across deep blue ocean swells
lover’s passion-clenched eyelids
soon sleep descending
soon sleep descending
life demands its sacrifice
death a bitter toll
death a bitter toll
human souls ascend the scale
stars suddenly aglow
stars sudden aglow
midnight meadows bathed in light
winds begin to blow
winds begin to blow
softly swaying, children dance
to music unheard
to music unheard
new life from true love formed
the world rejoices
the world rejoices
eagles screech their summer songs
eyes glancing upward
eyes glancing upward
a silent voice offers prayer
clouds begin to weep
clouds begin to weep
lashing rains, the voice of God
In the quiet spaces of my mind
there is a softly sleeping figure
with the relaxed repose of an angel.
I kiss her cheek and lightly stroke her autumn hair
with a hope that she might slightly stir,
becoming minutely aware of my presence,
if only for an instant.
Heavenly sojourner, you are there in my dreams
laughing with me under the wild canopy of my fluctuating soul;
in between moments of consciousness
in between exhalations and eye-blinks.
I am caressed and buttressed
by the elegant strength of your tender spirit.
You are freedom after centuries of imprisonment.
You are a heavy rain after a cruel drought.
You bring the stars closer to my eyes.
You pull colorful spiral galaxies toward us
with your heart-bending gravity.
We explode like kaleidoscopic fireworks,
splattering a longstanding dream
across the churning night sky.
Refilling our palette of sensuality
with shattered rainbows.
We bend down to pick up the myriad jagged pieces,
our heartbeats bouncing again and again
to the hypnotic rhythm of evening descending;
our hands touching, our eyes devouring .
Our minds uniting, and our bodies shaking
as fiery desires are sporadically quenched
and rekindled, slowly dying down to embers
of nirvana whose warm afterglow
is eventually extinguished by the cool,
refreshing stream of our parallel thoughts
drifting weightlessly towards the sandy shores of eternity.
It is said that one of the prerequisites of creativity is to have had experienced childhood trauma. Read the works of any great Irish writer (Frank McCourt, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce) and you will clearly see that youthful pain and suffering fueled much of their creative genius. And while I do not claim to be remotely on par with these incredible storytellers, to read any of my writing is to know that childhood trauma played a significant role in the determination of my creative voice.
To be honest, my youth unfolded like the discarded first draft of a story that could have been so much better. There simply weren’t enough stretches of peace or joy in it to attend to the edits necessary to have made it bearable. It isn’t that I am filled with regret for all of the things that might have been. It’s more that I am blanketed in a sadness for the sheer waste of it all.
Intuitively, I know that my broken juvenile years can’t be the full measure of why I write the way I write. Something deeper, more sinister, is afoot. Something bigger and more malevolent presses my pen to the paper.
For me, the value of nothing out of nothing comes something. The nothing started even earlier than the moment when I began to write. I have no doubt that what little creativity I possess is the function of some neurological quirk; that I have just enough of psychosis or depression to fuel an interesting poem here, an article there. That creativity (if that’s even the word for it) is not, in any circumstance, the product of “talent” or creative muse, but rather arises more as a testament to a damaged mind that perceives the events of life from a slightly more skewed or twisted perspective.
Perhaps it was the combination of the two: an injured adolescence and a form of brain damage. When I was four years old, I fell down the stairwell of the two story duplex my family lived in while my father was stationed in the Navy. I was rushed to the hospital because the fall had resulted in a crushing blow to the frontal temporal region of my skull. Surely, my brain was impacted, if not forever altered because of this accident. Combine that blow with the endless physical and sexual trauma that rejoined the family the day my father retired from service, and then, perhaps I can begin to put my finger upon my “creativity.”
Ask yourself…what can be more creative than scrambling daily throughout your entire childhood to find a place to survive. Out of necessity, the damaged mind constructs a false reality in which to take shelter. It is this false reality that takes form in the expressive arts.
I may never know what truly fuels my creative process. The sands of time that fill the hourglass of my life have nearly run out. While I am by no means an old man, I am, nonetheless, a tired man and my time upon this tortured plane of existence called “life” can now be measured in moments rather than years. I will leave behind me no great works of art, no lasting legacy of poetic genius. Even the memory of me will fade before the ink is dry on my final written word.
Mine has been a lonely walk: solitude whispers a silent story. And as we all know, life and living require interaction. But I was born alone, have lived alone, and will undoubtedly die…alone. And that doesn’t require creativity.
I had a dream last night where I watched the moon swallowing the stars,
greedily ingesting the sparkling tapestry of the heavens, asserting a vain primacy,
ever becoming brighter and brighter until I could no longer look directly at it.
Silver clouds, in whispered wisps, shrouded this celestial midnight consumption
shape-shifting across the evening sky, spitting regretful droplets of sorrowful rain.
Abruptly I awoke, bathed in cold light, my face caressed by a bitter breeze
wafting through a carelessly open window, and there, on the windowsill,
quietly sat a majestic seagull.
His waterproof coat of feathers was luxurious. His animal spirit was fierce and strong.
The red dot, like resilient drop of blood, accented a brilliant yellow downward-curved beak
as his stony black eye fixed upon me with knowledgeable contempt and exacting judgment,suggesting that in my waking I had somehow slandered the significance of this extraordinary night.
One by one, molting black-tipped feathers fell like accusations upon my pace-worn wooden floor until the whole of it was carpeted and this noble scavenger fell naked backward into the nocturnal void squawking in his naked, downward death-spiral…
“I am Life! I am Death” …words whispered like dank petrichor with dawn’s rising light.
What was I to make of this? Was I awake, or was this my awakening?
I could not the discern what was real and what was not, but in that way of knowing that cleaves not to understanding, I knew.
I knew this was my last night.
I watched as meandering rivulets of rain painted my window like random-flowing veins,
transparent rivers of pain creating artfully disturbing and distorting prisms through which the lunar light filtered into my bedchamber swaddling me in hazy sheets of bewilderment and appalling fear.
I, too, was being swallowed into the voracious belly of the moon. My final breaths, like puffs of steam, floated before my sleep-filled eyes and like the stars ingested before me, my light faded into nothingness.
And the moon, she smiled.
With every breath, inhale love and peace
Though the acrid smoke of terror sears the lungs
Exhale to glory and the assurance of hope
Do not allow the feeble tantrums of hate
To rob you of the joyous songs of faith and courage
Breathe in the evil and the immoral acts of mortals
Exhale the beauty of poets, dancers, and artists all
For they are God’s voice lifting through the darkness
Breathe in light; exhale dreams of a better world.
Exhale fear and misunderstanding; inhale trust
In the limitless imaginations of peacemakers
Do not whisper your prayers, rather shout loudly
So that the force of your pleas peel back dark clouds
And the beauty of your supplications outshine the sun
Hold your breath for a moment, and taste the kiss of life
And with lungs full of God’ compassion and tenderness
Exhale your loss and your grief and your sorrows
Do not allow suffering today to rob you of your breath
But in exquisite protest, breathe more deeply yet
Let your inhalations be incantations to soothe the living
And your exhalations be the exaltation for the dead
Do more than just survive…continue to breathe, deeply
For in every breath there is possibility and promise
In every breath lies healing and forgiveness and peace
Artwork Courtesy of DeviantArt©2016
“At the end, I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards. “
Autuor, Anne Lamott
The years have swept my face
carving time in deep crevices
thinning my skin with relentless cold
Like a child pushing milk teeth
my smile is likewise gapped
though my innocence lays broken
like this child’s backyard toys
These days, I pretend I am busy
that I’m working, that I’m writing
but I’m not doing anything
I just didn’t want to appear artificial
in these my final fading days
I have known glorious moments of fame
where my words stoked the hearts of man
and my poems filled a woman’s tender soul
but all these thing mean very little to me
I am into the finality of the here and now
the past is such a strange thing for me
Oh, loving her was indeed an incredible journey
a wonderful everlasting treasure hunt
I found emeralds in her soft green eyes
and sparkling diamonds in her radiant smile
golden coins tinkling in her laughter
her kiss as soft and pure as harvest wine
but like all treasure, she lies buried now
while I am castaway upon these lonely shores
My life is a dead space, expired time
if you would describe it in colors, a grayness
The changing seasons no longer cut
by snow and rain and sun and falling leaves
but rather, like clouds pushing darkly
against one another in a stormy sky
my days blend beneath a blotted sun
I know the number of my evenings are few
and my remaining mornings fewer by one
but I am tired, and I am alone
…and I am ready
The royal robes of winter’s night
tightly bind me in its blue-black grip
The shadow of majestic purple mountains
kneel upon the fields of frozen graves
ancient tombstones, like granite faces
hemming the barren valley floors
An amber moon spills its bitter glow
through naked branches like brittle
fingers clutching a button-less cloak
Icy winds whip swirls of fog across
lifeless lakes, and on broken wings
doves fall from a voiceless sky
In a distant village, old ladies warble lullabies
to their dying husbands; soft verse cutting
like jagged blades through thick cherry smoke
bleeding from pipes clenched in broken teeth.
The children, with bellies as round as their joyless
eyes feed upon fermented peaches and dance
on knitted bones, playing hide but please, don’t seek
for we are tired, for we are weak
I have walked a lifetime to return
to this is, my kingdom, stretching as far as the blind
eye can see. Built upon the shifting sands of hope lost
This, both kingdom and the shoveled grave
My head crowned in a spray of dying stars;
my spirit drowned in muted prayer;
my hobbled feet cut upon jagged stones.
This is my destiny, my hell, my home.
She whispered softly in my ear
such tender words to ease my pain;
soothing verse to calm my fears.
Though, she was gone when morning came,
The essence of her love remains!
Here even in my darkest hour
soft echoes of her song sustains,
which fills me with a lasting power.
Where has she gone? my life unwinds!
If I must die, I’m so resigned,
for dying unites and gently binds
my heart to hers, two souls entwined.
She filled me with a lasting breath;
Once more within my arms I hold
the height of love, its width, its breadth,
spanning dreams that now unfold
So cast me down into death’s abyss,
But allow once more her lips to kiss.
I shall not pray for more than this –
Once more I love…eternal bliss
In Spring she danced with her true love Each step in softness, lights descending From the silver rays of moon above Terpsichore's guidance never-ending.
Summer found her slightly winded Though to her lover’s hand she held And while this dance more quickly ended, Within his arms all fears were quelled.
Upon a chilled wind Fall did follow Fatigued, she cried, “No more to dance!” He prayed to her beloved, Apollo, “What price secures another chance?”
In Winter’s snow she found her rest His tears upon her funeral pyre; Now holding close within his chest One final dance, his heart’s desire.
“God talks in the trees.”
— Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas
It is the season of sleeping late
while dreaming of red-orange trees
shuddering in the evening breeze.
These are the short days
when the thirst for warmth suborns desire
and Eros kisses summer love goodnight.
It is the season of crimson sunsets
pouring slowly, like thick molasses,
over church steeples and frozen riverbeds.
When snow-pregnant clouds float lazily
across flower-less meadows
and lovers seek shelter beneath heavy quilts.
It is the season of naked trees,
with branches like fingers extending
toward the setting sun, tracing delicate arches
across the rose autumn sky.
Those days when the blackbird flies southward
into the night beneath crystal constellations.
It is the season of surrender,
when burdens, like the yellowing leaves,
fall silently to the frozen earth
and tired bones warm themselves before tended fires.
It is the season of dying in the palm of God’s hand;
comforted in the knowledge of spring’s resurrection.
Plant my sorrows ‘neath soils deep
I will not pray, nor shall I weep
bitter secrets, mine to keep
bitter harvest, mine to reap
I dreamt of the rapture, dreamt of the pain
I dreamt of the fire, of the iron chains
This tortured heart beats cold and quivering
This tortured soul, fatigued and shivering.
Into the waters my steps descend
For this is the beginning of the final end
Let the rivers wash my tired bones
Let the currents carry my body home
I am the ripe green apple,
plucked from Eden’s garden
no hope for God’s pardon.
I am Achilles heel
that hobbles my stride;
my insufferable pride..
That lock of hair
claiming Sampson’s life,
And the brother of Able,
I’m Cain with a knife!
I am the snakes coiled
in Medusa’s dark mane –
Like a lance to the boil,
my mercy is strained.
I’m the brew in the cauldron
of deep-forested witches –
The ugliness that comes
from Frankenstein’s stitches.
I am alone and afraid,
but too stubborn to change;
Hopeless and lost
and most certain deranged!
I’m broken, defeated,
and reeking of sin,
The lowest of cowards,
the most evil of men.
A life, ever wasted
on cheap wine and women,
My descent into Death
is just now beginning.
This ghost will remain
as my specter of shame –
I’d rather be dead
than live more of the same ~
***TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains small mentions of self-harm and institutionalization.***
Today I want to talk about something that has been swimming around in my head for weeks. I guess you could say this post is an accumulation of high emotions, stress, and some really tactless things I have heard from people who meant well. There are a few in my life who actually understand where I’m coming from… thanks Jeri and Susan and Julie and my sweet Nikie. I’m not going to unleash 40+ years of preteen, wannabe rebellion drama on to you; please know that all of this is coming from the heart; an excerpt from my life.
Following this post, I share a poem I wrote that attempts to sum up my dysthemia (chronic depression) in an easier, entertaining format. Depression is hard to put into words for those who have never experienced it. Sometimes a poem helps. Maybe.
To start off, I have been struggling with depression for at least 45 years. In middle school I had some issues with my classmates. A lot of them thought I was strange because one day I wanted to talk to everyone, huge smile on my face – and then the next I would withdraw or lash out angrily at anyone who dared look at me the wrong way. It was a time when I was just starting to realize that I was different, that something akin to a sezure was going to assert itself at random moments in my brain and in my life.
There was never relief at home for there was horror in that house visted continuously upon myself and my five siblings. I avoided going home at all costs. For a while, I had no way of coping besides throwing ridiculous tantrums to push people away; I stopped talking. Nobody knew what to do with me, so my mother started making me read and write to bring my grades up. When I actually became interested in reading, and especially writing, it became a coping mechanism. To this day, writing is my one place I can retreat to be heard and to find peace..
In high school my depression quickly escalated, especially during my sophomore and junior years. I was still reading and writing to cope, but I had absolutely no motivation in my education. I didn’t skip to be rebellious, I skipped because the anxiety of walking in to class was too much to bear. I can remember seeing the doorway to any of my classrooms, knowing there was a teacher and other students on the other end feeling like my lungs collapsed.
It took little to no thought, almost as if on instinct, for me to turn my feet in the other direction and skip my afternoon classes until the day was over. I was not bullied, I wasn’t hurt in any way by any of my teachers or students, there was no substance abuse when I skipped, but my parent’s couldn’t comprehend what was wrong. All they knew was that I was very quiet and withdrawn and nothing seemed to be helping.
Around this time, I started exhibiting self-harm behaviors: climbing rooftops and jumping, running away for a week or two at a time, taking full bottles of whatever was in the medicine cabinet. Once, I even took all of my mother’s birth control pills. But perhaps the most alarming was locking myself in my bedroom and choking myself with a belt until I passed out. I practiced hanging myself. Anything to escape the fear, the anxiety…the darkness.
By junior year I was continually self-harmful and hiding it from my only friend and my family. When my best friend found out she told her mother and she contacted my parents. The result was several trips to a psychiatrist that I absolutely loathed, and a therapist who was so unbelievably optimistic she could have been in Legally Blonde, but wearing baby blue 24/7 instead of pink. I stopped hurting myself (for a few years) but I still skipped class daily, read books to the detriment of my social life. Naturally, I gravitated to dark writers…Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Sylvia Plath, etc….and continued to be either withdrawn or aggressive with my family. During this time I was on medication, under the guidance of my psychiatrist.
I stuck to this uncertain way of life for a while, finding two friends struggling with the same situation I was. They were my support system, one of which I still talk to today. By the time I finished high school and started college, I had stopped taking my medication. I didn’t think there was a need for it anymore.
My first year was academically successful, but my mental state was getting increasingly worse and more unpredictable than usual. I was suffering. I managed to walk to my classes without freaking out about being watched until I sat down, and the dark fog would envelope me, but I was learning to function even in that darkness. It was a huge step forward. My academic advisor, however, was not happy with the lack of motivation in my education and prompted me to take on more classes. I’m not shoving the full blame of my ensuing emotional breakdown on him, however I do feel that my need to please him and avoid conflict was to take on 19 credits, an internship and an on campus job….all of which led to more depression.
I barely made it through my first semester before I was so emotionally and physically exhausted I could barely get out of bed. I was forgetting to eat and getting 3 hours of sleep on a daily basis.
During this time I talked to several different people to get help. I talked to the free on campus counseling, to which some of my friends went with me for support. It was great to have that outlet, but it wasn’t helping enough. I was so malnourished I lost nearly 25 pounds in the span of a month. Finally my roommate took one good look at me and told me if I didn’t get out of bed the next day by 12pm he was going to send me home with his mother if he had to. I ended up dropping out of college my sophomore year and coming back home.
I took the rest of the semester off, just focusing on eating, sleeping , and most importantly, not killing myself. This later thought was new…and I thought about it a lot. I spent most of my waking time trying to gather my courage to end it all.
By next semester I was re-enrolled in a college and went back on medication.
Therapy appointments were twice a week until I was back at a healthy weight and attending school on a regular basis. But I discovered a way to participate in all the social mayhem that one encounters in college – alcohol.
I had no way of knowing then what a devastating role alcohol (coupled with depression) would eventually have on my life, and in time, my marraige. But for the moment it worked. I experienced the false happiness of being under the influence. I could talk to people. I felt happy. And I had sex. A lot of sex. It numbed me. But the consequences of drinking began to assert itself: I was placed on academic probation for missing classes or going to classes under the influence. Two weeks later, I dropped out of college altogether.
This began a vicious and arduous cycle of failures that, unbeknownst to me, fed my depression: get a job, lose a job because of my drinking. Date a girl who could not keep up with my drinking. Lose a girl. Over and over and over. My self-esteem was shredded. And all along, like shoveling coal in a hungry furnace, I was stoking the flames of my disease. But as long as I kept drinking, I escaped the onslaught of a full blown depression collapse. The alcohol was killing me and saving me at the same time. I was committing social suicide by drinking as I did so that I did not commit actual suicide locked in my dysthemia.
Because of the alcohol, I was now somewhat liberated from my withdrawn state. I started noticing the strange reactions I was getting from people when I talked to them about my situation. Some of my friends were getting exasperated with my emotional outbursts and my depressive withdrawls, wondering why I couldn’t just “get over” what was bothering me. I tried to describe to them what was going on in my head but “It’s a chemical thing more than an emotional thing” didn’t seem to be getting me anywhere.
I started noticing that people who have never experienced deep depression were rather tactless when talking to people who suffered from depression. There seems to be this really blasé attitude towards those who are struggling with living their lives as normal people. Having my struggle with depression spelled across my forehead was too much to ask from me in order to get a somewhat understanding reaction from someone else… sorry…it wasn’t worth the effort. I’ve been institutionalized once and ever since coming out and getting my life back together people have been expecting me to just “get over” everything that comes my way. I couldn’t comment on something that was a little frustrating to me without someone telling me I’m “making too much of a big deal” about it.
I could not understand why people felt the need to react this way to someone who has been more than blatantly open about his emotional problems: WHY on earth would they instigate MORE problems and demand answers because they don’t know what’s wrong with them? If I told someone I had cancer, no one in their right mind would even dream of saying “Oh, it’s just cancer, get over it”. They wouldn’t have to know anything about my past, my family, the struggles I’d faced or anything of the sort to act like a decent human being, so why is it okay to say something like that about depression?
Sometimes I’d really like to give people a piece of my mind. It’d go a little something like this:
Things I’ve heard: “Oh honey, we all get a little sad sometimes.”
My reaction: “I’m pretty sure wanting to kill myself on a daily basis isn’t a little sad. But sure, I feel so much better now that my suicidal thoughts have been completely downgraded, I’m gonna go find a 7 story window to jump out of. Have a nice day.”
Things I’ve heard: “Why can’t you just tell me what’s going on? I’d be so much easier to deal with, I don’t have time to do this with you every day.”
My reaction: “I totally love living in emotional turmoil so I just keep it to myself. The chemical calibrations going off in my brain make total sense to to me but I don’t feel like sharing. I’m sorry I forgot to tell you I had an emotional breakdown scheduled this month and it’s set to go until the middle of December. I’ll put it on the calendar next time.”
Things I’ve heard: “You didn’t look or sound depressed at all! How was I supposed to know?”
My reaction: “I wasn’t trying to tell you. And if I could, there are no words to describe the darkness that envelopes me. Next time I want the world to know exactly how I feel on a daily basis I’ll tattoo it on my face so it’s impossible to miss. I love knowing my personal business is so blatantly obvious to everyone in the world.”
Things I’ve heard: “Why can’t you just stop feeling that way? I mean thinking about it won’t help so just move on.”
My reaction: “Ooooooooooooooooh! You’re so incredibly smart! Let me find my automated ‘off’ switches for my mind, my brain, my heart, my depression and anxiety and I’ll get back to you. Thanks sooooooooooo much for the suggestion. I’ll just add that to the growing list of things I have failed at, and get right on that thank you note for such a thoughtful piece of advice.
-insert loud sigh here-
The point is, my tolerance for people’s complete lack of understanding is getting smaller by the hour. No person who has ever felt the pain that depression brings should ever have to feel guilty for it, especially when the people around them don’t understand anything about what they are going through. We don’t share the same language when it comes to depression. Words to describe what it’s like simply don’t exist. We need to start by having an open and thoughtful national conversation on the topic. And that is not going to happen.
I’m starting to realize I’m going to have to cut some really important people out of my life because of this. In one way, I cut the most important person in my life out forever, because of the behavioral side affects of my dysthemia and the attempts to quiet the nightmare through a series of alcohol relapses. I will never forgive myself for that. The repercussions of that will echo for years yet to come. I couldn’t save myself….how in hell was I evervgoing to save my marriage? And what in God’s name was I thinking ever letting someone get that close to me. It will never happen again.
Being alone with depression is going to hurt, but I’d rather go through a hurt alone that I can grow out in three days or a week than ever suffer again by havingin my love, my heart, and myself as a person discarded because of the fallout of this savage disease. I cannot long survive a life of having who I am as a person suffering from depression thrown back in my face every day by a world that is afraid to understand.
DYSTHYMIA (CHRONIC DEPRESSION)
by D..L. McHale
It does not speak English, Spanish, French, or Italian, or any intelligible utterance known to this world.
It is a darkness devoid of spoken words;
a tongue savagely ripped from the mouth of the village idiot.
There are no pressed pages in braille
to sensate dull fingertips, to tap out the iniquity and the pain.
No painting of fingered words in the still air whispering into deafened ears.
It is the molten ashes of Vesuvius, cascading behind clenched eyelids; a scorching of the inner self. It is the babbling madness of Babylon chanting chattering confusion.
It is the silent scream that pierces the morning sky, the shrieking wind that rips the sparrow’s wings from its tender breast.
It is the desperate gasp for air from collapsed lungs, the tortured artery that bleeds the brain.
Beneath the ocean’s swell, the riptide that pulls one asunder to the blue-black abyss, a dark star consuming itself, devouring light into the shadows of its belly.
A twisted comfort in the unfeeling, a slap in the face of the unsmiling. Distant and cold eyes – unfocused, unseeing.
A banquet of burning bone and marrow before demons dancing to noteless music.
I am not yet dead.
Do not call this a miracle or raise your hands in praise.
First, you should know how long I prayed, and how I came to know the silence of the Lord.
He does not arrive in a ball of light blinding on the road to Damascus. He comes in silence.
Lie there night after night and you will come to know the things I speak of.
My God speaks in the tongue of suffering.
I have survived, but do not call that brave.
I rattled this body from the inside out. There are those who dared get close to me who can testify. I could not find its latch. I would have escaped it if I could.
I say this to you because I know, you too have suffered — a body can be rummaged through like a medicine cabinet.
The flesh can be unfurled. Stitched, unbound, mended and stitched again.
Nothing is lost; nothing can be unmade.
But do not underestimate how hard it is to die and do not think death will save you.The dead have forgotten suffering.
Remember what I tell you here.
Remember how hard I held on. Remember the long nights I prayed.
Remember: whole days and nights I wandered outside myself. My body opened to wind and latched like a door against it.
There was pain in the opening and pain in the parts that healed.
Remember what I said of prayer: to house the soul in a body is a way of it.
Sometimes we suffer for one another. I am sorry for those who have suffered for me. But mostly, I am grateful.
If you like, we can call it holy.