Mark Blickley did for me what Robin Williams did for him. He was the first published author, kind, brilliant creative person to encourage me to write. I love this piece for obvious and many reasons. Thank you, Robin Williams for paying it forward in kind.
I never cared much about looking back when I was young.
I could not wait to leave this house, this town get out and experience stuff. You know the obstinate dreamer looking for bold adventure. It worked. I ran. I ran fast and far, and kept running. That’s the funny thing about developing a serious illness, you are forced to re-prioritize. Becoming insane in the middle of Manhattan did not bode well for me or the strangers that crossed my path. The fancy friends eventually grew tired and gave up on listening to the paranoia, illusions of grandeur or understanding the enticement of pretty pink and shiny purple horses or the flickering lights of the carousel. Ones you can’t dismount or runaway from or dismiss, like the mania and depression you can’t out run. Round and round you go, in perpetuity. There are worse things than glaring evil stares when dancing alone in a Radio Shack in Harlem. There are even worse things than sitting on the floor in the middle of Rite Aid, Gatorade in hand, sobbing because you don’t know where you are, why the room is spinning or if you’re going to hurl from the strobe light storm happening inside your brain. There are even worse, more horrific things than why you’re all alone sitting on the cold, dirty floor. You are sure there are. You watch the news, bad shit happens. This bad to you, you’re not so sure.
Mortifying, that’s what mental illness is. Ruthless, ugly, hide your face in shame from the judgmental, fearful stares. The noise level in NYC is just too high. You can’t stand when passerbys brush against you, the subway screeches to a halt, or the taxis whizzing past. The bright yellow hurts your eyes. You can’t see. You can’t hear. You cannot process the incessant, relentless buzz, hums and whirring noise.
I am somebody’s child, you know.
I am somebody’s child, same as you.
I used to love the Carousel screaming and running towards it, arms flailing like the happy carefree girl I once was.
What I can’t figure out is what the hell I’m supposed to do? Now. With this.
Some people are addicted to the mania jonesing for the next high, the visions, euphoria.
No, no, no.
Not me. I’ll take the black hole depression and blasé every single time. It’s quieter and peaceful alone in the dark. Except for being skinny, that part of the mania I’ll keep.
There’s only one thought to trust, one way to save yourself.
Maybe, maybe if you go back you might find your way.
Safe passage awaits.
Maybe I’ll breathe easier there.
Maybe the familiar, childhood home might save me.
Probably not. It’s my best shot.
You see, I don’t care if I live or if I die. I know that sounds harsh, exaggerated, self-indulgent but it’s not.
I only care how I live and where I’ll die.
I’ve been asking my mom about her mother as far back as I can remember, cataloging the information in a deep, pooling reservoir of serenity where I could reach in calling on the stories to be soothed.
I have tidal waves of memories, and ripple effects of love stored in my brain.
My grandmother, May, died in her sleep before we could meet. Fifty-three is too young to leave, she was barely getting started I bet.
I know some things about her. She liked to fish and the solitude of being on the water. We have that in common.
She drank a Manhattan every night after work. She was a baker’s daughter, my mom still makes her molasses cookie recipe at Christmastime. She loved her husband who’d get sick, (like me) and then better but never quite the same.
“Don’t bother your father,” the phrase handed down to her own daughter.
May worked in a plumbing shop with him, raising her children to be responsible, gentile and hardworking.
It was a simple, honest life.
She liked to dance, but didn’t go out often.
She loved gardening, planting roses and peony bushes.
Did you know it takes peonies a full year to bloom?
Maybe May knew while planting the seed, her heart full of family.
An invisible string from the heavens touching mine, her orb a sweet- scented blushing pink.
Maybe she knew, probably not.
She’d adored diamonds like me, wore an outrageous sparkling solitaire with facets that shimmer and catch the light on my finger. I only wear the precious heirloom on special occasions or when I’m morosely blue. It makes me feel pretty inside, close to her.
“You never told me I looked like her,” drilling my mother with yet another ten-thousandth question.
She nodded, “it makes me sad and happy at the same time.”
Home, a place one doesn’t fully outgrow and never truly leaves behind.
But home, this home however much I am the failure for needing to return is where I would like to live and how I would hope to die.
Not necessarily the physical dwelling, but the contentment feeling and serenity of a happy place inside.
Surrounded by love. Less alone.
Unencumbered by the weight of heavy living.
One, two buckle my shoe. I don’t know how other writers find their way into a story.
For me, it usually goes something like this. I hear a line in my head, a word, see a visual, and then the story plays over and over, until I release it onto the page. Its cathartic, sometimes it takes me back, some days it moves me forward when I am wallowing and can’t get unstuck. Most times, it’s just an honest, real interpretation of an emotion. I’m an emotional girl. Or, so I’ve been told.
I live with the image, words, sometimes for days, weeks, even months. Then, like magic or being possessed, I have to get it out. My fingers take over the keys; my mind wanders and dictates the thoughts, mulling it about until there is a clear picture. I see mere babies growing, learning the simple phrase, “One, two, buckle my shoe.” We are all preconditioned from the start. “Look at me, Mommy look what I can do. I can talk, walk and dance all on my own.” And we wait, for the love, the adoration, the pride on their faces. The loving adoration of a parent and their perfect can do no wrong baby girl. We wait, and then we wait some more.” Look Daddy, I dyed my hair red with a blond streak, I wanted to be different”. I got drunk in school, lashing out against the bullies, the in crowd, and the machine, desperate to be an individual. Daddy holds my head as I puke and strokes my hair, he tells the first lie. “It’s ok, baby girl, you are my princess, you are going to be all right.” And we wait, for the clap. Bravo, you are so smart, so beautiful they say. You are positive they mean it. You miss the roll of the eyes in frustration, or the bed time whisper and tears, “I’m so worried about her.” She’s too young to be this sad, so depressed, to be so oddly different. One, two buckle my shoe. I must conform to society, wear the same shoe, walk the same old boring old walk, say all the right things. I’m sad for the young girl, so miserably, visibly unhappy, in high school. I hate the way this feels; I take note that I am different. They say nothing, providing all the pleasantries and comforts of a supportive, loving home. I am so lucky like that. Maybe they knew all along, how horribly difficult things would turn out, how unusual I would actually become.
“It’s not her fault, it’s in her genes.” Oh my God, did they speak it aloud? She’s Mentally Ill. What?! One, two, buckle my shoe. I try to be normal, to please them, to see the admiration still on their faces. My daddy is gone, he died a broken man. Mental Illness got him, no matter how hard my mother fought. She did not win. We buried him in a grave and he has not yet come back. I wait for him. I still wait for him. In my dreams, during this sabbatical and these sick days, he hasn’t come. He can’t quite find his way back. One, two buckle my shoe. My mother has aged so. The bravest, head strong, caring, woman I know. Cursed in this lifetime to fall in love, make a family. One, two buckle my shoe.
With a baby daughter who would grow to walk in her father’s shoes. I didn’t mean it, as hard as I try, I can’t win. The Lunacy gene has taken hold of me, too. One, two buckle my shoe. I don’t care if I die see; the excruciating days are too hard to fill. I came back home. Home, to the safe, happy childhood home I once knew. It’s less happy now. There are fewer nursery rhymes. There are only mornings, where I wake shaking and take pills. Lots and lots of pills, I count. Ten a day, sometimes twelve. I don’t want them, fuckers one and all. I hide it best I can. Inside I am a ticking time bomb, shoeless, crying, screaming, I’m so sorry I didn’t make you proud. I gave it my best shot. I hide the pain, the fear, the paranoia, and the overwhelming anxiety the best way I know how. In the bottom of an old, outgrown, dated, and worn down shoe. I’m sorry, really so very sorry I never meant to lose my mind. I’ve always wanted to come back to you, to make my mother and father proud. I lie most days, I do. Sometimes that even makes me feel better. I can forget the ugly future that awaits.
I am penniless, wandering with no direction. One, two buckle my shoe. I end up in an institution or worse on the street. No one cares. They barely saw me before. You see, while my parents were busy clapping my way into adulthood, I saw it. The times they were preoccupied doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, getting on with life. They missed my first steps. Not on purpose, not without regret. I know they tried their best, I know they did. But, I’m still looking for that first and final clap. It never comes. I will always be out of step.
I drink Ginger with a bit of Ale to ease the relentless ad nauseam that is the day. It’s winter here. We have had an easy time of it. Today, the sun shines and I reminisce. One, two buckle my shoe. I can’t remember the full verse. I guess it doesn’t matter anyhow. I will ask my mother. No, no I must not. I must learn to walk on my own, however blistering and uncomfortable the shoe. The numbness fits.
originally published April 2012 brooklynvoice.com
There is in fact a whole earth with enough space to roam, create, inspire, dream, conquer, share and uplift.
I believe this to be.
I will not waste one second, one millisecond needing or lusting after your shine.
Stephen Hawking’s quote suggests, “There ought to be something very special about the boundary conditions of the universe and what can be more special than that there is no boundary?”
No boundary, what a revolutionary concept.
The eminent, brilliant physicist agrees, “Women. They are a complete mystery.”
Yes, they can be.
In the simplest, rudimentary terms women are the enigma.
Most beautiful when they accept and reflect the luminous, radiant shine.
Not ignore, or deflect.
Comparison and envy are time wasters, dimmers that dull the reflecting pools of light.
One in Four. No, not Really.
The very real, gut-wrenching mental illness statistics remain not far off from fifty years ago when pyschiatric institutions were the solution, lock them away.
As long as my beautiful chaotic mind and the words don’t betray me, I use my voice.
I am Three in Four even Four in Four, hit the mentally ill genetic jackpot. The reality is I could snap at any moment, I pray won’t.
Please, don’t judge. Don’t judge the ‘crazy,’ the insane, the unfit, the unwell, the lunatic that is me. Help us instead.
We are left with the prisons of our own minds and that is heavy enough.
From the Washington Post, “A shocking number of mentally ill Americans end up in prison instead of treatment.”
I Am Adam Lanza
By Jacqueline Cioffa
A decade ago I lived a frivolous, spoiled, privileged life. An International fashion model, I worked in more countries than I can count. Freedom was something I took for granted, until the earth fell from under me and my whole world shattered. My first psychotic breakdown took away everything I knew to be true and buried me whole.
The paranoia, delusions of grandeur, mania, the irrational and out of control behavior. I wanted to die, too exhausted by the fragile, broken mind. I wanted to let go of the rage, the fear, the despair, I wanted to end my life. The slicing of the wrists, my escape and a way out. Dancing in the streets, in stores, I was too out of my mind to be ashamed, by my behavior. The shame and isolation would come later, as thick and heavy as a steel beam, freight train crushing my soul. I lived with my brother, exasperated, helpless, not knowing what more he could do, he put me on a bus back home to my mother. My Irish, stubborn, loyal, family first, capable mother. She had experience dealing with Mental Illness; my family had been plagued by the unlucky 1 in 4 gene pool.
My sick, wracked mind betrayed me, no longer mine to control. The whole and intact me, I used to know now gone forever. The carefree, compassionate, strong, independent person is living her worst nightmare. Even on the hard, horrific days, the dark evil thoughts dominating my brain, I fight desperately to regain control. If you have not been exposed to Mental Illness, please do not talk to me about it. You are out of your league, cannot begin to comprehend the exhausting toll it takes. On a family, friends, that is if you are lucky enough to have any left. Mostly, you are left with isolation and shame, your own.
My second breakdown brought black days, numbness, and a shell of a person. The depression and anxiety, so crippling I was forced to leave the big city, retreat back home to the safety of familiar surroundings. The pain so deep, so heavy, the fear immense, death seemed my only option. A welcome release from the demons, the evil lurking in the corners of a tortured mind. I work hard to beat the beast daily, as soon as my feet hit the floor, shaking. I take the psych drugs, Lithium, Xanax, Valium, the shock treatments and practice alternative medicine. I do yoga, eat healthy, exercise and live simple. I try to avoid the triggers, terrified of the next episode.
I never know when the outbursts will come, when paranoia will convince me the man in the park wants to kill me. In my heart and my soul, I know this is completely irrational. But, the mind plays tricks. I have to fight, every minute, every second to control the grappling Illness I must live with. Day after day, in constant fear of what I might do next. I don’t own a gun, I would be afraid to have one in close proximity. I hate violence, I find it abhorrent, but I do not trust the beast.
There is no concrete help for the Mentally Disabled; there is half hour, once a month consults with the overworked, underpaid psychiatrist, who spends your time glancing at a clock. There are no solutions, into the mysteries of a broken mind, they throw pills at you. Pills that may very well be your undoing, send you deeper into depression, trigger manic episodes or worse an acute psychotic episode, and the killing of innocent souls. Those are the worst breaks, the psychosis, and the hardest to come back from. I have visited them firsthand.
I watched, helpless as my beautiful, brilliant, Yale educated, compassionate cousin ended her own life. She was a Dr., the smartest person I know and she could not find a way out of the Mental Illness that plagued her. My own father, who endured 17 years of Mental Illness, endless pills that made him worse, psychiatric hospital visits, a dementia ridden mind at the end. My mother, who fought every battle with him, and for him when he couldn’t. His daughter who would always be in my memory, his adored, precocious, funny face, happy and intact child. He died not knowing my name. Although, in my heart and my spirit, I know exactly what I meant to him. His last breath I was beside him, holding his hand and on his heart. I felt the unbearable pain and destroyed mind, set free as he floated up to heaven. He was a good man, the kindest, most selfless I know.
I am a good person, who doesn’t deserve this fate. I am not a violent person, but I am Adam Lanza. He may have committed a horrific, unspeakable EVIL, act. Did he start out evil? He must have been an innocent, child himself at some point. When did his broken mind take over, when did he lose all rational, self-control? It’s too hard to grasp, too big to think about without immeasurable faith.
When are we, as an empathetic society, going to care about the Mentally Ill? Fight for them; stick up for them, as eagerly as we fight against gun control. When will we do something about the fact that there is no place for ‘us’, when the evil, mind disease takes hold? They send you to the ER, push a pill, perhaps a 72 hour hold to the Psych Ward. There is nowhere a parent with a disturbed, sick child can turn. We are in trouble, as a society. Take the guns off the streets, a mentally disturbed individual will find another way to kill. Help us fix them, with more research, better facilities, more culpability from the Government and its people, for the Mentally Ill.
I weep for those children, the families, the unimaginable depths of pain and sorrow. I rejoice in my youth, safe, happy and healthy. I’m grateful for that. I expose myself, sharing my story. Perhaps it can help bring insight and perspective. I don’t believe human beings are evil, I believe they are defective and commit violent, unspeakable acts.
Mental Illness has afflicted me, but it could’ve been you or a loved one. One in four is not great odds. I am alone, completely and utterly alone with my Illness, even while surrounded by an empathic family. I am not a child; I am an adult, who’s better equipped to manage this bastard disease.
Please, don’t judge me. Don’t judge the Adam Lanza’s. Don’t judge the ‘crazy,’ the insane, the unfit, the unwell, the lunatic that is me.
Help us instead.
Roots and Wings
God isn’t looking for me
Lots of heartache going on
Too much trouble all around
People don’t see people can’t see people don’t wanna see people
My god have you seen the news?
I can’t believe what’s going on
Ain’t new ain’t nothing but old news
Still it’s an awful lot of hurt to swallow and go down
I’m no better
Than you and you and him and her and us
God can’t keep up with what’s happening
Best mind my business and do some digging
Get to the bottom of this
I’m going to lay down roots earth angels will do the rest
Carry the wings
When your troubles feel too heavy never you mind
He gave us roots and wings
Work your garden pull turn the soil wipe the sweat from your brow
God isn’t looking for me
But I’m looking for him
To know something beautiful grows
Where you can’t see it
You know it’s there you feel
I didn’t know not exactly, not until this moment.
I never believed brushing aside the possibility of happy.
Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow I’ll embrace the quirks and eccentrities.
Funny time wasted. Not funny.
This end of April Sunday close to May, I stand at the fault line.
The compost pile is toppling from all the shit dumped over the years.
I don’t know about you, maybe you were born over-confident.
A chest puffer.
Never had to overthink it, actually liked spending time in your own company.
Didn’t fret about how you looked in a full length mirror, crap you never even owned one.
Happy, no worries. Happy, never mind the worries. Happy, because it feels better.
And maybe you weren’t born with a twelve pack but a Buddha belly and when you laughed it was honest from the gut, and your smile was fuchsia electric.
I’ve known people like that, really I have.
Well one that I can think of.
I wonder if Angelina Jolie is a brooder like me?
Angelina was the first perfect human that came to mind.
Let’s see, Buddha belly person is happy for realz, never asking, wanting or needing much of anything.
Seriously, just the jubilee of living and giving are enough.
I can’t speak for Angie but I wonder if she wears Crocs, doesn’t bother to shower or sits in the grass simply because she likes the way it feels against her unshaven, hairy-for-days legs.
I can’t help but wonder, curiosity careens through the wrinkles I now possess,
and the dirt under my fingernails from digging the earth.
I like how my back aches, moss green hands throb and sweat trickles down my neck.
I like that Jeff Buckley is blasting haunting, melodic melodies directly into my brain.
I like that this moment I am absolutely present just him and me, in fifty degrees that is neither scorching nor too cold uncomfortable but smack dab in the middle.
I like to use clichés, that make me happy no matter how incorrect or passe.
I like the physical task of creating something, something real.
That is the closest I’ve come to happy.
To loving myself.
On this end of April Sunday close to May, I stand at the fault line.