How Bipolar Disorder Affects Me Creatively.

Chris McCandless

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder not once or twice but three times by three different diagnosticians. One psychiatrist even went so far as to specify my variation as Bipolar I, the extreme flavor. I’ve taken Risperdal in the past but never felt its effect. Lithium made me gain weight, turned me into a human balloon. Lamictal mad my hands shake. Seroquel was worthless. Abilify made me diabetic and turned me into a compulsive gambler. Latuda gave me syncope. I was sitting in the Northgate mall and suddenly I had double vision. For the life of me I couldn’t sync the two images together. When I tried to stand up I just fell back into the seat. Horrible drug. I’ve also briefly experimented with Geodon and Zyprexa. Those were wastes of time. It just seems like antipsychotics refuse to work in my body, or if they do, give me such bad side effects that I eschew them altogether. So what keeps me grounded? Beer. Not the best therapy but at least it works.

So what am I like when I’m in manic mode? Two years ago I turned into Hemingway. I was an unstoppable force when it came to writing. Over a relatively short period of time I wrote two novels, nine novellas, four screenplays, about 40 or 50 short stories, and a handful of poems. My brain just couldn’t slow down. Always click-clacking like a runaway telegraph machine, I was researching and writing in various libraries around the Seattle area like there was no tomorrow. From sun up to sun down, words just effortlessly flowed from me like rain out of the Fountains of Rome.  But then came the crash.

Around the time this manic episode subsided, I had begun promoting my various works using the internet and retail stores in Seattle. When I started settling into some kind of depression, my promoting came to a halt. It suddenly didn’t matter if the world knew about my creative output. I turned into the proverbial tortoise yanking its head back into its shell. This cloud of depression has swept over me so strongly that, even though I’m now domiciled, I just can’t find the wherewithal to get my promotional and creative juices flowing again. I isolate to the point I’m turning into Chris McCandless. I’m Alex Supertramp without the Alaskan frontier or the broken down bus. My activity level is nil and I simply just lack the energy. And, yes, I probably sleep too much and think about death way too often as well. I’m guessing this depressive wave will come to and end soon, and man, I can’t wait. I know there’s another story in me waiting to be told.

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How I Got Into Punk Rock.

My life hasn’t been an easy one. I suffered abuses of all kinds while growing up in Trinidad & Tobago only to be followed by more abuses when I immigrated to the U.S. You might say that I was an angry person, and trying to wring a smile out of my stone face was probably like trying to climb K2 in the buff.

I was 16 years old and in 11th grade back in 1977. Sitting at home watching the news on TV, the announcer began talking about a new social movement that had hit young London. It was called punk. The kids were loud, reckless and anti-establishment, played and listened to a brand of music that was equally loud, guttural and abrasive, and wore the wildest fashions such as pins through their tattered clothes and faces, spiky hair cuts, and Doc Marten boots. The popular bands at that time were The Damned, The Clash and the Sex Pistols. The report hit me like a ton of bricks. A whole segment of society existed that was angry like me? I’d better give this punk business a looksee.

Around that time, I had already recently discovered bands like KISS, Boston, Aerosmith and Foghat. Lo and behold, checking the record bins in the local library, to my amazement, they already had an album by one of those punk bands. It was “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.” I immediately borrowed it and took it home. I was nervous to play it because I didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be so loud and abrasive that it would upset my delicate constitution? Oh my. Can’t have that. Nevertheless, after taking a few deep breaths, I delicately placed the needle on the vinyl. The first thing I heard was the marching of feet – STOMP! STOMP! STOMP! Then a crashing guitar chord, followed by another, and another, then the entire band stormed in as Johnny Rotten yelled, “Cheap holiday in other people’s misery!” I was floored. Song after song, I quickly got into the Pistols. Hell, I was even dancing to tracks like “Anarchy In The U.K.” and “God Save The Queen.” Punk had arrived to save me, and I was determined to explore it fully.

It wasn’t long before I started dressing like a punk, not with the spiky Mohawk or safety pins through my cheek, but black shoes, black jeans, and a black leather jacket I think I bought 2nd hand in a thrift shop in The Village of NYC. I acquired more punk records in 12th grade and college and even hosted a radio show on KPGY-FM at Iowa State University called “New Music Experience.” My playlists included Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, Plasmatics, Joy Division, Lene Lovich, The Jam, DEVO, English Beat, The B-52’s, Iggy Pop, Agent Orange, Ultravox, The Stepmothers, Black Flag, and many others. I even had a paddle made back then that had the inscription “Punk Lord” on it. I was proud of that leather jacket, too, being that it was adorned with buttons like The Specials, Sex Pistols and The Clash.

I’ve always been into punk but things shifted a little when I was introduced to Iron Maiden. Their musicianship absolutely floored me and I got into them right away. Needless to say I became an ardent admirer of metal and that still exists till this day.

It’s interesting now to look back on how I’d grown up and the various musical styles I’d been exposed to. In Trinidad it was calypso and pop. In the U.S. I’d get into punk, classical (I’d seen “Amadeus” when I was 16 or 17 and it wiped the floor with me), metal and R&B. Jazz and blues came along a bit later when I started expanding my own guitar vocabulary. And you know, it’s kind of tragic that I no longer play guitar. I think it’s been five years since I did. Who knows? Maybe I can get back into it before I drop dead. If I did, I don’t think I’d play punk, though. Wouldn’t wanna rattle my elder neighbors’ nerves.

I Should Be Happy.

I should be. I’m not fighting in a vicious, endless war somewhere. I’m not in jail or homeless. Physically, I’m relatively okay except for my knees which have been giving me gout pains for months. My rent gets paid every month thanks to the Social Security Administration. I have food in my cupboard thanks to the SSA, food stamps, and the Port Townsend Food Bank. I have a big ass 55″ 4K Smart TV and this laptop which I’ve had for years. I have a bed, a sofa, a microwave oven, a toaster and a vacuum cleaner which I’d gotten from OlyCAP (Olympic Community Action Programs). So, nothing to complain about, right? Then why am I so damned depressed?

I recently got rid of my car which I’d had for five years. As you know, it wasn’t just a car; it was my home as well. Because where I live is a bit of a distance from downtown where all the stores are, I’m dependent on the buses. That isn’t a problem, though, because they do run every hour during the day, none on Sunday. I spend my entire days alone. I’m not exactly isolated, but I’d just rather be by myself. Less angst and turmoil that way.

The anti-depressants and anti-psychotics didn’t work for me. All they did was give me horrible side effects so I had to discontinue them. Meditation is a waste of time because my mind never slows down. It wanders and wanders, always thinking about something. Basically, I can’t concentrate. It seems like the only way for me to sit still and watch a movie is to have a beer or two beneath my belt. Not that I necessarily like drinking, but it does slow me down enough to where I can see a flick all the way through. Hopefully this funk, this dark cloud and doom of despair, won’t last.

Seven Months In Port Townsend.

It took me all of fifty-five years to get here, but I’m glad I did. Port Townsend is turning out to be quite the villa. It’s quiet, relatively safe, and most importantly, lacking in the drugs I used to abuse years ago. What I’ve been learning to do lately is leave my past behaviors behind. In the past, for instance, I was a generally paranoid person. I locked my windows and doors every time I left the house. Hell, I even kept the windows locked when I was inside the house because I thought someone would climb in during the night when I was sleeping. In Port Townsend, I don’t have to worry about these things. I leave my door unlocked most of the time, even when I’m out of the house like now, and even leave my car doors unlocked. Tonight, when I go to bed, I’m gonna keep all the windows open. This part is still a little nerve wracking to me because I live on the first floor of my apartment complex. If I was on one of the upper floors, that wouldn’t be an issue. Still, I have to get used to having the windows open at night, too, especially these days when it’s pretty hot outside.

I recently indulged myself in a 55″ UHD 4K Roku TV by TCL. The picture is like a giant postcard – clear, bright and ultra colorful. Movies look great on it. Unfortunately, my internet connection is poor so I can’t stream movies as effectively as I’d like. I might get Wave Broadband internet later this year, we’ll see. Right now they have a special for $19.99/month, but after six months, it’ll be $69.99. That’s a little too dear for me considering my rent is $737/month. I mean, I can pay the $69.99/month, but that’s really cutting into my SSDI money which I’d rather save for the future (being unpredictable, as you may know). For now, though, I’m just enjoying being domiciled. I mean, after five long years of homelessness, it’s nice to be able to finally get some well-needed sleep.

Finally! An End to My Homelessness.

After nearly five years of homelessness, I might finally move into a one bedroom apartment in Port Townsend at a retirement complex reserved for those over 62 years old or disabled. This should happen in a month or so to the tune of $950/mo. That’s a bit expensive given I only receive around $1270/mo but the complex does provide tenants with breakfast and dinner as well as all utilities. In the end, it may work out.

I’ve been feeling suicidal lately and it’s why I haven’t written in my blog much. I just want to sleep all day, if I could. Very difficult when you’re homeless, though, especially now when it’s sunny all the time and finding a good, quiet shaded spot is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I’m sleep deprived, and that’s what’s driving my depression. I’m also losing weight, but that’s not a complaint. I want to be lighter and have more energy. If I can reverse my diabetes, good, even if it means me having to stop taking Abilify, the anti-psychotic I’m on that can contribute to both binge eating and problem gambling.

Speaking of problem gambling, I’ve lost quite a few bits of change at two casinos near here – The Point and 7 Cedars. Technically, they’re not near here. The Point is 35 miles away in Kingston and 7 Cedars is 25 miles in Blyn near Sequim. One night, I was so drunk I blacked out in a parking lot in Port Townsend and work up at the Indian Arts Center across the street from 7 Cedars. Talk about unsafe! I don’t remember driving the 25 miles to get there. Obviously, I did it in a complete haze. Very dangerous. I woke up vomiting, looked around, saw a giant Native American sign and thought, “What the hell? There is no place with a sign like this in Port Townsend.” That’s when I realized I wasn’t in PT anymore. Scary. The drink was whiskey, I think. Never again, though. I learned my lesson. I could’ve crashed or hit somebody.

Lastly, on a positive note, I spoke to the local hospital’s financial aid center and they agreed I was poor enough that they would cover my hospital expenses. Sweet. That’s one less worry off my mind, especially since I just spent $200 fixing my car (new battery, cables). Now, if I could only find a quiet place to get some sleep.

Racism

In my journey in trying to find a place to live, a city, town or village I can call home, I have to be mindful of the fact that racism can rear its ugly little head from time to time. Typically, small towns have a conservative mindset and may not be readily accepting of outsiders. I do like small towns, though, because its far away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities and you can breathe easily there and, in my case, lack the substances I was addicted to for years.

But racism doesn’t exist solely in small towns; large cities like Seattle, New York, Boston, Nashville, Portland and L.A. have also sprouted incidents that would shock any decent living person back to the Stone Ages. In fact, where in America can someone be immune from racism? These days that’s probably an impossible proposition but I’m hoping a small, liberal-minded, artistic, immigrant-welcoming town like Port Townsend would fit the bill.

So far I’ve been exposed to incidents in this town that smacks of racism, and interestingly, both relate to Obama. In the first incident, I overheard two women speaking at a bar. One woman said, very clearly, that Obama did nothing in his eight years in office but fund ISIS. That’s just her opinion, of course, but it speaks volumes. In the second incident, a police cruiser was speeding up a main drag, its lights flashing and siren blaring. This man came up to me and asked, “Do you know where the cops are going?” I answered, “No.” He said, “They’re going after Obama because he’s busy fucking himself, and Hilary’s helping him do it.” Well, to me, that’s a strange statement for a white man to make to a black man out of the blue, but I could be wrong. At least the owner of the pickup truck I took the picture of in Port Hadlock is doing his best to address racism. Kudos to him.

You know what I’ve begun to notice in Port Townsend? I’ve run into at least four people who speak in word salad, what Wikipedia calls logorrhea. They just go on and on speaking incoherent gibberish which, to them, must make sense, but to other people, is just mindless one-sided conversation that could make one’s head explode. As soon as they think they’ve found an audience (that is, me) they unload every single idea that pops up in their minds. Very tiring, to say the least. Maybe they’re schizophrenic, or aspie like myself, or suffer from brain damage. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn’t happen to me. Then again, if it did, I wouldn’t be aware of it. Somehow, though, I get the feeling that if I stick around here, it’ll happen eventually. Yikes!

 

Do Advocates For The Homeless Actually Keep Our Numbers Up?

I’ve been reading in different places online that administrators, and other people in charge of eradicating homelessness, actually don’t do that because they’re making six-figure salaries, and housing the homeless would mean an end to their careers. If that’s true, what a shame. I hope some kind of outside authority investigates that, but I fear that this level of corruption could possibly lead even to the mayor’s office. Obviously, I can’t just walk into a homeless advocacy office and ask to see their numbers, their track record of placing the homeless in housing. It’s probably quite poor and they would never admit it’s just a scam. Making money off the city’s most vulnerable. Isn’t that a shame? Later on today I’ll write to some of those concerned and see what they say. In my heart I know what they’ll write will be nothing but smoke and mirrors. Maybe I won’t waste my time and just celebrate St. Patrick’s Day drinking green beer like everyone else.