The Best Medicine

There is a great distance that exists between my family and I. This distance is not purely physical. But it is perhaps the physical distance that has increased the silence amongst my sisters and myself. I don’t find it difficult to talk to my mother on the phone at least once a week. She is my mother after all. I turn to her for advice, for comfort, for emotional support and when there’s still time left to talk, for updates on my two sisters. My sisters and I though, we rarely talk on the phone. Lately it seems that my mom and sisters don’t either. Though the silence between my mom and sisters isn’t due to living far apart. They live in the same state and yet, one sister is creating a large chasm between my oldest sister and our mom. The back story on my middle sister, who is closer in age to our oldest sister than she is to me, is a story that has many facets and reads much like any generic tabloid magazine. All the news and updates that I get from my mother on her always leads to the same conclusion, my sister is headed for a breakdown. Most of the time I would roll my eyes at this, after all, my mother has a lifetime of experience with mental illness, so she is a self-proclaimed expert at identifying it in others. But when the phone rang earlier this week and it was my oldest sister calling, our lengthy conversation ended in the same conclusion about our other sister.

I’ll admit, when I knew who was calling, my mind immediately thought something was wrong up north. She is the one who called to tell me our oldest cousin had committed suicide and that our mother was in the hospital that one Thanksgiving. She is the unofficial spokesperson of what is left of our family. Surprisingly though, she was calling just to chat. I was glad of this. She had just spent Easter recovering from gastric bypass surgery and I was interested in talking to her about her experience. Our conversation eventually turned to our other sister. The details of what has been happening since my visit the previous summer saddened me. We ended the conversation after a solid hour of talking, something that has never been done with her and I. We vowed to chat again and to make it a regular thing.

The news of the inevitable demise of our sister’s mental state, given the crazy things she has done since her divorce, made me nostalgic for the few times I have traveled to visit them. The times when there was only one nephew and everybody was mostly happy. I will never, in all my life, forget the happiness I have always felt in the presence of my two sisters. Sometimes I debate who is my favorite, but it’s impossible to decide considering they are both different and unique in their own way. What is the most memorable of our reunions is the laughter. My sisters, together, are the only people who have ever been able to make me laugh to the point that I literally start coughing and gagging because I am laughing so hard. Embarrassing things happen to my bladder when they make me laugh, which made me very cautious the night we went to the Cheesecake Factory together and began making jokes about their husbands. Even my husband, who makes me laugh every day, has never made me laugh as hard as I do when I’m with my sisters. It is my hope that I will be able to experience that kind of laughter again. That what has caused this divide between our middle sister and the rest of us will heal itself and we will enjoy sincerely happy times again. Living so far away from them means that these moments are definitely few and far between. I like to pretend that the distance doesn’t bother me. That because there is a disturbance in the peace, I’m happy to be living several states away. But as time advances, I know that I’m not as happy as I wish I was being this far away.  It is my hope that there will still be time left in order to experience laughter that hard once again.


My Next Tattoo

On my body there are six tattoos. Collaboratively, they tell everything about my life. Well, almost everything. The tattoos that I have selected for myself all represent the positive aspects of my life. The sun on my ankle represents the color orange, which dominates my love of bright colors. The turtle and the goldfish each declare my love of animals. They are my favorite. The apple on my thigh, a tribute to my profession as a teacher. The vine of flowers around my arm…well, that just looks cool. Finally, my husband’s name over my heart. A testament to our love and the fact that my heart will always belong to him. Each tattoo, though a positive representation of my life, were all permanently placed on me while I sat alone in a tattoo parlor. Even when the first needle pierced my skin, I was alone. Now, several years after the healing of my sixth and what I thought was my final tattoo, I’m ready for one more. Given that I have run out of possible ideas for tattoos that represent something outwardly positive about me, I’m ready to dig deeper and put something permanent on my body that has meaning deeper than any of the other six.

My husband will proclaim until the end of time that Facebook is stupid and a waste of time. I vehemently disagree. This feeling of mine was never stronger than the night that I discovered the group TWLOHA. Intrigued by the title and what it could mean, I clicked on the group.

TWLOHA is an acronym that stands for “To Write Love On Her Arms”. The mission of the organization is to bring awareness and healing to people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts and are self-injuring. Writing “love” on your arm is a way to express love for yourself instead of expressing your pain with a razor blade.

Once I realized the profound importance of their message, I knew I had found my next tattoo. My own experience with self-injury is one that has left me with scars on my arms and only a vague recollection of my first two years of college. The pale pink lines on my arms are probably only visible to my eyes, who know where to look. Pink trails across my forearms are a permanent reminder of the deep depression and despair I experienced. The memory of bolder, red lines that ran the length of my arms does not make me cringe. The relief that the cuts brought me is a feeling that will never completely vanish.

The history of my mental health remains closed off to many people I encounter on a daily basis at work. There is a stigma that still exists in society that makes it difficult at times to feel pride in what I have overcome when revealing the story behind my success has a certain shock value to those not experienced with mental illness. For me, it’s just a part of life.

There will come a time though, when the word “love” will appear on my arm. It will remind me of how far I’ve come. How hard I have fought. The strength I have now that I never thought I would have. My diagnosed conditions, bi-polar and borderline personality disorder, don’t offer much hope when that’s all you can focus on. My hope came in the form of the resolution of my husband not to give up on me, as well as a doctor that changed my life. Together, they pulled me from the wreckage that was self-injury. It is my husband who will be with me when I have “love” tattooed on my arm. If people ask why “love”, it might take me some time before I answer with the truth, or even answer at all. I like the idea that I don’t have to explain it. Some things are too complicated to explain, too special to share. Until the day I “write” love on my arm, I will pray for those still struggling. They are the ones who ought to know what it means to write love on my arm.

I’m Afraid of the Dark

Darkness is an interesting “thing”. I hesitate to call it a phenomenon, but in a way it is. It changes the way we perceive the world. Things that appear a certain way during the light of day can transform into something that evokes a completely different emotion or feeling at night. As a child, I loved thunderstorms. My dad and I would often sit on the porch and listen as they rolled by overhead. They elicited  an excitement in me that carries on even now in my adult years. That excitement about storms, however, somehow morphed into an irrational fear when a storm would wake me up in the middle of the night. It was only in the darkness, alone in my room, that I would cower under the covers until the storm passed. This fear stayed with me until the first time a storm came in the middle of the night in my dorm room. There was a moment, then, when I debated the usual shelter of hiding totally under my blankets or going back to sleep. Perhaps it was a sign of my adulthood that I kept my head above the blankets and went back to sleep. Whatever that decision meant, it didn’t completely change the power and mystique that darkness had.

It wasn’t until about 6 years later that I realized it wasn’t the thunderstorms that made me fearful, it was the darkness surrounding me that brought about a fear. Never was that more clear than the night I was afraid to sit on the beach.

As a lover of the sand and water I accepted an invitation to sit on the beach and chat with a gorup of friends that I had made while at a week long retreat of sorts, at the beach one summer.

The sun had set long before we decided to cross the road with our chairs in hand. I had been on a beach in darkness before when I was a child shining a flash light into crab holes with my parents, just to see the sand crabs scurry out. As an adult, I was eager to experience a moonlit beach again.

My friends and I positioned our chairs in a semi-circle that faced a blackened ocean. The only lights visible came from a single porch light positioned on the back of a beach house and the lightning that flashed over the water signaling an approaching storm.

It didn’t take long after settling into my chair for the feeling of uneasiness to wash over me. My chair was on the end of the semi-circle leaving a vast empty space on a majority of my sides. The uneasiness quickly turned into fear. I found myself turning around frequently to see what was behind me. Each time I turned there was nothing but blackness behind me.

I don’t know what I thought would be behind me. I spent time each day of the retreat on the beach, there was nothing out of the ordinary there at any time. I had no illusions of creatures sneaking up on me or any other supernatural phenomenon occurring in the depths of darkness, however, the fear gripped me. My companions were amused by my seemingly irrational fear. To try to comfort myself, I switched seats so that I was sitting between two of my friends. It didn’t alleviate the anxiety I continued to feel.

The storm over the water eventually came ashore, forcing us to end our beach chat. I was relieved to finally be leaving and returning to the safety of my room at the retreat center.

Even now, several years after that experience, I can’t explain the reason for the strong sense of fright that I felt that evening on the beach. I am of the age now that I may soon have to be the brave one; battling closet monsters and calming other nighttime fears for the children I will have one day. Until then, I will simply remain a captive of the darkness and the uncertainty it brings to my soul.

The dreaded Monday…and celebrities

My mind can be funny at times. Not in the way that I can tell a joke or say something witty, I leave that to my husband. It’s more funny in that I’m always thinking, sometimes deeply, but often in a stream of consciousness kind of way. Sitting in the passenger seat while my husband drives us somewhere, my thoughts will many times drift from one thing to another, with seemingly no connection to each new thought. I find it interesting to then go back and try to figure out how I went from thinking about the azalea bushes finally blooming to that one time in high school when I rapelled off the side of the football stadium in JROTC.

So it should come as no surprise to me, that as I was reaching for a new roll of paper towels in our hall closet last night, I found myself wondering if celebrities ever feel the wrath of a Monday. I began to really ponder this and analyze why they couldn’t possibly dread a Monday like every other working class person. It’s actually not a lot to think about really…celebrities don’t work 9 to 5 jobs, they don’t necessarily have only weekends off, and more than likely, they probably make their own schedules. Whereas I may be only 50% of the population of this apartment who likes their job, I still don’t like Mondays. But do I envy the kind of life that a celebrity has? Do I long to be a person who isn’t confined to the leisure limits of a 2-day weekend? Honestly? I wouldn’t want to be a celebrity. I don’t have a desire to be famous. Perhaps it’s because I’m introverted, and have to force myself to be extroverted because of my profession. It could be because I loathe having “product” in my hair and the last time I ever wore make-up was at my wedding nearly 2 years ago. I don’t like the idea of having to be conscious of what I wear every time I step out of my home.

All of this, and more, ran through my mind last night as I prepared to return to work after a week off. I suppose this slight resentment of the people who don’t care that today is Monday stemmed from a delightfully lazy time that I had at home this past week. My time off felt a lot like the lazy days of summer. Which, if I’m really being truthful with myself, the real lazy days of summer are not that far off. The first week of June is the holy grail of the calendar year, when you’re a teacher.

The Beginning

“I’m sorry you can’t sleep,” he says as I escape our bedroom to come sit in silence on the couch. Fighting against a powerful combination of pills prescribed for my mental health, I am accompanied by Faye. Loyal though she is, even this late night writing session must be confusing to her. Joey, the aloof one, has joined us, though not on the couch. His preferred hangout is the cat carrier, still on the living room floor after an expensive trip to the vet, less than 24 hours ago. A strange cat indeed, considering the torture he endured in that crate at the hands of the doctor who couldn’t even complete a full exam because of his aggressiveness and hatred for being brought into that place.

But while this duo of fur and whiskers are settling in to keep me company, so many other ideas, thoughts, feelings, have joined the group.

It is a truly rare thing for me to write more than the five lines allotted to me in my 5-year journal. Lately, all spare time has been spent on other hobbies, number one of ourse being all things yarn. Knitting and crocheting has certainly taken up plenty of time, as well as space in this one-bedroom apartment, labeled a “cottage” by the apartment manager in an effort to make this small space seem charming. It may have been at one time, but now, it is evident that a married couple with multiple hobbies each cannot live in such minimal space without feeling somewhat claustrophobic and disorganized.

While free time has been somewhat of a luxury in recent weeks/months, my mind has been yearning to pick up a pen again. Five lines in a daily journal doesn’t offer much space for introspection and a reflective analysis of life.

Why tonight, then of all nights, to get out of bed, when sleep was only moments away? The desire was strong tonight. If I had waited until the morning, this desire would have passed without an appointed time for return.

Every blog post that I have made since its inception on another site has had a point. Perhaps for the first time in my limited blogging experience, this one doesn’t have one. Is this post to say that I’m re-introducing myself to the writing world, or that I’m going to post more regularly this time? Does adding “update blog” to my daily to-do list mean that I’ll actually do it this time? I’d like to say that I’ll be able to have these middle of the night rendezvous’ more frequently, but honestly, once those nightly pills are swallowed, the countdown is on. So, as my eyes become heavier with an inevitable sleepiness, I bid good night to this day and to the cats who unknowingly just became witness to more than just the re-birth of a blog, but to an awakening of an inner spirit, desperately wanting to be heard.