Monday, February 22, 2016


Christal Cooper

Article 3,466 words 
Styrofoam head artwork by Christal Rice Cooper

And Mitzi C Fleming

All excerpts given copyright privilege by individual authors and Seal Press.

Guest Blog Post By Christal Rice Cooper
My Experience of Shades of Blue

When I first read about Shades of Blue:  Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue (Seal Press, 2015) via Facebook I knew that I had to read the book – not to do a review or write a feature story but for myself and my well being. 

I have bi-polar depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder and have been battling this almost all of my life.  I have been on medication for these issues for over 22 years and I am still on meds.  

My husband is in the military and we have lived in Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, and now Alabama. 

Alabama has been a dark place and a dark experience for me, which has intensified all my different levels of mental illness.  It wasn’t until I moved here that I have experienced the stigma of mental illness.  The stigma is not due to understanding – no one can understand mental illness unless they’ve walked in the shoes of mental illness.  The stigma comes from deliberate ignorance and refusal to accept mental illness as a valid disease, and instead choose to judge.   “That wife is crazy.  We need to stay away from her.”

It was in this dark place physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually when I encountered Shades of Blue.  This encounter made me find comfort in this dark place but at the same time this comfort never diminished the horror and excruciating torment that mental illness thrives.  The comfort comes from the fact that I realized I wasn’t weird, flawed, undervalued, marginalized or that something was wrong with me.   As a result, I experienced a sense of empowerment that could not be explained, especially when I am still in this darkness. 

Halfway through the Shades of Blue, I decided that this needed to be a story and queried the editor Amy Ferris if she would consider an interview.  Her response was yes and I was ecstatic.  

       Shades of Blue is an anthology of 34 writers who have experienced two things – severe depression and suicidal tendencies. 

The contributors are Barbara Abercrombie, Sherry Amatenstein, Regina Anavy, Chloe Caldwell, Jimmy Camp, Zoe FitzGerald Carter, Debra LoGuerico DeAngelo, Marika Rosenthal Delan, Hollye Dexter, Beverly Donofrio, Beth Bornstein Dunnington, Matt Ebert, Betsy Graziani Fasbinder, Pam L. Houston, Mark S. King, David Lacy, Caroline Leavitt, Patti Linsky, Karen Lynch, Lira Maywood, C.O. Moed, Mark Morgan, Linda Joy Myers, Christine Kehl O’Hagan, Jennifer Pastiloff, Angela M Giles Patel, Ruth Pennebaker, Alexa Rosalsky, Elizabeth Rosner, Kathryn Rountree, Kitty Sheehan, Jenna Stone, Judy White, and Samantha White. 

        I hadn’t heard from Amy Ferris and due to time constraints it looked like the interview would not go through as planned.  I set Shades of Blue to the side and said I would wait to write this feature until Amy’s schedule would allow her to respond to my interview questions.

Then on Tuesday January 19, 2016 all of that changed when I met my dear friend and artist Mitz at our weekly meetings at the local restaurant.  We meet every Tuesday to discuss my mental state, the arts, her amazing artistic and compassionate gifs, and our faith. 
        She left and I stayed behind to sketch some faces when I met Hadley and her daughter, who were having a late breakfast at the table next to me.  

       Hadley told me her other daughter committed suicide by shooting herself in the heart in May of 2015.  

We talked about all the things people who refuse to accept mental illness as a valid illness tend to say about those who commit suicide:  They are cowards.”  “They are selfish.”  “They are not in their right mind!’

       I told her that most people who commit suicide are not selfish – quite the contrary – they feel that without them on this earth life would be better for those they love.  

Most people who commit suicide are not cowards – it takes courage – bad courage though it may be – to actually go through a suicide – and this courage once again stems from the person feeling that he or she is not worthy of life or simply wanting to end the torment.  The individual never wants to die they just want the torment to die and then be able to find peace.

       I told Hadley about my pastor Reverend Terry Taylor who developed manic depression and after three years of struggling to find some kind of relief and to no avail he went to his downstairs basement and hung himself in April of 1996.  

I told her for an individual to go through the mental torment that mental illness sufferers go through and not want to even think of suicide – that is when he or she is not in his or her right mind.  Maybe instead of saying he or she was not in her right mind we need to say “he or she was emotionally damaged.”  

She told me her daughter, the mother of twin boys (now age 5), was very emotionally damaged and had conquered numerous things.  

I don’t know the full story – but I do know that mental illness is a process packed full of stimuli telling the person he or she is in darkness regardless if the sun is outside shining or not.  And even when that person goes out into the sunshine, she still is in the darkness because the depression is within the person and not without.  The depression is there regardless of our circumstances or situations. Though sometimes our circumstances and situations can be welcoming distractions, the depression is still there. 

       But after reading Shades of Blue something else is within me:  the messages Shades of Blue is singing in my spirit’s ears:  You are not crazy!  You are not stupid!  You are not ignorant!  You are not dumb!  You are in your right mind!  What you have is a valid disease! You matter!

       I’ve also come to the point in my life where I tell myself, “Hey, it’s okay if people don’t like me; if they don’t want to spend time with me; if they don’t want to be my friend; and if they think I’m weird.”

But at the same time I hear another voice that says, “You have done nothing wrong.  You have done nothing to deserve this kind of isolation.”

People have a right to like me or not like me and they should never be condemned for whatever they decide to do.  But at the same time I should never be condemned for who I am, especially if it is based on the diseases I have.  

How can two things that contradict each other be true?  Thus the mystery of mental illness.  Shades of Blue helped me realize that these two different worlds in my one big real world can exist and co-exist -  without feeling condemnation for my fellow-women and without feeling condemnation for myself.

 Amy Ferris

       And the truth is, the balls-out truth is this:  those of us who suffer from bouts of depression, who don’t believe we’re good enough, who can barely make it out of bed some days, who struggle with self-esteem and the whole concept of self-love . . .when we use our own pain and suffering so that we can understand another person’s heart . . .it doesn’t eliminate our pain, or make it vanish, or go pouffff – but it does make it bigger than ourselves; it makes it worth the struggle.  I look at folks I know –some very personally, some on the periphery – who have gone through hell and back a million times, and they use their life every day to inspire, encourage, and awaken the good and greatness in others because they know what it was like to be flat-out broken, broken into little pieces.

Page 2-3 

Mark King
       This is the story that haunts my waking hours.  It is a story with many ghosts.

       It started when AIDS began its murderous march through my community, when gay men learned the intimacies of death, when so many perished we couldn’t properly grieve for them all.  And when our hearts were crushed from the weight of mortal questions that such very young men were never meant to answers.

       Those answers, all these decades later, still elude me.  This is what remains.

Page 11

Angela M Giles Patel
       So nothing pisses me off more than to see someone talk about how they used to take medication for depression or anxiety, but now they don’t have to anymore because they discovered yoga or running or god.  The idea that somehow they have managed a victory that is important enough to broadcast, that what they have accomplished can be outlined and followed, is misleading at best.  And although they won't say it explicitly, the implied judgment is clear:  if you are not enlightened enough to be able to survive without medication, something is wrong with you.

       No shit.

       Something is wrong with me.

       What is wrong with me is not a bump in the road, or a case of the blues, and it is not something that can be addressed by the right herbal tea.  It is not a pothole, it is a fucking canyon – one I can only navigate with help.  This is why I have to take two burgundy-colored capsules every morning.  If I don’t, my mind turns against me.  It’s not that I failed to become enlightened, it’s simply who I am.  The kicker is that I am enlightened enough to know that who I am is someone whose mind can fail to be her friend.

       I hate taking the medication.  The idea that I cannot fully function without it breaks my heart on a regular basis, but I can’t stop taking it.  I’ve tried.  It isn’t pretty.  I hate my dis-order and my dis-ease enough that I occasionally allow myself to become tricked by depression.  I am not sure who said it first, but they are right – depression lies.  One of the biggest lies it tells is the one that starts with the idea that medication is unnecessary.  Maybe it is optional for someone who just needed a little boost to get through a rocky period, but for those of us who are clinically diagnosed with depression, proper medication is critical.  To suggest otherwise is a failure to understand the true nature of the problem. 

Pages 26-27

Debra LoGuerico DeAngelo
       By my twenties, I’d weathered several bad relationships and a disastrous marriage.  I went for counseling to talk about my emotionally abusive husband.  I ended up talking about my mother.  In one session, I spread out photos of me from birth until present.  The therapist studied my photographic timeline and made an observation:  “You’ve always been sad.”


       What does that even mean?  This is how I’ve always felt.  I can’t comprehend any other way to feel.  If you’re colorblind, you don’t imagine colors you can’t see.  It’s impossible.  You just accept that this is how the world looks, and that’s that.  What the hell are “red,” “green,” or “happy”?  My therapist labeled my lifelong sadness “infantile depression.”  At least it gave my chronic low-grade longing a contest.  Every “mother” I ever had, including my actual parent, abandoned me.  No wonder I was so wary of getting attached to anyone.  I was still protecting myself.

Pages 72-73

Elizabeth Rosner

       Within a year of her (my mother’s) death, my first novel was published to a few days of great fanfare.  A week later, on what was to be the first day of my multi-city book tour, terrorists flew two jetliners into the World Trade Center.  More falling, much more falling down.  It was only in a delayed reaction many months later that I realized I had felt forced to disregard my own tremendous sadness in order to defer to the larger, much larger, tragedy of 9-11.  As a daughter of two Holocaust survivors, this kind of deference to other tragedies was second nature to me.

Pages 80-81

Hollye Dexter

       I stand up straight, pretending to be in control, “I see you’re wanting to have a tantrum,” I say, my voice shaking, “but you may not scream at me.  You can have your feelings by yourself, and talk to me when you’re calm.”  I walk out and shut his bedroom door behind me, my heart thrumming through my chest.  And then my four-year-old child, who still wears pull-ups at night, screams this behind his closed door, “I hate myself!  I hate myself!  I want to die!”

       My knees crumble beneath me as I clutch the doorjamb for support.  I can’t breathe.  He is too young to know what these words mean.  No, these aren’t his words.  My son is screaming what has been inside my head every day for months.  He screams out everything I have been suppressing.  I can no longer hide what is happening inside myself, inside the walls of this “Happy House,”  inside the confines of my marriage.  The jig is up.

       I hesitate at his door, compose myself then push it open.  He sits on the floor, his face red and sweaty, his eyes wild and confused.  I pick him up and rock him.

       “We never say ugly things like that about anyone, especially not ourselves.  Okay?”

       He nods.

       “Your Mommy and Daddy love you so much.  We prayed for you to come to our lives.  You are an answered prayer – our precious gift,”  I say, “and the fact that we are all even here on this Earth is a miracle. Our lives are a gift.”  I hold him close against me, wiping his tears and my own with the sleeve of my shirt, unable to say any more.  With every word, I am learning a hard lesson.  Am I going to live my life as a hypocrite, expecting my children to believe in the value of their lives, when inside I believe mine is worthless?  No.  I cannot live this way any longer.  I am no longer to let another generation of children grow up as damaged as I am.  Doing my best is no longer good enough.  I have to do better than my best.  I have to find a way to heal myself, for only in doing that can I heal my family.
Pages 91-92 

Karen Lynch

       When I was seven, my mother taught me how to kill myself.  She said you must hold the gun firmly to your temple and squeeze the trigger without hesitation.  Don’t be a wimp about it.  The bullet will pierce the soft flesh of your temple, travel through the occipital lobe, and take out the executive suite of your brain.  Maybe she didn’t say “executive suite,” but her words made me picture a Wall Street financier doing the deed in his private office bathroom.  Mom said those who failed to follow these simple instructions risked leaving themselves alive and hideously deformed.  “Hideously,” she emphasized.

Page 116.

Chloe Caldwell

       On the plane from Albany, New York, to Portland, Oregon, I deleted my heroin dealer’s phone number.  It wasn’t the first time I’d done that – more like the fifteenth – and each time I’d felt a strange resistance.  I knew that I would miss my heroin dealer, who’d been only too happy to help me ruin myself.  I loved people that enabled my irresponsibility.  In hindsight, he was my doctor.  And I was a happy patient.

Page 124.

Ruth Pennebaker

       Mother continues to be depressed off and on for the rest of her life.  Her relationship with me is painfully bad – or just painful, period, for both of us.

       All I know, in every inch of my being, is that I will never, ever be anything like her.  I won’t be a housewife, a mother who tells her children she’s given up everything for them.  I won’t live in windswept, small towns that obviously turn women into depressives, bank robbers, and rabbit-hutch abusers.  And I will do anything, I tell myself, not to be depressed like her.

       So I deliberately try to become everything she isn’t and travel where she’s never gone.  I marry a smart, ambitious man.  I go to law school and graduate high in my class.  I ditch law and become a writer.  I have two children but continue to work full time.  I live on the East Coast, spend time in Europe, come back to big cities in Texas, all the pushing and striving, writing books and newspaper columns and magazine pieces. Standing still would be like death to me.

       But you know, I am more like my mother than I want to believe.  And depression is a patient stalker, waiting for its time.

Page 132.

David Lacy

       After my ex-wife moved out, I felw to my hometown to visit family and friends nearly every toher weekend.

       This was difficult because I was terrified of flying.  As soon as we reached cruising altitutdes, I’d order two miniature bottles of tart airline chardonnay for the one-hour flight between Southern and Northern California.  The wine, of course, chased the pre-flight Xanax, dusty pills that slid out of a bottle with a warning label that read, DO NOT MIX WITH ALCOHOL.

Page 136.

Sherry Amatenstein

       I am a therapist.  When a patient expresses suicidal ideation, I invariably preach, “there is always another choice.”

       And I believe that to the bottom of my UGGs.

       Still . . .

       In my heart of hearts, soul of souls, I don’t dismiss that one day I might down a bottle of pills.  I have no imminent plans and don’t foresee it happening, bu I will never say never because never is a scarily long time.

       Many times patients have cried in desperation:  “How can you help me?  You don’t understand what depression feels like!”

       I tell them:  “I don’t know exactly what your depression feels like.   But I do know what it is to lose all hope.”

Page 153

Kitty Sheehan

       I no longer wish someone had told me about depression sooner in my life.  I cherish the wisdom gained from learning how hard it is to pin it down.  It’s stealthy.  It can spend years patiently sneaking up on you.  Then it may hide itself in a bottle.  It doesn’t care how long it has to hang around; it waits.  If you ignore it, it busies itself by spreading its web into more corners of your life, blotting out light as it goes.

       But you can get a broom and knock it down.  If no one has helped you name this feeling, say it to yourself.  It’s okay.  There is help available, so much help.  Tell someone, and boom, just like that, you aren’t alone, which can be a miracle.

Page 182.

Samantha White

       My mother’s hobbies were running away from home, cutting her wrists, and overdosing on pills and booze.

       The first time I called an ambulance for her, I was seven years old.

       By the time I decided to take myself out, I’d had lots of time to study her and her failed techniques.

       I was pretty sure I knew how to do it right.

Page 183.

Matt Ebert            Have you ever tried to commit suicide and failed?  I have.  The last time it was so laughable, I told it in joke form when I laid it out to my friends.  Truthfully, suicide is a deep-inside-bone-crushing thing.  That rain-slicked Seattle bridge, the poison sumac and the blackberry bushes, a can of gasoline and a lit cigarette, all the dope in my system, the fact that if I hadn’t already been half-crocked on booze and pills, I would never have bounced and tumbled and lived.
Page 202

Regina Anavy 
       Picture a spiral.  You are on top, going along in your usual pattern.  A thought intrudes, a moment of doubt, guilt, or self-reproach. Your spirits drop.  You move lower, to the next rung of the spiral.  As your mind turns inward and your thoughts become more constricted, your options seems to narrow.  You suddenly flash in vivid detail on every error committed in your past:  spiteful words uttered on impulse that you cannot take back; imp0uslive acts you cannot erase.  You begin to obsess about relationships that have drifted away – all your fault, of course.  And you weren’t always the perfect child, the perfect sibling, the perfect worker, lover, or friend.  Oh, the mistakes you have made.  Your life is one big mistake, from the minute you were born.  You spiral down and down into the blame and shame of your life.

       This negative-feedback loop of depression had been a familiar part of my psyche for as long as I could remember.  Usually, I would find my way back up and come out on top of the spiral.  However, in 1971, my luck ran out and I had a full-blown breakdown.

Page 230