Category Archives: The Variety Show

The Truth is Brittle

seedling hat

This seedling, beacon of hope, adorable, and gambler against the odds is dead now. But that’s not the moral of the story.

Yes it is. That’s always the moral of the story. Shit happens and then you die.

When I cry in front of people I have the overwhelming urge to hurt myself. This is something I started admitting out loud about 5 years ago but I suspect people always assume I’m speaking either hyperbolically or metaphorically. Or that they wish I was.

I’m not.

I still harbor a lot of secrets when it comes to my mental landscape. Over the years I’ve been leaking the truth drip by drip like some torturous archaic coffee machine that delivers your brew viscous, strong, and cold. You have no idea the lengths I’ll go to protect myself.

Unless you’re part of my tribe, my community of mentally ill people, in which case you do.

This process of opening up the dark vaults, exposing the wild colors and noises, the involuntary x-ray sight through the human heart, it’s slow and deliberate. Every step feels like it might be the end of the tracks, the point of no return, the final evaluation in which we’re fossilized in our own emptiness.

When I tell people about picking at my skin I want to shiv myself. I feel dirty and disgusting. I didn’t start admitting to the dermatillomania until recently. There’s so much shame in it. ABJECT SHAME. Even though I know, intellectually, that it’s a response to the condition of my brain, to the environmental landscape of my youth.

I will always have secrets from everyone, for their own protection. Every year I say more, share more, shed light on new corners of my psyche, and yet there is always more that remains in darkness.

There are times when I look around me and all I see are vaginas and penises. Genitals walking around, pontificating, gesturing (!!), and orating. I’ll be on a bus and every single human I see is a giant genital. It’s not a hallucination (I’ve had those too and know the difference), it’s a perspective. Not knowing a person’s gender is perplexing and intriguing because they don’t appear clearly to me in any particular way.

I can often see into the hearts of people, whether I want to or not. I can see the pocked diseased tissue, I can see the secrets they’ll never confess to, and I can see the way love seeps into crevices into which love has no place. I can’t fix what I see because I’m not Jesus, Muhammad, or Buddha. Whatever. I can see the dust of hopelessness, I can feel the damp loose lullabies of the pitch spirit, and I feel the ton of rocks pinning my chest to the great wide nothing.

I never tell people how often I want to not exist or how often I want to die because normals aren’t strong enough for that truth. And that’s the fucking truth. But I’d tell anyone like me how often I want to not exist or how I want to die, because I know you won’t become hysterical, judgemental, or scared.

I’ve asked a lot of people to open themselves up to me in my survey and as I tally up all their answers and make categories all of us can fit into I am deeply humbled by my community. I’m aware of things I haven’t opened up about on my blog where I’ve professed to be completely honest and I have to admit to my own limitations. I feel an arrow wreck my heart with every new survey response.

I know you. I know all of you. It’s as though I was given a conduit to the valves of your hearts when I was born and through my life I’ve felt you all out there like sisters and brothers in spirit.

Pretty sure my arteries have been open to you since you were born too.

The best medicine for depression is as unquantifiable as love

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Sometimes we have to stop talking, stop breathing, stop thinking so we can hear the shadows singing to us under its sweet breath. Sometimes a voice reaches us that is so gentle, so ethereal that we travel across a weightless universe into new skin. People like me need new skin as often as we need new arrows.

Listen!

You feel let down, sorrowful, destitute. I know there’s no easy answer for this ague, I know there’s no cure or water to drink against the terrible dark we face every day. But perhaps there are sounds so angelic that some of us can feel love in the barracks when we’re standing on the sharp edge of yesterday.

This imperfect life is colorful if completely painful and suffocating.

If you’re standing on the edge of a precipice in your life right now, if you’re thinking about jumping into the dark merciful death you’ve been dreaming silently of for years – I still love you. I AM you. You aren’t alone. It isn’t just me that hears you, understands you, and values you – it’s all of us. We are many.

I would like you to stay with us another day. Maybe just another few minutes. Whatever you can give us. We want you here with us. No one can understand you as well as your brethren in emotional perpetuity.

The best medicine for depression is as unquantifiable love.

But it has sound. Many sounds.

Share yours with me.

Share yours with US.

This is mine for you:

Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole

This is what love feels like.

The end.

All Roads Lead to OCD

strange life

I grew this peculiar mold on some mushroom stuffing and I couldn’t be prouder of it if I’d done it on purpose. Part angora bunny, part alien spore, and part sea anemone, I think it has the potential to inoculate us all against congenital misconceptions, diseased ideals, and tumors of ill will. Because – LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL BEAST!

Today was a big day for our household (in a good way) and I’m over-stimulated, tired, wired, unquiet but desperate to find a great big static void in my head so I can wake up refreshed and continue with my most important project – the Suicide for Beginners project.*

One of the things buzzing loudly in my head is the discovery of “Pure O” or “Purely O” which I never heard of until one of the respondents of the survey said they were diagnosed with it. So I looked it up. SHITE. IT’S A DESCRIPTION OF THE STATE OF MY BRAIN AT ALL TIMES. WHETHER SLEEPING OR WAKING THE SAME SHIT IS GOING THROUGH MY HEAD AT ALL TIMES AND IT’S THE REASON I WAS FINALLY DRIVEN TO SEEK MENTAL ASSESSMENT AND THERAPY.

My assessing psychologist was reluctant to diagnose me with OCD because, while I clearly had the obsessive thoughts, I seemed to lack the compulsive behaviors that are generally associated with OCD. So he simply put in the notes “shadings of OCD”, though a few years later a psychiatrist said I definitely had OCD, no shadings about it.

I think it’s important to note that I was much too ashamed to tell my psychologist about the compulsive twisting of fabric around my thumb and fingers that I’ve been doing since I was 7 years old. I have a permanent callous on my thumb from this. I do it all day long if I’m not consciously NOT doing it, which takes a lot of work. I also failed to mention my dermatillamania that results in my scalp being covered in scabs and sometimes I pick at my arms and legs too. It’s shameful and awful and until I realized I was purposely not telling Dr. Judine about these two compulsive habits I hadn’t openly admitted either of them to myself.

Does it matter? Maybe this shit doesn’t matter to people who don’t live with a constant flush of violent, inappropriate, and horrible images flashing through their heads all day, but it matters to me to find out WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKING SHIT THAT THERE’S NO DISCERNIBLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MY DAYTIME BRAIN ACTIVITY AND MY NIGHTMARES?

To know that others experience this, that there may be a bunch of people like me, who live with this same shit – that matters a lot to me. To have a name for it or a succinct summing up of what this shit IS matters a lot to me.

In any case, I did some reading tonight (much too stimulating, should not have done that after a long big day) and I discovered that not all mental health professionals recognize Pure O as a real diagnosis. I read one irritating article that was totally interesting that pointed out that there are covert and overt compulsions and that many professionals may not recognize that many compulsions are largely invisible.

I will have to do more reading on this all later.

It’s already 1 am as I write this and my brain couldn’t be more wired. My body is so fucking exhausted from a long week and a constantly hurting back. I want to spend all day tomorrow working on sorting the survey results for Suicide for Beginners. I should try to sleep. Not sure I can.

I’ll try. Soon. You should too, probably.

 

*Philip doesn’t want me to call it a “project” when it’s clearly a book I’m writing. I would argue that it’s more than a book, it’s arguably the most useful thing I’ve ever worked on and because it didn’t start with the survey and it won’t end with a book – it feels distinctly project-ish. I almost said “project-ile” because my brain won’t stop. “Assicle” happened earlier today and just a couple of hours ago it started repeating “Sarah, syrup, syrup, Sarah, Sarah, syrup – ad infinitum”

Tomorrow Isn’t Every Day

spring skeletons

I’m watching my alpine strawberry seed tray nervously every day, ogling the great nothing that’s happening in it, wondering what deity’s ass I’ve forsaken (all of them, no doubt) for my trays to exhibit such barrenness. I wish my own reproductive organs were this shut down by now, but the machinery keeps churning on with depressing regularity.

Thankfully a few of my zinnia and tomato seeds have sprouted, so all hope’s not lost.

Except that El Drumpf* is looking more and more like he’s going to win the primaries and I can’t fathom a world in which such a hideous post-script of the human species gets to make rules we all have to follow. Mostly I can’t abide the thought of having to listen to him and see him for the next 4 years. I thought I couldn’t be more ashamed of my country than when Bush was leading it, the fact that my country elected his father and then him for 8 long torturous bloody devastating years still stings.

So maybe all hope really IS lost.

It has rained triumphantly all weekend. The northern California reservoirs are all full! This is cause for joy, truly, in this drought-prone chunk of land. I have done nothing but watch garden shows on youtube all weekend. It’s a minor miracle every day that I get some dishes done and get dressed when I don’t technically have to, because my inertia continues to drag out into a thousand damp dark sunsets.

I watched SNL tonight and I’ve come away obsessed with the idea that Leslie Jones should have been cast as Maria in the Sound of Music skit because that would have been hilarious. I don’t think she was in any of the sketches tonight. I love her.

I’m feeling my kittenlessness this week.

When I woke up this morning the first words in my head were “Don’t be a scary Barry, be a harry cherry” and I thought “this is my brain without caffeine!” but then I remembered that my coffee has very little caffeine in it and this is just my brain pretty  much ALL THE FUCKING TIME. So, you know, business as usual.

Something I’ve been thinking about is the irony of writing a book all about depression but having to struggle hard against the inertia and exhaustion of my depression to get any work done on it. I’ve logged 542 people’s responses to the questions “What are the 5 most important things you do to manage your depression?” and “What are the 5 biggest pitfalls to managing your depression?”. I’ve got 42 more to go before I sort through at least 3 other very important sections of the survey before I really dive into the meat of the book. So sometimes I find myself wondering what the fuck I’m doing to myself trying to write this thing.

But every time I sit down to read the survey answers and catalog them I’m reminded to take my medication, to remember that depression is a lying son of a shit, and I’m with my tribe when reading the survey responses and I feel less alone and I remember that this is what I want to share with everyone else in my tribe. This connection, this sense of normalcy in an alien world, this sense of shared torture and the demand that the world listen to us, accept us, understand us, and help us when we need it.

So maybe it’s going to take me a long time to do this thing, or maybe the sudden bursts of energy will propel me farther and faster than I imagine possible, but I know that this is the thing that I most need to work on besides my own self care.

Sometimes I think if I had a perpetual soundtrack of Gregorian chants and pre-1900’s choral music in my head I’d always be okay, that the world would have a timeless context. A kind of serene meditative simultaneously uplifting vocal expression that would over-ride all the hate in the world and fill it with meditation and love.

But the legacy of such music that I find so soul-soothing is actually founded on a religion responsible for so much violence and evil and – dammit – it’s this shit I want to keep my mind from pinning its wings to all the time. Nearly everything humans have done in the world is evil except for art, music, and storytelling. I  need to shout this until my lungs burn with the truth – that no matter what bloodshed humans across the planet get up to, (and they get up to a lot), the love expressed in music and art most often reflects our better wishes, our truths (both dark and light, but honest) and honesty is where enlightenment begins. Whether the inspiration is from Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, or from secular mediation – music and art is where we most often find true humanity.

When we were in Israel, the morning prayers of Islamic families were so hauntingly beautiful to me, I could see into the human heart through their worship. When I’ve listened to Christian choral music I have felt so full of light and peace I can see into the best instincts of humans. When I listen to gospel I hear such a mix of pain anchored in faith and hope I see straight into the human spirit.

On and on the world goes, whether or not I care to share the ride with it. Whether I live or die, it will all keep spinning. The evil will continue to jostle the good for space. Light will muscle through the dark and the dark will turn the lights off, over and over and over.

So what does any of it matter anyway?

I may be terrified for my country, feeling the stranglehold of bigotry continue to consume it, and I may despair for humankind – all these terrible things. Yes. All these terrible things. But I want to be here tomorrow to hear a little more music, to tell a little more story, to smell the sun evaporate the wet winter. I want to be here for that because even though I can’t illuminate all the darkness, or even a fraction of it, the inch I can light will help someone else see. I want to be a small torch in the darkness for others.

If you’ve never struggled with suicidal ideation or the obsessive thought that to not-Be would be infinitely better than Being, then you might not appreciate how important it is to be able to say, at any given time “I want to be here tomorrow”.

I don’t always want to be here tomorrow.

Often when I’m driving around town on my Vespa I consciously think “I don’t want to die today” and every single time I can honestly say that, it’s a gift. Every single time that thought comes into my head I remember the thousand times I didn’t really care if I died or not, which isn’t the same as wanting to be dead but is its insidious cousin. To care is worth celebration.

This isn’t something I generally express to anyone because this is scary to people not like me. The idea of being cavalier about whether one lives or dies is anathema to most humans.

I don’t wish that everyone on earth stay alive just for the banal sake of being alive. Life is cheap, ultimately. The universe doesn’t particularly depend on any single one of us to be alive to keep on keeping on. We’re all just tiny specs in the great earth eco-system.

What I wish for everyone is that as long as they’re alive they find light, however small, in their existence. That they feel loved, even for a while, to know that they’re lovable. That they experience the desire to wake up tomorrow morning, because it’s such a good feeling to go to sleep hoping that tomorrow will be worth getting up for.

 

 

*El Trump-O.

James Murphy 1968-2016

James in Strawberry

James Murphy 1968-2016

If I only ever remembered one thing about you it’s that no matter how little you had, you always let me have half your noodle-roni when I didn’t have anything to eat. That when you had one cigarette left, you’d hand it to me for a few drags if I was already out and getting edgy. That when Carrie and I were evicted from our apartment and I had no place to live you let me move in with you in your tiny studio apartment on Jones street. There is no greater thing I can say of anyone but that they’re the kind of person who shares whatever they have during lean times with friends who have even less.

I haven’t seen you in over 20 years and on Friday you died. I’ve been watching all your friends and loved ones post memorials and it’s made me wonder if the James they knew was the same James I remember. I can’t grab hold of who you were to any of them because my memories of you are all from so long ago. The James I knew was technicolor the same as everyone else says you were, but you were also a dark sylph sucking all the marrow from life with a long wicked-sharp beak. You were Pan in a land of dancing naughty children, gathering souls to you like wildflowers choking to reach the sun of your misadventures.

We met over cheap FIDM vending machine coffee that cost 25 cents a cup and was occasionally decorated with a floating cockroach. The old Woolworth’s building was a monolith of aging tastes and teachers who couldn’t see beyond the cowl neck and pressed slacks that were chic when they were young middle class hopefuls themselves.  They didn’t know what to do with you or me. But like the obedient person I have always been at heart, I followed rules, I attended my classes and bided my time. You couldn’t be bothered with their bullshit and so they sent you packing.

I knew right away that you had the kind of raw talent that could turn Chanel on its tired ass. You inspired me constantly to expand my own design imagination. You predicted the return of platform shoes. You constantly stood at the junction between genius and self destruction. I’ll never know how far you took your talent, but I know that you could have bought the stars with your imagination if you set your mind to it.

You were behind most of the misadventures I had during that time in my life. I spent just as much time laughing with you as I did wanting to strangle you for not thinking about anyone else if it got in the way of your desire for novelty and fun. You’d share your last meal with me, but you also left me to walk home from that club on Brannon Street after you and Kurtis promised me you would give me a ride back home. You invited others back to our apartment and didn’t have room for me in the car. So I walked home alone.

That was the night I got mugged, you fucker.

You opened my world to new things in a way few have been able to do. Mostly because you were so damn tenacious. Like the time you wore me down until I agreed to read Bukowski. Because of you I know I hate Bukowski’s work, but reading Hot Water Music was a rich formative experience you gave me as a writer. I learned that you can hate a writer’s work but still admire the fuck out of it. I don’t want to ever be sunk into his world again  but I learned something from his use of language. The weekend you went away and left me alone in our hot little apartment to read that damn book is one of my favorite memories. You gave that to me.

Because of you I know what it smells like when pints of blood pool on the floor and congeal. I’ll never scrub that smell out of my memory: sick thick cloying iron that fills your airways and then your stomach until you want to throw up. I thought you’d killed yourself or been murdered. I have never approached a bathroom with such horror and dread. When I didn’t find you in the bathtub dead, I spent hours calling everyone we knew and trying to imagine what could possibly have happened to you to lose so much blood.

Then you came limping through the door as cheerful as you always were, as though I hadn’t spent the last three hours in a mad panic. I came down so hard on you for that, that was probably the moment you realized you were living with a pinchy old lady instead of a 20 year old. You left me no note, I accused. You couldn’t understand my anger when it was so obvious to you that you’d just stepped on the glass next to your bed and had to go to the hospital for stitches.

I remember that time you got those fat frozen steaks from your grandmother, wife of THE EVIL CATTLE BARON, and you decided to defrost a couple of those bad boys for supper. But then you went away for a few days on a whim. It took me two days to locate those rotting steaks in the oven where you left them. Another smell I couldn’t scrub from my nose for all of eternity.

You taught me that if someone suddenly has a pile of cocaine who has very little pin money for luxury drugs and offers you some:

 ALWAYS ASK WHERE THEY GOT THAT SHIT FROM OR YOU MIGHT END UP SNORTING A SPEEDBALL FROM A STRANGER’S BACKPACK DROPPED IN AN ALLEYWAY, PROBABLY WILST RUNNING FROM DEALERS THEY OWED MONEY TO AND WHO’S PROBABLY DEAD IN SOME DUMPSTER WHILE YOU GOT FUCKED UP ON YOUR NINETEENTH BIRTHDAY FOR NO BETTER REASON THAN THAT YOUR DEVIL OF A ROOMMATE OFFERED IT TO YOU.

I discovered how good baked garlic is smeared on expensive bread because your mom took our sorry asses out to a really nice restaurant to attempt to make amends with you. Making baked garlic always reminds me of that night.

We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years and our parting was one of those natural things that was right and necessary for us because we needed different things, needed to take different roads to different ports. I regret nothing.

Except that I never got to see your lumberjack beard in person. I regret that. The picture I’ve seen of you with that lush full beard, bald head, and plaid pants is my favorite look you’ve ever had and I never saw it in person.

You’re the first and only person I’ve ever thrown a hard object at with the intent to hit. I’m glad I wasn’t such a good shot then. Do you remember that hideous ceramic vase? A few years ago I threw it out  but I admit it was hard to do because it reminded me how you could bring out the very best and very worst in me.

I’m not going to miss you in the same way so many of your friends are desperately missing you right now. For them your death is visceral, fresh, and mean. But you and I said our goodbyes a hundred years ago, so I’m used to not having you in my life. Even so, I can tell you without hesitation that the world always takes a cut to the jugular when spirits like you leave it.

You lived and loved magnificently, my friend.

Don’t know where you’re headed but I’m willing to bet you’re trailing willing souls behind you like drunk lanterns lighting the places you’ve already been and holding up your beaded feathered train like mischievous acolytes of hell.

I will always love you, James.

Push My Dark Buttons

empty dark bar

I carefully cleaned and filed my nails until they were all shiny and respectable. Then I planted seeds in trays with wet soil and my nails are filthy and look like I’ve been clawing my way across wet oily train tracks smelling of creosote and damp steel.

Yesterday I let a close friend and her classmate interview me for their psyche class. I said yes to it because this is the thing I must do. They asked me about my childhood. They asked me a lot about my childhood. I felt like a wax doll rigged with explosives. On the surface I believe I was calm and matter of fact, but my internal organs got tangled up over skeletons of the past I thought I’d slayed a long time ago but which, apparently, still have sharp teeth. I recounted a story I’ve never said out loud to anyone though I’ve written it down many times in journals.

I just now realized that the only person I’ve ever told that story to was the psychologist who diagnosed me and is dead.

All the way home I sucked on the irony of having been triggered into a panic attack and a dark place by being asked personal questions about my past and my mental illness so soon after 1,203 people took my Suicide for Beginners survey in which I asked them the most personal painful questions about their depression and suicidal ideations which many couldn’t finish because it was triggering and stressful.

Mad respect for every single person suffering mental illness who tries to bring it into the light, whether they can or can’t go through with it. It’s so fucking hard to talk about. It makes us so vulnerable in a devastating way to talk about it, particularly to anyone who isn’t like us and doesn’t know what it feels like to live through this unwelcome hell.

It doesn’t take a lot to push my dark buttons. You can be simply asking me if I think communes are cool and I’m likely to explode my venomous opinions about them without warning at the end of which you’ll want to wash yourself with fresh lye soap.

I’ve spoken a lot on this blog about how I am a master at subterfuge. Reading the small number of surveys I have so far, this is shaping up to be a universal theme. People who have serious chronic depression develop great skill at not showing it to protect themselves (and more often than not, also the people they care about). It isn’t that they’re necessarily lying so much as they’re super skilled at showing you only the parts of themselves that they think you can handle. After all this time trying to describe this facility, necessity, and what may be the great phenomenon of seriously depressed people being perceived as cheerful funny upbeat people, I still can’t quite tell you how we do it or how it isn’t really a lie at all. It’s an amplification of some signals and the obfuscation of others. They both exist honestly in us, we just choose to keep the less accepted ones safe in quiet shadow.

I’m amazed at how vulnerable I constantly feel about my mental illness after over a decade of being vocal about it. I still feel alien, small, creepy, flayed, and disconnected from my corporeal self.

Is it even possible to change public awareness of mental illness so that I don’t have to feel like a naked Smeagel-freak at an Edwardian ball every day of my life?

I have to believe that if we all speak up and demand to be heard and treated with the same respect as people with broken bones that the world will respond. The other option is insupportable.

I have a couple of new brain ticks*

“Robin Williams has probably sat in many redwood hot tubs”

and

“Sha-sizzle!”

(a real Jazz-handy number I find simultaneously amusing and distressing)

I think I might be getting to where I can’t listen to a lot of music without taking me to an unhealthy emotional place. I read one survey response that mentioned this and it felt like a brick being thrown at my head. Like a horrible blinding truth splitting my brain open. Can I have gotten too vulnerable to music? Music has been such a guide, support, and pleasure for my whole life, can it be pushing my dark buttons now too?

I know a lot of things I don’t want to know. About myself. About the world. About the people around me. About the universe. I’d like to restrict the flow of knowledge the way blood can constrict the flow of oxygen.

 In the end it doesn’t matter what I want. There is only what IS, and what IT becomes.

*Thoughts or words that repeat in my head randomly and often without invitation or context. FOREVER.

Suicide for Beginners: Early Survey Results

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Look at this peaceful pretty sunset…it’s as if the world doesn’t know that for some of us it’s always getting dark.

As of right now 1,138 people have taken my survey. Of that number 549 people have completed it according to Survey Monkey’s definition of “complete”. But the majority of the completed ones were complete enough to be very useful for my purposes.

So what is the purpose of this very long and personal survey about depression and suicide? You can read the project manifesto right here:

Suicide for Beginners: Manifesto for a Project

Too lazy to read all that? I’m writing a book about living with serious depression that is meant to help people like me feel less alone by putting together in one book the voices of many people who suffer from serious depression as I can fit in it. Want to know more? Click the link. It’s all there.

Well, I can’t speak for everyone like me, but the survey will allow me to share the voices of hundreds of people like me. Reading the surveys, for me, is both heartbreaking and uplifting. I’ve only read about 75 of the responses so far but I’ve already had many of my own feelings supported by others and I’ve learned some new things.

One thing I can share with all of you people who don’t live with serious depression:

WE HATE IT WHEN YOU TELL US TO “THINK POSITIVELY”

Fuck you guys who say that. If you’ve ever said that to someone who told you they are depressed – you’re grounded! Next time you have the urge to tell someone that, duct-tape your mouth shut.

WE HATE IT WHEN YOU TELL US “OTHER PEOPLE HAVE IT WORSE THAN YOU”

That’s a really nice way to say “your pain doesn’t matter”. Seriously, FUCK YOU.

WE HATE IT WHEN YOU TELL US HOW WE CAN “FIX” OURSELVES.

If you haven’t ever lived with serious chronic depression, shut up. You aren’t qualified to give advice to those of us who do. Just stop it with the “just get more exercise” or “take Vitamin D” or “try yoga”.

This survey was hard for a lot of people to fill out. Overwhelming, triggering, or just too long. I totally understand – and to all of you who felt this way and couldn’t finish it – I truly appreciate that you tried! I know it was asking a lot of you.

Part of what made this survey difficult, I believe, is that it’s not geared towards gathering scientific data. The purpose is to gather very personal thoughts, experiences, and struggles that are, at the best of times, difficult for many of us to discuss openly. For some people it is literally unsafe to do so.

For those of you who finished filling it out and were able to answer all the questions – I deeply appreciate your input and the bravery it takes to speak up.

For those of you who don’t have serious depression but helped by sharing the link to this survey and giving my project shout-outs – thank you so much! Your efforts have helped me gather so much good information to work with.

Normally when I embark on a project I think is really cool or could be great but needs other people’s input – it falls flat and I end up walking away from it due to low response/interest. I worried that it would be the same this time. As soon as I hit 300 completed surveys and had read about 20 of the responses I got temporarily overwhelmed. Reading the responses gave me a huge sense of responsibility to the respondents to do proper justice to this project. Now that so many people have trusted me with some of the most painful experiences of their lives – there’s no going back, there’s no ditching of this project.

I am filled with a sense of gravity and accountability.

I am also feeling seriously humbled.

Here’s what happens next:

I will print out all the completed surveys and read every single one of them.

As I read I will be compiling data in some spreadsheets where appropriate (like counting how many people listed “get enough sleep” as one of the most important ways they manage their depression).

I will then make an outline for the book: chapters, topics, etc.

Then I will write introductions to each chapter to introduce the information and quotes from the surveys.

Edit the fuck out of it. Edit it some more.

Then I have to decide if I want to print this myself or shop it to an agent. I have time to decide that. Distribution is more important than money with this project, so seeking a publisher might be best.

I plan to have the editing manuscript ready for shopping or publishing by the end of this coming summer.

Suicide for Beginners: Manifesto for a Project

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UPDATE: TAKE THE SURVEY

When I went through my first nervous breakdown* when I was 16 years old I had only the support of my few close friends to help me through it. I had no therapy, no doctor sanctioned medications, no support groups with other mentally ill people. I had sharp instruments for cutting away the cancer of my mind, myself to talk to on paper in mad circles, and eventually cigarettes to calm the black storm circling in my head. The nervous breakdown came after at least a year of serious suicidal ideation culminating in a close call with death.

When I look back now I wish to god I’d had access to professional help. I wish I had known how to seek it, how to even ask for it. I wish I had had the support of others who’d already gone through what I was going through who had experience navigating life with mental illness in a relatively healthy way who could share with me all the options I could explore.

I learned coping skills but that path, unguided, was dangerous and spiritually and physically very pricey.

I have been blogging about my struggles living with mental illness for years and have all this time been brainstorming ways I can help other, less experienced, mentally ill people navigate their way to managing their mental health with more support, education, and empathy than many of us have done in the past. I’m calling this project:

Suicide for Beginners

It’s going to start with a survey about living with chronic depression. My goal is to get at least 2,000 people to fill it out. It’s alright for me to tell the world about my personal experiences, but I’m ONE person. There are other people blogging and writing books about this too. They represent a decent number of voices. But there are millions of us. MILLIONS of people with chronic depression struggling to live a good quality of life and, unfortunately, way too many struggling to simply stay alive another day.

FUCK SUICIDE

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t get angry at people for killing themselves. My first thought is “At last you’re going to be completely at peace, lucky bastard”. I feel such deep empathy and sadness, not because another person is dead, but because another person found life as unbearable as I have done so often but didn’t pull through and I know that the likelihood they could have pulled through if they’d had a stronger personal support network, better access to treatment, or if they hadn’t had mental illness in the first place, would have been much higher.

If a person really desperately needs to die, I respect that. But I believe that a lot of lives could be saved, a lot of lives could be BETTER and more worth living if the stigma of  being mentally ill weren’t so pervasive and toxic, if people suffering from chronic depression had more resources and the non-mentally ill population weren’t such complete uneducated turds so much of the time.

The aim of this project is to collect the experiences and the notes of as many people who’ve struggled with chronic depression but have (so far) survived and found therapies and tools for living with their mental illness that have allowed them, in the worst cases to – er – not die from it, and in the best cases – live well in spite of it.

In living openly and vocally with mental illness (particularly about my depression), I’ve made a lot of other people comfortable sharing their own experiences with me and the most important thing I’ve learned from hearing what others have to say about it is that my voice is very small against the whole – we’re a really diverse group of people with a lot of different routes to relieving emotional pain (or numbness, as the case may be) and coming out the other side alive. Two things have significantly changed my quality of life: CBT and SSRI’s, but there is zero doubt that the things that have worked best for me have not worked best for others.

To offer something truly deeply valuable to my community, it must include many voices, not just mine. Some people need Jesus in their mental health management plan whereas Jesus and I agree that he can’t make enough water into wine to convince me he can do a damn thing to fix my brain, some people need marathon running because they really like the smell of sweat, some people need cheese because cheese is awesome and almost enough reason to live another day when everything else needs tossing in the incinerator. Some people are allergic to psychiatric medication, some people are allergic to herbal remedies or simply find they aren’t effective. Meditation eludes some people while it centers and strengthens others.

The one thing I truly know is this:

ANYONE SELLING A PANACEA FOR WHAT AILS YOU IS AN IGNORANT MAGGOT-BRAINED CHARLATAN.

The other thing I know for sure is that if cheese isn’t your Jesus, your cultural/emotional/spiritual tribe IS. So if what ails you is chronic depression, I know that the thing most sure to empower you is to be carried forward on the wings of those who know exactly what you’re going through and who can help you feel less alone and unjudged.

Feelings of isolation, alienation, and loneliness can be deadly to people like us.

As I was writing this I just saw a twitter post from a writing acquaintance saying that her best friend’s son committed suicide 13 days ago and she’s writing the obituary tonight.

FUCKING HELL.

It never feels a moment too soon to do something more to try and help my tribe.

The reality is that there will always be successful suicides. But I believe, truly, deeply, madly**, that we can reduce the numbers by a great deal with the death of the stigma attached to mental illness, with greater societal and peer support, with better education, and with widely available (better) mental health services.

Let’s do this, bitches!

The survey I’m writing and asking people who suffer from chronic depression to fill out will form the main content of the book I’m writing.  I will collect as many personal perspectives and advice from people who’ve been living with chronic depression and present those perspectives in chapters that share: what kept people from killing themselves, most effective treatments, least effective treatments, the gifts of mental illness (YES), the most supportive things friends and family have done to help them through the darkest moments, the worst pitfalls to managing mental illness, and what ways the stigma against the mentally ill has affected their lives.

The purpose of this book is, in simple terms, to be a giant group hug for everyone who needs one even though group hugs are pretty ghastly if you have a co-morbid diagnosis of anxiety like I do. The purpose of this book is to help people with chronic depression feel less alone. Its purpose is to shout across the universe to each other, to buoy each other up, to carry each other forward to another morning and beyond that (hopefully) to a better quality life with a lot of good days in-between the bad.

This book will be like group therapy, but without the bad coffee, stupid chairs, oatmeal aesthetic, and the horrible terrible canned bullshit those of us who’ve never been brave enough to attend group therapy imagine everyone spouts like vomit.

I’m gonna need a lot of participants in this project. Please tell me you all are going to help me with it?

This is the book I needed desperately when I was new to wanting to die every day. This is the book I needed when I first experienced the dread of discovering I’d woken up to another day on earth. This is the book I want to give to my younger self, and with the suicide rates still dreadfully high amongst teens, this is my letter of love and survival to them.

I’ve had a lot of wonderful support over the years for my writing, for my emotional spillage, for telling you everything you were afraid to know until you knew it. Will you all please help me get this book written? As soon as I get the survey finalized I’m going to flood you with links to it. Will you help me reach my goal of 2,000 people filling it out?

I don’t often ask you to link my blog posts anywhere but I’m asking you to link the shit out of this one, first, because it’s the manifesto to my project. And next I’m going to hound you to link the hell out of the survey as soon as it’s posted. I will be relentless for once because this project is the most important one I’ve ever embarked on. I’m going to be the biggest thorn in your ass for the next few months to spread the word about Suicide for Beginners because I believe this is my Raison D’Etre.

No, really, I’m going to annoy the shit out of you all because this is the most important thing I’ve ever attempted to do with my life.

Can I say one more thing, or are you too exhausted from this post already?

You know what else is motherfucking exhausting?

DEPRESSION, YOU LOVABLE ASSHOLES.

I forgot what the one more thing I was going to say was because now I’m thinking about cheese.

This is the project I’ve been fomenting since I was 16 years old, shortly after my first cup of coffee, when I shared a poem I wrote with a friend of mine who cried because my poem really hit her in the gut. I had the formative thought “If the only thing I ever do with my writing is reach people like me, then I’ll be a successful human” And it was that day I knew I had to write something to reach people like myself when I was skilled enough.

Help me. I’m asking you all and I’m not taking “no” for an answer.

 

 

 

*I’m not sure we still call them nervous breakdowns. I believe when hallucinations of any kind are involved we now call it a psychotic break. Samesies to the sufferers.

**RIP Alan Rickman, you weird adorable beast!

Letting the Words go Fallow

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I used to sit down to my blog every day with something to say. At some point everything I had to say became so difficult to discuss in a blog post that I couldn’t face the effort of diving in and dissecting a subject like I used to. Blogs have changed, social media has changed the nature of blog writing. At first blogging felt like a can opener that could rip the world wide open and let light into all the dark corners. Blogging created a geek paradise for those of us who have had a hard time finding our tribe in our own cities. But at some point the blog world started feeling like a cross between high school and a tacky advertising firm.

Writers sometimes have to stop writing in order to breathe, in order to live outside their own heads, in order to refresh and find the new page. I suppose I’ve been going through a lot of that in the past two years. I finally found the personal struggle I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of with the world.

And considering I’ve been open about my struggles with suicidal ideation, that’s saying a lot.

In spite of all of this, the urge to sit down here in my small corner of the public universe and talk about everything I’m thinking about, hearing, seeing, and worrying about is super strong. I’ve sat down to write something a million times and tried to unburden my mind only to find that no matter how loud the detritus in my head rattles I can’t shake any of it loose. Over the last ten years I have driven myself to produce ever better content, to become a better editor, a better photographer, to make stronger arguments, and to give something worth stopping for to those who stumble into my universe. Writing here has absolutely made me a much stronger writer, has made me accountable to an audience, has made me see my writing outside of myself.

But I forgot how to simply let myself spill like I used to. I’ve forgotten how to sit down without a specific agenda and let everything tumble out naturally and wildly. I’ve forgotten how to let a subject unwrap itself in a stream of consciousness flood. It’s the difference between only planting things in your garden that you buy at the nursery or seeded yourself on purpose and letting a forest of volunteers burst up out of your soil that you have to cultivate and watch until you discover whether or not you want them to take up permanent residence in your garden. I’m a big fan of volunteer gardening because it’s the only kind of surprise in life that doesn’t fill me with dread.

The most gorgeous pink hollyhock I’ve ever seen sprouted up in my McMinnville garden as a ghost of a previous garden. I’ve never successfully grown a hollyhock on purpose. This one sprouted and I was curious to see what it would become, I had no idea what it was when it first popped up. I let this mysterious thing grow up behind my blueberry bed and I kept waiting to see what it would become, withholding judgment until buds swelled on its stem and I knew it was going to be marvelous. It wasn’t until the buds fully opened that I discovered its true identity.

Sometimes good ideas must germinate in untended fields where they are free to develop un-selfconsciously. I believe great writing happens in this narrow place where wild ideas are allowed to rise from craggy soil but are then pruned and cultivated with great care.

What I’ve been calling writer’s block is nothing more than letting my writing go fallow.

I’m just beginning to understand that during this fallow period I need to let my writing go wild. I need to let it wander, explore, and try new things. I must remove the editorial restrictions necessary for great writing and let it develop awkwardly and gorgeously by turns without imposing my cerebral ideas of what it SHOULD BE. I need to let it be ugly, gnarled, convoluted, and strangled at times. I need to let it go to seed and get weedy.  I need to let it be silly, stupid, shallow, heavy, thick, short, curt, and raw when it wants to be.

It’s in my nature to want to control everything. I have learned to let my garden and my quilting be free from restriction and perfection so that they can instead be meditations of discovery. There are precious few areas in my life where I indulge my childish side and allow curiosity and a sense of adventure lead me forward. Where I allow myself to be unapologetically imperfect and rough.

So many times in my life I’ve written words on paper even when I had absolutely nothing to say because forming letters on a page with a pen was so soul satisfying and necessary to my sense of well-being that it really wasn’t about having something to say. The ink had to always be flowing so that it would be ready when I had something important to say. I kept myself oiled and in practice with a whole lot of stupid nonsense and I never felt shame that I wrote notes like “I’m just writing this because I love to form the letter “a” with my pen on this particular paper”. It was all part and parcel of a much bigger whole. Somewhere along the way I started thinking I could only write when I had something to SAY.

I like to sign my name to things. Not because I really love my name. I’ve had so many last names that my identity isn’t wrapped up in them at all. I like signing my name because when I was a lot younger I worked hard to develop a signature that would be satisfying to scrawl, that would be visually pretty and distinctive and that I would enjoy writing. I get compliments on my signature all the time. People think I’m fancy. The truth is that I waste no opportunity to lushly enjoy forming letters with a pen because I’m in love with my alphabet and my language. That isn’t fancy, that’s geek-love.

There is so much fomenting just under the surface. I’ve had more than one epiphany recently about the projects I’ve been working on that have been unclear and difficult, yet felt too important to ignore. It’s been a little fraught all up in this brain of mine. Now that I’m beginning to understand how important it is for my brain to go fallow I’m relaxing the vigilant anxiety that I’m not moving fast enough, working hard enough, and that I’ll never get to the finish line. At least a little bit.

There’s a big corner I’m approaching. I can feel it. If I think about how big it is I’ll lose my nerve and retreat deep into my sleeping life. I’m trying not to look it in the eye or say it out loud but I know I’ll have to to make it real, to make it rise from its shallow grave where I buried it in a fit of vile fear.

I could die tomorrow.

If I die tomorrow instead of living, I would like to have let my writing, my mind, my childhood, my loves, my thoughts, and my spirit graze freely in a field of wildflowers where weeds are beloved and everything exists on the same level of marvelous. If I die tomorrow instead of living, I’d like to know that my last blog entry wasn’t trying to be more than it is, more than it should be, a pompous studied mess of attempted perfection. If I die tomorrow instead of living, I would like everyone to know that my last thoughts were curious free thoughts without boundaries or fake polish.

If I die tomorrow, I’d like my last words to include a heinous typo that will haunt editorial perfectionists for the rest of time.

I’m not a nice person.

Inertia, Garden Talk, and My Bicycle

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Don’t dew drops look so refreshing? Like little siplets of water for fai-

Dudes. I’m so tired all the time these days. That whole spoon thing? WHAT THE FUCK ARE SPOONS, ANYWAY?!* I don’t feel depressed in an emotional way but this level of inertia is indicative of a depressive cycle. I think somewhere between forgetting to take my meds frequently since getting a day job and the fact that in my job I must talk to humans on the phone all day my energy level has hit a patch of zero gravity and is floating somewhere just out of my reach.

It’s also exhausting trying to spend more time not drinking alcohol. It takes way more effort than you can imagine if you’re not me.

What I tell other people with chronic depression is that even though you can’t lift your  body out of your chair or out of your bed and you know for fact that even if you could get up, doing so will render you into a pile of useless insensate fleshy matter, you have to try. If you don’t make the attempt you will absolutely sink deeper and deeper into the dark place of no return. That’s what I tell other people.

So that’s what I’ve been telling myself. I try not to be the kind of person who gives advice I don’t follow myself because those people suck. I know that one of the best ways to combat inertia is to push through it, to get your body moving. So last week I walked to work one day. It honestly felt fantastic. A couple of days later I walked to work again but got a ride home. As I expected, my feet hurt all weekend, but whatever. I also gave my bicycle a test ride. I haven’t ridden in in ages because the last three times I rode it my tires went flat. Flat bicycle tires are a real set-back to forward motion. I rode my bicycle to work the day before yesterday and dropped it off at the shop on my way home because the gears have been slipping and that’s kind of freaky and not awesome.

I’m not going to lie, the thought of walking to the shop down the street to pick up my bicycle sounds absolutely exhausting, it felt good to move this past week. I know that if I ride my bicycle a few days a week it will help me break through the inertia without making my feet scream. So I’ll walk down there and ride my bicycle back and I’ll feel good afterwards.

We’re also getting 3 yards of compost delivered today. I got all my bare root plants last weekend. I got a Morello sour cherry tree (to match my other one), a Strawberry Free white peach, a Pink Pearl apple, 3 pomegranates (Wonderful, Sweet, and Desertyni**), and 3 table grapes (Thompson, Flame, and Black Corinth). All of them need planting this weekend. It’s also time to do winter pruning on my roses and fruit trees. That takes energy.

Everything takes energy. Jesus. Except for drinking coffee. Making coffee takes energy but at least drinking it gives you back some of it. I love coffee.

I also love rain and so far we’ve had a pretty rainy winter. It’s such a relief after so little rain in the last few years. I’ve gotten so much sweet rain on my garden that my lettuce bed is doing fabulously well. Have a look for yourself:

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I haven’t been able to get really good lettuce going in the whole time I’ve been back in California. What’s managed to grow has been bitter and gone to seed quickly from the heat and insufficient watering due to drought. But for the last two weeks Max has been eating ham sandwiches with lettuce on them that I grew in the garden. So fucking satisfying! This lettuce is sweet and tender. I’ve also got corn mache*** growing in there. Last year the corn mache I grew was still small when it went to seed so I never tasted it. I love it in my salad mix! You might also have noticed my shallots in there? I didn’t think they were going to come up at all because they took so long but at last! There they are.

I’ve got a bunch of wild flower seedlings coming up that I spread in late fall. I can’t wait for them to bloom! I do have a blooming calendula right now but it’s one that self seeded from my plants last year. Though I noticed that I’ve got calendula seedlings everywhere I put wild flower seeds too because it’s part of the mix. I love how a small garden can yield so much pleasure for so little effort. I mean, setting the whole thing up took some effort but the lettuce that’s giving so much pleasure now literally took 5 minutes to sprinkle the seeds and scratch them into the soil. Because of the rain I haven’t had to water at all. Now I have a bed full of baby lettuce to pick. The wildflower seedlings? Same thing. A couple of minutes to scatter them, a couple of minutes to scratch them into the soil.

I just saw a goldfinch on the hedge across from my window! The birds are very busy in the neighborhood this morning. It’s such a wonderful noise. I wish I was a bird.

It’s time for me to get dressed. Drink more coffee. Get out in the yard for a few minutes before I melt back into the haze of inertia that swallowed me whole.

 

*That’s the precise number of spoons I have.

**People who name plants piss me off sometimes. What a stupid name. As though adding a “y” in there makes it exotic or cool. I got it in spite of its stupid name because the lady at the nursery says it grows well here and has gotten rave reviews from everyone she knows who’s tried it. What can I say? I bought her sales pitch.

***On my seed packet it was called “corn mache” but Wikipedia indicates that it’s generally called corn salad OR mache (or any number of other names, the list is long) but not corn mache. Whatever, sticklers, it’s delicious!