second thoughts

I’m two days into my nicotine-free project: detox and withdrawal. And, though it’s nothing like coming off of something harder, my head is an ironic opera. Every now and then I forget…and when I remember again, like the death of a loved one, the longing is once again as fresh as it was the moment I started this project. Other times I forget my project and look for my vape pen—but before I find it, before I get a chance for relief, I realize what I’m about to do and wither with shame. I read yesterday that things are supposed to get harder for a few weeks following the third day of detox. I’m not looking forward to that.

Before I quit nicotine and became incapable of thinking about anything else, I was thinking a lot about the past. Specifically, the things I have done in the past when I have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or—and I was focusing quite a bit on this one in particular—when I have been experiencing a bipolar episode, or having had a psychotic break.

My main question is: to what extent should we be held responsible for the things we do when we are in a psychotic state? What about mania, but not psychosis? We know that our grounding in reality is eroded; we know that our ability to reason is gone; we know that something other than us seems to be sitting in the passenger seat but having an awful lot of say over what we do. (Why do we want to please that voice so much?)

Or maybe I was just hypomanic, was more or less grounded in reality—as much as I could be on old school antipsychotics—and simply do not remember doing something hurtful, ill advised, and destructive. Should my carer have taken the reigns here? Or am I required to take full responsibility of my actions in such a state too? I can’t see how I would have been able to make an informed decision because I had no sense that what I was doing was wrong or hurtful.

What about when I’m nicotine detoxing. Am I responsible for my disoriented behaviors in this hardcore slow-motion life transition?

Kidding aside, I would love to know what the law says about culpability in altered states. It does seem strange to hold a person accountable for what she has done in a psychotic, manic, or detox episode.

Routine

I am just emerging from a haze induced by three weeks of disrupted routine and augmented by oblivion-seeking behaviors involving a dragon video game. I am rediscovering the value of routine in helping me to manage myself emotionally and practically.

My partner replaced our  fence on his three-week holiday from work. Which means that there were at least three days when our private lives were completely exposed. I had not realized what an intensely private person I am, how much I perceive exposure as a danger. I banned the use of all overhead lights at night. I found myself retreating to my cave of bedcovers day and night. (It occurred to me at the time that the bear is my spirit animal.) I became super sensitive to everything; anxious in all situations outside of my curtained room. And I lost the fight against my oblivion-seeking self.

It didn’t help that there was disruptive news from extended family. Deeply troubling, and particularly upsetting to me with no routine to anchor me to this life. I floated away.

No yoga, meditation, writing, or painting. My third eye closed. I kept up only with my plants, perhaps more as a way to feel I had accomplished something at the end of each day. Or maybe just because I felt most comfortable with plants. Anything or anyone requiring more than a gentle chat and a watering felt like an awful lot of stress.

My cognitive functioning is a wreck. I am misplacing words and names in almost every sentence. I am hearing music again in white noise—samba from the vacuum cleaner; a violin ensemble from the spring winds. I am smelling stale piss, burnt garlic, and dog shit, and removing things from the house which seem, at the time, to be the source of the odors. Of course, the odors are merely hallucinations. I refuse to take anti-psychotics ever again, but that means that reality can get pretty squishy in high-stress situations. Without a routine.

And maybe that’s where our tendency to seek out oblivion comes from: maybe folks with bipolar are trying to slow things down, quiet our minds, grow some skin—in short, manage our stress before the rush of mania or psychosis sweeps us off our feet. It seems counter-intuitive that we should choose activities that ultimately make us lose control (drugs, alcohol, dragon video games) in an attempt to take control of ourselves. But maybe it’s not really about control, but about having a buffer between the world and us. Because, at such times, we are skinless–we feel everything with excrutiating intensity. And we just need it to stop. Bear in a trap. No time for thinking things through.

At least with oblivion-seeking behaviors we have chosen our outcome. And we no longer notice so acutely all the noise in our heads. Yes, self-medicating mental anguish, and all that. Not condoning, just explaining.

Anyway. The importance of routine. Bipolar tendencies for oblivion-seeking behaviors. Disruption and skinlessness. Stress. It’s all connected.