“Stanley, why aren’t you doing your homework?”

And so another era of radio silence. This particular site may have lost whatever blood was going to it, but I still feel the need for some kind of outlet. Something broader, something I can throw out there, regardless of anyone everything actually seeing it.

Today, I need it’s help to figure some things out.

I resigned from my job in July. There were many reasons and I share some of those with others. Ultimately I’ve come to realise that I’ve never taken any risks, and I feel like I’m stagnating. I have a little money, so I’ve decide to take some time and figure out what I’m actually doing.

I’ve pursued  two main approaches. My original focus has been on a teaching English diploma; with an eye towards finding work while travelling abroad. A very logical and ambitious goal for me. Early on I maintained a huge amount of enthusiasm for this project, and I’ve been taking it very seriously. However, over time the process has become more and more of a drudge.

The qualification is earned through completion of two online courses and 20 hours of practical classroom experience. I managed to negotiate six months to complete everything – I’ve passed the practical component and completed 60% of Course A. The online parts involve units followed by ‘Progress Checks’ followed by a handful of ‘Checkpoints’ (essentially exams/coursework for the relevant units). I’ve halted at Checkpoint 2. Yes, they are challenging and require you to knuckle down a little more, but everything you need to pass them is in the unit materials. I just cannot motivate myself to push on.

You can plow through the units themselves very quickly, but I’ve increasingly found the process more and more unsatisfying. Yes all this work could lead to something amazing, but one problem I’ve always had is pursuing things that could take me away from where I am rather than work on who I am. Even on the other side of the world, I’d still be carrying me, and this realisation is unsettling.

I’m in my third decade (or Ryan 4.0 as I pretentiously consider it) and I’m yet to figure out what I want. All I know is I struggle with ties – good or bad, everything is shackles. Right now I want to play by my own rules, I want to focus on what I want and only satisfy obligations to myself. I’ve done a great deal of work the last few years: learned a lot, tested myself, achieved many things I would never previously believed possible. But I can no longer ignore that the enduring thread has been, for longer than I care to dwell on, that I am miserable and feel empty inside.

At the risk of turning this into a therapy session, I’ve been through some pretty fucked up shit. There are many many people who have it way worse, but for my part I don’t feel it’s unreasonable to note that I’ve had more than my fair share. For so long now I feel like I’ve been bleeding out; head up, marching on but increasingly limp.

The second approach has involved film. For the longest time after university, I did nothing related to film-making. Eventually I began writing CD/gig/book/film reviews for a sadly defunct magazine called Nocturnal. Recently, thanks to contacts made during that period, I’ve become typing for a website called Filmwerk. Unpaid work but well worth it. I get to see movies for free, at home and at screenings, many in advance of their theatre releases. I’m making contacts and it’s exciting to see where this could lead.

Alongside this, I’m involved with a film podcast, the first episode of which will be released soon. I also want to make my own videos/podcasts/features, for which I’ve created my own site (Violet Cause). This all ties into the conundrum of my life right now – I previously had a stable job, a career, one which I was pretty good at. I was making a living but increasingly felt like I was imploding. I could pursue a career taking me abroad but to do a job I’m not especially energised by. Then I could pursue things which tap into what I love but offer little or no security.

This isn’t an uncommon puzzle, but I have to be conscious of the fact that I tend to detonate when things feel far beyond my control. Basically I need to find reasons to keep this thing going on my own terms, because I want to keep going.

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How I am not a genius…

During the 2005 Horizon documentary “The Hawking Paradox”, American theoretical physicist Kip Thorne described how Stephen Hawking was able to turn his ALS to his advantage. Considering the severity of his disability (and that he was only given two years to live), Professor Hawking is a paragon of triumph over adversity.

The rate of progression amongst patients varies, and tends to be slower in patients under the age of 40 (Hawking was 22 at diagnosis). It’s a depressing irony that one of history’s most dynamic, engaging and formidable minds is effectively under siege within his own body.

Thorne describes how:

 He had to develop a whole new way, different from the rest of us, for working with the mathematics of Einstein’s relativity. He learned to do it entirely in his brain, without the benefit of writing things down.

Compared to these two, my mind is dwarfed by factors of infinity. Whilst not drawing any direct comparisons with me or anyone else I’ve ever known personally; the story of Hawking’s adaptation could be a millimetre perfect analogy for the idea of ‘dangerous gifts.‘ 

The question: “What are the potential gifts/benefits when you’re bipolar, depressed, schizophrenic, anorexic…?” I won’t presume to speak for anyone when I infer that such dispositions actually have any benefits, so the focus should be on exploring what benefits we could draw from them.

There are some behavioural traits that spring immediately to mind, at least in my experience. I tend to notice them at work: higher energy levels, decreased need for rest or to eat. Thinking about Hawking however, I’m prompted to focus upon the cognitive aspects; which by their nature will be nebulous and harder to describe.

One thing I’ve experienced is a higher “processing speed.” I love pseudo-technical labels for my disposition, and I find this one quite apt. Presenting in hypomanic states, it ramps up my ability to grasp a concept or problem and strategise to a resolution. These resolutions aren’t always the most obvious or even the most effective, but I worth a go more often than not . Combined with a hyper-focus on ‘thinking outside of the box‘, I’m usually able to synthesize a new way of solving or achieving something that others around me may have missed. I work in a bookstore, so an obvious example is reorganising a section in a way which defies the merchandising guidelines but makes the section friendlier to the customer. This is easily quantifiable, as the reality of modern bookselling involves a lot of time staring at financial reports.

Enhanced empathy isn’t an unreasonable. Even if its a passive ability, it has to be there: the experience of emotional pain, mania, psychosis, obsession…a vast litany of states which you’re more likely to recognise when another is subject to them.

Speaking of Hawking and Friends, a curious one I think about more and more is time. Though it doesn’t capture the whole experience; one facet is that I imagine very real conversations with people in the past, often reliving the event rather than simply remembering it. This may or may not involve changing responses, which hinge on how well it went the last time around. As I get older I “experience” conversations I’m “going” to have with important people. Specifically nieces and nephews who do not, and may never, exist.

I think about the things they may ask or want to discuss. I explain my opinions and offer advice, sometimes just chew the fat with them. Its usually nieces and nephews because my brother and his wife aren’t far off from procreating. And given that I’m not wild about passing on my genes, there may be some kind of displacement going on. The benefits here? I’m amassing a cache of pre-prepared ideas that may be of use to others in the future.

There’s likely many I’m missing, and I’m curious if anyone reading this would like to offer any of their own? I wonder if my offerings aren’t as uncommon as I imagine, even among “normal” people. It would be interesting if the time one and the wings aren’t quite so freaksome as I believe.

I have a long standing love of science and particularly astrophysics. Anyone who fails to see how awe and wonder can come from the world of science would do well to look into the work of Einstein and Feynman and Dirac and Sagan, and a constellation of other thinkers. I’ve encountered people who, while seeking alternatives to the language and practice of mental health, seem distrustful of scientific terms and concepts. While not pure science, modern psychiatry (even in its darker excesses) benefits from its approximation to scientific veracity, so this is understandable even if not directly applicable to me.

The trend is towards more spiritual formulations. Shamanism is common and, I feel, very very useful as both a paradigm and an approach to the business of living. Its an area I’d like to dive into, and in the spirit of Chaos Magick (a subject I want to discuss at another time, just like Satanism), shifting between mystical and some more pseudo-scientific paradigms appeal even more. Given that I’m a colossal geek with a love of Japanese RPGs, the term “Magitek” springs to mind; but these are stories for another entry.

Kip Thorne said this too:

He had to develop a whole new way, different from the rest of us, for working with the mathematics of Einstein’s relativity. He learned to do it entirely in his brain, without the benefit of writing things down. He developed a way of doing it that involved manipulating images of the shapes of objects, the shapes of curves, the shapes of surfaces not in the three dimensional space but in four dimensional space plus time.

Namaste.

Bend your arms to look like wings…

I have no wings but I can feel them. Tension around the scapula. Looking into the mirror there’s no signs of feather or leather, no dramatic shadow. Ailerons, dihedral, anhedral: all useful metaphorically speaking, but nothing close to any morphology o’ mine. 

There are certain shapes I can throw with them – I playfully brush wingtips against my nose. When I’m hypomanic you may notice a shift in my posture and motion. My hands contort into talons. Arms straight and I’m in a dive when I have to move quickly. My wings are cutting rigid behind me. 

What would be the psychiatric definition of this? Delusion? Hallucination? In terms of consensus reality I know they aren’t there. Sight says no, touch too. No noise when they flap, but there’s almost some hyperspatial reality to them that I won’t get past. 

When things are darker I can feel scars I’ve yet to incise. There’s a tightening of skin. Sometimes the tactile memory of silken bleeding trickles. I know what its like to lose an eye, despite the two incredibly healthy ones stuck in my head. 

This is where I struggle with the psychiatric definitions of these equally batty propositions. For the wings I guess we’re talking about a mood-neutral delusion – its unrelated to my mood or emotional state. However as delusions go its not disrupting my ability to walk through doorways or sit in chairs. Its harmless as far as I can tell, and I am fully conscious of the rational arguments against.

But they’re there. I can’t quantify it, can’t give you any rational explanation for the what and why. Dr Sri, my psychiatrist, is a damn fine man whom I trust and heartily respect. He’s never forced any treatment upon me – he prescribed olanzapine (atypical antipsychotic) shortly before christmas, but didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him I’d refused to take it. Despite this I’m not sure what he would say. I suppose he’d be a little vocal if I stated an intention to start nesting in trees or soaring from the tops of buildings. 

If I have a point to make, its that I can’t see anything needing to be cured. Its weird. Down right scary to some of you; a reaction which I wholeheartedly support. But I am not afraid. I have no grandiose belief in being an angel or demon or Final Fantasy boss fight. Conventional wisdom (if such an animal exists) may demand a plea for help or pitiful denunciation. Not this:

Its a part of me I don’t understand. I’m okay with that.

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[frograge.deviantart.com]