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.

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