The Tortoise* in Cute Jeans Eating Cake

Mild Content Warning: This post is about weight and weight loss, and food, eating and body image as it pertains to such.

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The other day i met a personal goal that’s been 15yrs coming. In the early aughts i had weight loss surgery and went from 465lbs (lost 100lbs prior to surgery on my own) to 155lbs. Unfortunately, i spiralled into a years long bipolar mania that managed to pack back on approximately 100+lbs (addictive behaviours + medications).

Since around 2009 i’ve struggled to take it off. I’ve consistently yo-yoed by 20-40lbs over this time. In 2015 i was back up around 250-60lbs and in another mania, when i broke my leg in 3 places. When the surgery was over and the smoke had cleared, i decided to pay more attention to my weight and get down to the size i wanted. I made a decision to adopt better eating and a more active lifestyle.
If you look back at my pictures over the last 5yrs, it might not appear as if much has changed. To be fair to me, being Amazon-sized means that i can carry a lot of weight without anyone knowing just how much i’m carrying. Plus, being pear-shaped means that i don’t show all the extra weight if you only see me from the waist up. I wasn’t much into showing any pics of my legs for a long time.

Weight, food, eating, exercising, body image, and all the rest of the itinerant baggage, are incredibly complicated and personal issues, in my opinion. I’ve been asked a number of times how i’m doing what i’m doing, and so i’m going to tell you. I’m going to tell you NOT because you should do it the way i am, but so you can see that it can be done in a (relatively) healthy and sustainable way. You’ll have different ways of eating and moving that work more effectively for you. What follows is very general stuff, there’s no step-by-step here. To my mind there is simply no one-size-fits-all weight loss plan.

First thing is i stopped “dieting,” per se. I know how to pick up a diet and use it to quickly drop weight. That doesn’t work for me, because 1, losing weight fast can trigger a mania, and 2, once i stop using the diet i regain the weight, which might well throw me into a depression (3). Once i decided i wanted to change the way i lived, i wasn’t in so much of a rush. I’d been struggling with food and weight for most of my life, and had amassed quite a bit of information over the years. I also had a great deal of knowledge regarding who i am and how i function, and loooong experience with how mental illness and neuroatypicality affects my life and informs my lifestyle. From all that i was able to start working on making changes to have a healthier –and hopefully happier– life.

I make small changes, one at a time, and do them until they’re a part of my life and i don’t even think about them anymore. For instance, i stopped eating after 8pm. I grew up eating in front of the television, and i learned early on in my dieting history that i could consume thousands of calories without even realising it, because i wasn’t paying attention to eating – i was watching telly. I’d sit down with a full bag or bowl of something, and at some point i’d hit bottom and be surprised. I wouldn’t remember the experience of eating all that food and i’d feel cheated out of the enjoyment, and all too often i’d go back into the kitchen for something more because of it.

Now, i still do eat in front of the television or computer, as it is part of our family lifestyle, but i don’t eat after supper anymore. I try to eat at 6, 12, and 6, but i give supper until 8, because my husband often works late, and has a 1hr commute. If i’m struggling and really want something after that, i’ve discovered the joy of Smart Pop popcorn, and i’ll happily scarf that down while slugging back a diet soda. I don’t drink a lot of soda, but that’s only because i have a very small, surgically altered stomach pouch. I do not ascribe to the belief that artificially sweetened sodas are bad. I’m a calories in/calories out kinda girl. Something sweet and satisfying with zero calories? Sign me up!

I also unabashedly use every single mental dieting trick that works for me. I use small dishes so it looks like i have more to eat. If i’m not hungry enough to eat a boring old apple, i’m not that hungry/i can wait. I don’t eat when i’m hAngry: i either wait 20mins, or i have that apple and wait 20mins. Some of what i do is due to my bypass surgery. For instance, i do not fill myself up with water so that i eat less. My stoma is small, so that’s not helpful. I only take a couple of sips of liquid while eating if necessary.

One of the final keys to changing how i eat came after reading a book called Losing It Right, by James Fell. He writes at length about satiety, and how the processed and prepared foods we eat today are low satiety, yet packed with as much salt, sugar, and fat as the producer can get in there. It’s all designed to get us to eat (buy) MORE. It resonated very strongly with me, and i changed some of my habits accordingly.

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First though, a brief aside:

If my mental health becomes a bigger issue at any time, my focus immediately shifts in that direction. As much energy as it requires to manage, it gets. So, if i need to let go of some of the stricter aspects of how i’m eating, i do it. It doesn’t fill me with fear, or guilt, or even trouble me much any more. I’ll eat what i’m able to eat, when i’m able to eat it. During times like this my weight will plateau, or i might even gain a pound or 2. I know it will be okay, because these are lifestyle changes, not quick fixes. I’ll eventually get where i want to go. Rushing to get there and pushing myself to my limits is not good for how my brain works or my mood. Trying to do all the things when i have limited inner resources only risks me levelling up into superhero mode, or drains me so quickly i fall flat on my keister. I can go back to a more regimented way of eating when i have the time and resolve.

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Back to the issue of high and low satiety foods.
What i realised was, as someone who loves to cook, tries new recipes 2 and 3X/wk, is subscribed to 20+ food and cooking channels on YouTube, and is addicted to Pinterest, i’ve picked up a lot of tips and suggestions on how to increase the taste and enjoyment of my food. Things like, cooking my pasta in broth instead of water, more butter on everything, and a secret pinch or 5 of sugar. I learned to do these things because, as someone who partakes of fast food and highly processed foods, i began to expect that much flavour in my cooking at home.

Zhuzhing my food was racking up my daily caloric intake – substantially. But i’d caught myself in a trap because the food i was making didn’t seem as palatable anymore without the extras. Even after i cut back on most of the unnecessary additions, i still faced times when i was eating calorie dense, low satiety foods due to needing to be more focused on my mental health. So, i found a thing to do that, when i’m ready and able, i can get “back on track” with the way i want to be eating. I go on a bland diet for a while. I still eat tasty foods, but i eat basically the same thing for a week or 2. It cleanses my palate in a way, and lowers my expectations for how the food should taste when i return to eating my regular wide variety of foods. It also makes the less zhuzhed stuff taste better, just because i’m happy not to be eating the same thing every day. I pick one or 2 proteins, usually fish, and tofu or yogourt (i make my own), cauliflower, and i make a big batch of homemade vegetable soup. I pick cauliflower because, thanks to the keto craze, i can buy it readily fresh, frozen, or already “riced” for me. My soup has lots of leafy greens and a few starchy veg. Water not broth. As much sodium as i want. It’s low carb yes, but i’m not a keto person. Carbs happen in my life; there’s fruit in my homemade yogourt, and i will eat that apple when i’m hangry.

Once i feel the resolve and the focus settle in, i slowly reintroduce other foods, still eating at a caloric deficit with weight loss in mind. I lose weight very slowly. If i’ve had to cut down or cut out my exercise routine, i start back at that too – starting slow, and carefully building back up to where i was. I’ve yo-yoed those initial 20-40lbs for many years now. Until about 2yrs ago that is, when i finally arrived at 50lbs lost. At last i’d gotten past that difficult zone, and it was the knowledge that came from the Fell book, from talking with registered dietitians, and from understanding myself well enough to know what probably would and wouldn’t work for me. Armed with that, plus my far more relaxed approach to how much time it would take to reach my ultimate weight loss goals, i find myself at a place where i only have around 30lbs left to go.

It’s taken me 2yrs to get these last 20lbs off and get to this milestone. And the goal wasn’t even a number. I’ve stated this many times, but it will always bear repeating – i cannot weigh myself (my doctor knows the numbers, for the sake of my health). It’s a massive trigger for my bipolar issues, so i use clothes as a good gauge, as well as a lot of looking at myself in the mirror. Looking in mirrors is a triggery area too, as my tendency is to dissociate when i look into my own eyes, but these last couple of years have been spent working hard on NOT dissociating, so it’s excellent practise. I haven’t pushed to lose the weight. Most of the focus has been on my mental health, but i kept making little tweaks here and there when i was able. My approach shifted from trying to win, to determined to finish. I dropped the frenetic and speedy, (falsely)confident facade of the Hare, and adopted a more Tortoise like attitude, like, I’m gonna just do me and keep on truckin’ until i get there. Lo and behold! just like in the old child’s morality tale, the low key approach has gotten me to my goal. That objective was to fit into a certain pair of pants that are very cute and looked impossibly tiny to me when i’d regained around a third of what i’d initially lost on my WLS journey.
And i look very cute in them, i must say.

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Another important aside here (this one’s not so brief):

This post is intended as a light response to questions about how i’ve accomplished long term weight loss and the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. The reason why i’ve struggled with food and weight for the entirety of my life is due to a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. It’s heavier in tone than i want for this piece. However, i would be remiss if i didn’t mention another reason that i make these changes slowly. As a person who has endured sexual abuse, my self-image as a person, a female, and a sexual being were all twisted from early on. Food was weaponised against me, used to control and groom and reward me. Sex, sexuality, food, eating, and body image all got jumbled up together. It mutated and fused into this lumpy mass that made me sick and small inside and oh so tired.

I became morbidly obese for many reasons: starvation, lack of education, poor modelling, unhealthy habits, and my unmet need for comfort and connection. I also packed on the pounds because i needed protection – i needed to put something between me and what was being done to me. And later, once the worst of it was over, i kept the wall up because i never wanted it to happen again. The fat on my body was a manifestation of everything wrong in my life and all my attempts to fix it. It was padding to absorb life’s blows. It made me bigger on the outside when inside i felt small and powerless. All the weight i lost after surgery pulled down my unconsciously built fat fence, and everything that i had been eating to keep inside, came flooding out. I felt incredibly vulnerable, and i was frightened every waking moment. When some of that weight came back on, it wasn’t all bad. One good thing that came from it was i felt safer and less vulnerable.

Knowing that, i knew why i’d freak out every time the pounds started coming off again. Being noticed, receiving attention, some of that of a sexual nature, all triggered fear, and the need for protection. It scared me to be getting smaller. It scared me to be the focus of the male gaze. I must be conscious and mindful of this happening, and i need to hold my own hand through the process. I need to acknowledge those feelings and allow myself to feel them, and tell myself –often right out loud– that it’s okay. I’m not being hurt anymore, it’s not happening, and i’m safe. I also tell myself that if something terrible were to happen, that i would handle it. I would do whatever i had to do to get through it. I am capable and i have tons of tools and heaps of coping skills, and i would survive.

So yeah, i lose a few pounds, get really freaked out about it, sit for a while with the new, smaller body size, calm down, and then lose a few more. It’s another very important reason i do all of this slowly. It’s being kind and gentle to me. I treat myself with respect for surviving the hell i did, and i honour my process. It gets to take as long as it takes, for me to lay down the fear and pain of long ago and embrace living fully present in the here and now.

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I’m proud of how far i’ve come, and i’m not in an all-fired rush to get the rest of it off. I know that’s not good for my brain, and i believe that i will eventually get where i want to go. No mad dash for the finish line for this girl. I’m just happy to be plodding along, having faith in myself and confidence in my abilities. I will continue to push myself a little or make myself slow down, where and when i see fit. It’s not the end that i’m seeing in my sites, but there is a nice ribbon stretched across the line. There’s balloons bobbing about on a perfect afternoon, and cartoon birds and mice who will cheer and sing songs in little chipmunky voices.
There will also be cake. LOTS of cake.

* Slow and steady wins the race, amirite?!

Why Though?

So… About my word groupings that i place in the category of “This Is Not Poetry.” Friends have asked me on a few occasions why i say it’s not poetry when it so clearly is.
I have a few reasons.
What follows are a series of judgments and opinions. They are mine and no one else’s, and some of them are harsh and petty. I will present an argument against myself after each. This is to show what i think, and how i’ve dealt with what i think.

JB = Judgey Blurt
3R = Relatively Reasonable Response

JB: For one thing, poetry doesn’t have a great reputation in our day and age. There’s a lot of eyerolling and jokes about those who indulge, in both the reading and the writing of such. I’ve read a lot of truly awful poetry, from the amateur gushings of lovesick and misunderstood teenagers, to pieces that the “professionals” mark as beautifully written, that i just plain didn’t like. There’s more bad poetry than there are bad tattoos – and that’s saying something.

3R: Well, so what? Arting is good for everyone. Doing something creative is uplifting for my mood and nutritious food for my brain. Throwing words together in a fancy, flowery way helps me face things that are hard to face. It helps me express myself to others on a more personal level. It can put a pretty spin on something that isn’t pretty – and that can help me live with the thing i’m writing about. When i was a karaoke hostess i used to tell people all the time that singing isn’t for being good at, so much as it is good for you. While i am unconvinced that such a thing as a soul exists, making art clearly feeds who i am as an individual. It’s good for me, and it’s not at all necessary for me –or anyone else– to be good at it. Also, i think a lot of the dismissive attitude stems from it being seen as old fashioned. And i think poetry seems easy, but can be frustratingly, infuriatingly, off-puttingly difficult. Maybe it’s just me, but as a lover of poetry, i’ve found it arduous to put out something i genuinely think is not crappy, let alone remotely readable for anyone else. More on that later.

(And those tattoos? I’ve got a crap one, too. The lesson there for me was, do not make any big changes, including permanently marking your body, when you are manic. Heh.)

(And those flowery, hyperemotional teenage screeds? They were an excellent tool to say things i couldn’t say, and purge emotions i couldn’t talk about. I think angsty, emo frothing is great for anyone. Not just writing either – READING it as well. Crappy poetry has proved as cathartic in my life as sappy songs.)

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JB: Poetry is profoundly personal, to me. There’s a difference between writing/blogging prose and poetry. Okay, that’s obvious… but is it, though? (Poetry rhymes and prose doesn’t may get us to a decent jumping off point – despite it being wrong.) I’m not sure i can define what the difference is, but man, it’s just deeper. It’s intimate. It accesses a part of my psyche and experiences that defy explanation, that evade the grasp of words. Also, when you consider my judgmental attitudes about poetry (judgments that i don’t feel too badly about, mind you, because everything about art is subject to judgment), i’m putting it all out there for others to see. I’m hangin’ my bare nekkid ass out the window while driving slowly down Main Street, so eeeeverybody can have a good looksee.
Here i am, doing that art-thing that so many (including me, sometimes) find cringey as heck.
And if you think this stuff is bad, hey, wanna see my etchings?

3R: Personal is what i do, here. I can’t provide the help that i hope to if i don’t open up and let you see and know. And you get to have opinions about it all – about me. Judgments, too. I welcome all to judge my words here, these thoughts and feelings and experiences i float about in this techno-aether. Not so that you may judge ME (although you certainly may), but so you can judge for yourself, if there is anything here of value to you. I do all this here to help myself, and anyone else who comes looking. If a seeker finds themself here, even if they find nothing in common with me, i hope they move on with the sense that they can know who they are and how they work, and through that, have more of the life they want.

At this point in my life i’m still not fully functional by my own standards, but i am almost there. That is a truly amazing thing, and it is a thing that i have done. I don’t have much to offer the world, but i do have that much. I have my life and the way that i’ve lived it, to share with any who’d know and wish to learn. Glean what you will; discard any or all as chaff.

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JB: I still wrestle with core issues like my need for acceptance and my fear of rejection. I want to be liked, and i want my art to be liked, and what if i’m/it’s not? Go ahead and don’t like my online journalling, i can slough that off in a brief season. But the poetry is closer to me, although it’s not as important to me as sharing my experience, strength, and hope (yes, i stole that from somewhere), it leaves me more raw and vulnerable to criticism and rejection. It’s like inviting you out with me. The not-poetry stuff is just us going out for coffee at a local roasterie. The poetry is having you over for supper, and what if you don’t like anything i made?

3R: This is one of those places where the rubber meets the road. Have i properly prepared for what might happen when i share my poetry? It might be ignored, skipped over, skimmed, or fully read and not liked/enjoyed. I haven’t observed it but a couple of times, but someone may even feel moved to tell me so. Am i wearing my armour of healthy self-esteem and reasonable expectations? Do i have on my YouDoYou hat and my ArtEyeBeholder boots? Am i wearing my intention goggles?

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And oh, here’s the final bit about my not-poetry, and it’s a sticky bit for some.
My stuff isn’t that good. I don’t think it’s horrible, but i love poetry, and what i write falls short of my personal standards. Imposter Syndrome has been suggested to me, and i considered it carefully, but i don’t think that’s something i wrestle with. I think i’m being realistic, and that is something i personally put a high value on. I understand and appreciate those who would say, You wrote something, therefore you’re a writer; You wrote a poem, therefore you are a poet. I definitely qualify based on their definition, and that’s genuinely nice, and it feels good and i like it.
That being said, i do not see myself as either a writer or a poet.

My journalling is decent because it’s in my voice. I’m mostly happy with it, although i’d like to always be improving.
My poetry ain’t great. It just isn’t. It is nowhere near the standard i’d put on a publishable piece. I’m okay with that. I still like my poems. I mean, i’m not a great baker either, but cake is still cake. Maybe i couldn’t put it in a bakery’s display case, but it’s still sweet and tasty and good enough to share with a friend along with tea and conversation. That’s what my poetry is – afternoon tea with a friend. The cake fell 3/4s of the way through baking, but i slapped some fudge frosting on it, and now i’m not bothered at all. In fact, i think i’ll have another slice.

Art is important to do, for me. It’s food, it’s therapy, it’s communication, it’s connection.
It is not necessary to be good at it to do it, as i believe i am proving. Heh.
And i am not bothered by my art not being up to mine or anyone else’s standards.
Further, i think “substandard” art can be just as enjoyable and therapeutic and resonant and emotive as art that is considered “great.”
It’s not my intention to ruffle feathers. I’m attempting to explain my choices here, and how i arrived upon them. I’m here for the general measure of what counts as excellence. I am also free to use my own yardstick, as are you.

I think the way i look at it is valid, and could maybe be helpful to others who hesitate to share their art.
The bottom line to all of the this, the most basic and simple reason that i can provide as to why i insist on calling it not-poetry, is because…

Based on my fears and weaknesses, without the caveat* attached, i might not ever post any.**

Love and Peace to All,
~H~

* The caveat is the roll that gets my piece on the board. After that, i’m just playing the game.

** Which is admittedly contradictory to all that confidence i showed in my final points. But hey, i am what i am, and that includes inconvenient qualities like ambivalent, contradictory, and all too often hypocritical.

IMAGE: Alvaro Serrano

Up

Sometimes, my thoughts become so small, so insidious, that they slip between cracks in my brain
becoming trapped in the earth beneath

It’s here that the light is so very far away, and i know that i am a thing from the deepest darkness
made of hard clay and sand

My senses fill with ancient life, and i’m full of death and the taking of it, the taking and the making of life
persistent in the ever blackest earth

I shift dank fragrant soil towards the sun, the softest, tiniest glow, from the hottest brightest life
and i will myself up up up

Away from the deep cold lands, away from my old evil, from the dirt of knowledge that i’m a grave
My will leaves me for the sky

Up up up, through the crack from which the promise of gold beckons, a blur in the night
showing roots pointing to a better place

I know that i am the thing in the deep, but i reach high, scales and caked fingernails
poking through like a dandelion on the sidewalk

The sun bakes my scales into skin, my clodded earth now eyes and mouth
I walk clumsily because i’m always looking up

~ Mine, March 10, 2021

IMAGE: istock

Growing Up

Growing up isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, sure, but it’s integral to me having more of the life i want.

Every part of me, except the main me, is a child, in some form or fashion. They were all split off, frozen in time, or purposefully created, when i was very young. I think i’d stopped breaking myself off into pieces around 8 at the outside. My mother’s relationship with the man i called Daddy had been falling apart for a year or more by then, and took another year or so before its death throes were complete. For reasons i cannot fully ascertain or fathom, she fled their circle of friends and associates, cut off contact with everyone she knew save her parents, set up housekeeping in a small town with an underage boy, and began churning out babies.
Once we lived there i only had 2 predators to contend with (sometimes more, but not all the time), and the people who lived in my brain could handle 2 relatively easily. I’m as sure as i can be that the last new members joined my tribe sometime between 7 and 8yrs old.

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of work to get this far, maturity wise. I knew i needed to learn and grow and get more functional, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that i understood how much of a child i still was, in so many ways. My development was not only arrested by trauma, it was actively held back and hampered by a bunch of kids living in my brain. I would often jokingly say, “I’m ‘x’ years old, and i still don’t feel grown up.” There was a reason for that – i wasn’t. I only looked like an adult on the outside. On the inside i was a roiling tide of children. Even those parts of me that presented as an adult were merely a child’s conjectures and fabrications of what an adult was and how they acted. It was mighty humbling to see how immature i still was in so many ways, but it was the truth. It didn’t set me free, exactly, but it did give me tangible behaviours to work on changing.

After the initial mortification at discovering i was a big, poopyheaded babypants, i set about examining my various behaviours and holding them up in comparison to those i considered mature and good at “adulting.” I soon noticed something that gave me a burst of self-esteem. Turns out that i had surrounded myself with a variety of folks who were rather adept at various grownup-type stuffs.* I knew people who could pay their bills on time and keep to a budget. I had friends who kept a tidy home and person. I have friends with a remarkable level of mastery over their emotional responses. I know those who manage relationships respectfully and navigate life’s problems with careful, critical thought. They live life on life’s terms, and live it well.

Further, i marked that i had pulled away from relationships that fared poorly in a cost/benefit analysis. I saw that i’d eliminated abusive and/or go-with-the-flow family members, along with many i didn’t even know (which leaves one – just sayin’). And more than that, i’d toned down my involvements with local “friends” that i only had because i associated with them when i was manic. I now know that party buddies aren’t necessarily friends, and i discovered through social media and a few sober interactions that i wasn’t interested in anything more than shallow niceties:

Them: Oh hi, i haven’t seen you in forever! We should do coffee!

Me: Yeah sure, i’m free whenever, just text or DM me and let me know when!

(I learned it’s just something that some people seem to think they should say, and i’m happy to play the game, because i know it’s just empty words and they won’t follow through. I’m not mad about it, in fact it’s preferable to me. I’d rather not have to come up with a not-hurtful or not-rude reason why i don’t want to hang out with them anymore. If they wanted to hang out with me they would. I see it as them trying to be polite and not hurt my feelings, which is nice. I’m fine with a bit of light, mutual bullshittery.)

So, while it was hard on my delicate little feelings to see just how far i had to go to grow up, there was evidence that i was already working on it. Setting myself up for success, as it were. My circle of friends had become of my own choosing, and they were people who had something i wanted. They modeled a quality or behaviour that i wanted for myself. My friends today are people i want to be more like, in some way. I like being around those whose comportment i see as that of a good human. A lot of my friends today are very accomplished by the world’s standards, and to do that, one must embody some traits that i categorise as mature. As in, “behaving like an adult.”

I’m pondering all this today because i need to be as grown up as i can possibly be with respect to a particular area of my life right now. It’s extremely important, and how it plays out will definitely change my life, whether for good or ill. I must carefully consider what i want, how much i want it, and what i’m willing to do to get it. I must manage my emotions and keep a level head. I’ve invested a great deal, and it’s time to start collecting, or cash out. And if that happens, i’ll have to be the most grown up i’ve ever been.

As they say, i’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.
<insertincrediblydeepandunfortunatelynothistrionicsighhere>

One of the oddest things about being grown-up was looking back at something you thought you knew and finding out the truth of it was completely different from what you had always believed.
~ Patricia Briggs



Love and Peace,
~H~
* These are things i identify as being what adults do. These are basic, surface definitions and personal to me. If your house is a shambles or you’re always late, it’s not for me to say why that is – it’s for you. It may be because you need to grow up a bit, but it might be due to something else entirely. Things that i identify as problematic for my life might not bother you one whit.

IMAGE: Annie Spratt

Bleeding the Valve

Living a dissociated life, one where my thoughts and actions/reactions were dictated by and crafted for my long dead mother, not only made for some bluntly applied and obtusely processed understanding of myself as a person, but also not a small amount of naiveté regarding anyone i cared about. What i mean is, multiplicity aside, i was so focused on who i’d been raised to be that i didn’t, couldn’t in fact, see who i actually was. The messages i’d received from my mother and other various abusers had full control of my perceptions, rendering me intellectually and emotionally blind to how i presented to the world around me.

I remember confessing to one of my teachers in grade 11, that he was my favourite. His reply caught me completely off guard. He said, “Really, H? Honestly, i can’t tell with you. Half the time i think you hate my guts.” I was gobsmacked. I adored him – how could he not know? How could he possibly think i hated him?

I obsessed over this exchange for weeks. I look back at this time and see that i was capable of deep introspection, i just didn’t need to because i’d been raised to parrot my abuser’s beliefs and opinions about life, the universe, and everything. That included my personality, my character, and my nature. I wasn’t supposed to know or examine myself. I wasn’t allowed to ask any philosophical questions. I was created to serve, and that meant toeing the party line. In this particular case, i couldn’t not ponder it and try to figure out what had happened and what he meant. My mother’s brainwashing worked for other people in other situations. She’d programmed me to fall apart, take the blame, and bend over backwards to fix whatever the problem was, when something came up with her. This unconscious practise bled into all relationships with anyone i cared about.

What i came up with was an awareness of how sarcastic i was in my daily interactions with everyone, and how other people might not always “get it,” and even if they did, they might not like/appreciate it. I saw that my sarcasm frequently drifted into the domain of “caustic.” I was deeply ashamed and immediately endeavoured to control my mouth better. My mother had informed me many times that i was obnoxious, and this interchange with my beloved teacher confirmed her pronouncements – especially when it came to what kind of person i was. She knew me better than i knew myself. I couldn’t hide anything from her.

You may now cough-mutter the word bullshit into your cupped hand.
Or heck, just say it flat out.
Truth is she told me whatever would keep me quiescent and malleable.
Thoroughly believing that i was an awful person that only she could love accomplished her ends nicely.

Today i’m still having to spend extra time and effort to figure out where the truth lies with regards to who i am as a person, and how i’m presenting to the world around me. I’ve had to work my hardest to understand and employ the difference between humility and humiliation. Seeing many times in my past when i was various levels of asshole with other people, many of whom i loved dearly, has been most humbling. I’ve had to yank myself out of the muddy moon-pie of moping and brooding over how terrible i was, over and over and over again. There was a payoff for me in marinating in my crappy behaviours, and it all led back to my mother.

She’d rant and rail at me over what a bad child i was, and sometimes i’d deny it, but i’d always come around to her opinions and admit to whatever she’d accused me of. Whether or not i’d done the thing or was what she accused me of being never mattered at the end. I would eventually break down and tell her whatever she wanted to hear. If she didn’t take me to her bosom and grant me her forgiveness, she’d at least dangle the possibility of it and stop yelling and lecturing me. There was a rush, a release, in her forgiveness. It was an old, bare bone tossed to a starving dog. Even if she just quit talking and sent me away, it felt like the relief that flooded me when the hitting stopped. I could stop cowering and take a breath.

NOTE: Man, this level of mania is making it mighty difficult to organise my thoughts into something cogent. I took a couple of hours for self care and light housekeeping. My thinking is less jumbled and i don’t feel quite so scattered.

I bring up the past to show where i’ve come from and to demonstrate how things work in my brain as a result. This is how i processed information i received from others; in short: if anything goes wrong, it must be my fault. I’ll add that there were times social cues sailed way over my head and i simply didn’t know that things had gone wrong. At other times i was certain i’d screwed up in some way, only to find out later that i had not. Being a multiple who was dissociated at the best of times did not make me great at reading people, with a part of my system always at the ready to properly handle any and all situations. Nope. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it hindered. Sometimes it all exploded in my face and i wasn’t even aware anything had happened that required my attention.
I’ve come to think i’m as much of a mixed bag as most of us.

Today i am living in bipolar mania. The therapy i’ve been through, with it’s attendant homework, deep thought, and intensive study, has allowed me to know myself, and through that, to view my presentation to others more accurately. Mania today means i’m extremely irritable and highly emotional. It means i’m emotive, and most of the people and situations around me cause me an intense and disproportionate amount of emotional response. Today i am coping by blogging, remaining sober, maintaining contact with healthy people, and heavily curtailing my intake of news and social media.
I’m also purging some restless, angsty thoughts and feelings via some rants about politics and current events. Everything has the potential to rile me up, so i’m dumping the things that i can, as quickly as i can, so that i save my energy for the important stuff. My circle of friends know about my particular set of challenges, and have a long and storied experience of my “cycle,” as it were. They’ll stick around for my histrionics and bluster if they can, or come back later once the storm clouds have cleared up a bit.

Today has been a rough day, quite honestly. I have some issues with some people i care for very much. I’m making some adjustments to how i live, and with whom i associate and to what level, in order to prepare for what may be coming. I know i can’t make any big decisions at the moment, because mania, but i can tweak things a bit to ease emotional intensity and lighten the mental burdens i’ve been carrying. I hope these changes will help bring about more of what i want in life. I guess we’ll see.
Well, I’LL see, and then i’ll blab (blog) about it. Maybe. Okay, probably. Hopefully?

Try to have as good a week as you can.
I’ve not much hope for myself to that end, but i’ll invest my efforts, regardless.

Love and Peace,
~H~

IMAGE: Robert Anasch



On To The Next (Processing)

Relationships are hard. Parenting is hard. Parenting a grown person is… also hard. I don’t think i’ve ever felt like i knew what i was doing with my kids. I affected a confidence i didn’t feel around others, and parroted the party line of the religion i belonged to. Within the constraints of my church and while still closely associated with family, i thought i was doing a decent job – a good job, even. However, when the progression of my mental problems and the deepening of my primary relationship began stripping me down to bare bones, i started questioning everything. For the first half dozen years as a mom i was functional, but mostly unemotional, save the couple of times i lost control with my oldest and abused him while in a rage. The details are private. He knows i’m available both for showing up for therapy and paying for it, but so far he hasn’t taken me up on my offer. Says he forgives me and seems to want it left in the past. I’m the type (obviously – i mean, if you’ve read even 2 of my blog posts you know) who wants to look at and understand everything, plus fix it all. Make it all better. Make ME feel better. Assuage my guilt.

To be fair to me, it’s also because i’m a decent human who has been rightfully convicted of my own wrongdoings, and genuinely wants to clean up my messes and make any amends possible, wherever possible. Heal the world? I’m in.
But the last couple of years i’ve learned that i was trying to force a fix on my grown children.
This last year i’ve focused on letting go and letting them be. They get to be who they are, think what they think, and feel what they feel.
Whether they forgive me or not isn’t even my business, unless they choose to make it so.

It’s the same with how they remember the past and my parenting and how they process that, which includes not processing it at all. Which includes not wanting much or even anything to do with me. Which in turn has included a lot of tears and feeling sorry for myself and moping around about it – but i think i’m through the worst of that. I just get hit with the odd wave of sadness and regret. Like today. Mania makes me ripe for emotional indulgences. I see that, and so i’m writing about it to help me cope.

These emotions are almost worse than the fear and pain from my childhood. That stuff isn’t my fault. My feelings here can be traced to my failures as a mother. Sure, there are mitigating circumstances: childhood abuse and mental illness. But that doesn’t change the fact that my sons were my responsibility, and there were many times when i didn’t meet basic standards of care.

Today, i’m not sure i truly know any of them, but i know that i want to, very badly. It’s a test of how much i’ve learned, of how grown up i actually am at this point, to wait quietly and calmly in the wings for a moment that i have no right to expect to come. I’m reaping what i’ve sown, which in this case, really sucks. (I’ve sown lots of good stuff too, but that’s not what this post today is about.) Today i’m struggling with one particular relationship. I don’t know where the lines are here. Where is my responsibility and where is his? How much do i tolerate? I’m shutting down and avoiding him and our issues, which is creating a shit environment around us. I’m still not great at setting boundaries – i tend towards all or none. I had the sense to talk it over with a friend of mine and i feel better about things, but just as i was relating that to her last night i experienced more of the same issue. The details are private. This blog is about me and my problems, not anyone i’m in a close relationship with. For that i go to my therapist, my husband (if it’s not about him), my BFF (if it’s not about her), and my treasured, internet group (it’s never about them).*

So, yesterday sucked, and today ain’t lookin’ much better. I’ll do the best i can. I checked in with my online friends and got some hugs and support. I’m blogging about what’s going on. I’m handling my continuing physical issues, and hope to have answers and relief soon. My primary relationship is solid. I’ve trimmed even further back on casual friendships and associations. I have an old piece called, “Tell Me Who You Are, And I’ll Believe You,” which i’m living out in a deeper way. I’ve kept some in my circle because i don’t like conflict and they’re nice to me, but the truth is they aren’t very good people when i take a hard look at their actions and how they treat others that aren’t me. It won’t matter to them, even if they notice (they won’t). I know a big announcement isn’t required, and i won’t be making one. My geriatric years aren’t far off, and i just don’t want to waste time with associations with cruddy humans.

I’ve danced around it, so let me be plain-speaking: For years i collected “friends” as a way of coping with my lonely and abusive upbringing. I thought it would be a wall of protection, i thought it would validate me, that it would prove to those that hurt me in the past that they were wrong, and that it would save me from future hurts. At the end of this practise, i saw that it had done none of those things. I saw that i’d been wildly indiscriminate in my choices in friends. I learned that a certain level of judgment is necessary when i’m deciding whom to have be a part of my life. And if i use “Based On Results,” (a couple of blog posts back), and “Tell Me Who You Are… ” as my units of measurement, there were a lot of people in my life that shouldn’t be. They aren’t now. They’ll probably never realise it, and i see that as good fortune.

In summation, today i am melancholy and full of regrets. I can, will, and am handling it. Today will be what it will be, and i’ll get through it as well as i can. I will take care of myself, my home, and my loved ones where i’m able. I will let go of what i can’t manage and try to be gentle where it’s good to be, and give myself a little push here and there where it’s okay to do so. It’s likely that i’ll make a mistake or 2. I’ll acknowledge it, do what i can if it can be put right, and move on. On to the next.

Bought the land, tore the motherfuckin’ house down
Bought the car, tore the motherfuckin’ roof off
Ride clean, I don’t never take th’shoes off
~ On To The Next One, Jay-Z (Swizz Beatz)

Happy Friday, and Here’s to a Good Weekend,
Love and Peace,
~H~

*Not to say i talk about these people behind their backs. I do to a certain extent, but only to process: to figure out what’s going on so i can properly address the issue; with them if it’s required/important. I handle things better if i can take a step back and get someone else’s eyes on the situation before i proceed.

IMAGE: Avinash Kumar

Identifying Issues In Real Time

Like i wrote yesterday in my hey-let’s-blog-through-a-mania-and-see-what-happens! post, i can see evidence that i am, indeed, in a manic state. While proofreading i became progressively more wound up and irritated, until i snapped at both my husband and my son for no particular reason. I apologised immediately and arranged to be alone, so as to avoid any further stress. The extra awareness i have from blogging enabled me to mark my churlishness in real time. While the words and the tone were leaving my mouth i knew they were inappropriate for the situation, and had to do with me and my mental state, and nothing whatever to do with my husband or son.
That’s kind of awesome.
As a highly dissociative person i’ve spent more time cleaning up relationship messes than most. My Bits N’ Pieces can slide into the face and do all sorts of damage, but it’s not just parts of my system. I’ve spent a great deal of my life floating around, not entirely focused on other people, my surroundings, or my situations. I’m sure i came off as rather vapid sometimes, but i was distancing myself out of fear. I expected to be hurt, and between home and school, i was right to expect it.

Yesterday, i knew i’d spoken out of turn.
I knew it was about my mental state and not about them.
I apologised, and made amends by changing the situation to reduce stress. I took some time alone to ground and centre myself.
I reaffirmed that Yeah, i’m acting manic, but i know it.
I can identify the behaviours as they’re happening:
– i saw it in my blog post;
– i saw it in my interactions with my family;
– i marked it in my racing thoughts;
– i felt it in my intense emotions.
I reminded myself how much work i’ve done and that i’ve accumulated many coping skills.
I told myself that it’s gonna be okay and i can handle this –and if i can’t– i know i can and will seek help. I know what to do, i know where to go, and i have excellent, completely trustworthy support.

Today my pinched nerve flared up and it was hard to breathe and move around. I reached out to friends and asked for support by way of funny and/or lovely distractions, which were quickly provided. I took some pain relievers and rested in bed, reading and watching a movie. I easily banished any guilty feelings. When i felt able to, i got up, made my bed, got dressed, did my skin care and slapped on some makeup. I was able to be there for a friend who needed to talk. I taught my son how to make homemade tomato soup.

My husband came home from work early, so we grabbed a drive-thru coffee and talked about our day.
I can still feel irritation bubbling around inside me, but i know it’s coming from me and not anyone else. I’M the cause of my hair trigger annoyance, not anyone or anything else. The knowledge gives me enough inner strength to stand down, take a step back, and breathe through it until it passes. I was inexplicably gripped by panic a few times today too, and i handled it the same way. I acknowledged it, i knew where it was coming from, and i took some time to breathe and tell myself positive and encouraging things until the feeling passed.

Now i’m going to make grilled cheese sandwiches to go with the soup, and i’m going to spend time with my guys and shnuggle my pets.
Today was a fine day.
Looking forward to tomorrow.

Love and Peace,
~H~

IMAGE: Jennifer Burk

Based On Results

After my mother died, my stepfather was left with a lot to process, i’m sure. She’d gotten her hooks into him early, starting when she’d babysit him and his siblings when they were very small children, and then later, when he was an adolescent. I know the sexual abuse began quickly, and by the time he was 15 he’d quit high school and was living with us. When he turned off her life support (a car accident involving a drunk driver), she was 45 and he was 27.

Some time after she was gone, he came for a visit, and said he’d paid for my registration to attend this week long, group therapy/encounter session course. Told me it was transformative. I went, mostly because i did whatever he’d ask of me. That was back in the day when i put all the blame for the abuse on her alone, and didn’t hold him accountable. (It was always niggling around in the back of my mind, though. It was some years before i was able to see that childhood abuse doesn’t excuse one from committing child abuse.) I was still seeking acceptance and approval – especially from a person who’d functioned in a parental capacity for more than 12yrs.

The group was your typical encounter group (i say typical because i have a lot of experience with various forms of therapy, starting early in my childhood). They asked questions like, “What are you pretending not to know?” and yelled at us like they were drill sergeants. One phrase they repeated over and over was, “Based on results…”

For example:
– Based on results, you don’t think you’re worth anything better than getting hit every night;
– Based on results, you’re satisfied with the amount of money your boss pays you to do your job;
– Based on results, you’re exactly where you want to be in life.

In short – they were a bunch of jerks. I ate it up at the time, of course. I thought they were amazing, and even paid for the next level. Most of the instructors were arrogant and sarcastic, and talked to us like we were idiots. That’s just how my parents acted, so i ate that shit up.
But like my experiences with other courses, therapy/therapists, and programs (self help and not), i did learn some stuff i’ve been able to apply. One of those places actually taught me that when they told me, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”
Thank you, i will.

Although the course came at their base concepts with a crappy tone, like, How could you not know this? Duh! i could see the wake up call it could provide me. It reminded me that most people wanted things in life, and they were setting goals and working towards them. I was starting to see that i wasn’t living, so much as being tossed about on the waters of life, no course, no rudder. I knew my situation wouldn’t change unless i took active steps to do so. I’m still being generous to them though, because all the courses ultimately were was what many might refer to as “common sense.” They couched it in the current pop psychology slang, revealed it to us in a strangely militaristic style within school play scenarios. Then they tempted and taunted us with promises of hidden, esoteric knowledge, and the thing i wanted most – to belong. This was an exclusive club, and all i had to do was come up with enough money to ascend to the upper echelons (where i could wear expensive suits and treat people like they were stupid, too!)

Right here is where i could become caustic in my commentary, suffice to say that i have a significant amount of experience with the pop psychology/self help world of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It’s probably obvious what my opinion is regarding such, so i’ll leave it there. It wasn’t all awful, and i was able to glean some things from all of the steps and levels and playacting. I’ve seen such programs do a great deal of good for a number of people. For me personally, i couldn’t share to the depth some required. I’d been raised to keep some things hidden, and as a multiple i’d done that so well that even i didn’t know a lot of things. Also, the complexity of my problems proved unmasterable by the quick fix, and my past full of religious issues never lent itself well to any membership requirements or steps to success or common referrals to anyone’s god/supernatural beliefs.*

Back to the oft-repeated phrase of my title. While the group’s liberal use of it seems like victim-blaming a bunch a variously broken and desperately seeking people –as i’ve done with so much of that psychological pablum– i’ve turned it into something i can use. Which, to put aside my obviously hurt and angry feelings for 1 darn second, may have been their intention. (Some of them. Others were just opportunistic dicks.)

I’ve recently suffered a fairly serious setback to my physical health. These days i’m limited in what i can accomplish along the lines of housework and exercise. Because these are 2 of the best things i do to feed and maintain my self-esteem, i’ve been feeling a bit down, emotionally speaking. I don’t feel useful, and worse, i feel like a burden on those i love most. I’ve felt like a pathetic slob. I knew if i didn’t address these thoughts and feelings soon, i’d find myself in a spiral.
So am i a useless layabout? Best way to handle the messages my brain is sending me is to meet them head on, so to speak. Heh.

If i were to judge how successful i am based on results… I am fairly successful. I have more than enough of everything i need to physically survive, emotionally thrive, and more than enough mental stimulation at my literal fingertips to keep learning and growing as a human. And i’m the one who built this life around me. A lot of the life i enjoy today is a direct result of choices i made and yes, the toil of my own hands. I have only the people in my life that i want to, and do only that which i want or am at least willing, to do. I am a living combination of fortunate and scrappy.

All to say i now find it occasionally useful to ask myself, Based on results:

– am i healthy;
– am i successful;
– am i happy/satisfied?

The questions, to my mind, encourage me to evaluate what i’m producing.
Am i putting out into the world what i intend?
Am i coming along well, progressing, moving along this path at a decent pace, achieving goals and racking up some accomplishments as i go?
Am i more the person i want to be?
Do i have more of what i want?

Perhaps i’m in the weeds emotionally/mentally. Maybe i’ve got some issues in one of my relationships. I might look inward and feel unhappy and/or dissatisfied. I might look in the mirror and have trouble focusing because i don’t like what i see. Then there are more questions:

Is this a result of either action or inaction on my part?
Is this just life doing what life does?
Is this just an uncomfortable and/or difficult part of an ongoing process?

Depending on the answers there are, of course, more questions.
Do i need to change something?
Do i need to work/work harder at something?
Have i missed something i could be doing, or dropped something i used to do, that has, or might help?

Today, was a slow, decent day. I had to kick my own ass a bit to get moving, but i had reasonable expectations that i based on my current situation. I had an idea, based on the time i’ve spent in this current situation, of how much energy i had to spend. I asked myself, based on that, what was most important to me to accomplish. Then i started at the top and worked my way down, stopping when, based on prior experience, i recognised my body telling me that to continue accomplishing more would likely cost me more spoons than i wanted to use. In other words, continuing to cross things off my to-do list might potentially intensify my pain and/or my manic state.

And so, based on what i know and what i wanted, i finished the day satisfied with how i’d conducted myself, and pleased with my results. Today was a good day. I’m still manic, and i’m dealing with a fair amount of physical pain, which limits what i can do, but i got enough done. Beyond basic hygiene and light housekeeping though, my interpersonal relationships were rewarding and nurturing and supportive for all parties involved. I’m pleased with my conduct, and the people i interacted with are satisfied with mine (i asked).

If i wasn’t satisfied with some aspect of how i’d lived the day, i’d take a look and try and figure out what went wrong or otherwise didn’t happen the way i wanted. From there i’d maybe try something different or try a bit harder or cut myself a bit more slack. Tweaking things here and there to see if i can improve on things.
Then based on results, i’ll change or alter something.
It’s all designed to get more of what i want and less of what i don’t.

Today was decent. As i proofread and edit, however, i can see strong evidence of my mania in this post. It’s a bit nonsensical and rambly, and i’m not sure there’s a cogent point here. I mean, i can see lots of good stuff, but it’s not put together particularly well.
I sat on it for a few hours while i decided whether or not to put it up.
I’ve decided to throw it up because, if nothing else, it can serve as a demonstration of my process through times when my brain function is particularly problematic. Maybe this doesn’t seem as frantic and lost to anyone else. There have been times before when i’ve posted something that i thought was a bit too far out, only to read it later and think it wasn’t that big a deal at all. This entry reads jumbled and meandering and very animated, to me.

So there you have it. I’m manic in a pandemic and this is how my brain’s handling it. I’m doing pretty well, all things considered. I have excellent support and i know that i’ll just keep on truckin’ until i’ve moved through whatever this is and on to the next adventure.
Is this what my grandmother would have called a dog’s breakfast?
Heh.

I’ll check in tomorrow if i can, and i guess we’ll see how it’s all going.
Until then, y’all hang in there.
Love and Peace,
~H~

*I will say, steps and programs and other people’s gods taught me something extremely important, and that is that my path is my own. I found the way to health and freedom and happiness by seeing that i was going my own way, and so is everyone else. They all helped me to know myself and find my voice, insofar as i understood that i want to tell the story of how i have learned to live and even thrive, with the circumstances of my birth and upbringing, and my overarching message is that it CAN be done, rather than HOW.

IMAGE: Amador Loureiro

Ninja Brain

I know I’ve got a tendency
To exaggerate what I’m seein’
And I know that it’s unfair of me
To make a memory out of a feelin’
It’s ’cause I notice every single thing
That’s ever happening in the moment
And I don’t know why it’s consumin’ me
~ I Hate Everybody, Halsey


I am bipolar. I was diagnosed less than 20yrs ago. I have the kind of bipolar characterised by intense manias. My first diagnosed mania lasted more than 2yrs. After that, i plunged into a depression that was as deep as my mania had been high, and it lasted about as long. What followed were years of long, slow, intense cycling between the 2. I could always count on my depression to be inversely proportional to my mania.

I now think that has changed. As i’ve learned to deal with my incredibly interesting brain (if you’re reading a sarcastic tone here, you get an internet cookie), my cycling has shortened and the intensity of each aspect has lessened. Thank goodness. For the first number of years i was in and out of hospital. It was, ah, kind of a big deal. It was part of what broke me down to the point where i was finally willing to deal with my DID diagnosis. As soon as i found a therapist i could work with in that area (hahaha, i used the word “soon”), my issues with being bipolar swiftly took a backseat. The mental health professionals in my area (and let’s be clear, when i started dealing with my multiplicity, i lived in a very metropolitan area of over 1 million), treated DID like a fart in church. Out of all the quirks and eccentricities and generally not typical neurological processing going on in my brain, the dissociation aspects have proved the most disruptive and problematic.

My therapist deals with causes though, rather than symptoms, so it didn’t matter that my Bits N’ Pieces were consistently taking centre stage, because it all stemmed from a couple of root causes. As with anyone, it’s nature, it’s nurture – where and to what extent is unique and individual. Both my manic and depressive behaviours were easily identifiable to me, and i had accumulated a good amount of education from various sources from which i was able to assemble a handy toolkit for that particular flavour of my crazy.* There are some parts of my system that seem to be able to be affected by mania/depression, others that don’t. It didn’t matter because it all wound up being processed by me with my therapist.

Over time i eventually (mostly) stopped even seeing the way my brain works in terms of the diagnoses i’ve been given. Now i just check in consciously every day (more if necessary), figure out where i’m at, and adjust my lifestyle accordingly. I do basic brain housekeeping, fix simple problems on my own, and call in a professional when the job is too big or complicated for me to handle by myself. I’ve settled in to a remarkably functional, daily routine. When the virus hit, i kept my therapy up by phone, but a couple of months ago i felt well enough to take a break. Peopling is the biggest trigger for me, so being isolated has drastically cut down on my emotional upheaval and any resultant dysfunction.

But.

It’s been creeping up in the background, so subtly i completely missed its approach. I saw it for what it was on my recent wedding anniversary. I got too stimulated and became agitated. I switched soon afterward and lost a couple of days. I don’t always need or want a blow-by-blow account of what happens when i’m dissociated, but this time i did. The more i heard the more obvious it became that i’m currently manic. I couldn’t see it when i was in the face, but when switching gave me a bit of distance, it became abundantly clear. I’m extremely easily annoyed and deeply paranoid. I want to use drugs and alcohol to excess. I go from 0-60 emotionally, in mere seconds. I can go from calm to complete overwhelm in the space of a single breath. My thoughts are racing so fast it’s been hard to identify what i’m thinking about anything. And i’ve been chasing sleep for a couple of weeks.
The thing that might have thrown me off the scent of anything being wrong is that my last bipolar episode was also a mania. I skipped the depression part. In fact, i think i’ve been skipping the depression side of my bipolar for some time, now.

I don’t know what this means for my diagnosis. It doesn’t currently matter because the symptoms are manageable and i’ll keep dealing with the cause, as well. I’m wondering if maybe it wouldn’t be helpful to do a daily blog for a bit. It could help with staying conscious and grounded. It could point out if/when i need to call in a professional. It could provide some extra focus and reaffirm my commitment to this work. Sometimes my brain is a ninja.

I have no idea how useful it would be for anyone else. My physical health is in the dumper, and now with mania too, i’m having trouble with cogent thinking and communication. It might be a shitshow. Let’s find out, shall we? Heh.

Love and Peace,
~H~
* I use words that some see as a pejorative to describe myself, because i find it freeing and healing to do so, YMMV.

IMAGE: Matthew Brodeur

My Legitimate Excuses

My mother gave no quarter. If it ever appeared like she had, she was merely playing the long game with you; a marker to be collected at some later date. She never forgot a perceived debt. For herself however, there was no end to the reasons that she wouldn’t/shouldn’t/couldn’t do the thing. Some of her favourites were:

– her awful childhood;
– she was poor;
– they did a bad thing, so she didn’t have to.

I don’t know the truth about her childhood. Most everyone involved is dead. She told so many stories. Although i’ve been able to disprove some, i can believe it was at least somewhat rough. Her family was the only non-practitioner of the favoured religion in a small community – in all the surrounding communities. Her father refused a business opportunity with his neighbours, temporarily putting the venture in jeopardy. Her mother wasn’t interested in church teas or local gossip or community activities. She was adopted, and it was during a time when such children were viewed with a jaundiced eye. Her parents were distant and not affectionate. She was of above average size for a girl, both thick and tall. Add to all that, her little brother was everyone’s favourite due to being the local baseball star.

While i don’t remember much until i was around 3, i can guess based on the memories that i do have that she probably used me as an excuse from the jump. I wouldn’t put it past her to have had me in part for that reason. In fact, i think she popped out 4 babies in quick succession with my stepfather so that she could avoid work, and anchor him to her. She may have tried to use me to keep my biological father, but it didn’t work. I was the reason she couldn’t get ahead, why she wasn’t living up to my grandparents’ expectations, why she couldn’t keep a man. I know she loved it when i was diagnosed with a moderate/severe form of childhood epilepsy, because i heard her expound at length to anyone who’d listen about my seizures and doctors appointments and how much time and worry and how was she supposed to pay for all the travel and special diet and medication? And when she began piling on the pounds and withdrawing from society, we were all constantly reminded of how tough she’d had it and how much tougher we were making it for her to be… Anything. Happy, healthy, financially stable, accomplished, attend some event she was invited to, be on time for an appointment. Everything. Excuses.

My takeaway was twofold. Because i was the “reason” my mother couldn’t achieve success, i learned that i needed an excuse for my very existence. I also learned something more insidious – that there were no excuses for me. There was a subconscious level at which i understood that my mother’s proffered exemptions were, as my generation might put it, lame. I couldn’t acknowledge, contemplate, or in any way live out that awareness, because it would put me in actual physical danger. But as it was for me with many things, i was able to tuck it away in a hidden compartment of my mind, that i’ve since been able to access and use. The insidious part of it was that, while i wasn’t aware of it, it seeped into my self-perception. The result was that for decades, i knew that there was no excuse for how fucked up i was, due to those unconscious, internalised messages. Well, that and growing up observing my mother’s liberal use of disingenuous ones.

What i know now is that, for me, there is no excuse for her level of abuse and neglect of me. As for the rest (e.g. whether or not there’s an excuse for how dysfunctional she was, or how abusive and neglectful she was to my sibs), i either don’t concern myself with it, or don’t consider it my place to judge.

~Background, set.~

Today, after decades of therapy and internal work, i’m learning to apply the knowledge i’ve gathered, using methods i’ve developed that suit the way my brain works. I’m an overthinker, which is part my personality, and part mental illness/neuroatypicality. When thinking deeply about myself, life, the universe, and everything, this only becomes a problem if i get stuck in the mud and i’m just spinning my tires. I can easily recognise that state by rising anxiety, and the same thoughts echoing, over and over inside my head. I’ve even found a way to test if my perception is accurate. I pick up whatever book is currently on my side table and start to read. If i struggle to finish a paragraph, if fragments of the sentences are repeating, bouncing around in my thoughts and i’m unable to catch them and make any sense of the words – then i know i’m in Overthinky Land.

These days of global self-isolation have afforded me even more time than usual to think. At first i felt dread, Oh no, here we go again… I worried that i’d become so entangled in my thoughts that i’d lose myself to them. Lose control of my thoughts, my brain, my system. Lose control of the face, lose time, lose myself. I didn’t, though. Being an introvert and a veritable hermit when the pandemic hit was a boon. I didn’t have to change the way i lived, much. And my reasons for living so long in near-complete seclusion had both prepared me for our current reality, and allowed me to continue my personal inner work.

~End Scene One~

What i’m experiencing in my life over the last year would be my mother’s wet dream. The pandemic would provide an easy and legitimate excuse for any and all purposes. She had a tough childhood, she’d experienced severe poverty (not with her parents, but at her own doing), she had health issues (which were also, to some degree her own doing), and now OMGTEHPANDEMICSHALP!!!!11!1

I, however, am not my mother. I am, through serious, long term effort and commitment, a decent human of my own creation. I see where i came from and how that moulded me into the dysfunctional adult that i was, and i’ve gone to great lengths to become a functional human. A decent one too, i think. There is more work yet to do though (of course, and always shall be), and here i stand, seeing the choices arrayed around me, like open, upturned faces in the audience at my one-woman show.
They’ve watched the prologue, and sat silently through the first act. The lights are dimming on their expectant faces and i’m moving to centre stage to begin Act Two.

Will it be more of Act One? It could be. I could still weave an interesting tale. I’m entertaining and charismatic, and folks would walk away feeling they’d seen a good performance, probably even (dare i say) excellent. But i took big risks my first 2 appearances in the spotlight, just by the straight up telling of it. If i give them more of the same, well… I’ve already given them 2 sad songs (you’ve gotta know my show is a musical, right?) Why not take another chance, and why not make it a big one? I could strut out on that stage and give ’em a real showstopper. A number that’s not exactly a twist, more like an exciting plot development.

If you come to my show you get more than the price of admission. You’re going to get my best. I’m headin’ to Broadway for a long run.

Cue music!
Curtain up!

Aaaand LIGHTS!

NO EXCUSES

IMAGE: Barry Weatherall