Monthly Archives: August 2016

Some Days…

Let me tell you about a time I went crazy in a not-fun way (unlike the Prince song, which is going crazy in a fun, funky way).

A friend recently posted online about wrestling with their depression and casually noted that some days are better than others. That reminded me of the U2 song “Some Days Are Better Than Others” and that brought back memories of the first major depressive episode I remember going through, during my last year in college.

The thing is, I didn’t recognize it as a depressive episode at the time. In retrospect, it’s seems blindingly obvious that it was. I would lay on my bed, listening to the bleakest of bleak Cure songs and crying (“Hopelessly fighting the devil/Futility/Feeling the monster/Climb deeper inside of me/Feeling him gnawing my heart away/Hungrily/I’ll never lose this pain/Never dream of you again”). My social anxiety was so bad, I couldn’t get myself to walk into stores and restaurants that I’d never been in before. Sometimes I couldn’t even get myself to leave my bedroom when my housemates had friends over. I had suicidal ideation–I didn’t make any suicide attempts, but I came close a couple of times.

One thing I remember clearly is listening to U2’s Zooropa album over and over and over. My favorite U2 albums are the ones they did with Brian Eno, but for some reason, my depressed brain really latched onto Zooropa, the song “Some Things Are Better Than Others” in particular. (That’s not an official video, so it may not play in every region and may not last on YouTube.) I loved the way the lyrics went back and forth playfully between positive and negative imagery, but the lines “Some days you hear a voice/Taking you to another place” really resonated with me. Like Bono’s voice would take me to another place, a world where I didn’t feel so sad, so lonely, so afraid, so unlovable, so ugly, so empty inside. But it was even more than that. I became more and more convinced that the album as a whole was ripe with hidden meanings that I needed to decode. If I could figure out the secret meanings, I would have a way to open a door to another reality. I’d sit on a bus going through my college campus, listening to Zooropa on my Discman, gazing out the bus window, and if a flock of birds suddenly flew across my view, I was sure it meant something, I just wasn’t sure what. Signs and portents were everywhere, their messages just out of conscious reach. I didn’t talk to anyone about this at the time. It’s not that I thought I was crazy because I didn’t, I just assumed no one would understand or be able to help me figure out what the album and the world around me was secretly saying.

Like I said, I can look back now and see what I was going through as something that could have, should have been treated with medication and therapy. Instead, I rode it out, somehow managing to pass all of my classes, go to work, go on dates, go to parties with friends, and otherwise function like a mostly-normal person. But it wasn’t fun. Luckily, I haven’t had a depressive episode since that lasted as long and got as bad. Some days are better than others, and those days were definitely not my better days.

I Oiled a Geo Bed, Junkie Woman!

a bad wedgie milieu joke noon
i daub godlike
i bade a bad union mike joke
ion a dab a bad ideologue
ewe join mike weed
guile join goodie junkie wine bad weekend
i wedge milieu bea meowing add woo
a moo dab jewel bad union
woo a mink
a bad join woo geek enjoin ilium

a goodie enjoined
guile join godlike
a goodie junkie wine
jane guile mike
woo bad weed a dab guideline
meek mole mink bea meowing
woo a mink
add lieu joke onion geek enjoin ilium

Rewriting the Story, Part 2

A little nerd history: Champions, a superhero tabletop role-playing game, was one of the first RPGs to have characters that were created by spending an allotment of points, instead of rolling dice to randomly determine characteristics. You could get more points to spend on your character’s attributes and powers by taking disadvantages. The disadvantages could be things like having a secret identity or being hunted by a particular organization or villain. They could also be physical limitations, like being blind or having a heart condition, or psychological limitations, like having a severe phobia or depression. Disadvantages were only worth points if they caused real complications in the game, so if having a secret identity didn’t really matter to the story, it wasn’t worth any points. But having a physical or mental condition that got in the way of your character living a “normal” life? That would give you points you could spend to have better superpowers.

I’ve written about how growing up with ADHD–and living with cyclothymia and anxiety on top of that–can do a pretty fantastic job of screwing with your self-esteem. I recently had to leave work early because I got hit with a migraine, something I’m prone to (like my brother, my mother, my grandmother)(yay, genetics!). Because I’ve had to miss work due to anxiety attacks and depressive episodes, missing work when I’m physically ill makes me feel guilty. It’s not enough I miss work because I’m crazy, I also have to miss work because I’m frail? As I drove home that day, my sunglasses didn’t just shield my migrainey eyes from the too-bright sun, they hid my tears. I was letting my co-workers down. I was failing everyone. Because my brain and my body are broken.

But what if I’m not broken? What if that’s not my story? What if…?

My girlfriend recently posted this piece by Bunmi Laditan to my Facebook wall. It resonated so strongly with me, I cried reading it. And this part was like a flash of lightning in my mind, illuminating everything I’ve been thinking about lately:

People with mental issues, I’m talking to you. I know we’re in mixed company with the normals, but this for you. What if we’re special? Yes, it hurts. Yes, we get sad. Yes, we’re tired of being in body that tortures us regularly, but what if we’re special? What if there’s a reason?

I don’t want to bring Marvel into this because DC Comics is superior, but what if we’re like X-Men? Take Cyclops. He has to wear those special glasses or he’d burn holes in everything with his laser eyes which must be hard, but he’s also used them to save lives on missions. And Rogue. She hated her ability to absorb powers and longed to be able to do simple things like touch her boyfriend without possibly harming him, but through her interactions with Wolverine and Magneto, we all learned how amazing her gift is. Eventually, she learned how to hone and better control it.

What if we’re like that? What if our brains that cause us so much torment, have hidden potential. What if we’re special?

(For the record, I don’t think DC Comics is superior to Marvel. I’m an equal opportunity fanboy.)

And so. What if my depressive and hypomanic episodes, what if my anxiety and panic attacks, what if my lack of time sense, my distractibility, what if all of those things are side effects of my superpowers? What if I need the points from those disadvantages in order to have my talents and powers as good as they are? What if I would be too much awesome for people to handle if I didn’t also have to deal with my mental health issues?

I know I’m tired of feeling broken, fucked-up, a failure. I know I’m tired of seeing so much of who I am as a negative. I know I’m tired of apologizing for being daydreamy, talkative, socially anxious, loud and dramatic, imaginative and unrealistic, nonlinear, and emotionally sensitive. I know I’m tired of beating myself up for not being “normal” when I’ve never really wanted to be “normal.” I want to be a superhero. And being a superhero means accepting your weaknesses as well as your strengths. It means realizing that your disadvantages just make your advantages more amazing.

I’m ready for my story to be amazing.

Title Drop

if you read the book of the blue ghosts
in the comfort of your electric bed
between the hours of the albatross & the porcupine
never again to wonder over the cry of the blender

in this garden
drip drip drop
goes the rain
tip top bop

this song is in the spectral key of x sharp
drowsing off in a saucer of cold coffee
with goldfish glancing across the library
pushed & pulled by the magnetism of mad love

in this garden
drip drip drop
goes the rain
tip top bop

reflections in the curled corners of mirror rooms
this fancy frippery you donned at midnight
draped across a cosmic gap in the teeth
but those people we subjugated are still subjugated

in this garden
drip drip drop
goes the rain
tip top bop
something still
drip drip drop
in the night
tip top bop

Rewriting the Story, Part 1

As much of an optimist as I am, I still think the power of positive thinking is kind of bullshit. You can’t wish your brain chemistry to work better any more than you can wish arthritis or diabetes away. A lot of “power of positive thinking” writing is, frankly, obnoxiously vague pablum. Yes, sure, we create reality with our minds. But if your brain isn’t giving you the right chemicals at the right time, your reality is going to be at least a little warped.

At the same time, based on experience, I think positive thinking can be pretty powerful. Depression and anxiety are a combination (often a potent one, like a Long Island Iced Tea) of brain chemistry and psychological issues that have built up over your lifetime. Depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD, these frequently need some kind of medication to help adjust wonky brain chemistry, but I truly don’t think you can deal with mental health through medication alone. So I embrace the paradox of positive thinking being both a powerful tool and a big bottle of snake oil. Bottom line: use whatever tools work.

For example:

Driving home from work the other day, I got distracted for a few seconds by something on the side of the road (that something being the “Amusing Breeze” sculpture) (it’s fun and cute, right?) and when my eyes went back to the road, I saw the cars in front of me had slowed to a near stop, while I was still heading towards them at around 40 m.p.h. I slammed on my brakes and screeched to a stop with an inch or two between me and the car in front of me. All of the books and CDs in the passenger seat at my side went flying onto the floor. Traffic started moving again, and as I continued my drive home, my anxiety dial was turned up to at least a 9. I mentally berated myself, cursing my easily distracted ADHD brain, “Stupid, Neff! Really, really stupid!”

But wait a minute! Stop the presses! Yes, I should keep my eyes on the road at all times. Yes, I should give my full attention to the cars around me, ignoring the whimsical art on the side of the road. And yet, was anyone hurt by my sudden stop? Nope. Did I actually hit anything or anyone? Nuh uh. I thought about it some more (while also paying attention to my driving, because I can multitask when I need to) and decided that instead of following a narrative that tells what a fuck-up I am, the story should be about how my ADHD brain gives me quick wits and reflexes, allowing me to respond instantly to my situation, keeping me from getting into an accident.

My anxiety and depression are so tied up with my life with ADHD, it can be easy to turn my perspective over to them, seeing myself as a bundle of all the negative traits myself and others have pinned on me. And while it’s true that I’m not always perfect, I rarely make the kinds of catastrophic mistakes that cause serious harm, that can’t be rectified, that undo the world around me. Depression and anxiety are lying motherfuckers, and even if I need the help of medication to fight their lies, that doesn’t make me more broken, more rotten, more of a loser than anyone else. This is exactly where positive thinking, reframing my reality, rewriting my story is helpful.

To be continued…