bipolar disorder

The Kaiser website for patients offers an incredible amount of information, and makes it easy to get appointments, order prescription refills, email doctors, and the like. It's not very well designed, in my opinion, but if you wander around enough you'll usually find what you are looking for.

One page lists "Ongoing health conditions". Mine has nine items, which sounds worse than it is, since a few of them are related enough that I consider them one condition, not several. There aren't any real surprises on the page. I have high blood pressure, which has been true for decades, although it's under control. I've had asthma since I was a kid, although it's not a very serious case. There's the rather innocuously named "Allergic Rhinitis (Nose Congestion)", which on a daily basis is probably my #1 condition. I had headaches for as long as I could remember, until once an emergency room doctor looked up my nose and prescribed steroid nose spray. I've been taking that spray for almost 20 years now, and I haven't had a single headache. This is miraculous. (I am not symptom free, but when the occasional pain arrives, it's clearly sinus related, and the additional drug of choice becomes a decongestant. Which is thankfully simple, considering the various treatments I had tried over the years for my headaches: migraine medicine with ergotamine, acupuncture, having four wisdom teeth pulled, becoming addicted to caffeine for years on end.)

I have a history of "Renal Calculus", which sounds bizarre but which is just kidney stones. Perhaps the thing I have that frightens most people is a history of methicillin resistant staph aureus, better known as MRSA. It is kinda spooky if I think about it ... I've had two breakouts I can remember, one of which put me in the hospital for almost a week. I feel like a walking infection, and am always "under the weather", which I imagine is related to this somehow.

But none of these are the reasons for this blog post. What got me thinking was when I discovered that one of my listed ongoing health conditions is "Bipolar Disorder".

There it is, right on the page, spelled out and everything.

It was 2005 when I finally broke down and went to the doctor about my mental state. Kaiser has (had?) a system where you saw a psychologist if you wanted therapy, and a psychiatrist if you wanted meds. I wanted meds. I got some, and I got lucky ... the initial choice (Wellbutrin and Depakene) worked from the start (or it had a tremendous placebo effect). I've been taking those meds for a dozen years now ... I remember the doctor at the time telling me that it was possible I'd take them the rest of my life, and I should consider that before I decided to go in that direction.

That first meeting didn't take very long, and I only saw that doctor one more time. She moved to Spain, and I saw a second doctor a couple of times, but I haven't seen him for a few years now. The meds are just part of my pharmacy collection. When we met the first time, the doctor listened to me describe what made me feel bad, and then told me that there wasn't anything particularly special about my case. (It's funny, I somehow want to be special at a time like this, like I'm the only person who has my problems.) She then told me she wasn't much for labels, didn't like to use them, but everything I described fit into the general category of Bipolar II. (For a rather scary definition of Bipolar II, check out the Wikipedia page on the topic.)

I have tried to be honest about this over the years. There should be no shame attached to the disorder. About the only thing I hesitated to do was label myself ... it was as if being Bipolar was just a newly-fashionable disease, and I didn't want to seem like a bandwagon jumper. But eventually I realized it was just another thing, like having a history of MRSA.

And yet, when I saw it listed on my Kaiser page ... well, I was startled. I can remember a time when my pharmacy doctor told me the medical folks didn't have access to my psychiatry files. It was a privacy issue or something. I told her this seemed silly, since she knew every prescription I had (that's why I have a personal pharmacist), and she knew what they were for, so she didn't need access to files to know I took Wellbutrin and Depakene. Now, it's just listed as one of my "conditions".

That is probably appropriate. I guess after all these years, I can officially claim to be Bipolar ... II, that is. It's not a romantic thing, I assure you. Most of the time, it's not even worth bringing up. But that Kaiser page got me thinking.



Yesterday, we made a day trip to Estepona, about 90 miles down the coast west from Nerja, which is where our Spanish grandparents were from. Between the traffic and the problem finding parking, it took us about two hours to get to the Oficina de Turismo, where we thought we could perhaps access digital records to find information, particularly about our grandfather, whose life in Spain is largely unknown to us. A woman there directed us to El Archivo Municipal de Estepona, where a man named Alfredo Galán could help us.

It was a hot walk at the wrong time of the day, so we stopped halfway there for some food and beverages. Eventually we arrived at the archive, where Sr. Galán was well known ... I barely got through my explanation for why we were there when the woman at the front desk said we needed to talk to him. He came out and led us back to his office.

We sat down at his desk, and I said my grandparents were from Estepona. Before I could continue, he interjected, "Hawaii". Apparently all those stories about  the migration of the Andalusians to Hawaii are true! Yes, I said, the first place they went from Spain was Hawaii, to live and work.

I told him my grandfather's name was Miguel Rubio y Peña. He said both names, Rubio and Peña, are very common in the area, so finding Grandpa's parents might not be easy. The bigger problem is that they have good archives from the middle of the 19th century (can't remember the exact years), but there is a big chunk of time between then and early 20th century where there is nothing. He kept bringing up the Civil War, but I don't know that there is a connection between the war and the missing archives. His English was close to non-existent, and he thought highly enough of my Spanish that he happily jabbered on, assuming I knew what he was saying. I did ok, but I wouldn't trust me on the Civil War stuff.

Ultimately, we learned very little, but at least now we know who The Man is for Estepona archives. He was extremely nice, and as helpful as possible under the circumstances. He gave us his work email and phone number, saying if we ever dug up more info, to let him know, because it would all add to the possibility of tracking down our family.

I've posted these before. Here is the front and back of the ticket for the ship that took my grandparents from Hawaii to San Francisco in 1917.



throwback thursday: once more with feeling

Ten years tonight, we went to a public showing of Once More, With Feeling. In the spirit of "I'm in Spain, right now", I'll post some excerpts from what I wrote at the time.

We went in a bit before midnight, got some popcorn, and were given our “goodie bag” (Sara, I got an extra for you!). In the bag was: a kazoo (I forget what it was for), bubbles (for Dawn’s ballet), vampire teeth (no reason, they just thought we should have some), a finger puppet (so we could hold it in the air and move it across the sky, while singing the “Grrrr Arrgh” part), and one of those poppers that shoot streamers and make the air smell like cap pistols have gone off (reason to be explain in a bit). Robin actually got half-a-dozen of the poppers, for no reason we could figure outside of luck. ...

The crowd had a great time, although audience participation wasn't as goofy as I'd expected. I think this might have been because there was a group acting out the scenes on stage in front of the screen, Rocky Horror-style, which was entertaining but may have encouraged us to watch more than act out ourselves. The highlight of this came in the notorious "Under Your Spell," the video to which I linked yesterday. This is the song Tara sings about her love for Willow, which concludes with Willow off-screen, apparently performing some juicy acts between Tara's legs. The actresses playing the two onstage had quite a lot of fun showing us what didn't make it to the screen, as "Willow" pulled one piece of undergarment after another from "Tara" to wild screams of delight from the crowd. At the precise moment (can't say "climax," that's kinda the point) when the screen cut away from Tara, as instructed, we all shot off our poppers. Streamers filled the air as we celebrated Tara's sweet release.

The rest of the episode was more of the same, people acting out the parts on stage, us in the audience singing along. Whenever Dawn said anything, we all yelled out "SHUT UP, DAWN!" The highlights from the onstage actors were what you'd expect, the hottest numbers from the "real" version: Anya's heavy-metal "Bunnies" interlude and her dance with Xander in the middle of "I'll Never Tell," Buffy trying to dance herself to self-immolation in "Something to Sing About."

The latter song was in some ways the most interesting of the night. Despite the aggressively campy nature of the sing-a-long, when "Something to Sing About" arrived, I was sucked in as I always am. Sarah Michelle Gellar isn't a singer, not the way Anthony Head is, or Amber Benson or James Marsters or the surprising Emma Caulfield. She can carry a tune, but her flat voice lacks projection, which makes Buffy more hesitant-sounding in this episode than is usual. But for this big number, Gellar uses that flatness to great effect, forcing us to listen carefully to her big revelation, that her friends had pulled her out of heaven when they brought her back to life. I'm just a sucker for that moment, or rather, moments: the way she talk-sings "I think I was in heaven," the looks on the faces of the Scoobies as they realize the import of what she has just stated, the death-wish dance that follows, Spike the vampire stopping her to sing "Life’s not a song, life isn’t bliss, life is just this, it’s living.... You have to go on living, so one of us is living." I always get choked up, which isn't quite the point at 2 in the morning at a goofy sing-a-long.

Here's a picture of us in line before the show:

Once more with feeling

the eclipse and me

In the days before radio, baseball fans could keep up with the action for big events such as the World Series, in real time, by attending places that used giant scoreboards to update every play. You can read about these here: "Photography of Playography".

This was as good as it got, other than attending a game in person, until the advent of radio. The first major-league baseball game on the radio was in 1921, and radio reigned supreme for four decades, give or take. Radio was eventually supplanted by television, although the two co-exist to this day. (Those giant scoreboards have a modern-day approximation in the various apps that update games on the web and mobile devices using animation and vast statistical resources.)

Many of the earliest radio broadcasts were narrated by announcers who were not actually at the game. The announcer would read the game events as they came to him via telegraph and relate them to the listeners as if he was at the ballpark. These recreations were aided by sound effects, while the announcer would fill the time between pitches pretty much the same way they do today. Future president Ronald Reagan performed recreations in the 1930s.

Televised baseball, in its infancy, was a simple affair, with a limited number of cameras and no instant replay. This has evolved to what we get today, which features multiple viewings of each play, shots of kids in the crowd eating popcorn, and the like.

Growing up in the 60s, I had the chance to watch the American space program from the country's first man in space, Alan Shepard, to Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. I can remember many times the networks would show animated simulations of what was happening in space, beyond the camera's eye.

Meanwhile, the astronauts themselves worked on countless simulated flights before the real thing took place. In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe gets inside John Glenn's head as Glenn looked at the Earth from space.

He knew what it was going to look like in any case. He had seen it all in photographs taken from the satellites. It had all been flashed on the screens for him. Even the view had been simulated. Yes ... that's the way they said it would look ... Awe seemed to be demanded, but how could he express awe honestly? He had lived it all before the event. How could he explain that to anybody?

It was as if the simulation was real, and real was a poor substitute.

I slept through most of today's eclipse. My son took a couple of pictures, where if I looked close enough, I could see ... well, I'm not sure what I saw. It was very overcast in our neck of the woods. Fog rules over eclipses when you live a couple of miles from the coast. Our daughter's family drove up to Oregon, and I imagine her two sons will remember the trip.

Of course, it was practically impossible to avoid animated simulations of what the eclipse would be like, in the days before the event. My guess is that I'll remember this eclipse ... it's just that I'll remember those simulations. Or maybe I'll check out the instant replays on YouTube.