Saturday, January 29, 2011

Talent Show

The other night, I was in my daughter’s talent show at her school. I played the voice of the dragon in the 8 stanza poem she recited, called, “I Have a Dozen Dragons.” I stayed hidden behind the stage curtain—assumed the role of the disembodied dragon, the mystical voice floating in from the imaginary world. She stood center stage, surrounded by a dozen dragon toys she’d arranged around her in a supportive semi-circle, and manipulated a dragon puppet seated on her shoulder. While she recited her portions of the poem rather quickly, she did it all from memory and, most importantly, was supremely confident. An eight-year old dynamo sure of herself, sure that she was, in fact, talented, sure that the 100+member audience would listen with rapt attention. No doubt in her mind that she was someone worth listening to.

I could learn a thing or two about self-confidence from my daughter. After all, she was the only solo act out of 20. Initially, I’d worried about hurt feelings—her friends had banded together to perform a skit: Herman the Worm. They hadn’t asked her to be a part of it. That sort of pre-teen, girl-girl, snarky exclusion had been happening a lot to her lately. She’d been coming home from school in frequent tears: “No one will play with me at recess! I ask my friends if I can play with them, but they just say, ‘no.’” So I tell her that I know how awful it is to be left out because I’d often been the one on my own at lunch and recess in elementary school. For an entire year, in fact, I was the selected victim of a ruthless assault of spiteful teasing by a group of former friends. Only I never said a word about it to my parents, to any adult for that matter because I assumed I deserved it—I believed I was worthless, unlikeable, strange, too smart for my own good, the obvious pariah.

My daughter, on the other hand, holds no such beliefs about herself. “They’re mean,” she says. “Besides, all they want to do is play stupid house. That’s why I need to bring my dragons to school, so I’ll have something to play with at recess.” Most importantly, my daughter has not felt the need to reshape herself to fit in with the pedestrian pseudo-imaginations of her compatriots.

Instead, she has found another friend, a girl one year older who goes to a different school, but who is equally enthralled with dragons and lizards and arts and crafts. (I am, in fact, in recovery from a sleepover they had at our house last night, up until all hours giggling and building pillow forts and dragon lairs.) And of equal importance, my daughter doesn’t feel it necessary to bury her feelings or hide her “failure” to fit in; she runs to me, leaps into my arms, and unloads all the emotional baggage of the day. Again, unlike me—I spent years blithely smiling, insisting all was well, hiding the intense shame I felt over rejection by my peers. I assumed my parents would blame me: it must have been something I did that earned me my status as outcast.

My daughter is resilient—headstrong, too. As I stood behind the curtain, watching her swagger out onto the stage, I felt proud, yes, immensely proud, but relieved, too. While she may be subject to some of the same growing pains as I, she is not decimated by them, does not believe she is deserving of such callous treatment. A deep sigh: it seems she is spared my agonies. After all, when I was just a year older than she is now, I swallowed several fistfuls of Flintstone vitamins in a silly (but really, not so silly was it?) attempt to put an end to my life, and never said a word about it to anyone. So even in these bleak days, flattened as I have been by having to resign from my job, go on disability, by my therapist abruptly cutting ties, I must acknowledge that I, too, have talent: even in my craziness and instability, I’ve managed to create a stable, safe world for my daughter—one in which she is the star of the show, one that is founded on creativity and imaginative daring, one in which she feels secure in my love.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Short Fare-Thee-Well

Exactly how awful a client do you have to be for your therapist to dump you? Apparently, I am, indeed, that awful. The long-patient, ever-optimistic Dr. B. walked into our session on Thursday and announced that he thought it was time for us to “take a break”—aka, end the therapeutic relationship. Granted, it seems he and my psychiatrist have not been seeing eye-to-eye, and each has a competing perspective and prospective for my recovery process:to medicate or not; to hospitalize or not. But just like that, Dr. B. decided to end our five-years' working relationship.

I am trying to be a grown-up about this. Kowtowing to suggestions from friends and family that maybe this is a good change; that a new direction is exactly what I need to give a chance; that five years was long enough for one approach. So I act appropriately angry and cynically pissed off. “After all,” I remark, “he even said it was obvious I’m in the middle of a crisis and thrashing around. What ethically-considerate professional therapist drops his client of five years in the middle of a crisis?” Of course, the counter-argument might be: when am I not in crisis these days?

But truly, the past few weeks have been exceptionally difficult. I’ve made the decision (no, this is a mis-statement, as it implies active agency—IT forced this decision) to withdraw from teaching and go on Long Term Disability. I can’t even begin to articulate how terrible this makes me feel—like a failure, like a pathetic weakling, an embarrassment to my family, ashamed, utterly, of myself. IT has come to this: I am no longer able to function according to normal expectations; I am dis-abled-- the broken-down jalopy that skidded off the road into a snowy embankment and left to rust out, deliberately abandoned. Of course, I have my tow trucks—my husband and kids, important friends, family. But this newly-defined “disabled” self feels unrepairable, unsalvageable.

Today, I snuck up to “my” office at school to return the college’s laptop and was faced with a new sign on “my” door—no longer my name on the door, but someone else’s. So not “my” office anymore. The depressing, shameful truth: I am no longer a professor; I no longer have anything worth professing. Not a teacher anymore, but someone who is filing for Social Security Disability, someone who is receiving monthly checks from a Long Term Disability Insurance Company because even the penny-pinching bureaucrats deem me sick enough, incapable enough of meaningful, self-supporting work.

Whoop, whoop. I know, maybe I’m wallowing in self-pity. But allow me that for a few moments. Because while I might publically shrug my shoulders, claim that Dr. B. got his five-years’ chance, that I’m a big girl, capable of moving on (after all, haven’t I had 5 previous therapists before him?), I am, truthfully, without irony, devastated. How do I really feel? Abandoned, rejected, wrecked. I am not, by nature, a trusting person. It took me all of those five years to get at the shameful, distressing history—to allow myself to be vulnerable and needy. Honestly, I’m not sure I have it in me to start the therapeutic process all over again. Better to turn my back on the past, better to bury the pain, better to smile and blithely say, “I’m fine, just FINE.” (Remembering, all the while, Dr. B.’s long ago translation of FINE: Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Evasive.) But really, I’ll be fine. What other possibility is there?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lost and Longing

A brief sojourn in the hospital. Already home again. My forearms healing from the most recent savaging, though I am haunted by urges to enact further, deeper, more permanent damage. Now I have to come to terms with this new collection of angry, red scars, as well as with my decision (though “decision” sounds too rational, too much like I am at peace) to go on Long Term Disability and give up my teaching job. Of course, this has been two years in the making as I have landed in the hospital each semester, missing classes, trying, desperately, to hold myself together for my students.

Now? The great fear is that I will be faced with an empty future, flail in a great, cavernous purposelessness. I have always defined myself by my ambitions and my ability to achieve exactly what I set my mind to. After all, I was the girl who believed that she was Wonder Woman: I slid on my mother’s silver cuff bracelets, lassoed a jump rope to my hip, and vaulted off the top stair of a long, steep staircase, believing I had Wonder Woman’s magical vaulting power. Of course, I landed on my arm, fracturing it, was confronted with the obvious fact that my powers were confined to those of an ordinary, extraordinary human. Enough hard work, maintain consistently high expectations and I could achieve everything I set my mind to: straight A’s, an MA and PhD in six years (taking 3 classes a semester while teaching 4 classes and waitressing at a nightclub), tenure-track job, perfect teaching evaluations, published book, awards and accolades, exuberant children, a good marriage, world travel, dogs and cats and horseback riding and running and a perfectly skinny body, no excess, all untoward desires tamped down, controlled. Everything exactly as it should be.

And then my brain became unhinged. Or rather, it became impossible for me to conceal the instability, the craziness, the obsession that possessed me. IT hijacked my life; IT made it impossible to live peacefully, contentedly. IT demands penance, payment, pain.

All weekend I’ve been trying to stay even, trying to remember to smile, to feel joy, to be grateful that I am at home with my family. But I keep slipping, get swept up in intense, self-directed rage and loathing. Can only feel my failures, and they feel colossal. How do I recover from IT’s insanity? Can I recover from IT and reclaim my life? I need to find my way back to the surface, back into light and the healing power of love.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thank You

To All My Readers Who Sent Me Well-Wishes,

Many thanks for your support and for continuing to read this blog in an over-blogged world. I'm still here, still trying to continue on this path to recovery, still believing that my life can change and IT can be neutralized by sticking to the pursuit of health and well-being. My life is worth it. And maybe I'll believe what Dr. B. has been trying to convince me of all these years: The world needs me.

Mercy, merci,

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Believe me, a glass in the kitchen and I have to contend with the tempting shards.
I can see the neat line of cuts up and down my arm, see the blood spilling over, feel the smart of pain. The only thing stopping me is the disapproval of others—if I had my way, I’d be cut 100 xs. I remember in High School, when I played competitive tennis, the welcome sting of my wrists every time I flexed for a backhand or overhead: the constant, painful reminder of how I hurt. Now? It’s a matter of who I hurt: Christopher, the kids, my doctors. But what I really long to do is tear into my arms. All I’m doing is delaying the inevitable.

Inevitable. My arms cut up and open. Where I’m headed. No point in pretending I don’t hurt. No point in pretending I’m not crazy because that I how I feel. Utterly outside myself. Trying to BE cheerful and happy and together and organized and stable. But. But. But. All a pretense. Trying, trying to be present, to be seen as stable, to be a good mom, a good wife, a good friend, a good human being.

What can I do? Feign good health, good humor? If I can pretend balance, maybe I will achieve balance. All of it bullshit? Necessary lies?