November 12: Session Notes

10631830_mI’ve been neglecting my little blog. I had thought that I could try and write my way through the depression, but it has been tougher than I imagined it to be. Though to be fair, when I’m depressed I’m even more easily distracted than when I’m not depressed. When I sit at the computer to write, Twitter is more distracting than usual. (I don’t Facebook much, but I can always find something there to distract me as well.)

This does not mean that I have not been writing. I have. I just haven’t written much that’s interesting. Of the interesting things, I’ve yet to actually complete a piece of writing. It is as if completing something I’m actually interested in will leave me floundering, wondering what to write next.

After years of not having insurance, or having insurance that didn’t cover long-term therapy sessions, I now have insurance which allows me to see a psychiatrist. I have had a session most every week since the early part of the year. The sessions have been beneficial in giving a name to the conditions I’ve been dealing with for a good portion of my life: Bipolar Disorder (I’m cycle rapidly through the ups and downs of bipolar — I have had days where I’ve been both manic and depressed: starting with one, then ending with the other); anxiety disorder; and Borderline Personality Disorder. Having a name to put to the conditions has meant that I’ve been able to be treated for them. It has also allowed me to start looking at my thoughts and behaviors in order to understand and control them better.

The downside to therapy is that the sessions are always so brief. Maybe it is because I talk so much that the time seems to go so quickly. Often, I feel as if I didn’t get to say everything I wanted, or was not able to answer a question as fully as I would have liked because I’ve gone off on another tangent, or my doctor has asked me a follow-up question. I’ve left the sessions thinking of things that I want to remember to say the following week but always seem to forget what the thoughts were by the time the next session comes around.

I decided I need to start writing them down. Therapy is more than just the forty-minute session. Therapy is about all the thoughts that happen after, it’s about looking at your thoughts and working through them. It is about trying to have a more complete understanding of yourself.

Last week I brought notes to my therapy session, notes about something we’d talked about in the previous session. It was really helpful for me to write them down, to carry the thoughts through, to try and make sense of some things.

And, since this blog is about my journey through the stark landscapes of mental illness, I thought that as I have notes for me session, I’d share them.  I think it is written in such a way that you can figure out what the topic of the prior session was about.  I don’t know that I’ll have notes for each week, but as I do, I will post them. I find that writing them down is helpful — not just because I was able to bring up something I didn’t get to say, but also because it helps me articulate my thoughts.


Notes for Session 9/12/14:

You always ask me questions I am not prepared to answer. Maybe prepared isn’t the right word, as that makes it seem as if I am trying to give a pre-planned answer, or that I am trying to give a “right” answer.

What I should say is that our therapy sessions go by so quicky, and my answers often seem shorter than I would like. You should know by now that I can give rather lengthy answers, and that I can easily distract myself by heading off on another tangent. Because of my tendency towards long-windedness, and the quick passage of time in our forty minute sessions (there used to be a time when sessions were fifty minutes, but that was twenty years ago, and you know what they say about time and change) I often leave or sessions feeling as if I hadn’t been able to give as complete an answer as I would like ( you know context is important to me). And then, as there should be when therapy sessions are going well, there is the post-session reflection period when I think of things I want to say next session, but always manage to forget to mention them, because I have new things to say. Writing out these post-session thoughts seems like a good way to help me remember the things I want to say, and to help me work through the new thoughts and ideas that occur to me in the hours and days between each therapy session.

During the last session you asked a question to refresh your memory: “Have you made an attempt at suicide?”

I answered “Yes.” And then you followed up with another question, and the discussion moved on. Then, suddenly (it always seems to happen suddenly) the time was up, and it was time for me to go.

As I walked out of the session, I thought about the question about attempting suicide, and it was at that point I realized I had only given a single-word answer. I’m not good with single-word answers — especially to such an important question. “Yes” is not a sufficient answer because the question is rather meaningless. Yes, I made an attempt. No, I have not made another attempt. The discussion can’t end there. There is much more meaning in the word “attempt” than you might realize.

When I made my one attempt (swallowing eight or ten Valium), no one belived me. The school nurse gave me ipecac syrup and called my mother. By the time my mother arrived, I’d thrown up, though it had been well over an hour since I had taken the pills — perhaps closer to two hours. The nurse looked at my vomit, saw no capsule cases, and concluded I hadn’t taken any pills at all. My mom took me home, examined her bottle of Valium, and concluded I couldn’t have taken as many as I said. She was angry with me — not that I attempted to end my life; rather, she was angry that she had had to leave work.

A year or so later, in a moment of searing anger, I yelled at mom that I was going to kill myself, “Then you’ll be sorry!” I remembered yelling, though what I was angry about I no longer know. I just remember running down the hall and locking myself in the bathroom, and laying on the floor, crying. My mom banged on the door, demanding to be let in.

I ignored her and she went away.

A few minutes later, the police were banging on the bathroom door, threatening to break the door down if I didn’t open it and let them in. I toyed with the idea of letting them break the door down, but figured my mom would be angry about the door. I stood up, unlocked the door, and sat back down on the floor.

One officer came in the bathroom while three or four others stood in the doorway. The officer was apparently the designated ‘good cop’. When I didn’t respond to him, one of the officers who had been standing in the door came in, and attempted to get me to talk by taking the ‘bad cop’ attitude. I refused to speak to him. I remember thinking that with his beligerant, in-my-face attitude, deciding that I was just going to remain silent. I wasn’t going to let the bully succeed where the friendly cop had failed. Shortly after that, an ambulance arrived, and I was taken to an ER, and I was held there for two nights.

After my attempted suicide, and after the stay in the ER, I saw a therapist. I learned something very important during those therapy sessions: people who attempt suicide “don’t really want to” kill themselves. What they “want is attention.” What they want “is to be prevented from dying.” Their attempt at suicide “is merely a plea for help.” And I learned that talking about suicide merely got you labelled as “troubled” and “a troublemaker”.

Time allows us a perspective on events that we don’t always possess at the time. The act of swallowing the Valium was most probably a cry for help of some kind. The fact that I took the pills, went to school, and then told someone after my first class, who took me to the nurse’s office says to me that I was seeking something other than death that day. If I’d wanted to die, I probably would have taken more pills, not gone to school. I could have just swallowed the pills and stayed home, alone. The fact that I went to school, where help could be called if I passed out (or whatever it was that would happen first), tells me that I was in need of something: help or attention, I don’t know. And then, being held against my will for simply expressing the thought of ending my life, taught me that some thoughts are best left unexpressed.

The most profound thing I learned was that I would not again make an attempt. That sounds as if I learned the value of therapy, or the value of life, or the tragedy of taking my own life. However, my statement deserves a closer look. “I would not again make an attempt.” No. Ending my life will not be the result of an “attempt”. I’ve read the psycho-babble about most people who die by suicide weren’t really wanting to die. They were just making an attempt, and, for whatever reason, the attempt was successful. They weren’t trying to die — they wanted someone to stop them, or they only wanted to be slightly injured (hence the slicing of the wrists, crosswise — a gesture more likely to create blood and scars, but not very likely to be a success.) What I learned was that I needed to know what to do when the time comes. No shallow cuts; no bullets that go astray, leaving me alive but crippled in some way; no jumps that might just leave me with a broken neck or spine. I learned that I would not make an attempt. Instead, I would simply and competently take my life.

There would be no “attempt”, only a success.


He Said: Jesse Millner


Through the years of sobriety I found myself writing poems. Ironically, I think it was because the deep well of sadness that I’d written from when I was drinking was still inside me. I was sober but I was depressed. Removing alcohol from my life had helped, but it hadn’t relieved that basic sorrow that had always been a part of me.

–from the essay “My Oldest Voice”; part of Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative ProcessEdited by Richard M. Berlin, MD ©2008

In Hiding

6392051_sI had mentioned a few posts ago that I was going to start writing my way through depression. I was going to set time aside every day to write, to add something to each of my blogs during the week. When you’re depressed, “keep active” is advice that’s bandied about with great frequency. 

Normally, I am not one to listen to advice. Normally, this gets me in trouble. So, I thought I’d try to follow some advice for once. 

It hasn’t worked out as well as I’d hoped.

I can blame part of it on school. I’ve had to read all of The Great Gatsby (a hideous book), along with about 100 pages of a Critical/Literary Theory Textbook. So, that’s taken a bit of time.

Then, there’s the depression. Trying to write while the despair swirls around your brain doesn’t necessarily inspire creativity.

However, in all honesty, I have been hiding from the online world the past few weeks. It started with checking my mail less, reading news less, reading my Twitter feed less. Over the past week, I’ve practically unplugged my internet connection. No news, no Twitter, the barest glance at Facebook. I’ve avoided all things where I might encounter anything political.

Now, I’m certain that there are some of you who are avoiding political things simply because the ads and the pleas for money are enough to make anyone crazy. But, when you’re already crazy, the ads simply fuel the crazy. 

The only politics I’ve dealt with over the past two weeks has been voting. I voted on Friday. 

I know sometimes it feels as if my vote doesn’t matter. But, I still vote. I vote because it is a privilege — one that too many ignore.

I am, or have been, a political junkie. I read everything I can, follow polls, worry and fret, donate when I can. This year, I’ve shrunk away from following anything because the thought of Republicans taking control scares the shit out of me and induces full blown panic attacks in my brain. There are days where I’ve caught a bit of the crazy political chatter on my mom’s TV (which is permanently set to Fox News at a decibel that can be heard several rooms away), and I’ve had to take an extra anxiety pill.

Typically, while I do indeed have a preference for liberal, progressive, Democratic candidates, I don’t fear the outcomes of elections. This year, I’m terrified of the outcome. I’m terrified for one simple reason: healthcare.

This past year, because of Obamacare (The Affordable Healthcare Act), I was able to get insurance, good insurance. While I had been able to get a small amount of coverage that allowed me to get my HIV-medications, and allowed me to see my HIV doctor if I wasn’t feeling well (my HIV-provider was also acting as my Primary Care doctor), I could do little else. 

This year I finally was covered by insurance, and I’ve been able to get treatment for conditions that I wasn’t able to be treated for before this year. I was able to do a sleep study and get a formal diagnosis of sleep apnea. Knowing you have it, doesn’t mean anything. For it to be covered by insurance, one has to follow the steps: sleep study, diagnosis. Then, and only then, can you be treated. So, finally, I was diagnosed with something that my HIV doctor already suspected I had. Once I was able to be officially diagnosed after the sleep study, I was able to get a CPAP machine, and my sleep has been much better. In fact, between some diet changes and getting deeper, more consistent sleep, my blood pressure is no longer high, and I’ve been able to stop blood pressure medication. 

And, even more importantly, I’m finally able to see a psychiatrist, and was, finally, able to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and I am finally able to be treated for it. In the past, having HIV was one pre-exisiting condition, and being diagnosed with mental health issues could have resulted in insurance cancellation. Then, when I wasn’t working, and just was able to see the HIV doctor (because of a state run program), I was unable to  get mental health treatment. Being insured under the ACA has allowed me to attend weekly sessions with a psychiatrist, and I am now working on finding a medication regimen that will help keep my moods stable. 

I know that on a Congressional level, the Republicans cannot actually repeal Obamacare: POTUS would veto any attempt at that, and there would probably not be enough votes to override the veto. Yet, on a state level, Republican governors have (in many states, refused to expand their Medicaid programs), and, in my state, our Republican candidate for governor is of the Tea Party strain, and could possibly reverse our state’s program. If that happens, I go back to being uninsured. Which, perhaps isn’t bad if you have no health issues. For me, it would mean I’d lose my CPAP machine, and go back to having a tough time breathing and sleeping at night — which means I’m tired all the time, would probably raise my blood pressure and mean medication (that I’d no longer be insured for). It would mean that I’d no longer be able to be under the care of a psychiatrist. And, since our state has dismantled its old programs, it is quite possible that I’d be left unable to get the medication which is helping with my Bipolar Disorder, and, it could even mean that I’d no longer have a way of getting my HIV medications. 

So, I’ve been avoiding anything that remotely resembles politics, for my own sanity. But, I can’t not think about the possible consequences of this election. It becomes overwhelming when I think about how many thousands of people in my state now have insurance that could vanish, to be replaced with policies that cut you off when you’re too sick, or who might end up with no insurance at all. How many medical devices will have to be returned? How many people will have to stop taking medication? Republicans have offered up no ideas or solutions to what they plan to do if they dismantle the ACA.

And, yes, perhaps this is all just the dramatic over-reactions from a mind in the grips of a panic attack that seems to grow worse with each minute we get closer to the election. But, Republicans, especially the Tea Party, have been adamant about repealing healthcare. Mitch McConnell has now gone on record saying he’d fast track the legislation. (Again, POTUS does have the power of the veto). But, that doesn’t make it any less frightening for me, or for many others who might, again, find ourselves among the ranks of the uninsured.

So, I’m in hiding. Because I can’t think about it too much, without becoming terrified in the way that only people with severe anxiety disorder can be terrified.  It’s a very real terror — because it is not some far-fetched notion that my anxiety is magnifying beyond reason. It’s a very real terror, because these are very real possibilities. 

Just writing this post has raised my anxiety level to such a height that I can’t even reread it to proof read it. I don’t even know if this post makes any sense. Apologies if it sounds like the ravings of a crazy person. All I know is that I am in need of another dose of Klonopin.

And, I do know one other thing: the anxiety is so overwhelming that it leaves little room for the Depression Demons to whisper their dark despair in my ear.

(I try not to cross post too much, but I will also be posting this on my primary blog: Johnbalaya)

She Said: Gwyneth Lewis



For the fortunately uninitiated, it’s difficult to comprehend how depression strips you of everything that makes you feel like a creative, contributing member of a family or society. After a severe episode of depression, which kept me home from work for most of a year, colleagues repeatedly asked me, “Were you writing?” For a good deal of my sick leave, I’d been unable to lift a pen, get out of bed, or speak for more than a minute or two. I lived without energy, sense of humor, charm, or any of the imaginative spark that makes the future look like a desirable place to inhabit. I became Woman in a Dressing Gown. At my worst, the duvet on my bed looked like a body bag and I was the corpse inside it.


–from the essay “Dark Gifts”; part of Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative ProcessEdited by Richard M. Berlin, MD ©2008

The Days Dwindle Down

(I try not to crosspost often. I mean, who wants to read the same post on two or three different blogs? But, in this case, I felt that I needed to share this new post from my main blog — to help explain my absence from here.)
Cleaning Up I can’t say that I am sad to see 2014 dwindling to a close: only 89 days left of the year. It has been a year of change. Some of the change has been rather momentous (going back to college to finally get a degree), and other changes, while only small, have been just as momentous (learning that all the issues I’ve struggled with mentally actually have a name: bipolar and borderline personality disorder). You might think the mental health issues wouldn’t be something I call a ‘small’ change — but, it is a small change: I’ve had the conditions, now there are names to go along with them. It’s tough to think of  discovering a name for something that already exists as a ‘major’ change.

School has changed how I spend my time. Studying and writing papers takes up a good chunk of time. A weekly appointment with a psychiatrist also has changed how I spend my time — the 45-minute session gives me much to think about.

Then there was the few months of the bipolar medication. Now that was a big change. And not a change for the better. Imagine taking a pill that stopped all the activity in your brain. Imagine taking a pill that made even writing simple papers for school a burdensome chore. Imagine what it is like to be a person who loves to string words together, whether in your head or on paper, and suddenly having to fight for each word: there’s one word, then a colossal fight to find the next word, then an agonizing struggle to seek the next word. Imagine all the joyful, miserable, happy, sad, philosophical, confusing thoughts that rush around your mind suddenly being silenced, leaving you with nothing but that main voice that reminds you to go to the bathroom, or eat, or to remember to … oh wait, that’s right: memory gets tenuous and slippery.  For some, the relief from all the cacophonous sounds in their mind can be a relief. For me, it was hell.

The medication was not a success. It didn’t keep me from having highs and lows. In fact, truth be known, I’ve been more depressed for the past few months than I’ve been in some time. I’m lucky that my bipolar disorder is milder than many have it. And, my ups and downs cycle faster than some. I peak and crash, just much faster. I used to have periods where my manic (or ‘up) phase lasted as long as four days. There were times, in my teens and twenties when I didn’t sleep for four days (or napped an hour here and there). Now, my manic phase generally lasts no more than a day, two at most. Generally. The depressive periods last longer. Some of those have lasted a year or more.  Because my mania is not at an extreme level, and, because I’ve managed to learn to deal with it all these years without medication, I am, with the doctor’s permission, off the medication. My brain is slowly coming back to life. It is as if my brain that had been silent enough to hear only a lone cricket chirping is now approaching dawn, with the sounds of birds in the distance chanting their morning prayers to the rising sun. I’m hopeful that as the medication seeps out of my body, my brain will move from the hours of dawn into the mad hours of the day with all its welcoming hustle and bustle. (Actually, I think it may be closer than I think, as those last few sentences required little thought or struggle to write.)

But, it still leaves the depression. That hasn’t gone. And, I suspect it will grow darker, right along with the winter days. I’ve written before about my dislike of this time of year — October to April. Every Big Bad Event in my life has happened in those months: my father’s heart and brain surgery, his death; my brother’s first leaving (when he was nine), to his final, permanent leaving of the world (he wasn’t yet 40); my mother’s surgery — which was a “have the surgery or be dead in six months” ordeal; my two prior relationships both ended, fittingly, in the cold days of winter; and, the longest winter of them all: the months of molestation. I find it hard to celebrate the season. As September draws to a close, I find myself wishing I were like a bear: able to curl up in a cave and sleep the winter days away.

I’m trying to avoid an anti-depressant, at least for now — they have their own weird mind-numbing qualities. I’d like to try and enjoy some unrestricted brain/thought time. Yet, I also need to try and keep my brain active enough with things that will help keep my mood from drifting into despair. So, this year, I am going to challenge myself to keep my brain busy.

Granted, school requires some time, but it doesn’t take up all of my time. And, since I am going to school for a degree in writing, I might as well practice writing things other than term papers.

I’m not good at journaling, as the journal is easily hidden under a stack of books or paper — Out of Sight, Out of Mind. And, I don’t enjoy it. I know many writers like their journal. Not me. Journal writing is too random, too flighty, too All Over The Place. When I write, I need to have a point, a purpose. Even if it is a mindless point (musing about the fact that the new iPhone iOS added emojis to my phone, and I now have an eggplant emoji. Yes. An eggplant. Why?) having a mindless point is better for me than trying to just let the words flow randomly. I need structure to write.

Since I cannot hibernate in a cave, I can write something every day. And, I’m going to try and blog whatever it is I write, each day.  Now, the dozen of you who actually read my posts know that I am interested in writing about many things. (You’ll also know that I had created a blog where I was trying to hide away from people I know. However, I’ve decided that hiding isn’t really helpful.)

This, then, is the plan: five blog posts per week. I’m not setting post-length goals. Just a post. Because even if it is only quoting a few words of someone else, it required my mind to be busy in order to find the quote (or the song, or the image). And, to satisfy the various things I am most interested in, there will be one post for each of my blogs. Five posts, five blogs. I don’t expect anyone to follow them all. The twelve of you who read this regularly know that my interests are varied, and that I’m also wanting to try some new kinds of writing.  So, there’s a blog for each (links and blog descriptions below).

I’m hoping that setting a goal for myself will not just help with my depression, but will also help get me back into the world of blogging (I’ve barely written a thing since the spring). And, as anyone who writes knows: the more practice you get, the more you’ll learn — well, in theory, at least.

Below are the titles/links to my other blogs (the ‘hidden’ blog is no longer hidden).  Feel free to stop by. And, following the links … a complete change of topic: a song — a rather melancholy song about love, written by the great Kurt Weill, called “September Song”. The song has been recorded by many singers: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed (who has recorded it twice — differently), Mel Tormé, Jeff Lynne (of ELO), Lindsay Buckingham (of Fleetwood Mac), Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Ertha Kitt, Eydie Gormé, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Platters, The Impressions, Dion and the Belmonts — to name just a handful (Anjelica Huston even sang the song on the TV show Smash). The version below is my personal favorite: recorded in 1988 by the legendary Lena Horne. She was 71 when she recorded the song — her voice was gracefully aging and the arrangement, along with her soft vocals really captures the bittersweet feeling of the song.

Links to my other blogs:

Poetically Versed: a blog about poetry and readings of poems.

Walking On The Abyss: a blog about mental illness — mostly my own journey through the abyss, but also will include quotes and links to stories/news related to mental illness.

The Leaves Of Grass Blog: dedicated to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. My goal is to post each poem from the book, along with a reading.

From The Depths of Perdition: this is my newest blog. I’d originally meant for Walking on the Abyss to be a ‘dark’ blog — depression, ghosts, demons, horror.  Then I decided that I didn’t want to mix the fictional demons in with the real demons of depression and mental illness. I don’t want people to associate horror stories with mental illness. There are enough misconceptions about mental illness already — I don’t need to add any further confusion. So, this blog will be where the fictional ghosts, demons, killers and villains will reside. (This blog just opened, so there is nothing posted …yet.)

Johnbalaya: This is my main, all-purpose blog. It’s the blog that gives you the best idea of who I am overall. It is my non-niche blog. You’ll find a wide variety of writings about whatever happens to be on my mind, videos, cartoons, some short fiction and poetry I’ve written.


And, finally …. some music:

He Said: Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer_Maria_Rilke,_1900 (1)


You are mistaken: I alone
Am, am in torment, and bawl.
Inside me something interminably
Howls, and I can’t tell what’s howling,
My heart or my bowels.

–from “The Blind Man’s Song” (translated by Randall Jarrell)

Source: The Complete Poems.The Noonday Press/Farrar, Strauss, Giroux: New York. 1969. Print.

The Struggle Known As Depression

All alone



I struggle.

I am struggling.

I have been struggling.

I am still struggling.

I am struggling because I am tired of life. I am tired of sickness and pain. I’m tired of depression so deep that it makes the cells in my body ache. I am struggling with medications that make my brain so disjointed that putting a sentence together seems like a task of epic proportions. I’m tired of the dark that gnaws through my bones. I am weary of mind and body. I am tired to the very fibrous core of my soul.

Rest assured, this is not a suicidal cry for help. I have been at the brink of suicide, so I know what it is like to stare into the darkness and want to step into its quiet safety. I am not there on the edge. I’m just tired and worn, bruised and battle scarred. I am tired of trying to look for a light in the darkness.

Perhaps I should rephrase that: I’m tired of trying to find more than love for my partner to cling to. In two weeks, Julian and I will celebrate our fourteenth anniversary. The bright spot in my universe is known as Julian’s heart. I hear it beat for me when he pulls me close. I see the love his heart emanates for me every time he looks at me.

As I wander through this depthless, unending depression, I feel like a traveler of old. Once upon a time, three kings were guided by a star; wanderers and wayfarers have followed the North Star to find their way home; seafaring men plotted the stars so they could navigate the seas. Julian is my guide through the darkness. Even when I am wandering in the dark, as if on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, the sky above is filled with millions and millions of stars; no matter how dark the night, or how bright the stars light the sky, I can find Julian’s heart-shaped star every time.

I know that I am not alone. I have a light to help me find my way in the dark.

For that, I am thankful beyond measure.

But I am still in the dark. I am on a dark country road, where the night sky is lit up like a mammoth city, full of stars, and the misty, cloudy arms of the Milky Way: it is a sight that inspires people the world over. For me, all I can see is my one star, and I cling to the sight of its light, fearful that if I blink, the light will vanish, and I’ll be left standing, in the dark, truly alone.

No, no. This is not me wallowing in self-pity. Self-pity is like masturbation: you indulge either alone or with very select company. A public blog is neither of those. And masturbation, like self-pity is really just an indulgence that offers a temporary release and a certain level of pleasure. Yes, one can enjoy pleasure while indulging in self-pity: that pint of chocolate ice cream consumed while wallowing was most certainly pleasurable. Continue reading The Struggle Known As Depression

The Days After: A Few Thoughts On Robin Williams And Suicide.


I was shocked and saddened by the news of Robin Williams’ suicide. He was a fine actor and a fantastically funny man. He will be missed.

Ever since the news broke of William’s suicide, I have been struggling: the word suicide fuels my own depressions demons. As I’ve watched the news coverage and read the tributes, several things occurred to me: fame and fortune are not the universal panaceas that many imagine them to be; and depression can reach anyone, anywhere, any time. As much as I would like to believe that all the media attention focused on suicide and depression will have a major impact on how we speak of such things, I can’t help but think that in our fast-paced, ever-changing, twenty-four seven world, another story will come along and we’ll move on.

You’ll forgive me a little cynicism. We’ve seen it happen before — the moving on from, with no change to the Issue Of The Moment. How many mass shootings have there been since Columbine? Since Aurora? Since Sandy Hook? And, what change has there been? The story of the moment, the shooting death of Mike Brown, in Ferguson, MO, is another example. How many unarmed black men have been shot, with nothing changing once the media focus shifted?

Of course, I don’t want to drift too far off topic. But our history of instant shock and shouts for change seem to have the opposite effect. The pleas for change end up falling on deaf ears, ears that are tired of listening to the endless pleading. I’ll admit that I am disillusioned with many things in our society. Issues arise, we are horrified and shocked, people demand change, politicians promise change, and then nothing happens. Perhaps part of the problem is with us, with We The People. We want change, but can’t agree on what change we want, or can’t find a place in the middle to meet; others of us are happy with the status quo — happy, or scared of change. Perhaps we expect others to make the change for us, but aren’t willing to take time out of our seemingly important lives to work towards change. Of course there are activists of all kinds, working tirelessly to bring about change. But too many of us don’t participate in the processes to bring about the change we desire. I’ll admit that sometimes knowing what to do is a daunting task; and, that oftentimes there are important barriers to our activism — a disability, responsibility for a child or an elder, for example. But we should all try to do what we can, no matter how small the effort. Continue reading The Days After: A Few Thoughts On Robin Williams And Suicide.

Happy Birthday Sara Teasdale

sarateasdaleActually, I should say “Happy Belated Birthday”, as Ms Teasdale’s birthday was yesterday, August 8.


If you’re not familiar with Ms Teasdale, that’s ok — I’ll tell you a little about her.

She was born August 8, 1884, in St. Louis, Missouri. She was ill for most of her childhood and was home-schooled until she was strong enough to attend school at age 14. I’m sure that period of childhood illness had a profound impact on her. I’m basing this on speculation, but I would imagine that that kind of childhood illness and isolation — not being around other children, not being to be active like other children her age, was probably the soil that her depression sprouted from.

She published her first book of poetry in 1907. In the years between 1907, and 1933, she published seven books of poetry (an eighth volume was published posthumously). In her lifetime, her poetry was a public and critical success. She won the first Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1918 for her collection of poems, Love Songs, published the previous year. (The award was the Columbia University Poetry Society Prize, which became the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1922).

In addition to her ill health, which never really improved, love was also not kind to Ms Teasdale. Teasdale knew much about love — the man she loved (and who loved her) felt he couldn’t adequately provide for her, so instead she married another. Her husband travelled often, and Teasdale was left alone with her poetry. While away on one of his long business trips, Teasdale filed for divorce. She settled into a new home, just blocks from her one, true love.

Sadly, the man she had so loved committed suicide. Teasdale grew increasingly disillusioned and depressed, and two years later, she committed suicide at the age of 48.

Ms Teasdale’s poetry is lyrically beautiful, yet often contains images of disillusion and growing depression. Today, someone might have noticed the growing depression in her writing and intervened. But, in 1933, mental illness was still something that got people locked away. And, I suppose, if I’m honest, all too often if a person is set on suicide, interventions aren’t always successful. (Of course, I don’t want to discourage anyone from reaching out to someone who is depressed. Sometimes just knowing someone is there to listen, non-judgmentally can make a difference. Even something as simple as a hug can be a life saver for someone teetering on the edge of the abyss.)

Perhaps to someone not familiar with the abyss, this poem, The Broken Field, might not seem all that profound. I’ve spent many hours of my life contemplating death, and this poem resonates with me. The desire for ‘better grain’ is something I understand deep in my soul. I think many of us with a mental illness feel as if we’re somehow fundamentally flawed, and that maybe in another time and place our field might be sown with less-flawed, more normal grain.

Happy Birthday, Ms Teasdale. I’m sorry you left us too soon.

The Broken Field


My soul is a dark ploughed field
In the cold rain;
My soul is a broken field
Ploughed by pain.

Where grass and bending flowers
Were growing,
The field lies broken now
For another sowing.

Great Sower when you tread
My field again,
Scatter the furrows there
With better grain.

Backstory: The Middle Part of a Story About Mental Illness, Told From The Beginning (Part 2)


The year was 1985. One would think that after the events of the previous year (the loss of my father and younger brother, being molested, and watching helplessly as my mom was locked away in her own grief and anxiety), that 1985 would be a better year. Instead, I met The Demon known as Depression for the first time. (You can read about it here, in Part 1.)

Talking about mental illness is not easy. For some people it can be embarrassing to admit; others are deeply ashamed of it; others live in denial. I find it difficult to talk about because we have yet to really develop a common language with which to discuss it. Sure, we have lots of clinical terms: depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenic, and a hundred other words that name other conditions of the mind. Yet, we don’t have a great deal of everyday language to use when talking about mental illness. To say “I’m depressed” is really an open-ended thing to say: depression comes in many forms, and, unless you have felt the weight of it, being “depressed” is little more than being “down”, or “having the blues.” Sticking with “blue”: without making reference to a specific object that is blue (i.e. sky), describe the color blue.

Not easy, is it?

Then think of this: how I would describe blue is quite possibly very different from how you’d describe blue, or how your best friend would describe blue. What if you were trying to describe blue to someone who had never seen blue before? Or to someone who had a type of color-blindness that made them see blue things as green things?

Trying to describe mental illness is exactly like trying to explain blue to someone. It’s not so bad if you’re describing your depression to someone else who has dealt with their own crippling depression — even if their depression manifested in different ways from yours, there’s at least a common ground to build a discussion upon. Try explaining depression to someone who’s only been depressed for a day or two and you get responses like, “A good night’s sleep will make you feel better tomorrow,” or, “It’s not that bad, so pull up your Big Boy Pants, and move on.” Try explaining a mental illness that someone has no experience with, and you might as well be trying to explain Quantum Theory to a three-year-old.

We have no language for mental illness, in part, because our experiences with the specific illness varies from person to person. It may be mild and brief, or devastatingly unending:

Everyone has on occasion felt disproportionate emotion over a small matter or has felt emotions whose origin is obscure or that may have no origin at all. Sometimes the chemistry kicks in for no apparent external reason at all. Most people have had moments of inexplicable despair, often in the middle of the night or in the early morning before the alarm clock sounds. If such feelings last ten minutes, they’re a strange, quick mood. If they last ten hours, they’re a disturbing febrility, and if they last ten years, they’re a crippling illness. (Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon)

The first thing to know about talking to someone with mental illness is that our descriptions of our conditions may sound like it is no big deal, or we describe it with vivid imagery and metaphor which may sound like we’re being melodramatic. In either case, whether we understate or seem to overstate, it is because we simply do not know how to articulate what we are experiencing without sounding crazy, so we don’t say much, or we try to wrap it all up in pretty words. But there is nothing pretty about mental illness. We try to explain it in the best way we can, and hope that others will listen with open minds, no matter what crazy metaphors and images we use. Chances are that extravagant as the metaphors may be, they’re still not enough to fully explain one’s experience with mental illness.

Winston Churchill referred to his chronic depression as a “black dog”, following him wherever he went. Others have described depression as black holes, dark caves, deep pits. Since I first became aware of my depression, I’ve thought of it as everything from a cave, to a pit, to the blackest thunderstorm. Most often, I describe my depression as The Depression Demon.

This is where the metaphors might start sounding crazy …. Continue reading Backstory: The Middle Part of a Story About Mental Illness, Told From The Beginning (Part 2)

She Said: Anne Sexton


Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me.

from: “For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further”