I’ve been dying to see Logan since the Johnny Cash “Hurt” trailer for it came out. That trailer should have won an Academy Award. Is there one for trailers? There should be. An R-rated Wolverine flick also holds a lot of appeal. My partner dug the trailer, too, and has enjoyed most of the Marvel movies that have come out. (We’re not going to get into the whole Fox/Disney thing here, she digs both the X-Men and Avengers franchises.) She wasn’t sure she was up for all of the violence and gore that the R-rating promised, so I took one of our teenaged sons with me instead.
Allow me to say that the movie was great. I loved every second of it. I’ve had friends who didn’t care for the ending but I dug that, too. This may be a tiny bit of a spoiler (the movie has been out long enough that you’ve had plenty of chances to see it, so it’s not my fault if you haven’t) but I would have liked to have seen more of the kids at the end, and would by the shit out of tickets to future films featuring them.
But what does this have to do with mental health, you ask?
I just had a med adjustment. It’s spring now and spring is a dangerous time for me. Even when I am adherent to my treatment plan and take all of my meds and go to weekly therapy I trend towards manic in the spring. I had the adjustment after seeing Logan, and my experience seeing Logan may help explain the need for the adjustment.
There are a lot of ways to be able to tell that you are trending “up”. Sleep is a big indicator. In fact, I often say that sleep is the best indicator for mood episodes. I’ve been tracking my sleep every night for the last nearly two years for that very reason. More sleep almost always predicts and accompanies depression. Less sleep almost always predicts and accompanies mania. This is not true on a night to night basis. Oversleeping or undersleeping one night is nothing to be too concerned about. It’s just the trends that you have to watch. Throw several consecutive days of sleep disruptions, up or down, together and you’ve got something worth paying a lot of attention to.
Sleep is not the only indicator, though. Mood is another one.
I know, it’s obvious, right? Mood is an indicator of mood. Way to go, genius. Tell us something we don’t already know.
But there can be subtle changes in mood that might not be that noticeable. Often I don’t notice these changes but my partner does. If I become a little more impatient and a little more irritable that is something that other people around me are more likely to notice than I am. And again, one day of being a little grumpy isn’t a concern. People have days where they just wake up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed. But when you string several of these days together you’ve got something you need to pay attention to.
The indicator that I pay the most attention to is perception. That’s something that only I can really notice. As you go “up” in mood you perceive things differently. One thing that really gets me is the temperature of lighting. I’m an artist. I am a photographer. I pay a lot of attention to light temperature. It is very likely that you don’t, and I don’t want to bore you here, so I will just say that different kinds of light have different “temperatures”. Some are warmer (read: more yellow). Some are cooler (read: more blue). It’s a little more complicated than that but those esoteric details don’t matter for this.
When I am elevated, visual and auditory input and (attempted) processing in my brain go way up. I become very sensitive to light and light temperature. Having a fluorescent light and tungsten light in the same space doesn’t bother most people. In fact, I don’t think most people notice it at all.
When I am pretty level it is, at worst, a minor irritation. It’s not that it’s even really irritating per se, I just can’t fathom how other people don’t know not to do that with their lighting. But when I am elevated it is excruciating. So if I find myself really bothered by lighting and light temperature that is a serious red flag. When I am elevated sound also bothers me at least as much as light does.
Because I developed tinnitus in my right ear (likely due to my meds) I’ve had my hearing tested periodically. First off, my hearing is fine. Despite the tinnitus I have no hearing loss. But having my hearing tested while experiencing a hypomanic episode revealed something very interesting. I actually have better, or at least more, hearing when I am elevated. I hear things louder and clearer, and I can even hear higher frequencies than what is considered normal. You could say that my hearing, while I am elevated, is “superhuman”.
Which brings us back to Logan. No, I’m not a mutant. That’s not where I’m going with this. While the movie was great, and I enjoyed the time with my son, it was also excruciating. It wasn’t the volume of the movie that was the problem. Sure, movies are pretty loud at times, but despite being elevated at the time I was watching Logan that wasn’t the issue. The issue was the people in the theater. The sound of the people was driving me nuts.
People eat during movies. They drink during movies. It’s what they do. We have been programmed to do it. That’s how theaters really make their money. They are popcorn vendors that show movies to get you in the door to buy their popcorn.
Movies and popcorn go together like… well… movies and popcorn, I guess. I seem to have misplaced my analogies. (Note to self: look for missing analogies after finishing this post.)
The sound of people eating popcorn probably doesn’t bother you when you go out to see a movie. It’s just part of the experience. You’re probably eating popcorn, too. No big deal. It’s background noise. After the movie gets going you probably don’t hear it at all.
I, however, do hear it.
If I didn’t force myself to focus intently (and intensely) on the movie, my “main attraction” would have been less Logan and more Munch-Munch-Slurp-Slurp-Gulp. That was all I could hear. It was disgusting. People are disgusting. Have you ever listened to people actually eat and drink? It’s gross. Especially if they’re drinking with a straw. And even more especially if that Coke they’re drinking is pretty much dead but they’re not willing to give up the ghost.
If that sound, the one at the end of the life of the drink, where it seems as though the drinker wants to keep the damned drink on life support because they’re just not emotionally ready to admit that the drink is gone and it’s just ever not coming back, bothers you then you sort of understand what I’m experiencing.
But imagine if you will, that every sip, not just the last few desperate ones, is that aggravating. Imagine hearing every bite of the popcorn. Imagine hearing the spittle coming off of the lips as they separate in anticipation of the next bite. Imagine the anticipatory inhale. Imagine the gulping swallow.
Imagine them all being as loud as the movie itself, and seemingly in slow motion. Imagine that you have to force yourself to hear anything else. Imagine that you have to force yourself to see anything else, because the sound of that eating and drinking is so loud, so present, so vivid, that you can’t help but see it in your mind’s eye as well. It’s just exhausting.
Logan was exhausting. The movie itself was exhausting enough, ask my son. He was on the edge of his seat the whole time, almost uncomfortably so. He thought going to an R-rated comic book movie would be awesome in the way that PG-13 movies aren’t allowed to be. He was not prepared for how edge of your seat intense Logan is.
There is only so long you can sit at the edge of your seat like that, so in a way Logan was something of an endurance test. But my experience just being in the theater was far more of an endurance test. Just being there, trying to watch the movie, and trying to pretend that nothing is wrong, while every single moment borders on agony, is exhausting stuff.
And it’s not just movies. It’s everything. All the time. Living with mental illness is exhausting. It is more work than I can possibly describe. But that’s why we have meds. And that’s why we have med adjustments.
My doctors and I changed some things around. We’re working on it. And right now, as I write this, I am groggy as hell because of it. In a couple of weeks I’ll get used to this new reality but right now it’s a slog, and I really hate it. But there’s no way I could live the way things were going before the med adjustment, either. The experience I had in the theater watching Logan was far from an isolated event. Things were untenable. A change simply had to happen.
At the end of the day I need to accept that this is my life, for better or for worse. This is who I am and this is how things are. Meds are a part of my life. Med adjustments are a part of my life. Things can seem dialed in for awhile and be very effective and then suddenly end up not being effective anymore. And so they get changed. There is an adjustment. And there is no way to alter your brain chemistry in a way that is not going dramatically impact your life. I just need to trust the process and know that it will get better
At least that’s what I keep telling myself.