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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

By Robin*


When I think of the word “crisis,” I’m reminded of an earlier life. Not in the sense of Shirley McLaine living past lives but in the sense of my years before and my years after my own life-changing crisis. It was the ultimate crisis, the one that prepared me for every other one—even as they come for me now.

The old saying, “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle”—well, it’s not one I buy in to. I believe we torture and smear ourselves up in our own personal crises and then God pulls us out of the muck. If we’re willing. I am surrounded by “muck survivors,” and I promise you, God had nothing to do with the pain inflicted on each of them. But they are all survivors, and thankfully, so am I.

I grew up the youngest of three daughters, separated in age from my sisters by the eleven and seven years between us. My father, the best man I ever knew, worked at three jobs to provide for us. Seems now like he worked the better part of his life. My mother, a woman with extraordinary Movie Star looks, suffered from mental illness—schizophrenia.

My beautiful eldest sister left home at 18 to marry a man she did not love. She sacrificed her dreams and her body to find some form of unattainable inner peace. She searches for it even now. My middle sister ran away a month later, to escape the private Hell—our own dark secret—we lived in. She was only 15-1/2 but she was strong and grew into a fearless warrior of the streets. My father would frantically search for her and then drag her back to “safety,” only to find her missing again. Finally he gave in.

When you’re nine and left behind, you have no choices really. You’re too young to make any. I clung to my father whenever he was home, taking in all of his kindness and his unspoken heartache. He did what he thought was best for me at the time and I did everything I could to please him.

When he wasn’t there, I was left in my Mother’s “care” and I was just too small to know how to fight back. (He later discovered that his youngest daughter with the beaming smile was just not strong enough.) I learned to turn inward, to hold it all in, trying to escape the madness that surrounded this terrified, shy little girl.

I learned to never ask for help, never to draw attention to myself, never to tell anyone about my home-life, never to show anything but absolute harmony and my big wide grin. I faked my way through school, church, and every friendship I managed to cling to. I survived by performing, as if in a hideous play that never ended.

Eventually, blessedly, I grew up, moved out (that’s a story in itself) and scraped by with what money I had. I landed a good job, a nice home, and a wonderful partner who I thought I would hang on to forever. I had done everything by the book—working hard, not making waves, and never, ever showing a sign of weakness.

Things were going well until at 30, my “perfected life” took a nosedive and I lost my forever partner. I was tougher by then, plus I was still young, so I dusted myself off and kept my head high knowing I had weathered far worse.

Within a month, I got laid off from my job. A fingers-tightening-around-my-throat panic started to seep in. Within six months I lost my beautiful home and everything else that I thought defined me as a successful, “normal” person. I moved in with a friend, and for the first time in my adult life I had to admit defeat.

From there, it was a small step from a life with fulfillment to a life without meaning and I became totally enveloped in the old terror of the past. I got up, ate, went back to bed, slept and maintained that cruel existence without understanding what was happening to me, nor knowing I needed help—badly.

There’s an insidious thing called “depression” that eats at your soul, making you feel unworthy. Most of us have been down that road at some time in our lives. But within my family tree, there’s a villain that is far worse—extreme psychotic depression. If your life takes that road, chances are you will not return whole, if you return at all.

At 30, I knew nothing of either ailment and when voices began to fill my head, they seemed to have an answer for finally eliminating my crisis and all my pain. Oh, I fought them with everything my will had left, but my will was scarred and battered. Eventually, I lost the battle.

I stood at the mirror and watched another person—a weathered, beaten version of myself, older in body yet terrified like the little girl—put her hand to her mouth, repeatedly, and swallow the pills. I was helpless to stop her.

I awoke in a strange bed with no recollection of where I was or how I had arrived there. I remember a woman talking to me, her voice full of fear, saying she had just driven her car into a tree but somehow survived and that she would try again. I was later taken to a room to be evaluated by a Doctor who gently told me that I was in the psychiatric ward, in a wing for the “less dangerous,” and that I had survived swallowing over 400 pills. I believe the words he used were “a damn lucky walking miracle.” The pills had no lasting physical effects.

Here’s what happened in my biggest moment of crisis: everything I knew before that moment became my past and every minute aftewards became my future. My future, now crystal clear, was all the life I had in front of me, come what may.

I was released within 48 hours, completely altered from the ghostly human that had arrived, reborn as someone new. As God as my witness, from that moment to this one now, I have never looked back for an answer or questioned why I survived. I knew.

There were 21 people in the entire world that knew this story. They have honored me these past 20 years with their protection, their silence, and more important, their love. And now, there are more who know.

Today, I take each crisis as it is. I deal with it the best way I know how, and I move on stronger than before. Everything from that moment taught me how to live, how to forgive, and to have absolute faith in miracles. And as I age, I grow younger. I’m now a laughing child whose heart is free.




Robin (*not her real name) is a friend and fellow creative spirit. She wrote this piece in response to red Ravine post, WRITING TOPIC – WHERE DO YOU GO IN TIMES OF CRISIS? Because of the personal nature of her story, Robin chose to use a pseudonym.

Here’s what she had to say about writing this piece: It was tough to write those words, but I thought maybe anonymously, I might be able reach someone who’s in trouble or thinks they’re alone in their own crisis. People close to the edge are not as easily recognizable as the general public seems to think.

Thank you, Robin, for sharing your story with red Ravine.

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anXiety, pen and ink on graph paper, doodle © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




I want to write about anxiety. Not panic attacks, since I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those, but rather, the general sense of dread that covers me at times like a veil.

I want to write about anxiety, but not in a medical way. I want to write about the days I feel like I can’t possibly smile, can’t possibly let myself get into a good mood, so shellacked into place is my heart that if I allow myself to feel it pulsing in my chest I might just burst open.

I catch myself increasingly more in this predicament, anxious and paralyzed and becoming the impatient, often enraged woman I knew as…my mother.

Yes, my mother! She suffered anxiety for many years, and there is indication that, like brown hair or Diabetes, anxiety runs in families. As one article put it, “More often than not, anxious women grew up in anxious households.”


 



Mom must have been in a near constant state of anxiety. There was a 13-year spread between me—the youngest—and my oldest sibling, which means Mom was living and breathing children from the moment Patty was born until I moved out at age 18. That was 31 years of dealing with kids through every stage, and it doesn’t include my niece, who was six years younger than me and who Mom eventually brought into the fold.

I tell the story of being five years old and walking into my house one day after having spent a few hours across the street with my best friend at her grandmother’s trailer. My eyes were lined in black; we’d gotten into Suzanne’s grandma’s make-up bag. I came in through the back door just as Mom was getting up from a nap. Usually she made me take naps with her but this day I got to play with Suzanne instead.

I can see Mom now, making her way to the kitchen to find her cigarettes and maybe a glass of iced tea. I am happy and proud; it’s the first time I’ve put on make-up, the domain of grown-up women. Mom crosses the living room, I’m coming up through the den. She sees me and I am smiling, about to open my mouth and tell her “Look what we did!” but before I can get out the words she raises her arm. WHACK! In a throaty voice she screams, “COCHINA!” “PIG!





Later on, when I started school and life became more intense for Mom, it was hard to separate her meanness from her Meniere’s Disease. When I think of her during those times I see her in bed or on the bathroom floor or the couch, a wet washrag on her forehead and a glass of water by her side.

I remember one summer we drove to Juárez, pulled into the parking lot of the Camino Rael Hotel. Its pink stucco and turquoise swimming pool shimmered like a mirage just beyond the asphalt, and there went Mom, puking into a brown paper sack. The long road trip with three of us fighting in the back of the Caprice, plus the heat, set off an attack.

Always sick, always throwing out certain expressions: “I can’t stand you!” “You kids are driving me crazy!” “I’m a nervous wreck!” There were good memories, too, a flood of goodness, and I don’t want to make my mother sound like a monster. She wasn’t by any means. I’m just trying to understand the cycles of anxiety, what they transform us into, and how I might break the pattern.

Which reminds me, my youngest jokingly calls me Momster. Am I?

If not, I suspect I am on the road to becoming one. Like it did for Mom, my life seems to be getting out of hand. At times my emotions, even my physical being, are hijacked by anxiety.

I sometimes find myself driving in my car and thinking, I shouldn’t have become a mother, I shouldn’t have become a mother, and then I retract it all, convinced that God will punish me by taking away my daughters. This is anxiety talking, taunting in its urgent whisper, That’ll show you.



      


My friend Deborah calls it “middle-aged rage,” and maybe she’s talking about something different but I tend to think it’s just anxiety in its angry incarnation. Deborah says it stems from the pressure to be good – good mother, good employee, good partner. She also says it’s the mountain of responsibility that piles up daily – bills to pay, deadlines to meet, cans and bottles and paper to recycle.

“Passions unmet,” I chime in, giving away that for me the crux of the matter is almost always this balance between being the solid matriarch of my family and being myself. Artist, writer, and individual.

I do agree that middle-aged rage is a symptom of our inflated expectations. Disappointments taken to the nth degree. The bald realization that we’re not perfect. We’re smart women. We may or may not hold down well-paying jobs. We might be great gardeners, mostly solid friends. Our parents need us more than ever and we’re struggling to meet those needs, never mind looking and feeling good and meeting the pressures of being decent role models.

For me it’s gotten worse in the past year. It’s the perfect storm. Daughter in mid-school with those funky dynamics, another in elementary (and I can always find something to worry about in her life – too skinny, too sickly, too talky). Aging parents, stressful career, big house, new dog. You name it, I got it.

Anxiety becomes worse as women take the long walk toward menopause, and I seem to have been stuck on that trail for years now. Given the physical changes in my body (temperature changes, night sweats, weight) I think I’m heading deeper into the forest, but I wish this body of mine would just squeeze through the eye of the needle and emerge, with all the apparent downsides, into the desert of post-menopause. I will give up any day the last of my so-called youth for that long moment of calm.

I tell Deborah that we were stupid to wait until our mid-to-late 30s (her, early 40s) to have children, but she reminds me we would have simply had longer periods of rage and be less equipped to cope. I suppose she’s right.

I feel fortunate that she’s opened up this conversation. Over this past year I’ve felt the anxiety growing like yeast in my belly, yet I’ve kept a lid on it. But once I get something out in the open, exposed to air and light, there’s no hiding from it. I will talk, write, treat it to its pretty death. My submission will lead to its submission.

My annual check-up is coming up this fall, none too soon to get the medical help I need to get my calm back. Mean time, I’m exercising, cutting out the crap I’ve been eating, setting boundaries, and holding on tightly to daily practice and prayer. 

The girls still tell me I’m a nice mom. But I tell you, it’s a thin thread that holds me to that reality versus being Momster 24/7.

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