Depression Comics Halloween

https://wp.me/s2dNEa-366

“Girl commits suicide after being shut out of graduation”

As if living with childhood depression isn’t bad enough, this young teen’s school decided to exclude her from graduation festivities. It was the last straw.

Mental illness is not contagious, but the way it’s treated, you’d think it was.

Depression Comics Hits a Homer

http://wp.me/s2dNEa-359

When I’m depressed, everything is all about the fact that I’m shit. Other people’s reactions are iron-clad proof that I’m shit….right?

In this comic, Clay brings a new perspective. I’m going to paste this one to the insides of my eyelids.

Depression Is A Drag

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but I haven’t been posting with the clock-like regulatory of previous days/years.  I just haven’t felt like it.  I haven’t felt like anything.

I’ve been inhabited by the demon Depression.  It’s sucked the life out of me.  I have no interest in anything at all.

If it weren’t for my dog I’d certainly be dead by now.  Sometimes I get frustrated by that.  It’s not like this is some passing cloud.  I’ve felt this way since childhood, with a few manic episodes thrown in so I could get something done and piss off everyone in my environment in the process.

I’ve ruined two childhoods (my own and my child’s), decimated two marriages, gained and lost more than one profession, and now slog through each day putting one foot in front of the other.  Just taking up space on the planet.  

I used to volunteer, feeding people less fortunate than I.  It made me feel good to be of service. Now that my skeleton has betrayed me, I can barely lift my coffee cup, let alone sling hash.  

I think about doing some kind of phone hotline thing, like a suicide prevention line.  Stupid.  How can I help someone else who’s in crisis, when I myself dream of going to Belgium, where euthanasia for intractable mental pain is legal?

I isolate myself.  Depression is not something to chat about.

“Good morning, how are you?”

“Fuck off.  I’m depressed.”

Or how about this one:

“How are we today?”

“We feel like shit.  How about y’all?”

“Oh, is it depressed?  Don’t wallow in it!  Put on a happy face!  The sun will come out soon.”

And other well-meaning drivel.  

“Oh, my (sister, friend, whatever) got depressed after her sixth baby, and they said it was a chemical imbalance, and she took, what’s the name of that stuff that begins with a “P,” for a whole week, and it was like magic!  You really ought to try that stuff.”

Yeah.  Thanks.

Really, the suggestions make me insane.

“Why don’t you go get some more of those magnetic brain treatments?”  –Mom

Because I get them in Canada.  My brain would freeze to the pavement right now.  If I’m still alive in the spring, I’ll brave the headache and get some more TMS.  

(Yes, I know it’s available in the U.S.  A very low-voltage wimpy version that barely surpasses placebo.  Thanks for the suggestion.)

“Why don’t you get one of those SAD lights?”–I forget whose helpful suggestion this was.

I’m in Arizona.  The light here is so bright it hurts my eyes even through sunglasses.  Do you really think a SAD light is going to help?  I have one, somewhere in one of my three storage buildings, each of which contains the relics of past lives.

The first one is 10 x 20 ft.  It contains my life from 1972 or so through 2002.  My own art, millions of family photos, my medical books (now obsolete), my general library (molded), tons of relics, memorabilia, horse stuff, VHS tapes, who the fuck knows.

Then there is the 10 x 10 foot unit with my life from Israel in it: plastic tubs full of gorgeous clothes that I used to wear every day, but in the casual States would look absurd everywhere except perhaps NYC; boxes of more books, religious; more art; and assorted personal effects.

Now there’s a new one, since my mother had all my stuff from my father’s former studio, where I lived until 3/4/15, boxed up and deposited in a brand new storage unit, so she could rent the studio out.  This one has my very personal effects in it, such as my Israeli I.D. documents, my jewelry, stuff I really wasn’t prepared to have dumped unceremoniously into boxes and carted away.

Clearly this is a thorn in my side, but it’s not the cause of my depression.

I have my family to thank for that.

My mother’s mother was in and out of the hospital because of depression, her entire life.  She suffered hundreds of ECT treatments.  Many of these were given at home.  My mother and her sister were tasked with holding their mother down while she convulsed.

My father’s father was paralyzed with depression.  Like me, he tried to outrun it a few times.  His doctor recommended he move to Florida, for the sunshine.  He did better there, except when he was overtaken by bouts of paranoia that precipitated episodes of going on the lam.  He would move my grandmother and himself from one seedy Jewish residential hotel to another, keeping ahead of some imaginary threat.  Eventually my grandmother would manage to put in a call to my father, and he would fly to Miami and somehow catch up with the fugitives.  Getting Grandpa to open the door and let him in was another matter.

There are suicides on both sides of the family.  It’s quite a genetic load.  

No one told me any of this until I was sitting in my bare room during my first hospitalization, trying to make sense out of this enormously intimate and awkward conversation, painfully aware of the fact that I had a roommate who was trying to be respectful of my non-existent privacy.  My father came to visit me just once.  He was too “shook up” seeing me in that condition.  My mother, who is always up for drama no matter what the cause, came every day, for the first two days.  After that it ceased to be exciting.  She is easily bored.

I’m not sure how long I can keep this up.  I don’t want to traumatize my son and my ancient mother.  Even more, I don’t want to leave my Biggess Doggess to suffer who knows what kind of fate.  She’s got failing kidneys and other health issues, despite being a young lass of 2 10/12.  I can’t bear the thought of someone not taking care of her.

I guess I’m not ready to die yet.  I still have what to live for, even if it’s not a love for life itself.  Even if I have outlived most of my purpose.  I wonder what will happen.

Eighth Night

The ultimate night of Hanukkah, in the year 5777 from Creation.

And the ultimate night of the civil year 2016.

And the beginning of Yom Rishon, or First Day, that always begins after the sun sets on the Holy Shabbat.

Time to be doing.  Time to be getting up and going! 

I think about my life in the past.  I was always getting up and going, doing, and doing even more!  I was never satisfied with “good enough.”  It had to be perfect.  Everything had to be perfect.  No such thing as “good enough.”

Being sick is pure torment.  I forget all the time why it is that I’m not at work.  I jump up and head for the phone, gonna get some work happening around here, can’t be that hard…OUCH!  Who broke my fucking arm?  WHOA, what happened to my neck???  And somebody’s stabbing me in the heart….what the fuck is going on here?  Why can’t I just go the fuck to work like a normal human being?

Take away my ability to do meaningful work, and you take away my self-worth.  I have a hard time feeling like I’m worth a rat’s ass even on a good day, when I’ve gone in and saved lives…but when I’m stuck on the sidelines, I may as well be dead.  

It would be a lot easier if I could tell from one day to the next, how I am going to feel.  If I knew, for instance, that every Tuesday would be an OK day, that I would go to the bathroom like a mensch, and my shoulders wouldn’t cause me to squeak every time I reached for something, and my brain would not be either fogged over from depression or reeling with the electrical overload from mania…if I could count on every Tuesday being a good day, then it would be possible to get a volunteer gig for Tuesdays.  A volunteer thing would do wonders for my heart and mind.

Too bad I don’t have any good Tuesdays!  Or Wednesdays, Thursdays, etc.

I hate to whine.  I know some people are going to actually read this, and probably will go, oh, fer krissake will you stop whining and get on with it!

I feel the same way. 

It’s been 16 1/2 years since I fell off the balance beam.  I have held on to the notion that there must be some greater purpose in it.  That, you know, it must be part of the Grand Design, that certainly I would be one of those who Triumph Over Adversity.

That has not been the case, at least not so far.  I haven’t given up.  Where there’s life there’s, etc.  It’s just that things are gradually becoming more unpleasant.  I wonder when, and how, this thing will end?

Postcard From The Ol’ West

Hi!  We’re having a delightful stay in the sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, sleepy, sleepy (KNOCK IT OFF, DORMOUSE!) border town of Deming, New Mexico.

People come here to be where it’s warm in the winter and cheap all the time!  It’s so cheap here, the K-Mart had to shut down because, well, there isn’t enough money for both a Wal-Mart AND a K-Mart in this town, pardner.

But it has roadrunners!  Lots of roadrunners!  I been trying to get a video to post for you, but those sonsabitches run like the devil was after ’em.  Stay tuned.

No tarantula sightings yet.  Guy I met yesterday says his dog catches the bastards, rips their legs off, and eats the bodies.  Says he finds piles of hairy giant spider legs he has to sweep up.  Put me in mind of the mess after a pile of wings.  With hair.

That’s about it for now.  Did I mention it’s cheap?   

I just rolled in after a few harrowing days on the road, a bit on the depressed side, everything is filthy and I have forced myself to rest on the Sabbath so that I can devote tomorrow to unloading my Silver Toaster so I can clean, clean, clean.  I hope to feel better fast.

I just found out why this place is so rotten with roadrunners.  The people here hand feed them with raw hamburger.  Meep, meep!

Rain On The Brain

It’s raining again in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I left my precious Arizona, hot but at least high and dry, to trade in my trusty Jenny the Chevy camper for the 24 foot house on wheels that I ordered back in November. 

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I’ve been sick ever since my arrival last Thursday.  Stress is a bitch!  And for me there is nothing more stressful than moving, even if it’s from one mobile dwelling to another.  I get completely disoriented with all my personal shit strewn around.  Disorder breeds more disorder. 

Speaking of disorder, my dear doggy is completely discombobulated.  All her two favorite hangout places in our previous van are gone.  Like moi, she’s having to adjust to this new space and new lifestyle, all of a sudden. There’s lots more room for her to stretch out in the aisle, but I’ve configured the bed in a way that is unacceptable to her, so she is sleeping in the driver’s seat in protest.

I’ve been in awful, unremitting pain ever since I left the lovely dry Southwest.  Humidity kills me.  My spine is screaming; likewise my shoulders, hands, and hips: all the arthritic places.  And wouldn’t you know it, I had a Crohn’s flare-up start the day I moved my stuff from Jenny into my new rig (whose name might be Betsy).  I finally got the blood stains out of my brand new plastic toilet this morning.  That’s one of the lovely things that come with a Crohn’s flare: shitting blood.  I’ve got a sore throat, headache, and spent last night alternately chilling and sweating.  Fucking immune system, where are you when I need you?  Either running hot or on vacation, and sometimes both at the same time.

My sweet doggie came to see me about dawn.  She must have been listening to me shifting uncomfortably around in the bed, trying unsuccessfully to find a pain-free position.  She tried to worm her way into bed with me, but she is still a puppy, albeit a large one; and in the process of her thrashing around trying to cuddle up with me, she accidentally slashed my throat with one of her claws, and razored me up pretty good. 

My sleep deprived, paining self overflowed and I began to wail.  Poor Atina fled to the driver’s seat, and required a great deal of comforting for the rest of the morning.  She feels terrible when she hurts me.  She knows I am fragile, and tries her best to take care of me. But she is large and ungainly.  Accidents are bound to happen.

After applying first aid to my gashed and bleeding throat, I sat down with my new vaporizer and medicated.  I felt better.  I started the day.

Yesterday it rained.  Today it rained.  I’ve grown accustomed to places that don’t steam all the time.  I intend to make my way back West, where I feel good.  A friend called me a little while ago, from Glacier National Park.  He is not a formally religious man, but he said that Glacier felt to him like knowing God.

God and I have been on the outs for some time, so I think I’ll head over to Glacier and see what my friend is talking about.  I wouldn’t mind having a God experience.  My mind needs a jump start.

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This far corner of Montana is 1,713 miles from where I currently sit.  And that doesn’t take account of my planned side trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

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The arrow is supposed to point to the Upper Peninsula.  The little blue dot at the bottom is where I am now. So the whole trip will be a big adventure with my new motorhome as I learn its ins and outs. 

I’m glad I temporarily have the ability to do this kind of gypsying.  I won’t always.  Finances and ill health will eventually clip my wings; but I’ll keep on as long as life lets me.  I’ll go as long and as hard as I can, and be gentle with myself too.

That’s my spiritual discipline now: giving myself permission not to do, but to be.  I get depressed.  I say, OK, I’m depressed.  It will pass.  I use cannabis as part of my medication regimen.  It works.  It helps me get through the depressions.  It helps me feel better.  Isn’t that the point of medication?

None of the meds we take for brain pain are “disease modifying.”  They don’t work unless we take them.  If we stop taking them, they stop working.

Cannabis will break me out of a suicidal depression.  It helps me engage with the world, with my environment.  I feel creative.  I can cook and clean up, take a shower, talk to people.  I don’t lie around crying all day.  I’m still depressed, but I’m more functional and less likely to hole up isolated.

Sometimes I’m just too sick though, like last night when I couldn’t even think well enough to pick up the vaporizer till my dog broke me out of it by slashing my throat.  Well, it was over the top, but it changed my state, so I guess it was all right.  Hope the wound heals.  The skin right there is awfully thin.

I hate it that I’m too disabled to work.  All I want to do is to be in my own office, healing the sick.  But I’m too sick to heal anyone, not even myself.  This mobile lifestyle helps me to not go crazy mourning my lost calling.  It’s a distraction, true, and that’s what I need.

It’s interesting to see how campgrounds are places of refuge for the mentally ill and physically disabled.  Of course no one you meet will say, “My name is Doris, and I’m mentally ill.”  Nope, she will say she has a bad knee, or something legit like that.  All the talk about getting rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness has done absolutely nothing compared to the speculation about the “mental health” of the various recent shooters.  Hell, if I were to tell some campground owner that I’m bipolar, you can bet they would be fresh out of campsites.  Mental cases not welcome anywhere…not openly, anyway.  But we’re here.  We are transient; we float from place to place.  We keep quiet and don’t cause trouble.  But we don’t disclose. 

When will the Mentally Ill Matter? 

Maybe never.  We’re the Invisible Minority.

A Coupla Bummers and A Miracle

Well, it was Thanksgiving in America, again.

A friend of mine calls it Shabbos Hodu.  (“Shabbos” is the Eastern European version of the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” or Sabbath).  “Hodu” is the Hebrew word for both “turkey (the bird)” and the imperative form of one of the many words for “to thank.”  Thus, “Shabbos Hodu!”

In Orthodox Judaism there is no “Thanksgiving Day,” because we formally give thanks to God at least six times a day, and sometimes more often.

The three daily prayers, which take up to an hour each, contain 19 paragraphs of blessing.  Each of these blessings opens and closes with a verse of thanks.  There is a separate blessing expressing thanks in general, and when there is a quorum of ten people, a special very beautiful paragraph is sung that describes the praises of the Angels.  There is a verse in every prayer beseeching the Creator to rebuild Jerusalem, our Holy City.

The other three “Thank you’s” are contained in the Blessing After Meals, said after any meal containing more than a certain amount of bread (the exact amount is part of Jewish Law), and a shorter version that is said after eating any non-bread product containing one of the five varieties of grain that grow in the Land of Israel: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, barley.  The long version takes me 45 minutes to say, because I say each word with concentration on its meaning.  I learned this from my teachers.

In these prayers also, the rebuilding of Jerusalem figures large.  Both sets of prayers were codified while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon, after the Babylonian conquest had razed Jerusalem.

However, I no longer live in a Jewish community, let alone Israel; and to tell you the truth, I’m not really practicing Orthodox Judaism these days.

It was so wonderful living in our little country, being able to practice my religion in an unfettered way.  We could wear our special religious items–you know, the ones we are prohibited from bringing to the Temple Mount–right in the street, in the buses, anywhere, without people screaming epithets and other unpleasantries.

I once had a conversation with a black woman from New Orleans who had converted to Islam, married a Lebanese man, and moved with him to Saudi Arabia.  I met her in India.  She wanted to know why we Jews had to have our own country, when we could be Jewish anywhere in the world.

I was so taken aback by this question that I had to sit and think for a minute.  At last I got hold of my senses and asked her,

“Were you able to practice Islam in America?”

“Well, of course!”

“Then why did you move to Saudi Arabia?”

“Oh, because it’s an Islamic country!  Saudi Arabia enforces strict Shari’a Law, so it is the purest Islam…”

For a moment, understanding dawned in her eyes, but it faded just as quickly.  I developed something that needed my urgent attention, and left my friend wondering what went wrong.

Oh yes. I was talking about Thanksgiving in America.

Since I’m in America for the foreseeable future, I am doing some things American style, like Thanksgiving Day and gifts for Hannukah (our Festival of Lights, coming up next week).  In Israel, Hannukah is a time for celebrating miracles.  Gifts are not really a central theme.  It’s all about the light. ( More on that next week.)  The American practice of giving gifts on Hannukah seems to have arisen in order to keep Jewish children from being bummed out because of Christmas.

Since my son’s father is Christian, my son goes to him for Christmas.  For the past few years, my son and I have been “doing” Thanksgiving together.

While my father was alive, my son would come to my parents’ house and he and I would make a kosher turkey, and we would all get gorked on the usual T-day dishes.

Last year I was still in shock from my father’s death in early October, so my son and his then-girlfriend made a huge feast at his house.  People dropped by, roommates who had stayed in town for their own reasons cruised by and partook, we all smoked a lot of weed, and generally had a good time.  My mother was not invited, because she has made herself unwelcome by her delight in shaming me in front of my son.

This year my mother decided to fly to my cousins and have Thanksgiving with them.  I was not invited.  My cousins, who suck up to her for their own reasons, did not invite me either.  That being the case, I felt no pangs of guilt when I accepted my son’s invitation, party of one.

Then my mother decided to cancel her Thanksgiving plans, for her own reasons.  Since she knew my son had invited me (party of one), she got herself invited to one of her many friends, who has a big family, so my mom could feel really angry that her own family had not invited her.

For some reason my son did not invite anyone else to dinner.  His own reasons, I guess.  It was a little weird having just he and I, especially since he was in one of his dark moods, brooding and irritable.  I really wish he would start taking lithium again, but he angrily rejects the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder that, in his opinion, was foisted upon him as a teenager.

So that was Thursday.

I slept in my camper van, in the parking lot of his apartment complex.  One of his neighbors, who had clearly been watching out for me, accosted me as I headed out to go to bed, demanding to know if I was visiting someone in the complex.  Surely he had seen me exiting my son’s door…

My nerves were already frazzled from dinner with my glowering son, so I fired back,

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I think you’re just camping here.”  Whoa, let’s just get some holiday spirit of giving on here, hey?

I wanted to say to him, “Listen, Mr. Nice Guy, even if I was ‘just camping here,’ there’s a whole fucking empty parking lot because everyone has gone elsewhere for the holiday.  And what are you angry at, anyway?”

But I didn’t say that, because there’s always the possibility that a poor unhappy fucker like that will call the police, and I was already tired and tense enough.  So instead I said,

“Well, I am camping here.  This (pointing to my camper) is my bedroom.  I’m visiting ____ in Apartment _____.  Would you like him to come out and speak with you?”

As it turns out, this unfortunate fellow has seen my son, who is a weight lifter and quite muscular and buff.  So the sorry sucker subsided, and allowed as how that would not be necessary.  I also subsided, went into my spaceship and slept fitfully, as people constantly came and went, car lights and porch lights flashing.  My PTSD surrounding cops blazed like a tiger in the night.

Friday.  I woke up feeling like shit.  Depression.  Again. Still.

Went in and stood under my son’s excellent shower for half an hour while he went to work for a while.

When he came back, I said, “Listen, I’m feeling really disorganized brain-wise.  Do you mind if I hang out till tomorrow?”

The minute the words left my mouth I saw the twitch in his face that said, Oh No, Not That!

“Um…listen, Mom, to be honest, um, I really need my space.”

My heart hit the pavement.  Then I noticed the spiffy outfit.

Date.

Yeah, I was glad he was able to tell me no, but on the other hand I wished he had seen fit to be honest and say something more like, “Oh wow, Mom, I really wish you could, but since I thought you were leaving today, I made plans.”  That would have sent me off with a smile and a lighter heart.

“Oh, that’s OK,” I chirped, suddenly feeling like I’d been handed the bum rush.*

He graciously allowed me to stay long enough to use his internet to find a campground.  I found one pretty close by, said my goodbyes, and lit a shuck out of there.**

____________________________________________________

I called my mother today, just to see how she is doing, and I wish I had put money on the bet that I made with myself.  I would have won.  She barely spoke to me, and clearly had her victim act all planned out, in case I called.  I laughed.  Couldn’t help myself: it was all too predictable.

Now for the Miracle part.

My sweet Belgian Malinois, Atina, is most certainly an angel.

She sleeps in the right-hand third of my bed.  The left-hand third is reserved for all the computer-related shit that won’t fit anywhere else.

The only thing I had the energy to make for dinner was a cup of gluten-free microwave macaroni and cheese.  While I was mechanically going through the motions of making it, Atina was busy doing something in the bed.

She was pushing my duvet into a nest-like shape toward the pillow.  No, wait.  She was pushing it with her nose, straightening the edge up toward the pillow.  I thought, you cutie, you are making yourself a nest out of my duvet, and you know that’s my spot in the bed!  But I did not scold her.  My heart was brimming with love.  She pushed and pulled at my pillow, fluffing it and making it into a nice continuum with my duvet.  Aha, I thought, now I will see you plump yourself down in my spot!

But that’s not what she was about at all.

When she got my part of the bed all fixed up to her satisfaction, she plopped herself down–on her side of the bed!  She had made my bed up–for me!

I dropped what I was doing and hugged and kissed her for a long time.  By the way she reacted, she knew that I knew what she had done for me…she made a place for me to rest.  She did it with love and care.  As I write this, I am lying in the bed my dog prepared for me.  Her breathing is soft and even as she sleeps in her own third of the bed.

“Friends may come and friends may go, but your dog will always be glad to see you.”

_____________________________________________________

*”The bum rush”: A term dating from the Great Depression and possibly earlier, when many out-of-work men went “on the bum,” going from door to door begging for food, money, a place to sleep…if the man of the house took offense, the beggar would be chased off the place–“given the bum rush.”

**”To light a shuck” means “to leave in a hurry.”  It has its origin in the  Civil War, when dried corn shucks were used as fuses for light cannons and field artillery.  Once you “lit a shuck,” you had to run like hell because not only did the big guns recoil (and could run you over), but also sometimes the cannons would backfire, shooting cannon balls behind instead of in front of them.  The idiom is still in use in the Southern and Southwestern United States.  It is one of my favorites.

 

 

So Much For My Salmon!

Yesterday I shared my horror at discovering that the guvvy is mucking about with the food supply again–this time in the form of “GMO” giantized salmon.

At the very moment of that writing, a fillet of what looked to be perfectly normal Atlantic salmon reposed in my fridge.  I purchased this, mind you, before I had any idea that Frankensalmon could be even now glaring at me through the fish counter window.

After reading the GMO fish article I reflected a moment, then decided not to pitch it based on its petite proportions.  After all, I am petite (?). 

So this evening I decided to eat it, despite the fact that I was not at all hungry.  I have been struggling with this damn depression for many months now, which has ruined my appetite and made me even more petite.  But I gathered my resolve.  I must eat if I am to have strength to fight this monkey off my back, right?

So I took a pack of this yummy gluten free rice ramen, which tastes like cardboard soaked in hot pee.  A nice piece of fresh salmon will flavorize it, right?

Removing the fillet from its brown paper wrapping, I inspected it for signs of illegitimacy.  There were none.  I smelled it.  It smelled like fresh salmon.

Atina, my now-20-month-old Belgian Malinois, was driving me crazy humping her fleece blanket.  She does that.  Often.  She is a sex-crazed teenager.

So, to get her mind off of humping for two minutes, I cut a strip of raw salmon skin into tiny bits, made her sit and look deeeply into my eyes, and handed her a bit of salmon.

You would think that any dog would be in ecstatic transports, being the lucky recipient of a piece of salmon, no?

No.

Atina rolled it around on her palate, gave it a cursory chew, and spit it out on the floor with a look that said, “Awww, wadja do THAT for?”

“Girl,” says I, “You have just become the Royal Tasteress.”

I threw the rest of that fucking fish in the freezer, to be disposed of next time I go to the dump. 

I really think this is a sign that after our Thanksgiving duck I need to become a better vegetarian.

My main problem is motivation.  No, wait.  My main problem is that I’m too fucking depressed to care whether I eat or not.  It’s a vicious cycle, because the less I eat, the more my nutrition suffers, my body falls apart, my brain doesn’t work right, and everything sucks more.

If I had a lovely dark skinned South Indian kitchen staff cooking for me, I bet I’d eat.  There is nothing that will make my senses happier than dosai (a crepe made out of lentil paste) filled with spiced potatoes, with sambar (a piquant soup served with dosai and related dishes), coconut/green chili chutney, tamarind chutney, and slurping it up gloriously with the hands.

I think of my beautiful brown friends in South India who fed me so lovingly, and begged me to stop crying because it was making them sad.  But I couldn’t stop crying because no one had ever been so kind to me before.

One woman in particular touches my heart to its core.

She is a big woman in a culture that values petiteness, and she feels this acutely.  Also she is very dark, and Indian women are obsessed with trying to make themselves fair.

I think she is the most beautiful woman in the world.  When she wraps you up in her soft-strong hug, chuckling from somewhere in her soul, you feel embraced by the Cosmic Mother.

When she confided her sadnesses to me, I said, only half joking, “Oh my dear, you are so beautiful, can I come and live at your house?”

She looked very seriously and long, her deep brown eyes into my mood-ring blue hazel ones, and said,

“Yes.”

Unlike myself, who live in a tin can with a bathroom in it, my friend lives in a mud hut with no bathroom in it.  Cooking is done over an open fire.  Panthers, tigers, snakes and rabid domestic animals are the local hazards, not counting the men.  My friend’s husband beat her because she miscarried her baby, then he left her for another girl.

I have to think of her more.  A large part of me wishes I hadn’t left.  Another, larger piece of me wants to go back and find her.   I would learn how to cook dosai, iddlies, vadas, biryani…anything to make those deep brown eyes light up.

But no salmon.

I don’t believe my friend has tasted salmon.

The Shunamite Woman and The Rejection of Suffering

I often get replies and emails from people telling me how fortunate I am to have a life rife with unfortunate events.  I usually trash these well-meaning yet invasive, even brazen, suggestions that my suffering is in fact a blessing.

First I would say that compared to most of the suffering people I know and interact with, mine is petty, and I know it.  But it’s MY suffering, and I will not abrogate my right to express how I feel about it.

I would like to draw your attention to an illustration in the Bible that shows us that even the strong can suffer greatly, although they might not show it to everyone.  There are many such illustrations in Scripture, but this one has always caught my attention: the story of the prophet Elisha (student of Elijah) and the Shunamite woman (Shunam is a place-name): Kings II 4:11-37

True to a common theme in the Bible, the Shunamite woman was childless, and the Man of God (Elisha) caused her to conceive and bear a son.  The son grew and went to the fields with his father, and suddenly cried out “My head, my head!”  And fell down senseless, and his father’s attendant carried him to his mother.  His mother held him on her lap until he died, and then she carried his body to the attic room where Elisha was accustomed to stay, and she laid him on Elisha’s bed.

Then she took a donkey and rode up to the cave of Elijah in Carmel (I have been there and it is on the side of a cliff, no small feat to arrive there).  She called out Elisha and said, “Why did you give me a child if it was just going to be taken from me?”  And she threw her arms around his knees and vowed that she would not let go until Elisha came with her.

Which he did, and found the dead boy lying on his bed.  First Elisha told his servant Gehazi to lay Elisha’s staff across the child’s face, but nothing happened, so Elisha stretched himself out on top of the boy and blew into his mouth.  Nothing happened, so he walked around the house, first one way, then the other, and then repeated the mouth-to-mouth until the boy sneezed seven times and sat up.  Elisha said, “Pick up your son!”  So she fell at his feet in gratitude, after which she “picked up her son and left.” 4:37

This story illustrates that suffering does not always show on the outside.  Elisha knew that the Shunamite woman suffered because she had no child; and when her child died and she went to Elisha, she said, “Did I ever ask for a child?  Did you give me a child just to mock me?”

“What, is this some cruel joke you have played on me?”  says the Shunamite woman.   Elisha had nothing to say to that, so he had to come with her.

This is all very mysterious, and full of implied questions and gaps in logic.  The answers to the many questions raised here are addressed in the Gemara, the huge library of Jewish commentary and law.  One set of the books of the Gemara take up entire walls.

The Gemara is full of stories like the one about the woman whose child dies on Friday afternoon (the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday nights).  Not wanting to destroy her husband’s joy in the Sabbath, she waited to tell him about their son’s death until after the Sabbath, all the while acting as if there was nothing wrong.

I heard of a great scholar in my neighborhood whose wife died on Friday afternoon, and when the Sabbath came in he rejoiced, ate and drank and sang like usual, until the end of the Sabbath, at which time he sat down on a low stool and mourned bitterly.  This he did for the Shivah week, the week after her death, and the following Friday (for Shabbat is not counted in the seven days of Shivah) he got up from his stool, bathed and changed his clothes (part of the intense mourning of the Shivah week is that we don’t do these things), and rejoiced in the Shabbat when it came in.

There is a book put out by the Breslov brand of Hassidim called the “Garden of Emunah.” emunah meaning “faith.”  Since the Breslov sect’s founder, Rebbi Nachman of Breslov, taught (in the 17th century C.E.) that we must never despair, his followers often interpret that to mean “always be happy, never be sad, and depression is a depraved state of mind.”  This book, “The Garden of Emunah,” is filled with anecdotes about horrible things happening to children, and awful illnesses happening to mothers of 12, and the theme is that they all took it as a blessing from God that they got to suffer in these ways.

I am not that holy.

If that’s what it takes to get to….wherever…..it’s like, OK God, these humans are telling me that You don’t give me anything I can’t bear.

Um, let me let you in on a secret.

You made me, right?  And You made the shoulders that are supposed to bear my burden.

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the part about how You have wide shoulders, and all I have to do is give my burdens over to You, let go and let God, etc., but let me tell You, Boss, how long to I have to throw myself on the ground and cry out to You before something gives?  Am I a cruel joke, that you’ve created me and now you play with me like a cat plays with a toy?

Elisha, Elisha, where are you?  They say that Elijah the Prophet can appear anytime, disguised as anyone, especially a beggar.  I am certainly a beggar, but I am no Elijah.

I climbed up the cliff path to his cave in Carmel, and I inserted myself into a niche in the deepest part of the cave, and I prayed, and I went into another world.  I lost track of time, and almost missed my ride.  Four years later, I received a healing from something physical, Hallelu-Yah.

I have given up praying for my mental illness to be taken away.  I think of King David and King Saul, both of whom were mentally ill until their deaths.  Saul lost his kingship because of a manic act of disobedience to God.  David’s cycles of elation and crashing depression are clearly written in the Psalms.  Samuel I also illustrates the craziness of both Saul and David, as elaborated in the link above.

So to all you bearers of Sweetness-And-Light, please enjoy your easy lives and don’t envy those whose burdens appear to be heavier than yours.  As a physically disabled friend of mine says, “You are all Temporarily Able-bodied.”

I would add, “You are all Temporarily Sane.”