Book Review (by me, published in MIA): Lauren Slater’s Blue Dreams

Here is the link to my article, just published. Feel free to share in your social networks!

Still Seeking a Chemical Cure After All These Years: Lauren Slater’s Blue Dreams

Some clarifications about my memoir, This Hunger Is Secret, and my dedication page to the patients of the Alcott Unit, Walden Behavioral Care

Some people are scared to buy my book, This Hunger Is Secret because they are scared it will be a “painful” book. This is a bunch of baloney. It’s a book like any other. It’s writing. Literature. Pain is a medical issue, or if someone has a personal gripe with me, this person should approach me directly.

This Hunger Is Secret is a beautifully written book.  It contains a lot of scenes and dialogue and description and the book is deeply spiritual.

I am aware that my book, This Hunger Is Secret uses the term, Mental Illness in the title. I am a believer in history and This Hunger Is Secret is a piece of my beloved history. I highly cherish my life and my memories. For decades, I used the term mentally ill to describe myself, and just because I now find this terminology offensive or other may be offended, doesn’t erase the fact that this history exists. This book is NOT antipsychiatry. It is a just a book. It’s an account.  That’s all.  It’s memoir, and it’s not “painful,” for chrissake.

I am now, since well after the book came out, OUT of the mental health system. I see no reason to change the manuscript to suit anyone’s whim, including my own.  At one point, I added a dedication page right before the paperback version came out. This was the additional dedication page. Know who I dedicated it to?

The Alcott patients. That’s right. Go look.  The Alcott Unit is at Walden Behavioral Care.  I love you all so much that it’s right in there.

And at the bottom, my instructions,

“Never, ever shut up.”

I want to make something very clear. I was rather determined to get that page in there. I traveled to London in the summer of 2012. Maybe you know this and maybe you don’t. I was there roughly a week. I met with my publisher. I was determined to get the paperback signed and off to the presses before…..

Yeah, I wanna tell you one thing. This was a Friday in July. I was there at the Chipmunka offices in London, at Canary Wharf, with Jason and his two top brass.  They told me, “Well, we don’t really have time, maybe you should return to the USA and we can do the signature via e-mail.”

But I knew better. There wasn’t going to be a “return to the USA,” was there?  I didn’t know what to say at that moment, how to convince them I needed to do this signing NOW. I had to. Otherwise, it would simply not be done.

This was Friday. My plan was to kill myself later, probably within hours, or by noon or so the next day I’d take the pills I had.  I felt like a jerk. Being pushy saying I really wanted to get this signature done in person….And dishonest, too. I usually slap myself for being too honest. Now, hiding the Big Truth….it seemed so fake. I hated myself because my publisher was so kind, really, to do this for me.

I signed those papers. The back cover ended up not having the blurb on it that I had intended, but that’s okay. The fact that it wasn’t the right one reflects my rush to get this done. For sure, had I not been rushed, I would have noticed. It hardly matters. I am me. I was REALLY NERVOUS!

But….done.

I went back to the hotel. I didn’t kill myself.

How I ended up at Alcott…it was all a joke and the staff provided precisely nothing, no care, no answers to anything. The other patients were great.  I begged those staff for help, though…I was sorely disappointed. I found that the other patients seemed to know more about ED than that staff, but the staff discouraged us from speaking directly about our eating disorders with each other. The whole imprisonment there was so ineffective for me.

Still, the whole time I was there, not one person knew about my planned and failed “suicide” in London. I did try to tell people but the staff made excuses not to talk to me, or walked out of the room saying they had a meeting or their pager went off or they were so, so bored with me…one even nodded off! The groups were places where we were treated like children.  There were just no answers at this “great” eating disorders hospital. The answers had to lie elsewhere…..

So I managed to get out of Alcott. It was my last day. I knew the paperback would soon come out. At least that. I wanted the patients to know how much I cared. So I decided to reveal that my dedication page was for them, for US.

I had no clue what would happen to me after I left Alcott. I didn’t have intent to harm myself, but then again, I had no clue if my eating disorder would wipe me off the map, either. So, I went into my Last Supper, which, in fact, was lunch at Alcott.

They were playing their usual lunchtime game: Trivial Pursuit.

I read to them my dedication page. I stood and read this page in front of everyone. But they didn’t stop their Trivia and listen. I tried to finish…The staff were rushing me out, telling me, “Are you done yet?” They weren’t even listening, far too bored.

I left what might have been my dying words, my instructions to the kids at Alcott,

“Never, ever shut up.”

Two years have passed. My little dog, Puzzle, is here with me.  I have with me in South America a copy of my paperback.  I brought with me the signs I carried to protests and to the NEDA walk where I stood outside as a nonparticipant. On these signs is that same slogan.  I brought little else.

What a surprise. I wrote an intro to my book that pleases me.

Not that I wanted to write the intro first, but that’s what happened.  I’m not sure about other writers, but to me it seems more logical to hold off, delay writing the intro, and instead, dig into the meat of the book.

I got up after sleeping a bit and within minutes, I had the idea for the intro.  So that’s why I wrote it. Because it came to me.

Time for a break. I’m going to sleep some more, then get up and work

I’m going for a walk outside with Puzzle for a bit, then I think I’ll catch some shuteye.  You know how I am, I only sleep a few hours.  Then, back to work.  I’ll work as long ask I can.

Okay, this is my life I guess. Work, break, sleep.  Work, break, sleep. Till it’s done.

The only thing weird about my schedule is that my body is unable to sleep for more than 3-1/2 hours consecutively. All I have to do is to work around it.

I can do this. Watch me.

Writing like mad

You guys know that once I get going, I write like mad.  Or, maybe I shouldn’t say that. Maybe “mad” is one of those words that’ll get me into some trouble, eh?

Must’ve been the year 2000.  I was at Emerson College.  I’m guessing it was the spring semester.  I was getting more and more proficient with my writing.  This was right after I broke my leg, and before I wrote Breakdown Lane, Traveled.  BLT, as I later abbreviated it in my own mind, I self-published in 2002. The spring of 2000 I took a 500-level course in memoir writing.

These 500-level courses were hit or miss. For me, since I was a serious, hard-working student, I knew I was taking my chances signing up for a class that may be filled with grad students or undergrads or a mix. Why? For whatever reason, there’s too much leeway for laziness in these mixed classes.  I’d run into this slacking before, and I found it frustrating because I wanted to work hard and no one else was doing a darned thing.  We were there to learn, weren’t we? I guess some folks knew they could get away with slacking, so they did.  Some 500-level classes worked out fine for me, with everyone doing what they were supposed to do, and others were a major disappointment.

This class that semester that I took, in the spring of 2000, was one of those slacker classes. The instructor would ask a student, “What do you have this week?” and the student typically would shrug and say, “Oh, I couldn’t get it together, maybe next week.”  I got so frustrated and wanted to shake these students. A couple were rude and whispered to each other while the class was going on. They thought the instructor didn’t notice, but of course he did. I knew he was just as frustrated as I was.

I worked like mad (to use this word again) for the class and came up with a memoir of sorts.  I believe at the end of the semester I had so much material that I nearly had a completed draft.

Our instructor said one thing that I recall vividly.  “Julie, your memory is amazing.  It’s photographic. You have an amazing ability to recapture scenes from anywhere in your life and then put them on paper as if they happened yesterday.” I had no clue that there was anything unusual about the fact that writing memoir came to me naturally, as if it were one of those genius talents a kid is born with.

Now, I know.  I had the writings, quite a bit, but the semester ended.

I wrote the entire draft of BLT in the spring of 2001, a year later. The instructor of a literature class and I had hit it off well. She encouraged me to put the whole thing together, and so I did.  I remember using some of the bits I had written for the memoir class, some old stories, but much was new material.  She knew I was an exceptionally hard worker and that I had plenty of motivation do this massive project.  We stayed in touch after the semester ended, but after that, I guess her other job at another college was taking up a lot of her time, so she wasn’t working at Emerson by the time I self-published BLT.

Not that anyone was happy about the fact that I’d used an on-demand publisher.  So few were doing things like this back then.  It was weird the way I came up with so much opposition.  It was the first time I’d come out publicly and said, “I was a mental patient.” Once you come out with it in publication, you are out of the closet, and that’s irreversible.

Emerson College’s faculty  showed minimal interest in the book. Sure, the book was sloppy, loaded with all sorts of technical errors I didn’t even bother to weed out.  I was only an undergrad and didn’t know better.  It seemed that the Writing, Literature, and Publishing department at Emerson balked at the idea of a student self-publishing something, anything at all.  They refused to publicly acknowledge that the book even existed.  Maybe a few were ashamed that a mental patient was in their midst.  I know there were many faculty that admired me simply because I was an excellent student, eager to learn.   Things were a little awkward between me and the department after that. Of course, I was cooperative and polite around everyone. But I always wondered why they had ignored what I had done, while other students were being held up as shining examples, high achievers from Emerson, even while they are still in school.

Someone, an administrator of the Adult Degree Program was thrilled, actually, that I had been so brave as to come out with this story. Whoever it was found out I had a near-perfect grade average, over 3.9, and I guess decided maybe I wasn’t such a dummy after all. They were behind my project and even interviewed me for one of the little-known Adult Degree Program publications.

I believe it was the year 2002, the year that BLT was published, that I was noticing weight gain from Seroquel. I had no clue the Seroquel was causing this gain.  My self-esteem was beginning to falter as a result.  I felt sluggish, too.  My high motivation slipped downward during that year and into my graduating semesters as well. By the time I graduated, I was extremely distraught over my weight and ashamed.

Then, Joe died.  In a flash, gone.  We had spent hours together every day.  He was my one rock, my one friend, and that was all I thought I needed.  Then, with no warning, I was alone. The tables turned.

Life is not what it seems.  Your world  and everything you know in it can disappear just like that. That’s what happened to me.

Much of my motivation and my drive to achieve were buried for a few years. By 2005 I had doubled in size.  BLT was forgotten.  It wasn’t until I was off Seroquel and returned to grad school in 2007 that I was able to work like mad again.

You guys know about how I developed anorexia, and as a result underwent what was by far the cruelest “treatment” I had ever known.  They almost got me, drowned me, shut me up and locked me up for good, but no, I’m alive still, and free, and writing like mad.

I am sure ready now…again. The world had better watch out. I won’t let myself be buried again.

Stories and my brain

When I took a course in human development decades ago, I recall the instructor told us about the various stages of development.  Of old age, she said that a characteristic of old people is that they REMINISCE.  She said if we were to listen to old people, such as our grandparents, we should allow the old people to tell stories about their childhood and their past, and this is natural and good for them to do.  She said it’s rather normal for old people to look over their lives as if they were reading about these events in a book.  Some old people enjoy writing their stories and this is called memoir.  The instructor said it would be a good learning experience to go to a nursing home and listen to old people.

Today, I know I’m not all that old, but I’m certainly old enough to be a granny if I’d had kids.  I have no dementia.  So everything that was in my memory has stayed there and is imprinted inside that brain of mine.  I inherited an exceptionally decent brain, at least in terms of high intelligence.  These things are also imprinted on my instincts and reflexes and upon my person as a whole.  My experience makes me uniquely me.

My stories make me me, too.  So this is what I am wondering….It’s silly question.  You know how they talk about the disk capacity of a computer?  When you have so many stories inside you, what if there are so many that there’s no more disk space left?

I’m good at storytelling. The past might make you who you are today, but it’s also true that you choose how you tell and then retell and write and rewrite your stories.

I’ve never heard of a person erasing themselves.  I don’t think you can completely wipe out your disk and install yourself over again, or take out part of yourself and put it on a handy portable drive.  Am I going too far with this?

It must have been about 15 years ago.  A writing instructor said right in front of the class that I had an amazingly accurate memory of my own past. I can’t recall the word he used to describe my memory.  Something term to do with pictures.  I felt rather bashful after he said that.  I didn’t want so much credit for something that came to me naturally and normally.

Having Googled it…I google everything…It’s called “photographic memory” and it has a rather broad meaning.  Honestly, I remember some things far better than others.  People only assume I have a poor memory because of my tendency to instantly forget a person’s name.  I tend to disregard hair color, make-up, and jewelry, cuz these things are meaningless on my priority list.

I’ll remember everything else.  Your tone of voice.  How you tower over me.  How I feel when you walk away.

I write stories.  I got this stuff imprinted on my brilliant disk of a brain, and so I write to survive.

Incredible revelation while showering: Why I got kicked out of nursing schoool approx 30 years ago…I was way, way too smart for those ladies that gave me the ax

So this came up while I was showering.  Washing my hair, actually.  It felt damn good to be thinking this.  I said to myself, “Julie, you are not crazy.  You are just too damn smart.  And you gotta talk on people’s level.  Those women who ran the nursing school were nurses, not writers.  You forgot, you idiot.  That’s what got you kicked out.”

Not that nurses aren’t smart.  But they took blood pressure and taught young girls to extract numbers from machines.  We spent hours at this task.  Lots and lots of number-type stuff.   We learned to obtain statistics from people’s bodies, and take measurements, all sorts of measurements, and to correct what was wrong in a patient’s surroundings.

So if a patient was crooked in a bed, we learned to make a patient straight.  That was a huge part of LPN school.

And so, I, Julie Greene, got kicked out of of LPN school because they “found out” I had a history of mental illness.  These nursie boss people decided rather arbitrarily (I do know, as fact, that what they did was illegal) that I was on “too much medication” and “too doped up” to be in their school.

Is four 300 mg pills a day of Lithium too much Lithium? I think my last Lithium level that was drawn was 1.0, back in the summer.  This was what was considered ideal back then, ladies, not overmedicating.   Is 100 mgs a day of Thorazine overmedicating?  Back then, they were giving 1800 to folks with mania, and often maintained people on much higher doses than 100 of the drug.  Clearly, this boss lady (never mind her name) at the nursing school thought 100 was  a high-sounding number, so any “100” of anything was “a high dose.”

So, I was in this room arguing with these ladies, and I guess I made a huge fatal mistake.  I, Julie Greene, not realizing that I was a future memoirist MFA, made some metaphor.  Yes, some abstract meaning about mental illness being like…and I was off on this thing that they, who could only speak and understand and see the world in terms of the concrete, blasted off the face of the planet.  Oh yes, they said Julie Greene was talking crazy.

I wish I could recall the brilliant metaphor I came up with, but folks, we’re talking 1984 before half of you were born and my memory isn’t remembering it right now.  The boss ladies at the nursing school, well, if they remember now, they probably still don’t “get” the meaning of the metaphor, though, heck, all I was doing was doing what I do best, thinking up yet another brilliant writing idea.  Problem was, I said it out loud in front of the wrong people.  People who nabbed me.

It was yet to be written down.

Future writers, don’t say your brilliant writing ideas in front of people who don’t “get” metaphor.  Don’t say them in emergency rooms or you will end up with a security guard slapped in the doorway.  Don’t say them to your shrink or you might be called psychotic.  Don’t tell your nutritionist, who probably only “gets” food and portions.

When you get a writing idea, like I just did in just now in the shower, write the damn thing down.  Keep writing.  Don’t stop till you’re done.

I don’t mean to knock LPN’s because I have known brilliant LPN’s.  The LPN degree has evolved since I was in school and in some states has been swallowed up by the associates degree…but then again, I’m not really sure.  Some use the LPN degree as a stepping stone, some go on to alternative medicine, many go on to specialties, many quit.  Many work tirelessly all their lives.  Many earn a very good paycheck.  Many don’t.  Some can’t find a job.  I guess a lot depends on where you live.

And yes, many are extremely intelligent.  Many do indeed save lives every day.  As a whole, they are far more intelligent than the nurses that kicked me out that day, the ladies that did not understand that 26-year-old future writer.

Well, I stand here before you, after my shower, not exactly dressed properly for going out yet.   I say “stand” because I have written this entire entry not seated in a chair, that is, while standing up bent over, thinking I wasn’t going to spend as long as I did with you this morning.

It goes to show you something about writing and memory and meaning and having life really be okay.  Julie Greene, you are not crazy.  You are just too damn smart.