Posts Tagged 'great husbands'

No Winter Blues

1sun(Reprinted from Huffington Post)

I am a lucky person: My life is big and good. I am a playwright, actor and activist. I am also well-medicated and my brain has had a good winter.

A decade ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder. The shorter days of less sunlight in the winter months terrify me because of the reality that is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It may exacerbate my depression and plunge me into the dark. I am braced myself and worked on a plan to avoid the hole.

I knew it is necessary because as most people were making New Year’s resolutions, taking inventory of their winter sweater wardrobe and gearing up for skiing or snowboarding last year, I stumbled into the hole after having a good spring, followed by a happy summer.

The invisible hand of depression pushed me down for almost four months. It felt like an eternity. I not only missed the sun and the deep blue sky, but I missed my old self. I slept 11 hours a day and woke up exhausted and ready for a nap. Sadness and despair gnawed at my brain, and because my depression manifests itself physically, I felt like a low-grade flu followed me around like a nagging child.

Prepping for the writing classes that I teach took twice as long and drained me, although I could always rally in the classroom. My classes were always full of talented, generous writers and for a few hours it would take me out of myself.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, SAD is characterized by recurrent and cyclical episodes of depression, usually in late fall and winter. It is estimated that 18.8 million people or 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD along with another 14 percent who suffer from a milder version we often call the “winter blues.”

By January, predictable symptoms may have existed for two months, as the sun’s rays are weaker and the darkness is longer. Symptoms including extreme fatigue, sadness, emptiness, anxiety, decreased energy, a lack of focus, productivity and pleasure in activities often subside in March or April. Many of us don’t feel fully “back to normal” until early May.

Another symptom that’s common with people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder is an increase in carb cravings. Me? I could not get enough cookie dough, linguine, warm French bread, mashed potatoes, corn chips, chocolate cupcakes, and finally, most embarrassingly, Cheese Whiz. On a cracker or straight from the can.

We don’t know exactly why Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs. The research says there are probably several causes. Scientists have discovered that a neurotransmitter called serotonin may not be functioning well in people with SAD. Also hormones like melatonin play a role. There is the eye’s sensitivity to light and the circadian rhythms, which involve sleep-wake cycles during the changing seasons.

Where you live may also play a factor. Experts contend SAD is influenced not by the cold, but by diminished light and latitude is part of that equation. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that 1 percent of Florida residents, 4 percent of Washington, D.C. residents, and nearly 10 percent of Alaska residents suffer from SAD.

In an attempt to combat this weather phenomena, Rjukan, a small town in Norway recently completed installing three 300 square foot heliosatic mirrors that will redirect the sunlight into the town. Not bad for a community of 3,000 people.

I live in Chicago, where my husband and I have an extended family and our work. I love it here. Chicago has a spectacular skyline, terrific theater and world class restaurants. But unfortunately 79 percent of its winter days are cloudy to partially cloudy. And this winter has been long and mean and relentless.

One gloomy afternoon in early winter as I tried to psych myself getting outside to shovel the sidewalk, I happened to flip onto an article on the website of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on the benefits of prophylactic treatment for SAD. In other words, it suggested being proactive before the SAD symptoms sink in.

I am trying. This year I refuse to be bullied by SAD. I did some research, talked about it with my psychiatrist and got an OK.

So every day for 30 minutes I am doing phototherapy by sitting in front of a 12″ by 24″ metal box that contains two long tube lights behind a metal grating that delivers full spectrum 10,000 lux of light. My cat likes to sit in front of it too, so I let her, because who wants a depressed cat? The light board cost $139 and is designed to mimic outdoor light that researchers believe may lift mood and ease other symptoms of SAD.

I am not alone in my efforts.

The Memorial Hospital in South Bend has installed a Light Therapy Feel Better Center and offers complimentary 30-minute sessions.The counseling centers at University of Washington, University of New Hampshire and Macalaster College in St Paul, Minnesota provides light therapy to its students through their counseling centers. And the Lightbar in Portland, Ore. is a bistro that combines food, trendy cocktails and music with light therapy. Genius.

My psychiatrist suggested upping my supplements of Vitamin D and fish oils. We developed a modification plan for my antidepressant regime if I find myself going into the hole. I know from experience that altering your meds may be a complicated hit or miss, but I like knowing that I have a fall back.

He also told me to, “get somewhere sunny if you can. Some people say that they feel better after just a couple of days.”

So instead of going on our traditional summer vacation this year, I split up the time up into two short winter jaunts to visit warm weather friends in January and February. I know that Van Nuys, California and Houston, Texas are not glamorous, but they are hot and full of sunshine.

I am also more vigilant this winter about exercise and yoga and as difficult as it is, I am trying to regulate my sleep patterns.

Finally, most importantly for me, I am booking my calendar weeks and months in advance to get me up and out into the world when all I want to do is stay under the covers and mew. I am planning dinners out, movie night in with fun friends, actually showing up for holiday parties, entertaining weekend visitors, getting theater tickets and faithfully going to writing group, book club and visits with my parents and in-laws. I’ve even decided to throw myself a 1/2-year birthday party.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is real and dark for millions of people, and these measures aren’t for everybody, but for me it is worth a try.

I’ve never been a “just in case” kind of woman. I don’t carry antacids when I go to my favorite Mexican restaurant. I don’t bring an umbrella if it just “looks” like rain and I don’t stash an extra $20 bill into a secret fold of my wallet.

I don’t live in Florida or Rjuka, and I have not the time or inclination to erect giant mirrors on Willis Tower.  But I am going continue to be proactive. I have made do right here staring into the light and it has worked.

NOTE:  I start touring the solo show-“A Little Bit Not Normal”  A serious comedy about depression-  Fall 2014.  This Blog, the show, talk back sessions, community writing workshops, articles in publications & the book- is part of my iniative to become part of the national conversation around mental  Illness.  Kickstarter will be launched later this year.  I hope you’ll join me- because its 1 in 4 of us suffer sometime in our lives- and much of that time it is in silence.

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Into The Blue

Blue

Into The Blue
I flip the car visor to apply a slicker of raspberry. I’m so exhausted that I look like phlegm. But phlegm who’s wearing lipstick because everybody knows that lipstick can disguise anything. You never see any of those actors who play sick characters wearing it, not even if they are Angelina Jolie. It’s early and slippery outside, one of those days in Chicago when the fog feels like a permanent guest on the road. I move at a glacial pace. Sometimes one depression hour feels like a dog year.

Me, in another psychiatrists’s office. I keep my eyes to the floor like the guilty one on Law and Order. I am shamed. This is my Roswell 54. I’ve always prided myself on being a “happy, optimistic and motivated person.” I’ve even bragged about it but out of nowhere Depression just crept in through a basement window and I found him sitting there with his feet up on my nice, new mushroom colored couch and he decided to stay.

I took my first 2 pills. They were melon colored and shaped like kites and I felt like a teenaged girl waiting for her boyfriend to change his Facebook status to “In A relationship” because I wanted those meds to work and work fast. They didn’t. I tell no one about the black sinkhole except for Dan, my good and kind husband who guards the secret like it’s a magician’s trick. We both know that crazy and unstable does not get hired, does not get invited to fabulous parties. We both know that all crazy and unstable gets is judged.

Meds are added, taken away, tweaked and tweaked again. There are pretty little yellow pills, rainbow capsules and ones that look like teensy hotdogs. Another one make me feel l’m on a tilt a whirl and I throw up for 24 hours straight. Some work a little, some not. I don’t know. My brain skates the edge of winter-gray and presses at my brain.

1

INTO THE BLUE Arlene Malinowski

And then I just stop. Mail and magazines are left unread. Clothes with zippers and buttons and proper fit sit in the closet. The TV flickers like ghosts in the night. Phone calls roll into voicemail. The bed becomes both my shroud and sanctuary. I look into the mirror of the medicine cabinet. I’ve become invisible-even to myself. I wonder when is it time to find a new doctor? Until one day she says kindly; “I think we should wait to see if this lifts. Your body’s been through a lot. I don’t know what else we should try right now.” Six weeks later she moves away to a city that’s warm and sunny.

How are you? the question comes automatically from the mouths of others. “Fine, I’m just fine” I reply smiling, pink bubbly. A dozen years of acting classes, money well spent. In my soul, I dream about Sylvia Plath and Bell Jarring. I curse my electric oven. And then Dan does the unthinkable and betrays me. I hear him in the other room on the phone, “She’s clinically depressed. It’s bad. We need to get her into see someone now.” I panic, “What are you doing? I was just having a bad moment.” He holds me, “I had to tell someone. I’m scared for you”

My head is spinning lurid purple. “Don’t you understand they’re going to tell everyone!” He doesn’t listen. There are phone calls to brothers and friends and colleagues and I’m in, right away with a guy who is not taking new patients. They say he’s a rockstar but I don’t care. Now the whole family knows. Screw them.

I look around the waiting room. I feel like I’m sitting in the middle of a pharmaceutical Burning Man. The patients rock and mutter and sweat and tremble and stare glassy eyed and get up for cups and cups and cups of water. These are the last chance people and I am one of them. There is a place in your mind that is so far down you don’t see color. That’s where I am.

We wait for 2 hours and when we finally get into his office it looks like a bomb hit it. There is stuff everywhere, it feels like the inside of my brain. He looks nice, like the kind of guy that you should have gone out with in college instead of chasing the bad boys who would make out with you at a party and then dump you for a girl named April- at the same party. I hand him the history that Dan so meticulously kept and I tell him the dark side of calm. “The gnawing at my brain is relentless. I can’t do it anymore. I want go to sleep and never wake up again.”
Dr Last Chance leans in, connects with me my eyes and says in a low quiet voice;

“I know you’re in pain but you need to know that we have lots of options to try.” and then starts naming off lists of drugs and drug combinations. When we are leaving I throw my arms around him and hug him hard and he hugs me back.

Hope is a great gift- maybe the best of all gifts and that’s what he gave me. I slowly start to come out of it. Depression like mine doesn’t just go away, it leaves quietly and surreptitiously like the honey colored light at dusk but word about my break down spreads quickly and at full tilt. I am humiliated beet red but the most unexpected things happen. A funny card shows up in the mailbox. A hand reaches out. The kind opportunity to teach a class if I felt up to it is offered. And people whisper to me “Me too! I have it too” and I wonder “why didn’t I know this about you? Why didn’t we know this about each other? It would have made everything so much easier.” But these timid, tentative and big-hearted acts of care surround me. I swallow my fear and I recognize that loosening the shame and releasing the secret into the blue- saves me.

NOTE: My one-woman show  “A Little Bit Not Normal”  A serious comedy about depression-  Spring 2014.  This Blog, the show, talkback sessions, community writing workshops, articles in Huff Po, publications & the book- is part of my initiative to become part of the national conversation around mental  Illness.  Kickstarter will be launched later this year.  I hope you’ll join me- because its 1 in 4 of us suffer sometime in our lives- and much of that time it is in silence.

Zipless

This is what we are reading in class:  “The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was an ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff.  Tongues intertwined and turned liquid.”

Soft core porn dressed up as Feminist Literary Criticism???  Oh my God! I love Grad school.  It’s the 80’s.  I listen to Blondie, wear parachute pants and my hair is focused on one simple concept – volume.  Aids does not exist and you could eat sugar, fat and deep fried everything without walking into the Valley of Death.  I’m young, I am tan and I am aware, even as it’s happening that I should be living the perfect summer.

“Listen to this part”, I say.  I’m on duty and talking to the nice guy I work with in the dorms. It was our job to enforce quiet hours and make sure the students didn’t do anything stupid like throw a burning couch out of the window. Which they did- twice.

“This book says “zipless” is defined as a sexual encounter for its own sake, without emotional involvement.”

He smiles, Where do you get this stuff?

“It’s literature- Erica Jong.  She’s a fabulous feminist and very famous. She believes that the zipless trumpets unfettered freedom as women’s birthright”

“I am in the wrong major”  He sighs

I tell him, “You know what would make this a great summer for me?  Having a Zipless. It could be my feminist statement in support of all the women who have suffered under the tyranny of the patriarchal double standard”.

“Oh Christ” he says, You are insane.

The truth was- I was lonely, bone crushingly lonely. Only a few months before I had been plopped into the middle of the Midwest from Jersey to go to grad school. I knew Malls an big hair and NYC not this tiny collegetown that had a Farm and Fleet and a “Flying Ear of Corn” as a mascot. But the school had offered me a full-ride, a stipend and a parking space (which really sealed the deal).  My old roommate was moving out to California and I just couldn’t be bothered to find someone else to live with, so Grad school looked like a good alternative.  It was the bookish girls version of the army.  But that summer was hard on me and I thought “If I’m going to be lonesome I ain’t doin’ it alone”.

For my Zipless endeavor I decided stick to my tried and true menu of bad boys. The older, sophisticated, Mr IBM was perfectly appointed in a navy blazer, Izod with the collar popped and the bulge in his khakis indicated that he was a human torpedo.  We meet at a Ramada Inn hotel bar in the afternoon.  He is suave, he lights my cigs his fingers lingering on mine. We drink our Manhattans, he caresses my knee but seems incapable of forming a sentence without the words me, my or I in it.  It crosses my mind that If his conversation style is any indication of his zipless style- UCK!  So I go to my Data Analysis and Regression class even though attendance is not mandatory.

The long days continue to melt by like peach ice cream in the afternoon sun and I hang out with the nice guy constantly.  We eat together; we go out drinking, he cleans my apartment. “OK”, I say to him, one night as we scrape the vomit from the elevator.” I’ve eye lured 3 zipless candidates”.

“What is the eye lure?” he asks.

“I learned it from an article in Cosmo magazine called “How to Be a Man Magnet”.

#1. Make eye contact and smile. #2. Avert your gaze. Then #3. Look back and hold for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  I once did it accidently to a blind guy in the quad and if it worked on him it will work on anybody.

“Anyway”- I continue, “here’s the Zipless update:  The torpedo is too self absorbed so I’ve moved onto the Brazilian painter”.

“The one who lives out of his car for artistic integrity?” the nice guy asks,

“Yes, he says he wants to sketch me.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” He says.

“I’m going to lie on a chaise and say- “Yo quiero su carne.  Su carne es muy caliente”.  Which means I want your meat.  Your meat is hot.  You can really learn a lot from a Taco Belle menu”.

The nice guy locks his eyes on mine.  “Why are you wasting your time with these assholes?”

That’s when I see it- he doesn’t want to be my friend.  He wants to be my boyfriend. I don’t want a boyfriend- let alone him. You see, he was 2 ½ inches shorter than me and I had 20 pounds on him which meant my ass would always look fat next to his.  We’d look like Sasquach and Stewy from “Family Guy”.  Besides he wasn’t my type.  He was nice. I didn’t like them nice.  I liked them Italian and dangerous and from Brooklyn if possible.  He was was dangerous as thread.

I decide not to spend as much time with the nice guy and I definitely do not tell him about the hot bartender from TGIF who was studying for his GED on the side.  Then one morning the nice guy corners me as we’re dumping the dorm because some idiot has pulled the fire alarm at 3:00am.  “Lets go out to dinner”.  He sounds happy and hopeful.  There is nothing is worse than a happy, hopeful nice guy moon-pieing over you.  Then the nice guy gives me the eye lure.

Oh Christ, Now I’m going to have to give him- “the I’m really flattered-but I don’t want to ruin our friendship” talk.    Why do you nice guys always do that?   Why do you ruin everything by being so nice?  For dinner he decides on TGIF, which truthfully was fine dining in the town of the “Flying Ear of Corn”.  We go to dinner on a Tuesday night.  Not a date night.   I order ribs with extra BBQ sauce.  Not a date food.   I eat my entire plate and some of his.  Not date behavior.  We talk and laugh until I am snorting.  Not the right time for the “It’s me not you talk”.

As the nice guy goes to pay the bill.  (My one concession to the no date rule because I wanted to him feel good.) I see the hot bartender tossing bottles, literally throwing bottles of alcohol in the air- like Tom Cruise in that horrible movie.  I think “with talent like that who needs a GED?”  I don’t want my bartender to think I’m with-with nice guy I so strut up to him, a woman ablaze with defiance and purr “I’ll meet you at close”.  I give him the eye lure, He eye lures me back.  God it really works!

Later the nice guy and I sit on the loading dock behind the dorm. The night air is hot and humid. My skin glows in the shallow yellow streetlight. We’re silent, too silent. The “talk” is coming and we both know it.   As he idly plays with my hair, shivers start to pass through my body igniting a thousand goosebumps. I can feel us breathing together.  I start to. .. . No, No, No !  He’s the nice guy.  You don’t do nice guys. But my heart is racing and that irresistible pull is tugging.

As I as turn my face towards him I think “If I kiss him now will I ever get him off my back”.  He pulls me close and it is all sweet mouths and hot, salty necks.  Just as I am about to sigh “ give me a minute to shave my legs” he pulls away.  I can hardly catch my breath.  What?  What are you you doing my body screams? But instead the nice guy puts his hands into his pockets, brushes past me and quietly murmurs “I’m the happiest man in the world” and continues down the stairs, past the dumpster and disappears.  It was the sexiest night of my life.

I often think about that nice guy and wonder.  I wonder what time he’ll get home from work and what we’re going to eat for supper.

Cleaning the Junk Drawer

I am a bad person. Not a bad person in a deviant, psychotic kind of way, but a bad person in a disorganized, slovenly kind of way.

It’s the piles of papers to be filed, runaway shoes to capture, articles to read, junk mail to toss, drawers to sort out, CDs to transfer to my IPod, and RSVPs to be RSVPed that simply overrun my sanity and desire for a pristine, well ordered life. A life that boasts of cross-indexed online recipes and beautiful leather photo albums containing neat rows of childhood pictures made complete with the notation of date and location.

I fantasize about the consummate closet with a wardrobe that makes me look ridiculously thin and is arranged according to season and color on identical hangers all facing the same way. I swoon at the thought of a G-Mail contact list that actually has current names and addresses and I envision a pantry bursting with every imaginable canned good stacked, alphabetized and ready for the taking. I dream about a bill paying system so efficient that it would make an accountant’s heart flutter and I revel in the notion of a tidy medicine cabinet where the Nyquil and Vicodin coexist peacefully with the deodorant and Q-tips. All of these thoughts delight and titillate me until I open my eyes and take a good look around.

My life is a demilitarized zone. Billows of dirty laundry cascade with the clean, unfolded laundry to mock me. Sections of The New York Times Sunday edition lay dismembered and silent in dusty corners and underneath coffee cups. Pots and pans practice a sophisticated balancing act in cupboards too small to contain their girth. Coins and paper clips, raisins and anti-depressants skitter and hide, oblivious to my incessant calling. Occasionally the cat will shimmy out from under the piles to snack on kibbles and bits only to disappear back into the lagoon of stuff. Occasionally my husband does the same.

It’s not like I don’t have help. I’m married to a man whose idea of a lazy Sunday morning is cleaning his golf clubs and arranging them by style and function before next week’s game. This is of course before he washes the cars and goes to church. (See, I told you I was a bad person.)

Helen, the soft-spoken Polish woman who comes in once a month to do the heavy lifting clucks her tongue disapprovingly while I pick up in front of her like a mouse frantically running a maze towards the promise of a tidy nirvana. Like the kryptonite that renders Superman powerless, I am convinced that during my autopsy scientists will discover a genetic defect hidden deep in my DNA that leaves me defenseless against the forces of chaos. Even that sweet, tidy husband who loves me is certain that in the event of my kidnapping he would be able to find me by simply following the trail of open drawers, cabinets left ajar and leftover lemon drops scattered about in the mayhem.

There is just too much to manage. I have tried everything from clearing my clutter with Feng-shui, to buying boxes and containers, files and magazine racks, bowls and organizers to help me. I have even subscribed to magazines that promise to unlock the enigma of an orderly life like it was the third secret of Fatima. However, instead of being part of the solution, they are part of the problem, as they lay strewn across the floor like nachos after a drunken Super bowl party. For me, organizing my life is like crash dieting. It holds great promise but never works for long.

This disarray does not restrict itself to my house. My car, my makeup box, and all of my books are crammed with notes and receipts, Carmex and business cards, writing ideas and Splenda. Even my purse looks like an Office Depot has detonated.  I am not dirty. I don’t hoard. I don’t even collect. I am just disorganized. I can’t get on top of it and can’t get out from under it.

Lately however, I didn’t understand why this suddenly bothered me so much. After all, I’ve spent the last 40 years living with mounds that kept growing around me as fast a freshman girl in a wonder bra and I was fine with it.

Then one afternoon, while chasing a fugitive set of keys, it struck me that I was mad. I was mad that I couldn’t control my mess and mad that I couldn’t control the mess that the world was in. I was mad at my health, and my thighs and the fact that my parents were getting old.  I was mad at BP for the massive destruction they’ve caused and the lies that they are still telling.  I was mad that I like to smoke and that broccoli is healthier than a double fudge lava cake.  I was mad that we were still debating this Gay marriage issue and madder that 40% of our homeless are Veterans. I was mad that even with my I phone, E mail, texting, Facebook and Twitter that I still feel disconnected. I was mad that we are being forced to cut budgets for disabled Americans and that the Bush administration rewrote our Constitution and no one noticed. I was mad that as an educated and socially responsible person I still want to read the tabloids- all of them and after we bailed-out wall street, the banks are foreclosing on homes at a record rate. And I was mad that my good and kind friend Molly had just died of cancer.

I was mad at God and all the Patron Saints, my spirit guides and Buddha, for that matter, for not showing up when they were supposed to.  And I was mad at Super-Pacs and all of the Kardashians for — well, for just being them.  I was furious that everything was careening out of control like that loose hubcap spinning on the expressway.

All in all, I was pretty pissed. So for days I tried to breathe, sit in the mess of my life, meditated and waited for some divine guidance. Nothing happened.  Then yesterday, I got sick and tired of all the breathing and waiting crap and decided to do something. Something that would move me forward or up or out of the chaos. So, I decided to clear off a tiny area in front of the computer on my desk.

I wanted to create just one small pocket of order that might give me some peace and reassurance. In other words, I would clean up what I could clean up. And there, elbow deep in the compost, I discovered a granite paperweight that had etched in stone. “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius” and for the first time in a long time, I laughed.

Thank You Steve

It was a splurge- over $3,200.00 and one that I allowed my husband to indulge me in. He’s terrific like that. We lived in a 2 room dorm apt at UCLA. I was a Ph.D. student and the Mac was a symbol of our faith that I would finish the program. It took 7 years but I did.  Thank you Mr. Jobs for not making me do it on my IBM Selectric Typwriter with the self correcting tape.