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.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Things I remember about The Mansion

As you might recall, The Mansion is what we called a very large Victorian house on O Street in Sacramento, where we lived for three years starting right after my 5th birthday. It was converted into medical/dental offices after we moved out.

The house was partially furnished with antiques and there was an old Victrola in the living room, with some records. Sometimes we'd get to play them. Most of the time, the TV was on, and our antenna had a rotor on it so we could rotate it from inside the house. Cool beans. Please don't ask my oldest brother about E-skip.

We had a full dining room that was separated from the living room by sliding wooden doors. There was a dumb waiter from the kitchen to the second floor, but we never used it. I always thought it would be a blast to try riding in it, but no such luck.

I remember standing at the very old-fashioned sink in the kitchen. I think it was aqua blue, but I could be wrong. There are no photos. That kitchen is where I learned how to make sugar toast.

I think there was a front stairway, all wood and polish, that we hardly ever used. There was a back stairway that we used instead. I remember jumping the last few steps all the time, wishing I could fly.

My grandma came and lived with us for awhile and took up the whole side-front room, which my mother called The Library. I suppose the built-in bookshelves were the reason for that. The full bathroom was between that and what was called The Study, but was really my dad's bedroom. My mother took the very back bedroom on the second floor. I remember being very surprised once when I found my mother and dad in his bed together because it was so rare.

The bathtub in the full bathroom was an antique clawfoot which my mother de-valued by painting it elaborately and gluing fake jewels all over it. She did the same thing to the bathroom walls. It was big and pink and maroon and fairly hideous. She wanted to be a hippie, I think. 

There was a laundry room off the kitchen that led to the back porch. Or maybe it was the back porch and was just closed in. There was a small stairwell that led downstairs to the basement; my dad kept a workroom down there, in the small finished part. We could go out under the rest of the house from it, which was all dirt and cobwebs and musty. One year, my mother decked it all out as a haunted house for a church Halloween party. I didn't go down there for the party, it was for the adults.

Our front porch was huge and I remember sitting on it once in awhile. I also remember my next older brother getting ahold of the movie camera and making several short films of my little brother and me, stop action; and of flowers, bees, butterflies - you name it, he filmed it. Those are in the box in storage too.

I remember sliding around on the hardwood floors in my socks with my little brother.

I remember there was one full bathroom and one water closet on the first floor; and one sink and bathtub upstairs on the second floor. 

I remember my oldest brother built a miniature golf course in the window box of his bedroom.

I remember my sister and me sharing a room for a bit before she left for the Army, and it seems to me we had a walk-in closet. I remember her dressing to go out with friends in all orange, including stockings and shoes. Possibly.

I remember the entrance to the attic was in my next oldest brother's room, which he shared with my little brother. 

I remember for awhile I had a black and white TV in my bedroom - the height of luxury, because then I could watch TV from bed, something I eventually grew out of (in my 40's).

I remember being told to clean up my room, then getting the only spanking in my life from my dad because I had just shoved everything under the bed. No joke, I was a cliche from the beginning.

I remember the back yard was huge, at least to a five-year-old, and we had to go down about 25 steps off the back porch to get to it. My dad grew purple irises and there was honeysuckle and an orange tree. When the house was converted in the mid-1970's, they paved paradise and put in a parking lot.

I remember my dad mowing the front yard by hand. With a push mower. There are home movies of me mugging the camera and imitating him.

I remember swimming in a little 2-foot wading pool in what was laughingly called a bikini. There are movies in The Odd Saga of my older brothers splashing each other and running around. 

I remember chasing bugs in a field on the corner, which is now an office complex. It's where I began a love of ladybugs and pretty much got over my fear of insects. The grass was tall; I think we were lucky there weren't any snakes in there as well.

I remember having my "boyfriend" from school come visit for a playdate. He was the baby boy in a fairly prominent Sacramento family, from what I was told. He only ever came over once.

I remember our last Christmas together as a family. My parents blew out the stores, apparently, and there are photos of me in a brand-new blue satin robe, pretending to iron clothes with a toy iron and board. I remember figuring out there was no Santa that year, too. A few months later, my mother was moving us all to a two-bedroom house in a different part of town, where I had to share a room with her and my little brother, while my two older brothers had the other bedroom.

I remember running downstairs to my daddy in the basement, because I had asked where he was going to sleep in the new house and my mother told me he wasn't coming with us. 

I remember for years after we moved out, whenever I dreamed at night of home, it was The Mansion that filled my head.

I don't remember everything about living there, but what I mostly remember is I was happy, when the family was still a family and I was young enough to believe it would be that way forever. The home movie that was my life, and which, childlike, I believed God was watching while eating a bag of popcorn, was mostly perfect.

I'm not sure I wasn't right.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Stories of Childhood, Part 2

My first memory is of being dressed in plaid, standing next to my little brother and in front of my older sister having my photo taken. I think I remember it because I've seen the photos. I was about three or four.

My next memory is of sitting at the kitchen table drawing while my mother washed dishes or something, and it seems to me the song "Happy Together" was playing on the radio in the background. That's not necessarily true, but it sounds about right. I drew what I thought was an elephant and also a scribble I called Dennis the Menace. I remember it because both pictures are glued into my baby book. I was still about three or four.

There are home movies of us watching The Lawrence Welk Show, and I think I remember trying to hog the camera. "No," you say, "You're not the dramatic type." Notice the sarcasm coming from your mouth. My mother put the date on a piece of paper with some M&M's and took movies of that. My oldest brother hid beneath a blanket so only his toes were showing. This was before we moved into The Mansion, so I was almost five, I think. 

About the same time, there are movies of us standing in full sunlight in our best Easter clothes. All I remember, aside from what I've seen in the video, is that my eyes were (and still are) extremely light-sensitive. Today, and also because I'm getting to the end of middle age, I tend to wear sunglasses on rainy days and I definitely don't drive at night if I can help it.

My oldest brother edited all our home movies in the late 1960's, early 1970's, and called it "The Odd Saga." Hmm, he was right about that. In any case, I haven't looked at them for years. He edited our trip to Texas in 1969 as "Voyage to See What's At The Bottom of Texas." I'll talk about that maybe another time. They're all sitting in my storage unit, waiting to be converted. I'm not sure it will ever happen, but perhaps if I write about it I'll remember more details. Or maybe I should do a Kickstarter campaign to "preserve the heritage of the white middle class family in America."

Insert major sarcasm here.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Stories of Childhood, Part 1

I realize it's been over a year. 

I got a job, found a place to live, found a church where I'm feeling more and more comfortable; I've also been seeing someone special for a few weeks. I have not, however, had any good medications for about two months. I'm living on a very thin edge until my new benefits kick in and, of course, some days are better than others.

I also bought a new car, which means I need to find a second job. Gee, I wish I could make money on this blog. I may have to put a PayPal button at the bottom ...

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

I've decided to start blogging my childhood. Nothing bad, or nothing intentionally mean, but things I want to try to analyze, or at least prove to myself and perhaps other people who see me that I've always been this way and that it's probably okay. I mean, God made me this way, God works with what He's given me and no matter how hard I worry, I'm along for the ride no matter what. 

My kids keep telling me I should write a book about my mother. Perhaps. I even have a name for it: "All We Had for Christmas One Year Was a Can of Spam." My mother is a storyteller. Very few of them are completely true, several of them are outright fantasy, but at one time or another, she told all of them as Gospel truth. The above title was a story which was included in a litany against my dad and included beans that refused to cook through and spending money on "tars for the car" instead of things for the family, which still made my mother angry three decades later. 

I don't know about now. My mother is turning 90 this November; my dad has been gone for more than 10 years and she's been in Texas living with my sister since then. I'm planning a visit, which will be the first time I've seen her in a long time. 

In any case, some of my stories are about hearing her stories. 
My children also tell me they're going to write a book about me and call it "It's An Adventure." I used to tell the kids, when life got crazy or out of hand, or even if we were just lost in the car, that it was an adventure and to take it in stride. I think I was mostly trying to convince myself. 

Nowadays, the adventure for me is making myself get up and go to work with people who don't know me and whom I don't want to really know. There's a difference between coworkers and friends, you know, and bipolar disorder is not a great conversation starter in any case.

So. Yeah. The first story.
It's not a long one. Along with the bipolar disorder there's OCD and extreme sensitivity. My mother called me Nervous Jervis all my childhood and really, that's also where the ADHD fits in. My previous doctor told me it's not real ADHD, it's a symptom of the bipolar called hypomania, but if the shoe fits ...

We lived in this big house on O Street in Sacramento, a Victorian before it was converted into dentist offices with two floors, a full basement and a really cool attic that we called the third floor because the window in there was higher than the rest of the house. 

I was five when we moved in, but hey, I already knew it all. One morning before anyone got up, I decided I'd be helpful and light the furnace. I don't think the house had a thermostat; if it was cold, you lit the furnace and if it was hot you turned on the swamp cooler.

Already you can see where this is going. I didn't. I'd seen my older brother do it and decided it couldn't be that difficult, considering he was only 12 years older than I was but hey, it's me! I turned on the gas and proceeded to look for the matches. Yes, I blew off my eyebrows. I remember the rest of the family coming when I yelled and then all of them laughing at me. I don't even remember getting a scolding, although I'm fairly sure I did.

That's it. At some point while we were living at that house, my kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade years, my mother took me to a psychologist who told her I was the world's youngest teenager. Wrong diagnosis, but for some reason my mother thought that was the funniest thing in the world. Those same years, my dad quit going to church and we quit eating around the table as a family. My sister left to join the Army and my oldest brother didn't leave to go to college. 

At the beginning of 3rd grade, my mother left my dad and took us with her. 

I could go on, but I don't want to get too serious too soon. Maybe next time I'll talk about irises in the back yard and taking my shoes off to walk home from school. You know, other stuff with maybe a happy ending or something like that. 

Have I mentioned my short attention span yet?