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.

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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.)

Posted: No Trespassing

Screenshot of Brittany Murphy, “Girl Interrupted

A long bus ride to a dental school destination across the river…a stop in the most dangerous community in like the entire world, but also the most wise and loving people living there and gentle…so there is lots of time to talk with fascinating and inspiring strangers (I always imagine them all  to be angels…but if not, then it must be someone earthbound who’s made a bargain with the divine saying it’s OK to use their skin for awhile)

And anyway there’s this man talking about what he would do if he won the lottery, how he’d spend his winnings …and another one saying it would be just as hard to be a billionaire as to be poor as dirt. . .and I jumped in, more or less agreeing…but also thinking of that Dylan-inspired Kristofferson line that says, “Freedom’s just a another word for nothing left to lose.”

And then strangely, as he didn’t seem like the kind of person who’d be into such things, he starts talking horoscopes and signs.  So I tell him I”m a Libra…

and he says, “Ahh. ..well, you know, Libra is an air sign so that means you spend a lot of time taking it all in from this very high place…like a bird on a skyscraper…or you know…the flying nun.

You aren’t satisfied like all those folks who walk close to the ground and do what they are told…you can’t make a move before you feel like you have got a sense of the bigger picture, an activity which, taken to extremes, can be at times unbearably awful…you think and think so much it makes your brain hurt.  And you need a rest sometimes, a lot of rest because going that high can take its toll on a body.

I mean nothing Honey, if it aint free.

The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell of Mental Illness: Invisibility and Eccentricities in the New Millenium

The other day I found myself  lost in thought as I followed the hand movements of a young therapist intern who was making notes on a whiteboard for myself and others diagnosed with  various illnesses caused by biological and trauma-related hypersensitivity and emotional dysregulation.  It is in this room we gather once a week for instructional and motivational therapy.

Paul Klee, "Siblings"

I was especially focused on the way she drew the circles for the o’s and a’s,  beginning at the right of the round shape and then continuing the curve in a clockwise path.  It was fascinating to study that process, at the same time overwhelming from a flood of sadness and empathy;

though I may have been projecting, I imagined the act of mirror image character-making as a kind of struggle, as if her wrist and brain were working harder somehow. . .maybe some leftover trickled down from the fine motor constaints of the Spencerian Method.

And in doing so, I got lost in my own inner dialogue drawing parallels between that act and the act of trying to thrive and survive as an uber-sensitive intuitive in a world that is forever trying to suppress that in you. . .and force its own agenda of bootstraps, categorization,  and adherence to inflexible schedules.

Suddenly, I flashed to the memory of those stories of left-handed children forced to make letters with their nondominant hand.

And those mental images were followed by the ones of native American schoolchildren, severely reprimanded for speaking in their native languages; in the meantime. .. all those beautiful and musical syllables and sounds silenced and sentenced to death by the queen’s linguistic lynch mobs.

The truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever had a left-handed instructor before, so I’d never had the chance to ponder it from the perspective of a student.

But recently as I’ve been trying and trying to function in the workforce at various times and venues, and thrive under the supervision of management who, for all intents and purposes, are just doing what’s asked of them, (those things that every manager of personnel does to keep an employee on the straight and narrow),

it’s just become increasingly apparent to me that for all their efforts to keep me in line, for all the admonishment, advice and disciplinary actions, it’s just been making things harder for me to get the job done.

I am not a left-brained, linear, logical thinker.  What  I am is a right-brained, emotionally-charged intuitive and creative thinker.  And it’s been a whole lifetime of trying to fit into that first category. . .a lifetime of going against my better instincts after having been accused of laziness or stupidity or willful disobedience . . .that has kept my world in a constant state of chaos and frustration.

And I guess what hurts most about all of this is having to live with this label of not trying hard enough. . .of all the above mentioned things. .because damn it nothing could be further from the truth.  I am a madhouse of activity when I get rolling, but the part where I have to keep drawing all the circles backwards to suit the tyranny of a system that just keeps taking the pencil out of my hand and trying to make me write the other way is nothing short of exhausting.  And if I am resting, it’s because my god does anybody hear me when I say that I simply must work twice as hard to fail at being someone alien to the way I was born?

And so rather than follow along with others who say that mental illness is mostly caused by biological factors and family stress, I would like to offer that maybe just maybe it gets even worse when everybody tries to make us contort into some other version of ourselves that is not only inauthentic, but freakish. . .like a sideshow of misfits on display to make the rest of the world feel glad about being healthy and normal.

And in suggesting this, I am not saying that I am impervious to working on strategies to fit in better, because I know there are areas of my brain that can be re-wired in ways that will make it easier to manage the navigation of these rocky waters. And I am more than willing to work at that.  (At this point of already having tried everything from isolation and shock treatments to medication and trauma talk, I am ready to try anything that brings relief from this and results, which isn’t so much admirable behavior as anesthesia seeking)  And the truth is, the new therapy, which through some miracle of miracles, I’ve been fortunate enough to qualify in getting financial assistance for, is working.  And the reason it’s working is because the repetitive coaching and calming techniques are helping to rebuild the broken bridges in my brain, ones that have made it extremely difficult to manage complex emotions of feeling trapped and isolated as a result of this misfit existence I’ve been living forever.  Sadly, this therapy is mostly unavailable to most folks because insurance companies refuse to pay for it (due to the enormous costs of constant on-call monitoring and coaching) so you can imagine what it’s like trying to get it for the uninsured.  Like I said, I’ve been blessed to have it, but also I had to be recommended for it by a team of therapists, and after I was approved (mostly by virtue of repeated suicide attempts and hospitalizations) I was put on a 2-year waiting list.  My heart goes out to others who go without such help to manange  illnesses as borderline personality disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder as they must simply endure without effective treatment, via medication and cognitive therapy, treatment that oftentimes has proven to do more harm than good.

I am also insanely thankful to my therapists and doctors, friends and family so very much as well.  Without their patience, love and caring, no doubt I would have just given up altogether and banished myself to a life on the fringes somewhere. And to Dr. Marsha Linehan, the patient turned physician who, through her own struggles and suicide attempts, became the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, therapy that has been life-saving to the others of us with similar challenges.

But also to those who have come forward to share their stories of hope and survival, I say “thanks for lighting the way for the rest of us who are afraid to speak openly about this.”

It is because of you, all of you, that I am certain we can do this thing, come out of the mental illness closets and find a way to ask for back-up and support somehow someway if only we push for legislation and listening from folks who could help us be safe in talking about it.   I mean, anybody who’s been there, done that knows that it’s at best humiliating and awkward to ask for any kind of accomodations in this world, let alone inappropriate and unreasonable, where the policy of “don’t ask; don’t tell” is pretty much a given.

And to those who say it can’t be done, that the only way to fit in is to suffer in silence, I can only quote the words from John Lewis in 1765, words that have re-emerged to become the outcry of the civil rights movement:  “If not us, then who?  If not now, then when?”

painting

painting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

–Vincent Van Gogh, “The Sower”