Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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“My name is Legion”, The Bipolar Dictionary Redux


The fifth chapter of the Gospeller, St. Mark tells the story of a haunted soul. And a haunting story it is. Jesus finds a man depraved and living among the dead. So haunted is he — he is shackled with fetters and chains. Night and day among the tombs he cries. With stones he beats his breast – in hopes of banishing his demons. Jesus calls out an unclean spirit. And then asks him “What is your name?” The Gerasene Demoniac answers, “I am Legion, for we are many.”

Now history has a legion of haunting stories to tell. Stories about the relative locked up in the attic. Stories about the aunt in the asylum and the sister at the sanitarium. Stories about the brother taken to Bellevue and the cousin committed to St Elizabeth’s. Stories of poor souls confined to St. Mary’s of Bethlehem – from where “Bedlam” gets its very name. Haunted souls like Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights. Haunted spirits painted in shades of gray and darkest night.

And history also has a legion of names it labels these haunted souls. Some are quite descriptive and some quite derogatory. This is my own DSM-V — my somewhat humorous and yet honest — Bipolar Dictionary – laid out in alphabetical order.

“All in your head” Yes, it is all in our heads. It’s called your brain. This phrase is often used to mean “It’s all in your imagination.” Well, nothing is farther from the truth. “It’s all in your head” is a scientific fact.

“Bats in the Belfry” paints a particularly scary picture where your skull is an empty bell tower and your brain is naught but flapping bat wings. Haunted and frightened and all in the dark no less. This is a phrase best left buried in the Dark Ages. See also the derivative “batty”.

Bonkers” Rhymes with “Yonkers”. This word implies that you were “bonked” on the head as a baby and so not quite right. This notion is completely bonkers.

Certifiable” Supposedly a clinical term where a clinician has categorically categorized a person as insane. And we all know that sanity is a relative term and insanity is virtually indefinable.

Cracked” Like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall and had a great fall, the person is cracked and cannot be put together again. While cracked a person’s brain may be, clinically speaking, it can indeed be put back together again.

Crazy” This universal term is universally applied by universally everyone to all things in the universe that can go wrong with our brains. This catch-all term is better used by the people who are crazy than the people who would call them crazy.

Cuckoo” As in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, both a book and a movie full of truth and full of fairy tales.

Demented” Rhymes with “fermented”. People may wrongly assume that a confused person they call demented has been drinking drinks fermented. Not necessarily so. A broken brain can shatter one’s thoughts as surely as a shot of bourbon.

Insane” Categorically indefinable but often used to describe a person devoid of reason and incapable of discerning right from wrong. Neither of which is true of the Bipolar Brain. The Bipolar brain is brilliant and it’s moral compass true. Well just as brilliant and as true as anyone else’s.

Loco” Not short for locomotive, but the Spanish equivalent of “crazy”. The employment of this term is often accompanied by a hand motion — circling the ear with one’s index finger. A bit loco, don’t you think?

Loony” This term is likely derived from “luna”, Latin for moon. And we all know the dangers of exposure to a full moon — lunacy. It will turn you into something like a werewolf — politely referred to as a “lunatic”. For more information see “Looney Tunes” and specifically “Daffy Duck.”

Maniac” Now we’re getting somewhere. Maniac is of course the noun for someone in the throws of mania. But what could be used as a term of understanding instead implies that the maniac’s behavior is absurd and beyond all understanding. So don’t go around calling anyone a maniac.

Melancholy Baby” Once again we are on the right track. “Melancholia” is an ancient diagnosis of the soul. It literally means that our bodily humors are out of balance. Truer words were never said. But just don’t call me “Baby”.

Mental” This one word phrase is shorthand for someone who is believed to be mentally ill or for someone who should be in a mental institution. Most of the persons who use this term know nothing about mental illness or mental health institutions of any kind.

Not playing with a full deck” A poker metaphor that implies that a person missing the Ace of Spades is forever at a disadvantage. Sometimes Bipolar life is like a game of “52 Pickup” where all the cards are dropped and not all the cards get picked back up. Or at least they get picked up in a very different order. Reshuffling the deck is often a good thing.

Neurotic” This is where we insert a photo of Woody Allen. Obsessively self absorbed he over analyzes his every waking moment and crazily (yes crazily) interprets his every dream. See also “narcissism”, a disorder of the personality. Not a disorder of the mind.

Off your rocker” Now this one has a nice bipolar ring to it. Rocking back and forth and to and fro between the ups and the downs. The person who uses this term however doesn’t realize that they too ride the same rocking horse.

Out of Your Mind” This phrase I am especially partial to — as long as I can apply it to myself. As in “Mary of Magdala, Seven Times Out of her Mind” (see May archives). Yes, five times I have lost my mind and five times I have gotten it back. I am batting a 1000. See also “out of your skull”.

Possessed” As in the Gerasene Demoniac, an ancient and biblical understanding of mental illness that implies possession by evil spirits. Well — my bipolar brain is possessed by my spirit and by my spirit alone. And my spirit is possessed of a superior intellect, great compassion and an awesome sense of humor.

Screw loose” This mechanical metaphor implies that the brain is made of widgets and gears held together by screws. When a screw is loose the gears go flying out of control — hence the derivative “screwy”. The brain is the most complicated machine, the most complicated anything in the known universe. Downloading only a few synapses requires digital resources to the gazillionth, gazillionth, gazillionth power. Only a simpleton with a screw loose would use this simplistic metaphor.

Touched in the head” This is not the same thing as “Touched by an Angel”. Touched in the head implies inferior brain-power and irrational thinking. “Touched” by who or what is not at all clear. Whoever thought of this is most certainly themselves touched in the head.

And my favorite … .drumroll…..

Unhinged” a door swings freely but unpredictably off its hinges. A hinge is one of those elementary machines like a pulley or a plane. Unhinged, the bipolar brain, like the door, is free and unpredictable. Elementary mixed up with exemplary. Here is where you insert a picture of Joani.

The names are legion and the names are many.

So friends, what names would you like to add to the Bipolar Dictionary?


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Naked in Public/Coming out Crazy/Redux

U&U is all about coming out. Coming out of my particular closet. I’ve come out in writing. I’ve come out at work. I’ve come out with friends. I’ve even come out “Unhinged” on stage – the Story District stage — three times. I’ve come out of my  bipolar closet to make a difference. Come out crazy.

And now I am excited to report that U&U is going on a little holiday!

Amy Saidman, Executive Director of Story District has invited me to do some blogging for Out/Spoken: Queer, Questioning, Bold & Proud, the annual Story District Pride Show. Eight awesome storytellers will take the stage at the 9:30 Club on June 4th. The show then goes out on the road, first to Atlanta in October, and then to Birmingham in November. Supported by the Human Rights Campaign, the tour is being funded by the The National Endowment for the Arts.

I am so psyched to follow this groundbreaking show!  Thank you, Story District!  Its an honor to sit down with Out/Spoken’s producers, directors and storytellers.  I hope the profiles I post along the way will do them all justice, peak your interest, sell more tickets, and help pack the house!

So it seems appropriate to repost my own coming out story — “Naked in Public, or Coming Out Crazy” —  first published on U&U in November of 2014.

Here I go.

Naked.

Buck naked.

Locker room naked.

Blame the nuns. Blame eleven years of parochial school. I have never been comfortable naked in the company of strangers. I can count on one hand the number of people in my entire lifetime who have seen me in my altogether. This includes my dear departed mother who changed my diapers:)

Catholic school can mess with your mind and create a crazy kind of modesty. The good sisters told us to put talcum powder in the bath water so we would not see our own naked selves. The water literally had to cover us up to our necks! I guess we were supposed to get undressed with our eyes closed.

So….

High school gym class, I never took a shower. Two years of softball practice, I never took a shower. Three years on the Immaculata basketball team, I never took a shower. Personal hygiene be damned, I never took a shower.

But…

Not because I was modest — because I was TERRIFIED. I was terrified of being exposed. Terrified of baring my bare self to the world. Terrified the world would know everything about me. Terrified of being naked in public.

I am still terrified. I am in the pool twice a week at my local rec center. The locker room is awash with naked ladies of every shape and size. A room full of naked ladies — totally comfortable and free as a breeze. Not me. I go into the “closet” and change my clothes. God forbid a neighbor sees me! God forbid a parishioner sees me! God forbid anybody — but me — sees me.

Totally exposed. Totally vulnerable. Totally out of control. Bare naked for all the world to see.

It is not easy for this bipolar soul to step out of the locker room closet. Those of us who are bipolar have to be very careful where we bare our souls. We have to be very, very careful coming out this particular closet.

Coming out — crazy.

Be careful how you come out. You risk being labeled, categorized, stigmatized, and marginalized. You risk condescension and discrimination. You risk being stereotyped and stuck in a box. You risk being hurt.

A friend– who should know better — told me not to risk it. No one will hire you. No church will call you. You will never be a rector. Maybe never even an associate again. Maybe not even a supply priest. Stay in the closet. Don’t come out. It’s way too risky.

So I didn’t. Instead I tried to educate, elucidate, and illuminate the IGNORANT and the INDIFFERENT with FACTS and FIGURES. Do you know 25% of the world walks around with a mental health issue? Do you know 60% of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetimes? Facts and figures are all well and good. But facts and figures alone make very little difference. Very little difference indeed.

So I took a risk.

I decided that I had to come out of this particular closet. Six years ago I came out to my boss. Four years ago, I came out in the pulpit.  I have come out in church forums more than a few times.  I now have come out – crazy — in five different parishes.

And in April of 2014, I came out on Unorthodox & Unhinged. And with this post – in words — I have now come out 87 times.

Naked at work.

Naked at church.

Naked on the internet. FaceBooked. Tweeted.

And with this 87th post — a repost of #32, November 6, 2014 — I come out in living color — totally exposed. Kristin Adair, a good friend and mental health advocate, is also a budding photo-journalist. Kristin asked if she could shadow me at work, at home, at church – to profile in pictures — a bipolar life.

Walking the dog, eating breakfast, watching TV, taking meds, hiking Huntley Meadows, blogging on my couch, celebrating the Eucharist.

In my pajamas. In my sweats. In my kitchen. In my bedroom.

Out of this crazy closet — naked for all the world to see.

(Just click the “play arrow” and you can see too!)

And the truth be told — naked — we all look pretty much look alike. Naked — we all have just have about everything in common. Exposed. Vulnerable. Shaking like a leaf — naked as the day we were born – we all look pretty much alike.

Now Adam and Eve tried to cover up with fig leaves. Naked and ashamed and cast out east of Eden. But biblically speaking — Adam and Eve got this naked thing all wrong. And biblically speaking, the flawed and famous King David — got it so, so right.

David paraded the Ark of the Covenant into the city he named for himself…. all the citizens “making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs, and lyres and harps, and tambourines, and castanets, and cymbals…. David danced before the Lord with all his might… leaping and shouting”…naked as the day he was born….(2 Samuel 6,7)

Michal, his wife, was mortified. David, however, was glorified. Glorified by the God who chose him. Glorified by the God who loved him. Glorified by the God who created him – flaws and all – warts and all. Unashamedly, unabashedly loved him.

So friends, are you ready to get naked with me? Are you ready to get naked in public?

JoaniSign


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Mental Health Day

ferris and the ferrari

Ferris and the Ferarri

Remember Ferris Bueller’s Bacchanalia?

Ferris’s best class was cutting class. On the verge of graduation, he can’t resist the temptation to skip one last time. He “barfs up a lung” and calls in sick. He “borrows” a Ferarri and convinces his hypochondriac sidekick to go along for the ride. They take off through the streets of Chicago. Hilarious misadventure ensues.

Ferris hijacks a float in the city’s Van Steuben Day Parade, grabs a microphone, twirls it like a baton, and steals the show. All along the parade route, bystanders break out break dancing. Rock out, Chicago!

The Ferrari unfortunately does not fare as well as Ferris does.

The 1961 250 GT goes airborne twice to the Star Wars theme. It does not make it through the credits. Ferris and his friend run it in reverse in hopes of turning the odometer back. But there is no resurrecting the car. Driverless it takes a suicide dive off a cliff into the trees below.

“You killed the car.”

Ferris Bueller just celebrated his “30th” birthday. For thirty years the film has inspired high schoolers to take a “mental health day”. For thirty years the film has inspired really just about everyone to take one incredible and unforgettable “mental health day”.

“Mental health day” , of course, means you’re faking it. You’re lying. You’re goofing off. You’re playing hookie. You’re going AWOL. You’re sneaking around – hoping not to get caught.

Manically speaking, however — “mental health day” — I am here to tell you — is a very real thing.

I took one just the other day.

Hypo-manically flying beneath the radar, I climb, I soar, I swoop and ascend. I coast on clouds in blue, blue skies – on clouds of voluminous white.

My flight is fueled by work, by books, by friends, by family, by church, by walking, by music, by earth, by wind, by fire.

My flight is fueled by coffee and caffeine and extracurriculars.

I f*ing ace at extracurriculars.

I begin to believe that I have flown above my bipolar brain, that I’ve broken the bipolar sound barrier. I believe I’ve discovered anti-gravity.  My feet need never touch the ground again. The only direction to go is UP!

So I stay up later doing more and more. I stay up later and I get up earlier – because even in my dreams my head is racing. Racing, racing, racing and there is no finish line. There is no finish line at all.

And then hoped for things do not come true and along with that comes a rejection and a disappointment or two.

I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it, I tell myself. And then I can’t.

I wake up with a dull, twisted, knotted feeling in my stomach. It’s a nauseous feeling tinged with grief and loss. And this grownup woman is bereft as a child.

I curl up in the fetal position, the covers pulled over my head, and then a little voice says,

“I think it’s best, Joani, if you take a mental health day.”

A mental health day is a very real thing – just as real any day away for a virus or a broken limb. Your brain is broken and you are in fear of literally losing your mind. You feel your soul slipping from your grip. You pray not to sink beneath the waves.

Call in sick. Go back to bed.

Yes, call in sick.

But DO NOT, let me repeat, DO NOT climb back into that bed. Get up out that f*ing bed – no matter how f*ing hard it is. Make that bed up as best you can so that you can’t slip between the sheets again.

Eat something real. Wear something gorgeous and go out the f*ing door. Soak in the sun or walk in the soaking rain. Go outside no matter what the weatherman says.

Find yourself a table at a little offbeat bistro and order a gourmet meal. Walk down to the river. Read a book.

See your therapist. Visit a friend. Call your daughter.

Talk to God and rattle some beads.

Go home. Crank up the music and dance in your living room.

Take a shower, take your meds, and get a good night’s sleep.

Re-animate yourself.

Resurrect yourself.

Take a mental health day.

It’s a very real thing – a very real thing, indeed.

JoaniSign


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Tickets for “Unhinged”! Free! Please RSVP to SpeakEasyDC!

speakeasydc

Unhinged: True Stories about Living with Mental Illness premiers live on the SpeakeasyDC stage April 25th, 8:00 pm, at Emmanuel on High (no, not Immanuel on the Hill!), 1608 Russell Rd, Alexandria, VA.

Eight masterfully crafted first person tales of living with mental illness, loving someone with mental illness, or working in the field of mental illness.

Tickets are now available. The performance is free. Please RSVP to SpeakeasyDC. Click on the link to reserve a seat.

http://speakeasydc.com/events/item/unhinged

Let’s pack the house and make a difference.

Hope to see you there.

JoaniSign


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Pitch Your Story by February 25 for Unhinged: True Tales of Living with Mental Illness, April 25 – Updated Form!

Colorful-Brain

Colorfully coming Unhinged.

 

Dear followers of U&U,

I hope you read my recent post, U&U Coming to a SpeakEasyDC Stage Near U, April 25. (http://wp.me/p4wnf7-hr). Now here is your invitation to join me on stage for Unhinged: True Stories about Living with Mental Illness. True tales told live to make a difference!

Interested? Here’s the opportunity to pitch your own story. Here’s whats required. All the info is  in link below. Summarize your tale in 1600 characters or less, give us your contact information, and click “submit”! Selected storytellers need to commit to 4-6 group rehearsals prior to the performance.Stage fright? Don’t worry. All storytellers will be professionally coached!

http://speakeasydc.com/shows/pitch-your-story (choose “unhinged”)

JoaniSign

Colorful-Brain

Colorfully coming Unhinged.

 

Dear followers of U&U,

I hope you read my recent post, U&U Coming to a SpeakEasyDC Stage Near U, April 25. (http://wp.me/p4wnf7-hr). Now here is your invitation to join me on stage for Unhinged: True Stories about Living with Mental Illness. True tales told live to make a difference!

Interested? Here’s the opportunity to pitch your own story. Here’s whats required. All the info is  in link below. Summarize your tale in 1600 characters or less, give us your contact information, and click “submit”! Selected storytellers need to commit to 4-6 group rehearsals prior to the performance.Stage fright? Don’t worry. All storytellers will be professionally coached!

http://speakeasydc.com/shows/pitch-your-story (choose “unhinged”)

JoaniSign


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Naked in Public – or – Coming Out Crazy

 

Naked.

Buck naked.

Locker room naked.

Blame the nuns. Blame eleven years of parochial school. I have never been comfortable naked in the company of strangers. I can count on one hand the number of people in my entire lifetime who have seen me in my altogether. This includes my dear departed mother who changed my diapers:)

Catholic school can mess with your mind and create a crazy kind of modesty. The good sisters told us to put talcum powder in the bath water so we would not see our own naked selves. The water literally had to cover us up to our necks! I guess we were supposed to get undressed with our eyes closed.

So….

High school gym class, I never took a shower. Two years of softball practice, I never took a shower. Three years on the Immaculata basketball team, I never took a shower. Personal hygiene be damned, I never took a shower.

But…

Not because I was modest — because I was TERRIFIED. I was terrified of being exposed. Terrified of baring my bare self to the world. Terrified the world would know everything about me. Terrified of being naked in public.

I am still terrified. I am in the pool twice a week at my local rec center. The locker room is awash with naked ladies of every shape and size. A room full of naked ladies — totally comfortable and free as a breeze. Not me. I go into the “closet” and change my clothes. God forbid a neighbor sees me! God forbid a parishioner sees me! God forbid anybody — but me — sees me.

Totally exposed. Totally vulnerable. Totally out of control. Bare naked for all the world to see.

It is not easy for this bipolar soul to step out of the locker room closet. Those of us who are bipolar have to be very careful where we bare our souls. We have to be very, very careful coming out this particular closet.

Coming out — crazy.

Be careful how you come out. You risk being labeled, categorized, stigmatized, and marginalized. You risk condescension and discrimination. You risk being stereotyped and stuck in a box. You risk being hurt.

A friend– who should know better — told me not to risk it. No one will hire you. No church will call you. You will never be a rector. Maybe never even an associate again. Maybe not even a supply priest. Stay in the closet. Don’t come out. It’s way too risky.

So I didn’t. Instead I tried to educate, elucidate, and illuminate the IGNORANT and the INDIFFERENT with FACTS and FIGURES. Do you know 20% of the world walks around with a mental health issue? Do you know 50% of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetimes? Facts and figures are all well and good. But facts and figures alone make very little difference. Very little difference indeed.

So I took a risk.

I decided that I had to come out of this particular closet. Five years ago I came out to my boss. Three years ago on campus, I came out in the pulpit. Twice I have come out in public forums. I have come out – crazy — in four different parishes.

And in April of this year, I came out on Unorthodox & Unhinged. And with this post – in words — I have now come out 32 times.

Naked at work.

Naked at church.

Naked on the internet. FaceBooked. Tweeted.

And with this 32nd post, November 6, 2014, I come out in living color — totally exposed. Kristin Adair, a good friend and mental health advocate, is also a budding photo-journalist. Kristin asked if she could shadow me at work, at home, at church – to profile in pictures — a bipolar life.

Walking the dog, eating breakfast, watching TV, taking meds, hiking Huntley Meadows, blogging on my couch, celebrating the Eucharist.

In my pajamas. In my sweats. In my kitchen. In my bedroom.

Out of this crazy closet — naked for all the world to see.

(Just click the “play arrow” and you can see too!)

And the truth be told — naked — we all look pretty much look alike. Naked — we all have just have about everything in common. Exposed. Vulnerable. Shaking like a leaf — naked as the day we were born – we all look pretty much alike.

Now Adam and Eve tried to cover up with fig leaves. Naked and ashamed and cast out east of Eden. But biblically speaking — Adam and Eve got this naked thing all wrong. And biblically speaking, the flawed and famous King David — got it so, so right.

David paraded the Ark of the Covenant into the city he named for himself…. all the citizens “making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs, and lyres and harps, and tambourines, and castanets, and cymbals…. David danced before the Lord with all his might… leaping and shouting”…naked as the day he was born….(2 Samuel 6,7)

Michal, his wife, was mortified. David, however, was glorified. Glorified by the God who chose him. Glorified by the God who loved him. Glorified by the God who created him – flaws and all – warts and all. Unashamedly, unabashedly loved him.

So friends, are you ready to get naked with me? Are you ready to get naked in public?

JoaniSign