My Harrowing/Hero-ing

Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red, photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

“Walking Away: A Self Portrait in Red” photo by Valentina Kaquatosh, 2015

When I take action to control my life, I’m told I’m being manipulative. When they say I do not inform them of my life plans, it means they wanted me to ask their permission. When I decide what I want to do, it’s not done against anyone else’s will. When I ask for help, I am not asking for everything. When I ask for assistance, I am grateful, because there are things I cannot do for myself due to abilities I lack. I ask to be useful in return.

…and here’s where it gets personal.

It is not my fault when my help is refused. I am not your burden when you took me on as a “project”. I am not a project. I am a person, and I grow, I learn, and despite disabilities, in order to be happy, I have to help myself, do for myself, and not subsist on the crumbs public assistance assumes will leave me healthy.

I never ask anyone to break their back for me. I never lifted a hand to swipe away your bread for mine. I never got this depressed and sick in order to live lazy. When I volunteered at places I loved to work at, with people I loved to work with, it’s not my fault they turned me away because they thought the work was too hard on me, or maybe they thought I became a burden, too? If I cannot even volunteer, what use am I?

When I lost friends, those so-called pals told me they dumped me because they wanted to remember me as I was before I lost my health. But I am beyond pleasing them showing how crazy that made me feel. And when I could not fulfill deadlines for projects of my own, my passions were dying, I felt my fire flickering, my heart burning… What does it matter if I fail or not when I am considered this burden?

I cannot be a burden. It’s too heavy. I have to lose this weight. Not in the physical sense, but as in this weight of expectation. No more will I let my father tie me to the ground and shape my body into nothing but fat. No more will I let anyone sink me into mud whenever they give me looks of disgust like that. I am not this weight. My body is more than fat and meat. I’m not this heavy thing, yet…

I can be an anchor.

I intend to take action to control my life, and, yes, that is being manipulative because I am cutting off these strings to be master-less. I intend to live my life as I’ve always lived, really: as I choose, by my own power, whether or not you feel it’s what you think is proper or not. I do not need approval or acceptance. I never did. I don’t exist to take advantage of anyone. If I can, and I do, I support others in return with the abilities that I have that you do not. What I can do no one else can, and in that I have great value. Let me shine. Let me be my best. Let me produce.

I am a creatrix.

I should not subsist on crumbs, or favors, or public assistance alone. The shame of disability is a shroud created for me once diagnosis rears its ugly head and all the medical expenses pile up, keeping me a slave to an insane little budget, but how else to live when I have to maintain this balance? I no longer fit the mold. Since I cannot do as all the rest, what use is there for me? Do I forfeit all my learning and talent and remain in my closet drawing pretty pictures no one will see? So what shall I do? Wait to die? For years this body has rested underneath the burden of being a burden, practically the word alone “disabled” is enough to shame me into permanent instability. I am not disability itself. I am my own person. I am myself. Don’t mock me or tell me I’m this burden on society, or that my illness means you’re obligated to nurse maid me to Hell. I am not a crippled child who needs to lean on you in that fashion. Who said you had to work for me? Or fix me? It’s not your job.

While on disability, I’m not unemployed, I am working for myself.

When I choose to stand up for myself, I am not putting anyone down. When I decide to try something new, I am not abandoning help. When I ask someone to let me go, I am not asking them to dump me. Stop beating me up for being me. Quit hurting yourself taking responsibility for me. I never asked you to take my job. That’s always been up to me. Someday you won’t ever have to worry. It’s okay to think like you do because you really think it’s because you care. But it’s not helpful.

I am strong. I survive. I work my way through many tough things. But even when I am alone, I realize my survival has been the sum of many peoples’ assistance through many years. Even in my solitude, I am not an island.

I want you to know, I am not this so-called burden. Each time I’m called that, I think I die, and sometimes I thought I did, but each time I bounce back, I know it’s a lie. I grew up angry. How many women like me are told the same thing? How many lose their lives trying to work their way out of being a burden? How? Why?! I suppose I’m to feel guilty for everything they did for me when I couldn’t do anything in return, and they knew I didn’t have the means, so why did they decide to make me a burden? Does it feel good to stab themselves for picking me up when they knew I was too heavy? Because I’m not stabbing them. Just like they accuse me. I don’t do anything! All day, oh, yes, I sit here and project nothing. Especially not that.

Once you realize I am not a burden, you’ll be on to calling someone else the same thing. By then, I hope, I will have forgotten the sorrow of it, yet for now it is not a nothing, it is something I choose to toughen me up. I do not like getting like that. I like being soft, but like so many of you have told me,

  • “it builds character”

.

(not addressed to any one person, or organization, but written for all the women like me who are striving for independence while living with a disability)

I’m Not Laughing, But I Will Smile for Robin

When I heard about his death, I knew it wasn’t a joke. Yet, like the song, it seemed like he “started a joke that sent the whole world crying…” Oh, Robin, sweet Mr. Williams, I wish that one smile of my own could have kept you alive. But no matter now that I’m not laughing, I will smile for you.

There is always hope. Eighty percent of us who seek treatment for our depression don’t kill ourselves, yet the strongest risk factor of depression is suicide. Yet we can’t ignore that fifteen percent of the clinically depressed end their lives. Many of those also suffer from substance abuse problems. I’m not writing this as if this were some book report. Feel I need to provide some bright facts. *grumbles*

I know too many people who have died at their own hands. The first death I ever witnessed was a suicide. He promised me and other friends that he’d be everyone’s worst nightmare.

And promptly aimed a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

In
front
of
me
.

He was only 17 years old, and since the age of 14 he battled addiction. He wouldn’t be the first person I knew who committed suicide, but he was the first and most violent.

Robin Williams disappeared just as violently as that boy I used to know. Those blue eyes of his sparkled with tears as much as laughter. Robin always reminded me of the kind of guy that’s the life of the party, but parties end, and he, like so many who suffer from depression, I can see turned to drink to keep that feeling of euphoria flowing… self medication they call it. I think all addicts are mentally ill.

I’m no addict, yet I can understand the despair that drags someone to the bottom of existence. I suffer from manic depression. In fact it is something that keeps me from writing, but sometimes it really gets me obsessively writing! I have not updated my blog since I was critiqued harshly for writing too many posts that were my purest expressions of grief. I felt obligated to be of great cheer to write, yet as William S. Burroughs wrote, “A writer lives the sad truth like anyone else. The only difference is, he files a report on it” and that is very much like me. Like many, many other people.

We’re all lonely and sad together on this one planet, aren’t we?

Oh, I’m not unhappy all the time. At other times I’m a pure joy jumping with glee and I can barely contain it! Over the last few years I’ve written a lot about my emotional pain, the scars of my personal grieving process over the loss of my mother and friends I boldly display whether or not anyone is reading, and not all poetry I produce is about one person or that thing that made me sad. However…

What I’ve learned all my life dealing with mental illness (in my family and my own experience): people judge you for everything you do and say once you’re under that label, you will lose friends constantly due to behavior you can curb and can’t control, and there are times when the pain is so intense no one else can possibly gauge how you feel or help you with just words.

All one can do is keep going, which makes things all the more difficult because even though everyone likes to say “help is available” or even we like to tell someone glum the bland statement “You need help” and the ever so useless “things will get better”, they don’t have a clue how to go about helping anyone, or themselves. Not unless you open up. AND even then not unless someone is there to listen. To just be there to listen! I’ve often been asked, “How can I help you?” whenever I’ve felt so down I might as well be crawling.

The answer is fairly simple: “Don’t do anything but be there.”

Playing a supportive role takes doing nothing and comes with a lot of “don’t do this” rules. Like don’t judge. As well as one very important “be” and that is: be gentle.

You thought I was about to say “be understanding” didn’t you?

Being gentle to someone in pain takes a special kindness, far better even than attempting to understand. When someone is in physical pain, or suffering from a bleeding wound, would you be tough with them? Soothing the illness helps ease. We want to transform “disease” to “ease” — the depression can’t go away, no one can make it disappear, but we can make the ways we endure it easier by simply helping each other reach peace.

But.

What happens when “being there” is not enough? I don’t think I can answer that for anyone else, yet even I find myself trying to come up with answers for and why and because.

So I write like I do when I think out loud to myself.

The path to emotional wellness is also a physical health issue fraught with so many ups and downs, I’m surprised anyone survives it. Few folks truly feel inclined to believe a person who eventually turns to suicide to end their constant suffering (not that I’m condoning it, mind you!) justifiably did it to truly end their true suffering.  What many don’t realize is that depression is long term suffering, especially since any kind of depression isn’t just simply explained away as a case of the blues.

I believe when suicides happen, individuals are in deep pain as serious as with any disease. Robin Williams was an actor whose struggles to keep sober and to combat his constant manic ups and downs wore him out. Even though he loved his family and friends, I am thinking that most likely he just wanted that constant pain to end. I’m sad that he died and lost the fight, just like I am broken-hearted over anyone who finally succumbs to any other fatal disease.

Because, believe it or not, depression kills. Depression, more so than experimenting with recreational drugs or what-not, leads people to numb their pain with alcohol and other substances. Whether or not you stay alive, it kills you, eats you up. You can have every luxury in the world and still have that unreasonable, unexplained black emptiness erasing you inside.

I don’t need to list suicide statistics to tell you how much of a problem this violent way to end life is in this country, especially among men, impacts so many families and friends. It’s a kind of death that continues to cause far more pain than any other passing, mainly because it is unnatural for a living being to turn against one’s own need for self-preservation. A person may decide to act on their need to end their pain, but the body itself will still fight on instinct to survive everything you put it through.

I’m no stranger to suicide attempts myself, but it’s never the longing to die, only to end pain that was at the heart of every attempt I ever made. Just so we’re clear, I am not telling you I’m suicidal now! But Robin’s death brings up all those dark memories, and makes me think of people who are suffering as I write these words, and I weep many nights just thinking how helpless I am to fight against my own depression, let alone help anyone else with theirs. Yet it is because I’ve suffered, I know there is a need to lend a shoulder to cry on for someone else, even if they may not actually be crying out loud.

It’s not an easy thing to witness someone in pain as you stand by, but if you knew how good it does to help that other person stand on their own, you’d do it time and time again.

I think it’s the basis of strength.

There are times I wish I could turn back time… or be there for just one more person before they shut off the clock.

So what keeps me ‘ticking’?

Most times I am outside of myself, aware that there are lives all around me not in pain who are simply alive, and it is that life I am grateful for being there. Animals especially surround me everywhere I go. This summer’s filled with life in my neck of the woods.

And I have many, many beautiful pictures to show you… coming soon.

I’m coming in out of the darkness.

Some Thoughts Before I Write Forward

I have to admit it, there are times when I do not know if I am the right person to write as an expert on this subject, but this is only because I am not a master, I do not have all the answers, I only have experiences.  Yet then, as I think about it, there is one subject I am a master of, and that is myself.

As I have been writing on Therapeutic Magic for Mental Illness, I faced an emotional block that has delayed me reaching the next parts of that series.  Not writing about this block, telling myself that it’s too personal of a subject, and that pointing out my woes will only draw more attention to the problem and not a solution, well, that just made it worse.  I have to acknowledge that what I feel is happening to me, like extracting a poison dart out of my heart, and then examine what components created the poison CSI-style, recording my findings in detail, all while I recover from the wound.

These things replay in my mind.  No matter how often I distract myself, I accept what happened and how it made me feel.  I have a father who does not support my efforts to heal myself.  My brother is estranged from me.  I have too many painful memories to remind me of the many times I have lost friends, too.  Some of those ex-friends aren’t bad people, they just didn’t understand, and they remain friends with my closest friends.  I am occasionally reminded people don’t like me, even my closest blood relatives have a hatred for me that is beyond my understanding, especially when all I do is love them.  My father considers me pathetic; the last time he browbeat me over this in public, I told him I would not tolerate him calling me that anymore.  He hasn’t talked to me since I told him to back off.  Frankly, despite my concerns for his health and well-being, dealing with him is too much stress.  He has never told me he loves me.  He’s been a constant critic of my body, behavior, everything.  The same goes for my brother.  Nothing pleases those men!  I don’t believe I’m to blame for their problems.  I still feel paranoid that other friends will reject me and false judgments could be made against me unfairly.  There are nuggets of “loser-li-ness” pasted on me from the way I’ve been treated by my father — a weakness that is sniffed out by other people when I deal with them socially — I must exhibit this self-esteem deficiency even in my words online, as if I am apologizing for my own existence.  There are times when I sense an apprehension in the air about people around me, so I am compelled to do all I can to please them, all the while worrying if I am going to end up spending the rest of my life under scrutiny.  At times I am stuck in the mucky-muck of wondering if maybe my father is right, or if those ex-friends were right about me…

They should know better.  Because I know myself better.  Why won’t they believe in me?  Especially because I believe in myself.

Yet am I backing up my belief with action?  Am I doing enough?  There are times when I am very inspired by the examples of others I read about, my creative passions hurt me into motion when I view a delicious painting, and I’m excited to tears whenever a friend shares with me a good story.  Then I consider: why am I not doing anything?  The only answer is: I’ve been too busy battling depression, but this is not what I’m all about… butbut I can’t stop talking about it because I’ve found out so much about it, so much I want to share.

I forget that most people find the subject disturbing, that it makes them nervous around me.  If I had not shared with them what I go through, they’d see me normal and never give a doubt about my character.  Yet if they knew and understood more, they’d find the key I found; a better way of relating and overcoming, a way that can be made even better if only more masses of people cooperated with it!

The worst part of having a problem is the way other people handle it — I’m already doing my part to take care of myself, what’s their excuse?  They will often take the stance to not understand, or not want to understand, preferring to believe that I am making excuses or producing lies and justifications during the times when I am out of balance.  In my practice of silence and contemplation, I asked myself how I have contributed to the opinions against me.  My attempts to make things better by explaining what’s wrong with me were made worse by me explaining and describing myself as being a problem.

Ever experience a time when someone points out that you “have a problem” and need to “get help” and yet they do nothing but point it out?  It’s easy to point at the problem, like pointing out that there is a dirty diaper in the middle of the living room, yet no one is picking it up or putting it in the trash because the only person in the room who was told about the problem has no arms to do anything about it.  Sure, they definitely DO need help, yet pointing out the dirty diaper in front of them when they can’t pick it up to throw it away doesn’t help at all.

There are things we can do for ourselves, but then there are things we do need help with, and the best help you can give to someone who is suffering from a mental illness as common as depression is to JUST BE SUPPORTIVE and being supportive DOES NOT MEAN FIXING THE PROBLEM it just means REMAINING A FRIEND!

Just being a friend makes a major difference in the life of someone coping with mental illness, in fact it plays an important role in the efforts to help suffering end.  Instead of pointing at someone’s problems, why not stop and try to understand them?  There is always more to the story.  If you want to continue to make the lives of the mentally ill a living hell, then keep pointing at them and pushing them aside, tell them how awful they are… But isn’t it better to stop the cycles of misunderstanding and abuse?

For help on how you can be a better help to your friends check out the following:
Mental Illness: What a Difference a Friend Makes an initiative started by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is a wonderful program that provides answers for friends who want to help.

Helpful information from the Mental Health Foundation

The NAMI blog‘s coverage about the award-winning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s series titled “Imminent Danger” featuring the VERY moving article Can adult siblings connect when mental illness is part of mix? MJS reporter Meg Kissinger, like me, has mental illness in the family. This article especially touches my heart because it reminds me of some experiences with my relations.
———————–

I’m glad I got these thoughts off my chest because now I am free to move forward, write on, and get back on track. I hope the above links provide some helpful information. As it comes to me, I’ll provide more as I continue to piece together this series.

Postcard #23: Bad Egg?

Sometimes I feel like the softest egg in the basket…

Yet somehow I manage to never quite break, I only seem to. My cracks glue back together whenever someone else’s cruel remarks are overpowered whenever I remember the kindness and thoughtfulness of you.

I have something to confess this week. No matter how bright I paint my world and try to put on a strong face, I have episodes of grief and pain that would disturb you, my most lovely friends. I occasionally write about my pain and it doesn’t always relieve it. I fear that dishing it out too much in public just creates an image of me writhing daily in agony and feeling sorry for myself. I could delve into the many ways in which I struggle with mental illness, but that, too, would decorate my personality as one without credibility.

Who wants to believe in someone who is crazy?

I have thought about this long and hard, especially as I write about how I’ve used therapeutic magic (more on that later) to aid me every day during the difficulties I face. I have successfully adjusted my moods, yet I still have to sway backwards according to the amounts of stress I experience. When too much is too much, I’ve had enough and I give. Actually, I bend.

I have often felt embarrassed whenever I let the dark side of me rage and wail. I lose myself in a cloud of sobs, I can’t talk, I sink to my knees, nothing has meaning, I hyperventilate til I am dizzy, I faint with overwhelming passion, and my heart races to the point of attack. My whole body gives in to despair. I am frightening to behold, like a banshee. This seems to last forever whenever it happens. Like one’s life flashing before the eyes in the moment before death, yet I am left quite alive, surrounded by helpful nurses and doctors, but even they regard me with fear mixed with exasperation.

Even on medication and practicing meditation, the flood gates have to be let open in order for me to readjust — letting go means letting myself go wild, but safely, checking myself into a hospital when I feel an episode coming on — I know to turn to professionals when the need arises. I don’t call friends or family to help me. They are not equipped to assist me. All of you would be hurt to see me in pain. I want to spare you from seeing me go berserk. Sometimes its a back-and-forth thing, I cannot predict exactly what will trigger something deep inside me enough to send me into the ER. My fear is usually I will have a heart attack or I will, in a fit of blind anger or sorrow, accidentally hurt myself or someone else in my desperation to relieve the pain.

Does this make me a bad person? Have I now become untrustworthy? Will I still be a reliable narrator? How valid of a Witch am I now, now that you know I have a disability?

In the wee hours Tuesday morning, I cracked. After weeks of enduring pressures from family, health conditions I can’t control at this time, and debts I cannot pay off right now, it just happened, I cracked and did not bounce back. Usually I can distract myself, but there are times when there is no escaping it. The explosion will happen, the bottom bursts.

The final straw was pulled by my father and placed on my back to break me. My father has always criticized me for my weight. Yet Monday night he decided to add more to his repertoire of usual insults concerning my body, he called me pathetic, and that he has “given up” on me. He thinks I do nothing, have no ambition or cares, that I don’t amount to anything, but worse than that, he is ashamed of me. When I asked to come visit him at the veteran’s home, he scoffs, “I don’t want anyone to see I have such a fat daughter!” When we went out to the casino, he made it a habit to put me down in public. People laughed out of nervousness at us — this old, withered man yelling at his chubby daughter who made excuses for him — we must have seemed like some kind of cartoon.

I bit my tongue. The sorrow flooded my mind as the night passed. This is where those feelings of abandonment, un-acceptance, and self-loathing came from, the seed that grew into the problems I’ve had in my relationships with men, the awful gift my father gave me when he made my mother his mistress and I was born his bastard. Perhaps the real shame he has is that my existence is evidence that he cheated on his wife, proof he was never faithful. Now that he’s at a point where he is closer to holding hands with death, he ends up hating anyone who helps him because those of us who assist him are just additional reminders that he is losing his independence. He hits me where it hurts the most obvious — the one place he’s always been able to punch hardest — my big gut — and then when I get upset he says he calls me pathetic and fat and ugly out of “concern” — really? Sorry, Dad, it’s abuse.

He’s not helping me. He’s driving me crazy. And I let him get to me, but I did not show him my crazy. After the casino fiasco, I rushed myself into the ER, howling like a lame coyote, dropping to my knees, looking as pathetic as Humpty-Dumpty after his fall.

How the hell is anyone gonna put me back together again?

Um, one person.

Me.

I did not really need the help of the doctor, but the hospital is the safest place to be observed in case anything should go wrong. The first thing they wonder is if I’m drunk or stoned, next they take away all of my belongings and put me in a room void of anything I could hurt myself with. The room is empty, boring, there is nothing to do, everything is white, and, no, it’s not padded, and I was not put into a straight jacket. It’s not romantic or frightening, it’s just a room. The bed is flat, uncomfortable, but you can scream all you need to in there without disturbing anyone which is a blessing. There should be more rooms like that around. A real kind of “panic room” made for panicking inside so you won’t wake your neighbors while undergoing a manic episode.

I liken this kind of hospital room to a meditation room, a place to find your peace when everything else has failed to help you create peace of mind. It’s always made me laugh that nearby there is another room called “Spirit Office” that makes me think there’s a place in the hospital where spirits go for coffee breaks in between healing people and helping souls depart!

I’m sure it has a practical use and doesn’t have anything to do with the kind of spirits this Witch deals with, yet it makes me laugh whenever I’m feeling bad. What is a “Spirit Office” anyway? I’ll have to Google it. (It’s actually an office for Chaplins, stationed 24/7 for spiritual services, duh)

After a three-hour stint in the white room, I raged myself into a calm. My cracks no longer seemed so bad and I was sent home. For these last two days I’ve been resting. Meanwhile, I’ve also been writing…

I am not sure if I always have the clarity and strength to write boldly enough about the subjects I aspire to write about. I want to assure you that, for the most part, I’m pretty damn normal! Yet I can also equally assure you I’m weird, too. Weird enough to have a unique perspective on things… However I do deal with insecurities that hold me back. I want to be sure I’m up to the task. I write from my heart, not always from my head. My words get messy and metaphoric. My opinion may not be very logical, or maybe I am selling myself short.

I’ve examined the blogs of other Witches and have found that blog writing is a very personal, informal kind of writing, one step upward from journal writing. It’s not magazine writing, yet it can have that style. It’s up to the writer. Lately, in my writing offline, I have been busy composing articles that aim to please other people, not myself, and I’ve gotten stuck trying to write in a way that makes sense to them, or what I think will be their kind of logic because I highly respect their principles and expertise. Yet I’ve come to the decision that this restricts my creativity and blocks my voice. No offense to my friends who write the way they like to, but I, too, have my own way, and despite a desperate part of me that longs for approval and acceptance (just like I long for that from my father, understand) I really have to be myself with all of you.

I think, cracks and all, you’ll still love me tomorrow.