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Been there…..It’s been a rough go for both mange and my now-adult child, but it helped me understand how people with lesser inner resources could, in a flash of desperation, hurt either their child and/or themselves. All of that outside chatter, plus no supportive family, makes navigating the rough seas of an inconsolable baby plus depression more than impossible for some people–and most often, it’s not the mom who loses it, but the father or significant other who “just wants that kid to shut up.” The situation can get out of hand very quickly, and sometimes ends in tragedy.

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Mental Health Recovery Isn’t Always Daisies, Puppies, and Rainbows (And that’s OK)

This is one of the best articles on recovery in mental illness that I have ever read. Scratch that: THE best. Way to go, Sam!

Let's Queer Things Up!

marypoppinsA lot of folks are surprised when I tell them that, despite having a great combination of meds and coping skills, bipolar recovery, for me, does not look like complete and total stability.

I still have ups and downs, and sometimes those mood swings are more intense than you’d expect for someone who calls this phase of their disorder “remission.” I wallow, and I cry, and sometimes it takes a minute before I’m back on my feet.

I say this because I want people to understand something: There’s this idea that mental health recovery is supposed to be some kind of fantastic, magical place where we never experience a negative emotion ever again. But it’s a myth, and a lousy myth at that.

I will probably always feel more intensely than neurotypical folks do. I will have some inexplicable sadness from time to time. I might find myself anxious about…

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Your Writing Sucks!

It glared at me, scrawled in blood-red pencil, across the title page of my Master’s Thesis proposal.

My first impulse was to tear the damn thing up and stuff it in the nearest dumpster.  My writing sucked!  My thesis advisor, who was also the department chair, had written it large and red!

But then, it made no sense.  None of my previous writings in the six years I’d already been his graduate advisee had sucked.  Or if they had, he hadn’t said as much….

So I hightailed it, still bawling, to my favorite committee member’s office.  Thank goodness, she was in!  I dropped the hated document on her desk, hid my face in my hands, and bawled some more.

She flipped through the pages of my manuscript, exclamations of disbelief alternating with heavy sighs as she read the many other profanity-laden comments that I thankfully had not taken the time to read.

“This is serious.  Really serious.  Do you mind if I call on your other committee member?  Right now?  We need to have an emergency meeting.  This could ruin your career.”

I nodded dumbly.  Black spots danced before my eyes.  My head sank down on the professor’s desk.

A glass of water appeared in my hand, and I forced myself to drink it.  The spots cleared, and I heard the anxious voices of the two professors out in the hall, discussing the case and what to do about it.

They entered the room, tight-lipped and furious.

J. lead off.

“Laura, this is inexcusable.  In fact, it’s criminal.  But before we go off half-cocked, I need to fill you in on some background that the department has kept under very close wraps until now.  Promise me that not one word of what I am about to tell you will go beyond the walls of this room.”

I promised.

J. drew a deep breath and began.

“C., the chairman, is a very ill alcoholic.  He’s handled it well until recently.  For some reason, lately it seems it’s taken him over.  Now his wife’s left him.  And the department has given him notice.  He’ll be out at the end of this semester.  They’ve done him the kindness of offering him early retirement.

“This,” she said ruefully, picking up my defaced paper and passing it to A., who had not yet seen the thing, “is the product of his illness.  He was no doubt roaring drunk when he did it, and if you showed it to him now he’d be mortified…or not,” she mused, as an afterthought.

An hour later I left her office burning with rage, fantasizing about what I could do to C. if I were to take the matter to the Administration.  But I knew I wouldn’t.  He was sick, he was injured, he was to be gone and out of my life not at the end of the semester, but NOW.

In J’s office I learned that she herself was to replace C as department chair, and she offered to be my committee chair as well.  I jumped at the opportunity.  J was a brilliant scholar, an exacting mentor, but fair and kind.  She would see to it that C and I would not cross paths again.  I wept again–this time, for gratitude.

My thesis made its way through many a revision, guided by my new committee.  A new third member was added, in the person of someone whose work I idolized.  I could not have been happier, except that when copies of my final draft arrived back in my inbox, my writing idol had written, in blood-red pencil, in neat letters across the top of the title page:

I want to write like you write.

DADDY COME BACK

Yes I know
It was your time
And what a time
You chose
To go

For Death did not
Catch you sleeping
No;
You took HER,
Deliberate
Concentrating
Meditating
On the HOW of it

As in all things,
Slowly,
Carefully,
Artfully
You waited.

Waited,
For Yom Kippur
That choicest of choice Days
Fasting,
You refused
Even to let me
Wet your cracked lips

“Ah,” I understood,
“Your food is spiritual now.”
Closed eyes, you nodded,
And I knew
Before long
You would be gone.

Indeed,
Just after dawn
Your chest,
That still-great
Box of wind,
Began to heave

I called them in
I had to share
Your precious last hour
I didn’t want to.

Three breaths from the last
You knit your brow
Now,
Intense
Concentration

As a diver
Steadies himself
For that great leap
Into
Great
Abyss:
Two more breaths
And you were
No more.

I closed the dear eyes
Lowered bed to the floor,
Crying out
“SH’MAAA Yisra’el,
Adonai Eloheinu,
Adonai Echaaaddd…”

Kaddish
Psalms
Undertaker
Gone

241

Been on both sides of that one…

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Tales From The Roadtrek #2: The River Rats

I am fighting off a nagging desire to open with an apology for any indiscretions I may be, have been, or ever be guilty of, in my whole life.  That is because my Seroquel turned on me and gave me bad, bad extrapyramidal symptoms (twitches and a feeling like whole-body restless legs that makes me writhe incessantly, plus intolerable heat intolerance) that might not go away even though I have stopped taking it, and now I have nothing with which to quash the hypomania that dogs my heels like a nine-month-old Labrador Retriever, always pushing, pushing.

Nevertheless, I am having the best time I can have on two hours of sleep a night.

Now, disclaimers over with, I can begin today’s edition of Tales From The Roadtrek!

I fetched up last week at East Peoria, Illinois, along a sort of bayou that was once a marina, until the Illinois River left its banks and plowed it quite flat.

Once a marina, now a bayou off the Illinois River

Once a marina, now a bayou off the Illinois River

Everywhere you looked, there was some kind of interesting (or alarming) relic of this epic flood…..

Interesting

Interesting……………..

ALARMING...see the boat washed up on the levee, about 1,000 yards from the river????

ALARMING…see the boat washed up on the levee, about 1,000 yards from the river????

The campground was highly rated in both Good Sam, the premiere RVer’s resource organization, and Escapees (SKPs), the network for mavericks like myself who want to live life like they mean it and have a damn good time doing it.  Both outfits gave the place high marks for ambience, good facilities and clean showers/restrooms.

I called for a reservation and was told I didn’t need one, and to just give a call when I arrived.  I did so, and was met at the entrance of a ramshackle trailer park by an enormously jiggly friendly fellow on a four-wheeler, who ferried me to a shady rise along a stinking sump that looked like this:

2015-06-03 10.35.57

“How many nights?” He smiled, looking up from his receipt booklet.

“Um, two, I guess.”  I kind of wanted to bail out, but hey, it WAS only $13 a night, and there were two other fairly spiffy looking rigs right next to where he put me.  For $13, if it got too weird I wouldn’t feel bad flying the coop.  So I gave him $26 in cash, which made him grin wider, and he took off, leaving me choking on his dust.

“Howdy, neighbor,” drawled my next-door neighbor.  He looked like he’d seen a bit of the world, and then some.  “Welcome to the neighborhood.”  He lit his next cigarette off the last one, being careful to toss the butt into a Coke can, which I appreciated.  I liked him already.

“Well, what do you think of our little piece of Paradise?”

“Er, well,” I stalled, trying to think of something, “well, to tell you the truth, it looks a little seedy.”

“SEEDY?”  Uh-oh.  “What makes you say that?”  Open mouth, insert ass, disappear.

“Um, things like, you know, THIS.”

2015-06-03 19.29.40

“Yeah, so?  Here, come on over here and set down.  My name’s Tuck.”

Thank the Lord.  Breathe.

Tuck fetched a well-loved lawn chair out of a cubby hole in his rig, blew the dust off it, and offered it to me as if I had never insulted his neighborhood.

I settled in, and for the next two hours did not get a word in edgewise while Tuck regaled me with his adventures in the Army, Navy, prison, long-haul truck driving, Military prison, County lockups, fights, liquor, AA, and two honorable discharges despite all the prison time.  He showed them to me, just so I wouldn’t think he was lying.  I would have, actually, because the usual thing when one gets in prison while in the service is a court martial leading to a dishonorable discharge, but whatever.

Next thing on the agenda was our other neighbor, Nancy, who was a well-worn lady of 45 who looked 60 and acted 30.  Three raucous boys surrounded her. One of them was her five-year-old grandson, whose name I never did get the hang of.  She didn’t know what it meant, and neither did he, so he made up endless nicknames for himself instead of trying to remember his given name.  He fondly reminded me of Israeli kids, who have no concept of mortality.  He was forever and constantly finding new and more exciting ways of leaping off of high objects onto things like gigantic concrete slabs, etc, that gave me nearly uncontrollable urges to get my first-aid kit out where I could see it.

Finally he did get whacked in the eye when the rotted rope of a tire swing gave out and he crashed into some other flying object.  After he got done crying he was pretty proud of his shiner, once we had explained to him what the word “shiner” meant.

The “we” in “we” was his grandmother, her boyfriend who looked about 20 and had twin freaky looking heads tattoo’d on his pectoral muscles, which gave me the creeps every time he moved, and Nancy’s daughter–the boy’s mother–who kind of slouched around looking perpetually uncomfortable, and the two other boys who turned out to be Nancy’s great-nephews, and Nancy’s mother who stayed inside Nancy’s travel trailer because she couldn’t be out in the heat.  And Tuck, of course, still chain-smoking, and me.

We hung out around Nancy’s totally amazing fire ring, created out of fragments of stone that the flood had busted up and thrown around.  As the sun settled down over the river, it started to look like this:

2015-06-02 19.49.35

And I started feeling pretty mellow as the many kinds of night-critters began tuning up their orchestra: peeper frogs, tree frogs, leopard frogs, the Purple Martins twittering, coming home to their house upon its pole that leaned crazily over the bayou.

It was time for me to leave all my bourgeois preconceptions of “quality of life” behind.  All these folks were here because here life was almost free and certainly unfettered, and a simple need for an affordable place to dwell had brought us all together.

And I?  I was the guest, as it turned out, who stayed for another two nights, drawn by the unquestioning offer of friendship and camaraderie, undeserving, from a warm and open-hearted group of fellow travelers, flotsam and jetsam all of us, who happened to wash up on the same shore.

And the clean washrooms and showers?  Burned down last year.