Friday, May 30, 2014

Things We Don't Want to Say (But Need To)

I showered today.  Trust me that this is sincerely an achievement worthy of mention here. I took a shower, and it’s a really big deal.  I know that most of you probably won’t understand this at all, but I think it’s about damn time that society as a whole start trying a slight bit harder to comprehend this struggle.  These are the confessions most individuals who suffer from mental illness don’t want to make, and the very same announcements the rest of the world would almost gladly not hear.  You may not want to know that my showering today was truly a triumph as I spent the last three days mostly confined to bed, wearing the same dirty underwear, matted hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, teeth not brushed and face not washed.  You may not want to know that my uncleanliness was of no concern because I had no will to live.  I didn’t feel like a human being of worth and value; I was just a lump of tissue and meaningless mass. 

You may not want to know that nothing could bring me joy; even the smiling, fresh young faces of my two loving toddler children could not break through this thick depression – this impenetrable suffering.  You may not want to know that while it was a sunny 85 degrees outside, I just hid under my covers and tried to shrink away from the world and all its accompanying labors.  I would rather be asleep than awake for only in sleep could I truly hinder my self-hatred, anxiety, worthlessness, anger, and fear. 

These are the things I often don’t want to say, and don’t want others to see.  I don’t allow many people to observe my suffering as I fear they will falsely judge and label me – crazy and incompetent.  My illness is not all I am; I am so much more than this bipolar disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Such a large portion of society fails to perceive my illness as akin to any other medical condition and simply cannot comprehend that I too am capable of being intelligent, creative, dedicated, and valuable.  Thus, I am taught to be silent and to keep secrets because the whole of society will all too readily diminish an individual’s worth if mental illness is discovered.  My mental illness is a massive black smudge on an otherwise brilliant resume.  This is not as it should be, but such is the reality.

Although doctors did recently discover a pre-malignant tubular adenoma and thus remove it from my person, (fingers crossed) I have never suffered from cancer.  However, I would never say to the individual who is suffering from this illness, “Why don’t you get out of bed?  You can’t really be that exhausted.  You know, I don’t have cancer and I’ve never felt that way, so I just don’t get it.”  I certainly hope you all agree that such statements are demonstrative of immense cruelty and ignorance.  If agreed, perhaps then you can tell me why it’s acceptable to tell me, “I’ve never been depressed. I guess I just don’t get it.”  You don’t have to experience my illness to show some kindness and understanding.  Why does it seem acceptable to propose that I “just snap out of it?”  Just like the cancer patient can’t miraculously cure his or her illness of sheer will alone, neither can I just brighten my mood by changing my attitude or being more appreciative of my blessings.  Mental illness is not a choice; it is a legitimate medical disorder and must be recognized as such.   

There are things we don’t speak about because too many individuals continue to believe that depression and anxiety are chosen and desired.  I, myself, cannot think of one single reason why I would choose to spend three straight days in bed when I could be out gardening, playing with my children, enjoying the sunshine, doing these things I love to do when I am well.  But I am not well.  Episodes of great depression can overtake me so suddenly, just like an unexpected fever or infection that keeps the mentally well person somewhat restricted for a period of time.  This individual has the knowledge, though, that the fever will pass and they will be wholly well again.  During my severe bouts of depression, I am filled with an all-encompassing distress and anxiety that I will never again recover and I will never again be valued or loved by another.   I don’t normally speak about such apprehension though, for if others knew of such fears, would they then accept my alarm as reality and thus be even more dismissive of my abilities? (I will get better, and I am capable of abundant achievements.)

Mental illness alone gives me much reason for concern.  I worry that a bout of illness will occur at a most opportune time.  I worry that my illness will be obstructive and prevent me from achieving my goals, hopes, and dreams.  I worry that my illness will affect my children and they might hate a mother who brought them into this world while fully aware she might not always be physically and psychologically available to them.  I worry that I will lose loved ones who have grown too exhausted and frustrated with this miserable beast of an illness.  I worry that my past manic behaviors might return and I could destroy my marriage or my finances.  I have all these worries, and so many more.  I don’t need the additional worries of being misunderstood and misjudged due to the stigma of mental illness.  This is not as it should be, but such is the reality. 

I want to believe that perhaps – just perhaps – we can alter the reality if we break the silence and agree to speak out, to not be shamed, to not be victimized by stigma.  Yet, I fear that I can scream as loud as I want, that I can try every single outlet to educate others properly about mental illness, and it all won’t make a damn bit of difference until others are also willing to listen and identify with these struggles.  You may not want to hear about this hopeless, heavy depression, but you need to.  I’m here saying the things nobody wants to say, so now it’s your turn to listen.  Please listen; it’s time to start trying.   When we rid the world of this dreadful, damaging stigma, this too will most certainly be an achievement truly worthy of mention. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alone Amid Ashes

I hate how this anger still consumes me – blocks me – breaks me down.  I feel like I have just been standing still – or falling down – for the past two years.  My fists are at the ready, but I strike out at all the wrong people.  I am the one left with the most bruises and scars; my own two hands are still pummeling me, ensuring I am wounded and defeated.  I need to shriek and shout this fury out into the open air and allow it to escape my offended body, where it continues to literally rip apart my insides with these fucking ulcers and abdominal pain. I can’t though; I stand here nearly mute, my voice now barely a whisper after all the wasted breath and determined declarations of the past.  It didn’t make a fucking difference to them then, yet it’s still hurting me now. 

I shake, tremble, sob with a rage that remembers like it was just seconds ago when their lies were accepted as truths and the life I loved, a life I struggled to build against countless obstacles, was unjustly taken away from me.  More doors closed – slamming in my face – and no open windows to be found.  Fear lingers in the heavy air and it stifles me – completely immobilizes.  I will never, ever be ready to make nice.  I sure as hell hope I can forgive for my own sake though or this anxiety, this relentless anger and fear, will crush me like a pile of bricks. 

I don’t mean to burn all these bridges.  If anything, I’m the one who is out there collecting lumber late into the night, hammering away to reconstruct boards and rails that have been ripped out from beneath my feet.  I don’t mean to burn all these bridges, but they know I’m a girl on fire and nonetheless they pour the kerosene all about under my footing, mocking and affronting me until I stand alone amid bitter, blackened ashes.

Are you out there somewhere, hiding behind a cloak hemmed of deceit and vanity, watching me with a smug smile and delighting in all the damage you have done?  Your gratification could mean my destruction, you arrogant piece of shit.  Instead of laying this anger to rest, I personify my resentment and permit this beastly, colossal creature authority over me – cleaving at my heart with sharp claws and gnawing at my strength with pointed teeth resting on the edge of baited, vulgar breath.

This is not what I want, so why have I given this anger so much power?  I don’t want to cry anymore.  I don’t want to hide under bed covers.  I don’t want to be so fragmented and faulty that I nearly consent to your defamations and thus confess lack of worth.  I don’t want this, but here I am – frozen, full of fear, faint, frail.  I want control; I want to stand victorious after all is said and done.  I need vindication.  I need release.  I need strength.  Instead, I crawl back into bed and weep with trepidation and trembling. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Greatest Guest Post Ever

I feel immensely blessed to introduce today's guest post.  This post comes from a former student who wrote this piece in response to criticism that I received regarding this blog and my profession.  I am so grateful to Maggie for her kind and inspiring words.  I hope that the following post inspires and moves all readers the way it encouraged me.  Maggie's words make me want to be a better person, and I thank her exceedingly for seeing me as I believe I am.  This post brought tears to my eyes, and filled me with both deep hurt and vast happiness. I feel hurt that we live in a world that persistently and painfully insists I am incapable of being both an individual with bipolar disorder and a highly competent, inspiring educator. I feel happiness I know otherwise, and Maggie’s words contradict such ignorance and judgment so articulately.  I hope that Maggie will continue to write her own hurt and share her stories, as I truly believe words offer such help and healing, which Maggie also brilliantly attests to here.  So, thank you yet again, Maggie, and thanks to all of my continued readers.  I appreciate your support!


From the very first day of my sophomore English class, Mrs. ----- left an impression on me. Most of what was in her syllabus was the same as other classes: respect your teacher, come on time, and make up your missed work. But for the first time in a classroom I was in, Mrs. ---- clearly stated that the words “gay” or “retarded” were not acceptable. As a young teen, susceptible to peer-pressure, I had used these words without giving them a thought to their damage because I heard everyone else say them. I was surprised initially when I read that on her syllabus, mostly because no one in that school had ever corrected me or my fellow students when using them. I thought what’s the big deal? These words don’t hurt anyone; they are just words. (Yes, my mom did teach me better than that, but I guess I was still naive.) Another student had the same thoughts as I and questioned Mrs. ---- in a rude manner. I will never forget what she said to him: “Using those words for a synonym for stupid is unacceptable.  Whether intended or not, there’s an implication there that is painful. I don’t care if it doesn’t offend you; it may offend someone in this room. This is a safe place for all of you and I intend to keep it that way. I will not tolerate abusive language in my classroom.” And that’s when it clicked for me that I was guilty of this, that it was hurting someone, and so I stopped. (Thank you, Mrs. ----!)

Every day I went to her class, I learned something new and had a few laughs. She was always honest with us and pushed us to be our best. The worst comment I ever got on a paper from her was “I know you can do better than this.” She was right, of course, because I wrote it the night before. She was the kind of teacher that inspired you to do better work because she believed in her students, and she helped us to recognize our own talents, and not because of recognition or the effects to one’s GPA.  I enjoyed her so much that I took two advanced debate classes when I was not quite confident in my abilities as a speaker or writer. I was nervous and unsure of myself constantly, but I tried. I was far from great at debate, but Mrs. ---- showed me how to have some fun with it when it actually scared me to death. At the end of the class, I even got “The Best Listener Award.” When she gave it to me, she announced, “This girl hears everything, even when it seems like she’s not paying attention at all.  You guys (my classmates) think she goofs around a lot, but you underestimate her.” She had figured me out in those three years of being her student, and I am still very proud of that award!

I graduated that year and lost contact with Mrs. ----, whom I now know as Angela. Sometime last year, I found her blog online and was a little bit startled by the content because I was so used to seeing her as this incredibly professional teacher.  When reading her blog, I was first taken off guard when I read the word “fuck,” and her writing also shook me out of my comfort zone, and discussed a lot of darker content. However, it was hard not to love her words.  She spoke of many traumatic things I had faced in my life with a fresh, humorous perspective. In each post, I found deeper themes of strength, individuality, hope, passion, and compassion. She was so real -- so unapologetically herself -- that I couldn’t wait for her to post another story every week.  I never felt she was encouraging her readers to use foul language or act irresponsibly.  Rather, she was encouraging us to be true to ourselves and stay strong, to stand up for what we believe in, and to find happiness and joy in a world that is often unfair.

What she didn’t know until after I became one of her biggest fans, was that I grew up in an abusive home. I watched my mother be humiliated and beaten in front of me since I was nine, and I got verbal abuse every day after school. I had low self-esteem and was very depressed. As a high school student, Mrs. ---‘s classes gave me something to look forward to every day when I got up for school. Now, years later, reading her stories of mental illness and the multitude of struggles she has overcome, Mrs. --- continues to inspire me so much. I said to myself, if she can beat this, so can I. She followed her dreams; she didn’t let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something. She became who she wanted, not who others told her she had to be. Her honest and hopeful words have opened up an entirely new world of possibilities for me.

So thank you, Angela, for showing us who you are completely. You are an inspiration to me and I’m sure plenty of others out there. Thank you for having the strength and courage to show yourself when the world tells you to stop. You amaze me in many ways.

And to all you former or current students of hers out there reading this: there will come a time in your life when someone else will try to diminish your flame, like some people have tried to do here. They will try to force you or ask you to give up that thing that makes you different, that thing that makes you feel alive. Whether it’s because they don’t understand it, they wish they had it, or purely out of animosity and don’t want you to be happy, they are going to try to change you. Don’t let them. Everybody is somebody special. Yes, even you. You are special. You are someone no one else is, and that’s important to the world. (Yes, I still stand by this even if you’ve read this entire post wishing I would shut up already. You are special too, even though you are a turd.) Please don’t change who you are because it may be easier, cooler, or more convenient, because one day you may wake up and not know the person staring back at you in the mirror. We live in a world where everyone is pressured to fit a certain mold. I say fuck the mold! It’s okay to be different. And it’s okay to be you!

But with this realization, you also must also recognize that just like you, others have a right to be different, too. When you see someone be unfearfully themselves, embrace the shit out of that. Don’t ask someone to blow out their fire because you don’t get it or it makes you uncomfortable. Do you even realize how beautiful that is? It is not easy being different. It’s not easy to stand out in a society that wants everyone to be the same. It’s not easy to have a voice when the world shouts at you to be silent. It’s not easy to do the right thing when the wrong thing is considered the norm. It’s not easy, but it is so worth it.
So I ask of all of you, please fan that fire, that fire that warms your soul and makes you feel at home, that fire that screams individuality, that fire that is only dangerous when it is runs out. Fan the fire, in others and within yourself. Celebrate it when you see it and love it!

I hope to celebrate Angela’s fiery spirit, and her words, for much longer; I hope you will join me. 


I would like to thank Maggie yet again for this wonderful post! I would also like to make you all aware that I will be posting infrequently throughout the summer as I will be working on my graduate degree during summer session, as well as (hopefully) devoting more of my writing to one project for possible publication. Therefore, should any of my readers have an interest in guest blogging, please message me via facebook.  I would love to host your words.  I would be especially interested in hosting more former students, as I know there are many skilled writers among you.  I hope to have Maggie returning too with her own stories.  Please leave her comments and feedback on this post! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

From the Vault: The Peculiar Relationship Between a Mother and a Daughter

Yesterday, mothers across the world were celebrated.  I, too, celebrated my own mother, mother-in-law, and expressed deep gratitude for my own children –blessed that I am now called mother as well.  Mother’s Day also caused me to reflect on my ever-evolving relationship with my mother.  On May 11th, most individuals proudly proclaimed that they have “the best mother ever.”  In all honesty, my mother probably would never be awarded such an honor by any typical societal standards, but I also love her immensely and am grateful for the strength and determination she has passed on to me, though often unintentionally.  The following piece was written at age nineteen for a Women’s Studies course.  It was also included in an anthology that discussed discrimination and sexism in our nation.  Every woman has in her the power to hurt and the power to heal, and almost every woman I know underestimates her strengths, or has her talents diminished by society.  I share this personal essay that every woman may know she is loved and stronger than she believes.  I share this to let every woman know that we are not required to live in shame and fear of our flaws, for we will be forgiven by those that matter most.  I share this to give voice to those mothers who worry they have failed their children.  Our failures make us human, and they are only temporary;  a mother’s love, however, is forever.  This essay was written with the deepest of love for my own flawed, yet incredibly beautiful and brilliant, mother.  Thank you for all that you are and everything you do, Mom.  I love you more than you will ever know.
The Peculiar Relationship Between a Mother and a Daughter

 I received a telephone call from my sister today.  She spoke heatedly of hatred for my father and shared her desire for my parent’s separation.  I couldn’t believe she said these things with such conviction and genuine detestation.  As she spoke, I denied the possibility that my parents would ever seek a divorce.  My sister went on to inform me that my father had been behaving as a jerk, and that my mother was in agreement with this assessment of his behavior.  I also agree.  My father can often be an insufferable jerk.

However, I went on to defend my patriarchal flesh by advising my young sibling, “Oh, that’s just normal,” as if it were acceptable for our father to be an asshole to his children and their mother.  I have somehow convinced myself that it’s okay for our father to treat us like domestic servants instead of daughters while he sits on the recliner in front of the television hollering out demands – fetch me this and fetch me that.

There remains within me the idea that my mother and I both need him. Society certainly affirms that my mother needs him – for both economic stability and social acceptance.  There is a selfish and culturally obedient child within me that believes my mother should stay and quietly endure my father’s mistreatment.  Despite my belief, I’ve often remarked, “If I were you, I wouldn’t put up with his shit.”  But I am a liar, because I will brush off his behavior as acceptable.  Society has not been alone in teaching me to do this.  My mother has taught me this too; I’ve followed her example.  I am not as strong and seemingly insensitive as my mother though.  Sometimes when my dad yells, I cry.  Other times, I yell back.   

My mother does not yell back at my father.  She takes her anger, her hurt, her pain, out on me instead.  I have a clear memory of many times that my mother verbally shot me down.  I look silently into her face and toil to forget such wounds as we stand together outside.  She stamps out a cigarette with a pair of worn white tennis shoes that she’s had for as long as I can remember.  I then tell her she should really stop smoking and she whips back, “If you don’t like it, go away."

I often find myself staring at her features and, more and more, I find myself in her.  I don’t always like what I see.  That mirrored reflection tends to frighten me.  I find her wiry eyes staring back, her sloping nose leading to her wicked mouth, her thick eyebrows, and heavy hair containing a few noticeable strands of gray.  Her face looks so wry and troubled – much as I am.  She looks back at me and tells me to just “leave me alone.”

Sometimes I will wonder why she says this. I am concerned that she might not love me or that she doesn’t realize how much I truly love her.  My concerns begin to fade away as I understand my mother more.  I don’t know why I ever imagined or expected to find my mother overflowing with sunshine and support all of the goddamn time, as though she walked off the set of some sitcom.  Those women are non-reality based and the images they represent contribute to my belief, and the belief of women across our culture, that it is acceptable for men to act as my father does.  But if my mother should act similarly – how shocking and sinful!  I realize now that this is bullshit.

My mother has many reasons to desire no disturbances. My mother works so hard, moves in accordance with other’s desires, and has little left to truly call her own.  My father works his one full-time job expecting to be waited upon while he sits righteously on his ass after arriving home.  My mother works two jobs, cares for her four children, and completes all household tasks.  As is the case for most women, much of my mother’s work goes unnoticed and unpaid.  I would suspect that serving my father is not a high preference for my mother as this is the employment my mother performs for below minimum wage.  My mother has remained in this pink-collar occupation since the age of sixteen where she first waitressed at an A&W.
When my mother makes her request to be left alone, I no longer take this personally. I am much more understanding because I have felt the same sexist, societal pressures that my mother feels.  These pressures wear my mother down, and make her cold and bitter.  I am still young and fighting, but life isn’t sweet, so leave me alone.

 wish I had the courage to share many things with my mother.  She has built a wall around her heart and is hesitant to let me in.  I know she’s really not as tough as she appears, but I often feel so weak that I need to trust in my mother’s tautness.  Every time I attempt to share with my mother, she appears to be avoiding me, putting on a front of coolness.  I could tell you that this is not fair, but nothing really is. I have learned this too from my mother. 

Sometimes my mother will use the word ‘bitch’ when referring to me, and sometimes my father will use the word ‘bitch’ in reference to my mother.  When I hear this word, I am filled with violence untypical of my personality.  No one has ever called my father a ‘bitch.’  I have concluded that this title comes along with the territory of womanhood. My mother is not a bitch; she’s my mother.  I am not a bitch either; I’m her daughter.

 want to escape all of this unnecessary, gender-based hatred.  My mother and I step into her car together and she remarks, “Those stupid birds just keep on singing.  They must not know how shitty it is outside.”  It’s black and raining out there, but I know I’ll be safe in here – next to her.  She doesn’t intend to hurt me.

She lights a cigarette and I again ask her to quit.  She ignores me and turns on her country-western radio station.  I hear a familiar song playing – She don’t know she’s beautiful – never crossed her mind.  She don’t know she’s beautiful – no, that’s not her style.  She don’t know she’s beautiful – though time and time I’ve told her so.  My mother is so much more beautiful than she’ll ever realize.

When I ride along with her, it doesn’t matter where we’re going.  I don’t need a destination.  I just need her.  Neither of us needs anyone else; my mom would survive even without my father.  I wish we’d keep driving forever.  Mommy, let’s run away together.  Mommy, promise me that everything is going to be all right even though I know you would be lying.

One finds it difficult to describe the peculiar relationship between a mother and a daughter.  We are not what you might believe. Please just leave us alone.