revision 1

I know that I’m supposed to be writing more upbeat material here; I’m looking around at what people are posting, and even when it’s about mental illness, it’s still pretty perky.  But the tone that’s wanting to find voice through my fingertips right now, after a few hurricanes and a bunch of wildfires near my home is not as jaunty as the tone I normally aim for.  Frankly, I think I might be experiencing a little depression.  Add to the natural disasters the fact that my partner is going through the first anniversary of some serious emotional upheaval, and I’m not so surprised that it’s hard to get up in the morning.

I’ve been thinking today about how art and catastrophe come together.  This came into my mind when I heard a piece on the radio about how museums and artists in the areas where the fires have been are coming together to have benefits to raise money for those displaced by the fires. As I keep thinking about all of the fires that have been burning across the state, it’s been reminding me of some classical Japanese literature I read quite a while ago about a period when the capitol of Japan, Edo, kept being burned down. I remember having it explained to me when I was first studying the period that the fires were caused by dry winds and wooden architecture.  When I was reading about them today, though, they were also explained in terms of the resentment of the lower classes who turned to arson to express their anger over being powerless to better their place in society.

One piece that I read when I imagined that I would become a teacher of English and Japanese literature, is about a man who retreats from Edo to a tiny hut in the mountains to escape both the fires and the human struggles of the city. Alone on the mountain, he hopes to come to terms with the transience of life.

Stalwort from the fields

Berries  from the hills

are all I need of sustenance.

Not mingling with society

my appearance does not matter.

My food being meager

tastes all the sweeter.

I do not speak

of these pleasures

to reproach the rich.

I just compare

my past life

with the present. Hojoki, 34.

At the time, I thought that I too would enjoy going out to some place of solitude and quieting my riotous thoughts.  It has been a long process for me to realize that this is my idyllic vision, but that I actually like to be around people in the city, even though I need my space to retreat at the end of the day.

on plagues and locusts

cropped-Meeting-RoomI’ve been going to an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for more than twenty years now. I like sitting in the silence in a group of others, waiting. Many Quakers are as Christian now as when Quakerism was formed in the seventeenth century in England, but out here on the west coast of the United States, things have grown a little more ambiguous. I, myself, believe in God, but I am not so sure about the idea that events in the Bible occurred exactly as they are described, especially, but not exclusively, when they are described multiply.

Still, in the years that I spent teaching children in our First Day School, I read a fairly large number of Bible stories to them, along with stories from other traditions. I explained that I didn’t believe that the stories were literally true, but that a lot of people do, and that they had influenced a lot of what we see happening around us. Out of all the stories that we read together, the ones that really captured their imagination at the time and that I suspect they would remember even now, were the stories of the plagues. The group I taught them to consisted mainly of boys, including my own two sons, and I suspect that they enjoyed the list for both its length and its containedness.  It went on and on, but it did end.  And the plagues had a certain grossness to them: frogs, locusts.

The disasters we keep facing as a country now are striking me in the same way, and though I keep telling myself that I don’t believe in that list, the little superstitious part of me wonders if we are being punished for something. An idea which instantly repels me, because what kind of a monstrous deity would wreak punishment on so many who are already suffering so much? Would take housing and the ability to earn from those who already feel dispossessed in our country? When I say I believe in God, I do not believe in a god who is a white man in white robes with a white beard, pointing his finger at Puerto Rico and saying, “Hurricane, strike!”

I do believe in a God that wells up inside of us when we recognize the image of someone who is suffering as we have suffered and who moves us to alleviate that suffering in any small way that we can. And I know that for myself, and for many people like me, looking at too many of those images will drive us into a dark place where we can’t help ourselves or anyone else.

So I’ve donated money to the best causes I can find, and I go to my Quaker meeting, and sit with other Friends. (Quakers are called Friends, so I could make all sorts of stupid puns about that, but basically we’re the simple, pacifist people who are not the Amish or the Mennonites.  We’ve mostly given up our plain clothes and our plain speech, though there are some small pockets of Friends who use them.  We don’t avoid technology, but we do avoid violence. And when an unprogrammed Friends’ meeting comes to worship, we sit in silence and wait for God to speak through one of us).

I definitely believe that, in addition to my medication, my times spent in worship over the years has helped me to keep my anxiety and depression in check.  And though Martin, my son, finds it hard to sit in Meeting on a regular basis, Friends know about his struggles and pray for him.  I always hated the sound of that, “praying for someone.” But I think that that collective holding of someone is actually very powerful, and together with his medications, I believe that it has helped him a great deal. My younger son, Pete, has sometimes claimed not to be Quaker, but as he’s grown closer to adulthood, his attitude has softened.

 

pills in fires and floods

 

After several weeks of hearing about one disaster after another – the hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico and Florida – and now waking for a week and a half to skies full of smoke from fires burning to the north of us, I started to wonder about mental health in a disaster.  Not the PTSD that disasters cause, we’ve all heard those stories.  But what happens to people who have a serious mental health issue before the crisis begins?

I’ve been talking to various people about really starting to set up an emergency kit in case we have a disaster. We’d need water, we’d need food.  But more than anything else, we’d need our medications. My son has bipolar, so I would want to be able to give him what he needs on a regular basis.  But I also suffer from anxiety and depression, and if I don’t take my pills for a day or two, I am not much fun to be around, and I am not sure how much of my effectiveness I lose.  My sons start asking me whether I’ve forgotten to take my Zoloft, and I yell at them that I have perfectly good reasons to be pissed off besides not taking my Zoloft.

You would think I would already have a supply of our meds stashed away somewhere, since this is not the first time I’ve had this thought.  At various times, I have had little troves packed here and there, but this is where my perseverating mind kicks in and trips me.

How often will I need to switch out our pills?  I can’t just leave them in our emergency pack forever.

(Yeah.  But they’d probably be good for at least a year or two.).

What if Martin’s prescriptions change?

(Then you’ll change what’s in the kit.)

But right now one of his meds is doled out two weeks at a time, so it’s really hard to build a surplus.

(So you do what you can do, but you know he already has some extra from when he changed doses.  Just don’t use those up so you can procrastinate about refilling the prescription.)

Where will I put them?

(You could put them in lots of places, but just start with the place you picked six months ago  Thank you, mind.  Have a nice afternoon.)

You’re gonna die.  You’ll be the lady with pills but no water.

(sigh.)

 

About

I’ve  wanted to write a novel since I was eight years old, when I made my first attempt at writing one by penning thirty hand-written pages (with illustrations) about a boy who found meaning when a multi-hued collie entered his life. I’ve been working on various sorts of stories ever since, but it’s only recently that I’ve become confident enough about my voice that I’ve wanted to share a lot more with others and receive feedback.

I’m the single mother of two teen boys, and I’ve both had and come into close contact with a number of forms of mental illness.  I want to use this blog to talk about mental illness and forms of recovery, as well as the ways that mental illness is perceived in our society.