Twelve years and however many months, I sat across from the very together, all business woman shrink, who handed me a ‘life sentence.’ I looked at my mother, and burst into tears. No, no, no please god. I could not believe it, yet I already knew. Hallucinations, ghosts, talking way too fast, dancing in Radio Shack (mortifying), writing furiously on stacks and stacks of paper on a cardboard box. Brain zaps, months with no sleep, sobbing in fetal position, alternating between Nascar velocity and black, nothingness. The me, the traveler, the unafraid mouth, unpredictable was gone. I should have known, seen it coming. My father was lying home, fighting his own battle with the insidious, genetic mad mind disease. His eyes recognized me, his mind did not, stealing the best parts of him. Fast forward today, the present. It takes between one and two hours for me to wake, take the required psych drugs, supplements, to quash the anxiety, numbness, physical pain, tremors, the thousand questions flying through the diseased brain that betrays me. I look to her, my mother for grounding, keeping me here, asking her fifty times over the course of a day, “do you think I’m going to make it. Am I strong enough?” She nods, “of course.” Even her empathy, understanding, patience, waivering. She is tired, it has been a long, thankless journey and I am exhausted. Triggers. There are triggers, so many triggers I cannot rationalize, wish away. There is no control, no choice, there is only fear and the will to fight. I dig deep, some days the Marianna Trenches aren’t deep enough. I can not win. The crickets chirping sound like an air missile strike, I fight because that’s what I’m told to do. Twelve years, ECT, pills that don’t work, the invisible pain only I see. Only I feel, without reasoning, rational answers. Do I think Robin Williams ‘chose,’ to die? No way, I fucking don’t. That’s absurd, his exhausted, beautiful, chaotic brain did. He chose to live a rich, empathic life, sharing his genius with the world, passionate, to keep on loving, giving for as long and well as he could. He chose to ignore the voices, squash them under layer upon layer in his ‘mad’ mind. He didn’t give up, give in to suicide, he didn’t quit. Nor did the rest of the millions afflicted by the brutal, incessant war that is Mental Illness. So, fuck you. Fuck them. Fuck everyone who has voiced their uneducated opinion on the why, how, the particulars, mob mentality spectators. None of us are smarter than the intangible, invisible mystery that is the mind. I keep the one piece of control I have, a mental note zipped in my back pocket with the words, exit strategy. Realistic, I’ve read all the statistics, had my heart shredded watching loved ones lose the battle. I’ve done everything ‘right.’ And still I know, there is the very real possibility, that someday for no apparent reason, I may whip it out. So if you see me and think, she’s doing great. I’m not. No, not really. I’m not at all. Don’t make assumptions, because a person smiles, laughs on the outside. Know that I am working very, very hard to make you, less uncomfortable.
Gone viral is very different from gone fishin’
And then THIS happened. Y’all made it happen. XXOOXX
A shout out to maestro Tim Quinn for helping The Vast Landscape hit the Best Seller list first time around! And the tremendous support.
Amazon Best Seller in Contemporary Urban Fiction
What will it take to fix a broken system? Wake up people, wake up. #NotOneMore
A pseudo famous person, used the term ‘mentally deranged,’ I take offense. The Mental Health system has failed the mentally ill, our streets, jails at over capacity. Guns, why do we need weapons of any kind?! I can buy my meat at Walmart, instead of a gun.
Society is deranged, where reality TV faces become rock stars. WAKE UP, people. Stand up. Do something. Your child’s life is in danger, not from the ‘mentally deranged’ but from a system that is failing us all.
#NotOneMore #NoEasySolution #GetInvolved #RadicalChange
The New Asylums
Since Newton, 74 more. #UnspeakableViolience #UseYourVoice #Educate #Advocate
I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord
the dark squashes me in broad daylight
And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, Oh Lord
big moments, big, big grandiose moments
still waiting, still hoping, oh Lord
do you hear me, screaming
Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, oh Lord
faith is a five letter word hard to swallow
rocks, pebbles slice and cut going down
I bleed red same as you
Well, if you told me you were drowning
I’d jump in and regret it
I would not lend a hand
yeah, I would unwilling
hatred, tick embedded disease
I’ve seen your face before my friend
don’t have any
friends, strangers, foes, allies, enemies
But I don’t know if you know who I am
how could you, hide my face
so complicated, hard to navigate
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
everything I thought true
wrong, wrong, wrong
big moments don’t come
I saw it with my own two eyes
I misunderstood, got it wrong oh Lord
I did that, sole responsible
I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, oh Lord
keep waiting, hope dwindling
fight or flight, fight or flight, fight or flight
Lord can’t save me now, joker, charlatan
thick of it
Stranger to you and me…
DRUMROLL, Phil Collins
Oh Lord, I forgot
love that song
Phil Collins, In The Air Tonight partial lyrics
“It all comes back to a red metal bench in the woods on a small hill by a nothing- special pond. The air is sweet and wet and fall is here for now. Ducks sleep near the brisk, damp water waiting to take flight to sunnier places, offering no solution. I shiver and squirm in my own discomfort, clenching the bench, determined to will myself better. I’ll sit there god damn it, you fucking divine coxsucker, I’m as stubborn as you, until there is something to look forward to. I’m not pretending rosy and cheery just maybe a hint of curiosity.”
-excerpt The Red Bench by Jacqueline Cioffa
We only get one heart, happy home. The place where breath comes easy, life’s complexities do not get in the way. It’s absurd to think, I can do it all, right now. You can’t, you won’t. Me, I worry over every single, mundane, idiotic thing. Some hard wiring has no fixing, we learn compromise. Writing is my heart, happy home. It keeps me grounded, sane, a kinder, more compassionate person. Living demands attention, that’s ok. For five minutes forget, and visit your happy place. The Vast Landscape thrives and Harrison lives in story. The universal themes of love, hurt, adventure, self-doubt, and inspiration are in fact, only part fiction. They are my most intimate truths, my very personal way of seeing the world. Harrison exists because you the kind reader, keep her alive. I’m humbled, grateful and always surprised by the overwhelming, positive response. I believe pixie dust and magic are waiting, invisible, barely out of reach…if we keep stretching…magic happens. I get to stay in my heart, happy place a bit longer with Georgia Pine.
I wrote The Vast Landscape, the prequel to GEORGIA PINE., at a dark, scary time in my life. Harrison, the brash heroine was something tangible I could cling to. She gave me reason, to get up, to go on, to fight, a much-needed respite from what was happening in my real, everyday life. I made the conscious decision not to write about manic depression, the disease that has disrupted every neuron firing through my beautiful, chaotic mind. Bipolar Disorder, the label I detest is en Vogue. There are trending bestsellers, Oscar-winning films and sensationalized television. It’s glamourized, modernized, made to look cool. Trust me, it is not. Mental Illness is the train wreck, the ugly, cruel, exhaustive, intangible, and solitary battle. It does not discriminate, rich, poor, smart, stupid; brings grown men to their knees, ripping whole families apart. Writing The Vast Landscape freed me, to live my dreams on the page. Harrison is I, I am she mixed together so deeply, the lines disappear. The outlines blur, intentionally. Was The Vast Landscape reality, or fantasy? That is for the reader to decide. We are all disabled, broken parts, lost individuals, trying to find our way. Truth is what you know, here and happening now. There is only love, and love is the bravest character of all. Harrison is the voice in our heads, asking the important questions. Where do I fit? Why I am here? Will I love, be loved? Born with a fixed expiration date, yet we carry on. Walking this earth the best we can until we’re pixie dust. Cherished, kept alive in memory by yellow parchment, precarious, aged photographs in a cardboard box. Lives touch; intersect in the most unpredictable, meaningful ways. The essence continues, because you do. Harrison leaves the door open a crack; I seize the opportunity. To revisit my whole, healthy self a bit longer, live the mystic beach home I adore, dream eyes open. To choose hope, against the worst possible odds is the true measure of life, our greatest asset.
The story continues in… GEORGIA PINE.
There is no 31 days Mental Health Awareness month for me. I live with Manic Depression 365 days a year. There are no fancy, frou frou vacations, hefty bonus’, no benefits that come at the end of the year. Your family members do not get a staycation while in your company, they get who they get. Which part of me will take the lead, manic, mean, irritable, physically ill, depressed, anxiety ridden I can’t say. As much as I would like to spare them the uncomfortable that is my rapid cycling. So many friends have been lost, disappeared, dissolved, abandoned, unable to grasp the incessant, cruel velocity I live. It stings only a little now, I don’t have the luxury of wasted energy. I do wonder if I had cancer of the brain, instead of the mouth would I be treated different? If I was a betting man, I’d bet against me. The very real odds are I might not make it. Most days, every day if I’m 100% honest, I plan my exit strategy (verbal diarrhea is one of the ‘perks’ of my job). I never act on it, the comfort in knowing I have control over this one thing helps. It helps me get through the hard, challenging, excruciating days I am living. My brain does not stop, the top spinner that slows only enough so I get a glimpse of the who I was. She and I, at forever odds searching for a middle ground. The compromise we both can live with. When I set out to write a book, I did not believe I would finish. I am no GIRLBOSS, 10% Happier, John Greene author (although I wouldn’t mind). I may never make a bestseller list. But this book, my book, The Vast Landscape kept me alive. Hell yeah, I’d say that’s better than any Goddamn bestseller list, and yes I am wicked proud. My accomplishments are bigger, harder and higher than most. Every single day that I wake up, and choose LIFE is a day I beat the odds. Every damn day I wake, I’ve won.
When I’m stressed, I clean. When I’m confused, I clean. When I’m angry, I clean. Exhausted, nauseated, in full-blown Benzo withdrawal. Not permitted by my shrinks to travel, basically I’m assigned to the nut house. Only, this house arrest comes with a ton of perks, comfortable amenities. Yeah, you could this house is pretty clean. Benzo withdrawal is worse than heroine. You could say, that, yes could.
Just when I think I can’t take one more day of the absurdity that has become my existence, apparently I can. I blame the doctors in part, the shrinks, quacks, they don’t a clue what might work, and what won’t. Mental Illness meds that could very well kill you, they’re so quick to write a script. Well, that one didn’t work, let’s try this on top of that. Pretty soon, your brain is a full on pileup of conflicting signals, no wonder it’s lost without a roadmap. My beautiful mind, gets more and more tangled, lost inside forgotten memory, drooping eyelid, psychosomatic illness, blindness, hallucinations. They’ve really fuked you now, you have no choice but to go nuts. There’s no winding the hands back on the clock.
Me, I’m the anomaly. The med-resistant patient, the BiPolar opposite. I hate the drugs. Muscle rigor, swollen tongue, numbness, vertigo, ringing ears, eye paralysis, what’s next? Fuk off, you can keep your pink, white and yellow pills, in various doses of madness. When I can’t fight anymore, when I can’t find the will, I will look to the clock. With what’s left of my shredded dignity, faith, courage and hope, I’ll simply go, on my time. My brain, I’m donating to science.
I received ‘the phone call’, email. The sad news we dread, three times in one week. Each ring, every broken heart, gave me strength to fight the personal pain, fear and sorrow. Empathy takes over in tragedy, gratitude settles in. One loss hit hard, knocked the wind out. The loss of a child. I would’ve gladly given away some of my time, to his mother. I have lived so much beautiful, loved so deeply and laughed so loud, freely. Time doesn’t work like that, the hands do not stop. I will fight for her, silently, the unbearable loss. In honor of mother and child I will live, because that’s all I can do. I offer prayer, for the loved ones who’ve gone missing. Maybe they’re not missing at all, maybe they returned home. To an ethereal world where there is no pain, no disease, filled with Technicolor dreams, and Opal crystalline riches. Enough for us all. Home to an impeccably clean house, with five-star amenities and perks, and no sorrow.
Time tells me I’m here, for a reason. For now. Until I’m not.
And that is, just fine by me.
This morning I told my mother to fuk off. I did not mean it, not exactly. Living here, where I don’t want to be, being sick, bad genes, I blame her. I can’t help it, I do. As I watch her walk to the car, a fragile, old woman it’s too much. She gave me her whole life, I can give her a fraction of mine. She knows I don’t mean it when the venom spews, before I can retract. I was her precious baby, happy girl, her funny, fearless child. I wonder how she felt, when I became a brat. The loud, mouth teenager, forever unhappy. She couldn’t fix me, Lord knows she tried. I called her, every night from NY pursuing my dreams, crying and alone. “You can always come home.” That’s what a good mother does, a mother like mine. She knew I wouldn’t give up, even before I did. Keep at it, she taught me persistence. She was my first call when I booked a modeling job for $12,000. That was a boatload of money, she was proud. I could tell. She has one tone, but a thousand different voices. One for every mood, situation, emotion. That’s what a good mother does. When my glorious, faulty wired mind went missing, I didn’t understand. She listened as I sobbed hysterically, for hours and hours, months on end. She never hung up the line. “You’re coming home, that’s it.” I believed her when she said I’d be ok, that’s what a good mother does. She was right, on Lithium my mind got better. I mustered the courage to go back to NY. She promised everything would work out. I called her, just to check in. She was my lifeline, to sanity. Everything was fine, until it wasn’t. I had seven years in New York, working, living without one psychotic episode. She listened when I was incoherent. That’s what a good mother does. “I wanna come home,” I cried, scared out of mind, seeing dead people. I could not find my way back. Out of the pain, the indescribable fear, the black hole. She came to get me. My seventy year old mother came, to bring her broken, adult daughter home. “Everything will be fine.” She lied, it won’t. On the days I hate her, because there is no one else around she takes it, silently. On the days I hate this place, this house, this illness and exhaustion, it’s mostly because I hate myself. I want to die, I don’t. I vacuum my frustrations, do the heavy lifting for her because she can’t. Because, that’s what a good daughter does.
I write stories, about mother-daughter relationships, that are only partially untrue.
GEORGIA PINE. – excerpt
Addie stressed over the twins, checked on them two or three times a night. She couldn’t breathe, scared they might break. “Comb your hair, brush your teeth. Chop-chop.” Adelaide was never so grateful to see her mother. That was a great day. Harry did that, she could take your worse days and throw them in your face. Make you face your fears, move on.
I never paid much attention to a normal, calendar year. When you have a serious illness, days are measured in hours, minutes and even seconds. On a good day, when the mind is quiet, belly laughs come and go. That usually happens when my favorite people are around, the ones that know me best. Yes, being loved without the label or judgment, counts. On a bad day, I fight. Alone, no one can do it for me. I have to choose life, the want to live, dimmed by shredded, twisted neurons of a misfiring mind. I don’t count years anymore, I count the seconds. The good and bad days a mashup, strewn together like broken bulbs on Christmas trees. I prefer the lunar year, where the sun, stars and moon align, and misalign. That, I can relate to. Goodbye lost friends, career, moments I won’t experience again. A warm embrace to those that stuck around. Yours are the ‘likes’ on Facebook, the thoughtful cards, the small kindnesses that make time bearable. There have been happy moments; love, laughter, May sunshine, colors in bloom, life filled with purpose. Personal goals, I set for myself. Come hell or high-water. In the middle of the raging war inside my head, I set only one, besides getting better. A lofty, intimate, soul fulfilling, goal. To write, and finish a book. Not any book, but a glorious, life-affirming story filled with raw, flawed, humanistic beings, who choose hope and love. The things that truly matter. No small feat for the ‘normal’ everyday person, a gigantic leap for someone like me. I hate labels, I find them abhorrent, run of the mill ordinary, much like holiday festivities. There is no other me, or you. There never will be. Embrace it, give yourself a hug and pat on the back for enduring another year, gracefully, humbly and with integrity. All of it, the messy, and the emotion. Say good-bye to the evil snake of 2013, welcoming the Chinese New Year, 2014. The year of the majestic, elegant, lithe, spirited, strong, dreamy, ageless, wild, fast, beautiful horse.
Horoscope 2014, forecast for the 2014 year of the Horse
The 2014 Chinese Year is the 31 number in the sixty-year cycle called Chia Wu and described in Chinese tradition like “Horse in the Clouds”. 2014 is the year of Green Wooden Horse.
The upcoming compassionate 2014 year of the Horse is going to be attentive to all our troubles and quick to react in protection of those who cannot fight for themselves. The optimistic nature of the 2014 allows us to cope with financial hardships in the belief that good fortune will soon be on the way, while kind-hearted nature of the 2014 year provides us with supportive friends, ready to help us in difficulties just as we have helped them.
The Vast Landscape on Amazon.com
Yesterday was not a good day. No, in fact It was a very, very bad one. Crap, we all have them. Not exactly like mine. My bad day started out fine, until out of nowhere, it wasn’t. Frenzied, panicked, the emotional turmoil requires a great deal of work. They tell me ride it out, it will be fine. It won’t. My mother sits across watching, as my eye droops, I sob hysterically, my face contorts, reason jets out the window. Her face frozen with patience, sorrow and exhaustion shows me the way back. After an hour, the very bad subsides. I am wrecked. I tell her I am fine, which I am not but what the hell. It’s a small lie, a white one. Her heart has been broken too many times. She leaves, drives around the block, only to return. She has not done that before, I wonder did she see something menacing as I went missing? Clawing my way back to the here and now. A task, a physical task helps. I rake, working the body to exhaustion quelling the incessant noise. I work until numb. That helps. I spend too much time trying to be the person I was. Wasted energy. I must let her die. She was beautiful, loud, said all the inappropriate things, flawed and messy. She was free. She was me. I loved her, anyway. She is gone, but I celebrate the best parts of her. Even the experts aren’t experts on the bad days. They have no finite conclusion, no magic pill, tangible task to offer. Baffled by the mysterious workings of the mind. I’m leaving this muddled brain to science. That is my contribution to her and me. And all those that came before, and come after.
Today is better. I get out, and walk. Nature’s changing scenery reminds me, all is temporary. Billy Joel’s, “you catholic girls start much too late. Sooner or later it comes down to fate,” takes me to a happy place. Childhood memories, skipping, twirling and tacky plaid uniforms. The crisp air, biting wind off the angry water is good for the soul. Watching my pooch run leaps and bounds, ears at attention, I lose myself in her joy. I feel a smile coming on, in spite of it all. I’d dance in the oddly vacant parking lot, no one’s around. I better not. I must behave. Oh fuk it, I shake my booty just a little, shimmy my shoulders, press unlock and hop in the car. I hit repeat, singing loud and off-key, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.” Only the Good Die Young. I’m lucky. How many of us die and live to talk about it.