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Archive for the ‘Non-Fiction’ Category

THE LIGHT AT THE MIDDLE OF THE TUNNEL
By Jenny Ann Fraser

Who I Am Today

My life is far from perfect. I am 40 years old, single, unemployed and mostly broke. I will never have any children, a sad, but wise decision, and I am not as hopeful as I once was that I will ever fall in love let alone get married.

I have great friends, and a close family and yet I have never not been lonely. I don’t know that I will ever be capable of not being lonely, but I am optimistic that I can learn.

Still, I am pretty much ok with right now. I like my life these days even when I don’t like my life circumstances.

I love myself.

It is like owning a well of joy that I can always pull from, no matter how far I have to reach down into it to drink.

I wouldn’t give up my new-found well of self-love, not even if Jonathan Rhys Meyers himself offered to whisk me off to an English estate where I could live out the rest of my life like a Queen.

Who I Was

I’m not sure how it is that I suffered with depression, and anxiety since I was a small child without it being obvious to the adults around me, but I did. It was not due to neglect, or a lack of love in my life. I had great parents and despite an education system which is traditionally not good for students like me, still, I had good teachers.

Somehow, I was born a master at hiding. Hiding my thoughts, feelings and fears to the best of my abilities made sense, as it was difficult enough to fit in without showing my true self. That plan worked until I neared the last few years of my twenties by which time the facade had worn out and I could no longer pretend that I could cope.

Years of reading self-help books, and discovering an interest in and an aptitude for psychology led me to correctly self-diagnose my ADHD, but did nothing to alleviate any of my problems.

Anxiety was my constant minute by minute companion. I lived every moment with my heart racing, my blood pounding in my ears, my mouth dry, and my throat clenched. I could sleep for a few hours at a time, often waking up in a state of complete panic with chest pains and difficulty breathing. I blamed myself for this, even though I knew no better way to be. Despite all I was going through, the most difficult part for me was to get through each day without choosing to end my life. I saw very little reason to continue.

I hated myself, and absolutely everything about me. My boyfriend had ended our relationship and I had pushed away (or run away from) all of my friends. I hid what was happening from my family as I always had. I hated everything about myself, and often didn’t eat. I weighed 92 lbs.

One desperate night I made a desperate call to a 24 hour hotline and without realizing it, I saved my own life.

How I Got Here

Shortly after that phone call, I started seeing and excellent psychologist who specialized in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and had a lot of experience with both adults and children with ADHD. I was in this instance in my life truly lucky.

I was lucky, because I felt that my situation left me no one to lean on let alone depend on, so I had no choice but to get better. At my worst, I couldn’t leave my apartment, but I worked at home because I had no where to go if I didn’t earn money. I listened to my therapist, because there was no one else who had any answers. She told me I could get better and I believed her, because not getting better wasn’t an option I could live with.

In the beginning, I took anti-depressant medication, and Ritalin for my ADHD. These drugs made eating even more difficult, though they helped me climb my way out of the pit that had swallowed me up whole so that I could learn how to heal. I was finally able to live without medication, though I would go back in an instant if I needed to.

I learned to become aware of the thoughts that created my anxiety and depression. I learned how to challenge those negative beliefs and replace them with new ones.

I read books on Neuroscience and Psychology and began to comprehend what was physically happening in my brain and my body. Facing one small fear at a time, from the smallest to the largest, I moved forward and found new ways to think which resulted in new ways to live.

When my anxiety had faded to the point where I could work again, I ended up getting a job with more responsibility than the job which had pushed me over the edge in the first place. I’ve been there, working successfully under increasing stress for 10 years (it’s a seasonal position which explains my current unemployment). I cope with whatever comes my way at work.

I started to face larger fears, things I could have avoided, like 4 years of classical guitar lessons which was the equivalent of paying a teacher to watch me have a panic attack every week for 30 minutes, but I didn’t quit until I finally had those panic attacks under control.

Then, I moved onto the truly scary. I started studying classical voice, and even sang solo in several recitals. There, I learned to pull through, panic or no panic and singing has become one of my greatest loves, anxiety be damned! It has stolen enough of my life.

I made a commitment in 1993, to dedicate myself to growing and learning so that I might contribute as much as possible while I’m here. I converted to Judaism, and practiced for a few years, but moved away when I found that it wasn’t helping me to find the peace that I so desperately crave. From there, I have delved deeply into non-denominational spirituality and have found contemplation, meditation, gratitude and compassion to be the key to anything and everything that is good in my life.

I realized that despite my problems past or present, I am growing, moving forward and contributing. I have let go of my debilitating perfectionism and learned to be happy with where I am. I am no longer ashamed of who I was, nor the mistakes I made, am still making and will make in the future. I am instead proud of all that I have accomplished.

Over the years I have slowly evolved into something greater than the girl who starved herself down to 92lbs because she didn’t think she deserved food. She seems like someone I met 12 years ago. Not someone I was.

My life is still difficult in many ways. Anxiety can rear it’s ugly head in certain predictable circumstances and sometimes when I least expect it, but it is nothing compared to what I used to live with each moment. The physical symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable but I can now compare it to a deep scratch as opposed to multiple stab-wounds. I truly look forward to the day when anxiety truly is a part of my past.

My age, and changing hormones have opened a new chapter in my story of depression but I know me now. Depression is part of my story, but I am not my story. I am careful, and I watch. I watch my thoughts, I question them. I work each day to change what doesn’t serve me. I work to accept what I cannot change. I know that it is my job to stay out of the pit and and I will never need to hit the bottom before I will reach out for help again. I know how to find it and I’m never afraid to ask.

ADHD is a constant in my life. I choose (most of the time) not to think of it as a disorder, but just a part of my personality.
Concentration is extremely hard for me still at times and hyper-activity is my constant companion. It keeps me fit, is definitely the source of my creativity, my humour and my ambition.

I talk too much, but that gets easier as I grow in awareness so I don’t worry too much about it as long as I’m not hurting anyone. I can’t keep a space organized to save my life it seems, but I keep trying, and I’m ok with the fact that I may never live in a show home, (or a show castle for that matter).

I don’t beat myself up over my short-comings. Instead, I find myself asking if my so-called faults really have a negative affect on my life or others. I no longer worry because others perceive me as not being “normal”. I really have no desire to be “normal” even though I have to admit that I don’t know what it is. It sounds boring, so I’ll pass.

Where I am Today

These days, I am the self-crowned queen of my own personal castle. This would be why I would actually kick Jonathan Rhys Meyers out of bed for eating crackers. Clearly, I don’t need him.
My castle is a fortress with high strong walls, a moat, and a drawbridge to protect me from the evil dragon Depression who often lies just outside it’s front gate.
The damp cold of anxiety has little chance due to geo-thermal heating and energy-efficient triple-paned windows.
ADHD is welcome in my castle, and anyone who has a problem with it is not a problem for me. After all, I am the Queen.

I am both the Queen, and my own team of soldiers whose job it is to watch which thoughts are allowed to pass through and what they do when they get there.

If I am not diligent. The dragon will make his way in, but still, if that were to happen, I have a great collection of weapons which will stop him before he has the chance to burn down my walls. I don’t worry about what might happen. I deal with what is, the best way I know how.

Jenny Ann Fraser is a costumer for Theatre Dance and Film. She lives with her cat Angus in Winnipeg Canada.
She is also a a budding entrepreneur, new to writing, and creator of the blog Arriving at Your Own Door.
She can’t wait to see what she does next…

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Marilyn Geary is a personal historian and writer. In her documentary film, Marin Mind/Scapes : Stories of Art, Nature, and Wellness, professional and amateur artists speak of their art, their creative process, and how Marin County’s natural beauty has inspired their work and influenced their lives. SOS had the good fortune to do an interview with Marilyn!

Marilyn, first of all, let me say that I am absolutely thrilled and honored that you have agreed to do this e-interview for SOS. I know that women everywhere reading what you have to say will be inspired and empowered.

With that, let’s get started!

 1. Please tell us a little about your new project Marin Mind/Scapes. What do you hope that people will get out of it?

Thank you, Sandhya, for inviting me to do this interview and for the wonderful work you are doing with SOS: Sisterhood of Strength to encourage women with mental illness to express their creativity.

 The Marin Mind/Scapes project has several goals. I conducted oral history interviews with eight Marin County landscape artists, some of whom are recovering from severe mental illness. The oral histories complement the visual works of the artists by preserving the artists’ stories and reflections on their work. They are archived in the Anne T. Kent California History Room oral history archives. Decades and perhaps even centuries from now, researchers will access these oral histories to get a glimpse of what it was like to be a Marin County artist in 2010.

From the oral histories, we created a 30-minute documentary featuring the artists speaking of how artistic expression and nature has affected their sense of mental well-being. By showing artists with a mental illness in the mainstream, we aim to help reduce the stigma of mental illness while boosting self-esteem and increasing hope for recovery among mental health clients.

 2. Do you have a personal history with mental illness? Would you mind sharing that with us?

I don’t mind sharing this at all now, but at the time, I was very ashamed. I cut off all contact with my close friends for many years. I had a psychotic break in my early twenties and was hospitalized for several weeks. I was extremely paranoid. I thought I was dead, everyone was dead, and we were all stuck in an everlasting purgatory.

In recent years, I tried to locate my hospital records, but they are long gone, so I do not know my diagnosis. I was treated with Thorazine and Stellazine. I was extremely resistant to the meds. I thought that Thorazine came from the god Thor and Stellazine came from the stars in outer space and that the psych techs were guards at Dachau. Everything was conspiring to get me, and I wanted none of it. I was placed in a strait-jacket in a padded cell for non-compliance. I feel fortunate that I was not given electro-shock therapy, as were several of the patients in the ward.

I suppose the insurance ran out, as I was released after a few weeks. I was more stable but still very unsure of where I was and where I was going. I did not want to be “crazy” but suffered several relapses and ended up back in my childhood home with my parents. During this time, I was on and off meds.  I did not want to take the medication as it made me feel groggy and stupid.  I had a deep need to be “normal” and get my life and career going again. My friends were getting jobs and getting married, and I did not want to be left behind, so I pushed myself forward to “get back on track.”

Over the ensuing years, I’d occasionally hear voices and hallucinate, but I would hold on tight and do a reality check. Was that statue really waving and calling out to me? Maybe, but I would try to ignore it. Somehow I was able to get through without another hospitalization. For many years I lived in fear and avoided any situations I thought might trigger a severe relapse. The man I married provided strong support and security that helped enormously. I am very grateful for my recovery.

I also suffered from panic attacks, particularly on bridges and freeways. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, my activities were largely confined to the city, since I could not drive the bridges crossing the bay. I frequently took the El Camino Real route down to visit my parents in the Santa Clara Valley, enduring several hours of stop and go traffic for what would take about an hour on the freeway.

Over the years, I have desensitized myself to my fear of heights, bridges and freeway driving. I am now able to drive nearly everywhere without fear, except for the Bay Bridge and a narrow stretch of Highway One north of Jenner on the California coast.  I challenge myself when driving to new places. I make good use of maps to familiarize myself with the terrain and road conditions and plan alternate routes if I think the route will be too scary. I am very thankful that over time I have been able to overcome most of my driving fears. It has given me a much greater sense of control and capability.

 3. Why have you chosen the medium of documentary to educate people about mental illness?

Studies by the Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research have identified three types of anti-stigma activities: Contact, Education and Protest. Results from studies show that face-to-face contact with individuals with mental illness produces the best anti-stigma results and the most understanding.

Documentary can reach a larger audience and provide a virtual face-to-face contact that can raise awareness and provoke discussion. Each showing to-date of the Marin Mind/Scapes documentary has been followed by a panel discussion. At the de Young Museum showing, an audience member said she could no longer create her art and asked the artists how they dealt with blocks in artistic expression. The artists on the panel, some renowned and others not, including a homeless artist who lives in a tent on a Marin hilltop, participated in the discussion of how to break through blocks to artistic expression. These interactions helped put a face on mental illness and showed the commonality shared by the artists, regardless of circumstances. Not all showings of the documentary will include a panel discussion, but they will show the faces and voices of artists recovering from a mental illness along with those of other artists.

 4. In your experience, broadly speaking, do you find that people with mental illness find art to be therapeutic?

Yes, creating art can be therapeutic for anyone. In the interviews with artists, a common thread emerged: creating art brings focus. The artist is in the moment, not thinking about anything else but creating art. The creative process can engender an altered state in which the creator can re-visualize and heal traumatic wounds. Creative expression can bring a sense of control and satisfaction not found in other activities, although a couple of artists mentioned that creating art can also be frustrating if the resulting work does not match one’s vision. The expressive process requires a certain surrender to the moment and can bring one closer to self.

5. In your opinion, is the world is slowly acclimatizing to co-existing with people with mental illness? Is the stigma still as bad as when you started out on your career path?

 Stigma does appear to be lessening slightly as our culture gains exposure  through films such as A Beautiful Mind, The Soloist and PBS’ This Emotional Life.  Interestingly, the big pharmaceutical companies seem to be playing a major role in this trend.  It’s nearly impossible to leaf through a magazine or flip though the TV channels without coming across ads targeted to people suffering from bipolar disorder. Pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca’s elaborate interactive exhibit entitled The Bipolar Journey: Living with Bipolar Depression was hugely present at the recent NAMI Walk in San Francisco. The exhibit is touring the country with aims to educate about bipolar depression, and of course, promote awareness of Seroquel and AstraZeneca.                                                                          

Medication can be very helpful with symptoms of mental illness, yet the medical community still does not understand the neurobiology of mental illness and how medications actually work. Psychiatrists have abdicated their role as healers, as described in Dr. Daniel Carlat’s new book Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry. Many psychiatrists no longer provide talk therapy and in-depth interaction with their patients. Mental illness can be seen as a dis-ease of the soul, but economics and our society’s predilection for the quick fix of medication means that many people suffer in a fragmented mental health system.

Many people experience their first psychotic break as young adults at a       time when they are experiencing enormous life transitions. The stresses to conform in our society are enormous, yet we lack supportive rituals to guide young people through this difficult time of change. Many young people are reluctant or unable to admit that they have a mental illness, which makes recovery that much more challenging. Having a mental illness is painful enough without suffering from shame and discrimination. No one wants to be labeled “mentally ill,” especially if they are told in their early twenties that it’s a lifetime disease and that they must take medication for the rest of their life so that the symptoms don’t return in even greater strength. Recovery is possible, but so often messages of hope and recovery get lost.

 Stigma will also remain strong as long as we continue to criminalize mental illness. A recent study by the Treatment Advocacy Center states that there are now more than three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals in the United States. Forty percent of individuals with mental illnesses have been in jail or prison at some time in their lives. Our prisons are not healing centers. Having an illness is not a crime. Our society can be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable, and until we recognize the inhumanity of incarcerating those suffering from mental illness, we cannot make significant inroads in reducing stigma. Stamping out the stigma of mental illness involves increasing global consciousness of our shared humanity and our awareness that we are all One. I hope that Marin Mind/Scapes helps with this effort.

Marilyn, thank you so much for agreeing to this mini-interview for SOS. It has been an honor ‘speaking’ with you!

Visit http://marinmindscapes.com/ to learn more about Marilyn Geary’s documentary.

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WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

By Ly Kerr

i’m waging a war
with myself.

there are ceasefires,
but i am currently fighting a battle on two fronts.
there are bound to be casualties.

part of me knows it is time to quit.
i can’t hold this front forever.
it is not possible to make him love me
equally,i can’t make myself stop loving him.
it’s painful to look at someone & see a future i can’t have.

half of me is ready to wave my white flag
and
the other half is prepared to dig in.

and there is the ongoing, dirty squirmish.
CUT
DON’T CUT
emotions lined up on each side of the barricades.
guilt & pain ready to face fear & sadness.
there is no victor.
i lose everytime.

Ly is a 29-year-old woman who has been battling self-harm and depression for 10 years.
She is an aspiring writer with a B.A. (Hons.) in English & History.
She is an animal rights activist and supporter of mental health awareness.
She has an undefinable relationship with an undefinable man.

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THE PIVOTING POINT

By Vivienne Tuffnell

There comes a moment in any life, or even within a life experience, where everything changes. Often it can be a single moment, or series of moments, where the entire universe seems to shift irrevocably from one way of being to another. I call these moments pivoting points and if you look back carefully, you can identify them within your life story. Once you get your eye in, you can often spot them before they happen too.

One of my major pivoting points came when I was nineteen years old. It wasn’t when I  grabbed the pills, nor was it when I first heard the siren. It was when a stranger’s voice broke through the partial silence and darkness and changed things totally for me.

She said, “What are you in for, kid?”

I’d seen her brought in earlier, her face bruised and bloodied and her cotton night dress torn and I’d turned over in my bed and hid my face. You can’t gaze easily on the sufferings of others when your own is self-inflicted, after all.

I wasn’t sure what to say. To put it simply seemed… well, blunt. To try and put it delicately seemed insulting. So I explained in as few words as I could and hoped she would shut up and go to sleep herself. I’d already lain awake, wide-eyed, for hours, head pounding and tears trickling down so regularly my pillow was damp. I wasn’t expecting sleep.

But she didn’t. This voice, a rough Scouse accent made rougher by smoking, became strangely kinder.

“Come over here and tell me about it,” she said.

“I’m not sure I am allowed to,” I said.

“Never mind them, just come over.”

I slipped out of bed, bare feet cold on the tiled floor and came into the shadowy lee of her curtained bed. They’d left the curtains partly drawn, to shield the new woman from the elderly and somewhat senile lady in the next bed. I couldn’t see her well in the dim light and at my age, anyone over thirty was hard to place age-wise. Over thirty for sure, she was dressed in her night things, just as she’d been found. There was blood on the front of the nightie. I’d heard them offer her a hospital gown but she’d refused. There was something dignified about the refusal; a clinging of pride to the rags she’d come into hospital in, clutched almost as holy relics.

“So, what happened?”

Where to start? The thing about suicide attempts is it’s very hard to make someone understand the depth of the pain, and explaining why seldom actually makes it clear quite how much you were hurting. The circumstances often seem trivial to others. I guess it wasn’t the break-up of the relationship that was the final straw; I’d known when I ended it that it was the best move I could make. Some relationships are doomed before they start and that one really was. I’d been doing so well up to the point he got on the same bus as me, and that was when it felt as though a great aching chasm had opened up inside me. But the thing no-one was likely to understand was that the shape of that chasm wasn’t his shape but my own. I had a real shock to realise that all the pain and anguish created by seeing him again was not due to missing him but actually due to missing myself.

Shamanic workers talk about something called Soul Loss. This is where the soul fragments due to trauma and long-term distress. The fragmented soul-part vanishes to a place between the worlds where it feels itself to be safe and stays there until it is retrieved. In the moments on that bus I realised that a pretty hefty chunk of my soul was no longer where it should be and the shock of this triggered a massive emotional meltdown. I couldn’t bear to be myself any more. I hated myself for having allowed this damage to occur and more than anything I simply wanted the pain inside to stop.

So I went home to my flat, counted out tablets and when I realised I didn’t have enough, I went to the pharmacy on the corner and bought more. I realised what I was doing halfway and picked up the phone and called someone. The friend I rang asked me some questions, then he rang and sent an ambulance direct to my flat, called me back and stayed talking to me till the ambulance arrived.

Reaching the hospital, I was offered a choice. I could take some emetics and throw up what I had taken, or have my stomach pumped. I took the emetic option. By some kind chance, another friend who was a nurse was coming off duty as I came in and she stayed with me during the process, held my hair back and helped get me comfortable later.

But it was later in the night when the misery really hit. In the evening, I’d also discovered my period had started, so obviously the whole she-bang was worsened by hormone imbalance, but the headache and the cramps went unrelieved as they couldn’t give me any pain relief. I just lay crying steadily hour after hour and in the small hours, the arrival of the woman opposite made me feel even worse. The nurses were asking her things and I couldn’t help but hear it all. I’d done this to myself but she’d been beaten up and thrown out on the street by her own husband. Guilt compounded my misery.

Sitting on her bed though, she talked to me with such wisdom and understanding and she drew my story out gently and I realised that she and I were sisters in some strange ways. We’d both been victims of steady emotional and physical violence over a fair length of time and had believed we could “change” the guy by loving them. No more. She had two young children to go back to. She knew she’d never change her man but the prison doors of her life were as harsh as real steel.

“You’ve got a chance to live,” she said, the next morning. “You’ve got away. I can’t. I have my babies to go back for; I can’t leave. I’ve tried. Your way and others.”

She showed me her wrists, ropey with thick scar tissue.

“Promise me something, darlin’,” she asked when I came over to say goodbye.

I nodded.

She took my hands in hers and looked me in the eye.

“Live,” she said. “Live for yourself and live for me.”

I don’t think I ever asked her name. I suspect she may well be dead by now; that’s twenty five years ago. But whenever I reach the point where the gap inside me that should be filled with a soul fragment that had fled for safety when life has become unendurable becomes painful again, I think of her and bless her unknown name and give thanks that out of her unimaginable pain she had wisdom and compassion for a young woman whose own life had become agony beyond bearing.

Vivienne Tuffnell is a writer, poet, and mystic currently living in Suffolk, England. Despite suffering depression since the age of six, Vivienne works as a teacher and tour guide through England and Europe, and is known for a wicked sense of humour and her trademark lion’s mane of blonde hair.

She has recently published a novel, Strangers and Pilgrims, billed by many as “a book to mend broken hearts”. It is available from www.viviennetuffnell.co.uk. Vivienne has had poetry, articles, and short stories published around the world. Her writing reflects both her life experience and her mystical side, drawing her readers into the world of her characters and keeping them there long after the story ends.

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COMFORT HASN’T FAILED TO FOLLOW SO FAR

By Ly Kerr

i have a large oval shaped peach tin. it is pretty. it originally contained a selection of almond hand products, meaning it smells nice.

it now contains a selection of very different products.
hundreds upon hundreds of used blades. neatly packed into little sleeves, in groups of five. taped together and hoarded, for reasons i do not completely understand.

they live along side various needles.
some large hollow needles,which pierce my skin like butter and leave satisfying holes.
some smaller, more precise needles designed to draw blood from veins.
there is a cheery collection of colourful dressmaking pins. ideal for creating my own bizarre flesh pin cushion.
nestled amongst these items is a jewellery box. a long thin box that once proffered a gold bracelt. now the perfect storage solution for scalpel handles. two sleek insturments, one always weilding a blade. ready. its partner empty. waiting.

and of course, the final treat in my box of treasures. the thing that makes my stomach fizz to think about, hundreds of fresh, sterile 10a swann & morton scalpel blades. waiting patiently inside their gold foil.

a sick little tin. my greatest ally & worst foe.
i am constanlty aware of its presence in the next room. cannot for one second stop thinking about how easy it would be to flip off that lid. there is no escaping the the memories of my ritual. breaking the seal on a new blade, peeling back it’s shiny sheath. loading my tool of choice.

i want to feel the anticipation as i scan my skin for the right spot. steady my hand, clear my mind….

and strike.

one quick fluid motion. total control. the hot flash as i slice through my flesh. the indescribable relief as the wound gapes and my blood emerges. dark, dark blood. filling the gash. slowly pooling before sliding down my skin. warm, wet release.

i’d watch. savour the visual impact of the crimson stripe on my pale body. wallow in the moments peace. let the blood flow, drip to the floor. just for a moment, until the urge returns…..

and strike

pushing harder. seeking more destruction.
deeper, bigger, wider, better.

and strike
and strike
and strike
and strike
and strike
and strike
and strike

until the blood pours. skin stained red, hands sticky, clothes sodden.
pain, fear, sadness seeping from my wounds.

it has been 11 days.

i have a pretty peach tin, but i must not touch it.

Ly is a 29-year-old woman who has been battling self harm and depression for 10 years. She is an aspiring writer, an animal rights activist, and supporter of mental health awareness. She has an undefinable relationship with an undefinable man.

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NEW ORLEANS

By Charlotte Cooper

At 7 months pregnant, my Mom gave birth to twins: one born lifeless, one alive. I was the surviving twin, born with blond curly hair, one blue eye and one green. Being the impossible child that I was, I only slept 2 to 4 hours a night.

From the time I started walking at 8 months, I would hide in closets and under the bed, leaving my mother exasperated. At 5, I began to run away. I would spend the night in Mom’s friends’ homes, sleeping in their homes and cars. Mother called the police more times than I care to remember. I would return home, filthy, dirty, and in tattered clothes, telling Mom ludicrous stories about the time I was a pirate, a whore, a priest.

My aunt suggested that my mother send me to my vodoun (voodoo witch) aunt in New Orleans in hopes that she could tame my wildness by teaching me about spells, potions, and other things, such as talking to people who needed help with their lives.

After four years, my mother came to New Orleans and tore me from my aunt’s arms, me screaming, scratching and threatening her with spells that would undo her life. My aunt tried to calm me but it didn’t work. I finally gave up after my aunt and I spent hours and hours begging and pleading my mother to let me stay.

When we arrived home, Mother told me that she was taking me to a shrink, which was a shameful thing back in those days. Actually, she said she was taking me to a “head doctor”. Of course, every time she made an appointment, I would disappear.

I finally agreed to go, and the shrink put me on some kind of medication that made me into a zombie. After that, he suggested to my Mom that maybe I should be put in the local mental institution. Also, he suggested that I be given shock treatments. I didn’t know what that was but it sounded like an unbearable thought to me. So I ran away again.

While staying with a friend, Judith, I met her brother. I was 14, he was 17. We made a baby and the families turned their focus from me to the baby boy I called Joey. Soon after, I was put on Valium, and this made the “crazies” come back. I overdosed twice and had to stay in the hospital’s mental ward.

After I was released, I found a job and a baby-sitter. My husband had joined the Army and was sent to Germany, but I couldn’t take my son and go with him. While he was in Germany, he fell in love with a teacher. She got pregnant and called me, begging that I divorce Joe, Sr. Although I was crushed, I did manage to give her what she wanted.

Life, after that, brought several marriages and 2 more sons born to me. It was necessary for me to work 2 jobs most of the time. That, along with vodka, soothed out my mania.

To add to the pain in my life, my son William died of pneumonia, and Tim was thrown from the back of a truck my then-husband was driving. He died of fatal head injuries. I rolled myself into a ball and stayed there for many days.

You never get over the loss of a child. I still think of my boys every day. The pain is near unbearable. It never goes away.

After that, I was a legal secretary for an array of attorneys. Learning about law was interesting at first, but turned boring after a few months. I quit and went to truck driving school. I fell in love with Ronnie, one of the other students. After graduating, we drove back and forth to Kemah, Texas to Bayou la Batre, Alabama. After Ron’s and my relationship was over, I moved on to other truck driving jobs. Most of my friends were other truckers. Seldom did I say no to sex. Pot was a staple for me.

Knowing esoteric things about people was fun. At 40-something, I started using my aunt’s spells and powers. People from all over the State of Texas would come to me for readings. I loved being able to help people see things that were hidden in the deepest parts of their minds.

At 50-something, my so-called friends began to disappear gradually from my life. I believe that it was because voodoo began to slip back into my life, and they were not believers. I believe they were leeches, grabbing my coattails, but when it got too weird, they were no longer available.

By that time, I didn’t really care. I moved into mainstream life by getting a job as a legal secretary and later as a paralegal. I was strictly on the up and up with my life. When my oldest son, Joey, took his own life, everything seemed to fall apart. I decided I needed a shrink.

They diagnosed me as depressed and treated me with several different medications. All of them made me manic. I didn’t sleep at night and I begin to hallucinate.

I lost my job at the law firm. They gave me an excellent severance package. With it and my 401K, I was able to go to massage therapy school. At the school, I was able to read lives for those who would asked. Then about half-way through massage school, several students decided that I was too scary for their liking. Their talking about me behind my back affected the manic part of my personality, and I withdrew from them.

After graduating from massage school, I embarked on my new career – giving people massages while also doing a reading. It was short-lived because while some liked it, others freaked out.

Finally, I went to MHMR for counseling and diagnosis. At first it was just for depression. The meds made me manic and when I crashed, I became suicidal. We played the med shuffle for 3 years. I finally convinced the doctor that I needed something other than what they were giving me.

He finally suggested that I sign a Court Order which would let me be admitted to the state psychiatric hospital. I was there twice. MHMR assisted me in getting Social Security Disability at 58, and now, at 65, I am on straight Social Security. A group of mental health providers finally found me an agreeable treatment. But even today, they have to tweak my meds occasionally, to help me brain balance itself out.

Charlotte now lives in the country near Corpus Christi, Texas, with her roommate, Bonnie, who Charlotte feels is an angel in disguise. It’s still difficult sometimes when the depression and/or mania shows its ugly face, but Charlotte recognizes its coming and going now. Mostly, life is good and she is happy.


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Photo by Lauren Black

BROKEN DREAMS

By Lauren Black

London, Barcelona, Berlin, Munich, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague… she had always been a city girl at heart. She loved the people, the melting pot atmosphere, walking around the streets at night. She simply enjoyed the anonymity of the lifestyle and the adventures that could be found around very corner.

She had plans for her future… bright dreams swirling around in huge, colorful clouds around her head, that filled her heart with glee and her stomach with a light tingling every time she even thought of it… New York, L.A., San Fancisco… she would no longer be forced to follow the beaten track. She would be the first one of her family to leave that stuffy, suburban life behind… she would stop existing and would start living.

It was a beautiful morning in Paris, although it had already been hot and stifling for days. The streets were buzzing and the people were chatting and laughing… simply enjoying life and everything that came along with it… even if it was a hangover after a long night of partying. Paris just like so many other cities around the globe, never seemed to sleep.

Everyone was apparently just happy, except for a young woman who sat right in the middle of a pavement in Montparnasse. She was so pale that she really could be considered as cadaverous-looking; her upper body was slightly swaying back and forth and her hands were tightly clutching an almost empty water bottle. That was when she got to know the reverse of the anonymity-medal. Everyone who passed her simply just preferred to stare at her, but no one helped, although already half an hour had passed since she had collapsed right there where she still sat in silence, except for a small whimper that escaped her lips now and then every time a wave of nausea broke over her.

At last, a man squatted down beside her: ‘Excusé moi? Do you need help?’

She looked up, desperately trying to focus on what was happening around her, but all she could see was a blurry mash of colors.

A hospital, a handsome doctor and these lights… lights were everywhere… and then, there was just darkness.

‘Miss Black? Miss Black? Don’t you wanna get up? It’s time for your sports therapy.’

I turned around to face the wall and tried to blank out the annoying voice of our dear nurse in charge.

‘Are you ignoring me?’ She stood right in front of my bed looking like some kind of bogey on the prowl. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and tried to go back to sleep, but she wouldn’t let me.

‘You can’t just skip therapy,’ she said sternly, ‘You already missed the group therapy session for NO apparent reason. I’m not gonna let you slouch here while the other patients are out there, working on their well-being. Don’t you wanna get healthy again?’

Was she serious? Get healthy AGAIN? Couldn’t this stupid woman understand that there was no going back? Once a nutcase, always a nutcase. With no dreams to dream and no life to live. The healthy Lauren no longer existed; she had been left behind on the streets of Paris.

She was just a nurse, with dreams to dream and a life to live, with a family and a house and probably everything else a decent person in today’s society needs to rank among the ‘happy ones’. Me and most of the other patients at the Asylum would never have any of these things.

Mental illness is mostly tantamount to loneliness and isolation. Mentally sick people can even be lonely in a crowded room or in an embrace of a loved one, because their way of thinking or talking is different.

Two different worlds.

And because it hurts to be alone, even around people and because it shows you how pathetic you really are, it always seemed to me as if some of us freely chose to be all alone with themselves and their thoughts and their crazyness… when you’re alone, there’s no one around you can compare yourself with. When you’re alone, you’re almost normal.

My perception is not her reality. My reality is not her perception.

‘FUCK OFF!’, I yelled, ‘YOU KNOW SHIT. LEAVE ME ALONE.’

The nurse just looked down at me for a couple of seconds and then, with an affected smile on her face, she said: ‘That’s very disrespectful and I’m disappointed. I think I’d better consult the doctor on call. He’ll be taking care of you. And of course I’m gonna talk to your therapist about this… outburst.’

‘Do what you want’, I spat at her through clenched teeth. ‘Go and get the doctor, I already know him, at least he’s got packages full of pills and not only a mouth full of stupid jabbering.’

Lauren Black (not her real name) was born in 1991. Since her early childhood she has been having issues with anxiety and psychosomatic illnesses. After nearly a decade of incorrect treatment she was diagnosed with severe depression (suspected bipolar disorder) and several anxiety disorders as well as a mild perceptual disorder.

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