Becoming and Unbecoming

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.

Anais Nin


Every year in June for decades I would read Ulysses in June, in celebration of the day in which Joyce’s novel takes place. It is a difficult book, but it helps to have a sympathetic mind, one that is drawn into decoding the marvelous language and story. A few years ago, well into my remission and on my medication, I failed to get through it, and have not attempted it again.

I have always been a bookish person, as or more comfortable in creative if fictive worlds that in the one in which I carried on my life. I am not asking the reader to be my psychoanalyst while I recapitulate my life, I won’t go into why. It was simply my nature in the world. This sort of personality can go two ways: vanishing into easily-digestible genre reading, or by diving deeper and deeper into increasingly complex works. Consider the child who is said to read above his grade level. That was always me. Tuning out boring high school classes to sit against the back wall with my nose in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow at sixteen. Even during the most ordinary parts of my life–good job, house in the suburbs, two wonderful children, nothing more outré than being the only person in Fargo, N.D. to wear a beret, my ex-wife was amazed and a little proud to be married to someone who lay in bed at night reading Shakespeare. I have read and enjoyed poetry since my teenager years, and met my first wife in a Early 20th Century Poetry class.

Something changed about six years ago. I had been clearly hypomanic in the prior decade and made some disastrous life choices and lived dangerously. My last truly manic-depressive cycle occurred in 2015 when I was involved in a horrible job, with ridiculous hours dictated by an intercontinental team, and rife with incompetence. I had been flat broke before getting this job and felt I needed to hold onto it at any cost. I needed to come out of the dysfunction that exploded when I was suddenly laid off from my job, and separated from my ex-wife, from the crazy years from about 2008 until 2014. I was on medication that seemed to help–Risperidone and Buproprion.

But something else was changing. I stopped publishing the Odd Words literary listings. I began to back away from the Toulouse Street blog. And I began to retreat into childhood favorite books. Wind in the Willows, A Wrinkle in Time and its successors, Out of the Silent Planet. I was not reading, or writing, poetry any more. At the time I thought it was a depressive cycle which caused this change in my reading habits. But even after quitting precipitously the job from hell and taking months off to reassess my life and condition, I did not go back to poetry. That’s when I found I could not read Ulysses. At one point I read every book from Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld series, one after another.

Some part of myself was switched off, and it was not just the depressive episode around the job from hell. It persisted into the mildly manic months that followed. And beyond. In April 2016 I started driving for Uber and Lyft because I could not find a job. (My favorite theory is: nobody wants to hire the old guy, when they can get a kid cheaper). As I settled into a routine with no significant hypomanic or depressive events, I found I just could not focus on poetry, or Joyce, or anything challenging. The parts of me that were drawn to these works had shut down.

I’ve been reading some works about my condition, and some scientific articles on my medication. One thing that jumped out at me was a finding in one long study that people prone to bipolar disorder tended to score very high for intelligence and creativity in childhood. This seems to track my life. I read elsewhere the people with bipolar disorder were prone to a certain level of cognitive decline. But most of the studies were of inpatients, suggesting they were likely bipolar I with more severe symptoms, and we perhaps were more heavily medicated What I took away from all that reading is that their are cognitive issues with Bipolar and Depressive individuals, but I didn’t see anything that clearly differentiated between the condition and the psychopharmacological approach to these conditions. And I began to wonder if medication to shut off the condition knows as Bipolar Disorder II were also shutting down important parts of who I am.

And that is why I am here, writing this, reading what I am reading. If the period from 2005 to 2016 was the blossoming of an innate capability for creative thought and writing, then is being as close to 100% “normal” worth the price? Am I in fact squandering my potential as a human being? I feel like there has to be another path. The reason I started writing this was to capture my thoughts about the process of demedicating, and to share it with others who might be considering the same. I’ve not been bashful in the last sixteen years with sharing my personal story on my blogs or in other writing. And this sort of journaling is a useful exercise in focusing my thoughts. And starting to try to re-ignite the part of my brain that could string phrases and sentences and paragraphs in a way that I couldn’t before, and which the external world told me was valuable

I am going to send a link to all this to my psychological practitioner before the hour-long meeting I have this week; not the usual 30 minutes how’re doing have you tried to do yourself in lately I usually have. I am going to seek her advice on how to begin to titrate off my medication, and whether to approaching titrating off risperidone or fluoxetine first. I am, however, determined to go down this path, and hope that whatever her misgivings she will assist me as best she can in assisting me on this journey. Or I will reach out to the psychiatrist who helped me off of Klonopin but who left practice for a different role, the one with year of Poetry Magazine in his waiting room, and ask him to recommend someone who will.

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