suicidal depression

The Dolphin and the Sea

 

I never intended to be your disciple
I never intended to repeat your strife
The time has come to break the cycle
It is time for me to separate from your life
Though your time on earth has ended
You are still a part of me
You and I are spirits kindred
As the dolphin and the sea

 

On Halloween these words came back to me. They are part of a much longer poem I wrote in early 1992. I wrote them a few months before my 23rd birthday, a short while before the first of my psychological and emotional breakdowns. I wrote it when I still believed my mom had committed suicide eleven years before.

I don’t know why I always forget why this time of year is full of depression triggers for me. I’ve gotten into the habit of attributing it to the change in seasons, the increasing cold and darkness and how it affects the symptoms of both the fibromyalgia and the depression itself. However, I think the truth is I’ve never fully come to terms with my mother’s death and her life leading up to it, even though I have tried.

My mom would have been 60 on October 19th. She died within a week or two, on one side or another of her birthday in 1981, the year I turned 12.

The phone call came on a Sunday night. Invasion of The Body Snatchers, with Donald Sutherland, was on the television.

I think I probably acted like I had been body snatched.

I kind of remember that my aunt and her sister (my step-grandmother) were wailing and crying. I know my uncle headed into action. He left to drive to Texas and get my grandma. I don’t remember feeling much of anything. I’m pretty sure I put on a show of crying because I knew if I didn’t they would all think something was wrong with me and I had no desire to get put back into therapy or group counseling, like I’d had to go through after I had told about the molestation by my stepdad when I was ten.

It was probably a year and a half before I cried for real. Even then, I don’t think it was grief for her, but more grief for me and the fact I had faced off with someone who had been a friend at the time I found out she’d killed herself, then used that information to publicly lash out at me after the friendship ended.

As a child I don’t think I was very attached or bonded to her or anyone else for that matter (I talked some about that here). I’m pretty sure it’s because she had also been a teen mom who had given up on herself and the dreams and goals she’d had for herself and her life. My knowledge of family history is pretty sparse, but I know my grandpa was an alcoholic and my grandmother was a bitter, passive-aggressive person. I’m pretty sure there was domestic violence (I heard grandma pulled a gun on grandpa once). So her life growing up had to have factored into our life together. Whatever the reason, we never really had a close connection.

That is until the day I wrote the poem.

That morning, another Sunday, (I’m starting to sense that Sundays aren’t my best days), I woke up and freaked out when I looked into the bathroom mirror. The reflection looking back at me wasn’t my own. It was hers. It was the same weary, worn, and sorrowful face I can still vaguely remember seeing in a photo taken when I was five.

At least I think I remember seeing 1974 in blue ink on the white bordered bottom of the Polaroid photo. I was in a red dress, smile on my face, fingers clasped with my hands open and facing down, brown-black hair hanging straight, and a little headband sweeping my bangs back. I wasn’t looking at the camera. I was looking up toward my mom. She stood between me and a Christmas tree, wearing a light colored sweater and colored slacks. Her hair was kind of floaty/flyaway around her face. She had a slight smile, but it didn’t move the rest of her face and her eyes were so sad.

I didn’t see her face superimposed over mine that morning, I saw it instead of mine. I quietly freaked out and spent the rest of the day writing that poem and trying to exorcise her ghost inside of me.

A short while later I had my meltdown. I was living with the pregnant roommate from hell. “No offense, Kina, but I’m giving this monster up for adoption because I don’t want to be like you.” She reminded me a bit of Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s character in Single White Female. Not the whole murderous, dopplegang your life bit, but in looks and some mannerisms. She did start dating the nice guy I broke up with. That was weird and more than a little awkward.

I was taking 18 credit hours of college classes and working three different work-study jobs. My son was five years old and basically living at his babysitter’s during the week because I didn’t have a car or know how to drive and it was about a two hour trip, one-way, on the bus to get him to her or pick him up.

I got sick and missed a week of school just before mid-terms. I was in a messed up triangle of a relationship with a couple of fellow student co-workers. I was carrying heaps of mommy guilt and I didn’t have any family or friends I felt I could turn to. Mobile phones were only for the well-to-do and we couldn’t even afford a landline, so I couldn’t call anyone.

I tried anyway. I bundled up and fought the cold winds to walk to the bar down the block from our apartment complex to use the pay phone and called the guy in the relationship. Guess what? It was a Sunday night. He answered. I asked if he could come over, but didn’t tell him anything was wrong. I needed him to know that something was wrong, but felt so damn pathetic and weak, I couldn’t say the words. So, we hung up and I trudged home.

I almost took my life. I had everything set for me to be gone. I had a God moment that night. From somewhere inside me, a voice I didn’t recognize spoke and told me I did not want to do this and abandon my son, the way I had been abandoned. It also reminded me that there were other people in my life who cared about me and would be hurt and angry if I made that choice, even if none of them were there in that moment.

I walked away from my perfectly set scene and knocked on the roommate’s door. I cried and confessed what I had been about to do. She called her boyfriend, my ex, and he showed up with a friend and a fifth of Tequila. I woke up in my bathtub, wrapped in a blanket the next day. I cleaned myself up, walked down to the college and withdrew from school. It was one of the hardest and easiest things I felt I’d ever done.

I went through the motions of healing and sought therapy and medication because I knew I would have to document why I should be trusted with financial aid again. But, I didn’t really accomplish much or do the work. Instead I went dancing and drinking and eventually hooked up with a guy who seemed to have it together. Other than the fact we didn’t go out together, just smoked weed, stayed in and had sex. Nine months after I didn’t die I found out I was pregnant again, but that’s another story.

The point is I was trying so hard to not be like my mom and make different choices than she did, but I still wound up as the emotionally unstable, detached and unavailable mom. I think I’ve blamed her and maybe even hated her, meaning I’ve blamed me and hated those parts of me that are like her.

I have had so many times as an adult that I needed and wanted a mom to turn to for advice, help, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a hug. I miss having a mom.

A couple of years ago I reconnected with a high school friend who had moved to where my mom died. She helped me obtain the police and coroner’s reports from when my mom died. I did this because I realized I had never known the date she died, where she died or what had happened to her body. I never attended a memorial service and no one ever talked to me about her, at least when I was young.

At one point, a year or so before that first meltdown, I did find out that when my uncle arrived in Texas, after driving from Oregon, he found that the only “clean-up” that had been done was my mother’s body removed. My grandmother had found her and had continued to stay there until he arrived. This explained some of my grandmother’s brand of crazy in her later years.

When I read through the reports a couple of things were very clear. No one involved in the investigation checked their facts. Basically, someone decided that a crazy, depressed woman had shot herself, point blank between the eyes. Case closed.

It’s weird that I kind of feel better that it’s marginally possible that she didn’t commit suicide and it was a case where her case wasn’t high profile or worthy enough of a thorough investigation and she was just written off. Sad, really.

Either way, she had fewer supports than I did and while there is still a lot of stigma associated with depression and other psychological disorders and diseases, there are more resources available. It boils down to the same thing, she was a victim in her life and succumbed to the depression or to the results of a bad relationship and didn’t get her chance to grow beyond that stage in her life.

I have struggled to move beyond being the victim in my life. Most of the time I feel like I have such a long way to go. However, yesterday a distant relative saw the new profile picture I took and told me how much I look like my mom. I realized I have lived 14 years longer than she did. I got to watch two of my children reach adulthood. I am able to work through the issues that drive my depression and have the support and encouragement of others to help me through. However difficult and dysfunctional my life is or has been, I have at least had the chance to live it in a way she never had the chance to.

Gratitude Day 10
I am thankful for modern technology and social media. The ability to connect and be in community with distant people has been instrumental in my healing and recovery process: Facebook, WordPress, and an online recovery resource, The Recovery Group with online meetings have been invaluable to me.

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Changing your fate: Conflict and relationships

“If you had the chance to change your fate, would ya’?” ~ Princess Merida, Brave 2012

My girls and I went to see Brave yesterday, as a belated birthday celebration for LaLa.  Sure she’s 19, but after watching the first trailer, I knew it was something I wanted to share with her as well as Luna. Lachesis showed up in the form of the “short” that opened the movie, “La Luna.” It informed me I was in a defining moment by being there with both my daughters.  La Luna foreshadowed what I perceived to be the primary theme of the movie itself: conflict and relationships.  The trailers make Brave seem to be about a young woman’s efforts to define her own future, and it is.  However, I think the actual primary theme is about conflict and the restoration of relationships.  The mother-daughter relationship was definitely the central story, but other relationships were touched on as well: father-daughter, husband-wife, siblings, and community.  Each of these had moments where conflict and restoration were involved in the overall story.

Conflict in relationships has been a constant in my life for so long, I’m not sure I can recall a time when one or more key relationships wasn’t conflicted.  As in the movie, much of the conflict in my life has been as a result of a strong desire to fight against my perceived fate and my determined pride in knowing that I had the right of it as opposed to someone else’s vision or ideas.

I am a walking, talking, living, breathing set of statistics.  I have been most of my life.  Born of a teen mom who lived a nomadic life filled with broken relationships and ended in a suicidal depression, I understood at a young age I would be going against a tide of assumptions and expectations. Prior to my mom’s death I was taken in by my uncle and the statistics kept stacking up, living in a household with partying, swinging, pot-smoking 70’s throwbacks.  A divorce and custody battle between my aunt and uncle meant I had to fend for myself and try to be there for my little cousin.  The resentment and bitterness I formed against the adults in my world grew into a mountain of self-defeating rebellion.  I jumped from the frying pan into the fire and ran away from home with a man who was 14 years older than me. And so began my pre-destined course to becoming a teenage welfare mom.

The next three and a half years were spent living out of cars, hitchhiking across the country, and playing on people’s pity for survival.  By the time I was 19, I was the poster child for statistical failure; a single-mom, without a diploma or GED, and dependent on welfare. Determined to counter society’s expectations and my deepest fears, I sent myself into hyper-drive with school.  No way was I going to be the poster girl for welfare motherhood.

At the same time, I immersed myself in relationships with people who needed me to help fix them, in my not so humble opinion.  People who were more damaged than I saw myself as.  I inserted myself into their lives and involved myself in their activities.  I was the social queen bee who knew it all and had the intellect and the verbal skills to back it up.  Making myself necessary and central to people’s lives meant I would never be alone.  Surrounding myself with those who were somehow “less than” meant I wouldn’t be at risk of being hurt, used, and damaged the way I had been in the past.  Of course, I wasn’t conscious of either of these things. My certainty that I knew what was best and right for others, combined with my refusal to heed suggestions and advice about my own situation eventually put me into conflict with everyone who was important to me.

Within three years, I imploded.  I burned the candle at both ends, socially and academically. I involved myself in overly complicated and twisted relationships. These choices grew the guilt and knowledge that I was sacrificing my son and his needs in order to “fight my fate.” I landed in a very dark place. In my heart and mind I knew I didn’t know how to be a good mom or a good friend.  I felt disconnected from everyone, everything, and even myself.  I manufactured good feelings to put on a false front.  I came across as a happy, motivated, and functional woman, but underneath it all I all I felt was numb layered over a deep sense of futility. My core deep belief was that no matter hard and frantic I worked to change and improve myself and my life, I was destined for failure. Instead of committing suicide, I got blackout drunk and withdrew from college the next day.

Nine months later, on November 3, 1992, just before I went to cast my ballot, I found out I was pregnant with my second child.  I was a 23, back in school, and living with my grandmother.  I took the phone call from the doctor’s office and when I told my grandmother she slammed down the knife she was using to chop vegetables and angrily informed me that I was never going to amount to anything or get anywhere in my life.  This was after telling me at one point during the previous two years that she wasn’t going to let my little boy drive her crazy and to suicide the way I drove my mom. The statements from my grandma just summed up everything I was fighting against inside of myself.  So, without realizing it, my internalized fate was that of a woman who would never amount to much and would drive the people in her life away.

The past 20 years have been spent spinning my wheels trying to change my fate and despairing of ever being able to do so. Yesterday, after the movie, LaLa and I talked quite a bit.  We talked about depression, our relationships with each other and her brother, as well as the subjects of destiny, fate, and pride.  She shared with me that even though she’s said harsh and hurtful things to me and has gone through her times of intense dislike of me, it was never a thought in her mind that she would cut off all communication and relationship with me.  I was able to let her know that no matter what feelings or thoughts she experiences toward me as she goes through her life, I will always be available to her.  I realized that despite my internalized fears and certainties, my fate is changing, I am growing, and although it’s being redefined, success is achievable.

“To change your fate, look inside, to mend the bonds, broken by pride” ~ Witch, Brave 2012