Jungleland and Psychopharmacologists

Whenever life gets overwhelming for me (so far: every break-up, every jury trial, every move, every breakdown, and see below, a bad psychopharmacologist) I listen to Jungleland from Born to Run. The painful story of Rat makes me feel better. Mostly, though, I listen to it for Clarence Clemon's saxophone solo. I remember sitting on the couch in the Burrell's back room on 4th Street in 1981 and being told by Patty, Bop's older sister, on no uncertain terms, that this was the greatest saxophone solo of all times. (She is right.) The song is really long and really melodic. If you just stand there and listen to it, by the time the saxophone solo starts, you can let it cradle you, let it swallow you up, and no matter what else is going on, you can just let it hold you and pray it will never end. It's good that it goes on for a long time. The E Street Band, let the healing begin.

These days I am approaching mood control with the usual onslaught - exercise, meds - but also with a new-found devotion to my own happiness. Somewhere in the Fall it finally sank in that my husband did not give a shit what I did during the day as long as I was happy. He didn't care if I stared at an empty screen for six hours or painted the living room a hideous neon yellow. He didn't care. He just didn't want to come home to someone deeply unhappy. Everything in marriage and life works better when I am happy so I became determined to let nothing stand between me and my happiness. Nothing besides my job working three days a week as general counsel for a telecom company and the nutrition, hygiene and care of my children and general adminstration of the household. NOTHING.

So writing plays and sitcoms has been punted for now. Because these rejections - these frequent, florid rejections from every conceivable level of theatre and television on this island. I can't take them any more. When I moved here and tried to be a writer, I knew that at some point in the future I was going to have to call it: success or failure. Terrible. Failure plunges me into a horrible mood.

The other thing that plunges me into a horrible mood is the monologue of loathing, condemnation, abuse, perfectionism and hellfire and brimstone punishment that plays in my head all day. Yuck.

I don't know if other people have the same thing. I think a lot of people do.

I am combating the monologue on a couple fronts. First, I trivialize and laugh at it. (I just worked up a murderous rage against myself for not saving £4 on a pizza, how silly am I ) Second, I'm turning it down. Just turning down the volume. Not taking issue with it, just turning down the volume. Third, I am trying to remember compliments people have made to me in my life and trying to believe them. This offsets the toxicity in all the neural networks in my brain infected by the concepts of sin and judgment. Especially when I remember compliments that were also at the time statements against interest, which gives them heightened credibility, i.e., an ex boyfriend telling me I was the most magical person he ever knew, overhearing someone in a Washington gym say that they thought "Marilynn Monroe" when they first met me . . . Not sucking up compliments, but ones that could in fact be evidence in defense of the proposition that I do not suck.

I am working so hard at this because I think my son is picking up the monologue himself, subconsciously, preverbally, whatever - perhaps I have passed on to him some genetic predisposition to be disappointed in himself. But maybe its learned, and if it is learned, I have to try to not teach it to him inadvertently. Is there no end to the hard work of parenting?

My son has trouble falling asleep, he quite often becomes very mad at himself for that, and for other things outside his control and small errors in ,say, violin. He sometimes has no perspective on what he has accomplished and fails to enjoy his accomplishments. It's like some adrenalin of condemnation instantly floods his body whenever someone says anything to him that could be a criticism. It could be cortisol. According to a very interesting book called Why Love Matters it is.

So I am trying to stem the cortisol flood in my lovely little narrative junkie, my son, doing the same things for him as I am trying to do for myself. I sort of try to heal myself at the same time. It is improving the situation.

This kind of constructive improvement is phenomenally more useful than my attempt late last year to find a new psychopharmacologist. I found one, and he did not change my opinion that the doctors who deal psychotropic drugs are huge losers. Sitting around writing gossipy letters to other doctors, so gleeful to be in the "not crazy" category while "crazy" people walk in the door. Priority one for every psychiatrist is their professional reputation. Priority two is keeping themselves in the "not crazy" category. Really interacting with patients about their despair is prioritized somewhere lower than having a nice lunch.

This is all very unhelpful to me and anyone else determined to bring all of her strength and intelligence to bear on the alleged problems inside her mind. When it comes to meds, it's all about experimenting to find the right drug for you, if any drug at all, it's all personal experience. But somehow shrinks here think they can assess my experience without asking me questions. For the guy I saw in December, I wrote a four page history of my mental health including a fairly precise history of meds I have tried and provided it to him prior to our meeting. We met, and he said he had read it, but it quickly became clear that he had not read it.

I swear, the problem with people knowing I have a bipolar diagnosis is not how I act, it's how they act. People feel entitled to not really listen to you. Or at least take what you say seriously. Actually, I don't know if they feel entitled or it just comes across that way. Maybe they're scared. I certainly have dealt with people who have been terrified of me because of the diagnosis. I think those are the people who are scared of the crazy in themselves. It's lovely not to have that fear myself anymore. In the story of my life, punctuated and soothed by Jungleland, learning not to be scared of what is in me has been an enlightening and expansive lesson.


  1. I'm going to posit that your "suck" barometer is poorly calibrated, for, as one who truly does suck, I can confirm that you're nowhere even close to sucking.

  2. It is just chemicals, dear friend. Only such acids could corrode the obvious, objective reality that you were always a light walking into a room, a force of nature, a great mind and a very creative and gentle and caring soul. What else is there? Only acids could blind you to what everyone else sees.

    It can be either "good" or "bad" that I know you're not alone even among our fellow overachievers (you know who I mean). We're all fighting a great battle (so be kind, as Gregory said), and there are people you know who are even fighting (if that's even the right metaphor) the same one as you. You are and can be an inspiration.

    And perhaps your first published, or important and influential, work will be not a play but a wittier, cleverer, more feeling addition to books like "An Unquiet Mind." That's what I see in your posts.

  3. All these years later, and a massive gulf of communication to boot -- and I still think of you as one of the very few most magical people I've ever know. Not a comment against interest in any way, but much weightier than Marilyn M. I hope you find peace in these efforts, at discrete moments, that get longer and longer.


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