April 16, 2018

“If you look like you smell, you’ll never get a ride.” — Brother 5





I turned 21 in Wilson, Wyoming, after my first grudging attempt at college. I was wildly unmedicated but, fortunately, in the midst of spectacular scenery and aggressively embracing what would become a lifelong love and obsession with the mandolin and bluegrass music.


During winter months especially I have always felt a restlessness when, at its best, can be described as an inability to concentrate or sit still. Despite my surroundings the harsh weather made me abnormally lugubrious. I then learned that several friends from back east would be traveling through the rockies en route to California and I was eager to see them. My eagerness quickly became an uncontrollable compulsion until, suddenly, without a vehicle, let alone money, I embarked on a two day hitchhiking adventure to Moab, Utah, which required 500 miles of thumbing my way over high altitudes and dubious weather.


After 400 miles, 48 hours, and over 20 rides, I was standing in the blinding refulgence that is Provo, UT, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. My final ride was a man that seemed to be in his late 30’s or early 40’s. He happily introduced himself as “Brother 5.” Once the several moments of awkwardness that accompanies getting into a vehicle of a total stranger (a feeling with which I had become familiar) had passed, he informed me that he’d be taking us the remainder of our journey. He then confessed that he was compiling stories for a book he was writing about hitchhiking. His maxim was simple: “If you look like you smell, you’ll never get a ride.” This is a lesson I have carried with me, great advice I have not always followed, ever since.


When I am alone, looking like a bedraggled, dilapidated hobo offends no one. But, when I attempt to join the “real world,” I try to not appear this way. When possible, I shower, brush my teeth, shave and do any maintenance that not only benefits me, but others as well. When I am alone, surrounded by depression, mania, self hatred, and constant self deprecating thoughts, all self care becomes an obscure concept.


It’s only in the moments when, by pure will power and/or by force, I prepare to venture out into society, amongst people who couldn’t possibly understand the physical pain and emotional energy it took just to walk outside, that I force myself to look like I don’t smell. The physical damage I have done to my body during those periods alone is immeasurable, incomprehensible, and something I would prefer to never know. So, a very prudent thing we can do is find a mirror, look at ourselves everyday, and ask, “Do I look like I smell?”




I’m assuming I’m not alone with this frequent inability to organize anything; my thoughts, my life, keep a pair of socks for more than a week? The French have a wonderful phrase that chefs around the world have adopted and know as “mis en place” or “everything in its place.” It can be quite useful to folks like ourselves.


It suits me to throw away things I don’t need and that serve little or no purpose. This joy of not needing excess could be a wonderful characteristic of mine or it could be a trait born out of the fact that, eventually, I lose or leave everything somewhere. Right now, having more than two pairs of shoes is something I have tried and failed at twice in the past thirty days.


I love cooking yet loathe dishwashing. The cleaning and putting back in their place of things is not something to which my brain easily acquiesces. Staring at tepid dishwater makes my head nearly explode but quickly doing the task always provides some temporary sense of relief, knowing I have completed the task doesn’t just feel like petty accomplishment; for someone like me, it is an accomplishment.


How many of us wish, that just once, the people around us could see just how big of a step to healthy something as simple as washing dishes can be?


My brain starts to spark the same way for a cluttered floor or filthy bathroom as it does for dishes. Having an organized and clean living space can never be a bad thing. An organized space can act as a lovely salve to a frantic mind. But, two days of neglect can quickly become two weeks, an overwhelming collection of dirt and piles, and a brain like ours may simply not be able to clean it up. For those of you who live alone, this can easily lead to living in a daunting and indescribable mess.


For those of you who do not live alone, unless you live with someone who really understands your limitations and is willing to simply fill in the gap, this can easily lead to you being forced to live alone or even worse, homeless. Picking up or wiping off just one thing a day will be greatly appreciated by your fellow cohabiter(s).




I’ve met few who can boast about taking medications without some difficulties. Medications (when taken as prescribed) are not fun to take, acquire, keep track of, pay for, or lug around, let alone deal with the ever revolving door of adjustments, precautions, and side effects. Many of us don’t have the means to organize our well being due to the wildly unpredictable circumstances we create that shape our days. The circle is a vicious one.


Unmedicated, we quickly devolve into that solitary, unwashed person who will never get a ride. Medicated, we are, at best, capable of trying to cope with the constant trauma of dosage changes and side effects, but, even then, failure is always only just one or two missed doses away.


Here in America, the daunting task of dealing with our Healthcare system is mind boggling. The paperwork, to me, is nearly incomprehensible; the multiple companies and plans, enrollment and eligibility terms, copayments, premiums. Many towns and cities have clinics that can help.


When I wasn’t insured and in severe crisis I was fortunate to find a clinic that provided affordable and comprehensive care that also took care of Medicaid enrollment so I could finally feel a fraction of security in that I could enjoy somewhat regular therapy. They also placed me in a three week intensive outpatient program at a very reputable psychiatric facility. Sadly, that is not a resource available to most of us.


I set alarms on every device I can to remind me to take and refill my medications. If you have family or friends who don’t mind sending you a text or calling you, ask them. I have found that people love to be needed, to have a purpose, and helping to keep their friend or loved one medicated and stable can make someone feel needed and give them a purpose during a day when, unknown to you, they might need to feel needed.


Also, I’ve found that having a short supply of ibuprofen (even though I’m not a head-achy person) or dietary supplements can be an item worth having when you least expect it.


If you are taking a particular medication that could be making you worse, tell someone. Anyone. This happened to me recently. I’ll spare you, and myself, the humiliating details. We are people whose actions can have horrific, irreparable, and intractable repercussions which often involve the mis/non usage of medication.




I probably have more friends and loved ones than I deserve. BDMD has a nasty habit of occasionally plucking important people from our lives until years of our behavior, like the recent events referenced above, have left some of us alone. I try my best to remain in good graces and keep in contact with those who have chosen to stick it out with me. I’ve found that talking about the things we go through helps keep around the people who have chosen to stick with us.


Recently, I have discovered that, by talking about the things I go through, I am helping people figure out how to approach me, approach us, about BDMD. Reach out in the hundreds of ways available; call, text, email, coffee, facebook, twitter, carrier pigeon. Do anything else you can to communicate, explain, and apologize, if necessary, to the people you may have left behind, damaged, during a trip of self destruction. You’d be surprised how much a simple apology and explanation can do to heal a relationship worth having.


As for the people who have stuck it out with you, remember that as much as they say they “understand,” they can’t really understand. They are trying to understand. Because as much as we continue to learn about ourselves and how we function, they are always two (or more) steps behind. Their brains don’t work like ours. If you want to keep them around, remember to explain yourself, and often, even for things you think are obviously just the BDMD. This has been a recent lesson learned that has literally changed, and maybe saved, my life.




More times than I care to count, I have been rendered in some state that would resemble a lethargic toad. Movement, at times, is unthinkable. Do anything to move. Walk, read, write, stretch, listen to or play music. Without an occupation, hobby, or a witty and clever pal to visit, my head turns into an amplified Carnival with screaming babies, honking semi trucks, and babbling foreigners talking backwards.


I wake up most mornings in the Carnival. It’s exhausting trying to find the exit of a nonexistent place. It isn’t uncommon for me to take hours to force myself out of bed if I don’t have to be awake. I lie awake, eyes closed, body sore from having not moved in 14 hours, pillow over my face. I’m at a point where I am always capable of getting up for work or a necessity but, anything short of that, I can lose days in a state of immobility. When I figure out how to find the exit sign on those days, I’ll excitedly let you know.


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