Posts Tagged 'writing'

Thank You Henry Rollins for Your Offensive Comments About Depression and Suicide

Unknown(Reprinted from the Huffington Post)

This summer, Punk Rock icon, actor and writer Henry Rollins wrote a controversial opinion piece entitled ‘Fuck Suicide’ for the L.A.Weekly in which he viciously criticized those who commit suicide, including Robin Williams, who killed himself after a long battle with depression. “How in the hell could you possibly do that to your children?” Rollins wrote. “When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind. I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain.”

The article was shared 32,000 times on Facebook, and enraged thousands of readers who believed Rollin’s words showed a complete lack of respect for Williams and his grieving family. News outlets including the NY Daily News, Rolling Stone Magazine, Detroit Free Press, Washington Post, The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald also reported on the backlash. But he wasn’t the only public figure to comment negatively about suicide and those suffering from mental illnesses. The KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons sparked outrage after saying he is “the guy who says ‘Jump’ to those who are suicidal.

Simmons then went on to imply that people with suicidal tendencies were attention seekers. He remarked “Shut the f**k up, have some dignity and jump.”  In response, several radio stations, including Power97 and BobFM in Canada declared that they will no longer play KISS music, as did leading Australian station Triple M – which owns five metropolitan stations across the country. After the fallout, Simmons also deleted his Twitter account to which he previously posted daily. Finally, last week So You Think You Can Dance judge and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe announced on the show that “committing suicide is both stupid and selfish.”

As much as I loathe all of these insensitive and offensive comments I am grateful that they have opened up an international dialog that is rarely that covered in our media and news outlets. However, amid the clamor, I believe that these public figures articulated some very real and strongly held beliefs that those who commit suicide and struggle with mental illness are weak, selfish and lack courage. That they should “pull themselves up by their boot straps” and “just snap out of it.” And that they don’t deserve our sympathy because “they did it to themselves.” I know that these horribly misguided comments are made over dinner tables, during happy hour and into cell phones because I have heard them. Most mental health professionals would agree that suicide is too often a result of mental illness.

There’s no “stupidity” involved when a disabling illness drives a person to take his or her own life.  The shame and stigma stat stem from these commonly held messages can cause a great deal of damage. Bruce Levin, psychologist and author of several books including  Surviving America’s Depression  wrote that people with mental illnesses “do not need positive-thinking or condescending advice, which assumes inaction stems from ignorance, creates only more pain. Instead, people need compassion, love, and various kinds of support.” In todays culture we hold our celebrities as up as role models, emulating their taste in clothes, music, homes, political causes, art, cars, food, reading material, and lifestyles. Their opinions are regarded by many to be the gold standard regardless of how ridiculous, misinformed or irresponsible they may be. These celebrities do not only echo public sentiment, they create it. Just consider Kim Kardashian and her empire.

However, most telling was how these three celebrities chose to respond to the public outcry against their insensitive remarks. Nigel Lithgoe took to Twitter and in three posts refused to apologize. He continued to blame the victims by saying, “I will not even begin to defend my feelings toward suicide. The belief that life is not worth living is wrong. Because a mentally ill person is incapable of judgement does not make the act of suicide any less stupid or selfish.” He also admitted that he has lost two people to suicide and perhaps his experience has impacted his misguided beliefs. It’s not for me to make this assumption. Rock star Gene Simmons has expressed regret in a Facebook message

“I was wrong and in the spur of the moment made remarks that in hindsight were made without regard for those who truly suffer the struggles of depression.” However, it was Henry Rollins’ reaction which surprised me the most. In addition to apologizing he also pledged to educate himself on the topic. After his original article, Rollin’s penned a follow-up titled, “More thoughts on suicide,” in which he took responsibility and thanked the people who sent responses.

“I appreciate them all because they were written with complete sincerity, even if some had only two words, the second being “you.” . . . I said there are some things I obviously don’t get. So I would like to thank you for taking the time to let me know where you’re coming from. None of it was lost upon me.” But then Rollins shared his own struggles with depression. “There have been some truly awful stretches, as I am sure there have been for anyone who deals with depression, that have at times rendered me almost paralytic.” Rollins wrote. It may seem appalling that he would make these derogatory remarks after suffering from depression himself. However, a research paper in the US National Library of Medicine entitled “Stigma as a Barrier to Recovery” noted the stigma may be so pervasive that “persons with mental illness may begin to accept these notions and internalize these stigmatizing attitudes and beliefs that are widely endorsed within society”.

Perhaps this was the case with Rollins but it wouldn’t be fair for me to make that conjecture. Rollins concluded with a message of regret and a commitment to learn from this experience: “I have no love for a fixed position on most things. I am always eager to learn something. I promise that I will dig in and educate myself on this and do my best to evolve. Again, thank you.” To be sure, there are many who believe that these all are just insincere apologies by celebrities who are interested only in protecting their image and endorsements. I do not know if Simmons or Rollins are being genuine. I hope so because people can change. I know it, in fact because I have.

It shames me now to admit that I once held similar misguided opinions about mental illness but this was before I got a Masters degree in counseling, before I worked with students in crisis at Northern Illinois University, Illinois State University and UCLA and before I lived with a decade-long diagnosis of major chronic depression. In other words I got educated, I learned and I changed. The concept that mental illness is a disease which twists reality and affects the way one thinks, perceives and remembers is one that is not often discussed. Blame towards the victim and a lack of understanding is what keeps so many alone with their secrets.

The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives. That is too many people who must bear the stigma and the judgement of the ill-informed. I am proud of the mental health community and media outlets who stood to be counted by taking these public figures to task. As a result damaging misconceptions were exposed and more importantly relevant information about mental illness and suicide was shared with the public at large. The  good news is that a more open conversation about suicide and depression may be on the horizon in this country, as the indie film, “Skeleton Twins,” a movie with suicide and suicide attempts at the core of the story, won big audiences in its debut weekend in movie theaters across the country. It is my hope that more people will get educated, learn and change.

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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.

I Haiku- Do You?

Haiku?

Up until 7th grade poetry was either boring or stupid and often both at the same time.  I was never really moved by Carl Sandburgs’ “Fog comes down on little cat feet” Although I can still recite it by heart- and recite it with meaning. Rhyming couplets were especially hard to write because of the iambic pentameter thing.  And the limerick, I thought those kinds of poem had potential. They were funny and sometimes dirty but they had to be five lines long, written in a particular sing-songy rhythm that had an AABBA rhyming scheme and that was even harder. Then there was poetry-poetry, which was just complicated and didn’t make any sense- ever.  But the haiku was Japanese and had a lot going for it.  It was short, only three lines, but the thing that gave haiku its haiku-ness was the number of syllables in each line, 5-7-5.  I could do syllables and not everyone in my class could.  Haikus didn’t have to rhyme and most of the ones in our English book were about everyday things like rain and flowers.  And even the weirdest ones were easy to understand.

The first cold shower; 

even the monkey seems to want 

 a little coat of straw.        Bashō: 

This was poetry for the people!

I’ve always considered myself a writer; a playwright actually, penning such works as “The Christmas Ornament” which had a fireplace, a manager scene, 26 lines and a cast of 13.  Playing all the parts I would sign the dialog to my Deaf mother as she typed it. I could often complete an entire work in just under an hour since she used a manual typewriter so there was no going back.  But after mastering the one act play genre I longed for a different creative outlet.

My previous attempts at writing poetry in the 5th & 6th grades often fell flat.  They were full of clichés and awkward rhyming.  But haiku?  Haiku I could do.  Mrs Valenz, one of the pretty teachers who wore plaid miniskirts and go-go boots, judged my first endeavor into the art form a critical success.

We wait for robins 

hopping on the new spring grass,

flying in blue skies. 

This ode to spring was praised for interesting subject matter and correct syllabification.  I was burbling with pride.

I did most of my haiku-ing with Carmel Vena, my best friend.  She was skinny, buck toothed and by far the best poet I had ever met but she was never a bragger.  But when her haiku was chosen to be hung on the bulletin board I got jealous and acted a little mean towards her just to get even.  We wrote haikus about our classmates, the cats in the alley, the new purple vests we wanted and we wrote about our families.

I hate my parents.

They never hear what I say

Not because they are Deaf

I wrote because I liked it.  I wrote because my Deaf parents didn’t understand the hearing me, but mostly I wrote because one afternoon Jeffery Hazlet leaned over to me and said, “Hey, Haiku Girl, can I borrow a piece of paper?”  It was an extraordinary moment in an ordinary life, I was considered a poet, a Haiku Girl, by the cutest boy in the 7th grade.  Haiku not only expressed my emotions but helped me figure out what I was feeling and why.  By the time winter ended I was writing hardcore haikus about black sucking voids and Vietnam.

War; man against man.

Protesters against the man.

We fight at what cost?

I used haiku to tease out the mysteries of life and the most touching and most profound were centered, of course, around love.

Sonny how could you?

Is she prettier than me

or is she a whore?

I wrote because had something to say and no one to say it to.  I wrote because I thought my voice was important to my generation and I wrote to become famous.  Although I pooh-poohed getting my haikus published, it was considered “too establishment”, I did like the idea of reciting my poetry before an audience.  Maybe I would travel around with a folk singing group who drove a VW bus from gig to gig performing for hippies, yippies and beatniks. (Although I wasn’t quite sure of what a beatnik was.)  With haiku my future was pregnant with possibilities especially after I didn’t make the choir.

Everyday is new

I start all over again.

Will it be the same?

Then one day it was over.  I just didn’t feel the need to document every emotion and observation that I had about myself and the world.  7th grade gave way to 8th and “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe and basketball games and holding hands with Thomas Costello.  And just like that I stopped being Haiku Girl and I stopped being Paula Rutkowski’s friend and it was OK.  They both were like a pair of dungarees that no longer fit. I still liked them but they had served their purpose and I was excited to get a new pair of Wranglers.

I miss Haiku Girl.  She was full of alienation and hopefulness, confusion and hormones. I miss how easily the words came to her and her unshakeable belief that she was an artist.  I miss how the inner censor who screamed so loudly in so many parts of her life was reverently, respectfully silent when she wrote haiku. There aren’t many of those haikus left. They’ve fallen victim to too many careless hands and too many careless moves.  But on those occasions that I do think about Haiku Girl and my younger self, I see a smoky coffeehouse full of beatniks in black berets and a dim spotlight shining on a lone solitary figure sitting on a stool reciting her favorite haiku.

My dreams are like stars

Even on the darkest night

they shine on and on.

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.

100 plays, 50 playwrights, One-Minute

I have said this before and I will say it again and probably a couple of times after that.

I am a woman who can say the least amount of information in the most amount of words.  Some of the time it is grammatically correct, other times punctuationally inventive but most for the most part it’s just lengthy, inane, occasionally smart, perhaps a bit repetitious and it always beats around the bush.  I like to call it my style, my artistic form, my swagga. (Don’t you love it when I get all gangster?)

This talent- and I call it a God given talent- really worked in my favor during essay exams in school- (6th grade through Ph.D. with the one exception of Ms Balutanksi’s Social Studies Class, Junior year.  She was strictly multiple choice- which, of course, had it’s own advantages.)  When writing a play, I have the ability produce so much material that it takes a team of highly trained CSI’s to figure out the plot-line, which is great because everyone knows how difficult it is for CSI’s to find work in this economy.

I often like to trot out this artistic flair during the most exciting parts of movies, while writing e-mails about the best cat litter, and during sex.  I have also been told by my loved ones that it is especially appreciated when they’re are in a hurry to get off the phone or have a hangover.   Upon occasion, people have requested, that I “get to the point”.  Rather than get upset I simply remind myself that they are jealous because of their own woeful concise articulateness.

In certain circles I know that my gift is viewed as dendrite upon the world of polite dinner chit-chat.  What they don’t know is that I use it like a super-power to prevent me from ever getting another invitation where I have to pretend to be the perfect corporate wife.  (Although, I am grateful that my sweet husband is part of a corporate milieu that allows me the sheer, shimmery luxury of being an unfettered “artist”. (Air-quotes provided by my husband- but only with the nicest and earnest of intentions.)

All of that being said, It takes me a long time to get to the meat . . . .  and then along comes “Mr One Minute Play Man”, Dominic D’Andrea, waving his sixty seconds around like some kind of an annoying show-off.  So, I thought to myself,  “They don’t think I can do this.  Well, they got another thing coming.  I’ll show them and then they’ll be sorry.  All of them!  I’d write a one-minute play and a good one and I won’t cram it with words . . .  just out of spite.

Chicago’s One-Minute Play Festival May, 16 & 16
Experience this new play genre.

Show Me the Money

Rare Photo of Actual Money

I miss money.  I don’t mean having or not having it.  I mean, I miss money; paper money, coin money, real money.  I miss the jingling of my fathers’ pockets as he walked up the stairs after a day in the factory. Or filching a smooth dollar bill hidden in the folds of my mothers old alligator wallet.  I love holding a new ten-spot up to my nose to breathe in its familiar and distinctive smell that is as indescribable as the scent of a freshly painted room.  And the taste of money!  I know you’re not supposed to put it in your mouth but admit it, we all have and its sharp, piquant flavor is like no other.

My first real job was working at The Mart.  A family owned women’s apparel store in downtown Paterson, NJ. I worked the main floor; accessories and sportswear, the basement; coats and better dresses and the 3rd floor which housed the fine lingerie, layaway and the switchboard.  The minimum wage was 2 dollars and fifteen cents and every Friday I was handed a 3 x 6 manila bank envelope filled with cash and a little change to spend as I liked.

In college it was the Extension Diner conveniently located next to the Extension Lounge heralded as the “longest bar in NJ”. There, I would put a black polyester uniform over a frilly slip to ensure better tips when I bent over to wipe down a table or to scoop up my booty of quarters, nickels, dimes and the occasional buck or two.  It was like dying and going to cash heaven.  The harder I worked, and the nicer I was the more legal tender I could squirrel away for fifty-cent pitchers at the campus pub.

Growing up, I loved looking through the coins my parents carefully counted and rolled for our yearly vacations down the shore or put aside for their Christmas club.  Now a days, I use Visa for everything; restaurants and movies, lipstick and groceries, taxis and Weight Watchers.  I have cards for Starbucks, massages at Continuum Spa and Borders books.  I don’t need money for the bus or the El because I have a CTA card. Everyone does.  Even tollways and bridges have jumped on the cashless bandwagon and installed I-Pass.  Sometimes I wonder how panhandlers, Salvation Army bell ringers and strippers are coping in this cashless culture.  My God child gets his allowance deposited into an account that he manage with a debit card- and he’s 9 years old!

I miss the joy of opening a Christmas or birthday card from Aunt Rose and watching the five-dollar bills flutter to the floor. Remember how great it felt to put your hand into the back pocket of your jeans and find a crumpled ten-dollar bill?  And I hate that there is never any loose change in my couch or my car anymore to get a Slurpie or a .99 cent burrito when I’m running a little low.  It seems to me that the only place that cash is still used is in the summer blockbuster where the ransom note demands a suitcase of unmarked bills in exchange for the kidnapped kid.

My sister Diana once swallowed a quarter on Thanksgiving.  It caused a block-wide panic.  The pumpkin pie was abandoned, my sister was shaken upside down and we all took a trip to the emergency room.  For days afterwards, my mother had to check her poop for the wayward coin.  This would have never happened if Diana had a Discover card but then my family would have been denied one of our favorite stories that we tell and retell every holiday since then.  Incidentally, my mother still has the quarter safely wrapped in tissue and tucked into an envelope marked “Thanksgiving 1965”.

Even the wallets we use today are different.  There is hardly a place to put your paper money and forget a zippered pouch to collect your coins. Instead, they’ve been replaced with long rows of empty slots to store your green or gold or platinum cards.  Yes, I agree that real money is sometimes heavy and unwieldy and messy. That it may make our hands dirty or pass germs.  And yes, I agree that using cash and making change makes everything little slower. Just stand behind someone in the checkout line who pays for their lunch with exact change. Nevertheless, in the big picture is that such a horrible thing?

Not that I’m waxing rhapsodic for the good old days, but I liked how it felt to use cash.  When I am using my Master Card I can get something when I need it or want it even when I don’t have the funds for it.  But lately I’ve realized my relationship with money has changed. When I use an American Express card, it doesn’t even feel like I’m spending. When I used currency it felt like a real transaction. When I used ready money, I knew how much I had to spend and I saw where every dollar went.  It made me realize what I got in return for my hard work.  When I had money in my life- hard cash, my money was gone when it was gone.  And while it’s still true that money does indeed make the world go around I for one am going to make cash the new credit and you can take that all the way to the bank!