Last night I hung out with a friend who has known me since I was 14. We have been very close since the age of about 16. We have never drifted apart; we have always stayed in touch though that might only mean seeing each other once a year. By chance rather than design, as each of us has moved we have lived simultaneously in three different countries, and seen each other in each one. Last night as we were sitting on the subway together about to say goodbye she turned to me and thanked me deeply for our friendship. Not three seconds before I had started thinking the exact same thing; she beat me to it. Wishing you more of those moments in the year ahead. Happy New Year!!!
Wow! More than four months since I last posted here!
August was just the beginning of a fairly bumpy period for me. Although I often talk about my challenges in terms of mood; overall at this stage in my life I would say my mood instability, on its own, is a fairly minor concern. What is more a problem is the feedback between challenges with attention and focus, and their consequences, and depressive mood. Or, in plain language: I struggle to get something done and get depressed about it, which makes it even harder to get things done. At a certain point all of my energy goes into coping / functioning and there isn’t any left for things like posting here … though when I am diligent I rediscover that writing usually helps in the overall coping effort.
The problem with challenges with focus and attention is that they can seem so intractable and can thus be deeply frustrating. Having a day when I literally lose hours of work time because I have locked my keys in my car is something that can happen to anyone. But when something like that happens to you daily the situation becomes corrosive to your sense of self, of being capable.
Perhaps the most significant learning for me since being diagnosed with ADD, along with bipolar disorder, is captured in this article in the New York Times. The essential point of the piece is that attention problems in adults (and arguably even in children) are a function of context. With the right work environment and stimulation many people with ADD not only function well, but can be exceptional in some ways. The deficits remain, to some extent, but one has to look hard to find them. In the right context people with ADD can manage to cope/compensate in ways that make the condition a minor, even amusing, concern. This is how for most of my life I failed to recognize how severe my attention problems can be. It was only when my work changed that I found myself struggling.
That struggle can be real and have grave consequences. When a failure to focus has an impact on one’s income, and becomes a barrier to meeting basic obligations like filing taxes, the outcomes are sobering, to say the least. Add to that the fact that many doctors fail to understand how serious ADD can be for adults, and fewer still are willing to take on the complications that come with trying to medicate for ADD in the context of bipolar disorder (ADD is often treated with stimulants, which can precipitate mania), and the situation can become deeply depressing.
As the New York Times article points out, context can be a solution. Changing mine is a work in progress.
The last few months have been exceptionally good ones for me for the most part. Then about three weeks ago I got very physically sick (awful stomach bug), which knocked me out for almost a week. I never really caught up on my work obligations but that didn’t become clear until I was trying to prepare for a three-day out-of-town sailing trip while also coordinating several gatherings to celebrate my birthday (the idea of a single large gathering of good friends being too impersonal for the introvert in me).
In any case things fell apart last Saturday (today is Wednesday). I think I am only now beginning to pick up the pieces. In the spectrum of mental-health dysfunction five completely unproductive, over-eating, bed-bound days, are not really all that bad. However when one is running one’s own business without a partner that kind of inattention creates a calamity of unattended obligations. All the more so because in many ways my business is doing better than it ever has, with new clients calling every week.
(One would think that faced with such a situation I would pursue the rational solution: nose to the grindstone, work, work, work … Alas, some brains are not so well controlled, and mine, at least when I am alone, is one of them.)
So I cancelled two gatherings planned for my birthday, missed my planned sailing trip, justifiably pissed off the person I was to have gone sailing with, spent another day wallowing in bad (Freudian slip), and even as I climb out of it now, am still feeling pretty pessimistic about life. Finally, with the help of one of my staff, I’m starting to tackle what feels like a mountain of outstanding work commitments.
In the middle of it all news comes of Robin William’s suicide. Given my slump I was already actively, and thank God, successfully, beating away suicidal thoughts. Perhaps for that reason the news did not throw me as much as it otherwise might have. Nevertheless it is deeply saddening to lose yet another talent to the ravages of mental illness. (Addiction, to me, is also mental illness, and the deaths of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Whitney Houston are two others that resonate harshly for me.)
I did think “there but for the grace of God go I.” And so, although it is a painful gift, I came to realise that William’s death brought some ease to the self-judgement that so often accompanies depression. If someone so talented, so capable, so wealthy, and apparently well-connected could lose a battle that I was still fighting, perhaps I should not judge my circumstances and my feeble efforts so harshly.
Ultimately the truth remains that despite all the resources that one can only imagine Williams had at his disposal, he still could not slay the demons that tortured him, and in the end chose the only path that he felt would guarantee him peace. With deep feelings of both loss and compassion I sincerely hope he has found it
Was thinking about how many posts I have in draft form; my style of writing (preachy?); how little I talk from the heart (from my perspective — I’m sure most of this seems very personal info to share publicly) about mental health challenges, particularly in ways that are most meaningful to others with a serious psychiatric diagnosis.
One of the things that is meaningful to most of us is medication. I’ve been doing remarkably well in the last four months. While there have been some major positive developments in my life that have helped, mood is always an underlying thing that go south no matter how much is good in your life. In the last year I’ve changed my meds completely and I think that’s really helped:
Instead of relying on cipralex, wellbutrin or a combo, omega fatty acid supplements, and intermittent clonazepam, I’m now on daily lamotrigine and daily moclobemide. Clonazepam remains a powerful last-resort intervention, but I use it far less frequently (usually 2 – 3 times per month for rapid mood stabilization). Moclobemide is probably the best antidepressant that I’ve ever taken. It’s amazing that old drugs can be so powerful and so underutilized. My biggest fear is that it may be pulled from the market. Expecting to return to the Omega 3-6-9 supplements soon.
Aside from that, saw this on Facebook and thought it was pretty cool.
There are so many dimensions to loving yourself. I got a wonderful note from a friend thanking me for teaching him to love himself more (not sure how I did that but happy to be thanked). I was about to send him a response talking about that journey and then realised that my words for him are words for me, and perhaps for all of us.
Learning to love yourself takes practise and effort. It’s one thing to love ourselves in terms of our thinking: learning to think positively about ourselves and unlearning thoughts of self-judgment. Those thoughts include our beliefs about ourselves and visions for our own future as well as seeing ourselves as unworthy or in ways that are negative and limiting.
It’s another thing to love ourselves in terms of our behaviour. That would include how we eat, exercise and take care of our bodies, and also how we respond to triggers that are rooted in past experience rather than the present moment.
Both are life-long projects but where these two spheres of loving overlap can be especially challenging territory: how do my beliefs about myself and my capacity to achieve, do, or be something affect my choices and actions every day? Learning to be comfortable in our own skin and lose self-consciousness so as to be unaffected around others is another area of overlap which for many of us can be very challenging. And addictions are another area where thinking and behaviour overlap to a degree that makes it difficult to love ourselves through our actions.
What is fascinating to me is that even when we have been loved deeply, all our lives (as I know I have been) there are still ways in which we neglect to love ourselves. Perhaps that is because love is not just a feeling. Love is something we do by committing and choosing to act in ways that are caring. And acting in caring ways is not as simple as it sounds, and learning to do so takes wisdom, practice, and effort. And that’s no different when the person I am loving is me.
Part of what I liked about this article was that it was affirming to see how many of these traits are strengths of mine. But of course, several were areas in which I continue to struggle. None of them are things of which I was unaware (thanks to some amazing therapists). Nevertheless it was cool to see them listed all in one place.
Was thinking today of how difficult, but important, it is to internalize and remember how much we are ignorant of; how very difficult it is to recognize how much it is we do not know. How do you know what you do not know?
Feels so good after 24 hours without Facebook.
Hasn’t actually been that hard to resist; it’s not a difficult thing to stay away from. But the problem is that once you are on, all the things you find there are endlessly engaging. And whenever you are on the internet, it’s literally a click away.
Facebook knows that the pull isn’t great; it is more a force of habit. That’s one reason they make it almost impossible to delete your profile. A couple of extra clicks and you are right back.
What I did seems to be more effective and also less guilt-inducing (insofar as Facebook is actually a useful tool for keeping in touch with people, hiding my profile feels like rejecting, almost unfriending, them). I typed up a random password which I stood absolutely no chance of remembering. Then I used that password to reset my Facebook password. I placed the printed password in an envelope and voila. It’s no longer a click away … and so far, quite resistible. Suddenly no time spent watching funny videos or looking at cute pictures of pets. I am sure the major current affairs pieces will still cross my desk.
Thank you Claudine!
BuzzFeed puts out a quiz, apparently to raise awareness about privilege, and the quiz itself betrays remarkable ignorance about privilege. How about starting at the beginning:
- I have access to clean water.
- I have access to clean food and a sanitary place in which to prepare it.
- I have access to medical care, even if I have to pay for it.
- I know who my parents are.
- I can remember my relationship with my father(s), and those memories are mostly positive ones.
- I can remember my relationship with my mother(s), and those memories are mostly positive ones.
- I had parental figures in my life who were not my mother or my father.
- My memories of my childhood are mostly happy ones.
- Neither of my parents was absent from my childhood because they were incarcerated.
- I have never lost someone in my family to an act of violence.
- I have had the experience of positive relationships with people who are my family beyond my siblings and parents.
- There are members of my family who I consider role models.
- There are members of my family who have been recognized publicly for their professional success.
- I still have family members who are alive and who I know I could count on for help if I needed it.
- I have had the experience of a romantic relationship.
- I have had a romantic relationship with someone I considered my spouse or partner.
- I have never had to fear rejection by a romantic partner because of my mental health or disability.
- I have never had to fear rejection by a romantic partner because of my physical health or disability.
- I have never experienced the isolation and grief of losing a spouse or partner to death.
- I have friends.
- I have friends I know I can turn to for support if I needed to.
- I know that there are people who will miss me when I die.
- I know that I am loved.
- I have experienced unconditional love.
- I know that there are people who trust me.
- I have access to social spaces with other people in which I can feel comfortable.
- I feel I have a community to which I feel comfortable saying I belong.
- I have never felt burdened by being the primary caregiver for someone with a lifelong disability or illness.
- I have never lived with fear or guilt because of the possibility that others may see me as a burden because of my disability or lifelong illness.
- I live in the country which I consider my home, or could choose to live there without serious threats to my safety.
- I have had the experience of living in a place where most people look like me.
- I have never had the status of an immigrant.
- I have never had the status of a refugee.
- I do not live in a place where my ability to function is limited because I am not fluent in the language that is commonly spoken.
- I have never been in a situation where I directly experienced or was at real, immediate risk of, gun violence.
- I have lived in a place where there was a stable government.
- I have lived in a place where I could vote if I chose to.
- I have never had the experience of fearing for my safety at the hands of police or security forces.
- I have never had the experience of living in a place where police or security forces regularly patrol the streets with automatic weapons.
- I have never lived in a place where people die regularly from bombing.
- I live in a place where rioting is rare and unusual.
- I have never felt helpless and vulnerable while surrounded by a protest or riot.
- I have never lived in a place experiencing direct war.
- I have had the experience of living in a house with sound walls, real doors, and a roof.
- I have never been forced to live in a dwelling whose walls and roof had holes and gaps that we had to regularly patch.
- I have never been forced to live in a place where my safety was at regular risk because of flooding.
- I have never been forced to live in a place where my safety was at risk because of poor public sanitation.
- I do not have to fear serious illness from diseases that are common where I live.
- The dwellings that were my home have always been wired for electrical power, and at least some of the time, had electrical power.
- I have lived in a house with indoor plumbing, such as running water or a toilet.
- I have never been forced to live in such a way that there was nowhere private to bathe, clean myself, dress, or void bodily waste.
- I have never been forced to share a bed with someone else for a period of months or years because the alternative was to sleep on the floor.
- I have had the experience of owning a piece of clothing that was new.
- I could always wear shoes when I needed to; I have never walked barefoot because I did not own even a single pair of shoes.
- I have never had the experience of being wet or cold for weeks because I could not afford appropriate clothing.
- I have owned a mechanical means of transportation.
- I have driven in an automobile.
- I, or someone in my family, has owned an automobile.
- I know how to drive an automobile.
- I can speak.
- I can speak English.
- I can understand English.
- I can write English.
- I can hear.
- I can see.
- I can walk without assistance from a person or machine.
- I have never been confined against my will.
- I have never been aware that I am under observation because the medical establishment doubts my sanity.
- I have never seriously doubted my own sanity.
- I have never had the experience of being psychotic.
- I have never had the experience of doubting whether I would be believed because of my mental health history.
- I have never lived in fear of homelessness or destitution because of my mental health status or disability.
- I have never had the experience of not being able to communicate to those around me for days, weeks, or more, even when I desperately needed to.
- I know how to read.
- I can write.
- I have had the experience of going to school regularly.
- My ability to attend school was not determined by my gender.
- My ability to attend school was not determined by my skin colour.
- My ability to attend school as a child was not dependent on my family’s financial circumstances or need for labour.
- I never went hungry at school because my family lacked the ability to feed me.
- I know how to perform basic arithmetic.
- I have a bank account.
- I have, at least at some point in my life, been able to keep money aside for more than a month or two.
- I am over the age of 21.
- I am under the age of 40.
- I am under the age of 70.
- I have had the experience of holding a job.
- I have had the experience of holding a job that paid me enough that my daily needs for food, shelter and clothing could be met.
- I have held a job that gave me pleasure.
- I have held a job at which I felt competent and appreciated.
- I have had the experience of shopping in a supermarket.
- I have never had the experience of walking into a place where food was sold and seeing large numbers of bare shelves because food was so scarce there was simply no food available to place on them.
- I have never lived in a place affected by famine.
- I have never had to ask someone else for financial assistance.
- I have owned a telephone.
- I have owned a television.
- I have used a computer.
- I know how to use a computer to access the internet.
- I have owned a computer.
- I have an email address and I know how to use it.
- I have travelled in a plane.
- I have visited a large, modern city.
- I have lived and worked in more than one city.
- I have lived and worked in more than one country.
- And so on …
The thing is, when you define privilege by the top rungs of the ladder, you are implicitly invalidating the status of others. You are also making their disadvantage invisible. Privilege is not an inherently bad thing. Ignorance of it is.