The Purpose of Pain

When it comes to physical pain, it’s purpose is hardly in question: It focuses us to where our immediate attention and action is required.

We accidentally rest our hand on a hot stove top burner and, without our sense of pain, our hand, if it weren’t for our sense of smell, would become cooked well enough to serve up at the next meal.

We could laugh at this, but sadly and horrifically there are some who do not experience the sense of physical pain due to a rare condition known as congenital analgesia.

Continue reading “The Purpose of Pain”

The Power of About

I may be mistaken, but it is my belief that we’ve all been to that dark, lonely place at least once or twice in our lives where we, and the lives we have led, seem…

Insignificant.

Less than.

Pointless.

power-of-about

It’s a scary place and one which I suspect, and hope, the majority of us visit only infrequently and fleetingly because our lives are fulfilling and rewarding enough to steer us clear from the depression that can lead us there.

However, I also suspect that there is a significant minority of us who visit this dark, lonely place more often and for longer periods than most since, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 19% of the United States’ adult population experience some degree of mental illness throughout the year [1]. And, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States [2].

I, myself, became a frequent visitor of this dark, lonely place not long after I began taking high doses of the steroid prednisone to combat a deadly disease that was destroying my lungs, and one which I was given little chance of surviving.

It was a hard enough to mentally process that my life may soon be ended by an aggressively fatal disease — pretty tough for anyone to process, I would imagine — but couple that bummer news with a steroid that induces psychosis-like side-effects and, yeah… double bummer.

Consequently, it wasn’t long before I found myself spending nearly as much time in that dark, lonely place as I was out of it.

It’s hard to explain what I and my mind were going through whenever I visited there. I’m not sure there is a way to describe it wholly in just a few words. It is both a tangible and intangible feeling. A cold feeling sometimes. A heavy feeling other times. But it was almost always a feeling of pointlessness. A feeling of… Why bother?

I was dying. My body had failed me and I had failed my family. The only thing I felt I was good for now were my less than adequate disability checks. Were I gone, my life insurance payout would have been much more rewarding and helpful for those whom my absence would release from the burdens my illness had placed upon them.

Yeah… I was down there in that indelible darkness of depression pretty deep.

Fortunately for me I had a saving grace — several of them, in fact.

One, the primary one, was a support network of family and friends who loved me, cared for me, and prayed for me.

Another, was that I like to write.

The Writing Hand
The Writing Hand

I began blogging shortly after my leukemia diagnosis. Nothing too deep or introspective — though scared, I was completely confident I was going survive — just updates to keep my friends and family informed of my health and happenings during my treatment.

But months later after learning my lungs were slowly dying away as a side-effect result from my bone marrow transplant, and having to begin a hefty prednisone regiment in an effort to slow the dying process down, my positive perspective on things changed significantly.

Though the drug-induced and drastic mood swings made it difficult to focus, I began to blog more often and about more personal matters. And while I regard my blogging experience during this difficult time as a very beneficial, therapeutic activity — an activity I presume many others regard beneficial as well, for a simple Google search of the term “writing therapy” resulted in around 259,000,000 results — it wasn’t helping me to shake the persistent feeling of irrelevance; of feeling that I others would better off if I were dead.

Fortunately for me, since I was spending more time thinking deeply about my life for my blog, I eventually began tinkering with my blog’s “About” page.

And this tinkering proved to be yet one more saving grace; for it led me on a path to try to discover things about myself that others might find interesting enough to inspire them to read more of my writing.

And once I began thinking in more of a self-promotional, third-person kind of way about my life, I began realizing and rediscovering things about myself that I found to be very special and unique.

For the next week or so, I stopped blogging altogether and, like a gold digger after finding his first valuable nugget, I worked passionately on mining through my past to dig up and write down all the meaningful nuggets I could find.

And when I was finally satisfied that my life was properly represented on the page, I began to craft the long, meaningful list of me into a voice that, when others read it, would be heard distinctly as mine.

When I was finished*, my “About” page was more than just being about me… it was me.

And even now when reading this long and winding written documentary of me, I am filled with a sense of gratitude and purpose so powerful that, even if I were to once again visit that dark, lonely place, I could never do so feeling as if my life were pointless and without meaning.



1. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
2. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml


*As I live and grow, so too does my “About” page. It will never be finished completely… until I am.

SILENCE – A Relating to Humans Mental Health Issue

SILENCE
by l1brarygrl

It’s a family friend’s annual Thanksgiving party in Potomac. I stand in her elegant and eclectic front hall and gaze at the photograph my stepmother has just taken. The screen of her digital camera shows a lovely girl, radiating joy and quiet confidence with her smile. This smile highlights the dimple on her right cheek, her straight, strong teeth, and warm hazel eyes. The amber lighting softens the bold red of the sleek, shoulder-length hair framing her slender, graceful neck. The black and tan ruffled top, cut low, exposes taut, shimmery skin. The inviting hollow at the base of her neck releases a delicate swirl of lavender and honey, her favorite scent, dotted there a few hours ago. I know this because I am the lovely girl beaming up at me, a lovely girl who entertains thoughts of death each day.

This doesn’t mean I think of killing myself each day, though, at times, suicidal thoughts batter down the chemical barrier built by precious pills. Musing on death, on being dead, brings with it a peace that smells of rich, moist soil and honeysuckle. When suicide cells sucker punch my chemical bouncers, all color bleeds away. Only black remains, bordering an empty space like a long forgotten page in a coloring book. I attempt to downplay it by imagining bits of my Major Depressive Disorder giggling mischievously, scurrying for cover as I swallow 150 milligrams of Effexor each morning and night. I concede, however, that my disorder deserves more respect. You see, the eleven-year-old me remains within. What she witnesses sets the stage for the starring role this disease plays in my life. The two of them intertwine like kudzu run amok. They distain any rosy blush of health and destroy green buds of promise like a late frost. Her penance involves keeping a record of my failures and playing it on a continuous loop, like a favorite song. She lingers, nurturing my enthusiasm for death, feeding the monstrous guilt for living.

Since December 2009, any strength and courage I possess in resisting their calls to desist comes from pills and weekly therapy sessions with Peggy. Pleasantly plump and comforting like a warm crescent roll, and hand picked to help after a talk with John on the suicide hotline, we fit together nicely. Nestled in the back corner of the practice’s suite, her office invites conversation and confession with a plush black leather sofa and Batik embroidered pillows in desert hues I embrace. The inherent problem in freeing grisly events and thoughts of the past and present to her, however, is that she knows me now. She reads and interprets me better than any one else. Like a mama bear, she senses when one of her cubs is in danger. She and I meet as I teeter on the precipice.

My older sister Jill and I live with Dad at the 1960’s ranch-style house in West Laurel after he and Mom divorce. Neither of them talks to us about their separation. Instead, they enlist our Presbyterian minister, Reverend Sonnenday, to break the news. It’s late summer and Jill and I play croquet in the front yard, the grass the color and texture of hay. It crunches under our bare feet. Out of nowhere, the Reverend approaches us and bending to our level, explains what’s happened. At age seven, his words and seriousness of the situation escape me. The only images I retain of my parents together are a hurried wedding day photograph and a recent Olan Mills portrait, the four of us in complementary shades of blue. Years later, I realize it’s a parting gift. Ten-year-old Jill understands, though. I believe her face ages at that moment. The first day of second grade, I raise my hand eagerly when my teacher, Mrs. Mumma, asks about our summer. “My parents are getting divorced.”

Peggy asks why Mom and Dad divorce. “She cheated on him. That’s why he got custody of us.” How do I know? “She told me.” I’m twenty-four, live in Towson, attending Towson State, my second attempt at a bachelor’s degree. Life glows tentatively with this upturn in independence: I pay for school and rent with my own savings. Mom and my stepfather, Hubert, live comfortably in suburbia. She drives up for a day of shopping. I notice the weight loss, the new outfit, and constant grin. Back at the townhouse I share with two roommates, she confides in me as we rummage through packages.

“I’m leaving Hubert.” “I’ve been in love with Ken since Geneseo (where she spent one year at college).” “We’ve seen each other through two marriages.” “He’s a wonderful man.” “For a second there, we thought you were his.” As my mind processes this heap of awfulness, I automatically say I’m glad for her and wish her much happiness. She giggles like a teenager. The sun through my window grows harsh, merciless.

Peggy asks how often I think of suicide. “Every day. As long as I can remember.” She lists numerous signs of major depression in a questioning way as I nod at each one: feeling helpless, hopeless, worthless, dread, fear, and self-loathing.

“Can you tell me why?”

The catalyst for my gradual decay occurs one evening of my eleventh year. Dad sits in his favorite chair: brown, orange, and ivory plaid that matches the long sofa in the living room. Trim and athletic from squash and volleyball, his short brown hair recedes but shows no sign of grey. He has hazel eyes and long eyelashes that I inherit. A tiny regiment of sewing needles stands at attention, stuck in to the left armrest. He grabs one and picks at the skin surrounding his fingernails. When he pulls enough flesh away, he tears it off with his teeth and spits it out onto the worn mustard carpet. He works his way diligently through all ten digits, leaving raw pink spots behind. I try it when he’s not around and it hurts.

At fourteen, my sister, Jill, exhibits more than the usual mood swings of teen girls. Too often, her thin, brown frame emits tremors of tension and anger like a rubber band stretched too tight. I sense a growing unease between her and Mom, who we see every other weekend and Wednesday nights after she and Dad divorce in 1976. Unaware of the scope of my sister’s suffering, she confuses and confounds me with her stubborn insistence to incur the wrath of Dad. I fear and love him in equal measure. One face slap and threats of “the belt” keep me cowering and quiet. He lashes out at Jill more often because she pushes and prods like a prosecutor, questioning his stance for refusing her requests, usually to stay out later with questionable friends.

I stand in the kitchen doorway as he denies her wish that night. In vain I will her to not press the issue, to back away, and return to her room. A raging fear fills my airways and my breath stills as it escalates, as Jill knows it will. Like a Shostakovich symphony, their voices become sharp and manic chords daggers thrown at each other, and then silence.

I hear the creak of Dad’s chair as he rises, his fists and feet making dull thuds and slapping sounds as they connect to Jill’s bony frame. His limbs take on a life of their own, finding exposed shins, arms, head, and inherited cheekbones. She totters backwards down the hall. It becomes a barbaric ballet. Without thinking, I pick up the phone receiver to call the police or Mrs. Green across the street. In the seconds it takes to decide Dad’s future, I turn my head and our hazel eyes meet. I don’t know if his look or voice says, “Hang up,” but I do. As the receiver clicks in place, I understand that, at age eleven, I have failed Jill.

The next day, I walk down the hallway and hear, “Hey,” as I pass our shared bathroom. I stop and turn. Jill leans against the anemic pink laminate countertop in her bra and underwear. A thin, tortoise-shell barrette holds her shiny brown hair away from her face. A wisp of lighter baby hair at her natural part escapes its grasp, framing a frank prettiness. Even at fourteen, she carries her beauty effortlessly, unconsciously. Her body bears angry red marks sparring with black and blue. Jill displays this nightmarish canvas with a neutral expression. No puffy eyes or tearstains compete with Dad’s brutal work of art. I blank on words spoken between us. Her eyes dig in to me as I memorize the chaos on her skin. I receive my just punishment with obedience, igniting the spark that causes chemicals in my brain to collide and clash.

A year later, Dad has married my stepmother, Faith, and decides Jill and I should live with Mom. He breaks the news to us just days before our scheduled move. Flooded with both relief and a sense of being tossed aside, I anticipate calmer waters in this new setting. Jill seethes with a new intensity. I strain to understand how she can miss a man who inflicts such pain. Her misery at being parted from him is palpable, though, as is the animosity she fosters for Mom.

One day I lie on the itchy beige and brown sofa in the stark white living room of her and Hubert’s new townhouse in Columbia. With pen and paper in hand, I scribble, “I want to die” on a torn piece and set it aside. My memory blurs as to whether I mean it, or want Mom to find it, but she does. In a hushed tone, she asks me if I feel that way. Fear hits me and I say no.

Silence reigns in this new place, interspersed with shouting matches and slammed doors when Mom and Jill collide. After an altercation outside, they enter the house with matching shiners. My sister attracts beautiful loser boyfriends with violent tendencies, too. Bruises outnumber hickies. Mom’s tiny frame is no match for such turmoil. She suffers hurtful breakdowns throughout my teen years. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m so sick of all of you. I’m leaving today. I hate you. I hate this life.” She aims this oft-repeated mantra at me like a backhanded slap. My bedroom, the loft, takes up the entire fourth floor, and offers a respite from the jagged air below. In my mind Jill should have this room. Hit after hit, and I remain mute. Still. Why am I rewarded for this?

Peggy asks if there is a history of depression in my family. Indeed, mental illness finds fertile ground in Mom, Jill, and me. Mom’s depression stems from a forced marriage to Dad in December of 1965, and Jill’s birth seven months’ later. High school sweethearts, she falls hard for Ken when Dad, a year older, leaves for college. Still, they sleep together sometime that fall, a mistake with steep consequences. July 1966 hands 19-year-old Mom a petal perfect, unwanted baby girl.

What I witness of my sister’s torturous upbringing sickens and shames, but relations’ whispers of abuse from Jill’s earliest days make my love for both parents traitorous. I remain ignorant of what she might have endured with Mom in the broiling tin box at Phister’s Trailer Park, while 23-year-old Dad worked and completed his Master’s Degree. I hear my paternal grandma’s tsk-tsk refrain: “Oh, Lisa, if you only knew what your mother did to Jill,” but refuse to contemplate injuries or neglect. It takes what little strength I have to hold in her son’s sins, compounding my own.

Mom discloses one long-ago visit to a therapist. She vaguely mentions the negative experience that keeps her from a second visit, or finding another therapist. It takes years for her to summon the courage to ask for antidepressants. Her primary care physician prescribes the lowest dosage to her, “no-kill pills,” she calls them, inadequate in strength and the absence of therapy. Repeated pleadings and the positive physical and emotional change she sees in me fail to move her to further action. She and Ken eventually marry and live in upstate New York. Romantic trysts differ greatly from day-to-day existence, however, and she slaps on a layer of veneer to cover the reality of a third unhappy union.

Jill and her most beautiful loser boyfriend, Danny, often hazy with booze and bong hits, conceive, again with steep consequences. At 16, failing at school, accepting casual beatings as her due, she balks at giving up her baby. Mom wears down this resolve in her oldest daughter, a rare, sound judgment. Jill acquiesces, but refuses to forgive Mom to this day. I cherish a grainy photograph of my sister holding her petal perfect baby girl. Her breasts bound painfully to prevent milk production, she offers a weak smile and tearstained cheeks to the camera lens as my niece holds tight to Jill’s finger. She hands over her daughter to new parents moments later.

It amazes me that one can exhibit such bravery and vulnerability at the same time. Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on Jill’s door one day, as if sniffing out the most gullible person in the neighborhood. They excel at selling her promises of an Eden-like paradise after death. Stoicism and resignation of life’s hardships will be amply rewarded to those whose faith in Jehovah remains steadfast. She grabs hold of this rope, her safety blanket. In time her devotion is deemed extreme to her fellow “brothers and sisters.” Even her Witness husband, Rick, who, stunned by the growing brilliance of Jill’s mental illness, follows the pathetic tradition of her family and ignores, denies, maintains silence. She embraces death like me, only as a means to eternal life in a Technicolor nirvana.

Peggy sits still while I sob and stammer, vomiting this bilious narrative. “Why?” I ask her. “Why am I here? It makes no sense. I make no sense.” She contends that my disease points the finger at me, insisting my departure is the answer. “Your medicine does sixty percent of the work. When it gets black, you need an arsenal of weapons to fight along side it. Who and what makes you happy?”

Nothing brings me joy. Listening to my beloved music causes numbness. I don’t deserve to enjoy, to feel all that my life’s soundtrack gives me. The sun grows too bright and it proves difficult to keep my eyes open. I stop driving. Years of residing with violence, hate, indifference, resentment, and silence results in a determination to fade from friends and family, then to nothing. Neglect becomes easy when you want to die. Neglect makes no sound. For years, it attracts no attention. When it causes physical pain, you carry it with pursed lips and perfect the response, “I’m fine,” with a shadow of sincerity that passes the test.

There comes a time, however, when the damage demands to be seen. Swelling fingers and feet turn painful, hot, and red, and a slight limp emerges. Occasional inquiries from family elicit the requisite, “I’m fine,” but the veneer begins to crack from wear. Teeth and gums ache and bleed when brushed. The limp grows pronounced and painful swelling travels to ankles, knees, and wrists. Teeth change position and loosen, jangly keys of an old piano. Gums ooze pus. The inquiries stop, replaced by silent looks of concern, disgust, or pity.

My first tooth falls out in my sleep November 23, 2009. Breathless about the inevitability of it, I remain calm when it happens. I spit it into a tissue, place it on the bedside table, and go back to sleep. I hobble behind Peggy to her office on the first of December.

One Tuesday morning, about two years into my therapy, Peggy reminds me of our first session when she asked me what I wished to achieve by working with her. She reads my response: “I just want some peace. I want to be the girl I used to be.” The latter couldn’t be farther from the truth. Eleven-year-old Lisa resides in me, still. Most of the time I want her wiped from the slate, though the violence of it frightens me. My hate for her, for us, has shrunk like a tumor from treatment, but Peggy and pills fall short of eradicating the wistful, powerful allure of a final sleep. She understands death remains my security blanket, my Plan B. What a relief to share this disappointment, this drug-resistant melancholy with her. I understand stronger measures may be taken to save me in the future. I know someone who’s undergone Electroconvulsive Therapy with mixed results. He regrets losing memories, the worst side effect of ECT.

I would, too. Peggy and my pills allow me to derive the utmost pleasure in my music again. I embrace it with the enthusiasm of a teenager. I find myself singing aloud at home or in my car, even with the windows open. My smile draws people to me—at work and at school, where I feel an addictive peace. Unlike my deathly peace, this one surrounds me with sound, color, and people. Friends and strangers compliment me on my beautiful smile. It showcases a wonderful set of dentures that replace my rotted teeth. Longer feminine hair replaces the boy-short style I wore to hide any errant sexual allure. It swings as I walk, and lifts and settles when I throw my head back in spontaneous laughter. Clothes cling and show more skin than anything I wore in my twenties.

I receive a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis in January 2011. Chronic, degenerative, and painful, I learn to adjust my life to it effects. It adds another layer of depression to the stack I struggle to keep from toppling over. Instead of keeping it to myself, I discuss it, my mental illness, and teeth with a circle of friends who listen, support, take it in stride. A few take me aside and ask for Peggy’s phone number. Whenever the black creeps in, I recall these small acts of giving.

My most powerful defense is forgiveness–of Dad, Mom, and myself. Its duration varies. It’s habit-forming, though. The more I forgive, the more I desire life, although it still battles the longer-held habit that I can’t quit completely. I remember saying final goodbyes to close friends, parents, and Jill the week before my intended death. I apologize for hurts and slights aimed at them. Some invisible barrier breaks and apologies float my way. An unexpected dewy peace falls on me like a spring shower. The call of death reaches its zenith. I call the suicide hotline, unwittingly taking part in saving myself.

The images of my parents’ darkest moments remain. Jill receives a diagnosis of Pervasive Thought Disorder. Difficult to treat with a compliant patient, I accept I may lose her to this disease someday. I write her regularly, updating her on my health issues, reminding her of warm moments between us, sharing my love of school, books I’m reading, music I enjoy, and my fear of not finding someone who will love me despite my wear and tear. Recovery releases an abundance of love to share. She remains silent.

How to forgive Dad? I think back to when I slept on a mattress on the floor of the cheery yellow spare room as a kid. Jill joins me most nights after a half-hearted attempt to sleep in her cool lavender room. In unison, we call out, “Daddy, we’re ready!” In he comes, usually holding his grandfather’s set of Peter Rabbit books. He reads to us as I admire the glossy pages and watercolor illustrations once more. We sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “On Top of Spaghetti,” and my favorite, “You are My Sunshine.” I devour books and music because of Dad. Mom passes down her pretty singing voice, love of writing, and remembering to always say, “thank you.” Besides Peggy and my pills, these gifts form battlements to beat back the black. Still…

I gaze often at the photograph of the lovely girl from the Thanksgiving party. Throughout the evening she walks up to people and introduces herself. She speaks with an easy confidence to professors, doctors, lawyers, and Ivy League students. She discusses the resurgence of college plagiarism and new favorite authors with an art professor, who confesses his fear of reading David Foster Wallace. She suggests, as it was suggested to her, that he begin with Wallace’s non-fiction before delving into his darker, denser fiction. She gushes about his work enough that the professor declares a renewed enthusiasm in tackling Wallace. He asks her what she’s studying in college. Writing, she says. She wants to write.


iloveseble.wordpress.com

 
 

The Man Crossing Lombard Street… Selection

– randomwordbyruth wins the Make Kurt Scratch His In Complete Befuddlement As He Tries to Comprehend the Linkage Between the Story and the Prompt award.

– Josh Wrenn comes in with another powerful submission. Josh’s story is set up perfectly in both tone and pace. I loved all the unknowns, especially the unknown of why all of a sudden the San Franciscans turned on the lonely man. I only wish it would have ended right after the unknown lonely man purchased the rope. For after that, everything becomes known and a bit too trite for me with the play on the Beatles song. I say this not to be publicly critical, but to publicly express how great I think the story is and to strongly urge Josh to consider submitting his story, after taking my public feedback under consideration, to a literary journal. Congratulations, Josh, on yet another fine piece of work.

Which takes us lastly to our first submission…

It is my pleasure to present to you tonight’s Flash Fiction Friday selection, which is yet another well written, powerful submission and one that is selected despite it implicating yours truly in a Big Brother role of sort. In fact, it just may have been selected for that spot-on implication because its presence is really felt and it adds a heavy layer of paranoia and wonderful creepiness to the story that might not otherwise have been there. The dialogue is perfect and the story is completely relevant to our times. Bravo, karen.


THE MAN CROSSING LOMBARD STREET
by karen rawson

“People oughta mind their own business, I say.” Henry raised a curled fist to his mouth and coughed into it.

“What people, Mr. Schmoll?”

“Them. Those people.”

“I see. Can you take a deep breath for me?”

Henry wheezed and brought up a rattling breath. Dr. Redmond tipped her head, listening. Congestion, for sure. But there was something strange in there. “How long have you had that cough, Mr. Schmoll?”

“Aw. I dunno.” He heaved and cleared his throat. “Awhile. That ain’t why I’m here. It’s the internet people. They’re bugging me.”

Dr. Redmond pulled back and eyed him. “What internet people?”

“The people! All the people, watching me. Writing stuff down. All the way down Lombard. Watching me. Goddamn people. They oughta mind their own business.”

“I see. And how long has this been the case?”

“Aw jeez. Aw jeez.” Henry shook one leg, pounded a fist on it. “Goddamn. Someone just wrote me a war injury. I wasn’t even in the war.”

The doctor took another step back. “Someone wrote you a war injury?”

“They say I live alone! I don’t live alone. I got family.”

The doctor backed to the door and reached back for the knob. “Mr. Schmoll, I’m going to consult another physician on this. Can you just sit tight until I’m back?”

Henry blanched and curled an arm around his stomach. “Okay then. But hurry. Someone just wrote me a bad case of indigestion. If you don’t hurry up, those goddamn people gonna write me to my grave.”

karcherry.wordpress.com


Thank you, Authors, for sharing your fine skills with us. Have a fantastic weekend.

 
 

Another rainy day

rain drop

Another rainy day
Yet as
Beautiful
As it is
In all its
Low Pressure
Depression —

A Cause to
Rejoice
And to
Celebrate Life
And all its many
Sudden
Surprising
Vagaries —

All I can do is
Sit here and
Think
Thinking
7,000,000,000 of
You
Are out there
Some in the
Rain
Some not
But You are out there
7,000,000,000 of
You
Existing
Together
As I sit
Here
Watching
Rain
Thinking
Alone

Just do it, yo!

Just do it, yo!


UPDATE: Look, I get it and I’m sorry. I understand that there are forms of depression so severe that asking someone who suffers from such to do what I’m saying needs to be done in this insensitive post would be like asking a quadriplegic to hop out of her wheelchair and go for an invigorating walk (Geez, even that sounds insensitive…sigh). My sincerest apologies to those I have offended by implying that just by doing what we know needs to be done, like eating healthier and exercising, will make our lives less depressing. While it may benefit most of us, it will do little for those truly suffering. And I’m sorry if I’ve caused addition suffering. Especially since I’ve known the mental health challenges so well…both manically and a depressively. Spending a year on high doses of the steroid prednisone was quite the long strange trip. While I rarely wrote when deeply depressed, I did write like, well, a maniac when I was manic. Though I’ve taken down most of those posts I wrote when on that trip, I left a couple up and added them to the “mental health” category if you’re interested. Again. I’m sorry. I should have known better.


 

A couple of days ago I had an interesting discussion with my new friend pixie over at her cool site Pixie Dust Beach.

She’s got a lot going on there – you should really go check it out.

And our discussion was in response to her thought-provoking review of Chris Guillebeau’s self-help book The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life. . .

And I kind of been mulling over this discussion ever since…

You know, I’ve never been much of a self-help kind of guy, but there have been key points in my life where I have benefited from the motivation gained from the so-called Self-Help Expert. Tony Robbins helped me quit smoking oh so long ago…what, almost 25 years ago now…sheesh. I will be forever grateful to him for helping me be rid of that nasty habit. And recently I have completely changed my outlook on life all because of my new Personal Pope, that Greatest of Gurus, Dr. Wayne, The Wonderful, Dyer.

I love him.

Truly.

 

#iamthatiam

 

So I, by no means, am not down on the Self Help massive exploitation market of pain and misery…at all.

If it makes you happier and healthier, whatever the crutch may be, I’m all for it.

But, really, the answers to the complexities and challenges we face in this one big quest of a question mark we call Life are actually quite simple and fundamental.

We, all of us over a certain age, anyway, for the most part, already know what it is we need to be doing to make our lives less hard and less painful and less depressing…

Right?

Admit it…deep down you know what it is you need to be doing to improve your life…

But, unfortunately, it’s not just the knowing that gets it done, is it?

Nope.

It’s the application, the doing…

And it’s this dang doing of what we know to be true that is so frikkin’ hard.

So hard…

But still.

The doing has got to be done…

Right?

So, come on then…

All of us.

All together…

All together and gung ho and supportive like…

All Nike mass exploitative marketing like…

Let’s all just do it.

Let’s all just do what we dang well know needs to be done.

Every dang one of us.

Yeah…

 
 


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In Contemplation of the Art and Act of Suicide – A Review

SHORT STORY | FICTION | LITERATURE
A NOTE by John Northcutt Young
RATING: ★ ★ ★

 

Some people should die
That’s just unconscious knowledge

– Jane’s Addiction

 

A Note by John Northcutt Young

It is hard for me to imagine anyone past the age of puberty who has not contemplated suicide. I don’t mean actually contemplating committing suicide — although less hard, it is still kind of hard for me to imagine anyone who has lived a life of even the most minimal engagement to have not had at least one life crisis serious enough to trigger contemplation of even this most extreme act — but just suicide in general. If, hypothetically speaking, one were going to commit suicide, what would be the best way to perform the act? That is what I mean by contemplating suicide. Contemplating the art of suicide, so to speak.

And, with his short story A NOTE, that is exactly what author John Northcutt Young does. He forces us to contemplate suicide, and in a most uncomfortable and burdensome manner, by taking us deep into the mind of someone preparing himself for the final act of committing suicide.

And he does this, not just by forcing us into the mind of the narrator as a casual observer, he shoves us directly into the story itself, as a participating character, by having us assume the most unpleasant role of “Whomever,” the unknown recipient to whom the narrator of the story is addressing his suicide note, a note that he is just beginning to pen when the story itself begins.

But we quickly learn that it is not going to be an easy note to write. And this is not just because of the obvious reasons. Penning one’s final farewell message must surely be difficult for even the most accomplished in life. Right now you may be thinking that that last sentence is ridiculous. If one is so accomplished in life then there would be no reason for one to even contemplate suicide, let alone actually commit it. My response to that is, the statement may be highly ironic perhaps, but ridiculous, certainly not. All we have to do is take even the most cursory of glances at recent headlines to see that yes, indeed, even the most accomplished — and I almost want say here, especially the most accomplished — find cause to put a suicidal end their living existence.

However, with this story, we find that the one penning the note is far from having led an accomplished life; in fact, as he sees it, he has led, perhaps, a life the least accomplished of all. And if it holds true that penning a suicide note would prove difficult for the most accomplished, we are about to find out just how exceedingly difficult it is for the least.

By his own account the narrator is a loser. He is unaccomplished at everything, especially his life goal, a life-long ambition to be a successful writer. Or is it an author. He is not sure which he should call himself. This indecision is typical, endemic even, of his character. We learn in the most repetitive, and somewhat distracting, way that the narrator has difficulty making even the most mundane of decisions, and those decisions that he does make, ultimately end in failure.

But his biggest failure, and even bigger regret, is that of failing as a writer. And here is where I have the biggest breakdown with the story.

The story is narrated in a near stream of consciousness voice. The narrator, finally having made the decision to end his life, is now free from having to worry about all the grammar and linguistic challenges writing entails. This freedom also seems to have impacted negatively the way his internal voice, his stream of consciousness voice, is spoken. The voice of the narrator sounds overly immature and whiny, which may be excused considering what he has put himself on the path to do, but this voice doesn’t speak true to me. I cannot imagine that anyone as close to committing suicide as our narrator is, would sound so petty and immature.

Near the end we learn that his suicide note is soggy from his tears. However, up to that point, I never felt once that the narrator had shed even the slightest tear. It was, unfortunately, one rather long, annoying whine, poor grammar and all.

But what does a critique like that mean really? My answer is, nothing.

How could I possibly know how others would speak to themselves internally, and not just for something as terrifying and dramatic as the internal processing of the final movement toward ending one’s life, but for anything, really? I can’t. The only voice I can ever know, the only voice I can ever truly critique, is the sound of my own voice. And I hope I never have to hear what it would sound like during such a heartbreaking situation as the narrator is experiencing.

My problem with the narrator’s voice and the negative impact I find that it has on the overall tone and success of the story, has to be more my problem, a problem of taste, and not the story’s.

Overall, and most importantly, the story works in achieving what is perhaps its truest and biggest mission, and that, to me is, the act of awareness. Whether we like the story or not, by its end we definitely become more aware, through Young’s insistence on forcing us into a deep, uncomfortable contemplative mind journey, of what it just may be like for one poor, desperate soul of a loser as he prepares himself for what perhaps is his final act alive.

And that, to me, is something worthy of serious and deep contemplation.

~~~~

Rating System:
★ = Unreadable
★ ★ = Poor Read
★ ★ ★ = Average Read
★ ★ ★ ★ = Outstanding Read
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = Exceptional Read

Caffeine Therapy

Coffee in Starbucks Yokohama CupBefore the cancer I had been a pretty heavy coffee drinker. I drank it not only because I was addicted to the caffeine and the boost it gave me, but also because I really do enjoy the taste of a well-brewed cup o’ joe. A good cup of coffee, just like a good glass of wine, really does [cliche alert!] make life worth living.

I was a late bloomer as a coffee drinker. Though I always loved its smell growing up—I still have vivid, fond memories of the bubbly coffee percolator sounds and the delicious coffee smells that I woke to every morning as a child—I found its taste repulsive and the heated spoiled crap breath that all coffee drinkers blast out even more so.  I didn’t want to be complicit in that.

But after high school I joined the navy and, like an idiot, immediately started smoking cigarettes, a habit that previously had disgusted me even more than drinking coffee.  If I could force my body to accept and then to crave and then to fervently demand a steady intake of toxic death fumes, then it would stand to reason that hooking myself on coffee couldn’t be too far behind.

Actually, it took another six years.

What finally got me to join the Caffeine Club was the twelve-hour watches that I had to “stand” while stationed aboard my first ship.

I had stood twelve-hours watches all during my time in the navy prior to transferring to the ship, but those watches had always been in large, noisy, bustling communication centers with teams of sailors, which meant that there was always someone around to talk to and to keep me awake during the brutal night shifts.  But on the ship, I stood my watches in a quiet, closet of a room by myself and boy could those midnight watches, or mid-watches as the navy jargon goes, get boring.

Thus, in 1989 began my addiction to coffee.

Coffee and Cigarettes. A heavenly match made in hell.

Fortunately, I was able to kick the cigarette habit about a year later.

But I drank coffee like mad until my cancer.

While I initially started drinking coffee as a crutch to get me through the night, I still hated the taste and had to load in piles of cream and sugar to try to cover it up.  Over time, however, I eventually acquired a taste for the bean. But my passion for the bean didn’t really come until years later after my father casually remarked that to really enjoy coffee, it needs to be drank black. Unpolluted, so to speak.

So I tried it black. And, like most fathers are, he was right. From then on, I no longer was a man who preferred his coffee “sweet and blond” but one who preferred it “bold and black.”

I drank it that way pretty hard for twenty years.

But when the cancer struck, I had no qualms about quitting. In fact, I didn’t decide to quit, I just did without even realizing it. I guess my subconscious took over after they started pumping me full of chemo and steroids and other crap and spared me of any coffee or wine cravings during my year-long treatment and recovery.

Throughout my years as a coffee drinker prior to cancer, every once in a while I would try to get healthy and ween myself off of caffeine.  Not that caffeine is a particularly unhealthy addiction as far as addictions go; but it still is an addiction and deep down, I guess always felt a little uneasy about my dependency on it.

I don’t remember exactly when the last time was I tried to stop consuming caffeine, but I do remember how much it hurt: the eyeball shattering headaches; the total body aches; the nasty moods.

I remember being stuck in traffic for a very long time once during my last attempt at the last weening process and having my legs ache so badly that I thought I was going to have to pull over to the side of the beltway and have the wife come pick me up.  I was jonesing bad. I struggled on, but as soon as I got out of traffic I drove directly to the store, bought two cups of coffee, downed one right in the parking lot, and begged forgiveness and mercy from the other one as I lovingly nursed it all the way home.

I probably went through the same kind of withdrawal pain and discomfort when I quit drinking coffee after the cancer diagnosis, but there was already so much other pain and discomfort going on from the blood clots and the treatment that the withdrawal stuff just mixed right in and went unnoticed.  Thankfully.

And for over a year during my treatment and recovery process I had no urge whatsoever to start the habit back up.  Until recently.

The tweet I sent when I decided to start drinking coffee again.

When the urge returned, it returned with a vengeance.

I started drinking it like I never stopped.  There was one big difference when I started back up though:

Decaf.

I know, I know.  Drinking decaffeinated coffee is like having sex without the climax. What’s the point, right? But, I figured, since I have to take an overload of drugs every day that are already throwing my mental state out of whack, it might be best not to include a stimulant like caffeine into the mix.

So it was decaf for the first couple of weeks.

Until the first time I ran out of it and mistakenly bought a bag of the real stuff.

Why would Starbucks make the bag green if it wasn’t for a decaffeinated coffee?

One good thing about drinking decaf coffee is that I can drink it in the evenings without having to worry about it cranking me up for an all-nighter.

I made the first cup from the mistaken identity bag around 7:00 pm. I think I finally fell asleep around 6:00 am the next day.  By 2:00 pm, I was back at the store buying real decaf this time, which was not packaged in a green-themed bag, by the way.

What’s up with Starbucks thinking they can set their own standards?

Caffeine + Prednisone + Mind Explosion

I have always been very sensitive to drugs and other foreign substances.  For instance, it’s hard for me to use morphine or codeine as pain killers because of this sensitivity (remind me later to write an article about my first experience with morphine…ugh).

Even caffeine in the smallest of amounts can overly stimulate me (it’s not often I get to say that out loud) to the point of annoyance to anyone who happens to be around me.

My daily cocktail of drugs are no exception to this sensitivity rule.

Evil Prednisone
Evil Prednisone

The biggest culprit from the cocktail mix for jerking me around is the prednisone.  Prednisone is the drug of choice, in fact, it’s just about the only choice, to treat Graft Versus Host-related diseases, of which I am suffering from, and for which I am taking the prednisone.

It addition to GVHD, prednisone is also regularly prescribed for many inflammatory-related illnesses, like asthma or COPD. Because of its potency, it is usually prescribed in low doses, around 5 – 10 mg, for short periods of time, around 7 – 10 days, or so.

Well, I started at 200 mg and now I’m down to 60 mg.  I’m going on my fourth month and, even though the treatment doesn’t seem to be slowing the advancement of my lung disease, unless there is a new miracle discovery, I will probably will be taking high doses of prednisone for the rest of my life.

Speaking of miracle discoveries, I will be participating in an NIH study in April 2011 for a new Lung GVHD treatment—fingers crossed.

It kind of freaks me out whenever I visit with a new doctor and their eyes widen and mouths drop when they hear that I’m taking 60 mg of prednisone every day.

The reason they react the way they do is because prednisone has a slew of annoying side effects and is one of those drugs where the cure could turn out to worse than the disease.  It causes bone density loss, diabetes, sodium retention, water retention, insomnia, moon face (for some reason it makes the body fat accumulate around the face—my head is friggin’ ginormous!), and worst of all, anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

What fun.

Because of my sensitivity to drugs, I seem to be really affected by the anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

You might be thinking, like I would be if it wasn’t me who was the one saying it: Brindley, get over it. It’s all just in your head.

And my response would be: You’re exactly right! That’s what makes it even worse.  I do know that it is all just in my head. But I’ll be damned if I can get it out.

The more I can keep my mind actively engaged, the better off I am.

This blog is great therapy.

So are naps.

But sometimes my mind gets stuck in a deep rutted ravine filled with all of my fears and doubts and I can’t get out no matter how hard I try.  It really is crazy because even as I am trapped in this dark place, I know that a big reason why I’m there is because of a drug that is supposed to be saving my life.

And once I get stuck there I usually can’t get out until the drug wears off, which is about twelve hours after taking it.

So, the next time I ran out decaf and decided to go to the real stuff, I had to take all of this into consideration.  I knew there could be consequences from the caffeine so, to try to make good out of my stupidity for willingly hooking myself back onto something I had not needed for over a year, I had decided to treat it all like an experiment.  When drinking caffeinated coffee while taking the prednisone and other drugs, which would be anytime I drink caffeinated coffee, I would pay close attention to how they interact and affect me.

Good idea, right? ;)

What I found is interesting and somewhat promising.

Pros:

  • Caffeine, like the true stimulant that it is, seems to balance out the negative effects of the prednisone. By drinking caffeinated coffee in the mornings when the drugs are at their nastiest, I do not seem to be feeling as depressed and grouchy.
  • It seems to be easier to breathe when I take my walks. After some research, I found that caffeine is a xanthine derivate. Xanthine is used to help treat asthma. Maybe this explains why it seems that I’m breathing easier on my walks.
  • Caffeine is a diuretic. Diuretics make you pee. This is useful for me since I tend to retain water because of the GVHD.
  • Because of the prednisone, I also retain sodium. I don’t understand all this diuretic stuff enough but it could be a good thing if caffeine is of the type that flushes out sodium. I’ll have to follow up with the doc on this.

Cons:

  • In addition to the depression, prednisone also makes me anxious and edgy, and increases my heart rate. Adding caffeine into the equation only amplifies that feeling.
  • Because of my GVHD, I have dry, itchy skin and my mouth gets dry easily. The steroids help, but since caffeine is a diuretic and I’m peeing all the time I get dehydrated quickly, which only exacerbates the dry skin and dry mouth. I have to drink more water to compensate, which means even more peeing. Its a tedious balancing act.
  • Again, I don’t understand much about diuretics, but I read that certain types flush out a body’s potassium. This isn’t good because prednisone already tends to decrease potassium levels. Need more info.
  • Because of all the meds I’m taking, my liver is really taking a beating. Since caffeine is metabolized in the liver, I really need to be careful here.

So, to make a long story short… What? Oh…yeah, I see. Too late for that. I guess I got to rambling a bit. Thanks for bearing with me.

Drinking Coffee With Shikibu

In conclusion…  better?  …my long, rocky love affair with coffee has resumed once again and I find that my passion for the drink is as strong and true as its seductive flavor is bold and addictive.

And now, not only do I drink the brew to fulfill my own selfish desires and dependency, I drink it also to fulfill a broader need, one with an utilitarian, more nobler purpose—I drink it in the name of medical research.

Just think, what started out as an aide to help me better defend my country during my navy years (that sounds much better than calling it a crutch to help me stay awake during boring mid-watches), may turn out to be the impetus behind a cure for a very serious mental health condition.

Now, whenever I drink coffee while strung out on prednisone, I may be one cup closer to understanding the longterm synergistic and psychological effects on the brain from simultaneously consuming large quantities of both stimulative and depressive agents over long periods of time.

My research is going to have an extremely significant and beneficial impact on the entire mental health community.  Better lives will be lived because of it.

Yeah, that’s all a bunch of BS, I know (see Disclaimer).  But hey, if it helps me to rationalize my pathetic, self-induced dependency on something that I probably shouldn’t be messing with in the first place, why not, right?

Have I mentioned how long it’s been since I’ve had a glass of wine?