Happy Anniversary, Sanity!

pexels-photo.jpgThirteen years ago, I was locked up.

I was 24 years old in Austin, Texas. A bright, blossoming wounded made up girl-person flung far from the bleak overcast of depression or the jagged broken-record of anxiety. I was HIGH and flying ever higher. No one could stop me. I was a rainbow technicolor butterfly emerging from her chrysalis stupor. I was on fire, passionately delusional. I was all over town, dancing on tabletops. In and out of consciousnesses, enjoying nonstop religious experiences. I felt invincible and acted boldly. I was out of my mind. I was a puppet starlet drama queen going places: India, California, everywhere.

At the aptly named Flipnotics Coffeehouse on Barton Springs Road on April 16, 2005, the shit hit the fan. Long story short, I was taken away in handcuffs by the police to the psych ward, where they brought me back down to Earth with a thud and a plethora of prescriptions psychotropics, tranquilizers, chairs with straps and staff in white uniforms to do the strapping. Yet, in ten (long) days, I was released.

That was thirteen years ago.

These days, I am celebrating sanity, but more than that, I am celebrating life, freedom and yoga. I am grateful for all the people, places and lessons of those times in my tumultuous mid-twenties and since. I am welcoming everything, whatever may come, whether pleasure, success, tragedy or death.

I am celebrating my choice not to take the doctors’ orders and “just take two of these pills a day”. I am celebrating my choice to exit the box and settle well outside of it, surrounded by wildflowers, kittens, scattered toys, piles of books and notebooks, coffee trees, three volcanoes and a sparkling lake.

The Forest Cure

Why I’m Anti Antidepressants

Many years ago, I sat on the couch of a stern psychiatrist who informed me that I needed to take prescription psychotropic pills every day for the rest of my life.

That didn’t sit well with me.

But, I was 21, and facing the moment-to-moment reality of horrible depression during every waking moment of my “real” adult life.

I learned that depression is anger turned inward. Self-blame exacerbates a mentality in despair. For me, depression was like endless fields of gray. I only wanted to sleep or die. I was unable to hope and had zero desire to do anything but lie in bed. It was like being stuck in a huge, ugly glob of what’s-the-point! 

Life was drained of all color, fun, and love.

I chose to take the pills. I was told they would take a couple of weeks to kick in, and they did—like clockwork. My ability to function in the world was restored. Once I felt better, I’d stop taking the meds. Then, of course, I’d feel bad again, dragged down into the quicksand of darkness.

So, I’d start back up again with my prescription refills and they’d take longer to take effect, since my brain was building up a resistance. This carried on for about four years, until one day, all the fireworks exploded in my mind and I was catapulted from the lows of cyclical depression to the rapid fire “high-high-high” of mania.

That’s when I was committed for 10 days to the state psychiatric hospital and was prescribed lithium for life.

Teaching yoga at a fitness center the following year, I struck up a conversation with a woman after class about mental health and prescription drugs. She urged me to read up on lithium and its detrimental effects, and gave me a book on the topic. My mom and brother had both been diagnosed with bipolar prior to me, at age 40 and 14, respectively. I was 24 when my manic side emerged, although, in retrospect, it was more like popping topless out of a cake than a gradual emergence of symptoms.

There is the reality that everyone’s brain chemistry is different and influenced by genetic factors outside of our control, and yet our brain chemistry is also affected by our lifestyle and behavior choices. After a few years of taking lithium religiously, I felt ready to phase it out of my system and did so under the care of a qualified psychiatrist—a doctor not much older than me—also named Michelle. She helped me phase it out, and it’s been eight years now with no relapses.

Continue reading

The manic episode: Part I

Manic depression is searchin’ my soul
I know what I want but I just don’t know how to go about gettin’ it
Feeling sweet feelings drops from my fingers
Manic depression is capturin’ my soul

~ Jimi Hendrix

Six years ago, I had a nervous breakdown. The incident, which culminated on April 16, 2005, was diagnosed a manic episode and I was diagnosed bipolar.

I was a textbook case, a psychiatrist later told me. Grandiose ideas, hypersexuality, too much makeup, crazy outfits. Over the top. Delusions of grandeur. Erratic behavior. Little need for sleep.

Some factors that may have led to the breakdown:

But what happened is really beyond explanation.

Mania felt like a dream. I didn’t want drama. I was completely absorbed in the present moment, recreating myself all the time. Here are 7 things I wrote during the height of the mania:

  1. This is fiction, by the way. Life is fiction. Maya, an illusion of reality. I need to meditate. Writing is my meditation this morning. I need to sleep. Why can’t I sleep? Dear God, please let me sleep.
  2. I am so scattered but I must write. It may be hard to follow. I feel like if it were not for yoga, meditation and a select few other secrets, I would at this moment be a bunch of particles floating in space with no center, no cohesion.
  3. I have been in constant contact with my closest friends, my true friends. They are telling me to get professional help. “Thanks for your advice. I’ll keep that in mind.” Whatever! I am pissed and offended. Get off your high horse. I will be FINE. I just have a lot going on right now. I can handle it.

I regret nothing about my time in California. It was amazing, i fell in love with the state, with a boy, with Jesus, with myself, with the world.

It all came crashing down but I picked myself back up again. I was floating in a pool of condensed time, face down, and I just didn’t want to swim any further.
  4. am i bipolar? it is a distinct possibility. i never knew that mental illness like this could happen to me again and again and again. i have real issues with authority. esp. authority telling me that i need to take medications for the rest of my life everyday. f that. i can handle this on my own.
  5. I have lost my ability to be anything but totally present. Spiritual awakening. Cultivating the power of now. Happy, joyous, productive, exciting. But I seriously think I’m manic depressive. Shudder to think where I’d be without my yoga. Dead or a mother of three, I bet. I need organization. I am in chaos. Things are in complete flux. Everything: Job, relationships, friendships, careers, stories, networks, art, life.
  6. My dueling gemini twins are at it again. One says, settle down, get grounded, get real. If you stay here, maybe you could settle without getting too down. Over there, you cannot afford to settle. You’ll want the spiritual life, the zen retreat, the study of divinity. You’ve already tried the yoga thing and it is too much of a struggle to do full time. You’ll want to write and meditate all the time, to eat raw foods, become a vegan. You may fall back into the same situation. Would you let your debts, your depressions, your confusion take hold of you again? That’s the real fear. Repetition of failure.
  7. I have one mission: to live life to the fullest, soaking up the sweet and dark emotions, figuring it out as I go. Never before have I felt this satisfied. I am done with being ruled by a suspicion that sorrow and trouble are lying around the next corner, just out of view. I am done with forcing myself into a shape.

to be continued.