Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


My reminder list remains static. I seem to always have the same things on it: Find bills in mess, pay bills. Bring in wood. Treadmill. Write something new. Submit something old. Write up evaluations. Vacuum. Holiday cards. Birthday cards. Throw shit out. Vacuum. Deal with book proposal. Get ready for whatever conference. Throw shit out. Treadmill. Vacuum.

Slowed down this week, moving underwater. Vicarious trauma is insidious and when you realize you have it, it feels shameful. Nothing really happened to me. My daughter in Boston is fine. What right do I have to take up space with my imaginary flashbacks and histrionic PTSD? All the while preparing to do a training at work for staff on Compassion Fatigue, of which Vicarious Trauma is a cornerstone. I’ll try to schedule it for Nurse’s Week. Compartmentalization of affect works up to a point, I will tell them. Acknowledging how hard the job you do is, how other’s trauma leaks into your unconscious. Into the collective unconscious. Damn, maybe we are just all walking around sodden with each other’s pain.

Write something new. An excerpt follows.

Don’t Touch the Mustard, Notes on Being in Lockdown with my Daughter

I have deleted the content as I am working it up as an essay for publication, thank you.

End note: I believe, if I interpret myself accurately, my point is that for me, creativity saves me. My ability to laugh, to write, I write an essay and the symptoms start to abate. It’s OK if we don’t get through our To Do lists. Our world feels crazy when we know so much and we should be evolving. We are all just walking underwater. Most of us are doing our best.


After “SEND”, I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself

20130418-105222.jpgProbably in the not so long ago past, I would have had the ritual of stuffing crisp pages in to a new manila 8 x 10 envelope, actually signing my name with a hesitant flourish to the bottom of my cover letter, discussed it with the postmistress in my tiny town post office as I bought the appropriate number of stamps, and walked home in the fresh air, feeling a sense of accomplishment.
My proposal is ready and I just can’t seem to hit the SEND button.
That’s it? Just hit SEND and we’re done for now? And then what?
I’ve lived with this thing for so long. This proposal, this albatross of my own making. No one is making me do this. From the moment that I got the idea for this book, DUMPED: Women Unfriending Women, from the moment that the first group of people I presented it to showed me such enthusiasm, from the moment that I took the photograph of the dumpster in my yard and made the pretend book cover, I was smitten. Then my writer’s group and a few friends kept the passion alive. And then I found myself with the non-fiction counterpart to DUMPED, my novel Marginal Living, fiction loosely set in a similar situation, all done and no agent biting. I hired a consultant and reviewed my options. I wanted to publish something of my own, yes it’s great that I have pieces in other’s anthologies, but I wanted my own. My consultant looked at the novel, at my collection of micro-fiction (beautiful, but seriously not a commercial option) and then at DUMPED and said, “This could sell.”
Then my consultant hooked me up with a fabulous woman in the business who then hooked me up with an agent who is still waiting to see the proposal. How lucky is that?
Writing the proposal was supposed to be as easy as filling in the blanks and the book is almost written, said one friend who sent me the template that has always worked for her. Ha. The first clue should have been when my consultant said it was normal for a proposal to run about forty pages. I originally had three. It is now thirty-seven. And that includes my own essay, Simple Geometry, the essay it took five decades to percolate and a week to write. The original three pages? That was so many months ago. These thirty-seven pages have been my focus, through this semester of teaching, through the hours at my job, my mantra every morning of “Oh shit it’s five-thirty AM and my proposal isn’t done,” my excuse for not sending out holiday cards or birthday cards or sympathy cards or exercising or cleaning. A pathetic conversation starter, “Oh, I’m working on a book proposal.” And it’s expensive! Consultant fees, writer conference expenses, website development. Now I’m just poor, fat and anxious. And what if nothing comes of it?
Up at five- thirty again this morning, I am still finding typos and awkward phrases, still have  no “big name authors” totally committing to submit, still not sure how I will handle hitting “SEND” and having it out of my control. And writing this blog entry instead while I hum the Bacharach tune from the 70’s. Originally sung by Dusty Springfield, who figures into Simple Geometry in odd synchrony. “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.” Which is totally untrue. Once I hit SEND I have to pack for the Harvard Masters Psychopharmacology Conference. Yes, there is plenty of real world awaiting me as I live life after hitting SEND.


Custard at the Beach-the Deconstruction of Biological Psychiatry and Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath

Nina Gaby IMG_0672

Vermont is at the forefront of a war between traditional treatment of mental illness- medications and acute hospitalization (when one can even find a bed in a hospital) versus what they consider new talk therapies and either no medication or minimal medication. Where does that leave practitioners such as myself, comitted to easing symptoms, keeping people safe, and trying to work ethically within such a broken system now fraught with disagreements between providers about the very things we once agreed on? I wrote this essay, an excerpt follows, as part memoir, part public service announcement, and part in response to what I see as a potentially dangerous trend in psychiatry. I sent a copy to Robert Whitaker, whose Anatomy of an Epidemic, Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America, 2010, Broadway Paperbacks, New York, was a pivotal point in all this, but he didn’t respond. As we blame mental illness in our national discourse on gun control, as we blame our broken system for mental illness in the first place, we should place understanding of biology and treatment in the forefront of our dialogue. 

Note: I have deleted the excerpt as I am reworking the essay for publication. Thank you.