Friday, July 16, 2010

The Other Side of the Fence. Friday, July 16, 2010.

“The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but you still have to mow it.” – Proverb

Recently I talked to a man who is considering divorce. There’s nothing particularly wrong with his marriage; he and his wife are “best friends” and get along well. They have two daughters and a son, and a very nice house in the suburbs. But he can’t stop thinking about the freedom of his bachelor days.

“My wife’s a good woman, but I’m just bored,” he says. “I look at my single friends, and they have such interesting lives. They go where they want, whenever they want to, and I’m stuck mowing the lawn and taking the girls to Scout meetings.”

I also talked to a woman who was divorced several years ago. “I’ve been alone for four years, and so I get sad a lot,” she says. “I need someone in my life.”

Both of these individuals feel depressed. And both believe their lives could be better in the future if something different happened. They are “waiting to be happy.”

As time goes on, I’m able to look with more clarity on my life, and I see now that I spent many years “waiting to be happy.” I was single longer than any of my friends. My career stagnated more than once. I lived in some small towns where the snail’s pace and social intolerance drove me nuts.

My inner dialogue was full of “I’ll be happy whens.” I’ll be happy when I don’t have exams to study for … I’ll be happy when I get a better job … I’ll be happy when I find a boyfriend … I’ll be happy when I’m a mother … when … when … when.

The problem with “I’ll be happy whens” is that when “when” finally comes, another “when” is waiting just around the corner. When the baby’s born … when she sleeps through the night … when she’s done teething … when she’s potty trained. Suddenly, she’s graduating from high school. When were you happy? All along, or not yet?

There’s a reason why they say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. For those of us who struggle with depression, our own grass is dead and brown, and our neighbor’s grass lush and green. But it’s very possible that from our neighbor’s standpoint, his is the grass that is dead, and ours is the grass that is alive.

All we really have today is the grass that’s under our feet now. We might not ever be able to climb over that fence to stand on the other grass, so we have to keep tending to our own.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beauty and madness. Thursday, July 15, 2010.

“But what is madness, if not being able to control your own mind?” –Victoria Leatham, “Bloodletting: A Memoir of Secrets, Self-Harm, and Survival”

They found my friend by a cornfield, where she’d been parked for hours. April, a young, beautiful and brilliantly talented mother of two, had disappeared into the night into a cemetery, where she roamed – listening to music, smoking cigarettes and praying – all night.

She then sat in her truck and watched the sun rise, after “walking through a misty, dreamy, flower-filled meadow,” she wrote later in her blog, girlAbstracted. “Music and wind, landscape and horizon, spoke for me, came to life before me. I was fearless in the presence of my unseen enemies because I was exalted, wrapped snugly in warm layers of meaning.”

It sounds beautiful, but April’s experience wasn’t finished yet. “When the farmer and his wife brought me into their home, my exaltation was setting with the sun,” she wrote. “By the time I arrived at the emergency room, the walls were bleeding with terror.”

April suffers from psychosis. I’ve been anxious and depressed, but never delusional. I’ve never seen visions or heard music that no one else can hear, like April has. Another friend of mine, when off his medication, believed he was a bear and stayed in the woods, leaving his clothes behind.

How does this happen? The experience of psychosis is barely distinguishable from the experience of ingesting hallucinogens like LSD. It can be beautiful, terrifying or both. Of course, drugs wear off in a few hours, but the delusions of psychosis can last indefinitely. Delusions can make it impossible to work at a job or raise a family. And four in 10 people with schizophrenia, one cause of delusions, attempt suicide.

Most people are afraid of people with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. Movies and television shows often depict people with delusions as violent, while in reality, they are no more violent than people in the general population and are actually more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Strong medications can keep psychosis under control, but bring their own set of problems.

The human mind is an amazing thing, beyond our ability to understand. The ability of the brain to manufacture images and sounds is really quite astounding. How sad that the experience can be so life-limiting and can lead to suicidal ideation. Because I think I would like the experience of being “exalted, wrapped snugly in warm layers of meaning.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Big girls don’t bully. Wednesday, July 14, 2010.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” – Children’s nursery rhyme

In October 2006, three weeks shy of her 14th birthday, Megan Taylor Meier of Missouri hung herself in her bedroom. Lori Drew, the mother of a friend of Megan’s, was charged with causing her death by “cyber-bullying” Megan on MySpace. Megan had thought she was communicating with a cute boy, Josh, but she was actually communicating with Drew, who lived just down the street.

At first, the “couple” got along famously. Before long, the messages became abusive. “You are a bad person and everybody hates you. Have a shitty rest of your life,” “Josh” wrote. “The world would be a better place without you." Once the details of Megan’s suicide became public, the Drew family was ostracized by the community – and the nation. Their property was vandalized, and businesses related to them were shunned.

Drew was convicted in 2008 but acquitted in 2009. A bill was introduced, HR 1966 (the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act) to make it a crime to use the Internet to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person."

Did Drew cause Megan to kill herself? Megan had been under psychiatric care since third grade, and was taking a number of medications including Celexa and Ritalin. A pretty and intelligent girl, she nevertheless had very low self-esteem. Communicating with “Josh” made her feel loved, and when “Josh” rejected her, it apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We’ll never know if Megan would have committed suicide anyway, perhaps due to a real-life breakup or just because she was clinically depressed. But the case says more about Drew than it does about Megan. What kind of person – what kind of adult and parent – would torment a young girl online? What kind of individual tells someone else, “Why don’t you just go ahead and kill yourself??”

I have met some of those individuals here on Facebook. Whether they are teens or adults, they are bullies, plain and simple. Bullies are to be pitied. Therapists say that people who bully have a need to control or dominate others to feed their own low self-esteem. They may envy or resent their target, or have a false sense of superiority. They often suffer from depression or personality disorders.

The nursery rhyme is wrong. Names can, and do, hurt. Verbal abuse is as egregious as physical abuse. In Real Life, there is no “block” button to prevent bullies from bothering you. But on Facebook there is. If someone tells you you’re better off dead, it says little about you and much about them. Click that button.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Broken dreams. Monday, July 12, 2010.

“I walk this empty street / on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams / where the city sleeps and I'm the only one and I walk alone.” – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Green Day

Detroit, home of the collapsed automobile industry, has been hit harder by economic hard times than any city in the nation. But nothing can prepare you for the sights of Detroit’s inner city – miles and miles of blight that look very much like the aftermath of a nuclear war.

Boarded-up and windowless business, homes and apartments line many blocks. Other blocks are simply empty space and weeds, where buildings used to be. And every broken down building we saw piques my imagination: Who had built it, and why? What investment did they make at the time? What had been their hopes and dreams for the structure? And what happened to cause it to be vacated?

You see, no one ever builds a building with the expectation that someday it will be burned, collapsed, or allowed to slowly deteriorate and be filled with rats. Every home, however humble, once housed a family excited to move in to their new dwelling. Every business building, whether a store, restaurant or tavern, represents the dreams of the original builder, who served customers and patrons.

More than perhaps any other city in North America, Detroit represents a broken dream. When Henry Ford opened his factory in 1914, paying employees the then-unbelievably high salary of $5 a day, a golden age was ushered in. Generations of families thrived and lived in relative wealth due to the automotive industry and its various spinoffs. “Motown” was alive and prosperous.

Today, only ghosts remain in many factory buildings and houses, and even the people who would have had memories of better times have left. Many of those who have stayed behind live in squalor. What once was a shining beacon of materialism and success is now like an unkempt graveyard. Time passes. Sometimes things don’t go as we expect or hope. Perhaps someday these areas will thrive again. Until then all we have are our imaginations of better days.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Crazy Train. Sunday, July 11, 2010

“Mental wounds not healing, who and what's to blame? I'm going off the rails on a crazy train.” – “Crazy Train,” Ozzy Osbourne

What exactly is crazy?

A lot of mental health advocates detest the word. They say it brings unnecessary stigma to the mentally ill. On the other side of the coin, a lot of people with mental illnesses actually embrace the word, the way that some homosexual people embrace “faggot” and some African-Americans embrace “the N word” – as a way to own it, to control it, to make it theirs.

The dictionary defines “crazy” as “Affected with madness; insane.” That would mean, in ordinary vernacular, that anyone with any sort of mental illness is “crazy.” Is Aunt Louise “crazy” because she has to have her cosmetics lined up in a row and needs to tap the doorknob 23 times before she exits the house? And is she even on the same spectrum as Ed Gein, who was found criminally insane for the murder of Bernice Worden and who dug up corpses from graveyards to make bowls and chair seats?

Then there is the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne. After decades of drinking and drug use, Ozzy’s given his permission for scientists to study his genome to understand why he is still alive. He’s bitten the head off a dove (he claims by accident; he meant to set the dove free but was intoxicated) and a bat (which he claims he thought was rubber). If your brother Sam committed such acts in his bedroom alone, you’d certainly consider him “crazy,” and you’d probably try to have him committed. But Osbourne does it onstage in front of thousands of adoring fans, and it’s all part of the show.

Ozzy’s been sued twice, in 1985 and in 1991, by distraught parents whose sons committed suicide after listening to his song, “Suicide Solution,” which warns about the dangers of alcohol. The lyrics include the following phrase: “Where to hide, suicide is the only way out. Don’t you know what it’s really about?” Can a song make someone kill themselves? Or do they have to be “crazy” first?

Sometimes it seems like the label “crazy” only applies when someone’s behavior affects others in a negative way. If you mind your own business, it’s “whatever floats your boat.” But if others are impacted, “you’re crazy.”

Is suicide the ultimate “crazy” act? It certainly involves going against the inborn inclination to stay alive. But a Japanese samurai who commits hari kari, a victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease, an embezzler about to be caught, and someone in a state of deep clinical depression are all ending their lives for extraordinarily different reasons.

When I was in my bipolar “mixed episode,” I didn’t gamble all our money away, have affairs with a dozen men, or invite President Obama over for tea and cookies. But I was crazy as hell – on the inside – and I knew it. I just couldn’t escape it. I was capable of buying pills and razor blades and using my credit card to get a room in a motel. But I wasn’t capable of stopping on my path to self-destruction. I wasn’t able to imagine how my family would be affected by my actions. I couldn’t see any other options. I could no longer help myself; I needed intervention from others.

Does that make me “crazy?” I don’t know. Do you?