Tag Archives: Mental Illness

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.

Dual Diagnosis

It’s the weekend!  A time for barbecues, watching sportball, (football is the pointy one, right?)  or if you’re me at the moment, sitting on the couch with your S.O. and cat, watching the fog roll by, coffee coursing through your veins, a Boris Karloff movie shining its Technicolor glory from your T.V.

It’s also the time that many people drink.  Normally this is just fine, people can have a beer say, and go on about their fog filled summer (I live in San Francisco, it’s a thing.)

But some, like me, cannot do this.

I frequently have to explain to people exactly what this means.  “Well, can’t you have just one beer?” they ask me, adorably.  “I can’t have one six pack.  And one beer leads to one six pack.  It’s like a potato chip, only with gaps in memory and slightly more vomit.”

Many of us who are alcoholics may be dealing with underlying, undiagnosed mental illness; depression, bipolar disorder (present!) any of a myriad of illnesses that likely require medication.  It’s called “self-medicating” and it is very common.

Consider the acronym HALT, Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.  When you drink are you feeling one or more of these?  Are you drinking to forget?  To numb your mind? Are you finding yourself missing time (blackouts) or getting sick?

Are you waking up wondering what the hell you did the day before and realizing you hurt people, made a fool of yourself, or your money is gone?  Are you in a holding cell?

If you answer yes to any of these, I urge you to get help.  It doesn’t have to be like this.

You can get sober and if you are “dual diagnosis” you can be treated for that as well.  I promise you, you can do this.  I’ve been there. I survived.

I’m including two websites and numbers. Please call. Please get help.  Let yourself be vulnerable, it’s OK.

The world is a better place 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.






Journaling – or – I Wrote this Whole Article and Forgot About a Title

There are so many good tools to use for self-care, like painting, hiking, meditation, cooking. These are all wonderful.  They focus the mind on a single activity, put issues on a temporary time out, and provide goals to reach.  I enjoy all of these minus the cooking.  My husband keeps me alive with foodstuffs.

I want to focus on one particular tool, journaling.  I have kept a diary (called a journal when you’re over 19 maybe 20, not sure why) since I was eight years old.  I have many volumes of hand-scribbled books, with covers of puffy stickers to unicorns to Celtic designs.

I leaf through the pages and find the traumas I survived, some of which I don’t remember, many that I do, and I shake my head that I am still alive.  There are joys I can relive, and little treasures I stuck between the pages. Some of them take me to a time and place, others had a meaning that is long lost.  Whatever it was, younger me loved it enough to tuck it away, so I leave it where it rests.

See, it is your most private sanctuary, it is yours to express yourself however makes sense to you.  Record the events of the day.  Write your dreams.  Draw pictures, watercolor, tuck things inside that are meaningful to you.

Can’t draw?  Can’t paint?  So what!  Does the act of drawing or painting or whatever make you happy?

Do you see that picture right there?  The blonde lady with floating bubbles and what yellow bubble lady paintingappears to either be a yellow aura or she’s standing in front of a blinding light bulb?  The one pained by someone who has apparently never seen a human body before?  I painted that!  That’s my painting!  And it is objectively horrible!  But I love it.  I love coming into my studio, gathering my brushes, putting up a canvas and playing artist.  It’s living a dream for me.  It just makes me happy, and that’s enough.

What about you?  Do you give yourself permission to play?

If a unicorn journal made you smile, would you buy it?

There is a truism I have found in life.  People tend to restrict themselves with “I can’t because”…I’m an adult, I’m a professional, it would be stupid…I respectfully disagree.

Here’s the thing…I have a very large collection of a certain mouthless white kitty (I don’t want to get sued.)  I get annoyed if someone refers to her as “it.”  I have only one drawer left in a 6 drawer chest for clothes.  I’m 50.

She makes me happy, and that’s enough.

So please, go out and do something that makes you happy.  If you are in a depression this will seem Herculean, but if you can, walk to the sidewalk.  Then another day to the end of the block.  And celebrate each accomplishment.  You are awesome!  You did it!

If you can’t, truly can’t, then find a pen and some paper, and try to spell out what you feel.  It really does help.

Or paint a picture like my malformed bubble lady, which I did while deep in the bowels of a pit.  Because now it makes me laugh, it makes me happy.

And right now, at this moment, that’s enough.




Goats are Hilarious.  It’s Just a Fact.

I have mentioned goats a couple of times here and there.  On the front page I mentioned writing about them and I haven’t and that does make me a liar.

Since I strive to be unflinchingly honest with you, I will talk about goats.  This is not because I currently have no other ideas, it’s solely to be accountable for my words.  Yes.

There are any number of ways that I can see myself checking out.  When I laugh hysterically – which is often for no apparent reason – I become nearly incapacitated.  I ugly-face laugh, snort, stop breathing (seriously,) shake my hands in front of me (what my husband calls the “funny drums,”) lose the power to remain standing (I have landed on my behind on the sidewalk,) and fall up two flights of stairs (no seriously, not kidding, I’ve done that twice, there are witnesses.)  But if there is any single thing that consistently tries to kill me, it’s goats.

I’ll explain.

Goats are, without question, the most absurd, adorable, and singularly ridiculous animal in existence.  I love them, but they are.

What?  Why are you so annoyed? Did you burn the roast?  Lose your keys?  What?

Look, they have beards.  They have rectangle pupils. They chew sideways – yes I know lots of animals do, but they look annoyed like all the time.  Just always.  They have knobby knees; their knees are knobby you guys!  They climb trees like a bunch of little bearded, sideways-chewing cats.

Is that not enough?  Can we talk about the jumping?  Can we talk about the sideways jumping, like they can’t quite walk because they are playing an eternal game of “the floor is lava?”

They eat like, cans and bags and things!  Have you ever watched a goat eat a can?  Looking at you with those weird eyes, a label for string beans stickin’ out of its mouth as it sideways chews?  And I know that isn’t true, I know they’re not eating that can, I know this.  But it doesn’t make the whole situation less hilarious!

Bleating.  There is no more intrinsically funny sound.  Well, the “sproioioioioing” of a spring or “thooop!” of something shooting out of an air cannon I suppose.  Pretty much anything Wile E. Coyote does.  But bleating is right up there.

I think I’ve made my case.

Let me tell you this, I would like to die the way I lived, so my death should be funny.  And I want people to ugly-face laugh, snort, stop breathing, shake their hands in front of them, lose the power to remain standing, and fall up two flights of stairs when they think about it.  I want to make people laugh from beyond the grave.  I’m going to haunt my friends with Warner Bros. cartoon sounds and bleating and giggling at things I think are funny, like the word “duty.”  (Fifty years on this earth and that word is still funny.)

Now, go look at a goat and tell me it’s not funnier than a bug playin’ a slide whistle.

Oh hell, now I’m seeing a bug playin’ a slide whistle.

Slide Whistle
Slide Whistle – Always Funny


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.

About “Drone”

I wanted to give some information about the poem “Drone.”

I wrote it, as it says, while I was mired in a depression.  I have never been able to adequately describe what it is like for me, what depression feels like most of the time.  It is incoherent and sloppily written but I have made no edits.  It is exactly as I wrote it and found it a few days later.

The drone itself is one of only a few auditory hallucinations I’ve ever had, and the only one that is consistent.  I have gotten to the point through many years of work that I can recognize a depression coming, or my husband does and warns me, but if I hear the drone, it’s too late; I’m too far away now.

I recall that I was lying in bed at this time, so the drone was inside me.  If I am walking, it follows me like a mindless creature, from habit, drawn to warmth.  It is in the same place every time, on my left, slightly behind me, floating along.  I see it as a sort of fuzzy ball, always black, about the size of a tennis ball. And the sound it makes, the best I can say, is a drone.  A deep, rumbling, yet quiet drone, like a bagpipe sort of, that’s the best way I can describe it.

It does hurt, depression, as I mentioned.  I’ll expand on that later.  But yes, it does physically hurt.

Drone -Written during a depression

the drone is in my ears I can feel it inside my head and hear it in my ears

it is in my chest and my throat and my stomach and my ears

it is in my eyes and I can see it and it is all I can see


it is the color of black but not black


it hurts


all over and inside and in my throat I can’t speak over it


I can’t speak to it

I can’t speak for it

I can’t speak for it


it is in my spine


it hurts


I can’t control it I can’t stop it I can’t make it go away


I can’t make it go away

I can’t make it go away


I can’t think

I can’t speak

I can’t reason

I can’t feel

I can’t throw up


I can’t shake it off though I try to shake I am in rigor mortis



I can’t breath


it pulses with my heart

the sound is a throbbing drone

all the time


all the fucking time


just make it stop

Changing Labels – Changing Thinking

Sometimes if I’m home from work because my illness has decided to bite me on the behind, sometimes I belittle my need to be home because there is “nothing physically wrong with me” meaning, I don’t have a cold or a flu or leprosy or something.  My problem is mental, that’s why they call it mental illness.

So I’m thinking about that just now.  The phrase “nothing physically wrong with me” makes me feel weak, like I’ve failed at living, like my illness is somehow less legitimate.  But what does mental illness mean? Continue reading Changing Labels – Changing Thinking