Friday, January 22, 2010

Jungleland and Psychopharmacologists

Whenever life gets overwhelming for me (so far: every break-up, every jury trial, every move, every breakdown, and see below, a bad psychopharmacologist) I listen to Jungleland from Born to Run. The painful story of Rat makes me feel better. Mostly, though, I listen to it for Clarence Clemon's saxophone solo. I remember sitting on the couch in the Burrell's back room on 4th Street in 1981 and being told by Patty, Bop's older sister, on no uncertain terms, that this was the greatest saxophone solo of all times. (She is right.) The song is really long and really melodic. If you just stand there and listen to it, by the time the saxophone solo starts, you can let it cradle you, let it swallow you up, and no matter what else is going on, you can just let it hold you and pray it will never end. It's good that it goes on for a long time. The E Street Band, let the healing begin.

These days I am approaching mood control with the usual onslaught - exercise, meds - but also with a new-found devotion to my own happiness. Somewhere in the Fall it finally sank in that my husband did not give a shit what I did during the day as long as I was happy. He didn't care if I stared at an empty screen for six hours or painted the living room a hideous neon yellow. He didn't care. He just didn't want to come home to someone deeply unhappy. Everything in marriage and life works better when I am happy so I became determined to let nothing stand between me and my happiness. Nothing besides my job working three days a week as general counsel for a telecom company and the nutrition, hygiene and care of my children and general adminstration of the household. NOTHING.

So writing plays and sitcoms has been punted for now. Because these rejections - these frequent, florid rejections from every conceivable level of theatre and television on this island. I can't take them any more. When I moved here and tried to be a writer, I knew that at some point in the future I was going to have to call it: success or failure. Terrible. Failure plunges me into a horrible mood.

The other thing that plunges me into a horrible mood is the monologue of loathing, condemnation, abuse, perfectionism and hellfire and brimstone punishment that plays in my head all day. Yuck.

I don't know if other people have the same thing. I think a lot of people do.

I am combating the monologue on a couple fronts. First, I trivialize and laugh at it. (I just worked up a murderous rage against myself for not saving £4 on a pizza, how silly am I ) Second, I'm turning it down. Just turning down the volume. Not taking issue with it, just turning down the volume. Third, I am trying to remember compliments people have made to me in my life and trying to believe them. This offsets the toxicity in all the neural networks in my brain infected by the concepts of sin and judgment. Especially when I remember compliments that were also at the time statements against interest, which gives them heightened credibility, i.e., an ex boyfriend telling me I was the most magical person he ever knew, overhearing someone in a Washington gym say that they thought "Marilynn Monroe" when they first met me . . . Not sucking up compliments, but ones that could in fact be evidence in defense of the proposition that I do not suck.

I am working so hard at this because I think my son is picking up the monologue himself, subconsciously, preverbally, whatever - perhaps I have passed on to him some genetic predisposition to be disappointed in himself. But maybe its learned, and if it is learned, I have to try to not teach it to him inadvertently. Is there no end to the hard work of parenting?

My son has trouble falling asleep, he quite often becomes very mad at himself for that, and for other things outside his control and small errors in ,say, violin. He sometimes has no perspective on what he has accomplished and fails to enjoy his accomplishments. It's like some adrenalin of condemnation instantly floods his body whenever someone says anything to him that could be a criticism. It could be cortisol. According to a very interesting book called Why Love Matters it is.

So I am trying to stem the cortisol flood in my lovely little narrative junkie, my son, doing the same things for him as I am trying to do for myself. I sort of try to heal myself at the same time. It is improving the situation.

This kind of constructive improvement is phenomenally more useful than my attempt late last year to find a new psychopharmacologist. I found one, and he did not change my opinion that the doctors who deal psychotropic drugs are huge losers. Sitting around writing gossipy letters to other doctors, so gleeful to be in the "not crazy" category while "crazy" people walk in the door. Priority one for every psychiatrist is their professional reputation. Priority two is keeping themselves in the "not crazy" category. Really interacting with patients about their despair is prioritized somewhere lower than having a nice lunch.

This is all very unhelpful to me and anyone else determined to bring all of her strength and intelligence to bear on the alleged problems inside her mind. When it comes to meds, it's all about experimenting to find the right drug for you, if any drug at all, it's all personal experience. But somehow shrinks here think they can assess my experience without asking me questions. For the guy I saw in December, I wrote a four page history of my mental health including a fairly precise history of meds I have tried and provided it to him prior to our meeting. We met, and he said he had read it, but it quickly became clear that he had not read it.

I swear, the problem with people knowing I have a bipolar diagnosis is not how I act, it's how they act. People feel entitled to not really listen to you. Or at least take what you say seriously. Actually, I don't know if they feel entitled or it just comes across that way. Maybe they're scared. I certainly have dealt with people who have been terrified of me because of the diagnosis. I think those are the people who are scared of the crazy in themselves. It's lovely not to have that fear myself anymore. In the story of my life, punctuated and soothed by Jungleland, learning not to be scared of what is in me has been an enlightening and expansive lesson.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Draft Email to Geoff Dyer

Many thanks for your article

As an American living in Cambridge I feel so very vindicated by your article. I have had a truly inconceivably difficult time interacting with people in the British culture over the last eight years, as chronicled in a somewhat unfortunate manner on this blog.

And you seem supremely observant of this culture clash so please I have a question for you.

You write that the working assumption underlying interaction in the UK between people is that people have a "barely contained loathing" of each other.

Is the assumption correct? That is what I am dying to know.

On one hand, the British culture created the Daleks. Creatures popular and evil whose defining characteristic is an unreasoned violent hatred of mankind. One does wonder.

On the other hand, this is the culture that created Dr. Who, a 906-year-old superhero so wonderful and good that he makes the American Jesus look, well, the tiniest bit like the Southpark Jesus. Your ideas of goodness with regard to basic human decency are much better developed than ours, you know, more war skeptical, less nationalistic, more basic human rights, the death penalty.

So underneath everything, do Brits barely conceal loathing for each other, or do Brits just assume that everyone else loathes them while they love everyone else?

Could anyone from either culture make sense of the previous sentence with its many cowardly pronoun choices?

But when people are drunk and confiding in me in Britain, it amazes me that the story closest to their hearts that they want to tell in those lovely moments is so often a story of shame, of stinging regret and embarassment lived over and over again, the memory of some stupid words spoken. You - They - The Brits - are so truly horrified by causing offense. Shame is a nasty thing to have pinging around your system, its toxic, and I fear people in this culture have way too much.

And could you please comment on which way does the clear Brit superiority in actor training cut? I mean, maybe people from the British culture are exceptionally good at acting just because their daily ordeal of interaction with humans and concealing loathing works as kind of a Pilates reformer on their emotional muscles. It would explain a lot of how I feel I am treated in this culture.

But maybe they are good at acting because underneath everything they are so tender-hearted and want love so badly, and feel love so strongly that they are superhumanly observant of the human condition.

I note that the pronoun slaughter is still bloodying your computer screen and for that I apologiz(s)e.

The latter explanation would account for the Beatles and all the great Irish plays and Shakespeare and the existence of Dr. Who.

Please let me know as soon as possible.

Kind regards