Mental Health: Ho Ho HELP

It’s no secret that the holidays incite a wealth of emotions. While some people recall happy memories to the tune of Bing Crosby and anticipate this time of year, there are others who’ve lost someone in the last 12 months and this is their first holiday season without them. Some lost a loved one around this time of year, so the season’s warmth and glitter feels irrevocably tarnished every year after. Some have negative relationships with family that have led to stressful, heartbreaking reunions or estrangement. Some families suffer financial stress so crippling that the holidays become a huge stressor opposed to a joyful time. Some have a homeless family member and wonder where they are. Are they alone? Are they warm? Do they know what day it is? Do they care? Are they using?

Of course, I’m thinking of my brother today as my family celebrates Christmas. My brothers and I were fortunate to have magical Christmases growing up. My parents struggled to make ends meet but, somehow, Santa’s sack always mobbed deep. I remember the three of us all sleeping in one room, me on my twin, Alex on my trundle, and Duncan on the floor (poor Duncan), waking up too early, and then running out to rip into the carefully arranged spread. Our tired parents would snap photos and capture us on the camcorder.

that’s Keith in the corner (REM voice)

This was long after we’d grown out of Santa, by the way. (Alex and Duncan blew that for me in first grade.) We just liked hanging out and sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve. Any other day of the year, no. Hell no. Christmas Eve, yes. After all, no one knows you as well or as long as your siblings do so, when we’re honest with ourselves, they’re who you want to share the special, formative childhood/adolescent moments with.

stuntin’ on these dorks

One by one, we aged out of adolescence, and year by year, things became increasingly difficult around the holidays. A couple days before Christmas in 2007 Alex announced that he and his partner were having a baby, and that they were moving to Florida. That day. That was the first Christmas after he got his leg amputated and Duncan and I had dropped out of college and spent 54 days in the hospital by Alex’s side. That year had been like taking an emotional bat to the knees. They loaded up and drove away and, as we watched them turn out of the cul-de-sac, I supposed it couldn’t get much worse than that.

a brother’s love is a brother’s love

Five years later, we all visited Alex at his rehab in December, two months after he’d shot himself in the head. With his stitched up head, Alex cranked golfballs into the abyss of a big, dry field with Duncan. At the same visit, Alex told my mom in group therapy that he’s never forgiven her for his repeating first grade. (One of his favorite pastimes has always been vilifying our mom.) On his final day, there was a ceremony performed involving a symbolic bridge-crossing as a graduation from the rehab. He left, and soon went back to using. I supposed it couldn’t get much worse than that.

crackin’ himself up w that terrible stache

But then, there’s now.

The last “normal” memory I have of Alex is Christmas 2015, a chaotic span of a few days in which a dear aunt died, my mom and I were going for the others’ jugular, and Rick proposed to me. That Christmas “break” was inflammatory in its juxtapositions. It was also during this time Alex told me and Duncan in a moment of seriousness he’d been assaulted as a child. Usually he just deflected everything. He offered that information one night while riding in the front of Duncan’s Tahoe in his nice jeans, henley, and cologne. The next time I saw him he was living under the bridge.

A tightly wound pragmatist, I’ve long since ceased believing that things couldn’t be worse. I keep getting proved wrong, like emotional whiplash. My dang neck hurts. So, instead, my whole body remains tense as I steel myself for the worst news all day, every day. That also makes my neck hurt. Plus, I get bonus knots in my shoulders and back. I can’t win! Either way, my neck hurts. Somebody pass the Tito’s.

Alex was there when Rick proposed to me on that Christmas Eve four years ago, giving hugs and congratulations, but he never made it to the wedding. There’s a beautiful photo of me and Alex hugging in celebration of the proposal but I can’t find it anywhere. I’m gonna risk bordering on cringe and say it’s poetic that, at least until I can find those photos, that formative moment lives only in my brain and is fading. My brother and my husband, two people who’ve informed and continue to inform so much of who I am, were like ships passing in the night. They’ve spent maybe a few hours together total, but that pivotal day was part of that tiny overlap.

One thing important to note is that years when sad things happen around the holidays conjure a special appreciation for years that are uneventful (in a good way). High highs, low lows. My family’s got ’em. Maybe yours does, too. Or maybe it’s all good. Or all crap. The point is, life isn’t a Lexus ad. And if it is, I think that’s very neat, and would you give me a ride in your Lexus?

You may have noticed that, like my life, this post has gone off the rails a bit! So, I’ll wrap it up. Like a Christmas gift. It is 3:34am. Help.

Anyway, I wish you all a merry Christmas, a happy fourth night of Hanukkah, and happy holidays to all, whatever you may celebrate. If you’re going through something during this often chaotic season, I’m sending you warmth and a virtual hug. I wish I could give you a real hug. Take care of you.

I’ll leave you with a bonus photo of me in Christmas skants.

Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean on the cover of a magazine

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
Mental Health: Finding the Glow
Mental Health: Disoriented

Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support me on my Patreon. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 2

Last week I posted The Sad Clown: Part 1 on my Patreon, a piece of writing that some distillation of will likely be in my book. The content this week is particularly vulnerable with a brief mention of molestation and is also behind the small paywall ($1/month) to access. Every bit helps me continue putting time and effort into running Bummed Out Baker, and reader support is so, so cherished.

This week I continue the series with The Sad Clown: Part 2 with an excerpt here on Bummed Out Baker and the remaining portion on Patreon.

Thanks to meds and confidence that comes with age, by senior year I’d started to balance out what had been four years of a mental illness rollercoaster. On the first day of my volleyball try outs Alex, then 20, had stayed up late the night before in Paint on our computer making a caricature of me running on the track with a water bottle and CD player in hand. He glued a photo of my head on top of the shoulders and scribbled “good luck Belly!” at the top. He taped it to the bathroom mirror for me to find when I got up at 6am, and I kept it for years.

Despite ripping cigarettes constantly, Alex had accompanied me to the high school track to train that summer before try outs. He’d take a long drag and toss the butt to the side, only to smoke me in our mile run. He’d been the star of his select soccer team, but inexplicably quit at 13. He’d been the type to wear Fanatical Soccer shirts with “soccer is life. The rest is just details” emblazoned across his back. My mom thought he was molested by an associated adult, or something… [continue reading]

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: The Sad Clown: Part 1
Mental Health: Painting with Words
Mental Health: Mental Illness and Motherhood

Do you love Bummed Out Baker? Want to help keep it going? Support here. Your contribution means more to me than you’ll ever know!

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker by email, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website to find the form. Follow Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild, Facebook for mental health articles and discussion, and Twitter for sassy or informative tweets.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: Suicide Looming

TW: self harm, suicide

As I’ve said before, please know that before I get on Bummed Out Baker to write I always prioritize working with my family and psychiatrist to stabilize myself. I wouldn’t be on here if I hadn’t first confirmed my safety.

Last Wednesday I wrote an ode to a friend who recently died by suicide. While the following thoughts were further propelled by her devastating passing, I did not include these thoughts in last week’s piece because I wanted that to only be about her. She deserves that space, and so, so much more.

Something I do here on Bummed Out Baker is challenge mental health taboos. I crack open topics that are historically only talked about in hushed tones among one’s closest, if that. A lot of people don’t even like to acknowledge the same things I openly discuss, for one reason or another, but I’m trying to break a barrier to benefit us all. I want to remind readers of my purpose so my words aren’t confused with sensationalism or seeking attention.

I’m petrified suicide is going to sneak up on me and take me by surprise.

As I wrote about in Mourning the Living, in July I had the strongest ideation I’ve experienced since 2008. It led to paranoia-fueled psychosis and an emergency trip back home to New York. In August, my cousins’ cousin, who I knew in passing, died very young and unexpectedly. It completely wrecked my cousins, aunt, and uncle. The whole family was gutted. Then, in September I got news of my high school friend, K, a death by suicide.

I feel like, since this summer, suicide has been circling me, like something stalking its prey. First it was manufactured in my head. Then, death happened a few degrees away. Then, suicide happened closer to me. It’s coming closer and closer. Is a best friend next? Is a family member next? Am I next?

“I’m scared of suicide. I’m trying to understand the mentality of people who’ve passed, what exactly they were thinking that led them to their ultimate decisions. I want to know, because I want to be on guard for it,” I mused to my psychiatrist. My eyes darted across his book shelves while I tried to piece together my thoughts. “Because the only people who could identify that mentality would be, well, people who were successful in their attempt. Death is so final, you know?”

He nodded.

My psychiatrist’s brother died by suicide, the same way my friend K did. I’m empathic to a crippling degree, and was wary of triggering my own psychiatrist by working through my thoughts. He assured me that while of course sometimes it hurts, he actually thinks it helps him to muse on the subject, for us to spit out what feels like nonsensical feelings and then rearrange them into shapes of understanding.

I continued. “It’s not like we can ask the people who are gone. How do I know if I’m getting close to the edge? It’s not like there are built in alarm bells. I just can’t fathom a feeling worse than how I’ve felt, but apparently it exists. I just can’t fathom the mentality…”

“Imagine having your worst day, every day, for five years straight,” he offered.

I imagined living July 18, 2019 day after day for five years, and in that moment the great opacity of suicide began to quiver and dilute. In that moment, mercy and sadness bloomed bigger inside of me for those lost to suicide. The pain remains challenging to fathom, but the reasoning began to take shape.

I try to remain on high alert for myself and for my family, but, if we’re being honest here, sometimes that’s not enough.

In college I had an English professor who likened those who thought suicide was selfish to people who wanted someone else to walk miles every day in shoes that were tearing up their feet into a bloody, blistered mess, in order to make them feel better. The person labeling suicide as selfish is actually, perhaps, the selfish person. If someone you love is in pain that immense…

This is not provocation, but food for thought as we collectively work to understand something so horrific.

My thoughts have been fed, shuffled, and remolded as I continue to contemplate what taking your own life means. Trying to gird myself against self harm feels like choosing a random place to reinforce a protective fence when, actually, the threat is infiltrating from another area. The efforts can feel like a shot in the dark, and a feeling of hopelessness can manifest.

It’s shrouded in mystery, the whole thing.

I feel like most everyone has lost a loved one to suicide and, while this is a topic unfortunately many may relate to, it’s not one I can tie up in a bow on some idle internet post.

One of my favorite Bright Eyes songs is No Lies, Just Love, which recaps the beautiful arc of one person’s ideation, presumably that of Bright Eyes’ singer, Conor Oberst. If you prefer to listen, see video below. If you prefer to read the lyrics, which read like a prose poem, I’ve posted them below the video. If you prefer to do neither, that makes me laugh and I admire your candor. Just keep scrolling.

No Lies, Just Love

It was in the march of the winter I turned seventeen
That I bought those pills
I thought I would need
And I wrote a letter to my family
Said it’s not your fault
And you’ve been good to me
Just lately I’ve been feeling
Like I don’t belong
Like the ground’s not mine to walk upon
And I’ve heard that music

Echo through the house
Where my grandmother drank
By herself
And I sat watching a flower
As it was withering
I was embarrassed by its honesty
So I’d prefer to be remembered as a smiling face
Not this fucking wreck
That’s taken its place

So please forgive what I have done
No you can’t stay mad at the setting sun
‘Cause we all get tired, I mean eventually
There is nothing left to do but sleep

But spring came bearing sunlight
Those persuasive rays
So I gave myself a few more days
My salvation it came, quite suddenly
When Justin spoke very plainly
He said “Of course it’s your decision,

But just so you know,
If you decide to leave,
Soon I will follow

I wrote this for a baby
Who has yet to be born
My brother’s first child
I hope that womb’s not too warm
‘Cause it’s cold out here
And it’ll be quite a shock
To breathe this air
To discover loss
So I’d like to make some changes
Before you arrive
So when your new eyes meet mine
They won’t see no lies
Just love.
Just love.

I will be pure
No, no, I know I will be pure
Like snow, like gold
Like snow, like gold
Like snow, like snow
Like gold, like gold, like gold

I listened to this song over and over in 2008, indeed before my brother’s first child was born, to comfort myself during one of my darkest times. Maybe it’ll bring comfort to someone else now.

I wish I had more helpful words to offer, a step-by-step way to find peace with the irreconcilable. If you share my headspace or love someone who does, rest in the knowledge that you’re / they’re not alone.

Big, giant, internet bear hugs to anyone needing one today. Hugs are always on offer in person, too.

Thanks for being there for me. I’m here for you, too.

Related on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Dealing with Suicide
Living in Lyrics
Mental Health: Mourning the Living

Writing through PTSD helps me name my feelings and heal, and I encourage you to share Bummed Out Baker with anyone you think may find it helpful or relatable. I work hard to create community and conversation around what are often painful topics.

Subscribe at the bottom of Bummed Out Baker to get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Mental Health: The Aftermath of the Birthday Hullabaloo

If this is your first time visiting Bummed Out Baker, please read Mourning the Living and 31 Birthdays for context for this post.

After all of last week’s hullabaloo, I heard from my brother Alex today. It was a welcome surprise. He called me from a Chicken Express to wish me a belated happy birthday and to let me know that he had planned to call on my actual birthday, but that he’d lost his phone. He said that he still thought about me all day on my birthday.

I accidentally declined his call today, and as soon as I heard his voice come through on the voicemail I called the number back without listening to the rest. I knew I had a narrow window of time before he’d leave the restaurant and that I had to call straight away if I was to catch him. An employee answered and, when I asked for Alex, I heard him ask “Is Alex still here?” to someone else, signifying Alex’s familiar presence to the staff there, and then the phone muffled and I heard the employee say “sister” and “birthday” as if he were justifying Alex’s use of the phone to another employee.

“Is that ayewunsennighthreesisate?” Alex rattled off my phone number.

We talked for a bit, the details of which I’m purposely omitting. It’s strange to live this saga in real time.

A hallmark of this blog is transparency for the sake of normalizing these shitty, hurtful family situations, but I also don’t ever want to be exploitive or disrespectful to the time it takes to simply process happenings. Basically, I will share what I can when I feel it’s ready to be shared.

Last Thursday I slept until 4pm. I was shocked when I sat up in bed and saw the clock – I’ve never done that before. I’ve been sleeping 12-14 hours a night, sleeping through alarms, waking up physically exhausted, unable to get out of bed. These long sleeps result in restlessness the following night, and then the cycle starts again. I’ve always been a high maintenance sleeper, meaning I require more hours than the average bear to be at my best functionality, but this is something else. I’m gonna talk with my psychiatrist about it on Thursday because, as I’ve discussed before, my mood sunsets with the day. Staying up late and then sleeping strange hours has not been good for the ole psyche.

As always, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to sort out my issues without the fear of losing a job or without feeling like I’ve failed my family. I know not everyone struggling with mental illness-related sleeping problems has this luxury. As a privilege check I want to openly acknowledge the rarity of my specific situation.

Are these Wednesday posts helpful? I aim to be consistent when I post so that readers can always count on new content each week, but am not sure of reader preferences. Please let me know.

Written on Tuesday, September 17, 2019.

To subscribe to Bummed Out Baker and get my mental health musings and recipes emailed to you directly, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the website – Follow on Instagram for behind-the-scenes panic attacks and my begrudging, meat-eating husband captured in the wild – Follow on Facebook for mental health articles and discussion – Follow on Twitter for sassy tweets and a sprinkle of nonsense.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.