Thursday, September 1, 2011

Broken Child: Deep Seeds of Depression - Were they planted from birth?

I've broken down my story into six parts. These excerpts point to the beginnings of my depression. From what I have gathered, I was in great need of enlightenment and guidance.


In my search to understand my depression, I needed to go back to when I first felt it. Like Freud would say, “Tell me about your childhood.”

But I can’t tell you when I first felt it. It was already a part of me before even sentience. It has always been there.

My childhood was not a pleasant one. When people say the “good ole days,” I cringe and think, “What good ole days? I never want to relive those days again.” They were agony for me so forgetting them seems so right. But revelations come every so often with age. I’ve come to understand how the confluence of events and circumstances created a ‘perfect storm’ leading to my distress, fear, and confusion of those “ole days”.

Conditions were just right for a clueless little girl to read all the wrong signs, to misunderstand so many meanings, to look inwardly for the problems that plagued her mind and heart. The most important element missing was guidance. As an adult, I cannot stress enough how important the impact of guidance can have in a young person’s life. I needed guidance to help me understand what was going on around me. My mom was way too busy with the other four babies to help me and my dad was too tired and worn out by work. My parents could not help me and my teachers couldn’t either. I couldn’t articulate my issues. No one could anticipate how I would interpret the things that were happening to me. I was in uncharted territory and on my own.

Was the Seed of Depression Planted – Is Crying a Learned Response?
As far as I can remember, I cried. I cried about everything. If someone looked at me and I didn’t like it, I cried. If someone admonished, teased me, giggled at me, pointed at me, looked mean, yelled at me, showed disgust or disdain, said something mean, stuck their tongue out at me, or called on me when I was unprepared, or worse, ignored me, I cried. Everything wounded me. My crying jags were monumental, legendary even. The more people tried to appease me the worse I got. Family, teachers and classmates soon knew me as the crybaby. I was teased by my siblings, exasperated friends and teachers, and ridiculed by classmates.

At my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, many old family friends and neighbors told stories, reminiscing about the good times, the great parties, and about their lives together in the 1940’s and 1950’s. One family friend recounted the story of when my mom lost her first child, my brother when he was three years old. He died the same week my mother gave birth to me. The friend leaned over and whispered that all my mother’s friends were highly concerned for her sanity, her grief was so great and no one could console her. It took months and months before she was able to cope. This was a revelation to me.

My mother’s first child, a boy, the sweetest, gentle soul, I’ve been told by so many, died when my mother was in the hospital giving birth to me. I looked at my son, now sixteen, sitting across the table from me, and my heart broke for my mom. I did not want to imagine that kind of grief.

I asked my mother several days later about that time in her life. I asked her if when holding me, did she cry for her son. She told me she cried practically non-stop for a full year until my sister was born. She then realized herself that she cried whenever she held me, that all I heard for the first year of my life was her immeasurable grief.

Did the seed of my depression go that far back in my history? I don’t know. But I think if I had realized it sooner, I might have been able to put my crying jags into perspective instead of thinking I was crazy.

Next time, Part Two of Clueless and in Total Confusion – the Elementary Years - Too Young for School

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Opened the Door and Said No

The other day, I opened my bedroom door and could not think of any reason to leave. I stood there looked out and no one was there. Nothing or no one to greet me. I ran down the checklist in my head of what needed to get done, and I found nothing. There doesn’t seem to be a purpose for me that day. No one needed me, nothing needed to be done, deadlines were nowhere in sight. I was unsure of what to do. I closed the door and returned to my bed.

As I lay there, I decided that there was no reason to get out of bed all day or all night. My hips fell asleep. I’m getting sore lying here. No television to distract. Some sleep. No food. But I don’t care. Oh I know I will get up tomorrow because there is something I am supposed to get done tomorrow. I see my future. An old woman lying on her bed in the fetal position, getting sore, getting bedsores and not caring. Or worse, caring but only when it’s too late to change.

This is the first time that I have done this. I mean I have lain in bed all day before in my life, but because I was already depressed. But today was the first time, I found no purpose. The first time I have gotten up with real intention and when I opened my door and looked out, nothing was there. It was a big fat blank out there. The first time I closed the door and said no.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Analyzing the Flashback

The Flashback

When I get like this, I need about a week or so to figure out what’s really bothering me. Over the decades, I figured out a process that helps me recognize and pinpoint the exact moment when I got the darkest. The conflict starts inside of me unconsciously and then it manifests itself as an outburst. I feel angry at everything. I finally explode with irrational anger or manic depression. The outburst is way out of proportion for the infraction and I lash out with fury. Then the search is on - why? Why did I react this way? If I can find the trigger, I can get rid of the negativity.

The most shocking thing of all is to find that the thing that knocked the breath out of me today was the exact same thing that knocked it out of me when I was a seven year old. Who knew that at the age of 47, when I feel more in control of my mental and physical capabilities and potential that I can experience in a flash, the wave of intense emotion that I had not felt in years. It was truly unpleasant and sorely unsettling because it came like a lightning bolt. I was expecting enthusiastic approval but instead got transported back in time, to a time similar to this one, seeking approval and getting nothing. NOTHING. How deeply it had affected me then, and how quickly it reached up and grabbed me by the throat now was the biggest surprise.

I remember bringing home four A’s and one B, and mom said, “Why couldn’t you get all A’s?” or when I amazingly was a runner up in our two-class spelling bee. I was extremely shy, constantly bordering on anxiety attacks. To stay in front of the classroom, in the limelight, as all the other “spellers” were eliminated was a real triumph for me. When I came home with the news that I was runner-up and almost won, I heard, “I knew you couldn’t win.”

Later in life, when I asked my father if he was proud of me, he would say, “No, I can’t be proud of anything. It is a character flaw to be proud.” I told him that I really didn’t mean that particular meaning of the word, that he might be able to feel pride that I was his daughter and was a good student. He said again he could not be proud of me because it was a sin.

So when I waited for someone (translation: husband and 17 year old son) to enthusiastically want to read my first printed piece in the local paper, (with picture and by-line, thank you very much) and no one volunteered, I felt an old hurt. I thought, “Oh well, it doesn’t really matter.” They were happy for me and thought it was great, but they would read it later. I shrugged off the hurt. But later became days later and only when I brought the subject up again did they read the piece.

Luckily for me when I told my sisters about it, they couldn’t wait to read it and insisted I show it to them immediately. One sister insisted I fax it to her; the other went to buy the paper and called me back. Ah, thank God for supportive sisters. They exhibited just the right amount of delight, enthusiasm and kudos for my first literary triumph. They extended the joy for me. They were proud of me. It was immediate and oh so satisfying.

But the real support that I needed was the “want” to read my article or more so, the “need” to read my accomplishment by those closest to me. I do it for them all the time. I was always the cheerleader for my husband and son. If it was important to them, it was as important to me. I shrugged my shoulders and let it pass thinking that they were “just” men, as though that was justification. I thought why am I feeling like a seven year old. “Come on. Get it together.”

I kept saying it didn’t matter and convinced myself that my reaction was just a manifestation of a past event and really had nothing to do with the present. But then something else makes you angry about two weeks later, just a little thing among a thousand other little things and I blew up. What’s wrong with you? Why get upset over such a trifle? I didn’t know what was bothering me. But I knew from experience that if I blew up like that it meant something else was gnawing at me and for my own sanity, I now have to figure out.

At this point I become my own analyst. (German accent.) “Why do you think you blew up? Was there anything recently in your life to upset you? Tell me about your childhood. Ah, I see.” Then I realized it was that my husband and son never asked to read my article without my prompting much later. It was not a top priority for them. It didn’t really matter to them. I translated that to mean that I was not a priority to them. I realized further that the reason that it affected me so adversely and intensively was because of a past childhood experience. Not the same experience, but the same feeling on how it felt to be dismissed. I was amazed that this old feeling could reach all the way up through forty years and grab me so intensely.

So you might think you are well over certain old childhood hurts. As an adult, things like this shouldn’t bother you. But there are times and when you least expect it, that past and present will meld and you will be knocked for a loop.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Denying The Light

Even in the darkest moments, light tries to filter through, even through a pinhole.

We know it is there, trying to talk to us, to make us see.

The effort is in denying the sliver of light.

Not to acknowledge that it is there, that it even exists at all.

We close our eyes, becoming blind to the light.

But in the act of closing our eyes, in the act of trying not to see, we acknowledge its existence.

The light is there. It cannot be denied.

Open your eyes. Bravely open your eyes and face the light.

Because it is there, you must give it its due, its chance to save you.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Swimming Life's Ocean

Life is like swimming an ocean. As children you stayed near shore in the shallows. You could frolic in the water with abandon, without strife, able to sit in the water, with one cheek in the ocean and the other on the sand.

But as you get older and bolder, you frolic farther out, bringing toys to play in the wind and sea. Life is a thrill. You are vibrant and intense on so many levels. But yet, you learn a healthy respect for the ocean of life. And it’s frightening out there. You might have already experienced Life’s slap. It might be too much for some of you and you quickly head back to shore. Peter Pan forever.

Then it’s time to swim because you’re way out there on your own. There’s no shore. Pick a direction and go. Find your own shore. Swim! Swim. You have to swim.

From now on in Life, you swim, and swim, and swim. In Life’s ocean, there is always someone swimming. Maybe they are swimming below the water line, poor bastards, the struggle immense. Or you might look up and yeah, some lucky or rich sons of bitches are skimming over the top of the water barely getting their feet wet. And you keep swimming. You become a strong swimmer and get respites when you reach a sand bar or two. But a sand foundation is not stable and erodes, so you swim on.

How many people are fuckin’ swimming out here anyways? See there, some have come to a stop. Sitting alone atop a small un-tethered island where the legal safety limit of occupancy is one. For so many reasons, they will stay out here in the vast ocean of life and let the currents take them where it may. I look at them with slight envy and at the same time with pity. I need to swim on.

See there below me, some are drowning. The depths, the murky waters and even the light coming through the water doesn’t help. It’s hard to see them through the moving prisms of light and ocean waves giving me the illusion that they're moving ever so slowly. But no, they are not. They look upward with unseeing blank eyes. I turn away and swim harder. I don’t want to be lured downward and become a permanent guest.

Then I catch up to the slow ones, the old ones. They have been swimming for years and their struggle shows in their faces. I’m afraid of them. They are reminders of things yet to come. They look around for someone to help them, yelling out that they have wisdom in swimming, things to teach if one would come to them. But no one will come. What do I have, to trade for this wisdom, the little strength I have left, to help buoy them? So many swim away.

See there, some are skimming. There is no swimming for them. Oh, they will tell you they have swum before, or that their struggle is as mighty as anyone else’s, but we don’t believe them. They run over us with their boards or boats, sails in the wind, too fast to see the people struggling in the water. They belong above the water line and see nothing but the horizon in front of them.

Most want to be skimmers. But for most of us, we will always be swimming, constantly.

To be happy do I have to make believe I like to swim? Become adept in Life’s ocean? Learn to take more breaths than to gulp water? Not happy perhaps, even tortured by it at times, but resigned and accepting that I will be swimming to the end of my days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Siblings - Time to Just Get Over It

A few years back I tried writing a story about my family. We’re a little quirky and I thought it would be fun to write down some of the stories of my youth. Mom recently told me some stories, or filled in some gaps, and it got me thinking about preserving some of the family’s history. I wrote stories about my mother and father, stories we loved to tell. I remembered all the crazy stuff we used to do, the funny situations we got ourselves into, and how imaginative we were. I thought writing a book about our lives might be interesting reading.

After writing about my parents, I turned to describing my siblings and our childhood relationship. As I wrote, trying to jot down all the ideas and experiences to flesh them out later, my mood changed. It got darker and darker because I remembered that my relationship with my siblings were not always happy ones. By recounting the past, I reopened old wounds. Here I was forty years later, and rehashing these old stories and memories made me feel awful. This was an exercise I should not have engaged. I didn’t realize that this exercise would affect me this way.

We were getting together at Christmas and I thought I would pick their brains about certain events and what they remembered from our youth. I also wanted their version of the stories, just in case I missed an important detail or maybe get fresh stories that I didn’t hear before.

But the more I wrote the more aggravated I became. Old wounds were felt again, old words resonated in my head again. Their past cruelty, or perceived cruelty put me in a depression. Obviously I wasn’t ready to write these feelings or stories down.

The problem is that I attempted this just before Christmas. We were all cool with one another. We love and support each other very much. Our relationship went from fighting siblings to highly supportive and loving women, mothers, and sisters. The bonds are very strong.

But after the above exercise, I no longer wanted to go to the party. I didn’t see the point of spending time with my siblings. I did go, but with a heavy heart and old resentments.

I noticed that whenever I joined in a group, the group would disperse within ten seconds. My presence seemed to be the deciding factor to go talk to someone else. WTF? You might say I was paranoid, but I wasn’t. It’s happened most of my life. We’ve all been through it. My sisters only half listened to me most of the time. Let me count the number of times that my sentence was cut mid sentence by their enthusiasm to speak to someone else. Someone they loved more. It cemented my mood.

As children, I was their adversary. I was their doormat. I was the geek, the nerd, and the ugly. “You are so ugly, no one wants you.” Their laughter echoed in my ears. The distant memories kept floating to the surface.

Why am I here at this party? Why do I come to any of them at all? I was not the popular sister. I was the moody shy one, the crybaby, and the overly sensitive sister. I admit I don’t have much of a sense of humor either and absolutely no patience. The stories made me re-evaluate my present standing within the family. And what I saw I didn’t like.

They wouldn’t miss me at all. They always say they do, because of course you miss family when they aren’t there during a traditional, somewhat mandatory family party. It’s like missing a piece of the puzzle; you need it to make the family unit feel complete.

But I fouled myself by remembering those childhood feelings, the emotions that they were able to evoke. The way they expertly pushed all of my buttons, by feeding my self-doubt and poor self esteem. Was there no solace even at home when I was a kid? No. The taunting was the same whether by the kids at school or by my siblings. There was no refuge.

Man was I a bummer at that party. Took me three months to get out of the funk when I thought of my siblings.

Some things are better left forgotten.