Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook hits close to home

Bradley Cooper is one fine-looking man, which explains my primary motivation behind going to see Silver Linings Playbook this afternoon. My husband went along, too, which was only marginally annoying. Once the movie started, I kinda forgot he was there (we had our own popcorn).
It wasn't long into the movie when Cooper's beautiful face and erratic behavior began to look eerily familiar. I grew up with a good-looking, mentally ill father (he was a dead ringer for Paul Newman). Dad's diagnosis was bi-polar disorder, although back in the 70s, the term was manic-depressive. He threw fits. He raged. He repeated himself, repeated himself, repeated himself. He used alcohol to moderate his mood swings. He was drunk a lot. When AA rolled around, a court-ordered deal, the orange vodka and cases of beer left the house, but Dad set up permanent residency. He became agoraphobic and had to physically prepare (shit, shave, and shower, as he put it) just to get the mail at the end of the driveway. He quit mowing the lawn. Was the first person to see his barber, 'cause there was no way in hell he was going to wait with other people around. He wore sun glasses most of the time. No one, under any circumstances, was to look at him as he ate his evening meal, including our dog. As a family, my parents and two sisters went nowhere together. No restaurants, no amusement parks, no vacations. Dad missed my high school graduation, my college graduation, and my wedding.
I am not bitter. I loved my father. I understood his mental illness.
Myself? I have GAD, an ugly-sounding acronym for Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which means, at its rawest definition, that I worry a lot. I perceive the world to be A Very Dangerous Place. I have ADD, but I am not medicated for that. As a writer, I need my creativity. I feel that meds for attention-deficit-disorder would be too numbing.
I have Major Depressive Disorder, along with a depressive nature, definitely a half-glass-empty gal am I, but this is in stark contrast to the way I make myself live my life, which is to focus on beauty and laughter. Whenever I start to feel the black veil of don't-give-a-shit taking over, I make myself get out of the bed. I head first to the kitchen. I brew strong caffeinated coffee, a mood lifter when I cannot seem to lift myself, and then I grab an orange, cold and perfect from the fridge. I savor it ... its shape and color and juiciness. I read somewhere ~ I think it was an Elizabeth Berg novel, where the main character cannot figure out why another character killed himself. Didn't he want one more orange? she asks.
When I don't need the immediacy of a coffee or orange mood-boost, I have back-up plans: I head to the theater and watch a funny movie, or I go and rent one. I watch funny videos on youtube. I drive to the mall, the one that's really too far away, but there's a pet store there, and I love to watch the puppies fall over themselves. I read my Bible. I surround myself with children; they bring me great joy. I listen to beautiful music, which on any given day might be Lady Gaga's mellow offering, "Brown Eyes," or Anything by Edith Piaf (I love the French language), or my favorite gospel song, "Take Me to the King," by Tamela Mann ("I don't have much to bring, my heart's torn in pieces, it's my offering ... lay me at the throne, leave me there alone, to gaze upon your glory and sing to you this song ... .").
There are three of us girls, but only I have sought professional help. I take a little white pill every day that keeps the panic attacks away. Until Lexapro, I died many, many times. That's how scary panic attacks are. You truly, truly think you are dying. I have awakened many mornings, surprised, that I survived the night. Because of medication and counseling, I exist in the world and I live responsibly and gloriously. I have been blessed with a long-term marriage (28 years) and three amazing children, all of whom are adults. I have many, many friends and wonderful neighbors. I taught English at the high school and middle school level. I went to work; I earned money; I vacationed with my family.
Of my three children, two have seen psychiatrists: there's ADD, ADHD, major depressive disorder, an initial diagnosis of bipolar (turned out to be wrong), OCD, and GAD. The alphabet soup in this house requires prescription medications.
Mental illness is a biochemical issue, as I see it. I have seen meds work wonders in my dad's life, my own life, in my own house. The Bradley Cooper character in Silver Linings didn't want to take his, and when that part of the movie played I cringed. So typical, that behavior. I have thought it myself at times. Yes, that Lexapro is responsible for some of my weight gain ("bloat," as Cooper calls it in the movie), and, yes, it is responsible for some of my fatigue, but I will swallow it down. Once a day, every day, I will take that pill. I will enjoy my life.