Archive for April, 2012

I met someone today at Peets—Jade.

She was jabbering a mile a minute to someone in the back room, just out of sight. I was waiting to be waited on; I needed coffee. The name on her name tag read ‘Jade’, but I hadn’t noticed that, so absorbed I was, so captivated by her manic ways. Instant rapport. “They have pills for that,” I said half jokingly to her when she came to wait on me. A worried look pulsed thru’ her countenance, then disappeared, her face relaxing back into its former perky self.  “I’m always up,” she informed me, “I find that with a little effort I can always find my way back.” “Two pounds of French Roast,” I said almost perfunctorily, as if I didn’t want the purpose of my visit to interfere with the immediate moment. “In one 2-lb bag, or in two 1-lb bags?” she asked. “Two ones,” I told her. She fetched two 1-lb bags from the stack of flattened bags and proceeded to mark them as ‘French Roast’ with an inked rubber stamp. “And are you never down?” I inquired, wondering to myself if she was truly what she seemed—one of us—and hoping that she was. “Oh, God yes, but I don’t let it stop me. I find that with a little will power I can work myself out of it. Why?” she asked looking intently into my face. “Oh,” I sighed. “It’s just that I don’t often come across people like us.” “I’m on meds,” I added next. She went on to tell me that her mother was on and off meds regularly. And that she was down most of the time, so down that she seemed out of touch w/ reality, off in her own sad little world. And that she wasn’t always down, that sometimes she was quite happy. And that she routinely would see a doctor to do something about her bleak times. And that she would be given meds that would pull her out of it, but that she wouldn’t stay on them for very long, because they interfered with her happiness, her happy times. And that then she would crash back down, and become distant again, worse than ever, would then again seek medical help. She shook her head to herself, her face going long and sad, her eyes cast down, “It’s all very sad,” she murmured to no one in particular. She handed me my two one pound bags of coffee. She extended her hand across the counter to me. And as we shook hands, she asked me my name. “Bruce,” I told her, “and what’s yours?” She pointed at her name tag. “Jade,” it said. “And are you an empath, too?” I asked, a parting question. She looked startled. “Why, yes. Yes I am. How did you know?” she wanted to know. A universe of possibilities spiraling out before me in every direction, my heart hurting, aching to tell her so many things, to warn of the madness that surely lay ahead, to tell her about the fire that would surely touch her someday, that to live in the twilight between frenzy and oblivion would in time take its toll, that it was theoretically possible to be sane, a possibility she would in time come to see and reluctantly embrace, but that she wouldn’t exactly like it and would possibly even grow to regard it as an encroachment on the complete life, feeling the vibration rising in me, increasingly threatening to sweep me away. “Be safe,” I uttered, more as an incantation than as a wish for a secure future. I could feel my face contorting in grief and despair as I battled to keep myself in the middle, fighting back the tears. Had she seen, I wondered. Did she know what she was in for? Of course not.


How does one find meaning or a sense of fulfillment in life’s waning moments?

According to Erik Erikson, the sense of one’s own mortality as experienced late in life precipitates a crisis, the Final Life’s Crisis, one he dubs as Integrity v Despair.  This final crisis manifests itself as a review of one’s life/career to see if it was a success or failure.  He (Erikson) goes on to say that such reviews are best (most productive) when experienced with a significant other, and they can have either a positive or negative outcome: Ego Integrity (positive outcome) versus Depression and Fear of Death (negative outcome). But what does he mean by Ego Integrity? Integrity is used by him in its secondary meaning, i.e., the condition of being whole and undamaged. He means that the individual views their whole life with satisfaction and contentment, with wisdom developing as the inevitable and logical result.

To my mind, it seems there was never a time when I wasn’t keenly aware of my own mortality, i.e., the contemplation of which was not something I put off until old age. But as to whether this contemplation produced the now sought after crisis, who can say? It seems safe to conclude from the very title of this posting that I now find myself reviewing my life/career, i.e., that I am indeed knee deep in life’s final crisis. And that this post’s title was something suggested to me by my therapist of 10 years, someone who, without going into a lot of detail, is understandably a significant other in my life, bodes well for the productiveness of this review.

Is the outcome of this review a positive one or a negative one? Well, first of all, did I in fact have a difficult time during my middle adulthood, and who doesn’t? Do I therefore look back now and feel a sense of despair? Despair? No, not really; will sorrow suffice or melancholy perhaps? But melancholy is intrinsic to my manic depression, so this latter shouldn’t really count against me, right? Or do I look back and feel great accomplishment and contentment?  I would, I think, have to reply that I do, but I’m not sure about ‘great’ even though ‘great accomplishment’ is often an aspect of manic depression, i.e., especially during periods of hypomania, and indeed I was often hypomanic throughout my adult life. So while I do have a sense of great accomplishment and satisfaction, I am unwilling, because my disorder undoubtedly contributed greatly to my accomplishments, to consider my sense of it in the context of my life’s final crisis. But what about wisdom then? Is it emerging? It’s strange to think, by the way, of wisdom as merely approaching; it’s like madness in that either you have it or you don’t. Erikson defines wisdom as a kind of “informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself.”

What evidence do I see in my present life that points to an informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself, i.e., a detached concern for the whole of life, accepting death as the completion of life?  And how could I have acquired this detached concern? That too must be explained. All modesty aside, I think the way I cared for my father-in-law during the last 6 months of his life is indicative of wisdom in the sense with which it was introduced in this paragraph. Indicative? Hell, the experience may well have been catalytic of the wisdom I claim I now seem blessed with. Equally catalytic was the experience of being the primary care giver during my wife’s battle with stage 4 breast cancer a few years ago; witness this entry from my journal at the time: Living with someone else’s mortality, with the mortality of someone you love, has a way of riveting one’s soul to the now leaving the future writhing all about you like an impaled serpent; moment by ineluctable moment the future dies aborning.  It is to such a truncated existence that I find myself now relegated, a now layered of appointments, doctor’s visits, counseling, tests—chemo.

So, to answer the question with which I began this blog, simply writing this essay has been most revelatory in this regard and  goes a long way towards me finding meaning and fulfillment in the waning days of my life.

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What’s it like, this madness?

Well, babies, that’s a fair question, one I’ve tried to answer to myself and to my friends, over and over, but you see I can’t quite get there. The problem is that it’s a love-hate thing. Perhaps the closest expression of my sentiments to date is the old Motown classic, Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to run:”


Like I said, it’s a love-hate thing.


The voiceless fricative

Let’s take a moment to rekindle our now all but forgotten sympathies for the voiceless fricative (as opposed to the voiced fricative, the noisy bastards) leaving our concerns for the voiceless sonorants for another time. Who are these downtrodden who have no one to champion them, who have had to survive throughout the centuries without political representation, these voiceless ones, who’ve had to stifle themselves endlessly and in every conversation limit the repertoire of possible responses to a faint smile and/or an even fainter and meaningless nod of the head? No, no gay repartee for them. No knowing winks nor belly laughs. No, they have remained voiceless to this day. Has no one noticed? It strikes me as ineffable sadness that I even had to ask this question.

It is a miracle that they’ve not become embittered and cynical about life given that the voiced fricative (the labial ones, anyway) have traditionally enjoyed the freedom to vary , albeit idiolectally, between labiodental and bilabial, the noisy bastards. But where is it written that life must be fair? This last is often  used by the politically impotent to rationalize doing nothing to right a glaring wrong, and the more the more, i.e., the more glaring the wrong, the more likely they are to just throw their hands in the air and ask where is it written that they must act? But if we do act and do oppose phonation, do we not in fact risk a din? That is, these voiceless ones could become as noisy as the noisiest of the noisy bastards, the voiced fricative. And this, I fear, offers yet more justification for letting matters slide. So what’s it going to take to remove the taint from the voiceless so that they may raise their voices at least in song? A Live Aid concert? Imagine what stories they could tell if they were but allowed to speak. Well, it’s falling to us, the mad, to do something to fix this; to paraphrase David Faragut, “Damn the cacophony, full speed ahead.”


What a few famous people had to say about their own madness

Stephen Fry (actor)—”Nowadays a lot of what was wrong with me would no doubt be ascribed to Attention Deficit Disorder, tartrazine food colouring, dairy produce and air pollution. A few hundred years earlier it would have been demons, still the best analogy I think, but not much help when it comes to a cure.”

Mark Twain (writer)—”A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

Sylvia Plath (poet)—””When you are insane, you are busy being insane – all the time…When I was crazy, that’s all I was.”

Virginia Woolf (writer)—”And yet both had this hidden impulse, this incalculable force –this thing they cared for and didn’t talk about–oh, what was it?”
“As an experience, madness is terrific … and not to be sniffed at, and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets as sanity does.”

Robert Lowell (poet)—”These things come on with a gruesome, vulgar, blasting surge of “enthusiasm,” one becomes a kind of man-aping balloon in a parade-then you subside and eat bitter coffee-grounds of dullness, guilt etc.”

Winston Churchill (politician)—”I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.”