Sing It Loud, Say It Proud

I don’t do this for myself. I do it for my children. For my daughter who will have her own children one day and may suffer as I did.

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You never know what will happen when you reach out to someone. Not everyone is ready for a true friend. It’s taken me a long time to realize this. I still don’t understand it and take it personally more often than not.

I’m a transparent person. I have hurdles I have to overcome, battles I need to fight and I am an imperfect person something I don’t try to hide. I worry sometimes I come across as a toddler yelling “I make mistakes!” with a wide sunny grin as though it were a gift. Perhaps I do come across that way sometimes however I don’t think that’s something to apologize for. One thing about making mistakes is at least you know you’ve tried to DO something. You’ve tried to make a thing happen even if you bungled the entire operation from start to finish. Some mistakes are worse than others obviously. Still we learn from them, however hard the lesson.

My continual need to reach out to other people and share my story with them and hear theirs is just part of me, it’s who I am because of how my life has been. The joy I’ve experienced when I share what I’ve been through and someone else shares what they’ve been through with me and we each accept, forgive and love each other despite those scars is nameless. It literally cannot be touched. Because of this however, when I see an opportunity for that level of happiness and my attempts are met with a firmly closed door, or worse a mere dismissal as if my olive branch never existed I am so crushed, I feel so rejected that it’s hard to LET IT GO. I can’t MOVE ON. I want to know why I couldn’t reach them. Why they wouldn’t let me in.

The truth is, it isn’t about me. It isn’t about me at all. There are a million and one reasons why someone keeps the doors of their life closed and the shades of their heart drawn even against the brightest, most beautiful days. It’s their right to take solace behind a locked door. Just because I want them to feel the sun with me doesn’t mean they have to and it doesn’t mean that sunlight is any less beautiful. It’s just the way of things. It’s the way people are. For someone who is used to hiding, used to pretending to be “perfect” my openness and consequent awareness is off-putting. What? They say. How do you know me so well? Only because I am you I think. Only because I used to try to hide too.

This is how it is battling bipolar disorder. Battling anxiety, depression, self doubt. Battling any mental illness really. Once you accept that you need help and you ask for that help and you receive it, you want to share it with everyone else. And you become adept at spotting the same illnesses, the same broken pieces in others. You want to help them too. Even when they don’t want anything you have to give. Because part of the struggle is learning to break open that rusty lock and connect with others who feel the way you do.

I’m on a journey. I used to take a multitude of pills just to stay stable. Things are different now. It’s important to note I have been working with medical professionals and no one should ever EVER just stop taking their medication. I just happen to have a big mouth and a refusal to accept a regimen that isn’t working for me (restless legs, 50 lb weight gain, the inability to write, etc) So I used my big mouth and about a thousand phone calls and I now take one pill for my bipolar (lithium), one (will likely become two) pill for my raging ADHD (vyvanse), two for the anxiety brought on by OCD (gabapentin & klonopin) and one for sleep (lunesta). I actually tried ambien and had a psychotic reaction to it so if this has happened to you you’re not alone. I took the pill and 30 minutes later I told my husband- “The eye told me you have bodies buried in the yard.” Needless to say I never took it again.

Sleep is so elusive but my God it’s so vital especially when you’re battling mental illness. But who can sleep when there’s so much to do, so much to think about and everything whirls around in my head like a carnival ride you can’t get off of. It’s important to note that sleeping pills are EXTREMELY dangerous. The wrong one can change you into a psychotic mess. And if you’re extremely depressed, in large doses they will kill you.

I wrote in a past blog about how lucky I was and how much I loved my doctor. Well as usual nothing lasts. This is what we as people who suffer these illnesses go through. I put my entire trust in her and our last appointment she told me that although she was reducing her case load she would never drop me as a client. A week later I got a phone call from her office saying she would no longer be seeing me, I was referred to a new doctor and the earliest appointment would be in three months. I thought well of course that happened. So for the last two and a half months I have become best friends with the certified medical assistants who have been my bridge over this doctor-less sea of side effects and dosage problems. Insurance issues and complete frustration and loss of faith. If you ever see a CMA give them a hug. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

All is not lost however. I found out that this new doctor is an osteopath who specializes in treating people with psychiatric conditions using a combination of traditional western medicine and alternative natural remedies. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! I may have hit the jackpot! I have been praying for this since I got sick. Because there are not just these diagnoses that hang over me like a witch’s cloak. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. At the time I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 I was suffering extreme postpartum psychosis, WHICH can last UP TO THREE YEARS. I also have uterine prolapse so I only ever go two to three days maximum without bleeding like a stuck pig. I also have cysts all over my thyroid so prominent you can see one of them sticking out of the side of my throat! Hmmm. How many conditions could the side effects of what I am going through mimic? How many doctors would want to throw pill after pill at me clueless as to why they don’t work? I’m not saying I’m not bipolar. I really don’t know where I fall on the spectrum of mood and mental disorders. I’ve learned that a pregnancy can shift a mild case of bipolar 2 into a severe case of bipolar 1. I do have many of the symptoms. I also have many of the symptoms of the other conditions I’m suffering. So who knows and really I HATE labels. We’re all humans dealing with different levels of hardship and whatever you call yourself, judgment and stigma must be erased from our vocabularies.

What I’m trying to say is that there may be more ways of treating your condition whatever it may be, beyond just pills. On top of pills. On top of pills.

I know I’m not alone. That’s why I’m speaking out. In the Netherlands their schizophrenic people remain integrated into society. People treat them with kindness. The reorient them into reality as a whole, as a group, rather than locking them away. Studies show they get better! They regain their grip on who they are and what is real. Now I can’t say that would work for everyone. It would be amazing but this society is so diversified and disconnected I have a hard time believing what works in a homogeneous social system would work here in the melting pot that is America. But the lesson is in their lack of judgment. The person is sick. Not evil, not gross, not to be shunned and avoided. Just sick. That’s all. It’s so simple.

When I was hospitalized I went on social media and asked for visitors. I asked for flowers. I let everyone know where I was and that I was lonely for companionship. One loving couple came to see me with flowers and a balloon. My aunt Nycki and Uncle Tom. They brought a card for Alice. Do you know why they came? Because their son suffers from a mental illness and they were not afraid of the behavioral health ward. Which by the way is calm, clean, full of loving nurses and good people. People who are ill just like anyone else. There are children and husbands who come and spend time with their mothers. They bring games and cookies. They bring the freedom of the outside. Their are girlfriends who come to see their boyfriends with paper bags full of sweatshirts, headphones, love letters. They hug each other. Long embraces. Everyone looks away as the tears roll down their cheeks. Usually one of the older female patients will bring tissues. Sometimes a tiny carton of juice. Of course there are the patients who sit in their rooms during visiting hours. Because no one is coming. That was never me. Even though none of my friends came, my aunt and uncle did. And my family was there for every visitation. I even had a birthday cake with real candles in my room surrounded by them. Another Aunt and Uncle sent flowers. A dear friend from high school sent flowers. He was in Hawaii and unable to visit. But he made sure to let me know he cared. But none of my friends came. Most of them ignored my obvious distress. I thought to myself here I am in the hospital, having been diagnosed with a disease deadlier than cancer and hardly anyone seems to care. But that’s how it is. People hear the word bipolar and they want to get as far away from you as possible. Women hide their postpartum conditions out of the very real fear of judgment. And then they end up in the hospital crying over why it has to be this way while their visiting babies fill up the ward with their sounds of new life.

For all of these reasons I sing out my story. I tell anyone who will listen about what I’ve been through, what I’m going through and what I have yet to overcome. I don’t do this for myself. I do it for my children. For my daughter who will have her own children one day and may suffer as I did. I do it for all the other people struggling under the weight of their diagnoses, their medications, doctors who don’t listen, friends who don’t care. I will never be quiet. And maybe just maybe things will change.

Gone but only for a while

I tell myself I should be grateful. That even though I have to say goodbye, at least I’ll get to say hello again.

My middle son Elliott boards a plane tomorrow. To the sound of breaking hearts everywhere. Every day I wake up and wish his father hadn’t moved across the country. But some things can’t be helped.

I tell myself I should be grateful. That even though I have to say goodbye, at least I’ll get to say hello again. I wish that logic worked. All I feel is an empty place that only he can fill. We went to the trampoline park yesterday. It was the most fun I’ve had in I don’t know how long. It was as if we both forgot he was leaving for these few precious hours and just let go. Sailing from square to square, bouncing like kangaroos, playing virtual video games, running all over the park like little kids…it doesn’t get better than that. Later we watched Brooklyn 99 and I twisted his hair. We stayed up until two in the morning. Laughing, talking, doing his hair, making memories.

Of course nothing lasts forever. Every time my roses bloom I clip them faithfully, making fragrant and colorful bouquets. They’re beautiful. Until they’re not. Until their petals begin to fall. Until they curl and brown at the edges. Nothing lasts forever so we must make each moment count. I remember when Elliott was a baby, soft and fat and gorgeous. Big blue eyes, a wide engaging grin…the easiest baby you could ever ask for. It’s hard to believe he’s as a tall as I am now. That he can’t seem to eat enough tacos. That he broke my heart by going to Oregon and never coming home.

It’s been a hell of a summer. My daughter is operating on all cylinders, my mother took off for a month in Spain, I have a hysterectomy scheduled in early September because I can’t stop bleeding. Luckily yesterday it was mild enough that I could forget about my pain. At least for a little while. My oldest son was here for a month and barely made it that long. He says he’ll visit when he’s older. Unless I move I don’t see that happening. He hates Alaska with a passion. I am forced to watch him grow up on Instagram and Facebook. It’s about as painful a thing as you can imagine. All I can think is he’s my son. He’s my son. How is it I don’t get to raise him? How is it that I missed straightening his tie for his first homecoming dance? That I’ve never seen a concert or a play he’s been in? That I have to beg and plead for recordings and videos that never come? That he and his brother didn’t even send me a card for mother’s day and FaceTimed me with horrible reception while working on their stepmother’s mother’s house as though I mattered as much as a pebble on the ground? My head echos with these truths unceasingly. I have to remind myself that life is a lot of things but fair is not one of them.

I feel angry. I feel hurt. Most of all I feel lost. I feel lost when I hear mothers talk about taking their teenagers to football practice or guitar lessons. When they complain about their messy rooms. When they snap pictures of them with their girlfriends. I can’t relate to these women. My sons were ripped from my life and I’ll never know those moments. I don’t get that time. They’re growing up without me, being raised by another woman. In another state. And I am powerless to change it.

It hurts most when I think of my daughter. She can be moody as hell but she loves her brothers fiercely and when they are gone all she does is talk about when they’re coming back. I never wanted it this way. They live with their stepsisters and often it feels like they forget their blood sister even exists. They’ve never even gotten her a present. Not even a card. They don’t call her. They don’t realize what it’s like to be a little sister who’s brothers were there one day and gone the next.

I’ve felt like throwing up every day for the  past week. I’m not pregnant. My husband thinks I’m just heartbroken. The body has funny was of dealing with pain and stress.  And mine apparently chooses for me to feel like I’m going to throw up on the floor.

However time marches on. I wanted to work on music with my son. It never happened. He just wasn’t here long enough. He had overnights with friends, parties here, parties there, a little sister to play with and everything else that gets in the way of everything you try to do. Maybe one day.

My consolation in all of this is that despite the distance I know my sons love me. They may be forgetful and even selfish as most teenage boys are but the love is there, the bond remains unbroken. I like to imagine one day playing with my grandchildren, the pain of the past a distant memory. My sons seem to be growing and thriving which on one hand hurts because I selfishly want them to need me more, but on the other hand and the most important point is that they are well, happy and cared for. I would never interfere with a son’s need to be near his father. That relationship will shape the men they will become.

As I said before I clip and prune my roses when they have bloomed fat and fragrant. The hardest part is waiting for the new blooms to open and cover the bush with beauty. It’s the same way with my sons. They come to me full of blooms and I gather them up and breathe them in, every last bit of them. They leave their blossoms all over my heart. All over their sister’s heart. And then when they have given all they can and the clock strikes the time of leaving I watch them go, still strong, green leaves and branches with the tender buds I sowed that will grow over the long months until I see them again full of new life. Until then I can only love them, miss them and wonder what color their roses will be next.

Shattered Glass, Mended Hearts

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds.

Alice broke a cut glass bowl that belonged to my mother’s grandmother today. It was early this morning before my coffee had a chance to fully wake up my brain.

I was downstairs getting my robe on when I heard a crash that I knew was glass breaking. Oh no, I thought what broke? 

That bowl had been sitting on my mother’s counter for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to marvel at the edges and how the light was refracted through each one creating a kalaidescopic effect. Tiny rainbows in sunlight. I’d run my finger along those edges imagining how each one was cut by hand. “They’re slightly uneven do you see that? That’s how you know it was made my hand and not machine. It was my grandmother’s bowl. I’ve always loved it. One day it will be yours to pass down to your daughter.” My mother’s words were wistful and seemed full of purpose. I felt important holding that bowl. I would never have let it break.

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds. Because of this I have lost treasures. Others have been broken and had to be repaired. A snow globe with Cinderella and her prince that played the theme from the movie was shattered. Dolls my father gave me as child of 6 and 7 have lost fingers and toes. Sometimes entire limbs. A winged angel my mother gave me for my 20th birthday has one wing glued back on. Several books I’d saved that were favorites of her brothers were torn apart or scribbled in. But she’s never touched the cut glass bowl.

Never having raised a child like this (her brothers were not this way) I kept having to adjust the location of anything and everything that she could possibly destroy. Pictures were moved higher and higher on the fridge. Anything fragile found higher and higher homes as she would scale the shelves, counters and anything else climbable like a tiny monkey. We called her curious Georgina. We learned to grab her paintings and drawings from her before she had a chance to tear them to pieces. We learned to laugh at the destruction she’d leave in the wake of her play. We turned ourselves inside out teaching her to care for the things around her. That she didn’t need to break everything open just to see inside.

Lately she’d been good about breaking things. Too good perhaps. Yes there was the occasional climb on top of the refrigerator to steal candy or the endless glasses of water tipped on their side, but she had gotten to a place of understanding how to love her things while they remained in one piece.

The shattered bowl was an accident. Ironically what she was doing when she knocked it over was destructive on purpose. Trying to pull the leaves off my African violets that were given to me by my Aunt and Uncle when I was in the hospital. My mother told her to stop and she pulled her hand back sending the bowl careening to the floor where it shattered into bits of glass edges and dust. It would no longer make its tiny rainbows. No other child would marvel at its edges. “Go downstairs I cannot even look at you right now!” My mother could not bear the full realization of the loss in that moment. After hearing the glass break I was on my way up the stairs when Alice was on her way down. By the look on her face I knew.

”What did you do, what did you break?” She didn’t answer me and ran for her room. I reached the top of the stairs and my mother was sweeping up the remnants of the bowl. Her expression unreadable.

“Alice broke my cut glass bowl. It was my grandmother’s.” I couldn’t speak at first. “It’s just a thing and she didn’t mean to but I just had to send her downstairs I didn’t want to say something I’d regret.” She began tearing up.

You see there’s more to this story than a wildly curious little girl and a cut glass bowl. My mother’s sister is dying. It’s only a matter of time. After years of estrangement they’d finally begun talking.  My mother’s childhood memories are all around her right now, including her grandmother and the glass bowl.

In addition this is Alice’s first day home from preschool since her father and I pulled her out after we were unsuccessful in getting her school to do anything about an older girl that was bullying her mercilessly. Doing things like telling her spiders will bite her and turn her into a wolf, giving her nightmares. Convincing her to bring her toys to school, stealing them from her and lying about it. Teaching her to say butthole repeatedly. Sending her home with paper fold outs saying things like poop your pants and sit in your poop and cut your pants and many other gross and stupid things. Telling her Santa Claus isn’t real. My husband and I had actually gone to the school together and talked to the teacher after his talk with the front desk did nothing. She assured us they would be kept separated since this child was years older than Alice, in foster care and already a source of problems. I found this little girl and got down on my knees and I told her to stop stealing my daughter’s toys, telling her to poop her pants and swear, lying to her and bullying her or she’d have to deal with me personally. The look she gave me confirmed everything I suspected. My Alice was not her first target and would not be her last. I walked over to the teacher and I said this is the fifth time we have come to you guys about this girl and how she’s bullying our daughter. I’m so angry right now I’m holding my breath so I don’t say something I’ll regret. But you need to follow through on supervision and age appropriate groups. (This school shuffles their preschool children back and forth between rooms of practically toddlers and kids as old as 8 and 9 because they have inconsistent staffing, poor organisation and a whole host of other problems I will outline in a another post called BRIGHT MINDS IN WASILLA IS A SHITTY FOR PROFIT PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A SCHOOL. No I won’t write that post but you get the idea: massive late fees if your child is not there exactly on time despite the fact that you’ve already paid almost $700 that month for her slot whether she’s there or not. Why is this you might ask? Because if your child is sick, even though they’ve already been paid for that day, they will take a drop in for more money. So if you show up late you screw up their ability to charge two families for one slot. And that’s just the tip of the horrible preschool iceberg. And guess what? If you’re late they won’t even let you in the building.

Needless to say Alice starts kindergarten in a month during which I will be repairing the damage done to her by this awful school. Having to re-potty train her. Sorting out behavioral problems. And now teaching her about bullies.

She had a timeout for what she did this morning. More importantly she made her grandmother a picture to show she was sorry. I even had her trace the words. When my mother stopped back home after a meeting to drop off the vegetables I asked her to get she saw the painting and she and Alice shared a hug. The bowl would remain forever broken. But at least their bond was strong. Their bond is forever.

More than just the cut glass bowl has been broken today. My daughter’s trust in an older girl she thought was her friend. My trust in the school system of this rough town, with its massive meth and opioid addiction problem running rampant throughout the community and its non-existent budget for quality public schooling. For profit preschool is one story. Public elementary school is another. I was viciously bullied for years in a school that I fear could be very much like the one my daughter will be attending. You’d better believe I’ll be volunteering in her classroom, keeping a close eye on her progress and making sure she’s not held down by the throat on the playground like I was. God help the child that even tries to to do that to my daughter.

Sometimes the things we pass down to our children are not the things we choose. Instead of passing down a cut glass bowl I will instead be passing down my experience in fending off bullies. How to hold your head high after someone lies to you. How to never forget that sometimes glass breaks. But unlike glass, a broken heart can always be mended.

Yours To Keep

Crack in your heart
Crack in your head
Little lies creep in
And you can’t help it you broken girl
Star-shaped dreams keep you awake at night
A lover with a heavy gaze and fingertips like feathers
Who makes you forget yourself
Who makes the earth fall away
And the sky open
Who éclipses the labels they’ve given you
Can you imagine this?
A world of stars and the absence of the need for reality
Dreams with beating hearts.
All they are…are dreams after all
Lovely at night
Stupid in the light of day.
But yours after all. And isn’t that the point?

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone

The Other Side of Beautiful

She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.

She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.

”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.

“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.

”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.

“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.

“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.

”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.

“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”

”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.

”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.

”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.

”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”

“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers.  She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.

She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.

“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.

*To be continued*

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.

 

 

 

Problem Child

At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.  

So my daughter has become a “problem child” at preschool. She started out her preschool career as an “angel.” In the beginning I would go to pick her up and her teacher Miss Cheryl would tell me her days would be perfect if the class were made up of little Alices. Needless to say she does not say this anymore. After talking with her this morning and hearing about Alice’s behavior in school my heart sank. Of course I came up with a million and one reasons why this was my fault and after ruminating and coming up with a million and one reasons mentally why my daughter was failing preschool on the way home from dropping her off, I pulled into the driveway, ran up the stairs and talked to my mother who luckily happened to be home sick from work. (Let me tell you, having a mother with a doctorate in psychology who used to teach preschool can really come in handy.) After relating the troubles Alice and a friend of hers who is the same age is having in the classroom to my psychologist mother she listened intently and simply said- “she’s bored.”

“Bored?” I said, not having considered this as a possibility but instantly agreeing with the idea.

“Of course. She’ll be five in less than a month. She’s going to school with three year olds. She’s bored out of her mind! She should be in the school-age room. She starts kindergarten at the end of August. It’s June.”

“Ohhhhhh.” Duh. Why did I not think of this before? When her well-meaning but over-worked teacher was telling me how she won’t stay on her cot at nap time. Well, yeah. Because she’s outgrown it.

“You need to call them and tell them to put her in the school-age room. Especially if she’s having problems. She’s only got a month left and she’s going to give them hell. The other day I was there watching her trying to color and a little girl who must have been about 3 years old kept stealing her markers and Alice finally had enough and pushed her. Her teacher said ‘Now Alice we talked about this, she’s never been in school before.’ I was like, Oh my god, no wonder she’s running out of patience. She’s going to school with babies!’ “ My mom had an excellent point. No kid is going to stay bored for long. They’ll entertain themselves one way or another. Jesus, I thought. Why don’t they move them at four and a half at least? My daughter reads. She can do simple math. She paints her nails. She swears. (You want to judge me about that, guess how much of a shit I give) She has fashion sense. She wears lip gloss. She is well beyond a room full of three year olds. Again I really don’t care if you think there’s a problem with that. I think you know what you can do with your opinion.

Of course I’ve long given up on the structure of this particular daycare. They put more energy into their appearance than they do into their actual program. And of course it’s the staff working with the kids that suffer. They don’t get they support they need, it’s like a revolving door for workers and for the ones who have been there consistently and are depended on it truly isn’t fair, they really get overworked. The admin staff sure wants parents to think they’re dropping their kids off into some kind of preschool/kindergarten hybrid, but its just a daycare. A daycare. Oh they want you to think it’s a real school. They spin you a yarn about curriculum and training and certification. They have a lot of stupid I repeat STUPID policies to make you think it’s a school. But truthfully, It’s a daycare just like any other daycare where the kids run around and smack each other with barbies and toy cars and eat orange slices and fill their pockets with rocks on the playground that then end up on the floor of your car. Sure they memorize a word or two in Spanish and practice counting to 20 and glue cotton balls and felt to construction paper, so you feel like your money is spent on something more than just glorified babysitting, but truthfully it’s not. What you’re really paying for is socialization and the ability to do things without your child. Honestly your child won’t emerge anymore of an Einstein than the child who stayed home with their parents until kindergarten. And depending on the parents that other child who stayed home just might be farther ahead. Like way farther ahead.

So anyways I have no illusions about my daughter’s daycare. She’s there because she loves being around other kids, she’s easily bored and I need time to get things done during the day that don’t involve her. Things like writing and gardening. And sitting on the couch for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Mommy play with me!”

This is not to say there aren’t excellent preschools that don’t have fancy curriculums with detailed, well-thought out programs that are designed to enhance the development of the preschool brain at each level and my daughter has actually had the benefit of participating in one such program. But it lasted only a few hours a day, it was extremely expensive, and every kid in there came from such a wealthy and un-relatable family she didn’t end up making a single friend. She just didn’t fit in with such a demographically homogenous group which is a fancy way of saying “all rich white kids” and I definitely did not fit in with their rich stay-at-home mothers. Nor did I feel like trying. At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.

Anyways she’s got until the end of August and then she’ll be in kindergarten, raising hell and challenging her teachers with her wild and witty wonderful way of learning, understanding, becoming, experimenting, leading, being fierce, being beautiful, excelling, exceeding, paving the way for the rest of the ones who love her and follow in her footsteps. She’ll be creating new avenues her teachers never thought of and they can fight her or embrace her just like every problem child that ever was.

Tank Girl

This disease of depression is internal. It cannot be caught and it cannot be cured. Those afflicted by it must learn to cope. They must become warriors.

I haven’t written anything in a while, I just haven’t been able to. I feel like my life has become this thing I never imagined it would be. My older children are stretched across the country, turning into other people. I see them and I feel like I’ve missed oceans of time with them. I literally drown in the spaces between my visits with them. Other mothers ask me how I handle it. I don’t handle it. I’m forced to deal with it, like being in prison. I say fuck a lot about almost everything. I cry. I go outside and dig in the dirt and plant shit so something beautiful grows. I manage my hatred. I’m angry about it all the time. I’m sad about it all the time. When they ask me this question I want to answer how the fuck do you think I handle it!?! I try not to run people over in the parking lot!

My husband and I are weathering the storms that come with poverty, change, family drama and raising children. He likes to hold hands. I don’t. I can’t stand it when he tries to dance with me in the kitchen. I don’t know why I can’t, I just can’t. I don’t feel romantic lately. I feel more like tank girl, when someone touches me who isn’t my child I want to pull out my gun.

I know this has to do with what’s going on inside me. I’ve been bleeding for months. literally months. My doctor wants to take out my uterus because of it. The irony is I can’t have my pre-op pap smear and exam because my damn uterus won’t stop bleeding. My husband tells me how cute my ass is. I tell him if I took my jeans off he’d faint. It’s like world war III down there. And yet I keep going. I keep doing the laundry. vacuuming the carpets. Doing the shopping. Cooking the meals. Doing the dishes. It’s almost become normal this bleeding. I’m forgetting what it was like before I bled like a stuck pig. It’s funny what you can get used to.

My daughter has chosen my husband as her favored parent. Considering how the rest of my life is going it makes perfect sense. While her father was working twelve hour days or sleeping or spending all night at poker games, I was the one who sang to her, gave her baths, fed her, held her at night. But of course none of that seems to matter lately. Although when she’s hurt or scared or has a nightmare she still calls for mommy. In the mornings I often wake up to her hot little body on my side of the bed. Those are the mornings i just want to push the pause button. I just don’t want anything to move, to change. Oh please I think, can’t this last forever.

I love to cuddle my husband’s legs. He was a roller skater for years and I always tease him that he has two tree trunks for legs. Laying in bed I’m always cold and I suffer from chronic claustrophobia so being held is out of the question. So I wind my legs around his and it’s the best feeling in the world. Like being rooted to the earth. My anxiety vanishes. The best is when he’s sleeping and I wiggle my legs between his. That combined with his soft snores is better than any valium.

My oldest son is here. He’ll be here for a month. He’s almost seventeen and is one of my favorite people on the planet. I adore him. I love the way he thinks; his artistic sensibilities, his kindness, his intelligence. I love that he’s driven and musical. I love that he’s so much like me and yet different in all the ways I hoped he’d be. Part of what makes him so special is that he had to battle his inner demons of depression. He’s had to work hard to become the person he is today. I read a book called In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression by John Bentley Mays. At the time I read it I was so naive  about mental illness I was almost scared by the content of the book, by the experiences Mays related. Now that I am almost twenty years older and have battled mental illness for much of my adult life I have greater compassion for this man, There is more to this story. My son battles depression. I think about this book and I think about my handsome, creative, intelligent and talented son and my heart bursts with the emotion of it. This disease of depression is internal. It cannot be caught and it cannot be cured. Those afflicted by it must learn to cope. They must become warriors. Many of them do yoga. Many run. Many stay busy with projects, constantly creating, refuting the ever present voice whispering you are no good no good no good. You are worthless and everything you do is and will always be worthless. you may as well just give up…My son creates. Music. Films. Art. He skateboards. He eats as healthy as he can. He doesn’t drink, smoke weed. He stays busy. He outruns the “jaws of the black dogs” and for that I am in awe. I couldn’t be prouder.

I pray he stays ahead of the black dogs of depression as an adult. I pray he stays an example for others battling depression. There was a time when he we almost lost him. But the world needed him. Dammit I needed him! Fuck you black dogs! You may think you can catch my son but what you don’t realize is I will always be right there behind him armed to the teeth. Let’s see how well you do against my tank.

 

 

June

My mouth opened and nothing came out
I guess it was too much, all those words, all that screaming
A reaction to the sickening politeness I’m surrounded by…
It’s enough to make even the steeliest ones of us vomit glittery frustration… and still I climb out to find you.
I don’t want to be nice to you I say quietly beneath my breath
I hate you I say even softer and I mean it
And yet love pours out from somewhere I didn’t know existed
As the hands on your watch tick I let you hold me…as jumpy as a cat for the moment I am calm.
This doesn’t mean I forgive you I say. Needing to say something.
It doesn’t have to mean anything you whisper over my head and I still hear you.
At least for the moment I am not angry.
I can feel the breeze from the half open window. It blows the scent of roses into the room.
In the June half light this could be a scene from a movie. I decide to kiss you and so we do. To the onlooker we are lovely
Here in the hazy late afternoon we can be them.
The lovers.
At least until the sun goes down.

Kimkoa 2018