Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wrong turn

Today, I was driving home from Alexandria to Baltimore; I decided to try taking I-295 north, rather than cutting through DC. I wound up taking I-95 south for 25 miles. I didn't feel bad. I felt a little sad over the loss of time, I could have been having more fun, but I didn't feel guilty.

That was new for me. One time, I got lost by a similar amount, and wrote a pages-long blog post analyzing each of my mistakes, I was obsessed. Today, I thought, "Huh, I went the wrong way. I'll turn around. No big deal." I started thinking about what that lost 50 minutes meant to me, this would come to mind several times as I drove home, but I wasn't self-accusatory today.

It was very rainy today. I left Alexandria at 3 and got home at 7; even with having made the wrong turn, the rainy traffic made it so my trip would have taken three times what it normally would have. Roughly.

I have a cold today, I have a headache, I feel drowsy, my throat is sore. I would have gotten home sooner if I hadn't stopped at Wendy's for a Frosty for my sore throat. I would have probably gotten home at 6:30 if not for the Wendy's trip, which was actually pretty long, because the line moved very slowly, and it took them 10 minutes to give me my fries, and I had to go to the bathroom. There were two cops from the DC metro police there and they had very cool uniforms, the shirts had a lot of pockets and they had neat walkie-talkies with earpieces, like the secret service officers. Most little kids, at one point or another, want to grow up to be police officers; I know that I did. When I was five, I stood at the side of the road with one hand up, indicating that the cars should stop. The drivers just waved and drove past. I don't think that that's something I totally grew out of.

Anyway, the cold helped me feel better about having made the wrong turn; I made the wrong turn because I was inattentive because I was sick. I didn't give up 50 of my best minutes, I gave up 50 pretty low quality minutes that would have probably been spent napping or reading Cracked.

The rain helped me feel better about my mistake. The rain and a bunch of other people in cars cost me twice as much time as my own mistake did today. I suppose it would have been nice if I had no traffic and would have gotten home by 5. I try to optimize my use of my time, and I think that I would deal with my time in a healthier way if I were to realize how much of it is taken up with things that are ordinary and uneventful. If I were to compare the amount of time I spend on mistakes with the amount of time I spend commuting and going to the bathroom and waiting for a latte to be made and going for a walk to clear my head and watching a movie for enjoyment and sleeping, all of these things that take up time but don't seem productive, I think I would feel better about my mistakes, I would regret them less. Life takes a lot of time, and I have trouble remembering that.

I haven't been blaming myself very much lately, and I'm glad for that. I used to blame myself a lot. This summer, I took Lexapro for anxiety and that was unpleasant. All of my feelings were thrown around, even my feelings about right and wrong, and I think that when I saw that my feelings about right and wrong didn't have to be one way, they could be another way, or any of a dozen different ways, that helped me see that my feelings about right and wrong are quite different from any sort of absolute morality. I trust my feelings about what is right and wrong much less now; I mostly call them feelings rather than rules.

It turns out that I had the bad reaction to Lexapro because I have bipolar disorder; antidepressants can do bad things to people with my condition. I often feel guilty, with no connection to things that I've actually done. When I got my diagnosis in September, I realized that my feelings of guilt were probably more due to my disorder than my actual failings. If you felt guilty most of the time, you migh become meticulous about noticing every wrong thing you do. I did.

On the day I got my diagnosis, I went to the library and checked out Bipolar Disorder for Dummies which has been a helpful manual in dealing with the disease, but the title should probably be something more like, Bipolar Disorder for People who have Troublesome Mood Swings, but it's not their Fault that they have the Disorder. I got a large iced mocha and sat by the pond and read the book for a while. I called my mom, and told her the news. She said something like, "Oh, no." or "I'm sorry." when I told her, and I told her that I thought that was a funny reaction.

I'm not happy to have bipolar disorder, I'd rather not have it, but I'd rather know that I have it than not. The diagnosis was symptomatic; I already knew that I was suffering. If I took a test and was told that I have cancer and am going to die soon, I would say "Oh, no!" When I was told that I have bipolar disorder, I was excited. The diagnosis wasn't news to me, it was a new word for the problems I had already been feeling. When I got the diagnosis, that meant that I could get better. I'll probably need medicine and psychotherapy for the rest of my life, but that's a lot better than ennui, anhedonia, and delusions. Before I got the diagnosis, before I even tried Lexapro, I dwelt a lot on the idea that I'm going to die. Mom and I talked a while, a bit about my problems and a bit about how my family is doing, and I was glad that the whole conversation wasn't about my disorder; it's good to talk to Mom.

I figured that a lot of stuff that I thought was my fault, feeling sad and guilty a lot, those feelings aren't my fault a lot of the time, those came from a real disorder, real genes tweaked real funny in the real nuclei of some of my real neurons. I spent that afternoon sitting in the sun, drinking a mocha, and reading Bipolar Disorder for Dummies, not so much for the information as to make myself feel like I was doing something to help myself get better. Even though I was glad to get a decisive diagnosis that day, it took me a while to accept it, to apply the diagnosis to myself. I sat on that bench for a couple of hours that afternoon, when I could have been in the lab getting work done. I think I used my time wisely.

The cold (disease, not temperature) and the rain made it easier for me to accept my wrong turn today. I would like it if I didn't need things like that, rationalizations, to help me not put blame and guild on myself when I make petty mistakes. I would like to become good enough at accepting mistakes that I could just move on as soon as I had gained the relevant insights, but I'm not that good at accepting mistakes yet. I think that it's okay that I'm not that good at accepting mistakes.

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