Tag Archives: Non-fiction

It’s certainly not a “Dance Epidemic,” baby.

17. The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic – Jonathan Rottenberg

One of the most important sentiments that I found in this book is that humans “are not wired for bliss.” Rottenberg makes the argument that it isn’t normal to constantly be happy; it’s actually an evolutionary detriment to be happy all the time. And we as a species would totally not survive if we were constantly happy. Somebody has to notice the cliff instead of just happily whistling as they walk right off it.

The Depths presents its discussion of mood science with equal helpings of scientific detail and patient anecdotes and it was immensely useful to me. I love that Rottenberg is discussing mood. It seems like a really obvious aspect of depression to discuss, but it hasn’t been that prevalent in my own readings. I’ve often felt like whatever I was experiencing wasn’t “enough” to be considered depression because I’m otherwise pretty functional. I’ve even been told I’m “high functioning” by a counseling professional. I have had those weird days where I can’t stop crying and I don’t know why, but I’ve never gotten to the stage where I literally could not get out of bed, not even in acute grief-based depressive periods. When you aren’t similar enough to some of the narratives or symptom descriptions, and you feel like you just don’t fit in anywhere in the spectrum…it’s a strange situation. In The Depths, I see more of myself (and someone else I know, that was weird, seeing someone else in a depression narrative more clearly than I saw myself) and the trajectories that I face that I know are depression and involve consistent low mood. I also saw a lot of my own coping mechanisms and of course that makes one feel a little better about the path they’re taking. It meant a lot to me to see these experiences and to be able to characterize these situations in more logical terms. I’m not the most dramatic person, I like practicality, and I enjoyed The Depths.

Ozy and Danger are not trapped in a prison of their own minds, I stuck them in a laundry basket. They coped by gnawing and whistling at me until their cages were clean. Use those rootless teeth! It’s evolutionarily advantageous and a laundry basket is no Château d’If.

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Cooper: “Well my symptoms suggest the onset of malaria, but I’ve never felt better in my life.”

54. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So – Mark Vonnegut

If you went to undergrad where I went to undergrad, you could be essentially excommunicated from the English department if you didn’t love Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The unwavering adoration for his literary genius seems like the kind of thing he wouldn’t have appreciated, but it was the status quo. I never got into any deadly pretentious conversations about Vonnegut, thankfully, and I do love his work, but I do not love most of the people who love his work enough to be important in the English department social scene. And I had no idea until I read this memoir by his son Mark that he couldn’t write for long periods of time (I…didn’t do the supplemental reading…sometimes…) because of depressive bouts. Woo!

One of the major things going for this memoir is that it doesn’t really offer any perfect solutions. There are a lot of mental illness-based memoirs where you read through certain situations and then suddenly the person writing is “fine” because they got married or are in a new relationship and I just can’t really stand those bits. They’re not that helpful. Mark Vonnegut’s strategy involves trying to find a balance that will help him avoid severe episodes and it’s not just “being married” or “working too much,” it’s obvious that many aspects go into recovering and trying to stay functional. He also demonstrates how easy it is for a psychotic break to happen to a successful person – see, you can be successful or creative or both or also a pediatrician or not and bad shit can still take you down, it’s not a personal failure to have mental illness. Vonnegut also makes sure to make it clear that being perfectly mentally well is not really a thing either, and I like that. It takes that whole “aspire to happiness” bullshit down; in my opinion, taking that down is half the battle for maintaining levels of functionality.

“Life is no way to treat an animal, not even a [guinea pig].” – Kurt Vonnegut, “I Love You, Madame Librarian” (inthesetimes.com/article/903)

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Act 4 Hope is a Demon Bitch – Hamlet 2

13. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression – Nell Casey, ed.

To an extent, shorter essays can help make the symptoms, the coping mechanisms, and the general feeling of depression much more comprehensible. When reading longer memoirs I’ve had a harder time finding pieces of what I experience and part of that is just the lack of differing viewpoints. A first person story is never going to have the thoughts of the person watching the one with depression, the friend or significant other trying to understand what they’re going through or helping them, and that’s not enough when trying to root through all the possible rabbit holes of information on the disease. It’s not enough to know the pain of one person, even if there are bits of that pain in all persons with depression. I’m very glad the Unholy Ghost collection was put together because of all of the viewpoints represented.

In the first essay, “A Delicious Placebo” by Virginia Heffernan, I found the description of her endlessly trying to get to the root of her depression incredibly jarring. It hadn’t occurred to me that finding more and more information about Why wouldn’t fix the situation or stop much of anything. I’m used to research, I’m used to figuring things out as a method for solving problems, I am not used to simply accepting that there is a problem to be coped with instead of fixed. Another essay I found incredibly useful was Meri Nana-Amah Danquah’s “Writing the Wrongs of Identity,” in which she mentions that “For every twelve joys, I had twenty-five sorrows… So much wasted time.” I can relate to that way more than I like.

Another aspect of depression that came up for me when reading these essays was class. There are certain classes of people who are not allowed to admit to themselves or say to others that they have depression. They don’t have money or time to deal with it the way someone of a different class would. They basically have to pretend that there’s nothing wrong with them and if that becomes impossible, they feel weak and are presumably seen by others of the same class as weak. And there is a lot of class warfare in this country that goes under the radar because people don’t even realize they’re being classist. I am sort of in between classes for a few reasons and I’ve found through dealing with my depression that those class barriers when you can’t “perform” are as solid as a steel door. If we want people to be able to get the help they really need, we as a country need to admit that healthcare is a right and that all illnesses are illnesses, not personal failings. No one asked to have their brain broken. No one.

Ozma displays extraordinary self-care and also owner-care skills by grooming on top of a pumpkin mid-photoshoot.

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“Surveillance does. I hate those.”

35. Shock Value – Jason Zinoman

Short essays on horror movies that gave me the impression that a lot of horror directors act like dicks. That’s actually not too much of a surprise. There’s an accepted attitude of dickishness that has been at work in creative enterprises for an extraordinarily long time, and if you take the lack of opportunities for women into account, it gets even dickier. And sometimes that dickishness works in the favor of the horror audience, sometimes it doesn’t. Too many cooks. Also, there are apparently several factual inaccuracies in the book and that is an important thing to consider if you are into serious film criticism. I’m not that serious, but I do like accuracy so I’m at an impasse. My favorite fact from the book was easily verifiable, so you know I’m trying not to lie to you.

Anyway, I learned many interesting little tidbits from Zinoman’s work and I really enjoyed the chapters on Alien and Texas Chainsaw Massacre in particular. One name that I didn’t know before reading this that I really should have is Dan O’Bannon – although leaving Dan out seems to have been kind of a thing back in the day. Apparently he and John Carpenter ended up frenemies and he worked on that failed Jodorowsky version of Dune and is responsible for the chestburster scene from Alien existing and H.R. Giger being involved in Alien. He is not specifically responsible for my very favorite fact from the book, the one I didn’t know and committed to memory because I knew I would need to repeat it as much as possible – one of the working titles of Alien was “Star Beast.” I cannot imagine how little gravitas Alien would have had if it stayed “Star Beast.” Holy shit that is a terrible title for a horror movie. Or a thriller. Or anything that is supposed to have dark suspense. It evokes the He-Man cartoon for me. The over-projected voices, the furry half-there clothing, the complete lack of suspense…that’s what Star Beast says to me.

I could've named Danger Crumples "Star Beast" and it would've made more sense than calling Alien "Star Beast."

I could’ve named Danger Crumples “Star Beast” and it would’ve made more sense than calling Alien “Star Beast.”

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Fitter. Happier. Whatever.

16. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

A common problem amongst depressed persons and persons with depressive tendencies is isolation. Some people are truly isolated and some are just mentally isolating themselves, both have valid situations, but this conceptually is one of the reasons that Reasons to Stay Alive was not particularly useful for me. When I was finished reading this I wanted to read a memoir of depression that didn’t end with the person happily married. Why is that the end? It doesn’t seem like it should really be the end, based on my recent experience listening to several married persons talking about how much they hate being around other people. I didn’t want to be insulting, but I did feel the urge to remind them that a quick way to get rid of all those people they know is to get divorced and move alone to a place they’ve never been. It’s entirely possible to get to a location where no one knows you and then you won’t have to worry about anyone asking how you are or being interested in your existence.

I have yet to find any books related to depression that don’t emphasize connection with other people as a “way out” and yet I’ve noticed that consistently finding connection in person is one of the things that is dwindling as technology addiction continues to manipulate peoples’ ability to communicate and muddles the line between the figurative desire for isolation (“Ugh, I hate being invited to do things.”/”Why isn’t anyone liking my latest instagram!?”) and what it really means. I’m glad that Matt Haig was able to maintain a meaningful connection throughout the episodes that he relates in Reasons to Stay Alive and that he found his reasons. And I know that in some cases, it doesn’t matter that someone has connections or support, they’re still not going to cope; but I still want to see the other side of that explored in print. I think that this era of technological disassociation and nutball governance requires new kinds of reasoning for hope. For the most part, mine’s finding the absurdity in small things. Mostly words and cavies.

 

Mortemer and Murderface in their dotage, napping. They are unable to like any of my posts to this very day.

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Fighting my internal grammar.

4. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened – Allie Brosh

Much has already been said about this book, much. “ALL THE THINGS” have already been said. I too enjoyed Allie Brosh’s blog once it was pointed out to me by my friend David and I very much enjoyed reading the book and of course, as I also have depression that gets pretty serious on occasion (like lately, whee! By the way, “SPRING BREAK!” is my new shorthand cry for help/asking that you please understand that I do not feel good and I would like assistance with potentially slight cheering so I know I should stick around) this book means a lot to me. I’ve found that one of the things I consistently heard about it and the blog posts is that it helps people who don’t have depression understand how depressed people feel – and that’s true. It’s not like one of those miracle “As Seen on TV” things, it really does do that. So if you want someone to understand your depression better, it is a good idea to read the depression parts (make sure you relate, it’s possible you won’t) and hand the book to the person you want to understand and ask them to read the part about the corn nibblet under the fridge. (Side note, why is Word trying to underline “nibblet” like I don’t know how to spell corn words? Suck it, Word. Oh, that’s a fragment, huh? Whatever.)

I would like to entrust all you gentle and not-so-gentle readers with my own recent version of the corn under the fridge story, it’s going to be less skillfully told and it involves a clown and Sean O’Neal. I am a writer and people have purchased my works, I’m sure you can tell based on how well I am telling the story I told you I was going to tell you. Moving on, I am regularly on my own, a solitary woman who does like Neil Diamond, so, it’s easy for me to stay in my depressive states when they suddenly smack me in the head and say, “Don’t enjoy anything. … Keep not enjoying anything. … No one’s coming to ask you if you’d like to enjoy anything ever again, so, holding pattern.” Sometimes though, sometimes, I can find something to break me back out on my own instead of having to rely entirely upon my guinea pigs. On more than one occasion, that something has been an article by Sean O’Neal of The A.V. Club, who apparently also has depression. Ugh, I’m still doing a terrible job getting to the part that matters… Anyway, one time in the recent past, I guess it was July now that I looked up the article , it was a dark and stormy night in the middle of the afternoon and I was looking for reasons to keep my chin up on the internet. Normally a terrible idea. I stumbled across a Newswire article about the new version of Stephen King’s It with a droll title. I started reading, unphased even by the prospect of a scary clown picture and just past multiple paragraphs of graciously deployed O’Neal snark and a terrifying clown illustration was this sentence: “Plump, kissable clown lips—oh so kissable.” and I could not stop laughing. I nearly fell off my couch and found the will to live again. Anti-climactic. Thank you, Sean. Thank you, Allie. Thank you for putting up with that, Gentle Reader. Goodbye, most of my ability to tell a decent story using words.

Merricat, poised for a dramatic escape. Peregrine, poised for a dramatic nap. Spring break! Fight or flight or..sleep.

Merricat, poised for a dramatic escape. Peregrine, poised for a dramatic nap. Spring break! Fight or flight or..sleep.

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“Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that?”

61. Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

In a world where many people are constantly being asked to complete the workload of three people without complaint and it seems clear that the only people who truly matter are people with money, it can be hard to find solid ground mentally.

I have seen many articles about persons in my age group that maintain the sentiment that there is something wrong with my generation because we’re not all thriving. We’re not buying what we’re supposed to. We’re not behaving as our predecessors behaved. We’re finding, at a higher rate than the past few previous generations, that we will not be making more in our lifetimes than our parents did and so what monetary class we were born into is likely to be the monetary class we die in, or we can always go lower, that’s an option too. We’re not quite “daring greatly” after being saddled with large amounts of debt in order to try greatly to find gainful, full time employment.

There are some examples of people who have done really well, who are anomalies amongst the BA-having, underemployed masses. And it’s fun to have those examples pointed out to you as though because you are smart, you should be just like those examples, when that’s very unlikely to happen for you. Paring down your goals to basically just survival feels embarrassing when you graduated from college with hope, got as Master’s degree with hope, went for a Ph.D. in your research field with hope. It’s humiliating to know that even though you made serious efforts to better yourself and pursue something you found truly worthwhile, the opportunities aren’t there after you graduated and you will be greeted with comments like “You should’ve gone into engineering,” when you have no aptitude for that and there are certainly unemployed STEM graduates feeling just as embarrassed for hoping as you are.

Reading Daring Greatly was an interesting experience for me because it came at a time when I thought I was on my way to, well, daring greatly. I’d shrugged off what I thought was the baggage I needed to shrug off, surely now was the time for some minimal self-help and then lots of happy times would follow instantly. I, of course, forgot that I’m a human with depression who works in public service full time. Oops. Even still, I appreciate what Dr. Brown has to say. I think there is a lot of validity to her views on vulnerability and I was happy she showed her work because I honestly have a lot of trouble reading material that could be considered “self help” without a nice level of bitter detached cynicism. One thing though, being courageously willing to put yourself out there in some scenarios can also lead to you becoming the non-vulnerability-interested’s scapegoat, so, it also pays to remember that not everyone can face the truth of some situations.

Duncan, daring blurrily to show her sweet little giraffe nose.

Duncan, daring blurrily to show her sweet little giraffe nose.

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[Judge Perd is not a judge.]

3. An Unquiet Mind – Kay Redfield Jamison

“A Memoir of Moods and Madness” and a stone cold classic for anyone interested in mental health, An Unquiet Mind is also an engaging read. Jamison’s experience with manic behavior was extremely interesting to me – her description of running rather endlessly around a parking lot during the process of earning her degree and using “we’re psych students” as the reason when questioned stood out in particular. It sort of suits the trope of going into psychiatry because one has psychological issues, but, that doesn’t have to be true. It’s very possible to ignore your own symptoms regardless of what you’re learning about or what level of professional development you’ve achieved. Brains are tricksy.

One thing to remember while reading An Unquiet Mind is that, especially if you don’t have anyone to catch you or clean up the giant mess you may have made while manic, this is definitely not an instructional manual for what to do if you are also experiencing manic or depressive episodes. It’s a memoir, and it has helpful examples, but it is not a self-help manual. You may recognize yourself, you may end up being a little envious of some of the things Jamison has gotten to do, you may not even care about getting to stay in England for long periods of time to write (I miss it). It always amuses me that I know the struggle to publish as an academic writer exists, but when you read material from people who have ended up with published work, when they discuss writing their proposals it’s just like a given that it’s going to happen- of course it did, but, somebody should write in one of their failed projects too, give the folks at home something to relate to on the other side because there’s a lot of failed academics out there who probably assumed their work was going to get published too… (Full disclosure, I am not an academic writer. I’ve just seen a lot of stressed out academics as a librarian and I’m guessing not all of them had a streamlined path to publish their research. And I’ve read or skimmed a crapload of extremely dry articles, so I wonder if the academic writers with stronger writing voices are getting shafted.)

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

Twiglet, a stone cold classic anchor pig.

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One thing I know will stay true for the next four years: Guinea pigs will still be cute.

63. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson

Last year ended for me under a dark cloud, this year started under one, and frankly I’ve been debating a lot about what to say or to post this year. I was tempted to just cover nothing but horror novels, and they might heavily feature in my posts, but I have a hard time with that because it isn’t as easy as I’d like it to be to find horror novels by female authors that appeal to me and I like to try to be balanced in my review coverage, especially when things don’t appear to be getting any easier for so many people. We are living in a time when people think feelings matter more than facts, being reactionary is somehow applauded, and being an elected official is losing its true focus – public service – when it comes to the highest office in the U.S. because of endless tweets and indignities. When your brain already tries to trick you into thinking nothing is going to get better, it just doesn’t help to watch someone light the match to make the world burn. It’s a lot to fight against both internally and externally.

However, I also appreciate a little escapism as much as the next person who can’t believe this is reality and that’s a little bit of what I’ve been providing content-wise here for several years. So, now I’ll let you gentle readers in on another little cloud that prevented me from posting – Miss Peregrine, queen to my herd, made it clear that she had ovarian cysts and had to be spayed; her surgery took place one week ago. I have never lost a pig to surgery and I know that’s unusual because I’ve had about sixteen pigs all together and several have had surgeries. Every time I’ve noticed and researched symptoms that would lead to surgery I’ve seen accounts of people who have lost their pigs that way. I also lost Danger Crumples last January, so January and anesthesia and I are not necessarily on non-terrified terms. Peregrine made it through, I’ve spent a lot of time hand feeding and staring at her and asking her to tell me how she feels to very little interpretable response, and she is doing well now.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn't need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

Her back feet remain okay. They didn’t need to shave her feathery little legs and for that I am grateful.

To bring in a book, as would be tradition, I read Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson two years ago, but it surely will be helpful to people now and in the dim future. One of Lawson’s methods for dealing with depression involves a bit of funny extremism in that she will not strive to be happy, she will strive to be “furiously happy.” My version of that is being able to say “I’m actually a depressed person! I’m not just sad! I sometimes have very little will to live! Spring break!” to people who mention they’re “depressed” when their brain is not currently trying to tell them the world would be better off without them. Not that I do say those exclamations out loud – I’d never use that many exclamation points unironically. For shame, spring break, for shame. Many people are actually just temporarily sad, which is fine, but it’s not the same and should never be equivocated with depression. There are a lot of ways to be temporarily depressed, but they’re not all in need of medication or therapy and it’s not nice to equate things that will definitely alleviate with true depressive symptoms because it does tend to make people who need more significant help feel ye old stigma. Nobody needs that. Everyone’s sadness counts. Everyone’s sadness will not alleviate and you should be happy if yours does. Furiously happy.

A lot of whimsical descriptions of taxidermy appear in Furiously Happy, as does a Republican husband. I wonder about the current status of both of these, and Lawson does have a blog. It’s very popular, which is still not enough to cure depression. And if whimsical taxidermy did, I’d probably still be scared of most of it.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That's what queens do.

Peregrine eating expensive fruit. That’s what queens do.

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Summer Ends

20. Touched with Fire – Kay Redfield Jamison
The title comes from a line in the Stephen Spender poem “I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great.” The subtitle of this book is “Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.” After finishing this book, I know two things: 1. I am not manic depressive. I have never been manic in the manner described in Touched with Fire; although perhaps in retrospect it will seem like I was when I finished so many creative things this year. And I haven’t even put all of them up in my store . 2. I relate more to Henry James than I like. I hated reading Washington Square, now I begrudgingly respect it. Actually, I still have that “ugh” feeling in my gut thinking about reading it, so it may mostly be a product of whatever mental state I was in at the time.

One of my favorite aspects of Touched with Fire is the list of artists, composers, and writers who were either manic depressive, had probable cyclothomia, or had major depression. It’s marked with who was hospitalized, who made a suicide attempt, and who committed suicide and it was super interesting seeing who did what. Like extremely late to the party gossip.

There was also a section of shorter biographical pieces dealing with the family histories of “madness” of famous artists and writers called “Genealogies of these high mortal miseries” after a phrase by Herman Melville that I truly love and that was the section that resonated with me the most. Writing and art are both solitary pursuits and when you consistently wonder if anyone is ever going to connect with your work or why you should care or if you should really be doing this work when you’re not that stable financially and it’s not really helping with that and you know that it’s all you’d like to pursue regardless but you can’t put aside everything you care about aesthetically just because people tell you should if you want to make money… well, that whole section just provided a lot of material for me to relate to. There are a lot of differences between the time period when Herman Melville was writing and now, but, those differences are easily bridged by the mental anguish a large swath of artists and writers feel on a regular basis.

Personally, I remain true to my artistic vision regardless of what anyone tells me; which doesn’t mean that I don’t listen to criticism. I just look for relevance in the criticism. Sometimes you’re doing something people don’t get, and the main thing to consider in that case is whether or not what you’re aiming for people to “get” is coming through. If it’s not, there’s work to do. If it is and they don’t like it, that’s a different story altogether. You’ll have to beat them to death with their own shoes. Or not. To be fair, I know that many people are not ready for guinea pig domination or ladies being clever in realms where men are used to being the only clever ones. I would like things to be different and therefore I create. And I had a shitload of catching up to do after my on and off dealings with depression over the past thirteen yearsish. I proved to myself that even if I’m very stressed and very depressed I can write and paint and when I can focus, I can write and paint A LOT. I did drop one giant amount of baggage between last year and this year, which enabled me to focus on myself and what I want and apparently that was to finish manuscripts, print, paint and paint and paint, print some more, and actually execute some of the ideas I’ve had for so long while still working full time in a job that can be really stressful in so…many…ways. And I can’t say that me doing all of this has been met entirely positively. Some people really want you to stay in the place they expect you to be. But it’s not up to them and I have also received a lot of very encouraging sentiments too and I do want to specifically thank everyone who came out to see me at the Wizard Worlds I participated in this year, it made it clear to me that my work is unique, and, Cute, – and a special additional public thank you to those that facilitated me actually being able to participate. Overall, my experience reading Touched with Fire worked like a door through the darkness I get overwhelmed by sometimes and reminded me that I’m not the only one like this, even if I’m on the major depression side and not the manic side. To borrow a phrase from Mr. Presley, I’m a bit more “Filled with fire” now than anything else – no touching-; although that fire has turned to a smoky haze quite often in the past. No phoenix metaphors, it was there the whole time.

I also have muse-pigs to honor and I'll never let them down. Danger Crumples, perpetual muse-pig, stepping on all my journals, would personally thank everyone who purchased images of him and expressed how adorable he is, if he was available.

I also have muse-pigs to honor and I’ll never let them down. Danger Crumples, perpetual muse-pig, stepping on all my journals, would personally thank everyone who purchased images of him and expressed how adorable he is, if he was available.

 

My little unexpected muse-pig Peregrine and the start of my Pigoween painting. She (and Merricat, their relationship was very Duke of New York-Snake Plissken) was very much the inspiration for my John Carpenter's Guinea Pigs series of paintings.

My little unexpected muse-pig Peregrine and the start of my Pigoween painting. She (and Merricat, their relationship was very Duke of New York-Snake Plissken) was very much the inspiration for my John Carpenter’s Guinea Pigs series of paintings.

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