The Nordstrom green bathrobe belt

Image I should first make clear that what I’m about to write about (suicide) is disturbing and I may trigger some readers, so please take that into account.  It’s not easy to write about the topic of suicide, but it’s important to me, and once again I’m using my blog as a free catharsis.  I wrote about suicide before in this blog in 2008:

Today, the last day of the year, I have more reflections to add.   I think it’s symbolic to address that horrible epoch in my life and to create some closure around it before starting 2014.  This post is not all grim, thank goodness – there is hope at the end.

So here I go.

It all starts with a medication I tried for severe depression which my former psychiatrist       “Dr. A.” prescribed to me called Elavil.  Elavil, or amitriptyline, falls under the group of tricyclic antidepressants, and it does work for some people.  (I wonder about the Big Pharma focus groups that churn out these drug names – I’m sure it’s no accident that the word Elavil sounds a bit like “elevate”.)  I, for one, did not have an elevated mood after taking my first pill.   Elavil backfired for me.


After having that medication in my system less than five hours, my mood changed from severe depression to acutely suicidal.  I had felt passively suicidal before, but this time was markedly different. I wanted to take my own life in a way I had never considered before; I wanted to actually do it.

I wanted to hang myself off our wooden balcony…with my dark green Nordstrom bathrobe belt.

Before that momentous day, I could never understand why anyone would want to commit suicide, especially in such a barbaric-sounding way.  I knew that if for some inexplicable reason I would ever want to take my own life, I would choose the least painful method possible, and that would be with pills.

The anti-depressant “black box” indications, warning that suicidal ideation/action is possible when taking certain medications, began in May, 2007, the same year I was diagnosed with bipolar.  I’m not sure if my psychiatrist discussed the possibility of this disastrous side effect with me at length, but I don’t  blame him for what happened.  What  occurred with me could have taken place with most of the numerous mood disorder medications that I tried.

When I realized I wanted to kill myself, thank GOD Craig was here and I told him immediately. Along with our two precious little ones, we made the trek to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.  (It’s also known by the rather-freaky acronym C.H.O.M.P. – that always makes me think of a great white shark!)  I admitted myself into the locked-down psychiatric ward.

Otherwise known as Hell on Earth.

I won’t go into the specifics now, but as you can imagine, it was sheer darkness.  Staying in that ward was, bar none, the worst time I ever experienced apart from the death of my Dad.

Why dredge up all this grim stuff now?  Well, there’s nothing like the prospect of a new year to inspire resolutions, and I have a resolution in regard to what I’m writing about today.

It all comes down to my fancy robe.  (It was a gift and it cost over one hundred dollars.) You see, I still have it.  Every time I look at its belt (which is at least once a day) the robe reminds me of that awful time when I wanted to leave this world.   I have another pink robe which is perfectly good, so why do I keep this green reminder of morbidity?  Perhaps I have been too caught up in my depression to care much about changing my surroundings.  Today I am putting myself first, without reservations of any kind, and it feels really good.

Now that I’m doing better (fingers and toes and eyes crossed!) I want to get rid of the green robe. I’m going to grab a bag and dump it in there as soon as I finish writing this post. Someone else can enjoy using it without all the terrible associations that I have.  I cannot think of a better way to start off 2014 than to finally expel this robe from our home.

Meeting Madeleine L’Engle, author of “A Wrinkle in Time”


I never imagined I would have the opportunity to meet and work with the writer who had the biggest influence upon me as a child.  For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Madeleine L’Engle wrote one of the most famous children’s science fiction books in the 21st century, the Newberry Award-winning classic “A Wrinkle in Time”.  A prolific author, she also wrote adult fiction and non-fiction; her catalogue comprises of at least eighty works that I know of.   A passionate Christian, L’Engle was noted for her Christian-themed books as well.   In her later years she was the librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, often accompanied by one of her beloved Irish Setters.

As a teenager, I sent her an unabashed fan letter.  As a result, my name was placed on L’Engle’s mailing list for a periodical newsletter that was sent to her fans, which she affectionately referred to as her “Ones”.  She made every attempt to sign these photocopied letters, and sometimes she added a personal note.  I’ve kept every single copy.  I remained on her mailing list for many years, and in the late 1990’s I read that L’Engle would be teaching a weekend writing workshop at the Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara.  I was attending the University of California at Santa Cruz, majoring in English and American literature, and I was within driving distance of workshop.  The cost was reasonable, so I took that as a sign that I should seriously consider signing up.  I excitedly contacted one of my closest friends, a fellow L’Engle enthusiast, and she agreed to attend the seminar with me.

This all took place long before my bipolar diagnosis in 2007, but back then I believe that I had dysthymia, a serious state of chronic depression.  I also was highly anxious from growing up around violence, but neither of those afflictions would prevent me from seizing the chance to be with this spectacular writer.  Despite the fact that I was insecure and had often had trouble looking people in the eye, I forced myself out of my comfort zone to make this trip.  I am so glad that I did it.

I am not one of those people blessed with a strong memory.  I’ve always felt envious of those who can recollect many details of their lives.  I had a poor memory before my first round of unilateral ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), which is a treatment for severe depression with a notorious side effect of memory loss.   (I’ve heard different opinions of whether or not the memory loss is permanent, but that’s a subject for a separate post!)

I digress.

I wish with all my heart that I could remember numerous moments of the Madeleine L’Engle seminar.  Instead, I just recall a handful of events.  Two of these experiences are not positive, although they are kind of humorous when I view them objectively.

The first interaction occurred in a hallway.  I found myself walking towards L’Engle alone and I couldn’t help but gush to her, “You’re my idol!”   This was about the worst thing I could possibly say to her aside from a true expletive.  Plus I should have known better, because L’Engle had written specifically about how she found this particular word distasteful and I knew that.   “Idol” is defined as “an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.  She couldn’t stand heroine worship, and I basically blew it.  I’ve blocked out whatever her withering retort was, and maybe that’s ultimately a blessing.  She did admonish me with something along the lines of “Don’t call me that!”.

I do remember thinking “Oh, whoops.  Shit.”

She didn’t hold my faux pas against me.  Later on I sat next to her at lunch.   The seminar had twenty-five chatty participants, all L’Engle devotees, and the room in which we dined was cavernous.  The noise level was lousy for comprehending what our dining companions were saying.  To make the situation even more dicey, L’Engle was in her later years and she had an acute hearing loss. Although I was sitting a mere ten inches away from her, I couldn’t understand hardly anything she said, and I’m sure she didn’t hear much of the table’s conversation either.

My friend and I were the youngest attendees and also we were the only Jewish women in the group.  I wasn’t a religious person, but I identified myself as a “cultural Jew”.  After arriving there we learned that everyone else was Christian.  Our religious differences didn’t create an impasse with anyone, as general writing was our primary focus, but I felt like a bit of an outsider.

Fortunately, I recall some wonderful highlights at the monastery workshop.  During an afternoon writing exercise L’Engle instructed us to write a sonnet.  I’m loathe to admit this, but I’ve never been a poetry lover.  At least a sonnet was only fourteen lines long, but I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of writing one.  L’Engle added that each of us had to read our poem aloud to the group.  We didn’t have much time to complete this assignment, so in a panic I deliberated what kind of wool I could pull over eveyone’s eyes.  The subject came to me in a flash: dolphins!  It was well-known throughout her writing that L’Engle loved dolphins, and I did too.  I scribbled about dolphins and stood up in front of twenty-four students and the imposing L’Engle.  My hands were sweaty, my heart beat rapidly, and my voice was thin and shaky.  Come to think of it, I don’t know how much L’Engle could truly hear me given her hearing loss.

To my relief and delight, she said she liked it!  Again, I don’t recollect the precise words she used, but it seemed that she was sincere.  Over the years, during multiple moves to assorted houses, I lost many sentimental papers, and my sonnet was among them.  But I’ll never forget L’Engle’s positive reaction to my ode to dolphins.

Other highlights of the seminar were more superficial, but enjoyable all the same.  Each day the monks made delectable chocolate chip cookies, and they made these yummy treats easily accessible.  Being a major chocolate fiend, I gorged on them.  I probably gained ten pounds in two days from inhaling cookies right, left and sideways.  Another bonus of the weekend was being in the perfect setting for such a class.  The monastery had a view of the majestic beauty of the Santa Barbara hills, and overlooked the sparkling Pacific Ocean.  The weather was sunny and warm.

I wish I could go back in time and repeat the workshop with Madeleine L’Engle, not as a twenty-something unmarried, childless college student, but as the woman I’ve become.  (Warts and all!)  At least I had the opportunity to brush shoulders with greatness, and I learned that those we worship are human…as far as we know. 😉