Tag Archives: mental disorders

Poisoned: The Short Story and the Memoir is FREE on Amazon through Wednesday!

Based on an episode from my mother’s mental illness, Poisoned tells twin tales: my own personal recollection of my mother’s paranoid accusations that I was poisoning her, and a fictionalized short story of a husband and wife that was inspired by it. Both versions are also featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened.


On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is FREE on Amazon – Today Only!

The Kindle version of my award-winning mental illness memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness is FREE on Amazon US and Amazon UK, today only. As always, the book is also FREE with Kindle Unlimited.



On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is FREE on Amazon – Today Only!

The Kindle version of my award-winning mental illness memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness is FREE on Amazon US and Amazon UK, today only. As always, the book is also FREE with Kindle Unlimited.



On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened on sale for $0.99 through 12/12

The Kindle version of my award-winning mental illness memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness is now on sale for just $0.99 through Tuesday, December 12th. As always, the book is FREE with Kindle Unlimited.



On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened – Only $0.99 from 12/28 to 1/3

The Kindle version of my award-winning mental illness memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness will be on sale for just $0.99 from Wednesday, 12/28 through Tuesday, 1/3. Mark your calendars!

As always, the book is FREE with Kindle Unlimited.


It was the spring of 1989. I was sixteen years old, a junior in high school and an honors student. I had what every teenager wants: a stable family, a nice home in the suburbs, a great group of friends, big plans for my future, and no reason to believe that any of that would ever change.

Then came my mother’s psychosis.

I experienced first-hand the terror of watching someone I loved transform into a monster, the terror of discovering that I was to be her primary victim. For years I’ve lived with the sadness of knowing that she, too, was a helpless victim – a victim of a terrible disease that consumed and destroyed the strong and caring woman I had once called Mom.

My mother’s illness took everything. My family, my home, my friends, my future. A year and a half later I would be living alone on the street on the other side of the country, wondering whether I could even survive on my own.

But I did. That was how my mother – my real mother – raised me. To survive.

She, too, was a survivor. It wasn’t until last year that I learned that she had died – in 2007. No one will ever know her side of the story now. But perhaps, at last, it’s time for me to tell mine.


Now available in eBook and paperback (both standard size and LARGE PRINT formats).

Amazon (Universal Link)

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On hearing of my mother's death six years after it happened



My Interview with Charlene Diane Jones at SoulSciences.net

The podcast of my interview with Charlene Diane Jones about my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened is now available on her website here:


There’s some distortion in the first few minutes, but it clears up after that.

Charlene is a terrific interviewer and a wonderful speaker as well. You may also enjoy her discussion of Meditation and Writing with Aurelia Maria Casey on The Writing Well:


Charlene Diane Jones Header



Detention: An Excerpt from My Memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened

The following is an excerpt from my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, now available in paperback and eBook:

Amazon (Universal Link)

Barnes and Noble

Also available in Spanish! Al Oír Sobre la Muerte de Mi Madre Seis Años Después de que Ocurrió

“Steinberg! Schafer! Detention!” Mr. Cooper shouted furiously, his nearly bald pointed head bristling with a temper I had never witnessed before. That possibly no one had ever witnessed before. Normally he disregarded his students entirely and went on, in spite of the constant conversation and ill-concealed catcalls, with his physics lectures as if the classroom were empty, or perhaps irrelevant in the face of so much captivating science. But today we had somehow pierced the thick shield of his academic armor and prodded him into unanticipated and unheard-of disciplinary action. I testily kicked aside the pile of tiny paper airplanes that had grown at my feet during the course of the class and glared at my friend Josh, the one who’d gotten me in trouble. I was a good student; a nerd, most said. I’d never had detention before.

“My mom’s gonna freak,” I whispered nervously.

“Good luck with that,” he said, his face going pale.

“It might be all right. But only because it’s you.”

He grinned his characteristic sideways grin, so full of charm, so full of crap. I never could understand what my mother saw in him. Always strictly polite to his elders, laying it on thick with the ma’ams and sirs which had already gone out of fashion, he was arguably the biggest troublemaker of all of my friends, and definitely the one most likely to try to get me naked. Yet he was the only one she’d still let into the house. Would even leave me alone with him in the bedroom, staying tactfully away from my open door. Almost as if she wanted something to happen.

I gave it to her straight as soon as we emerged from the classroom, before Josh, in spite of his valiant attempt to breeze briskly down the hall with all of the craft and subtlety of one of his paper rockets, had even managed to escape from her sight. “Josh and I were fooling around in class and got detention. I have to come back after school.”

Her lips twitched. I could see the internal conflict boiling within her, picture her cheeks reddening under her makeup as we tiptoed through the crowded corridor, drawing furtive glances from curious students. I didn’t blame them for staring. It wasn’t every day you witnessed an otherwise fairly normal teen-aged girl being escorted to class by a conspicuous and over-dressed middle-aged woman. Kids I didn’t know would pounce on me in the bathroom, nearly dissolving into hilarity at finding me for a moment alone and ripe for ribbing. “Aren’t you the girl whose mother has green hair and comes to school with her?” they would snicker.

“It isn’t really green,” I would argue. “It’s supposed to be blonde; something just went wrong during the coloring.” It was more of a greenish tint than anything. The kind you get from swimming often in a chlorinated pool. Personally, I didn’t think the hair looked anywhere near as stupid as the sunglasses. Wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors is surely not the way to avoid drawing attention to yourself when you’re convinced that your ex-husband and adult daughter are stalking you.

She gritted her teeth, grinding them audibly as if literally chewing over the idea. “Then I guess we’ll have to come back after school,” she muttered bitterly, surrendering to painful necessity.

“Thanks. Otherwise I might get kicked out,” I replied pointedly, hoping she’d catch the implicit threat of it. I’d already missed more than a month that quarter and could, according to school policy, be failed across the board purely on the basis of unexcused absences.

Someone had noticed, taken pity on me. Was it one of the string of psychiatrists my mother had sent me to, each of whom I had at length convinced that I was not the crazy one? Was it one of my teachers, someone who understood that honors students don’t suddenly stop showing up to school for no reason? Was it my guidance counselor, who had been in the office the day my mother had tried to force me to sign the papers saying I was dropping out?

They’d made arrangements, the school board had informed her officiously. One of the teachers – the English teacher I’d had freshman year – had volunteered to take me in, and if she didn’t let me come back, they would force the issue. I’d been touched. I barely remembered Mrs. Silverman; recalled more vividly the handsome, witty boy who’d sat next to me during her class and who had eventually become my first boyfriend. I wondered what it would be like to live with her, her and the other troubled student she’d allegedly taken under her wing. Who would even have imagined that a close-knit suburb could hold two such students?

Even my mother, so bold in the face of imaginary enemies, was unwilling to risk official intervention. She’d let me come back. With conditions. I can’t even guess what she told the principal and the superintendent – whether she in fact convinced them that I might be in some sort of danger, or if they merely thought it best not to chance it, never suspecting that the woman to whom they had admitted entrance was more dangerous by far than any of the nonexistent murderers she feared. But they had permitted it, this insane adult intrusion into the lives of unwitting high school students. As long as she stayed outside the classroom, not in it. Inside, they’d insisted, would be too distracting. But as a goodwill gesture they had commandeered for her a set of her own chairs, one parked outside of each of my classrooms, that she might not grow weary during her dull and lonely vigils. What kind consideration, I’d thought bemusedly. How nice that they’d made an effort to ensure her comfort.

“We’re going home now,” she announced. “You can skip P.E.”

“I still have to come back for detention, Mom,” I reminded her.

“I want to go home for lunch,” she insisted, grabbing me awkwardly by the elbow while I slipped my book-bag over my shoulders.

I didn’t argue. I succumbed to her clutch and followed her silently, listening to the swish of her floor-length skirt as we traversed the corridor towards the parking lot where the student vehicles were stored. We passed the vice-principal, a friendly-faced giant of a man, along the way. I nearly forgot myself and smiled. Following my first string of poorly explained absences, he had tried to be kind to me.

“Schafe!” he’d exclaim when he passed me in the hall, punching me gently on the shoulder with his beefy fist.

“Huff!” I’d answer back, grinning, with the kind of liberty in which only kids who were sorely pitied could safely indulge.

But that was before this, before I’d had a permanent, round-the-clock guardian. Now he didn’t speak; barely even glanced at us as he edged cautiously away, retreating as far as possible against the wall, as if afraid to pass too close or too suddenly. The way everyone did. I didn’t blame them for that, either. They were right to do it.

We reached the double-doors that opened onto the parking lot, barred gates of freedom before which I would have cowed had I been alone, but she approached them boldly, as if it were her inalienable right to pass unhampered through the forbidden exit. It was a closed campus, but the hall monitors stepped politely aside to let us by as they always did, even if they didn’t know about us. Parent with child. Free pass; no questions asked. Submission to parental authority was automatic, guaranteed. Indisputable.

An overcast sky was gradually divesting itself of lukewarm spring rain, sending tiny rivulets of rainwater along the curves of my skull and down the back of my neck like the tickling tendrils of an unseen vine. I’d cast the hood of my raincoat aside, as I always did now. I didn’t like the way it restricted my peripheral vision. Our windshield was spattered thickly with raindrops, but she didn’t turn on the wipers; drove instead in half-invisibility, whether in an effort to conceal or be concealed, I couldn’t say. She had covered her badly transformed hair with a plastic rain-bonnet, of an old-fashioned design I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since. It reminded me of the handkerchief with which she’d attempted to cover up her previously long and curly chestnut hair that night we’d run away from the house, only a week before my stepfather, utterly bewildered at the sudden turn of events, agreed to move out. It hadn’t done much to alter her appearance. I was noting carefully now the effectiveness of her various disguises. Preparing myself for when I needed one.

She fixed us sandwiches, grilled cheese and tomato, the butter-browned bread and melted cheddar infusing our kitchen with a near-heavenly scent. I hesitated before biting into mine, unsure if the meal would be suddenly snatched away, as my breakfast had been, on suspicion of it being poisoned while her back was turned. And unsure also, if one of these days it would be she who had done the poisoning. But she sat down and ate with me, apparently satisfied with the attentiveness of her own preparation, and I took that to mean that my lunch was safe. I wondered whether my dinner would be.

At two-thirty I packed up my homework and reminded her that we needed to go. “In a minute,” she said vaguely, sitting taut and erect on the sofa in the hip-hugging jeans she’d changed into and snapping briskly through the pages of a woman’s magazine. By a quarter to three I was nervous.

“We’re going to be late,” I said.

“We’re not going,” she yawned with affected nonchalance, rising casually from her seat to check the lock on the front door.

“I have to go, Mom.” Inside I was panicking. “I can’t let Josh sit for detention by himself.”

Even the mention of her favorite didn’t move her. “Then you shouldn’t have gotten detention,” she answered blithely, nodding to herself in undoubting affirmation.

I inhaled so sharply that my lungs burned with the force of it. Rose slowly from the table where I’d been studying. Deliberately donned my lavender raincoat, my hands shaking, sweat forming along my hairline like condensation over a steaming pot. Chose my words carefully, not wanting to suggest more than I meant.

“I am going to school.”

I nudged past her to the door, placed my hand on the knob, and gave it a yank. She yanked back, all of her considerable might concentrated on the bones of my wrists, dislodging my grip from the door and sending me crashing through the sheetrock, leaving a nearly woman-sized hole in the wall.

“What do you want from me?!” she yelled nonsensically, as if I were a disobedient child having a fit of temper.

“I want my life back!” I shouted, conscious of the melodrama of it, my pathetic cry, but aware, too, that there was no elegant way to express what I wanted. And no hope of making her understand it even if I found the words with which to explain it.

She didn’t answer, but swung me forcibly around again, causing me to hit the opposite wall of the foyer sideways, leaving a smaller, skinnier trench in the sheetrock. And then grabbed me by one hand, dragged me out to the car, and threw me inside as if I were an uncooperative luggage bag that had been carefully packed but still refused to clamp shut.

I swallowed, rubbing my wrist, relief flowing through me like the midsummer rainshower that so briefly releases the nearly constant tension of northeastern summer skies. I could still make an appearance at detention, might still be able to graduate on time and get out of this hellhole once and for all. She backed blindly out of the driveway and took off, far faster than usual. But not in the direction of my school. Towards the border, the state line.

“I could take you away,” she’d told me once, smugly, after the first time I’d made a break for it and had to be hauled forcibly home. “Take you to the airport and fly you anywhere I want to; somewhere no one will ever find you. And I am your mother and there is absolutely nothing that anyone could do to stop me.” She’d smiled complacently, humming cheerfully under her breath. Pleased with her cleverness, the infallibility of her plan, her power.

I held hard to my seat and harder to my fear. I focused on it, drew strength from it. I didn’t speak. In silence I awaited an opportunity, a happenstance, a careless moment, while she screeched around wet, sandy curves, slamming me sideways, partly restrained by the seatbelt that was intended to ensure my safety but which was hemming me in, trapping me in the car with her like a circus animal in a travelling cage.

“You want a life?” she snarled unexpectedly as we approached a glaring red stop sign, barely tapping the brakes. “I’ll kill us both!”

But my left hand was already on the latch of the belt strapping me into the vehicle; my right hovered by the door handle. I felt her fingers snatching at the vinyl of my jacket as I jumped and rolled uncontrollably out onto the pavement. I heard her cursing violently behind me as the car shuddered to a noisy halt. The backyard backwoods of New England sprawled out before me and I sprinted into them, clawed my way through branches and brambles and pricker-bushes, and came at last to a tall wire fence that I climbed awkwardly, my full-grown feet too large for its twisted footholds, and then jumped, catching my jeans on its pointed peak and tearing them nearly the length of the seam, scraping bits of the soft flesh underneath.

I stopped. Listened. No sound of pursuit came to my ears. I stopped breathing. Listened again. Scanned the sky and tried to judge my direction from the clouds hiding the sun. Took a tentative step, my footfall crackling the underbrush. Listened again and heard nothing. Looked and saw nothing, nothing but trees and bushes and pine needles and the slivered remnants of last autumn’s leaves finally freed from the cover of snow.

And then began trudging the miles through the woods back to town.

I didn’t make it to detention. I covered my ripped pants with my jacket and dragged my torn, tired body back through the deserted hallways of the school, leaving dirty footprints on the freshly polished floors and fingerprints on the classroom doorknob that rattled uselessly in my battered hands. Josh told me later that Mr. Cooper hadn’t shown up, either. Apparently he’d forgotten all about assigning us detention. Had viewed it, perhaps, as a temporary, meaningless distraction from an important lesson in physics.

* * *

“Detention” is an excerpt from my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness, now available in paperback and eBook.

Amazon (Universal Link)

Barnes and Noble

Also available in Spanish! Al Oír Sobre la Muerte de Mi Madre Seis Años Después de que Ocurrió

“Detention” is also available as a FREE eBook:





Is Your “Anxiety” Real? One Woman’s Experience with Mental Disorder

Several years ago, I visited my doctor with some disturbing symptoms – most notable of which were a recurring rapid heartbeat and chest pains. At my age and physical condition, a heart attack seemed unlikely – but after several days of this I naturally began to worry. Well, let me rephrase that. I actually began to worry the minute the chest pains started, but it took several days for me to get worried enough to go to the trouble of see my doctor.

My doctor agreed, based on my symptoms, that a heart problem was probably not the cause, but he ran tests just to be safe. One clean EKG later, it was clear that something else must be wrong.

“Have you been under any stress?” he inquired.

I laughed. My whole life has been one giant ball of stress.

It was true, though. I had taken on an additional job (on top of my other two) and was working way too much. Besides that, one of my employers was in an extremely precarious financial position, which put a lot of strain on the person who managed the money – namely me. In addition, in the course of our conversation, I revealed that I had had a near-death experience several months before. Well, once my doctor heard that, he was quick to arrive at a diagnosis – anxiety.

It seemed plausible. I was under a lot of stress, and had little time for anything but work which I no longer enjoyed. It was also true that I had been profoundly affected by my near-death experience. Still, it seemed strange. Although I’m certainly what one might call a “worrier,” I had never suffered from anxiety – in the clinical sense – before. Not when my mother developed her mental illness, not when I ran away from home, not even when I was homeless and starving. But perhaps the effects were cumulative, I reasoned. Perhaps all the years of stress had finally caught up to me. I was getting older, after all. Maybe I just wasn’t able to handle things the way I did when I was young.

My doctor prescribed Lorazepam. I normally avoid medications except when absolutely necessary, but after a few weeks, I was so unnerved by these ongoing issues that I agreed to take it. And I did. It was frustrating, though, because it didn’t seem to do much. Yes, the tightness in my chest lessened slightly. Yes, I worried less about the symptoms I did have because my mind went a little hazy when I was on it. But it didn’t solve the problem. It didn’t fix me or return me to normal. I still had that tension, that pounding in my chest and I wondered – would it ever stop?

You can therefore imagine my immense relief when, four months later, my symptoms suddenly vanished as quickly as they had begun. It was over, I thought. Whatever had triggered the anxious response was gone, gone from inside me at last. I could go on with my life.

And I did. I went about my business. More than that. I began thinking about working my way towards a new life – a life that I really wanted.

Several months later, for no apparent reason, my symptoms returned, even worse than before. I’d go to work in the morning, and within a few hours, my heart would be pounding, I’d be sweating profusely, and, of course, totally freaking out that this could have happened to me again. Panicked, I refilled my long-depleted Lorazepam prescription. But again, it had little to no effect on my symptoms.

I was stunned, and more importantly, puzzled. I simply couldn’t understand it. The first time, sure. I could see where the combination of stresses I was under would have caused this kind of reaction. But why would it go away and then come back? Had there been a new triggering event of which I hadn’t been consciously aware?

It was at this point that I decided to start keeping a diary to see if I could discern a pattern as to when my intense feelings of nervousness were at their worst. I never even got that far. Because once I had decided to do that, I realized that my anxiety did indeed have a very definite pattern. It would start in late morning, peak mid-afternoon, and finally start tapering off after that.

This made no sense. Yes, I had a heavy workload, and one of my jobs was incredibly nerve-wracking. But I didn’t see how that anxiety could be tied to a particular job, because my work schedule was different every day. Even on weekends, when I worked from home, I had the same symptoms. What else could possibly be provoking this daily – and seemingly cyclical – response?

My mind turned at once to food, as I knew that blood sugar could affect mood. But since eating in the afternoons makes me exceedingly groggy (falling-asleep-on-my-desk groggy), I have long made a habit of skipping lunch. Therefore it couldn’t be something I ate – could it perhaps be the fact that I wasn’t eating? But if that was the case, then why did my symptoms always go away before dinnertime? If lack of food was the cause, then logically, it seemed as if I should have gotten better only after a meal, not before.

I only had one other habit that I could think of that was tied to particular times of day, and that was coffee. Yes, I did drink a lot of coffee. Mind you, I’d always drunk a lot of coffee. In fact, at this time I was consuming far less than I had at other points in my life – even in spite of having multiple jobs and a correspondingly crazy work schedule. But I drank it very consistently, eight six-ounce cups a day, according to my little coffeepot. I’m a sipper, not a chugger, and it took me from the time I got up around five until noon or one o’clock to finish all that, but I usually did.

It seemed unlikely, I’ll admit. Why would I be able to drink all the coffee I wanted one day without a problem and then feel as if I’m having a heart attack the next? It made no sense. But I was desperate – so desperate that I decided to give it a try, even if it meant messing with my precious morning ritual. I bought some decaffeinated coffee and the next day I made my coffee half-and-half. And that was the end of my anxiety.

How could this be?? Months and months of strain and worry and nervousness that I feared would never go away, and it could all be explained by something as stupid as too much caffeine. But if my coffee-drinking habit was so consistent, then why did my symptoms vanish and then return?

This, it turned out, was the key to the whole problem, and the one that convinced me that I was right. My favorite coffee is actually Costco’s Kirkland Signature Colombian Blend, which is very strong and bold, just the way I like it. However, the Costcos around here are so crowded that I very rarely go to one, so I don’t always have this coffee on hand. Well, when I went back and examined my receipts and mileage logs, it was plain to see what had happened. Around the time my symptoms first started, I had made a Costco run and bought the Kirkland coffee I liked. When that ran out, I drank a different – and presumably weaker – brand from the grocery store for a while. Some months later, I made another Costco run and went back to the Kirkland. And bam! That was when I started having “anxiety” again.

So what is the lesson here? Anxiety is a very real problem for large numbers of people, and undoubtedly for most of them, it does have a psychological cause. But we as a society are perhaps a little too quick to assume that our physical problems result from emotional stimuli. Look at my doctor – what did he see? A high-stress person. A difficult personal history. And unexplained heart palpitations and chest pains. Naturally he jumped to the conclusion of anxiety. But did he ever even ask me if I was taking any stimulants, even the ordinary kind? Did he ask me if I was taking allergy medications, some of which, as I’ve learned since, can also cause heart palpitations? No. He ruled out the obvious potentially serious physical causes and never bothered to dig any deeper than that. Look at you, you poor dear – you must have anxiety. Now hush up and take your medication.

It’s been four years since then, and I have not experienced even a single day of anxiety in that time. Not one. I drink much less coffee now, but I do notice that if I overdo it on the caffeine that the symptoms threaten to return – my chest tightens, my heart rate increases, and I sweat more than usual. But that’s it. It’s not anxiety – it’s physical tension caused by overstimulation of my system. But can you imagine if I had not figured this out? I would have spent the rest of my life choking down worthless chemicals, having god-knows-what long-term effect on my body, and constantly feeling as if my mind’s about to spin out of control. Unlike purely physical ailments, mental illnesses feed off of and reinforce themselves by creating fear and creating worry. It’s not like when you break a leg and you know you just have to wait six to eight weeks for it to heal. You can’t know when or if you will ever recover from an emotional condition. It’s almost enough to give you anxiety.

I suffered for nearly a year – for nothing. From a so-called illness that didn’t even exist. The miracle is that I came out of it more or less emotionally unscarred – and with a healthy skepticism towards the medical profession. I don’t blame doctors. They’re human too, after all, ordinary people trying to do their jobs as efficiently as possible, just like the rest of us. But that’s what makes it so important for patients to be their own advocates. I trusted my doctor because he knows his profession, and I don’t. But he was wrong. And who finally arrived at the right diagnosis? I did. Without any medical training at all. Not because I’m smarter or better educated than he is. No, but because I know my body in a way he never will. I know the intimate details of my life in a way he never will. And ultimately, because I care more about my body and my life than he – or anyone else – ever will.

I decided to put this story out there because it simply horrifies me when I think of how many people there must be who, like me, have been diagnosed with anxiety, but are really suffering from a case of too much Starbucks – or any of the many other readily available modern products that contain stimulants. How will they ever know? Their doctors will probably never even know. And it does make one wonder what effect this misdiagnosed population has on patients with genuine anxiety disorders. Have their treatments been altered or affected because of these other folks who are sadly unaware that there’s nothing actually wrong with them? How does one judge the true efficacy of a medication if it’s also being used on individuals who aren’t really sick?

This, to me, is a very sad situation, one that people should know about. Of course not everyone can be cured of anxiety by reducing or eliminating caffeine – but what a difference to those who can. I’ll be the first to admit that one of my great pleasures in life is the joy of waking up to a freshly brewed cup of coffee. But even that can’t compare to the happiness I felt in discovering that my “anxiety” wasn’t real.