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May 17th, 2016

04:24 pm - Post-antipsychotic life
This journal is so sad. Reading through it over the past few years, I have come across as this hopeless, lost creature who has no direction or dreams in life. That's really not true of my day-to-day existence. I have worked hard, and fought, to have what life I've had. It's just been very hard under the burden of medication that's made me feel not like myself, a system that's traumatized me more than it's helped, and other chronic health problems I haven't really talked about much on here in the past few years.

I'd like to change that. Last Thursday, after many months, I finally finished a taper off of Seroquel, the drug that has been making me feel awful since 2006. Let's just say I'm on something else, not an antipsychotic, at a pretty low dose, which has proven to not make a zombie out of me. The doctor has his magical belief in the new drug, which is dubbed a "mood stabilizer", and doesn't seem to believe in ME as much, but at least it keeps him off my back, and if I can keep myself in a good space long enough, the system will not be able to force me to become a zombie again.

It's weird to be in this position. In the past few years, I've gradually come to understand my life story more, my triggers, my trauma history, my coping mechanisms, and see things in a deeper way. I've become stronger in my daily life. I've done things despite being apathetic and lethargic from meds, despite having some physical problems from time to time (or most of the time), despite gaining so much weight that it used to really, really upset me.

And now I just feel... normal again. No, not unburdened, but normal. Not messed with chemically.

Life is not easy for anyone. But in these past few years, it's been very hard to come to terms with my actual human struggles, because of the emotional/cognitive muting. I even spent 6 weeks recently working as a university newspaper reporter, and during that time it was hard to feel the stories very much. The work which should have been manageable and interesting was made especially difficult by being on Seroquel. Ironically, I even won an award for my work, but getting that work done was not easy. This week, I'm working on another story, and I can already feel the thoughts and questions, much more clearly focused than before.

I've been taking a journal-writing class these past six weeks, and today I wrote what might have been the first journal when I actually talked about what happened to me and how I felt about it, rather than just vaguely saying "I feel upset", "I feel sad", "I feel some hope", "I feel I really want something". Those vague feelings were something, and were helpful, but this was even better. What's funny is that even at a very lose dose of Seroquel (12.5 to 25 mg - the last 3 weeks of my taper), I was still feeling fuzzy.

I've realized that humiliation is a pretty profound trigger for me, and I think my last post was made in the spirit of humiliation... and defeat. I'm not sure anyone can understand that specific type of defeat if one is never subjected to antipsychotics. The profound sense of being cut off, being emotionally and intellectually castrated, is utterly... impenetrable. Couple that with what happens in a hospital - the seclusion, the force, the violation of bodily and mental integrity, the utter fear of the experience - one ends up in a position that feels inescapable. For many years, I've struggled with panic and rage attacks at night in particular, when my room brings back memories of the hospital, or when I fear not sleeping and ending up back there. I've learned to get those feelings out of my system in the past few years, with imagery, with letting my body do the things it needs to do to finish the fight/flight response, e.g. automatic kicking. It helps. And I continue to struggle, but that's not what defines me.

I'm not defined by my emotional struggles. Even calling them mental illness is problematic. It's highly stigmatizing. It makes me feel hopeless and like something is terribly wrong with me. Everyone has struggles, some worse than others, that's all. And there are reasons for our struggles. This I believe.

I lost my voice for years. We'll see if it starts coming back. And we'll see how well I do at keeping myself grounded. It's my challenge, it's my journey, and it's one I've learned a lot about these past few years. As for this blog, I don't know what to think of it anymore. Maybe useful documentation of what can happen to a person in the system.

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June 27th, 2015

08:37 pm - Another recovery
So I fell apart in late April. Technically, the second last day of work.

I had been trying to reduce my Seroquel prescription, and I reached that sweet spot where despite how long you hold there, all hell breaks lose. Then I spent a month in the hospital. While I was there, I spent all my money buying a car, and racked up a nice sized credit card bill.

This last hospitalization made me admit, finally, that I have a problem. I have bipolar disorder.

You wouldn't hear me admit this before, but now I feel it's important.

Despite how terrible the meds make me feel, I have to be on them. I can't try to wean off. It's been two attempts now, and two disasters. No matter how slow I go, I end up in the hospital. That's a sign.

I am in the process of getting back on Seroquel, which is the only drug I can tolerate, despite its many side effects, one of which is to make me less creative and enjoy writing less. It also makes me very fat, something I'm going to combat with my doctor using metformin.

The fuzzy feeling between my ears is both uncomfortable and familiar. It stops me from being the intellectual I know I am. It may stop me from getting high-responsibility jobs. It makes it hard to function, even as I do function, barely.

I'm sad that it's come back to this again. I tried so hard, and I failed.

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March 20th, 2015

10:31 pm - Realizations about paths in society
I thought I'd write down some thoughts so that I can have a (quasi)permanent record of them.

I've realized lately that there are some channels that are open to me and some channels that are closed. There are social norms that govern our lives, which prohibit certain actions and activities in certain places and contexts. For example, on the street in Winnipeg I am unlikely to meet a person who will smile and nod at me or say "Good morning".

You can fight those social facts, or you can acquiesce to them. If you acquiesce and "go with the flow", you will use up less energy and be less frustrated. If you fight, you will get worked up, angry, and no further ahead.

There are definite channels through which each of us, dependent on our social position, can express ourselves and find satisfaction. The channels open to me depend on who I know, what I have done for a career, organizations I interface with, and so on. Those are the opportunities I have in life.

I can't just dream of a random goal or opportunity and have it manifest itself by dreaming. There are only so many options easily open. The unopened options are like roads that simply don't exist for me. If I was driving a car down the street, and had three roads I could turn onto, it would be irrational to drive on the sidewalk or boulevard instead. I would look at the three roads and follow them. It is not only easier, it is more sensible. Perhaps what others would call "sane".

The people I know, my friends and family, are my roads. The French class I'm taking and enjoying, as well. The Toastmasters. The music lessons I've started. The editor at the CBC who has published two of my pieces. The people at the community radio station who enjoy working with me. The people I've met at the Museum while working there, and the concrete experiences I've had for my resume. The experience I'm getting as a volunteer EAL instructor. Past jobs.

I've realized that there is no road forward with the Museum, because of my lack of French skills (the Musem Educator type positions are nearly all bilingual). I railed against this for a long time, but now I feel it would most gracious to just move on. This is an example of a structural constraint in society that I cannot change simply by being angry. My term position is almost over, I've had a good year and a half of employment with them, and it's time to move on.

I got permission to take a 2nd year sociology course this spring. I am now reading Durkheim. Durkheim's essay on "social facts" has inspired this. The prof and I had some interests in common. This could be another one of those openings, another road for me.

No use to wish for some abstract future road that doesn't actually physically exist. There are some things I want to do and hope to use to affect the community, like an idea for a gathering in the park behind my apartment, to bring neighbours together. But only a certain amount of innovation is within my power. As Durkheim says, innovators have to fight against the existing status quo. And it's a hard fight, not one I should feel pushed to make every day of my life.

I'm going to start regarding situations where I question the norms (e.g. everyone keeping to themselves on the bus) as an opportunity to gracefully glide in the prevailing social winds, as opposed to frustrations of or affronts to my personal needs. The nature of social facts is that they impose themselves upon us, externally, without us willing it. This is the nature of living in society. I've been dealing with way too much anger the past few weeks, and on and off for a long time, and I've decided that raging against things I cannot change is not the best way to direct my energy. I have plenty of friends, plenty of channels open to me. Let me accept what I cannot change and enjoy the chances I do have, which are considerably richer than they have been in the past. Through those already open channels, life will blossom and grow. Just like the plant grows from a root, then a stem, then enjoys the fresh air, my life has to keep growing in the directions it's already headed.

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December 25th, 2014

11:32 pm - Life these days
I don't feel like writing creatively anymore. I don't think it's because there's anything wrong with me, words just aren't what I need right now. Some words make me feel better. Some words don't. But I just don't find coming up with them very appealing. I prefer music, for touching my feelings. I tried for a very long time to be a "writer" because that's what people said I was good at, but having your friends tell you you're good at something isn't a strong enough reason to do it. Writing was a subtle form of torture. Maybe one day the relationship I have with words will become healthier again, but right now it feels like too much thinking -- to many ideas, too head-focused. I want to be more heart focused.

I'm still working at the museum part-time, in the temporary pirates exhibition. I'm also taking French classes in St. Boniface. And on Wednesdays, I have Toastmasters, which I'm finding uplifting. It's a very jolly group, and many of the members are older men, so they have wisdom to share and are comfortable in their skin. I'm still volunteering with CKUW, putting together stories for their morning news show occasionally, mostly interviews. Starting in January, I'm also probably going to be volunteering to help out in an English as an Additional Language (EAL) Conversation Circle for older adults.

Last summer, my brother got married, and a few months before that his fiancee had a baby. So I have a 9-month old niece named Rose. She's very cute. She babbles now, and crawls. She looks a little like my dad, around the eyes.

This year, I lit Chanukah candles every night. The first night I spent with my mom and brother, at my mom's place. Chanukah just finished on Tuesday. Today I spent Christmas Day with my mom and Mark. We went to The Imitation Game, the movie about Alan Turing cracking the German Enigma machine code, allowing the Allies to win World War II. It was a wonderful movie. We all enjoyed it very much. I cried, which feels awesome during movies. The movie was exciting but also sad, as Turing was persecuted for being who he was, despite being a war hero that no one knew about because his work was so classified. Afterwards, we picked up Chinese food, went back to my mom's and played Mah Jong. We played with the old set my Baba once owned, that now belongs to my mom.

I'm more okay with being ordinary right now. I don't have to be a shining light of literary talent to be a fulfilled human being. Also down to 225 mg Seroquel (never did stay on Ziprasidone, as it made me very restless), from a highest dose of 400 mg. Still have some panic attacks at night, as my bedroom and the bright lights remind me of the seclusion room and other aspects of the hospital, but overall I'm sleeping better and feeling much more relaxed during the day. Therapy has made some deep shifts in me, and I'm finding greater strength and hope within. Within the past couple weeks I've realized that being hopeful, optimistic and encouraging to myself isn't some kind of self-delusion, that it's actually a source of healing. I think I spent many years being "negative" without realizing what I was doing. Of course it didn't help that there was so much trauma not being addressed. There's a difference between ignoring your wounds and putting the salve of self-love on them. Healing comes from deep reassurance and connection, that then lead to tremendous feelings of relief, not disconnecting and pretending to be "positive". Healing comes with tears and sometimes laughter.

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November 25th, 2014

02:04 pm - Writing is a diminished form of communication

I've started to feel that writing is the lowest form of communication.

You remove voice, facial expression, body language, and the feelings that carry from one person to another, and replace that with letters on a page or screen.

What could be more diminishing?

When I want to express how I feel, writing on a page only makes me more and more frustrated and lonely. Speaking out loud, crying, laughing, moving, using my hands, smiling, frowning, etc., are how I really express myself.

So when is writing useful?

  • Circumstances when we want to have a permanent record of something.

  • Situations where all we have is text - where all other channels are cut off.

  • Times when we have to communicate an essentially emotionless message in a very brief period of time, thus e-mails or text messages.

  • For mass communication purposes when video or audio production require too much time or resources.

Writing for literary enjoyment? Maybe that's some people's cup of tea, but it's stopped being mine. When someone puts words on a page, they take away their feelings, their body expressions, and all the other aspects of their experience, and then they pass you just their words. You have to take those words and reconstruct a whole world of emotion around them, by yourself. I'd much rather somebody just tell me their stories directly, so I can pick up on how they're feeling. Too often, literature remains just "words on the page".

What do you think?

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November 9th, 2014

02:34 pm - Getting away from pressure and should
There are two things I've learned recently, and which I'm going to try to remember.

First, I try too hard to care. Too hard to understand. I strain to think, sometimes forcing myself to go over ideas. Regular conversation can become like a high-pressure test situation.

Second, I say "should" way too much. There are things I think I should do or know. I go after those "shoulds" as much, or if not more, than the things that actually make me feel happy.

I want to stop caring, stop trying, allow myself to simply like what I like, and learn what I learn, to not feel stupid or worry that people will abandon me for not having clever answers. Plus, I've been driving myself crazy lately thinking about the future - should I go to school again, what should I study, etc. In the meantime every time I think about those long-term ideas - like studying sociology, history, social work, communications or teaching - I'm not basing my thoughts on what I already know about and care about in these areas. I'm just saying the names, like that should be meaningful. I jump around between these "options", while missing the present moment - the moment where I discover what I simply LIKE, now.

I want to pursue what I'm already attracted to. Not what I think I should learn, what I think I should know, who I think I should be. And that can only be discovered in the moment.

My life feels incomplete -- because I have a temporary part-time job at the Museum, because I don't have a higher degree, don't have a "field". All the projects seem inadequate even though they would fill me with pleasure if I just slowed down to appreciate even a few of them -- not by effort, but just by allowing myself to get into what I'm already into. What I'm into may not match with WHO I think I am supposed to be, but it's time to let that go.

I've been liking the Models course on Coursera, even though I have no idea if I have an application for the knowledge. Today I did some matrix math to work out the equilibrium states of Markov processes. It kinds of reminded me of the more interesting parts of computer science.

I watched two episodes of Orange Is The New Black in the past couple days. I reminded myself that I didn't have to think so hard to "get it". It made me feel.

I felt happy after an impromptu speech at Toastmasters the other day.

A few days ago I sat in a chair and listened to an episode of CBC's web series "Tapestry", about mindfulness, and after about 40 minutes of that, I felt calmer.

Yesterday we were listening to Our Lady Peace because I didn't want to think. In the old days, I would have said Our Lady Peace wasn't "real" music, or that I didn't "get it".

It's time to appreciate what makes me smile, what actually makes me feel happy. And to not think/worry so hard about it. And realize that I am not the sum of my interests, and who cares if I don't understand anything anyone says. Perhaps "I", as a person, don't really exist. Perhaps identity is an illusion that would be better forgotten.
Current Mood: stressedstressed

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October 6th, 2014

05:05 pm - Keeping this journal alive for now

After my last post, my friend Edgar said he enjoys reading my journal. Having one person say that is enough for now -- sometimes it only takes one person to keep us encouraged -- so I'm keeping this journal going.

I used to post on Facebook, but I left FB in March because it was making me miserable, so this could be a place to share what thoughts I have. I have certain idiosyncratic interests that not many share: eyesight improvement and recovery from emotional trauma, for example. Maybe I could share some insights from the Frauenfeld Method (http://www.frauenfeldclinic.com) or Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine. I also took a fascinating MOOC recently about Communication Science, and learned about Roman Jakobson's functions of language and other models. I'm about to take another MOOC, about Models, if any of you are interested in joining me virtually:


Stay tuned.

Current Mood: okayokay

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October 4th, 2014

01:07 pm - Shutting down this journal?
This journal doesn't play much role in my life anymore. Don't know too many people on here anymore, so there are no comments back and forth.

Maybe it's time to shut 'er down.

Online has been an interesting experiment which took up many years of my life. At the moment it is not giving me much joy, though, so I'm sticking with face-to-face friends.

If you are still following this journal and want to stay in touch, comment with your e-mail address and I'll e-mail you.


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October 1st, 2014

04:26 pm - Wondering if I can be creative anymore
Hi everyone. I hope you're doing well. I know it's been a while since we talked on here.

I'm trying to work on a short story I started in 2005. When I read through it, I am struck by how fluidly I wrote, by how non-cliche the sentences and expressions are, and how the story moves. I'm trying to recreate that same sense now, and it is very difficult.

I'm again wondering if I am creatively blocked and verbally stymied because of being on psych drugs. At the moment I'm transitioning from Seroquel (262.5 mg) to Ziprasidone (Geodon/Zeldox, 40 mg), hoping to lose weight.

Ever since I was first medicated (not of my own free will), I've felt dulled, dampened. Life just isn't as interesting. I feel less enthusiasm for writing than I used to, and it's much harder to have ideas. Yet at the same time people find me better to be around, and I have been able to hold down a job and sort of find a niche (Museum work) that I can occupy.

I'm bringing the short story to a writing group tonight, so we'll see what they think about the part I've been working on today.

I've almost abandoned my creative ambitions. I don't have "fun" writing anymore, but then not much is "fun" anyways. Maybe it's just too hard, with these substances. Or maybe I was never as creative as I used to hope I was. I don't know what to think. All I know is that I feel blocked almost all the time.

WIll this get better? Guess it depends if it's psychological or pharmacological. It's hard to speculate. Psychological trauma can cause a feeling of being shut down. My current therapy is very much about healing trauma, but you can't heal what you can't feel. The Ziprasidone dose should be equivalent to 200 mg Seroquel, so we'll see if that gives me better access to feelings. But it will still take a few months to get off the Seroquel.
Current Mood: blocked

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June 1st, 2014

11:24 pm - Holding back and pushing out
I've been seeing a counselor since last September. Almost every time I see her, the same theme comes up.

I feel powerless. Then she tells me to tighten my muscles and push down, or push against something, and to remind myself that I am strong.

I've had a hard time internalizing this advice, often not really going with the action fully, or not thinking about my own strength. Maybe because deep down I have felt helpless.

But now it's starting to make some sense. I shut down because so much happened that I couldn't fight against (vicious bullying as a kid, then, later, hospital trips). Then that energy got "frozen" in me.

People sometimes confuse being shut down ("freeze" in fight/flight/freeze) with being relaxed. Trauma shuts you down, while relaxing/recovery is opening up. The world becomes less narrow, and sensations and impressions can actually sink in. You feel more alive. On the other hand, perpetual trauma is like being in the worst deep freeze possible. I don't feel anything in that state - myself and the world are distant and have no impact emotionally. Some call that "state" depression, while some recognize it as a trauma reaction.

I've noticed I put a ceiling on my effort. It's a habit I started a long time ago. I'll convince myself that I can only do so much, and that much is a tiny amount. It's like I imagine I have the muscular power of a 2-year old, when I actually have an adult body in my mid-30s that is capable of quite a bit. When I exert myself, though, I tend to "shut down" emotionally at a certain point because I have uncomfortable feelings. I get overwhelmed with the sense of "I can't", or I don't like how intense I feel. I tend to avoid intensity in my emotional reactions. Another long-term habit.

Lately I've been "gritting" against those uncomfortable feelings, pushing myself to move, to put everything into what I'm doing.

I don't believe that forceful, robotic effort is the answer, though. The acting has to be wholehearted - I have to allow myself to engage in something fully, to push out, to counteract the tendency to pull in and stay protected. (Ironically, my "mental health"-themed screenplay is called Turtles.) It's that whole-hearted, energetic push into life that will propel me out and forward, thawing my emotional core.

I have memories of all those years as a kid when I would go to a party or hang out with people, and I would just hang back. I would not participate, not dance, not get excited. Like some part of me thought everything was dumb and refused. Well, fast-forward to life as an adult, and that kind of habit can morph into a serious reservedness that is no longer enjoyable. In the old days, being alone meant connecting with books. Nowadays, I need something different.

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