Thursday, January 24, 2019

More Stories from Behind

My son said at one point he was interested in hearing more stories from when I was a kid. Here are a couple of them.

Childhood story: 

My sixth grade teacher was Miss Joseph. She was probably a lesbian, she was in her 50's and very athletic. I don't care. She loved the Cincinnati Reds and let us listen to the World Series that year on a radio in the classroom. She made us use the word "lavatory" instead of bathroom when we needed a pee break.

There was a little twerp in my class, I think his name was Jeffy or something. Anyhow, he used to sit next to me and whisper abuse in my ear, "You're ugly, you're stupid, everyone hates you." One of the good things my mother taught me was to ignore people like that because they just want attention and I could choose not to give it to them. (Sometimes I wish I'd been able to do that with her, but alas every hurtful word made its way directly into my heart)

One day, it had been going on for awhile, Miss Joseph walked past and finally heard him. She hauled him out of his chair and asked me why I hadn't said anything to her about it. I looked at her and told her what my mother said. She asked my deskmate why he never said anything and he told her I didn't say anything, why should he? 

Then she grabbed Jeffy's arms and pinned them behind him and said to me, "Go ahead, hit him."

. . .

I said no, of course. Even at the age of 11, I knew right from wrong and was appalled by an adult's behavior. She moved him to an isolated desk at the back of the classroom and probably, although I don't know for sure, made his life hell for him the rest of the year. And I know she never favored me after that, getting on my case for crossing the double yellow line on the playground that separated us from the little kids and yelling at me at the 6th grade picnic when I stated how disappointed I was with the chinzy little prize I got. 

We moved that summer, so I didn't go to Jr High and High School with those classmates. I never saw Jeffy again, at least I don't think so. And I got bullied far worse in Jr High and High school than whatever he could come up with.

Not  a happy ending. It's just a story that sticks in my mind. 


High School Hijinks

When I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher's name was Mr. Wergeland. He was a kick! When he was in college, he worked at a mental hospital . I don't remember any of his stories, but it helped shape my perception of him that I knew he was teaching English to high school students after dealing with mentally ill folk. He also had a banana in a jar. It was pure brown liquid, because it had been in the jar for several years. 

Freshman English was the last class of the day and I'm sure Mr. Wergeland was just happy to be almost done by the time we all trooped in. The people in my class, and you know who you are DK! were a bunch of wild and silly people, mostly boys. I remember one day during a spelling test, one of them piped up with, "How do you spell that again?"

Mr. Wergeland sighed and proceeded to spell it out for us. Then he spelled the next word. And the next. About 10 words in, he looked at us and said, "Was I spelling those?" We cracked up, and so did he.

Another time, he was trying to tell us something about his Argumentation and Persuasion elective that we could take the next year. He gave us a topic, asked us to defend, then proceeded to rip apart all the arguments. 

Then he got to me. 

I made my statement, then he went off like he had with the others. In the middle, I interrupted him and said something like, "You're off topic, that doesn't have anything to do with what we were talking about." The rest of the class just stared. He smiled and said, "That's right, and you were right to interrupt me." I was the only one who dared argue back. 

I'm thinking my anti-authoritarian tendencies probably date from that moment.

One other thing I wanted to say about Mr. Wergeland's Freshman English class was that a bunch of the guys in there got together and invented a fake person. His name was Alan Hobbs. Alan Hobbs checked books out from the book room and library, was blamed for several incidents of mischief and his sister even dated my friend DK just to make one of my other friends jealous. Alan Hobbs almost graduated with us, I'm pretty sure. 

Next class reunion, DK, let's hold up a sign that says, "Alan Hobbs, where are you?"

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

On the Edge of Normal

I haven't posted here for awhile. Normal is just beyond my reach most of the time and when I get to where I think I'm able to put down some words, normal scoots away again and I'm stuck with nothing to say.

Or too much to say.

I was laid off in December, and believe me, that is no easy thing for a woman in her 50's. Four months before that I had to give my car back to the bank because the job I had paid poverty wages and I could barely pay my rent. A few months before that I ended a toxic relationship that was sucking me dry emotionally and is only just resolving itself this month. Not a good year for me.

My mental illness keeps me from seeing things the way normal people see them. Which can be a good thing a lot of the time. The problem is that normal people run the world, want me to pay my bills, want me to work for a living, want me to say and do the normal things. I struggle to find activities that allow me to do the normal stuff while still being me. 

Daunting. Scary. Infuriating. 

My dream for a long time has been to open a daycare. I like kids. I'm good with kids. They don't care that I'd rather watch cartoons with them than sit behind a computer doing soul-sucking busy work. They're happy with glue and glitter, the same way I am. They like to eat macaroni out of a box and don't care if we play all day instead of doing something the world deems productive. They're easy.

I know some of you are horrified. Children? Easy? Yes. They don't judge, they just get on with it. I love 2-5 year olds. They delight me. 

So, is working from home doing the things I love the great lie we've been told by Facebook? 

The normal people want me to pay them money so I can do what I love. I want to do what I love and get paid for it. I don't want to make a million bucks, I just want to pay all my bills on time every month. And I want to love on babies. I'm a good grandma because I love being grandma so much. That makes me happy, it fills my soul with joy and helps me face the normal world. I have a t-shirt that says, "I used to be a people person, then people ruined it." That doesn't mean children. They make it worthwhile. 

For those of you who love me, agápē, I am honored. For those of you who know me from way back when or from church or other places now, please be patient with me. For those of you who know me only through this blog, I say welcome to my world but don't get lost. 

For everyone else, well, is there anyone else out there who feels like they're on the edge of normal?

Throws glitter

Monday, January 29, 2018

Life and Death and Life Again

The death of my mother two days before Christmas has left me with much to say but no real way to say it. I meant what I said when I said I wasn't going to grieve much when she went. It was time for her to go and we knew it was coming.

Still, the circumstances contrived to make it just that much more ... I don't know. Stupid is the wrong word but I can't really think of a different one. It was a Saturday and I was getting ready to blog about how it was exactly four years ago that day that David died. And then my sister called.

And I couldn't write one single word.

Two days later at Christmas dinner, the consensus among my brothers and me was that we were surprised she didn't die on Christmas Day, therefore ruining one last Christmas for us. She used to do that, pull some dramatic trick just to make sure no one was happy on the happiest day of the year. She used to have the Christmas tree down and all the decorations put away by noon, too.

You're shocked, I know. In some ways, it was a great relief to know she was finally gone, finally unable to affect us negatively in person. Unfortunately, her legacy is that she negatively affects us even in death, by the way she raised us and how we had to deal with her nonsense over the years.

Now we have no parents. My dad died 11 years ago January, and frankly, while not a perfect father in any sense, I miss him more than I'll ever miss my mother. 

But dealing with the death of my mother isn't a good thing. In my head, or rather, in other people's heads, I'm supposed to be heart-broken at the loss of a parent and apparently unable to be happy ever again. 

At least, that's what one church lady was telling me. This church lady is sweet and sincere. I didn't have the heart to tell her how relieved I was I never had to deal with my mother again. 

Here's my mother's legacy to me: I was the birth control pill she forgot one morning. I was going to be fat just like her when I got older. She pitied the man I married. When I got pregnant with my oldest, she wanted to know why I did that to her. She wrote a scathing letter before my wedding, telling me how awful I was and that I was only getting married to have a father for my child. And then she showed up at the wedding.


And the ultimate legacy, she passed down her mental illness to me. Not just to me, to all of us. We have all dealt with it as best as we could, hopefully better than she did. 

Here's the thing, though: I have no doubt in my mind that she's with the Lord. Despite her emotional abuse, her attitude of victimhood, her absolute certainty that nothing was ever her fault; she loved God. And He loved her.

Just as He loves me. 

I just wish I could remember some of the good things and describe them here. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

That's Just Mom

Mental illness is difficult to understand.
I understand that I am who I have always been. I understand that as I get older, my physical body changes and sometimes that affects my ability to deal with the mental illness. I understand that circumstances don't help.

Mental illness takes its toll.
In general, I am more highly sensitive to changes around me. It could be noise levels. It could be other peoples' reactions to me in any given situation. It could be an abrupt change in my schedule or even someone trying to surprise me. Sometimes it just happens and there's no warning. 

Not even the people who love me (and there are few enough of those) can bring me out of my own head as I struggle to deal with the overwhelming the feelings of guilt, resentment, anger, sadness, heartache and emotional pain that come when I feel as if nothing ever works right for me. I don't think it's their fault.

Mental illness is deceiving.

"You don't look sick." "That's just mom." "Why can't you just let it go?" "Drama queen." "You can learn how to deal with things." That last statement implies I have some control over the darkness. I don't.

Mental illness does not mean I'm stupid.
High-functioning. Genius. Explosion in a paint box. I've been called all these things. But intelligence and common sense don't seem to mesh well inside the bubble of my mental illness. I can't seem to pull the trigger that brings all the knowledge together with all the experience and shoots out a normal person. 

I've heard it described as being inside a glass tube where you can see the normality but you can't break through to touch it.

Mental illness is physically debilitating.
Not once in awhile. Not even once a week. It's every day. It's in the morning when I force myself to get ready for work, and then force myself to actually go, then force myself to do the work, then force myself to deal with the drive home and then force myself to eat and force myself to stay awake until it's time for bed. 

It's the weekend when I have nothing to do, no schedule to keep to that forces me to deal with the outside world. I do my laundry because I know I need clean underpants. I eat, sometimes. I take lots of naps. I go to church because that's where I need to be.

Mental illness sometimes keeps me from God.
I go to church because I know I need to be there, and I bring my grandchildren because that's when I get to spend time with them and they get to be in a place where they learn about a God who loves them. I know He loves me, too, it's just that even when I'm there, even when I know the Holy Spirit is poured out, even when the pastor preaches straight at me, I just can't seem to get past whatever it is that keeps me from experiencing what everyone else seems to get automatically. 

It's like I'm the only one who doesn't get it. It's like that for everything.

Mental illness keeps me alone.
I live inside my head and that scares the hell out of me, because no matter what I do, or say or think or feel, it'll never be good enough. Not for me, not for God, not for my kids, not for anyone. Inside or outside my head, there is always chaos. 

Even when I know the truth, know that there is an Almighty God who is love, and who loves me and made me who I am, the mental illness is a barrier, a sinkhole, a mire of self-recrimination that keeps me inside and doesn't let me go.

It is a darkness that is always there.

Mental illness is a legacy.
My mother is dying. She turned 90 this year but has been in and out of the hospital for a month, two brain surgeries and my sister has brought her home to die because there's nothing more to be done.

All I could do was go say goodbye to a woman who has never been happy. Unfortunately, I think I only saw a reflection of myself in 30 years time. We have always known that the mental illness is hereditary. 

I hope and pray that my children don't end up suffering through everything I have. I hope I did a better job as a mother, no matter the mistakes I made. I pray every day for my children who have rejected God. Personally, I can't not believe in Him. 

I have mourned my mother all my life. I don't know if I'll grieve when she's gone because she'll finally be free. 

Mental illness is what it is.
I started off by saying I accept that this is who I am. What I want my words to do is help other people get a sense of it. It probably won't work. It probably shouldn't matter as much as I think it does. The reality is that wherever I go, whatever I do, it is there and it is me. 

If you know me, you'll try to understand. If you love me, you'll try to be patient. If you need me, I can only give you as much as I can. It is what it is.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Falling Leaves

Falling leaves

She stares out the window, the glass protecting her from the ebb and flow of the wind as it knocks the leaves from the trees. It swirls them around, like her life, moved by an invisible force that isn't good or bad, it just is. 

Her mind isn't particularly on the leaves falling and floating; she is considering her life and the circumstances which have brought her to this point, and the tears that fall like the leaves are silent. 

She wishes things could be simple, like the leaves. They come, green and lovely in the spring, a promise of new life with a hint of summer in their scent. Then, at the appropriate time, they begin their change to the colors of autumn, yellows, reds and browns. Eventually the wind comes and they fall down, down, only to be taken in by the ground to nourish the very tree they came from so new leaves can grow again next spring.

It's all so uncomplicated, so orderly, so beautiful. She cannot say the same of her own life. Her childhood was filled with the knowledge of not being wanted or loved, that no matter what she did it would not be good enough. Her adult life consisted of trying to live the way she had been taught in Sunday School, only to fail time and again, never knowing why she wasn't allowed to be normal. Now as she grows older and finds out her brain has physically failed her, she realizes nothing will ever be normal.

She cannot see beyond this. This is her existence, the chaos. The past haunts her, the mistakes of a life attempted and failed, of a marriage full of conflict and children who succeed in spite of their upbringing, better than she did. It haunts her, the ghosts of people she has broken, worn them out by using them to try to be like them, only a few of them hanging on because of a love she will never fully understand or even feel.

She sits in church, knowing she needs to be there, knowing all the right words and all the right things. Yet when the pastor asks if there is anyone there who doesn't fully believe God loves them, she gasps silently, hangs her head and lets the tears fall. God is real, God is good, God is love but her marred mind will never allow her to accept that completely. 

The leaves fall and die; she cannot because that would be a pointless end to a seemingly pointless life and she is afraid of the eternal consequences if she takes matters into her own hands. Somewhere, somehow she knows God is watching. Is he a policeman, waiting to catch her out? Is he a judge, waiting to pass sentence? Is he a loving Father, something she has searched for her entire life and has yet to find? She does not know the true answers, only the words she has learned and repeated over and over. 

Is it enough for her to know these things? No, because it's never enough. It's never good enough. It just is and the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute struggle that not even the medications can help wear her down until all she can do is sit and stare out the window at the leaves falling. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Diagnosis, Same Old Life

The past two weeks have been nothing short of horrendous, and I have hesitated to describe here the things I've been going through simply because I'm still in shock. 

It's not that I'm incapable, it's that suddenly it's all gotten very scary for me.

I've been very up front about my mental illness, trying to sort through my life by writing about it here; somehow the new diagnosis has made all that too trite. Perhaps it's been that all along and I just didn't realize it.

I'm not going to name the new diagnosis, not yet. You can ask me and I'll tell you, but not here. 

So for those of you looking for another childhood memory, I'm sorry but for now I can't. I was trying to come up with something but I'm more overwhelmed than usual with this, and of course circumstances around me have conspired to keep me from thinking of anything else.

There are a couple of good things, and I try desperately to focus on them. I get to take my grandbabies to the pumpkin patch on Saturday afternoon and they're spending the night, too. There's still two games left for the Houston Astros to beat the Yankees and go to the World Series, because if it's a Yankee/Dodger series I won't have anyone to cheer for. I finally get to go see Blade Runner 2049 on Friday night.

I'm taking new medication for my new diagnosis, and I think it's starting to kick in, although that could just be (no pun intended) psychological. 

I'd just like to point out that no matter what the diagnosis is, I'm still me. The good, the bad, the ugly, the un-filtered. The child of God, the cherished woman, the explosion in the paint box. I think, though, I'm mostly pointing that out to myself.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cellophane Flowers of Yellow and Green

It's been a couple of weeks, but I've been sick. Meanwhile, here's another short and probably meaningless story of my childhood. 

It starts out with me watching a clip of The Graham Norton Show on You Tube the other day. Now, if you don't know who Graham Norton is, it's okay. He's a talk show host in Britain who is absolutely hilarious and has an appalling laugh. In any case, this clip features Ryan Gosling telling a story about his own childhood.

Okay, Ryan Gosling can tell stories absolutely deadpan, which makes them even funnier. This story was about how his parents somehow came to acquire a truckload of cellophane (plastic wrap, in case you didn't know it), and wanted him to sell it to their neighbors and take it to school and sell it - pretty much every kid's dream, help their parents make a million dollars the easy way.

He tells it better, but it made me think back to when I was eight years old and my mother had just left my dad and taken us with her to a small two-bedroom house to live. Okay, she didn't come across a truckload of cellophane, but what she did do was spend money (I don't know where the money came from) and printed her own greeting cards. They weren't ordinary greeting cards, no, they were full of lesser-known sentiments, like "Go Get 'Em, Tiger."

They weren't even printed on card stock, just black ink on colored paper. As an aside, I think with the right packaging and marketing, these would make a million dollars today, for sure. However, in 1971 no one cared. The reason this story comes to mind is that she bundled them together and packaged them in, you guessed it, cellophane. And then expected us to go door-to-door selling them for her.

Here's the thing. I don't do door-to-door. I don't do street evangelism either. I barely do meet-and-greet at church. I'm pretty much the hermit you read about, only without the explosives. Give me a piece of land, a room dedicated to arts and crafts and a great internet connection and what do I need with people? I don't even need cable TV, the internet is that good these days.

Later on she would create a line of 3-D greeting cards on card stock; they were art projects on their own because you had to color them in and cut them out and paste them together yourself. A great idea, if  the drawings weren't too fiddly to use actual scissors on. I think the kids and I used the last of them as art paper; the backs were blank.

So yeah. That's the story. I don't know what happened to those first cards. I think if I asked my oldest brother about it, he might know where the metaphorical bodies are hidden. In any case, that was the year I got glasses, discovered the joys of OCD and got to know the neighbor kid who was also a pyromaniac. No, really, he loved to burn things. The next summer we moved to the SF Bay Area from Sacramento. 

I have a few million-dollar ideas myself; we all do. Fred Flintstone and 412-Up soft drink, but then Barney Rubble is invisible. Right now I'm trying to figure out how to illustrate a children's book, publish a book of hand-drawn mazes and sell craft items online. Just one or two little ideas. Or maybe I'll just put that PayPal button on the bottom of this blog. Free book of mazes to the first person who helps me make my first million, no cellophane needed.