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.