it’s not delivery, it’s decisions

In Health and Wellness on December 15, 2014 at 8:22 pm

“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can.” – Lucille Ball

There are a lot of quotes about knowing your limits that posit the notion that those limits are then a new baseline for the inevitable growth that comes with self-awareness. It’s the more appealing option, of course. Thinking you’re only going to get better in the future is the basis of business for self-help books, diet plans, and gyms. There are no seminars on just staying where you are. You can change; you can surpass limits.

Except that’s not what limits means. It means the end. No matter how increasingly nebulous the edge of the universe becomes, there is still an edge. I know my limits. I know what I can and can’t do. And while I think there is always room for self help, it’s also important to know what you should just let go.

I had back surgery in 2012 and at about 4:00 AM, the nurse said I had to empty my bladder before the doctor saw me in a few hours. I said, great, unhook me from these excellent drugs and I’ll pop in the loo. With the carefree nature of someone who got to pee in toilets, the nurse laughed. She handed me the bedpan. I said, “I won’t be able to go in this.”

She’s heard that before. (Probably) no one really enjoys going in a bedpan. She said that everyone says that until the catheter’s brought out (a straight catheter, because I had not planned on staying the night and therefore forgot to bring my own).

I tried. I tried for 45 minutes. I tried leaning forward. I tried leaning back. I tried thinking of waterfalls. The nurse ran water in the sink. I tried to do whatever it is I imagine women having babies do. The only thing that bedpan did was make an semi-permanent butt tattoo. When she brought the bedpan, I already knew what was waiting for me. A straight catheter from me to an almost-not-big-enough bowl for an entire SportsCenter Top 10. I can’t make myself pee in the woods, so when I say I can’t pee in a bedpan, I’m not lying. My peeing limit? A port-a-potty.

Similarly, I knew riding the bus by myself had the potential for disaster. My first day of first grade, I got on the wrong bus and ended up riding the entire way until the bus driver turned around and found a tiny girl with a Lionel Richie poodle mullet realizing she had made a huge mistake. Fortunately, even though this was before the time of cell phones or pagers or even caller ID or call waiting, I was reunited with my mom back at the school, where my mom asked me how I could possibly stay on the bus the entire time without saying anything to the driver. I don’t know. It never occurred to me.

That lesson stayed with me when I decided to take my first solo ride as an adult, a New Year’s Eve where I lamed out early and decided the best solution to the variety of issues complicating this decision (no car, only person leaving, lameness, etc) was to take the bus. The story of that bus trip and the rest of my journey home is a story for another day, but trust that I missed my stop and accidentally rode to the end of the route and ended up walking 3 miles home through Mt. Airy Forest. My bus riding limit is obviously the last stop.

Everyone loves getting pizza delivered. No one likes ordering pizza. I hate ordering pizza. I hate that I have to call to order my favorite pizza instead of ordering it online. I hate ordering pizza for more than two people because it involves endless choices of crust/sauce/toppings and doing math and compromising, which is all time better spent eating pizza. I have never ordered pizza for more than four people. When I go to a #Pizzanati outing (two pizza lovers on a quest for Cincinnati’s best plain pizza who let me tag along), I often order my own pizza just so I don’t have to participate in the nightmare of a 10-person order.

It should come as no surprise that my recent experience of ordering pizza for 30 people crashed and wood-fired burned into the ground – a disaster of near-Hindenburg proportions. I won’t go into details but the absurdity of how much pizza I ordered will now be in my personnel file, which I understand is the grown-up version of a permanent record. My pizza-ordering limit? Four people.

I learn from these life experiences, slowly. Sometimes, I learn that what I thought was my limit was porous – I now ride the bus alone to work and back. (Maybe someday I’ll set a new limit is riding the bus alone to anywhere else.) Often, I learn that some limits are just that: limits. Why push limits that are inevitable when I can concentrate on building upon what has no ceiling? I generally know where my time and energy is best spent. There’s nothing wrong with acquiescing to a limit of little consequence (although in my case, the matters of little consequence usually find their way to chaos) in favor of reaching for the nebulae of life.

And for the last piece of my own pizza.

infinite shades of grey

In Communication, News and Politics, Relationships on December 7, 2014 at 4:23 pm

I hate writing about racism. I’m white (with just enough Potawatomi to have some melanin but not nearly enough to get followed around department stores), and it feels inherently dishonest to offer an opinion based on my unavoidable ignorance of the experience. It is like my refusal to see a male gynecologist because their female counterparts immediately have a leg up on you, knowledge-wise (no pun or disturbing mental image intended).

But the problem when the only people who talk about racism are the people who experience it, the audience is limited. The very ears who need to hear about racism are less (albeit increasingly) likely to be near the mouths of those who live it every day. I am certain that I know plenty of white people, probably many I call friends, who never talk to any black people. Not necessarily out of racism; it’s just that the circumstances of their lives rarely cross, because this city is so segregated that you can live your life without ever interacting with a person of color.

That whole bunch of unnecessary chatter is the tl:dr of this sentence: I’m going to write words on this page about racism.

The story of most recently Eric Garner and starting with basically the first black people to set their feet on American soil is beyond heartbreaking. It’s pure horror on the level of the Holocaust. The collateral damage- physically, emotionally, economically, mentally, socially – it throbs through the nation with the subtlety of a migraine. My ancestors came to America from Canada and Finland long after slavery and never ventured south of Michigan, so I even have what so many consider a “Get Out of Guilt” card. (“Well, my ancestors didn’t own your ancestors. They were too busy pickling fish.”) But that non-existent card would still stay in my wallet.

I have no words for the injustice, the violations of Constitutional rights, the incompetent legal and governing systems that have spilled out of Missouri, New York, Ohio, and so many other uncomfortably similar situations erupting across the country. I can’t fathom the loss the families feel — loss of a loved one and loss of hope delivered by weak and insulting responses to life lights snuffed out by hasty gunfire.

What happens when you’ve aligned yourself with one side of an issue, it’s decided that there are only two possible sides. Everyone has to fall into one category. There is no gray. If you are with the victims, you are against the police. If you are with the police, you are against the victims (and I refer to Mr. Brown, Mr. Garner, Mr. Rice, and the hundreds or thousands who have experienced anywhere from mild denigration to the ultimate judgment as victims with careful and deliberate consideration, because their power has been eviscerated).

But what if it’s not that simple? What if you think these actions are heinous but you still want the police to be a positive part of the community. What if you wished that the police officers who say quietly that these incidents are not representations of their service would speak louder? What if we didn’t have to cling to one photo of a white cop hugging a black boy as the sole example of peace and love in a country of turmoil? What if everyone could be not on the side of the cops nor the side of the victims but on the side of both: the side of progress and dialogue and real understanding. The side of seeing the best in people, finding commonalities, expecting goodness and empathy and mercy.

There is no despair like the despair of hopelessness. The vacuum that followed the post-9/11 outpouring of love has left us with a black hole of compassion that, to borrow a pundit cliche, is exactly what the terrorists wanted. The nation intended to be a melting pot is separating itself as oil from water. No one, including me, wants to talk about racism and privilege or face our own preconceived notions about who we are, what we believe, and whether we are willing to admit that we are never as open and kind and tolerant as we imagine ourselves to be.

That is the tl:dr version of: we have to talk to each other.

We have to have every version of “the talk” that is uncomfortable and dreadful and stomach knot-creating with everyone who is different, everyone who is similar, everyone who is a complete unknown, because it’s only by getting to know each other that we stir the oil and water. It’s only by listening that we feel another’s pain. It’s only by speaking that others know our story. It’s only through cooperation that we rebuild what we’ve broken. It’s only through love that anything changes.

I didn’t want to write about racism because I didn’t feel like I was qualified, and I’m still less qualified than if not most, at least many. But there are some jobs with no qualifications and no requirements: listening in the midst of chaos; speaking in the midst of silence; stirring the bubbling pot; writing words on the interwebs (the pay is about the same, too).

Like finger mustache tattoos and washed-silk track suits, even the most ludicrous ideas can catch on and ripple across a nation. A few people talking here and a few people talking there, and eventually there’s an immeasurable shift. Then another minuscule step forward. And like all great progress and social change and revolution, the words will gain momentum until we have no choice but to confront the elephant in the room.

Incidentally, the elephant is grey.

the chronic

In Health and Wellness on November 18, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I was sick this weekend. Not the sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching kind that afflicts so many commercial actors and NFL players. Not the had too much fun Friday night and spent the weekend mourning my liver and wishing I could cut my head off of my body because that would hurt less. Not the XX-hour flu that tries to determine if your stomach can be turned inside out and negates the need for sit-ups for the next month. This was more like herpes.

I don’t have herpes (except the cold sore kind). But I do have bipolar and I’ve used this analogy before. I’m viscerally averse to going into details of the darkness of bipolar because, well, I hate pity. I feel strongly about not using my disease as an excuse for poor behavior, whether it’s hurting someone’s feelings or fucking up a project or hating everyone in the world once I start driving. To ensure that I’m not dismissed (or assumed inferior) because I experience the symptoms of an illness no one can see or even comprehend, I don’t talk about the lows.

But after this weekend, I am going to tell you what it’s like in the dark. There are so many people silently suffering and there are too many people who have no idea what people with mental illnesses experience and therefore dismiss or assume them inferior. The ignorance and stigma are touching all parts of society, from poverty to gun violence to the penal system and still no one talks about the elephant in the room. And so, let’s get pachyderm.

When starlets are admitted to the hospital with exhaustion and it eventually turns out they are mentally ill, they aren’t really lying. Exhaustion is the first and most overwhelming symptom. Upon waking Saturday morning, I already felt the weight on my chest. Getting out of bed and into the recliner felt like a major accomplishment worthy of a medal or at least a certificate with quality paper and color printing. Despite sleeping 9 or 10 hours, I felt like I’d been awake all night. My eyes featured the expected bags and circles associated with fatigue or a date with Chris Brown. If someone had seen me in that state, they would have just cause to believe I was a zombie and should have alerted the authorities (AMC).

The exhaustion doesn’t leave; instead, it’s joined by its partner in misery, pain. Yes, physical pain is a symptom of bipolar (and depression). It’s similar to the dull ache of the flu (in fact, I took my temperature, thinking I had waited too long on my vaccination), but tighter. My body naturally curls into the security of the fetal position and my muscles twitch like they are shaking off a spider. Stretching has the effect of getting a freshly unrolled poster to lie flat. Whatever temporary relief results from my made-up version of yoga is as delicately held as a snap bracelet. I’m wearing layers not necessarily because I’m cold, but because it feels like extra protection against the cerebral demons.

As this was a particularly difficult episode, there was the sobbing – for no particular reason. Like a toddler past her naptime, the tears are merely the manifestation of the inevitable surrender. It comes from deep in my chest, tears that don’t start at the eyes but at the gut, and there is more heaving of shoulders than shedding of tears. Dumb & Dumber is on the television but it may as well be Schindler’s List. There is only one thing left to do: go to bed.

I have to take Valium to sleep on the best days (my insomnia goes back to childhood). An extra V for a deep sleep (my psychiatrist knows every detail of my pharmaceutical usage, so don’t worry about the extra 5 milligrams) is well worth it. I don’t drift off to sleep. I plunk into it like an anchor.

The epilogue: I felt a little better on Sunday but still not well enough to leave the house (besides an unavoidable trip to the grocery). By yesterday, I was in much better shape besides some spaciness that will linger until my Ritalin dosage is adjusted. I cancelled both appointments that I had on Saturday, both of which were good and fun appointments, not the dentist or car maintenance. But as I remind myself in the lows, this too shall pass.

This post will probably surprise some people – the people who generally just see the goofy, cheerful, vivacious Dale who is as essentially me as is this weekend’s Dale. It will really surprise the people who don’t know much about mental illness. To those people, let me add: while my bipolar is severe, I am about as stable and healthy as is possible. This weekend happening 1 to 3 times per year is the best-case scenario for a person with bipolar disorder. And I am a rare bird among the flock – most struggle far more intensely and far more often. I am one of the lucky ones.

Mental illness is a chronic disease. There’s no cure. It never goes away. There is no combination of medicine and therapy and stress avoidance that will eliminate weekends like this. I often say that bipolar isn’t necessarily fatal (although it can be – it has the highest suicide rate of any mental illness), it is terminal. You will have it until you die. Just like herpes.


More quick facts about bipolar can be found here if you’re interested.


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