Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Look at SECOND BLOOMING - The Journey From Mental Illness to Joy

Chris Rice Cooper 

A Jolly Good Damn!
The Journey of Mental Illness to Joy in Second Blooming:  Becoming the Women We are Meant to Be

In the first week of December of 1926, Agatha Christie (www.agathachristie.com) had a huge argument with husband Archibald and he walked out.  She disappeared within the next 24 hours in what some believed was a suicide.

 On December 19, 1926 she was discovered as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire. 

Two doctors diagnosed her as having psychogenic fugue, but some experts believed she suffered a nervous breakdown caused by depression exacerbated by her mother’s death and her husband’s infidelity, both within the past year.  

Four years later she conquered her demons and married Sir Max Mallowan, and ten years into the healthy and nurturing marriage she made this statement: 

I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming that comes when you finish the life of the emotions and of personal relations and suddenly find—at the age of fifty, say—that a whole new life has opened before you, filled with things you can think about, study or read about…. It is as if a fresh sap of ideas and thoughts was rising in you.”

Agatha Christie Mallowan in 1940, the year she turned 50.

Susan Cushman (http://susancushman.com) was inspired by the quote and christened her anthology of essays by twenty women A Second Blooming:  Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, Mercer University Press (http://www.mupress.org), March 1, 2017.

The twenty essays are organized into five sections:  I.  Blooming through Surrender; II.  Blooming after Loss; III.  Blooming in Place;  IV.  Blooming Again…and Again; and V. Blooming in Careers and Communities; and cover a variety of topics.

      The one topic that connected with me the most is that of mental illness which I have.  I   believe we all encounter it,  rather it be from circumstances like a broken romance to chronic depression.

“Beyond This Point There Be Dragons”
Suzanne Henley

       Suzanne Henley has to conquer numerous demons: a deceptive husband, a marriage that has been dead, severe panic attacks, and consistent suicidal thoughts.  She seeks help with her psychologist Kip, and spends eight and half weeks at a psychiatric ward.  She is discharged from the psychiatric ward three weeks early without effective medication, only to have her depression, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts return with a vengeance.
My depression was not just an emotion, mental pain; it pinned me to the bed, exhausted and withering.  Writhing, black, prehistoric lizards from a tarry pit-scaly tongues flicking and wrapping around my lungs, dirty claws digging into my ribs – gorged on my heart and stomach, circling for the best attack, having flayed ends of jagged flesh as they consumed me from the inside out.  I lay in bed sapped, paralyzed by their weight, sorting through different ways of killing myself.

       Suzanne was placed back in the psychiatric ward, put on suicide watch, and forced to go to group therapy where her therapist made her get on the floor, crawl to each person’s chair in the circle, and give each person one different reason why she should not kill herself.

       The humiliation was intense.
       But I was also stunned by the paradox that in humbling myself, kneeling prostrate before each of these once-dismissed fellow patients, I was in fact crawling toward healing.  It was an epiphany, and I think I caught a glimpse of Jesus outside the door giving a high-five to a passing aide.

       After medication, ongoing visits with her psychologist, a friendship with a fellow patient, returning to her family of three children, and attending her local church she was on her way to healing to the point where she was able to say: 

Failure simply means an opportunity to begin again. 

       And she did, finding the man of her dreams in her eighth decade and able to honestly say she has no regrets.

“My Brother’s Keeper”
Julie Cantrell


  Julie loves her younger brother Jeff intensely and tries to call him on his 19th birthday numerous times not able to reach him.  She learns that he succumbed to his depression and shot himself in the head with a shotgun.

       She not only had to struggle with her loss and her grief but her anger at her brother for causing such pain to her and their family.
       After a period of years Julie came to understand her brother and the choices he made, and considers him not a perpetrator but a victim.

In the end, my brother did not “commit” a crime.  He did not even die of “suicide.”  His life was cut short by the overwhelming force of depression. 
Julie refuses to view Jeff as dead but thriving, and
describes her relationship with Jeff to that of Castor and Pollux.  

When Castor was killed Pollux offered to share his own godly immortality, and this loving act inspired Zeus to place the brothers together in the heavens, where they are the two brightest stars in the Gemini constellation, sending the guiding light known as St. Elmo’s Fire.

       Instead, I believe he is experiencing a second bloom of sorts, somewhere out there in this vast universe of ours.  Truly, in the eternal and infinite scheme of time and space, there is not much separating Jeff and me.  So instead of grieving his passing or focusing on the missing pieces in my life, I choose to picture my brother shining his star beside my own, the two brightest lights in our own private constellation.

“Abuse:  A Survivor’s Message for the Vatican”
Kim Michele Richardson

Kim Michele Richardson’s essay is a blockbuster testimony of sexual abuse of children by religious leaders and how that abuse affects the child for all of their life –well into adulthood, both for the male and the female.

People like the CEO, also a former orphan and victim of clergy abuse, who has to lock himself in his office because he’s having a “bad day.”  His “bad days” happen when the memories of physical and sexual abuse become too strong for him to function as a regular working adult. 
       There is also the woman who suffers from crippling PTSD because of her abuses by clergy.  She writes that she may not be contacting me for a while because she will probably be back in a “dark place” and will have to seek mental health institutional care for her “latest bout” – a bout directly caused by predator clergy. 

Graffiti on a Lisbon wall depicting a priest chasing two children

       Kim gives the victims of sexual abuse the power – that of a voice to demand that the religious apologize for the horrors that were inflicted upon them.

To do this, the church must be willing to publicly help these deeply wounded, still-suffering victims and survivors.  Start the cleansing by reaching out to us, answering and also disclosing records of predatory clergy that have been protected by the Roman Catholic Church for decades.
My name is Kim Michele Richards.  I am waiting, along with all those voices around me.

“A Second Chance at Empty-Nesting”
Susan Marquez

  Susan is a mother enjoying her next life as a 50 year old empty nester with her husband Larry in her home-state of Mississippi. 

But all that comes crashing down when, on August 29, 2008, their 25-year-old daughter Nicole accidentally falls six stories from her New York City apartment building.

                         Nicole in February 2008

Several vertebrae in Nicole’s neck were crushed, as was a vertebrae in her lower back.  Her pelvis was broken, and she had broken several ribs on the left side.  One of the ribs punctured her lung, which collapsed.  It turns out that was her most life-threatening injury. 

       There was huge relief and gratitude when Nicole walked out of rehab on January 21, 2009, but the transition was a mental strain: it was like taking care of a newborn that weighted 100 pounds.

       My life and my time were not my own.  I struggled to be positive.  My mind tried to wander to some dark places.  On the one hand, I was angry at Nicole for pulling such a stupid stunt. . . . On the other hand, I (was deeply grateful that she had not only survived but was doing so well.)

       The traumatic event taught Susan to look on the positive and healthy aspects of the event:  while her daughter was in New York she figured she wouldn’t be able to see her only once or twice a year; but due to the accident she was able to spend quality mother-daughter time for a period of two years. 

       Nicole has moved on now. She has found love with a patient man who is amazed by her story and her determination.  She has become a successful motivational speaker and travels the country sharing her message of perseverance and hope.

And through it all, Susan experiences the same things her daughter speaks to others about:  perseverance and hope.
       I am happy.  I am at peace.  I know that everyone I care about is all right.  My nest is empty, and my life is full!

“Something Has To Die”
Cassandra King

King has to come to terms that her church does not support her, nor does a husband – who refuses to recognize her need to change, and venture into the next stage. As a result, she maintains a façade in a marriage and a church that produced a cauldron “of misery and depression, compounded by guilt and self-hatred.”  And the most heaviest and dirtiest chain was worrying about what people thought of her.

Fighting the depression was nothing compared to the effort it took to put up a second front.

       Soon King comes to the realization and the gut wrenching truth that she has lost her authenticity of self, and has been living a façade all along, all to please a church that didn’t care for her and a husband who no longer had the wisdom to see within her depths.

       King finds solace in her Greek mythological self – Cassandra the princess of Troy, but unlike the Princess of Troy, King decided that she would not remain in a life that she found herself to be oppressed, which required she kill her false persona.

I had to kill her off; that phony non-person I had created to please others.  And I did it the only way I knew, with the only resource that had ever given my inner life any true meaning.  I closed the door and started to write.

Using a pen instead of a sword for her weapon she wrote what was in her heart and not was what in her church, and was then finally free.

       I’m finally freed of that prison of my own creation, the even deadlier urge to please others, to let what others think of me become more important than what I think of myself.

       These essays created a second blooming within myself to view mental illness not only as a disease but a journey of healing that, yes, can be a painful journey, but a joyful one, too.

       But more importantly it taught me to be responsible, not in solving everything, but knowing who to go to for help.  This gave me the power to finally be able to joyously say what Cassandra King says in her essay:   

And for the first time in my way too many years, I knew that I didn’t give a jolly good damn what anybody else thought.


  1. What a wonderful post. I read every word. Inspiring stories of powerful women turning their lives around. Thank you Chris and all involved.