Solitary Man

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2015There’s a movement that’s been active for a number of years to get rid of solitary confinement. There are prisoners in America that are put in solitary for years and years. Eventually they go mad. This is not a secret – the very first prison built by the Quakers in New York put human beings in impossibly small and dark bricked up rooms so they could ‘contemplate’ what they had done.

And they went insane.

When the movement to release these prisoners to the general population succeeds, the prison staff notices an interesting effect. When the cells of these prisoners are opened and they are told they can now be out and about among other human beings, they don’t want to go.

They cower in the corners of their cells. The environment that has driven them insane is the only one they know. They literally have to be dragged out screaming.

Of course, most Americans never hear about this and have been conditioned to regard prisoners as less than human anyway. I write about this not as a plea to end endless solitary confinement (although I do) but to simply remark about this phenomenon.

I recently applied for another job inside the VA where I work. It is for a program that is worthwhile and helpful to Veterans. The time has come and gone from the interview and I don’t think I got the job and I don’t care.

Amazing isn’t it? I could have given my eyeteeth a year ago for any release from my present work environment.

But strangely, I have become used to the daily paranoia, insane make-work, incompetent and craven management and the stark realization that it probably never will get better.
After almost seven years, it is the devil I know.

Yes, even after the SWAT team incident and the yearlong inquisition (what a show!) intended to fire me or drive me to suicide, even after all that, my fevered mind imagines that as bad as this was and is, it could be worse somewhere else.

And now that I have survived all that they threw at little old bipolar me (I was using my condition as an excuse, the Director said), I find that I am, in a sick way, proud to still be standing. Other people have come and gone and, despite the odds, my strange behavior and my spotty work record, I remain – bloody but unbowed. Well, unbowed to a degree.
I contemplate this. Wouldn’t I want to get out of here? Well, yes. Well, maybe. I don’t know.

This is how sick minds work. Sometimes, we make a friend of the things that have made us miserable because we have become used to them – and we have the knowledge that things could, and have been, worse.

I have changed jobs many times – some were my choice, some not by choice. Every time I started a new job, it reminded me of the first day of school, I’d be filled with hope and anticipation that would inevitably be smashed within a few days or weeks.

Someone once told me that all jobs suck. I know this is not true. I have had a few jobs that did not suck. But they were long ago and far away and in fields that no longer have a future. Like it or not, I am in government to stay.

For the moment, everything is under control. I realized that I if I did get this position, I would not approach it with anticipation and excitement, but with dread. And, of course, I hate myself for this.

But I understand it. If nothing else, as I age, I understand more of why I feel and react the way I do. The trick is in acceptance and accommodation – as much as is possible.
And so I am here, still standing, still looking over my shoulder, but strangely comfortable enough with the situation not to want to leave the cell.

Posted in bipolar, existential dread, PTSD, regret, torture, work | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unnatural life

I threw a party yesterday. And this morning, I am recovering.

There’s an expression about ‘feeling all of (add your own number) years. And I get that. But even at 54, for the amount of physical labor I performed preparing for this get together, it doesn’t make sense to feel this wasted.

Spoons? I spent a lot of ‘em apparently. But it still doesn’t make sense.

I am slowly coming about this morning. I started writing this at 10 a.m. Before that it was the usual coffee drip that no longer does much for me.

I think about my exhaustion a lot because I get exhausted a lot.

This was the first party of this scale I had thrown since. . . wait for it – 1994. Two marriages ago. I used to be quite a party-thrower. Ask anyone who might remember me from back then if you can find them.

This was a party for members of the cast of Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh. In the beginning, I was planning on 20+ people so my wife and I prepared a party for that number. Circumstances cut the number to about half that size. I was prepared for kids and we hoped we had enough to provide diversion.

Maybe I was worried I hadn’t planned anything like this in so long. Maybe I was worried about keeping the kids happy. Maybe I didn’t have the supreme confidence I had as a social director nearing the end of my salad days of 1994. Maybe, unlike 1994, I wanted to make friends so much that I was worried about making a good impression.

Maybe it was all of the above. And I’ve come to believe that just because I can’t feel the worry, my body isn’t registering it somewhere deep inside.

Life used to go so fast – not time wise – it goes extremely fast that way now. What I mean is that I was constantly pinging from one event to another. I was moving, experiencing – life – for better or worse. Now it takes me forever to get anything done. I must set gobs of time aside to accomplish things that used to take no time at all.

I know part of this is age. I can admit that, although it’s tough. In my mind, I will forever be 35.

But I also know all the things that have happened to me in the last 10 years have taken their toll as well. I forget that I do have liver disease, which was diagnosed right after I noticed that I had slowed down and was constantly out of gas.

Then there are the meds I take for depression, bipolar, anxiety, etc. They slow your brain and body down on purpose.

And then there is the PTSD stretching back from taking care of my dying mother through the trials at work including the SWAT team episode. I have never looked at, nor experienced, life the same way since. The best I can describe it is that the color has drained out of my existence.

I have been trying to get it back.

A part of me wants to stay home. But I keep fighting it all the time. That’s part of the reason I had this party – I need to try my best to maintain human connection and try to make friends.

I don’t want to stop working unless I absolutely must. But with each day that goes by I feel less and less sure I can make it to retirement.

And even if I do, what can I do with myself then?

I don’t believe you reach a stage of your life where you should just wait to die. It seems unnatural to me.

As unnatural as wanting to sleep all day.

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A Modest Proposal

Publication1It just hit me this morning.

As a Federal employee, I assumed that whatever havoc Trumpcare would wreak on the population, our benefits under the Federal Employee Healthcare Benefits (FEHB) plans would not be affected.

I forgot a few things that became clear when reading more on Trumpcare.

First, Federal health care means you don’t get insurance from the government itself, or from Congress. Private insurers and union care insurers (like Mail Carriers) choose to participate.

When I started in the civil service in 1985, there were pages of plans that participated in FEHB. Making a choice among all those plans was a challenge.

Now there are only about 1/3rd as many plans to choose from reflecting a consolidation of the insurance industry. Still, plans seem to compete for Federal workers most likely because the government pays 70 percent of the premiums. Plans still hold ‘fairs’ during every open season. I used to go for the swag. There’s much less swag today. You’re lucky to get a pen or a plastic bag.

One thing I’ve only become dimly aware of: since returning to the Civil Service in 2009, I’ve noticed that premiums keep rising (as they have, but at a higher rate), the co-payments and yearly deductibles keep rising, and the coverage itself shrinks a little every year.

Making that year deductible has become a pain. I was recently charged $425 for c-pap supplies I could have bought on Amazon for $100 less. If I had met the $1,500 yearly family deductible, I would have gotten them for a pittance.

Now the saving grace is that the Federal government dictates the rules of coverage for insurers participating in FEHB. In order to be a part of the program, plans have to agree to abide by coverage rules.

I bet you see where I am going with this.

With this administration, it’s a whole new ballgame. Although our union (the American Federation of Government Employees, or AFGE) doesn’t know what will happen, it’s a sure bet that those coverage rules will probably be loosened dramatically.

Back in January there was a lot of chatter about changing Federal benefits in general, including the FEHB. I give you Spicey:

“Federal employee health and retirement benefits continue to be based on antiquated assumptions and require a level of generosity long since abandoned by most of the private sector,” Spicer said. “Those costs are unsustainable for the federal government, just as they are proving to be unsustainable for state and local governments with similar health and retirement packages.”

They would also like to give us vouchers (from a December CBO report):

Under a voucher system, the government share would start as a fixed dollar amount—potentially $6,100 for self-only, $13,200 for self plus one and $14,000 for family coverage, CBO said—and increased by general inflation, not by the typically higher rate the FEHB program experiences. That would “increase enrollees’ incentive to choose lower-premium plans” CBO said, and for the lowest-cost, the voucher could cover the entire premium. However, overall, “participants would eventually pay more for their health coverage” and some might give it up altogether.

Why am engaging in a discussion of Federal employee insurance arcana?

There are approximately 22 million Americans employed by the government. Add the military and it’s around 23.5 million – dwarfing any private employer. In fact, the entire employee base of all Fortune 500 companies checks in at 26.8 million people.

That’s a huge chunk of the American population. And to hear the Republicans say it, we’ve been coddled for too long with too generous a list of benefits.

Call me a socialist, but I think, at the very least, the entire population should get the health care benefits we get. Actually, I would like a national health care system in America but to believe that is possible would be akin to believing in unicorns.

Our benefit package and especially our health care benefits, have been sticking out like a middle finger in the face of the right for a long time. They are personally aggrieved by what we get and believe we should feel the same pain and frustration as every other ordinary American they will throw to the tender mercies of the private insurance market.

This is their big opportunity to get us. And they probably will unless the tide turns in 2018.

The other major point to all of this is that, in the discussion of Trumpcare’s effects on private plans, almost every analysis concludes that coverage for mental health will be first on the chopping block and may disappear completely as a benefit on many major plans.

I have no doubt when private employers are freed to do what they want with their FEHB offerings, the same thing will happen.

So let’s bring the Federal and private insurance pools together and discuss what this will mean for the people who depend on insurance for mental health issues.

As the number of people covered decreases, you can expect:

  • More homeless
  • More violence from people who can’t afford their meds anymore
  • More suicides
  • More emergency room visits
  • More dysfunctional family situations with people marrying for benefits (it happens)
  • More people trying desperately to retire on disability

This will, ultimately, cost more to the public than providing decent coverage. What I’m more concerned with is the social cost.

The big one up there is suicide. The numbers should grow dramatically.

Maybe that’s what they want – trim the herd of the mentally ill, the ‘takers,’ and create a new Randian world of normals producing and consuming like a herd of contented cows.

I had hoped we wouldn’t turn into that kind of nation.

So eventually, the civil service will no longer be a place of refuge and 22 million Americans will be added to the Vegas roulette table of private insurance.

How many of the total population suffer from mental illness?

According to 2014 figures:

Every year, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffers from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

I think if the right is going to do what they want to health insurance for the mentally ill, there is one humane and lost cost service they could provide.

I am reminded of two movies.

The first is ‘Children of Men.’ In a future society in which all women are rendered infertile, violence ensues as the population inevitably declines. Britain, in this story, is trying to prevent refugees from flooding its shores (sound familiar?). As you might guess, people living in such situations are not at all happy. The government, in its benevolence, hands out suicide kits for those to whom living has become too much. They advertise them on TV with tag lines like – ‘it’s your choice; when the time is right’ and so on.

The other is, of course, ‘Soylent Green,’ where, in this dystopian nightmare, ‘ethical suicide parlors’ are provided for those who wish to end it all (and be turned into food). They look like abandoned sports arenas, where people can have a happy euthanasia complete with movies about how the planet used to look like and Beethoven playing on the sound system. In the movie, Dick Van Patten takes you under.

Now to suggest such a thing is dystopia on hyper drive. But look at what has happened up until now and what is rumored to be in the works. There is now loose talk, especially in the UK, of internment camps, ostensibly for refugees. In a future world where the sick and dying are literally in the streets or robbing pharmacies and supermarkets, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the government, under Trump or someone like him, could decide to speed up the process, if for no other reason than area beautification for city centers.

I should point out that in Cleveland, when downtown festivities would take place and the city wanted to show a clean, family friendly public square, the police would round up all the homeless people and take them for a little drive out to Brookpark Road and dump them.

Some people are such a nuisance, like Donald Trump Jr. has tweeted, that they can scarcely be regarded as human at all.


Posted in American Way, death, insurance, meds, mental health, suicide | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recovery is a myth


There are a lot of these info boxes about recovery and this is the closest to one I can agree with. One thing I noticed – all of them have leading ‘a productive life’ as one of the goals. I wonder if that means productive for the afflicted person or Wall Street? And no thought is ever given to the pain people go through leading these drugged ‘full and productive’ lives. Reading these make me feel like a defective widget

I always love going to the ‘hip mentally ill media,’ i.e. The Mighty, OC87 Recovery Diaries, etc., and reading these stories from media people about their ‘recovery’ from some mental illness or another.

In the story, hyperlinked above, Liz Spikol retells how hard it was to lose her job writing for a magazine. Liz has pretty much worked continuously since graduation from college. She got fired from one job and spent two months in bed.

Two months. Who paid the bills?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m really not bipolar, depressed or have PTSD. Because of Liz and all the other brave recovered media people who write for these online publications. Story after story of disaster, trial and rebirth – after a while you can predict the story arc before it occurs.

By the way, another constant is that most of them are young and attractive and their target audience seems to be strictly under 40, if not 30. Being 54, you might consider me bitter – and I am. I think middle aged and elderly people with mental illness deserve to be heard as well. But I guess we make for lousy target demographics when you’re looking for clicks and online ads.

I have now found its true what I heard growing up – in America, you start disappearing when you hit 40 (even before that if you’re a woman). By 50 you’re invisible – to media, marketers, opinion leaders and your children perhaps. Remember this when wondering why so many older Americans voted for Trump. Being marginalized and ignored has a way of making one vindictive.

By the way, get off my lawn (throws empty scrip bottle of Lexapro at a whippersnapper).

Unlike Liz, I was fired from three media jobs and damn near fired from three other jobs. Somehow (perhaps the mania!), I managed to get back up and start job hunting again. In 39 years of work, I have been unemployed a total of six months.

I can’t be mentally ill. I never did a Brian Wilson act, never spent time in a mental institution and was never arrested by the police for acting out in public.

OK, I was almost shot by the police because of something said at work, but you can read that story elsewhere on the blog.

But, really, shouldn’t I have cycled through the entire ‘mentally ill experience’ to consider myself a bona fide, certified, stamped and sealed looney?

Of course (here comes the disclaimer), every person fighting mental illness is different. Every person has a different course of handling the illness, reacting to medications and ultimately, making a way in the world.

Except in the ‘hip mentally ill media.’

But here’s the thing – you rarely hear of the stories that don’t have a happy ending – because everyone ‘recovers’ or is in ‘recovery,’ right?

Well, you DO hear about some (not all) of the suicides. Most of the suicide stories are about celebrities or the kind of people who write for the ‘hip mentally ill media,’ their friends, or other connected people who chose that way out.

Those stories also follow a familiar story arc, but that subject is for another day.

What you don’t hear about are the people who are soldiering on, hanging by a hair. A lot of these people you will only find on Twitter or if you stumble across their blog. They’re lives are fairly miserable and they complain, but they still find a way to hold on for one more day.

This is not ‘recovery,’ this is real bravery.

Some have conditions that wax and wane – as I do – and you can suss out their moods by their style of writing or the periods where they don’t write at all – like me.

For so many people who will live and die with their mental illness there is no recovery – only life as they know it. By the time you’re my age, you have no conception of what ‘normal’ is in human behavior. It’s just your life as it has been, for many of us, since we were kids.

Here’s the punchline: recovery is a myth invented to sell stories. It makes for great Ted talks as well. Everyone wants a happy ending; everyone wants to see shining examples of triumph – even if the sample among the mentally ill population is statistically small.

To some, I might seem like I’m in ‘recovery.’ I managed to keep my job; my marriage (this time), my life (“it’s just a cell phone!”), and I’ve recently even been part of a stage show. Yea me!

That’s all nice, but it’s not ‘recovery?’ There is never recovery.

What you don’t see are the times when I’m staring at the wall at home not wanting to move. Holding my head in my hands at work trying to get my shit together. The PTSD paranoia I feel every day walking into work. The times I feel like I’d be better off dead. The shakes of anxiety attacks. The mood swings you’d have to experience to believe. And, finally, the thoughts and feelings I struggle to keep under wraps in public because I don’t want anyone to be afraid of me or shun me.

There are better times and worse times but even during the better times, the illness is always present in some form, inflicting varying degrees of mental torture.. Behind the forced smile, the polite ‘thank yous,’ and the acceptable work performance, lie a bundle of fears, compulsions, nightmares and voices that, dear reader, should put you on your hands and knees every night praying to whatever gods you worship that you never experience.

The only recovery that is true and complete is when you die.

Put that in your hip online magazine.

Posted in anxiety, bipolar, depression, meds, mental health, middle age, social anxiety, society, stigma, suicide, TEDx, torture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Depression Top Ten Hits (plus one)

Note to readers (all six of you): the muse has not been friendly the last six weeks, ergo, nothing from me. As I’ve said before it’s not that I didn’t want to write or have anything to say, but when in the depths of depression or confusion, writing, for me, becomes a painful exercise. So to make up for that, you get a magnum opus.

Note: not all of the videos are showing up. Just click on the links. 

It has become trendy among the various blogs and websites covering mental illness, to feature lists of songs that people play when depressed or play when they need to rally from depression. Or, in my case, use them in a sort of ‘misery loves company’ kind of way.

I punish myself with some of these songs because I don’t want to forget the pain. Someone asked me once why I cling to pain so much. I replied, because as sick as it may seem to you, I can own my pain and no one can take it away like they can happiness or love. Yes, nurturing it might not be the best idea, but like people who cut their own flesh, it reminds me that I can still feel – I am alive, miserable, but alive.

And finally, when the depression and the meds literally put me in a catatonic state and I know I need an emotional release, I’ll play some of these songs to bring out the feels I need to get out of my system.

I have read several of these lists and I can generally tell the age of the person writing them by the choice of artists that I have never heard of.

So I thought I would do my own and yes, you’ll probably be able to guess my age by these choices, but you’ll probably have me about 10 years younger than my 54, since I liked a lot of music going into this century. So in no particular order, here we go.

Devils and Dust – Bruce Springsteen

Of all of Bruce’s songs, this is the one to me, that speaks to feelings of utter despair. The character in the song is a person who is trying to do the right thing based on his faith, but is overwhelmed by what is happening inside his world and inside his head.

This part particularly resonates in light of being trapped in my job and the effect it has had on me:

Well I’ve got God on my side
And I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love

Fear’s a dangerous thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust

But the most powerful part of the song is when the strings rise ominously and everyone who has stared down the barrel of their own gun (figuratively or otherwise) clutching a bottle of whiskey can relate:

I’ve got my finger on the trigger
And tonight faith just ain’t enough
When I look inside my heart
There’s just devils and dust

This is perhaps the only Springsteen song that should come with a trigger warning.

Regret – New Order

This is my favorite song of the ones listed here. It’s a masterpiece of songwriting and arrangement but it is also so painful at times it can take me from merely a down mood into the depths. The lyrics are very personal to me. Despite a lot of arguments over the meaning of the song, as someone with bipolar disorder, one interpretation, about trying to maintain a normal life despite celebrity, can also fit as trying to maintain a normal life despite mental illness. In some cases, being in the vortex of celebrity can seem like fighting a mental illness since the struggle is to maintain some sense of self when everyone and everything wants a piece of you.

For me, at least obliquely, it reminds me of the relationships I screwed up because I couldn’t control the demons in my head.

I was a short fuse
Burning all the time
You were a complete stranger
Now you are mine

For me, ‘now you are mine’ refers to the place in my memory that these people will be forever locked in, frozen in time and place and myself, regretting for what I did to cause it.

The music is particularly brooding. The video adds to the confusion of the listener as it shifts (seemingly) between Rome and LA’s skid row. I have watched this video many, many times and I’m always reminded of some part of my life; images flickering by while holding my head and trying to make sense of it all.

Just wait till tomorrow
I guess that’s what they all say
Just before they fall apart

Is there anyone fighting any mental illness that can’t relate to that?

Under Pressure – Bowie/Mercury

I love, love, love this song. This is one of those songs that are like a soft blanket over a depressed mood although I generally lose it at this point:

Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure

It’s a lyrical fireball demanding empathy and reconnecting to our humanity for all of the suffering and marginalized people in our society. I can think of no other song that makes the case in such a stark and beautiful way.

There’s so much in this song to unpack that I’d rather have people just listen carefully the lyrics and check the flow of the music and get a sense that this song is a both a reassurance that we’re all under pressure in a society that demands conformity, but that there is hope in compassion if we only give it a chance. Love – the emotion that moves mountains, can redeem us and this is a song very much about redemption – and pain.

It’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about
Watching some good friends
Screaming, “Let me out!”

Over on Song Meanings, someone made, what to me is an obvious interpretation:

I think this song is about depression and suicide. It seems to switch back and forth between someone dealing with depression, and a friend watching them deal with it.

Could be. In any case, there’s that wonderful redemptive ending and a sense of hope all in soaring, gripping, cascading crescendos. Bowie and Mercury – the work of genius.

Black Balloon – Goo Goo Dolls

Let’s get the official interpretation out of the way first. From Wikipedia:
The song, according to lead singer Johnny Rzeznik, is based on a woman who is struggling with a heroin addiction and her lover who is desperately trying to save her. He has also said that it is about “seeing someone you love that is so great just screw up so bad.” Speculation as to the exact subject matter of the song has also been attributed to the ex-wife of bassist Robby Takac (who had overdosed on heroin).

You would think this song would be more pertinent now than it was when released in 1999 with heroin killing so many more people today.

This song is one I used for comfort and retrospection, even though it is sad and tragic.

You can easily take Rzeznik’s reasons and turn it personal. For one thing, I have a time and place memory of this song. I was married to my second wife and we were at the Longaberger ‘world’ or whatever it was called, in Ohio, and she had stepped into the restroom and left me looking out from a balcony onto the restaurant below. And this song played over the speakers and was forever seared in my mind connected with a feeling of disconnectedness that I couldn’t put my finger on until later.

Comin’ down the world turned over
And angels fall without you there
And I go on as you get colder
All because I’m
Comin’ down the years turn over
And angels fall without you there
And I’ll go on and I’ll lead you home and
All because I’m
All because I’m
And I’ll become
What you became to me

Love and loss. Tragedy and regret. It’s all here – a memory frozen in time.

One More Hour – Jennifer Warnes (from ‘Ragtime’)

Jennifer Warnes sings it, but Randy Newman composed the tune and the score for the movie ‘Ragtime,’ which is one of my all-time favorites and no, I have never seen the musical.

The song was nominated for an Academy Award.

It is a sad song and I listen to it not only because I am in a sad mood but because it is beautiful and haunting. The lyrics simply refer to a yearning for a sad song as a balm for whatever pain the singer is going through. In that way, it becomes universal for all who suffer:

One more hour
One more day
One more midnight
Fade away
One more sad song
Play for me
One more sad song
Play for me, won’t you play for me?
One more sad song
Play for me
One more sad song
Play for me, won’t you play for me?

For me, the tune lingers long after the song is finished.

Viva La Vida – Coldplay

Simply put – this song personifies the highest point of my professional life and how it all fell apart because of hubris.

For some reason I can’t explain, I torture myself with this song.

In 2003, I was a radio talk show host on an AM station in Central Illinois. It was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream and I was making the most of it. I had literally set the world on fire and brought an inventiveness and edge to radio that the area had never heard before. I was ready to make the next step – a consultant from one of the corporately owned station in Providence RI wanted to set up a meeting.

It was a wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become


When I ruled the world

And then I fucked up and lost it all. In a state of titanic delusional mania, I felt invincible, bulletproof and immune to criticism. By the time it was over, I had pissed off the mayor, the cops, the business community and most importantly, the station’s general manager, whom I had referred to as a “colossal idiot” to my program manager.

I still stand by that, by the way. But for my assholery, I became a dead hero.

One day I was talking to thousands of people and influencing public debate and having the time of my life. The next day, I was an unemployed nobody and blackballed from any other radio job anywhere.

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I had to leave the area to find another job and my second wife eventually followed me. It was the spark that lit the keg that eventually blew up the marriage. It also left a gaping wound in my soul that took years to heal. God only knows how far I could have gone if I had, in the words of my station manager, just “played the game.”

For, seriously, a decade afterwards, I would dream that I was back in the studio running the board and doing my show. These dreams were so vivid and real that I would take a few minutes upon waking to realize it was a dream. The feeling of searing regret and self-hate that would follow is impossible to describe.

How to Save a Life – The Fray (video below)

Is this one too easy? Of all the songs on this list, this is the most poignant. The story of the meaning behind the song, about lead singer Isaac Slade’s inability to save the life of a troubled youth, you can read about on Wikipedia. Read it.

You’ll also see that the band opened a website where they asked people for their own personal interpretation of the song. The thing about How to Save a Life is that it could be the universal anthem for counselors everywhere and anyone with any behavioral illness who tried to reach out and heal someone and failed. It can also be personalized in that it can be interpreted as an affected individual’s experience in futilely reaching out for help.

There were three videos released of this song. The second one is in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy which featured the song (it was also featured on a particularly poignant episode of Scrubs). The song was used in both cases because, well, Christ, it’s powerful and heart-wrenching.

For my purpose, the third one is the most important and included here.

Get a box of Kleenex and watch it. And then THINK of all the people out there, young AND old who are in such pain and need someone to reach out, just once and tell them – you can make it through this and I will be there for you. Start noticing. Pay attention to the people around you. Stop worrying about ‘getting in someone else’s business’ or ‘being professional’ – there’s a life at stake behind the furrowed brow, the frown, the sniffle, the hint of a tear or the eyes – look in their eyes. Eyes can’t hide suffering being the window to the soul.

At the three minute mark of the video, so briefly it might have been intended to be subliminal, are the words I’m not good enough.


Talk to Someone




Let it go

“Are you OK?”

No More “I Love You’s” – Annie Lennox
This is a first marriage breakup song for me, but so much more. Another tear jerker I use to deal with the past that never leaves my head. And it’s another song that can be interpreted in a thousand ways by a thousand people.

The memory of this song that sticks with me is having it play on my car radio when I was pulling into my son’s elementary school to pick him up. I had already committed to leaving the area for a new job and divorce. I looked around and took it all in – the autumn colors, the fresh air, kids running around the school, the flag flying over the Dairy Queen across the street – and started missing this life already.

I read a number of people’s comments in various song meaning sites. I like this one the best from Songfacts:

When this song first came out in ’86 I never really listened to too much of that kind of music. But I have a friend who did and that’s how I knew about it and the band The Lover Speaks. But then when Miss Lennox remade it in ’95 I had just gotten out of the Army and it was around that time also that my marriage was dissolving. I do not know what the original band’s interpretation of the song is. But for me, it was about each other falling out of love with one another. The Demons/Monsters, for me, represent the PTSD/Depression that I was unknowingly dealing with. So this song was one of the ones that really helped me grieve the loss of that relationship. It wasn’t until almost a decade later that I finally got help and diagnosed. I was a Medic in a Combat Support Hospital during the Desert Storm period.

James – Glendive, Mt

I can add nothing to that.

Shriner’s Park – Melissa Etheridge 

So here’s a departure on this list to a deep album track from Your Little Secret. This song brings back a bucketful of memories and makes me reflect on decisions we make in life and, in my case, in another one of my untreated grand episodes of mania, had reverberations that would last decades. This song came out when I was moving to Illinois between marriages one and two. I had bought the cassette in Cleveland and listened to it in my car for months following. I remember the song for the time and place but also identified with the character’s regret of a life that could have been. I destroyed a life and tried to build another one in order not to have those regrets.

I remember sitting in a deserted park in Dwight, Illinois, far, far away from home on a gloomy November day in 1996 listening to this song and wondering what the Hell I had just done.

Did you feel like you were crazy
When they sent you far away
Did no one have the answers
When you hung your head to pray
You could not let yourself dream
Never dare believe
You could ever be more
Than you were born to be

I went looking for other people’s interpretation of the song. In Song Meanings, I found this:

One of ME’s most evocative and heart rending songs which, IMO, believe she wrote for every misfit soul who grew up misunderstood and carried their scars for the rest of their lives. This seems like two people who, as kids, were stuck in a similar situation but, it seems, one survived and one went to prison. But the narrator is in a prison as well. He/she remembers the past, wondering what became of the other. But in a larger sense, I think many people with difficult childhoods can identify with this song. I know I do. I love it, but it’s always like a punch in the gut. An example of songwriting at its finest.

I wrote the above paragraph on April 25, 2009. Stet.


Send in the Clowns – Judy Collins/Frank Sinatra, et al.

This song has turned into a punch line for every joke about overwrought lounge singers and emotional wine drinkers lamenting lost loves.

So what?

If you’re me and, at 54, looking back at the joys and the wreckage of life and trying to make some sense of it all, thinking of what might have been and what is, pour yourself some Scotch and play it. For me, the pain is good for the soul.

Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around and one who can’t move
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns

I was the one who kept ‘tearing around.’ And I paid a price for that.

Judy Collins sings the most beautiful and evocative version but Frank Sinatra has a gift of making every song he sings his own. He also has a way of reaching into the hearts of broken souls and downtrodden lovers. It’s why I love his music.

If you are a fan of Stephen Sondheim and have seen A Little Night Music, then you know the story behind the song. And you know Sinatra got it somewhat wrong in his introduction. I don’t care really, because what Frank says goes.

“This is a song about a couple of adult people who have spent, oh, quite a long time together, till one day one of ’em gets restless and decides to leave. Whether it’s the man or woman who left is unimportant. It’s a breakup. It’s a lovely marriage of words and music, written by Stephen Sondheim.”

Yes, a breakup — or several breakups. And, for me, not just breakups of marriages or lovers, but friends and family going back to my high school years. For all of the people who came into my life and disappeared for many different reasons, many of them having to do with me. Many times, I wonder where they are, what they are doing and if they are happy.

And if they forgive me.

Don’t you love a farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want, sorry my dear
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns
Don’t bother they’re here

I thought that you’d want what I want.

Christ almighty.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship with someone who is bipolar must marvel at the self-deception we practice and the assumptions we make of other’s reactions: I want to move to another job in another city – it’ll be good for us; I think I’ll open a bookstore in Canada, no wait, maybe Vermont, maybe back in Ohio – and of course, you’ll come with me; I’m sure the kids will be just fine with you – you can always call me. . .

Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career
But where are the clowns? Send in the clowns
Well, maybe next year

Sondheim intended for ‘clowns’ to represent fools.

I’ll leave it there.

Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol

This one is sort of an honorable mention pick and I wanted to end this list with something that, while a bit sad, has a happier ending for me. This was another song featured on Grey’s Anatomy. And it was very popular like most of the songs here. And it was playing at a particular time of personal despair at the beginning of my relationship with my wife. I had been through the wringer of everything I’ve described above and was experiencing a serious loss of faith in my ability to conduct my life in reasonable sanity.

And I turned to her and whispered these lyrics along with the song:

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that’s bursting into life

She said yes

I know this has been long. I hope it’s been worth it.

Posted in anxiety, bipolar, getting old, mental health, music, radio, regret, self care, self-harm, sing-along | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ah Geez, Not Baseball

Image result for pittsburgh pirates

We’re leaving for a Pirates game in a little over and hour and I feel ambivalent to say the least.

It may be a sign of my condition that I really don’t feel like going but I have to. It’s knitting day of some kind and two people means two goody bags. When I get mine, I just hand it over to my wife and she’s over the moon.

I grew up with the crappy Cleveland Indians but that was OK because I went for the camaraderie with friends I used to have. The tickets were cheap, the stadium was spacious and the beer was, OK, warm a lot but when your with your mates. who cares? Hey, I even went on a blind double date one time (May 15, 1981) and was lucky enough to see Len Barker pitch a perfect game for the Tribe.

Now the Indians are great and I live in Pittsburgh where the Pirates are moderately crappy. So we go for the beautiful ballpark, the views and. . .that’s about it.

I’m tired, my throat hurts and the Penguin playoff game is a 3 p.m. Baseball starts at 1 p.m. Downtown traffic will be a mess. I’m not driving so there’s that.

My wife is hacking up a lung but there’s free yarn in the deal and the tickets have been paid for. So we’re going.

A big storm front should be moving in around the fourth inning. When we plan on leaving anyway so we can get home and watch hockey (yes, Pittsburgh is the ultimate sports town). So there’s the threat of a downpour walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

It sucks to be me sometimes. I used to get so geared up over going to a game in person and now it’s just – meh.

And at my age, and I hate to admit it, baseball bores me. There I said it.

Yes, I’ll be one of those fans I used to mock, sitting in one of the best ballparks in America staring into my smart phone. I deserve mocking and ridicule. I don’t care. And there’s a lazy slider across the plate for strike two. Boring.

If I go to see any sport in person it would be hockey. Hockey is ideal – far more action that baseball or football and nice gaps between periods to piss and get hot dogs. We don’t have basketball here so I can’t comment on that but I would say when I went to Cavs games the action was pretty fun and there were three piss and dog breaks but they’re not as long as hockey.

But hockey tickets are beaucoup expensive.

So between injecting coffee in my veins, I have about an hour to prepare for something I used to enjoy.

But there’s free yarn! Huzzah.

Image result for yarn

Posted in baseball, Pittsburgh Pirates, Uncategorized, yarn | 2 Comments

Mick Jagger Bogarted My Meds

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written anything.

I may have mentioned it before but there are stretches where I’m literally incapable of writing anything. It’s not that the muse isn’t present, it’s just that the will is weak.

For me, writing used to be easy and fun. Now I have to be in the right frame of mind and physically up to do it. So it comes in spurts.

Anyway, I’m in the process of switching meds. My psych is switching out my Lexapro for Cymbalta. And it just took me two minutes to remember the name of the drug. Hell, I’m just popping pills so much I can’t even remember what I’m taking!

I’m on the one week weaning which is always a fun time when you’re taking two SSRIs at the same time. How have I been feeling? A weird kind of mellow is how I would put it.

I’m mellow but confused and forgetful. And, I’m dropping almost everything I touch.

Still, mellow like a hash buzz is better than the Midnight screaming meemies. For those of us who have been trying to find the right med combination for decades, the period between switching one to the other is partly opening the presents on Christmas morning and partly dread. You don’t know the longer lasting effects until weeks pass.

Why Cymbalta? The psych feels it will give me more energy, less lethargy, perhaps an appreciation of golf on TV, I have no idea. I remember I was on it once but I don’t remember why I got off it.

Such is life in the Wide Wide World of Psychotropic Medication.

Good points:

Occasional Zen-like moments of introspective tranquility – even at work

Better sleep

Bad points

Appearing and feeling occasionally drunk; balance issues.

Loss of extemporaneous speaking prowess.

Weird points

Zen state causes me to stare at inanimate objects and contemplate their existence. Staring at a lock on a door: “Wow, always wondered just how locks work with the keys and all that. Fascinating construction. Wonder what metal it’s made of? Beautiful man!”

Earwigs – the songs you hear or just appear in your head become mantras that last a long, long time. Currently, walking down the hall:

Laughter, joy, and loneliness and sex and sex and sex and sex
Look at me, I’m in tatters
I’m a shattered

Cool beans bro.

No I’m just groovin’ to the morning vibes. Don’t ask me how I drive. Man alive, thrive on jive.

I’m a cool poppa, 54 going on 21; what the Hell, it beats curling up in bed hiding from the world, shaking and sweating into the sheets. God love Big Pharma.

Rats on the west side, bed bugs uptown

I’m a creative. I write. I’m in control of my brain though I’m feeling my emotions drain. It’s vanilla shit but the vanilla beans are fresh and I’m satisfied.

Spacing out at the keyboard, wondering how long this will last

My brain’s been battered, splattered all over Manhattan . . .

Shadoobie, my brain’s been battered

my brain’s been battered;

brain’s been battered;




Posted in anxiety, ativan, bipolar, blogging, Cymbalta, depression, lexapro, meds, mood swings, Rolling Stones | Leave a comment