Category Archives: Mental Disorders

ISBN: 978-0-9571859-9-9

winter/windows by Shana Youngdahl & MIEL press

winter/windows by Shana Youngdahl & MIEL press

I always make fun of poets. First of all it’s easy. How dare those sentimental bastards walk around this world making us think about really deep stuff? Like this chick, Shana Youngdahl  and her chapbook winter/windows published by MIEL press.

Maybe I shouldn’t joke about poets because so very many of them know where I live. Sometimes I imagine them sneaking around my house in spy regalia, peering into windows, waiting like cats for the perfect moment to strike…

That’s when I know it’s time to get going on a new short story wherein I make fun of poets. I guess you could say my personal brand of humor always stems from a place of respect. They can say in less than ten words what it takes me to say in 140,000. They capture the smallest of moments that pierce your heart the way a photograph or song or painting can. Instantly.

Sometimes when I think of writers, I think of the stages we go through. First being that overly sentimental, overly wrought, angst driven, stage one where everything we write is heartfelt and dear. Second stage: experimentation. We get caught in the craft, the tinkering, upping the pen with new techniques and tricks. We cut and edit over half or more of the hard, close to our heart sentences and try to leave readers with a ghost of what we felt, so that it may haunt them as it haunts us. Third stage: releasing work into the wild. Here is where the heart and earnestness has a danger of getting edited out altogether, driven by a market that perhaps wants a faster paced novel or scandalous scenes or something more trendy and salable. If writers aren’t careful they can lose sight of their young unknowing self in this stage, that place where passion and need drove the work. Paying bills is not the same as emptying a heart.

In winter/windows, SY finds a perfect blend of each stage of the writer, paying homage to the beginning writer, balanced with technique, and getting it into a beautiful package by MIEL publishing.

As SY writes it best in an excerpt from the poem windows:

 

…..Please,

when you pass through the glass

 

and into the darkness beyond my sight

don’t forget the thumbprints

you left on me.”

 

Who wouldn’t be jealous of lines like that? She deserves to be made fun of in at least twelve stories. And it made it into the salable world, not by being compromised, but by being made even more beautiful in a limited edition hand-made book and a sweet talking editor at AWP.

I’m a fan of small presses because rarely do they change an artist’s vision. It seems like these houses always try their hardest to rally behind your work with as much love and enthusiasm as you had for it when it was a first draft. MIEL’s mission statement is a testament to this, “to publish difficult, interesting, intelligent, deeply felt work by writers and artists, with a focus on work by women.”

Can I get a hell yeah?

This book, and those damn poets in general, got me to thinking about the small things, the overlooked things. I’m in the nesting phase of pregnancy, already past my due date, scrambling around the house organizing cabinets, writing thank yous for all the love and support of friends and family, finishing the touches on the nursery, picking out going home outfits, and preparing ‘en general.’

Part of the preparations includes thinking about adult matters. Unfun matters none of us like to think of: healthcare, insurance, and wills.

First on my docket, was updating my Health Care Directive (HCD) should anything happen to me.

Everyone ought to have a HCD. They spare family members and friends from having to make those hard moral and ethical decisions in a time where all anyone wants is for you to get back to normal. Stress runs high in these critical times; it’s guaranteed the people in your life may not agree with decisions made upon your behalf.

During my first reality juncture, Husband had to fight extremely hard to convince doctors of a medication regimen that I would approve of if I were of a sound mind. He also had to face relatives that wanted notification of my condition sooner, but due to stigmas surrounding the topic, chose to wait for me to make that decision when I was of sound mind. He came through like a champ, thinking and acting exactly as I would have, and still took the sound advice of friends on when to admit I needed to go to the ER.

All of this was done on the fly, without my wishes in writing, and I thought, it’s bad enough for my family to go through reality junctures, why not take away as much of the problem as I can when I’m “sane.”

Even if you aren’t mentally ill, a HCD is a good idea. It covers the basics: when to pull the plug, how you’d want surgeries to go down if you were clean out of it. Anyone can get into a car wreck. Anyone can find themselves with cancer.

This is a link to the Minnesota Advanced Psychiatric Directive And Health Care Directive.

I recommend filling one out and updating it periodically. These legal documents are different depending on where you live. If you aren’t a Minnesota resident, a simple Google search (Advance Psychiatric Care Directive + residential state) can turn up the right form for you. In Minnesota, law requires that you + 2 witnesses sign the document. If you have the money, contacting a lawyer is an option to get it official and all legal like.

Maybe I’m an overachiever when it comes to this stuff, but I also like this form  (download from top left hand corner of page) by Mary Ellen Copland.

I don’t intend on this form being legal – I like it because it offers me the chance to task my personal support group (friends and family) with the little things, “can someone bring me a puzzle with kittens playing with string with jumbo sized pieces when I’m in recovery and can barely read or comprehend a sentence?” Or more importantly, signs to look for that can help me avoid getting into a crisis to begin with.

I E-mailed my support group the forms and then directed them to where I keep legal copies. As a writer, I made them as funny as possible, because well, they’re not fun to read. It’s important to me to give my supporters hope and remind them that I won’t always believe radio-active monkeys are coming to get me in my sleep.

Throughout the process, I kept thinking about how fortunate I am to have such a large support group. This is not always the case for those dealing with mental health issues. I kept thinking of someone like my mom, who has a kind partner to take care of her, but if she were on her own, she’d likely not have a huge group of friends or coworkers because she is on disability.

What if you’re a bit of a shut in? What if you’ve had a falling out with family or never had much family to begin with? What then?

Your doctor’s office may keep these forms for you on file. If you don’t have a regular doctor or are in-between doctors, (sometimes it happens) hopefully you’re still getting the medication you need. If you have a relationship with your pharmacist, it’s worth asking if they can keep it on hand for you. Be considerate to the person you’re asking to hold the form. Community pharmacists are busy – they’re the only health care professional you can see without an appointment. I think people often forget they hold a doctorate degree. Try to stop by during a non-rush hour time. Have a landlord? Tell them where you keep the document, should crisis arise. They likely go into your apartment for repairs from time to time. Maybe they wouldn’t mind retrieving the forms for you should you need them.

Perhaps part of your crisis plan is to stop in at your local police station to ask them to note somewhere in your file that you have a mental illness. I don’t know if they’d be interested in holding your form unless maybe you have a criminal record and you kindly explain you’re trying to get your life together. Letting them have the heads up on your situation if, unfortunately, they’re called to your residence, is a good thing. Mental illness symptoms can often be mistaken for substance abuse symptoms, and more and more officers are being trained to know how to respond to a mental health call. Perhaps they’d dispatch an officer with more experience for the situation.

All of these things are suggestions. It’s important to keep in mind that community members are busy, busy folk. Restrictions might keep them from holding records or making notes due to bizarre policies in your area. Don’t get discouraged. The point is you are in control of your health care, and more often than not, people want to help you with that.

Writing the HCD got me thinking about what would happen to my creative work should I happen to expire. It’s a realistic thought, seeing how depression can be a fatal disease and the world, heck your body, is full of ways to end you.

No one wants to think this stuff. No one except, Neil Gaiman. He posted a compelling article on his blog why a writer or any creative type may want to have a will made with special attentions going to their work. This article is found here.

And the downloadable sample will here .

I don’t have hundreds of books (yet), but what I did create is important to me. I want it taken care of properly when I’m gone. This way there’ll be no squabbling over who gets to sell the rights to my epic life movie! (We all know I’ll be famous someday…)

Okay, okay. Enough with all this Debbie Downer adult business. Now on to something more uplifting: I finally have an ISBN to call my own.

That’s right.

I published with Red Bird Chapbooks.

It’s titled, Tree In Winter, and was a visual collaboration with an amazing painter and friend of mine, Susan Solomon. One fine summer afternoon, she and I had lunch and the topic of her painting some of my stories came up. I love her work, so it was a no brainer to collaborate with her. She suggested Red Bird Chapbooks as a possible home for the book and knowing their objective: “to showcase the art and writing of as many people as possible,” I was down. I took a month and pounded out a story for her with Red Bird in mind. Soon into the first draft, it became clear to me that the story was more than just another story: it was a gift.

All proceeds go to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Purchased the book here.

Even if you don’t want to buy my super-amazing-most-fantastic-creation made for a worthy cause, spin around their website. There’s plenty of other super-amazing-most-fantastic writers on there. Plus, they sell pretty broadsides and pamphlets by more sentimental bastards.

So, like any good bird, I’m off to do more nesting. The next time I’m back I’ll have hatched a mechanical human of my own.

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Life, Literature, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, Poetry, pregnancy, Writing

PART V OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

NINE MONTHS AND COUNTING

The double standard of tears:

If a woman cries in public and has a fat stomach people instantly get it. They warm up to her and insist on sharing how Hallmark cards and commercials get them weepy, too. They are all too understanding of her out of control hormones. Our society thinks it’s cute to poke fun at pregnant women and their seemingly irrational tears.

But mental illness? It’s suddenly not cute or okay if you spontaneously leak for no reason. When that happens, you’re told you’re not normal and you need more medication.

Well, with this pregnancy I am prone to leaking. For no reason at all! I was walking down a long Chicago block, admiring Lincoln Park’s architecture (Is that a gargoyle or a grotesque?) when the tears came. Architecture doesn’t make me sad. And it’s not like it moves me with utter beauty. Later, writing a short story in a coffee shop and hitting the perfect ending the tears came again. WTF?

Crying in public is never gonna get any easier. But I will admit, it’s nice to have an excuse people understand. It’s nice to not be chastised for not trying hard enough or be made to feel like you could suddenly turn the leaky faucet off.

Before I left for Chicago, I stopped off to see my jeweler at the antique mall. My wedding ring stopped fitting me and I needed a replacement band. I consider the jeweler a friend, so I told her I was pregnant immediately following up with how I felt unsure about it. She did not miss a beat.

C: When I found out I was pregnant I hid it for a long time. I wanted to work on my career and I couldn’t accept it. It’s okay to feel the way you do.

Later, after I left the store she sent me a text: It was good to see you. Congratulations on finishing your book.

Yes! Finally! Thank you! Someone who knows I am still me and not just pregnant. Someone who doesn’t look at me with pity or anger. Someone who got it.

It terrified me to tell another good friend about the situation, being that she was undergoing IVF treatments to have her own children and the process had been rough. I felt absolutely criminal to have this fetus and consider giving it away when she wanted one so badly for her own. But she was one of the people who unexpectedly touched my stomach and sent me bursting into tears, so we had to talk about it.

She was real and upfront about parenthood as her first child has Downs. She was the first person to tell me that motherhood was complex, that while she loved her child, she didn’t love the Downs, and did that mean she didn’t love him wholly and fully for who he was because without Downs he would be someone else? Motherhood wasn’t easy.

She’s a therapist. So, she has some holy type of understanding of others, some strange ability to put her feelings and situation aside and give clear facts based on experience. She also reads a lot of childhood development books.

After that horrible fight with my best friend,* I got the chance to spend another long afternoon lunch with one of my New Age aunts. Her hundred pound Rottweiler rescue dog greeted me at the door, and before I made it to the kitchen, she told the story of all seventeen million stray cats that lived in her yard, which the community banded together and had neutered. She named them all and fed them regularly…

When it came time for salad, I readied myself for the pregnancy topic. We had a really good conversation, one that gave me a lot of depth and insight into my childhood. Although, I couldn’t ask everything I wanted to ask, she told me just what I needed to hear.

NAA: Char, you aren’t going to know what to do until the baby comes. I believe everything happens for a reason. And these choices that you make now might not be clear to you until much later. But there’s a reason you chose to have this child if it’s clear to you now or not. However it goes, try not to worry until it’s here. Make your choice then.

It’s hard to remind myself to take this one day at a time. Once, when I was in the heat of a full-blown depression episode I called my mother, crying. I try so hard to not call her when I’m not feeling right. I don’t know how much she can handle.

ME: (sobbing) I feel like this million dollar race horse that everyone bet on who just decided to stand next to the track mid-race and eat the grass!

MOM: Honey! That’s what horses do! They eat grass!

I want to be the type of mom that always knows the right thing to say because in that moment, all the things my mom ever did wrong by raising me didn’t matter. It was just what I needed to hear.

My Tough-Take-No-Shit-From-Anyone-Level-Headed-Airforce-Physican’s-Assistant-Friend and I had a long talk when I was home about the situation, too. I sat on her bed and laid it all out, pretty much all five installments of this blog while she listened patiently.

TTNSFALHAFAF: I have to admit when I got the news I was livid. I thought, how could she let this happen?! How do you bring a child into this world that you don’t want? It has no choice in the matter; it didn’t ask to be in the situation. But after listening to you, I better understand it now.

ME: I’m afraid you know? I’m afraid to want it…I have some plans, like, instead of plastering Disney Princess on the wall I want to hang up pictures of really strong women, like Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama…women from all over the world…and in the center of that wall I want to put a mirror for her to look in, so she can see herself up there next to all these strong women. But tomorrow? Tomorrow I might be scared again. Afraid that photographs on a wall aren’t going to be enough…

I had to think long and hard about being this open and honest about my struggles on a public forum. These are controversial topics that involve people who are still alive. My brand of humor can sometimes get mistaken for meanness or passive aggressiveness. And people, well, people like to judge.**

Plus, my family likes its secrets. Generations before me feel strongly about not “airing all your dirty laundry.” There’s something uncivilized about it, some fear that it will show ill breeding or low-class. For a long time I agreed with that philosophy, but living in a make-believe world where my family and life are perfect, wasn’t solving any problems. It created more. It made me feel lonely, isolated, and outrageously insecure about myself. Growing up, adults kept secrets from me to protect me. The idea being that there are things children shouldn’t know.

I’d hate for my child to read this essay at too young of an age, but when or if she does, I’ll give her a hug, make us Shirley Temples, with extra grenadine, because we all know the pinker the better, and explain to her that I love her, and these were my fears of having a child, not her in particular—I didn’t even know her yet—but a child before I was ready. If she’s anything like me, she will understand. I won’t end the conversation before she does or before she’s asked all her questions.

I choose to write this essay to open a conversation about mental illness, parenting fears, neglect, and abuse, not for the average person who finds pregnancy amazeballs, but for the outliers who are made to feel like they are inadequate by societal stigmas. By opening the conversation, I realize how vulnerable I make myself to complete strangers. I also open myself up to criticism. To this I say:

Come at me with your hate. My love is stronger than it. I’m a writer, getting my licks in the trenches; it’s my job to see past hate for what it really is: misunderstanding.

What I’m most afraid of, is if my child gets bullied at school for having a ‘crazy’ mom or, god forbid, being ‘crazy’ herself. She should not suffer the judgments made of ignorance by people with either a lot of privilege or no clue about the real world because I didn’t do my best to open those hard conversations for her. But her knowing the truth? No. I’m not afraid of that.

Does that make me a bad parent? Agai—No. No it doesn’t.

My copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting is an old, tattered, worn, possibly out of date thrift store copy. I have to admit, as much as the pregnancy bible helps me, it also scares the shizz out of me. There’s absolutely no effing way I’m gonna read the delivery chapter. In the introduction, Heidi Murkoff says she wrote the book to help ease the worries of mothers and fathers so they could better enjoy the pregnancy and celebrate it. I respect the courage it takes to recognize that the world needs a book like this and the dedication Murkoff and co-authors, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway, had to pull it off.

Every pregnancy is different. No book out there will ever genuinely capture the fear, uncertainty, love, and sometimes loss that accompanies this time. If there were, I’d sure read it, if only not to feel so alone sometimes. While there are some things you can expect when you’re expecting, I’ve learned that you can’t prepare for it all.

During those nine months there will inevitably be arguments with friends and spouses, disapproval of family over your choices or inability to make choices. You got to change the diaper this way! Strangers who want to tell you their whole pregnancy from conception to delivery—look at my stretch marks! And while it’s good to talk about it because talking helps others, it’s also good to set those boundaries—I’d rather not look at them thank you, I just had lunch. And most importantly, not to judge yourself in the process. Whether you are fourteen or forty, keeping the fetus, aborting, or giving up for adoption don’t beat yourself up for your choice. Take my New Aged Aunt’s advice, you made that choice for a reason if it’s clear to you now or not. And know if you feel totally misunderstood or worried over the matter, I get it.

Yesterday I received a text from a good friend about the baby and I had the strength to reply:

F: It’s a girl? That’s great! You’ll be best friends.

ME: I hope not.

F: You’re going to be the slightly older guardian soul to look out for her new earth soul?

ME: I want to be sure her molecules are safe and experiencing as many other molecules as possible. The soul part is up for debate when she turns fourteen.

Do I care that Husband will roll his eyes at my molecule idea and both our mothers will be falling over themselves with worry if the child is not baptized in the Catholic church before it’s a month old because GOD FORBID it dies before the original sin of Adam and Eve can be removed? Everyone knows God sends babies to hell if you can’t get them to the church fast enough…

No. I don’t care about that today. That can be brought up in marriage therapy.

Today, I have a healthy baby girl growing inside of me. And the hassle over miracles or molecules is not one I have time for.

I used to have nightmares about a train. Sometimes I’d be on the track and it would come barreling down at me and I couldn’t move. Other times I’d be riding it and the track would end, dropping me over a cliff. I’d wake up, sweaty and shaking, startled at my brain’s ability to make me afraid of something I love.

Because, yes, I love trains. I cannot get enough of their low whistles. There were train tracks in my South Side neighborhood that I often played on, so unsafe I know, but I had a pretty sweet collection of squashed pennies… and there was this bar, long closed, called I think, Traxx, that I used to imagine buying and re-opening as an original station that sold candy and fountain soda. For like three years, I was sure I would spend my adulthood as the proprietor of this store, and I would somehow convince Chicago to re-open a passenger train that took people into the city for sightseeing. Those childhood dreams now make me laugh, but every time I hear the sound of a train, I feel twelve again, but in the best sense.

One doesn’t have to be Freud to attribute my train nightmares to my life stress and make it into this huge symbol, but one wouldn’t have all the facts. Currently, a ghost train runs through our neighborhood, ghost because I have absolutely no idea where this thing’s tracks are, but I can often hear its low, lonesome whistle at one or two in the morning when I’m still awake. I think my brain occasionally interprets that whistle as something else when I sleep. And that’s all, because as soon as I wake up, I’m like, oh, it was just a train. I love trains.

Last week, however, I had a different type of nightmare. In this one, I went into premature labor and the baby came out smashed, black and blue, and dead.

I woke up, shaking, for a moment sure it was real, certain that I had lost this baby. Husband asked me what was wrong, and I told him. He pulled me close and told me it was all right. He reassured me that it was a scary dream, but now I was safe. The baby was safe. He pulled me close and brushed my hair behind my ear.

HUSBAND: (whispering) I love you.

When I try to imagine my baby girl’s cry, high and long at two in the morning, like a train speeding right at me, I realize my deepest fear: losing her.  The beautiful thing about nightmares is that you wake up from them with a deeper appreciation for life.

Now you can throw all the confetti you want. Baby girl is due June 3rd, 2015

 

 

 

*We are still best friends. I love her to death. Who else could you have that type of conversation with and then watch a JLo movie like, it’s cool, dawg?),

** Isn’t that why the sales of celebrity gossip magazines are so high?

***Oh, and if you want to touch my stomach the next time you see me—be warned. I have a new rule. If you touch my stomach, I’m touching your boob. That’s right. I’m gonna get a good handful in, too.

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Growing up, Life, Love, Marriage, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

PART IV OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

THE PREGNANCY DIET

 

Oddly enough my world tends to revolve around food in pregnancy. I wouldn’t say I went on a diet when I first found out about the fetus, but I did make a conscious effort to eliminate sugar and fast food if I could help it. Getting the correct servings of vegetables and fruit when possible became important to me, and I stopped skipping meals. My mom shipped me a Nutri-Bullet juicer for Christmas. Although I think kitchen gadgets are total crap, I love this one. I use it every day.

One of the first questions people ask me is, do you have any cravings?

Oranges. Couldn’t get enough of them. Orange juice. Tangerines. I swear I could eat a whole box of Cuties in one sitting. One time I really wanted a Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie, but I attribute that to me just wanting a brownie because it was nothing like the oranges fiasco. And water. I couldn’t hold it down. Unless it was from a bottle or filtered, I gagged on it. Solution? Add limes and lemons and oranges. Voilà. Two birds one stone. These days I’m guzzling lemonade.

I don’t take well to being told no, and the dietary restrictions that came with pregnancy were no exception. First, you’re not supposed to eat any unpasteurized products, soft cheeses, hot dogs, or lunch meat as they are all known to possibly carry Listeria, a bacteria that can cause premature birth and illness in fetuses. I wanted to know more about the risks of getting Listeria so I did a little Google research. Yes, that’s right, Google research, so take the following few paragraphs, as you will.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 1,700 people contract Listeria annually. Of these, 260 cases are fatal, and pregnant woman are 20 times more likely to contract it than a healthy adult. America’s population is 318.9 million. So, the average Joe has a 17 in 3,189,000 chance of getting Listeria. Twenty times that is what, 340 in 3,189, 000? I’m not good at math. I write for a living.

According to the National Safety Council*, 1 out of 112  people will die of a car accident annually. Why don’t doctors advise pregnant women not to drive in cars?

Before people jump down my throat about my logic, the American Pregnancy Association also says that 17% of pregnant women contract Listeria. I’ve never, ever heard of someone getting it, so to me, that number seems inflated. But what would I know? It’s avoidable, why risk it?

Then I found out Listeria contamination also occurred in caramel apples, cantaloupe, etcetera. Really? Apples and cantaloupe? Should I avoid them, too?

Ooooohhhhhh scandal. I occasionally eat blue cheese on a salad and don’t beat myself up over it. I don’t drink caffeine and avoid artificial sweeteners. I still eat sushi—in moderation. Only recently I should avoid herbal teas. And I was like seriously? Seriously? What can a pregnant woman eat???

More recently I wanted steak. When I get steak, I order it black and blue. Or as a friend once said, “so rare that a good veterinarian could bring it back to life.” Since steak is not a thing I regularly eat, I compromised: medium-rare.

Over Christmas Husband’s family made homemade ice cream, which included one or two raw eggs.

HUSBAND’S FAMILY: (Holding the bowl particularly close to my face…) Oh, this has raw eggs. You probably shouldn’t eat it…

ME: The HELL I shouldn’t. What’s in there?? Like two eggs split up in three gallons? GIVE ME SECONDS.

RANDOM MEMBER OF HUSBAND’S FAMILY DURING ANOTHER EATING ENCOUNTER WHEN I MENTIONED I STILL EAT SUSHI: (Pained disapproving look) I guess this stuff is easier to give up when you’re excited about the pregnancy.

ME: (In my head: This is why I set boundaries.)

But people don’t always respect boundaries, which is what I found out the hard way when I went back to Chicago earlier this month. Before going out for dinner on one of the first nights, I texted a friend and asked her to take down a Facebook post that referred to my pregnancy. I also asked her not to bring the pregnancy up at dinner. The response?

EMOTIONLESS TEXT MESSAGE: I took it down, but I just don’t understand why someone who sends out baby announcements doesn’t want to talk about pregnancy.

MY EMOTIONLESS TEXT MESSAGE: Thank you for being a kind and understanding friend.

Well, in short, I didn’t want to talk about itchy nipples over mahimahi. And another, very understanding, pregnant friend happened to come to dinner that night, too. Making the meal a little awkward, because I knew she absolutely would have loved to talk about her pregnancy. While I didn’t want to begrudge her that, I still wasn’t ready to cry over my asparagus. I paid a two-dollar up charge for it.

I was starting to feel like a giant Russian nesting doll, like any minute I’d be unscrewed and this small version of me would come out. It would have been nice to talk about that, but I genuinely wanted to hear about my friends’ vacations and love stories and horoscopes. I wanted to be me. Happy.

Tongues were clicking behind my back. Some friends were genuinely concerned: What will we talk to her about?

This is what I’m talking about. Once you’re pregnant, you ARE pregnant. Everything else in your life is null. What can we talk about? Maybe that long saga I’ve been working on for five years and just started editing? The agents I’m researching? The books I’m reading? The concerts I’ve been to? The movies I’ve seen? The upcoming publication of a chapbook I’m working on? Hell I’ve got three cats…time travel?

It’s like people haven’t known me for the last twenty years.

Did my Sassy-Chain-Smoking-Polish-Best-Friend understand it any better?

SCSPBF: What do you expect from people? This is a joyous occasion in the lives of normal people. They want to talk about it. Just like you have feelings that you want people to respect you need to respect theirs. And you can’t be mad at them for feeling the way they feel. By not giving people any explanation of what is going on, you’re expecting way too much of them.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know boundary setting was hard. Telling someone, “No,” is extremely difficult. I realized this from the great Nutty Bar encounter of Christmas 2014, when I saw a four-year old have a wicked melt down over being told they couldn’t have the chocolate covered peanut butter deliciousness. Punches were thrown. Nap time ensued only to be fought against by a little one running out the bedroom and screaming. I mean talk about birth control. Was this what I was in for?

My New Age aunts sure as hell weren’t going to respect boundaries. No, they were going to talk about their pregnancies over lunch and tell me how there was a life growing inside of me that needed nurturing and love. Because I had never thought of that. Oh my God! You are so right! This is the very first time I even considered that I ought to love this fetus!!

Again. The voice of depression. When you set boundaries, you’ll find that you have to firmly and continually keep setting them. You have to interrupt people and get real blunt, “I said I don’t want to talk about this.” You have to have the courage to get up, to walk out, and be willing for that relationship to end, if you are that bound to the new boundary you are setting. For me? I didn’t remind the aunts of my boundaries. I just ignored it, ate cookies, and tried nervously not to look at the security camera of the restaurant. They’re recording me.

In the past, I’ve been railroaded by a lack of boundaries. I did what maybe seventy percent of the population does: I lied. If I got pushed into talking about something I didn’t want to answer, I made something up. On bad days, I’d give in and tell the truth and then end up feeling bad, like I had shared too much or left myself too vulnerable to people who didn’t respect that vulnerability.

SCSBF had a point. I was burning my friends out. I knew my frequent texts and phone calls about depression and suicide over the last two months had been hard on them. My hormones were out of control, and I wasn’t doing anything productive about it, like getting in to see my psychologist. My friends deserved to know where I was coming from. But I didn’t even know where I was coming from. They were distancing themselves. Not sharing as much about their lives as they used to. They shielded me from their problems.

The conversation with SCSBF did not end there. She had a lot more to say about the subject, particularly when I brought up the idea of having a baby shower. Just as when you’re insane and have to do things others tell you to do because that’s what it means to live in their reality, like taking multivitamins or going for ultrasounds, I desperately felt like I had to do everything I could to be normal.

What she had to say got really hard to listen to. It was stuff that I particularly wanted to avoid when I was working on happiness, the stuff that I had already destroyed myself thinking about. But it was I who brought up the topic of boundaries and baby showers.

SCSBF: Did you or did you not let him impregnate you?

ME: Yeah, I went off of birth control, but it wasn’t planned. There was supposed to be more time. I didn’t think…

SCSBF: You’re acting like a victim. This was your choice. Your child does not have a choice in the matter.

ME: (crying) You seem to treat our other friend and her pregnancy so much differently. You seem to understand and not judge her or her choices.

SCSBF: Because she sucked it up. She didn’t complain about it or feel sorry for herself. Do you think she wanted to be pregnant at that moment in her life? She was just dumped, living at home, and jobless. But she committed to her choice and didn’t turn back. She loves her child. People don’t have sympathy for those who don’t.

ME: (crying) I don’t want sympathy. I just don’t know what I want to do.

SCSBF: It’s exhausting. You won’t do anything. You’ll just stay where you are with the life you have and not leave your Husband and keep the child. In the meantime, you’ll choose to stay miserable instead of appreciate the good things you have in life.

ME: (crying, as if none of this hasn’t occurred to me, as if I hadn’t already labeled myself a feminist’s nightmare.)

SCSBF: One minute you’re sending out baby announcements and talking about a baby shower and the next wondering if you’ll keep it. I can’t just stand by and watch you pretend to want this or go through the motions. A baby shower is a celebration. You shouldn’t have one. I just think someone needs to tell you this. I love you, but I can’t talk about this anymore.

ME: Okay.

Even though I had so much more to say and ask, the ended conversation there. I respected her boundary. I understood where she was coming from. What I felt, but couldn’t say, was that even if I decided not to keep the child, I still felt it had the right to a stroller or a pack of onesies. It deserved that page in its baby book. And just because it was clear to her what my life choices were going to be, didn’t mean it was easy or clear to me.

When you watch a horror movie unfold and the protagonist goes into the room where the killer is lurking, instead of say, calling the cops or fleeing, you instinctively shout at the screen, “NO BITCH DON’T DO IT.” But always, always, you have more information and insight and distance with the scenario than the protagonist. You know the killer is there. You think, in that situation you’d make a different choice. You think you’d be better. And maybe you would be. But a killer is not chasing you. You’re safe on your couch.

I had to talk to my therapist about the disagreement. The fight shook me. It was why I incited my boundaries to begin with. Personally, I’m no saint. I’ve said my fair share of brutally honest things at inappropriate times, but with this situation, I needed direction.

ME: I just don’t understand the where the anger comes from. I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t think what I was asking was unreasonable. My friends could talk about the pregnancy all they wanted among themselves. They were entitled to their feelings. I had a lot of the same feelings. I still struggle with all those thoughts myself. I was just asking them to not share them with me at the moment. I know boundaries are hard. I don’t like them myself. They have burned me, but always—I always respect them. If someone asks me to leave their house or never talk to them again, I do it. I don’t ask the person why. I don’t contact them again. I respect that they set that in place and it is their responsibility to come to me when they are ready.

THERAPIST: Your friends aren’t used to you having boundaries. They may not have boundaries of their own. Why do you think your friend said you were acting like a victim?

ME: I don’t know. I genuinely don’t know. Because I was crying? So I looked weak? I didn’t want sympathy. I wasn’t complaining; I set boundaries not to talk about it. Victims don’t have choices. I realize that. I’m past the choice I ultimately made to get pregnant. What I’m concerned with are the upcoming repercussions of that choice. What I’m upset over are my choices moving forward.

THERAPIST: What do you want?

ME: Understanding. Maybe I can’t talk about this with anyone but you? Maybe I should keep all this inside?

THERAPIST: It doesn’t feel good when you’re vulnerable and trust someone and they hurt you does it? I think it’s good to talk about this with friends you know will able to talk about it. I don’t think this means you cut out people out of your life who love you just because they don’t understand the situation. In life, friends help us when they can, and sometimes different friends step up and others fall back. That doesn’t mean they can’t come back into your life later and the relationship can’t be good again.

ME: I know. I know and I’ve done a lot of understanding and forgiving over the past year. Not just with others, but with myself, too. And it’s been a long tough process.

THERAPIST: You are getting better.

Am I?

Victim [vik-tim] noun

  1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.
  2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.
  3. a person or animal sacrificed or regarded as sacrificed: war victims.
  4. a living creature sacrificed in religious rites.

 

The thing I love most about SCSBF is she is honest. That’s why she’s my best friend, she tells it exactly like it is. And she was right—I did need to let people know what was going on with me. That conversation is what solidified me creating this string of blog posts.

But victim? No.

Fear [feer] noun

  1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.
  1. a specific instance of or propensity for such a feeling: an abnormal fear of heights.
  1. concern or anxiety; solicitude: a fear for someone’s safety.
  2. reverential awe, especially toward God: the fear of God.
  1. something that causes feelings of dread or apprehension; something a person is afraid of: Cancer is a common fear.
  2. anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur: Having grown up during the Great Depression, he had a constant fear of running out of money.

 

Afraid? Scared? Yes.

Parent [pair-uh nt, par-] noun

  1. a father or a mother.
  2. an ancestor, precursor, or progenitor.
  3. a source, origin, or cause.
  4. a protector or guardian.
  5. Biology. any organism that produces or generates another.
  6. Physics. the first nuclide in a radioactive series. adjective
  7. being the original source: a parent organization.
  8. Biology. pertaining to an organism, cell, or complex molecular structure that generates or produces another: parent cell; parent DNA.

 

Can I do this? Again. Can I do this right? Again. Can I do this and keep my shit together? Again. Can I handle loss if loss comes? Nothing is guaranteed. Again. Can I change? Again. I still eat blue cheese. Again. I still eat homemade ice cream with raw eggs. Again. I still eat sushi. Again. I eat my steak medium rare. Again. I drink herbal tea. Again. Will this child hate me? Again. What will it think when it reads these blogs? Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

 

(I will post the last installment of this five-part conversation tomorrow.)

 

 

*Maybe best death chart I’ve read all year. Aside from this one: http://www.besthealthdegrees.com/health-risks/

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Literature, Love, Marriage, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Parenting, Writing

PART III OF V ISBN: 0-7611-2132-3

 

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg & Sandee Hathaway

 

THROUGHOUT YOUR PREGNANCY

 

You want to talk about fear? You want to talk about facing your inadequacies head on? Nothing makes you examine the true nature of the self quite like being faced with the knowledge that you will soon be a parent. As the news of the pregnancy sunk in, I began to analyze and unravel all of my flaws. What kept coming up over and over was the idea of selfishness. If the child decided to scream at seven AM would I be able to get out of bed and change diapers and do feedings without feeling resentful or angry? If it threw a tantrum at the grocery store, would I be able to calmly reassure the child that I loved it? Or would I yank it by the arm to the restroom to give it a good yelling followed by a sharp slap as my parents did to me so often in my childhood? Would I always have control of my emotions, and be able to set them aside for another?

I didn’t think I could.

I deeply understand some of the mistakes my parents made with my siblings and me in the past. I could easily put myself in my parents’ shoes time and again without judgment and see how and why they would behave the way they did. I have forgiven and continue to forgive their neglect and abuse. Of course, no one ever wants to do those things to children; looking back I can tell my parents carry immense amounts of guilt. I asked my mother once, how come she insisted on keeping us in her care when she was obviously incapable of raising children. Call it selfishness. Call it having mixed up priorities. Call it whatever. Her answer?

She just didn’t know that about herself. And in her own way loved us.

I never asked my father the same question, but I think he thought at times he was doing the best he could. I think he thought he was raising us right. And the times he realized he was doing it all wrong were so filled with anxiety and guilt he coped by substance abuse. So it was a cycle.

Add in a stepmother who makes Lady Tremaine seem sweet. The type of woman, who if she read this, would instantly bring libel charges against me. Complicated, huh?

My parents divorced while my mother was still pregnant with me. In the years following, my siblings and I were the unfortunate pawns in a Game of Thrones like feud between our families. My mother’s side blaming my father’s. My father’s side blaming my mother’s. By the age of five, I was familiar with the court system and social workers and DCFS. And the mess, it was terrible. Kids should never be exposed to that. The family built cases against one another and pumped us children for information. We had to listen to them talk about each other in front of us, and that was confusing. Being asked at age seven to pick sides. Being told that the people you love were awful.

People get viscous when children are involved. Get righteous. Get pious.

As an adult, I know it all comes from love and justice. But the child part of me, the one that needs all this therapy, emotionally she’s still not healed. I go through regression, and disassociate, and turn to flight mode when I’m triggered. Sometimes the terminology is post-traumatic stress. Most times? I look like a spoiled brat when I don’t get my way or an adult who can’t just let things go.

And for a long time I wanted to change that about me. I was going to start standing up straighter, stop dragging my feet when I walked, go to the gym more, be a positive role model, handle arguments reasonably in the moment by setting aside my emotions and probing deeper into the emotions of the other I argued with. I was going to do things I did not like doing—like watching a dumb movie or going to the zoo—with friends if they asked, and I wouldn’t complain about it or pout when it sucked because that is what a good friend would do.

I was going to be a better person. Now.

But that now part is really unrealistic. I had to figure out the hard way that first I had to accept who I am. And not just accept it, embrace it, and love it. For someone with low self-esteem, that feels like hiking the Grand Canyon without water. I recognized my inadequacies. I embraced them. I made a vow that this year I would be a villain. This year I would say nasty things and not feel guilty. I would cut people off in traffic because I think turn signals are optional. I would allow myself to gossip about friends that hurt my feelings. I would scowl as much as I pleased. I would huff in long grocery store lines. And you’re damn right I’m going to pout if you drag my ass to the circus and force me to watch clowns make balloon animals or go to a movie with more explosions than love scenes.

I’m not the type of person who can go to the circus and focus on the cotton candy, if you get what I’m saying. Life is too damn short, and my time in reality too precious to waste getting freaked out by metaphorical clowns. Haven’t you people ever read It?

I wouldn’t abuse anyone, not if I could help it. But I wouldn’t stop being a bitch. And best of all, I wouldn’t feel bad about my sense of sarcasm. Maybe I’d try to curb it in front of people who I knew it could offend…maybe. Like, maybe, you know, showing my religious mother-in-law my “SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH” needle sitch was going a tad too far. (I just have the kit. My hands can’t be bothered with actually using a needle.)

Embracing the villain in me, knowing my inadequacies, being unsure of the pregnancy, and having first hand knowledge of the court system had me asking myself: what is best for this child?

Even the happiest of marriages fail. If my marriage failed, what would it look like? I surely would want to return to Chicago, and Husband to South Dakota. What would split custody look like? If I became attached to this child, and had to give it up—even for weekends—would I get vicious? Selfish? Would I drag it through the court system fighting to keep it under my care? Would my sense of abandonment resurface to cloud my vision to do what was genuinely right for the child? Would I ask it at six, or seven, or eight to choose a side?

Would I be able to change in nine months?

Would I, would Husband and I, be able to get our marriage and child rearing views on the same page, making compromises for both of us that seemed fair? And not little compromises like bedtime or whether to feed the baby carrots or peas with dinner. Big stuff like religion, schools, where ultimately to settle down. Would we become strong parents but awful partners, awful lovers? If that happened, could I live in that life?

Could I live in it happily?

I didn’t know if I could.

Raising a healthy child would be hard enough, but could I raise a child that had serious mental or physical retardation? I grew weak and overwhelmed with the thought. Minivans and wheelchairs. More psychiatrists. I had a hard enough time going to doctors’ office visits of my own. I have a friend who has a son with Downs Syndrome. This woman is a total tank. She is busy with speech therapists, special doctors’ visits, physical therapists, constantly worried at feeding times he my choke because of the low muscle tone in his throat. She researched the best preschool. He is undoubtedly the love of her life. For her, there was no other option but to become a tank because she is a single mother raising him alone. I couldn’t imagine the world without him in it, and yet…

I knew I was no tank.

So when the scare came in after a random blood test that the baby may have Spina biffida—chances going from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 15. I got scared. Real scared. After the call, I stayed in bed to let the news sink in. I couldn’t even cry. The sadness that came over me was so deep and full I thought I would break apart. If the test came back positive, I would terminate the pregnancy. There was no question about it. Even though Husband is pro-life to the max, ultimately it was my body.

And then, for the first time, I felt the smallest of flutter in my stomach. The baby moved.

And I thought awe shit you stupid fetus. You really want to live that bad?

And then I spent a good part of the afternoon crying before I could get out of bed and write.

About this time the depression came back, and it got real. Remember the long string of silent months from this blog? Then one popping up about suicide? That was the thick of it. It got dangerous. Looking back, I should have been hospitalized and had my medications changed. But asking for help is hard; especially when I was afraid to change my medications mid-pregnancy, even though I knew the benefits would outweigh the risks.

A text message from a friend who suffers from depression:

TM: You can’t keep doing this to yourself.

That message came on a night when I set out all my medications and seriously contemplated taking them. I cried in my tub, going through the list of friends I had, one by one, texting. I knew I had to fight, and start fighting harder, but the only thing that kept me from taking those pills was that I literally didn’t have the strength to move. I could not get out of the tub even when I wanted to. There were a lot of other messages that came after which kept me sane enough to get through the night. Just as I need constant reassurances that delusions are not true at times (No, Charlie, the Dalai Lama is not talking to you mentally), there are times when I need similar reassurances that challenge depressive thoughts (No, Charlie there is a point to life, and although you may not see it now, you will in time).

For those who don’t understand depression, it’s like getting the worst phone call of your life: your mother died, your spouse was in an accident, you have cancer. That moment when your stomach drops, your heart stops, the shock, the fear—that is depression. That moment on repeat for every second, every minute, of every day for weeks or months. It’s like having the flu, those aches, the sullenness, and the tiredness. All day. Every day.

In a past DBT session, I broke down, and explained it as thus:

ME: I feel like those blank pages in Twilight where Edward left Bella, except I don’t even get to pine away for someone.

Joking aside, even the fighters sometimes lose. Not to be dramatic, but it’s fatal. It’s dangerous to make it seem like that is inevitable. But it’s also dangerous for someone to think that your mind is in a right frame when the thoughts come. People are very accepting and understanding of mania. If you tell someone you think you are the Queen of England, they may scoff, but ultimately they’d recognize something is not right, and if you were in a better condition you may not think that. It’s not so easy to recognize suicidal thoughts as delusions and have the same understanding or to take a place of no judgment. Those thoughts seem like a choice from the outside. Just like it may have seemed that I had a choice to believe I was pregnant sooner.

It takes an awful lot of work to recognize what is real and what is not. Because if you could, trust me, you’d never choose to be manic. You’d never choose to be depressed. Insanity is not knowing the difference between my reality and yours.

Well, at least the baby and I had one thing in common. We both were familiar with the fetal position.

And here we go again. No matter how hard I fought against the depression it was here. And in the midst of recognizing negative thought patterns or cognitive distortions I was dealing with post traumatic stress once again, this time reliving my childhood experiences with my mother and her struggle with bipolar.

Why is mommy in bed? Why won’t she get up?

For years I was pissed at her. Why couldn’t she just suck it up, become that tank? She looked so much like a quitter. It was like she wasn’t fighting and she chose to stay in bed. But now, I understood why she stayed in bed, and found myself sleeping in later, and later.

Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Was I equipped to have this child? Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.

Husband and I had to have those hard, hard talks. Just because you have a mental illness does not mean you shouldn’t have children. You can be the best mother in the world who just happens to have a mental illness, because they are treatable and manageable.

There had to be plans in place. What if? What if I got suicidal again? What if I got horribly manic? Those things weren’t explained to me right when I was little. Mommy was just ‘sad’ or ‘sick’.

H: How do you wish it were explained to you when you were little?

ME: For mania? I wish, I wish, someone would have said, “mommy was just dreaming, while she was awake. Just the way you dream when you go to sleep. And do you know where dreams come from? Some scientists think it’s a way for us to figure out the events of our day. Mommy’s funny brain is just trying to figure out her days in a different way than ours, right now…And depression? Same. Mommy is still dreaming, only this time it’s a bit more like a nightmare, and her body? It’s so tired it thinks it has the flu! Can you imagine? Isn’t the body interesting? Let’s go to the library and look up stuff about our bodies…did you know your skin is your largest organ?”

H: So why can’t we just say that?

Yeah, why can’t we just say that?

The next trip to the doctors’ office revealed that the baby did not have Spina biffida.

MATERNAL FETAL SPECIALIST (MFS): It’s not Spina biffida…the egg sack broke off and never dissipated properly. It attached itself to the placenta and turned into a mass. This accounts for the high level of AFP.

ME: And that means?

MSF: It’s like a tumor.

ME: Well, I’ve had a tumor growing inside me for four months so I’m fine with that.

MSF: Nothing to worry about now. It’s not cancerous.

ME: Okay…

MSF: The potential risks are that the placenta may not be able to accommodate the size of the fetus. It can affect its growth, resulting in an early delivery. Nothing to worry about now. We’ll do ultrasounds every three weeks for the rest of the pregnancy to keep track of it. After delivery, the placenta will have to be sent off for testing.

ME: Can it still be used for stem cell research?

MSF: I’m not sure. We can check into that.

I took the news of the tumor in stride because it wasn’t Spina biffida, and I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore until it became necessary to worry. But because nothing was guaranteed, I still fought my attachment to the fetus.

I still questioned myself. What were all my options? Husband and I had another hard talk. If I genuinely could not take care of this child, would he take full custody?

H: You’re going to abandon your child? How does that make you any better than your parents? Why can’t you just accept your responsibility and change? It’s not like any of this wasn’t our choice. We didn’t exactly do anything to prevent the pregnancy in the first place. How could you even consider this? How is this even an option?

ME: (Silence) (How was death even an option for me? Not a few days ago…) (Processing his shock. Processing his anger.) (Recognizing those thoughts, the same thoughts I had that led me to the depression. He is the voice of my depression now. What do I tell my depression? How do I make my depression understand…what can I say? He doesn’t understand where I am coming from…)

H: You can have a good life if you choose it. Why can’t you just put your past behind you?

ME: (This is anxiety. This is fear.)

H: Well?

ME: I don’t know.

H: I will take care of it. If you make an honest attempt, your very best attempt at this, and you just can’t do it. I’ll understand.

ME: Thank you.

My stomach started to protrude further by this time, and while I still wasn’t ready to announce the pregnancy, I was right around the five-month mark. I was going to physically have the child, even if I couldn’t or wouldn’t keep it. People blindsided me three or four times by touching my stomach without asking and making those friendly inquiries. Those celebratory remarks. And when I couldn’t match their enthusiasm, their faces would crumple in pity. Sometimes confusion. Judgment.

I needed to visit home. I needed to remember I had a place where, if everything fell apart, I’d be welcomed, loved and understood, but I couldn’t take another blind side moment. Friends and family would have to know. And since I thought the news of a pregnancy could possibly be hard for anyone, I sent out baby announcements. The thought of writing personalized E-mails or making all those phone calls and explaining it all over and over seemed too exhausting.

In therapy, I was working on boundaries, what they were and how to set them. What ones were healthy and reasonable. In DBT they had this worksheet where you marked what was most important when setting boundaries: your health or your relationship with the person you were setting the boundary with. When it came to the topic of the child, it was important to me to set clear, healthy boundaries without compromising relationships that mattered.

I was still vulnerable and fragile. My head was a total mess. The topic started me instantly crying, and I knew I could get set way, way back by talking about it before I was ready. I wanted a break for a week or two. The depression was clearing enough for me to start to analyze this, and I felt like, if I could just get happy again, really happy like in October, I’d find the strength to do this. However I chose to do it.

So after I sent out the announcements, I asked my friends not to talk about it or bring it up.

JUST ABOUT EVERY FRIEND WHO KNEW: Why can’t you talk about it?

ME: I’m not ready.

And that was the end of the conversation because that was the boundary I had set. It sounds silly, but just as I didn’t have the strength to get out of the tub that day, I didn’t have the strength to add to that, ‘I haven’t processed this yet. I need some more time, but since you would see me and it could no longer be hidden, I felt everyone had to be informed of the situation.’

I ignored the flood of texts, and E-mails, and Facebook well wishes. I would deal with them when I was ready. When I felt like I knew more. When I was genuinely ready, not just because I had a fat stomach and people were gossiping, asking…

 

(I will post the next installment tomorrow.)

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children, Life, Love, Marriage, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Parenting, pregnancy, Writing

ISBN-10: 0-486-41586-4

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

 

“…the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Writing in flannel.

Writing in flannel.

 

I went home this past week for an early Christmas. I don’t know how I managed it, but I was able to see just about everyone I love. I even squeezed in a trip to Hubbard, my high school, and bought sweat pants and a sweatshirt. If someone told me fifteen years ago I’d voluntarily wear the uniform, I would have laughed in his or her face. Fifteen years can really change a person.

I haven’t posted in a while. Don’t fret. I’ve been writing and reading, just not blogs. Today I was called to the desk to write for my dad.

Last Monday was the first time I saw him since I was sixteen.

Fifteen years ago, we parted on less than good terms. It doesn’t matter why we parted that way, only that we had. Six years ago, I heard that he was beaten and left for dead in Marquette Park. The phone call caught me off guard. I was in a place where my life had finally started to make sense. I had just started my MFA, was newly engaged, and happy. I answered the phone thinking my brother, J, was calling to congratulate me.

J told me that my father had been homeless and lived in the park. He was drunk and antagonized a group of youth, gang members, with racial slurs. My father was not expected to make it. I should come home and see him. The phone call left me angry. I told J my father was dead to me, and had been for years. J called me a bitch and we hung up.

I wished those kids had talked to my father and explained why some words were so hurtful or how many people had died over them in the past. I wished they asked him not to use such words, and he instantly rid his vocabulary of them. I know how hard it is to do the right thing in a highly charged emotional moment. I don’t always do the right thing. I’m still learning, too.

A few weeks ago, I told Husband I wanted to see my father again. Husband wondered why after fifteen years I wanted to resume a relationship. Understandably, he was protective of me. The last time I went home I had a small relapse when I was caught off guard by another piece of my past.

ME: I just don’t want that to be the end of the story. When I have children, I want them to know their grandpa. I don’t want to tell them this terrible story of how we parted. I want it to be different.

I was prepared for the worst. My father had suffered severe brain trauma. He was a known alcoholic and drug user. There was something with a long technical term that chronic alcoholics can suffer from in which they have no short-term memory. It’s like a blackout, explained my therapist, T; he may have no recollection of meeting you. There’s a possibility he may not know you.

I called my sister-cousin, D, and asked her if she knew anyone from the old neighborhood who could find my father. She called M. M called a family friend, “born-again” L. He contacted some of the beat police in the area where he thought my father lived. After three days, L learned that my father lived in a shady house, essentially a crack house. L said the house was rough; he once lived in it at his lowest point before he turned himself around. It was in a less than great part of town. L said he could bring my father to a safer meeting place.

Monday came, and L couldn’t make it. I still wanted to see my dad, so I asked D if she would take the train with me. After an hour and a half of travel on the CTA, it turned out my father wasn’t staying in the worst part of town. He lived in my old neighborhood. We knocked on a door to a house that didn’t look shady from the outside other than a foreclosure sticker on the front door. No one answered. We called the landlord for the building. She hadn’t heard of the person we were asking for. We called L one more time. The landlord called back and said my dad was at a bus stop across from Walgreens.

Everyone told me to be prepared, to know what it was I wanted to say to my dad, to know what I wanted to get from this meeting. When I saw him, I said the only thing I could think to say.

ME: Hey old man.

I hugged him. Glad he was still alive.

We both cried until we laughed.

We went to a small restaurant. I had tacos. He had a burrito. I don’t remember what D had. I did my best to catch him up on my life. He did the same. He said when he got the call from L he stayed sober for our meeting. He didn’t do hard drugs anymore. He didn’t drink hard liquor, only beer, at night to help him fall asleep. He was waiting on his social security so he could put a down payment on a house or maybe an apartment. He spent the days helping others when he could, shoveling snow and whatnot. The folks in the elderly home had given him a chair to sit on at the bus stop. He fed the sparrows. He tried to keep busy. He could only listen to music and watch TV so much before he got bored.

He told me he wasn’t jumped in the park. He said he went to help a man push his car out of the snow behind Walgreens, and when he went to help him, he was smashed in the head with a bottle and beaten. His assailants got thirty dollars.

I wish they had just asked for his thirty dollars. Sometimes when I see people pan handling on the street I give them money. I can’t help it. They’re asking. If they spend the money on bus fare or drugs, that’s a problem as society we have to fix together. They’re still asking, not mugging, not robbing.

My father showed me a thin line that extended ear to ear on the back of his neck. It was his scar from brain surgery.

The things I wanted to say were slow coming. I was nervous and anxious to get back to a normal relationship with him. We went to a thrift store in search of an ugly Christmas sweater. We wandered through the isles.

ME: Should I get this withered Nome that looks remarkably similar to Wizzo and contains the soul of a wealthy Egyptian Pharos waiting for a body? It probably was accidently lost to the family sworn to protect it…

Dad: Sure. Everyone needs a souvenir.

I put Wizzo back on the shelf. I had already gotten a T-shirt with thirteen hidden horses as a souvenir earlier in the trip. I asked him if he wanted any clothes. He said he had a whole box full. People gave them to him. He still collected flannels.

I didn’t want our meeting to end. I dragged him to a dollar store and demanded he purchase some beef jerky and books, another small Christmas present to go along with what I had originally brought him: a copy of his father’s manuscript and a story I wrote for him.

He threw in a chocolate bar that donated money to literacy. What the hell. It was Christmas after all. I pulled him into the post office where we got some Ray Charles stamps, so he could write me.

ME: That’ll give you something to do when you’re bored.

I stumbled through his world until I got back on the bus with a hurried Merry Christmas thrown over my shoulder. There were so many other words I wanted to say, but did not know how. It wasn’t until the plane ride home that I started to untangle what had happened. What I truly wanted to say.

Dad,

Your story does not begin with the reason you were jumped. It starts when a stranger found you on the ground, near dead.

I ask myself, who that stranger was. Did she happen to own a small restaurant, make tacos and burritos and keep a ton of plants? Did I throw a thank you over my shoulder as we walked out because whatever I felt inside I did not know how to say? It could have been anyone who called for you. Could have been a bus driver. Could have been an employee at Walgreens. Could have been someone old. Could have been someone young.

Who was the emergency dispatcher that took that call?

Who drove the ambulance that took you to the hospital?

Who were the first cops on the scene?

Who was the brain surgeon that performed your operations?

Did they know they’d probably never get paid monetarily for their work?

Did they know if the person on their operating table had insurance?

I bet they didn’t even question it.

Who was the first person you saw when you opened your eyes?

Who really sat by your bed for four months?

Who helped you learn to walk and talk again?

Who told you to keep going when I’m sure you may not have wanted to?

Who gave you the clothes that kept you warm?

Who ran the food pantries that now fed you?

Do these people know I wanted to thank you for all you did for me when I was growing up? You let me paint my room green and built floor to ceiling bookshelves in there for your paperbacks. I remember your paperbacks, covers with Conan the Barbarian and scantily clad women cowering behind sword wielding men with way too much dragon in the background. I look back and think in your own way you were trying to surround me with the things you loved. You should see my bookshelves now. I bought forty-seven books only yesterday from the thrift store. Seven cents each. Three rooms in my house are painted green.

Did you know I still remember the Christmas Eve you walked a mile in the snow to the only place open, Walgreens, to get me an alarm clock?

Who worked that Christmas Eve shift when they could have been home with their own families?

Do all these people know that they kept you alive so I could thank you?

Do all these people know we are connected?

Do all these people know how grateful I am?

Do they know that I don’t only think about it when I’m on buses or airplanes?

Dad, did you know I saw you in a stranger’s eyes a few months ago? I told myself that stranger wasn’t you—I only wanted to see you.

Because of all those people I was able to.

Dad, do you know life is not about the past or the future but the moment in which we live?

I think you do.

I may throw “Thank you” and “Merry Christmas” over my shoulder, but I’m not too busy to know what they really mean. Dad, I know how hard it was for you to see me. If we had fought during our meeting, it could have led to a relapse on your part, too.

Do the people that brought us back together know that I have a good story to tell your grandchildren someday?

I hope they do.

I love you. Thank you.

It reads "thanks"

We as a society are doing our best to address the problem of homelessness in America. I was once told if one person in the world loves you don’t give up, you have a reason not to be homeless. Below is a list of resources supported by thousands of people that love and care for those in rough situations. There is no choice so bad that one can’t recover from it.

 

 

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

This is a giant heart I tracked in the hill next to my house.

 

Homeless Shelters Directory

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

Street Wise

http://streetwise.org/

SAMSHA

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

US Department of Health and Human Services

http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Alcoholics Anonymous

http://www.aa.org/lang/en/subpage.cfm?page=28

Narcotics Anonymous

http://www.na.org/

NAMI

National Alliance on Mental Illness

www.nami.org

United States Department of Labor

http://www.dol.gov/dol/audience/aud-homeless.htm

If you or someone you know would like to donate items, money, or time, thousands of shelters across America are in need.

I found this list on Sojourner’s* website  as an example of items that may be needed in local shelters near you.

Monetary donations:

 

$35.00

Helps offset costs of children’s activity groups

$55.00

Helps to feed shelter residents for one day

$250.00

Supports time required to obtain an Order for Protection

 

Goods:

-Diapers and Pull-Ups

-Clothing: Contact for specific needs

-African-American Hair Products. Recommended brands include: Ultra Sheen, Pink Lotion, Motions, Cream of Nature, Do Grow, Super Grow, Olive Oil. We’ve found that Walgreens carries the following at very good prices: Organica Hair Food, Shea Butter, Africa’s Best and Coconut Hair Oil.

-Baby wipes (Sensitive Skin)

-Cleaning Supplies (especially bleach, dish soap, floor cleaner and multi-purpose cleaning liquid)

-Paper Products: Paper towels, plates, bowls, etc.

-Twin Sized Plastic Mattress Covers

-Tampons

-Women’s Socks and underwear

-Bulk sized non-perishable healthy snacks (fruit snacks, granola bars, juice boxes, etc)

-Office Supply Gift Cards

-Target Gift Cards

*Sojourner is a local woman and children’s shelter in MN. For specific donations to Sojourner, please call the Program Support Coordinator at 952-351-4062.

**Whenever I go on trips I stock up on all the free lotions, shampoos, etc. By the end of the year I bring them in to the shelter. I heard you can drop off these items at REI and they will pass the donations on for you.

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Filed under Books, Growing up, Holidays, Homelessness, Life, Literature, Love, Memoir, Mental Disorders, Non Fiction, Politics, Random, Snow, Writing

ISBN: 10-7435-5432-9

 

Cell by Stephen King

Cell by Stephen King

 

If anyone wonders where I’ve been all summer, I’d love to say that I’ve been vacationing in the French Rivera. I have no idea where that is on a map. I don’t even know what it looks like, but I’ve heard it’s a sexy place to vacation. In reality I’ve been taking down wallpaper. All summer. My kitchen smells like Suavitel. And sweat. I also had a pit stop in New Orleans and got hit in the face by some beads. I stood up in a wedding in Chicago. I ate some goat. Went on a few trips to the farm; the honeybees are back. I attended a baby shower where the favor was a cd called, Scotch and Vinyl Dust Volume 1. There was a trip to the zoo wherein a really old seal put on a show. I got an idea for a story about an eccentric philanthropist. Went to a fringe show about a big eye that was supposed to be funny but made me cry, as I really connected with the depression part of the show. I dry fired my bow and got a bruise on my arm. Bob Segar made me fall off my bike. I wrote a draft of a story about a giant squid. I went to another wedding where I discovered that if you chug caffeine free diet coke and don’t let it touch the front of your tongue it almost tastes like coke diesel. I thought I broke the third wall, but discovered it was the fourth wall.

But mostly it’s been me vs. wallpaper.

I listened to Cell by Stephen King on cassette tape while I stripped the wallpaper. Yes, cassette tape. Sometime back I wandered into a Boarders with E and asked the clerk where the books on tape were. The clerk gave me a funny look, led me to a shelf, and said all they had were about four books.

Quite a small audio section, I thought. Must be why you’re going out of business Boarders.

Cell was on sale for maybe six bucks. That’s the best thing about SK books. They’re everywhere and all seem to cost under five dollars. Six dollars for an audiobook is a steal. This is what happened when I got to my car after the purchase:

ME: It’s a tape!

E: Yeah.

ME: I thought it was going to be a CD.

E: You asked for a book on tape.

It wasn’t until this year that I found a tape player at the farm. The farm has a variety of strange things, like copper colored Jell-O molds in the shape of fish that sometimes end up in my dreams. I began to listen to the story as I stripped the wallpaper. I was something like half a wall in when the tape stopped. Apparently the player overheated. The next day, I was a third of a wall in when the tape player made this horrible slow motion noise. E-gads! Was it eating SK? No, the tape was fine, but rewind didn’t work. Near the end of the wallpaper, and the end of the book, I got the fine idea to purchase a Walkman from a thrift store for the sum of a dollar-fifty. The Walkman didn’t work either. I changed the batteries.

One may want to know more about Cell, but I’d rather tell readers about the most important part of my summer.

I volunteer with Free Arts Minnesota , an organization that promotes healing through art. I could include their mission statement here, but I’d rather share my experience.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I have bipolar disorder, and that I sometimes allude to a complicated and tangled past that includes neglect and abuse. What may not be entirely clear is the role art has played throughout my life as a way to cope with such events and transform them into something beautiful and meaningful that I can share with the world. I didn’t have the most ideal living situation when growing up, but what I did have was a strong support system filled with people who provided positive role models for me. These people were teachers, friends, social workers, extended family, and total strangers. Everyone seemed to move in and out of my life exactly when I needed them, providing me with hope, care, understanding, compassion, and good advice.

I speak openly about my experiences, in coffee houses, on the bus, over the cell phone, on a blog because I think there’s a lot of shame associated with these circumstances. Sometimes I feel like I make others nervous, as if these are things we shouldn’t talk about. Other times I think the shame and nervousness are only my own.

A friend sent me the link for Free Arts via Facebook. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass. Here was a chance for me to become a role model for children dealing with many of the same issues I had to struggle with growing up.

I don’t exactly have the mentor thing down yet: I told one kid that I liked the breadsticks from Olive Garden instead of giving some sage advice. I told another that her ‘D’ was backwards when it wasn’t. I forget names. When another threw a pen across the room, I didn’t know how to say the pen can do far more damage in your hand instead of thrown. And when another shared a personal story with me, it struck me later how I could have told her to use her art the moment things get bad and not after.

I can’t tell you how one child has impacted me in particular because they all changed me in some way.

This summer the children had the opportunity to work with a local artist, Natasha Pestich. They screen printed hoodies in the theme of identity. Their work will be displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of Art next Thursday, August 22nd, at 6 PM.

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and have a few hours to spare each week, I think you should consider becoming a volunteer. I’d also suggest making a donation through their website.

And so, the summer comes close to an end. The wallpaper is down. Under The Dome is on just in time for me to start painting. I’m starting Finnegan’s Wake and the State Fair will soon begin.

But there are still a few nights left to watch the lightening bugs come out, flickering on and off in a reminder that my life has been and always will be an intersection of those who change me.

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Filed under Art, Bipolar Disorder, Books, Fiction, humor, Life, Literature, Mental Disorders, Random, Writing

ISBN: 0-517-70926-0

Pockets by Jennifer Armstrong and Illustrated by Mary GrandPré

This is going to be another short post because it seems I’ve caught a small case of the bipoles*, and I have trouble focusing for long periods. There’s no need to worry—with the help of friends and family, I sought medication to treat the symptoms the same way one would treat flu symptoms.

I wanted to write about the second half of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, but with thoughts careening through my mind so fast that I have trouble reading, I thought it better to pair this week’s post with Pockets, a children’s book written by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by Mary GrandPré.

The trouble with reading right now is comprehension, but the beautiful thing about this book is that I found myself languishing in the soft sounds of words I haven’t heard before. I did read this book three years ago, but I didn’t remember the words, one-by-one, and I loved the way I imagined them sounding, billowing, and bending in the cavern of my mind.

And then there were the illustrations: Seas of color swirling around, all so vivid that I imagined myself getting lost between the grainy hues.

“She sewed barkentines, ships of the line, brigs, dhows, triremes, and caravels; cays, lagoons, and scalloped beaches; the astrolabe, the sextant, and the binnacle, each in perfect miniature, her stitches straining ahead against the current and her eyes narrowed on the horizon.” -Jennifer Armstrong

Husband read the book aloud to me, helping me untangle the mystery of the story, but it was exhausting trying to understand, so we set the book aside and went for a walk. The valley was wet with fresh rain and like the illustrations of Pockets, I found myself lost in the grainy hues of this world.

I wish I had a way to connect these thoughts, and bring this post to a neat ending, but I do not. The only thing I can say for certain is that there is a true gift in being able to live in the moment.

Dang these bipoles, ain’t no body got time for that.

*This means I’m rapidly cycling though a bout of mania/depression/anger/sadness. For more information read here.

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Filed under Art, Bipolar Disorder, Books, Children's Books, Fiction, Life, Literature, Love, Mental Disorders, Uncategorized, Writing