Ending the Racket

I started this blog about 4 years ago and have been jumping in and out of it like a kid playing in a gigantic mud puddle.  My blog title is glib; my description is vague; and the content is all over the place. Splashes of truth on a pretty dress that’s trying to stay clean for the party it believes it’s about to attend. Keeping up appearances has always been vital. ‘I may be a bit quirky, but I’m normal,’ I would think as I shared my words over the internet, as I tried not to sound too elitist/artsy/intellectual/strange/broken/crazy.

So I have this mental illness. Actually, I have a couple, but the one I’ve been dealing with the longest is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. My entire life has been spent worrying about ideas that sound insignificant, but at the apex of their power have been my gods. I have prayed to them and asked them to please disappear;  I have created rituals so they would do just that (“If I make this green light, I do not have cancer.”); I have sacrificed sleep, sanity, my soul for just a tiny bit of peace.

When you live with GAD, your life becomes this morose roulette wheel that’s run by a crooked and nasty con man. It’s the game that never lets you win but you just keep coming back.  Instead of red and black numbers, there are different areas of obsession written on the wheel. You give it a spin; release the ball; and await your fate. In the beginning, when you are young, there aren’t many options because, well, your brain is still filling up with horrible stuff to worry about, so the first time I spun the wheel when I was around 3 or 4, it landed on “MEASLES.”

I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I had to get a measles booster at the pediatrician’s office and asked my mother what it was and the idea of spots all over me ignited the fear. Or I overheard a story about an epidemic. Or I didn’t like it when I was itchy. I don’t remember. But I do remember siting in my father’s black recliner with him one Sunday morning as he read the Funnies to me (a favorite Sunday tradition for both of us) and as he was reading “Blondie,” I glanced down at “Andy Capp” to find the old Scotsman covered in red bumps. As soon as my father finished the Blondie panel, I yelled, “I don’t like Andy Capp,” and started to cry. Puzzled, my dad skipped it, turned the page of newsprint, and went on to read “Ziggy.”

A few months later, I was watching Sesame Street. It was a Monday–I know this for certain because the show would always have a theme that ran for the week.  It began innocently enough: the Count didn’t feel well and was not in normal OCD mode to count every fucking thing he came into contact with. Throughout the show, in between the pinball machine that counted to 12 and the Alligator King and the Ladybug’s Picnic, the skits on The Street were about the poor Count. He was feeling worse and worse as the show worked its way into the end of the hour. In the last five minutes–oh gentle reader, I’m sure you have guessed his condition by now.

Yup. The Count had the measles. And to make matters worse, he started counting them! Like they were just normal dots on his purple-y face, not lesions of certain death and I felt a cold, white fear run up and down my spinal cord as I plugged my ears, closed my eyes, and felt for the television’s power switch with my elbow. For about a week, I refused to watch Sesame Street and also refused to disclose why. Because if I had told someone, I might have gotten the measles.

This first encounter with GAD ended when my mother actually contracted the measles. I was putting a puzzle together in our living room when my mother yelled from the bathroom, “JERRY?!?! Come here!” My dad jumped up from his chair and ran to her and then I heard what I thought was going to be the beginning of the end,

“I HAVE THE MEASLES!”

I don’t remember exactly how I reacted, but it had to have been quite badly. The next scene I recall is my father sitting on my bed telling me my mother was not going to die. People did not die from the measles (ok, I realize now that this is not true, but for the sake of my four year old marbles, it was true enough).

And with that, the MEASLES pocket on my roulette wheel vanished (it was on the red, for the record).  Unfortunately, its disappearance moved me up to gold level player status.

Fast forward 41 years later. I’m sitting in my doctor’s office on Martin Luther King Day  When I was in my late 30’s, I took an SSRI for about a year. It was something that was going to be temporary until I found a better job and worked out the kinks of my marriage. I ditched the job and the husband, weened off the pills and things seemed to be going great. (I even got a promotion! And a super cool boyfriend!)  Until I woke up that Monday morning and realized I’d spent my entire weekend obsessing over whether I had written down the right time on a parent meeting invitation. The roulette wheel had been silently spinning for a few years until my entire brain was Harrah’s on a Saturday night.  And this was my first step toward closing down the casino.

 

February

It’s a short month and floats by us while we gradually acknowledge we have allowed our resolutions to drift outside to the garage with our Christmas decorations. It marks the end of the American football season, an anniversary of the death of a young man who changed music forever, a month defined by Anna Quindlen in  One True Thing  as “a suitable time for dying.”

But for me, February is the promise of a resurrection. Although I don’t subscribe to one religion, the pagan and neo-pagan traditions during their sabbats, or holy days, have always appealed to me, most likely because they are simple and nature-based, and I’ve always felt a strong connection to nature.  Out of all the sabbats, Imbolc, the cross-quarter between the winter solstice and spring equinox, celebrated on February 2nd, is my favorite. It’s a day to acknowledge the life that is beginning to break out of the frozen, dead ground. February 2nd is Groundhog Day in the U.S.-the day Americans rely on for the promise of the return of the sun. This year, I wore my Brigid pendant and began to feel a shift back to the light. I know much of it is attributed to the decision I made last month to go back on SSRIs for anxiety, but isn’t it curious I chose this time of year to make the change? The choice to embrace the beauty around me. The choice to glow in the dark. .

This February, I am opening my heart to new people–a huge task for me, but at the moment is quite effortless due to their kindness and kinship. I feel a need to reconnect with those with whom I’ve lost touch, yet feel no remorse or regret for those I had to let go. I haven’t kept my resolution to write more, but I’m thinking like a writer again. I’m observing my days with new eyes.  At the moment, I am writing. And that counts.

Not to mention, there is a woman approaching, walking down a dark alley in the rain. She’s been alive for quite some time and has been neglected and once nearly sold as a secondary character to one of the aforementioned I had to let go. Although the lines on her face mark her years, she is a waif and an ingenue. She left her umbrella in an ice cream store several blocks away because she stopped to ask for directions. But she didn’t forget her silver flashlight. She’s shining it on the walls, searching for a door. This month, I have cracked it open so she can see the warm light I have left on for her. So she can return and tell me her story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exfoliating

In honor of Bowie’s life, for the first time in mine, I need to honor myself. I used to write everyday. There are journals scattered throughout my house, hiding in drawers, and scribbled entries in spiral notebooks in my bookshelves. Pieces of me. Places where I have shed my skin and just left it there because I was needed elsewhere, occasionally returning back to the spots where they rested only to feel guilty and uninspired and afraid I was losing myself completely. So I would stare at my books until the feeling went away.

And that’s how I feel right now. Completely uninspired. Afraid that I am no longer a writer because I have lost every fleck of the glitter in mortgage payments and coupon clippings. The gorgeous crazy palate of my subconscious painted over in a dull ecru by the escapes into the internet. The television.

I’m going back on an SSRI. It seems I cannot cope with reality very well on my own. I am determined to use this decision as the catapult back into the world where I used to dwell for hours. Running through strange lands with all senses on high alert and never stopping to worry about my daughter’s last year of middle school, the high price of eggs, or verbs.

And while I run, I will shed more skin. I will leave some past judgments and some people who have judged me and some people who never really cared about me at all behind. I will love those who remain harder. I will round up a tribe of old and new playmates and visit their worlds and tell them about mine. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe I will just sit quietly and listen to my characters talk in a counter rhythm to the cars that pass on the busy street behind my house.

But one thing’s for certain: I will no longer leave my old epidermis up on a shelf. I could make a damn fine pair of boots with that shit.

 

 

 

 

Oh, There I Am

Last night I had dinner with an old friend. Old, as in I’m fairly sure next year will be our 25th anniversary of knowing each other. So she’s one of the people in my life with whom I should stay in touch and get together on a regular basis.

I haven’t seen her since 2010. Aside from social media and maybe three phone calls, we had no idea what was going on in our lives. I feel ashamed by that fact, but that shame is currently being cast off into the ethers, because guess what? That emotion doesn’t exist anymore. We fixed it and we’re moving forward wtih more nights of margaritas and Mexican or coffee drinks and bookstores or just couch time talking–something we used to do quite well that usually ended in a tarot reading or a poetry writing session.

While we were catching up, I mentioned that my partner has become estranged from his family because of me.

“Why,” she asked.

“They don’t like me,” I replied.

Her face looked like I had just told her that someone we loved had been murdered.

“How on earth could they not like you?”

And now let’s go back to that sentence in the first paragraph; the one about there being people in our lives with whom we need to maintain contact? It’s true. They are the ones who knew us before the real damage began. Because after 12 years of being with a man who was an abusive narcissist and as a result, created in me a need to question everything about myself and doubt my abilitiies. “You’re a drag and nobody likes you,” was a sentence he would exclaim when we would fight. How many times did he say it? Four? Maybe five times in the 12 years we were together? You would think time and a new relationship with someone who would never say things so mean would replace those words?  Nope. That sentence in his voice runs through my brain quite a lot.  Until last night.

Looking into my friend’s eyes, I saw myself as a 21 year old college student who had her whole life ahead of her. She was playing Scrabble and taking her turn holding court and making people laugh. Despite the normal moments of self doubt, she loved herself. There I am, I thought. I’ve always been right here. I’m learning to forgive myself, and be kinder–not to other people because that’s never been a problem–but to myself. I’m fun and enthusiastic and understanding and kind and a gigantic empath and my friend is right:

How on earth could they not like me?

It’s not me; it’s them. I have some theories on why, but that’s for another day. They’re not what’s important anyway. I’ve spent far too long worrying about other people, usually the people who thrive on that worry, and never reallly gave me a second thought. I’m what’s important. Me. And my family and my writing and my friends who truly know me.

I hope if anyone who is reading this is having one of those days filled with self loathing stops for a moment and thinks, “I’m amazing.” Because you are. Go buy yourself something, or eat some ice cream.  You are totally worth it.

The Only Way Out is Through

Last summer, someone who was once my best friend, confidante,  and co-worker went to prison for the rest of his life because unbeknownst to me or anyone else aside from his victims, he was a sex offender and pedophile. Since his arrest in 2013, he has not contacted me, but I was one of the last people to talk to him before he disappeared forever. For two years, “The Steve Thing” rented a small room in the back of my brain where there was only room for a cot. But, once in awhile it would wake up when someone would ask about him,  then roll over and go back to sleep.

But in June of this year, there was a trial. He actually dragged these poor girls into court and made them describe in detail the things he did to them while he maintained his innoncence. And “The Steve Thing” got out of bed and went to the front desk and reqeusted the largest conference room in the place. And I had no choice but to sit at the long table and listen. To all of it. Because the only way this guest was going to leave was if I allowed this meeting, which included listening to all of the testimony via media Tweets while digesting the reality that a man who showed me a devoted and caring friend was in fact a twisted monster.

Last night, I had a dream that Steve was on his deathbed. I was in a house I had never been in and his daughter was there and she was crying. My partner and I were looking at him from another room and my partner said, “You should go see him; I’ll be right here.” His bed was by a window and outside the sun was shining on a lush garden that took up the entire vista. He looked at me and smiled weakly. I took his hand and said with resolute, “You’re going home.” Then I woke up.

This morning, housekeeping cleaned up the empty conference room. That dingy storage room in the back was demolished, the walls knocked down, and transformed into a garden. “The Steve Thing” checked out and paid his bill. I can only surmise that he went home.

Apparently you can write emails to inmates. I will never contact this man again, but poetry helps me pretend that this would have been my goodbye.

Email to an Inmate in the Regulated 300 Words

Be true to my feelings you said

once when the sun caught my eyes and your face

was erased for a moment into a white circle and then

the glare subsided and there you were again

But never again

I used to throw up a lot but not now

I miss you.

Who were you?

This has torn me apart

We raced through puzzles of the human experience

like outrageous best friends do

Sometimes two parents of daughters trying to stitch a quilt of answers.

Sometimes Sal and Dean chasing satori in a restaurant booth (can we sit outside?)

Quoting our own Carlo Marx and Old Bull Lee,

finding wisdom in the details of our landscape.

We are everywhere still, you know.

At our corner pub and every hip diner

Forbidden cigarettes

Cover up stink juice

That’s my Virgo lighter.

My exfoliation lessons over sweet tea

and your art of chance

Clemente

Chalmers

Football pools.

I thought my father sent you to me

so I could love sports again.

But was the sun’s blinding ray that day

a gift of sight into your void?

A chance to see the hideous demon?

(Dad, did I once again miss that catch?)

You told me to forgive myself, yet now I feel filthy

Still I am better because I knew you–

KrisnSteve

Thick as thieves

I never thought you would be a heartbreak

A trust so solid it could only deceive.

So now I will sit on some pier like Paradise

Watching the sun set over waters rough then calm

and this is not the place

to jump in to find grace

because the warm hues of day’s end deliver this gift:

We are that paradox we tried to uncover

I hate who you are

I love you, my brother

It’ll Be Just Like Starting Over

Over three years ago, I started this blog and made exactly three posts, which I have just deleted because I need a fresh start. Because three years ago, I was someone different. Or rather, I wasn’t me. It’s like I went into a cocoon and reemerged the butterfly I used to be before all the pain and the poison destroyed my wings.

Since April 2012, I lost many friends, or rather, let them go (one to a state correctional facility); I have faced and accepted the permanent scars from an abusive relationship; I have a new job that demands more of my time and my intellect–and I like that; my daughter and I are growing into a new phase of us; my partner has lost his family after years of being the scapegoat of dysfunction, and he and I are learning all about the healing game.

I have learned that I must accept disappointment. People are not always going to like me and there is nothing I can do to salvage a relationship with them because it was never about me. I have watched in awe at how people will got to great lengths to support untruths because facing what is real is too painful for them, so they create narratives at the expense of others in order to save face. But as a result of this, rather than being the hurt victim ( or “that woman” as a member of my partner’s family refers to me), I was able to use that hurt as a means of understanding who I am: a fierce protector and loyal defender regardless of my family’s beliefs or actions. Thanks to this estrangement, I have discovered I am a goddman brave mama bear.

I’m not going to pretend like I know where this blog is going to go. All I do know is I miss writing, and I’m starting to feel that intense energy coming over me again. The electric wave that hits me and my fingers long for a keyboard. Even drafting directives in emails excites me a little because it means I get to write something. Maybe I’ll talk a little about my partner’s and my journey toward healing, maybe I’ll make you laugh about something ridicuous I wittnessed in a grocery store, maybe I’ll go on a rant about the lack of compassion in the world, or better yet its overabundance of aromatherapy.

It’s peculiar how the title of this blog was meant to be witty, but in fact, it’s a perfect summation of my 40s. What I used to perceive to be real is a farce and as a result, I worked hard to annihilate those thoughts. I blew them up in a radioactive green light that emitted so much heat, everyone around me could feel it. It was an apocalypse of the world as I knew it. Now as the atomic dust settles, my partner and I will sit on a checkered blanket and enjoy some homemade hummus. Because that’s what he made me on our frist date to a Marlins’ game way back when. When we were both clouded by what we believed to be true. When we were secretly constructing a bomb shelter built for two.