Strength and Secret Doors

So, I’m back. Did you miss me? Don’t answer that. I really don’t want to know. I feel compelled to explain my absence but, first and foremost, I’m not at liberty to talk about it publicly. Also, I’m not sure I should feel beholden to explaining myself to the nebulous masses in internet-land. So, I’m not going to explain and I hope you’ll accept that and move on with me.

My therapist is fond of saying it’s pretty amazing that I turned out as well as I have given my family of origin and how I was raised. The first time she said it I was equal parts shocked and illuminated. The more times she said it, the more curious I became about why and how. How is it I have been able to get past physical, emotional, and sexual abuse to become a slightly damaged and neurotic but empathetic, insightful, and good-humored adult. From growing up with shoddy parenting, I am a good parent able to roll with the punches my neurotic, eccentric, and delightful child can throw. While I grew up in a household where flying dishes, screaming, and slammed doors were commonplace, my household is fairly quiet except for the odd dance party, bizarre art project (right now it’s a painfully accurate double ended light saber favored by Star Wars’ Sith Lords made from toilet paper rolls), and occasional food throwing.

So how did it happen? I think I was lucky to have a lot of teachers who took a great deal of time with me. They made sure my innate intellectual gifts were nurtured. In the long run, it meant that I had the capacity to go to almost any college I wanted. College was one of my first real escapes from my home environment. Several hours away from home gave me a first taste of freedom. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a taste. I began to realize I could get away. Not long after college, I exercised that ability by moving as far away as I could get in the continental United States.

To my parents’ credit, they sent me to a residential Girl Scout camp for two weeks every summer starting at age seven. It was a safe haven where I was encouraged to have courage. Whether it was conquering my fear of matches in order to light the campfire, swimming the length of the lake, or learning how to be a leader, the counselors were warm and seemed fully sure that I could meet every challenge. It instilled in me a boldness I have always carried with me. My ability to be bold, whether it’s calmly public speaking, breezing through job interviews, or joyfully going on first dates, has overtaken  many of the symptoms that childhood abuse often leaves in its wake.

This morning I was going about my daily routine when I was struck with a revelation. My routine is fairly simple. I peel myself out of bed, take my morning handful of meds, grab whatever is easy for breakfast, and plant myself on the couch to watch TED talks until I fully wake up. This morning I came across a talk that cast more light on an idea I’ve been rolling around. Here it is:

I connected to Barnett’s talk on a few levels. First, I can always relate to working with little kids at camp. His story about melons made me smile because it’s exactly the sort of thing that, as counselors, we would have done and, as campers, would have sparked wonder in us. But what really hit me was Barnett’s thesis that books open secret doors for children that are as powerful as anything they come across in the tangible world. For most of my life, I have been a reader. As a child, I read voraciously. I remember crying at the kitchen table, fat salty tears hitting the freshly washed wood, when Charlotte said her final goodbyes to Wilbur. I remember reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights around age twelve. I remember being shocked and horrified as I saw my own mother reflected in White Oleander. Until my early thirties, there was always a book in my hand and a stack on my nightstand.

Although I had no way to know it, these books gave me secret doors. Early on, these doors took me to distant or fantastical places. They filled my senses with people, places, and experiences I would never find in small-town Maine. They created a lust for experiences and a small, niggling spark that told me I was brave and smart enough to go find them. These books insulated me from a portion of the abuse I faced. They took me away and filled me with happy endings and hope. Not one ever told me that I was stupid or fat. I never had to walk on eggshells to read one. I could simply be myself and dive in, unencumbered and happy.

So far, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to about why I’m relatively well-adjusted. Teachers. Camp. Books. These things created small safe havens that allowed the strong parts of myself to grow and for me to learn that I possess strong parts. It’s a fundamental part of who I am as a person. It took a long time to learn and a longer time to say out loud. I am strong.

Lemon Somethingorother’s Ponytail Adventures

I’m going to talk about boys and dolls. Just hang in there through the back story.

When I found out I was pregnant, I knew right away that I wanted a girl. Pink tutus have always been my weakness. When the ultrasound technician told me I was having a boy, my brain went on a brief vacation and I dumbly replied “But I don’t even like blue!”. Treating me like a handicapped toddler, the tech began to tell me there were all sorts of other colors like orange and green and red. It was no comfort. It wasn’t until my mother, who knew I would be crushed, sent me a package of little blue boy things that my heart began to lift. Blue bibs. Blue booties. Blue onesies. Blue pacifiers.

I fell in love with the idea of my little blue boy. But I never could understand the things that I knew he would cherish like Matchbox Cars and Tonka Trucks. For his nursery, I picked out jungle animals.

And then he arrived. I was induced roughly three weeks early because of high blood pressure and the risk of preeclampsia. It was a terrible three-day labor. I was prepped for a C-Section somewhere in the wee hours of day three but some sort of emergency kept me from the operating room. Finally, after the sun had fully risen, they told me I could push if I wanted to. Oh hell, did I want to. I wanted that baby out and now. Less than an hour later he came into the world, blue-gray and his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. The obstetrician tried to get him going but quickly called the NICU staff and started CPR.

I have very few good things to say about his father but, as a former paramedic, he knew what was happening. He focused my attention away from the scene going on just five feet away. If I could, I would thank him for that. The one glance I got showed my precious little one surrounded by nurses and doctors. Someone was pumping an AMBU bag to give him oxygen. Another was pumping his little blue chest. It’s an image I will never clear from my mind or my heart.

They got his heart going and immediately left with him for the NICU. In the hallway they lost him a second time. It’s selfish but I truly feel hurt that I never got to have the traditional meet your baby moment where they hand you the new ball of wonder and good hormones. I still crave that moment. A social worker came to talk to us, saying that there was no way to know the damage oxygen deprivation may have had on his beautiful little brain. He told us our son could be completely normal or profoundly handicapped. I got to meet my son about 10 hours after he was born. I was wheeled to the NICU and parked next to his crib, He was hooked to every wire you could imagine. He had lines in his heart, chest, and feet. I couldn’t hold him, he was still too fragile. But he looked at me. He knew my voice. His eyes, which were black, looked directly at me. He held my finger as if to say “Hey mom, what took you so long?”.

And that was the beginning. Eight years and nine months later, my son — who is disastrously brilliant — defies the odds he was born with. He has no lasting damage from oxygen deprivation. He has no lasting effects from a spinal birth defect that required his vertebrae and spine to be disassembled and put back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Despite coming from a horribly broken home and two parents with mental health issues, he has escaped with just a couple psychiatric medications. But the most amazing thing about him is his innate ability to accept what is presented to him without judgement. Because there is no way to know yet if he is gay or straight, in sentences we always refer to having a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And, to him, that’s just the way it is. I showed him the video of Ryland Whittington, a child whose parents transitioned him from girl to boy fairly young,  and my son was more concerned about the suicide statistic than Ryland becoming a boy. He was hurt that anyone would feel so badly about themselves that they would want to die.

That’s my son and that’s why I love him so very much.

Recently, he was watching Netflix on my iPad. I asked him what he was watching because I do believe allowing small children access to internet ready devices must be monitored. He wouldn’t tell me what he was watching. So I busted out my MOM voice and told him that he needed to tell me or there would be no more iPad. He bashfully told me that he was watching Strawberry Shortcake. My brain processed the situation pretty quickly. My response was telling him in an excited voice that Strawberry Shortcake was awesome and she was my favorite when I was his age. The relief on his face was palpable. Then we had the most adorable conversation about Strawberry Shortcake and her peeps.

He went on to tell me that his stepsister — In a fairytale, she would be the troll under the bridge — had American Girl dolls and he really wanted to play with them but he couldn’t.

There’s a quote somewhere that I’m going to paraphrase. It basically says that when you have children, you make the decision to let your heart walk outside of your body.  I really think it’s true. My heart hurt for him that afternoon. I might be considered progressive but I see no problem with boys playing with dolls or girls playing with trucks. I don’t think it indicates a sexual preference, I think it indicates curiosity. And curiosity is at the heart of so many things we do as adults from grocery shopping to education to our professions.

I can’t afford to by my son an American Girl doll (they’re stupid expensive!) but the bearded gentleman and I did take him to the toy store. I walked with him through the doll section and he wasn’t shy. He was excited. When we found the Strawberry Shortcake dolls he got really excited. He honed in on one in particular. Her name is Lemon Somethingorother and, the real highlight, she came with a hair salon. We brought her home with us. My son settled in with her and her salon and went to town. He loved brushing her hair. He was even amazed that I could show him how to make different hairstyles on her. It was a beautiful, pure sort of wonder.

I couldn’t have been happier watching him practice how to make a ponytail. There’s not a single ounce of me that wishes he would have a dump truck or dinosaur. My baby, because he will always be my baby, who struggled to coming into this world is finding himself. All I want for him is that he have confidence in the person that his heart longs to be.

Let’s Hope Today

I didn’t publish much last week. There are a few reasons for my slacking off. First, I wrote a 1,400 word post responding to the Ray Rice situation about why I stayed in an abusive relationship. When I went to publish it, my WordPress had some sort of seizure and ate my post. Disgusted and disappointed, I couldn’t rewrite it. For the rest of the week, between taking painkillers for my bum knee which is angry at me for walking 17 miles and rabid insomnia I just couldn’t glue myself to my keyboard.

But something did occur to me this past week that I felt it was worth writing about. Last week was the anniversary of September 11, 2001. For me, every anniversary hits hard. I was on the east coast back then and I remember the terror and horror and fear. But I don’t want to talk about my 9/11 story. I was with Mini-me on Thursday and it occurred to me that he’ll only ever know about 9/11 in a textbook way. While I was thinking about this, probably because I have ADHD, I noticed that he has very tiny ears. He’s a small child so you would expect small ears but his are smaller. They’re tiny compared to the size of his head (which is normal). While I was reliving 9/11 his tiny ears sparked hope in me. Hope.

There is a reason. I have particularly tiny ears. It’s been an amusement, wonder, and annoyance for me, my lovers, and my friends over the years. My ears are so small that I can’t wear ear buds as headphones, even the ones that come with the tiny nubs. I’m relegated to wearing old school headphones which make me look super hip but like a dork when I go running and uncomfortable wearing to bed. The point is that my baby has my ears. He already looks just like me, glasses and all, which spawned the nickname Mini-me. But that he even has my ears gave me pause. Undeniably he is my child no matter what other influences would tell him. That makes me proud and hopeful.

Hope is immensely important when you fight mental illness on a daily basis. It’s when people lose hope that suicide becomes an option. I know that for sure because I’ve been there and thankfully made it back. I’m committed to doing my part to see that no one else gets to that dark place where they can no longer find hope. Hope exists for everyone in different forms. For me, it’s my son’s ears. For others it’s a beautiful sunrise or their child’s laughter. At one time, a particular song kept me going. Here it is:

I even have certain tattoos to remind me where my hope is hiding. On my left foot I have a heart with an infinity symbol through it. I got it after I met the bearded gentleman. He has shown me every single day that unconditional love exists. That’s something that I’ve never experienced before. It gives me hope not just for me but for the people I see struggling who are only finding conditional love (Meaning: If you do this, I’ll love you). It reminds me that I can be a beacon of unconditional love too. I have a tattoo on my left arm of a dandelion with bits flying into the air and becoming birds. It reads “Soar”. I put it over the place where I would cut and had delicate scars from years of cutting. The idea is that eventually, after treading water long enough I will take off. When I got the tattoo it was something to look forward to. I needed to be reminded it was possible. I believe I’m experiencing the start of that takeoff now.

When I started this blog and outed myself as a person living with multiple mental illnesses, I knew there could be backlash in a couple forms. I knew there are people out there who could and would use these musings against me as a parent. But also I knew there were people who would “poor baby” me. The former I can handle. Or, I suppose, an attorney could. But the “poor baby” response is particularly hard to handle. On one hand, I want to reassure these people and tell them that it’s okay. I’m fine. Please don’t worry about me. But that would be dishonest and a disservice to their feelings, which are genuine and caring. It would be a disservice to the fight. But I also can’t tell them the whole truth, because they care and they would worry themselves into oblivion. Most people who have had “normal” lives cannot relate to the toxic soup that is in my head and that fuels my actions, like cutting, when I am sick. They can’t relate so it worries them to an unhealthy level. So, I think from now on what I’m going to say is “Please don’t worry. I have hope”.

Here is the hope I have for myself. I hope that I can be an honest, empathetic mom to Mini-me. I hope that I can be a supportive, fun partner to the bearded gentleman. I hope that someday I will be worthy for him to make me an honest woman. I hope that I can go back to work and earn money to help my household. I hope to go back to school someday to get my PhD in counseling psychology. I hope that I can help someone who is in a dark place feel not alone. I hope that if I hold your hand and listen to your story, it will not only change how I see the world but help you get through your day.  I hope to help myself by helping others.

I hope that if you know me in the real world you know that I am a strong fighter and that even though I am fighting, I am never going to give up and give in. Suicide is no longer an option for me. I have a son who thinks I am more precious than a star (his words) and he needs this star in his life. I hope that he will see me as his star for a long time, or at least until he becomes a teenager.

What is your hope today?

Walking, Walking, Ouch, Walking

I’ve been shirking my duties as a blogger recently. I’m sure the blogosphere has really missed me [sarcasm]. Instead of writing, I was preparing and executing my part in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

In order to walk, I raised $1,800. The walk was 39.3 miles over two days in Santa Barbara, California.

I chose to do the walk as a tribute to my mother-in-law. Last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It sent the bearded gentleman and I reeling. There was nothing we could do but watch and hold our breath as she fiercely fought her way through a mastectomy and chemotherapy. I felt helpless. My reaction to crisis is always to do something. To have that taken away was painful.

I’ve had two other mother-in-laws over the years and neither liked me very much. Neither went out of their way to make me part of the family. This woman has done that since the very first day I met her. She hugged me when the bearded gentleman introduced me. Without a mother or family of my own, it was beyond special to be welcomed into a family by a mom. She calls us “her kids” and says “I love you guys” at the end of a phone call. I love her more for that than I can put into words.

So I felt helpless to do anything practical for this amazing, loving woman. And then I ran into an advertisement for the Avon walk. I didn’t know if I could manage it in fundraising or walking but with some encouragement from the bearded gentleman I decided to try. Our family stepped up to the plate and knocked the ball out of the park when they found out what I was attempting. At my sister-in-law’s baby shower, I was flooded with checks and cash. I reached the $1,800 goal well before the deadline.

That left the walking. I felt confident I could do the walk even though I have severe runner’s knee and osteoarthritis in both knees. I didn’t really get to train because of ridiculous circumstances. First I had a toenail removed and couldn’t wear a shoe for about six weeks. After that, I started battling a severe depression. Training to walk distances when you can’t change your pajamas or brush your teeth is like trying to climb a skyscraper with suction cups on your feet. It just isn’t happening.

Even still, I started out doing great and feeling awesome. Then something wholly unexpected came my way. I thought the walk would just be on streets and paved paths. But we hit a dirt path. My left knee twisted and the pain started. The path was followed by stairs. I managed to walk 10 miles out of the 26 the first day. I decided to cut short because I knew the pain was getting worse and the sooner I attacked it with rest, ice, and medication the better.

Actually, having some time at the campsite by myself was kind of fun. Avon had a shop set up as well as massages, a chiropractor, chair massages for the back and feet, facials, and yoga. The bearded gentleman even came to hang out and bring me a sugar-safe dinner and treats.

I was concerned as the second day started but old lefty felt pretty good as we left camp and started the rest of the trek. Around mile 3 the second jolt came as I slipped on grass and lefty twisted again. I was going to keep walking and try to ignore the pain but the bearded gentleman’s voice sounded in my head. The night before he had repeated to me not to walk if I was in pain. He told me that it was okay to ride the walk if I needed to. It pained me to do it but I boarded a van to ride to the next rest stop. At that stop, I iced down my knee and weighed my options. I also realized that I had lost a necklace meant for my mother-in-law. Defeated and in tears I walked to the nearest van. The van’s crew member was amazing. She recognized my emotional state right away and set about trying to make me feel better. She insisted I ride in her van and called other van crew to see if anyone could find the necklace.

About four miles from the finish, I decided to walk to the end. My pace was slow but steady. Faster walkers cheered me on and made sure I was okay before moving past me. It was a pretty walk along the bluffs of Carpinteria and into the town’s downtown. As I approached the finish line I saw them. The bearded gentleman and my mother-in-law were there, holding a bright pink sign. When I reached them, I got hugs and my mother-in-law started to cry. I showed her my shirt that read “I wear pink for my mom” and she cried some more. Her best friend was waiting for me just past the finish line. She hugged me tight and thanked me. Those are going down as some of the best moments of my life.

I also go to re-buy the necklace for her. It said ‘Love” and part of the ‘L’ was a pink ribbon. In fashion true to her, when I gave it to her she said “You didn’t have to do that.”

My answer, “I know but I wanted to.”

I had some measure of disappointment that I couldn’t walk more but seeing the joy it brought to her erased all that noise. I brought her joy. And that brought me joy. I wasn’t helpless after all.

 

Nap Time, Stat

Insomnia is a nasty disease or a vicious symptom.
To misquote the movie Fight Club, when you don’t sleep you’re never really awake either. It certainly feels true. I’ve suffered from sleep problems for many years in the form of sleepwalking, talking, kicking, hitting and other restless symptoms but the past five years have visited on me a hailstorm of sleepless nights.
It’s not that I don’t sleep at all. Studies have shown that your brain starts throwing off distress signals like hallucinations when you stop sleeping completely. I do something that feels more pernicious and mean. At my worst, I only sleep for a few hours at a time. This is worse than not sleeping at all because I expect to sleep and run through a gamut of unpleasant emotions when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep.
Frequently the dominant emotion is anger, sometimes even aimed at whomever is sleeping around me. I also get angry because in my sleep deprived state I can’t seem to focus  enough to get anything productive done. And, I have a huge thing about being productive. My deranged psyche is based on what I get accomplished in a day. And, it’s not like I’m cleaning my kitchen or organizing my art supplies at 4 a.m. Invariably I end up curled in the fetal position on the couch watching one of my sleepy movies — movies I play at bedtime whose opening monologues help me fall asleep — desperately clinging to my dwindling hopes I can fall back to sleep.
I’ve found there are stages of my sleeplessness. It starts with sleepwalking. Next comes sleepwalking with eating. We know I eat because of the telltale colored drool on my pillow and the remnants of my snacking littering the house. After that comes waking between 3 and 5 a.m. Why 3-5 a.m? Your guess is as good as mine and maybe even better.  After that comes the most damaging step, waking and not going back to sleep. In the past this has been the point where I’ve landed in the hospital. There I tend to confuse and astound psychiatrists with my extensive knowledge of psychopharmacology and physical resistance to drugs meant to put grown cows into comas.
Deep in my cycle, I’m struggling to maintain a mood that would be described as not cranky. On Tuesday, I was awake since 4:18 am. On Tuesday night, the bearded gentleman and I made the decision for me to move to a different bedroom thinking a change in light and noise might make a difference. It did and I slept through the night. I woke up Wednesday with optimism and spent a whole day simply enjoying the energy one night had produced. But it’s an ongoing fight and last night I tossed and turned. Eventually, I remanded myself back to our bedroom just to be near the bearded gentleman as he slept. Oddly, I didn’t check the time. It’s a reflex to note the time since the longer the cycle goes on, the weirder my Bermuda Triangle waking times seems.
Plus I’m gathering data for the next neurologist to cross my path. My favorite neurologist thus far was a kind man and sincerely wanted to help. But he had no idea what was going on with me. He looked at me quite sincerely and said “it’s complicated”. That missive was more than I could handle. I broke out into hysterical giggles which is a symptom of my exhaustion. In my last hospitalization, I was so overtired that I would bust into giggles at inappropriate moments. I frequently had to excuse myself from therapy groups because it’s just not right or socially acceptable — and there are social rules on psychiatric units — to be giggling while someone else is talking over their pain. I was so loud at times that a nurse would come check on me. It was so unfunny that, in my  head, it became funny and I would start all over again.
Insomnia is frequently where psychology, art, and my life begin to overlap. Tuesday, I was tired  and feeling out of touch with my body and brain. In our kitchen, as I building a cup of coffee I noticed a large box of Crayola chalk that the bearded gentleman got for me recently. I hadn’t used them yet because I hadn’t identified the perfect surface to color. I don’t want to piss the neighbors off too much and some of the more secluded sidewalks aren’t ideal surfaces for the soft chalk. But Tuesday, because I was so tired my crazy is started to show just a touch. I parked my car outside the car port and swept the stained parking space. I did research online and drew sketches. Then I played on the smooth gray and black surface. I’ve never worked in chalk outside of playing with Mini-me.
Yesterday evening, I set about a new project. A new friend has a stepdaughter who is turning two next week. For her birthday present, I made a black, dark pink, and light pink tutu with black embellishments. I don’t have any little girls in my life so doing a girly project was a treat. I’m thinking of making myself one for Halloween. Another perk of being eccentric is that you can always dress up for Halloween with no excuse.
These were my art therapy for the day. I’m pretty much running my own damn psychiatric unit. All I’m missing is endless juice cups. I’ve observed in hospitals that art therapy isn’t therapeutic for everyone. Some people are daunted by art the way I’m daunted by math. Often they seem to think that there are rules or it has to be perfect. Neither is really true. Especially on a psychiatric floor. During one hospitalization, another patient appointed me her collage tutor and would only work on her project in my presence.
I try to keep her in mind as I embark on my artistic whims. Especially when I’m in this diluted state, it’s important to enjoy the process and enjoy the play. Enjoyment is really what mental illness and insomnia steal from you. It’s my goal to enjoy as much as I can. I’m positive that, even cranky and miserable, I can enjoy smearing jewel tones across pavement or creating a pretty little something.
Here's my chalk creation in the car port.

Here’s my chalk creation in the car port.

This Might Piss You Off…

Please read the title again. Because I’m going to go where the polite masses have been taught for generations that it’s not okay to go.

Yesterday, it was confirmed for me that there is no God.

I’m going to tell you, extremely honestly, that if you believe in God or Buddha or Allah or Wicca or any other deity that is your business and I respect it. Many of my close friends are devout Christians and we have respectful relationships. It took me awhile to be  okay when they would say “I’m praying for you”. After awhile I came to understand that it really meant they were thinking good thoughts for me. And I can live with that. We all need some good thoughts in our lives.

My own religious path started as a child. Somewhere around age 8 or 10, I asked my mother if we could go to church. I was curious. I didn’t understand why some of my friends got to dress up and go to a special building on Sunday (In Wonderbread-white Maine, there were pretty much only the christian varieties). My mother told me it was fine to go to church, that she would drop me off. She would even pick me up, she said. The tone was unmistakable and dangerous. Topic closed. As I got older I found out that my Canadian-French descended family was deeply Catholic and deeply flawed. In my mother’s school pictures, she sported her classic 1960’s catholic uniform, badly home-cut bangs, and a broken nose delivered from my grandmother. My mother went to public high school and got pregnant as soon as possible and out of wedlock. She was pretty much forced by society and her Catholic family to get married. I’ve seen her wedding celebration pictures just once. She is round as pumpkin with a 7-month fetus that would be my oldest brother and sporting a blue dress. It was still a faux pas for a non-virgin to wear white. In later life, my grandmother, having traded alcoholism for an addiction to pain pills, only ever asked for a priest right before she went into surgery. Apparently, for her, the imminent threat of the afterlife was the only reason to celebrate her faith.

The lineage of my father’s religious upbringing is a little harder to trace. He told me once that his family went to church when he was a child and showed me the little white church whose denomination was unclear to me. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to get 11 children to church. It gives me the cold chills. But my father didn’t carry religious acts like praying in any form into his adulthood so far as I could ever tell. I’m not sure but it’s possible that some of his personality traits were born in that little white house. My father was a kind man. And he believed in helping where ever he could whether that was chopping firewood for a neighbor or being on call to help our neighbor’s elderly mother out of the bathtub when she fell. I’ve mentioned that I was half adopted. My father is the half. When my biological paternal grandfather fell ill with end-stage lung cancer, my mother would visit her former parents-in-law. My father would go along and do whatever it was that needed to be done around the house and yard. I don’t know if that came from religion or from his mother, my grandmother, who was one of the kindest people I ever knew. With 11 children, my grandmother had no shortage of grandchildren. When my father scooped me up and made me his at age 2 1/2., my grandmother didn’t bat an eye. She scooped me up too and made me hers. In that family, I was never anything other than one of theirs.

Still curious, as a teenager and camp counselor  I would volunteer to drive the Catholic campers to church. I would sit with them in the rather uncomfortable pews. Why are church pews always so uncomfortable? Is it because some people fall asleep so it’s been ruined for everyone? I can’t even tell you how many weddings (which I generally consider awful anyway) I’ve sat through with an aching bum. It’s just not right. Anyway, back to business. While keeping the girls at appropriate levels of attention, I marveled at the ritual of Catholicism. I loved the incense, Latin, and the rhythm and chime of the recitations. The stained glass windows and art sparked my interest and love and still do to this day. Someday I would love to be able to tour the churches of Europe just for the art and architecture. But it did not spark my soul. And it did not ring true to my heart.

In college I took courses in English and philosophy where I read the whole damn bible, books from other religions, and some on the foundation of religions. The kernels of a belief formed that have grown into not-so-popular popcorn today. I do not believe that the bible as it is used today is a literal document. I’m sure there was a man named Jesus who proselytized and was probably a great guy. So someone wrote a book about him but filled in a whole lot of blanks. I believe the bible is more fiction than fact. I have no issue with religions following the general spirit of the Bible. Be a good person. Okay, I can handle that. That’s a message I try to get across as well. But I cannot tolerate it when people use literal quotes from the Bible to skew other religions or people who they believe are wrong. It’s like me using Lord of the Rings to justify not liking you because you’re not a hobbit. That makes me a hobbit, by the way. People who know me are giggling because it’s true that I’m a shorty.

I make it my purpose to understand the teachings and practices of religions. I’m still curious, I guess. In my latest years, I would have categorized myself as an Agnostic. I’ve known for a long time that I don’t believe in a traditional, literal God. But someone who was trying to get me to go to an Overeater’s Anonymous group — They use the same 12-Step program as AA — tried to get me past the opening bit about surrendering myself to a higher power. Most people in the AA tradition have a God. I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t about to give myself to something I didn’t believe in. This person told me that some people use other things as their higher power like the ocean, running, or the universe. The universe made sense to me. I believe in science and evolution so it made sense to believe the universe is the highest power.

We recently had a friend die after a year-long battle with leukemia. He was 32. Just three years ago we were celebrating his wedding. We knew he was fighting leukemia and thought a bone marrow transplant was going to save the day but instead he was given a terminal diagnosis. Within a few weeks he was gone. And I just couldn’t understand it. I was really sad. I still am. And Mini-me picked up on it right away. I explained why I was sad and Mini-me asked what I thought happened to us when we died. I didn’t lie to him. I told him that I don’t know but I like to think that we become stars so we can watch the people we love and help them through their lives. Even through this, I believed in the universe. But I started to slip on their being a reason for everything. I can’t come up with a reason for losing Eric. I can’t come up with a reason that his wife has to feel so much pain. I know someone who would tell me that God works in mysterious ways. But I don’t believe in God, remember.

So now we come to my audacious statement way up there at the beginning. There is no God. I’m choosing there is no God over God is a sick deviant  because it’s less incendiary. Yesterday, we had a bit of a concern over whether I could get to Mini-me’s city to pick him up because the freeway had been closed since the wee hours and traffic was snarled. There’s only one freeway between our cities and it runs along the ocean. It’s a beautiful drive but any emergency like a car accident or a mudslide can completely cut off the state. Traffic cleared by the time i needed to leave and all was well. On my Facebook page I get a bunch of news feeds from different area newspapers. When I checked my Facebook while Mini-me was playing, I saw the story on the accident. At first it was sad but pretty routine.

A 16-year-old got on the freeway going the wrong direction and hit a semi-truck, and his car flipped several times. Tragic without a doubt for so many people. But the story added a line that curdled my stomach.  The car landed on its roof, on top of the boy. That was the moment any wispy vauge, back-of-my-head uncertainty disappeared. I went from cynic to certain. No benevolent, loving God would allow this to happen to his sheep. This is just disgusting, creeping pain that will leach out to everyone who knew and loved this boy. And even to some sensitive souls who didn’t know him, like me. The only God I can envision in this is a predator. A cruel, malicious, sneeking invisible force.

Someone out there who is still reading despite my heresy, is bound to ask about the good things in life. Miracle babies, lilacs blooming, an unexpected hug, the perfect golf swing. And I have to say that I don’t have all the answers. It seems more like evolution and science blooming rather than a God cheerily creating life. I know when I believe something because I get a physical feeling behind my breastplate. And I just don’t have it. I’ve been through hell and I’ve witnessed miracles (not in the Hail Mary sense) but I’ve never had a sense that there was a God with a firm hand on my back.

So, what am I then? Am I still an Agnostic believing in the universe or an Atheist who is giving up on it all. Do I still believe there’s a reason for everything? I suppose I am still an Agnostic, believing that our dead become stars. I want to believe that boy under the car is now up there shining bright and watching out for other kids. Believing in nothing at all is still too hard for me. I believe the reason I’ve gone through Hell is that someday someone will meet me or read this or hear me speak and have the strength to fight another day. I need to believe that or else I’ve been through Hell just because. And I’m not prepared to accept that.

And I understand that people, in general, need to believe in something in order to get them through the little indignities of the day and the large indignities of life. I’m not a religion hater, other than the ones that feel its’ okay to hurt others like Westboro Baptist. If God or Buddha or Allah or praying to Michael Jackson gets you through then by all means, go to town. I won’t complain if you say that you’re going to pray for me in a nice way(because there is a nasty way) because I take it as a compliment. By broadcasting my beliefs, I’m not trying to say that believers are wrong. Who am I to be a spiritual dictator? This blog is simply an antennae for how I experience the world. Today my experience is a power-shortage on faith.

Self-Care & TED

I feel like it’s been a really long week and I’ve got gum stuck to my shoe. It’s only Thursday. Yikes. One of the most important skills I’ve learned in my mental health journey is to take care of myself, especially when the going gets rough. So, today I’m taking a self-care break from work, including Arts&Rec. Instead of writing, I’ve been watching tv. We have an application on our television system that allows me to rifle through TED lectures. When I’m feeling a little rundown and uninspired, I watch a few lectures. The topics and presenters are so varied that I always find something interesting. Some of them just make my brain hurt. Here are a few of the lectures I indulged in this morning.

 

Tony Robbins: Why We Do What We Do

I love this one in part because Robbins swears and it never fails to amaze me how physically big he is. But, on top of just being amusing, what Robbins says really makes sense to me. He breaks down our basest motivations in a way that’s accessible.

 

Thomas Insel: Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness

Insel takes an approach to mental illness (brain disorders) that I think is extremely important in breaking down stigma. Mental Illness, which he terms brain disorders,  are no different than illnesses we are familiar with like heart disease.

 

Yves Behar: Designing Objects that Tell Stories

Behar’s presenting skills are engaging and the examples of his work are fairly amazing. I only wish I lived in a place where I could get my hands on some of his brilliant designs.

 

Andrew Solomon: Love, No Matter What

I find Solomon’s telling of his life as a gay man to be both riveting and comedic. And it comes with a message, love is for everyone.

 

Rufus Guriscom & Alisa Volkman: Let’s Talk Parenting Taboos

It’s really true that there are some things you’re not supposed to say as a parent. As an outspoken individual, I’m very aware of many of the taboos.  According to this pair, some of the things I’ve been holding back actually harm expecting or new parents by perpetuating a culture of silence.

 

Elyn Saks: A Tale of Mental Illness — from the Inside

Elyn Saks is a brilliant author as well as Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould Law School. She has also taken a painful and long journey as a schizophrenic.