Comfortably Dumb

--Edward Hopper, "High Noon"

–Edward Hopper, “High Noon”

Suicide.  It’s been over six months since I’ve had this urge to google it.  Six months ago, I put that urge away. . .put it in a strongbox and swallowed the key.

This is the last time you haunt the house of my brain .  Here’s your hat . ..don’t let the unlocked door hit you on the way out.

And  here, I hesitate to say,  it is six months later and he’s back, Jack. That asshole with the hobnail shoes, exhausted, nauseous, spent. Stomping around in the kitchen again. . .rummaging through the produce drawer, looking for palpable courage.

The long hallway with all the family photos: every last one of those faces emaciated, expressionless.   You want to save them. . . load them all into boats, bound for anywhere

but here, where the hurt is.

I mean it is one kind of unholy to go there yourself, but you look into that sea of faces. . .so far from shore.  Hands and arms aching all the way to umbilicus that keeps you tethered to heavy heavy heavy.

Holden Caulfield in a Coast Guard boat, waving a white flag.  Enough already.  Uncle.

Uncle uncle uncle.

Patriotism Dylan Style

Tonight I brace myself for yet another unmitigated evening of gunpowder and drunken brawls to erupt on my St Louis South city street.   The artillery has been unloaded and tested  over the past few days so I’m already in the chokehold of neurosis.  And in this state  I can barely pace the length of my tiny living room without being startled into outer space.  Thankfully, my close neighbor has been to visit and she’s set up the stereo to blast eighties hits nonstop for the next couple of hours.  Her choice and I’m glad for it.  So for now it’s helping to drown out the sound of firepower.  But I can’t keep this up all night long.

ANd as I sit and stew about it, I seriously wonder has anyone among these Independence Day  patriots ever stopped to consider  the neighbors with PTSD, many of them war vets, whose startle reflexes already in overdrive mode are having to hunch under the kitchen table with a blanket and a handful of xanax?   Jose, can you see?  I mean, can you?

bob 66 tourHere’s to the rest of us, the ones with brains wired like webs of broken stuff all over the place who could do without this *&^%. . .let’s hunker down in the bomb shelter and play if effin loud.  xo

The Moon is Always Human: DBT, Dreams and Demons

--Vincent Van Gogh, "The Sower"

–Vincent Van Gogh, “The Sower”

Today is May 29, 2013,  two and a half years into a life-changing course of treatment called  “Dialectical Behavioral Therapy,” a program  designed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, herself a survivor of the mental healthcare system, a system still operating under the insidious influence of a puritanical and damning western society.

And for folks who fit into the category of having been born with such an intense kind of wiring, it’s oftentimes a lonely road. “If you are overtly emotional and suicidal, then you must not be praying hard enough or trying hard enough to change” they tell us as if that kind of judgement would make a body feel any less alienated and strange.

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie...

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me, it’s been a chorus for years inside the walls of my brain.  Over and over to the point where that tired old tune becomes the default of all thinking, the root that strangles and rambles through every nerve and neuron. The soundtrack of my life until the day I was moved to the top of a waiting list to receive this new therapy, one born of Dr. Linehan’s own struggle and study of traditional academics and Eastern spirituality.  I know I owe my life to this treatment.  I also owe it to the doctors and team of specialists it has taken to help me move towards wellness.

It is for them I am writing this, but also for the countless numbers of other borderlines, who must not only deal with symptoms of their illness, but also each the stigma of being categorized as someone whose personality is disordered, someone  incapable of having a stable relationship, gainful employment and the list goes on and on ad nauseam, dismissed and discarded mostly by a world that would rather categorize us as manipulative as lead us to relief from the awfulness of states created by brain chemistry.

Your cries for help go unanswered.  Your desperate and imperfect attempts at connection falling into a grand canyon to echo as reminders of your utter unlovableness.  You are told to pull yourself up by your broken bootstraps and buck up.  To grow a thicker skin and endure it like the rest of us.

Don’t call if you in the hospital. Don’t tell us if you are buying the supplies to do yourself in. We cannot bear the burden of your suffering.

We have had our fill of this illness. And we are just letting go of you and letting God.

But that was then. Now, with the right kind of help, there lies hope and healing.  Help that includes validation and radical acceptance, non-judgement, inclusion, caring, compassion and kindness.

Imagine it.  The universal message of every single spiritual path in existence, the core beliefs sans the politics and hatred, beliefs that unite and empower us as individuals but also as members of the human community.

So now instead of letting my illness rule my life, I am letting the love do the work. I am letting myself share that love.  And surprisingly, the suicide attempts and the romanticism of those attempts are over.  The stashing of pills and sharp objects, the dream of death and the sweet relief I always believed it would bring.  In a life of mostly nightmares, I am beginning to dream something different.  I am learning to save my life by embracing the moment and being present for whatever is born of that moment.

Last night I dreamed I was looking at this enormous glowing harvest moon taking up half the sky and upon closer observation, I could see that it wasn’t really the moon, just a projection of a map of the solar system, one that I had fed to the imagined  overhead projector in my upstairs bedroom, the bedroom I had at eight, three years into the realization that I was so different I wanted to die.  The bedroom where the nightmares began.  The ones where I watched as the demons crawled up the blinds in flames, their pitchforks and sickles aimed in my general direction, the fake angels hovering about my bed and shaking their forked fingers at me in my sleep.

But last night, I made a new memory of what dreams can do.

The moon in the sky had my first name on it, but only because I had inked that name on the map of the universe.   Without the conscious recognition it takes to find the words to describe such an experience, I had already landed, taken my first small steps towards infinity and planted my tattered flag .

High voltage from a Van de Graaff generator pr...

High voltage from a Van de Graaff generator produces a field that is made visible with an overhead projector (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Letting Go of Dawn. . . Unraveling and Madness in Progress (working title)

Hello, gentle reader.  What follows is the first chapter of a work in progress, a memoir of bipolar, borderline, mental illness. . .PTSD and journey of healing

The first time I saw a therapist, I was nineteen.  Newly married post- miscarriage.  Her name was Marilyn and she was the quintessential earth mother, comforter and confidante.  I don’t even know how we managed to pay for the sessions, my highschool sweetheart- turned-husband and I.

He had been stationed in the Mojave Desert with the Navy and I was a bride in a rose-colored going away blazer, my little green Nova packed to the gills with leftovers from the reception and wedding presents. We had a cooler full of ham sandwiches and peach- frosted wedding cake, a menu which sustained us for much of the trip.  I still remember the way that heavy butter-cream would melt on my tongue as I watched the panorama of the plains go by.   We drove straight through from Chicago to Nevada, stopping at a Holiday Inn somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe to rest, get washed and phone home.  We proceeded to our tiny place in California, my husband’s bachelor apartment, only to move out  in a couple of weeks and settle into a two bedroom cinderblock in base housing.

It was my first time leaving my parents home outside of summer camp and grandma’s house.  First time traveling west of the Mississippi.

So when we got there, I didn’t know a soul. ..just my beloved initially and it was idyllic.   Eventually he introduced his navy buddy, Tom, who’d also just gotten married.  Tom’s wife Dawn and I became fast sisters.  She’d been one of those Estee Lauder girls at a Hudson’s in their hometown  of Detroit, beautiful and so much more sophisticated than me.  “You’re so funny, ” she’d say, “always rubbing the eyeshadow off with your fists. . . and such pretty eyes. .here let me show you how.”

We did everything together, the four of us.  When the boys were at work, Dawn and I did our girl-bonding routine , going over and over the details from our respective coursthips that led to the wedding and honeymoon we’d each just had, (I always thought that Dawn’s shebang was so much more spectacular than mine. . .they’d had the blowout version with the band and the big reception hall. . .and I had taken the more affordable route, with champagne punch and potluck in the adjoining basement of our church)  And when we weren’t talking about the joy of sex and friendship with a significant other, we were comparing recipes and exchanging nest-making tips. So no big surprises when we both ended up expecting.  For the first few weeks, our shared experience of early pregnancy was all we wanted to talk about.  So many preparations and things to get ready.  The books and charts that showed us what to look forward to as the child grew inside us, the split vision illustrations of hips and insides, not to mention those first doctor visits. . .from giant vitamins and dietary advice to explanations of what to expect during labor and delivery.

I started the squirreling-away process beginning with soft yellow blankets, baby lotion, teething rings and diapering powder.  I would stand at the closet and twist at those caps just to get that smell. . .that new baby in my arms smell.  I loved my husband so.  I wanted what any young girl wants when she evaporates into marriage.  I wanted the lullabies and nursery rhymes.  The bubblebaths and baby shampoo. The car seat, the crib linens. . .  I wanted to be useful.  I wanted to be a wife and mother.

And then, about three months into my pregnancy, it started.  The cramping and spotting.  The doctor-prescribed bed rest for days.   At some point, after having heard someone comment about the luxury it must have been to lie in bed all day.  .I don’t even remember who had said it, the madness began.  Madness that hadn’t been around so much since I’d left home, but familiar and indescribable at the time.  I’d no more had a clue about how to articulate those feelings or even begin to grasp the science and physiology behind it, but there it was again, that crazy insane self-punishment mode that always kicked in when I felt helpless and afraid.  It made this surge of angry energy just course through my body and brain until I had resolved to do everything in my power to be awake and making a difference. I began by moving the bed and dresser across the floor.  I wanted to make space to put the crib in our room and wasn’t about to enlist the help of my hard-working husband to do it after he got home. I had been told specifically to rest and refrain from heavy lifting, but the memory of that advice only made me stronger in my resolve.  I just pushed and pushed until the guilt came in and made me stop it.  I may have been hurting myself with those self-destructive and defiant activitiies, but I was also taking a  big risk with the baby I wanted to have so badly.

I remember how it felt, how incredibly exposed it felt when the bleeding came.  Great clots of it like calf’s liver. . .gelatinous masses I tried to gather in my hands and preserve with newspaper.  I wasn’t prepared for anything that came next.  The emergency room where they jabbed and jabbed at my hands with their attempts to find vein enough to start an IV.   The ward of women. . .only those curtain partitions down the long hallway of hospital beds and the sounds of someone moaning in tagalog.  Oy yoi yoi yoi.  Oy yoi yoi yoi.   I would hear it over and over, invisible like the song of a mourning dove with a broken neck.   Until one day I was able to see her face when our curtains had both been pulled back.   The nurse said she was recovering from hysterectomy; I guessed that must be one horrific recovery process.  Everything just seemed so cold there.  From the stiff sheets and blankets to the stark white walls and linoleum.  Everything a desolation of sensory input.  No warm smells or images to speak of.  Not even television to help the time pass.  Just the scent of rubbing alcohol, bleach, and pine cleaner.  There was a cold war going on at the time and this military installation was not going to splurge on anything so frivolous as a picture frame, carpet,or drapery.  The family that was not issued with the sailor’s duffle bag was lucky to have healthcare let alone any kind of comforting or diversion while they lay in bed and waited for the painkillers to kick in.

A minute or so later, I heard the sound of the metal drapery hooks scraping along the ceiling track as the internist came in holding his clipboard.

“You have a mass near your ovary,” he said.  It’s large like a grapefruit. . .and we won’t be sure of what it is until we operate; I am so very sorry to have to tell you this, Ma’am, but you should know that it’s a possibility that you will not even pass a fetus with this miscarriage; sometimes you see this with an ectopic pregnancy.”

I was so young I didn’t know any of those latin words for medicine, but I did know the layman’s term.

“Tubal pregnancy, you mean?”

“Either that or a tumor,” he said.  “And we need you to sign a release.  Won’t be able to ask after you’re under anesthesia.”

I read over the release form which stated they would be removing all problematic tissue as they encountered it:  ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus. . .

“A hysterectomy?”  I said.

I knew that latin word well enough to ask.

“Yes, but that’s worst case scenario.” he said.  “We won’t know until we get in there.”

I was so alone and there was nobody to talk to except the Filipino lady three curtains down and she could only speak in tagalog.  I had everlasting cramps from hell and my husband was off at work learning how to fix the engines of cargo planes and fighter jets. Meanwhile it seemed that Dawn was too afraid it may have been contagious or maybe she’d just left town.  I just felt abandoned and oh so jealous. I signed the paper that put my reproductive future in the hands of strangers in the LeMoore NAS Navy hospital.   I was nineteen. I didn’t know anything could hurt as bad as this did.

I passed the three month old fetus and placenta in the middle of the night among surges of violent and massive contractions.

And when it was over, when I went home with news the mass in my lap had been removed and biopsied as a benign tumor, I should have been relieved.  I should have been happy to help Dawn bring her baby into this world while I waited to get pregnant again.  But instead,  I took my vicoden and went to bed.  And as the bikini scar began to heal. ..in the place where it had been stapled, my psyche began to unravel.  And upon waking up and walking around on my sealegs, I found the intensity of daylight a little too much to bear.  I closed the curtains all over the house and went to bed again.  And I cried so inconsolably my husband insisted I see someone. His mother had been through it, the doctors and hospitals of depression.  And she had gotten better over the years.  So maybe there was hope for me too.

So I went to therapy.  I went to meet my therapist, Marilyn.  (to be cont.)

My Blue Heaven

--Tess Farnham "My Blue Heaven," mixed media on canvas, 20x24

So in the past, I have admitted to being one of those artists who grapples with intense bouts of sadness, bouts that are at times so gripping and intense you can barely hold a brush in your hand, let alone steady the thing for detail or realism.  The curves turn linear and the lines wave and bend with trembling.  You erase and erase until the frustration just leads to tears and the tearing up of preliminary sketches and grids. 

At some point in this process you finally get so exasperated, you just grab the closest implement of application and let the strokes go where they will.

This piece actually began as a much darker work with lots of primary colors for contrast; it was a piece that I cherished mostly because its importance to a friend of mine, nevertheless, a piece that I had more or less made to suit his tastes instead of mine.

As it happens, I store blank canvases in the same corner of the basement where I store finished works.  And the other night as I was flipping through to find the size I wanted, my eyes fell upon that painting. ..and I started to think of how much I wanted to take out those awful strokes of ocher and red. . . 

So instead of starting fresh, I decided to go to work there. 

After I had taken this painting upstairs, I noticed that there was a tiny ding in the wood support where it had been dropped on the basement floor.  At first discouraged by this discovery, I quickly recovered when I realized I could patch it.

With lacy mesh from an old curtain panel, its mate lost in the fog somewhere now.  A slumping and ravaged mishap in a heap on the chair beside the easel like a castoff bridal veil. 

I cut the bandages haphazardly, applying them to the corners of the canvas as reinforcement. Afterwards, I applied some gel medium and paint to anchor them.

Next came coats of color and gel medium mixed with pearlescent powders to address the areas where the piece had fallen short of my vision of a completed work. Blues and maroons, mixed and unmixed with dabs of this and that and at times patched together with leaves shakily extracted from that cast off curtain.

A couple of hours later,  I was finished.  Happy and satiated that I’d lifted myself out of this sad spell, but also had done sufficient triage to resurrect a work that had gone to a corner of my basement to die.

Letting go of heartbreak songs

In matters of self-education and scholarly pursuit, I can be honest and say for the most part, there has always been motivation enough to make me wise and willing to learn.  In matters of the heart however, I have been remiss with myself and sorry.  And, in looking back all I can say is: Man am I a sap and a moron.

I almost never listen to mainstream pop or country so this song is new to me. ..and it’s coming at a time when I could use a reminder of what really happens after having let yourself be stupid to the point of laying face up on the floor like a golden retriever: here ya go, trample my guts and eat my heart out.

And sad songs are OK when you want to cry, but if you want to get angry and get over it so you can get on with it. ..I think Reba says it best.

Watch this one.  Even if you have to click the link and wait for the advertising.  It will be worth it!

Ether

“The lannnnguage of loooove has left me stony gray.  Tongue-tied and twisted at the price I’ve had to pay e aaay.  Dumb hearts get broken just like china cups.  The language of loooooooooooooooove has left me     broken    on the rocks.”  —Annie Lennox

That was yesterday.

Diva (Annie Lennox album)

Image via Wikipedia

And a lot of days leading up to it, admittedly.

One of those turning points, you know, when the universe seems to have blotted your name from the roster. . . the blood barely moves through your veins. . .a bag of that birdshot ingested as if from a dystopian short story.

And so you sit with that for awhile.  You drag yourself from task to task, heart pumping chunks of plastic and acid, stomach turning over and over. . .and the tremors and trembling. . .

If there is an ounce of mercy in this universe, let me evaporate please.  I want to go home.

All the while the friends floating in the ether around you. . .