Here’s a first swipe at my set for tomorrow. It’ll be cleaned up in terms of verbosity. These are the ideas for what I want to share in an almost entirely new set of jokes… finally.
Let me know if you have any suggestions.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what bipolar, schizoaffective disorder, ptsd, binge drinking, and everything else mental health related has meant in my life. Looking back on my earliest, undiagnosed years of dealing with this stuff, it’s more than apparent that something happened to my confidence, my self-worth, and my sense of having any control over my life in any way. I was robbed of every last bit of confidence, self-worth, and control, and I was sure it would never end.
It was like the time I told my pet hamster she would never be able to stop running on her exercise wheel ever again… which I ensured by running a 60 gigawatt current through the steel plate floor of her cage.
It’s empowerment. That’s the word I like to use. Empowerment. And bipolar, ptsd, binge drinking, and everything else robbed me of empowerment.
Let me give you an example or two of what these mental health issues have looked like for me. On the manic end, (Big Mac In Training story) and (driving to Nova Scotia in three and a half days and only turning around because there were no more roads that went any farther north),
and on the depressive end (loss of college career, failed relationships, alienating friends):
After enough years of living through being fired from job after job, and suffering through the nightmare of my divorce, I was fed up with the whole ordeal. I needed to take charge of this. I needed to take back my empowerment. And one soggy monsoon afternoon, I came up with the best solution every in the entire history of ever.
What did I do to re-empower myself? I stripped down to the birthday suit, climbed up on the pitched roof of my house, facing the whole street in view of every neighbor fortunate enough to step outside and see me. Upon this roof, I was lying stark naked with torrential monsoon rain dumping onto my adonis-like figure.
When the cops eventually were called and arrived, they asked me, “What are you doing, sir?”
My reply? “I’m letting the monsoon rain wash my mental illness away.”
Well, it turns out that there was a cleansing of a sort. Washed away was not my mental illness, but rather the respect of my neighbor’s, any lingering dignity, and any chance the district court would ever let me own a ladder again.
Right. One thing public speakers are taught (to empower themselves) is to “envision everyone in the audience is naked.” Psych your mind. Now every one of you is being forced to envision me naked. You’re welcome.
So, that wasn’t the healthiest way of approaching re-empowerment. However, it was definitely a proactive step in my recovery journey, and it really did set me on the path of “I’m not giving up on life. Watch out, here I come!” It was a good step forward, regardless of how many neighbors were traumatized and have to seek psychiatric help themselves now.
Let me share a handful of things I’ve done to re-empower myself that have been healthy, positive, and successful. These might seem like such small, tiny things, but they were essential in getting me to this place where I’m able to stand here and tell horrible jokes.
One of my favorite tools regaining my empowerment was to grab on to a strength and/or curse, and that’s a propensity to be a smart-arse.
I mentioned my divorce. During my marriage, if my house was a sovereign nation, screaming at each was the national language. And even after my divorce, my ex-wife would revel in any opportunity to scream at me. This wasn’t conducive to recovery or wellness, and for the longest time I would scream back. But one day, I decided not to scream back. I decided to sit there and let her scream at me until she was out of venom.
And then she said to me, “Well? What do you have to say?”
And I said, “Nothing. I’m just waiting.”
And she said, “Waiting for what?”
And I said, “I’m waiting to see if the exorcism takes this time and the demon finally decides to leave your body.”
Well, that launched a whole new barage of screaming from her… but it was so worth it.
More recently, I’ve really learned how to poke at people who stigmatize those of us with mental health issues. A prime example of this is in the elevator of where I get my psych services. My psych office is on the third floor of a three story building, and if you’re riding with folks in the elevator and don’t get off on the second floor then obviously you must be crazy. And those folks who were getting off the second floor treated us like scary, crazy people by default. So, screwing with them in the elevator, that was golden.
One day, on the ride up on the elevator with a 2nd floor woman I saw every week, I sad to her, “Good morning. I think I might have some chameleons on my back. Can you check for me?”
And get this. She checked. And she said “I don’t see any chameleons.”
And I said, “Stands to reason, honey. They’re chameleons. You’re going to have to use your hands.”
And much more recently, during a DBSA peer support group, the topic of hypersexuality came up, which is a real concern and a real symptom of bipolar mania. One member said that she found a website where you put in the number of sexual partners you’ve had in your life and it would statistically extrapolate the number of people you’ve slept with by extension.
I said, “No thanks. I’m not going to visit that website.” It wasn’t because I was afraid that my “by extension lovers list” would be in the millions. It was mainly because I was 100% certain that at some point I slept with Kevin Bacon.
These little anecdotes might not seem all that important, but I’ll tell you, being able to see the humor in the world again, and being able to share that humor with the world, it takes away in humongous ways some of the power I allowed my mental illness to have over me.
One thing I do for myself every day is to wake up, dust off the sleepiness, and ask myself “What one thing can I do today to make my life better?”
I don’t have to answer myself right then. And whatever I do doesn’t have to be a grand display of humanity. It could be running up the La Luz Trail from bottom to top, or it could be holding the door open for someone at Walmart. It can even be getting out of bed to take a shower. In every way I’m reminded every day that everything I do can be empowering. And that’s what I want to close off with today.