ll get thru this. I’ll wait it out and if nothing else maybe I’ll watch a movie about war in ancient China 2000 years ago which is so far out of my realm of consciousness that it will definitely change my reality, at least for a couple of hours. Maybe that’s copping out but so what? It works.

And I’ll thank my partner for making me lunch and give thanks for the food I eat. I’ll do the work. And hope that in time it’ll net me results of feeling better. But right now… right now I think I’m losing it and I can’t stop myself from falling.

Peace to you,

Steve

Why I’m Thankful for My Mind

My Amazing Mind

It’s kinda hard to be thankful for something that so very often won’t stay where I put it. My mind that is. I try to put it in good places and think good and positive thoughts. But it won’t stay there. It seems my default settings are set to feel apathy, despair, hopelessness and out right suicidal ideation. It’s hard to be thankful when you feel like you’d rather be dead much of the time. When you feel so awful and crazy it’s work just to breathe. When you have Depression or Bipolar disorder, or any number of other similar conditions. You really have to work at it.

There have been a lot of posts written about thankfulness on here in the last few weeks and I’m sure there will be many more. But I think there’s a great challenge to be overcome to be grateful and thankful when you suffer from illness, especially mental illness, when the tool you use for that thinking is so deranged and out of commission so much of the time. When your primary decision making mechanism is faulty and broken. When it betrays you and you’d really rather just shut down and shut out the world. You have to find the things that work to help you do it. And for me it’s my mind that does it for me.

I use my mind to trick myself with little things. Sometimes it’s just being able to get out of bed in the mornings and get over the pain of moving. Yay! I made it out of bed! There’s something to be said for this. Or when I make it outside my house when I’m so agoraphobic that I fear that the world will come crashing in on me the moment I step outside my sanctuary that it takes all my courage just to do it. That’s something to be thankful for. It may seem petty and small but it’s a Huge big deal to me. And it’s cumulative. One trick leads to another and together they add up to a grateful life. Thanks to my mind.

I’ve developed these tricks to help me do this practice of thankfulness every day to try to keep the despair away and stay in a mode of gratitude for all the good things in my life. And there are so many good things. First of all I remind myself that I have a home to live in. And I have good food to eat and clothes to wear. These are things most people take for granted, but I give thanks every time I eat food, or get dressed, for the beings that have contributed with their lives that I might live. Little things maybe, but they make a difference in my mind. And they keep me connected with the web of life around me. This will help me.

I give thanks for my partner, even when he bugs me, because without him I’d be alone and I’ve been alone for too much of my life and it sucks. So I trick myself into letting him joke me out of my state of mind. It’s work. Sometimes I wanna tell him to just shut up and leave me alone. But I never do that. I may not be able to take it all in, but I try to. I try to let it shift my consciousness and it will when I can do that. Not everyone has someone to help them like I do. I’m so grateful for him. Love from another person is such a gift it overwhelms me sometimes with its power. I give thanks for all those people who love me in my life whenever I can I think of them, and it’s my mind that does this for me.

I also keep a picture of my parents’ wedding up on my bookshelf where I can see it every day and I remember that I was brought up in a home where I was loved and cared for. Where I was Wanted. I lost them both several years ago but I still remember them and what they gave me and how they taught me to respect all people and ways of being, to be grateful always for what I had in my life. I’m lucky to have known them and had them to raise me this way. Too many people don’t have that. My mind knew to put that picture where I could see it like this and remember them.

So even if I use these little tricks to help me, it works. And it works because of my amazing mind, that has taught itself to do these things and to recognize what I have and how lucky I am to have them. It reminds me of them. I’ve got a whole toolbox of these tricks I use to stay thankful and it’s my crazy mind that actually does it for me. So even tho it often betrays me with its doubts and delusions, I give thanks the most for my mind and how it allows me to live in gratitude and be thankful as much of the time as I can. It’s enough.

With thanks for all our minds that can do such amazing things when we allow them to,

Steve

Note: This post was inspired in part by one on Gratitude in tiemthief’s blog “This Time- This Space”. I’m sorry but I don’t know how to link to it but if you go to my last post and click on her profile and then look at it you’ll see the link to her site. Cumbersome I know but I really wanted her to be found. It’s really worthwhile and I thank her sincerely. Credit where credit’s due…

Coming Out of the Closet

The Proverbial Closet

When I say that what do you think of? If you’re like most people you’ll think of someone who is gay and is coming out about that. And it’s true that I’m gay and I’ve talked about it some already here on this blog, especially in About Naked Nerves, but elsewhere as well. I’m doing it again here. It’s a constant process, coming out is. It’s not something you just do once and it’s over with. You do it everyday in many ways whenever you’re with someone who doesn’t know and you want them to. Or when they find out somehow or guess. But most people don’t see me as gay unless I want them to. I don’t act in a particular way or look or dress in a specifically Gay Way, whatever that might be. That’s why I’ve included it in my list of Invisible conditions I live with.

Coming out isn’t something that just gay people do. It’s something that we all do. We all have to come out at some point about who we are in this life. About what moves us and makes us tick. What we share with others and what we don’t. Especially for those of us who have Invisible Illnesses it can be a challenge to come out. Is it something that you want people to know about or not? It’s always a question for anyone to come out as to whether or not you want them to know the real you. After all what you’re talking about might impact a career or your job, or a relationship or a possibility in your life for happiness. You have to really think about it and decide what to do.

When you have an Invisible Illness you are constantly put in this position about whether or not to come out.  On the one hand you may want people to know what you live with, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to gain support or understanding. Sometimes it’s to gain an adjustment at work or in school. Sometimes it’s so you can have a more real relationship with someone. With a partner or spouse. And sometimes it’s in our best interests to come out to let people know what we deal with all the time.

Sometimes it works against you  and you don’t really want people to know. It could cost you a job or a promotion if they knew. And sometimes you don’t Want people to know you’re sick because of the pity you might get or the “help” people often mistakenly offer that we don’t want or need. Or it could stop a relationship cold. I’ve had people tell me that when they found out I was Bipolar that they didn’t want to have anything more to do with me anymore. It’s hard sometimes. I’ve lost friends because I’ve come out and been judged unfairly about who I am. It hasn’t always worked in my favor, whether its about being gay or being sick. It’s a tough call to make.

I’m going to suggest that it’s a good thing to come out when you can. I’m not being absolute about it. But consider that it’s the very act of coming out that helps us gain support for our causes and for our illnesses. It’s been true for gay people that coming out has gained us greater visibility and this changes societies mores. This is true for mental illness too tho that’s a really tricky one. So are many other illnesses. But again if people know that you have a condition or are a certain way and they know you then there’s a good chance that they’ll think about that condition with favor and not condemnation. You certainly find out who your friends are, and aren’t.  And you may help change the world if you do.

I’ll agree it’s not for everyone. I know a lot of closeted gay people and people with Bipolar who just don’t share it with anyone. I don’t fault any of these people. It’s an Individual choice and the first rule about coming out is that you Never come out for someone else! You let them choose and I’m not pushing you to do something that’s against your will. It’s up to you.

I am asking you to think about it. This is how the world changes and how morals and attitudes and mores change in our societies. Remember about the squeaky wheel getting the grease. If we want people to understand us it’s ultimately up to us to educate them about who we really are. It can make or break a movement, which is how I see things here. “The personal is political” is an old saying and it’s true. How we act in our lives affects our society and changes our world. Is it time to change yours?

Good luck with your decision,

Steve

How a Tattoo Keeps Me Stable

Tattoo of the Phoenix

Some of you will immediately recognize that this photo I posted here is the same as my Gravatar image I use on all my posts. Actually the Gravatar is the image I colored in and gave to the tattoo artist who put it on my arm in the picture above. It’s a two-headed Phoenix. It’s got two heads because I consider myself a Two Spirit person, a designation some Native peoples use to describe those of us who are gay and follow a Walks Between path, walking between man and woman, spirit and flesh, society and the individual. We’re mediators. But that’s not what this post is about.  (And I’m not a Native American but I use the term because it fits me.)

I got this tattoo sometime around 10 years ago when I was going thru a seriously unstable period in my life. I was doing something to myself that will seem abhorrent to many of you and incomprehensible at best I’m sure. I was cutting myself. That’s right. I was taking my Swiss army knife and I was cutting long strips into my arms and wrists. I had to let the poison out you see. I was in terrible psychic pain and I felt toxic and it felt like it was the only way I could get it out of me. It sounds crazy but it’s not as unusual as you might think. In fact it was an accepted medical practice well into the 1700’s and probably later but I just read about it so I know it was practiced then using a special instrument called a Flean, to use on people who had too much pressure in their systems, to relieve that pressure. That’s what I was doing. I had too much pressure.

I took some pictures of myself during those episodes and I eventually erased them because they were too painful for me to look at anymore. But I didn’t want to forget what I’d done to myself when I got better and so I decided to commemorate it with a tattoo. So I thought  about what I wanted and the Phoenix, which was a name I used for myself in certain communities came to mind. It’s the higher octave of the Scorpio, which is my birth sign and has been a symbol of regeneration and renewal for hundreds of years, rising from the ashes of its own destruction. It seemed fitting to me to use it for myself. And it’s worked. I look at that tattoo on my left wrist where I cut myself and remember what I went thru then.

Now when I feel the urge to do something to harm myself, which I still feel on many occasions, I just look at the tattoo and I remember what I did in one of my most extreme crises. I was clearly in a psychotic state at the time and it’s not an uncommon thing for people to do in that state, often when you’re Bipolar, tho not all people with BP do this of course. But it’s horrible and I only did it a few times. I can’t  imagine the people who do it all the time. It’s most common among young girls I understand and I’ve talked to some of them. They call it Self Harm these days. I’m not ashamed of myself, tho I do I regret that I have these scars on my arms now. I sometimes tell people I was pruning a particularly vicious shrub because I don’t really want to share the truth with just anyone.

So why am I telling you? Because I believe I’m probably not the only one on this site who has done this or something else to harm themselves in a way that has caused them such sorrow and they’ve given into the feeling that we somehow deserved what we did. Whether it was a suicide attempt or cutting or taking an overdose of pills just to see what it felt like to almost die, some of us have reached the limits of human endurance thru our own minds tricks and ploys. So I post this in support of all of us who have been to this place of utter emotional despair. It’s not a nice place to go but it’s possible to get over it and get thru it. And if we remember then we’re less likely to ever do it again. I never have and I never will, because I have help. And that help is a simple tattoo.

In Solidarity with those who suffer,

Steve

Give it Time…

FRICE037

I’ve always been pushing the river. Even as a kid I had too much to do and wanted it done Now. I wouldn’t study for school and only my native smarts let me still get A’s and B’s and my counselors said I didn’t work up to my potential. But I had things to Do. I was always in a hurry. When I went to college I couldn’t wait to graduate so I quit and got a job in a nursery and worked instead. But I couldn’t do that for long and ended up starting my own businesses while still working for others to learn. I was simply impatient, which is a contradiction in a gardener and I did have patience when it came to the growing things. But in my life I was still pushing that river.

But in 1976 I had something happen that stopped me cold. I started getting Migraines and suddenly I couldn’t move, let alone work or do what I wanted. I Had to stop and rest. It was hard. But I kept working and often would work with a migraine and it’s hell let me tell you. But I wouldn’t stop. Then a year later I was hit by a semi-truck driving on the freeway and my life changed forever in an instant. My back was trashed. I almost died in that wreck but still I wouldn’t stop. Sure I was laid up for months but I went back to my landscaping job and as soon as I could I hired people to work for me but if they did it wrong, there I was in the dirt fixing a brick patio or replanting a tree. See, I’m a perfectionist too of course.

When I moved to the Mountains of the Okanogan Highlands in Washington to homestead I worked managing a Food Co-op’s Health Food store, where I pushed as hard as I could. I got a lot done and still am regarded kindly there 25 years later. It was easier on my back and I could do it. But then in 1988 I got out of a sweatlodge ceremony and my back spasmed and I was thrown to the ground screaming and that stopped me for good, tho I had to finish building my cabin even in my  pain and disability. I didn’t know it then but my homesteading days were over.

I went back to Seattle and to school where I did well. But at the end of a job I was also doing, (still pushing it) I decided that I either had to kill myself or create my own non-profit Center presenting classes as I’d been doing in my job. I hadn’t been diagnosed with the bipolar yet but I sure was acting it out wasn’t I? But even that was too physical and in 1995 I had the all time worst breakdown in my life. I was crippled for months – emotionally, mentally, psychically, physically and spiritually. I lost my Center and I was a mess and I finally  had to stop pushing and take stock of my life.

Somewhere into my consciousness came the phrase “Give it Time”. I don’t know if I read it or thought of it or what. But I wrote it down and put it on my bookshelf, where it still resides today, some 15 years later. It’s my motto now and it shows in how I  live my life.  No more pushing the river for me. I take it easy and take my time. If I have an appointment I leave early so I don’t have to stress in traffic. If I have an argument with someone I try not to fly off the handle but step back and think about things before I lose it (well not always, but I try…).

If things aren’t going well for me and I’m depressed especially I have to let myself adhere to my motto and give myself time to get over the depression. I have to wait it out like a bad drug trip or the nightmare which it resembles. I have to give it time and remember that it will change. They say time heals all wounds and tho I’m not so sure of That I do know it’s helped me deal with a lot of mine.

I’m a different person in so many ways now than I was back then before I had this realization. I was hyper and acting out my Bipolar Hypomanias all the time back in those days and I really am amazed I didn’t get caught at it and diagnosed. But all they saw was the depression and so that was what I was diagnosed with. A common fact among those of us with Bipolar of all sorts. But now I use my Chaos Theory as I’ve written about elsewhere here, and I try to put a framework on things that allows me to take them as they come and give them time to develop themselves so I can really see what’s going on.

I don’t always succeed of course. Old habits die hard and I do have episodes that take me over and I can’t cope. But I’ve overcome a lot and I think if I can do it so can you. Maybe you just need to step back a pace or two and stop what you’re doing and count to 10 and let things shift for you. That’s what I’ve done and I’m a better person and it makes life so much easier now. It’s not simple mind you but I’ll take what I can get eh? Now I just watch that River… After all I have Time on my side….

In a Timely Manner,

Steve