Tag Archives: mental health

Why does it seem stars from my generation* have such a hard time staying alive?

What gives, yo?

I mean, life’s a bitch and all but come on Gen Xers, don’t let all that depressing music from the Nineties go to your head…

Or your heart.

Man**…

I tell ya, last year we lost such notable Gen Xers as Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell*** and, before them, Scott Weiland a couple years ago, not to mention all those Gen Xer stars we lost early in their prime: Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Biggie, Layne Staley, Shannon Hoon, Bradley Nowell, and god knows how many others I’ve failed to mention.

And now this year we continue the tragic Gen X endings with the tragic death of Dolores O’Riordan.

By the time my generation gets in its natural zone of death, it seems all the stars from it will be long gone with no big names left for me to pay tribute.

But, as is evident by Delores’ recent passing, it’s painfully obvious the premature dying off of famous Gen Xers will continue unabated and I sincerely would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the life of Dolores, for hers was a unique and beautiful voice that defined my generation*.

Sadly, like the death of Scott Weiland, I kind of saw it coming
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Kurt receiving acupuncture treatment for his many ailments

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.

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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.

HOW NOT TO DIE: In 13 Easy Steps

How Not To Die Book Cover


 

Inspired by the reception the HOW NOT TO DIE article received, I have now made it available as an ebook edition which is now available, for the time being, exclusively at Amazon.

While staying true to form of the original article, I have updated the content for clarity and completeness. Additionally, I have included with the edition, relevant poetry from my newly released book of poetry Short Verses & Other Curses: Haiku, Senryū, Tanka & Other Poetic, Artistic, & Photographic Miscellany, as well as a selection of similarly themed short stories from my forthcoming release LEAVE: And Other Stories Short & Shorter.

Links to all the health-related articles that I have written and posted here can be found near the end of the book.

Finally, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of HOW NOT TO DIE: In 13 Easy Steps will be donated monthly to my wife’s and my favorite charities and organizations committed to the curing and caring of those suffering from cancer and lung diseases.

I hope you enjoy the book.


Note: Even if you don’t have a Amazon Kindle or Fire, you can still read all Kindle products on your computer, tablet, or phone by downloading one of their free reading apps here.

 
 

THE EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES!: A Guest Post by Author Avril Meyler

We are all familiar with the term “The Emperor Wears No Clothes.” An expression arising from a tale told of a young boy who in his innocence declared aloud during a parade by the ruling King of the Realm, where everyone had to bow down to the King’s will.

The Emperor Wears No Clothes!” as all around him bowed low and refused to see the obvious, much less name it.

The ruled had been indoctrinated into believing the King was dressed in full regalia and no-one dared to challenge his nakedness except this young innocent.

When anything unseen and hidden is causing problems either within a society at large or as is often the case within the immediate family, first you have to name it. Until something is named there is no possibility of resolving it. Whilst people around the “hidden issue or situation” pretend there is nothing wrong, the hidden gets power.

Naming a problem that everyone around is trying to cover up takes courage. Whistle Blowers often do this, as well as the family “scapegoat.” Child abusers rely on the hidden, look what has happened within many establishments in the UK over endemic child sexual abuse, torture and in a couple of cases murder; and widespread cover up from leading establishment figures, currently being revealed through a major enquiry, some of which goes back 40 years and beyond.

How many of those in authority in the Concentration camps knew inherently what was happening was heinous yet never had the courage to speak out?

It takes courage to name something when everyone around you is accepting something as being “normal” or “O.K.” There is tremendous psychic pressure to keep the status quo, to not upset the apple cart. More so when one’s livelihood depends on such silence or in the case of family, one’s sense of belonging is at stake.

But we remain silent at the cost of the Soul’s Integrity. Do we want to spend our years racked with guilt or denial because we did not speak when we needed to?

By our silence we are complicit.

We remain silent sometimes within a bad marriage. We know things are going terribly wrong but the prospect of our whole world shattering and the pain and suffering that ensues causes many to put up with years of unhappiness.

Fear of being alone causes many to remain in stagnating relationships with an apathetic resignation because they do not believe that no relationship is better than a bad one.

It is the same with any involvement. Becoming a member of an organisation, whether paid or unpaid, if we start to see our own personal values and ethics being compromised and at odds with the organisations goals we may have life changing choices to make.

I have been personally challenged with this in two mental health charities and a meditation group I am affiliated to. Those of you who have read


A New Human by Author Avril Meyler


or been following my work on this and other websites will know that I sustained a seven-year period of altered realities when undergoing an awakening, which is described in the book. This was followed by fifteen years of world wide travel, volunteering, learning from Buddhism, Hinduism, Quakers and some Shamanic beliefs. I was led to research Mental Health both through personal connection with someone who has and still does suffer from a range of issues and has had periodic placements in secure units for their own safety; and through my own short time need for counselling, following returning from a stressful volunteer project in India.

As my involvement with these organisations deepened, I saw that despite their ethos to de-stigmatise mental health issues and to not label many conditions as an illness, they stopped far short of opening their minds to an Holisitc approach.



But there is something else going on here apart from an inability to address the more Holistic aspects of the Mental Health process, and that is many of these and other organisations are reliant on funding, if the funding sources and committees of these organisations have little or no awareness of an Holisitc Approach to Mental health then would they also decide that something they cannot easily see or relate to as being “Wacky” thus undeserving? I have attended enough meetings to see clearly where these concerns influence decisions.

Everyone is entitled to their views and free to believe what they want to believe, but when those same people become rigid in those views and categorically refuse to consider other perspectives on Mental Health, because it involves a major shift in their comfort zones then do we wonder how the Mental Health Paradigm is still stuck in the Psychiatric/Medical Model? Which causes in many cases worse side effects and long term problems than the original episodes of psychosis – read altered realities.

It may sound as if I am being pedantic here but I am attempting to convey an overall picture of how much minds are still closed, despite the information age of one-line Internet. There is no excuse for not being informed in today’s climate.

The question is “Do we want to be informed if it disturbs our reality?

No one grew or evolved without touching the darkness within themselves or came to conclude that you cannot have a Universe made up of positive experiences only, it would lack substance and be completely out of balance. We need an amount of negativity in order to move and create time and space. The problem is because we collectively have not evolved to this understanding we are stuck in this Earth Reality where we allow our need for comfortable untruths to rule our minds.

It perhaps sums it up when a Committee Member commented when I said

“You do a lot of work for this Charity don’t you?” They responded “Well it gets me out of the house.”

We all have different reasons for volunteering but I guess meeting and interacting with someone like me who is convinced she has a “soul’s mission” to reveal all, including her own dark journey into a trail blazing brilliance of light, and refuses to shut up about it, would invite the comment, “She’s wacky!

I speak of Psychic Attack and I speak of Possession. I also speak of life changing 500 mile pilgrimages, of Oneness and the need for discernment in these accelerated times. Reading or hearing the words Psychic Attack or Possession can cause a reaction of repugnance, well I have been there and discovered traumatically that…


There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

– Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio ~


Sadly the hidden does have power, it’s only by shedding light on the darkest of realities that we have any hope of raising it into a space where it may be seen, understood and dealt with, thus opening the gateways of higher Universal Consciousness.


“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
~ Edmund Burke ~


 


Avril Meyler, author of A New Human and A Multidimensional Paradigm, is a qualified counsellor, hypnotherapist and holistic practitioner. She is now retired and a full-time writer and volunteer for a Mental Health Charity. For more about the author visit her website at

multidimensionalreality.wordpress.com


 

 
 

Hawser

A World At War Just Like It Was Yesterday: HAWSER – A Review

BOOK | FICTION | LITERARY
HAWSER by J Hardy Carroll
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★

To one who considers some of his favorite literary works to be those about World War II – SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE and CATCH 22 being the obvious ones – the war seems to be very present for me, when in fact it is now eighty years in our past. With it now so far removed from us, and with the space filled in by so many countless other wars, it really is quite an accomplishment that author J Hardy Carroll was able to bring the period back to us in such a vivid and entertaining way.

HAWSER, our selection for Volume 3 of the Indie Author Book Selection & Review (IABS&R), is a finely weaved, fascinating tale of Hawser (don’t bother asking him his real name) as he recounts his time as a B-17 bombardier during the Allies’s bombing campaign against the Germans.

We meet Hawser in a prisoner of war camp and it is from there he recounts for us all that has happened to him in the war before that point. We learn how he washed out as a pilot to become a bombardier, how he had to abandon his unit because of a murder, how he was abandoned as a child, how he met his arch nemesis, how he became trained in subversive warfare, how he became an expert bombardier, how he became burnt out and disillusioned by the war, and finally, how he tragically became a Nazi prisoner. From there we pick things back up from the present time in the story and we go along with him until the book’s conclusion.

Within that very rough sketch that I just laid out of the novel, there are so many – too many some may argue – different plot twists and sub plots filled with suspense and murder and love and passion and discovery and deceit along the way that several times throughout the course of my reading the book I had to stop to marvel at Carroll’s ability to manage it all so seamlessly and with such intrigue, all the while bringing out some of the larger and more poignant lessons learned from the war: mainly of the incalculable death and psychological and material devastation that the war wrought across the entire globe, as well as teaching us – or reminding us – that war isn’t always honorable and that not all people go to war to be heroes…some go to war simply because they want to kill.

And I was equally impressed with all the military and war jargon with which Carroll was able to flavor the story. It it his description of the B-17s and all their guns and ammunition and flight formations, and his knowledge of England during the war and its pastoral settings and its pubs and its quirky dialects that truly bring the story to life. Now I don’t know how much research Carroll had to do – my guess is a lot – and I don’t know how much of the detail he writes in the story is accurate – my guess is all of it – but I don’t really care. I don’t care because it all seems so real and so accurate that it significantly enhanced the story’s ability to pull me into that zen-like space of blissful verisimilitude.

In the end, the only flaws to be found with the book are in its ambition and achievement. At times the sub plots pull back the tempo of the story and I never really felt that there was that one thing, that one element of the story that had enough heft to bring an immediacy, an urgency of discovery, from the beginning to the end of the tale. But I see that more as a good problem for an Indie Author to have, as it is always better to have too much material to work with than not enough.

So I say congratulations and thank you to J Hardy Carroll for writing such a powerful story that both entertains and reminds us just how much effort and expense throughout history we silly humans have invested in our seemingly never ending quest to kill and conquer each other.


Hawser

jhardycarroll.com

 

~~~~

RATING SYSTEM:
★ = UNREADABLE
★ ★ = POOR READ
★ ★ ★ = AVERAGE READ
★ ★ ★ ★ = OUTSTANDING READ
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ = EXCEPTIONAL READ

 
 

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.


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