Tag Archives: mental-health

Ladies Lazarus by Piper J. Daniels

I was late in ordering Ladies Lazarus by Piper J. Daniels, so I started reading quickly when it arrived. Then, I slowed way down because it was so good, and I wanted it to last. The book is that rare blend of beautiful language, poetry, insight, feeling, and social commentary. Blending the latter with the former requires a talent that few possess. Daniels does it deftly throughout the book.

ladies-lazarus-cover-web

Ladies Lazarus by Piper J. Daniels

Her explanation, experience, and insights into mental illness are unprecedented, and as I read, I thought frequently that this book should be required reading in the academic fields that deal with mental health. Her writing provides insights essential (and seemingly currently lacking) to the field.

The book adds feminist insights to the larger conversation. Her insights on being a woman, coping with assault, shaping one’s entire being around the threat and reality of violence are, again, unprecedented. Acute, accurate, informative.

The book is poetic, emotional, and beautiful. I especially found her depiction of love to be beautiful and true. Society forces an awareness, obsession even, with male to female violence from a young age, and, perhaps as a consequence, the author falls in love with the women who have been harmed, who have been murdered, and who have been taken their own lives. As a result, the reader feels the author’s love for all women–a love that functions authentically, but also as a life philosophy, a social commitment.

The reader does not get a tidy ending. The writer leaves Washington State for the dry, hot climes of Arizona. The last two chapters return more to love and poetry. The last two chapters seem like the next book. But instead, as a reader, I wanted a reconciliation with the dead souls who the reader has been holding in her heart. I also want the next book. I hope she’s doing us all a favor and writing it now.

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brains

For most of my life I’ve felt relatively happy and well-adjusted—this despite a few run of the mill traumas and dysfunctions. Some of my beloved friends and close relatives, some with genius IQs and crazy good artistic abilities, have not always faired so well mentally. They struggle with addiction and various mental illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, a bit too much paranoia, et al. They are all wonderful and funny and great to be around and to talk to, except when they are not. They have brains they all contend with daily. I love them. They are wonderful people. The best people. Though, being around them, I’ve often wondered how I got so lucky to feel pretty good most of the time. Well, here’s the answer: I don’t.

This is a surprise to me because it’s a fairly recent discovery.  I’ve had a few dark periods in my adult life, but they were situational and could be measured in months. I was always able to improve with simple things like exercise and time. What I’m realizing, though, is that my sanity may have been a direct result of keeping my brain very very very busy. Basically, I’ve noticed that if I’m not keeping busy by practicing yoga, falling in love, playing the piano, or earning a PhD, my brain gets bored and tries to take itself to crazy town.

When I completed my PhD, I thought I was done with school forever. Now, I’m not so sure. After ten years of school, I wanted to develop other aspects of myself besides just my intellect. These days I have to practice piano, I practice yoga, I make art, and I volunteer with work that (sometimes) seems meaningful for my mental health. (Though several times in the past year I’ve been tempted to stop the volunteer thing.) Meaninglessness in everything is one of the tricks my brain plays on me, and so finding meaning in life is crucial to my happiness. Basically, I have to work at keeping this brain of mine happy. I love my brain, but I’m learning I have to give it what it needs or else it will punish me.

my (new to me) piano

my (new to me) piano

hard times, yoga, and exercise

Last year I practiced Bikram yoga almost every day, and I was really, really happy. I was also in the first months of “round two” with my boyfriend. The year was fairly low-key, and I focused most of my energy on developing a routine, spending time with my guy, and figuring out my new, first full-time teaching position. It was a good year. I remember it fondly.

In the last few months, I’ve written several times (here and here) about some general malaise I’ve been dealing with, followed by a delightfully productive “manic” phase. I’m not sure where I’m at now–a little moody, happy, productive, impatient–and I am starting to wonder just how directly some of my upheaval relates to the fact that I’m no longer practicing Bikram yoga on a daily basis.

For exercise, I now teach yoga twice a week, run a mile or two in the park, and practice Bikram yoga every other week or so. I’m starting to wonder if Bikram is what made me so happy/healthy last year. While I’m still exercising, I’m definitely not getting that nice, hot sweat from Bikram and the high that comes afterwards.

The thing is, Bikram yoga is really time intensive. It takes at least two hours. *At least.* If you count all of the necessary extra showering and laundry, it’s even more. It is also expensive. For those reasons, I don’t want to practice Bikram with the same intensity of last year. I want to have time for other things this year (in addition to moderate exercise), but I’m also starting to wonder if the super-happy-high from Bikram is worth the time and money that it costs.

september

Where was I? Oh yeah, m-a-n-i-c! I keep saying that in casual conversation, and it takes people aback. I can’t imagine how secretive it must feel to have actual mental illness or depression. People know how to react to physical ailments, but mental ones are a whole other story.

Maybe I shouldn’t use the word manic, but how else should I describe this crazy/hyper increase in creativity and energy. It’s wonderful! I’m accomplishing all of the things. I have energy. Yes, staying focused is a little challenging, but I’ve been newly decisive in ways that I haven’t been able to muster in, dare I say?, years. That means buying all of things and making all of the plans.

Throughout the summer, I considered buying my first home. It’s hard to know what to do, but now, I’m so glad I don’t have the responsibility of a home and am not chained to a mortgage. Instead, I’m going to enjoy this year by spend my money traveling, buying a new car, and skiing.

I’m also trying to squeeze every drop of summer out of September. I spent last weekend in a hospital doing doula work. Hopefully I’ll have a few good weekends of summer left. I still want to be in the water, but the leaves are turning on the mountain, and soon I’ll need to shift to winter.