School Running(-Around-Like-A-Headless-Chicken)

The school year has begun. The boys have both been doing brilliantly so far, and I’ve been doing pretty well, considering this time three months ago I was terrified of taking my kids to school.

Was I concerned they wouldn’t do so well? Not really. The little one was very confident and excited to don his uniform and go learn some stuff. The big one was excited he got new stationary supplies and a new backpack with hidden pockets. They were both ready. But I was not.

Rewind to just a few months ago, I found it hard to get out of bed until nine-o-clock or later. I couldn’t do mornings. I could hardly do anything. Knowing that school runs were going to be a drastic change of pace, I had to do something to make sure I was awake before the boys were, to make sure they ate breakfast, to make sure they both had clean and ironed uniforms to wear, and to drive the eldest to the school three miles away, in enough time to travel another three-and-a-half miles to the little one’s school, brave the playground, and walk him to the door.

Maybe the above sounds pretty routine or simple to some. It is not simple to me. It’s a big, fat, huge deal.

So, in preparation, I picked up an exercise regime and cleanse-type nutrition program. I needed it for several reasons, but most importantly it would force me to wake up earlier as part of the routine. It worked. I was up at six or six-thirty, exercising bright and early. I lost about ten pounds, and was feeling amazing. I even took up running which is something I’ve only ever done in daydreams. I made a very big effort (considering this is me I’m talking about) to make friends with some mums from my little one’s school, which is something I’ve never managed to do before a school year has started (or at any point, really). I was, shall we say, “on fiyaa!”

The school year started in two separate stages: my eldest son’s first, then the little one’s. And it was both harder and easier than I’d thought. Traffic is nuts around there. The big one’s school is huge. So many cars, roundabouts making things ridiculous… but I was doing it! I was up every morning, they both had breakfast and ironed uniforms, and the playground was not an awkward hell for me. What an accomplishment!

But just as I was rejoicing that I was successfully ‘adulting,’ I accidentally got my eldest to school late. In turn, they gave him a detention. I was confused about the time he was supposed to be there anyway, thought I’d left early, went the worst possible way I could have gone, and bam, he was tardy. Good gracious they were harsh about it! Talk about knocking the wind out of my sails, this really kicked me down. And it probably wasn’t even a big deal. But to me, it was huge. Why did he get the detention? It wasn’t his fault! I felt severely discouraged.

Fast forward to today, he had an appointment. I was concerned about what the school would say because last time they gave me a scary absence slip to sign and threatened him with detention even though it was to get stitches out of his foot for an injury that happened at the school!

So I called today, having missed the voicemail that said to send a note with him yesterday. I was going to send a note today, but my mood is slipping and I’m starting to feel like I’m drowning again, so it was a struggle just to get out of bed.

The woman on the other end of the phone knows none of this. She knows I’m a parent, and that’s basically it. She tells me to try and remember to tell him next time, because they have so many students that they need people to be as self-reliant as possible (or something like that). Instead of this, which seems simple written down, I hear a tone in her voice that says I’m being a pain and I need to get my act together, and to stop thinking I deserve any kind of special treatment or understanding. (I don’t even know if I imagined it.)

I try to explain that I really did mean to, but I’m doing this on my own, I’ve got the two kids in two different schools, and just getting them out the door and to where they need to be on time is overwhelming in itself. She tells me she knows how I feel because she has three kids but it’s just one of those things you have to remember to do.

But I don’t think you do, lady. You’ve got a job. That means you’re fit to work. I am not fit to work.

If only you knew, lady, how much I wanted to remember. How much I tried. How much my head was so full of “I don’t want to do this today” and “Come on, self, you really need to get dressed, why are you crying?” that I honestly spaced writing the note and telling my son to make sure he’s at the front of the school at the time I need to pick him up.

If you knew, lady, how difficult it was to drag myself out of bed today, how much work I have put into clawing my way out of the depression hole to get to the point where I can even take my kids to school in the first place, would you soften your tone?

Of course, I said none of these things. I just remembered how mental health issues are invisible and the general public has no way of knowing what you’re struggling with unless you tell them. And today, I didn’t feel like giving her my list of diagnoses just so she wouldn’t think of me as a failure, negligent mother, or lazy person. If, in fact, she thought any of those things at all. (My anxiety says she thinks the worst.)

Once my son eventually got to his appointment (five minutes late because he’d started walking instead of going to the office) I had a few meltdown moments in the car. I wish I had the privilege of an ‘excused absence’ on days like this, but I don’t get any.

Truth is, I don’t want sympathy or special treatment, I actually want to just be able to do these simple things, no problem. I want the molehills to stay molehills. I want to run for fun and exercise with my new friends in my bright pink tights instead of running around like a headless chicken in the mornings.

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But I do wish I could have telepathically conveyed a little perspective when I was (I’m pretty sure) getting told off this morning. It would have spared me a few tears in public places.

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When I Asked My Son About Depression and Anxiety

My son is going to be twelve at the end of this year. He is so bright, albeit occasionally insensitive. He carries on conversations with adults with virtually no trouble. Often times, his knowledge base can exceed that of the adult with whom he is speaking, and I am told his teachers are impressed with him. But sometimes, he can hurt feelings. He can be a right little turkey, as I say. I’m sure it’s normal, but because of this I was understandably nervous to talk to him about the mental health problems I face.

What I take for granted, I suppose, is that he overhears my conversations on the phone and sometimes reads things over my shoulder as I write them. I can forget that I’ve spoken aloud about something to someone else while he’s been near, which is easy to do because he rarely looks like he’s paying attention to anything. He’s usually absorbed in his own activities, whatever they are, apparently lost in his own little world.

As far as I can recall, I haven’t directly spoken to him about depression or anxiety. I could be wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover what he had to say on the subject when we had a little chat the other night.

What is depression?

-Thinking that nothing can get better and thinking that there’s no hope even if there is, a bit.

What do you think causes it?

-Other people.

What is anxiety?

-Fear. Knowing what’ll happen next but hoping it doesn’t happen.

What do you think about people with anxiety and depression?

-That they’re doing well because they’re trying hard and I think they’re getting through- just about.

Do you know that I have anxiety and depression?

-Yeah.

What do you think about that?

-I think you’re doing well, you’re working hard.

What do you think it would look like if I didn’t have these things?

-Without it you’d be happier, you might have a job.

What do you think people should know about anxiety and depression?

-That they should try to understand and give some respect because for ones that have it, their lives are harder.

Then, he said the most clever thing of the whole conversation. He gave a great analogy to help describe having depression and anxiety.

If you could describe depression and anxiety as a thing that might represent it, what would you say that is?

-It’s like a jar inside you, full of the anxiety and depression, and the jar is really hard to open. If you could just get the lid off the jar the anxiety and depression would get out and you could be happy, but the lid is stuck and you try really hard to get it off, but can’t do it alone.

I must add I have had a difficult week with my son. He is about to transition into secondary/high school, and routines at school are currently inconsistent as they practice for the school play and get things organised to end the year. It’s been a bit stressful for him, maybe, and in turn has been extra stressful for me. He hasn’t been listening, caring, or any of the desirable things I wish to see from him. But just when I was beginning to doubt the good in him, he comes out with this.

He does listen. He does care. And I should never discount that perhaps his knowledge of what I’m going through affects him, too. But in all, I’m so proud of him that his true understanding and compassion, one could say, is greater than that in many of the attitudes I’ve seen in a large number of adults. So instead of feeling guilty that I might be adversely affecting him, I think it’s safe to say his experience of seeing these illnesses in me has expanded his understanding and compassion for others.

I don’t think you’ll find bigotry toward anxiety or depression coming from my son anytime soon.

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I love my little turkey.

Success, Excellence, Money, Happiness and Reality

Today I’m not feeling so great. If you can imagine a panic attack like in Being Grounded where it’s the hyperventilating and heart-racing stuff, I’d call that kind the “hot and heavy” variety. What I’ve been experiencing for a few days now, I would describe as the “low and slow” variety. Like cooking a roast for several hours at a low heat as opposed to a high one. Both cook the thing, just depends on how tender you want it. Through it all I’m trying to get through the things I want to accomplish one at a time, and also trying to make sense of everything as I go along. The Hurricane is a pretty good description of the inside of my head right now.

I’d like to share with you one of the essays I wrote, the way I intended it to be read (meaning, minus the last line someone put on there that was not part of my original writing), for the A.C.E. Award competition in 2006. I share it because it shows another little bit of who I am, specifically who I was at age eighteen. A.C.E. stands for Accepting the Challenge of Excellence. My first high school motto was “Committed to Excellence.” I have always wanted to be not average, or mediocre, but excellent.

But first I’d like to tell you, I came from virtually nothing. I grew up in the oldest, most beaten down house on the block. Prior to that was government housing. Prior to that was the battered women’s shelter. Like my short intro to Being Poor and the content in the reblogged post it contains (most of which is a pretty accurate depiction of the structure of my childhood), lack of money has been a constant issue in my life. And it still is. This blog may look fancy and I may have wi-fi but does that mean I’ve finally made it? No.

In fact, a man came out to the house about two weeks ago, from the Office of National Statistics. I tried to opt out but he really wanted to come in and fill out his little forms. I had to explain to him why I didn’t want him in my house. Because you’re a man and I don’t know you and you’ve shown up unannounced to come and interrogate my finances which I feel embarrassed about and the kids have their toys everywhere and I was about to start dinner and I don’t like your slithery personality! I told him something about how the statistics would be skewed because they want data on what people spend and I’ve been so skint I had literally spent nothing in the previous two weeks, which is atypical of a month for me.

Eventually he wormed his way into garnering an appointment for another day, trying to flatter me so I could be another number on his list. I’m sure he gets paid per interview. Like most Brits do, he asked me where my accent’s from. Why am I here. Do I plan on staying for a long time. Then it got a little uncomfortable, because then he asked if I have a lot of friends. Do I get out much. What do I do for a living. I sound educated, he said. Surely I must have a degree.

I’m from Montana, I guess. I wasn’t born there but I suppose that’s where my accent’s from. It’s now muddled with British English and Brits still think I sound very American and Americans are starting to tell me I sound British. Why am I here? Basically, it was because of a misunderstanding during a phone call and subsequent panic. I married a British guy. We’re still married, but separated. Do I plan on staying a long time? Well, honestly, that totally depends on circumstances. That’s all a big fat catch twenty-two. Right now I’m a bit stuck but thanks for the reminder. Do I have a lot of friends? Oh, dear.

You readers will probably see from my Letter that friendship is difficult for me. I’ve met a modest amount of people. How many can I call friends? I don’t know. You have to work at friendship, which is something I can only do when I’m feeling good. Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD ruin a lot of things like that for me.

Not really a lot of friends, no. Do I get out much? Not really, I’ve got two kids and when I was working sixty-seventy hours a week I was barely making ends meet and had no time. In the time I haven’t been working I haven’t had money to go do anything. Educated? I graduated high school. I attended a semester of “uni.” No degree. Of course I’d like one, but again that all comes right back down to money.

Then the man said, “You know what they say, ‘money doesn’t buy happiness.’” And this is where I just smiled politely and mumbled something about how ‘they’ obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. I was really thinking:

Really? are you sure about that? Because I’m pretty sure that money could buy me an awful lot of happiness right about now. And I’m pretty sure that, had money been as abundant in my childhood as it had been for my peers, and almost certainly for you, man, there would have been a whole different base on which I could’ve stood to attain my own personal successes without the interference of at least a half of my lifetime full of depression.

I can look back on so many instances beginning very early on, wherein a tragedy occurred, directly linked to my current state of mental health, that could have been prevented or severely altered had there been even a modest amount of more money. But the ones who are strangers to poverty don’t see that. They want to stand from afar and put their labels on you. They want to ask about your career assuming you have one. They repeat these nonsensical idioms which are only true for people on their side of the struggle. They ask their questions to make small talk, while assessing you as something along the lines of: Success? Failure? Nobody? Somebody?

Success is subjective. Failure is subjective. When I was eighteen and about to enter higher education, I had big plans for my life. This following essay is the one I wrote back then about “How can we, as citizens, make a better tomorrow?”

Success, by definition, is a favorable outcome, an accomplishment with direction, or a person or thing that turned out well. As young adults, we hear from our parents and mentors that they hope we will become successful individuals as we grow up. But how may we become a success without someone there guide, teach, and support us?
Things happen in life that cannot be prevented or changed. Unfortunately, these events can be quite crippling. Though you might not expect it, your life could change in a split second and direct you into a completely different path, one that you never would have imagined.

So many young adults or teenagers have been thrown into a new struggle by no fault of their own. They are told by ignorant people that they are failures. Without money or resources or a supportive role model, they will have no choice but to join the vicious cycle of poverty.

It is my hope to become a caring figure in the life of even one person in need, to lend support or to offer advice or resources that will help others succeed in their individual aspirations. I feel compelled to help others, struggling in a cycle that seems to have no end, so in turn, they can become productive citizens.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. If we help them to succeed, our community will prosper and flourish. Then we, in turn, can look back at our world and say that it has become a “thing that has turned out well.”
A success.

Like the people I spoke of in this essay, I was told by a lot of ignorant people just how big of a failure I was going to be. One teacher I thought the world of, came up to me when I was pregnant at fifteen and said, “It’s such a shame that now us taxpayers will have to be paying for this.” As if he immediately assumed I’d be on welfare forever after. Since then I’ve done a whole lot of trying to prove him wrong. I don’t want to be considered a failure.

Would I call myself a success right now? I’m not sure. That’s hard for me to judge. I’m doing a lot of coping. I’m trying to fill my time with worthwhile endeavours and not feel like a total waste of space. When I read this essay I wrote back when I had a lot less emotional baggage, I can see that despite no degree, and virtually no money, I have done a lot of what I said I wanted to do. I have certainly done my best to help anyone and everyone I could, no matter the cost to me. And I’ve paid the price for it, believe me.

Despite a lot of really bad circumstances, I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. And so are my kids. They have clothes, shoes, and toys. So according to some definitions, I’d say I haven’t exactly failed. I hear I’m a good mom. I definitely try very hard to do my best at the motherhood thing.

Am I ‘excellent’ though? Well you know, I’m not where I’d hoped to be by now. I just turned twenty-seven. It’s strange to think I’m in the latter half of my twenties and there is so much I don’t know and so much I haven’t yet accomplished. I don’t feel excellent. If I were excellent, you’d think I’d be out of this poverty malarkey by now. But I’m not. I am living day to day, week to week. And if I’m honest, I’m exhausted from it all. I want to scream, “WHEN DOES THIS GET EASIER?” I happen to make some excellent stuff, and that’s cool or whatever, but to excel, to me, would be breaking out of this damned cage and starting to fly.

Am I happy? …No. I’m not happy. Some days, no matter how funny the comedian is, or how silly the kids are being, I can’t even laugh. This is the low and slow I spoke about before. The background heat, ever-so-gently breaking me to pieces.

I went camping this weekend and it should have been fun. But it felt like an out-of-body experience and like I wasn’t in my own head. I took the beta-blockers the doc gave me for extra-anxious days and I don’t know what difference they made exactly but the panic was still there, in the background, low and slow. I don’t think I know what fun is anymore.

My idea of where I would be by now and the reality of where I am are so drastically different. I’m looking for that light at the end of this tunnel, that says someday the struggle will end and I’ll begin to thrive, not just survive. I’m trying to look back and take stock of what I have done, not what I haven’t, and find that solid ground where getting back up to the top of the hill isn’t fraught with mudslides back down to the bottom, like some evil chutes and ladders game.

In reality, there are days when I have to work really hard to be optimistic, where I have to work really hard to keep calm. My definition of success right now is getting through a day without hyperventilating and crying. There is very little happiness. Striving for excellence seems like a goal to reach for later, because right now just doing anything is enough of a battle in itself. It would be a lot easier without the criticisms of everyone else, who lack perspective on the situation, and whose words add to the negative dialogue.

I say these things for me, to remind myself that I’m not just another statistic for someone’s data collection. My definition of success and failure have been adjusted from what they once were, and are probably very different from the next person’s. My reality has been very real and quite difficult, but both my kids tell me I’m excellent. Most days I’d say they’re happy. And I can start with that, stand on that, take the next step up the hill.

And money, while it wouldn’t be able to fix everything at this point, is directly correlated to happiness in a lot of ways, in my experience. Money would eliminate about half or more of my reasons for panic attacks, straight away. And I say that, to highlight that ‘what they say’ sometimes doesn’t mean a thing. Money can sometimes be all the difference. The reality is that it can mean solutions, freedom, happiness. But success and excellence work on a sliding scale. Happiness sometimes does too, but only on days when my perspective can afford it.

It’s Still Self-Harm

I suffer from generalised anxiety disorder, depression, and PTSD, that I know of. As much as these diagnoses say “mental illness” or “mental health issues,” for me they are also very physically related. Not only do I feel like I’m being zapped with volts upon volts of electricity as I shake, sweat profusely and get clammy palms at the thought of confrontation, but I am constantly worried about my body. And not in a way most people would think.

When I started doing these blog posts and looking through my hard drives for photos I thought would be appropriate, I saw my body in the various sizes it has been in the past five years. In 2010 I weighed about sixteen and a half stone. By the end of 2011 I was ten stone. That’s about ninety pounds’ difference, over forty kilos. Since that time I’ve put on ten pounds here, twenty pounds there, then freaked out and made resolutions and worked it back off again. When I see the pictures of how big I was, I feel disgusted that I could’ve let myself get that big. When I see the ones of me smaller, I think how good I looked, how I wish I could be that size again, but also how I remember still feeling huge and disgusting at the time. Over the past six months I’ve put on weight at a rate so much higher than ever before, and am now a good thirty pounds heavier than a weight I’m comfortable being. Except I’m only comfortable with being any weight in hindsight, because no matter what size I may be, I still feel uncomfortable. This got me thinking… what is my problem?

I see these people running around outside in their spandex and neon shoes and even when they’re three hundred pounds heavy, I envy them. I envy that they have the courage to get out there and sweat, running around alone in public, because I would hate for people to be looking at me doing that, regardless of size. I hear of consistent runners and exercise-doers and I am in admiration of how these people can keep these routines in place. I envy myself when I look at my pictures, for being able to get in shape all those times. Sometimes I have no idea where that discipline came from, but I want to find it again.

When I moan about my weight to those I know, thinking how annoying I must sound that I’m even talking about it, I hear generally encouraging things. Some people tell me I’m not too big at all, that I still look great, but thanks to anxiety I don’t accept this as truth. I’m not fishing for compliments from them, but in my head they’re looking at me and seeing all the things I see when I look at me, which is this bulge and that ripple and that flappy bit and this crease, and I feel the need to excuse myself for how I am. I feel they hate me for whining about it, but I can’t stop. They waste their words reassuring me about something which will only stop being an issue when I stop using it to hurt myself.

As I went through another bout of deep depression and started gaining a little bit of weight this year, I felt not only angry with myself for getting carried away with my eating habits, but a masochistic sense of relief and a compulsion to keep getting bigger. I stopped caring about how much butter I put in this, or how much sugar was in that, and completely threw out my own philosophies on eating properly. I was beating myself up constantly that I was only compounding my own problem and making more work for myself. I knew that if I didn’t hold back the portions, my clothes would no longer fit and I’d have to buy more, which I couldn’t afford. But then I’d buy another tub of ice cream, and go to the scale and feel worthless and stupid for gaining another three pounds in one week.

After thinking heavily about it, I’ve come to understand why I do this. I don’t harm myself in the traditional sorts of ways most people would think of when they hear “self-harm” but this is a cycle of anguish that never seems to end. It’s still self-harm even though there’s no blood or bruises.

When I’m feeling better and more motivated, I can look in the mirror and appreciate my stretch marks as “mommy stripes” and my returned layers of fat as “womanly curves” and “proof I’m eating,” which is good in a way because I’ve experienced loss of appetite for weeks at a time and starvation due to poverty alike. But within a matter of days or even minutes I’m saying all kinds of mean things to myself and going to the cupboards to find something high in fat, salt and carbs. It doesn’t feel the same as “emotional eating” where people binge when they’re either happy or sad. It is deliberate sabotage of what I know in my conscious self to be healthy and good for me.

When I’m bigger that means I’ve also stopped doing any kind of real exercise which equates to weaker muscles. When my core is weak I can have excruciating and debilitating back spasms. When I have that extra layer I experience the cutting off of circulation and numb limbs when I’m on the floor playing with the kids. I’m slower. I have less energy. I increase my risk of developing diabetes, which runs in my family. I stop going out of the house. I stop seeing friends. I feel ashamed when I see people who knew me when I was smaller and this can trigger panic attacks. I create more pain of the physical, emotional, and psychological varieties. I tell myself I’d be so much healthier and happier if only I were smaller like I used to be, while simultaneously feeling fear of being that size again.

The fear of being healthier is attached to the incidences in the past in which I was sexually and non-sexually harassed or assaulted by others. When I’m smaller I get a lot more attention for the way I look while loathing the ‘lookers’ for being so shallow. In addition to more serious incidences of abuse, there have been times in the past when I’ve been followed through town at 5:30am by a large man making kissy noises at me, been touched inappropriately in the workplace, been disregarded as an intellectual based on stereotypes of pretty girls (so much wrong with that), been asked to flirt to earn the company free work, been whistled at, hollered at, objectified and singled out for being attractive. I’ve faced competitive attitudes from co-workers, hatred, animosity, and bullying from other women, threats to my well-being, and general negativity.

But those things are in the past, and it’s the anxiety and PTSD telling me to be afraid of what I should be doing for the sake of my health because if I do it, I might get hurt. It’s nonsense, but that’s the difference between one who suffers from these conditions and one who doesn’t; the privilege of rational thinking.

I know that if I exercise and eat appropriately I’ll slim down and my nicer clothes will fit, my release of endorphins will increase, I’ll feel more confident, have more energy, a more consistent heart rate, possibly a reduced rate of panic attacks, and so many more benefits. I know that if I just put my workout clothes and shoes on, turn on my fitness DVD (because there is no way on this earth you’ll find me jiggling, panting and sweating in front of strangers), I will be done in about thirty minutes and feel really accomplished. I know this, but in the straightjacket of depression I can hardly bring myself to do what is needed to get it done.

These are three invisible illnesses among many. Their ability to manifest in a physical form can include literally preventing a person from doing or saying something they know they should, and compelling them to say or do something they know they shouldn’t. It hurts to know these things have any power over me, despite all my stubbornness and shows of determination and willpower in my former years. And it hurts even more that even though I accomplished so many amazing things before, I can be prevented from doing a few silly crunches and lunges.

So as I’ve been writing about strength and putting one foot in front of another, I thought it time that I get back up and try again to take my own advice… and I’ve done two workouts in three days. It’s no big deal on paper but any victory over self-harm for someone battling it feels like a gold medal.

…and if this sounds like you, reader, you’re not alone.

Get back up off the floor and keep going, keep fighting.

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Photo and design of papercut: credit Lucy Jerwood http://www.facebook.com/twinklecuts?refid=12 (Thank you Lucy!) Artwork created for the Always Keep Fighting Campaign (see here).

I Thought I Said “No”

It was a during a time when so many other things were going on. I had finally got skinny again. I was being bullied less. I had resolved to try out for cheerleading out of stubbornness and while the popular girls didn’t accept me onto the varsity team, I was good enough to be on the wrestling cheer squad. Though a bit of a consolation prize and clearly because I wasn’t ever going to be one of them, I was excited. Things were at least a little bit better than three weeks before.

While in the gym during the try-outs, laying on the floor stomach-down, I noticed something unusual. My breasts were sore. To me this meant my suspicion was correct; my life was going to change forever. No sweeping it under the rug.

I was not a person of many friends but I did have one whose birthday sleepover I went to the next day. I had been nervous all morning and afternoon because I didn’t know what to do about what was on my mind. I thought I said “no,” I kept saying to myself over and over again. By early evening I was in tears. I felt bad for interrupting Irenea’s birthday celebrations but as it was just us two in the room and she insisted, I confided in her.

I was supposed to take the bus home from the dentist. I didn’t have any money and didn’t know the bus schedule. The last few times I had taken the bus I had fallen asleep by accident and woke up five miles across town, as the bus pulled into the station for the night. I was fourteen. I didn’t like the feeling of walking home across town alone. I was too anxious to do that. I called the only person I knew with a car; His name was Justin.

Justin was sixteen. He thought he was some hot-shot. He drove a light blue Monte Carlo. A few nights before, he had driven me to the cliffs above town and played Prince’s song Purple Rain, telling me some story about his cousin’s funeral. He put the seats back and was trying to make a move on me. I kept saying I want you to take me home now. He finally did, huffing and puffing about it the whole time.

Things were so bad at home I wanted to be anywhere else but there. So this day when he picked me up from the dentist and said “Do you want to watch a movie at my house?” I agreed. I didn’t like his ultra-blond hair under his bandanna and his transparent eyebrows, his tendency to act like some black gangster with his Afroman rap tracks and his “naww” instead of “no.” He was a pretender. I loathed him the minute I saw him. But he was kind of nice to me. Hardly anyone was nice to me.

He drove me to Hastings and he picked out two movies to rent. Then he took me back to his parent’s house. It was a blue double-wide on Monad Road. He got the DVD player from downstairs and set it up in his bedroom. He put the movie on. As we watched the first few minutes on his bed, I felt so uncomfortable. If my home had been a normal home, maybe I would have seen being in his bedroom as a red flag. But I was used to sitting anywhere there was space and he said he didn’t want his parents to interrupt so I didn’t mind, until he started touching me.

Gathering all my courage, I told him I really don’t want to do this right now. He did stop, for five minutes. Then he tried again. I don’t want to do this. He paused again, but then on the third attempt I got scared. I froze up mentally, and I don’t remember anything except laying on my back, staring at a TV screen. Lights on, nobody home, unable to move until the credits started rolling. Suddenly back in ownership of my mind, something told me I was pregnant. It wasn’t just paranoia, it was like I knew in the full sense of the word. I looked down toward my legs suddenly and saw he was still there. I told him to get off me and ran to the bathroom. I was in shock. How did this happen?

He seemed pretty pleased with himself. I kept saying I was pregnant, and I just knew it. He kept telling me I wasn’t. I asked if he’d used a condom. He said no. I was enraged that not only did I say “no,” I mean, I thought I said “no,” but to top it off he didn’t even use any protection.

I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t understand what had happened. Why did I go with him? How did it get that far? This was the person I’d heard had bragged about getting twelve-year-olds to perform sex acts on him. I really didn’t like him from the moment I saw him. But I panicked thinking of falling asleep on the bus and being alone walking through town at 9pm. How ironic that my avoidance of danger landed me in it all the same.

He drove me home where I kept silent and stunned for three weeks, trying to pretend it never happened. Until the birthday party. I think I’m pregnant but I said no, I told Irenea. I was hysterical. I thought I said “no,” I thought I said “no,” I implored.

She said we had to tell someone. I told her I was afraid to tell my mom, so we told the principal the next day. Then the police. If not for me, I thought, then for the twelve-year-old girls he’s been bragging about. Someone had to stop him. I had no idea how difficult telling the police was going to be as I had to describe in detail what exactly had happened and use technical, anatomical terms. I was fourteen and it was humiliating, sitting in front of this cop whose wife used to babysit me as a child, having to describe in those cold technical terms what exactly transpired and trying to remember how and at what point my pants were removed and why.

Over the years, I have tried to come to terms with this and have begun to understand what happened. I’d been abused as a child by a man parading as a Christian minister/do-gooder which set the foundation for the dissociative episode when Justin pressured me for the third time. I have often struggled with people telling me that isn’t rape, I didn’t fight back. I didn’t say “no” properly. I’ve heard I was making it up, I just didn’t want to get in trouble for being pregnant, I’m a liar.

But I never said yes. I never gave permission. I said “I really don’t want to do this right now” and “I don’t want to do this.” Neither of those come close to being a “yes.” He was notorious for this kind of behaviour. But no one wants to say that. They’re so busy slandering me for pressing charges and saying what a good man he was. They didn’t see what I saw in the short time I knew him.

He died in 2013 while running from cops during a routine traffic violation stop and was ejected from the car. He never did get his act together. He remained a delinquent until the day he died. Somehow in my mind it adds to the pain knowing that he never did change his ways, he never did redeem himself. As if somehow that would make it better.

I thought I said “no” but while I didn’t say exactly “no,” what I did say should have been clear enough.

It should have been enough.

The Hurricane

It’s all hitting at once.

Storm crashing, like tides against the beach

I’m okay, I will be okay, I have to be okay.

Everything I want, barely outside my reach

Everything I had, slipped through my fingers like sand.

Leaning on a rock, rushing toward a hard place.

Casting a net, the catch is a double deuce.

Buried to the neck amidst the sandcastles

I can, I will, I am! I was… I think.

Hurricane swept, swallowed me whole.

Staring blankly at the placid dangerous calm

Bracing for the second act.

Wind blowing, flattening shelters.

Whistling tunes of destruction and riot

Giving cause to rebuild, renew, re-live.

Rework. Rewind. Rethink.

It’s haunted in the sunshine.

Ready for exorcism.

-Kirsten Young

On Homesickness

I come from the land across the ocean. The land of the big skies, the Rocky Mountains, the majestic, sweeping landscapes and too much fast food. And I miss it. Right down to the Slim Jims and the late-night-one-stop-regret-shop that is Del Taco. It’s where I was born and raised and it runs in my veins. Not the Del Taco, I mean the essence of the America.

Now I’m in England. The place where I’ve accidentally offended people with my two fingers because I forgot it was a thing, where I’ve been mocked for saying pants and still don’t quite understand how to fit in properly. I’ve been here five years now, as of tomorrow. FIVE. That’s a long time to go without a hug from your family.

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine, because I’m busy doing stuff and I don’t notice anything. This is a place where hobbies are common, and I have plenty of those. Sometimes I wonder if I have those hobbies because I’m bored and trying to find something to do, or because I’m assimilating.

Speaking of assimilating, I’m losing my mother language. I use so many British-isms that I don’t even remember which things I used to say and which things are new. I insist on saying words like “folks” just to dig my heels into my American upbringing. But then I hear myself say “Mind the rubbish” and I have to stop to comprehend this foreign noise coming out of my mouth.

One of the hardest days I had was when I first stepped off the plane. Immediately I learned the meaning of “hayfever” as my sinuses filled up and I endured the non-stop dripping and sneezing and wheezing. I was pregnant, I’d been awake for a very long time, and hadn’t eaten for around the same. I had visions before landing of tasting real British fish and chips with the in-laws and having a generally nice experience. It was none of that.

After a lot of messing around and encountering absolutely everything being different, from the door handles to the blinds to the sidewalks, sinks, refrigerators, street signs, EVERYTHING, I was really hungry. I asked for some food, confused as to what happened to the agreement that we were going to have some fish and chips.

My mother-in-law, whom I am extremely relieved to not know any longer, asked if I wanted a cheese sandwich. In my head I assumed she meant grilled cheese sandwich, because that’s the only kind I knew. Nope. She gave me two thick slices of partially stale wheat bread, margarine spread all over, and cold cheese in between. She brought it to me, and in my state of shock I didn’t know what to say but, Uh…What?

What was this thing she put before me? Cold cheese with nothing else in there but margarine? I don’t ever eat margarine, let alone in a sandwich. Butter doesn’t go in a sandwich, either. She asked if I wanted some Marmite. What? Ketchup? Again, what? No! Brown Sauce? Stop!

At this point I wanted to cry. I had no idea what she was trying to do to me. Now that I’ve been here for this long and seen what they do with sandwiches, I understand she was just doing what seemed normal. That, and she’s not a cook. In the slightest. But it was a stiff wake-up call. Nothing is going to be the same here.

These days I’ve found my way around the cuisine, for the most part. Still very little proper Mexican food, which I love and miss dearly. American food is poorly replicated here also. But food isn’t the only problem.

Navigating my way through the unspoken societal rules and boundaries is a challenge. It’s not until after you make the mistake, then repeat it, then have a cry because you don’t know what you did wrong, that someone says, “Oh yes. You can’t do that here. They’ll think you’re nuts.” Ohh okay. I get it. I’ve been parading around like a jester. Cool. That’s just awesome!

I have days where I am so upset about one thing or another that while the pendulum is swinging I romance about how different life would be if I could just go back home. Then I realise it’s not that simple. I don’t have those funds, so I’m essentially stuck. That gets me even more worked up. But the other day, I realised something.

My homesickness is grief. Part of my anxiety is grief. Every household item I buy, every friend I make, all feel like they’re rooting me to this place where I feel I’m not on solid ground and not sure whether to stay or go, or if I’ll ever belong. Another thing I might have to sell. Another goodbye I’ll have to say. To think I’ll never move back home (still have no idea) hurts me quite a bit, like a knife in the heart. But I need to come to terms with the fact that a lot of what I’m grieving no longer exists.

Five years is a long time to be gone. Everyone I knew has moved on, got married, had kids or more kids, scattered themselves across the country. There was no one place I could decide to be before, and now the thought is even more confusing. Where is home? I’m not sure it’s here, but is it in Montana? Washington? Utah? I don’t know if my friends would still have time for me, if the people I care about are going to be able to make room in their lives for me again.

This idea of home I have is a figment of my imagination. I’m wasting my energy fretting about something imaginary. I would love to have the answer (and the means to accomplish it), but I don’t. I’m here now. I only have today. I only have right now.

Might as well do something with it. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

The “Mental” Stigma

Last year I knew someone whom I have chosen not to know any longer. We’ll call him Travis. His friend came by quickly while we were chatting, reeling from a conversation where he claimed he had just been yelled at by a woman who had just told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.

“She’s got that depression thing, you know? She’s mental.” He said this with a wince on his face like he was talking about someone with leprosy, for example.

I looked at Travis and he looked at me. My look was saying “Don’t you dare laugh at me, I know what you’re thinking.” His look was saying to me “I really want to laugh at you right now but don’t want you to punch me in front of my mate.”

I listened to this friend of Travis, and inquired more about his predicament. She had four kids. She was dating him, but he wasn’t very supportive and now he doesn’t know what to do about her because he didn’t want to break up, but she’s got that depression thing. He was out of his element.

He carried on talking about that depression thing. “Those women are crazy, you know?”

At this point Travis did start snickering. Partly because he realised his friend was inevitably about to put his foot in his mouth, partly because he was taking the piss out of me (British term- told you I’d switch back and forth) hinting that I was also “mental.” Jerkface.

I gave him the “Seriously, don’t make me punch you.” look.

I then turned to Gary, Travis’s friend, and began to explain in the gentlest of terms that there are far more people who struggle with depression than he realises, and depression doesn’t mean the same as mental the way he’s saying it.

Upon further pressing, it was clear why she had broken up with him. He had absolutely no understanding of the condition and was talking about it in the most derogatory of ways. I could hardly believe my ears at what ignorance was coming out of this man’s face.

Being the person that I am, I don’t tend to sit back and say nothing when something’s going terribly wrong. In a room full of people where there’s been a request for a volunteer to do something, and no one wants to do it, I’m the one who will put my hand up and get it done. I hate wasting time, energy, and a good opportunity.

To Gary’s surprise, I told him that I, myself, have struggled with depression for quite a long time. I didn’t do anything to cause it, it just was. Would I like to get rid of it? Of course! Who would want to keep something like this? But a sure-fire way of alienating and angering the person who has it is to make them feel like they’re icky because they happen to suffer from it. In the end I told him that after their most recent conversation, it would be best to back off and let her welcome him back on her terms if that’s what she wants to do. At best he could say, “I just want you to know I’m here for you” and BE THERE if she needs him, without judging, or giggling, or cringing.

To be quite frank, it’s not cool to call people mental if they have depression and/or anxiety. It’s also not cool to laugh about them because of it. There is a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues that needs to end. For someone with depression who is already feeling horrible, to see other people joking and laughing about someone else who has this is extremely hurtful. It can cause them to withdraw further and become more afraid to live their lives.

For a person who has never thought about harming themselves, or known what depression or anxiety truly is, I understand that the vantage point they’d own is not one conducive to understanding what it’s like. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be able to understand. What’s not okay is condemning/ridiculing what you don’t understand. I’d like to think that we’re all generally headed towards getting this concept as a society, but clearly there are plenty of people who aren’t there yet.

As I’ve described in this open letter, our co-humans with adverse mental health conditions just want a little bit of understanding. Less singling-out. Less icky faces when talking about us. Less ignorance. Less stigma.

Please?

Karmic Heebie-Jeebies

In 2011 I attempted to start a blog. I got three posts into the blog before a random comment on social media, which was probably not even intended for me (but my anxiety wouldn’t let it go), had me feeling like somebody out there thought I was copying them (I wasn’t). Years later I realise that even if they thought that, to post a funny story about being a mother is not copying anyway, it’s just common.

So now it’s 2015 and while a handful of things have changed, the story is still funny. And after the past few posts, I’d like something to make you laugh. Enjoy.

Yesterday was an eventful day for us. The first part of the morning was spent getting ourselves ready and heading to London on a coach to meet up with one of my best friends who deliberately caused herself a layover just to see us. The afternoon was filled with sight-seeing, posing for pictures, and lots of hugs. But before sunset, those feel-good vibes had been replaced by panic, tension and horror.

Once upon a time, a letter came home from My eldest son’s school. (We’ll call him Alfie.) ‘Please be advised that head lice is going around the school… Check your child’s hair regularly.’

“Head lice? Gee, thanks. Let’s just hope Alfie doesn’t get it. Alfie, don’t go near other children’s heads at school. Don’t share your hat or anyone else’s hat. Promise me!”

“I promise.”

Soon after the letter, I had myself thoroughly convinced that it would just not happen to us. I hated having lice when I was six years old, and I was determined not to let them in this house. Not on my watch you don’t!

For about two weeks we thought we were pretty lucky. There was no sign of the little critters, life went on steadily and everyone got to where they needed to be on time. Everyone including Alfie, who needed to be at kickboxing at six o’clock sharp on Thursday night.

While the name ‘kickboxing’ may not immediately imply head-to-head contact, there are some instances in which the children’s heads might meet as they practice certain moves. And when Alfie came home and took a shower after class, he wouldn’t stop scratching his head.

At first we thought nothing of it. “No big deal, surely it’s just a dry scalp from too much shampooing. He’s had quite a few showers this week anyhow. The water is hard in this region, too. We’ll use different conditioner next time.  No time to fuss over it now, we need to be out of the house tomorrow by eight!”

When we woke up yesterday morning we were so busy getting ready that we didn’t pay attention to whether or not Alfie was scratching his head. It was the last thing on our minds at that point. It did get a bit annoying when Alfie would take off his hat and stop walking to do it, so we hustled him along and told him to keep the hat on his head and stop messing with it.

“Can I have a piggy-back ride, mom?”

“No, Alfie, we don’t have time for that right now. We have to get to the bus station on time. Maybe later.”

We made it to the station as planned, and as Alfie sat next to me on our bus journey he rested his head on my shoulder from time to time. Once in London, we took lots of pictures where we were smiling and posing with our heads close together. Our friend hugged each one of us extra tight as we said our good-byes and when we got on our return coach, just when Alfie had rested his head on the back of the seat, I made him trade me places to make it easier to manage the baby.

As a matter of fact, I am not a fan of buses at all. I am always concerned that the person who sat in my seat before me may have had head lice, especially when I see a greasy hair-print on the window next to me. Yesterday was no exception, I just didn’t ever imagine that the lice-carrying greasy person who passed out on the bus would actually be a very clean, seven-year-old little boy whom I love so much.

After the bus had pulled into the station and we were on our way home, Alfie asked me again for a piggy-back ride. I didn’t refuse him this time because I knew he had been so patient all day and really deserved to get off his feet for at least part of the way home. Once on my back I told him to climb onto my shoulders instead, where I carried him for about a third of a mile before I had to put him down. He even got to run (his favorite thing to do) for the home stretch; what a perfect day it had been so far.

Once inside our home sweet home, we were ready to relax for the remainder of our lovely day. Hubby was brewing tea, I was donning my sheepskin booties, the baby was playing with the toys he hadn’t seen all day, and Alfie was…

…scratching his head.

“My head really itches, mom, I think I have head lice.”

“You think you have what? Let me see your head!”

I immediately got out the flashlight and looked through his hair, only to be horrified by the sight of things on the back of his head… crawling around… and… moving… “There’s… there’s one there! There! Get it! Get it!

As I squirmed like a little girl and tried not to empty the contents of my stomach on the floor, flashbacks began to haunt me of all the different times during that day in which my head came close to Alfie’s. I was getting increasingly panicked. What if the baby has them, too? What if he gave them to our friend? What if British lice aren’t supposed to go to America? I HAVE LOTS OF HAIR!

Meanwhile, Hubby was taking a much calmer approach to the whole thing.

“It was going to happen. We knew it would.”

I didn’t! I really thought we wouldn’t get them!”

“Well that was silly. We’ll get some stuff for it in the morning.”

I wasn’t sure I could wait until the morning. However, given the hour and the time required for treatment, it was going to have to wait. It was pure coincidence that we had rice with our dinner, right after I had been getting queasy over lice and nits for some time, but I managed to keep it all down despite fears that it was moving. Shortly after, I thought I started noticing some itching.

I couldn’t tell if I was paranoid or if I really was infested, but I seemed to be freaking out just in case. All night long I had a bad case of the heebie-jeebies, complete with nightmares at bedtime. Not exactly the type of ending I would have chosen for that day.

It probably doesn’t help that I’m afraid of spiders and ticks, especially after Hubby found a tick crawling on me last year, or that I’ve seen one too many episodes of Monsters Inside Me. I’m afraid of quite a few micro-menaces, actually, such as wasps, earwigs, red ants, bedbugs, mosquitoes and even dust mites. There is just something about tiny things making me unhealthy without my permission that really “bugs” me. Plus, I can still feel the nit comb yanking through my super-long hair back in the first grade, which only added pain to the trauma, for a mental scar that is sure to last a lifetime.

While researching more information on the little buggers, it became clear that it is important to stay calm in these situations. Stay calm? Excuse me? This is so that you don’t over-treat the children, and probably also so you don’t traumatise them. So I tried to remember to keep cool.

“Alfie, next time you decide to bring some new pets into this house, you make sure to ask permission first, okay?”

“What? I didn’t bring any…. oh. Well I didn’t ask them, they’re invisible so they just… got on me.”

When Hubby came back from the store this morning with the treatment gel, I was quite excited to use it. It is a product called Hedrin, which is supposed to suffocate the lice and penetrate the eggs to kill them all. When finished simply shampoo, condition and comb out, and voila! No pesticides or harsh chemicals, can be used on the baby if necessary. I saturated Alfie’s hair with it as directed and after fifteen long minutes of “How long is it now, Mommy?” and “Has it been fifteen minutes yet?” it was time to douse him with shampoo.

When I put the conditioner on him and started combing his hair, dozens of little brown flecks kept showing up on it, turning my stomach with each stroke. Only one was as large as a sesame seed so it’s difficult to tell how long he’s had them, but if they have to reproduce sexually and there were lots of small ones and quite a few eggs, hatching every seven to ten days,  and they only lay up to ten a day… how many did he have and how long had they been there? Should we only be concerned with head-to-head interaction from the past two days or the past two weeks? Some friends of ours watched the boys for us one night and their little girl was playing closely with the boys. So I sent her a warning, too.

“No worries, thanks for letting me know. Got all the gear to treat it already.”

Wow! That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting!

“…the first time I got them from my niece and nephew I bleached my hair to get rid of them! This won’t be the last time Alfie brings them home, don’t worry.”

At this point I am feeling much better about the way I reacted. I felt awful at first, but after talking to our friend I realized that if we just keep some treatment stuff on hand, we’ll be fine. My reaction was totally normal, and all was forgiven anyhow. No bleach involved.

After Alfie’s hair was done I treated my own, and now that we have both been treated I can let him near me once again. Alfie’s hair only required about a fifth of the bottle of Hedrin while mine required three fifths. That leaves just the right amount to treat Hubby’s hair and possibly the baby’s so we should all be good. But what the Hedrin won’t remove is the memories of looking through the back of my son’s scalp to see things crawling around on him, sucking his blood. It may be weeks before the nightmares and the phantom itches stop.

I can’t help but be suspicious that this may be karma getting back at me for scaring the crap out of Alfie with his very own plastic spider a few weeks ago. I put my arm around him and pretended I just wanted to hold him close when I put the thing on his sleeve and shouted, “Alfie! There’s a spider on you!” The way he squirmed… seems awfully familiar.