Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Madness Chocolate Ice Cream

This is a new meme started by Shah atWords in Sync.  For those of us that have a mental illness or our caretakers or partners or family members.

I thought I'd share a little humiliation I endured as a child and actually well into adulthood at the hands (not literally) of my uncle who suffers from Bipolar Disorder.  His way of feeling better was to put people down and I'm not sure why he chose me, perhaps I was the weakest link.  I was the most sensitive.  I swear I'd be richer than Bill Gates if I had even a penny for how many times I'd been told I was "too sensitive".  Anyone else?  Because I cried so easily.  No one knew how deeply depressed I was and how much I thought of checking out of this nightmare called life.  No one cared.  I was taught to put on a smile and keep all the rest inside.

So every birthday (there were at least eight a year) Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July, Mother's Day, Father's Day, any excuse at least once a month and more if there was a birthday or holiday in it, I was subject to his belittling.  It always started with, "Did I ever tell you about the time when Heather got chocolate ice cream in her shoes?"  That was the whole story.  I was probably four at the time it happened.  I never defended myself by explaining how the ice cream melted and dripped down my arms and onto my legs then down them into my shoes.  I just crawled deeper into my shell and got embarrassed first at the attention and then at the imperfection that was me.  I was the only one that got chocolate ice cream in my shoes.  The thing was, that wasn't the only story like that.  There were were others and he told them every chance he got, in front of new people, in front of boyfriends, new friends any way to embarrass me.  And I don't know why.  I loved him better than my own father.  Yet he hurt and embarrassed me constantly.  He and I share the same disorder.  I've helped him with his medications when he's told me some symptoms he was having I suggested his medication might be doing it and he stopped it and it helped.

Now days, he's slowly sliding into dementia and the stories don't come up.  Now when I'm strong enough to say, "That's not how I remember it.  I remember licking a chocolate ice cream cone that melted down my arms and dripped on my knees.  And with gravity it naturally dripped from my knees down my legs into my shoes.  What did I care?  I was four.  I was just enjoying my chocolate ice cream.  What else did you want me to do?"  But now, I get trapped by him as he tells me I can use his property in Virginia anytime I want, that they built it for me and my sister too.  Not just for his son and daughter.  And he talks in fatalistic terms as if this will be the last time I see him.  And it takes his son in law and son to rescue me from his still firm grasp as I wipe my eyes and they explain to me how much vodka and wine he's had.

Once again, he makes me feel little and small and trapped.  He can throw me into depression faster than a bottle of wine and a migraine.  He breaks me down every time I see him.  So what does this have to do with mental illness?  To show you two different sides of it, the sufferer and the watcher.  I am both in this situation and both parts hurt.  I would take the belittling again not to see him not battered down by his disease.  Is that what I'll look like at his age?  Will my mind be so ravaged  by the medication that I'll have dementia?

I wish I was four with chocolate ice cream dripping down my arms and legs and running into my shoes and not a care in the world.

Friday, February 11, 2011


I bet this little girl or is it a boy had dreams.  I wonder what they did to make, let's just say her, stand still long enough to get this picture?  How does the velvet feel under her tiny little fingers?  Is it bumpy where the designs are?  Is that why she seems to have moved her hand just above the swirl of the paisley so she's not touching it?  Is her collar starched so stiff that it makes her neck itch  and she's dying to rip it off?  What are they tempting her with?  Or are they threatening her?  That's not exactly an exuberant smile on her face.  It's more like a straight line curved neither up nor down.  Is she thinking about where she'd rather be right then?  Where?  Playing down the hall with her brothers?  Bouncing on the chair in her bare feet?  Or somewhere far away from the camera and the people trying to make her smile.  Somewhere that exists only in her mind.  Somewhere they cannot take from her.  Where her fingers do not rest on bumpy velvet.  Her starched collar does not itch and they do not threaten or cajole.  She is silent and alone and the smile she gives is to her self and it is genuine.  And she can dream.

Weekend Creation Blog Hop #3

Better late than never I always say!  So I'm not feeling sorry for myself any more and I am going to create a piece on another post.  Just wanted to say I'm joining in today!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Buried Dreams

It's time to let go of a few things that I know will never happen in my life.  One, my lifetime dream, is that of being a published author.  My words are bland.  My phrases unoriginal.  Even I'm bored reading them.  My imagination has finally been eaten away.  The drugs have won.  I am no longer creative.  I can only read the products of other people's imagination.  So, I'm burying this dream before it eats away at my soul too.  I have lived with this dream since I was nine.  I have lived with this disease since I was nine.  The disease has won.  But not because it has reared its ugly head or controlled my life.  No, because in controlling it, I've lost the ability to dream.  I've lost my creativity.

I know.  I know.  Creativity and mental illness go hand and hand.  That's only if you aren't medicated to the point that you can't walk a straight line.  You can't get out of bed until after noon.  You can't hold a job.  It's enough to make me want to stop taking the damn pills, but I remember standing in Wal-Mart and not remembering what I was there for.  I remember filling a shopping cart full of shit we didn't need only to have my husband  return it all.  I remember buying expensive cameras and furniture and always, my husband would have to take it back.  I remember waking at 5 am because I'd just gone to sleep at 3 am and the baby needed to be fed and I was so angry at him for waking me up.  I remember keeping the shades closed tight and the doors locked to make sure we were safe.  I wanted to be the perfect mom, but I couldn't handle being a mom.  It pushed me over the edge when previously I'd just been looking over for a view of the abyss.  That crash made me a monster.  I see her in the mirror when I look and I still haven't stopped apologizing to my kids, making sure they know it was never about them and always about me.  But the pills, the drugs, they killed that monster.  She only shows shadows of her former self.  It's like a mirror image of herself.  Not the real thing where she stayed for days.  She makes a flash appearance and feels immediate remorse and is gone.  And that's because of the drugs.  So, for my family, for my sanity, for my life, I'm giving up my dream.  I'll never be a published writer.  The story in me.  It will have to come out in another lifetime.  Preferably one where I don't have to medicate myself.

I read a Q and A in the back of a book and the author was asked something to the effect if they had to choose their sanity and their creativity, which would they choose?  They chose creativity.  It's an obvious choice, if you haven't felt the insanity.  If you haven't functioned for five days without sleep because you can't.  Because you had to write this novel.  And you wouldn't choose it if you knew there was a big gaping black dark hole waiting to swallow you up for the next six months so that you did nothing but read the same novel over and over and didn't remember it.  That you only lived in a tiny corner of your room, your bed.  That you hated your family, but you really hated yourself more.  That ugly, dirty, hate, and other dark words like suicide and kill and overdose went through your head daily swirling like a whirlpool in your mind with the words of the novel you've read at least a hundred times.  And you don't remember anymore what's real and what isn't because you haven't slept for days or you've slept for weeks and cried so much that your eyes are swollen shut and your mother just doesn't understand what your crying about and you cry more because she doesn't understand, that's just it.  There is nothing to cry about and yet you can't stop.  You have everything you could possibly need, but you still cry.  And if you could stop crying, you would.  If you could fake smile like you have for the past thirty eight years you would, but once a name was put to it.  Once someone said "mental illness"  and gave validity to the feelings that everyone told you were normal that everyone felt, you had to let them out.  You weren't "too sensitive".  It wasn't that you couldn't feel happiness, you just didn't feel it as often as others because you were generally feeling depressed.  And all those unfinished projects....results of your mania, there would be more.  Except for the pills.

And so I let it go.  I will remove it from my profile.  I know how hard it is to become published, but when you've got so much working against you instead of for you, it just isn't going to happen.  When you can't even write a single original sentence, it's not gonna happen.  But I have my books.  They've always been my friends.  And it's why I don't let them go.  Why I hang onto the ones I love so much.  It helps my memory.  It's another thing the pills take away from me.  Memory, creativity, imagination, dreams.  I can have tangible dreams.  I won't be able to fly that plane.  I think I have to walk that straight line and not see double and triple.  I doubt I'll be able to ski or snowboard.  Again the balance thing.  I'm feeling the glass is half empty right now.  I'll look for the silver lining another day.  Let me have my pity party.  I've been picking fights on the blogosphere.  That isn't like me.  I stay away from confrontations.

I think as I've been reading this book I've been reading, it's been showing me  the reality of what I won't be able to do.  What I must accept if I am to continue to stay on my medication.  There will be no books.  No artwork.  Nothing creative.  Because yes, for some of the greatest intellectuals and artists ever known, they had mental illnesses, but somehow, they lived with theirs and were able to have their creativity.  I can't have both.  I choose to be sane, even if it means the end of all the things I've dreamed of being.  Even if it means proving my mother and my dead father right.  I lose either way.  And the disease wins either way.  I give.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Out of The Corners of My Eyes

Often, as I sit reading or writing, I see things out of the corners of my eyes.  Most often it's people that aren't really there.  I don't know if I'm slowly going crazy or if I'm becoming a part of one of the many novels I'm writing or maybe I'm just a victim of my overactive imagination.  Or maybe there's more to it than that.  Maybe all the medication has taken over and I'm just a pawn in the side effects of their hands.  Today, Mr. T has decided to make it so I can't stand up straight and makes me walk like a drunk unless I hold onto a wall or a piece of furniture.  The combination of Mr. T., Ms. S, the two C's and not enough rest night before last ensure that I slept until noon today.  And the corners of my eyes see mice and dogs we don't own and I sink down in my bed. 

I haven't gotten used to this new house.  We aren't friends.  We are strangers still after a year and a half.  I don't respect it.  I cannot make it mine because it doesn't belong to me.  Therefore I don't know it's creaks and cracks.  The sounds of the heat coming on.  The sound of snow falling off in heaps like slabs of  concrete off the roof.  I don't understand the moths I think I see out of the corners of my eyes.  Sometimes they really are there.  But they aren't the scariest thing I've seen.  They aren't the scariest thing I've faced.

The worst is the one I face head on in the mirror every day.  That stranger that is me, but I don't know.  My hair is dark, with a few gray squiggles sticking up.  I have to wear glasses and the scars from the surgery are prominent still.  But that is not what bothers me.  It's the eyes.  They are the eyes of someone who has accepted defeat.  I am beaten.  Mr. and Ms. Side Effect have won.  They have drained the living out of my life.  I exist.  I take up space.  I see the world from the corners of my eyes.  And that's how I live it, from the corners.



It was the first day of fourth grade and my best friend was late.  We always walked the three suburban blocks to school back in the days when it was safe to let your kids walk to school by themselves.  I paced in my driveway waiting for her to appear at the corner where we met.  I smoothed my dress my mother had sewn for me, special for this day.  I knew Jody and I weren't in the same class and my cousin didn't have the same teacher either.  Secretly I was relieved.  It was my turn to see who I really was and what I was capable of instead of standing behind them and letting them shine.  Finally I saw her dad turn the corner and he pulled into the driveway.  "Dad's driving us, I couldn't figure out what to wear."  I scrambled in and shut the door saying, "Good Morning Dad Kringle."  That's how close Jody and I were.  I didn't say Mr. and Mrs. to her parents.  They were Mom and Dad Kringle.  My parents however were Mr. and Mrs. Marshall.  In the thirty five years Jody and I were best friends, not once did that ever change.  Neither did her tardiness nor my promptness.

In my house, my clothes were always laid out the night before.  My books were on the desk ready for me to pick up on the way out the door.  My lunch was packed, only my sandwich to be grabbed out of the refrigerator to complete it.  This made morning run smoothly at our house.  Tranquility was treasured at our house.  Don't upset your father was the motto.  So I got extremely anxious to the point of nauseau when Jody was late for school.  I didn't want to upset my father even though he was already at work and had been for two hours.  And my mother was at home and could have easily taken me to school.  She was just relieved to have me out the door.  No kids.  Had she been given the chance to do it over again, I think she would have looked at the inability to give birth as a blessing from above and kept working.  She didn't enjoy motherhood and nurturing wasn't in her nature.

Finally on our way to school I noticed the school patrol had already left their crossing posts and the crossing guard had already left.  I was going to be late on the first day of school.  I couldn't help but resent Jody.  She was always late.  Couldn't she be ready on time just this once?  We got dropped off on the first bell.  We had one more bell before we were officially tardy.  I thanked Jody's dad and didn't even speak to her as I rushed to my class.  The only seats left were in the very front, but I didn't mind.  I liked to be up front so I wouldn't be mistaken for getting into trouble that always happened in the back of the room.  This was the first time I would be in an air conditioned room.  Slowly the PTA was working towards raising the funds to air condition each of the rooms in the school.  It was Northeast Florida and it was sweltering for most of the months of school.  I tucked my lunch box under my desk and put my notebook filled with notebook paper and my pencil box under my desk.  Back then the school provided crayons and pretty much anything else we needed.

Our teacher was named Ms. Johnson, a thin friendly looking woman and back then we would have called her black.  She was very light skinned.  She had curly hair that framed her face and a soft voice that made you listen.  This was only the third year of desegregation and I wondered how far she'd had to drive to get to my school in the all white neighborhoods my school was in.  I wondered how she felt looking at a sea of white faces with maybe two black faces looking back at her.  There certainly were no Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Arab or any other nationality represented in our school.  The closest we had come was a French boy all the girls had a crush on in the third grade who had moved back to France in the middle of the year.  Where did they go to school?  I think maybe one bus load of black students were bussed over from the other side of town, from their friends and families to go to a school where they knew no one.  I don't remember having any black friends until fifth grade, but they were very loyal, protecting me from the other black girls that wanted to beat me up for no apparent reason!

But back to Ms. Johnson.  I liked her immediately, until she started calling girls up to her and whispering things to them.  They would go back to their seats, holding a secret that Ms. Johnson told them, that I didn't know.  I wanted in on the secret.  But at the same time, I liked to fly under the radar.  I didn't like to bring attention to myself.  The motto of    "Don't upset your father" carried over to school as well.  "Don't upset the teacher" was just an extension of that motto.  Because if she got upset enough and called home, the "Don't upset you father" was out the door.  And if you upset father, it wasn't pretty.  He may have wanted children, I'm not really sure which one wanted to adopt, I just know the preacher told them something like those who can't adopt after ten years of trying.  But, he didn't want children that made noise, upset him or were visible when he didn't want them to be.  And he didn't want them to have opinions.  But that's another story.

So, I was torn.  I wanted in on the secret.  I wanted to belong to the club.  I wanted the teacher to like me enough and trust me, think I was reliable enough to share the secret with, but it warred with the part of me that needed to be invisible.  In the end, I didn't get to make the decision, Ms Johnson did.  She motioned me up to her stool, a bar stool she sat on to instruct us.  Then she whispered me the sacred secret that would make me part of the club, "Young ladies sit with their legs together so their panties don't show.  Try to remember."  Mortified, I nodded and slithered back in my seat with my thighs glued together.  Yeah, I was part of the club, the show the boys your panties club and I hadn't even known it.  But when I looked up she gave me a smile and a reassuring wink when she saw my eyes brimming with tears.  And just like that, I knew I hadn't ruined anything with her.  She didn't think any less of me.  I hadn't  "upset the teacher".  It was okay.

Throughout that year, Ms Johnson gave me enough encouragement to develop a love of writing and to overcome some of what was happening at home.  I never told her about home, but she seemed to have a sixth sense.  She never missed an opportunity to make me feel special.  She let me design the bulletin boards while the other kids were still working because I finished all my work early.  She would single my writing out to read as an example of excellent creative writing, but she never used my name, because she knew I'd be embarrassed.  When a new student showed up with type one diabetes, I was given the assignment of getting sugar cubes for her when she needed them.  For some reason, it was a big secret that she had diabetes, but they trusted me enough with this secret to give me this life saving duty.  Only now do I know the importance of this job.  Ms. Johnson gave me the confidence to speak out in class, to write in a journal and to write poetry. 

Ms Johnson also kept me alive.  That was the year I first thought of suicide.  Although I didn't know the word, I knew I was extremely depressed.  I wanted to melt into the picnic table I sat on writing poetry.  I wanted to be the wind in the trees.  I wanted to be anything but what I was.  My family did not understand me.  Of course they didn't.  I was a product of another family so dissimilar to them and they never tried.  They wanted me to be like them.  But if ever there was a case for nature versus nurture it was me.  I cried a lot, got my feelings hurt a lot, felt everything deeply.  And their answer was, "You're too sensitive."  I was rarely happy, but I was always smiling because I didn't want to "upset your father".  The only time I thought I might be differnet from everyone else was when I was told "You're too sensitive."  But I wondered if other fourth graders wanted to die.  Did they care if tomorrow didn't come?  Did they feel like there was nothing in their life to look forward to, to get up for?  Ms. Johnson gave me a reason to keep going.  She gave me poetry and writing and a feeling that I was special.  That not only did I belong on the same step on that ladder but I might belong on the next step up. (See previous post Illegitimate).

I wish I could see her now and tell her what she did for me.  I can't even remember her first name and she was only there that one year.  But she gave me permission to be creative and told me I was good at it.  And she nurtured it when I needed it most.  When my parents didn't have the ability to nurture.  I know where I came from now.  And yes, it's a very emotional place and I definitely got my mental illness from her.  But I got my empathy and compassion from her.  I got my love of animals and need to help others from her.  I got my love of reading and writing from her.  But unfortunately, she's still sixteen letting go of a baby she couldn't raise and I was thirty three when I met her with a two year old.  But I know I'm not "Too Sensitive" anymore and I'll slap those words right out of your mouth if you say it about my kids.  No one took up for me as a child, but I will take up for them.  But they're cut from the same cloth.  They might have gotten my bipolar disease, but they are also compassionate, empathetic, loving  and sensitive and no one can tell me this world doesn't need more of that in this world.  Before I was ever diagnosed as having bipolar disorder I had a therapist tell me that she thought it was wonderful that I was so sensitive.  She told me the world would be a much better place with more sensitive people.  And like Ms. Johnson, she made me feel special again, able to hold my head up through the shame of mental illness and realize that there were some things that were good about being bipolar.  Being sensitive is one of them.  I can read the emotions of a room in five seconds flat when I enter it.  It's how I survived, "Don't upset your father," as a child.  So thank you Ms. Johnson.  I know you had to drive probably an hour in rush hour traffic to get to Holiday Hills Elementary School but for that one year, you made a huge difference in my life.  You're one of the many reasons I'm here today to write this.  I'm sure you had an impact on plenty of students.  And thanks for getting that staple out of my finger!