MY BEST FRIEND MAXIMUS

Believe me, I realize how sort of sad and absurd it is to call a cat your best friend. I wish I were kidding.

Lots of things happen to a life when the person wearing that life geographically moves time and time again …. when moving is almost as easy as deciding to wear blue sneakers that day.

My life has often been overflowing like a cornucopia with friends and acquaintances and travel buddies and prayer partners and the surprise people who show up and stick like velcro for life.

So to find myself at this stage of life with only the teeniest amount of people surrounding me, comes as an unfamiliar state of being. But I’m strong and independent, mentally sound and resourceful, so the days turn into decades and life is what I make of it.

Max and I feel like siblings; our personalities have meshed. He is quiet and soulful. He likes to stare out windows and circle into a fetus shape while he naps. He loves everyone who walks in the door and assumes everyone loves him. He has a regal bearing. (I do not have a regal bearing.) Eating is his favorite activity, mine too. (That’s a hard one to admit.) He follows me everywhere I go. He is conspicuously sad when I leave. He is attentive when I return.

He likes Motown and if he is resting when the music comes on, he will get up and move around in his unique rendition of dancing. He prefers my iced tea to his water. If possible, he will place himself near my tea and stick his paw in the tea, retract it, and lick the tea off. He would do this all day if I allowed it. I find this so utterly adorable that I do watch him for a while before reclaiming the tea. Being the inbred gentleman that he is, he never sulks when I take “our” drink from him.

He adores catnip, obviously. He adores tuna and salmon. And chicken and turkey and soup. When he is hungry because I have missed his feeding by 15 minutes, he will just stand like a military statue at my feet until I get up. No hysterical behavior, no begging, no scratching, His patience and lack of nagging touch me to my core. He COULD be a brat, he just isn’t.

Max is stoic. He is gentle and meek. He truly cares if I’m crying; he acts as though he is almost panicky. So I stop crying at the earliest possible second that I can. Once he presented himself to a friend of mine who was on a different floor of my house and nudged and whimpered until she followed him upstairs.

He thought I was in medical trouble. I was napping. I’ve owned other cats; none has ever cared THAT much. He breaks my heart with his love.

Gorgeous doesn’t begin to capture his beauty. I am captivated and spend long periods in thought as I stare at him. His staggering looks kiss my eyes. If he were a real dude, I would propose. He’s everything I long for in a man.

THERAPY

Psychiatric and psychological therapy have been in my life, on and off, since I was 15 years old. In that adolescent year, the heft of the world fell on my head and I couldn’t find Toni Brown anywhere. She went MIA. She left. She became invisible and non-existent. This is called mental illness in the form of severe neuro-chemical depression.

This pain-saturated condition appears, stays for a pretty long time (six months to a year and a half) and then re-appears in about eighteen to twenty four months. (At least, that was my pattern.) During depression’s appearance, the person with this disorder usually sees a psychiatrist who prescribes psychotropic drugs. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. It’s pretty much a crap shoot and one tries lots and lots of drugs until the right combination shows up: waning depression descends and there is less of a desire to just run away to another galaxy. 

I can’t possibly remember how many drugs I tried until the right one worked. It took many years and more patience than imaginable. Many times I had to stay with my parents as a woman in her thirties because I wouldn’t eat or dress or water the plants or take care of myself. I didn’t have the physical strength or the slightest interest. They were deeply involved for the whole two and a half decades. It’s a BIG STORY and it’s in the book GABRIEL AND ESTHER.

Usually, the person with this disorder also sees a psych therapist or a professional with Masters in Social Work, because these people too are trained therapists. Therapy is an invaluable tool. It is why I am so introspective and thoughtful about my behavior. It has taught me to think with a depth of perception that I never would have reached without it. It’s about as hard to find the right therapist as it is to find the right drugs. There are a gazillion therapists

practicing their profession and so, it too, is a bit of a crap shoot. I pray to be led to the just-right therapist and often I am. Sometimes I have to have a few sessions with more than one therapist. I have lived in MANY places and that is why I have had to search for the just-right therapist. But it is oh so worth the search. It has saved my life as easily as any drug. I still see a therapist, although I have not been clinically depressed since the late 1980’s. Sometimes I need a tune up.

The terrible, awful and completely unnecessary human behavior that still, at this point in the twenty first century, lingers to haunt and stunt is the prejudice about mental illness. This disease might as well be heart disease or diabetes. It’s simply another human disease in the pantheon of diseases. So many lives could be saved or at  minimum, not have to stand the ridicule of people who are ignorant about mental illness. When I was very ill, I know my parents were quiet about what I and they were going through. It just wasn’t talked about much at all in the 60’s and 70’s. I personally didn’t care about the damaging gossip; I was too sick to care. My daily job was to not kill myself.

In order for this to be an “acceptable” disease, the chatter has to change to “WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP? GIVE ME SOME GUIDANCE. A PAMPHLET. A SUMMARY. SOMETHING!  And know this for certain: IT IS NOT THE PERSON’S FAULT. And know this too: Depression is just one diagnosis. There are many: Bipolar. Schizophrenia. Borderline Personality Disorder. Panic Disorder. Agoraphobia. And the beat goes on.

Please let’s get this straight. The disease itself is enough to deal with. Mocking, bullying, imitating, looking at people as though what they have is contagious ….. helps no one. Please be kind. We need it so badly.

The Journal

When I received my first diary at age thirteen, I was enthralled I would have a place to hide interior me from prying eyes. I carried the tiny key to that little baby-blue leather book everywhere I went and hid the book in a special place in my bedroom where I was assured it would be safe. And it was. The lock was never broken; the leather strap which easily could have been cut with scissors, never was.

I knew I would call my dairy by a specific name; I knew too that the name would be a code name for “G-D”. I thought it pointless to write to anyone but G-D, because I knew at that budding teen-age year that G-D knew my thoughts before I thought them and my needs before I needed them. Writing to G-D kept me clear, focused, open and avoided exaggeration or fabrication.

ANNE FRANK was the impetus for my wanting a diary of my own. I read her little volume over and over beginning at age ten. To me she was luminous, heroic and my young mind inhaled her wisdom and words as treasured gems. I found her voice to be so fresh and lucid. Her thoughts like living things. Her plight so hideous. Her demise so small and unsung. But it was this young song-bird, in the midst of tyranny and torture whose voice will not be stilled. I’ve always LOVED that. I love that she won …. that hers are the thoughts and hers are the words that linger. Hatred ravaged lives. Innocent love was translated into over sixty languages.

My diary was my closest friend; every silent secret of my life found its way onto dairy or journal pages and eventually onto monitor screens. G-D became my best friend.

* * * * * * *

No human escapes suffering or the challenges that life inevitably brings. My life has been no different. At age fifteen, I was struck numb and hollow by my first crippling bout with neuro-chemical depression. Only those of you whose depressions have been severe enough to be classified as mental illness, can personally relate to this diagnosis.

BECAUSE:

I’m not talking about savage sadness or the grief that accompanies loss. I’m touching on the kind of pain that renders someone useless. And when a person has lost the use of his or her brain-organ, there is no self-help available. We cannot theorize, strategize or develop a plan to tackle our monster illness. The organ we would use to attempt these tasks lies in critical condition in an ICU. Our minds are in a type of agony that words cannot capture. I’ve tried. But words only create a pastel version of the depth of despair we depressives tumble into with the speed of a down-hill skier.

When I was first taken to a psychiatrist in the early 1960’s, depression was still enigmatic. There weren’t many drugs on the market and many of us found ourselves shuffling through the halls of institutions. We were not a forgotten population, but we were often misdiagnosed or simply thought by the lay public to be “crazy.”

Mental illness in every form is still deadly and dreadfully hard to control. Ask any of us who have experienced mental illness AND severe physical illness, which one we’d choose if we had the chance to choose. I’m betting physical illness would be the land-slide winner. I’ve had both, and there simply is no contest.

I am healed now. Really and truly healed. It’s not that I don’t have periods filled with near crushing heart-break. It’s not that I don’t cry myself to sleep some nights. It’s not that the degree of aloneness that is my life doesn’t render me withdrawn or reticent. But it has been decades since I’ve experienced anything that remotely resembles mental illness.

When I was nearing thirty-two, I realized the medical world had nothing to offer me that I had not tried. My parents were bereft, because they too knew we had left no boulder or blockade unturned or untried; there was nothing and no one left to offer the tiniest sun-lit ray of light or hope.

It was now 1979. I planned my suicide. I was too exhausted from the disease, too frightened to face a life-time of this degree of despair, too familiar with medical help that didn’t help … to consider being an unfathomable burden to my parents, friends and myself for more endless decades. It was time to exit stage left. I had all the pills I needed.