“Because we have not made our lives to fit our places, the forests are ruined, fields eroded, streams polluted & mountains overturned.
Somewhere in this house is (should be) a hardback first edition (foxed) City Lights pocketbook of the selected poems of Federico Garcia Lorca.
I carried it to Spain and laid it on his desk in his home in town. My tour had to wait for the private visit of a famous bullfighter.
And I had a book dealer and leather worker who made journals cuz he also made paper make a cover for it of Spanish leather.
And I can’t find it.
I’m going to take down my big thick Collected and read every sad poem I can find. Which might take a while. But I have plenty of whiskey and cigarettes.
Ay! Mi precioso libro! Nunca volveremos a Granada en el tiempo de las flores naranjas.
My congressman and our Louisiana senators are gripped with absolute delirium about inflation and claiming Biden should be able to single-handedly stop it. But many if not most of the factors are beyond his control unless you were to propose some tax structures to change it. Such as a windfall profits tax on oil with direct credits for restarting capacity that was mothballed during the pandemic.
And that’s reason one. The major oil producers not only shut down operating Wells reducing capacity by maybe 10%, they also shut down refineries. And they see no reason to pay someone to start up a well again or bring a refinery back online when they’re making record profits from the status quo.
According to the Texas oil and gas attorney blog “there is a substantial lead time to bring wells back online and into production.” And he’s not some environmental loony. He says oil companies don’t trust “the dementia-fueled irrationality of Biden.” So, it’s not just as my argumentative Facebook pal Thad suggested in another place as simple as turning a valve. Depending on how long the well’s been active they might actually have to bring in a drilling rig to clear out the borehole. Restarting a refinery (undamaged) after a hurricane shutdown can take up to a month. I can’t find good data on what it might take after two years offline, but the Energy Information Administration says it can take months after a prolonged shutdown. It’s no a “throw a switch” thing.
Reason number two is that production of American consumer goods was shifted overseas by Reaganomics (with disastrous domestic economic consequences). Then along came the plague and people shifted a lot of their purchasing to online much of which is produced overseas. The nine companies that control ocean-borne commerce in the world raised the prices to move a container by a factor of 12 during and after the pandemic. These are multinational companies. Does Biden just end imports? This is entirely out of Us control.
Point number three is not an inflation thing but is directly tied to Reaganomics which no Republican member of Congress will vote to overturn making it impossible to put any changes through the slavers Senate. Formula production like much of us industry is concentrated in a very few companies. Abbott Laboratories neglected or refused to replace aging drying equipment used in the manufacturer of powdered formula in spite of FDA warnings about it. (They did manage to find $3 billion dollars laying around for a stock buyback). And then two babies died from contamination. And the FDA shut their major production plant down. Oh, and Trump’s NAFTA replacement put terrace on imported baby formula including formula from Canada so nobody was importing formula. So given that Trump looking faction in the Senate how quickly do you think that could restore more rigorous regulation of human consumables like baby formula? Or renegotiate the trade deal?
This brings us to 4, food costs. Those monster waving Looney socialists at the US Chamber of Commerce say these are the reasons for high food costs: Labor shortages. Supply chain disruption. Higher energy prices. Much of farm labor is done by immigrants regardless of their paper status. Closing the border was basically cutting off the labor supply for agriculture. Thanks trump. Supply chain disruption was largely a result of the plague. Should have nationalizing the transportation companies are putting them under military control I don’t know how Biden fixes that. Higher energy prices we’ve already discussed.
So when our legislative delegation is ranting about Biden’s inflation I don’t presume they’re ignorant. Steve Scalise has a college degree in computer programming that he never used but his ruthless political acumen suggests he is not an idiot. U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy is an MD and Senator John Kennedy has a juris doctor from Oxford University in England in spite of his Foghorn Leghorn routine. They’re just trying to score political points against the Democrats and to bury the Reaganites and Trumplicans large roll in creating the conditions that are leading to inflation. Enter score those points they use a ton of voice usually associated with shouting fire in a crowded theater.
I am reminded of the quote attributed to Huey Long. After accusing a political opponent of lying a reporter asked him how do you know when he’s lying? And long supposedly reply when his lips are moving he’s lying.
I just wrote what I think is a thoughtful, coherent political think piece of 691 words. It is the longest thing I have written in the last several years. And I have a lot more to say. The secret to returning to a life of writing is to start writing. So I am going to move beyond the original intent of this space, my experience with psychopharmacology and its deleterious effect my on writing life
And just write what I have to say.
It has been four months since I stopped Risperidone, the drug which lobotomized the creative part of my brain which danced hand in hand with Bipolar Disorder. And I have not kept this blog up, which is not a good sign. And I still struggle to read serious poetry, which was at the center of my life–reading and writing–ten years ago.
Perhaps I set the bar too high by diving into John Berryman’s The Dream Songs as my acid test, poems as much sculpture as language, incantatory magic of a sort which I once sought to model my own writing after and to which I have lost the underlying text or language. Today I decided to read Timothy Donnelly’s poem “The Cloud Corporation”, which spawned a prairie fire in my brain when I first read it in the last decade, and raved about it being “The Wasteland” of our generation.
And today I began to see a glimmer behind the clouds. Somewhere the fires of inspiration are banked behind the clouds, and my largest goal in life is to find them I still hope to find them.
I am also heartened that I wrote a brief, political think piece about the Trumplican hysteria over inflation, and I think I will share it here. This will generalize the blog beyond its original intent, but I once again feel compelled to write at length Even if it is not poetry, it is a start.
I am sharing the poem below without prior permission of the author, although I plan to go ask forgiveness. Found at The Poetry Foundation.
The Cloud Corporation
The clouds part revealing a mythology of clouds
assembled in light of earliest birds, an originary
text over water over time, and that without which
the clouds part revealing an apology for clouds
implicit in the air where the clouds had been
recently witnessed rehearsing departure, a heartfelt phrase
in the push of the airborne drops and crystals
over water over time—how being made to think
oneself an obstruction between the observer
and the object or objects under surveillance or even
desired—or if I am felt to be beside the point
then I have wanted that, but to block a path is like
not being immaterial enough, or being too much
when all they want from you now is your station
cleared of its personal effects please and vanish—
not that they’d ever just come out and say it when
all that darting around of the eyes, all that shaky
camouflage of paper could only portend the beginning of the
end of your tenure at this organization, and remember
a capacity to draw meaning out of such seeming
accidence landed one here to begin with, didn’t it.
The clouds part revealing an anatomy of clouds
viewed from the midst of human speculation, a business
project undertaken in a bid to acquire and retain
control of the formation and movement of clouds.
As late afternoons I have witnessed the distant
towers borrow luster from a bourbon sun, in-box
empty, surround sound on, all my money made
in lieu of conversation—where conversation indicates
the presence of desire in the parties to embark on
exchange of spirit, hours forzando with heartfelt phrase—
made metaphor for it, the face on the clock tower
bright as a meteor, as if a torch were held against
likelihood to illuminate the time so I could watch
the calm silent progress of its hands from the luxury
appointments of my office suite, the tumult below
or behind me out of mind, had not my whole attention
been riveted by the human figure stood upon
the tower’s topmost pinnacle, himself surveying
the clouds of the future parting in antiquity, a figure
not to be mistaken, tranquilly pacing a platform
with authority: the chief executive officer of clouds.
The clouds part revealing blueprints of the clouds
built in glass-front factories carved into cliff-faces
which, prior to the factories’ recent construction,
provided dorms for clans of hamadryas baboons,
a species revered in ancient Egypt as attendants
of Thoth, god of wisdom, science, and measurement.
Fans conveying clouds through aluminum ducts
can be heard from up to a mile away, depending on
air temperature, humidity, the absence or presence
of any competing sound, its origin and its character.
It is no more impossible to grasp the baboon’s
full significance in Egyptian religious symbolism
than it is to determine why clouds we manufacture
provoke in an audience more positive, lasting
response than do comparable clouds occurring in nature.
Even those who consider natural clouds products
of conscious manufacture seem to prefer that a merely
human mind lie behind the products they admire.
This development may be a form of self-exalting
or else another adaptation in order that we find
the hum of machinery comforting through darkness.
The clouds part revealing there’s no place left to sit
myself down except for a single wingback chair
backed into a corner to face the window in which
the clouds part revealing the insouciance of clouds
cavorting over the backs of the people in the field
who cut the ripened barley, who gather it in sheaves,
who beat grain from the sheaves with wooden flails,
who shake it loose from the scaly husk around it,
who throw the now threshed grain up into the gently
palm-fanned air whose steady current carries off
the chaff as the grain falls to the floor, who collect
the grain from the floor painstakingly to grind it
into flour, who bake the flour into loaves the priest will offer
in the sanctuary, its walls washed white like milk.
To perform it repeatedly, to perform it each time
as if the first, to walk the dim corridor believing that
the conference it leads to might change everything,
to adhere to a possibility of reward, of betterment,
of moving above, with effort, the condition into which
one has been born, to whom do I owe the pleasure
of the hum to which I have been listening too long.
The clouds part revealing the advocates of clouds,
believers in people, ideas and things, the workers
of the united fields of clouds, supporters of the wars
to keep clouds safe, the devotees of heartfelt phrase
and belief you can change with water over time.
It is the habit of a settled population to give ear to
whatever is desirable will come to pass, a caressing
confidence—but one unfortunately not borne out
by human experience, for most things people desire
have been desired ardently for thousands of years
and observe—they are no closer to realization today
than in Ramses’ time. Nor is there cause to believe
they will lose their coyness on some near tomorrow.
Attempts to speed them on have been undertaken
from the beginning; plans to force them overnight
are in copious, antagonistic operation today, and yet
they have thoroughly eluded us, and chances are
they will continue to elude us until the clouds part
in a flash of autonomous, ardent, local brainwork—
but when the clouds start to knit back together again,
we’ll dismiss the event as a glitch in transmission.
The clouds part revealing a congregation of bodies
united into one immaterial body, a fictive person
around whom the air is blurred with money, force
from which much harm will come, to whom my welfare
matters nothing. I sense without turning the light
from their wings, their eyes; they preen themselves
on the fire escape, the windowsill, their pink feet
vulnerable—a mistake to think of them that way.
If I turn around, the room might not be full of wings
capable of acting, in many respects, as a single being,
which is to say that I myself may be the source of
what I sense, but am no less powerless to change it.
Always around me, on my body, in my mouth, I fear them
and their love of money, everything I do without
thinking to help them make it. And if I am felt to be
beside the point, I have wanted that, to live apart
from what depends on killing me a little bit to keep
itself alive, and yet not happily, with all its needs
and comforts met, but fattened so far past that point
I am engrossed, and if I picture myself outside of it
it isn’t me anymore, but a parasite cast out, inviable.
The clouds part revealing the distinction between
words without meaning and meaning without words,
a phenomenon of nature, the westbound field
of low air pressure developing over water over time
and warm, saturated air on the sea surface rising
steadily replaced by cold air from above, the cycle
repeating, the warm moving upward into massive
thunderclouds, the cold descending into the eye
around which bands of thunderclouds spiral, counter-
clockwise, often in the hundreds, the atmospheric
pressure dropping even further, making winds
accelerate, the clouds revolve, a confusion of energy,
an incomprehensible volume of rain—I remember
the trick of thinking through infinity, a crowd of eyes
against an asphalt wall, my vision of it scrolling
left as the crowd thinned out to a spatter and then
just black until I fall asleep and then just black again,
past marketing, past focus groups, past human
resources, past management, past personal effects,
their insignificance evident in the eye of the dream
and through much of the debriefing I wake into next.
I finally had my long meeting with my practitioner about my medication experience. I covered my last five years of symptoms that are either in regression or at least euthymic. I had been inclined to first stop the Prozac, as that seemed the medication I was least in need of. My down cycles were never terribly profound, and never rose to meet all the diagnostic criteria. I was mostly given it for generalized anxiety disorder, which was what led to my first encounter with psychopharmacology: the benzo Klonopin.
I kicked the Klonopin almost five years ago after taking 4-6 mg a day for almost eight years, and my anxiety is manageable. And I’m allowed 30 Klonopin if it really kicks in, which lasts about six months, so I consider that well under control.
To my surprise, she instead recommended I first discontinue Rispiredone, because of its much larger foot print of side effects. I’m thirty pounds heavier than when I started Rispiredone, which is not unusual. I had been inclined to start by discontinuing Prozac because my Bipolar II expression was much more severe than anxiety or mood-disorder associated depression. As we discussed my symptoms and history, I described how I had not had an incidence of hypomania in years. So it’s the little brown pills that go first.
I started out on Risperidone about five years ago, and my dose has been reduced over that time down to 0.25 mg. Still, the weight stays on. The impairment of my creative output, what started this entire discussion, remains. And I worry as well about what seems to be increasing cognitive issues with word recall and other memory functions. So starting last night, I took a pill cutter and divided one of my last two pills. By Monday, I should wake up free of Risperidone and its active agents.
I’m putting my practitioners name and phone number up on the fridge, as I had done several years ago at my partner’s house. Just in case. But I think I can handle this. Only time will tell.
I mentioned to my practitioner and in prior posts how I had read James Joyce Ulysses almost every June for decades. I ever restarted Bloomsday readings in New Orleans a few years ago. My current trade paperback it tattered and full of little yellow sticky tabs. But found a few years ago I couldn’t get through it. Then I stopped trying. That is one of the symptoms of what I believe are the effects of my medication on my higher executive function. In a few months, I will find out if that has changed.
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.
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.
I went directly from Touched With Fire to Dr. Lay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, her chronicle of her own battle with manic-depressive disorder and how it informed her career in mental health. Her candor about the extremities of her illness, and the criticality of maintaining medication upon diagnosis has given me much to think about.
My subject is how my own creative thought and action has been impacted by the illness and the medications I have taken. I am on an extremely low does of Risperidone (0.25 mg), and I question whether that is in part the cause of the collapse of my creative life. I am not Bipolar I, the extreme form. For all my excess and outlandish behaviors, I have never had a psychotic break. I believe I experienced a form of paredoila, seeing an old man’s face and a boar in the folds as the base of oak trees during my longs walks after precipitously quitting my job in 2015. When I walk the same paths I can’t see them clearly anymore. But there was nothing approaching hallucination.
My depressions were not the paralysis of despair. I was floating in a boat on still and windless gray sea at times, but never tempted to jump overboard. Some of my depression may have equally had roots in life experiences. I used to tell a prior pill doctor and the psychiatrist who helped me off Klonopin (and who first diagnosed me correctly) that given some of my life experiences in the past decade and more, I’d be a psychopath not to be depressed.. I currently take 20mg of generic Prozac. In the past I was given citalopram and buproprion. After reading about Dr. Jamison’s experience with discontinuing Lithium, I am increasingly inclined to continue my small dose of Risperidone, and consider whether I truly need to still be taking an SSRI after five years of remission, and ten years total taking them.
Something shut off the creative part of my brain, and I’m not entirely convinced it was solely remission of bipolar disorder. I always prided myself on my vocabulary, and yet I frequently find myself looking up words that I know I know. I noted above how my ability read, enjoy and analyze poetry evaporated with my remission, and how I turned to easier genre fiction. I just read Beloved because of the recent controversy, and it was a difficult slog. And I always enjoyed Faulker and Joyce re-reading Ulysses every other June or so. I feel like my concentration is strained in my sometimes complex work life in which I test computer software. My prior psychiatrist thought perhaps ADHD was keeping my associative though from organizing itself, and I was on guanfacine for a long while, and don’t recall precisely why I discontinued it. My general recollection is I went off that about the time of my bipolar diagnosis, and began transitioning away from Klonopin and toward the anti-seizure sort of medication.
It is possible what i am experiencing is just a factor of my age (64), but I desperately want to know if I’m drifting toward some form of dementia, or whether I am bringing it on myself through medication. To extend a person without advance statistical and methodological training can decode medical journal articles, a few things jump out at me:
- There is evidence that long-term use of SSRIs for anxiety disorder may impact cognitive function..
- There is evidence that Bipolar Disorder is associated with cognitive impairment, but the studies have been on mostly BP1 and/or inpatients, i.e., people with extremely acute conditions.
- Long term studies starting in childhood indicate that people with subsequent BP disorder often have higher cognitive function earlier in life.
What I cannot find is any study that looks like the difference between treated and untreated individuals, probably because if you’re an inpatient you are having severe, schizophrenic symptoms. I don’t see anything that looks specifically at the treatments such as anti-psychotics as possible actors in decline in cognitive function separate from the disease.
At this point, my dosage of Risperidone is very low — 0.25 mg a day — so for now my inclination is to continue that medication to avoid some of my past, unhealthy behaviors. As extended use of SSRIs might affect cognition, I’m going to start by titrating off of Prozax.
I’m not exactly excited about discontinuing the Prozac. I’ve experienced a brain zap and it’s a startling and unpleasant experience. But SSRIs are also associated with some decline of cognitive function, and I think that is where I will take the conversation with my psychologist. If I have to worry about dementia in my old age as an unavoidable process, I’d rather start addressing that now. And I believe reducing my intake of psychotropic drugs is an important first step on eliminating those as a cause.
—Hand me back my crawl, condign Heaven. Tighten into a ball elongate & valved Henry. Tuck him peace. Render him sightless, or ruin at high rate his crampon focus, wipe out his need. Reduce him to the rest of usJohn Berryman, Dream Song No. 25
In August 2005, not only the levees of New Orleans broke. A damn that had contained a wild side of my nature also burst and inundated my life. The two most obvious examples of the change were the precipitous decision to move my family to a disaster zone, and the place I chronicled that journey: a blog titled Wet Bank Guide. The name was a play on the newspaper where I once worked on the West Bank of New Orleans and an apt description of its purpose. It was at first a journalistic exercise in collecting information for the Katrina diaspora, but quickly morphed into a very person journal of my own experience of loss and disruption, the survivor guilt that led to our move to New Orleans, and a chronicle of the city’s woes and moments of triumph.
This sudden outburst of writing and action was itself one long moment of constant cycling triumph and woe, easily recognized from outside or in retrospect as a long period of cyclothymic if not outright manic-depressive behavior. At first it was manageable cyclothymic behavior, a tremendous outburst of creativity and activity. The group of fellow bloggers about Katrina organized an annual conference called Rising Tide on the future of New Orleans. I was elected housing chair of the Mid-City Neighborhood Recovery Group, an ad hoc assembly of a few score people that came together to participate in the city’s recovery planning process when the formal neighborhood organization declined to participate. I started keeping a list of every person murdered in New Orleans for several years.
And I wrote: constantly. In the early months of the blog I spent countless hours after work scouring the news for information to share and comment on, frequently forgoing more than a few hours sleep. I started for the first time in decades to write poetry, and was regarded good at it when I immersed myself in the local poetry scene. I sat in a audience of half a hundred people mostly poets and the state poet laurate pointed out the New Orleans poets in attendance, myself and another well-established and published writer. And I started a second blog: Toulouse Street, Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans, a more personal and eccentric view of the city where one blog reviewer said I let my freak flag fly. When the local newspaper shut down its book page and laid off its editor, I started Odd Words, collecting all the literary activity in the city in a weekly column. I also covered and wrote about events such as the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. I started to review plays for a local on-line newspaper during the annual In—– Festival. I co-founded a publishing company to collect and publish the Katrina bloggers.
I was the whirlwind.
There were other symptoms. An ill-advised, mostly platonic affair with another blogger that broke my already floundering marriage. Later a period of excessive late nights (and some dawns) of drinking and random, one night stands even while I was in the early stages of a post-marriage relationship that has lasted these eleven years. Less destructive but instructive was spending on random things, like a small conga drum I never learned to play. At one point I was adding didgeridoos to my Amazon Wish List. When my job laid me off in 2010 (contemporaneous with my separation and divorce) with healthy severance package, I went back to school to finish the degree I abandoned in the late 1970s. And when I graduated in 2014 I took a memorable but ill-advised trip to a summer semester in Italy, from which I came back after forty days and nights exhausted and broke.
I was a mess.
It wasn’t the first time in my life. My twenties married to an alcoholic as a joyful enabler were probably symptoms of the same disorder in my life. I can think of examples going back to my teens when I discovered that alcohol and drugs could unlock the person inside my frighteningly shy shell. The worst of it came and went in cycles. I don’t remember periods of deep depression, but I remember the cycle of high-flying feeling and the behavior it engendered. That sort of behavior was finally quieted by my marriage and children, for fifteen mostly peaceful American-dream years of raising the kids, buying houses and increasingly practical cars. It all came undone in 2015, and I became the whirlwind once again.
I had sought psychiatric help and was prescribed a varying and colorful list of anti-depressants, and an anti-psychotic for mood disorder. I was taking 2 mg of Klonopin a day to control what was initially diagnosed as anxiety disorder. I had suffered from something like that for as long as I can remember. And I began to undergo another transformation. I began to withdraw from life and all of my activities. I was becoming reclusive and loosing what had come to be important parts of my life, particularly writing. I stopped publishing Odd Words, a third book for our press was abandoned after the initial printing and my circle of friends shrank. I kept up the Toulouse Street blog, and at one point wrote Confessions of a Pill Eater:
I can’t write. I am amazed I made it to 600 words without a syllabus and a deadline. The first draft of this was created at the end of June (2012). Two months to manage 3,800 words. I try write, to do the Work, just as I can get up and make my daily 7:30 a.m. conference call for Moloch. You set a time, you sit down and do it because writing is The Work, but now I find myself staring at my reflection in the blank page. It just doesn’t come. I started a long poem a while back and that is The Work, sitting down and filling in the plan, adjusting as you go along, finding the lines and fitting all the pieces together, but I can’t focus enough to make progress… Perhaps my writing was an ephemeral phenomenon, a temporary imbalance in the brain waiting to be set right… The blank page stares back at me, and I turn away.
This seemed as consequential as my earlier bouts of maniacal behavior. I felt neutered as a human being as my muse or whatever withdrew into pharmacology. I left the care person I called The Pill Doctor and sought out an M.D. Psychiatrist who happens to have a shelf of Poetry magazine in his waiting room. He helped me to kick Klonpin but also diagnosed me (correctly I believe) as Bipolar II, and started me an another anti-psychotic, Risperidone, and continued my on an anti-depressant. Over a period of time my life settled down, although I was employed only as an Uber Lyft driver, and moved in with my partner to make the finances of that work. My life stabilized. The late nights drinking and carousing went away. I found another professional job after a long search, and settled once again into a reasonably quiet life. I had my enthusiasms as I had my entire life, and my bouts of morose introspection, which some people casually attributed to being born a Gemini, but were in reality the expression of a psyche that had always been cyclothemic and had in the past erupted into bi-polar disorder .
My life as a person of action and writer had, however, come to an end. I had stopped publishing the literary listings a few years earlier, and abandoned the Toulouse Street blog to posterity. It no longer outranks the Doobie Brothers on Google. I gradually stopped writing poetry because it was too difficult to get into the headspace that requires. I gradually stopped reading poetry, as I found difficult works I had once treasured like the Dream Songs quoted at the top to be an alien language I could no longer decode. I took refuge in reading genre stuff, science fiction and fantasy, and became a devotee of Terry Pratchett.
Recently I stumbled into the Bipolar Creativity and Illness Group on Facebook, and promptly read Kay Redfield Jamison’s Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. I think I was always drawn toward the manic ones, the Confessional poets, people who reflected back my own inner turmoil in works of great beauty and power. It is no accident this blog starts with a quote from John Berryman, or that my self-medicating self was intrigued by Charles Bukowski. The morose side of my personality deeply identified with the Bukowski who wrote “The Consummation of Grief.“
I don’t doubt my diagnosis; only my treatment. It is obvious that psychopharmacology has changed who I am in more ways that those intended by medicine. It crushed someone with clear creative potential as collateral damage. After reading Jamison’s book, I am determined to re-evaluate who I am and how I behave, to try to recover some of that without going off the rails. And in the course of this, to adjust or even forgo my current medication. A dose of 0.25 milligrams of Risperidone is apparently not enough to crush this resolve. This is more than I have written in years. I intend, however, to venture into the dark territory of discontinuing medication, as I kicked the Klonopin years ago, and venture to discover if I can recapture the creative impulse and — more importantly — the pathways in my mind that understood, could
decode and recreate the intricacies of creative writing.