Mood Disorder

All posts tagged Mood Disorder

summer reading program

The Kinglet, summer 2011

The following essay popped up in my Facebook feed this morning.  I originally wrote it in 2013 after we had to pull my son out of a creative arts summer camp.  He was easily frustrated, cried a lot, had to take lots of cool-down breaks — all things that are normal for a child with autism (which we didn’t know he had, at the time) and an emotional disorder.  I’d put two weeks of my summer aside so I could be there as his coach, but it still didn’t work out. The art teacher treated him (and me) like he had a contagious disease, and the administration (my employer, and friend, at the time) threw up her hands, because what can you do, you know? We have to think of the other children.

I cringed when I saw it again this morning — not because of what I said in it, but because this is a problem – a prejudice – that we’ve been battling all his life. In 2011 it was summer camp at the local Lutheran church — nice people, not equipped to handle him.  In 2012 it was the sports camp sponsored by the City of Newark.  Before his diagnosis, it was the school system that dumped him in an “intervention” room (closet) for most of the school day, or suspended him.  Last year it was the new gifted teacher that didn’t want him in her class, even though his test scores are through the roof and rote remedial learning bores him (literally) to tears.  Why should the other gifted children have to listen to my son cry, right, or witness him being removed by a para, or do their work like good boys and girls while my son audits the class because he’s too stressed that day? That’s not fair, is it? We have to think of the other children.

But you know what? No.  No, your child doesn’t need to be sheltered from my child.

My Child’s Meltdown Belongs in Your Classroom

(Summer 2013)  I’m trying to be professional and understanding about things that have happened this week, but as a parent, my heart is a little broken.

When asked to consider the place of children with emotional and behavioral disorders in an educational setting, the first concern of most people seems to be for the benefit of the other children, and the teachers, and the harmony of the group. Which makes sense, right? When you first think about it.

But I ask you to consider this. A generation ago, even less, these same arguments, based on misunderstanding at best, prejudice at worst, kept children with developmental delays and other handicaps from attending school. It was only with activism on the part of parents and child advocates that this attitude was challenged, and changed, resulting in laws that protect the right of ALL children to an inclusive education, in the least restrictive setting, with all possible and reasonable accommodation.

These days, we don’t much dispute the right of a child with physical challenges to take part in the same activities as healthy children. When it comes to children with emotional and behavioral disorders, however, there is still a pervasive prejudice. There is a perception that such children are bad, that their behavior is willful – they are punished, rather than worked with, and they are marginalized.

The truth is, such a child has as much control over his condition as a child with epilepsy, or with Tourettes, or with Autism, or Cerebral Palsy, or with any other host of impairments can control theirs. That is to say, given an opportunity, and a conducive environment, and appropriate supports, they can succeed as well as any child.

The questions I am asked, as a parent of a child with an emotional and behavioral disorder… Why should other children have to suffer when such a child acts out in the classroom?

– Because these people exist together in the world.
– Because discomfort over differences is healed by familiarity, compassion, and understanding.
– Because segregating “normal” children from “abnormal” children when it is not strictly necessary will not prepare either one for living in an inclusive world. It can only further misconceptions and prejudice. It can only distance the special needs child from a sense of belonging and success.

Why should teachers have to interrupt their class to deal with a child who acts out in the classroom?

– Because every child is different. Some have learning disabilities and need help understanding their assignments. Some children have physical challenges and need help maneuvering their world. Some children have language barriers, cultural barriers, problems at home, problems of self-esteem, problems keeping their breakfast down, problems sitting still, problems paying attention, problems with you.
-If you are a teacher, presumably you are so for a reason. Please don’t shy away from something because you don’t understand it.

With the rate at which children in our society are being diagnosed with behavioral and psychiatric disorders, and in the wake of national tragedies that have dragged the state of mental health care into the limelight, I believe this is something that needs to be said. This is a conversation we need to be having. This is a situation that needs to be challenged.

At the very least, it’s something I need to get off my chest.

Five years ago this month, I retired from my full-time job as a bookkeeper.  My son was my main reason for taking the leap — he had spent half his life in daycare at that point, and I wanted to be the one to raise him — but finding time for my writing was a close second.

I remember driving home from work one day, getting an idea, and reaching for a pen at the stoplight, only to realize that not only did I not have a notebook with me, but it’d probably been months since I’d thought to carry one. As someone who has often relied on writing for survival — quite literally — that was a major wake-up call.

My salary was a good one. Giving it up was hard, and definitely came with emotional struggles as well as financial ones. But we were able to make it work, and for that I will be forever grateful, because I feel like the most important part of my life started the day I traded my calculator for a keyboard.

One of the first poems that I submitted for publication was to a literary journal called Kaleidoscope, published by United Disability Services in Akron, Ohio.

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The poem, “Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee,” is a somewhat goofy but earnest reflection on unipolar disorder, also known as cyclical depression, dysthymia, or whatever label the DSM wants to give it this year (basically bipolar disorder with no highs, only lows) – a condition I’ve struggled with since I was a little girl.

My late-teens and early twenties were the hardest (they typically are, aren’t they?) I lost a great scholarship, some good friends, and several years of writing  — almost lost my life, too.

By twenty-five I had my shit (mostly) together (chain-smoking notwithstanding), graduated college with honors, and was working a good trade. Just as important, I was finally able to hold a pen again and start picking away at the emotional scabs that had been keeping me from putting down words in a coherent and meaningful way (and isn’t that an attractive metaphor? pick, pick).

Once I would have tumbled into this emotion
a storm’s eye sitting
in a broken coffeehouse chair
once I would have seen it as poles colliding
closing in on every last spark of joy
but now I see it as an old
familiar friend;
the kind that puts out a cigarette in your coffee
and reminds you
of everything you try to ignore

“Portrait of a Woman Drinking Coffee” is from that era, written in the corner of the Brew Ha Ha balcony in a messy notebook with an ashtray full of clove cigarettes in front of me.

ashtray-295028_640Though it took them nearly five years to publish it (five years!!!), I let UDS take their time (with only minimal grumbling) because I couldn’t think of a better home for a poem like this than Kaleidoscope, a magazine “creatively focuse[d] on the experiences of disability through literature and the fine arts.”

Putting aside the notion that many of the best artists, writers, and performers are/were nut jobs (though they totally are/were), the arts themselves are an important means of therapy and self-expression. This is true for everyone, but perhaps especially so for those whose ability to function day-to-day is a constant challenge. Kaleidoscope provides a forum, a spotlight, for artists with disabilities, including the so-called invisible disability of mental illness. As a survivor, I am happy to be living in an era when the stigma of difference is being tested, shaken, picked at like an ugly scab on our social conscience (see what I did there?) I want to thank projects like Kaleidoscope for adding to that momentum.  I am honored to have even a small part in it.

To download this (Issue #70, “Journeying to Acceptance”) or other issues of Kaleidoscope, visit http://www.udsakron.org/kaleidoscope/issues.aspx.

 

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Demeter mourning Persephone (Evelyn de Morgan, 1906)

The special promotional period for my poetry collection, UNDOING WINTER, ends this Friday, April 25th.  To mark these final days, I thought I’d say a few words on one of the central themes of the book – katabasis, or “descent”.

From the Greek word for “down”, katabasis is a term beloved by psychologists and scholars (especially Jungian lovers like me).  It refers to a downward journey – “a descent of some type, such as moving downhill, or the sinking of the winds or sun, a military retreat, or a trip to the underworld.”  (See the Wikipedia article on katabasis here.)

The Easter holiday just passed celebrates a katabasis of sorts, and my favorite kind: the ancient story of rebirth, or return.  Like Christ, many figures of myth undergo a journey into death, darkness, or despair, often in order to accomplish something superhuman – to resurrect a loved one, perhaps, or to bring a message of love and hope to mankind.

The titular poem in my collection, “Undoing Winter”, explores several other examples of katabasis.  Perhaps the most obvious to fans of Classical myths is the story of Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture and mother of Persephone, a hapless maiden who was abducted in the bloom of her youth by Hades, Lord of the Underworld.  As the story goes, Demeter in her grief defies the mighty Zeus, leaving the earth to languor in a perpetual winter so long as Persephone remains in her dark prison (spoiler alert: eventually Demeter wins her daughter back, though at a cost).

I faced the shining wrath of the sun
on your behalf
while you cried your soul away.
I made excuses to the earth and sky
and fed the peasants gravel.
Give it time, I said. She is composting.
Come again tomorrow.

Ishtar_goddess

Burney Relief / Queen of the Night

– from UNDOING WINTER*Finishing Line Press

Ever the fan of layers, I wrote UNDOING WINTER with other versions of the descent in mind as well – specifically Orpheus (the mythic Greek musician/poet) and Inanna (Sumerian Goddess of Awesomeness), both of whom braved underworld trials in order to bring back lost loves.

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Arno Breker, Orpheus en Euridike (reliëf 1944)

 

 

 

 

 

It should be no surprise that such stories hold a constant place in the repertoire of faith– (and art, for that matter!  How many modern fictional heroes can you think of who manage to fight their way back from certain death – and at what price?)  As mortal beings, we face the loss of loved ones and of self at every turn.  The hope that there is life beyond death is naturally something that occupies our collective psyches.

Yet stories of resurrection needn’t always be taken literally, nor do they only belong in the realm of heroes and gods.

In psychological terms, katabasis can be a metaphor for depression.  This, too, is one of the central meanings of UNDOING WINTER, both the titular poem and the book as a whole.   Though for me, the journey in and out of clinical depression happens to be a lifelong condition, many people (most, even?) have or will experience the long dark night of the soul.

This, I think, is another reason why stories of katabasis are so eternal.  Life is hard – so hard, sometimes, that giving up or giving in seems preferable.  Like the heroes of myth, it often takes great will or faith to overcome the lure of the dark.  Sometimes returning to the light hurts like hell.  As lovers of stories, we’re not just hoping to hear that death is not the end of us – we’re looking for reassurance that we have it in us to survive.

 

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Ultimately, “Undoing Winter” is about self-rescue.  The poem gives homage to – and takes liberty with – a powerful archetype found again and again in our collective archives.  The collection, UNDOING WINTER, carries the idea even further.  In this arrangement, I hope to bring the reader into some dark places… echoes of where I have been, and what I have endured… but there’s a reason for it.  I promise.  Because, for me, katabasis is not just about the journey down.  It’s about coming back… by tooth and claw, if necessary… to find we are stronger… better… more ourselves than ever before.

COVER FROM WEBSITE

 

 

Want to show your support for UNDOING WINTER? Pre-order your copy today at Finishing Line Press.

I have discovered that writing short stories is dangerous to my mental health.

I strive for balance. I’ve said this before – my dearest wish is to portion out my have-to’s (housekeeping, exercise, balancing the checkbook, doctor’s appointments, childcare), want-to’s (gardening, meditating, learning), and MUSTS (writing… also, writing) in some kind of predictable routine. I want to feel peaceful, accomplished, and satisfied in life

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rather than constantly fighting to catch up with one thing or the other.

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As it turns out, though, my muse is a bipolar bitch who refuses to be yoked.

After months of crippling writer’s block, largely due to frustration with my current novel, I started work in February on several short stories I had promised to anthologies. Moving them out of my mental queue would be helpful – obligations to other people always loom large in my mind. I feel guilty, and distracted from anything else I mean to do.

Plus, I figured that short story work would help me transition back into writing the novel – being shorter projects, self-contained and conscripted to a certain theme. Like running sprints to get ready for a marathon.

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And I was right – come April, I’ve gotten back in the habit of writing, got the juices flowing, won my confidence back. And I think I’m ready to start the long journey once again, for all those reasons…

but also because, damn. Writing short stories is apt to kill me.

It’s like this: when I start a project, I start out slow. I like the 250-words a day challenge – a promise I can keep on any given day, doable even over morning coffee while the Kinglet eats his waffles and watches Spongebob before school. If I don’t know where I’m going yet, or need to think about a scene, I can write enough to still see the story grow, even if I don’t come back to it for the rest of the day.

Eventually, the daily wordcount gets higher. I get to know the characters, get invested in what’s happening. The project blossoms from something to play with into something I need and want to do. Then – voila – I’m writing a story.

With novel writing, this process works great for me. I can build a routine around it, writing something almost every day, feeling good that I’m chugging along, every day another step in that journey of a thousand miles…

The trouble with shorts, though, is that it only takes a few days of writing before you can start to see the end. For me, that’s where the crazy kicks in.

I think, oh, look. I’m almost there. If I push it, I can make it… just a little farther. Come on now, girl, work it. Dinner? What? No. Mommy’s working. Let me just kill of this character, finish this scene, search and replace all those -ly words, wait. This passage isn’t working, I just need to DAMN IT LEAVE ME ALONE.

*TWITCH*

No more writer’s block – now I’ve entered into a compulsive, manic creative state. When finally (HUZZAH!) the draft is finished, I look up to realize it’s eleven PM, my child has been sent to bed without a hug, my husband has slunk off to amuse himself with Netflix, my back hurts from sitting so long, and (lately) I’ve chain-smoked my way through an entire pack of Djarum specials. *cough*

BUT THE DRAFT IS DONE. Now what do I work on next? Hmmm. What about that other story…

I’ve completed three shorts since February, two for the anthologies and one I hope to start shopping soon. But I think now, for the sake of my family and my sanity, I need to chill.

Novel writing is hard – damn hard – but at least the end-game madness is a long time in coming.