Tag Archives: Welcome to My Breakdown (Atria)

Heavy Heart

29 Jun

I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR this morning. Terry Gross was interviewing W. Kamau Bell, the comic who has that show on HBO and a stand up called Private School Negro coming out on Netflix. He talked about a lot of stuff, doing ancestry.com, his parents, who were never married, split when he was a baby and both reared him; his meeting with Anthony Bourdain and their few encounters, one of which was spent in Kenya drinking gin and tonics.

Bell was moved in many ways by Bourdain–that Bourdain had been so warm to him (a self-described “nobody”) and that Bourdain was known for “not suffering fools. “He either loved you or ignored you,” Bell said in the interview. He got choked up when he talked about Bourdain’s light and that Bell could discern light being turned on.  Gross asked him if he’d been surprised that Bourdain had killed himself; Bell thought for a moment and said he didn’t know him well enough to be able to comment, but that even with that light, he did sense that Bourdain possessed a heavy heart.

I was struck by this characterization. I didn’t know Bourdain at all, I didn’t even watch his show, but like so many I was so saddened by his death struck that it would plunge me into my own sad hell. My sense of Bourdain and Bell’s description of him bore out my instinct of him, my attraction–that he felt very deeply as I do.

It’s very uncomfortable to admit that I understand how ending one’s life could happen, how the scaffolding holding you up just wears down. I am not suicidal, however when I heard comments from people who say suicide is cowardly or selfish or “he had so much,” or “she was rich” as I heard people say about Kate Spade, my back goes up. No one and I mean no one knows how it feels under another person’s skin.  On top of Bourdain’s heaviness, all that traveling is exhausting and as many have said and lonely.

When my memoir, Welcome to My Breakdown came out a few years ago, where I wrote about my grief at losing my mom and my depression, many people who know me said to me they were shocked to learn that I had depressive episodes. One woman, a therapist friend of a friend said, “what do you have to be sad about?” She caught herself and mumbled something contrary. I didn’t get upset. I understood that she’d only seen my light. It appears I don’t produce enough dopamine, a recent gratefully received an explanation. But I think given who I am as a writer, an HSP, an empath, who possess a heavy heart, I would have suffered a little sadness around the edges anyway. I know I have to take care of myself: Rest, have some solitude, be with my kids and husband, spend time with friends who are real, loving, accepting of my faults and theirs. People who are willing to do the work on themselves, not just other people.

I was listening to the interview while walking my dog in the park. Oftentimes I walk with a group. Today I was alone and sometimes when my dog friends aren’t there I get a little sad. Today, I was happy to be able to listen without distraction.

I was glad to be able to turn over the phrase heavy heart and put it in the context on my own disposition. It made assuaged my understanding of why his death hit me so hard.

Bourdain, whose June 25th birthday is 12 days before mine.

He was creative, loving, honest, heavy-hearted, an HSP. He was one of us.







Moody Women

3 Mar

There was an opinion piece in the New York Times the other day by a psychiatrist, Julie Holland. She’s the author of a book entitled “Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making you Crazy.”

With a title like that, of course, it commanded my full attention for several reasons. I’ve been accused of being moody my whole life. I’ve written a memoir, Welcome to My Breakdown (Atria, April 21), that talks about my periods of depression–especially after my beloved mother died–and medicating for it.

For the record, I don’t consider myself moody. I’m very emotional subject and have strong feelings. I’ve come to appreciate, after about 40 years, that these strong emotions are a strength, not a weakness–that feelings are a legitimate barometer of one’s environment and that there’s no right or wrong way to feel.


“Emotions should be seen as a sign of health, not a disease,” Holland writes.

For instance, this morning before I went out to walk with my dog, I read a review of J. Geronimo Johnson’s Welcome To Braggsville, in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. What I read about it sounds like it’s a brilliant satire. NPR’s reviewer is comparing him to Tom Wolfe, Ralph Ellison and Don Diello! While I loved reading the review, afterward, I was in a bad mood. I withdrew into a funk, looking at my boring suburban existence, comparing mine to J. Geronimo’s imagined interesting, stimulating, writerly one. I snapped at my husband, when, as he was leaving for work asked me what I planned to do today. “Writing and thinking! I’m a writer, it’s what I do.” Okay, he said, tip toeing out of my dressing room surely thinking, “She’s so moody.”

I want to be able to write a book at full tilt, but the reality of my life, still raising a teenage boy, guiding a college-age daughter, engaging with a husband, having a house and in charge of care for my almost 90-year-old father who has dementia, the stuff of life clutters the free head space needed to be truly creative; to live an artistic life. But I digress.

If there’s a mission I want to achieve with my upcoming book, it’s to open up the discussion about women (the door is open to men, although I’m not so sure they’ll want to come in) and our feelings and how we express or suppress them and how they pop up in all kinds of guises, sometimes deemed crazy by a culture that simply doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to be bothered to or both.

In Holland’s article, she says women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression compared to men. One in four women in America now take psychiatric mediation; one in seven men do. “For many women, these drugs greatly improved their lives. But for others they’re not necessary…the new, medicated normal is at odds with women’s dynamic biology; brain and body chemical are meant to be in flux.”

She argues primarily about S.S.R.I.s which boast the serotonin in the brain. “Think of serotonin as the ‘it’s all good’ brain chemical.'” Again, some people need these drugs and she readily acknowledges this, but for those who don’t “this emotional blunting encourages women to take on behaviors that are typically approved by men: appearing to be invulnerable, for instance, a stance that might help women move up in male-dominated businesses.” But doesn’t improve most of life.

For some women in the 35-64 age group the prescribing of anti-depressants is at its highest. Some peri-menopausal/menopause symptoms look a lot like depression and tears go with it. “Crying isn’t just about sadness. When we are scared, or frustrated, when we see injustice, when we are deeply touched by the poignancy of humanity, we cry. And some women (*that would be me) cry more easily than others. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or out of control.”

The challenge for me and I’m sure many women, has been to determine how much deep sadness is simply a reaction to being overwhelmed by the stuff of life or being simply overwhelmed by life. What is biological and what is chemical? (You’ll have to read my book to see where I land.)

Holland ends her piece thusly:

“For personal growth, for a satisfying marriage and for a more peaceful world, what we need is more empathy, compassion, receptivity, emotionality and vulnerability, not less.

“We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

*author’s note