By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
While Bi-polar syndrome only affects a couple percent of Americans, it affects 100 percent of me.
Worse, my faulty brain chemistry affects 100 percent of the people with whom I come into contact, in some way or another.
Mental illness is insidious that way – people with cancer get sympathy is they cannot perform on the job or if they take to their bed.
Not so with folks like me; our periods of illness (whether on our joyous high or in the deepest funk) read to most observers as failings of character, or signs of substance abuse.
One close friend of mine, an elected official, told me recently that I needed to “stop acting this way.” I know where his heart lies; his intent was golden but unfortunately misguided.
I can no more “stop acting like this” than a person with brain cancer can “stop having brain cancer.”
Hell, I didn’t even know I was bi-polar until three years ago. When I entered rehab because of my drinking (I thought I could consume all the alcohol I wanted, but found it consuming me instead), a visit to a psychiatrist uncovered bi-polar symptoms that went beyond my 18-year old depression diagnosis.
It explained a lot, like my drinking and drugging through the decades. Self-medication ruled my life, whether beer (seldom booze unless gin on the rocks), pot, coke, crack, and meth, my drug of choice at the time changed my mood.
It also paved the way for all my epic risky behaviors through the years just as it explained why I usually seek, rather than avoid, trouble.
More recently, when I’m not under the covers wetting my pillow, I act large, loud and gregarious. Joy exudes from me; I seem to have a charisma during those periods that people respond to well.
Unless I am wide-eyed enough to scare them. My public notoriety stems in part from that side of my illness – at least the manic side.
To me, whose mission is to correct injustices and work toward the betterment of the community, those moments in which I become the news represent my worst failures.
My best contributions come when I can work slowly, assiduously and carefully to present newsmakers’ and thinkers’ ideas it falls to me to relay to you.
I fail when overtaken by excitement and that enthusiasm (fanaticism?) bleeds through onto the screen.
The National Institute of Mental Health tells anyone who wants to know that sufferers of bi-polar disorder enjoy “unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
They go on to try to impress us with how severe the symptoms can be, saying the symptoms, “are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through… can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance and even suicide.”
It doesn’t sound too bad to me (except that last part: in the past when I’ve given it admittedly diffident shots, it gained me neither sufficient attention nor satisfaction (unless you go the whole way, apparently nobody counts it, and why would I kill myself if I don’t get the chance to hang around and gloat about everybody else’s tragic loss? Just who’s a guy gotta kill around here to someone to look his way?).
I’ve been through it. All of it and more in ways you cannot imagine – ways that still shock me.
“Damaged,” “poor performance” and “suicide” don’t do the bi-polar experience justice. I know what is really involved, and “damage” doesn’t describe the detritus, the wreckage – human and physical – in my wake.
My life with bi-polar is a constant struggle to keep from hurting others first, and second, to stay productive despite the knowledge of that long list of trespasses.
Of course, there are treatments. Getting the chemicals in my brain to work like they do in other peoples’ brains is no simple process, and the side-effects of psychotropic drugs can be, well, very effective – in sidelining a guy (or gal).
Nutrition, exercise and avoiding stressors play an important role in my living healthfully. Regularizing schedules can be helpful.
Avoiding stressors, though… well, you try it for a year or two.
Since leaving rehab and rebuilding WeHo News as a homeless family, my husband and I have faced a few rough spots.
Last year I was chosen to participate in a clinical drug trial, a test of a new, not-yet-approved treatment that would cure me of one of my chronic ailments. I write openly about my HIV status, but cannot recall at the moment if I have disclosed my Hepatitis C.
The drug, offered through AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s partnership with Cedars-Sinai Hospital, is intended to cure Hep C in people who also suffer from HIV. IN addition, it represents a new treatment designed to keep at a minimum the psychological side-effects of the traditional Hep C cure, interferon, which carried severe depressive side-effects, such as suicide, in people with any disposition to depression or mental illness.
For that reason, treating my Hepatitis had always been a back burner issue, but I began it eagerly. My team included a psychiatrist to watch my mental state as my body responded to the treatment because of the drama unfolding inside my body.
Drama it was, too. My Hepatitis was fairly severe (the chief reason I got into the clinical trial – in ultrasonic pics, it looked like an old shoe too long in a bulldog’s possession from all the drinking, drugging and disease).
Viruses live, and have the same will to live that you and I share. They tend not to go quietly into the night (consider your last cold virus’s rebellion against treatment, the coughs, sneezing, fluids dripping). Hep C is no exception.
My cure came like the proverbial gusts of war and flattened me for weeks. Every symptom of Hep C got amplified manifold; I cannot recall a time in my life when I was as sick as that for as long as that. Emotionally, I was a wreck.
Still, I knew that this, too, would pass and I would soon be free of the liver disease that spelled my doom.
Life, however, unfolds in great cycles and small; in the middle of that treatment my mother died. A little more than a year ago, in September. Psychiatrists say that a death in the family tops out the list of life’s stressors.
The loss affected me deeply; attending the wake led to my estrangement from part of my family, deepening the loss still further.
By Thanksgiving, although on the mend from the Hep C cure and steadily regaining physical strength, my mental health lagged – and then my shrink quit.
The psychiatrist with whom my Hepatitis C doctor worked closely to monitor and adjust my brain chemistry to accommodate the physical chemistries at work left his post suddenly, about three weeks after I completed the pill-taking part of the treatment.
I still saw my psychologist (admittedly irregularly) and pushed on through life sticking to my recovery program’s practice and focusing on work.
Long ago laid plans to refocus the editorial content of the site began; a partnership with a web company promised technical support as well as some simmering revenue streams started.
An NGO non-profit historical society for the city sat on the table waiting its turn; I sifted through the beginnings of my next history of the city; because of the worldwide nature of my readership (one-in-six of you are outside the US), the high regard with which social justice advocates view West Hollywood’s ideals and my intimate knowledge of those ideals and their development, I even started planning a speaking tour.
Then, in April, the onsite building manager of our apartment building began to agitate for our removal. He made ad hominem attacks, insulted us, threatened to “evict” us for specious reasons and generally made life miserable for us – me, as I had left my now defunct French Marketplace office.
Worried about that blow to my health, my husband wrangled the fellow into a luncheon meeting in early May in which he made apologies and a promise to make amends.
A month later, he burst into a similar tirade, making the same threats and even calling the Sheriff to have me arrested for “harassing the landlord.” The Deputies knew as much about that crime as do you – nothing, because it doesn’t exist.
Nonetheless, I reacted to this threat to my home by applying my skill set as a reporter, the first bad judgment call I made. I filed a tenant harassment claim with the city, complete with contemporaneous accounts, photos and videos.
I sought compliance with the laws and clarification on the building’s lease and rules, so in filing the reports, I copied the building’s ownership presuming that they shared my objectives. Second grave error.
During this time my mental health is rockin’ and rollin’. Actually. Days pass during which I don’t know if I’m a foot or horseback.
The verbal attacks and taunts from the manager kept coming in with regularity, sometimes several in a day. I amended my original complaint as needed, but each amendment seemed to provoke another attack.
Believing myself to be utterly justified in asking for what I did, I failed to consider the potential for backlash. My neighbors, at least those who had lived here for decades alongside their friend, the building manager, took up his defense and even began to run quite an offense.
Looking back on it, I have to admit a keen envy in how they manipulated the system.
The cabal apparently arranged for my husband’s and my arrest on false charges of felony assault, felony making criminal/terrorist threats and felony elder abuse.
Arrested in the minutes before the first of the month, their apparent hope was to keep us jailed on the $100,000 bond past the point at which we could be evicted for non-payment of rent.
The detective, though, shopped the allegations for two days without finding a District Attorney to file charges and we were released.
All told, Marcus and I spent four days in the Twin Towers. Not in the Presidential Suite, either. Frankly, accommodations in jail suck harder than the jailers’ attitudes.
The weeks since our release haven’t been part of my joyous times. We had to hire attorneys to fend off the various attacks, both civil and criminal.
Because of those attacks on us, the false accusations and attempts to harm me, I lost weeks – even months – of productive time that people – not just my enemies but even those closest to me – falsely attributed to drug abuse, lack of character, laziness or something else, but not to illness.
Back up to the macro and my life with my buddy, Bi-polar Disorder, and we can see the disorder part more clearly.
Within a year’s time because of my illness I alienated family, neighbors, and friends, supporters of my mission and city officials (my passion for redressing social justice gets intense when I get the blunt end of the unjust act).
I damaged this business.
I didn’t act right and didn’t explain. Now my life is again in uproar; Marcus and I are still looking for a place to land.
There is some political cleaning up to do – apparently an awful lot of people heard the opposite of what I tried to convey in my conversations with them.
It’s not with false humility that I stand a little perplexed, though, about how someone like me, a private citizen who is so regularly dismissed by the “professional publication” in town as an amateur, liar, cheat and as irremediably biased (in what way on which issues, no one has yet said) could become a newsmaker simply by planning a move.
Or how I am deserving of a news article because I discuss politics with politicians.
WeHo News, for those of you who may not recall our mission statement, is a publication dedicated to bettering the city through open, public and dignified dialogue.
Because West Hollywood develops and exports “best practices” in implementing social justice at the municipal level on a variety of “real life” themes such as HIV/AIDS and public/sexual health, drug and substance abuse, mental health, disabilities and senior care to name but a few, I feel it is my duty to speak to you as truthfully as possible.
No subject has been off-limits on these web pages. No subject will be off-limits.
My mind and POV changes with new information.
The reason I write is to end run my illness. This process slows me down enough to consider my words and thoughts, to look at them from many angles and to order them for clarity.
Many people read believing the copy here on this site is meant expressly for them. I’m not WeHo News for nothing – I’ll tell you honestly that most of us write to make sense of things for ourselves.