Happy Anniversary, Sanity!

pexels-photo.jpgThirteen years ago, I was locked up.

I was 24 years old in Austin, Texas. A bright, blossoming wounded made up girl-person flung far from the bleak overcast of depression or the jagged broken-record of anxiety. I was HIGH and flying ever higher. No one could stop me. I was a rainbow technicolor butterfly emerging from her chrysalis stupor. I was on fire, passionately delusional. I was all over town, dancing on tabletops. In and out of consciousnesses, enjoying nonstop religious experiences. I felt invincible and acted boldly. I was out of my mind. I was a puppet starlet drama queen going places: India, California, everywhere.

At the aptly named Flipnotics Coffeehouse on Barton Springs Road on April 16, 2005, the shit hit the fan. Long story short, I was taken away in handcuffs by the police to the psych ward, where they brought me back down to Earth with a thud and a plethora of prescriptions psychotropics, tranquilizers, chairs with straps and staff in white uniforms to do the strapping. Yet, in ten (long) days, I was released.

That was thirteen years ago.

These days, I am celebrating sanity, but more than that, I am celebrating life, freedom and yoga. I am grateful for all the people, places and lessons of those times in my tumultuous mid-twenties and since. I am welcoming everything, whatever may come, whether pleasure, success, tragedy or death.

I am celebrating my choice not to take the doctors’ orders and “just take two of these pills a day”. I am celebrating my choice to exit the box and settle well outside of it, surrounded by wildflowers, kittens, scattered toys, piles of books and notebooks, coffee trees, three volcanoes and a sparkling lake.

17 Years since Columbine

{First published on elephant journal}

Dylan Klebold was 17 and Eric Harris 18 when they walked into their high school in suburban Denver, planted huge bombs concealed in duffel bags in the cafeteria that would have killed and maimed hundreds had they exploded, then shot dozens of people on the school grounds and killed 15, including 12 peers, one teacher and themselves.

Columbine was a failed bombing that became the worst school shooting in history. At the time. In the decade post-Columbine, over 80 school shootings occurred in the U.S., not to mention the plethora of mass massacres at other venues like cinemas, churches and airports.

I was finishing up my freshman year of college at UT at the time of the tragedy. I vaguely recall seeing televised aerial footage of the vast campus, kids barely younger than me embracing and sobbing, overcome with shock and sadness. I remember that it was a big deal.

I’ve read two books on Columbine in the past few months, one a journalistic review of the event, killers, victims and aftermath, the other a heartbreaking and surprisingly compelling account written by the mother of one of the killers, Dylan.

Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy was written with 16 years of perspective on the day that forever altered her life and the lives of countless others in the community. She writes of praying for her son to kill himself once it dawned on her that he was on a shooting rampage and hurting others, yet she could not fully come to grips with the fact that he would intentionally harm and kill people until being shown “The Basement Tapes” by the police, months after the murders. These several segments of home video “produced” by Eric and Dylan in the weeks prior to Columbine tell of their evil plans and blare their hatred for society and particular individuals at the school (none of whom were injured or killed in the attack).

“Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other’s necessary condition.” ~ Sue Klebold

“An angry, erratic depressive and a sadistic psychopath make a combustible pair.”
~ Dave Cullen

The multitude of media myths around Columbine are thoroughly outline in Columbine by Dave Cullen, a fascinating book that was clearly meticulously researched. Published in 2009, it is a comprehensive, narrative take on the matter.

Having absorbed these two volumes, it is obvious that the underlying root problem in mass murders/school shootings/terrorist attacks—any type of violence, really—is what Sue Klebold calls brain illness or brain disease. (As opposed to “mental illness.” Or “crazy f*cked up in the head.”)

This is something I know intimately. It hardly seems possible looking out from my eyes at my life today and the relative balance, serenity and contentment I’ve attained (balanced, of course, with periods of worry, frustration and confusion)… but for a solid 9 years, maybe more, beginning at the stroke of turning 20, I wrestled with a variety of brain demons: namely, depression, anxiety and mania. Eleven years ago, in mid-April 2005, I was committed to the Austin State Hospital for ten days during a textbook manic episode.

Brain disease is not limited to tumors. Mental illness is a brain disease. Whatever you call it, it is a huge issue among humanity that affects all of us.

Not “so many.”

All.

Even those of us who may or may not have a diagnosed brain illness and who look at murderers and terrorists as some alien entity, some “other” that does not pertain to us, an enemy of goodness and society.

My own personal mind’s disease was not homicidal or suicidal. It didn’t reach that depth. Most depressed people just turn their anger inward and hate themselves, a sentiment painfully chronicled by Dylan Klebold in his journal. (Both Columbine killers left behind mountains of written documentation.) The most frequently used word in Dylan’s notebook was “love,” while Eric’s diary’s first line stated, “I fucking hate the world,” and he goes on to fantasize about offing all humans from the face of the earth.

“Our current story facilitates the rise of psychopathy and empowers the psychopath. … We must act in order to take away their power and change the system.”
~ Charles Eisenstein

The media coverage of the Columbine shooting and the details released about the killers, their preparations, and the execution of their sinister plans have led to a large amount of copycat killings. Other teenage boys who see them as heroes, which is exactly what Eric envisioned and intended.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s chilling New Yorker essay Thresholds of Violence, “The sociologist Ralph Larkin argues that Harris and Klebold laid down the “cultural script” for the next generation of shooters. …Their motivations were spelled out with grandiose specificity: Harris said he wanted to “kick-start a revolution.” Larkin looked at the twelve major school shootings in the United States in the eight years after Columbine, and he found that in eight of those subsequent cases the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold.”

So, one thing that we can do at the individual level is not glorify the killers. Not watch news programs or channels that do so. Not obsess over their faces and names. Not give them the spotlight. Ironically, Eric and Dylan have the spotlight in these two books and in the annals of recent history. By studying them, we can begin to approach an understanding of what happened, and why and how it happened. Changing gun laws would help. Preventing, recognizing and effectively treating brain illness would help more.

In conclusion, there is no conclusion.

Columbine was 17 years ago: April 20, 1999.

Where were you that day? Where were we? And where are we now?

Sue Klebold has devoted her life to loving and understanding her lost son and grieving for his victims and their families. Her book goes into some depth around raising awareness of brain illnesses, especially in adolescents and teens, and suicide prevention and support for the families and friends of suicide victims. She does not take responsibility for her son’s actions but seeks and finds a number of warning signs in retrospect, of course. More than anything, her book shows that violent tragedy can strike even in a loving family and seemingly tranquil community.

Anything can happen to us at any time. How can we move through the moments and experiences with grace and presence? How can we live from the heart and inspire and encourage others to do the same? How can we help those lost among us who are disconnected from their hearts—before another senseless tragedy occurs?

The manic episode: Part I

Manic depression is searchin’ my soul
I know what I want but I just don’t know how to go about gettin’ it
Feeling sweet feelings drops from my fingers
Manic depression is capturin’ my soul

~ Jimi Hendrix

Six years ago, I had a nervous breakdown. The incident, which culminated on April 16, 2005, was diagnosed a manic episode and I was diagnosed bipolar.

I was a textbook case, a psychiatrist later told me. Grandiose ideas, hypersexuality, too much makeup, crazy outfits. Over the top. Delusions of grandeur. Erratic behavior. Little need for sleep.

Some factors that may have led to the breakdown:

But what happened is really beyond explanation.

Mania felt like a dream. I didn’t want drama. I was completely absorbed in the present moment, recreating myself all the time. Here are 7 things I wrote during the height of the mania:

  1. This is fiction, by the way. Life is fiction. Maya, an illusion of reality. I need to meditate. Writing is my meditation this morning. I need to sleep. Why can’t I sleep? Dear God, please let me sleep.
  2. I am so scattered but I must write. It may be hard to follow. I feel like if it were not for yoga, meditation and a select few other secrets, I would at this moment be a bunch of particles floating in space with no center, no cohesion.
  3. I have been in constant contact with my closest friends, my true friends. They are telling me to get professional help. “Thanks for your advice. I’ll keep that in mind.” Whatever! I am pissed and offended. Get off your high horse. I will be FINE. I just have a lot going on right now. I can handle it.

I regret nothing about my time in California. It was amazing, i fell in love with the state, with a boy, with Jesus, with myself, with the world.

It all came crashing down but I picked myself back up again. I was floating in a pool of condensed time, face down, and I just didn’t want to swim any further.
  4. am i bipolar? it is a distinct possibility. i never knew that mental illness like this could happen to me again and again and again. i have real issues with authority. esp. authority telling me that i need to take medications for the rest of my life everyday. f that. i can handle this on my own.
  5. I have lost my ability to be anything but totally present. Spiritual awakening. Cultivating the power of now. Happy, joyous, productive, exciting. But I seriously think I’m manic depressive. Shudder to think where I’d be without my yoga. Dead or a mother of three, I bet. I need organization. I am in chaos. Things are in complete flux. Everything: Job, relationships, friendships, careers, stories, networks, art, life.
  6. My dueling gemini twins are at it again. One says, settle down, get grounded, get real. If you stay here, maybe you could settle without getting too down. Over there, you cannot afford to settle. You’ll want the spiritual life, the zen retreat, the study of divinity. You’ve already tried the yoga thing and it is too much of a struggle to do full time. You’ll want to write and meditate all the time, to eat raw foods, become a vegan. You may fall back into the same situation. Would you let your debts, your depressions, your confusion take hold of you again? That’s the real fear. Repetition of failure.
  7. I have one mission: to live life to the fullest, soaking up the sweet and dark emotions, figuring it out as I go. Never before have I felt this satisfied. I am done with being ruled by a suspicion that sorrow and trouble are lying around the next corner, just out of view. I am done with forcing myself into a shape.

to be continued.