First of all, I want to send a big ole thanks again to all the people who sent well-wishes and shared stories with me after my previous post went up. I was floored. I must have received 20 or 30 messages from close friends and even casual acquaintances I haven’t seen in years. That’s a pretty hefty percentage of the roughly 400 people who viewed that post. What really surprised me is that clearly, a LOT of people are dealing with mood disorders in themselves or those close to them behind closed doors. It’s completely understandable that most people choose to keep it private; dealing with all this confusing crap is hard enough without everyone knowing about it. But it also made me feel really good about shouting it from the rooftops like a lunatic. Well, perhaps AS a lunatic.
But no, for cerealz, ya’ll, you’re the best. And please, if anyone who wrote to me about mood disorders, depression, whatevs (or anyone who hasn’t but wants to) EVER wants to talk more, or commiserate, or ask me anything about it, my door is always open and my phone is always on. Obviously, I’m navigating all this myself and don’t pretend to know anything more than anyone else, but I’m told I’m a good listener and it’s a skill I like to exercise often with the people I care about.
Anyway, once again, thank you. You all make my outrageous, unnecessary social risks seem worth it. And wtf is the big deal, anyway? A brilliant screenwriter friend of mine in LA went through something similar a few years ago and went home for a month for treatment. He reached out to me at the perfect moment, which I was incredibly grateful for, and his advice to me was both hilarious and quote-worthy:
“Don’t be scared. The scary part is not knowing. Or not admitting it to yourself. You know your deal. Bipolar is super common. There are meds. There’s therapy. This isn’t the fucking 1800′s…[fill in additional texting]…Shut the fuck up. You’ll go home, get it together, and come back and be fine. You have a mental problem? Boo hoo. Get in line. You’ll come back an awesome tigress and put us all to shame. That was my tough love. You’re entirely normal.”
Now, obviously, this is a little impotent military stepdad for my taste, but it was the perfect thing to hear at that moment. There was no pity in it, no I-knew-it-all-alongs, no…well, indulging me. Which was of course what I wanted, but not what I needed. He’s absolutely right. It’s a serious illness, and it’s dangerous to leave it untreated, and learning how to live with it might not be a quick or easy process, but it’s SO common, and plenty of people end up managing just fine once they finally face it.
And holy shit, out here in L.A., everyone is nuts. I watched Stephen Fry’s documentary on bipolar disorders a couple weeks ago, and he quoted some Hollywood producer giving advice to a struggling actor on how to land a good role: “you don’t have to be gorgeous, you don’t have to be Jewish, you just have to be bipolar.”
So again, the point of all this is not to diminish the seriousness of the illness or the task I have in front of me, it’s just to put things in perspective, and hopefully help others feel less self-conscious about their own mental issues. I mean, hell, isn’t it easier to just be open about it? I don’t want to have to make up some stupid excuse every time I don’t want to go out to a bar with my friends, or every time I’m awake for 48 hours glued to my laptop typing away. I mean, shit, this is the way it is for me, for now. I know when I’m hypomanic. I know when I’m depressed. I’m very in touch with my moods, I just don’t have control over them yet.
Right now, for example, I’m a little sped up. Not too bad, but enough to crank out a blog post. I didn’t sleep last night and I had a meeting today and I don’t feel tired at all. But really, that’s fine for right now. As long as I’m not boozing or putting myself in situations where impulsive behavior is especially dangerous, I’ll sleep when I sleep. It makes things worse when I panic about being in the mood itself. I can’t control that. What I can control is my environment and my coping mechanisms. Besides, I’m one of the lucky ones in that my manias never prompt me to go buy six Corvettes or sleep with an entire minor league baseball team, so hell, may as well be productive.
And see it’s so much easier for me to just be open about all this and laugh about it; be able to just ask a friend to remind me to eat a little something today if I’m Sheen-ing out a bit and know I won’t have an appetite. Or conversely, when I’m depressed, it’d be nice to have someone believe me when I say “nothing happened, you didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just bottoming out and it’ll pass in a few days.”
And the part that really sucks about not acknowledging all of it is that you start making attribution errors. You think, ‘oh, I feel X way, that must mean Y (and usually Y is myself) did/said something wrong.” And that’s natural, right? “Normal” peoples’ feelings are usually easy to trace to a particular source or event. But for me, a lot of the time, that stuff is just chemicals and neurotransmitters firing off in weird ways.
Side note: I recently started a low dose of an anti-seizure medication called Lamictal which seems to be helping since I finally caved and started actually taking it. For cyclothymia (bipolar lite), the hardcore mood stabilizers (your Lithiums, your Seroquels) usually aren’t used. Instead, anti-seizure medicines seem to work better. This is especially interesting to me since I had epilepsy as a child and has to be on these types of meds to prevent seizures until I was about 12. Leaves me wondering if there’s a connection — my darling mother had already emailed the Mayo Clinic asking the same thing the day before I even brought it up to her.
Which brings me to my darling family. We have been through a lot this past year, and really all our lives. Ya know, like most families. But my parents have gone above and beyond recently in educating themselves about all of this so that they can understand me better. My mom has been going to N.A.M.I. meetings (the National Alliance of Mental Illness) and talking with tons of other people who have bipolar children and family members, and that has made an enormous difference in our communication. It’s like night and day. My father put it best when he said “we’re yelling at each other about things we don’t understand.” It doesn’t mean we don’t have underlying disagreements, or things that are legitimate points of contention, but taking this massive weight off of all of it makes everything much more manageable. Anyway, I’m really grateful for all the time they have put in recently educating themselves and being there for me.
And so it is in shockingly good spirits that I find myself preparing to pack up the ole Escape and drive home to Cincinnati for a while. God knows I love road trips and alone time and creepy motels, so I think it might actually be kinda nice. I’m going through Denver so that I can stop for a few days and see my old roommates and comedy friends before I tackle the second half of the trip. I can’t wait to see my old friends and enjoy the mountains for a few days. Hope I don’t get altitude sickness; my tolerance sure ain’t what it used to be since I’ve been living below sea level for five months.
Truth be told, I’m shocked at how totally not upset I am, and how easy it is to let go of my usual urge to scream “BY THE HAMMER OF THOR, I’LL BE BACK TO CONQUER YOU, L.A.!!!” Frankly, who knows. I can’t plan that far ahead right now and I don’t need to. I’ll come back if and when I want to. When the time is right. Ironically enough, my original pilot has only very recently started to attract the attention of some influential folks. I’m glad to be leaving a line in the water out here, but I’m not willing to sit on my ass watching that bobber. I’ve made valuable, supportive friends out here and some excellent contacts who love my work. Both they and my talent will still be here six months from now.
And I think that realization is a big part of why I feel okay with all this: I need to trust that I’m always going to write. My passion is not a part of my illness that will be medicated away, it’s a part of me, and I’ll always have it. To just fucking love something the way I love writing is such a huge gift, because no one can ever take it away from you. It’s all yours. I can still write screenplays in Ohio, and it doesn’t matter at all where I write a book. J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter while she and her kids were living in the Irish projects. I mean, I should at least pull off some R.L. Stine Goosebumps shit from Cincinnati, right? Anyway, I know I want to settle on a project before I get home so that I can use it as my security blanket through all this. Something I can make steady progress on every day while other parts of my life are inevitably going to take two steps forward and one step back.
I’m sure I’ll at least get part-time work, maybe waiting tables or something. Until then I definitely want to do some volunteer work. Maybe tutoring underprivileged kids in English. I used to do a lot more volunteering and I was at my best when I was doing it.
And last but certainly not least, I’m fortunate as hell that I can go live on my own at my parents’ place on the Ohio River if I want. I love it out there next to the water, kinda out in the boonies with a bunch of friendly, intriguing hill people who build bonfires roughly as high as your average theme park water slide. Anyway, it’s gorgeous out there and very private and peaceful. Great place to write. And even if I decide to live with my parents for a while, it’s nice to know there’s a place to run off to 20 minutes away.
Beats the hell out of air mattresses and peoples’ living rooms, no? After two years as a nomad wandering around the country living like a goddamned crazy gypsy, I’m eeeehhhh, ya know, looking forward to some creature comforts.
So yeah, things look…good. Really good, in fact. This is definitely the right decision for right now. I’m not throwing in the towel on my writing at all, and I’ll probably still perform stand-up locally as long as I’m feeling up to it and can make it work with my lifestyle. I’m just taking a damn break. And I feel good about it.
I’m still convinced I’m going to get all the things I came out here seeking, and that this is just the next step in that process. I’m 100% ready to tackle all this. Truth be told, it’s a huge relief to just face it and deal with it.
So it’s been real, L.A.! Thanks for the memories. I’ll miss the entertainingly horrible dates and the West Coast burgers. I won’t miss the traffic.
Now for the love of God, cross your fingers that I get to sleep at a decent hour tonight. If worse comes to worst, I’ll just turn on C-SPAN or call a friend who wants to talk about her baby.