I tried to kill myself once, March 5th, 2012. I could not take the depression anymore and at about 6:30 am I drove myself to the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, parked my car on the west end, where there's a little neighborhood of crap housing, and walked about what looked to me like one-third of the way up the bridge. A tad skittish, I kept looking down to make sure I'd jump far enough, and when it looked like it was at least 100 feet, I climbed over the barrier and jumped. This was when dawn was just breaking.
There was a crucial catch, however. The barrier is short but about a foot wide, and there's another foot beyond that, so you cannot see straight down but only slant. So I could not see that I'd be falling into a dead tree 50 feet below. The specifics are not clear by any picture of that bridge, and I’ve yet to find the nerve to actually inspect it (does it matter, anyway?)—but in any case I did fall into a dead tree and bounced off it, apparently. When I awakened sometime later, I saw below me a barren tract of land where some huge mechanism was being driven around a road far away, and I tried to scream out to the driver, many times.
But that mechanism was very loud, and I was sitting in scrub and a bunch of trash, so I tried to scooch down so maybe somebody could hear me. The temperature was just at the freezing point--0 C/32 F. My coat had blown off of me and was about two feet away. My purse, which I'd brought so somebody could identify me for my daughter's sake, was hanging just above and behind me on the dead tree like some loony Christmas ornament. I was not feeling cold, even though I was only wearing an insubstantial dipsy-print rayon blouse the color of loden, so with that and my dirty blonde hair I blended right in with the landscape. I felt no pain.
What worried me, though, were the hawks, and the fact that when I fell, my right leg had somehow been entrapped in a noose made out of vine, which became apparent as I scooted down, and all I could think was, ‘Holy shit. This is how I am going to die. Me, privileged white girl. I will die here very slowly, out of thirst first, and then the birds will come down to peck out my eyes.’
Why did I do that? I must say it’s a stupid question, because why does anyone try to kill herself? The answer is simple: an overwhelming desire to die, to get it over with already (well, some people like the fabled Willy Loman do it to give people money). The only reason people ask that question is that they really don’t understand complete despair. Once one of my bosses said that once he had woken up and for an hour felt no hope, no hope at all. I just stared at him for three seconds and changed the subject. I wanted to say, “Try that for an entire year, you big baby, and nearly always show up to work and do your job regardless.”
I think it was about eleven that the medics finally found me—somebody had seen me jump and called 911, and they’d been searching for hours. I don’t know how long I was unconscious and how long I was conscious, sitting there trapped and considering the hawks. I don’t know how the medics got up to me—there must be stairs? A friend knows a retired cop, and he found the recording of the conversation. I’d said, “Just take me back to my car and I’ll be fine,” apparently, but I don’t remember that. Instead, they took me to the hospital, and somewhere on the way the pain began.
I failed, even at this simple task of dying by jumping off the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, which should be a no brainer. I did, however, manage to break my pelvis in two places, crack most of my vertebrae, break my shoulder and a few other bones (they said twelve, if I remember correctly, but I was so high on opioids when they said it I could be wrong). I also got myself deeply in debt. I had no health insurance because of my bipolar one diagnosis, which the insurance agencies would not touch, even though I had no history of hospitalization for that little problem. I ended up in a hospital for a month and a nursing home for three months, where nobody gave me a shower for nearly two months. I had to go to a nursing home with psychiatric “care.” This meant merely that this psychiatrist came to visit one time, along with some woman to listen in (why? I have no idea, but probably she was “in training”). The psychiatrist asked about my psychiatric symptoms, and I said it’s mostly anhedonism. He asked what that meant. What the fuck? If you look up bipolar depression, it says it right there, and this sham doctor purported to be an Expert. I said it means the incapacity to feel pleasure (ie “an”+”hedonism”). “Oh,” he said, “I should have known that; after all, I took four years of Latin.” Then he told me that I had not intended to kill myself; this act was merely a cry for help. No. Cutting your wrists the wrong way is a cry for help, idiot. Maybe he thought me so stupid I’d buy into his nonsense, but come on!
That guy charged me 200 bucks for that waste of an hour, while the angels who swept my floor, handled my bedpan issues, and brought me perhaps the worst food in the world got minimum wage. They would sit and talk with me intelligently. They told me the most interesting stories about their ghetto lives, their crazy mothers, their jailhouse husbands and unruly children. They told me jokes to cheer me up, particularly this one woman, an elegant, slender brown woman who always wore the same choker—she would have looked incomplete without its metal scrolls stretched around her neck, like someone with an ear missing. I loved to hear her cajoling this one really cranky guy to stand up, laughing as he cussed her up and down. Then eventually she’d come in and tell me about what kind of bullshit her grown up twins called Click and Clack had been up to. Sometimes one of the aides would buy me something decent to eat.
Sure, they wouldn’t bother to wheel me across the way where there was a shower all set up for the likes of me, unable to put pressure on my feet at all, but you cannot expect everything. Eventually they hired this beautiful Irish woman with Celtic tattoos who did finally take pity on me and got me to the shower a few times. What a relief that was!
Much of my problem is that I think the world is all wrong, all backwards, and if I could rule the world things would be so much better. Decent food would be served in hospitals and nursing homes, medical folk would get that food has something to do with the health of the body (I mean, duh!), the aides would be given the respect they deserve, the sham Experts would be laughed out of work so maybe they could start over with some humility, and sadism would not be tolerated. As it is, sadism is celebrated. That’s pretty depressing, isn’t it?
I try not to hate but I end up despising. The Experts, the ones in charge, are some of the ones I hate: the “professors.” The administrators, the doctors, the lawyers, the politicians, the bankers, the landowners. They are the stupidest, most heartless people on the planet, and should be locked up and fed nursing home food. I am THAT judgmental, yet when I was given the Myers-Briggs exam, I scored zero on judgment. All perception, it said, no decision-making capacity. That is so wrong, so that’s another reason. I make plenty of decisions; unfortunately, they are mostly the wrong ones, or so my daughter says.
Yes, according to the Myers-Briggs test, I am an INTP. I scored very low on emotion; supposedly I am a logical type. Well, that’s wrong too. Any intellectual crap I’ve ever developed is a shield to protect myself and others from my extreme emotionality.
When I was going through my three-and-a-half-year custody battle, the court social worker gave me this other psychological exam, which is supposed to be foolproof. My lawyer told me not to lie on it, but I did. I lied about all the questions that would prove me to be bipolar, like “Have you ever been awake for 48 hours without feeling tired?” or “Have you ever had ten drinks without getting drunk?” The only other question I lied about was “Have you ever enjoyed marijuana?” My lawyer said, ”You should not have lied on that one. That’s the trick question they use to feel out people’s honesty.” My God, it’s illegal!
The results came back: “Elizabeth Hayes lied about just about everything, so it is hard to say much about her. But one thing is clear: she is not bipolar.” When I’d outfoxed my stupid ex-husband’s lawyer on just about everything, he said, “What about this psychological exam? It says she lies about everything.” I said, well, it also says I am not bipolar, and clearly I am—after all, that’s the whole reason I’m here, isn’t it?” The magistrate sighed and threw the test in the trash, and I won what I’d asked for: shared custody, 50/50, just as my daughter had asked for all along. After the papers were signed I danced around the courtroom and cried, “Now I can act as crazy as I truly am!” By the way, I proofread those papers, and it’s a good thing I did because they’d gotten enough of the dates wrong to render them null and void, I do believe. Idiots. But hey, that’s why they get paid the big bucks.
So after all that going to court being accused of being a bad mother and a lunatic, three-and-a-half fucking years, not to mention a really horrid pregnancy, being in labor for 48 hours, a bad case of hemorrhoids, quitting a job where the boss pleaded me not to, even dangling a vice-presidency before me, all so my daughter wouldn’t have to go into day care, marrying her stupid father in the first place so I could have her in a situation of some financial stability, and nursing her for nearly three years—she just would not wean— taking her to the mall (my least favorite leisure activity) and buying her whatever stupid crap she desired, trying to teach her everything, taking her to the movies and the art museum (when she was three she could identify a Picasso of any of his styles), and so much more, do you think my daughter has one iota of respect for me? No she does not. That’s another reason.
When I was 19 somebody asked me, “But don’t you want to get married?” I said, “If I’m gonna get married, it will have to be 1) some autistic guy and 2) someone who is gone a lot.” By autistic, I meant somebody who would leave me alone and be incapable, and disinterested, in figuring out what I’m up to, as long as I’m fairly discrete. At 33, I decided I really wanted to have a child, so should find someone to marry, and none of the guys I’d been hanging with would think of having a child with anything but horror, and would have gotten pissed at me even bringing the matter up. And don’t give me this nonsense about how single motherhood is the way to go.
Then I met Malvin, appropriately named as it turned out (bad wine, get it?), a jazz musician (flute and sax) who had a steady job as a bureaucrat at Welfareland. At 45 he wanted to finally settle down, and get this, beyond his stupid bureaucrat job, he gigged at least three times a week! That fulfilled criterion number two, and Mal’s mood variations were nil, any intuitive powers lacking, which fulfilled criterion number one. Therefore, I decided I’d get a baby out of him.
I wasn’t in love with him, in fact often disliked him and thought his musical ability mediocre at best, but he fulfilled the necessary criteria, wanted to buy a house and set up for inner ring suburban normalcy, and it seemed like a decent plan. He had fairly cool friends. And that being “in love” business had never worked out so well. I’d been doing little but working 60 hours a week at an economic analysis papermill, churning out fake statistics, making largely clueless predictions on growth (always growth must be predicted) of various manufacturing endeavors while editing everyone else’s analyses to conform with my boss’s very exacting ideas of proper sentence form for economic bullshit—he would freak out if someone had written “above” or “below” 4.2, for instance—and it was becoming intolerable. In my defense, my boss was driving me insane.
Once married and in a little house on a street nearby where every little house is one of two models, with superficial variations, things were not working out as planned. I really dreaded sex with the guy—I’ve rarely slept with anyone else so bad at it—but managed to do it enough to get pregnant. Once married he became intensely Jewish, and his family was awful. His father was all right, a retired pharmacist who gardened a lot, but his mother was a coddled, greedy testament to supremist egotism. This was the type of Jewish family where the matriarch is in charge and worshipped. She had really bad taste in furnishings, and all the family members had to go over there for dinner every Friday and eat her awful briskets and dried out chicken breasts with this gooey icky orange sauce baked on top and ooh and ahh about how good it all was. They all spent ridiculous amounts of money on ugly clothes, tacky jewelry, luxury cars, etc, and the mother had a sister who had married a man who had eventually established a local savings and loan, a real Horatio Alger story, as they told it, so I also had to deal with these stinking rich relatives who snubbed me when I was obliged to go to their mitzvahs and weddings and funerals. They all seethed over my refusal to convert, but I finally got the Rabbi off my back by telling him that if I went through the process I’d be lying, and he wouldn’t want that in his temple, now would he? Mal’s sister, a stereotypical Jewish princess, once told me that her mother cried when she saw my Christmas tree in the window. In their neighborhood, the only tree decorated at Christmastime was in a back yard.
Once married, I could not say anything that Mal thought was right. Everything I said was suspect and rejected, and I would get so galled when some yahoo would come over the house and say the same thing I’d said, and then Mal would immediately take it to be true. I love to cook food of all kinds, and if I took the trouble to make something that took some time and attention for dinner, he would say “I could eat this once a month,” implying that I was supposed to fill out a plan of meals each month like a high school cafeteria. I’d hoped that as the years went on, I would “grow to love him,” as the old wisdom of arranged marriages puts it, but it seemed that my fate was going in the opposite direction. Finally I stopped cooking altogether, forcing him to take me and baby daughter out to dinner every evening. To be fair, that did show that he had some sense of moral responsibility: he could have left us to starve. I’d quit my economic analysis job and had little income of my own, just this stupid little freelance job writing real estate ads. Mal had grudgingly consented to me quitting the economic papermill when I promised everything I bought for Leah and me would be second-hand, so we could live mostly on his income. I couldn’t see the point of farming my child out to some day care; I love the little ones, and wanted to spend my days with her, so eventually I took other kids in too for cheap, thereby expanding my personal spending money.
In this situation of constantly having all my views ignored or denounced, I started getting very depressed; suicidal thoughts returned with a vengeance, and I decided that given my responsibility to my daughter, I should really finally go see a professional to work out this little depression problem. I refused to go to a psychiatrist, but would allow myself to be analyzed, Jungian style. I heard by word of mouth that Diane was pretty good, so I started seeing her once a week. I figured it wouldn’t take more than a year.
Analysis was hard on me. In the first session, I told Diane I don’t feel things very much, that I’m not an emotional person. I held onto that idea for a while even though, when talking about my childhood issues I would start sobbing and run to the bathroom to get over myself, which at first would usually take up most of my session time. Eventually I could manage to make it through most of the sessions without total meltdown. Diane started telling me she could make no further progress unless I’d submit to seeing a psychiatrist and getting on an anti-depressant.
I resisted. Since the age of 20, I knew my depressions were no trifling matter, but also saw some people go to psychiatrists who never had a life after that, and I wanted a life. I would demand it at all costs. However, Mal had an old friend named Rosemarie, a retired school counselor who was at the time president of the local Jungian Society. Part of her obligation therein was to put out a monthly little rag to send off to members, and she suggested I could help by writing a review of Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. I did that, giving it a fairly thumbs up assessment but ending with my opinion that treating depression as a positive experience was really dangerous and cruel. At my local bookstore, Care of the Soul was right next to Listening to Prozac, so I read that too, and decided to see a psychiatrist after all. Besides jumping off the bridge, that was my biggest mistake ever.
Once when Leah was 14 she called me into the living room to watch a movie starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman called Anywhere but Here. It’s the tale of a very wild mother who drags her daughter to Hollywood and causes the poor little girl all manner of embarrassment and hardship. After the movie was over Leah’s heavy silence filled the room. I knew what she was thinking: ‘Don’t you see how I feel, poor me?’
‘As if,’ I thought. ‘As if it’s all my fault. What have I done that’s anything like that movie? OK, putting you through that marriage to Bob the total asshole was pretty bad, but didn’t I kick him out pretty quickly? Haven’t I tried to give you everything you want, kept the bills paid, worked my ass off, bought you stupid things you don’t need, made nice healthy dinners, packed you lunches even when I lack the time, driven you all over the fucking place when you should be walking? Your unhappiness is not my problem. I can’t help who I am, not altogether anyway, and if you think some 14-year-old spoiled brat is going to make me feel bad about myself and sorry for her just because I am bipolar and not June Cleaver, then fuck off.’
But of course, like a broken woman with her leg caught in a noose with no apparent help coming, I did feel trapped into feeling very guilty and very sorry for her. How could I have inflicted that drunken carpenter on her? Like my sociopathic sister said, he wasn’t even good looking and he had no money.
It is true that it is hard to deal with a mother who gets really depressed and sits on the couch staring into space dumbly a lot, and who gets up at three am and wakes her up shrieking because Mommy’s having another panic attack, freaking whenever she has forgotten to do something, no matter how minor—always predicting disaster. I have endured really low depressions for years at a time, and whether the meds were affecting my synapses or my history affecting my predictive powers, I had to get up very early so the panic could subside enough to carry on in practical life.
When my daughter was 14 she made me promise I would not kill myself, never ever no matter what, and I held to that for five years that felt like forever. Nobody’s perfect, but she sure comes down hard on me if I make the least mistake. Like once when she was 15 I slapped her because she had been a horrid bitch for months, demanding that I drive her here and there, clogging up the bathroom with her one hour makeup and hair preparations just to go to the convenience store, all that stupid stuff which I abided to the best of my ability. (After all, if she was displeased with me she could run to her father and complain of abuse and/or neglect, and then it would be back to court. She had me over a barrel.) She would give nothing but sullen one-word answers to friendly questions.
Finally I could not take the attitude. I slapped her and yelled, “Who are you and what have you done to my daughter!?” That woke her up and helped her see how she’d been treating me. I did not even slap her that hard. Then she regressed, going on and on for years about how abusive I am; no doubt one of her stupid therapists told her to think that way. For that one little slap? My God, my father used to knock me to the ground, and I never much minded. You just get back up.
I knew why she was being such a bitch. She had a crush on a pretty boy who played with her head, teasing her into trying while always rejecting her advances; and her father, after his second botched marriage to a woman who was terrible to her—an unbelievably nasty woman—bought a house next door to that boy. But she never thought that was abusive. And when she was 16 she moved in with her dad for good and hardly ever even called for years. Why? The stated reason was that he bought her a car and said she could not use it to come to my house, but I think it was much more than that. She did submit to going to the movies and out to dinner with me once in a while.
When I was in the hospital and she was 19, she came to visit me once. She asked me what had happened and I told her the truth, so she walked right out. When I was in the nursing home she visited me once, for ten minutes. So she attended to me for about 15 minutes, max, all that time, and she considers herself devoted, generous, and victimized. Everything she writes is about my mental illness and abusiveness, really nasty stuff, and I forgive her everything, while she forgives me nothing. Everything wrong with her life is entirely my fault, and she keeps telling me I need to go back to the psychiatrists and will not believe me when I say the drugs make me worse. She thinks I need to see a therapist and I say, “Well, it makes no sense to hire a friend; isn’t that oxymoronic?” She doesn’t believe that either. Her father has been sending her to a therapist since she was five, and she thinks it’s a great idea to just unload all your shit on some idiot who considers you a specimen and source of income; it is so healing.
When I was going through that custody battle my ex (actually I’ve got two legal exes) told the court social worker I had never been able to be a caregiver. But Leah’s therapist had told me that Mal had told her that I was the perfect mother until my breakdown. So I called that therapist and asked if she would please let the court know what he had said, and she screamed and screamed that she was not going to get involved in the court situation, no way. All I was asking her to do was utter one God damned sentence, and she chewed me out. But I am unreasonable and sick and she is noble and well. Those in the mental “health” field never take responsibility for their actions.
OK, for now I will shut up about mental health “professionals.” I will tell you about all the people I have loved who have killed themselves, most all while under psychiatric care. In my crowd it’s “the thing to do.”
First there was this guy, Bob. In my high school years my father made me go to the country club once in a while though I preferred the beach—I hate rich people generally, and have always believed that even highly polluted water is healthier than the chlorinated kind—but Bob was an exception, and not even that rich, and made going there tolerable. He had two brothers who were tall, handsome, and lawyers, while Bob was short, crossed-eyed, and always fucked up on some drug or another. Once he nearly drowned because he fell asleep at the dinner table and collapsed his face into the soup. He would take me places and then forget where he’d parked his car, and we’d spend hours searching for it. He shot himself in his wretched apartment in the Ashtabula harbor district when he was 25.
I’m pretty sure my high school boyfriend, such a vain ass, killed himself because he’d stalked me for decades and suddenly it stopped. For I can’t remember how many God damned years I’d have to change my phone number to get rid of him incessantly calling me, then he’d call my mother and he’d wheedle it out of her, no matter how many times I told her not to. She always adored Tom and thought I should have married him. It didn’t matter to her that I told her he was a compulsive liar and had spent much of his adult life in psych wards. Or maybe he got run over by a bus or something. I must say I was somewhat flattered, but once he pierced my ego by saying he stalked all his ex-girlfriends.
In college I had a terrible crush on this dashing flush-faced Anglo guy who fell into a psychotic episode at the end of each semester, so never completed a course. Being the son of a dean, this was permitted. My friend David had a crush on him too, and we’d take turns babysitting him when he was out of the psych ward. He wrote really alive poetry, banged away manically on the piano, took me on adventures that involved the whimsies of the gods of wind and such, played pinball and pool with me, but he would not ball me. I don’t know why. He balled just about everybody else. David thought he was afraid of me, but in any case, he married a delicately beautiful artist from India. She took care of him for twenty years, had three children by him, put up with all manner of abuse, from flagrant infidelity to beating her up, and finally couldn’t take it anymore and kicked him out. So he killed himself by overdosing on his psychotropic meds. It took him two weeks to die, lying in a hospital bed as his innards hardened.
My first psychiatrist, the only one with any real compassion, reputedly the “regional expert on depression,” shot himself. His name was Dr. Podlipski. He was so respected that when the hospital I visited him at went smokeless, he got away with disregarding this policy, and kept a rack of interesting pipes on his desk for the patients to examine, and would let me bum cigarettes from him. He gave me this and that drug and after a year of sharp, rapid ups and downs, I said, “I can’t take these anymore,” and he said, “I don’t blame you.” He started telling me that the neuroscientists only know the function of a few neurotransmitters, while there are thousands, and the profession really has no idea what they’re doing to people’s brains.
So I stopped the psychiatry, but a year later my Jungian analyst, who had talked me into seeing a psychiatrist in the first place, said I must try another one. She referred me to Dr. Sawyer, who overdosed me on Prozac with four times the tested dose. This put me into a three month highly euphoric mania where I thought I was so smart as I destroyed my life. It only ended on my 40th birthday party, when a man tried to choke me to death for no apparent reason. He punched me really hard in the eye, which the doctors said I nearly lost, and then threw me down and started choking me. And I do have collaboration on the fact that there was no provocation. I was merely sitting quietly talking to this other guy, and if he hadn’t saved me and taken me from there I’d be long gone.
The one that choked me was just the sort of guy you can imagine has cloven hooves, the kind I am fascinated by when at my worst. I had rented his downstairs apartment and was sleeping in his bed upstairs, and I think he did not want me anymore in his nefarious business, his bed, his apartment, or anywhere but under the soil. The party was in that apartment: about 30 people I knew came, and we danced, confided, and laughed into the wee hours. None of them could figure out I had gone berserk, strangely enough. About half of them had PhDs; about half were barflies and folks on mental disability: my kind of crowd.
Right after that jolting experience my mood nosedived within 24 hours, and just then the custody battle began, and my lawyer told me I needed to show the courts I was under psychiatric care. My analyst finally told me that Dr. Sawyer was dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he said my case was too complicated for him. So I went back to Dr. Podlipski and he was looking even worse than me, ashen faced and sucked dry, yet working at four facilities. I suggested he slow it down and he said, “I cannot leave my patients to those idiot psychiatrists.” A month later he shot himself.
My friend Alois killed himself about a year before that. He had gotten into some mad frenzies. He’d decided he was in love with me, after being my pal for 15 years, and then he got obsessed with hermaphrodites, and then, of all things, with guns. At that time he was married for the fourth time to a woman named Kate, and one day he went up to her and said, “Watch this,” and he fired his gun at the ceiling. “Like a proper cowboy!” he enthused. Alois was from Germany and was trying to be a true Amerikan.
Kate had been keeping him on the meds, which was stupid because they always made him manic. Alois was normally a very gentle guy, with a kind of scrunched up face and droll whine, a meat cutter and translater by trades and devoted to Goethe. He was my best friend for many years. We’d never become lovers because when he first met me I was sitting down. We talked for a while, getting some strange heat going, but then I stood up and he decided “too tall.” All of my height is in the legs. One of the last times I talked to him he called me up to say he’d figured out how to make The Lord’s Prayer work for him with just one word change, and I said, “Alois, I just cannot take it anymore” and hung up on him. I rue that move, always.
Kate got her MA and started teaching at CSU. She was a real mess. She’d gained a great deal of weight and made this weird whining, wheezing sound, probably unconsciously. I hadn’t seen her for some years because when Alois discharged that bullet she left him. One day on campus she told me that the doctors had pulled her off of Prozac because she had a heart condition. That’s not wise, at all. She fell into a deep pit. “Why did I do that?” she sobbed. “Alois was the only man I’ve ever loved, and he wouldn’t have shot me.” I said hindsight is 20/20. Then she said, “I’ve got a catch of drugs; I’ve been saving them up.” I pleaded for her not to do that, that she had a granddaughter to think of, but a few days later she overdosed on her heart medication in a library study carrel.
Finally, there was Dennis, whom I was very close to for, oh, seven years. He died the same year I jumped, 2012. I first met Dennis in a support group I’d created—no health care professionals allowed—and thought, ‘What is up with this one?’ He was speaking very formally, and I thought, ‘Is he gay, or just highly repressed?’ A few days after I first met him I saw him on campus. It turned out he was teaching psychology. The first time he tried to kill himself his spouse, Ron, caught him on the rope in the nick of time. The second time he didn’t. I’d been dreading this. Dennis was 62 when he killed himself and had been going through severe anxiety and depressions for his entire adult life. He’d told me once that a psychology professor said that at a certain point, after too many cycles, people just give up. Dennis wouldn’t take my word that those pills were toxic. In his last severe depression I would call him up to see how he was, and he’d always sigh, pause, and then say, “Not so good, but I just had my medications adjusted.”
When I first met Dennis I was back on the meds again. Stupid—you don’t have to tell me. But I’d gone into my second mania and I was terrified of the crash downward. I tried working with a homeopath, who got me off the mania within two days, but could do nothing about the depression, which was digging in deep.
So once again: why did I jump off the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge? Certainly it was in part from the loss of those friends and the hysteria that followed each one, feeling I had no discernable path but the one they’d cleared, but it was more than that. Maybe it was because I’d tried everything—dietary changes, those horrible psych meds, homeopathy, naturopathy, Chinese medicine, Jungian analysis, group therapy sessions, and nothing made a dent, so I was disgusted and drinking a lot, a whole lot. Certainly it was severe psychic pain, with an inability to feel any pleasure or even a few moments of composure to help me deal with it, and this had gone on for years. But perhaps I could even have endured that and plodded on so that I wouldn’t disturb anyone’s delusional sense of reality but mine, which is generally considered the real delusion. But I figured my daughter was old enough to take it, and she hated me anyway, and why persist when I could give her my house and car?
Part of it, though, was the understanding that “mental health Experts” are actually sadists—although likely mostly unconscious of the fact—and that even when you beg for succor from those friends and family who actually love you (or at least honestly try to), they will demand you go to these Experts of the psyche for help, feeling totally inadequate to help you themselves. And they will say they will not deal with you until you do.
When in enough desperation you do take their best advice and begin seeking the expertise of these secular high priests, the Experts will hardly help you; instead, in the name of therapy, they will take over your brain like you cannot believe (that is, unless you’ve been through their dire processing yourself). As your mental state deteriorates, they will offer you hope (the next med cocktail will do it for you, there’s a new drug just out that is enormously promising) and shame (you must be drinking or smoking marijuana or even worse, you need to get a handle on your sleep habits, you need to go on disability for your own good). If you start to lose too much weight because you are too anxious to eat, or gain weight as an effect of the drugs (and all do have such effects or even more horrendous ones; just read the labels), they will send you to a doctor to counsel you on diet, as if doctors know crap about that—and come to think of it, psychiatrists went to medical school too, so why don’t they just tell you in their 200 bucks per 15 minute sessions? They will tell you that they are practicing an art, although eventually, if you go to the support groups, you will find that everyone is being given the same newest, most promising, most expensive drug.
So this is not so much an art but a science experiment, and you are one of their lab rats. The FDA requires tests before drugs are released to the psychiatrists. These are a total joke, for more reasons than the fact that they can and do throw the more damning results in the trash, but you are among the real test subjects; and if you fall deeper and deeper into abjectness, the psychiatrists can just say that that is the natural progression of the disease. Poor baby, you, I feel so much empathy, they’ll say—the scientifically remote version, anyway—for your stupid pain. In the meantime, all the experts make a lot of money.
You would think that these MDs would have some degree of common sense in doling out the meds. After all, they do, it is claimed, know something of science; they took all those courses and passed all those exams, anyway. They must realize that their wonder drugs have a very powerful effect, so what do they think is going to happen if they switch you from one to another on a monthly basis? Each drug hits the nervous system in a different way, so is the brain going to find any stasis in which to heal? But somehow they cannot see how this could possibly have a deleterious effect on the patient. Everyone knows, or should know, that any drug has its toxic as well as beneficial side; every label says that they can create the same symptoms they are supposed to treat. But the psychiatrists seem entirely ignorant to this fact, save poor Dr. Podlipski.
What keeps these psychiatrists in such a state of ignorance? Well, first of all, there is money to be made, but not nearly enough, given the high cost of medical school, monetarily and in terms of the intense competition of getting and staying in, and the punishing piles of information to be tested upon, and the grueling residencies. When all those years of punishment are over, who can blame anyone for not wanting to cash in on the rewards? Enchanted by the promise of luxury autos, clothing, homes, and fine dining, the logical (or at least societally-endorsed sane) response is to push forward, get the goods, and ignore all the patients who go into disability and persist in agony, and even though some may jump off some bridge or use the rope method or shoot themselves in the head or overdose on their meds, this is, after all, the natural progression. And those patients were not compliant and so ignorant, while you’ve read piles of peer-reviewed journals and worked very hard, pushing yourself to your very limits. Also, the fact is, some people actually do get better, or at least stop bugging you, so they must have found relief, even success, in your tender care, huh?
And it’s not like the money is so great, not like the plastic surgeons who make scads more inserting silicon into breasts and lifting baggy eyelids and sucking fat out of women’s butts. It’s not like you make nearly as much as neurosurgeons or heart specialists. True, you were hardly the pick of the litter, but what is so wrong with getting a little break by accepting the pharmaceutical manufacturers’ offers of free educational trips to Hawaii to learn from the best? Isn’t that a good thing? And if you feel a little squeamish about taking some good bucks for presenting a given script about a new psychotropic to a seminar of your peers—the script written by the manufacturer—well, if you don’t do it, somebody else will.
That’s exactly the thinking of every crack dealer I’ve ever talked to. They all figure that if they don’t do it, somebody else will, so what the hell. Whatever else may be true, I’ve known enough psychiatrists to realize that they are nothing but glorified drug dealers, and not at all different at heart than GE, Dick Cheney, and the Pentagon: doling out death and suffering for their comfort and pleasure.
The psychiatrists will tell you they are better than the drug dealers who hang around schoolyards getting the kiddies hooked on mostly marijuana, but occasionally crack and heroin. After all, the psychiatrists will exclaim, we are better than the drug dealers, and the proof is that those types can be incarcerated whether or not they kill anyone. Those dealers in illegal drugs are doing something actually illegal, the psychiatrists argue, while we are licensed and bona fide, even if we do kill many. We are only here to help, the psychiatrists say, while those other drug dealers don’t care about those who buy their drugs, while we REALLY do, so much. The illegal drug dealers only have customers at best, or should we call them victims for profit; we are dealing with “patients.” That word changes everything.
Only it doesn’t, at all. The psychiatrists are increasingly widening their diagnoses, so they are giving pre-schoolers very heavy drugs, arguably much more dangerous ones than those the illegal drug dealers tempt middle-schoolers with. Despite their protestations, psychiatrists are at least as heartless as most hitmen. I wish all our doctors would be forced to take years of hard-core poetry training, and only be admitted into med school if they can write a poem to make one’s heart break, and have actually been entranced by a prostitute of whatever sex. Just because, as we all know, our culture is a relentless whorehouse. If you’re going to prepare to be a slut for the pharmaceutical pimps, the manufacturers’ reps that is, learn the trade from the mistresses and masters.
Nothing awakens a person to the evils of capitalism like having your psychic pain be made into a cash cow for the psychiatric profession. In the case of the psych patient, no discernable crime has been committed and the illness considered perhaps more to be pitied than despised, at least in public conversation; you are not to be punished, but aided, and the general consensus is that reliable treatments have been developed and all is well, but as one of the diagnosed as having a “serious disorder,” and having been close to many of the treated, I just don’t see it. Some suggest that the successfully dosed are in the majority—70 percent is the statistic they made up—and are productive citizens indiscernible from the general population, happily and without mishap swallowing their reliable, safe meds, and are not noticed because they do not go to therapy groups and have been normalized. Somehow I find that suspect. In my experience, none who have gone through the treatment regime have gotten out unscorched, few are “productive,” and many are dead.
Those of us, my friends and I who have been screwed by the mental health professionals, are hardly alone in the larger situation of a world run by bean counters. We can include those imprisoned for a victimless crime, like merely selling a bit of pot for the rent money and some cool shoes, but there the punishment is overt and few will say more than “do the crime, do the time.” People lose their jobs and their houses, but those are just assumed by the general public to be losers. People wander the streets homeless, but they are deemed the necessary downside in a great society which, admittedly, does let a few fall through the cracks. Nothing’s perfect, after all.
The bean counters are all drunk off their asses with lust and dreaming up ways to pile it in that should be absolutely shocking to the average citizen, but apparently most are not. The reason for the behavior of the very rich is obvious: they have simplified the process of producing food and other necessities to a degree that they have a nation of mouths to feed but little need for them, and obligation is something that only the quasi-moral masses have any sense of. There’s plenty of crap to sell in a consumer society, but it is just not enough.
So what to do with a huge population that is largely unnecessary? They can become profitable items themselves! In the medical field this has become increasingly obvious, even to some of those average citizens as they lose their homes over a botched operation. In incarceration, much can be made on the poor by convincing the general public that they must pay for their safety through building more prisons, making more things illegal, and extending sentences. In schooling, the employment of more “specialists” are required to help the students, and all those kids need computers to prepare them for the 21st century, although the Internet will have to be filtered severely—this will cost even more from the public dime. As employment opportunities, decent or otherwise, dwindle, college becomes necessary for all if they hope to compete and not become those despicable “takers,” and as higher ed is getting more expensive all the time, both those higher institutions and the banks benefit. After all, the children are counselled that this is the surest path, and not doing so would caste them into poverty fer sure. I could think of more examples, but you get the idea.
The flip side of this message of fear being put forth is that being safe is the most important thing, while being daring is to be stomped out by all means. Play the game, keep your head down, work until you drop, and do not look at the man behind the curtain. Meanwhile, Hollywood tempts us all with daring feats and extreme sexual endeavors, but this is necessary to trap some into trying such stuff out, and then they can become profitable to the medical, correctional, legal, and military industrial complexes. You may call those movies catharsis, but that theory has been disproven.
The world outside my bruised brain appeared to be as hideous as the happenings inside. Even if the sun was shining, the birds chirping, the leaves glistening, it made no impact except for me to recall that this kind of day used to make me joyful. Every morning I woke up at three or four; there was no use in just lying there, because no more sleep would be possible, and I’d just dwell on my dark thoughts. So I’d go downstairs and read the students’ papers or check out the on-line news or reread the assigned readings of the day, and look up anything I wasn’t so sure of so I could answer any questions a student might ask—highly unlikely, but not impossible. These are not exactly the most cheerful activities. Perhaps in those wee hours I’ll have a panic attack or two over something stupid. Then at the last minute, I’d take a shower, find something half-presentable to wear, and go teach.
The college administrators were not all that hot on me, not since the administrators had gotten clearance to read everyone’s electronic communications. The students liked me well enough, because it was in the classroom where my enthusiasm peeked out—nobody would have guessed what I was like outside of there—but the classes I was assigned kept folding so I was teaching less and less, and none of those administrators were giving me a break for long-term service. I had no idea what to do next, what sort of work I was cut out for. The economy had crashed and the job market was flooded, and a burnt-out, bipolar, bedraggled slut in her 50s was not much in demand.
So those were a few reasons I jumped. Why haven’t I done it again, getting it right this time? After all, my life has not improved—I’ve got ridiculous medical bills and am currently ousted from teaching. The bean counters and legally endorsed killers are still at it, actually getting more and more unabashed. Maybe the residual effects of all those awful pills have finally worn off. Maybe my hormones have shifted around somehow in my post-menopausal years, or maybe the gods have decided to be kind for a while.
I guess one reason I haven’t duplicated the act of jumping off the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge is something someone recently said to me: there’s always more. There are always more people to be charmed by, always more things that can make me laugh really hard, always something to surprise me in a delightful way. Sometimes I haven’t been able to find any for years on end, sometimes it seems like everybody I love either despises me or ends their own life, sometimes I think I am a poisonous creature, possibly possessed. However, I doubt it. A brat surely, but that’s pretty much par for the course with my privileged upbringing, and I’m still working on it.
Patience is key. Being charmed, being able to see beauty and feel pleasure, finding myself in a situation where I can attempt to do anything for love—it is always possible that those things will return if I am patient enough, the anhedonism will give me a break, if I will once again put my hand out with palm up and open to the next person who draws me in and knows a bit about what I’m all about—well, that makes staying on the bridge worthwhile.
Like just about anyone who is paying any attention, I am horrified by people generally, not just the people who make the decisions to go to war for profit, to torture people, and convince people to love it here in the Homeland. I am also horrified by all those who buy their crap, literally and figuratively—those who will root wildly for killers in military regalia at football games, who will not question why we must continue giving all our money to the Pentagon, who will not think there is any other way to live than as slaves for the robber barons, who just won’t listen to reason and won’t accept that history has anything to do with it, so know absolutely none. Why should they, after all?—here be happiness, to be an Amerikan. I am as horrified by the people who buy into this obvious bullshit as by those who dole it out. But the fact is, I thought like them too as I lay shivering in my bed as a child, deeply terrified of the dark and the monsters: that happiness is to be a comfortably ensconced Amerikan. So I would pray to God, I know this to be true, so why am I so unhappy? Knowing this was confusion based on endless lies gives me a certain amount of despair, that’s true, but there is some hope that if even I can cut through some of the bullshit, enough other people might too that maybe the world could be less devastatingly horrid.
Ach, the psychiatrists, the professors, the analysts, the allopaths, the Experts—my contempt and anger spews out to them all, but I have decided to go with MLK’s line: if you hate, you can’t think straight. The real therapy, then, is only to deal with the hatred with the purpose of trying to clear it out of my head, heart, and marrow, and to try to relax a little and have some fun, because I am such a hedonist. And what better philosophy to have when living in a global madhouse? Because if you’re not walking around laughing at your own jokes, you just might not be able to take it.
Regarding the central heartbreak, maybe my daughter will never love me; or rather, she will always deeply resent loving me and hate me for it, and it will churn in her and give her all sorts of maladies: food obsessions, self-loathing, bad skin, irritable bowel, headaches, clueless decisions, etc, and I will continue to feel guilty. And maybe she’ll decide I’m crazy to tell her to keep off the Prozac, and I’ll have to watch her suffer; or worse, to be a good candidate for that pill and become libidinously numb, numb to both others’ suffering and her own joy, as so many of its devotees are.
Maybe, though, she’ll realize that I did my best, given severe limitations, and that it is no longer my responsibility to try to satisfy her desires. I’ve done my duty. Maybe she’ll take on the mantle of self-direction and outpace my bathetic attempts at wisdom by the time she’s thirty. That possibility is tantalizing enough to keep myself alive as long as possible, within reason. After all, there is always the chance for forgiveness and resolution, even with my daughter. If I jump off that bridge again, I’ll probably never know.
I said somewhere above that jumping off the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge was my biggest mistake ever, but let me contradict myself. If you haven’t gotten the message yet, I am a foolish creature, and doing so woke me up a little. By my own misgauging, I was given another chance. And by the way, the name of that bridge was changed to the Hope Memorial Bridge in the 1980s, but nobody here in Cleveland actually calls it that.
See also her "Teaching Torture in the Homeland."
Monday, July 6, 2015
- Linh Dinh
- Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.