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.


For Those of You Who Pray

December 17, 2012

please pray for me tonight.

This feels like a silly thing to ask for prayer for with all the violence against humans in the world and I have been mourning the Connecticut situation as well. But closer to home while not nearly on the same spectrum, I have an emergency dog situation and she is part of my family.

I’ve been doing really intense training with my dog around her aggression issues because she is really strong and could really hurt someone. And attacks other dogs when she is afraid. She attacked my neighbor’s dog today and wouldn’t let go. In the process, she bit both me and my neighbor on the hand. My neighbor had to get two stitches so there was a police report but since it’s her first offense they don’t mandate anything like putting her down.

However, they don’t know it’s not her first offense. It’s her third, and there were a number of other very close calls. In two of the cases, she bit a person as we were trying to separate them, and drew blood both times. I talked to my dog trainer as well as an dog aggression specialist who is really good and knows her and they both, with much crying on all sides, said that she needs to be put down. They added that I’m the one who makes the final decision and that they’ll support me in any way they can but I think they’re right.

My heart is breaking. I love this dog, and I lost my other dog two years ago and it feels like yesterday. When she’s not aggressive, which is 98% of the time, she is sweet and loving and likes to sleep in front of the space heater and snore. I love her so much. But, while everyone’s OK today, if there had been a child in front of the dog she was trying to attack, things would not be so OK. She could have easily broken my fingers or taken a few off. I’ve never seen her this bad and it was terrifying.

I don’t know if I have the strength to do the right thing and put her down and I don’t know if it is the right thing, although I suspect it is. I know she’s a dog and she won’t know what’s going on. She loves going to the vet and then she’ll go to sleep but then I have to go home without her. Please pray for strength and for knowledge of what to do. And for no guilt.

And I feel like, “Really, God, really?? With all the tragedy in the world you couldn’t leave me my most immediate source of comfort? You couldn’t leave me my dog who I love?”

again, i know it’s just a dog but I love her.


No, I’m Not OK.

August 26, 2012

I’m actually doing OK right this minute.  If you’ve been reading, you know it’s been a hard summer.  Really really hard.  A lot of good things happening for other people that I want to rejoice in but my heart hurts.  A lot of med changes that work in some ways and are horrible in other ways.  A lot of grief about the summer being so sad – I was looking forward to it, damn it!  But right this second, I feel OK, but breakable.

That’s where I got the name of the blog, (which I may have explained in the first post) because we are saints, we are part of the community of God’s saints, but I am very, very broken.  Three was a time when you could see that on me, visually.  I’ve always had some way of dealing with the pain of depression.  Often it was just sleeping.  Sometimes eating, sometimes not eating.  For a very brief period of time, it was drinking, alone (the train of thought being “I can’t be an alcoholic even though there’s basically no chance I am not one, genetically, and even though I am drinking alone in my room because I am sad and I need to STOP FEELING RIGHT NOW.  I can’t be an alcoholic!  I didn’t start drinking until I was 29!  And it’s just wine!” More on that in another post).

But the behavior that “helped” me the most was cutting.  So, if this is going to be a problem to read, you might want to stop now.  I haven’t written about it up until now because it’s so personal and it’s SO shameful.

When I was a little kid – and I was depressed from VERY early on – I realized that physically hurting myself made me feel better emotionally.  I had a ring that my grandmother had given me that had a sharp edge on it and I would press it into my hand.  The pain would make life a little more bearable right at that moment. Because my life was very not bearable.  I sprained my ankle several times, once by climbing a tree in a floor-length velvet party dress (not sure what my mother was thinking letting me wear that), and once by stepping in a gopher hole, and I realized that not only did the pain make me able to live in my own skin, but people could see that there was something wrong with me.  

They didn’t know I was depressed and wanted to die – I didn’t really have words for that.  But they knew that I was hurt and so they made an effort to help me.  It wasn’t the kind of help I needed, but there was such a relief to people seeing – visibly – that there was something wrong with me, that I decided to be hurt as much as I could.  I have a very strong memory of stomping on my bad ankle with my other foot to try to make it sprained again, and not seeing anything wrong with that – that I was consciously trying to injury myself.

I stopped that when I was a teenager, and until I was an adult.  I had horrible horrible depressive phases where I was almost catatonic and I mostly went to sleep as an escape.  I have no idea what people thought of me then or how visible it was.  When I was about 26 or 27 though, I found cutting.

I never got very “good” at cutting because I’m actually kind of a wimp about blood, which is ironic.  But I found that straight razor blades provided a good stinging sensation and X-acto knives were even better, and there was something incredibly satisfying about injuring myself.  It made me feel numb which is all I was looking for, and it gave me some relief from the feeling that I didn’t deserve anything better for some reason.  I did it mostly where people couldn’t see.  On my stomach was easy, especially in the winter, as sweaters hide everything.  On my left wrist was harder but again, the winter is a good time for long sleeves.  I never did it deep enough to leave scars and it was never a suicide attempt or anything close to it.  I just needed the feelings to stop.

At one point, I was really not doing well.  My Bible Study was aware of this, I had been asking for prayer, and I wasn’t even pretending any more.  When someone asked me if I was OK, I would say, “NO, I’m not OK.”  And usually they wouldn’t know what to do and would probably wish they hadn’t asked.  At one point, I went to a SuperBowl party.  I hate football but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I went and I sat on the stairs at my friends house and sobbed through the whole game.   I had been cutting before the game because quite honestly, it felt like the choice between that and driving my car off a cliff.  A friend from my Bible Study came up to me and asked if I was OK.  I said no.  My sleeve fell back a little and he saw my wrist and said, “You’re NOT OK!”

I thought of this because of my last post.  People seem to need some kind of visual or a malady that they can understand.  I had been begging for help and no one got it until they saw my wrist.  Last weekend I really really wanted to take that approach again.  I didn’t because I could survive, and my life is not unbearable even if sometimes it feels like it for a short period of time.  But I really wanted to.  Just to make my outside match my insides.  To show, “Look, THIS is how much I hurt.  Can you see now?”

I stopped drinking and cutting (again, hadn’t gotten to what anyone else would probably see as a major problem but I know myself and I couldn’t have stopped if I had waited) both on Dec 30, 2005.  This was partly because I realized that no one in my family who had ever used alcohol as a way to numb themselves had ever turned out well.  It’s not a beverage to me, wine, it is a feelings management system, and that’s dangerous.  But also because of something my therapist had said.  I had told her about the cutting but not the drinking because I felt so silly since it was not “real” drinking).  She told me it would make me feel better temporarily but it would make the feelings I was trying to avoid last longer. And I thought to myself, “I will not survive if these feelings last longer.”

So I stopped.  But I miss it.  Them.  This summer has been a time for both wanting to numb feelings and for wanting to show other people how hard it is to be me.  How much it hurts.

The other thing is that I don’t have any scars from cutting.  I should, even though I didn’t cut very deeply.  I have scars from paper cuts and mosquito bites.  I scar very easily.  But I have none.  Most of the time, I can see this as God’s grace to me.  Sometimes I wish I did have them.  Because again, they’d be tangible proof of the pain I’ve been through and that even when I look OK, things have been really really hard in the past.


How Not to Help With Depression

August 24, 2012

Here’s the thing with depression: people don’t understand it.  If you have a broken leg with a cast, they get that you need help.  Cancer, diabetes, MS: horrible diseases that I wouldn’t wish on anyone but (I think) people understand that those with those diseases need physical help sometimes, need rides places, need food brought to them.  No one is going to tell them it’s in their head, they’re not trying hard enough, or they’re not trusting God enough.  Well, maybe so, but it’s easier to see that those comments are horrible and untrue.  Not so with depression.

Two weekends ago, my ex-boyfriend got married.  It is a good thing we’re not still together and hi wife is probably in for some tough years unless he’s dealt with more than I think he has.  But it still hurts.  It’s the dying of a dream; it’s the feeling that I wasn’t good enough, that he’s able to find someone who wants to spend the rest of their life with him and I can’t find that.  It’s the fear that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.  This was coupled with helping get ready for a very dear friend’s wedding.  I wanted to badly to be happy and excited for her but I was in a lot of pain.  Plus the summer of med-adjusting has definitely taken its toll on my confidence and mood.

I tried to take care of myself.  I knew it would be hard, so I asked for prayer and I asked for help.  In retrospect, maybe I didn’t ask for help as specifically as I should have but I know I did tell people I’d really like having people to hang out with and that I really thought I needed it.  Everyone kind of said they were really busy.  Which they are!  Someone had parents in town.  Someone else was out of town.  A lot of people were helping get ready for the wedding.  Someone had family birthdays.  Someone else was moving.  There was legitimate busy-ness.  But I know that if I had broken my leg and needed to go to the hospital, all of those people would have been there for me.  If someone had died, same thing.  If I had been throwing up, many of them would have come even if it meant dealing with vomit.

I texted people during the weekend too.  I was crying too much to call.  Many people asked me if I was going to be safe.  I answered that if I meant was I going to kill myself, I wasn’t.  I wasn’t going to self-harm.  But that I wasn’t by any means OK.  Some people said they were glad I wasn’t going to do anything stupid.  Some people told me to look on the bright side, I didn’t want to be married to him anyway.  Some people told me to stop being self-defeating.  Some people told me to go back to counseling.  Some people said if I could get to their house I could hang out (I couldn’t get out of bed or talk on the phone, driving was out of the question).  When I pointed this out, they said well sorry, they couldn’t get there.

I don’t feel like I do this very often.  In fact, it’s been years.  I guess I used to need people a lot more but it hasn’t been true for the last few years so I don’t feel like I’m asking that much.  So I’m going back and forth between I am so angry and hurt that no one could be bothered and oh my goodness, I ask too much, I’ll never ask again.  But again, had I needed a ride to the ER, all of these people would have been here in a second.  Had I been sick from chemo, they probably would have scheduled an around-the-clock watch.  These are people who love me but do not understand.  I stayed in bed all weekend and cried more than I have in years.  Not only was the weekend bad, but I felt abandoned.

I did have two people come by – and they were the two people who really shouldn’t have.  The bride-to-be, who had 10 million things to do, came by to get me out of bed and take me to the grocery store, with no judgement or resentment, even though she REALLY didn’t have time.  My friend who is still post-op and needs to be careful with over-exerting herself AND had a family birthday AND was practicing music for the wedding came by with food.  So I’m incredibly grateful for those two people who really really didn’t have time.  But I’m so resentful and hurt at the others and I don’t know how to let it go or address it or even know if it should be addressed.

Again, if it had been something else, I feel like the reaction would have been very different.  But I also don’t feel like I should have to say I’m worried about being suicidal in order to have support.


The Far-Reaching Effects of Suicide

August 7, 2012

A member of my church committed suicide last month. I didn’t know him – his wife and I had some mutual facebook friends and I have probably met her but I wouldn’t have known him if I had bumped into him on the street. I wouldn’t have expected someone who was a total stranger to affect me like this but it has for a number of reasons. {If reading about suicide is not a good thing for you at this moment, by all means, don’t do it. Just thought I’d say that)

I have lost two people who were important to me to suicide. One was an uncle who was one of the most creative, loving, inspiration people I have ever met – when he wasn’t drowning in mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. He tried for decades to get sober and hung himself when he was being sentenced for abusing his girlfriend. Obviously, this devastated our family, although it wasn’t really a surprise. He had a 14-year old daughter at the time. I was incredibly sad but not super angry, maybe because I wasn’t surprised. Mostly sad.

Another was a friend from college. We weren’t particularly close in the normal way but we were youth group leaders together and that creates a really special bond. He knew that I struggled with depression and he even knew when I was briefly hospitalized because of it. I think that’s why my main reaction was anger when I found out he had been diagnosed with depression for years and ended up taking his life. He wasn’t messing around either – he had it set up so that if the gunshot didn’t kill him, the fall would have.

I was heartbroken at this too, but also furious. He knew what I was dealing with, how dare he not let me know that he was going through the same thing! Not just for himself, but I would have felt a lot less alone. He was one of those people who gave and gave and didn’t let us know what he needed. I feel cheated by that – I didn’t get to know my friend like I could have and I didn’t get to help someone who helped me.

As someone who has been depressed enough that I wanted to die and fantasized about dying, other people’s suicides affect me by making me feel like it’s a possibility for me. there’s always been kind of a wall up – I know I won’t do it no matter how much I want to. I’m not always sure why, but I know I won’t. I’ve been through periods of self-harm but I knew it would never go that far. But suicides of people in my life make me think, “Oh, maybe it is OK. Maybe I could do it. Maybe that is one way out of the pain.”

Thankfully, I haven’t been in that much pain in a few years so I’ve been thinking much less about suicide. But I still tend to react when people talk about how selfish it is. Of course it’s selfish. You’re not thinking about anyone but yourself (except when your thinking is so twisted that you start assuming everyone else is better off without you), but there’s a reason for that. When people are in enough pain, I don’t think they can think of anyone else. I know I couldn’t. It hurts so badly – physically, emotionally, spiritually, in every way – so much pain that you’ve lost your survival instinct and are ready to end it all… I think depression IS inherently selfish because there’s just nothing left at all for anyone else.

I’m rambling because this is a hard subject for me, but there’s something that this bereaved family did that I think was incredibly brave. They told people what happened. In the announcement at church and in the obituary online, they didn’t say “suddenly passed away” or any other euphemism. They said that he struggled and he took his own life. I’ve been trying to find the words to explain why I think that is so important but I haven’t been able to. It’s the truth and that somehow feels honoring of him. It’s an admission that he was ill. And maybe it will make someone else feel less alone or get help? I’m not sure, but I think it was so brave to say.


Anxiety

July 25, 2012

I made a doctor’s appointment for Friday, which is also my 37th birthday.  Going to the psychiatrist on my birthday is not really what I want to be doing, but it was the first appointment she had and I need to go.  the amount of anxiety I’ve been having lately is at a whole new level for me.  I find myself awake at night worrying about where I am going to go for Christmas (yes, I know it’s only July), who I’m going to carpool with to my friend’s wedding next month, when I’m going to be able to walk the dog, when one of my paychecks is going to come and if it’s too early to ask about it again, how I’m going to get the scratches out of the floor, if I’m a good enough dog owner, who’s going to take care of me when I’m old…Some of these are really important questions, some are not, but none of them is going to get solved in the middle of the night.  At the same time, I have random conversations repeating in my head, songs I can’t get out of my head, adrenaline running through my body, and a constant need to go to the bathroom because I am so nervous.  Needless to say, I’m not sleeping.  In fact, I was thinking about lying on the hardwood floor last night because somehow I was convinced, in my anxious sleep-deprived brain, that that would calm me down.

At the same time, I don’t want to tell anyone because I feel like I’m a horrible person who doesn’t deserve friends.

Fortunately, if there is a fortunately in all of this, I have been dealing with this mess for long enough and gone to enough therapy that I know there’s something off in my brain and that at least most of this stuff isn’t true.  And I can look back at my writing and see that fairly recently, I felt really good.

The unfortunate part is that this may mean more trial and error with meds. I tend to need new meds every few years and that is expensive, inconvenient, and sometimes terrifying.  I never know what will work, what will cause side effects, what will make things worse, and what will only work enough to make me think that this is as good as it gets for the rest of my life.

And this is what I get to do on my birthday.  I’d appreciate prayers – the last time I had meds adjusted in a major way, it worked out really well.  Chances aren’t great that it will work out that well again, but here’s hoping.


A Sunken Place

July 2, 2012

I was looking up the word “depressed” because I feel like it’s overused and doesn’t really convey want I want it to convey.  I realized that there are different things I want to convey at different times.  Sometimes it’s that I’m absolutely at the edge of the pit of despair and that I can’t remember anything being OK, ever, and that I’ve lost all hope and am swallowed up in darkness.  Sometimes it’s just that something heavy is pressing on me and everything is harder.

One of the definitions I found was “a sunken place or part; an area lower than the surrounding surface.”  That’s how I feel today.  Lower than all the surrounding surfaces.  Sunken.  I got into bed this afternoon even though I wasn’t that tired.  My dog came in the bed with me and we took a nap.  Then I woke up – still not tired – and just couldn’t get up.  Couldn’t read, couldn’t get up, couldn’t make a phone call.  I wasn’t crying and sad, but I felt like I was in a sunken place – sunken into my bed and unable to get up.

I did get up finally, but it took a lot of effort and I felt like I was sleepwalking. Fortunately I had some dinner plans with friends which helped and I feel better now.  But all these episodes are reminding me of how this can come on when I don’t expect it and frightening me, because I’ve lost decades of my life to this and really don’t want to lose any more.