Where I Live

I live on the other side of the North Toe River, facing the Penland Post Office.  The Post Office, built in 1900, is on the National Historic Register.  If something isn’t done about it soon, it will continue its slow yet determined process of decomposition, just like all of us, I suppose.  I was pleased when Bucky the Carpenter put some new boards over the hole in the row of planks that constitutes a front porch. Now you can just walk straight into the post office, without having to be sure not to fall in the hole.

Claude (who was slow to larnin’ but hell on critters) blew that hole in the boards about twenty-five years ago, after Carlene, the previous postmistress, started hearing strange sounds emanating from under the boards; and the source of the sounds was revealed when she came out from behind the counter to close up the post office one evening and there was a great-granddaddy of a rattlesnake grinning at her from the doorway.  After she got done shrieking, which could be heard all the way to Bailey’s Holler, she got on the phone and called for Claude to quick come down with his shotgun, which he was happy to oblige, and blew that hole in the post office porch.  Once he had it opened up, he saw that there was a whole nest of rattlers living underneath there, so he fired off the other barrel, which pretty much took care of that problem.

Inside the post office isn’t much more sophisticated.  The fifty mail boxes, vintage 1879, are beautifully cast in brass, having been moved from another post office. All the original scales and equipment are still there, although since the computer has invaded the scene, it is some crowded. The post office inside has plank walls and a puncheon floor.  A puncheon floor is made by smoothing out some dirt and laying some boards over it.  That’s it.  That way you don’t have to go to the trouble of making a foundation.  It is a matter of speculation what the postmistress and her clerk do about bathroom needs, as we know for sure there isn’t any over there, not even a port-a-potty like I have.

The best part is the postmistress, Becky, who is Carlene’s niece.  She started out as Carlene’s clerk when she was about fifteen, and then took over as postmistress after Carlene got too sick to work.  She smoked herself to death.  Carlene, not Becky.  Becky is as charming a mountain lady as you will ever meet.  She likes to tell me about Mr. De Bell, who is the ghost who lives in the Old House, which sits on the same rock as the one I live on.  In fact the two buildings are attached.  Anyway, Mr. De Bell, who died of a heart attack some fifty years ago, likes to come sit in the rocking chair next to the wood stove in the post office and smoke his pipe.  Becky says he smokes that cherry pipe tobacco.  She loves the smell of it.  She maintains that Mr. De Bell is good company, and it always makes her feel safe when he’s there with her.


But you didn’t really come here to hear all this gossip about the speculative inner workings of the post office.  What you’re after is the view.

2013-05-02 19.03.56

The white building on the other side of the river is the post office.

This shot is taken from the River Road, which is the road I live on.   What you see here is a spray of wild Dogwood blossoms hanging out over the North Toe River.  The river’s real name is North Estatoe, after a Cherokee princess named Estatoe who jumped off a rock because her parents wouldn’t let her marry a boy from another tribe.  But I think the name of the river has been officially changed to the North Toe, because there is also a South Toe River.

On the other side of the river is the railroad grade.  It was once a narrow-gauge railroad, called the Clinchfield Railway, and there was once a thriving town where you see a few little buildings.  The Clinchfield had a passenger line, and Penland was a regular stop, not a whistle-stop.  A gigantic flood in 1916 wiped out the village, leaving only the post office, the general store, and a couple of houses that were fortunate enough to be above the flood line.

The flood also wiped out the narrow gauge railroad, and a standard gauge track was built to replace it.  It used to be a Conrail track but now CSX has taken over, and to tell you the truth even though I hate CSX for personal reasons, they take a lot better care of the track.  When Conrail had it there were derailments every five minutes, practically.  Now, for the two and a half years I’ve been living with Mr. De Bell, there hasn’t been one.


Penland Post Office1

The Penland Post Office

There is a railroad crossing right next to the post office,  so the trains have to blow four times every time they approach it.  The standard pattern is BWAAAAAA, BWAAAAAA, BWA BWAAAAAAAA, but they like to mix it up so it could be anything as long as they get their four infernal blasts in.  I hate them.  I have visitors (VERY rarely–I hate visitors too) who simper, “Oh, a train, I LOVE trains!  Don’t you just LOVE living near a train?”  No, I don’t.  They  come BWAAAA-ing down here day and night, and some of them have OK voices and some of them sound like a cow in labor.

I don’t have to tell you that I don’t have indoor plumbing.  Plus, if I told you, the building inspector would shut me down and I would have to move; which might be a good thing, but at least here I don’t pay rent.

But I do have to put up with Mr. De Bell, who makes an infernal racket walking around in the attic at all hours of the night.  I can always tell when Becky goes home from the post office, because he starts up tromping away in the rafters.  If he thinks I’m going to invite him down here, he can think again: not only do I hate visitors, but I’m asthmatic and I’m not about to put up with his damn pipe.  And by the way:  whoever told you that ghosts don’t cross water was WRONG.  Mr. De Bell lives over here, but he crosses the  North Toe River and visits Becky the Postmistress whenever he wants to, so that completely debunks that old myth. I never believed it anyway.


DPchallenge: 2 AM Photo

Sleep is always a challenge for me.  To achieve it, I take five (5) medications: Seroquel, clonazepam, lorazepam, zolpidem, and lithium.  Yes, I know there are six pills in the picture.  That is because of the two Seroquel.  For those who are new to my blog, I take all these poisons due to PTSD incurred courtesy of childhood abuse and a stint on the streets as a teenage runaway, complete with serial rapes.  You can read all about it here.

Nighttime Knockout Pills

Nighttime Knockout Pills

And as if all those pills weren’t enough, I use about half an ounce of some kind of liquor as an adjuvant (enhancer).  My favorite is Ouzo, as it leaves a lovely trace of anise on my palate, as my knockout pills waft me to sleep.  Thats one of the reasons I don’t practice medicine anymore: you just can’t field nighttime medical emergencies while hammered on six kinds of meds (I regard the Ouzo as one of them).



If something manages to wake me at night, an earthquake for instance, or the part of the ceiling directly above my bed falling down, or a painfully full bladder (thank God I do wake up for that), I stumble through whatever is necessary to remove myself from the annoyance.  I imagine I would look, to an innocent observer, rather like a hapless zombie that has feasted upon too many alcoholics, or perhaps upon me: too full of sedatives to even try to escape.

So imagine my annoyance when my Galaxy SIII, only slightly smaller than an iPad, rumbled to life at 2 AM, buzzing and tinkling its bell tone indicating an incoming text.

I must have been in the light part of my sleep cycle (otherwise it could have hit me in the head and I wouldn’t have turned a hair), because I awoke with a start that sent Noga, my Lhasa Apso, scurrying to the foot of the bed, as I sat bolt upright as if on springs.

Noga refuses to get out of bed on a rainy morning!

Noga the Lhasa Apso 

My first thought was it must be some mother who had fed her baby strawberry jello, and now its diaper was shockingly red.  Then I remembered: I am no longer in practice as a pediatrician, due to my mental illness and its Machiavellian treatments.  Then a more chilling thought occurred to me: what if something had happened to some family member, God forbid?  But that would entail a phone call from the appropriate authorities, not a text.

At last I wrenched myself far enough away from drugged stupor to actually look at the phone.  MMS, it said.  I touched the “view” button.

Oh fer cryin’ out loud.  This had to be from Floyd, my pervy neighbor.  Who else would send me a photo of his large and rampant, uh, you know….in the middle of the fricking night?  He must have been pickled.  Deleted the goddam thing and lay back down.

Then I sat up again.  I was thirsty.  All these drugs make my mouth dry.  I felt around for my bottle of Gerolsteiner that I usually keep by the bed.  I love Gerolsteiner:  it has lots of minerals in it, good for your body.  And it tastes good, too.  Shit, it wasn’t anywhere around.  I got out of bed and stumped into the dark kitchen.  Ah, there was the bottle: right next to the sink.  Why the hell did I leave it there?  Must have got distracted while brushing my teeth.  Ah well.  Here it was, anyway.

Gerolsteiner, yum

Gerolsteiner, yum!


I unscrewed the cap and took a deep chug.

Jeezus Christ and all his disciples, what the hell was this!?  Oh fuck, it was the Ouzo!  What was is doing next to the sink?? What am I gonna do now?  I musta just ingested a cup of it.  And on top of all these meds….should I make myself throw up?  That’s what I would tell someone else.  I hate to throw up.  I’ll do anything to avoid it.

Well shit, if I’m gonna die I may as well go back to bed.  But now I really need the Gerolsteiner, to quell the burning in my stomach.  I found a new bottle on the shelf and drank as much of it as I could, hoping to dilute the Ouzo enough so I wouldn’t die immediately of drug interactions.  Maybe gently in my sleep, to be found some days later when I didn’t answer my phone.  Morbid thoughts.  Damn phone.

I stumbled toward the bed, holding onto the furniture to keep from falling down.

Damn.  Now my bladder was grumbling and required immediate attention.  I looked outside.  Raining cats and dogs.  No effing way I was going to make my way to the outhouse in this storm, especially in my present compromised condition.  For you newbies, just to let you know, my plumbing situation is non-standard.  ‘Nuff said.

2012-10-25 09.13.51

I got out the pee jar, which I keep under the bed for such emergencies.  (No picture of the pee jar, sorry.  Too personal.)

Squatting over the pee jar, I let the excess water drain out with relief.  Shit, shit, and more shit!  Apparently I had not remembered to empty the pee jar since its last use, and now there was pee all over the floor.  Time to get the mop.  (No picture of this either.)

After cleaning up as much of the mess as I could in my present condition, I fell into bed and drifted into a semi-comatose state resembling sleep.  But not for long.  “Brrrr, bling!” went my phone.  I picked the damn thing up and threw it across the room.  It smashed into the closet door.  Good thing I bought the insurance.


Beggar’s Lice and Cat-Briar; or, Don’t Take the Short Cut!

See that mass of green below the barn?  That's where we were hiking.

See that mass of green below the barn? That’s where we were hiking.

No, no, no!  How many times have I told you never, never, ever to take the short cut?  It never turns out to be the shorter way, always the long way around, and bound to be fraught with dangers unknown.

Yes, I know we had that premonition:  there will be a locust tree down across the path a few metres around that bend, and so there was.  It didn’t look like much to climb over from here, but when we got up closer it was clearly covered with the new red shoots of poison ivy vines: no chance of crawling over THAT.  And we certainly did not want our little Noga in her six-inch winter Lhasa Apso coat clambering over a poison ivy covered log, did we?  Out of the question.

Poison Ivy Vines Winter

Poison Ivy Vines are Hairy

Now for the map.  By the landmarks, of which there were plenty, we were a quarter mile from the car on the loop trail through the old apple orchard.  This part of the trail had left the green lanes of the working orchard terraces and dipped down into the wooded side of the mountain, right on the spine of the Blue Ridge.  Table Rock Mountain was in clear view to the north-east.  Just below us on the slope was the CSX railroad grade.  We had an hour of sun before it would dip below the horizon.

We could have just turned around at that point and followed the damn trail back where it came from.  But that would have been too easy, wouldn’t it?  So instead we looked up-hill toward the working orchard and found that there were maybe two or three terraces that had been left to go back to nature, which in this part of the country means getting filled up with cat-briars and multiflora rose.  But there were clear game trails, where the deer and other citizens of the forest made their way up the mountainside.

So up we clambered, digging our sneaker toes into the damp mossy bank, getting hand-holds in places that turned out to be briars more often than not, and getting stabbed and cut up in the first thirty seconds.  Well, that was brilliant, wasn’t it?  The deer have fur and thick hides to protects them from this cutlery growing out of the earth. And now we are standing on the first terrace, in a sea of briar canes sporting thorns the size of our head, and where do we think we are going from here?  Down?  I think not.  We are not that easily stymied.  Onward and upward is the only way!  But how the hell are we going to get through this sea of thorns to that next game trail, seen dimly through the thicket?

Ouch! Ouch!

Ouch! Ouch!

Bushwhack!  Is how.  Pull the sleeves of our fleece over our hands, since we didn’t bring gloves, the day being warm and not having anticipated that we’d end up wrestling around in a sea of briar canes.  So we did, and pushing the canes and twining tangles of cats’claw briar aside (getting slashed bloody in the process) at last arrived at the next game trail, which was clearly steeper than the first one, and slicker, and muddier, and not as nice.  And where is little Noga?  Gamely pushing her way through at floor level.  There’s a champ, what a good dog.

Noga, warm and dry

Noga, warm and dry

Tackling the second game trail requires going on hands and knees, being nearly vertical.  Time to lay aside our pride now, since we have clearly made the wrong decision.  Panting and cursing, we arrive at the top of the second terrace, and looking upwards we are gravely disappointed to see that this is definitely not much nearer to where we wanted to be.  Turning to look down from whence we’ve come, it is all the more clear that going down is NOT an option.  The briars and rose bushes are all growing in the upwards direction, toward the sun, as plants are wont to do, stabbing sharp fingers in the direction of our eyes.  So if we thought we’d had some fun tangling with them going UP, the idea of trying to fight our way DOWN through them without a machete or, better, a chain saw, brought to mind a picture I’d once seen of a hapless sparrow that had been spitted on a spike of an acacia tree by a shrike.  No, we are now firmly committed.  We check the sun again.

A Shrike Impales its Dinner

A Shrike Impales its Dinner

The irony of the situation is that we happen to be certified Wilderness Search-and-Rescue workers, who know how people get lost and how they behave when they discover that they are lost.  We have to know “lost person behavior” so that we will know where to look for them, or for their dead bodies :(.  We remember with a remorseful grimace that 90% of lost-in-the-woods fatalities are found within one mile of their car.  We squeeze out a grim smile and turn uphill.  The main thing is to remain calm, and to avoid going in circles, which is what often happens to people who are lost in the woods.  Luckily we know where we are, and where we want to end up: it’s a matter of getting there in one piece, and before the sun sets.  Freezing rain is predicted for tonight.  So let’s find that next game trail and get our increasingly tired arse up it.

This one wasn’t so bad, except that as we were clambering on hands and toes we could not help but notice the thick viney roots covered with hairy tendrils that criss-crossed the bank.  Damn it, poison ivy.  That was the entire reason we had taken this blasted short cut in the first place!  And now the dog, the wonderful hairy dog, was scampering right up through the thick of it, giving herself a good coating of urushiol, the nasty oil that binds to your skin and causes weeks of red blistering itching misery.  Great.

Ouch, Itch, Ouch

A Terrible Case of Poison Ivy!

This terrace wasn’t as wild as the others, but it wasn’t home either.  It took two more slithers up game trails to hit the lane that led back to the orchard barn, and the car.  By that time one of us was exhausted and dragging.  The other was frisking about wagging her tail, ready to do it again.

She wasn’t so pleased when we had to spend an hour picking beggar’s lice out of her fur upon our return home.  These sticky triangular seed pods are also called “hitch-hikers,” but we prefer to call them beggar’s lice, because our beggar is so poor that she can’t even afford real lice, but must crawl through thickets of briar and cat’s-claw to get hers.

Beggar's lice a.k.a. hitchhikers

Beggar’s lice a.k.a. hitchhikers

Maybe now we’ll remember not to take the short cut….

Photo credits: Creative Commons, except for the thorn tree which is pxleyes, and the one of Noga, which is mine!

What task does your service dog perform to mitigate your disability?

This is one of the two questions businesses such as hotels or restaurants are permitted to ask you, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.   The other is whether you have a disability (but they cannot ask you what it is).

With a Seeing Eye Dog, (now called a Guide Dog for the Blind), well, the whole thing is pretty obvious.  With a Hearing Ear Dog, well, deaf people often don’t speak like hearing people do, but I can still imagine some cretin of a desk clerk challenging a deaf person accompanied by a Service Dog.

And when it comes to Psychiatric Service Dogs–listen, I have a lot to do today.  My son is coming for the weekend (YAY!!!!) and I have to get some of this wretched mess cleaned up, at least so there are paths to walk in.  You think I’m joking?

Anyway, I always travel with my PSD (Psychiatric Service Dog).  My last one, Ivan, was a German Shepherd.  No one even asked about him, ever.  Done.

But he had the bad taste to die on me in 2007, when he was only five, and up until two years ago I went dog-less because I just could not get over Ivan.  I was in Israel then, too, and had a huge support system.  Here in the States I have NO support system, except for my wonderful online virtual family (that would be YOU).

So when I had to return to the States I got me a dog, and the one who spoke to me of loving-kindness and caring was Noga the Llasa Apso, who at 13.5 pounds is a pound overweight, stated the vet emphatically yesterday.

Noga is very hairy, as Lhasa Apsos tend to be.  She is also very cute, ditto.  She does not look like she could protect anybody or hurt anybody, although she does try to bite the mountaineer workmen who are helping to fix my dwelling, but since she is unable to get her jaws around even the toe of their boots, she can’t do much harm.

So when I tell the desk clerks that she is a Psychiatric Service Dog, they wrinkle up their foreheads, mutter something, and go into the back office to look something up, which I know is the ADA guidelines.  Then they come out and demand to know my disability, and I remind them that they are not allowed to ask the nature of my disability, only if I have one.  Ahem, ah, yes. Then they want to know what task or tasks my dog does for me.

I used to be able to say “She keeps me from killing myself,” but the ADA made a new classification called “Emotional Support Animal” for that, and ESAs don’t have the same rights as PSDs do, so if you need an ESA you have to stay home and not kill yourself.

The things Noga does for me can be very subtle, or they can be more not-subtle, like if I am staying up late writing blogs and giving myself a manic attack she will lie down on top of my keyboard and look at me defiantly, making me laugh and choke on my spit.

Lately she’s been doing a new task, one that Ivan used to do but I haven’t had Ivan so he couldn’t do it.

One of the ways my brain is fucked up is that I have temporal lobe seizures.  They manifest as sensory hallucinations.  For instance, I sometimes smell things that other people do not smell.  Fortunately they are usually pleasant smells, like cinnamon buns baking, and not, well, you can imagine.  Other things are more on the level of night terrors, where I hear someone trying to break in or (like last night) walking on top of the roof trying to find a way in.  This is PTSD stuff having armed conflict with my temporal lobe.

The way Noga helps me with these things:  if someone were to be baking cinnamon rolls, you can bet that little fuzzy nose would be in the air sniffing and sniffing.  If she is going about her doggy business, playing with her “critters” and chewing her fake bones, believe me there is nothing in anybody’s oven.  And since nobody lives within a half mile of me, there better not be anything in my oven that I don’t know about.

Secondly:  Noga is a dog.  Even though she is not a German Shepherd trained guard dog like my Ivan was, she still has very particular ideas about what is “hers,” and our dwelling, however humble, is decidedly hers.  If anyone were walking on the roof trying to get in, she would not be snoring in my left ear; she would be doing her imitation of a miniature German Shepherd guard dog in a Wookiie suit, size Extra Small.

So I know that if I wake up in the night and perceive bizarre things like battles of warring Zombie clans baking cinnamon rolls in my toaster over and Noga is fast asleep, it is all a fig newton of my homogenation and I can go back to sleep, perchance to dream something less annoying.

Maybe I should just print this out and hand it to the next hotel desk clerk, pretending that I am Harpo Marx.  That’s it: I will get a Harpo Marx wig.  That should help.

My Outhouse Is Frozen

I went outside today for the first time in four days.  In the meantime, it has been spitting icicles, sleet, freezing rain, and something the weather-people refer to cryptically as “ice pellets.”

Yesterday I went out as far as the front porch and threw some ice-melt salt around.  Today when I opened the door, I saw with satisfaction that the stairs were all melted, so I went down them to see if I could go out to my car, and perhaps get out down the dirt road that serves me for a driveway and take these stinking bags of trash that have been building up since the storm to the “recycle center” (that means the dump) ten miles away.  That is what we have for “garbage pickup” here.  You pick up the garbage, put it in your car, drive ten miles, and throw it in the dumpster.

But I digress.  When I stepped out onto the level gravel space that serves me for a parking lot, I very nearly fell on my arse, because the top layer of the ice had melted and refrozen.  Too bad my ice skates are in my storage building somewhere.  So I slid gingerly over to the old wooden shed, reached through the winder (pronounced WIN-der) because the glass is busted outen it, and hauled a fifty pound pag of ice-melt salt out, which had solidified from sitting around in the shed for 20 years more or less.  So I reached through the winder again and got a shovel and bashed on the bag of salt for a while, which had the double salutary effect of giving me an outlet for my frustrations and busting up the salt into more or less usable form: smaller chunks, anyway.  Then I slid around scattering salt like Mary Poppins throws bird seed, or maybe that was somebody else from some other movie.

What I’m getting around to here, is that with all that exercise I had to go to the bathroom.  Everybody does, sometime or other, right?  Well there it was, under the big hemlock tree

2012-10-25 09.13.51 where I asked the outhouse man to put it after its last adventure, when it fell ass over teakettle down the cliff in the last  big wind storm.

potty over the cliff

 I told them last time not to put it so close to the gosh dern cliff.  Lucky I was not in it at the time.

Somehow they managed to rescue it and clean it up, and put it right there under the tree, nice and handy.  I had not had occasion to use it since its adventure, and now seemed a perfect time, the sun shining and all.  So I opened the door and was pleased to see how very clean he had managed to make it.  He had left the lid closed, so I opened it and looked down.

The bright blue disinfectant fluid was frozen solid.  I was surprised.  I though they made that stuff with antifreeze or something, for just this sort of occasion, when it’s been colder than a well-digger’s arse out there, and maybe the well-digger has to use the bathroom.

So I though, nah, impossible, and got the stir-stick out from under the stairs.  That’s right, the stir-stick.  That’s the stick I use to stir the, well, you know, when it gets too full in there, like if I’ve had workmen building something or, well never mind.  Anyway, I stuck the stir-stick in there just to see if maybe it was just the top layer that was frozen, like a skin or something; but no. Frozen solid, looked like all the way down.

Big deal, right?  Makes sense.  Temperatures hovering around the zero Fahrenheit mark for a few days, why not?

Well, it’s a good thing I have the Amazing Electric Toilet, that I have written about in a previous post.  But now I’m nervous, because the whole point of the Pesky Outhouse is that it’s supposed to be a backup form of toilet-ness in case of power outage.  But now I see a couple of problems:  one is the ice, which is the most likely cause for power outages around here, building up as it does on trees, which then fall on power lines (you should see it some time: the transformers go up with a POW and lots of fireworks).  The ice would prevent me from getting to the damn thing in the first place, unless I wanted to get there sliding on my bum.  And then once I got there, there’s this issue of, you know.  The ice inside, as well as outside.

Potty FAIL!

Blog For Mental Health 2013!

I am proud and humbled to have been pledged by Ruby Tuesday of A Canvas of the Minds as a Mental Health Blogger for 2013.  It’s not an award, but a commitment to keep on blogging with the aim of erasing stigma and creating community among those of us who live with mental illness.  Our Mental Health Blogger community is a place where people living with mental illness as well as their families and loved ones can come together in mutual acceptance and support.  It’s awesome!  So here’s the pledge:

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

Here is where I’m supposed to write a short summary of my own journey with mental illness.  Where to begin?  I’ve had issues all of my life with PTSD and dissociation.  Likewise, I cannot remember a time when I was not depressed.  I ran away from home, permanently, when I was 16 and only by the grace of G-d did not die or end up trafficked to Mexico, although there were some close calls.  I didn’t know I had a mental illness till I was in college and desperate to make money.  There was an ad in the student newspaper: take drugs and get paid!  No, really, it was a study that the Psychiatry part of the medical school was doing.  So I went and applied, and had to take a whole day’s worth of psychological testing before they would give me the drugs.  Some guy called me the next day and said, “You have to go to Student Mental Health right now!  Your testing shows you are Severely Depressed.”  Humph.  I didn’t feel any different than I always felt, but if I had to go to Student Mental Health in order to get my drugs, that’s the way it was.  I went.  There was a nice lady behind the desk in a cozy room.  She smiled beneficently and asked, “Why are you depressed?”  “I’m not depressed,” I said. “Then why are you here?” she asked.  “The Psych Drug Study made me come,” I said.  She shuffled through my slim chart and said, “Your testing shows you are severely depressed.”  She looked up at me with that saintly smile and said, “You get good grades.  You have a good job.  You’re good looking.  So why are you depressed?”  I stood up, thanked the lady, and walked out.

The next time I got an inkling that I might be depressed came when I was in medical school, married, with a baby who never slept.  I adored him, and many years later I still adore him, but the fact is, he never slept through the night until he was five.  So at that time I think he was maybe ten months old, and I had not slept since he was born.  I was in the middle of my Cardiology clinical rotation.  Everyone had gone to lunch, but as usual I had no appetite and was uninterested in hanging out with people, so I was sitting in a study carrel reading EKGs.  My Cardiology attending came over and said, “Aren’t you going to go get some lunch?”  And I said, “No thanks, I’m not hungry,” avoiding eye contact by studying the EKG.  “Look at me,” he said, and I did, mechanically.  “You’re depressed,” he said.  “I want you to go home and get some help.  You need to see a psychiatrist.  Please call me tomorrow and tell me what you have done about this.”  And head hanging, I went home.  My ex-husband came home and said, “What are you doing home so early?” since I usually stayed late studying.  “I’m depressed,” I said.  He turned on his heel and walked out.  “Let me know when you’re better,” he said on his way out the door.  I called somebody at the medical school whom I trusted, and told him the situation.  Five minutes later I got a call from a psychiatrist, who gently demanded that my (ex) husband accompany me to an appointment on the following day.  He did.  The shrink explained to him that I was physically incapable of doing what I was doing, taking care of our son all night and being a medical student all day (and sometimes all night too).  He explained how to give the baby a bottle.

He also gave me my first psych drug, imipramine, which not only knocked me completely out, but gave me a horrible itchy rash from head to toe.  Then he gave me antihistamines for the rash.  I dimly remember lying on the cool hardwood floor wishing I was dead but having no control over my body and therefore being unable to act on it, which was good.  After I got over that, he gave me some other drug, which allowed me to make it through med school in one piece.

Then I got to my residency in Pediatrics, where the standard work week was 120 hours.  More sleep deprivation.  And still with the non-sleeping child, who, bless his heart, sleeps like a baby now that he’s in his 20’s.  And then there was the husband who needed attention too.  So I went to a shrink and got Wellbutrin, which is very good for some people, but me it tipped over into hypomania.  Only nobody in the medical world in which I lived seemed to know about Depression and Mania and those kinds of nervous system brain sorts of things.  They only knew about Show Up For Work And Keep Your Mouth Shut.  I had this private joke: if one of us residents died, they wouldn’t give us time off to go to our own funeral.

As it happened, three of us residents DID die, and another one got taken out of service for accidentally giving someone the wrong medicine, which caused their death; so instead of every third night call, we had every other night, and sometimes “every every” night, which meant we didn’t get to go home much.  I really don’t know how the program directors thought that flesh and blood human beings could tolerate that for three years and not kill themselves or die in car accidents falling asleep on the way home, both of which things did happen in our little corner of Hell.

Anyway.  Fast forward from the late 1980’s-early 1990’s when all this shit was going down, to Y2K.  That’s right, the nearly infamous Year 2000.  Well, it WAS infamous for me, because a whole conflagration of disasters hit me that knocked my pins right out from under me and I ended up in the hospital.  And I became disabled, just like I am now.  The only good thing was that some shrink finally noticed that I’m bipolar, and put me on Lithium.  But by then my medical practice was in ruins, my family life in tatters, my finances non-existent, and worst of all, I had lost my identity.

I’ve wandered around some more since then, and although I’ve just been declared permanently and totally disabled by a Federal Social Security judge (and that feels pretty rough), I’m writing more than I ever have.  I’m blogging, and have become part of this wonderful community that is centered around A Canvas of The Minds.  I’m FINALLY writing my book, having used NaNoWriMo for the past two years to give me the kick-start I’ve needed to get two of the volumes well into progress.  I’m slowly redefining myself, and even though I still have attacks of  “the mentals,” I’m bumping along, and that’s OK.

Oh all right, that was not short.  I am Incapable Of Writing Anything Short.

Now comes the part where I am supposed to pledge five other Mental Health Bloggers.  OMG.  How am I supposed to choose????  I’ll just start, and when I get to five I’ll stop.  Maybe.

PAZ, of Melancholically Manic Mouse

Lunch, of Lunch Sketch

Nicolas, of Puncture Repair Kit

bpshielsy at The Pipolar Place

survivor55 at Bipolar and Breastless

I hereby pledge to remember to let all of the above know I’ve pledged them.

Lastly:  I am supposed to remember not to forget to link back to Canvas, so here it is.  I think I’ve linked back to Canvas about six times in this post, but I’m feeling kind of wacky today so if I’ve messed up in some of this stuff I hope everyone will forgive me.  And feel free to let me know!

Love to everybody and sending good juju for staying healthy this winter, and looking forward to another wonderful year of Mental Health blogging together!

Soul Survivor

There’s A Naked Woman In Here!

My dear friends and followers, I admit that my recent posts have been heavy.  Chalk it up to January being World Anti-trafficking Month.  As you know, I take this to heart, being myself a survivor of homelessness, street life, and survival sex, which is a very low-pay form of prostitution.

So today I’m going to give y’all a break.  We’re going to talk about that summer in 1972 when all of us worked at various summer camps in and around Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  Wolfeboro scatters itself around the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, a magnificent waterscape populated with countless tiny islands, and marshlands filled with grebes, herons, loons, Canada geese, and all manner of small creatures upon which the former feed.

And the camps surround the lake like a string of pearls.  There are private camps for the wealthy, many of which have been there since the 1800s, like the one where Sandy and Keith worked doing restoration construction on some of the older buildings that decrepitude was creeping up on.  And there are summer camps for children, rich, like the one Martha worked at.  And then there was Camp Urban Opportunity, where I worked.  It was run by some philanthropic foundation, with the purpose of getting ghetto children out of the ghetto for two weeks in the summer.

All four of us were students at Elite School of Visual Arts, a small independent art school, the brainchild of a group of survivors of the Bauhaus Movement who had fled the confines of New York City for the broad vistas of small town New England.  We four were chronic troublemakers even in this hyperliberal incubator, possibly because we all suffered from the combination of ADHD and too much marijuana.  But that’s another story.

It was pure coincidence that the four of us ended up in the same general vicinity that summer.  All of us had parents who were not pleased with our progress in some way or another, and for one reason or another we were disconnected from the familial money tit.  Therefore it was necessary to make our own money.

Martha had actually tried turning tricks, but as she was a very large woman (she once came to my Halloween party dressed as a mattress), her market niche was too small, so in desperation she turned to legal work instead, which was much more healthy although less lucrative, at the end of the day.  She worked at Camp Bambi, which catered to the horsey set, and even though no horse could handle Martha’s 300 pound frame, she held up the arts-and-crafts angle of the camp and was accepted as a Bohemian with her hand-made colorful flowing robes and long beaded earrings, her red-gold hair flowing loose down to the backs of her flesh-enfolded knees.

Sandy and Keith were both refugees from wealthy country club tennis families, and had learned the building trade as a means of rebellion and now worked together as restoration carpenters, doctoring New England’s ailing elderly buildings.  They had been hired by Camp Longago, a private family camp, to repair leaky roofs and combat the inevitable dilapidation wrought by time and weather.

My position had evolved because of my previous employment at the YWCA in a down-at-heel section of Boston, where I worked as a breakfast cook for the women who were fortunate to get a $15 double room, breakfast included.  I slung bacon and eggs, pancakes and sausage, from six to eight every morning, seven days a week.  I was allowed to eat the oatmeal if there was any left, and there was always some left.  “The Oatmeal Diet,” I called it.  I certainly lost weight on it.  If you ever want to lost weight, try it.  The problem was, I did not need to lose weight.

So when the notice came up on the YWCA bulletin board for a camp counsellor at the Y camp in Wolfeboro, I jumped on it.  I had a hard time getting out of the clutches of Ms. Hardass, my supervisor in the kitchen, simply because I was a good egg-slinger and showed up every day, but she finally consented to write me a letter of recommendation, and I nailed the job.

I had to make my own way up to Wolfeboro from Boston.  My other partners-in-crime came from other parts of New England:  Keith from Maine, Sandy from Cape Ann, Martha from Vermont.  We all hitch-hiked to our respective camps on Lake Winnepesaukee, and met up in Wolfeboro for one last brewski together before heading off to our summer fates.

My gig turned out to be much, much worse than the Y egg-slinging job.  From 6 till 8 I cooked breakfast for the little darlings.  Then from 9 till 10 I Washed. The. Fucking. Dishes.  Then I went to the arts-and-crafts room, where I attempted to interest the little pigs in jewelry making, modeling clay, watercolor painting, macrame, origami, everything except for the various forms of murder upon which I continually fantasized so as not to actually commit it.  At night I slept in one of the campers’ cabins along with eight of the little monsters.  I never got any sleep because, being thirteen years old, they were continually crawling out the windows in order to rendezvous for the purpose of fornication with the boys from the “brother” camp down the road.  Unfortunately, it was also part of my set of responsibilities to specifically prevent this, on pain of I-don’t-know-what if one of them turned up pregnant after camp.

I got one one half-day a week, and one weekend a month, off.  My weekends were generally occupied in recklessly climbing the peaks of the Presidential Range, alone, without regard to life or limb.  The worst that came of it was a sprained ankle that I got while running full out down Mount Madison in a terrifying lightning storm.  I ended up spending the night rolled up in a tarp next to the road, awaking covered with mud and leaches.  The kindly man who gave me a ride back to the camp shook his head and clucked all the way.

My half-days were my canoe days.  I would borrow a canoe from the camp and slide out into the lake, taking compass bearings on the various islands; there were so many islands, and they looked so much alike, that one could easily get lost and spend days trying to find open water again.  My favorite thing was to back into some back-water marsh and just sit and watch the life teaming around me.  My very favorite moment was when I had gone out very early in the morning, when the mist was thick on the lake, and was sitting still on the water listening to the loons calling, when a whole family of the loons I had been listening to paddled up to my boat, looked at me with their red eyes, and sailed off again, calling with their eerie looney voices to others of their kind.

We did not spend that entire summer in isolation.  Keith and Martha managed somehow, despite Martha’s bulk, to conceive a child in a canoe in the middle of the lake.  Martha’s family was not at all happy about that situation and tried to make Keith pay for it in one way or another; but Martha was extremely pleased with having a child, and paid her family back by removing herself from their circle and arranging things with Keith so that he could be a father to his child, but that Martha retained her independence, which suited both of them perfectly.

Sandy and I had been friends and lovers already for a long time.  We were friends all the time, and lovers when both of us were between other lovers.  It worked out perfectly.  So on a day when my afternoon off began a bit earlier that usual, I took a canoe and high-tailed it over to Sandy’s camp, where he was basically alone except for Keith, who was working on the other side of the camp that day.

Sandy and I got to fooling around, and since there was a camp mattress in the cabin he was working on, we consummated our mutual desire in a most satisfactory way.  Afterwards, Sandy went for a dunk in the lake to clean up a bit, and I puttered about, naked as a jaybird, getting some lunch together.

There was a knock at the door.  Damn, thought I, I must have accidentally locked Sandy out.  So I unlocked the door and opened it.  There stood, not Sandy, but the owner of the camp, who took one look at me and turned his back, muttering inaudibly.  Then he opened his mouth and hollered, in his New Hampshire accent, SANDY? SANDY!  THEY-AH’S A NAKED WOH-MAN IN HE-AH!

Daily Post Challenge (Sort Of)

Note: Somehow or other, this post got posted without its title.  I could not abide that, so I fixed it.  The rest of the post continues to be regrettable.

I have been “sort of” doing WordPress’s Daily Post Challenge.  I usually post daily.  That is my hat tip to “challenge.” But so far I haven’t found their topics inspiring, and I almost always have some burning issue to blog about.  But today’s DPChallenge caught my eye.  “Have you ever broken the law?”  Like, really?

Hmmm.  I have to think about this.  I have a morbid fear of breaking laws, probably stemming from childhood when my parents devised creative punishments for my childish transgressions, like locking me in the car for hours (with the windows cracked a bit, of course).  But maybe not.

I really think my original terror of breaking the law came about through a near-death experience when I was ten.  My parents wanted to “take a nap” (we all know what THAT means, if we’re parents) and sent me out to play, with explicit instructions not to ride my bike past a certain point on the country road we lived on.  Well, not exactly on, since our driveway was nearly half a mile long, but it was the nearest paved road.

I rode down the permitted road till I got to my friend Colleen’s house.  Colleen had a lot of brothers, and could pee standing up.  Her parents worked, like, ALL the time and were never around, so Colleen and her brothers did whatever they wanted, and only ever ate things out of cans and boxes.  Anyway, Colleen got her hand-me-down Stingray bike with the red sparkly seat, which I coveted greatly, and we headed off down the forbidden part of the road.

We hadn’t got very far when something went wrong with my bike pedal, and as I looked down to see what it was, I swerved right into the path of an oncoming car and was hit, or so they told me after I came out of the coma.

Of course an ambulance-chaser lawyer was on the scene almost before I got to the hospital.  After I got home from the hospital, my parents actually asked me, at age ten, whether I thought they should sue the driver who hit me.  I panicked at the very idea, since I KNEW that the only reason the car had hit me was that I had disobeyed my parents, and to sue the poor driver, who was only the instrument for carrying out Divine Justice, would be heaping transgression upon transgression; so I begged them not to, and they didn’t.

Later on in my life, when I was desperate for money, I had no qualms about selling marijuana.  I thought the fact that it was illegal was ridiculous, especially since I sold it at fair prices.  There was nothing whatsoever wrong with providing freaks with good dope.  And I hitchhiked a lot, which was illegal.  I drove my 1967 Volvo B-27 late at night on curvy back roads as fast as I possibly could, and got stopped once.  The officer looked into my sweet young scared face and said, “All right, Miss, I’m not going to give you a ticket this time, but I better not see you driving that fast again.  You could get yourself killed, you know.”  I nodded vigorously, quaking with fear (since I am really afraid of breaking laws and the possible consequences, but mostly of policemen).

A bunch of years later I did get a ticket for driving my three-quarter-ton black Cummins Diesel Dodge 250 pickup with the eight-foot bed, diamond-plate truck box and running boards, at 90 miles an hour on a straightaway. I was thinking about a relationship that had gone bad, and wasn’t paying attention.  That truck could hit 120 and you wouldn’t even feel it.  Oh God I was in love with that truck.  I know the officer had a hard-on when he walked up to it.  All men did.  I loved the power of it.  The ticket bummed me out because it caused my insurance to go up, but I didn’t regret letting 590 cubic inches of diesel ponies out on that straightaway, no sir, no way.  I guess I got corrupted by the sheer power of that truck.

Since then my legal life has been pretty bland.  I got fined for having a tail-light out.  I got stopped because it was coming on dusk and I hadn’t put my lights on yet.  All vehicular infractions.

Now we come to the Breaking Of Religious Laws department, in which I am a hopeless heretic and recidivist.  To explain the underlying premises of the infractions would require more words than you would ever stand for, so I will not go into it.  Suffice it to say that if there is indeed a system in place such as Orthodox Judaism maintains, I will be in a heap of trouble after my spirit abandons its earthly vehicle.  More vehicular infractions.  I guess that’s my specialty, when it comes to breaking laws.  I just hope they don’t lock me in a car.

This Is My Brain, Love It Or Leave It

Right in the middle of last night, my phone rings.  When my phone rings it is impossible to ignore, because my ringtone is the intro to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”  I know, right, it’s more than a little extreme, but the idea is to get my attention and make me answer it so it will stop going, “boom boom BAH, boom boom BAH!”  And Freddy Mercury singing “Buddy you’re a boy,” etc.  

Where was I?  Oh, right.  So my phone goes off in the middle of the eff’ing night, and I pick it up, and it’s my longest bestest buddy friend from forever, with whom I used to go on adventures and get into high-jinks.  So I’m like, wow, what’s up, is everything OK?  I mean, I always wanna talk with you, but did you know it’s like, 2:30 am?   And he’s all like, yeah, I’m really sorry to call you at this hour, but I’ve got something to discuss with you that can’t wait.

And I’m like, wow, what’s the problem, baby?

So he’s like, look, I don’t know what it is or how it happened, but through you I contracted some kind of virus, and I passed it on to my eldest son, and now he is sterile.  He can’t have children.  And all this time, I have known it, and I’ve never said anything about it because I love you so much and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.  And the virus is incurable, and I know you didn’t know you had it, because if you did you would have told me.

Silence.  I’m sitting there in the dark gripping the phone, devastated by this news.

And I’m like, wow, what kind of virus is he talking about?  I don’t know of any viruses that cause the second generation to become sterile.  And my brain starts going Whirrr,  Whirrr, like a hard drive that’s gone sick, I’m sure you’ve all heard that sound.

Then I open my eyes and everything is black.  I’m lying on my back.  Noga, my little dog, is curled up next to my left ear same as always.

And I’m like, what the f*ck?  I turn on the light.  My phone is lying there on the bedside table.  The screen is dark.  I pick it up, look at the recent calls log.  None since yesterday, and none from him.  Oh shit, not again.

This Is My Brain On Drugs

This Is My Brain On Drugs

These drugs I take–the ones that keep me from doing harm to myself, the ones that keep me right-side-up enough to write this and other stuff–oy vey, are they a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, they keep me sane (sort of).  On the other, they make me crazy!  That middle of the night phone conversation was so crystal-clear real, that if it had not been for the bizarre content I would have just shrugged it off and called my friend the next day and said, Hey man, what’s with the 2 am phone calls?  I mean, I love you, man, but you know I don’t keep those hours anymore.

As it is, I did call him today, at a civilized hour, and told him the whole story.  We got a good larf out of it, anyway.  Then I went to my therapy session and told my therapist, and after she got all done laughing and wiping her eyes she said, “WHAT drugs are you taking now?”

“The usual,” I said.  We both shrugged.

There’s a Princess in My Bed

It’s a rainy, dismal morning: the sort of morning when you don’t want to get out of bed.

Noga refuses to get out of bed on a rainy morning!

Noga refuses to get out of bed on a rainy morning!


As most of you know, Noga is my Psychiatric Service Dog.  She helps me deal with the ups and downs of having Bipolar, PTSD, and a a few other DSM diagnoses.  She takes care of me at night when I get stricken with the Blind Terrors, and she torments me mercilessly when the time for my evening meds rolls around and I am still furiously writing.  When I get depressed she cuddles up to me and when I dissociate she pulls at my pants leg till I come back.

Her payoff–well, part of it, anyway–is that every morning she gets kisses and hugs.   She waits for me to wake up, and is usually snuggled up in the snuggly place between my left shoulder and my ear, which has been wonderful in the cold season; I think I shall have to put in air conditioning in the summer, though, so that the snuggling can continue unperturbed by sweatiness.

Back to the hugs and kisses part.  Noga will not get out of bed without her hugs and kisses.  And by some unit of measurement known and determined  only by her, she must have a certain quantity of hugs and kisses before she will get out of bed.  And there is a specific sequence to the ritual:

1.  Hugs and kisses, especially tummy rubs and kisses on the head, preferably between the eyes.

2. Stretches, with hugs and kisses along with.

3.  Scritches and playful tugs on the hind legs and tail, accompanied by little love nibbles on the active hand, given by the Princess.

4. Standing up and prancing about in the bedclothes, and “killing” some of them with fierce shakes.

When we get to this point, it is time to get out of bed and go outside to “do our thing,” since Noga does NOT use the Electric Toilet (see previous post).

Today was an exception.  Noga awakened, opened one eye, saw through the glass slider that it was pouring rain, and went back to sleep.  I tried kisses and hugs in vain.  She enjoyed them, yes, but she was not about to be moved.  Bed was where she planned to stay.  I could see it in her eyes:  I will stay here all day if need be.  You see, Noga has a morbid fear of getting wet.  She is rather like a cat in that respect.

I really could not believe that after ten hours in the sack she could not have to go potty; so I picked her up and cuddled her for a while, just to get her going.  Then I set her down in the bed, and as you can see in the picture above, her answer was: “No dice.”

Lhasa Apsos are arguably the most stubborn dogs in the world.  They make Corgis look like boot-lickers.  So I snatched her out of her warm bed and bundled her up in her Paddington Bear raincoat and carried her outside in the rain.  She looked like this:



She was not happy, and indeed she refused to look at me the entire time we were outside.  But we got the job done, and when we came inside and took off our raincoats we played chase and had breakfast and everything was lovely again.