Came across an old journal. It covered from late 2002 up until it abruptly ends in June 2003. Weird, trying to remember that year. Maybe I was hospitalized, and that is why that journal ended like that. What was so remarkable was having a detailed look inside my head, and the events of those 7 months. Not only was life chaotic and stressful, my mood was all over the place. I think that was before being diagnosed bipolar. I was having very rapid mood shifts, day to day and sometimes hour by hour. My weight was the lowest it has ever been in my life. It all paints the picture of a nasty sort of mixed episode, with extreme anxiety, irritability and anger.

Very clear in the journal is my struggle with Virgil. We were not having a very good time of it back then. I was at times completely disconnected, other times angry and judgmental. I do actually vaguely remember a session in which we talked about what was “good enough”. Did I think she was good enough? What was good enough? It was a rough session. I was clearly challenging her, not in a good way. Without the connection, our work suffered.

In my mind, I remember little of this. As I went back through the entries I could recall some of the events, but not many. It is as if that period of my life just disappeared. I wish I had kept journals, but I rarely if ever wrote. Those 7 months were an anomaly. Yet, it gave me such a clear glimpse. I still struggle with many of the same issues. The family, the expectations, the farm and the stress. From that journal I could tell I was pulling away, my love for the horses and the riding was quickly being extinguished in an atmosphere of extreme stress. I wasn’t eating, or sleeping. If I was sleeping it was during the day, not at night. I was exhausted, and afraid of how out of control everything felt. We went thru multiple drugs, trying to stabilize it, but things were a mess.

I find myself a bit shaky, after reading such an intimate detailed description of that hell I was in. It was so clear how alone I felt, how detached from everyone including Virgil. I even saw a different therapist. In that one session it became crystal clear my bond with Virgil. I was not ready, nor willing to attempt to see anyone else. It seemed to refocus the work, and actually helped. There were a couple hellish sessions during that period that tried the relationship in my eyes. I was really considering moving on, but when given the opportunity, I realized it wasn’t what I wanted. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was because I was comfortable with Virgil, and was afraid to move outside that comfort zone, or if it was because I was completely attached. It was probably a combination of many things. I am glad I stuck it out, and found a way to make it work. There will always be good sessions, great sessions, bad sessions and awful sessions. It is part of the process. I think much of what was going on back then was a chemical shit storm going on in my brain. I’m not sure how much therapy can happen when there is no stability. I was barely getting by, let alone making changes and setting goals. I was trying, just couldn’t get my feet under me. I know Virgil was trying, it was clear in the entries. We just weren’t clicking, and spent time butting heads.

God I hope I don’t ever get back in that weird mixed place, of being anxious, irritable, racy and angry. I get anxious just thinking about it. I already think of these past ten years as being an epic experience, this journal just drove that home.




Sometimes you just can’t out run the past. Things come up in life that jolt me back to thinking about the past. Tonight I was just relaxing and had the TV on in the background. The show was reporting on the Mary Kennedy suicide last month. Apparently the autopsy report was released today, and they are reporting that she tried to stop herself. Sadly, she wasn’t able to and died hanging with her hands between the noose and her neck. The was a bit triggering, I can’t deny that. Times like this are hard, since I didn’t see it coming. It is different on the anniversary of when I tried to hang myself. I know it is coming and I can get my feet under me. Tonight is a bit different. I wrote earlier in this blog about how hard it is to kill yourself. Your head may be in the worst possible place, and the suffering unmeasurable, but the body is stubborn. It will try to save itself. Clearly this was the case with Kennedy. It makes me nauseous just thinking about it. Rather than let myself get buried by all the thoughts and memories I have to recenter myself and find distractions in this moment.

Our past is never far behind, it takes only an instant to unearth it. It is critical to have in place a plan for coping, and ways to stay focused and not get lost in it. I feel like there would have been times in the past where this type of trigger would have been quite difficult to deal with. Today, I am okay. I will note it, not bury it, and move on.

Not that many months ago I was watching the season finale of Homeland (Showtime). Claire Danes does an exceptional job of playing a bipolar CIA agent. In the last episode, she consents and undergoes ECT. Another bombshell for my brain. I have a lot of unresolved feelings about the ECT process and my feelings are all over the place. In that moment, it felt like my world tilted. I felt sick, I literally couldn’t catch my breath. It really rocked me, and it was worse because I wasn’t prepared. It took a few days but I gradually got over the intrusive thoughts, and the bad dreams. I took something away from that experience. Actually, a couple of things. One was that I needed a way to cope when things like that came up. The other was that, when experiences trigger me like that, it is important to note it. It means that there is something there that needs working on. I know with the Homeland trigger, it is the ECT. Eventually I’ll need to work through it.

Triggers are all around us. Each and every day. They can either trip us up, or they can strength us. It is okay to feel upset and to revisit the past. But it is a “visit”, not a stay. In brief visits it is manageable. I can cope with that.


Watched the new show Perception (TNT). The main character played by Eric McCormack, of Will & Grace fame, is clearly suffering from a psychiatric illness. As per normal hollywood fashion, the mentally ill shown on TV seem to fall into two distinct categories either criminals, or bright savant types. McCormack’s character, a college professor falls into the latter category. I tend to have very mixed feelings about shows like this. They may be interesting, and are well acted, but I always have this nagging irritation. There are brilliant mentally ill people, that is true, it is just the sugar coating that gets me. There is a flip side to the condition, that hollywood rarely captures. The general public has such skewed views of what living with mental illness is like. Not all schizophrenics write on walls, solve math problems effortlessly and have invisible friends. Shows like Perception, and movies like a Brilliant Mind only reinforce the everyday misconceptions about the illness. Most people are far more likely to come across a homeless man talking to himself, then to see a savant working out algorithms. There are so many shades of gray in between the two, that the average person never considers. They see the violent criminal on Law and Order, and think he’s nuts, and the next step in most people’s minds is the guy talking to himself must be dangerous. Sadly, that guy talking to himself is far more likely to hurt himself, than anyone else.

I think there needs to be a balance somewhere. But, there is no drama in the middle ground. Only when they show people trying to jump off buildings, or killing other people do shows get the ratings. I guess until you see it from the inside, it doesn’t even register. I just wish people could understand mental illness better. Hollywood doesn’t help.

I don’t know

I can’t tell you the countless times I have said “I don’t know” in therapy. Normally it is just a reflex, without even a thought. I just react. I think for years it has been a defense, a way to get around looking at or exploring something. Much of those things painful and difficult. But there are equally as many times I have responded this way when things were not, in fact, difficult. I think I am at a point in my life and my therapy that I don’t want that to be my answer. I’d like to try a different way. Explore why it is that I prefer to just deflect the question than genuinely reflect on it. I guess I’ve come to a point where I realize how valuable my time in session is. “I don’t know” is just a waste of that precious time. So, in thinking about it that way, I am making it my goal to shift my thinking and my responses in sessions. It’s okay to pause and reflect before reflexively answering. Not to say that everything needs to be over analyzed, sometimes your initial reaction is the most honest, and the closest to your heart. But more often than not, for me, what you get first isn’t clear.

Even I sometimes don’t understand my cognitions and emotions around a certain subject. This has been the case for much of my life. It has gotten easier now, that I have the vocabulary and the ability to put names on feelings and have gained the ability to explain my thoughts. It isn’t easy, sometimes it is just a jumble and I have to tease things apart before I understand. Often times I don’t understand at all, and get easily overwhelmed when that is the case. If I don’t understand it, or if the emotions are at a level that is hard to tolerate it is very easy for me to pull back into a very numb disconnected place. It was a safe haven for a number of reasons, though now I see it as problem. Especially if it becomes more than a transient episode.

I think last week was a great learning experience for me. It wasn’t the ideal situation that something surprisingly painful came up late in a session. And thought I really did cycle into an overwhelmed sad place, with another session, I was able to examine it and change. In the past I have found that overwhelming place as a spot to drop anchor and wallow. In my place of judgement and self-hatred I allow myself to be awash with the most terrible of emotions. It is something I have done over and over. Last week was a different response, one that even surprised me. Instead of dropping that anchor, I grabbed a paddle and headed for the nearest shore. In having that follow-up session to process, I was able to get my feet under me. I was able to move beyond the sadness and anger, into a place of much more neutral baseline emotions. In short, my world righted itself, with that work. The past couple days have been in a more positive place, though disconnected yesterday.

Session today was good, and felt more like putting a toe in the lake, rather than capsizing the boat. And that is okay with me. I don’t feel today was any less valuable than last week, just different. I don’t think ending up in the lake soaking wet every time is good. I think a lot of people have this fantasy of what therapy is supposed to be like. I think I was very much like that once. The lay down on a couch and unless you are using a box of tissue every session you just aren’t doing it right. It was one of the things that scared me about therapy. I don’t let my defenses down like that. In all my years of therapy I have maybe cried a handful of times. It is not something I do. I find these days, especially after the ECT that crying is something that happens more often. I’m getting used to that, and am starting to realize it is okay. Showing your emotions is okay, if you are in safe company. It has been a way for me to realize what it is that I am feeling sometimes, and understanding how meaningful certain things are. Rather than being numb and lost, I find it important to stop and think about what it is that is causing me to react tearfully. At times it is absolutely nothing, a commercial or a tv show. But other times, like last week in session, it was a clear indicator of how painful the realization of loneliness was to me. It showed me how deeply I felt that, and it was a good motivator to explore it in the next session. I wasn’t just angry, I was sad and I wasn’t happy with where things were at in my relationship. It not only motivated me to talk about it in treatment, it pushed me to open up to my partner and explore it with her.

I am so grateful to finally be in a place where I can feel and think and grow. I don’t have to keep running and hiding. It is okay to take a look at things and not hide behind “I don’t know”.  Moving forward now, I want to set aside the I don’t know, replace it with a little more introspection and a bit more openness. Trust my ability to navigate the lake, and know even if the boat capsizes, yes I can swim.


A water snake glided smoothly up the pool, twisting its periscope head from side to side; and it swam the length of the pool and came to the legs of a motionless heron that stood in the shallows. A silent head and beak lanced down and plucked it out by the head, and the beak swallowed the little snake while its tail waved frantically. Of Mice and Men

One of the blessing of living beside this large patch of wetlands is the visitors we see with regularity. One of my favorites are the herons. From the massive silver Great blue herons, to the smaller green herons, they never cease to give us pause with their beauty and their stillness. The patience and the determination with which they spend their day stalking prey. It is a sight to behold. They are one of those creatures, that no matter how bad things are, and no matter how lost I am, I find myself drawn to be still and watch, just as they do. To focus and to be patient. In a world where everything is going so very fast, it is a nice change. Our herons are usually here daily. I find myself looking for them in the reeds. I never just walk past and rush on. Every time I stop. Remarkable how a single sentient being can create that effect. I wonder what it is that I see in them. Is it their beauty? or their size? or is it their ability to be so still for so long? Am I longing for that ability to create that stillness in my mind? Do I envy the ease with which they appear to stand over the pond?

I am truly fortunate to have this patch of wild land where these animals come. Whether it be the graceful does in their ruddy summer coats with fawns tagging along, or the blue birds that line the fences in the early evening, we are surrounded by nature. I think the heron really symbolizes that. There is utter peace here, if only I can allow myself to settle and see it. I need more heron moments, and less chaos. Maybe someday I will find my shallow pond and the stillness of that great blue heron.


“The root [of mindfulness] is experiencing the itch as well as the urge to scratch, and then not acting it out.”
Pema Chödrön


As I sit here contemplating my day, I realize how it was far from mindful. I went about my tasks and existed in this time and place, but did not experience it. I’m not sure where my head was at. I realize that something must be bothering me, as I usually am more in touch with everything than I was today. For me it may take a couple of days to figure out what the disconnect is about, but eventually I will figure it out. There was a point in my life where a day like today would worry me. I’d think, maybe a shift in mood, or that something was the matter. These days I know that some days I am just not as present, that I need the space and room to get away. There is no need to panic or worry, just observe it and see what the next day brings. Normally I will come back into a place of mindfulness and move on. If I find myself still disconnected in a week, then I know it may be a problem. But for now, I just observe it, and make note of how this day was. Tomorrow is a new day. Another day to focus my mind, and again find the wonder and the magic of this place.


Watching the 20/20 special on heaven. Really interesting to watch. Guess I have been in this weird place since the family dinner a few days ago. Been lost in though about what may be out there, beyond us. Does believing in the afterlife give us a destination? (as suggested on the show) I think it gives us hope, and a sense of life as being a journey toward something more. I have never been religious, grew up in a jewish family complete with pork and christmas trees, yeah I know, don’t even ask. There have been points in my life that I find myself searching for something beyond myself. Something larger than all of us. A way to try and make sense of my life and all that has happened. Often times I just grow frustrated and angry. If there is a god, how could he allow my life to be such a disaster. I see no purpose in suffering, what godly reason is there for that. I think without the framework of a religious upbringing questions like this easily lead me astray. I don’t allow myself to move beyond my anger and my judgement. I do not know that in living a life without religion will I find heaven. If I do not except a god, does that change the course of my afterlife. I struggle with that question. I don’t have an answer.

I find in my day to day existing, I use the skills of mindfullness to try and calm my mind. I can’t imagine trying to live this life without them. In the practice of mindfulness I have read much about Buddhism. It is hard not to, as most mindful practices have their root in Buddhist faith. One of the most remarkable moments in this 20/20 special was Barbra Walters interview with the Dalai Lama. There is a joy, and an infectiousness about this wonderful man and his giggle. For me personally, I find it easier to believe in the teachings of Buddhism, as opposed to Judaism or Christianity. But that is just me. I will continue to try and center myself by staying as present in this life as possible. By seeing the beauty and the wonder in everything around me. It is a battle to see this, especially when things are rough. It is hard even when things are normal and hectic. It is so easy to lose sight of everything. Days blur into days, months into years. Losing sight of the glory and the wonder is easy to do. Mindfulness allows the mind to be still long enough to see it again. The depth of peace and quiet is profound, but for me it is fleeting. The distractions of the world, and the stresses constantly intrude. The more I try to center myself the more these thoughts find there way in. It is in those moments that I realize I am trying too hard. Mindfulness isn’t achieved through force. It is with acceptance that it comes and settles over you. I find it comes when I am least expecting it. In a pause between breaths, or in catching a glimpse of a bluebird sitting on the fence. In the late evening sky as the sun slants low over the hills and casts everything in a golden glow. It is when I stop seeing these things that I know I have truly lost touch. I know I am in trouble.

I do think there is a place beyond us, whether it is heaven or not, I don’t know. I’m not sure I can stomach the thought of there being a hell. It is far too easy for me to think of all the mistakes I’ve made and worry that is where I’ll end up. So I try not to imagine a place of judgement, and suffering. I have enough of that in the here and now. I can only allow myself to hope that there is a place of love, and joy. A place where suffering doesn’t exist. If I live my life trying to get better, and treat those around me with respect and kindness maybe I will see this place.

“One great question underlies our experience, whether we think about
it or not: what is the purpose of life?  From the moment of birth
every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.
Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affects this.
>From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.
Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the
greatest degree of happiness.” Dalai Lama

What could have been

I was really struck today, while working on a horse, what path my life could have taken. Even as a little kid, all I wanted was to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a vet. I used to go to work with him and sit at the end of the exam table while he went about his day. At about 5 I would watch him do spay/neuters. I loved it. Everything about the animals, and the medicine. But my life took a different path.

Today we had a horse come in from the field with a massive swelling, like half a cantaloupe. Impressive, and really obviously an abscess. She wasn’t lame, didn’t have a temp. All the things that could have been really bad were easy to rule out. The vet happened to be out for another horse and let me do the whole procedure, of blocking and draining this abscess. I had an awesome time. I have never used a scalpel blade to cut into another living thing. Never mind sticking ones entire finger into a horse to break down the muscle between the abscess and the opening. I did it all, and was really struck by how it fit. How I realized in that moment that it could have been my work. I would have been a good vet, that I do know. But it was a road I didn’t go down for many different reasons.

I am happy I was able to experience what I did today, and the thrill was beyond measure. The horse is doing well, and is, I’m sure happy not to have this abscess causing it pain. I am left to wonder just what might have been.

On the Couch II

Continuing on with the same line of thinking. Over the years I have seen many different therapists. Each bring their own style and orientation to the room. I think all too often, they do more harm than good. Especially when you have survived abuse. It is all too easy to feel pushed, and cornered. For me I know, early on in the treatment process, I had no idea what therapy was about. Or even what made a therapist good or bad. Even the best of therapists make mistakes. But unless there is a strong relationship, these mistakes can be catastrophic. Unfortunately some of the people I saw, back when I was in college, made me leery of the process. Whether it was from silence, and therefore I pulled back and felt unsafe, or if it was feeling very pushed and I then felt even more unsafe. But I think the major one was a woman I learned to trust. I did let her in. We talked and I told her some of the very worst of my history. I laid it out there, and I started to realize how very fucked up it all was. I think she, like too many therapists, view abuse as something to attack in treatment. So often, it is the focus, at the cost of everything else. We are so much more than our abuse. This particular therapist felt that working on some family therapy would benefit me. What I didn’t realize is that this would entail some epic sessions. Not a quick 45 min and set it aside. Nope, these were hours. Any sense of control I had quickly left the building. I was really rocked, right to my core. I didn’t know why I was so overwhelmed. I had no words to put to the emotions. In the course of that week, I went from barely functioning to not functioning. That therapist had a tremendous amount of power, and in that case it was destructive.

I think many of us are somewhat conditioned to believe that therapists are good, and that they are professionals so therefore we should comply. I can’t begin to tell how far from the truth that is. For every good therapist out there, there are hundreds more that are poor. Sadly, the consumer suffers. Most people don’t go into therapy with any idea what a good therapy relationship is, nor what it should feel like. I know I did not. I knew enough to trust my gut, and leave a number of them. It isn’t always about sitting and talking and dragging crap up from the past. I’m not saying that sessions can’t be tough, they can be very tough. But I am saying that in many cases, therapists set to digging without ever developing a bond with the client. It is difficult, because the time limitations. It is only recently, that I have really begun to understand how short that 50 min is. But, it is our 50 minutes. If you chose to talk about the weather because that is all you are capable of that week, it is what it is. Not ever session needs to be on such a deep and profound level. I guess what I am trying to get at is there are ways to be in treatment and be safe, and there are ways to be unsafe. Much of that stems from the work, and the skill of the therapist. If we are on someone’s couch, it usually means we have issues to work on. Most people don’t feel driven to go, unless something is bothering them. When I wrote about the relationships I have with Beatrice and Virgil I wanted to really highlight why it is that they work. It is the kindness and commitment and respect that they show me, each and every session. It is unwavering, to my eyes. Believe me, I’m sure they have had moments where I have pushed them to the edge, yet they never have once taken that out on me. Therapists are people, and they get stressed just like the rest of us. It is the skilled ones that don’t let that negatively affect the work.

I don’t quite know how to explain what makes it good, or bad. I think each person needs different things. Some need a very warm and motherly figure, while others do not. Initially in my treatment, after release from the hospital I needed very strong boundaries. I was all over the place, and very much looking to push things in all the wrong directions. I’m not sure how Virgil kept such solid boundaries, yet remained available in a way that I didn’t feel marginalized. I was angry, don’t get me wrong. For every rule and boundary my anger grew. But in time I learned that this was part of how our relationship was structured. One of the main things that has always helped me connect was some of the disclosure on her part. I know many therapists do not disclose much if anything about themselves. But, with Virgil, it would become part of the treatment in such a way that it made my existence not feel so distant and apart. It humanized everything just enough, so that I could wrap my head around something.

The sexual assault that happened about 6 months into our treatment shifted the course of things in a positive way. By reaching out and having her be there, I learned she was there 100%. Whether it be on the phone at 2 in the morning, or at the trial that followed. That meant so much to me, well beyond what I could really understand back then. But in my heart I knew, and it allowed me to trust her more. In all these years of treatment, she has stayed available. As available as I need her to be. If all is fine, that isn’t much. If it is really bad, it is more. I like that it can change like that. I’m not suggesting that such serious life events need to occur in order for good therapy to happen. I’m just saying, that for me, it helped shaped the course of my therapy.

I know that in my work, neither of them will leave me unstable or unable to cope. They make sure that the work we do varies depending on how strong I am. They will not do what that therapist from long ago did. Nobody will cut me off at the knees and expect me to run. I trust that. Yes, it has taken years to get here. As I wrote earlier, I am confident in moving forward and working on some of the very hard stuff now. It has taken a long time. I think I will be okay because I have such strong supports.

On the couch

Somewhere in the past few sessions it became quite clear to me that despite the fact that I internalized the label and view myself as a “patient”, I do not feel like a patient in my treatment with Virgil and Beatrice. I cannot think of one time I felt any less, or small in their presence. I have been treated with respect and with kindness. That hasn’t always been the case, and I think it is easy in the mental health system to be mistreated. It isn’t even intentional in many cases, just an effect from the process. There is a point in which you become a name, and a label, not much beyond. I am so very blessed to have two exceptional people in my life that I travel along this road with. I think Virgil is right, there is a sense of fearlessness. I never sense fear in either of them. I never feel they are going to pull up stakes and run for the hills. No matter how bad it gets. In fact, the worse it is, the more committed and focused they seem to be. I have never been abandoned by either. I know now that my struggles and behaviors have shaped them, as well as me. This is a two-way street. I think after all the years of crap, the fates have smiled down on me when I found these two. For all my doubts and worries, they are there to assure me we can get through anything.

I cannot say enough how important it is to be respected. My experience in treatment and therapy is shaped by this. I do not think I could continue in therapy if I didn’t feel this respect. I am heard. I am an individual. That is very different from how I have spent much of my life, especially in relation to my family. I am very clearly the patient. The family sees me that way. I understand now just how important this therapeutic process has been for me. To have a place of safety and respect where I could explore my experience without judgement. I have been able to grow, change and mature. I have been, at times, headstrong and willful. Testing and pushing. Just a kid, looking for someone to lash out at. I have aimed that anger at Virgil, on numerous occasions. However, I learned very early on in my treatment with her that she was just as tough as I am. She never let me go too far.

I think it is a true sign of how close the relationships are that I have allowed myself to be taken care of. There have been many a time I have sat on Virgil’s couch and allowed her to make decisions. Usually when things have completely come apart. But I trusted her, and allowed her to do what was in my best interest. Even if that meant returning to the hospital. and believe me, I often did not want to go. But because we have developed this relationship of trust and respect, I listened. It is in those moments of complete and utter emotional exhaustion that she stood up when I couldn’t. Many times that kept me safe.

I feel comfortable and hopeful in this new chapter of my life. I am prepared to do the work and to continue to grow. I don’t think I have ever been close to where I am right now. I’m not really sure exactly why, but I’ll take it. I know I can do the work, no matter what comes up. I trust in these two relationships, and in their strength to guide me. We can get there, with time and with effort.