Monday, April 4, 2011

Trying to write when it's impossible, a bit more about me

Lately, my writing has been sh*t. I know that, and it upsets me. It seems that since November when my kidneys failed, it's been impossible to write due to illness, and now, impossible to write from depression. And it's not even depression. It's down and out suicidal despair.

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.


Merry_Christmas said...


It is those who of us who know you and read your blog that are thankful. You may recall that I found you when reaching out and searching for more information about a loss that occurred locally with the hope of helping the family. The death was kept quiet and the family doesn't even acknowledge that the father of two school aged children was sick. He "fell" off a boat in Atlantic City while on business. I know more about their father's death than they do. It was very comforting to see that you were out there writing a blog in memory of Kevin and to enlighten the public about mental illness.

As you know we have and continue to encounter misinformation and stigma on a daily basis. It is the brave leaders like you, who are living the battle and speaking out that will make the difference. There are millions of others struggling as well and you are helping them. I know you know this, but I hope that you feel this as well. I wish I had something magic I could say or do to help, but we know that unfortunately we don't know the answer for everybody at every time. I am here for you. I do know that you are loved by many many people. You are helping and I know that they appreciate it. Most of them, you will never know you helped.

Keep the light burning!


Rossa Forbes said...

Susan - You have valid reasons to be depressed. For one, you are suffering the effects of chemical fall-out. That, too, will pass. If it's any consolation, I'm well over fifty and blogging. (Time out for laughing!) I just don't have the same writing talent that you do. Hang in there.

Peace Be With You said...

I love Raymond Carver. Now seeing, post death, his stories before his editor got to them has been a revelation. He was not so minimalist after all. Still great though.

Sorry about your trying times. Your essence shines through regardless.


hopeworks said...

You are a fantastic writer. This is a fantastic piece. I am well over 45 and you speak to me. Would you consider letting me share this piece on my blog.

Larry Drain

Stephany said...

3 cheers for the over 50 and blogging club!

Natalie said...

This is such a beautiful, painful, and hopeful piece. You are an incredibly talented writer (if this is "sh*t" compared to what you have done, then dear god, look out once you're back on your feet!). I have every belief you will recover from the depression and the physical torment, given your sheer determination. I'm so sorry you have been put through so doctors who should have cared for you gently following something horrific like rape, the overwhelming stress of a thesis that wasn't your passion, etc. You should have been offered support, compassion, time, space, and safety...and instead, you were offered just the opposite. I'm so, so sorry for that.

The fact that you are here, passionate and strong, sharing your voice, making so many of us feel less alone, and letting us know the history from which we were nothing short of amazing. Because while you may not feel passionate and strong right now, your words show what is at your core.

Give yourself the time, space, safety, support, and gentle care others should have given you all along. Where you are is a very valid space...your body and soul are hibernating, processing, recovering. Even on the days when it feels like too much, just hold that precious kitty, write your heart out, and keep fighting the good fight.

You are an inspiration, and I feel honored to be able to read your insight and learn from your experiences. Thank you, a thousand times, for being here, healing yourself and helping so many others along the way.

Anonymous said...

Sitting with you and holding you gently in my thoughts.


D Bunker said...

"Maybe they are like me, ashamed of the label."

The only thing that we, as a nation, have to be ashamed of is that the Psychiatric Label & Brain Damage dispensing Collectivist A**holes defrauding every Insurance Carrier they can Bill, aren't already All in the Joint.

Terrific Writing.

flawedplan said...

God damn the sun.

Natasha Tracy said...

Hey hon.

You have writing. You always have writing. One word. One sentence. You always have it. I write words and sentences on the windows. You have it.

And yes, this piece you have shared is beautiful. It echoes what so many others feel and have gone through. I was told at 21 to drop out of university and I probably should have but I'm too hard-headed. I finished my degree in computer science. Took forever.

Things are dark right now. I know that. You know that. But as you said, there are few women in your position writing out there. You stand up for an under-represented group. It is admirable and it is special.

What you're doing is impossible. And you do it. Every day. Because you're amazing. Keep your writing and cats close but remember the others who hold you close too. Out here. In the netherworld.

- Natasha Tracy

David A. Stein said...


You are an amazing writer and you give me hope. I can relate to your experience at university, as I am going through my own faze of burnout/depression/mania. The dean of my school, after being informed that I was Bipolar, sent me a letter telling me that I should move back home with my parents. That I did not have the mental faculties to live on my own, because of my Bipolar Disorder. But I am still here, and like you, all I really have is my cat and my writing.

This was an amazing post! And as I stated above you give me hope. :)

Stay Strong,


Bitter Animator said...

You rock, Susan.

susan said...

@Merry Christmas (AKA Kurtis) thank you. I am blessed to know you in real life. It's good to know I have real friends like you in real life.

@Rossa I thought you were only 39! I understand about the chemical fall out; I still don;t like it.

@Judy, another Carver fan! Yeah! As much as I love his short stories, his poetry sends me to places out of this world. Have you read his poems?

susan said...

@Hopeworks (AKA Larry) I PMed you on FB. I would be honored. Thank you.

@Stephany, I thought you were 39 too! ;-)

@Natalie, I don't know what to say. Thank you. I think I am my own worst critic but then a lot of people say that...I just have to remember the little things, the cat, the hope that others help me as much as I help them.

@Hi Littlewolf! Bark Bark!

susan said...

@D Bunker- you aren't so shabby yourself.

@Flawed Plan- hmm? Girl, I wish you taught writing classes. You are the best.

@Natasha, thank you. You are one of the few people on line I know of that has gone through the mill on meds and ECT too. And has cats!

@David, you give me hope too. I don't wish what happened to me to happen to anyone else, and I am truly sorry you had a bad experience at Grad School. It's hard when we have our dreams crushed, but then, maybe you have to make another dream. You can write. And you are a new cat dad. Those are powerful tools. Go write, young grasshopper.

@Bitter, as do you my friend. As do you.

Stephi said...

Hey Susan, this was a great peice. I am so sorry for what happened to you in the past, in the last few months I have been getting involved with a rape crisis center, I have seen the pain and horror caused from something like that.

Reading about your past is always interesting. I really do know the suicidal hole all to well and I feel for you. I hope your health continues to improve.

I am also battling a neurological illness on top of mental issues and I am full time student. All the "wise" ones ( p.doc, neurologists, therapists etc) are telling me to quit. Just exactly what they expect me to do with my life if I do quit- excpet pop pills and be insane- has never really been clear. I can really relate to you.

Much love to you


P.S I follow Wendy who is Biopolar and has ADD. If I tell you her age I think she'll slap me BUT she is in the age bracket you mentioned. She has a blog about being Wiccan in which she talks about her mood struggles and is currently developing another blog especially for writing about Biopolar. I absolutely love her...she's on my blog roll if you are interested..."Year of the Cats"

Linda said...

Hi Susan,

First off, let me say I am 63 and like you, I have wondered why there are not more older women blogging. But then perhaps, I just have not found them yet.

I very much appreciate what you have so well said in this post. Having suffered from BPD before the label was in use, I know the mental hospitals, despair, and pain from many years ago. I am grateful things are so much better today and that I can talk openly about what is going on with me. I've also known rape and the fear it instills in every fiber of your being.

I have the greatest respect for you and appreciate what you are saying so very much.

Thank you.

Chronic Impending Disaster said...

I totally get the hermit thing, too. I love living alone.

I hope you get some writing done soon. I'm sure it'll come. You just gotta get back into the groove or the swing of things or whatever figure of speecy you want to use.

Ruth said...

Hi Susan, I am 53 and you can find my blog at The hyphen is part of the name. I found your blog only recently. I am sorry you are having such a rough time right now. I understand the really bad advice dished out by others. Keep in touch.

bipolartude said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bipolartude said...


Wow. That's all I have to say (which for me) is, like," neh-heeeever..." ;-)

I have to rally because your entry? Hello. Amazing. Way well written, beyond heartfelt (soulfelt, if I can make up a word to describe), a roadmap to where you are now...

You wrote at the end that you'd "like to tell us something." You compassionately wrote that we are not alone.

Susan, here 're some things I'd like to tell you:

1. YOU are not alone. Even if you were on at that deserted island with your pens and paper, you'd find bottles and throw your thoughts in the ocean. They's reach all of us, here, reading your blog, writing our own messages, sending them back to you. You are NOT alone, even when you're lonely.
2. Two years ago, in the thick of a deep depression, I managed to go to home depot and by a black nylon cord. I fashioned a noose and hung it in my living room, where it stayed, mocking me, for a week. I'd look at it. Sometimes I'd get a chair and put it around me neck. Please, Susan, I understand ideation, but please don't act. Lonely is not alone; reach out to so many who will help. I was all alone then, like you, stigmatized and not understanding at 40.
3. I'm 42, and I'm blogging for the first time about this. I'm with you.
4. The color pink and mini skirts. (sigh) Oh, Susan... Pure evil. I've been on the receiving end as a child by my father, so I get enough of it to say, I am so sorry that you had to go through that experience. My pink and mini skirt is a closed door in boss' office, a PTSD reaction from the sexual harassment that triggered the first major depressive episode.
5. You don't need me to tell you this. You are SO talented as a writer, depressed or not. I understand the effort it takes just to get up and go to the bathroom, let alone, be coherent, witty and relevant. All things you are! I don't know how you do it. (I couldn't have been writing a daily blog when I was depressed, picking my nose, watching my noose.) As daunting a task as it may sound now, I would love to read a book of your experiences.

You are not alone. And you are going to come out the other side. The other side of this- not the "other side" other side. ;-)


Jen Daisybee said...

Susan, I wanted to leave a comment on this post when I first read it a few days ago, but had a problem with Blogger and it didn't post.

I can relate to many things you said here. Like you, I was once a promising bright young person, though depression hit me young and that didn't last long. I, too, was told that I should be put into a state hospital, and my mother was told she should take me to one, when I was psychotic. I also ballooned in size, doubled actually in size, after starting antipsychotic drugs. And though I love writing, I often feel that I'm not good at it anymore, and I don't think I am good enough to get published anywhere, so I do not bother to try.

Unlike me, however, you are a professional and very talented, skilled writer! You write well even when you say that you are unable to write because you are feeling so down. It is not everybody who has this ability. Thaat is a rare ability. I'm sure it is harder to write now, and I always had a really hard time doing anything creative when in a serious depression, but you still have strong writing skills, which have not left you, despite your illness.

On another note, I also lived through rape. It happened to me when I was psychotic, and I think it made me go further over the brink I was already teetering off of. I almost never talk about it with anybody. Even on my blog, it's not something I discuss much. But the memory is there, the hurt is there, and that event changed me permanently in ways that can't be undone. I wanted to tell you this so you know you are not the only one, and of course, sadly, it is actually a common experience to be raped in our society. But if you ever need to talk about it, I hope you will feel safe in talking to your blog friends here because we will listen, and I for one, would be happy to help in that way if I could. If it's better for you to not talk about it, that is fine too. Just do what is best for you, what feels right for you. By mentioning the experience here you have honored what you lived through and given voice to it, which is important even if you never talk about it again.Take care....

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