SALT LAKE CITY — I am a loon. I come from a long and distinguished line of loons.
There. I said it.
Actually the line isn’t so long. It starts with my mother and ends with me, though it spreads laterally to include a few of my siblings. Due to blood lines, my kids will not be in this line. My mother was very talented and creative and even with her as the "ringer" of our small group, it isn’t very distinguished.
We Cheney kids get together when someone dies and we discuss the crazy card we were dealt (we don’t ever really get together at other times — someone would loose an eye. Hurrah for the cellphone!) But we vote on who is the craziest for the year. I have come in a close second the past several years, but I have a good feeling for my chances in 2013.
Small tangent alert: We in the “mental health is your friend” club don’t like to be called loony or crazy. Don’t add “wack-job" to your frequently-used words list. Nutso is a no, as well.
If it is a well-known fact that you are part of the club, then you are allowed to use several of these politically incorrect references. If not, please walk on eggshells like everybody else. End of tangent.
For myself, I am starting to use a little humor to defuse the situation. “You can’t freak out over this! I’m the basket case!” I sometimes joke. A character on a TV show we watched was dealing with a mental health issue and my son asked me if I knew him. Funny.
Or, the walls in our home “inexplicably” change color or disappear outright, my kids start leaving a list on the fridge of things for me to do in the middle of the night so at least I'm productive.
Or, as assigned to lead the choir, I can’t just use any music; I have to write all the parts myself. Or… you get the picture.
However, I don’t like it when others not in the fold assign attributes to my loony-tude, like “Of course his living room is decorated on the unique side. He's bipolar, you know.”
No. My living room is decorated with plenty of “imagination” because I found wall sconces, drapery tassels and marble Grecian urns in a great color at a bulk sale.
There are attributes of crazy, definitions and differentiations galore. But my doctor, my family and I are the ones who get to decide what goes into what cubby-hole — mental health wise.
Coming out of the 'crazy closet'
I officially came out of the crazy closet (which has so many layers of paint it qualifies as a bomb shelter) to my children last year. I started off telling them that sometimes I... overreact. You could have knocked them over with a feather.
I told them there was a reason for my sometimes behavior that eluded us — my wife, the doctors and me — that if I knew exactly what the problem was I would have fixed it long ago.
Then I showed them a picture of my mom, and things sobered up in a jiff.
My kids, the ones still at home, are rather mum on the subject. Annie uses it as a weapon to get out of her doing her chores, which is quite on-her-toes, but I am a loon, not a fool.
My son, "Ihoma," lets things slide off his back a bit more. Sometimes, when crazy hit’s the fan, he puts on an Xbox headset and allows me to get things cleaned up before he makes a judgment call.
I do have family members — extended family, in-laws — who don’t say anything about it. Part may be that the concept isn’t new to them. Part may be that they have no idea what to say. And, really, what are the options?
“Davison, pass the beets please and I read today that you are a loon. So... how’s that going?”
I have seen many reactions to this revelation, not as much a revelation to those who know me as it is a confirmation. Some are gracious, and some are not. Some keep their “Well, that explains a lot” moment for later to spare my feelings. Some don’t.
Now that it’s out in the open, maybe I will feel less pressure to pretend that everything is normal — whatever its been decided that normal means today. I may be able to tell the truth. Rather than try to make up believable excuses, I can just say, “Today just isn’t a good day for that.”
What does the designation mean?
When my mom was diagnosed, the wording was “manic depressive.” Today the wording is different with each case. “Bipolar” as a label is as good as any.
I think a little differently than most. From what I understand, I interpret things differently because I am wired differently. OK, I get that. I may need some re-wiring.
Someone else explained it using chemicals, which makes sense to me as well: chemicals can complete connections. But that doesn’t comfort me as I pace the house. Additionally, it's hard for me to know, when odd things happen on any given day, whether the solution is to abbreviate my behavior, fix my attitude, keep trying with different tools, or find a new pharmaceutical combination.
Pills? Yes, I have several pills. My mother, 30 years ago, only had one pill, and it was not a good one. The only option for her was to take it and lose her ability to choose, or to slowly lose everything else. Then, at 37 years of age, she lost all those options as well.
She didn’t live to see the day when people like her, like us, had a fighting chance.
So I deal every day with a bit of the crazy just as some people deal daily with diabetes. I have good days, and I have not so good days. Both kind help me remember that everyone has a different challenge and that I should leave the judging for someone who has all the facts.
Then I swallow a pill, make dinner for the family, and find another wall that needs painting.
Main image: Pills? Yes, I take several pills. ... OK, so the green one is really an M&M. (Photo: Kutay Tanir)