Monday, April 4, 2011
I've always been able to write when depressed. I've always been able to function at work- just getting through the day to the best of my ability. Perhaps it's because for the most part I've always had jobs that I was so overqualified for I could do them in my sleep. What kept me going was knowing when I got home I could write for hours on end. It was lovely. I am, by nature, somewhat of a hermit, an introvert. I would be perfectly happy to be stranded on an island with no other human company if I had my books, paper and pens to write with and a cat or two.
Since my kidneys failed, I sleep an average of 18 hours a day. It might be from the kidneys, it might be from depression. Sheer depression, I don't want to wake. I will only get up when the cat runs across my bladder, hitting it hard and reminding me it's time to go to the toilet.
I don't know what I would be able to do if I didn't write. It was the only thing I was ever good at, as a child, I would spend a lot of time alone, I never really bonded with the other children my age. I would make up stories and by the time I was 7 I had started out of the juvenile books to the adult books, starting with authors who started with A and reading everything in the library.
School, other than English classes was hard. Math was the worst. I was expected to do two hours of homework a night by High School, and an hour of clarinet on top of that. When it was done, I had a journal, which was my best friend and I wrote all night long until 11 when the lights were turned off. Then listen to talk radio- back in the day when WOR radio had Jean Shepard, Bob and Ray, and Long John Neville. I didn't sleep, I lived on fumes, and dreamed of the places from the books I would visit when I was 17 and out of school. I've written I was bullied, first from the fact I was one of the youngest girls in my class, and by 8th grade I had a full blown bosom, when the other girls , a lot older were stuffing Kleenex into their bras. I prefered to be alone, and got teased for that. And so on and so on.
I went to college/uni because I didn't want to work, it was the lesser of two evils. And for the first time in my whole entire life, I was happy. Genuinely happy. For now I had professors who actually knew something, not the awful teachers I had who were draft dodgers and had not gotten out Vietnam by teaching would have done something else. By the time I got them , the war was winding down, and for the most part, they stayed with a few more years before leaving to go into the private sector, where they wouldn't be destroying children's dreams by their ignorance and complete inability to impart knowledge to minds that were as soft as sponges and like sponges, trying to absorb it all.
I graduated with honors, and finagled a grad assistantship that paid for my tuition and housing. I taught Sunday School and cleaned houses on the side, and tutored high school kids for the SAT and Achievement tests in the summer. In three years, I had two degrees, I was completely manic at this point, existing on coffee, sleeping three hours a night and taking 12 courses a semester, including summers. I was happy. I didn't know I was like a watch that was wound too tight, going to fast, and about to break.
I broke during the time I was defending my thesis. I was going for a MA in English Lit, and when it came time to submit a thesis, I handed in three names to the department for them to pick. Joyce, Tennyson and Dickens. Joyce, was pooh poohed, wasted on a MA and should be saved for a PhD. As for the latter two, I did love them to bits, but they were- well, everyone does them. Why not an American writer? Because I don't like them, other than Salinger, it's the Brits that speak to me. American writers prior to 1950 for the most part bored me.
It was then my advisor gave me a very bad piece of advice. Try Raymond Carver, he suggested, handing me a copy of "Cathedral". He's writing now and there's hardly any lit crit on him.
I picked Carver. For those in school - never do a thesis on a living author. Wait til they are dead, at least a couple of decades. While I did fall in love with Carver's writing, it wasn't the time to be doing him. It became the thesis from hell. By sheer stubbornness I stayed with it, while part of me begged to go to the English Dept and ask for a "safer" author, like Dickens or Hardy.
And so it went. Last semester, filling out applications for PhD schools, where I stated flat out I wanted to study Joyce; writing a thesis from Heck, and finishing a stage in my life. Then the s**t hit the fan. The guy I was dating dumped me. He was my first boyfriend, it was the first time my heart was broken. The exams were all passed, orals, writtens, foreign language requirement. Just the thesis was still not quite right. Never worry, I still had two more weeks before it was due. Then the impossible, something I am not comfortable writing about, but I was raped one night going to my car from teaching a class- to this day, it's like something out of Faulkner to me, and I why I will never wear the color pink, and a mini skirt.
And like a watch, that is overwound, the springs exploded. I was almost 23. I handed in the thesis, went back to the apartment I shared knowing the roomate would be gone all weekend. A bottle of vodka, mixed with orange juice and pills. Note left on the night table.
Woke up by the police on Monday when I missed class, brought to hospital, in a semi coma, stomach pumped, and then six weeks in hospital, where I heard for the first time I was "manic-depressive".
Since then I've seen 28 different shrinks, and been on over 40 different drugs. I've been in hospital 5 times. I've not had a good shrink, I am jealous of those who have had. Mine have destroyed me, first telling me I couldn't go on for a PhD, I should take a year off. Of course, I never went back. It would be too stressful, you cannot do it. I was told I would never have a full life, I would never accomplish anything, I've peaked. My parents were advised to put me in a state hospital because I would never be able to hold down a job, or do anything with my life. I was put on med after med after med, which side effects made me go from a slender 105 lbs to an obese 220.
This is one of the reasons I started blogging. I noticed there was a plethora of blogs by twenty somethings, and they all were so different than I was twenty years earlier. The diagnosis of "manic depression" in 1986 was a Scarlet Letter, it was a cancer, it was a death sentence. In 2006 I noticed it was just a label to them, attitudes had changed, and it wasn't talked about in hush hush tones like it was when I was diagnosed. Things had changed for the better. I don't want people to forget what it was like.
My ex once told me I could write about mania and despair better than anyone else he knew. I wanted someone, who did not suffer from this, to understand it. Maybe they had a sister, a wife, a mother, a co-worker, who was bipolar, and wanted to understand it. And that's what I did. Or tried to. Maybe I should have stayed with this. I look on my blog roll, and the other blogs I read, and there really aren't any by anyone over 50. Or even 45. I wish there were more writers out there in that age bracket. Maybe they are like me, ashamed of the label. Had their original dreams destroyed and had to rebuild with new ones.
Or maybe they just don't make it to 50. This is a fear of mine. Maybe they are like me, body worn out by decades of drug use, P-docs who only prescribe drugs and don't care about the side effects and still tell patients to quit meds cold turkey and go on to another drug. People who are psychiatrists, who became psychiatrists because they couldn't pass to become surgeons.
Which leads me to the present. I'm on disability, I long to be off to work again. My body is too broken right now I would have to work from home. In the last few years, I am both anemic and borderline leukemia from side effects. (Only a blonde would have blood cells that cannot figure out which way to go). My kidneys failed, and my bladder still isn't working right. I haven't been manic in about three years, a few bits of hypomania, but nothing proper mania. Just depressed. Constantly depressed, with the last three months suicidal existential anguish.
And the only two things keeping me alive, not going into that good night that I wish I could- are this- this blog and my cat.
I am grateful to whomever took the time to read this, and I want to tell you, you aren't alone.