Coffeeeeed up and/or how my brain works

“I’m going to Occupy Wall Street in New York,” I blurted as the cheerful guy at the coffee drive-thru handed me my glass of iced buzz. But it’s not just coffee that gets me going.

“Are you leaving now?” he asked. “Nope, when I go see my kids at Thanksgiving.”

“Well, good for you,” he replied.

I had no idea why I said what I did. I hadn’t even had coffee yet. Sometimes I look at a sentence differently than other people. Proofreading at work yesterday for the latest issue of the newspaper, a headline jumped out at me: “Is your parents’ driving driving you nuts?” Whaaaa, why does it say “driving driving?” It didn’t look right, and I said so to Phyllis. She looked at me like I was nuts. Yup, we’re all different in our own ways, and I’m gratified that we changed the headline.

Neuroscience, the brain, mental health  have always fascinated me. We’ve learned so much more since I read R.D. Laing as a graduate student. If I could remember anything now, I’d steep myself in the land of endorphins, serotonin, and neurons. Instead, I read books.

If I had known that Mark Vonnegut’s — yes, son of the famous one — “Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir” was such a gem I would have gone to his talk at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe a few weeks ago. I would have stayed overnight for the breakfast talk with Vonnegut and a local shrink. I would have enjoyed having a conversation, maybe even an interview, cause that’s what I do. I would have driven through the night to get there.

“Part of what happens when one goes crazy is that there’s a grammatical shift,” writes Vonnegut. “Thoughts come into the mind as firmly established truth. There is no simile or metaphor. There’s no tense but the present. The fantastic presents itself as fact.”

Vonnegut is a Harvard Medical School-trained pediatrician but the profession that “saved his life” didn’t come easy. He has bipolar disorder. Vonnegut has been hospitalized four times, the last time 14 years ago at the hospital where he practices medicine.

Now 60, the good doctor also wrote an earlier memoir, “The Eden Express,” depicting his earlier “crazy” times, which took the form of psychotic breaks.

In his latest book, somehow he’s managed to tell about his life in such a down-to-earth, lighthearted but profound way, with insight into his own twists and turns, what it takes for him to be a doctor, husband, father and friend. I devoured “Just Like Someone…” in two evenings. I found his raw honesty inspiring, as was his way with words, his wit. I entered Vonnegut’s world and came away with hope and practical wisdom:

“It’s possible within any given moment of any given day to choose between self and sickness. Rarely are there big heroic choices that will settle all matters once and for all. The smallest possible step is probably the right one. Try not to argue. If you’re right, you don’t need to argue. If you’re wrong, it won’t help. If you’re okay, things will be okay. If you’re not okay, nothing else matters.”

I’ll read “Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So” again, probably more than once. It’s that damn good.

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11 Responses to Coffeeeeed up and/or how my brain works

  1. dan says:

    Could have said, “Does your parents’ driving drive you nuts?”

    • sheilawill says:

      Exactly, that’s how we changed it. But still, I thought it was a big mistake and why didn’t anybody else see it, when it had something to do with the way I see things. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Our brains work in mysterious ways. That’s all.

  2. Phyllis says:

    Actually that’s slightly more elegant than our final headline (but might not have filled the white space). I’ve just put the book on reserve at the library.

  3. Kathryn McFarlane says:

    Can’t wait to read the book! Thanks for the “review”!

  4. Sharon Osborne says:

    Hi Sheila, Thanks for the review of the Vonnegut. I will definitely read it. My favorite recent read is Richard Russo’s “That Old Cape Magic.” Funny, heart-breaking, lots of familiar moments. Sharon O.

    • sheilawill says:

      I really like Richard Russo too. He has a Maine/Tucson connection, got his doctorate at the University of Arizona. He’ll be at the 2012 Tucson Festival of Books.

  5. Dory says:

    Can’t wait to get on the list at the library for what sounds like a great read! Thanks, Sheila.

    • sheilawill says:

      You’re welcome Dory! Everyone in the mental health profession would gain from reading Mark Vonnegut’s books (it wouldn’t hurt to read his dad’s either). There will be a big run at the library for this one!

  6. Manton says:

    This has been sitting on my shelf since May. It has now moved up to the number one position of my “to read” list!

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