Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Applying for Jobs Feels Like This

I learn my name
I write with a number two pencil
I work up to my potential
I earn my name
I come when called
I jump when you circle the cherry
I sing like a good canary
I come when called
I come, that's all

Send it up on fire
Death before dawn
Send it up on fire
Death before dawn

I clean the house
I put all your books in an order
I make up a colorful border
I clean my mouth
'Cause froth comes out

Send it up on fire
Death before dawn
Send it up on fire
Death before dawn

Still Busy, Still Something

Let me get this job application process out of the way and then I'll be back to my old self.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quote of the Week

"If Congress has the right under the constitution to issue paper money, it was given them to be used by themselves, not to be delegated to individuals or corporations".- Andrew Jackson

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday Video

I'm not normally a beach person, but I love the song.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Plea for Sanity

This morning I watched a right-wing pastor lecture his ample flock about the sins of the world. Any time I see someone espousing that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, I bristle. His smug, condescending, and angry opinions were what I objected to most of all. Had he been speaking from a liberal perspective, he would have quickly been discounted from several corners as a dangerous radical spewing dangerous, anti-Christian theology. Still, rather than raising my own blood pressure unnecessarily, I sought to understand rather than react in kind.

To a great extent, preachers like these reflect the hostility that comes from uncertainty and discontentment. Since I've been back home, I have seen several people in a multitude of parking lots who get visibly upset when they observe my Obama bumper sticker. And I can't help but wonder if they really understand why they're supposed to be outraged to such an extent. Fox News peddles a collection of soft news and fear-based, sensationalist, sardonically titled news stories, each of which attempts to prove conclusively how liberals are destroying the country. If you watched that for any length of time, I can imagine you'd feel pretty impotent and angry.

If we were really honest with ourselves, liberals and conservatives both would acknowledge that we don't want government to run our lives. Or, if we were even more honest than that, we would admit that we don't want government to make us do anything we don't think we ought to do. But we would then also have to admit that, contrary to what we have just stated, we also believe government should take some degree or another of an authoritarian role in our society, else others not act on behalf of their own best interest. Anytime I hear a conservative tell me that government works for them, and not the other way around, I am amazed at the degree of cognitive dissonance that exists in that statement. Conservatives have no problem telling women they can't have abortions or young women that they can't have access to birth control. In their opinion, governments ought to step in and reinforce that belief with laws and regulations. See what I mean about cognitive dissonance?

The snarky pastor I saw on television this morning made me wish for Billy Graham, whose humility was never in doubt and whose easy grace and charm made him a spellbinding speaker. I didn't always agree with the man, but I never doubted once that he was a class act. When I look around me what I often see is anything but class or rational thinking. I can't imagine that anyone seriously contemplating taking up arms or hoisting a pitchfork should be anyone's bastion of rationality, but if this is symptomatic of the times we live, I'd rather we took it down a notch and started asking ourselves some serious questions.

No one said we had the right to have things exactly the way we wanted them forever. And no one certainly promised us inflated dividends and profits from our stock portfolios, either. A friend of mine mentioned the other day that he's lost half of the value in his stocks over the last year, but he acknowledged as well that 20% of it was speculative bubble profit and not even real to begin with. So rather than building a vicious cycle of displaced worry, might I suggest we might keep a sense of class and decorum while we ride this recession out to its inevitable conclusion.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Patience IS a Virtue

If ever we needed a reminder that we live in an instant gratification society, we find full proof of it in our attitudes towards these troubled economic times. While it is true and absolutely irrefutable that people are hurting, unemployment is soaring, the Dow Jones is nowhere near stable, the banking system is in turmoil, and many large industries are utterly bankrupt, we would be well advised to heed the advice of our commander-in-chief and his inner circle. Be patient. Give us time. The change we need will not happen overnight. That in itself is not news. In short, it will take a good long while to pull ourselves out of this mess and we would be wise to pitch in and help, rather than stand on the sidelines and gripe.

Maybe it isn't the everyman or everywoman who misunderstands this basic fact of all economic crises. President Obama's still-soaring approval rating is evidence of that. Perhaps it's the talking heads, pundits, self-professed experts, and GOP legislators who look to find fault with everything to suit their own ends and justify their own existences. Perhaps I personally am sick of seeing alarmist tracts, defeatist articles, or opinion pieces masquerading as the God's honest truth in the mainstream media or on the twenty-four hour cable news networks.

It has been fashionable these days to draw the comparison between Obama's accomplishments in his first 100 days in office and FDR's reforms made in the same period of time. To an extent, this is a somewhat fatuous comparison, since the crisis that existed in 1932 is ten times as severe as that which exists now: twenty-five percent unemployment, a bank panic consuming every state in the nation, impotent, smugly sanctimonious leadership from the outgoing President, his staff, and his party, and a sense of paralyzing fear in everyone's mind that the country was quickly headed to the status of a third-world nation.

In reading Adam Cohen's new book, Nothing to Fear, which is a well-research summary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first three months and ten days in office, I came across a fascinating passage which underscores the difference in attitudes between the right and the left. Nowadays, the GOP leadership believes that opposing Obama and the Democratic majority on every front is its only way to remain in the public psyche and, for that matter, stay relevant to the debate. In 1932, by contrast, only outgoing President Hoover maintained any belief whatsoever in the old ideas that had proven disastrous to the country and the world. His staff had been attempting, to the best of their ability, to get Hoover to enact even the most modest reforms to stem the bleeding. Hoover stubbornly wouldn't go along with any of it.

The nation expected Roosevelt to claim the powers of a dictator, or close to it. Senator William Borah, the legendary Progressive Republican from Idaho, had announced that he was willing to put aside partisanship and politics" and "agree to give our incoming President dictatorial powers within the Constitution for a certain period." Senator David Reed, a mainstream Republican from Pennsylvania, had declared, "I do not often envy other countries their governments, but I say that if this country every needed a Mussolini, it needs one now." Even Walter Lippmann, usually a voice of studied moderation, was insisting that the use of "'dictatorial powers,'" if that is the name for it---is essential."

While it is true that times then are not times now, I still find it incredible that anyone would propose with a straight-face that Democracy ought to be temporarily suspended in favor of a autocratic state. Today's Republicans may be true believers in failed policy, but good luck trying to get them to admit it. Back then, Republicans had lost faith in everything, even their own treasured ideals. As much as I would like to see that happen, if we have to have another Great Depression to arrive at that state, I'd rather pass.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today's Been A Washout

I have been so busy with other things that I haven't had time to write a decent entry today. My girlfriend misses me and wishes to have me relocated permanently in DC as soon as she can, so she has provided a list of around fifty to sixty different places to apply. To say that I have my work cut out for me would be a vast understatement. The problem with attaining employment is that my work history has been very spotty due to frequent hospitalization. I've had several jobs, but I've also lost more than a few because I've had either a depressive or manic episode.

My backup plan was to record another performance video, but when tuning my guitar, a string broke. The soonest I can get a new string is tomorrow. Expect more later this week.

As I do so often when in a pinch for something to blog about, here's a short story I wrote some years ago.


I don’t like you, mustache man.

When I was a boy, the family would visit my grandparents every weekend. They lived in a small textile mill town out in the country. Most Saturdays were spent in the nook of a large oak tree. The bark was scaly and crumbled in your hands as you pulled yourself up to the top. A strange smelling, sappy black residue clung to your hands; it took much scrubbing with soap to make it go away.

My Aunt had a prison romance. He was ugly and hairy and they produced grotesquely obese children.

The mustache man was one of these. He said, open your mouth boy open your mouth. He was instructive. Rodent face. Red flushed cheeks. Gangster smile. Cracker dialect.

Grandfather said, “look at the difference between the red oak and the white oak. The leaves of the red oak are jagged like the red man’s arrow points. The leaves of the white oak are round like the white man’s bullets.”

Don’t play in the well. Don’t taunt the dogs.

Jerome said this. He spray painted his name across the doghouse. He was older than you.

While it is true that such things happen everywhere. It is true that sixteen-year-old girls get married and remarried to the same aimless boy and then pop out two unwanted children in rapid succession. Girls in rodeo clown makeup with light blue cheeks. Orange faces. Girls who don’t know the meaning of “understated”, in life or in artificial pigment. Can’t even spell the word.

Don’t play near the old well.

The top was secured shut with a piece of scrap iron and dusty with red clay. The fire ants ran beneath your feet and invaded rotting crab apples.

Reading crackly old encyclopedias with yellowing pages stuck together with the adhesive of neglect and time and no air conditioning. Forty years old with no color pictures, no entry on sex other than to distinguish between penis and vagina. The Civil War was labeled War Between the States, The. On the mantle was a gray ceramic cup commemorating the centennial of the conflict.

So you sat quietly in what had formerly been your aunt’s bedroom. It was bare except for a brown vinyl covered sofa with stuffing leaking from the divet hole. A quarter sized massive cigarette burn.

Mustache man, you were there. You were the one in the bedroom with the cheap white-washing and the closed-in side door.

You can’t go out the back anymore.

Ruddy-face intoxication open your mouth boy open your mouth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ode To My Father

I hardly ever know what I'm going to write about when it comes time to put keystrokes to monitor. Sometimes I get a flash of inspiration the night before and write my entry out then. Often the topic is yet to be determined until I scour the news with my omnipresent two cups of morning coffee. This topic, quite unusually, came when I was discussing, with a woman at the gym, the role that fathers play in our formative years and how they influence what it is that we believe.

My father has remained an enigma for me my whole life. Since I was old enough to understand, I have noticed how he has maintained a perplexing step towards right-wing ideology and a step towards left-wing ideology, rendering him one of the strangest moderates I've ever encountered. In college, for example, he double majored in both Criminal Justice and Counseling. Dad deifies Ronald Reagan but also served on the board of Planned Parenthood when I was a child. He campaigned for George H.W. Bush during his successful 1988 run for the Presidency but by 1992 switched allegiances and lobbied hard for Ross Perot. Before my birth, as a prison warden, he sought to bring liberal prison reforms to a stodgy profession full of good old boys and as a counselor in Alabama's Byzantine public health system he aimed to adopt progressive treatments and humane measures to better aid alcoholics and drug addicts.

I could keep going. One could call his pursuits an attempt to straddle the fence or call him a true believer in cognitive dissonance. Truth be told, I often don't know the reason for his justifications and rationalizations and I don't expect to understand him ever. He could rightly be called an activist and reformer in his own right, but that's a title he would never adopt for himself nor seek. His anti-intellectual streak is on full display for all to see in this regard.

The conversation about fathers worked its way around to talking about how often our fathers cried in public. The only time I have seen my father cry was when the family visited the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, DC. This was the first time I went to DC, back in the mid 90's, the summer before my freshman year in high school. A friend of Dad's from high school who grew up in the same little east Alabama border town as he did perished in combat. Dad wanted to find the man's name on the monument. As the story goes, the friend was out to prove his manhood so he volunteered for the Marines, knowing he would deliberately be placed out on the front lines. In another reminder of how cruel warfare is, the guy took one step off the helicopter transporting him to the battle that was raging at the time, was hit immediately with enemy fire, and died instantly. I never knew any of this until that instant. Dad never really wanted to talk about it. He hasn't since.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bad Ideas Abound, And Here's Another One

Anyone with a chronic illness often easily transforms into an activist with a cause, particularly when one has a pressing ulterior motive to see the development of more effective treatments and even daring to dream for a cure. Since I struggle with mental illness myself, I am always on the lookout for news stories like this. Shocking though this article is, I have to tell you from personal experience such things are hardly uncommon.

I've seen firsthand what happens when psychiatric patients are thrown together with addicts in an acute hospital setting. The results are frequently unpleasant. Once I saw a fight break out between two patients, one psychiatric, the other addiction, over something as silly as an argument over a dinner roll. The quality of care suffers as well, particularly when nurses and staff have to referee potential altercations when monitoring patient conditions would be time better served. Thus, dumping mentally ill patients into nursing homes peopled largely with seniors who suffer from senile dementia and Alzheimer's is another very bad idea.

In the past, it was believed that those with severe mental illness had no chance of ever living a normal life. They were therefore institutionalized for years at a time, if not for the rest of their lives. This gave rise to the sanatorium and the iconic images of gardens, well-tended lawns, and a bucolic respite from the bustling city in the quiet of the countryside. Such things do not exist anymore. With more effective treatments available from both medication and therapy, these places were shut down. Still, just shutting down an institution doesn't mean that mental illness goes away.

There are still lamentable psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, for example, that modern medicine still cannot effectively treat with much success. A goal of being able to live a normal life for someone who is delusional or severely psychotic is not very feasible. This is what has given rise to dumping mentally ill patients in nursing homes. Without a family willing to care for them or without a knowledge of more effective treatment options worthy of pursuing, the close family of someone with severe mental illness often believes that institutionalization in a nursing home is the only option remaining.

Many state mental hospitals, as mentioned in the article, have also closed their doors as well. This is largely a result of the fact that many were often poorly-funded, badly run, under-staffed, decaying with age, and thoroughly unpleasant for all. The state of Alabama maintains Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, but its barbaric conditions have been well-documented and the most it keeps a patient at any time is ninety days by court order. This creates a severe problem when patients spend three months inside, are released, have nowhere to go, live life on the streets as a homeless person, are rearrested, and then summarily sent back to Bryce. For many, this process is a revolving door that continues for years, never satisfactorily resolved.

Psychiatric beds in conventional hospitals are often in short supply, since in-patient hospitalizations for mental illness have increased with time. This creates a multitude of problems but two of them, in particular, are that patients are summarily pushed out and discharged before they are well enough; the other is that when beds do not exist at a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit of a conventional hospital, caretakers look for other options, nursing homes being a major one.

No system is perfect, but we could certainly be doing much better than we are. Much misinformation exists about mental illness, particularly among the undereducated and the poor.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Quote of the Week

"It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: After a heavy rainfall, poems titled RAIN pour in from across the nation."- Sylvia Plath

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Video

Because everyone loves manic depressive folkies, that's why!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Another Busy Day

In response, I offer to thee the latest performance video.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm Still Not Sure How I Feel About This

Transcribed directly from the invitation:

10 Year Class Reunion- Class of 1999
Theme: "Let's Party Like It's 1999!"

Saturday, August 8, 2009
7:00-11:00 pm

$75 per person. (Children not recommended) Date or guests invited for the additional ticket price.

Hor d'oeuvres, Drinks, Valet, and Music provided. Cocktail chic attire requested.

I might go. I just don't want to wear a suit and tie.

*Does the Happy Dance*

Dear Six-Word Memoirist,

You're getting this email because we're working on our next book of Six-Word Memoirs, and we like [at least one of] yours a lot.

Thanks for sharing your stories!
-Rachel Fershleiser
(six-word memoir co-editor)

I'm a finalist!

In other news:

I'm not sure what to add to the AIG shitstorm that hasn't been said a million times better by someone else. Due to medication side-effects, my stamina for intellectual pursuits is not what it normally is. Rather than fighting against it and likely drafting something sub-par and full of grammatical errors, it's best to wait until I am more like my old self.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Here Some Politics Being Played

Currently a Democratic representative to the U.S. House, Artur Davis intends to run for Governor of Alabama in the next general election, which will be in November 2010. If elected, he would be the state's first black governor. Predictably, he is also moving to the center, even if moving to the center means criticizing President Obama, who, I should add, he knows personally because they both attended Harvard Law School, and while law students and contemporaries they became friends. Davis was one of the first politicians of any heft to publicly endorse Obama, back when everyone was sure Hillary Clinton would secure the nomination in a cakewalk. Our current Republican governor, Bob Riley, easily won re-election back in 2006 by castigating his Democratic opponent as "too liberal for Alabama." Not wishing to be painted in the same light, Davis is beginning to make the first few steps to modify his platform in a transparent attempt to appeal to a largely conservative electorate.

As a representative, Davis had the luxury of not having to hide his liberal side or progressive qualifications. Running in a district gerrymandered specifically to give Alabama's sizable African-American minority a guaranteed representative in Congress, Representative Davis' number one concern while in office was in avoiding scandal, not in political posturing. He first won election to the office in 2002, displacing multi-term congressman Earl Hillard, who had been the epitome of the stereotypical race-baiting, corrupt, dubiously ethical African-American politician representing a minority-majority Congressional district. When faced with the real possibility that he would lose his seat, Hillard knew that he couldn't defeat Davis on his own merits, so instead he brought up the specter of race, accusing his opponent of being "not black enough". Sound familiar?

This recent tack towards the center frustrates me a little, though I am not wholly surprised, even though I saw Arthur Davis introduce Barack Obama here in Birmingham back in January 2008, when the now-President made a perfunctory campaign stop (and what turned out to be his only visit to Alabama) to shore up Democratic primary support prior to Super Duper Tuesday. Obama won the state handily, due in no small part to securing the black vote almost unanimously with just enough liberal white votes to take him over the top. As for the Obama-Davis link, both men have commonalities that go beyond their history as classmates at an Ivy League institution. Neither are the traditional Jesse Jackson Sr.-style black politician and neither apologize for their high level of education or erudite oratory skills. Both relied on a combination of white liberals and blacks to maintain their base of power and get themselves elected to high office.

Davis has my vote in 2010, provided I am still here then, but I am adopting a wait-and-see approach before I wager as to whether he has a chance of winning both the Democratic primary and the General Election. This is still Alabama, after all. Davis will be beaten over the head by whomever the good-old-boy GOP candidate is for his ties to liberal Washington and liberal Obama, and the jury's still out as to whether any of that invective will firmly stick.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Editor's Note: I have many errands to do since I have returned home so posting is going to be less substantial than normal. Thanks for your patience!

Though my mother's father was 100% Irish and as a result I retain many of the physical features of the country, including brownish-red hair and a generally pale complexion, I've never really known how to properly celebrate this holiday. My family never made much of a deal out of ethnic pride---most of my immediate relatives were either too busy making money or working at a textile mill. It seems most people, regardless of ancestry use it as an excuse to go to a party and get severely drunk.

At any rate, Happy St. Patrick's Day to all those who celebrate it.

And an unrelated performance video for you as well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Return of the Performance Video Post

My apologies for the sub-standard quality of this video. By the time I realized it had been recorded at this low a resolution, I'd already done a pretty good take of the song.

I'm also sorry I put today's post up so late. There have been so many things to do since I got back.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What Does Spirituality Mean to You?

I converted to Quakerism in part because I agreed with the minimal nature of worship. No stained glass, no ornate furnishings, no liturgy, no programmed ministry. These were elements of my religious past before which seemed like needless ritual; put simply, they interfered with my connection with God. As a matter of fact, I read later that the first Quakers felt this same way about the faith traditions from which they had come all those hundreds of years ago. This new way of worship that they developed was for them the right balance between spiritual and connected to God.

If I attend a traditional programmed worship service of another faith, it feels spiritual, but I feel a kind of disconnect, too. In retrospect, I realize that I always have. However well-intentioned it might be, the ritual gets in the way. My girlfriend, however, has a completely different response. Raised as a Quaker (though, as she points out, she is technically a Convinced Friend (convert) from the age of two onward, the pomp and circumstance of a traditional Christian worship service is interesting, but certainly not spiritual. Her meeting growing up was composed primarily of sustained period of silence, so she often finds too much vocal ministry extremely jarring and not centering. Whereas, when I came to DC, I deliberately sought out the most vocal meeting I could find, because to me, even though I have embraced Quaker worship, I still cannot reconcile complete silence with a connection to the Almighty.

I suppose the lesson to be learned from this is that God talks to me and talks to us in ways we might not have ever considered before, and the gift is to look for it whenever one can, and not limit oneself to where one might observe it. That's a challenge for me, particularly, that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

Quote of the Week

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.- George Moore.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Video

If you want
to go out?

I love this video because it was obviously shot on a very cold day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Brief Friday Post

I had every intention of writing a lengthy blog post today but other things intervened. For one, the bedtime panic attacks that have been the bane of my existence for the past week resumed and I spent most of two hours using deep breathing exercises and other learned behaviors to keep them from building into a full-fledged freak out. I had to do the same thing for the first hour of the flight home, though eventually the tightness in my chest and the associated sense of panic subsided before I touched down safe and sound. My psychiatrist back at NIMH assured me, right before she discharged me that they will go away with time, provided I don't have another hypertensive crisis.

The most immediate revelation I became aware of upon arrival is how much things have changed here in my absence. I, too, have changed. I am nothing like I was five months ago, since I forged a new life for myself in the course of the time I was there. I feel like a character in a war novel, returning home after months fighting at the front and returning to find that the town of his birth is nothing like it was before he was deployed. A succession of new faces, new relationships, new friends, new buildings, new surroundings, new routines, and the like have changed me forever. I'm not going to say that one can't go home again, but it does take a while to reconcile the person you've become with the person you were before you departed.

As for matters with the girlfriend I have left behind---well, matters will either resolve themselves or they won't. She, bless her heart, is convinced she will find me a job in the DC metro area. Though I would jump at the chance to go back up there to live and be with her, I am not going to jump into a major life decision like that impulsively. Relocating requires much planning, and having done it once before, I have no illusions about how much effort is involved. To use an old cliche, one must crawl before one walks. Sustaining employment, due to my illness, has been a challenge as has been having a sustained period of emotional health.

If I do move back, it will several months from now, I will have a guaranteed job, a place to stay, some semblance of health insurance, a psychiatrist, a therapist, and enough money saved up so that if I had to be hospitalized I could pay for it instead of ruining what little credit I have even further.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Traveling Day

Thursday (today) will be a busy travel day for me, so I'm actually writing this post late on Wednesday night. I'd like to thank my regular readers, blog friends, and those who leave frequent comments for being so wonderfully supportive. As soon as my life settles in to a regular routine back in Birmingham I'll resume leaving comments at everyone's site. By the time you read this, I will have signed my discharge paperwork, been presented with an award commending my service to modern medicine and psychiatric research, left the unit for the final time with bags in hand, and proceeded directly to the waiting arms of my girlfriend--with whom I will spend the several hours until time to leave for the airport.

By the time my head hits the pillow tonight I will be thoroughly exhausted. My last day in DC for however long it shall be will have been a microcosm of my time spent here---intense, eventful, interesting, thrilling, and exciting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The LAST Treatment Update

Tomorrow I am discharged and headed home. From start to finish, I was an in-patient here at NIMH for one week shy of five months. For the first few weeks, I was quite aware of how different this place is compared to Birmingham and my life there. Since I made a point to get out and about as much as I could, I almost feel like a DC native now. I keep up with local news, I ride public transportation daily, I'm aware of the history and peculiarities of many neighborhood enclaves, I often frequent cultural offerings, I attend First Hour nearly every Sunday morning at the oldest Quaker meetinghouse in the area, and at last count I've visited almost every museum, historic home, art cinema, bookstore, notable landmark, and also stopped by many of the restaurants, coffee shops, and trendy bars.

With time and with the assistance of a close friend who I grew even closer to as time went on, I've developed a social network of friends and fellow Quakers that I am understandably not looking forward to leaving. DC has much to offer in the way of culture and shared commonality in great proportion. I've felt a part of something larger than myself to a supreme degree I have never experienced before anywhere else in my entire life. I used to believe that I never would. Critical mass really makes all the difference in the world. Without it, one must experience the loneliness of knowing what one needs to find companionship and simply not having the necessary resources, nor the ability to reach out and connect with like-minded others. I used to believe that I was doomed to be out of step with almost everyone, but if being here for a long time has taught me anything, I am now aware that I at least know a place where I feel like I belong. I knew I would always have to go north to find it. In grad school, I took a class whereby one whole seminar's discussion focused on a prominent southern liberal intellectual historian who, while he found much to appreciate in his region of birth, never truly found contentment until he migrated north of the Mason-Dixon line.

My medication regimen upon discharge is as follows:

  • 30 mg of Parnate (anxiety, depression)
  • 1350 of Lithium (mood stabilization)
  • 500 mg of Seroquel (mood stabilization, sleep, and depression)
  • 8 mg of Rozarem (sleep)
  • 12.5 mg of Ambien CR (sleep)
A few minor problems have made my last week on the unit a little uncomfortable. After having the hypertensive crisis two weeks ago, I've developed a mild PTSD-related response, whereby the worry and anxiety I often feel when eating unfamiliar food makes me overly cautious not to have another one, which paradoxically creates a panic attack. Those of you who have had a traumatic experience know that the immediate effects rarely stop when the crisis is over. Effects linger. Two nights ago I spent three solid hours staving off one attack after another, which though I know how to neutralize them when they arise as a result of long hours spent doing Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, was a still a frustrating combination of very scary, tremendously annoying, and wholly time-consuming. Thankfully, last night was not like that and my hope is that this phenomenon will quickly subside. Perhaps ruminating about returning to Alabama has somehow fostered this or at least worsened the symptoms.

Sleep is often an issue for the manic-depressive and in that regard I am no different. Parnate causes a decrease in sedation and cuts down on the number of hours one receives from start to finish. This is why medications for sleep are often prescribed alongside an MAOI inhibitor even for those who prior to taking that class of anti-depressants have had no documented problems getting a restful night's shut-eye. Even with the problem my illness creates in and of itself, I have a long history of insomnia on my mother's side of the family, most of whom have some degree of mental illness, though they refuse to acknowledge it. Instead they drink away their worries, the way only those who are consciously unwilling to be self-aware can do. With my depression and bouts of mania, the onset of both occured relatively early on in life, so I have grieved them accordingly and made appropriate acommodations in my daily life. Severe insomnia, however, is a recent problem, and as such it still upsets me deeply when I think about how easy it was in an earlier incarnation to fall asleep without having to devote so much time and effort towards it.

Parnate has been a very effective medication, food reactions aside. Anything that allows me to get out of my head and not have to constantly negate negative self-talk and illogical intrusive thoughts is an absolute blessing. I will probably up the dosage slightly to 40 mg upon consultation with my Birmingham psychiatrist for an additional guard against anxiety, hoping to achieve an added level of protection against the panic attacks. Lithium will stay as is because I've reached the proverbial "sweet spot" of 1.0 blood concentration. Seroquel could be upped to 600 mg if sleep become more problematic again, and could even be increased as high as 1200 mg, though that would only transpire in an extreme case. A dose that high is used almost exclusively for schizophrenia, not bi-polar. Rozarem has been surprisingly effective in deepening my sleep, producing vivid dreams, and prolonging periods of REM. Ambien CR I have only recently started, but it hastens the onset of sleep and keeps me snoozing long enough that I feel sufficiently rested when I wake up in the morning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Which I Embrace My Feminine Side with Gladness

I have won the Sisterhood Award from Ms. PE Nolan of Menopausal Stoners. I accept with gratitude, since I consider her to be the older sister I never had.

I'd also like to thank Utah Savage, while I'm at it, for including me as one of her favorite men. She is one of my favorite women, as well.

The Rumor Hill

If you would believe the latest rumor, President Obama allowed $50 billion in earmarks attached to the stimulus bill to go deliberately unchallenged by his administration. The reason why, as the story goes, is that these pork barrel tack-ons were a de facto bribe/concession made to prominent lawmakers the Chief Executive needs on board to pass the more ambitious parts of his agenda. Since Obama has proven himself a shrewd politician, I wouldn't be surprised if this story has some truth to it. Establishing a universal health care system will require every vote and every friend the President can muster.

Even a casual observer of the democratic process knows it is a frequently messy affair. For example, one could take into account health care for the poor and the elderly. The Medicare/Medicaid divide, itself a part of another ambitious Democratic president's agenda, is an example of the kind of rough compromise that proves to be infuriatingly insufficient and wholly unsatisfying in the end. That is to say, Medicare is a completely federal agency, while Medicaid is a federally mandated, but state-run program whose efficiency is often directly proportional to the amount of tax revenue the state in question accrues. Wealthier states have effective Medicaid programs, while poorer ones often suffer in contrast. Though the first bailout bill contained a provision to establish parity between the two programs, which might help fix this gap in quality of care, I fully expect to see these sorts of problems in whichever bill seeks to give basic health services to the 48 million Americans who currently do not have health insurance at all.

Part of the problem comes down to the nature of needless complication and government inefficiency. The intent of these programs is not in question---rather it's the implementation. Each bureau has its own nomenclature, jargon, and unique buzz words. Many related agencies barely know how to talk to each other and if they do, the concentric circles of layer upon layer of hierarchy make reaching out to other related agencies a clumsy affair. Much of this is because people frequently love to be the masters of their own self-sustaining, self-perpetuating, important-sounding kingdom. I happen to know people in these hyper-specific fields who get downright indignant if one implies that their beautifully-written grant proposal or fiduciary statement does little to help the underprivileged people who need their basic social services the most. The analogy I like to use is that it's well and good to ask someone to read War and Peace until one recognizes, of course, if they haven't had the opportunity to even learn what the letters A, B, and C mean, there's no way they'll be able to understand the complexities of an already over-complex system.

In the meantime, I'll try to ignore the alarmist headlines thrown out by the media, each of which implies that every piece of legislation offered by the Obama Administration is on the verge of hitting some impossible impasse, and realize instead that while something will get passed, eventually, it will be imperfect and in need of immediate reform. Whatever does get signed into law--be it health care reform, a new policy towards Cuba, or even the most inane esoterica will be inexact and full of the kind of half-measures and irrationality that always result from a federal system comprised of fifty states each with their own internal agendas.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Quote of the Week

My apologies about this being late in arriving. My girlfriend and I are trying to squeeze every last ounce of time together before I depart for Birmingham on Thursday evening. Who knows how long it will be before I return to DC?

It is a pity that, as one gradually gains experience, one loses one's youth.- Vincent Van Gogh.

*I suppose my response is this. Stay young without being foolish and use the wisdom of age without becoming complacent and intractable.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

In Case You Need a Means of Comparison

(Click to Embiggen)

Regarding economic health, unemployment rate is the metric everyone seems to believe is the most indicative measure. As you will notice, unemployment rates have been higher than the current 8.1% at several times in this country's recent past.

The roughly seven to eight year period between the years 1892 and 1900 are what helped spawn the rise of organized labor. Unemployment spiked again shortly after World War I in the early 1920's when European nations no longer needed to purchase war materials. The Great Depression, of course, marked the highest period of joblessness, rising as high as 1 in 5 without employment. Sustained unemployment persisted through the thirties and only began to decline when World War II began in 1939. Job loss was as high as the current day in 1975, decreased to five percent by the end of the decade, then rose again with the early eighties recession to which this current downturn is being compared.

Or, in other works, don't let the hyperbole driven by the media and those who would seek to harness financial uncertainty for its own ends fool you. These surely aren't stable times, but neither are they as catastrophic as some would have one believe. We have made it through things worse than this before and come out on the end stronger.

Saturday Video

For my girlfriend.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I Changed My Mind

Though I am extremely busy today, I did want to provide a more substantive post. Here is one of my short stories, entitled "Bouncy."

sound over of conversation

lips smacking against cigarette filters. giggles. rustling of plastic bags full of pills. childish needless flinty flicks of lighters. all culminating in squeals of girls who saunter up to the bathroom with their lovers to dose, to swallow the necessary amount of water in the cheap plastic cups and upon doing so collapse onto sofas together in a heap of hair and rumpled clothing.

then fade in on where I’m sitting alone. she has witch tits emily and jessica say. they’ve been inseparable for as long as I’ve been a part of this group of friends. two years or more. I say what do you mean by that? they say well they’re all pointy and you know like cone shaped and I say ewwww gross

the lead girl the one who has been in charge of distributing the beans and will later emplore me to rub her head once the drugs kick in is named Maggie. the woman in question is a short order cook at the local bar and grille and wears jeans that smell of the residue of the trade hot grease warm toast fried anything. so Maggie is saying that I’m glad we’re all together tonight at my place and make yourself at home. though I really don’t know anyone don’t even really know why I’m even here tonight just that I didn’t have much else to do on a Friday night.

I’m self conscious about most things about myself including the black hair around my nipples and my arms and my knuckles that I used to shave away out of shame and now just let grow to spite my mother when she visits. when I was in high school she’d often say I don’t know why anyone so pretty would ever leave the house looking so ugly. not that I was ever the epitome of beautiful even when I tried to be fluffy and dainty. I’m rough as a board and as plain as one but I was never content to completely bull-dyke out and buzz my head and wear some hideously lopsided visor.

camera pulls out centering on the black light meant to accentuate the drug being taken. the lights dimmed now. nearly ten o’clock in the evening. the stale stench of charred tobacco wafting in now and then as it is a perfectly still night with no wind.

camera pulls overhead to me sitting alone solitary on the couch I dosed nearly an hour ago and I can’t say I know exactly what these pills contain other than I manage to catch the strains of other peoples’ conversations as though they were my own thoughts. for instance the pair next to me is currently vying for the title of world’s most annoying lesbian couple. loud and all over each other and cooing to each other about promises made of ultimate fidelity you remember hun that when we get older we’re going to china to adopt a baby one of the couple the brunette one with eyes like a doe dislodges, obviously intoxicated, slinks across the floor and asks me abruptly to guess one of her secrets

your secrets? I ask perplexed yes, my secrets sweetie she slurs and brushes a finger against one of my lips. well I say thinking I bet that you almost died when you were a child and instead of the intended or expected reaction to something that outlandish she grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me

how did you know that? who told you that? I’ve never told anyone that before tell me what powers you possess and quickly her partner drags her back from the issue with a deep kiss and everyone goes back to what they were doing. so I resume staring at the ceiling.

the ceiling is a high A frame that reminds me of the small baptist church mom dragged along to when I was a little girl. I would lie in her lap and lie across one of the uncomfortable unpadded wooden pews and stare at the majesty of the rough pine planks that seemed to tower towards heaven while at the same time smarting from the scrapes and scabs that inevitable crisscrossed both knees as a result of a Saturday spent outside playing in the woods.

camera focuses squarely on the center of the room Maggie claims that one of the group must be rescued. Maggie is always rescuing someone. usually it’s whomever she wants to sleep with but you don’t ask questions of Maggie. this is Maggie’s place, and her drugs and her food that she has thoughtfully prepared for the occasion

technically this is her grandfather’s place who few of us has ever seen he is apparently an eccentric old reclusive transvestite who just wants to be left alone. he scarcely leaves his bedroom and his only condition with Maggie is that she not let guys sleep over. this is hardly a problem.

I hear the loud rumbling of Maggie’s car departing the car has a broken muffler that she refuses to get fixed so as a result it is about as subtle upon entrance as she is.

multiple camera shots of women leading women hand by hand into bedrooms it is the time of night where the true meaning of this party becomes evident. there was a time I once defended Maggie you know she’s bouncy they’d said and I like a fool would deny it time and time again. you want to trust her everyone’s slightly in love with her and so I am I suppose. once this girl I barely knew threw herself upon Maggie. deep down inside I’m sure the snake-charmer does have a heart so she did take the opportunity to remove her bra one handed I haven’t lost my touch Maggie said satisfied but then quickly fell asleep next to the poor girl.

but at this moment camera zooms towards door the aforementioned dream goddess enters with a girl around her waist. Maggie surely does like the young ones this one can’t be more than seventeen at best and makes herself at home in front of the big screen television. flips on mtv . I just ate another bean on the way over Maggie says so what do you want me to do about it? rub my head she says I thought that’s what you got her for I say gesticulating towards the tiny body with eyeballs now glued to the screen.

nah she’s not my type she bores me so who is your type I ask skeptically well, maybe you tonight she says and without thinking I take her hand and walk into the bedroom the teen sensation scarcely notices we’ve left.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Don't Be Fooled. The Honeymoon Continues.

With the first batch of minor Obama Administration missteps and almost instantaneous Congressional friction with Republican lawmakers, the mainstream media was quick to pronounce the new President's wide favor with a broad cross-section of Americans little more than over. New polls released in part this morning speak otherwise. With 6 out of every 10 U.S. residents approving of President Obama's job performance and solid support among fellow Democratic senators and representatives, it appears that his only real popularity problems have arisen from the conservative base of the GOP, which would have never given its approval to any Chief Executive not of its identical stripes. The American people give a majority of their approval in Obama's exact means of handling of the economic crisis by slightly lower numbers, as well.

A commenter to yesterday's post brought up a very pertinent point. We have a great propensity to think that the solution which worked or might have worked for one period in the past will automatically fix the current crisis with which we struggle. In this line of thinking, the exact plans of a different epoch can be lifted exactly and precisely; to wit, they can be injected directly into a crisis without examination. No intellectual fallacy could be more deceptive, or, for that matter, completely wrong. Different times call for different solutions. We can use the past as a guidepost to some extent, but every system designed by human hands is transitory and thus under the dictates (some might say ravages) of the passage of time. What some might have called Nationalization or Socialism one-hundred-years ago would likely not be the best solution for our age. Conversely, what some have called Free-Market Capitalism or the Invisible Hand At Work might not be a curative to resolve our slumping economy. Only those who have no imagination or, worse yet, no conception of human progress, would ever assume that any system previous derived exists in a kind of vacuum, protected from time, and therefore somehow immune to evolution.

We elected the person we elected because we wanted change and he promised a kind of reform in which we could believe. It would be a fool's move to believe that labels alone could neatly summarize the sort of measures needed to transformation this country--measures which out of a kind of contagious desire to not rock the boat or slow the gravy train that we have long delayed. To borrow yet again from the prescient words of yesterday's commenter, those who believe in a kind of black and white fundamentalist political ideology fail to understand that a belief in absolutes begins a course which, followed fully to its disastrous conclusion, will eventually steer us directly into a ditch. Whether it be the left-side or the right-side is completely irrelevant---all ditches look the same in the end.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Change Because We Don't Have Any Other Option

Roger Simon over at The Politico summarizes the energy and scope of our do-a-whole-lot President.

As any of you who have been paying attention for the last two years might have figured out, Barack Obama is pursuing one of the most aggressive, sweeping legislative agendas since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first term. As Simon points out, he really doesn't have any other chance. Though he has run up against some opposition, I don't know how anyone with an aggressive change agenda would not ruffle a few feathers along the way. Something this bold is what I had been hoping for all along, but those with defeatist attitudes and bet-hedging disguised as folk wisdom used every rhetorical trick in the book to convince me that what I was seeking in Obama was totally unrealistic. They might have been right in any other year or any other epoch, but nothing about these times are typical or routine.

The Republican party, it nearly goes without saying, is in tatters, so much so that people (and the media) seriously think an obese blowhard, not an elected representative, is its de facto leader. Out of new ideas, the only strategy it has are the same old scare-tactics and its time-honored tradition of raising the specter of Godless communism, socialistic government excess, and a familiar return to righteous indignation towards perceived unrestrained, irresponsible Democratic tax-and-spend economics. Forgive me while I let out a hearty yawn. This blueprint is about twenty to twenty-five years out of date. It is no longer applicable to the current day.

Socialists like me have wished our government would adopt more oversight, more regulation, and more nationalized control for a good long while. While these steps move us somewhat closer to that reality, even these reforms stop well short at true socialism. These are reforms made primarily out of abject necessity, not idealism. In saying this, I understand that government is capable of both great good and great waste. But so too are the very corporations who got us into this fine mess, companies whose salaries and perks are delegated in a ridiculously top-heavy fashion while they have the gall to willfully neglect the salaries and deny basic benefits to entry-level and even mid-level workers under the pretense of cutting "waste". Our cultural expectations, not some kind of foreign standard at odds with the American mentality dictate each and every system; it would be pure folly to think the private sector possesses a kind of lily-white purity that government does not.

This is something I'd love for the rank-and-file GOP representative or senator to directly address instead of spinning a web of exploded myths. This is something I'd love for the right-wing radio spin doctors to ponder. This is something I'd love to posit to the latest Republican pundit on cable news peddling fear, doom, and worst-case-scenario instead of serving as the true Loyal Opposition. This belief that somehow business, and particularly big business is the solution instead of a government which in their minds is more along the lines of a festooning cancerous growth does not explain why we are where we are today. If not increased government, then what?

Government might never have been designed to function in this role based on a strict interpretation of the Founding Fathers, but if we went by that standard, slavery would still be legal, women would never have been granted suffrage, and any number of progressive reforms that few question the rightness of today would never have been enacted. What might be more accurate to say is that much in the way of established, guiding precedent for both the right and the left does not currently exist. We are, perhaps even more than we would wish to entertain, flying by the seat of our pants right now. Looking back, we can observe what has not worked and what likely will never work, but my prayers and fervent hopes rest on the judgment, flexibility, and persistence of our elected leaders.

I conclude with a familiar anecdote. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away abruptly in the first few months of his fourth term in office. A visible stunned Vice-President Harry S. Truman offered his condolences to the now-widowed Eleanor Roosevelt. He asked, "Is there anything I can do for you?"

Mrs. Roosevelt responded, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Enjoying the Snow From the Inside

This is a bit what last night looked like here in DC and likely what tonight will look like as well. Since tonight's low will be around 12 or 13 degrees and it will not get above freezing today, whatever falls or has fallen will stick around for several days at least. A slow-moving storm dumped about four to five inches on us overnight and into this morning. The roadways are a mess, but functional. Public transportation has plowed forward with no delays on the rail system and a few minor delays for the bus system. Before it concludes, we will have six to seven inches of snow on the ground, itself the largest snowfall in three years and quite a change from the last couple years, which were, as I have been told by natives, rather disappointing. The irony is that having spent most of my life living in the Birmingham metro area, I am used to getting late season snowfalls like this, which back home is the only time when any significant accumulation occurs.

Birmingham got 1-3 inches of snow Sunday morning, though it quickly melted because the day temperatures warmed to above freezing. Though many people both here and there are wishing for the arrival of spring, I have to say I am not one of them. I love wintertime and I also know that as fickle seasons are concerned, spring is the greatest offender. In the last several decades, spring has been transformed to only a stop-gap measure, a greatly abbreviated transition period between the cold of winter and the oppressive heat of summer. Summer is not my season and will never be.

Otherwise, I think I am more or less recovered from Saturday night's drama. One of the unforeseen products of that entire episode is that I think I am now even more fond of my girlfriend then I already was. Her devotion to me during that whole ordeal was itself a kind of tender strength, the likes of which I have rarely experienced from anyone before this instant. To be totally honest, I think I'm on the verge of falling in love and actually feeling something more permanent than infatuation. That will happen in its own way. For right now, I'm trying to live one day at a time.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Making an Intense First Impression

I suppose there is a sort of black humor involved in meeting your new girlfriend's parents over dinner, having all come off well despite a few early jitters, then having no choice but to conclude the night rather abruptly by being transported via ambulance to the Emergency Room. As I told the ER technicians upon my arrival, This feels like a bad romantic comedy.

I had a hypertensive crisis as a result of making a dietary oversight. Though I love cheesecake, I know I can never eat it again. My diet can tolerate certain kinds of cheese that are not aged but with the hindsight of nearly ten hours, I should have known better than to try to risk it with a restaurant food I neither made myself, nor fully knew about the ingredients beforehand. The first couple bites caused me to feel odd and if I'd had more sense I'd have stopped there, but I went ahead and ate the whole slice. Within two minutes of consuming the last of the cheesecake I got a huge head rush and felt instantly disoriented.

Having never had but one bad reaction like this before, one that culminated with an eight hour long headache at night, I wasn't aware that the effects of a reaction to the MAOI could feel quite this way. In desperation, I rushed to the bathroom to try to induce vomiting, which was the first response that came to mind, but I was unsuccessful in that attempt altogether. I'm not even sure that would have worked. A combination of tightness in my chest, light-headedness, sweating, and a rapid increase in pulse rate put me on the verge of panic.

As I sat down, I said the fateful words one never hopes to say to anyone's significant other: Honey, I think you're going to have to call an ambulance. Thankfully the medics were there within two minutes. As we were eating at Bethesda at the time, Suburban Hospital was literally two blocks away. E. rode with me in the ambulance. I was seen quickly upon arrival. Despite informing her parents before I was put on the gurney that I'd much rather they tend their own lives (since the whole situation was deeply embarrassing to me) they were good enough to drive down to the hospital and stay with me in the ER room for the duration of my time there. They didn't have to do that, but they insisted.

My blood pressure got as high as 150-160 systolic and 105-110 diastolic at its worst point, which is not the most awful it could be because a really terrible hypertensive crisis can run systolic as high as 230 and diastolic over 120. Still, the lesson to be learned from this is that I have no intention of ever reaching a point in the future again where a reading that high would ever become a reality. This hypertensive crisis was really more on the mild to moderate end, but if this is mild or moderate, I have no desire to see for myself what severe acts and feels like. Since I've been exercising daily, often my morning and afternoon systolic blood pressure pressure is down under 100 in normal circumstances and my pulse rate, which is normally on the low end (often no more than 50 to 60 beats per minute) was in this instance much higher than normal as well--at one point 120 beats per minute. Imagine how much higher both would have been had I not been doing cardiovascular aerobic exercise regularly.

I was kept in the ER for a couple hours to monitor my condition. Eventually, thankfully, my blood pressure and heart rate came down to safe levels and I was discharged. I got back to the unit around 1 and quickly fell into an exhausted sleep. As much as I've had to obsessively monitor what I eat before now, I'm going to have to be ten times more rigorous in doing so from today onward. If I have even the faintest fear that what I'm about to eat is unsafe, I simply will not take a chance at being wrong like last night.

Quote of the Week

"[On her abortion] It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard".- Dorothy Parker