Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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“Reel” Time Revelation of Rebecca on the Story District Stage

For those of you loyal readers who have followed the tale of reunion with my firstborn daughter Rebecca – and for those of you tuning in for the first time — here is my December 2017 telling of it live on the Story District stage.

Eight minutes of riveting entertainment!

Joani Peacock in Story District’s Home for the Holidays!

Also published this year in Turning Points: Stories about Change and Choice. Scarlet Letter No More is on Page 37 of this excellent little anthology.

A great 10 minute read!

Stay tuned for new posts on U&U! God only knows what might be up next!


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Beauty and the Least

cover girl makeup

Joani Baloney. As a kid, it was not for nothing that I was called “Joani Baloney”. You see, I “carried a bit of “baby fat” long after I was a baby. Though my mom called me the “prettiest baby” of her six, pretty apparently did not survive the cradle.

Or at least so I was told.

Dressed in my brother Tim’s hand-me-downs, in grade school, it was virtually impossible not to look like a boy. I did my best to deny it. I curled my hair in pink plastic rollers, rolled up with Dippity-Do. I would tie it back in a velvet bow — a little femininity in my denim and dungarees.

My high school days were hippie-dippy days and we hippies did not care, of course, how we looked. Though we worked very hard to get it right.

I parted my hair down the middle and wore it down to my waist. The hems of my bellbottoms were properly fringed and barely held up with a macramé belt. I wore tie-died t-shirts and patchwork skirts. On my feet I only wore flats – little canvas Mary Jane’s – from the Chinese grocery. And when it was cold – an army jacket or a Navy pea coat from Sunny’s Surplus Store.

And no makeup, of course. Natural. You had to look natural.

No problem. My mom never taught me and I never asked. In high school, makeup was very uncool. Oddly though in college, my mom more than hinted that I could use a little. She set me up with the complete line of Mary Kay cosmetics. I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. All pinked out in its display case, it gathered dust in my bathroom for years.

Joani Baloney was a pretty plain Jane and she worked very hard to keep it that way.

I grew up camera shy. There are very few photos of me in my youth. It seemed safer to hide. Invisible to the lens.

I wore pants and rarely a dress.

I wore turtlenecks – no decolletage.

Dark colors not bright.

Nothing revealing — because there was nothing to reveal.

Until I had therapy. Lots of therapy.

In therapy I discovered that this bipolar soul is a beautiful soul — lovely on the inside. But it took a lover to convince me that I am also beautiful to behold.

Beautiful on the outside.

Beautiful from head to toe.

Beauty is in the eye of the Beloved.

So beloved of myself and beloved of my God

— I have shed my cocoon and emerged as a passable butterfly.

Four sizes down, my wardrobe has gotten all dressed up – a bit of frills and frippery from Anthropologie and designer duds from consignment shops.

My nails are polished. My lips are glossed. My hair is fluffed. My ass is buffed:)

Cinderella I am not – but I do have a Rent-the-Runway account – for that occasional gown.

Mirror, mirror in my purse,

This beauty thing for me’s a first.

An ugly duckling I thought I was

Or just average just because.

But looking deeper in my soul

And reaching deeper in my gut,

Something lovely there I touched,

Someone lovely all along.

Once a duckling,

Now a swan.

Beauty is in the eye of the Beloved.

JoaniSign


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Mental Health Day

ferris and the ferrari

Ferris and the Ferarri

Remember Ferris Bueller’s Bacchanalia?

Ferris’s best class was cutting class. On the verge of graduation, he can’t resist the temptation to skip one last time. He “barfs up a lung” and calls in sick. He “borrows” a Ferarri and convinces his hypochondriac sidekick to go along for the ride. They take off through the streets of Chicago. Hilarious misadventure ensues.

Ferris hijacks a float in the city’s Van Steuben Day Parade, grabs a microphone, twirls it like a baton, and steals the show. All along the parade route, bystanders break out break dancing. Rock out, Chicago!

The Ferrari unfortunately does not fare as well as Ferris does.

The 1961 250 GT goes airborne twice to the Star Wars theme. It does not make it through the credits. Ferris and his friend run it in reverse in hopes of turning the odometer back. But there is no resurrecting the car. Driverless it takes a suicide dive off a cliff into the trees below.

“You killed the car.”

Ferris Bueller just celebrated his “30th” birthday. For thirty years the film has inspired high schoolers to take a “mental health day”. For thirty years the film has inspired really just about everyone to take one incredible and unforgettable “mental health day”.

“Mental health day” , of course, means you’re faking it. You’re lying. You’re goofing off. You’re playing hookie. You’re going AWOL. You’re sneaking around – hoping not to get caught.

Manically speaking, however — “mental health day” — I am here to tell you — is a very real thing.

I took one just the other day.

Hypo-manically flying beneath the radar, I climb, I soar, I swoop and ascend. I coast on clouds in blue, blue skies – on clouds of voluminous white.

My flight is fueled by work, by books, by friends, by family, by church, by walking, by music, by earth, by wind, by fire.

My flight is fueled by coffee and caffeine and extracurriculars.

I f*ing ace at extracurriculars.

I begin to believe that I have flown above my bipolar brain, that I’ve broken the bipolar sound barrier. I believe I’ve discovered anti-gravity.  My feet need never touch the ground again. The only direction to go is UP!

So I stay up later doing more and more. I stay up later and I get up earlier – because even in my dreams my head is racing. Racing, racing, racing and there is no finish line. There is no finish line at all.

And then hoped for things do not come true and along with that comes a rejection and a disappointment or two.

I can handle it. I can handle it. I can handle it, I tell myself. And then I can’t.

I wake up with a dull, twisted, knotted feeling in my stomach. It’s a nauseous feeling tinged with grief and loss. And this grownup woman is bereft as a child.

I curl up in the fetal position, the covers pulled over my head, and then a little voice says,

“I think it’s best, Joani, if you take a mental health day.”

A mental health day is a very real thing – just as real any day away for a virus or a broken limb. Your brain is broken and you are in fear of literally losing your mind. You feel your soul slipping from your grip. You pray not to sink beneath the waves.

Call in sick. Go back to bed.

Yes, call in sick.

But DO NOT, let me repeat, DO NOT climb back into that bed. Get up out that f*ing bed – no matter how f*ing hard it is. Make that bed up as best you can so that you can’t slip between the sheets again.

Eat something real. Wear something gorgeous and go out the f*ing door. Soak in the sun or walk in the soaking rain. Go outside no matter what the weatherman says.

Find yourself a table at a little offbeat bistro and order a gourmet meal. Walk down to the river. Read a book.

See your therapist. Visit a friend. Call your daughter.

Talk to God and rattle some beads.

Go home. Crank up the music and dance in your living room.

Take a shower, take your meds, and get a good night’s sleep.

Re-animate yourself.

Resurrect yourself.

Take a mental health day.

It’s a very real thing – a very real thing, indeed.

JoaniSign


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I fear and tremble…therefore I am…

Kierkegaard cartoon question

“The existential question & the Dane’s answer.”

I had a bad case of Kierkegaard in college.

My diagnosis was directly attributable to Sister Mary Clare, my high school principal at Immaculata Prep.

You see — from my Jesuit educated dad, I inherited an insatiable curiosity and an inquiring mind. Virtually all my sentences ended in question marks – especially in religion class.

“Transubstantiation makes no sense, Sister. Why would Jesus want us to eat him?”

“The atonement? Why does God kill his only son to save us? What kind of God is that?”

“Bad Catholics go to heaven? Loving Buddhists go to hell? What’s up with that?”

And the deepest and most disturbing question: “Why is French kissing a mortal sin?”

Called into the principal’s office, Sister Mary Clare sat me down to set me straight.

“Joani, you have to stop asking questions in religion class. You are confusing the other girls.”

“Joani, you are intellectually gifted but you are spiritually retarded.”

Yes, “spiritually retarded”. That’s a direct quote.

So I skipped my senior year at Immaculata to start Catholic University early as a philosophy major — a philosophy major who could ask all the f*ing questions she wanted.

I loved my three years at Catholic U. Historically we read the greatest thinkers of all times: ancient, medieval, modern, existentialist and more.

We didn’t read about philosophy, we read the philosophers themselves: Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Boethius, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Hume, Heidegger, Hegel, Spinoza, Levinas, Wittgenstein, Sartre – and of course Kierkegaard. (Achoo!)

And because I left in my final year without finishing, I missed out on a generation or two of 20th century thinkers: Foucault, Derrida, etc.

But what I did not miss out on was a first class education. Philosophy not only exercises the brain and challenges the mind –philosophy is therapy for the soul.

I aced logic and excelled at metaphysics. I ached with existential angst. I entered Catholic U a parochial school girl and by the time I left I was a Platonic, Hegelian, Enlightened, phenomenological agnostic.

(What does this exactly mean? I don’t exactly know.)

I loved it and my grades proved it. I was invited by my professors to enter the prestigious School of Philosophy.

All of my professors were men. All of the School’s students were seminarians. Need I state the obvious? All men.

Even though I would have been the only woman –I declined. Because I would have been the only woman, I decided to stay behind in the more diverse and down to earth Department of Philosophy.

Women’s numbers in philosophy departments have dramatically improved since my college days – approximately 20% now in the US and higher the UK. But these are still low ball numbers compared to the numbers of women scholars in other halls of the humanities.

A book review in the July 17th issue of The Times Literary Supplement suggests the gender gap is not just a matter of bias – but women like myself – self-selecting out.

I studied philosophy to learn how to think clearly and creatively. I studied philosophy so I could ask Life’s most profound questions. I wanted to be in conversation with other seekers – in a community that mattered. I studied philosophy to expand my soul.

But philosophy – as does theology – gets carried away with itself for the sake of itself – tripping over technical jargon and getting lost in mind numbing minutia.

So lots of brilliant women just say “NO!”.

David Papineau’s TLS piece on “Women in Philosophy: What needs to change?” proposes that “pointlessness, pugilism, nitpicking, pin-dancing” are “all possibilities of why women avoid philosophy.”

 Hysterically he uses the example of professional snooker – a limited but very illuminating analogy.

“Even though women are eligible to compete as professionals, none is ranked in the top hundred. The six-times world champion, Steve Davis, has no doubt about the reason. It’s not that women are incapable of the highest levels of skill. It is rather that as a group they are disinclined to devote obsessive effort to ‘something that must be said is a complete waste of time – trying to put snooker balls into pockets with a pointed stick.’”

 “As Davis sees it, ‘practicing eight hours a day to get to world championship level’ ranks high among the ‘most stupid things to do with your life.’”

 In other words, women philosophers, might ask more truly meaningful questions – and then choose to explore them in life affirming ways – not wasting their time contemplating “how many angels dance on the head of a pin.”

After marriage and children, I meandered back to school and matriculated in philosophy once again – but this time with an interdisciplinary flair. My undergraduate thesis was on comparative Christology according to George William Friedrich Hegel, Carl Gustav Jung, and John A.T. Robinson.(Don’t you love all those names?)

I remember virtually nothing of what I wrote (the manuscript is lost to time, thanks be to God). I do remember though that it mattered a great deal to me at the time.

A matter of vital importance, I did the best I could to answer Christ’s question:

Who do you say that I am?

 “I” here is reflexive pronoun, plural and not just singular. For Christ and me. “I and Thou”.

I continue to ask this question as an Anglican, as a woman, a priest and a bipolar crazy person. I ask this question every day when I get I up and every night when I lay me down to sleep. I ask it every time I look in the mirror. I ask it every time I preach a sermon or teach a class.

“Who do you say that I am?”

It’s a very bipolar question – this philosophical and theological question. And better than 100 milligrams of Seroquel – it keeps me focused. Trying to answer it sharpens my mind. It clarifies my thoughts. It keeps me grounded and tethered to the ground – the “ground of my being”. It keeps me honest. It keeps me whole.

A dose of philosophy can be good therapy – exercise for the mind, medicine for the psyche, a balm for a fevered brain.

 And regardless of the answers – as a seminary professor once famously said — “learn to love the questions.”

Learn to lean into the questions.

It might just save your sanity.

It might just save your soul.

JoaniSign


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Missed it? No problem! SpeakeasyDC Unhinged on Youtube!

April 25th eight masterful storytellers took to the stage at Emmanuel on High before a packed house. The 300 plus folks in the pews laughed, cried, listened and learned to voices that are seldom heard.

Unhinged Picture Album, PhotographyByAlexander

The SpeakeasyDC performance was recorded. Five of the eight storytellers have elected to share the video version with the public.

Click on the links to watch and to hear the tales of Bipolar Joani, (Me!),Psychiatric Nurse Matt (Matthew Manning); OCD Bobak (Bobak Shafiei); Panic Attack Mike (Mike Kane), and Spill Your Guts Therapy Mikael (Mikael Johnson). All true stories worth hearing – and worth hearing again.

You will love them all, I promise!

SpeakeasyDC Unhinged April 25 on YouTube

Watch them anywhere, anytime on the device of your choice. Watch them alone or watch them with friends. Watch them just to enjoy them. Watch them to learn something new.Talk about them and share them anyway and anywhere you can.

Lean in and listen. You likely may recognize friends and neighbors, family and loved ones. You may very likely recognize the likes of yourself.

That’s a good thing. You are not alone.

Everybody, yes everybody is a little bit Unhinged!

Thanks again to all the sponsors who made this possible: Emmanuel on High, The Friends of the Alexandria City Mental Health Center, Virginia Theological Seminary,  Bishop Shannon Johnston, and many, many, many TinyGivers!

Thanks be to God!

JoaniSign


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What’s in a Name?

baby-names1 - you named we what 2

My mother ran out of names.

Providence Hospital, DC, March 3, 1955: Three days old, I lay swaddled in the nursery nameless.

Preceded by a sister, Maureen Ann, and a brother, Timothy Francis, it seems my mom had already exhausted a very brief list of favorite names and could not come up with one for baby number three – me!

The discharge nurse told my mom I had to have a name to be discharged. “What shall I write  on the birth certificate? “ My mom responded with a question. “What’s your name? she asked the nurse. “Joan”, she said. “Then we’ll call her ‘Joan’,” my mom said, “and tack on ‘Louise’. That’s my middle name. That’ll work.”

So I went home as JoanJoan Louise.

Growing up I searched for a grander story – a better story to tell. A grandiose little Catholic soul, I believed I was named for Jean d’Arc. A lacquered portrait of Joan hung on my bedroom wall – a First Communion present from my second cousin, the priest – Father Buddy Litkey. Shining in her armor, mounted on a white horse, banner furled, and wielding her sword, I believed myself her heir apparent.

So I canonized myself – St. Joan.

Yet even sanctified, It did not take long to grow bored with my monosyllabic name. (Don’t you love it that “monosyllabic” has five syllables?:)) Such a plain Jane name is Joan. So at my confirmation – as little RC kids traditionally do – I chose a saint to be my patron.

I chose “Veronica”: the woman of legend who wipes the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Her beautiful name literally means “true icon”. So beautiful. But for none of the above reasons did I choose it.

I chose it because it was the sexiest damn name this little 10 year old could come up with. Four syllables, exotic, and musical it rolled off the tongue –

Veronica!

But everyone still called me Joan. Well Joani actually (as I spell it now).

As a kid I tried to stretch my name on the page by adding letters: Joan, Joanie, Joannie. In my hippy dippy adolescence I chopped off a couple– an “n” and an “e” in homage to Joni Mitchell. I still have all of Joni’s music on my iPod, but I held on to the “a” for my own namesake:

Joani.

Two weeks ago at SpeakeasyDC’s “Unhinged”, Dara, one of the storytellers, introduced us to her husband’s alter egos. Struggling in their marriage, she met them all in therapy. Out came Michael, a shy and vulnerable boy. Out came drill sergeant, Charlie, his champion and protector.

Her husband, who suffers from DID, Dis-Associative Identity Disorder, by any other name is still her husband. All three gentlemen sitting on the couch were fragments of the man she loves. Shattered by trauma, to cope and survive, he gives them different names.

Each week in therapy they would pick up the pieces, befriending the fragments, collecting them together, both hoping to be be healed, both hoping to be made whole.

And I too go to therapy — twice monthly — to remember my name. I go to recall who I am, to recall just who my God calls me to be – in this time and in this place. And in ten years time, who I call myself has changed many times over.

Names change as lives change. Biblically speaking, on the way to the Promised Land, Sarai becomes SarahAbram becomes Abraham. Wrestling with angels, Jacob is renamed as Israel.

Even the Holy One, whose name was never to be spoken, has too many names to number: Elohim, el Shaddai, YWHW, I AM, Emmanuel – just to name a few.

So what’s in a name?

Well for each and everyone of us  – a whole, whole lot.

Name them and claim them.  Count them up and collect them. Try to understand them. Hold them close and cherish them. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Birth to death, each and every one is an integral and indispensable part of you.

Thanks be to the nameless God — who calls us all by name — whatever that might be.

JoaniSign


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One Pill Makes You Smaller; One Pill Makes You Tall

Smaller or taller?

Smaller or taller?

Alice could not reach the doorknob.

Shrunk down so small, Alice saw no relief in sight.

And then what should appear but a little bottle by her bed.

“Drink me.” It said.

And so she did.

And on the table was a little cake.

“Eat me.” It said.

And so she did.

She opened up like a telescope and shot up like a shooting star. Her neck stretched; her legs grew. Her head burst through the ceiling. Her arms burst through the windows. Her feet stuck out the door.

Welcome to Wonderland.

Welcome to my world.

Take a little bit of this and a little bit of that until you get your bipolar brain just right.

So before I lay me down to sleep — I wash down three little pills with a glass of water:

One little pill to — balance my brain;

One little pill to — help me sleep;

One little pill to — keep me this side of crazy;

A mood stabilizer; a soporific; and an antipsychotic.

I have got this thing down to a science. I am a walking, talking miracle of science.

But the recipe for this little cocktail is not written in stone. Every once in a while I need to have my head examined. Yes, literally have my head examined by a board certified psycho-pharmacologist. And then re-examined.

But we are not just a pile of chemicals. Being organic, every little aspect of our being has a bearing on our brains.

So like going to Jiffy Lube, my doctor peers down at his clip board and runs my brain through the 39 point checklist:

“How much shuteye have you gotten lately?”

“Well, doctor, less and less”.

“When was the last time you took a run around the block?”

“Well actually, doctor,  I’ve been doing that more and more”.

“What have you been eating for breakfast?”

“Well, doctor, I am crazy about breakfast. I eat it three times a day.”

“How about your workload?”

“It’s great, doctor, but I rarely say ‘no’.”

“How is your love life?”

“What love life?”

“How are your finances?”

“What finances?”

The measure of my moods is the balance in my checking account. And recently when it comes to money I have gotten way out of balance.

At first my spending seems most sensible.

For water aerobics, a new bathing suit – and then a new pool bag and water shoes to match. Of course, they have to match.

And then another bathing suit, just because.

For walking that next half marathon, new running shoes — and then new socks, new tights, new jacket, new hat. Of course, they have to match.

Two new dresses just because.

And just because I was traveling: new slippers, new scarf, new coat. And of course, they have to match.

And just because I love to read, a new e-book, a new real book, new bookmarks.

And because it is cold — new boots.

And because they might break — a new toilet, a new washer, a new dryer.

You get the idea!

And o by the way, walking, and swimming, and half marathon-ing this last year  —  I have lost weight equal to that of a small child or two. (And yes, I look amazing! Thank you for noticing!)

Money matters out of whack. Metabolism redefined. It’s time to get my head re-examined. And even though I know I should, this is something I am wont to do.

Feeling fabulous, I regularly drop by my therapist’s office to tell her so. But I am neglectful of my visits to the psycho-pharmacologist.

Who needs to go to the doctor — when you’ve got this down to a science?

Medication may be only a small part of being marvelous. But an important part it is. And when there is a big change in your life; you may just need a little change to your prescription cocktail.

One pill makes you smaller; one pill makes you tall. And when you are not sure —

Make an appointment with Dr. Alice. I am sure she’ll know.

JoaniSign