Don’t use my mental illness as an excuse to write off everything I say or do

I’ve been thinking about this idea for a long, long, LONG while, and I’ve put it in words now after reading some others’ blogs. Here it is: My mental illness is NOT an excuse for people with whom I interact to just write off anything I say or do that they disagree with. And yes, this extends to opinions that I have that are carefully considered, based on life experiences and, yes, even my interactions with YOU, who are so eager to chalk up my opinions to craziness.

I’m not going to say that in my darkest moments (and the times I feel most ashamed of myself and my behavior) I never say something I regret or that I don’t even completely, 100%, mean. I do. But, honestly, DON’T WE ALL? We all get tired, angry, frustrated, annoyed, irritated, strung out and worn out, and say and do things we don’t mean or that we just regret. So in this way, I’m really no different than any “normal” person, if you’d like to use that easy but non-precise terminology.

Here’s what really, really, REALLY bugs me: when I choose to discuss an issue with someone who is treating me poorly, in an effort to improve the relationship or our necessary interactions, and then that person essentially throws up a wall and refuses to talk because they don’t like what I have to say. People do that a lot anyway, sure. But I am convinced that some people through the course of my life have been all too quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to anything I say. If it’s something they don’t want to hear, they say, “You’re overwrought. You don’t know what you’re saying.” and then either studiously ignore me or what I tried to discuss, or they react with righteous indignation, even putting a burden of guilt and shame on me for daring to be open. They might even point the finger at me outright and denounce me to others. Not cool, people, not cool.

Because I’m that type of person. I don’t like having any kind of relationship with someone, whether it’s family, friends or acquaintances, or even work associates, that essentially forces me to bury any hurts or problems. I like to TRY, at least, to resolve the issue, to bring it to light and talk about it and free all from the burden of darkness. I think it’s much kinder to everyone. It does generally involve the peeling back of a scab, but then that sore is much more likely to heal over and not scar or get infected. It’s worth the initial discomfort.

But it angers me when my efforts are met with derision, nastiness, and blame. I have also tried to be somewhat open about the mental illness with which I struggle on occasion. And that, unfortunately, is seen by some people as a free pass, as a way to characterize my opinions as simply the effects of a frenzied mind. And they’re not. I might end up being not as soft and kind as I generally am (I think I’m pretty good at phrasing things well most of the time), and I do regret that. But that doesn’t mean that what I have to say is wholly without merit. If there’s a problem festering in our relationship, it’s NOT ALL ON ME. Face it: it might be you. Or at least partly you.

Let’s not be too quick to peel blame off ourselves and throw it back on another person, especially someone who is an easy target like one afflicted with mental illness. Let’s stand courageous and brave and compassionate and stop deflecting. Please just don’t write me off. My thoughts, opinions, and concerns have value. Please treat them accordingly.

‘Clockwork Princess’ review and thoughts

Clockwork PrincessSo I just finished reading Clockwork Princess, the conclusion to the three-book series The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. These books could easily be read by someone who hasn’t read Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, or they could be savored by those of us who already have developed a taste for the deliciously entertaining world of Shadowhunters.

The brief story: in 1878 New York, a teenage girl is orphaned, and her brother invites her to join him in London. On arriving there, she is taken by women who essentially imprison her in their house and insist that she has special powers. They spend weeks training her to shape-change, and she is astonished to learn that she actually CAN turn into other people. Luckily, she is rescued by a dashing young man named Will, and Tessa is introduced to the world of Shadowhunters, people who are charged with protecting humans from the world of demons and other “Downworlders.” As it turns out, the “Dark Sisters” were only tools in the hands of the Magister, who has very scary and nefarious plans to destroy Shadowhunters. Tessa, as well as an army of mechanized creatures, are the main components of those plans.

Clare gets to have fun in this series continuing to explore the world of Shadowhunters, but she also gets to add in components of steampunk, via the clockwork-angel necklace that Tessa wears and the clockwork creatures the Magister has created. The other ingredients that work so well for her in the Mortal Instruments are all there: teens charged with safeguarding humanity and using lots of cool weapons to kill ugly and dangerous demons; intense love affairs and some good makeout scenes; secrets and curses that throw wrenches into those love affairs and make the characters dark and brooding but tender underneath; lots of action and fight scenes; mystery and intrigue; and even some great snark, cleverness and humor. When I first started this series, the pattern was so similar to the other books that I thought it was too much of a copycat. But I enjoyed the story and the characters so much that I couldn’t help but just throw myself into it anyway.

City of Lost SoulsNow that I’ve finished (and having read all five of the existing books in the Mortal Instruments), I find myself much more satisfied with how The Infernal Devices played out and concluded. When I finished the fifth book in the MI, City of Lost Souls, I was pretty annoyed with Clare. She simply got off the rails with the story and let it spin out of her control, like a wild dog in desperate need of obedience school. With the ID, she used a lot of her familiar elements but still crafted a story that is nicely paced and tamed. She tied up the series very satisfyingly and restrained herself. In fact, I felt completely happy with all of it, and I was teary-eyed with how the characters’ story lines were concluded. And having enjoyed City of Bones and the next few books in the Mortal Instruments, it was fun to tie together the characters from both series and see how they are related. When you get to know and love characters, it’s always wonderful to learn more about them.

I’d highly recommend the Infernal Devices series, and if you want to read City of Bones and its sequels, you might want to limit yourself to the first three or four books. But we’ll see. I’m hoping Clare can bring it all together and do it right in what I hope will be the real conclusion to the Mortal Instruments, which apparently will come in September 2014 and be titled City of Heavenly Fire. Next question is: how will the “City of Bones” movie be? So far, I approve of the casting. I just hope that the movie captures the humor of the books and not just the action and sizzling love stories. If it misses the humor, it will be a tragedy (which I do fear is a possibility: look at Harry Potter — those books had so much cleverness and wit that seemed to be largely missing from the movie adaptations).

‘Salt Sugar Fat’: A fascinating look at ‘how the food giants hooked’ consumers

Salt Sugar FatSo I’ve considered myself to be better informed than the average consumer about not just what’s in processed foods but also about marketing principles in general. So I can’t say that much of what Michael Moss describes in his fascinating book Salt Sugar Fat surprised me, but it certainly did get my attention nonetheless. Just reading so many details about how food companies and their scientists have so carefully engineered their processed foods for optimal “crave-ability” and sell-ability still blew my mind.

Moss makes clear that he’s trying to show that it’s nearly impossible for the food companies to stop using such high amounts (and the most “addictive” combinations) of these three ingredients, for a variety of reasons. As the back cover says, “the industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar and fat.”

I’m not a vegetarian, a vegan, a raw-foodie, or any other kind of “specialty” eater or food-preparer. I do, however, make a lot of my family’s meals from scratch, which in this day and age does make me somewhat of an outlier, an exception to the rule. I don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged or pre-prepared foods. Therefore, I suppose that our family eats a lot less processed food than most of America. Unfortunately, just reading all the information in this book made me realize (not for the first time) that even the amount I do buy is far more than I would like. The food companies have perfected their ability to make “food” (I use that word loosely here) easy to buy and serve to our families, with convenience as the highest priority. But convenience has done a number on our health.

I’m not sure what the solution is. The reality is that many families have busy parents who both work (if there are two parents; those with single parents have even more challenges) and are just trying to get their children fed and cared for and out the door for their busy days. I know it’s a huge job shopping for healthier, less-processed foods, and then preparing them. But something’s gotta happen in our society to change this dynamic, because our health is paying the price. Our children’s health is paying the price.

Read this book. Think about it and figure out what you can do to get un-hooked. For a more detailed overview of the book, read my review on Rated Reads.

We never fully know what we’re getting into, do we?

In some of my most challenging hours, I’ve told my husband I feel it’s unfair to him he’s had to deal with me and my mental health issues. (This cuts both ways, though, since I’ve also told him during similar moments that if he thinks it’s hard to deal with me — which he’s never said but which I assume he must think, since that’s how I roll [and we know what they say about assuming] — that it’s even more difficult to be me and to deal with me because I have to be with myself 24/7. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just leave the room or the house and leave myself behind sometimes? Sigh.)

Sure, we’d talked about my issues before we married. Sure, he seemed to be OK with them. But honestly, how much experience did he really have with them? Even I hadn’t had a whole lot of experience with them — at 23, looking back, at least, I was just in the early years. Yes, I’d had some bad episodes, but in part I think I felt they were behind me because they came after some really big challenges, including a major heartbreak and beyond-disappointing treatment by the best friend I thought I’d marry. I really had no idea just how much a part of me those episodes would become, that they’d keep visiting, keep creeping down on me from the darkened attic in which I’d locked them away. But as in those gothic tales I love, the crazy wives in the attic never stay away permanently. Mine screams and yells and sometimes escapes, even setting fire to my life on occasion. No, I might lock her up again, but I can hear her every so often up there, pacing the floorboards and sometimes even moaning.

Nope, if I had no idea what I was in for, there is no way my husband did. And my heart aches for him because of that. At those times of difficulty, when I’m overtaken by darkness and crying hopeless, bitter sobs, I wish he could have a wife who’s not incapacitated for hours or a few days at a time. I just feel bad for him. He’s a great guy. He’s a great husband and has been unflaggingly supportive. I know he’s felt utterly helpless, unable to do anything for me, but he’s there, always hovering and ready to do whatever he can. I always appreciate that. Lesser mortals would have packed up and left long ago, I feel.

But it makes me realize that none of us ever has any idea what life will hold. We can make the best plans, predicated on our best educated guesses and experience, and we can move forward with certain expectations. But life always has surprises up its sleeve. At this stage of my life, I know that spouses can be unfaithful; they can leave; they can change their personalities and life goals entirely; they can even die far too young. Despite great education and job training, unemployment can strike for months, even a couple of years. Illness or disability can effectively rob someone of a functioning spouse. Things happen. And not just little things.

I had no idea what hand I’d be dealt in life when I was still growing up in my parents’ home; I still had little idea when I was a young adult. Even now, I’ve got a better idea, but I also am much more aware that plenty can life ahead of me, supposedly halfway through this mortal existence. Yeah, I wish my husband hadn’t gotten handed the mentally-ill me. But he did also get the really amazing me, who’s capable and really useful and fun and cute to boot. I’m not as thin as I’d like, but I look pretty young still and I’m attractive. Not bad, I think! 🙂 Plus, I cook, I bake, I am a great gift-giver, I’m clever and creative, I pay bills, the list goes on … I’m really handy to have around.

So life has its challenges. It delivers a lot of unpleasant surprises. That’s the case for both me and my husband. But life has also been really good to us in so many ways, and we still have each other. There are yet many good and bad surprises ahead. In some ways, I’m not really eager to find out what they are. Yep, the disturbed wife in the attic will keep re-emerging; I’ll keep locking her up. And all kinds of strange things will emerge from the closets and from behind the bushes outside, even. But I’m just going to keep going and do the best I can to handle whatever comes a-knockin’. ‘Cause that’s life. And since I’ve made it this far, I’ll just try to make it further. 

Princess Bride and Star Wars mashups

OK, people, this post is purely for fun and just because we are those kinds of people. We love to quote movies, and “Star Wars” and “Princess Bride” are some of the best of them all to quote (well, particularly “Princess Bride”). This little post is the result of a little riffing our family did while driving. Sit back and enjoy, and if you like, email me with suggestions and I’ll make some more mashups.

Inigo and Darth

Six fingers

as you wishr

guide my sword



When I’m boiling over, just grab some oven mitts

I’ve just had another week (couple of weeks? month?) that ended horribly for me mentally. I ended up nearly incapacitated with hurt, anger, and hopelessness, curled up on my bed in a puddle of tears and surrounded by tissues that I’d flung wherever. And something that has struck me (yet again) is how difficult it is to explain this outcome and all the little triggers, inner and outer, that lead to it. I still am convinced that most people do not have the least idea how to deal with someone in this situation, or clearly on their way to it. This even (maybe especially?) includes family members, who have known me for years and have varying levels of knowledge about the struggles I face periodically, but who still just don’t KNOW what it’s like to be me at those moments or how to be WITH me.

I can’t blame them, most of the time, honestly. In their place, I might be unsure what to do or say (and how to handle any lightning bolts that come zinging my way out of the storm) and possibly just find it easier (safer?) to wait until that storm was over, the clouds all blown away, until I came near again. But when it comes down to it, in my own place, I can’t help at those times but feel angry and resentful that few people do know how to approach, how to offer support. And if family members, who are supposed to love me and be there for me, just as I’ve always tried to do the same for them, cannot be there for me, what does that say about them, or even about me? Those moments leave me mostly alone, feeling abandoned. I mentioned on Facebook, to friends, that that medium is a dicey place for trying to reach out for true support. How in the world do we use the one medium that keeps us in touch most readily to really connect, to really help each other, when it generally is limited to use as a place for sharing mundane details of day-to-day life, news of our kids’ accomplishments, and photos that show us in vacation spots or in our best moments? I do appreciate that when I put out that little message, some friends offered their support and care, just saying they were thinking about me. That did mean something. A lot, really.

But in real life, how in the world do I get support from those whom I need when I’m giving off a really bad, hopeless, negative, angry, and, yeah, even “crazy,” vibe? Most normal people would run away, far and fast. This is been one of my biggest concerns over the years as I’ve struggled with this beast of mental illness. I’m a pretty “normal” person most of the time, and people say they find me to be upbeat, happy, blessed with a great smile. I care and really put myself out there to help others. I do spend a lot of my time and energies trying to help those around me. But sometimes life just gets to me or I end up spending too much of my energies on others and then run dry in my own well.

boiling waterIt’s kind of like I’m boiling water on the stove, and as long as there’s still water in the pot, even if it’s only a half-inch of water, everything’s fine. But the second that water boils off, the pan is in big trouble. And despite my best efforts to balance my life (ha!) over the years, it’s still a really tricky act to pull off successfully, and I burn out sometimes. The pan bursts into flames as soon as it gets dry, and I need to be removed from the burner, cooled down, and filled back up again with water. Those are the times I need loving friends and family who, armed with oven mitts, are willing to help me cool off and refill my reserves. I sit on the stove sometimes and whistle like crazy, wondering where my mitted friends are, because it’ll take a lot longer to get myself filled up on my own merits. If left for too long, I stay hot and just get angry.

I know it’s hard to come near me at those times. I realize that. But I know I’m worth the effort. I know that I am a good, genuinely caring person who uses my talents and resources to be helpful to others. I’m fun, I’m generally kind, I’m pretty handy to have around in a lot of ways. So I give. Even just in a balance-sheet kind of way, I’m worth the investment. But during all those good moments, I still fear that those I care about aren’t taking the time to find out more about the few really bad, challenging moments that are my reality just as much as they are the good ones. I want my friends and family to want to really get to know me, to understand me a little better, so when the storms come, they’re ready for a little lightning. Because when the sun comes back out again, it will warm them even more radiantly.

All in all, this is probably true for every single one of us, whether we have mental illness or not. We need people in our lives who really get to know the whole us so they’re ready for the times we’re not our best selves. But it’s just magnified a lot more with mental illness, and society still places a stigma on it, where many people misunderstand and avoid in their ignorance. I wish we could all do better to stop this from happening. I would be happy to keep all this to myself. I’m not proud of who I am in my dark times. But that’s my reality, one I’m trying to mitigate and improve, bit by bit. So in the interest of increasing awareness and helping others, just by being open and sharing information, here I am, baring my soul. And thanks, from the bottom of my hot saucepan, to those dear friends who have braved the storms and held me until they’ve cleared. The world is brighter in so many ways because of you. Thank you, my dear ones.

Let’s fix our health care system before it breaks entirely

Catastrophic CareI just finished reading David Goldhill’s excellent book Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father — and How We Can Fix It. I don’t say this often, but EVERYONE must read this book. MUST.

It’s important to note that Goldhill is a Democrat and a liberal, as he states in the book. He wants everyone to have access to health care, at reasonable prices for them. But even he is clear that the American health care system as it has evolved over the past 40 years or so is broken and that having our government step in and use the current messed-up system to provide more care is not a viable solution. Indeed, the costs of this bloated, convoluted system are already at levels that can’t possibly be sustained, and as time goes on, the whole system will hit a critical level at which it can no longer function, and no one will receive adequate care.

There are a lot of problems going on. One is that we’re already getting poor care from the system; hundreds of thousands of Americans die every year from medical errors. Most of us have cause to complain about our insurance or health care (which are not synonymous but which are essentially tied together in a sick, symbiotic beast), but we feel helpless to DO anything about it. Goldhill writes that the problem there is that we as patients are simply not the consumers/customers of the business of health care: the insurance providers are. The system itself has pushed us out of the loop so we feel we can’t demand better care or prices.

Goldhill makes his case very clearly and simply and walks readers through how we got where we are today; read my review of the book for more information, but then read the whole book to really get the idea. That background of health care/insurance’s history then allows us to understand why the government “fixes” are just going to make the problems even bigger and worse. By the end, Goldhill even comes up with his own plans for making health care available and affordable to everyone in this country, even for rare and costly illnesses.

I can’t emphasize enough that we as consumers and patients and citizens of this country need to get better informed and then act to change the situation. Only if we all urge our political leaders to make an overhaul — and then prepare ourselves to take more responsibility on ourselves as consumers — will the system change and be something that will give us better care, prices, and customer service. Unfortunately, it may well take a terrible catastrophe or crisis (not too far off in the future) before we decide to act. I only wish we could act before that happens.

Sometimes a movie is better than the book

Warm BodiesSo I recently read Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, after I’d seen the movie — twice (my teen daughter and I went to see it and then I took my husband for a date night too, since I’d ascertained he’d enjoy it). I was so thoroughly charmed by the movie, by the sweetness of the characters and the love story and the really clever witticisms sprinkled throughout that I was happy to see it in the theater twice. It was particularly a welcome good movie in the midst of what’s usually a film wasteland in January/February.

Naturally, as an avid reader, I had to check out the book. I downloaded it on my Kindle and set to it. I was dismayed primarily to find that there was A LOT of language in it (about 40 f-words: yikes!). But I also found it was a bit harsher and less “innocent” than the movie: the characters were more jaded, the dad really wasn’t a good guy even underneath his protect-everybody toughness, and it just didn’t have quite the level of sweetness and charm that I loved about the movie. Now, some people might find that welcome; I didn’t.

I can only think of one instance in which a movie was better than the book: the horribly cloying, simplistic and poorly written Bridges of Madison County was much better in film version, at least with two talented actors. I might be able to say the same for a couple of Nicholas Sparks movies, which weren’t too bad considering I really dislike his writing (I’ve already mentioned THAT).

I have yet to see “Beautiful Creatures,” but I’m guessing I may very well enjoy the movie better than the book, because I didn’t think the book was great. The supposedly intense love story lacked the sizzle and zing it should have had, and the details of the plot didn’t always come clear as they should. With the acting talent in the movie, I’m thinking it’ll be more enjoyable than the book was. But that’s just a guess.

So I’m going to be eagerly awaiting the DVD release of “Warm Bodies,” whereas I won’t be rereading the book.