Seven years ago, I felt on top of my own little world. I had just moved to the Big Cool City with my awesome girlfriend. My first poetry manuscript just got snatched up by one of my favorite small presses, & I was a few months from being accepted into my dream MFA program to study with my favorite poet. Also of that own little world was a secret that I’m still, these years later, only beginning to understand, to articulate: beginning in my late teens / early twenties, my inner life had become rampantly twisted with the dissociation, irrationality, unpredictability, & chaos I was being noted for capturing in my poems.
That spring, that psychological turmoil would intensify, leading to one of the ugliest periods of my life, actions & abuse that the aforementioned girlfriend chronicled a couple years later in an online essay, now missing from the internet. Since then, I admit I have continued to flounder, blowing opportunity after opportunity, ruining relationship after relationship, lost in a swirl of misdiagnosis, counterproductive medication, & increasingly volatile symptoms. In this last year, following another tumultuous winter of hurt & dischord, it has been revealed that I have been battling bipolar disorder all along (bipolar I, severe, with psychotic features, more specifically). The inexplicable mood swings, the memory loss, the paranoid & delusional behavior, the impulse control issues, the engulfing episodes: the picture is finally becoming clearer.
Still, I believe I must take responsibility for what my mind/body has done, does, is capable of doing, both good & bad. Many of you have been affected by similar moments, either first-hand or from others, of my switching, collapsing out of this normal-guy self into a persona fueld with unreasonableness, confusion, & sometimes, aggressive outbursts. Here I wanted to write, not to justify what has happened, to you or to others, but within the necessary contextualizing, to offer my remorse to you. I finally feel like I can speak properly to all that has happened, with me literally feeling like a different person than the person that hurt you, one properly diagnosed, medicated, & managed.
Over the last decade, in one way or another, because of my erratic behavior, I've lost you, the receivers of this letter. The big question for me now is how does forgiveness fit into this baffling predicament? I gained much wisdom from Robin L. Flanigan’s essay on BP Hope about bipolar & forgiveness, now on my own journey of learning to listen. Where once I wanted to write as a means to plead my case, I’ve come to the place where I can be here for you, your feelings, your questions, & your answers.
Flanigan’s other tips--to forgive oneself & to not overshare--have been other struggles I’ve been battling these last couple years, opting to record my frantic bipolar life in a public space in the face of self-harm & deep grief, as a means of accountability & forward momentum. It is why I keep this blog; it is why I have these conversations on my podcast. Please know these attempts to catalog my experience, process my thinking, & to reach out here aren’t intended to disrespect anyone’s experience or cause more pain.
I hope it can actually be about healing, in search of peace & security, a way of "coming to terms with things as they are," as Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it. In this effort towards openness about my struggles, my remorse, & my hopefulness, I am presenting myself to you now, all my baggage included. This is all to say: I see you. I know I’ve hurt you (&/or someone you love). I know I haven’t always handled this well. I’m truly sorry.
Please, let me know if you see a path to forgiveness, to closure. If you would like to have a private conversation, to receive a personal apology, I would be honored for that opportunity. If a public discussion feels more necessary, we can do that on the blog or the podcast as well. If you’d like to stick with the separation, I totally respect that & will leave you be from now on. Anywhichaway, out of respect for our past & the pain I’ve caused, I promise to continue to grow as a manager of my own dysfunction. I want to utilize these stable moments to be my best self; right now, this is how I know how.
With All The Love I Can Muster,
In terms of my episodes, when I’m feeling imbalanced & vulnerable, I’ve learned that my two main triggers are embarrassment & fear of abandonment, which is ironic, since my behavior historically has led to a high degree of both. My sometimes-bizarre symptoms--hypersexuality, erratic mood swings, physical outbursts--& mood episodes have pinned me to the memory of many friends & acquaintances as a fool, a nutbag, a psychopath, distinctions that flood me with self-consciousness & have stolen many worthy relationships. Regardless of whether or not I was in control or made the conscious choice to do those things is some useless debate; for better or for worse, this is me: 99% of the time a typical dude moving through the world with this ugly, mess, & destructive 1% tagging along.
When I texted my mom an article by Jule A. Fast, entitled “Three Bipolar Disorder Symptoms No One Wants To Talk About,” I added, “I’ve never felt so seen.” Really, I think I meant that I’ve never seen myself so clearly, as my three loudest symptoms happen to be the ones JAF calls out. These are the ones that create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy with the abandonment & embarrassment. Both my divorces, the loss of numerous major friendships, my inability to hold a job, & my blacklisting from the poetry community can all be linked to these three symptoms. Thanks to this article, I feel validated & given permission to talk about them.
When my therapist SW read my ex-girlfriend LR’s essay, she said I see a very sick man in these words. My mom’s best friend, an LCSW, echoed that recently in response to my abuser essay, citing the manic nature of the violence, linked to both psychosis & memory loss, not a hunt for power & control, as the catalyst. The typical Midwestern boy-fighting never phased out the way it did for many of my peers; despite consistent counseling & much effort, my “black-outs,” as LR called them, took my body over, often leading to verbal & physical aggression. In her article, JAF admits to chasing down cars who flipped her off; I went through a phase of that in Austin, coming to mid-chase. Before I was managing my symptoms & noting my triggers, I was getting into shouting matches--with my partner, with friends, with strangers--once a week, often ending in me hitting a wall or other hard object, an ugly-but-necessary release of energy.
These violent tendencies were often nudged along by the second symptom noted, psychosis. These were the most baffling elements, at first very mild--errant sounds, whispering voices, paranoid delusions that never got off the ground. As my then-undiagnosed disorder progressed, they increased, intersecting & heightening my mood episodes. I didn’t know until last month that “[p]eople with bipolar disorder only have psychosis during a manic or depressed mood swing,” as JAF says. We see it all over my personal history--misreading another’s intentions as aggressive & disrespectful, becoming convinced that someone was out to get me, a cacophony of sounds literally drowning out my better judgement--but only in those times when my moods were off-kilter. Paired with increased irrationality, these psychotic elements escalated the situation to disastrous effects.
Then, in the aftermath, I am left alone with the guilt, embarrassment, & little or no memory of the situation, much like a black-out drunk. This is a frustrating one for me because I’m so high-functioning in other like areas, such as reading comprehension & direction-following; things I’m normally good at--listening, telling stories, etc.--become very difficult around & in episodes. I have physically harmed & emotionally traumatized two of the people I’ve loved most in this life, along with verbally & emotionally abusing many others I care about, & I have no recollection of those events, beyond their stories & the occasional dream. I cannot describe the heart-breaking & bewildering disconnect of this large regret-without-the-memory.
In the past, this memory loss has often been misconstrued as untrustworthy or not caring. I hope being up front about this stuff helps for the future. As Denise Mann points out in her article “Bipolar Disorder and Anger: Understanding & Getting Control of Irritability,” the key is becoming aware of the stressors, situations, & internal signs that open me up to these now-talked-about symptoms. I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll battle these possibilities all my life. What I won’t do anymore is stay silent about them, letting the surprise & fear dictate how I handle them.
How are we all not constantly asking for forgiveness? All day we're just walking around farting & cutting in line & dropping stuff & forgetting things & being rude. It's really quite shameful.
I've been having sleeping problems ever since a drunk friend of my parents, having found out I was having a tough mental health week, showed up randomly at my house, demanding to be let in right in the middle of an episode cycle. Her boundary breaking has left me very paranoid at night, prone to delusions & hallucinations. It takes me about ten to twelve hours to get a decent six hours of rest. I am trying a better evening routine--less late night food & electronics, evening meditation session, melatonin gummies--but there is an imbalance with my sense of safety. Reason number 14,763 why I miss living with DS: I hate sleeping alone.
I was relistening to Maria Bamford's incredible stand-up special from this year, Weakness is the Brand, & the last bit is about saturation point, a concept where emotions of a moment get too high, ensuring further escalation & possible damage if the person continues in the confrontation. I was thinking about how this relates to my anger outbursts. I erupt because I've hit that saturation point, much quicker & much more intensely than others, often without warning or obvious trigger. I have to be even more proactive & attentive. It is probably why I have a very low tolerance for bitching & bickering. I need to concentrate!
I had a long chat with a lawyer the other day about my appeal for disability benefits. In the wreck of fluoxetine hypomania, COVID sinking in, my new diagnosis, & DS's leaving, it felt impossible to work, to string together six to eight hour chunks without dangerous symptoms. Up till this week, I carried that feeling, which translated into the case he was going to build, that I couldn't hold a full-time job because of my disorder. Ultimately, I decided not to pursue the case, because white it might be true now, it certainly isn't the goal & doesn't seem like I'll be long-term disabled in that way. I'd rather put that effort into getting well, baby steps towards being my version of an independent adult.
I realized yesterday that I over-corrected intense emotions--anger, sadness, joy, fear--in response to their uncontrollable appearance in my bipolar episodes, almost banishing them from my "normal" life." I think a huge part of 2021 will be allowing these normal feelings back into my emotional range, building trust with myself to not fall captive to spells, going overboard.
I sleep in a twin bed now. My wife left & I couldn't stand that big California King. I am not a California King. I am just a lonesome Hoosier with too much bed. So, I just said, fuck it, & started sleeping in the twin bed in the spare room. My twin, in case you were wondering, is my grandpa, who died in this same bed a few months ago. But don't worry, I washed the sheets!
Sometimes I worry I've read too many poems to be a normal person!