Friday, November 17, 2017

An Atypical Thanksgiving Post

I've recently been made aware of a letter my mother wrote before she died that included some very mean things about me. Whether or not she ate her words before she died is neither here, nor there. Since then I've been pretty angry and while that may seem sad, it's actually been super helpful in my grieving process. Instead of spending all my time wallowing over what I've lost, I've been able to step back and look at what I've gained since her death. In honor of honesty and Thanksgiving, I've decided to share something I wrote several years ago.
Thanksgiving around my house is like any other holiday... a futile attempt made by my mother to gather our, what she calls selfish, ungrateful family together under one roof in some semblance of mutual affection for each other. At times I wonder if she merely wishes to recreate a time in our lives when she thought everything was fine; when our broken, nuclear arrangement pretended to wear a mask of neutrality to cover up the drunken, apathetic animosity that existed despite my mother's orders of good behavior.

I will never understand her insistence on being the main cook--her obsession with fattening our bellies with her fervent guilt basted with gravy. These tempting mouthfuls of juiciness now replaced with bitterness. 

Over the years the family has dwindled due to divorce, death, arrests and insanity. No more do we experience the array of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, brothers and sisters-in-law, friends of family and the local kids of the neighborhood packed in our old apartment house that permeated with the scents of baked turkey, gravy, pies and cider... the scent of autumn, of family and of feigned happiness. 

Now that my mother is dead, I never have to spend another holiday hell bent on trying to make her happy, because she was unable to do that for herself. She depended on everyone else to be who she wanted us to be so that she could be comfortable in her own skin. Unfortunately for her, we were all our own people with our own minds and lives and so she suffered unnecessarily. She blamed us all for her own misery, a bed she made long before we were even born and insisted on laying in even after we were all adults.

No more guilt, no more wondering if it's okay to leave after two hours because everyone was in their own rooms ignoring each other and she couldn't keep herself awake anyway because she was a junkie on morphine before the cancer was even a blip on the radar of her life.

No more finding her sitting alone in the darkness, smoking a cigarette, hoping someone would catch her so she could manipulate their happiness into a depression that fitted her own.

Sometimes I feel like my mother was a cancer growing in my soul. From the moment she told me that I was a mistake and that she almost aborted me; to the time she slammed her ten pound bible on my chest rebuking me in the name of Jesus Christ, because she was convinced I was possessed; to the last thing she said to me: "Jennifer stop HURTING ME," when I was only trying to get her messy diaper off so I didn't have to leave her laying in her own filth--my mother has spent my entire life trying to make me feel worthless and I have spent mine trying to make her love me.

Now I'm stuck with all this baggage and garbage that I have to spend the rest of MY life working through in the hopes of pulling myself together into some kind of whole person.

But I'm thankful that it's over. I'm grateful that I now have a chance to be my own person, whoever that may be. My life no longer has to be about making my mother proud, in the hopes that she may decide one day that it was worth giving birth to me.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

It's My Manic Hubris and I Can Be Grandiose If I Want To

I have to admit, along with using the terms "positive" and "negative" to describe people, I do not feel comfortable accepting the idea that people should just "be happy." It is that type of archaic social pressure that makes some people want to eat a bullet for breakfast.

I don't buy into mob-mentality.

For the less experienced, or for the emotionally unintelligent (or for those who have never experience mental illness), happiness is a thing to be had if only you simply made up your mind to have it.

Perhaps it is easy to make the decision to be happy, but like making the decision to take out the trash, it's the follow through that matters; then you forget and end up stinking like rotten eggs for a while before you finally get around to dumping the garbage. 

One day I realized that "happiness" is an illusion and that it is more than anyone could ever hope for (if they have eyes and ears that work) to just be content and grateful for what you have instead of dwelling on that which you do not.

I told my shrink that I get really frustrated because I feel that a lot of people look down on me; that they feel superior for whatever reason. Maybe because I cuss a lot and they find it easier to watch their tongues. Maybe it's because I have a history of drug abuse and promiscuity and they don't. Maybe it's because I "over share" and allow myself to be vulnerable. Some people see vulnerability as weakness. 

Some people disdain weakness.

Perhaps some find me unreliable and unworthy because I often generalize and become hyperbolic when I'm in a bad mood. I wonder if they realize I have yet to learn how to completely control my knee-jerk reactions. I wonder why they can't just let it slide. They have no idea what it's like to be manic--to feel like a prisoner of oneself. 
"In the case of bipolar disorder, grandiose delusions are considered “mood-congruent delusions” in that they manifest from the manic (or hypomanic) state. During manic or hypomanic phases, it is believed that brain activity changes, brain waves speed up, and neurotransmitter concentrations change, particularly levels of dopamine." -Grandiosity in Bipolar Disorder: verywell.com
Usually I assume most people think I'm crazy white trash and they only keep me in their lives so that they can feel better about themselves. I’m always just on the outskirts of community. I’m like the stray dog that nobody wants to see starve, but will always be shooed away when anyone’s looking. 

I find that unbearably frustrating, because even though I'm often filled with self-loathing and insecurities I can still see how freaking awesome I am. Why can't they? Why are some people so ashamed to openly care about me?

Sometime I tell myself they're just jealous. 

But they probably aren't thinking of me at all.

I asked my therapist if she thought I was a narcissist and she told me, "no, but you have narcissistic reactions." 

It's all part of the grandiosity that can come during mania with someone who has bipolar disorder. On the surface the grandiosity seems so arrogant and uncouth, but from what it stems is a desperate need to be heard and understood. It's a subconscious defense mechanism to protect myself against feelings of inferiority. 

I find that when I'm feeling my worst my emotions are amplified by my (possibly skewed) perception that other people don't like me when I'm being myself. That often my sometimes paralyzing anxiety is triggered by the thought that I can never say what I'm thinking or feel my feelings because then people will stop liking me and I'll be left all alone penniless and friendless, roaming the streets half-naked looking for a god that doesn't exist (and even if one did, it probably wants nothing to do with me). 

"So what?" asked my therapist. "If people don't like you that's not your problem." 

"I think I make people uncomfortable." 

"Fuck that. People are responsible for their own comfort."

I'm relieved to find out that I'm not technically a narcissist. I hate narcissists.

I'm so tired of apologizing. I'm literally exhausted by all my feelings of guilt and shame. In order for me to survive I have to stop caring if you think I'm being rude or over generalizing or being hyperbolic. I have to not give a shit if you think I'm vitriolic, abrasive or crass. 

If you think I ruined your life or even just think I'm a bad influence, take a number. 

I'll be first in line.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Surveying The Wreckage

I've written about myself several times on this blog, but since I am perpetually under construction, so are these posts. I've unpublished most of them. Some of this may be old news for a few of you, but it's all from a new point of view.
I know it must seem that I'm not myself lately. I've started seeing a therapist who will hopefully help me cope with my bipolarity and teach me how to put together the pieces of my life to help me become whole and to help me see what it is deep inside me that won't stop eating away at my soul. I'm also going to get a new psyche eval, which will hopefully lead to some better medication.

For those of you who are new to the show, lemme give you a bit of background. When I was sixteen, after about ten years of therapy, I was diagnosed with manic-depression, which is now mostly referred to as Bipolar Disorder.

Wait.

Go back further.

I am a mental time traveler. My memories are so vivid they consume me and I exist in them like a lucid dream. I remember my life non-linearly, disassociated from myself, the child a separate entity for whom I have great empathy.

It all stems from our childhood, ammirite? Those impressionable core years that are disturbingly under-appreciated. The years that draft our basic personalities.



My mother, both nurturing and destructive. Drugs and gangs ruled the streets in my neighborhood, and since all the parents had to work, were hooked on crack or were otherwise too indisposed to care for their kids, my mom became like a den mother. Her best friends were junkies and gangbangers.

She didn't judge, and they looked out for us. She cooked them meals and watched their kids, and they gave her weed or whatever else it was she wanted. All kinds of hard-living folks sought acceptance in our home. We trusted them and they never hurt any of us.

I didn't see it, but I remember my babysitter's boyfriend's best friend had his head blown off right outside my front door.

My parents got divorced when I was just a few months old and spent my childhood fighting over me. My mother was unfit at the time. She smoked too much pot, drank too much vodka and snorted too much cocaine. She filled my head with lies about my dad and my dad constantly tried to talk me into moving in with him.


I'm suddenly four years old and my stepfather has punched me in the face because I got in the way during one of his alcoholic rages. My mother made macaroni and cheese for dinner again. He threw the pan and all the mac and cheese flew up and got stuck to the ceiling and I cried because, fuck I love mac and cheese. He straight up punched me in the face like I was a man and knocked me right out.

I was raised standing in the corner, sometimes bruised and bleeding, peeling paint off the wall in a smokey haze while my folks partied with their friends. I was sent to bed without dinner more times than I can count.

I must have absorbed all of that rage, because I was unreasonable. I screamed and bit people (and the walls). I peed in the laps of my mother's friends. I took a lot out on my sister, who was so young and sweet and just wanted to be loved. I was awful to her.


I don't remember my first therapy session; I just remember my mom was told to nurture my creativity. She encouraged me to write.

So I wrote. I wrote little stories and poems and plays. I filled up journals. When I could stop and write in the middle of a rage storm I was able to prevent myself from beating up on my sister. I was able to keep myself from bashing my head against the wall.

I started my period when I was ten and when I was 11 my mother sent me away--she signed her guardianship over and I moved to Mariposa. At the time she had me believe that it was because I was bad and that she couldn't handle me and that living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere would be good for me. (And it was.)



But a few years ago I learned it wasn't because I was a bad seed. For some reason she thought it would be less painful for me to think that than to learn that my stepfather had begun grooming me. Decades of guilt and self-loathing for nothing.

When I was in Mariposa I was nearly arrested for getting into a brawl on the bus. I broke a window when I threw a large rock at a guy's head for calling me a "dyke." I went back to LA a week later.



So I got this diagnosis and took these drugs and I had therapy and over a period of weeks I descended into total chaos. One morning I woke up and chased all of my meds with a box of No-Doze. My mom caught me. She and her boyfriend dragged me literally kicking and screaming (and begging them to just let me die) to the hospital where I almost did die. I was in critical care for days--nobody was allowed to see me. I was almost institutionalized, but being the great bullshitter I am, I talked my way out of it.

After I was released I decided that it was irresponsible for doctors to put me on that many meds when I was only 16--my brain hadn't even fully developed yet and I was filled with all kinds of hormones that were affecting my moods and behavior. I vowed to never take pharmaceuticals again.

Flash forward to now.



I look back at my life and realize that my diagnosis wasn't wrong, it was just handled poorly. I see now that all of my actions have been textbook examples of bipolar behavior. I got so heavy into drugs and alcohol that I was literally homeless for about a year--lived in my car. I should have died so many times. I should have been thrown in jail. I could have easily killed people. I was reckless and violent and I hurt those I cared about.

I broke my sister's face. I nearly slashed my brother's throat. I threw a pan at my mother's head. One day I was drunk and sparring with my younger brother. I got agitated, which blossomed into rage and I beat him with a garden hose (he was an adult at the time. The only time I ever hit a child was when I was one myself). I'm sure I did a lot more than that, but I was so fucked up I don't remember it all.

When I wasn't angry I was "high on life": maxing out credit cards; blowing through paychecks (and men); stealing from my mom and aunt. When I wasn't manic I was suicidal. I was despondent. And when my dad was killed I was inconsolable. But I blew through the insurance money like I didn't care. I bought a truck that got repossessed and the rest went on vacations, drugs and booze.



For ten years now I've been sober from hard drugs.

Several years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had already been in a wheel chair for a time because of bad osteoarthritis that left her with no ball joints in her hips. Walking was excruciating and, because she also had advanced diabetes, her feet and legs were constantly infected. She had kidney disease.

So they took part of her breast and when they still found some markers they wanted to take the whole thing, but vanity got the better of her and she said no. Since she was unable to lay down they couldn't do radiation treatment, and she denied chemo. Well, in January of 2015 they found something in her lung, and while I was in Portland helping my husband and his mom care for his dying dad, I was informed that my mom had lung cancer.

When I got home I had a breakdown. Acute Stress Attack, they called it; I was put on a regimen of medications. I told my doctor about the bipolar diagnosis and that I felt I needed to see a psychiatrist and he poo-pood me, saying I just needed to manage my stress. The medication has helped significantly, but it's not appropriate for my problem.

The tumor took up 60% of my mom's right lung, and because she also had COPD and was already on oxygen therapy, they said surgery would leave her living on a ventilator. So she said no to surgery. She was given 2 months to 2 years. As angry and cynical as I can be, I'm quite the optimist, so we planned for 2 years.



She moved in with me and my husband for home care, and for two months we developed an incredible relationship. Taking care of my mother gave me purpose. She admitted to being happier with me than she had been in years. We had some really good times in those few months. Then suddenly she started gaining weight, and we thought it was because her appetite had increased since she had moved in with us. A week later she was having trouble staying awake, and within a few days they had moved her from palliative care to hospice care. She died a week later on January 6, 2016, in what is now our spare bedroom.

I blamed myself for about a year because I felt I had killed her. I'm not a doctor, but I've read a lot of medical journals and have researched every disorder, disease and syndrome I've ever heard of, so I feel I should have known she was going into congestive heart failure and that it wasn't just weight gain. I had no idea that I was supposed to slowly poison her to death with Xanax and Morphine and when I yelled at the social worker because Kaiser made me kill my mom she said, "no, you helped her die."

I wasn't prepared.

It was a nice euphemism.



So now it's nearly the middle of 2017. This August I'll have been tobacco free for 6 years. That and my medication coupled with poor food hygiene has caused me to gain about 75 pounds. I'm in the middle of my MFA thesis and I have a hoard of physical problems--disc degeneration in my back (all discs are either bulging or missing and there is blood in my spinal fluid; many vertebrae are bone-on-bone--thanks hereditary osteoarthritis!). I have headaches all day, every day. I also have PCOS, so I have horrible pains and mood swings on my period. I'm still grieving. And now I have the fear that our government will become a religious autocracy where the patriarchy completely takes over and feminists atheists will be the first to go. I either binge eat or I starve myself and I'm too exhausted to exercise.

These aren't excuses. They are reasons.



Breathe.

I'm fucking angry. I'm exhausted. I'm stressed out and I just want to disappear.

My homework for this week was to stop bottling up my anger. To stop trying to mold myself into what I think everyone else wants me to be so that I can fit in with society and be well-liked. My goal for this week was to be totally outspoken and honest about what was on my mind without concerning myself with the consequences. Instead of spending my energy consumed with how others perceive me and thus bottling up my feelings, I'm supposed to blow off some steam and use that extra energy to look inward and question my reactions.

I've come to some interesting ideas, but it's all still kind of confusing to me and I've only had two sessions... Still, I can't help but try to start putting things together. I keep feeling like I have the BIG IDEA on the tip of my tongue and then it's gone. Kind of like taking acid, realizing the meaning of the universe and as soon as you go to tell someone you forget everything.

I have to be patient.

I just wanted to share with whomever is reading because I don't want to go on this journey alone. I don't want to isolate and disconnect from everyone while I'm growing and changing. I want us to do it together so our friendships and relationships will be stronger in the long run. So far my therapist and I have discussed my grandiosity, anger and narcissistic reactions.

I am not completely devoid of self-awareness.

The stigma around mental illness MUST end. People like me need to feel like they can be themselves without having to bottle everything up until they explode because it's rude to be direct (at least if you're a woman). It's crude to cuss. People tune out when you raise your voice. Society has taught us all that the person who remains calm is superior. Avoid all conflict. Smile. Remain positive. Stay away from depressed people, they're toxic.

We have our place in the world.

This is mental health activism.