Thursday, July 29, 2010

Guest Blog - My Bipolar Kaleidoscope

From my good friend, Cristina Romero ...

Have you ever heard the very catching definition of bipolar and depression, as "diseases of perspectives?" I heard that many years ago, and it stuck and has become a focus of my journey.

Another way I've been thinking of it recently as mood disorders is like having a kaleidoscope in your head.

Perspective is everything as to how we connect with the world and with ourselves.


All of these moods result in a totally different perspective/view of absolutely everything inside you and outside you.

Motivation changes with mood.
Eating changes with mood.
Love for ourselves and others changes with mood.
Impulse control changes with mood.
Planning changes with mood.
Focus changes with mood.
Hope changes with mood.
Senses change with mood.

Everything changes with mood.

And so if you have a mood disorder, you are living with a kaleidoscope in your head, and you are one of the strongest, most adaptable people in the world because you are capable of all these perspectives. The trick is to learn when to embrace the perspective and when to sustain it in mid-air in your mind, hold your breath and rotate the kaleidoscope tube until the next image comes into view.

From my kaleidoscope to yours ...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Relics of the Past: Porirua Psychiatric Hospital

Yesterday, I paid a visit to the remains of Porirua Psychiatric Hospital, just outside Wellington, New Zealand. What prompted the visit was the documentary film, “Asylum Pieces,” by Kathy Dudding, which premiered a couple of weeks ago in Auckland and was shown at the Wellington Film Festival the night before.

I happened to show up on the one day of the week the museum (above) was open. The building was originally a residential villa for women classified as “hopeless.”

Originally classified as a “lunatic asylum,” the facility was opened in the 1870s. The founding principles were enlightened, in the spirit of the asylum movements in the US and Great Britain, based on “moral improvement” in surroundings conducive to healing. The buildings (two pics below) were amongst the grandest in New Zealand, in a beautiful rural setting, on vast acreage, with residents working a farm (with two dairy herds) and doing other chores.

Also in the pattern of overseas, underfunding and overcrowding pushed enlightenment aside, along with misplaced hope in ECT and meds as magic bullets. It turned out the main buildings were built of shoddy materials and were condemned in 1942, following an earthquake. In 1960, the farm was closed. The facility shut down in the 1990s.

Above: Farm equipment used by the residents.

Above: Ancient ECT apparatus.

Above: Meds dispensary, circa 1960s.

Above: Portable cast iron tub. Note the handle and wheels.

Above: Isolation unit.

Above: Enlightenment occasionally creeps back in. A splendid example of deco-type architecture from the 30s, based on functionality and light spaces. The building is now used by a soccer club.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Headed Out the Door

I'm headed out the door very soon. I'll be boarding AMTRAK for LA. Late this evening I fly out of LAX to New Zealand to see this little guy and the production team responsible. I know seeing my grandson for the first time will give me new insights into our never-ending enquiry of who the hell are we?

Stay tuned for blog posts from New Zealand ...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Longing to Return to the Planet of My Birth

Following is an abridged version from a chapter of the book I am working on: "Raccoons Respect My Piss - But Watch Out for Skunks: My Metaphor for Life on a Planet Not of My Choosing and How I Finally Came to Terms"  ...

Sometimes I do get to return to the planet of my birth. It's just that I can't recall them. I like to imagine it's a happier place than this one, filled with shady trees, with kind people spread out on the lawn beneath, pulling out containers of Thai noodles and watermelon chunks from their picnic baskets, beckoning me to join them.
One of these people would be my good friend and muse, Therese Borchard, author of Beyond Blue. Therese has a way of making me feel that on a planet of six billion strangers I have at least one person I can talk to. One day, she opened a blog piece this way:

I spent my adolescence and teenage years obsessing about this question: Am I depressed or just deep?

When I was nine, I figured that I was a young Christian mystic because I related much more to the saints who lived centuries ago than to other nine-year-old girls who had crushes on boys. I couldn't understand how my sisters could waste quarters on a stupid video game when there were starving kids in Cambodia. Hello? Give them to UNICEF!

Now I look back with tenderness to the hurting girl I was and wished somebody had been able to recognize that I was very depressed.

See what I mean? I just know that had we been in the same class at grade school, while the other kids played ball during recess, Therese and I would have found a quiet spot to sit, sharing cookies our moms packed and discussing how Augustine of Hippo must have felt after Alaric the Visigoth sacked Rome in 410 AD (which is precisely how I felt when George W Bush was re-elected in 2004).

So - were Therese and I two sensitive souls waxing philosophical, or two depressives acting strange? When it comes to the enduring question - Who the hell am I? - we are all struggling to find the truth.
Part of what we are talking about involves the classic distinction between "state" and "trait." Trait is who we are, our personality. State is invasion of the brain snatchers. But no distinctions are ever as clear-cut as they seem.
We tend to get hung up on DSM-IV check lists while ignoring a key DSM injunction - namely that we are only in a state of mental illness when the symptoms interfere with our ability to function (as in work or relationships). So - from my personal perspective - if I am comfortable and not struggling while depressed - thinking deep, in effect - then I hardly have an illness that needs treatment.
Here's where it gets complicated. When does my productive depression - thinking deep - start becoming a nuisance and when does this nuisance seriously start messing me up? Similarly, when does my upbeat side cross over into social embarrassment and in turn morph into something that causes me to make very bad decisions?

Life, unfortunately, doesn't come with a manual, and the tech support is a joke. Seriously, when has God - or St Aloysius, even - ever gotten back to you? Is it too much for God to stop what He is doing for just one second and tell me that the vital piece of hardware I dropped on the floor - the one I desperately need to assemble my counter extender from IKEA - rolled under the refrigerator?

It's not like I am asking God to move the refrigerator for me. Or, for that matter, to assemble my IKEA furniture, though that would be a very nice gesture. IKEA, by the way, is Sweden's revenge for not being allowed to be Vikings, anymore.

So, back to depression. Keep in mind, medications are designed to treat an illness, not change a personality, which may explain why antidepressants only get some people somewhat better some of the time. In other words, if you are undergoing clinical depression right now, all those around you - including your psychiatrist - assume your brain will eventually boot back up to “normal.”

But suppose your "normal" is depressed? What then? First, this may not be a bad thing. If you’re the type who prefers staying home alone with a book to going out dancing, you may be a lot happier and better adjusted than Joe Cool and Miss Congeniality.
But suppose your normal keeps you a prisoner in your own home? So - here you are, home alone, wondering whether to ask someone out on a date. You punch in three numbers, then you freeze, paralytic. Maybe you're afraid of rejection. Maybe your inner critic is working overtime and you consider yourself worthless. Maybe it's a combination. Whatever the reason, you put down the phone. And now, here you are, alone and socially isolated. How does that make you feel? Well, depressed.

It's a very overwhelming world out there, very difficult to negotiate, and most of the time - very frankly - I don't want to be in it. Certainly, I spent a good deal of my childhood wishing I was very far removed from it. I found refuge, instead, in my own inner world. Over time, I succeeded in tuning out just about the whole world around me.

Engage me in a conversation, and sooner or later you will pick up an odd mannerism: My eyes glaze over, I’m unresponsive. I am not present. Literally - I am somewhere else.
I am probably experiencing what the experts refer to as disassociating. In extreme cases, certain individuals may assume different personalities. Thankfully, my little manneristic quirk comes across as mere inattentiveness. It has nothing to do with that fact that I may find you interminably boring (even if you are). This planet is simply a challenge for me. Always has been. Sometimes, my mind has to flee. Where it goes I have no idea, no recollection. I like to think it’s back to the planet of my birth, a place where I belong.

A kind lady beneath a tree beckons me. She serves up a plate of Thai noodles. I help myself to some watermelon chunks. You're safe here, says the look on her face. Welcome home.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing the Didgeridoo - Believe it or Not, I Used to Be Worse

This weekend, practicing at home, I played my didgeridoos - all four of them - as if I really knew how to play them. This wasn't always the case. This from the book I am working on, "Raccoons Respect My Piss - But Watch Out for Skunks: My Metaphor for Life on a Planet Not of My Choosing and How I Finally Came to Terms."

We pick up on the action three years ago ...

I was downtown for my third conference in six weeks, the NAMI national convention. I rolled in late in the afternoon, checked into my hotel, then headed over to the venue, in time to play my didgeridoo at the evening talent show. Trust me, didgeridoos make perfect sense in California. I lived in Australia for five years - wasn't interested. Then, not long after my arrival in my new neighborhood, I happened to walk into a coffee shop and walk out with a didgeridoo.

This one was made out of local desert yucca and had the look and dimensions of an alphorn. Most didgeridoos are way smaller.

I arrived home with my new purchase, perplexed at why I wasn’t able to master the thing in five minutes. I used to play the trombone. What could be so friggin’ hard about getting one note out of a glorified stalk of desert yucca? Don’t these things come with tech support?

I spent the ensuing week producing noises reminiscent of the beans scene from “Blazing Saddles.” The only reason I persisted was because I knew it could be done, sort of like the Wright Brothers. They were willing to put up with failure because - thanks to birds - they knew flight was possible.

But some guy or gal thousands of years ago picking up a hollow log in some pristine rain forest? How did he or she know “beyond flatulence” was feasible? What kept this person going? What on earth was going through his or her mind? The burning philosophical question.

By the end of the first week I had progressed to fog horn. But I could only sustain the sound for five seconds at best. I set to work on my newsletter, but there was my didge in the corner, mocking me. An hour later, hyperventilated and discouraged, I began asking myself, how well does yucca burn? One last toot. Something happened. Something that faintly resembled the sound of a didge.

Over the next few days, I was able to work on reliably producing the didge sound and sustaining it beyond five seconds. One day, I felt confident enough to take it out into the back yard. The woodpeckers offered encouraging percussive chatter. A hummingbird flitted over and checked me out. Good omen.

My backyard experiences started to take on a spiritual quality. By now I could get a drone going for twenty seconds, with a range of subtle tones and harmonic overlays. Looking out across to the mountains under a cobalt sky, I was able to produce the OM of the universe. Everything stems from vibration:

“When all things began, the Word already was … So the Word became flesh.”

Then I took my didge out under the night sky. Up at 3,500 feet, they polish the stars every night. For this particular occasion, the Forest Service had just finished lowering the moon to just above tree-top level and thoughtfully provided an ambient soundtrack of croaking frogs.

I held off on my didge, allowing myself to become one with my surroundings. Then, I brought the didge to my lips, content to just blow air through it. Finally, I was ready. I drew in a relaxed breath, and looking up at the canopy of the heavens, I sounded my OM into a frog-enriched cosmos.

Now, here I was at the NAMI conference, toting around my didgeridoo. For some reason, the sight of the thing induced people to stop and ask for a demonstration. My only purpose for being at this conference was to meet people, and this was good. So, not content with talent night, I brought my didge with me the next day to the conference.

If you have never brought an oversized didge with you to a national conference, you are missing out on a major life experience. People literally stopped me in the parking area outside the hotel, and I obligingly honked on demand. Going to get a coffee – honk on demand. Walking into the lobby – honk on demand. Walk into the exhibit area – honk on demand. NAMI bigwigs, leading doctors, authors, speakers – honk on demand. Patients, family members – honk on demand.

And now you know why NAMI has banned didgeridoos from all their conferences. Ha! But there's still NAMI walks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mel Gibson: Asshole, Not Bipolar

I don't have a TV in the new place I moved into two months ago and I don't intend to change that. Drama and voyeurism I can do without, particularly the interminably ridiculous Mel-Oksana melodrama that is diverting our attention from things that really matter, such as Lindsay Lohan (did I just say that?). But - alas! - people are linking Mel's tirades to bipolar, and here I have to step in. A few points:

People say crazy things when their relationships head south.

This is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Heaven help if my life were on tape - or yours. Yes, Mel said things you or I would never dream of saying, but we also know - deep inside - that there is not much that separates us. Philosophers have been debating this stuff since the first practical application of vocal chords, and Shakespeare's entire body of work is based on that fine dividing line between the God inside us and the beast inside us.

"What piece of work is man ... "

Bipolar is the crazy diagnosis, not the asshole diagnosis.

I have bipolar, which makes me prone to doing crazy things if I am not careful, and sometimes even if I am. But I'm not an asshole. Big distinction. I sometimes find I have to correct people who get the two confused. They see someone acting inappropriately and next thing I'm hearing the B-word used to explain that person's behavior.

No, that's not bipolar, I cut in.

Then what is it? they ask.

That's being an asshole, I reply.

There exists a whole range of personality disorders that can singularly or collectively be defined as "the asshole diagnosis." In the past, I have received angry comments along these lines: "As an asshole, I take great umbrage to what you say." So let me set the record straight:

We all have personality issues in abundance. The world around us is a very scary place to negotiate, particularly when we lose our sense of control. We typically compensate by distorting reality and assigning fictitious traits to others. The eastern mystics put it best when they say that life is an illusion fabricated out of our thoughts. Inevitably, things go wrong. Some of us are more skillful at avoiding life's many pitfalls than others. Others are not.

It's not easy being an asshole. It's also not easy being around one.

Crazy is not related to personality.

Just about every diagnosis in the DSM notes that the behavior in question is "uncharacteristic of the person when not symptomatic." If you are a humanitarian, then, bipolar is not going to turn you into an anti-semite. If you are a closet anti-semite, however, bipolar may expose you as a raging anti-semite. Something like this happened to Mel Gibson three or four years ago. Who knows what was going on in his head. Bipolar may or may not have triggered the outburst, but his loathsome bigotry was of his choosing. 

But crazy and asshole do overlap.

There is no doubt that bipolar both complicates and amplifies the situations in our lives. Anger is often a justifiable reaction to our sense of outrage, but those of us with bipolar are skating on thin ice. We get triggered too quickly. Our vulnerable brains overload, and next thing we lose it. And once we get going, it's very hard to stop. Our racing thoughts take over. 

Maybe something like this happened to Mel Gibson. Or maybe he's just being an asshole. When you're on the receiving end, you shouldn't have to make the distinction. I frequently have to remind those with bipolar that when it comes to relationships, "the bipolar excuse" simply doesn't cut it. The best we can expect are certain accommodations.

It works both ways.

Those of us with bipolar are extremely sensitive to negative situations in our lives, whether from the depressive end or the manic end or those hellish mixed states in between. Our built-in amplifier has a way of turning a barely tolerable situation into one equating to being trapped inside a burning building.

Two weeks ago, I had no choice but to end a personal friendship. She was the "normal" one, but she exploded on me. It was a very painful choice, but one essential to my well-being. I may be "crazy," but I don't need crazy in my life. The world is crazy enough as it is.

Also see Therese Borchard's take on the matter at BeyondBlue.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Me, Alone, Against the World

Following is a pared-down version of something I wrote 11 years ago that will go into the book I am working on. Enjoy ...

It was me, alone, against the world. There was no other way to describe it. It was around age 11 and 12 when I noticed that I was a lot shorter and skinnier than the kids my age. Then they all started sprouting hair in funny places and talking in deep voices in knowing ways, and the realization struck with Biblical force:
My God! I really was different!
It was like those dreams everyone seems to have of turning up in public in just your underwear. If only it were just that. If only the shame and embarrassment were for just one day. If only I could just go home and reach in the closet and slip into my leg and pubic hair the way I could a pair of pants and grow six inches and return to school and blend in and say things like, eat it raw, like I really knew what I was talking about.
No, I was doomed to show up for school in the equivalent of my dream underwear every day for the next three years.
It was around this time I discovered classical music, Tchaikovsky in particular and his Pathetique Symphony. Just as Elvis once lifted me into a different place, I now found myself in a different place again, but a very different kind of different place. I would hear three trombones in my head, big broad fat notes that took four large men to pick up and carry, and knew I had stumbled into the inner rumblings of the mind of God.
I switched to trombone from the trumpet in seventh grade and by eighth grade I was the only one, more or less, left standing. Like a war of attrition. All the other trombones, it seems, had been taken out. It was just me. And this was the year the band director decided to form a dixieland band.
To give you an idea of the company I now found myself in, one of the members of this little ensemble joined the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, another the Saturday Night Live band, another would graduate from an Ivy League school and the rest weren't far behind.
Then there was me.
The tenor sax in the group, the one who went on to the Ivy League, came over to me one day, grinning. "If you were my dog," he said to me, "I'd shave your ass and make you walk backward."
One day, at practice in one of their houses, they all charged me at once and spread-eagled me in the air. Once they saw the terror on my face, they laughed and put me down, satisfied at their fun.
That summer we had an outdoor gig in the city park. We were part of a band concert, one of those Sousa type bands where the members had union cards. There must have been upwards of a thousand out on the park lawn, spread out on blankets or sitting in folding chairs, many with picnic dinners, all in a holiday mood. The Sousa band did their numbers, then it was our turn.
The clarinet player who was the leader of the group gave me the evil eye, as if to say you screw up here and you're a dead man. I walked out onto the outdoor stage like I was going to the gallows, trombone in one hand, music stand in the other - four sheets of music clipped on with clothespins - praying to God we wouldn't have to do an encore, because that fourth piece to me was as decipherable as the Rosetta Stone.
The clarinet player counted off and - bang! - we were into the first piece. It went off without a hitch, and by the second number the crowd was getting into it. Then came the third number, which featured written solos from everyone in the group, me included. I reached way down low on the slide and hoped lightning wouldn't strike me dead.

Or maybe I wished it would - I can't remember.
We wrapped up the song and the crowd was on its feet, cheering and stamping wildly. My God! I could only think. There's going to be an encore! And here I was with the Rosetta Stone clipped to my music stand.
I'll just move my slide and pretend I'm playing, I thought. And that's sort of what I did. I tuned out the people on the lawn in front and the Sousa band behind and pointed my trombone down to the ground, hoping to turn invisible.
There was really only one note I had to hit, and that was when the piece changed key. My job was to reach out practically to the end of the slide and belt out a low C. So up went the trombone and out came the C right on schedule. Back down to the ground I went.
Mercifully, it ended. I looked up and the people out on the lawn were back on their feet. Then I looked back at the Sousa band and THEY were on their feet. A standing ovation from the house band. Let me put this into perspective: More people have walked on the moon than have received a standing ovation from the house band.
Once off stage, my fellow tormentors actually congratulated me. Enthusiastically, at that. Then it sunk in: I had nailed my first three pieces. Not only that, my fake slide work on the fourth number had been mistaken for real jazz, not just kiddie band dixieland. This is why all those musicians with union cards behind us were on their feet applauding. It was because of me!
All four feet eleven and ninety pounds of me.

I had outplayed the others by a country mile, and the Ivy League tenor sax player and all the others were ecstatic. I had broken through. I was one of them. For one brief shining moment I was accepted.
But not for what I was. You see, right after that I went right back to not being able to play my trombone worth shit. Once more I was the butt of their jokes, the object of their gossip, the source of their malicious amusement. I was right back to where I had been before - me, alone, against the world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Soon to be Made into a Major Motion Picture (In My Dreams)

In ten days, I fly out from LAX to New Zealand to see my baby grandson, Little Teddy (and my daughter Emily and son-in-law Hamish). Which means cranking out 30 days of work prior to July 22. Following is part of a publishing proposal I'm putting together for the book I have been working on: Raccoons Respect My Piss - But Watch Out For Skunks: My Metaphor for Life on a Planet Not of My Choosing and How I Finally Came to Terms.

I'm looking to get this sent out before I board my flight ...


No matter how many raccoon triumphs I may enjoy, no matter what state of acceptance I may feel I have reached, I know - some stinker is always out there, waiting, with its ass pointed in my direction.

Early October, 2006 saw the publication of my book: Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder: What Your Doctor Doesn't Tell You That You Need to Know. It's amazing, in hindsight, how I didn't see it coming, but we never do. One day I was winding down from a round of book-related speaking engagements and radio interviews, making a mental note to pick up a Thanksgiving turkey, the next my marriage broke up.

I had been married (for the second time) for nearly three years, living in central New Jersey. On December 1, ten days after my break-up, I boarded a one-way flight to San Diego, wanting to sleep and never wake up. I woke up anyway, 40 miles out in the country, to a searing Van Gogh sun against a brilliant cobalt blue sky. Where there should have been a Walmart was a valley surrounded by 4,000-foot peaks. Time to check out my new neighborhood.

Raccoons Respect My Piss - But Watch Out For Skunks
is a metaphor for life on a planet not of my choosing and coming to terms. Who was I? That Elvis-loving six-year-old who on a dare climbed on a bull (okay, maybe it was a steer)? Or that small skinny nerdy 12-year-old afraid to board the school bus?

What was wrong with my brain, anyway? A prominent psychiatrist said that no one understands depression and bipolar disorder inside and out better than I did, and I had a new book to prove it. But what was really going on beneath my skull? Here I was, my life in ruins, stuck in some kind of weird quantum singularity way out in the middle of nowhere, with the skunks and raccoons, unable to so much as go out and buy mouthwash without planning a Donner Party expedition days in advance.

Why, of all things, was I feeling better - much better - rather than worse?

I didn't go searching for recovery. Recovery came looking for me. Recovery is for YOU to figure out, I wanted to scream to audiences who kept pestering me about it soon after my book came out. It has nothing to do with me. But I was changing. The person talking about my book in 2006-2007 was not the same person who wrote it in late 2004-early 2005. Something happened after I got off my one-way flight at San Diego.

Raccoons Respect My Piss - But Watch Out For Skunks
is my quest for answers: Listening to a prominent brain scientist discuss the fine points of a gene variation with a Nobel Laureate sitting five empty seats over in the same row as me. Experiencing a Zen moment - stepping out of my own shit for five seconds - as a distant peak caught the last rays of the setting sun. Dealing with whatever life threw my way, including whatever happened to walk in through the cat flap. Slowly, I began connecting the dots. Slowly, my writing began to change.

As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and who am I to argue?

First Seven Chapters

Chapter 1. The Truth About Raccoons (and Some Lies About Skunks)

An introduction to my life, as seen through two separate amygdalae - my own and that of a skunk.

Chapter 2. Seriously, I'm the Wrong Person to Be Talking About Recovery

Ask me, instead, how to spell ophthalmologist.

Chapter 3. Cool Brain Science Stuff

It's all about nature via nurture.

Chapter 4. Zen Moments, Ramen Noodles, and Other Weird Shit

Healing happens, but don't expect to stay in the same place.

Chapter 5. Peanut Butter People in a Tofu World

It's not easy being illogical.

Chapter 6. How a Six-Year-Old Superman Became a 12-Year-Old Wimp and Other Mysteries

Who the hell are we?

Chapter 7. Me, Captain Ahab, and the Anterior Cingulate

Why can't we just get under the hood and fix the damned thing?


Very much looking forward to my New Zealand visit ...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rerun: Advice to a New Grandson - Part II

The last week in July, I head down to New Zealand to see my grandchild, Little Teddy, for the first time. I wrote this in late Sept, a day or two after my daughter informed me I was now a granddad ...

As you know, I just became a proud granddad, which moves me up in status to Wise Elder in the clan. I'm taking my new duties very seriously. Following is my second installment ...
  1. There is no excuse for dancing like a white man.
  2. A good poop is way better than mediocre sex.
  3. What most people call a God experience, scientists call dopamine.
  4. That doesn’t mean God is not real.
  5. We elude happiness far more than happiness eludes us.
  6. God has a sense of humor. Trust me, every day you will do something to make Him snort milk out His nose.
  7. Good enough is not good enough.
  8. Friends are a way better investment than money.
  9. The oldest known redwood is 2,200 years old. An idiot with a chainsaw only needs one day.
  10. Napoleon lost an entire army in north Africa and an entire army in Russia. Still, he had no trouble recruiting volunteers for Waterloo. Go figure.
  11. You are a book responsible for your own cover. Expect people to judge you.
  12. God has a funny way of treating people He loves most. Just ask Joan of Arc.
  13. Thoreau danced to a different drummer, but he also died a virgin.
  14. Ration your hate. Don’t indulge.
  15. It’s okay to curse God. But tread lightly when blaming fellow humans.
  16. Good teachers make you think, not tell you what to think.
  17. If you suck up to the rich and powerful, you won’t have to do your own laundry. If you do your own laundry, you won’t have to suck up to the rich and powerful.
And finally ...

You are two days old. Breasts are the center of your existence. You and I have a lot in common.

With love ...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rerun: Advice to a New Grandson

The other night, I booked my ticket to New Zealand to see the cutest grandbaby in the world. I've been eagerly looking forward to this since late Sept, when little Teddy made his arrival. I'll be visiting the end of July. This piece dates from soon after I received the good news ...

At about 1 AM last night my daughter phoned me from New Zealand. It could only mean one thing. “Congratulations!” she told me. “You’re a granddad!”

A healthy mother, a healthy boy. Oh, happy day!

Okay, now that I’m a granddad, I need to take my responsibilities seriously. The Little Guy is setting out into a whole new unexplored territory called life and needs all the help he can get. As the newly-designated Elder in the family, it is my duty to dispense the wisdom that will see him through his journey. Thus ...

An Elder’s Advice to His New Grandson
  1. Remember, Hannibal never won a battle with his elephants.
  2. No one cares if you spell, “opthamologist” right - except for optha ... whatever.
  3. Men often don’t think with their brains. That’s why we have dicks.
  4. Our purpose here on earth is to laugh at farts.
  5. There will be many many more James Bond movies during your life, but the one constant is that Ursula Andress will always be the all-time number one Bond girl.
  6. He or she who presumes to understand God is a fraud.
  7. Same applies to guys who think they understand women.
  8. Remember, no one gives a shit about you.
  9. That way, the people who matter will all give a shit about you.
  10. When you reach into your pocket searching for a one dollar bill and all you can come up with is twenties - try not to express your disappointment.
  11. Don’t waste your time trying to “get” toilet seat covers.
  12. Never get in a fight with idiots - they don’t know how to stop.
  13. The Wise Man knows when to quit while he’s behind.
  14. This is doubly true in any arguments with women.
  15. We are who we pretend to be. You can’t go wrong pretending to be JFK or Martin Luther King.
  16. A blind man can beat Tiger Woods in golf at night.
  17. If you challenge Tiger Woods to a game - make sure it’s not golf.
  18. Caviar is fine, but peanut butter will always be your friend.
  19. You are but a mere speck in the vast universe.
  20. A mere speck contains a whole universe.
And finally ...

You have the best mom and dad in the whole world. Trust me, they love cleaning your poop.

With love ...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

You See Four; I See Twenty-Eight - A Follow-up

Last week, in a piece entitled, You See Four; I See Twenty-Eight, I explained how a fair number of us perceive the world differently than the majority. Partly because our brains are less than efficient at filtering out information, we connect the dots in ways that variously come across as visionary or uncanny or totally weird, depending on point of view.

We also tend to get overloaded fairly quickly, which puts our brains in danger of flipping out or shutting down.

One way of looking at this is that while most people think linearly, we non-linear people tend to instantly arrive at conclusions - say 28 - while our linear counterparts are still logically and laboriously working their way to four. Often, we are too far ahead of the rest of the world for our own good. In my piece, I described what I considered a normal - though emotional - response to 28. But the company I was in saw my actions as an irrational over-reaction to the four she was perceiving.

Small wonder we non-linears tend to get marginalized.

From my point of view, the rest of the world is occupied by plodding two-year-olds unable to see the obvious. But when I rationally react to what I see, well guess who gets written off as the two-year-old? It doesn't help that I have bipolar, either, which is obviously linked to non-linear thinking. Mental illness is hardly a prerequisite for thinking non-linear, but - take my word for it - if you're constantly reacting to 28 when the rest of the world is bumbling along at 4, then you most assuredly will be taken for crazy. Prepare for a challenging life ahead.

One of my commenters, CT, could very much relate, and wondered whether I had looked into the issue of "sensitives." Not really, so I started looking. On a site called, I came across this:

Highly sensitive persons (HSP's) have heightened sensitivity to their environments. If you're a highly sensitive person, your nervous system literally picks up more information than the average person about what's going on around you. As HSP's receive heightened sensory input, you can easily get overloaded by too much stimulation. HSP's can also be more sensitive on other levels. ...

As an HSP, it is important to become aware of your situation so you can learn to manage it. In this fast-paced world of over-stimulation, you need to learn to make choices that are healthy for you, even if others might not understand or relate.

As I responded to CT: While I could relate to this, I make no claim to psychic powers or paranormal abilities. I am "sensitive" only in regard to: 1) I pick up more information than others on what's going around me (or rather my brain doesn't filter it out). 2) Because of this, I can intuitively come up with answers long before others logically reach the same conclusion. 3) I can also find creative solutions that others would never even consider.

If this were all there was to it, of course, I would be a mental superman and very well off on account of it. Unfortunately, number 4) comes into the picture, namely I get overwhelmed by events around me very easily, which has made navigating through life a considerable challenge.

I assume a lot of you can identify with this. As to the overlap between intuitive and psychic, from a blog post last Sept:

"How intuitive are you?" I asked you in a poll I conducted during the month of August. There were seven possible answers - ranging from "psychic" to "sorry," and you were allowed to fill in as many as you like. One hundred fifty of you came up with 316 answers, or two each, presumably not ones that represented polar opposites.

The extremes provide some indication of where you stand. Nearly one in four of you (35, 23%) answered that you were "borderline or full-on psychic, or at least it seems that way." In contrast, less than one in ten (13, 8%) responded with, "Sorry, I'm totally rational and logical."

I highly doubt that we would find so many with psychic tendencies in the general population. I also suspect that a lot less of you would share this kind of information with your psychiatrist. We've all had experiences that we can only describe as uncanny and inexplicable. Some of us have them with greater regularity.

Moving on to straight-up intuition: Four in ten of you (64, 42%) indicated that "my thoughts and ideas seem to come out of nowhere" while more than half (83, 55%) reported that "I often read people and situations like a book." This represents our bipolar advantage - creativity and seemingly otherworldly mental abilities - as well as our curse - racing thoughts and distractibility.

So, as I explained to CT: It looks like we're talking about a spectrum where intuition and perception overlap into psychic or what seems like psychic.

I've had a lot of uncanny weird stuff happen to me - such as having a vivid dream about an earthquake the day before I experienced my very first earthquake. But these are random chance occurrences. If this were a power I could control, I'd be rich.

All I can say is thank god I don't have a higher sensitivity. Imagine my brain going off every time the earth twitched. I'd be a nervous wreck, especially now that I live in California. My guess is that long ago my brain learned to tune out this stuff, assuming I had this sensitivity in the first place.

CT also had another point:

The majority of time I think nearly exactly the way you describe, with the possible exception I might also get "stuck" on 28 or keep looping back to it.

Tell me about it. All week following my 28 personal encounter, I was fixated on 28, unable to see my way to 72. This has to do with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the various feedback loops that run through it. We see this in people with OCD. The ACC won't let them let go of a thought.

Sometimes, getting stuck on 28 is good, especially if you're Steve Jobs holding up the iPhone GS28 - uh 4. But being John McManamy trapped in his own shit - well, that's bad.

This whole non-linear thing is a work-in-progress for me, but as I explained in response to a comment by Nanci:

After all these years, I think I finally may have cracked my case wide open. Yes, the bipolar explains a lot of my thinking and feeling and behavior, but underlying everything is the non-linear stuff. The overload manifests as anxiety and bipolar (which explains the bipolar-creativity connection). And when I over-react for no apparent reason, I need to be thinking: Is this my racing mind distorting reality or is this a non-linear insight that everyone else is too stupid to see?

Questions, questions. Have a happy 28th of July - uh Fourth.