Water, water everywhere: David Foster Wallace

This is where the waters meet the sky.

If you look really hard you can see buildings and seashore below, the Atlantic Ocean meeting Fort Lauderdale. But from above, it's the horizon that's truly sensational.

I have the window seat and the African American mother to my left is teaching her three year old to recognize words in a picture book. The three seats behind us are all empty, so Mom packs up the crayons, books, and child, and moves. I can put up my feet if I like.

After learning a little and saying a couple of prayers, I'll get comfortable and do that, put up my feet.

The son of a close friend is now married to a lovely Miami girl, the reason for this short trip. I actually asked his mother, "How would you feel if I missed it? It's going to be hard to get away."

She looked at me as if to say: Fine, so I'll hate you forever. Miss it.


The day before that Sunday wedding, I took a walk over to see #3 son's latest additions to the family, the new Grandfish. He bought me a couple of new fish, too, baby clowns.

It's a new tank and not yet furnished. We take time buying furniture around here.

My son is now best friends with every salt water aficionado on Craig's list in Chicago, and gets us fish at rock bottom prices. When he was in high school he started a micro-business as an aquarist, set up tanks for people, helped maintain them. He called it Rock Bottom and we had fun making the business cards. Rock Bottom didn't exactly take off, but we've always found a certain reliable joy in this family hobby. Keeping fish alive ratchets down the anxiety for those of us who lean toward Type A.

So when he called to ask if I wanted the two clowns, of course I jumped at them. They huddle together and dance in the corner of the tank in the family room. They seem very happy, and yes, are eating well, for those of you worried about such things. (They looked like babies when I left. FD has done a nice job feeding them out of their infancy in my absence).

This is the late David Foster Wallace, a picture from the Wall Street Journal. He knew about fish, too. You can read DFW's commencement address to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College online. It begins like this:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
Born February 21, 1962 in Ithaca, New York, Mr. Foster died September 12, 2008, a suicide. For more biography, read Richard B. Woodward or Whitney Pastorek's features online. Books about him must be in the making, perhaps they're already in the stores. This gentleman who took his own life (not unexpected, we hear) authored 8 books, including novels and critiques of American life, and one on infinity, as in math. Wildly popular, literary magazines cleared space for David Foster Wallace, as much as he wanted.

Writers worship him.

Mr. Wallace tells over the fish metaphor about consciousness to the graduates at Kenyon College and continues, unless I'm interpreting the speech incorrectly, to say that water represents everything outside our immediate consciousness, that our awareness is hopelessly bound by our self-centered (through no fault of our own) perspective, and that none of us can be anything but wrapped up in ourselves, as much as we try to get out of our heads, thus we don't notice the water until we are older, and even then it is on the cusp of consciousness, and noxious.

Rather than the usual commencement pep talk:
Seize the world, you're all young, good-looking, and above-average,
Mr. Wallace tells the class, basically,
Good luck, suckers. Life is a bear and then you die.
I finished reading the speech, put down the newspaper and thought to myself,
"This is what it is to be someone like DFW, impossibly stuck in the world inside his head, stuck in words."
And I related just a little, as perhaps you do, too, as a writer. But what a terrible waste of a beautiful mind, one that surely couldn't take the madness of it all, so many, many words. Then perhaps, all of a sudden, none. Or none of them good, none of them gratifying.

When I was in my late twenties, a friend of mine called me with a post-partum depression. She said that everything she saw, everything she read, became exaggerated somehow. Things that should be upsetting, but only marginally, now distressed her, terrified her. She couldn't watch the news or pick up a newspaper without dissolving into tears. She didn't want to hold her baby for fear that she would drop him.

These can be symptoms of a pending catatonia, the worst of the depressions imaginable, a psychotic withdrawal into the recesses of the mind. Medical intervention is critical, will save such lives, preserve the parents of the next generation.

David Foster Wallace will be the subject of many a thesis, but to me his decision to suicide, the ultimate withdrawal from life, withdrawal from the water, makes him a casualty, another person I would have wanted to shake, to scream at, insisting, "Just try another medication! There's an agent for everyone!"
Or even a little electricity, just a little.

If I didn't believe in the impervious power of mental illness,* I would say that he needed meaning in his life, too. When he saw the water, and he did, he knew he existed in there, but saw no purpose, not enough. You could say that to him, his pond was more than half empty.

As prolific and productive as he was, Mr. Wallace either didn't want to connect to life, or couldn't, hadn't the energy to make the effort necessary to swim, until finally he found it, the energy, and used it to take his own life. At the age of 46.

With the best years, for a writer some say, yet to come.

Although I haven't read his books, I'm guessing, from his speech, that he failed to see meaning, characteristic of depression, and that hurried his decision along.

To some of us, it is so simple, meaning. Go out there. Do your best. Say Yes when you can, say No when you really know that Yes will come at too great a price.

Give, give, but not too much, and the self will feel worthy, satisfied on more than one level, will know where and how to rest comfortably. The self is that which we can never escape, you see, even if it is not always obvious to us and operates subconsciously; changes imperceptibly, with every sensory impact. The brain, interpreting sensory data, is our first reference point of awareness and self. It is the brain that subsists in the water, or swims, if you prefer, in the sea, the self tucked inside.

We do things as people, and our self-images, what we think of when we say our selves are interwoven into consciousness with our actions, our roles. We call this stunningly complicated weave our identity. Self is separate from the water, but inevitably connected, more or less, depending upon how busy we are. We're going to get wet, regardless, when the waters get rough.

Consciousness, whether it is involved and interacting in life or not, is the water, and it can be unbearable. Our awareness is ours, no one else's. It is private. Our realities are all different, some more negative and disengaged than others. Dr. Wallace understood this, probably, but could not change that experience, couldn't find a more comfortable pond, because of his illness, through no fault of the Pond-keeper. If he were alive he would say, I don't like living in the sea of humanity. It is too hard.

The plane is heading northwest now. I no longer see the ocean, but the memory trace of that place where the ocean meets the sky will basically keep a person like me happy for a long time. Just that sensory data is enough.

And I'm going home, did I tell you? Because Nemo 1 and Nemo 2 are probably looking for me. The impact of little fish, oceans and sky, people in our personal worlds, things we must read and do, the mentoring of our children, sharing life's bookmarks, our missions, meaning, make all the difference. Our commitments shape this thing we call meaning; they guide us, help us move the furniture, improve the clarity of the water in the tank. It can be about as simple as that.

Unless we're really sick. Then there is absolutely nothing simple about the water.

For a real look at DFW and what we've lost, read Carol. She embedded video.

And a writer writes about the writer, Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune.


*In his case, Bi-Polar Disorder, read the comments.


Anonymous said…
Remember going to the school carnival and throwing ping pong balls at the fish bowls? Your parents never really worried about you bringing home a gold fish because - well at our house - they had a shelf life of 2-3 weeks max. 2 1/2 years ago, my daughter took her godson to one of those carnivals - and won the gold fish. His mother said not at my house. The fish survived the first 2-3 weeks - we got him a bigger bowl... He survived the first 6 months, we got him a tank (filter and all, we were in the aquarium business now baby). He survived the first move to another house, and yep, a bigger tank. We thought he might like some company so we bought a few more gold fish to add to the ever enlarging tank, he thanked us by eating his new friends. He survived the move to the new house and well, he was having some trouble turning around in the tank, I told my daughter one more tank and this is it - if he gets any bigger out he goes. We hope he doesn't die because he is too big to flush now... Her godson brought his mother over to see his fish and she said - You didn't tell me you got a beautiful coy!! He isn't a coy, he's a damn 20 inch gold fish/parana!! We can't keep the tank clean, empty it, get a bigger filter, got a sucky thing that sucks up all the rocks in the bottom, the water is still green and ocassionally, you can see him motor by like pictures of those huge ugly fish that live billions of miles under the sea.

Kind of like my life - I clean out the shit, more comes back, I empty some of the junk and fill it up with bigger better junk, then the "tank" aka house is too small, need a bigger one, then I fill that up with more. At least I don't eat my friends... Not yet anyway.
When my son died from suicide, someone told me that he had gotten to a place that the pain of staying exceeded the pain of leaving. I always thought we could have at least tried ONE more thing... The meds never seem right, another doctor has another opinion, we go from one to the next looking for a cure - and the world has forgotten to say - THERE IS NOT CURE for mental illness - there is only learning to live (and not just live with.)
Wendy (Sorry it was long, about time I start my own blog!!!)
Leora said…
She couldn't watch the news or pick up a newspaper without heaving into tears.
Thanks again for writing about mental illness. People just don't get it, that you can't just will this stuff away. And you can't just eat your way out of depression (some people think it's just too much sugar consumption, sorry, that's another falsehood).

I feel lucky that a little lexapro pill each day helps me stay balanced. Sure, I have side-effects, but nothing like those plunges of mood.
therapydoc said…
Right, just a leetle bit for some, more for others.

Wendy, exactly. The pain of staying exceeds the pain of leaving, so a person chooses leaving. Sure, start that blog.
therapydoc said…
Not that you shouldn't tell people stuff here! The personal experience thing, I think, is so much of what this is about. I didn't know that when I started out, but I do, now.
Anonymous said…
What a relief to find some people actually understand...

Many speak of suicide and call the person who chooses it selfish for leaving others behind, for not having the courage to stick it out. I suspect those people have never truly been depressed; they don't see the water, and don't have the empathy to imagine it.

Sometimes the pain of staying is overwhelming, and suicide seems like the only relief. Sometimes, it also seems like the least selfish choice. Mental illness can distort our perception so much.

Wendy, I'm truly sorry for your loss. I have a feeling your son is grateful for your understanding. Peace.
Anonymous said…
Sometimes you just feel trapped. You're tired of being experimented on and living with the extra weight gain or whatever. You're getting older and not able to see with or without glasses, it hurts when you go to bed, it hurts when you get up. Things you used to be able to tackle in a day, sit around you in piles of dust that have collected over the months that you can't get it together. And you wonder if this is how you've always been and maybe you've just never noticed before. The news either makes you feel hopeless over changes you have no control over or mocks you for being unable to be whatever the model of perfection of the moment is. Is it losing perspective or gaining it? Don't forget the studies that have shown the most accurate view of reality is seen through the eyes of the depressed. Doesn't that explain a lot?
I really enjoy reading what you write. Sometimes you are the high light of my day. Why? Because you make me think.
Anonymous said…
Hello again my friend. I've been too busy to comment lately. After dad went back home I thought things would get better and in some ways they have. In other ways worse.
It is so hard watching your parents deteriorate. Today is their 60th wedding anniversary and although I know for a fact it wasn't always good, somehow they stuck it out. After dad went into the hospital, we had to face the fact that mother had been losing her memory. Without dad there, it became very obvious that something was dreadfully wrong. Day after day she would ask, with all sincerity, "Where's your father?" And once again we would explain. Now dad is home and his primary caregiver is my younger brother who has been clinically depressed for forty years. When he turned 50 this past March he took stock of his life and decided his was a wasted life. After a failed suicide attempt, I had him admitted to a local psych ward. Now he is home on medication but says he doesn't feel much different. He stills sees a wasted life. I try to help out as much as possible but trying to think for four people is taking a toll on me. Sometimes it is hard to see the purpose in all this. But I somehow hang in there.
Anonymous said…
your posts are always amazing --it is too bad you live in Chicago..I would love to talk to you in person..but the blog taken with my medicine makes my day better and better.
Anonymous said…
if you want to see something beautiful too--fly from fl to CO the clouds look like a fluffy rolling beach in the sky!
Isle Dance said…
Thanks so much for sharing.

I look forward to our society adopting the term "brain health" to get right to the core while bypassing stereotypes.

Lately I've wondered if thoughts like this...

"Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence."

Also feel like this...

"I am nothing. To nobody."
therapydoc said…
And that's how it should be.
Anonymous said…
Could you clarify which of her statements you were endorsing? What is how it should be?

therapydoc said…
Yes. Our range of consciousness and experience should include perception that the world was created for us, that we each have the potential to change it in a positive way, make our impact.

And yet, we're tiny, virtually powerless in the big picture. We're not capable of broad sociological or geographical strokes. We can't eradicate poverty, move mountains, can't prevent hurricanes. We're virtually powerless against global warming, etc., etc.
Anonymous said…
Hi, I've been reading for a while but have never commented. I just want to say thank you. I found this entry very powerful and moving. I have a few times, in learning to swim the currents, seen death as a possible way to end the pain. I am grateful that I never acted on that, that I had people in my life to reach out to, but I really do understand why someone would chose to do so. And I have been able to heal, and to find meaning which makes me grateful every day that I chose a different path.
therapydoc said…
A.G, feel free to swim here anytime. Thanks for reading. May the waters be warm.
April_optimist said…
I love this post. Taking care of a dog also tends to ratchet down the anxiety level. Well, how high can it be when one is laughing?

I love the rest of the post, too. For as long as I can remember, in the darkest moments, instead of thinking how I might end things, I'd always start making a list of why I shouldn't. I guess that makes me really lucky because I always found answers for that list. Sometimes I'd have to work on it for a while and sometimes I'd have to go over it a few times but...it always got me to the point where I could see the next step to take to make my life better.

I'm a writer. I know the power of words--whether it's in what we share with others OR in what we tell ourselves. I know the power of imagination, too, to perceive what could be if our own reality isn't what we want it to be. I wish DFW had used his remarkable ability with words and imagination to find a way to keep going.
Anonymous said…
This post reminds me of what I used to call in college being “meta-narrativeish”… being in that frame of mind where you step back, step outside of life and just look back at yourself as part of the meta narrative of Life and Purpose and all those things, seeing the water. I love the water metaphor though because it takes into account that the clarity and purity of the water can vastly differ. A metanarrative-ish experience will be a lot different when the water is clear than when the water is a cloudy anoxic zone that stifles life.

“Consciousness, whether it is involved and interacting in life or not, is the water, and it can be unbearable.”

I can’t get past this statement. It is so true. The whole work of therapy/meds in depression is to make consciousness bearable, but it seems absurd the length of time required. If you go to a doc for bronchitis you expect improvement in a handful of days from an antibiotic. If you break a bone you get it set right away and even get medicine to numb the pain. With depression, infinitely more agonizing than either of those things, instead it is “take this pill and come back in a month and there’s a chance it could help a little by the time the month is up, but maybe not and then we’ll try something else.” The sheer suffering of existing another month makes the whole endeavor ridiculous. I think docs should start prescribing pain meds to at least dull the unbearable consciousness in the short term before antidepressants work. Just an idea. Maybe more people would make it out of depression alive.
Familydoc said…
Or maybe Prof. DFW was classically bipolar: intensely productive during the highs, semi-catatonic during the lows, dangerously self-destructive during the upswing. This is prevalent and largely treatable mental illness, not a matter of philosophy.
therapydoc said…
100%, FamDoc. My first draft included the dx, but when I started editing I thought, Let the readers do the dirty work.

But the fact is, maybe people don't know that if a person with Bi-Polar Disorder takes the wrong medication when depressed, it can trigger a manic episode. On the upswing, as the doctor informs us, a person has the energy it takes to kill himself.

And that's what the word is. DFW took his son's antidepressants, and soon thereafter, hung himself.

Chaval. (Hebrew, soft "ch", rhymes with "the doll")
therapydoc said…
Just so everyone remembers the rules: If you think you need therapy, you probably should check it out, go a few times, maybe many times, don't depend on some online therapist to give you strength. .

That said, more on this post:

Don't get the impression that self-centeredness is a bad thing, something you should feel guilty about. When we're sick, we generally look after ourselves. So if you're sick, of course you can't see past your own nose. Do your best to take care of your nose.

But it's nice to try a little effort at engaging in the world (sea, pond, call it what you will) around you, see what happens.

Give anything a shot, even an online game of Scrabble with a stranger, a lunchdate with yourself at Borders. There's a HUGE self-help section. OMG.

That narcissism DFW is talking about is a challenge, really for all of us, and when we work against it (so hard, for all of us), we're at least doing something.

This is empathy building, very hard when you have a mental flu. And yet. We're human. So much potential there for so many things.

The real point of this post (and in my effort to be a writer in honorium to the writer it may have been lost) is that mental illness changes everything, but we have agents (drugs and therapy together are thought to be best) for this.

And at least when we're engaged in something, anything, we're less self-centered, more accomplished, and if we're engaged in things like one another or the animal kingdom, even, we at least have an opportunity to get outside ourselves, even if we don't always take it. And to whine a little. Let's not forget that.
Leora said…
Therapydoc, maybe at some point you could post (more) about this, about meds and suicide. I was talking to a friend who was declaring that all meds are bad because of the relationship between taking meds and increased suicide (I think you just explained some of this in your last comment). She clearly had no understanding of the good meds can do, despite their trickiness and side effects. I remember my first psychiatrist saying to me, after I had a bad reaction to my first meds over twenty years ago: "but there is an underlying ailment."
therapydoc said…
Leora, I'll work on it. Drugs are not my specialty, since I'm not an MD, and you probably should know that although I always recommend a med eval from a psychiatrist, even thought the family practitioners are pretty sharp. The psychiatrists are the ones with SO much daily experience, especially since they've been basically relegated, some, to be prescribers, not listeners in certain insurance settings. NOW THAT I COULD KVETCH ABOUT, so not fair to them.

And there's a place, for many people, for medication vacations. And for some people, just a touch of a med under stress, and then they're off of it and just fine.

This is very intricate stuff, case dependent, for sure. The suicides that are medication related are beyond my scope, but the reading I did on teens tells me that when they felt a little better, they were seen less often, and this is when they got suicidal.

So again, therapy should be something we just do, now and then, when we're sick, sometimes week after week for years.

Now if we could only get the government to pay for that, no?
therapydoc said…
Leora, I'll work on it. Drugs are not my specialty, since I'm not an MD, and you probably should know that although I always recommend a med eval from a psychiatrist, even thought the family practitioners are pretty sharp. The psychiatrists are the ones with SO much daily experience, especially since they've been basically relegated, some, to be prescribers, not listeners in certain insurance settings. NOW THAT I COULD KVETCH ABOUT, so not fair to them.

And there's a place, for many people, for medication vacations. And for some people, just a touch of a med under stress, and then they're off of it and just fine.

This is very intricate stuff, case dependent, for sure. The suicides that are medication related are beyond my scope, but the reading I did on teens tells me that when they felt a little better, they were seen less often, and this is when they got suicidal.

So again, therapy should be something we just do, now and then, when we're sick, sometimes week after week for years.

Now if we could only get the government to pay for that, no?
Leora said…
You were with me up until this line:

Now if we could only get the government to pay for that, no?

Since the government's money comes from my taxes, it's the same money. Personally, I would rather pay directly than pay through taxes. I have more control that way. And I don't have to pay any government bureaucrats to mess it up. But I really don't want to get into a socialized medicine argument. There's no perfect solution.

Getting back to the meds, I find a psychologist or social worker often has a good perspective on the meds, even if they are not the ones doing the prescribing. As you say, each case is different. Maybe just some fictionalized examples might be illuminating.
therapydoc said…
So you really don't want me to weasle out of this one. Okay, I'll think about it.
Rambling Woods said…
I came from Leora's blog and I will have to come back and take a serious read. My daughter is a clinical psychologist..
Jendeis said…
Here from Leora's blog. Am currently in one of my "bad times," the medication has stopped working and the depression and anxiety are getting worse. I relate so much to what your friend with PPD said. I realize that, as Churchhill called it, the Black Dog, is coming because my emotions are not proportional responses to events.

A book that I've found particularly helpful is How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me by Blaune.

PS: Saw my psychiatrist yesterday; getting script for new meds filled today.

Sorry for the novel, just wanted to thank you for the post.
porcini66 said…
Great comments so far. I resisted meds vehemently for a long, long time. Just saw them as a cop out, weak, too easy, not dealing with life, etc. I suffered from "contempt prior to investigation." Truth is, I have NO side effects other than having a more even keel. And the ability to learn and grow and begin to realize finally that the world does NOT revolve around me. Go figure! The ability to "accept reality and then go to bed..." THIS is what occupies my head these days. Not the existential flotsam and jetsam that used to overwhelm me periodically. Still have bad days, yes. But I also know that they WiLL pass. I feel sorry when I hear of great people throwing it in. My heart hurts for them - and for their families. Because I DO understand. Thanks for writing.
Anonymous said…
therapydoc, reading your blog is refreshing and I always learn something. However, I want to call your attention to something that I've noticed. You probably don't see it, but I think you will understand when I point out that referring to random people in your posts by their race adds nothing to the story you're telling, and distracts the reader (me) by making me wonder if there is meaning there for you. Perhaps you're proud of yourself for interracting positively with people so far outside your normal box? But that meaning is not conveyed in your telling.

Is it important in this story that the mother next to you on the airplane is black?

Was it important last month that the traffic officer you spoke to kindly on your bicycle was black?

Is there something about the color of these people that gets your attention more than the color of other people's skin?

This has nothing to do with your post today, and I hope that you don't put it up in the comments; I couldn't find a way to e-mail you my thoughts.

I come from a community similar to yours, and I'm about the age of your kids. I think I know where you come from, culturally, and I have plenty of people in my life who describe their random encounters the same way. I'm trying to do a little tikkun olam here by asking you to be more color blind in your writing, if not in your daily life.
therapydoc said…
Karen, I have no other way to respond to your comment except to publish it. Maybe this is an example of counter-transference. Maybe you have an issue with it.

If she were a Native American, I'd have said, the Native American next to me.

If she were an Israeli, I would have said, the Israeli next to me, maybe even, the dark-skinned Israeli next to me.

If she were Mexican, I would have said, the Mexican.

If she were from Kansas, I would have said, a Kansan.

If she were a New Yorker, I would have said, New Yorker.

If she were French, I would have said, French.

If she were Italian, I would have said, Italian.

If she were from the North Pole, I would have said, the North Polaran.

I talk to people, often even ask them where they're from. No, I didn't ask this African American woman if she was from Africa. From her build, from her skin tones, I assumed.

An adjective is sometimes just an adjective, dear.
Anonymous said…
I don't really understand the politically correct need to be "color blind." Describing a person by his or her appearance, unless done in an obviously derogatory way, is no indication of racism. Nor does pretending not to notice obvious physical traits, like race or color, mean one isn't secretly a bigot.

If someone describes another person in shorthand, it just helps the reader picture the encounter more clearly. Sometimes, giving more detail would be nice, but OTOH, that might derail the story.

The people I know often describe unknown people by obvious attributes; an African-American may say someone else is African-American, or black, or light-skinned, or dark-skinned, or white, whatever. I've never noticed anyone take offense at race or skin-tone being part of the description unless the context itself is racist. Embracing diversity does not mean pretending we all look, sound or think alike.

And Therapydoc, I know you don't need me jumping in to defend you; you do just fine on your own. But I have a strong opinion on the subject, and not so much impulse control today.
therapydoc said…
Thanks Anon. I take all of your comments as intelligent, thoughtful, and meaningful, even if we don't always get one another's meaning. It's almost like, there are no bad questions, so there are no bad comments. We're just talking, here.
Anonymous said…
Its hard to imagine a life with meaning and without pain when you are in pain. I think it's like trying to imagine not having a headache when you have a migraine. But I'm thinking about how lost we can get in our own head, in our own pain, if we don't or can't reach out...and to the right person, or people.

Seems to me that a lot of artists, writers, musicians share a feeling of unending longing and angst, and don't feel like anything will ever bring relief, calm or wholeness...

suicide, mental illness and grandfish all in one post...and the vastness of water, the comparison to our unconscious, too!...lots to think about...
Margo said…
I always figure you're trying to paint a visual picture for us when you get anecdotal. I like to "see" what I'm reading - accurate (and obviously benign) descriptions help paint a richer picture. It's story-telling, and it's in every novel, certainly nothing new or relevant to my mom's own race or cultural background.
Love the post.
Interesting post. I agree with most of your thoughts *and* also hold the position "to suicide or not to suicide" is not so black or white a phenomenon, regardless of intervention or ideology.

I read the books (dozens), do the research (ongoing), practice the craft (on the chair side of the couch for decades) and still I know in the deepst recesses of my viscera there are some times suicide makes perfect sense to me.

I've always felt this way. Since childhood. In hindsight I imagine this non-judgmental stance (not implying anyone's words here are, in any way) creates a bit of a different space for folks with whom I work.

Just adding a thought...loved the "grandfish" concept. (smile)

Rambling Woods said…
You asked on my blog about RWBB and Celeste answered your question..

Michelle, I had to comment on one of your comments! Therapydoc - yes the RW Blackbirds will do that, although the nesting season is over now so they are easing off. How do I know? I work in downtown Chicago and we are surrounded by prairie where the RW Blackbirds nest each summer and they have flown at peoples heads on a number of occasions - just defending their nest!
Anonymous said…
OMG! LOL! Bluejays do that, too. They will even team up and attack cats that get too close to the nest.
pinky said…
I really liked your post. Mental illness is similar to chronic pain. It wears you down and people act like it is your fault for the disorder. Like you should just get better and shut up.
therapydoc said…
I used to keep a wand in my drawer, and when someone would say, Why can't this just go away, I'd pull it out and say, Let's try this!

Hey, it always got a laugh. I wonder where that thing is.
kathy with a k said…
I love that! Always look for a doc with a magic wand or a crystal ball!
Anonymous said…
This is a good post, another one. Although I don't often comment, I really like your blog.
As an aside question, what sort of learning do you do on a plane? I always find I don't have much room so I usually settle for a paperback.
Wishing you and those you love a year of health, happiness, prosperity and peace…
therapydoc said…
Great blessings, I.D., and the same to you and everyone reading this (it is the Jewish New Year coming up, we tend to bless everyone, everything).

I take anything with an English translation (Psalms are a favorite, the book is small) and try to get the real meaning of every sentence. Usually knocks my socks off, especially if I've taken off my shoes.
Wow.... I don't know what I enjoyed more, the post or the conversation that followed.

Especially interesting: Your descriptions of self as relates to identity. And I love the water story.

My five goldfish, btw, have lived through one disease after another, and now that I've added that silly one the kindergarten teacher gave my kid, I'm going to have to find a bigger tank... does this mean my consciousness is expanding?

Shana Tova -- health, happiness, and all the good things.
Unknown said…
"I would have wanted to shake, to scream at, insisting, "Just try another medication! There's an agent for everyone!"
Or even a little electricity, just a little." -Therapy Doc

He did try a little electricity and it didn't work for him. Sadly. Nardil, too, until it wouldn't work for him any more.
Anonymous said…
I am in a place where I feel I have no immediate way out. I am trying hard to take care of myself so that I don't fall into depression because I have a toddler to take care of. A marriage to maintain so that my husband will continue to support me. Unfortunately, i am empty of love, i am unable to love, and there is nothing to revive. I am in debt, and it's a little hard getting a job if i don't know what direction to take, and if my confidence is not at its best.

I do not want to find myself at the point of suicide, although I often wish i would get struck by lightning. My network of support ? They are all out of state or out of the country. So i get my support by phone or internet!:( Can you blame me if I want to have an affair? That will probably drive me to suicide in the long run.

I do have my therapist. I need to find new strength for each single day. I do have social contact, but I can't just talk to these people about my issues. Sometimes though i just want to blurt it all out, but i can't. No, not to my neighbors. I did tell my hairstylist.

If i have no way out at this time, and getting out is my only solution, how do i keep my sanity, build my confidence and strengthen my will, to make a positive change in my life? I need a lifesaver.

therapydoc said…
Not at all Clueless, Clue. The trying is trying, right? But what choice is there? There really isn't any other choice. The dark choice means you abandon people, don't see the light before the dawn. And there will be light.

So you do what you have to do, which is...basically rock on. Good luck.
Anonymous said…
Wow. Amazing post. Thanks for a great read.
The DFW speech is really amazing.Reading it here inspired me to use bits of it in my post on http://www.theartofthepossible.net/2008/09/27/mundus-vult-decipi/#comment-12895

Thanks for introducing me to him.
Battle Weary said…
Sadly there is not always a medication out there that will work. My best friend is bipolar II. When I first met her she had just undergone a full treatment of ECT (wiped out her memory). She has tried every med posible except depakote, and has had severe (sometimes unlisted) side-effects from every one. She explains it very well in her rant here... http://qwsdcv5150.blogspot.com/2008/09/drugs-and-cops-and-tickets.html

On suicide...sometimes the only thing that stops me from seriously considering this is that I am able to consider how it would effect people in my life.
therapydoc said…
BW, that empathy chip you have for others is so rich, such a wonderful quality. Suicide always leaves a ripple, and not a pleasant one.
Anonymous said…
I interpret his water metaphor to mean that we're fish; water, then isn't everything "outside" us. We can't know the water; we can't "see" the water. It's only see-able to someone outside the water, and fish cannot be outside the water.

So there's us, in our existence, and there are things like water for us, things like "reality" that we can never articulate, know, see, understand, or write about because we're IN it and we can't get out. It's what, I think, Postmodernists would claim as a major tenet.

And I really don't believe, after reading Wallace's speech, and having read but a few of his essays, that he at all says to these grads, "Good luck, suckers. Life is a bear and then you die."

What about the part when he calls all life worship? Where he implores the students to make meaning out of the mundane. He's not stuck inside his head; his is a most conscious attempt to, not SEE the water, but to be at peace with it. We can never understand it, so the best we can do, as self-centered beings, is to be attentive to things outside ourselves.

I don't condone suicide. I'm not a capital-r Romantic who believes that for some, the world is too ugly to bear, which makes it OK or even good, to take one's life. I'm saddened by his death, and by its means. But I don't think you see where he's coming from, which is to say, I don't think you see MY WAY of interpreting where he's coming from. I find it, then, reductive for you to label him as just another someone who was unable to find meaning in life. He certainly seemed to know how to find meaning in life; he imparted that method onto those students that day. Perhaps he simply chose not to continue; perhaps he did find it too hard in the end. But don't tell me that he tried and failed, not after reading that commencement speech.

Finally, I want to comment on a previous comment about naming people's race when it has nothing to do with the narrative. I don't think you could have, as you claim you would have, called the mother a Mexican, Mexican-American, Asian, Asian-American, Indian, Indian-American, etc. You couldn't have known, and would have had to guess, unless you talked to her. So you did guess. And African-American is a pretty easy guess, a pretty safe one. And maybe you were wrong. Maybe you don't need this adjective to tell your story.

Maybe you've never been on the wrong side of a guess, as I have been many times. It's wearisome. It's actually downright exhausting to have people need to label you something, to find out "where you're from" and not be satisfied when I say "California," and not "China," because I'm not from China, I'm from California. People see my race because it's hard to miss. It identifies me first. I'd much rather be identified as a mother, first, since that was what the woman's role with her child.

I'm all about being color-blind. That doesn't mean, however, that we ignore mentions of race. Being color-blind means we ignore race, which you did not in your post.
bluemarsdesigns said…
Hi, just fyi, DFW did try electroshock therapy. It didn't work though, obviously.
This is an old thread obviously but as a reader who took Wallace's writing very, very seriously, I feel surprise that no one has corrected several factual errors in this piece. As the last commenter noted, Wallace *did* do a full course of ECT, which in fact worsened his depression. After trying to go back on Nardil and failing on it, he tried many, many medications (and had been on Nardil successfully for many years before his last fatal bout). And he did not "[take] his son's antidepressants, and soon thereafter, hung [sic] himself," because he didn't have a son.

I agree with the previous commenter who also thought your redaction of the Kenyon commencement address was...reductive. Millions of readers have gone on to find the address very inspiring, and it seems clear that his work appeals to us not because of his sickness but because of its human value and worth. I'm stunned that you'd imply the work he left behind is less-than, when you've obviously not read much of it. People will read DFW as long as people read, because his prose is inspiring, hilariously funny, brilliantly composed, and heartbreakingly human. You would be well-served to read some of it.
therapydoc said…
Thanks so much. I rely upon readers to correct what I say. Regulars know that I respond to what I read in the media to ride a particular wave and teach what I can from it. I fully intend to read him. Been a little busy.

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