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This Is It

November 1, 2009

I’ve heard two schools of thought when it comes to blogging.

One is that it’s necessary to be transparent, at least some of the time, in order to be real and authentic. In order to make the visitors to one’s blog feel like they’re connecting to a real person and not just someone trying to pitch their book/music/product/idea.

The other is that, really, the general public doesn’t WANT to be too exposed to one’s navel-gazing. That sometimes, it’s all just TMI, and we should aim for professionalism in order to not make the reader uncomfortable.

I’ve always felt pretty middle-of-the-road about the subject. I would never reveal grossly personal details, but at the same time, I think it’s pretty obvious when someone is reading my blog that they’re reading MY blog.

But this time is different. This time, I feel compelled to tell you a little bit more, so I’m just going to say that if you belong to the latter group, please avert your eyes. Don’t continue reading and then be annoyed that I’ve shared personal stuff, because, well, you’re READING it.

Now that you’ve been warned, I’ll continue…

On Friday my teenage son and I went to see This Is It, the documentary that includes footage from the days just prior to Michael Jackson’s death. First, I have to say that I thought it was an amazing glimpse into Michael’s life as a performer. I’ve always been a fan of his music (who DIDN’T love BAD in the 1980s?), but getting a peek into the rehearsals for the tour he was never able to begin was an unexpected joy. He didn’t look like someone who was ill or high or otherwise incapacitated, which of course, doesn’t mean he wasn’t. But I was astounded at how physically fit he was at 50-years-old and how kind and generous.

One of my favorite things about him was his approach to criticism. When giving it – to the dancers, the musicians, anybody! – he would end by saying, in a very soft voice, “With love. With love.” It took me a minute the first time he said it to understand what he was saying; “I’m sharing my thoughts with you in love, not criticism or mean-spiritedness.” Sometimes he would say it straight and serious, and others he would smile, saying, “This is with love. L-O-V-E.” I’ll never forget it, and I’m going to make a point of asking myself if the things I do and say are “with love” from now on.

In general, Michael seemed like a kind, quiet, extraordinarily gifted man. And yes, I’m aware that the movie was put together by people who cared for him and therefore, wouldn’t show anything unflattering, but that’s not the point of this blog post, so I’m not going to go there.

Mostly, the movie made me really sad that for so long, Michael was the object of ridicule. That only now, after his death, are so many people realizing what a musical treasure he was, how much talent he possessed, what he contributed to the landscape of modern music. It made me sad that we, as a society, feel the need to pull apart and destroy those who are different. That we succumb so often to fear and insecurity by tearing down the people around us who exhibit something extraordinary, because many, many extraordinary things manifest themselves as different, “weird”, quirky, eccentric.

I read a study recently about creative genius in people with Bi-Polar Disorder. In this study, eighty percent of the study group (people classified as having creative genius) met diagnostic criteria for BPD as opposed to only thirty percent in the control sample. I find it really, really interesting that it is now believed that many, many well-known, creative people suffered from BPD long before it became classified as such, including Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Virginia Wolf, John Keats, Vincent Van Gogh, Beethoven, Winston Churchill and so many more.

Until recently, people with symptoms of BPD were referred to as moody or difficult or complicated. It’s ironic, I guess, that the very qualities that may contribute to one’s extraordinary creative ability might also be the thing that makes them ill-equipped to handle the notoriety that comes along with success in high-profile fields. IThere may be more than one reason why there is such a high rate of drug abuse and suicide in the musical, writing, art, and acting communities. Many people who find themselves in these positions, really, just want to be left alone. They just happen to have extraordinary talent, but they aren’t prepared or equipped to deal with the vitriol and hostility that comes along with it. And let’s be honest – they shouldn’t have to.

Anyway, I was looking all this up because I often struggle with my own “eccentricities”. I have spent many, many years feeling apologetic for who I am, even though, on close inspection, I’m not so bad!

What I am, though, is complicated. What I am is introverted. It’s not easy for me to be in front of people, even though some of you who have seen me speak laugh off my confessions of being painfully self-conscious in a crowd because I’ve learned to hide it so well. I am a terrible everyday friend. I don’t know how to call and just chat to see how things are going. I forget birthdays, anniversaries, and job interviews. I often decline invitations to do things or go places because, truthfully, I’m very happy at home with my kids and my writing. I can take WEEKS to return an email and actually avoid answering the phone most of the time. But I’m here if you need me. If you need someone to talk to, someone to listen, advice, help of any kind, I will drop everything to give it to you. I answer every email I receive, something that gets more and more difficult with each passing day. I offer writing and publication advice to anyone who asks for it – whether they’re fifteen or fifty. I am more than happy to include other writers in my promotional activities, and I spread the word about great books every chance I get. But there are whole days and weeks when I just want to be left alone. When I don’t want to talk or visit or socialize. I don’t want to be friendly or “on” for anyone. I just want to be at home, working or watching movies with my kids. Because of this, there are VERY few people in my inner circle of friends. I’m not for everybody and everybody’s not for me. And that’s okay.

Ironically, while I handle professional stress such as deadlines EXTREMELY well, everyday stress is unusually tough for me. Worries over money, my soon-to-be ex husband, even a malfunctioning boiler, can floor me. During those times, it is nearly impossible for me to work, because my mind feels chaotic. I can’t… shut everything off long enough to work – and sometimes even sleep – which makes it really imperative that I limit those stresses in my life. One of the unexpected pleasures of getting older (I’ll be 40 this month) is, hopefully, knowing oneself a whole lot better, and I’m getting better at recognizing the situations and people who create the kind of stress for me that makes it difficult to work, sleep, and most importantly, to feel the sense of serenity that is really critical to my well-being.

I feel life’s fragility on an almost-daily basis, and this sometimes makes me afraid to do things. But I always do them, ESPECIALLY if I’m afraid, because I have a personal policy to NOT live my life in fear. But it’s hard for me. I have to push myself, sometimes force myself. I’m always glad I’ve done something once I’ve done it, but while I’m THINKING about doing it, I’m almost always paralyzed with fear. Despite this, I’ve lived in eight different states, taken tremendous risks, tried almost EVERYTHING I’ve ever wanted to try (I’m still working on that list and hope it never ends), never believed it when I’ve been told something is impossible, reinvented myself more times than I can count, and looked fear in the face over and over and over again. Maybe I’ve cowered instead of laughed, but I’ve never quit.

I can write a first draft in under two months, writing in hours-long bursts of manic, euphoric, creativity. And then I can crash and need to sleep and stay home and do nothing for long periods of time to recharge. After a big writing burst, I feel like I could sleep for a week, and then I feel guilty for feeling exhausted because, let’s face it, I’ve been sitting on my ass for X hours working on my laptop NOT running a marathon.

I’ve only recently started wondering if maybe there’s a name for the way I am. Something beyond “complicated”. Which is how I came to find myself looking up BPD and feeling almost ashamed of it. And that, my friends, is a very big problem, because BPD is a legitimate diagnosis for many, just like anxiety-disorder (which sometimes goes hand in hand with BPD), ADD, OCD, etc. Denying it, is like denying the existence of alcoholism or depression. These kinds of disorders still carry with them a tremendous stigma. It makes me admire people like Patricia Cornwell, who has openly acknowledged her BPD, even more. It’s hard and scary to cop to something so personal in the hopes that it will help someone else feel less alone.

It doesn’t matter, in many ways. I am who I am, and I’m learning to say, “This is me”. I’m learning to surround myself with the people who can accept me the way that I am. I’m learning to say that I’m sorry if my being me makes it difficult or painful or lonely for you, but it isn’t personal. It isn’t a reflection on how much you mean to me or how much I care for you. I try always to be kind. I try to be sensitive to your needs and fears and sadnesses. But I am not perfect. Like you, I am fragile and imperfect. I make mistakes – sometimes big ones. But there is one thing you can be sure of; whatever you think of me, however much you like to discuss and critique and exclaim over my failings, I worry and think and wonder about them far more than you could ever know. I’m aware of them, and I’m always working to balance the need to be who I am with the the things you – and the world – require of me. Please forgive me if I don’t always succeed and know that I will do the same for you.

Michael Jackson may not have suffered from BPD, but I think he DID suffer from his own insecurities and fears. The only difference is that his played out on the worldwide screen in front of millions of people who were far too eager to point them out, to use them for entertainment and a way to assuage their own.

And I guess that’s the take-away, at least for me. We are not so different, really. Underneath it all, we’re just trying to get along. To figure it all out. And maybe, just maybe, we could try to be forgiving of one another’s failings, to cherish the things that make us each different and mysterious and, yes, complicated.

I’m going to keep trying. Are you?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2009 11:48 am

    Michelle,

    I just managed to get by your site again, I am sorry it has taken a bit but my mother was very ill and made the decision to stop all the medical acrobatics and let nature take its course so I have been pretty much out of the entire writing world – reading and writing. I do want to keep in touch with you as I think I mentioned before, when I met you in Emeryville, CA, the similarities between you and I were amazing to me. I promise, I’m not a creepy stalker! I was just really happy to find an other author starting late(r) in life and seeing that persistence and hard work pays off. In you I see hope 😉

    I wanted to comment on this post in particular as once again I see the similarities between you and I and I though perhaps I might comment on being Bi-polar because I am a card carrying member 😉 I was diagnosed back when they still called it “Manic Depression” which is really a bad name for it, so negative! I did a lot of research on the subject and was surprised to see, as you were, that many artists, writers, musicians and so on have been diagnosed as Bi-pol and it is believed that many of the greats probably were as well. Edgar Allen Poe self medicated for years as did Da Vinci, both are believed to have had BPD.

    I have read a lot about why the US has such a high diagnosis rate for BPD and ADD/ADHD and there is an interesting theory that our fore fathers carry the key to the high rate. They were the “antsy” bunch that left England to come here, they were restless and had a different way of thinking and approaching life. Even those of us whose families migrated later to the states have that same trait, to question our futures and seek out things that to others appear not well though out.

    I like you have quit high paying corporate jobs that many would kill top have because I woke up one morning and realized, I was not happy. I have done amazing things in my life that I was told I could not do and the more I am told, you cannot do that, the more I will because I love a challenge and I believe I can do anything when I set my mind to it. I can get lost along the way, sure, but I stay on it and keep searching for ways to make things happen.

    I have been told I am the most extroverted introvert people know (does this sound familiar to you?). It is exhausting to be “on” (I have referred to it that way as years :)) so I prefer the company of few but I like quite a few people. My friends know that I will eventually show up but it will be fleeting and it does not mean I do not adore them but it is how I am. It is who I am.

    My point to all this is to be tested just to confirm and from there decide what that means to you. BPD is a disease – it is no different than having Diabetes or a number of other diseases people learn to control and live with. I have lived with it for years and have done very well. I wish you the best Michelle and I look forward to reading more of your blog and catching up 😉

    Shell

  2. November 5, 2009 12:01 pm

    I’m a little late in posting this, but i just happen to visit your blog today because I was linking you for a post i was doing today, and I’m not sure exactly why but I started reading this post.

    And now I’m sitting here with tears falling and my nose running. Which I’m sure just paints a beautiful picture, but you gave me the chills.

    All I can say is thank you for sharing. As with the others who have commented, you could easily be describing me in your paragraph… “What I am, though, is complicated. What I am is introverted……” because that is me. And I know I often feel alone is this way, but it’s plain to see I am not.

    I suffered from social anxiety through my youth, I’ve always had a low self confidence and I was in an abusive relationship in high school, that didn’t help either. I’ve overcome a lot as an adult, but I’m still very much the introvert I’ve always been.

    My online presence is so much more different that my real life one. If you read my blog you’d never think I was shy or insecure. It’s so easy to hide that part of myself online and I think that’s why I enjoy blogging so much. It gives me that mask to wear.

    I’m sure someone familiar with the ya blog community would think that I’d be beating the friends off with a stick, but honestly I don’t have a close relationship with anyone, even though I’d love to. I see other people that are in the same situation as me, forming these bonds with people they’ve never met, and I wonder why can’t I do that. It’s horribly depressing.

    And now I’m just rambling, but I do want to thank you for posting this, I know it must have taken a lot to be so honest. But I appreciate knowing I’m not the only one that feels that way. Thanks for being you, Michelle.

  3. November 4, 2009 11:10 pm

    “I am a terrible everyday friend. I don’t know how to call and just chat to see how things are going. I forget birthdays, anniversaries, and job interviews. I often decline invitations to do things or go places because, truthfully, I’m very happy at home with my kids and my writing. I can take WEEKS to return an email and actually avoid answering the phone most of the time. But I’m here if you need me. If you need someone to talk to, someone to listen, advice, help of any kind, I will drop everything to give it to you”

    I could have easily written this as well. I don’t know how to do small talk. I am so insecure but I hide it so easily.

    Thank you so much for putting yourself out here and letting us see glimpses into your life.

  4. November 4, 2009 3:18 pm

    Your post was so well written and meaningful, I read it twice just to make sure I had absorbed it all. I am an introvert, tend to be very shy, socially hopeless most of the time and a lousy everyday friend even though I am a great listener and very devoted to the few friends I do have. So I understood a lot of what you were saying and it was a relief in some ways to see someone else writing (saying) some of the things that I never would be able to!

  5. November 3, 2009 1:14 am

    thank you for sharing this lovely post michelle. i never thought that we are exact opposites. though i couldnt agree with you more. i am an extrovert, i love being with people, i love company, i love friends. i could not see myself alone – dining alone, reading alone, shopping alone, simple things such as these makes me afraid. as i live my colorful life little did i know that i would someday fall in love with an introvert. for 8 long years of being together it is only now that i am being aware of who my hubby is. i am changing i guess, for me, for us. and i can honestly say that i am loving that change. i may not be an introvert, a loner, but i know how it feels to forgive, to accept, and compromise. for the first time in my married life, i am seeing my husband with open eyes and an open heart. im happy i allowed myself to see him at last. 😀

    carrie

  6. November 2, 2009 11:50 pm

    Wow. I don’t even know how to describe this post. You’re so honest and open here and I think more people need to adopt your life motto. I, myself, tend to live a bit in fear. It’s a lot easier to think about how easy you can fail than to think about how hard you may need to work to succeed.

    I also think a lot of people can relate to being introverted and just wanting to be left alone. I can be a pretty horrible friend. I hate talking on the phone, I have a facebook that I rarely use, and I prefer staying in rather than going out with friends. Even after long stretches of time away from the people I consider to be close friends, I tend to not even miss them that much. Maybe that makes me an impersonal person or someone who just won’t get close to people, but that’s who I am. My few close friends know who I am and accept me for it. Most of my time is spent with my family or even by myself. Sometimes I just enjoy being alone and having time to sort through my own thoughts without having people all around me.

    The eccentricities that each person possesses is what makes us each unique. Maybe some people have Bi-Polar Disorder or increased anxiety, but that is a part of who they are. Having something like BPD, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with a person. I’m a nursing student and I just received my RN, so I’ve seen more than a few people with BPD, anxiety, schizophrenia, and tons of other things. A neighbor of mine has BPD and she is just like everyone else. She has flaws, as do I and every other person in the world. Human beings are built with flaws and that makes us who we are.

    Keep doing what you’re doing Michelle. Whether you want to write or just relax with your family. Do whatever it is that makes you happy because life is too short to do anything else. Michael Jackson had to spend the last years of his life being picked apart by a society that is too narrow-minded and judgmental to view his eccentricities as a part of him, instead of as a part of him that was wrong.

    Thank you Michelle. For you honesty, your kindness, and your love.

    I remember how much you like hugs, so many hugs to you,
    Nikki

  7. November 2, 2009 5:01 pm

    Thank you for such a lovely, meaningful post. I struggle with general anxiety, and honestly I have trouble forgiving my own imperfections. But you are so right–we are all flawed and imperfect and lovable just as we are, in all our complexity!

  8. malovise permalink
    November 2, 2009 11:38 am

    Those words were so beautiful and honest.
    I also live by the motto : Don’t Live Life in Fear. I think having goals is really importaint, and working for them so hard, you’ve won even if you wont reach them. My dream is to be an actress, and even though the odds are bad, I’ll do my best to realize that dream. Many people gives up their dream, or forget about it while they get a new one. Dreams are so importaint, whether they’ll come true or not.

  9. November 2, 2009 10:32 am

    That truly was beautiful. I’m a bad everyday friend. I hate talking on the phone, and usually have no interest in talking about myself which makes it hard for me to get friends in the first place. As a teenager, I’m still learning to accept who I am, and I know that there will eventually be people who accept me.

  10. November 2, 2009 9:08 am

    Michelle, I love that you wrote such a deeply honest post. Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait to watch This Is It; I can’t wait for that glimpse behind the scenes of Michael’s final days. I hate how much he gets ridiculed and knocked, by the very people who probably listened to Thriller back-in-the-day and proclaimed him as a musical genius. Yes, he was a troubled soul; yes, he did some questionable things… but I believe he was a loving human being. That is what I believe he had in his heart.

    And about the other things – the more personal things you wrote about here. Michelle, I can relate to you SO much. The entire paragraph about being complicated, introverted; all the stuff after that. You could be describing me! But, like you, no matter how quiet I get, or how withdrawn, if you need me I am THERE. I always will be. I just need people to understand that I’m not always the same as them. I might need different things, more time alone, less daily chatter…

    Big hugs to you.

    Karen

  11. November 2, 2009 6:41 am

    Thank you for sharing this, Michelle, it was beautiful.
    I am also a terrible everyday friend, most times I prefer to be all by myself. I was bullied both in school and after school when I was younger (until I was 12 years old) and this has made a great impact on my confidence in myself. I have difficulties getting to know people and don’t easily let them know me either. As a result, I’ve got very few people I would say are my real friends. I find it hard to forgive people when they’ve hurt me in any way, but I’m trying to be a more forgiving person. I’ve had quite a few difficult times in my life, despite the fact that I’m only 18. But I do try to work with things, to “mend myself”. It’s so hard, but I think I’m making at least some progress. I hope I am.
    I’m learning as well.
    Love your motto.

    Thank you.
    Mia Birgitte

  12. jpetroroy permalink
    November 1, 2009 10:33 pm

    Michelle,
    That was a beautiful, sensitive, and honest entry. Thank you for sharing that with us. I think so many of us have sides to us that make us feel different at times. All we can do is try to put ourselves out there and be true to ourselves. And I love your motto: “Don’t Live Life in Fear.” I need to adopt that a lot of the time. Thank you.

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