Sunday, October 1, 2017

Everyday Practices of Mental Health Ableism

I try to be the ideal bipolar. I try to perform my illness in the most rational and grounded way. I try to contain my episodes so they do not seep into my intimate and close relationships. Contain it and contain myself, so I don’t offend you with my instability and intensity. I try to be the acceptable bipolar, the one who can talk about the disease as if it’s as inconvenient as a hang nail. Lest I allow it to unsettle you with its erraticness or its unpredictability. I listen to your comments as you internally congratulate yourself on your acceptance and tolerance of neural diversity. You make the joke that everyone is bipolar too and how labels are so passé; I nod and hide my cringing insides under a tightly pursed smile. You tell me you love me, but my intensity can be exhausting, because you love giving constructive feedback; I swallow that slap across the face and let out a little chuckle and vow to never display my intensity. I will learn to do better next time. I tell you about my sadness, I tell you about my grief, I tell you about my anger and anxiety. You hear me out with an invisible little smirk, I can feel it and see it, I hear it loudly, even though you don’t say it. My flooding emotions are not valid, since you cannot see a causal reality linked to them. My emotions burden you, whether or not they touch you, whether or not they invade your choices and will. Their presence disturbs you even though they ask nothing of you. When my mind is reduced to utter nonsense you find it hard to hear me, you find it even harder to hear me after you witness my mind and cognition falter, even when time has passed and they no longer falter. I drop some names, Foucault and Derrida and I drop some words, ‘subject’ and ‘differance’, I pray that I have redeemed myself with my intellect so you can restart to hear me. You don’t want to isolate me and you wish me the best from a distance where my bipolar cannot disturb you. I absorb your judgement and try to do better next time. I try and educate you, so that I do not feel your judgement, I do so because I do not want to be isolated. 

Fifty percent of people with bipolar have attempted suicide at least once, twenty percent have succeeded. In both April 2013 and April 2017, I got so close to what would probably have been botched attempts, but miraculously, at 37, I have managed to dodge being a statistic. Both times, I was having a manic episode. As someone with bipolar 1, I tend to have more manic episodes than depressive episodes and I tend to have more mixed episodes than I do simple manias. In a manic episode, there is a lot of energy. I can feel euphoric, elated at times; the mania colors the world as I perceive it. Colors are brighter and more saturated, empty space is speckled with glitter, catching and reflecting light in a million different colors. I am more likely to trust strangers and place myself in risky and unsafe situations. I will not only feel loved by the people around me, but worshipped and adored. My thoughts, writings and ideas are great—no, not just great, phenomenal. For about 5 minutes. And then with the same charge, I will feel despised, worthless, and regretful of all my life choices. As I alternate between one state and the other, with no rhyme or reason, my perception of depth becomes altered, the solidity of things becomes questionable and I become confused and anxious, losing touch of my existence within my lived chronology and body. I become haunted by the shadows that flit across my field of vision to a soundtrack of deafening sounds and screams. I can imagine how hard this must be for you to witness, so please, I understand, do keep your distance. 

For years, I refused to be on medication. I had had a really bad experience when I was first diagnosed 18 years ago. Since April 2017, I have managed to find the right combination of therapy and medication. For years I put all my energy into holding the pieces of reality together as my brain waged a war against my senses, my logic and thought processes. I had never imagined that a pill could do this for me—hold my mind together so I can continue with my life, uninterrupted. Every episode had required a cleaning up period following it, whether it be physical injuries needing to be tended to, or professional, social and romantic redemption. Life was often unforgiving, so instead I tried to forgive myself and forgive the bipolar, yet work harder on containing it. I accumulated exhaustion with every episode, with the amount of time, energy and resources that were required in my everyday life to manage them. Schedules, routines, nutrition, therapy, writing, processing, sleep, exercise and reflection help minimize their frequency and intensity, but the cruel joke is that these are the very same things that an episode dismantles before reaching its crescendo. You kept my inconvenience at arm’s length. Every time I pulled through, I either did it on my own, or had invested in deconstructing your biases, vetting and educating you so that you could be there next to me.
The times I wanted to end my life, there were three thoughts slamming about and around in my head, throwing snippets of other thoughts and self-perceptions into the air like confetti. One: I couldn’t take the pain I was experiencing right now and wanted it to end now; two: I couldn’t take the pain resulting from wanting it to end now and being fearful/resistant to ending it now; three: even if this pain passes, as it always does, it will also come again, as it always does. Over the years, my ability to resist and to be optimistic has become worn out. Being able to go on, before the medication, came with having an extensive support system of friends that could hold my hand and bring me down from the edge, whenever I was endangering my life. My life depends on a support network that has taken decades to create. This support network is large enough that I can strategically rotate through it. In those moments, living wasn’t a question of what I wanted or didn’t, but whether or not, by relying on my support system, I was able to get through the episode intact. 

Finally, being on the right medication has really helped me, but it took over a decade for me to be able to trust that the mental health establishment would be able to help me. I have been to more harmful therapists than I have been to ones that can actually help me. I have taken more medication that has exacerbated my condition than I have medication that actually helps me. I have known more people whose words and actions, subtle and overt, conscious and unconscious, have alienated me than were able to embrace me. The level at which I am able to manage this condition is not proportional to the support that was readily available to me, but to the labor that I was able to devote to creating a support system, a task I will never deny was made easier because of class privilege. I resent that those of us who have chronic mental illness have to do this to survive, above and beyond the energy that is exerted merely to live with a forever unstable and shifting reality. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Mania and Grief

Sometimes I feel that a manic episode robs me of my grief. Somewhere in the whirring of my thoughts, these strings of words in my head, my grief is taken away from me, it is moulded and shaped into a dysphoria of euphoric proportions. It is transformed into anger, no, anger would be an understatement, a rage, an endlessly bleeding rage. Grief has an unusual ability to still hold on, seemingly poisoning that persistent euphoria. Making sure that I, will not, under any circumstance, feel joy alongside a manic elation. 
There is no room for my grief, in the midst of hallucinations, of flying objects, of changing backdrops, of the dissolution of the familiar. The familiar surroundings and the familiar self, all become alien, unrecognizable, having much of the same anxious quality of when you meet someone new, or when you move to a new city, that anxiety as you try and swallow your surroundings, contain them within you, familiarize them with your being, and your being with them, but they resist, because grief hangs onto them. 
Grief becomes insignificant when every single emotion known to mankind, every emotion ever felt by everyone, every sensation ever experienced, everyone single one of them, encases your skin, your organs, with every breath even the insides of your lungs.

25 mg of Seroquel later….

But today, I finally have room for my grief, to grieve the loss of things I love. To grieve the loss of the things I poured my being into, the loss of the connections, the loss of the familiar that never became unfamiliar. Today, I am making space and time to honor these things I have lost by letting myself grieve, by holding this grief close to my heart, by allowing it to enclose me. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013


you slap me
once twice across the face
across the arm
my hair, you pull me down
you call me a victim
and you show me i'm insignificant
through the endless minutes of my life
i am nothing, i am worthless
you tell me, and you show me
you stare into each other's eyes
glazed over, empty, disconnected
uninterested, a rage that consumed
to death
cut open my face
break open my veins and yet commend yourself that my skin remained intact
that i bruise easily
that i got a private school education
that you fed and clothed me
my blood spills beneath my skin
you don't have to clean my mess
as i clean up a glass of spilled milk, that had slipped from between my fingers
stupid, clumsy, careless
sticks and stones
words, sticks and stones..
stings into sting, pain into pain,
like the peaks of multiple orgasms
insult into insult into praise, into insult till you lose all touch of you
the milk gets to seep to move to escape and my blood remains hidden
you choose me over you every time
you choose to hate me instead of yourself
you choose to hate me instead of your failed life
your failed marriage
your failed parenthood
and I'm the one that failed you?
I could sit and believe you, and I did.
over and over
I am failing you,
Because my body refuses you
because that skin, that stung and scarred
tries to run and hide inside my body when you come near
because I don't want to hear your words
of love,
because I do not want to hear your words of love
intertwined with your words that drown me in insignificance
I caught a glimpse of me one day
and it wasn't so bad
it didn't slouch and didn't shuffle
and it didn't feel it was silently screaming to be released
It didn't need a surgical blade
point to skin to break intact confining skin
I loved it
It was love
And I choose me
And I chose it

Monday, July 8, 2013

They Can Violate You, But...

They can violate you,
but they can't humiliate you
When their hands grab at your body
and you can't see their faces
too many faces, you smell their sweat
Dripping on your face, burning your eyes
The stank of a men's locker room
and you feel the wind against your face
and their bodies pressing against you
Too many faces,
Too many hands
Your feet are off the ground and hands pulling at your arms
a wave, no not a wave
a whirlpool, enclosing, drowning
Air, you need to come out for air
Dizziness, swirling, groping
You call on the Friend, the Guide, Truth
مدد يا مولانا
Silence, a calmness between the waves
You breathe, and breathe and breathe
As you waltz your way between bodies,
trapped in a divine gift of momentary stillness
167 were not so lucky.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Bare Back

You stood behind me
your erection in my back
yes, back
yes right there in my back
because you were towering over
white synthetic shorts brushing against
my bare back
towering over me, because I was 12
I don't remember your face
We never spoke
There was no invitation
And a bikini on a flat-chested prepubescent
was hardly a provocation
Yet the liberty you gave your cock
and the freedom you gave your rough dark hands
dirty grimy nails
pinching, squeezing, chaffing
small nipples that refuse to grow
A whole top part of an abdomen
sensation-less, frozen
layer after layer
loose, wide clothes
Build a fortress of flesh
A deterrent
Mine, not really mine
no mine,
or not?
a body disembodied
And YES you took a part of me
A part that I cannot and will not ever know
And as cliche and dramatic as this may have sounded
My chest was hollowed out with a bulldozer
As many times as
hands, fingers, lips, cocks
groped, pressed up, grabbed, pinched
There is no resolution

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Letter to A Professor: On Foucault and Mental Health: A Personal Experience

Dear Professor,
When I received my acceptance letter for a masters program in a prestigious ivy-league university, thoughts raced through my head. I knew that having this opportunity to study at one of the world’s renowned environmental studies institutions would no-doubt advance my ideas and career. Little did I know that it would also give me the tools I needed to examine a very painful period from my past. As soon as I arrived I immediately took advantage of the school’s mental health unit. As helpful as this was, I gained the most profound insight into my past from the class: “Advanced Readings in the Social Sciences: Governmentality, Power and Capitalism” that was theoretically immersed in Foucault and Foucaudian analysis.
It might be strange at first to see the connection between a class and the mental heath issues that had haunted my past. From 1999 to 2001, those who had the power granted to them by their psychiatric knowledge effectively converted me from the person I had always known into a bipolar subject, which later evolved due to misdiagnosis and medication induced psychosis into a schizophrenic subject. I was no longer “me”, I was bipolar or I was schizophrenic. I did not have the knowledge or power to become any other subject, this privilege was held by the mental health experts who proceeded to conduct my conduct, through psychoanalysis, restrictions on my lifestyle and medication. By 2001 I had to drop out of university because I was so heavily medicated that I could not function. I walked around, at the very best a drooling zombie, and the mental health experts considered my progress a success. My family and therapists’ panopticon reached to the deepest recesses of my psyche, watching over my every thought, action and chemical constituents of my mind, responding expertly to any signs of elation, paranoia or depression. I had become regulated, by altering my neurotransmitters my thoughts and emotions had become governed and my mental deviance became governable. So why was I not feeling happy, weren’t I finally regulated, hadn’t this team of experts finally managed to govern my ungovernable mind? Why was I feeling alienated from my own mind and body? Why was I feeling powerless?
In 2001, I finally rebelled against their expert authority and concern, and went through the hazardous journey of navigating through intense mood swings, withdrawal from psychiatric medication and assistance. I improved tremendously after this period, but till the spring of 2010 I felt something had been taken away from me, and for years I did not know what this something was. Whenever I looked back at these two years and I would feel a heavy sensation that would overwhelm me. I could not put my finger on it till I was introduced to Foucault’s writings.
Professor, I am sure you often wondered during our Thursday morning classes why I was so engaged, why I hung onto every word and why my passion would veer on rage. I do not know if you ever noticed the times my when eyes would well up with tears or when my face would flush because your lectures made my heart race. During our Spring 2010 class I not only was able to understand what had happened to me, but I was able to reclaim power that had been violently stripped away from me at my very first visit to a psychiatrist’s clinic in 1999. Two years of my life had been taken away from me, for my own wellbeing, yet not for a minute did I feel well during this dark period of my life. How could I have felt well when I was rendered so powerless?
My words will never convey the amount of gratitude I have for your class and instruction. The class not only changed my theoretical inclinations I left it feeling more whole than I had ever felt in my life. I’ve expressed to you my gratitude for what it brought to me academically, but I had never told you the complete story to what your class and lectures have meant to me. I was finally able to understand what it was that was taken away from me, the actors who took it away from me, and the mechanism in which my power was wrenched from my being. Through your teachings I was able to reclaim a power lost, for that I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Governmentality Meets Bipolar

I love the autumn and I especially love my walk to school every morning. It’s my time for myself. Its that time of day where I feel that everything I see was given to me. The leaves change their colors just for me, just so I can see them and enjoy them. The light trickling through the branches is mine, the shadows flitting across the floor, yes, that is also for me. The grey rocks arranged along the path were just what I needed. I and nothing else exists, I barely notice the joggers with the black LCD screens strapped to their arms, measuring their heart rates, or the teenagers with their acne cutting school and making out. It’s a good time for me to connect with how I feel and what I want to get away from. It’s a time where I know I can get away from everything and yet that I cannot get away from myself and I am forced to look at this disobedient defiant self, who refuses to be regulated, who refuses to be governed.

I’ve come to know that if I want to keep people around me, if I want to be respected and if I want one less reason to feel self loathing, one less reason to give other people the right to make choices for me, to tell me what can and cannot go into my body, to become medically regulated, to become socially regulated, then I need regulate myself and my bipolar. It must not be displayed, I walk around imploding, and I feel rage of unknown origins. I draw it in, tightly sealing and containing it, it simmers as I conduct its conduct and it conducts mine.