I’m not even sure where to start this as I sit here contemplating what was (I hope) the single worst choice of my adult life (semi-jokingly, I can only hope to find no way to top it). One that will have an impact on my life, my future, my career, my reputation for years to come, if not forever. And I’m trying to figure out how I got here.
Actually, there’s a fairly short answer to what got me here: I suffer from some form of bipolar (aka manic depression) disease (probably Bipolar II).
Yes, I said it (well wrote it) and no it wasn’t easy. I know I’ve talked about my depression before, usually because that has, historically, had a worse impact on my life but I also have the other “half” of the condition as well: mania. Well, hypomania anyhow.
I haven’t talked about that so much and there are a number of reasons for that not the least of which being that hypomania is, frankly, kind of awesome. When I was briefly in therapy years ago, I told my therapist that I’d love to be hypomanic 24/7. She said it would be a short life. I replied that while true, it would be an awesome one.
Mind you, I don’t think I’d ever experienced a true manic episode (though I think I came close in this most recent experience), I’d only dealt with the hypomanic end of things. Again, it’s pretty awesome and most people who’ve been there will tell you the same thing. It’s one of several reasons folks with bipolar resist treatment.
A (Hypo) Maniac
Now mania, true mania, is a terribly destructive state. It includes grandiose thoughts, excessive spending (I’m talking like cars and planes), a rampant hypersexuality and overall risk taking and many other facets that cause individuals to simply lose control and destroy their lives. It usually starts with racing thoughts and sleep lack and things pick up steam from there. My GP describes a manic episode as running down a hill: you keep gaining speed and gaining speed until you crash at the bottom. And you always do crash. It is simply inevitable.
But there is also a milder form called hypomania, marked by massive creativity, productivity, less need for sleep, etc. It’s a lighter form of true bipolar I. In a sense, hypomania can be very productive and I suspect, in hindsight mind you (and there’s always a tendency to rewrite history mentally) that many of my creative breakthroughs have come during one of my hypomanic states.
I’ll be quite honest, when I’m hypomanic, that is about the only time in my life where I am the person I have always wanted to be. I’m outgoing, can talk to anybody, am comfortable in social situations, etc. It’s part of why I enjoy it so much.
In fact, bipolar disease is often separated into true Bipolar/Bipolar I (marked by true mania and severe depression) and a milder bipolar II (marked by hypomania on the one end and fairly severe depression on the other).
Although I’ve never been officially diagnosed, I’m probably Bipolar II. I’ve experienced a lot of the symptoms of hypomania but have never had hallucinations or, to my knowledge, a psychotic break (though honestly, how would you really know).
As with so many things, there are lots of reasons why people think bipolar syndrome exists and some think that many of the creatives of our time had some form of bipolar, just usually mild enough to harness it such that it was productive for them (more accurately they did their creative things when they were hypomanic and hopefully survived the depressive crash that came afterwards).
Presumably at some point in our evolutionary past there was some “benefit” to some aspect of switching from highs to lows. But like so many things, the milder forms often give rise to the more severe forms; the forms which can destroy lives.
For years I’ve thought I was bipolar II and certainly folks on the Internet who observed my behaviors threw around the term bipolar regarding me. I’d go from being aggressive, belligerent, verbally assaulting, hyperconfident, full of myself to the opposite extreme; disappearing for months when I went into a depressive state.
Amusingly (to me at least), folks usually had the situations backwards: they thought I got aggressive when I was depressed but actually the opposite was true. When I’m depressed I don’t really write much or post much or do much of anything; I just sort of exist. Like I am now. It’s when I’m moving towards/on the manic end of things that my true asshole nature exerts itself. Or the asshole persona that I created over the past two decades.
When you couple that type of brain with the nature of the Internet, it’s semi-easy to see how I became what I became over the past 2 decades. Early on I fell into this sort of aggressive, abusive mindframe (this is years and years ago) and it just propagated itself.
Worse yet, I almost got rewarded for it in terms of my financial and career success (I have snarkily told people that my job is to be belligerent to people on the Internet). There was no reason to ever stop; there were never any real consequences to my actions so there was no reason for me to change. But that changed at the end of last year.
And for the past 20 years I’ve been cycling in and out of these various states, becoming more and more locked into a behavior pattern, identity that got created way back in the day. And it’s recently all come to a major head.
Progression Isn’t Just for the Weight Room
Because among all of the other issues inherent to bipolar is this: it’s progressive. It’s apparently thought that every time you cycle from high to low to high again there is apparently some degree of “damage” that occurs that makes the next cycle that much worse.
And in hindsight, especially over the last few years, that’s certainly what’s happened to me. Starting when I was in my 40’s the highs started to get higher and the lows got lower. I’ve written about the lows before, they always followed a situation where I was on tilt and out of control.
Social and environmental changes can often kick off an episode and I often seemed to hit a hypomanic phase coming out of one relationship and into another. That is, it often seemed to involved a girl though it’s hard to say if the emotions I felt drove the mania or the mania drove the intense almost immediate emotional feelings I had for them.
When I was on tilt, I would spend money freely, completely lose my mind online, lash out at people, throw long-held friends away (I lost my mentor and friend of 17 years this way) before crashing back into depression.
But here’s the thing: when you’re manic you don’t care. Your brain lies to you, tells you that nothing can go wrong, no action can be a mistake. Every plan, project, etc. will succeed beyond your wildest dreams (at the extreme grandiose thoughts can turn to hallucinations though I don’t think I ever got that far although it’s hard to tell sometimes).
You can do no wrong when you’re manic and even if you could, you refuse to listen to anyone advising you differently. It’s part of the disease itself with your brain lying to you. In a very real sense, you have been mentally hijacked.
At the other extreme, in depression, seemingly nothing can go right. Everything seems utterly hopeless and pointless. That’s where I am now: falling into a crushing depression as the previous manic episode falls away and I look back at the consequences of my actions. Again, consequences that will haunt me for years to come.
For weeks I was paralyzed into inaction, waking up every morning with a pit in my stomach, going to bed every night with anxiety and racing thoughts. The fog has finally lifted now and I can be a touch more rational/objective about all of it. A touch.
Because over the past three or so months, in the height of a manic episode, I got dragged into a situation that caused me to make any number of poor choices. Professionally, personally, financially.
Choices that will have a long-standing impact on every aspect of my life for a long time. Ones that in hindsight I can’t believe that I made but that’s neither here nor there. Like I said, at the time no choice is wrong and nobody can tell you anything differently. If they try, you just unload on them; such is the certainty of your rightness.
In the past I’ve only ever gotten medicated for depression. Truth be told as I said above, mania is pretty damn awesome and at least one reason that folks with bipolar avoid meds (usually mood stabilizers) is that they don’t want to lose the highs. The depression/lows, sure, that can go the hell away. But the highs are just too much fun. Except for the inevitable crash.
The Aftermath of Hypomania
As I started to look at the consequences of my recent actions, an adviser (who is acting primarily as a friend and whose child suffers from bipolar as well giving her a bit more understanding of the situation) said that they looked around the Internet and saw people saying things about me that are 100% consistent with the disease.
People described me as cocky, full of myself, an asshole, etc. All true and the fact that “Lyle McDouchebag” is the second Google autofill really says it all. At least during those certain phases of my life. This friend said that a common reminder to her child is to “Be humble” and she expressed that to me (along with many other truths that while things I might not have wanted to hear I certainly needed to hear). It was both sobering and awakening.
The bottom line is that I’m currently facing an enormous amount of change to my life as a consequence of the last three months where I was clearly out of control and made an incredible number of self-destructive choices.
Now if there is any “benefit” to what happened it’s that I finally suffered enough consequences to actually examine and address the deficits in my life (a secondary benefit is that things could have been much, much worse in the big scheme of things). And I am already proactively making efforts to change them (I almost turned this piece into a New Year’s Resolution thing but decided not to).
I’ve pursued professional help, am on my second attempt at medication (it can take months or years to find the right one which is terrifying in its own right; that’s on top of mood stabilizers having their own big sets of issues), seeing a counselor, going to a weekly support group put on by the Depression and Bipolar Alliance.
Frankly, as much as I want to attack the other issues I’m dealing with, until the biological aspect is at least controlled, it’s kind of pointless. In depression, it’s hard to do much than sulk and ruminate and while I always tend to think in times like this “I just need a *touch* more hypomania” it’s never controllable. So getting the biological stuff addressed is part 1 as that will put me in a better place to address a secondary issue which is this.
No Man is an Island, Except That One Dude
For the past 20 years, my life has become more and more isolated, the combination of my type of brain/personality along with the nature of the Internet that allowed me to do so. I’ve avoided humanity for a couple of decades now, leaving me with a handful of close friends, almost no interests outside of my chosen field and little else. Essentially I am faced with having to create an actual life for myself and it’s long overdue.
I’ve almost lost the ability to interact with people (and on that note when I am hypomanic, I briefly become the person I always want to be, who can talk to anyone; yet another reason I didn’t want to give it up). But when you have few interests and, honestly, no interests in having interests, that can makes things problematic. But I am determined to try.
I was suggested a site called Meetup.com where folks with shared interests organize meetings and I’m already looking for groups/events that will help me become a more social human being and hopefully expand my social circle.
I’m already proactively looking for groups in Austin (I’m currently at home where I have more familial support) so that I don’t slip back into old habits when I get back. There’s more, professional issues but I’m not going to talk about those here.
I have to fix all of that and it won’t be easy. Part of my problem is that I’m trying to look at it all at once and it’s overwhelming. A better approach will be to break it into smaller, incremental changes that, by themselves, don’t seem so overwhelming. Acutely I’m getting my training and diet back under control (both went off the rails during my hypomanic phase as they tend to do) for any number of reasons.
An Open Apology to the Internet
But before I can do any of that, I feel the need to take responsibility for my actions not only recently but over the years which was actually meant to be the main thrust of this piece before I started overwriting.
It’s too easy to “blame the disease” or say that I had no control over my actions. Well, it is, but it isn’t, but it is, but it isn’t. I go back and forth. Make no mistake I’d love to lay the blame completely outside of myself but that’s not really who I am. I’ve always expected others to take responsibility for their actions and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me not to do the same.
So I’m starting the path that I’m about to embark on (and I did sort of wait until January 1st) by offering an Apology to the Internet. For those I’ve lashed out at unnecessarily, screamed at, teed off on, etc., etc. For no reason at all usually. Just because I could. It was inappropriate but I got away with it. That still didn’t make it right.
Don’t mishear me, I don’t expect automatic forgiveness or acceptance. An apology is just empty words if it’s not backed up with actions. It’s just a start and the words don’t mean anything yet. I have a long road ahead of me to fix my life, my brain, my reputation.
And I accept that I may not be able to fix it all. Certainly not with everyone. I know hard hard behavior change can be, how easy it is to slide back into what makes you content (if not happy) and how much work it’s going to take.
But without apologizing at first, openly, vocally, there’s no point in even trying to deal with the rest. So for now, without getting into any details of what happened (maybe I’ll write about it, or my progress with all of this later), I’ll simply say that I’m sorry for my actions over the years. I know I’ve helped tons, many, hundreds, thousands. But that doesn’t justify the other actions in the least.
So at least part of what I’m facing in the coming year (and beyond) starts here:
With an apology.
So to everyone I insulted, cursed at, lashed out at, belittled, made fun of, was rude, crude or inappropriate to, was simply a horrible human being to for really no reason at all (or for some dreamt up reason of my own),
That’s it. The rest will come through changing my actions, showing that my behavior has changed towards people both online and in the real world.
Note: I apologize for the jumble of this post, not my best work but I have a lot going on. As well, for reasons I imagine folks will understand, comments have been turned off.