not worth chewing through the straps

real me

In psychology, integration is usually associated with success in dissociative identity disorder, not bipolar disorder, but I think that’s part of the drug and release modus operandi adopted by most mental health practitioners in response to bipolar disorder.

A still from 'The Salton Sea'
I’m reflecting, and there’s a picture with a mirror. See what I did there?

One girl, two moods. Maybe what I need isn’t mood stabilizers and antidepressants, these chemicals that alter how I naturally feel; maybe what I need is to get good with feeling everything. Maybe what I need is to just get good with being myself.

A still from 'The Salton Sea'
Wait, what?

Of course, then the question becomes: who am I? How much of this is bipolar disorder, and how much of it is me? I don’t remember how normal feels, how I am without bipolar disorder, and even when I’m on drugs, I’m just that: bipolar and on drugs. What parts of me are intrinsic, and what parts are the disease?

high on life and also heroin

the saint

In 1997, Val made a film called The Saint. The movie was an adaptation of a series of novels by British author Leslie Charteris. Though I hadn’t heard of The Saint or its protagonist, Simon Templar, until I saw this movie, it’s very popular abroad; in addition to the novels, there have been many radio, film, television, and graphic interpretations of the books. Simon was even played by Roger Moore, who you probably know as Bond, James Bond.

A still from 'The Saint'
Long story short: The Saint is kind of a big deal.

Val plays the Saint himself, Simon Templar. Simon’s life of crime began early; he used his quick mind and his good hands to pick locks and filch extra food in the orphanage in which he was raised. Stealing is his only real talent—okay, stealing and romancing women are his only real talents, but the film is rated PG-13, so guess which one he does for a living.

A still from 'The Saint'
Simon and his hilarious mini-camera, doing a little pre-stealing legwork.

Simon’s got a fun job, a plush bank account, and women love him; life should be peachy. But he’s also got a problem. The saints.

A still from 'The Saint'
Simon as Martin de Porres, in one of his many manwigs. *
* Val hired a wigmaker for this movie. The wigmaker lived with him on the set of the film he was shooting previously, The Ghost and the Darkness. Please imagine: Val Kilmer, a wigmaker, and a dialect coach, living in a hut on a game preserve in Africa. If this doesn’t delight you, I’m not sure we can be friends.

Simon’s job is highly illegal and usually not terribly subtle, so instead of going around as himself, he uses a myriad of disguises, all named and modeled after Catholic saints. The trouble is, he never seems to have the occasion to be himself. He is always somebody else.

A still from 'The Saint'
Simon and his Thomas More wig. He sees the problem here, too.

What Simon really needs is a shrink, but in the film he settles for Elisabeth Shue as a nuclear physicist—no, really—a person with whom he can finally be himself.

A still from 'The Saint'
See? Look how happy regular, unwigged Simon is.

forgive me father for i have sinned


I’ve been giving a lot of though to the subject of passing. As euphemisms go, it’s fairly benign, but I hate it. As analogies go, it’s gross. What do we pass? The buck. Pass the buck. We pass money—counterfeit money. When you pass, it’s like saying you’re not genuine. Like being white, or straight, or sane—that’s genuine. And if you’re not that, you’re fake. You’re not real.

A still from 'Spartan'
A still from Spartan, my go-to film for Val looking handsomely pensive.

I want to be real.

A still from 'Thunderheart'
All my armor falling down.

Sometimes I don’t feel real. I feel empty, a shell full of sticky scratchy insulation—something manmade, mostly air. When what you are exists only as a counterpoint to the norm, it’s difficult to feel real.

  • Current Mood
    depressed depressed
  • Tags
there is no soundness in my flesh


I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject of passing. Because, as PC as modern American society is, it’s still commonplace—acceptable—to make slurs about the mentally ill. People say, “Oh, you know me; I’m so crazy!” You’re not crazy. You’re wacky, maybe, or zany, or maybe you have a unique fashion sense or can’t hold your liquor. You’re not crazy. I’m crazy. Will you be on medication the rest of your life? Do you fantasize about killing yourself? No? Then you’re not fucking crazy, so stop saying it.

A still from 'Spartan'
Seriously. We are not joking about this.

“Bipolar,” specifically, is often used. Anyone whose keel isn’t even gets the kneejerk, “Oh, Jimmy is so bipolar sometimes.” Jimmy is moody; maybe Jimmy’s an asshole. Jimmy is not bipolar; stop saying it.

A still from 'Blind Horizon'
You wouldn’t pretend to have a head injury to spice up your conversation, would you?

The worst part is that the default assumption is that you’re sane. Bipolar disorder is a silent illness; it isn’t like blindness or polio, where people can just look at you and tell. They assume you’re “normal”—read, sane—until proven otherwise.

A still from 'Heat'
You’re only as sick as your secret.

So you pass, until someone says something. Until someone says that they’re crazy for wearing white after Labor Day, or says something ignorant like people with mental illnesses don’t need drugs; they just need to think positively. And then, maybe you can’t keep your big mouth shut, and everybody knows your secret.

A still from 'The Salton Sea'
It feels better this way, doesn’t it?

Or maybe you can keep your mouth shut, and you sit there, persecuted and hunted, an aberration. But passing.

better put a leash on your boy


Just one of Val's many Federal Issue Bitch Faces.

In 1992, Val Kilmer starred in Thunderheart (my very favorite Val Kilmer movie, for those of you playing the at-home version), a creative reimagining of the problems experienced by the American Indian Movement in the late 1970s. Val plays Special Agent Ray Levoi, an FBI agent who is chosen for an assignment in the Badlands because his biological father—who died when Ray was a child, and whom he has long since buried in his psyche—was half Sioux.

Val detecting things. With intense SRSness.

Ray’s stepfather is a military man, and well regarded by the FBI brass. Ray has essentially been passing all of his life, but at the end of the day, his stepfather may be one of the boys, but he isn’t.

Lord, this scene is a gift to all my aesthetic sensibilities.

The moment his friends and colleagues at the FBI see a way they can use him—as a PR stunt, as a symbol, not as a person and certainly not as the “fine field agent” he has proven himself to be—they do it. They use him, and the place in the world Ray has spent his life crafting is destroyed.

I fear no evil, for thou art with me.

Thunderheart is about many things, racial and political and spiritual things, but at its heart it is Ray’s story, his story of finding his new place in the world now that he is no longer content to “pass.”

this shit is fucking stressful

self loathing

In the vein of self-injury and suicidal ideation, self-loathing is a self-destructive fact of life for the bipolar patient.

A still from 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'
Are you fucking kidding me with this post? Who are you to write this post?

Self-loathing mostly goes with depression, but it can also pop up during mixed states and mania. Self-loathing is even a problem when the patient is medicated, because by then it is a learned behavior.

A still from 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'
Shut up, Mind! I needed you for the SAT’s, but that was it!

Self-loathing is like having Perry van Shrike live in your head. It’s not an external voice—that’s schizophrenia—but your own, saying hateful things to you all the livelong day. You sit down to write a paper. Perry watches over your shoulder.

“Who the fuck are you to string to words together?”

“Shut up,” you say, and begin to write. Perry waits until you make a mistake.

“Of all the dipshit things to do,” he says. “Who taught you grammar?”

You tap irritably at the backspace key. “Sane people make mistakes.”

“How you can claim to know that, given your vast experience with sanity, is beyond me,” Perry says. “I can’t believe you’re doing this. Why don’t you just go outside and step in front of a bus, instead?”

“Quiet, you.”

A still from 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'
Perry does not have time for your shenanigans.

You finish the paper, and print a copy to turn in. Perry watches you wrestle the stapler.

“I sure as shit hope you’re better at collating than you are at, oh, anything else.”

“I can’t even collate in peace?”

“Apparently not, idiot,” Perry says, and nods at the bead of blood welling up on your thumb. Stupid stapler.

And on it goes. You cannot even collate without your backseat driver critiquing everything that you do. At least with self-loathing, you’re never self-lonely.

not worth chewing through the straps

kiss kiss bang bang

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a difficult film to classify. It meets the criteria of noir, but it also subverts the genre for laughs, so it’s somewhere between an homage and a satire.

A still from 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'
Val getting his noir on.

Val plays Perry van Shrike, called “Gay Perry” for the obvious reason. Gay Perry, in a subversion of noir’s strict gender roles, is the most competent, bad ass character in the film.

A still from 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'
The anger management isn’t paying off, but the self-defense lessons sure are.

He’s also one of the funniest, with an acerbic humor usually aimed at Harry Lockhart, the film’s protagonist.
PERRY: Jesus. Look up “idiot” in the dictionary, you know what you’ll find?
HARRY: A picture of me?
PERRY: No, the definition of the word “idiot,” which you fucking are!

Perry van Shrike is not a man who suffers fools.

this shit is fucking stressful

cocktail part two: H-A-P-P-P-I

Effexor is from a class of drugs called SNRIs: selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. They work by stopping the “reuptake” of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine; basically they make it so that, instead of being put away neatly, these chemicals slosh around in your brain, getting used over and over again.

A still from 'The Ghost and the Darkness'
A still from 'The Ghost and the Darkness'
John Henry Patterson is Irish, so his mood elevator of choice is not Effexor, but—oh, you get the joke.

SNRI’s are antidepressants; their job is to elevate mood. Doctors will always start bipolar patients on a mood stabilizer before putting them on an antidepressant, even if they are suicidal, because an antidepressant can raise the mood too much, causing mania. Ironically, antidepressants can also cause increased depression; there has been trouble, especially with younger people, about increased suicidal ideation following the start of an Effexor or other antidepressant regimen.

A still from 'At First Sight'
This shit is stressful.

Because serotonin and norepinephrine work in a lot of different body systems, drugs like Effexor have a lot of side effects. The most common are things like nausea and somnolence (feeling sleepy all the time), but there are also instances of things like muscle pain or weakness, blurred vision, anorexia, tachycardia (elevated heart rate), and tremor.

A still from 'Blind Horizon'
The lines on my face getting clearer.

Antidepressants as a whole have two major side effects that cause patients to buck treatment. The first is weight gain. Use of antidepressants usually causes weight gain between 10 and 50 pounds, but can sometimes cause gains of more than 100 pounds. Antidepressants cause increased cravings and low energy levels; additionally, serotonin is involved in telling the body when it has had enough to eat, and the manipulation of the neurotransmitter by antidepressants can cause it to fail in this job.

A still from 'Willow'
“I don’t love her! She kicked me in the face!”

The second major side effect of antidepressants is low sex drive and sexual dysfunction. This side effect can manifest in a number of ways, from complete deadening of the libido to inability to orgasm to inability to feel emotions of romantic attachment; antidepressants can keep you from falling in love.

forgive me father for i have sinned

cocktail part one: joker face

Right now, I take Abilify and Effexor. To your face, a doctor will call Abilify a “mood stabilizer,” but it’s really from a class of drugs called “atypical antipsychotics.” It’s the same medicine they give to people with schizophrenia to calm them down. It’s a sedative.

A Still from 'Blind Horizon'
Val isn’t a morning person. Me neither, buddy.

And it’s a sedative with terrifying side effects. The metabolism is affected; patients gain so much weight, and are unable to shed it, that often that is their sole reason for dumping the drug. It’s a choice between being fat and well or thin and sick.

A still from 'Spartan'
It’s kind of a grim prospect, isn’t it?

And then there’s the big one. The big side effect—the trademark of antipsychotics—is called tardive dyskinesia. Tardive dyskinesia is permanent, irreversible side effect, a movement disorder in which your body moves repetitively and without your involvement. Your body moves without your permission, and it does it all the time. You cannot not move. The movements are usually in the face, mouth, and jaw; Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight has tardive dyskinesia.

A still from 'Spartan'
Val has heard about enough. But wait, there’s more!

Atypical antipsychotics are so-called because they were developed specifically to make patients less at risk for tardive dyskinesia than the original (“typical”) antipsychotics. But studies suggest that, after sustained use, being on any kind of antipsychotic will likely result in tardive dyskinesia.

And, if you stay in treatment, you will be on drugs for your whole life.

better put a leash on your boy

polar bear

Let’s talk about drugs.

Drugs are a fact of life for the bipolar patient. I have said it before, but mental health professionals basically have one mode with bipolar patients: drug and release. If you are going to be in treatment, you will be in treatment your whole life. And this means being on drugs for your whole life.

A still from 'Thunderheart'
In Lakota, the pipe is called channúnpa wakhan. Val’s expression is called hilarious.

Which would be fine, if being on psych meds was like popping a daily low-dose aspirin: good for you, and with minimum side effects.

It isn’t.

A still from 'Wonderland'
I’m glad I’m not a heroin addict. It seems really inconvenient.

Even when they’re working properly and you’re taking them exactly how you should, psych meds have an enormous number of side effects. I’ve lost weight, gained weight. I’ve gone weeks without sleeping, and then they put you on sleeping meds and you still can’t sleep, so you’re just the walking dead. Depakote made me feel nothing. Cymbalta made me feel so much—everything—that I had to be tranquilized.

If you are going to be in treatment, you will be in treatment your whole life.

This means being on drugs for your whole life.