Personal Journey, Poetry

Q is for Quacks

QQuacks. I wish this were about ducks, but alas– here is my post about funny farms, i.e., nut houses, psych wards, mental institutions, behavioral medicine centers (they sound nice). Funny farm is my mom’s favorite designation. She has introduced me thus: “This is my daughter who put me in the funny farm.”

You could say I’m somewhat of a funny farm connoisseur. I’m not going to name-call or rehash my bad experiences, but I’ll say this– Oakview has trays of fresh-baked cookies sitting all over the place and deli trays… and that’s just the snacking. I’m reasonably certain they treat mostly hobbits there. If you ever decide to go off the deep end, insist on a bed at Oakview in Middleburg Heights.

It was a year after my mom quit drinking that things got crazy in the truest sense of the word. That was when I began a relationship with the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Health. You see, brains accustomed to decades of pickling and frying don’t always take well to quitting cold-turkey. So it was with mom. She overcame her addictions only to be faced with a complete psychological breakdown. Think The Shining. 

My new friends from the board of health came out to hold my hand, along with the Berea police, who responded to mom’s 911 call.

911, what is your emergency?

My daughter’s trying to have me committed.

Imagine my despair when I was told that the police could offer no assistance in getting mom to the hospital. I had high hopes of them swooping in and taking this problem off my hands. Nor could the officers convince mom to go willingly. Manhandle is the only way to describe how we got her into the car while the police and social workers looked on. My manhandlers were: 1. Bob 2. My sister’s boyfriend (who became her husband in spite of this) and 3. A family friend. These men are my heroes. It’s easy to rescue a damsel in distress when distress looks the way it ought. This was tough love in the extreme. And from that day’s tough love I don’t know if I’ll ever be vindicated. I operated under the delusion that mom wouldn’t remember anything, like in the old drinking days. Au contraire mon frère, said my social worker. She’ll remember it all.

One doesn’t just walk into the funny farm. One must go through the ER. And the ER doesn’t appreciate patients who require a posse of strong male nurses to restrain them as they spew expletives in an uninterrupted torrent that rivals Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in length. The good folks from the board of health advocated for me when the emergency room tried to deny mom treatment. Helen Keller could see mom was having a psychotic episode, and the ER wanted to send her away? That falls under the definition of quack.

You could say quacks were the beginning of mom’s journey to the funny farm. Beginning in her early twenties, beginning most likely when she left the hospital with yours truly, mom suffered from anxiety. Babies, divorce, freeways, the human condition… all of it was too much. Mom sought help where so many people seek it. Her first quack put her on valium.

Next up, valium-like pills, then social drinking, then pills and drinking and where did that tatoo come from? In 1998 I wrote a poem about my  mom’s search for the right pill and it was published by The Comstock Review.* It was my attempt at capturing the lunacy: doctor appointment number gazillion. He was tossing his soup can back and forth and nonverbally screaming his desire to dispatch my mother as quickly as possible to get to that soup. Mom wanted to feel ok and this pill, this time it was going to work. I watched my mom nearly destroy herself by self-medicating against the physiological truth going on insider her. It took a radical breakdown to finally get to that truth: bipolar disorder.

My mom is in good company: Carrie Fisher, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vivian Leigh, and Jean-Claude Van Damme all have bipolar disorder. One can lead a full life with bipolar disorder. One can even learn to make light of it: This is my daughter who put me in the funny farm.


*A Vice From Your Doctor

“I shake a lot,” you said,

and he was shaking too,


caressing a can of soup,

“This will stop it.”

A slip of paper.

The newest brand, less

addictive, less side effects

(you’ll like it)

you did like it.

And you both stopped shaking.

It’s taken years to collect enough

slips to feed a flame

that, starving, snake-licks up

your pared legs, chokes

you silent, shakes you frozen.

You are a curled brown leaf

unable to dress.

You know now he was right

about soup:

It’s hard to eat

when the spoon shivers.



Personal Journey

P is for Perfectiosis

PPerfectiosis. A disease that afflicts writers. Symptoms include but are not limited to the following: generalized anxiety, sweats, permanent worry lines on the forehead, permanent duck lips, muscle aches and pains, blurred vision, hair loss (self-inflicted), and ultimately death by defenestration, an option more appealing than hitting publish after spending an eternity on a piece of writing that no longer recognizes itself but blunders along like Frankenstein’s monster. As you read it you want yell curses and runfrankenstein from it just as Victor Frankenstein did, but the pragmatist in you regrets the hours of life you can’t capture back, and really, you’re hoping it’s not all that bad. Surely someone will love it; like it’s one of those ugly dogs so off-the-charts ugly that it’s (sort of) cute. Please think this essay is ugly-dog cute, you think. That’s what a writer suffering from perfectiosis clings to on revision #994.

A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself. – Edward Dalberg

Eddie and I would be best buds if he wasn’t a hundred years dead. Eddie also said writing is humiliation. He didn’t even specify that it had to be bad writing. Or for that matter, who gets humiliated. In my post about Luke I confessed that Luke hates when I blog about him, so it could very well shake down that he’s the one humiliated by some really awesome writing.

Perfectiosis and Eddie’s comment on art and suicide are what conspires to keep a writer’s work safely in the file, never published. As of today I have a short story. Haha!… short…. that I’ve pored over for at least a full work week and still don’t love enough to zap it with lightning and let it loose upon the world. My perfectiosis won’t allow it.

What’s the cure for perfectiosis? Why, publishing a post a day based on the letters of the alphabet. If you do that, one of two things will happen: 1. You’ll publish little scarred and warty monsters; or 2. You’ll go completely insane and get a week’s stay at the funny farm where I happen to know they have deli trays and gourmet cookies. (How do I know that? You’ll have to read my upcoming Q post/warty monster to find out.) Publishing scarred and warty monsters and noting that life goes on, that people still love you and the sun still sends down its warming rays… will cure the perfectiosis.

I have half a mind to publish a post with flamboyant grammar mistakes and misplaced modifiers just to prove my point…

Personal Journey

M is for Missionaries

MMy sister and her husband have never been what you’d call traditional. For starters they were married on the Appalacian Trail– during their thru-hike. Heather had real flowers woven into a crown, and the new couple walked under an arch of brightly colored hiking staffs, held up by the many friends they made along the way. I don’t know anyone better at making friends along the way.

Hands down, Heather and Randy are the most generous people I’ve ever known. They love to give. One day I came home to find a Vitamix on my landing, brand new and in the box. See, I’m sort of a smoothy addict. I buy up all the overripe bananas in northeast Ohio and freeze them, and I used to go through a blender every three months. No joke. Frozen bananas burn out the gears. That was before my givingest sister and brother-in-law.

They love to give and they love the Lord. How appropriate they should give the best gift there is: the good news. And Africa has always had a special place in their hearts. Ezra, their second child, was adopted from Rwanda in a three-year odyssey that I doubted would ever yield them a baby. But they didn’t doubt, and in God’s timing they brought home the baby God meant for them.

Lots of people love Jesus and love to give, but Heather and Randy have that don’t-belong-here quality. I say that in the nicest way. They don’t get bogged down in sport craziness (like some people I know…). They don’t covet the American Dream. They love simplicity and good food, taking care of the planet, and taking care of their neighbors. They are truly in love with humankind and show it in tangible, practical ways every chance they get.

Heather and Randy don’t have a specific location as of yet but are diligently testing doors and learning all they can in hopes their missionary road will light up. In February they attended a week-long conference to learn about the opportunities with African Inland Missions, the agency which will ultimately send them, Lord willing. At this point they can’t raise support because they don’t have a destination. So they wait. They pray. They wake at 5:30 AM to study Bible together.

There is a country in Africa that is the Cinderella slipper for Heather and Randy. While they wait to find it, I pray they grow into exactly the couple God wants them to be. Meanwhile, I’m thankful for the time I have my sister living close by.

The Stahleys L-R Shiloh, Heather, Ezra, Ruby, Randy (Photo Credit: Grayson Stahley)

I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory And they will declare My glory among the nations. – Isaiah 66:19