Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

A Book Review: Loving Someone with Suicidal Thoughts

  • I just don't want to live anymore
  • If only I could fall asleep and never wake up
  • One well-placed bullet would solve all my problems
  • You'd be better off if I were dead

Oh my gosh, words you don't want to hear from somebody you love. It is tempting, so very tempting to say something that will get your loved one to take it back.

Five Good Books I Recommend for World Bipolar Day

Knowledge is the key to taming this beast we call bipolar disorder. The more you know about what is happening inside that beautiful brain of yours, the better you can avoid letting it bite you in the butt.

Alas, many people with bipolar think their doctors will tell them what they need to know. Most of the psychiatrists I have seen gave me an abbreviated (and sometimes disingenuous) description for potential side effects of the pills they prescribed. And that's it.

How do I actually live with this beast? Take my meds. What will it mean for my life? Not so much as a pamphlet.

Psychoeducation for bipolar disorder has been shown to reduce recurrence of depressive, manic, and mixed episodes, all three, and to reduce hospitalization, as well. It includes information about the biological roots of the disorder, the rationale for medication, other treatment options, early warning signs of episodes, and common triggers. It aims to improve adherence to treatment plans. It usually is offered in a group setting.

It isn't offered often.

Help! How Do I Talk to My Delusional Cousin?

Consensual reality has taken a real beating lately. Fake news, alt facts, conspiracy theories, Russian Facebook bots... Sure, we'd all like some civil discourse. But what do we do when we can't even agree on what is true?

Delusional is a big word to throw around, especially when you are trying to stay in some sort of relationship with friends or family whom you believe, frankly, to have gone over the deep end. Does it really apply to this situation? Or is the use of the word a lit match in a room full of gasoline?

Let's start with some clarification. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) defines delusions as
 fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. Well, that sure sounds like what we are dealing with.
Delusions are taken as indicators of a mental or physical disorder. But before we go making armchair diagnoses, consider how powerfully our minds cling to ideas that are demonstratively false, the fear of spiders, the hope in lottery tickets, trickle down economics. Let's exercise some restraint and some humility here.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder - A Review

On the one hand, bipolar disorder can sweep like a tornado through a family, disrupting every aspect of daily living and relationships.

On the other hand, family members can be one of the most significant resources for a person's recovery and stability.

In my own case, my wife is the one who described the symptoms that helped my psychiatrist recognize that I have bipolar, not major depression. But once that happened, what did she, as a family member, as the member of the team with day to day, hour to hour access, receive by way of help and guidance?

Nothing. Not a word. Butkus. Like, not even a pamphlet.

Nope, nothing. She worried. She worked from home to protect me at my sickest. She shouldered every responsibility. She thought through and recommitted to and excelled at "for better for worse, for richer for poorer.

Eventually she got to Family to Family, NAMI's program for education and support of people whose family members have a mental illness. And that helped. It gave her a skill set. It let her know she was not alone. It was more than a brochure.

What she needed was Aimee Daramus's new book Understanding Bipolar Disorder: The Essential Family Guide. Daramus, a clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience in mental health, from psych units to private practice, has written the definitive guide for family members of people with bipolar. She takes you by the hand and leads you from a chaotic landscape to a steady path.

Gratitude - The Prozac Monologues Publication Edition

Fifteen years! From the hypomanic first draft of Prozac Monologues on a yellow legal notepad to a published book, and the nail file that inspired it all.

The book was officially released into the wild this week and will be celebrated in two launches, one sponsored by Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, OR, and the other sponsored by Prairie Lights in Iowa City, IA.

It's a good time to talk about gratitude. Forgive my self-indulgence. It is a day to reflect.

First, people have asked whether it was hard to write about such dark times in my life, if it retriggered some of those emotions. Occasionally, it did. Occasionally I would have a sleepless night remembering, in particular, difficult encounters in treatment. One can forgive sincerely. One can forgive over and over. Still, the brain remembers. I don't harbor resentments, but I can't always hop off the time travel machine that is my brain, how it repeats the tracks laid down by past traumas.

Pride Month Report: What Parents Can Do for Their Trans Daughters and Sons

1.8 million LBGTQ youth (13-24) in the US seriously consider suicide each year. The numbers for trans people in particular are even more staggering. According to the UCLA Williams Institute report, 81.7 percent of those surveyed by the National Center for Transgender Equality had seriously thought about killing themselves in their lifetimes, and 48.3 percent had done so in the last year. 40.4 percent of transgender people attempted suicide sometime in their lifetime.

Suicide happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain. This report adds evidence to that assertion. The following statistics are pulled directly and paraphrased or quoted from this report.

Holiday Shopping for True Happiness

Last minute holiday shopping -- I shop later and later every year. I even blog about it later each year. This year I have to do three  blogs in the week to get my shopping guides for the perfect Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Christmas present done. Here is the link for if you are mentally interesting and shopping for the normal in your life, here is if you are shopping for your diagnosed friend.  The second is even diagnosis specific. The most popular pick turns out to be a bluetooth phone for the one who talks back to his/her voices, but is trying to pass. Who knew.

But less than a week, people. Internet.  God bless the internet.

Another year I wrote a post on happiness. This post's holiday shopping picks (a updated rerun from 2011) gets to the heart of it -- where to get what makes for true happiness on the internet.  No, really!

Holiday Shopping - The Mentally Interesting Version

From December, 2009:

A friend once described what it was like to have cancer. Like having a paper bag over your head, you can't see anything outside the bag. It's all about you and your cancer.

Mental illness can be like that. Try it yourself. Put a bag over your head. Make sure it's not plastic! Do you even notice a difference? Our issues can be all consuming, our fears, doubts, grief, hysteria, voices... We lose track of the world outside our paper bag.

But outside that bag are friends, family, allies. There are more of them, and they are truer to us than we can imagine when we are inside that paper bag. The bag, our absorption in our own concerns, makes certain life skills difficult.

Like holiday shopping.

Anosognosia and Amador

Anosognosia. It means lack of insight. But from the mouth of Xavier Amador, it’s his ticket. He tells you he knows why your son or daughter won’t take meds. And you are desperate for the answer, aren’t you. Because schizophrenia is a terrible disease and your beloved child is sick and won’t take the meds. The meds would make everything alright. So you are desperate and Xavier Amador throws you a lifeline, a promise that once you understand this unpronounceable word, you can learn how to get your child to take the meds.

He must be right, right? Because he is a psychologist and he can pronounce it. And then the kicker, he also loved somebody with schizophrenia, and he says he got him to take the meds. So NAMI invites him to give the spotlight lecture, and for the rest of the convention, parents hear every other presentation through the filter of this new word that they cannot pronounce.

Here is how you pronounce it:

But really, why bother? It means lack of insight. But you have heard of lack of insight before. And you can pronounce lack of insight. So those words don’t have the power to claim you and get you to buy his book like anosognosia can.

Actually his advice is not bad, once you get past the power play. Stop fighting your sons and daughters, stop trying to convince them that they are sick. Instead, build a relationship.

Listen: reflectively with respect and without judgment
Empathize: strategically with emotions stemming from delusions and anosognosia
Agree: find areas of agreement - abandon the goal of agreeing the person is sick
Partner: on those things you can agree on -- not being ill

I like that advice and have given you a clip of the best part of the presentation.

Now if you will permit a word of advice about relationship-building from somebody who has a mental illness and occasionally does not recognize when her symptoms are showing - ask us why we don’t take our meds.

I met a new friend at last month's NAMI convention. I explained that I wasn't going to this presentation, I had heard it a number of years ago. Then I said, "Ask us why we don't take our meds." She said her son says they make him feel terrible. Bingo.

Now it's true, sometimes people with schizophrenia have delusions that make reality testing difficult. Sometimes people with bipolar in a psychotic or manic state do not recognize that state. I have on occasion rejected my spouse's concerns about my hypomania. And some of us do go off our meds in these temporary states.

But NAMI does a disservice to family members by giving them this fancy word that substitutes for believing what their loved ones tell them. These meds suck. They cause ballooning weight gain, leading to heart disease and metabolic disorders which shorten our poor pathetic lives by ten years on average. They evaporate our sex lives (not that parents want to hear about their children's sex lives.) They fog our brains and drain our energy, leaving us with lives that are not worth living.

Nobody talks about what Nancy Andreasen discovered after fourteen years worth of brain scans of people with schizophrenia -- the more antipsychotics you take, the more brain volume you lose. National Medal of Science recipient, one of the world's foremost experts on schizophrenia, yes, Dr. Andreasen remembered to control for things like severity of illness and alcohol/illicit substance use. Neither affected the results. It was level of dose and length of treatment. The more antipsychotics you take, the more brain volume you lose.

[Funny thing, soon after she published her preliminary results, her funding evaporated.]

A conversation about why we should take our meds anyway really has to include an acknowledgement of the fact that these meds suck. True acknowledgement, not some sort of mental crossing of fingers behind the back, with the all-knowing family members chanting Amador's magic power potion, anosognosia, under their breath.

Half the people who won't take their meds think they are not sick. Those are Amador's numbers and I won't dispute them. And if you don't already know that delusions are not the sort of thing that somebody can be talked out of, then I suppose he does a service to tell you that. But are you sure that's why your loved one doesn't take the meds? He's got a whole ballroom filled with people who now believe it, and who take any other protestation to the contrary as proof of anosognosia.

Okay, that's my first objection to NAMI's sponsorship of Xavier Amador's presentation at not one but two of the three NAMI conventions I have attended. Dammit. His half truths.

The second is that his presentation is a parlor trick. Really, two parlor tricks. The first is that unpronounceable word by which he's got you. He has established the power of his credentials over you. He is the expert.

The really disturbing parlor trick is his demonstration of what a delusion is. He gets a volunteer from the audience. Then they do a role play. The volunteer answers questions about his/her spouse. Then Amador does an "intervention." He tells the volunteer that s/he has been stalking said "spouse," who is not actually married to the volunteer after all. The marriage is a delusion. The volunteer has violated no-contact orders, and they are going to get the person help. There are people just outside the door who are going to take him/her to the hospital. This goes on for a while, demonstrating that Amador is indeed not able to convince the person that the so-called spouse is a delusion. Voila! Anosognosia.

Now one interesting thing about this demonstration is that we are to take it as a demonstration of the power of delusion. But in fact, the volunteer is not deluded. The volunteer genuinely is married to his/her spouse, and ends the demonstration still sure of the fact.

What Amador has actually demonstrated is called gaslighting. The volunteer does not fall under the spell, does not forget the spouse. But the audience does. The audience is convinced that this demonstration demonstrates something more than mental cruelty, that they have learned something about the power of delusion, which, again, never existed in the first place. And he knows that this parlor trick is harmful, because at its conclusion he gives the volunteer advice about how to recover from it.

But there are those who do not fall under the spell, those who have seen it before, in some other psychologist or psychiatrist's office during a professional visit. That's why one person left last month's demonstration sobbing, and why I spent an afternoon in concentrated self-care after my exposure to this presentation years ago.

Here is an example: I call my psychiatrist to get help for symptoms I am having from withdrawal from Effexor. She says I don't have withdrawal symptoms, because it is not possible to become addicted to Effexor in the short time that I took it. I persist, I am having the withdrawal symptoms described in the literature and need help. Now who do you believe? She, after all, has a PhD in psychopharmacology as well as her MD. And I am a self-confessed mental case who insists on stopping this medication that she thinks I should be taking.

I took my wife with me to my last appointment with that psychiatrist, so she could report what happened in the office to my therapist who had slapped a new diagnosis on me based on my own reports.

Amador is not that psychiatrist. He is the trigger for the reliving of that psychiatrist because he uses the same techniques:

1. Establish the extreme power differential, in one case her academic degrees over my addled mental state, in the other his five-syllable word over the uninformed audience who cannot wrap their tongues around it.

2. Take the moral high ground of compassion, trying to help, a position over the other.

3. Say whatever the hell you want.

4. Refer any protestation back to #1.

Yes, there is a kernel here. Stop fighting your loved one. Build the relationship. But the parlor tricks do real damage. Isn't it time to retire this presentation from its position as the major Friday night presentation at NAMI conventions?

[By the way,  to add some context: adherence runs at around 50% for people taking high blood pressure medication.]

still from tv show M*A*S*H* from
graphic of Zombie by Jean-nöel Lafarge, used under the Free Art License
still from the movie Gaslight from

Richie Cox, Rest Easy Now

Any story worth telling is worth improving.

Richie had a fisherman's philosophy when it came to story telling.  He inspired, or provoked, or was co-conspirator in many of the Bar Tales of Costa Rica.  The following excerpt is my tribute to this cowboy/hippie/mystic who will be sorely missed.


There is one particular table at the Pato Loco where deals get made over American breakfast.  Mama, who has overheard a lot of deals being made, said, “It gets so you can tell the real ones from the ones who are all talk.  Paul, he never talks about his deals.  He’s one of the real ones.  But that Jerry who reneged on the house, you could tell he was all blow.”

Suicide Is Not a Choice

I peered over this very overpass on the Eisenhower Expressway. Years ago, there was no the fence along the top, just a rail. It was pie that brought me there. Yes, pie. It was Thanksgiving night, and the holiday was ending without pie.

Of course, it wasn't a reason to commit suicide. Of course, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don't treat me like an idiot with your clever lines.

No, pie brought me there, but that was not why I would jump. Pie was a match, a tiny little three letter match. My problem was a brain filled with gasoline. And one tiny match, that I should have been able to snuff with my fingers, threatened to ignite it and send me over the edge. The shame of being powerless over one tiny match poured on more gasoline.

A Few More Holiday Survival Tips for Loonies

I know, I know.  This post is late in coming.  People have been googling prozac and holidays and bipolar and holidays for weeks.  Good for you.  You are following your therapists' advice to reduce your anxiety by thinking through your triggers and how you will handle them.

Most of what follows was first posted on November 20, 2010.  In light of recent developments in Loony Land (referring to them this time, not us) I added a section on prejudice.  Think of it as tweaking the traditional Thanksgiving fare with this year's rage for bacon and Brussels sprouts.

So here we go:

Ah, the holidays!  Time when far flung family members travel home and grow close around the turkey table.  Time to renew friendships in a round of parties and frivolity.  Time to go crazy?

Holiday Shopping for Your Favorite Loony

Personally, I would rather stick a hot poker in my eye than go out on Black Friday.  But at reader request, I am reposting the following from 2009 -- reformatted, since I started using more images some time back, and updated in random places.

For all you who want to be part of the madding crowd, and even those who will be waiting for the dust to settle, start here for your mentally interesting friends and relations:

Holiday Shopping for Your Favorite Loony -- November 24, 2009

The Day after Thanksgiving, traditional start of the Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa shopping season is upon us.  You Hanukkah people better start cracking!  It is Prozac Monologues' attempt to be ever helpful to my dear readers.  As my therapist says, Virgo -- your destiny is service.  Get used to it.  (I have a therapist who says stuff like that.  The following is a holiday shopping list to guide normals who want to please their loony loved ones.

Holiday Survival Tips for Loonies

People are already googling prozac and holidays and bipolar and holidays.  This is excellent.  You are following your therapists' advice to reduce your anxiety by thinking through your triggers and how you will handle them.

So as a public service to my readers, I repost a slightly editted Holiday Survival Tips for Loonies from November 20, 2010:

Ah, the holidays!  Time when far flung family members travel home and grow close around the turkey table.  Time to renew friendships in a round of parties and frivolity.  Time to go crazy?

Those Who Have Eyes, Let Them See

Yes, I said I was on sabbatical.  But I do have to write.  Like, I do have to breathe.  My facebook page this morning, somebody posted an Ernest Hemingway quote, There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.  I have learned there is more than one way to bleed.  Teresa of Avila's stigmata, by the way, were interior.  Mine (writing) seems better than other alternatives.

So yes, I am on sabbatical.  That means I don't have to post.  I might anyway.  Oh well.

NAMI National Convention 2012

It started with Shepherd.  He stood straight tall.  Life has taken a lot out of him, including a lot of teeth.  But he stood straight tall.  I remember him as a black man, with piercing light blue eyes.  I know that's possible, a black man with blue eyes.  Maybe it isn't true in this case.  My brain really isn't that dependable anymore.  But the piercing part is the most important.  I am so glad I wasn't afraid to look in his eyes.

Grief/Depression III - Telling the Difference

Once, when I was seriously under and still headed down, a friend said to me, There have been times in my life when I was sad, so sad I couldn't imagine being any sadder. But it seems that what you and others with depression are describing is a whole different level that I know nothing about.

See, that's what would be helpful, instead of, I know just how you feel. I remember when [fill in the significant loss]... I knew that he knew times of deep sadness, because I knew some of those times, and because he is a person is thinks and feels deeply. And listens deeply. Everyone should have such a friend.

It was Social Hour. We were in a corner to protect me from all those people being social. I leaned against a wall, because I was very tired. I guess the wall gave me the idea. I said, Yes, there are times I have been so sad I couldn't imagine being sadder. It's like the sadness became a wall I could lean against, because I was so tired. But Depression IS different. Imagine if the wall gives way. Imagine there isn't a limit. You lean and the wall gives way.

In Memoriam - Mary Kirigin

This is one of my favorite photos of my mother, standing next to my sister Mary.  That smiling mouth agape, as if to say, Can you believe what I get to do now!

I am writing on Monday, in the few minutes before I head over to the Pato Loco for the memorial service, to be followed later by a funeral in Utah.  Not sure about my publication schedule for the next few weeks, and taking personal privilege with the topic.  It's your blog, my doc once said.  So it is.

Mama was a survivor, in the real world, not reality TV world sense of the word.  She was also a public person, and I learned from her how to set a public face, mostly a competent face.  Privately it was more often harried, the face I see in the mirror, more every day.

The thing therapists think you are supposed to say to survivors is Wow!  You are so strong!  Me, I don't care for that line.

Survival - Three Things Learned From Danny MacAskill

1.  To keep your audience, edit out most of the falls.

2.  To help your audience, keep some of the falls.

3.  Find the Iron Rule and do not break it.  In MacAskill's case -- the front wheel is for steering; you want to land on the back wheel.  In my case -- the frontal cortex is for steering; I will inevitably land on the amygdala.

A repeat from:

Thursday August 26, 2010

Tribute To Survival

This is dedicated to those who are surviving the Chemistry Experiment, and to those who hang in there with us.

Bring your courage and your hope, whatever you can manage.

And your helmet.

Thanks to Danny MacAskill and Band of Horses.

Prozac Monologues - How It Began

First conceived as a stand up comedy routine, birthed as a book, morphed into a blog, on August 29, 2011 Prozac Monologues came full circle at Happy Hour at the Pato Loco, Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.  This was the very spot where in January 2005, the book was originally written over the course of eight heavenly (my wife wouldn't use that word), hypomanic days.  Micah pulled out his laptop.  Patricia set it up on top of a bar stool.  And I held forth.

You can hear a bit of our little beach town's rush hour in the background.  So here is the text:

Prozac Monologues - How It Began

2004 was not a good year for me.  My doctor tried to make it better by prescribing Prozac for major depression.  Only Prozac didn't make it better.  So she prescribed more Prozac.  And that made it so much more not better that I concluded the only way I could describe how much more not better would be a stand-up comedy routine.  And thus was planted the seed for what has become Prozac Monologues.

So I went off Prozac, and on January 25, 2005, I boarded an airplane for Costa Rica, armed with a yellow legal pad and a ball point pen. 

Hypomania In Action

For eight days in beautiful, tropical Costa Rica, my wife went to the beach, explored neighborhoods, visited with family, tried new foods, while I wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.  When I filled up one side of the yellow legal pad, I wrote on the back.  When I filled up the back, I wrote in the margins.  When I filled up the margins, I wrote between the lines.

I came home with seven chapters.  Two weeks later, the book was done.

I told my doctor about my book and maniacally writing it.  That word maniacally raised a red flag.  So she screened for bipolar.  She said, Are you manic?

I said what anybody who thought she was Jesus Christ come back as Jessica Christ might have said, I'm not manic.  I'm excited!

Oh.  Okay.  So she prescribed the second antidepressant, and began what will have to become a new book, but I haven't recovered enough to write it yet.

Was I manic?  No, I was hypomanic.  But I didn't know that word.  And maybe you don't know it either.  So I submit for definition and for evidence the first four pages of

Prozac Monologues

Willa Goodfellow

Chapter One
Bizarre: In which I decide to write a book

Okay, let's start with the basic Prozac dilemma.  Just who is the crazy one around here?  If, after you read the morning paper, you are happy, content, secure, at peace, able to get up, go out and carry on your activities of daily living, full of confidence and a sense of purpose, then tell me -- are you pathologically delusional?

Or are you on Prozac?

Citizens of the United States of America (called Americans and thereby hijacking the identities of thirty-eight other nations in the Western Hemisphere -- Remember Canada?  Every heard of Paraguay?) make up 5% of the population of the planet and consume 24% of its energy resources.  We spend more on trash bags than the gross national product of 90 of the world's 130 nations.

What was that?

We spend more on trash bags than the whole gross national product of 90 nations.

So who is the crazy one around here? 

The Crazy Delusion 

We get such a sliver of time to enjoy this wildly extravagant planet, and we spend precious moments of it, watching couples on TV compete for cash prizes on the basis of how many maggots they can eat. 

Until the maggot-eating is interrupted by somebody who wants to sell you an air freshener that uses an electronically operated fan to circulate chemical compounds around your living room to make you think you are out of doors. 

The fan is the latest advance in civilization which will enable you to stop feeding your Shiatsu little treats, which you previously had to do to get it to wag its tail to disperse the chemical compounds around your living room. 

So now you have to take Prozac, so you can get yourself up off the sofa where you have been sitting in a semi-catatonic state, watching the maggot-eating and dog-treating, out of your pajamas and into your four-wheel drive SUV, which you were compelled to purchase after viewing those commercials of SUV’s climbing over mountainous terrain beside raging rivers,

But which you happen to use to commute an hour and forty-five minutes on some freeway to work in a cubicle with a picture of mountainous terrain and raging rivers and some motivational caption underneath, so you can buy the air freshener with its self-contained and electrically-operated fan that disperses the chemicals that make you think you are out of doors, because you wouldn’t want actually to go out of doors – the air is so nasty from the fumes of your SUV.  Who is the crazy one around here? 

And don’t even get me started on the taxes you will pay from your job in your cubicle to fund somebody’s research into that missile that can shoot another missile out of the sky, to protect us from the bad guys who can bring down two 100-story buildings armed with the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife.  If it’s your job to figure out how to shoot that missile out of the sky, stop taking Prozac and go do something else to do with your life.  Or just go back to your sofa.  Please. 

Okay, now I sound like Michael Moore.  Let’s just call this the Crazy Delusion, a concept not original to me, and of which you can think of your own examples, so I don’t need to continue this rant which is not really the point of this book, but only the context of our consideration of the title of its first chapter.

In short –

It’s hard to know whether depression is a problem of distorted thinking or the result of clarity. 

In either case, sitting on the sofa in your pajamas does not turn the economic engine of this great nation, no matter what you’re watching.

Except for the pharmaceutical industry’s economic engine.  They keep making money, as long as they are able to sell you images of people who are happy and confident, popping their Prozac, (nowadays it’s Abilify), which you really start to believe when you’re still sitting on that sofa, watching those images over and over and over again. 

Ads For Antidepressants

Have you noticed how all the ads for antidepressants run during the afternoon soaps?  (If you are not depressed, you haven’t noticed, because you’re off at work, turning that economic engine.)  No, those pharmaceutical guys know where to find their audience, and when, on the sofa, in our pajamas, in the middle of the afternoon. 

Now I’m talking to you, the one in the pajamas.  You thought you might get up and go for a walk, like you promised your sweetie (who has gone to work) that you would.  But here it is, two o’clock in the afternoon.  The recap of yesterday’s episode comes on, and before you can find the remote to turn it off after the last soap, that theme song begins.  It sounds inspirational, but for some reason, you start to cry. 

After the theme song, and before the start of today’s episode, it’s time for that gentle, compassionate voice, who lists all your symptoms, including another one you have, now that the voice mentions it, but up until now you didn’t realize that it also is on the list, so you must be even sicker than you thought.  Who is that voice that understands you so well, better than your doctor, it seems, and so must know exactly what you need to ask your doctor to prescribe.

Symptoms Of Depression

Here is that list, by the way: sadness (no duh!), sleep disturbance (too much, too little ) weight gain (or loss), lack of energy, loss of interest in the things you used to like to do, loss of motivation (hence, all that time on the sofa), slowed pace, poor memory, poor concentration (they don’t want you at work anyway – you might break something), loss of self-confidence (like, they really don’t want you at work – you might break something), guilt, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts or attempts.

If you have been sad or lost interest in things for at least two weeks, plus four of the others, I’m talking about you.  You and 12% of the population who will experience an episode of depression sometime in their life (that’s major depression), plus another 6% who just feel lousy all the time (that’s dysthemia), and another 6.4 who sometimes are way up and sometimes way down (that’s bipolar), or …

One in twenty people in any given month.

When you have so much company, how is it you feel so alone?

You are not alone. 

Prozac Monologues 

photo of Playas del Coco by Helen Keefe, used by permission
photo of trash bags by Yuyudevil, in public domain
photo of Cubicle Land by Larsinio, in public domain
photo of prozac by Tom Varco, used by permission
photo "Loneliness" by graur razvan ionut

Bar Tales of Costa Rica

I need a break from upset.  Maybe my readers do, too.

Once when I was in Costa Rica, working on another unpublished book, Deep Calling -- that's my depressing book about being depressed, as opposed to Prozac Monologues, my funny book about depressed -- I needed a break from being depressed.  I took my breaks at the bar at the Pato Loco in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.

My sister, the Voodoo Princess and proprietor of the Pato Loco also needed a break from my being depressed.  So she was delighted to learn that the Pato Loco inspired and regularly supplied material for my third book that is not published, Bar Tales of Costa RicaBar Tales is not about depression.

This week we all take a break together, with the first of the Bar Tales of Costa Rica.

Shut Up, Lenny!

How are you today, Rosie?

Oh, I could use some de-stressing.  You can’t tell by looking at this big black beautiful woman in shorts, sleeveless and flip flops, but she’s running a several employee travel agency back in the States while she sits in front of her laptop in the dining room of the Pato Loco.

Rosie set up the wireless for the hotel, when she was living here while her condo in Hermosa was under construction.  That took so long, she became a member of the family, another sister.  Mama had a colorful past, we say when somebody raises an eyebrow at the introduction.  As a matter of fact, she did. 

De-stressing you need?  Let me see what I can do.  Here’s a story for you.  You know our neighbor, Lenny, the Hot Dog man?”

Yeah, I’ve been trying to buy one of those hot dogs.  Every time I go downtown, he’s never open.

No, he‘s out of business for the time being.  I guess the Pizza Hut truck had a prior lease on that lot where he had his hot dog stand.  They moved back in, what with high season coming.  So he doesn’t have a place to put his cart. 

It was a great spot, right there across from Zouk Santana and the Lizard Lounge.  Lenny said he was selling 70 hot dogs an hour between 2 and 3 AM, when the bars closed.  He said one night, he ran out of chili.  They kept buying the dogs.  He was selling them faster than he could cook them.  They bought them raw.  Four bucks a pop, chili or no, 300% profit. 

It is a triumph, that hot dog stand.

Costa Rican Developers

I don’t really care about Lenny’s success.  He’s a newbie from Texas.  And he isn’t a hot dog salesman anyway, at least, not in his head.  He says he’s a developer.  Everybody claims to be a developer.  Except me.  I claim to be a writer.  I guess it comes down to the same thing, a lot of dreams, not so much cash.  Except I really do write.  I don’t publish, but I write.  Developers seem to talk mostly, over beers at the Pato Loco, since the Bohio has been torn down for being too close to the beach, now that the tides have shifted.

The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  The beach is never the same.  They’re putting in a marina where the Bohio and a lot of other nicer bars and restaurants used to be.  I don’t cheer for developers.

What Lenny really does, or talks about doing, while the luxury condo deal is still in development, is sell vacation packages.  Ninety-five bucks buys you four vacation packages in Maui, Orlando, Las Vegas or Puerto Something.  Ninety-five bucks and a couple hours of your time while people try to sell you a time-share in Maui, Orlando, Las Vegas or Puerto Something.

The hot dog stand is the hook.  You’re cooking the dog to order, piling on the chili, the onions, peppers, cheese, and all the time talking about vacation packages, four per year, ninety-five bucks.  Except when the bars let out and you’re selling the dogs seventy per hour at 2 AM.  Not so much time to talk then.  Just, You want ketchup?  Mustard?  Mayo?

We didn’t meet over hot dogs, but on my front porch, Lenny and me, when I returned to Costa Rica this winter and said hello to my new neighbor.  He was telling me about the hot dogs when, out of the blue, You want to make a couple thousand a week?

Couple thousand what, colones?  (That’s four bucks.)

I’ll pay you twenty bucks for every vacation package you sell.

No, thank you, Lenny.  I do not want to sell vacation packages.  I do not want to make a couple thousand dollars a week.  I don’t make that much money in the States, and I didn’t move to Costa Rica to make that much money here.  I moved so I could live on what I make in the States, so I could write.  I am not a salesman.  I am a writer.

As far as I can tell, it’s a pyramid scheme.  Lenny sells this job to apparently (and in this case mistakenly so) aimless people who want to stay in Costa Rica on dreams of a couple thousand a week.  The job is to sell brochures that will lure drunks, who actually intended to buy a hot dog after they were evicted from the bars, to go to some other vacation spot, where somebody else will try to sell them time-shares, so they can come back to where some other hot dog vender, or maybe Lenny himself next year in a different location, will try to sell them some condo that he has developed, thereby justifying his self-identity as a developer.

But to pull this off, he needs the person willing to serve the hot dogs in the hopes of selling the brochures.  Since I do not want to make a couple thousand dollars a week, I do not qualify for this job.  Ironically, with a different pitch, I might be willing to help him out with his dogs.

That’s what I think Lenny really does, sell hot dogs.

Costa Rican Hot Dog Stand

And it is a triumph, not for Lenny the developer, but for our other next door neighbor, David, who bought the hot dog stand online from Canada, had it delivered to his home in Atlanta, and then shipped it through Miami to Costa Rica.

David isn’t a hot dog salesman.  He’s a pool man.  He’s also a very nice guy who made some sudden and poor financial decisions last fall.  It was a bad time in his life.  He decided that Dennis, the maintenance man at our condo, could use some extra bucks.  So David decided to set Dennis up in business as a hot dog salesman.

Except Dennis isn’t a hot dog salesman, either.  He’s a construction guy, who can do a million different things with his hands, all of them very well, but is not into handling hot dogs.  Dennis is Costa Rican and proud, and Costa Ricans are not into hot dogs, neither buying nor selling, which is why it’s hard to find a good hot dog in this country.

But both of them, David and Dennis are very nice guys, and their friendship survived this awkward spell, when the hot dog stand was taking up space outside the bodega (storage shed) next to the pool for several months, until Lenny moved to town and discovered it there while he wasn’t developing anything but his story.

I will say this for Lenny, he makes a very good chili.  And he did manage to find a vender, a German who lives in San Jose, who sells him a decent quality dog.  Not Chicago quality.  There’s no snap, none at all.  But it’s got a bit of smoke, and for Costa Rica, it’s pretty darn good.  And lots of the ex-pats (the North American ex-pats) get frustrated, looking for the hot dog stand, which often is not in operation for one reason or another.

I will also say this for Lenny – he operates on Costa Rican time.  Which is to say, he gets it open when he gets it open.  If he says 5 o’clock, don’t bother showing up until 7.  The frustrated ex-pats don’t get his business plan.  He is not into food service.  He is into money.  And he can make a whole lot of it, more than enough to live in Playas del Coco, between 2 and 3 in the morning, seventy dogs an hour, $3 profit on each one, even when he is selling them so fast he doesn’t have time to cook them.  He does not have to open when he promises or sell hot dogs during the lunch hour.

But right now he’s not selling hot dogs at all, since the Pizza Hut truck came back to town with the same business plan as far as volume and drunks go and, more importantly, the lease on his location.

We think maybe he went on a bender.  We didn’t see him for three days, but his car’s been there.  And with his muffler, we know when he moves it.  He starts it up, backs the car the hundred feet to the gate, turns off the engine, gets out and opens the gate.  I guess he only has one key chain.  Then he starts the car, pulls through the gate, turns the car off again, gets out, closes the gate, gets back into the car, starts it the third time, and leaves.  Our house is right by the gate.  So we know when he goes anywhere, since he doesn’t even walk the hundred feet to the gate.  Lenny doesn’t walk.

The Voodoo Princess, owner of the Pato Loco, interrupted, You could buy him another key chain.  She likes Lenny, and he eats at the Pato Loco a lot, since you can eat only so many hot dogs, if you want to keep selling them.

I’m telling a story here, little sister.  Work with me.  The Voodoo Princess is my little sister.  We have a diverse family.  Mama had a colorful past.

Costa Rican Neighbors

Anyway, this morning we heard from him again.  It was about 9 o’clock when he shouted, Shut up!  A couple minutes later, we heard it again, Shut up!  It took about three or four times, Shut up! before I figured this out.  Luis, the neighbor on the other side of the wall, has a mynah bird that says, “Buenas!”  The bird says it all day long, “Buenas.”

It used to bother me, David interjects from the bar where he is nursing a club soda, But I have become one with the mynah.

Yeah, now it’s just part of the sound track of Costa Rica.  But this morning it was:

Buenas – Shut up!

Buenas – Shut up!

Rosie is laughing now.  It’s good to hear Rosie laugh.  He knew he was talking to a bird?

Well, I don’t know.  Because then it became – 

Buenas – Shut the f*** up!

Buenas – Shut the f*** up!

Rosie is doubling over, He said, f***?

No, actually, he filled in the vowel and the final consonants.  Things were definitely escalating.  I wondered if he was going to go next door and throttle a mynah bird.  And then I hear it.  Our whole condo association hears it –

David knew what was coming.  He verified it, Yes, we did.

Buenas Shut the f*** up!  Comprende?  Shut up!

She’s screaming now.  Comprende?

Comprende.  One more time, I was just about to go over there, if he said it one more time.  – Lenny, it’s a bird!  I know it’s irritating, ‘Buenas.’  [I flattened those vowels as flat as a tortilla.]  But me, I’m listening to ‘Buenas’ – ‘Shut the f*** up!’  I don’t think I’ll have much success with the bird.  So I’m going to try with the drunk.  Lenny, shut the f*** up!

So, how did that work out?

Well, I never got the chance.  Maybe the bird did comprende.  Because they both got quiet.  So, how are you feeling now, Rosie?

Thanks, I needed that.  I’m feeling a lot better.

Pato Loco logo used by permission
photo of family table at Pato Loco by Mary Cox and used by permission
photo of chili dog by LG2, in public domain
drawing of condo by tomwild, in public domain
photo of bird of paradise and front porch by author
photo of mynah bird by Dhabyany, used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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