When One Boomer’s Madness Morphs into Dream-Come-True

In 2011, it’s hard to know which is weirder—watching myself on videotape narrating my psychiatric struggle in 1997 or knowing now how inherently different my life is 14 years later.

Though ’97 was difficult, I generally had to fight hard for more than 10 years following my diagnosis with bipolar disorder in 1990, a decade of pain and endurance, as I struggled with every ounce of energy available, battled a diagnosis that doomed me to countless psychiatric hospitalizations and chronic poverty.  I lived without a car and in 1997 on $736 a month.

Things were particularly bleak during the winter and spring of 1997, when I was hospitalized twice and struggled to complete even the most basic tasks of daily living—getting myself to and from treatment, feeding myself regular meals, taking medications as prescribed.  I spent 5 hours a day on Dallas city buses, struggled to purchase groceries on $30 a week, and suffered so with memory loss, I couldn’t remember whether or not I’d taken the Zyprexa (an anti-psychotic drug) that dulled my thinking and left me listless, not to mention sleepy and ravenously hungry.

But yesterday, in the context of a memoir-writing project, I watched video-taped therapy sessions from 1997, a number of them, at least 6 hours worth.

I noted especially that on March 6, 1997, wearing red sweat pants and my hair in a loose bun, I congratulated my therapist on the occasion of her 49th birthday.  I was 35 years old but looked at least 10 years younger than that—thin and toned as I pretzeled myself into a corner of black leather sofa.

what I looked like in 1997

But what I remember about that time, recall without having to watch a video, is the belief that my therapist was rather old—unimaginably older that I could ever imagine myself becoming.

Yet now, in 2011, I am myself 49.  I am the “old” I couldn’t imagine myself becoming.  And this is a hugely strange experience— sitting in a home I own, with my graying hair and gained weight—watching a much younger version of myself, wishing a woman I so respected happy birthday, knowing I was thinking, “Gosh, she’s almost 50.  I can’t imagine being that old.”

watching videos of myself 14 years later

Not only am I watching myself 14 years ago—seemingly endless hours of myself frozen in time—but also I’m thinking about who I am myself now at this ripe old age—how different I look—how inherently reversed my circumstances are—how much better, richer, fuller my life is—how my experience is now what I only hoped it could be then, what I only dreamed it could be, but never expected it could become.

Clichéd as it sounds—I am now literally living a dream come true—a dream I articulated to my therapist in 1997—a dream about teaching at a university again, a dream about writing—a dream about succeeding—a dream about love.

I don’t know how it happened.  I don’t know how or why I became ill, why my mind deteriorated to the point it could no longer be trusted, how it is that now I am well—at least in relative terms—my symptoms well-managed. 

In 1997 Bill Clinton was just beginning his second term as president; scientists were cloning Dolly the sheep; and in the US we would soon have a balanced budget.  Though Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died, it was a time of hope—a time of new beginnings and relative prosperity.

However, my memory at the time was so poor, my connection to the larger world so tenuous, I recall little of this.  I know most of this from my more recent efforts to go back and fill in the blankness my brain experienced as real life.

Now, as I watch these videos, as I reflect on how I felt 14 years ago, on how it feels now to not remember, I’m amazed that I have come this far.  That I no longer fear homelessness, that I no longer live in government housing, that I now own a home, function well, love an amazingly accomplished woman who loves me even more. 

How did I survive more than a decade of seeming defeat?  How is it that I’ve recovered to this degree?  How did this come to be, this tale of endurance, my narrative of hope?  How is it that this stunning grace has happened?

I hope my memoir can help me share this amazing magic—let others know that what sometimes seems an illusion of recovery can indeed become a solid and shared reality—a Boomer’s madness morphed into dream-come-true.

Real Boys do Cook Quiche: a Reflection on Fathers’ Day

(in memory of Sam’s daddy Dino–Happy Fathers’ Day from far away)

Much to our delight, my nephew Sam came to visit Sara and me this weekend.  His mother, my younger sister Lynn, is in Cuba for 10 days, so Sam has a series of family, friends, and camp to keep him company.

And his stop Friday and Saturday just happened to be our home.  Goodness–what a gift to us!

The boy is precious–kind, smart, creative, with not only a soul of gold, but also a spirit bright and brilliant.

Sam is eleven.  He plays football, basketball, and a bit of soccer.  He golfs.

But his primary passion is in the kitchen.  He loves to cook, to bake, to create.  I don’t imagine there are many eleven-year-old boys in Kentucky whipping up quiche in the kitchen.  But Friday morning that’s just what Sam did.

So today–a journey in photographs–a quiche-cooking boy–a foodie’s young life:

Aunt Kathy holds her new-born nephew–Sammy’s first day of life:

for the love of nephew!

He’s grown a bit and is visiting Aunt Kathy again:


Sam and Daddy–(Sam’s daddy died when Sam was only six.):

Sam adored his daddy!

Sam and big brother Johnny visit Santa:

seasons greetings from the nephews

Sam graduates from pre-school:

entering the land of "Big Boy"

Sam tends to under-arms:

Sammy does deodorant.

When Sammy was six, we rode together in our town’s 4th of July parade:

I pedaled and pulled. Sammy sat.

Sam’s school picture:

Our boy is growing up.

This weekend Sam and I ate dinner at the Atomic Cafe, a block from our house in downtown Lexington:

We each ate shrimp linguine.

When Sam visits, he and I almost always collaborate on an art project:

Sam adds a logo to his painted bottle of wine.

Saturday morning we visited our local farmers’ market:

Sara and Sam

Smoothie goes green at Farmers’ Market:

pedaling toward smoothie

Yet another bike invloved in Sam’s Saturday:

Riding home fom Farmers' Market

So Sam is off to camp this week, but with Daddy gone, our boy has big pants to fill, as Fathers’ Day approaches:

Sam pulls himself up, britches better than boot straps

Happy Fathers’ Day, Dino!  We love you and know if you were here, you’d assure your son, that real boys do cook quiche.

But then Sam knows that already!

With the Edges of her Eyes

Today I’d like to share a poem I wrote about my maternal grandmother, who died in 1980, when I was only a senior in high school.

My grandmother was probably my favorite person on the planet.  I adored her and thought, as a teenager, that I could deal with just about any challenge, as long as it didn’t involve losing her.

Nana and I, two years before her death

My grandmother, born in 1903, was beautiful as a young girl:

However, when I was myself an adolescent, Nana fell and broke her hip.  She  was subsequently unable to reach her own feet, so when I visited her, my favorite place to stay in the summers, I often washed them for her–something I allude to in the poem that follows.


(in memory of Martha Gilbert Kunkle)

we are oblique and
at odd angles:
     me at the feet
     i once washed
     on a regular basis
in the dream:
     she is getting older
                melting or
looking at me
only with the edges
     of her eyes.

Though often in my dreams my grandmother is still alive, I’m grateful in the mornings  to know Nana, in all the ways that matter,  has never really left–blessing enough–in my own now aging  eyes.