Friday, August 20, 2010
“Luck is believing you're lucky.” - Tennessee Williams
A couple of days ago, I was walking down a hallway at work and I spied a penny. I started to pick it up, but then I noticed it was tails-up. I remembered my mother’s warnings never to pick up an upside-down penny, lest I bring bad luck upon myself. Of course, I’m already feeling pretty vulnerable these days. So I decided to walk past the penny.
Do you believe some people are just lucky, and others unlucky? When I was much younger and much more naïve, I believed that everyone had about the same amount of luck (or unluck) – it was just a matter of timing, and everything in peoples’ lives would even out.
I don’t believe that anymore. While it’s true that all people have some joy and some sorrow in their lives, it really does seem like some people are golden, while others suffer trials upon tribulations upon traumas. Why is Suzanne born to loving parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where she gets to be prom queen and goes on to be a happy mother of two and a concert pianist, while Aamina – the little girl I sponsor in Ethiopia – is born to an impoverished mother, only to lose her father and two siblings to AIDS, and to live in a tribal society that commits atrocities on women and children? How fair is that?
Even if you argue that everyone in developed nations, especially America, is “spoiled” because we don’t live in huts, there are plenty of people who live lives full of suffering – like those children who go from foster home to foster home only to be abused and neglected in each one. Why can’t they catch a break? Are they just unlucky?
A friend of mine, Renee, seems to have been born under a rainbow. Every job, every apartment, every situation has come through for her. Even things that appeared to be bad news for a moment quickly turned into good news. Every time she spoke to me, she had more good news to report. It got to the point where it no longer felt like sharing, it felt like bragging – and I found myself pulling away from her, because it seemed she had no interest in other people, only in her own perfect life.
My breaking point came when Renee exclaimed to me – a couple of days after the Haiti earthquake – “You know, everything always turns out for me. God must REALLY love me!” I almost responded, “What, so God hates everyone in Port-au-Prince??” Because that’s what logically follows. If God loves you – in particular – and that is the reason you are lucky, then it follows that God does not love other people, and he causes bad things to happen to them.
I don’t believe that God makes bad things happen (though I will confess to often jumping to the conclusion that God hates me when things go poorly – a belief I have to let go of if I’m to grow in faith). And I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.” For me to believe that means that I have to accept that babies starve in Niger to serve some greater purpose. And I can’t accept that.
No, I’m coming to believe that some things just happen. This is not to say that I don’t believe there is a Higher Power at work in it all, because I most certainly do. Nor am I being nihilistic and saying life has no meaning, because it certainly does. I just don’t believe the world is a giant chess board, with God playing and creating winners and losers.
I don’t believe God is up there flipping a coin to decide whether someone gets heads or tails today.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
“It is astonishing how many thoroughly mature, well-adjusted grown-ups harbour a teddy bear - which is perhaps why they are thoroughly mature and well-adjusted.” - Joseph Lempa
When my cat Chloe developed cancer and died last winter, I suffered a great loss. She had been my friend for 14 years; she’d been in my life longer than most of the people I know. And even though I suspect she was a little bipolar herself, I could always count on her to be soft and fluffy.
A few days after our final goodbye, when the sight of Chloe’ collar or toys would move me to tears, I noticed a Beanie Baby in my room that I’d forgotten about. She was a little cat, the same color as Chloe. I baptized her Chloe II and began to carry her around the house with me. As I made our dinner or settled in to watch television with my husband and son, Chloe II was in my pocket or at my side.
I didn’t bring Chloe II to work with me (after all, I hadn’t brought Chloe I either!) but I remembered a co-worker of mine from 20 years ago, Dez. Dez was a very pretty blonde, the cheerleader type. She was bright and witty. She had a difficult job at the newspaper, writing about police and criminals and courts; she was fearless and did her job well. Dez was highly educated and very professional.
She also carried a teddy bear with her to and from work each day.
The newsroom of a newspaper is a place where you can get chewed up and spat out if you don’t have a thick skin. It’s not a place for pansies. My co-workers drank a lot, swore a lot, and cast a cynical eye on everything. But no one ever asked Dez about the bear. It may have been the vibe she gave off: Don’t go there with me. Dez seemed well-adjusted and not “weird” at all. The bear never came up in conversation.
Eventually Dez found a job closer to her hometown, so she and her bear left us. We stayed friends, and one weekend I visited her. That night she confided something to me that she’d never told anyone on our staff: she had given up a baby for adoption just a few weeks before starting her job at our newspaper. Ah. No wonder the bear.
Chloe II has gone back into the pile of animals. But she’s been replaced with Skye, a yellow bunny my husband gave me at Easter time. When I come home from work, I start dinner, change into sweats, grab Skye and watch TV with my family. If I’m feeling fragile, I stroke him, because he’s very soft. When it’s time for bed, I kiss my husband goodnight and I bring Skye with me.
Life is difficult right now. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t. And if a little stuffed rabbit gives me a measure of comfort, so be it. Just like Chloe, I can always count on Skye to be soft and fluffy.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
“To feel … it's as vital as breath. And without it, without love, without anger, without sorrow, breath is just a clock ... ticking.” – Mary, “Equilibrium”
In the science fiction film “Equilibrium,” which takes place after World War III, the surviving population of Earth lives in the city-state Libria, where all forms of emotional expression are illegal. The ruling regime had decided that it was because of human emotion – love, hate, fear, anger – that all of mankind’s wars had been fought, so by surprising feelings, they would prevent a final war.
Of course, humans naturally feel emotion. So to wipe it out, anything stimulating – art, music, books, even colors – are banned. People are brainwashed from birth to believe that feelings are to be avoided at all costs, and anyone who shows feelings is immediately executed. And everyone must give themselves daily injections of a powerful drug, Prozium, which prevents them from feeling the spectrum of emotions.
Of course I’m not the only one that recognizes “Prozium” as a play on Prozac and Lithium. There’s even a T-shirt that says, “Did you take your Prozium today?” and a website that actually sells a “brainwave audio” for Prozium, which it advertises, “You will never feel so even.”
The idea of Prozium begs two questions. First, is it better to feel, or not to feel? Second, do prescription drugs simply numb people and turn them into machines, incapable of feeling?
Those of us who struggle with strong emotions that take over our lives might well answer, sometimes, it seems it would be better not to feel. My extremes of depression and anxiety affect every aspect of my life. I’d love to turn them off – at least temporarily. Or at least curb them. Because I know that I feel my emotions more strongly than someone without bipolar. I take absolutely no “joy” in the experience of mental illness. If I could, I’d give it up in an instant.
But wait. I’m already on medication. In fact, I’m on medications very close to what one could jokingly call “Prozium.” Am I numb, incapable of feeling? A thousand times no. I can’t begin to imagine the dose of these medications that would be necessary to blunt all my feelings. A hell of a lot more than I’m on, that’s for sure!
People can lecture me about the evils of pharma, but the fact remains that when I tried to take my life, I was not taking them. And when I suffered my first breakdown, in college, I wasn’t taking them either. Right now, the medication allows me to function – to work to support my family, to interact with people as I need to. It’s not a cure, but at the moment, it’s what I need.
Still, I’d welcome a dose of Prozium now and then.
Monday, August 16, 2010
“I have been a depressed person most of my life. I was always in the throes of self-hatred.” - Eve Ensler
I don’t really think of myself as someone with a “low self-esteem.” I consider myself intelligent, and I’m proud of my career, as endangered as the field of publications is. I’ve won awards, which I think I deserved. I think I have a lot of common horse-sense, as well. I’m OK with my looks, and I think I’m a decent person, who does good things for other people. If someone were to ask me if I had low self-esteem, I would say “no.”
I rationalize that my suicide attempt had absolutely nothing to do with low self-esteem. In the case of many other attempt survivors, their attempts had everything to do with self-hatred. But I was different. I was in a bipolar mixed state, and my employer was going through layoffs. I attempted suicide because of biological imbalance and financial pressures – neither of which has vanished, by the way.
With the return of some stressors, and my medication yet to become an exact science, I’ve started feeling lower again. So my husband gave me some materials on Nurturing your Inner Child.
For anyone that doesn’t know, the Inner Child is a therapeutic term for that part of us that is left over from early childhood. It’s also the part of us that is joyful, playful, hopeful. But it’s the part of us that has been wounded due to childhood traumas. While our adult selves might be able to be rational about experiences like abuse and neglect, our Inner Child may still be in pain, and if we’re acting out on those experiences (being abusive, allowing ourselves to be abused, escaping with drugs and alcohol, etc.), one place to start healing is by caring for that Inner Child.
The materials suggested writing a letter to your Inner Child, but first, to find her and picture her. This is where I got my rude surprise. I pictured her, about 6 years old, bob hairdo, wearing a little turquoise skirt and saddle-shoes, and going by the little-girl nickname my parents called me at the time. And I was mortified to realize that I had a white-hot hatred of her. I didn’t want to comfort her, or write her a letter. I wanted to scream at her about how worthless she was, and how she deserved to die. I was filled with so much fury at her I began to sob.
Where do these feelings come from? I honestly don’t know. Many would assume that my parents must have treated me this way, but on the contrary, I always felt that my parents loved me. They had their problems, to be sure; my father was mentally ill and my mother strained for years to keep a family together that should not have been together. But they didn’t “abuse” me. So why am I so quick to abuse myself? What do I blame my Inner Child for? Why do I think that she deserves so much rage she doesn’t even deserve to exist?
I have a lot of work to do.