An e-mail to my therapist

Hi Goldie,

This is where it stands right now:

I haven’t done any school work, except for teaching-related preparation and notes, since turning in the last packet.  Most of this has had to do with depression.  Recently, though, my reluctance to do school work has been because of a conscious decision to stop doing it.  I really want this break.  As soon as I stopped, I felt relief.  I felt better because I felt relieved of the pressure of having to complete specific tasks by specific deadlines, tasks that would have been impossible for me to accomplish given my depressed state of mind.  I didn’t tell anyone that I had stopped working, not my brother, not you, and not Bea (my advisor) because I felt ashamed.  My brother will say that I’ve given up and he will accuse me of being a quitter.  I am not a quitter.  I am doing what I need to do to stay well.

Now that I’ve “let it go,” I need to let go of all the guilt I feel.  First of all, I feel guilty for having stopped, even temporarily.  It feels like the way I’ve felt slipping out of church or synagogue worship services before they are finished.

I need to see an end to another sort of guilt, the guilt I’ve felt since sometime last semester, my G3 semester last fall, whenever I’ve engaged in one of my non-school hobbies such as knitting or photography (“You’re not writing!  Bad! Bad!”).  I’m stopping school for now and until July I do not need to feel guilty about finishing Puzzle’s sweater or taking hundreds of photos of her, or arranging my MP3 collection for her to listen to while I’m out at the gym.

I am not the least bit concerned about how I will find “structure” while I am taking time off.  My shrinks are more worried about this than I am, clearly.  It is possible that I may attend some workshops, depending on what is available.  Bea suggested short-term workshops rather than those that go on for weeks.

What worries me is that I will not get better.  I have to improve otherwise I will not be able to return to school.  I have to have some kind of measurable difference in the quality of my life.  Of course, since I keep accurate records, it is easy to determine whether a change like this has taken place.  I am not at my baseline–I haven’t been since the end of the fall semester–and I would like to be at baseline.  How I am to make this improvement I don’t know.  Maybe you shrinks have some ideas.  Grad school is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and maybe all I need is a break from the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ll get better just by breathing a bit.


Regarding Medications, and so on

Well, I’ve returned from my trip out west, finally, and had a decent time.  I haven’t written here in a while and life has been a bit hectic with jetlag and unpacking and getting into the swing of studying again.  For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been at the required residency for Goddard College, where I am studying for my MFA in creative writing.  I was away from February 9th until the 19th, and I picked up lovely Puzzle on the 20th.  Before and during the residency I was full of worries because I’d been depressed.  I was concerned about how my low mood would affect my ability to function fully at the residency because of the rigorous demands of the residency schedule and the demands that the program places on students over the course of that time, but I managed okay, with some difficulty here and there–nothing major to speak of.  I was also worried about my studies over the course of the semester.  I’m still worried.  But I’ll put those worries aside for now.

NOW THAT I’VE THOROUGHLY BORED YOU (SKIP TO THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU WISH) I’ll talk about something entirely different–

–Meds.  I feel like I’m totally dependent on these chemicals to have a decent life.  I’ve worked closely with my psychiatrist to combat the depression I got myself into and worked out a plan for the residency but it took a while to tailor it: I took an off-label dose of the antidepressant Cymbalta (120mgs) for the duration of the residency, which kept me above water in terms of the depression, more or less, and also took extra Thorazine, an antipsychotic, beyond my usual daily dose (700mgs instead of 600mgs).  I survived nicely.

Insurance (Medicare, Part D) wouldn’t pay for the high dose of Cymbalta but I had extras, just enough for the trip.

At any rate, my old problem came back with my eating, which I found rather disturbing–not that again–before and during the residency.  I found myself unusually drawn to food.  In the last couple of weeks before I left I was bingeing on whatever was around (one day at home I ate about three pounds of chocolate all at once) and at the residency I ate indiscriminately with no regards to common sense–at least to my perspective that was what I was doing.  When I got home it felt like a magnet was pulling me toward the kitchen and something supernatural was causing me to force-feed myself.

Then, as planned, I lowered the Cymbalta from 120mgs to 90mgs.  Magic.  It felt like an ugly curtain had lifted.  No more problems with food.

From 1980 to 1984 I had trouble with bingeing and I found it extremely disturbing to the point of attempting suicide because of it.  In the summer of 1984 my doctor put me on Lithium.  The bingeing suddenly stopped and stayed stopped.  Magic.

And so on.  So I truly don’t believe this crap about bingeing being caused by this “psychological need to comfort oneself” or out of loneliness.  It’s not a fucking bad habit.  It’s a very serious psychiatric problem and you don’t poo-poo around with it.  At least in my case, it comes from a chemical imbalance and no amount of therapy could “cure” it.  And I do believe that for a lot of people that is the case, and they don’t realize it or haven’t considered medication (or haven’t tried the “right” medication) to combat bingeing.  If you binge it doesn’t mean you’re weak.  If you’re depressed it doesn’t mean you’re weak.

Which gets me to this point: I feel like I’m this organism that responds to chemicals.

Still, the meds haven’t changed my personality.  I’m still the goofball I always was.  I still put my foot in my mouth at times.  I’m still sort of slow at things.  Like at the airport.  Took me forever to get my stuff into the bins at security.  Don’t you feel intimidated by all that crap they put you through when they make you walk through the metal detector, etc?  I’m glad none of my meds are in liquid form.

No, but seriously, I wonder what life would be like if I never got on meds.  I think I’d have died a long, long time ago.  These drugs are life-sustaining.  Believe me.

Super Tuesday

Wondering who to vote for?  I am.

I tested positive for Hillary.  And you?

You know, Joe used to tease me, saying that the only reason I voted for Bill Clinton is because I liked his wife.

Joe was right.  I did like Bill Clinton’s wife and that was half the reason I voted for him.  I admit it.  I knew she’d have some say in his day-to-day decisions in the White House.  How could she not influence him?  She’s so smart!

Are voters now voting for Hillary because they like her husband?  I don’t think so!  She stands on her own merits.

Take the quiz.  Don’t forget to mix in some candidates from the “other party” just to spice up the experience.  Fun, isn’t it?

Depression, third week

One Dish

One dish
on this deep, soaking evening
even if I listen to the advice of others
positive thinking my ass–
One dish
okay, maybe two
maybe a spoon, a dirty spoon–
State of the Union I know
the State of my Head what more
do I need to know?
One dish–
in this otherwise
optimistic sink–
One dish–
to this
depressed woman: me–
is a sinkful.
Let me go.



I’ve given a lot of thought to having turned 50 recently. I sometimes tell people it was a bad decision to turn 50, that I should have remained in my 40’s, but now that I’ve stepped into this new decade there is no turning back.

But it’s not quite like that. Consider Windows updates. Now and then when I log on and connect to the Internet, an annoying yellow shield appears as a tray icon, indicating there is some update I must install. If I click on the shield, I get an explanation that these updates will install “while I work,” that I can “express install,” which is “recommended,” or I can “custom install,” which I haven’t yet dared to do because it is labeled “expert.”

I must install this update according to Microsoft, who is God, and the maker of my computer’s operating system. It is a given. It is the Word.

During these updates, my computer will be sluggish and uncooperative for a while. Certain programs won’t work up to par; they will be like sore muscles or stiff joints, body parts that won’t do what they’re supposed to do.

If I ignore the yellow shield icon long enough, and deliberately not install the update, the update will install itself, whether I am sitting at the computer or not; so long as the computer is turned on, the update will install. No please and thank you. This is it. You are turning 50 whether you like it or not. The calendar is moving.

But consider this: My computer will flash a warning that it will now restart immediately and that I should save my work and any unsaved work will be lost. What about these restarts? Does it mean I get a second chance? Does it mean I get to wipe the slate clean and start over? If the computer restarts every time I get an update, does that mean the update is a chance to start life anew, to seek new pathways, to–imagine this: starting a new career, changing one’s name, going on a long trip, remarrying, relocating, reviving one’s wildest aspirations?

Not so fast. The restart is just a chance to rest. You wake up after a restart with the same crap you went to sleep with, the same stupid programs you installed yesterday, the same files you’ve been working on for weeks, months, and years, and wish you weren’t. Most of the temporary files are there, too. And don’t be fooled by that “rollback” feature. Everyone knows that doesn’t work.

So what can I conclude about turning 50? I have enough complaints about it to have filled this document and few positive observations to report. The actual day of my birthday was as depressing as bad weather, and the days that followed were no improvement. I willingly installed the update and don’t like the results. So I’m pouting. I’m bullshit at Microsoft, though not making any direct complaints, because I’m not exactly certain Microsoft exists.

I think I know what I can do about it, though. The answer is really quite simple, and I’m already doing it–everyone is already doing it–everyone enslaved to Microsoft, that is. I did it this morning, and I’m beginning to feel a little better, I think. The answer to turning 50 wasn’t to try to roll back into my 40’s in denial, or bury myself in depression, but simply to go on and install the next update, and the next update, and the next. I must remember that slowing down in my middle years means only that I am taking my time–it is my time now–and whenever necessary, I can restart, start the day anew, open the windows and take a deep, slow breath.

My vision

As some of you know, I went to see the ophthamologist on December 18th, after having procrastinated for a long time.  I knew I wasn’t seeing right.  I figured I needed a new prescription and also I was concerned about my peripheral vision.

I was wrong about the prescription.  Yes, my vision is blurry, but no, it’s not the glasses.  Dr. K did a number of tests and most, including the test for the rare side effect of Topamax, came out negative.  It was the last test, the glaucoma test, that he was concerned about.  He asked me a number of questions such as whether glaucoma runs in the family (it does, it turns out, as I found out from my mother later) and whether I get migraine headaches (thankfully not).

So I have another test in a couple of weeks that will tell more.  This video is a demonstration of what I can see in my peripheral vision.

In a way, I’m relieved to find out that my vision deficiencies are not just another hypochondraical complaint.  People notice that I strain to see things and have trouble seeing things that aren’t right in front of me.  The problem has a label now.

But people become blind from glaucoma.  The very word, “glaucoma,” implies blindness, and the word “blind” implies not only one who cannot see but who cannot or will not understand.

Many mental patients are relieved to find out that they have an illness that has a name.  some, though, are mortified to discover they are one of us.

My very first diagnosis was as follows: “Bulimia, shyness, and family problems.”  It’s an incorrect diagnosis, but the one that I was told.  I wasn’t relieved at all.

More accurately, I was depressed and psychotic; I had binge eating disorder; I was agoraphobic, and my mother was being a wicked bitch.

But I think that most people are struck when they are diagnosed correctly for the first time.  It seems unreal, and you don’t want to believe it, and then finally you do, because you have all the symptoms, and you have to accept it and follow through with the treatment; otherwise you’ll be ill again, or worse.


I look rather pathetic in this video because I am suffering from a terrible cold.  I do feel better today, though, than I did the past two days, which I spent in bed.

Friends, I am concerned about the hatred that President Bush is instilling in people toward the American immigrant and Muslims.  First comes hate, then comes deportation, then “camps,” then extermination.  Sound familiar?  It’s already happening.  And it could get even worse than it already is.  Let’s put a stop to THE NEXT HITLER and let’s make sure his politics don’t progress into the next presidency.

Regarding New Year’s Resolutions

Here’s your New Year’s Video of the Day now available right here at the Blog! (Called a “vlog” entry.)

Some photos of Puzzle:

When we think about New Year’s resolutions, we sometimes think about “resisting temptation…uh huh….

A year ago tomorrow, I met little Puzzle, and what an exciting relationship it’s turned out to be!  Happy New Year, everyone!

Blue Christmas

I heard about this on public radio this morning and thought I’d share this article.  You know, it is always hard for me missing Joe around the time of the holidays.  He had something like 30 nieces and nephews.   It was always a joy to listen to Joe talk about the “rug rats” opening their presents at Christmastime.

‘Blue Christmas’ church services attract the depressed, joyless

By Kristen Gelineau, Associated Press Writer | December 19, 2006

RICHMOND, Va. –There were no jolly Christmas carols to be found at the Cannon Memorial Chapel. No brilliant poinsettias or festive branches of holly. No smiling faces or hearty wishes of happiness.

Instead, somber piano music echoed through the hushed church. Dead branches were lain on a table covered in blue cloth, representing the “winter of our souls.” Men and women held each other and cried.

“This is not a traditional Christmas service,” Chaplain Kate O’Dwyer Randall began, opening the church’s nondenominational “Blue Christmas” service on Tuesday, which drew around 60 people.

The University of Richmond’s chapel is one of many churches across North America offering Blue Christmas services this year, aimed at addressing a season that brings many people depression and grief rather than comfort and joy.

“Holidays in our culture are often about families, and families are not always happy institutions,” said O’Dwyer Randall, who once worked as a grief counselor. “I think that particularly if you’re facing a death or a divorce, the ’empty chair syndrome’ becomes very real at this time of year.”

Sharon Van de Walle feels that emptiness. Her husband of 40 years died suddenly earlier this month.

“This just is a preparation for Christmas, which is going to be rather difficult,” she said tearfully.

Her friend, Anita McCabe, consoled her with a warm embrace.

“And it’s a good place to have a cry and no one will mind,” she told her friend.

Some churches refer to such programs as “Longest Night” services and hold them on the shortest day — and therefore, the longest night — of the year. This year, that falls on Thursday.

“I find in my ministry that there’s quite a bit of pastoral work to be done in December. It just seems that whatever griefs or pain people have increase in this time,” said Rev. Cynthia Maybeck, pastor of the Trinity Church of Northborough, Mass., which has been offering “Longest Night” services for more than a decade. “Everything on the commercials is ‘Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas, such a season of tidings and great joy’ — and there’s a lot of people whose hearts are breaking.”

While some may find the “Blue Christmas” concept unusual, it serves an important function, said O’Dwyer Randall, who lost her brother two years ago and feels the grief more acutely at Christmas.

“I think something people don’t think about around grief is they just want to avoid it,” she said. “The biggest sigh of relief for people who are grieving comes when you name it. When you say, ‘Hey, you’re probably having a hard year.’ When you say the person’s name.”

Her sermon Tuesday drew a parallel between the journey toward hope and the three wise men, who walked through cold and darkness toward the light of a star.

Later, she and others placed blue flowers on the dead branches, symbolically transforming them into something blooming and alive.

Frank Minter, 21, gazed up at the light streaming through the church’s circular stained glass window. His mind was on his mother, who died unexpectedly last month after a battle with multiple sclerosis.

“We’re not sure how the holidays will play out,” he said softly. “So this was a chance to enjoy the holiday season, because this is certain. And in uncertain times, even a little bit of certainness is helpful.”

The Rev. Emily Richards, pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ridgefield, Conn., said there has been a huge response for her church’s first Blue Christmas service, also scheduled for Tuesday.

“We have to have the perfect Christmas and we have to be happy this time of year — when the reality is that we’re not,” she said. “This is an opportunity for people to come and be in the presence of God and acknowledge their grief and despair and loneliness and give it to God.”

This is the first Christmas 77-year-old Charles Minter Jr., will have to celebrate without his wife Barbara, whom he was married to, he says with a sad smile, for “57 years, four months and three days.” They married just 19 days after they met. In May, she succumbed to cancer.

“I hate the holidays. I see the lights and Christmas — I just get the chills,” he said. “I hope this is gonna help.”

Later, he hangs a blue flower on a branch and gives O’Dwyer Randall a hug before returning to his seat, wiping away tears. His Blue Christmas experience has been beautiful, he says, but difficult. He can’t stop thinking about Barbara.

He speaks of her last days with an aching tenderness. Her eyes had long since lost their sparkle, turning cloudy from the drugs. But the day before she passed, he says, she suddenly opened them and gazed at him. For a moment, the cloudiness was gone. Her eyes were clear and bright.

And they were, he remembers, so very, very blue.