Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It Was Nothing If Not Colorful.

You all know me. I'm ALL ABOUT educating the emerging generations of impressionable young people by imparting upon them the wisdom with which I've been blessed (and cursed) through my rich and vibrant life experiences.

That's part of the reason why I think I'll make such a good therapist, especially to people with mood disorders, addicts and alcoholics, because chances are, either I've done it, had friends who've done it, relatives who died doing it, heard rumors about it, read studies on it or otherwise figured it all out, and while I do try and see the pot of gold at the end of any given individual's complicated rainbow, my Bullshit Radar is as sharp as a diamond cutting glass. 

This accelerated summer semester of Abnormal Psychology has been an exercise in divine chaos that I can safely say is reminiscent of the frantic pace with which I approached life BEFORE I was medicated for bipolar disorder. The pace has worn me thin (mentally...Physically, I've put on a few pounds.). The sheer amount of material to read on a daily basis is more than The Offbeat Drummer reads in a typical YEAR. Studying for and passing the lengthy exams has caused me to question my preconceived level of intelligence at the cost of being duly deemed "learning disabled" because I went to such great lengths to self-medicate my insanity in years past. Out of all of the course requirements, however, I was relatively certain I would have little difficulty successfully executing the following: the research paper and the class presentation.

We all bring forth different strengths and weaknesses to class every day. While Katie, the young woman who sits 2 seats away from me (no, I never *did* move seats or float around the room as the professor requested at the beginning of the semester, for I had little interest in acquainting myself with All The Young Fledglings) takes detailed, massive handwritten notes on the lectures, does well on the exams and was one of *those* students who started reading the book before the professor even showed up the first day, I effortlessly achieved in about 3 hours (including simultaneous research) what took her 10 days, writing the research paper. (If my memory serves, Katie did her paper on depression and her presentation on holistic remedies for depression, which, while not a snooze-fest, also wasn't sincerely, constructively, revealingly stunning. I should hope that the populous collective didn't need time devoted to the ineffectiveness of St. John's Wort.)

Listen, chickie babies, dissecting your own mental disorder(s) in a clinical, scientific context, using yourself as a case study, while delivering a dry interpretation of DSM-IV-TR officially-sanctioned data about what's wrong with you isn't everybody's bag and was intellectually more difficult than it sounds, though I raced through citing studies, seamlessly streamed through the etiology, prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of Bipolar II, and was so prolific (though tightly woven and relevant) that I had to reduce the font of the paper twice in order to fit the information into 8 double-spaced pages, which the professor would ding you on negatively if you didn't follow.

Instead of conforming to a format of bullet points and boringly delivered clinical factoids, sequentially proper, with the case study (of myself) at the end, I creatively interwove all of the required clinicals, citations and statistics within the realm of my mental life story. After all, the professor didn't say we couldn't. While it wasn't originally intended to be a creative work of scientifically significant prose, that's how it turned out, and with it, I was very pleased. Only after I vomited out the 8 pages did I actually READ it to see if it made ANY sense whatsoever. It all did, so with a decent-enough cover page attached, my APA citations all correctly, numerically in order, I put it to rest.

Perhaps calling my case "befuddling" was too-English-majorish, and talking about myself in the third-person was, frankly, odd, but if you asked my (former) psychiatrist, whose monotone babbling was as notorious as that disturbing Icarus falling lithograph in his waiting room, HE wouldn't be able to come up with a more appropriate term. (My experience? Doctors + Extensive, Artistically-Expressed Vocabulary = HIGHLY unusual. My professor, a clinical psychologist, can't even utter the word "autogynephilia" without tripping her scientific tongue. If you, yourself, don't know what that condition is, totally Google it. Fascinating. Men are fucked up.)

Fortunately, now available, for the bipolar car enthusiast, there's a "Jekyll-and-Hyde" 1968 Chevy Camaro to drive around. Seriously! This isn't Photoshopped:

Our class presentations were to be of a specialized, narrower spectrum based on our research papers. Well, duh, it seemed only befuddlingly befitting to localize my statistically-rare blend of Bipolar II with Mixed-Mood Episodes, which I've blogged at length about during the course of the semester this summer. Hell, the whole reason why I'm symptomatic and have been for the last 6 weeks is because of the fucking class. (Yes, I explained that external stressors can precipitate or induce the onset of my symptoms.) Three dizzying days of listening to veritable barely-legals randomly chosen to present a garden variety of subjects ranging from caffeine's effects on the body to physical ramifications of anorexia nervosa (incidentally, if any of my medical team happens to read this, all that pancreatitis? Ding ding ding! Though none of you associating the correlation of starvation to pancreatitis had occurred to me either, so ain't no thang) before my name was finally called. Mispronounced repeatedly, but called nonetheless.

What I lacked in visually bland but voluminous Power Point slides, the computer program largely unfamiliar to me, I totally made up for in oral delivery thereof. Plus, none of the other students freely inserted "fuck" or "shit" into their slides like I did, nor could any of them lay claim to personally experiencing an illness that they were astounded to see, via my slides, afflicted literally hundreds of influential artists, writers, musicians, politicians, poets, actors and actresses, who's names I had to make tiny to fit onto the slides but were no less indicative of the prevalence of bipolar disorder in the famous and infamous. It seems that the only textbook "famous" cases of bipolar are in those who have committed suicide, such as Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Del Shannon, Sylvia Plath or Vincent Van Gogh. But what about those who are still alive and kicking, like Ben Stiller or Sting? How about Peter Gabriel? Or Robert Downey Jr?

While most students cowered behind the professor's computer in the front of the room in order to segue their slides using the mouse, I took it upon myself to stylize my Acutely Hypomanic Overload using the professor's slide remote control, pacing around the front of the room, pointing out highlights of the text of my slides with anecdotal musings from What I've Survived. Typically shy and historically introverted in front of a crowd and not having taken anti-anxiety medication this morning, you'd think I would've elected to situate behind the computer too, as I do by sitting behind my drum kit, out of harm's way. That, dear ones, is one of the actual benefits of being hypomanic: imagined but invincible grandiosity, a gift for gab and an inflated mood. They caught me on a lucky day, I suppose, or is it the other way around?

Given 8-10 minutes during which to present my specific mental maladies, and including a 3 minute Paul Weller piano-version of "My Ever-Changing Moods" (to which I provided the class the lyric sheet), the presentation rounded out with a required Q&A period, which was to be part of our overall grade. My professor had, by then, finished scribbling notes about my talk, went to stand in the back of the room, and unleashed me and my experience to my extremely curious classmates whose attention was, as has been the case when I've spoken the whole semester, doe-eyed and piqued. (The Q&A periods up until my presentation had been sparsely vocalized generalizations, in which I tried to ask probing questions for my own education (or edification, depending), with the knowledge that it was partly to augment my classmates' point values.)

I let Paul Weller's piano fade out as I meekly raised an eyebrow and said, "Questions?"

Hands went up in the air feverishly,  putting me on the spot and while prepared to field questions about bipolar disorder and thinking I'd explained mixed-moods well already, it's safe to say I didn't expect their onslaught: I had to give an addict's tutorial on what a bummer it is when you're addicted to narcotic painkillers (in the late 90's), your 3 doctors who are all Rx'ing Vicodin, Lortab, Ambien and Restoril to you piece together your puzzle, cut you off abruptly and you withdraw (that time) cold turkey, the reality of which, as with all of their questions, I gave an honest, frank and detailed answer. The professor actually clinically deemed my combination of psychoactive meds as a "cocktail" professionally that psychiatrists Rx. I told the class the meds help curb symptoms from escalating into a psychotic break requiring hospitalization, that I don't have. I was surprised--I'd been calling it my "cocktail" for years without therapeutic prompting.

They wanted to know why and how I became an alcoholic. I was questioned about the amount of sugar I consume (generally very little), whether or not I get any pleasure out of eating food (not really), if anyone in my family was bipolar (I strongly suspected my late father was, and explained why, and that segued into his addiction/death), if I've ever felt weird about having my disorders (loud and proud!), the dangers of impulsive promiscuity with strangers (which leads to 3 years' worth of Chris), what I do behaviorally to maintain sanity (write "Rhythms," play drums and go to cognitive behavioral therapy), if I get tired of taking all my medications (yes, but I know it's a life-long deal), how my 12-year old "centers" me (he's a resilient rock), what it was like to detox/rehab in a psych ward (terrifying), what my favorite Pink Floyd album is ("Wish You Were Here"), if I would give it all up to be "normal" (not in a million years), why I like to read philosophy for recreation ('cause it's badass!), I vividly showed them all how I used to slice up my right arm and why I got a tattoo, and admitted that when the entire pot of coffee I drink in the morning fails to wake me up adequately when asked about my caffeine consumption, I get a triple-shot espresso from Starbucks and, while I had gone overtime of my limit, worn out, the professor let the students finish with their questions.

"Wow. Thank you, Andrea," she said. I was sort of like, "You're most welcome. Now somebody go grab me a gin & tonic and about 9 Norco." I was only half-kidding.

Quite possibly the most flattering part of the presentation equation was, as I was returning to my little cloistered seat, one of the students asked if she could quote me. Nobody's ever asked to quote me in person before. She'd half-written down a comment I'd made about being a loser, and wanted me to repeat it. I used it to illustrate how I felt in a depressive episode.

The hypomanic slide said (among many other things), "I'm a creative genius and if you don't think I am, fuck you."

The depressive slide said (also among many other things), "I'm still a genius, but I'm also a loser. But I'm a better loser than all of you other, average losers," which I think I said first here some blogs back.

Are my bipolar delusions of grandeur that out of whack, that I actually believe I'm a genius? No. Hardly. Creatively gifted? By the grace of God, yes. Am I an utterly ridiculous buffoon? Frequently. Sinful? All the time. Human? Yes, just like all the rest of us. When my former therapist, Erin, asked me if I really wanted to open myself up and expose my illnesses to my whole class, and what the potential negative outcomes of that might be, I told her that I honestly didn't find any. Do I honestly give a shit as to what my classmates think of me, personally? No. I think I made that obvious today. I enlightened those young people in a way that the professor, for all her clinical experience, data, and patient anecdotal knowledge, cannot. If any of them are using or abusing drugs, maybe they'll stop. If they think drinking is great and wonderful, it's not. If they think that mania is desirable, I squashed that myth. Again, it's all part of what will make me a successful therapist.

God led me down desperate paths, dangerous paths, and challenged my belief in how my Savior could love me and still allow me to endure a life that too many people pity and by which too many people are frightened. When I question God as to why, God says "Because I love you. Because you can handle it."

Katie walked out with me today, the students not letting me zoom out quickly like I'm accustomed. She wanted to know more about my blog. I didn't give her the address for some reason, and not because I foresaw criticizing hers or anyone else's presentations to be arrogant. My life is so public, yet there's still that little bit of me that wants to remain anonymous. Fuck, if the students a) misspeak my first name and b) have no idea what my last name is, it's unlikely they'll stumble upon me. I felt that if I just opened myself up enough to reveal my darkest struggles in vivid detail, leave me my little sanity saver, you know? I joked with Katie about the zany, insane things people Google up and land here, and what perverse enjoyment I get out of knowing that kind of stuff, though.

Barring utter biopsychosocial failure on my part, and in the unlikely event I *don't* end up being a therapist, let's face it, I have a better career path in my destiny than, well, this woman, for example*:

*I, too, have reliable access to pharmaceuticals, CAN spell literacy correctly, attend to personal hygiene not only by request, but cannot, however, put any child to sleep, most significantly, my own. Yes, I also told the class that half the time, Luke puts me to bed with brute force when I resist the impetus to sleep either out of mania or stubbornness. PS--if I look this haggard when I'm only 43, put a bullet to my head.

Now, to finish reading about sexual disorders and dysfunctions, which the professor has a great deal of trouble discussing, she says, due to her Catholic school upbringing. She's a fucking doctor. If she can't say "clitoris" aloud without embarrassment, I'm ready to overtake the asylum.


Anonymous said...

Now THAT was a class that will live on in legend! While it really isn't funny -- Annie, I HAD to laugh at everything. I could just SEE it -- and it really WAS funny!

Jenny said...

I understand what you are saying and I hope those other students at least learn from you and not that shy , timid teacher.
You are one hell of a woman !
Love ya lots !!!

Andrea Miklasz said...

This whole time, I thought I was failing the class, with the C's on the tests and all. Got my cumulative score for now, which does NOT include my research paper and presentation scores, and I am, in fact, getting an 85%. Those two projects could bump me up to an A regardless of what I get on the last test, and I may not *have* to take the optional final, if I get an A. Fingers crossed!

Andrea Miklasz said...

Anonymous: It was veritably hysterical, enlightening 19-year olds on random shagging, how bad shakes and diarrhea are when you withdraw from narcs cold turkey, life in the loony bin, and, of course, "My Ever-Changing Moods." While agreed, not subjects to really joke about, and were hellish to endure, I came out the other side with, indeed, stories that are legendarily infamous.

And Jenny, thank you. You kinda have to go through hell to become a hell of a woman, as you are well aware.

Kids everywhere? For crap's sake, don't mimic me. Ever. It's not as glamorous as it might seem.