Friday, August 15, 2014

Lawrence of Arabia, Robin Williams, and Me

First, a final note on Lawrence of Arabia and Emma Hardy:

Both were depressed and discouraged by circumstances beyond their control.  Lawrence withdrew into that damp, dark little house, while Emma hid from life in a little attic room at Max Gate.  Did Emma even come downstairs when T. E. Lawrence came to tea, riding his motorcycle from Cloud Cottage to Dorchester?   Was his fatal crash really an accident – or suicide?

He was so congenial, so funny.  His comedy was brilliant.  He was funny, on and off the camera.  His wit so quick, his movements so rapid, his talk so fast I sometimes could not follow it. He was manic. Only a few close friends knew about his depression. 

When “high” bipolar people are full of energy.  When depressed they hide (like T. E. Lawrence) and suffer alone.  Robin Williams suffered from bouts of depression all his life.        

I know how it is.  I also am manic-depressive.  These days it is called “bipolar.”  I was not diagnosed until I was in my mid-fifties.  I was relieved to learn those crazy things I did were caused by a genetic condition, a malfunction in the brain that could not be prevented. 

As a young woman I took my children on adventures where other mothers dared not go.  Did I tell you about the summer day I told the kids to get in the car and drove to Glen Rose?  I paid a farmer a dollar to let me drive across his field and down to the banks of the little river to find dinosaur tracks.  Other times I could not sit up and climb out of bed in the morning.  The children got out milk and Cherrios to make breakfast for themselves.  I tried to get dressed before they came home from school.

Only twice have I been suicidal.  The first time was in Texas. I lay on the couch in the den, so miserable I wanted to die. Karl and Martha were 13 and 10.  They were old enough to manage without me.  But David was only three.  I could not abandon that little boy.  (Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven with her children sleeping in the next room; she was sicker than I ever was.)  I got up and managed to have supper on the table when Wally came home.

The second time was after the divorce.  I was in Albuquerque.  Wally had married Dee and abandoned me, leaving me with only enough to pay rent and put gas in the car.  Not enough money for food.  Or anything else.  I went to the mall and bought a sharp Swiss Army knife.  Back in the apartment, I leaned over the bathtub and held the knife against my wrist.  But I did not cut.  I suddenly thought, “How happy Wally will be to hear I am dead!”  After all that he had done to me!  I would not give him that satisfaction. 

I went to mental health clinics in New Mexico and Illinois.  (With Wally’s promise to give me more money, I went to New Mexico.  When he refused to sign the papers and cut me off entirely, I went back to Illinois to sue him for support.  One year I made 10 trips, driving alone in my BMW the 1,000 miles between Albuquerque and Chicago.)

The therapists thought I was in a “situational depression”, a natural process of grief or loss.  But as I raced across the country driving 70 m.p.h. when the legal speed limit was 55, they realized it was more than that.  The only drug available at that time was lithium.  They could not prescribe that as long as my life was unsettled.  Not able to stay in Albuquerque until my lawsuit was settled, unable to afford an apartment in Illinois, sponging off friends, I spent a few nights in shelters for the homeless.  I am grateful for the experience.  I learned that most of the others sleeping on the floor in church basements were, like me, mentally ill.

Then I married John.  As soon as we got to Albuquerque, I went to the mental health center, where  the psychiatrist prescribed lithium.  Immediately my mind cleared.  For the next 15 years I took lithium, one small pill every day   The doctors warned me that it was damaging my kidneys, but it worked so well on my brain!

I did not have a depression for 20 years.  Not until about six weeks ago.  I was still recovering from the terrible virus which kept me down physically in March and April.  Then, on the day she was to bring friends to see my new apartment, my friend Sue was killed.  At Montclair I sat across the table from her at breakfast every morning and to play bridge on Tuesday afternoons.  The shock of her accident sent me into a tail spin.  For a month I could not get out of my recliner.

I knew what was happening.  I rode out the storm.  Now I am feeling good, both physically and mentally.  I go cheerfully to dialysis.  Spending time in a recliner reading magazines three times a week for the rest of my life is a small price to pay for 25 years of living a happy, contented life. 

I talk about my mental illness.  I am bossy.  If I know someone is depressed, I tell them, “Don’t hide (like Lawrence and Emma).  Don’t try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.  Get help!  Go to a psychiatrist.  Get medication!  It works.” 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

I'll See You in My Dreams

Last night I had a curious dream.   My friend Sally and I walked through the galleries of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We wandered through room after enormous room but none of them had paintings on the walls.  I said to Sally, “Keep going.  The collection of paintings is magnificent.  If we keep going, we’ll find it.”

We walked for hours and never found the paintings.  We were still searching when the radio came on, playing Debussy’s Violin Concerto.  (I always wake up to classical music.  Better than the depressing morning news.) 

I would have loved to see the Hermitage with Sally.  Sally wanted to see Europe, but Hugh, her husband for 60 years, did not want to go anywhere.  Sally appreciated fine art, and although she did not drive and lived on a farm near Decatur, Texas, 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth, she managed to see every special exhibition at the Kimball, Fort Worth’s excellent small museum of European art.  
I have been to the Hermitage twice and did not see half of this enormous palace of the czars,  with one of the World’s greatest art collections. A big room with nothing but Rembrandts.  Nearby another devoted to Rubens.  I don’t know how the Russians managed to take it all down and hide it during World War II, when the Germans kept St. Petersburg under siege for over a year.  I would love to go back to St. Petersburg and spend a week going to the Hermitage every day until I saw the entire collection. .  

Now neither Sally nor I can go to Russia.  Sally died last year.  With dialysis three days a week, I can not take any long trips. When my children or grandsons come to visit, like Sally I have them drive me to Fort Worth, also 40 miles from where I live in East Dallas, to see the art museums.

I don’t know what the dream meant.  Mary Adams, my therapist in Albuquerque, was a Freudian.  She could have interpreted it, but she died a couple of years ago.  Besides, I don’t really care what a psychiatrist would say about my dream. 

The dream haunted me all day.  I decided my dream was about dealing with loss.  The loss of Sally, my dear friend for 70 years.  The loss of my college friends, Margaret and Norma.   The loss of friends from Albuquerque: Isabel and Inez, Manny and Lou, also Charles and his wife, Florence. Frances and Doris lost their husbands, Carl and Ramon, who had been kind to me after John died.  The loss of my Pennsylvania friends, Marian and Mary.  The loss of Sue, a friend from Montclair, who was killed in an auto accident on the day she planned to come to see my new apartment.  At my age, I expect to lose friends.  But not that way.       

To me the significant thing about the dream was that we kept going.  On and on.  Through all those empty rooms – not at all like the elaborately decorated rooms of the real museum.  I was confident that the paintings were there somewhere, and I was going to find them. .  

At Montclair I knew an old black lady, whom I met in the dining room.  She moved slowly, leaning on her walker.  She struggled to hide that she was in constant pain.  Whenever I saw her, she managed to smile and said, “I’m still kicking.  Not very high, but I’m still kicking.”

Me, too.