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In preparation for an upcoming 4-week club for kids that I'll be hosting, I created a book trailer for A Dog Called Homeless, winner of the 2013 Middle Grade Schneider Family Book Award, The Schneider Family Book Awards "honor an author or illustrator for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." A Dog Called Homeless is written by Sarah Lean and published by Harper Collins. I hope you enjoy it.
Esther Ehrlich’s debut novel, Nest, is an arresting story of an eleven-year-old girl named Chirp Orenstein, whose life becomes acutely sharp and complicated as her mother’s illness overtakes the family
How are we to understand experiences of depression? First of all, it is important to be clear about what the problem consists of. If we don’t know what depression is like, why can’t we just ask someone who’s depressed? And, if we want others to know what our own experience of depression is like, why can’t we just tell them? In fact, most autobiographical accounts of depression state that the experience or some central aspect of it is difficult or even impossible to describe. Depression is not simply a matter of the intensification of certain familiar aspects of experience and the diminution of others, such as feeling more sad and less happy, or more tired and less energetic. First-person accounts of depression indicate that it involves something quite alien to what — for most people — is mundane, everyday experience. The depressed person finds herself in a ‘different world’, an isolated, alien realm, adrift from social reality. There is a radical departure from ‘everyday experience’, and this is not a localized experience that the person has within a pre-given world; it encompasses every aspect of her experience and thought – it is the shape of her world. It is the ‘world’ of depression that people so often struggle to convey.
My approach involves extracting insights from the phenomenological tradition of philosophy and applying them to the task of understanding depression experiences. That tradition includes philosophers such as Edmund Husserl, Edith Stein, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre, all of whom engage in ‘phenomenological’ reflection – that is, reflection upon the structure of human experience. Why turn to phenomenology? Well, these philosophers all claim that human experience incorporates something that is overlooked by most of those who have tried to describe it — what we might call a sense of ‘belonging to’ or ‘finding oneself in’ a world. This is something so deeply engrained, so fundamental to our lives, that it is generally overlooked. Whenever I reflect upon my experience of a chair, a table, a sound, an itch or a taste, and whenever I contrast my experience with yours, I continue to presuppose a world in which we are both situated, a shared realm in which it is possible to encounter things like chairs and to experience things like itches. This sense of being rooted in an interpersonal world does not involve perceiving a (very big) object or believing that some object exists. It’s something that is already in place when we do that, and therefore something that we seldom reflect upon.
Depression, I suggest, involves a shift in one’s sense of belonging to the world. We can further understand the nature of this once we acknowledge the role that possibilities play in our experience. When I get up in the morning, feel very tired, stop at a café on the way to work, and then look at a cup of coffee sitting in front of me, what do I ‘experience’? On one account, what I ‘see’ is just what is ‘present’, an object of a certain type. But it’s important to recognize that my experience of the cup is also permeated by possibilities of various kinds. I see it as something that I could drink from, as something that is practically accessible and practically significant. Indeed, it appears more than just significant – it is immediately enticing. Rather than, ‘you could drink me’, it says ‘drink me now’. Many aspects of our situation appear significant to us in some way or other, meaning that they harbor the potentiality for change of a kind that matters. We can better appreciate what experiences of depression consist of once we construe them in terms of shifts in the kinds of possibility that the person has access to. Whereas the non-depressed person might find one thing practically significant and another thing not significant, the depressed person might be unable to find anything practically significant. It is not that she doesn’t find anything significant, but that she cannot. And the absence is very much there, part of the experience – something is missing, painfully lacking, and nothing appears quite as it should do. In fact, many first-person accounts of depression explicitly refer to a loss of possibility. Here are some representative responses to a questionnaire study that I conducted with colleagues two years ago, with help from the mental health charity SANE:
“I remember a time when I was very young – 6 or less years old. The world seemed so large and full of possibilities. It seemed brighter and prettier. Now I feel that the world is small. That I could go anywhere and do anything and nothing for me would change.”
“It is impossible to feel that things will ever be different (even though I know I have been depressed before and come out of it). This feeling means I don’t care about anything. I feel like nothing is worth anything.”
“The world holds no possibilities for me when I’m depressed. Every avenue I consider exploring seems shut off.”
“When I’m not depressed, other possibilities exist. Maybe I won’t fail, maybe life isn’t completely pointless, maybe they do care about me, maybe I do have some good qualities. When depressed, these possibilities simply do not exist.”
By emphasizing the experience of possibility, we can understand a great deal. Suppose the depressed person inhabits an experiential world from which the possibility of anything ever changing for the better is absent; nothing offers the potential for positive change and nothing draws the person in, solicits action. This lack permeates every aspect of her experience. Her situation seems strangely timeless, as no future could differ from the present in any consequential way. Action seems difficult, impossible or futile, because there is no sense of any possibility for significant change. Her body feels somehow heavy and inert, as it is not drawn in by situations, solicited to act. She is cut off from other people, who no longer offer the possibility of significant kinds of interpersonal connection. Others might seem somehow elsewhere, far away, given that they are immersed in shared goal-directed activities that no longer appear as intelligible possibilities for the depressed person. We can thus see how the kind of ‘hopelessness’ or ‘despair’ that is central to so many experiences of depression differs in important respects from more mundane feelings that might be described in similar ways. I might lose hope in a certain project, but I retain the capacity for hope — I can still hope for other things. Some depression experiences, in contrast, involve erosion of the capacity for hope. There is no sense that anything of worth could be achieved or that anything good could ever happen — the attitude of hope has ceased to be intelligible; the person cannot hope.
Of course, it should also be conceded that depression is a heterogeneous, complicated, multi-faceted phenomenon; no single approach or perspective will yield a comprehensive understanding. Even so, I think phenomenological research has an important role to play in solving a major part of the puzzle, thus feeding into a broader understanding of depression and informing our response to it.
Heading image: Depression. Public Domain via Pixabay.
It's still winter! The bone-shaking chill of a new January with its winds, ice storms, broken healthy resolutions and humourless deadlines (tax payments, school applications, etc) can make even the bravest of us want to curl up in a cave next to a blazing fire and hibernate until spring arrives.
And to some of us who suffer from depression (episodes of persistent sadness or low mood, marked loss of interest and pleasure) either constant or intermittent, winter can be one of the hardest times. Depression being a multi-headed hydra ranging from many states of unipolar to bipolar, I'm not suggesting that there is one single type of depression; for instance not all of us are affected by the winter or weather, while some people who don't even have depression in the clinical sense might be experiencing a mild case of the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Creativity is like a fire that we can stoke to drive away the cold winter (whether physical or psychological, internal or external). So I'm deep in my cave trying to work out ways that I can stoke my creativity without resorting to biscuits!
Bibliotherapy's been around for a while now, and is the literary prescription of books and poems against a range of "modern ailments" - including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. A form of guided self-help, it's not exactly a new idea - the ancient Greeks spoke of "catharsis" - the process of purification or cleansing, in which the observer of a work of theatre could purge themselves of emotions such as pity and fear through watching and identifying with the characters in a play. All of us in the modern world can attest to the feeling of connection and joy when an author so precisely describes a state that we are ourselves experiencing, and the nail-biting, cliff-hanging state of knowing exactly what our heroine or hero is going through. We root for him or her because s/he represents ourselves battling our own demons in an idealised meta-state.
But how does bibliotherapy work? According to the various proponents, it helps perpetuate a shift in thinking, so that things are not so inflexible (black and white thinking, for all you cognitive-behavioural depressives out there!) which is crucial to tackling depression. Being able to gain distance and perspective by viewing problems through the lens of fictional characters means that in real life our fixed thought-patterns which contribute to our problems can start to become unpicked.
And of course, identification isn't the only joy to be found in books; good old-fashioned escapism is surely the reason why many of us read so avidly. A new world, a new family, a new life, perhaps even new biology or physics, takes us away momentarily from the mundane world so we can return refreshed, hopefully to see our lives with new eyes.
I've obviously been self-medicating for a long time, but I always called it comfort-reading. By comfort-reading I mean a well-known book that you can plunge into at will like a warm bath or a pair of slippers. At school when I was anxious about exams or bullies I would find solace in re-reading the heroic adventures of Biggles or the magical quest of Lord of the Rings; at university it was in the dreamy memories of Brideshead and the vicissitudes of Billy Liar or Lucky Jim. When I started my first office jobs I would read 1984 or Brave New World (odd choices for comfort-reads but I think it was to remind myself that things could actually be worse!) but when I started writing my own books, I ...er ... stopped reading for some years. I think my tiny little brain could only take so much exercise!
I started comfort-reading again when we first had our children; during long and frequently painful breast-feeding sessions my husband would read my childhood favourites Charlotte's Web and Danny the Champion Of The World to me as distraction and encouragement. And these days my prospective comfort list numbers hundreds of books; for me, reading is re-reading.
So what could I take to bolster myself against the winter chill? I've written myself a prescription but I'd be interested in hearing yours!
1) A dose of James Herriot's short animal stories, to be administered when needed (they are nice and short so you're not left hanging after a few pages) or chapters from Jerome K Jerome's Three Men In A Boat, or virtually anything by PG Wodehouse;
2) A daily dose of half an hour "joy-writing" - half an hour in the morning when I can sit down and let ideas spill out onto the page. (If it ends up with me writing about what happened last night then so be it. It can often lead to something more ...)
3) A small creative project on the horizon, easily identifiable and manageable, that I can look forward to; in this case getting a small group of actors together to read through a new draft of a play that I've written (there'll be a blog post on this soon so stay tuned!)
4) Connection with others - I'm a member of a local book group, which not only makes me keep on top of what new books are coming out, but also participating in the joy of discussion; there's nothing more frustrating than reading a good book only to realise that nobody you know has read it!)
So I think that's enough to start barricading myself up against the January snows!
But what about you? What kind of comfort-reads do you enjoy to drive the cold winter away?
Jose Nuñez lives in a homeless shelter in Queens with his wife and two children. He remembers arriving at the shelter: ‘It’s literally like you are walking into prison. The kids have to take their shoes off, you have to remove your belt, you have to go through a metal detector. Even the kids do. We are not going into a prison, I don’t need to be stripped and searched. I’m with my family. I’m just trying to find a home’.
Maryann Broxton, a lone mother of two, finds life exhausting and made worse by ‘the consensus that, as a poor person, it is perfectly acceptable to be finger printed, photographed and drug-tested to prove that I am worthy of food. Hunger is not a crime. The parental guilt is punishment enough.’
Palma McLaughlin, a victim of domestic violence, notes that ‘now she is poor, she is stigmatised’; no longer ‘judged by her skills and accomplishments but by what she doesn’t have’.
People in poverty feel ashamed because they cannot afford to live up to social expectations. Being a good parent means feeding your children; being a good relative means exchanging gifts at celebrations. Friendships need to be sustained by buying a round of drinks or returning money that has been borrowed. When you cannot afford to do these things, your sense of shame is magnified by others. Friends, even close relatives, avoid you. Your children despise you, asking, for example: ‘why was I born into this family?’. Society similarly accuses you of being lazy, abusing drugs or promiscuity, assumed guilty until proved innocent. You can even be blamed for the ills of your country, the high levels of crime or its relative economic decline. The middle class in Uganda ask: ‘how can Uganda be poor when the soils are rich and the climate is good if it’s not the fault of subsistence farmers’?’
In the US, as in Britain, it may be welfare expenditure that is blamed for stifling productive investment.
Shame is debilitating as well as painful. People avoid it by attempting to keep up appearances, pretending everything is fine. In so doing, they often live in fear of being found out and risk overextending finances and incurring bad debts. People in poverty typically avoid social situations where they risk being exposed to shame; in so doing lose the contacts that might help them out when times get particularly harsh. Sometimes shame drives people into clinical depression, to substance abuse and even to suicide. Shame saps self-esteem, erodes social capital and diminishes personal efficacy raising the possibility that it serves also to perpetuate poverty by reducing individuals’ ability to help themselves.
Shame also divides society. While the stigma attaching to policies can be unintentional, sometimes the result of underfunding and staff working under pressure, the public rhetoric of deserving and undeserving exacerbates misunderstanding between rich and poor, nurturing the presumption that the latter are invariably inadequate or dishonest. Often around the world, stigmatising welfare recipients is deliberate and frequently supported by popular opinion. Blaming and shaming are commonly thought to be effective ways of policing access to welfare benefits and regulating anti-social and self-destructive behaviour. However, such beliefs are based on two assumptions that are untenable. The first is that poverty is overwhelmingly of people’s own making, the result of individual inadequacy. This can hardly be the case in Uganda, Pakistan or India. Nor is so elsewhere. Poverty is for the most part structural, caused by factors beyond individual control relating to the workings of the economy, the mix of factors of production and the outcome of primary and secondary resource allocation. The second assumption is that shaming people changes their behaviour enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty. However, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that shaming does not facilitate behavioural change but merely imposes further pain.
Jose, Maryann and Palma were not participants in a research project. Rather they are members of ATD Fourth World, an organisation devoted to giving people in poverty voice, and their testimonials are available to read online. Echoing Martin Luther King, Palma dreams that one day her four children will be judged not by the money in their bank accounts but by the quality of their character.
Headline image credit: ‘Someone Special to Someone, Sometime’ by John W. Iwanski. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
Where kissing is concerned, there is an entire categorization of this most human of impulses that necessitates taking into account setting, relationship health and the emotional context in which the kiss occurs. A relationship’s condition might be predicted and its trajectory timeline plotted by observing and understanding how the couple kiss. For instance, viewed through the lens of a couple’s dynamic, a peck on the cheek can convey cold, hard rejection or simply signify that a loving couple are pressed for time.
A kiss communicates a myriad of meanings, its reception and perception can alter dramatically depending on the couple’s state of mind. A wife suffering from depression may interpret her husband’s kiss entirely differently should her symptoms be alleviated. Similarly, a jealous, insecure lover may receive his girlfriend’s kiss of greeting utterly at odds to how she intends it to be perceived.
So if the mind can translate the meaning of a kiss to fit with its reading of the world, what can a kiss between a couple tell us? Does this intimate act mark out territory and ownership, a hands-off-he’s-mine nod to those around? Perhaps an unspoken negotiation of power between a couple that covers a whole range of feelings and intentions; how does a kiss-and-make-up kiss differ from a flirtatious kiss or an apologetic one? What of a furtive kiss; an adulterous kiss; a hungry kiss; a brutal kiss? How does a first kiss distinguish itself from a final kiss? When the husband complains to his wife that after 15 years of marriage, “we don’t kiss like we used to”, is he yearning for the adolescent ‘snog’ of his youth?
Engulfed by techno culture, where every text message ends with a ‘X’, couples must carve out space in their busy schedules to merely glimpse one another over the edge of their laptops. There isn’t psychic space for such an old-fashioned concept as a simple kiss. In a time-impoverished, stress-burdened world, we need our kisses to communicate more. Kisses should be able to multi-task. It would be an extravagance in the 21st-century for a kiss not to mean anything.
And there’s the cultural context of kissing to consider. Do you go French, Latin or Eskimo? Add to this each family’s own customs, classifications and codes around how to kiss. For a couple, these differences necessitate accepting the way that your parents embraced may strike your new partner as odd, even perverse. For the northern lass whose family offer to ‘brew up’ instead of a warm embrace, the European preamble of two or three kisses at the breakfast table between her southern softie of a husband and his family, can seem baffling.
The context of a kiss between a couple correlates to the store of positive feeling they have between them; the amount of love in the bank of their relationship. Take 1: a kiss on the way out in the morning can be a reminder of the intimacy that has just been. Take 2: in an acrimonious coupling, this same gesture perhaps signposts a dash for freedom, a “thank God I don’t have to see you for 11 hours”. The kiss on the way back in through the front door can be a chance to reconnect after a day spent operating in different spheres or, less benignly, to assuage and disguise feelings of guilt at not wanting to be back at all.
While on the subject of lip-to-lip contact, the place where a kiss lands expresses meaning. The peck on the forehead may herald a relationship where one partner distances themselves as a parental figure. A forensic ritualized pattern of kisses destined for the cheeks carries a different message to the gentle nip on the earlobe. Lips, cheek, neck, it seems all receptors convey significance to both kisser and ‘kissee’ and could indicate relationship dynamics such as a conservative-rebellious pairing or a babes-in-the-wood coupling.
Like Emperor Tiberius, who banned kissing because he thought it helped spread fungal disease, Bert Bacarach asks, ‘What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia…’ Conceivably the nature of kissing and the unhygienic potential it carries is the ultimate symbol of trust between two lovers and raises the question of whether kissing is a prelude or an end in itself, ergo the long-suffering wife who doesn’t like kissing anymore “because I know what it’ll lead to…”
The twenty-first century has witnessed the proliferation of orthodontistry with its penchant for full mental braces. Modern mouths are habitually adorned with lip and tongue piercings as fetish wear or armour. Is this straying away from what a kiss means or a consideration of how modern mores can begin to create a new language around this oldest of greetings? There is an entire generation maturing whose first kiss was accompanied by the clashing of metal, casting a distinct shadow over their ideas around later couple intimacy.
Throughout history, from Judas to Marilyn Monroe, a kiss has communicated submission, domination, status, sexual desire, affection, friendship, betrayal, sealed a pact of peace or the giving of life. There is public kissing and private kissing. Kissing signposts good or bad manners. It is both a conscious and unconscious coded communication and can betray the instigator’s character; from the inhibited introvert to the narcissistic exhibitionist. The 16th-century theologian Erasmus described kissing as ‘a most attractive custom’. Rodin immortalized doomed, illicit lovers in his marble sculpture, and Chekhov wrote of the transformative power of a mistaken kiss. The history and meaning of the kiss evolves and shifts and yet remains steadfastly the same: a distinctly human, intimate and complex gesture, instantly recognizable despite its infinite variety of uses. I’ve a feeling Sam’s ‘You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss’ may never sound quite the same again.
Headline image credit: Conquered with a kiss, by .craig. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.
Some are going through a horrible time right now. Some are feeling lost. Hopeless. Abandoned. Worthless. Helpless. Alone. Depression.
Feeling as if nobody hears them, sees them, knows they are alive. God sees you, my darling. He hears you. He feels you. Catches every tear that falls from your precious eyes. I promise.
Focus on something for just a moment. Something outside of your pain. Focus on the Glory of God. Take a deep breath. Breathe.
If you can't muster the strength to say it aloud- then say it inside. You can do this. I have faith in you. I believe in you.
"Take me Lord. Take my junk. Take my mess. I am Yours. Help me. Lead me beside the still waters. Restore my soul. My mess, is Yours. Use it to be glorified. Give me peace. Give me hope. I find my strength in You, oh Lord. Bring me to the place of joy. And bring me into You. In Jesus' name."
If you need prayer, email me please. I will gladly pray for you. Comments (pleasant conversation or polite debate) welcome. If you feel led, please share. Follow. May you find peace dwelling inside you today and every day. <3
The sad suicide of Robin Williams last week has sparked another 'conversation' in the press and on social media about mental illness - and more particularly about the link between creativity and depression.
I think this 'conversation' - and the dispelling of ignorance and myths about these conditions by those of us who are sufferers speaking out honestly - is very important indeed. It is, if you like, the inner and unseen darkness we need to make visible, which is why I have written before, both here and elsewhere, about my own battles with the Beast of chronic depression and how, in some of those darker moments, I turn to writing poetry as a way to battle the demons. Externalising them on paper is, for me at least, a way of dispersing some of their power over me.
Sometimes, though, when the despair becomes a deep physical paralysis, even the act of writing a single word seems impossible, and it at those times that the 'world would be better off without me' thoughts creep in. To the 'well brain' this is inexplicable - but the 'well brain' of a depressive is not always in charge. That is what the people who accuse Williams of 'selfishness' need to understand. Suicide, where mental illness is concerned, is not a choice. It is the last, most desperate act of a despairing brain which just wants the demons to stop eating it.
When I was first officially diagnosed with depression, I had a deep need to find a way to understand it which avoided medical jargon (to which I am deeply allergic). Being a writer, I turned to other writers to see what their experiences were - and how they had coped. The first name which came up was William Styron, whose book, 'Darkness Visible', about his own journey through depression became my manual. The title comes from Milton's'Paradise Lost'.
'No light, but rather darkness visible served only to discover sights of woe'
Writing is, for the most part, a solitary profession. In my case, I mostly sit in a room, on my own, making stuff up and setting the visions that churn around in my head down on a screen. It is hardly surprising that, living as I do in a daily creative world where evil Egyptian crocodile deities demand human sacrifices, immortal beasts battle horrid heroes and skeleton dragons with flaming red eyes menace innocent children, my own mind should sometimes rise up against me.
Every writer, whether with depression or without, will know that little nagging head voice which tells us that what we do is unutterably useless and pointless. Styron describes his thought processes 'being engulfed by a toxic and unnameable tide that obliterated any enjoyable response to the living world.' Reading those words was, for me, a recognition akin to a light being turned on in a dark room. When I first read Styron's book I did what I never do (being a respecter of the sanctity of the printed page). I underlined and made comments and wrote 'YES!!' in large capitals in many places. I have scribbled a lot more on it since. I felt as if, finally, I had found a fellow wanderer in an empty desert who could describe not only what and how I was feeling, but also do it in words simple and direct enough that others--those 'healthy people' on the outside of this condition--might be able to understand too. When Styron speaks of the 'weather of depression', I understand precisely what he means. For him its light is a 'brownout', for me a greyish fog impossible to see anything in except blurred shapes and outlines.
It's hard for me to describe how strengthening and comforting it felt to read something which made sense of my own experience, and which reminded me gently of how many other writers have been in the depths of the pit too. Shakespeare certainly understood it - how else would he have written Hamlet? Emily Dickinson, John Donne, Camus, Manley Hopkins, Beethoven, Van Gogh - these and so many more were troubled by the Beast, so I am in hallowed company when I travel through Dante's 'dark wood'.
For now, I am in a stable place, where it is possible to 'riveder le stelle' - to 'behold the stars once more.'. But when the Beast visits again (as it inevitably will, because that is its nature) I will try to remind myself that I am not alone.
She woke up torpid each morning, slowed by sadness, frightened by the endless stretch of day that lay ahead. Everything had thickened. She was swallowed, lost in a viscous haze, shrouded in a soup of nothingness. Between her and what she should feel, there was a gap. She cared about nothing. She wanted to care, but she no longer knew how; it had slipped from her memory, the ability to care. Sometimes she woke up flailing and helpless, and she saw, in front of her and behind her and all around her, an utter hopelessness
When I read this passage in the above novel, I thought that this was probably the most accurate description of what depression can feel like. Depression can be a relentless and elusive entity.
There has been a lot of talk lately about depression due to recent death of Robin Williams. As writers with our creative spirit, we tend to live inside our heads. It can be very easy to go into a downward spiral. Between writer’s block, rejection letters, dealing with envy and comparing yourself to other writers, it’s easy to fall into depression’s grip.
The thing about our society is that everyone feels that they should be happy all the time and then feel guilty when they don’t. Social media doesn’t help much either because we tend to only share our sunny days instead of our stormy ones.
Then there’s the stigma that people with depression are weak and need to get a grip. This is probably the most common reason that people hide their feelings. Sometimes the happiest people can be the saddest people. Emotions are sticky and private. They can be overwhelming. It’s messy work and makes people uncomfortable. It’s hard to share when the possible reply could be a brush off instead of empathy. It’s hard to be vulnerable with your emotions. It’s much better to fake it and pretend that everything is okay.
The most important thing is that you shouldn’t ignore the feelings. It could be more than a case of having a bad day or melancholy. Events like heartbreak, death of a loved one, or other personal losses can have an effect over a prolonged period of time.
So don’t ignore these feelings. They are real. Don’t feel guilty that you should feel happy. You are not weak. And most important, don’t feel like there is no hope. The trick of depression is that it tells you that you don’t matter and nobody cares. But that is a total lie: You do matter and there are people who care. Ask for help. It is waiting for you.
The reaction to Robin Williams’ death has been unlike any celebrity death I can remember. We all knew Whitney was going to go, and Michael Jackson’s end was as expected as it was bizarre. With Williams there seem to be few mysteries. It was a battle, and he lost. Yet the shock of his tragic decision seems to have transcended our celebrity autopsy culture with its essential question: how can someone who gave so much, who had so much to give, have turned away from the light with such finality?
It’s a question we’ve all tried to answer at one point.
It’s also opened up a floodgate of frank talk about depression. As many have pointed out, there’s a difference between the blues—temporary depression we’ve all suffered from at one time or another—and the deep, clinical depression that killed Williams and Kurt and Plath and so many others.
Depression, and its ugly twin, substance abuse, are both hazards of the creative life. My Facebook feed has been flooded with creative people discussing their own depression, sometimes with courage, sometimes with dread. Neither is the “right” response. This is a daily battle we all face, the important part is to get through, to know you are not alone, to find the light in what seems like an endless darkness. We get by in measures that are appropriate.
Joshua Hale Fialkov has a much linked to post that expresses all this much better than I can. Fialkov’s own battle is with migraines, not depression but the battle is similar.
There is never enough. Never enough time, never enough money, never enough success, never enough praise, never enough sales. Never enough. That’s part of the life I’ve chosen. We struggle to find that thing that makes us feel satisfied, that gives us joy, but, the truth is that the joy is fleeting. The feeling of being ‘full’ only lasts for a few moments before the hunger returns.
This is the life of an artist. This is the life of anyone who aspires to be greater than they are.
This is unattainable. This is the bottom line to life, from top to bottom from the most successful man on earth to the weakest child on the playground. Nothing you ever do will be enough.
The talking is good. I had a long talk with one of my oldest friends I don’t speak with as much as I should who had dated Williams back in the day. Some of her stories were hilarious but they are hers to tell. So many people have shared stories of Williams shopping in their comics stores or book stores (the guy liked to read!), or meeting him at charity events. All the stories are of a kind man, a giving man. I dread the day when the celebrity autopsy horror stories come out…for now keeping these kind, human moments alive helps with getting through.
I’ve had a case of the blahs myself of late. Not being productive enough, things I let slide, the dog days of August, post Comic-Con let-down. Nothing I haven’t felt before—I’ve learned to be pretty resilient in my life. Like I said, we all have good days and bad days. Last night I got together with two industry colleagues and in a few hours of smart, funny talk about life and comics—moments where I never looked at my cell phone—everything was OK again. On to the next battle.
The communal mourning and questioning is part of the healing. I almost feel like the good from all the sharing has overwhelmed the sadness. Life is both beautiful and terrifying, but its beauties and terrors are best experienced knowing you are not alone in this glorious muddle. You are not alone. We are not alone.
PS: Yes I forgot Popeye in my first post about Robin Williams. Which sucks because despite it being a horrible flop, it’s a sweet, wonderful movie— written by Jules Feiffer! Wacky as hell, a glorious muddle. And a role, like so many others, that Williams was born to play.
"I should have taken the shortcut home from my bird-watching spot at the salt marsh, because then I wouldn't have to walk past Joey Morell, whipping rocks against the telephone pole in front of his house as the sun goes down." (p. 1) If you know anything about me, I am a sucker for a good first line, and this one has got the goods.
This is Chirp's (Naomi's) story. Well, her family's story really. Her mom is a dancer who has suddenly started to have some problems with her body. Her leg is dragging around and has been hurting her for a while, but Chirp's somewhat clinical and distant psychiatrist dad isn't really talking about it. Big sister Rachel is distancing herself as well as she tries on teendom for the first time.
When Chirp's mom is diagnosed with MS the family verily falls apart. Hannah's existence has always been that of a dancer, and she quickly falls into a deep depression and nobody in the family really knows how to cope. Chirp finds an ally in a very unexpected person - Joey Morell.
Joey's family is one that Chirp's family looks down on. They have a 3 sons who run amok, but their problems go deeper than that. Chirp and Joey find common ground, and as two kids who ultimately are scared and feeling abandoned, they cement their friendship as they slowly reveal the pain inside each of their houses.
I don't want to spoil the plot so I will leave it there, but will also say that Ehrlich is part poet and part magician as she weaves this tale together. "Ice-blue quiet smacks me when I open the front door after school." (p. 86) "A little square of my blouse is stuck to my upper arm, like the wrinkly paper on a temporary tattoo before you lift it off and leave a splotchy red heart or yellow smiley face behind." (p. 164) "The air's already thick and warm, even though the sun's still just a spritz of light in the pitch pines and the scrub oaks and not a hot, round ball bouncing on the top of my head, like it will be soon." (p. 12) Swoon.
For sure, this is a story filled with heavy and heady stuff. But it is through the eyes of Chirp, so while it is indeed sad, it is never too much. It is gorgeous, quiet and filled with hope. I fell in love with Chirp and Joey as I read. They simply became real, and I turned the pages late into the night because I could not leave their story unfinished.
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I want to cut my wrists. Don’t panic; it’s not a serious thing. I don’t want to kill myself, but sometimes, when I’m daydreaming, I like to think about cutting myself.
I’ve been doing it off and on in secret since eighth grade. Once I hit my upper twenties, I stopped caring if anyone noticed. Now, in my thirties, good friends know how things are going based on my Band-Aids.
Again, this isn’t a suicide thing. It’s not a “cry for help,” as Marla Singer might say. I don’t cut for attention. I don’t cut because I mean myself any harm. I cut because it feels good. Physical pain is better than emotional pain any day. But it very rarely comes to that anymore. Mostly, it’s just in my head. I fantasize about cutting because it calms me down.
Say I’m in a crowded room, and people are small talking around me and I’m just feeling … anxious. I zone out and picture a knife against my skin. Not cutting into my skin—just lingering above it, like a playful tickle. This is my meditation, my visualization, my Power Animal. This image calms me down. Always has.
I considered getting a tattoo on my left wrist. That way, I wouldn’t cut my left wrist anymore because I wouldn’t want to ruin the ink. But then I thought, “How does ink do on scar tissue?” The tattoo is on hold.
I spoke to a group of troubled teens a couple months ago. I admitted to a room full of strangers (who possibly had more in common with me than most “adults”) that I’d been cutting for years. One of the girls asked, “How did you stop?”
Well, I didn’t want to tell her I hadn’t. Instead, I told her I channeled the yearning to cut into something else—my writing, for instance, or yoga.
But being a cutter is like being a smoker. You quit … but you never really quit.
I’m not writing this to freak out my mother or make you uncomfortable. I’m writing this to be honest. Although I haven’t been depressed in a while (yay medication!), when I am depressed, I often question God’s intentions: Why did You give me this stupid disease? Why did You do this to me? What kind of a loving god are You?
See, I get sad, then I get mad. Once I’ve calmed down, I usually realize I wouldn’t be “me” without the depression. I wouldn’t be as weird or funny or oddly charming. I wouldn’t be an artist. I also wouldn’t be able to speak to troubled teen girls or write blog posts like this that hopefully help other people—make them feel not so alone.
Recently, when I opened up about self-harm, I brought it up, nonchalantly, with a friend of mine who shocked me by saying, “Yeah, I’ve been trying so hard not to cut lately.” Who knew? Now, I do, and now, we talk about it.
We need to talk about this stuff. In college, I hid my mental health problems. No one would ever have thought, “Wow, Sara’s a real downer.” (Thank God for closed doors.)
The older I get, the more I have learned to embrace “me,” even the psycho side of me that wants to stay in bed, never eat again, and play with knives. If anyone needs a hug, it’s her!
So seriously, I’m not trying to freak you out. I just want you to know me, and maybe someday, we can help each other. Isn’t that why we’re here anyway?
Divine guidance and blessings come to each of us through little signs as we carry on through our busy lives. What is one to do when the hectic pace that threatens to exhaust us puts us in a tailspin of despair and unable to recognize God’s blessings? Please know you are not alone as you continue your journey. Nancy I. Sanders’ book, Depression What’s a Christian to Do? provides the reader with spiritual guidance and points of reference to guide you through a difficult period in your life. Sanders’ book is the perfect resource to align you to contentment and understanding in your life. A must read and ongoing reference for the roller coaster of life!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Best wishes, Donna M. McDine Award-winning Children's Author Connect with Donna McDine on Google+ A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
I am pleased to take to a bit of a break from my virtual book tour and profile Nancy I. Sanders' book…
Depression: What's A Christian To Do?
BY NANCY I. SANDERS
If you've experienced depression in your life, God wants to reassure you today that you are not a "bad" or "weak" Christian. On the contrary! Whether you deal daily with the deep darkness of depression, or have experienced isolated incidents of its ominous oppression, God wants to let you know you are a "much-loved" Christian. He loves you! He cares about you! He wants to help you.
*Stories from the Bible demonstrate how Bible-time heroes dealt with depression.
*Inspirational instruction provides
*Prayers based on the Psalms offer encouragement and strength.
*Scriptures build a solid foundation on God's Word.
*Fictional stories bring comfort and hope.
*Questions for each chapter make this perfect for group or personal study.
"Nancy gets right to the point regarding recovery and deliverance from this very powerful emotion that befalls so many today."
-Lisa Hibbs, Pastor's wife and Director of Growing in Grace
Women's Ministry, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills
"This book is high on my recommended list for any of my patients
struggling with depression. It is Spirit-filled, biblically accurate,
practical, and psychologically sound."
-Jennifer Norheim M.A., Marriage and Family Therapist
Available to order from your local bookstore or on Amazon
For more information, email: email@example.com
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
Depression makes you feel like a broken toy. You once had use, but now, you’re forgotten, sprawled in the dust beneath a child’s bed. You can’t remember what it’s like to not be broken. You can’t imagine anyone fixing you.
So you lie there, tired, broken, and no one can reach you—not even mom’s feather duster.
Depression destroys you. It makes you forget how to work or how to eat. It makes you want to sleep but not cry. You are beyond crying. You feel nothing but a crushing pain in your chest. You feel nothing but aching muscles and the strange beat of your heart that seems louder in the silence.
It’s very quiet under the child’s bed. In the dust.
It’s not scary under here, not like the movies would have you think. There aren’t monsters under this bed—just you, the broken toy. You are in pieces. You can’t hurt anyone.
Depression is the bad thing you’re waiting for that never happens.
Depression is loss, but lost what?
Depression is the hope that this day will soon be over, because maybe you will wake up not so broken tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Maybe tomorrow, the child will find you under his bed. He will dust you off and sew you back together. He will play with you again and remind you what you’re here for.
You will remember how to work and eat and maybe even smile. Tomorrow.
For now, you lie in the dust and watch feet pass the foot of the child’s bed. You wonder: how do they do it? How do they go about their days? How do they keep their pieces together? When you are so broken.
You’re not even old! Barely played out! How did you end up in this dingy, under-bed place? How did you get here? But you don’t remember. One day, you were fine; the next, you weren’t.
Depression is the dark thing in your dreams, half remembered by morning.
Depression is the thief that takes and makes you forget how to give back.
Maybe you should rest now, sleep for a while, under the bed. Stop looking at other toys. Stop wondering how they stay together. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll be fixed again.
Depression in old age occurs frequently, places a severe burden on patients and relatives, and increases the utilization of medical services and health care costs. Although the association between age and depression has received considerable attention, very little is known about the incidence of depression among those 75 years of age and older. Studies that treat the group 65+ as one entity are often heavily weighted towards the age group 65-75. Therefore, the prediction of depression in the very old is uncertain, since many community-based studies lack adequate samples over the age of 75.
With the demographic change in the forthcoming decades, more emphasis should be put on epidemiological studies of the older old, since in many countries the increase in this age group will be particularly high. To study the older old is also important, since some crucial risk factors such as bereavement, social isolation, somatic diseases, and functional impairment become more common with increasing age. These factors may exert different effects in the younger old compared to the older old. Knowledge of risk factors is a prerequisite to designing tailored interventions, either to tackle the factors themselves or to define high-risk groups, since depression is treatable in most cases.
In our recent study, over 3,000 patients recruited by GPs in Germany were assessed by means of structured clinical interviews conducted by trained physicians and psychologists during visits to the participants’ homes. Inclusion criteria for GP patients were an age of 75 years and over, the absence of dementia in the GP’s view, and at least one contact with the GP within the last 12 months. The two follow-up examinations were done, on average, one and a half and then three years after the initial interview.
Depressive symptoms were ascertained using the 15-item version of the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). We found that the risk for incident depression was significantly higher for subjects
85 years and older
with mobility impairment and vision impairment
with mild cognitive impairment and subjective memory impairment
who were current smokers.
It revealed that the incidence of late-life depression in Germany and other industrialized countries is substantial, and neither educational level, marital status, living situation nor presence of chronic diseases contributed to the incidence of depression. Impairments of mobility and vision are much more likely to cause incidents of depression than individual somatic illnesses such as diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. As such, it is vital that more attention is paid to the oldest old, functional impairment, cognitive impairment, and smoking, when designing depression prevention programs.
GP practices offers ample opportunity to treat mental health problems such as depression occurring in relation to physical disability. If functional impairment causes greater likelihood of depression, GPs should focus on encouraging older patients to maintain physical health, whether by changing in personal health habits, advocating exercise, correcting or compensating functional deficits by means of medical and surgical treatments, or encouraging use of walking aids. Additionally, cognitive and memory training could prevent the onset of depressive symptoms, as could smoking cessation. If these steps are taken, the burden of old age depression could be significantly reduced.
Siegfried Weyerer is professor of epidemiology at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany. He has conducted several national and international studies on the epidemiology of dementia, depression and substance use disorders at different care levels. He is also an expert in health/nursing services research. He is one of the authors of the paper ‘Incidence and predictors of depression in non-demented primary care attenders aged 75 years and older: results from a 3-year follow-up study’, which appears in the journal Age and Ageing. You can read the paper in full here.
Age and Ageing is an international journal publishing refereed original articles and commissioned reviews on geriatric medicine and gerontology. Its range includes research on ageing and clinical, epidemiological, and psychological aspects of later life.
It's World Mental Health Day today - so what better time to address the subject of mental health in children's and YA books? I'm going to focus on bipolar disorder, because it's a particular interest of mine. But much of what I say can be applied to depression and other mental health conditions.
First of all, let me announce that I'm a sufferer myself from chronic/recurrent depression. Although I've never been diagnosed as bipolar, I do have mood swings and have some idea, at least, of what the highs as well as the lows can be like (the highs in my case may possibly be the result of not getting the levels of medication right - who knows?)
I now believe that my depression started when I was in my teens, though I had no idea what to call it at the time. It was all put down to PMT, though I'm not sure that the term had been invented in the late sixties. The fact that I suffered from it at other times of the month - well, that's easily got around - there's always another period on the horizon somewhere!
Or perhaps it began even earlier, when I was five and my dad disappeared off to Singapore with the RAF and I was terrified for months afterwards that my mum would vanish too. I'm sure my parents did their best, but knowing me, a book would probably have helped, and there weren't books for kids about that sort of thing in those days.
Perhaps I became depressed when bullied at my new school at seven, when I was ostracised because of my 'posh accent'. The memory still brings tears to my eyes and the teachers didn't help.
My depressive episodes, never diagnosed or treated, recurred at intervals of a few years until eventually, in my late twenties and living in Edinburgh with two small children, I took myself off to the GP with stomachache and she had the sense to see that there was something more going on. I was prescribed anti-depressants (which I refused to take on that first occasion) and told to get a part-time job. The part-time job helped. But the depression came back after a couple of years. This time it was worse and I took the medication. I also had counselling and the combination of the two brought joy and colour into my life that I'd forgotten could exist. Just waking up in the morning feeling at peace with myself... free from the self-condemnation, guilt, shame, worry, and all those other horrible things depressed people suffer.
Since then, I've had further episodes, often but not always associated with times of difficulty and stress in my life. I still fear my depression and try to make sure I don't get too busy or stressed out - but it hits me from time to time. I'm adept these days at recognising the early warning symptoms. I have medication on hand and don't delay in visiting my GP. In fact my depression these days is like my bad back in some ways - I know that if I'm sensible I have less of a chance of setting it off - but there's always the possibility that something (or nothing) will trigger it. And I have to accept that I'll have down times when I can't do very much. I'm very lucky in one respect, though. I have never been too depressed to read. I have several favourite books I turn to when I feel bad. William Styron's memoir Darkness Visible is one of them - where the great American author describes his own experience of depression. I'm not sure why it helps me, but it does. Perhaps it's just the putting into words of some of my own dreadful thoughts. The 'I'm not the only one' feeling. Whatever it is, I am so grateful to William Styron for writing it.
Anyway - children's books. I decided a few days ago to compile a list of characters in fiction who have bipolar disorder. Of course, it's difficult to be sure, if you go back very far, because the condition wasn't sufficiently understood. I asked for suggestions from various friends, contacts and writers' groups, as well as trying to come up with some of my own. I was partly interested in which books came to people's minds - i.e. the ones that had made a lasting impression. Thanks to all who contributed, I now have a list - and for the purposes of this blog I will restrict it to novels for children and YA.
This is my list, in no particular order (further suggestions most welcome).
The Illustrated Mumby Jacqueline Wilson
A Note of Madnessby Tabitha Suzuma
A Voice in the Distance by Tabitha Suzuma
My Mum's from Planet Pluto by Gwyneth Rees.
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Boneland by Alan Garner (though I'm told this is not strictly a children's/YA book)
***Mental by Sherry Ashworth
Girl, Aloud by Emily Gale
*** Mental is actually about schizophrenia, I realise now I've read it, but I'm leaving it on the list as it's a very good book.
Remember, these are for children/YA and I've restricted the condition to bipolar (except for Sherry Ashworth's Mental - see above). And I certainly don't claim that the list is complete. Nor have I read them all (yet). I'm currently enjoying Gwyneth Rees's My Mum's from Planet Pluto, which I'd strongly recommend. But I can't help noticing how few titles there are...
It concerns me that there aren't more. I said earlier that it would have helped me, as a child, if I'd been able to read about someone like me. I'm pleased to say that books for children featuring other kinds of conditions and disabilities are growing in number (though we still need more). We need, in my opinion, both issue-tackling books and books that treat the condition as a background thing - not the focus of the book but something one of the characters just happens to have.
It's the same with mental health. We need children's/YA books that delve deep into the condition (in a way appropriate for the target age-group, of course). But we need characters in books who just happen to have bipolar disorder (or depression or schizophrenia, etc) too. We need books that treat these conditions with gentle humour - combined, of course, with respect. I can laugh at my depression, at least some of the time. Often humour is part of the way we come to terms with things. We need books with 'heroic' endings (character overcomes all the challenges) and ones that are more true to life, while always offering hope. And in order to get this variety - we need LOTS MORE BOOKS. Sorry to shout, but we do.
So come on, children's authors... and publishers. By the time World Mental Health Day comes round next year, let's see a lot more books for children, YA (and adults) on the subject of bipolar disorder and, more generally, on mental health.
I believe there's a role for many of us in helping to remove the stigma attached to mental health conditions that, almost unbelievably, is still present in our society today.
We all have minds, after all, just as we all have backs.
Note: My own contribution to the bipolar list has just come out. It's for adults and it's called Alexa's Song. You can see it on Amazon UK and download it for Amazon Kindle for £2.54.
I’m so excited about an answer to my pain condition, a condition aggravated by decades of sitting at a desk. If you’ve read my blog very long (or my Writer’s First Aidor More Writer’s First Aid), then you know I talk about health issues for writers.
I’ve had headaches, upper back pain, and neck pain (and multiple surgeries)–and all these conditions are made worse by hours slumped at a desk. (Yes, no matter how straight my posture is at the beginning, it’s not long before my shoulders are rounded and my head is forward.)
I wish I had taken out stock in Excedrin years ago. I’m sure I’ve kept them in business.
My New Exciting Work Station
My dear writing friend, Maribeth Boelts, wrote to me a couple months ago about her new treadmill desk. It was helping her with a chronic pain condition of her own, and she urged me try it. I researched the idea (see sources below), read about the benefits, saw how some writers had constructed their own inexpensive treadmill desks, and decided to try it.
Maribeth had assured me she got the knack of typing while walking in less than 15 minutes. I figured I would give it a week–I don’t think I’m that coordinated. But she was right–it took less than 15 minutes!
She also mentioned that the constant walking took care of her “ants in the pants” feeling while sitting at a desk. I have found that to be true too. I think better when I’m moving, and since you’re always walking, you don’t feel the “itch” to get up all the time. In fact, I use a timer now to remind myself after an hour to get off and walk on “dry land.” The first week I had the desk, I worked once for three hours without stopping, and it took a while to get my “sea legs” back when I got off. But what a nice problem to have! Concentrating too long!
Dangers of Sitting
ANew York Times article sums up some dangers of sitting all day–and this also applies to people who exercise at a gym or run:
“It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting – in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home – you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.”
And consider this from “Sitting All Day: Worse for You Than You Might Think”: “If you’re sitting, your muscles are not contracting, perhaps except to type. But the big muscles, like in your legs and back, are sitting there pretty quietly,” Blair says. And because the major muscles aren’t moving, metabolism
Publisher’s description: Ever since he rescued her from Certain Death, Rose Brier has had a crush on Ben Denniston, otherwise known as Fish. But Fish, struggling with problems of his own, thinks that Rose should go looking elsewhere for a knight in shining armor. Trying to forget him, Rose goes to college, takes up with a sword-wielding band of brothers, and starts an investigation into her family’s past that proves increasingly mysterious. Then a tragic accident occurs, and Fish, assisted by Rose’s new friends, finds himself drawn into a search through a tangle of revenge and corruption that might be threatening Rose’s very life. The climax is a crucible of fear, fight, and fire that Fish must pass through to reach Rose and conquer his dragons.
It is difficult to capture the essence of this story coherently because it touches upon so many aspects of life. There is the mystery, of course, and continuing depth of family loyalty amongst the Briers. The craziness of those first years experienced when young adults leave their nest and venture into the outer world of college life, whether as newbie freshmen or advanced graduate students. Unlikely friendships as the strong nurture the weak with Kateri mentoring Donna in her mental illness, and Rose guiding Fish through abuse recovery. Fish’s loyalty to Rose, taken to the extreme, becomes unforgiving. But then self-denigration turns into enlightenment and hope.
And after all of that is said, we are left with the relationship of Fish and Rose finally reaching a neat and tidy conclusion :>)
The girls have progressed in the series to young adults. Blanche just married Bear and Rose is off to college. Fish continues in his college program too. Doman shows us the challenges young adults face when they first enter the world on their own, particularly in making friends and exploring crushes. We can imagine ourselves engaged in the chit chat and horseplay typical in budding relationships. Important also is the picture implanted in our mind of courtship.
Throughout the story, we can see the existence of three pillars: faith, family and friends. Whenever one of these pillars is weakened, internal conflict and unsafe situations arise. Maintaining the balance, we see Rose’s keen ability for discernment that has been honed as a result of consistency in faith life, family home “culture, and choice of friends. Her discernment is key to good decisions, keeping safe, etc.
Going beyond stereotypes, the dialogue paints a clear picture of the perceptions held by non-Christians against Christians, countered with a realistic portrayal of the passionate young Christian student. Previous books portrayed ac
In her forthcoming memoir, Blue Nights, Joan Didion remembers the way her daughter’s (above, left) psychiatric diagnosis kept changing. Manic depression became OCD; OCD became something else, something she can’t remember now, but something that ultimately gave way to many other conditions before “the least programmatic of her doctors settled on one that actually seemed to apply”: borderline personality disorder.
Diagnosis never seems to lead to a cure, Didion observes, only an enforced debility. But as with a psychiatric evaluation of herself conducted in 1968 and excerpted in The White Album (and quoted in part below), Didion sees and reflects on the truths of the assessment even as she ponders it at arm’s length.
I’ll have much more to say about her new book when it’s out in November, but this paradoxical blend of skepticism, acceptance, and astringent detachment in matters pertaining to psychology and its insights and connection to the culture, has always characterized Didion’s writing. It’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to her work.
In the title essay of The White Album, the one that begins with the famous line “We tell ourselves stories in order the live,” she recalls “a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, a common condition, but one I found troubling.” She continues:
I was supposed to have a script, and had mislaid it. I was supposed to hear cues, and no longer did. I was meant to know the plot but all I knew was what I saw: flash pictures in variable sequence, images with no “meaning” beyond their temporary arrangement, not a movie but a cutting-room experience. In what would probably be the mid-point of my life I wanted still to believe in narrative and in the narrative’s intelligibility, but to know that one could change the sense with every cut was to begin to perceive the experience as rather more electrical than ethical…
Another flash cut:
In June of this year patient experienced an attack of vertigo, nausea, and a feeling that she was going to pass out… The Rorschach record is interpreted as describing a personality in process of deterioration with abundant signs of failing defenses and increasing inability of the ego to mediate the world of reality and to cope with normal stress… Emotionally, patient has alienated herself almost entirely from the world of other human beings. Her fantasy life appears to have been virtually completely preempted by primitive, regressive libidinal preoccupations many of which are distorted and bizarre… In a technical sense basic affective controls appear to be intact but it is equally clear that they are insecurely and tenuously maintained for the present by a variety of defense mechanisms including intellectualization, obsessive-compulsive devices, projection, reaction-formation, and somatization, all of which now seem inadequate to their task of controlling or containing an underlying psyhotic process and are therefore in process of failure. The content of patient’s responses is highly unconventional and frequently bizarre, filled with sexual and anatomical preoccupations, and basic reality contact is obviously and seriously impaired at times. In quality and level of sophistical patients responses are characteristic of those of individuals of high average or superior intelligence but she is now functioning intellectually in impaired fashion at barely average level. Patient’s th
The tension you feel at the beginning of a project–that itch to “go for it!”–seems like a positive sign to me. So what is the “unhappy” part those authors were talking about in their book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path? And, emailers asked me, why did I feel that tension after selling forty books?
Ignorance Was Bliss
During my student work for ICL, I told three of my class assignments. It was fun! I expected to sell them and kept submitting till I did. Thankfully, there was no Internet in those days, and I didn’t know any other writers who told me I couldn’t make a living at this.
I was naive, yes, but it helped! I just assumed that if I worked hard at the writing, I could have a paying career doing it. I saw setbacks and rejections as part of the process on the way to getting what I wanted. (And yes, it had to pay to make up for me not teaching anymore in the public schools.)
To answer one man’s email question, I think my excitement at the beginning is now tempered with reality. I’m not the naive writer I was at the beginning–and to be honest, I miss that phase at some points.
At this stage of my writing career, I realize that starting a new project IS exciting–but it brings other things along with the excitement:
hard work, neck cramps, and back aches
risks that may not pay off
loneliness as I get closer to the deadline
letting go of lunches, grandkid overnights, and other fun temporarily
having the project misunderstood and/or criticized
But is this bad? NO!! It’s good to know this!
Now I have no surprises that derail me. I’m not shocked when I get bogged down in the middle. I’m not greatly disappointed by having to give up some social things so that I can get enough rest and write in the morning. I don’t expect everyone to be as excited by my idea as I am.
I know the harder aspects are just part and parcel of the writing life. You acknowledge them when they happen and move on. They’re no longer a big deal–and to me, that’s a very good thing.
During the 1988 Jamboree encampment of 32,000 Boy Scouts, one troop (38 Scouts) led the entire Jamboree in cuts treated at the medical tent.
The huge number of nicks from busy knives sounded negative until someone toured the camp and saw the unique artistic walking sticks each boy in that troop had made. They led the entire encampment in other kinds of games, too.
Wounds simply mean that you’re in the game. It’s true for Boy Scouts–and it’s true for writers as well.
I know an excellent writer who has revised a book for years–but won’t submit it, even though everyone who has read it feels the book is ready. What benefit does she get from that? She never has to face rejection. She never has to hear an editor say, “This is good–but it needs work.” She never has to read a bad review of her book, or do any speaking engagements to promote her work, or learn how to put together a website.
She will also never feel the exhilaration of holding her published book in her hands. She won’t get letters from children who tell her how much her book means to them and has helped them. She won’t get a starred review or win an award or do a book signing. She won’t move on and write a second (and third and fourth) book.
Paying the Price
If you want to be a writer, you have to get into the game and risk a few wounds. Figure out ways to bandage them and recover from them, but don’t be afraid of getting them. They’re simply a sign that you’re a writer. Wear the battle scars proudly!
What part(s) of the writing life make you want to stay on the sidelines and out of the line of fire?
Crystal Godfrey LaPoint is an accomplished composer and artist. For over three decades she has suffered from the dark legacy of depression. A survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault, Crystal is now a tireless advocate for survivors of relationship violence and for destigmatizing mental illness. She currently resides in Fitchburg, Massachusetts with her husband.
TCBR: I’m of the understanding that you are an accomplished composer and artist. Can you share a little on your background and how you became a children’s book writer?
Crystal Godfrey LaPoint: I was a musician from the age of 6 when I began my training as a classical pianist. I continued my studies through my late 20’s, earning a BMus and MMus in Piano Performance as well as an MMus in Composition and Theory from the Syracuse University School of Music. Along the way I also studied violin, voice, and organ. I have always been very active as a performer, including solo recitals, choral accompanying, and chamber music concerts. And I am a widely published, commissioned, and award-winning composer, working primarily in choral, chamber, and orchestral music. My career as a visual artist began much later in life – my early 40’s – and I am entirely self-taught as a digital artist. My work originates with my own photographic images, which I then digitally transform into a very stylistically diverse portfolio. To date, I’ve created over 100 images, many of which have been exhibited, sold, and garnered several awards.
That is clearly a circuitous path to becoming the author of a children’s book in my early 50’s! The seed for “When My Mommy Cries” was planted when I began doctoral studies in Fine Arts & Social Justice Education at SU. I was taking a class called “Teaching Against Oppression”, and became intrigued by the notion of how educational materials designed for young people could be used as resources for the purpose of achieving social justice. My specific thought was about a children’s book to help inform young people about mental illness and help destigmatize it. As the book took shape in my mind, it almost immediately defaulted to my own personal experiences as the child of parents with depression, and being a depressed, single mother of three, myself. From that point on, the dream took on a life of its own.
I’m sorry to hear that you are a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. Your efforts of becoming an advocate for survivors of relationship violence and for destigmatizing mental illness are commendable. Your background is obviously your inspiration behind When My Mommy Cries. Was this a difficult book for you to write?
“When My Mommy Cries” was not at all difficult to write. In fact, as in all authentic creative expressions, it felt as though it wrote itself. It was a bit painful to revisit the experiences that had shaped my childhood and unfortunately, visited their oppression again upon my adult life. But the response I took
Who ever heard of that? We all stare at the numbers on the panel waiting for our floor # to flash and then push out the doors rapid-fire. No matter how few floors, elevators always seem too slow, like watching a pot of water come to boil.
But today the elevator ride was too short. Too quick for me to act.
I’m in Denver, in the midst of some of the tallest young ladies under 20 I’ve ever seen. It is the US national volleyball tournaments and I’ve been surrounded by these impressive teens everywhere I go. Healthy, clean cut, pleasantly mannered, each having lots of fun with family & friends.
Except one, who looked about 16.
She followed me into the elevator, then her parents. They stood in front of us with their back to her. Their daughter. Dad started saying she had her worse day ever, clearly talking about her performance in the day’s match. She said her serves were bad but her total day wasn’t bad. Not everything she did was bad. Her mom scoffed, glancing at her and made some cutting wisecrack. They stomped out of the elevator deriding her, and she following in their dust saying Fine, be that way.
When it first started, I waited to see how she reacted to them. Amazingly competent. Clearly hurt and hurting badly, yet maintained composure and didn’t lash out at them. They couldn’t see how hurt she was BECAUSE THEY WOULDN’T LOOK AT HER OTHER THAN TO GIVE HER PARTING GLARES, but surely, as parents, they knew it in their hearts. I tried to open my mouth, to tell her how honored I was to be next to one of the best in the entire country regardless of how lousy her day was. The doors opened and they left before I could croak out a sound.
She shuffled behind them with her head hanging down. Isn’t it bad enough to know her teammates will likely rib her too? That, in her eyes, the whole world saw her lousy serves? That she needed their hugs more than anything today and instead they ganged up on her like bullies? With parents like that, who needs enemies?