Up

When I initially told my friends about my bipolar II diagnosis, they most often expressed surprise. Which makes sense, because, one; bipolar II often presents in a more subtle way than bipolar I, and, two; because I had lived so many years as a master of disguise. Whether I was stuck in the morass of endless depression, or I was tipping into my brief periods of hypomania, I did all I could to moderate my behavior, to pass for OK.

That disguise marked most of my adult life, but as I have written before, the last several years – after the correct diagnosis and stabilized by an effective medication protocol – have been marked by periods of relative stability. Which is not to say that I don’t still experience depression, or experience mild mania – it’s just that it’s manageable and tempered.

When I explain to people my experience with mental health issues, I’m often asked what my hypomanic states felt like, so I thought I would try to describe them.

Mania doesn’t hit me out of the blue; rather, it’s a barely perceptible ramping-up of what I think of as internal electricity. Initially, my mind feels like it’s working more efficiently – thoughts move with energy, ideas come faster. At this stage, it’s mildly pleasant. I feel, for lack of a better word, “up”.

As that internal electricity eventually externalizes, I begin to notice that my runs become suddenly easier – I can go farther, and faster, for no discernible reason. I find that I’m OK with much less sleep, and even if I wake up tired after 4-5 hours, that dissipates almost immediately. My vision feels altered; the edges of things seem clearer, colors feel heightened, the contrast of light and shadow more marked. I lose my appetite and forget to eat meals, especially when I become fixated on tasks.

Which all sounds relatively benign. But it rarely stops there; my mental energy progresses to a state in which I become obsessed with those tasks, and with the projects and writing and studying. That focus is not singular, however, and I find myself compulsively working on several things at once. I’ll turn my attention to one thing for hours, and then suddenly I’ll become distracted by something else, which becomes my soul focus for several hours more. In some ways I get a lot done during my manic episodes, but nothing seems to get completed, because of my unstable attention.

I also find myself highly irritable, and the annoyances that I’m usually able to tolerate become almost insurmountably uncomfortable.

And finally, I find myself in a state of mild physical distress. Everything feels uncomfortable – sitting, standing, lying down. I’m fidgety, and if I find myself in this state during, say, a cross-country flight, it feels almost unbearable. Sleeping becomes even more difficult than usual, as my entire body feels constantly restless. Touch becomes sensitive, and I’m acutely aware of any vaguely annoying sensation – wearing slightly snug shoes feels like foot-binding, bumping into anything feels distressing, wearing a scarf or turtleneck feels like I’m being choked.

“Up”, at that point, sucked.

In the past, for many years, these symptoms came in quick succession, over the course of a few day, and then lasted a few days more. I rarely remained in these hypomanic states for more than a week, and they would eventually give way to the deep dive of depression, which was my base state.

Over the last few years, more and more celebrities and public figures have spoken publicly about their own mental health issues, and it’s been tremendously encouraging to have these issues enter our national discourse. While there may be more awareness, however, there’s still a noticeable gap in information and understanding: Depression is always caused by external stressors. Being bipolar is the same as being schizophrenic. Addiction is a lack of willpower. Eating disorders only affect women. And on and on.

And so I’ve been doing what I can to narrow that gap, with the hope that my personal transparency can add to the wider conversation and lead to societal comprehension.

While I haven’t experienced a full hypomanic state in years, I’ve noticed a milder version of all of these symptoms, a subtle “up”, in the last few days. It’s more likely to manifest now as a slight but noticeable increase in energy, heightened sensation, occasional short-temperedness, a vaguely obsessive quality in the way I work. These feelings are familiar, and not as confusing and distressing and out of control as they felt in those beforetimes. But they are still there, a part of me, a part of my present and my future. And the more I understand and accept these parts of myself, the more I’m able to navigate this world with compassion and ease.

Back

I took a week off from writing of any kind; I’ve been swamped lately with writing scripts for my TV broadcasts, writing copy for grant applications, as well as working on a book (more on that in a later post). Words got to be a little much, and a break was needed.

I was on the East Coast visiting my in-laws and seeing some dear friends. Over the years I’ve developed a wide-reaching network of friends and colleagues, and feel lucky to have so many people I love scattered all over the world. I love catching up in person with those friends I’ve only seen at the other end of a Zoom for the past year or course. But there’s also something wonderful to have those friends that you might not really talk to or see for a year or two or three, but when you do finally come together it’s as if nothing had passed, a natural coming back. I’m lucky to have many in both category.

Over the last week I spent a little time looking back at the trajectory of this blog – at this point last year I was still posting daily, which from the prism of the present seems a formidable feat. How did I do that? So many words, although I suppose I have many more words still.

It’s important to look back, I think, to fully gauge from where I’ve come, to see the progress and movement that has brought me to the present moment. The trick is to not be so caught up in that backward reflection that the present slips away.

In any case it’s nice to be back!

Old habits

As the music industry inches towards recovery after a devastating year, my work, too, is inching back towards pre-Covid levels.

Financially, this is a boon, of course, and it excites me immeasurably to work with the musicians and friends I’ve been missing for these many months. And, yes, being immersed in music, live music, making music; to be completely submerged in sound, engaged in creativity – magical, life-affirming.

That’s not to say that my previous work schedule was necessarily life-affirming. In fact, the 2018-2019 season saw me in frequent breakdowns, jet-lagged beyond belief and completely consumed with traveling, learning music, performing music, packing the next suitcase and traveling again.

If you’re like me, you’ve developed coping mechanisms to deal with challenging times. Many of those coping mechanisms may have actually come into play during the lockdowns. That was certainly the case for me as well, but I would say that for the most part, those new behaviors supported my mental and physical health. My habits from my crazy-travel days were another matter.

Constantly crossing time zones is tough on the body, and my solution to perk myself up when I was exhausted, or put myself down when I was sleepless, was coffee and wine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either, in moderation, or even in the occasional extreme. Rather, I was reliant on both to keep me going, and that was a troubling trend; I reached a point in which I couldn’t even begin to wind down at the end of the day without a glass of wine, or three. It felt compulsive.

My eating schedule, by necessity, was chaotic, but I would often make it worse by skipping meals, or delaying them dramatically. Because I like to have a meal after performances, I pushed back my food intake more and more, and by the time I ate I was so hungry that I would consume everything in sight. As a recovered anorexic and someone who has struggled with disordered eating for much of my life, this led to periods that felt dangerously close to bing-restrict cycles, and it made me miserable. Yet I felt powerless to break the cycle.

Exercise and I have had a complicated relationship (I’ve lived with orthorexia and exercise addiction on top of the EDs). And in my busiest of times, one the ways I exerted control over the chaos of my schedule was to adhere to an ironclad fitness regime. This often entailed hitting the hotel gym at 4:30 am, running in the midst of a snowstorm, or bowing out of social engagements so I could squeeze in my obligatory workout. Ultimately, not healthy behaviors!

Because of my prolonged absences, my social life became an afterthought, and I rarely had time to connect with my friends at home in San Francisco. Neither did I really have time to hang out with my friends in cities around the world, because I was frankly too tired, and I found myself isolating myself more and more. And the more I stayed away from an active social life, the harder it felt to socialize at all. I felt stuck.

Bad habits.

I’ve been reading articles about the maladaptive coping mechanisms that many people have adopted throughout the darkest days of the pandemic, and while I feel deep sympathy, I realized that I didn’t share those particular experiences. Ironically, the many months of lockdown subtly shifted many of the behaviors that were hindering me.

While those first few months of lockdown were fraught with uncertainty and fear, it did force a certain mindfulness; I was home, 24/7, and with time to really revisit every daily activity and the reason I did the things I did. And that led to shifts to those bad habits.

Coffee, while delicious, need not be constantly consumed, especially when I got enough sleep. And even if I didn’t sleep well, coffee didn’t need to be the only crutch I turned to – stretching in the morning, some gentle activity, or a 15 minute rest in the afternoon fit the bill. When I didn’t consume gallons of coffee, I was more apt to be tired when sleep time rolled around, so wine didn’t feel like a necessity. And after spending several weeks without my nightly glass, I realize dhow much better I slept without alcohol in my system.

Exercise became more mindful. Without a gym to go to, I started exploring other ways to move my body. During the lockdown, I certainly kept up with my running, but I scaled down, and as I only had the option to run outside, I mostly stopped the high-intensity intervals I did indoors on a treadmill. Rather, I started finding interesting places to run throughout the city, enjoying new scenery and discovering new neighborhoods. HIIT and heavy weight sessions at the gym were replaced by long walks with friends in the neighborhood, and Zoom yoga with friends far away.

And, despite the forced physical separation, I’ve never felt so close to so many people. Friends I hadn’t spoken to in years, and those to whom I was close but only talked to a few times a yea…I spoke to and saw (on screen) so many of them, rekindled relationships, and developed an intimacy borne of the shared challenge of these unimaginable times. I spent much, much more time with my in-town friends on long, socially-distanced walks and hikes, then picnics, and eventually evenings on outdoor decks. I’ve felt more deeply connected with the people I love than I have in a long time.

This is not to say that the pandemic didn’t bring with it a slew of new questionable habits (like my addiction to watching Love Island on Netflix nightly). But by and large, the new behaviors seemed an improvement on, or at least progress from, my past bad habits.

What are your bad habits? Have they changed over the course of the last 14 months?

So much energy

This video was released several weeks ago – I had so much other stuff going on that I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserved!

In my years working with the Minnesota Orchestra I’ve been able to collaborate with a roster of truly great artists, and I feel so privileged to add Cloud Cult to that list. If you aren’t familiar with this band, read more about them here. They are marvelous, full of shining spirit, committed to their industry-leading environmental practices and a deeply wonderful group of people.

When we produced this video, we sent a prompt to all of our musicians: “What do you keep your heart open to?”. The answers are all part of the video. Mine? “The infinite potential of each moment”.

Reading the news these last few weeks has been an exercise of near-daily grief as the worst of human nature is revealed. It is impossible to not be deflated by another mass shooting, another meaningless death, another traumatized family.

But I believe in the possibility of hope. I believe in our inherent capacity for compassion. I believe that the small, good actions of today can lay the groundwork for profound change. I believe in the infinite potential of each moment.

What do you keep your heart open to?

Absence

They say it makes the heart grow fonder. I needed to take a little leave of absence last week – a bit of space for myself, so I could maybe come back to writing a little refreshed, or with fonder feeling.

Things have been much busier these last few months than they had been 6 months ago, as my industry slowly stutters to a re-start. A few gigs are getting on the books for late summer, for the fall. Things are nothing close to “normal”, but it feels more “normal” than it has for a long time.

I’ve been having kind of a hard time, though. While it’s great to have performances to look forward to, I’m dreading what that means to my overall quality of life. As much as I don’t want to admit it, the absence of weekly travel and everything that surrounds it has been something of a silver lining in Covid life. And I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to go back to it.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about readjusting to life after the lockdowns – the social anxiety, anxiety about re-establishing patterns of behavior, anxiety about facing a changed world, anxiety about actually putting on pants without an elastic waistband…you get the picture. I’m definitely anxious about returning to the level of travel needed to sustain my work and livelihood.

I’d spent much of the last 4-5 years permanently jet-lagged, exhausted and in a constant state of triage, and as much as I loved seeing the world, making new friends and making great music, it was wearing on my body and my psyche. So I feel terribly ambivalent right now as I begin to see may schedule take shape in the upcoming months, excited for the work but dreading the travel.

Absence did not make my heart grow fonder.

Have you experienced unexpected joy in losing something?

Although I definitely miss sampling local cuisine. This was in Bruges 2 years ago.

Passing

*Trigger warning, I will be discussing suicide

Today is the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. He jumped off a building with a picture of me in his pocket, and just like that, my life was split in two – the beforetimes, and the time after my father’s suicide.

I’ve written about dad a few times, most notable here.

Loss like this leaves a gaping hole in one’s heart, and agonizing questions, the Why did he do it? What could I have done? How could I have not known? and in this case, Why was my picture in his pocket?

Several years after his death I was on an Amtrak going from NYC to Buffalo, and I struck up a conversation with a philosophy professor at NYU on his way to Chicago. It was snowing hard that day – 20 inches, eventually – and the track became impassable (this says more about Amtrak than the actual snow, BTW). We were stuck overnight on a darkened train, somewhere in Upstate New York. The professor had brought a case of wine with him to share with his Chicago family, so he cracked open a bottle and we started really talking.

I eventually told him about my dad, and the endless pool of sadness and confusion about the picture in his pocket, of me and my dad together on my wedding day, right before the ceremony.

How wonderful, said my professor.

Wonderful?

How wonderful that he chose you to help usher him into the unknown, that he took strength from you as he embarked on his journey, he said. You must have been a source of great comfort and love.

The ache of suicide is that those of us left behind will never know, and that we have to find our own answers, or find a way to tolerate the discomfort of open questions. I don’t know if I believe my professor, but I think that may have been beside the point. He reminded me of my own strength, my own compassion, and I drew comfort from that.

They say it gets easier as time passes, but every March 29 I feel grief anew, and I’ve decided that I’m ok with that – it’s a form of self-compassion, I suppose. It’s not easier, simply not as front-and-center as it used to be in the landscape of my life. It will always be there, and I’ve made my peace with it.

I know suicide touches more people than most of us imagine, and tonight I’m sending out my love.

Chin up, girl

Have I told you about the time I was almost expelled from Harvard for plagiarism?

By and large, I enjoyed my time at Harvard, mostly because of the people that I met and the musical opportunities that were presented. It was a generally happy and stable time in my life, though marred by a few truly awful moments; this was one of them.

Let me back up. At that point, Harvard didn’t offer any music performance degrees, and so I was majoring in music composition. My course load included a plethora of music theory and analysis classes, many of which I shared with my then-boyfriend, who was also a composition major.

An assignment for one of these classes required a harmonic analysis of a Chopin work with some gnarly harmonies, and said boyfriend and I sat down to examine the piece together, as we had done countless times before. We found that conferring with each other about our analyses helped us understand the piece more fully, and although we disagreed on some points, we generally approached things in a similar fashion. So, we shared our work, and except for one section of music, we were in harmony (pun intended) with our ideas. We then trotted off to our respective computers to type up our papers, which were handed in to our professor the next morning.

A day later, I was called in by the head of the music department and accused of plagiarizing my boyfriend’s paper.

Let me step back again. Harmonic analysis is an unusual beast. Essentially when we define harmonies, we define them in the context of a key area. When your key changes, harmonies are then defined within the new key. What would be analyzed as a “iii” chord in C major would be a “vi” chord in G major. How you label a harmony – how you “spell” it, as we say – depends on what key you think you’re in. Key areas are foundational in harmonic analysis, and thus determining the point at which the key has changed is a critical decision.

Explained another way, let’s look at Marie Antoinette (didn’t expect that pivot, did you?). When determining the moment she became the Dauphine of France, you would probably say it was April 19, 1770, when she was married by proxy to Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France. You could make an argument that the date was May 16, when the ceremonial wedding at Versailles took place, because it was an event more symbolic of the union. The May 16 idea is an interesting perspective; however, technically and legally speaking, April 19 is correct.

In our analyses, the section over which my college boyfriend and I disagreed was the harmonic equivalent of the argument above. He said May 16. I said April 19.

My trial (not officially, but it was called a “hearing”) was overseen by Christoph Wolff, preeminent Bach scholar and German of the old school. (I seem to have a bit of a history with old-school German teachers; Otto-Werner Mueller was my teacher at Curtis.) Our papers made similar points, and the analysis was laid out in similar ways. Clearly, the girl was copying her boyfriend’s paper. It didn’t matter that the two papers diverged on a critical key change.

It didn’t seem to matter that, from a technical standpoint, my analysis of that key change stood on far firmer ground – and was, in fact, called the “correct” conclusion. If I were plagiarizing, what explains this correct analysis?

My boyfriend and I were brought in separately. We both stated the truth; we worked on the analysis together, agreed about most things, disagreed on a handful and then went off to write our separate papers. Our analytical points were laid out in a similar progression because we had gone over the points in that particular order together. But, no. The girl is clearly copying from the boy. That’s the only logical explanation.

I mean, there was no way to view the accusation but as an affront to the capabilities of my gender. Did anyone consider that my boyfriend had copied ME? My (female) TA went to bat for me, brought in other musical opinions from other professors (my analysis came out on top for everyone). If she was incapable of doing her own work, argued my TA, how did she come up with this accurate analysis? Why is she being accused, and not him?

Finally, justice prevailed – after a few male professor vouched for the quality of my work in their classes, and after days of turmoil on my part, Wolff begrudgingly agreed to drop the accusation. I’ve often wondered if it was more that he couldn’t prove that I was guilty, rather than that he believed my innocence .

Plagiarism is an expulsion-worthy offense. I could have been kicked out of Harvard.

I feel fortunate to have been brought up in a post-Title IX world. I feel fortunate that my parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to do, even if it was to pursue a career in which, at the time, there was next to no female representation. I feel fortunate that, thanks to Times Up and Me Too, there is far more enlightenment about the indignities women have had to face for time immemorial.

None of this, however, can ever undo the fact that my life could have been derailed by a single man, because he thought that a girl couldn’t possibly be right.

But I’m here, and I know I’m right. And for those women who have faced sexism (and it’s uglier cousin, misogyny) and have been burdened by the lived trauma of being told you’re not good enough because you’re a woman, I feel you, I support you. We are good enough. And we always have been.

Harvard’s motto is Veritas. Truth.

“A really bad day”

A really bad day.

There’s a bit too much for me to unload here, but let me try, at least for a few minutes. What happened in Atlanta was horrific. Violence agains women is horrible. Violence against Asians is horrible. Violence agains Asian women carries double the trauma.

And while I appreciate the general outcry and the support from a whole host of celebrities, I can only sigh and wonder, did it really take you this long to figure out that shitty things have been happening to Asians for a long time, and that it was exacerbated by President Kung Flu? Does it take a mass shooting to realize that pernicious stereotypes and covert racism have been a part of the Asian experience in this country, and the Asian woman experience in particular, for as long as we can remember?

Don’t tell me that this isn’t a race-driven crime. Don’t tell me the continued exoticization and fetishization of Asian women doesn’t play a part. Since leaving my hometown of Honolulu – where, frankly, 40% of the population is Asian and no-one really cared much what race you were anyway – I have struggled with the trope of the exotic, submissive Asian woman. I’ve been marginalized by male equals and inferiors in the workplace more than I could ever explain. My exotic looks have been weaponized against me. I have been called “young lady” by men a few years older than me, because it’s ok to infantilize Asian women.

And let’s not even get into what women of all races have to face – the violence against us, the fear of being alone on a dark street because some fucking idiot might harm us, and when that happens it’s our fault for being on that dark street. Men, frankly, that’s your problem for creating a society where we women need to change our behavior because you can’t collectively get your shit together and start treating us like equals, not the weaker sex.

I’m angry, I’m tired. It’s been a hell of a week. And frankly, I’ve had “a really bad day”.

I recommend a hearty dose of Pinkerton on really bad days

In the kitchen

Burger King sent out a tweet this morning – “Women belong in the kitchen” – which, while trying to make a larger point about the paucity of female head chefs in the restaurant industry (check out the link), was beyond tone deaf. Happy International Women’s Day indeed!

In my kitchen, my husband does the vast majority of our cooking. It was an arrangement borne of necessity; with me on the road for most of the year, he needed to feed himself. And when I was home, I was often too exhausted or too busy getting ready to leave again to take care of any household chores. Fortunately he’s a fantastic cook who can whip up everything from a Six Seasons pasta recipe to P├ępin’s Chicken Galantine to Nagoya-style Japanese chicken wings. I was happy for him to take up this particular mantle; this woman needs not be in her kitchen.

Our understanding has remained largely intact throughout the lockdown. I have a larger repertoire of Japanese dishes (my mother taught me to cook quite young – she herself went to cooking school so she would make a more suitable wife – a story for a later time), and so when I’m in the mood for one of them, I’ll take over kitchen duties. But most nights, it’s my husband in the apron (and yes, he wears one!). And on most mornings, it’s he who empties the dishwasher, runs the vacuum, starts the laundry – before settling down to his own full day of work (which often starts at 6 am, before the market opens). It might not be the most conventional arrangement but it works for us.

Things have always been a little unconventional for our little family; for most of our marriage I’ve been the major breadwinner. And while the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that almost 30% of American wives in heterosexual dual-income marriages earn more than their husbands, it still feels like it upsets traditional gender norms. My old-school Japanese mother, she of the cooking school, still has a hard time wrapping her mind around the fact that at several points in our marriage (going back to school, starting a new business) I was the sole income earner.

The pandemic has been particularly tough on women. It has precipitated the steepest decline in the female labor force since World War II, with a projected recovery that is at least several years behind that of men. In September, when school resumed, 80% of those who left the workplace were women. The increased burden of uncompensated care – cooking, cleaning, taking care of children – has disproportionately landed on women.

I’m ridiculously lucky to have a partner who has been overseeing all of this unpaid care – the practical running of a household – for the last many years. It’s not that I don’t participate; it’s that I’m not in charge, and that makes an unimaginable difference. And it’s one of the most significant factors in my career success, because I simply couldn’t have done both. To be able to fly around the world for 36 weeks out of the year, and be buried in score study in the weeks I was home – impossible, without a husband who could take care of every other aspect of my life, and of our lives.

So, in a slightly ironic twist, this International Women’s Day, what I celebrate most is the great man behind this great woman.

And his great food!