Mental Health Monday: A New Tradition

Today I thought I’d start a new tradition – “Mental Health Monday”.  As my family could tell you many of my traditions fizzle out after just one time.  But I think this one might just catch on.  For however long it lasts, enjoy the ride.

“Mental Health Monday” will be a collection of some of the favorite posts I’ve found around the blogosphere (and perhaps some on the Web) on the general topic of Mental Health.  Here are today’s recommendations –

The Life Cycle of the Grad School Graduate’s job hunting for something in the Mental Health field”  (The Neophyte Therapist) – A realistic yet humorous perspective on the stages of getting established in a mental health career.

Relationship Issues” (Alexis Stone: Seeing in the Dark) – Alexis shares some very personal struggles impacting intimacy that are common to all, yet particularly true for those of us with mental illnesses.

“Potty Training Videos Reviewed!”  (aliceatwonderland)  Some laughter therapy from the queen of bloggers on mental health.

“Hypervigilance: Emergency Mode” (Bipolar For Life)  A very accurate and poetic depiction of one aspect of a manic phase.

“Post-ECT (or, “A Post about ECT”)” (crazyaboutbipolar) An honest assessment from someone undergoing the still-controversial treatment.

Inside My Mind” (Thoughts of a Lunatic) An epic poem (with strong visuals) from the perspective on one with a mental illness.

“Anger, violence and mental health: a response to Deborah Orr” (Lady Lazarus blogs) An insightful and thorough analysis of the mis-conceived perception of the relationship between violence and mental illness.

“Preparing for ERP Therapy” (Lights All Around)  Helpful words of advice for those considering Emotional and Response Prevention therapy.

“The Secret to Happiness” (Mrs. Bipolarity) A succinct appeal to pursue contentment rather than happiness.

“Peace” (Pride in Madness) Raises the issue of the use and abuse of psychotropic drugs.

Happy reading!

Ricocheting Madly In-Between: The Emotional Perspective of a Young Sylvia Plath

At 19, Sylvia Plath was a top scholarship student at a prestigious college, a published (for pay) author, as well a vibrant blond beauty with many suitors.  Yet, all was not well within her.  She writes in her journal –

I have much to live for, yet unaccountably I am sick and sad.

Rather than talk to someone about it (a friend advised her to see a psychiatrist), she tries some encouraging self-talk, and she is able to “pick herself up by her own bootstraps” (or saddle shoes, as the case may be) –

I have started on the rise upward after bouncing around a little on rock bottom.  I know I am capable of getting good marks: I know I am capable of attracting males.  All I need to do is keep my judgment, sense of balance and philosophic sense of humor, and I’ll be fine, no matter what happens.

Yet, her very next journal entry reveals the benefits of this self-therapy are short-lived.  She hits another rock bottom.

Now I know what loneliness is, I think.  Momentary loneliness, anyway.  It comes from a vague core of the self — like a disease of the blood, dispersed throughout the body so that one cannot locate the matrix, the spot of contagion.

Plath, however, does not let this “disease of the blood” incapacitate her.   She continues to write, to go to classes, to go out on dates.  But inside, she is dying on the vine.

God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of parties with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear.

Plath talks very little about her family in her journals.  One entry, however, does reveal her mother’s concern for her emotional health – a concern not well received by Sylvia.

My enemies are those who care about me most.  First, my mother.  Her pitiful wish that I “be happy.”  Happy!  That is indefinable as far as states of being.

While Sylvia perceives happiness as unattainable, she does believe behavioral choices contribute to emotional states.

I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad.  Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.

At 19, however, Plath saw life as very much worth living.

For all my despair, for all my ideal, for all that — I love life.  But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections on Plath’s journals, see –

Beauty Out of Sorrow

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Erna Peters in Writers)

Beauty Out of Sorrow: Reflections of a Young Sylvia Plath

I’ve been reading through The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and thoroughly enjoying it.  I am enjoying it so much, I keep going back to re-read portions of it that really speak to me and may never finish it.  Oh well.

The journals begin the summer of Plath’s 18th year, as she is working on the family farm and awaiting entrance to Smith College in the fall.  She writes the first entry after a day in the strawberry fields.  It is a wonderful celebration of life from the perspective of youth (yet with wisdom beyond her years).

I may never be happy, but tonight I am content… When one is tired at the end of the day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth.  At times like this I’d call myself a fool to ask for more…

Yet, the simplicity of life on the farm (and particularly the demands of domestic chores) fail to capture Plath’s vibrant imagination.  She is torn between the tediousness of daily living and the roller-coaster ride of her moods (and cries out to a God in whom she doesn’t believe).

God, if this is all it is, the ricocheting down the corridor of laughter and tears?  Of self-worship and self-loathing?  Of glory and disgust?

She finds bittersweet joy in the exuberance of youth.  After a group of children place flowers in her hair, she later reflects –

And all my hurts were smoothed away.  Something about the frank, guileless  blue eyes, the beautiful young bodies, the brief scent of the dying flowers smote me like the clean quick cut of a knife.  And the blood of love welled up in my heart with a slow pain.

Plath’s musings reveal much deeper thought and feeling than typical teenage angst (though it may be she is simply better at expressing it).  Yet, she wonders if just this depth of thought and emotion (as well as a curse of estrogen) robs her of happiness.

If I didn’t think, I’d be much happier.  If I didn’t have any sex organs, I wouldn’t waver on the brink of nervous emotions and tears all the time.

It is through artistic expression, particularly writing, that Plath finds relief.  It does not guarantee her happiness (though sometimes it thrills her), but it gives her meaning.

I am justifying my life, my keen emotion, my feeling, by turning it into print.

There is a redemptive quality in her writing.  In it, her pain finds purpose.

Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated.  But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.

Quotes from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. 

For more reflections from Plath’s journals, see –

Being a Writer or Becoming a Wife

Ricocheting Madly In-Between

The Grimness of Atheism

Luxuriating in the Feel of Words

(photo of Sylvia Plath from Yves Deligne in Portraits B)

“Life”, “Liberty”, and “The Pursuit of Happiness” Conceived

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness by sea turtle

 After wrapping up a working draft of my short story “The Pursuit of Happiness”, I have conceived of a trilogy of stories – to include the prequels “Life” and “Liberty”.  Today I sketched out 25 scene sentences for “Liberty” and I’m carrying the concept for “Life” in my head now, planning to sketch it out this afternoon.  How about a sneak preview?

In “Life”, we meet high school sweethearts Rachel and Steven the night before she goes to college (the year is 1963).  Steven is going to work at a local factory – Cummins Diesel Engines, and Rachel is going to Indiana University to become a teacher.  As the story progresses, they struggle to maintain their relationship with conflicting values.  Steven is a staunch Presbyterian, believing God brought them together for a purpose.  Rachel is woman of her times, drawn into the fervor of new ideas about love, life, and happiness.

The distance between Rachel and Steven widens and she decides to look for companionship elsewhere.  Steven’s attempts to pursue her go for naught.

In a short while, something significant happens in Rachel’s life that will cause her to question the meaning and purpose of life.  She doesn’t know where to turn.  Will she go back to Steven?  Will he come back to her?  What will be the cost and consequences?

“Liberty” begins at freshman orientation – Hanover College, 1982.  David Johnson comes from a “traditional family” with “traditional values”.  He is struck by the liberty he encounters on campus – particularly sexually and theologically.  He is led to a point of crisis where he must ask such questions as , “Who am I?” and “Does God exist?”.  Along the way he faces the paradox that liberty and bondage are often flipsides of the same coin.

So, I have a story (actually 3 in 1) fully conceived and over 1/3 written.  If I maintain my pace of writing 2 scenes a day, I should finish the trilogy in about a month.

But in addition to a story, I have a dream.  I’ve just messaged a former classmate who is now the theater director at Hanover as well as a former professor and the former theater director (when I went there).   My dream is to ultimately premiere this trilogy at Hanover with various alums and professors (as well as current students) playing a part.  To realize this dream, I’m hoping I can work out  an agreement to become a writer-in-residence (and maybe help teach some writing classes) at Hanover so I could compose the play in a creative environment where I could interact with people who know theater a lot better than I do.

Anyway, that’s my dream.  What’s yours?

(image “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of…” from sea turtle, some rights reserved)

Leaving for Good (part of “The Pursuit of Happiness” project)

By the time Steven had finished the dishes, Arlene was packed and ready to go.

“You aren’t taking much with you ,” he said.  She only had one suitcase.

“I don’t need much.  I’m buying new things.  I want to start over,” she said looking nervously out the window.

“Is he meeting you here?”

“No.  We’re meeting at the diner.”

“The diner?” he said.  Some of his friends in the neighborhood would be there.  Not that he had any close friends, but acquaintances.   What would they think to see her alone with a suitcase, leaving with…. him?

“Don’t you want me to take you somewhere?  Somewhere….to  meet him?”  He looked away.

“No, Steven.  I think this is best.”

“I could at least drop you off at the diner.  You don’t want to walk.”

“It’s only 2 blocks, Steven.” forcing a chuckle,”  The walk will do me good.  I need to lose weight.

So many changes, thought Steven.  So much loss.

“Will you call me?”he asked.  “Let me know how you’re doing?”

“I’ll be in touch with the children.  They can update you.”

He shook his head slowly.  “Has it really been that bad, Arlene?  Have I been that bad?  Where did I go wrong?

“Steven, it’s just….you’ve never been happy.  I could never please you.”

“I don’t want you to please me.  I want you to stay with me.  We’re married for God’s sake!”

She picked up her bag, walked over to him and kissed him on the check.

“Goodbye, Steven.”

He didn’t hear the door open, but he knew when it was closed.  The pain in his hip had become a dull ache.  He sat in a chair and wondered what to do next.

He sat there for some time, unable to focus.  After some time, he noticed a bright light coming through the window, blinding his eyes.  For a while he stared into its brightness.  Then, he rose to his feet, walked over, and shut the shades.


through old windows

(“through old windows” from z-428, some rights reserved)

The Pursuit of Happiness (scene one)

elderly man

Steven Arvide’s day was about to get worse.

It started off with his usual bowl of honey-nut cheerios with banana slices on top.  Orange juice and coffee on the side.  He felt some pain in the hip that was replaced a year ago.  It was irksome, but he could bear it.

He looked across the table and saw Arlene staring into her coffee cup.  She was not a pretty woman, but she was very lively for her age.  He could have done worse.  Careful to get a bite of banana with each spoonful of cereal, Steven sighed.  He suspected life could be better, but he had grown accustomed to life as it was.

“Steven,” Arlene said abruptly, looking up from her coffee mug.

“Yes.”  He replied.  A banana fell from his spoon.

“Steven, I’m leaving you.”

“How long will you be gone?”  Steven asked, fishing for the banana he had lost.

“I’m leaving you for good.”

“For good?”  he asked.  It seemed a strange expression.  “Leaving… for good.”  Like an oxymoron.

“I’m not happy, Steven.  I want to be happy.”  Arlene stood up and poured the rest of her coffee, which had grown cold, down the drain.

“Of course you’re happy,” said Steven.  “You’re a happy person.  That’s one thing I’ve always admired about you.”

“No, Steven.  I used to be a happy person.  I’m not anymore.  At least not with you.”

“What do you mean, not with me?”  Steven put his spoon down.  His cheerios had grown soggy.

“You’re not a happy person, Steven.  You’ve never been happy.  You’ve stopped even pursuing happiness.  You’ve settled for less.  I want more.”

“Where are you going to find more?”  he asked, tentatively.

Arlene took a deep breath.

“I didn’t want to tell you this, but I’m moving in with Saul Linford.”

“SAUL LINFORD?  That dolt!”

“Saul is not a dolt.”

“How will you live?  He has nothing.  He lives in an apartment with his daughter.  His grandson lives in the basement.”

“If you must know, Saul won the lottery.  We’re moving to Vegas.  We’re going to pursue happiness while we still can.  Unlike you.”

A sharp pain shot from Steven’s hips to his heart.  Arlene was right.  He was not a happy person.  He never had been.  He didn’t consider it necessary.  Arlene had always been happy enough for the two of them.

“I’d better get dressed.” he said.

“I’m sorry, Steven.”  said Arlene.

“You, um… ”  He stood up as if to make a pronouncement.   Or a plea.   Something to convince her to stay.  Or, something to bless her on her way.  Reaching out to her with one hand, he bowed his head and said –

“I’ll do the dishes.”

*     *     *

(inspired by a writing prompt from Today’s Authors)

(image “Elderly Man” from xavi talleda, some rights reserved)