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would-be memoirist writes less-well than she should

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Facebook Exchange About Mental Health, Depression, Anxiety


Essentially, it all boils down to this: it’s destructive and debilitating A.F. And people get tired of hearing about it or being supportive, and you know what? That’s okay. That has to be okay, too. It’s the loneliest disease combination I can personally concoct, and no one would wish it on him- or herself nor their worst enemy.

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And the mechanisms to fight one set of symptoms often exacerbate the other. It is an unrelenting fight against a horrific cascade of misfires, and when you add a few other imbalances in the complex, interrelated chemical reactions of the brain involving neurotransmitters and the disordered thinking and behavior caused by biochemical factors and personal experiences that shape it all, it is catastrophic. It is one small step, then another. It is seeing a mountain only to scale it and find a larger mountain waiting.

There is a sign at the psychiatric center where I go that says, “Know the Signs of Suicide.” My gallows humor immediately went to: “yes, a dead body . . . likely next to a note.”

But DO KNOW the signs of an individual who is suffering a confounding battle against enemies who are also allies: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and even cortisone. Know that many of us are on medication that may make us seem “drunk” or “high,” or “messed up on something,” or that stop our inclinations to self regulate. We may say things that embarrass or surprise you. We may seem sleepy or slur our speech in the middle of the day. This does not mean we’re addicted, or harmful, or incompetent as workers or parents. It means we are fighting, just as one who may be medicated with morphine for advanced-stage cancer.

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It stuns me how shunned folks are who are fighting an illness of the brain versus an illness of the liver, the breast, the kidneys. And the sad part? Many of our “symptoms” have a positive side: the ability to open doors to greater creativity, emotion, and a certain paradigm-shift in the community. We are often the oddballs and the artists, the freethinkers and the ones who cry openly in the street. We are often the ones who feel the pain of others most keenly. The shunning is devastating to those whose only “crime” is having been struck with a complicated illness that effects the organ that controls personality.

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Compassion. Read this, and then go read the links in the comments . . . if you’d like. I understand if/why you wouldn’t. It’s tedious and it seems like so much self-indulgence, probably, to some. But it’s not, it’s neuronal/biochemical fact, measurable in a lab setting. Schizophrenic brains LOOK different. Bipolar shows as a lack of lithium salt in situ. The depressive’s brain shows grooves where repeated experiences lead to the same negative emotional outcome, a process which must be rewritten *usually with the help of a serious medical protocol.*

So if you’d like to know, you can begin here, because it’s a fine place to start.

Comments
Alma Fellows
Alma Fellows That is my favorite blog. I love her!
Alma Fellows
Alma Fellows Thank you for saying all that. Living with these conditions are a constant uphill battle.

Amy Chester
Amy Chester I know
om Fucking g
do I know

Unlike · Reply · 2 · 3 hrs
Corbyn Hanson Hightower
Corbyn Hanson Hightower Amy, I need you here like a twin missing her half. Please. Someday? A visit. It must happen. And Joyceeee, and Jo . . .

Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
Jeff Britt
Jeff Britt I had this terrible affliction (bad depression and worse anxiety) from ages 18-41, with its worst effects occurring throughout all of my thirties. I’m 43 now. It’s strange for me to say that I don’t seem to have that anymore. I do still have occasionalSee More

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Corbyn Hanson Hightower
Corbyn Hanson Hightower This silly song–and my profound connection to much music–helps: 

The For Our Children Album version of the song
Corbyn Hanson Hightower
Corbyn Hanson Hightower I have dissociative-depersonalization disorder and PTSD, too. This is how we doooo it . . . this is how we do it, sha na na na na, na na naaaa . . . this is how we do it, it’s Tuesday night, etc. <waves arms in the air weakly>
Sharon Binns
Sharon Binns Yes, a thousand times yes.
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My Summer Ghost


Everything I’m about to tell you is true, except for two things: one, it wasn’t my grandmother (although I am part Cherokee, and I have had many sage grandmothers and great grandmothers.) It was my friend’s full-blood Cherokee great-grandmother, but it fit perfectly. Two, his name is.

“My Summer Ghost”

A ghost spent some time with me this past summer, and he lived in my computer. He knew my name, where I had lived in 1972, where my pain had begun. When he said his dad had been at Fort Sill I froze and waited, feeling a NO and a YES all together, it can’t have been?!

My Cherokee grandmother had warned me of this type of ghost, in her way. She had a saying, something like, “there are three types of friends. Those that are there for a reason. Those that are there for a season. Those that are there forever. Two out of those three will leave you before you’re ready.”

This man—my ghost–had skin brown as the good dark soil you never find in Oklahoma, where the dirt is red. Legend says the dirt is red in Oklahoma due to all the blood that’s been shed there. That is where my pain started, in my home . . . and where his started, too . . . my ghost. He came up on my screen and he said, “I knew you, little girl. I knew you when you were being hurt and started feeling very afraid of home, because I was the little black boy down the street whose father killed a man in our living room. My stepfather raped me throughout my childhood. I’m here to show you the path to climbing out and away.”

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He had dreadlocks and wore a Buffalo Soldier hat his great-grandfather had kept, long stored, he told me, a source of pain that he reclaimed and wore with defiance. He smiled at me lovingly, and with a facial expression that held both pity and understanding. He told me the tears could keep coming if they needed to but they would have to stop sometime if I was going to be strong. If I was going to shed this baggage, this weight I carry around, if I was to be a Queen. He told me he had never spent a lot of time crying–that actually, it was something he rarely if ever had indulged in–but that he got into a lot of trouble, instead, in the years after he escaped from his abuser.

I told him that I always cry when I’m angry.

 Right then, when I said that, there was a long pause, and this was the first and the last time I ever saw my ghost cry. He told me, “I spent a lot of time breaking kneecaps for you, girl.”

 He put his strong hand to his forehead and his chest shook. I cried and touched the screen impulsively and told him I wish we could have helped each other back then, grasped small hands, black and white, and run far and fast across the tarantulas and bleached-white sidewalks, across the dry spiky grass, but to where? The farthest I went was on my yellow metal tricycle, riding slowly, steadily, along the long straight ribbon of concrete. How far can I go. How far can I go.

My ghost went far. He went to prison, eventually . . . for fighting his way out of this pain. Now he works for the poor and in need, around the world. He’s an innovator, a change-maker, raising people up with his strong hands. Spreading love and charity after a lifetime of pain and anguish.

 Whenever, during our computer screen chats, I started repeating self-defeating things, how the things that had happened had turned me into a broken person, and possibly a bad person, too, he’d get up from his chair and sort of hunch his back, slapping his thighs, shaking his head low and fast, eyes closed, singing this kind of crazy scat until I’d shut up. He’d ask, “are you quite done?”

When I’d cry hard about the burdens I carry and the boulder on my shoulder, he’d start to pick up all the furniture in his house, ALL of it–please don’t think I’m exaggerating–until he was this small figure under a catawampus collection of chairs, ottomans, boxes, busts of David, books, halogen lamps, “and let me get this here, too, let me add this, Corbyn, is this enough? What about this here? Wait, I can get one . . . more . . . thing . . . that enough, Baby? That enough? What else you gon’ add, Baby? That enough for you?” Then after I got a goooood long look at how silly and overwhelmed and unnecessarily burdened he looked, he’d stare me down good and hard. A long, quiet stare. And he’d start to put each item down, while never losing eye contact with me. Never losing eye contact. Just silence. Just those beautiful eyes and those wild locks, that black skin, that hat, while I cried with relief and understanding.

For as long as I can remember, as an adult, I felt like if I were asked to paint a self-portrait–the internal kind, how I see myself, not the mirror’s lie–I’d see a well-muscled black man with a snarl and tattoos, one whose fists are clenched and whose face challenges you to just Go Ahead, MUTHUHFUCKER, Try!2pac

That’s who I call on when I need that feeling of invincibility, like none of it ever happened, the red dirt, the years of unpredictable anger and violence, of being afraid of your own parents, of your own home, the feeling of having no place that was safe. And in short time this summer, my ghost became my safety.

A text of “today is going to be a great day for you. You are stronger than what happened. I love you. R.” And that was like a sweet guitar strum in my ear, and my eyes would close and my head tilt with an almost drunken feeling of peace, just with those words. Because my ghost was there. He knew Everything. I could rewrite every hurt with his strong arms around me. I could paint a whole new painting, one where I didn’t hide behind bushes and under beds, where I didn’t cut huge bleeding sections out of the bottoms of my feet where no one would see, but where I could march, add to the red dirt, add to the red dirt.

I sliced these huge bleeding sections off my feet for years, and at night I would have to peel off my blood-soaked socks and throw them away. My mother had to wonder what was happening to all my socks. Periodically, I’d find new replacements–the kind that came in multiples, in a bag–laid on my bed without comment.

And yet there came a day when I wasn’t ready and he wasn’t there. He vanished, and it was if we had never met. All contact ceased. A DVD of a favorite movie I had sent to him came back marked “Undeliverable.” And the crying came back, and it came back harder than ever, because I wasn’t ready, and I thought maybe it was time, finally time for the hospital, that I had created my fantasy healer, someone who could make it all better, and I still don’t know if that’s not true. When I try to contact him now, he responds as if we’ve never met or doesn’t respond at all. He said a stranger is trying to stalk him, and that’s me, but I know because I REMEMBER HIM MORE THAN I REMEMBER ANYTHING ELSE IN MY LIFE. But he turned away from me, and it hurt like a thousand things hurt, it hurt me bigger than big, and I’m not sure if it broke me more than helped me.

That’s the thing about ghosts. They’re damned unreliable.

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