|4/8 Martin Place. Mortdale. Sydney. NSW. Australia|
I shouted at him before storming out the door of our pokey two bedroom apartment, here in the Sydney suburb of Mortdale.
Groaning in frustration I stomped down the stairs to the ground floor, slamming the entrance door to our three storey apartment behind me, knowing the pain in the ass reverberation it would cause within this cheap, brick, concrete and tile building.
“They don’t want to know, nobody wants to know!” I told myself as I walked across the carpark at the rear of the building.
Pity! I’d felt the manic energy subsiding before his brother had told me about the paranormal séance.
‘Someone came up to him and put a card in his hand, saying something about a message from Pa, and that someone in the family needed counseling.’
After weeks of mania and those dream-like states of mind common to the experience of bipolar type 1 disorder, was this a paranormal communication? Was this apparent contact from my dead Father-in-law proof of a special cosmic connection, I’d been demanding evidence of, in the previous two weeks? It had been another one of those spiritual ecstasy days too, wondering around in a bliss-like trance-state, finding resonant associations of my unique sensitivity to the cosmos, absolutely everywhere. It was Easter Monday, April 9th 2007, a month after another relationship loss had triggered a steady rise into full blown mania. This mania was different to previous experiences though. Although, as most psychiatrists would no doubt suggest, a typical loss of objective insight would cause me to think and write this?
Yet consider this episode came after twenty seven years experience, mostly self-managed due to chronic intolerance of medication side-effects. Consider also, that I hadn’t taken any psychotropic medications for at least four years and had coped increasingly well, gaining more self-esteem and improving my education by training to become a therapist. “You sure you have a mental illness? - You always seem so reasonable and well grounded to the rest of us,” a fellow student once said, during our two years of group therapy together. “Yeah, but you haven’t seen the inside of my head,” I’d replied with typical self-depreciating humor. “Neither has anyone else!” Our supervisor exclaimed with the kind of knowing look, that epitomizes an increasing concern about the still unproven nature of any mental illness, as a distinct and verifiable brain disease.
Undoubtedly, if I had not undertaken such an education and been exposed to alternative views about emotional development, the effects of traumatic experience, and statistical data about poor drug efficiency and adverse health outcomes, I would have nipped this episode in the bud early on, as I had been doing for many years by then. Sleeping pills for manic insomnia, followed by withdrawal into quiet desperation, would have seen me through until I found the mood stabilizing influence of another intimate relationship. My undoubted trigger of an existential-isolation-crisis, now clearly established by five years of personal journal observations. Besides, I have four grown-up sons whom I do not want to believe, “our father is a crazy, he‘s defective and utterly mad, at times.” So there I was, wanting to go through the experience of another manic-psychosis to get to the bottom of what I then suspected was a complex emotional development issue, and not a disease of the brain. Although, back then I had no idea of where and how far my quest would lead me, in trying to understand the hidden nature of my psychotic experience's.
I remember discussing ideas about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with my oldest son earlier in the mood swing. “Maybe I get all these religious ideas because of a period of childhood trauma, coinciding with biblical stories which were a kind of emotional refuge, and perhaps I reenact the traumatizing period?” Thoughts generated by my then recently acquired knowledge of emotional trauma, and the too little understood phenomena of trauma reenactment. On that Easter Monday I’d been in the grip of a really heightened euphoric state since the previous Wednesday. Thoughts about Jesus and the well known savior syndrome had become irresistible, as once again I was enfolded within a state of euphoric rapture, with its compelling sense of a special awareness and destiny. I can’t say I remembered the most telling phrase from therapist training during those five days, although its worthy of reflection here. “All behavior is communication,” which is why I’d done my best to journal the experience, hoping to eventually understand a thwarted emotional development need, acted out in an emotional projection of unmet needs for attention. Such was my hunch about an emotional development issue of trauma conditioned avoidance and behavioral passivity, and an unmet need for the affirming power of love, somehow linked to bipolar mania’s fear dissolving powers of approach? In short-hand, mania seemed to be about overcoming a deep and denied fear of other people, and the fundamental need of human attachment.
Around 5pm that day I’d been sitting in my dark green, Ford Estate in the inner city suburb of Surry Hills, playing Black Sabbath as my second son was just getting back from a weekend in the Blue Mountains. “I’m going through changes!” God! Have you heard Ozzy Osbourne sing this song? Amazing! “She was my woman, I loved her so, but its to late now, I let her go,” yeah well, I’m always the one who goes, only to find myself in separation-distress or existential-isolation, and steadily falling into a manic-psychosis, "I'm going through changes!" I was playing the track on repeat too, addictively using its haunting melody to affect feelings of life, love and loss. Music has always been an intrinsic part of my experience of manic-psychosis, with many episodes remembered for the hypnotic affect of a particular album, or stand out track and lyrics. As the eminent neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp points out, "music is the language of the emotions," while many understand its unique ability to stir the sensitivities of the soul, or get the nervous system rocking with rhythmic impulses.
"One of the most intriguing manifestations of separation-distress may be reflected in a powerful response many of us have to certain types of music? It is widely accepted that music is the language of the emotions, it is one of the few ways in which humans can allow the external world voluntary access to their internal emotional systems on a regular basis. Most of us listen to music for the emotional richness it adds to our lives, and many of us love sad songs--especially bittersweet songs of unrequited love and loss. A common physical experience when listening to such moving music, especially melancholy songs of lost love and longing, as well as patriotic pride from music which commemorates lost warriors.
What is the underlying meaning of this emotional phenomena? A possibility is that a major component of the poignant feelings that accompany sad music, are sound frequencies which acoustically resemble separation-distress-vocalizations--the primal cry of being lost or in despair. Thus the shivers and tingles we experience while being moved by music, may represent the natural tendency of our brain’s emotional systems, especially those tuned to the perception of social loss, to react with an appropriate homeostatic thermal response.
When we are lost, we feel cold--not only physically but also as a neuro-symbolic response to social separation. The roots of our social motivational system are linked to thermoregulatory systems of the brain, and when we hear the primal sound of someone lost, especially if it is our own child, we feel cold, chilled to bone, as some describe this feeling. This may be mother nature’s way of promoting us, of mobilizing us towards the warmth of a reunion. For music that provokes a shiver, and that wistful sense of loss and the possibility of reunion, there is profoundly blended resonance in the dynamics of sound. The study of the affective resonance of music will have profound consequences for understanding the psychology and neurobiology of human emotions. "_Jaak Panksepp.
By 2007, I was well aware that my diagnosed condition of bipolar type 1 disorder was also known as a disorder of affect/emotion or mood; "Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder (historically known as manic-depressive disorder) is a psychiatric diagnosis for a mood disorder in which people experience disruptive mood swings that encompass a frenzied state known as mania (or hypomania) and, usually, symptoms of depression." Although back then, I had no idea what the terms affect and affective meant in relation to emotions or moods. “Affect,” its an odd word and little used word, which seems easily confused with the word effect or dismissed as just another term for emotion. Yet its a word I use deliberately here after discovering just what a vital and unconscious element it is, in what I’d previously taken for granted as the cause and effect processes of my motivation. "The he/she said this, and I said that, kinda way life is?" Affect, is an unconscious element in the natural stimulation of the images and thoughts these words and the sight of this page have brought into your mind? For me, affect is the hidden and unconscious hyper-sensitivity of a nervous system conditioned by trauma, which during an existential-crisis manifests an experience of psychosis? Affect, is an unconscious element of experience which cannot be captured and understood by our normal powers of cognition. Consider this explanation of “affect”;
“Affect is a visceral, raw pre-feeling. Feelings are socially constructed distortions of affect. Affect is the manifestation of the body’s internalization of an intensity. It cannot be rendered by language or any other kind of transmittable information. Affect is perpetually undulating and reforming. It is more bodily than cognitive. The body is integral to the understanding of affect. Massumi describes the “walls” of the body as sensory receptors which allow for the intensity of an experience to be transmitted and internalized." _Brian Massumi.
Another way of understanding the unconscious power of affect and role it plays in sense and sensitivity, is The Sense of Being Stared At? Most of us know it well—the almost physical sensation that we are the object of someone’s attention. Is the feeling all in our head? And what about related phenomena, such as telepathy and premonitions? Are they merely subjective beliefs? Despite a traditional academic background, Rupert Sheldrake has devoted his notable career as a scientist and writer to challenging the boundaries of “acceptable” science. A firm believer in the power of an experiment to yield answers about nature, he has dedicated years of intense research to investigating our common beliefs about what he calls our “seventh sense.” After compiling a database of 4,000 case histories, 2,000 questionnaires, 1,500 telephone interviews, and the results of a decade of scientifically controlled experiments, Sheldrake argues persuasively in his compelling, innovative book that such phenomena are real. In fact, he rejects the label of “paranormal” and shows how these psychic occurrences are a normal part of human nature. Researchers such Sheldrake give us much food for thought about the sensitive nature of the human condition, and what many point out as striking similarities in psychotic and mystical experiences. In the earlier decades of my own experience of disruptive psychosis, it was certainly easier to believe in a disease like illness, and seek quick-fix medication solutions, than to explore the painful and denied roots of emotion or the meaning and role of affect, in my over-sensitive nature? I mean, who uses the term “affect,” anyway? Yet as the reader will come to see, it’s a word vitally important to my story and the reactions of others in both the common understanding and professional diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
So there I was, in my Ford Estate wagon, playing loud music and waiting for my son Matthew, for whom I’d bought an Apple Mac computer the previous Monday. Bought in one of those impulsive gift buying sprees, so common to bipolar, which perhaps seeks to compensate for the damage of familial emotional wounding, of previous depressions? After our greeting and exchange of gift we went for a meal to catch up on recent events, which by then, had included a visit to a psychiatrist who was only interested in a diagnosis, and prescription drugs, not vague concepts of thwarted emotional development. I was fine during dinner too, having long learned to keep the euphoric ideation of a manic episode private, and not disturb others with it. Even when he told me the news about his younger brothers strange experience at a paranormal séance, of how a stranger had pressed a counselor's card into his hand and mentioned a message from his dead Grandfather. Afterwards though, as I drove down the Princess Hwy towards Mortdale and home, images of my son at a séance and my deceased father-in-law was like a climatic confirmation of two whole weeks of a euphoric sense of an intimate communion with the cosmos. Flooding memory redoubled a sense of approaching a climax to experience and some kind of breakthrough realization. I remembered walking in the local park near the apartment around 2am the previous Friday, telling myself this was a skewed state of mind caused by mania. All sorts of spiritual thoughts had gone through my head in the previous days. My lost first child who my wife and I had aborted, my own dead Father, maybe they’d both been reborn on Orion by now? Give me some proof! I demanded of the Universe as I looked up at a bright yellow moon, and five seconds later, on an isolated park bench I saw a man sitting alone. A oddly located bench I’d walked and jogged past hundreds of times late at night, and never seen anyone there before.
Leaving the walking path I crossed the vacant scrub to where he was sitting and said hello. We ended up talking for over a two hours after my initial surprise that he lived many, many miles away, up on Sydney’s Northern beaches. We talked about life in his native Korea, and how he worked long hours seven days a week and was unhappy in his relationship. Eventually he confided that he’d been driving around thinking about suicide all day and didn’t know how he’d found his way here. Was this just a coincidence? At Sydney Lifeline training to be a crisis telephone counselor, we’d been told “you’ll get calls that match your own emotional issues,” by the experienced volunteers, and of coarse we’d all smiled with a “yeah sure.” Yet it happens, I always got people on the phone who had mental health problems, while a close friend who had suicide deaths in her family, had six live suicide calls in the 18 months we spent on the phones together. There I was three years later with my first suicide counseling session at 3.30am in my local park, after a proof of life plea to the Universe. So you see how the story of the séance had “affected” me to perceive a chain of emotionally connected events?
I rang my third son and asked him to meet me at his mothers house, wanting to ask him about the facts of the séance meeting and talk about what I’d been going through. A family conference was on my mind as I’d walked up the flight of stairs to speak with the oldest of my four sons. He’d been warned of coarse and knew his Mother would not be impressed by the idea.
'Your not going anywhere near mom’s place while your like this,' he insisted.
‘It was just some stupid séance, some adolescent prank that has nothing to do with your mental illness. - Please Dad, take some medication and get some sleep.’
‘You don’t understand, after twenty seven years I do not loose complete insight, and I need to go through this if I’m ever to understand and overcome it.’
‘It’s a brain disease Dad, you can overcome it by taking medications.’
‘Son, there is more to it than that, and you can’t begin to understand unless you’ve experienced these altered states.’
‘Yeah right, like your special psychic connection to the Universe? Its not psychic its fucking psychotic.’
‘See, there you go, I’ve never used the word psychic, I’m just trying to understand it!’
|The working man's carry all car.|
Driving away from Mortdale and our generational confrontation, memories of life and recent events washed over me. “Someone in the family needs counseling? You got that right” I thought, as I remembered the very first night of falling into mania.
I’d driven into the city center looking for a rather famous priest, hoping to ask if he thought I’d had a religious experience, if I’d really spoken to God. Just like now there was this strange heart-felt pull, leading my mind. Was it guiding me on somehow? Were the synchronous events of the past two weeks destiny or delusion?
I sighed and pressed the play button on the car stereo, "You could be happy and I won't know. But you weren't happy the day I watched you go. And all the things that I wished I had not said. Are played in loops, till it's madness, in my head." Snow Patrol’s amazing song and poignant lyrics were like another synchronous tap on the shoulder. Like God saying “please wake up,’ as Monica McGoldrick's profound statement, “loss is the pivotal human experience,” rose to mind.
A flood of images washed over me, as soulful words reached my ears. “I should have stopped you from, walking, out the door.” I punched the stop button in anger while exorcising the sudden rage with a scream, FUCK!!! Settling back down into the car seat I warned myself about this hypnotic mingling of mood states and music. “There is no fucking synchronicity, my son is right, its all just meaningless coincidence.”
“So where did the Russian woman come from in the Bible shop? The young woman I sat behind in a church in the Blue Mountains, a stranger who turned up to view the next door apartment, on the very next day?” Even my son thought that one odd. Katoomba is over forty miles away? What were the odds? A one time visit to a church I would never visit again, and an unconnected stranger I would only ever see twice? Just pure chance, simple coincidence? Or was there some wierd resonnance effect involved in these seemingly synchronous events? This had been the most spiritual day of this whole episode too.
“How do you manage to get so cut-off from people,“ was a thought that came to mind as I remembered driving along in this familiar, heart-toned dream state during the previous week. Just going with this strange, push me, pull me flow of high emotion and its deep desire for something just beyond my sight, beyond any conscious kind of knowing. “Just around the fucking bend and over the next fucking rainbow,” I laughed. I’d just kept driving, kept moving with no why for, or where I was going, revving myself up with music and religious ideation all the while. I’d ended up at the Hawkesbury river not far from where it meets the pacific ocean, driving along the river bank before stopping at an idyllic cove. “I am trying to question it,” I'd said to myself, as I remembered doing the same thing while sitting by the river and throwing stones into the water. “The Universe is not talking to me,” I’d admonished myself while hurling another stone. I swear, there was a second simultaneous splash as the stone entered the water, some three feet of to the left-hand side. I was stunned, it wasn’t a fish and there was no one else around, for I quickly checked those possibilities.
Each splash seemed so completely identical, the sound, the height and the volume of water that rose up. I was certain too, that I hadn’t picked up more than one stone. Wow! Freaky when you’ve been pleading with the universe to give you some kind of answer for these overwhelming feelings, and strange serendipitous events. It had really felt like an answer too, even a test of faith and belief, as Snow Patrol’s song lyrics came to mind again. “Open your eyes, all this feels strange and untrue. Tell me that you'll open your eyes.”
“Where does the inspiration for such artistic creativity come from,“ I’d wondered as images of the previous Sunday came to mind. The church and that girl, feelings of heightened resonance, of harmonic balance and subtle vibrations, thoughts about Jesus and the imminent Kingdom of Heaven, his followers were so sure was close at hand. “Its right here, right in front of our eyes, if we could only learn how to see it, how to sense it.” And just as I’d uttered those thoughts in my head, a pure white cockatoo took flight from a tree not five yards in front of me.
FIVE YEARS LATER: I’ve never discussed that overwhelming sense of “if we could only learn how to feel it and sense it,” before these written words. Particularly the white cockatoo so easily dismissed as a meaningless coincidental occurrence. The ideation is so easily dismissed as a delusional state, a grandiose and false sense of omnipotence. God knows I’ve dismissed it often enough myself, as the workaday needs of a normal life urge against any dwelling on the immediately unknowable. I'd shrugged my shoulders and moved on. Yet in these heightened states of oneness sensation, so common in spiritual ecstasy, is there something about powerful resonance affects? Something more to the mystery of synchronicity, an experience which people in all walks of life give some credence to, just as they do experiences of déjà vu. In the five years since, I‘ve learned about my body/brain and its innate, hard wired responses as the foundation stones to my life experience.
Learned how innate and unconscious reactions orient my conscious perceptions, like the instantly wary search for possible threat, when I was shocked out of a reverie, by the second splash in the water. I’ve learned that what I normally take for granted as my normal awareness, is more unconsciously stimulated than I care to admit, and more negatively biased by these same innate responses than they need to be in our 21st century. Learning to sense and not just see and think, has profoundly changed my self-awareness and what I took for granted as a normal world view. The predominately mind-based everyday awareness encapsulated by the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.”
“Its not psychic, its psychotic,’ I remember I young man telling me, not long before I vowed to find some reasonable and scientific explanations for my altered-state experiences.
Physics tells us that there is more to reality than we normally perceive, and that ultimately there is no separation. Physics tells us that a property of resonance is sympathetic vibration, the tendency of one resonance system to enlarge & augment through matching the resonance frequency pattern of another resonance system. So after reading about resonance frequencies and vibration in the electro-chemical firing patterns of cells in my brain and nervous systems, I came to ponder my experience in a different way. Especially after reading how crucial the emotion of elation is, in fueling synaptic connections in an early maturing brain. Many esteemed human development authors note a striking similarity between elation as a basic “practicing” mood in infants, and manic “symptoms” in adults. While the grandiose sense of omnipotence has long been associated with the unfortunate term “primary narcissism,” a very early life and perhaps pre-birth sense of “oneness,” within the body/brain. We’re talking about a sensate experience which is a pre-conscious state, very, very early in life, one we lose connection with in our need to sense separation, as survival instincts come online. Of coarse this is not an objectively verifiable state, yet it has a long tradition in eastern meditation where we are asked to believe that all form is an illusion.
Five years later I understand how very early in my life, something happened to thwart a well balanced brain and nervous system maturation. Five years later I’ve learned what that was, and how to experience that same euphoric state of oneness during a spontaneous mania, without projecting my “subjective,” history and state of my mind, into it? Five years later I’ve learned how to FEEL it, enjoy it and most importantly, let it go and return to a normal STATE. “You can’t do that,” I imagine you may be thinking? Yet beyond the consensus opinion of a diseased brain process in mental illness, there is much new science indicating a different possibility, a different way of understanding such abnormal experiences. Most importantly there are techniques for developing an expanded self-awareness, beyond our taken for granted and overwhelmingly “cognitive,” sense-of-self. Beyond psychiatry’s franchise on mental health there is an understanding of the body and its role in these altered states, we generally assume are generated solely within the brain. Five years later, after much self-educated research and body awareness practice, I’ve learned how to exorcise my Devil in disguise, so commonly reffered to as dissociation.
Back to that Easter Monday night in 2007. I was driving down Parramatta Rd heading towards Sydney’s city center, and feeling about as lost and lonely as I’d ever been, yet determined to see this self-experiment through, for what more did I have to lose? “Just keep it to yourself and reflect on it all later,” I remember thinking as I gazed at the faces of people in passing cars. Back then I had no idea how to stop the 101 thoughts a minute, of a manic energy discharge. At that time I was still lost in an unconscious/conscious trap, unknowingly escaping embodied pain, by taking flight into the synaptic gaps of my brain. Or was I still hiding in the bushes, and why is music always involved in these most passionate and spiritual experiences of my manic episodes?
Snow Patrol was the music of this particular flight, just as other music albums had been an intimate part of other high flying mania‘s. “Hmm! High as a kite like Icarus, touching or touched by the Sun? A metaphoric story of psychosis and the energy of the heart?” Sod it! I pressed the play button again and flicked back to track three “Chasing Cars,” “Chasing hopeful moods,” I remember thinking as the song began. “I don't quite know. How to say. How I feel.” Yeah to right! There are no words to describe the euphoric sensations of mania, the essence of oneness, not even to myself. And yet, “Let's waste time. Chasing cars. Around our heads.” “Forget what we’re told. Before we get too old. Show me a garden that's bursting into life.”
All that I am. All that I ever was. Is here in your perfect eyes, they're all I can see.
What the fuck is it? I sense it but I can’t see it! "There‘s more to mania than objects and logic and bat shit rationality," I silently yelled at passing cars. “I don't know where. Confused about how as well.”
If I lay here If I just lay here Would you lie with me and just forget the world?
I remember closing my eyes for a dangerously long time, as a deep sigh of regret escaped my lips. A family conference had been a fervent hope as I’d climbed those stairs in Mortdale, surely this was a chance to sort things out, a golden opportunity to talk about the reality of my mental illness experience. The previous Wednesday I’d tossed my car keys to my oldest boy, suggesting we go to hospital as a naive notion of showing him how the diagnosis process works, in real life. Bad idea, that one, silly child am I when lost in the wonder of euphoria, seeing the world in innocence, looking through the eyes of heavens child.
‘No, no. This is what you people do, you twist things around,’ the young psych grad said, as I tried to talk about the dream like quality of mania, and that amazing day.
‘Don’t you have dreams that seem a bit weird when you wake up and remember?’ I’d asked her as she insisted on sticking to the standardized questions. “How much sleep have you had these past few days, how’s your appetite, your libido and have you experienced unusual thoughts?”
‘You’re a psychology graduate, aren’t you the least bit interested in the psychology of mania?’ I’d asked.
‘Mr Bates! Your son tells me you have a long history of mental illness.’
Judgment call. End of dialogue, you never indulge a psychotic, she‘d been taught and fully understood the reality before her eyes? “Fuck you, very much.” And the wheels on the cognitive cart go round and round, in the hidden needs of a homo-sapien, homeostasis? Like the young psychiatrist who would embarrass himself by sectioning me a few days later, she had about as much idea of what really makes her tick inside, as I did back then. The idea of showing my sons the highly subjective nature of mental illness diagnosis had backfired on me, I couldn’t get past first base. Hidden stress reactions had evoked their innate avoidance of the unknown, as time and immediate needs demanded a “lets deal with this and move on,” response. A better idea would have been to coach my son on feigning a symptom of mental illness, and let him get trapped by the affect of preconcieved assumptions in psychiatric diagnosis, just like in the famous Rosenhan experiment;
“The Rosenhan experiment was a famous experiment into the validity of psychiatric diagnosis, conducted by psychologist David Rosenhan in 1973. It was published in the journal Science under the title "On being sane in insane places." The study is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatric diagnosis.
Rosenhan's study was done in two parts. The first part involved the use of healthy associates or "pseudopatients" (three women and five men) who briefly simulated auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain admission to 12 different psychiatric hospitals in five different states in various locations in the United States. All were admitted and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. After admission, the pseudopatients acted normally and told staff that they felt fine and had not experienced any more hallucinations. All were forced to admit to having a mental illness and agree to take antipsychotic drugs as a condition of their release. The average time that the clients spent in the hospital was 19 days. All but one were diagnosed with schizophrenia "in remission" before their release. The second part of his study involved an offended hospital challenging Rosenhan to send pseudopatients to its facility, whom its staff would then detect. Rosenhan agreed and in the following weeks out of 193 new patients the staff identified 41 as potential pseudopatients, with 19 of these receiving suspicion from at least 1 psychiatrist and 1 other staff member. In fact Rosenhan had sent no one to the hospital.
The study concluded, "It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals" and also illustrated the dangers of dehumanization and labeling in psychiatric institutions. It suggested that the use of community mental health facilities which concentrated on specific problems and behaviors rather than psychiatric labels might be a solution and recommended education to make psychiatric workers more aware of the social psychology of their facilities."
* * * * * * *
Of coarse I was emotional that day, the reality of loss was pounding my heart on that particular Wednesday in 2007. Following the incident at the Hawkesbury river with that stone, I’d immersed myself deeper into the heart felt, take me where you will, nature of a euphoric mania. Everyday reason and objective logic is forced from the mind as deep emotional wellsprings rush up from the heart, you just go with its flow. All the normal wary suspicions of self-preservation dissolve, as an innate bias of negative judgment towards the unknown, seems to disappear. It’s a bit like sleep walking in a way, an acting out of deeply unconscious meaning, once you get past the instinct of fearful negative reactions, not so much yours, but other people‘s. In this dreamy “I’m not sure what this is, but I think I‘m getting some answers,” I drove away from the river in a triumphant blaze of heightened emotion. I’d accepted the sign of that second splash as a message I needed to hear. “Its all true, your alive, you’re here, embrace your being in this present now,” although the life history of my subjective experience filled this new now, with thoughts of God, good and evil and that number one boggy man, the Devil. A subjective sense of the experience that wasn’t helped by a freak unseasonable hailstorm either. What can I say, when your in this state there is a powerful sense of resonance with all nature, and like people bending spoons with the power of concentration, did I somehow cause that second splash in the water?
Beneath the thoughts though, beneath the subjective sense of it all, on a purely physical level I was free of a lifelong sense of fear, wanting and needing to experience a brand new now, and hopefully driving towards a new destiny, guided by some unknowable sub-conscious wisdom. Within an hour I’d found myself approaching the magnificent Baha’i Temple on Sydney’s upper north shore, struck by its beauty I followed another heart surge and turned into the car park. I remember walking towards a volunteer guide, an older man in his seventies, and as our eyes met there was an immediate recognition of my highly emotional state, yet no sense of wary reaction from this man with the wisdom of long lived experience. Instead there was a welcome stranger look, a greeting with a dignity and warmth that was exactly what I needed in that moment. I shook his hand and he told me about this amazing place that I’d never seen or heard of before, intuitively telling me about his own dark night of the soul, and how he’d turned to the Baha’i faith. He explained his Baha‘i beliefs, “we have an emphasis on the oneness of God, the oneness of humanity and the fundamental unity of world religions." “Wow, what if I’d found my way here in 1980, on that first night of slipping into mania?” Showing me around he pointed out the chalet type accommodation where people often came to stay and study, not just the Bahai faith, but all the worlds major religions. Would I have found a home back then, a different destiny and did mania turn into a history of bipolar disorder from the chance and circumstance of life’s peculiar fate?
Certainly with the accent of the internet I’ve met many who’s first experience of psychosis, did not lead to a lifelong experience of mental illness. The one clearly identifiable difference being circumstances, which did not lead to a medical intervention? After spending time talking to this wonderful man I wondered across to the Temple itself, thinking that I‘d already discovered the purpose of this visit. “I will come back on Sunday for the service,” I’d assured my new friend and the ladies in the book shop. Yet as I walked into this amazing nine sided temple with its simple yet elegant oak wood lectern, standing alone towards the rear of the semi-circular rows of bench seating. I was overcome by a singular sense of need, and this was nothing like the omnipotent sense of oneness I’d been experiencing all day. This felt decidedly different as it drew me like a magnet towards the lectern. Walking slowly around this simple wooden structure, I placed my hands each side of the rectangular Bible platform, feeling the grain of the timber with my fingers and palms.
As I tried desperately not to second guess what I should do now, as a powerful urge to knell came over me. I was suddenly overcome by remorse and a need to ask forgiveness from the child who’s murder I’d sanctioned by abortion, some three decades earlier. The heart felt plea for forgiveness I silently uttered made my previous youthful decision seem so shallow, some kind of simulated awareness about the nature of life’s reality, floating around my head. Some kind of intellectual distancing of head from heart, from my body, from the primacy of emotion, and the ground of my being. Not here though, here was a physical sensation, a pressure wave of deep desire and need as I sank to my knees, as a flood of grief welled up from deep within. I remember biting my lip, fearful that I would cry out like some wounded animal, drowning in a vortex of pain, grief, guilt, loss, and absolute rage at the stupid shallow needs which had denied a life so precious. “I‘m so sorry, so sorry, please forgive me. - my darling, my baby, my daughter.”
Such was the reverie of remembrance as I drove along listening to Snow Patrol on that Easter Monday evening, mixed with a what now, where should I go, what should I do, feeling? I spotted the road sign for Five Dock not far ahead, and on impulse decided to turn left and just go with the emotive flow. A familiar street in the leafy suburb of Haberfield brought its implicit memories to mind, in this city of Sydney that I knew so well. I pulled over, a walk and fresh air to clear my head, perhaps? So much emotion was swirling within me though, as hurt and anger about my oldest son’s reaction fought off the need for a calm and even keeled head space. I walked towards the bright red traffic lights up on Ramsey Street, “do they mean STOP turn around and go back?” Back to what though, more preconceived notions about my diseased brain, this episode had already been full of that paradox of stranger acceptance, and family and friends suspicion. Once labeled with a mental illness, your expected to act the part, dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t, the mind reading judgments are awful. Yet with strangers, during these heightened emotional states of euphoria, there is no quick, wary judgment of me, interesting, engaging, maybe a little eccentric, but fascinating to talk with, is the general reaction. I mean, I had twenty seven years experience of manic states by that time, and you do learn to rein in the excesses somewhat, keeping much of the wilder ideas to yourself.
Mind you, there was one incident on that Wednesday when I’d lost the plot a little bit, and my boy did see that. From the Baha’i Temple I’d driven back into the city center to pick him up from work, dropping into the Sisters of Mercy book shop nearby, to purchase a Roman Catholic Bible. I’d been engaged in conversation with another elderly volunteer when a stout looking woman marched into the shop, and rudely interrupted us.
'You have some Eastern Orthodox Bible here?' She said in a very impolite and demanding voice.
'I need Eastern Orthodox, to buy for today!' She exclaimed.
I stepped aside thinking she seemed in a bit of a state and should not be antagonized, and as the man behind the counter began addressing her, something really strange happened. Raising her voice even louder she said.
'There are only three original first names for the woman in Russia … … …,' and abruptly turned around and left. We just stood there with a “what was that all about,” look on our faces, the old man and I, although I was quietly shocked that she’d mentioned the name of the love of my life. My soul-mate whom I was still missing more than four years, and two relationships later.
I swear this incident happened exactly as I’ve described it, and the timing, it was bizarre. Was this event just pure coincidence? There had been the girl from the church and the Korean man in the park, the second splash in the water and news about a paranormal séance involving my dead father-in-law? “Someone in the family needs counseling,” advice about faith, belief, trust and love, and the false economy of objects, twenty seven years of mania seemed to be resonating towards some kinf of critical mass, within my head. It seemed like one coincidence to many at that point and I got a bit carried away a short time later, when I saw a skywriter with a message that might have a special meaning. I pointed the words out to a nearby stranger, urging him to remember this sign, although I did quickly realize that I’d gotten a bit lost in a wonderous synchronicity drive. It’s a problem with mystical, magical thinking, you can set sail and get lost in it, and the skywriter thing happened right in front of my oldest son.
“Maybe I really am just crazy, mad, a full moon f’ing lunatic,’ I was thinking as I neared the now green traffic lights. There were shops here too, and I gazed in a window at some happy smiling faces, “a bottle red, a bottle white, I'll meet you any time you want, In our Italian Restaurant.” Hmm? Billy Joel, “Captain Jack will get you high tonight. Just a little push…..” Jesus! If I could bottle a fucking mania I’d make a fortune, although I‘d only trade it for love, I think. I hurried on past, the people and the glass hurting me somehow, like Sylvia Plath’s bell jar? As if some invisible transparent force somehow cuts me off from that which I covet the most, the warmth of human proximity and spontaneous delight. I walked down Ramsey St a short way before turning around to go back to the car, thoughts about writing up today’s events in my journal, were the mindful intention. Yet as I approached the car, I noticed a church almost opposite and I instinctively crossed the street. St David’s Uniting Church Haberfield! I mean, when your in such a “watch out for coincidental and symbolic meanings,” state of euphoria, a church with your name on it, takes on more than a little significance.
“Your kidding me. - How did I end up parking just across the street from this place, how did that impulse lead me right here,” I wondered as I walked towards the church steps. I don’t remember even noticing the church when I’d parked the car, and I‘ve been over this scene a thousand times in my head.
I do remember walking down the left hand side and around the back of the church, were I saw the old burial ground though. At that point I wanted to turn around and hurry back to the car, “this is freaking me out,” I was thinking, before asking myself, “why am I here?” Every single day of this whole escalating period swirled in kaleidoscopic images and thoughts, like a near death experience.
Right back to the triggering event of relationship separation on March 7th, with weeks of this peculiar, rising of euphoric dream like state, which equally felt like a fall. A strange out of body experience when I was twelve years old came to mind for some reason. A time when stepping onto a bus I was suddenly suspended high above, watching myself move. It was a kind of split, twin state awareness of being both in my body and out of it, at the same time. Memories from further back came to mind too, of calling out the Devil to come and scare me if he could, while alone in my bedroom. I think I was about six or seven then, and memories of the prayer to God, that had been such an integral part of my first flight into mania, almost three decades before.
I sensed a heart-toned “why am I here,” question rise. Felt it within the fiber of my being more than a thoughtful question within my conscious mind. Walking slowly in wide circles, pushing my feet forward like searching antennae, a sinking sensation began to overcome me. Starting in my chest there was a pressured sensation that felt like I was going down, like drowning in something. I couldn’t breath and all sensation awareness of my feet suddenly disappeared, as if they'd been chopped off. A white hot flash burst through my brain like some kind of seizure, and a sense of stepping down into a void, into the Devils chamber filled my mind. Fuck!!! I silently screamed as I lurched backwards and shook my whole torso, as a thousand electrified shivers ran up and down my spine. It felt like I was shaking myself free from some clawing evil vine, a force trying to drag me down into the earth, as uncontrollable spasms gripped my legs and arms.
Honestly, for a second or two, I thought I’d been possessed by evil. “No!!! I’m going completely fucking insane,” I wailed, turning my eyes towards the sky in a plea for help. My knees gave way and I literally dropped to the ground, a bizarre frozen split second when I seemed to be suspended, in expectation of the ground opening up to swallow me. I found myself on hands and knees panting, with a desperate urge to crawl away, which suddenly became a defiant, "No! Fuck You!" I pushed myself upright and stood with a rising sense of anger in my chest, felt the flush of blood in my checks and a return of solid sensation in my legs and feet. Looking over at the old burial area, a feeling of rage started to swell in my chest and I strode over to the nearest grave. “You can’t scare me insane, I’ll fight you,” I raged at the ground again, while going down on my knees, “come out, come out, face me you evil bastard, you won‘t win, I won‘t let you win.”
FIVE YEARS LATER: Another scene of madness I’ve kept to myself knowing how rational minds would judge it proof of a mental illness. What else could explain such behavior, such apparent loss of reason, deserving of only pity and instantly dismissed as a sickness of the mind. The impulse which guided me to the church of my name, instantly forgotten as attention sharpens its focus on bizarre and crazy actions. Best to forgive, sedate and suppress, take your medications and forget that now, there is no meaning in such obvious acts of insanity. Yet what is ACTING OUT? Remember one my most cherished phrases from therapist training? "All behavior is communication?" Communication from a source which is unconscious, and kind of body language with a criptic purpose? “Yeah right, calling out the Devil atop some poor souls grave in a churchyard at night, acting out pure freaking delusion!” I imagine my oldest son saying, while reasonably sure most readers will agree. Yet think of TRAUMA though, that which we instantly equate with external events, like acts of violence and abuse perpetrated on a victim? Events leading to post traumatic stress disorder, lingering long in the mental anguish of many traumatized people. “What’s trauma and PTSD got to do with your bipolar mental illness and being delusional though? PTSD is not bipolar disorder? PTSD stimulates flashback memories, not delusions?” Well, the trauma was my birth, and the PTSD was a braced muscular defense, unconscious and conditioned within my autonomic nervous system, compounded by inadequate nurture, early in my life.
What I was calling out that night was a Devil in cryptic disguise, the conditioning of traumatic experience, and long-term potentiation of unconscious FEAR reactions to life. What I was trying to face in delusion, was the original terror of a three day birthing ordeal. A terror experience which can bear no conscious path of approach and threatens total annihilation to a conscious sense-of-self. Only in dream do most people approach terror and the more brutal realities of life, waking with relief that it was only a nightmare, a bad dream. Its taken five years of constant research and experiential effort, yet I do now understand that mad behavior in the churchyard, and the dream like qualities of mania. Its spontaneous desire to enable approach and "un-freeze," the affect of traumatic experience.
The role of the amygdala and other brain stem neural circuits, which stimulate the twin branches of my auto nervous system and that up-surge and down-surge of a classic manic-depressive cycle. New knowledge has bequeathed a forgetting, a giving up of the common consensus belief in mental illness, as a disease of the brain. With much self-educated research and its experiential integration, I’ve come to know my bipolar type 1 brain disease, as a profound dis-ease of deeper unconscious regions of myself. Beneath this subjective experience I call my mind, with its all to quick rationalizations, lie roots of deep connection, that long line of structure and function in the evolution of my brain-nervous system. An evolution of the human experience, in which the mind and body cannot be separated, when it comes to understanding the experience of mental illness.
"Most people think of trauma as a “mental” problem, even as a “brain disorder” However, trauma is something that also happens in the body. We become scared stiff or we collapse, overwhelmed and defeated with helpless dread." _Peter Levine. "In an Unspoken Voice"
"In a lifetime of working with traumatized individuals, I have been struck by the intrinsic and wedded relationship between trauma and spirituality. With clients suffering from a daunting array of crippling symptoms, I have been privileged to witness profound and authentic transformations. Seemingly out of nowhere, unexpected “side effects” appeared as these individuals mastered the monstrous trauma symptoms that had haunted them-emotionally, physically and psychologically. Surprises included ecstatic joy, exquisite clarity, effortless focus and an all-embracing sense of oneness." _Peter Levine. "In an Unspoken Voice"
Levine, P, 2010, "In an Unspoken Voice," North Atlantic Books, USA.
Schore, A, N, 2003, “Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self,” W. W. Norton, USA.