Dancing on Thin Ice

To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. —R.W. Emerson

Tag: psychology

elucidating the bipolar experience

The following paragraphs are from An Unquiet Mind1 by clinical psychologist Kay Jamison, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the foremost experts on bipolar disorder, who is herself bipolar. Writing as both clinician and subject, Dr. Jamison vividly describes what it’s like to be manic-depressive.

There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you’re high it’s tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one’s marrow. But, somewhere this changes. The fast ideas are too fast, and there are far too many, overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friend’s faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against…. you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and emerged totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there. It will never end, for madness carves its own reality.

It goes on and on, and finally there are only other’s recollections of your behavior…. your bizarre, frantic, aimless behaviors….. for mania has at least some grace in partially obliterating memories. What then after the medications, psychiatrist, despair, depression, and overdose? All those incredible feelings to sort through. Who is being too polite to say what? Who knows what? What did I do? Why? And most hauntingly, when will it happen again? Then, too, are the bitter reminders….. medicine to take, resent, forget, take, resent, and forget, but always to take. Credit cards revoked, bounced checks to cover, explanations due at work, apologies to make, intermittent memories (what did I do?), friendships gone ordained, a ruined marriage. And always, when will it happen again? Which of my feelings are real? Which of the me’s is me? The wild impulsive chaotic, energetic, and crazy one? Or the shy, withdrawn, disparate, suicidal, doomed, and tired one? Probably a bit of both, hopefully much that is neither. Virginia Woolf, in her dives and climbs, said it all, “How far do our feelings take their colour from the dive underground? I meant, what is the reality of any feeling?

The highs are indeed stellar; if only I could forever remain on that plane of experience and awareness! Inevitably comes the fall from grace, when psychosis shatters the mirror of my Self into myriad fragments and darkness descends on the landscape of my mind.

1 Jamison, Kay Redfield. 2005. An Unquiet Mind. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

interview on healthyplace

Sorry about the advertising at the beginning, but it only lasts for a minute or so. For some background about the interview, refer to Holly Gray’s post on the TV Show Blog Living With A Mental Illness Isn’t Always Living.

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inner voices


These are some of the characters that like to have shouting matches inside my head, the manifestations of my psychosis. My particular brand of psychosis involves the fragmenting of my Self and my reactive comprehension of who I am. My thoughts and feelings take on lives of their own, becoming disparate inner voices over which I have no control, each of which is like a different “me.” I lose all sense of who I really am and thus my connection to reality is severely impaired if not altogether broken. Personal continuity is irrevocably fractured and I disengage from people and projects—my life—until such time as the episode ends and there is once again only one “me.” Then I am faced with the daunting and often humiliating tasks of repairing relationships where possible and of rebuilding my life from the pieces into which it has been splintered.

While the language I use here is deliberately non-clinical, my descriptions are subjectively accurate and true.


This poem by J.C. Squires so perfectly and elegantly describes what happens inside my head, I wish I had written it.


I and myself swore enmity. Alack,
Myself has tied my hands behind my back.
Yielding, I know there’s no excuse in them—
I was accomplice to the stratagem.




Dispossessed within the raging battlefield of my mind, hounded by thoughts and feelings over which I have no control: a casualty of my own psychosis. As to medication, I might as well be taking aspirin.

It took me half an hour to write this.

Note to the bean counters at Wellcare: go fuck yourselves.


Reinventing myself meant, foremost, reactivating parts of my mind that had lain dormant for six years and recovering my hand/eye coordination. To accomplish this, I used drawing as one of my primary tools. Below is the first of my pen-and-ink drawings, dated July 2001, my third month at the Sixth Street hotel.



While still in the hospital, I had rediscovered my love of language and symbolism when I read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum; afterward, once I’d secured a roof over my head, much of my time was spent poring over alchemical treatises and ars combinatoria of the Middle Ages, wherein I found the inspiration for many of my drawings including “abracadabra.” The alchemical symbols inside the little gold triangles represent mercury (mind) at the apex, sulfur (spirit) on the left, and salt (body) on the right.

setting forth from the jaws of darkness

Almost as soon as I moved into the hotel on Sixth Street, still in the early stages of recovery from a six year nightmare of heroin addiction and homelessness, I started a sketchbook as an exercise in reinventing myself. Among other things, I used the sketchbook to reconnect with my love of calligraphy and the illuminated manuscripts and decorated letters of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The exercises culminated in a small series of watercolor decorated letters, two of which paid homage to poets whose writings had influenced my life in years gone by. I offer here some pages from the sketchbook and the three watercolors for whatever they are worth.

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the shadow


Cover art by George Rozen

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!

I doubt that the writer had in mind anything other than the fictional crime fighter when he penned the now-famous words that began each broadcast of The Shadow radio thriller, but it’s an interesting coincidence that those opening words were beginning to resonate with American radio listeners around the same time Carl Jung was also writing about a shadow, though one of a rather different type.

Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.¹

This shadow, or shadow self, is part of the unconscious mind encompassing repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, instincts; everything that is undeveloped and denied. One of the psychological mechanisms of the unconscious is projection. Whatever we disown or deny about ourselves is projected onto other people. Anything we feel is too negative to express — whatever runs counter to our self-ideals — is projected onto the outside world. Jung also wrote that if we don’t recognize and acknowledge our ownership of these projections,

(t)he projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object — if it has one — or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.²

In other words, consciously or unconsciously we create our own realities. In the preface to Up From The Deep I list the events that completely and forever changed my life: the losses and betrayals that led to six years of homelessness and heroin addiction that almost cost me my life, my lengthy hospitalization, and my recovery in a Sixth Street hotel. The title Up From The Deep refers to my subjective experience of a psychological transformation — in Jungian terms, the integration of my ego and my shadow self — that began when I awoke in the hospital, overwhelmed with the ineffable sweetness of just being alive. To Jung’s observations I would add this: self-acceptance comes only with self-forgiveness.


“The Shadow” (2006)

1. Jung, C.G. (1938), Psychology and Religion
2. Jung, C.G. (1951), Phenomenology of the Self

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