I know exactly how and when and where and even why my nemesis was born. 

The Beach House   1964

Each family inhabits its own reality, as well as the tiny piece of land on which fate has placed it.

Some people grow up by a river or a railroad track, others in deserts or mountains , some in  McMansions evenly spaced in a semi-circle and, yes, smiling at each other.  The less-favored among us fashion shelters out of debris from garbage dumps or are perched in tawdry hovels in the favelas that loom high above and on the edge of bustling cities.   The resilient, but despised, live in the midst of urban decay, where local dealers are as familiar to the children as the neighborhood grocer.

Whatever our circumstances, our childhood memories can become a beloved expanse of sepia dreams or a blurred nightmare, splattered with crimson. Specific images ,  lovely or disturbing or, as is so often the case, surprisingly mundane, can be recalled with what seems to be absolute clarity, frozen in time, each detail etched in memory.  

 These images hold truths and become the sacred stories that inform our lives, creating waves that ripple and splash against the NOW of our successive days, leading us toward destinies, which, for most of us, are only vague intimations. 

My childhood home was on Makamah Beach,  a row of houses on a fairly isolated strip of land, bordered on one side by Long Island Sound and on the other side by  a “swamp”, “meadow” or “preserve”, the descriptive term dependent on the length of time one has reside there. 

In the days before the Patricians moved in, it was definitely called, “The Swamp”.

The few families who remained on Makamah throughout the winter were blue collar folks.  As Jesus warned, “only a foolish man builds his house on sand”, so beach property was considered a risky investment by most sensible people. 

There were some artsy types who appeared during the summer:  an actor, a pianist, a lady who designed women’s hats and spoke French, and, once, for two months, “Princess Summer Winter Spring and Fall”, whose brief moments of glory  on The Howdy Doody Show had not yet ended.

In my teens, an intellectual, Saul Becker, and his wife, who wore a low cut bathing suit without interior support, spent the summer in a house near ours.  My brothers-in-law would get all googly-eyed  when she walked in, her large breasts nonchalantly swaying with each step.    

Saul was a German Jew who had survived Auschwitz. Sometimes, when the Beckers came over to visit my parents, I grew frustrated. 

For God’s sake, THE GUY HAD BEEN IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP!!  Why didn’t they ask questions about THAT instead of swapping nonsense about fishing and the weather?

I was too timid to talk to Saul Becker directly, but he did try to engage me in private conversations a few times. He would say things to me like, “Your parents do not recognize that you possess a soul that is beyond their comprehension.” 

The content of his comments unnerved me, not only because I was extremely shy, but because I didn’t know what in blazes he was talking about,  It was also his delivery.  He stared straight into my eyes and spoke in a tone of intimacy, as if we were sharing a secret. 

His German-Yiddish accent added to my discomfort. People with German-Yiddish accents were supposed to be comedians on TV, not a guy standing next to you in your living room. 

I avoided his company.   Of course, I was inhibited by social awkwardness, but I was also aware that he spoke a language I had never heard before.

I am not referring to German-Yiddish.  In his world, unlike my own, nouns were not always concrete and adjectives flourished.  He once made a futile attempt to talk to me about Freud, and my face grew hot with embarrassment because I felt my own ignorance. 

But, now that I think about it-- why the Hell was Saul Becker talking to a 15 year old, obviously naïve girl about Freud?   I wish I could remember the conversation.  I’m pretty sure he didn’t mention “penis envy” because that phrase would surely have been burned into memory.

My father did not like Saul and complained that he was a “pushy Jew”, a bullshit artist and conniver who most likely tattooed the numbers on his forearm to garner sympathy.   He claimed Saul’s friendliness was insincere; the guy was obviously trying to mooch an invite onto my father’s boat. 

Was he?  I don’t know.  Memories are unreliable.  Our recollections reveal more about ourselves than they do about the “truth” of an event.  

How I would love to know how Saul Becker and his wife perceived US!  Does the word “clam-diggers” translate into German-Yiddish?

 

Makamah .

There is something mythical about growing up on a beach.  The sky is larger; sunrises and sunsets more spectacular.  Nature is always shifting and in transition. It’s no surprise our ancestors worshipped the sun or moon or wild animals and created fables about their mysteries.   

 For beach-dwellers, the sky, the water, the wind, the elements, become a presence, always THERE,  inside and outside, collaborating,  creating a distinctive quality to each day, though often at a  level below awareness.    

In my family, no one mentioned sunsets unless they were extraordinary or predicted the next day’s weather.  Visitors might marvel over the scenery, but, for us, the setting was simply the backdrop to our daily lives.  We were not sentimentalists.

Besides that, the weather often impeded our desires, especially if we wished to engage in unbeachy activities.   If you’ve ever tried to retain the contours of a bouffant in a windstorm, you will understand our plight.   On occasion, I walked to the bus stop with my head inserted into a cardboard box.

For a child, Makamah was bliss.

I lived by the shore, and could play in a sandbox 2 miles long  and infinitely deep,  As  soon as I learned how to do the doggie paddle, I  was allowed to swim anytime, anyplace,  at any depth and for any distance I pleased.   I grew up without rules, except “don’t be fresh”, “When you chew gum, don’t sound like a cow” and “Don’t leave your hair in the sink because it makes mom throw up.”  I was occasionally requested to wash my neck.

The swamp-meadow-preserve across from our house was filled with mystery. I tiptoed through it with cautious trepidation; always on the lookout for the “quicksand bog” that mom warned  was  “out there somewhere.”  I was told that a dog had once slipped into it and died within less than a minute because the suction was so great.  Alas, she couldn’t recall precisely where the tragedy took place, so my explorations were self-curtailed and I wandered around the meadow with a makeshift shaft as large as Moses’s.

In cooler weather, I spent hours  building forts in the two miles of woods that surrounded a local estate, a summer home which was left vacant in the winter.    My best friends, Jessie and Ruth, lived on this property. Their parents were caretakers, whose jobs included…..get this….TAKING CARE OF THE HORSES! 

Putting on my cowboy hat, strapping on my holster, pulling out my six shooter and fending off Injuns by darting around in a corral was as good as it gets for a kid.

However, as bright as the world was outside the windows of my house, the mood in its interior was shaded, especially during  the years that followed my sisters’ marriages.   

My father had always been a drinker, but when his retirement did not lead to the days of  fishing and contentment, contentment that he had imagined would ensue; his drinking became unmanageable. 

He was not drunk 24/7, which would have at least provided some disordered order to our lives, but was episodic and unpredictable.  When I left the house, I was never sure who would greet me when I returned.  Would it be the guy who watched Bonanza with mom and me or would it be the asshole who wandered around the house wearing a broad grin and a pee-stained yellow nylon bathing suit until December?   

Insomnia

The day my despised companions, anxiety and insomnia, entered my life occurred in the middle of the night in the middle of the winter.  I had grown accustomed to being awakened by agitated voices, but this time it was different.  My mother was screaming.

“Call the Police. Your father just tried to strangle me!” 

I bolted upright in bed.  Despite my fear, I recognized that my mother’s outcry may have been for dramatic effect.  My father was not a menacing type of guy and, as alcohol enfeebled as he surely was, I was pretty sure mom could have either outwitted or outmaneuvered him.

Perhaps his efforts had been a bungled attempt at seduction? My parents’  lack of intimacy was a continued theme in their disputes.

But these thoughts were fleeting.  Her distress was real. 

I bounded out of bed and headed downstairs to the telephone to do as she directed.  I reached for the receiver, then paused, and visualized conversing in my typical I-hate-talking-to-adults stammering monotone to a policeman. 

I froze.  I didn’t WANT to call the police!  I HAD to call the police!

At that moment,  I experienced my first full-fledged, body-shaking, teeth-gnashing,  heart constricting, “I’m gonna throw up!” anxiety attack.

I stood motionless for several seconds, body trembling, mind racing, but then I grew aware that the shouting above had turned into its normal hissing and grumbling.  My body flooded with relief.  The crisis had passed; the world had returned to normal. .

…..or so I thought.

Once experienced, panic attacks are difficult to un-experience. The memory of the night when my body became my enemy, combined with the fear of its reoccurrence, turned insomnia and panic into a hated companion that trailed after me throughout my life.  

The attacks occurred more and more frequently, usually late at night when I was lying in bed. They were not always precipitated by an heated argument, sometimes they occurred in anticipation of a battle that was sure to ensue.

When he drank, my father’s usual habit was to greet my mother and me with a jovial, but to us, repulsive, grin.  We would leave the house immediately or eat a hastily prepared dinner, then retreat into any room that was separate from the one he was in. 

Dad would pout, continue drinking, even swigging from the bottle with a “fuck you” flourish of childish defiance.  As the evening wore on, he’d become belligerent and harass my mother, “setting her straight”, adopting an ineffectual pose of manliness, which made her despise him even more. 

Eventually, she responded with fury.  Accusations were hurled, fists were pounded on tables, doors were slammed again and again as he trailed after her from room to room.  “

“You know what you are, Betty?  A harridan.   H-a-r-r-i-d-a-n!    You know what that means?  Look it up In the dictionary.  It means you’re a shrew.   A SHREW” 

That was usually his closing line; one which I had heard at least a thousand times, but which offered relief because it meant that, even in his addled state, my father finally understood that debating a h-a-r-r-i-d-a-n  was useless.   

At this point, he would either ramble around the house cursing and muttering or collapse into his favorite chair, smoking cigarette after cigarette, until his head fell forward, his jaw drooped, and his intermittent coughs turned into snores.

 One fateful morning, I spotted burn marks on and around his chair and thenceforth felt obligated to remain awake until I was confident that a cigarette wasn’t extinguished   I would tiptoe downstairs, remove his package of Chesterfields and place them in some unlikely location--under the radiator, in a cat dish, between couch cushions--it didn’t matter, as long as his bleary eyes wouldn’t be able to locate them.    

Until I performed this ritual, I was beset with worry and could not sleep.  My anxiety attacks began occurring on a regular basis.  Fear of fear was now a part of life

These tales are told not to evoke pity.   In terms of horrible childhoods, on a scale of 1-10, my own would barely rate a 4.   I was never physically harmed, berated, or despised and was blessed with a mother who I KNEW, with utter certitude, would never cease to love me.   She was also a “one-of-a-kind” sort of women, with an unconventional slant on life, a sardonic sense of humor- especially when deflating pomposity, and, except for trivialities, never criticized me.     

As I said, I am not seeking sympathy. I’m attempting to explain how anxiety and insomnia became entwined in my mind and thus remained a potent force throughout my life.  I am telling this story because I am STILL fighting craziness and feel a compulsion to “come clean” and admit, for once, to those I love, that THIS IS ME. 

I shall not go into the details of suffering I endured from the kind of sleeplessness that is elicited and sustained by anxiety , but let’s just say that, in every decade of my life, I have (but haven’t) slept in beds “from California to the New York islands from  the Red Wood forests to the golf stream waters”--  and finally, to a hospital room on a psyche ward. 

Do not presume my life was one of prolonged misery.  For the most part, my episodes were brief and I soon learned that by remaining stalwart, ignoring the symptoms as best as I was able, and carrying on in feigned normalcy was the best approach to use.  I followed this protocol until my 40’s. 

“Hang in there; don’t complain, whistle while you work.”

This is not to say I didn’t read every self-help book available,.  Those that stressed the cognitive approach were helpful; others were silly or inapplicable.  I had no interest in becoming my own best friend or receiving gifts from my child within.  

Predictably, perhaps, I was drawn to religion.

Atheists must not gloat, however.  My pursuit of God was not ONLY an angst-driven desire for a “here and now” reward for good behavior.  A secret hope that a heavenly hand might reach down, rest briefly on my sleeping forehead, and from that point forward,  INSOMNIA IS GONE!

Okay, maybe partly… but it was not my primary motivation.  

For as long as I remember, I have been devout.

This may seem odd, given my family’s shaky relationship with Jesus. 

We only went to church for weddings and funerals.  My mother was not anti-religious (except for the Catholics and Jews); she was just a working woman who, like God Himself, needed a day of rest after a busy week.  

My father, on the other hand, was a skeptic and ridiculed the Bible, although he seemed to have, unconsciously or consciously, restricted his criticisms to the Old Testament.  At this time in our culture, even HE would not mock Jesus! 

 In the fifties and early sixties, God was a reality as present as the air we breathe.  The Ten Commandments were posted on the wall in the auditorium of my school. During the Christmas season, the plots of all my favorite TV shows revolved around….not Jesus, per se… but Christmassy miracles celebrating the goodness of goodness and the joy of giving selflessly to others. 

 Churches were thriving.  Millions of babies bulged behind demure maternity blouses, and bulged as well on graphs depicting population trends.  All these soon-to emerge-souls would be in need of sanctification and church attendance boomed.   The question was not “Do you go to church?”, but “Which church do you belong to?”

 I was embarrassed by my churchless condition, but my one experience in organized religion was a social catastrophe so traumatic that I preferred to risk God’s disapproval than endure another possible public humiliation. 

 On my first visit to our local Presbyterian church, I was passed the collection plate, and I presumed it was a gift for me, a newcomer.  I beamed broadly and sat down with it on my lap.  Confusion ensued and when I became aware of my error, my embarrassment was so intense, I vowed never to return to church, which, for practical reasons, was in accord with my mother’s desires.

Therefore, my religious education was scanty. I was not aware that Jesus was male until I was about 7 because His name sounded feminine to me.  I did not know He had died for our sins and been miraculously resurrected until I saw His life portrayed in a movie; I sobbed with even more heartbreak than I did for King Kong, my first beloved martyr.

No, I did not know any details, but I knew with certainly that God was good.  Those lovable citizens of Mayberry , the spunky kids on The Mickey Mouse Club, and suburban saints like Jim and Margaret Anderson, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Donna and Alex Stone attested to this.  And I mustn’t forget all those cowboys in white hats!

My religious ardor rose from within me, from a   place that had reverence for “The Beautiful” in whatever form it revealed itself in human beings:  generosity, compassion, kindness, tolerance, mercy, humility, and most of all, the willingness to sacrifice one’s self for others, even at the risk of paying the ultimate price.

 On a primitive “natives-living-in-loin-cloths level”, I was as pious as a Jesuit.  I wrote prayers and designed rituals to honor the God of my creation, whose qualities were borrowed from Jesus, Sitting Bull, and, to me, the inexplicable, but filled-with-meaning, world of nature

My  imagination, steeped in sensations and images of the natural world, created icons out of them: seagulls and crickets and flounders, horseshoe crabs,  jellyfish, and a multitude of rocks and shells, all of whom I gave particular names, as Adam did in the Garden of Eden. 

 Not to be immodest, but I was way more creative than Adam had been.  

There were “Toenail Shells”, “Squiggle  weeds”, ” and “Hippitty-hops”, tiny little birds that ran toward the waves as the water receded and then scooted back before the next wave arrived, splinter bushes, curly cues (conch shell eggs casings), poppers (a form of kelp, I think)  and paint pots  fashioned by Indians of yore by hollowing out rounded brick-red stones.  Add a little spit to the bowl, swish it around, apply it to the face, and  PRESTO!  You’re ready for a sacred ceremony.

 Makamah seemed alive with spirits.  Often a dreamlike mist hovered over the water at dawn, an unspoken reminder of original creation.  Outside our windows, the wind, like a giant being, howled or moaned or sighed or, scariest of all, rested in a silence so profound that one’s own breathing could be heard.  Malevolent thunderheads might appear on the horizon, moving closer and closer, swallowing up the friendly blueness in its approach.   There were days of relentless sunlight when shimmering waves of heat rose from sand too hot to walk upon and mirages formed in the distance.  

I never tired of gazing upwards into the night sky; the canopy of stars embedded in blackness possessed a holy significance that I could only intuit.  I was told by my teachers that space was infinite.  INFINITE!! I felt both insignificant and blessed. 

It was all so beautiful! From the tiniest creatures on earth, to the inherent, if seldom realized, nobility of the human spirit, to the limitless Universe itself.   What’s more, I wanted to be united with that beauty,  to pass into it, to receive it into myself, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

Given my fervid and romantic imagination, hours of solitude, and the poetic landscape in which I lived, How could I have NOT developed a religious temperament? 

It formed itself into a striving of the heart, rather than an assent of the mind.  If asked, “What do you believe?”, I would have fumbled in reply, but my faith that “Goodness is good” and my commitment to its attainment was unshakeable.   

 On occasion, my thirst for virtue compelled me to list my aspirations (“I will be nicer to Mom”, “pet the dog more” “try not to hate Dad”), place them in a shoebox and, with earnest solemnity, bury them in the sand.

I built a “Temple of Destruction” out of stones in a secluded area of the beach and smashed empty whiskey, wine, or beer bottles upon them.  Most of these bottles had washed on shore, but I removed a few “significant “ones (meaning they had caused family mayhem) from the trash and condemned them to death. 

I believed in omens.  Finding a pure white feather meant good fortune; a black one signified the opposite.

Okay. I admit it.  I wasn’t very original in that regard.   I’m pretty sure I snitched the idea from a Cheyenne” episode. 

Inevitably, my child-like faith eroded because 1. I learned about the Holocaust  2. None of my prayers were ever answered   and 3  I had become a head, rather than heart, centered person.

That being said, I never stopped yearning to recapture the time when I lived within God’s embrace and the world was holy.

 As an adult, it proved to be impossible.   I had become an intellectual. 

I didn’t stop trying, though.

In the 60’s, it was….of course….Buddhism.

Alas, I hated meditation and found Zen aphorisms irritating.

 “No-self must embrace the nothingness to find the presence of the ineffable, which must not be sought if it is to be discovered.”

“Okay” I’d mutter, “I’ll look for the face that was mine before I was born as soon as I stop throwing up on my shoes.” 

Given my own free-spirited leanings, I initially rejected Catholicism (suffering should be a joy), ;  Fundamentalism ( “Suffering equals demons. If you don’t accept Christ, you’re headed for Hell), Islam  (“If you are suffering, it is Allah’s will; rebel, and you’re doomed), the Unitarians,  (You may be suffering, but rainbows are pretty aren’t they?) and New Agers, “If you’re suffering, it’s YOUR fault ).

My longest commitment was to the Quakers, but their meeting house was so moldy that it became unbearable.  Apparently, they took the line from the Book of Common Prayer, “from dust to dust” literally.  

Besides that, their wholesomeness brought out the ornery in me.  You could stuff 100 of them in an elevator for an hour and there would be no odor. Their potlucks were boring.  Most “friends” were vegans, and my working class instincts rebelled against such nonsense.  I was often sorely tempted to contribute corndogs or pig’s knuckles to the menu.  

I was a Jewess for about a year. This comment never fails to annoy my Jewish friends, although they usually respond with an slightly edged, but amicable “Oh really?” If they hadn’t been aware that I was a dippity-shit religion collector, they might have been offended.

I read book after book on comparative religion, Buddhist scripture, the Gita, the four gospels and highlights from the rest, the Gnostics, the Upanishads, Emerson, Keats, Ramakrishna, Herman Hesse and the ramblings of every damned mystic I could find, including Kerouac and a guy who lived in a cave for 30 years and lost his voice.  He communicated using a small chalkboard. Needless to say, his statements were pithy.

Despite my efforts, enlightenment eluded me and worse than that, my anxiety/insomnia attacks grew more intense and lasted for a longer duration.

I prayed.  Oh how I prayed! Especially to Jesus.  I even tried to imagine Him near  me, but when I grew close, he seemed to fold his arms across his chest and withdrew.  The harder I pushed, the farther he retreated.  Apparently, He was a lot like many of the men I dated.

I tried hypnosis, sought guidance from three psychologists, faithfully followed “The Road Less Travelled”,  and watched Kung Fu every week, but I couldn’t prevent my nemesis from trailing after me, like an evil puppy. 

 Eventually,  two events finally did bring me a degree of relief.

In my mid-forties, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist, who recommended an antidepressant.  He informed me that my brain was chemically imbalanced and I would have to take Paxil my entire life, not unlike a diabetic needing insulin on a daily basis.    I happily agreed. 

 I also read a book, with the bracing title “Mental Health Through Will Training”, that would, for better and worse, alter the trajectory of my life.  For a while the direction was “up, up, and away”, but because I failed to orbit around anything other than my own pride and self-importance, gravity prevailed and I crashed back to earth. 

As Freud would say, I suffered from excessive ‘Therapeutic Zeal” in regard to the patients in my group.  

Hey, Sol Becker? I finally DID read Freud!

The book was written by Abraham Low, copyright 1939, and I was delighted to learn that the principles he advocated and the self-help groups he had formed, multiplied and expanded into other countries and, best of all, continued to exist today.  To add a cherry to the sundae, there was a meeting near me!

Recovery, International, as it was called then, wasn’t a twelve step program.  The methods used emphasized self-discipline, endurance, realism, courage and a cognitive approach to resolving neurotic and, sometimes psychotic symptoms.  In other words, they tried to turn people into upper class Brits.

“Venting”, wailing, complaining, boohooing or displaying any lack of emotional restraint was discouraged. Our goal was objectivity, both about ourselves and in relation to our interactions with others.  Detachment was the key. We needed it in order to more accurately assess our motivations, distance ourselves from our symptoms and understand the essential nature of our illness, which  most often revolved around an inflated or distorted sense of self.

Unlike most forms of group therapy, members did not delve into the etiology of their emotional problems by individually or collectively brooding about the past.  These factors were considered “fate-appointed”, whether they were neurological or psychological in nature.  We did not assume responsibility or blame others for getting sick; our entire focus was on accepting conditions as they were and managing our lives in such a way that we would become self-led, rather than symptom-led.  Our supreme goal was to become average schmucks, just like everyone else.

Obviously, the Recovery Program was not embraced by every person who walked into a meeting.   Despite a warm welcome, most were repelled by the idea of “bearing discomfort” stoically and preferred a less arduous approach to sanity.

However, for those who remained, the results were often startlingly effective.   Within a few months, the symptoms diminished in duration and intensity and the members developed a sense of self-worth that had been absent in their lives for as long as they remembered. 

I thrived in the program and was soon asked to become a group leader.  I accepted and remained in this position for about eight (what I thought to be productive) years….

…until the week my assistant leader hung himself in the basement of his home.

Yeah. Tailspin. 

Actually, this wasn’t my first calamity.  I had become emotionally involved with most of the members in my group and suffered with them through their ups and downs, but the final outcome of each particular episode always ended in success.  The suicide of my friend cracked open my instability and the destroyed the trust in had in the program.     I was head-broken, as well as heart-broken. 

Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t function, although, because of my Recovery training, I simulated these activities and continued to lead the group. 

I told no one. 

Even if I didn’t sleep for nights in succession, I performed my job, fulfilled my daily duties and smiled.

This continued for months; then I gave up.  Recovery wasn’t working.  Neither was the anti-depressant I had been on for fifteen years. 

After months of effort and three nights without sleep, I made a half-hearted attempt to kill myself, which, not surprisingly, failed.  I did not want to die.  I just wanted to stop hurting.

That morning, between sobs, I revealed  everything to my husband and I insisted that I needed to be    hospitalized.  He was dumbfounded.  He had known I suffered from insomnia, but was unaware of the extent of my current distress.  No one knew.  Not my family, not my friends, not the members of my group.   

Tony agreed that hospitalization was necessary.

[I cannot write about the events that occurred during this or my subsequent hospitalization because, even after 5 years, my emotions still bleed and produce anxiety ]

After a few days in the hospital, I was released with a prescription for Remeron, an old time antidepressant with sedative qualities,  clenched in my fist. 

I also sought the help of a new psychiatrist. 

The first one I chose was a woman who was recommended to me by my hospital physician.  I suspect something illicit may have been going on between the two of them because her talents did not center around her people skills.   Perhaps she was bored.

 Schizo, neurotic, addict, drunk, borderline personality disorder, depressive, “I hate my mom”…..

Where’s my script?

 (I use that term in both senses of the word) 

Next, I found a psychiatrist who taught relaxation through the use of biofeedback.  Ironically, he was a restless fellow who kept leaving the room and returning with the aroma of cigarettes clinging to his clothes.  In a moment of candor, he told me he couldn’t stop smoking because he was a “Type A” personality.  

The third psychiatrist was from India, which pleased me because I imagined he would be philosophical and quote verses from the Gita.  I knew this anticipation was pure folly, but, since he came highly recommended by a friend, I was optimistic. 

What I didn’t expect to meet was a man with obvious “women issues”, not in the sense of erotica, but in the form of a genteel condescension reflected in comments like, “You must join a church. Women are in great need of spirituality.” 

 I was nettled by the fact that, yes, in my own case, he was right. I WAS a woman in great need of spirituality; preferably in large doses and in miraculous forms, but his tone and demeanor offended my feminist sensibilities to such a degree that I began to dislike him.   He was SOOOOOO patronizing.   

Irrrationally,  I decided to place my trust in him. He had a wall filled with credentials from prestigious universities  and I was desperate. 

He prescribed a pill, then another one that counteracted the side-effects of the first one, followed by one that “tweaked” the efficacy of both.  When I complained about the unpleasant and bizarre feelings associated with this mixture of meds, he resolved the problem by adding yet another, which would ease my anxiety completely.     

“Yes,” he admitted, “this drug WAS primarily used with paranoid schizophrenia,” but that, he reassured me, was “just a matter of semantics”. 

With an obedience born of desperation, I followed his instructions and consumed my daily allotment of pills, growing steadily more anxious and depressed as each month passed.

My symptoms continued without abatement until I reached the point in which, again, suicide seemed like a reasonable solution. I plotted and planned my own demise, made a few feeble attempts, but was thwarted by my concerns for my husband and family. 

Damn!  Why did I have to be so fucking beloved?

After about a year, I then decided to admit myself into another hospital to “detox”.  I felt that the medicinal fog through which I was stumbling made my situation worse, not better.  I was not absolutely sure there was an alternative,  but I was convinced that it might be helpful to start anew with a team of doctors conferring about my case, rather than dealing with one disgruntled, ready-to-retire, misogynistic psychiatrist who preferred soliloquies  over dialogue.

I spoke to Tony and my poor, exhausted, beleaguered husband agreed to a second hospitalization. Mr. “Master Control” was as desperate as I was. 

When I spoke to the admissions counselor at the second hospital, a perky woman, brimming with optimism, she was quite sympathetic and assured me that my concerns were reasonable and the hospital would be able to supply the services I needed. 

I assumed, mistakenly, she was referring to “detox”, she assumed, mistakenly, that I was referring to “Establishing a new drug regimen.”  

This confusion eventually led to a future confrontation between me and the hospital’s “medical establishment”.  Displaying a strength and courage I didn’t know I possessed, I fought to be allowed to do as I had requested in my initial interview.

   For the first time in my life, I was insistent, even combative.   Instead of “journaling my thoughts and feelings” as I was urged to do by the psychiatric social workers, I used the opportunity to write a detailed defense of my position, which I insisted be recorded in my file and shared with all parties related to my case.  I implied I was ready to take the issue up at the Supreme Court level, if necessary.

It wasn’t pure petulance. I offered rational reasons and reassurances that I would keep in touch with my current psychiatrist and, if necessary, resume medications under his guidance. 

The physician in charge of my case and I went face to face, eyeball to eye ball.  He blinked. 

Within two days,  I was begrudgingly given permission to detox.  The only drug I chose to retain was the newly developed, but still ineffectual, antidepressant, Celexa, but all others would be discontinued. 

Again,  my memories of the hospital and the days that surrounded them are too painful to relive right now and I prefer to wait until a later time to do so.

I will only mention that I was not tapered off the medications I had been taking; they were abruptly stopped.   I’m not sure my vanquished physician was stupid or malicious, but, for that, and other reasons, the week I spent in the hospital was the most painful experience of my life.  

After a week, I was released, but my depression and anxiety deepened.  Hope had completely drained out of me.  I was exhausted. There seemed to be no solution.  I couldn’t live with medication, I couldn’t live without medication. I again became suicidal.

Step by step, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, I slowly recovered.  I found a new psychiatrist who worked with me to resolve the sleeping dilemma, which was a HUGE relief.  I reached the point in which I didn’t take any medication for sleep, I just needed to know I COULD take something for sleep, if necessary.  

My current shrink isn’t the type of guy whose shoulder I’d feel inclined to cry upon, In fact, I think that heightened emotions in any form (his own as well as his patients), may make him feel decidedly uncomfortable,. However, he is a good man, who ends his recorded messages with the single word “Peace” and he listens to my concerns and interacts with me as if I were a mature, rational, adult 

****

conclusion

 

For the last five years, I have lived in freedom and contentment, which will come as a surprise to those who know the state of our personal finances.  It’s all a matter of perspective.   After enduring and surviving Hell and resisting the temptation to escape into oblivion, mounting bills seem insignificant.

However, I regret to say….oh how I regret to say…my adversary has returned, reinvigorated, with fangs and claws exposed.  He also seems to have grown a little wilier with age. 

An old college friend came to visit this summer and brought along his best friend, a large, good-natured and obviously adaptable golden retriever, who had been consigned to Paco’s car for most of the day. The poor dog needed to be taken for a walk, but trotting sedately around the suburbs did not appeal to me.   I wanted Tukum to run free, pee and poop with abandon, and celebrate being a dog.

I knew just the place.  The woods at Makamah!  Perfect!

When we got there, I hesitated.  The particular path I had in mind led to an area in which I had attempted to hang myself.   A shiver of fear passed through me, but I decided to ignore my dread.  The past was passed and this is now.

 I took a deep breath, stiffened my shoulders and plunged forward into the woods with Paco and Tukum following happily behind.

All went well.  Paco and I swapped “Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end” stories and,  Tokum raced to and fro, here and there, around and around, chasing aromas and sounds we could not hear..  He peed at least a hundred times.

I was beginning to relax when I spied the “fateful tree” ahead, the one in which I, sobbing, had wrapped an incompetent noose around my neck. 

I looked up into its branches as we passed by it.   I could not NOT look up.

THE ROPE WAS STILL THERE!  AFTER FIVE YEARS THE ROPE WAS STILL THERE!!! 

Nausea. Fear. Panic.  In that order.

I did not, as we say in Recovery, “give outer expression to inner emotion” and casually continued walking down the path with Paco and Tokum.  I said nothing.

For a few nights after that, I had nightmares.  The plot usually revolved around events that had happened when I was hospitalized, but others were simply fearful dreams about mental illness.   It’s always the same thing. I am in either in a psychiatric ward, heavily sedated,  dead eyes seeing nothing, or I’ve killed myself in some grisly fashion.

In my mind, the two situations were equivalent.  

The dreams ended and headaches began.

I didn’t initially see a connection between the nightmares and the headaches because the headaches occurred about a month later.  I assumed the traumatic reaction had concluded and I was now okay.  Also, in the interim, I had hurt my back and  I assumed THAT was the cause of my problem. 

The headaches, which were random and of short duration, got worse.  I began to feel anxious.  Did I have a tumor?  The anxiety caused more headaches, the headaches caused more anxiety.

Then something freakier occurred.  One morning, I heard a voice.  A man’s voice, located outside and behind me. He made terrifying comments to me like…..duh…..to quote myself, “being in a mental ward, heavily sedated, dead eyes seeing nothing, or I’ve killed myself in some grisly fashion.”  

 I went to see my doctor, I didn’t mention the voice because I was ashamed, which is irrational, but human.  Most people with mental illness feel that way, I think.   I assured myself I would tell him later after I had a CT scan and further tests, which I was sure he would recommend. 

T Scan: negative.  Hooray!  No tumor!  Shit!  I must be going crazy! 

Soon after this, I collapsed in Stop and Shop.  No warning, not ESPECIALLY anxious, thinking, as far as I can remember, about cat litter.  I simply crashed to the floor.  Next thing I know a guy is staring down at me saying “You didn’t slip, did you? We have cameras.”

Hospitalized:  Another CT Scan: Negative ; 

MRI:    N: negative,  

Heart tests: N negative.

Hooray!  No tumor!  Great heart! Shit!  I must be going crazy!

My enemy has returned.  He is the same familiar adversary who has haunted me since I was a young girl, but he now has a new weapon. A voice.  And he no longer waits at night to attack me, but whooshes into my mind at his pleasure. 

My diagnosis?  What else?  Obviously, I’m nuts. Not psychotic nuts; I am aware that the voice (Who I have dubbed Morley Safer) that I hear is my own, but I certainly am not in control of my own thoughts.

Hmmmmm…….is anyone?  Isn’t it really a matter of degree? 

My psychiatrist agrees that I may, in part, be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because the unwanted memories seem to center upon events that occurred during my two hospitalizations. 

However,  a lifetime of coping with insomnia, fears provoked my memories of people in my Recovery Group, some of whom were deeply disturbed, and the death of my assistant leader are sure to be contributing factors.  

As for childhood traumas I may have suffered?  Bleh. 

Apparently I have come to terms with them because I have no emotional reaction to them at all.  My relationships with my family, financial issues and the ups and downs of daily life are also irrelevant.   As I’ve told Tony, if we go broke, I will live anywhere as long as I have a computer, basic cable, and a telephone.   I’d also prefer a blue state, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.       

At 66.  I am me.  Not the “me” I intended to be or hoped to be, but a human being who has lived a human life as best as she was capable   This describes most of us, doesn’t it? 

That’s why the idea of Hell is preposterous to me and the reason why I can never become a traditional Christian.  It is contrary to everything that Christ embodied and taught. 

Most of us are average folks, filled with pride, folly, cruelty and anger; sympathy, tenderness, compassion and joy and a thousand other mixtures of a thousand other qualities.  Hell should be reserved for people of evil intent, and then I’d even argue about THAT, if, for instance, they’ve had cruddy lives filled with cruddy people. 

I am me.   In one sense, a confluence of genetics, bio-chemistry and environmental influences, in another, a creature blessed with a potential ability to choose.  

Not the fork-in-the-road choices between horizontal possibilities, which most of us fail to recognize as we stumble along our fated paths, but, instead,  a vertical freedom which is the ability, though rarely exercised, to take a step or two back from what’s going on outside and inside our minds, to detach, even for a split second, from our swirling emotions and fixed ideas , to watch ourselves, as if from above and from the point of view of a larger perspective.  When we can do this, even to the smallest degree, we have, for the moment, achieved free will, as temporary as it might be.  Free will is earned, not given; fluid, not static.    

If God exists, I feel sure that the process of striving to embrace an ever-growing perspective is that which leads to sanctity, for it culminates in love.  We learn to recognize that, despite our many variations, all human beings share the experience of consciousness--we all cry, we all laugh, we all bleed-- and this understanding is what makes love between strangers possible. 

I am convinced this is the love of which Christ so often spoke. 

I have always struggled to attain this mindset and, in many ways, have succeeded.  I almost love everyone. Yet somehow I ended up with two selves battling for control of a mind beset by fear and doubt, hope and optimism. 

Where did I go wrong? Self-obsession, perhaps?  I’m not sure.

I am frightened.  Terribly frightened.  But sharing my story with those whom I love makes me feel as if a window in  a never-opened room has been lifted  and light and truth have finally been allowed to enter.

I see a neurologist in a week for a further diagnosis to see whether the origin of my collapse and the intrusive presence of Morley Safer are a result of an organic or psychological condition

Naturally, his existence itself is what strikes terror in my heart.  I mean, I hear a f***ing voice talking to me!  Who WOULDN’T freak out?

My treatment?  Not sure yet.  It all depends upon test results and if my condition remains stable.

If it turns out that I have a sound unsound mind, which is my assumption, I shall continue with my current strategy,  which is to treat my symptoms with minimal input from the psychiatric industry, unless it becomes absolutely necessary.   I say “no” to nothing.

Currently, I am smoking small amounts of marijuana (approved by my psychiatrist),  occupying my thoughts by writing writing writing, chatting with friends and family, and  pondering the significance of Morley Safer. 

I am afraid to let my mind remain idle.  If I do, I feel panicky.

It seems to me if I can get beyond the I HEAR A FUCKING VOICE reaction,  I will be better able to resolve the mysteries of Morley’s presence.  Would he respond to me differently if I befriended him or is that an absolutely crazy thing to do? 

My nephew suggested laughing at him, which, at this point, I can only do when he’s not present.  However, he’s right.  If I can develop a frame of mind in which I guffaw at his comments instead of shrinking in terror, I may have taken an important step in getting better.

Morley DOES say stupid things, like, “Did Virginia Woolf remove her corset before she waded into the river?” and “You call me Morley. I call you Mayfly.”  (Mayflies only live a few hours)

Does that sound like  ME speaking, or what?  I wish the “obviously me” appeared more frequently.  Most of the time he is like a creepy older brother intent upon frightening his little sister. 

 “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.”

It is all so SURREAL….like it can’t be happening.   I feel like I am living in a novel that I has turned into a reality.   If I were told my story, I doubt that I would believe it.  The plot reeks of Hollywood or a 2nd rate Stephen King novel. 

Morley told me that I am writing a suicide note.  I feel otherwise.  By acknowledging who I am and exposing my raw vulnerability to those I cherish, I believe their love, their hope, their prayers, and their understanding will merge with my own to become OUR hope, OUR love, OUR prayers, and OUR understanding.  Love, multiplied, has power.

Feeling loved gives me strength, loving others gives me courage, and, by these means.    I am determined to transform what now seems to be a curse into a blessing. 

 I am not sure how this will be accomplished or what form it will take, but, my commitment to the GOOD is as strong in me now as it was when I was a little girl.  I hope and pray it matters.

 

With love to you all,    sara