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 (www.emerson.edu) summa cum laude in 2003. All this you probably know from visiting my site, www.breakdownlanetraveled.com.
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.