On this day, 21 years ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for 19 days. I was 17. I’ve observed this time of year, every year since starting this blog 7 years ago, by revisiting the events surrounding it, in one form or another. This year, it feels like not a big deal at all. This hasn’t always been the case, but it’s felt less and less traumatic as the years have gone by. Processing it in therapy has helped tons too.
One way I do know it still has some sort of grip over me is, I’ve been working a lot on long-form autobiographical writing this past year and a half. At first, I wasn’t sure what my “story” was. I assumed part of it would include this hospitalization, but then I rejected that and focused on other times in my life. After floundering around with what to focus on, I finally told my therapist, “Even though I don’t exactly want it to be true, ‘this’ is the story.” (‘This’ refers to my senior year of high school, including the hospitalization, and my first year, more or less, of college. Maybe other stuff too; I’m not sure yet) She smiled at that. It felt momentous, as if I’d been on a journey and then found my way back home and declared, “here I am.” Something to that effect.
But I’m still avoiding this part in particular…
As a Freshman in college, I was taking a class called Personal Essay. I ended up writing roughly 8,000 words about my hospital experience as my class project. It was disjointed / not chronological. That’s the way I had to approach it, in order to get as much down as I could remember. My professor, who ended up telling me he had been in hospitals / treatment centers for addiction issues, was super supportive of me pursuing this. That felt good. I was really proud of the final product, and I ended up sharing it with a bunch of friends and family members, at the time. Since then, I’ve glanced at it here and there, but it’s been rough. When writing about my life around that time, I’ve skipped over that completely, rationalizing, “Well, I already have that part down.” And I do. But, I’ve gone back and revised and changed and tweaked everything else. That remains untouched.
I don’t really want to touch it. Maybe it’s good enough as is? I doubt it though. At some point, I will have to get past this, and face it down, if I want to include it in a larger piece. As for now, I’m doing everything but. Which is working out for the time being, but not for forever…
This has been the longest stretch of not posting since I started this blog – something that would have freaked me out not too long ago, but so many things have changed lately, it feels like some of my priorities have shifted. Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing here! Just that I’m not going to force it. I have instead been writing frequently in a journal about daily life and what I’ve done to fill my time, since I stopped going to work on March 13th. Those entries are too boring for the public, haha.
I went back to work yesterday. That was 75 days out of work! So far, it’s been totally fine. We are only doing 4 hour shifts, and I am staggering it with my co-workers. So, in a job where I’m almost always alone, I am even more alone now. We’ll see if that changes when teachers have a chance to come in, which will start next week. So far I’ve just gone around and flushed all the toilets since it’s been so long since any water has been running. I went ahead and cleaned them while I was at it. (Some hard water buildup on the porcelain.) Then I flipped over area rugs, vacuumed them while upside down (gets a lot of sand out of them – I work at a school that is basically on sandy bluffs.) and moved them into the gym. And now I’m on to cleaning cafeteria tables. I wear gloves and a paper mask. Sometimes I take off the mask when there’s no chance of other people approaching me. It’s hot. Also, I wash my hands with the gloves on pretty frequently. I’ve never heard of that as a thing, but I don’t know why not!
It’s comforting that everything was right where I had it when I left. And that we are all in the same boat. There have been other occasions where I’ve been out of work long term (after top surgery, after psychiatric hospitalizations), and in those cases, I had no idea what I was coming back into, or sometimes even who would be there. This time, it feels like there is no pressure at all. We might not do everything we normally do during the summers. We will just wait and see.
I’m trying to feel out if I like working these short shifts better than not working at all (the added structure is nice, and the built in physical activity) for future reference. It’s hard to say at this point. I’m still transitioning. Other than this though, everything else is still the same, in my book. I’m still only going to the store every 2 weeks. I’m still only seeing people in outdoor spaces, at least 6 feet apart, with a mask on whenever possible (like obviously, not while eating or drinking). I’m recording my radio show from home, doing telehealth appointments, spending lots of time biking, hiking, and sitting in the nice weather staring off into space. It feels like others are suddenly less cautious, as the weather got nicer and as restrictions eased up. That doesn’t make much sense to me, so I’m gonna just keep doing what I’m doing, which now includes working M-F, 11:30am – 3:30pm (loving this shift!)
I found out a few weeks ago that the anthology I contributed to, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, is a finalist in the “LGBTQ Anthology” category! Although there won’t be a “Lammy Awards Ceremony” because of COVID-19, the winners will still be announced in early June, for 24 categories, through a format TBD. The finalists were selected by a panel of over 60 literary professionals from roughly 1,000 book submissions from over 300 publishers. I didn’t even know this anthology had been submitted / it didn’t occur to me, so finding that out through social media from one of the editors was a fun surprise.
I’ve read a few of the other books from other categories this year; here are some mini book reviews:
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (LGBTQ Nonfiction) – The author captures a year (more or less) of her life in which she was consumed by an emotionally abusive relationship. She also weaves in myths, legends, and historic examples of lesbian abuse through the ages. It ended up being much harder to get through than I anticipated, but it was highly rewarding. I was particularly impressed by the way she kept her ex-girlfriend at an extreme distance from the readers and simultaneously submerged us in the chaos.
A Year Without a Name by Cyrus Grace Dunham (LGBTQ Nonfiction) – This also was the story of one year, but presented in a much different way. They do a particularly good job of examining the mental health struggles that can result from the uncertainty of gender dysphoria and what to either do or not do about it. From what I can gather, they come from affluence, and they don’t mention how this plays into their experience at all (it is HUGE), which bothered me, but that might not be quite a fair assessment.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Gay Memoir / Biography) – One of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. In his blurb on the book jacket, his background is in poetry, and that makes perfect sense (although his language is not overly poetic). I was absorbed fully in his experiences, specifically the ways sexuality and sexual acts became dangerously subverted for him, over time. And why the culture at large contributed to that. He also handles family dynamics deftly, painting portraits of each family member fully, so we can see and understand why they are doing the things they do and being the way they be.
Death Threat by Vivek Shraya, illustrated by Ness Lee (LGBTQ Comics) – I gotta admit I can’t remember much from reading this, and that was only 3 months ago. So I just now went to go find more about it, and here’s a quick synopsis from goodreads.com: “In the fall of 2017, the acclaimed writer and musician Vivek Shraya began receiving vivid and disturbing transphobic hate mail from a stranger. Using satire and surrealism, Death Threat is an unflinching portrayal of violent harassment from the perspective of both the perpetrator and the target, illustrating the dangers of online accessibility, and the ease with which vitriolic hatred can be spread digitally.” From what I remember, the story was disjointed and difficult to follow, but the alarming nature of the situation definitely did shine through.
Looking forward to June to find out the winners!
For 20 years, I’ve been churning and mulling over, obsessing and ruminating about, writing and re-writing the events surrounding my first hospitalization which happened around this time of year in 1999, when I was 17. Up until the age of 30, it had a hold on me in that way that trauma can stay with a person: it was my biggest source of shame and fear, I felt like it defined my past and if only I had avoided it, maybe my mental health wouldn’t have gotten so derailed for so long. It was a super sore spot that for some reason I just kept picking at, revisiting, but wasn’t getting anywhere with.
I’m 37 now, and I’ve been seeing it much differently, with the help of my therapist. It was extreme and drastic, for sure, but it led to me getting real help that I desperately needed – without that help, my mental state could have festered and bubbled badly for much longer, in a much darker place; who knows what might have happened. Not that I didn’t suffer for way too long regardless. I did! But some systems were in place that helped me feel not so alone, even through those times where I despised those systems.
I’m writing kinda vaguely here… I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit because I thought I was bipolar and I stopped being able to sleep, and things were getting wonky. I was indeed diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as having gone through a psychotic break. I was there for 3 weeks, even though I kept thinking I could leave at any minute, if I could just figure my way out. I was put on medications, and later on, different ones and different ones and different ones. So many different ones. I got disillusioned with drugs and eventually weened myself off of everything because they ultimately didn’t make any sense. They did do me some good at some points in time, but not much.
The thing that helped more than anything else, ever in my life, was getting assigned a therapist. I was required to attend 20 sessions after my hospitalization; I ended up going so many more times than that; if not specifically with her because she moved away, then to the therapist she referred me to. In fact, I’m still seeing this therapist (with a break of a bunch of years in between, during that time where I wrote off meds and all other psychological interventions).
I was talking recently with a friend about therapy, (It seems like all of my friends are currently in therapy…) and I referred to the fact that my parents facilitated me being in therapy from such a young age (and by young, I mean 18) as “early intervention.” I know that term usually refers to 3-5 year-old’s who might be on the spectrum or might have a learning disability or a speech delay. But, sadly, when it comes to emotions and figuring out how to communicate them, age 18 is still pretty much “early intervention,” in my opinion. Things are definitely getting better, but not fast enough! And when I said that out loud to my friend, it hit me how lucky I was. I always went to therapy willingly – at some times, it felt like the only thing I had to look forward to. Usually it felt like the progress was not quantifiable. Was it doing anything? What good was it? Was it worth it? I still pretty much always loved going, even if logically I wasn’t so sure.
My therapist has told me that among her clients who have gone through psychosis, I’m the only one who has ever wanted to revisit it (for me, there are 3 instances). Everyone else just wants to put it behind them. I don’t understand that; and I’ve ended up doing a lot more than just revisiting it. I think there’s a lot of worth there. It feels like a gold mine in an alternate universe. The more I write, the more I can mine it later, for future purposes. I’m not sure what those purposes are, exactly, yet, but I want the raw material to be intact as much as possible.
In the spirit of that, here’s one short snippet, that I first wrote in 2001:
“I’m going to be leaving tomorrow,” I announced at our afternoon community meeting. I figured that since I wanted to come here, I was allowed to tell them when I wanted to leave. I was getting sick of this charade. The day before, I had told the nurse that I wanted to go home, expecting to find my parents there when I woke up. When nothing came of that, I panicked, but then I realized the key was for me to get myself out. I was going to have to stand up to everyone and announce my intentions. I had to take control. Everyone, including the staff workers, stared at me without saying a word. That made me uneasy, especially when my statement went untouched, and the meeting continued with staff member Bob saying, “If no one has anything else to say, it’s time to go to the gym.” It’s alright, it’s alright. They’re just testing me.”
There’s a lot more where that came from. Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.
WordPress sent me a notification today letting me know that it’s my 5th anniversary of blogging here. So I’m scrambling to do a celebratory post!
When I started this blog, I was trying soooo hard to navigate my gender identity and to find a community. I’d say the first year or two was spent feeling like my blog was not enough, just continually putting myself out there and obsessing about how to connect with others through this method. I spent hours, daily, reading as many other blogs as I could find, about gender. After about 2 years, I think I started to feel secure in my writing voice, if not quite my gender yet. I really settled into writing regularly, and I got so much enjoyment out of it – this more than any other creative endeavor, for a long time. I’d say that within the past year, that’s shifted again, and I’ve felt pretty disenfranchised. I get way more “views” than ever before, mostly thanks to this singular post: 28 risks of chest binding. People love a good scare. They love to google things that could go wrong. I’m definitely proud of that post – I put a lot of work into that one. And I do love the fact that once they find my blog through that route, it seems like the majority of people poke around a little more and go deeper. (This is based on what I can tell from “stats.”) But the sense of community I felt so strongly has dwindled over time. People have stopped posting / I have stopped finding new blogs to read. There are a few mainstays that I haven’t quite kept up with; I’d like to remedy that…
The way I decided to celebrate this milestone is to pick 5 blog posts that I think got overlooked (one per year). Either I put a lot of emotional energy into them and didn’t get much feedback, or maybe I just think they’re worth checking out – they withstand the test of time, something like that…
2013: From whimsical musings to invasive rumintations on transitioning – This was my 10th post ever, and I really think I zeroed in on the psychological push-pull of not feeling like either gender for the first time here. I even used some of what I wrote here much later, in an essay that is forthcoming as part of an anthology published by Columbia University Press. For real! The date keeps being pushed back, but it will be within a year – I’m sure I’ll have updates as that approaches.
2014: The Soft Sell (upping the ante) – This was my 30th post. It was mostly about: despite the fact I may have been solidifying my gender identity more and more, I was waaaay behind in telling a lot of the people in my life about it. The blog was a great outlet to be semi-private but also just feel it out as I went. The term “the soft sell” came from my therapist – that was her reaction to me telling her the half-assed way I had come out to my parents. When she said that, all I could picture was the members from Soft Cell, one of my fave bands. That has always stayed with me. Hah.
2015: I came out to the principal of my school (workplace) – This post was definitely not overlooked, but I still think it’s worth highlighting. I came out to her waaaaay before I actually actively came out at work, and I strongly feel like the fact that I did that, that I put those roots down, gave me hope toward my final destination. It also breaks down the divide I feel between the “janitor” and the “queer” parts of my identity – this blog has continually felt out where that line is, where it crosses, where they are distinct, etc. I just really like this post because it addresses a lot of that stuff head-on.
2016: Drag king stories #5 – This is definitely my favorite entry within this ongoing series I’ve been doing. I wrote it in honor of Prince’s death (the actual show took place in June of 2012) – the fact that I got to emulate Prince at a really well attended event meant the world to me, and the fact that I performed one of the songs with my drag partner/buddy’mentor made it all the more special. We were both regular drag performers at a gay bar in 2006 and 2007. Before I could articulate where I wanted to go with my gender, I got to act it out in all kinds of fun and creative ways, harnessing music and dance and costuming and make-up. Being a drag performer was a big step in my journey – this post really showcases that, I think.
2017: Jeepster (working title: I got an oil change and got my mind blown) – this is a real oddball post. I’ve always said that the three things this blog is about are: gender, being a janitor, and mental health, and this one here really crystalizes a mental state that was temporary (thankfully!) I had just recently gotten through the thick of a manic episode, and the residual disorganization / megaorganization is still very much apparent in the writing here. I think I want to highlight it because I’m currently working on a 16+ page piece where I just try to remember as much as I can about my most recent hospitalization. This is a companion piece.
And I’m gonna cop out and not do 2018 because the year’s not done yet! Plus, it’s my 5th anniversary, so I’m highlighting 5 posts. Makes sense. Here’s to 5 more years!
Dear friends and family of trans-people,
It can be super challenging, on multiple levels, when a loved one comes out to you, especially if it never occurred to you that they might be transgender. You might not know where to turn, or what resources to access to help you navigate the changes they (and you) will be going through. There ARE resources though, plenty of them, and support groups (if not locally in your area, then definitely on the internet). It is not up to the transgender person to be your sounding board, your therapist, your coach, or your educator. In addition, as you work through it in your own way, please put a damper on the “transition as death” narrative. It is trite, outdated, and toxic.
If you feel like you are mourning a death, that’s fine – all feelings are valid (etc.) But why would this be something you need to work out publicly? We are very much alive. Almost always, transition is actually close to the opposite of death – it’s a time to finally feel out who we actually are. We may have felt like a “half-person” or a “shell of a person” or, to put it in those same grim terms, like a “walking dead person.” I know I did prior to transition, quite a bit. Coming out was a celebration of life. I feel like I have so much more to live for now.
When you claim that the person you knew has died, you are implying that the person we are becoming is not worth getting to know, or that we have slighted you, tricked you, we are to blame for your feelings of loss. And, actually, we aren’t even “becoming” a different person. We are the same person, just finally in technicolor, finally kaleidoscopic, however you want to look at it. If you took the time to see how much we settle into ourselves, how often our worst mental-health issues start to soften around the edges, how we can be more present in the moment, more peaceful, more calm, then you might understand that it is so far from a death that the analogy is utterly ridiculous and laughable.
Please reflect on the ramifications of claiming we have died.
And now for some hard evidence! Two sources that have been recently on my radar have had me in hyper cringe mode as they talked about the “death” of their transgender loved one.
First, an episode of the podcast Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People: I generally love this podcast, and in fact, I’ve written about it before, because there have been 2 prevous episodes highlighting transgender narratives. If you wanna check that blog post out, it is: Beautiful / Anonymous: Trans-related episodes.
Episode #116, sensationalistically entitled She Killed My Father is a much harder pill to swallow. The gist is that the caller is an only child, the adult child of a transwoman who came out later in life (in her fifties), much to the surprise of those around her.
Caller: “Sometimes it feels like this person killed my father. And in a way, that’s right. You know, I, well, think about it this way: When you lose… my father, as a male, does not exist anymore. This person is gone. And normally when that happens, you have this grieving period, you have this ritual, this ceremony, you can go to this funeral or this memorial service and people bring you food and people give you cards and people just give you your space and they really support you and they let you process that. But for me, um… especially with my dad… I don’t have a dad anymore, and this person came in and said, ‘Your dad’s gone. Now it’s me….'”
Chris: “Wow. This is, this is, by far, out of all the calls we’ve ever done, one that is so much to wrap one’s brain around.”
Blaaaaaaaaaah!!!!! To be fair, I am just isolating this one thing, and of course it’s way more complex as we hear more of her story: Her father is also bipolar, and has issues with boundaries, always wanting to be more of a “buddy” than a parent, stuff like that. But really, nothing excuses this framework the caller has set up so starkly. Can’t get past it!
The second instance I’ve recently come across is in a book called, At The Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces. This book is co-authored by both mother and son, and it is in many ways a difficult but worthwhile read. It’s rich in its depth and complexity. Both authors are not afraid to show their wounds and flaws, and, to be sure, some of that is cringe-worthy.
She (the mother, Mary Collins) delicately sidesteps the specific “my daughter has died” scenario, but she has an entire chapter entitled “Mapping Modern Grief,” and there’s plenty of comparisons to the death of her father at a young age, as well as, “I am grieving the loss of my daughter,” “I understood my daughter would never return,” and this mindboggling way of looking at it: “My emotional journey with Donald seems to more closely mirror more nebulous losses, such as moving away from someone I will never see again.”
Not as in-your-face with the death imagery, but just as chafing, on an emotional level.
A couple of weeks ago, a new zine, made by non-binary people, launched. This first issue’s theme is sexuality and romance, and it can be purchased here, on Etsy: Mx. Zine
The cost is sliding scale / pay what you want, and all profits will be donated to Trans Lifelife (a crisis helpline for trans people) and/or Black & Pink (queer prison abolitionists). How cool is that?!
I just got mine in the mail, and I highly recommend it. It’s 16 pages of poetry, photography, drawings, mini-comics, and prose. It’s on really nice paper and is in color. I first found out about it from AJ, a member of a facebook group that I’m also a part of. I reached out and asked them a few questions to get a better sense of the scope of the project.
Kam: What is your role in the group, and how did you get involved?
AJ: I don’t have an official name for my role in Mx., but I’m somewhere between an organizer and editor. I’d had the idea for a collaborative project made only by non-binary people, and had quite a bit of support from the community, and was able to gather a group of interested NBs. I laid out the basics, but a lot of the details were fine-tuned by suggestions and polls. Then people submitted their content, and I arranged it into the final product!
Kam: What are some of the long-term goals for this project?
AJ: I really hope this will head in the direction of a queer based distro, where we’d also distribute music, art, and other zines. I’d love to see the proceeds from that go towards getting radical queer and feminist literature into the hands of young queers.
Kam: Do you come from a writing / publishing background? Have you made zines before?
AJ: I do a lot of writing for fun, but it’s not exactly a background. I’ve made several small zines before, but this was the first big project.
Kam: What are some ways newcomers can get involved?
AJ: Join our Facebook group! It’s a general group for recruiting and updating on upcoming projects. Our next issue will be along the lines of Queer Liberation and Revolution, and we’d love to hear from new contributors! https://www.facebook.com/groups/mxzine/
Kam: What are the pros and cons, in your opinion, in using a printed medium when so much around us is digital / digitized?
AJ: I’m definitely one who prefers holding what I’m reading, but also it can be a lot easier to get out if we’re going through a distro (which I’ve been working on trying to do). I also find people more likely to pass around and share zines rather than sending files. People who might not have a computer, or who have a hard time reading from them also benefit from physical copies.
There are definitely benefits to having it digital as well, and it makes it accessible to more people. People can zoom in for larger text or invert the colors if that helps them. We’re also making a text-only document with image descriptions that will be available upon request.
Kam: How did the title for the zine get selected?
AJ: The title Mx. was decided by a poll in our Facebook group. I wish I could tell you who suggested it, but I’m not sure. The runner-up was “Enbious Vibes,” which I also liked a lot.
Kam: Do you yourself identify as non-binary?
AJ: Yes! (In fact, everyone who collaborated on the zine identifies somewhere outside the binary.) I label my gender simply as “Queer.” I’ve bounced around with different labels since I was thirteen, but I feel this describes me best, at least at this point in my life. I don’t like trying to use more specific labels (e.g. genderfluid, demi-boy/girl), since so many people define them differently. I do love that there is so much new terminology floating around, and there can be a lot of personal empowerment in choosing a specific classifier for yourself, and then fine-tuning its description to best suit your experience. Me personally, I feel empowered by emphasizing the blurry lines of gender.
Thanks to AJ for the interview, and, again, get yourself a copy!!! Here: Mx. Zine
Thank you to Self Made Originality for including me in another round of the Liebster Award! It’s been a while. Looking back, the last time I had a go-around was 2 years ago! So, the way this chain-style, community based award system goes is, if you’re chosen, you then choose a bunch of other blogs you like, and it branches out from there. I imagine the pattern of these awards swirling, dead-ending, and splintering/multiplying, over time, forever and ever. It’s a great opportunity to find out about other blogs and connect with one another.
I tend to not follow the rules completely, but if I do nominate you, here’s how it’s supposed to go:
1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award logo.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
3. Nominate bloggers who you think are deserving of the award but also help promote newer bloggers with less followers.
4. Tell the bloggers you nominated them, in a comment on their blog.
5. Give them 11 questions of your own.
So, when answering the questions posed, I’m going to do a combination of questions from a couple of sources, just answering the ones I feel like answering (if I nominated you, go ahead and answer these, and/or make up your own to answer. And if you wanna display the award logo, just google image search “Liebster Award.”)
- What inspires you most when writing/blogging? Real life experiences, and a self-imposed “quota.” Basically, if I haven’t written 2 blog posts in a month, minimum, I start wracking my brain for something to write about!
- Are you religious? No.
- If not, why not / What holds you back? I grew up in a religious household and went to church regularly. (Episcopal church.) As I got older, I found other things to fill that same space in my soul. Volunteering for various things and creative endeavors let me explore spirituality without the rigid rituals.
- Did you enjoy your education? (high school, university, etc.) No, I did not. I would not trade it for a different path at this point because who knows where I would be without that structure. But I would say my high school and college years were the worst, in terms of mental health issues, loneliness, and just feeling very very lost.
- What is your dream job? Honestly, the job I have right now is pretty ideal. I don’thave to interact with people much at all, I listen to podcasts and radio shows all day, I stay physically fit… I guess my dream job would be phasing out working full time and making a living out of working part time, plus DJing and/or writing.
- Boxers or briefs? Boxer briefs. Although, today I wore boxers (one out of only a handful of days I’ve worn boxers, and it was pretty great.
- What important values do you live by? Everything in moderation, avoid debt, help others when you have energy and it feels good (otherwise don’t worry about it), try to leave a record of things that are important, connecting with people is one of the most worthwhile things to put energy into (even if it’s often hard), just do your thing.
That’s about all I got for now.
Check out these awesome blogs:
One other thing I wanna mention: I used to pore over many many blogs. I probably spent between 1 and 2 hours every day, reading other blogs that were written by people who identifiy as transgender. And in recent months, that has tapered off. I’ve tried to pinpoint why, exactly. Maybe I’m not searching for myself in others’ experiences as much as I used to? I have made it, in a lot of ways, to the other side of my journey (getting on hormones, getting top surgery, legally changing my name, coming out at work, etc.)?
Maybe. I guess what I mean to say is that I miss connecting with other bloggers through shared experiences. And I’m not totally sure why I’ve slowly gravitated elsewhere – it seems like a natural progression, at this point. As of now, it hasn’t affected my interest in writing blog posts. I hope that doesn’t waver, and I do hope I again become interested in checking in with other bloggers more frequently!
Back in November, I lamented about not being able to find much writing out there that really portrays what can go on in someone’s head while they are in the middle of a psychotic episode. In the past few weeks, two such books sorta fell into my lap, so I want to mention them!
My spouse picked up a book called Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind from the library last weekend. They pointed it out to me, like, eh? You’ll want to read this! This weekend, I was super sick, and I binge read it in 2 days, while trying to stay warm on the couch. It was compelling for so many different reasons, one major one being that I could relate to so much of it. The author, Jaime Lowe, was also hospitalized for a good chunk of her senior year of high school, and she also just took the pills without much reflection for years and years. Like, it’s something that is a thing now. (Although, for me, it was Depakote, and not Lithium.) She had another manic / psychotic episode when she tried to get off Lithium at age 25. I successfully(?) did get off all my pills in my early 20s, and that was my new normal for a long time, until I had 2 subsequent manic / psychotic episodes in my 30s. She had to switch off of Lithium because it was killing her kidneys, and she had a really hard time stomaching Depakoke, but she finally did get through it.
Having to switch sent her on a spiritual journey to learn about Lithium as not just a psychotropic drug but as an element, super common in nature. Which made the book encompass much more than just her mental health trajectory. The best thing about it though, was how thoroughly and deeply she gets back into that headspace of being so completely out of her mind. The slightest suggestion toward a minuscule thing could send her on an all-day (or longer) journey to do and/or be that thing. She devastated every aspect of her life that second time around. I was surprised by the fact that everyone around her wanted to keep her out of the hospital for a second time because she was no longer an adolescent and the adult ward was apparently to be avoided at all costs. As a result, she was in that state much longer – days, weeks… I was brought to the hospital like, BAM! So fast my head didn’t get a chance to spin out too far too fast with too many repercussions.
The second book I’m reading with a portrayal of a breakdown is called The Petting Zoo, by Jim Carroll (of The Basketball Diaries fame). He wrote this book in 2010, and according to the forward by Patti Smith, he died at his desk while writing. He had finished it at the time of his death, but it was still in the editing process. A few people had their hands in trying to edit as close to Jim’s style as possible. It’s fiction. It’s hard for me to get through (probably largely because it’s fiction – I almost always gravitate toward non-fiction and memoir). The book opens with the main character, Billy, in the midst of a manic frenzy. I didn’t know the book would be about that at all – nothing about that on the back cover summary – I bought it on a whim from a record store that was going out of business. So it was interesting to get thrown into that unexpectedly, but I gotta say it felt lacking in… something.
Billy has some kind of crisis over an art opening at the MET and how what he saw of this one artist affects how he’s approaching his art for his own upcoming show. He careens off down the steps, on his own, into the Central Park Zoo, more specifically a side spectacle, an outdated petting zoo. From there, he flees down the street, in his tuxedo and fancy shoes, to a building that reminds him of an Aztec temple. He then hits his head and his eye on branches or something and starts shouting something about a knife. He has a momentary black-out and the cops pick him up. At which point he comes back to reality, and that’s it. Although the aftermath ends up taking longer, red tape and everything. He has to stay overnight in a mental ward, which is just kind of looked at as a novelty, a curiosity, a stop-over.
In conclusion, real life is zanier (or at least more compelling to me) than fiction.
My spouse, spouse’s mom, and I were sitting in a “farm shop” at Aillwee Cave near Ballyvaughan, Ireland. We had vague plans to go into the cave, but more than anything we were just exploring the west coast by car, stopping at the side of windy narrow roads for pictures, looking at all the sheep, stone walls, castles, and stone-house ruins. When we arrived at the cave and realized it would be 18 Euros each, to tour it, we opted to just take a break instead: drink some Americanos, and sample all the cheeses that were made right in the shop. We picked up tourist maps and brochures, spreading them open on the counter in front of us. I noticed one point of interest, the Burren Brewery at the Roadside Tavern, in Lisdoonvarna, which just happened to be en route to our way back.
My impression of Irish beer so far had been that there are essentially three kinds: a light lager, a red ale, and a dry stout. The blurb about this brewery confirmed that: “The Roadside Tavern which was established in 1865 as a pub, was expanded into a bakery and now harbours a micro-brewery under its roof. Stop by and sample the taster menu of Burren micro-brewery beers: Burren Gold, a delicious colourful lager; Burren Red, a spicy, slightly sweet ale which even features a hint of smoke; Burren Black, a smooth and full-bodied stout.”
The town was so small that we just parked on the main street and walked up and down, looking for the Roadside Tavern. When we found it, it looked closed and there was a sign on the door that food was not being served for the next couple of months – the off season for tourists. We tried the door and were surprised to find that it was in fact open. An old gentleman was tending bar, and there were three locals just shooting the breeze. It was only 4pm, but it had the vibe that it didn’t really get much more crowded than that, even on a late night in January. It was already getting dark out, and the place was dimly lit. I ordered one of each (my spouse’s mom got the Gold, I got the Red, and my spouse got the Black.) We found our way into a second room, where a fire was blazing, giving off a warmth and a glow.
This was also an opportunity to go on our phones – WiFi was spotty throughout the trip; our airbnb didn’t have a connection. Since I don’t have a smart phone, I just stared at the fire, trying to overhear the conversations. I couldn’t make out a whole lot, but the language was definitely colorful.
The bartender went into the back for a while, and I snapped a few photos. Then I started to wander around, looking for the restroom. I went up some stairs and through a door which led to a more of a dining area, completely empty. When I came back, my spouse said they were joking about how I was leading my own micro-brewery tour. I said I was looking for the bathroom (just called “toilet” in Ireland.) My spouse’s mom pointed to another door. “It’s always down the stairs.”
I went through and there was the bartender. I looked to my left, “ladies,” and to my right, “gents.” I made a move like I was going left, and the bartender firmly, simply, gestured me the other way. I thought to myself, “well, his place, his rules. I don’t feel unsafe. Here we go…” and I went in. While I was in the stall, another guy came in and approached a urinal. I flushed, washed my hands, dried my hands, and left. No problems.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been directed to the men’s. It happened once in Turkey. And also at a clothing store, to the men’s dressing room. This felt more deliberate though, ceremonial almost. And although I don’t plan to continue frequenting men’s bathrooms, it felt validating. I really do feel like I am inhabiting a middle ground, finally.
Before we left, the bartender asked how we liked the beers. My spouse said of the Burren Black, “Better than a Guinness!” The bartender just nodded, knowingly.