Thursday, January 16, 2020


A friend sent me a Wall Street Journal article, "A Mysterious Balm for Mania." It reviewed a book called Lithium by Walter A. Brown.

The article, a history of the curious development of lithium, showed me how lucky I was to take that drug.

In New York in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, I'd been in and out of mental hospitals, in and out of therapists' offices, but nobody knew what was wrong with me. That's because I had a long cycle; years passed between bouts of mania and depression. Therapists treated one or the other but not  both.

Then, by chance, in a drug store in St. Louis I noticed a cheap yellow paperback about mental illness and I bought it. As it described what was then called manic/depression (now bipolar disorder), I recognized myself. I understood for the first time what was wrong with me. And the book stated that THE medicine for mania was lithium.

Back in New York in the fall of 1986, I showed the book to my therapist. She sent me to a pricey Park Avenue psychiatrist. He prescribed  medicine, but it wasn't lithium, so I went back and demanded it.

"People don't like lithium," he told me. "You have to get blood drawn all the time." 

But I insisted.

I'm glad I did, for the lithium worked. My mania is gone.

No more hallucinating on the New York city bus that I am Buddha.

No more meeting my friend Barry in a mental hospital - Barry who had  "accidentally" toppled six stories out of his hotel room now alive and well.

No more being held to the floor by two burly guys so the hospital nurse could shoot me up with thorazine.

No more refusing to let the cops into my boyfriend's apartment so they had to break down his door in order to haul me to the nut house.

Etc., etc., etc.

All gone.

What a blessing!

Thursday, January 9, 2020


I must break a vow to tell you this, but this won't be the first time I broke it.

It's 1969. I live in a commune near Massachusetts' Quincy Bay with my boyfriend Jon and with another couple, call them Richard and Barbara.

Jon, a Yoga instructor, hung out in Boston's Buddhist world so when he offered to teach me how to meditate using a mantra, I agreed. Soon I memorized "Om Mani Padme Hum" and learned to chant those words inside my mind. This mantra, beloved by Buddhists, means "The jewel in the lotus," the jewel being enlightenment.

One day Jon brought home staggering news. A famous Buddhist master, visiting Boston, had offered to give a personalized mantra to anyone who wanted it. 

Did we want it? All four of us went.

Once there, we waited in a long line. An attendant told us that, when our turn came, the master would whisper the mantra in our ears. That was customary, he said. We, in turn, vowed never to reveal the mantra, also a common practice.

Finally I stood next to the master, a large man with a big head of black and gray ringlets. He lifted the hair off my ear, leaned forward, and whispered: "Om Mani Padme Hum."  

That shocked me. I'd expected to receive a new mantra. Confused, I joined my friends.

We sat in a nearby coffee shop at a round table for four but said nothing. I felt eager to know if my friends received the same mantra as I had, but I'd vowed not to tell. So had they. Coffee cups danced on the table as we glanced at each other.

Barbara couldn't stand the suspense. "Om Mani Padme Hum! That's what I got. What did you guys get?"

Relieved we cried "Om Mani Padme Hum" and burst into laughter.

For a while, I thought the Master had deliberately deceived us. Then I realized that the personalization was his whisper into each individual ear, not the mantra itself. We had fooled ourselves into expecting an individualized slogan.

So I saw no reason to give up "Om Mani Padme Hum." By choice, it has been my mantra for fifty years.