If you want a lift, buy a copy of the Bach Mass in B Minor on e-bay, the Robert Shaw version. Listen to the Gloria, and let your heart and soul take wing.
The Alleluias lead me to recount and in some cases re-recount why I’m celebrating today.
In 1994 I was pulled out of the classroom at the University of Colorado when I told my department chair that I had just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I sued CU and settled for not much money; if I had it to do over again, I’d sue for twenty times the money and reinstatement.
Water under the bridge.
I had spent years on my graduate education and becoming a published, teaching writer. I took this hard.
I retreated to our land and threw myself into raising animals– dogs, goats, horses.
Bit by bit, I lost track of the writer me– i.e., who I really am, minus the job, the diagnosis and its stigmatizing label.
I fell into a well of self-absence, internalizing a sense of myself as a victim and a wash-up, a failure.
I attempted to function from that place, and I did: I spent days, months and years living a hugely physical life, now and then writing, but in extreme pain, distancing myself from everything to do with my former life.
What a huge mistake, to try to get a divorce from who and what you really are.
My brother, who is an artist, and I watched our mother do this to herself, across years. She was a young artist, a painter, when she married my father, and pitched face-forward into a co-dependency in which she lost track of her work, her self. She permitted the primitive psychiatry of the 50’s to label her and she lived the drama of being viewed as crazy until she bought it.
Since my brother and I have had to fight very hard from being pulled down into depression and claimed by it, I don’t dispute that a vein of this illness runs through our family on my mother’s side. She also had anxiety beyond description, and her suffering was real.
But she never made the necessary dive to reclaim herself; she relied on others to save her until it was too late.
We have lived our lives against this handwriting on the wall.
Our histories diverge over the fact that he was a boy, and I was bound to my mother by her fear and her need. He has been less afraid to inhabit the whole world.
My long time of being cut off from who I really am has been a nightmare, but a necessary one in many ways: I have learned an indisputable truth about myself: I am a strong person, or I would never have survived and coped with the hand dealt me. My old self-beliefs that I am weak, helpless, powerless, less than, are nearly gone.
For the time being I’ve had to distance myself from AA and the Church, to avoid the disempowerment that underpins faith-based twelve step recovery, as well as the lock-step dogma of the Church.
I have had to summon the courage, after a bad accident in which I fractured my leg and it mishealed so that I have to use a walker to get around, to end my own co-dependency with someone I love deeply. In the most fundamental ways, living under the same roof doesn’t work, and turns into one long power struggle and we end up holding each other together: not good.
In a full blown relapse in my journey toward self-belief, there was a time two and half years ago when I didn’t feel safe in going five feet from a wheelchair.
I’ve begun to inhabit the larger world again: a huge victory. Better still, I’ve realized that I did it, I am the one who pulled myself out, who one day called a cab and left the nursing home where I felt safe, returning by fiat to the house where it didn’t work with my “wasband”, overcoming more fears of ambulating, navigating, to begin to live alone once more. I did that. No arcane spiritual event took place.
I did it, meaning, I am surviving and reclaiming myself because I have been forced to. It was either do or die, quite literally.
Three months ago I wrote a series of stories about an eccentric character, half as therapy, half to fill up the mornings before the afternoons when I have to rest and elevate my legs and shut my system down for awhile.
This led me back to memoir, to my poetry, and to writing a seventeen chapter account of a trip to Europe in 1973– a story I’ve told in bits and pieces that deserves to be written. I hope I’ve done it justice.
Two days ago I sent out my first query to an agent re this mss, with a less than perfect pitch, I’m sure. But I’ll learn.
Today, I am happy to report, I submitted a vignette to a magazine. This is my first submission in twenty-seven years, when in the 70’s and 80’s, I had more success as a writer than many people see in a lifetime.
So, yes, today I’m playing Alleluias. I want to thank those who’ve hung in with me and haven’t given up on me. I want to say to anyone out there who is battling depression, who is meeting with rejection when sending something out into the literary void,
Never ever give up– because, if you are an artist, you’re meant to be making art. It’s perfectly o.k. to self-publish on your blog, or through a place like Lulu– the whole industry is changing. Just be sure you’re putting quality out there if you go that route.
Never permit the darkness of self-mistrust claim you. I would hate to see anyone else have to fight their way back after so long. The value of what happened to me is that I can tell the story to you, and perhaps spare you some wrong turns and some pain.