Prozac Puppy’s Progress



Today is QB’s 18th day on Prozac.  Last night I saw what I could say was the first indication that the Prozac was influencing his outdoors behavior.  Normally, when I took QB out at night, he barked ferociously at three trees in the front yard of our building.  He did this every time, and the neighbors found his outbursts scary to watch and listen to.  Someone even asked me, after seeing QB in action, if he was an attack dog!  But last night all that changed.


After I bundled up, I attached QB’s head harness (here is the Halti harness at PetSmart:, I made sure I had a plastic bag, my gloves, my headlamp (here is a good cheap one at ) for seeing what I’m picking up, and a hat, and we were all set.  QB was his usual self in the hall, eager to get into the elevator and outdoors.  It was around 6:30 and dark out.  I always get nervous that someone will approach us out of the shadows and scare QB.  I worry about a confrontation but everyone assures me that that will never happen.


Tree #1 is a large pine tree surrounded by–yep, you got it–pinecones.  When QB was a puppy he got a kick out of those very same pinecones and used to play with them and try to pick them up; nowadays he “plays” with the tree by trying to scare the hell out of it.  Last night I braced myself for the worst.  I took off one glove and grabbed a few treats to “bribe” QB with, should he become unmanageable, but QB totally ignored Tree #1!  I let out a deep breath.  So we went on to Tree #2, also a pine, but smaller.  QB slowed his pace.  No barkie!  I was beginning to wonder if perhaps QB had something hidden up his little doggie sleeve until I realized that QB doesn’t have sleeves, and we progressed across the circular driveway to Tree #3, a maple near the flagpole that sits in the middle of the driveway.


This had to be some kind of joke.  Surely, someone had switched dogs on me.  But we sailed past Tree #3 as easily as if it were merely a tuft of grass.


Could it be the Prozac?  This morning, again, QB’s behavior amazed me.  He was able to quickly recover when a large, aggressive-sounding dog barked at him from behind a fence.  I pulled QB along and encouraged him, and very quickly we were on our way.


Perhaps it is too soon to come to any conclusions.  In order to have a fair scientific experiment, there should be two QBs, one “control” that takes a placebo (that QB will be anything but in control) and the other that takes the real thing.  Neither QB would know what he is taking.  They would then be compared.  Needless to say, one QB is all I can handle and all I need and want and can afford.  God bless the little guy, he’s a handful!

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My early hospitalizations were on unlocked units, but in the mid-80’s all the units became locked, that is, no one could get on or off these psychiatric units without a key, and the only ones who had these keys were the STAFF.  Believe it or not, much of this had to do with insurance.  The insurance companies figured if you were sick enough to require hospitalization then you probably required a locked unit; conversely if you weren’t sick enough to need a locked unit, they weren’t going to waste their money on you.  One by one the units that didn’t convert closed down due to lack of funding, or became general medical or geriatric wards.  Psych units became scary places.  Patients’ belongings were routinely searched and all sharp objects, medications, valuables, cigarettes lighters and matches, belts, cash, and some toiletries were confiscated.  This was for everyone’s well being; a suicidal or homicidal patient could do considerable damage with these objects, something nobody felt comfortable discussing in the dinner table or the medication line, but now and then one heard snatches of the topic in the smoking room.


Ah, the smoking room!  Due to fire regulations and pure sadism on the part of most hospital administrations, smoking by patients on hospital grounds is forbidden; staff may smoke in certain areas so long as patients can’t see them.  The smoking room…those were the days…. Much therapy took place in the smoking room, and many nonsmoking patients came into the smoking room just for the conversation.  


Here is my chapter, “An Unlisted Guy,” from Breakdown Lane, Traveled.  ( The chapter describes how Joe and I met, in the smoking room of a hospital psychiatric unit.  I changed his name to Doug and I wish I hadn’t, but the chapter may give you a feel for what these smoking rooms, now part of history, were like:





            He smoked Merits, and he was cute.  Seated in the center of the smoking lounge, he confidently flicked his cigarette into one of the tuna cans the hospital had supplied for ashtrays, then leaned back and grinned at me.  I took my usual seat in the front corner behind a small empty bookcase, put my feet up on the shelf, and lit up.  I tried to eye him without his noticing, but he caught me at it, still grinning.

            “Wanna try one of mine?” he asked.

            I squinted, distrusting.  “Well, maybe.”

            He handed me two.  “Name’s Doug.  You’re Julie?”

            “Yeah.”  I fingered his cigarettes gently, then placed them on the book shelf, lined up with the edge.  “You’re nice,” I said, then wished I hadn’t.

            “I think you’re nice,” he replied.

            “You’re just saying that.  I’m actually a very evil person.”

            “I doubt that.”  He stubbed out his cigarette.  I watched him squash it until it was well-mangled.

            I offered him two of my Camel Lights.  “Where do you live?” I asked.

            “In an apartment.”

            “Naw, really — where?”

            “First floor.”  Doug grinned.

            “I’m looking for an apartment that will take my dog,” I said.

            “I hope you’re planning on moving in there, too,” said Doug.  I laughed.  He said, “Back in a sec.” 

            He deftly wheeled his manual wheelchair around the furniture in the smoking lounge and returned with a copy of the Boston Globe, that had been sitting untouched in the unit living room.  “Classifieds should be here.  Take a look.”

            I pretended to fuss with the paper and stole glances at this guy.  He was wearing short sleeves and his freckle-covered forearms were thick and masculine.  His hands, large and gentle, were stained at the fingertips from heavy smoking.  Hints of gray were scattered here and there in his dark hair.  He blushed.  I tried to stop myself from smiling.

            “Remember,” he said, “you want your utilities paid for.  A nice warm place with good hot water, a nice shower.”

            “What’s your place like?”  I turned to the Real Estate section.

            He shrugged.  “Just an apartment.  The Pad.”

            I read some ads out loud, and for each one, Doug had a comment.  To most listings, he replied, “Forget it — it’s probably a fuckin’ dive.”

            Another guy came in.  Doug and he started joking about a nurse they called “Nurse Ratched.”  I laughed.  Then they went on to note which nurses were attractive, concluding that physical therapists had the best bodies.  Although I considered myself a feminist, I smirked.

            Within days, Doug was discharged.  He handed me a tiny, folded piece of yellow paper with the name “Doug” and a phone number.  Could this be for real?  I had no idea Doug would want to keep in touch.  “Don’t lose this,” he said.  “My number’s unlisted.”

            I watched him wheel out of the smoking lounge and off the unit, without looking back.





Plans, and a term paper as example of use of fonts

I have a vision.  I want to write my thesis using a variety of fonts.  I discussed this with my friend Joshua last night and he shook his head (as if I’d suggested tossing out my meds) and said, “People don’t read that sort of stuff.”  Of course.  It hasn’t been done.  Publishers hate fonts.  This would be groundbreaking.  Mental illness involves the use of voices coming from different directions, different tones.  We have Microsoft Word with a zillion fonts–why not use them?  My thesis will be a set of personal essays on the subject of mental illness, which collectively will be sort of a collage a la Susan Griffin’s A Chorus of Stones. To convince my advisor that the fonts thing might work, I will bring a term paper I did for a class (enclosed here, below) that I did using fonts.  Other versions of the same paper used more elaborate fonts but in the later versions I found them unnecessary.  Here is the paper.  If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, well, then, don’t.






Our Shame


 Julie Greene

Holocaust Literature

Professor Murray Schwartz

Spring, 2002












Behold, He snatches away and who can hinder Him,

Who can say to Him, what are You doing?







Weeks and months before being snuffed out, they had already lost the ability to observe, to remember, to compare and express themselves.  We speak in their stead, by proxy.


                        –Primo Levi



Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
























I. Introduction


There were many emotions used to describe the Holocaust, but none more pervasive than shame–before, during, and after the abomination.  I am referring to both the feeling of shame and the act of putting to shame by one’s oppressors.  During the period between the world wars, child upbringing involved a barrage of shame.  Prisoners in concentration camps felt intense shame as their rights and needs were by gradations denied.  Survivors of the camps were typified as having “survivor guilt.”


I was trying to write a paper on shame and the Holocaust.  I had nine pages written when I noticed the writing was overly stiff and hard.  I became discouraged; I felt like shredding the paper and tossing it into the toilet.



II. Before the Holocaust: Childhood


The infant–in mainstream American culture–has a sense of omnipotence; the infant believes the world exists to meet his needs and give him what he wishes.  The infant believes it is he who causes this to happen.  Some remnant of this feeling continues into adulthood, in many cases, and can be a cause of the adult’s feeling of unfairness.


The latter half of the 19th century was very much the era of the ‘heavy’ father…the wrathful, capricious, exacting, god-like figure that the elder Schreber [Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber] was to his son….  [The elder’s] system of health rules and behavior modification devices; the feelings and welfare of the children were sacrificed to the father’s fanaticism.




Toilet-training got off to a bad start.  “Constipation’ was a word I didn’t understand, but I knew bowel movements were enough of an issue for my mother to give me horrible white medicine.  She’d pull my hands apart and shove the white medicine down my throat.  It was supposed to help me poop.  She put a star on the calendar for every day that I made a poop, encouraging me to move my bowels as often as I could.  Before I had the chance to flush the toilet, my mother would rush in to inspect my bowels to give approval that I’d done a good job and deserved my star.  Once, I divided one up and showed it all to Grandma Ruby, who was baby-sitting, and she gave me a dozen stars.




Elie Wiesel, in his book, Night, quotes Akiba Drumer, portraying him as naive:  “God is testing us.  He wants to find out whether we can dominate our base instincts and kill the Satan within us.  We have no right to despair.  And if he punishes us relentlessly, it’s a sign that He loves us all the more.”  Is this really the attitude we want to apply to the Holocaust?  How could God have possibly willed such horrific devastation?


The existence of terrible overstimulation made for a kind of life that was like existence in a concentration camp….Survival was possible, but only under the conditions of denial of reality and distortion of identity… ‘castration’…a domestic Hitler presiding over docile subjects.



Tragedy requires some controlled image of the number dead–not the pits and heaps and ravines of bodies, dead and dying, that characterize atrocity.




And so, over the next ten years or so, I lost my faith in people, but I didn’t believe my lack of faith made much sense, until recently.  I would have preferred to have an optimistic, trusting attitude, but that is the idealism of youth.  Too often I opened my cloak too soon, revealing imperfection.  I felt as shamed as the child on the toilet whose bowels were counted and categorized by grown-ups bigger and stronger than her.  With haste I pushed the flusher, and when that didn’t work, the plunger would do, hiding the evidence.



Travelers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in the crowd, a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper’s cornice, a girl walking with a puma on a leash.  Actually many of the blind men who tap their canes on Zirma’s cobblestones are black; in every skyscraper there is someone going mad; all lunatics spend hours on cornices; there is no puma that some girl does not raise, as a whim.  The city is redundant: it repeats itself so something will stick in the mind.


I too am returning from Zirma: my memory includes dirigibles flying in all directions, at window level; streets of shops where tattoos are drawn on sailors’ skin; underground trains crammed with obese women suffering from the humidity.  My traveling companions, on the other hand, swear there is only one dirigible hovering among the city’s spires, only one tattoo artist arranging needles and inks and pierced patterns on the bench, only one fat woman fanning herself on a train’s platform.  Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.




Child care was repeatedly compared to plant care; with careful tending a parent can banish weeds, and like the plant, the child mechanically went through stages.  The development of the child’s character was considered wholly dependent on parental guidance.  Obedience, for the German child, must be automatic.


I watched the toilet flush, the waste I’d produced swirl downward.  Concentric circles shrank before my eyes, circles of filthy, shameful material I myself had produced.  I watched the center circle swirl into nothing and swoosh into a cavernous hole like it was being swept away by a moving train, and then the next smallest ring would take its place.




I spent eight hours in the library Thursday, and here I am, at it again.  How did the time fly by so fast?  Why is it that I’ve made so little progress?



I would define shame as an intense desire to cover or hide the self, so no one, not even God, not even we ourselves, can see what we perceive to be out misdeeds.


What appears in shame is therefore precisely the fact of being chained to oneself, the radical impossibility of fleeing oneself to hide oneself from oneself, the intolerable presence of the self to itself.




Identity is lost in a removal of the self from here to there, from first person to third person, from the same to not-the-same.  Or is it from here to there, from first person to non-person, from the same to nothing?


I did not move.  What had happened to me?  My father had just been struck, before my very eyes, and I had not flickered an eyelid.  I had looked on and said nothing.  Yesterday, I should have sunk my nails into the criminal’s flesh.  Had I changed so much, then?  So quickly?  Now remorse began to gnaw at me.




The child was shown the tasks, for instance, associated bedtime tasks.  There was an “immediate chain reaction.”  A parent must be perfectly consistent.  One mistake will cause a weed to grow in the garden.  A parent should always do the same things in the same way in the same order.  “Training by habituation” was essential for gaining the child’s trust.  “Insight of the child, when this involved recognition of a discrepancy in the adult, is fatal to the educational relationship.”  The ultimate goal in German child-rearing was perfect, automatic obedience.  The parents were considered educators of the whole child, his total personality.  It is the parent who has insight into life; what insight the child has is discounted.


We live within parentheses, a reprieve that has lasted fifty years. 

                        –Paul Steinberg


Patients were regularly assaulted, abused, and picked on by staff, often during times when patients were railroaded into gang showers.  Some patients would spend many years at Met State, incarcerated.  I can’t help but imagine  that the state government closed the “hospital” out of shame.





12:30AM-1AM – SHOWER

1AM-1:45AM – E-MAIL

1:45-2 – BREAK


3-4:15 – READ, FEED DOG

4:15-5:15 – FINISH PAPER

5:15-5:45 – WALK DOG


6:15-6:30 – GET READY

6:33 – LEAVE….



“I can take it!  I can take it!” I hear her say, but she tolerated “It,” followed that split in her mind to the point of madness.  What would I tell her?




“One should teach a child a sense of shame.”

                                –Heinrich Himmler


“I will first consider some events concerning other members of my family, which may possibly in some way be related to the presumed soul murder; these are all more or less mysterious, and can hardly be explained in the light of usual experience.”



“EAT YOUR SPINOTCH!” my parents screamed at me in booming voices.  My mother confronted me with a spoonful of it, saying, a little more cheerily, “Open sesame!”  I covered my mouth tightly with my hands.  They yanked my hands away and forced my mouth open, shoving the dreaded spinotch into my tiny mouth and down my throat.



We were not allowed any modesty in front of these strange men.  We were nothing more than objects on which they performed their duties, nonsentient things that they could examine from all angles….It did not bother them that we were women and that without our hair we felt totally humiliated.



“Establish dominance.”  “Permit no disobedience.”  “Suppress everything in the child.” 

                        –Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber


Leonard Shengold repeatedly uses the term “brainwashing” to represent what the oppressive parent does to the blank slate–the child. 


No, I’ve screwed this up.  What I have is a mediocre research paper.  It isn’t me.  When I do a paper, it’s from the unavoidable viewpoint of my experiences in this unusual life.  And it has been unusual.



“With a conscientious upbringing, the child, a mere potentiality, can become a person.”


Every word spoken near me or with me, every human action however small which is combined with some noise, for instance opening the door-locks on my corridor, pressing the latch on the door of my room, the entry of an attendant into my room, etc., is accompanied by a sensation of a painful blow directed at my head; the sensation of pain is like a sudden pulling inside my head which calls forth a very unpleasant feeling as soon as God has withdrawn to an excessive distance, and may be combined with the tearing off of part of the bony substance of my skull–or at least that is how it feels.






The authority of the oppressor can undermine the child’s hate of that parent and can actually cause the child to see the torturer as good. 


Walter S: I [got] my number tattooed, which was 117022.  This was supposed to be my name.  I had no name anymore.  This was it.


We would like to believe that good things happen to good people, and the evil are punished.  Indeed, Proverbs 12:21 states: “No ills befall he righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble.”  And in the Book of Job, 14:7: “{Consider what innocent ever perished, or where have the righteous been destroyed?”



I didn’t consider hanging myself; I had no idea how.  Taking pills would be easier.  It would all have to end.  There was no other way out.




In the reciprocity of active and passive vision, aidos (shame) resembles the experience of being present at one’s own being seen, being taken as a witness by what one sees.




The “voices” manifest themselves in me as nervous impulses, and always have the character of soft lisping noises sounding like distinct human words….Both their content and the rate at which they are spoken have changed considerably in the course of the years.


Predominant is their absolute nonsense as the phrases are stylistically incomplete, and the many terms of abuse which aim at provoking me; that is to say to make me break the silence necessary for sleep.




At once, I felt something hard against my hand — a headlight!  Yes, it was a car.  Two men hopped out and asked me why I was crying.  “You’re lost, little girl?  What’s your name?  Where do you live?  We don’t know where Bridge Street is….Don’t worry, honey–policemen know how to get little girls home.”


It didn’t take long at the station to explain everything the policeman needed to know.  He called my mother.  I didn’t want to talk to her.  I knew I was in trouble.


My mother, when she pulled up in her Renault, looked stern and mean.  She said, “I told you, never take rides from strangers!”  I listened to her monologue on strangers for the ride home.  “Just wait until your father hears about this!” she said.



The mother was considered the main caregiver of the Jewish infant until the boy was three.  Then the toddler started religious school and the girl stayed home to learn homemaking and prepare for marriage.  The young boys experienced a painful separation from their mothers….


Guilt produces sharp pangs, but one can live with it and place it alongside one’s prouder achievements.  One can balance guilt with restitution.  Shame, however, results in a certain withdrawal, a belief that one is not worth consideration.  For the survivor who experiences shame, there is a further disbarrment from humanity.




That was enough to make me feel uneasy, guilty of being too lucky, of having left the others to their common fate.  Of course these feeling surfaced later, after my rebirth.  They stemmed from a morality that had become obsolete in the camp.



The boys, toddlers, had to endure ten to twelve hours of school, five days a week, with a half day on Fridays for the Sabbath.  The man who carried the toddlers to school was very rough with them.  The classrooms were very overcrowded and poorly furnished.  The teacher was strict and would punish the boys severely for inattention or absent-mindedness.  There were no textbooks with pictures, no “story time,” no education al games.  The boys would learn by repetition.


Mengele asked, “Now tell me how you lived with your midget….You will tell me if the little one is the midgets son, or did you have him with somebody else?…[Tell me] how you slept with him.”  Mengele was salivating.



I would like to suggest that some minds are more intact than others, and there is the type that is broken already, split at the root.  It is possible, but not always, to make repairs, but these are conditional at best.  Injuries bear scars that we can’t always ignore, or they will bleed from re-injury.  I am not saying a person’s mind is like a cracked stone that will never be the same, nor am I suggesting the other side, the possibility of re-birth.  Recovery lies somewhere between the two.



Schreber’s son, Daniel Paul Schreber, was stricken with paranoid schizophrenia and was hospitalized in an asylum a number of times.


Bessie K:  Somehow–all my life I was very respectful, because at home, everything was to be honored and respected–and didn’t care, somehow.  The men were standing there, and the German soldiers were standing and laughing all the way, you know, the women are bathing and the way the men are shaving.



If I secretly lined up peas–usually from a can, and sunken in like raisins–in rows of two wide, it was easier to get the peas onto a fork, whether I planned to drop them on the floor for the dog, or actually eat them.



Hitler and Stalin have proven that the strongest adults can be broken and deprived of their individuality and even their humanity….  This can…be learned from the lives of those who have grown up in the charge of crazy, cruel, and capricious parents, in one totalitarian family ambiance that Randall Jarrell calls “one of God’s concentration camps”…



Those who have devised procedures for causing mental breakdown in inmates of prison and concentration camps have resorted to a regimen of emotional deprivation and isolation, alternating with humiliation and torture.




But…you can take it!



One of Schreber’s complaints against God, obviously aimed at his father, is that God does not understand living men and has no need to understand them because he deals only with corpses.  And soul-murdering parents frequently do treat their children like completely submissive cadavers.  It is characteristic of soul murder that the parent not only fails to respond to the child’s identity, but attempts to stamp it out.  Soul-murdering fathers frequently usurp the maternal role in their personal overconcern with every aspect of the child’s behavior and every detail of the child’s care.




All these souls spoke to me as “voices” more or less at the same time without one knowing the presence of the others.  Everyone who realized that all this is not just the morbid offspring of my fantasy, will be able to appreciate the unholy turmoil they caused in my head.  It is true the souls had at the time still their own thoughts and were therefore able to give information of the highest interest to me; they were also able to answer questions, whereas for a long time now the talk of the voices has consisted only of a terrible, monotonous repetition of ever-recurring phrases….Besides these souls who were recognizable as specific individuals, there were at the same time other voices pretending to be God’s omnipotence itself in higher and higher instances…for these the individual souls appeared to act, so to speak, as outposts.





No, this isn’t right.  It seems–well, too fragmented.  I don’t know if I’m making any point here.  I’m trying to say something about shame.  Like when my life was taken over by Evil, rooted in shame and embarrassment.



The men were standing there, and the German soldiers were standing and laughing all the way, you know, the women are bathing and the way the men are shaving.




I learned early on that anything to do with bodily functions, or the toilet itself, was shameful.  I wet my pants about every day into my fifth year.  I remember the hot, stinging urine, how it dripped down the skin of my legs under snow-pants.  I remember wondering if the snow beneath my feet would turn yellow like it did when a dog peed in it.  It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t because I was weak-willed or morally evil.  I had a physical deformity.  I came to believe that sin was something that happened to you, something you couldn’t control, an inherent badness.  By the time I was five, I understood the depth, the pain, shame, and horror, and the secrecy of badness.  Badness was not in my control.





Punishments, from the Prison Records, 1845


Mode–confinement in a cell, the window of which is darkened by a blanket being thrown over the glass.  Food–one and a quarter pounds good wheat bread per day; water at command; visited by a physician daily; size of the cell 14ft 10-1/2 in long, 7ft 6in wide; average height 11ft 8in…irons are used on the wrists and ancles if necessary…for a time limited to one week.


An officer…testifies that a prisoner was committed, who declared himself unable to work.  The officer, believing him to be obstinate, flogged him repeatedly, (as rules of the prison required,) but fearing he may be wrong, the warden was summoned, who considered it a case of mere deception.  The flogging was repeated very severely in the afternoon; the following morning the man was found dead in his bed.  The post-mortem examination discovered extensive disease!  Had there been a resident physician present, or had a responsible physician been called, what misery might have been spared.


Great, very great inconvenience is experienced from this unhappy class of [insane] prisoners from the prison-officers that appropriate and peculiar care their condition demands.


An insane convict has since been moved…the officer whose duty it was to report the case of insanity forgot it; the insane man refused to work, was accused of obstinacy, and repeatedly flogged till his shrieks and tortures compelled his ignorant and hard-judging officers to suspend the horrid punishment.  He was removed to a hospital for the insane.


The want of pure air in the lodging-cells is, I doubt not, one of the many exciting causes of this [insanity] malady in all prisons, and in all institutions in which ventillation is defective.





They are erecting an outer ward…and the mode of punishment will be deprivation of food, or of bed, shower-bath, solitary confinement, and confinement in a dark cell…..There being 868 prisoners in the men’s Sing Sing prison–in April, 113 flogged; in May, 97; in June, 107….The least number of lashes at one time with the cat 6, the largest number at one time I did not learn.


            –Hon. J.W. Edmonds (Sing Sing), 1845









As young people, we are driven to believe that the world should be fair.  We wish that everything would make sense, that there is a cause for everything that happens.  Consequently, we invent connections where in fact none exist.



Wetting was a moral issue, along with hitting and not sharing one’s toys.  Coming home from school some winter afternoons–late, of course–I’d have to walk very slowly, pinching my thighs together to avoid being bad, but it was no use; the urine gushed out of me before I reached the top of the hill, and the hot, stinging pee-pee streamed down my legs onto the snow-covered road below.  It was useless; I was bad.




It is as if the symmetrical gestures of the two opposite figures of the survivor–the one who cannot feel guilty for his own survival and the one who claims innocence in having survived–betrayed a secret solidarity.  They are the two faces of the living being’s incapacity to truly separate innocence and guilt–that is, somehow to master its own shame.




Shit.  I’m making this sound like I had a terrible childhood with tyrants for parents.  I didn’t.  It was, you know, well, we–my brothers and I–had it pretty good.  We ran the show.  Sort of.



Leon: It’s like trying to describe a nightmare.  How do you describe a nightmare?   Something which is shapeless, amorphous…it is not  a story.  It has to be made a story.  In order to convey it.  And with all the frustration that implies.




Eventually, it would be time for the Jewish boy to marry.  A desirable girl would be one who comes from a family of learned men, therefore will be a good wife–she will be modest and well behaved.  She will put her husband’s religious study above everything.  To a girl, a desirable boy would be learned so that the girl will have a good future.  She cannot achieve this without a good husband.  She is inferior to men.  She doesn’t study; she runs a Kosher home and also earns a living.  A young man and his family would be supported by his father-in-law so the man can study.



Christa M.: In the center there was a man in a long black robe and a long beard.  They had put a big drum around his neck.  They were pushing him and shoving him.  Ad he had to beat the drum, and he had to say to the drum, “I’m a filthy Jew.  I’m a filthy Jew.”  And they shoved him and tried to even trip him.  Every time he staggered and fell, they kicked him again.  It was just horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible.



Hanna F.  On that particular train…One was an opera singer….and [the SS man] recognized that opera singer–she was a Jewish woman–and he got very hysterical, a smirk on his face.  And he made that woman, a middle-age woman, get up, stark naked, and sing.



I went for my usual trip to the small bathroom I shared with my roommate to pee, thereby giving myself a reason to stay alive, when the head nurse, Heide, threw open the door and stared at me while I sat on the can with my pants dropped to my ankles.  Her eyes blazed for an instant like a camera’s flashing device that leaves its imprint on the retina long after it has flashed.  An aura I saw around her, like the ones I saw around everyone else, around objects, and even around ideas I considered Evil, popped like a bubble from a pipe.  I interrupted my piss and stared back.  Before storming off, Heide said, “Shit or get off the pot!”



Are you ashamed because you are alive in place of another?  And in particular, a man more generous, more sensitive, more useful, wiser, worthier of living than you?…it is no more than a supposition, indeed the shadow of a suspicion: that each man is his brother’s Cain, that each one of us…had usurped his neighbor’s place and lived in his stead.  It is a supposition, but it gnaws at us; it has nestled deeply like a woodworm; although unseen from the outside, it gnaws and rasps.



Golly D.: We stood in line now, completely naked.  She soldiers, the SS men, stood right next to it, looked us up and down, and giggled and–and made remarks.  It was most humiliating.



It has come down to cut and paste.  Literally.  Scissors, tape, paper clips, strips of paper everywhere.  I have been at the library for eight hours again.  Snip, snip–the sound of the scissors seems loud within this embrace of silence.




One comes across the unexpected in these people….Alongside the scars and distortions produced by terrible childhoods there are some strengthening effects: some survivors appear to have derived from their experiences adaptive powers and talents that helped them survive….I have observed…the evocation of murder, cannibalism, and traumatic anxiety…the concomitant imperative need for rescue from the unbearable intensities and defense against them; the need to take on the attributes of the tormentor an turn on other victims the abuse was suffered.




Bessie K:  Somehow–all my life I was very respectful, because at home, everything was to be honored and respected–and didn’t care, somehow.




Some of the devices used by Schreber include a back brace to prevent slouching, a metal plate attached to the child’s desk to keep the child from curling over her work, the tying of a child to her bed to prevent poor sleeping posture or masturbation, and enema before bedtime, and immersion in ice-cold water before sleep.


Isaura, city of the thousand wells, is said to rise over a deep, subterranean lake.  On all sides, wherever the inhabitants dig long vertical holes in the ground, they succeed in drawing up water, as far as the city extends, and no farther.  Its green border repeats the dark outline of the buried lake; an invisible landscape conditions the visible one; everything that moves in the sunlight is driven by the lapping wave enclosed beneath the rock’s calcareous sky.


Consequently two forms of religion exist in Isaura.


The city’s gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that feeds the underground streams.  According to others, the gods live in the buckets that rise, suspended from a cable, as they appear over the edge of the wells, in the revolving pulleys, in the windlasses of the norias, in the pump handles, in the blades of the windmills that draw the water up from the drillings, in the trestles that support the twisting probes, in the reservoirs perched on stilts over the roofs, in the slender arches of the aqueducts, in all the columns of water, the vertical pipes, the plungers, the drains, all the way up to the weathercocks that surmount the airy scaffoldings of Isaura, a city that moves entirely upward.




The child is seen as a “thing”….and had “no empathy from the parents…deprived of his own will and of his capacity for pleasure and joy.”




“The child should be permeated by the impossibility of locking something in his heart.”


Identification with the oppressor and subsequent guilt had its genesis in the elder Schreber’s inhumane practices.



Schreber’s son, Daniel Paul Schreber, was stricken with paranoid schizophrenia and was hospitalized in an asylum a number of times.


Given the reality of human nature, given the fact that none of us is perfect and that each one of us can, without too much difficulty, think of things he has done which he should not have done, we can always find grounds for justifying what happens to us.  But how comforting, how religiously adequate is such an answer?



And oh — the woods!  The woods were friendly, at least.  Here I could tread silently and invisibly, stopping at some point to smoke a cigarette, then bury it beneath the pine needles.  I wondered if I’d find anyone’s body hanging, some patient who disappeared long ago, who found comfort in these same woods.



Despite all their hardships in childhood, most Germans and Jews referred to their families as “warm, loving, close-knit, protected, and happy,”


Damn!  I just cut myself with the scissors.



When did it all start?  When I was 12, I reported to my camp counselor that the “little men in my head were fighting against each other.”  Or maybe when I was 22 and Martians called me fat and I wanted to hide, or when I was 37 and they all culminated into one Evil Being.  When things really fell apart, I realized that my whole life was a disintegration leading to this: Mind Torture.



After a time, the toilet stopped its swirling and all the water was gone.  Gone!  Then the bowl filled with clear, less unclean water that awaited its next prey.





In Olinda, if you go out with a magnifying glass and hunt carefully, you may find somewhere a point no bigger than the head of a pin which, if you look at it slightly enlarged, reveals within itself the roofs, the antennas, the skylights, the gardens, the pools, the streamers across the streets, the kiosks in the squares, the horse-racing track.  That point does not remain there: a year later you will find it the size of half a lemon, then as large as a mushroom, then a soup plate.  And then it becomes a full-size city, enclosed within the earlier city: a new city that forces its way ahead in the earlier city and pressed it toward the outside.


Olinda is certainly not the only city that grows in concentric circles, like tree trunks which each year add one more ring.  But in other cities there remains in the center , the old narrow girdle of the walls from which the withered spires rise, the towers, the tiled roofs, the domes, while the new quarters sprawl around them like a loosened belt.  Not Olinda: the old walls expand bearing the old quarters with them, enlarged, but maintaining their proportions on a broader horizon at the edges of the city; they surround the slightly newer quarters, which also grew up on the margins and became thinner to make room for still more recent ones pressing from the inside; and so, on and on, to the heart of the city, a totally new Olinda which, in its reduced dimensions retains the features and the flow of lymph of the first Olinda and of all the Olindas that have blossomed one from the other; and within this innermost circle they are already blossoming–though it is hard to discern them–the net Olinda and those that will grow after it.




At the end of the L-shaped bathroom was the yellow toilet surrounded by three walls; it was an easy place to corner a child.  After I had quietly excused myself to pee, my parents stormed into the bathroom while I sat in that little corner, underpants around my ankles — one parent on either side so I couldn’t run past them and escape.


“You should never, never do that again!” my father shouted.


“Oh, no, never!” chimed in my mother.   


“Strangers!  Bad!”


“Yes, bad!”


“Bad girl!  Never again!”


I couldn’t finish peeing after that.  I pulled up my daisy-print underwear and ran to my room, only to wet the bed that night.




There were moments when I felt a kind of wretched admiration for the agonizing sovereignty [the torturers] exercised over me.  For is not the one who can reduce a person so entirely to a body and whimpering prey of death a god, or at least, a demigod?




Looking terrible…means looking other, bearing an image that is not the image of oneself but of someone or something else….The memoir stirs the voice of life, whereas the mirrors stare into the face of death.



Jewish men thank God daily that they were not born women.















In day-time I thought I could notice the sun following my movements; when I moved to and fro in the single-windowed room I inhabited at the time, I saw the sunlight now on the right, now on the left wall (as seen from the door) depending on my movements.  It is difficult for me to believe that this observation was a hallucination because it was made, as mentioned, in day-time, particularly as I remember drawing the assistant physician Tauscher’s attention on one of his visits to this observation, which naturally filled me with horror.  When later I regularly visited the garden again I saw–if my memory does not wholly deceive me–two suns in the sky at the same time, one of which was our earthly sun, the other was said to be the Cassiopeia group of stars drawn together in a single sun.





Not seeing was a way of not knowing…the just among us [felt] neither more nor less shame, and pain for the misdeeds that others and not they had committed, and in which they felt involved, because they sensed that what had happened around them and in their presence, and in them, was irrevocable.



Clara L.: The one who was lucky got a long dress, so she immediately would tear off a strip from the dress to cover her head.





12:30-2 – OUT WITH JOE




3:15 – WALK DOG




So I bought more pills at the supermarket and stored them in my room at Hall Mercer.  I had my stash: pills, razor blades, plastic knives, cigarettes, lighters.  I stopped eating, except for a candy bar at four o’clock in the morning every day from the vending machine.  What was the point, I thought; without sleep I’d be dead sooner.



Victor: This is true. And what you are not told, what you don’t know, is also true…what is not in the book is also true.



“Tragedy requires some controlled image of the number dead–not the pits and heaps and ravines of bodies, dead and dying, that characterize atrocity.”



Abraham P.: Here are people, religious people, who always wore long clothes, and their privacy was so–it was–I can’t even fine–I mean, here is a man who is a religious man and he has to go and–and take care of his personal need right in front of so many people….They would rather suffer pain than go out and empty their bowels in front of people.



The synagogue door — a castle!  She pulled at the knob and twisted it clockwise and counterclockwise, then realized the door was locked.  She turned to face the street and its music.  It wasn’t fair.  She sat on the steps, choking on her own saliva.  The wind blew a Kleenex down the sidewalk; it hopped into the gutter, where it melted.  Sarah shivered.  She had forgotten about her coffee.  A man with a shopping cart floated by, carrying a trash receptacle.  He looked at her, and waved.  She waved back, then settled into fetal position, leaning on Temple Beth Hell’s door.


The coffee was cold and bitter.


From the first beginnings of my contact with God up to the present day my body has continuously been the object of divine miracles.  If I wanted to describe all these miracles in detail I cold fill a whole book with them alone.  I may say that hardly a single limb or organ in my body escaped being temporarily damaged by miracles, nor a single muscle being puled by miracles, either moving or paralyzing it according to the respective purpose.  Even now the miracles which I experience hourly are still of a nature as to frighten every other human being to death; only by getting used to them through the years have I been able to disregard most of what happens as trivialities.  But in the first year of my stay at Sonnenstein the miracles were of such threatening nature that I thought I had to fear almost incessantly for my life, my health, or my reason.


I did not tell Joe that I’d been abusing laxatives.


How many times…I spent on that kommando, did I cover the last mile back to camp with my right hand jammed between my buttocks to keep the diarrhea that was slowly draining from me, soaking through my trousers and running down my legs into my clogs?…You had to march in time…eyes right and sphincter tight.  Hundreds of us walked with that telltale step.




My mother had stuck a rectal thermometer into my butt and had gone into the kitchen to fly around for a while.  What child wouldn’t want to know what would happen if she pushed the thermometer in further?  And so, I felt the top end of the thermometer get shorter, shorter, until — at last! — it slipped inside me completely. It had disappeared, perfectly.




Frank S.: [This biology teacher] pulled me up on my sideburns and he put me in front of the class and you see how, “here’s a Jew,” and he started to describe my nose and cheekbones, my hair and my features, and how to recognize a Jew.  And I felt humiliated.



Joe said I looked too skinny, like I came from a concentration camp.  Eighty-one pounds, he said, was not enough.




The parallel universe, the one where logic, ethics, codes no longer apply…are replaced by another logic, another codes, which we must assimilate quickly, on pain of dying even more quickly.



I did my best to hide.  The embarrassment, that I felt around my peers, cut, like the sun pierces a fog as it sets itself upon the ground, penetrating everything it touched: my skin, the soft part opposite my elbow, shooting straight into my trembling heart; it poisoned me and made turning back impossible.  Once, when I was on the road, I saw a cop drive slowly by.  I darted into the woods.



Jacob K.: We were all standing up, my mother naked, all of us, three brothers, my father, the other ladies, naked.  It was a terrible sight for a young man to see.  They took out matches…they struck out genitals–the women’s and the men’s.



After a trip to the supermarket for cigarettes and more pills, I treaded fifty yards or so along dry, flaxen grass until I came to a circular opening where some trees had forgotten to grow.  I sat and smoked and looked over the Square and beyond, at shingled rooftops and shabbily-built porches with clothes — sweaters, skirts — hanging from the porch corners.  A breeze made my cigarette glow brighter and bigger.  I took one more puff then buried it deep, under the dry grass and into the earth.  I stamped on the spot until I was sure the cigarette underneath was out.




It was over for a while.  It is still not over.  Twenty-two years later and I am still dangling over the ground by dislocated arms, panting, and accusing myself.  In such an instance there is no “repression.”  Does one repress an unsightly birthmark?  One can have it removed by a plastic surgeon but the skin that is transplanted in its place is not the skin with which one feels naturally at ease.




I awoke at three in the morning and straightened out my room.  I made the bed without a wrinkle. I folded and re-folded my clothes, smoothing them out and lining them up perfectly.  Then I cleaned the floor by hand, picking up stray threads and pieces of dust and dirt by hand until I was satisfied.



Martin S.: I would tell the kids [classmates] everything…we were all in a circle and he said, “Why don’t you tell one of your bullshit stories?  And from that day on–this was 1946, 1947–I did not say a word, I would say, till about five, seven years ago.  The hurt was almost as much as being hurt by the Poles and the Germans because the realization, “My God!  My own, they don’t believe me!”



I had an appointment with my therapist.  I had decided to give her some of my last drawings, sad designs that had no set top or bottom until I’d signed them, “J. Greene,” and the date.  I wondered if my therapist would be suspicious hearing my slurred speech, which I couldn’t control on account of the Benadryl; in fact, keeping my balance while walking was tricky. I decided I’d take all the Benadryls after my appointment, and go off into the woods at a place no one would find me, behind a lone boulder, buried in leaves, far, even, from the “forbidden” path, and be dead by nightfall.




Helen K.: I don’t know if it was worth it.  Because you know, when I was in the concentrations camp, and even after, I said to myself, “You know, after the war people will learn.  They will know.  They will–they will see.  We will learn.”  But did we really learn anything?  I don’t know if we learned anything.  Or if we ever will.  I don’t know.




Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world.  The shame of destruction cannot be erased.  Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained….it is fear that henceforth reigns over him.  Fear and also what is called resentment.  They remain and have scarcely a chance to concentrate into a seething, purifying thirst for revenge.



If there is punishment, there must have been guilt.  –Primo Levi


Edith P: And [a German] hit me about ten times on my back with a whip…I didn’t cry.  I did not cry!  The humiliation pained me terribly. Not the physical–one can survive physical pain.  But how does one survive emotional pain?



****I don’t know what to put here****nothing, I guess****


Martin S.: We ultimately went in. You had no choice.  And when finally water came out–but again, you thought this was the end of you.  It is impossible to describe the thoughts, the feelings.



She screamed as she fell, face down in the middle of traffic.  Spikes of pain riveted her cheeks and lips, as sand infested her tongue.  A stinging sensation pierced the soft places on her skin.  She pulled her hand toward her face, staring at it.  A large nail cut between the bones of her hand.  Blood oozed forth.  She screamed.


“Lady, get out of the way!” said a teenager wearing a bomber jacket.


“Please, help me–”


The kid laughed.  “What a klutz!”  He spat on the sidewalk, then ran to join another teen on a side street.


“Help me!” she called out.


Nobody heard her.  An acrid odor filled the air, spoiled steak cooking on a grill.  Gross.  No, it was flesh.  Her flesh, burning.  The flames reached up from her feet, where two more nails attached her feet to a stake.  No.


Why did it happen?  Why did I survive?  To write about it?  Will anyone believe me?  Will anyone listen? 


I lived and am still living in humiliation, I have never managed to wipe my image clean.  I am still the person who slapped the old Jew, the boy hiding out in the latrines, he toady who fawned on the brutes and murderers to make sure of his extra helpings of soup.


I am just a peon.


Guilt is the penance one pays for the gift of survival.


Was that the purpose of all this?  Does it matter? Can I change

one person’s life?




Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. NY: Zone Books, 1999.


Amery, Jean. “Torture.”  Trans. Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella Rosenfeld. Art from the Ashes: A             Holocaust Anthology. Ed. Lawrence L. Langer.  NY: Oxford, 1995. 121-136.


Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver. NY: Harcourt, 1974.


Dix, Dorothea Lynde. Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States. Montclair,             NJ: Patterson Smith, 1967.


Getraux, Rhoda.  “Parents and Children: An Analysis of Contemporary German Child-Care and             Youth Guidance Literature.” Childhood in Contemporary Cultures. Ed. Margaret Mead             and Martha Wolfenstein.  Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1955. 204-228.


Greene, Joshua M. and Shiva Kumar, Eds. Witness: Voices of the Holocaust. NY: The Free Press,             2000.


Greenspan, Henry.  On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Recounting and Life History. Westport,             CT: Praeger, 1998.


Griffin, Susan. A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War. NY: Doubleday, 1992.


Hass, Aaron.  The Aftermath: Living with the Holocaust. NY: Cambridge U. Press, 1995.


Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  NY: Avon, 1981.


Levi, Primo.  The Drowned and the Saved. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal. NY: Vintage, 1989.


Normberg-Przytyk, Sara. Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land. Trans. Roslyn Hirsch.              Ed. Eli Pfefferkorn and David Hirsch.  Chapel Hill: U. Of North Carolina, 1985.


Patterson, David. Sun Turned to Darkness: Memory and Recovery in the Holocaust Memoir.             Syracuse: Syracuse U., 1998.


Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness. Trans. Ida Macalpine and Richard A.             Hunter.  NY: New York Review, 1955.


Shengold, Leonard, M.D.. Soul Murder: The Effects of Child Abuse and Deprivation. New     Haven: Yale, 1989.


Steinberg, Paul. Speak You Also: A Survivor’s Reckoning. Trans. Linda Coverdale. NY: Picador,             2000.


Weisel, Elie. Night. Trans. Stella Rodway. NY: Bantam, 1982.


Zborowski, Mark. “The Place of Book-Learning in Traditional Jewish Culture.” Childhood in             Contemporary Cultures. Ed. Margaret Mead and Martha Wolfenstein.

            Chicago: U. Chicago, 1955. 181-141.


Prozac Puppy’s Progress





I am happy to say that QB hasn’t bitten me for well over a week now, and already it seems to be a thing of the past.  He has been taking Prozac for two weeks.


QB seems less intent on barking at humans now, and more interested in barking at trees and attacking telephone poles.  He rarely jumps on people now while he’s on leash.  While he gets very upset with large trucks and other stimuli he can generally be “bribed” with treats to behave in a reasonable manner around them.  Much of his shenanigans have to do with anticipation of a stimulus rather than the actual stimulus itself.  For instance, as we approach the “B” elevator, QB frequently gets very excited and may even jump and growl or bark, despite my reassurances, only to find, once he gets to the elevator, that there is nothing there!  The anticipation is worse than the real thing.  I am reminded of a child’s visit to the pediatrician.


QB’s behavior in the apartment continues to improve, just when I thought he was so good that there was no room for improvement!  He can now be left alone loose in the apartment for short periods.  I would leave him for longer periods but I worry that someone (maintenance people, for instance) will enter the apartment at that time and perhaps there would be trouble of some sort.  He can be trusted to stay away from “contraband”–anything he’s not supposed to chew–for the most part and understands what items are toys if I tell him, “Toy!”  He barks less and is more polite overall.


Prozac diminished QB’s appetite considerably.  After about ten days of eating less than he should, QB’s weight appeared to drop, so I decided to add canned food to his diet.  The crafty little boy picks the canned food out and leaves the kibble much of the time, but I’m happy to say that this morning he ate his entire meal.


My opinion of QB’s progress so far on Prozac is “wait and see.”  Except for making him a fussy eater, the Prozac hasn’t been detrimental to QB in any way, and the positive strides in the apartment seem to be a good sign that more progress is on its way.

I should have told her to fuck off, don’t you think?





A woman named Deb, who is a fellow member of my weight loss team, The Losing Streaks, e-mailed me today to tell me I wasn’t getting enough protein or vegetables, that fruit is nothing but sugar and rice cakes are nothing but air.  She said probably that’s why I didn’t lose weight this week.  You and I know better: I binged on Saturday and again on Monday.  I was having some symptoms (confusion, agitation) and bingeing was how I responded, unfortunately.  I didn’t tell my team.  Shame on me!


So I was up 1.2 pounds, and Deb’s criticism didn’t sit well with me.  She herself eats very little or no carbs, and seems to think her way is better than mine.  I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to criticize my eating, nor do any two people agree on particulars of nutrition.  I was doing the best I could, and that was the best I could do.


I could have told her off, told her she had no right to criticize what I put in my mouth, but I thought twice about it.  I realized that eating is a sore spot for me, and that I was probably overreacting.  Best not to cause trouble.  I wrote back a friendly, polite note “thanking” Deb for the advice. 


I thought she’d stop there, but she wrote yet another e-mail criticizing my eating, and another, saying, “I raised three kids, I should know.”


You know the type.  Know-it-all.  At this point I was rather ticked off, and I felt the urge to cry.  I realized that my feelings were escalating, and that this stress may bring on more symptoms, so I took a Thorazine and ate lunch. 


I came back to the computer.  I considered sending Deb a polite note saying, “Get off my case,” but then I remembered the advice I gave in my entry, “On Anger.”  Not only did I let go of my feelings, but also I sent back an e-mail thanking her again for her wonderful advice, as if I believed she was truly right and I was always in the wrong.


I realized that if I thanked her enough, she would probably feel good, if not somewhat embarrassed by my compliment. 


Yes, I’ve stuffed my feelings.  But that is better than allowing annoyance to turn to anger from an ensuing argument.  It is better than arguing and then getting symptomatic from stress.  Stuffing mild feelings of annoyance is better than stuffing my face.  And we all had a better day as a result.

More bad writing.. and self-absorbedness





I am told that I am passionate, and that this quality has certain disadvantages.  Passion is akin to obsession, more often than not a cancer that pushes aside everything in its path, by degrees.  Healthy tissue squeezes into impossible spaces; a lump of evil grows and obliterates whatever it touches.  It’s not something for which one asks.  One wakes on a cold morning to find coal in one’s stockings.  You are the doomed, the one chosen to follow the flame to wherever it leads.  And it can lead to horrible places.


Male psychiatrists love to reduce their female patients to “feeling machines,” and “menstruating machines” follow closely behind.  “You are sad.”  “You are envious.”  “You are angry.” 


The latter is a favorite of Dr. B, who last I knew worked at the Short Term Unit at McLean Hospital.  He tried to convince me that I was the angry one that harbored this cancerous feeling, that I didn’t know what to do with my anger, that I acted on anger inappropriately (often turning it inward, he said).  Convening with other patients proved correct what I suspected, that the good doctor had repeated this exact same anger mantra to every patient on the floor.  We were amused, and our amusement heaved up like an iceberg.  Yes, the doctor himself had made us all rather pissed off.


But back to passion: I am embarrassed to admit that I was once passionate about ending my life.  All my thoughts and actions were channeled into a single, forbidden, one-way path where the sky was not luminescent, where blood was rigid and eyes dull, where a weary person could find some rest by a cold fire.  For about six months I thought of nothing else.  My therapist, Dr. M, reminded me at every session that her job was not to help me die, but to help me live, and should she find herself in the former role, she would politely bow out. 


It’s not something I talk about much.  Talking about suicide annoys people, and it annoys me to hear others ruminate on the topic (I generally “taddle” on them).  I spent days by the railroad tracks memorizing the train schedule, but when it came time to lie on the tracks I decided to wait–just one more day.  And for those months I walked that tightrope.


It seems incredulous to me now that I kept a journal throughout that difficult time.  I kept careful records of everything from what medication I was on to how many cigarettes I’d smoked that day.  I kept all my papers in neatly labeled notebooks:  “Julie’s Progress.”


I suppose a therapist would place utmost importance on what followed, how I found cyberspace and discovered that I was capable of making friends and helping others in ways I never realized, how I broke the cycle of self-generated codependency and stopped allowing life to jerk me around.  I discovered writing.


At first it was little more than writing in my journal, but soon I began a novel and finished a draft eight months later.  I kept on writing, wrote two more books, majored in writing, and graduated from Emerson College ( summa cum laude in 2003.  All this you probably know from visiting my site, 


And you know what followed: Joe’s death.  The notice of his passing still tops my website’s home page.  I can’t let go of it, even now that three years (this August 19th) have passed, even now that I have reluctantly been in other relationships.  I miss him like crazy.  I also lost my dog, Tiger.  She is in heaven with Joe.


Writing stopped at that point.  Two days after Joe’s funeral I found out I’d been accepted into Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing program.  I accepted the invitation but worked at school half-heartedly, having lost my drive to write entirely.  My fellow student and friend, Jennifer, and others have reassured me that every writer goes through dry periods, that I should simply open a blank document and write.  Just do it.  But I can’t.


I don’t look the same anymore, having put on over 100 pounds from the medication Seroquel, an antipsychotic doctors love to prescribe because it makes us shut up.  As I increased in size, obsession over my weight grew, a cancer that pushed aside all passion for writing, and masked my grief for Joe.  It’s easier to think about my weight than to feel grief over the man I loved passionately for 13 years.  When I should have been writing, concentrating my efforts on sentences and paragraphs, I was dieting instead, stepping on the same scale over and over.


During my last hospitalization I revived my journaling.  I picked out a cute pink notebook decorated with coffee cups from the Occupational Therapy room and began to write: “In this setting, we are treated like children.  The groups are like third grade all over again.  Today we had coloring….I left the group because I didn’t think it would enhance my treatment….I didn’t know where I was, even though I’ve been [to that place] many times.  I lost five things today.  When people talk, I can’t hear them properly, and when I talk, all hell breaks loose in my head.”  That notebook is mostly filled now, with comments on various life activities, rants, and stories of QB, my new dog.  And yes, there’s plenty in there about my weight. 


I’ve started going to the library to write, in attempt to smother out the diet-centered self and allow room for the writing self to grow.  Can passion truly be redirected?  I am making an effort.  I am opening documents and starting to write.  Folks who read my words don’t care what size I am.


Come, follow me as I blog along, as I stumble, shake myself off, and then begin again.

I wrote this last June, and I still have this damned dream….





Following one of my hospitalizations, my parents rent an apartment for me.  Usually the apartment appears very small.  The building is on a hill much like the dormitory area at UMass/Amherst where I once lived.  The apartment is at the far left as you face the hill, and the entrance is in the back.  It was tough finding this place, and I can hardly wait to move in.  There is a halfway house about–yes, halfway up the hill that rents rooms and serves meals, but I have no interest in living in any situation that compromises my independence. 


One evening, I ride my bike to the trolley stop, which apparently is in Newton, Massachusetts, a ten-mile bike ride from the hospital where I’ve been staying.  The bus to the top of the hill runs every 20 minutes or so.  I leave my bike by a tree and just make the next trolley.


The ride is quick.  I get off at the last stop and wander about.  Aren’t the shrubs arranged differently?  Where is my building?  Where is the apartment? 


Alas, I’ve rented an apartment, don’t have the telephone number or address of the landlord, and haven’t a clue where the apartment is.  I try the key in several locks, which brings suspicious looks from neighbors, and one resident picks up her phone to call the police on me.


I step onto the next trolley back to Newton.  Without an apartment, I have nowhere to go except back to the hospital.  The trolley is near empty because it is late at night, and the ride goes without incident.


I head back to where I left my bike.  But my bike has been stolen!  Why didn’t I lock it?  What am I going to do now?


I wake up wondering why I have this dream repeatedly.  It has been a long night.

Rambling on and on about insomnia

This really rambles….





I once had a bout of insomnia that lasted several months.  I slept two hours a night.  After a time I became agitated.  On a walk with Tiger (my dog) I saw a man standing by the side of a tire shop, smoking a cigarette, and I wanted to kill him, just because he was there, and at that moment it took everything in my power not to do him harm.


It all started when I saw psychiatrist named Dr. Michael Detke, who eventually stopped treating patients and went into research.  He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t sleeping, so he sent me to the sleep clinic at McLean Hospital. 


There I met with a psychologist (not an MD) who told me I had bad “sleep hygiene,” meaning poor habits regarding sleep, and that’s why I wasn’t sleeping.  (Looking back, there was nothing wrong with my sleep habits.)  The psychologist told me I should turn my clock so that it doesn’t face me, and stop listening to the radio as I fell asleep, and those were the only changes she could think of that would help.  I had to keep sleep charts, which was my first and only reason for using Microsoft Excel, noting what time I went to bed, what time I woke up, and so on.


This continued for several months with no improvement.  At my last appointment, the psychologist told me I was doing “extraordinarily well.”  As he said these words, I struggled to keep my eyes open and my head erect.  I was on the verge of collapse.


Meanwhile, Dr. Detke continued to raise my Effexor, a stimulating antidepressant, and lower my Seroquel, a very sedating antipsychotic.  At the hospital, it was more of the same: insistence that I needed more antidepressant.


The doctors at the hospital were just as incompetent as Dr. Detke; in fact, my first inpatient doctor was fired from the staff while I was there.  I was transferred to another incompetent, Dr. Abraham, who raised my Effexor more, then threw his hands up in the air and said, “Your insomnia will take a year to solve.  Goodbye.” 


Goodbye and good riddance. 


On that note, I was released from the hospital.  I had no desire to see Dr. Detke ever again, and I found myself with a wonderful doctor named Dr. David Brendel.  He asked me a few questions, to which I sleepily replied, then he looked at my medication list and said, “Whoa!  Your medications are all wrong.”  He took me off Effexor entirely and gave me more antipsychotics, including Thorazine.  After two weeks of treatment with this new doctor, I slept.


It is said that Pope John Paul II slept only an hour every night.  People suffering from mania sleep very little.  I need about eight hours.  Most people with mental illnesses notice their symptoms worsen when they are sleep-deprived; I am the opposite.  I have deliberately deprived myself of sleep at times, to “protect” myself from Evil Beings, and it works.  I wish I could keep it up, but eventually my body forbids me to stay up any longer.  A periodic all-nighter does me a world of good.  A research study suggested sleep-deprivation can help people with depressive symptoms, but the study was dismissed as unsubstantiated, and I’ve never heard of sleep deprivation as a “cure” for psychosis–quite the opposite.  For instance, last night my puppy woke me for his usual midnight romp.  (Pain in the butt that he is, I do love the little squirt.)  I felt restless and stayed up the rest of the night.  Today I feel cleansed of illness. 


People of certain religions believe that denying oneself food is cleansing to the body and soul.   Many religions encourage a modest lifestyle and restraint regarding pleasurable activities.  A person who eats excessively is a glutton.  One who sleeps too much is lazy.  A drinker is a drunk and a woman who overindulges in sex is a slut.  But to hold back, to restrain oneself is considered stoical and brave.  I am reminded of the giving up of pleasures for Lent, a practice traditionally upheld by Catholics and many non-Catholics nowadays.  To quit smoking is admirable.  Giving up sweets will improve one’s oral health.  But to quit entirely something the body or mind requires for functioning is impossible or at least unwise. 


People with severe mental illnesses require medication to stay mentally healthy.  A certain few will refuse medication and still live fairly reasonable lives, but the vast majority of us require medications.  Stopping medication is the number one reason that mentally ill people are re-hospitalized.  I have occasionally gone without medication, though at these times I usually am mistaken as to whether I’ve taken the pills, and the result was hospitalization each time.  Even lowering medication, without my doctor’s approval, has led to disaster.  Unlike restraint for the purpose of cleansing, going without medication is not only looked down upon, but also considered damn stupid.  Almost all violent acts committed by people with mental illnesses are done while the patient is not taking the required medication; patients who “cooperate with treatment” are no more violent–if anything, less violent–than the general population.  Perhaps we can consider it an act of discipline to take one’s pills every day!


When I can’t sleep, I suffer; when I choose not to sleep, I thrive.  Perhaps choice is the factor here.  To take control of one’s life is to choose wellness over excessiveness, moderation over extremes.  To be in control of one’s actions, though one can’t always control the results of one’s actions, is a reasonable way to live.


But what of adventure?  Don’t I need to give up that control every now and then, to set out without a map or compass just to see where I end up?  Certainly, a person with an excess of control has little enjoyment in life.  I have known a handful of people who wrestle with that problem.


To control what one can, and to let fate control the rest, is the key.  To rest my head on my pillow is my choice; whether I sleep well is less controllable.  I choose to take my medication (though I hate taking it), and take good care of myself, but that won’t prevent breakthrough symptoms to appear now and then.  Adventure has its place, as does regularity.  I’ve deprived myself of sleep–or, perhaps it is my puppy who has denied me sleep–let me sleep well tonight.  If I wake up tomorrow morning alive and breathing, I’m having a good day.


Sweet dreams.




What if I read this at a NAMI meeting?

I was actually asked to speak at a NAMI meeting recently.  I couldn’t do it because I had a class.  It would have been a scream to read this essay at one of their meetings.






I can’t help but conclude that the person who invented the term “consumers” was some do-gooder parent who couldn’t stand hearing their kid being called a “mental patient.”  No, it wasn’t the kid who minded being labeled a mental patient, but the parents who, in their shame, had to invent another word for what we really are.


Think: “Consumer” means nothing.  It means Consumer Price Index or Consumer Reports.  A consumer protected by Ralph Nader.  A consumer buys a car, a computer, carpeting, or coffee.


Do we call cancer patients “consumers”?  Certainly not.  Consumers of what?  Cancer care services?  Chemo?


Who really does the buying here?  The drug companies market to doctors, not to patients.  For the most part, we have little choice regarding services; we use what’s covered on our insurance. 


Okay, “consumer” implies one who discerns, makes decisions regarding acquiring something.  A consumer needs or wants something and chooses what to buy, where to buy it, and by what means.  A new TV.  Gloves.  Chocolate.


We aren’t even the ones doing the buying.  We take whatever insurance we can get, from the workplace or from the state or federal governments.  Very few patients choose their health care plan; it is decided for them, which means we are not consumers but recipients of health care plans and health care in general.


Some do-gooder parent (or patient in denial) wanted to emphasize the pick-and-choose aspect of mental health care, implying that patients are discerning and proactive.  But do we really need to be called “consumers” to prove this?


Truthfully, mental patients, as a subset of patients in general, are the least able to make choices about their care.  The looming of “involuntary treatment,” “locked ward,” and “privileges” drive my point home here.  Why should we cover up the fact that it is the lack of choices is what defines us?   Pink paper.  Section 12.  Restraints.


There was only one time that I was allowed to make a choice about my care.  Due to the unreliability of Medicaid cabs, I had to stop seeing my therapist Dr. Barbara Rosenn, a fine psychologist who helped me immensely.  I was given a choice: Dr. Elsa Ronningstam or another therapist whose name I forget.  On Barbara’s recommendation, I chose Dr. Ronningstam, one of the biggest treatment mistakes I’ve ever made.


What choices the term “consumer” does not imply are the most important choices a person with a mental illness ever has to make: the choice to seek treatment, the choice to cooperate with treatment, the choice to be willing to heal.  The meaning of the term “consumer” doesn’t include this willingness.  “Patient,” on the other hand, specifies a person who is a recipient of medical care.  “Mental patient” is a person receiving mental health care.  Not all mentally ill people are patients; many do not enter treatment, sadly.  But people who recognize their illnesses generally are those in treatment or seeking treatment, those that should be proud to be mental patients, those proud enough to shove away the hands of those that pat our heads, beam with token pride, and call us their little “consumers.”  God help us.