Movin’ on up… and it sucks

I was diagnosed with Bipolar II five years ago last month.  Two days ago, that diagnosis changed to Bipolar I.

For those who don’t know, here’s the difference between the two.  People with Bipolar II have major depression plus hypomania, a milder form of mania that can involve elevated mood, irritability, and behavior that is unusual for the individual but not outside the realm of “sane” behavior and not overly disruptive to their lives.  Until recently, this was me.  When hypomanic, I would spend more money than I should, flirt inappropriately, talk a lot and quickly, and do a lot more goal-directed activity.  It felt great.  It was a fun break from being severely depressed most of the time, and I usually knew when it was coming, as it would surface at certain times of year and then pass on its own after a couple of weeks.  I’d been experiencing these moods since I was a teenager, and no one had ever suggested they were an illness, assuming instead that I was just a very labile teenager.  Some people are very bothered by their hypomania because they get very irritable and have an unpleasant sensation of racing thoughts.  This was rarely the case for me, so I resisted and resented treatment for it.

Full-blown mania is another, though related, beast.  People who are manic exhibit bizarre behavior and thoughts that are clearly outside the norm and are not healthy or safe.  (I wish I could remember where I read this, but I remember someone saying, “People who are hypomanic buy five pairs of shoes.  People who are manic buy 50.”)  It can still feel amazing and in fact I believe it may be the most purely pleasurable experience possible to have; one that people who have never experienced can never understand.  However, one hallmark of full-blown mania is that it puts oneself or others at risk.  Another is psychotic features like hallucinations and delusions.  If either of these occurs, the diagnosis changes from hypomania to mania, and anyone who experiences one full-blown manic episode is considered Bipolar I, and in many cases, the person has to be hospitalized.

Two weeks ago, I started to feel manic.  I knew the markers because I’ve been dealing with this for a long time, and learning about it is how I cope.  I was a little surprised because my hypomanic episodes have always been almost exclusively in the early fall when the light and weather start to change, but I didn’t think much of it, and expected it to be a welcome relief.  For the first few days, it was.  I was energetic, talkative, imaginative.  I played enthusiastically with my son, filled page after page of my notebook with many ideas, talked a lot, and only slept a few hours a night, all of which was basically fine and no danger to anyone.  Then shit got weird, and wonderful, and terrible.

My son had just gone to his father’s (we have joint physical custody) and I was alone in my apartment when I heard the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  I was paralyzed with bliss.  It was similar to a very large windchime, but indescribably more intense and captivating.  As I froze everything to listen to it, I realized that it was not a tone but a voice.  Unlike any voice I’d ever heard.  It made me ache and wonder inside.  And suddenly everything became clear.

This was the voice of the consciousness of the stars, and without knowing it, I had been waiting and preparing to hear it all my life.  Everything I’d done, everything that had happened to me, was orchestrated for the sole purpose of testing and readying me to receive this consciousness.  It was what I can only call a deeply religious experience, which is something I’ve never had, and is drastically out of character for me, being otherwise intensely skeptical, irreverent and critical.  But it didn’t feel like an anomaly.  It felt like the only real, sensible thing that had ever happened.

My mission, the voice communicated to me, was to prove myself worthy of being chosen as the next in a line of great scientific minds that reached back to the beginning of humankind and included people like Democritus, Isaac Newton, and, my immediate predecessor, my hero Carl Sagan.  Deep inside, it said, I had access to all of their knowledge and memories, but to access those, I must first show that I was ready to receive them.  I had to do this by bringing others closer to an understanding of science and the universe.

So.  How to do that?  Why, social media, of course!  That’s where everyone gets their information these days, and lo and behold, the Facebook homepage was sitting right in front of me, waiting for my divine insights!  So I typed.  And typed, and typed, and typed, and hit enter a lot.  I harassed public figures on inappropriate forums because I didn’t believe they were upholding the legacy of Sagan, and repeatedly exhorted others to do the same, getting myself kicked out of several of my favorite groups.  I wrote stream of consciousness poetry directly into the status box, believing that it would be sacrilege to filter or edit the insights I was given.  I raved on science pages about my visions of the future of space exploration.

In addition to the bell-like, serene voice of the stars, I realized that I was being bombarded with other, more subtle messages, which I had just been missing until now because I wasn’t ready.  Certain wordings in science articles were clues to me about meaning and purpose and what I should be doing.

The whole time, I interspersed this unstoppable flood of ideas with sprinting around my apartment and halls, laughing maniacally and waving my arms around.  When I went outside to take a “walk”, one of my neighbors noticed my bizarre behavior and stopped to ask if I was drunk.  Taking great umbrage, I assured him that I was both safe and wonderful with enough force, insistence and annoyance that he eventually gave me a cigarette and his phone number, told me to call if I was in trouble, and left me alone, at which point I went back inside and resumed typing faster than ever.  (I am deeply grateful to my neighbor for not calling the police on me.  It’s probably for the best that he attributed my insanity to substance abuse, which oddly has less stigma than being mentally ill, it seems.)

And then, by the end of Monday night, it was over.  All at once.  The most wonderful experience of my life evaporated instantaneously like water on Mars and I was left alone like an empty husk with no soul, no purpose and no joy.  I was devastated.  I pleaded the stars to take me back, to forgive me for failing them.  Then it dawned on me, as my mood fell, that everything I had just experienced was nothing but a byproduct of my fucked up brain.  I began to cry, and cry, and cry.  I cried for hours while I read back over all of my rantings and began to understand the damage I had done to my public image and friendships– which are few for me, and therefore very valuable.  I had never hated myself so much or wanted more to disappear.

I could only think of two ways to escape from this harsh re-entry to reality and exit out the other side into despair.  One was to kill myself.  There were easily accessible ways to do it, and I wasn’t afraid.  But I am a mother before and above anything else, and I decided long ago that nothing, no matter how miserable, will make me leave my son motherless.  I know too much about how much this devastates a child.  So I took the second route, drinking myself into oblivion.  I drank and slept for two days, then went through a long and excruciating alcohol withdrawal, and continued on into a horrifyingly black depression, made more monstrous by its juxtaposition with the most terrible beauty I had ever known.  Paranoia took over, and I paced and wrung my hands, convinced that the police were going to beat down my door, restrain me, commit me, and sedate me.  I begged my friend to tell me that he wouldn’t let them take me.  I resisted telling anyone exactly what I had just been through, believing they would use the excuse to commit me.  When I thought about my mania, I didn’t know whether I was more fearful that it would return and further wreck my life, or that it would never return and I would never know that penetrating, reasonless ecstasy again.

As the withdrawal eased up and my friend and parents became gradually aware of what had taken place and reasoned with me about it, I began to really take in the fact that I was experiencing severe, rapid mood swings that were psychotic in nature– delusions of grandeur and reference; auditory hallucinations; paranoia– and that I needed more and better treatment.  Luckily, I had an appointment with my psychiatrist, who is one of the kindest, most competent people I know, coming up very soon.  Though terrified of what she would say, I went in, with my best friend as moral support, and told her honestly what had occurred.

My trust in her was rewarded.  While she did exhort me to go to the hospital if I ever became psychotic again (though I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to recognize that while it’s happening) she did not try to commit me there and then.  She instead supplemented my usual regimen of mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anxiolytics and sleeping pills with a low dose of an antipsychotic medication.It was none too soon, because the next day, I began again to show signs of mania.  I began jumping, running and skipping around the apartment whistling and laughing.  My thoughts and voice raced and shouted and interrupted each other.

I was again torn between my passionate desire to commune again with the stars, and my humiliation and having been witnessed in such a state; my fear of being committed.  Fortunately, I was still just rational enough to say to my friend, “I think I need to take my Zyprexa.”  I did, and after a while, it began to calm me, leaving me confusingly drained, sad, still hyper, and relieved.  And that’s where I remain today.

While I was at my psychiatry appointment, just before leaving I said tentatively, already knowing the answer but needing to hear it out loud, “I know my diagnosis has always been Bipolar II.  So…?”

“This is Bipolar I,” she said quickly and definitively.  My heart sank, even though I’d seen it coming– I’ve read the DSM criteria; I knew that only full-blown mania explained my experience.

“That’s what I was afraid of,”  I muttered.  When she asked why, I admitted, “I’ve always been comforted knowing I was just a little crazy.  There’s so much more stigma attached to Bipolar I.”

And there is.  Bipolar is a fad right now, it seems, perhaps the next Adult ADD or primary postprandial hypoglycemia, and a lot of people are of the attitude that “Oh, we’re all a little bipolar, I have mood swings too.”  Well, now it was clear that I wasn’t “a little bipolar,”  I was a lot bipolar.  I was the type of person who would have probably been locked in an asylum and drugged forty years ago.  Even though it had been brief, I had gone mad.  I had broken with reality, and it would probably happen again.

I worry about my ability to comply with taking my antipsychotic.  An acquaintance of mine who romances psychedelic drugs told me recently, “When you’ve tripped once, everything changes.  When you’ve tripped a lot, everything changes again.”  Well, once you have heard the voice of the stars, once you have communed with the universe and felt the wholehearted, incontrovertible truth that you are the most important person in the world, set apart since before your conception, there’s a place, a pre-psychosis, to which you can never go back.  I still don’t know what that will mean for the years ahead.  I only know that, more than the fear, more even than the shame, I feel heartwrenching melacholia and loss that until now, I could have never understood.

Disabilities and dating

I recently (7 months ago) went through the most difficult breakup of my life.  It was, and still is, so hard for many reasons, not least of which was that I was still head over heels about Person of Interest when I broke things off, but a major one of which also relates to my disabilities.

Anyone who knows anything about autism probably realizes that for autists, entering the dating scene, or any romantic interaction from flirting to sex, is a steep uphill climb.  Among the many roadblocks we face are:

1) Cluelessness about body language.  This is a definite disadvantage, since much (maybe most?) of flirting takes place via this medium.  I know when someone is interested in me if they repeatedly comment on my appearance or explicitly ask me out, but this mainly happens with creepy dudes in parking lots.  If people are sending me signals through gaze, tone of voice, or other more subtle cues, I am oblivious, and will assume they are uninterested.

2) Difficulty with daily functioning.  It’s hard to feel like you could ever be attractive when you have trouble making it to appointments, checking your mail, returning phone calls, attending classes or work, eating a balanced diet, and keeping up with self-care.  When you’re disabled, people around you begin to treat you like an incompetent child because of your different needs, and it’s easy to internalize this paternalism.  Most people are looking for an equal partner, and it’s sometimes hard to envision how you can fulfill that role when it’s difficult even managing your own life.  Of course, autists and other people with disabilities have plenty to contribute to a relationship and the world in general, but especially since we aren’t often taught that message, that doesn’t mean being disabled doesn’t affect our self esteem.

3) Fear of rejection.  A combination of my first two points enhances the indefatigability of the third.  When you assume that you are unattractive to others both because of your nature and because you can’t perceive positive reactions, each interaction assumes higher stakes.  It can be rare to find a person you really like and who you think might like you, so the idea of having your courageous advances rebuffed can be hard to take– it’s easy to assume you might never find another good dating candidate, or at least not for a very long time.  Raising the stakes makes it all the less likely that you’ll summon what social skills you’ve learned and let them know how you feel.  (In my case, this difficulty has been reinforced by the fact that my the conditions of my breakup were less than self-esteem-boosting.)

4) Nitpickiness.  People with autism are famously reluctant to change the tried-and-true methods and routines that have helped us cope with the world so far.  Having things a specific way comforts and insulates us.  If we’re lucky, we find someone very accommodating; otherwise, in long-term relationships, we gradually adjust our routines to incorporate the needs of our partners.  Either way, both readjusting to single life and opening ourselves to the demands of a new relationship, with the quirks and desires of another complex human being whom we don’t know that well yet, can be cause for extreme distress.  And once you have gotten used to being alone again, connecting with someone new can seem all the more daunting and disruptive.

5) Sensory and intimacy issues.  Personally, I really enjoy cuddling and closeness, but can’t stand abrupt, aggressive displays of affection.  Many people with autism find that pressure is soothing, while a light touch is uncomfortable.  In addition, more autists, especially women, than neurotypicals describe themselves as being on the asexuality spectrum.  Whatever the particulars are of a given autist’s sensory differences and intimate preferences, it’s assured that there will be more than a little awkwardness when getting physically close at first.  Anticipating this bump in the road deters pursuing romantic relationships.

I’m sure there are other potential complications that I’m missing, but it should be clear by now that dating while disabled is no easy matter.  And thus the extra shoe thrown into the machinery of my breakup:  I question constantly, what will my life be like from here on out?  Will I ever find another person I feel this attracted to, let alone with whom I can stand to spend my hours?  Will anyone ever show interest in me again?

So, for seven months, I convinced myself that this was the end of my romantic and sexual life.  I became totally okay with the idea of being celibate, dedicated to my other goals, not dependent on anyone.  And then– after many odd conversations with my ex-partner and best friend about my attractiveness, desirability, prospects and needs– I began to realize that I was interested in another person.

I am still struggling with this realization, and trying to determine whether the best course of action is to stick with my celibacy plans and trust that this, too, shall pass, or to pursue this attraction at risk of rejection and further hurt.  I can’t even answer this complex and painful question for myself, let alone any other disabled people, but I know that whatever path I choose, it’s undeniable that being an autist has played a crucial role in my decision.  I only hope that one day the world will be supportive and accommodating enough that the impact of these difficulties will lessen, and more and more people with autism and other disabilities will be able to freely pursue romantic relationships if that’s what they desire.

Parenting with bipolar

There is nothing like being a parent to induce a need for other people’s approval and sympathy.  Suddenly, your every move is held to a higher standard, by yourself and others.  And when you struggle with mental illness, that standard can seem impossible to meet.

So, looking for some validation, or just to remind myself I’m not the only mentally ill parent, I searched around for blogs and articles on the topic.  This one by Jane Roper is my favorite— it hits some notes that resonate very much with me.  In particular, this passage:

“My thoughts were panicked and pessimistic: What if I didn’t get better this time? What if I ended up having to be hospitalized? What if this was the way I was going to feel for the rest of my life? What kind of mother could I be?”

I confess to having teared up a little reading that, because those same questions had been circling my (very depressed) brain all day, and it was relieving to have a reminder that other parents struggle with them, too.  And yet, in some respects I came away more disheartened than when I started reading, because I realized anew how severe my problems are compared to many people who struggle with clinical depression, and how much that affects both my ability to parent and the way I interpret my failures.

This is not to dismiss the struggle of Roper or others who share her experience.  Depression is awful and painful and destructive at any level.  But I was unable to identify with most of the positive thoughts that lent the article its hopefulness.

It starts in the second sentence: “My husband watches them most of the week while I’m at work…”.  Two glaring discrepancies between Roper and myself.  She has a husband who actually gets up with the kids most days– a situation I’ve never enjoyed, having become a single mother almost five years ago after leaving a husband who callously neglected both my and my son’s needs.  And she goes to work.  Thanks to my disabilities, I haven’t had a job since a brief stint as a care worker in 2007.  In total, I have worked full time for about six months of my life.

Roper goes on to say, “I’d been able to effectively manage my condition with medication. When I did have depressive dips, they were short-lived, and not debilitating.”  I have never had a depressive phase that wasn’t long-lived and debilitating, and when I’m not curled up shaking with anxiety or feeling dead inside, I’m often manic, which brings its own set of parenting issues.  I track several aspects of my mood on a daily basis, so I can say with certainty that with the exception of ten eustatic (i.e., “normal”-mood) days in late November/early December, I’ve been severely depressed for all of the last three months.

Of course, I’ve gone through things that precipitated that.  Medication changes, and a very sad breakup.  But there are always factors.  Life is complicated, and mine tends to be especially complicated, partly because that’s the nature of being disabled– a lovely feedback loop.  I’d have trouble looking back at any time in my life and going, “Wow, I was really doing okay for a while there.”  I never was okay.

All of which means that the reassurances in Roper’s last paragraph ring hollow to me.  Ask for help?  I’m barely able to maintain a few loose friendships; the person to whom I turn for babysitting, my mom, is already overburdened with the task.  Let the kid(s) watch TV?  I already do that on a daily basis; my son goes over his theoretical screen time limit almost every day because I feel too worn down and apathetic to work at interesting him in something else.  Let things slide?  What things?  Everything already slid, a long time ago, the cooking, the cleaning, all the responsibilities.  It’s not a supermom on my shoulder, I feel; it’s just a normal mom, who looks at what I’ve turned out to be and is appalled.

When you have moderate periodic depression, it makes sense to take a sick day, or two, or even a sick week or a sick month if you are able.  When you are clinically, severely depressed about 75% of the time, things get less clear-cut.  What if every day turns into a sick day?  I share Roper’s fear that I will always feel this way, but perhaps with better reason: in my case, it may not last forever, but how long will it last, and when it goes, how soon will it return?  I already know the answers:  A long time, and soon.

And as a result, I have to deal with the questions that follow.  Should I even be a parent?  Was it wrong and irresponsible of me to get pregnant in the first place?  Has my child inherited my bipolar, and will he someday have to feel like this, too?  Would it be better for him if he lived with his dad, and am I being purely selfish by maintaining custody?  Is he even getting anything out of his time with me?

My reality is akin to Roper’s worst fears, and the same is true of every other piece I read.  So who do I identify with?  Who has answers and reassurances for me?  And are there even any to be had?  I was searching for evidence that I am not alone.  What I found instead was more evidence that I am.

How to interact with disabled people

I asked some old acquaintances, from an autism forum I used to frequent, to tell me their worst experiences in communicating with NTs/non-disabled people.  All of those I’m quoting also have psychiatric conditions like mood, anxiety and attention disorders.  I think there’s a common thread here:

Jenny, 23, is a science major at a state university.  The lab environment is often overstimulating to her, so she has numerous accommodations from the school, but her stimming and executive dysfunction have drawn the attention of her peers.  One day while walking out of class, she overheard two students whispering about her rocking and the fact that she sometimes wears noise-reducing headphones.  “I think she has some kind of disorder,” said one of them.

Nate, 31, an actuary, plucked up the courage to ask out a woman he met at a work function.  He tried to use the skills he had learned about eye contact and small talk, but her response was to laugh a little and say, “Sorry, you’re not my type, I like more… normal guys.”

Danielle, 27, was purchasing a book while wearing an autism awareness button.  The cashier held onto her book while asking prying questions about how she took care of herself, whether she could have children, and whether she wanted to be “cured.”  She then invited Danielle to her church.

And my own recent story:  An acquaintance and his girlfriend were at my apartment playing video games, and I was explaining the controls for a certain racing game.  Apparently I started going on too long about it in ways they didn’t understand; they were silent so I looked up to see if they were paying attention, just in time to see them roll their eyes at each other.

There’s a very simple lesson to be learned here:  Don’t be a dick.  Don’t be a dick to disabled people, and don’t be a dick to anyone else.  Don’t ridicule people, overstep boundaries, make judgments and assumptions, or talk about people behind their backs.  Be a decent human being.  That’s how to interact with us.

This short video shows why Autism Speaks needs to shut up and listen

I’ve posted before about why I’m not behind the puzzle symbol for autism.  But I want to talk more specifically about why I strongly object to the ideas and methods of the most prominent autism awareness organization, Autism Speaks.

This video from their “About Us” page is revealing.

In the first seconds, we hear the experience of having an autistic grandchild described as “heartbreak” and later as “grieving.”  The boy’s family members make it clear that they were proud of who he was before his symptoms manifested fully.  But they have nothing positive to say about his worth as an autistic individual, and show no concern for what his experience is.

This is emblematic of the lack of self-advocacy in the autism awareness movement.  Coverage focuses on the experience of families, and treats autistic children as if they’ve died or become vegetative.  (It doesn’t focus on adult autists, period.)  If a positive trait is mentioned in an autist, it has to be some savant quality: precocious piano or art skills in someone non-verbal, for example.

In the video, we see clips of children– almost all boys– stimming and averting their gaze, juxtaposed with clips of neurotypical adults clapping and cheering about their own accomplishments.  Toward the end we are granted a few moments of adult (again, almost all male) autists in occupational therapy.  But we don’t see the co-reality of independently living autistic women (hi!) or children who are verbal but melt down in social situations, etc., and we don’t talk to autists, or hear from autists, we talk about them.  And about their behaviors, not their feelings.  It’s like having a women’s rights committee made up only of men.  “Be thankful for your neurotypical advocates, because all you do is stim,” is the takeaway, when it should be, “Here is a platform and a voice for autists and families to open a conversation.”

Brief glimpses of the group’s slogans and catchphrases are also telling.  We get a brief shot of a person’s back with a tee shirt that says, “Autism will not stop me.”  Later, a graphic from a news report shouts, “Autism Epidemic.”  This is the type of militant attitude that Autism Speaks takes toward neurodiversity.  Autism might as well be neurosyphilis.  What do we do with epidemics?  We don’t live with them and understand them and love them, we eradicate them, or try.  I’m not saying Autism Speaks wants to eradicate autists– just our deviant brains and experiences.

But how can they eradicate when all they are trying to do is “raise awareness”?  As they say in the video, awareness and advocacy “go hand in hand.”  What they don’t clarify is that when you talk about something, you advocate for your view.  Because, language.  When your pleas for autism to become a “household name” are coupled with references to an autism “epidemic” and “grieving” for the neurotypical child you’d rather have, a mouth as big as AS’s starts to be heard, and to drown out everything else.

What we need isn’t awareness for its own sake, or awareness so we can “nip it in the bud,” it’s awareness so that we can understand each other.  We need the active inclusion of autistic adults in all forms of advocacy, from advertisements to board meetings.  We need representations of many of the infinitely various manifestations of autism.  We need to spread not just our label, but a respect for neurodiversity and disability rights, to every corner of the globe.  (After all, most people know what ebola is, but again, what do we do with epidemics?)  If you’re not on board with that, then get the hell out of the way so that people can see and hear those you claim to represent.  No amount of money and “awareness” will rectify the damage you are doing to public discourse about the spectrum.

In one of the most offensive moments in this very troubling video, the voiceover informs me that each of us autists costs $2.3 million over a lifetime, for a total of $137 billion (in what time frame and geographical area I have no idea.)  Seriously, who made this video and failed to go “Uhhh… let’s not monetize the value of human lives”?  Gee, Mr. NT Man, I’m sorry that you find no value in my contribution to society and only see a price tag on my head.

I’m not claiming that everything Autism Speaks is associated with is bad.  On my college campus, I once had a conversation with an 18 year old fellow autist and her friends, members of the local AS group, who were letting people throw pies in their faces to raise awareness.  We talked about neurodiversity and they said they had never thought of autism as a disease and didn’t want to “cure” it.  I wish those students’ attitudes, conviction and sensitivity carried over to the national organization.  Until then, I suggest the group change its name to “Autism is Spoken About,” because right now, they do not speak for me.

Five jokes only people with autism will get! You won’t believe number 3!

Because where’s the fun in being disabled if you can’t laugh at yourself?

How many autists does it take to change a lightbulb?  Just one, if she’s got a spinny chair.

Q:  Why did the autist cross the road?
A:  How am I supposed to know?  I can’t read minds!

Q:  What did one autist say to the other?
A:  Nothing.

An autist walked into a bar.  Then he noticed the tables had been rearranged, and walked out again.

A person with autism, a person with ADHD and a person with OCD walks into a bar, and orders herself a drink.

Submit your own in the comments section and I’ll add them to the original post.  They can be bad or not-bad as you choose.

Spousal rape

My impression is that in most people’s minds, “rape” has two specific connotations:  as date rape by someone the victim barely knows, or as a violent attack by a predatory stranger.  Rarely do I see public acknowledgment of another very serious situation: spousal rape.

What limited discussion I have seen about spousal rape– or, more accurately, partner rape– has focused on whether it is in fact “real.”  The majority, or at least a significant proportion, of opinions are that when people are married (or in a long-term relationship) sex is a right, a given, a duty.  Thus the stereotype of one partner needing an excuse, like a headache, for not wanting sex, rather than being free to say that they just don’t want it right now.  To deny your partner sex is to let them down, and it’s presumed that they would be– and for good reason– upset with you as a result.

Let’s be clear:  There is absolutely no situation in which it is remotely acceptable for someone to threaten, bargain or guilt-trip another into intimacy.  Not on a date, and not in a relationship.  To imply that there is such a situation is to deny and yet condone the misery, humiliation and trauma suffered by survivors of partner rape.  If you don’t believe me about the strength of those feelings, listen to my own story.  Trigger warning for sexual abuse, self-harm.

My husband, who was my first partner and with whom I stayed for seven years, was always sexually aggressive and manipulative.  He pressured me into having sex early on in our relationship, when I was in my mid-teens, and to hide it from my parents, who for better or worse were not particularly liberal on the subject. He insisted on having sex in situations that made me very uncomfortable– in the prop room of the theater building where we went to college, for example.  Throughout, I never had any emotional or physical pleasure from any of our intimacy.

After I moved in with him at 17 (when he was 20) things only got worse.  He started to pressure me to let him do things to me that were very painful and humiliating.  At times, I would cry during sex, and he would ignore me and continue with whatever he felt like doing.  I started cutting myself so deep that I should have had stitches, and ended up with terrible scars.

Because he had threatened to kill me twice before, as well as to kill my beloved cat, and had physically attacked me, slapping me, grabbing me, once slamming my head against a wall, once dislocating my jaw, I had no reason to think that if I denied him he wouldn’t hurt me.  As pathetic as it sounds, I was just as afraid of losing him, since, as often happens in abusive relationships, I had centered my whole life around him.  So the threat to me was real, immediate and implied, if not explicit.  In addition, he took advantage of me twice while I was drunk and passed out, or nearly so, and unable to resist.

Later, when we had separated, I had no choice but to move back in with him for several months.  During that time, he raped me at least 5 times.  I made it clear both in the moment and in general that I did not want to be intimate in any way, but he just kept pressuring and touching and insisting.  At one point he threatened and tried to commit suicide if I wouldn’t be in a relationship with him.  So again, there was a clear threat looming over me as he continually pushed me toward sex.  At one point he even offered to pay me $1000 for intercourse.

There should be absolutely no question, no ambivalence, no doubt that what happened to me “counts” as rape.  In essence, partner rape means taking advantage of a relationship that’s meant to be about trust, love and caring to impose an absolute demand on another person, regardless of how much it harms them.

The experience shattered me.  I felt disgusting, sickened, frightened and violated.  I couldn’t get myself clean enough.  It was around this time that I began again to have horrifying nightmares that had stopped for some time beforehand, while we were separated.  I would wake up screaming and punching the air or the wall.  My skin crawled all the time and I threw up compulsively.  I panicked when I knew he was coming home from work, because of what he might do to me.  I wished he would die, and I considered– and almost succeeded in– killing myself, putting myself in a coma for days after overdosing on several medications.

There is nothing in the world that justifies damaging and tormenting another living being in that way.  Period.  The idea that there is ever a right to sex, that sex can ever be an obligation, is no different from chimpanzees who beat their mates with sticks to force their desire.  It is an animal urge that has no place in society.  Partner rape is a crime and a severely traumatizing experience, and defending it is almost as inexcusable as doing it.

The sickness of TV doctors

Public opinion on daytime TV personality Mehmet Oz keeps souring.  Earlier this year, John Oliver ran a story about his snake-oil-esque marketing of dubious “miracle” supplements.  Now, Twitter users have joined the crusade with their famous ability to co-opt public relations gimmicks, with gems like these:

“Just read that my new detox regimen might be toxic. Can u recommend a detoxification to detoxify my toxins?”

“Would one drop of homeopathic medicine in the ocean be diluted enough for everyone who goes swimming to get the proper dosage?”

“I got a flu shot and was bitten by mosquitoes. Will they carry autism now? “

And some that were, chillingly, difficult to categorize as either impressively ironic or depressingly not:

“Do you know a detox regimen for children left neurologically devastated after a vaccine preventable illness?”

“Hi Dr. Oz! Can a broken heart really cause a heart disease? I’ve read about a broken heart syndrome.”

People seem to have an insatiable desire to treat doctors as high-paid Yahoo! Answers users.  Rather than do the work of researching an answer from reliable sources,  it’s just much easier and more immediately reassuring to fling one-sentence questions into the ether and wait for someone you’ve never met to send you a couple-hundred-word (if that) answer.  It’s easier to go to Twitter and ask Dr. Oz what pill to take and what pseudoscience is real than to search for a local doctor who meets your needs (not a small task) and work with them to find the best treatment options for you as an individual.  Dr. Oz beams right into your living room and he’s charming and handsome (supposedly?) and he has such simple recommendations to completely change your life!

But Dr. Oz isn’t just easier, he’s cheaper.  For the price of a cable TV and internet subscription, you can have all the Dr. Oz you want in your life 24/7.  By comparison, if, say, you need help losing weight, you could visit a GP for a referral to a good nutritionist and visit them regularly.  To the tune of hundreds of dollars per visit.  So aren’t TV doctors doing us a favor by spreading medical knowledge to people who can’t afford care or insurance?

Short answer:  No, they’re twats.  Long answer:  No, they’re twats, they don’t know who you are, you can’t trust what they say, and their reason for living is to take your money.

Let’s be clear, having a degree that lets you call yourself Dr. Somebody is not a qualification to offer unqualified advice to people you don’t know.  It doesn’t mean your an extraordinarily selfless human being with unparallelled mental prowess.  It just means you got through medical school– which is very impressive, but likely has as much to do with where you come from as what you’re made of, unless what you’re made of is money.

There is a reason a doctor’s office insists you give them at least a modicum of information about who you are, your lifestyle, and your personal and family history.  Trust me, I don’t enjoy it:  Every time I visit a new provider, which is fairly often — psychologist, psychiatrist, GP, specialist– I have to answer the same damn questions first on a form and then verbally.  But I’m also glad they collect this information, and if they didn’t, I wouldn’t go back to that office.

Because yes, I imagine the questions exist partly to cover their asses, but the reason that’s even a thing is that treating people without knowing enough about them is reckless.  And I think we’ve all realized by this point that the people on TV cannot actually see you watching them.  Oz has no freaking clue who you are.  He has no way of knowing what adverse effects or interactions you will have with the pills and plants he pushes, and he won’t be there to monitor the safeness and efficacy of the treatment.  You’re on your own to figure out whether what you’re taking or doing is helping or actually harming you.

Oz may be technically a doctor, but he is not your doctor.  The relationship is as simple as this:  He makes money, supplement manufacturers make money, you lose money, and you get nothing else.

And although it’s Oz in the hot seat currently, he’s not alone.  TV is replete with “experts,” such as the doctors on “The Doctors,” and my personal favorite, Phil McGraw, a retired psychologist who hasn’t held an active license since 2006– which is okay, because according to the California Board of Psychology, he practices “entertainment,” not psychology, on his Jerry-Springer-Lite talk show Dr. Phil.

Said McGraw in 2001, “I’m not the Hush-Puppies, pipe and ‘Let’s talk about your mother’ kind of psychologist.”  Very clever, Phil, to set up a straw man so you can make your histrionics appealing in comparison to private talk therapy.  (For one thing, what’s wrong with Hush-Puppies and pipes?)

In fact, the “kind of psychologist” he was, back when he was a psychologist– and the kind of television host he still is– is an overbearing, single-minded, simplistic and callous one.  In his contempt for Freudian psychoanalysis (as if that were somehow the modern trend in talk therapy) he has created a flashy, fast-paced single-serving psychodrama that panders to anyone who might be home weekdays at 3PM.

He has a catchphrase– “How’s that workin’ for ya?”– and inspiring theme music.  He either believes, or wants us to believe, that having a forty-five minute Big Talk with someone where you really set them straight will be workin’ for ya just fine.  Frankly, if I walked into a therapist’s office that resembled McGraw’s studio, I would run out screaming “Help, it’s dystopia!” Understandably, these views have proven controversial at best, but that hasn’t stopped McGraw from raking in the cash– making it to #22 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 List, with $45 million of income.

McGraw is deluding himself if he genuinely thinks that people are so entertained by his not-psychology that they aren’t even considering applying his advice to their own lives.  You don’t call yourself Dr., call your show Dr., and publicly give stern advice to severely disturbed people unless you are counting on and encouraging people to see you as an authority.

And we’re deluding ourselves if we think that this is incidental, because billing himself as a medical authority is his brand.  (In the spirit John Oliver’s suggestion that Dr. Oz should be re-named Check This Shit Out with Some Guy Named Mehmet, I’ll say that I don’t think a show called Bald White Guy Talks Down to Troubled Folks would go over that well.)  It’s why he was called in to advise those The Doctors doctors on “how to give articulate medical advice while being scrutinized by a studio audience in Los Angeles.”  Because his expertise isn’t in psychology, it’s in selling psychology.

TV doctors are, basically, a life hack.  “How to: Get free medical care without leaving your couch.”  But the meme is a much less innocent one than slicing cherry tomatoes in half between two plates.  It in no way alleviates the problematic lack of accessible and affordable medical care, because it does not provide medical care, just tawdry entertainment masquerading as legitimate advice.  All it does is create a new class of parasitic celebrity.  Please, afternoon TV viewers, go back to watching soap operas or reading Harlequin paperbacks or whatever you used to do.  Our fixation on TV doctors is sick, it hurts us, and it needs to stop.

Breakup

There is a fine line between “I miss you because you are gone” and “I miss you because you aren’t coming back.”  Between “Your stuff is cluttering my living room” and “Your stuff is the last thing I have of you” and the realization of how empty everything will be without that fucking clutter.

That’s the point where you can’t go back.  When you miss the clutter and the bickering and the lying, sighing, back to back in bed unhappy, you know it’s done.  It only takes a moment to yearn for what you wouldn’t notice being gone if you knew it was going to come back, and that moment is when it all happens.

Loneliness is instant gratification when you break up and you still love someone.  You don’t have to wait and miss them on their birthday or your anniversary or the day of the week when you first had breakfast together.  Why not do it now instead, eat it fresh, raw?

When massive stars run out of fuel, first they bloat, as if trying to make up for something.  Their tinier, hotter companions steal from them, their very matter, their selves, twisting in a gravitational knot, until BOOM the whole thing ends with a comic book explosion and a neutron star spinning itself dizzy.  Important things destroy the fabric of the universe and build it again, but in the end, the stars will wink out and stillness will fall on us all.

Whenever you have slept with someone for years, and are left alone in bed, there is a hollow, and some night, no matter how hard you try, you will roll into it.  This is one of the saddest feelings in the world.  Waking up there with empty arms.  It hurts down to your marrow.

So you sleep on the couch with the lights on and no matter what you do you spend hour on hour wading through the swamp of your misery, and once in a while you scoop a cent from the water, a wish that you threw in a long time ago.  There is so much to cash in, but first, so much to lose.

What drinking feels like when you’re alcoholic

A year in to sobriety, albeit with several one-time relapses, I am still in the period of what’s called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.  The body can still have physiological cravings for alcohol even after this long, and mine does.  When these cravings pop up, tremors in my hands still appear and I feel an overwhelming sense of pressure, accompanied by the insidious certainty that a few drinks would make it all go away for a couple of hours.

It’s a subject I’m reluctant to talk about, because it makes the people around me fearful, which scares me.  Generally, it seems that despite all the platitudes about asking for support (about which I’ve written before) the recovering alcoholic, especially past the acute phase, is pretty much expected to go it alone and pretend that everything is fine.  The guilt of even having cravings, let alone relapsing, is enormous: a sickening, drowning sensation that increases the drive to drink; a sense of intimate personal failure.  Encouragement is hard to come by; judgment is not.  Understanding of and sympathy for the addict’s experience is rare.

I’m hoping that if I am able to describe what goes through my head on the sporadic occasion that I do relapse, I can reduce some of this stigma and help others to speak openly about their experiences.  I can only speak for myself, although my understanding is informed by, in rehab, hearing many stories from other addicts that tend to agree with my own conclusions.

Using a substance of choice is incomparably different for an addict than for a non-addict.  Through force of habit, psychologically and physiologically, a huge set of feelings and circumstances are intricately tied up with cravings and bad choices.  Certain stores are triggers.  Certain foods are triggers.  Some people are triggers.  So are some subjective experiences: fear, uncertainty, loneliness, despair.  Automatic thoughts are entwined in the addicts brain that obsess over alcohol, or another substance: terrible sirens who proffer sanctuary from a stormy inner and outer world.

Because of these entangled threads of craving, the act of relapse is a powerful one.  There is a moment when the sirens succeed, when a decision is made to drink, with the full but rationalized knowledge that the single end goal is to get so drunk that nothing matters.  It’s a precipice.  To find a way to turn back once you leap is rare.

There is the moment when you purchase the alcohol.  It’s like you can almost feel it in your veins already.  Your mouth waters, your stomach grumbles, you already wrinkle your face at the anticipated taste of cheap straight liquor pouring over your tongue (because that’s the quickest, least expensive way to get fucked up)– equal parts revolting and relieving.  All you can think about is getting somewhere where you can open the bottle and chug.

And then there’s that moment, the most important of all.  The liquor hits your lips, your tongue, your throat, your stomach.  It burns.  It feels like a necessary scourge, eating away what feels like necrotic tissue in the chest, cauterizing all the wounds.  It feels like pure power.  It’s done; no one can stop you.  It’s a bad choice, you still feel overwhelming guilt, but it’s your choice, it’s done, and even before it kicks in it is exhilarating beyond description.  Every craving you’ve had leading up to the act is justified by that moment.  It’s like taking off a mask.  It’s like coming home.  It’s like throwing in the towel.

It starts to work, just a few minutes after the first sip if your stomach is empty.  You feel it in your legs first.  The hot feeling from your stomach grows downward and starts to dissolve you.  Well-being drowns you, insistent, surrounding and withering the black thoughts that still lie beneath.  Every bad effect drugs have ever had on you is voided.  Nothing matters.  All you want is more, one more, one more, until you can’t anymore, until you’re passed out or puking or both.

The deep-seated shame increases exponentially, leaving you feeling like a little kid who pooped on the floor not once but a hundred times.  And what’s the solution to shame and self-loathing?  Another drink, of course.  More oblivion, please.

You can’t avoid knowing that you will crash and burn when the miracle drug wears off.  If you drink multiple days in a row, you will go through acute withdrawal again, which gets worse and more dangerous every time.  The pain will return, and so will the guilt.  After you pass out, you eventually wake up, in horror at the sober world and your sober self.

And sometimes you just want someone to forgive you, to tell you it will be okay.  But no one wants to hear your sin.  No one wants you to be less than they expect you to be.