Thursday, September 27, 2007

Only Lunatics Need Apply

My weeping spells continue most of the day.

There has long been a debate in psychology about which comes first, the affect or the thought. Obviously in the death of a loved one the thought precedes the affect. But clinically, as in my case, the affect overcomes me and afterwards I may append thoughts, but the thoughts are not valid. When sad you seek something sad in your mind to explain it. So I can fasten on Rachel’s death, or my own infinite shortcomings to fill the necessary object for the sadness. But in truth there is no object; the labels are falsely appended afterwards. I cry because I cry.

When I cry I keep hearing in my inner mind: “God helps those who help themselves.”

It’s true, you know. I’m not saying I have to make the burden worse by “trying harder,” just that I should make the effort to cope and seek help as best I can. I am doing that. In fact, the doctor started me on a new medicine yesterday, only $14 a tablet—which we can’t afford—nevertheless Kathleen insisted that we buy it now that she has a job. I would not have spent the money but she would do anything to make me well. This depression has now matched my longest depression of 1982-83, also 16 mos. and sent packing with ECT.

I’ve thought of starting a fund drive: “Dr. Chaffin needs ECT. He has no insurance and no way of getting the proper treatment. It will cost around 50 K. Please send your donation to Dr. Craig Chaffin, PO Box 2436, Ft. Bragg, CA, 95437.

Who knows? Maybe a millionaire will read this and send me the money. I promise to use it only for treatment, and if the medications start working consistently, I will naturally send the money back.

I said I was done with poetry but the other day I reverted to the familiar form to exorcise some dark feelings:

Kentucky-Fried Christ

I wear the Elephant Man’s mask
like a Jewskin lampshade.
Do you see the glow of hell through it?
Come, warm yourself,
take my gold fillings,
my bones for your Camellias

Living is for men in sunglasses
who can filter the not me from the me.
Suicide is for sissies
in little nautical suits with big bow ties.
Don’t worry about me.
If my blood has been desiccated
and ground to red pepper,
remember me on your pizza.

I am the Jesus of the broken cell phone,
the Savior of ceramic kitsch.
I’ll glue that broken cat
with the clock in its belly
back together with my spittle.
Of my healing there shall be no end.

I think that’s pretty dark. The title, incidentally, was furnished by my old friend with whom I have recently reconciled, Eric. He seems in a very good space, content with his lot in life, grateful to serve in a church where he is a deacon. It was my illness that drove him away in the first place.

Funny, for the last two nights I saw TV ads for “bipolar treatment.” Although they never came out and named a drug, you know some big pharmaceutical company is behind them. And in Emily Martin’s book, Bipolar Expeditions, she points out that the hypomanic/manic side of the illness is considered valuable in business. So bipolar disease has become fashionable nowadays, it seems, and is being greatly overdiagnosed in children.

I for one resent the lowering of the bar for diagnosis. The word “lunatic” is derived from early observations of manic-depressives, whose cycling was thought to be associated with the phases of the moon. As a true lunatic I don’t want some penny ante bipolar II or cyclothymic wannabe sharing my hard won moniker in this matter.

BTW, I should say, that although I don’t pick up the phone, I am always happy when someone calls me, as a friend did today. Though I teared up several times on the phone, my voice cracking, listening to him was a great comfort. So don’t be afraid to call me, I’m happy to hear from you. Write me if you need my phone number. My only caveat is that I already know you; I don’t want to encounter new people, I am in no position to make new friends right now, the strain of the introduction would be too much.

Thine in lunacy,



  1. Hi CE

    I always read your posts. Nothing I could say ever seems adequate. But I do wish you all the best and that you get your 50K somehow. How many seconds does it take the U.S. government to spend that in Iraq? You'd think the USA could afford a decent health service.

    By the way, that poem is really good.

  2. I don't pick up the phone either.

    Especially when it rings.

    I've always had a strong aversion to phones, to their ringing, to the plodding conversations that invariably unfold if one risks picking up.

    There are a few people in this life that I genuinely love talking to on the phone. Three, I think.

    There is one person who can call and say nothing and I'm as happy as I've ever been on this earth just listening to him breathing, listening to the sounds behind him, the clink of the glass he's drinking from, or the distant howl of the night train.

    You seem certain that ECT will help you. You've had it previously and it worked?

    I wish I had the money to give you. I would. If I ever won the lottery, I'd give most of the money away, I swear.

    Have you spoken with your doctor regarding this constant crying? Is there no drug or therapy that might address the issue?

    I mostly just stopped in to tell you I'm terribly concerned for you and that I wish there was something I could do to help.

  3. Anonymous3:31 PM PDT

    Oh my god, you weirdo!!!

    Why don't you meet me at lulu's for coffee?... and I'm talking the beverage squeezed/filtered from beans, not sex.

    ... that's beverage, as in drink, not bever-age.

    .. or, due to this indian summer we're having of late, I've a plethora of cucumber, english and other wise, and a load of cherry tomatoes that I like to pick warm and stage a tart cucumber/tomatoe, and red onion salad with a splash of balsalmic and olive oil and a bit of fresh basil from the garden... I've heard they stand in line for that one.)... I understand cuc' are really high in V-E... and tomatoes, shirley you know tomatoes....

    ... and if you're low on potashuum..

  4. Thank you all. Rob, I'm flattered you read my blog. And Laurel, I wish you would write me privately; you said I was going about making money from writing the wrong way, and I certainly agree. I need someone to show me the way. As for salad anonymous, perhaps you qualify for te lunatic club.

    As for ECT, yes, it worked splendidly in my last depression of this length. But we're trying a new medicine now, the $14 tablet, and I am feeling a bit better after two days on it... shhhhh!

  5. When I said you were going about it in the wrong way, I wasn't referring to the actual writing. It's your determination to make money writing that I think is all wrong. I think you should write a book because you want to write a book, because you are driven to write it. You should never do what you love to do with money as the aspiration, inspiration and motivation behind it. It pollutes the process, I think.

    And, like I said, memoirs are hot commodities these days, especially after the whole James Frey fallout. Consider writing about your struggle with your disease. Anyone can write a mystery or bodice ripper. Not everyone has lived inside the head of a bipolar. You manage to articulate that reality here on your blog. Maybe the book you should be writing is a book about your life.

    Even a fictionalized account of it would be compelling reading, I think.

  6. lkd is right. The minute you start writing for money, or for a competition judge, or for a publisher, or for what you think people might want, it puts so much pressure on you that the piece will never work. I know because I've tried that too.

    Trust in your own vision, even if you have serious inner doubts (we all do), and write the books that need to be written, even if a million voices (inner and outer) tell you that the world will be no less a place without these books. In this case, the voices are wrong.

  7. Here: I simply want to make enough money writing so that I don't have to depend on my private disability policy anymore. It's a matter of pride, I suppose. I've been writing what I wanted for ten years, but have little to show for it except for countless publications in small journals and a few better ones, and maybe enough money to buy a laptop. I mean, Ken Follet and Lawrence Sanders write for money, don't they?

  8. It's strange. I've always felt that anyone with a job that required more than a high school diploma was "writing for money".

    How many years as an engineer could I have kept my job if I hadn't known how to write? Proposals for this project or that project were always works of fiction. I mean, the description of the project result was always only a dream that the designers thought could be made into a reality. The proposals that were best at communicating those dreams were the proposals that were funded. The salesmen with the best elevator pitches were always the highest paid and those pitches were always full of fiction as far as I was concerned.

    But that's not what you're talking about, I know. But it's perception that's at the core of your disability. Drugs change your perceptions, ECT changes it too? I wonder what it is that allows your head to construct words into a poem, but not into a state of mental health that isn't debilitating.

    Just curious ..


  9. Unknown, but not unfriendly7:22 PM PDT

    As someone constantly watching over a significant other who, like you, struggles with a brutal and ongoing illness, I hope you are feeling better and that you thank your lovely wife for caring as she does.

    Best wishes, from someone who's been on both sides.

  10. Anonymous8:51 AM PDT


    Lunatics need to apply? Are you on a recruitment drive?


    And why has blogger peppered the English blogs with smatterings of German lingo?

    "Sie können HTML-Tags" verwenden
    under the comment box?

  11. Beau, great insight. As to your question, know this: while your mesencephalon (primitive mid-brain, limbic system, globus pallidi, etc.) is malfunctioning, your higher cortex is left intact, though terribly influenced with dark thoughts that are inevitably verbalized. So I can put words together in a poem using my left hemisphere, while the more powerful "lizard brain" rules my heart and mind.

    Solidarity with she who cares for another long term. Yes, I can't thank God for Kathleen enough.

    As for writing for money, I suppose Rob and LKD are right; write with passion and afterwards market, I suppose, unless you can contract in advance for freelance pieces, which I'm considering how to learn to do. If I had a dollar for everyone who's told me to write an autobiography, I'd have a lot more money than I've made from writing thus far. Maybe I should listen to the obvious. But what an undertaking! Ouch!

  12. Meant to tell you:

    I love your KFC Christ poem, sir.

    As for a possible autobiography, what about beginning with your daughter's death and moving backwards?

    Have you ever read Time's Arrow by Martin Amis? It's fiction, but it moves backwards through time. It begins with the main character's death and moves back through his life until he's slipping back up into his mother's womb and then poof, he's gone.

    (ps: I think you should write what you want to write. The key word in that sentence is WANT. Or, maybe it's a Stones situation. You can't always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need. Maybe you whould write what you NEED to write.)

  13. LKD--

    If ever either of us should achieve a reputation in literature, my debt to you will far exceed your debt to me.

    "Time's Arrow" is one of my favorite books. How did you know? You have inspired me to blog at this late hour. See more answers there.


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