Come Ride With Me

On our Shine Expansive conference call today, I told Jessica Chilton (the creator and facilitator) that in my bipolar disorder, depression forgets its role as a part and takes completely over, asserting that it is me. She suggested the metaphor of a car, in which depression is no longer allowed to drive. She also suggested that I write a poem about it. Here’s the poem:

Come Ride with Me

All parts of me are good
But some don’t know their place
Dance with me depression
You teach me some steps that are graceful
But I will lead, my dear
Come ride with me in my shiny new Benz
But you no longer get to drive
Settle in, let the wind blow in your hair
Whisper to me of where there is pain
In me and in the world
But whisper
You no longer get to pin me down
And snarl those menacing words into my face
Tell me what I need from you
Show me where there is risk
Keep my feet on the ground
Teach me of vulnerability
It has value when I do not blame myself for it
When I do not say that I deserve ill
Caress me with your long fingers
Coo to me of how I’ve grown
How suffering has brought me here
Where I know so much
Of what hurts my brothers and sisters
But enough is enough
From now I learn mostly from joy and intimacy and love
Pain will come, but only when I need it
Only when it keeps me in balance
Not as punishment
Which I have sometimes thought I deserved
But no longer

Come ride with me, depression
But I will drive
Come speak to me
But only speak to me of love.


Last Sunday at Jubilee, where I go to church, I introduced a poem in this way:

This morning around 8:30, I read a post Howard put on the Jubilee Facebook page about today’s service, where he said that I was going to offer a poem.  Shit….I thought sure I cancelled on that poem.  I went through my recent correspondence with Howard and found no reference to cancelling.  “Well I’m just gonna call him and cancel anyway – I’ve got no poem ready.”  But all that started to feel really lousy, so I pulled out my poetry book and came up with a poem that is serviceable – not great but good enough, not exactly on point for the theme of the service but close enough.  And if you spin the theme to embracing our imperfections, then it’s right on the money..  So here it is, full of imperfections – it’s called “Shit”.

SHIT     (Majo, 11/3/05) 

This morning, shit, my bus was late
It made me late for work
My job today might be at stake
This world did not regard my hurt

I do not only think today
That things are going very wrong
I know it in my bones
Or, where do I know it, actually?
I know it in my mind – that biggest know-it-all
My mind does not only think and think
Mr. Descartes, sir
It thinks it really knows

Talk about a job at risk!
If my mind is not really right
Is not sure, does not know
And know for sure it knows
It fears for life its very self

What if my old mind, day-in, day-out
Is making all its knowing up?
Is maybe seeing nothing as it is?
But perhaps is just a movie screen
Projecting all its weary plots
As if they all were real?
What if I know nothing, not at all?
Save just that this moment here, of time and space
Is tied to every other one
As this breath to my next and last

Today I think that things are going wrong
Because I yesterday saw them as right
The hubris of my mind, my guide
Does bounce me like a silly ball
My thirst to know, to judge the plays
Is the only fatal flaw

Or what if even that is not?
What if this dramatic life I live
With me as hero, villain too
But mostly victim of the script
Is scripted by a bigger brain?
By Life, which sees and is it all
Me, my fellow actors, props and stage

I will insist to tell my tale
Full of fury, idiot that I am
As long as Life gives me that role.
This moment’s glimpse of waking up
Is just as it was meant to be
But no better or no worse
Than the next moment’s fitful sleep

Nothing here is good or bad
Including my persistent dreams
They are all, like this poem, too
With its freedom, flaws and doubts
Just part of the show
Like you and me – and him and her
At least I think it’s so – you know?


For Cheryl

Here’s the poem I offered – and briefly messed up – at Barry Barton’s dance performance.

For Cheryl

Your father took the poison pill
Of hate for self
He swallowed it and went away
Was struck dumb and then could not
Speak on your behalf or his
He did not wield his pen of truth for you
When they served to you the same sick drug
Toxic with their shame and pain
They saw your lovely innocence
And tried to claim it for themselves
They carved in it their names
“If I scar it, then it’s mine
Let me leave a handprint on your face
Or a mournful dream of your small hand
Placed on me against your will”

But the twisted trying there
To wrest from you your life, your love
By those who loved so wrong, so wrong
Could not quench your fire, your self
The would-be spirit breakers did not know
What spirit truly is – nor saw your soul
Or they would have touched you not those ways
For fear your angels would have struck them down.
The gold of that sweet soul was not destroyed
Just melted and formed new again
Nothing burned away but dross
You wanted gone so long

And when you felt your most alone
And when you were the most at risk
Of saying yes to that last dose
And lying in the fitful sleep
Of those who dream when they were real

And when you felt your most alone

And when you felt your most alone

Your truly faithful dad – long one with you
In the bonds of suffering and fierce love
Somehow coughed up his toxic wad
Smiled his warm and human smile of old
And said to you, his precious child
“Don’t swallow, darling girl of mine
You must not follow me
Into this silent truthless place
I need your words so bad
They are my legacy
Perhaps tomorrow I will find my own, but now
Rage at what they’d have you eat
You are my little queen
All the forebears of your mother’s and of mine
Salute you as you spit this back”

And so with raging, potent, loving words
You gather to you us
All of us who hold our own
Toxic dose of pain
Carried still in pouch of silk
“When all else fails eat me
I will kill you fast or slow
But I am all you really know”

You say to us with loud ferocious tones
Give me those precious pouches now
This whole sad pharmacy of fear and lies
Place all these pills together here
On this basement floor within
Flush them with our healing tears
And we who have been sick but have not died
Shall come away the stronger still
And make a pact to grasp those pills
Wherever they be found
And give that purge to all the lost
And bring the de-pilled people home
Into our sacred tribe
And love ourselves and our poems
And each other – and the children we create
And our parents too, who need it most

“Because I say so
And I am Cheryl
Triumphant and alive
And innocent and good.”

How does it feel?

To have crashed and burned?
To have lost it halfway through performing my poem?
To have completely blanked out on what came next and spent five minutes – OK, maybe 30 seconds – trying to get it back?
To have humiliated myself in front of friends and associates?

“How do you feel?”  The question was asked me in a very solicitous way by a woman I didn’t know, in a tone that suggested to me that she expected me to feel crappy.

The answer took a while to get clear for me, then came through loud and clear….”It feels thrillingly human.” It feels like a relief.  It’s something that I knew had to happen sometime.  I have been performing poems at Jubilee four times a year for ten years and I’ve never had a poem not hit a home run.  I’ve had little ripples – times when babies cried and it threw me off my game and I would lose a line.  But nobody would ever know.  I always rallied and took it home.

This time I did rally also and finished strong.  And I did once again have people say that it worked for them – and that my stuck place, which in this case was totally obvious to everyone, did not take away from the impact of the poem, that the poem meant a lot to them.  One person said that it was her favorite part of the whole show.

So, thrillingly human – someone who can make mistakes.  There’s no safer place for me than Jubilee to make mistakes.  This poem opened the show for a dance performance – a very sweet movement and story-telling show filled with amateur dancers.

My poem opened for a dance performance on the topic of legacy - and my poem sprang from a friend's legacy of being abused as a child..  The choreographer and dancers, familiar with my track record as a killer poet and performer, expected me to open the show with a bang.  Was it a terrible thing that I fell apart delivering my poem?

My poem opened for a dance performance on the topic of legacy – and my poem sprang from a friend’s legacy of being abused as a child.. The choreographer and dancers, familiar with my track record as a killer poet and performer, expected me to open the show with a bang. Was it a terrible thing that I fell apart delivering my poem?

What if the worst had happened?  What would have been the worst?  The worst would have been for me to not recoup – for me just not be able to get it together, and to slink off the stage in shame.  That would be the worst.  Maybe not the worst though – because even that I could have recovered from.  Tonight I feel OK with that.  The worst, maybe, would be if that was not OK with me – if my infraction tonight stirred my self-hate – that would be the worst.  But even that wouldn’t have been so awful, because it’s human, because I go in and out of it all the time, because I’ve developed more skill in recuperating from self-hate and I bounce back from it.

In truth, what happened was not so awful.  In truth, it provided the audience with a wonderful experience – a chance to reach out to a performer, to be pulling for me.  Is it not possible that them opening their hearts to me, right at the beginning of the program, gave them a chance to be an even better audience for the rest of the show, to really open themselves to the dancers and the storytelling about their lives and their innocent, heart-felt,amateur dancing? I think that almost certainly this was true..

So the worst happened and it was OK.  No, the worst didn’t happen because I was OK with stuff that I surprised myself by accepting.  I fell apart in a way that I would have told you in advance was terrible and it was not.  In fact, it was perfect.

Back at it – and where I’ve been

I worked at the grocery store today.  I work there again tomorrow.  Tomorrow night I’m committed to Tae Kwon Do.  Friday morning I leave for Louisville, KY for the weekend to see my son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby.  Tonight I skipped my beloved depression and bipolar support group in order to write.  This is my one window in the next several days where I can get some writing done and by God I’m going to write.  I’ve not written on this blog for 11 days and I’m half-desperate to get something written.

I’ve got about five topics queued up, some of which would be short and sweet – but it feels required that I first write about what has been going on while I’ve been offline.  People may be assuming – or at least concerned – that I am super-super depressed, which I’ve not been.  My not writing, however, does involve my mental illness, and I feel a little vulnerable writing about it.  It also has to do with medication, which really makes it sound like mental illness – which it is.

I have been depressed for the last two weeks, but not as depressed as I have frequently been during my depressed cycles over the last many years – and this may well have to do with my new medication.  I changed medication around eight weeks ago, weaning myself off of two drugs (Saphris and Seroquel) and adding in Zyprexa.  My shrink – whom after about two years I like and respect – said he felt optimistic that this might ground me better than the meds I am coming off of.

It was a kind of a funny business, getting started on this drug.  At my regular 3-month meeting with him, I said “My friend Toni says she is taking Zyprexa and Prozac for her bipolar disorder and this combination is really helping her.  I parroted to her”, I told him, “what you and previous shrinks have taught me – that anti-depressants are dangerous to bipolar people, can spike dangerous manias.  But she reported that her shrink says that this particular combination really works well for people, and that he’s having a lot of success with people who didn’t respond so well to previous meds.”

My shrink did not surprise me when he said, “No way I’m going to put you on Prozac when you are cycling as much as you have been.  But Zyprexa – hmm. That’s actually a pretty good idea.  Let’s try that.  If we reach a point when you are level – not cycling up and down – and depressed, we could talk about Prozac, but not when you are going up and down this much.”

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics.  I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder.  Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition?  Maybe if I add Prozac?  Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether?  I don't know.

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics. I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder. Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition? Maybe if I add Prozac? Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether? I don’t know.

So Zyprexa maybe is helping. My last round of ups was not as up, and this round of downs is not as down.  But it’s been messing with my writing even more.  Every time I sit down to write, I doze off.  This has been happening for a week and a half now.  Drowsiness is a common side-effect with psych meds – including this one – but not one that I have ever experienced with meds before.

So if drowsiness has kept me from writing for almost about 11 days, how is it that I am writing tonight?  Am I starting to cycle up again?  Maybe – time will tell.  Maybe my desperation to get back to writing – and to offer stuff to you my readers – is bigger than the drowsiness.

This has been a long down – longer than the two weeks that has for many months been my typical cycle.  It has now been maybe 2 1/2 weeks.  If it goes on a long time, it might not seem like such a good deal.  If it continues to mess with my writing, it might not be such a good deal.  At work – on my feet with a rapid pace of transactions – it doesn’t make me drowsy, but I think it makes me stupid.  Depression makes me stupid – actually about as much – but when I’m up I’m pretty sharp.  If I start being low-level depressed – and drowsy and stupid – more of the time than the half-time that has been typical, it might not feel like such a good deal.

We’ll see.

“I Want To Give You Space”

I performed this poem, which I wrote five years ago, at Jubilee today.  It’s a love poem and so fit the day after Valentine’s Day.  The text is below.  You can find audio (with beautiful keyboard by Chris Rosser and a slide show with sensitive photos thanks to Sandy Swanson) at   Video of today’s performance (with lovely piano by Robert Thomas and beautiful dancing by Kathy Jennings) is at  The poem is about four minutes long – if you like reading it, I’d encourage you to go onto the audio, and then maybe even the video.

I wrote this poem when I was in the throes of infatuation.  But even before I became uninfatuated I realized that it’s not really just about romance.  It’s actually about how I want all of my major relationships to work.  And it’s called “I Want To Give You Space”.

I want to give you space
But not by stepping back
I want to step towards you
All eyes and ears and heart and breath
All my nerves atingle
From the joy of seeing YOU!
In all your gorgeous, flawed humanity
You! As you are right now
You! As you soar and dance
And as you stumble, swear and fall
You!  In your frailty and tears
You! In your power and your glory
You! When you like yourself and when you don’t
You! When I like myself and when I don’t
But still to keep seeing you
Outside of my programs wants and needs
You! Beyond my foolish little dreams
Of who you are or ought to be
You! Bigger than you know or I know
You!  Never the same two days straight
You!  Becoming someone so big and free
She would scare both of us if we could see her now.

I want you to feel more space
To breathe and move
With me than by yourself
Or anywhere else
I want you to sing like only I am listening
To dance like only I am watching
To know I crave your anger and your joy
To know that I will step towards you
Or hold my ground – but not step back
No matter what

To know that my anger, also
Is a way I step towards you
And not a call for you to change
Even when I tell you to change
That’s not what I really mean
It means I don’t yet know
How to be with this part of you
But I will try
Or simply hold my ground
Until something shifts
And that something does
Not need to be you

I want to breathe and trust and be myself
And to know it’s not your job
To do or be anything for me
It’s my job to do and be for me
And to let all my friends help – including you
And my job to not mess with you
Just to love you, as best I can
And to get better at it all the time
And to keep my eyes open
Open wider all the time
To see who you are
And who you are becoming
And to let you take my breath away


My highlight is you

Grieving is different when you’re manic and when you’re depressed.

My 35-year best buddy Monty died a week ago today.  ( I was manic for three days before he died, then the last seven – until today.  For the last week I knew I was in pain, knew I was messed up – but I felt good.  It was confusing.  My friend Marlisa wrote, “Friendship of a lifetime, loss of a lifetime.  Take good care of your grief.”  I grabbed hold of those words and repeated them to almost every person who asked how I was doing.  I also repeated, “I’m manic now – when I’m depressed and he’s still gone it’s going to be different.”

Where did he go?  One moment he seemed very alive.  I just don't get it.

Where did he go? One moment he seemed very alive. I just don’t get it.

I’m seeing the ways that grief is like depression.  Depression is so much about loss – loss of momentum, loss of happiness, loss of connection with others, loss of hope. When I am depressed, everything looks ugly and chaotic.  “This is bullshit.”  When I am grieving, it seems like nothing matters.  No matter what you do, everyone dies – so nothing matters.  Even when that person was 86 years old and apparently ready to go, this nihilism can still kick in.  When I am depressed, I blame myself – I ruminate over what I have and haven’t done.  When I am grieving, I run over in my brain what I should or shouldn’t have done differently.

At work today, in the middle of my grief and depression – reaching for something to keep me afloat – I grabbed on to my stock question to ask customers: “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  That can do a good job of getting my mind off of myself, but a lot of my customers also then ask me what has been the highlight of my day.  What do I say then?

For lack of any better answer, I used the one I have been saying most often anyway: this blog.  At first it felt and sounded pretty lame, but as I experimented with ways to get behind it, it started to work for me -at least some of the time, at least a little – on three levels.

  1. I’m still creating.  Even today – miserable with grief and depression – I’m getting ideas for blog posts, I’m kind of frantically jotting down notes during my breaks and even at the cash register.  Many of them will make no sense to me when I go back to them, but I’m writing. (Tonight, after work – now 9:01 p.m. – so much of me wants to just crawl into bed, but it feels desperately important to get this written and scheduled to post tomorrow morning.  I’ve got to create.)
  2. My writing is reaching people.  A lot of people are reading the blog.  A lot of people tell me that it means something to them.  They say it in comments on the blog, in emails to me, and face-to-face. They say it strongly, eloquently – it breaks through my isolation.  I have copy and pasted a lot of it into a “Rainy day” file.  I have recorded some of it to listen to.
  3. I’m offering it to you.  I step beyond my shyness and embarrassment, I push past the depression and grief – all of which would keep me isolated and cut off from you (you my customer and you my reader).  I tell you about my blog. I say that it’s good. I takethislittleVistaprint business card and give it to you.

    I give you a piece of my heart.

    I give you a piece of my heart.

Monty isn’t here.  Myself as I like to know myself – the person with so much pizzazz – isn’t here.  You are here.  In this moment, grieving and depressed, I meet you.  I look you in the eye.  I let myself care for you.  I want good for you. I don’t just meet you – I offer you something, a piece of me.  I offer you this card and say, “Check this out – I think you will enjoy it.”  Monty was all about “putting his stuff out in the world” – it was a healthy obsession with him. He also felt that in my battle with depression, too often I let depression win.  I think that in this moment Monty would be proud.