Parenting, Serious stuff

EMBARRASS THEM, PLEASE #1000Speak Building from Bullying

  While my youngest son was at physical therapy, I read a People magazine.  I know, it’s no great literary endeavor, but it helps to pass the hour of coma inducing waiting.  There was an article about some of the families that have recently lost their children to suicide over bullying.
    A few weeks ago, we had conferences at Jimmy’s school.  When I spoke to the teachers I told them about Jimmy constantly telling me that the kids at school don’t like him.  His face instantly went scarlet and I thought maybe I had overstepped my bounds.  The teachers ensured Jimmy that he was a model student, that they wished more of their students were like him.  While I know Jimmy is a really good kid, I couldn’t shake the fact that I probably embarrassed him, so I apologized the minute we got home.  He didn’t say anything more about it.Take a stand

    I read the article that day with tears in my eyes.  The gist of it was simple:  Open a dialogue with your kids.  Make bullying something they can talk about.  Give them the place they know is safe to air their troubles.  Let them know that they are not alone.
    I handed it to Jimmy and said, “I embarrass you because I don’t want to be these people, who question whether they did enough to help their kids.  If anything happened to you, I’d be devastated and unable to rest at night if I thought for one second that I didn’t do everything I could to help you.”
    Jimmy read the article and turned to me.

    “Mom, there’s a kid who is doing the same thing to me at school.  He calls me fat and gay every day.  He won’t leave me alone.”

    I was never so happy to have been reading a garbage magazine in my life.  I told Jimmy we’d talk to dad and tomorrow I’d call school.  I also told him that if the school doesn’t have the correct response to him, Monday would be the day Mom goes to school and literally shows her ass.

    “That’s why I hate telling you stuff.  You’re overprotective of me.”  I felt pain like no other stab my heart.  Have I overstepped again?

    Tony took that moment to comment.

    “Jimmy, I like that about Mom.  She’s willing to come down on people like a ton of bricks, even if it makes her look stupid and overprotective, because she loves us so much.”

    Jimmy, for the first time in Tony’s short life, said nothing to his brother.  He only looked at him.

    When we got home, I had to cancel plans I had made in order to talk with Jim (he works bizarre hours and our time together is very limited).  This morning I called the school.  They said they’d talk to Jimmy.

    When Jimmy got home he said, “The school counselor came to get me today.  I thought I was in trouble, but we talked about that kid and she told me, that no matter what time of day, if I have to be late to class or miss a class altogether, I could come to her immediately the second he bothers me.  She said she’d give him a warning this time, but next time he goes straight to the assistant principal.”

    “How does that make you feel?  Better?”

    “Yeah.  Better.”

    I didn’t say anything further today.  But a little while after, in true Jimmy fashion, he quietly gave me a hug.

    “Thanks, Mom,” he whispered in my ear.

    Thankfully, he couldn’t hear the tears falling down my cheeks.
*****This piece originally appeared in Lemonade and Holy Stuff:  Collected Essays.
Serious stuff

The Devil On Your Shoulder: Depression

“Get help or we’re through.  You’re not the woman I married,” my husband, Jim, said to me.

Quite a mouthful of medicine, those words.  That’s what it took to get me into therapy, though.

I was 28, the mother of a three-year-old and a six-month-old.  I was unemployed.  My former employer, who didn’t renew my teaching contract, had screwed up my pay and I was without our mortgage payment for two months. Unemployment had not yet kicked in. Several interviews had gone south, leaving me feeling horrible, especially the one where I overheard the principal saying she’d never hire someone so fat.

I began feeling like the Queen of All Failures. I began living in my pajamas for days, each morning struggling just to get out of bed. My kids were given exactly what they needed and little else.  There were days that they ate lunch while I fought to keep my head aloft and not firmly planted on the table.  On the chance that I had the energy to shower, I’d sit in the tub, arms wrapped around my legs, rocking and crying, as water poured down on me.

The worst part of all that were the thoughts racing through my head.

You are such a loser.

Everything you touch fails.

You don’t deserve your husband or your kids.

They don’t deserve to have to put up with you.

They’d be better off if you were dead.

The life insurance money would be enough for Jim to take care of the kids.

They’d be fine.

Your dad was right.  You’ll never amount to anything.

Your mom was right.  None of her kids turned out any good.

Think of all the bills that would just disappear if you no longer existed.

I had known for months that I was spiraling out of control, but I dealt with it the way I always did.  I threw myself into my work.  When the job dried up, my safe place to run was no more.  Suddenly, I was made to face my demons instead of swallow them and deal with them later. Years of suppressed depression bubbled to the surface and threatened to devour me.

I began planning.  How could I kill myself?  Where could I do it, so my kids and husband wouldn’t be the ones to find me?  Was everything in order so they could easily bury me and move on?  Would there be a babysitter for the kids that would be close to Jim’s work?

So, when Jim finally sat me down and muttered the hardest sentences he’s ever had to say, I got help.

It was the most difficult step toward wellness.  I learned things about myself that were hard to swallow.  Things like:  I will probably always have to take medication to keep from spiraling into that black hole of self-loathing again;  I will struggle to stave off the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder that I’ve had since early childhood; I’ve been depressed my entire life; I’m not a bad daughter and I’m not a bad mother; I’ve been suicidal before and the blackouts were my brain’s way of keeping that pain away from me; painful recovered memories that, even now, I don’t want to deal with. These are all mountainous things to accept.

Accept them I did, though, and I can say now that I am way more informed about the darkness that lingers in my brain.  When the self-loathing begins, I don’t ignore it.  I tell Jim and get myself to the doctor because my medication needs to be monkeyed with.  When I feel that overwhelming weight of hypervigilance wrap itself around me, I find a safe place–even if that means abandoning my grocery cart in the middle of the store and running out of the building–and breathe, talking myself out of the impending panic attack.  I constantly weigh my behavior as a mother and a wife and, if I find it lacking, I have a support system of people in place that I can run to for help.

Imagine, if you will, what would have become of me had my husband not drawn that line in the sand.

I doubt I’d be here today, with the strength to carry on.

I count myself lucky that I have people who love me enough to draw that line, people who care enough to pay attention and notice that something is off.

Not everyone has that in place.

Some of us hide it better than others, behind masks made of humor and goodwill that suck the energy out of us so badly that there’s little left for us when the sun goes down and the house quiets for the night.

Some of us are drowning under the stigma that breeds so rapidly where mental illness is concerned, frightened that people will know we’re ill and stop trusting us and begin questioning our every move.

When I hear about people who commit suicide because of illnesses like depression, it breaks my heart.  I know exactly how they feel.  I know about the devil on their shoulders, whispering vile thoughts into their ears.  They aren’t weak, cowardly or selfish.  They are sick and in search of mercy.  They find it in the worst place possible.

If you or someone you love suffers from mental illness, reach out.  Don’t let the devil on your shoulder have the last word.




Serious stuff

Crash Landing

Way back in ’09 I left a Pampered Chef party at my mother-in-law’s house to go pick up pictures I had ordered.  When I sat down next to the photographer she began to weep, having a difficult time concentrating on my order.  When I asked if she was okay she shook her head.

“No,” she said, rummaging through her purse for a tissue.

“Would you rather I come back another day?”

“No, I’m just sad.  I can’t believe he’s dead.”

I looked at the woman like she was crazy for a minute.  Did I miss something?

“Didn’t you hear?” she asked, her eyes bulging out of her head.

“Hear what?”

“Michael Jackson died.”

I admit, I thought she was a little nutty.  Unless she knew Michael Jackson personally, I thought her grief was over the top.

God laughed at me and put me in my place yesterday.

When I opened my Yahoo feed I was slapped in the face with the news of Robin Williams’ death.  My first reaction was to quickly search so I could find out it was a hoax.  This simply cannot be, I thought.

But it was.

It is.

In that moment a wave of grief swept over me.  No, I didn’t know the man personally, though that would have been cool as hell.  No, I didn’t weep, but I did cry.  I shed a tear for the comedic and dramatic genius that had fostered in me a sense of humor and a love for poignant movie moments since 1979.

As I read the internet stories I grew more and more eager to know details of this man’s death.  Still too soon to report much more than the bare fact that he died by possible suicide, little was found to give answers.  He was always open and honest about his struggles with addiction and depression, never hiding behind cliches or publicists.  As fans, we had all the answers.  We just chose to think the funny man would always have a well of strength to keep him soaring through the stratosphere of fame.

His well ran dry yesterday.

He crash landed.

It wasn’t until I read the tweet his daughter sent out into the world that I bawled like a baby.  From “The Little Prince”:

“You  you alone will have the stars as no one else has them.  In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You — only you — will have stars that can laugh.”

I was at a loss.  How should I remember this man who bounced into my life at the tender age of 5, dressed in a red jumpsuit, flying in an egg, and made me laugh, even though I was too young to get most of the jokes?  For decades, literally, he had released movie after movie right around my birthday.  Each year I’d scoop up someone to go see My Birthday Movie, as I thought of it, as if the man made them just for me.  It became my thing.  My tradition.  What to do?

The answer was simple.

I gathered my sons together.

I made them turn off the video games.

I fired up Hulu.

I began at the beginning.

I introduced them to Mork.

As we sat on the couch, giggling at the nearly 40-year-old humor, I had an epiphany.  Robin Williams left us not just the legacy of an artist.  He left us an entire cache of grief soothing salve in the form of Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Adrian Cronauer.  He left us catharsis in movies like Awakenings, Patch Adams, and Good Will Hunting.  We could still commune with the spirit of this short, furry and funny man.

As I searched through the boxes of DVD’s pulling out every Robin Williams movie I own, I heard my computer dinging with replies to my posts about how sad this news was.  I quit my search and sat down to Facebook and saw post after post of folks who felt the same way I did.

My last epiphany of the evening wasn’t a pleasant one.

He was loved by more than just his family.  And still that love wasn’t enough to save him from the demons that haunted him.

So my wish, if I get one, is that Robin Williams finally finds the peace he so desperately needed while he was here.

My wish is that, after his crash landing, he was lifted up and surrounded by our outpourings of love for a man the majority of us didn’t know personally, but felt like we did.