Sunday, April 15, 2012

SOS Titanic, SOS Momma May Be Mad

April 15, 2012

SOS: Save Our Ship

SOS: Save Our Souls

SOS: Send Out Succor

. . . _ _ _ . . .

My Great-Grandmother, Annie O’Connor, had a ticket in steerage on the Titanic.  She should have walked up the gangplank with her small suitcase at what was then Cork Harbor in Queenstown, Ireland, and been directed to her assigned place in Steerage with all the other poor, hopeful immigrants.  Likely, she would have gone down with the ship, and you might have seen one of her barnacle-encrusted leather shoes on the ocean floor in the hulking, rusted remains of the ship in a scene from a film now playing on Discovery or National Geographic, the waterproof camera snaking its way across chairs, through windows, and over tables, to show us all the ghostly vestiges lying all those miles beneath the surface.  Of course, had she turned in her ticket and claimed her narrow bed at the bottom of the ship, I wouldn’t be anyone’s Great-Granddaughter.  I wouldn’t be here at all, sending out my own SOS.
  . . . _ _ _ . . . 
Instead, my Great-Great-Grandparents decided at the last minute, that their daughter, at sixteen, was too young to strike out for America on her own and they sold her ticket to someone else who most certainly perished in her stead.  Luck?  Wise parenting?  Gut instinct?  Her mother tossing and turning at night in those last days before the departure knowing in her heart that something was not right about letting her daughter go, not yet, too young, too many dangers for such a girl on her own in New York City, and that vast ocean separating them for good, never to see her daughter again, so just one more year to keep her home and hers.

Did Annie pitch a fit?  How dare you ruin my plan?  My dreams?  How dare you take all that I’ve been planning and hoping for away from me just when it was within reach?   I know I would have, knowing my sixteen year old self.  But unlike me, my Great-Grandmother actually listened to her parents and didn’t find some way to circumvent their wise authority and waited a year, thus didn’t sink with the ship in the frigid waters, and hence I am here, writing this missive, struggling once again to stay afloat because I waited too long to ask for help.  Stubborn, resistant, think-I-can-do-it-all-and-on-my-own-me.

J. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, on board the Titanic, apparently pushed the captain to ignore his common sense regarding iceberg warnings, and demanded the ship go as fast as possible to reach New York City ahead of schedule in order to break the record for the Atlantic crossing.  The Titanic was unsinkable, no?  That’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks, ignoring the warnings that Bipolar icebergs have been lying in wait below the surface, pushing myself at breakneck speed, unwilling to slow down because I’ve been feeling a little, well, okay, a lot depressed, shrugging my shoulders at the increasing volatility of my moods, chalking that up to unstable sleep patterns.  Oh, yes, another sign that the bio-chemical forces in my brain may be in upheaval, but I’ll ignore that, too, and explain that symptom away by restlessness and racing thoughts.  Oops, yet another symptom?  But I have a lot on my mind, like constant nightmares where I’m deliberately relapsing, downing glasses of vodka, and then realizing what I’ve done, so then saying, “What the hell, I’m done for anyway,” and giving up, or obsessing over the pointlessness of sticking to my eating plan, being assaulted by IT’s voice in the dark hours of night telling me to stop eating because I’m disgusting and fat, telling me I deserve to make up for my volatile meltdowns (generally directed at my husband and kids) by enacting some painful penance with razor or knife or scissors.  Who could sleep with all that going on?  And who would want to sleep if it meant having a relapse nightmare, when even sleep offers no respite or refuge?

I know how quickly I can stand at the edge of all this and jump, give into IT’s seduction.  Last week, I told Dr. B. that I felt like either a.) Locking myself in a room and taking all the medications in my house, cutting up my arms for good, and just letting everything go quiet once and for all; or b.) Flushing all my meds down the toilet and give into this disease, let the mania and depression have their way with me--just be genuinely-who-I-am-without-the-pharmaceutical-panacea-crazy.  This is how I always feel when I’m out on the edge—the constant, exhausting tension of having to remember why I have to keep fighting to stay stable, why I have to keep wanting stability, why stability is worth it.

So I made a list of the small, even inconsequential reasons as to why I want stability right now, and I mean RIGHT NOW because NOW is about all the leeway I’m giving myself. 

1.      Alexander is learning to ride a bike without training wheels and I want to see the day which is coming soon when he’ll take off on his own, whooping and hollering in joy.

2.      Sophia and I have been smothering a few dogs that have been at the Humane Society for several months with extra love, crossing our fingers that this will be the week they’ll be adopted.  I want to be there for THE week Foxy and Trey and Goldie and Winter are loved enough to find homes.

3.      Warm weather is soon here (even though it snowed last week) which means my white lilac tree will bloom which means I can stand on my deck and close my eyes and breathe in all that sweetness.  I missed it last year when I was inpatient for my Eating Disorder out in Arizona.  I do not want to miss this gift again.

4.      I am working simultaneously on a novel and short story and when I am writing, tapping away on the keyboard, watching the words, the sentences, the paragraphs and pages build, the story taking shape, I feel peace and a sense of purpose.  I would like to see these through, be able to put the final period on the pages, not leave the stories unfinished, my characters in forever limbo.

5.      Because stability is a meaningful gift I can give my husband and children.

I went to Girl Scout camp when I was ten, and we learned this song about the Titanic that we sang during mealtimes; it even had accompanying hand gestures (i.e., every time we said “captain,” we raised our hand in salute, when we sang the phrase, “it was sad when the great ship when down!”, we swooped a hand towards the floor).  We sang this song at the tops of our lungs, energetically, jovially—looking back, it seems odd that such a tragedy was turned into a campfire/mess hall tune, particularly when the lyrics were both gravely melancholic and matter-of-fact.  To give you a small sampling:

“Oh they built the ship Titanic to sail the ocean blue
and they thought they built a ship that the water wouldn’t go through.
But God raised His hand and He said it would not land!
It was sad when the great shop went down.
It was sad!  It was!  Real tough!  It was sad when the great ship went down!
To the bottom.  All the husbands and wives, little children lost their lives!
It was sad when the great ship went down."

There are several verses, one involving the Captain standing on deck “with a teardrop in his eye, as the last one went, he waved them all goodbye.  Goodbye!" (a grandiose hand wave accompanies this).   And of course, once again, it is God who raises His hand and decides the ship shall not land, so husbands, wives, and little children all die. 

But it is not God who caused this disaster, but basically a pile-up of human errors: a failure to slow the ship down and heed the iceberg warnings, to divert course, to wait until daylight to navigate a safer path through the treacherous waters, a captain who should have listened to the knowledge he’d gained through years of training and practice rather than give into the hubris and grandiose demands of the White Star Manager.  And of course, the White Star Line owners who threw money at First Class accommodations, gilding the ballroom, mounting countless chandeliers, carving elaborate balustrades, installing dazzling stained glass windows, but failing to invest in enough lifeboats for all passengers, rich and poor, travelers and employees.

I know from past experience that even with medication, I am not unsinkable when Bipolar icebergs have been spotted , but there are many things I can do to keep my ship afloat, to repair damage in transit, to avoid scraping my sides, gutting my hull and going down.  I’m learning to heed warning signs and slow down rather than continue at my breakneck speed.  I’m learning to ignore the demands of the Manager IT who would chart my sure collision with that iceberg—IT lies, tells me the iceberg is small, hardly there, that I can manage it alone, can go around it, but I know that 9/10ths of an iceberg lies beneath the water’s surface. 

Instead, I’m listening to the real Captain, who has experience and integrity—right now, that’s Dr. B., who knows how to chart these waters, who tells me that even in the darkest, most desperate hours, I don’t have to act on impulses, on the Manager’s demands, who reminds me that I can wait until daylight to reassess my course and reassemble my crew: call my psychiatrist who will adjust medication, talk to my husband, reach out to trusted friends, attend AA meetings, and ask him, Dr. B., for help.  Send out the SOS and ask OUT LOUD for help. 

And then there’s the matter of lifeboats.  This time around, I have one and it’s big enough to fit me, all of me in all of my distress and I’m jumping right in before the boat sinks.  My lifeboat is stocked with all of the above—the meds, the meetings, the necessary people and professionals--and right around my neck and buckled around my waist is my life jacket filled with what is perhaps most essential of all: hope.  Hope wrapped around me and buckled on from the outside because it is mostly on loan from those who believe in my essential buoyancy.  But just in case, I’m also setting off an emergency flare to make doubly sure I don’t strand myself out here alone, lost at sea.  

 . . . _ _ _ . . .