The End

Over the past few months I have found myself enjoying more and more the process of blogging. I'd written personal essays before, but never on this scale -- never so often and with such, er, honesty. (If by honesty I mean slashing my wrists and hemorrhaging all over the computer screen).

By far the best part has been meeting people in the comments section and through emails. The only problem with blogging is that it is all-consuming. For a while there I was posting a few times a day. For the past week or so I've put the breaks on a bit (in part due to a book that needed copy-editing, in part due to a catastrophic depression). Then, this week I was offered a column on Salon. Okay, to be perfectly accurate, I browbeat the fine editors of that inspired on line magazine into letting me have a column. I thought for a while I could do both the column and the blog, but I'm afraid that if I tried that, I wouldn't have enough time and energy left over to write my novels or drive carpool.

So I'm going to end the blog. I'll still be bitching about the same kind of thing over at Salon. Please log on to read me over there. You need not be a member -- you can watch the little commercial instead. Please continue to email me with your comments, etc. And I'll be reading your blogs.


April? April? Really? April?

I know they're busy rebuilding the country, but would it kill the court to meet again before April to decide this baby's fate? They are going to have his DNA results back next week, the child has come to represent a ray of both hope and desperation in the cataclysmic horror of Sri Lanka post-Tsunami, would it kill them to hold a quickie hearing a couple of months early? Get their robed and wigged asses into court say, NOW, rather than in two months? I know that tens of thousands of parents have lost babies, that these parents are not unique, that the countries surrounding the Indian sea are awash in tragedy. I know Baby 81 is little more than a symbol, one that has caught the eye of the international press. I don't care. His parents (if they are his parents) are in agony. The results of the DNA test will be dispositive. Hold the goddamn hearing, you sons of bitches.


I'm tempted to take up mountain climbing.

People with bipolar disorder have a suicide risk ranging between 19% and 24%. Of all mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is associated with the highest risk of suicide, higher even than depression. Somewhere around .31% of bipolar patients kill themselves every year.

For those of you who need a few terms defined:

Bipolar disorder is what we now call the disease once known as Manic-Depression. Those of us with bipolar II enjoy depression and hypomania rather than depression and out and out mania, as is experienced by those with bipolar I.

The OED defines hypomania thusly "A minor form of mania, often part of the manic-depressive cycle, characterized by elation and a feeling of well-being together with quickness of thought." Mania is defined as "...one of the aspects of bipolar (manic-depressive) mood disorder, characterized particularly by euphoria, grandiose thought, rapid speech expressing loosely connected thoughts (flight of ideas), decreased need for sleep, increased physical activity, and sometimes delusions or hallucinations." Those are fine definitions, but they don't much assist the layman in comprehending the difference. So let me see if I can be more instructive.

This is hypomania: You wake up in the morning; make four lunches, preparing three individual sandwiches (one peanut butter, no jelly. One turkey with mayo, one turkey without mayo but with tomato, blotted dry so it doesn't make the bread soggy) and a thermos of soup. Each lunch gets a drink, two snacks, and a piece of fruit. You wake, dress, and feed four children, reminding everyone to take vitamins, and Omega III. You sign permission slips, and load up carpool. Then you go to the gym, do email, make plane reservations for family vacation, copy-edit essay, put finishing touches on novel, revise short story for submission to anthology, drop off meal for family with new baby at preschool, and order new bathing suits for everybody because, suddenly, despite the fact that it is February you decide that everyone needs new bathing suits and that if a single day passes without each and every member of the family having a new bathing suit the well-being of the family will collapse. Then you reorganize the kitchen hell drawer, go online and order nine superpacks of size 4 diapers (and swim diapers for the baby, too, because, after all, what's a bathing suit for a baby without a swim diaper underneath it?). Then you pick up the children from school. You never, never, do anything without talking on the phone at the same time. Most of these phone conversations should involve volunteering for things you don't actually want to do but feel you should. That is a day in the life of the average hypomanic.

Mania. Well, hmm. I've never actually suffered from a manic episode, but here's one I've seen fairly close-at-hand. Imagine if you will, Bloomingdales, circa 1982. 10,000 dollars is spent in approximately 11 minutes. Think grandiosity, agitation, inability to focus, hostility, and complete and total lack of control.

All in all, hypomanic is what you want to be. Hypomania is why I can do things like write three books in seven months. Hypomania is, in fact, the bomb. Hypomania is also linked to a 24% suicide risk. You heard me. Us bipolar II folks have an even higher risk of suicide than those with bipolar I.

Twenty-four percent. That's almost a quarter. A one in four chance, if you'll permit me the indulgence of rounding up. Let's put that number in perspective. The chances of dying while attempting an ascent of K2 are approximately 5%.

Awareness of the suicide risk, awareness of the subtleties of the disease and its chemical nature, do nothing to alleviate the risk of death. It does not help to know that one's mood is a mystery of neurochemistry when one is tallying the contents of the medicine cabinet and evaluating the neurotoxic effects of a Tylenol, topomax, SRRI and ambien cocktail.

All in all, as heritable diseases go, I think I would have preferred something else. Diabetes, say, or color-blindness. Wait, I forgot, we've got both of those. The former is on my husband's side of the family, and Zeke can't tell his reds from his greens.

This is what happens when you insist on marrying people from the same few square miles of Jewish Pale. Michael and I might as well be cousins for all the genetic diversity we've got going on. I'm going to force my children to travel to the far reaches of the globe when it's time for them to marry. We need to shake up this gene pool a little.


One of Us, One of Us

Milagros, the Mermaid Baby, is going to have surgery to have her legs split. I read this article and spent God only know how many hours googling Milagros and Sirenomelia in general, for the same reason that I read everything I can about conjoined twins, gigantism, and any other condition you might have seen on exhibit in a 1930s sideshow. I'm obsessed with that kind of thing, and I'm not willing to engage in the elaborate psychoanalysis necessary to figure out why. I also like photographs of horrible disfigurements and diseases. My current favorite is a book called The Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection, which is a collection of Japanese medical photographs from the late nineteenth century. It's got some serious doozies in it, tumors that defy the traditional fruit and vegetable taxonomy.

Another grotesque obsession I have is for photographs of dead children. I don't mean those horrifying pictures in the newspaper after the tsunami. I'm not a ghoul. Okay, I am a ghoul, but I'm not a monster. What I like are a very specific type of photograph. During the Victorian Era it was common to photograph children after they died, as a way of remembering and memorializing them. I saw my first collection of these at the Diego Rivera house in Guanajuato, Mexico and while I remember nothing about the art in the house, I can remember almost every dead child.

As I begin to write about this, I realize that I was equally obsessed with those photographs in the newspaper of the children who died in the tsunami. I stared at those photographs for far longer than I should have, allowing myself to linger in a way that felt prurient. This kind of creepy grief mongering feels much more acceptable when it takes place at a hundred to hundred and fifty year remove. Better to stop thinking about this and go back to the circus freaks...

My children would be disgusted with me. "There is no such thing as a freak," they would say. "People are just differently-abled." And I would agree, shame-facedly, while secretly programming TIVO to catch Freaks (1932). (Who can resist a movie with the tagline "Can a fully grown woman truly love a MIDGET?") It's terrible, it really is, this shameful curiosity. But don't worry. I suffer for it. I have to sit through Carnivale on HBO every week.


The C Word

Ivan Noble died yesterday, at the age of 37. This was the writer who kept the BBC online tumor diary (or tumour, because he was British). I only read it once or twice, because I'm Jewish and, thus, much too scared of cancer even to read an inspiring, brave and honest diary on the subject.

He died yesterday, and today I decided not to get a mammogram. Those two things have nothing to do with one another, but they strike me, sitting here at my computer, as interesting nonetheless. I'm not a scientist, God knows, only a hypochondriac, and I am thus not qualified to evaluate the mountains of data on mammograms, pro and con. I know I'll get one when I'm fifty. I know the recommendation is to have one every other year at forty. I'm just not sure it makes any sense to do so. Let's say the mammogram actually finds DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ). I have four children, so I'm going to treat the hell out of that son of a bitch. I'm going to slash and burn, despite the evidence indicating that only 30% of DCIS cases go on to develop into cancer. As a mother, how could I risk being in that 30%? The chances are good that I would end up traumatizing my body and my mind for no very good reason but I would feel like I had no other option but to make that choice.

I would likely make a very different decision about the mammogram if I had cancer in my family. As far as I know, none of my female relatives have ever had cancer, other than my Auntie Helen, a smoker, who died of lung cancer. I have the luxury of batting around probabilities and statistics. So far I've been very lucky. Ask me next year, at my annual appointment, and I may have another opinion entirely.