A State of Grace

photo by Mark Hubbell

I tried to sort out what was happening to me, but with no success. My family and friends had become increasingly concerned.

“You’re not yourself.”

“If I’m not myself, then who are you talking to?”

I thought that might stump them. I was myself, only better. Why couldn’t anyone else understand? My mind was quicker, sharper than it had ever been. The sharpness had an edge, though. It was a steely blade that could wound others if I was not cautious. And I had thrown caution to the wind at the beginning of my ascent into mania. Throwing caution to the wind sounds fearless, but I was not. I had simply forgotten what caution was, and what it was good for.

Words had taken on a different aspect. Each one was a star in a constellation among an infinite number of constellations. Every word had layers of meaning. Some had more layers than others, and discovering the connections between them was crucial. Present was an important word. Even more so was the word grace.

One day I was having a conversation with my dental hygienist. Over the low buzzing sounds coming from the next room, we talked about vacation plans and what our kids were doing. My end of the conversation was limited, of course, by the equipment Regina had in my mouth. She was a devout Catholic who spoke casually about the rituals and beliefs of her church. I’d been raised as a Jew, and Catholicism had always been a mystery to me. I eyed the gleaming, sharp instruments lined up on the tray and thought of the Spanish Inquisition. Regina was telling me that, due to scheduling complications, her son’s confirmation had been delayed.

“But the good news is that he’ll have a few more months to remain in grace.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t want to reveal my ignorance. What the hell did she mean by grace? Not to mention confirmation. Why did her son need to be confirmed—was his existence in question? As my mission to understand the meanings of words became increasingly urgent, I was determined to unravel this code.

I decided to read the Bible in its entirety to look for clues, beginning with the New Testament, since that was completely foreign to me. Maybe I should read the Old Testament, too. I had tried to read it in college, where I was studying comparative religion, but I was never able to get past all of the “begats” in Genesis. As I walked down the street from the dentist’s office I came across the Christian Science Reading Room. Although I had never considered going in before, I did not hesitate now. They must know the meaning of grace. I went in and had a long conversation with the woman inside about theology. At least, the conversation was long on my end. She mostly listened politely.

Eventually she said, “I’m sorry, but I really can’t help you with this. I’m only a volunteer.”

I had expected a more direct emissary of God.

At this point most of my conversations had become very long. People I met were usually eager participants until fatigue overtook them. Me, I was ready to talk all night. All Things Considered was no longer a radio show; it was my life.

Was the meaning of grace inside the Bible? The conversation with the Christian Science Reading Room lady had not revealed an answer.

Didn’t grace have to do with a way of moving, a certain bearing? You either had grace or you did not. Mary, apparently, was full of it.

I knew “Your Grace” was an honorific, although I was unsure if it referred to royalty or to the Pope.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, I read that the choreographer Joe Goode had created a new piece called “Grace,” to be performed at Grace Cathedral. That was, of course, a signal. And I was there. “There but for the grace of God go I.” Was God some sort of celestial ballerina? Clearly most of humanity was pretty klutzy.

Dr. Goldberg’s Quick ‘n’ Easy Mania Questionnaire

Recently, poking around on the internet, I retook an old favorite quiz, the Goldberg Mania Questionnaire.

Ivan Goldberg developed a quick and accurate predictor of mania. This psychological screening predictor can make a diagnosis much simpler. I had been given a paper version of it in Looney Tunes Daycare after my diagnosis, when it was too late to be helpful. I’d scored off the charts.

If only it had occurred to Dr. Gruff to give me this test, or one like it! In my mind I kept hearing what David had told me: “He didn’t ask the right questions.”

There are only 18 questions, which you answer on a scale of “not at all” to something like “oh, most definitely.” Scoring categories are:

51 and up: Severe Bipolar I. Seek medical treatment.

I scored 57 (all but one response being “most definitely”)! I felt oddly proud of this, as I still do for getting 793 out of 800 on the verbal half of the SATs.

It’s important to know the questions. Seriously. They should be printed out and posted everywhere like the checklists for recognizing a stroke. Lives, relationships, and bank accounts could be saved.

On a scale of 0 to 6, with 0 being Not At All and 6 being Very Much, how would you rate yourself?

  1. My mind has never felt sharper
  2. I need less sleep than usual
  3. I have so many plans and new ideas that it is hard for me to work
  4. I feel a pressure to talk and talk
  5. I have been particularly happy
  6. I have been more active than usual
  7. I talk so fast that people have a hard time keeping up with me
  8. I have more new ideas than I can handle
  9. I have been irritable
  10. It’s easy for me to think of jokes and funny stories
  11. I have been feeling like the “life of the party”
  12. I have been full of energy
  13. I have been thinking about sex
  14. I have been feeling particularly playful
  15. I have special plans for the world
  16. I have been spending too much money
  17. My attention keeps jumping from one idea to another
  18. I find it hard to slow down and stay in one place

Looking at this list was like having a mirror thrust in front of me. I was stunned with recognition; I felt exposed, as if my inner secrets had been revealed. Every single item was true of me.

I also felt cheated. The good parts weren’t real? But I’d never been so happy! I had catapulted from Wonderland into harsh reality.

I had the odd sensation that I’d just been in a movie playing myself, like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show. Everything I was experiencing had already been written down; I was only reading lines. The script was complete before this episode began.

The behaviors and thoughts seemed completely random, but there was a pattern.

Depression contracts— you shrink into your own lonely little world—but mania expands. In mania anything seems possible. In my manic state, there were no limits to what I could do; rules didn’t apply to me. My world expanded, too: I felt a kinship with everyone. I felt drawn to people both spiritually and sexually—I really loved everyone!

Speaking in Tongues

So I took the Haldol. The emergency physician had directed me to take one at night and one in the morning. That night my sleep was as black and velvety as a moonless night.

Wait, I’ve slept for 12 hours straight? That has to be more than I needed!

I felt hung over, but at least I could breathe deeply again, and my head seemed to be on a bit straighter. I dutifully took the morning dose of Haldol. Before my current crisis, I’d made plans to get together that day with my friend Janey. She had worked with me in men’s shirts at Dan River. Without consulting each other, we’d both decided to move from New York to San Francisco. I arrived a month before she did.

During Janey’s first week in San Francisco, we’d made a date to go to Golden Gate Park. There was a show there at the De Young museum that we wanted to see. It seemed as though the Haldol had been an effective fix for whatever it was that ailed me, so I didn’t cancel the date.

It was a glorious, sunny day in early spring. We rejoiced in our decision to leave New York. Now we were in a city with a more reasonable climate. As we luxuriated in the sun, surrounded by green swards and flowerbeds, we knew we’d made the right choice. The huge dahlias with their spiky Lisa Simpson hairdos had their own private garden; the riotous scarlet flowers had their own, the Rhododendron Dell. There were multicolored flowers I couldn’t identify; they weren’t from the East Coast. Walking through Golden Gate Park made me calmer.

Then something odd began to happen to the muscles in my face; they tingled and then became rigid. My tongue started pushing out of my mouth. I couldn’t control it.

Oh no. What the bloody hell is this?

 “Why are you sticking your tongue out?” was Janey’s logical question. “Is it something I said”?

“Nnnhh, uff courth naww,” I managed to get out. “Uhh cad thop it”!

“Didn’t you tell me they gave you some kind of medication yesterday”?

“Eth, they diii”!

 “I think we need to get you to ER right away and find out what this is. It must be some kind of side effect from the drug. Do you have the sheet that came with it”?


“Was that a yes or a no”?

I shook my head no, tongue flapping along with me as I turned. It wasn’t just that my tongue was sticking out and I couldn’t put it back in; it was actively pushing out as hard as possible, straining my muscles. It quickly became painful.

In Manhattan you could get a cab simply by sticking out your arm. Cabs were much harder to find in San Francisco. There were none cruising around the park.

We didn’t know where the nearest hospital with an emergency room was, but Janey pulled out a street/ MUNI map. It had icons marking hospitals and other services. Mount Zion was closest to the park—SF General was on the other side of town. Scrutinizing the MUNI line, Janey found that we could go fairly directly from the park to the hospital.

“We’re going to take the bus, OK?”

I assented by waggling my arms. Nodding hurt too much. I could still control my appendages—great! Everything seemed to work all right except for my face. The face problem left me unable to speak. Janey took my arm and steered me toward the bus stop. The thought of calling 911 never occurred to us. This was probably best, since without insurance I could never have paid the thousand or so dollars an ambulance would have cost.

“You have your ID with you, right?”

“Ah thitho.”

When I rummaged around in my bag to check, I discovered that I actually did have a side effects sheet for Haldol. I handed it to Janey, who read it aloud. Under “More Serious Side Effects” there was a warning:

 “Tell your doctor immediately if you develop any facial/muscle twitching such as tongue thrusting.”

Tongue thrusting! Who’d ever heard of such a thing? Certainly not me. I had a vision of dueling tongues: a feint by one, a thrust by another. My own tongue felt as stiff as a sword.

“This is a sign of tardive dyskinesia, which may become permanent even after the medication is stopped,” Janey read.

A bell began ringing in my head. Danger! Danger! Danger!

Fortunately the bus arrived almost immediately. Janey managed the fare, and pulled me along to the back. We both tried to avert our eyes from the other passengers, whose quizzical looks I could see from the corners of my eyes. I tried to pretend there was nothing wrong with me, although I knew I looked like the girl in The Exorcist. My tongue’s solo efforts were killing me. It felt like the muscles at the base of my tongue were being forced to lift weights—and they had not been athletic to start with.

The 22 Fillmore seemed to stop at every block, but eventually we arrived at our destination. When we walked into Mount Zion Emergency, I slumped into a chair in the waiting room. I got up only to sign the required forms. Janey joined me and we sat. And sat. After a period of time that felt like an eternity, Janey angrily went to the desk to berate the staff.

“This woman needs to be seen right away! This is an emergency!”

Fortunately for her sake, the nurse at the desk did not point out that we were in the emergency room.

The wrath of a New York City native is nothing to mess with. Thanks to Janey’s intervention, after a few minutes I was led to a bed to await an ER doctor.

After another long wait, a small doctor arrived. He looked to be below drinking age, with mournful, puppy-dog eyes and a sympathetic face. “So, I see you were prescribed Haldol yesterday. You do seem to be experiencing a negative side effect.”

Yes. I certainly do.

“There’s another medication we can give you that’s an antidote to these side effects of Haldol. It’s called Cogentin.”

Then why didn’t they give me the fucking antidote when they prescribed the Haldol in the first place?

With my tongue hogging all the space in my mouth, I was unable to say this—or anything else.

He looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, I can only give it to you orally.”

I stared at him, uncomprehending.

As opposed to what, anally?

What other way was there to take a pill? It wasn’t a suppository.

My mind wasn’t functioning much better than my tongue.

 “That’s the only way I can give it to you. Those are the rules for outpatients. It’ll take a little longer that way, but you’ll have to stick it out.”

It didn’t occur to me until years later that the alternative word had been “intravenously.”

Sipping water and getting the pill past my protruding tongue was quite a feat, but I was highly motivated.

“Just relax while you wait for it to take effect, said young Dr. Hauser. It will take some time.”

How am I supposed to relax? Bring me some cucumbers to put over my eyes, at least!

As I waited, facial muscles frozen, I thought about the parental admonishment “Keep making that face and it will get stuck like that.” No fair! This was a face I had never made.

Then my sister arrived; Janey had left her a message. Robin went to get ice, and fed me chips of it as if I were in labor. The pain didn’t go away, but the ice helped numb it.

When the Cogentin finally took effect I was flooded with relief. It felt as if I’d been holding my breath longer than I’d thought possible, and could finally let it out with a whoosh. I could move my face again! And pull my tongue back into my mouth.

I swore that as soon as I got a job with health insurance, I’d find my own doctor and get some of this craziness sorted.

Mad for Karaoke. Or Just Mad?

First “performed” at Lit Crawl San Francisco
illustration by Cheryl Welch

I have no intention of going into Cheers. A few minutes ago I was several doors down, arguing with Cellular One. But lately, no matter where I’m going, I end up in random places along the way. And sometimes I reach my destination.

It must be around 6:30 now, because Cellular One locked up behind me. I walk past the bar and hear a clear, sweet voice singing “Things Are Looking Up.” I love that song! Maybe I’ll just step in, sit by the door, and listen for a minute.

Even though Cheers is in the neighborhood shopping center, I’ve never been inside. It looks like a dive, and I’m just not a bar person. I hardly even drink, except for weddings. And sometimes at art openings. And holidays. And parties.

As I open the door to Cheers, I’m hit with a heady aroma of stale beer and cigarettes with notes of mildew. It doesn’t matter. I’m just here for the music. The place is almost empty, as far as I can see in the darkness.

The lovely voice belongs to a tanned blonde from a Lands End catalog. Her last song ends, and so does my hope of hearing more Gershwin. Now a longhaired, redneck-y looking dude disengages the mic and begins stomping around the floor with it, singing a somebody-done-me-wrong song. He’s clearly drunk and can’t sing at all. Wait…what?

Only now do I realize that it’s karaoke night.

Dude is so bad I want to stick a pencil in my eye. Even I can sing better than that.
I’m not a great singer, but when I danced with Rosie Radiator and the San Francisco Supertappers, I was one of the dancers allowed to sing when we performed “San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate).” The others were told to lip sync.

Now, with my eyes accustomed to the darkness, I can see the long wooden bar. There are red vinyl barstools that swivel! I have to go try one out. I order a vodka gimlet and begin swiveling. I’m so engrossed in deciding whether or not to sing that I’m surprised when I hear an empty-straw-sucking sound. How could I have finished my drink already? And why do I feel exactly the same as before I drank it? Odd. 

Another vodka gimlet appears in front of me. Who sent it? When I sat down, I hadn’t paid much attention to who else was here. Now, as I search the faces at the bar, there is no visible sign of my benefactor. I raise my drink, look everyone in the eye, and grin appreciatively. Anyone looking my way also raises a glass and smiles. I bask in the camaraderie.

I feel perfectly at home—although right now I might feel perfectly at home anywhere. I’ve been euphorically manic for months, and my love for the entire human race has become so strong it throbs. My love does not extend to Cellular One.

The karaoke playlist sits on the bar, a fat binder of plastic sleeves holding sheets of song titles and singers. The karaoke DJ appears, an affable millennial in a retro sharkskin suit. Together we search for something by the Ramones or Amy Winehouse. At home, I have been memorizing the lyrics and singing along to “Pet Sematary” and “You Know I’m No Good.” I put Amy on replay and use my round blow-dryer hairbrush for a mic. It’s just for fun. It has never occurred to me that I might be practicing for karaoke.

I can’t find any Amy or Joey, but I do find “I Will Survive.” I survived the last manic episode six years ago, and I can survive this one. That last episode cost me a career in publishing and almost ended my marriage. Now I do work I love. My husband and I are closer than ever. Aren’t we?

“This one,” I tell the DJ proudly. My karaoke career has been launched.

I stand onstage looking down into the semi-darkness. The spotlight shines in my eyes, but I can just make out faces in the audience. There are dozens more in the bar now, and they’re all looking straight up at me. If I weren’t completely manic, I might be glad I’m wearing pants instead of a skirt. Under the circumstances, that would never cross my mind.

At first I am afraid. I am petrified. Then the music begins, and suddenly I’m galvanized. Jutting out one hip, I launch into “I Will Survive.” “I should have changed the fucking lock,” I sing fiercely, raising my voice on the “fucking.” The audience goes wild. I whip my hair around. I do Motown arms. I pivot and strut. I wish I had one of those mics that pin on. Then I could do some real choreography.

I know I don’t hit all the notes, and sometimes my timing is off. I may wobble a bit. But it doesn’t matter, because I am radiantly magnetic. The audience claps and shouts their approval—they love me! Triumphantly, I descend the side steps of the stage and return to the bar, resplendent.

“Does anyone here have any Ativan?” I ask the group. “Or Xanax? I need something to bring me down.” There is a mumbled chorus of “No, sorry,” but a spirited discussion of drugs ensues. We trade stories.

Sounds seem to be folding over into themselves like auditory Mobius strips. This is something new. If we can pump up the volume, maybe we can force them to stand still. A young guy starts to sing a Sublime song. Great! I love Sublime!

Wait, who’s on stage now? A trio of older Latinas begins a familiar Mexican song. “La Llorona!” I used to hear that often during the years I lived in Mexico—it’s the best! I run up to the foot of the stage to sing along. The women smile down at me indulgently, and one invites me to do backup on the next song. This could become addictive…but so can anything. Being onstage is literally a rush.

Is that a Celia Cruz song? How perfect! A dapper, wing tipped salsero in his seventies sweeps me onto the dance floor. I’m in heaven; this guy knows how to lead. We swirl effortlessly around the room as Celia sings “La Vida Es Un Carneval.” Right before the finale of the song, he whispers “We’re going to do a dip. Hook your ankle around my leg and lean backward.” It’s an exercise in trust. The move works perfectly. I love this man!

Back at the bar, the crowd has thinned. It’s difficult to focus because I’m seeing with kaleidoscope vision. I find myself talking with a good ol’ boy from Texas about Don Williams, a country heartthrob from the eighties. How could the conversation have gotten to this point? “I can share my Don Williams Pandora station with you,” I offer. “Great! I’ll give you my email address.” When it’s our turn we do a soulful duet to “I’ve Got a Winner in You” that brings tears to my eyes.

Closing time? Have I actually been here for eight hours? While everyone is getting up, I slip out so no one can hit on me. After all, I’m the belle of the ball.
Then a cold dread tugs me down. I remember why it doesn’t matter what time I come home: I’ve asked my husband to stay away for a while. When I’m manic, why do I love strangers, but hate being with family?

What goes up always comes down, and I know from experience that this isn’t going to end well. I have to make the most of the good part, though, before the terror begins. And before the deep depression follows, when I’m not sure I will be able to bear being alive for another day. It’s coming. Got to stay ahead of it. Gotta sing! Gotta dance!    

I Have 30 Tabs Open in My Browser

Originally published July 4, 2018, on stigmafighters.com

I’m hypomanic/manic. There are 30 tabs open in my browser. It’s difficult to close any of them, even after bookmarking. How will I remember what bookmarks folder they’re in without remembering what I was looking for to? I decide to make a record of the open websites so that I can track the manic flight of ideas before they take wing and fly away.

  1. eBay returns: “It’s time to ship the item back.”
    It’s time to ship many of the items back.
  2. Amazon Returns: Apple iPhone 8 Plus / 7 Plus Silicone Case – Pink Sand
    Track your return & refund
    Buy again.”
    Don’t encourage me.
  3. Trip Advisor: Welcome Back! Prices may have changed in Chefchaouen while you were gone. Refresh Prices: Casa Blue City.
    Chefchaouen Tangier Tetouan Region Hotels
  4. American Airlines: Your session expired. Flights selected: SFO-MEX Depart San Francisco Sept. 3: Flight 1980. Return Sept. 15. Review and pay.
  5. Your Ticket(s) to Suicide: The Ripple Effect
  6. Google Image Search: Antarctica
  7. Trip Advisor: Hotel Dar Mounir, $58/night
    Chefchaouen Tangier Tetouan Region Hotels
  8. Rules: A Primer on Quidditch
  9. Paid to Exist: Live and Work On Your Own Terms. Why Trying to be Productive is a Huge Waste of Time.
  10. Glass Half Full: Circle of Support: Manage group, Add a new member
  11. City of Alameda, Lincoln Park, Bocce Ball and Shuffleboard
  12. Wagner’s Ring Cycle 3: Select Seats
    Seats for all 3 operas combined are priced no lower than $2,320
    Also listed is the Orc Ring Wheelchair, $1,840. Disabled Hobbits? Still unaffordable.
  13. Google map of the route between the Psychiatry Department and the studio where a new belly dance class I want to take begins tomorrow. It starts 15 minutes after my Bipolar Support Group ends. Can I make it in time to take this class? Google maps says 21 minutes under “normal” traffic conditions.
  14. SFIAF Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco, tickets
  15. Ohm Connect
  16. Canva: Create a design: business card, letterhead, poster, flyer, card, postcard, and more.
    In progress: a new header for my blog
  17. Huffington Post: Transgender Teen Wins Battle For Chosen Name at Graduation in Texas
  18. How to Use Medium: The Beginner’s Guide for Marketers
  19. Twitter: Mentions
  20. Hi Laurel! Let’s start designing some amazing marketing visuals.
    All right! I’m ready!
  21. Hubspot: How to Start a Successful Blog
  22. Bemusement Park: Musings, Pole to Pole Exploration
    Need to post recent stuff on my blog!
  23. Amazon: Important messages about items in your Cart:
    5 items in your Saved Items have changed price:
  1. Spotify: My Bipolar Summer Playlist: A Story of Mania and Recovery
  2. Medium: I Dress Terribly on Purpose: The miniature rebellion of aggressively unflattering shapes
    What a great idea! So freeing.
  3. Trip Advisor: Best 10 Hotels in Chefchaouen 2018
    Starting from $14 per night
    I could afford that . . .
  4. Amazon Prime: Jamestown, Season 1.
    Why can’t I see this without paying more???
  5. New Yorker: The Comedian Forcing Standup to Confront the #MeToo Era
    Add to Netflix queue
  6. Google Calendar
    What day is it? When you’re awake for 2 days and 2 nights, it gets confusing.
  7. Coastal Living: 10 Exotic Beach Getaways
    I’m talking long term.

My favorite author’s advice consists of 3 words: Close All Tabs.


Originally published July 4,,2018 stigmafighters.com/


By the time you wonder if you’re manic, you already are.

I check off symptoms on the Goldberg Mania Questionnaire, hoping I don’t meet the highest score, florid mania. Ivan Goldberg was pretty clever.

Loss of interest in eating and sleeping? Definitely.

Hypersexuality? Nope.

Well, there is that nice young man in the seat next to me on the plane.

He is very helpful with my carry-on; I’ve hurt my back bodysurfing and I can’t reach down. After some texting, he relaxes and sinks back in his seat with his eyes closed. I practice picking up my bag with my feet. When I do it very, very slowly it works. I am pleased with my new independence. There is only one armrest between us. His arm is on it, but it seems only fair that we share. I rest my elbow in a spot he isn’t using. At some point, my hand accidentally grazes his knee. I quickly move my hand away, but . . . the knee is warm. I feel like the right thing to do would be to cradle it tenderly, but I restrain myself. These feelings are not at all typical for me, but they seem natural now.

In the seat in front of me, across the aisle, there is a man who looks to be around my age. He is . . . presentable. Our eyes keep meeting. I crane my neck to see what he is doing on his laptop. I see pie charts and graphs. Business, or something more creative?

When it’s time to deplane, I jump up and maneuver myself right behind him. I inhale his scent. I try to keep my place in the aisle, but I really can’t. It would be rude to jump out ahead of the others in his row, especially the little old lady in the seat in front of me. By the time we deplane, there are four people between us, but by power walking through the terminal, I am able to catch up with him. The word stalking never enters my mind. I have to go down the escalator to baggage claim, and I’m disappointed when he turns left. If he’s catching a connecting flight, where could he be going? We’ve flown from the East Coast, and are now as far west as you can go without hitting the ocean.

Hmm, hypersexuality. Two days before I boarded the flight home, I met those two lovely young men out in the ocean at Tybee Beach. Does that count? I certainly haven’t had sex with anyone.

At the beach, I need to get near some other people in the water because there are rip tides. So I look for likely companions. A flabby-looking teenager stands to my left. She won’t be able to rescue me, and I might have to rescue her.

To my right are some young men who are not unattractive (although every man or woman I see is beginning to look pretty attractive now). These guys are dark-skinned, and I hear them speaking another language, so I think they might be Hispanic. I swim up to them and ask “Hablan Español?” Actually, they speak French, Arabic, English, and Spanish. “Do you speak French”? I took three years of French in high school, but I can’t say much beyond “Ou est la bibliotèque”? “Un peu,” I manage to say.

These Moroccan men are extremely polite. “Are you afraid of the ocean?” one of them asks. Hah! Nothing could scare me right now—mania has given me supreme confidence. I feel almost superhuman. One night, without thought, I drop to the floor and do ten pushups. Sleeping every other night feels like enough.

The better looking of the two takes my hand and holds it, but politely, as if a wave might sweep me away. It doesn’t occur to me that this could actually happen. In his charming French accent, he instructs me: “Mem!” At least it sounds like that. Madame, maybe? “Mem! I will count, and when I say ‘Dive!’ we will dive under the wave.” We do, and I come up to the surface laughing, exhilarated.

The waves are fierce—they toss me around violently. I scrape my knees on the ocean floor, but when was the last time I scraped my knees having fun? Not since I was a kid. With my new buddies, I’m having a peak experience. For me, this is just one pleasure notch below my all-time peak of skydiving.

They tell me about a place near their hometown in Morocco, called Blue City, where the sea is so clear you can drop a quarter into the ocean and still read it. For some reason, all of the houses there are painted blue, my favorite color. I know I must go there as soon as I can.


After losing my stalk-ee, I go to baggage pickup, where I see a guy who looks French—or something. I turn on the music on my phone and play one of my Spotify playlists. I walk toward him stealthily; maybe we like the same music. I keep the music discreetly low. My suitcase arrives, but I stay there scanning the circling luggage for a nonexistent bag to pick up.

Then I remember my husband is outside circling the airport. And then—I can’t believe this—I wait some more. What do I think could possibly happen? I have no control over my feelings and, to a certain extent, my actions. This inflated sexuality is a primal force; it happens during all of my manic episodes. By the skin of my teeth, I’ve managed to honor my marriage vows. Don’t I deserve a medal—perhaps a purple heart? The name seems appropriate.

My score on the Goldberg Mania Questionnaire, unsurprisingly, is “Moderately to severely manic.”

The Maternal Instinct

On the day of the earthquake, I was doing freelance production work at home. Marina was eight months old and was socializing at Miss Bea’s daycare that afternoon. Steve and I were on the phone when it struck, me in the Mission and him on the fifth floor of a brick warehouse built before the 1906 earthquake.

For some reason, I react to earthquakes by laughing. Maybe it’s because that’s what people around me were doing during the first earthquake I experienced. It happened in 1973 in Mexico City while I was in a photography studio having a headshot done for a fotonovela. My friend Guillermo had a friend who worked at Rutas del Amor, and he thought I had “the look” for it. Being a big fan of the fotonovela, I was thrilled at the prospect of being in one.

The chair I was sitting on moved. When I looked down and saw nothing to explain it, I wondered if the sensation meant I was about to faint. Then everyone started laughing riotously and running out into the street. It made no sense that they reacted that way— earthquakes were not uncommon in the Mexican capital. I doubt running into the street was considered prudent earthquake behavior. Maybe it was kind of a Day of the Dead sentiment—a celebration of the fact that you hadn’t died yet, but today offered a fresh chance.

So when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck while I was on the phone with Steve, I simply laughed and said, “Oh, it’s another earthquake. I’ll call you back when it’s over.” As soon as I put down the receiver, bricks started shooting out of the fireplace across the room. I ran into the hallway and braced myself in the designated earthquake spot of our railroad flat near Dolores Park.

As I sheltered in the hallway, it felt like a giant hand had picked up the building and was shaking it. Crashing sounds came from all sides. This was different than any earthquake I’d felt before, and in the years since I’d moved to San Francisco, there had been quite a few. The shaking lasted long enough for me to wonder if it might not be better to run out into the street, laughing or not.

Finally, the movement stopped. I raced back to the front room and was immediately confronted with evidence of the damage. Deep grooves in the hardwood floor showed the path the bricks had taken as they flew across the room. When I picked up the receiver the line was dead. I looked out the window and saw that the traffic light in front of the Go-Getters Market had stopped working. My first thought was Marina—I had to go get her right away! Miss Bea’s place on Shotwell might have been hit harder than ours. I grabbed the car keys and raced down the stairs of our second story flat.

A lot of the crashing sounds must have come from the stairwell, which had been lined with marble in a more opulent era. Several of the huge slabs had fallen from the walls and broken. One chunk of marble, about three by five, leaned against the front door. I tried to move the slab so that I could get out, but it was much too heavy.

Steve couldn’t be reached. I didn’t know when he’d make it home—“if” was a possibility I wouldn’t allow myself to consider. Marina’s safety depended solely on me. With a mighty effort, I managed to wedge one foot under the broken slab. As I used my foot as a lever, pivoting and wrenching the slab with both hands, it finally yielded.


That evening, with all of us safely home, we first learned details of what had happened in the rest of the city. A brick building had collapsed, killing five people. It was on Bluxome Street, just two blocks from the brick warehouse where Steve had his silkscreening business.

He was a reggae fanatic and had named his T-shirt printing business Babylon Burning from song lyrics. Massive fires raged in the Marina District, but Babylon was not Burning.

“You know, the South End Warehouse was built as a liquor warehouse. Turn of the century. The walls were built eighteen inches thick in order to keep the liquor cool.”

No, I hadn’t known that. But it was a relief to hear it.

There were some cuts and bruises on the top of my foot, but other than that we had come out of the earthquake unscathed. As we cleaned up the damage, I tried to lift the slab of marble at the bottom of the stairs again. It wouldn’t budge.

The maternal instinct had given me superhuman strength. [e1]

The earth beneath us remained relatively stable for years after the Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1994, we decided to visit Steve’s mother in Balboa Island and spend a day in Disneyland.

Barbara Patton lived in a tiny beach cottage, and the guest bedroom was barely large enough for a bed. We piled blankets on the rug at the foot of the bed for Marina; at five, she could sleep anywhere. Just before dawn on the day of our Disneyland trip, we were awakened by an all-too-familiar rolling and shaking. In one motion and without thinking, I launched myself from the bed to cover Marina with my body.

The maternal instinct must be operated by the autonomic nervous system. Marina was still asleep when the earth stopped shaking.

Superwoman Has Left the Building

Originally published August 7, 2015 http://stigmafighters.com/

“Why am I the one always left to do the cleanup? It wasn’t me who made this mess!” I view the aftermath of a hypomanic episode with horror and disgust.

“Um, actually, it was you . . . .”

Oh. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde merge back into one fucked-up being. I did this, no one else. The sensation is both familiar and disorienting. But it is always sickening.

Spread out everywhere are the beginnings of ambitious projects. Each undertaking is essential, but abandoned for the next, more pressing one. It’s not that the new seem more important than the current. It’s just that each new idea must be acted on immediately, before it disappears! There’s no intention to discard the last project—I’m going to get back to it. The great endeavors, piling higher and higher, threaten to spill over the windowsills and into the street, exposing glittering but strange ideas to my neighbors and the world. During the high period this never bothers me. My life is an open book, one of which I’m proud. You don’t like what I’m saying? I’ll either dismiss you as unworthy, or take you on like a prizefighter.

Then comes the requisite sharp dive that always follows the high. I plunge deep into the black water of the river Styx. After a gargantuan struggle to surface, I’m forced to tread water to keep from drowning. This is my sentence in Hell. Tears stream down my cheeks for so long that my face gets chapped.

Slowly I pull myself out of the murky depths. I re-examine the projects begun, the enthusiastic letters sent and received, the ideas that bubbled up faster than I could record.

The project notes all begin in organized fashion, bullet-pointed, well thought out and written with attention to detail and syntax. Soon they begin to drift from one notebook to another, then to Post-It’s, then to the odd scrap of paper. The backs of envelopes have notes, beginning in a normal size, but getting smaller and smaller toward the bottom. With no space left, the tiny letters are forced to march up the right margin of the envelope, bravely hanging on upside down until they reach the left side and descend. Some are color coded, but there is no key. Without a manic Rosetta Stone with which to decipher them, the meaning of the codes is lost.

In addition to the typed and handwritten notes, there are those dictated into my phone and tablet, digitally recorded into Notes, Stickies, and emails to myself. Organizing these notes into manageable order is a dubious task. Is it even worth the time? I remember staying up all night, working on my laptop, and feeling desperate when I moved too far away from it. The ideas had to be recorded before they disappeared from my fragmented memory.

Some of the sketched-out ideas are so impractical as to be laughable. The tricky thing is, many of them are excellent. They approach problems from original angles. They are not only worthy of follow-up; they demand it. Thinking outside of the box is easy when there is no awareness that the box exists.

“Remember that proposal I was telling you about?” I begin nervously, hoping to clarify for a friend a conversation we’d had when I was hypomanic. She had probably been humoring me as I explained the idea.

“The letter I was writing to the Senator? That might have sounded kind of crazy to you, my thinking I could take that on . . . .”

“No, I thought that was a great idea! Why wouldn’t you be able to?”

In a way I’m relieved. My perceptions haven’t all been off, then! At the same time I’m filled with a profound weariness at the impossibility of following through on every recent brainstorm. I’ve been living in a rainforest, and the ground is sodden after the deluge.

So, at least that idea was good in the Real World. And I know the same is true of some of the others. But who will do it? It’s too much for one person—at least in a post-hypomania depression. By now I’ve wised up to the fact that Superwoman has left the building.

The Positive Elements of Bipolar Disorder (Yes, There are Positive Elements)

flowFirst published Saturday, 06 September 2014 on gabehoward.com

I had my third episode of “florid mania” recently. Many people I know with Type I bipolar disorder have rapid onset. My own onset, however, is so slow, spanning as much as six months that the changes from “normal” to hypomanic to manic are almost imperceptible. My signs of hypomania invariably present as completely positive. I’m finally happy! I am finally able to put my ideas into motion and follow through! My self-esteem goes up to a healthy level. When I am stable my self-esteem tends to be low. I view myself through a distorted lens. It is actually when I am hypomanic that the lens snaps into focus. I become free of anxieties, confident, and feel that this is my true self. When stable, I often feel bad about myself despite objective reasons my self-esteem should be high: I am a kind, loving person with strong creative abilities, two master’s degrees, a wonderful daughter and husband, and many friends and relatives who love me. I’ve had several interesting careers because I want to experience as many things as possible; I have wide-ranging interests. Many of the things I’ve crossed off my bucket list are considered pretty amazing.

So why can’t I hold onto that positive self-esteem, productivity, and relief from the critical voices in my head? It feels like losing my best self.

Of course, I know the answer. No one can stay in that hypomanic happy place forever. It inevitably ramps up to full mania, when thoughts are distorted and anything seems possible. That’s when I go up so high that the negative elements come out, too—irritability and, eventually, rage. Productivity becomes impossible. At a certain point I realize I have moved from hypomania to mania, but I want to make it last as long as possible before I am forced to take the dreaded anti-psychotics. I have to finish my book! I have to follow through with plans I’ve made while I still have momentum!

Here’s the thing. I actually have taken ideas I’ve come up with while manic and put them into action later with great results. For example, after my first karaoke performance (while manic) I had an epiphany. Since it boosted my self-confidence so much, I thought it would help adolescents. After coming down from that manic episode, I instituted a “Karaoke in the Library” program. I did some research to discover why it had better than hoped for results with my autistic students, who began relating to others for the first time. The article I wrote about my findings was published in an academic journal (https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/karaoke-in-library-effects/id480435591?mt=11) and cited by other librarians in their master’s theses. While manic, I had an idea for a tool to teach genres through card games. Post-mania I was able to put it into action, and other teachers asked to use it in their classrooms. Would this have happened without the mania? I know it would not have.

I don’t mean to minimize the disastrous results of mania. I’ve experienced those, too, and I know I’m very lucky they haven’t been worse. But some of my experiences have enriched my life so much that I am actually glad to have this disorder. Hypomania releases my creativity. With my doubts and negative self-talk gone, I feel free to follow my muse(s). Anxiety and inhibition, which plague me when I am stable, disappear.

During the final stages of my last bout with mania, I stayed up half the night choreographing a dance to a favorite song and organized a flash mob at work the next day (it was my last day on the job and I went out with a bang). The “flight of ideas” can be put to good use if you can grab some of those ideas as they fly by. And take notes.

I have over a hundred pages of a book I began while hypomanic. Post-hypomania, I am always afraid that what I’ve written will read like the crazed writer’s masterpiece in The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated ad infinitum. Instead, it’s been writing of which I’m proud.

“Religiosity” is considered a symptom of mania, but in my experience, it was a profound spiritual awakening. No one can pathologize that away from me. I never believe I’m Jesus Christ or decide to become a nun, so what’s the problem? My expansiveness, increased sociability, and compassion has led to meaningful connections with strangers as well as friends. I care passionately about everybody—a good thing, in my opinion. I recall a telemarketer telling me, after a very long conversation, that I’d made his day. Of course, going further up the manic scale turns me from the Life of the Party to When-Is-She-Going-To-Go-Home Girl, but at least I’m not completely oblivious to the signals when that happens. After I come down, I still have new friends.

An “inflated sense of well-being”? I have never understood that as a manic symptom: how is it possible to feel too good? And what can be wrong with optimism and always looking on the bright side? What about the “symptom” of trying to save the world? I don’t believe one person can save it, but I’ve come up with some concrete ideas on how to help improve it. The major tenet of the religion in which I was raised is to “heal the world,” so why dismiss efforts to do that? “Increased sense of playfulness”? When I’m hypomanic my sense of humor is infectious; people are drawn to me. I make up elaborate jokes and plan group activities like the Wake for the Pillsbury Doughboy (I invited the entire company). But having fun is a good thing….as long as you control it. Impulsive decisions? Deciding to leave a job that made me miserable turned out to be lifesaving.

I desperately hope that a natural way will be discovered. to prevent hypomania from turning into mania  At least I can remember the truths I’ve discovered in that state, and act on them. Kay Redfield Jamison has written that, with all of the studies on depression, very little research has been done on exuberance. Let me hold onto that.

A Dream of Rain


Last night I fell asleep listening to
the sound of the oldies:
Rain falling on the roof
Not a recording but
The real thing
No ersatz “Sounds of rain” like the sample my phone has learned to play
for a quick trip into the Quiet Zone of the mind
But now

Live in San Francisco!

Back in the day we used to hear it all over the city
Like the mad hot jazz
That played in the North Beach clubs Dean Moriarty
jumped into with his Marylou

Back then the red-hot licks came snaking out of doorways and
sizzled as they struck the pavement in front of City Lights
Big fat liquid gold notes trembling with the surface tension of their fullness

Until they all burst to joyously merge and flow together
Filling up cracks in the sidewalk and swirling down gutters
The notes, resplendent, played
over and over, glorious in
lulling us into the belief that
we could hear that music whenever we felt like it

Because hadn’t it always been that way?

Over and over
Then over and out
The pauses between notes lengthened until
The notes stopped completely

We used to hear that music here all the time
at least during the season

But that was back in the day

It’s rare now that we get the privilege to
hear that music live

Performances are scheduled, plans thrown together
only to be canceled until further notice:
30% chance of rain
10% chance of rain
0% chance of rain

I dreamt of translucent germinating roots
uncoiling like earthworms
Growing fat
from here to Salinas
Shoots piercing the thin layers of soil above them

Drops fall
Words bubble up from a once-dry well

A fever inside me breaks