Julius, 3, Lousanne, Switzerland.

In another world, this would have been me

Tonight, I have something to look forward to – a new toy. I’ll be playing with Amazon Fire (ha – get it? Playing with fire!) on the basement TV.

Another toy, another of a seemingly endless line of distractions from dwelling on my mental state.

Life inside my head has been harder lately. Real or imagined phantoms stalk me at work; I probably embarrassed the hell out of myself at my last therapy session and it’s taking everything I can muster just to write this. Podcasts and video production have fallen by the wayside, replaced by hours of Internet browsing (Facebook), whiskey and cigars.

I’m not healthy. I don’t care like I should.

I feel wounded and trying to recover. I want to live in the basement and have the world leave me alone (except for the Internet). I have lost all ability to understand and appreciate fun. I was going to write a blog post lamenting all the things I used to love doing that I no longer do, but it became too depressing to write.

Mental/emotional issues seem to run in cycles sometimes with triggering events, sometimes not. I have completely been unable to get a handle on the why and how of my cycles. It all seems a blur right now – even daily life with one angst filled day bleeding into another.

I think too much, I fear too much, I sleep too much, I feel too much and I have little control over all of it. Even in my basement fortress, I am prone to rage episodes. A few hours – day or so later, I look back and fear myself. This Jekyll-Hyde thing is getting too near the bone for me.

Is it the meds? Who knows? And who would tell me? Not my psychiatrist, that’s for sure.

Are things getting worse or is it all in my head? (see what I did there?)

Maybe my childhood explains this – when I was kid, toys were scarce. My parents rarely bought me anything I asked for (you never get everything you ask for, of course, but every now and then perhaps something?) and usually I would count down the days to Christmas so I could open the best gifts which would come from my paternal grandparents.

So now that I have the money, I keep buying the toys – these electronic gadgets representing what I was denied in childhood and what I couldn’t afford as a young adult. There must be something there – some evening up the score to replace what other kids had that I didn’t. And the fact that they make me happy – for a little while (like any toy, then forgotten), seems to bear that out.

So, Amazon, send me toys to play with as I revert to some kind of childlike state where I need a constant new distraction so I don’t think of my madness too carefully or too much. I want to play. No one to play with so send the gadgets.

I’m in a lot of pain right now and I want some toys to play with. I’m not sure where this goes.

Posted in mental health, middle age, meds, children, self care, Amazon, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, Distractions, loneliness, Mad Pride | Tagged | Leave a comment

Who knows where the road will lead us. . .

20180912_082547Yesterday was our wedding anniversary.

After another bad day at work we went to an overpriced gourmet burger joint and were sat in a part of the restaurant that had the ambiance of an industrial cafeteria in East Germany circa 1965. Loud music pounded our ears from the speaker above us.

That was bad enough, but the worst part was that I was in no mood for celebration and my wife knew it. I tried, but could not get myself to enjoy anything and I’m sure my face showed glumness as I can never hide my moods.

After a while I got angry. Not just at myself but at the situation I’ve found myself in at work – a situation that really began within a year after starting work there.

I’m mad that, even with Borderline Personality Disorder, I find myself unable to manage my disorder because of my work situation. Others, finding themselves in similar situations, can focus on the positives of their job and deal with it. After over three years of continuous misery, I know I can’t.

I have tried an array of medications, breathing therapies, distraction devices and every Jedi mind trick sold to me by my therapists. None of them work on my hopelessly reality-focused mind. The big issue is not just the BPD but the PTSD – that which I carried from childhood and that added by my employer which I believe has left me with Complex PTSD.

I simply can’t shake it. I dread going into work, my anxiety arrives when I pull in to the parking lot. I spend the entire day behind a cubicle waiting for some inevitable disaster, worried that my work is being overly scrutinized and recorded to fire me. The reason I can’t shake it – these things and more have happened to me on this job and management here is notorious for the shitty way it treats employees.

I have good reason to be paranoid. Believe me.

Well-meaning people have advised me to look for another job. Believe me, I have. I have tried to stay with the Federal government to protect my 20-year investment in the civil service. In the past three years I have been flown to Raleigh NC (the CDC) and Columbia, MO (VA) at government expense and interviewed in person in Cleveland (NASA) and here in Pittsburgh (Mine Safety Administration).

In every case I was left baffled by not getting the job. In every case I had great interviews. The VA in Columbia even put me up for two nights. Do I radiate some form of crazy in person, or, perhaps did someone from my current employer make a little phone call? As a test case, if it was my online activity I don’t think I would have made it to any of these places.

My wife now has a great job in Pittsburgh so it would be unfair to ask her to move again. She’s already moved twice on my behalf.

I feel I’m reaching a breaking point. The anger over dinner boiled over. I formulated a strategy.

I told my wife I would set January 4, 2019 as my last day at work unless I (1) found another job locally or (2) was in the process of applying for another job within the VA in Pittsburgh.

“Where will we live,” she asked.

I was finally willing to sacrifice a house I loved. We can only keep it with both current incomes.

Forget disability retirement. I can’t count on any meaningful help from my mental health team, it’s almost impossible to prove a disability you can’t see and it would take years and money for lawyers that could break us anyway.

(this is becoming very difficult to write)

I told her I felt this was necessary to keep me alive or at the very least, not have a total psychotic breakdown.

I would take a job in retail if I had to bring in some money. I have worked since I was 16 and want to work.

But by this morning I felt I had many another crazy plan that was unfair to her – like other crazy plans that were equally unfair to spouses past. So, I took it back.

She said it wasn’t crazy. But she really didn’t sign up for this. I don’t think either of us, when we got married, thought it would come to this with me. When I got this job, I was ecstatic and thought our future was assured.

I don’t know what will happen now. I’m almost too numb to worry. I’m almost resigned to a bad ending. When I go to sleep every night literally praying I won’t wake up, I know it’s serious. I don’t need a therapist to tell me that.

This morning I’m looking at the card my wife got me for our anniversary.

‘I knew right away
that there was
something SPECIAL
about you.

It was
in your SMILE,
your EYES,
your laughter.

(inside page)

And today,
I just want you to know
I still feel
that something special
whenever I hold you close,
kiss your lips,
and think about
you are.’

I do not recognize me in these words. I have failed her in so many ways. I am not ‘incredible.’ I am too weak-minded to put up with the on-the-job shit millions of Americans do every day. I was (closer to) this person once. I am not now and am distraught that after all that has happened, I probably will never be again.

Posted in Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, death, depression, existential dread, getting old, hyper-vigilance, meds, mental health, middle age, paranoia, regret, shame | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Digging Underground


Coal Miners Trapped, Ennio Calabria

In the event of something happening to me
there is something I would like you all to see
It’s just a photograph of someone that I knew

Rarely a day goes by that I don’t wake up with a song in my head. The music can range from top 40 to obscure, classical to country. Sometimes the music comes in the middle of the night, occasionally in a dream. I have no idea why, but I’m starting to wonder if someone or something is trying to tell me to pay attention.

The above lyrics are from a now obscure 1967 Bee Gee’s hit, New York Mining Disaster 1941, their first  internationally hit. I defy anyone to say they’ve heard it on the radio in the last forty years.

I took this song, in my head, from brushing my teeth all the way in to work. Does it mean anything?

I think so.

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it’s like on the outside?
Don’t go talking too loud, you’ll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones

I don’t want to spoon feed my interpretation to the reader. Everyone can relate to songs in different ways, but let me throw a few thoughts out for consideration:


Does it not feel, sometimes, that to have a mental condition or a label, leaves us in a constant state of dread? Do we care very deeply of how we will be treated once out secret ‘gets out?’ Did some of us have a life prior to developing our ‘condition?’ Must we always keep it to ourselves to avoid danger?

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound
Maybe someone is digging underground
or have they given up and all gone home to bed
thinking those who once existed must be dead

There are some of us who have people trying to reach us; there are some of us who have no rescue and must try to dig ourselves out. There is always a chance neither will succeed.

Am I putting too much of my own imagination into this allegory?

All the way to work and even at work, the keep pounding on my consciousness.

Do you know what it’s like on the outside?

I don’t have any real conception of the outside anymore; or of the lives of ‘neuro-normal’ people. The lives of others seem almost alien to me. I’ve tried to imagine leading a life free of mental confusion for decades. Now I just feel more comfortable among those that understand.

The song exists as a curious piece of the Bee Gees’ discography. It’s unlike anything else they ever recorded – it’s discordant, gloomy and damn depressing. According to Wikpedia, the liner notes for their box-set Tales from the Brothers Gibb (1990), indicate the song was inspired by the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster in Wales.



In the event of something happening to me

This lyrical leitmotif must seem crushing familiar to anyone staring into the void: how would we want ourselves remembered? By our final act? Our titanic effort to exist in a world alien to us? Or as a kind and caring person, smothered by forces neither we nor anyone else, could fully understand?

Perhaps the song in my head just wanted me to write this. In that case, it’s done.


Posted in anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, death, depression, existential dread, fear, loneliness, mental health, music, over-analyze, paranoia, society, stigma, suicide | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Window to the Past

Please come to Boston for the Springtime
I’m stayin’ here with some friends and they’ve got lots of room
You can sell your paintings on the sidewalk
By a café where I hope to be workin’ soon
Please come to Boston
She said “No – would you come home to me?”

— Dave Loggins

Summer 1974

I’m sitting on the bed staring out the window facing north with a view of the backyard.


Modern view, pool was to the left

My mom has her student teaching friend over for a swim in our pool. She’s in a bikini which is why I’m staring out the window. I’m 11 if that makes any sense. I suppose that’s when I started to see girls as less icky and well . . .more interesting.

They’re talking about pop music and her friend Bev, asks if she’s heard this song yet.

Strangely, it’s the next song that plays on my radio, which is tuned to Y103, a station from nearby (but not really) Sharon-Youngstown that is somewhat famous for playing several tunes in a row and having no DJs.

It would be the first of many, many ‘coincidences’ where someone, usually me, would think of a song, no matter how old or obscure, and I would hear it soon on the radio. It used to happen so often that I began to wonder if I had some kind of weird ESP for pop music. It doesn’t happen anymore which kind of makes me sad.

But anyway.

The summers of my youth always seem surreal. I call them the ‘golden summers.’ A three-month respite from the nuns and a time where I can read stacks of books, doodle on endless sheets of paper provided from my mother’s second grade class, and stare out this window wondering what my life would be like once it was allowed to start.

On this afternoon my dad was at work which was great because I wouldn’t have my body freeze up if I heard him lumbering up the stairs. My brain could stand down for a little while.

I remember when I got enough nerve to venture out the other window on the roof of the garage and lie on the shingles and look out at the world while listening to the radio.

I really didn’t have any friends, but I had the radio; it’s DJs and music were my companions. To this day there isn’t a song in the top 40 from the 70s (well from 1974 on) that I don’t know the lyrics by heart.

The first time I heard ‘Radio Ga Ga’ from Queen, I got misty eyed. Freddie Mercury and I had something in common.

I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio

I stared down at the pool and wondered if I would ever have a girlfriend. I doubted it. I was, am, and always will remain, fat like the rest of my family, and a grotesque mix of looks from both parents without the endearing qualities of either.

Obviously, I already had a poor self-image. It was 1974 and even my family doctor, that same year, gave me a pamphlet at one of my check-ups titled ‘Are You Really Serious About Losing Weight?’

We forget 99.9% of the days of our youth and remember .1% if we’re lucky. But the things we remember are the formative memories. When you’re 11 and even your doctor is fat shaming you, it’d hard to forget forever.

I grew up in that room (1968-1984 RIP). I had the best times of my life in that room. I had my books, my radio, my fish, my little black and white TV and my doodle paper. One day I heard this oldie:

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

 And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries

–Paul Simon (obviously)

That was me. But when I hear those lyrics even today, I weep inside.

My shrink asked me to talk to that little boy. I told her I had. What I didn’t tell her is what I would have said.

‘You think once you get out and on your own that you can start living. But kid, you’ll never be quite able to shake off all of the shit you’re eating now at home and at school. You’ll see 31 therapists and all of them won’t be able to help you. Neither will the 30-odd prescription medications. You will never recover from what is happening to you. You’ll be married three times, run through fifteen plus jobs by the time you’re 50 and be miserable in almost all of them. You’ll have a handful of half-hearted suicide attempts to look forward to and a lifetime of regret. It will never get better than it is now, staring out the window on a summer day looking at a woman in a bikini twice your age and listening to the radio.

 Oh, by the way kid, one day when you get to be in your fifties, you won’t be able to listen to these tunes anymore because the memories will be too painful.

 But you won’t remember the good times as much as you’ll clearly remember your father spitting words at you – not of love, but contempt – that you will never forget. In fact, on his death bed, your mom will have to make your father tell you you’ve been “a good kid.” But you’ll know it’s the lying words of a dying man.

But it’s all you’re going to get from him.

I have many memories of staring out that bedroom window, especially when I’d get up early to watch the sun rise. I just knew things would get better. They had to, right?

Talk to that wounded little boy,’ my therapist would tell me decades later.

I never really told her what I would say. I’d make up some shit like ‘it will get better, someday you’ll write for a newspaper and be on the radio and life will be worth living.’

I’ve never told anyone this before: my first halfhearted suicide attempt was when I was 15. All I wanted then was a girl I could talk to and who would talk to me.

The story is almost true, except there wasn’t anyone waiting so I made her up. In effect, making the longing for [a companion] stronger. It was a recap to my first trip to each of those cities…[and] how I saw each one. The fact of having no one to come home to made the chorus easy to write. Some forty years later, I still vividly remember that night [of composition], and it was as if someone else was writing the song.”

Dave Loggins on writing ‘Please Come to Boston’

Posted in books, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, Catholic school, childhood terror, growing up, mental health, my father, regret, suicide, When we were very young | Tagged | Leave a comment

On My Own – from now on

starr-tlc-trauma-blog-image-1What happens when your therapist takes the side of people who traumatized you?

Therapy sessions can be a blur of words and reactions. Many times, I’ll be conscious of the clock and try to fit in everything I want to discuss within the 50 minutes allotted.

With my mind and memory being somewhat faulty, I can miss things said in the moment that only sink in later.

This is one of those times and now I have lost any desire to see this therapist anymore.

Without being too specific (because my trust issues got ratcheted up to ‘11’ by this incident), I was outlining the patronizing treatment I get at work due to being regarded as the ‘office mental case.’

Because I had been previously honest with my therapist, I had told her of my history of run-ins at my workplace, also explaining the toxic work culture of my workplace and noting that a chain of events that started with employees waiting for me to say something that they could take as ‘suicidal ideation’ nearly got me killed.

And then my therapist dropped the bomb.

“Now look, I need to say this: don’t you think that they have a point?”

Excuse me? I’ve been an exemplary employee the last full year and I’ve explained the situation thoroughly and my own efforts to calm the waters for the sake of earning a living.

But I didn’t say that. Cringingly, I agreed with her at that moment.

I agree because I can’t always disagree. There is an unequal power dynamic at play here and it’s easy (here and elsewhere) to agree and hate myself later.

Besides, she seemed pretty firm about this so there was no chance of changing her mind.

But this wasn’t over.

A little later on in the session, she accused me of thinking “like a victim” and had I ever tried not thinking like a victim?

“But like it or not,” I retorted, “I have been a victim of things that were done to me.”

“See! That’s what I mean,” she said. “This is your mentality.”rtxysqo

Finally, I got upset enough to remind her of the abuse that took place in my childhood, coupled with the abuse that happened in the workplace, how I had done my best to continue to work on my reactions to triggers and I had developed inner strength from continuing to work in an environment where I had been traumatized. I pointed out it’s hard to fight so much conditioning that I’ve been hard-wired to react a certain way when I get triggered.

These arguments were to no avail.

If I had lain down and died, figuratively, I would concede her point. But I have fought my issues, even when I didn’t know what they were called, every step of the way for 40 years.

But in the end, I might have just as well bought a copy of ‘The Secret.’ Apparently, I attracted all of this somehow and everything that follows is on me. I am not a product of, or my behavior in reaction to, my environment. I must conform to my abuse and learn to accept it, let it float by like a meditative cloud, and then let it go. If not, it’s on me.

This is why there is a Mad Pride movement.

So, I should feel shame because I allowed this to go on for 40 year without ‘snapping out of it.’ I didn’t need a therapist to tell me that – my father used to say as much, except that (1) he meant it to humiliate me and (2) he was yelling which he always did.

It’s easier for by-the-book therapist to simply conclude the ‘here we have another Borderline who, like all the others, is resistant to proven treatment methods.’

Every nightmare, every flush of fear, every outburst of anger has nothing to do with decades of conditioning. I am merely playing the ‘victim.’ I would like to know what tangible benefit I’ve been receiving from ‘playing the victim?’ Believe me, I do not expect pity. Neither our culture nor mainstream psychiatry in general are very big on empathy. In fact, they mirror each other in their desire to apply some kind of ‘pick yourself up by your bootstraps’ theory to every situation.

What does she think I’ve been trying to do for the last 40 years? Despite my issues, I have worked since I was 16 with only seven total months of unemployment in that time. I have never been ‘work-shy.’ When I was suspended from my job for 76 days in the winter of 2016, not only was I fighting to return to work, I was also applying for other positions at my agency feeling a change of venue would do me and the agency good. Every time I have been knocked down I have picked myself up off the floor and jumped back into the fray.

What more does modern psychiatry want from me? A never-ending fountain of self- shame and blame?

I blame myself for this though: I knew talk therapy was not and would not work for me at least a decade ago. But being the compliant person that I am, I kept pounding my head against the therapeutic wall. Perhaps, like the person in the old joke, it will feel so much better when I stop.

After just having completed a week at ‘Alternatives 2018,’ this therapy session drove home the lesson I learned from fellow ‘Mads’ there: we are on our own and providing each other support is the best therapy of all.

Now I face a delicate situation – how do I extricate myself from therapy that my psychiatrist, who controls my medications, insists I continue? Can I convince her it does me no good? And if not, can I adjust my sessions to ‘vanilla’ where we forever spend the rest of our time talking about benign bullshit? Or do I do like so many others in my situation: play the game ‘Hey, I’m Cured!’

But once I do manage to end my time with this therapist, I swear on the grave of Judi Chamberlin, I will never speak to a therapist again.

Posted in abuse, Alternatives2018, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, childhood terror, counseling, depression, Mad Pride, mental health, paranoia, parenting, parents, Police, PTSD, shame, stigma | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Alternative?

Alternatives2018-Logo-HartiganSo I was thinking today at a workshop at the #Alternatives2018 conference that there is an 800 lb gorilla sitting right in the middle of the Pryzbyla Center at Catholic University of America. This workshop was discussing Mad Studies and Survivor-Controlled research in the US, which is practically non-existent, unlike other countries, such as the UK, where it is REQUIRED.

There was a lot of talk about institutional roadblocks, the resistance of the professional class, the money-driven research supplied by drug companies, etc. Many ideas were floated to work on pressuring universities and government mental health agencies to include people with the lived experience of mental illness to be part of the research and decision-making of these critical studies, which is a great goal.

The problem as I see it is simple – the money for this kind of research, even for children, according to researchers Nev Jones and Emily Cutler, is drying up fast. I can see the day coming when pretty much all such research funding by governments, foundations and universities will dry up, with the exception of drug-financed studies and studies with a profit endgame.

The 800 lb. gorilla is the Trump Administration. This edition of Alternatives was produced by the people for whom it was intended – no Federal money was used to subsidize this conference. What I would like to see is a realization that very shortly, if not already, we will truly be ‘On Our Own’ to fight for our rights and influence public policy by ‘alternative’ means, i.e. very impolite demonsrations, ala ‘ACT UP’ from back in the day.

It is not hard to believe that Federal agencies supporting mental health research and advocacy will soon have their funding eliminated. For guideposts, look at what is happening at other Federal departments – Education, Health and Human Service to name two – a complete re-alignment of mission away from true human service and towards the meanness of ideological conservatism.

I really enjoy these workshops and the spirit in which they are given. It truly feels great to be among our own people and using our voices, energy and intellect to empower a movement.

But at the same time, I fear we may be whistling past a graveyard. Due to the outright hostility of the current administration to human service and social activism, what we are planning today may become extremely difficult because nothing moves in the USA without the backing of cold hard cash and friends in high places.


They had nothing to lose but their lives

I earlier drew the comparison between the Mad Pride movement and ACT UP. I think while we plan today, there should be some consideration given to the possibility that in the very near future, direct action may be the last and best tool we have to fight for our cause. It is something I think most people would wish to avoid but these times are perilous and lives are at stake.

Posted in Alternatives2018, bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, donald trump, ImNotAshamed, Institutionalization, Mad Pride, meds, mental health, schizophrenia, self care, shame, society, stigma | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Podcast: Anger and Everything After

MY latest podcast. The real ‘me’ of long ago makes an appearance – the angry citizen, the rabble rouser, the person who spoke truth to power – and paid dearly for it. Borderline rage? Or justice denied. Talking about Alternatives 2018 and why it matters/societal influence on ‘mental illness’ and the phenomenon of arrested development in BPD.


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