I never cared much about looking back when I was young.
I could not wait to leave this house, this town get out and experience stuff. You know the obstinate dreamer looking for bold adventure. It worked. I ran. I ran fast and far, and kept running. That’s the funny thing about developing a serious illness, you are forced to re-prioritize. Becoming insane in the middle of Manhattan did not bode well for me or the strangers that crossed my path. The fancy friends eventually grew tired and gave up on listening to the paranoia, illusions of grandeur or understanding the enticement of pretty pink and shiny purple horses or the flickering lights of the carousel. Ones you can’t dismount or runaway from or dismiss, like the mania and depression you can’t out run. Round and round you go, in perpetuity. There are worse things than glaring evil stares when dancing alone in a Radio Shack in Harlem. There are even worse things than sitting on the floor in the middle of Rite Aid, Gatorade in hand, sobbing because you don’t know where you are, why the room is spinning or if you’re going to hurl from the strobe light storm happening inside your brain. There are even worse, more horrific things than why you’re all alone sitting on the cold, dirty floor. You are sure there are. You watch the news, bad shit happens. This bad to you, you’re not so sure.
Mortifying, that’s what mental illness is. Ruthless, ugly, hide your face in shame from the judgmental, fearful stares. The noise level in NYC is just too high. You can’t stand when passerbys brush against you, the subway screeches to a halt, or the taxis whizzing past. The bright yellow hurts your eyes. You can’t see. You can’t hear. You cannot process the incessant, relentless buzz, hums and whirring noise.
I am somebody’s child, you know.
I am somebody’s child, same as you.
I used to love the Carousel screaming and running towards it, arms flailing like the happy carefree girl I once was.
What I can’t figure out is what the hell I’m supposed to do? Now. With this.
Some people are addicted to the mania jonesing for the next high, the visions, euphoria.
No, no, no.
Not me. I’ll take the black hole depression and blasé every single time. It’s quieter and peaceful alone in the dark. Except for being skinny, that part of the mania I’ll keep.
There’s only one thought to trust, one way to save yourself.
Maybe, maybe if you go back you might find your way.
Safe passage awaits.
Maybe I’ll breathe easier there.
Maybe the familiar, childhood home might save me.
Probably not. It’s my best shot.
You see, I don’t care if I live or if I die. I know that sounds harsh, exaggerated, self-indulgent but it’s not.
I only care how I live and where I’ll die.
I’ve been asking my mom about her mother as far back as I can remember, cataloging the information in a deep, pooling reservoir of serenity where I could reach in calling on the stories to be soothed.
I have tidal waves of memories, and ripple effects of love stored in my brain.
My grandmother, May, died in her sleep before we could meet. Fifty-three is too young to leave, she was barely getting started I bet.
I know some things about her. She liked to fish and the solitude of being on the water. We have that in common.
She drank a Manhattan every night after work. She was a baker’s daughter, my mom still makes her molasses cookie recipe at Christmastime. She loved her husband who’d get sick, (like me) and then better but never quite the same.
“Don’t bother your father,” the phrase handed down to her own daughter.
May worked in a plumbing shop with him, raising her children to be responsible, gentile and hardworking.
It was a simple, honest life.
She liked to dance, but didn’t go out often.
She loved gardening, planting roses and peony bushes.
Did you know it takes peonies a full year to bloom?
Maybe May knew while planting the seed, her heart full of family.
An invisible string from the heavens touching mine, her orb a sweet- scented blushing pink.
Maybe she knew, probably not.
She’d adored diamonds like me, wore an outrageous sparkling solitaire with facets that shimmer and catch the light on my finger. I only wear the precious heirloom on special occasions or when I’m morosely blue. It makes me feel pretty inside, close to her.
“You never told me I looked like her,” drilling my mother with yet another ten-thousandth question.
She nodded, “it makes me sad and happy at the same time.”
Home, a place one doesn’t fully outgrow and never truly leaves behind.
But home, this home however much I am the failure for needing to return is where I would like to live and how I would hope to die.
Not necessarily the physical dwelling, but the contentment feeling and serenity of a happy place inside.
Surrounded by love. Less alone.
Unencumbered by the weight of heavy living.
“As an artist do I need constant flux to create? How will I find words in the woods surrounded by trees and rotten cornfields? How will I find anything besides dying, wet leaves?
I cannot escape the volume in my head, the constant churning. The Jesus fucking Christ, turn it down chatter. I have been told to be patient. Wait for the drugs, the quieting veil, and the lavender calm to smooth out the ringing. My mind is full of death and black spots I’m sure, much like a stroke patient after a spell.
“The chaos comes with you,” simply stated my friend. He was right. I am here, here am I. Sick and tired, tired and bullshit sick.
The blank paper waits and my hands navigate the keys and the thoughts go where they may.”
Lupe and I must have walked the loop at Hoopes Park a thousand times, or more.
In ten-degree freezing black ice, navigating lethal dangerous walkways (and fallen more than once), on grey-cloud, weepy wet gloomy days.
You name it. We’ve dredged through it.
It helps, ya’ know. The walk.
To free the brain from the pressure, dark and dangerous thinking.
Easing up, releasing the unrelenting anxiety.
When we walk past the white pristine house with the red door, I have to fight the urge not to run up and knock.
Or barge in.
She’s not there.
I know this to be true in my head, but my heart searches for her.
Missing every puzzle piece and all her silly ways. Her sage advice, too.
The water fountain, Buddha and Zen room she created, so proud to show me the space.
Her home with the red door is just a dwelling now, somebody else’s house we pass on the walk.
Suicide was never her choice, she just couldn’t stay.
I don’t believe there are coincidences, I choose to believe there are signs along the way.
L.B.H., I believe you threw me one today.
It’s the perfect sixty-degree, pretty blue sky day with sunshine peek-a-booing through the clouds.
Like a child playing hide and seek, giggly and covering their mouth to contain the excitement.
Just like a happy child, exactly like you.
Thanks for the Buddha, water fountain, precious memories and luminescent magic that was your life.
The Zen room has a new home, with me.
I’ll do my best to keep them safe.
I’ll do my best to keep you safe, using my voice.
I stand against suicide, because your life matters.
Because you, more than anyone I have ever known loved being alive.
You, and your gypsy-free spirit, brilliant, bold, courageous, compassionate, goofy, non-judgmental, all-encompassing, curious, big beautiful love would be walking right beside me.
I can’t see you, but I feel your presence in mine.
I did not forget.
2 days and eight years gone is too long.
You were, and continue to be forever loved.
One of the many things that I admire about Jacqueline is that she embodies real compassion and humanitarianism. As a Stigma Fighter and advocate, Jackie shares her own personal stories, spreads awareness, and shines light where ignorance would prefer it remain dark.
Jackie has experienced so many different and fascinating adventures in her life, some haven’t been all that great, but they haven’t tainted her or driven her to become bitter in any way. Jackie believes in celebrating people for their accomplishments, and lifting them up when they fall. She expresses gratitude whole-heartedly, and this is rare to find today. Jackie is a gem, and it has been such a pleasure to get to know her. I love everything that she stands for, and I believe that she is changing the world. Thank you, Jackie. You are inspiring.
The Fault Line
By Jacqueline Cioffa
I keep coming back to one thought. Let…
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One in Four. No, not Really.
The very real, gut-wrenching mental illness statistics remain not far off from fifty years ago when pyschiatric institutions were the solution, lock them away.
As long as my beautiful chaotic mind and the words don’t betray me, I use my voice.
I am Three in Four even Four in Four, hit the mentally ill genetic jackpot. The reality is I could snap at any moment, I pray won’t.
Please, don’t judge. Don’t judge the ‘crazy,’ the insane, the unfit, the unwell, the lunatic that is me. Help us instead.
We are left with the prisons of our own minds and that is heavy enough.
From the Washington Post, “A shocking number of mentally ill Americans end up in prison instead of treatment.”
I Am Adam Lanza
By Jacqueline Cioffa
A decade ago I lived a frivolous, spoiled, privileged life. An International fashion model, I worked in more countries than I can count. Freedom was something I took for granted, until the earth fell from under me and my whole world shattered. My first psychotic breakdown took away everything I knew to be true and buried me whole.
The paranoia, delusions of grandeur, mania, the irrational and out of control behavior. I wanted to die, too exhausted by the fragile, broken mind. I wanted to let go of the rage, the fear, the despair, I wanted to end my life. The slicing of the wrists, my escape and a way out. Dancing in the streets, in stores, I was too out of my mind to be ashamed, by my behavior. The shame and isolation would come later, as thick and heavy as a steel beam, freight train crushing my soul. I lived with my brother, exasperated, helpless, not knowing what more he could do, he put me on a bus back home to my mother. My Irish, stubborn, loyal, family first, capable mother. She had experience dealing with Mental Illness; my family had been plagued by the unlucky 1 in 4 gene pool.
My sick, wracked mind betrayed me, no longer mine to control. The whole and intact me, I used to know now gone forever. The carefree, compassionate, strong, independent person is living her worst nightmare. Even on the hard, horrific days, the dark evil thoughts dominating my brain, I fight desperately to regain control. If you have not been exposed to Mental Illness, please do not talk to me about it. You are out of your league, cannot begin to comprehend the exhausting toll it takes. On a family, friends, that is if you are lucky enough to have any left. Mostly, you are left with isolation and shame, your own.
My second breakdown brought black days, numbness, and a shell of a person. The depression and anxiety, so crippling I was forced to leave the big city, retreat back home to the safety of familiar surroundings. The pain so deep, so heavy, the fear immense, death seemed my only option. A welcome release from the demons, the evil lurking in the corners of a tortured mind. I work hard to beat the beast daily, as soon as my feet hit the floor, shaking. I take the psych drugs, Lithium, Xanax, Valium, the shock treatments and practice alternative medicine. I do yoga, eat healthy, exercise and live simple. I try to avoid the triggers, terrified of the next episode.
I never know when the outbursts will come, when paranoia will convince me the man in the park wants to kill me. In my heart and my soul, I know this is completely irrational. But, the mind plays tricks. I have to fight, every minute, every second to control the grappling Illness I must live with. Day after day, in constant fear of what I might do next. I don’t own a gun, I would be afraid to have one in close proximity. I hate violence, I find it abhorrent, but I do not trust the beast.
There is no concrete help for the Mentally Disabled; there is half hour, once a month consults with the overworked, underpaid psychiatrist, who spends your time glancing at a clock. There are no solutions, into the mysteries of a broken mind, they throw pills at you. Pills that may very well be your undoing, send you deeper into depression, trigger manic episodes or worse an acute psychotic episode, and the killing of innocent souls. Those are the worst breaks, the psychosis, and the hardest to come back from. I have visited them firsthand.
I watched, helpless as my beautiful, brilliant, Yale educated, compassionate cousin ended her own life. She was a Dr., the smartest person I know and she could not find a way out of the Mental Illness that plagued her. My own father, who endured 17 years of Mental Illness, endless pills that made him worse, psychiatric hospital visits, a dementia ridden mind at the end. My mother, who fought every battle with him, and for him when he couldn’t. His daughter who would always be in my memory, his adored, precocious, funny face, happy and intact child. He died not knowing my name. Although, in my heart and my spirit, I know exactly what I meant to him. His last breath I was beside him, holding his hand and on his heart. I felt the unbearable pain and destroyed mind, set free as he floated up to heaven. He was a good man, the kindest, most selfless I know.
I am a good person, who doesn’t deserve this fate. I am not a violent person, but I am Adam Lanza. He may have committed a horrific, unspeakable EVIL, act. Did he start out evil? He must have been an innocent, child himself at some point. When did his broken mind take over, when did he lose all rational, self-control? It’s too hard to grasp, too big to think about without immeasurable faith.
When are we, as an empathetic society, going to care about the Mentally Ill? Fight for them; stick up for them, as eagerly as we fight against gun control. When will we do something about the fact that there is no place for ‘us’, when the evil, mind disease takes hold? They send you to the ER, push a pill, perhaps a 72 hour hold to the Psych Ward. There is nowhere a parent with a disturbed, sick child can turn. We are in trouble, as a society. Take the guns off the streets, a mentally disturbed individual will find another way to kill. Help us fix them, with more research, better facilities, more culpability from the Government and its people, for the Mentally Ill.
I weep for those children, the families, the unimaginable depths of pain and sorrow. I rejoice in my youth, safe, happy and healthy. I’m grateful for that. I expose myself, sharing my story. Perhaps it can help bring insight and perspective. I don’t believe human beings are evil, I believe they are defective and commit violent, unspeakable acts.
Mental Illness has afflicted me, but it could’ve been you or a loved one. One in four is not great odds. I am alone, completely and utterly alone with my Illness, even while surrounded by an empathic family. I am not a child; I am an adult, who’s better equipped to manage this bastard disease.
Please, don’t judge me. Don’t judge the Adam Lanza’s. Don’t judge the ‘crazy,’ the insane, the unfit, the unwell, the lunatic that is me.
Help us instead.
No matter how many times this morning I repeated I am in fact NOT full of hate, bitter, ugly, paralyzed with fear or consumed by the crazy, I could not reason my way out. I’m a rapid cycler, I’ve been hypo-manic for weeks and yes headed towards the inevitable come down, the hideous depression and the dark. Black nothingness is something I understand, the concept I accept and am accustomed to. It’s always there, lurking, stalking, circling a part of my DNA. No, I cannot wish it away or yank it out like an abcessed, putrid smelling decayed tooth. The crash and burn snatches the pretty pieces of me, my self-worth, joy, hope, strength, wonder. Yes, I’m constantly skipping ahead to the future, not in a happy-go-lucky way but trying to map the least destructive, less painful route. I don’t even understand what’s happening to me, which thoughts to trust or block so how could you?
My worst fear, the one that buries me like a sinkhole is that I end up alone with my crazy. On the streets or even worse, like my father who had no idea who I was in the end. His crazy consumed him over an agonizing amount of days and years. It is slowly and excruciatingly doing the same to me. Silently, while I am screaming inside. I realize I am not going to win this war, I understand that. So why bother writing books no one will read? Painting rooms in a house I will surely have to leave. Why bother? When everything and everyone I love will die and be taken away. Why bother when I will be left insane, why the fuck should I care? About anything. God doesn’t. I’m not sure how much pain one body can endure, I’ve had more than one soul can carry. Today, I do feel sorry. I am allowed. But wallowing is dangerous, heartbroken tears make my eyes puffy, my heart heavy and the guilt of hurting those I love too heavy to bare.
I didn’t start the day with bad intentions. Most days I pretend happy, hoping it will rub off. For you and for me. For my benefit that I am indeed strong enough to cope with this bullshit brain that never stops the whirring, annoying chatter. If I do end up in the streets, so be it. I’d best plan now, pick a pretty, warm corner where the sun shines with a soothing view. The bastard disease has not yet ripped away my imagination. No, not yet that’s all mine.
My BFF talked me off the ledge, the pity party granted until noon and that’s all. The number of hours wasted, screamed, cried and hurled accusations at my mother is more shame than I care to remember. I insisted to my friend (when my head controls the dialogue I CANNOT think, to say I become irrational is being charitable) that I was ‘happy’ once, a ‘free-spirit’ which she quickly shot down. “Who is this person you’re talking about, that wasn’t you.”
I’ve been pretending so long since before I can remember, I don’t even know me. The lines dangerously crossed in my mind.
I’m not going to write books, do anything anymore. Why the fuck should I?
I quit. Why fight when there’s no winning? I can’t battle an invisible disease. Well, you have two choices and one is true midnight black nothingness. The other, keep breathing.
Do not feel sorry for me. Do not dare feel sorry for me. I do not want, need or ask for your pity. I’m sharing this because these words, my most hurtful truths, this unbearable pain, the incomprehensible fear someone else out there in a parallel world might be feeling them too.
Don’t judge my crazy or put a label on it for your comfort.
I did not ask for this mind, it’s what I got.
Tomorrow, tomorrow I’ll feel better. I probably won’t given the logic and the statistics, but tomorrow will come with or without me.
Fear has never been a friend of mine. Fuck it. Onward.
CRAZY, NOW GET OUT OF MY HEAD.
I am writing.
truth always wins.