And Now For Something Completely Different

In case you didn’t know, September is Suicide Awareness Month.  I know, fun times!  (Many trigger warnings on suicide ahead, because that’s pretty much all we’re going to talk about here, so if you need to dip out, I more than understand.)

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, then you know I’ve struggled with Depression off and on my whole life, and that this is a subject that is very important to me.

If you suffer from Depression, then you know how hard it is to describe it to someone who’s never had it.  It’s so much more than being “sad”.  Depression makes you feel like negative space in the shape of a human, an entity that can’t even muster the energy to cry anymore, where it feels like it doesn’t even matter how much you don’t matter.  It’s incredibly difficult to reach out for help when you’re at the bottom of that well.

So!  I’m going to pause from dick jokes and judging people’s eyebrows for the week and share something a little (a lot) different with you, and then we can discuss, if that’s cool.  It’s something that I wrote on the subject of suicide.  Two somethings, actually.

They’re, oh my god, poems that are in this month’s issue of The Hunger journal.  I know.  Poems!  Just bear with me.

Like all sad/angry girls in high school, I was both a painter and a poet.

20190912_090817
Acrylic and tempura on 26″ x 24″ board, 12th grade.  What parent wouldn’t be thrilled to have their 17-year old daughter bring this one home?  “Look what our little girl made in school!”

I started painting again last year and started writing poetry again a couple months ago after a 25-year hiatus.  Poetry and painting were the only things I was even semi-decent at in high school, and they were really the only reasons I ever bothered to show up to class.

I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me at all, so I gave it a shot and submitted a few new poems to just a handful of journals.  I was truly blown away when The Hunger accepted two of them and gave them a safe and supportive home.  These are actually my first published poems ever.  (At 43!  It’s never too late, friends.)

These two poems are about the early deaths of two of my favorite painters.  Click the links in pink below to read the poems on The Hunger journal’s site:

Death, Jackson Pollock

About:  Jackson Pollock struggled with what they now believe was Depression and Bipolar Disorder, and self-medicated with much, much alcohol.  Famous for his “drip paintings”, he died in a drunk driving car crash at the age of 44.  (44!  For the love of Zod, he was my age.)  It was officially declared an accident, but witness accounts say he crashed the car deliberately.

His mistress, Ruth Kligman, who was also in the car, survived and went on to be the mistress of Willem deKooning, another one of my favorite artists.  Willem deKooning’s wife referred to Kligman as “the pink mink”.  I would have certainly called her worse.  Kligman’s best friend, Edith Metzger, was also killed in the crash.

 

Death, Mark Rothko

About:  Mark Rothko had a successful career as an artist.  Like way, way successful – for his entire career.  Famous especially for his red “color fields”, he died at the age of 66 after suffering with Depression and slashing his arms with his painter’s knife until he severed an artery (as well as taking an overdose of barbituates).  Alone, on the floor in his kitchen, he died one of the most successful artists of the 20th century, from the very same painter’s knife that he used to make his art.

I can’t take that.  I cannot take that image.  As an artist, it haunts me in my spine.  His death makes me cry every single time I think about it or look at one of his paintings, and I cried off and on for a whole day when I wrote the last lines of this poem.

Depression doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re wildly successful or living in the gutter.  It’s an equal opportunity disorder, and it’s killing people every day.  Suicide rates in the U.S. are actually rising.  Depression is a health crisis and a goddamned epidemic.

I’ve written another dozen of these poems and I’m planning to make a chapbook of them along with creating accompanying paintings about artists who left us too soon due to untreated mental illness.  (I’m hoping to donate the profits to mental health charities if I can find someone to publish it.  I don’t know what else to do, I just feel like I have to do something.)      

As author Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess we all know and love says, “Depression lies.”  It tells you that everyone would be better off without you.  That this is just the way things are.  That’s there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  That you’re out of options.

Let’s all say it together:  Depression lies.

I wrote these poems because if you’re an artist, there can often be an added obstacle to seeking help.  Everyone tells you that as an artist you’re supposed to be “tortured” and that it’s normal.

Maybe you feel that you write or paint or create from the darkest part of yourself, and you’re afraid that if you “fix” that part, that you won’t be able to make your art anymore.  If your entire identity is your art, then not being able to make art anymore is like death in itself.

You suffer in silence because Depression tells you that getting treatment will change who you are for the worse, even when you’re so low that you curse each new day that you wake up alive, angry and numb that you have to face yet. another. day.  That’s when Depression whispers in your ear, “Hey – you think this is bad?  It’ll be even worse if you do something about me!”

You suffer in silence because you think “tortured” is just the way artists and writers are.  Maybe you’ve been taught that suffering builds character.  Maybe you think were meant to live this way.  You’re just one of those people who “spends too much time inside their head”.  These are lies that Depression has told me I don’t know how many times in my life when I was down in the well.  Just suffer.  It’s who you are.

If you’re trying to make a living from your art, you more than likely have limited or no access to mental healthcare on top of everything else.

What do I want?

I want the normalization of the “tortured artist” and “tortured writer” to stop being a thing. 

I want people to have access to resources that teach them ways to take care of themselves and make their art at the same time.

I want to start a dialogue about Depression, suicide, and artists, be they painters, writers, poets, dancers, sculptors, or musicians – and what the communities that rely on and serve artists can do to help:  schools, galleries, writing workshops, museums, art fairs, record labels, dance studios, and community centers.

I want posters in classrooms, formal discussions in about how to spot Depression in ourselves and our peers, mental health lessons to be added to curricula, support groups, foundations, you name it.  I want people to talk about this instead of suffering in silence.

And I’ll tell you what else – I want the people who make money off the backs of artists to pony up for it.  I want them to give away free ad space for suicide hotlines in their magazines and journals, foster a network of mental health professionals that they can refer their artists to, hell, just ask their artists how they’re doing, donate some profits from gallery sales or book sales to mental health charities, start a charity of their own.  

Take care of yourselves, folks, and if you’re struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  Don’t listen to the lies that Depression puts into your head.

Thanks for listening.  I promise next week we’ll be back to dick jokes and eyebrow judging and whatnot.  🙂

Butter Off Dead

There was this one time I didn’t brush my teeth in 7th grade.

For the entire school year.

ClumsyImpoliteHousefly-size_restricted

Any similar face that you’re making right now is completely warranted.  I’m making it, too.  As a responsible adult who enjoys things like getting regular dental care, brushing and flossing, and not having a dusty hobo mouth that bats fly out of at night, the thought of someone not brushing their teeth for that long is absolutely horrifying.

This has been one of my deepest, darkest secrets for my entire adult life, and it damn well should be, because it’s freaking disgusting.  You are actually the first ones hearing about it, sooo congratulations?  I bet now you’re happy you never got your birthday wish to make out with me in middle school, which by the way, I am certain nobody ever, ever wished.  Don’t make me remind you of acid-washed everything and the blonde perm.

20181023_085831
Merry Christmas from 13 year old me.  I know I look like Duff McKagan from Guns ‘n Roses here, which would have been really cool if I weren’t a girl.

I remember the exact day I made the decision that I wasn’t going to brush my teeth anymore.  I was getting ready for school, picked up the toothbrush and toothpaste that were sitting there at the bottom of the rusty medicine cabinet, sighed and thought, “This again?” and then I put them back down and walked out the door to catch the school bus, teeth unbrushed.  Somewhere between my front door and the bus stop, I realized what a time-saver I’d stumbled upon!

It also helped that I wanted to die.

That particular period was really rough in our house, and it had reached a point where clean teeth just didn’t feel all that significant in the grand scheme of things.  I was so low, that the idea of having to unscrew the toothpaste cap, dispense it onto a toothbrush, and then commence brushing was just more effort than I could handle.  I secretly wore dirty clothes every day and my showers consisted of me standing still under the hot water for five minutes and then just turning it off.  Soap?  Who the hell had the energy for that?  Sometimes even just breathing felt like an effort.  Most of my breathing came in the form of involuntary yawns.

Nobody noticed that I had stopped brushing my teeth, which was about on par for how invisible and dead I felt inside.

I would later learn that this was Clinical Depression, something I’ve dealt with off and on for as long as I can remember.  Genetic?  Situational?  That shit doesn’t really matter.  Whether you have it because your mother had it, or because of raging teenage hormones, or because your life is a shit pile isn’t really the point.  Depression doesn’t want to know how you got there.  It’s just so happy you’re there.

It has so many things to tell you!

Depression wants to make sure that you know that you’re not equipped to deal with anything because you are a lazy coward.  It wants to make sure that you hate yourself.  A lot.

It wants you to know that you’re just a bag of broken parts that are beyond repair and you are a bother to everyone around you.

It wants you to know that things would be so much easier if you weren’t around.

Depression wants to make you believe that you deserve to be invisible.

“Why, look at all those people out there!  Climbing mountains and building skyscrapers and laughing with friends over lunch!”

“And look at you!  You can’t even be bothered to brush your damn teeth, you lazy coward.  You can’t even be bothered to brush your own teeth.”

“You should be invisible, you worthless piece of crap.  You’re getting exactly what you deserve.”

This ^^ is how depression bullies you and pushes you down the well.  The descent happens too slow to notice it when it starts and too fast to stop it once it’s rolling.  At the point I stopped brushing my teeth, I had already fallen so far down the well that I couldn’t see my way out of it.  The light at the top of it seemed like a pinhole in the sky.

Months and months went by after I stopped brushing my teeth.  Towards the end of the 7th grade school year, someone had brought a bunch of bagels into Mr. McKenzie’s science class.  As we grabbed them up and started pulling them apart to eat them, I complained to my friend Suzanne about how there wasn’t any butter to put on them.

Suzanne took a bite of her dry bagel, shrugged her shoulders, and said very matter-of-factly, with her mouth full, “Well, you could always just scrape some off your teeth.”

I started brushing my teeth again the next day.

I’m sure Suzanne didn’t know it at the time, seeing as we were only 13 years old, but what she did that day was see me.  See me and make fun of me, sure, but she saw me at a time when I was certain I was invisible and that nothing I did – or didn’t do – mattered.  It turned out brushing my teeth actually did matter, and she noticed it, and she said something.  She snapped me back towards reality with one quick jab.

Obviously, there’s more to being pulled out of depression than just being insulted by a friend, but it did at least get the ball rolling for me that time.  Realizing that you aren’t invisible is a step in the right direction.  Giving a damn about even the smallest part of yourself can be a real start.

Since that day in 7th grade, I have used “The Toothbrush Test” countless times to determine whether I’m in a good place mentally.  Any time in my life when I’ve gone to pick up the toothbrush in the morning and thought, “This again?” and started to put it back down because it seemed like too much effort, that’s when I’ve known that I’ve fallen down the well again and need to get help.  Because we all need help sometimes, and there shouldn’t be any shame in admitting it.

If you have a friend who looks like they need help, get nosy.  Ask them how they’re doing and what’s going on.  If a friend who you know used to spend an hour getting ready for work in the morning suddenly starts showing up to work every day with bedhead, no makeup, a stained shirt, and food stuck to their face, chat them up.  Find out what’s changed.  Hell, start with a joke.  “What’s with the pajama pants at work, Lady Naps-a-Lot?”

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, I always dress that way for work,” then congratulations on your job in Silicon Valley, you moist nerd.  I’m sure you’ll own all of us in no time, so I have to call you a moist nerd while I still can, before you have the ability to send an army of android mercenary sex dolls to hunt me down.  Nerd.  Moist nerd.

You want me to say moist again.  You know you do.

Moist.

ClumsyImpoliteHousefly-size_restricted

When a friend seems like they’ve lost their way, make it your business to let them know that you see them.  Don’t be worried about coming off as pushy or sticking your nose into their business.  If someone is your friend, then checking in on them when you think something might be wrong is your business.

Even if it’s just to tell them that they have butter teeth.