Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Curse of the Moody Polar Bears

Looks like I’m going to have to use this blog as a rant forum again this entry. Here goes: both at the last office I worked in and in my current one, I’ve noticed a trend of people who don’t like someone else assuming that the person they don't like is bipolar. “Bipolar” really seems to have made it into the lexicon of well-known words. A person will say something like, “God she drives me crazy. She’s totally bipolar, I can tell.” At my last office, I wasn’t overly fond of much of the staff, so it was hard for me to not say something like “better bipolar than sub-intelligent.”

But now I like my co-workers, yet I still overhear all these assumptions that their enemies must be bipolar, to describe said enemy’s unfathomable jerkiness. It really makes me feel like shit every single time I hear something like this. Bipolar people are a pain in the ass to deal with, okay, I get it. I believe that, at best, psychiatry is a misogynist pseudoscience fueled by kickbacks from the drug companies to the less ethical of the "doctors", so I’m not here to attack the misuse of a clinical term. I just feel like when people complain about “bipolar” assholes that are hard to deal with, well, it’s just too thoughtless, and also, it’s hard not to take personally. At my old office, when someone would bitch about a bipolar co-worker I’d say “oh really? Hmm. I’m bipolar,” just to keep people on their toes. It is hard not to take the casual use of that word a bit personally.
When I had a nervous breakdown and became an outpatient at a mental health facility, it was a prerequisite that the intake doctor give you a diagnosis, and I was given “Bipolar II” (like the Scarecrow being given his diploma or the Tin Man his heart-shaped watch). It is different from the regular, heartbreaking Bipolar disorder. Bipolar II includes racing thoughts and rapid cycling mood swings. So instead of spending a year trying to start one’s own business and then the next year homeless, the type of extreme action that someone with Bipolar disorder might do – I, who may or may not legitimately be classified Bipolar II (I think the best term for me is probably bummer-magical) have a hard time controlling how fast my thoughts go in the morning, even before coffee. I have short-lived manias, and I don’t really have bad depression crashes because I’m on an anti-depressant. The “rapid cycling” that characterizes bipolar II is a rapid cycling of moods, and yes, I’m very moody, laughing one second and bitching really harshly at someone two minutes later. Anyway, maybe I’m bipolar II, maybe I’m just me. But it really seems such a terse dismissal of people’s problems (people diagnosed as Bipolar usually have a much harder time than what I’ve described as my own rollercoaster) when people use the term Bipolar to complain about someone who is a moody, indecisive asshole. If you are one of those people who has fallen into the habit of using "bipolar" casually, could you try, just for a week, to try replacing the word “bipolar” with “moody” or “indecisive”? Or even a really gnarly swearword nickname. I’m just trying to keep some things, like the suffering of the mental ill, sacred.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

short story

Angel Girls
By Robin Crane

Martin started giving him advice about girls when Tom was in his early teens. The advice focused on the bleak side of love, and all of Martin’s theories were proven true in Tom’s unfolding love life, leading Martin to guiltily wonder (at least he’d had his heart in the right place when he’d warned Tom of the landmines and Chinese Fingertraps hidden in an interesting girls’ psyche) if he’d created a self-fulfilling prophecy for his brother.

Two stoned young adults lying on their respective beds in the bedroom they shared, always lying on their backs and keeping their eyes trained on the ceiling instead of at each other (at night with the lights turned off, the glow-in-the-dark constellation stickers Martin’d long ago stood on a ladder and stuck to the ceiling gave them a landscape they never tired of staring at), they talked late into the night, almost every night.

Martin said once, “You’re going to have the same problem I do. You’re going to fall in love with – well actually, you’re going to fall in love with girls like Tammy (Tammy was Tom’s crush from 2nd through 4th grade). Ha, what do you know?, it’s already happened. Tammy was different than all the other girls at your school, right?”

“Of course. She was amazing, she was so pretty. She was like if someone stuck the soul of Garbo inside the body of Shirley Temple and then turned Shirley Temple into a Marilyn Manson fan.”

“Right. She already had a sense of style, and I remember when she came over to the house after school sometimes, she was nuts. She always said these weird things, or else she’d be uncomfortably quiet and mom’d have to twist her arm to get a complete sentence out of her. And she was kind of funny-looking but she was pretty too. I’m right, right?”

“Spot on,” Tom said, being in the midst of his British slang phrase. “You know, I still think about Tammy sometimes. I tried looking her up on Facebook but I couldn’t find her. I think her family moved to somewhere in Oregon, somewhere near Portland.”

“Well, yeah, of course you miss her sometimes, she was your first love. But she’s probably either a lesbian, a cutter, or, like, an inpatient at a drug treatment center by now. Or so charming she crushes everything in her path. Some of these crazy girls are so charming it’s like torture, because then they turn on a dime. They end up on sex benders too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Girls like the type I like, because they’re special … girls you’ll like … we like them because they’re different, but they’re different, they wear weird clothes and mouth off in class and it seems so wonderful to be the one to take care of them, because they’re damaged. Their stepdads or uncles molested them. It’s always something like that with these girls. They always end up having some weird sex issues. You can never just be, like, their man, their important person. Their brains are always crowded with all this other bad stuff.”

“Not always. That can’t always be true, with every beautiful girl either of us is ever going to like, forever and ever. You’re smart, big brother, but you and over-dramatization are like…” Tom wasn’t expected to finish the thought, because they were stoned. Thoughts were allowed to hang in the air in these circumstances, the unsaid portions being unnecessary to say because they were easy to guess at.

“You just wait and see,” Martin said. He was only half-kidding; he’d just had his heart broken that day. “The best girls are so crazy. Something bad has always happened to them. There’s nothing to do, though, once you’ve met one of these girls. You just have to smile to yourself the first time she kisses you, and feel devastated with pleasure once you guys start doing it, and then she’ll start to get too paranoid and awful to stand or else she’ll just decide she’s done with you and, and that’s what happens.”

“I think I know this already,” Tom giggled.

“Oh yeah? How?”

“Movies and songs. Especially songs.”

“Well anyway, good luck. I just you needed warning. Do what you will with this knowledge, Tonto.” These were the last words he said before turning his back to his brother and falling asleep that night.

This vision of Tom’s romantic future proved, as I said, prophetic. All these girls, these beautiful girls with self-inflicted cigarette burns on their arms like irritated mosquito bites, and the sexual history of having been too promiscuous or of having let nobody touch them. All these beautiful, irreverent artists. They never needed him or else they needed him too much. Instead of self-exploration, the problems of his current girlfriend was what he meditated on in his idle time. But Martin had insinuated that these girls carried on, somehow immortal.
Martin had not warned him that these girls possessed any vulnerabilities they were not able to use to their advantage. Tom had to find this out himself. He was 23. His girlfriend’s name was Marie. She had dark brown hair and a too-generous inclination which led her to allow homeless men to make inappropriate remarks towards her, the type of behavior that she deemed worthy of a slap in the face when it came from a peer or a business man (she was beautiful and appealing to almost all men). Because her parents were well-off, they’d bought her a Lexus SUV. It was much too noticeable an automobile for her but it would have been unkind to refuse the gift.

What happened was that she was driving late at night down a side street, and a car that’d been behind her suddenly sped past, though the street only had one lane for each direction, and blocked her so that she could not drive forward. Marie had pepper spray in her purse but as the man who got out of the car and walked towards her kept his stare meeting hers, and she urinated on herself, she knew that the weapon would be of no use, it would be too hard to move enough to use the pepper spray. Plus, she just couldn’t hurt another person. This is the story as her friend, Pansy, sitting in the passenger seat, told it. “Just keep the windows rolled up and gun it. Just start driving. Run him over if you have to. Marie?” Marie did keep her window rolled up, staring at the tall, heavyset, bald white man who was staring at her and who raised a gun level with her head and shot her in the head through the glass of the window. He tried to open her door to toss the body out and get in behind the wheel, but the door was locked, and the way he got in the car was to let Pansy stumble and run away, and then to get in through the passenger’s side of the SUV. Up ahead, his brother got behind the wheel of their car, and the assailant followed behind in the Lexus to their house three blocks away, where the Lexus would be stashed in the garage for the night.

Pansy moved to Columbus but one night when she was back in L.A. because her parents and her therapist had decided together that celebrating the holidays might be a healthy move for “reintegrating her emotionally into society,” she and Tom ran into each other at the grocery store and she said, “Could we hang out for awhile?”

“I’d like that. We can’t talk about Marie though, I can’t do that.”
In place of verbal agreement, Pansy just blanched.

“So,” Tom was trying to keep things as light as possible, “uh, we’ll just go stand in line and buy our stuff, and…since neither of us have anything that’ll go bad, we can leave it in my trunk and-“

“Oh, my dad was going to pick me up in a half hour, in front of the store.”

“Oh, okay, I’ll just sit with you until he comes if you want.”
He could see that her brain was hurriedly running through scenarios, sentences, outcomes, memories, but he couldn’t even guess at the gist of these thoughts.

“I changed my mind, Tom, I just want to wait for my dad by myself. I’m sorry. Sorry about Marie and sorry I’m about to blow you off. I just have to do what’s best for me.”

That’s true. When a woman is in a threatening situation or feels threatened by the prospect of life itself, she has to do what’s best for her. These special women that Martin and Tom are drawn to resemble feral cats sometimes. These special women can die. Everyone dies someday.