Anhedonia and Alienation

I have a hard time feeling pleasure. That’s anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. I have a wonderful life and I’m really satisfied in many ways. But I find that I really don’t ever get truly excited about much of anything anymore. I can remember times in my earlier life – before I had The Episode that wrecked my life at 44 and I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder – when I was joyful and full of energy and had a great time living my exciting life. I may not have been the life of the party like so many BP folks are, but I sure did love to party and I had fun doing it. Now I rarely get pleasure from even the simple things of life – a smile sent my way, a cool piece of art, or a song I once loved. These can still humble me but they don’t give me the same level of enjoyment they once did. It’s hard to muster up the energy to be pleased anymore. I fake it a lot.

I know this is a common issue for people with bipolar, yet it’s still very discouraging. Even tho I know my diagnoses and how they play out, sometimes it just sucks bad. I don’t mean to whine. But this is so overwhelming to me that I just have to write about it. I really try to walk with beauty over the Rainbow Bridge, as the Navajo (Dine) people sing so movingly about. I try to follow the advice of Gandhi and live the change I want to see in the world. But now I don’t really care much if I succeed or not. Before The Episode I was very socially engaged – managing a food co-op, founding a non-profit educational center where I met hundreds of people, producing concerts where I affected even more, and working at a lively collective cafe where we made our own ice cream, which I got to make. Yum!! Lots of good people came thru that place and I met my first real boyfriend there from behind the ice cream counter. Good times.

Which is why this is so fucking hard on me now. I was used to a different way of life than I lead these days. Now I live far away from the bustling world of gay society I was such a part of for so many years. It’s more peaceful here, and I have a wonderful home and a loving partner to share it with. But it lacks a certain energy and queer sensibility I was used to and I’m starting to miss it a lot. Last night we went out to the Gay section of town for the first time in years. We saw a hot Drag Show. Wow, those girls (and boys!) can really dance and sing (Lip synching really, but who cares…). It was so Very Queer – it was amazing. I lived right there for over 20 years, at different times, and it was my life. But I haven’t been in that area of town for a long time now. It made me feel so nostalgic I wanted to cry. In fact when I got home I stayed up till 1:30 writing in my journal. I had to stop often to cry. I haven’t cried that hard in years. It all hit me – how far I’d come from those days of merriment and engagement. How I didn’t feel the joy of it all anymore.

I’m a very social person, but I’m an introvert too, so it’s always been hard on me to socialize with other people. But I was so damn hypomanic so much of the time back then that I overcame my insecurities and went out and did cool things. Now I’m too scared to interact with anyone, and I just garden at home. Don’t get me wrong – I Love it and it nurtures me greatly. But there aren’t any People there. It’s all just plants, and tho I used to relish that alone time I got with them, now it feels more like a trap. I’ve tried to join gardening circles, but I have little luck because I get too insecure and scared and stop myself before I even get going. Another common thing we folks with bipolar do. I want to but I just don’t Feel like it. Even tho I’m a very sexual person (even at 67 – never give up!) there are so many times I just don’t give a damn about it, tho not always. 🙂  Not my usual self at all. I just don’t feel sexual and I hate it so much. I hate not being able to always laugh at my partner’s silly jokes. I hate not being able to engage with the neighbors when we go out for a walk. And I hate feeling like nothing will ever make me feel again, ever.

Yeah I’m blowing it all out of proportion, but that’s what it feels like to me, and if there’s anything we Bipolar folks do a lot it’s to live thru our feelings, much to our dismay at times. Emotions are tricky to live with and when you have bipolar they trick you even more. They may always be real, for you, but they aren’t always reflective of consensus reality, if you get the difference. When you live thru your feelings instead of your intellect you often mistake your feelings for the reality others experience. It’s not! It can really fuck you up bad. You mistake simple social cues and you interpret things thru your own lens too much and it’s not always what may be really happening. You may feel awful when there’s no need to. You aren’t being talked about behind your back and you aren’t being thought of as “lesser than”, the way you feel about yourself. People may actually like you, despite your horrible sense of self and lack of ability to take in any compliments that may come your way. It’s kinda stupid and kinda sad when you think about it, but it’s all too real to me.

You can see how anhedonia and alienation can intersect here and how they’ve so harshly impacted my life and the lives of so many others. If you can’t feel anything you feel disconnected and alienated. Duh. It makes sense but it’s an awfully hard thing to live with. For me they seem to go hand in hand, but it may not be that way for everyone. I don’t really know. But I do know that many people with bipolar feel both of these things, whether in tandem or not. We just don’t feel good about ourselves so how can we feel good about life? It’s not easy. We feel that we’re not good enough to even deserve a life full of joy. And that hurts us terribly in many ways. It makes us unwilling to engage in things that may hurt us more. We shut down. You can only handle so much pain at any one time. Why ask for more? That seems crazy, but it may be the only way to get over it. There are potentials for joy on the other side of it if you can just hold on.

Maybe it’s just my age – I’m almost 70. But I see so many older people still loving their lives that I don’t think that’s all of it. I feel young at heart really and I look and act like it. I’m not a couch potato or a slob. I take good care of myself and try to do the right thing always, even tho I doubt myself and don’t really know if it’s right all the time. I second guess myself with people so much it drives me crazy. I’m sure none of them like me or want to hear anything I might have to say. I feel alienated from them. But if I could still feel their energy it would be so different.

I do still remember, tho it’s been so long, what it feels like to really enjoy life. And I do enjoy it sometimes, I’ll admit. I’m not totally shut down – not yet. I still feel love and give it in return. And I know it’s real and not in my imagination. So I have some hope that things can change. I always try to end these posts with something positive and this is the best I can do. I’m attempting to believe that if I keep trying to feel, that eventually I’ll get there, at least sometimes. I just can’t give up. I have to stay present in my life to integrate this and to find peace and serenity, which may be far better than happiness anyway. So I’m still hanging on, but it’s by the skin of my teeth, and my teeth are getting so sore…. 🙂

I hope you’re feeling something good today…

Steve

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Robin Williams – Too Sad

I’m very sad again today. Yesterday I heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide. I’m having a hard time with this. He was my age and according to many observations he suffered from Bipolar Disorder like me, tho apparently he himself never said as much from what I’ve read. But he sure acted like it didn’t he? I was always amazed at his frenetic energy and classic manic behavior in his routines and films. He was a comic and dramatic genius as an actor and a kind and generous soul as a human being. I can’t even begin to say how much he gave to me and others throughout his life of such sorrow and joy. He did what so many of us do with this illness – he hid his struggles well, tho he was also very open about them, but he couldn’t hide it in the end. I already miss him so much.

This event is what is called a Trigger for many of us. It’s a situation that flips our emotions into a negative state that affects our ability to cope and stay OK. It pushes us towards whatever form of mental illness we carry with us and adds to our difficulties of staying well. Anytime I hear of someone who dies by their own hand due to the “push” of Bipolar it triggers me and affects me deeply, and this case is no different. In fact it’s a really hard one because of how he made me feel and how much I identified with him. Not that I’m a comic genius or anything. Far from it. But I related so well to his energy and compassion for the world. He did so much to make it a better place just by being himself. Like so many of us with Bipolar he used the impetus of the illness to fuel his comedy and dramatic turns on screen and TV. Like so many of us he also didn’t hide that energy from us, he reveled in it and I loved him for that.

Tho he never said he had Bipolar Disorder there are many who would look at his life and say it was obvious to us. I’m one of them I guess. Like his most famous mentor Johnathan Winters, who also suffered from Bipolar, he was a lightning rod for that incredible energy that made his work so real and so human. He embodied so many great character traits in his work and life and made the world so much better thru his presence. It’s being hard to write this as I keep crying, which I keep doing, and I can’t see thru the tears. It’s been like this ever since I heard about it. If I weren’t doing as well as I am right now myself this would push me into a depressive syndrome quite easily. Triggers do that. Just like what happened when my cousin’s wife died of Bipolar back in February. It really got me bad and I was so depressed for weeks after her death, tho she didn’t kill herself it turns out but mistakenly took the wrong meds and passed out and fell into a swimming pool and drowned. I feel the same way with hearing of Robin’s death. It’s triggering some bad emotions in me and I feel so sad and bereft.

You see I look at Robin’s life and how he was so very successful and how much money he had and the fame and acclaim that filled his life. And I wonder how if he lived with all that and more in his life and still couldn’t find a way to get thru it without killing himself, how will I ever do it myself? It scares the shit out of me. I look at him and see how easily it could be me there on the floor. I don’t have the resources he did, but I have good support, and tho he must have had it too, it wasn’t enough in the end. Will my support be enough for me? I wonder… Especially the fact that he and I are the same age and come from similar cultural backgrounds of coming up in the crazy 60’s and all affects me. It just feels too close to me and I fear for my well being. But as I said I’m doing well right now and am not prone to such depression at the moment so I think I’ll be OK. But it’s challenging and hard and I hate it. How will I be tomorrow? I really don’t know. Still sad I expect. Still filled with these difficult emotions.

I’m not going to write about all the films he was in or the things he did to help the world. You all know of most of those things and there are lots of articles out there now praising him and mourning his death. This is just a very personal response from me about his decision to end his life. I don’t blame him at all tho I’m so sorry he chose this path. But I’ve come too close to choosing it myself, in fact I have in the past and I still get close to it too often so it’s hard. What I have for him is compassion, and I’m tying to have it for myself too right now. I just wanted to say a few things about him and how he affected me and how triggers can come at us from out of nowhere at any moment and impair our ability to cope and live our lives. I hope this hasn’t triggered any of you because of my writing but if it has I hope you get thru it as I’m trying to do. Being grateful for Robin’s work in the world and his personality and his ways of being so real about his struggles is important for us to do.  He was a good model for us in how to live an amazing life with Bipolar dogging your steps, even tho he ended his own life in the end. I understand him I think. That’s why it’s so hard. I get it. I suspect many of you do too and I hope you do OK with this tragedy. I hope I do too. I guess only time will tell.

Missing his Manic Presence,

Steve

Note: photo as Mork by Everett Collection/REX

Highly Sensitive Men

You know who we are. You’ve seen us around your whole life, those of us who just don’t fit the mold. Men who don’t seem to be as tough or “manly” as the rest of our peers. Some estimates claim that 1 in 5 men, and women, are highly sensitive. That’s 20%. I believe it because I’m one of them and I’ve met so many others in my life.

Men who are highly sensitive are generally not valued by our society, not openly at least, tho without us society would be a poorer and sadder place to live. We tend to value a tougher aspect in our men and want them to just shut down their feelings and go along with the program. But for some of us that’s impossible.

Some of us have our hearts on our sleeves and are always willing to let our feelings out and be open about who we are, but not all HSM are able to do this. It’s a difficult thing to do and you don’t get a lot of support from anyone else in this except others who understand our dilemma, or our blessings, depending on how you see it. It’s OK for women to be this way, but not for men.

I’ve always fit the profile of being a sensitive male. Been called names like sissy, wimp, faggot and others all my life. I’ve always been told I’m just too sensitive for my own good and I need to toughen up and get over it. Well, I’m here to tell you that I haven’t done that. I’ve stayed sensitive even tho it’s hard work. Here’s what I’ve done.

First I’ve reclaimed the concept of toughness. I Am tough, tough as nails, and I have to be to withstand all the slings and arrows from a society that doesn’t value me for who I am. I’ve had to hide my feelings too many times when it was too dangerous and I’ve had to learn which battles to choose to fight. In so many ways it’s about the choices we make in how we live our lives.

I’ve chosen to embrace my sensitivity. It takes a lot of courage to do this but it’s what is required if you want to live a good life as a sensitive person. I’m an empath and I feel the things that others don’t too often. Sometimes it gives me an edge in knowing a situation or gauging others’ feelings and thoughts. It’s a blessing to me then. But sometimes it just plain hurts.

Sometimes I wake up and I just cry. It hits me so hard. All the pain and suffering I see around me in the world, and in myself too. It’s overwhelming to me, a common thing for HSM to feel. Life is just too much to bear sometimes and when you feel it all so deeply you can get hurt by just about anything. I have to be compassionate with myself.

But I am compassionate by nature, and so are most sensitive people. We tend to be aware of how someone else is feeling and base our actions on that awareness instead of our own beliefs about them. We Feel them in our guts. This is what I meant by calling my blog Naked Nerves. I feel so much I’m stripped of protection, naked to the world.

Highly Sensitive Men tend to feel too much most of the time. We feel the pain of the world too deeply and the suffering of others causes us personal pain and distress. We have to learn how to deal with that and still be able to function in society. We have to learn to engage with our sensitivity and honor it and make it an upfront aspect of who we are.

I talk about reclaiming ourselves a lot it seems. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned that it’s so important to be who you are in life, and not pretend to be someone you’re not. I’ve done both and life is much richer if you’re real about who you are. If you’re a HSM then you have to reclaim that part of who you are and let it shine in your actions. You Have to be Real.

This can mean some people will still trash you and chastise you for your way of being. Being sensitive for men is seriously stigmatized in our society. It’s like any stigma – rooted in fear and ignorance about who we really are. That’s why it’s so important for us to come out about who we are and show ourselves and Be who we are in the face of the onslaught of incivility that is sweeping our country these days.

The world needs us! It needs men who are willing to take the risk to stand out and say what’s right and what is wrong. Men who have been great leaders in our world have often been sensitive men who used their skills to enlighten society. They shower us with compassion and empathy for those that are without the basic needs of life. They show us a different way to be.

HSM are kind people as a rule, tho some who haven’t accepted themselves can be truly whacked. If you continually stuff your feelings they may tend to come out as anger and rage in most inopportune ways. Anytime you try to withhold yourself from who you are you face this risk, but it’s a serious one for HSM. We risk losing who we are if we stuff it. That’s not OK.

We can be wonderful partners and spouses to our mates because we care so much for them and often put their needs ahead of our own. We shouldn’t really do this but it’s so easy to do. But we risk losing ourselves in others too easily anyway by feeling what they feel to allow it in a deep interpersonal relationship. We can care, a lot, but we have to keep it in balance.

Balance is all part of this dance. How do you balance your own sensitivities with the needs of keeping up a bold face to the world? If you try too hard to meet society’s expectations of you as a Man, you can obscure your true nature of being a HSM and betray yourself. There’s a way to be who you are and still be strong and face the world on your terms.

It just requires you to allow those parts of yourself that Feel to come out to play whenever you can.  By being who you truly are people around you will gradually realize your gifts and accept you for what you can offer to them and the world and you can be yourself and just let it be. Sound real? Not really easily…. But it can be done.

It’s up to you to be real and accept who you are and to know that you are a Gift to the world just as you are. Don’t ever forget that. It’s a big deal to remember this. The world needs us and we owe it to both ourselves and our communities to be who we are. Our particular gifts are so needed these days and it’s just getting worse.

It’s time for us to stand up and take our places as Sensitive Men who are still able to withstand the difficulties of our heritage and yet change the world while we’re at it. Why not think big? It’s your life and you have to choose how you will live it. I sincerely hope you choose to let yourself be as sensitive as you need to be and let others see it and let it affect them. It will change the world if we do this.

Sensitively yours,

Steve