Tag Archives: gallows humor

When Gallows Humor Triggers

One of my first articles was an attempt to explain Gallows Humor

Now, I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, I acknowledge this and have seen people respond poorly to it before but, well…

Let’s set this up.  A friend posted a picture on Facebook that was unpleasant.  I responded as I do, a comment that was so over the top, so fantastically inappropriate, it did not occur to me that someone would take it seriously.

Someone took it seriously.

Now, I don’t know this person, nor does she know me.  Rather than give me the benefit of the doubt and ask what I meant, I was attacked with burning poison darts right out of the gate.

Shocking no one, there was no discussion to be had.

This woman decided I was evil incarnate (seriously, she called me evil) and in a block of text ripped apart my character, motives, and worth as a person.  I suggested that might just be a bad idea, with a reminder that she had no idea if I was in a serious depression and if that might be the last straw to cause me to take the 15-minute stroll to the Golden Gate Bridge.

A laughing face reaction and a “Poke” were my replies.  Did you know that Facebook still has a “Poke” thing?  Neither did I.

gallows misfire 1
Neat!  Now please tell me I can still throw snowballs.

She made a fine point that she was 70.  She’s 20 years older than me, and therefore I have no voice?  Something like that. She was sputtering by that time.

My point is simply this, you don’t know what’s in a person’s heart.  You cannot read their mind.  If an offhanded comment hits you the wrong way and your response is to go on a spittle-spewing, hate-filled, character destroying attack, maybe it’s time to go ahead and glance at oneself in the mirror.  Maybe a response that is juuuuuust a tad over the top is trying to tell you to look inside, instead of ascribing hideous motives to someone you know nothing about.

This brings me to triggered.  Like so many other things that started off with good intentions, this has become a means for some to behave as our not-at-all-irrational 70-year-old did.  To expect the world to cater to their specific issue or pain, for the world to be sensitive to them or they’ll be hell to pay.  Something there seems kind of incongruous to me.

The likelihood that I would have been in a depression is good, the way the world is, a recent death in the family, I well could have been unable to handle such an attack.  What if I had taken that walk? Why am I not afforded the same consideration she demands?

Well, because she was triggered.  Because I hit something deep inside her and she lashed out.  I get that intellectually, but it doesn’t excuse it.

Now, I was not in a depression, and I just found the exchange surreal and annoying.  I tried to explain my joke, explain gallows humor, but that just made her angrier.

Triggered is being misused.  It is not meant to be cover for potentially dangerous behavior.

It was meant to be a tool for healing oneself.  Someone says something, it hits a button, I get triggered.  OK, I get to a safe place, and I try to examine why that statement hit me so hard.  What should I be looking at?  What should I work on, speak to gently, and try to heal?

What is the triggering trying to tell me, about me?

What I said was from the way that I cope, the way I survive, I was not setting out to hurt anyone.  Her comment, on the other hand, was intended to hurt me, was intentionally vicious.  There was simply no discussing it.  I am evil, and she is the victim.

Oh, it’s not real easy right now to give the benefit of the doubt, I get that.  Nerves are frayed, tempers on edge, and patience is wearing real thin.

But this is all the more reason to practice kindness whenever you can. Smile at someone in passing now and then, say something nice to someone, anything at all.  Tell your best friend you are going to bake brownies for them and wrap them up with a Hello Kitty plushy.  Hypothetically.

But try, really hard, to keep that hair-trigger venom in your pocket.

I hope this woman is able to see and address these unknown issues, I really do.  But they are not my issues, and my voice is not going to be silent on the chance that something I say will hit someone the wrong way.  My humor is my humor, my voice is my voice.

OK, I love the show Family Guy (and The Orville is the only Star Trek on TV right now, and if someone can get this to Seth McFarlane tell him he has a group of geeks who will forever be grateful for that show.)  Anyway, Family Guy sets out to offend just about everybody at one point or another.  For the most part, I think it’s hilarious, but there was one little throw-away that got to me.

It’s one of the cut-aways he does.  Margo Kidder comes to dinner and then is depicted as going “crazy” screaming and gibbering, flailing her arms around and leaping out the window.

For those who don’t know, Margo Kidder was bipolar.  She was homeless for a time, lost everything, and died very young.  I am also bipolar, so this hit me hard.  I actually had to turn the channel to regroup.  I was angry, how dare he make fun of her!  How dare he make light of mental illness!  Fuck that guy!

After I calmed down it occurred to me, I think “Prom Night Dumpster Baby” is hilarious.  I expect that song hits some people very badly.  I think it’s damn funny.

So how is my pain greater than someone who had a miscarriage, or stillbirth?  I cannot imagine a worse pain, I cannot imagine being in that position and seeing cartoon babies swinging around their umbilical cords like canes as they dance.  To their eyes and hearts, that must be unspeakable.

But I thought it was hilarious.

Not because I have no sympathy for them, I have a dear friend who lost her little baby.  It just struck me as funny.  But I totally understand someone else hating it.

As I hated the Margo Kidder bit.  I hated that with every fiber of my being.

But do I think Seth McFarlane is a heartless asshole?  Actually, I have no idea, he might be.  But I know that that bit hurt because it is specific to me and my pain.  But my pain is not worth more than people offended by any other of the thousand inappropriate bits in Family Guy.

gallows misfire 2
“It’s like that time I put on my fanciest hat and took my crate for a ride.”

The point is, I don’t know.  I don’t know if he’s doing these things to be hurtful or if he’s just super juvenile and dark like me.  I don’t know his intention or his heart, all I do know is that he’s smokin’ hot…sorry, trailed off there.

gallows misfire 4
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth McFarlane.  There is still hope for the world.

Taking it back to the woman in question, she intended to hurt me.  She was attacking based on no information and was not interested in getting it.  She didn’t listen when I tried to explain it, she didn’t have an ounce of compassion when I told her I well could be suicidal, all that mattered was that she was offended and hurt and seemingly thrilled to have someone to unload on.  My husband and I refer to that as sitting on the edge of your chair in cat-like readiness hoping to be offended.  Offended as a drug, as a shield, the opportunity to be better than, more righteous than, more adult, (I’ll give her that one, I am shockingly immature.)

gallows misfire 3
Halloween decorations, or as I call them, decorations.  <adult!>

If I can offer a takeaway, it would be this.  If you are offended by something, if you are “triggered,” please use it as an opportunity to look inward and see why.  Maybe you can sit with it, embrace it, speak to it softly, and try to heal it.

Come back after you calm down and ask if you can talk about it.  Maybe you get rejected, maybe not.  But you tried to be heard.

I know one way you will not be heard, and that’s when you call someone you don’t know evil.  That’s likely to shut down any consideration for you.

One last thing, in all of the interwebs someone reading this must know Seth McFarlane.  Just sayin’.



Exciting News!

I am over the moon to announce the release of my autobiography, Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child.

It’s a unique collection of poetry I had written from 11 to 25, poems about my mental illness before I knew what it was, addiction, abuse, fantasy, and rage.  I spoke to each poem from the perspective of these 50 years that I somehow managed to survive.  I know!  I am as surprised as anyone!

It is painful, funny, surreal, unflinchingly honest, and quite literally my life’s work.  It means the world to me.

When you click the link below, you can read the entire Forward for free in the preview, which will give you my detailed explanation of what brought this about and how to get the most from the journey.  You are a participant, sitting next to me.  Just don’t eat all my salsa.  I hate that.


Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child


Sue_Life Song (2)








What Did You Dream Last Night?

Note: Given the climate in the United States right now I want to tell you that this article uses a short description of a dream-scape shooting.  It is not graphic and is very short.

Do you remember your dreams?  Are they vivid?  Do you write them down?

Maybe you’re one of the people who analyze them, look through books and websites about what a symbol means, what your subconscious is trying to tell you.  These can be fine things to do, up until your subconscious tells you to quit your job, buy a unicycle, and ride around town throwing turnips at people.  I might not take that one literally.

I come from the place of the mind not the supernatural, as I’ve written about before.  Your subconscious is telling you something you already know, something that is hidden for some reason, even unacknowledged.  But it’s from you and your beautiful, powerful brain.

Sometimes that brain gets pissed.

Years ago, before I got sober for the I think second time, I was lying in bed in that not really asleep sort of blacked out state, the one where you stumble to the kitchen, drink orange juice right from the carton, and in the morning wonder how the hell a carton of orange juice got in your closet, that sort of thing.  It’s not the most enlightened time for a person, is my point.

This particular night though, I had a dream that I remembered, and it was not subtle.

I was on the porch of a sort of farm style house somewhere in the desert, a place surrounded by swirling dirt and scraggly brush.Creepy Old House

Anyway, a person came out of nowhere with a rifle and was mercilessly shooting everyone in the way, until arriving at the porch.  I had hidden behind a large rocking chair, terrified and crying, waiting to die.  The shooter came up and pointed the muzzle at me.  I reached out, grabbed her wrist, and pleaded with her to not kill me.  “I’m not done yet.” I recall saying.

The shooter, coming as a surprise to no one, was me.  I told you it was not subtle.

From that moment on, I was clean and sober and never had a manic episode or a depression ever again.  The End. <credits>

That’s not how things work, of course.  But it helped, and that always matters.

So what dream are you having that you need to wake up from?  Try to search them for a clue, and when you find it, look at it with unblinking eyes.  If it is painful, try to look at them even more.  You may want to do this with a therapist.

A common defense mechanism for us is disassociation and we are good at it.  But try to stay present, try to hear what it’s saying to you, and be gentle with yourself.

Below is a link to the National Helpline.  If you decide your dreams are telling you something you don’t want to face alone, if you are finding your carton of orange juice in the closet even one time really, or for whatever reason you need help and support, please give them a try.  It’s free and confidential.

And if you feel like it’s too much, if you’re having dark thoughts and considering a way out, I’ve also included the Suicide Prevention Hotline.

It will pass and the world is better with you in it.

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.






Verbal Free Writing – Finding the Gold in the Sand

When I am writing something, the forward in my book, a new poem, this article, sometimes I get stuck. If I’ve reached a point where my fingers hover over my keyboard and sort of wiggle in mid-air with no real idea where to land, I open a new document and start to free write.

Free writing means I simply type and do not stop.  If I hit a wall, I write something like “damn I hit a wall what shall I write about now I had a carrot yesterday the color orange is funny what hell is Crazy Legs up to out there…” or just one word over and over.  The point is to keep writing, keep focused, don’t edit.

Hidden away among those carrots and cats, I usually find something real, however small, since my brain did not have time to block it.  It may be a creative idea to expand on, the break in the dam that sends the water roaring down.

Or it may be truly enlightening.

Alone with my thoughts, I can write nonsensical ramblings that only I will see.  But there also may be the inadvertent slips of sometimes brutal insight.

Then I get to my therapist’s office.

It’s a quirk for me that I want to sound smart and well-spoken with the current keeper of the “I can send you to a 72 hour hold,” so I choose my words carefully.  I’m so super smart!  You don’t know how many thoughtful things I can say with my face-hole!  So a lot of time is wasted on long pauses while I try to find exactly the right word, the cleverest turn of phrase. (I also feel weird if I don’t make small talk when I get there, but that’s just my usual neurosis.)

Anyway, I told her that I wanted to try an experiment.  In order to get to the heart of the matter I was going to free write verbally, without a “watcher” in my head, an inner critic, any sort of a barrier to raw truth.

It goes like this, start talking, that’s it.  Just open your mouth and say things with your lips. Do not edit for grammar or vocabulary or syntax, just talk.  You will almost certainly hit on something.  And when you do, stand up and shout “Eureka!” (totally don’t do this.)  When you hit on something, stop and look at it.

The process of healing is sifting through the dirt until you find gold.  You will find a lot of “fool’s gold” in the process, but if you can get through that dirt, if you can sift out the bugs and rocks, you can hold a nugget of gold in your hand and know you’ve accomplished something.

Therapy is old timey gold prospecting, apparently.  I shouldn’t watch documentaries before I write these.

“So you see Jeremiah, if you sort through these dad-burn bugs and confounded rocks, you can find bits of evocative insight!”

Anyway, I encourage you to try it, both written and verbal.  It cuts through the long pauses where we sometimes obsess about how to present ourselves in the best light.  You don’t have to impress them. You’re in therapy, not on a date.

Also, you don’t have to make small talk.  “Hi how are you?” will generally suffice. I’m still working on that one myself.

Ritual is for Everyone

A couple of years ago I left a job that was making me physically sick.  I shall spare you the details, you’re welcome, but suffice to say it was no longer healthy for me to be there.

This was difficult for many reasons, from “I’m leaving so many people I care about” to “I may live under a bridge holy shit what have I done?” but it was necessary.

Leaving a job and people that had been a part of my life for 14 years did leave me with very conflicting emotions that were difficult to ease.  Then I found in my purse the keys to all my cabinets.

And I had a thought.

Now, I’m not religious at all. Whatever gives a person comfort is a beautiful thing, but for me, I don’t believe in any gods or supernatural forces, I don’t use words like “aura” or “chakra,” I don’t use the word “universe” in a non-astronomical sort of way, but…I do know the power of the mind.  The placebo effect is very real, as is the human appreciation for ritual.

One may light an incense and imagine the dissipating smoke takes a particular fear with it, if only for that moment.  Or find peace in meditation and Buddhist practices.  In any case, it comes from within, and it can be very powerful.  So, I decided that the keys needed to go, but in a “cleansing” way.

I decided to throw them in the ocean.

I walked out toward the Golden Gate Bridge and found a lovely spot of roiling water, churning round and round inside a small crevasse.  It’s there in the photo, to the right.  I don’t have a full picture for you on account of my desire to not die.

Release spot

It was loud and dramatic and sort of spooky…huh…I just described myself…anyway, I held the keys in both hands, thought about what they came to represent to me and the pain they brought.  I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with salty mist.  I quickly exhaled and threw the keys and they disappeared into this rocky tomb never to be seen again.

It was as satisfying as I hoped and for a moment, as I stared at the water swirling and gurgling and roaring and crashing on the rock, for just a moment, I felt free.

And that is my actual point.  Whether one is a believer or not, there is a place for ritual in our lives.  There is value to it.  And for those of us with mental illness it can be especially good to have a routine of some kind, something we do for ourselves, something we have control over. Something to help release.

Just for a moment.  Breath.


No Stigma – No Shame – Stand Tall!

Today the President of the United States said this,

“You know, in the old days we had mental institutions. We had a lot of them. And you could nab somebody like this, because they … knew something was off.” [https://tinyurl.com/y7kds7wc]

It was like a kick to the solar plexus – gasp, pain, vomit.

This type of rhetoric is what many of us fear every time something terrible happens. We hear immediately that the shooter was mentally ill, (bi-polar appears to be the go-to scary, used to be schizophrenia, I suppose it’s time they got a break) and then cries for mentally ill people to be locked up. But only the dangerous ones, of course, only the bad ones.

Thing is, who decides that? By what criteria? Trump is talking about preemptive involuntary commitment. That is terrifying. I don’t remember the time before the Baker Act, but hearing the stories and watching the videos makes my blood run cold. And I hear people clamoring to revoke it.

The current occupant of our White House is not alone in this belief. If it were only him spouting off that would be one thing, but this opinion is more common than I care for. Now I understand that generally this is a reaction to anger, pain, helplessness, I get that. The problem though, is that it will be on the news cycle for a week maybe more, immediately reporters and talking heads, (who are totally qualified to diagnose people) start the “mentally ill” “bi-polar” flags flying before the shooter is even identified.

This is the thinking that causes stigma, and stigma is what keeps us from seeking help so we internalize the pain. And that…that can lead to suicide.

My feelings regarding 45 aside, this is not a left/right issue.

I’ve heard it floated in left wing blogs that we should be rounded up and locked away. That if they stop the one who’s dangerous, it’s worth it, and our civil liberties don’t matter. Our humanity doesn’t matter.

This is both sides.

I’ve been gone from here for a while for a variety of reasons. But this one imbecilic statement, this particular thoughtless braying in a long line of inflammatory, vile, and inhuman verbal spew, has brought me to a crossroads.

My whole intention for this much neglected blog was to help break stigma, to help people feel that they are not broken, that their lives are valuable, that the world is a better place with them in it.

Yet I write under a pseudonym. I hide behind it because I’m afraid of backlash at me personally if I self-reveal. I’m afraid of not getting/losing jobs if I’m “found out.” I’m afraid of what people will think. I’m afraid of people who think like that…person…quoted above.

This is why we don’t self-reveal.
And it is why I’m going to.

I want to advocate for you, I want to help as a peer as much as I can. I want to be there for my community and I cannot do that if I hide. I want to set an example for the power of busting stigma by owning my illness (super scary bi-polar you guys!) and demystifying it.

I’m not dangerous. Super obnoxious, but not dangerous.

So stand tall my dear friends. If you can’t self-reveal, that is ok. I may wake up screaming “what the hell have I done?” in the middle of the night, we shall see. But hiding is exhausting, fear is debilitating, and shame is just plain bullshit.

Sing songs, write poetry, scream, laugh.

You are beautiful and the world is better with you here.

Sue St. Blaine


Gallows Humor

Years ago I joked with my husband that if he was ever really nice to me I’d know I was dying.  He said “No, honey, I would say, hey your tumor is growing an eye!”

This is absolutely true, he probably would.  In fairness, so would I.

Some people might be offend/upset/emotionally crushed by that, but this sort of gallows humor is how he and I communicate, and how I have survived so many years longer than I ever expected.  I am looking down the barrel of 50 and that is simply mind boggling.

Everyone sees the world differently.  My world is just a little more…askew.

I’m going to give an example that begins with 9/11.  There’s no way to put a bow on that, so I’ll get it out of the way now.

When the attacks happened, my then boyfriend, now husband and I were not living together.  I woke up and turned on the TV to see what was happening.  He called me and we sat on the phone together crying.

Then we both saw on the crawl these words, and this is verbatim:

“San Francisco Police Say they are Art!”

We both paused, trying to wrap our heads around that, and then we both burst into hysterical laughter.  I can only imagine what our respective neighbors must have thought had they heard us.  We laughed so hard our sides ached, and I couldn’t see through my tears.

Then we started to riff on it.  “It’s OK, it’s OK!  We’re kind of a kinetic piece!”  “Everyone calm down!  You are seeing me in four dimensions!”

This typo could not have been more perfect.  I’m certain what they meant was “…on alert” but the fact that it was San Francisco, my weird little home, made it sublime.

What’s important to understand is that we were not laughing at the tragedy, we were laughing at this absurdity, this typo which was simply hilarious.

Embracing the dark does not mean forgoing the light, nor does it necessarily mean grim, callous or humorless.  It simply means seeing the humor in the darkness; not at the tragedy but something adjacent to it.  Something absurd or so horrible it just becomes funny.

For some of us with a mental illness, addiction, or both, this is the tape that holds our tattered seams together.  It’s not always shared by everyone in a group, and while I do suggest that people like me be sensitive to that, at the same time, please understand that we mean no disrespect when we refer to our time in the “coo-coo’s nest” or being “bat shit crazy.”  This is how we cope, and how we see the world, just a little askew.   If I couldn’t do that I would, without question, be dead.

Just like the 9/11 story, we’re not laughing at you or your pain.  We’re laughing because we’ve been there, we understand, we can see the absurdity of not being able to pee without a person checking in every few minutes.

We’re laughing because we’re alive to do so, and it’s funny as hell.