Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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Ecstacy and Hospitals

A young friend of mine, L, went to the hospital early on Thursday. I got the call from her roommate M at 5:45 in the morning. I always get these calls just before my alarm goes off.

L had been offered some ecstacy by a friend of hers. She declined it and then went out. After a few drinks, the friend convinced L to take the drug. Things were fine for a while, then they went all pear-shaped.

L became violent and aggressive. She hit one of her friends in the face. She got mad at her boyfriend because he wasn’t her father. Then she decided she’d had enough and left the apartment. Her boyfriend sensed something was very wrong and went after her.

It’s a good thing he did.

She climbed to the roof of the parking lot and tried to go over the edge. Boyfriend restrained her. She began kicking and punching and biting. Two other friends and M came to help. It took all 4 of them to keep her on the ground. She was screaming the whole time, no words, just an unending shriek.

When she wasn’t screaming, she was talking to someone that nobody else could see. She kept saying “I see him,” but she wouldn’t or couldn’t say who she saw. We believe it was her deceased father but we’ll never know.

In the meantime, neighbors heard the ruckus. They stepped outside with phones. At least one of them called the police. That’s when M called me.

M was scared and crying. Both of those are perfectly understandable responses to the situation. I told her she was doing the right thing. She put me on speaker phone. When L heard my voice, she shouted, “You piece of shit! You’re never there!” and went back to the wordless yell.

M apologized to me, but really there was nothing to apologize for. We got off the phone and I called the cops again. I gave them some details that they didn’t have.

I heard later that a lady cop arrived first. She apparently was the mental health expert but once the male cops arrived, they didn’t treat her with respect. They cuffed L, who was cooperative with the process, and took her to a local hospital.

About fifteen minutes after that, I arrived at the apartment. The young people were all sitting in s circle, decompressing. They talked about what had happened. We all laughed uproariously when a cat missed a jump. It wasn’t that funny, we just all needed a break so badly at that point.

The friend who supplied the drug never appeared. I assumed she was at work or otherwise out. It turned out she was in her room watching cartoons. She had been there all night. She had not followed L outside or tried to help or even come out to see what all the commotion was. The whole group of young people is, as they say, over her. She lost a bunch of friends that night.

Boyfriend got together some clean clothes, L’s glasses, her wallet and keys, and we headed to the hospital. We tried emergency and they wouldn’t let us in. They told us they hadn’t seen her, but gave us a number to call. We tried the psych ward; they also said they hadn’t seen her. We tried psych emergency. They said they could neither confirm nor deny that they had her. That meant she was there so I left a message with my phone number. Boyfriend and I went home.

I spent the day wondering how she was. About 10 hours later, I called again and left another message. I gave the number to boyfriend and to M, so they could call and leave their numbers in case she preferred to call one of them. Finally the phone rang.

Of course nothing can go smoothly. I answered the phone, but there was no sound. I assumed it was L, so I explained that I couldn’t hear her and I was going to hang up. It happened 2 or 3 more times and I eventually called the ward. The person I spoke to said they’d been having trouble with one of the phones and they would provide her with different equipment. At last the phone rang and I could speak with L.

Her voice was hoarse from all the screaming and she sounded tired. She stated she hadn’t seen a doctor. I asked if she was in an observation room, since I assumed this was a 72-hour psych hold. She said no, she was in a big open room with recliners and no beds. She just wanted to sleep. We got off the phone.

I called the ward and asked about the doctor. It didn’t make sense that she had been there that long and not talked to anybody. Fortunately she had signed a piece of paper that they could talk to me. They told me she had been seen twice but she was so out of it that they weren’t surprised she didn’t remember. They also told me they were going to release her the next day, Friday. I said I would pick her up.

When I saw her, she looked rough. She was clearly tired and out of it. Her anxiety was high so we stopped at a gas station for gas, cigarettes, and drinks, then I took her home.

We have talked a few times since then even though it’s only been 2 days. We talked about what could have been different, what I could have done, ways I can be there for her. She broke her hand during the fracas so we talked about ways to splint it. She told me she plans to move since friend cannot be trusted and therefore was no longer a good roommate.

I am just glad L had friends who protected her from herself. I could wish everybody had friends like that.


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Is Mental Illness Real?

I was browsing a Facebook group where I’m a member and one of the other members stated that there is no such thing as mental illness.

Huh.

In a forum of people who have psychological distress, you have stated that mental illness isn’t real.

Not sure where I stand on that.

Well, no, I’m pretty sure where I stand on that: It’s a bit dismissive. It’s more than a bit dismissive. It’s downright belittling.

But also, I get it. I mean, we talk about mental illness as opposed to “being normal” only normal isn’t real. It’s a statistical construct based on the average way people act. It isn’t even based on feelings most of the time because we don’t know what people feel, we can observe how they act.

I suppose that’s why Abraham Low, who might be the first CBT practitioner back in the 40’s and 50’s, talked so much about seeking to be average. I feel like, it’s not about what you really experience, it’s about your ability to pass for typical.

The person’s perspective on the forum, if I understand correctly, is that extreme mental states are part of being human. They are normal and natural, and shouldn’t be pathologized.

Also, there is remarkably little data about brains with mental illness. Or the functionality of brains without mental illness, for that matter. We have some really good ideas about how the brain works, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s a black box. We don’t really know what goes wrong when people lose touch. We think it has to do with chemicals and neurons, and theories have led to some effective medications.

But medication is not 100%. Things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are reported to be as effective in shifting mood as many drugs. Does that mean drugs aren’t effective?

Not all drugs work for the same condition in different people. I mean, you can pretty sure that if you and I both have an infection, the same antibiotic will help. But with my bipolar? I take one cocktail of medications and my friend with the same diagnosis takes a different one. Does that mean we have different disorders?

And there is no biological test for mental illness. We can test for high blood pressure or diabetes. We can see a physical injury like a cut or a broken bone. We can detect appendicitis or cancer. But mental illness is invisible in this sense, there is no way to detect it in the body. It only appears in behavior and reported feelings.

So here I am, dealing with bipolar. And I know the big thing is not that there is something wrong with me, but that my moods and feelings stray outside the realm of average and interfere with my ability to manage life.

Does that make me sick? Or maladapted? Or sensitive to mood?

I take drugs that help me with my mood. Mood under control means life is manageable, which is good. Manageable means I pay bills on time, take a shower, sleep daily, have a job. Manageable means I pass for normal, even though my moods are often outside the bell curve. Manageable means you don’t point and stare at me. I can pass.

Who do I take the drugs for? Me or you? Because some days, most days, I feel pretty average and that was true before my diagnosis. Am I making my life more manageable for my own benefit, or because you (whoever you is) are uncomfortable with my difference?

I have been called eccentric for most of my adult life. Eccentric is okay, not as creepy as being weird, not as out of control as crazy. I’m a little odd. You think I’m normal until you find out I’m not. I make you slightly uncomfortable from time to time, but you can pass it off.

For example, I seem to observe people closely, maybe a little too closely. It makes my friend feel scrutinized. I am not aware of doing it. I watch motion. If you happen to be moving, I’m watching you. It’s a habit. I’m not consciously doing it. In fact, my attention may be turned inward and I’m not paying enough attention to actually see you at all. But I’m tracking what you’re doing. I try to be conscious of this because it makes folks uncomfortable and gets me labelled weird. It’s rude. Is it a sign of illness? Or a poorly managed evolutionary adaptation? After all, in the wild, there are advantages to being visually attentive.

But I digress.

Suppose I am not ill. Suppose I am just at one end of the bell curve of emotional sensitivity. Why do I medicate? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to change my behavior? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being 6’5″ tall or 4’9″. They are just opposite ends of the bell curve. Maybe I am just more sensitive and somewhere there is someone who is less sensitive. Maybe I don’t need medication but understanding.

Yet medication works, so isn’t that an indication that I’m sick? Medicine changes things for me in a way that is an improvement. Doesn’t that mean I’m unwell in some way?

Is mental illness real? I certainly have real troubles and real mood extremes and real cognitive distortions. What I don’t have is a physical diagnostic that shows where bipolar exists in my brain. I can’t have my bipolar removed or point to the area where my bipolar is. I can’t even say for sure what happens when I have an episode. Why am I sometimes depressed and other times manic? It seems like there must be 2 different things going on here, to get two such different mental states.

Personal experience says mental illness is real. Just like chronic fatigue syndrome is real. That’s something that was believed to be made up until enough people reported it. Pain is real. Psychological pain is real.

For me, I just keep on doing what works. Medication helps. Support groups help. Making art helps. Seeking wellness helps. Working helps. Learning about my disorder helps. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I need medication to cope or if I can learn resiliency skills. What matters is that I figure out what I need to thrive.


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DBSA Vision Board Presentation

Monday afternoon is DBSA at MHA. I got to do my vision board presentation again. I’m getting pretty good at it, and people are enjoying it. I’m actually amazed that people think I’m as good at it as they believe. I mean, I’m used to having to work so hard to be successful at something, so to have this pretty much come naturally is a real gift. I mean it, it feels like a present to me.

Most people shared their vision boards, a few people didn’t. I always ask if they’d like to share, and remind them that “no” is an acceptable answer to that question. One lady decided her piece was too personal to share, another was new to the group and felt shy. I am not about forcing people to do something that makes them uncomfortable. I want people to feel safe and respected.

There was a new lady today, and I talked to her for quite a while after the meeting. She had a lot of family issues that affected her deeply and she just needed to get it all out and not be judged. I am very good at not judging. I am a good listener. So I sat with her until almost 6, just because she needed to talk.

One of the guys asked for my number today and said he’d like to hang out sometime. I don’t know if I think this is a potential dating situation or not. I don’t think I’m his type and he is better looking than me, but maybe he can see past my plainness to my heart. It could happen. And yet I don’t want to think too much about this. We can be friends, see what happens. Maybe nothing.

He joined us for coffee at Cafe Brazil last week, and paid for my snack. And he hung around after class today and helped me bring stuff downstairs. So maybe he is being friendly but maybe it’s a little more. I can’t tell, but right now I don’t mind the uncertainty.

It’s nice to feel a little bit of interest. I have felt pretty much asexual for several years now. I’ve thought maybe it was menopause or maybe it’s my meds. Many antidepressants kill sex drive. So it’s fun to feel a little like, maybe there’s some interest there. No expectations, just noticing that I can still feel this way.

The rest of the week will be pretty busy. I have Recovery International tomorrow morning. Wednesday I’m covering Taking Care of You for the usual facilitator who is out of town. Thursday I’m doing the vision board presentation for the last time. Friday is ATTA. I missed them last week, I just plain did too much and was worn out.

I often wonder about that. When I work, I work 10 hour days, 7 days a week, and it doesn’t bother me. Then I get furloughed and I have weeks or even months to myself. But I have had regular 40 hour a week jobs, and they just drain me. Why is that? I feel like it must be related to the bipolar pattern.

And, I have been asked a couple of times now how people can help me out, since I am having money issues at the moment. If you want to make a donation, my PayPal is under rippledwords@yahoo.com. Otherwise I have an Etsy store where you could consider buying something. I am really feeling the crunch, any little bit would help.


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9 Tools for Health

I was watching a documentary called Heal on Netflix.

One of the experts said she looked at what people with chronic or fatal illnesses did to promote health, and came up with a list of 15 items. Now not everyone did all of them, but they all did 9 of them. She didn’t provide the entire list, but she did provide the 9:

  1. Radically changing your diet
  2. Taking control of your health
  3. Following your intuition
  4. Using herbs and supplements
  5. Releasing suppressed emotion
  6. Increasing positive emotions
  7. Embracing social support
  8. Deepening your spiritual connection
  9. Have a strong reason for living

So here I am, just an average person, not having a life-threatening illness. I believe I can benefit from following the same guidelines. So this is my assessment of my general health from these traits.

I am working on changing my diet. My roommate has gone keto and I have shifted to low carb in solidarity. I admit that I eat sandwiches and burgers away from home, which involve bread. But I don’t bring carbs into the house and I eat most meals here. I’ve lost about 10 lbs since starting this, which is not a lot but it’s better than gaining which has been my default for the past several years.

I can take control of my health. I can be proactive about making healthier choices, like more exercise. And I can be more outspoken with my doctor in terms of advocating for myself.

I can definitely learn to follow my intuition more. We all have that little voice that tells us when things aren’t quite right. It can also tell you when to move forward, even if you don’t think you’re ready yet. For me, intuition is that moment when the universe opens up and gives you a hint about what’s coming and what to do. I can pay more attention to that and act accordingly.

Using herbs and supplements. I’m not so good at that. I do have a multivitamin that I try to remember to take in the morning. I don’t succeed that often. I should just add it to the box with my other meds. I have used to take potassium; calcium; fish oil; vitamins B, C and E; liver powder; and cinnamon. I don’t know if I felt much different on any of them. Except the fish oil, because I have no gall bladder so it’s difficult for me to digest that kind of fat. I guess I can look into different herbal supplements and see if anything else makes a difference.

I don’t know about releasing emotion. Part of it is, I’m bipolar and letting big emotion express itself is likely to increase my symptoms. That said, I can work on letting go of negative stuck emotions even if I can’t release them to the desired degree. I don’t have to hold onto toxic emotions.

I’m pretty sure I already work to increase positive emotions. I’m equally sure that everybody on the planet does that. People don’t usually choose to stay in the negative place. People usually choose to keep doing what makes them happy. I think this is part of human nature.

Ah, social support. So necessary and so hard to find. That’s part of why I go to group so often, pure and simple support. It’s difficult to ask for support. It’s almost like dating, people are afraid of being rejected. If you ask for help, you have to be open to the possibility that the answer is no. No doesn’t feel good. It takes courage to ask for support.

I don’t really have any plans to deepen my spirituality. I’m not a religious person. I do believe in a higher power of some kind. Mostly I believe in science to explain what is going on, and the idea that everything is made of energy which we get from quantum mechanics. Matter seems to be made of waves of energy. If it’s all energy, and I am energy, then the fields can interact and I can make actual changes to myself. That sounds very airy-fairy new age, and yet . . .

I do have a strong reason for living. I am bipolar, my ex husband was bipolar, and our daughter is bipolar. About 3 years ago, my ex completed a suicide. I need my daughter to know that having this diagnosis is not a death sentence. Having this diagnosis is just a way to explain my experience of life. It does not limit me or define me, and it does not mean that I can’t handle living in this world.

So I think I’m doing pretty good on my way to health, and I still have a lot to do. What are you doing?


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Can I Do This?

Last Monday, I facilitated a group.

On Monday afternoons, I attend the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance support group, because I have bipolar II, which I’ve mentioned before.  I’ve been going for about 3 years now.  I’ve worked through the book more than once.  I know the answers, haha, as if I could know the right answers to mental health when it’s different for everyone.

The regular facilitator was having a hard day and asked me if I would lead.  None of this is surprising, since he is a peer and the group could be led by any peer.  I said yes, and I was happy to do this favor for him.

It went surprisingly well.  We worked our way through 2 pages in the book.  That may not be much but it included some conversation and it was the end of a section.  Didn’t make sense to start a new section with only 15 minutes left.  The group appreciated the chance to chat during the session.  It was a little more active than the usual facilitator likes, but we have different philosophies.  He is trying to get through the book, whereas I use the book as a jumping-off point.  Nothing wrong with either one, just different.

At the same time, I have been hearing about women who lead seminars to help other women.  I think I could lead one about vision boards and creating goals.  It would be maybe 3 hours, give or take.  Part of it would be about setting goals, where do you want to be in, say, 5 years?  Or indeed, ever?  Part of it would be making the actual vision board.  And part of it would be about sharing our dreams and visions.  I think I could manage about 10 women, and they would have to bring their own scissors since I don’t own that many pairs.  Glue and magazines I’ve got, scissors not so much.

So I am looking for goal setting exercises.  They are surprisingly hard to find.  There are a lot of sites devoted to professional development and goal setting in that regard but really almost nothing about personal goal setting.  The principles must be the same however so I just need to tweak them.  Of course I would need to tweak them in any case to make them my own.  I’m about being inspired by other people, not stealing their work.

I believe I can do this.  It seems very do-able.  It also doesn’t overlap the government job so there should be no conflict of interest.  The first one or two would be free while I get my feet under me, then I would have to start charging.  I wonder if I could even do it monthly.

Words of encouragement and suggestions only, please.  I have enough nay-sayers in my own head as it is.  I could stand some support around this idea.


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I am not alone

I know I’m not alone in my disorder. I actually know of at least 6 other bipolar people who are in my current or past circle of friends. I’m not the only one.

But sometimes it feels like it.

So as an American how am I handling it? I’m looking for a support group.

Do you have any idea how many support groups there are for functional bipolar people? Surprisingly few. I guess folks figure we don’t need support.

I am running into two difficulties. Well, no, one difficulty that presents two ways: timing.

I work during the day, so no I cannot attend your 10:00 am group. I need my job. That’s how I have health insurance and pay my rent. I can’t blow off the job for your group, even though I need to hear from people who get what I’m going through. I also can’t go to your group that meets at 7:30 pm. I get up for work about 5:00 in the morning, I need to be home in bed by 9:00 or so, not saying good night and thinking about driving.

Of course the driving after dark is a whole ‘nother issue, as you might recall from my issue with fog.

There are no weekend groups, at least not that I’ve found for adults. And there are very few evening groups so they seem to be competing. Why are they all on Thursday? If you know the DBSA has a regular Thursday evening group, why is the MHA starting another one on the same night? Surely it would make more sense to meet on a different night. Some people might even go to both, you never know.

But I need to be able to talk about what it’s like to struggle with this disorder, with other people who are also facing it. So I will soon make a decision and we’ll see what happens.


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Being Bipolar

This is actually a draft of a paper I’m writing for my abnormal psych class. Enjoy.

My Experience with Bipolar Disorder

Over the years, I’ve known several people with bipolar disorder. Most of them were men. Joe is a research biologist who had a psychotic break in college that resulted in being fished out of a tree on the quad in nothing but his underwear. He now takes almost the lowest possible dose of lithium that even doctors don’t agree is therapeutic but if he misses a dose, he feels like he’s losing touch with reality. Pete was a musician with a tender heart who chose electro-convulsive therapy, known as ECT, to treat his bouts of debilitating depression. This is a rather extreme therapy that involves running electrical current through the brain. Doctors are not entirely sure why this works but in some percentage of cases it’s very effective. Jim was my ex-husband. He did not take his medicine regularly and this past fall he committed suicide. I wonder if he felt this would make things better for the rest of us or if he just got tired and overwhelmed, and wanted to rest. I think the difference would be whether he was manic or depressed at the time. There is one woman I know through work named Mary. Mary takes her medicine and lives alone with her 2 dogs. She comes into work daily and has what appears to be a normal if solitary life.

And then there is me. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I treat it with medicine and therapy. I have never been depressed enough to be suicidal and I do not have the extreme mania where I lose touch completely with the everyday world. I do have long stretches of time that feel hopeless and stuck combined with more energetic periods of little sleep and poor decision making. I believe part of the reason this wasn’t noticed when I was younger is that it follows a school schedule. I tend to be depressed during the summer months, which I find too hot in way that saps energy. The energetic period generally runs during the holiday season, from about my birthday in the beginning of November until sometime in January when Christmas shopping probably hides the true extent of retail therapy in which I engage. The rest of the time, I am what I consider to be normal. I am not sure my understanding of normal is correct so it’s hard to be definitive about it.

I had originally planned to look at the individual diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 and talk about what those look like in my life. I think that may be beyond the scope of this short paper. Suffice to say, I was surprised to find out that things I thought were, I don’t know, charming or quirky were actually signs and symptoms. Apparently eccentric is a good way to describe bipolar II and it is a description that’s been applied to me for most of my life.

I take Prozac and Abilify. The Prozac makes me a bit jittery and I need to watch my eating with it. I need to be sure both that I eat enough and regularly, and that I don’t eat too much. It’s not that I’m hungry so much as that I tend to interpret other problems like tiredness as needing to eat. The Abilify I take at night and usually I’m asleep about a half hour after taking it. Good sleep hygiene is also very important for me, things like maintaining regular hours even when on weekends.

What I have learned in my brief research is how lucky I am. I have been more or less functional until into my 50’s so I really am not hugely afflicted by this disorder. I was born at a time when medicine is available to treat my struggles, which is really only since the mid-1950’s, about 10 years before I was born. I have a small experience with other bipolar people whose lives can be object lessons of what to do and what not to do. The great strength of people like Pete, Joe, Mary and even Jim remind me of our common resilience and simple human weakness. I have options for support groups if I feel like I need one, and a therapist who knows me, who is capable of letting me know if I’m heading into mania often before I realize what’s going on. That’s important to me because I find the mania harder to manage than the depression.

I am still learning to navigate this strange and amazing disorder. I am learning to build a life that makes me happy and takes into consideration that I am very changeable over the course of a year. My guideline is not “what is normal?” so much as “what is healthy?” In a world full of choices, I choose to pursue health.


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First World Problems

I’m pretty sure I have mostly first world problems. Maybe “New World” but definitely not Third World.

I live in a mobile home with 2 friends. We have heat and air conditioning, running water, toilets and pets. There is a dishwasher and a washing machine and a microwave and a fridge. The stove is having issues but that’s mostly an age factor. Everything needs to be replaced eventually and this one is over 20 years old so . . .

Meds are sometimes an issue; they cost a small fortune. My daughter’s meds are over $600 a month out of pocket. However, she has assistance through a state government program. I have actual health insurance and I will add her to it shortly. It’s a paperwork issue.

I forget to take my meds sometimes, but I think that’s human. When I miss them, I have actual physical pain the next day but it goes away when I take them again. Could be worse. I suppose I’ll never miss more than one dose.

I am hoping to go back to school in less than a week. I’m still waiting on a final approval from the college but that should be here today or tomorrow. Considering how my disability affects me, I think the degree is the only way out. I need to do something that frees me from the strictures of production, which means credentials are important.

This all feels very hopeful today. Which seems wrong but is really true. I could use a remission period.


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Manic Much?

I didn’t realize how long it’s been since I posted anything.

I have been busy being manic.  Which pretty much means I have been busy vibrating at a high frequency but not able to focus and getting nothing done.

I thought bipolar people are supposed to enjoy our manic phase, but I find mine annoying.  When I am in the down cycle, all I can do is get through the day so I stay out of trouble.  When I’m in the up cycle, well, full of ideas and intention and plans and and and . . .  so none of it gets finished because, oooooh, shiny.

I call it down the rabbit hole; my therapist calls it going down the bunny trail.  It feels more like the rabbit hole though and if that makes you think of Alice in Wonderland, well, it should.  When I’m manic, I spend a LOT more time down the rabbit hole.

I have made some amazing art.  On the other hand, I have no income because I’ve been off work to get the meds settled.  I think we’ve gotten there and I go back to work in 5 days but it still seems like forever from now.  I never thought I’d miss work, but I do.

A friend of mine says, the next time I get stuck in my own head, I should let her know so she can play along.  I replied that nobody really wants to be in my head with me, and some days even I don’t want to be there, and it’s true.  My head seems to be full of unpleasantness and some days it’s all I can think about.  I try not to follow those thoughts, it’s not productive.

Doctor says I am also ADD.  He said that not all ADDs are bipolar, but almost all bipolars are also ADD.  Maybe ADD is just bipolar with no down, like  bipolar 2 seems like bipolar with no real high.  Maybe not.

But I am SO looking forward to ladies’ lunch with my work friends on Friday and I will be happy to go back to work on Monday.

 


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What Is Identity?

Lately one of the family history websites has been running a series of ads about finding your “true” ethnicity by sending them a DNA sample.  The one I remember best is a man in lederhosen talking about how he was raised believing he was German but DNA testing showed his heritage was more Scottish, so he traded in his lederhosen for a kilt.

Part of me says, both are non-pants ethnic costumes, not a big change.  Part of me says, Celts settled in Germany and France as well as Ireland, so not such a leap considering that there has to be a common base culture underlying it all.  At least the Romans thought so.

And part of me wonders, how did it turn out that he “thought” he was German but he’s “really” Scottish?  Are we now supposed to worry that the culture we thought our family embodied is somehow wrong because it doesn’t match our genes?  Doesn’t this sound a lot like the eugenics that are fundamental to Nazism?   If someone moves to another country, are the children the ethnicity of their parents or of the adopted country?  

But what interests me here is the idea that ethnicity can change.  Just like that, you’re not Black Irish, you’re actually Spanish.  Which is historically accurate, since the Black Irish are descended from the remnants of the Spanish Armada.  So trade in your whiskey, shamrocks and St Patrick for sangria, bull fights and St Anthony.  Because somehow you are wrong about who you are.

So for me, as I’m dealing with this new diagnosis, the question has been whether I am still me.  Which is silly because of course I am the same me I have always been, or at least the same me I was before the diagnosis changed.  My internal process isn’t any difference.  My values have not changed.  I love the same people, enjoy the same activities, face the same dilemmas.  Nothing changed except a label, and those change all the time anyway.

Labels change.  I am no longer anyone’s daughter, since both my parents are deceased.  I am also no longer a wife, since I am a divorced person.  Don’t call me Mrs. because I used my father’s last name not my ex-husband’s.  Labels can tell us something about a person but therein lies the risk of stereotyping.

Stereotyping is a slippery thing.  In some ways, it’s useful because it allows our lazy brains to categorize people in ways that can be surprisingly accurate.  However, it is also limiting and it can be very wrong.

Story about that:  I was at a party where there were people of various ethnicity present.  Several black people were comparing notes on their childhoods:  “Do you remember eating beans and rice for dinner and going to the food pantry?  Did you ever go to school with your sneakers taped up because they were coming apart but you couldn’t afford new ones?  And what about hand-me-downs?”  Their point was that black Americans live in a very different country than white Americans do, and the larger context was white privilege.  (Black experience is different from white experience, and I’m not saying white privilege is or isn’t real.)

The hostess, who passes for white but recently discovered she very much embodies her Native American heritage, overheard their conversation.  “I remember those things,” she said, “but I thought that was because we were poor.  I didn’t know I was black.”  (And of course in American there is a huge wealth/class divide that breaks along lines of race, but that also isn’t my point here.)

So I have a new label now:  bipolar.  (Hey!  Earth and I have something in common, we both have two opposing poles!  *eye roll, cuz I know I’m a dork*)

It does tell you something about me.  It says I can have big changes in my mood and ability to handle life.  It tells you I can be obsessed today and listless tomorrow.  It tells you I might be a good listener because I have nothing to say or a bad listener because I keep interrupting you.  It tells you I can be changeable.

But it can also cause you to stereotype me.  I am not suicidal, nor do I get that high euphoria and sense of invulnerability that they tell me mania can cause.  I have times when I feel like I might be able to be successful if I just keep at it, and other times when I can’t find the energy to get out of bed let alone get dressed or eat something.

Labels give the illusion of understanding, but really we don’t understand as well as we like to believe.

So I have a new label and it makes me wonder if I’m any different.  And it reminds me that a label doesn’t capture the full reality of something, just an aspect.

I am not just my label.

I am still me.