Autumnal Affects

Plunged back into the frigid clutches of winter.

I’ve written something like this before called “The Grey Season” back on “As the Pendulum Swings”.  It was a post describing my current view of an abysmal autumn in Pittsburgh and the terrible affects it has on the mood.

In years past, I have always been partial to the autumn season.  The air becomes cooler, and I find that I begin to breathe without a struggle or medical interventions.  It was quite liberating.  The sun eases, emitting softer rays on my delicate pink skin.  And there is a certain crisp freshness of the air with gorgeous foliage in various shades of reds, oranges, and yellows to behold.

The beauty and majesty of autumn.

Everything about autumn is enticing.  There was a return to school and the return of direction in my life.  New challenges awaited me with a wealth of new opportunity.  Cozy blankets in all colors existed to wrap around me in a warm, snug embrace.  I could bundle up in flattering autumn attire, covering all of the bulges and rolls that were uncomfortably exposed in the summer months.  A cool refreshing breeze picked up, and whistled in my ears, taking away all of the static polluting my mind.

It was always a beautiful time in my life.  But, somewhere along the way, the season was morphed into something sinister and foreboding.

The Grey Season

November rains were something I used to look forward to.  I would lay in bed in a room cast in shadows, just listening to the soothing sound of rain on my tin rooftop.  But, at one point, I described them as:

I have felt grey over the past few days.  I can’t feel for a better word.  Something like, my flame isn’t burning as brightly. It’s a dampening effect, casting a shadow over me everywhere I go.  The vibrant colors of the world filter and leave only the grey inside of me.

Some would consider a Seasonal Affect.  But, that could not be father from the actual truth.  I have been symptomatic since my early teens, when I would enjoy this season better than all of joys of the other seasons combined.  Winter was the season that meant imprisonment and cumbersome living.  Not autumn in the slightest.

The mysterious loss of adoration for this season plagued me.  I obsessively mulled over it for quite awhile, trying to find the exact point in time where my affections changed into something loathsome.  Sure, these November rains are the precursor to the awful, miserable blankets of snow.  The shifting winds bring the lake effect chill from Lake Erie in the north.  The whole world is changing around me, threatening to bring some kind of desperate gloominess.  But, why?

Suddenly, it occurred to me.  In my time with Avi, I spent a great deal of time escaping him on my own balcony.  Summer meant liberation from the imprisonment in our singular room where we were imprisoned in an icy hell together.  Autumn was the time when the chill rolled in.  It wasn’t enough to warrant the use of our kerosine heater, our only source of warmth.  However, the days and nights were cool enough to make life absolutely miserable, together, alone in our cage.

The shiver rattles my bones when I recall the whole wretched situation.  Our shack of a home trapped us together.  I remember how my hands would freeze up so badly that I could hardly type any longer.  I remember the intense loneliness, because I didn’t dare invite guests into such a disgusting situation.  The trash would pile up, because Avi was an absolute pig.  The walls closed in, and the stiff, threatening air was suffocating.  Bottles of liquor, my only escape from such an awful life, littered the floor as a testament to my misery.  And all I could do was put on another layer of heavy, useless clothing and pray for an early spring.

I recall that detestable house.  Even after Xan had managed to save me from another burden of winter, the drafts were enough to render the electric heat useless on days that went below freezing.  There were times where we had to abandon the house when temperatures dropped to subfreezing.  The furnace ran incessantly, driving us into abject poverty while we doled our precious funds out to the electricity company.  I fought shut off notice after shut off notice in constant anxiety.

Autumn began to translate into fear.  Fear of isolation.  Fear of exposure.  Fear for myself and my family.  And the worst of all, the fear of losing my sanity entirely.

The dim rays of cloud covered skies filter into my windows, casting dismal shadows in every corner of the every room.  The grey bleeds in and threatens my very being.  I look into the now barren woods with dread.  Apprehension wells up inside of me each time I approach the thermostat.  Everything becomes filled with trepidation, each movement, each decision.  And the chill, the unforgiving, merciless chill invades my very soul.

I spent one last day yesterday on the patio.  I didn’t long for the crazy summer with people hanging from the rafters, and my brain short circuiting.  I breathed deeply, taking in the essence of autumns long forgotten.  I let the beautiful autumnal winds blow against my bare skin.  I recalled fond moments from years past.  The birth of my son happened in an October rain, right on the first fall rain.  Xan and I were eagerly planning our marriage during this time, five years ago. We both took our first steps into our careers during the days of November rains.  We laid together in empty rooms of a house we were fixing, the house where we first lived together as a couple, just listening to the rain on the wooden roof.

The sound of the remaining leaves filled my mind, and the sparrows chirped to one another.  And for a moment, just one moment in time, I was at peace with this season.

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Exercises to Build Self Esteem: #1. Pleasure and Happiness

Writing your Pleasure List

1. Take a clean sheet of paper and head somewhere you feel safe and relaxed.

2. Divide the paper into four sections:

– Section 01: People and Pets (who bring me pleasure when I think of them)
– Section 02: Places (that bring me pleasure when I think of them)
– Section 03: Things (that bring me pleasure when I think of them)
– Section 04: Things I like to do (that bring me pleasure)

3. Then write as many examples as you can under each section.
4. Remember to allow yourself to feel happy!

Section 01: People and Pets

  • Xan, my husband.
  • Beast, my son
  • Dill, my friend
  • Zen, my cat that passed on last year
  • Rees, my friend.
  • Ruby, my friend
  • Carla, my friend
  • Monday, my friend
  • My MIL
  • My FIL

Section 02: Places

  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:   It is absolutely, hands down, my favorite vacation spot.  The beaches are huge and sandy.  The local, southern food is amazing, and the local people are very friendly.  I have some of my most fond memories there.  When I was sixteen, it was my first taste of freedom.  It was the only town I was ever allowed to wander around in unsupervised.  I was free to go wherever I wanted within a certain 15 block radius in either direction.  For Myrtle Beach, that’s a lot of territory.  I spent my honeymoon there with Xan.  It was the first time I had ever gone on vacation as an adult.  We just had the most lovely time, I recall.  Good food, peaceful setting, and a lovely beach.  I got to wake up every single morning to go out on the patio and watch the sunrise.  It was magical.
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia:  I recall Virginia Beach having one of the most impressive boardwalks I had ever been on.  Anything you could ever want was on that board walk.  I was thirteen years old, and I’d sneak out to my very own balcony in the middle of the night just to watch the moon rise on the ocean.  It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen.  It was fairly close by car, so I wasn’t stuck in the car forever with my parents.  And, since I had my own room in our suite, I had a huge amount of privacy.  It was the best vacation I can remember from my childhood.
  • The Fountains in Pittsburgh:   There’s something about those fountains.  Pittsburgh has plenty of them, because we are so close to the river.  There was one in particular that I loved, and I took a photo of it right before my surgical consultation the August before last.  Something about it was calming, and settled me down to think about the beautiful things in life.  I even wrote a post called, “All the Pretty Things”.
  • The Trestle:   By my old house, in the same neighborhood I grew up in, there was this old, abandoned railroad trestle.  My best friend showed it to me when we were in our early teens.  We used to hang out there to drink and smoke pot.  Then, we’d have these deep conversations about our thoughts and feelings.  Those were very intimate moments.When Beck, my ex, and I became secret lovers behind her back, we used to frequent the trestle.  It was the place that I had my first kiss with a boy.  And he and I would sit there for hours, holding each other, talking about our dreams, and making plans for our future together.  And after Beck and I broke up, I didn’t go back again.

    Until there was Xan, three years later.  At the time, we were living with my ex, Avi.  I felt a bond with Xan that I couldn’t quite explain.  So, I took him there, so that we could be alone.  We hung out and we drank.  It was a beautiful alone place, even if it was a rusted trestle.  You could see the creek below, and it was surrounded by trees, a rarity in that neighborhood.

    It was the place where Xan and I spent our first night together as a couple.  We sat up all night and talked.  I don’t recall what about.  The past.  The present.  Maybe even the future.  I know we went through the story of our developing relationship, and how we got to this point.  And I remember we held each other in the rain until the morning light.

Section 03: Things:

  • My computer
  • My Samsung Captivate Glide
  • Pandora
  • My stuffed animal from when I was a kid
  • Coffee
  • Pizza
  • New clothes
  • Cigarettes
  • Overhead Lighting
  • WordPress
  • Facebook
  • Bejeweled Blitz
  • Bed
  • My blue coffee cup
  • My brown skirt
  • The Internet
  • Wikipedia
  • WebMD
  • Medscape
  • Google
  • Craigslist
  • My blue blanket
  • My journals
  • Inkjoy pens
  • G2 Gel Pens
  • All no bleed Sharpies
  • Office supplies
  • Caffeine
  • My medication
  • My contacts

Section 04: Things I like to do:

  • Go for long car rides
  • Eat at this little mom and pop diner a few towns over
  • Shop
  • Get dressed up (sometimes)
  • Take hot showers
  • Visit my in-laws
  • Craft
  • Take on a new project
  • Crochet
  • Write
  • Read
  • Write on WordPress
  • Read on WordPress
  • Do selfless acts
  • Practice Tang Soo Do
  • Play computer games
  • Watch my favorite TV shows
  • Create things
  • Play with my son
  • Spend time with my husband

All that I am, all that I ever was...

“Pleasure is the only thing one should live for, nothing ages like happiness.”
~ Oscar Wilde ~

Accentuate the positives

The first exercise toward building better self-esteem is to focus on the positives. Now, I’m not a convert into the positive thinking movement, in fact I find books that proclaim all we need to do is think positively and everything we want will magically appear out of thin air complete crap. I don’t believe someone can ‘pretend away depression’ nor do I believe thinking positively will cure you of cancer or the myriad of other illnesses that people suffer from.

However, thinking positive thoughts about ourselves can bring about an attitude change toward better self-perception.

Once upon a time I was in a counselling session. I had seen this counsellor for several sessions and in each one he noted how stressed and tense I was; how I sat in a…

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Nails – A Tribute : 30 Days of Truth

Day 13 : A band or artist that has gotten you through some tough days. (write a letter.)

Trent Reznor receiving an award for truly remarkable music.

Preface: In the liner notes of Pretty Hate Machine, the first studio album by Nine Inch Nails, there is a statement that says, “Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor.” Indeed, it is. This is why I address this letter as such, though I would like to include every person that ever had a hand in his projects. They were also important in making his music happen.

Dear Trent Reznor,

Yes, I am indeed very young to be following your career. I ask you to dismiss any immediate notions of some kid fan looking to “find a voice” or “find an image to latch on to”. Fifteen years ago, that may have appeared to be the case. However, I advised any who made the accusation that it wasn’t a phase, and in my age group, it certainly wasn’t a fad. The music spoke to me, and I took a lot of shit to pride myself as a fan in my peer group. It wasn’t about a popular song, attraction, lifestyle, or any of that bullshit nonsense. It was the lyrics and the music, not the man or the movement.

I sincerely doubt that you will ever personally read this letter. It’s not a matter of dismissal, or anything of the like. I realize the intense focus, schedule, and deadlines that must accompany such incredible success. However, I’d like to assure you this isn’t one of those stalker letters, but only a fan tribute. And, of course, an exercise of prompt response to a blog project. If it wasn’t for this prompt, I may have never written this at all. That is, despite the fact that there is much in my personal life that I can attribute to the music.

Today, I am a part-time music teacher at a local inner city youth program here in Pittsburgh, PA. I am aware that you are local to the area, which is another reason the music is personal to me. You grew up in the area, therefore you were aware of the lifestyle and culture of the region and how it affects a person. But, that wasn’t the only personal connection. In the seventh grade, though music had been a lifelong passion, I became symptomatic with a mood disorder. A deep depression was ravaging through my life, taking each passion away from me. It took one man, my band instructor Warren Sullivan, to convince me otherwise.

One day, he took the class to the Piano Graveyard, a hallway behind the auditorium where old, detuned and broken pianos went to die. He wanted us to experiment with sound, though most of us had never touched a piano in our lives. I sat at a piano bench, disinterested in just about everything, including that exercise. Others plucked at sour keys, and some just pounded the pianos in the effort to make as much noise as possible. Mr. Sullivan sat down beside me, clearly as downtrodden as I was. I looked up at him and noticed this awful look of defeat and resignation.

We didn’t speak for a few moments, just poked at keys together. And this was the first time a teacher had addressed me personally, as an equal. He said, “Have you ever had anything really bad happen to you?” I nodded. He asked, “So bad that it changed your entire life?” Again, I nodded. He told me a story, a secret as to why he would be unlikely to return the following year. I liked the guy, and it was difficult to swallow.

And he said to me, “Did you know that I knew Trent?”

It took me aback. “Really?”

“Yeah, we were in a college band together,” he replied.

“So, what happened?” I eagerly inquired.

Mr. Sullivan look uncomfortable for a moment, but continued timidly, “We had creative differences.”

I noted, “I could see that.”

We were quiet again for a moment, and he admitted, “Do you know what the last thing I ever said to Trent was?”

“What?”

“Trent Reznor, you will never amount to anything!” He paused, then continued, “I guess I was mistaken. And that’s something I live with every time I hit a bad spot in my career.”

“Wow,” I breathed. It was really powerful. But, it taught me a valuable lesson. Go with what feels right and where my heart takes me. Never try to take anyone else down to get a leg up. And, it kept me in band, even with the terror of a director that took over. I withstood her for five years and five more instruments, just so I could get as much music under my belt as possible. I was inspired to move to tenor sax, which opened up the door to all woodwinds. Today, I have an alto on my wall, only because I can’t find a reasonably priced tenor sax. Imagine me, all of 4’11″ with a tenor sax strapped to my neck. The thing went down to my knees! It was worth it.

Anyhow, returning to the music itself. I started off with the album “The Downward Spiral”, which could not have been more appropriate for the life changes I was going through.  To this day, I have owned four physical copies, because I would wear them out so badly, and one digital copy, all legal.  It was at that point in my life that I became symptomatic with Bipolar Disorder“The Downward Spiral” was my mainstay.  I knew in my bones that I was different somehow, and that the deep depressions were abnormal for a young adolescent.  But, the album in it’s entirety showed that what I was going through, particularly the self-loathing, suicidal ideation, self-injury, questions of faith and religion, disdain and disillusionment with the world, and dysfunctional relationships were not uncommon events.  I had figured that if these things were inspiration for an adult, why couldn’t they be my inspiration, with the music being my solace.

As I grew into adulthood, the music came with me.  “Pretty Hate Machine” and “Broken” lent me music that resonated with me.  In a way, these albums aided me in support of developing my identity apart from parental and societal expectations.  I realized that I wasn’t like the others, and I could never be.  Instead of fretting about it, and making futile attempts to conform, I fought for the freedom of expression.

The music and lyrics tapped at something deep inside myself.  It found the part of me that conflicted and the dissonance touched.  It found the fundamental contradictions that created so much confusion and made it flow.  I identify with the complex and unique chord structures.  They are beautiful, yet eerie, and have so much tension in them.  My ear can identify them in music I wasn’t aware that you had a hand in, not because of the musical familiarity, but because of the way it touches me.

I could go on identifying each album, with various songs that have colored my life.  But, I find it unnecessary.  The message is this.  Each album contained a number of songs that had personal meaning.  Most were very fitting for the time period of my life, whether it was touching upon symptoms of my progressing disorder, dysfunctional and abusive relationships, general discord with life, or absolute disgust with society and the people that run it.  And in those songs, I found the music and lyrics to tell me the most important thing I needed to know in my life.  I am not alone.

So, today, I share my passion for music with kids, and help them find their sound.  I do that as part of my passion, and as my day job.  As a person who suffers from mood disorder, you could probably appreciate the following.  I spend most of my time putting the same message out there through creative mediums.  If you are suffering, you are not doing it alone.  I know how you feel.  I was granted the gift of music and writing to share my story and give a certain gift of companionship to those in need.  And, I feel as if you had a hand in aiding that.

I am still a fan and a listener.  I am greatly enjoying the long rumored, “How to Destroy Angels” project.  I appreciate how the music was able to evolve with me.  Or, it’s possible that I was just able to put it into a different context.  Either way, I am grateful to have had such an inspiration and support in my life.  Many thanks for following your passion, and not letting Warren take you down.

All the Best,

Lulu Stark

Up For Some Blog Tag?

I don’t know about some of you guys, but I’ve been coming up short in the writing arena lately.  Not because I don’t have anything to complain about (I don’t), but the Abilify is making my head unusually empty.  So, I’d like to toss around a game of tag!  Enjoy!

Da Rules:

Write ten facts about yourself, all true, and then pass it on to ten people.

Da Facts:

  1. I don’t like red meat.  I really don’t.  I am not a big fan of meat in general.  Except cheeseburgers.  I love cheeseburgers.  They are my downfall every time I attempt vegetarianism.
  2. I sleep in my contacts.  I’m so vain.  No, just kidding.  I just really love waking up and not fishing for a pair of glasses.  There’s something beautiful about waking up and being able to see the world without some plastic foreign object on your face.
  3. I live in Pittsburgh.  For those of you that might not know, I live in the City of Champions.  Most livable city in the US.  Six Superbowl Rings.  Four Stanley Cups (that I know of).  Jaywalking is a birthright.  The most disgusting rivers you will ever see, all three of them.  So bad that Bruce Willis said he will never, ever go in them again.  Most cloudy days of any major US city.  And more sets of stairs than San Francisco, believe that or not.  This city is the best.
  4. I was not born in Pittsburgh.  Unlike the rest of the natives, I was not born at Magee Women’s Hospital.  I wasn’t even born in this city.  I was actually born in a little town outside of Atlanta, GA.  I was raised there for several years and then hauled to Pittsburgh.
  5. I occasionally have a southern accent.  If I am drunk enough, surrounded by southerners, or actually in the south, I will slip into a southern accent.  The more time I spend in the south, the harder it is for me to get rid of.  I went down for a week for my honeymoon, and couldn’t get rid of it for three weeks, much to my husband’s disgust.  He’s one to talk; he has a mix of a Pittsburgh accent and a Brooklyn accent.
  6. I speak three languages.  Good English.  Bad English.  And Pittsburghese.  Look it up, it’s a real thing.
  7. I play more than one instruments.  I play most instruments in the woodwind family, and some in the percussion family.  I do not play any strings or brass.  It’s just not in me.
  8. My hair is naturally blonde.  Just not as blonde as I dye it!
  9. My son has Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I know I don’t talk about it often, but my son was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified in May 2011.  My brother has classical autism, so it was a hard diagnosis to take in.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Not again, God, I can’t handle this my whole life.”  The good news is that he’s coming along just fine, though he’s still delayed.
  10. I am on five psychiatric medications.  Lamictal, Abilify, Xanax, Wellbutrin, and Temazepam.  I hear that’s actually pretty tame in comparison.

Now, here’s the tagging.  If you come upon this, then TAG, YOU’RE IT!  I mean, if you really want.  I’m just not going out of my way to tag others today.

20 Days – Day 1

Normally, I don’t like to talk about my dreams.  Norman Mailer once said, “A novel is like a secret affair, you don’t bring other people in on it.” It’s not just novels.  It applies to every working project in life.  Once others are in on it, then the secret it out.  All then, it just isn’t the same after that.

So, here we go:

My Life’s Dreams

  • Have two children:   Originally, when I wrote this down over fifteen years ago, this was have four kids.  Then, just after I squeezed Beast out, I asked Xan if having one child would be fine with him.  Much to my current chagrin, he agreed.  But, doesn’t every parent want to have one of each?  In a way, I think it would be the most fulfilling parenting experience.  Truly, I would actually prefer to have two boys.
  • Write a novel / book:   This is probably on everyone’s bucket list, so I’ll leave this one alone.
  • Fall in one of the Three Rivers:   I’ve lived on two different rivers here in Pittsburgh.  There is the Allegheny, which comes from the Northeast.  Then, the Monogahela comes from the Southeast.  And they meet at the GolThe Falls of the Ohio Riverden Triangle, which is known to the rest of the United States as Downtown Pittsburgh to make the Ohio River.

    Ruby is going to yell at me for this one.  Remember how I said I was going to walk into the river from the North Shore River walk?  That’s the Allegheny River.  Well, we live over by the airport now, so we live by the Ohio.  And, there’s this nice little dock off the west shore at this great bar we live near.  I promise, there will be eight people there to either throw me in or fish me out.  I’ll let you know.

    And it can’t be that nasty.  To let everyone know of my previous location, I’ve been in Chartiers Creek before.

  • Make and sell my own crafts:   This one is all about finding the time and the money for the materials.  I think it would be seriously fun.
  • Be an extra in a movie / TV show:   Pretty self-explanatory.  I know, I know.  But, The Dark Knight Rises was just filmed there last year!  Or, couldn’t you have tried out for Idol last year too?  Yes.  But, even though I was actually in the city while it was being filmed, I was also teaching summer semester.
  • Become a full-time teacher:   I am a little too old for the when I grow up dreams.  Well, are we ever, really?  I just have to decide whether I want to go to school for Early Childhood Education or just plain Education?  I love children of all ages, so that’s going to be tough.
  • Get my Master’s Degree:   ‘Nough said on that.  I have my choice of various different kinds of Education I could be studying.  Personally, I don’t want to teach Special Education.  To be fair, I think I have had enough of Special Education in my life.  Both my brother and my son have various degrees of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  It is something very difficult to have in your life as a constant, and I’d like to keep home and home, and work at work.
  • Watch every episode of Doctor Who:   Growing up, Doctor Who was a constant in my home.  I 10th doctoreven remember not liking the series as a child.  There were the silliest reasons too.  First, it came on during one of my cartoons.  It also hailed the nightly “grown up TV time”.  The effects were cheesy.  And last of all, it was not a cartoon at all.  It wasn’t until the second series that I actually fell in love with the show.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember Tom Baker.  I actually liked the 4th Doctor.  He was funky and kind of New Age for his time.  That’s why, when the 10th Doctor came around, David Tennant, I was hooked.  He is just an amazing man.  And, he helped fortify the hypothesis I have about my inexplicable love for men I didn’t originally know were Scotsman anyway.

  • Have a stable episode for longer than six months:   Okay, I’ve done three months before.  I think it would be great to be able to live in a period of time without symptoms.  Even if it’s just once, I want to be able to live it to know what it’s like.
  • Cover all songs written by A Perfect Circle in a bar:   Currently working on this one.

Maybe it doesn’t look as if I’m shooting high.  But, that’s the thing about dreams.  If you shoot for the moon, you’ll land in the stars.  Well, guess what?  I want that moon, even if it’s not completely full.  Get it?