Browsing Tag

depression

depression, Guest Posts

When Depression Gets Too Heavy

November 5, 2018
depression

CW: This essay discusses ideation and/or suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Kari O’Driscoll

There’s a reason darkness is used as a metaphor for depression. In my worst moments, I felt as though there was a black spot in my head spreading like an oil spill, creeping outward, sinking in to the valleys and crevices of my brain and obliterating any possibility of light permeating. Perhaps the most shocking thing about it was how tired it made me. Never had I known that depression was so exhausting.

There is a television advertisement for an antidepressant medication whose tagline is “Depression Hurts.” The first time I saw it I felt right, like the ad writers had seen me in my natural habitat and sussed out something nobody else had noticed. I remember curling myself into a fetal position, rocking back and forth, feeling a weight and a soreness in my ribs – between them, an accordioning of my chest around my heart and lungs. My limbs ached as though I’d just climbed 4000 steps, my head hung low with fatigue. A fog settled over the top half of my brain that made focusing a chore. Depression was heavy. It was effort. It was draining, physically, mentally and spiritually. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, suicide, Surviving

Depression is Still A Duplicitous Asshole

August 12, 2018

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Angela M Giles

This weekend marks the four year anniversary of Robin Willam’s suicide. I still cannot watch anything with him in it, it makes my heart hurt too much. I know this is irrational. But it is real. Perhaps it is my fear of seeing a flicker of darkness cross his face, or perhaps it is hearing him say something that hits too close to his end that prevents me. I know how his story finishes, I want to remember enjoying his work.

Suicide is a complicated act, its shroud is depression and it is often accompanied by something else, another disease that really gives ideation heft. In the case of Robin Williams it was Parkinson’s disease, in the case of my father it was alcoholism. In my case it was a combination of diagnosed issues, packed in trauma, tied up in emotional abuse, both at the hands of a lover. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

This is not the end

July 8, 2018

By Tina Porter

In the Fall of 2014, when I knew the job I had held in a place I’d been working for 10 years was ending (though not yet officially), I did what anyone would do: I went on a trip with my mother and sister to Northern New Mexico.

Actually, this story starts much earlier. Does it start in April of that year when I am offered a demotion or no job at all and I take the demotion because we are in the process of closing on a condo for our daughters to live in while they attend Indiana University in Bloomington? Or a year earlier, when it is obvious I am struggling while juggling different roles and different requirements from different stakeholders?

Or does it start in 2009, when I take the promotion I think I want and that I am kind of good at, as it is defined in 2009 and three weeks later I am diagnosed with Lupus? Or does it start in 2008 when my father dies? Or in 1986 when I am a young woman at odds with her understanding of herself, or in 1976, when I am a teenager who doesn’t fit in and finds the options available unsatisfactory but I don’t know how to ask my mother or anyone for help? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

The Howling Wounded Thing

June 11, 2018
howling

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. The world needs you.

By Beth Cartino

“I just want to get really high and then go to sleep forever.” They sits across from me in a dreary, unadorned office, knees tucked under their chin, arms hugging their legs tight to their chest, eyes peering out at me from behind a veil of midnight blue hair. This is the pose they adopt when they’re feeling exposed and vulnerable. They are in middle school, but they have the experience of someone twice their age, and right now, at this moment, they look painfully young.

“Have you been thinking about suicide?” My voice is even, my eyes unflinching. I notice a physical urge, like the one you get when you want to scratch your nose, to mirror their posture. I don’t. I ask myself a question I frequently ask when working with a kid who is thinking about suicide. What could somebody have said to me when I was twelve that would have stopped me from trying to kill myself?  I never can come up with an answer but this is the message I try to convey, not only with my words, but with every cell in my body: “You are loved. I see you. I will not judge you. I am here with you.  I am not going anywhere. You are not broken. You are not a problem that needs fixing.”

*** Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts, Mental Health

Couched

May 4, 2018
couch

By Tina Porter

It was way too early for a knock on the door, but there it was; and there I was, in my red terrycloth bathrobe. I hadn’t seen the two women come up the walkway, but here they were, looking back at me through the big window of the front door.

“Hi,” I said as I slowly opened the door, clamping one hand on the two frayed lapels of my robe while running the other hand over my just-out-of-bed hair.

“We’re sorry to bother you,” said the lady in the front, who had an officiousness that took me off guard as she stood there in clothes almost as worn as my robe. “Is that couch available? Would you care if we took it?” She pointed over her shoulder, to the chocolate-brown, ultra-padded, ultra-suede, three-cushioned couch sitting on the curb, between our mailbox and the garbage bins.

“Oh, no,” I said. “You don’t want it,” I shook my head and pinched up my face. “It’s so … gross.”

“I have a steam cleaner,” she said while the woman behind her looked over her shoulder at the couch, trying to hide the look in her eyes that betrayed she agreed more with me than with her friend.

“I’m not going to say no,” I said, after taking a deep breath, “because it is obviously out there for the garbage man. But ….” and I trailed off, mimicking repulsion with my face and with a shudder that ran through my body. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood, postpartum depression

Postpartum: An Inventory

April 27, 2018
inventory

By Laura Dorwart

I have taken the postpartum depression inventory a total of five times: one time honestly, the other four times lying to varying degrees. (I had good intentions, I promise).

Louis-Victor Marce is often described as the first clinician to write openly about postpartum depression and other mental health conditions. His 1858 “Treatise on Insanity in Pregnant, Postpartum, and Lactating Women” has been widely cited as the “first” depiction of pregnancy-related mood disorders and anxiety before his monograph went largely untouched for 100 years (except, sometimes, to justify the involuntary confinement of recently pregnant women), prior to the reopening of a dialogue about postpartum depression in the 1950s when the field of psychiatry took hold in the United States. His wasn’t, of course, the actual first documented mention of postpartum mental health issues—a female physician, Trotula of Salerno, wrote in the 11th century that if the womb was too moist, the brain could become filled with water and cause women to cry involuntarily and excessively, perhaps referring to conditions leading to an excess of amniotic fluid—but it was the first extensive one in Western, conventionally documented, male-dominated medical history.

He seems like he was kind of a dick, but that appears to have been a requirement for early psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, especially 19th– and early 20th-century ones (many far worse than the most obvious Sigmund “Literally Everyone Wants to Fuck Me So Badly It Makes Them Neurotic” Freud). Besides, the fact that his writings about fairly inarguable realities—“hey, so, women undergo huge hormonal shifts during and after pregnancy and also quite possibly the most physically painful and exhausting experience possible right before their entire lives change permanently and maybe that can be traumatic?”—were used as excuses to get all Yellow Wallpaper on a host of middle-class women and to institutionalize lower-class ones can’t be blamed solely on him, really.

Regardless, Marce started the clinical dialogue that eventually led to the development of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, now used as the primary diagnostic tool in determining whether a woman has or is at risk of developing postpartum depression.

The test, which alternately starts with one of two fairly sinister statements (either “as you are pregnant or have recently had a baby, we would like to know how you are feeling” or “postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbearing”), requires you to respond as to whether a series of ten statements apply to you in the past seven days (always bolded) with one of five answers. The answers seem awkward and vague if you analyze them too carefully—“not as much as usual,” “about as much as before,” and such—but the test has been proven to be clinically significant for years. Women considered “at risk” of developing postpartum depression are given the screening regularly throughout pregnancy and usually twice postpartum, once after delivery and again after four weeks, when the risk of developing postpartum depression or psychosis lowers significantly. I am “at risk.”

I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.

The day I went into labor, my husband Jason and I were in Whole Foods desperately buying castor oil; one of the midwives at UC San Diego had suggested it to induce labor naturally. She had a voice like a meditation track and disarmingly perfect cheekbones, so I was lulled into a false sense of trust before I saw the warning label on the castor oil—“not to be consumed.” A beleaguered Whole Foods employee told us frankly, “No, it’s safe to eat, you’ll just have the runs really bad.” “Sure you want to do this?” Jason frowned at the bottle. I wasn’t, but I was big as a house. Jason is a quadriplegic; his service dog had started to have to help both of us pick up our underwear because nobody in our household could bend over properly. I was ready.

Luckily, we didn’t need it. We went home and I promptly started contractions that sped up to every four minutes. Jason read children’s books aloud to me, part of his job description as my personal anxiety coach. My water broke, a pop and a hiss, right around midnight, while he was reading to me about Rosalie the fairy helping Jack Frost get a makeover that seemed at the time to be gesturing at gender-affirming surgery. He wanted long hair and he needed fairies to give it to him, but they wouldn’t, presumably because of fairy codes that I think represented health insurance issues.

Jason stuffed towels under me in the front seat and a heavy overnight pad into my underwear. I started shaking and I didn’t stop for the next 30 hours.

In triage, they announced I’d need an IV. I was GBS-positive, which meant I could pass infection-causing bacteria along to my baby (a girl, presumably eight pounds according to the latest ultrasounds) if I didn’t get several doses of antibiotics. The first nurse was impossibly blonde-pretty, like a contestant on The Bachelor. I didn’t trust her; she lacked grit. I like my nurses slightly mean. She jammed around inside my veins for a while while making soft little “hmm” sounds for a while, usually right around my contractions. I tried to have polite contractions, smiling shakily at her whenever she made one of those high-pitched “hmms.” I have heard those before. that meant “I am never, ever getting this IV into you and I will have to call someone else.”

She did. And that one had to call another. “Your veins are tiny,” they said, one after another, always scoldingly as if I’d made them myself. When my arms failed, they tried one of my hands. “Is this what junkies go through?” I joked weakly (and problematically) through a contraction. No one laughed.

All told, I was not getting an IV put in for nearly four hours; near the end, during one particularly painful (and still unsuccessful) poke, I finally let out a scream that brought all the midwives on call in to look at me pityingly. When the three nurses finally left, muttering about calling anesthesiology, Jason (who had been squeezing my non-abused hand the whole time) decided to entertain me with an ironic sexist joke about how if the anesthesiologist was male, he could finally get something done around here. I laughed wryly and told him I hated him.

The anesthesiologist showed up four hours into my labor. He was, indeed, male. “You have great veins,” he said, sliding the needle in with aplomb, the slight slice tingly-pleasant like acupuncture. Jason and I looked at each other and grinned sideways. A punchline.

I have felt sad or miserable.

“This is Laura Dorwart, 28. She is six days postpartum and had a vaginal full term delivery of her first baby. She has a medical history of depression and chronic PTSD,” the nurse read, monotone, to her replacement, as my parents watched. My mother’s eyes flew open and her lips pursed in disapproval, I thought—or maybe it was all in my head. The nurse didn’t notice. I laid back in my gown and closed my eyes, feigning exhaustion.

Three days after our daughter was born, with Jason asleep on the table, I tried to make myself hate her, or to become so obsessed with her that she could transform into an object of sadism, masochism, something. I hadn’t felt any guilt when others picked her up or any resentment when she was handed back to me. I didn’t feel like a worthless mother. I looked into her eyes and snuggled her baby-skin. I weighed the burden of her. It was baby-sized. Not the weight of the world.

I began to realize on the fourth day postpartum that I was perhaps hoping for a crisis. Catastrophes wipe things away, don’t they? They start things new, they erase what was. They break and then you’re forced to rebuild.

Plus, I figured with my prior reactions to the mundane, a real catastrophe could do me some good. Some guy breaking up with me when I was 17 caused me to seriously consider dropping out of school. I seriously considered leaving town rather than going into work late once. I had five lemon vodka shots and threw up in a cab after a frat party in college and slept on the tile floor of my dorm room in despair. I still obsess over my breakup five years ago from a girl I knew for a total of eight months; in my mind, it’s sometimes reached Tristan and Isolde levels of tragedy.

Then there are the real crises: The day after I was raped by my then-girlfriend, I went in to work on time and copy edited a fifty-page curriculum booklet. I went to lunch and a meeting. I had chicken wings. I did not cry.

The night that my best friend died, I played a game on the computer that required me to digitally bob for apples. I felt like a sociopath for experiencing satisfaction at hearing the crisp sound bytes of capturing the pixelated apples one by one. Crisis, I remembered, does nothing for me.

Still, I tried to create one. I stared at my baby and attempted to muster some kind of resentment, some kind of foreboding warning sign of synapses misfiring in my brain and causing me to detach. No dice; sometimes I felt an overwhelming love, sometimes the lighter affection I feel for all babies, and on the negative end, nothing but mild annoyance in my most sleep deprived states.

I had wondered, alternatively, if I would feel grief and loss. Some women describe feeling empty after their babies are born, their wombs like voids aching for the return of togetherness, their tiny soulmates now skin-separate. Not me. I felt intact. I was intact. Heavy as I always ways, just thirty pounds lighter. Filled to the brim with the same longing as before, no different. It’s been four weeks. There was no crisis, no catastrophe. I did not break.

I can’t say I’m not disappointed.

The thought of harming myself has occurred to me.

Never check yes on this one.

Never let them see you sweat.

I have been so unhappy that I have had trouble sleeping.

I checked my medical records after all was said and done. For me, nothing I didn’t already know: For Ruth, her medical conditions: a CPAM—congenital pulmonary airway malformation—that we’d known about since the beginning. A benign cyst hiding in her lung. Meconium. And: “Child of depressed mother.” Born of a sad woman: A preexisting condition. A diagnosis in and of itself.

It stuns me, hits me hard in the chest, a clenched fist like a heart attack—just a slower squeeze. I show Jason, and he doesn’t get it, not really. “What are they afraid of?” he asks, though he knows. Postpartum depression makes everybody angry, even Tom Cruise, who took up quality potential Scientology-pushing time to rant about Brooke Shields’ baby blues.

Some people baptize their babies. I’m an atheist on my best days (on my worst, I assume God is a menace), but it turns out, even nonbelievers want to cleanse their offspring of original sin: Our new pediatrician asks us to forward our hospital medical records, and I opt out. She’s going to be nothing like me, no stains on her record, no sorrow-as-birthright. She’s going to be free.

Laura Dorwart is a Ph.D. candidate at UCSD with an MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University. Her work has appeared in Catapult, McSweeney’s, The New York Times, VICE, BuzzFeed Reader, Lady/Liberty/Lit, The Eunoia Review, Blanket Sea Magazine, and others. 

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

 

Join Jen at her On Being Human workshop in upcoming cities such as NYC, Ojai, Tampa, Ft Worth and more by clicking here.

 

Guest Posts, Mental Health

Promises and Lies

March 7, 2018
manuals

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world needs you.

By Jen Soong

In a cramped motel room, I stared silently into the dark, lying still as a corpse. Until recently, I had been studying at a prestigious university, my future beckoning brightly. My father kept vigil over me, still his little girl. The distance separating us — a few feet, at most — felt like an unbridgeable gulf.

Jen-ni-fer, he said, his once-steady voice cracking as he broke the silence. Promise me you’ll never try that again.

I promise, I lied softly, knowing those were the words he needed to hear. Lying proved to be easier than living. No, I’m not having any thoughts of harming myself. I lied to the clinician to gain my release from the locked hospital ward after my dad arrived. Yes, I will seek help if I have those thoughts again.

The next day, I repeated those lies to a disinterested psychiatrist in a drab beige office, tuning out his line of inquiry about my ethnicity. A verbal no-harm agreement. Like a security blanket, it generally works only if the child tucked underneath believes it. Let’s play pretend. I knew my lines to deliver, even if they weren’t completely honest.

I took too many sleeping pills. Truth is a slippery slope. I just wanted to sleep. If I never spoke the words out loud—that I was tired of living—was I technically lying? If the bitter truth, a suicide attempt, is never examined in the light of day, then it can stay buried in the past, like the ghosts of my ancestors.

We don’t talk about these things.

Earlier that day, my dad questioned why I had run away when I was a kid, a time I could still cry out for help. He was desperate to connect the dots and reach a logical conclusion. My father, armed with a PhD in electrical engineering, will read a manual from beginning to end before attempting to fiddle with anything.

Daughters don’t come with manuals. My dad was my protector; once he scolded the boy who crashed a bike that caused my skinned knees. Dirt and tears, these could be wiped away with his pocket handkerchief. Protecting me from myself was not a formula he could solve.

Depression runs in my family. My dad’s mother committed suicide when she was 59. The last time he saw her alive was 1956, before he boarded a freight ship from Taiwan to study in America. Thirteen years later, he flew back to his homeland for her funeral. After the service, he learned she killed herself. His sister had discovered her body in the bathroom along with a suicide note.

We don’t talk about these things.

Late at night during family gatherings when I was still young, adults whispered in hushed tones in the kitchen, usually with fruit — likely oranges or Asian pears — peels and peanut shells littered on paper plates at the table. The secrets swirled in the air, sucking the oxygen out of the room. When I entered, my body immediately tensed, torn between wanting to know and needing to escape.

Often, I would descend into the basement to play mah-jong with my cousins, shuffling tiles and competing for red and blue poker chips, never revealing what lay behind our tile walls. It was easier to hide our hurts, mask our missteps, swallow our pride. If we never questioned our elders, then perhaps we would take home the greatest jackpot.

This unwritten bargain will be familiar to immigrant children, whispered softly like a mother’s lullaby. We will make unimaginable sacrifices to raise you in America, land of riches, and you will play the role of the dutiful daughter, living a life of immeasurable happiness.

Lying in bed that night, I couldn’t find the words to explain to my dad how lost I felt. Depression had stolen my voice, betrayed my mind and filled my soul with an insidious darkness. No map could lead me out of this bleak, nameless place. Instead, I lay in wait, knowing my dad, my hero, would sacrifice his life to light the way home.

Jen Soong is a writer and brand strategist with more than two decades of media and marketing experience. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she grew up in a small town in New Jersey, lived in NYC, Boston and London before moving to Atlanta in 2005. A graduate of Cornell University, Jen is working on a memoir about one woman’s struggle to understand her depression and her family’s history of suicide.

Donate to the Aleksander Fund today. Click the photo read about Julia, who lost her baby, and what the fund is.

Guest Posts, suicide, Surviving

Life After Death: A Year Later

November 17, 2017

*Skyler with his beloved books

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Cati Porter

 

 

I am trying to remember the first time I met you, Skyler. Instead, images of you float up out of random events:

— Sitting on our bench swing in front of the house, texting Jacob to tell him you were there, because, well, teenagers.

— Both of your arms in casts, broken from leaping down a flight of stairs.

— In our living room, rocking chair, holding a book from our bookshelf.

I so loved that you loved to read. The Beat writers you loved best. We would talk about Burroughs, Kerouac, Ginsberg. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I loaned you my copy of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. You were already thinking about dropping acid? I didn’t yet know you loved the Grateful Dead.

You were the kind of teenager I had imagined my own son would be, but Jacob was different. He had sworn off books. But with you, your influence, that seemed to be changing.

It’s been almost a year, to the day. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell one from the other, right?

I am a writer. It is how I make sense of things. Please be patient with me.

 

 

*

 

I had just walked in the door after hosting an event for writers. It was a Thursday night in May.

“Mom — Don’t freak out. Skyler took all his pills and he’s on Target Hill.”

Jacob rushed down the hallway toward me. I hadn’t yet put my purse down. It was dark outside – 9 pm. Bedtime. His hand was on the knob at the front door, knit cap pulled low over a mess of knotted curls. He was looking at me for — permission?

I was immobile. My chest. My legs. My face. I did not cry, not yet, though suddenly it felt as if I were behind a wall of plaster. I was moving inside a plaster cast, heavy and numb, like those dreams where you can’t move fast enough. Without thinking, I told him, “Run!”

I pulled the door in behind him as he took off and I dialed 911. It rang. I could hear a woman’s voice:

“Please state the nature of the emergency.

 

I could already hear the sirens. I drove recklessly. I’ve never before heard sirens and knew so achingly, precisely, where they were going. I pulled up behind the ambulance, threw it in park, jumped out. Normal things like careful parking, lipstick, proper shoes, became trivial, as they still are. Sometimes it takes something jarring to shake you loose.

Though I could not see you, I knew Jacob must be sprinting up the brush-covered hillside in the dark, no flashlight.

At the base of the hill, I could see the fire engine and ambulance that arrived before me. There was a gurney waiting. Two paramedics on the sidewalk, dark suited, faced the hill, watching the brush for movement.

And then, after forever, I could see Jacob leading you down the hillside. Relief rose in me against the panic of what I realized I might have sent Jacob to find.

Another car careened around the bend, at a strange confluence of streets: Dominion Ave and Division Street. The car slammed into park. It was your dad.

Car door swung wide, he got out and began to pace. I had never met him in person before. He was so wiry, tense; intense. Every muscle in his body seemed clenched, his face drawn, hands in fists. All I knew of him was through you, what you had told me. He stood facing me, waiting for me to speak.

“He’s alive,” I said, pointing to where you and Jacob were just reaching the road.

Your dad and I watched the both of you in silhouette against the night sky, gingerly descending. It looked like Jacob was holding you up, the two of you navigating the loose brush and rock. It was then that I put my arms around the neck of this man, your father, a stranger I have only ever spoken to over the phone. I held him as he cried, this tough ex-soldier. He was not at all how I had imagined him.

Jacob walked you over to the paramedics. By now, you could hardly stand. The paramedics lifted you onto the gurney like a loose, sleepy child into bed. I don’t imagine you could remember that. I leaned down to kiss your faded pink fluffy hair. You looked stoned, wasted, delirious. I said, I love you, Skyler, and meant it. Your eyes were open but you were non-responsive. I had never said anything like this to you before, and never since.

Jacob tells me that he had pulled you to standing, too weak to object. He had found you sitting on a rocky outcropping, woozy. You said something like, “It’s okay. Sit with me,” patting the stone. Jacob told me later that he had said no, that he wouldn’t let you die there. That if you were going to die you would have to get down and do it in the ambulance.

At that point, you were moments away from a series of seizures that would require an induced coma to keep you safe for the next few days. What was it like, to be unconscious for days? A little like death? Did you dream?

Jacob, your dad, and I stood by the side of the road for a little while after they had gotten you into the ambulance. Jacob was quiet and seemingly calm though I knew his pulse must have been racing. The ambulance started to pull away. As I said goodbye to your dad, ready to follow, I implored him, this time, no tough love; this time, please: Only love.

 

 

*

The last time you attempted suicide, your girlfriend had just broken up with you. Wasn’t it on Valentine’s Day? I wish we had been able to talk about it at the time. It’s never easy to get your heart broken.

I didn’t learn about it for three days. All I knew was that you had been throwing up, and that Jacob hadn’t heard from you, which struck me as odd considering how close you were. Later, Jacob told me that you had said over the group chat that you’d taken some pills and were throwing up. I’m glad Aaron had the presence of mind to call your dad, and 911. Did they pump your stomach? I think they did. And you were held for observation. On the third day, your dad called all of your friends together after school, huddled up on the sidewalk of the neighborhood by the high school. I had a horrible sense that something was wrong. I pulled up just far enough to be out of sight but I watched them squirm, listening to your dad, in the rearview mirror.

What I didn’t learn until later was that you had given notes for all of your friends, including your girlfriend, that began, “If you’re reading this now….”

*

This time, rather than seven pills, you have taken seventy-something. All of your anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications.

In the ICU, before you completely lose consciousness, you send Jacob a loopy string of text messages. You say that you want to have a cheeseburger with Jimi Hendrix. You say that since you are still here, you must be here for something. You say that you want to be a crazy writer. Like Ken Kesey. Hunter S. Thompson. And I think, maybe you’ll be okay.

Then, the texts stopped.

The next day, Friday, Jacob says he can’t go to school. I let him stay home and together we wait for news of you.

They keep you in the coma all that day. On the surface, I am keeping my shit together. Beneath the surface every worst thought.

That space of not-knowing, it is excruciating. I leave Jacob at home and go to my office, but I can’t focus. I go into the storage room out back to call my friend Gayle, where I cry hard and long, my face smeared with snot and tears. Her mother had committed suicide by hanging. My problems felt trivial but I knew if there were anyone who would understand what I was going through, it would be her. You weren’t my son, but it crushed me.

I needed something to focus on, something to give me to do while we waited to hear news of you, so she and I hatched a plan. I knew it might sound crazy, or stupid, or useless, but I decided that whatever the outcome, I must do it. She said she would help.

Do you know that there is a high correlation between writers and depression, writers and suicide? I thought you might appreciate that.

 

*

 

Over the weekend, I receive regular text updates and phone calls from your family. By Saturday, the seizures taper off, so they bring you up, but, they say, you may or may not have sustained brain damage.

When you wake up, you tell us you can’t remember anything of the days before, but remarkably you seem intact.

You relay to us some of the things you thought you saw while you were out: You believed it that if you stared at the clock long enough, that it would turn back time. The nurses faces melted and morphed into demonic faces.

You seem bemused as the events of the past few days are relayed to you, like you are listening to funny anecdotes about strangers. By Sunday, still in the ICU, your dad says you are ready for visitors. He adds us to the list of family allowed in to the hospital room. If we weren’t family before, we are now. Your sisters keep telling us how Jacob had saved your life. For all the times you have complained about them, I think they idolize you. You are their big brother and they are glad to have you back.

Jacob and I plan our trip to Riverside Community Hospital. Remembering the cheeseburger, I call the nurses’ station to get their okay. We drive through Jack in the Box. Jacob of course knew just what you’d want. When we arrive, you are sitting up in the hospital bed, and your sisters are around you. Your pink hair is disheveled. They have assigned you a “watcher”, someone to be with you in the room at all times, making sure you don’t try to hurt yourself again.

You are elated by the cheeseburger & root beer. Jacob sits across from you and you talk as though nothing has happened. You want to know what’s been going on outside, what your friends have been up to.

When I ask you – we all ask you – if you are going to try this again, you tells us that you are taking it “twenty-four hours in a day”; a puzzling response. It sounds equivocal, but we accept it.

After a little while of sitting and watching these friends, I pull out the book I’ve compiled and carefully bound: Letters to Skyler from Fellow Writers.

In the past twenty-four hours, I have called upon friends and strangers, all writers, to send notes of encouragement and hope — depressed writers, suicidal writers, writers who have suffered through suicide loss. Jacob thought it was a dumb idea but as he watched you page through it, the look on your face, he later said that it was, in fact, a good thing.

They move you from ICU to a regular hospital room, then from there to a mental health facility for adults, because while you’re still only a junior in high school, you are eighteen. I am told that it is a section 5150 hold, aka the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, followed by a 5350, an involuntary hold for those with a mental disorder who are a danger to themselves or others. These are not unfamiliar terms. Jacob’s uncle, my husband’s brother, also struggled with many of the same issues that haunt you.

There, Jacob tells me, you took up smoking, and kept a journal: “Diary of Mad Man.” Though your dad didn’t want you to have any contact with your friends, we encouraged Jacob to call you, which he did. When the high school released you for the year, we were glad, so close to the end of the school year, and with your ex-girlfriend there, we weren’t sure what you’d do.

When you finally go home, as promised, I give you my old typewriter. I bring you enough ink & correction tape to last the rest of high school.

Over the summer, things get better. You read a lot, and even write. This makes me happy. Old out-of-state friends come to see you. You took a trip to Venice beach. I am glad when you accept our invitation to go with us on our family vacation to San Diego. You bring your roller blades, Hawaiian shirt, and the Nixon mask. When we talk about the future, you give me hope.

Everything is fine now.

Summer passes. It is time for you to register for senior year. On a Monday morning, Freshman registration, when I registered Bradley, Jacob tells me you registered early. In fact, you tell Jacob you shouldn’t have registered at all.

Wednesday night, you go to the drive-in with your dad and sisters. Late that night, you pull the cans to the curb for trash night, say goodnight,I love you, to your dad.

Thursday morning, August 25, 2016, is the official registration day for seniors. Jacob and Bradley are sleeping in and I am speaking with a landscaper on my front lawn, discussing tree removal and grading and water-wise gardening.

Then, my phone rings. I let it go to voicemail. It rings again.

It is your dad. “He’s gone.”

I don’t have words to describe how it feels to hear those words. He tells me you have hung yourself in the bedroom closet sometime during the night.

Playing in the background, The Grateful Dead: “If I Had the World to Give”, on loop, the same song playing over and over and over.

There in my front yard, in front of this stranger who hugs me and holds me as I curse and cry, I fall apart.

At that moment, I can’t imagine going in the house and waking Jacob to tell him. But I do.

Your dad tells me that when the coroner and sheriff arrived, they found no foul play; of course not. None of us had any doubts. It was awful to think of them using your lifeless finger to unlock your phone, search for “clues.” Of course, we immediately drive to your house. Jacob and I sat on either side of your dad on the couch, arms over his shoulders, the three of us sobbing. If you had been there — you were there? — we would have been a sight.

Sometime during that final night, we learn that you had messaged Penny in Seattle: “Are you awake?” No response. That was the last word from you to anyone.

Later, Penny messages the instructions you had messaged her. She honored your wishes to send it to Jacob, “should I lose this battle.” Penny kept her promise. It detailed who should get what, including that Jacob should get some of your ashes: “Put them in a pipe and smoke it or I will haunt your ass.”

In the days following your death, I learn that together you and Jacob have tried LSD, sitting on that same rocky outcropping where he found you that night.

When your dad reads the note, it is only then that we all realize that you have been planning this all summer. All of your friends seemed to feel your death was “inevitable”. They knew the end was coming. Jacob knew. But they kept your secrets. I want to hug them. I want to slap them. I want to stare at that clock until the hands spin back to before.

Your dad says that Jacob can smoke your ashes, but only if he wants to, and only in your bedroom, with him, while telling him stories about you.

Instead, Jacob orders a pendant — an eagle, to match your dangling sterling silver earrings. The day before your death, we learn that you’ve lost one of them, walking through our neighborhood. In the days after, we walk for hours, scouring every glint in the dust. Later, we learn that the mortuary has misplaced the other. This is a blow. This feels like metaphor.

The last time we see you alive, we are driving past, headed elsewhere, always in a hurry. Jacob stuck his head out the window and shouted. You waved goodbye. The next morning, you were gone.

Now, Jacob carries a small piece of you around his neck. You went to his graduation — wherever he goes, there you’ll be.

The other night, I asked Jacob if he still thinks about you. He says every day. That you come to him in his dreams every night.

Your dad thanks me, because he thinks those letters gave you two one last summer.

I thought words could save you. But maybe, in some small way, these words are saving me.

Cati Porter is a writer, editor, mother, and arts administrator living and working in inland southern California. Her third poetry collection, The Body at a Loss, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press. She is founder and editor of Poemeleon: A Journal of Poetry and Executive Director of the Inlandia Institute. Find her on the web at www.catiporter.com

We are proud to have founded the Aleksander Fund. To learn more or to donate please click here. To sign up for On being Human Tuscany Sep 5-18, 2018 please email jenniferpastiloffyoga@gmail.com.

 

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Guest Posts, Therapy

A Therapist Confesses: “I Really, Really, Really Can’t Help You”

November 10, 2017
therapist

By Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW

Strands of white hair erupting from her scrunchie, *Evelyn perches on the black pleather chair, greedily gulping from her Poland Springs water bottle and says: “Sherry, yesterday I had one of the worst experiences of my life.  No, probably the worst.”

In the ten plus years I’ve been a therapist I’ve heard numerous variations of this sentence, often followed by a statement like: “The neurologist confirmed my mother has Alzheimer’s. I feel guilty that I still hate her” “I caught my fiancé making out with my best friend” “Maybe getting fired for the fourth time in three years is a sign the world is better off without me”…

This is Evelyn’s latest ‘worst experience’: “I was at CVS buying shampoo and this Chinese guy brushed up against me. I know he did something to the shampoo to hurt me. Should I use the shampoo or return it? I’m sooo anxious.”

I’m never happy to hear that someone is suffering.  I became a therapist in midlife after a career in journalism because I feel driven to be an easer of pain, in a small way to make a permanent, positive stamp on the life of another. Continue Reading…

Anxiety, depression, Guest Posts

The Woman Who Stares at Clocks

November 6, 2017
time

By Tasha Kerry Smith

I wake each morning to the sound of silence and stare at the clock. Plastic, pink, old-style alarm clock with big numbers. The little hand crouches at nine and the big hand is in between the 2 and 3. I will wait till it hits 3, exactly a quarter past, before moving. Starting every activity on a concrete number helps me know where I start and finish. In the waiting minutes the voice speaks its filth: You’re worthless. Lazy. The world would be better off without you.

My morning is unremarkable but carried out at a tense pace, as if I have an A.M. conference call with the UN though I’m freelance and set my own schedule. I eat a small breakfast standing by the sink; brace myself for the dog walk. On bad days, when the voice is loud, I don’t like going outside. Too much activity. Too many people. Deliverymen shouting orders. Shoppers running errands. Dogs barking. Horns honking. Every noise hurts. I weave through them, head down, and make for the beach, where the dog can roam and the voice creeps into the quiet: Worthless. Hateful. Bitch. It’s takes physical strength to restrain it. My mind is shot.

To cope, I watch the clock, plan my day, giving each task a time slot. If I complete a task within the allotted time, I relax. If I don’t, I panic. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

Dropping By To See What Condition My Depression Is In

October 18, 2017
election

By Amy Gesenhues

My nose is crooked. It happened the Thursday before election night last November. I was walking my dog in the dark, looking at my phone and not paying attention. I tripped and fell face first into my neighbor’s brick mailbox so hard it broke my nose. It hurt like hell and made my face into a bloody mess.

I’ve been going back to that night, replaying the events between then and the following Tuesday when the whole world felt like it collapsed in on so many of us, unable to make sense of the election results. I’m trying to pin-point the date my latest round of depression began. As if that’s something you can do — trace a line of sadness, your very own trail of tears back to a moment in time, the same as you would go about finding the last text from someone you love.

Depression is a tricky mother fucker. Mine starts as a slow drift into the what-does-any-of-it-matter-abyss. There are always signs along the way that I never catch until long after I’ve passed them. Obsessively thinking about everything I’ve done wrong. The friends I’ve lost. All the wrongs done to me (or so, I tell myself). I buy more and more books, but read less and less. I sneak handfuls of Nestle chocolate morsels throughout the day – a stand-in for the Camel Lights I gave up ten years ago. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Mental Health

When Death Keeps You Alive

October 4, 2017
life

CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.

By Lisbeth Welsh

“Adrian died yesterday.”

I was 11.

“Adrian died yesterday.”

Adrian was 20.

He seemed like such a grown up to me then.  Now I’m staring 40 square in the eye. I realize how short his twenty years actually were. My last memory of him is the top of his legs.  I stood looking out of my parents upstairs landing window. His gold Ford Sierra was parked outside.  I looked down from above, his torso and face obscured by the sun visor.

“Lets go see Adrian.” My friend Sara said.

“No not tonight.”

I was 11. He was 20. How would I know ‘not tonight’ would turn into ‘not ever again?’ How could I know that I was staring at him in the exact seat he would die in the next day? I will spend the rest of my life wishing I’d run out to that car.  But I was 11. It wouldn’t have re-written history. I know that.  I know that because I have spent years battling my own monsters.  Twenty years. No more than the amount he survived.  From eating disorders to self-harm to depression and anxiety.  With no self-respect and little self worth. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts

Not Quite Forgiveness, a Yoga Story

July 21, 2017
forgiveness

“I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street.”
― Virginia Woolf

By Nina Gaby

It was with the best of intentions that I shut down my old life as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in upstate New York and packed up my family and got a quick prescription for Paxil and clonazepam and became an innkeeper in a small village in Vermont. Let it now be known that if you need two prescriptions to convince yourself that what you’re doing is right you might want to take another glance at it. Instead I went to a psychic in a strip mall and interpreted her words as confirmation (what she really said was light some white candles, take a bath with herbs, and think on it.) And while I fully understand I’m using this as a seductive hook here–after all who hasn’t at one time considered the cliché of running away to a simpler life of baking scones and turning down crisp bed sheets and not only smelling the roses but actually having time to grow them–that isn’t really the story.

The story is that for the past fifteen years I have been angry that the story fell apart. As it unraveled into petty interpersonal and not so petty financial conflicts, the small community we had moved to took sides. Think wrong table in junior high school cafeteria. We were not only collateral damage from 911 and eventually lost the inn, our life savings in one of the tech industry debacles, my mom, my dog and the old friend who lived across the road in our new village dismissed me in a way that felt cruel and confuses me to this day. I still feel shame for sounding like such a victim, as it was likely the victimhood that put us at disadvantage in our community in the first place.

Forgiveness has never been a consideration, anger being my stronger suit. Sometimes forgiveness is not even an option, even though we want to believe it is, as if we have more control than we really do. And that’s the real story. Continue Reading…

cancer, depression, Guest Posts

Where Are All The Silver Linings?

June 30, 2017

CW: This essay discusses depression and suicide. If you or someone you know needs helps now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.

By Melissa McAllister

Even before cancer, I was intimately acquainted with depression and anxiety.  We shared more than one dance together.  We fight.  We makeup.  We fight.  We breakup.  That’s just the way it’s always been.  On and Off.  I managed this relationship with an assortment of tricks.  There are the therapists I would purge all my thoughts and feelings onto weekly.  There is the pharmacy where I routinely picked up the latest antidepressant and anti anxiety pills I was prescribed.  Sometimes they even tossed  in a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic for good measure.  And then there was the doctor who I checked in with on a regular basis to make certain all was going as planned.

As a person so prone to depression and anxiety, believe me when I tell you – keeping that many appointments and having that many interactions in order to procure those tiny little things that are going to hopefully help you feel better is fucking hard to do.  If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, you know exactly what I mean.  But I managed, mostly. Continue Reading…