ROBIN – a time machine and a bit of a mirror.

robin

HEADS UP – This is a heavy post, but an important one.  Please be aware of that before you read on, but know that that what you’re reading is important.

Robin Williams.

Robin.  Mork.  Adrian Cronauer.  John Keating.  Peter Banning.  Genie.  Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire.  Sean Maguire.  And on, and on.

Robin Williams was the voice of my childhood, and the comedic light that shone on the dark places of my youth.

His self titled biography ROBIN, authored by Dave Itzkoff and recently released is absolutely phenomenal.

As someone who spent a large part of my early childhood years standing in front of a mirror imitating his vocal play and rapid fire stand-up timing reading this book was like reliving some of my very formative years.

I think this book is great for a myriad of reasons.  Robin Williams was a generational talent, and deserves to be chronicled like this.  His characters – those listed above, and the rest of his roles as well – shaped my generation, and it’s great to be able to pull back the curtain and see some details from some very beloved movies.  Reading this book was like getting on a time machine and traveling back.  And it was great!

It was also a bit like looking in a mirror.

It’s stated multiple times in the book that Robin felt such a need to please people that it drove his manic and frenetic pace on stage.  Similarly, what’s the name of my blog?  It’s Which Me is Me?  I named it that to signify the struggles that I feel on a day to day basis – that need to be whatever, and/or whoever is needed in the situation I’m in.  My mania has driven me to be so chameleon-like over the years that I truly sometimes  don’t feel like I know who I really am.  Which me is (the real) me?

This book also brought out feelings and emotions around Robin’s suicide.

As someone who has attempted to harm myself several times, but thankfully hasn’t succeeded – reading about the death of someone whose career I followed very closely was tough.  David Letterman is quoted in the book as saying, “Robin could freaking fly man – he was magic on stage.  To go the way he did, the pain – it must have been insufferable.”  I have suffered mental anguish such that I felt the only way out was the permanent one, and I get it.  Bipolar has driven me to the edge of the end, but thankfully I’ve been able to pull back you know?   I’m not saying that Robin Williams’ situation is 100% identical to mine – I’m just saying that I’m understand being in a place where the pain of the situation is too much to bear.

My situation diverges from Robin’s though in this way – I was able to pull back from the edge, and got safe, and got help to stay safe.

Please, I encourage you – if you read this and find yourself in a place where you’re battling suicidal ideation, or if you’re progressing  to making plans … get help.

800-273-8255 is the number for the Suicide Prevention Hotline.  They’re a great place to turn, when you feel like you’re out of places to go.

I’m here to help in any way as well – whether through direct contact, or just by reading these words and knowing that overcoming the difficulty can be done.

The world has lost too many bright lights.  Find help, and make sure you keep your light shining.

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Mixed Emotions

Mood cycling has been a bit rough lately, and it’s led to some time away from this.  I realize though that the absence from the blog may have been part of the problem you know?  It’s been a solid month since writing last, but today at least – I’m back.  Lots has been going on, mentally and physically.

I’ve been thinking about the time I spent in the adult mental health system.  It’s been nearly 18 months since I checked out of the facility – and the time that I spent there was part of the rebound that I needed to stop the downward spiral.  At the time that I checked in, I was on meds and in treatment, but I needed more time and a different environment to level out and get control back over my physical and mental well-being.  The full details of what happened there are for another day and another post (or you can read back through the posts from last year when I was there (starting here: Where am I?).   Suffice it to say though, that a combination of a controlled environment, and a safe pull free zone, and the therapy sessions were just what was needed.  Even being in a group of 20 people –  thoughtful therapeutic processing is what was needed at that time and it hit the sweet spot in my heart and mind, allowing me to be able to stop the spiral.  The staff made a difference in the experience 100% in that they were able to see my issues and my needs – because they were different from what everyone else in the group brought to the table.  Part of why the experience went so well I believe – and this is the onus of why I blog and post publicly about something so private – is that I was treated as a person and not as a diagnosis.  I was asked pointedly, “Will, what do you need to feel better?”  “Will, have you been able to identify what is causing you to feel this way, or that way?”

Direct questions get direct answers.

I’m in a similar place now I think.  Not similar in that I need to be in a safe place, but similar in that I need someone who asks me direct questions about how I’m feeling.  That’s why I’m grateful for my wife, and her care and active participation in my daily life with bipolar.  She’s a great source of strength to me, and instrumental in me being as grounded as I’d like to think I am.

In the last four weeks since I last wrote, it’s honestly been tough with the bipolar stuff.  There’s been a lot of mixed state stuff going on – that means you’re experiencing both a manic state and a depressive state at the same time rather than cycling through them separately.  It makes for an interesting experience, and quite a doozy of a few weeks.  It’s a lot to take on.

With all that being said though – I don’t post this commentary for sympathy or well wises.  I post because I am trying to lay bare the realities of mental health, through the lens of my specific disorder.

I suffer, on a frequent basis.  It does not define me though, or put me in a position where I am different from, or need accomodation to lead a life like you do.

My suffering makes me stronger.  My particular brand of insanity is something that puts the world in high definition and lets me see things that I otherwise would not.

My suffering does not make me less.  It sucks, and makes life difficult at times, yes.  But rather than keep me from things, or make it so I can do less, it makes me more.

More able to see the world, and others.

More able to live life with passion and joy.

More able to be who I need to be.

More.

Intentions

The road to hell is paved with them.

You can’t get to heaven without them.

Our intentions create our reality.

And many many more.

Rather than talk about heaven and hell through, I’d like to talk about how intentions are important in surviving life with mental health issues.  Intentions are required when you want to make a decision – usually the hard ones no less.  Intentions are required when you’re done with the status quo and you want to change.

Intentions however are NOT required to make non decisions.  They are not required to keep your situation exactly the same.  They are not required to keep sitting on the couch of your life.  They are not required to NOT make a difference.

Intentions.

From our friends over at Webster’s Dictionary:

Definition of intention

1a determination to act in a certain way resolve
3a what one intends to do or bring about
b the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered
4a process or manner of healing of incised wounds
So, with that in mind …
I am of the determination to write this blog to keep my mind afloat.  I am of the determination to have this blog be a place where ideas and words of motivation and support are written, whether by me or the dozens and dozens of you who read this post and those before it.
My intention, and what I INTEND to bring about from this is a freeing of my mind but giving myself a place to empty out.  I intend to keep this blog positive in tone and messaging, because it’s too damn easy to go negative with everything in life, let alone when you throw mental illness into the mix.  I intend to look first at the positives around me when I am in the midst of a bipolar cycling event.
I intend to be honest with you all, and tell you when I’m struggling.
Because honesty needs to be an intention when you’re dealing with a disorder that makes you want to stretch, not tell, or otherwise do bad things with the truth.
My intent here is to be 100% honest in how I’m dealing with all of this, and Which Me is Me today.  My intention is to be full of intent.  It’s too easy as someone who suffers from manic depression to sit back and wallow in the realities of what I’m facing, so right now, today, in this moment, I’m choosing to stand on the other side of the line and say:
I choose to live.  I choose to survive.  I choose to fight, even on the bad days.
I’ll be damned if I don’t win.

Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade are shining a light.

Spoiler alert, this is a heavy post. Read on knowing you’ve been warned but know you’ll be uplifted if you do.

It’s been an interesting week for the rest of the world – those who don’t understand mental health challenges and that they exist in nearly everyone out there. How is it possible that someone like Kate Spade, someone who’s on top of the world could be in a place to take her own life? How could someone like Anthony Bourdain, star of his own TV show, renowned chef and world traveler want to take his own life let alone actually do it?

I read one of the (many) posts that have been written last night about all of this and it made a good point: Mental illness is a monster, and until the general population gets a hold of that fact and acknowledges it rather than using it as joke fodder – this will continue to happen.

Having a mood swing doesn’t make someone “a little bipolar.”

(This one is particularly upsetting:) “The weather is bipolar today.”

Having a bad hair day doesn’t mean someone is depressed.

People wouldn’t dare tell a cancer patient to go out and “exercise it out,” or to “sleep it off.” So please, don’t dare tell me, or someone you know who struggles with depression or anxiety or some other mental illness to do that. Mental illness is real, and all around us. It’s everywhere, in some form and the odds are in favor of you knowing someone who suffers or being the one who suffers.

In discussing all of this over this week, someone dear to me made a very valid point: depression, and a lot of other mental illnesses tell your brain to be afraid of things you know it shouldn’t be, that you shouldn’t TALK TO PEOPLE for help like you know you should for help.

Those of you reading this who have sincerely posted on socials about anyone who needs to talk calling you – please don’t be offended. Please know that I (and those who are suffering silently) appreciate that outreach. It’s a good step in the right direction and one that will save lives and make differences.

But…

the next step that needs to be taken in our society and in educating the next generation is knowing what signs to look for.

Knowing signs of depression.

Knowing signs of bipolarity.

Knowing signs of anxiety.

Knowing signs of suicidal leanings.

And on and on.

Society needs to know these things so that they can reach out first to those who suffer.

It is tragic that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their lives this week. That they had gotten to a place where they had lost all hope is the saddest part of it all, especially because I’ve been there.

But I hope their legacies can be more than a line of designer items, and reruns of a travel TV show.

May their memories motivate us all to be better to each other. May their mementoes be the beginning of the end of a stigmatized mental health reality here in the US and in the world.

Let There Be Light

Let There Be Light is a film made in 1946 by John Huston that chronicles the effects of war on a group of men who had been in the American military.  During their 8 (or was it 10?) week treatment the films hows their treatment on both an individual and group basis.  The film is equal parts hard to watch, and pride inducing as it shows these men from when they check in to the hospital and then when they leave.  It’s on Netflix if you want to catch it there, or the link to watch it on YouTube.    Toward the end of the film, the hospital commander speaks to this group of men and tells them that their experiences don’t define them and that they aren’t lesser men for having what he calls “nervous challenges,” and today we would call mental health issues.  He makes a clear point that the experiences that these men had around, and because of their mental health challenges, have prepared them better for life in the post war American world.  Applying that to today, and to my life, and yours, and anyone reading this who suffers from any mental illness – our challenges don’t define us, and in many ways have better prepared us for life than anything else we could possibly do.  The title of the film is perfect, in so many ways.  For all of us, my wish is that we Let There Be Light.

Mr. Walter? (What’s in a name?)

I love answering the phone and hearing that on the other end.  It usually means that it’s someone calling from a pharmacy, or a doctor’s office, or perhaps even a bank or telemarketer.  Sometimes I have fun with them, especially if it’s a telemarketer.  Every time though, it’s my filter for who is on the phone.  “Mr. Walter?”  is someone who doesn’t know me, and is likely calling to bother about something.  “John Walter?” is someone who REALLY doesn’t know me and is going to get taken off the phone quickly.  When I hear “Will?” on the other end, that’s a friend.  That’s someone who knows me.  That’s home.

So … when I get a call this afternoon asking for John Walter, I knew it was going to be something good.

Turns out, it was just my medicine refills were ready for the month.

I’ve been struggling again with the idea of having to take medicine.  I’m fully on board with taking it, and recognize that I can’t go without it.  I’ve got an alarm set that goes off every night at 9:30 and I know it’s time to take medicine, but I get SO angry when it goes off.  My thought is that this anger has something to do with being told what to do, and an aversion to losing some sense of control.  I don’t plan to stop taking them, so no worries there, but for the moment at least I can’t put my finger on the why.  If I read back over this paragraph, nearly every sentence starts with I … so it’s definitely something to do with me.

Also – I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my name and who and what I am.

As we say frequently around here:  Which me is me?

J. William Walter (IV)?  The somewhat pretentious, sometimes highly manic man who can bounce off walls and run on that hamster wheel with life like no one’s business?

Will?  The relaxed, working from home dad of two and husband who works tirelessly for career and family?

Do I have to choose?   What’s in a name?  Can I be both?  Are there other versions of me that I live but can’t even articulate?  I think so, quite honestly.  I hope so – for all of us out there.

That’s what I love about bipolar.  It’s like a multi-colored lens on not just my eyes, but my brain and mind and heart.

I get to live, and see life through a different view – that sometimes is clearer, and sometimes darker – and it allows me to live life more fully that I would otherwise.  It lends itself to living life well.  Surviving.  And maybe someday, getting ahead of all of this.

Carry on My Wayward Son

So I’ve been on a major 80’s classic rock kick lately – I just tell Alexa to play 80’s class rock, and she takes over from there.  The David Bowie playlist, and the AC/DC playlist have been the two best so far.  I’ve said it before, but there’s something about music – it’s got a great avenue into the mind and heart regardless of genre.  There are certain songs that just hit home, and make things better.  To that end, let’s talk about a Kansas song – from 1976.

Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion
I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I’m dreamin’, I can hear them say

Carry on my wayward son
For there’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

Kansas speaks the truth here:  Carry on, and there will be peace when you are done.  It’s ok to rest, but don’t cry – don’t get upset any more.

Can it be any clearer than that?

It’s probably pretty easy to pick up on it from reading the last few posts, but things have been a struggle lately.  I mean that’s the worst part of manic depression, you know?  Things go up, and things come down.  It’s a struggle, but that’s the nature of the beast and more than that – it’s also life.  Life goes up and down.  And like the song says – Carry on.  The key to the whole lyric set is “Lay Your Weary Head to Rest.”  Rest, and everything will be alright.

So tonight’s entry is short and sweet, but it’s got an important message:  Carry on.  Survive.  And don’t cry anymore – because you’re allowed to rest.  Survival and living well is only doable with rest.  Whatever rest means to you – get there, and be there as often as is required.

Be well y’all.

 

Coping with Life

There are times when things are going great and wonderful and it’s easy to look around and think – “Is anything even wrong?”  The sky seems bluer for the moment, the sun shines brighter and there seem to be birds singing louder and sweeter than usual.  But – life being what it is, and more importantly bipolar being what it is, this peace can’t last.  It isn’t permanent and never sticks around for a super long period of time.  The peaks and valleys will always be there – but the name of the game is minimizing them, and keeping them in control.  In other words – you’re going to fall … just don’t forget to get up.  Cope.  Keep going.

I’m amazed at the difference how I keep going this year versus last year.  It’s literally night and day.

 

-Last year, I was staying up until 2 and 3 and 4:00 in the morning, working puzzles, cross stitching (yes, cross stitching!), reading, praying, and crying.

-Last year, I was reliant on pills to get through moments of anxiety.  The result would be that I’d pass out, and be stoned out of my mind for the next three hours.

-Last year, I would stay in my room to get through fears.  It was the only safe place in my world at the time.

Last year I was coping, but I wasn’t living well.

-This year, I haven’t had to take medication for anxiety.  When those moments arise I go into safety mode and try to slow the world around me down.

-This year, I’ve educated myself on the symptoms of a manic episode, and when I feel myself heading in that direction I keep myself close to family and safe places.

-This year, when I wake up at 2:00 in the morning or can’t fall asleep immediately – I focus my energy first in prayer.  From there I go to the distractors – the cross stitching (yes I still do that), the Seinfeld episodes on Hulu, and puzzles.

The moral of the story is this, again: You can live well with the symptoms of mental illness.  It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth every ounce of blood and sweat and every gallon of tears to do it.

Educate yourself on the symptoms of your particular challenge.  Be aware of what they are, and know them cold so that when they start to crop up you can know what to do to prevent them.

Surround yourself with the best care your situation allows.  Where possible don’t skip out on medical care – self treating can only take you so far, and can be something of a slippery slope because try as we might – we’re never going to be experts in all of this.  There are caring professionals out there who do want to help.  Let them.

Lean on those around you.  Don’t be afraid to go to friends and family for support in whatever form is needed.  It will help you, and will help your support team become more comfortable with your reality and theirs.  There’s no better way to help, and be helped.

Above all, always try to have hope.  It make such a difference in the day to day survival, and truly change how you see the world.

A Letter to a Teen Aged Me

So I saw an article on The Mighty today that talked about people writing their teen aged, bipolar selves letters.  I’ve done that a few times in my life, writing letters that are supposed to span generations like that – from me to myself you know?  Sometimes they’ve been forward in time, other times they’ve been backwards.  Every time though, they’ve been insightful and informative and a real eye-opening process.  With all that being said – here is my letter to me:

Dear 2004 Will –

Those feelings that you have right now are not bad things.  Nothing is wrong with you, despite what you may feel, or what you will be told.  Your heart is good, and your head is in the right place, trying to get the most out of life at this age.  When you feel those powerful emotions swinging, regardless of where they’re going, don’t stop them from happening and don’t be afraid to let the emotions out.

If in fact there is one thing I can tell you, it’s to always let emotions come to the surface and come out.  Whether those emotions manifest themselves in the form or tears or laughs or whatever it may be – LET THEM OUT.  Holding emotions in leads to further fear and anger.  Like Yoda says in Star Wars, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the dark side.

Know now, what Elder Holland will say in General Conference in several years, “Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters … do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it!”  At this point in your life you have tried to do that once, and you will be driven to the edge of doing it twice more in the coming years.  Life can be a dark place at times, but it is never ever worth trying to end it.  Please don’t do it, once or twice or at all.

The questions you feel about wondering who you are and why you feel the way that you do in your head and heart are all valid.  There is nothing wrong with you – you just don’t know what’s going on yet.  Keep asking questions and pushing for more information.  It may make your parents and friends and those around you uncomfortable right now, but there will come a time when you’ll regret not asking more questions.  Please take the time to take care of you.  Keep that in mind across the board – from spiritual things, to professional things, to education related things, to relationship things.  Please take the time to take care of you – depletion depression and anxiety are real and can be a big downward spiral.  Take time to be well, so you don’t have to take time to get better.

Love yourself fully and passionately.  That will lead to you loving others fully and well.

Most importantly Will, let yourself live well.

All our best,

2018 Will

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