Why I’m getting off of meds

Today I will be asking my psychiatrist for her support and guidance as I gradually wean myself off of psych meds.  This process will probably take several months.  Here are some of the words I hope to remember to say to her today. Maybe I will just start the session by reading this. It takes 3 minutes – my insurance is paying for the 30 minutes. It’s my life at stake.

My dear friend Amanda – deeply grounded social worker and psychotherapist of many years – likes to say to me, “You have taken these meds for 30 years. You feel totally sure that, aside from 6 months on your first med ever, Zoloft, none of them has ever helped you. But you keep taking them – why? You know there are risks from taking such powerful medications for so long. Why don’t you just get off them all and find out who you really are?”headache-pain-pills-medication-159211

That last sentence came not from Amanda, but from me. Why do I continue to take these meds that I feel sure are not helping me? Guilt and shame. I feel that anybody who experiences such powerful and painful ups and downs “should” take meds – it’s just assumed in this technological society, right? And, when people – hearing for the first time that I have bipolar disorder – ask me, so often almost the first words out of their mouths, if I take meds, I want to be able to say, “Yes.” To say “No” would risk their disapproval, their judgment that I am irresponsible. Most of them assume innocently that meds make these things better – not realizing that for a lot of us, not just me, they really don’t.

I have recently taken some very big steps towards my own integrity. Since I returned to the job I loved, but gave up in order to keep my current subsidized apartment – a move that so many of my loving friends strongly pushed a year ago – and am making plans to leave this apartment, which i have never liked, the life force is flowing back into me. That life, which had drip-drip-dripped out of me for the last year, leaving me finally so depleted that twice in three months I drifted precariously close to ending my own life.

Now that I am reclaiming my integrity my listening to my own inner guidance, my inner landscape is no longer one of darkness. Even during the difficult biochemical turndown that hit me in the last week, I am stronger and more optimistic than I have been in years. The choices I have recently made towards my integrity have released a new level of confidence, integrity and assertiveness that have me handling all manner of little decisions and interactions in ways that support my aliveness.

The next step towards my aliveness, my integrity – quite obvious to me – is to stop taking the pills that I resent, that I have never trusted, that I think do me no good, and that have so many subtle and obvious side-effects. I want to get off them and see who I really am. Any risks in doing so are, to me right now, totally acceptable.

Swiping groceries

It’s a mistake for me to show up for work overtired – which, when I’m manic and missing sleep, I do a lot.  The first half of my 6-8 hour shift may be fine, sparkly even – jamming with people, flirting, teasing, saying bullshit, listening, affirming.  Then, several hours in, I crash and can’t summon the energy to do anything but swipe groceries.  I think I usually give people a good smile – but sometimes maybe not even that.

Today Arthur showed up in my line excited to see me.  He knew that I always make something happen – and he wanted to be on his toes.  He didn’t exactly say, “I love all your bullshit” – but when I translated his words to mean that he didn’t disagree.  I said, “Arthur, I can’t do it today – I’m not up to it.  I’m too tired – I’m crashing, my lunch is late and maybe my blood sugar has dropped.  All I’m good for is swiping groceries.”

But I was saved from uselessness by a happy circumstance.  My good friend Tony Godwin, who likes my poetry and has accompanied me some on his wonderful acoustic guitar, came into the line right after Arthur.  He wanted to talk about my poetry – and especially a big, ambitious poetry concert I had put on a couple of months ago.  I wanted to keep Arthur, my current customer, the focus of attention – so I pivoted the arts theme to him.  “Arthur, what’s your creative outlet?”  (This question usually gets a positive answer in Asheville, even if you need to coach the person that creative outlets can include gardening, cooking, parenting, dancing, etc.).  Arthur didn’t hesitate: “Writing and photography”.  Obviously a creative guy – I think this is going to get us somewhere.  And there is no one in the line but Tony, who is totally tuned in to this, so we’ve got some time to explore.

“What do you write?”  This hit the mother load: Arthur had lots of energy to talk about his writing, which I genuinely found very interesting.  He writes stuff to take the energy out of the polarization of right and left in this country, to help people discover/remember our commonalities.  On a values basis, this theme is very resonant for me  – and I am genuinely interested to see what he’s writing.  It’s fun to express this to him, even if he has some trouble believing me.

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Really showing up for the customer is an art.

But, after that very lively interaction – and a shorter one with Tony, who had fewer groceries and by then a couple of people behind him – I went back to mostly swiping groceries.  Just swiping groceries is painful work.  Where’s the pizzaz, the fun, the creativity?  I become a robot and I make my customer into no more than a customer – not a living, breathing, creative individual, different from every other person to come through my line that day.  I don’t play with them, I don’t make them laugh, I don’t tell them something wonderful about them.  It’s dead.

I think that maybe some of my younger front end colleagues have not yet discovered the satisfactions of really jamming with the customer.  I haven’t really worked much with these folks, so I don’t really know, but when Brandon the store manager hired me, he gave me a mandate to find ways to coach, inspire, role model and in any way I can get parts of my approach to customer service to rub off on them.  It takes more energy to really show up for the customer – to question, listen, play, flirt, affirm, tease, bullshit – but the rewards are amazing.  And you can do some of it when there is a line in front of your register.  It doesn’t take any extra time to put a light in your eyes – and “What’s been a highlight of your day?” or “What are you looking forward to today?” take only moments.

One of my younger colleagues is at least some of the time reading this blog.  Inspiring others to do this may help my mission.  And role modeling – which includes getting more sleep and not being a robot myself.

“I like this family!”

After my first four days back at Earth Fare, after a year away, I have been very keenly reminded that my greatest satisfaction in this job comes from validating people – affirming them.  And, while I really love doing this with individuals – especially if they seem lonely or depressed or like they could really use a shot in the arm – the greatest challenge and satisfaction comes from validating couples and families.  Here I will describe two families.

I gave maybe a sideways or even backwards validation to this family.  There were maybe seven of them – a mom and kids of various ages, maybe 7-16.  The mom was pretty spritely and energetic, but the kids were the most burned-out crew I had seen in a long time.  Every one of them looked to be in a bad mood.  How do I validate this?   Validate their truth in the moment, make it OK!

“Did you guys have a bad night last night?”

Mom: “We’ve been driving since 6 this morning – it’s been a real long day.”

The mom and I then had some back-and-forth about how hard it is to be in the car that long, where they started, where they were going and for how long, etc.  I didn’t even attempt to involve the kids, because none of them made sustained eye contact with me or showed any signs of being willing to talk.

How was this conversation validating of the family?

  • It gave the mom some support – a shot in the arm – and if she stays in good shape it will be good for the whole family.
  • The kids got to hear their mom and this neutral third party say that it is natural and understandable and OK to not be in a good mood on a day like today.  Validation doesn’t have to be telling the person what’s great about them – it can mean telling them that they are fine just as they are.

Then there was the family I validated for whacking each other.  It seemed like the grandmother who was at the counter paying for the groceries.  One of the four kids came up and said something to her – and she whacked him on the chest.  Her wry smile made it clear that her intention was in no way mean – and the kid seemed to get a tremendous kick out of the whole interaction.  I would have loved to hear what he had whispered to his grandmother.family 1

Then, moments later, the big dad playfully whacked one of the older kids, who also seemed to love it.  It became clear that lightly whacking each other was a form of intimacy in this family, of belonging – of saying “I love you.”

I said, “I like you – I like a family that whacks each other.” They all seemed to think that was one of the funniest things they had heard in a long time.  I appreciated them just as they were – as a family that some family therapy journals might not value – and I think it was a real validation, something that might make them appreciate themselves even more.

“I love you guys” – validating couples

Why do I have such an especially great time validating couples?  I think it’s really my specialty.  Maybe it’s because they have something I want – a happy, successful partnership – and focusing on what they are doing right gets me closer to my own goal.  I dunno.James and Patte

This 35ish couple had come to Asheville from the Bronx and he was telling me how he was a tattoo artist and had been invited to work for a week in a studio in Asheville – and had taken the opportunity to organize a family reunion here.  They told me how, no matter how much – after several trips here – they really like Asheville, their heart was still in “the City”.  It was easy to appreciate him for his obvious skill at his trade, that he had been invited to be the guest artist for a week.  And to appreciate both of them (because I wanted to involve her, though this also sounded like mostly his project) for putting together this family reunion.  And for how much they love their home.

Mostly this had involved appreciating each of them as individuals.  I wanted to find something that affirmed the two of them together.  I paused, got quiet inside, asked the question – and, with almost no real “thinking”, the answer popped out.  “You two guys have really fresh energy.  If I was to pick, out of all the people to come through this line today, who I would really like to hang out with – it would be you.”  And I meant it – and they seemed to relish it.  Telling a couple that they work together, that they are attractive, that they have good energy is very powerful.  There are so many forces working to break couples apart – or at least to sever their intimacy – that they all can use all the support they can get.

The second couple was about the same 35ish age, but had a very different style – with the woman clearly the emotional leader in the pair.  I don’t know what intuitive process led me, but before she had said a word – based just on facial expressions and body language – I said, “You seem really fun.”  And, to the husband, “Is she real fun and funny?”  He agreed, and went on to tease her in a charming way – which she seemed to enjoy and take as affirming.  “Oh, I see – you guys are both fun and funny.  You must keep each other endlessly entertained.”

The wife: “Well, we do have our days.”

“Everybody has their days – there’s no way to get around it.  But you guys are good together – it’s obvious.  You’re my favorite couple of the day.”  Never mind that this validation came precariously close to what I said to the other couple – nobody was keeping track.

Twitter updates @JohnMajo

I will be posting my Earth Fare schedule for the week every Sunday – and schedule for the day every morning before 8.  Most weeks I will work three days.  I also post my weekly schedule on Sunday on my Facebook home page. Let’s be friends!

Also on Twitter will post random observations and insights gleaned from the grocery store – or other parts of life.

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Earth Fare Westgate, 66 Westgate Parkway, Asheville, NC 28806


The joys of wise-asserie

I am more of a wise-ass kind of everywhere these days – at work and elsewhere.

I’m a big fan of Kamala Harris for president and wrote an enthusiastic Facebook post about her.  This one guy Mikey who I don’t know and is not a Facebook friend of mine (how did he even find this post?) put up an article and his own post saying, basically, “Don’t vote for Kamala Harris – she’s a bad candidate.”

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Kamala Harris

I commented, “So now everybody’s a big f***ing expert.”

Mikey came back with “I think it’s wrong to mock somebody who is on your own side.”

I responded, “I’m sorry if my gnarly comment lowered the level of discourse.  It was your use of the word ‘should’, your certainty that you had ‘the truth’ and your telling the rest of us what to do that especially irritated me.  And my original disrespectful wise-ass comment has provided me with tremendous merriment – I laugh every time I read it.”

These comments obviously came not from my “nice guy” persona but from my progressively-more-integrated aggressive shadow.  These days I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Is being a wise-ass a bad thing? It seems to be what I really want to do – it just rolls off my tongue.  Any more, I don’t worry too much about what’s right or  wrong, good or bad. I more just follow the promptings of my own heart.

The Shadow Knows

According to Freud, the persona is basically our personality – what we lead with out in the world, our espoused values, what we identify with, who we think we are.  The shadow is what lies beneath the surface, what we don’t know is there – stuff that may violate our espoused values and may not serve us, others or society.  Others may see it better than us, but it will confuse them and catch them off guard because – based on our personality – they do not expect it.  To a great extent, psychological health involves accessing and integrating the shadow – getting to know and accept it, making friends with it, and finding constructive ways to express it.

I have an older friend, Harry, back in Syracuse whose persona is very attractive and constructive.  He’s charming, funny, generous and helpful.  He has a big old Labrador retriever who he loves to death.  Based on this personality, it surprises people when his shadow turns up as competitive – wanting to control things and people, wanting to be one-up.  When his dog was a pup and Harry was training him, he was very influenced by the Dog Whisperer.  He believed that central to dog training was to be alpha – the leader of the pack – and to command obedience from your dog.  If he felt one-down to someone who was important to him, he couldn’t tolerate that for too very long.  He would need to find some way to re-balance things – to feel one-up, sometimes by criticizing or even verbally and emotionally attacking. He would never have described himself in any of these ways, because his shadow was deeply buried – out of his consciousness and thus out of his control.

I have a persona that is in many ways like my friend Harry’s. I’m a “nice guy” – sometimes even identified by the occasional perceptive person as “too nice”.  My shadow – which I have gotten to know pretty well over a lot of years of self-exploration – is quite different than Harry’s.  The latent, more buried part of me – rather than competitive – is primarily aggressive.  I have an unidentified need to tell people off, to call a spade a spade, to look and sound angry when I’m angry.  The socially constructive part of this side – especially to the extent that I make it conscious – can be speaking truth to power, giving constructive challenging feedback and setting boundaries and limits.  My “wise guy” self is a way to blow off steam that – if not always genuinely constructive – at least mostly does no harm.

The less constructive part of my aggressive shadow is suddenly erupting in anger that I have not integrated and maybe didn’t even know was there.  The even more gnarly part of this side gets manifested when I need to justify that anger and give others lots of feedback about that is wrong with them.

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Our apartment building

In my apartment building, there is a dog Rocky that menaces and intimidates most other dogs.  He’s really good at it – he looks and sounds really aggressive. And his mom Susan is not very good at controlling him. My dog Pancho was kind of like me in reference to Rocky: at first he was very mild- mannered – then he became lots more aggressive.  This behavior did nothing to set limits on Rocky, but made both of them pretty scary for people who happened to be around.  On one recent occasion, I was keeping my Pancho back a long ways from the elevator from which Rocky emerged, spitting nails.  Both dogs screamed at each other.  As the elevator door was closing to take Rocky and Susan up to their higher floor, I didn’t actually scream, but I did say very loudly “My dog will kill your dog.”  I was pretty surprised myself at the eruption of such menacing behavior, but I started to laugh at it almost as soon as the elevator was gone.  It was really thrilling to manifest my shadow in such a powerful and mostly harmless way.

I told this story to a couple of my friends in the building who also found it very funny, but one of them warned me that – among many rules and policies for the building – one of them specifically enjoins people from threatening each other.  “You could get in trouble with the building.”  The next day I encountered Susan and Rocky on a bench outside the building, without my dog along to create a scene.  (Rocky is really very nice with people.)  I said to Susan “I am really, really sorry for what I said to you yesterday.”  Susan responded “What did you say?”  “Oh, nothing, really.”  I think she is hard of hearing.