originally published in Transition.

Better see the link.

Without ANY self-pity in this piece, it wouldn’t be true.) RETREAT! RETREAT!


TO BEGIN. I am depressed right now trying to write right now trying to remember what it felt like the first time it felt like anything I can remember promising myself I would never say to myself as a grown-up that I wish I was a kid again could it have started that soon, that I came from the factory this way. This would have been before anything really bad, that might be different from what the other kids in town experienced, had happened. That came later.

I would find a place to be alone with a book, and I would be safe. Sometimes it was in the branches of an apple tree in the garden, but that’s another story.

I had trouble learning to read when I was five because I couldn’t see. My Mother, convinced I wasn’t stupid, took me to the optometrist in the City. Two weeks later my first pair of glasses came in the small brown box that all glasses came in to the village Post Office. Everything became clear and I could learn to read and reading became my way out of myself, or my house, or my school, or my town. Books came in brown envelopes with fluffy gray stuffing from the University Extension Library and I could have six for six weeks before we sent them back.

there might be one thing I could do better than other kids, something to which I could aspire, where I could be guaranteed virtually no competition.

There were books at home too, beside the Bible. There was Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka and Wild Animals I Have Known, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Jo’s Boys. My favourite was Little Lord Fauntleroy, about a boy who was discovered to be the inheritor of an English estate leaving his life as a poor boy in a small town in North America. I didn’t know that there was a better book called My Secret Garden by the same author that I would read to my children three decades later.

REWIND. You see how easy it is to avoid the subject of being sexually molested by a stranger when I was 1o. Thirty years of therapy and I still find it difficult to tell that story, though in some ways I am always telling that story, taking the blame, making it my fault because I was stupid and I was responsible for getting into that boat because I wanted to go fishing, and blaming all men for hurting not just women and girls which we hear about every day and is in itself sickening enough, but also boys and other men who can’t talk about it without sounding like less a man for it.

Aspiring to be English was the highest calling to the second generation of immigrants, but we spoke German at home at least until we had television in 1960 and I went to school. I was a preacher’s kid, a teacher’s kid, and the principal’s kid in this small town, no wonder I wanted into a nice wealthy English family as far away as I could imagine. Sometimes though, aspiration was the name of the game, walking hand in hand with achievement.

FAST FORWARD: Haven’t picked up the book, have picked up a gin and tonic. Less alcohol than the whisky I prefer. And I was wondering as I was mixing my drink whether I am more depressed because I’m drinking more, or drinking more because I’m more depressed and maybe the meds aren’t quite as effective. I’ve been with this meds combination for nine years.

Being the son of the Father and the Mother I was expected to aspire to be as good as Jesus, and smarter if possible. Throughout grade school I was given $.25 for a first place finish in class, $ .10 for a second place finish and a nickel for third. I never got a dime or a quarter, I was always third in class because of poor penmanship, and difficulties with math for which I was once strapped.

will herein!

Meanwhile I tried the best I could, not to be killed by the boys in the higher grades who had dubbed me Einstein because my mother bragged about me and what I could read to the other grades. RETREAT! RETREAT!


I tried desperately to fit in, to play sports, to have friends who would play with me even if there were people who saw them with me, or with whom they could play instead. But there was always a risk of being found as inadequate to my peers as I assumed I was to my parents. (Author’s note: If there wasn’t and encouragement. Maybe later. ***


I STOPPED TRYING to fit in when I hit puberty. I found

RETREAT! RETREAT! I am going to pick up my book and read to stop crying so my eyes aren’t too red when I go to the Comedy Festival tonight, as part of my job. Will I pour myself my first drink of the day? It’s 4:00 p.m.

years now, often the others pooped out in six months.
Also been thinking my third wife is turning to her studies, she is reading for her Ph.D., which resonates with my mother studying at home behind closed doors for her second degree when I wanted her. I was a needy child shouting Mama, Ich WILL REIN!

But my wife is reading in the kitchen, and, though claiming to be poor company for the next 15 weeks, is always there for me, not always understanding and sometimes in denial, but always there for me. It’s me who wants to get away, to withdraw where I have no responsibilities and where my moods, my disorder does not affect the people around me.

I should say something about the usefulness of fellow travellers

WHAT I WAS BETTER AT was reading, sure, but also, as it turned out writing. I had my first story published in Wee Wisdom, “Roger Clark at Indianapolis.” I loved racing stories so I wrote one for a Grade Eight class assignment and asked my parents to send it to the magazine that was looking for submissions from its readers. And could you believe it, it was accepted and now I knew what I wanted to do.

And then we moved to the City. I had always wanted to move to the city. The city was sophisticated, the country town was not. Or so most of the stories went as rural depopulation began at the turn of the 1960s. A friend that had got to the city the year before came over with windowpane acid one weekend when my parents were away which is the one and only time I tried it, just amazed at Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and a scuttle. I would have been fourteen.

ONSET was probably that fall with the hip, and the first major episode lasted I don’t know how long. I “called for help” twice in a residential boarding school with ridiculous attempts to kill myself by tying a leather shoelace around my neck and choking myself, and another time mixing 222s with Coke which we had heard could be a lethal combination. The Principal was my friend’s father and I was able to keep him from sharing any of

My hip hurt. I went to the doctor several times who could- n’t find anything wrong, so the diagnosis was I was having adjustment problems, trouble fitting into my new urban envi- ronment. Maybe this is the first time my parents believed there was something not quite right in my head. Of course I was hav- ing trouble fitting in: I had started using the cane my parents had bought in Germany to help me walk. The kids in the new school thought I was a nut case. (Author’s note: There are many different names, even the pejorative one easier for me to accept than mental illness.) Turns out they may have been right.I may have fared better than a girl on whom I had a crush. She ended up with a series of electroshock treatments to cure what ailed her. One thing she forgot was having made out with me and I had to tell the boy with whom she was in love with long curly hair to go to her. They are still married, surmounting.

What they were wrong about was my hip. After one pitiful crawl home from the bus stop one fall I was put on the bus to see the doctor the next day. This time he did one simple test, sent me for an x-ray and admitted me for the first of my three surgeries at the hospital next to the river. I had a slipped hip, the pain my parents had ignored for the better part of three months was real, after all. I did not spare the guilt, then or after, this one I thought they owed me, one for which I did not have to blame myself. I had a slipped hip, the pain my parents had ignored for the better part of three months was real, after all.

Ten days in the hospital, three four-inch pins in my hip, and three and a half months on crutches and everything was better. Except for one thing, the disconnect with my parents was complete. I no longer wanted to live with them or live by their Mennonite faith and protestant work ethic. MY parents and I were through. (Author’s note: But I didn’t tell them.)

I did find a group of other smart preacher’s kids to hang out with, but even they sensed that somehow I was different. That and girlfriends were a bit of respite. Then I got to university and discovered an approving peer group, whisky and beer.Unfortunately I got married when I was 19, wanting to rescue a damsel in distress with the added benefit of having sex. I turned out to be a worse experience than the one I had rescued her from, and there was no real sex. But I was in uniersity, and there it was cool to go see counsellors, so I did. Diagnosis – “acute depression.”

backF.AST FORWARD: The cast is coming off my leg on Tuesday. I slipped and fell on an icy street and broke my ankle, eventually needing a plate and seven (much shorter) screws in a day surgery repair. After this repair it was back to the Ambulatory Care Clinic, in the health centre by the river, no longer a hospital, but still a place I go to get fixed up unless I’m seeing a shrink.

I COULD STOP now and you’d already have enough of a picture to believe that at some point in my life I would be diagnosed as a depressive. REPEAT. Bad genes (predisposition from the factory), a sexual molestation, and parental neglect.

Shake well.
This, of course, is reductionist, but these are the scabs I pick.




IT IS YOUR (MY) FAULT. If it’s genes, they are still inside you. If it’s chemistry it is still your serotonin. If it is what you think, it is you who are thinking it, If it is what happened to you, it is still how you respond to it. The depressive knows this and will rarely fight back when a friend or a lover accuses them of making themselves sick.

DIAGNOSIS: Acute depression, which I joked about to my wife who didn’t think there was anything cute about depression or the drinking I went to for help instead of the shrink.

I started writing today wanting to talk a little about anger since I had a nice segue from last night. Clearly, given the Jimmy Bang Poems, I had huge anger issues. I could act them out on the page, but many of these and much of the anger were self-directed. (Author’s Note: Depression being anger turned inward is a cliché pretty much accepted in contemporary society, but it doesn’t make it any less true, or less unacceptable if the depressive is sitting next to you.)

FAST FORWARD: This is getting boring. More of a biography than writing about depression, but then always a sense of not wanting to be defined by the disorder by mental illness. (Author’s note: This is bullshit, all I am writing about is how I got sick, how my depression has been with me all my life. What is missing, are the moments of happiness. I’m sure there were some.) Something I didn’t accept as any term that could be applied to myself until I was in my 40s and on my third shrink. I had intended to write about depression from the inside of each of my books as a guide, it would make as much sense to talk about each shrink I saw, each medication or combination of medications I took; but this is me here right now writing with the cat at the window wanting to be let in.

I WROTE two stories then that were never published, one about a University campus shooting with a sympathetic portrayal of the shooter, and the other about an artist who made a deal with a live model to also be a dead model, whom the artist kills violently with a lead pipe, using the blood and entrails to paint a picture. With hindsight, in this one I likely saw myself as the artist and the model. But still no therapy.

Out of control, I was able to live on student aid and food poached from my parent’s house and work at jobs in university. This would be after my wife kicked me out in the spring of 1979. ONE GOOD THING happened though is that I got into an advanced creative writing workshop. I had never stopped writing and seriously wanted to be a poet, so I lived what I thought the part looked like and wrote very angry-young-man poems. It was the only course I think I finished that year, and so much better to write out the anger than act it out. A feeling

FAST FORWARD. I am listening to Leonard Cohen because there is a rolling sound track running through most of my waking hours. I’ve put on Leonard’s Songs of Love and Hate because I wanted to talk about anger here, now. I’ve stepped into an avalanche and there are no letters in the mail- box anymore. It’s come as no surprise that Cohen’s a depressive who has tried Zen meditation, wine, and medications to help. But now he has to work because his manager spent his retirement money. Having to work is a much underestimated motivator. I am going to hear him on April 30, my birthday present, yes, I’m a bull-headed Aries who likes to start things.

of relief. These came to be called Jimmy Bang Poems.
THEY LAUGHED. The first time I read from the poems in public after their publication the audience laughed. I decid- ed a laugh was a good thing, and started to bring on the cheese and ham, meantime I was horribly confused. Why the fuck do

REWIND. The Sex Pistols were the sound track for the


they think this is funny?

TO CONTINUE. The comedy show last night with The Seven Deadly Sins as its theme was pretty funny, especially Tim Nutt riffing on Anger. He was even better when they brought him out after the CBC taping because he could swear. The profani- ty didn’t, in itself, make him funnier, he could just be more himself, and you could feel the whole audience relax. This is another disconnect, when you are depressed, who are you? And if you’re clinically, chronically depressed, is that who you are? Are the medications just managing the symptoms? I have learned I can’t even take a “drug holiday” because I immedi- ately get sicker. If I am on citalapram, buproprion and resperi-

done so I am functioning and productive, am I someone else? NO MATTER HOW YOU LOOK AT DEPRESSION, IT







FAST FORWARD. I woke up this morning anxious to get back to writing this piece, and anxious how my wife would feel if I did. She feels that spending too much time thinking about your depression, just makes you feel more depressed. Wallowing,

We started with relaxation exercises and Xanax, an addic- tive tranquilizer, because I had a strong case of anxiety neu- roses to go with the depression. Then we added Antabuse and I stopped drinking. Then I stopped writing. But I started talk- ing in session, and for the first time talking about what ailed me in a therapeutic context.

she called it yesterday.
So the assignment is to write about depression, without at

This took longer than I think because my next collection of poems was published in 1985, and I know I was drinking as I was revising the manuscript, the changes still quaintly arriv- ing by post. For me drinking and writing are inextricably linked, and one of the challenges yet to be faced or accepted, one that has confronted many writers before me.

least showing that I’m feeling depressed. There are two issues for me here. One, how can I pull other people into this self- revealing meander, I am sure neither my wife nor my kids want to be mentioned. How do you write about depression without mentioning the affect it has on other people? But how fair is it to invade their privacy to drag them into the page of a mental health magazine? Two, how can I write, how can I communi- cate truthfully and honestly if I don’t? Besides, if I was actual- ly really depressed it is unlikely I would be able to write about it cogently.

Correct in this Culture was the name of the book, and that was what I was trying to be. I was married, raising children, and loving my suburban back yard, and I always had work I liked to do. I figured if I followed the rules, I would win a pic- ture book life. I actually did want to be correct in this culture, and I never understood the artist’s rush to marginalize them- selves as incorrect. I produced buttons, the audience made choices. No-one really wanted to be correct, and being loopy was always better than being correct. I always wondered what they imagined needed correction, while my synapses picked up rhythms from a strange universe.

I APPROACH THE WORLD through the alphabet. There have been a number of people who have expressed the opinion that I write well about depression. I enjoy the praise but won- der what kind of depression do I have if I can write about it well? The ability to read is what goes first. The attention and focus just aren’t there. I can tell how depressed I am by the rate I read novels, whether they are big or small, whether I can only read magazine articles, and finally if I watch tv alone. I must be doing relatively well, because I am reading novels, one of them over 900 pages, and then publishing reviews in the local paper. I’ve been averaging one a month and I probably read two or three others in between.

There were poems then too, but many fewer, and much less time because the family came first. After a year on Xanax I was able, with the help of the shrink and relaxation exercises, able to come off the tranq and was clean and sober for the birth of my next two children in 1986, 1989.

TURNING 26 was a big deal. It is still what I call when some- one finally grows up and out of adolescence and at least makes some effort at being an adult willing to take responsibility for their actions. I met the woman who was to become my second wife, got my first job outside the University, and by 1984 was

ABANDONMENT is a major theme for depressives like me. You will probably have picked that up already regarding my mother. This was one of the anxieties in 1984 when our first child was born. Turned out I had every reason to be anx- ious (Author’s note: One of the nice things about a good shrink is the constant reality checks and the acknowledgment that it is in fact “normal” to feel the way you do during major life changes, but also always being told when you really are fucked up) and despite some lovely poems published 20 years later in my third collection, Lucky Man, I did feel abandoned by my wife who now turned all her attention to the children. How could I complain, when I knew how I felt about the lack of MY mother’s attention?

expecting my first child.
I was also in trouble. Really depressed, drinking too much,

feeling the going to work and loving was too hard.
PICKING A PSYCHIATRIST out of the phone book is not recommended. I tried it with bad results. I had a 15 minute interview and was given a prescription that I don’t remember. All I know is that after three days I was completely dissociat- ing from my surroundings and having pretty much what I fig- ured was a psychotic break. Fortunately my wife phoned my sister-in-law who was well acquainted with social services in my new province of residence, and I went to the local mental health centre were I had the extreme good fortune to be

Throughout this struggle, either my second or third episode, I only missed two days of work, though I shared what I was going through with some of my employers who were quite understanding. I was working in the arts, one of the places some difference is tolerated, and attractive to folks who are different for that reason.





I was also in trouble. Really depressed, drinking too much, feeling the going to work and loving was too hard.

late seventies, for The Jimmy Bang Poems. And for the amateur 8mm Jimmy Bang Movie, with the cameraman losing the money shot of me putting out a cigarette in my palm. I was annoyed he had dropped the camera and tried to save me. I was annoyed at anyone who tried to save me, preferred they just watch the show. Where’s my Lou Reed, listen to Berlin.

referred to the first psychiatrist who was to take my mental health inventory and treat me over a number of years.

BEING DIFFERENT. This could be some big postmodernist riff with side references to R.D. Laing (whom I heard lecture at the university but who was so totally wasted on coke, or so I


thought, to be unintelligible). His thesis was there was no abnormal behaviour and all experiences real or imagined were valid and to be accepted. Again, simplified, reductionist, but you get the idea, no-one is unacceptably different.

with my kids. Fortunately, working full-time and being a sin- gle mom proved too much for her and she invited me back. I explained to her I was happy to come back, but I was not leav- ing the kids again.

That’s only one take on difference, the other is more like- ly to come with the denial of other people in your life. They get depressed too they tell you, you are no different, as if you are claiming some special status that makes you somehow unique or distinctive, usually the next phrase is with “Snap out of it” or “Pull yourself up with your own bootstraps.” These are phrases that should be in the brochures they make-up for peo- ple who are living with depressives on the list of things you can not say to a depressive, no matter how tempted you might be. On the other hand, who wants to be unacceptably different?

She had to keep working full time, but I at least could do the housework, pretty much all I did between 1997 and 1999, because I lost my job. I had a clause in my contract that let my employer release me with 6 months notice for no reason, and we all signed confidentiality agreements. I offered to come back two days a week, we were trying new medications and the talk therapy was going very well, but I was supervising a staff of 16 and this seemed too big a risk for my employer to take.

REWIND. While I had changed jobs successfully in 1988, I was less fortunate in 1991 when I took a job that got the fami- ly back to my home city where our children could get to know their grandparents. This move might have been prompted by the arrival of another episode, but it was definitely exacerbat- ed by the worst job I had ever had in my life. I started drinking again and finding it very hard to work. Fortunately I was thrown a life preserver by someone in the same building, and for the only time I can remember, though it was shrink aided, it was a situation in which the change of job totally relieved the

It didn’t help that the staff was quite happy to get rid of another Executive Director, especially one who had broken down and cried in a meeting. I myself had been involved in getting rid of the one before. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Artists and arts administrators, at least in this city, have as much of a killer instinct when there is blood in the water as any shark or corporate maven. It never seemed to be quite this vicious in the other province when I had worked there in the 80s. The co-operative spirit, and the need for mutual support to get anything done superseded all else. If someone fell down, you would pick them up rather than step on them to improve your own situation.

depressive symptoms.
I continued to be a successful arts administrator, not writ-

The insurance company’s attempts at rehab were ridicu- lous, having me look at long distance truck driving and land- scaping as options. They wanted me off their disability plan and then decided to discontinue their monthly support.

ing very much, and certainly not in any disciplined way until 1995 when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I had started therapy with a new shrink after unsuccessful efforts with two others, one of them a Mennonite I thought might have a clearer picture of what baggage I was carrying from my eth- nicity/religion. Wrong.

I HAD TO SUE the insurance company for a settlement, which took longer than the reserves I had from my termination settle- ment, but the job got done. Tons of tests, and a funny situation in which I did so poorly on a visual spatial memory test (look at the shapes, we’ll take them out and put a blindfold over your eyes and you put them back) they thought I might be faking, because no-one had ever done so poorly on one of these tests. My reaction times to visual images were also judged to be too slow, even for a depressive. Still the paperwork got done, and I always see this time as the time I was certified as mentally ill. This word had started creeping into my vocabulary and discus- sions with my shrink. This diagnosis also suggested there might be just a hint of bipolar, because when I was working I was very efficient and worked, if not manically, at a high

The new shrink and the crisis postponed the next episode until 1996-1997. We had been through the tricyclics by this time and were now onto the first SSRI’s. By this time I need- ed the medication. Effexor was one of the better anti-depres- sants on the market and it worked fine until it pooped out after six months.

EVERYTHING CAME CRASHING DOWN. This time was different. I don’t know what happened. No matter how often I tried to explain to my son who had the brain tumour in 1995 that I did not get sick because he got sick, that in fact I had a knack of getting sick for no reason when all was going well, he has never believed me. Nor does he believe that he isn’t the reason that his mother and I got divorced. It didn’t help that we quoted statistics that said 80% of marriages where there had been a life threatening situation in the immediate family, ended in divorce. He quoted this phrase in a radio inter- view two years back. He is often a survivor spokesperson.

I took this back to my good shrink, who assured me work-

MY WIFE got tired of living with a depressive. She asked me to leave. I did. This was a big mistake because I needed to be


ing efficiently and quickly was something that I was good at, and not part of my disorder. By this time I had seen the head of a mood disorder clinic who had me do an intensive survey and one intense therapy session in which I had another psychotic break, but lasting less than five minutes. He wrote up a list of four different medication protocols for me, while my regular psychiatrist kept pushing the talk therapy.




on the list. A cocktail, it includes citalapram, buproprion and resperidone (primarily as a sleep aid, but maybe a little to take a bit of the edge off any manic potential) which we started in late 1999. I started a magazine out of my house in 1999, and by 2000 I had landed my first job after this episode, at less than a third of the salary I had been making at the job from which I was fired. This was the most lasting, most devastating episode during which I wrote almost nothing.

But I have to say I was predisposed to believe in medication, because my parents did and they had a lovely medicine cabinet.

This is what is in this box. My mother’s obituary, noting August 6th, 2000 as the day she died, with me in her room half asleep and waiting. (Author’s note: Another story I have been avoiding is how I had my worst depression when my mother was dying. I was with her for the two years, until she abandoned me for the last time.) So the coincidence – the right med cocktail, my mother dead. I have ten hours of her story on digital tape, her memoirs poorly typed by my father, and my promise to tell her story on my lips as I kissed her goodbye. (Surely a little melo- drama is in order when the kid’s mom dies, really!)

I did try cognitive therapy, the only group I’ve ever done and my last, in a dismal second story office off a highway. It was clear that what you are thinking is the problem and it’s your fault. But the trick is to psych yourself out by snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you have bad thoughts so you can think good thoughts instead. It made my skin crawl. Essentially you were trying to outsmart yourself, and if you could behave as if you were happy, eventually you would be. (Author’s note: “Let a smile be your umbrella.”)

THE EMPTY BOTTLES in the jewelry box are :

The truth is the negative tapes playing in my head stopped when I started taking resperidone. It shouldn’t be that clear, and maybe I’m making it up. All I know is when I tried to cut back on even my low dose of 1 mg of resperidone a night a couple of years ago, the bad thoughts kept flooding back, like ugly bats looking to fasten their claws to the convolutions of my brain. But I have to say I was predisposed to believe in medication, because my parents did and they had a lovely med- icine cabinet.

trimipramine, nortryptoline, tranylcypromine, moclobemide, trazadone, doxepin, my Dad’s doxepin, his Ritalin, my nefa- zodone, sertraline, buspirone, three tabs left in a bottle of lorazepam with someone’s name I don’t know on the label (I take one of the three that’s left), fluoxetine, venlafaxine, bupro- prion, resperidone and citalapram. I usually say it took 17 attempts and 15 years to find meds that worked for me, and what have they done for me lately.

From their shelves I found Ritalin to stay awake and Sinnequan, maybe to sleep, maybe for depression, who knows. I took my mother’s musical jewelry box from her dresser after she died. I have tried to put every empty bottle of every drug I have taken before and since into the chest, ripping out some of the drawers that were getting in the way.

I STARTED WITH MY DAUGHTER who might have liked to come over for Sunday dinner. She’s moved into her first apartment and has no furniture except for her bed. We might have some here, but I don’t want to see her today because I find it stressful because I feel so incredibly guilty for fucking her up too. So I told her I was writing, which is always writing and drinking and I’ve poured a glass of wine and it’s 2:00 p.m. It’s amazing how important when you start drinking is. It’s always better if I wait until 4:00, 5:00 is even better because except for “writing nights” I never drink after dinner, except for the occasional brandy night-cap, but those are actu- ally quite rare. And the amount of drinking I can do between 5:00 and 7:00 or 8:00, always now wine for dinner, is enough but limited enough.

I open the case: The music has long since stopped playing, the

little ballerina has stopped dancing.

FAST FORWARD. I am just off the phone talking to my three kids. Here is the problem. What can I say here? It is part of who I am and “my situation,” but it is their privacy and I hope the editor has a way of dealing with all of this because I have decided simply, or not simply, to write it all down.


I’m evading what I want to say. My daughter is on Effexor and in weekly therapy. She is nineteen, having completed one year of university a year ago. She is also in AA, and seems to think all her problems are related to substance abuse, mostly alcohol.

This is another reason working outside the house is so important, and why it will be good to get the cast off my leg and me going into the office from 9:00 – 5:00 every day, and why I have to find a way to disconnect writing from drinking, because if I ever want to be a full-time writer I can not drink all day without killing myself and ruining another relationship. But for now, work is another thing that keeps me from the pit, and I just write enough to satisfy my compulsion without with- drawing more than two nights a week.


I think she feels abandoned first by her mother who moved out to catch up on what she missed out when she married me at 20, and by me who went to look for solace in another relationship and the bottle. Unfortunately, my daughter also seems to have inherited my metabolism, which can process vast amounts of liquor quite quickly, and her mother’s use of marijuana for relaxation. I wonder where I put those relaxation tapes.

WAS/IS IT ALL ROSES? As I said I told my ex-wife, if there were problems, she would be the one to leave. At the most charitable, I sense she might have waited to bug out until I was relatively healthy, certainly well enough to look after the children. In my own haphazard way I did, much like when I was sick at home and she was working. But I knew to stay healthy. (Author’s note: I have read some psychology as well as literature and have accepted Freud’s hypothesis that the def-inition of mental health is the ability to love and work.) I would need a lover and a companion, and in my mind that would be another wife.

My guilt comes from entering into a new relationship and spending time in my girlfriend’s home with her family that I could have been spending with mine. And then when my girl- friend had to move to Toronto for a year, retreating to my bed- room and writing and drinking myself into oblivion. Here I finally was able to write about what I had been telling my shrinks for nearly 30 years, but it took me to many dark places, exacerbated by alcohol. It is a manuscript called boy for which I am still searching for a publisher. My daughter coped by excelling academically, knowing it was the one expectation, the one accomplishment for which she would get recognition from her parents, and something in which she could take pride in herself.

I AM WAITING FOR HER to come home from grocery shopping, listening to Al Green and Lyle Lovett singing When Time Slips Away. Drinking a second glass of wine, wondering what trouble I am in today. You should have been at the wedding July 2007, we had a live jazz band in the best French restaurant in town. You know I think I will always keep working because I like the expensive things in life, but I know I will always keep writing because I need to live.

THEN I TALK TO MY OLDEST SON. He is devastated. He has lost a good deal of cartilage in his knee and has osteoarthritis. He is 25, and as he told me “exercise, and competition were my antidepressants, my drugs and alcohol.” Telling him his reaction to such a huge loss, which right now looks like it will keep him from judo, and definitely from long- distance running, is normal, does not reassure him. The fact that he is moving from a PhD program in the States to one in Toronto where his wife can work and where they will have their first apartment together is just something on a list that he knows is supposed to make him feel better, but doesn’t. I know the feeling and I wonder what genes, what neuroses I have passed on to him

I ALSO KNOW I AM NEAR THE EDGE of the abyss once again, chosen by the Consul in Under the Volcano. Jesse Winchester has a lovely song that goes “If I’m walking on thin ice I might as well dance.” That’s me. Dancing, the last thing any Mennonite knows how to do.



MY YOUNGEST SON turns 23 in July . He is a fully certified radiation therapist. He kills cancer. He had 33 radiation treatments after his surgery when he was nine. He is a very empathetic radiation therapist and will do well in his profes- sion. He was the last to leave home, just this year. Now he lives in another city, is renting a condo, and has furniture.

FACE IT. The kids are doing well. The two boys, the old- est seems the least fucked up, but even the daughter in whom I see so much of myself is doing well, showing up for work at 7:30 every morning. She wants to spend a year living on her own in an apartment before she decides whether she will return to school, and what she might do.

THE TRUTH IS that all five of us in that “original” family have been in therapy at one time or another, dealing with anxieties and depressions of varying degrees of severity. All I can say is the system worked for us. It took a while for me to find the right help , but it was fantastic when it was sorted, and the system helped me find the help I needed for my kids when they needed it.




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