Be Your Own Superhero

Doctors forget that these are our lives. That even a single memory is a priceless thing and to spin the roulette wheel with our minds is a cruel practice.

Tonight is one of those sleepless nights. Those toss and turn, mind racing and won’t turn off, husband snoring kind of nights. I don’t mind it for some reason. I just want to write anyways. I’ve been talking with my son. And not just talking. I’ve been listening. He is the type of child with a lot to say. At first you might think all he wants to do is talk the paint off the walls. But if you really listen to him, really listen, you realize he wants to be part of the conversation. The greater conversation. The one the adults are having about the world. About the way things are changing. About the political scene. He doesn’t want to just sit back and listen to rap music and eat hot pockets. Well, sometimes he does. But he also wants to listen to Ted Talks and podcasts about scientific experimental treatments for PTSD and Opioid addiction. He wants to learn about political systems and how they affect the way we live. Why the world’s government’s don’t work. He’s vocal and opinionated and not always right but it’s better isn’t it? That he cares? That he’s learning? Isn’t that what we want from children? To challenge us? To force us from the complacency of sameness with the wild and wonderful phrase “What if?”

What if that which we have always thought to be true was false? And it took a young, free-thinking mind to ask the necessary question “What if?”

He was talking tonight about experimental treatments with MDMA and Ecstasy and the success they are having treating anxiety conditions, OCD and PTSD. He was saying it’s groundbreaking. Like any parent my first response was to convince him that was hype for drug users and nothing worth his time but the more I talked to him the more I realized how informed he was and that he did know what he was talking about. “Mom.” He said. “This isn’t about going to a concert and getting some soda laced with God knows what. That shit can kill you and in fact it is killing kids, because that isn’t pure MDMA or ecstasy. It’s low grade nightmare shit with whatever inside it and it’s really sad because kids have no idea.” I’m talking about actual clinical scientific trials with pure substances used in a controlled environment on subjects who are experiencing relief for the first time in their lives. Mom I’m telling you if you want good drugs, go to the scientists.” I had to laugh at that one because he was right.

My son knows my struggle with medications. He knows I feel like a fat guinea pig they just stuff one pill after another down my throat. He knows I feel like Alice in Wonderland never knowing what my body will do next, one pill will make me grow fatter. Another will make me pace around the room. This pill will take away my appetite but my hair will fall out. Still another will make everything taste faintly of metal. And the treatment of all treatments is they could attach electrodes to my brain and send currents of electricity through my grey matter as a last ditch effort (yes, actually electrocute my mind) in the hopes that my thoughts would be shocked into compliance. Of course there is that pesky little side effect of memory loss. Memories like the scent of my first born child’s head when they placed him in my arms for the first time. The sound of my mother frying bacon on Sunday mornings as a little girl. The feeling of holding my father’s hands as he walked to the liquor store. I always got to pick out a lollipop. My daughter’s middle name. How as a baby she would cry incessantly unless I played Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine over and over and over while I wore her in a sling. The first time my husband held my hand, kissed me.

I’ll never forget sitting there reading about how sometimes you lose your memories for a time but they come back. However in many cases they don’t. My doctor was so confident my memory loss would be minimal. But what does that mean? Which memory isn’t worth keeping? My mother’s genuine loving smile at my first piano recital when I hid behind the garbage cans? My oldest son deciding to take a bath in the middle of his fifth birthday, ignoring all of his friends? My youngest son carrying around a red velvet notebook he got from his teacher at Butterfly daycare center writing little notes and pictures long before kindergarten? That he was born with blue eyes?

Doctors forget that these are our lives. That even a single memory is a priceless thing and to spin the roulette wheel with our minds is a cruel practice. I have had enough of being a plaything for the ignorant. My body is not a toy. I am not a lab rat. I am done swelling up like a sad balloon, I am done being too exhausted to play with my daughter and I am done swallowing pill after pill after pill. By the way these pills are prescribed only 30 at a time at all different times with no refills from a doctor who works only one day a week from an office that takes up to a week to refill them and she has to sign off on each one through insurance that won’t pay until two days before they are due so that I’m constantly on the phone with either the doctor’s office, the pharmacy or the insurance company and I’m constantly getting lectured about running out or trying to refill too soon or any number of stupid and demeaning things they like to say to me on a regular basis, every single month of my life. I literally can’t take it anymore. And it makes me so angry because this is how patients fall through the cracks. It’s not the patients its the goddamn overmedicating doctors who just stop paying attention.

You know when I feel happiest? When I run my fingers over flowers that have just bloomed in my garden. When I clip my basil and put it in the sauce I’m making for my family. When I discover the first rose of the season and clip it and put it in a mug and it smells like heaven. When I make my son and I chocolate mint tea from leaves I grew. When I am surrounded by the quiet harmony of the life my mother and I created from seeds we started on folding tables in the great room of the house.

Do I still have bipolar? Yes. Do I take a medication called lithium? Yes? However I asked for it specifically because it’s an ancient natural remedy. People have been bathing in lithium waters for centuries to help find balance. It’s a salt. I do feel sometimes all this other shit I’m taking is not helping me at all. However I remember that I am bipolar and bipolar people hate taking their medication. Let me say that again. Bipolar people HATE taking their medication! The sad fact is that many of us do need those meds to keep from flying off into truly frightening states of mind. I have been there. I cannot deny that. This being said my opinion does matter. How I feel and what is happening to my body is important. My doctor and I must work together. My healthcare is truly a joint venture, not just one individual’s responsibility. It is possible to take less medication but that means it needs to be under my doctor’s supervision and with her consent. In addition I need to do my part here at home. I need to eat well. I need to sleep enough and consistently. I need to make sure my environment is peaceful, positive, stress-free. I need to go to therapy and talk about my feelings even when I’d rather hide under the bed with my cat.

When I’m in my doctor’s office and she’s asking me how I’m doing and prescribing me these pills I hate, if I don’t use my voice, if I don’t share my pain then I have no one to blame but myself. One of the many things I have learned from my son is that when something is not working he is NOT quiet about it. And as a result he gets his needs met. I need to take a page out of his book. Wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ and dreamin’ isn’t getting me very far. The time has come to be my own hero. It’s what I’d tell my daughter to do. Sometimes no one comes to rescue you and you have to pull up your boot straps and rescue yourself.

 

 

 

A Solitary Life

I’ve come to accept my days are lonely ones. That mine is the life of a writer, and it is a solitary life. I’ve come to realize that almost no one wants to hear the truth. Most especially not about themselves. 

It’s hard to put into words how much life can hurt sometimes. How it can kick you in the head, I’m at a point in my life where I don’t even know what the word friendship means. It seems like every person I truly open up to breaks my heart in some way and I don’t think this is unique to me. There are perhaps one or two people I can trust but the vast majority of people are so selfish, so full of holes they need to fill I end up getting broken in the process of trying to love them.

I’m angry that the world is not a better place. That people are not easier. I’ve come to accept my days are lonely ones. That mine is the life of a writer, and it is a solitary life. I’ve come to realize that almost no one wants to hear the truth. Most especially not about themselves.

Most of the time I’m crying on the inside. I wonder how many people feel like that? I walk around my garden and watch my flowers blooming and think what a world is this that you are stretching up into? When you are bipolar they give you bottles of pills. As if that were enough to fix it. And when those bottles of pills make you feel worse they give you more pills. And so on and so on, into infinity until you feel like some kind of tik-tok animated machine; click, click pop pill, click, clack. Sometimes I don’t want to take a crappy pill that makes me feel like a space cadet. I want to breathe the air. Or sleep. Or yell at someone. Anything but take another pill.

I invent projects for myself. Organize this shelf. Filter through these papers and toss the unnecessary ones. List everything we don’t need on marketplace. It’s my desperate attempt to feel useful. To feel like my time on earth has not been wasted. Lately my greatest hope is that my children turn out just enough like me to be creatively interesting but not so much like me as to be failures. This society has no patience for the creative yet broken ones of us. Entertain us! It screams. And keep your fucking self together! As if. As if that were even possible.

I’ve been sensitive my entire life. I spent my childhood on stage performing, making other people smile. Swallowing my fears and anxieties to create the pretty picture everyone wanted to see. But something happened. One day everything I had been shoving down day after day, month after month, year after year started coming back up. Bubbling and oozing at first, then bits began shooting out like lava from a volcano. It was a viscous and frightening rage so old and foul I wondered if it was entirely mine. And it wasn’t just rage. It was a howling and ancient sadness, from deep under the earth. It was the sadness all women share and yet hide from each other. The sadness and anger of a lost sisterhood. I wanted to scream it aloud. I wanted to call out its name from the highest place I could find. But no one wanted to listen. Because God forbid you mention it. Heaven help you if you even hint at its existence. Women don’t want to talk about what breathes just beneath their skin. About the lies they live and the fairytales they tell their daughters. Women don’t want to be reminded that behind their eyeshadow, under their mascara and their lipstick they are growing older. Losing their grip on the stares of young men. That under their skirts their asses are not as tight. That slowly they are becoming invisible and Goddamn it hurts.

In some cultures the old age of women is treated with reverence. They are considered precious. Indispensable. Wise. Not ours. Not in America the Beautiful. Here we try to outrun it. With surgeries and creams. With makeup that creates the illusion of youth. We pull the hairs from our chins and freeze our faces with needles full of botox. But even then, even then all of this is useless against the onslaught of time. Eventually we all surrender.

I had a nightmare last night that someone took a hook and shoved it up inside me and ripped open my uterus. In my dream it was the new birth control. I wonder if we are not so far from that. Women seem to be willing to do almost anything to their bodies to get what they want and men are as cruel as they have always been. In my dream I could feel Mother Earth groaning. A great collective nameless pain. I felt myself carried away on the waves of her sadness. It was my sadness. Our sadness that only I and She could feel.

I can barely tolerate kindness anymore. I’m so tired of explaining why it doesn’t make me happy. Why I haven’t gotten over the things I’ve lost. As if you ever get over them. I am learning to let go of certain things. The expectation of happiness. The warmth of friendship. The understanding of other people. The triumph of wisdom and truth. As I have said I hope to pass on my creativity and the joy of my early years to my children. But not my darkness. Not the hollow places of my soul I must outrun in order to keep breathing. Because for the creatively fragile a heart can only take so much. For the creatively fragile a heart is not made of steel, or some other unbreakable stuff. The heart bleeds. It trembles and sighs and breaks open. Despite our armor we are not so impenetrable as we would like to believe.

Maybe today there will be a break in the clouds. Maybe the sun will shine gently on my shoulders and my flowers will surround me as lost friends. Maybe my daughter will glow her perfect smile in my direction and for a moment I’ll be free of the truth of the world’s ugliness. One can only hope.

 

Bad Girl

He gave you flowers and they were perfect, beautiful and inside you screamed
Bad girl
He took you to lunch and the sun was shining brightly
But not for you
You stepped out on the deck and it disappeared never to return
He offered you his vest and you refused it. Preferring to feel like the ice inside you
Bad girl
He surprised you with a cake for the whole family and all you wanted to do was sleep
Sleep until the ocean rose up and covered you like a broken mermaid
Bad girl
You woke up and and painted your face with the smile they wanted
You swallowed your cake
You hugged your daughter
And all the while his sentence hung like mouldy ropes all around you
“She was a strong woman…unlike you”

Kimkoa 2018

Making the World Over

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance.

The worst thing about makeover shows is that they focus so heavily on our innate fears about what other people think about us. The people on the shows are sometimes truly helped but at what cost? Losing their individuality? How much does it matter what the general public thinks about an individual? Sadly, it does matter, one might argue it matters greatly for the individual’s survival. Even if someone exists on the fringe and becomes successful for being a sort of antihero, feeding off the negativity of some and the praise of others, that praise keeps them afloat. However praise is earned it is necessary. There are those who remove themselves entirely from society and live “off the grid” subsisting solely in nature. This might be the only answer to the pressure of social norms the rest of us face, and not a thing possible or desirable for the great majority of us.

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance. We have to teach our children how to create the kind of world they want to live in which does require challenging and changing social norms. However, it is not so easy changing things. My father used to tell me that if one wants to effect change, one must do it from the inside out rather than from the outside in. His mission was to change the way people viewed him and other black people by empowering disadvantaged youth of color through increasing their educational opportunities. He wanted the world to see that anyone could achieve with the right set of circumstances. He himself was something of an anomaly having suffered through a terrible childhood, yet he took the example set by his mother who died when he was very young and used it as his reason to achieve in life. Not everyone is able to push themselves in such a way. As an adult I can see the wisdom in his words and how they guided the way he lived his life. In the same way my father wanted to effect change from the inside out, focusing on working with children and educators, I find myself wanting to do the same.

Another lesson both my parents taught me is that it isn’t about the cards you are dealt but how you play the game. Like my father, my mother is a shining example of this, as someone who pushed herself forward to achieve despite personal hurdles, someone who has given me every reason to believe that it doesn’t matter what cards you are dealt, what matters is what you do with them. I have watched her teach this lesson over and over as her work has been with people struggling with addictions, mental and physical illnesses, disabilities and disadvantaged youth. She also worked with the criminal element of society and the same lessons apply. In her own way she is also changing the system from the inside out as my father did, showing the world that a woman can work successfully as a psychologist in various fields while at the same time raising a daughter and climbing mountains both literally and metaphorically. I myself am now climbing my own mountains, as I fight to change the stigma associated with mental illness in our society. I realize this is a thing one can only do when one has a foot in both worlds. You have to be able to get yourself heard by those in positions of power. Not everyone can do this. For those who are so profoundly affected by their mental illness, or who are for various reasons unable to speak for themselves about their mental illness, I feel a great sense of duty to speak out about mine in the hopes that someone powerful enough to change things will hear my soul’s cry.

Raising awareness about the struggles of managing mental illness in this society is a passion of mine since I was diagnosed with bipolar I with psychotic features. Before this diagnosis, before my bipolar had worsened to the degree where I found myself hospitalized, I lived with a sense of ignorance in a way. I was unaware of how difficult life really is for people battling mental illness. It’s not just the illness that profoundly affects one’s life but the social stigma that goes along with it. It’s a double whammy so to speak. I have written before about how so many of us are afraid to speak out about the struggles we face because of social pressure. This is a very real and legitimate concern because since I have “come out of the closet” so to speak about my illness, I have faced judgment from people who don’t understand and actually lost friendships. The process has been worth it though, because the friends who are still standing by my side are my true friends and I have no doubts that they love me. I’ve also had people reach out to me and tell me that their lives have been changed for the better by my activism and that is worth a thousand rejections from the ignorant masses.

Another factor when considering effecting change is that it be real and lasting. I often wonder when watching these makeover shows how many of the people go back to their lives and resume their old fashion habits. There is a new show on Netflix called “100% Hotter” and the makeovers are designed to bring people who make extreme fashion choices closer to the norm. I was watching it and one of the people getting “makeunders” received a haircut and color that I couldn’t imagine her maintaining after leaving the show without paying an arm and a leg. It seems cruel to create an ideal that is impossible for the person to achieve on their own without the assistance of the show. Likewise another girl’s makeup was done by an expert with expert techniques and expensive makeup that she likely would not be able to recreate or afford on her own.

Similar to the trouble with creating real and lasting change for someone on a superficial level, it is even more difficult to create that level of change on a deep and meaningful level. Change requires effort. You have to try. You have to move long stuck ideas from the back of your mind to make room for new ones. In my case, when I got sick I realized I had friends who could not accept me with an illness. It was a sobering and painful realization to experience. They could not make room in their lives for someone with bipolar even though that person was one of their closest friends. They had beliefs about people “like me” that they were either unable or unwilling to let go of. The difficulty is how to move those kind of people forward mentally. For me, it is less about them and more about empowering other people like me and educating those people who are willing to grow and change and accept new ideas that may challenge social norms. Once enough people who are able to embrace change do so and break down the old stigmas and barriers, creating a new social norm, the people who were so stuck will have no choice but to change or face being the social outcasts they once hated. Until then I will keep fighting the good fight. I will keep working to change one mind at a time and make the world over until it is a better place to be.

My Life Is My Own

I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color.

So I live in Wasilla, which is basically 99% white. I don’t love this, I wish my daughter could grow up with more diversity. She’s at the perfect age to really fall in love with all different cultures and we are living in such a homogenous part of Alaska it’s depressing. Her only regular exposure to someone of color is me. I have to wonder what does this mean? I suppose, in a way, she has the ideal exposure because the person who birthed her, loves her unconditionally, is raising her, caring for her and teaching her is a person of color. I am this multiracial, multicultural human who is definitively unique, artistic and compassionate towards those who are different. I’m an advocate for persons with mental  illness and am committed to fighting the stigma. So who cares if she is surrounded by the same white faces on a daily basis. Her home is not that way and never will be. Her brothers, especially her oldest brother, don’t look white at all so summers spent with them enhance her world view and round out this homogenous little world we’re raising her in.

My last blog was intense. I dug deep and talked about some pretty tough subjects. I’m glad I did, there are so many women who have been through the same things and are ashamed to admit they were abused. They just hold it inside and it literally tears them apart. I need to share something that happened to me after I posted my blog. My ex-girlfriend contacted me and tried to manipulate exactly the way she used to. She accused me of lying and airing her dirty laundry which is a contradiction in terms and interspersed it with compliments about my daughter and my advocacy work. She tried to rope me into a dialogue which I resisted and accused me of cyberbullying her by telling my story, while at the same time apologizing for traumatizing me all those years ago. She then started bullying me the way she always did, telling me what I could and could not write about in my blog- basically I could not write about her. Honestly my first reaction was fear. All these years have passed and I still reacted like a terrified child. Then I was angry at myself for feeling afraid and agreeing not to write about her, because it’s not my fault she was abusive. It’s not my fault she’s as sick as she is and refuses to take responsibility for it. I know plenty of borderlines who admit they are skilled manipulators. That they often find themselves doing it without even trying. I know borderlines who are actively seeking help even though success rates are low, they are there, trying. Fighting their illness. Taking ownership.

Was I perfect in that relationship?  No…but I don’t even call it a “relationship.” She used to make me lay there with my legs spread and conduct what she called “examinations” to make sure everything was “ok down there.” You’re probably wondering how in the hell did I let someone do that to me? Well I had just come from a sheltered cultish belief system and I was only a child when I joined it so I was an easy target. I tried to get away from her in so many ways. I mentioned the first time my poor oldest son from whom I kept all of this loved her and didn’t want me to leave and so I stayed for him. I also knew in my heart I needed a man. In the way a gay person is born that way and cannot change, so is a straight person, so is a bisexual and so on. I needed a husband. I would tell her this and she would tell me over and over I was wrong, I was a lesbian, I didn’t know what I was talking about. At the end I would literally have dreams about men, about being the straight woman with bisexual leanings that I was and how badly I needed my man. I thought maybe if I slept with a man I would know for sure and it would be enough for her to finally leave me alone. So I did just that and it confirmed it for me. So I immediately told Janine exactly what I did hoping she’d understand and finally let me go, but not only did it not work she told me she realized she was transgendered and wanted to get a sex change operation and would I stay with her until she had the sexual reassignment surgery and then we could be a traditional couple which was what I said I needed. My God. I thought. She’ll never let me go. I mentioned in my last post that she threw a bicycle at me. That was her last act of violence towards me and the most obviously violent act. That was the turning point. As soon as the bike hit my legs my mind snapped. I knew things would go in only one direction. It was then that I finally called my parents and told them the truth about what was going on. They had suspected but had no idea how bad things had gotten. I was so desperate to legitimize this nightmare I went through a commitment ceremony with her. Somehow I thought this would make things better. The ceremony itself was beautiful. The truth behind it was tragic.

The reason I’m sharing all of this is for all of the women who have been through this. Who have made these same seemingly crazy choices. When you are in an abusive relationship you forget who you were before your abuser began filling your mind with negativity. Before your abuser began stealing your independence of mind. You forget you once stood on your own two feet. You forget you were noble, beautiful and worthy of love all in your own right. I was so paralyzed by my own victimization that after leaving her I tried to go back to her. I thought I could not live without her. I had forgotten how. Thank God she only wanted to sleep with me. Thank God I was only temporarily under the delusion I needed to keep being abused. Thank God she found someone else to debase. I was forced to heal and heal I did. Day by day. Week by week. Month by Month. A Year passed. Then a miracle. I was working, going to school, running several days a week and I started to fall in love with my life. I started to fall in love with myself. I was staying with my parents when I had my sons, with a girlfriend I had known since we were nine years old so basically my sister when my boys were with Ian and I was having fun. Living the life I never got to live in my twenties. It was one particularly beautiful day and I was running along the coastal trail and I decided to message a guy I worked with at a television station as an intern. KTVA. His name was Nick. And he became my husband.

Of course there’s MUCH more to that story, but the most important part is that he also helped me heal. The parts of me I didn’t realize were still broken. Anyways, before we had gotten married, when our daughter was almost a year old. I invited my ex-husband over to the house to help the boys with their homework. It was a landmark moment. I reached across the divide that was our fighting and extended an olive branch. That was the beginning of what can only be described as a miracle. Now his new wife is my sister and he is my brother. I’ll be taking my daughter to stay with them next summer so I can spend time with my sons and Jaden can work a summer job. If you consider where we began, and where we are now it’s almost unbelievable. This entire story deserves its own post but I’ll at least say, it’s due in no small part to my husband and his wife. Nick and Nicole.

I’ll end this post by saying it doesn’t matter how lonely, crazy, stupid or hopeless you think your situation is you are not alone. Someone else is going through the very same thing. Listen to your friends when they tell you to get out. Let them help you…and above all, love yourself. My daughter may be living in one of the whitest, typical, homogenous cities in America but her family is anything but white, typical or homogenous. Of this I am proud.

Queen

I looked for you in the darkest of places
Where the people had the whitest of faces
Your hands were in the dirt
Your back was bent
I couldn’t see you clearly
But you smelled like victory
You didn’t notice me
I thought
But in truth I stopped your heart
A year later we were running from the grotesque, swords in our hands
Dripping animal blood
Our daughter ferocious asking when can we stop and fight
When can we destroy them?
Soon love. Soon.
I could see their hulking beast-like shoulders just over the hill and above them the white faces of their soulless guides
I suddenly saw heaven:
The entire world was in your pale blue eyes
The warmth of your Scottish beard
Against my cheek reminded me of grace
Our hands tightly wound. My dark one with your light one.
Our middling princess with her fire hair and all the power of heaven and earth at her feet.
I found the last white man who was not a ghost.
And you gave me back my royalty.

Kimkoa 2018

 

Honest Words

When you are a young parent it’s easy to forget your child is not your possession. That you do not own them. You are entitled to their raising and responsible for their safety but eventually they will individuate from you, they will crave their independence, their own lives.

These days I wonder where my words go. I wonder what direction they travel, whether straight like an arrow, or curving in a downward spiral to reach the most desperate of us at the bottom of a bipolar sea. Perhaps my words are a flower, each petal a fragrant, delicate wisdom blown by the wind either into someone’s waiting palm or to the ground, forgotten under dirt and other rubble. Even I don’t know which of my words to treat with extreme tenderness and which to forget. Of course I vainly hope my words are works of art delighting the senses of those who read them. Honestly these posts I write are my way to reach out across the void to a world I’ll only see pictures of. Reaching people who would otherwise never have known I existed.

Tonight my sons are on my mind. It was not so long ago I held them in my arms and felt the greatest love any woman can feel. I’ve had so many women tell me “Well, I don’t know how you do it, I could never let my sons live somewhere else for the entire school year.” They say it with an air of possession and just enough judgment. In the beginning I wasted my breath and my time explaining the legal aspects of it and my my promises to my sons not to attack their father legally over them. I waxed eloquent about how boys need their fathers and both of my sons had unresolved issues with their father that needed to be dealt with that I couldn’t help them with. I tried to explain that we are one big family not two competing but I would get these blank stares, more judgment, pity, and even anger. Yes anger that somehow I was failing at motherhood. I tried to explain that it wasn’t my choice to make. But it all fell on deaf ears. So now I don’t offer any explanation to anyone. If someone asks me about my sons I just say they live in Oregon with their father for the school year and with me for holidays and summers. And I leave it at that. Of course it’s so much more than that but I don’t owe those details to every drama desperate woman plaguing me with questions so she can feel better about her life. It’s sad, but we do that to each other. Women. Many women, not all women. We compare and contrast our lives trying to one up each other. Why do we do this? I truly have no clue. Life would be so much simpler if we didn’t.

It takes a mighty heart to love a child enough to let them spread their wings. To let them use their voices and really listen to what they need. My son Jaden was yelling as loudly as he could with his behavior. He had no intention of moving to Oregon. We sent him there because he was doing so poorly in Alaska. People hear that and they think “What?! You sent your child AWAY?!” Yes, yes I did. Because I would rather have a child I only see on holidays than a dead one. Elliott went to Oregon one summer and never came back. I railed against it at first and then I tapped into my mighty mother’s heart and loved him. I understood he needed his father. I understood he wanted his brother. And his behavior had been tanking too. I’d be lying if I said it isn’t hard. That it doesn’t ache that I’m missing so much of their lives. But I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that the moments I do have with them are so poignant, so precious and full of meaning that I can’t feel anything but grateful for the way things are. My sons are physically far away, but emotionally we are so close. We love each other with an intensity brought on only by distance. The four of us, their parents and stepparents have committed wholly to being a family. A real family. I’m actually taking my daughter next summer to Oregon and spending the summer with them. Because their stepmother is not only the best stepmother in the world she is my friend, confidant, cheerleader, mentor and most of all sister of the heart. We have worked very hard on this relationship of ours and it is built solely on trust. If I had one piece of advice I could whisper on a petal and blow into someone’s palm it would be that you cannot build anything beautiful with someone you don’t trust.

When you are a young parent it’s easy to forget your child is not your possession. That you do not own them. You are entitled to their raising and responsible for their safety but eventually they will individuate from you, they will crave their independence, their own lives. This is an inevitability. To rob them of this would be the greatest crime. My sons have taught and are teaching me how very true this is. Raising their little sister is a different experience because I know what it’s like to have teenagers. I know how a child stretches out, develops, unveils their adult selves in their responses, glances, the way they carry themselves. I know all too clearly how they remember what you say and use it against you as the case may be. When my daughter says she hates something with all her might I kneel down, I look in her eyes, I make sure she’s not just being difficult. I believe her. I let her know I’m listening to her, I can hear her. I do the same with my sons. They know I hear them, I believe them, I think what they have to say matters. And as tempting as it may be I don’t lie to my children.

My husband’s parents and his sister refused to come to our wedding. The reasons are obvious, I lack the right skin color, bank account and ability to play along in a sick family system. It was incredibly painful for both myself and my husband. In fact the pain they caused him raised a rage in me I didn’t know I had. Apparently they told my husband or he assumed they didn’t consider weddings important since they had a courthouse wedding without much ceremony. I always knew that wasn’t the reason but I chose to let it be. Fast forward almost three years and they’re flying up from Nevada for his sister’s wedding. In a sitcom it would be hilarious. In real life it’s disgustingly cruel. My husband is caught between feeling a duty to them as his family to attend and standing firm that since I’m not welcome and they refused to attend ours he will not go. And he certainly won’t bring our daughter while I stay home seeing red.

So often the families we are given are not the families we would choose. I have to let my husband make his own decision. They are his parents. She is his sister. But I will protect my daughter. A very long time ago I was in the same situation my daughter is in now, My mother’s family did not accept my father and although they allowed my mother to bring me to visit them, my father was not welcome. In an effort to protect me I was not told any of this until I was fourteen. I’ll never forget it. I was so angry I never spoke to my grandparents again. I don’t want my daughter blindsided and feeling lied to. I told her that her grandma and grandpa and Aunt didn’t come to her Mommy and Daddy’s wedding because they didn’t want Daddy to marry Mommy. But that we’ve worked out a lot of the angry feelings. I explained that she doesn’t know her Aunt because her Aunt doesn’t like mommy’s skin color and doesn’t think she’s good enough for Daddy. My daughter in her beautiful innocence said she has fire hands and she will fire her. I laughed and told her that wouldn’t be necessary. I said sometimes adults make silly choices and it takes them a long time to learn to make better ones. But we can be an example of love and not hate. Upon hearing that she cried out “I love you Mommy!” and gave me the biggest squeezingest hug that warmed my heart from the inside out.

I know this is not the end of the questions. Or even the end of the drama. But in my house we are safe, in my house we tell each other the truth and in my house we love our differences. When my daughter is fourteen she’ll already know the story. She’ll be free to make her own choices about who she wants a relationship with. All through her life, even when my husband’s parents’ said I was not allowed to set foot on their property I let him take our infant daughter to visit them. It crushed me every time. When she’s a little older and better able to understand I’ll tell her that too. I want her to know that I never came between her father’s family and her, even though they tried to make me into that kind of person.

I know not everyone would agree with my way of handling the situation but the beauty of it is I don’t care. I went through it and I know how it felt and what I wished someone would have told me as a child because I always knew something was wrong I just had no name for it. If anyone is reading this dealing with their own family drama I would urge you to be as honest as possible with your children because they see more than you think they see, they hear more than you think they hear and they know much more than you realize. Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life I’ve never regretted telling my children the truth. Being honest with your children plants seeds inside them so that when they are adults and talking with others their words can become beautiful blossoms with petals of wisdom able to change the course of the world.

The Color Of Love

My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner.

One of the hardest things about being bipolar is your every emotion being blamed on it. People tiptoe around you like you’re in a mine field and you might be an explosive device. You show a hint of irritation and suddenly people think you’re sliding down a slippery slope and they start mentally taking notes. How much as she been sleeping? Too little? Too much? Did she eat lunch yesterday? Was she wearing a little too much blush?  It’s nothing short of infuriating. Sometimes I get angry. Not because of my bipolar but because I’m angry about a situation, or I’m grumpy from my period, or I have a headache and my daughter is acting up or a million and one other reasons that are NOT related to my bipolar. But it’s so hard for those closest to me not to immediately jump to thinking it’s a manic episode and I can tell they’re evaluating me as opposed to actually just listening and it drives me nuts and makes me even angrier.

[‘ve learned to swallow my words. Not all of them, because they still get me in trouble but a good amount of what I want to say never makes it out of my mouth. I have to be careful you see. I have to be mindful that everything I say holds more weight than it did before the diagnosis. Everything I say is a potential land mine.

It must be nice to have people. To have a group you belong to. I always wanted that. Rather than this hodgepodge mixture of racial identities that belongs to no category and has no name other than multiracial. I suppose in some ways it makes me superior, it takes me out of the battle between the races and I view it from afar like a concerned spectator. In other ways it makes my life hell because people call me names like “mulatto” and “high-yellow” both ancient slave terms for children born of the master-slave relationship if you can even call it that. I’ve also been called a “house nigger” a term I hope my daughter is never ever called in her life, it’s so ugly. People see my face and it’s as if every insecurity the’ve ever had comes boiling to the surface, and racism comes tumbling out of their mouths in a mighty gush. I’m so used to it I hardly bat an eyelash. It’s as if I’ve forgiven them before they’ve even said anything. I know how stupid the human condition is when it comes to anything outside the box. What I find so strange is these derogatory terms have to do with looking part black. The less black I look the less negativity I get. When my hair is straight people think I’m Asian or Polynesian. Or Spanish. I have to wonder why that is. Why there is so much hatred of the African American.

I remember an incident that happened to my father who was the new principal of an elementary school and was rightfully very proud of his accomplishment. He had some shopping to do, and rather than dress up as he usually did he opted for sweats and a t-shirt as he was in the middle of a home project. After he had gotten what he needed and was heading to his car he ran into a colleague- someone who also worked in the school district. They chatted for a few minutes and then the man asked my father what school he was working at. My father told him he had just changed schools. The man then said “Oh, that’s great! Are you the new janitor?” My father was quiet for a moment. He felt a thousand things at once, most of all the sad truth that nothing had really changed. “No, I’m the principal” my father said. The other man was of course speechless for a time then offered a jumbled pathetic apology. My father just shook his head and headed for his car.

My father made a decision after that encounter. He would never again leave the house unless he was dressed well enough to attend a business meeting. He knew what all black men know. What you wear matters. because white people unconsciously see the derelict crack dealer on the corner. The gangster with a gun in his pants. The predator on the news. The lazy drunk living off the government. Really, they can’t help it. They’ve been conditioned to fear what is different and to hate what they fear.

Then there are the white people like my mother. The ones who truly don’t see color. Or my dearest and most beloved friend Amy and her mother Bea. My wonderful husband. The select few who are truly lovers of humanity and don’t care a whit what your racial make up is. I only wish there were more of them.

Just like race, bipolar doesn’t play favorites. You’re born with it. Bipolar doesn’t say Oh, she’s got a lot on her plate already so I won’t manifest in her, I’ll choose someone with a fairly easy life. Oh no, bipolar doesn’t care about your circumstances. It doesn’t care if you have kids, money, no money, if you’re the head of a company, if you’re newly married trying to be the perfect housewife. If you’re mixed race and dealing with being bullied and misunderstood and just trying to survive. Bipolar stretches across race, sex, financial status, age…it plays no favorites and has no mercy.

People will laugh at bipolar jokes as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. People who don’t have bipolar. Who don’t know how deadly it is. How soul-crushing it can be. Bipolar is cruel but fair. It is an equal opportunity disorder. In order for people to take this disorder seriously, it helps to understand something about what causes bipolar and why it isn’t something to laugh at. How it’s not just “somebody else’s kid who has it.” Scientists are actively researching this condition in the hopes that new medicines can be found, new treatments can be discovered, or even permanent actions could be taken resulting in what could be considered a cure. According to WebMD Experts believe bipolar disorder is potentially caused by an underlying issue with specific brain circuits and the functions of the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Three brain chemicals are involved in both brain and bodily functions: noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.

Noradrenaline and serotonin have been linked over and over to psychiatric mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and other forms of depressive disorders. Nerve pathways that regulate pleasure and emotional reward are regulated by dopamine. When circuits are disrupted that communicate using dopamine in other areas of the brain there is a connection to psychosis (a symptom of Bipolar 1) and schizophrenia.

Serotonin is connected to sleep, wakefulness, eating, sexual activity, impulsivity, learning and memory. Researchers believe abnormal functioning of brain circuits that involve serotonin as a chemical messenger contribute to mood disorders: both depression and bipolar disorder

In a nutshell, bipolar has nothing to do with someone just being “moody” or “difficult” or “flaky.” Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain with serious and sometimes deadly symptoms. I’d be lying if I said people’s ignorance of this disorder doesn’t make me crazy but it fuels me to keep talking about it, keep educating others so eventually the stigma is eradicated for good.

In the same way I talk about bipolar and consider myself an activist in my own right, for bipolar disorder and mental health awareness, I also talk about being multiracial. Being more than one race is as misunderstood as bipolar disorder. We are our own culture, a culture of people who don’t identify with any specific racial group. Instead we exist on the outskirts of a polarized society, craving acceptance, looking for understanding- even within ourselves.

There are so many reasons for me to be angry that have nothing to do with my bipolar. I’m tired of being made fun of. I’m tired of being misunderstood. I’m tired of being called black when I’m multiracial which is so very different. I’m tired of having to fight to be seen. I’m tired of my friends ignoring me when I’m in the hospital because they don’t want to go to the mental health wing. I’m sick of the bipolar jokes, the stupidity of others, I could go on. But I can’t surrender to that anger. Because there is no bottom. I would rather take that energy and educate those around me. I would rather write about my life honestly. I want to make people laugh, cry, and most of all think. I want to share the real parts of my life. Not just the few and far between breakdowns. Here’s one example:

My daughter pooped in the bathtub yesterday. My husband cleaned it up. I saw a text on my phone: Don’t go in the bathroom until I clean it! My daughter poops like a man. The other day she pooped and it was the biggest poop I have ever seen come out of someone so tiny. I went and found my husband and told him “You have to see this”

“No way.” He had no interest in looking at poop.

“No seriously you HAVE to see this.” I wasn’t giving up. He relented and came in the bathroom.

“OH MY GOD!” He was definitely shocked and somewhat impressed.

“See? I told you! I don’t know how she does that! It’s like a superpower.” We both almost collapsed in laughter.

“I made a BIG poop!” Alice was pleased with herself.

“Alice, life with you is never boring.” I told her as I was helping her get cleaned up. She just smiled.

So that’s what you get. A multiracial family, getting through the days, mom has bipolar disorder so I have to take care to manage it. We have a wild, wonderful daughter and two sons who spend the school year in Oregon. We live with Grandma who at sixty-eight has more energy than all of us put together. We have a crazy but loving dog and the world’s best cat. We fight, we make up, we work hard to make our lives work. We love each other with a ferocity unmatched. As much as I hate it, I’d rather have people who care about me enough to pay attention to my behavior and make sure I’m not heading toward a manic episode, rather than a family who couldn’t care less. When I think about my daughter and her box of crayons matching them to people’s skin tone, I realize what color I am. I’m the color of love.

Fierce Creatures

I love that my little girl brings out the fight in me. The lioness. She craves my wildness so she can embrace her own.

My daughter is a fierce little creature. She will not back down for anyone, for anything. I try to imagine myself as I was at her age. Her fearlessness, her unbridled zest for life. That time is becoming fainter in my mind. Like the edges of a picture softening. I suppose this is the process of growing older. I’d like to think I remember what matters. The essential grace of my life as a child.

Most of my early years were spent outside. My mother felt at home outdoors and she wanted that peace for me. I can close my eyes and I’m instantly surrounded by fragrant joy. I spent many happy hours sitting in the grass making crowns from clover, under the purple lilac tree in our front yard. I can still hear the bees buzzing in the lazy summer air and the gentle pricks of grass on my bare legs. Once I came home from playing in the woods all day and I was covered in aphids. I remember my mother singing as she washed them out of my hair. I liked seeing their little green bodies floating in and out of the bubbles. Like they were having their bath also. My mother’s happiness at the evidence I was a wild thing in the woods even for just an afternoon sticks with me. She could have been angry. She could have been afraid. Instead she found it hilarious and part of the circle of life. That was a gift she gave me. I got to be a fierce little creature that afternoon.

Alice was determined to wear her princess sock the other morning. It had no match. Should it have mattered whether or not she could find the match? Probably not. But she’s been challenging me on everything lately and I just did not want to back down. Because after the princess sock it would have been her shoes, and after the shoes her jacket and then wanting a certain snack in the car and I did not have the energy to battle her! Ultimately the battle over her sock was as big as all the small battles together would have been so as usual my daughter won. I am a lioness raising another lioness, although she is mostly a straight up wildcat at only four and three quarters and she lets me know it every single day.

I’ve been battling the waves of bipolar lately. Up and down, back and forth, I’m being tossed around the stormy sea of my emotions. It’s so hard to feel like I’m making any progress on bipolar storm days. All I can do is breathe in and hold, breathe out and hold and let it be. The hardest days for me are when the weather outside is changeable. It makes me feel changeable on the inside. There is a distinct feeling to storm days. There is almost an electricity to my mind. I inwardly tell myself to “batten down the hatches.” As anyone with bipolar knows it doesn’t matter how much medication you take, there will be bad days. Really the only thing you can do is get through them.

I use sensory tricks all the time. Certain smells really help me. I am a connoisseur of perfumes, scented lotions and essential oils. Certain textures also really help, the softer the better. My family knows what it means when I’m wrapped in a blanket with a hat on and the fireplace going, candles lit and the scent of lavender pervading the room. It means I’m taking care of myself. It means I’m doing battle. It means I’m being strong as hell. I am captaining my ship over ferocious waters, through the vicious bipolar storm.

I talk a lot about wanting my daughter to learn to fight for herself, wanting her to be a warrior. But what about when the enemy lies within? That is a different kind of battle, needing a different set of skills. In a sense you are doing battle against your own mind. I find that when I am struggling it even leaks over into my dreams. My dreams become chaotic and often terrifying nightmares. I would be lying if I said this disease were not agony. I often want to still the clock for the duration of the “dip” and let it spin again when I feel more able to handle the world.

Alice senses so much of what I’m going through. The irony is the more depleted I feel the more she wants to cling to me almost as if she is pulling me out of the storm by the sheer force of her will. I have to remind myself to be consistent with her, not to surrender to the beast all children become when they know mom is tired and they might “get away with something.”

Today, after picking Alice up from school she had to use the potty. “Mama I need to go potty!” Literally the next sentence I heard her say was “Mom, there’s pee on the floor and I puked in the toilet!” She said this with the same matter of fact tone she says everything.

“What?!” I was trying to figure out the extent of the damage.

“I said there’s pee on the floor and I puked a little bit in the toilet because I don’t feel good.” I was already up the stairs by then.

“How did you get pee on the floor?” She then demonstrated how she sat too close to the edge of the toilet and the pee shot out over the edge in a yellow arc. Luckily there was a rug easily washed to catch the evidence. “Poor baby why did you throw up?” She hasn’t felt well lately and I was genuinely concerned.

“I don’t know, but I’m better now. Can I have chocolate?” I envy her youthful ability to quickly move on from things.

“Alice, of course not, you just threw up!” At this response to her query she began to howl and yell the word chocolate over and over again. My head felt like a balloon about to pop. I calmly looked at her and said, “since when has that ever worked with me?” Inside I was praying this would be enough to dissuade her. Amazingly it was. She quit howling and ran over to the pantry. She climbed up and grabbed a bag of chocolate chips, thrusting them at me.

“You really need to hide these higher!” I suppressed a laugh.

“Ok goofball.” I shoved it behind some cans on the top shelf. She was onto the next.

“I really need something sweet! These crackers!” It made no sense.

“What? Those are gluten free cheese crackers, they’re not sweet at all.” At that moment I realized this was the best part of my day. My weird, wild little daughter climbing in the pantry like the fierce creature she is.

“Well, they’re a little bit sweet…and I can have cheerios! With Almond milk!”

“Sure, that works.” All in all this was a happy outcome. She was momentarily satisfied. Soon after eating she asked for a movie on her grandma’s laptop. And then she wanted to paint space. And she did, beautifully. My daughter moves so fast I have to race along with her. Together we are going at top speed and before I know it I am flying above the raging waters of my illness.

I love that my little girl brings out the fight in me. The lioness. She craves my wildness so she can embrace her own. I know I will never stop learning from her, as she learns from me. That is the best part. The storm may throw me in a million directions. But my daughter will always guide me home.

Love Letter

With you I am me.
With you I remember my loveliness
Effervescent Time traveler you—
Simple grace little one clinging, singing, running faster than I can breathing in and out
Chewing on your collar
How can someone so small be so majestic
Mighty
Mommy’s little wildcat
Fight forever baby girl

Kimkoa 2018