Nobody’s Hero


Yes, I guess.

I recently connected on Facebook with another person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I had a knee jerk, judgmental reaction to what she wrote (yes, that’s so BPD) and she read it and politely called me on it.

That incident led to a long-ish text conversation on what we share with our friends, what we share online and what we never share. Her contention was that I was ‘brave,’ for writing so much about my condition all over the Internet, from my blog, to what I write for The Mighty.

Her article was, in her view, a one-off. She had reached a point where she felt she had to explain in some detail why she was the way she was. Some of us do a far better job at putting what we go through in print rather than trying to explain. So she wrote it all out – except for the incidents that originally triggered her BPD.

For many years I have been an ‘open book’ about my illness. And, for much of that time, my ‘sharing,’ whether it was in a newspaper column or on a radio show I hosted, was not about my ‘mental illness’ specifically, although I realize it was now. I felt the need to talk about what I was going through because I really wanted to see if I was alone in what I was feeling. I also had to make it entertaining enough so I learned how to laugh at myself.

My ex-wife was horrified at the personal details I shared. She is a very private person and being married to me, with my undiagnosed BPD and tendency to emotionally bleed all over the place, was something she could not stand. It was part of why our marriage ended.

When I got in trouble at work due to my BPD, I landed up self-identifying my illness to the Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) as I am a Federal Government employee. I did it to protect myself. Many people, especially in our union, cautioned me against officially listing myself as having a mental illness, which I didn’t understand. My point was: everyone here knows what I’ve been through – what’s the sense of trying to hide it?

But many people have to hide it – from their employers, friends even family. Maybe I never realized how difficult it is for people with BPD and other mental illnesses to reach out and explain why they are the way they are.

I don’t think of myself as ‘brave.’ Maybe I’m foolish and naïve. Living in the open as a person with BPD and PTSD may put some people on their guard but I want to show that I am like everyone else. I have a life, I have dreams and I have many of the trappings of normal living. I also have this illness and this is how I fight it.

I think the people who have to keep it secret are just as brave, perhaps more so, than I am. I have nothing really left to lose, but so many people who fight their illness do. Like the person I met online, they are a good deal younger than I, are just starting their careers or figuring out what they want from life. The stigma can kill those dreams.

My newfound friend did not want anyone to know her backstory because that’s not how she wanted her life to be defined. With me, my BPD and PTSD is me. I have the luxury of being ‘out’ and, with it, the obligation to help others.

I am uncomfortable with being described as ‘brave.’ Everyone who struggles with their own mental condition is brave. The real trick is to become resilient and tough. And that, after 30 years, is something I still have to learn.

We are forced to be brave. We learn to be resilient.

And we have to be there for each other without judgment – a lesson I still had to learn.

Posted in advice, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, existential dread, fear, ImNotAshamed, mental health, self care, shame, social anxiety, Social Media, society, stigma, The Mighty | Tagged | Leave a comment

Making all his Nowhere Plans

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut

On online writer friend recently wrote an excellent piece on the curse of loneliness which prompted me to write about it as well.

Online friends.

They exist in the ones and zeroes that make up the words and photos of lives we see on Facebook and other social media platforms. Sometimes they’re so real we can almost reach into the screen and touch them.

But there’s the rub – they exist at the moment in cyberspace, almost ethereal. I can communicate with words, send photos, share distant laughs and cries but the warmth and psychic closeness that comes from sitting face to face over coffee or beer is lost. Nowadays, for many, it’s the best we can do.


Finland, the world center of loneliness

We have another term for meetings that actually involve ‘the human touch,’ ‘in real life,’ or IRL in the parlance of the digital community. We look forward to these but also fear them: for many of us, we’ve been out of the IRL community for so long we’re rusty on making small talk and self-conscious of seeming social awkwardness.

When ‘online,’ I can set the parameters for interaction. I choose my words carefully, re-write them if necessary, agonize over what photos and videos will be less cringe-worthy, and then, with equal parts of excitement and trepidation, hit ‘send.’

As of my latest count, I have exactly 200 friends on Facebook. Of these, perhaps I have met 50 IRL, not counting classmates I have still not seen in 35 years. Of those 200 Facebook friends, I know 63 solely because of my wife

And I am crushingly lonely.

I have been reluctant to write about my loneliness because I didn’t want it to implicate my wife at all. But there are people who experience a different kind of loneliness in marriage that has little to do with the union itself.

Last Friday, my wife took the day off to go to the Cleveland Zoo with some of her knitting friends. She’s met an army of knitters and also has friends from her school days she sees on a semi-regular basis. She’s also chummy with her co-workers in a way I can’t be (readers of this site understand) and goes out to dinner and other social events in addition to attending a Thursday night knitting group.

It isn’t easy keeping friends when you have psychological conditions that can make you unsociable or isolationist at times. My wife is not to blame for my condition. If it weren’t for her friends, I’d have no IRL friends at all. But they are hers, first.

So when she’s out, I’m home doing laundry while keeping up to date on the damn Facebook.

Most psychologists believe two people in a marriage can’t be the sole support for each other. While marriage forms a team of two people with reasonably close interests, both partners should have friends and interests outside the marriage to grow and nurture themselves socially.

It wasn’t always this way with me. In my first marriage, our social whirl was composed of my high school friends. We all lived fairly close to each other and it seemed a natural fit in our young adult lives.

Then things happen – divorces, moving for new jobs, political disagreements (a new factor) and the bonds of friendship that seemed so strong, fray and break over time. Some of my best friends from high school are also deceased. And I still can’t believe they’re gone.

As for my relatives, almost all of them are dead or in parts unknown. I know of three cousins and my sister, none of whom will talk to me. That’s it.

One day you turn around and it’s summer
Next day you turn around and it’s fall
And the springs and the winters of a lifetime
Whatever happened to them all?*

Where did they all go? They slipped through my fingers like sand. I have yearbooks, photographs and memories. I have a fully stocked bar and entertainment room in the basement that has seen outside guests entertained three times in five years.

Trying my best not to look too obvious, I wave to the digits and byte-people on Facebook ‘hey, I’m free! Hey come over, we’re not doing anything!’

I already lean on my wife too much. We finish each other’s sentences; we jokingly say ‘get out of my head’ way too often. We really don’t have to talk about much because we instinctively know what the other will say. The only conversation variables we have are what to get at the grocery store or where to take a vacation.

I can be having the worst depression on any given day and then, almost by accident, get into a conversation with one of the clinicians where I work. The rush I get from those interaction is exhilarating – the give and take, the talk of anything other than sports or Donald Trump, the excitement of getting to peer into another’s mind. For me it’s like a drowning man getting pure oxygen in the nick of time.

For a guy who gets nervous going downtown to see a baseball game, I would gladly drive hundreds of miles for that kind of oxygen. But I’m always afraid … I won’t fit in.

The longer I stay outside the IRL world, the scarier going back in there becomes. But like it or not, it’s where real life takes place, with all its joys and messiness.

I have to find my way back somehow. I was not meant to live like this.

*Frank Sinatra, The September of My Years

Posted in anxiety, books, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, death, factory of sadness, growing up, loneliness, mental health, middle age, regret, Social Media, society | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Trigger Warning – Foul Language

Yesterday, I visited my family doctor yesterday whom I haven’t seen since September.

She was very interested in my BPD diagnosis and had felt that the previous diagnosis of Bipolar2 was pretty accurate based on the symptoms I had described to her.

It’s pretty baffling for me to explain the way my psychiatrist’s mind works. It’s very hard to get definitive answers from her since she tends to deflect and qualify her answers quite a bit, leaving me more confused in the end.

It’s partly my fault – I don’t press her enough. I don’t know why I don’t – she’s not overbearing or fearsome or anything.

I think the next time I see her, I need to ask if she in any way feels Bipolar2 is a secondary diagnosis.

In an way, all the conditions tend to overlap in terms of symptoms – BPD, Bipolar, PTSD, General Anxiety Disorder, Dysthymia, Major Depressive Disorder, etc.

I prefer to use the same phrase Warren Zevon used to describe the diagnosis of cancer he received from his doctor: ‘My shit’s fucked up.’


It’s true!

In this case, it’s in the head.

Of course, I can’t walk around telling people that I’m the way I am because ‘my shit’s fucked up.’ Especially with clinicians – so I have to check my memory boxes and tick off all the things I’ve been diagnosed and perhaps mis-diagnosed with.

But in reality, essentially, my shit’s fucked up.

Yes, I just like saying it and typing it. Because it’s accurate and, for me, it lays out the whole frustration of trying to explain all the disorders I’ve been diagnosed with. Like, ‘dude, you have to meet five of the following nine attributes listed in the DSM V to have BPD – let’s just say my shit’s fucked up, OK?’

I would use that as the title of my coming podcast but I think it might not go down well with podcast hosts. I would also not want to offend anyone without my particularly weird sense of humor.

I have to laugh at all of it or I’d be bed-fetal, watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island, OK? And none of us want that.


Poor Joe – his shit’s fucked up

There are people with various mental illnesses, Gods bless ‘em, who have the ‘cross I bear’ attitude and that’s OK for them – hell, I used to BE one of them. But I can’t go through the rest of my life feeling like I’m carrying some kind of dark cloud (like Joe Btfsplk in Lil’ Abner – geez, am I dating myself!) to my death.

And people are far more receptive to listening about Borderline Personality Disorder if you add a little humor and keep your hands in plain sight.

So, look, I’m not in to boiling bunnies and writing love letters in my own blood.

I’m just a guy whose shit’s fucked up, OK?

Thank you all for reading.


Posted in bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, death, depression, funny, mental health, Podcast, PTSD | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nowhere Man

OK, I will stay out of your conversation.

When I come in and L is there, we exchange perfunctory ‘good mornings’ and then, perhaps some brief weather talk and that’s it – silence, punctuated by the soft tapping of computer keys.

When H is in, I will get a more heartfelt (yet perfunctory nonetheless) ‘good morning’ and maybe a minute of small talk and then silence.

When H and L are both in, I will get a brief good morning from each and that’s it as they are usually talking to each other.

L used to talk to me all the time – until one time she told me I tend to want to talk when she has things to do. So I try very hard not to bother her unless it’s work.

H has kids and that’s pretty much what she’ll talk about. She talks to L about her kids even though L is 50 and never had kids.

I sit on the far end and listen to both of them. They used to call me over to join in. They don’t anymore.

When my boss S comes in, she’ll say a syrupy ‘good morning’ to everyone but if she has anything more to say, it will be to L and H. She was here for ‘the troubles.’ She remembers everything.

I guess there are reasons for all of this and for me, at this point in time, they are unimportant. The less I talk to people, the less I get pulled in to their drama and the less I open myself for problems. No one wants any of my drama and I know this.

It’s not that I’m the only guy here. If M were here, he’d be the life of the party. M has the gift. I do not.

I should be happy to be left alone, but I am not. It gets so lonely down here at the end of the cubicles. But that is the way it is and will be. I have no friends at work, Facebook or otherwise. One of my shrinks thought it best and I agree, sadly, this is the way it will have to be because of everything that has occurred in the past.

I’m here, but I’m not really here. Perhaps I never was.

I wish I could leave. And I have tried numerous times and failed. But now, I feel it is too late. If I go anywhere else, no matter how interesting the job might be, I will worry about this pattern of me repeating itself. And will I learn the new job well enough? Will I have to worry about office politics? Will my boss tolerate me? Will there be more work than I can handle? Will it have been worth leaving the devil I know?

They are done talking, their voices replaced by the soft hum of the ventilation system and the soft clicking of keys.

Welcome to Death’s Waiting Room. At least we have a Keurig.

Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, children, existential dread, hell, mental health, PTSD, regret, social anxiety, work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Old Crazy Writers Never Die . . .

I may submit further articles to The Mighty if I find what I call ‘universal subjects’ on Borderline Personality Disorder that haven’t already been covered to death by other writers. The last submission of mine wasn’t exactly greeted with great enthusiasm. In addition, the editors hinted that the publication may open themselves up to unlimited submissions by everyone who feels like writing, or what I would call, the ‘New Huffington Post Model.’

In that case, a writer with a dedicated subject slot to submit pieces finds themselves competing with unlimited submissions. Not for me.

I’ve written before that The Mighty’s core


The modern marketable face of mental illness (from the Mood Disorder Association of Ontario)

audience on BPD and most other mental health issues is female, between 18-34. In reality, I don’t think this age group wants to hear the struggles of a 55-year-old guy, primarily because they want stories of solutions and hope, even when that might not be possible. Many people in this age range are just learning about their diagnosis and if the future is full of people like me struggling with it 30-40years into the future, that’s not a product they want to buy.

In addition, my aim was be one of ‘those guys’ who chooses to write about personal experiences with mental illness while being honest to a fault. Let me tell you, it’s not easy being one of ‘those guys:’ it’s a lonely experience. Maybe another generation of men will finally lose the inhibitions of keeping their struggles private but, for now, I’ve grown tired of doing a lot of work for little readership. Moving American society on mental illness, especially men, is like trying to turn the Queen Mary around in dry dock.

Because of my condition, I have found that the more I try to engage, especially in real life, the more problems I have maintaining even acquaintanceships. Yesterday I described myself to my psychologist as ‘battery acid with legs.’ Most people who know me in passing wouldn’t believe it at first – I’d tell them the longer you get to know me, the less you will like. At some point, I’ll say something thoughtless or do something inexplicable and you’ll wonder ‘where did that come from?’

Being mindful of such reactions does not mean one can stop them. This article from The Mighty by Rosie Bogumil is a good first person account of how being a good practitioner of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is no guarantee that one can manage their emotional reactions.

This is not a life I would have wanted, nor, I think, would anyone else. It is the one I was dealt and rather than being the ‘Captain of my ship and master of my soul,’ I was carried away by the sea, flailing at the waves. Sometimes I think I’m a very bad person, sometimes I think I’m a good personal dealing with a bad condition, other times I have no idea who I really am. Anyone with BPD can relate.

Rosie, by the way, is doing just fine otherwise and has a bright future ahead of her provided that life on Earth as we know it will last another 40 years.

Similar to Bogumil, I look around at the wreckage and failures of my nearly completed life and believe I don’t deserve nice things, including recovery. Those of us with BPD will be paying for our real or imagined sins until the day we die. I’m not sure that anything I write about the mechanics behind the condition will add insight to what must seem incomprehensible to most people.

So to recap – I’m old, I’m male, I’m conventionally unattractive, and the less I interact with humans, the better things will be for everyone. No one outside of a small circle of online acquaintances will care enough to read about BPD anyway. My era, like my life, has passed me by and no attempts to try to find a connection between generations is going to work. There’s no ‘generation gap’ (the term people used when I was young) between 55 and 25 anymore. It’s more like a yawning chasm.

get-off-my-lawnI would still like to write. I’m not sure I have anything interesting left to say.

I have been writing professionally and as a hobby for over 40 years. I have seen much copy go under the bridge and many words written and spoken that attempted to enlighten, entertain and inspire. We live now in an era where words mean little because the honesty of the language that underpinned them has been knocked aside. In our daily realm of politics, words are propaganda and nothing ennobles. For one to write an address as Kennedy or Lincoln would today, you would be immediately be suspected as a conman and the your language seen as ‘elitist.’

In publishing, words have been ghettoized into camps that span the range between the infantile (50 Shades) and the incomprehensible (Fire and Fury). Even major newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post included, are littered with spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. Words are cheap and those who sell them are less craft makers than ‘sandwich artists,’ whatever that means, but the pay is commensurate.

39-chimps-w-typewritersThere’s no need for future tyrants to burn books when people no longer wish to read. Listicles that can be digested in five minutes or less will suffice. Giant content farms churn out the rubbish online that most people digest as entertainment. James Patterson hasn’t actually written one of his own books in years. David Foster Wallace has been dead a decade.

We may not have reached the end of history as Francis Fukuyama wrote but we have reached the end of something. Perhaps, noting the coming age of AI and robotics, we have not reached the end of what was once called The Age of Men, but rather the end of human possibility. To put this in layman’s terms, it is the exact opposite of the future civilization Gene Roddenberry  (minus his perversions) envisioned – instead of outward looking, insular; instead of broadening humankind’s possibilities, restricting them for mundane profit creation. No one is going to Mars; no one living, that is.

I suspect we will indeed welcome our robot overlords who, when they have quite rightly judged us irredeemable, take away our nuclear weapons, put us in a collective playpen and watch us drool over video games.

So what is left other than fulfilling Neil Postman’s prediction of ‘Entertaining Ourselves to Death?’

(Note: if Postman thought television was our generation’s soma, I wonder what he would have thought of the far more powerful Internet, which was taking over the duties of human anesthetist from TV when he died in 2003?)

I suspect it is the end of literacy, rationalism, and all forms of altruism that cannot be commodified. In short, not the ‘Age of Aquarius,’ but more like the Age of Mars.

I had once through of chronicling society’s downward trajectory but, after a while, it became too depressing, even for me. Very few people wish to give up the idea of human progress, the end of disease and world peace, even though the broad span of human history more correctly indicates war, pestilence and famine as our eventual lot (unless the robots prevent us).

I know, it’s easy for me to throw in the towel and point out that there was nothing that could be saved in the end anyway. But I really believe it and I think history will bear me out. Three words: President Donald Trump.

trumpCan we throw a party while the world burns? I’m not sure. They celebrated Hitler’s last birthday in the bunker with cake and champagne so I guess anything is possible. To embrace the hermit life while finding one magnificent obsession to perform (perhaps golf?) while the sky grows orange may be the ticket to provisional sanity.

15ey72I would hate to bank on an early death (which should have happened already) and not found something to amuse myself with the ‘bonus years’ I had not expected, recalling Mickey Mantle’s famous line: “If I had known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself!”

When I figure out what form that might take, I’m sure I’ll come back here and write about it. Perhaps the next chapter will be ‘A Borderline Takes up Golf:’ think of the comic possibilities.



Posted in bipolar, books, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, children, depression, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, getting old, mental health, society, stigma, The Mighty, writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

“She absolutely can’t sing”

2017 Los Angeles Film Festival - Opening Night Premiere Of Focus Features' "The Book Of Henry" - Red Carpetre: My cousin (female) who I haven’t spoken to or seen in about 25 years about Stevie Nicks

I’m sitting here nursing a sore back for the start of the third week, listening to Nicks’ first solo album. ‘After the Glitter Fades,’ other than really being a country song, always reminds me of when I lost my sportswriter job when The Cleveland Press folded in ’82.

And I know all the words to all the songs on this album.

Yeah. I handed in my Man Card a long time ago.

I don’t care anymore.

And sorry, Ann Therese (and Matt and Trey) , she may not sing well enough for your discerning ear but for me it’s her evocative voice has always been smooth as aural sex from a microphone.

And it reminds me of a time in my life where things weren’t so painful or difficult.

Holy Hell, she’s 69. How did that happen?


Posted in getting old, good memories, music, radio | 2 Comments

Hey kid, don’t get a ‘big head’

shoutout-to-people-who-grew-up-with-emotionally-unsupportive-parents-19654090I read this article in The Mighty: 21 ‘Harmless’ Comments People Heard Growing Up That Affect Their Mental Health Now by Juliette Virzi. Of the 21, I recognized several that were used on me. Many of the 21 are real gut-punchers when you think about it.

It’s true: what parents can say to their children hamstrings them in ways most people don’t think of.

Remember parents, the offhand remarks you make will be remembered by your children as if they were human tape recorders. And they may remember what you say all their lives.

When I was, maybe 7 or 8-years-old, I watched our local high school quiz show Academic Challenge on TV. As the years went on I was answering more and more questions. Finally, when I was about 12, I remember being in the living room watching the show and turning to my mom in the dining room and stating definitively “I’m going to be on that show.”

She pooh-pooh’d the idea saying “I don’t know; you have to be pretty smart to get on that show.”

I was on it twice – both junior and senior year – no one had done that at my school before. We won big both times.

Why did my mom do this to me, especially since she knew, from an early age because of testing (we’re talking four-years-old here) that I was a bright child?

She finally told me when I was in my 20s – “We didn’t want you to get a big head,” she said. At the time, she also told me she had my IQ tested (and I don’t remember it) but she resolved never to tell me what it was – for the same reason.

It would have been very useful for me to know that I was not an idiot when I’d be called to the chalkboard in high school algebra class. I remember my hand gripping the chalkboard, writing a number or letter or two and then freezing; sweat pouring, thinking the whole world was watching.

And my mother got a call from that algebra teacher one evening which I was present to overhear. The deal they struck (between two professional educators, no less!) was that I would get a ‘gentlemen’s D’ for the class if I would turn in completed homework. Oh, and she would not call me to the board again.

It was only years later when I took a community college course in technical math that I realized I could actually do this work – as long as it wasn’t high stakes, I could pace myself, and didn’t have to go to the board. It was one of the greatest personal triumphs of my life.

But see, she didn’t want me to get a ‘big head.’

It was a similar reason she didn’t allow me to take karate lessons when I was 11 and already getting pretty overweight – she thought I might get too ‘full of myself.’ At a time when I badly needed exercise and some male direction (all my teachers were nuns), neither she, nor my Marine Veteran father, did anything to help me other than force me to play little league baseball (which I hated) more for the social than physical aspects.images

Part of the reason was her own personal brand of Catholicism – the nuns had taught her humility and her son was going to learn it too.

And from all the awards my sister won in high school theater and all the encouragement she got to pursue her thespian dreams even outside high school, it was to be only her son who got this lesson. Because my sister was in high school theater, I was forbidden to try out for any plays – that was ‘her thing.’

I still wonder to this day why these things were said/done to me? Was I always such an asshole that I had to constantly be pounded down, lest I, well, believe in myself?

The “You’re too young to be going through that” was constantly used by my father who paired it up with “You have no idea what it’s really like to struggle.” and added a generous dose of “You need an attitude adjustment,” which was delivered in his usual ‘take this one step further and I’ll backhand ya one’ growl.

One more example – because this one set me off a career path early.

“Are you sure you want to be [occupation]? That’s a lot of hard work.”

Because I had a natural love of history and good verbal communication skills, I said to my mother one evening that I thought I would like to teach history.

Her reply? “If you go into education, I’ll disown you.”

I thought she was serious and turned my attention to journalism instead. When I got a job my senior year in high school at an actual suburban daily paper, the news was greeted with a collective shrug.

Sometimes I look back and am amazed I got as far as I did with such a lack of support and all the things said that actively discouraged me from trying to excel.

But all the time I was in school, if I brought home a bad grade, I would hear about it – especially in math.

Negative reinforcement was always in good supply while positive reinforcement was non-existent.

Telling your kids they do worthwhile things and can achieve what they put their minds to is not ‘coddling’ or raising a ‘snowflake;’ it is an absolute stepping stone to achievement in life.

So parents, look over those 21 examples. If you hear yourself saying any of those, please stop. The damage you do may only show up many years later – and then it might be too late.

Posted in advice, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, Catholic school, Catholicism, children, growing up, mental health, mom, my father, parenting, parents, regret, The Mighty | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment