Friday, January 25, 2008

Poem about Rachel

It's been almost six months since Rachel passed.

Feline Distractions

Mr red-haired daughter never looked this way.
Many are those who walk about in fear.
I get stoned and watch the catsies play.

Alive and stoned she looked, well, I can't say--
Sometimes rubbery from ear to ear!
My red-haired daughter never looked this way.

I kneeled, trimming dahlias where she lay,
Weeping, yes, but I was useful there.
I get stoned and watch the catsies play.

I'm not escaping, besides, there's no escape
From her long, oval face freckled in prayer.
My red-haired daughter never looked this way.

There's more than reconstruction underway.
Foundations are uprooted everywhere!
I get stoned and watch the catsies play.

How cold her lips were! (Pardon the cliche'!)
We paused to stroke her shining coppery hair.
My red-haired daughter never looked this way.
I get stoned and watch the catsies play.

Feel free to criticize the poem. It's just a first draft, I can't judge its quality.

I have given myself permission to take whatever medications make me feel better, even if some question their medicinal value. There is nothing I take that has not been used medicinally, of course.

I'm working at accepting my illness. That's where one must always begin.

"Expect less and accept less."

6 Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sick F**k

I wish with all my heart that I could report some kind of improvement in my overall mood. I don't want to bore the reader with yet another post on depression, but I have little choice if I dare to speak of my real condition. Sometimes I do write without regard to my mood; sometimes I even attempt humor while overwhelmed with sadness and anxiety. Because depression is utterly boring. As for writing as therapy, I wrote this today:

Depression #34

Keep on bleeding, you die;
keep on crying, nothing happens.
I'm just a knife away.

Beware this sorrow, it can gut you
the way ants hollow out
the carcass of a grasshopper.

I cannot shake your hand,
my eyes are in my palms.
That contact is electric--

(I'll suck your positive ions out!)
I'll have the pie with no filling.
What flavor is air?

Art is a crock. Witness to becomes
witness for, as in the journalist who films
the beheading of his countryman.

He doesn't interfere with history,
why the murderers let him in.
Try interfering with me.

I am suicidal but I am not at risk for suicide. I know I have had far too high an opinion of myself over my life, a brittle defense against the collapse of self-esteem, but it's of no good to me now.

Two days ago I did something writers are supposed to do: I sent follow-up queries to magazines with outstanding submissions; this yielded two more publications. Another editor took a new submission gladly, promising to publish several, calling much of it "pure gold." None of this made me happier in any way.

Yesterday in a trance I sent off a number of new submissions to both paying and non-paying venues. I did it to keep busy, because it's something I know how to do, like washing the dishes. An automatic behavior. I have no hopes for the submissions, but afterwards I could point and say, "Look! I did something. There are six more submissions in my submissions folder."

Why do have this overwhelming need to justify myself to myself, as if some authority lived in my head waiting for a report? Why do I pray generically when only medical intervention has helped me in the past?

This is not redemptive suffering. This is the suffering of a dumb beast. I don't get stronger or wiser from it; I get dumber. Depression wrecks my mind, I have no confidence in the facts I've already learned and find new facts harder to digest. Maybe part of this is aging, I don't know. Stick a blade of dry ice in my heart, that's how I feel. Beyond broken. Broken and discarded. A headless doll by the roadside.

There are those who love me, but I don't call them for the most part, I'm too depressed. That doesn't mean I wouldn't appreciate a call, only that I can't rouse myself to risk calling. What do I have to tell them, anyway? Only bad news. Eventually the depressive drives everyone but the most devoted away. I'm not a martyr and I'm not a saint. I'm just one mortal in the grip of a terrible illness, an illness that has destroyed better men than myself.

Today's post is not a turn for the worse but an admission of the elephant in the room. Beneath the plastic veneer of Adderall I am as sad as ever. Yesterday afternoon, after making it home, I began to weep. Beer drinkers know this as "popping the cork." When they first start to pee they're guaranteed to start peeing a lot. When I give into tears I'm guaranteed to start crying a lot, as I have most of today.

Logically, I responded to Cymbalta for one month, to Abilify with Wellbutrin and Prozac for nearly two months, and to Adderall with Abilify (and the others) for a few days. That anti-ADD effect I first experienced soon vanished. What I haven't tried is Abilify with Cymbalta. But I don't trust Cymbalta, it's so short-acting. Perhaps I should give Effexor a try again; formerly I couldn't tolerate it, but how could it make me any worse?

What I really need is ECT. Kathleen's insurance won't apply to me until March. That's when I need to get aggressive and insist on treatment, as April 1 will mark two years of largely being underwater. Not having medical insurance for a major illness is a terrible thing; it's also a terrible thing that insurance companies turn you down because you have a major illness. Insurance is so often for those who don't need it. How else can they keep their premiums down?

In all these years I've never thought of myself inwardly as disabled, despite the objective opinions of other doctors. That would have been too hard on my self-esteem. Yet as a doctor I would forbid me to practice medicine in this state, as I might endanger patients by my lack of confidence. (My back couldn't take a day's work in any case.) At least I've never broken down in front of a patient--and if I had, what would it matter in the grand scheme of things? And why do I mention this little accomplishment except to salvage a shred of pride for myself?

I just want to die, that's it. I'm tired of being sick. I've done all I can; I've taken my meds faithfully, continued to exercise, tried to stay busy, but for what? To pass the time. To kill time. I don't know how I fill a day but I manage to. I hate being a burden in print or in person, but here I am. I yell out "I accept myself as disabled" but there are no magic words. I am afraid of being accused of self-pity but it's not like that. I don't think, "Poor me, poor Craig." I think, "Help! Help! Help! Code blue! Somebody do something! Someone must be able to do something! There's a desperation under my skin and it's not silent. I know I'm sick.

Don't cry for me, Argentina!

7 Kilorats (I do feel a little better in the evenings, as in most depressions),

Captain Melancholy

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our Cats, for LKD

This is Topaz, a rather exotic beauty with a gem on her forehead. She is indomitable. If the day ever came when she did not do exactly what she wanted when she wanted the world would stop.

This is JoJo, a skittish athlete with an eating disorder--she eats too much. She and Topaz love to skirmish, sometimes leaping up into the air at the same time and colliding. We thought of calling Topaz "Cato" because she usually iniates the fights, as in the Pink Panther movies.

The cats are a welcome distraction from myself.



Two Stellar's Jays went skittering up two young firs this morning, half-heartedly pecking for insects, making dead branches bounce and spring. Their blue is iridescent, the male has a black crest.

The abalone shells I lay hollow down on the railing have been weathered until the mother-of-pearl shines through their coral pink external shell as well.

My failure is ambivalence. I fear to commit for fear of failure; I fear to commit for fear of success; I fear to risk my whole self publicly. I fear condemning eyes, electric sneers. My wife says, “Either swallow it or choke on it.” I'm definitely choking.

If you're not part of the problem, you're not part of the solution.

How Ringo's minimalist drumming so suits the Beatles.

Yes, it's Church of the Beatles Sunday.

What seeds did I plant yesterday? Dill, Creeping Dill, Italian Parsley, Thyme,
Snow Peas, Nasturtiums and Marigolds. They are now in the yard under the little white pup tent of a frost barrier with my poppy seedlings.

Why I know I'm depressed: If someone offered me ECT today I would go. One of
my depressive thoughts is always, “How can that bus driver (bartender, janitor,
waitress, cook, etc.) possibly perform her job? How did she learn to drive a bus?How does she do it?

After graduating from UCLA I took a job in a fabric warehouse schlepping fabric rolls. It was as painful as any job because of my own perfectionism, its dullness did not diminish my ambition to do a good job. Near the end of the summer they asked me to be assistant manager. I had to laugh. As depressed as I was, seeking refuge in repetitive employment, I was still singled out for advancement.

As for dwelling too much on my malady, if you had to piece reality together from past clues, as your present seems unendurable, you, too might seek your bearings on paper.

My kilorat scale is wrong, you know. Roger Dier was not too depressed to care for a thousand rats. If he were too depressed to care for any rats at all, he would be at zero rats, not ten kilorats. And as a behavioral measure it is utterly impractical. Even if well I would prefer not to care for a single rat. But how many _could_ I care for? ("Could" and "want" as rhetorical competitors are both superior to "have to.")

My main symptom now is an acute lack of confidence and a fear of filling the day.

Perhaps as a reaction to the above I sent out four submissions in the last two days, including a query for my novel. My approach to publication is completely illogical.

If someone sends me even a generic solicitation, I'll usually submit. Otherwise I can't be bothered--except when I go into a Duotrope's Digest fit and start submitting to all kinds strange zines, though for the most part I am unwilling to lick stamps, still a severe limitation. But not with The New Yorker!

If I wanted publicity, my main mistake was in closing Melic. Never believe that being an editor of a well-regarded magazine doesn't help you as a writer. People notice you. You have a certain amount of power and receive a certain amount of deference.

One reason I closed the magazine, besides the board's final destruction by the barbarians, was to focus more on my own writing. Ironic, hmm? I should have thought more about marketing.

Wait--now I remember the main reason I elected to close Melic: inadequate technical support. You may notice that many editors are also webmasters, a terrific advantage.

We can always open the magazine; it's officially on hiatus. All we need is a good and savvy webmaster! (Pay is low, job satisfaction high.) If this proposition interests anyone, write me!

When I felt better briefly two weeks ago, when I first started taking Adderall, the future appeared to me: I would expand my website to include sales and self-publish. It seemed like the right thing to do. It seemed obvious, in fact. But since my mood dipped again after the misunderstanding with Kathleen, everything appears impossible again--so I dabble and start some desultory queries in the groundless hope that someone might publish me. I have three rejections of my novel so far, the most damning being that in the Amazon "first novel" contest I didn't even make the cut of the top thousand--out of five thousand. Move over Charlie Brown, let me try to kick the football.

Just because my kilorat scale is mathematically incorrect doesn't mean that I don't still intend to use it.

At 4 kilorats but masked by Adderall,


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Relapse Threatens

Ten days of feeling like a person and boom! An imbroglio with Kathleen and I find myself crying Monday morning over the rupture, which appeared to trigger my underlying depression despite the neutral tones of Adderall.

I also cut my Wellbutrin dose in half for three days, having been too lazy to refill it, not knowing if my doctor wanted me to stay on it—yes, I know better, I should never alter a single milligram of anything in my regimen when improvement occurs—but let's not forget that I am a mental patient.

This is the interface of biology and psychology. There is a “kindling” effect in both mania and depression, whereby the more times the brain has been exposed to an extreme mood, the easier it is to provoke its recurrence.

I got my feelings deeply hurt by the one I love. I reduced the dosage of only one of five psychoactive medications and that just for three days—days dominated by a reason for sadness.

Everyone knows I'm in love with Kathleen.

Naked among the stars,
whose center should we choose?

Orbiting you makes me
committed to planethood.

You are my cleansing sun;
scour my atmosphere.

As water loves stone,
wear me like a river.

I was near tears again yesterday and today but did not indulge my lacrimation.

My sadness may be normal but my brain is not, thus it tuned in too assiduously to the depressive channel after a brief exposure to one of its frequencies.

C'est domage.

Not rated,


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Church of the Beatles

I'm sad this morning because Kathleen and I had a little misunderstanding last night, whose reverberations greeted me upon awakening. I take my response for normal, but given my recent history, I may be forgiven if I fear relapse at the touch of normal sadness.

Two good signs: I wrote a new song this week, and this morning, violating my vow, a poem as well. At least I think it's a poem:

Treated for ADD (For Tiel)

For ten days my mind and body
have tasted synchronicity
(usually one runs before or behind
like the trains in Mexico).

Everything I’ve bruised, broken,
bent, spilled, shoved, poked or kno-
cked over--it was not a lack of Zen
that propelled and dispropelled me--
my RPMs were running amok.
God bless amphetamines!

I also stayed up too late last night, a carry-over habit from depression. While in the throes of the illness I feel better later in the evening, thus desperately try to avoid sleep, knowing I will be sick when I wake. It is not surprising that after our spat I reverted to this behavior--then maybe one has nothing to do with the other; for most of my life I have willfully resisted my body's signal to sleep. I feel as if I'm going to miss out on something if I sleep.

(I really need to feed the rhododendrons and azaleas today but there are so many and I have to do it bucket by bucket.)

I've been listening to "Breakfast with the Beatles" this morning, an old tradition of mine and perhaps a bit of a substitute for church. One hour of it was devoted to Ringo's new album, Liverpool 8. Are you surprised that this is his 14th studio album?

Ringo is an example of a celebrity by association; without John, Paul and George he wouldn't have made a single album. It could also be argued that without John and Paul, George would likely never have made an album as well. Hitch your wagon to a genius.

I should visit some friends' blogs. I joined Facebook at someone's urging but I still don't know how to behave or network through it. Some say this idea of a universal interactive platform, accessible from any computer like U-tube, represents "Web 2.0." I think there has been a more gradual evolution of applications (though the idea of a one-digit leap in net concept corresponds nicely to its digital nature).

"Love is all you need." You could do worse on a Sunday morning than to listen to the Beatles.

Good Day Sunshine,


Friday, January 11, 2008

Bipolar with ADD?

"The National Comorbidity Survey showed that among adult patients surveyed ADHD existed comorbidly in 32 percent of those with a depressive disorder, 21.2 percent of those with BPD and 9.5 percent of those with an anxiety disorder."

So I start taking Adderall, a preparation of mixed amphetamine salts, and BAM! My crying spells stopped, I can stay home alone and be productive, and cleaning and organizing have never been so easy! I thought having three trains of thought at once was part and parcel of my bipolar disorder; now I think it is a symptom of ADD.

The paradoxical effect of "speed" on ADD and ADHD is counterintuitive, but the treatment response is 70%. Kathleen has always told me that I have a "busy mind." But now I can take one thing at a time, I can plan, I don't feel so rushed and fearful over each new task like I did just ten days ago.

In my family of origin I was the worst of slobs, but because of my high academic aptitude I was nicknamed "The Absent-minded Professor." Although my parents noted unusual powers of concentration in me, i. e. I could read a book with chaos all around, when it came to cleaning up my room I was flummoxed. And once I cleaned it I could never maintain any kind of order. This was hard on my brother, with whom I shared a bedroom for 16 years, as he was of an opposite nature. Literally one half of our room would be neat and the other a pig sty, I being the pig.

Since 3 to 5% of children are estimated to suffer from ADHD, that means that a bipolar child, particularly a male, has five times the chance of having the disorder. Lucky me!

I thought I couldn't have ADD because, for instance, during my senior year at UCLA I worked three jobs and maintained a full load and a 4.0 average without difficulty, thinking this a sign of some level of organization, though in truth I was rushing about in an agitated depression, seeking anything to fill my mind with something other than my mind.

To experience a brain that mainly assays one line of thought at a time is an incredible luxury for me; it is so much better than being driven by the chthonic winds of my associative whims.

My late daughter, Rachel, who suffered mightily from ADD, always insisted I had it as well. I think the girl was right, God bless her.

If there is a silver lining to this depression, it has to be the discovery of this other diagnosis. All my life my chief defect has been impatience. I always felt pushed, pressured to do things in the shortest amount of time--they had to be done yesterday! Now I am calm; my thoughts are not running ahead of me. I can't tell you how surprised I am at this; I thought my extreme impatience and fidgitiness were due to bipolar anxiety, not ADD. Now I think otherwise.

Here's a lesson: I suffered manic-depression without being diagnosed until the age of 30. I suffered ADD without being diagnosed to the age of 53. If I had been treated for both at an earlier age, God only knows how my life would have played out. For one thing, I think I would have been better liked, as my impatience feeds into my critical nature so that I share my opinions too frankly and too often. I'll beat a dead horse until it's powdered bone! So if you have serious questions about your mental health, do see a competent psychiatrist--even if you are successful by the world's standards.

Rejoice with me, provided this experience holds. (I have a strong sense that it will.) What will really be interesting is seeing those close to me notice my personality change. Maybe you can't teach old dogs new tricks, but you can get around it by giving them new drugs!



Monday, January 07, 2008

Another Chemical Miracle? Reversing the Garuda.

A Pacific storm (note the oxymoron) has caused a power outage at our place for five days, typical for the Mendocino coast in winter. Thus I have not had an opportunity to blog since I last saw my doctor. And lo and behold! From the depths of darkness a medication adjustment has raised me back to the world of normality for five days now. I quit drinking any alcohol and insisted going off of my long-acting oral morphine for my chronic disk pain, as either of these could possibly be contributing factors to my unresponsiveness. And in tears, telling my doctor what method of suicide I'd prefer while promising no intent, I said, "Can't we try a stimulant?" So, the doctor put me back on Abilify, which had stopped working, and added Adderall, a mixture of amphetamine salts. I took them the same day and felt better immediately. But what do I mean by better?

My depressive thoughts quit circling like sharks in the aquarium of my mind; my body felt normal, with normal energy; I had hope, I began to think of future plans; my crying spells stopped--just like that! Amazing. My fear is, of course, that this new cocktail, like the two others that worked then ceased working, will cease working as well, or that I'll develop tolerance. Or something. But maybe, just maybe, the third time is a charm.

It's a strange sensation, however, for one's body and brain to feel normal while the memory of the last nineteen months of horror remains in the center of my chest like a rubble-lined pit from a nuclear blast, my heart being ground zero.

My last post was signed with seven kilorats. That's the highest I've recorded in this blog, though I've been lower than that in previous depressions. I feel almost plastic in a way, the mood switch being so sudden and my heart still dragging behind me like an anchor. I am aware of the former emptiness in my chest but do not acutely experience it; my unutterable sadness suddenly feels like a phantom limb.

Suddenly the idea of a God of love seems imaginable to me. My religious torment has lifted. And in thinking of my correspondence with my Christian friend, I have to confess before God and man: My disease is more important to me than my religion. I can't help it. If my disease is not controlled I can't do faith except in a hollow intellectual sense. I can't pretend to be more virtuous than this.

As a man dying of thirst thinks only of water, so the severely depressed thinks only of annihilation, of an end; he is beyond hope of getting better but determined, at least in my case, not to kill himself because he remembers, as through a fog, recovering from previous depressions.

One thing I did to mark this miracle was to reverse my garuda. A garuda is an Indonesian mask carved in the form of an eagle-faced gargoyle, said to be the eagle who is the mount of the god, Vishnu, in the Hindu pantheon. It is meant to keep evil spirits out of a household. But I had hung it above my front door facing inwards when we moved into our new place on April 1, 2006, the day my depression began. As a visible sign of improvement, as an incarnation of hope, I have now hung the garuda on the wall facing the door. Now he looks out at the world and protects me and mine.

What was best about this change is that my daughter, Sarah, was visiting from LA and near the end of her stay she got her Papa back! And Kathleen got her Craig back. And I have myself back, though it will take time for me to trust the sensation of being me.

For those interested in a longer meditation on brain chemistry and personality, I recommend Listening to Prozac. We are all much more chemical than otherwise. If you were spared the gene for this devastating illness, you could never give proper thanks for not having it--and I am glad for you. If you suffer, all I can say is: hold on and keep seeking help. That's all I've done.

I'm tempted to sign this "kiloneutral" but am afraid to make such a claim for so short a period of recovery. Let us hold today's labeling in abeyance.



Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Weeping and the Glass Giraffe

My mind is blank from crying. Crying empties the mind and exhausts the body; it is a blessing under normal circumstances but in my case more of a reflexive seizure. I cried through most of my appointment with my shrink today; I think I conveyed the sense of utter hopelessness I experience. I have withdrawn from my pain medication and am not drinking, the former at my suggestion and the latter at his insistence. Whether his insistence is enough for my resistance is another matter. I fear not drinking; how else can I numb my mind at night in order to watch basketball on television, literally the only time in my day when I feel almost neutral?

In my present state it is hard to stay on one task for any amount of time. I try to read but find myself reading the same paragraph over and over. I am blank. The pressure will heat up again, however, after my brain begins to castigate me for all my failures and derelictions until a lump rises in my throat and the faucets come on again.

I did manage to throw out the Christmas tree last night. Being just a local redwood sapling it was rather sparse, but it never shed a single needle while it was up. I threw it out from the deck out back, and we (stepson Derek and daughter Sarah) put our hands on it to transfer the past year's sins onto its innocent bark as a convenient scapegoat. Afterwords I launched it like a spear out into the woods where it will feed the nitrogen cycle.

I ran across a curious article today in which it was shown that men who cease religious activities are actually at lower risk for anxiety and depression, while women who cease religious activities are more likely to suffer from them. They think it might have to do with different social networking styles. I thought it funny in light of my discussion with friend Eric about Christianity and my depression. Religion is toxic for me in this state, something he has difficulty understanding.

Wait--that little possessive adjective ("my") is part of my problem --I want this to be your depression, too! I should not hog all its glory for myself; you, too, can help carry the burden. So if any of you wish to undertake this, please write me and I'll instruct you in the fine art of breakdowns. Chemistry aside, there are some ways to achieve depression without being born into the disease, but it takes a big commitment.

When you get as bad as I am now, the main survival tool is to accept your depression. Like a winter tree, think of yourself as dormant, not dead. Oh, you feel dead, you feel worse than dead. It's a living hell. No one has described it better than Jesus, who said of hell "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth," except that he left out the anxiety part. Simply put, the emotion of despair includes sadness, fear and anger, the anger usually self-directed. In psychiatric terms this constitutes dysphoria.

What surprises me about this depression has been its gradations; at times I can laugh, at other times not. Twice I had temporary responses to medications. In the past when the worm turned it was sudden and for a long time; I can remember distinctly noticing the beauty of a fern while hiking during another depression, and afterwards realizing that in that moment of aesthetic appreciation I had flipped out of my depression. Nothing had been beautiful up to that moment for the longest time. Suddenly I was well. This is why I don't get psychotherapy--it just makes the disease worse, since the complaints I bring to the therapist are mainly biological in nature. I wrote a poem about this once, below:

Glass Giraffe

When my soul was sanded so raw
the capillaries couldn't even seep,
I questioned the value of pain.
"You must experience your feelings of abandonment
until you are comfortable with them," you said.

When my suicidal doppelganger
turned me inside out, pulling my anus
through my mouth, you said,
"Now that you are stripped of defenses
you have a better chance of changing them."

When I called you up one weekend
to say I was terrified of inanimate objects
like doorknobs and tea kettles, you said,
"Stay with it. Globalized fear indicates
a necessary therapeutic regression."

Finally the antidepressants kicked in
and I felt like myself.
When I left you gave me another card
since therapy was “unfinished”
and I might be back
on your couch or another’s.

I gazed at your office figurines,
crystal leopards and pewter trolls,
porcelain ballerinas and kachina dolls,
and imagined the souls of all your patients
trapped inside them-- those, who like me,
sought relief through words
when only medicines would do.
I could have been the glass giraffe.

7 Kilorats,


Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!