“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson
When it comes to the whole abortion controversy ((For the record, I have been calling myself pro-Choice even though I have personal concerns about abortion as a means of birth control. I simply cannot think of a reasonable way to outlaw it for this purpose without denying much needed help for victims of rape and women whose lives are endangered by their pregnancies. So I live with what I consider vile just as I live with legal alcohol.)) , I feel like the Lady of Shallott: there’s this huge game where each side can’t even agree about what they should call the dispute. Is it about Life or about Choice? The alternatives thrust us not into clarity, but twilight.
Such terminology — and the dispute over what that terminology should be — is an invitation to holy war. You not only fight about the laws and court decisions, but you are led to have this second fight over language. Where we are divided, we are divided a second time and completely unable to talk civilly about the meat of the issue.
For this reason, I support the decision by National Public Radio to change the terms of the debate in its coverage. A memo to all NPR staffers says:
NPR News is revising the terms we use to describe people and groups involved in the abortion debate.
This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible. This is important given that written text is such an integral part of our work.
On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.
Thank the Universe that someone is trying to change things! (And if this is not neutral enough for you, I invite you to suggest something else.
It was three a.m. and Drake would not leave the front door alone. So I harnessed him up and went for a walk in the night. Water from leaky sprinklers formed amorphous gray blob silhouettes on the sidewalks. Drake went from bush to bush, sniffing and leaving his urine autograph at each one. I grumbled. “Are you going to do anything meaningful?” I asked him. He just pulled me to the next plant.
Then as we came to a place where sidewalks met next to a grassy knoll, we heard a cry that my synaesthesiac sense registered as being shallow and broad, looking a bit like a crushed hat or static on an oscilloscope. It screeched but once. Drake’s ears went up and he pulled harder at the leash. I didn’t know what kind of animal made the sound, but my imaginings grew from a cat to a raccoon to a mountain lion.
“Let me see!” Drake begged in the words of resistance against the leash. “Whatever it is, I want to show ’em!“
“No dice Little Guy,” I replied. I directed him back toward the condo. He resisted the direction of my march, but at last surrendered to my greater power. He reluctantly climbed the stairs and pouted as we went in the door.
“I’m sorry, Little Guy, but I know you. If it had been a mountain lion, you would have done something stupid.” I pointed to his bed and he sadly curled up, his adventure cut short by his owner’s worried response to a simple mystery.
My shyness is catching up to me. I have to confess that I don’t feel very comfortable interacting with other people in group settings. There’s always that self-stigma — the feeling of isolation that comes from being the only one in many of my circles with the illness. When things are going wrong or when I am reflecting on the past, I have learned not to talk much about it because most people don’t want to hear about it. I find myself treated like Coleridge’s poet who has a circle drawn around him just for being himself. There’s a terrific loneliness that comes from this, even when the story is mostly positive: Despite the hallucinations, the paranoia, and the rocking emotions that characterized my past, I came through it and I am alive to tell about it.
I find much of the symptoms of my illness funny and innocent; others see them as dreadful and portentous of evil. The same people say nothing about the alcoholics around them who spread so much more harm and are so much more violent because they themselves drink. The news never says “The alledged assailant had gulped two sixpacks.” I am the one running against society, the upsetter of convention. But there are those who feel like I do. They gather in support groups or on the web. My Bipolar_Blogs Twitterbot has successful brought people who suffer from the illness together and given them hope. And there are other venues that I participate in run by other people like Larry Drain of Facebook. These people strike me as sane and joyous. I may drift away for short periods of time, but I am always going back.
The key, I think, is to feel the feelings instead of burying them or dousing them with crude self-medication. Get to the root and the anger is decapitated.
Most people don’t have to have this much self-knowledge because they don’t have what I have. I am thankful that I am not the only one on the planet struggling like this because that life would be impossible to live for.
Thank you my bipolar friends. Your existence redeems me.
When I am very depressed — which is not now — my brain feels solid and hard. It’s the surest guide that I have had the Big One, the low that can only be borne by plodding steps and lowered head. Yea, they will write it off as merely bad posture. I will marvel at the adamantine of my cerebellum, the heaviness of my medulla oblongata. I will ponder the sharpness of the rock inside my skull and, when the feeling has toppled away like a raven falling from a cliff towards its nest, I will desire its return because it is only then that I can feel that I have a brain and am, in fact, alive.
Just at the point where Ridgeline Drive reaches its uttermost crest and begins to slide down towards El Toro, the blue SUV was stopped in the middle of the street with its lights on and the driver’s door open. On the left, beneath the street light, a woman was laying a gray and white tabby on the sidewalk. I looked then took another look, turned, and then parked my truck. I got out and rushed over.
“I didn’t hit it,” she said. “It was lying in the middle of the road, so I stopped and picked it up.”
“Does it have a collar?” I asked feverishly. She felt the neck. “Is it your cat?” she asked. These questions were coming because this corpse looked too much like the living body of my Boadicea. The frets of a surprise raced through me. I looked at the cat from all angles. “I think it might be. Yes, it might be, but I’m not sure.”
I lifted the limp cadaver in one hand and took it over to my truck where I laid it in the bed. Blood dripped from its nose. Its left eye blew out like a balloon, the collision having evacuated the orb from its socket. I checked it for familiar patterns. Wait, this paw isn’t right. Is it? There’s either too little white or too much white. The body seems too small. Is it Little Bo?
I laid the cat in back and called Lynn. The woman drove by. “Is it your cat?”
“I don’t know.”
Lynn had just arrived home, so I urged her to race upstairs. “Is the front door open?” I asked, sick that our other cat and our dog might be running loose. “Get inside, look for her.” Seconds of silence, then, “Here she is.” I removed the dead cat from my truck and laid it back on the street corner, in a tortellini crescent under the light where its true owner could find it.
When I got in the door, I looked for Boadicea, grabbed her and held her tight for a second. “What the fuck are you doing?” her body growled as she jumped from my hands onto the floor.
For a few years, I shuffled around companies in temporary jobs, hoping for a permanent position. One place that I worked was a computer mainframe manufacturing company in the days when the big computers were being replaced by Suns and smaller makes like the Apple and the multitudinous IBM-PC clones. My job was external expediter. I loved the job because it involved getting things up and running again. I looked over a long list of parts that hadn’t come in, called the vendors, and asked them to get the material in as soon as they could. There was an angle that involved a sizable amount of detective work, too. Sometimes parts had already arrived but had not been checked in receiving. So I went out there to check the shelves to see if the paperwork had simply gotten lost.
One case involved a set of panels. When I called the provider, the contact yelled at me. He insisted that the parts were on our dock, that he’d sent them out weeks before. Understandably, he wanted his money for the job. I had him fax over a copy of the shipping slip. Right away I saw the problem: he’d reversed the purchase order numbers. I went out to receiving and asked about any shipments with that P.O. number. The woman who worked it pointed to a tall stack of metal panels. “Yeah, that’s been around for weeks.” I checked and thanked her, then circulated the information that we had the parts for the line.
About half an hour later, my boss called me in. He praised me for my work, but then told me that I couldn’t check receiving anymore. “You got to understand that she isn’t very smart and she thinks you are making her look bad.” If I had anything, I needed to send someone else out.
The message I got from this was that it wasn’t cool to be smart — to do your job well. I hadn’t thought about bringing this woman down. I was just finding the part. The reversal of the digits had understandably thrown this woman off. It wasn’t in her log and she didn’t know what to do. I had come along and solved the situation. The parts were now off her back — no longer taking up space in the receiving area. I could have made the same mistake myself. But she personalized it.
It seemed to be part of a long theme in my life: that being smart led to being punished. And because of this and similar incidents, I have felt shoved to the periphery by people who quivered when I saw things more clearly than they did ((Now, mind you, I’ve also been the person who didn’t see things clearly, but the attitude I strive for is to be glad that the situation is clearer for everyone now.)) .
It’s very easy to stop talking about what is happening to you when you feel you have an audience with allegedly normal minds watching you. I don’t feel safe around the so-called “normal” because if you mention the flashbacks you have been having or a voice that shouted once in your ear, they put a gun in your hand and have you shooting down schoolchildren. Never mind that those who use alcohol and drugs are much more likely to commit violent crimes, it’s the mentally ill who get all the press. When was the last time you read that the accused had consumed half a bottle of Wild Turkey or a six pack of beer before he set out on a murderous rampage? The so-called sane have their own delusions which play any time they are in the presence of one who experiences mental illness. You can go through 22 years of marriage without a single act of violence or threat against your wife or any other person, yet the phrase “bipolar disorder” will incriminate you without any other facts.
The worst, of course, are those who suck in the world views of horror movies and video games. Follow this with those who won’t face their own symptoms — the drunks and the drug addicts. They make me hate the world at times, but I am no assassin. The universe does that work in its own good time. I am committed to not harming others. Like 97% of the mentally ill, this is a watch cry for me.
This will get me in trouble, but whatever.
Every so often I err and fall into an online game. Not the kind like Farmville, but something where people spend hours in chat rooms. Here you find the people your psychotherapist warned you about; the ones who drink and chat, the cyber-sex addicts, misogynist teenage boys, and people who have no social life besides playing online games. There’s a whole culture based on flirting and another based on being cruel to other players. I have found myself assimilated, at times, into the latter — a very tempting prospect for me and anyone else because this is a game based on Arthurian England except it is all numbers.
I’ve seen these behaviors before when I ran my own online game. The drinkers seem to believe that having a mood disorder is cool. What better beverage than liquid bipolar disorder? I have never understood why people insist on trying to become insane. I’ve been there. It’s no fun. Can’t they take my word for it?
The online romances have many faces, but I will speak directly of only one kind that makes me laugh. There is a breed of male who finds it entertaining to take on the personae of a woman. Most of these are misogynist assholes who give themselves charming names like “Sloot”, etc. An especially humorous subset are the ones who style themselves as lesbians for the express purpose of seducing women. The trouble is that most of the lesbians you meet online in these venues are actually men so any two lesbians you meet are likely to be men. And so men who spit on the idea of homosexuality end up cybering with other men like themselves. This is called “role-playing”: I call it interactive porn ((I once had a character who was a transvestite. “She” was the endless butt of hate mail written by men who were out for a little meat. I warned them at the start there would be something different, but their glands wouldn’t let them say “no” so — you understand me perfectly well.)) .
The teenagers who hang out in these places probably don’t need any further description. Like the males described above, their primary interest is prurient in nature. The game possesses a marvelous facility for taking revenge on these brats that I, alas, have sometimes taken part in.
Which brings me to the last group: those who have no life outside the game. There are people who play the game while they work. There are people who play the game because they are disabled. Many of these drink and game. Many of these don’t do much outside of their job than game and talk sex ((I watched an hour and a half long conversation about corsets just yesterday.)) . And I find myself in an odd place. I am there, admittedly because I don’t have much of a life. But I attend meetings where I help others, I write, I photograph, and I teach adults English. I am openly mentally ill ((You can imagine how well that goes over with some people. It’s worse than the real world.)) . So here I am, setting fire to a bridge that I have with other people. Is there any way I can live with this and respect myself? It’s a hard question to answer and I don’t doubt it will be shoved in my face once this sees publication.