Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Our Mental Jukebox and Memories...

Memory: the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving facts, events, impressions, etc., or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences

Or a simpler definition: the state or fact of being remembered

Whenever I hear Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin I’m immediately zapped back sometime between 1968-1970 to the cafeteria at Waltrip High School in Houston, Texas.

Yes, that was a long time ago, and yes, we had a jukebox. I laugh today thinking back on the fact the jukebox directly faced the faculty table. Whole Lotta Love ought to give you an idea of the kind of music the teachers had to endure while eating their cafeteria lunch.

So, what kind of memories does Whole Lotta Love bring up for me? Depends…remember I was in high school and the daily angst that comes with being a teenager can turn a smile into tears on a dime. But basically, I rate that song as good. The smell of the cafeteria; the aroma of the yeast rolls and apple jelly the girls at our table coveted. Yes, Whole Lotta Love still makes me smile.

From the reading I’ve done, this is called an autobiographical memory. For whatever reason, that song has lodged itself in the cold storage of my brain (my mental jukebox).

The way I interpret the autobiographic memory procedure is that particular songs caught in the mind’s web have significance to our life time line. They’re like landmarks along our journey. And music has the power to transport the thought process to another time and place, setting off a boat-load of emotions. The feeling could be “ahhh" (smiley face) or “ohhh” (sad face). Actually, music can be considered a mind-altering device.

When I hear Soul and Inspiration by the Righteous Brothers, I am in the driver's seat of my parent's monstrous tank of a 1968 Pontiac Ventura sedan (olive green with a black landau top), sitting at an intersection near the high school, waiting for the left turn light to change. 

California Girls by the Beach Boys makes me smile every time I hear it. Just the first couple of stanzas put me in a freeing state of mind and still knowing every word, I sing the entire song...always.

On the other hand, Tapestry by Carole King, one of the best-selling albums of all time, selling over 25 million copies in the United States, brings up a time in my life which conjurs anything but a smiley face.

Studies show people are most affected by songs they hear that were popular when they were between the ages of 8-18. So, someone born in the 70’s or 80’s would have a completely different mental jukebox than someone born in the 50’s or 60’s.

There seem to be two basic categories associated with autobiographical memories: good/happy or bad/sad. And if the experience associated with the song doesn’t have some sort of hold on your emotions, then the relevance of the music probably flew right past your mental jukebox.

Are autobiographical memories and nostalgia synonymous? Read the definition below and then decide.

Nostalgia: a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, a former place or time.

I think I would vote no on the question as to whether the two are synonymous. Two reasons:

      - If the memories evoked are positive ones, then yes, possibly...however, 
      - A desire to return? Maybe in thought for a brief moment if the song brought a smile to my face, but return to a former time? No thank you. I’m okay with my good songs and memories staying right where I am, thank you very much.

      If you were to take a music/memory quiz, say 30 songs from your growing up years, what would your autobiographical memory (mental jukebox) look like? What category would the majority of the songs fall in? Good/happy or bad/sad?

 "In the corner of my mind stands a jukebox..."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Dark Side - part 2

This second segment is going to be short (I hope) because going on and on about depression can be...well, depressing. The picture I chose above has personal significance. When in a depressive episode, the filter with which I view the world has only shades of black and white. The red of the flower signifies the world/the environment; the girl...me.

I've made several attempts to describe how depression feels. Years ago I used to see myself floating down in a very dark pool, the edge nowhere in sight. Down, down, down. Sometimes it took days, sometimes weeks to reach the bottom. After finally getting there, I could feel the cloak of heaviness begin to lift and I could slowly start the trek back.

Think of jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool and making your way down to the bottom, but in slow motion. Once your feet touch, you're ready to push up, back to the top of the water. Also, picture this happening in slo-mo. I won't ask you to imagine yourself in a totally dark pool with no lights and absolutely no idea where the bottom is because that would be just dang...creepy.

I've also seen depression as a black hole, a vortex of sorts that pulls me into a place where my thoughts and actions become paralyzed. My smile is nowhere to be found...I call this my "I hate" mood. I hate the time it takes to turn on the TV. I hate commercials. I hate the sunlight. I wish it would rain. I hate the thought of having to get out of bed. I hate seeing people (there is a distorted envy that convinces me everyone/everything in the world is in order and just fine...except me). I feel I'm on the outside looking in. This is a good example of the irrational thinking of depression I mentioned in part 1.

Almost a year ago, coincidentally peaking around the time of the Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention, I used the voice memo on my phone to try to express how I felt on my drive out to The Woodlands. Trapped. Trapped inside a bubble. No one could get in and I couldn't get out. The air in the bubble seemed to be seeping out somehow, the life and air being sucked from my body. Looking back now, I can joke and say I might have ended up as a shrink-wrapped old lady. The thought today is funny. A year ago...agony. Lucky for me I'd had the training as a counselor, knew the signs, and recognized I was in trouble.

Back in August after Robin Williams' untimely death, Cathy Chester, blogger for the Huffington Post and creator of An Empowered Spirit, said the following about her own depression.

"There are days of horrible, unreasonable thoughts, and times when you believe your life is not worth it. The world has a dark filter on it, and everything seems difficult. It's pure hell.

Listening to reporters talk about Robin Williams for the last few days, asking ridiculous questions such as why didn't he just snap out of it, is why we need more education and awareness about depression in our country. If you've never walked in the shoes of depression you have no idea what it feels like. Robin Williams had severe depression, and only his family and close friends know what he endured. Who are we to guess?"

Now that I've painted this sordid-scum-sucking-depressing-as-hell post...let me end by saying the following: there can be light brought to this serious matter. Drop the stigma around reaching out for help with mental issues. Personally, I believe everyone should have an annual mental checkup. Why not? We certainly do for our body. Why not our mind and emotions?
I ran across this phrase yesterday morning. Her words may not work in times of darkest depression, but it may be worth posting around somewhere as a reminder...

"Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another's pain, life is not in vain." - Helen Keller

Guess my post wasn't as short as I thought...

1-800-273-8255 - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
http://www.nami.org/ - National Alliance on Mental Illness  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Dark Side - part 1

Let’s start with specific definitions about depression…

Depression: a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason.
Clinical Depression: a depression so severe as to be considered abnormal, either because of no obvious environmental causes, or because the reaction to unfortunate life circumstances is more intense or prolonged than would generally be expected.

Bipolar Disorder (formerly manic depressive disorder): an affective disorder characterized by periods of mania alternating with periods of depression, usually interspersed with relatively long intervals of normal mood. 

Disclaimer: I’m just a person who has dealt with depression since my late teens, although the diagnosis did not come until my late 20’s (1977-78). I am not a doctor and am only offering my perception of what I have learned from my own depressive episodes. After each section below add “in Terry’s opinion.”

What depression is not: (in Terry’s opinion…like that)
  • Something that should be taken lightly 
  • Something that can be “shaken off” by looking on the bright side or be reminded how much you have to be thankful for
  • An adjective – depressed is an adjective which can be found on any “feelings chart” - example: “I felt depressed after watching the news tonight.” Feeling depressed means sad and gloomy; dejected; downcast, but usually passes with time

What depression is:
  • A noun
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain which results in irrational thinking
  • A condition that can hopefully be treated with medication…though this can be tricky (finding the right medication/dosage/interaction with other drugs/being able to “stick with it” because often the meds don’t kick in for about 3 weeks – and that can seem like an eternity for someone walking a thin line)
  • Can cause anger, despondency, excessive sleeping, withdrawal from society, flat facial affect, extreme weariness (to name a few)

      What medication for depression or bipolar disorder is not:

  • An upper/stimulant
  • A med that will magically take away problems/issues

What medication for depression or bipolar disorder can hopefully do:
  •   Balance brain chemistry
  •  If medication is for clinical depression, the aim is to bring the brain’s level of rational thinking up to sea level, which in turn, allows the person to begin dealing with issues (with the help of a therapist, which I highly recommend).
  • Medication for bipolar disorder is targeted to hopefully lower the manic stages back into a normal range and raise the depressive episodes up to a coping level. 

My personal experience with clinical depression - the above picture is what I try to image during these times

Over the years, my episodes have greatly diminished in length and severity. Environment plays a large part of triggering my depression. However, I have had three serious episodes in the past twelve years and all have involved medication. The first happened after a change in the medication I had been on for years. The new medication seemed to have no effect on my system at all. The second was altering my medication dosage (actually increased it) which caused a serious nose dive. The third was a severe adverse reaction from Ambien, which occurred last fall.

You know those pharmaceutical commercials flowing on TV these days listing the plethora of really severe side effects? Unfortunately, I know they're true…but in my opinion, absurd.

Especially the ones that say:

“If you should begin to experience serious mood changes or have suicidal thoughts, stop taking the medication and call your doctor.”

I literally want to scream at this idiotic statement (although I know by law they are required to mentio "potential" side effects). BECAUSE, if a medication you are taking is causing suicidal thoughts, you are already in an irrational state of mind, and most likely do not have the ability to make a rational move, such as calling your doctor. (makes me grind my teeth)

A final note about Robin Williams, which spurred me to write this post. I’ve always felt he suffered from bipolar disorder, simply because of how hysterically witty and quick his mind worked (manic stage). It’s like his mouth and body fought to keep up with his mental wealth of thoughts.

Then I saw him in Good Will Hunting (still one of my favorite movies). During the entire show he played such a low-keyed person. If you have a chance to watch the movie, pay attention to his eyes. There are several scenes that touched me to the very depth of my soul, the hollowness, the sadness. I believe he was either in a depressive episode during the filming of Good Will Hunting or he absolutely 100% knew how to play the part of someone who had experienced the depths of that darkness.

Just my thoughts… (to be continued)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Around 1990, 3 yrs. after my mom died, a strange thing happened. The very day I got word one of her friends died, my mom’s treasured mantle clock fell off my mantle.

Just fell off. Big brick mantle. Big brick hearth. Not pretty. The wood casing had cracked open, exposing clock pieces lying in disaster mode on the carpet. After the initial shock, I decided that must be Mom’s way of letting me know… “she’s here...” 

That’s the way my mind works, and those who have read Saving Gracie will understand this concept more clearly.

I’ve often wondered how Mom would feel knowing I’ve now published two books. I listen…or I think I listen, but so far haven’t heard/received any messages.

Last night I found out a high school friend’s husband had died and the funeral would be today, March 25th. I hadn’t seen my friend in over ten years, but the two of us had gone all through school together and she’s just one of those people you feel like you’ve known f-o-r-e-v-e-r. The service was pretty far south, still in range, but would be a good 30-35 minute drive. Should I go? 

Now, backing up a few steps, I’ll say I’ve been in a bit of a rut getting back to writing. 

I’ve rolled around in all the Eeyore-ness I can come up with and finally, just yesterday, put my big girl pants on and decided to kick some ass (writing, that is). First thing this morning I got to my office and started pounding the keys. The service was at 2:00 and I knew, by some chance, if I decided to go I’d have to be dressed and out of here by 1:15 at the latest.

I’m typing away, happy to have words actually produced on the computer screen. I don’t know how long I sat there (time warps happen a lot when the creative flow is actually flowing), but a loud crash from the kitchen brought me back to Earth.

On the tile floor lay my near-full recycle bag which I had hung from a long pegboard hook about 4 feet off the ground. Strange… I picked up the mess and looked at the clock. 12:40. 

Thirty-five minutes later I had changed clothes and was heading out Beltway 8 South to the funeral. Did it matter? Would my friend even know I was there? I probably wouldn’t know another soul, but off I went. I pulled in the parking lot of the funeral home and checked my clock. 1:57

Hang with me here…I’m winding up. Several things happened, well, they didn’t happen, I just noticed them. The first was a huge spray at the head of the casket covered with bluebonnets (one of my mom’s all-time favorite flowers). 

Then, my friend’s dad, a retired minister, stood and spoke about memories and roses. The one quote I found after my mom’s death that brought me such comfort.

By this time I had straightened a bit in my seat, my antennae up. Next came the reading of the 23rd Psalm, Mom’s favorite verse, and also read at her service. I’m at high-alert status. 

“Now for a song, the minister said.” In the Garden started to play…also played at Mom’s service. I was getting it now. I felt very strongly my mom was with me…sitting right beside me, if I had to guess.

I was quite teary-eyed by this time when the minister announced there would be a final song.
I said softly, “Well, there’s only one song left” And...

                                                             started to play...

My heart felt like it was going to bust right through my chest. I put my hand on the pew beside me just in case Mom wanted to put hers on top of mine. 

My thoughts flew back to the scene in Saving Gracie where Grace sat on the beach and her mom, in spirit form, sat beside her.

Mom always had a soft voice and I guess, in this case, she needed to rattle some pots & pans, for lack of a better phrase, to get my attention. 

I knew no one at that funeral but my high school friend. After the service it felt so good to give her a big hug and it seemed to mean a lot I had made the trip. She said, “Oh Terry, I haven’t seen you in so long, but it seems just like yesterday.”

I’m obviously back at the computer and ready to proceed with book #3, feeling my mom is smiling over me.

And one last note… my friend’s husband’s last name…


…Mom’s maiden name. Isn’t that cool?