book reviews, celebrities, mental health, psychology

My review of River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, by Naomi Judd

It’s hard to believe that a month ago, country music legend Naomi Judd, the maternal half of country music mother-daughter act, The Judds, was still among the living. I was in Italy at the time, enjoying an eagerly anticipated vacation. I was shocked, like so many others were, when I heard of her sudden death on April 30, 2022. Although they weren’t saying it at the time, it was pretty clear that she took her own life. It came out that Naomi Judd had suffered for many years with terrible, untreatable depression and anxiety. And, although she and her daughter, Wynonna, were to be honored for their musical achievements the very next day, Naomi simply couldn’t face life anymore.

Megyn Kelly interviews Naomi Judd about her depression, and her book, River of Time.

I was not a huge fan of The Judds, during their heyday. I do enjoy their music very much now, and I have a few of their greatest hits compilations. I read Naomi’s first book, Love Can Build A Bridge, which was published in the 90s, when Naomi was forced to temporarily retire due to her diagnosis of Hepatitis C. I also saw the made for TV movie based on that book. I also once saw Wynonna perform at a U.S. Army Birthday Ball. But, I am not a super fan of The Judds’ music, and wasn’t following news about them when Naomi died. I didn’t know about Naomi’s struggles with mental illness, and until my friend and fellow blogger, Alex, mentioned it in a comment, I also didn’t know that in 2016, Naomi published a book about her experiences with severe depression and anxiety. Although Naomi’s story clearly turned out to be less victorious than the book’s title, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope suggests, I decided to delve into it.

I read Naomi Judd’s book for several reasons. First off, I too, have suffered from clinical depression and anxiety myself, and I understand why it seemed so hard to beat it, because I remember how it made me feel. I was fortunate, in that my depression was treatable with talk therapy and Wellbutrin SR. It does, on occasion, rear its head again, but for the most part, I am much better than I once was. Secondly, I am a musician. No, I am not a “star”, and at this point in my life, I will probably never be a star… and frankly, I probably would not WANT to be a star, anyway. But I do make music, and I admire Naomi’s talents as a singer and songwriter. Thirdly, I come from similar, salt-of-the-earth, family stock. I didn’t know it when I started reading River of Time, but I could really relate to a lot of Naomi Judd’s comments about her family, and how people in her family made her feel. I’ll get more into that as this review progresses.

River of Time reads as if it comes straight from Naomi, but in fact, it was ghost written by author, Marcia Wilkie. I appreciated that this book really seemed to come from Naomi Judd’s heart, and I never noticed an intrusion by a professional writer. Some people felt that the book “jumped around a lot” and was “repetitive”. Personally, I didn’t find that an issue, but again, it did seem to me that this was a book coming from Naomi, rather than Marcia Wilkie. I see that at this writing, the book is offered on Kindle for $1.99, probably because ultimately, Naomi succumbed to her depression and committed suicide. I still think it’s well worth reading, for MANY reasons. So here goes…

Naomi Judd’s early years never suggested the great heights she would eventually reach…

Naomi Judd was born Diana Ellen Judd in Ashland, Kentucky on January 11, 1946. Naomi describes Ashland as a “grey”, ugly, industrial city. Her parents were poor, and not at all loving or demonstrative. Naomi made excellent grades in school and was a talented pianist, but her parents barely noticed. However, whenever she got any negative feedback from school officials, her father was quick to get out his belt and “whip” her. Naomi writes that she used to “borrow” her mother’s stiff rubber girdle when her father wanted to use the belt. She’d go to the bathroom, put on the girdle, and let him go to town, while she “hollered” like she was in pain. Apparently, he never caught on to Naomi’s ruse.

In this book, Naomi never refers to her original first name, or Wynonna’s. Wynonna was born Christina Claire Ciminella, although Naomi’s husband at the time of Wy’s birth was not her biological father. Wynonna was conceived when Naomi was seventeen years old, during Naomi’s very first sexual experience. She had a one night stand with a football player, she’d known in high school, a man named Charles Jordan. Naomi explains that she and Jordan got together for their tryst, because Naomi’s brother, Brian, was dying of leukemia. Naomi was very close to Brian, and she was feeling alone and vulnerable. As a lot of young girls do during their teen years, Naomi must have felt that connecting with a young man would make her feel loved and valued. Unfortunately, Charles Jordan abandoned Naomi, as soon as he found out about the pregnancy. Naomi quickly married Michael Ciminella, Ashley’s biological father, because Naomi’s mother, Polly, kicked her out of the family home.

Michael Ciminella’s family was sort of well off, and they lived a more comfortable lifestyle than Naomi’s family did. But Mrs. Ciminella was extremely obsessive about cleanliness and order. Naomi writes that when Wynonna was a baby, her mother-in-law had totally sanitized the whole house, and insisted that everyone wear masks and gloves before handling the baby. Even Naomi was expected to comply.

Naomi and Michael eventually moved to Los Angeles, California, where Ashley was born in April 1968. But the marriage didn’t last, and Naomi was soon raising her young girls by herself, with almost no help from Ciminella. After the divorce, Naomi reclaimed her maiden name and took the opportunity to change her first name, too. She enrolled in nursing school and eventually became a registered nurse. Unfortunately, when she was 22, Naomi was stalked by a violent, ex-con heroin addict, who beat and raped her. Still, somehow Naomi persevered and managed to launch her career in nursing. Meanwhile, she and Wynonna developed their musical chops, and eventually moved to Nashville, where they finally got their big break. Wynonna was eighteen years old when The Judds were on their way, but she and Ashley had still experienced a hardscrabble childhood, as their mother did everything she could to ensure their survival.

Naomi’s life heads south…

The Judds were wildly successful in the 1980s. They had fifteen #1 hit songs, and won dozens of music industry awards. Things seemed poised to continue in that direction, when Naomi started feeling ill. She went to a doctor, who told her that she had contracted Hepatitis C. She was told that her liver was “almost cirrhotic”, and that she had about three years to live. Fortunately, the medical establishment was wrong about her prognosis, but the diagnosis did force Naomi to retire in 1991. The Judds did a huge pay per view concert, which was a very successful event. Naomi eventually remarried in 1989, this time to Larry Strickland, a member of the Palmetto State Quartet, and former backup singer for Elvis Presley.

Although Naomi Judd had achieved great success in music, and also found the love of her life, she experienced extreme episodes of depression that left her feeling suicidal. So she did what wise people do when they feel sick. She saw a Nashville area psychiatrist. The psychiatrist did what a lot of psychiatrists do, when it comes to treating depression. He put her on antidepressants. She went through a huge list of them, and at times, she was never properly tapered off before the next drug was tried. Her doctor also prescribed the anti-anxiety medication, Klonopin. I took Klonopin myself at one time. Fortunately, it did nothing for me, and I quit taking it with ease. A lot of people get addicted to Klonopin, and other benzodiazepines. Naomi did, as did Stevie Nicks. Both women said that the drug destroys creativity and ambition.

The psychiatric drugs, and their lack of efficacy, along with the lack of talk therapy, made Naomi’s situation worse. She eventually landed in a psychiatric hospital at Vanderbilt University to be weaned off of the psychiatric drugs using IV phenobarbital. That was the first of several stays at mental health facilities, to include the psych ward at UCLA, as well as some posh rehab centers. She describes these experiences as if they were all horrifying– even the really plush, luxurious psych hospital was oppressive and terrifying. Eventually, she was able to get treatment from Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, a renowned psychiatrist at Mass General, in Boston. However, it was in Boston that she had electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which used shock waves to improve. A lasting side effect from that treatment was the destruction of her ability to enjoy the taste of food. While ruining her sense of taste helped her lose weight, it also made one of her passions, cooking, a lot less enjoyable. She couldn’t even eat the treats she would make for others, because it all tasted “putrid”.

Still, Naomi Judd did find help when she discovered dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which is a technique discovered by psychologist, Marsha Linehan. Naomi explains how the technique helped to center her and improved her mental health. DBT is a technique that is often suggested for people who aren’t helped by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a well-known method for treating depression. As of 2016, Naomi did seem to be very edified by DBT. Unfortunately, we now know that the help she received from DBT was temporary. She never lost her urge to end her life.

Naomi also writes a lot about her family of origin. There was a lot of tragedy in her personal history, some of which came before she was even born. Some of her blood relatives were legitimately severely mentally ill, and more than a couple of folks were real criminals. Indeed, Naomi’s granddaughter, Grace Pauline Kelley, has done time in prison for drug offenses. As I read about Naomi’s grandmother, Edie Mae, who allegedly killed her husband, Howard (who had almost been killed by his own dad, when he was a child), I could definitely see a pattern.

Other people’s reactions to this book…

I took a look at the reviews on Amazon, to see what others thought of Naomi’s story about her mental illness. A lot of people wrote that they found River of Time “depressing”, and they described Naomi as engaging in a “pity party”. Some people wrote that they felt this book was a plea for attention.

Having now read River of Time, I guess I can understand why some people didn’t like the book. The truth is, Naomi’s life was depressing. She came from a family where there was a lot of mental illness and abuse. Naomi was sexually abused when she was very young, and she was not treated with love, consideration, or kindness when she was growing up. And so, it stands to reason that her true story is sad, and it should not be surprising to anyone that there are many depressing elements to Naomi’s life story. She had severe DEPRESSION, for God’s sake. What were people expecting? I do think that anyone who reads this book should NOT be expecting a chirpy book about how beautiful life is. That would be very disingenuous.

I mentioned earlier in this review that I can relate to Naomi’s story. My early years weren’t nearly as traumatic as hers were, by any stretch. But I grew up with an alcoholic father, as she did, and my father’s method of discipline was usually the corporal punishment kind. While I think my mom was more loving that Naomi’s was, she was somewhat cold and uninterested in me, especially when my dad was still alive. Mom is very different now, but when I was a kid, she was rather neglectful. And so, I could relate to Naomi’s yearning to have some acknowledgement from her parents, and other people in her family. I think that “pity party”, “whiny”, and “attention seeking” aspect of her writing that some people don’t like, was actually a facet of her illness. Her parents were, in part, responsible for the condition was was in… and make no mistake about it, it WAS a very real, physical, and mental illness that she couldn’t help. But at least she did TRY to get better, which is more than a lot of people can say. And she was fortunate enough to be able to consult some of the biggest and most successful people in the business. She was even friends with Maya Angelou.

I think the negative comments she got in Amazon reviews came from people who, bless their hearts, just don’t have a clue! They have not experienced depression themselves, so they don’t understand why Naomi, with all she had going for her in life, simply couldn’t snap out of it and be happy. They see her as selfish and self-indulgent, and don’t understand that she experienced real torment. Obviously, that torment was what led her to kill herself at age 76, even as she and Wynonna were about to be honored again. And no, she wasn’t the better singer in The Judds, but she was clearly a big part of the duo’s success. Wynonna was probably destined to be a star, but there’s no denying that her mom helped her on her way. I can understand why Naomi felt that she was left behind, and why that would be one of the many causes of her depression. On the other hand, she also accomplished a lot on her own, and somehow, those accomplishments evidently didn’t raise her opinion of herself, or her life.

Overall…

I’m glad I read River of Time. It is a sad book, and it does have the capability of being depressing, but to me, Naomi’s story felt authentic. I could relate so much to a lot of what she wrote. My heart went out to her, on more than a couple of occasions, and I even felt a little verklempt at times when I read this. I really wish that she could have conquered her demons, and enjoyed her life until its natural end. As we all know, that wasn’t to be. Depression CAN be deadly, though, and her story is a stark reminder of that verifiable fact. It’s easy for people to look at someone else’s life and think they have no reason to be sad, or to complain about anything. I would urge people not to make those kinds of judgments. When it comes down to it, you never know what kind of hell someone might be experiencing privately. Life is tough for most people… even famous, beautiful, talented, and rich people, like Naomi Judd was. I hope wherever her soul is now, she’s finally at peace.

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Duggars, Ex, narcissists, psychology, Trump

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…”

This morning, I’m reminded of the popular saying that serves as today’s post title. It’s a lesson we’ve learned again and again. The universe will give you opportunities to learn lessons. In our case, we have apparently needed to learn more about narcissists and narcissism. And we have had several teachers who have appeared. It’s only been recently that we’ve been learning the lessons and changing our approaches to dealing with these types of people.

Yesterday’s post turned out to be more popular than I was expecting it to be. I’m sure part of the reason it was so compelling is that it included a somewhat “sordid” true story. Even three years on from our last move, it still made me nervous to share that post. It occurs to me that some people might read my posts and think I’m just whining. Maybe I do “whine” more than I should. It would be nice to have more of a “get on with it” attitude about more things.

I have what Dr. Phil would call a “psychological sunburn” about certain issues. That means I’m unusually sensitive about some things. In my case, it’s dealing with abusive people. I’ve mentioned before that I feel “saturated”, especially when it comes to verbal abuse. I just can’t abide it anymore. I don’t willingly engage with people who are like that, and writing helps me process it. I realize it probably comes off as a little “off-kilter” to some people, although I also know that some people can relate and appreciate these posts. So I keep writing them.

Narcissism is a hot topic these days. Spend a few minutes on YouTube and you’ll find so many videos about narcissism and narcissistic people. Some people are as tired of hearing and reading about narcissism, as I am of hearing about the pandemic. I don’t know why others are so interested in narcissism, but I know I am, because I’ve spent a lifetime being subjected to the general fuckery that can come from being around abusive and exploitative people. It’s a lot to unpack.

The first time I ever heard the term “narcissism” was when I was a senior in high school. I was taking a psychology class, and my teacher was the kind who loved to show “made for TV” movies to demonstrate certain psychological disorders. We watched the 1989 film Small Sacrifices, which starred Farrah Fawcett and was based on true crime writer Ann Rule’s excellent book. Fawcett portrayed Diane Downs, a woman who shot her own children and then claimed that she was carjacked. I remember my teacher saying that Downs had narcissistic personality disorder.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. I was seventeen years old and really didn’t know a lot about the world. Hell, at that time, I didn’t even realize that my father was an alcoholic, even though it was pretty obvious. I was used to seeing him drink excessively, and was accustomed to the erratic and sometimes scary behavior that resulted from his drinking, PTSD, and depression.

It never occurred to me that, years later, I would marry a man whose ex wife was extremely narcissistic, or even that her shockingly abusive behavior, as egregiously selfish and damaging as it was, would be something that a couple of my friends would also experience with people in their lives. I started to look around and realized that I was seeing narcissism all over the place.

When I started to realize how common and pervasive narcissistic behavior seemed to be, I wondered if maybe I was imagining it. Like, maybe I was akin to a physician in training with a little knowledge, suddenly seeing the signs and symptoms of a disease I’d just learned about in a class. I do have degrees in social work and public health, but narcissism isn’t something we necessarily learned about in school, except when I took an undergraduate course in abnormal psychology. I did very well in that class, but I am certainly no expert.

I started learning a lot more about NPD years ago, when I watched my husband’s ex wife treat my husband like literal shit. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the disrespect she showed toward him and his family, and ultimately, her children. I couldn’t believe her nerve. I was very surprised that so many people let her get away with the things they let her get away with, like denying Bill access to his children and telling outrageous lies about him to everyone, including his own parents and the children. Then I learned more about the physical and sexual abuse that occurred, and saw the proof of it.

I knew there had to be something very wrong with Ex, because her “reasons” for her actions didn’t make any sense to me. They did not fit the man that I knew, and have now known, for over twenty years. She made claims that he hates women and was abusive to her. And yet he has never as much as raised his voice to me, let alone a hand. He’s literally one of the kindest, most gentle, and agreeable people I’ve ever met, in spite of his long career as a soldier.

At first, I thought maybe Ex had borderline personality disorder. I read a lot about it and realized that her behavior ticked a lot of the boxes. But people with BPD are usually somewhat treatable, if they realize they have a problem and want to get help, and they aren’t as cruel as Ex is. Ex has been hospitalized on a few occasions, and I’ve seen her spouting off about dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which is a treatment used for people with BPD. However, her behavior doesn’t seem to change, and there are still many signs that she’s got other issues– namely with narcissism. I have studied narcissism for years, and I am convinced that’s her main problem, at least at this point in her life.

Of course, it’s also certainly possible that she has both disorders. Sometimes cluster B personality disorders do overlap. Or maybe she’s got another problem entirely. I can only guess, based on what I’ve witnessed, heard about, and experienced in my years with Bill, and my own educational pursuits.

All I know is that when I started to read about narcissistic personality disorder, Ex’s behavior started to make a lot more sense, and was much less shocking. In fact, once I learned about personality disorders in general, Ex started to become more predictable. While it was still terrible to observe, and awful for my husband, who was denied contact with his daughters, there was something almost comforting in knowing that it wasn’t just our imagination that she was so incredibly controlling, and shamelessly self-centered and hurtful. Indeed, later when Bill started talking to his daughter, she confirmed that she was treated as badly as he was. Younger daughter recently announced that she’s expecting another baby. She wrote that she was much more nervous about telling her mother than telling Bill. Bill always reacts with kindness. Ex doesn’t.

Some might wonder why I write so much about Ex. To that question, I can only answer that it helps me process and unpack. People often assume she’s a normal person and I’m the problem. I would like to ask people who automatically assume that I’m the problem, to stop and think about what they would think, and how they would feel, if they were married to someone who was DENIED access to their own children by the other parent. I would expect a loving parent to want the other parent to be involved, if only for the sake of the children, who deserve to have access to their parents and should not be saddled with an unnecessary stigma of being the child of an abuser.

If there was a legitimate reason for the other parent to be denied access, there should have been documentation as to why that was necessary. But in Ex’s case, she was apparently married to two men who were not fit to be fathers to their children. She denied her first husband access to their son, and only helped them reunite when it suited her toxic agenda. She did it solely to be cruel and punitive to Bill, who was asserting himself because his former stepson was quite obviously using him for money. When Bill busted the young man for hiding the fact that he was changing his name and didn’t bother to tell Bill, but kept accepting child support from him (at age 21, no less), Ex suddenly decided that the young man should be in contact with the man she claimed was “crazy” and “abusive”. And now we know she said the same things about Bill, although as his second wife, I can attest that he’s not the one who is “crazy” and “abusive”.

Once I learned more about narcissism, I found out that a lot of people are dealing with narcissists in their lives. I wonder how that is possible, since it’s supposedly a “personality disorder”. But then I realized that one doesn’t have to have NPD to exhibit those behaviors on occasion. Narcissism seems to be an epidemic in western society. In fact, it seems to be somewhat celebrated and even normalized in American culture. Obviously narcissistic people are the ones who often end up being “stars”. They often have powerful jobs and lots of prestige, or they have a lot of money. But then you look at their personal lives, and examine things they’ve done to get ahead, and you realize they aren’t people you’d necessarily want to know.

Donald Trump, to my mind, is a VERY obvious grandiose and malignant narcissist. He’s had a string of unfaithful marriages and business failures. So many people who have been associated with him have ended up in trouble with the law, ranging from his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to people who invaded the Capitol building last January. There are many stories of him abusing women and being racist. He doesn’t seem to care beyond the superficial for anyone, except maybe his daughter, Ivanka, whom he’s said he would like to date. He’s been friends with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, as well as Steve Bannon. And yet, we made him President of the United States, and many people– some of whom I consider decent and basically intelligent– are still fooled by his icky, superficial and totally fake charm. They see his selfishness and crazy behavior as strengths.

It was my husband’s ex wife who made me realize how dangerous Trump is. Once I started studying narcissists and saw how these people put on public faces, but are toxic nightmares behind closed doors, I realized how terrible Trump as a leader is. And then I saw the proof of it in the aftermath of the 2020 election, which thank GOD he lost. I only hope that he can’t run again, because I’m not altogether sure he wouldn’t win. And if he wins, God help us all, because he would have no reason whatsoever to curb his behavior. He wouldn’t be able to run for another term and would be even closer to the end of his life, anyway.

But Trump is an extreme example of a narcissist. The truth is, they’re everywhere, and that’s why so many people are obsessively reading about them and watching videos about their behavior. Most of them don’t reach the terrible extremes of Trump. Most are probably not even as extreme as Ex is. I would say most narcissists are mainly just what we’d call inconsiderate assholes. They aren’t necessarily dangerous, but they are very unpleasant and toxic to be around. Some go to more extreme lengths and are incredibly dangerous and harmful, particularly to innocent people.

I look at Josh Duggar, whose trial is set to begin tomorrow. This is a man who was lecturing the masses about family values several years ago, as he was meeting and brutalizing a sex worker, cheating on his wife, and apparently, viewing illegal pornographic images. I have never met Josh Duggar, but he definitely has a lot of the signs of NPD, and he’s been raised in a culture where his selfish, destructive, abusive behavior is tolerated and even celebrated.

Meanwhile, since he’s been caught with illegal images that were described as the “worst of the worst” that experienced investigators have ever seen, Josh and his equally narcissistic father, Jim Bob, have been doing everything they can to get out of being held accountable for this behavior. Hell, Jim Bob is even running for public office again, even though his son is probably about to go to prison. Go figure that decision, except that Jim Bob is also extremely controlling and self-centered. Why should we care about these people? By all rights, we shouldn’t, but their story is compelling, because they have that yucky charisma and charm that a lot of narcissists have. I only hope that this time, they finally get held accountable for the things they do.

I come by my fascination with narcissism honestly, because it has affected me personally. I know that I’m not alone. I really think our culture has a lot to do with why this issue is so prevalent. Sadly, narcissists really hurt people, and they cause damage that is not easy to overcome. Whether it’s dealing with an abusive ex spouse who uses children and other people to maintain control, or it’s just a boss or a landlord who lives to make someone’s life hell, or it’s a person who is running the country and refusing to play fair, narcissists do a lot of harm to decent people. And I think the high number of books, videos, and blog posts about this subject only show that many students are ready, so the teachers have appeared.

Now… I’m going to dive back into my latest book by Les Carter, and I hope tomorrow, there will be a fresh book review. I’ve got several new books that I’m dying to start reading, but I can’t tackle them the way I used to. I hope everyone has a great Monday.

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