Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Stuck Between Fighting and Quitting: An Essay On Chronic Self-Estrangement

"It seems like you pick almost impossible things to accomplish, and then, even worse, you post it on Social Media, which makes it even harder for you if you cannot achieve the task." – Mom

It is 1:55 PM in the afternoon. 

I am stretched out on a cool leather couch in my mother's house. I am trying to ignore my right hip / back / and butt that are pulsing in red hot nerve pain. I still have this condition called "Piriformis Syndrome" which takes lots of stretching and dedication every day just to function and I've had this injury for 22 days and counting.

Meanwhile, I just spent nearly twenty minutes trying to draw a picture to illustrate how I feel. I would include these images here, and yet I am feeling too lazy to take photos with my phone and upload them. But, I can tell you that they were of a duck standing next to an empty bench while in the sky a bunch of birds flew south for the winter, a caricature of me staring listlessly at a fire-breathing dragon, and some other random scribbles. I landed on using the above Banksy image instead.

As always, I am writing to comfort myself this afternoon, and I am allowing you to watch. There is some strange delight in publicly airing out my churning hot guts. Per usual, I need to write this out and figure out the problem together with you, Reader, in real time. Because I am not even sure if I know how I feel.

In DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) they are teaching us how to identify our emotions. Last week, my first class, we all looked at a page with cartoon faces and dozens of corresponding emotions. We went around the room and my panic started to grow as I kept changing my mind on which emotion to pick. At first I thought I was "Anxious," but then that cartoon face didn't quite remind me of how I felt. Then I was going to say "Angry." When it got to my turn, I selected, "Guilty" and "Lonely." I swear that, as the new girl, I could have said anything and the nice counselors would have nodded in extra empathetic understanding. But, still, it was interesting to feel the air get sucked out of the room when I said those two words and offered zero explanation. The group leaders simply looked at me with nice expressions and twinkling eyes and said, "Yes, Susan. Yes."

What the fuck. How do they know? How do you know? How do I even know that, deep down, "Guilty" and "Lonely" deserve an immediate no-explanation-needed pass when it comes to human emotions? I want to know: Why do I feel Guilty? (Did I rob a bank? No, am I in trouble with the law? No. Am I President Trump? No), and, Why do I feel Lonely? (Do I technically have friends? Yes. Do I have a family? Yes. Do I interact with people on a daily basis? Yes).

Guilty and Lonely. For me, I have a growing hunch that they have to do with some uncomfortable sensations that are churning in my gut; sensations that ache quite a bit more than Piriformis Syndrome.

When I titled this piece, I admit, I had to look up "Self-Estrangement." Sometimes I know words that sound good, but then I only half ass know what they mean. Well, when I read the definition of "Self-Estrangement" I was like oh hell yeah. That's it, baby. Self-Estrangement basically means that you are at odds with yourself. Or, I liked the Oxford definition best:

"A feeling of depersonalization and detachment from one's natural self, especially as a result of immersion in complex industrial culture."

Depersonalization not only sounds cool, it also sounds exactly how I feel. I used to spend a lot of time talking with a former therapist of mine about the concept of "Flow" because I know I have felt it many times. I am sure you have, too. It is when time loses all meaning and you are immersed in something so completely that you are basically just winning. I used to feel this way, oddly enough, while editing videos of research participants. I also often felt it when spending time with my dad, just talking about existential crap. I've felt "Flow" while writing, but, not lately, as writing has become less novel and more deliberate (which, on the whole, is a good thing, I think).

Anyway, here's me - I am feeling really fucking far away from Flow. In ALL that I do. This includes activities that should make me feel kind of rock star, like training for IRONMAN. The truth is, it is the most lonely endeavor I've ever taken on. I'll be brutally honest, here. With the exception of my cheerful and encouraging IRONMAN coach (whom I've never actually met, in person), I feel a void in the land of hours and hours of swimming in a pool, biking and running indoors, stretching, researching, race-video watching, and deciphering heart rate and speed data bits (which only make a little bit of sense to me), and, holy crap does it feel bad; wow do I feel "guilty" to admit this to you. I mean, I started this journey two months ago, and I am finding myself sort of confused. I've spent so much money (of which I do not have!) and spent so much time, and I have become the world's best IRONMAN defender (when people ask me what the hell am I doing) and it's wearing on me to be such a novice and going at this battle completely alone.

My Mom is one of the most practical people I know. The other day she said, "You know, it seems like for all the time you spend at the gym, you could instead be working toward getting a job that you really like. Maybe then you wouldn't feel like you had to prove yourself by accomplishing something so unusual and difficult as an IRONMAN."

Goddammit. Mom wisdom can come at me like a punch in the ovaries. She's right. She is. I spend so much time living in a fantasy, unusual, expensive land-made-of-iron that, no wonder I wake up each and every day anxious and with an aching body, just repeating over and over to myself that "it will be worth it, it will be worth it" while, whoa, maybe just exercising for one hour a day and then not planning how to beg, cheat, and steal my way to California next month and then again in May for my race... Maybe if that were the case, maybe my anxiety would quell a bit. 

Sometimes I want to tell my coach that the whole reason I wanted to do an IRONMAN is because sports like swimming, biking, and running help ease my anxiety, and I also love to compete. But I never expected that training for these three sports in such a controlled and tedious fashion would start to decrease the anxiety-reducing benefits for me. I find myself waking up each day, stressed out that I am already two-hours behind when I should have risen in order to get to the gym on time and "get my training out of the way..."

There are also days when I long to just go do something mildly healthy, like take a yoga class, or go cross country skiing. It is bizarre for me to be thinking that way when you consider that now I actually do exercise everyday and I do not smoke at all. In no way could I have claimed that two months ago. 

And yet, here I am, Perfectionist Susan, beating up on myself on how I am "Doing it wrong."

If you are thinking, "Wow, she is really hard on herself," take a number. Everyone says that to me. But, if I am brutally honest, this is where that GUILT comes in. I live in an environment that has sometimes been unkind to me in my struggles with mental illness, and so I naturally feel like I have to try harder (i.e. compete in a fucking IRONMAN), just to catch up to those in my family who are "normal." Before I turned 23, I never felt this way. I always thought I was special, prettier, and smarter than most. (Yikes!) But, after my somewhat violent brain disorder diagnosis, I was treated so differently by close family members and friends, that, over time, my perception of myself changed. Unfortunately, I will say that prejudice against mental illness in families is not uncommon. So, it's like, for me it was smooth sailing and then BAM! Welcome to the world of marginalized persons.

I suppose all of this is to say, I need to work on saying "Fuck It" and sometimes "Fuck you" to those who have treated me differently over the years since my Bipolar diagnosis. What this means is learning healthy skills, like drawing Boundaries, and, in-general, straight up avoiding "haters." So, that's step one. It's tough, but, it can be done.

Step Two is so much more difficult, though. Step Two is learning how to say these things to myself. To cleave away from the inner gremlin who demands that I go above and beyond just to prove to Susan that Susan is a worthy human being. 

I do not know how to do this. Perhaps it is through IRONMAN. Or perhaps it is through writing. Or, I don't know, figuring out what I am really, really good at and then just mastering that. But, no. Somehow that does not sound right. Buddha would be like, "No, my child, go meditate under a tree until you no longer give a shit."

And so, here I am, my back pain a little less severe, and my mind no more clear but at least a little less burdened. For now, I stay in the middle; stuck. It is a comfortable place to just sit and wait and wonder what path I need to take to accept myself as a Winner, no matter what.

Thank you for reading,

Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
January 23, 2018

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On The Risk Of Being Real

Funny thing, Honesty. The more I share of it, the more unpopular I become.

Honesty comes in many forms:

  • Untouched photos that reveal illness, weight gain, and age.
  • Unedited comments that expose disappointment, prejudice, and inequality.
  • Uncovered feelings that admit pain, sadness, and loss.
A narcissistic, yet brilliant ex-boyfriend of a good girlfriend of mine once told me, 

"Of course you are a Writer. You're different and you're alone. Everyone knows that writers are lonely people." 

I remember looking at his annoyingly metrosexual beard at that moment and wondering to myself if he had a small dick. Or, perhaps he was just being honest. Perhaps people look at me these days, wondering if I have a "small dick" or if I am just being honest. Somedays I don't even know for sure, myself. There are some things that I do know, for sure.
  1. It is true, I am alone. And perhaps 1/4 of the time, I find myself lonely.

  2. It is true, 100% of the time, all I am doing is following my internal compass, my North Star.
If this means that I am to be single, without children, and, at times, in contrast to the wishes of those closest to me, so be it. I am not trying to be difficult. I am just trying to be me. Yes, sometimes I wish that I were different. But you cannot turn a bird into a rock, a lion into a deer.

I try my best to have Integrity and Honesty in how I exist in the world. It's tiring and tedious. I do not like "reality" about 70% of the time. I am disappointed in people quite frequently. I do not like when my disappointment in others hurts their feelings. Others are quite good at then hurting my feelings, and we find ourselves in a dance into infinity, that is sometimes a waltz, and other times a samba. Regardless, the arguing and the gossip, the "he said, she said"...it's just, I don't know. Banal. Trite. Worthless when you consider the number of people who die every second.

Life is short. Regret is long. All I am trying to do is live a life without regrets. Or, let's edit that - I live with a boatload of past regret. And yet I am young, with enough time to rewrite the script on who I want to be for my time here. If that makes some more...conventional...people uncomfortable, so be it.

I am uncomfortable every single day. I've made a habit of it. That is the risk of being Real.

Pensive and Pajamaed,
Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
January 17, 2018

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Dumping Pat for Tom: Quitting Smoking to Compete in IRONMAN

Picture yourself having TWO Best Friends; An Old Best Friend and A New Best Friend. The old best friend has been with you for over a decade. Let's call this friend, "Pat." The new best friend has only been around for a few months, and you are still getting to know each other. Let's call this friend, "Tom."

Pat has always, always been there for you. There have been times when you have parted ways, but there has never been any animosity. And as soon as you reconnected over the years, that best friend was right there with you. That best friend has been reliable, relaxing, a good listener, and remarkably consistent.

Tom was someone you always wanted to meet, but you were intimidated because Tom is kind of a big deal. Tom does not brag too much, but Tom is internationally famous. Pat is also internationally famous. The weird thing about these two best friends is that they have millions of other best friends, too. And yet, there is something about your relationship with both Pat and Tom that makes you feel special.

Now, final thing I'd like you to picture. What if TOMORROW you had to say goodbye, forever, to the old-over-a-decade-long Best Friend, Pat? And what if you have not even told Pat, yet? What if you were planning on "Dumping Pat" without warning? All of Pat's friends are gonna wonder what happened to you. Pat has tons of local friends who you have to see quite often, too. Pat has friends at the gas station. Pat is even best friends with several of your other friends.

Meanwhile, there's Tom. You do not know Tom very well at all. You don't even get to meet Tom in person for another four months! But, you think that Tom will be a better Best Friend than Pat. You have wanted to be Tom's best friend for about a decade, as well. Almost for as long as you have known Pat. But, here's the kicker.

You have to dump Pat in order to be Best Friends with Tom. Because 
"Pat" is Smoking. 
"Tom" is IRONMAN.

The reason I use the example of "best friends" to describe smoking cigarettes and competing in an IRONMAN race is because they are two activities which take a lot of my time, resources, and thought. 

Right now, Pat's a total Bitch. It is subzero temperatures in Minnesota, and yet, here I am, hanging out with Pat outside in the cold. Because I tell You everything, I am going to tell you something about Pat.

I am sick of Pat. Pat stinks. Pat harms my health. Pat is such a smelly, dangerous best friend that I have to hide Pat from everyone! (Except for other people who are friends with Pat, of course. Pat is really good at hanging out with all of us together. Especially at parties.) Seems like we all just kind of "put up with" Pat's antics but that's called enabling and I've heard that it's not a good thing. 

Even though Pat is like, seriously the Bestest BFF I have ever had, I just do not want to hang out with Pat anymore. 

And so, on to my New Best Friend, Tom, mysteriously famous and elusive, for sure. I am really depending on my getting to know Tom more (aka continuing to train my ass off), so that when we do finally meet next year in California, I'll be glad that I dumped Pat in order to be New Best Friends with Tom.

Here's to Dumping Pat, Befriending Tom, and a Happy New Year of Health.

Goodbye, Dear Pat.

Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
Saturday, December 30, 2017

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Here We Go Again: Mental Illness 101

Here we go again. Despite my own goals to make my writing, my life, my existence NOT be about having a Mental Illness, I want to take 15 minutes (tops!) and use my own privilege to be the accidental spokesperson for why we need to work on our own stigma against Mental Illness. 

I am not mad, but maybe a little annoyed. I am annoyed at me, You, my own family, and Americans for our refusal to get our minds out of the 1940s with regards to public discourse on Mental Illness. Speaking of the 1940s. 

Remember when there used to be this illness that was so terrible that people would not even say it aloud for fear they would catch it themselves? Remember? 
That illness was called, Cancer.

For some reason, we are stuck in the 1940s when it comes to talking openly about Mental Illness. We don't talk about it, we can't "admit" we have it, and, as someone who suffers from it, the whole thing fucking sucks.

When I went to Abbott Northwestern Hospital last month, it was not because I was "Manic" or even suffering from severe "Bipolar Depression" (which is very different in symptoms and treatment from "Clinical Depression" btw). I went to the hospital for three weeks to work on my own stigma, against my own illness, and tried hard to fight past trauma surrounding my life story with regards to my diagnosis.

So, being a woman of privilege (in this case I am referring to several things: I do not work for a corporation, I have my own health insurance that cannot drop me, I am a Writer, I am an Artist, and I am already "outed" for having a Mental Illness), I feel the need to take up the torch for the umpteenth time so that all my homies who are not as "privileged" as me can sit back and let me fight the good fight for them.

Couple of things:

  1. Mental Illness is treatable
  2. Mental Illness is ONLY treatable if a patient gets help
  3. Millions of people do not get help because they are afraid of that horrible 's' word - Stigma.
And why shouldn't they be? In the United States, Mental Illness accounts for tens of thousands of gun deaths, drug overdoses, job losses, divorces, custody battles, and more. It keeps me from getting properly covered by short term disability (as I am a working adult who happens to not be on Disability, which many people with Mental Illness do need to be on if they are unable to work), and it is the Media buzzword with regards to domestic terrorism, Global terrorism, and more.

Here's the problem: Ya can't work on the Mental Illness until you seek help. And I will tell you, getting help for Mental Illness is not easy. It is a long road of trying medications, therapists, treatment modalities, quitting substances (drugs & alcohol), and, here's the kicker, 

It is a commonly held belief in the United States (not true in some other countries), that people should endure this fight alone and in private, for their own good.

So, the odds are stacked against us. Oh! One other thing. Science is TOTALLY not there yet in terms of understanding the brain, discovering proper medications with minimal side effects (my own medication is for people with epilepsy and it makes me super tired, all the time), and, let's not forget that only a few short decades ago, the treatment was to simply drill a hole in the skull and scrape away chunks of brain (also known as a lobotomy).

So, here is my advice. Here is my plea, not just for me, but for the three close people I know who blew their own brains out in what is termed, "Successful Suicide," and for the many, many others who are considering just ending their own lives today as I write this:

  1. Lighten the fuck up on us, we who manage Mental Health conditions
  2. Think before you speak. Using words like, "Crazy", using 'ADD' as a verb (i.e. I am totally ADDing right now), describing yourself or a loved one as being "totally depressed" or "acting bipolar", or minimizing / joking about / and/or making fun of life-saving psychiatric medications (like Benzodiazepines (i.e. Xanax), Anti-Depressants, Mood Stabilizers, Anti-Psychotics), is about as cool as calling something "Retarded" or "Gay" to get a laugh.
  3. And, bonus round, learn a thing or three: I recommend the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , and, for lighter one-the-ground stigma-free training, go to Make It OK dot Org.

If you start working on just YOU (because that is all you can control, really), maybe someday those of us who are working hard to Stay Alive for ourselves and Stay Alive FOR YOU; Maybe we will get the space to live our lives in the light inside of in darkness. Or if one day your own Mother, Brother, Child is diagnosed, you will be ready to react with the respect that we should have in fricking 2017. (It is NOT 1940, people.) 

And, maybe someday we will find within our hearts a deeper solidarity and more-stigma-free support that people like my own father received for having Cancer. 

Let's continue to work toward accepting Mental Illness, Together.

Thank you!

Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
December 21st, 2017

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Getting Ready To Say Goodbye To My Very Best Friend: Nicotine.

I am caught in one of those insomniac nights where I did everything right to sleep, but my Brain won't stop worrying about everything from Trump's Tax Reform to my arthritic knee, so, I give up. I will do what I know best and write to You.

The topic today is very near and dear to my heart (literally). The topic is Smoking.

So, let's begin.

I am a Divergent person in several ways. Examples: 

  • I am a People Person // I am an Isolated Introvert (I mostly prefer to be alone).
  • I am a Former Makeup Artist // I Don't Like Wearing Makeup. 
  • I am a Future Ironman // And I am a Current Smoker.


Yes, friends, I still smoke. But, the days are counting down until my BFF, Nicotine, is going to get kicked out of my life, for good. I love smoking, but I can no longer afford to smoke. It is too expensive for my pocket book and my lungs. The more I workout, the more asinine I feel when I light up. Here is the even weirder thing. My almost healed respiratory infection has made it impossible for me to "vape" (not sure why, but I have never liked that nouveau verb, and so I put it in quotes there), because, these days, my beautiful, rainbow vaporizer makes me cough. So for the past several months, I've been smoking American Spirit Blacks (my fave).

I know that most of you don't smoke. I also know that, even if you did once smoke, you've perhaps forgotten the emotional bond that occurs between a Smoker, a Smoker's paraphernalia (lighters, ashtrays, cool smoking buddies), and a Smoker's cigarettes. So I want to explain one Smoker's journey (mine) in hopes that you might either 1.) Remember and perhaps reminisce with me and/or 2.) Empathize and try to understand my personal relationship with Nicotine.

Nicotine is a savvy drug. It is one of the hardest to quit. So hard, my friends, that I am already feeling pangs of remorse over my ironclad decision to break up with it. I have been working with QuitPlan since November to start the process, and on January 1st, 2018, I get to start wearing the nice free Nicotine patches and gum they've sent me, paid for by the great State of Minnesota and, (I think) Phillip Morris tobacco lawsuit. Thank you, whistle blowers. I salute you.

So, yeah. Here I am, feeling sad and sorry for myself over my own decision to say goodbye to my very best friend. I have always been able to count on Him. (Or Her? I guess I am not sure of my best friend's gender.)

Unlike any of my friends or family, Nicotine has always, always been there for me. Nicotine has never failed to "help" me through anything, Good / Bad / or Indifferent in my life. 

During the Summer of 2004, I met Nicotine as a 23-year-old when a fellow inpatient in the psych ward told me to try it as a way to calm my mind. Sure enough, after really inhaling a Camel light during a scheduled visit outside the building (I had earned privileges to briefly go outside with the Purple and Green groups to see the Sun), I was able to successfully sit down, speak with a psychiatrist, and resist the temptation to impulsively draw fifteen Keith Haring dancing bodies on the therapy room whiteboard.

Once I was released from the hospital, I was caught in a many months-long haze of leveling out and whittling down my list of multiple anti-psychotic medications. I would sleep until 3PM, then wake up and sit outside with my good buddy, Nicotine. At the time, we were just getting to know each other. I was't really talking to humans much. My mind was still locked in a mostly-numbed out haze. The drugs I needed to take to quell my spectacularly severe psychotic break after college were taking a long time to let me wake. It was no problem, though, because I had my friends, My cigarettes.

Later on, I would find myself in a big world travel job as a Qualitative Researcher, and Smoking was my ticket to friendship with real human beings. When I worked in Russia, or China, or New York, or even Memphis, my buddy Nicotine helped introduce me to politicians, artists, finance moguls, musicians, and people who felt like "friends" because we were all united in our friend-of-a-friend situation with Nicotine.

See, Nicotine is a nasty-good Networker. Many times, I swore to myself not to quit smoking, because it was only when I went outside (or sat inside eating salad while in Moscow) when the perfect Interview, or most private conversation, or new romantic opportunity would pop up. I remember thinking many times how I would never have had those interesting opportunities had it not been for Nicotine.

When I was a little girl, I would spend time watching my Grandfather smoke. He smoked Dorals and he always had a fresh pack in his shirt pocket. He told me, on many occasions, that smoking kept him alive and balanced. He lived to be an old man, and he never did quit the sticks. He was also a brilliant composer / director / musician, and there are times when I've said to myself, in my mind, "Well, if it worked for Grandpa, it probably will continue to work for me!"

Fast forward to the most recent present, during my time as a cosmetics counter manager in a large retail chain, I found that it was not until one year in, after I chose to start smoking again, that I made some actual real human friends at my store. Again, Nicotine came through for me at a time when I was lonely and in desperate need of some real people who could understand me under all that makeup and expensive skincare. 

I find myself to this day, able to instantly trust those who smoke. It is such a personal, looked-down-upon habit (at least in The United States), that there is an automatic sympathetic bond between current smokers. I struggle with trusting other Human Beings, but somehow, if they smoke, I trust them more.

The problem is this. Those fellow smokers are not around when I make a mad dash to hide evidence of smoking from my little nephews and niece. And Nicotine turns into an ugly friend the second I ask it to quit smelling like shit. I go through great lengths not to let my nice SUV smell like smoke, but, who am I kidding, even with a touch of car air freshener and crystal cold Minnesota-Winter air (I roll all the windows down and open my sun roof), smoking will always smell like shitty-ass stale cigarettes. 

Most importantly, even if my BFF Nicotine IS the best networker / confidant in the world, where would She/He be if I found myself curled up in a hospital bed, wincing in pain from the loss of a cancerous lung? Where would my friend Nicotine be then? 

Would Nicotine pay for my cancer medical bills? Would Nicotine write a loving eulogy at my funeral? No.
Nicotine would be out there making a new BFF to replace me. And Nicotine would not even feel bad about leaving me to die.

And so. The days are ticking down. I am reading a QuitPlan workbook, answering private questions, and publicly writing about my intimate process of letting go of cigarettes one last time. It is surprisingly nostalgic and lonely to learn to say good bye to my buddy; my most reliable "best friend," Nicotine.

But Nicotine, here's the deal-yo. I do not want to be friends with you anymore. Sorry Not Sorry.

Good Morning and Good Night,
Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
December 19th, 2017

Monday, December 11, 2017

It's Like This Now: My Experience Doing a Second Mental Health Adult Partial Hospital Program

Just short of eight years ago, I decided to stop writing things down in my journal all the time and instead to post my journal to the Internet so that the entire world would have access to my Brain. Seems reasonable enough, right?

In the time since, I had no idea that I would end up writing about Cancer, Death, and Mental Illness. I've experienced countless groans and sucking-through-the-teeth noises from family members and friends alike with that oh-so-familiar look that says, "Are you going to write about this in your blog?"

When you are a Writer, and you are a Non-Fiction Memoir-type writer like I am, it can be challenging to ignore those groans and proceed with Courage under the fire of less, shall we say, public souls. Over the years I have learned to accept that, in my Midwestern, Norwegian culture, I will receive more teeth-sucking noises and less Ooos and Ahhs about my writing. Also I learned early on that, as an Artist, Critique comes with the territory of splattering your guts on the canvas.

But, what are the gains? Well, the most obvious gain is selfish. I get eight years of my life on the Internet, searchable by all, but, most importantly, searchable by Me. I have many times gone back into the many posts of my now-deceased Father, for example, and I've re-read what I felt when he first became a quadriplegic. In the Love category, I have the luxury of re-reading the gory bits of my own charred heart and lungs in my Epic Love Adventures. But, I think the most important thing for me has been the ability to revisit my Younger self, and therefore my Younger Brain, starting at Age 28. 

This blog is lightly peppered with evidence of a woman who has managed a Mental Health condition for what feels like seven lifetimes, and it is times like these when I feel very fortunate to have the luxury of perspective. Not Your perspective, nor my Mother's perspective, or even God's perspective. Just my own.

Tomorrow I will successfully discharge from an intensive 15-day program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis Minnesota. I've been going to the hospital everyday (except weekends) since November 21st. This experience has been one of the most exhausting, terrifying, enlightening, funny, insightful, and traumatic experiences of my Adult Mental Health journey.

The reason for the negative words in the above paragraph are as follows: Not only was I born in this hospital, I was also diagnosed in this hospital. As mentioned in previous posts, I spent the Summer of 2004 at Abbott learning all about my interesting Brain. And, though my body was often there, in the bed, in the chair, in the group, my conscious mind was not.

This time, though, on the mat, in the chair, in the cafeteria, my conscious mind has been present throughout. And many times, due to the pain of reliving past traumas and terrors, I did not want it to be. I have a deep and inexplainable trust for my psychiatrist whom I've seen for five years. When I begged and pleaded that she change her mind about me going to the Abbott program this November, she gently refused to give in. Somehow, she must have mysteriously known how badly I needed this program.

What I gained was this: Information. Brand new information about previously vacant vocabulary words like these: Boundaries, Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation, Gaslighting.

You see, even though I was super disappointed to discover that there would be no Occupational Therapy, no Arts n' Crafts, no Yoga, no this and that and simply just Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I got in my car (literally) on the second or third day of my 15-day program and I decided to leave. After all, I was not on a 72-hour hold, and as the nice psychiatric nurse reminded me, I was here as a voluntary adult. 

Instead of driving my car out of the hospital parking ramp, though, I just sat there in the driver's seat and enjoyed a nice mild panic attack. I looked across the top of the buildings to the top floor of the in-patient psychiatric ward where I have hazy memories of strumming a classical guitar and writing songs at 6:30 AM in the morning while caught in the thick of a psychiatric Mania. I just sat there, in my nice SUV, looking at that top floor, and remembering what it had felt like 13 years ago to gleefully accept that I would escape and run in front of a truck, or cheek all my pills once a nurse was not looking.

Here's the interesting thing: I never did run in front of that truck, and I never did cheek my pills, and now, present day, I never left the program and instead I decided to finish it.

It has not been easy for me, not at all. Even as I write this on the eve of my discharge, anxiety can creep in about Group Therapy tomorrow. I am haunted by the idea that my memories will never leave me, no matter what I do.

So, instead, here I am. Writing them out to You, my Dear Reader, ever loyal, most always silent. All I can say is this: If you clean a fish and then shove the guts inside a wet blanket on your boat, those guts will eventually start to stink. But if you clean a fish, and then lay those guts out to dry in the cold hard sunshine, they may not stink quite as much. Regardless, there will always be fish guts. No, I do not fish.

A Deep and Profound Thank You to the wise and caring staff at the Abbott Northwestern Mental Health Adult Partial Hospital Program. My only hope for you is that you someday use a Brand Consultant like me and find yourselves a shorter Name.

Most affectionately,
Susan M. Andersen
aka, Susan B. Agony

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Platinum Rule: Why it Pays to Be Nice

Today I found out that I was Terminated by Amazon because I was in the hospital getting care for physical and mental health issues for three weeks. They no longer have a spot for me and are not hiring until further notice. This was sort of um, a surprise. What I said to the nice HR Director/Recruiter lady was... "Huh."

So, technically, I am unemployed and still sitting on thousands of dollars of medical bills from breaking my wrist and from receiving regular therapy and psychiatric care.

Here's the weird thing: I'm not stressing.

Now, perhaps I am just exhausted from the start of IRONMAN training, or, maybe I am in denial, or sleep deprived, or just annoyed from the start of bad Minnesota Winter driving, but, I don't think so. I think - no - I know that I am going to be OK.

Last night I received a surprise email from a professor at Carnegie Mellon. I could not believe that he took the time to email me. It was just a brief, "Hey, I have not forgotten you." This particular faculty member has been super patient with me as I've peppered him with questions about Astrophysics and how I might pursue further education in that field.

And this evening I got a call from a new friend (we've only known each other a couple months) and he told me that I am motivating him to change his life for the better. When he said that, I got teary eyed but felt too tired to express my emotions to him over the phone.

What I find interesting is that, these two people were strangers to me less than half a year ago, and now just through some short communication in the past 24 hours, I feel better about myself and not so crummy about losing my job.

Here's another weird thing, and this might sting: Despite quite a bit of Social Media information I've pushed out there about the severity of my physical illness of the past several months, my own friends and family - some people I've known for decades, or at least several years, have been craptastic support. Like it's just so fascinating and curious to me - the concept of care from other human beings...

When I was young, my Dad always said to me, "Runsky, you need to follow something called The Platinum Rule. Not just The Golden Rule. In accordance with The Platinum Rule, you treat others how they want to be treated. And everyone wants to be treated differently."

I always was annoyed by this. My Dad - A master of Emotional Intelligence - knew how to treat others the way that they wanted to be treated. And because of this, his funeral was a fricken' rock concert. People still talk to me about my Dad and say, "Oh, Chuck Andersen, I loved him so much!" I often want to ask (but hold my tongue), "Um, did you ever tell him that??"

I knew my Dad better than anyone, and I know that he was a lonely man. He often reached out for help from friends in "his own way," and I now know, in my super sleuthing of his network post-mortem, that many of my father's "Friends" barely knew him as a human being. 

So, my advice to you tonight is this: Consider yourself a representative of the Human Race. And think about what that means to you. Do you care about how you treat other human beings? Your Friends? Your Family? Do you ever think about anyone besides yourself and your spouse and your own children and your own fur babies (dogs and cats)? 

Because, here's the thing. It really does pay to be kind to strangers. That professor is helping me on a long path toward a doctorate in Science and that New Friend has given me a partner in the Business of Music.

So just, Be Nice. Think about how other people inside and way outside of your life / your neighborhood / your country / your race / your religion, etc. might want to be treated. And then try your best (none of us will fail if we at least try our best) to treat those humans the way in which they want to be treated. 

You never know when you might need another Human Being's Help.

Susan M. Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony

Wednesday, November 1, 2017



Well, here it is.

That long-awaited-all-encompassing-utterly-intelligent post where I WOW you as a Smart 37 year old. I've been sitting on this post for weeks because I knew. I knew something was not right. And now I know for sure. Writing comes effortlessly for me, but I write less and less because less and less do I know what is TRUE.

Maybe you know this feeling? The feeling of wondering what REAL is when FAKE has become the most popular word of 2017? (I made that up, but check Buzz Feed, maybe.)

Things that I know are true...

  1. I am 37 years old now
  2. I wanted to move to Montana
  3. I wanted to become an Astro-Physicist
  4. I wanted to...
Not sure.

Other news. I am back where I started two years ago. Packing up my courage and getting ready to teleport across the Mississippi to Regions Hospital to attend DayBridge. Again.

I learned today that there is no failing at DayBridge so you can take it again. And again. And my doctors thought a lil' stint through Behavioral Health Day Program refresher course could do me good. I trust my doctors. So I am going to go.

I am telling you, World, cause I don't care. About hiding things. I am Honest. I am just me.

Things that are true:
  1. I am a Musician
  2. I am funny
  3. I have Peacock Green (it really looks more blue than green) hair
  4. I am scared
Psych wards are scary for me. They shouldn't be. But they are. What is not scary for me? Telling you. Because I am just me, being me at age 37.

Wish me luck. Maybe I will knit you something in Occupational Therapy. But, probably not. Just being honest.

Susan Marie Andersen
aka Susan B. Agony
Wednesday, November 1st, 2017
8:32 PM

Monday, September 18, 2017

Secrets Part II: The Stink of Dishonesty

The pen is mightier than the sword. 

I cannot fall back asleep.

I was sleeping earlier and now I am awake.

I have roughly twelve files opened inside my head.

The rainbow wheel is spinning, though. My brain is on empty and my brain is nearing capacity. 

In my own "selfish" attempts to save myself, I must reveal some recent realizations that I feel certain to be true. My goal in revealing these realizations are completely selfish and yet also altruistic. 

I am going to selfishly attempt to save myself so that I am still here for You.

Secrets. They stink.

Like a forgotten fish caught on a lazy Summer day, a Secret grows it's own ecosystem of maggots and the maggots bring the flies. The carcass of the fish eventually turns to chum and then freezes and then, in the Spring, the Rot is refreshed until the Dead dry up in the Sun. The brittle, salty bones lie in wait, while Sea Gulls swoop down to chomp with the delight of a three-year-old boy eating Cheetos.

I am alone and hanging by the thread of my own conviction. My conviction is my one True Friend, and it feeds me and comforts me. It tucks me in at night and reads me a bedtime story. My Conviction tickles my back until I fall asleep. It coos encouragement when I doubt I can take one more step.

Conviction has a trusty sidekick named Anger. Anger is a badass bitch who walks around with a Vietnam-War-era Napalm jet pack, ready to incinerate anything in it's path.

If you are like me, and you have a Disability, watch The Others. Other People who are not disabled are different than Us. They walk around not worrying whether or not the "Handicapped" doors work at malls. They walk around ambivalent to the "WAIT...(beep! beep! beep!)... WALK..." mechanical voices at crosswalks.

Secrets stink. Millions of them float around the planet, just junking up the sky, hanging out with Smog, Birds, Insects, and Airplanes.

I am honest. I try not to harbor Secrets. It's just the way I was built.

Humans are exhausting.

Like, absolutely tiring. Humans poop and pee and have bad breath. Humans do what is in their best interest, and they enjoy a game called "gossip" because it makes them feel better.

Somedays I have empathy for humans, and other days I long for the ai that is already here but will take ten more years to completely catch up and twenty more years to surpass us.

When I am feeling particularly dreadful about being a Human, I just sit. I stew. I stay alert. Sleep is OK. Laughing is better. The claustrophobia of this Home Planet is oppressive. I may never make it to Mars, but I know I will make it up there, inside the thinner atmosphere.

I will look down on Humans as I sit up in the sky with other humans and I will think to myself:

At least there will always be Medium Oreo Blizzards at the Dairy Queen. I still have yet to receive one. But, when the time is right, one will appear in my still healing broken hand, and my cyborg wrist will hold onto said Medium Oreo Blizzard, and my Human brain will go into pleasant Food Coma, and then I will sleep.

Try to stop being such an annoying Human, and I will, too.

Good morning / Good night,

Friday, September 15, 2017

Secrets: Why We Need To Try Not To Lie

Sometimes I feel compelled to begin my blog posts with an historic fun fact or a deep famous quote in order to give myself credibility, but, fuck that shit.

Hello. Good Evening / Good Morning, Childrens.

Some of you follow me on FB / Instagram, etc, but lots don't, so. I'm just going to write as though we are sitting down for our very first coffee and cigarettes. Here, allow me to relight your American Spirit, there...

So. We, as human beings, we lie. We are really good at it. All of us. It is a natural skill. We use dishonesty to survive. If you are a longtime reader, you know that an important aspect of my overarching thesis is that we must remember we are all just Advanced Animals (good Band name, eh?).

I don't like lying. I'm still working on the answer to this, but I now know that my top two Core Values are: 
1. Honesty
2. Integrity

There has been quite a bit of professional Bull Shit / a.k.a Lying / flying around our tiny planet of late, and I am so sick of it that all I am going to do is blame it on Harvey and Irma. But, For Real...

Because I have a special Brain Disorder, I get the opportunity to be REAL a lot - I have to carefully slice open the top of my head with a super sharp scalpel, peel back the skin from the skull (there's not too much blood, so, not too gross for the squeamish out there), use that loud cranial saw to carve open the skull, and allow the Doctors to poke / prod / shake VooDoo dolls over my head then take notes that go into my Permanent Record.

I always Stand Down. You MUST do this. If you are documented as having a "Mental Illness" and you don't stand down (meaning, you just be YOU), it's handcuffs and XL bluish teal jumpsuits with scratchy hospital socks, all the way.

So, What I am getting at here is, YOU DON'T LIE.

Now, I am not here to lecture or Out anyone. I have no political agenda. All I am saying is that, in the 12 years that I've been forced to let other Animal Humans peer into my head / heart / gut cavities, I truly have learned the real value of Truth.

So, that's it. Have a think. Reflect on all the lies we do. Reflect on why you lie each and everyday (we all do, to some extent), and my advice would be to ask yourself the following:

"Why do I lie?"

So see what comes up for you. Then, drink a glass of something and go back to whatever you are doing.

That's it! Thanks :)