The Last Alternative?

Alternatives2018-Logo-HartiganSo I was thinking today at a workshop at the #Alternatives2018 conference that there is an 800 lb gorilla sitting right in the middle of the Pryzbyla Center at Catholic University of America. This workshop was discussing Mad Studies and Survivor-Controlled research in the US, which is practically non-existent, unlike other countries, such as the UK, where it is REQUIRED.

There was a lot of talk about institutional roadblocks, the resistance of the professional class, the money-driven research supplied by drug companies, etc. Many ideas were floated to work on pressuring universities and government mental health agencies to include people with the lived experience of mental illness to be part of the research and decision-making of these critical studies, which is a great goal.

The problem as I see it is simple – the money for this kind of research, even for children, according to researchers Nev Jones and Emily Cutler, is drying up fast. I can see the day coming when pretty much all such research funding by governments, foundations and universities will dry up, with the exception of drug-financed studies and studies with a profit endgame.

The 800 lb. gorilla is the Trump Administration. This edition of Alternatives was produced by the people for whom it was intended – no Federal money was used to subsidize this conference. What I would like to see is a realization that very shortly, if not already, we will truly be ‘On Our Own’ to fight for our rights and influence public policy by ‘alternative’ means, i.e. very impolite demonsrations, ala ‘ACT UP’ from back in the day.

It is not hard to believe that Federal agencies supporting mental health research and advocacy will soon have their funding eliminated. For guideposts, look at what is happening at other Federal departments – Education, Health and Human Service to name two – a complete re-alignment of mission away from true human service and towards the meanness of ideological conservatism.

I really enjoy these workshops and the spirit in which they are given. It truly feels great to be among our own people and using our voices, energy and intellect to empower a movement.

But at the same time, I fear we may be whistling past a graveyard. Due to the outright hostility of the current administration to human service and social activism, what we are planning today may become extremely difficult because nothing moves in the USA without the backing of cold hard cash and friends in high places.


They had nothing to lose but their lives

I earlier drew the comparison between the Mad Pride movement and ACT UP. I think while we plan today, there should be some consideration given to the possibility that in the very near future, direct action may be the last and best tool we have to fight for our cause. It is something I think most people would wish to avoid but these times are perilous and lives are at stake.

Posted in Alternatives2018, bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, donald trump, ImNotAshamed, Institutionalization, Mad Pride, meds, mental health, schizophrenia, self care, shame, society, stigma | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Podcast: Anger and Everything After

MY latest podcast. The real ‘me’ of long ago makes an appearance – the angry citizen, the rabble rouser, the person who spoke truth to power – and paid dearly for it. Borderline rage? Or justice denied. Talking about Alternatives 2018 and why it matters/societal influence on ‘mental illness’ and the phenomenon of arrested development in BPD.


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The Origins of a Crippling Fear

I was talking to my supervisor this morning. She went on a family camping trip over the weekend and now is sore. Her family had struck out from their campsite, exploring the nature preserve and saw some interesting land formations, flora and fauna.

I couldn’t help but remember when my family would go camping and we would be glued to the tent. I don’t know why my father never took us out to explore the area. Maybe he thought it was too dangerous for us to traverse – my mother was never steady on her feet due to her post-natal girth. As for my sister and I, he probably didn’t want to hear us whine.

So it was bacon grilled on the Coleman, board games and boredom. With extended family, camping seemed to be an excuse to play cards and drink beer – while spraying on layers of ‘OFF.’

The other memory I have is going over to my aunt and uncle’s rustic retreat in upstate (not the UP) Michigan. They lived in Houghton Lake, a place that experienced winter for six months a year and where snowmobiles had the right of way on the city’s streets from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28.

My cousins were always there and they were much more outdoorsy than my sister and I. They had snowmobiles and their beloved dirt bikes and would tear around the countryside with reckless abandon – even taking the snowmobiles on frozen Houghton Lake once the police declared the ice safe.


Kind of like this one but a little more beat up and dirty.

This memory is of one summer day up there and I think I was 12-years-old. My cousins were riding their dirt bikes and offered me a bike to ride around a little and get used to it. After all: it was just a bike with a motor attached, right?

My father, however, was having none of it. Too dangerous for a son he was already consigning to a soft un-manly life due to my love of books and general distaste for hunting and fishing.

I’ll never forget when my aunt Delores, my dad’s sister, said in her gravelly voice, “I wanna ride one of those.” So they gave her one. And, of course, she was drunk. She revved up the bike and promptly drove it about 20 feet directly into a tree.

She fell off the bike and other than a few scratches and cuts, the only thing really hurt was her pride.

But I’ll never forget my dad’s reaction.

He wheeled ‘round on me and viciously (his yelling had that edge to it) yelled at me “SEE! See what can happen on those damn bikes! You wanna break your neck!? I told ya those things were dangerous and you ain’t ridin’ one!”

Of course, my father had puttered around on one – I remember the picture my mother took.

Any my dirt bike riding cousins were ages 15, 13, 11, 9 and 8. And they rode without any trouble.

And I wanted to point out to him that his sister was drunk and shouldn’t have been riding one anyway.

But I didn’t want to get backhanded. I knew what it was like to see my dad’s beefy forearm heading for my face.

Psychologists ask for stories from our childhood and I believe they never really hear them or draw the correct conclusions from them. Most of them just care about how you feel NOW without understanding that how one felt THEN has a direct effect on how one feels and reacts now.

As I grew into adolescence, the fact that I could but did not want to, handle a shotgun or fishing reel, was taken by my father as a sign of un-manliness. My book reading and my incessant need to ask why were also taken as a sign by him that I would grow up as a soft, whiny intellectual who would never amount to anything. I spent too much time indoors soaking up knowledge rather than being his mini-me, shooting at any four-legged creature that dared to step out of the woods.

Soft. Too soft to ride a mere dirt bike? If I fell off would that reflect badly on my father? Or was this just his way of driving home to me his anger that I was not and could never be as outdoorsy, tough and self-reliant as my cousins (who were actually very nice to me)?

Well, whatever the lesson was, it sunk in.

I am 55. I have never ridden a dirt bike. I have never even sat on a motorcycle. I would like to, but now I really don’t trust my balance or skill. Or is that because I was told I was too soft and stupid to experience  such fun?

“You wanna break your neck!? I told ya those things were dangerous and you ain’t ridin’ one!”


1975 dirt bike, 1975 kid. He was my age at the time. 

The words were said in the summer of 1975. I would like to have some shrink tell me how to remove them from my conscious hard-wiring. They are no means the only words that were said to diminish me, to shame me, to lower my expectations of my own skill and abilities and to hold me back from experiences other kids were having.

I grew up with the mantra in my head ‘you can’t do this; you’ll hurt or embarrass yourself.’ And it’s just not as easy as some think to push those words aside when they are backed up by anxiety.

Some people go out of their way to do one thing that scares them every day. I spend my entire day being risk averse and anxious.

Hmmm, I wonder when that began?

Over a goddamn dirt bike? Probably earlier.

Parents, for the love of all that’s holy, let your kids ride, climb and swing. Encourage them to explore their world fearlessly. Yes, they will get cuts and bruises. Your job is tell them that those cuts and bruises are part of living and to see them as a badge showing that their life was lived with a fearless spirit that will carry them to much greater things – flying jets, exploring the oceans, racing cars, hiking the Appalachian Trail, skydiving, rock climbing etc. These things breed a confidence that says ‘I can do anything.’

Don’t ever tell your child they can’t do something because they might . . .

Because they might succeed.

As I’ve written, it’s little incidents; little things that children remember and parents forget. These are the building blocks that make up a life. You start building the foundation of those building blocks in childhood. If the blocks say ‘can’ ‘try’ ‘do’ ‘be’ ‘explore’ ‘support’ ‘pride,’ then I believe the child will build themselves a life without unnecessary fear.

But if the blocks you choose as a parent say ‘beware’ ‘don’t’ ‘fear’ ‘hurt’ ‘shame’ ‘can’t,’ then you set your child up for a life lived in the shadows, wanting to be more than they are but feeling unworthy and unskilled.

I have many stories like this. We forget so much of our childhood except the good times and the bad. I remember these incidents as if they happened yesterday. I remember my mother on the phone with my high school algebra teacher who told her that if I would just try my homework, I would pass with a ‘gentleman’s D.’ What did that tell me, when my mother, a professional educator, instead of demanding that I be taught, acquiesced to accepting on my behalf, a ‘D’ grade? That I was too stupid to handle anything but basic math.

And these building blocks pile up until the foundation is solid and unbreakable.


If (when) I fall doing this, the floor will shake and everyone will look at the old fat guy and shake their heads


I think my dad would have liked this kid. 

I’ll never know the fun of dirt bikes, motorcycles, zip lines, rock climbing, skydiving, water skiing, etc. etc. etc. And also: painting, writing a novel, creating pottery and sculpture, learning to dance, martial arts, yoga, etc. etc.


I can see myself dangling from a rope having fucked up.

If I try, I’ll have to overcome an almost primal fear and anxiety I feel when I even think of doing these things – that injury or embarrassment will follow. I should face and conquer these fears – it should be a bucket list thing to do before I die.

Or I can sit in my house and write blog posts like this deconstructing where the fear originated – and leave it at that. And wonder what might have been.

Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It’ll turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust

  • Bruce Springsteen, ‘Devils and Dust.’
Posted in Adventure!, anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, childhood terror, Fat Shaming, fear, getting old, growing up, my father, regret, social anxiety, Wonder Years | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Catch I’ll Never Have

The local classical station plays movie music late Saturday mornings. I was listening to it just now and the theme from ‘Field of Dreams’ came on.

And I, as I reflexively do when it plays, started to tear up.

The one movie that can make men cry. As opposed to most men who cry at the end (and understandably so) my favorite part of the movie comes just before when James Earl Jones delivers one of the best, most moving soliloquies of any movie. One that we so need today:

catch4Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

But it’s the end part that gets us guys. But I cry for a different reason.

At the end when Kevin Costner asks his ‘ghost’ father if he wants to have a catch, men everywhere are taken back to the moment, perhaps the last one, where they and their father ‘had a catch.

catch1In the movie, Costner was the one who stopped playing catch with his dad.

In my life, I weep because it was my father who stopped playing catch with me.

It came at around the same time he emotionally abandoned me; would have nothing more to do with me.

At the end of his hopes and dreams that I would become a replicant of himself – a hunter, fisher, outdoorsman. That I wouldn’t be someone that he could be proud of around his outdoorsman friends. That I wouldn’t be tough enough to handle real life.

And since he could not believe that would be a failure of his, it was my failure to be the person he ordered from God. And he didn’t want to be associated with a failure.

So, from about 14 on, he wasn’t.

So, when I see that scene, it hits be like a gut punch for a different reason.

It took me many years to figure out why he did what he did. And when I figured it out, I wish I hadn’t.

Ray Kinsella had closure with his dad. I would never have closure with mine – he died catch2when I was 20.

And truth be told, had he lived, I probably would have nothing to do with him today.

I guess when I look at other guys dad’s the guys that we in my little league, cub scouts, elementary and high schools, I wonder what might have been in my life if their dads had been mine.

Maybe I didn’t see their dark side. All I saw what those dads standing behind their sons, coaching, mentoring, talking to them about life – the things my dad never did for me. Somehow, he just expected me to pick it up somehow.

And I look at the men these guys became – men their dads, if they are still alive – would be proud of. I know my dad would have not been proud of me – the ‘mistake.’ It is a valid question which one of us would have broken contact first.

There are things we can’t change in life; things we will always wonder about and ask, ‘what might have been?’ I have been trying to overcome my father’s abuse and indifference for over three and a half decades without much success.

For it is money I have, but peace I lack.

And yet, I still love ‘Field of Dreams’ for all it is and says about the yearnings from son to father that echo throughout the ages – for the need to reconcile, to forgive, to understand how boys become men, and men become fathers and pass on whatever they need to for their sons.

Dedicate the film to the sons who never had to wonder what might have been, never had to question their father’s love, or if they did, were able to have a touching and meaningful reconciliation at some point.

The reconciliation I will never have; at least not in this life.

Posted in abuse, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, children, growing up, my father, parenting, parents, peace, regret | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

For a Moment to be Ourselves

Last night, the madness group (or ‘mental health’ group if you prefer) staged an Open Mic Night where several people including four very talented teenagers, shared their personal stories. This was part of an overall effort to allow these voices to be heard and to fight stigma. I read my own piece and another excellent poem submitted by a local Pittsburgh poet.

And now here we are on the day following and, for me, there is a little letdown. Not from the show which was awesome, but by my performance piece, which I loved but cannot really live.

The force behind the show, Allyson Cypher of the group that put on the show ‘Inside our Minds’ read a piece that slammed (and rightfully so) her former employer, a mental health non-profit. She described an office environment not unlike mine (although things are better, for the moment). Although she did not, and I will not, mention the name of the non-profit, she hoped at some point the word would get back to them.

I, on the other hand, only felt free to say what I wanted to say from that stage. I didn’t call out my employer either. The piece was not specifically directed at them but was mainly about my experiences in their employ. I said things from the stage that I could not say to the people I work for.

My piece starts out with scenes from my youth where my innocent enough behavior was punished in several ways, which caused me to believe that there was something wrong with me – but I could never quite understand what it was.

The part where I make my proclamation is here:

So what is wrong with me?

Do they want to hear about Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Secondary Bipolar Disorder, PTSD or anything else 31 therapists have diagnosed me with?

Would they care about the long term effects of taking Abilify, Topamax, Zoloft, Paxil, Lamotrigene, Ativan and the list goes on and on.

Nah, at work they just hope I can act ‘normal.’

Well fuck you. This is my normal. This is my human experience. This is all I know. And I am tired of apologizing for who I am, what I do, how I act and how I cope. 

Yes there is something ‘wrong’ with me.

I am not ‘normal.’

But I have seen enough of ‘normal people’ to know

I’d rather be me.

There is nothing wrong with me.

And I can’t help feeling sad that I can only say this on a stage miles from where I work, to people who are not employees and don’t understand what has happened to me here.

Because if I said this at work, they would find a way to fire me or make my life as miserable as Alyssa’s employers made hers.

But at least for a scant minute I could speak from the heart and say what I feel.

I wish everyone could.

Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, childhood terror, ImNotAshamed, Mad Pride, paranoia, Poetry, regret, shame, society, stigma, work | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

You Tube Post: BPD Symptom 5; The Bad One (suicide)

Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, self care, self-harm, suicide, suicide prevention awareness, Video, vlog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Brain Busted



I was shaving my head the other night (you know, to get that cool bald look), when a thought struck me.

Beneath this enormous dome of a head was a brain that plays tricks on me.

My brain sometimes changes the words I write around so when I glance away from them for a second and look back, it seems they’ve been edited and changed. This can be very scary at first (I went to the ER the first time) but I’ve gotten used to it to the point I just get frustrated. And also because the magically edited version is better than I what I THOUGHT I wrote.

My brain will also make the familiar seem unfamiliar every now and then. I’ll be driving down the same road I’ve drive hundreds of times and all of the sudden I wonder: where am I? Everything kind of seems new and like I don’t know where I am. But after about 10 seconds I’ll round the curve and re-orient myself and all’s right with the world again.

I’m beginning to hate my brain.

The worst thing the brain does is take away my ability to think rationally. I mean, with all my various conditions, I have enough problems – disassociating, anxiety attacks, remembering familiar names, etc. But this is a whole new realm of shit.

I just came through one of these phases recently. I dissed my therapist, planned my suicide (to the point where I was discussing arrangements with my spouse), pushed friends away that wanted to help and turned in incomprehensible work at, well, work. I was a smoldering hot mess.

“You’re not thinking rationally,” a friend of mine pleaded over the phone.

“Yes, I am,” I yelled back. “Everything I’m saying is well thought out and rational!”

Except it wasn’t. Calculating the net value of my suicide minus funeral expenses and cash outs of my retirement account really isn’t rational thinking – at least not at this point of my life.

I overthink everything.

I blame you, brain.

And then, like it has before, this horribly oppressive cloud of gloom, paranoia, and frenetic panic lifted like the morning fog leaving me with the classic Borderline response: oh no, what the Hell have I done?

Thankfully the damage wasn’t irreparable.

And people around me are getting used to this, which I hate. Not them, the fact that they expect me to go off the rails every few months or so.

But here’s the key thing – I’m becoming afraid of that skull full of mush under this big bald head.

Why the Hell do I have such a big head? Maybe there’s a sci-fi creature living in there pushing buttons and pulling levers? Maybe this creature slipped into my large noggin at birth and controls my every mood?

Ok, that sounds implausible but doctors still don’t know how SSRIs really work so in psychiatry, pretty much everything is fairy dust and best guesses. Why can’t I have an alien in my head?

It could at least, be removed.

But in the meantime, I face the dismal fact that at some point in the future, my brain will betray me again. I don’t know where or when or how – but it will happen.

My moods used to be a roller coaster. It sucked but episodes were more predictable – they followed a pattern.

Now it’s more like I’m in a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde type of situation.

And I’m worried.

Posted in anxiety, bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, depression, fear, getting old, mental health, middle age, mood swings, paranoia, self care | Tagged , , | Leave a comment