Earlier today I logged onto Twitter and stumbled upon the manic episode-driven rant of Hugo Schwyzer, the controversial self-proclaimed male feminist and gender studies professor at Pasadena City College. A week ago he quit the internet, citing hurtful comments from his detractors as the cause, and today he was back on Twitter with a "manic rant" spanning well over one hundred tweets in roughly an hour. In it he admitted to fraudulent and inappropriate behavior including sexting with his students, cheating on his wife, and building his entire career on pretense and charm driven by his megalomania, sexuality, and need for attention. He also admitted to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.
I don't know much about Hugo personally. I found out about him this spring when a Twitter tag alert notified me of an article in which he'd cited my work as an FPUA, and we'd started a dialogue on Twitter after that. He was nice to me, praised my work, and invited me to speak to his classes, so I took him at face value as a nice guy for the time being. Later when I read into his history of having extramarital affairs with his students and admitting to attempting a murder-suicide with an ex-girlfriend, naturally some red flags raised. Is there such a thing as real redemption? I certainly wouldn't want to be judged for things I did ten years ago, things which don't affect the quality and value of my work today. But his rant today just made me roll my eyes.
I have suffered from mental illness since the age of 15. I've also suffered from a lot of shame surrounding it and have only been comfortable discussing it publicly within the last year. I've been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and a few people have discussed borderline personality disorder but no one's ever actually slapped the official label of a diagnosis on me for it. (It is easy to line up some of the BPD symptoms in my narrative, but duh I don't trust anyone, my best friend almost caused me to get evicted, and duh I view the world as dangerous and malevolent, as a pro-domme I watched my boyfriend get arrested and then was outed by the New York Post and crucified on the internet a week later. The unbridled sexuality of BPD also fits me, obviously, but I'd rather we didn't pathologize kink, pickup, or non-monogamy. If I do have BPD, at least one can say I have trained my demons to pull the cart rather than bite at my heels. After all, I have managed to build an entire career out of the symptom of a strong desire for intimacy and a mildly irrational fear of abandonment.)
Here's the thing I have learned about having mental illness, however: It is nobody's problem but yours. The minute you realize you have a disease in your brain, it's actually very freeing. Ohhh. So all those fights and rants that happened weren't really about whatever I was fighting/ranting about. They just happened because I was being crazy. This moment of clarity is an untold blessing. Now you can operate from a place of understanding and act accordingly.
Schwyzer's rant is already under scrutiny; some in his field believe that he's manipulating the public to set up the stage for a second comeback, while others are taking his words at face value and urging him to get help. All I know from my own perspective is that I saw a 40s-ish grown man embarrass the hell out of himself and further alienate his colleagues in a messy and public manner, and my honest thought was, "This is sad. You should really know how to manage this better by now."
I am far from a professional, and what I have to say about mental health is hugely personal and based only on my own experience. But for what it's worth, I have dealt with this struggle long enough that I have learned how to manage it, that no matter how awful I feel on the inside, I can control myself to the extent that I at least don't do... that.
So here's my personal take on how to best control your demons.
And for anyone who might think this post is unrelated to seduction, this post is absolutely and totally related to seduction. Operating sanely regardless of the brain chemistry you were born with is an essential relationship skill.
And for anyone who knew me more than five years ago... yeah sorry about all that.
1. Know that you cannot control how you feel, but you can control what you do. This is the basic tenet upon which all management of your emotion will reside. Just because you feel anger, sadness, rage, or despair doesn't mean you are obligated to act on them. That's actually kind of awesome when you think about it, right? You are absolutely, one hundred percent in control of what you do, and you can choose to do things that will be to your benefit rather than your demise, regardless of what emotions you're feeling at the time. You don't have to start an embarrassing public fight with your boyfriend. You don't have to post a long rant on your social media that you're going to regret later. You can choose to do something else.
2. Practice sagacity. Consider your circumstances and imagine your ideal outcome. Most negative emotion comes from a dissatisfaction with our present circumstances, so think about what you would like to happen instead. If you're in a shitty place that we'll call point A, and you would rather something better happened, which we'll call point B, what actions could you take that would draw the proverbial straight line? If your boyfriend seems like he's flirting with another woman and you want him to pay attention to you, which course of action seems better: throwing a jealous fit and yelling at him, or telling him you feel a little left out and asking him to stick next to you?
3. Emotionally quarantine when necessary. If you're really having a rough go of it, put yourself in a safe space, either in solitude or with people you deeply trust. (Though if you have BPD or a best friend who steals from you, you might not trust anybody, and I wouldn't blame you.) Step away from the public eye -- including your computer -- and crawl into bed til the madness passes. You can stay still and do nothing. Eventually the emotion will run its course and wear itself out. When I last suffered from frequent deep depressive episodes and panic attacks, I would go home and take two Benadryl to knock myself out because I knew that I couldn't do any damage if I was asleep.
4. Call hotlines. I am totally serious on this one. 1.800.SUICIDE is an amazing resource that I am not too proud to admit having used on many occasions, including the night my boyfriend was arrested. If I'm afraid that I'm in danger of self-injury, I will call them up and explain to them that while I'm not afraid I'm going to attempt suicide, I am afraid I might break my streak of being cut-free since October 2009. (Also helpful for self-injurers is to think of cutting like an addiction and track your non-harming streaks AA-style. For me, at least, this gives me incentive not to cut and break the streak.) Their representatives have stayed on the line with me for sometimes over an hour while I cried hysterically about what an awful place the world is and how desperately I want to hang it up and be done with it all, and when that hour is up I've generally tired myself out enough that I'm ready to just fall asleep. It's a free service, and you can talk to a stranger who doesn't know you and who therefore carries no repercussions on you or your relationships. Seriously, at a time when our healthcare, reproductive rights, and social security are all suffering so deeply, the fact that we still have 1.800.SUICIDE gives me some glimmering hope for our society.
5. Destigmatize getting help. This was the toughest part for me, even years after I understood that I had an illness. When I was 15 my bio-dad told me I was an emotional toxic waste dump and would be on drugs and in therapy by the time I was 25, and so I refused to seek help for years because I didn't want to prove him right. Instead I chose to muscle through it on my own, using simple mind-over-matter, and while I got ridiculously good at controlling my outward appearance, I was still miserable on the inside. An ex suggested therapy and said, "Why wouldn't you want to see a therapist? You love talking about yourself." So, fine, I thought, I'll just pay someone to listen to me talk about myself for an hour. No big. Instead of "getting help," think of it as an exercise in self-awareness and self-improvement. Therapy helps you to see patterns and learn how to make better choices to produce happier results. There shouldn't be any stigma around that, or around counseling of any kind.
6. Take meds with a grain of salt. Prescriptions are more trial-and-error than I'm happy with given how technologically advanced we are -- I mean, we have Google Glass, and we're still doling out medication based on self-described symptoms of how a patient says s/he feels? It bothers me that there is no technology that allows chemically altering medications to be prescribed based on a scan of one's brain chemicals, or that that tech isn't widely available. So, meds. They might help you. Or they might make you worse. I've been in both scenarios. You have to ask yourself if it's really worth it to muscle through without them, or if you need to take a few weeks to try one out and see how it goes. Don't worry about sacrificing your "clarity," however. Generally what you think is clarity is actually mania, and it sounds crazy to the rest of the world (case in point, today's Schwyzer rant). Meds won't dull your clarity. They may, however, dampen your ability to orgasm (permanently, so far, in my case), make you gain or lose weight, cause you to actually be more anxious/depressed than you were when you started, or make you go partly deaf, as my last med did to me on the odds of less than 1 in 100. (If you see me, point your face at me when you're talking and speak up. Not kidding.) But they may also chill you out and restore you to functionality, as my last med also did for me. If you feel like you need them, take them and see how it goes (with the help of your doctor, obvs). If one doesn't work, ask to try a different one. Keep an open mind and be prepared for whatever happens. That said, if you are on meds that you need to remain functional, take your meds. Hugo specified during his rant that he was supposed to have taken his Seroquel but chose not to in order to let the rant out. That's just irresponsible. If you're having an episode, whether manic, depressive, or anxious, and you've been prescribed meds to help you deal with such situations, for fuck's sake, take them.
6. Get rid of people who trigger you. Some people in the world suffer from mental illness. Some people are assholes who behave carelessly and trigger said people. (These categories can overlap.) When I gained the ability to recognize my illness, I started also recognizing the things that seemed to flare it up, and I asked my then-boyfriend to help me by not doing some of those things. He didn't comply. I once pleaded with him not to stay out too late at a party that was causing me extreme anxiety; I told him I knew that my anxiety might be irrational but for the sake of his love for me could he please just come home at a reasonable hour to alleviate my suffering. He walked in drunk at 4:45am and yelled at me for being in a crying mess on the floor. It was my boyfriend's opinion that taking care of my mood was my own responsibility and that he couldn't "make me" feel one way or the other, and technically, he was right. But taking care of my mood meant dumping him. Bye-bye.
7. Help your partner help you. This kind of goes for everyone, I think, not just people who struggle with mood disorders. Help your partner understand what kind of things you need from him in order to feel alright about things and what kind of behavior from him might unintentionally provoke a negative reaction in you. I touched on this topic more explicitly in this post a few months ago, but the concept bears repeating. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt that he doesn't actually want to do anything to hurt you, and tell him when he does something that does hurt you. Ask him to do the same for you. Don't make outrageous demands; this isn't a rider and you aren't Van Halen ("A bowl of red M&Ms or I walk!"). But do give your partner credit for not fully understanding how your brain map works without your help, and have conversations about this. Importantly, have these conversations when you're lucid, not when you're manic, depressive, or anxious.
8. Don't use your illness as an excuse for more attention. When I hear a rant like Schwyzer's, invoking mental illness as an excuse for poor actions and pleading forgiveness, what I actually hear sounds more like, "By blaming forces outside my control for my bad behavior, I have found a way to parlay my shitty actions toward others in a manner that lets me be the victim once again, so everybody feel bad for me and give me more attention!" Just the phrase "I'm going to figure out how to beat this" sends gross-chills down my spine. It implies that a monster outside you forced you to treat other people badly. No. You are responsible for your actions and you must live with their consequences, even ones that took place before you realized you had a problem. Apologize privately and sincerely, without excuses, and understand that the people you hurt just might not want to be friends with you anymore. I'm sure there are people out there who worked with me during the summer of 2006 who still think I'm a batshit crazy person, and that's their right to think that. Sometimes it's too late for us to win people over, and we have to live with that and move on. Allow people their right not to like you.
I can say I'm generally doing pretty okay these days, and that while I still struggle with episodes from time to time, sometimes more often than I'd like, I've learned to understand and compartmentalize my feelings in such a way that they don't have a strong negative impact on my functionality. If anything, I'm so cautious about my displays of emotion that people in my life underestimate the levels of pain or hurt I'm feeling because I react by calmly describing them instead of hysterically crying about them. So if I tell you I'm upset, please just take my word for it. (And if I lean in and cup my ear, please speak up because I am actually still deaf.)
Mental illness sucks but it doesn't have to suck as hard as it did today for Schwyzer. Take care of yourselves, everyone out there, okay?