Friday, July 19

Clarity of Thought

I realized earlier this year that I live with major anxiety.

Those of you who've followed my life know that my head is pretty messed up. And it's only slowly, layer by layer, that I've been able to begin to comprehend the things inside.

The first was realizing that I was attracted to guys. The primary reason for beginning to write here at (Gay) Mormon Guy actually was because I looked at how messy my life/head/feelings were, and had the honest thought that if this was what it was like to be gay, *everyone* needed a whole lot of help. I wanted to be the source of support and hope and faith that I wish I had been able to find as I was trying to figure out my place in God's Plan of Happiness.

The next was learning I was autistic. Realizing that every gay guy out there doesn't share my same fears, hypersensitivity, and out-of-this-world thought processes was both a breath of fresh air and a shock. I almost stopped blogging because I didn't have the ability to share my discovery here on (G)MG (it would have revealed my identity to all the family members and friends who read the blog and didn't yet know who I was), but it was far too central to my story that it felt almost deceitful to talk about my daily experiences without the caveat that I'm on the spectrum.

In the same fell swoop that scored me a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, I got tagged with Type 2 Bipolar. That one came as a massive shock... but also made exceptional sense. I had no idea that constant suicidal ideation wasn't normal. I mean, in school and life and church I remember learning that everyone has good days and everyone has bad days. On the good days you do the best you can to make the world a better place, and on the bad days you suck it up and keep from letting anyone get hurt if you're hurting badly. Right?

Except that, at least according to the psychiatrists who diagnosed me, for most people life sways between a 4 and a 6 on the mood scale. The worst day of your life if you don't have a mood disorder is likely around a 4. Which can be pretty awful. The best day of your life is likely around a 6. Which is pretty incredible. That underscores how debilitating depression really is, since it begins beneath 4, with constant suicidal ideation further down. Hypomanic phases of life-is-so-much-more-beautiful-than-you-could-possibly-imagine surreal superhuman ability lay above 6, and then manic phases above that, where logic and morality sometimes blur.

I had frequent hypomanic and depressed phases, so I had what they call rapid cycle Type 2 bipolar. My cycles happened almost every week. So in a week I'd both be superman and plan ways to die an anonymous death. I realized after a little while that the mood swings of bipolar were actually not so much swings as they were hyper-manifestations of two constantly present states of mind. In the rare in-between times of life, I believed that I was both superman and garbage. That I could do everything, and that I was incapable of anything. That I was a sinner meant for Hell and had the potential to be a Saint destined for Heaven. My mood swings were triggered when one of the two states of mind grew larger than the other, and therefore eclipsed my ability to see the duality.

Again, if you've followed my life you know what happened there. My dad gave me a priesthood blessing that said my bipolar would go away (Wha?!?!?), I started meds, found an extreme experimental diet that had minimal research but seemed like the right thing to do, and after following that excruciatingly strict diet for 2 years I've been depression-free... and hypomania-free... for what feels like forever.

But I still had moments where I literally found myself unable to leave my bed. Not depressed and suicidal and I-want-life-to-end-because-it-hurts-so-badly, but simply unable to pull myself into life and filled with a deep sense of foreboding dread. Sometimes it felt like it pressed on my chest like a heavy weight that made it hard to breathe, other times it made my mind feel like it was filled with thick, black, choking fog.

There were dozens of circumstances where I literally knew when the moments were inevitable. If I was trying to develop a friendship with someone, and I text them, and they text me back, "Hey! Can I call you today at 4:00?" and then 4:00 passes and 5:00, it was a no-brainer that my head would begin to feel like it was bleeding thick black goo inside.

I knew it was happening, but I had no idea how often it affected my life until one week it went away. I was trying out a new supplement I had made for work, and the exact above circumstance happened to me.

And I was fine.

For the first time in my remembered life (we'll get to the memory issues next haha), I didn't feel an overwhelming sense of dread and panic. I didn't feel compelled to do anything rash. I didn't hyperthink or brood or have an issue run around inside my head over and over and over and over all in the space of 5 minutes. I didn't have to curl up in a ball and cry, or find myself eating a full jar of peanut butter or a pound of hummus (my stand-ins for ice cream, pizza, and chocolate).

I was actually ok.

I hate taking the supplement. I forget to take it. I don't want to take it. I hate being reliant on something outside myself. I hate temporary fixes. I want something permanent. But when I do, it works... and since it helps me function at work, and helps me be there emotionally to interact with my family... there's good reason to keep taking it.

Along with that issue I found the memory one. For me, things that happen more than a day or two ago... disappear into a mass of times and places and faces that could as easily be last thanksgiving or my 16th birthday. I remember almost nothing about what has happened to me in life, almost nothing of what I've done, almost nothing about the people I've met even when I've had powerful, meaningful conversations with them.

This one is apparently a common side effect of autism in the male brain, where large sections of the memory type called autobiographical memory are damaged and in many cases missing. I don't know the answer to this one, except that I'm working on a supplement that may... maybe?... work in some way.

(Big words alert) There are tiny thread-like burns of brain damage that accumulate in the autistic brain over the course of a lifetime, triggered by compounds called carboxyethylpyrroles. There is no evidence that the damage caused by carboxyethylpyrroles has any impact on memory. But there *have* been mixed results (so some positive ones) associated with therapies that tangentially modulate the expression of carboxyethylpyrroles. One of the issues there is that carboxyethylpyrroles and associated substances are activated through a number of different, disconnected pathways, and when one pathway is blocked, research has found that other pathways are naturally upregulated. My thought there is that if I can simultaneously modify each of the major pathways that cause expression of carboxyethylpyrroles, I could potentially also modify the damage that is being caused inside my brain. I don't know what that would accomplish, or if it's even possible. Maybe it can be healed and actually reconnect my memories of the past, maybe it will only work going into the future, and maybe it won't do anything at all. But it's worth a shot, right? As a side, the supplement may also work for some totally unrelated conditions that affect people close to me, so we'll see how that works. (End big words alert)

Ultimately, one of the things this all has shown me is the importance of being sound of mind... and helping others to do the same. When I'm suicidally depressed, or curl-up-in-a-ball anxious, or or dissuaded by a faulty memory, I'm far more likely to make poor decisions. And to make decisions that don't reflect who I am and where I want to go. But being prone to poor decisions when I'm mentally compromised doesn't mean I'm lost and broken and can never get to Heaven. It just means that I need help getting there. When I'm in a good place mentally, or when I know what it is I'm fighting inside my own head, it's far easier to make good decisions and be the person I really want to be.

I'll always continue to have disparate circumstances in life. Even if the next two supplements resolve the issues I see today, there will likely always be layers upon layers of things I need to identify, understand, and resolve. And I will never be enough on my own. I need Christ. I need God. I need the support and pain and chaos and grief that comes from living in a social world.

I just hope that I can continue to see myself as I really am. Not as gay, bipolar, autistic, anxious, and amnesiac... but as a son of God, walking on the complicated, messy, but pointing-in-the-right-direction pathway home.

Sunday, July 14

The Journey Home

It's been a while.

I wish I could say I'm no worse for the wear, and haven't been blogging simply because life has been so good that there has been nothing to say about it. But that definitely isn't the case.

Where to start?

Maybe with the end first: even though I've been all sorts of mess, at the end of the day I want to be close to God. I want to trust Him. I want to follow the pathway He reveals and use it to find true happiness. And that's worth whatever it takes.

I never left the Church, and don't plan to. The closest I've ever come to that is missing the last 20 minutes of sunday school to go pick someone up at the airport.

But my thoughts and feelings about everything have shifted and swayed and gone in dozens of directions - and part of my reticence to blog has been that I haven't really wanted my own swaying feelings to influence anyone. And the whole not wanting to come clean anywhere but a bishop's office about all the black tar I've picked up along the way, but feeling like this would be the one place I'd be obligated to do so.

Something is better than nothing though, and my Mom today told me she wanted me to head up part of the family's goals in family history - my role is helping my siblings write down stories from our family past. Which includes me. Which means I get to turn back on the part of my heart that has been hidden for the last many months.

And instead of attempting to write about the months that have passed, months where I didn't want to write or couldn't bring myself to, I'll write about now.

I hiked Stewart Falls with my family yesterday. The hike is up Provo Canyon just inside the National Forest, and the trail is heavy with hikers this time of year. I've done Stewart Falls dozens of times over the years, and it never ceases to be a beautiful sight. Springtime flowers with ward members, stunning fall colors as a Freshman Academy peer mentor, ice-cold water in the falls with a random guy I took hiking - tons of memories.

This hike started out the same. The parking lot had few empty spaces, and cars had parked a couple hundred yards back along the sides of the road. The trail had families, youth groups, and tourist hikers wearing name-brand gear accompanied by off-leash purebred dogs. It was dusty, steep in places, with thick patches of aspen and sunlight streaming through the trees. A vista here, a vista there, and more trail to come.

And then, suddenly, it wasn't.

The trail rounded a corner and passed through a clearing, and I looked up in wonder. I had never seen the mountain view to the right. I had never seen the valley view to the left. The clearing had never been there before, and I stopped in the middle of the trail in almost shock and amazement.

I'm assuming it must have been a major avalanche sometime this past winter. The trees on either side of the trail were mostly missing, and the ones that remained looked as if they had been bent down to be almost parallel to the ground. As I continued to walk, I realized that another aspect was hidden - it was likely that someone had spent an enormous amount of time to clear the trail of debris. Whatever the cause, I found myself with a mix of emotions. Mourning the loss of the familiar white aspen forest... and rejoicing in the new, broader sight that the destruction had revealed.

There were two or three new vistas, on that trail where I had never seen new vistas before. The falls were so full of water that it split into multiple segments and poured down another section of the mountain. The sun hid behind clouds, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and combined with the intensity of the water I backtracked on my firm desire to actually go under the falls.

If I look at my own soul, the trail to my heart as it were, I think it could have similarities to my hike yesterday. The hike to my heart is fall less trafficked, as few people make it beyond the outer shell. But to me, and perhaps to others who know me well, the once-familiar path surrounded by the safety of tall aspen groves has had sections gutted by avalanches, leaving breathtaking damage in their wake. Stunning new vistas, perhaps, but broken ground that tells only part of the story of how they came to be.

It's ironic to write that I'm not the same idyllic, carefree soul I was only a few years ago. I won't claim that I've 'seasoned' or any other nonsense word to make it sound like a good thing. The reality is that I've put myself through the wringer, walked to hell, and am on my way back home carrying scars that will likely last a lifetime.

But even if it takes a lifetime to clear the pathway to conversion, even if it takes a lifetime to make myself into a better and happier man... that's a lifetime well spent.

I mean, one of the greatest joys in hiking is in the journey, right?

If nothing else, I'm proud to say that I'm moving forward on the right path.

I'm on my journey Home.