Tag Archives: suicide

When the Windows Darken and the Doors Close


Anthony Bourdain Dead at 61 read so many headlines on June 8 and the days following. Not to be indelicate, but the general sentiment that seemed to be felt by people probably would have been voiced by Anthony as, “What in the ever loving fuck?” No one understood. No one ever understands when a famous person, that pinnacle of the American dream, could possibly kill themselves when by our standards, they had “everything”.
I myself was still in the grips of a pretty fierce manic episode that had begun a few weeks before, spiraled up into a genuine psychotic break, and then settled back into a pretty standard orbit, albeit a rather high one. So when I heard Mr. Bourdain had committed suicide, it registered, but it wasn’t something I wanted to read about, not just yet. As a person who has had three family members and one good friend kill themselves, that was a little too close to home, and his death struck me between the eyes much like Robin Williams’ had, yet another famous death that nearly no one understood until it was revealed he had been suffering from Lewy-Body dementia, an unfortunate brain disorder that can’t be diagnosed until after death.
Then I “crashed”, much in the same way I suspect Anthony did, but I’ll get to that. I had been through a really transformative experience that was still unfolding, yet from the outside perspective of my doctor, and likely my husband, it seemed immediately apparent that I needed some sort of medication, ostensibly to keep my mind from sailing away again as it had a week or so before. So he stuck me on some new-fangled drug that was supposed to be very mild and not hit me like a hammer like so many other antipsychotics can. And so I spent the next couple of weeks really enjoying my life, my husband, my child, and regular everyday activities as I had not in, well, DECADES.
Just like Anthony had, as detailed in the article linked above. He was really looking forward to a trip to Hong Kong where he would be doing some filming. According to those closest to him, they had never seen him so excited, and he was doing things he didn’t usually do, like constantly emailing and texting about publicity and other things that needed to be done towards realizing what he was calling a serious pinnacle of his work. However, after he died, other friends reported that he was in a “dark mood”, which was presumed to be a result of his grueling work and travel schedule.
Reading those words in the article, I understood precisely what had happened to Anthony Bourdain. He “crashed”. He went from whatever speed his incredible mind usually sped along at, to zero, slowly enough for people to notice his “dark mood” but too quickly for anyone to realize what had really happened to him and stop the inevitable trajectory of his path.
Strange things happen when you crash, and crashing happens at different speeds for different people. I wasn’t around Mr. Bourdain, of course, but it seems like his crash took at least a few days, and no one will ever know what triggered his deceleration. It could have been anything, but whatever it did eventually made his mind focus too hard on the negative potentials of what he was doing, most directly his Hong Kong project, until the excitement, adventure, and hope of the project was thrown into doubt by his own mind. I’m willing to bet he struggled mightily with himself for some unknown period of time in an effort to reassure himself he was on the right track, but if your mind has betrayed you, it does not respond to logic. It gets stuck on bad things, like an anchor dragging the bottom of a rocky ocean, until eventually you grind to a halt or go in circles.
My crash happened very quickly, within the space of hours. For example, Sunday afternoon was a wonderful time spent with my husband. Eight hours later, at midnight or so, all those good feelings were gone. *snap* Just like that. It was like being hit in the face with a board. The whole next day, I could palpably feel every good feeling I had recovered since my break slowly sliding away one by one, hour by hour. By the time dinner rolled around and my husband and I went to Jim’s Diner for the first time in the few weeks since my break, I had gone from a wide open spacious world full of possibility to a tiny, dark room with blackened windows, pinpricks for light, and every single door nailed shut save the one that Mr. Bourdain decided to walk through, very likely in a snap judgment.
I had at least two things it doesn’t appear Mr. Bourdain had. One: I wasn’t alone. I’d really rather not entertain what might have happened had I been alone. Which makes me wonder what might have happened with Mr. Bourdain had someone bothered to check and see why he didn’t come down for dinner the previous evening, which was extremely unusual. Anthony Bourdain miss an exquisite French meal? That should have been a major warning bell and while I’m sure those people are already kicking themselves for not checking on him, that may have been a crucial missed opportunity. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for those circling the drain, as it were, so assure others they are fine, for a variety of reasons, and so it may not have mattered if anyone checked to see why he did not come down for dinner.
The other thing I have that maybe Anthony didn’t was an inner guiding “voice”, although I can tell you that no matter how loud that voice may usually be, when the windows darken, the walls close in, and the only exit left is marked DEATH, that voice becomes subaural and the only way it works is if you believe it’s still there. I also had the personal knowledge of knowing four people who found themselves in that tiny, dark room and went ahead and took that exit, and I know what happened to the rest of us when they made that choice. My inner voice said “nuh uh, we’re not doing that”, and after I was done crying into my eggs and hash browns, my husband took me home where I crawled into bed and stayed there, where I knew I’d be safe.
Maybe Anthony did have a voice, but it grew too dim for him to hear anymore, AND he no longer believed it was there. That’s when the normal laws of emotional logic fail to meet the standards of the average happy person and the person in the dark room begins operating by illogical standards and faulty assumptions that seem like perfectly reasonable explanations for whatever conundrum they are faced with. There has been more than one instance in my life where I was absolutely convinced that I had been born cursed, due to some repeating circumstance or inability to wrench myself out of some bit of bad luck that was too reminiscent of past situations. When life shoves you back into the same shitpile you’ve tried so hard to get out of so many times, it can be hard not to think that the Universe wants you to stay there. Maybe Anthony found himself in front of one of those shitpiles and instead of deciding to go around it or try cleaning it up, he just said, “fuck it.” Only an individual knows when they reach the “fuck it” point, and so that will likely just have to remain one of the mysteries that surrounds Anthony’s death.
There’s a third element at play here, something that I believe both Anthony I possessed, and I still do, seeing as how I’m alive, and that’s something I can only call gumption. Gumption says “fuck that noise” when faced with an obstacle, and will help you find any way around it, over it, through it, or will hand you a weapon so you can smash that fucker to bits. Anthony had goddamned buckets of gumption, and I loved watching him use it when I watched his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.
This is a man who, when presented with a not-so-carefully prepared and barely cooked rectum of some African animal and told it was a delicacy, you could almost see him put that gumption hat on and say “okay, fuck it, I’m eating asshole today”, a decision that would ultimately send him wretchedly sick to the doctor. But that was Anthony: irreverent, bold, adventurous, and always ready for a drink and a cigarette, when he still smoked, along with whatever audacious food would keep him and his eating and travelling companions going until they passed out from food, fun, and booze.
I had a child in the years following “No Reservations” and so I was too busy to keep up with his new shows, but from what I did see, it seemed that he actually did have some reservations now. He’d had a child of his own, quit drinking and smoking, got married, and seemed to be a pretty happy guy. Something was missing from his shows, though. He’d lost some of his gumption, for whatever reason. And I can only assume that he kept losing it over the years, or else he might not have found himself in a French hotel on June 7 / 8, in a dark room with only one even darker exit that has only one lock: your own will not to go through it.
It’s been determined by French authorities that Anthony had no drugs or alcohol in his system, so those very normal indicators of suicide were not present. And sadly, even if there had been something like antidepressants or antipsychotics in his system, it might not have helped. That drug my doctor put me on? I’m pretty sure it CAUSED my crash, and so is my husband, and so we’re going to have to have a long talk about being careful with what drugs we use to treat me, because they’re supposed to prevent finding yourself in that dark room, and now I’ve found myself there twice in the darkest place I’ve ever experienced in my life, and believe me, there have been plenty of times I have found myself in very dark places indeed.
I’ve still got my gumption, though. It may dissolve into puddles of tears as it did this morning, as I sat smoking and drinking my coffee, much like Anthony did so many years ago before he cleaned up his act, so to speak, yearning for the happiness that had been given to me a few weeks ago, and then snatched away so quickly I barely had time to notice it was gone until I went to access it and found that it was missing. It was like someone had brought my long-dead cat YinYang back to life for a few weeks and then murdered him in front of me.
But yes, I’ve still got my gumption, and I still have my Voice, and by the Goddess it doesn’t matter if that room shrinks to the size of a closet and that big black door looms so wide and tall I may fear I’ll fall into it, I will NOT go through that door.
While I had my psychotic break, I went walking with the Goddess to many places, and I even became different people so I could properly experience what she was showing me. At one point I noticed someone was accompanying us as we walked, and I looked over and it was DEATH. I wondered why he was there, and she said it was because we were in his world now, but I was safe. He wasn’t there to take me, he was there to show me around, and also to remind me that he’s always there, a lot like that door to Crazytown I swear I woke up in on May 21.
I’m not afraid of DEATH. I’m afraid of that tiny room with the blackened windows and shrinking walls that only has pinpricks of light that go out one by one if you can’t manage to push the walls back to a manageable distance. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear a lack of choices. I don’t fear DEATH, I fear the after effects it has on those who are left behind who are often left with unanswerable questions unless the person was premeditated enough to leave a cogent suicide note, which is very often not present.
And that’s probably something more important than most other things that have kept me away from that door: knowing what suicide does to other people, even if they do know why, like Robin Williams’ family. So I hope that dark room never shrinks so small that the pinpricks of light that represent the people that love me disappear, like they did for Anthony.
I’m sorry your world shrank, Anthony, a person for whom the world was truly a majestic, giant place full of excitement and opportunity which you always seemed so eager to pursue. There was always one more place to go, one more new noodle to try, one more exotic drink, one more club, one more person to show you something you hadn’t experienced before. I don’t know what happened to you that made those big wide walls start to close in, but something tells me it took a long time, until finally, in that French hotel room, after you had crashed for whatever reason, the walls finally became so close and so dark that all glimmers of hope disappeared, and you walked through that door. I, along with everyone else I imagine, will probably always wonder why you didn’t say “hey, the world doesn’t seem as big and as hopeful as it used to, is something wrong with me?” Maybe it frightened you so much you couldn’t say anything, which is so often the case for people whose walls begin to close. Even I, a person who has walked alongside DEATH my whole life and stared at that door a few times myself, will not understand what happened to you until I myself pass through that door, very hopefully not by my own hands, and get to ask you “hey man, what happened?” It’s the question all of us who are left behind by the suicidal ask ourselves, and it haunts us our whole lives.
Anthony Bourdain. Robin Williams. Spalding Gray. Chris Cornell. Layne Staley. Kurt Cobain. Jim Morrison. The list goes on of those shining souls we admire and are inspired by, and are then kicked in the gut when they leave so suddenly. I was listening to Audioslave’s “I Am the Highway”, one of Chris Cornell’s bands, and it occurred to me he may have left a message for us in his lyrics
I’ve put millions of miles under my heels
And still too close to you, I feel
I’ll leave you with some words from one of my favorite movies, “A River Runs Through It”. In it, Tom Skerritt’s character, a Presbyterian minister, is giving a sermon in which it is plain to his remaining son, played by Craig Sheffer, that he is talking about the death of his younger brother, Paul, a charming young man played by Brad Pitt who found himself in trouble with gamblers, with a predictable result. And he says the following:
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
Later he narrator ends the movie with this:
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I’ll listen for you at the rivers, Anthony, along with everyone else we, and I, have lost over the years. And hopefully at the end of a very long, fulfilling life, I will meet you at the appropriate time at that river, and you’ll answer the question we all have, and then we’ll sit at a great table and eat and drink to our heart’s content. I’ll even eat durian fruit with you and maybe you can introduce me to a noodle I actually like. But I’m not eating asshole. Fuck that noise. 🙂

The Darkness Inside


A number of thoughts and emotions went through my head in the minutes and hours following the announcement that Robin Williams had killed himself.  My first thought was that the world was now a lesser place without his wit and depth of personality.  My second thought was to feel sorry for him, as he was obviously in a lot of pain to do something so rash.  My third thought was for his family, because I know all too well what comes in the aftermath of a family member’s suicide.  In the wake of that notion, I began to reflect not only upon the effect that the suicides of my parents have had on me, but also upon my own struggle with depression and the fleeting but frightening feeling that I sometimes get when I realize part of me doesn’t want to be here anymore.  It doesn’t happen often, that feeling, but when it does I try to pay attention, because it’s trying to tell me something.  Whether it’s that my meds need adjusting, or I need more sleep, or my diet needs to be better, or that there’s something in my life that’s stressing me out unduly, it’s a message that something needs changing.

I’m lucky in that I’ve never actually tried to kill myself.  The closest to a truly suicidal impulse that I ever get is a deep-seated feeling that I just don’t want to be around anymore.  It’s typically accompanied by the very quiet but unignorable sensation that others might be better off without me, because I’m often engaging in destructive behaviors when I’m feeling that low.  The thought that I might be hurting the people around me makes things even worse.  All I can do is retreat and try to cut off as much stimulation and sensory input as I can until the storm inside passes.

It’s difficult for me to talk when I’m feeling like this, which is the strange curse of a depressed or suicidal person.  I find it embarrassing to feel that way, for a variety of personal reasons, and just really don’t care to discuss it most of the time.  There’s a Chinese saying – “talking doesn’t cook the rice”.  Unfortunately that’s very much true for me when things are bad.  It’s not that I haven’t tried it: I have.  It’s just not effective and causes me even more pain.  Which leads me to a truth about being depressed: sometimes it’s enough just to be around someone who’s in pain.  You don’t have to say anything.  We don’t really want to be alone, but we also can’t really tolerate any stimulation.  There’s an internal process that will eventually work its way through the dark place, but it takes time.  Too much time for some people, it seems.

There’s also the societal stigma against any kind of mental illness, however mild it may be.  We’re almost more afraid of mental illness than we are of diseases like AIDS.  It’s considered one of the worst fates, to lose your mental faculties.  It’s seen as a sign of weakness at best, and a sign of danger at its worst.  The news only picks up the most sensational of mental illness stories: the schizophrenic who goes nuts and shoots his family, or a bipolar person who went on a manic rampage.  When someone kills themselves, some will say that they were being selfish by not thinking about the people around them, not understanding that the mental processes of a depressed person don’t work like a happy person’s.  All personal connections fade away into dimness, like having your ears stuffed with cotton and dark glasses on your eyes.

I feel bad for Mr. Williams’ children and wife.  Almost everyone who is left behind by a suicide wonders if there wasn’t something that they could have done to prevent their death, and this is doubly so for the family, the people that spent the most time with the person.  They may be left with a persistent guilt, however unfounded, about having not been able to do anything for them.  I myself deal with this regarding the death of my mother.  We were nearly estranged at the time of her death, and I sometimes wonder if she might not have decided to hang on if our relationship hadn’t been better.  She was a very difficult person to get along with, though, and suffered from severe mental illness for most of her life.  Before she died she told me not to ask her to come live here rather than with her abusive husband.  There may be some insight in a suicide letter that was given to me by a friend of hers recently, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it.

What I can do is take the best care of myself that I can, which first and foremost means taking my medication (though I’m not suggesting Mr. Williams necessarily needed it – for all we know, he was taking some).  That’s not always enough, though, so it’s important to eat and sleep well and exercise when I can.  It’s very difficult sometimes, though, because my illness sometimes makes it hard to do anything, let alone go out and exercise, or cook a healthy meal.  Then all I can do is hunker down and wait, and if necessary let my shrink know how I’m doing in case I need a med tweak.  I may not be entirely forthcoming with those around me about my true feelings all the time, but I know when I’m a bad place and need to ask for help, or at least maintain my connections with people so I don’t get isolated.

I pray that a ray of light, however tiny, continues to shine on my existence so that I am not ever completely in the dark.  I pray that my other friends who struggle with depression never succumb to that dark impulse.  But most of all, I pray I never feel as bad as Robin Williams did when he decided to end his own life, someone who brought so much laughter and joy to so many, but in the end could not feel it himself.

Experiment


I underwent an experiment over the last few weeks.  I tried to taper off my lithium, mostly because I didn’t like its side effects.  Mostly things like big muscle twitching and vision impairment.  It sucked not to be able to read a book, and it really sucked to be using a mouse and have my hand freak out and decide it needed to click things I didn’t want it to, or to bang the keyboard randomly.  Riding a stationary bike?  Straight out.  Karate?  Not much better.

Then there were the memory issues.  I couldn’t remember a goddamned thing.  I could watch an entire tv show and not remember anything about it.  Fun times.  Never mind tv shows, what about my life?  My daughter?  Memories are what make a human life.  Without them, what’s the point of living?  It was like I had gone full circle around suicide back to a place where I couldn’t see what the point of living was anymore.  Something was terribly amiss.  A quick check over at Crazy Boards told me I wasn’t on the wrong track: there were many people over there who absolutely refused to take lithium for the exact same reasons.

So I asked my psych nurse what to do and he suggested slowly tapering off until I was only on my other drug that is supposed to balance my moods, etc.  So I did that, very slowly, over several weeks.  I got crankier and crankier the closer I got to zero.  600mg seemed to be okay.  I figured out that I really needed to take at least some dose of lithium when I had a couple of days that were just awful.  I was terrible to the people I love most, and I felt horrible.  I added lithium back in and took some Ativan to mitigate my horrible feelings and to make me sleep.

This really upset me.  I had really wanted to be off that particular drug.  It was a purely psychological reaction to have so many different things to take.  I wanted to be off at least one of them, and if I could be off that one, maybe it meant I wasn’t so bipolar as we had all thought.  But I was.  I really was, or am.  And I had to grapple mightily with my desire not to be like my mother, who was bipolar and an awful person.

But in a way, making that realization and staying on at least a small dose makes me NOT like her, because realizing she needed help and needed to stay on her meds was something that she could never do.  She was always too proud to stay on them, telling herself that she could push through any trouble herself, she didn’t need any drugs’ or doctors’ help.  And that clearly wasn’t true.

I have bipolar illness.  I am not bipolar.  That is, I have a disorder, rather than being the disorder.  It’s tough to make that distinction.  I imagine it is for other people as well, especially ones who really don’t know anything about it.  And if I have this disorder, I must take my meds, just like a diabetic.  Granted, I have far more medicines than the average diabetic, but we’re talking about the human brain here.  It has a lot of convolutions, and if I need to take several meds in order to address those convolutions, well then so be it.  I imagine those meds will change a lot over the years as we figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But what absolutely does NOT work is denial.  I can’t tell myself that I can stop taking this stuff after a while.  I’ll always have a little army of brown bottles that are my friends twice a day.  I can’t escape that, not if I want a normal life.  Other things may mitigate that little army, but they’ll always be there in some form.

Part of me is asking myself why in Heaven’s name I have chosen to write about these things in a public blog.  After all, most folks with a mental illness don’t decide to wave their flag high and proud.  They hide it as much as possible.  That’s why: I’m not a hiding person when it comes to something important to me.  And this particular important thing is subject to a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding.  Perhaps waving my flag will help end that prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to be attached to bipolar, depression, mania, suicide, mental illness and its medications, so on and so forth.  People speak freely of other physical maladies they suffer from: MS, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, cancer, etc.  Why not these?  Afraid we’re going to snap and go Hannibal Lecter on your ass?  Not likely.  So chill, and read, and hopefully learn something.

Anhedonia


Cover of "The Wall"
Cover of The Wall

From the Greek ‘an-‘ meaning against or not, and ‘-hedone’, meaning pleasure.  Therefore, a lack of pleasure.  One of the hallmarks of depression.  Not to mention something I’ve been suffering from to one degree or another for months (years?) now.  Really, I can’t tell how long anymore.  When was the last time I was truly happy and enjoying my life?  I don’t know.

I define happiness as an overall contentment that makes a person pleased when they wake up in the morning and eager to get out of bed to meet the day’s challenges, whatever they may be.  Those challenges are not met with anxiety but with fervor and gusto.  Episodes of unhappiness or down feelings are fleeting and do not last long, unless something big like a death has occurred.  A happy person has things that they work on that make them feel fulfilled, whether it’s their job or their home or doing the New York Times crossword puzzle for the day.  It doesn’t matter what it is.

I’m missing these things, and I can’t tell anymore if it’s because of my brain chemistry or because the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Worse, it’s entirely possible that my brain chemistry causes me to think that the inherent elements of my life are no longer fulfilling or pleasing.  Like a horrible trick is being played on me from inside my head.

Then the shoulds come marching in, like Pink Floyd’s hammers in The Wall.  I understand that double-album so intimately now, from end to end.  I get it in a way I really wish I didn’t.  But there they are, those hammer-like shoulds.  You should be happy because you have a beautiful family.  You should be happy because you live in a great city.  You should be happy because you have great friends.  You should be happy because you have so much freedom.  You should be happy because your husband takes such good care of you and makes sure you have what you need.  You should be happy for a billion reasons that you must be ignoring or else you’d be happy, and therefore you should feel bad because you are not happy.

The shoulds spiral around in an ever-tightening circle that inevitably leads back to me, laying the blame of everything in my life that should make me happy but doesn’t at my weary mental feet.  Guilt, shame, and blame: the staunch guardians left over from a childhood of watching the hammers beat down the other people surrounding me.

I would give anything to want to get up in the morning and to greet the day with enthusiasm about what it may bring, rather than weariness or fear.
I would give anything to go through my day with ease and contentment, addressing each task in a relaxed way that did not tense my body and mind.
I would give anything to deal with my family with a serenity that did not treat every problem as though it may be earth-shattering.
I would give anything to lay my head upon my pillow each night feeling good about the day, knowing that there was another one on the other side of my dreams.

I would give anything to be freed of this demon that has followed me for so many years and has only relented when I’ve been able to travel, have been in school, or have been in a position to have goals, dreams, and hopes bigger than myself.  Perhaps I have these things and I just can’t see them for whatever reason, and need to clean those shit-colored glasses I seem to find myself wearing so often.  Is this one of those places where it’s difficult to tell where I stop and where my illness begins?  If so, I truly hope the answer is found soon, as my tolerance for the medication dance is already wearing thin.  “Nope, that didn’t work, let’s try another one!”  This can go on for years for some people.  I’m not sure if I have the stamina for that.

In the meantime, I wait and tell the appropriate people when I’m feeling particular ways and try not to do too much damage along the way, to myself or anyone else.  And hope that I am bigger, stronger, and more patient than anhedonia.

Bad Feelings


I got a letter from a large insurance company the other day informing me that they had a policy for my grandmother that might possibly be something I was the beneficiary of.  I raised my eyebrows at it in surprise.  I had remembered finding the policy (from 1934) in her folder of important papers and put it in the growing stack of Things I Ought To Do that sprouted after my mother, and then my grandmother, died.  Then I remembered why I never dealt with it.  I didn’t want to deal with the morass of paperwork that was very likely going to accompany the task of proving family lineage.  An easy task in thought, since I am indeed the last person who actually knew her that was also related to her.  A difficult task in practice due to the fractured nature of the family and the fact that my mother had her name legally changed in the late seventies, which is going to snarl the proceedings mightily in the absence of that paperwork.

I first need my mother’s death certificate, a task that will either be super easy, or a serious pain in the ass due to not knowing exactly which name is on all those records.  I may have to file that request two or three times before I get it right, and I’ll have to pay for every one of them.  Easy or hard, getting that will be accompanied by a lot of bad feelings given the nature of her death and because I have to utter the name and think about the horrible man that she lived with when she decided to shuffle herself from the mortal coil.  I have to think about the inequities of our country’s social service system, which would have essentially made her live under a bridge for two years before granting her the benefits that might have saved her life.  I have to think about our own relationship, which by then precluded any good feelings whatsoever: we hated each other.  I hated her because she was abusive and selfish, and she hated me because I refused to let her forget it or behave that way around me anymore, particularly since I had a brand-new baby only months old who was too important to be tainted by that bullshit.  Mom flat out told me not to offer her any help anyway, so I didn’t.

Following her death, her charming husband shunned my sister and I, dumped her ashes in his backyard, and later gave away the rest of her possessions, leaving us nothing, not even a coffee cup, to remember her by.  I let him know just what the rest of us thought of him and tried to move on.  It was the one and only time I’ve had the opportunity to tell someone to shove a red hot poker up their ass.  Hopefully it isn’t too difficult to see why dealing with anything regarding my mother’s death got shoved to the bottom of the Things I Ought To Do pile.

Fast forward five years.  I had had the blessed opportunity to actually spend some time with Gram after dangling the prospect of a visit in front of her since Mom died (don’t taunt old people, they don’t like it).  I spent several days with her in May 2007 and then again in September, when I brought the whole family out and she got to meet her great-granddaughter.  I didn’t know it would only be a year later that she would die.  In fact, her last year would take her away from her beloved cabin in the canyons of Orange County, though it was really for her own safety and that of the other people who lived there.  She just didn’t move fast enough to escape a brush fire.  Specifically, this one, the Santiago Canyon Fire of 2007:This fire would come within a single mountain ridge of utterly decimating Trabuco and Holy Jim Canyons, where Gram and her neighbors lived.  She went to stay with friends but her health precluded her ever living there again.  Less than a year later, she died in her sleep.  She was 85, just a few days shy of her birthday.

Memories of the Santiago Fire haunted me, and fire season was rapidly encroaching, so I knew I had to get out there to save what was in her cabin as quickly as I possibly could.  A couple of weeks later, I flew out and her dear friends Doug and Scarlett got me out there and later helped me pack up the UHaul that I was going to have to drive back to Texas.  Alone.  For 1700 miles.  First I would have to clear out the cabin of a woman who had been raised during the Great Depression and never.threw.anything.away.  And I do mean anything.  I had laughed and teased her about it when I had visited before, but all of those extra sheets, towels, paper bags, and other things actually came in handy.  Given the circumstances, I was reluctant to get rid of any of it anyway.

I still felt bad about it all, of course.  I had been unable to come and visit her again as I had wanted to, and Gram was one to hold a grudge.  I felt it was my duty to preserve what was left of her with as much dignity as possible.  These were important things, if not to the world, then to me.  They represented a family past that I had never, ever been privy to due to the fractured nature of her relationship with Mom.  It seemed the entire family was filled with women who were difficult to get along with.  I wouldn’t know anything about that.  *looks around and whistles*

Miraculously, and I mean that completely, the loads of her belongings were jolted down a 5 mile pitted washboard dirt road in the back of pickup trucks, packed into a UHaul, and then driven from Rancho Santa Margarita in California to Austin Texas without a single thing breaking.  Not even the three massive mirrors or the fragile glass and pottery.

And so began the long and arduous process of first, finding a place for it all somewhere in the house or garage, and second, going through it all, as it was all packed in boxes and Rubbermaid trash cans (one of the items about which I could hear her saying, “See? I told you so, that’s useful!”).  I found a pair of red canvas shoes that apparently I had worn as a baby.  I found her letters and pictures.  I found so many things that were wonderful to me but useless to anyone else that I did nothing but go through her things for the next two months.

Then I crashed.  There were so many questions in those boxes amidst the photo albums and books.  It became overwhelming after a while and I just couldn’t bring myself to go through any more of it.  Even today, there are a few boxes and a trashcan in the garage that still need to be gone through, which I’m sure Doug would love if I would get around to that, as he is now the owner of her little cabin in the canyon and they hold papers relevant to it.

I also found the aforementioned insurance policy, and knowing that I would have to drag all that bullshit about Mom back up from the bottom of the Things I Ought To Do pile, I did nothing about it.  I came to the proverbial screeching halt.  Now I have to start my engines again and try not to let it all bother me, too much anyway.  There’s just so much there, the mad and the sad and the disgusted and the raging and the depressed and so on and so forth.  Like a bubbling cauldron that no one in their right mind would ever want to stir.  But I have to.  If I want those last questions answered and those last connections forged, I have to.  It’s not even about insurance policies anymore.

Anger


Anger and I are very, very old friends.  Anger came into my life when I was a baby.  I got to listen to anger through my father in what must have sounded like a monster as he drunkenly attacked my mother.  She told me I would stand up in my crib, holding the bars like a little jailee, screaming at the top of my lungs as my precious tiny ears were assaulted by the noises of her having the shit beaten out of her hard enough to send her to the hospital, more often than not.  My brother was introduced to anger at these times as well, though he was far too small to do much but lay there and cry, often in pain due to the problem he was born with: strangulated hernias.  Which is apparently a not uncommon problem for babies to deal with upon their introduction to life, but for him, it must have been especially grievous.

Anger became a fixture in my life again later, long after my father’s suicide, as the impact of that act slowly colored my mother’s behavior, as did the behavior, and lack thereof, of the man who married her following my father’s untimely death.  The man who I would be young enough to call “Dad” as I grew older and all memory of my father slipped from my young brain cells.  “Dad” was nothing more than a metal rectangle in the ground at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Flat Rock, MI.  After a while I didn’t understand why we would go to visit him.  Thankfully I remembered as an adult, and the last time I visited his spare grave was ten years ago.  It was the first time anyone had visited his grave since we left Michigan in 1981.  Something about that just seems wrong.

Anger would never leave my life.  In fact, anger gained an ever-increasing presence as time went on and it became apparently that Richard, the stepfather, was nothing more than an abusive little boy, causing my mother to become increasingly bitter and angry herself.  She resorted to understandable coping mechanisms: drugs, drinking, and sex through casual relationships outside the marriage.  Which is not to say there’s anything inherently wrong with open relationships, but more than any other personal relationship we humans decide to pursue, those extracurricular relationships are the ones that must be undertaken with utmost care and precision.

Again, I got to bear witness to the fruits of anger between my now-parents: the drunkenness, the beatings, the shouting, and more and more frequently, the blood.  Slowly and deeply, those same seeds were planted inside me.  They would not bear fruit for many, many years, mostly because it just wasn’t safe for me, and deep down I knew it.  Anger and violence amongst adults is not just a game of seeing who can hurt the other the most.  It’s a game of control and power, and I knew only subconsciously that I was not old enough nor powerful enough to be able to engage in this game safely, let alone win it.  I continued to wear my mantle of anger hidden far beneath the much more palatable mantle of “good student”, which got me good attention at school, and at home it served as a buffer that kept much of the violence away from me.

Then came adolescence, and I began to blossom into the full human being that I was rightfully entitled to be.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe to do so.  Not only was I prey to my stepfather, who only had lewd and horrible things on his wretched mind, I was also prey to my mother, who was hellbent on controlling my life in almost every way, shape, and form in an effort to keep me from repeating the perceived mistakes of her own youth.  Which weren’t her mistakes: they were her own mother’s.  I’ve always wondered if she realized she was doing the exact same things that she had so often said she never would.

Needless to say, bad things began to happen as I grew and stopped being an academic wallflower.  I was never beaten, but I was kept under a tight rein that was often suffocating in its ability to control a willful adolescent.  When things came to a head in 1988, rather than attempt to manage things in such a way that I could finish school and then go out into the world on my own, Mom felt I was a danger to myself and had me hospitalized for two months.  Really, I was a danger to her own mid-life crisis driven lifestyle, and I was a mirror that reflected back at her every sordid voice and behavior that she herself was spewing out into the Universe in the name of “having fun”.  She was the walking definition of irony.

Anger has followed me these long years since I was finally able to escape her direct influence, and I finally let out my own anger in 2001 when I let her know just how I felt about oh so many things.  Our relationship was never the same after that, but I was certainly a healthier person.  I was breaking free, finally!  It took me to the age of 29 to do it, but I was doing it.

I wish I could say anger slowly slid away from my life, but it didn’t.  It found a comfortable place to sit and hunkered down, reminding me of all of my parents’ transgressions and how badly I had been fucked over.  Anger was right, though I can’t say it was truly doing me any good.  Rather, I can say that anger was an outstanding protector.  Anger stood over me with a very sharp sword and would whack off the head of anyone who dared to transgress my borders without my permission ever again.  Anger made me feel safe.  I kept him around, though I was leery because I knew the power that he had.  For the moment, though, it was refreshing and empowering to have this newfound power to wield against anyone or anything that might try to put me down, take control of me, or do anything else to hurt me.

Slowly, though, anger himself took control of me, or tried to anyway.  I recognized what he was doing, and I knew that I had to rip out those claws no matter how tightly they were dug into my psyche or how much temporary good they had done me.  Anger became a very powerful tool to keep cleaned and sheathed in the corner, only to be pulled out when absolutely necessary.  He could not be a constant companion.

Fortunately, I had begun my path towards Buddhism and yoga, and it was relatively easy to put anger into a manageable corner that left me free to rebuild the rest of my life.  He reared his ugly head again, though, not long after Zoe was born.  In retrospect I realize that was the ever-present specter of bipolar illness rising up from time to time, in combination with a very real and justifiable anger that had finally achieved emotional awareness and really wanted to talk about all of the things over the course of my life that I was perfectly justified to be pissed off about.  I pushed him down each time and tried to move forward.  I had a child to raise, after all, and if I could help it, I did NOT want anger to be walking with her hand-in-hand as he had with me.

It was impossible, though, and I realized that my only recourse was to make sure that she wielded her sword with more skill than I had done thus far.  That all by itself made me angry.  I suddenly found my inner psyche pitted with volcanoes of anger that had always been there, yet had lain dormant, waiting for just this moment.  Some of them oozed their lava across my soul; others exploded without warning, generating tsunamis of emotion that wreaked havoc upon my inner shores wherever they landed.

It was incidents like this that finally drove me to the psychiatric emergency room.  Each time one of these volcanoes released its load, I could see the fear in the eyes of anyone around me.  More frightening, I could see the potential for them to take hold of my daughter.  I steadfastly refused to allow anger to wield the sword.  If anyone was going to be holding that sword, it would be me and my daughter.  Skillfully and patiently, we would both lay to rest that horrible specter that had caused so much damage for the last nearly 40 years in my family.  I refused to allow it to take hold in us the way it had in those who came before us.

And so here we are, students at the finest karate school in Texas, learning bit by bit how to be the master rather than the mastered.  I’m still angry, though.  Every time I think I’m done being pissed off, another volcano erupts for me to deal with, which makes me sad and angry all over again.  Perhaps I will not truly be done until having those volcanoes go off simply does not bother me.  Because that will mean they no longer control me: it is I who control them.  When that happens, nothing will ever be able to stop me.

I Get It Now


I haven’t had a whole lot to say since my last post about being oversaturated, understandably.  Plus, I’ve just been busy.  I proudly work at my karate dojo and have been trying to catch up on the hours I lost last month to my various doctor appointments and medication adjustment issues.  I can easily say my karate family has been a very important part of me being as healthy as possible lately, and I don’t just mean physically.  Unrelatedly but not unappreciatively, I was rewarded with a new (to me) computer to work on, which always rocks.  🙂

It’s also prime gardening time here in Central Texas.  If there’s a rush hour of gardening in these parts, it’s now.  Particularly if you like tomatoes.  They have to be started indoors and then put in the ground as soon as the last freeze passes.  Any later and you risk not having any at all because the summer heat kills the blossoms (mind you, summer starts in May around these parts some years).  Consequently, every nursery and garden is a flurry of activity right now.

I guess you could say I’ve been doing the “chop wood, carry water” bit and just going about my life.  In fact, it’s felt a bit plain.  As I was thinking about it earlier, it struck me that this may be some of the “flatness” that a lot of people with bipolar illness complain about.  It’s a dangerous flatness, one that makes people go off their meds.  That way, as they say, lies madness.

This gives me a great deal of pause, because I don’t like the flatness.  And as soon as I talk to my new psychiatric nurse, I’m going to tell him that, because I’d rather not be one of those bipolar patients.  The ones who go off their meds only to flip out and have to go back on them.  Sometimes forcibly.  I really, really, really don’t want to be one of  those people (if for no reason other than the age old “dear Lord don’t let me be like my mother” baggage so many women have, bipolar or not).

I get it now.  I so totally and completely understand why some people decide to throw the meds in the trash so their life can be the kaleidoscopic landscape of mental color that it can be sometimes.  It’s intoxicating and makes you completely forget the times you’re in a hole so black no light gets in, or are so agitated you really can’t control yourself even if you want to.  Life on meds, in comparison to the near delirium and incredibly creativity and productivity of a hypomanic or manic state, can seem lifeless and dull, almost unbearably so, ironically.  It’s this sort of attitude that is probably what often causes people around us to get a little disgusted.  After all, it’s really just regular life that you’re disparaging as being pedantic or boring or useless or just too goddamned slow.  It’s all yet another reminder that you don’t think like everyone else does.

As much as I dislike the flatness (which may in fact have some remedies), I dislike more the extremes in mood fluctuation.  I still have them, though not as severely.  Really, the height of each peak and the depth of each trough are progressively lower and higher, respectively, the more time goes on.  Which is not to say I am not still occasionally gripped by a frustrated agitation that makes me cycle between murderous rage, pathetic weeping, suicidal despair, and exhausted melancholia.  I prefer the latter state of mind, really, because it means whatever cycle I’m in is over, for the moment anyway.

Until that happens, though, my thoughts in these cycles often frighten me, and I am struck with the horrible irony that in my parents’ suicides, I learned firsthand the aftermath that follows such a terrible thing, and as such seem to be blocked by my own personal morals from even contemplating my own end beyond natural causes in far old age.  I know there are many friends who are worried about me, so I try not to go too long between posts.  Thanks to the internet though, I’m never too far away.

I still hold out hope for that magic place between dark despair, crazed productivity, agitated madness, and flat apathy.  Truly, there has to be a place that allows for balance.  If there isn’t, and I have to choose a bit of moodiness by altering or removing meds to avoid that flatness, then that’s my choice, but only to a point of course.  I’d rather have more color in my life, even if they’re awash in darkness on occasion, than live in a world of emotional taupe.

For now, though, my job is still to try to wrangle as much stability out of my schedule as possible and to fall into healthier patterns of living.  I can’t tell you how frustrating this process is.  Sometimes all I can do is simply track my moods and behaviors from day to day, which has its usefulness in that the more time goes on, the more I can predict how I might be feeling from day to day.  That’s actually extremely valuable, because if I know it’s going to be a shitty day, I can try to avoid stressors.  Someday I hope to have as little fluctuation as possible while still feeling like a “colorful” person.  Until then, I am still my own experiment and as such, I am still collecting data.

I get it now, though.  I get a lot.  And I don’t like a lot of it.