A few weeks back I posted this:
Readers, past class participants, and friends:
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: more here.
I was thrilled to hear from both experienced and “new” writers. For some, the submission was the first time they’d tackled writing in such a way. It takes guts to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) about this subject even when one is a writing veteran. Even more guts when one is newly writing. So, thank you to all who submitted work. I will be posting selected poems and essays this week.
Today, I begin with two pieces: a poem by Stephanie Curry and an essay by an author who chooses to remain anonymous. The poem’s short form works well as a vehicle for its message — one I think many of us who have suffered with mental illness learn early. The essay struck me with its vulnerability, candor, and voice. Here they are, first a poem:
You held up a mirror
And broke the myth of my Self.
By Stephanie Curry
And now, an essay:
My mom got a bad deal of genetic cards. She was born in 1931 and by the mid-60s her struggles with weight were growing tiresome. Because doctors know stuff, she turned to them for help.
Family hero. That’s what a counselor said my role in the family was. I was the one they could look to and say “See, we’re doing fine. After all, look what our daughter can do.”
(my heart is racing and my breathing is fast — this is tough to write about)
(I think this is the one)
My mom. Such mixed emotions. Love and anger and compassion and frustration and more love. She was quirky and funny. She knew how to set a table for company, having taught high school home economics in Florida before moving to California. I’m told she read to me all the time, though I don’t remember it. What I mostly remember is my mom getting angry over seemingly little things, losing her temper at me and my brother, and then dissolving into tears and locking herself in her bedroom for hours.
We found out later that she was manic depressive (it’s called bipolar now, right?). She also had OCD, which meant an episode could come on because one of us, my brother or me, touched the ice cubes with our hands rather than the required tongs. These days I long for a little of the OCD, because as she’s sunk further into depression she no longer cares about hygiene. Ironic.
Growing up, when my mom was locked in her bedroom, I would clean the house. What else can you do at 10? Or 11? Or 12? I just wanted to make everything ok. When I was 12 my mom came to a breaking point and said she was leaving and going back to live with her parents in Florida. I remember my dad and my little brother both in tears and unable to speak. Someone had to do something. I lied and said, “No mom. Don’t go. We really need you.” The words were bitter.
In my 20s, 30s, and 40s I lived with a familiar theme song. I believe everyone has a theme song (or several), though some work better than others for enhancing the quality of life. My song was “I tried so hard, and it wasn’t good enough.” I would tell friends about my theme song and laugh, saying “Well, the good news is that I try twice as hard as everyone else, so what I do usually turns out close to ok.” This I saw as motivating. The idea of ever thinking I was good enough was terrifying, as all I could picture was me lying in bed and never getting up, just like my mom.
Now in my 50s I’m taking yet another go at counseling. Last week I was talking about my theme song and just how tired I am of not measuring up. That led to talking about growing up and how it was never my job to fix my mom, and yet I tried over and over again to make things better and how that was the start of the theme song. And then my counselor suggested a variation to consider:
I try so hard and that is a good quality in me.
What? That’s not how the song goes. I turned the words around in my mind as though they were in a different language.
Anonymous: A 50-something wife of 1, mother of 2. She loves yoga, running, Chinese lucky cats, and intensity. She hates trash on the ground in shared spaces, lack of serotonin, and poor grammar.
Stephanie Curry: An art-lover, wife, mother of one, and grandmother of two, Stephanie considers herself ‘middle-aged.’ She has an offbeat sense of humor and has learned that her mental health has a greater impact on the things she does in public than she is often comfortable with. So, finding a wonderful therapist has been the single most fantastic thing for her personal development. She holds dear the Shakespeare quote, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Stephanie also lives with Schizoaffective disorder, treatment resistant depression, 3 types of anxiety disorders, PTSD, A.D.H.D. All of which contribute to her sense of humor.
Bloggers Note: Interestingly, most entries were from the POV of friends or relatives of those dealing with mental illness rather from those who live with it (in their own skins). Statistics indicate that 1 in 4 of my readers have dealt with some form of mental illness, personally … so I suspect stigma and its accompanying shame are still doing what they do: silencing people. I thank these two courageous authors for their contributions and hope their words help someone to feel less alone today.