Category Archives: mental health

Trauma Therapy 2 A Narrative of Shame and Loney

Dad and I fishing
Loney fishing with Dad.

“A Shame Narrative,” my therapist called it. I call it “Ermergerd this is impossible I can’t think about it without getting agita and crying. I should probably wash all the baseboards or nap.” Then I stumbled on the picture above, and I realized I had found a safe way to approach my Shame.

Trauma therapy is beyond what I’ve ever experienced in therapy over about twenty years. It’s good I have that basis in self-knowledge, Mindfulness, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. But trauma therapy is the big leagues. It’s definitely scary. And it can be draining.

The two most important parts are an empathetic, well-trained therapist, and my desperate desire to manage the constant nightmares and other paralyzing affects of CPTSD on my life.

I won the Irish Sweepstakes in therapists. She pegged me fast. She asked about where I feel my pain in my body. And used my interest in meditation to develop a regular practice of body scans before, and sometimes later in a session. She took the bare pieces of my story, my responses to the scans and stimulus –such as the Pixar short “Float” πŸ₯°πŸ˜­πŸ˜­πŸ˜­πŸ˜ — and came up with Shame.

And she’s right. I’m not sure when it started, but I was very young. Possibly under 4. It’s this drop in the heart, and a burning, twisting sense of being powerless, unlovable, and utterly alone in a pitiless, dark, lonely void where no one cares, and I don’t matter at all in this world.

She said, we can use my story of those feelings to help provide a “Portal” to slowly reach through to my trauma. And then I get to write a Trauma Narrative. Huzzah? But the approach makes so much sense because the feelings around those memories are too raw for me to even go near. Even while they break into my daily life as nightmares, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or my (over or under) reactions to triggers.

But how to approach my Shame? I’ve always felt that, as long as a person experiences real, unconditional love at some early point — through a grandparent, teacher, mentor, etc — then that person will always hold that feeling. And they will have a chance. I’ve had a lot of mentors and teachers in my life, but the first and best was my Dad.

Dad loved mentoring young people. And he had many “adopted” kids. Mainly my cousins and his former students, ending up the Best Man at many marriages (six times in the case of one unlucky-in-love student who called him Dad). He was both professionally succesful, and never lost that bit of 1st Sargeant he learned in the frozen hell of the Korean war. Dad served in Truman’s Desegrated Army. It equipped him with the ability to work with and inspire others of any type. So long as you didn’t play “grab ass.” He questioned his young acolytes and listened, and questioned some more. He was genuinely interested in the thoughts of people, especially young people.

And he had that same interest in me as a growing human being. Usually we’d be doing an activity. Sky watching, driving around following the local grocery stores’ free samples schedule (Dad could usually old-lady-flirt his way to extra samples), and during art lessons. But the best times were fishing, like in the picture above.

I’ve found my way to get to the Shame by viewing my gnawing doubts, fears, anxieties, and self-loathing from the point of view of the girl my Dad saw. Dad dubbed me “Loney.” (Lone-ee) When I look back at myself as Loney, I have more sympathy and compassion for myself. I see the curious, dark eyed girl he saw and loved. And I can cast that into my future that he never saw nor will.

If I view myself as Loney, it’s a step removed from recording Jessica’s feelings of Shame. It’s my way in through that “Portal” described by my therapist. Slowly, the idea is to increase my understanding of and exposure to the most delicate pieces of myself, my experiences, my Shame. But I feel I can do that if I remember Loney and carry my father’s love for Loney in my heart.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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Digging Out of Despair? Do the Easy Thing.

Jack Torrance took an ax…Then died in the snow. Don’t be like Jack.

Late February in the Northeast: The snow hasn’t time to thaw before the next storm. I’m not even trying to clear it off. I have stacks of forms to fill out, and tax records to organize. There they sit. My yoga and meditation practice were interrupted by rebellions in my sinuses and lungs. My routine is reorganizing around three separate forms of weekly Zoom therapy (Trauma, speech pathology, and vision) and PT. It’s the longest month of the year, despite what the lame-stream calendars say.

So, how not to go full Nicholson? How/where/what to do to dig out? If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or the effects of (C)PTSD dysregulation — or are simply feeling overwhelmed — I’m here to say “Do the Easiest Thing.”

When I’m literally and mentally snowed under a growing mountain of stuff I have to do, stuff that keeps me able to do those things, and the stuff I enjoy doing — it may as well be Everest. Yet it always comes back to me doing The Easiest Thing.

Let me explain. Amongst the blizzard of crap I’ve read over the course of the Pandemic regarding mental and physical health, one suggestion has stuck. Do the Easiest Thing that helps. Look around. Where are you? What can you do with the least effort and/or the least time to lift yourself up? Sounds easy, but it’s taken many a rock bottom fall for me to begin adopting this practice.

Let’s talk about the sorts of Easiest Things I do and don’t mean. Absolute #1 thing not to do? Don’t doom scroll social media. Do not read the comments on an innocuous-looking post about local vaccination sites. Don’t get into a pitched internet or personal argument. That’s not helping. Don’t do it.

That doesn’t mean your phone is off limits. But unless you open that demon device with a clear intention, best to steer clear.

Which leads me to My Easiest Thing. Music. Specifically — πŸ₯πŸ₯πŸ₯ eye rolls ready? — I listen to Morrissey/The Smiths. There’s something about his unfailing pop instincts, mixed with with that voice, and his witty/intelligent/alt-culture outsider lyrics that picks me up. He would never insist I be happy, and he shares his everyday struggles and loves and losses in a voice that always croons, floats, yodels, and growls to me afresh.

Before long, my mind gets caught up, and my body follows. I may start to sing, get up and dance, until I feel well enough to do the next easiest thing: like the dishes! All while bopping about and singing “lalalalala interesting drug!” Heck, I may wipe down the counters. I may even make or at least prep for dinner! Or sweep the disgusting floor!

Suddenly, I find myself singing in the shower. And — while hours may have passed, and I didn’t necessarily get to anything particularly pressing — I wasn’t staring at the wall or a screen. What I did was simply give myself a completely healthy mood boost that made slightly more difficult tasks seem within reach.

To be honest, sometimes that mood boost may only lead to teeth brushing or playing with doggo. But heaven knows I’m not miserable now. And that’s my bigger point about The Easiest Thing.

I can reach over to my phone and put on my handcrafted Mozilicious playlist (Everyday is Like Morrissey on Spotify if you want to follow). Having my Easiest Thing right there on my phone keeps comfort continually by my side.

And that one thing, that playlist, is simply a way to bring me to present, back to at least the steady kick of Sister I’m a Poet. From foot tapping, to standing and moving isn’t too far to go. It’s just a foundation of feeling better that allows me to build up to tasks that require more effort, concentration, or presence.

You can take your own progression at any pace you please. Your easiest thing may be a shower. Or a phone call. Or having a coffee or tea break. I choose music because it only takes opening Spotify and pressing play. It also lasts, and gives my mind and body a little something to groove on.

Of course, I’m writing this because I hit another bottom, and resorted to My Easiest Thing. Hopefully, in a week or so, I may be back to my yoga, cleaning schedule, or that mountain of paperwork, or that Everest of snow (w/an assist from the sun🀞🏽). Maybe eek(!) out another blog.

Then I’ll stumble and fall, because that’s what I do! But I can fall right back into the arms of my favorite music.

What’s your Easiest Thing? How do you keep picking yourself up when you’re snowed under? Leave a comment, let me know. And ya know, maybe pour something out for Spring to hurry along.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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Trauma Therapy Part 1

from the one you left behind…

It’s never a great day when you have to tell someone you’ve been sodomized. I feel bad saying it in this forum because it may get somebody down. But that’s why I need trauma therapy.

Rarely do we ever become so intimate with anyone that we can say “I was drugged and raped…er, sodomized.” And it’s rarer that the recipient of that info knows what to do with it. Today I met someone I hope knows what to say. It was my first day of trauma therapy.

This entire delve into better treatment for my trauma related injuries and illnesses began with a talk with my PCP. I was frustrated, and considered untreatable by two clinics in a row. Now, mind you, this is in bumblebuck, methtown, USA. I had good treatment at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia. But twenty years of mindfulness and talk and CBT? Sure, I learned a lot, but I needed more.

So, a neurology referral from my PCP for a doctor who deals specifically with domestic and sexual violence seemed ideal. And it did open up new avenues of treatment of both my physical and mental self. Now I have my PT I do at home daily, weekly speech pathology and vision therapy to deal with those pieces. But ideally, my goal was to get in with a trauma therapist.

I finally had my first Zoom session with her today. It was exhausting. Left me tired, shaky, and shaken. Because the sodomy is part of my extended history of trauma, I need to share it. Along with reporting the physical, verbal, and emotional abuses of X, etc.

Even I don’t want to talk about these things. But for the first time I’m approaching therapy honestly. I love to please and charm, but — while it might let me temporarily deal with social situations — it’s not any way to deal with therapy or complicated and difficult subjects.

So I began hard work today. Deal with every abuse, every injury mental or physical, so that maybe I can heal. I cannot survive anymore with my emotions a raw, raging nerve. And boy, believe me I try. I’ve become a yoga addict, I meditate, I keep a journal, I eat healthy. I generally shower. Do my hair. And that takes hours: just to feel normalish and OK.

So, this trauma therapy is a new thing. I’m still not quite recovered from my experience of my session today. And it will occur every week. Along with the speech and vision. And the check-ins with my neurologist’s assistant. As a beautiful heart I know through social media told me, she prays for strength. Wish the Force be with me, friends. This ain’t easy.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸŽΈ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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Whose Anger Matters? Mental Health, Social Status and Rage

Anger dominated 2020. Yes, there is sadness, fear, anxiety, and loneliness, but rage ruled the US this year. Rage over Coronavirus, rage over the deaths of black Americans. Under a leader consumed in the fire of rage, we only speak in anger. But whose anger matters? Depends on how much you matter.

Sometimes described as “anger turned in on oneself,” Depression is the sense that you are the problem. You don’t have the right be angry. My abuse taught me that I didn’t deserve to be angry. That I was so worthless, I had no right to feel what I felt. Or to even think as I thought. As a consequence, that anger has built to Vesuvian proportions. And then I blow. Only recently, have I even begun to address this issue. Only recently have I realized I have a right to be angry at all.

2020 was also a year of skyrocketing suicide and overdose deaths — Deaths of Despair. The only way to prevent those deaths involves breaking down the barriers in social status that keeps the voices of the desperate and despairing from ever being heard.

The only forum I have to express my anger is this blog. I am literally nothing in the grand scope of human value based solely on money. What status my earlier work has gained is losing its lustre over the years. And I can barely speak what is in my mind and my heart. But I HAVE to write now.

I hope 2020 is the low point in American life that brings attention to those of us slipping through the gaping holes in our social safety net. We live with the end results of 40 years of “Trickle On Economics.” And the attitudes that accompany it. The poor are poor because they want to be. The government should have no role in mental health, or any healthcare. The ruinous war on drugs. The “tough love” of the 90s — a time that fully endorsed the shaming a 22 yr old woman who was seduced by a President, while those with mental health and drug and alcohol issues were locked out from their families. And now, Poverty and Food Insecurity has reached the lower rungs of what remains of our Middle Class. The Sheriff is knocking on the door to evict. The Repo man. The mortgage companies. While our government does NOTHING to help.

If you still think that you are beyond the “trivial” fears for food or shelter, you are holding onto the greatest American lie. That with hard work, and persistence, things will work out. The world is random, and you’re as subject to the whims of fortune as much as anyone. I hope you’ll never know how much.

I have persisted in trying to help myself. I’ve encountered sexism, and the stigma of poverty and mental illness in every area of my life. And meet a general attitude of “I’m alright Jack. Screw you,” at the best of times. At the worst, silence. And I know I’m not the only one who is barely keeping it together. But that doesn’t help anyone.

I practice the self care. I practice meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. I eat healthy. I get outside when I can. I find ways to make do. And, yes, I am grateful for what I do have. I’m not some Main Line lady keeping a Gratitude Journal whilst holding a vase and wondering if it brings me joy. I’m thankful I have 194$ in food stamps for the month, and somewhere to live. How small and meager must that which I’m grateful for become? “I’m grateful I found rubber glue to fix my shoes.”

I have had enough of those who pretend to be there to help. Especially in mental health care. As an experiment, I joined a Facebook group of psychiatrists and psychologists. One man suggested that I had “sand in my vagina” and that I might be pregnant. Another woman accused me of not wanting to work. Ya know, because having $1.11 to your name is SO MUCH FUN! Constantly begging reluctant providers to sign forms to allow me to keep Medical Assistance and SNAP, filling out paperwork to prove I’m poor and need help. This is such a joy I should put it in a gratitude journal!

In the end, I was kicked out of that forum when I mentioned how easy it would be to include those providers’ statements in Google reviews of their businesses. Silly me.

I know my voice means nothing. I know I mean nothing. I know I’ve been taught that. And, literally had it banged into my head. To the extent that I have traumatic brain damage, and crowns for front teeth. I know that everything I say is construed as an attack by those I love. I know I’m annoying and getting in everyone’s way. That no one knows how to handle me. And even my interests are considered beneath contempt. I mean, you know your thoughts are worthless when an interest in history is tantamount to criminal behavior.

Yes, I’m angry. And very sad. And problematic. But I know, simply as a human being, that I am worthy of better treatment. I’m simply not important enough to be cared about. And I’m not alone. So be truely grateful you can become infuriated by a state wide restaurant restriction. Be thankful that a late Amazon delivery is your main cause of distress. Or maybe look deeper, and see what’s really upsetting you.

All this time I cling because I have no one else to go to. I have no where else to go. Submit or literally be left in the cold. That’s what’s enraging me. Too bad I’m not important enough for it to matter.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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The United States Is None of Your Business. America’s Mental Health Professionals Embrace Trumpism for a Nation in Crisis

I belong to a high risk group. Not for Coronavirus, the other Pandemic. The Pandemic Nicholas Kristof wrote about in Who Killed the Knapp Family? This killer Pandemic has lowered the life expectancy of Americans by a full year. The best name I’ve found to describe this American holocaust is “Deaths of Despair.”

Deaths of Despair include suicides, and deaths from drug or alcohol related causes. They were at record highs before the first case of Covid-19. And, as moratoriums on evictions end, states struggle to provide extra Unemployment Benefits, and millions of Americans stare down a bleak and uncertain future, you’d think mental health professionals would be in high gear to help. And you’d be wrong.

We are not humane. We are barely a society. But don’t tell your therapist. The United States is none of your business. In the face of the articles, the facts, the statistics, mental health professionals stare into the face of human misery, and tell you to keep a gratitude journal. You must give up your personal convictions and accept that you are both responsible for your own happiness, but you have no control over the world.

I do take the time to be grateful. It is useful to think about pleasant moments to break the interminable limbo of loneliness and suffering, to mark time during the Pandemic. And my eyes cannot stop searching for beauty amidst the squalor, the violence, the pain. But humanity has limits.

Eli Weisel, author of Night, recounts his first experience of the Auschwitz death camp as a young teen. The babies disappearing into wreaths of smoke. The disinterested SS guards indicating “Left” to slave labor until death, and “Right” to women and children condemned to the infernos. He and his father were ordered “left.” His mother and sisters, “right.” He speaks of the death of the boy he once was, yet still inhabiting his body. And he marks the death of God in his heart. His eventual resentment for the father he must work harder to keep alive. And his feeling of liberation upon his father’s death.

Weisel’s story represents the second chapter of Anne Frank’s diary. The two were about the same age when they were sent to the camps. And while everyone loves to quote a 15 yr old girl’s belief that all people are essentially good. Nobody seems keen to acknowledge that she and her family died a pointless death of unimaginable, dehumanizing suffering. That all young people want to believe in goodness, to imagine their future as beautiful, full of love and the standard of happiness due to all human beings, and their own power to cause change. That’s simply what young people believe.

If Anne Frank had continued her diary, it may well have read much more like Weisel’s tale. Or the tales of North Korean camps where human beings fight over a piece of corn in human feces. Or of the Chinese who were reduced to hoarding dead babies for food during the Japanese occupation and civil war.

But not here. Never here. Not in America, the nation that helped to liberate both Europe and Asia from those two brutal regimes. The country to which the poor, repressed, war weary and hungry have turned for 300 yrs. Here we are responsible for our own success. Here we are the guardians of our own happiness. Here, to fail in any respect, is your fault.

I think of upper-middle class ladies “decluttering” their homes by holding objects in their hands to see whether they still “bring joy.” While most of us make do with duct taped appliances, buckets to catch leaks, wood glue, broken screens, and only throw a thing out when it’s ticked you off enough.

If you are fortunate to have a place to put your things: an apartment, a home. If you can afford food from the grocery store, or use the discounted canned goods store, or a small garden, or a food bank.

I saw a phrase recently that captured the dilemma many Americans find themselves in now. “The rent eats first.” It describes to what extent people will go without enough or any food to avoid homelessness. What objects bring you joy in your group shelter? Your street corner?

Placing responsibility for happiness on the individual in crisis mirrors the American insistence that access to good schools, child care, healthcare, decent pay for one’s labor bear nothing on an individual’s ability to achieve in life. It’s all on you.

This insistence lives beside the common therapeutic response I have heard for the last four years. And has endured throughout the Pandemic, the mass economic ruin, the constant march of new names — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery — the anger, the violence, the hurricanes. The man at the top who blames his failures on a former President, a would-be President, and a woman who ran for President. He takes no responsibility. So those of us in crisis? We must bear the responsibility.

And worse: we are told we must accept that we have no control. I thought “We the People” were this nation’s true governors. That the folks in the halls of power were “public servants.” And I don’t even see an exclusion of the mentally ill among our Constitution’s rankings of whose lives matter. Three-fifths a white life if you’re black, no vote for most citizens, but nothing about PTSD.

The conventional wisdom of not placing one’s happiness in the hands of another was written by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Yet he took on the happiness of others as his duty. He was the Emperor. He spent decades fighting a virulent contagion in the Empire. His wisdom is acknowledging that, yes, we should not tie our happiness to the approval of others, and that even he had limits to controlling life. But he also recognized his responsibility as a leader to protect, to ease suffering, and foster the happiness of the millions of Roman citizens that lived as far as England, North Africa, and all the way to Iraq. The dinarii stopped at his traveling writing desk.

Instead, America’s mental health system has fully embraced Trumpism. If you are struggling, if you are sick, if you are in crisis, it’s your fault. Following the “lead” of President “Blame Obama,” I have endured “therapy” that has asked me to empathize with racists. To understand their fears. I asked for another therapist immediately, and was soon ejected from the program under threat of being physically restrained and committed.

That’s modern therapy. It’s the male doctor who told me that who was President should be the least of my concerns. That instead I should work on my “anger issues.” I don’t know if he realized how much he challenged my commitment to nonviolence in that moment. My friend calls that feeling “stabby.”

I often think of the episode of The Walking Dead in which Rick is forced to behave like the”Walkers” (zombies) in the show. He and his son have been kidnapped, and one man is attempting to rape his boy. So he uses the only weapon he has left, and tears the throat out of his son’s would be rapist with his teeth. He was reduced to the tactics of the non-human to fight the human.

It’s not a far step from Eli Weisel’s feeling of freedom upon the death of his father by SS batons. The journey from human being to beast is not far. The crushing powerlessness that poverty and violence mixed with mental illness causes cannot be alleviated by “just following orders.” The casual indication of “Left” and “Right” to the gas chambers echoes the “it is what it is” policy of the US government. And reminds me of the grey, back-stabbing, fluorescent lit hell described by C.S. Lewis.

Government policies are harming my mental health and sentencing myself, with millions of others, to a life of powerlessness, loneliness, and eventually to crisis and despair. I have every right to be concerned over how public policy affects my life. I didn’t give up my rights when I entered therapy, or fell into poverty, or needed government assistance.

The step from “gratitude” journals, being told to accept you have zero control, while being tasked with responsibility for a spiral into crisis, to fighting other human beings for a piece of corn stuck in human shit is not that far. And it’s no wonder so many Americans are opting out of that false choice by taking their own lives. It’s the one act of personal freedom left to far too many.

The mental health community is on the hook for its embrace of Trumpian notions of dehumanization, fear, and lack of empathy. It reflects his dog-eat-dog worldview, and lack of concern. It belies more about the death of society and values more than any evangelical Christian’s concerns. It’s a betrayal of the social compact that demands our rights end where another’s begin. And violates the one rule above all others, to love and treat others as you would thyself, no exceptions.

A society is a living thing. But we can only access the benefits of living together, if we also accept our responsibility for one another — for the whole. American society is dying. And it is a death of despair.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

Check out my Instagram! There are pictures of stuff!

Got a COMMENT? Click below! I love the feedback. If you like what you’ve read, TAP the Star LIKE button below! LIKE and SHARE on Facebook. Follow and share on Twitter.


Representing a Fool, Mental Illness and Policing

“This Woman Went to Jail After Walking Dog Without Leash”

“He who acts as his own lawyer, represents a fool.” It’s an adage as old as the Pyramids: never be your own lawyer. Our Founders agreed, and they were mainly lawyers. James Madison enshrined the right to legal representation in the US Bill of Rights as the Sixth Amendment to our Constitution. But, I’m finding that is not necessarily the case across the US. And — surprise — it’s mainly the poor who suffer as a result.

The body-cam video above shows a 34 yr old woman with mental health issues, being restrained in a chair, tied, hooded, and repeatedly tased by police officers for having her service dog off leash.

When I first saw this video, I saw myself being tased in that chair. One look at me is enough to confirm that I’m poor. I try my best, but home haircuts, cheap tees, and the worn out knees in my thrift store jeans tell the tale. I am also disabled due to mental health issues.

I have learned to fear nothing more than the human race. After living with abuse, experiences of sexual violence, and more than twenty years of sustained loss, my personal safety causes me constant anxiety. And then came Covid.

What do you do when you can’t go out in public but need some form of recreation and chill? Me? I fish. I’m not concerned about “catching.” It’s called “fishing,” and by sticking a pole in the water you can sit in nature, enjoy the the day, still social distance, and feel good. In fact, my governor made a point of leaving fishing and hunting among our allowed activities during our lockdown.

But, as it seems with every single thing or place I enjoy, there’s always that person. You know the one. Maybe it’s the person at the grocery store who raves about masking while you wait to check out. Maybe it’s the jerk who throws something during your peaceful protest. One thing that person is, often as not, is an officer of the law.

Quick rewind: I left therapy late last year after a traumatic experience at my mental health clinic. I determined to take a short break and find a new therapist after the winter. Like in March. Ha. Ha. Recently, however, my benefits were expanded to include tele-medicine, including psych and therapy.

So, I was already destabilized when Covid hit the Northeast. My friends’ suggestion: socially distanced fishing! One member of my four person party brought 4 cans of Sierra Nevada. One for each member. He was caught by a Park Ranger, and issued a ticket for consumption on county property. His fine, an educational $398. And the officer made off with the unopened beer.

Taking responsibility for bringing the beers, the beer-bringer paid his fine. Then, three weeks later, I recieved my citation certified mail. This wasn’t my first encounter with a shake down artist in that park either. The previous year a woman claimed my dog bit her son, and asked for cash to take him to urgent care. She didn’t want to call the cops or make a report. So I left.

Needless to say, I will NEVER return to that park. I began having panic attacks just thinking of leaving the house for anywhere or anything. I felt marked and terrified. I have CPTSD. That’s how the traumatized brain works. But, as the anti-shutdown protests began to include assault weapons, and scary stories and videos of anti-maskers circulated, I grew more terrified.

I feel robbed. I was robbed of any sense of security in that park. Eventually, I went to a privately owned pond by permission. And then again to a spot belonging to family.

But the saga of the ticket is ongoing. I have no transportation due to my disability. Eventually I was able to arrange to plead not guilty, without paying a bond, and have a Zoom trial (per the ADA). But I can’t find legal representation.

And that’s what’s tearing me apart now. I have no income. It is possible that I may face contempt of court and imprisonment if the judge finds me guilty. That would mean I’d lose every benefit I do have, including the insurance that pays for my medication that keeps me stable and Zoom therapy, which I recently began.

I’ve appeared before municipal courts before, and I had a public defender. Easy peasy. No problem. Ticket tossed. I’ve appeared in Camden County New Jersey’s traffic court to challenge tickets. I was represented by a public defender. Mind you, Camden, NJ has a high poverty rate, and used to be the leader in murders in US cities. I got off without a point on my license. But I can’t get anything here in my semi-rural area.

Catch-22 true: I can get a lawyer if I do end up in jail for my inability to pay a fine. But, as we all confront Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement, and economic devastation, Americans are all suffering. And it’s all about the $$$.

Mental health issues, including substance abuse, have spiked from the beginning of the year. Leading to even more deaths of despair in a nation that lost an entire year of life-expectancy to mental health/addiction before Covid touched our shores.

And, of course, there’s the police. Whatever your opinion of the protests, let’s be real. Most folks don’t like cops or law enforcement.

My greatest fear is that I will end up like the woman in this video. Because folks with mental illness BEHAVE like they have a mental illness. If you push the right buttons, anyone can “go crazy.” But if you start at “crazy,” it’s a short step, not a drive, to out of control.

I appreciate that the Americans with Disabilities Act compels all government agencies to make accommodations for the disabled. In my case, it’s a Zoom trial. And I appreciate the kindness of the officer who came to check on me when I was reaching crisis levels.

I’m still clinging on by my finger tips, but without legal representation, and in light of all that is convulsing this nation at this moment, I guess I’m OK. I have shelter, and SNAP, unless a criminal charge or prison stay ends that. But I have been living in a state of quasi-crisis for months.

I want this over. I want a lawyer. I want to not feel afraid for my person everywhere I go. I want the world to see in the woman in that video the truth about the treatment of the mentally ill in America. I don’t want for one instant to co-opt the significance of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor’s, or the countless other black Americans’ lives lost.

But in a nation where the President doesn’t have to respond to a Congressional subpoena. Where the wealthy throw money at problems, and blame poverty on the poor. Who see our suffering as our just punishment. I’ll simply quote a statement made in complete sincerity to me today by an attorney, “All individuals are treated equally under the US legal system.” I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. And I don’t believe the American people are either. We all know the score. The legal system is rigged, and not for We the People.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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Let’s Talk About Kanye and Kim

I’ve been aware of Kanye West since the early 2000’s. I love his music. He ranges all over the spectrum: jazzy here, thoughtful there, big and slickly produced, to spare and minimalist. He’s that rare musical artist who is talented, prolific, and generally knocks it out of the park.

But I never paid attention to the gossip. He wants to be called Yeesus or Yeezy? So? Prince changed his name to a symbol. Old Dirty Bastard changed his name to Big Baby Jesus. There’s even a Madonna. He was “eccentric.” But now he’s the punchline to a joke.

When I first started hearing the name Kardashian, I wondered if everyone had gotten into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Cardassians were the often charming, but authoritarian and genocidal race that played the bad guys in the series.

Cardassian bad ass Gul Dukat.

My knowledge of celebrities is fairly slim. I don’t care who Brad Pitt married. But as time wore on, it became clear that Kanye was a troublesome celeb. One of those artists whose fans love and defend, haters hate, and everyone else stands back, stares, and judges.

And then he revealed that he had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder (manic-depression). And he went from “eccentric” to “crazy.” His long and winding talk. Microphone grabbing. His image of himself as a Christ-like figure. His recent forays into MAGAdom, and now his Presidential bid. This is what the “manic” part of “manic-depression” means. This sort of behavior.

It strained on his marriage. His wife, Kim staunchly standing by him. Insisting he get help. I never thought much of her before. But as a wife and mother, living with someone with a mental illness became part of her identity. And she’s done as well as could be hoped. She’s an awesome wife.

Of course they are both massively wealthy and enormously privileged, but they write large the very real, and largely hidden world of living with mental illness. Whether you’re the “Kim” or “Kanye” in your own situation, you know how it goes.

Of course, when I get upset — deleting social media posts, and apologizing to my loved ones — no one is snapping my picture. My family doesn’t need to issue public statements, or fear a bad makeup day photo will go viral. But our suffering is as real as the Wests’. And I can’t help but thank them for their frankness regarding both their insistence on privacy and their life in public.

The fact that folks are waking up to the reality and pain of the lives of the Wests has changed the conversation. Kim called for “compassion” in recent Instagram posts regarding her husband. And she’s absolutely right.

Kanye harms Kanye, and his loved ones suffer for and with him. He’s not affecting you. It’s not as though he were the President of the United States. That would be a matter of concern. But Kanye is hurting himself. And his family is hurting with him.

Does a heart attack victim need to apologize for having a heart attack? Would you bother their family because a member had heart disease? Would you stand back and say: “That’s what he gets for drinking whole milk?”

Mental Illness is as funny as a heart attack. You could sit in judgement on a heart attack victim’s way of life, diet, smoking. But then you’re a jerk.

So, don’t make fun. Don’t call Kanye “cray-cray” or “nuts” or “batshit crazy” or say “he had it coming.” Kanye West has had a series of heart attacks. Just like any other human being who suffers from mental illness, and the effect on their loved ones is the same.

So, enough about Kim & Kanye. They’re not hurting you. Just remember that when your family with a drug/alcohol problem, Bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, or anxiety has an episode, treat it like a heart attack. There is a lot of support out there for grieving families, and those who live with mental illness. Take advantage of it.

And please, remember to give those of us who share Kanye’s diagnosis or live with mental illness the room and compassion just to be without expectations. No one wants to be crazy.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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Joker, Part 1: Mental Illness, Poverty & Loneliness in a Broken System

joker mural
Put on a happy face.

“What do you get when you cross a mentally ill loner with a society that abandons him and treats him like trash?” Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) will tell you. “What you fucking deserve!” Joker, 2019, dir. Todd Phillips, is the Joker we deserve.

Which is why this film disturbs and terrifies. There is no combustion in a vacuum. If Howard Beale (Peter Finch, Network, 1976, dir. Sydney Lumet) had yelled “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” into the camera, and his viewers at home weren’t already fed up, no one would have run to their window. No one would have joined in the chorus of their neighbors screaming the slogan. And Howard Beale would have simply lost his job.

And Joker would not have earned over a billion at the box office, been nominated for eleven Academy Awards, nor feared by Tipper Gore moms and theater chains if it didn’t have one fat, clown shoe firmly planted in our world. Our world where mass shootings crowd the news, the gap between the rich and those barely holding on increases, the holes in our social safety net widen, the rampant untreated mental illness of our war veterans, crushing poverty, Incells, opiates, and a rate of “deaths of despair” by over-dose or suicide that has lowered our national life expectancy. This nation spiraling towards chaos. This horrifying world on fire.

This tale of a lonely, damaged man soaks in the visual cues and themes of pre-Star Wars American classics from the 70s. When Time Square was a seedy string of peep shows and pawn shops. The ignominious Nixon presidency and ineffectual Carter administration. The end of the Vietnam war with its alienated veterans. Drugs like cocaine and heroin replaced weed and acid, as the Boomer generation’s Flower Power wave broke, and receded back into the primordial ooze.

Boldly shunning slick CGI destruction, clear good versus evil, and countless bloodless deaths of no consequence, Joker is murky, full of questions and consequences. Beginning with exactly one logo: the Warner Bros. logo from 1981, the movie trips up your first expected step into its world. From there we are thrown onto the graffitied and trash filled streets of Gotham (New York) City in 1981. And into the tortured life of Arthur Fleck. But, make no mistake, this is not Taxi Driver except he’s a clown. The references to that film, Network, The French Connection, etc. root us in a known world, while standing alone as a story firmly rooted in our own time. Even the name, Arthur Fleck, seems like a twisted pun on Art Flick.

I was drawn to see the film, and write about it for its gorgeous use of visual story-telling, music, color, and fabulous actors because I am a film student. But also because the film deals with mental illness, loneliness, poverty, abuse, and a society so broken we’re thinking about electing an 80 year old man who promises us everything for nothing. And that is the world I live in.

We first meet Arthur at the rent-a-clown agency where he works. We learn that he lives with the invalid mother (Frances Conroy) he supports. That he tells people he aspires to be a comedian, like I tell people I’m a writer. He visits a therapist at Arkham State Asylum like the horrible places that pass for mental health clinics in my life, takes seven different pills (I take four to five, but one three times a day), and carries a card to show strangers when his brain trauma causes him to break into torturous, uncontrollable laughter no matter what emotion he may be feeling. He has elaborate fantasies/delusions (I’m working on this!), but more than anything, Arthur hopes his life is more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Mac 5. 5. 24-27)

Or, as he writes in the “joke diary” he coyly produces for his therapist to read, “I just hope my death makes more sc cents than my life.” He wants someone to truly see him, and love him for who he truly is. But he may be the loneliest, most over-looked man in the world. The saddest clown ever.

Physically, Arthur is emaciated. His skin looks translucent stretched over his rib cage and bones. His straggly, greasy hair, reaches his shoulders, sometimes looking mousy light brown, others appearing black. His gaunt face is angular, with a long nose, and large, deep set eyes that shift from blue to black that mirror a light within that varies from sparkling, to confused, from enraged betrayal, to murderous fire.

On a personal level, Fleck, painfully shy, awkward, and effeminate (from our Macho Man society’s point of view) likes to dance, visits comedy clubs to take notes, and seems to genuinely enjoy being a clown. His mom calls him “Happy,” and says he was put on earth to make people smile. But we see glimpses of another side of his personality. He slashes at his Mom’s dinner to cut it for her, while patiently engaging in her incessant ramblings and letter writing to Thomas Wayne, the richest man in Gotham. He twinges with resentment when she explains that Wayne, whom she worked for thirty years ago, would be “sickened” if he saw how they were living. He fixates on and stalks his cute, single mom neighbor down the hall (Zazie Beets). And imagines that Murray Franklin (Robert DiNero), his favorite late-night host, picks him out of a crowded audience, and admits that he’d give up his fame and show-biz to have “a son like you.” And there is his ever-present laugh, which he vomits out like there is a wild beast trapped within that slight figure, and it wants out.

In fact, Arthur’s entire life seems to be lived in locked in confined spaces. The camera barely nudges down long rows of lockers at his job, in cramped rooms full of folder files or dusty tchotchkes. The streets he walks are narrowed by ever-growing heaps of trash bags from the city’s garbage crisis. The commuter trains are packed with unhappy humanity. Walls are covered in graffiti. And the long staircase he trudges up nightly on his way home seems longer and steeper each time we see him do it.

When we are close to Arthur, we see him through dirty glass, metal bars, and mesh grates. Or he is shown in close-up, his face taking up only half the screen, as his pained features react to the disembodied voices of characters off-screen. He seems to melt into the sickly green of institutional fluorescents, yellow tinged sunlight through grimy windows, or covered in deep blues and maroon, brick-reds, untidy whites. The colors of his world.

Through this constraining and muddled lens, we watch Arthur’s daily routine. Painting his face, stuffing his hands in his mouth and twisting his face into grotesque grins, crying through his clown makeup while he listens to the bad news on the radio. And all the while that laugh like the howls of a wounded animal. I know that howl. It’s the primal noise you make when you are utterly alone.

Arthur gets beat up a lot. In an early scene, he’s in his clown costume, trying to be seen between the press of people and ever-piling garbage spinning a sign that reads, “EVERYTHING MUST GO!” A group of punks steal his sign, and we learn Arthur can run. Finally following the kids into an alley made narrower by the ever-present black trash bags. He’s jumped. He drops immediately to the ground and assumes the fetal position. No crying out or fighting back as he’s repeatedly kicked, while people pass perpendicularly in the back ground. Just stay still, and wait for it to stop. I recognized this move. This is how I learned to react to abuse. Arthur is a pro.

The colors of his bruises remain with him through the rest of the film slowly turning from blue, to purple, to greenish-yellow. And then a co-worker uses the excuse of Arthur’s beating to push a .38 special and bullets in a brown paper bag on him. He says it’s a “favor,” and Arthur can owe him one. Arthur squeals with nervous laughter at the sight of the thing. And yet, this a turning point for him. One that will both give him the confidence to try to achieve his dreams, yet set him inexorably on the road to the collision of his fantasy world and his reality, and his ultimate transformation.

There is a lot we don’t know about Arthur. We learn that Arthur doesn’t seem to know a whole lot about himself. In fact, we don’t even know if he is The Joker. But this film disturbs because, whatever we have faced in life, most of us can relate to the struggles, loneliness, and fears of Arthur Fleck. That is a rough lens to view anyone through, mainly yourself. And while most of us manage somehow, there are many Arthurs out there, slipping through the cracks. Grasping desperately for something real to hold onto. Hoping against hope that somewhere there is someone who cares.

There is simply too much I want to say about this film for one blog. I hope you’ll stick with me until next time, as we follow Arthur’s journey to Joker.

In the mean time, remember Charlie Chaplin’s injunction:

🎢Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just
Smile🎢

-JL πŸ€‘πŸ‘ˆ

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

Check out my Instagram! There are pictures of stuff!

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Mental Health Issues? Check Your Rights Here

“And then they came for me.”

In my kindergarten, all girls came to school dressed up like JonBenet Ramsey. Curled hair, starched stiff dresses, crinoline underskirts. And then there was me in corduroys, Ernie shirt, pigtails. I sat at a table for six with two other kids: a shy girl, and a boy also rocking an Ernie shirt. Every day teacher would pick the best behaved table. Fancy doll girls again! And they got the fancy lollipops from The Happy Hippo!

One day my table was the best behaved. I was so excited! Fancy lollipop time! Teacher came over to the table and handed each of us…a sticker? What was this injustice! I went straight to the principal.

The young, bearded principal sat across his desk intently listening to my argument. It should be lollipops for all, or for none. One table out of ten consistently get fancy Happy Hippo lollipops, while my table receives stickers. The man showed respect for my speech for lollipop equity. And when I was finished, he told the teacher, lollipops for all or none. Victory!

I went on to become a pain the ass to teachers who wanted to teach Creationism or enforce prayer in school. To skinheads in Oxbloods and red laces.

My parents called me Ralph Nader, but they spoke politics at the table, and we all discussed the news, what we were learning in school, science, social issues. And my big mouth and soap box speeches were held up for discussion and debate with them.

I was raised a vocal, secular Democrat the way other people are raised Catholic. Obviously, my ideas, philosophy, sense of morality, ethics, and my political views have evolved. But I still am what my parents raised me to be. An intelligent woman with a mind of her own, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. I’m proud of that.

And then November of 2016 came. The pussy grabber! Really? Electoral College steals the Presidency for the GOP again? I knew enough about Trump by the time I saw Home Alone 2 to cringe when he shows up. I learned “nouveau riche” because of him. And apparently he destroyed Atlantic City. He wasn’t popular in New Jersey, or in my house, ever. And he certainly was not welcome in my White House.

Yeah, mine, I’m part of the third person plural “we” as in The People, who supposedly run this joint. I was just shattered. Shocked. Terrified. Triggered. And positive this guy was an amoral, conman because that’s all he had ever been.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling that somehow we had fallen through a wormhole into The Twilight Zone. And the sheer rage I felt and feel, I know I share with millions of women. I’ve been in therapy for a long while for Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and PTSD. So, I turned to my therapist for help. And for the first time in my life, I heard “well, there’s nothing you can do to change it, so just ignore it.” Or some variation of that sentiment. Color, practice Mindfullness, but don’t you worry your widdle brain about it. I have mood disorders, there’s nothing wrong with my intellect. Talked to the shrink. Heard it again. This time it sounded like “Ma’am, I’m going to need you to calm down.”

I’ve switched therapists and psychiatrists since. I honestly feel that I need to talk about some of this stuff in therapy because I don’t want to be ranting about it all the time to random people. I don’t want to know who voted for who. I don’t want to know how often you give Confession or take Communion. I certainly don’t want to hear about the MAGA rally you went to over the weekend.

This isn’t Jersey, or Philly or even Lancaster. And as things got uglier, I became more afraid. I have family that still lives in the town named for my family and the university they endowed just across the bridge. But I guess I still smell of Jersey and Philly. And apparently being part Italian and raised in New Jersey is frickin hilarious to some.

So I bring these things up with my therapist. Heather Heyer’s murder. The Tiki-Torch mafia. Morons who hang a Confederate flag at the same height as the American, or who display it at all. But really, you do know that . . . nevermind. I’m hanging a Japanese Battle Flag. The MAGA bomber and MAGA shooters. Atatiana Jefferson’s murder in her own home! I mean forget all the illegal, corrupt gangsterism of this regime. There are kids sleeping on cage floors and drinking out of the toilet. Concentration camps.

Where is America? Where is the country that Hamilton glorified? That was blessed with prosperity and hope for a better, freer America under Obama? That glass ceiling not only didn’t break, it became opaque. With metal slats.

And then two weeks ago, I go in to see my therapist. It’s a Monday. My ride share bus is late. I’m waiting in pouring rain. But I get in on time, and take out my journal where I’d jotted down what I had wanted to speak about that session. And instead I spent an hour being brow-beaten by my therapist for not learning to be accepting of people who display that stupid flag of hate and treason. And suggesting that my belief in human rights and the basic freedoms and rights of every individual, Bill of Rights, women’s rights, etc is at odds with my taking of government money and services?!

I was thinking about the Social Contract, and Safety Net, and other basic FDR, LBJ type stuff, but I blurted out, “I’m a Democrat.” And this woman, my therapist, laughed at me. Laughed. Right in my face. And then added, “No kidding!”

My session was over then, and I mumbled something on my way out. Then I went and stood in the rain for an hour waiting for the shared ride service, and then in traffic for another 45 minutes. I did not know what to think or feel. I wanted to cry, and yet I was severely pissed. And I got screwed out of what I had hoped would be a session to help myself and Stan keep up on our own personal bits, our together bits, goals, short term and long. Stan and I had spent the summer working our butts off to restore sanity to our finances, and then begin to look at more improvements outside and inside the house.

And instead I got laughed at for being a Democrat, and encouraged to go hug a NAZI. To understand where they’re coming from. Because NAZIs spend so much time trying to understand others? She even drew a false equivalency between my horror at all of it, basically. And how Republicans were unhappy under Obama. Well, I don’t think Trump is from Kenya. And he certainly isn’t a secret anything because he’d have either Tweeted it, or had Rudy Giuliani go on TV and admit it. Heck, bring in Lester Holt and Trump will cop to it. That is not the same thing as Birtherism or accusing Hillary Clinton of running a child sex ring from a pizza shop.

And yet, there she was. My therapist. Telling me it is the same thing. That I shouldn’t worry because “I can’t control” the situation. Look, I have mental health issues, but my thinky bits are perfectly clear, and I have just as much right to reject this anathema to my soul that this Administration represents to all I care about as the whitest, WASP-iest, straightest, Christian male ever. I felt truly belittled. For my mood disorders. For my opinions and thoughts. For who I am in an essential, sine qua non, way. And the thing about being understanding of NAZIs. Yeah, no.

I have no idea what meeting with her next week will be like. And I’m still upset, depressed, angry. A friend suggested I look for a therapist at a Women’s Shelter. What will she do? Go tell me to track down my ex in the hopes that he’ll sock me one and steal my debit card? This must be the Twilight Zone.

Anyway, I’m a Democrat, by the way. My father was Italian and Greek, my Mom’s half Hungarian, and a bunch of German, English, Irish, Scots-Irish stuff. I grew up in New Jersey. Went to high school in Lancaster. College in Philly. Lived in Costa Rica for three years. I suffer from Anxiety, Depression, Panic Attacks, and PTSD, and last night I voted. See, I have control. I’m one of the people running this joint. I get to care, and I get a say. I get the fancy lollipop, because if folks like myself are denied their rights and dignity, then make no mistake. One day they’ll come for yours.

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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Fifteen Pieces of Flair: How I learned to prefer not to care & feel OK

“I don’t need 32 pieces of flair to express myself!” declares Jennifer Aniston’s character in Office Space (1999, Mike Judge, dir.). As she proceeds to flip off her TGI-Fridays-ish manager who questions the lack of buttons, “flair,” her job requires her wear on her apron.

Her character is wearing the minimum amount of flair — fifteen — but not enough to express the enthusiasm her boss expects her to show for her shitty waitressing job. How much enthusiasm should you expect from this young woman with dreams and hopes, hopefully a personal life, and enough to trouble her without worrying about buying flair for work? One middle finger’s worth.

And that is what brings me to my Declaration of Independence from giving a flying flair for *gestures broadly*. There are obviously people and things I care about. But I needed a shorter list. Today I tell the tale of how I arrived at the momentous decision to go with minimum flair and prefer not to care.

I have not been able to publish any of the 12 plus blog posts I’ve written in recent months. I hadn’t been taking care of my physical or mental health. I was AND felt threatened not to write about recent experiences. So threatened that writing was giving me panic attacks. Now threats are off the 15 pieces list: Threaten away. I prefer not to care.

The end of August/beginning of September found me with pneumonia. I had it for two weeks before I finally asked for a ride to urgent care. I shut down entirely, sleeping 20 out of 24 hours for at least a week. Waking to pee and sip veggie broth. And, lying there in bed, listening to my wheezing/rattling breathing rearranged my perspective on what truly matters, and boy howdy.

After setting some legal bits right, such as who will make health choices for me if I were to become too ill do so. I simply laid out a few simple goals. The pieces of flair I need to foster my physical and mental health that in turn allow me to be more than a raw, quivering bundle of diagnoses and prescriptions.

1) Get up/dressed by a certain time. I’d been sleeping so much. I needed to get back to a normal schedule. And to prepare for the day earlier. Nix the 24/7 jammies look. Fixing my hair, a bit of eye makeup, and donning my Docs all make me feel good. I feel ready to face the day. Go outside. Accomplish something. Speak face to face with someone. I’ve always believed in the power of good hair, good shoes, and black eyeliner to make me feel more confident. And it works!

2) Eat during the day, smoothies count. I’m not a big day eater. But if I go without, I break down. Getting some vitamins, carbohydrates, and protein in me, while making something I enjoy builds on my health, and builds up my self image. And cooking more keeps Stan and I fed, happy and healthy. No surprise then I have more energy. My mind is clearer. I have been fixing more meals. Using our own and local vegetables to do some lovely fall dishes. I even canned sauce from tomatoes off our own vines.

3) Practice yoga for 15 minutes a day. I do practice everyday, but I needed to step it up. Besides, if I do more than standing poses, as usual, it forces me to clean the floors! And you know how it is once you make a clean spot. Might as well do the room. So Fall cleaning is getting done before the final button down for winter. It’s just great to be able to feel well enough to enjoy this time of year.

It’s a sine qua non deal. If I don’t take care of this basic human flair, how can address the more esoteric pieces up Maslow’s hierarchy? The relationships? The emotional fulfillment? My creative outlets?

I need that basic foundation first. And I’d neglected it. And I couldn’t build on the swamp I was sinking in.

I had instigated my spiral into illness, and the conditions that would force me to reckon with myself. I wasn’t enforcing boundaries. I was caring about too much. I cared what people thought. I cared what they thought of what I did. How I behaved. What I read. The music I listened to. My hair color and ‘do. How I was dressed. How I lead my life, and how I spent my time. How I expressed myself creatively. What folks were saying behind my back, or under their breath.

Any success I’ve had in life stems from not giving a damn about any of that nonsense. But suddenly I found myself kowtowing like an NBA coach to Chairmen Xi. Maybe because there are certain folks I desperately care about. And I felt that acquiescing to expectations, and biting my tongue to keep the peace, mattered more than my health. For most of summer, I felt as though I were walking around with a gaslight over my head, and everyone I encountered seemed to have access to the valve.

And then I made a friend. Let’s call them Jay Zed. Jay has unique but similar experiences to mine. And while we are each very much our own person, Jay possesses the qualities I value in friends. Wit, intelligence, creativity, a love of silly fun, a social conscience, and an appreciation for the art, drama, and romance of the quotidian, the everyday, overlooked and cast off, the old, the abused, the forgotten, the useless. And while Jay creates worlds of beauty from the cast-off remnants of rust-belt PA, they face many of the same battles as myself. Jay had some insights for me. But mainly, it was just that Jay was there, non judging, with their own everyday struggle, as I dealt with mine.

Between my amazing family, BB cousins & co, Jay and my therapist, who I saw less of than needed, I realized it was fine for me to be like, “Oh yes he did call me that word. I wasn’t ‘dreaming.'” “I remember every darn sec of last night, and I did not [insert moronic dude stuff here].” And, what on earth is wrong with my reading habits? The music I enjoy? Zero. I’m fine, you’re the one who sounds like Lindsey Graham on his fainting couch asking “why did it take you so long to tell anyone?” “Why didn’t you call the police?” “Why does your story seem muddled?” You’re the Steinbeck and Dickens fan who enjoys reminding me that “life’s tough,” and, of course, “you should be grateful for what you have.” It was the old “at least you have all your limbs” nonsense that I suppose relegated me to the “undeserving poor.”

Once the other ones realized that I was calling bullshit on the official narrative, they became so desperate as to question that which I can prove with documentation: I was a bad student!? Here are my school transcripts, and would you like to see my awards, grants, scholarships? Oh, and remember how I managed all that, and still graduated college even though my Father had just lost a nine year battle with cancer?

I remember how pissed off you looked when we went to Samosa after I walked for graduation. I know the sequence: exhaled huff through nose, tongue click, “Well, you know….” I had just pulled off a superhuman feat. I watched my Dad die, got into and out of opiates and heroin, and created a senior thesis film that won Best Senior Film Thesis and Best Senior Thesis. In less than a year. I was proud of me.

Do you remember how I invited you as my plus one to brunch with The Academy at the Beverly Hills Hotel? Or how you cried out when I thanked the Academy, and dedicated my award to Dad?

Once I was able to summon the courage to say, “No, that is not true in my memory or experience.” Once I did that, hey presto! Change! On one hand, he got real about what was bothering him. We began talking constantly, and got on the same chapter if not verse.

On the other hand, I lost any financial support and transportation I had. And that was what sent me into the tizz-nit that had me nearly kicked out of my mental health program for poor attendance, and ended in the pneumonia. Now that I have the basics of healthy living and vitamin pills and self-respect back in place, I need to speak my last piece of flair I’m willing to give on the subject.

You write, “You can’t tell me that…” Well, I can. I just did. OK? When I hear you criticize me for reading, READING. READING! And I call you out. Then hear that “I get too into things.” Yep, that is how I roll. I spend months down rabbit holes of history or literature or philosophy or language or a movie or herbalism or Jackson Pollock and fractals. I have been this way my entire life. What the hell is wrong with knowing that Julius Caesar needed to be Dictator for Life to avoid prosecution under the Roman Republic’s Constitution, which he then broke? What is wrong with knowing more about Dr. Goebbels and his tactics?

At any point in history, when is it a bad thing to know history? Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor/Philosopher, mid 2nd Century) speaks of looking back on Empires that had risen and fell, and attempting to learn their lessons, so as to peer into the future. Who the heck are you? And why should I care about your two lousy cents that you’ll write down next to my name on my running tab anyway? “Jessie, you now owe me 5,321 dollars, and two cents.”

So, I simply prefer not to care anymore. I still love you all. But, it’s enough that I can be well enough mentally and physically to meet life’s daily challenges. To suffer out this attack on all things American by a rogue and treasonous President and his criminal cabal. To attempt to have a loving and complete life, in a home I can call mine. To maybe someday go see Morrissey in concert, and on my own dime. To replace my worn out jeans before winter. To take precautions against getting a cold every time I have to take Paratransit to my mental health clinic. And to read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as many times as I please.

And finally, I prefer not to heed your dire warnings about airing my griefs on my own damn blog. Lauren Snyder, my former therapist from PCS York who broke my trust and set my work in therapy back, warned me about honest posting regarding my therapy, noting “I mean I understand it’s free speech and all that…but, you know, other people read it.” Yes, that is the point. It’s the difference between kneeling for that racist doggerel, and kneeling by your bed. One does something. And it’s not the latter.

The First Amendment “and all that.” I’ve tried to write this blog a million times, until I was having severe panic attacks just opening my computer. But I prefer Freedom of Speech. I have a right to it. The same as I have a right to other basic forms of human decency and treatment. I prefer to express my creativity as I please on my little space of the interwebz. Shining a light onto abuse, trauma, mental illness, and what it’s like to live with that every day, no matter the consequences.

In short, I gave my 15 pieces of flair at the office. I prefer not to care what you think. I want your love, but not on the previous terms. I cannot be battered any longer for choices I made at 19 through 23. I can’t apologize myself out of existence anymore. I came too close to death too many times, and this pneumonia is the end. I offered therapy too many times, only to hear that I wanted it on “my terms,” meaning convenient for me because I don’t have any way to get around besides the short bus! So stuff it.

You too, youngling, the only peeps I hear from you are through the conduit of the Accountant of Blame and Shame, and monies spent on me. And, Medical Assistance does not pay for private therapy through video apps. That you said that shows how little you know or care about my experience and life. It ain’t pretty. And hey look, I didn’t ask for that which was given, it was offered. And I never once abused my privileges, except by ticking you all off.

This is me writing. This is me preferring to care more about my own precarious state of affairs, than how many pieces of flair you want to see me wearing for your satisfaction . This is me, preferring not to care for “Mean Girl,” high school games.

You are the one holding an innocent hostage to hurt me. And, while it kills me, I prefer not to negotiate with terrorists. I prefer to live, love and express myself freely. I prefer my dreams for me to your unending punishments. I prefer silence to your calls. I prefer to speak to someone who doesn’t hang up the phone as I say “Love you Mom,” as you shove me off your phone’s “family plan.” I prefer to speak about the books I read for no good reason, because, sister, I’m a poet. Oh, and if you want me to take part in dead carcass on the table days, I prefer to go see Star Wars and eat Chinese.

So that’s my fifteen pieces of flair:

While you’re here: check out the wonderful work done by the people at The National Alliance on Mental Illness and donate.

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