depression

RIP Judith Russell

Judith at an Oscar party
Judith at an Oscar party

Some of you may remember Judith Russell, a guest at some of our outrageous 80s and Oscar parties. I’m sad to report she died earlier this week, alone, in her apartment; her body wasn’t discovered for two or three days.  When I knew her, Judith was pretty, vibrant and funny.  Two industry heavyweights – Terry Semel and Sherry Lansing – hired her to be their personal secretary – she had the perfect voice, face and sassy attitude to charm the public.

Judith with writer Art Everett and Oscar-winning cinematographer Russ Carpenter
Judith with writer Art Everett and Oscar-winning cinematographer Russ Carpenter

Judith’s life was anything but enchanted, though. In the 80s, a fall on the Warner’s lot dislodged a brain tumor that could not be 100% removed – sooner or later, it would grow back, and she’d face surgery again. Hospitalized at UCLA, she was inundated with flowers and get-well wishes from almost every A-list celebrity.  Her hair grew back and she recovered.

Judith an Once at another Oscar party
Judith an Once at another Oscar party

She couldn’t recover from alcoholism, though. Employers paid for pricey inpatient rehabs because they wanted her sober. Judith had no interest whatsoever in life without alcohol. After one Oscar party, I took her car keys because she was far too drunk to drive home. In the morning, she was gone. Turns out she traveled with a second set in her purse, “just in case” something like that happened. That’s alcoholic thinking in action.

Judith in Edwardian costume with Kirk Hulstrom
Judith in Edwardian costume with Kirk Hulstrom

She lost the high-profile jobs and lacked the high-tech skills required to land an equally impressive gig. She withdrew from her friends. My sister Joyce hung in there the longest. She and Judith went to Saturday matinees in Burbank for years until it interrupted Judith’s drinking so she declined.

Judith and Joyce - yet another Oscars night
Judith and Joyce – yet another Oscars night

For the last ten years, Judith woke up and went straight to her local bar, where she spent the day and part of evening, until she staggered home or close to it – sometimes, she passed out in the parking garage or vestibule.  Her landlady was concerned. We all were, but she no longer talked to people that knew her before.

Judith playing bridge with me, J and Gail. I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.
Judith playing bridge with me, J and Gail. I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.

I grieve for the Judith I knew in the past. I think she had a lot to give, but we’ll never know. I wish she’d let someone help her but she was adamant – to Judith, life without booze looked worse than death. So, of course, it had to end like this.

RIP old friend

Rest in peace, old friend. I pray you’re in a better place.

Judith with Bill Connell and Joyce
Judith with Bill Connell and Joyce

December 8,1973

December 8, 1973 

This debacle – I truly tanked the GREs – was due to my own hubris. I hadn’t spent a minute in a math class since high school. For that matter, I avoided hard core English classes too, choosing to specialize in courses like Ibsen and Tolstoy in lieu of grammatical structure. I never did like diagramming sentences.

In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)
In front of Knudsen Hall, UCLA (our name was spelled with a T not a D)

So, sure, my hard-core academics were rusty, but all my life, I tested high on standardized tests. Why should today be any exception? I sailed into the GRE exam without so much as a cursory glance at a GRE preparation guide. Why bother? How much can a person forget in four years?

Striking a pose

News flash. In four years, you can forget more math than you ever knew.  Granted, I could still nail basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division but guess what? They don’t ask that kind of question. Algebra and geometry were center stage. I suspect calculus and trig played starring roles, too, but I can’t verify because I didn’t take either one in high school.

Walking across campus at UCLA

So, how badly did I choke on the GREs? Suffice to stay, none of the Ivy’s competed to recruit me.

 

November 19, 1968


November 19, 1968

Looking back, the symptoms of clinical depression are in neon lights – but in 1968, I didn’t know what that meant.  If anyone had asked, “Are you okay?” I would’ve said “I’m fine” – the correct Norwegian response to any inquiry about mental or physical health, even on one’s death bed.
KK and depression 1

I felt terrible about disappointing my father but powerless to level up my game.  Was it more important for me to make it to school or look human? They wanted both? I couldn’t do it anymore. Sure, other people managed it without too much difficulty – I did it once myself, but those days were behind me now.

KK depression 2

I saw darkness everywhere, even when babysitting. Two little girls spent hours play-acting “drunken father coming home.” Another couple, who left me with their daughter, urged me to have fun with their cat. The kids appeared in desperate need of affection. They begged to sit on my lap but I was too lost in my malaise to respond with genuine warmth. I felt guiltier for what I couldn’t feel and do than anything that I did – because I couldn’t do much.

KK depression 3

That fall, I had a recurring nightmare, in which I was stalked by an unidentified killer. Just as he was ready to strike, I’d wake up screaming. The trouble was, no one heard me. Surely, someone would have comforted me if they’d heard. If I really screamed out loud.

 

May 10, 1971

May 10, 1971

In real estate, the most important factor is location, location, location. To what degree does location affect every other aspect of our lives? Would you be the same person if you grew up in a different place? (I don’t think so.) Can you change who you are right now by changing your location?

My former roommate Miya
My former roommate Miya

In AA, it’s called a geographic when alcoholics attempt to control their alcohol intake by moving someplace new and starting over. It’s considered ineffective, as far as controlling and enjoying your drinking goes. That said, taking my own geographic – moving from Santa Clara to LA – exerted a profound effect on my psyche. It shocked me out of my self-absorbed stupor. So many new ideas, places, and people flew at me simultaneously, I didn’t have time to brood.

Talking to Miya
Talking to Miya

According to Mary, my first roommate at UCLA, my problem was I was never happy where I was, I always wanted to be someplace else. At the time I thought she was full of it but in retrospect she showed extraordinary insight. I hadn’t been at UCLA two years before I needed to escape, which led to an ill-advised intercampus visitation at UCSB.

At my parents house in San Diego with my dog Inga around this time
At my parents house in San Diego with my dog Inga around this time

As soon as I unpacked, I was lost and frantic to return to LA and my friends. Things got worse as I hurtled toward another bout of clinical depression or a nervous breakdown, take your pick. On my weekend visit to LA on the weekend of May 10, I was under the erroneous impression my time at Santa Barbara had “damaged” me. I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside. Attempts to “fix” myself by changing my location were futile since I brought the old me along.

I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside
I hadn’t realized it didn’t matter where I was, I carried my alienation inside

To put it in the immortal words of Paul Revere and the Raiders in their song “Kicks”

“Don’t you see no matter what you do You’ll never get away from you”

 

 

 

 

April 26, 1973

April 26, 1973

Emotionally defenseless

I don’t know what I expected when I walked into Student Counseling – I’d seen psychologists and psychiatrists before but never felt helped by any of them. Maybe because I was so  emotionally defenseless,  this woman got to me.

I knew I was falling apart and I felt terrible about it because I shouldn’t be. I’d just graduated from UCLA and – on the outside – it looked like good things were about to transpire for my writing career. Unfortunately, instead of giving me confidence, this made me feel under pressure which was compounded by my efforts to escape an extremely toxic relationship with L, a much older man who manipulated me with threats of self-harm and other histrionics. (On the plus side, I’m grateful to L for illustrating – by example – how unattractive and unpleasant drama queens can be.)

L took this photo of me - to me, I don't look like myself - there's a lot of strain in my smile.
L took this photo of me – to me, I don’t look like myself – there’s a lot of strain in my smile.

The counselor said  I was lucky to have a supportive family and I shouldn’t feel guilty about moving home. San Diego wasn’t that far from LA – I could make the drive in under three hours if I needed  to take a meeting.

Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?
Happy at home, reunited with my sisters around the family dining table. What could be finer?

I took her advice and moved home. I left L behind, leaving it up to him whether he committed suicide.  (Spoiler alert – he did not kill himself.) It was the right course and I might not have found my way if that counselor hadn’t extended her compassion. I’m not sure I ever knew her name – I know I never thanked her personally because I never saw her again – something I regret because, looking back, I feel like she saved my life

March 2, 1980

 

Showing off the nightgown Peggy gave me.
Showing off the nightgown Peggy gave me

March 2, 1980 P

With Janet, whose birthday is two days after mine.
With Janet, whose birthday is two days after mine.
With Bennett Traub and an incognito JoAnn Hill.
With Bennett Traub and an incognito JoAnn Hill.

As the photos suggest (a very well-documented party, thanks to my sister Janet) this was a fun birthday party with two very familiar features – the phone call with my parents, in which they regale me once again with the details of my birth in a snowstorm. I’m ashamed to admit I got impatient with them although I tried not to show it – don’t they understand that I know this story by heart? How many times are we going to tell it? Of course, now that they’re gone, I’d give anything to stroll down those familiar paths of memory again.

JoAnn Hill, ArtEverett, Joyce and John Salter
JoAnn Hill, ArtEverett, Joyce and John Salter
The beautiful Peggy
The beautiful Peggy

And – true confession – I’ve been known to torture my own three children with overly-long sagas about their birth – which I’m sure they’d prefer to live without.

Sharon Grish, CD - who recently turned 3 -Joyce and JoAnn Hill
Sharon Grish, CD – who recently turned 3 – Joyce and JoAnn Hill

CD at my party

My second obligatory birthday riff – no matter what birthday it happens to be – is how achingly sad I feel to be so old. The melancholy trauma of aging hit me for the first time when I turned ten. I was inconsolable at the realization that from that day forward, my age would never again be a single digit.

Peggy Tanneyhill (Horn) and Bennett Traub
Peggy Tanneyhill (Horn) and Bennett Traub
Me with Terry McDonnell
Me with Terry McDonnell

Although I should know better by now (live for today, darn it!) I’m always lamenting the loss of something trivial, especially compared to the blessings I’ve enjoyed in this life. If you’re into the enneagram, I’m a classic type 4 personality – obsessed by what’s missing, never satisfied with what I have – until I lose it, anyway.

Me talking to Peggy
Me talking to Peggy

 

February 27, 1969

February 27, 1969

 This entry captures my skewed priorities during my senior year (aka known as my Great Depression). Getting accepted at UCLA was momentous (and kind of crucial, since I neglected to apply to any other institution of higher learning). It was truly life changing.

Reading acceptance letter from UCLA
Reading acceptance letter from UCLA

That said, my obsessive focus was on pinpointing where I stood in my relationship with X – talk about an absurd waste of time!  A mollusk could’ve deduced I was nowhere – the same place I’d been for almost two years.

Even a Mollusk would know
Even a Mollusk would know

It’s a peculiar kind of hell, pretending to be satisfied being “just friends” with somebody  you’re madly in love with. To level the “just friends” playing field, I invented a boyfriend to compete with his living girlfriend. When he tortured me by rhapsodizing about how much he loved her,  I could retaliate with my make-believe relationship with the non-existent Pericles. (I gave him a more normal name which is not to imply he was one iota more believable.)

The letter that forged my destiny
The letter that forged my destiny

To render an already pitiful situation more pathetic, I repeatedly pulled my fictional punches. Instead of touting my relationship with Pericles as a love affair for the ages, at the slightest hint X might be interested in me again, I kicked poor Pericles to the curb. My brilliant reasoning  went, “X secretly wants to come back to me but he’s afraid he’ll be rejected for Pericles! Play it smart. Tell him you dumped Pericles so you’re fully available to him.”

Saying goodbye to Santa Clara
Saying goodbye to Santa Clara

Yeah, that’ll work every time – somewhere other than the planet earth. Suffice to say, my Herculean efforts to recapture X’s heart failed miserably. When I left Santa Clara (as it turned out, for good – and in June, not September) I never expected to see or hear from X again – but at least I had UCLA in my future.  And that’s what actually mattered.

February 13, 1969

Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.
Never miss an opportunity to gaze mournfully at something.

February 13, 1969

In my senior year of high school, Mr. Cameron (my counselor) offered me the chance to be a counselor at the Redwood Glenn Science Camp for a week in lieu of attending high school. I didn’t think twice – sign me up! I’d enjoyed my weeks as a camper at Mt. Cross years earlier and I loved the movie Parent Trap, half of which took place at camp. What could possibly go wrong?

More sulking in the great outdoors.
More sulking in the great outdoors.

I forgot I was neither a nature girl or a science whiz, for starters. It poured all week long but despite monsoon conditions, we hiked all day every day and once at night. That was more than miserable enough,  even if the rain hadn’t roused armies of huge thick worms.

Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.
Sulking in the great outdoors with my nuclear family.

As if the worms weren’t enough, I had twelve angst-ridden 6th grade girls to shepherd. One leeched herself to me and never stopped talking. One was a bed-wetter, not a huge problem until the other girls found out and teased her to tears. She ambled along like a puppet loosely strung, everything about her limp, lifeless. Or was I projecting my lethargic depressed self onto her?

Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.
Brooding indoors, which I vastly preferred.

My duty as a counselor was to bundle them in and out of oversize rain gear, herd them on hikes, scrape uneaten or recently disgorged food off their plates, persuade them to shower so our tent didn’t get too ripe, and attempt to pay attention to them – something they all seemed sorely deprived of and were desperately needy for.

I did my best, but it was a bad fit. I regretted saying yes to this gig. Once again, I’d forgotten who I was – i.e., a curmudgeon who lacked rapport with children. I was too serious and impatient for my peers, forget little kids. And, in 1969, I was in the throes of clinical depression, so no matter how old my companion might be, the time spent with me was no one’s idea of a party.

Clearly, the life of the party!
Clearly, the life of the party!

All that said, I believe they all had a much better time than I did and no lasting harm accrued to anyone. Those little girls would be 59 or 60 years old today. I wonder how their lives unfolded?

 

September 22, 1978

September 22, 1978

Where do I go? What do I do?
Where do I go? What do I do?

 I still ask people for feedback even though I rarely follow it. In retrospect, I ran all of my life questions through my friends and family until someone told me to do what I already wanted to do. Why did I bother? To justify my poor decisions by blaming somebody else?

NOT ME

Anybody who knows me knows it’s torturous to make me do anything I don’t want to do – even when the benefits are great and the penalties severe. Well-adjusted mature people worked through this issue during their Terrible Twos. I must have been absent that day because it’s an on-going struggle.

Advice to or from Janet
Advice to or from Janet

In the above example from 1978, my friends’ advice is close to unanimous – if I want to escape my slough of despair, I need to get out of bed, get out of the house, welcome some external structure – aka a job – into my life. I knew it myself, I brought it up with J. Did I follow through with what everyone, myself included, agreed was a good idea?

Agreeing on a good idea
Agreeing on a good idea

Don’t make me laugh. At most, I doubled down on guilt, berated myself for not doing what I knew I should do. This probably sounds insane to people who are mentally healthy – but understanding my behavior was self-destructive led to self-loathing which amplified my self-destruction. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, a debilitating downward spiral. Fortunately for me, some person or event – something beyond my control – eventually snapped me out of it.

Something beyond my control

I wish I had some brilliant advice for someone trapped in this cycle. Bottom line, I regret wasting all that time. If there was some way to get it back, I’d use that time more wisely. Then again, I might not.

 

September 14, 2003

September 14 2003

I strongly considered skipping this diary entry; I prefer the impression I have a perfect marriage and this entry shows the cracks. I decided to publish it anyway because – while I can’t see behind anyone else’s bedroom door – I strongly suspect most long-married couples suffer through periods when they are less than enchanted with each other – when one of them is so unhappy that walking out the door is an option.

John absent for this big family shot.
John absent for this big family shot.

I was miserable enough to fantasize about divorce more than once but I never followed through. I realize now that I blamed John for my deep dissatisfaction with myself and my life. This was particularly true early in our marriage, when I was stuck at home with a baby and a writing career looked like an impossible dream.  I told myself I’d leave him as soon as I was self-supporting but when I became self-supporting, I was happier with myself so I no longer wanted to leave.

There were difficult times in the early days too.
There were difficult times in the early days too.

In 2003, we did separate – for a week. I think the reality of a split scared both of us; it scared me, I was a basket case. Things were significantly better when we got back together because we both chose to be there. That’s a big part of marital happiness, I think – the knowledge you chose and have been chosen.

Have things been all sunshine and rainbows since then? Of course not, we’re human. We disagree about many things. We can get on each other’s nerves. We know each other’s weak spots so we’re masters at sticking the knife in – although we do it far less often than we did when we were young. We’re old enough to know that most of the things we fight about aren’t worth it but that doesn’t always stop us. Both of us want it our way, all the time. Neither of us get everything we want.

Kathleen & John

That said, we get enough. We’ve been married 42 years and counting and I don’t see either of us filing for divorce anytime soon. If any young marrieds read this, don’t give up too soon. There are times when your relationship might look hopeless. That doesn’t mean it is hopeless. You’re not the first or last couple to feel broken. That doesn’t always mean it’s over.

 

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