Happiness Advice from the Academy

August 18, 2010 at 5:16 am | Posted in My Fascinating Mood, Philosophical Problems | Leave a comment

Yesterday the dear Allosaurus approvingly quoted John Stuart Mill in a comment: “Ask yourself if you are happy, and you cease to be so.” In one sense, I think Mill is right. Happy people don’t typically sit around interrogating themselves about their moods. Happiness is self-evident, and if you’re asking yourself whether you’re happy, then it’s likely that you’re not. Constant introspection is the sad property of the miserable.

In another sense, though, I disagree with Mill. The quote above suggests that thinking consciously about happiness scares it off — that you might be happy without knowing it, and you might stay happy if you leave well enough alone. This doesn’t match with my experience. When I ask the question, it’s usually long after my happiness has drained away — that is, the question itself is the result of misery.

No, when it comes to whether we should consciously pursue happiness, I side with Gretchen Rubin in that I think that it’s an excellent idea to make a study of happiness. Seeking happiness is a moral good, in fact, for two reasons. With a very few exceptions, we’re happy when we’re conducting ourselves well (saving the planet and such). Also, moods are highly contagious. Therefore, insofar as our associates are not mean-spirited grinches, our happiness cheers up the people around us.

This brings me to one of my few bits of personal wisdom concerning happiness, which came to me this morning as I was applying a facial mask. My prevailing thought of “I hate my skin” gave way briefly to the following idea: I’m often happy only in retrospect. Or, to put it another way, I do look back at past times in my life and think, Wow, I had all the raw ingredients of happiness then.

For instance, when I was a grad student, a professor told me that I should enjoy studying for my qualifying exams, because I would look back on it as one of the happiest times of my life. After all, it’s one of the few times in your life when you’ll be paid to read books on subjects that fascinate you. This horrified me, naturally, because I spent those four months in a perpetual anxiety attack, convinced that my committee members would interrogate me about proper names and specific dates, two things that I absolutely cannot remember. Once I passed with distinction, I felt the proper appreciation for the luxury of nonstop reading, and now I do, in fact, remember that as a happy time.

I’m running out of time to write, but I’d like to pass on another bit of academic wisdom from French professor Leslie Rabin:

“When I was a grad student, I thought that I would be happy when I got my degree. Once I had my degree, I thought I would be happy when I had a tenure-track job. Then I thought I would be happy when I had tenure. Once I got tenure, I realized that the truth is, you’ll never be happy.” Oh, my. I prefer to think that you will never be perfectly secure and satisfied, which is a different matter.

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In Which I Rise Like Lazarus

April 23, 2010 at 4:50 am | Posted in My Fascinating Mood, Philosophical Problems | Leave a comment

I’ve been off all medication for two weeks now, and I have the strange sensation of turning back into the mercurial 19-year-old that I’ve missed so. It’s as if I’ve come back to life and the burial cloth shrouding my senses is falling away. When you combine this with the evidence from Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic, it looks very much like the past 20 years of crushing mental illness may have been iatrogenic.

You would think I’d be vibrating with horror at that possibility, and, indeed, a part of me feels very angry indeed. However, I’m mostly grateful to have escaped. I’m not entirely recovered, and it’s not realistic to expect to undo two decades of damage in weeks or months, or perhaps ever. I’m hardly perfect now — I do have this alarming temper, for example — but I’m so much better than I ever hoped to be. It really does take my breath away, and I feel profound and unforced gratitude.

There is a moral here, however: It rarely pays to be a good patient. The more conscientiously I followed medical advice, the worse my situation became. A more rebellious or skeptical soul might have stepped off the merry-go-round years ago. Until six months ago, with each downward turn I actually redoubled my commitment to the medical model. If I can just get the meds right, I can whip this, I would think. And the worse I got, the more I doubted my own perceptions. I knew I was getting the best possible treatment, so I blamed my slow disintegration on imagined deficiencies of character. I felt that I must be lazy, sloppy and downright ungrateful. The meds are so good, I thought, and I’ve certainly tried them all. I must be the weak link here. The truth, though, is a textbook example of irony (Dad take note): The more faithfully I followed orders, the worse I became. I felt so horrible precisely because I was so very, very accomplished at being “good.”

I’ve run out of writing time — I’m finding all of this very difficult to imagine and express — so I’ll close now and return later to what is, after all, the key question: Why was I so desperately obedient? And what drove me to this lifesaving rebellion?

Most profound love to all.

Me Again, with a Report on My Intensive Outpatient Program

April 3, 2010 at 3:05 am | Posted in Dealing with Mania, My Fascinating Mood, Rage, The Heath Care System | Leave a comment

Wolverine

Like me, this guy may be subject to irrational frenzies, but he's still furry and wistful.

As I’ve noted, I’m now involved in an intensive outpatient program at a nearby hospital. It’s a huge commitment — nine hours a week — and it’s necessarily eating into my blogging time. I’ve given myself permission to write a good deal less, partly because of the IOP, and partly because I hate the trappings of the 21st Century (as you know).

As I was buzzing around the house cleaning obsessively (a new hypomanic symptom for me — I’ve spent much of my adult life living in squalor), I figured out a couple of things concerning my loathing of the mental health system.

As I’ve mentioned, two-thirds of our therapy sessions in the IOP are run by a gentleman whom I will call A, who is the best therapist I’ve ever worked with. I mean, this guy beats the godlike Dr. B who treated me when I was in graduate school (though Dr. B was dashing and handsome, and the IOP therapist is not especially attractive). Oddly, the remaining third of the program is run by a woman, V, whom I would cheerfully strangle. She easily ranks among my worst therapists, and I’ve endured sessions with counselors who were so incompetent that they presented a public health menace. I spend much of her hour disassociating, which I haven’t done since the last time I was hospitalized.

Why does she rile me so? For that matter, why does my soon-to-be-former shrink drive me nuts? I often puzzle over this as I drive home from evening sessions. I figured part of it out two nights ago, and more while organizing my junk drawer this morning.

First, V is a crappy listener. She spends her sessions with us pronouncing all-too-familiar 12-step and therapeutic truisms. “Take it one day at a time” is undeniably excellent advice, but we need concrete coping strategies, not general rules. A, on the other hand, asks questions, expresses empathy, and helps us to explore how to cope with our lives and illnesses. The contrast is striking.

What’s more, whenever I do speak V flatly contradicts me, essentially saying that my experience is uniformly wrong or mistaken. This enrages me so much that I snap my mouth shut for fear of snarling ugly imprecations. For example, V thinks my shrink walks on water, and I’ve reached the conclusion that said shrink is a quack. It’s not surprising that V should favor this doctor — they both recite irritating cliches instead of engaging with patients. The real horror is this: the arguments between me and V reproduce the tiresome and seemingly inescapable dialog in my head. No wonder I’m angry precisely one third of the time at my IOP — it’s like seeing my most misery-inducing interior monologues come to life.

Of course, some of you are probably thinking that I should be more grateful for the help I’m getting. I’m sure this is true. It burns my ass, though, when people who are not in a position to know suggest that I’m too cynical and negative about the health care system. I hate being told that I should be grateful for crappy care. I approach each new drug, shrink, and therapist with buoyant hope, and my anger is largely a product of intense disappointment.

It’s interesting that A and V subscribe to the same theoretical model. Many clinical studies have reached the conclusion that the form of therapy matters less than patients’ perception that their therapist genuinely cares whether or not their quality of life improves. I may be wrong in feeling that V is uncaring, but the mere semblance of arrogant indifference is profoundly disillusioning.

Enough. I actually am grateful for A’s help, and the handouts and techniques have proven valuable, not just in the group, but in everyday settings.

Love to all. I will likely write more this weekend.

I Don’t Wanna Feel Better, or, The Perversity of Depression

March 13, 2010 at 3:30 am | Posted in Dealing with Depression, My Fascinating Mood | 1 Comment

Strawberry-rhubarb pie

How dare you suggest that I might enjoy this pie?

Lately I’ve been thinking about a disturbing trend: When I’m seriously depressed, I actively resist simple strategies that would help me to feel better. A friend of mine emailed me a story that captured this very human perversity perfectly. He writes:

Okay, I am depressed. How do I know this? Because of my 3-year old nephew.

[My nephew] loves pie. I think he loves pie more than anything else in the world. He is a pie junkie. If my sister tells him that there is pie for dessert he will do almost anything to make sure that he gets it.

But then there are other times… there are times he will refuse to eat even a small fraction of his dinner, even if it is a dinner he would normally like. When told he won’t get pie unless he eats some chicken, he will yell, quite falsely, “I don’t want pie!” After he is then informed that okay, since he doesn’t want pie he won’t get pie, [he] will throw himself to the floor, crying and screaming.

So he’s on the floor, and my sister calmly tells him he is welcome to have pie after he eats just a little chicken. The choice is his. Somehow, this just makes things worse. He digs in his heels. Next he is told that it doesn’t matter if he wants pie, he is going to eat some chicken. No TV, no toys, no bed, no leaving the kitchen. [He] has no choice but to eat some chicken. After 30 minutes of stalling, stammering, everything he can do to delay the inevitable, Nathan swallows his sixth bite of chicken and is offered a slice of pie. He accepts, grudgingly, and downs his pie silently. This is not the pie he wants. This is the pie of defeat.

As an adult, I’m both parent and fussy toddler, and therefore the struggle is even more tiresome: I know that taking a walk, say, consistently makes me feel better, but I’m so overcome with a certain depression-specific apathy that I choose depressing activities over ones that will almost certainly energize me. The problem, I think, is that it’s tiring to make even the simplest effort, and though I often feel better while, say, walking, the depression comes crashing back over me once I’m done. A temporary mood lift doesn’t seem worth the effort.

The previous makes some sense. As I write, though, I’m conscious that there’s a more pure perversity at work, too, a flat-out rejection of simple pleasures. Another friend who comments in this space likes to recount an exchange we had 10 or 12 years ago. It went a little something like this:

Me, grudgingly dressing on a winter morning: Damn it, my jeans are still wet.

Him: Why don’t you iron them dry? They would be nice and warm and dry then.

Me, in a tone of flat contempt: Bullshit.

Of course, warm jeans are delightful on a chilly winter morning. But I didn’t want to be delighted, and I felt insulted at the suggestion that a trivial material comfort might ameliorate my exquisite suffering. Or something. On certain days, this perversity pervades everything. I don’t have anything especially clever to say about this tendency, but I have wanted to note it for several days now. So, irritating, self-destructive tendency noted.

Here’s some happy news: Last week I started an intensive outpatient program at a local hospital, and so far I’m loving it. Good thing, since it entails nine hours a week of therapy, including stress management techniques, mindfulness exercises, and the like. More on this later, including an observation on the one thing that did annoy me about the first session.

Love to all.

How Much Can I Control My Moods? In Which I Turn Back to God

February 19, 2010 at 5:18 am | Posted in Dealing with Depression, Dealing with Mania, My Fascinating Mood, Philosophical Problems, Wellness | Leave a comment

St. Augustine, Bishop of HippoFor me, the question above torments me at times; the answer seems to change from day to day, whiplashing me from guilt to hopelessness to a fragile hope.

When I did a swan-dive from mania to depression on Sunday, the speed and seeming inexorability of my descent awed me. When I’m depressed, I flog myself to stick to even the mildest wellness routines. When I ascend into mania, everything that I ought to do is effortless, a pleasure. I walk, socialize, and pray without thinking and with enjoyment. I see God working in my life. And just as I’m leading a more or less blameless life, the depression crashes back over me, and I’m like King Canute in the fable, commanding the waves to turn back. Canute wets his feet; I drown. God turns his face from me.

Yesterday, despite withering guilt, I left work sick. I’ve been missing too much work lately, but I felt that I couldn’t stay. To my intense humiliation, when I told my section head, I wept and shook so hard that she escorted my to the nurse’s office and refused to let me drive home until I’d spoken to him. Oh, God. My madness on display for the whole section to see.

As I set off on my commute — so much more pleasant now that I have my lovely and perfect Charger — I suddenly knew what was wrong. On Saturday, when I was still incandescent with mania, I’d had an encounter with a friend that shook my sense of myself. I used him, he used me back, and we both left feeling alarmed and frankly repelled. I didn’t feel precisely guilty, but I know that I had harmed him and the relationship, and that I would have to talk to him about it. This came to me with the force of a religious revelation; in fact, it was a religious revelation.

Typically I will suffer any indignity or commit any crime without apology if either will help me to avoid initiating a Relationship Talk. In connections of all sorts, more than anything I dread finding myself in the role of Demanding Woman. As a result, I am easily controlled. If anyone accuses me of “drama,” I fall right into line. My most recent boyfriend, God bless him, caught on to this quickly and used it remorselessly. At the very end, his sudden, bizarre descent into cruelty would have plunged any rational woman into hysterical rage; he branded my mild attempts at rational communication “drama,” and I cut him off entirely rather than play out the role of Dido.

Imagine my dread, then, when it came to me that in order to ease my depression I would have to call a meeting and express my needs clearly. Yikes.

The meeting itself proved instructive (he was free to stop by immediately, since like every last one of my friends, he’s been laid off). It’s strange — for all that I loathe them, I’m good at difficult conversations of all sorts. I cruise through critical evaluations at work, for example, watching myself respond without a trace of defensiveness and formulate a plan for improvement on the spot. I carry out these plans, too. Accordingly, my supervisors come away with a higher opinion of me, and I become a better employee. So I conducted myself well with my friend, and he responded with relief and similar candor.

As we spoke, I realized that he had been waiting for me to set the tone for further interactions. If I’d accused him of horrors, he would have accepted the charges; if I’d said that our bad behavior fulfilled me as a woman and begged him to treat me accordingly, he would have made every effort to do that, despite his instinctive revulsion. I approached the incident with calm curiosity, explored the issue with him, then set a new bottom line for our interactions. I expected him to reject my request out of hand, even to end the friendship. We’d discussed numerous times how we wanted to treat each other and be treated, but I’m not naive, and I know that people will often express a desire to change only to reject every opportunity to do so.

Imagine my pleasure, then, when he agreed to my suggestion with relief. I expected him to hate me for telling him what I wanted; I’d behaved as if wanting anything at all was a cruel imposition. He’d done the same, which led to a hilarious-from-the-outside waltz in which we tried to discern each other’s wishes, and to lead accordingly.

So my depression lifted markedly. Somehow knowing that I can control it humbled me as much as the feeling of total helplessness that I’d had earlier in the week. I responded with near-indignation, asking God (who had turned back when I approached him), Wait, does this mean I have to do the right thing, even when it’s hard? And that I don’t need a therapist to tell me what the right thing is? If my mood depends upon conducting myself well, it’s worse than I thought.

Since last week I’d suspected that the my campaign for perfection was trivial. Getting off the Internet and leaving my cell phone at home delighted me independent of mood; whether I dutifully walked, for example, depended entirely on my preexisting mood. The latter is trivial, the former profound.

Another humbling reflection: I know what I need to do to feel better. Typically it’s the very thing that I am sure will leave me a Bad Employee and an unloved outcast. I’ve adopted certain habits because I believe they stand between me and oblivion. As I discovered when I quit my antianxiolytic, the only way I can find relief is to let them go. Hm.

So, yeah, I need to re-read St. Augustine’s Confessions and reacquaint myself with that brilliant and very human saint. Perhaps, in a characteristic burst of irrelevancy, I’ll discuss them here.

Love to all.

Get Thee Behind Me, Internet

February 11, 2010 at 3:38 am | Posted in My Fascinating Mood, Philosophical Problems, Productivity, Sociability, Work Life | Leave a comment

Yesterday, just for fun, I limited my time on the computer at work to about two hours. Before I got in, I would have sworn to you that six hours was a stretch, and that even that would risk curtailing my productivity. Not so. In fact, it looks like I’ve accidentally discovered a striking way to boost my mood.

The goal was simple: To stay not only offline, but off the computer entirely. When I needed to see people, my default setting was a face-to-face visit. If that didn’t work, I resorted to a telephone call. This resolution alone wrought enormous changes, and demonstrated the limits of electronic communication.

Surely, I thought, personal visits will take too long. What’s more, how likely is it that people will actually be at their desks? I was cast down early in the morning, for example, when I trotted the quarter mile or so to see IT regarding server access for two other data managers; my target had popped out for a smoke.

On a whim I stopped by my section head’s desk, and found out that I would be able to have lunch with the customer (who was visiting) despite a crucial teleconference I’d mistakenly scheduled from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. If I hadn’t seen her face-to-face, they almost certainly would have gone without me, and I’ve done enough damage to my career through social avoidance, thank you very much.

Next I poked my head into the cube shared by two women whom I find congenial. Since they’re in a distant building and on a different program, I typically see them only in meetings. We had a most excellent time chatting about nothing in particular, and strengthened a promising bond substantially.

I returned to my desk strengthened in my resolve. Within minutes, the IT guy who had ignored two days of plaintive voice mails called and asked what he could do for me. Granted, this gentleman is more “responsive,” as we say, than our usual Program IT people. Even so, it set a land speed record for IT service.

The trend continued. An engineer visited my cube to compliment me on my presentation two days ago on disability awareness; we enjoyed an enlightening chat about his reaction to a sudden, invisible disability, and he expressed interest in attending a brown bag seminar that I’m planning on behalf of the disabled employees resource group. I stopped by the office of the program manager, whom I fear and revere, to suggest a way of improving team communication (more on this revolutionary notion in a later post). I didn’t find him, but, again, he called back promptly, allowing me to stop by a second time. I pitched my idea, which he loved, then we discussed my presentation and problems that disabled employees face throughout the company. I wandered by the office of the gentleman who handles security for Mission Planning. He wandered back and took the time to explain a complicated issue connected with the Program’s telemetry data, which I process and store.

You get the point. These are just examples — I started dozens of valuable face-to-face interactions throughout the day, and I largely stayed off the computer. I also left my beloved iPhone at home. I started out downright alarmed — What if my car breaks down? Oh, yeah, I’ll call AAA on my company phone — but was converted by lunch, since I avoided spending my lunch hunched over a tiny screen reading The Times. You couldn’t pay me to take the thing today.

I had no idea how completely I relied on the computer to communicate, and how much time I frittered away sending and receiving terse, functional emails. That single activity apparently accounts for more than two-thirds of my terminal time. So what did I do online? I looked up people in our online employee directory and did some word processing — that’s it.

The key question is, was I productive enough? Yes and no. I sent fewer messages, certainly, and I did have less time to write. Even so, I’m positive that I came out substantially ahead: In one day I learned more about my colleagues and management than I had in the previous year, and they got to know me. This may prove to be a secret weapon: If I can strengthen my bonds with the Program, I stand to gain significant status and influence. And, of course, the Program gains from spontaneous brainstorming sessions and improved communication. I gathered and shared a tremendous amount of work-related information through spontaneous, free-form conversation, and this sparked ideas that wouldn’t have come to me had I sent even the most eloquent email. Hot damn.

Further radical steps: I’ve resolved to thank people specifically and honestly for their help once a week, and to cut out emails and IMs reading “Thank you,” or, more often, “Thx.” Visiting will be my default mode, followed by calls to people’s landlines. Only if those methods fail will I send an email. After one revolutionary day, I’m certain that email works well for broadcast communication, but is otherwise of marginal value. It turns out that people instinctively accord more importance to a face-to-face visit.

Three caveats: First, I’m still hypomanic, and I may find it tough to keep this up when the inevitable depression crashes over me. I suspect, though, that I vibrated with energy partly because the social contact lifted my spirits. We’ll see. Second, if others take my lead, the magical expediting effect of my visits may dwindle. I’ll take it — the detailed conversation alone pays off one hundredfold. Finally, for all I know, others may already be visiting each other and chatting away, of course. I may simply be catching up. I doubt that they conduct business face-to-face, however — I think that their face-to-face contact is purely social.

So, wow. I’ve got a lot more to tell, but my alarm went off, and it’s time to shut down my laptop.

Love to all.

When It Comes to Mood, Is It Better to Fake Happiness?

February 5, 2010 at 2:42 am | Posted in Dealing with Depression, My Fascinating Mood, Philosophical Problems | 2 Comments

Tragedy Mask

I may prefer tragedy, but in the business world, people like a feel-good family look.

So here’s the question of the day: Is there any value in heroically faking a good mood?

I began by thinking, no, if only because I’m a lousy actor. Even people who know me only casually can tell immediately whether or not I’m depressed. Some people lack perception, or have an investment in ignoring my mood, but overall even when I’d rather not talk about it or would like to hide it out of pride, most people can easily tell how I feel. (The sad fact is, a coworker who sometimes stops by my office to chat recently asked me if I’d had a death in the family — he couldn’t think of any other explanation for my very apparent misery. Oh my.) If this is the case, why should I even try to hide it?

There are two excellent reasons, I think. First, evidence exists that faking good feelings can boost your mood. Simply smiling, for example, will tend to lift your spirits even if your grin feels like a terrifying rictus.

What’s more, constant moping can threaten your professional standing. Your friends may tolerate it, but it’s reasonable for your colleagues to expect that you be cheerful and willing to help out. Perhaps in a perfect world everyone would bleed with tender compassion for everyone they meet, but they don’t, and expecting them to is just another instance of “I shouldn’t have to…” thinking.

Let me define that train of argument. I’ve heard friends say, “I shouldn’t have to dress up to see clients! I work in a casual industry!” or “I shouldn’t have to cover my tattoos!” Well, sure. People should see beyond appearances and judge you on your behavior and professional ability. But they don’t. So why create ill-will out of some perverse sense of entitlement?

Further, I admit that I judge people unfairly every day. When people are consistently even five minutes late for meetings — not to mention 20 minutes late to work in the morning — I feel that they’re showing disrespect for me and the company. When people make incessant personal phone calls, I take it as evidence that their lives are out of control, and I question their professionalism. I think these conclusions are reasonable. But a woman who wears tight clothes or too much perfume is just as evil a menace. So, yeah, I don’t resent demands that I demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude. (Though I refuse to multitask.)

And I’ve realized recently that my grim demeanor may affect my professional life more than I know. Let me offer a couple of illustrative instances.

1. One of the engineers in my aisle never smiles or meets my eyes when we pass each other. On some level, I feel that he doesn’t like me. But, um, I never smile or look at him either. So who’s the unfriendly one?

2. Even worse, my office mate has taken to squatting one door down with our tech lead. This, despite the fact that I’m scheduled to move to another building entirely in a couple of weeks. She’s a veritable model of unprofessional leakage of the personal into work hours, but I still feel hurt. True, when her friends visit I keep my eyes glued to my screen and click away. And I have been seething generally lately. But I never wear intrusive perfume or play annoying music, and since these are my pet peeves, I feel that refraining makes me the model office mate.

When I’m honest with myself, though, I know that I have been a little black rain cloud for months now, and that I’ve probably huffed and flounced during her endless socializing. I may well look pointedly at my watch when she walks in late from 20 to 45 minutes late every day. So by her standards, I’m unpleasantly arrogant. If she were to complain to our section head, it would pose a real problem. Our boss calls us “The DM Team,” and upper management carries on a non-stop propaganda campaign to encourage fairness, respect, diversity, and team play. I can sneer and mock all I want, but by doing so I risk my reputation as a can-do team player, and in our line of work that reads as poor customer service.

In short, I will defend to the death my right to snarl and snap in my personal life, but I don’t think it’s especially defensible at work.

All of that leads me to conclude that it would be to my advantage to make more of an effort, even if that means setting quotas for smiles and conversations struck up.

The good news is, I find myself smiling spontaneously around the test and software engineers. My obdurate hatred of Mission Planning is even beginning to melt. So perhaps I’ll feel less need to fake it once I move in with them permanently.

Love to all.

This and That

January 29, 2010 at 4:35 am | Posted in Cognitive Problems, Goal Progress, My Fascinating Mood | 1 Comment

Weasel

Here I am, as busy as a weasel.

I was hypomanic yesterday afternoon, and, boy, was it fun. My enjoyment was impaired only slightly by a suspicion that I was behaving a bit strangely. I had all the classic symptoms: I was unable to shut up in a meeting, my language became more convoluted, and I drove recklessly. I felt compelled to mention Zeno of Elea and the Duke of Wellington several times. I also entertained the following thoughts:

1. I am so clever!

2. Work is so fun and absorbing!

3. How I love test and software engineers! (This is particularly nutty — when I am in my right mind, I would like nothing more than to strangle the entire Mission Planning group because their work is invariably late and shoddy.)

4. How fun it is to think!

I’m betting this is connected to going off of my antianxiolytic. Ever since, I have the great pleasure of thinking much more clearly. Why, just yesterday I performed a minor but sweet mental feat without thinking: I looked up Alcibiades’ mother’s family name in a book I’m reading about the Peloponnesian war. Years and years ago, my mind effortlessly retained the general layout of most texts that I read. While I didn’t have the entire text of Middlemarch neatly arranged in my head (a trick of the late literary critic Northrup Frye), if I needed to find a particular passage, I could always recall its location on the page. I lost this capacity years ago, but apparently have regained it entirely.

This is big. For years I’d been mourning — mourning, I tell you! — the loss of a whole series of Stupid Brain Tricks, and even if others don’t notice or care, it’s distressing to shed brain functions wholesale. My moods are have been volatile, but it’s more than worth it. Strangely, I’m much less anxious, and am less prone to disappear into what I think of as my Dark Tunnel of Misery, a mental state that renders me unable to hear or see others.

In other Fascinating Mood News, I have been slacking on walking and meeting my social obligations. This weekend I intend to restore those habits, since the next phase of my quest to become The Perfect Mental Patient begins Monday.

Lately my mood has settled into a weekly cycle that I can’t shake. Sunday and Monday I am positively crippled by depression. My spirits begin to lift on Tuesday, and by Thursday I am as brisk as a bee in a bottle. On the bad days I struggle mightily to shift laundry from the washer to the dryer, and there seems to be no hope of folding it once dry. I spend Thursday mornings bustling around the house knocking out even the most repulsive tasks, and at work I crank widgets briskly.

I’m not sure how to handle the down times. A part of me refuses to accept periods of low productivity, so I castigate myself early in the week. Three days later, I am positively smug with accomplishment, resting secure in the knowledge that I am busy and therefore good. I’d like to treat myself with compassion, but my Inner Protestant can’t stop carping. I’ll have to devise a solution and share it.

One last thing. On If You’re Going Through Hell Keep Going, the author shares a list of things she’d like to do someday. Imagining future self visiting London, for example, helps her to survive brutal lows. I will have to try this on Sunday, provided I can move my hands.

Love to all.

One Simple Piece of Advice About Rage

January 23, 2010 at 6:28 am | Posted in Dealing with Mania, My Fascinating Mood | 1 Comment

Artemis the Huntress

Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. When Acteon accidentally caught a glimpse of her in her bath, she turned him into a stag and his own dogs ripped him limb from limb. Lately, that's been me.

Lately I’ve been fuming pretty much nonstop, to the point where I resolved to write an entry on “How To Defuse Anger.” I felt like I needed to research it, though, because I have no idea how. You see, I haven’t been angry for years. When I quit my antianxiolytic, I found myself getting more and more irritable. Since I quit it entirely, I’ve been brooding nonstop about real and imagined indignities.

This unsettles me. I have been a peaceable, easygoing creature for years. When I think back, I realize that I’ve been calm and sweet … since I started an antianxiolytic. Before then, when my rage-bomb went off, it was thermonuclear. Now it looks like I may have been drugged into sweetness for all these years. Uh-oh.

I did have one piece of advice: Do whatever it takes to restrain yourself from throwing a carpet-chewing fit. If you do, people will lose respect for you and busy themselves trying to thwart you. As usual, though, I can’t follow my own advice. Allow me to give an example.

In order to get to the office at 6:30 a.m., I have to leave home more or less in the middle of the night. Two days ago, as I was pulling out of the parking lot outside my condo, I saw a guy in a hoodie standing on the corner. I don’t know about you, but when I see a guy standing around idle, I figure he’s up to no good.

As I rounded the corner, I saw that this dude had his dick out and was yanking on it while glaring at me intently. “Well, there goes the neighborhood,” I thought. And as I drove off, the new Dr. RandR began to spin up into a hissy fit. I wasn’t shocked — while it didn’t impress me, it hardly struck fear into my heart. Rather, I felt boiling impatience. Great, now I have to worry about this stupid dickweed jumping me. I couldn’t remember if flashers are suppose to be dangerous or not. Damn it, I thought, this is a matter of property value. A lot of single women live here, and we don’t need random guys hanging around jerking their willies. I decided to go back and give him what-for.

I felt no fear. I knew that confronting this guy wasn’t sensible, but I persuaded myself that it was The Right Thing To Do. I wasn’t planning to get out of the car, but I was ready to give him the rough side of my tongue. I have a gift for invective, and I can reduce a roomful of rowdy 18-year-old guys to shocked silence by reeling off slang terms for acts they’ve never even seen on the Internet. Heck, I’ve drawn a carving knife on a woman-beater. (“Are you going to stab me?” he jeered, puffing out his chest. “Yeah,” I said flatly. And he ran like the coward he was.) So I was ready to rout this guy like the Romans at Cannae.

Of course, he was gone when I got there. I drove around, but was left impotently grumbling, “If I ever see that [adjective describing an obscure and terrible act][insulting noun] again, he’s going to be sorry he was born.”

I knew this was stupid as I was doing it, but white-hot outrage made me reckless. As I took off again for work I thought, whoa, I am dangerously pissed. I’m going to have to learn some anger management techniques. And irritability can be a symptom of hypomania. So is reckless driving, another sport I’ve taken up recently. So, off to my shrink. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured out constructive ways to defuse anger. As always, feel free to suggest things in the comments.

Love to all.

The Evil 21st Century, Continued

January 14, 2010 at 4:13 am | Posted in My Fascinating Mood, The Heath Care System | Leave a comment

So yesterday I got a voice mail from CVS. “We got a response from your doctor’s office. They got right back to us. They said that you’re not an active patient and you need to come in for an appointment before they can fill out the paperwork.”

Was there just a tiny note of triumph in her voice?

Apparently my former shrink’s receptionist picked up the fax and answered it, and my current shrink’s admin never saw it. So now I have to call my shrink’s office to straighten that out. I’ll have to keep a running total of the number of phone calls required to get a single prescription filled.

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