Archive for April, 2009


Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Just one person’s perspective on the whole thing.

I was mis-diagnosed with several behavioral and developmental problems as a kid. Bi-polar disorder, dyslexia and epilepsy were some of my favorites, and none of them was even close to right. Which feeds the fire, somewhat, that these problems often go misdiagnosed and we might be relying on medication quickly to solve problems that require more attention than anything else.

There is an ugliness about medication in America, and ugliness that goes hand in hand with self-righteous ignorance. You can almost hear the sneer in people’s language when they say, “Just pop a pill and it will all be better!” There are aspects of this that aren’t all that destructive – for example, if you want to give birth and feel every single moment of pain, then by all means you shouldn’t take any pain medication. Or, if you feel like you want to lose weight simply by dieting and exercising, then by all means, don’t take any supplements that will help you burn calories or control your appetite.

There is a real problem, though, when you decide that it’s “bad” for me, if I want to modify the amount of pain I’m feeling, or the amount of work I’m willing to do in order to lose weight, just to follow the examples above. If I take painkillers and then deliver a baby, two years later, I’ll still have the kid, and I won’t have missed anything. If I take some supplements that help me get my weight down, and then I’m able to exercise more and get healthier, then in what way have I been immoral?

I understand that the argument is that these medications and supplements don’t actually do all that they promise to do, and that people are getting rich off our national obsession for the modification of discomfort and pain. I don’t think this argument has legs. People are getting rich off a thousand different things, it’s what makes our country work. As consumers, we know that it’s up to us to be informed, that Caveat Emptor is for us, not them. If the shit we’re taking doesn’t work, then we stop taking it.

Also, it’s much like my friend Ehren’s problem with the Amish – there’s no logical consistency. If you want no pain medicine while you give birth, then you should also probably not have a doctor there at all, logically. Don’t do it in a hospital, don’t have a baby fetal monitor, don’t go in for check-ups during the run-up to the birth. I mean, I don’t have this moral compass, but if you want a natural childbirth, the way the natural animals of the world do it, then you should probably just do it on the floor of your garage. That’s the logical conclusion for me. If you say, “I want all the benefits of modern science, I want the 4-D pictures of my baby in utero, I want them to save my baby’s life if there’s any complications… but I UTTERLY REFUSE to take pain medication…” well, that’s fine, draw the line wherever you want, but don’t pretend you’ve got some moral high ground, or you’re sticking it to the man.

When I was diagnosed with these various developmental problems, each time I tried to embrace it, but always knew it was wrong. I’m gonna try to break this down in as simple terms as possible.

My bipolar disorder diagnosis was due to the fact that my mood swings were wide and weren’t responses to stimuli. I would have prolonged periods of perfectly normal behavior, where I acted like a normal kid. Then, I would be paralyzed with depression – and it’s important here to explain that this isn’t “sadness” or “melancholy” or anything. I’d be unresponsive, I’d be in a room and feel like I was watching my life from the end of a long tube. I didn’t mope, I just couldn’t move fast enough, my mind was mush. When offered something that I wanted desperately, I couldn’t make it happen, when put in a position of extreme discomfort or pain, I couldn’t take any steps to move away from it.

Then, I would even out and be able to resume my normal life. This normal life included sadness, happiness, melancholy, satire, etc. If I failed a test or a girl dumped me, I would be sad, and I’d talk about it, or I’d cry, or whatever… but this is different than chemical depression.

Other times, my mind would race off the tracks. I’d sleep five hours a night, and I would start talking and be unable to stop. One might even say that, if I had a blog, I would start writing in it and find myself not even half-way through the thing having brought up topics so disparate and seemingly un-linked that a casual reader would stop reading after about the tenth paragraph. If good things happened to me, they did nothing to improve my mood, and bad things had no effect.

So, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I started to read about bipolar disorder and… it didn’t fit. These people were really, really sick. Yes, I had mood swings, but I was never a danger to myself, and although being obnoxious certainly hurt a lot of people’s feelings, I never lost sight of belonging to this family, this school, these people. I had something else.

It turns out there’s a word for it. Cyclothymia. Basically, bipolar lite.

Had I known about this when I was a child, my life could have been much better.

I’m going to edit down this next section, I just wanted to lay out the logic of mental illness before I got too deep into this.

I couldn’t pay attention in school, and I never knew what was going on. The teachers, my parents, everyone would occasionally scream at me, but it didn’t work. I assumed it was because I was stupid and lazy, and for the most part everyone agreed with part of that assumption. The problem was, every standardized test, I was off the charts. I was reading at a college level in grade school, and I ended up getting an almost perfect math SAT score.

I assumed this was because tests like that were designed for rich white liberal kids to do well on. Yeah, I looked around me and couldn’t figure out why my friends had such a hard time figuring stuff out that I thought was pretty basic, but they were getting good grades and, starting when I was about eleven, I was failing school completely.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I even went to special classes for dyslexics, and I just knew it was wrong. I kept thinking “these people keep getting numbers backwards and they can’t read… why am I here?” I was there because in 1983, nobody knew what the hell was wrong with me. Earlier, I spent a couple of years staring out the window and wouldn’t respond even when my name was being screamed at me, which led to the diagnosis of epilepsy. The teacher assumed I was having a “fit”.

I was 26 before I got my hands on “I’m Not Lazy, Crazy or Stupid”, and I remember reading it in the car outside my gym. I locked in on it, and it wasn’t until a stranger knocked on the window and asked me if I was okay that I realized I was sobbing.

I had a quarter century of rage and humiliation built up inside me. I had failed out of high school, failed out of the four colleges I lied my way in to, lost job after job, lost friend after friend, and now someone said, “Hey, you don’t have to underachieve. At all. You can achieve whatever you want. Go see a doctor.”

I did. I went to Duke, where they have a lab for ADHD. They had me take a test, a series of things so inane that I wanted to throw the computer out the window. There was a written portion, during which apparently I berated the guy giving the test. The things they were having me do were the kind of things an ape on methaqualone could do.

They gave me 10 mg of Ritalin to take the next morning, before re-taking the tests.

Look, I won’t be able to describe what happened. I didn’t know there were a thousand ideas running around in my head all the time, and I didn’t realize there was always one voice repeatedly screaming out some inanity that made it impossible for me to deal with the others. All I know is that I took a tiny amount of methelphenedate, and the voices stopped. And I recognized t
hem as my own voices.

When I went in to take the test, I made a conscious choice to take the test, and then I took the test. It sounds very simple, I know. But my whole life, I would sit down to do an activity, and then spend the entire time trying just to wrestle my broken brain to the floor, trying to make it focus on one thing. This time, before I even realized that I had consciously decided to take the test, I was taking it.

It wasn’t until months later, in therapy, that the guy giving the test described my hostility during the first day, the fact that I was mocking him for doing this for a living. My resentment and humiliation were more than I could control, I had a hard time even being a decent person. And, while on the medication, my life became something I could understand and control.

It wasn’t easy, I had fucked up a lot of stuff. I was in a horrible marriage, I was going to college, even though I was 25 and I wasn’t enrolled, I had given up my professional life in an effort to prove I was useless. I was deeply, deeply unhappy.

Because pills don’t fix things, and anyone who is on medication KNOWS that. Unlike devout followers of Jesus, we don’t think that simply TAKING the pills will fix the problem. For those of us with mental illnesses, the medication clears the path for looking at what’s really going on, and THAT’S when the horror show really starts.

I still haven’t dealt with the anger. I am still so resentful of the fact that I was allowed to fail so much for so long without anyone trying to catch me. I so quickly became an asshole that no teacher wanted to help me, and my parents were deeply distracted with their own horrible marriage and the needs of my siblings.

And I have lived for so long with the ignorant rantings of those who think a world without medication would somehow be more pure. Sure, I guess that’s true. I mean, the fact of the matter is, nobody in this world *needs* me to be successful or even alive. I’m not doing much of anything that matters, and neither is almost anyone else I know. But the effort I put into making something out of the shards of my life is time well spent, I may as well get my meds and *try*.

When you tell me that I’m just weak, or that these meds don’t help anyone, or that ADHD is invented, I guess I have to ask… Who are you helping? What are you trying to do? And how GOOD does it feel to mock a parent who cares deeply for their kid, enough to go through the pain and torment of doctors and tests and meds? What do you get out of trying to prove it’s wrong?

Carolina Wins #5

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

said, after the LSU game, that we proved we had what it takes, but…


Is there any comparison? The way this team played was so utterly
inspiring. This is a life-lesson team, this is a series of games that
you can *learn* some shit from. I remember when I first became a heels
fan (way after you guys did, I’m sure, and I have no defense for that
except to say, I wasted my late teens learning how to be an artist,
and only got on board once Ian wouldn’t let me go to college anywhere
else…) we would watch games, and I remember the satisfaction of
knowing we were doing it “right”.

Whoever we were playing, we would win, because we were doing it right.
They’d go on a run, and Ian would say, “everyone goes on a run, don’t
worry about it, Dean knows what he’s doing…” And sure, some asshole
would go nuts and drop 40 on us because he was exorcising demons, and
it was almost as if Dean was saying “we might lose this game, but this
kid’s gonna walk away feeling better about his life. That’s part of
the game, we’re not gonna double him five feet from the three point
line – We’re gonna play the right way. Period.”

When you’re a Carolina fan, you have automatic reactions to stuff. Ty
jacks up a three early in the shot clock, half way through the second
half, and we’re up by 20. Everyone in the room said, “We didn’t need
that.” The scrub runs the whole floor and tries to score in the final
seconds instead of passing up to a Senior, and that’s one of the
things we remember. Because we’re playing right, in the moments when
we’re not playing right, we notice.

The way this team finished, you wonder how we lost a game all year.
But maybe that’s the lesson. We don’t need to win every game, in life.

This was just amazing, amazing, amazing. Every team, we just got the
car to the best speed we could, and then we started working on our
mileage. Never cruise, never take your eye off the road, but don’t
feel like you have to gun it every time some jerk in a pimp-mobile
comes by. How many dunks did we have last night? One? I only remember
Wayne on a break away, other than that, we were like a kettle drum
that didn’t need a tuning key.

I wish I had enjoyed it even more, this season. I wish I had watched
knowing this was one of the best teams we’d ever have. 101-14 over
three years? Is that right? The best stretch in the history of

This team won, not in the way that sports teams normally win, but in
the way that science moves forward, one low-drama discovery at a time.
It almost made sense that Ginyard was wearing a tie, it was as if the
playing of the game was as important as the mind-set. Every game in
the tournament felt like surgery, and when the last game came around,
we were so good at it that a life-threatening procedure felt workaday.

I’m elated. I’m sated. This was just wonderful.