Alan Alda

May 19, 2017

[written for my writing group for the subject: Permit]

My second-grade teacher and my parents were at odds over how to deal with me. They didn’t know they were giving me such mixed messages because I didn’t tell my teacher about what was going on at home (although, having taught 7-year-olds, I am sure she knew something was wrong). And my parents never received any complaints from my school, just the occasional note that I seemed sad.

One afternoon that year, my teacher had us watch Free to Be You and Me, the 70’s TV special narrated by Alan Alda and some other people I don’t remember, all about being comfortable in your own skin, not putting labels on people, and various other hippie ideals that were not quite as popular in 1982, but that my teacher firmly believed in.

I remember very little about the TV show except for two things: the radical notion that boys and girls could like the same things and the song “It’s All Right to Cry.” You see, in my family, it wasn’t all right to cry. Crying was not permitted, at least for me. It was all right for my little sister to cry, and my mom was rarely not crying. I was pretty sure that my little brother or sister on the way was going to be crying most of the time. But for me, it had never been OK.

My mom had me when she was 25 – not that young by the standards of the day, but she was completely emotionally unprepared. To this day, when someone talks about how they might be less lonely if they had a baby, or how it would be nice to have a child so there would be someone who was always there, I have to walk away. I recently ended a friendship because my former friend spent tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, confiding to me that, without a partner, she was really lonely, so even though she was financially and emotionally unprepared to have a baby, she just “really needed someone who loved her unconditionally.”

That’s exactly what my mother intended I would be for her.

It should really be no surprise then that she couldn’t handle me. From the time I learned to walk and talk (both around nine months old, which shocked everyone), I had opinions. Actually, I probably had opinions before then. I was not the malleable precious little doll-baby she had imagined, but was strong-willed and emotional, and she had no idea what to do with me. So she made the rule that I couldn’t cry. After all, only one of us could be upset at a time, and it was usually my mother.

This rule was enforced in different ways at different times. I’m not sure what the mandatory reporter laws were like in the late 70s and early 80s, but it was probably more convenient for everyone that I didn’t talk to my teachers about this enforcement. The mildest version was to be sent to my room if I cried, and if she could hear me through the closed door, the next threat was to have to spend the night in the garage. I never had to do that because I would put the pillow over my head and hold my breath, trying to stop myself from calling out for my parents, who were clearly not going to be any help.

If my mom wasn’t feeling patient, she’d slap me across the face which would generally do the trick. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” and all that. It’s hard to blame her – that would have been an act of love compared to what she grew up with. It’s no wonder that I grew up steeped in shame and fear; she had come by those honestly and passed them on to her children in our DNA and from her behavior

One day though, everything changed. I came home from school and something happened, and I cried, and she slapped me across the face. We had just watched the last part of Free to Be You and Me and I just wasn’t taking it any more. “My teacher says it’s OK to cry!” I yelled at her. “It was on TV! You can’t punish me for crying!”

I’m not sure she had any idea what I was talking about but I kept going. “If you hit me, I’m going to tell my teacher because I’M ALLOWED TO CRY!” I screamed at her. And went in my room to do precisely that.

That ended it. There were plenty of other problems in my family, but I wasn’t punished for crying anymore and she never hit me again.

But, of course, it didn’t really end it. The shame never left. I still feel it every time tears come – I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m disappointing people, I’m not good enough.

My nieces and nephew though – they don’t have this. They know it’s OK to cry. They know feelings matter and are valid, and they don’t feel ashamed when they express their feelings. The cycle of shame seems to be ending, and maybe it’s time for the adults to learn from the kids. They didn’t even need Alan Alda.


Giving Myself Credit

May 16, 2017

I’m exhausted. I’m changing my anti-depressants again. I went off of one that was making me feel crazy, like actually crazy. I have an appointment on Wednesday with the doctor. Not sure how long the withdrawal from the one I went off takes – it wasn’t that high a dose so maybe I’m imagining things but I feel exhausted and am really craving sugar.

And you know what? Right now I’m eating the sugar. That’s not a fight I’m willing to have with myself right now. The sugar is comforting, and I’m eating it. I’m not harming myself in any drastic ways, I’m not self-medicating with alcohol or drugs… I’m going to eat the damn cake. For now.

And I’m trying to focus on what I HAVE gotten done today. Yes, I took a 2-hour nap in the middle of the day even though I slept enough. Yes, I dropped my bike and scratched up the new bike that I love. I left things places that I’ll have to go pick up tomorrow because I’m so tired that I am getting really absent-minded. And yes, I’m going to bed at 9 pm.

But also: I tutored four kids today and I think they learned something. I edited three articles and answered a ton of emails and went grocery shopping and rode my bike. That all counts. And I prayed. And I ate. And I took my medicine.

So I’m going to try very hard to convince myself that today is a win.


Some Days You Just Survive

May 7, 2017

Today is one of those. Depression and sleep deprivation from changing my medications and not being used to them and not knowing if it’s the right combination. And grief. Still with the grief from the loss of my relationship, now over a year ago.

There were so many things I wanted to do today. I just can’t. I’m going to bed. But I did survive.


That Afterward Feeling

May 1, 2017

I had a wonderful day today. I took my four-year-old nephew across the bay in the ferry into the big city, where we had lunch and “treats” (truth be told, he had way more treats than lunch, but aunties get to spoil people, right?). It was an absolutely beautiful sunny day and he had fun making up stories about his stuffed bunny, riding the ferry, passing close by bridges, seeing fire boats and police boats, eating ice cream, and much more. It was absolutely joyful.

He’s still in the cuddly stage and is a little small for his age, so he sits on my lap and holds my hand, and I have to bend way down to hear what he’s saying as he chatters along about everything. He has the adorable little-kid trait of not yet speaking in contractions. On the way back, he said, “I  cannot wait to tell Mommy and Daddy how much fun we had and everything we did that was so fun.” I’m a really good auntie!

It was wonderful. Then I came home and took a nap with my dog who is freshly washed and smells good and whose fur is so soft.

I couldn’t have asked for better.

So now, of course, my brain and its messed-up chemistry is kicking in. Now instead of realizing that it’s a blessing to be able to go home from a hot, busy, noisy day with a little boy I love and be alone and quiet, I am fixating on the fact that I’m alone. That no one would know right away if I lived or died. That there’s no one who puts me first in their life. That my nephew loves me but of course, his immediate family will always come first. I’ve managed to negate everything that was so special and wonderful about today.

Instead of realizing how wonderful I am to have such a wonderful dog, I’m worried about when she’ll die. She’s seven years old, barely, so she’s in the second half of her life but may have 5+ more years. And I’m wasting them by worrying about what I’ll do when she dies.

I don’t know if this is depression or growing up in an alcoholic family and always having to be prepared for the worst, because no one else was. I’m sure it’s b18222306_10155025134535700_2956203768163496233_noth. But I do not want this legacy any more. I need to find a way to change this; I am not willing to go through the rest of my life losing out on this joy.


The Unnamed Bunny

April 29, 2017

[I wrote this for a Story Slam for my local writers group recently]

 

I have seen my dad cry only once in my life. He never cried when he stopped drinking, or before that, when my mom threatened to take us and leave him if he couldn’t stop.  He didn’t cry when my mom went into a psychiatric hospital because she was suicidal. He showed no obvious emotion when he’d tell us about his “real mom” who died of a brain tumor when he was ten years old. There were no tears from this man at my brother’s wedding, at my sister’s elopement party, when any of his grandchildren were born, or when we threw he and my mom a surprise 40th anniversary party. He didn’t cry at his father’s funeral.

I have seen my father cry only once, and it was when the neighbor’s dog killed our bunny.

My dad was not a fan of adopting this bunny. At the time, my parents had three children that my father never seemed quite used to, sometimes looking surprised to see us there, or to be addressed as “Dad.” In addition, our family already had two dogs, two cats, four ducks, a parakeet, two guinea pigs, and an opossum. So, it’s understandable that he didn’t want one more creature to take care of, but he agreed to let us keep the bunny when a friend needed to give it up.

For some reason, I had always wanted a pet rabbit. I imagined it snuggling up in my lap while I read, which my cats never seemed to want to do (possibly because I had dressed them up in doll clothes on a fairly regular basis). Instead, the rabbit turned out to be a biter; it never got along with any person or animal in the family. It was relegated to an outdoor hutch, and was essentially forgotten. I can’t remember if it had a name, or if it was male or female; we lost all interest in it. The rabbit was probably much happier living its little bunny life outside, away from kids who wanted to hug it or shove lettuce down its throat.

This rabbit would have been the most forgettable pet I’ve ever had, were it not for the way it met its end. Our neighbor’s dog managed to find a weak spot in the chicken wire of the rabbit hutch, and then found its prey. The rabbit didn’t look like it had suffered, and in fact, its lifeless body actually just looked like it was sleeping. It was surprisingly untraumatic.

By the time I was ten, our family was already used to having pet funerals, and had a section of the garden dedicated to burying various animals. Someday in the future, an archaeologist will be greatly interested in the variety of animal skeletons in this garden. We usually took turns saying nice things about the dearly departed pet, my mom would read a Bible verse, my dad would say a prayer, and we’d bury the pet with a homemade grave marker.

This time, though, everything was different. My dad started crying as soon as he laid eyes on the rabbit. None of us knew what to do. Dads didn’t cry–at least mine didn’t.

He couldn’t stop crying either. It wasn’t loud or dramatic, and he didn’t seem to see any of us. There was no embarrassment, just silent tears. I had no idea what was going on, and we eventually all left him alone. The rabbit was buried, none of us ever mentioned the tears, and we moved on.

As an adult, I’ve learned just how many tears my father probably had stored up; how many regrets he had, and how much pain was never acknowledged. I don’t know what it was about this one rabbit that unleashed these tears, but clearly there was a reservoir of pain that was waiting inside of him.

I’ve wanted to ask my dad about this, but there’s a barrier that has always been there. He treats emotions as a joke, talking about how feelings get in the way. Somewhere in there is the man who broke down, weeping over a rabbit without a name, but I’ve never seen him again. I’m not sure I ever will.

 

 


Medication Adjustments

April 24, 2017

I’ve written about this before and I find myself in the unenviable place of being there again. This last year (it’s actually been more than a year; I survived the anniversary!) since the breakup has been filled with sadness, grief, and depression. It got to be almost impossible to tell the difference and when months had passed and I was still finding it difficult or impossible to get out of bed in the morning, not able to think clearly, starting to think that the world was better off with out me… and all those other definite signs of clinical depression… I went back to the doctor.

I didn’t go to the doctor who kept saying she had no idea what to do. I actually advocated for myself – which is REALLY hard to do when you feel worthless and exhausted. But I did and I got a new doctor. He was thorough and knowledgeable and explained everything carefully to me.

I’ve been gradually increasing some and adding some and hoping it works, but medication adjustments are TOUGH. So right now is the anxious time, where my brain is going even faster than it already did, which was already too fast. And I worry about everything, find fear in things that aren’t there, and am generally miserable.

I’m giving it one more week then I’m going back to the doctor to tell him I can’t live like this. He was really up front and told me there would be this period, but I hate it. I just want to have a “normal” brain, one that doesn’t need medication to not want to die.

Seems like that isn’t that much to ask!


Fighting Against My Thoughts

April 10, 2014

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has this issue.  I find myself constantly (actually, less constantly than before, so I suppose that’s progress?  Incrementally getting better?) fighting against the voices is my head, which is exhausting. I have to actually consciously think – almost talking back to them – and point out that I’m not stupid, I’m not worthless, my future is not hopeless, I’m not unlovable.  It’s gotten better and I start thinking that it’s gone; when all of a sudden I hear that voice start talking back to me.  It’s so much easier to just listen to it.  I still keep fighting it because I really do know that it’s better for me to not give in, but does it have to be so difficult?