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On Dealing with Mental Illness

My husband Sabin met Robin Williams in the lobby of our building. Sabin came away with respect for the comic. “He’s down-to-earth, a nice guy,” Sabin approved. These are rare words of praise from my laconic husband, who seldom dispenses compliments and who is impressed only by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Robin William’s recent suicide has erupted into a public ferment of discussion about suicide and depression. I worry about copycat suicides, but the new open forum can benefit people who suffer from depression.

I’m a deeply creative person and creativity is linked with depression. I’ve stood at the edge with my toes curled over, staring into the abyss, wishing with every angstrom of my being that I was dissolved into that nothingness. I have been in that place of despair. It feels like there is nothing else. It feels bottomless. I understand, beneath what can be articulated, what Williams felt in the last hours of his life.

I don’t know how I survived some of those experiences. When I emerge from them, I have always felt so ashamed of my “weakness.” It didn’t help that my borderline personality disorder mother and entitled narcissist ex-husband were quick to use my despair as a means of “proving” that I was less than, that I was deficient, even worthless. For them, my depression validated their unkind treatment of me.

One beloved friend wrote recently about her own near misses with suicide. For her, the gun in her mouth failed to go off. I am so grateful that it failed. She is beautiful person, full of grace; the world is richer for her presence in it.

For me, survival might have something to do with my most primordial DNA. Family legend says we have Cherokee blood; DNA testing revealed a preponderance of hitherto-unexpected Ashkenazim genetic markers–such a large percentage of them, in fact, that the genetic testing technician looked at my results and stated, “Oh, you’re Jewish.”

So I have thought to myself that my ancestors were marched down the Trail of Tears, and they were burned up in pogroms. I am the dregs of not one but two genocides. I think it has left a residue of something inside me that keeps going and going and going.

In the bleakest moments of depression, I felt like an infinite can of gray paint had spilled out everywhere, onto everything. It coated everything so thickly and airlessly that there was no light or color anywhere. It is an unbearable, unyielding oppression of spirit.

When I am out of that state, I can imagine how my grappling with the gray paint must have been hard on the people around me. I can empathize with the difficulties they experienced through me.

Unfortunately for me, until the last decade, many people closest to me were so filled with malice that they took satisfaction in my depression. I hope Robin Williams didn’t have those kind of people around him. My life is different now, I have been working on my boundaries. I don’t keep malicious people around me anymore.

Life is better when I have kind-hearted people around me.

Malice is itself a mental illness. Unlike depression, people who live in that state of malice see the impact they make on the people around them–and they enjoy hurting other people. From my own reading and research, they tend to be borderlines and narcissists.

I am dealing now in a legal forum with a borderline who is way off the reservation. She’s also a sociopathic liar. I’ve written in other posts how she went crazy when I made a business decision she didn’t like. She sent dozens of caustic, threatening, obscenity-filled emails; after impersonating me online, she impersonated an attorney to me, signing his name and legal credentials to a threatening email; she tried to extort thousands of dollars from me and my husband by threatening malicious litigation; she pretended she had contacted a dear friend of mine and he had given up some dirt on me; she fraudulently stopped payment on checks, one to me and one to a third party; she left vitriolic voicemails that I may upload into youtube so that other people unfortunate enough to deal with her know how truly deranged she is.

My dear friend wrote me, matter-of-factly, that contrary to what she’d written, he’d never spoken to her nor heard her name before I forwarded her email to him. “Good luck,” my friend wrote, “she sounds like a looney tune.”

But this psychotic woman is far more than a goofy looney tune. She’s mentally ill in a way that hurts other people and enjoys doing so. I watched her be vitriolic and abusive toward other women, before she unloaded onto me. She turns on women regularly. I also watched her craven seduction of every man in her purview. Her conversation was filled with statements about how other women were jealous of her and how every man wanted to sleep with her.

Why didn’t I wise up sooner to the extent of this psycho’s cruelty and insanity?

Partly because this psycho can appear normal and she knows how to flatter people.

Partly because I have a blind spot when it comes to borderlines, thanks to my mother.

Partly because it’s hard for me to impute malice to people. I just don’t get it. I want to live with integrity and to act with kindness and generosity toward people. Note: I don’t succeed every minute of every day, but this is my stated intention. I do not take pleasure in the suffering of other people.

So sometimes I don’t see what’s staring me in the face, whether it’s a borderline’s obvious psychotic imbalance as she bullies people, especially women, or the malicious, invasive obsession of an ex stalking my blog, visiting my blog site every day from wherever he is, sometimes several times a day.

I need to grow out of my naivete.

There’s the mental illness turned inward, that hurts the self. There’s the mental illness turned outward, hurting other people. Many books claim that the latter is a defense against the former, that people lash out with malice because of the pain of the rot at their own core.

Perhaps. Recently a healer with whom I am working defined “evil” for me: “It’s the conscious decision to harm another human being.”

It’s necessary to be wary, to be mindful, of this evil, whether it’s evil turned inward or turned outward.

For the evil turned inward, I’ve developed a series of strategies that help me. Regular exercise, for one. I have made a commitment to practicing yoga every day, and it’s not just because I’m vain and want a nice-looking body–though that’s part of it. Another reason is because yoga is the single best negative-pattern interrupt I’ve encountered in my 51 years. I go to the gym several times a week for cardiovascular exercise. I’ve worked on myself in psychotherapy and I receive spiritual healings. I’m filling my life with friends who have loving hearts, friends who laugh with me. I meditate. I chant mantras. I pray. Oh, yes, I pray every day.

I’ve trained myself to look in the mirror and say, “I love you and you are beautiful and worthy. You are a wonderful person.” This exercise in self-appreciation and self-love was the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life. It was much harder than going to Yale and Columbia from a modest, turmoil-filled family where no one had ever attended college.

Ultimately, I believe that this is the antidote to evil: Love. Love from within to the within. Love that starts with the self, and radiates into strong boundaries that keep out the malicious folks. Mature love that accepts that sometimes other people are malicious and must be kept out of the inner sanctum. Love that understands that sometimes evil will have its way.

I know that karma exists. Actions always return. Sometimes karma has a long, long arc, but in the end, evil is balanced.

Wherever Robin Williams is, I pray that he feels the outpouring of other people’s love for him. I pray that it leads him to greater and greater self love. I pray that the evil he did himself is balanced by some extraordinary kindness toward his soul. I pray that when people come to that moment of choosing to harm themselves, that some tiny particle of love comes in to pull them back from the abyss.

BROKEN: Power is pornographic
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BROKEN: Power is pornographic

Among the myriad ways to categorize people is one I have developed over the course of my life. It has to do with the paradigm a person subscribes to. That is, is this person about power or is he or she about freedom?

I have found that people usually fall into one of those two camps. Not always, of course, and there’s flow back and forth. Even people who believe in freedom can race into a power struggle when they feel unsafe.

As a general thing, people who seek power are looking for power over other people. They tend to develop skills for manipulation, currying favor, seduction, and insinuation, especially the sly delivery of a put down or a compliment, the aim of either being to control the other person’s feelings and achieve a desired result.

Power-mongers’ diction will be full of phrases like “squash them like a bug,” “hold them in the palm of my hand,” “grind them to dust,” “kick their ass,” “beat them to a pulp,” etc. You get the idea. This soul-less paradigm sees people as either winners or losers; other people are objects to be used, objects who either gratify or thwart the power-monger.

People who source themselves in freedom take a different approach. They look for mutuality and reciprocity, for the “win-win” solution, for everyone to feel seen and validated. Their language sounds different, you can hear it immediately. There’s reference to inclusiveness and respect, respect for both self and other people. “We’re in this together” and “let’s resolve this.” Words tend to be courteous. Praise is given out of kindness or because it’s earned, but not to sway the other person into a desired behavior. Notice that “kindness” and “respect” are the operative modes.

I think it takes a lot of inner strength to choose to seek freedom. It takes faith, perhaps even a certain amount of enlightenment. I think it’s a choice each person has to make regularly, because in the flow of life, we regularly encounter challenges and tests. Who are we going to be? It’s the question we face every moment as we choose our paradigm, our Source.

I’m deep in the next draft of this WWII novel of mine, BROKEN. It’s brought up all these reflections because the second world war perfectly embodied issues of power and freedom. That is, the Nazis sought power over other people–over just about everyone. And they were perfectly willing to take away the freedom of anyone who disagreed with them, or anyone who bore the “stigma” of Nazi projections of inferiority: Jews, gays, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Poles, Socialists, Communists, etc.

The Nazis believed in an embedded hierarchy that their god had established. I have come to understand that the belief in an external, hierarchical, gendered god–and by gendered I mean patriarchal–is the origin of a great deal of evil in the world.

So here’s the next draft of the cover of BROKEN.

Power is pornographic

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Email Harassment and Criminal Behavior

A post about the horror of Email Harassment.

I guess sometimes I’m kind of a naive person. Sometimes I trust when I shouldn’t.

So I got involved with someone who is psychotic, and it took me several months to see it.

I took someone on to help them. There were warning signs along the way: occasionally this person was startlingly verbally abusive toward women. I mean, sometimes this person seemed to hate women with a rare, intense, and perplexing viciousness.

But the person didn’t act that way toward me, and always seemed to have an “excuse,” though now that I look back on it, is there ever a justification for brutally aggressive verbal abuse and profound misogyny?

This person can be incredibly charming on the telephone, working a kind of Grima Wormtongue thing. Still, many of this person’s relationships degenerated into ugliness, name-calling, and bitter enmity. But always there was an excuse, and it was never this person’s fault.

Then it was my turn to be on the receiving end.

I first grew aware of a serious issue when I discovered that this person had impersonated me online, signing my name and personal email to a gift without my foreknowledge or consent.

This was a wake up call that I heard. I pulled back. No one has the right to violate my privacy that way. No one has the right to impersonate me or to appropriate my email address. It is identity theft and it is wrong.

Then, just a few days ago, things erupted. I made a decision this person did not like. When I stood my ground, the person first was conciliatory, and then suddenly–the switch flipped. In the course of a few hours, Mr. Hyde emerged.

This person sent dozens and dozens of violent, offensive emails that included threats of bodily harm, like promising to fight me until “blood trips.” There were other vulgar, violent threats that I won’t post online. The emails were increasingly poorly spelled and they were filled with the foulest language imaginable. They included manic threats of various sorts. The diction was completely out-of-bounds, like something from a ghetto. I was called the “c” word fifty times or more, and even in the subject line of the emails.

One of the emails, demanding a large sum of money within 24 hours, was also sent to my husband.

In the course of this mad ranting, the person claimed to have phoned a longtime friend of mine, and he had given up some dirt on me. Of course my friend emailed today saying straight out that he had never spoken to this person and had never heard the name before my emails describing the person’s allegations.

Is it any surprise that this toxic person is a sociopathic liar?

Moreover, this person signed the name and legal credentials of an attorney admitted to the bar to one of the emails sent to me, for the purposes of threatening and intimidating me–without the attorney’s consent. I wonder how the attorney feels about that, given the responsibility of character and ethics that comes with a bar membership. So this person impersonates other people, too.

Obviously, this person has decompensated totally. Obviously this person needs psychiatric care.

In the meantime, I am left cleaning up a mess. There are people I must warn, because those people came up in conversation between me and the psychotic person–and I don’t know what the psychotic person will say or do. I don’t know if this unbalanced person will make contact, as a way to hurt me.

Several friends have urged me to file a restraining order, because the threats of physical harm were blatant and appallingly far over any possible line anyone could draw.  These threats were criminal.

This person also hurt a third party financially, an independent subcontractor who had completed work for this person, because I was the one who recommended the subcontractor. I feel terrible because someone I like and respect, who does first rate work, was hurt. The psychotic person stopped payment for work already completed, which is the same as writing a bad check: it is fraud.

The psychotic person also stopped payment on a check to me for a service that I provided. More fraud.

It’s shocking when harassment erupts this way. There are places to report it, and I have. There are steps to take, and I’m taking them.

In the meantime, it does leave me reeling, stunned at the depths of viciousness and sociopathy in the human soul.

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Wednesday it was announced that a federal commission charged with building a national monument honoring President Eisenhower voted unanimously to approve elderly architect Frank Gehry’s latest design for the monument.
I wrote, in part:

Notice, also, that this post is entitled, “The Problem with the Frank Gehry Memorial.” Because to examine the plans for the memorial is to see a monument to a prominent architect’s particular vision, not a memorial to a revered statesman, general, and President. While taste is personal and Americans love hubris, Gehry’s imposition of his personal style does seem to fly in the face of President Eisenhower’s modest origins, personal humility, and appeal to all sectors of society.

Gehry’s is not the only hubris in evidence regarding this “unanimous decision.” In reading the announcement, it is striking that Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano speaks disparagingly of the Eisenhower family’s objections: “The family deserves to be heard, not obeyed,” he is alleged to have said.

It’s a rhetorical masterpiece to spin the family’s concerns as autocratic. But the rhetoric only thinly veils condescension, which reflects poorly on Siciliano in particular but also on the committee as a whole. For shame: surely this esteemed family deserves better than to be sneered at!

The Eisenhowers deserve better because their objections are thoughtful, persistent, echoed by many others, and valid. In fact, the Eisenhowers have courageously given voice to the concerns and objections of a great many people. But the announcement wasn’t written to express that fact.

It’s an ongoing shame that the Eisenhower family has been contemptuously dismissed by Siciliano and Gehry, those thick-as-thieves buddies from California; Eisenhower himself has been dismissed from this memorial. Not only that, but this ugly monument to folly is outrageously expensive, as well. See the report on the Eisenhower Memorial for the figures, which exceed $40,000,000.
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Celebrity Social Contracts

Celebrity Social Contracts

Someone in my life peripherally associated with me erupted recently to spew fantasies, lies, projections and malice about me. It was done first in a private forum, and then the person sought a more public venue.

This isn’t the first time it happened, and given the nature of the person’s hatred, it probably won’t be the last.

I find it baffling that this person is so intent on attacking me. What’s the point? I’m not famous, I’m not rich, I don’t own any islands in the Pacific, and I haven’t invented either a cure for cancer or a safe and plentiful energy alternative to fossil fuel oil. I cry easily, I laugh easily, I get mad quick, I get over it quick, I don’t hold grudges, and I can’t find a great-fitting pair of blue jeans. There’s nothing that stands out about me to draw forth such venom. Musing this way led me down other pathways, wondering about the extreme examples of projection and slander that famous people experience. Remember Richard Gere and the gerbils?

Years ago, I heard those rodent jokes. I confess, I snickered. A really kinky bizarro image formed in my head. It was all so juicy and salacious that I was hooked in. Now, with what I’ve experienced from someone telling lies about me, I feel a little ashamed. Was I colluding in slanderous gossip? That’s not the person I want to be.

The person who spreads lies about me invents pretty damning stories. I always feel a little sorry for people who have to put others down to pump themselves up; I’m also secure in knowing that the people who know me, the people involved in the truth of the matter, know that it’s false and malicious nonsense, spread by a vindictive person. But still, it’s painful. Lies hurt. And it’s potentially damaging to my reputation and to the hearts of people close to me.

In a larger way, I have to wonder, is this what celebrities experience, when the most outrageous and intimate stories are published about them? When their privacy is violated with sly and cozening falsehoods? If so, I feel for them–even if they do own islands in the Pacific and have sussed out the perfect pair of Levi’s. I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through.

I used to think that celebrities set themselves up for rumors and gossip by entering the limelight. That is, by seeking out fame, by accepting the adulation and positive projections we heap upon them, and the money and social status that accompany fame, then celebrities are also tacitly accepting derogation, slander, and the inevitable negative projections. Because the edge between perception and projection is a fine and tricky thing, more like the play of figure and ground than like a big iron gate between two yards, so we are all always sliding into vomiting forth what’s inside us–exactly at the moment we think we’re taking in truth with exquisite sensitivity. And a person who has sought a world stage must be prepared for this fact of human nature: to be out in the public is to invite other people’s stuff.

But now I think that simply to be alive is to invite other people’s stuff. Objectification for unconscious reasons simply occurs, all the time, like the ocean ebbs and then rushes back. So I think twice about giggling at certain jokes. I can’t always prevent myself from seeing a really funny, sicko image in my head. I’m not the Buddha. I don’t pretend to be. But I think maybe our public figures deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Coherence theory, and networking
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Coherence theory, and networking

Moral relativism is a failed social experiment. So is moral fundamentalism. I blame modern psychotherapy–partly–for the degradation of a culture that can not tolerate accountability and discernment. It’s why so many TV shows and movies are about serial killers: we can not conceive of a bad guy anymore. The only “bad guy” we can all agree on is a mass murderer. Even that is in danger of being OKified by the shrinked up zeitgeist: ergo Dexter, the lovable serial killer who kills serial killers. We want to rehabilitate everyone in this sophomoric, brainless insistence that there is no evil.

But somewhere between the rocks and the hard place of relativism and fundamentalism is a unitive philosophy that embraces what Teilhard de Chardin called humanism, but still leaves room for shame and discernment. Yes, shame has an important place in social interaction. So does spirituality. I am playing around with the middle way in my head, and I call it coherence theory.

I got to hear some comments about Teilhard de Chardin at a dinner last night that honors classicism. The art critic Donald Kuspit received an award for excellence in the arts, and he spoke about the failure of the avant-guard, which has turned into an empty “frantic trendiness.” It was a great relief to hear someone state outright that the emperor has no clothes. My husband Sabin Howard, being a sculptor, drags me to a lot of art shows, and I have seen a lot of twelfth rate crap. In fact, as soon as anyone says they are an “abstract expressionist,” I know they suck.

Speaking of art that sucks: I was seated at dinner next to some stuffed shirts who run an arts club, and on hearing I was a novelist, they told me with much self-importance that they were honoring Chinua Achebe. I groaned. “For what? His novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is so badly written! It’s boring and unreadable! He gets attention just because he’s the only one out of Nigeria.”

Immediately, the stuffed shirts wanted to prove that I was rascist and asked me if Obama was just getting votes because he was black.

“That’s not why I voted for him,” I answered. “I voted for him because he’s smart and inspiring, I think he can truly bring change, and I want change!” That shut them up long enough for me to carry on for a while about what a piece of cockroach manure “Things Fall Apart” is. The stuffed shirts managed to save themselves by turning away to talk to other people, and I seized the opportunity to make vomiting motions in their direction. It got a laugh out of my husband but probably didn’t endear me to the artsy fartsy shirts.

Later, in the cab ride home, the great Burt Silverman, a realist portrait painter who actually has a foundation in craftsmanship and tradition, twitted me about my oration on the indignity of art. “You were networking?” he asked wryly. Probably not.

Update from a few years later: The stuffed shirt who insulted me embezzled money from the arts club–a LOT of money. Sometimes my instincts hit the bull’s eye.