Tag: mental illness

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.

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!

Krill As Pets and Other Nightmares

night becomes

If you look really closely at this picture, and you have spent over $100,000 on a medical degree or you’re a clairvoyant, I bet you can see the shadow of death in my eye already. There’s probably evidence of type 2 diabetes to the naked professional eye.

What I see is that I need to get my eyeliner game up 10 notches and stop taking pictures of my eye bags at 11pm.

The only death I’m not afraid of is one I’m in control of.

profile in sepia copy

If I was a musician I would either be a classical pianist or a Chinese hip hop artist. No contest, no in-between.

The human population most in need of moral support, in my opinion, are those of us who suffer from mental illness and those of us who suffer contact with other human beings.

I wanted to wear a black band for Bowie but my black band doesn’t fit me anymore because my arms have tripled in size since Myrna Loy and my racist misogynist grandpa Tom died. I haven’t had the heart or energy to make a new one. I feel guilty about this because I didn’t cry when Myrna Loy or my grandfather died. Even though I loved my asshole grandfather. I didn’t cry when he died.

I’m not winning my personal battles, in case any of you are keeping score. I’m losing big time and part of me is crushingly scared. The other part of me knows that this is just part of whatever my legacy and life are supposed to be. I’m sad. I’m sad I’m not the person I was 20 years ago in many respects, but in other respects I’m so much better now even with my dreadful failings and losing of personal battles that may result in my death.

My nightmares last night were awful and lingering. Not vividly or specifically, they have lingered insidiously without specific shape, sound, or words. All I know is that there was an unconventional school library and neighborhood I was traveling through and hiding in that felt bone rippingly fraught and personal.

Someone had krill as pets.

It was one of those nightmares where you wake up knowing you’ve left half yourself in peril in the underworld but still have to go through the motions of working, of caring about the corporeal world.

I spent a million years tortured by my nightmares and poor sleep habits.

Can any of you understand me when I say that these horrible terrifying manifestations of my subconscious self, of my other life, have become necessary to me? That even though I’m completely haunted by them snaking through my head all day toying with my comfort and sense of reality, I’ve come to see them as the couriers of my spirit?

Is it acceptable, possible, believable, that the nightmares that plague my “sleep” and wake me at 4 in the morning are the most important connection I have with life outside my own muscle and blood?

Is it too on-the-nose to be okay with the tiger taking the gazelle down?

Is it too on-the-nose to be okay with being the gazelle every single time?

So much of what we’re taught in life is to fight. Fight authority, fight people who fight authority, fight the status quo, fight those who challenge the status quo. Fight your instincts, fight weakness, fight until fighting kills you. Fight every natural urge you’ve ever had because somehow humans have become the dark lords of all flesh.

We’re animals, like all other animals.

I’m almost certain I have: cervical cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, high blood pressure, imminent death disorder, brain tumor, rough patch of cancerous skin, breast cancer, bone cancer of the foot and elbow, eye jaundice, blood alcohol times 10000, 2 dying teeth, necrotic tissue masquerading as a disgusting yellow bruise, lung cancer, and tuberculosis.

Philip has just assured me that if I was to experience life without frequent nightmares and poor sleep I would not miss all that. He said the words “Stockholm Syndrome”. I don’t know. Does that syndrome apply to a terrorist like poor sleep and frequent, persistent, life-long nightmares? How does he know that part of his spirit might not be enhanced by being haunted his whole li-

Oh.

I’m sitting here considering the potential damage of trying to seek extra mental/emotional support through Kaiser. I’m not sure how much of my haunting can be unloaded on a therapist’s couch. Not sure Kaiser even has therapists available for just listening. They always want to send me to groups even though I’m allergic to groups more than I’m allergic to poorly designed forks.

Ah shit. I keep hitting my own raw nerves.

It’s true that my nightmares follow me through my waking hours, that they dog my heals wherever I go, but sometimes they offer something I’ve never found in waking life that I treasure more than gold, glitter, or beer: safety and respite.

Buried in most of my nightmares are secret pockets of safety, places of temporary refuge for my spirit and skin from the fiends chewing relentlessly at my edges. These moments, seconds, pockets of complete safety are like cocoons, like beautiful tiny ships of complete silence and peace. Moments where I am completely invisible to the howling of my ghosts and the reach of my living nemesis. I never feel these blissful safe moments in real life. I never feel this brief beautiful sense of invincibility, of spiritual protection, of total and complete uncomplicated universal love as I do during many of my worst nightmares.

Rise From Cheap Caskets

night light

I feel a compulsion to write at the end of the year. The last few days are, for me, a time of reflection and accounting. It’s the thing I do. It’s annoying when this time comes around and I’m struggling with something unsayable. Because all I ever want to do is say the unspeakable to take its power for harm away.

The bottle of beer I’m drinking right now has a skunky character I don’t appreciate in beer half as much as I appreciate it in actual skunks.

If I could gather all the words of the world up right now in a loving embrace, that’s what I would do. They are ungatherable as much as some of them are unsayable.

My thoughts tonight are murder on spell-check.

I want to sum up this whole year succinctly and poetically but I find I’m not up to the task.

I cut the corner of my mouth with sharp toast tonight. That’s probably why I’m not up to the task. That’s proof of my general ineptitude.

Mandrake takes a year to germinate. That’s proof that I know interesting but useless things.

I think us humans forget how to access our power and that’s when we feel old and used up. Mortality is an incontrovertible fact of life, but I think we feel old long before we need to because we let go of the things that powered us when we were young and on fire. The people you meet who are full of passion and fight in their middle age haven’t let go of the string that ties them to the lava roiling in the center of their universe.

I’m going to have to fight this year on my own behalf. I’m going to have to work hard to hold onto myself, to unearth myself from the pile of safety I’ve built around my anxiety.

I’ve been standing on this diving board for a thousand years, paralyzed, trying to talk myself into diving into the tiny shallow pool of spittle below me. Keep thinking I’m gonna die here tonight, but keep waking up still on the diving board every morning. Starting to think I live up here where the air is thin.

Can’t cry myself to sleep if my body’s dry as bones cracking in the heat of the Mohave desert, but I can shed my parts like a broke-down lemon.

This is the time to build new bones, feed the spirit, and rise again from cheap caskets. Look how the light bends to my hope! It bends to all of us at the river’s edge.

 

 

Mental Health Awareness Day

the nails

I don’t know a time when I wasn’t different. I have always lived in a world slightly removed from everyone else’s world. I looked mostly normal when I was little. Except for the distinctly GoodWill flavor of my attire mixed with home-haircuts that distinctly marked me as the daughter of a hippie mom more than anything else could have done. Later I dressed like an 80 year old who just discovered T-shirts and black eyeliner. The older I got the less normal I looked.

That’s merely window dressing. It’s window dressing that got bottles and rocks thrown at me from cars, that got jocks to spit on and throw fire crackers at my locker while I was still standing next to it. But still, window dressing compared to the world inside of me that was like living inside one of those 3-D post cards of Jesus and kittens.

Any person who says “Isn’t everyone a little crazy?” is either in deep denial or aren’t at all out of the normal range of human behaviors. People who say “Everyone gets anxious and depressed sometimes” isn’t exactly wrong but clearly don’t understand what it is to be suicidal and unable to live next to super tall trees that have a slightly leaning appearance. No one who’s truly different suggests such “aren’t we all the same?” bullshit. Because when the chips are down it’s us different people who stand out like neon signs in a post apocalyptic landscape that say “VULNERABLE DISASTER THAT MIGHT BITE”. It’s us truly different people who get beat up by people who are supposed to love us because we don’t feel we matter enough to stand up against the abuse. It’s us truly different people who get crucified on the pillar of societal abnormalities to be feared because others know we’re running on a different operating system that unfortunately sparks their darkest fears.

Everyone’s “the same” until we’re not. And I’m not the same. I hear everyone in the world crying sometimes. I hear murders happen, I hear the lonely retching into the void. I crumple into a ball of unworthiness at moments others call triumphs. I’m tuned into the world on a different frequency than a lot of other people. I’m mentally ill.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “Don’t let labels define you” or “Stop seeing yourself defined by illness” and I understand where people are coming from who say this shit. I do. They aren’t coming from a place where their brain has shaped their emotional landscape by not producing enough of the right chemicals to maintain balance or, as is often the case, their brain isn’t efficient at transmitting chemical signals to the nervous system so closely linked with our sense of well being. When your illness is connected to the heart, the spirit, and the mind simultaneously it throws all three into a maelstrom of  chaos. What I know is that they lack a full understanding of what it is to not only be ME, but to belong to the greater community of mentally ill people that make up my world, that make up my tribe.

Many of us are creative forces to be reckoned with. We see things the well regulated mind can’t see. We hear global music, music in the stars, music in the vascular systems of human beings. We understand the minutiae of life intimately and can tell you things you saw but didn’t understand because we’re seeing things from a different balcony. This is the gift in the illness. We hear, see, smell, feel, and empathize in ways other human beings generally aren’t capable of and when we’re able to apply it we create the world’s art, music, stories, and philosophy. We are formidable in this way.

But these gifts come with an intense price. In general we’re more vulnerable to abuse than most other groups of people. In addition to being more vulnerable to violence against us we’re vulnerable to self harm more than any other segment of the population on the planet. We are exponentially more likely to hurt or kill ourselves than we are to hurt or kill others. Mental illness has a death rate.

Most people have lost someone to suicide.

I struggle with suicidal ideation. No matter how good my life is at any point this is something I struggle with. I can’t imagine living life without this struggle. My attachment to life is less vigorous than my attachment to truth. I would rather tell the truth and die than lie and live. I live with a constant juxtaposition between loving the details of life, loving certain people I meet, and not wanting to feel the pain of hearing all the torture and death across the planet every day. I can’t shut the pain of the world out unless I die. Medication dulls it, mercifully, I might be dead already without it. But it can’t shut out all the world’s pain playing on my mental radio.

I have heard many people suggest mental illness is curable through will power, gut health, diet, plenty of exercise, positive thinking, and just getting the fuck over it. As though it was a bad boyfriend one can simply stop calling in the middle of the night. FUCK YOU ALL WHO THINK THAT.

FUCK YOU.

We’re the people who bring you your own hearts in the form of music, art, and dreams.

Some of my tribe are so severely affected that we can’t even understand what they’re seeing or feeling. And you know what? They need the rest of us to protect them and to continue to look for answers to unlock their voices, their dreams, their loves, and their spirits. It isn’t that they’re evil, it’s just that we don’t know enough to translate what worlds they’re seeing into without us. They’re reacting to stiumulae we can’t see but that’s real.

If you don’t believe that then I know you aren’t US. But you could, if you tried, learn to understand us and how much of a reflection we are of your deeper self.

Today was Mental Illness Awareness Day. Being mentally ill is many things, the only thing it isn’t is shameful. I neither glorify nor hate my mental illness. It is a part of me that I can never disengage from without dying. I treat my brain like any other organ and do what I can to maintain the best health possible – but I accept that my brain doesn’t function efficiently or normally. My life has become exponentially better accepting the limitations of my brain and my nervous system.

The most important thing I’ve learned is this:

MENTAL ILLNESS ISN’T A PERSONAL FAILING. NO ONE ASKS FOR OR DESERVES TO BE MENTALLY ILL. SOME OF US ARE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND GIFTS IN OUR ILLNESS AND SOME OF US ARE JUST LUCKY ENOUGH TO BE ALIVE AND TO  BE LOVED.

The best thing all of us can do is keep this conversation going. Those of us who can come out into the light must do so not only for ourselves but also for those who aren’t safe enough to do so.

When I got my official diagnosis in 2001, I was deeply relieved. I told a neighbor friend of mine how happy I was to finally have validation that I had serious mental illness and she said “Not everyone is as open minded as I am, you probably shouldn’t tell anyone else this”. I felt like a leper. It was a shock. It hadn’t occurred to  me that something I felt so good about could be looked on with such prejudice as this. I took me and my imaginary sores and flaking skin to my cave of solitude and wanted to die. Just a little bit. As I always do when someone points out my otherliness. But an unexpected pride rose in me. I always knew I was different. I always knew my brain was on a different track than others were on. I made a decision that I’ve stuck with ever since.

I decided that I would never hide my mental illness or feel ashamed of myself for it. I’ve never looked back.

I also stopped talking to that particular neighbor because: FUCK HER AND HER FUCKING IGNORANCE.

I didn’t choose to be mentally ill but I wouldn’t choose to be mentally average now if I could. I’ll take the torture with the enlightenment. I don’t know if I’ll last as long as a mentally normative person, but I’m not sorry for my challenge or my possibly shortened lifespan.

Please join me, tribe, in celebrating the gifts of our illness while simultaneously fighting for better treatments, understanding, and appreciation. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL TO ME.

#MentalHealthAwarenessDay

Truth Serum

All of it is here

There is neutral truth underlying everything. It isn’t political. It isn’t religious. It isn’t getting paid per word. It’s a thread that holds everything together. It’s impartial. It doesn’t care if people live or die, though it can tell you WHY people live or die. Truth isn’t subjective. It isn’t slave to bias. It isn’t the product of the dark heart of human greed or the wailing of the pine trees during winter storms. How many of us ever know the truth is questionable. I will probably never know ALL THE TRUTH because my ego, no matter how little importance I give it, still intrudes too strongly for me to know all the truth. My sense of self and its attendant fears intrude and misinterpret messages.

There are layers of truth. There’s the knowable truth, the truth we can’t yet comprehend, and the scaffolding of the truth, the skeleton that holds all other truths together. Humans aren’t very well equipped for truth. We’ve built a million pathways to skirt it.

The truth has no agenda, no goal, it simply IS.

If your “truth” is meant to make people behave a certain way, if it’s a call to action that only applies to those who “believe” – then it is not truth at all. If your “truth” is an allegory, a parable, or a metaphor that narrowly moralizes, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t a moral. It’s clinically impartial to your code of behavior.

I have worked tirelessly my entire life to learn to temper the truth I see into edible bites those around me can digest. Being privy to even small surges and glimpses of it is difficult to contain. It rises up in my chest like effluvium and takes all my self control to suppress. I learned early that letting it loose is unwelcome. It makes me enemies and adversaries.

Truth isn’t an emotion but if you want to apply it meaningfully to your life you have to see it within a human context, and humans are emotional beings. The truth is that people die; the most natural things humans do is get born and then die at some point. I don’t feel attached or emotional about the the fact that humans die, though I know it’s expected of me. I honor the dead sometimes with formal mourning, but I can’t feel sad that people die. I can only salute and honor their passing where I see fit. I have trouble understanding the sorrow women feel with miscarriages. I understand personal loss, I understand missing people I love who are gone, I understand disappointment – but death is not something cheating us but something as natural and normal as life. If death is cheating us then life is a gift we never deserved to have in the first place.

Life and death are impersonal facts. If you’re born, you’re going to die. That’s the fucking truth.

Truth.

I find that humans love to celebrate the truths that are comfortable and convenient to them but abhor those that cause their lives to be different, their hearts to hurt, and emptiness to thrive.

When I’m gone I hope everyone swears a river of curses at my funeral (for fun because I love swearing or possibly with meaning because I’ve been the sword in the side of their comfort during our acquaintance one too many times) and drinks gallons of beer and then sleeps the dead sleep of teenagers. It’s okay if people who loved me miss me but I’m not that okay with them being angry. I think I can trust my son not to be angry when I die. I think he’ll be sad, he’ll miss me, but I don’t believe he’ll be angry. I hope Philip doesn’t get angry either. Even if I’m murdered.

So this is where my thoughts have led me tonight.

So many aspects of my personality are harsh contradictions. I recognize the decibel of truth but still fumble to apply it meaningfully to my life.

The Psychologist who assessed me (Jay Judine, RIP) said I was “wired differently” and he didn’t see it as a shortcoming so much as something that simply made me see things and experience them differently if I could learn to manage the dark side of being mentally ill. I wonder now if “wired differently” is code for neurologically different?

Jay taught me to approach my mental illness as a state of being rather than a sickness needing fixing. Other people said “you shouldn’t depend on crutches” and he said “crutches are tools and tools help us build a healthy life”. Jay believed I suffered from PTSD but didn’t diagnose me with it, I’m not sure why. It was his opinion that my personality was in the process of fracturing when I was a teen but that I stopped it from happening with a rough form of CBT. It’s not something I ever voiced to anyone outside of him for the longest time. I have a strong sense of self protection. But when he told me that, it felt like truth. Impartial truth. I still feel strongly compartmentalized as a person. I still talk to myself as multiples even as I have always known every part of myself and never lost any fragment. I’m whole, I’ve just got a thick chalk outline around all my parts.

So much of being mentally ill sucks. It’s a dark road, to be sure. But there are gifts that come with it that I wouldn’t trade for all the soul-silence in the world. I can’t quantify it for anyone who doesn’t experience it. My heart is swollen and so clumsy with size I can’t turn it around in narrow spaces. It needs room to grow, to breathe, to trust. I take it out on the midnight sidewalk to look up at the moon and it registers so many stars and feels every infinitesimal prick of precipitation so that it swells fast and explodes.

You want to know the truth in life? I think the only way you get to know the truth is if you’re mentally ill or “wired differently” or if you can listen to and believe those who are. You’ll have to leave your preconceived notions far behind.

Truth is neither cold nor hot.

Truth serves no one but itself.

Truth IS.

Flammable Heart

old flame

I’ve spent years trying to express, expel, excoriate, and exorcise the sound of the world and its suffering souls from my head, from my consciousness, from my dreams. The source of so much of my discomfort in the world is hearing all the exquisite pain, joy, and noise of living other people let loose on the collective radio-waves. The sounds of suffering keep me up at night. Sometimes I can disentangle individual voices from the cacophony and sometimes it all blends into one voice, one sound, one collective pain. Mostly pain.

It’s always amplified on holidays.

When I cry for myself I’m nearly always crying for others with me. I’m part of a collective I can’t shut out, I can’t unhear, I can’t separate from selfhood. When I cried into the wind and the rain and the bay tree shimmered and amplified my wailing, it carried so many voices into the night besides my own.

I’m not sure I’ve ever cried completely alone, even when I felt completely helpless and torn by circumstance and darkness.

When I feel alone in the world I feel alone with all the millions of other people who feel alone at the same time. It isn’t comfort because when I feel them out there feeling the same aloneness I feel myself – we are all similarly paralyzed.

Imagine you have lived all your life never meeting another soul who can describe what you’ve spent the last 30 years trying to explain to deaf ears, that you’re sometimes crippled by the deafening awareness of every other soul on earth. And then you meet a twin spirit who hears it too, who knows the sound of human suffering in the quiet, who can hear the breathing of the earth and is discomfited by it.

I’m 45 years old and for the first time in my life I’ve met someone who understands the noise I live with. The sentient noise that roars across the atmosphere just underneath the speed of sound. It feels like coming home, like meeting a spiritual doppelganger and slugging down liquid fire to ignite mutual courage in meeting the noise head-on.

I’ve hated feeling alone with this noise. I’ve nearly drowned from the weight of it and no one knowing what the fucking hell I’m talking about. Everything has sound. I can hear it all sometimes. Other times I’m mercifully able to block it out, but rarely at will.

If there are two of us, surely there are more of us? What is it about our brains that we can’t filter out NOISE? Is it an evolutionary advantage or a primal ability mostly bred out of humans? What are we called? Is there a name for being able to hear all the beings on earth at one time?

I don’t believe it’s true madness. Whether it’s something primal I’m tapped into or an evolutionary shift, I have always known it to be as real as my own skin. And now I know absolutely for sure that I’m not the only one who hears the breathing of the night.

I have always found comfort in labels, in categorizing life, in being able to compartmentalize it. I like to think of life as one great big library card catalog. I know that reality is a sticky jammy  mess that defies cupboards and drawers, but I still want to put the bread where bread belongs and look for jam jars on shelves reserved for jam. I want things to be tidy in my mind because they never are. I want to impose order where order can’t survive. I want to believe I can put my stamp of rationality on everything and it will all separate and divide accordingly.

I remember the last time I used the card catalog in the San Francisco library, the old location. I remember the smell, the feel of the slightly worn oily much-fingered cards, and I remember the randomness of discovery as well as the charming irregularities of the library typists encountered deep in the drawers of cards.

I’m not a free spirit. I sleep best alone in a narrow dark corner where no one can touch me. I don’t like to explore why this is because I know why and it terrifies me. I feel most comfortable in well prescribed spaces. I want to know the dimensions of the places I’m going to spend time. I want to know and plan for the noise I will experience.

Earth has always been a hostile environment for me.

My skin is electric.

My heart is always on fire.