The Conversion Machine Part 1

Homosexuality is not only NOT permitted but gay men and women are encouraged to marry heterosexual partners and procreate for the sake of God. I know personally several such couples and as you may expect it doesn’t end well.

As a child my parents sent me to church camp. I grew up singing praise songs and laying myself bare before the lord with other children and their devout, fundamentalist mothers. Unlike my own thin, active, mother who had no interest in religious pursuits, these women could quote the bible by heart. They were large and soft, with a cascade of chins and bosoms that went on forever. I’ll never forget watching their heavy arms shaking as they raised them, singing and clapping along to a rolling spiritual, “How great Thou art…” The smell of strawberry rhubarb pie wafted through the air, just above the hymnals. I felt the twisting of my swimsuit straps underneath my dress, waiting to be set free as I threw off my itchy clothes and jumped into the cool lake. I was barefoot every summer at Reunion. That’s what it was called. A coming together of God’s believers. As a child I loved it. I called it Love Camp.

As time went by my parents lost touch with the reunion folks. Having been raised Catholic my mother had a hard time committing to any church. All she saw was rules. eventually she settled on the Lutherans, as they seemed the most benign. My Dad was raised African Methodist Episcopal and stayed committed to it for the entirety of his life, however he supported my mom on her religious journey because that’s what husbands do. By the time I was in high school my parents had abandoned all pretense of living a religious life. I had gone with my close friend Amy to church a few times and been saved a couple of times but ultimately I was the same person as before I walked down the aisle and bared my soul. Something was definitely missing.

After my first year of college in New York I decided the city wasn’t for me. I had no desire to go anywhere but back home. So I did exactly that and ran right into the Bahai faith. It started simple enough, a girl I’d known most of my childhood invited me to a coffeehouse. Having nothing better to do that night I decided go. Unbeknownst to me, that decision would seal my fate. At the outset it seemed harmless, sweet actually. I saw young people and older people at this makeshift little coffeehouse in an out of the way building. The most shocking thing and what I instantly fell in love with was the racial diversity.

Growing up mixed race was like walking a tightrope. I lived in constant fear of falling into the hands of either side. Making friends was akin to stepping on land mines. I craved acceptance as a child and never really found it. I wanted the black girls to like me. “I’m black too! I have curly hair and brown skin! Just look at my father!” My heart cried out to them expecting them to hear me. But it wasn’t enough. My hair wasn’t curly enough. My skin wasn’t dark enough. I talked like a “white girl.” I acted like a “white girl.” To them I was privileged with my long hair and light skin. My educated parents. So they pulled my hair and slapped my face and sent me away, a reject. So I turned to the white girls. The white girls who took pity on my strangeness. Who teased me sometimes but were just curious enough to befriend me. I remember three little blond girls who took me in to their white trash world of hairspray and nail polish. Their mother’s Playgirl magazines littering the couch. war movies on television and empty beer cans all over the floor while their dad snored, dreaming of his tours of duty in the heat of Vietnam. I remember their mother, racist, alcoholic and jealous of her oldest daughter Desiree. Her platinum blonde hair stuck out from her head in a fringe, a cigarette hanging from her lipsticked mouth. I remember Desiree doing cartwheels in the backyard in her cheerleading uniform while her mother watched her from the doorway.

“Those cartwheels look like shit!” She sneered. “You won’t last a week on the squad looking like that.” She took a huge swig of beer and headed back into the house, the screen door slamming behind her. It was not the first time I saw Sharon make Desiree cry. It definitely wouldn’t be the last. I remember playing barbies with her little sister Julie, naive and hell bent on following the rules where ever she could find them.

“Let’s play barbies. Here, you can play with the black one.” In Julie’s mind it made perfect sense. Looking back on it the fact that they even had a black barbie was astonishing. It had to have come in a pack their Dad bought.

“But she’s missing a leg!” Yes. Out of a sea of barbies I got to play with the only black one who’s hair stood straight up and was missing a leg.

“Fine.” Julie at eight years old was faced with her first ethical dilemma. “I guess you can be the Ken doll. She was satisfied with her decision. “Yep that will work perfectly.” She tossed the Ken doll at me. I felt nauseous and instantly lonely. I knew Julie had no idea what she had just done. I also knew it would probably never get any better.

It never did get any better. It only got worse. By the time I was in sixth grade I had a group of friends, all of us oddballs. They were all white of course. I had given up on trying to be friends with the black girls who hated me mercilessly. I was tired of being told I was a freak because I talked white and I had a white momma and why couldn’t my daddy stick to his own kind. I knew my black aunties and my black cousins loved me and that was the best I was going to get. It was still hard though. Achingly lonely. My mother’s family completely disowned us. I’ll never forget sitting with my white cousins whom I had met for the first time at Christmas time. We all sat in a row around my grandmother as she handed out presents. I was so excited, waiting for my turn. Would it be a talking doll? A stuffed puppy with its own brush and blanket? I watched my cousins opening their presents with unrestrained joy and when it came to my turn I looked up at my grandmother expectantly, barely concealing my excitement. She looked down at me, the smile fading from her face and handed me a check. I stared at it, completely confused. I looked over at my mother and saw her face flushed with rage. “I didn’t know what to get her.” My grandmother said nonchalantly and turned her attention back to my cousins.

“I knew this was a mistake!” My mother muttered angrily under her breath. “Give me that honey, I’ll get you something.” She took the check and stuffed it in her purse. I sat there blinking back tears watching my cousins unwrap and play with their presents. I watched my mother’s sister and my grandmother smiling at them, as they showed them off. They were like a scene out of a movie. I knew I didn’t belong there. I didn’t belong anywhere. I knew my father wasn’t even allowed to be there. I just wanted to get the hell away from those people and never look back.

As I got older I became more and more aware of how I didn’t fit in. There was me and then there was everyone else. I would look in the mirror and wish I could see anything but my own face staring back at me. I was stuck between two worlds; hated by one, misunderstood by the other. As a means of survival I did what so many of us do. I threw myself into the arts. I could sing, I could dance, I could captivate an audience. It was my outlet. I could forget about not fitting in, about being bullied and teased. I could forget about being rejected by my own family. I could forget my self loathing and my loneliness. Under the stage lights I could be anyone I wanted to be and the audience would applaud. This carried me through middle school and high school where I lived in the choir room and through my first year of college as a drama major studying music, theatre and dance at Ithaca college. There was still something missing however. What had carried me through my younger years began to be a burden. I realized I didn’t want to have to be other people to be accepted. I wanted to be accepted for being myself. I wanted to dance but I didn’t have the feet or the back for it. I wanted to play music but although I could sing beautifully I was never any good at musical theory or mastering instruments other than my own voice. I realized I was on a path to nowhere and so that year was my last. Back home I had to regroup. I started working a series of dead end jobs to stay busy and tried to figure out what to do next. I was at a lonely, pivotal point in my life, ready for change and vulnerable as hell. The Bahai faith came along at just the right time, preyed upon my insecurities, and took over my life for the next nine years.

That night at the coffee house seemed like a magical one. There was music, there were people of every color who wanted to talk to me, there was a cultural life that I desperately wanted to be a part of. What I didn’t know was how these cults operate. They draw you in, figure out what you’re lacking in your life, and promise to fill it. They usually have a recruiter there who is skilled in the fine art of brainwashing and this night was no exception. His name was Oscar. Oscar Degruy. He was a tall black man claiming to be from the inner city of Chicago (coincidentally where I was born) and he was smooth talker. Smooth as silk. He focused heavily on one of the tenants of the Bahai faith that the eradication of racism is one of the most vital components. The prophet founder Baha’u’allah believed in the integration of the races above all other things, which obviously I loved. Unfortunately there were far too many stones in that soup. He and his band of converters worked on me at that coffee house until three o’clock in the morning when I finally relented and signed their card. I’ll never forget his intense gaze staring right into my brain. “What are you waiting for?!” I was so exhausted and I craved that acceptance so I said yes. It was as simple as that. I could have said you had me at integration. Interestingly Oscar did not fool my father who met him a few days later and actually did grow up on the west side of Chicago, surrounded gangs and violence. His comment to me was,

“If even half of those stories he’s telling are true he’d be dead in a hot minute. You don’t wave your gun around say those things in the hood unless you don’t want to see tomorrow.” Oscar in fact disgusted my father who saw him for who he really was, a wealthy cult recruiter from Los Angeles with a liar’s heart and a lack of conscience. As a young, starry-eyed brand new believer I failed to heed my father’s warning. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.

As these things go, as quickly as they unfold their peacock feathers, the bottom feeders come out to play. I had the misfortune to get trapped by one such bottom feeder, Navid was his name, Navid Falconer, and he would steal from me a thing that cannot be replaced, that cannot be atoned for, that there is no justice one can turn to. The moment I walked into that coffee house he set his filthy sights on me and in my innocence I was flattered never having been the subject of anyone’s affection in such a blatant way. Navid was from a prominent Bahai family, his brother and sister and both of his parents were active in the community. He was also a body builder. His upper arm was as big as my head. He intimidated me in a way I’d never experienced before. He took me to the movies. He took me to his house to meet his mother who warned me I was too good for him. He took me downstairs to watch a movie. He convinced me to check out his bedroom. It’s ok, you’ll be fine, you’re so cute worrying about everything. Just lay here and talk to me for a while. And then all of a sudden the dam broke. It was force and confusion and arms and suffocating and a quiet loss of innocence. He raped me in his bedroom while his parents obliviously went about their business. I could literally hear the floor creaking as they walked around. I’ve heard other rape victims say it happened so fast I didn’t have time to scream. It’s true. I remember the exact moment after it happened. I remember I was in shock. I told him “But I’m a virgin. I’m saving myself for marriage.”

“Not anymore.” he said and laughed. I’ll never forget that laugh. There was cruelty around the edges and in the middle was the kind of hilarity between guys after a particularly funny prank. It was a frat boy’s laugh. I felt all the blood rush to my lower legs. I felt like a block of ice. I laid there while he kept raping me staring at the ceiling listening to his parents walking back and forth and imaging strangling him to death with his own belt. It didn’t end there. These things never do. I wanted my power back. I HAD to have it back. So I stayed with him. I refused to admit he had stolen something so precious from me. I willed myself to believe it was consensual. That I had wanted that cruel theft. I remember him at my parent’s house. I remember my father offering him a beer. He had no idea what Navid had done to his little girl. Navid accepted it, another violation of Bahai law.

On Bahai Law:

The consumption of alcohol is forbidden
The use of marijuana and other drugs are forbidden unless prescribed by a doctor
Premarital sex is forbidden
Marriage is between one man and one woman
Homosexuality is forbidden and likened to a person with special needs or an addictive disease such as alcoholism
Backbiting is forbidden, one must not say anything negative about anyone else
One must remain politically nonpartisan
One may not criticize one’s leader despite how bad they may be
It’s ok to smoke because that’s harmless
One must engage in a period of fasting where one does not eat or drink from sunup to sundown
One must pray three times a day washing hands and face before each prayer
If one abstains one must say a long prayer at noon complete with washing hands and face and prostrations
One must proselytize, ceaselessly teaching the youth and the ignorant the tenants of the Baha’i faith so as to recruit new members
One should engage in the independent investigation of truth unless one is questioning the laws. Then one must shut the hell up and obey.

You can imagine everything I had been looking for when I walked through the doors of that coffee house and signed that card in the middle of the night. But unfortunately all I found was a litany of empty promises, terrible advice and an extension of a middle eastern lifestyle I wanted no part of. The governing body called the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel is all men and when you ask why, you are told that is one of the “sacred mysteries” you must accept. Another sacred mystery is the law on homosexuality. Homosexuality is not only NOT permitted but gay men and women are encouraged to marry heterosexual partners and procreate for the sake of God. I know personally several such couples and as you may expect it doesn’t end well. Some run off unable to deny their true natures, Some stay but lead secret lives heard about in hushed whispers over coffee, cigarettes; the victims of endless gossip. The kids are irreparably harmed, surrounded by lies and half-truths, raised to regard with cynicism even positive, well-meaning guidance. You must remain non-partisan and never speak ill of your ruler regardless of how horrible he or she may be. Men and women are considered equal but different, each encouraged to pursue their own equal but separate roles (I believe we’ve been down that road before.)

Navid didn’t last and thank God he didn’t. It wasn’t long before I was married to the cousin of the girl who introduced me to the Bahai faith in the first place. We set our sights on Portland, Oregon and it’s promises of a brighter future. We had no idea what lie ahead.

*To be continued*

Stuffed Animal Conference

I was picking each animal up, and putting it on her freshly made bed, and the little girl in me realized I could do whatever I wanted with her stuffed animals.

My daughter popped awake at 5:30 this morning. She was part of the alarm of the day, which is always set for me, the one who doesn’t need to be up that early. Basically I’m used to my husband’s alarm going off intermittently from 5:30 to 6am (the James Bond theme song) during which time I get up, get my natural energy caffeine substitute since I cannot have coffee, check email, facade book (no that was not a typo) and the gram, or simply lay there wishing his alarm were set for 6 while he continues sleeping. My mother is the same way, I hear her alarm go off and she will turn it off and disappear back into dreamland which is something I’ve never been able to do. Anyways, my daughter decided today was the day I needed to start mothering two minutes after I opened my eyes. At least I was prepared for her jumping into bed, hearing her voice in the hallway “I’m thirsty!” Lately she’s been waking up in the wee hours of the morning and stealthily creeping into my room and then suddenly leaping onto me “I want to sleep with you!” Then of course she proceeds to beat me and my husband up for the rest of the night; a punch to the eye, a kick to the balls…she likes to keep us on our toes.

So as I stumbled out of bed and made my way upstairs to get her water I realized how much that half hour of just me and the quiet house meant in the morning. Even though Alice is in preschool now and I have time during the day, I assign myself work to do and don’t consider it “free time.” What many people don’t realize is how easy it is to get behind when you are “your own boss.” If you don’t do the laundry you end up living under it. If you don’t grocery shop you are at the store every day and dinner is always late. If you don’t clean…well we all know that story. When I was trying to do everything myself and take care of all three kids full-time I slid into a special kind of insanity I don’t even have a name for. Really my days are manageable for the first time in a long time. That being said, living with two adults who work full-time I feel a great need to account for my time at home and when not writing I am either engaged in some kind of chore or running errands or taking the occasional nap when needed (No I won’t apologize for that! Bipolar people need their sleep!) I also spend time pacing because that is how I think. My son does this also. In fact if I have not already written what I am going to write in my head I like to write at the counter so I can walk around it between paragraphs. (Yes you can laugh at that image.) The earliest part of the day is different though. Hushed and dark, before the world has called for me I swallow the beauty of my own existence in huge gulps. That time is mine to relish or squander as I please, regardless of the expectations of others. It is not stolen, nor gifted me but earned fairly and earnestly and I do notice when it is infringed upon.

After I got Alice her water I tried to start the day with her and it did not go well. Alice, like every 4 and 3/4 year old (the 3/4 is extremely important) is less than cooperative when tired and kept insisting she did NOT have to go potty. I of course insisted she did and as every mother knows that is not a battle one can win. Ultimately I lost my patience and yelled, giving her bottom a useless smack. I felt instantly terrible and she continued to insist she DID NOT HAVE TO GO and needless to say she ended up cuddling her father who missed out on fifteen of his cherished snooze minutes. The battle over and lost, I was left wanting to feel proactive and instead feeling defeated. So I chose to let her boss her own body (she eventually did go potty of her own accord, and had a dry nap, then had an accident later in day go figure!) and I got her dressed, hair done, eating cheese and oranges and watching a show all before 6:30. I had time to kill so I decided to make the beds and put away her laundry. After making our bed I started work in her room and something happened. It was a small thing and yet not a small thing. It was a lightbulb moment that would not turn on for me until later this afternoon.

Alice, like every little girl, has a stuffed animal menagerie. Having missed out on my time from this morning I inadvertently took it back by creating a something in her room. I was picking each animal up, and putting it on her freshly made bed, and the little girl in me realized I could do whatever I wanted with her stuffed animals. So I started lining them up and arranging them sweetly along the side of her mattress. I was putting one with the other and before I knew it there they were holding court on her bed. I heard the bathroom door open as my husband having finished his shower began making his way down the hall. “Hey babe, I called, look what I did for Ali.” I felt proud and sparkly eyed at the sweetness of the picture.

“It looks like they’re having a conference.” He said, smiling.

“You’re right. It does. A stuffed animal conference.” We hugged and I felt a little better about the day. What happened next I hadn’t planned on. After driving Alice to school and finding the door locked I realized it was professional development day and school was closed. What? Huh? Oops. Alice was thrilled. I had plans that were suddenly not plans any longer. The day had its ups and downs. I lost and won other battles. But specialness still won out. We had spent the morning upstairs, a kaleidoscope of cartoons, play dough and a variety of snacks and I was writing this post in between those parenting moments. Suddenly I remembered “The Stuffed Animal Conference.” “Alice, I did something special in your room!” I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t thought to show her before.

“Really? Can I go see? Should I close my eyes?!” She was so excited.

“Yes of course, hold my hand.” I led her down the stairs and into her room.

“Open wide!”

“WOW!” She was as excited to see them as I was to show her and she began adding to the group from her toy box, it was adorable. I thought suddenly oh, she wanted my time. The lightbulb clicked on. The one thing every battle with her has in common is that it makes everything take longer. Today I gave her the gift of my time and the most special part of “The Stuffed Animal Conference” was that it was spontaneous and given without expectation or request. It didn’t even take that long, but it was my time and she knew it. So often as parents we want to give our kids so much…when all they really want is time with us. It doesn’t have to be a long time either but it has to be genuine. Not side glances they have to steal from us while competing with a computer screen or an iPhone. Real, honest-to-goodness time. The funny thing is, that doesn’t change even as we get older. As adults we compete for each other’s time just as often…and we make just as much noise when we don’t get it. 

Motherhood

Heavy wine head
Exhausted
Hot baby knees
Love
Little fist sweaty curls breath
Anxious warm restless
Moving just enough to startle
Nonsense whispers coughing
Stubborn feet pressed against thighs
Soft blanket snores humid dark
Air purifier whirring
Laughter behind a closed door
Sudden joy.

Kimkoa 2017

Following the Leader

…for those of us who were born with fire burning just beneath our skin and hearts that yearn for a different kind of life, the growing up and becoming process is not so easy. We too crave acceptance but not for a false and crudely designed version of ourselves.

Today is all about the inner critic. All about that cruel voice inside each of us that endlessly criticizes everything we say and do. That tears down the walls of our fragile houses of self esteem and leaves nothing but rubble in its wake. I have found that the more weak and spineless a thing is, the more soulless and wicked are its acts. It is as if the inner critic can only become strong through destruction. That like a snake it suffocates our creative expression and swallows our psyche whole.

For so long I was a slave to the inner critic. So many of us are, learning to be that way to get by, to survive. Always editing myself, editing my words, my clothes, even my hairstyles. Looking at pictures of me over the years however, I am literally blown away. What I find arresting, completely astonishing actually, is how beautiful I looked on those days when there were accidental lapses in my steely control. When my hair fanned out in a proud mass of curls. When my clothes didn’t match perfectly. When I had a wide open, un-sanitized smile.

I know I am not unique when it comes to this. I know we are all battling this same horrible demon, usually planted there in middle school if not beforehand. We are somehow taught that to succeed in life we must assimilate. That “following the leader” is the key to a lifetime of happiness and anything else will bring about sure ruin. Some of us can and do succeed early and often and following in the socially acceptable footsteps of our predecessors comes naturally. But for those of us who were born with fire burning just beneath our skin and hearts that yearn for a different kind of life, the growing up and becoming process is not so easy. We too crave acceptance but not for a false and crudely designed version of ourselves. We want who we truly are to be that which is loved. In order for that to happen an immense courage must be summoned. Enough courage to burst through the stone wall of the inner critic and embrace the mountain top of freedom. We may be afraid of the drop but we must trust our own instincts and abilities. We must believe we can and will stand firmly rooted, letting the inner critic topple over the edge forever.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. It is truly a divine act to become one’s own master. To form one’s own destiny. To give oneself the gift of choice. It is an act of love. The wheel of fate will turn regardless of whether one is riding in the cart above or caught below between the spokes. In reality the inner critic is an illusion. A mechanism we create and then use to judge ourselves based upon what we imagine are the standards for love and acceptance. But, as previously mentioned, any affection gained while we are not being true to our natures is by definition false and only adds to the gaping hole of self loathing which feeds the inner critic. True love is just that, true. Until we love and accept ourselves truly as we are it can never be found. True love of oneself comes before everything else. It is the foundation for a beautiful life. My father would always say you teach others how to treat you. How very right he was. By loving yourself truly, others will love you the same way, “following the leader” so to speak. How much better to lead them towards joy in the hopes that they too will one day learn to love themselves and throw their own inner critics over the edge into the abyss where they belong.

Priceless

I’m not your bitch…
I’m not your candlestick either,
I won’t just light up for you.
I’m tired of doing tricks
On my back.
I’m not your pet,
You can’t tie me to a tree
And throw me bones.
I will never lay down at your feet,
I will stay a wild thing,
I will never jump up and lick your face, just to hear everyone’s so
Proud of you
Proud of you
Proud of you.
I would rather drown in a sea of my own undoing, than fly with the wings you made me,
Suffocating in a sulphuric air I cannot breathe.
I am worth more than anything you could give me…
I am
priceless.

 

 

 

Blood on Their Hands

As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen.

So this morning was a brain cloud for me. My daughter was being especially difficult because she was tired after refusing to go to sleep last night until well past her bedtime. I was up late as well, as was my husband and no one was dealing from a full deck. As a result I was lacking inspiration so I started watching a terrible movie about a suburban woman who goes crazy from the pressures of her life and believes she’s a dog. It opens with her attempting to commit suicide by wrapping a belt around her neck and tying it to the chandelier. The scene is disturbing as is the rest of the movie, not surprising considering the premise. However it got me thinking about how desensitized we’ve become to the concept of suicide, that it’s simply become a “thing that happens.” The scariest part is our children thinking suicide is an option when the waves of life come crashing down on them and they are gasping for breath. In his essay The Decay of Lying Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If one agrees with this premise it would stand to reason that artists bear a great responsibility to the public in regards to their creations. As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen. As adolescents are already impressionable and less able to think past the present moment suicide may seem a viable option for escape from their troubles. Especially if they are battling bipolar disorder and have either not been diagnosed or are not taking their medications. So for an artist to create an environment on screen where characters are laughing at the concept of suicide, or where an attempted suicide is used as simply a vehicle to push the plot line forward, creating sympathy for the character without addressing the issue, is wholly irresponsible. People copy what they see in the movies and in videos, most especially adolescents.

I addressed this in earlier posts and I will land on it again, that so often in our society the issue of mental illness and its effects on the individual and their family is either hidden, ignored, or not taken seriously. The same can be said of the art around us and how it approaches mental illness. Moviemakers in particular are guilty of this egregious sin, as I have mentioned in previous posts. using serious conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia as comic fodder for their storylines. Laughing at symptoms that in real life would be absolutely terrifying to the person experiencing them. In my post “I’m Not Laughing” I talked about watching a movie during which the audience was supposed to laugh at a little girl with bipolar disorder just because of her disorder. I can’t imagine that same audience laughing at a little girl with cancer even though bipolar disorder is statistically more deadly. There is a pervasive double standard in our culture that has to change. My mother explains it this way: mental illness is no different than any other kind of illness. It is simply based in the brain while other illnesses affect other organs. The symptoms look different because the organ affected is different. It does NOT make the illness less deadly. It does NOT make it something to laugh at. Oddly enough, although the movie I saw this morning was billed as a dark comedy, the attempted suicide scene was not made to be in the least bit funny which I appreciated and although the movie itself was badly acted and badly made, there was an obvious sympathy towards the character experiencing the breakdown that I wish were more common in films.

In light of this subject I cannot help but to think of this passage taken from Luke 12:48 of the Bible, King James version:

“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:

and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

I would call upon all artists of our time to take seriously this issue of mental illness and the stigma it carries. Let them choose with care what example they set for those who would follow in their wake. I would ask them to rise with their God given gifts and talents and use them for the betterment of our society. Let them teach people how to treat each other and work together to eradicate the stigma of mental illness once and for all. Let them have life and not blood on their hands.

 

Forever Young

There was a knock on the door child
Did you hear it?
It was your sister with her favorite doll she wants to play
Will you?
Will you play with her?
The paint on these walls is peeling my dear
And there’s a dampness in the corners
Can you see the spring of mold?

Your flowers are dry and crumbling now…they weren’t like that before…
Come outside your sister is calling you,
“Come out to the garden, come out and play with me!” She cries
But you can’t can you?
The wooden floor beneath your feet is rotting girl
But you can’t feel it
You don’t know it’s there
You’re breathing out butterflies and dust
Your eyes are glass
Your mother braided a violet ribbon through your hair
Your sister will have to find her own way home
Crying now won’t do you any good…

Your blood was warm until you spilled some on the floor.

Kimkoa 2018

 

Hospital Birthday

I cry for myself now because I couldn’t then. I never allow myself the luxury of self pity, only compassion after the fact. It’s how I survive. Once one begins to wallow there is no end to it.

 

At the behest of my husband and from my own desire I want to take a pause from the present sweetness of my valley life and talk about my illness. It is synonymous with me and always will be. I am bipolar. It is not a thing you outgrow, it cannot be cured with essential oils or mediation, or even prayer. But there is a community of people who know enough about this deadly disease to save lives. So here is just a peek into what it’s like to be me.

It’s an indescribable feeling to realize you’re turning 41 in the mental health wing of a hospital. I can’t say I minded all that much. That had everything to do with my family bringing balloons, cheesecake, candles, flowers, my daughter dressed in her gorgeous cream dress I bought her, the other patients, the nurses, my doctor and my anxiety medication. Now I think about it and the tears come. I cry for myself now because I couldn’t then. I never allow myself the luxury of self pity, only compassion after the fact. It’s how I survive. Once one begins to wallow there is no end to it. My chest also floods with feeling for what the nurses and doctors must feel for every patient that sits in front of them wavering between realities clutching a birthday balloon. For every weak bird in purple hospital scrubs who says in a small voice, “Today is my birthday,” I wonder how many of them pray for us at night. Especially the ones of us for whom on our birthdays no one comes.

Providence Behavioral Health, known as 4 west, or as those of us who have been its “guests” call it “the mental ward” is actually a beautiful place. Clean, staffed with well-meaning, over-worked nurses and at least one or two brilliant doctors, not only is it a haven for the mentally ill, it literally saved my life more than once. I am among the lucky ones not to have been sent to Alaska Psychiatric Institute with its high level security measures, over-population and the most severely disturbed patients including the violent ones however I don’t separate myself from the patients there. On many occasions when there simply aren’t available beds at providence patients are sent to API like lambs to the slaughter. I very nearly was sent there myself and thank my lucky stars to not have had to experience it. Having talked with other patients who have it remains for me a lurking dragon that keeps me taking my meds regularly. That and the beast of unreality which will always and forever haunt me; a thing I would wish on no one.

Whenever I tell anyone I’ve been (voluntarily) committed to the psych ward I hear two things. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Girl Interrupted. I have one thing to say. No. No, no, no, no, no. Let me be clear. NO. It is not 1960. There are not secret rooms or day passes or drama of the kind movies drum up. Patients are not sneaking in and out of windows, fooling staff and running the show. The ward is a calm place. A place of healing. We spend our days in therapy. Our nights closely monitored and most of us if not in natural sleep, an assisted medicated version of it. Yes we form bonds that sometimes last after hospitalization but whatever drama that follows is not part of the hospital stay, which has strict rules about sharing contact information and sharing physical contact although we do still hug each other when the urge overtakes us, such as when someone is crying or there is a shared moment of great joy. I have broken the rules about sharing contact information. It is so very hard not to, so very difficult to remember that people who are one way in a controlled environment may become completely different once not required to take their medications and then may not refrain from drinking or using drugs to cope with the re-emergence of symptoms which causes in some cases epic backslides. I can say the rule exists for good reasons.

I myself do not drink or use drugs. It’s not because I don’t want to. I love wine. I hate pot however, it almost killed me, heightened my symptoms to the point where I thought I was the next messiah. More on that later. But yes, I miss being able to have wine with a girlfriend or sharing a bottle with my mom while watching an old classic film. But I’m too sick to drink. If I’m not in a manic state I can have a glass or two like a normal person. But once that mania hits I will literally drink everything in the house. Just before my last hospital stay I had a manic episode where I binge drank almost all of the alcohol in my mother’s house and had no memory of it.

Lets talk about the ugly side of bipolar 1 with psychotic features. First: The psychosis. How would it feel if you thought by just standing near someone you could send them to hell? A kind of hell only Dante could dream up. How would it feel to be convinced a demon lives inside the right half of your body and so your right eye stares out at you from every picture and every time you look in the mirror you can see yourself decomposing on that side and so you stop looking in the mirror? How would it feel to believe you have a wolf living inside you that will jump out and eat your daughter if you don’t hold your breath. How would it feel if your psychiatrist’s daughter who is the same age as you and suffers from the same condition  hangs herself and you believe you caused it by being near your doctor?

Second: The Mania. At one point I was sending my husband who was trying to run a newsroom 50 to 60 texts a day about Hitler and Goebbels and the Holocaust and whether or not it was real and white supremacy and the percentage of ash found in the gas chambers. I was texting him pictures of dead jews and articles claiming they were fabricated. I kept asking him over and over is this real is this true this can’t be true. I would pace and clean and take Alice all over town (she literally had no idea and thought I was just fun hyper mommy. The thought of what was really going on still terrifies me to this day.) I would take Alice over to my girlfriend’s house and let her watch cartoons while I did all of her dishes for her. On weekends I would garden until it started getting dark out which for an Alaskan summer is quite late. Nick and Alice would press their faces against the glass wondering when mommy would ever decide to come inside. I would stay awake for hours, long after everyone had gone to sleep my mind racing. I would go online and read about aliens, genetic engineering, ancient Egypt, serial killers, celebrities, Isis. I became obsessed with Isis, terrified they were coming any day. I started reading everything I could sometimes crying hysterically wondering how anyone could do anything with this horror in the world. I was angry all the time. I would fight with my girlfriends, yell at my kids, fight with my husband, even my mom. I lost more than a few relationships during that time. I have easily forgiven myself. I was sick. whoever can’t accept that doesn’t belong in my life anyways.

Third: The Depression. Quite literally you become so tired from battling the symptoms which come and go, because it’s important to note there would be long stretches where I would be fine or at least appear fine. Especially if I was hypomanic which is this lovely little land where you’re the life of the party, your house is always clean, you have boundless energy for your children and you’re the funnest, funniest, sexiest wife ever. It’s a lie and it doesn’t last of course. Friendships made during a hypomanic phase are as false and fleeting as dead leaves in the wind. So to feel that energy start to slip away yet AGAIN is just heartbreaking. You also become tired of the medication merry-go-round. The trial and error of this and that other drug. The litany of different doctors, each with their own theory on why you are so broken and will not be fixed as if it were under your control. You become tired of the side effects or as part of the side effects. You stop eating or you eat everything in sight, mine happened to be the latter. One drug I took ballooned me up 50 pounds which I have yet to lose. You become quite simply tired and you want a way out. Any way out.

As I have said I am one of the lucky ones. I have one of the brilliant doctors. I have my sanity back. I have my friendships back, at least the ones that matter, and the gift of knowing they love me unconditionally. I have the full support of my family who are healthy and working with me through my recovery. I am safe, my children are safe. I have my life back. I could write volumes about my life before I found the doctor who saved me and the people who cared for me at my worst and I will. But for now I’ll leave you with another poem that I feel speaks to the commonalities between all of us.

Bones

To the mother who’s son brought a gun to school today I say I love you.

To the mother who’s son steals cash from her wallet to feed his habit and tears from her eyes to wash his soul clean, I say it’s okay to feel abandoned by God.

To the mother who’s son was expelled from school for selling amphetamines to classmates on school grounds, I say it’s NOT ALL YOUR FAULT.

To the mother who’s son never calls, never writes and never cares I say I CARE about you even if HE doesn’t.

To the mother who’s son sits behind bars facing charges of sexual misconduct, domestic abuse and assault I say you’re not alone, it only seems that way….

To the mothers of vandals, thieves, rapists and killers I say you can hold onto the scent of his head when they laid him in your arms. It’s okay to love a broken child. It’s okay to know he’ll never be what he could have been and love him anyways.

To the mother who has yet to give birth to her son I say love him but not so much that if he chooses to drown, you are pulled under the waves. Love him but not so much that you forget to love his father. Love him because he is your baby without expectation.
The only joy guaranteed you is that first moment of his existence, the sound of his cry, the sight of his little fist with its tiny wrinkled fingers. Rejoice in your ability to create life. Hope for his happiness. Expect to be disappointed in some way. Accept that love was never meant to be a painless endeavor. On the contrary it rips us from our couches and thrusts us into the fevered beating heart of existence, pummeling us with awful truths and vivid dream deaths, ultimately haunting us with the notion that we are truly powerless in its wake.

To the mothers of brutally broken boys and men I say you are not so different from me. What divides us is only the hands we are dealt, the circumstances of our losses and how well we can hold onto our goodness while our worlds crumble and our hopes fade. Beneath our skin we are all the same.

Down deep we are all just bones.

Kimkoa 2017

Ballerina Cat

Now of course this whole time she was dressed in pink tights, a black leotard and a tutu like the most adorable baby ballerina you ever saw. Ironically she was kicked out of ballet for pretending to be a cat; crouching in the corners and meowing and hissing at the other dancers.

Well, here goes…
I’ve never written a blog before. I’ve written poetry, good poetry. I’ve written text-rants to my sister and made her laugh so hard she almost dropped her baby (too much? “she almost dropped her coffee” there, feel better?) Anyways she text-yells at me write a blog!
     So here I am, writing a blog and it feels very weird because I’m supposed to be sleeping and I’m writing on an iPhone with a cracked screen that I can’t afford to fix for various and assorted reasons I will go into someday. So I can’t see that well, plus tonight was ridiculous anyways because I was making quiche which was taking forever and my mom was playing with my daughter who was being a cat. Things were rolling along sort of when my mom, affectionately known as Grandmommy by my 4 1/2 year old daughter (the half is EXTREMELY important) suddenly stood up and said “I can’t take this anymore will you please turn back into a child?!” And Alice, that’s my daughter’s name (yes I named her after Alice in Wonderland because I am awesome) just kept meowing at her until she gave up and was mama cat for like 15 more minutes and then she was REALLY done. She told Alice to pick another game or she wasn’t going to play with her anymore. So of course Alice started barking at her. My mom said “I give up.” I said “She’s a method actor, she likes to stay in character.”
     Now of course this whole time she was dressed in pink tights, a black leotard and a tutu like the most adorable baby ballerina you ever saw. Ironically she was kicked out of ballet for pretending to be a cat; crouching in the corners and meowing and hissing at the other dancers. Of course she dances perfectly with Emma from The Wiggles. Hey, your kid learns their way, my kid learns from the happy Australians on my television set. It’s a free country. Sometimes she’s a ballerina and sometimes she’s a cat. Sometimes she’s a ballerina cat. Sometimes she’s a cat for a whole day and that’s when I find I myself have forgotten how to form complete sentences. Well, this is only the first half of my evening, and truly a teaser! For the next bit you’ll have to check out my second post. Trust me, it’s well worth the effort.
Toodles!
So as those who know me will tell you I am a writer and mom of 3 diagnosed with bipolar 1 with psychotic features. My mission in life is to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness. As part of each post I will be including a poem that I feel reaches through the void of falsehood and touches the realm of the heart. God bless.
Mermaid
The shells I pick up are bits of who I was.
This expanse of beach with its white, twisted limbs and water rounded rocks is the vast and lonely world my mind has become.
I gather the bits of shell and bramble, desperate to build the husk I used to wear. That they all wear.
I plaster a smile across the face of it thinking there’s no way they won’t notice this shabby, thrown together version of me with its wide fake smile: my teeth too white, my lips too red; cracking at the corners.
But I’m wrong.
I leave the desolate beach of my mind and it’s as if that husk reassures them.
They greet my clown face with their own false cheer. Can it be that no one notices I am a collection of forgotten, broken beach glass and fragments of shells cast off by creatures freer than I’ll ever be?
I try to focus on their words but all I can see are their jaws moving and their teeth like angry warnings.
I am suddenly hit by the ugliest truth: what I see is nothing more than their cobbled husks and I can see past it into a well of confusion and fear.
Their teeth give it away. Angry, rebellious. Cruel.
So I run. I run away from their fake leering curiosity masked as concern. I run, my chest heaving, the shells and glass breaking away and crashing to the frozen, unyielding earth. I run until I can see the beach. The beach of my mind.
I run tripping over sticks, cutting my naked feet on broken shells and rocks. Then I stop. My husk a distant memory. Like a snake I have shed my skin and I stand there naked and new under the cold sun watching the waves crashing against each other, the delicate sea foam riding the water’s crest.
I marvel at the beauty of this moment. My feet bleeding into the cold sand. The pools of red waking the dead ground. I race forward and jump into the waves leaving only red footprints.
I am a mermaid.
Kimkoa 2018