Daily Archives: August 16, 2015

Through Someone Else’s Eyes


A few weeks ago I got back from a trip Down East – Nova Scotia to be exact. Not only was this a 12-day family vacation, but while away we attended a large family reunion on my Dad’s side – 110 people large. Much larger than my social anxiety finds comfortable.

Though challenging at times, I was glad I went. It was fun meeting back up with my much-extended family from Ireland who had also come over for the reunion. These are people who I met in person for the first time last July when I went over to Ireland. I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked with most of them simply because they were much more involved in the organization of the reunion and there were just so many people. But nonetheless it was a successful reunion.

The best part of the weekend for me was the time spent with my closer family. There were about a dozen or so of us all staying at the same bed and breakfast. When formal reunion events were not happening we could be found together enjoying the garden deck, strolling through Shelburne and partying late into the evening at the local watering hole—one night in particular, I did a little too much watering.

People tend to break up into smaller groups. Opportunities existed for great conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with my family. It’s funny though, the conversation always ended up on me and my health. Not that I mind; I’m very open about my bipolar disorder, but I just find it interesting. The same thing happened with my husband. Many people had conversations with him about my health as well. He tells me it’s because they care. I suppose I’m lucky for that.

My point here is not so much that conversations existed, but rather in what was said. The general consensus was that I was doing so much better than the same time last year. Wow. That was a surprise to me. I know I’ve been in a pretty good place for quite a while now. I guess I have just lost track of time and thought I was in the same place as last summer. I think it’s easier for people who see you less often to be able to distinguish subtle changes. And even less-subtle changes.

Reflections are good. I tend to compare myself with how I was when I was really sick. Or sometimes with how I was before I even got sick. So I either think I’m doing a little better or not so much at all, depending on my perspective. It never seems to occur to me that there are varying degrees of better. Despite a successful trip to Ireland last summer, it would appear that I was not as well then as I am now. By all accounts I am simply in a much better place. This surprises me. And it makes me wonder what people thought of me then.

Taking stock of one’s life is important. It gives you the chance to try to look at yourself and your life the way others would. We are generally our own worst critics. I know I am. One bad spell and the whole year is ruined. It also gives us the opportunity to recognize and appreciate the baby steps. Even the smallest of improvements can be noticeable to others. It’s great to have such positive feedback. It warms my soul. If only we could see ourselves through someone else’s eyes.

The More I Read, The Less I Actually Know

Be it blogs, links, or articles, every time I go in search of education on mental health issues…I find myself more confused than I was before reading.There are so many variables, so many anti medication types, so many opportunities for self flagellation because others manage to function in spite of mental issues SO WHY CAN’T I?

Which leads me down the rabbit hole of uncertainty. I’m sure it comes off as some sort of self esteem issue but my self esteem is fine until everyone starts telling me I’m weird and lazy and all that crap. I like me fine. Everyone has the problem and I can’t fix that. All I can fix is me, so every time I read something and it seeps into my tormented brain…Self doubt begins to rampage.

Because like it or not, humans can be very oblivious to their flaws and behaviors. Especially the negative things. If not oblivious, there is denial which can become a lifetime of living the lies you tell yourself. THIS is where my weak spot is. Because I spent many years manic and depressed and improperly treated and I was a monster at times. I was a selfish arrogant bitch. And I never want to be that person again.

So no matter how much progress I make, as a person, without regard to the mental/med thing, it’s easily shaken by any insinuation, real or self imposed, that I am somehow malingering or becoming that awful monster again. I’m mental, so wouldn’t I be the last to know?

Yet that hyper self aware part of me knows who I am. I’ve fought against conformity my whole life because what others see as being “wrong” with me are traits I like and find awesome. Few and far between agree with that but it could just be a meshing personality thing. I appreciate all the comments people leave, telling me I am awesome, not to be so hard on myself, that my writing is both funny and heart wrenching. These are the people i want to know and connect with because they’re not too shallow to see the ugly side as well as the Snarkasma side.

The breaking point, where all the insecurity and self doubt seep in, stem from being berated by those around you on almost a daily basis. I don’t want to be that oblivious arrogant brat again, so its very easy for tiny little things to make my security in myself weaken. It’s less weak personality and more…I know what I used to be, I was a borderline sociopath with little conscience or empathy at times. So if you want to get in my head, that’s pretty much all it takes. I can own being a bitch when I intend to be one. If I am just wonky and being a brat without cause…That I feel bad about.

Which means in spite of my issues, I’ve made more progress and become more self aware than a large percentage of the population.

“But what if you’re using your bipolar as a way to simply avoid the things that scare you?”

“How is it others do fine and work and don’t complain incessantly yet you never can get your shit together and shut up?”

“Why do you think being bipolar makes you so special you’d even think to blog about it? Arrogant.”

“Maybe it’s that Dr. Pepper you had the other day. Maybe you’re too sedentary. Or that Mangorita the other night…You make your own problems…If you’d just straighten up and quit whining…”

Mind you, I dispute it all to the death. It doesn’t keep that little worm of doubt from crawling into my head. I never want to be a monster again.

I am also well aware I can, at times, be too hard on myself. Mainly because those around me really are harsh. These are people who d0n’t believe mental illness is real. My dad calls my disability check my nitwit pension. My mom constantly snarks about how I need to grow up and stop being depressed cos I have a kid counting on me now. R has me half scared to show any emotion lest my attempts at humor with my flat affect be met with a, “Are your meds not working?”

It tears you down, no matter how strong you are. Because it’s a bitter pill to swallow when the most supportive, caring people in your life are basically strangers on the internet as opposed to those close to you and who allegedly love you. That’s why it’s so easy for me to doubt myself. Everyone else does. God knows I’ve given them reason in the past. There is no forgiveness. My dad keeps bringing up my speeding tickets- which were over twenty five years ago. Someone saw me go into a liquor store the other day and reported it to my mom who went off on me about being a drunk. Never mind I was getting a pop, nooo, it’s a booze store, I must be a drunk.

I think in light of all this, the miracle is that I have any self esteem left at all, not that it wavers and can be low at times. People far stronger than me have caved under such things. I keep going like that crazy battery bunny.

So please don’t take my self doubt as some sort of attention seeking/low self esteem/feel sorry for me thing. I really have spent all these years trying to atone for my manic past and learn how to cope better. It just gets torn apart at times, especially when my mind is in a “fragile” zone.

I think it’s time for me to stop reading a lot of stuff. Not because it’s offensive or I dislike someone or I’m negative…But because if it’s not part of the solution, it’s part of the problem. Less denial than it is simply trying to save myself from the abyss. I didn’t work this damned hard to improve myself to have it all undone because Biff in Timbuktu doesn’t need meds and thinks it’s mind over matter.

The only story that I can tell is my own. It is my story. And it is my truth. Naysayers have got to go.

More “News” About Mental Health

Next in my ongoing series (see: https://bipolarjan.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/new-hope-for-mental-illness/) of posts about news stories that bear on mental health, and what they may or may not mean:

Depression Damages Parts of the Brain, Research Concludes, July 2, 2015, by Sasha Petrova (http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/depression-damages-parts-brain-research-concludes_

“Brain damage is caused by persistent depression rather than being a predisposing factor for it, researchers have finally concluded after decades of unconfirmed hypothesising,” the article begins.

“A study published in Molecular Psychiatry … has proved once and for all that recurrent depression shrinks the hippocampus – an area of the brain responsible for forming new memories – leading to a loss of emotional and behavioural function.”

The article also claims that “the effects of depression on the brain are reversible with the right treatment for the individual,” though what those treatments might be is not explained.

The take-away: Depression damages the brain, not the other way around. What this means for patients is not yet known.

Link Found Between Gut Bacteria and Depression, July 28, 2015, by Caroline Reid (http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/link-found-between-gut-bacteria-and-depression)

Well, if it’s not the hippocampus, it might be your guts. According to this article, “Scientists have shown for the first time that there is a way to model how the gut bacteria in a mouse can have an active role in causing anxiety and depressive-like behaviors….

“[T]he lead author of the study… concluded that stress shortly after birth in mice, alongside the microbiome associated with stress, can lead to depression later in life.”

The take-away: More help for depressed mice. As the study author says, “It would be interesting to see if this relationship also effects humans. ….We need to obtain some human data to be able to say with confidence that bacteria are really inducing anxiety or depression…. However, so far, the data is missing.” In other words, more theory, more mice, no help for patients.

Mad Cow Disease Protein May Play a Role in Depression, by Justine Alford


“In all likelihood, there is no single cause, but one of the leading ideas is that it results from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, namely the ‘happy’ hormone serotonin and the ‘pleasure’ hormone dopamine.” Hard to argue with that. But here’s the meat of the article: “[S]cientists may have just discovered another contributing factor – abnormal bundles of proteins called prions.” Prions are also the culprit in mad cow disease. After some theorizing and mouse research, “the researchers propose a possible mechanism for the involvement of prion proteins in depression.”

The take-away: Interesting to scientists, but no help yet for depression sufferers. Plus, the article is a bit too technical for the lay audience – and all theory, except perhaps for the mice.

Picky Eaters May Be More Likely to Develop Anxiety and Depression, by Hannah Keyser (http://mentalfloss.com/article/67034/picky-eaters-may-be-more-likely-develop-anxiety-and-depression)

This sums it up nicely: “The study... found that picky eaters are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and ADHD in later years….While moderate cases were associated with symptoms of separation anxiety and ADHD, severe picky eaters were more likely to have an actual diagnosis of depression or social anxiety in later years. But the scientists stressed that this is a case of correlation, not causation.”
The take-away: So, no news here. Correlation does not equal causation means this may be a coincidence, or anxiety and depression may cause picky eating, or some other factor may cause them both. Note the “May Be” in the article title – it often signals a result of little or no value.

A Urine Test Could Distinguish Between Bipolar Disorder and Depression, August 8, 2015, by Stephen Luntz (http://www.iflscience.com/brain/urine-test-distinguish-forms-depression)

“An easy and reliable method of distinguishing bipolar disorder from major depressive disorder could save tens of thousands of lives, and transform millions more. Now researchers at Chongqing Medical University, China, claim to have found just that in a study based on biomarkers in urine.” According to the study, the presence of six metabolites in urine was 90 percent reliable in diagnosing the two conditions, which are notoriously difficult to tell apart. “Studies have found that as many as 39% of patients diagnosed with MDD have unrecognized bipolar.”

The take-away: More research needed, but this could be big. Pee on a stick and find out whether you’re bipolar, instead of relying on the DSM. (Full disclosure: I was diagnosed with major depression for decades before my bipolar 2 diagnosis.)

The Startup That Wants to Cure Social Anxiety, by Robinson Meyer (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/05/the-startup-that-wants-to-end-social-anxiety/392900/?utm_campaignFacebook_lookalike2%25_8%2F3_Atlantic_desktop)

This is, if not new, at least a little different: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) delivered on the web. The article claims that “[R]esearch conducted over the past half-decade shows that CBT delivered via a website can be just as effective as CBT delivered through an in-person therapist.” The service, called “Joyable,” can be accessed for $99 per month or $239 for three months, which includes a coach. The company says that the online treatment “reduces the stigma around seeking out therapy.”

The take-away: Yeah. We’ll see. And lose the name “Joyable,” for heaven’s sake. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been a fan of CBT.)

An infographic with references and everything.
The take-away: The infographic talks about physical ailments, but many of us can testify that a purring cat on one’s lap, or even by one’s side, can calm the distressed mind as well. Completely scientific, if you count anecdotal evidence.
Cats and Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation

Seriously, though, survey says, “Half of those people [more than 600 individuals surveyed in 2011] described themselves as having a mental health problem. The results highlighted some of the benefits of feline ownership:

  • 87% of cat owners feel that the animals have a positive impact on their wellbeing
  • 76% find that coping with everyday life is easier thanks to the animals
  • Stroking a cat is a calming and helpful activity.”

The article also refutes the myth about “crazy cat ladies” and self-harm.

My take-away: Pet therapy is a recognized technique that provides benefits to shut-ins, geriatric and psychiatric patients, those with ADD and autism, and even prisoners. My four cats increase the effects of Zoloft, Ativan, Lamictal, and Abilify. Be sure to have your pet spayed or neutered.



Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: anxiety, bipolar disorder, brain, cats, childhood depression, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), depression, media and mental illness, mental illness in the news, news stories, pets, research, social anxiety, stigma

Meet The Newest Teletubby: Cranky Wanky


Yep, I’ve been asked to join the after hours crew. I am Cranky Wanky and I have a perpetual scowl and a spork shaped antenna on my head.

I have, in the space of two days, taken off a few heads by being too quick to take offense. It’s like it doesn’t even occur people are trolling me, I just go on the defensive and get bent. It hasn’t really been my norm for awhile so I am left only to assume that it’s some combo of excessive heat and the stress of trying to organize while losing yet another kitty. It makes for a very broken funny bone.

For those I got snarky with…I am sorry. I make no excuses, just a profound apology.

I felt even shittier last night when I had to run to the gas station for some ice since mine doesn’t freeze on hot days (shitty freezer seal) and the girl there, who is so happy all the time…And funny and nice…told me I’d have to pay for the ice even though I brought my own cup…And I just snapped, “They told me the other day if i brought my own cup it was free!” And she took a step back and said, “Well, you really are cranky.”

I know. With two days minus my kid, one would think I’d be chill. Instead I’ve been  more of an asshole. WTF? It makes me worry that I am starting to crack under it all. That’s been my MO for years. The counselors and doctors will always point out, “It’s a struggle but YOU ARE DOING IT!.” Yep. Right up til I hit that wall and break. It always comes. That’s the price of functionality for me. Too long on autopilot and the system crashes. Their sage advice is to, “Keep fighting as hard as you can.” Pretty sure the point of depression and nervous breaks are the very definition of “I’ve got no fight left in me.”

Lately, it has been pointed out to me, “You haven’t had a date since the donor left four years ago, what’s wrong with you?” Well, it isn’t because I’m hung up on him nor have I become asexual. I occasionally have stress relief with an old friend with benefits, (as I did yesterday, not that the meds let you actually enjoy it.) but I don’t publicize it and I make sure my kid is never around. I’ve always been pretty private with that aspect of my life anyway. With Spook having one adult walk out on her, it has become of the utmost importance to me that she not know that sense of abandonment again. She gets easily attached to people.

Kind of like when I did try the dating thing awhile back. It was someone I’d been friends with for fifteen years, he was always really cool to me. So I introduced him to Spook but then it turned out he was one more drunken pill popping burn out and he got what he wanted and vanished. I’m fine with it, but she still asks about him all these months later. And that’s what pisses me off the most. I have no problem with fwb. But don’t tell me you wanna hang out like buddies then blow me off after my kid gets attached. I am still kicking myself for that one. Every time she asks about him, I want to get a shovel and bash in his skull. Fuck with me, fine. Fuck with my kid, Killy Lilly is gonna come out.

So I keep things shallow and shield my kid from it. Were I to meet someone who was an actual grown up with a soul and stuck around for awhile…It might be different. It’s just not right now and she comes first. Not that the morons around me can grasp that ‘cos ya know, if you’re single, you’re gonna die a lonely old person. Never have understood the world’s obsession with coupling. Being single isn’t the kiss of death.

I’ve accomplished some stuff in her room. Not as much as I should have but it was 92 degrees inside here yesterday and that was with a window AC and three fans running. There comes a point of discomfort where you’re drained and achy and sweat is stinging your eyeballs and it’s like, “Meh, good enough.” I’ve done a couple of things today but mostly I’m sitting in front of the fan and watching CSI.

Speaking of CSI..It took me seven years to rewatch the episode where Warrick died ‘cos last time, I bawled for two hours and the donor thought I was ridiculous. Well, I liked that character, damnit. And last night, I cried. Maybe for a half hour but I bawled and it was fucking cathartic. Tears building up can be like a volcano, only so much pressure can build before lava spews over the top. I needed it. As for getting too involved with fictional shows…Whatever. If I had such relationships in my life I’d get too involved in them cos ya know, I have a soul.

And an argument could be made that I am being judgmental by saying others don’t have souls and why don’t I have such connections in my life, the problem is obviously me. To a small extent, perhaps it is true. But even my former counselors recognized that with my “quirky” personality, I’m bound not to connect to the locals who are all rednecks or hardcore stoner/partiers. I don’t connect to the church crowd. The popular music crowd here is country or rap. Not my thing. I’m not a barfly. I don’t smoke pot. I’m not a gamer. There literally is no crowd to connect with for me. People think I am weird ‘cos I wear black and collect skulls and listen to heavy metal. Are there others in town that like this sort of thing?Yeah, sure, they’re called minors. Can’t very well hang out with kids without some unsavory accusations rising.

So if you are constantly judged and dismissed for not being what others want you to be and not conforming…It makes sense you wouldn’t connect and have deep meaningful relationships. That and outside manic episodes, I’m quite content to sit at home watching TV shows, surfing the net, talking to on line friends, reading, writing. None of which requires someone to come watch and bitch how boring I am. Maybe I am rationalizing, I dunno. I just thought when several counselors acknowledged that I have more of a city personality and this town does not so it makes sense I don’t blend or connect…It was validation for what I’ve always thought. Not because I am special or better than others. I just don’t want to waste my time in situations that make me uncomfortable because there’s no common ground. I tried a couple years back ‘cos there was a band I really wanted to see, so I went with a friend of my sister’s. I had fun, right up til M decided it was a good idea to get in the car with a couple of guys she knew and I didn’t. Cruising around with strange dudes at 1 a.m. is not my idea of fun. I’m not sixteen anymore. So that never happened again.

And ya know, it’s not like the months long bipolar depressions and anxiety help forge friendships. I can go my whole life without ever having to hear, “I like you, but I can’t handle you being all depressed, it brings me down. Call me when you’re feeling better.” With friends like that who needs enemies.

Cranky Wanky is on a hypomanic tear, can you tell I just took my Cymbalta?

While I’ve been so focused on her room and sweating my ass off, the normal housework has piled up. Baskets of clothes to fold and put away, dishes piling up in the sink, floors to be cleaned, cat boxes to scoop. The carousel never stops turning. I’m buried alive here. One step at a time, one task at a time, that’s all I can do.

And ya know, something amazing happened yesterday. My horrorscope was actually spot on. That never happens.

This may be a difficult day in which you feel pressured to get things done, Aquarius, yet there’s indecisiveness and hesitation lingering in your mind. Between a rock and hard place is no easy spot, but you’ll find your way out. Perhaps the thing you should do is make a move – any move. Once you get the energy flowing, the direction you need to take will be clear.

It didn’t turn all shiny happy done, but I did just pick a point and start in and slowly made some progress. Now I’m not really a believer of horoscopes and all that shit, it’s more a mainstay from my childhood where my mom would buy those supermarket scandal sheets and I’d read them out of boredom and check out my horoscope. Still..Not often the damned thing actually turns out accurate.

I called my dad the other night and he was telling me about taking my kid to the petting zoo and they had pictures but they weren’t printed out yet. So I was like, “Oh, come on, have her upload the card to her computer and email them to me, I wanna see.” And he got all bitchy, “And I guess you want us to drop everything and do it right fucking now?” Um, noooo…But really, transferring pictures to a hard drive could be done by a poo flinging monkey in ten minutes. Is it that much of a hardship? Damn technomorons irk me. I am far from a genius at computers but email is like the dummy version.

Maybe cranky is just in my genetics. My parents are the fucking experts at snapping and cutting you down.

And I worry I may unknowingly transfer that onto my kid. It’s something I need to talk to the doctor about. I have been so lacking in patience and so quick to get irritated for months now, it’s hellish.

Now…pick a point and just start in. So when she gets home she can throw a screaming mimi about hating how it’s arranged and I did this wrong and messed this up and she’s still not sleeping in her own bed…Being a parent has a way of reminding you what a brat you were at that age because you can remember doing the same things and that at the time, it made perfect sense.

Time to just do something. Meet the newest Teletubby…Sweaty Betty.




bipolar: great in bed, difficult to live with

Apparently. Here you go kids, a bipolar sex linkdump. Bipolar disorder and sex: It’s time to talk about this emotional minefield. We’re often told love is a form of madness – but what if falling in love triggers mania? From improved sleep to alleviating stress – the health benefits of regular sex are now commonly […]

Catamaran Saturday Part One – Wish You Were Here!

Evidently Lucy had a puppy named “Joey” at Lake Tahoe while I’ve been down here at the glorious Catamaran Writers Conference. I continued having fun, feeling excited, exhausted, anxious, scared, embarrassed and exhilarated yesterday at the Catamaran Writers Conference in … Continue reading

Starbucks, Please Don’t ‘Out’ Your Transgender Patrons

The image features a wooden table with coffee cups on it, with a large storefront window in the distance.

“Guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name.”

As a transgender person, I like to refer to my birth name – the name my parents bestowed upon me when I arrived on this planet – as my “dead name,” because it’s been dead to me for years now.

I’m in the process of legally changing it now for that exact reason.

My birth name represents the gender that was incorrectly imposed upon me. It’s a name that reminds me of all the struggles that I have faced as a trans person in a society that still struggles to affirm or recognize me. It’s a name that I never wanted and a name that makes my skin crawl.

So imagine my surprise when I heard this name flying out of the mouth of my barista and then scrawled on the cup of my beloved iced chai.

Ugh. Staaaaaarbucks! Why? We had such a good thing going.

Let me explain the full spectrum of emotions that I felt in that moment:

Embarrassed, because my birth name is private and not something I wanted to share with the entire café. Afraid, because I knew that folks might see my masculine presentation and hear my traditionally “feminine” name and figure out that I was transgender. Hurt, because this was a name that still caused me a great deal of pain.

And angry – like, ready to dump my iced chai on the barista’s head if I’m being honest – because guess what, Starbucks? That isn’t my name and, despite your usual policy, you didn’t ask me what my name actually was.

The barista looked at the name on my debit card and jumped to the conclusion that it must be the name that I prefer. In doing so, they assumed that all of us have the privilege of having legal names that align with our preferences or our gender identities.

That is simply not true.

There are countless trans folks who cannot legally change their names or don’t feel safe doing so. And should they walk into that Starbucks, they might have their birth name – a name that causes them distress and could potentially out them as transgender – called out in the café or written on a cup to broadcast an intimate piece of information to the rest of the world.

Not only could that make trans folks feel unsafe at Starbucks, but it might also make them feel completely unwelcome.

Respecting and affirming the identities of transgender people begins with calling us by our actual names, instead of assuming that what was written on our birth certificates or bank statements is an appropriate thing to call us.

Not long from now, the name your barista wrote on my cup will finally be buried in a sea of court records as my real name is finally legalized. But not every trans person has the privilege of being able to legally change their name. And they shouldn’t have to go through legal hoops and court dates just to be treated with respect.

Simply asking us for our name – every single time – can help us to feel safe in your café, knowing that we won’t be outed or humiliated just for ordering a drink.

I fought tirelessly to reclaim my identity from a society that tried, from the day that I was born, to force me into a role I did not want and give me a name that only obscured who I really was. And trans folks everywhere find empowerment in the names that we choose – names that help us capture the people that we were meant to become.

Starbucks, if you truly believe that transgender people are deserving of dignity in your café and beyond, here’s a place to start: Don’t call us by our “dead names” and out us to other patrons. Call us by our actual names and make sure that every barista understands how important this policy really is.

Help us in creating a culture in which we determine who we are and what we should be called. It’s one small step towards affirming the identities of transgender people everywhere.

And my name is Sam Dylan Finch, by the way. You can call me Sam. You didn’t ask, but I thought you should know.

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

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