Things No One Ever Told Me, Part 1

But first, Cabrogal over at Neurodrooling turned me on to this really insightful post(1) about how maybe there’s a different lens through which we could possibly view bipolar, which hooked in rather directly to a lot of other stuff D and I have been talking about a lot lately. 

  1. Potential content warning: it deals with with the with the idea that perhaps mental illness isn’t really even the right model. Some readers might feel like this invalidates their struggle, and that is a totally okay way to feel. There was definitely a time not too long ago when I would’ve felt that way. If you’re there right now, you might want to skip this particular link for now.

Okay, moving right along.

I’ve been at this adulting thing for a while. I’m slowly getting, like, less bad at it—much more slowly, I am forced to admit, than I expected, and also more slowly in some ways than seems to be typical. 

I’m pretty pretty sure that’s okay, though. 

We all live in our own timelines and on our own time scales. I come from a family of people who mostly live a really long time and often seem to take a while to figure things out. I’m also pretty sure that dealing with some major trauma (or, more accurately, not dealing with it for a long time) set the clock on the process of reaching a kind of functional maturity back by ten years or so for me. For a long time, I was stuck being 14 and severely traumatized. 

Yesterday I wrote a G+ post about how I’ve learned to deal with D’s dietary preferences. Backstory on this: historically, he has been pretty into Southern “comfort foods”and sweets and not at all into veggies, and since I can’t eat that way and stay healthy and I’m morally opposed to cooking two separate meals all the time, I’ve had to find a middle way. 

The analogy that came to mind was that our life together isn’t a tandem bike ride; it’s just a regular bike ride. Sometimes I get up the hills faster than he does because I like climbing on the bike. That’s okay. He still gets up the hills at his own pace, and I am okay waiting for him at the top(2).

  1. In real life, I used to do a lot of riding ahead, then descending back to my friends, then riding ahead, until I figured out that too much of that makes you look like an annoying show-off.

Sometimes we even take a different route, either because he doesn’t feel like climbing or just for fun. That’s okay, too. At the end of the day, he rides his bike and I ride mine. I can influence the route we ride, but can’t ride his bike for him, and the funny thing is that we both enjoy the ride more when I don’t try to ride his bike for him.  

    Anyway, I’m slowly realizing that same analogy applies to other things, like adulting. 

    Just because I like to climb out of the saddle, that doesn’t mean you have to. (Does help, though, if your hubs are actually in the middle of your wheels o_O’)

    Maybe I’m not getting up the climbs as fast as other people—hell, tons of people my age have responsible, well-established careers—but I’m still on the road, pedaling along. 

    I’m way behind the group I started with because an asshole threw a stick into my spokes early on, and I had to scrape myself off the tarmac, and then I got lost for a while when looking for a shop to help me fix my wheel. 

    That’s okay, too. I’m back on the road now; the one I want to ride. And, honestly, if it hadn’t been for for the asshole who broke my wheel, I don’t know that I would’ve ridden my own road. Having lived through something that really shattered my whole life early on has made me both unable and unwilling to struggle through a life that doesn’t fit(3).

    1. No judgment implied, by the way, towards the folks out there doing exactly that. Sometimes you have to live the wrong life in order to get to the right place—just like road work happens and sometimes you have to take some crazy-ass detour to reach a treasured destination. I admire people who have the strength to do that.

    Anyway, so yeah. I feel like I’m learning things now that, in retrospect, should have been obvious—things maybe other people learned way earlier. 

    One of them is that being a grown-ass married adult doesn’t stop you from developing intense and enduring crushes on people you admire.

    Not that I subscribe to the philosophy which dictates that marriage should make you blind or you’re doing it wrong. Honestly, part of being human is admiring other people—ideally, people who are worthy of admiration, and not giant self-aggrandizing dicks. Sometimes those people will also be hot and kind and insufficiently whatever-it-is-that-prevents-crushes-for-you(4).

    1. For me, it’s a certain flavor of authority: I have never had a crush on a boss or an academic teacher or advisor; that feels too much like crushing on a parent. It’s like, “Squick, and also, no.”

    Sometimes, you will develop an uncomfortable and enduring crush on someone with whom pursuing a relationship would be a Bad Idea For Reasons even if you were single, or if you were poly and sure they were fine with poly relationships.

    Sometimes, regardless of your best efforts, you will go on crushing on said Amazing Person no matter what. It will be weird, but you’ll stick it out, because regardless of the fact that the person in question “makes (your) heart kinda flutter; makes (your) eyes kinda blur,” it it is really good to have them in your life anyway.

    …Even though it’s gonna feel a lot like this sometimes.

    Nobody ever told me that, so I’m passing it along.
    It is also possible that living with such a crush might sometimes be as wildly uncomfortable as, say, crushing on your best friend or lab partner or Lofty McPerfecthair was in high school. 

    Part of you might still desperately want to lay your absurd crush at their feet in hope of (chaste) validation; in hope that they will say, “No, if things were different, we would totally happen, and it would would be awesome because you’re amazing and also really hot.” 

    Part of you might desperately hope they never find out, because it would wreck you at least a little bit if they were like, “LolWut?” and a lot if they were like, “Yeah, um, this feels too weird. I’m outies,” and even more if they told all the cool kids  your peers or colleagues about you and your ridiculous crush(5).

    1. Which, of course, leads to the feeling best identified as,  “If s/he ever finds out, I’ll never be able to set foot in the coffee shop/studio/office/chemistry lab again! I will have to move. TO ANOTHER PLANET.

    So you endure, trying to figure out how to make yourself stop having a crush, because it would totally be super weird for everyone involved if Awesome McDreamyface ever learned The Awful Truth(6).

    1. By the way, this is powerfully amplified by the conditions of dance and circus arts, wherein we interact at close quarters in our fancy underwear and touch each-other a lot. Perversely, these exact conditions, coupled with the inevitable admiration and hero worship involved in doing difficult things with other humans, all but guarantee that dance and cirque are first-rate Crush Incubators.

    Nobody told me that, either.

    Like many socially-challenged people, I’ve learned a great deal about How to Human from fiction.

    In fiction, though, conflicts kind of have to resolve. Nobody(7), to my knowledge, actually writes about the poor, happily-coupled schmuck who goes on having an awkward crush and never speaking of it and not even being a total creeper about it(8).

    1. Maybe I should? This seems like a topic that Anne Tyler might handle well, so maybe I should just send her an anonymous note suggesting it?
    2. Creepers be like: “I punched him in the face because he never should have said that purple isn’t your color! He doesn’t deserve you! You deserve someone better!!!” *suffers in deafening silence* “Also I made you this scarf. I knitted it from from my own hair.” Silently, to self: …Which I have shorn, mourning the great love between us that can never be. Oh, why will you never see how much I love you?! 

    Come to think of it, “Making peace with yourself; learning to go on being friends happily in spite of The Most Awkward Crush,” probably is a valid resolution, so maybe I’ve just missed that book, but if it’s out there I haven’t heard of it. Maybe if I’d read more in the “Written Rom-Coms” or “Touching Stories of Friendship” genres, I’d have encountered this idea earlier.

    Anyway, I’m filing this with Things That Don’t Automatigally Fix Themselves When You Turn 18 (0r 21, or when you graduate from university, or possibly ever). If I come up with a solution, I’ll let you know. If you have any suggestions, please please please for the love of of all that is holy  feel free to leave them in the comments. If you’ve had similar experiences and want to to leave those in the comments, that’s awesome too (even if you, too, are right this very moment in the throes of The Most Awkward Crush and haven’t the faintest idea how to deal).  

    The other one that’s grinding my gears right now is the thing about being afraid that the other kids in your class project group  your colleagues, with whom you’re working on a group project  dance that you’ve choreographed, secretly would rather do something else and wish you would stop bothering them and are only working with you because your English teacher is forcing them to  out of pity.

    I kept feeling weird about inviting dancers to work on my piece, and then feeling weird again when trying to schedule rehearsals—like I was imposing upon them or something. 

    I finally figured out, as a by-product of realizing that I was afraid that no one would come if I threw a party, that I am still convinced in some level that people just kind of tolerate me because they have to, but aren’t willing to tell me. 

    Basically, it seems that I’m still convinced that, once people realize how much I suck, it will be just like middle and high school again. No one will want to hang out with me or participate in my projects, because I don’t really know How To Human. 

    I think, though, that maybe grown people—some grown people, anyway—figure out how to get along with the socially awkward weirdos of the world and how to be more comfortable with their own Inner Weirdos. And I hope that they learn to say no instead of agreeing to work on the project and then fervently hoping they really won’t have to.

    So after the difficult and awkward Nobody Told Me That…,there’s this one. Nobody told me that I’d still feel just as certain of rejection now as I did in middle school. The upside of this one is that I think I know how to approach it, now.

    For me, the best way to deal with something scary is to run right towards it. Sometimes I can’t yet, but I think I’m ready to run straight towards this piece of of this problem. The work I’m trying do as (I guess?) an artist isn’t going to get done any other way. It doesn’t matter how great my ideas are if they stay locked in my head as I sit here doing doing the equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming to trip over me and decide to marry me on the spot(9). 

    1. My inner cynic is picturing Prince Charming saying,”Well, now we’re lying here on the ground together, so I guess we had better get married, because people will talk.”

      Given my past and the fact that I’m both shy and still a little fragile in the self-worth department, I’m not going to say Go Out There And Grab Your Dreams By The Balls! 

      … Because, let’s be honest, that’s not what I’m doing at all. 

      Nope, instead, here’s what I’m trying, and maybe what I recommend if you’ve got big dreams and you’re afraid they’re gonna kick you in the face, hard:

      Get out there use binoculars to spy on your dreams. And then when you start to get a feel for their habits, maybe get a little closer. Then a little closer still.

      And then kind of follow them around, so you maybe just seem like a particularly persistent tumbleweed or some other part of of their normal environment.

      And then integrate yourself into the herd of dreams, and over time get a little closer and a little closer until you’re standing around next to your dream, pretending to graze (because you definitely don’t want it to suspect anything).

      And then eventually lean on your dream and later maybe skritch that one spot right behind its ears, to make friends.

      And then sort of wriggle yourself up on its back a little, like you’re just another dream and just cuddling.

      And then when it doesn’t even worry about that,  just kinda slide up and throw a leg over, and hope that it’ll just just be just be like, “Oh, no problem.”

      And then stay up there and ride.

      Then if you do fall off and get kicked hard in the face, it’s 100% cool to lie there and lick your wounds for a while.

      I guess what I’m saying is that, even where dreams are concerned, you’ll get up the hill when you get up the hill.

      And that’s okay.

      About asher

      Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

      Posted on 2017/01/06, in adulting, adventures, healing, it is a silly place, life, mental health and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

      1. Yeah, maybe I should have put a warning on that link. There’s a lot of people out there with psychiatric Stockholm syndrome who get very upset if you tell them they’re not sick. And their families can get even more upset.

        But here’s a tip. If you’re ever up on serious charges never, ever let your lawyer try the insanity defence. Yeah, your lawyer gets to pretend he didn’t lose the case and your family gets to say that you’re not really badly brought up – you’ve got a brain disease. But you’ll end up with an indefinite sentence that’ll probably be a lot longer than if you were convicted and, much worse, you’ll fall into the clutches of some of the nastiest arseholes on the face of the planet. Prison forensic psychiatrists. And lots of people think that’s getting out through a loophole!

        You seem remarkably adult to me asher. Well, if you overlook your dress sense that is.

        Regarding those “never, ever except in my dreams” crushes, my experience is that the dreams just get stronger over time. I think it was Gore Vidal who said “Never pass up the chance to have sex or appear on television” and though I wish I’d passed up my opportunities to be on TV I still find myself regretting not acting on inappropriate crushes from over three decades ago. Of course if I had acted on them I’d probably regret them even more. Sometimes every choice is the wrong one.

        • To be honest, I’m kind of on the fence about the culture of putting warnings on everything. Like, it has some immediate utility, but in reality we only overcome our traumas and anxieties by facing them. It’s nice when one is in crisis to be able to avoid touching off an explosion, but eventually one has to start living without content warnings, or one will be permanently paralyzed by the fact that life doesn’t come with content warnings. So, in short, even though I stuck a content warning on there, I’m glad you didn’t 🙂

          Also, thank you. I am beginning to suspect that I’m using the wrong stick to measure my own maturity level. I mistake my innate playfulness for immaturity and tell myself that I don’t know how to be serious, when in fact I do know how and when to be serious. I may not have a Responsible Desk Job, but I’m in the middle of doing what is apparently serious creative work. I haven’t accepted the terms on which my part of the world seems to want adults to live, but I’m busy thinking about the world and its problems and how to live with them or address them, which seem pretty adult-y, now that I’m thinking about it.

          As for the current Most Awkward Crush—I think you’ve hit it on the head. There probably isn’t a right answer, and I probably will, later on, regret the fact that I didn’t throw caution to the wind in this particular case, but it’s very probable that doing so (even with immediate success) would lead to even worse regrets (and the need to move to another planet). I’m trying to remind myself that phenomena will arise no matter what I do, and I don’t have to try to steer the river; I can just float along with it.

          • Having clicked through I’m not sure about the idea that nobody got diagnosed in the 1950s, etc. Sure they didn’t – but they got slung in the big house instead, often for life, for diagnoses like “she got pregnant without being married”. Also, if they’re right about psychiatrists’ case loads shooting way up, it doesn’t sound like their pay is soaring – more like the job sucks and their institutions are trying to substitute pills for people, because pills don’t get a pension…

          • You’re correct (or mostly correct) about both those points. IIRC, in the 1950s manic-depression had been codified (though it was, like everything else, seen through a Freudian lens) and people were being diagnosed, but some of the historical figures cited definitely predate the idea of mental illness as we understand it, and while we can draw inferences, I don’t think it’s quite kosher to diagnose people who are really quite dead already.

            Likewise, the author of the article misses the key point that medical therapies are often the only ones offered in the US largely because our incredibly misguided health insurance system usually won’t cover anything else, and that practitioners give patients such tiny windows because that’s often all they’re reimbursed for. Even as a physiotherapist, D is reimbursed in units of either 15 or 18 minutes (I forget which), making each client session 4 units long :/

            OTOH, I think there’s some merit in the basic philosophical argument—like, there are definitely cases (and arguably conditions, particularly schizophrenia) in which medication is certainly warranted, but for many of us living with mental illness, life stressors are what trip the wires.

          • A heck of a lot more people are being diagnosed with bipolar now than with manic-depression in the 50s, 60s or 70s. For starters there was no bipolar 2 or 3 back then and they account for the overwhelming majority of diagnoses these days. Also it was unheard of to diagnose kids with M-D then, but now even infants are getting labeled and drugged.

            I don’t think it’s quite kosher to diagnose people who are really quite dead already.

            Yeah, it’s actually considered unethical to diagnose someone without meeting them, but that doesn’t stop media pop-shrinks once someone puts a microphone in front of them.

            Likewise, the author of the article misses the key point that medical therapies are often the only ones offered in the US largely because our incredibly misguided health insurance system usually won’t cover anything else

            Now ask yourself why, then re-read the article. Actually it’s not quite as simplistic as drug company pressure. These days in all walks of life, but insurance more so than most, you’ve gotta have metrics that you can feed into audits and turn into performance indicators. Pills you can quantify easily, in cost, dosage and anticipated effect. Talk, diet, exercise, social support, lifestyle changes and spiritual insights don’t convert so readily into dollars.

            there are definitely cases (and arguably conditions, particularly schizophrenia) in which medication is certainly warranted


            As I’m sure you know the categories are completely arbitrary and get changed by the DSM committee once or twice a decade. Up until 1973 your sexuality alone would have been enough to pathologise you and make you eligible for drugs or psycho-surgery. (Up until 1979 NSW courts were still scheduling homosexual ‘repeat offenders’ to Chelsmford Private Hospital for deep sleep therapy and neurosurgery.)

            If Jacob, in the post you link to, didn’t have mood swings as well his psychosis would have earned him a schizophrenia label instead of bipolar (ditto for me BTW). And if he’d reported the downs but not the ups he would have copped ‘psychotic depression’. So hiving schizos off from the rest of us loonies and marking them for special treatment is just playing the same sick game the shrinks do.

            But the most important argument against dosing schizos with antipsychotics is the drugs don’t work. Yeah, sure they can block the positive symptoms of a psychotic episode but so can lots of stuff, including opiates, insulin and a blow to the head. Once I was slipping into psychosis at the end of a long manic streak while I was being prepped for surgery. When I came out of the anesthesia both the mania and psychosis were gone without a trace. It’s when you start to use them in the way they’re almost invariably prescribed – as maintenance in the face of a chronic condition – that the problems really start. I won’t bore you with a list of their often irreversible side-effects – you probably know them better than I do – but the kicker is that people maintained long term on anti-psychotics are less likely to go into remission or make a full recovery than people who don’t receive them. That’s probably why three separate WHO studies all found that the long term prognosis for schizophrenics is better in third world countries where they can’t afford the drugs than in industrialised nations that can.

            And they cost the health system a bomb too.

            It’s not as if there’s not better and cheaper non-drug treatments for schizophrenia. There’s Soteria, pioneered by Loren Mosher in the US, Open Dialogue used in Finland (and increasingly in other countries) and the social support and self-validation offered by the Hearing Voices Network, all of which are much more likely to return people to social and vocational functionality than the pills – even if they don’t necessarily knock out all the ‘symptoms’. Some of them still use antipsychotics sparingly during particularly bad acute episodes but withdraw them ASAP when the crisis passes. And the truth is that given proper respiratory monitoring and support they’d be far better off using opiates for the improved side-effect profiles. Let’s not forget, neuroleptics were originally called ‘major tranquilisers’ until some marketing genius decided to relabel them as ‘antipsychotics’ (i.e. “we’re not sedating patients, we’re curing them” – except that they never get better and have to take the pills for life).

          • Ack. Mea culpa—I actually didn’t intend to imply hiving off people with schizophrenia in the least, not that I was advocating for the long-term use of neuroleptics—should have phrased that differently.

            I was, in fact, thinking the short-term use model you mention. What I intended to suggest is that medication (and not necessarily our current batch of meds, either) can, for some people, be a useful part of the toolkit, if we use it in that light and not as a panacea that must by applied for the rest of one’s life. Meanwhile, our current approach is very much like installing a picture-hanger by first hammering a nail into a wall, continuing to hit the wall with a hammer until the wall is pulverized, then declaring the triumph of the open floor plan once the whole interior of the house has been destroyed.

            Likewise, I don’t advocate forcing any group of people to take medication. Especially with antipsychotics, the side-effects are, as you note, often worse than the condition the meds are supposed to treat. Likewise, some are irreversible. That’s precisely why I don’t take medication for bipolar (it’s hard to dance with tardive dyskenesia).

            I’d be a giant, flaming hypocrite if I suggested that anyone else should be forced to take meds or looked at askance if they make the rational choice not to.

            I’ll have to look into the WHO study you mentioned, by the way, as I haven’t heard about it. That sounds encouraging.

            FWIW, the initial tentative dx I was given when I was hospitalized at age 14 was schizophrenia. At the time, the medical folks in charge of treating me didn’t understand that what looked like flagrant delusions of persecution were the result of being relentlessly monitored by a sexual predator. Apparently, if you tell psychiatric hospital staff that you feel like you’re being watched constantly, but find yourself unable to speak about the actual surveillance and the things related to it, they tend to draw certain conclusions, especially if you also have intrusive thoughts and sleep-deprivation-induced hallucinations.

            (FWIW, I do still have intrusive thoughts, but I’ve always had them. I also tend towards “I can accomplish everything!” grandiosity when manic and develop some interesting delusions if I get sufficiently sleep-deprived, but the best treatment I’ve found for this is actually sleeping, heh.)

            Obviously, they changed their minds eventually, but it left me with a pretty keen sense of the way people with schizophrenia are regarded by the psychiatric community.

            As long as I was marked with an invisible tag that read, “schizophrenic,” it seemed like I was regarded as a hopeless case. Somehow, moving into the “bipolar” category seemed also to move me into the “not-quite-so-hopeless” category—away from “this kid has no future and is never going to be able to live independently” and into “this kid can go to college with adequate support.”

            I try not to forget that.

            And I do agree that bipolar diagnoses, at least in the US, have skyrocketed. When I transferred from one psychiatric care team to another early on, the question was actually raised as to whether it was appropriate to dx a teenager with bipolar, or whether the dx was influenced by the beginnings of a trend in that direction. I think that’s pretty interesting in light of the current picture.

            Likewise, I think US culture has developed a habit of wanting to pathologize and medicate everything that prevents fitting neatly into our current culture (read: without developing depression or anxiety or…), which is a problem, because our current culture is pretty inhumane.

          • I’ll have to look into the WHO study you mentioned, by the way, as I haven’t heard about it. That sounds encouraging.

            It’s called The International Pilot Study of Schizophrenia. You can find various analyses, references and summaries all over the web, mostly in the form of badly scanned PDFs.

            De Girolamo’s summary (badly scanned PDF) is more readable than most, with the bottom line nicely graphed in Figure 3.

      2. Also, remember to approach your dream from 90 degrees with your shoulders open and perform a U shaped join-up 🐎

      3. Likewise, I think US culture has developed a habit of wanting to pathologize and medicate everything that prevents fitting neatly into our current culture (read: without developing depression or anxiety or…), which is a problem, because our current culture is pretty inhumane.

        Yeah, it’s pretty ironic that every time there’s a high profile violent crime in the US committed by one of the estimated 60% of the population who fit DSM criteria for a mental illness the public discussion almost always focuses on the alleged insanity (often diagnosed retrospectively) of the perp and none of the many risk factors that correlate far more closely with violent crime (e.g. being 18-25, being male, heavy alcohol use, playing contact sports …). And of course the greatest risk factor for mass shooters is being a white American.

        So how come we don’t lock up and forcibly medicate all the white, male, American football players for the risk they pose to themselves and others? We can probably let the practicing Muslim ones off with a warning and close monitoring as they don’t drink.

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