Shouting Into Wind Tunnels (Or, Disclosures)

What is the hardest thing to do, in your opinion? Think about it for a second. Be really really serious. What do you find hardest?

Now imagine doing it in public for people.

That’s about what I’m going to try to do here. So you’ll forgive me if it comes off a little odd.

I’m going to talk about being sick. And not just physically ill sometimes. I’m going to cover my eyes (I can type with my eyes closed) and talk about having a mental illness. For those not interested or for those for whom a discussion like this is uncomfortable, go forth good sir or madam elsewhere. I’m going to talk about this for a reason, so… there ya go.

I’ve lived with bipolar disorder since I was diagnosed when I was sixteen years old. I’m guessing that I had this for a very long time before that but I couldn’t tell you. How do you know whether you were wacky back in your early teens because you were a hormonal git or because your brain chemistry was doing the Macarena? Who knows and who cares. The point is, when I was sixteen, a doctor told me that all the weirdness going on with my moods, some of the weird things that I did that people told me were just ‘bad’ or ‘weird’ was because there was a part of my brain chemistry that got put in sideways. Then he gave me a bunch of medication and didn’t really explain a hell of a lot more. It took me years to fully get what bipolar disorder was, that I was technically diagnosed with bipolar type II (which is a ‘lesser’ type for an uncomplicated explanation), and that I was one of the unlucky ladies out there who responds BADLY to lots of medications one would put you on for bipolar disorder. I did a merry dance for years on medicine which led me to some amazingly funny, horrible, scary and weird reactions.

But what it really lead me to in the end was trying to live without medication. And I’ve done that since I was about twenty two. That’s eight years now I’ve been without medicine at all, except for a brief period two years ago where for three months I roller-coastered all over with my friends looking on in worry. At least those who knew what was going on. The others just thought I was having a ‘hard time’.

See I’m one of those people who grew up in a place where you don’t talk about mental issues. Where people said you were just ‘bad’ or ‘acting out’, where you were told to just ‘get up and get over it’ or ‘try harder’ if you were depressed. And if I was manic, well, I was just really happy or had to much sugar or should just ‘calm down’. And if I acted out under a manic episode, well, I was bad. See where this goes, huh? Does not lead to good things. It leads to a lot of shame, denial, and coping on my part. It leads to a lifelong interest in keeping my symptoms so tightly under control that no one would know what was going on, even the closest people in my life. So years of repression and bottled up tension later, I’m pretty type A and have built a hell of a network of coping mechanisms. To quote a doctor I saw today, “you handle all this rather remarkably.” That was meant as a compliment, I think, and I took it that way. I’ve worked hard to keep myself in check for years because otherwise… well, what do you do? Go nuts? Do the wacky things that my brain sometimes wants me to do or say? I’ve worked hard to build my life as stable as I can and I fight hard every day to keep it that way.

I’ve done that mostly quietly. I haven’t spoken about things. Remember that culture of quiet? That’s where I come from. But I realized lately that what that has accomplished is making me isolated when I’m having trouble. And professionally, that can be deadly.

I’m a freelance writer and a graduate student. I’m a game designer. I’m a blogger. I’m a speaker at conventions. I’m busy.

I’m also bipolar. And have anxiety attacks. And I do it mostly where people can’t see.

Sometimes that means that I have to step aside and not be around people. Or sometimes that means that my deadlines slide around a little bit because I spent a few days digging myself out of a low that had me locked in place. Sometimes that means I’m so manic that I accept projects that I maybe shouldn’t on deadlines I maybe shouldn’t.

It’s the last one that made me finally sit up and take notice that I needed to seek out help. Why? Because I’m a professional. I want my reputation to be one of good work, timeliness and reliability. I don’t want to be ‘that person who blew that deadline because she took on too much work’. I respect the opportunities given to me too much to let that happen. And in my life I’m trying to balance a lot. Maybe, some would say, too much. I don’t know. I’m hoping that isn’t the case.

I know that there is a lot I want to do. And I take on a lot because my tabletop and LARP writing is equally as important to me as my work at the NYU Game Center. I would not put aside any opportunity to write because it’s what lights me up every day. And so far, I’ve managed to meet deadlines and produce good work through a judicious use of caffeine, time management and sheer goddamn stubbornness.

This week I met my limit, I believe. And fell over the side.

This is the part that’s hard to write. I had a manic episode as school. It was what I like to call a ‘Red Line’ episode, where my blood pressure was going so high I could hear my blood racing in my ears. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t stop talking. To the people around me, I’m sure they couldn’t tell anything. I asked a friend who was working with me afterward whether they could tell, and he said that he couldn’t. “You’re very good at hiding” he said. And I am. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared to pieces. Afterwards, I knew a crash was coming and it was going to be huge. I thankfully reached out to a friend, who talked to me for two hours while I shook and cried and tried to stop my brain from going to dark places.

Two days later, I walked into the NYU health center and requested referrals for therapy and a medical consultation. It’s time I recognize limits and start to make more boundaries for myself. It’s time that I realize that if I want to be a good writer, a good team player, even a good organizer and speaker and leader, it’s by recognizing limits and boundaries. It’s time I recognize how my illness is not something to be fought with or overcome but as something to be worked with and understood better. For years I’ve been fighting my brain – now it’s time that me and my brain strike an accord to work together. And that starts with this, with talking, with admitting.

I was afraid to write this post because I was afraid people would stop working with me on projects. They wouldn’t want a writer who is bipolar for fear that I’ll flake. I was afraid to admit what’s going on because I was afraid people would call it a plea for attention, or an excuse for behavior. It’s neither of these. In fact, I’m writing this with the full notion that it’s long and people’s attention spans are short (if you’re still with me, thanks for sticking around!) If nobody reads this, that’s okay too. But I’m here, talking into the wind tunnel that is the internet and hoping that somewhere, this hits a distant shore that understands: I’m a writer just trying to create some great things while living inside a tornado that is my brain. Sometimes that tornado tries to lift me up. Sometimes, it slams me into the ground face first.

But being me, I’m gonna get right back up and go back to writing some crazy shit. Maybe about vampires, or ancient fae civilizations. Or robots on Roman spaceships (seriously, that’s a thing I’m doing).

And I’m going to do that now with help. With a doctor who I can talk to. Maybe even with medicine, provided it doesn’t mess me up. With coping mechanisms that work and hopefully support that I can reach out to.

And what does that mean for my work? Absolutely nothing in my eyes. I’m going to be careful about how much I take on and try to gage a little more fairly how much time I have. I’m going to be fair to myself and try to enjoy my life instead of running at a crazy pace because my manic little brain says ‘hey you can do everything and anything ever and always, yay!’ But I’m still going to be the writer who wants to write awesome things for great companies, and even wants to get her own off the ground. I’m going to be the girl who is slamming through five classes in NYU this semester while trying to convince folk that LARP is awesome.

I’m still me. But this is honest me. And maybe even a little scared me. Shouting into the wind tunnel that is the internet, hoping not to get smacked in the face by it.

So here’s to wind tunnels. Thanks for listening.

3 Comments

  1. Very well said, Shoshana. Mental ill health can be a killer and a ruiner of relationships and careers more often because of how society reacts to it than because of the direct effects of the particular problem. More and more high profile people are ‘coming out’ about depression and suicidal thoughts – sports and TV personalities who have often struggled, like you, with fear of prejudice and discrimination if people knew.

    In the UK, Time to Change http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/?gclid=CKOX1qbAprUCFe_HtAodhB0A0Q has been campaigning for openness for some years and has been ramping this up lately with publicity for the so-called ordinary population about how to speak with people who seem unwell. Similarly, there is one about suicide prevention which is aimed at anyone who might come into contact with a person who is thinking of killing themselves http://www.prevent-suicide.org.uk/.

    This wind tunnel has an audience; if the audience is quiet it’s because it’s still afraid to speak or doesn’t know how. Courageous people like you help open doors and everyone now should be getting their foot in there to stop them ever closing again.

    More power to your elbow, girl. And remember this – that upward curve is a common one among creative people, as is the downward one. If you can harness both, you’re streets ahead of inventive the pack.

  2. Thank you for this brave, brave post. It feels like a momentous risk to be open about our own situations, especially when people who don’t understand them see them as limitations or liabilities. But openness takes an immeasurable pressure of those of us who have invisible disorders, if only because we don’t have to hide everything all the time. Being open helps keep us from taking on more than we can really handle, even though we do want to all things to everyone. Being open makes it possible for more of us to be open too, and that’s a benefit that changes the culture and has lasting impact.

    So take care of you, and the quality of your work and your spirit will continue to show through, maybe brighter than ever.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Shoshana. We go through our lives caught up in our own minds, often not realizing that those next to us might understand and support what we’re going through. Somebody has to speak out first, like you did today. I suspect that quite a few people will draw strength from your words. I know I have. It’s reassuring to know that being imperfect does not mean being alone.

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