Find Who You Are Writing For

“For my first book, the target audience is primarily people with Bipolar and those who love them.  The fact that I am writing as a former pastor and exploring questions of faith may lead some to assume it would fit best in the Christian publishing world, yet I am finding as I promote the book on-line and in person that non-Christians, agnostics, even atheists become engaged in my writing.  They may not always agree, but they appreciate my first-hand perspective.”

To read more, click on the title below —

“Who Are You Writing For?”

A woman writing

“A woman writing” from Flynn “Knihova” Carson in Junk Bookshop

Spewing on the Head Cheerleader

I feel sick to my stomach. My chest is in a vise grip. My mind is in a fog. All I can think about is a basketball game in December of 1981 against Center Grove. I was on fire — hitting jump shot after jump shot, bringing our team back from a double digit deficit. Suddenly, I felt a sensation rising in my stomach, up to chest, into my throat.  I made it to the sidelines and then proceeded to vomit volumes of water on the legs of poor Barb W_____, our head cheerleader.

To read more, clicking on the title below —

“Spewing on the Head Cheerleader”

The cheerleaders in our life are the great cloud of witnesses in heaven who remind us to run this race down here by faith and keep going.

The End of the World (as they knew it)

Tonight I’m doing a reading for the “Upstart Poets Series” at the People’s Bar in Bloomington, Indiana.   Here’s one of the pieces I’m going to share.

+     +     +

 

There was a knock at the door and suddenly the Christmas lights went out.

“It’s the end of the world!” said Maura, an avid reader of apocalyptic literature who had yet to give up on the Mayan 2012 prediction.

“We need to pray.” said Paul, who, at 16, had found his way into a youth group at a local evangelical church.

“First we need to confess our sin,” said Father, rather quizzically.  He was a lapsed Catholic who hadn’t been to Mass in years and he wasn’t sure of confessional rules in the End Times.

“Okay, I’ll go get my cell phone.  I just downloaded a confessional app.” said Thomas who, after a season of doubting, had found a link to a site called “The Virtual Vatican” that had given his life new meaning and purpose.

“Let’s just answer the damn door and check the breakers!”  said Sonya, who had come out last year as an atheist.  Two years ago, she came out as a lesbian.  The year before that, as Bipolar.

Sonya answered the door.  Nobody was there.  She checked the breakers.  None of the fuses were blown.

“I tell you, it’s the end the world!” repeated Maura.

“Let us pray.” said Paul, bowing his head.

“First, confess.” said Dad, a little more certain.

“Where’s my cell phone?” asked Thomas.

“You guys are nuts.” declared Sonya.  ”I can’t wait to post this on my blog!”

“YOU ARE A BLOGGER?” they all exclaimed.

Sonya just smiled and quietly brushed a strand of hair from her face.

+     +     +

 

What do you think?

The Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook: Fake Right, Go Wrong

To do justice to “Silver Linings Playbook,” I’m dividing this meditation in two parts.
First, I will tell you how great a movie it is and encourage you to see it. Then, I will tell you how wrong the movie’s message is in the end.
First, the movie is great.
Never has a film been made that so accurately and compassionately depicts the turmoil of people battling Bipolar.  As Pat (Bradley Cooper) plows through volumes of reading (reacting quite viscerally to A Farewell to Arms), erupts in rage over his wedding song played at the psychiatrist’s office, and explodes in violence toward his mother when he can’t find his wedding video, we see the ravages of the illness.  Yet, the person of Pat is not far away, as he moves quickly to remorse and regret.
Cooper’s portrayal of Pat is nothing short of brilliant.  Standing beside Robert DeNiro (as Pat, Sr.), Cooper more than held his own.  Jennifer Lawrence did a competent job as the fragile, volatile, yet strong-willed Tiffany.   The supporting cast contributed greatly, particularly Chris Tucker, as the funny delusional psychotic looking for every way to get out of the hospital.
Not only does the movie accurately depict one man’s mental illness, but the “craziness” in the family system within which so many Bipolar folks emerge.  From the gambling addiction of Pat Sr., to the barely controlled marital rage of Pat’s friend Ronnie (John Oritz).  Even beyond the family system, the scenes where a neighborhood kid drops in wanting to take a video for a class report on mental illness is spot-on.  The craziness of Bipolar is not an isolated aberration.  It is part of our culture.
Finally, the story itself (until the end) is exquisitely complex.  I often find myself trying to anticipate resolution as I watch films and this one had my mind going in so many possible directions.  It was a roller-coaster ride I thoroughly enjoyed.
But then, there is the end.
Every movie has a message which is driven home by the way the movie ends.  While the primary intended message of this movie may well have been to de-stigmatize mental illness (in which case it succeeded), there was a more subversive (perhaps secondary) message that won the day, likely as a result of Hollywood’s formulaic equation for romance films.
The “Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook” for battling Bipolar has basically seven steps –
First, meet a mentally ill woman who has stopped taking her meds, is lost in grief and is actively pursuing a sexual addiction.
Second, when you can’t handle her sexual aggressiveness (an offer “to f&%! me, as long as the lights are off), start back on your meds to mellow out.
Third, let down your physical and psychological boundaries when she tries to pretend to be your wife.
Fourth,when you discover she has lied and deceived you, go through with your commitment to her.
Fifth, when she tragically tries to pick up another man at a bar, rescue her.
Sixth, leave your wife and profess your undying love for her.
Seventh, Live happily ever after.
There are so many ways the movie could have ended differently that would have conveyed respect and understanding for both Pat and Tiffany’s brokenness without offering a prescription for spiritual and psychological catastrophe.  Instead, after over an hour of creating a compelling, compassionate story about two strong survivors, the movie disregards their unique needs and throws them together romantically to fit the formula.
One of the great tragedies of such thoughtlessness is that Bipolar folks desperately tired of fighting the demons within themselves and particularly those struggling to work on a troubled married relationship are given the fairy-tale illusion that “you can experience fulfillment if you just find someone as broken as you are who understands and accepts you.”
Forget your marriage.
Forget your meds (in the case of Tiffany).
Forget your values (like honesty).
Just feel good snuggling together on a comfy chair trapped in a system that perpetuates the chaos within you.

Blog for Mental Health – 2013

Like the Apostle Paul,  A Way With Words has been many things to many people (so that some may be saved).

It actually started as Will Write for Food (and maybe dental), a way to present a portfolio of my writing for prospective employers.

As it became A Way With Words, the focus expanded to creative work – essays, reviews, poems, and short stories.

As I move toward the completion of a working draft of my spiritual memoir – Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind, it has become a way for me to reach out to others with mental illnesses (as well as address mental health issues in the broader public).

This past week, I’ve made a good many new blogging friends.  One of these, Bradley of How Is Bradley has inspired me to join the growing movement of bloggers promoting mental health.  To this end, I place my right hand on my Grandmother’s Bible and say –

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

A Canvas of the Minds tells the story of the launching of the movement – here.  There, she explains the terms –

1) Take the pledge by copying and pasting the following into a post featuring “Blog for Mental Health 2013″. (quote above)

2) Link back to the person who pledged you.  (see Bradley above)

3) Write a short biography of your mental health, and what this means to you. (below)

4) Pledge five others, and be sure to let them know! (bottom)

Short bio:

I was born crazier than a loon.  I come by it honestly.  There are many loony limbs in my family tree. 

I started self-medication at an early age, with the help of my parents’ friends who put beer in my bottle and laughed at the two-year old toddling tipsy to the turf.

I was able to escape the loud voices in my mind (and coming from my parents’ bedroom) by playing basketball and reading books.  I was driven to succeed in sports and studies which helped carry me through my sophomore year of college, when I turned to various illicit drugs to produce a chemical composition in my brain with which I could live.

After college, I began a journey of recovery (dispensing with one drug at a time) until I was left to face my demons alone.  That’s when all hell broke loose.

I was treated with second-generation anti-depressants until one of them induced a psychotic episode and I was, more appropriately, diagnosed with Bipolar.

With the aid of various psychotropics, counseling, much prayer, and a loving family, I was able to not only survive but thrive, functioning 18 years as a parish pastor.  Recently, however, I have gone on disability and separated from my wife.  I am now pursuing a second career as a writer and educator.

Blogging is itself an exercise toward mental health for me and writing about my life, I often touch on mental health issues.  This does not mean I will use my readers as my therapists (I can’t afford more), but I will hopefully build more positive relations with folks like me who struggle with mental illness and give folks who don’t a better glimpse of what we can be.

Pledge five others (5 bloggers I follow you should check out)

timEbush : Art. Life. Writing. Channeled messages.

TeaTart : Loving, Laughing, Crying – and Writing About It All.

Mercurial Runner

Unexpected Midlife Freedom! : Lover of books, reading, writing, and the pursuit of dreams.

Alexis Stone : Seeing in the dark.

For a list of bloggers participating in the movement, click – here.

My Bipolar Book Buying and Borrowing Binge

The cutest man at a local bookstore

The past two days, I have been to three bookstores and two libraries and have, for a very reasonable price, bought and borrowed a good many books I’ll be reflecting on in “The Study” chapter of my spiritual memoir.  These include –

21 Essential American Short Stories (edited by Leslie M. Pockell).  This has the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlott Perkins Gillman in it.  Gillman’s story depicts a woman’s descent into postpartum psychosis.  This was recommended by several readers.

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra (translated by Walter Starkie).  An all-time classic I read in college.  I bought this not so much to view Don Quixote’s visions as “delusions of grandeur” as to re-live the thrill of going to battle against windmill dragons with a faithful Sancho Panza by my side.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen.  Kaysen describes her experience as 18-year old psychiatric patient at the famous McLean Hospital (where Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles also received treatment).

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester.  W.C. Minor submitted more than ten thousand definitions to the Oxford English Dictionary while he was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters.  This oversized art book contains many of Van Gogh’s classic paintings as well as excerpts of his letters about them.

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh edited by Irving Stone. “These letters reveal… a desperate man whose quest for love became a flight into madness for whom every day was a ‘fight for life.'”

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.  “Naifeh and Smith have re-created Van Gogh’s life with an astounding vividness and psychological acuity that bring a completely new and sympathetic understanding to this unique artistic genius.”

Sylvia Plath: A Biography by Connie Ann Kirk.  In this slender volume, Kirk traces Plath’s productive yet turbulent life and career.

Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words by Steven Gould Axelrod.  I picked this up mainly because I loved the title.  The jacket liner describes it as a “biography of the imagination, an inner narrative of the poet’s life and work.

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962  edited by Karen V. Kukil.  This covers the period from when she was 18, until shortly before her death.

I’ve also ordered a used (first-edition) copy of Plath’s The Bell Jar, which should be in within a week.

I’ve managed to collect all these resources for around $50 (including the cost of gas.  Not bad.  (Now if I just had the room to store them.)

My plans are, in the next two weeks to read everything I can on Van Gogh and Plath and then compose three essays (one on each of them and one on Kay Redfield Jamison) by May 31.  Beyond that, I will steadily add one paragraph reviews of other resources to the “On the Shelf” section of “The Study”.

Again, thanks to all who have submitted recommendations for books, movies, stories, music, and art work depicting mental illness (especially Bip0lar).  If you think of more, keep them coming.  I plan to be working on this for some time.

(image above “The cutest man at a local bookstore” from Rachel Roy in Rachel’s Spain Travel Diary – Launch of RRR in Spain!)

Kay Redfield Jamison’s Beautiful, Brilliant Unquiet Mind

          When I first received my Bipolar diagnosis, the picture painted for me of my future was rather bleak.  The staff at the psychiatric hospital explained that I would likely not be able to continue in ministry.  I would probably go on disability, possibly work a part-time minimum wage job.  I would have repeated hospitalizations and the chances of remaining in my marriage were slim to none.
          My psychiatrist, however, wanted to offer a ray of hope.  He recommended I read a new memoir that had just been published by perhaps the most world-renowned expert on Bipolar disorder – Kay Redfield Jamison.  In Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Jamison beautifully describes her own life-long struggle and brilliantly depicts the love-hate relationship many folks with Bipolar have with their illness.  She defines what she prefers to call “Manic-depression” –
Kay Redfield Jamison, Author, Professor, Innovator, Genius
…a disease that both kills and gives life.  Fire, by its nature, both creates and destroys.  “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” wrote Dylan Thomas, “Drives my green age, that blasts the root of trees/ Is my destroyer.”  Mania is a strange and driving force, a destroyer, a fire in the blood.
          In other works, Jamison has extensively explores the relationship between Bipolar and creativity, citing examples in the lives of many artists past and present who displayed significant symptoms yet produced amazing expressions of life and the world around them.
           Recently, I re-read An Unquiet Mind (for the fourth time, I think).  One passage I was particularly drawn to, given my current separation from my wife was this –
“No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods.  Love can help, it can make the pain more bearable, but always one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable.  Madness, on the other hand, most certainly can, and often does kill love through its mistrustfulness, unrelenting pessimism, discontents, erratic behavior, and especially through its savage moods.”
            It’s sad, but often true that people with Bipolar seem incapable of sustaining intimate relationships.  Redfield herself has been married more than once, joining the ranks of the more than 90% of folks with Bipolar who get divorced.
             So is it worth it?  If given the opportunity, should we eradicate Bipolar through gene therapy?  For now (at least), Redfield would say, “No.”  As she poetically reflects on her own experience living with the illness –
‘I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply had more experiences. more intensely loved more and been more loved; laughed more often for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs for all the winters; worn death “as close as dungarees,” appreciated it — and life, more; seen the finest and most terrible in people, and slowly learned the values of caring, loyalty, and seeing things through…”
             Not many of us (only one, in fact) can be Kay Redfield Jamison.  I see my Bipolar more as a “thorn in my flesh” than something that has enhanced my life.  Still, I am grateful.  Through this thorn I have discovered that God’s grace is sufficient.  This realization has led me to a more abundant life in Christ and given me a greater appreciation for the struggles of others.
             How about you?  Those of you with Bipolar, how do you view your illness?  If you had the choice, would you seek out a cure?  How have you learned to make the most of it?
(image above “Kay Redfield Jamison, Author, Professor, Innovator, Genius”  from Susan Steadman in I AM WOMAN)

The Dream Team is a Nightmare

The Dream Team .... So funny

In yesterday’s post (“Madness in Media”), I listed some books, movies, paintings, and songs, that had shaped my understanding and impacted my experience of Bipolar disorder.  One of the movies I listed was “The Dream Team”.  My brother-in-law owns a copy of this film on VHS, so last night after dinner we sat around with buttered popcorn and soda and settled into an evening of fun and laughter.

Or so I thought.

You see, I remember when I first saw “The Dream Team” (likely around 1990 – before my diagnosis), I laughed hysterically (hysterical being the operative word).  I’m not sure what drugs I was on then (probably none), but I could’ve used more.  Watching it now, with 5 hospitalizations under my belt, a steady regiment of psycho-tropics in my blood stream, and the stigma of a Bipolar on my back, well…  it leads me to conclude that the movie must have been written by someone woefully unfamiliar with mental illness who has the sense of humor of a very silly 7-year old.

I have 3 major problems with the film.

1)  The underlying message (if you want to call it that) is that if people with psychosis just stop taking their medication and face extremely stressful (Outward Bound-style) challenges, they come to their senses and are healed.  I realize in 1989, there were still a lot of psychiatric patients overprescribed massive amounts of Thorazine, but a new generation of psycho-tropics were emerging and, in many states, long-term institutional care was no longer an option.  The film takes place outside New York City and I’m pretty sure New York was either closing or had closed its state psychiatric hospitals by then.  The movie tries to be “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and fails miserably.

2)  The movie laughs at (rather than with) psychosis.  The characters are very one-dimensional and, apart from one family scene (with Christopher Lloyd’s character and his daughter) that is supposed to be touching (I couldn’t care less by then), it simply mocks characteristics of typical psychotics rather than reveals humorous foibles they find in life.

3)  It’s just not that funny.  The funny bits could easily fit in a trailer.  In fact, I can only remember one – when Peter Boyle’s character (who thinks he’s Jesus Christ) tells a man on a stretcher to “Rise and walk.”  The man tries, and falls.  Okay, now that I think of it, that isn’t even funny.

So, if you have a mental illness (or even if you don’t) and you are looking for a prescription for some laughs, do yourself a favor and don’t watch “The Dream Team”.

Thanks to all who sent in recommendations of books, paintings, music, and movies depicting mental illness.  I’m expanding the project and will be collecting suggestions through May 31, so if you think of more, let me know…

(image above “The Dream Team …. So funny” from  Kate Abate in MOVIES, SHOWS)

Madness in Media

I’m currently working on “The Study” chapter of my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind in which I will reflect on a few books that have had a significant impact on my understanding of my mental illness.  I also plan to include an “On the Shelves” section in which I list more resources (literature, visual art, movies, music) worth further exploration.

This is where I could use your help.  Below I’ve listed some of the resources I will either review or list.  I’d love to hear your experience with “media-depicted madness”.  Have any of these works touched you, or do you know of other works I might explore?

Books

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness  by Patty Duke

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Dream Team

Benny & Joon

Shine

A Beautiful Mind

The Soloist

Music

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) – Don McLean

Visual Arts

“Scream”  – Edward Munch

“Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Spirit of the Dead Watching” – Paul Gaugin

 

What would you recommend?

 

(image above “Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night” from Rae Leff in Art I love)

My Road to Recovery: Beginning with Boone’s Farm and Beer (the cheapest kind)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, if we are going help friends and family members who are addicts choose the road of recovery, the best way to do this is through confessional confrontation.  This is my first step toward doing this.

My name is Tony and I am a recovering addict.  My drugs of choice included alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, Percocet (pain reliever) and Demerol (muscle relaxant).  I have been free of these substances since November of 1988 – but I do not count myself completely sober.  Since January of 1991, I have been prescribed psychotropics (first for depression, then Bipolar).  I have taken these as prescribed, except for one attempted overdose in March of 2008, when I took a handful of Clonazepam and a handful of Clozaril.  I would now say I have almost 25 years of recovery and just over 5 years of “supervised pseudo-sobriety”.

My road to recovery begins with the history of my drug use – which begins early.  When I was a toddler (I’m told), my parents’ friend would often put beer in my bottle and laughed as I tipped and tumbled.  When I was a pre-teen, I hung out with an older crowd who encouraged me to steal cigarettes from my parents and I tried them a few times.  For the most part, however, I didn’t begin to use drugs until New Year’s Eve of 1981 (when I was a senior in high school).  My mom bought me and a friend a bottle of Boone’s Farm thinking it would keep us from drinking and driving.  That was the first time I remember feeling a little giddy from alcohol and I found it a very pleasurable release.

Since I was a serious athlete, I didn’t start drinking again until after basketball season – in late March or April.  After that, it was “katie bar the door” (as we used to say).  I had a major case of senior-itis.  My G.P.A. was locked in, as were my college acceptance and scholarships.  I could abandon myself in the “freedom” I felt I had earned through self-discipline and hard work.

I started staying out all night drinking beer and playing cards.   I was getting drunk most every weekend (on cheap beer – anybody remember “Red, White, and Blue”?) and occasionally would smoke a cigar (again, the cheapest kind).  I continued drinking the summer before my freshman year of college, sometimes during the week as well as on the weekends.  At parties, I sampled mixed drinks, but nothing hit home quite like a cold beer.

I wasn’t a deadbeat drunk, though.  I was working 10-12 hour days as a director of the Parks and Recreation tennis program.  But when I wasn’t working (or playing tennis), I was drinking.  I guess you could call me a successful alcohol, in the early stages of my addiction.

“I don’t always drink beer…” from Nicole Pappas in Hilarity!