Thursday, December 22, 2005

Maybe he never spoke at all...

(Written in response to Tiffany's piece below, this just arrived from a fellow patient, also named Gregg - note the two Gs...)

Greg -- From what I understand (and what i've read up to this point in tyme),
the facts about the (effective) execution of this man attempting to evacuate
the airplane are:

(1) He not only never claimed he had a bomb, he never spoke at all, never uttered ANYTHING, prior to when he was assassinated.

(2) His wife was following him as he attempted to deplane, explaining he "was

(3) He and the wife were en route to Orlando, FL. His flight had originated from
Ecuador and arrived in Miami, where the couple got off the plane (w/all the others
originating from Ecuador) and checked thru customs. Cleared thru customs, he
and his wife boarded the last leg of the flight from Miami to Orlando. Apparently, it
was sometime before the passenger boarding door closed (not clear if all passengers
were on board, or some still boarding the plane) that this man wanted off the plane.

Note, that to get to this point in his travel from Ecuador he had to have passed
through passenger boarding inspection in Ecuador and in Miami (customs, etc.).
That conceivably he could have had a bomb in his carry-on bag(s) seems less than
remote. Ie., that air marshalls could imagine that he passed through security
(esp entering the US from another country) twice and managed to conceal a bomb
appears bizarre. And if they really suspected that this could be a possibility then what does that say for the security measures in force at airports?

(4) When he evacuated the plane into the jetway, he was wearing a moderately
sized fanny pack which prevented him lying protrate on his stomach as was alleged
he was ordered to do. Seemingly, this noncompliance to the satisfaction of
the air marshall(s) on top of him, was the reason offered for why he was then

(5) One report I read claimed that he was shot 4 times, at least twice in the back, from very close range.

(6) Supposedly, up to 40% of the "air marshalls" that are "trained" (attack dog style)
are recruited from a recent pool of (now) unemployed (former) prison guards. Must be
for their communication and interpersonal skills no doubt developed on the job.

Feel free to pass this on to your blog-readers.

Happy Holidays


(5) One report I read claimed that he was shot 4 times, at least twice in the back, from very close range.

(6) Supposedly, up to 40% of the "air marshalls" that are "trained" (attack dog style)
are recruited from a recent pool of (now) unemployed (former) prison guards. Must be
for their communication and interpersonal skills no doubt developed on the job.

Feel free to pass this on to your blog-readers.

Happy Holidays


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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Disputing Misinformation:
Mental Illness & Deadly Force

Dear readers: today we are pleased to turn the blog over to guest blogger Tiffany Lee Brown, a Portland-based writer and performance artist whose on-going project "Candy Blue" deals with Brown's alter-ego and topics germane to bipolar disorder in particular and mentall illness in general. (we wrote about Candy Blue here.)

(This piece was written as a response to today's edition of NPR's "Talk of the Nation")

Today, Neal read aloud a letter from a man claiming to have
first-hand experience with mental illness, because his son has
bipolar disorder. That's called second-hand experience. I have
first-hand experience with it: I myself am bipolar; my writing and
performances about the condition have appeared in the Enteractive
Language Festival, Performance Works Northwest, and other venues.

I would really hate for your listeners to think that this man's
opinion (that it's okay for law enforcement to shoot the mentally
ill) and his experiences with his son (who refuses to take his meds),
are typical or somehow representative of mental illness in America.
Many of us take our meds, work alongside the rest of you, chat with
you in line at the grocery store, contribute greatly to our
communities. Most of us do not want to be murdered by law enforcement
officers, though we are four times more likely to have that happen to
us than are people not diagnosed with mental illnesses. It has now
been widely reported, by Time magazine and others, that the bipolar
man who was shot and killed by a Federal air marshal in Miami did
not, in fact, say he had a bomb. So why was he killed? Is it illegal
to have an anxiety attack and say you want to get off an airplane???

Our society is beginning to deal with mental health issues in a more
healthy way, but we need to lift the burden of shame and the legacy
of stigma currently beleaguering those of us with "serious" diagnoses
like bipolar disorder. We need to stop hiding our own mental
differences, and those of our families, in the closet, and start
accepting mental conditions. In recent years, thanks to Prozac and
the media storm following it, depression has become much less of a
stigmatized, hidden matter; so should other conditions.

Some tribal communities have celebrated bipolar states, elevating
manic-depressives to shaman status and giving them an active place in
society. While it's hard to imagine that happening in America, we
should at least attempt to come up with a better plan than murdering
the mentally ill when they happen to step out of line. Of course they
are going to say or do odd things: that's what mentally ill--you
know, CRAZY-- people *do.* That's how they get diagnosed in the first

How ironic, too, that this man's letter was immediately followed by
one that discussed the thousands of gays gassed by Nazis under
Hitler. So, too, were thousands of mentally ill people, though prior
to Nazi Germany, the United States of America led the world in forced
sterilization (eugenics), trying to weed the mentally ill out of the
gene pool. Nice try, guys, but it looks like we're here to stay.
Rather than shooting us at airports, it might be more intelligent to
contemplate what positive evolutionary force mental illness serves in
the gene pool; obviously, it serves some purpose, or it would indeed
have been weeded out by now.

- Tiffany Lee Brown,
editor of 2 Girls Quarterly

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Alpizar DISAPPEARS from National News
Investigation Pending by Miami-Dade PD

The headline about says it all. The last story on Alpizar (google news, time, washington post, google alerts) was on or about December the 10th. I've been combing for days and nothing.

What I found interesting was that the investigation isn't being done by the feds - even though the plane, one might assume, is "federal property" in that federal air marshals were involved in the incident. Instead, the investigation is being conducted by the local PD, in this case, Miami-Dade. I tried my level best to get through to anyone as a member of the press, but I really felt lost in the shuffle. Getting on an investigation's mailing list (sadly) isn't anything like subscribing to a blog - it's much more complicated.

(I had the same sad case happen with Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald...sigh.) The blog press will never amount to much without the same access to that information as any other press person - in cases like this, when the mainstream STOPS reporting on an issue, what can we do really?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Maybe He Never Said "Bomb"
Was the Death of Rigoberto Alpizar a War-Crime?

I'm a little late posting on this topic. When I first heard about it on Friday night, I'd already had my own personal mental health crisis to deal with all day long. In the course of dealing with that, I'd done what I usually do, which is to touch base with a few select other patients for support. We're a loose network of folks that can often provide better advice for each other than our doctors, and I'm on the phone with mine rather constantly.

Gregg returned a call of mine from earlier in the day and I phoned him back as I was leaving Albuquerque with my meds securely in my pocket. We spoke of meds and their retail prices - I hope to do a piece about that later - and then the topic invariably turned to Rigoberto Alpizar.

Mr. Alpizar was the man shot by federal air marshals on Flight 924 from Medellin, Columbia to Miami last Wednesday. Initial reports held that Mr. Alpizar had announced that he had a bomb in his bag, though in fact he did not have a bomb. It was also widely reported that Mr. Alpizar was a manic-depressive off his medication and that his erroneous claim of having a bomb may have been due to an off-med induced anxiety attack. On the day the event occurred, I posted on it twice, here and here.

Given my natural propensity to believe any conspiracy theory that comes down the pike, I had to fight off the feelings that this was a completely unnecessary killing - I wasn't the only person on the Internet, however, who "had a funny feeling" that there was more to this than just a routine discharge of a weapon.

I fought back those feelings and accepted the initial reports, that a man had yelled "bomb" on a crowded airplare, certainly the relative equivalent of yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater, a breach of common etiquette that any child is aware is the wrong thing to do. Even though the experience would hit closer to home for me than most, I also forced myself to quickly accept the conventional wisdom that he was a manic-depressive off-med and that the moral of the story was not, "We're too fucking paranoid in a post-9-11 world," but was instead, "People need to take their meds."

The fault, in other words, would not be laid at the feet of the federal air marshals, however much I might abhor their supposed "necessity." As one news source put it, "this is a cut'n'dried case. Man says bomb and marshalls are trained to protect everyone else, not play conselor." The fault would lie with a patient who didn't take his meds, didn't take care of himself, and put himself at risk with his ill-timed statements. End of story. Not their fault.

As The Furious Seasons blog put it well:

Moral: take your meds. Find the right ones. Take them all the time. If you have very severe bipolar disorder, then be self-aware and know when you are getting psychotic and knock that shit down with an atypical antipsychotic. Be responsible for your own life. It will help the lives of others around you. And your own.

And I bought that, because I wanted to give that man who shot Mr. Alpizar a way out of what I imagined was terrible guilt and shame. Who was I to compound the tragedy by being among the voices demanding an inquiry into a situation that seemed so clear? That marshall is a trained killer without the power to negotiate or the skills to talk someone down. I had read that. It seemed reasonable to believe.

And so you can imagine my surprise, dismay and fear when Gregg told me over the phone that AirAmerica had been reporting all day long that Rigoberto Alpizar had never said he had a bomb.

I hung up the phone and began to cry. I pulled over to the side of the road and made myself stop. I knew nothing yet, hadn't seen a shred of confirmation that this was the case, but suddenly, I knew that my desire to believe that there was nothing "unusual" or incorrect about the scenario was dead-fucking-wrong no matter what the situation. An innocent man had been killed by a trigger-happy rent-a-cop weaned in a violent environment where everyone is the enemy. And they tried to pass it off as a necessity by saying he said he had a bomb - and he didn't even say it, at least according to my friend, and the links below.

The story of Rigoberto Alpizar is not a longer a story for the mental health community - it now belongs to everyone. Federal agents are like anyone else - they'll lie to protect the fact that they decided to kill someone for no justifiable reason. The war has finally come to home to roost, and it's probably safe to say that NO ONE is safe on an airplane from the forces they've placed there to protect us.

Time magazine: Thursday, December 8: Eyewitness Says, "I Never Heard the Word Bomb."

Brisbane Courier-Mail: Saturday, December 10: Bomb Claim Unravels

Taser exec asks why Marshals don't have Non-Lethal Choices

Department of Homeland Stupidity: December 8 - Shoe bomber alert prior to Miami Shooting

J-Ultra blog: December 10 - Rigoberto Alpizar Shooting

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Friday, December 09, 2005

Today Totally Sucked

I flipped out. And not because I didn't TAKE my meds, but because I left them in another city. A bunch of things happened around this today that makes me really want to compose something larger, but I have to stop for now. Just suffice to say: "It's terribly ludicrously unfair that the only med-lines in this country are inside jails and prisons. A quarter of a billion dollars on a war Out There means a war on people In Here. And that sucks."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Jesus H. Christ...
Mental Health Awareness Now!!!

This just in from the blog called Bratt's Pak:

An analysis this year by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit group in Virginia, found that mentally ill people were four times more likely than members of the general public to be killed by the police.

Having been harassed by the police in the past and had my fears and paranoia exploited to the hilt, as well as having spent a bit of time homeless because of my illness, it always seemed to me like cops love to hassle the crazies, but holy shit...

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Did they know he was crazy?

An update on the shooting of the bipolar patient Rigoberto Alpizar at the Miami Airport:

This report from the Washington Post seems to suggest that federal air marshalls were informed by Alpizar's wife that he was mentally ill. Nevertheless, given the climate these days, maybe the issue that needs to be addressed at this point isn't the fact that a mentally ill person was shot but that we still have this hair-trigger fear-mentality at the airport, four years after 9/11. When is the paranoia going to end?

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A Moment of Silence, Please

For Rigoberto Alpizar, the man killed today by a federal air marshall at the Miami airport. He claimed he had a bomb in his bag and ran off the plane. In fact, he was simply a bipolar patient off his medication. sigh....

Mary Gardner, a passenger aboard the Orlando-bound flight, told WTVJ-TV in Miami that the man ran down the aisle from the rear of the plane. "He was frantic, his arms flailing in the air," she said. She said a woman followed, shouting, "My husband! My husband!"

Gardner said she heard the woman say her husband was bipolar — a mental illness also known as manic-depression — and had not had his medication.

by John *Pain*, Associated Press writer

We may have more to say as this develops...

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Today is Better

For most of the past week, things have been wildly up and down...not "down" per se, because I just don't seem to get depressed anymore since I starting taking SSRIs...but not "up" in that wildly expansive way that makes some people say that "mania is an addiction." (Little Miss Tiffany Lee Brown said it to *me* first, whilst scolding me for my predilection for going off my meds.)

Manic dysphoria is actually what I've been experiencing, and I'm throwing it our there because I think it's a powerful phrase, one that certainly gave me insight into my condition once I heard it for the first time. All by itself, "dysphoria" says volumes about what you're going through when "mania" isn't any fun anymore.

Wikipedia has a so-so definition of dysphoria here, but while the Online Etymology Dictionary doesn't even list it as a word, it offers other information that allows us to piece together a working understanding.
dys - prefix meaning "bad, ill, abnormal," from Gk. dys- "bad, hard, unlucky,"

euphoria - 1729, a physician's term for "condition of feeling healthy and comfortable (especially when sick)," from Gk. euphoria

Like the wikipedia, this definition seems to imply that dysphoria is the *opposite* of euphoria - but that's a mistaken identity...if that were the case, you'd just *feel bad*, why, it'd be just like depression and you'd been damn sure you'd know what to do. But manic dysphoria just isn't that simple. Manic dysphoria is a kind of agitation that feels quite a lot like manic euphoria - except that at any fucking moment, you can turn into a raging raging bitch and start crying hysterically if something doesn't go your way. Oh - and did I mention the anxiety and the edginess, kinda of like being coked up all the fucking time?

Here's another interesting thing about the word "dysphoria" - it is used as a follow-up to the word "gender" when describing someone who doesn't exactly feel quite right in the gender they were born with. I personally have been known to feel "gender dysphoric" - particularly during a Seasonal Affective Disorder induced bout of "manic dysphoria." Does anyone else have any thoughts on whether these two states of dysphoria have any relation to each other beyond using the same word to describe them?

Have you ever felt like you were the opposite (or perhaps even a third) gender when you are manic dysphoric? I'd love to hear from you.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Candy Blue

This blog was partially inspired by Tiffany Lee Brown, a performance artist, singer, writer, editor and all-around cool chick and friend from Portland, Oregon. I think I also get to say that she's a *fellow patient* - I think we figured out our affliction(s) when we met (it was a worlds collide kinda situation...)

A few days ago, I asked her if she'd do a biploar blog with me - but she's already planning one around her bipolar performance art project Candy Blue.

Naming her "altered" self, Brown will explore many aspects of the bipolar experience in this ongoing project, which will include a Candy Blue blog of its very own. As soon as it's up, I promise to link to it.

Cross-Lateral Text-Based Suicide Prevention

I just received a telephone call from a friend in Australia, who wanted to tell me all about this new service over there that may come here soon too. It's called Inspire, and at the moment, all I can tell you is what I think it does - or should do, based on what I get of it.

Ever wanted to kill yourself? I know I have, and for years I simply had the Suicide Hotline number memorized and I would call them, just to check in before I checked out. What Inspire plans to do is figure out a way to build virtual communities around the issue of suicide - perhaps your own personal cohort of would-be suicides whom you'd keep from pulling the trigger - only to find them pulling you back from the edge as well.

The beauty of Inspire is two-fold: 1) it's geared towards young people, who in Australia as well as in the United States have staggeringly high rates of self-destruction, and 2) it's virtual, which might just mean you could only access it via the web - but if I had my way, you'd be able to contact your suicide anti-pact cohort via your mobile. A would-be suicidal teen could text a quick message of down-ness while in the lavoratory - or tap-text feel-good affirmations to a depressed buddy in class. You could even stand on the soccer field and file a voice-rant over the mobile - which would then be converted to MP3 and available for everyone else to hear, both as an alarm that you were hurting - and as a reminder that *everyone* sometimes doesn't want to be here anymore.


I'll make this brief - for the past weeks, I've been cycling back and forth like a yo-yo - not so much "up'n'down" in the classis understanding of bipolar disorder, but more along the lines of "somewhat stable - then completely unstable." I'm not off-med. I'm actually on lithium (1200 mg daily) and lexapro (10mg daily) and this dosage generally works perfectly well.

I'm hoping to use this space to talk about WHY this generally works well, WHY it's not working well now, and to just generally use this space as a place to talk about meds, doctors, insurance issues, and how often I call up friends to talk about issues like: benzodiazapemes, colonopin, mood stabilizers, tranquilizers, and anti-psychotics. I think I've needed a place like this for a long long time, but other than my notebooks (and yes, I have piles of them) I haven't been able to put this out there. Now I will.

Here are a few of the things I'm hoping for:

1) I hope I don't write in here all the time.
This was inspired by a post about my episodic condition in my regular blog a couple of days ago, when I was convinced (paranoid and afraid) that friends were worried about me on the other side of the country and the world. (turned out not to be the case, but I felt like I needed to reassure them.) In addition to being bipolar, I also have a real live life where I do lots of other things - when I'm not episodic, I have a fairly full life, though it doesn't always stay that way.

2) I hope that I have guests - either writers or sources or talkers on podcasts.
Bipolar is getting to be a fairly common diagnosis, I hear - and I have a fairly wide circle of friends and acquaintances who know exactly what a modd stabilizer is and what they think of theirs. In fact, a story in The New York Times from a couple of weeks ago suggests that all us nut-cases are just as likely to find out about new meds from friends

3) I hope that I can say something that will bring clarity about my condition - at least to me and maybe to others as well.
It's been eleven years since I first walked into a psychiatrist's office and said, "I have unbelievable episodes of rage over practically nothing, followed by three or four days of the deepest possible depression. Could I have PTSD or repressed memories from childhood sexual abuse?" Those were just two possibilities of the dozens I've examined in the past decade. I've tried all kinds of meds, lived on the streets, spent time in hospitals and half-way houses, and seen up-close and personal why we need mental health courts.

Maybe I can give the rest of you some clarity to that as well.