Mental Health during the Coronavirus pandemic

As I’m writing this, the 24-hour news cycle is practically in hyperdrive because of the global coronavirus pandemic. Many people are worried right now, but I wanted to talk specifically about those with a mental illness.

Most of the times that I’ve had bad manic episodes, I was somewhat triggered by reading the news too much and “connecting the dots,” so to speak. Reading the news can be scary for anyone, but it can be especially scary for someone who has ever had delusional thinking episodes.

I’m trying to stay very aware of this in these crazy times. I also thought by writing this post, perhaps I would help someone else out there who struggles with the same issues. A lot of people complain the mass media today is prone for fear-mongering. This is partly true. However, someone like my girlfriend or grandfather may be slightly affected by alarming headlines, while someone like me (a person with bipolar disorder) can easily go down the manic rabbit hole of conspiracy theory.

Being careful with media consumption

My point is, if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness and have had delusional episodes before, be careful how much media you consume right now. It’s important to be informed about what’s going on, but there’s not a real need to watch CNN for five hours or spend hours on Reddit.

I’m not a mental health professional, so I’m writing this blog post as more of a perspective of someone living with a mental illness. I’m also writing it as a reminder to myself. It looks like many of us will be spending time hunkered down in our homes, so I’m coming up with some ways to stay mentally healthy, as well as following all the physical/public health guidance that’s coming out right now (wash your hands!)

For now, I’m taking short walks around my neighborhood and keeping up with my meditation practice. Because I’m such an avid reader, I’m also into several good books right now. I’m about a third of the way through Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – it’s my first time reading both the novel and anything by Dickens, and I’m loving it! My aunt has also written a book of Christian fantasy and I’m about 70 pages into that one. The book is called Rise From the Ashes. I’ve never read C.S. Lewis’ fiction, but I imagine that’s one of the influences for my aunt’s book. It tells a tale of swords, sorcery, fantasy, villainous tyrants, and the warriors who are ought to restore the light of Christ in a dark world.

Stay safe, everyone. For anyone struggling with mental health, remember to practice self-care in these trying times!

Spirit and Flesh (poem)

This gothic cathedral was once a spiritual home.

Priests dabbed foreheads with holy water and

incense wafted to high ceilings and

parishioners chewed on wafers and said:

“Peace be with you.”

That was before tent cities spread under the bridge

and people wandered the streets at night,

sleeping in dirty blankets: when you saw them

in daylight, you saw sores ooze on arms and legs,

vacant eyes, gaunt faces, looking sad, like they

were between this world and the next:

We found them frozen on winter mornings,

their lips a chalky blue and their eyes wide with fright.

The cathedral crumbled and stained-glass shattered;

squatters lived there and lit fires in trash cans:

orange light glowed onto the streets at night;

we knew they shot dope and we’d see them emerge

into the dark like skeletons on Hollow’s Eve with

shirts dangling over bony shoulders: they’d walk to

the bodega and buy cigarettes with dimes and nickels,

count them slowly as cashiers glared behind glass.

We remembered the cathedral from decades ago

and we thought of light and darkness, saints and sinners:

we thought of Jesus watching the weathered faces,

huddled in the cold and hastening their demise,

some dying in the pews, and we thought God surely

forgave them and, if Jesus walked, maybe they would’ve

become his apostles.

Police came and cleared the cathedral and we saw

broken needles scattered, and cameramen recorded the scene

and someone at the newspaper won an award;

we saw the pictures of inside the church

and we thought about decades ago:

how it was sacred space, but it was still sacred now,

but instead of Spirit conquering flesh,

flesh conquered dying Spirit, and we kept staring

at the fading light of the late afternoon as the city

spun so fast and swallowed us whole.

Southern Gothic

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I’m a big fan of podcasts, though I don’t binge-listen to them much because I’m usually devouring books.

My favorite podcasts are offbeat and fictional dramas, such as Welcome to Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead, and Rabbits. About a year ago, I also listened to a few episodes of a history podcast called Southern Gothic.

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“Graveyard Carnival” – a ghost story for Halloween!

Halloween is perhaps my favorite holiday, and it’s right around the corner. The leaves are falling, I see pumpkins and ghoulish decorations during my nightly walks, and there’s a chill in the air.

I thought I would publish in full “Graveyard Carnival,” a short story of mine that appeared in Bewildering Stories last year. I’ve provided the link to the story on the blog before, but why not just post the whole thing?

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Grief, One Year Later

In the years leading up to my father’s death, I’d been preparing for it. He was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago and, since then, his health slowly, but surely, deteriorated.

When it comes to grief, I learned no amount of mental preparation will suffice. Sure, I’d seen grandparents pass away, but this was different: this was my dad, the man who I both loved and at times loathed.

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Endless Future (a poem)

Break out of this body and swim in data:

there is immortality here;

you’re no longer bound in a fleshy tomb.

That near-death experience was your awakening.

You think a digital future will purge the haunting memory.

But what of the virus?

The cyber dismemberment of your source,

the deletion of your soul?

The Collective cannot save you:

This is the price of advancement;

this is what you asked for.

This is your endless future.

Portia (a poem)

Her pale face is etched in my mind:

the angular nose, pallid lips and icy-blue eyes

that guard her fortress of solitude.

Portia – the digital mother that disturbs my dreams.

I can’t escape her, so I hide fragments of my memory

and keep them close to my pulsing heart:

the only thing left of me that resembles humanity.

The Edge of Eternity (a poem)

We’re on the edge of eternity,

says the chaplain at the funeral.

He details the death of a teenager,

life screeches to a stop like he fell off

a Mongoose into a black hole in the blacktop.

The man fell off the edge into what?

He doesn’t say, but speaks with confidence

it’s not the eternal blackness my grandmother suggests.

Memories of my uncle:

his ’65 Chevy, pictures of him brazen and brawny

in his fireman’s uniform.

I visualize where he is over that thin red line:

the edge of eternity.

Swamp City (a poem)

She glowed in the sticky street,

cigarette hanging from ruby-red lips.

I wandered among musicians, drunks,

strip clubs and bachelorettes in sparkled masks.

She asked for my hands;

I can’t recall what she said in her scarred voice,

but I remember the way the square smelled

like jungle juice and cheap perfume,

and the warmth of her fingers;

then a jolt like an electric chair.

I thought myself a troubadour,

sober and sad in shadow-dark streets.

But I was a school boy, looking for

glimmers of light in a dark room.