Amy Barlow Liberatore… stories of lost years, wild times, mental variety, faith, and lots of jazz

Tag Archives: Mental Health

There was a prompt on dverse called “Missing You” that, of course, I missed linking to.  To which I missed linking.  Linking missed did I.  Whatever!  Fortunately, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads is hosting Open Link Monday, so thanks, Kerry!

During Advent, I remember large and small kindnesses, and I think about those I’ve lost over the years. “And of all these friends and lovers, there is no one compares to you.” With a nod to John Lennon, here a a poem about the person I miss so much.

NOTE:  All poems regarding my relationship with my father are about me and me alone.  I make no claims, nor do I speak for my sisters.

Charlotte and Amer 001

MISSING CHARLOTTE

The coffee shared at the cigbutt-scarred
kitchen table (my workspace now).

The stories, especially when you were
drunk as a skunk, rambling on about

our noteworthy obscure Irish lineage.
Our family totem: Gordon’s and an ashtray.

Grandma Blanche exacting revenge
on Bill, who cheated with her best friend.

Wish you had taken a picture of his face
when he walked in, realizing he was busted.

The nights you went off to sing, scent of
Tigress cologne, the black sequins and

paste jewelry from Blanche, I called them
“dime mints,” the teardrop earrings you wore.

The teardrops signified more: Breakfast
wearing sunglasses, Dad hit you the night before

after doing me in a fit of jealousy – Dad sure
you were fooling around at your gig, you dig?

Next morning, to church, choir director… first,
vodka bracer, no lie detector, I’d never tell

Your secrets were safe with me and my
secrets I didn’t know until after you both died.

Mama, you told me we were both descended
from sirens. I didn’t think you meant

ambulances, yet backward glances tell me
(in the hindsight that trumps your own truth),

you were a mess, and so loveable, and so
weak, and so in need, and so on. I know.

I’m the dark mirth of the Irish, the mother of
a savant, the keeper of memories, of the love.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

My mother was an enigmatic, persuasive lioness who occasionally retreated to helpless-kitten states through alcohol. She drank because she didn’t want to be “crazy” like her mother, Blanche, who was bipolar like me, but because of the times, was institutionalized and Frankenshocked through the 30s and 40s. Charlotte drank because she didn’t want to “notice” Dad sneaking up the hall after his little girls had gone to bed. And she drank to warm up her razor-sharp memory for “the telling of the stories,” our family history. Some people tell the same stories over and over… which start out like funny mice but, over the years, morph into elephants. Not Mama. I was her witness, and I know she would be glad I write about all the mess, the booze, the music, the tears, and the bellyaching laughter… and yes, even the abuse.

Hug your parents tight, if they are with you. My depression comes and goes, but hers was long, tortured, and I thank God that now, she is at peace. Miss you, Mama. Love, Amer

Photo taken by my Grandpa Bill in August 1959, during a visit to Mom’s home town, Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Copyright is with me.


DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE

“Don’t bother with that now,” says he,
that little devil in me, and with a smile.
“The pills aren’t good for you – you, who are
too special to be tamed by doctors’ doses.”

I gaze through cobalt blue glass. It’s all over
our house, in unexpected places and all the
windows. Blue soothes. Blue cools my brow.
She, color of cornflowers and lobelia.

“Don’t look there. And remember,” says he,
“there is so much more fun in dancing without
benefit of discretion, in writing on the walls
before the thought skitterclatters down the hall.”

I do not listen to that voice. Not a voice, really,
that would be schizyfreaky… it’s the pull of
the World, of Things To Be Bought, of Drinks
To Be Drunk (Too Many and Too Often).

He stops, knows he’s been recognized. “Girl,
I’m only trying to help. The meds keep you under
a scripted thrall of ennui. Remember the old days?
You were the good time that was had by all.”

Had and had again, says I, searching for the
new blue top, periwinkle. Blue cobalt strand in
one ear, a blue bejeweled post in the other. I’ll sing loud
the blues. Sing over him. Sing past him and out the door.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

A continuation of writings probing the “many-splintered thing,” my depression! Sunday Scribblings asked for “you and me” poems. This poem takes an abstract turn because, as I continue to fight a deep depression, I’ve had an internal dialog of sorts: the relationship between the “devil” of my chemical imbalance (and temptations to go off meds) are tempered by my relationship to the color blue, a healing shade for my blues, and isn’t that ironic? For some reason, it has always brought me solace; hence, the many blue bottles and jars all over our apartment.

Anything that works. And it WILL get better, even though I was born without bootstraps by which to pull myself up… that’s where meds and therapy take over to breach the gap.

This is also posted at my calm blue writing room, Poets United. Peace to all, Amy


This is really happening.  To me.  No pity party, please, just listen and understand.  It will get better, I know that.  More words after the poem.

TURBULENT DISCONNECT

Now I lay me down to weep
A labyrinth, a maze without cheese
Words fail the bruised heart,
the mind made of chalk
Cry. Weep. Moan. Mourn. Keen. Wail.
These words pale. I am breaking down
into actual, definable pieces of self
Synapses unsnapping, flying free but
trapped within my brain

Kneeling facedown across the bed,
arms spread wide, inside outside
The religious lie prone, oblate before God
So I humble myself, keening aloud abstract pleas:
Why? Where are you?
How will I make it through?
What is happening to me and
what’s to come? When? How?

But these phrases do not come all apiece
They are fragmented by disturbing sounds
Eyes red tired sore, cried to dry and then,
having found the source, tears well up again
as my gut contracts (sounds like a business deal)

My face is chapped by The Waterworks
Forcing fluids to keep up with the gushers
A fracked earthquake of emotion, unnatural

Worrying meds, from table to bowl,
Weaning off shame to another Sheol
Chemical soup has ruled my life for years
Maybe The Dark One, sensing instability,
Delights in trumping God at my disability

There’s little more pitiful
than a 55-year-old woman crying clean through
her yoga routine
falling over and wiping her nose on
her sleeve between heaves
and retches between stretches

Now another bout is brewing
so I’ll put this aside
Take off my bifocals so the salt
won’t be dried on the lenses
Cling to the teddy bear
my daughter used to hold fast
Roll over in the dark to sip water
from a cobalt blue glass

It’s coming again… the creek, the river,
the waterfall, the tsunami, the flood
And FEMA cannot help this disaster
The global disconnect in my head

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
I have not been on the computer for days, let alone write. Mary Kling, your Imaginary Garden With Real Toads prompt for poems about “connections” led me to rework an old poem into a more coherent form, written as it was during a dark period. I am in an even darker place now, so please forgive my not responding to comments. But if you have even felt something this deep, please leave a comment and let me know, if only so I’ll have company. If you have never felt this way, I ask that you offer a prayer for all of us who live with depression. Don’t worry about me… I’ve dealt with clinical depression for years, and on my mom’s side, the condition drips down the family tree like bitter molasses. It’s been days since I have written anything at all, so I offer these words in the hope that someone else will recognize it, or perhaps understand more fully what their neighbor, their niece, their spouse may be going through. And please, don’t try to cheer us up with JOKES, cuz it makes us cry! (A little gallows humor for y’all.)

Also for ABC Wednesday, where the letter is T… for Time, Turbulence, Trying, Teddy bear, and Trust. And it’s on the rolling scroll to the right on Poets United, my safe haven in times of turbulence.  Peace to all, and love, Amy


BALLOON GIRL

Inside the grey balloon
on its slippery floor
Empty in here
save the very air, and
it’s not even helium
(damn)

Breathing
someone else’s
exhalations of CO2
Crushing my lungs
Hard to breath
to think

I view life though
this opaque barrier
My hands press
against one side
upsetting my
delicate balance

Gerbil in a wheel
reeling around the room
above the carpet
below the moon
Without a pin to pierce
these pale graphite walls.

So I will sit here
wait for the
half/air to seep out
Then I’ll wriggle
through the knot
to rejoin the living

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Poets United’s Wonder Wednesday, the prompt was simply, “grey.” Depression is my grey, and yet, coming out of it is simply another shade. There are no blacks and whites (save ink and sheets of paper). A grey world is what you make of it. And then there is the burgeoning silver in my hair, AKA “God’s free highlights.” Peace, Amy


First, I’d like to congratulate Laurie Kolp and Beth Winter for joining the Pretzels and Bullfights arena at dverse poetry. Both are wonderful, warm, talented women, and they will no doubt present us with challenging prompts!  I am adding this to the dverse Open Mic Night in their honor.

Sunday Scribblings (#344) asked for poems about healing. This is also at my “home base” blog, Poets United.

Healing and Healing

“But Aunt Nelda, God didn’t answer my prayer.”
And your prayer was…?

“I prayed for my mother to be healed.”
And what happened?

“She woke up one day in hospice – and,”
the boy breaks down in tears, tears hard won in a world that
doesn’t afford males the luxury of such a balm.

And?
“She was talkative, told me to stay in school,
reminded me of the walks we took in the forest,
pressing dried autumn leaves, all sorts of stuff.
Must have been hours, all about how I should
go to college and not decide my major right away,
that I should dabble with everything until
something catches me by the throat and won’t
let go! Funny, I’m only in eighth grade. Oh, and
the year she helped coach my baseball team, even though
she was the only mom to do that in the whole league. I
was embarrassed then, but I told her that day I was
so proud of her for doing it. I told her she had balls,
and she laughed so hard!”

And then?
“She seemed so well that afternoon, we thought she was
making a comeback, and that night I got on my knees and
thanked God for healing her. The next day, she died.”

Are you angry with God?
“Damn straight. Really pissed. I don’t give a shit about God
anymore. He didn’t give me what I needed most, my mom.
First, He made her suffer with the cancer, the chemo, the
radiation, and then he didn’t let her live.”

What do you think your mom needed?
“Well, healing, coming home, taking care of Dad, seeing
friends. Like it was last year.”

Honey, listen to me.
There’s healing and there’s Healing.
The first, you come home from the hospital, back to
the way things were for the most part, until the cancer
returns, as it often does, and you go through all the pain
and suffering and indignity all over again, until eventually,
your body gives up.

The second, you go home to God.
It’s called the Final Healing.
Your mom went through three rounds with the cancer, and
she didn’t have anything left to fight it. But one thing
God did give you was one last day to talk. It was her way of
saying goodbye, giving you the best memories as a gift.
Don’t blame your mom; she didn’t give up. And yell
all you want to at God, because God has the
widest shoulders you can imagine. God’s giving you
the gift of tears right now.

“So she was healed… but not in the way I wanted?”
Hon, we pray to God for all sorts of things, and
you prayed for your mother to have the best. It
wasn’t what you expected, but remember this:

Your mom doesn’t hurt anymore, doesn’t cry out
in her sleep from pain at 2 a.m. And she left with us
her greatest gift to the world – you.. You hold her
stories, you have her eyes. And trust me:

One day, you will know that God loves you.
Even when you yell and swear at him, God
still “gives a shit” about you. I know it.
So go to a counselor, here’s a card. After my mom died,
I screamed into pillows at my therapist’s office.
Sean, it was cleansing and it healed my grief.

So go ahead, rail at God, and you’ll do fine.
C’mere and give your auntie a hug…

and I dare you not to let go first.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil


OCD (Overwhelming Crucial Demands)

Rituals ruled his life
Tapping the front window four times when passing
Adjusting his chair twice after sitting down
Most noticeable at table, where his mother
would fret over her son’s obsession

Each bit chewed exactly 18 times
and finishing first the meat, then potatoes, and finally
vegetables – no portion touching the next
as his dish was divided into three compartments

Followed by a milk in his blue glass
swallowed in five long, perfectly even gulps
Napkin folded into a perfect triangle threading it through
a silver ring placed just so on the table

Brooks arranged first by genre, then by author,
then by color – spines aligned in precise rows
He measure boundaries for his daily routine;
I understand the gravity of crack avoided

One thousand, two hundred and eighty-nine
steps to the psychiatrist’s office downtown.
Unfortunately, he never opened the door,
lacking a Kleenex to ward off germs

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For Sunday Scribblings, “I Understand” was the prompt. Yeah, ya think?

Kids are cruel, and peers pick out students like this boy to bully, an easy target. While OCD is a minor part of my chemical imbalance, it loomed large when I was younger. One example: If I misspelled a word in English class, I first was compelled to complete writing it in full, and then, with a calm sweep, I would erase the entire word… but finishing it was critical. There were fingerprints by the exit to our bedroom from my habitual taps, and grazing a fence with a stick, if I missed a picket, it meant going back and starting the whole fence again. I get this kid because I was this kid, but the symptoms abated when manic depression started to take over. One pain in the ass replaced by another is small comfort.

Notice these traits and show understanding to the “different ones,” those who may not be diagnosed but whose disorders are easily recognizable. Good example, if you see a “twirler” who eventually singles out one hair to pluck, be aware. It’s called trichotillomania and can be managed NOT by drugs, but by behavior modification.

Peace and health – physical and mental, Amy


Music in Mind… Thanks to My Fan

Flip on a fan
and in its breeze
vague Beach Boys harmonies
No lyrics, simply voices
floating through my mind

Open a window
and birdsong reigns
with backup vocals
from faraway sirens
in my stream of consciousness

Is it the meds?
Hallucinations?
No worries here; they are
benevolent offspring of
my inner sanctum of melody

Don’t switch off that fan, honey
It’s singing my song…

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For ABC Wednesday, brought to you by the letter “F” – and as always, at my harmonic hangout, Poets United. Peace, Amy


Following a three-day “manic panic” and the PTSD (Post-Trampoline Stupid Depression!) that followed, I’m back on an even keel. Even tried a new form today, which is the first poem, and answered a Wednesday prompt within 24 hours! Now that’s what I call progress. Peace, Amy

FOR DVERSE FORMFORALL

My Blue Plastic Nurse

Compartments are labeled, one for each day
I’m keeping track of keeping track of me
Pill boxes can be fun if you like play
Varied colors bring mental harmony
Blue, turquoise, tangerine, help color me
Curved, tubular, round; all help shape my days
Some score scarred, others numbered clinically
Count it wrong and I’ll be in stupor gaze

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil

For dverse, the amazing Gemma (an Aussie whose blog is Greyscale Territory)schooled us on the Huitan – basic structure being eight lines of eight or ten syllables, with rhyme scheme A B A B B C B C. A much more instructive post can be found HERE AT DVERSE. My first time with the form, and I must say, it was more fun than I thought! As always, this is also at the blessedly formless, shapeless void of pure poetic love, Poets UnitedBut wait, there’s more!

 

FOR THREE WORD WEDNESDAY

Greenwich Village, Late 60s

The pulse of Bleecker
measured in bongo bangs
In the Beat poets’ Howls
and comic harangues

That mellow café scene
One coffee took all night
Pressure built over Nam
The Man made a fight

Scene took on substance
as poets and folkies
took on the rhythm
of Guthrie’s Oakies

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Three Word Wednesday, Beat, Pressure, Substance. Also at my poetic café, Poets United. Coffee’s always on and the conversation is fabulous! Peace, Amy


Going the Distance:
“Who Do You Think You Are, Amy Barlow Liberatore?”

Let’s hear what everybody else says first:

“You were born 40 and you’re working your way backwards,”
said my mom, when I was 7

“Charmful little armful,”
said my musical mentor

“She can SANG!
said our African-American piano player

“Get that bitch off the podium!”
snarled the Buffalo cop at a peace rally

“Please don’t say that about your dad,”
cried my mom, when I was 35

“You’re not a dyke, why should you care?”
asked a Fundie at a PRIDE rally (when I challenged their ‘God Hates Fags’ sign)

“Good thing you can sing. Your dancing sucks,”
joked my friend at a big band concert

“You’re not a victim; you’re a survivor,”
said my therapist

“You wear manic depression well,”
grinned my psychiatrist

“You have the soul of a dinosaur,”
said the oracle Sidnie

“Don’t hold back, tell us how you really feel,”
say bloggers (with a wink)

“PLAY ‘FEEEEELINGS’!!”
slobbered countless drunks at my piano bar

“You’re just a gay man trapped in a straight woman’s body,”
said Jeffery, may he rest in peace

“You’re going to hell for encouraging those homosexuals,”
say… too many people to mention

“If you’re going to hell, it’s gonna be in a FABulous handbasket,”
giggled Jason

“Thanks for the lessons,”
said my BFF (and only he will understand that comment)

“I have no dramatic coming-out story because you were so accepting,”
laughed Riley

“She’s a pain in the ass,”
said the FBI agent, flipping through my file

“Take it off! Take it off!”
cried Christopher after I sang a comedic song about stripper envy

“Because she questions my authority,”
said the principal to my mother, as I sat in detention

“You are SO worth it,”
says my husband, over and over again

My life is chaotic peace.

I’m a sharp little pencil, still writing my life.

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For Poetic Bloomings (“Who Do You Think You Are?”), for Sunday Scribblings (distance), and for the Poetry Pantry at Poets United.


TO ALL MY WONDERFUL READERS: If you are uncomfortable with the growing phenomenon of “cutting” among young women, please skip this – or scroll down and learn. There’s a new, hopeful trend among teens and 20s of tattooing the word “Love” on one’s inside wrist as a reminder, either for themselves to not cut, or in solidarity with and compassion for those who do. Peace, Amy

 

Bleed

Awesome with a razor
She’s straight-edge all the way
Cuts in patterns
Endangering her health
for the sake of
force-feeding her psyche

She sees no hazard
in this habitual ritual
She knows what she’s doing
She gets in lots of practice

She’s waited all day to
be alone with the one…
The blade that understands
her pain and her release
The pain she cannot name
and isn’t ready to claim

Today, perfect lines, sleek
and hardly bleeding at all
Tomorrow, she’ll wear
a long-sleeved hoodie
in the torrid noonday sun

© 2012 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
For ABC Wednesday (B) and for Three Word Wednesday: Cut, Endanger, Hazard.
Girls who are numb to the world because of depression or other mental disorders, may cut themselves in order to feel. The warning signs are long-sleeved shirts in the hottest weather, parents finding an Exacto knife or other sharp instrument under her bed… just know they are in need of help, not irredeemable nor incurable. They are hurting themselves because they were hurt, and getting down to the problem starts with counseling. Peace, Amy