I WON A THING!

So remember when I wrote about how I was up for an Island Literary Award? Well… I took third place!

IMG_7925

I’ve never entered any type of contest, ever. There was always too much going on at home to enter any school contests, the way that I grew up forced me to focus on simply surviving – I didn’t have the capacity for anything else.

The piece that I submitted is about the darker currents in my life – growing up with a mentally ill mother and the impact this had on our relationship, how it became frayed and fragmented over time. I open on her funeral, and then in between the footsteps leading me to her coffin I flashback to memories that build the understanding of the complexity of that relationship. All the ways she built me and broke me.

I put some pretty raw things in there. Being ripped from her arms screaming, packing my things into garbage bags, losing track of foster homes, learning in a group home from another kid how to break open a razor blade and self-harm as a coping mechanism. Breaking into her apartment to find out if she’s dead or alive.

I hid these things from the world for a long time. People who know me in the real world are shocked to find out about my childhood.”But you’re so happy and well-adjusted!” I don’t fit the mold of someone with my history. I’ve been told I’m a statistical anomaly. I think this means I’ve done a pretty good job of healing my wounds in the battlefield.

But I was scared of how others would view my history, afraid that they would see my emotional scars as a weakness. I think as I get older I’m learning that all these parts of me make me stronger, not weaker. I’m learning to embrace my story.

So this is really special to me.

Perhaps I’m starting to figure out to how to not just simply survive, but thrive. Although I suspect it will always feel as if I’m making it up as I go along.

It helps that I can buy wine now too.

Anyhow, now I have this award that I can frame and put up on my wall to use as armor against that tiny voice in the back of my head that whispers “cant’s, shouldnt’s, wont’s” in my ear. I can point to it and say “screw you, little voice. I do what I want now”.

FullSizeRender

No Words

This week I went to my mother’s inquest. I can’t adequately describe sitting in a courtroom, hearing about my mother’s final moments in detail, glimpsing photos from across the room.

The inquest was a good thing, the jury came up with excellent recommendations to try and reduce the risk of this kind of death happening again.

I’m glad I went.

But it was hard, and I’m left feeling kind of empty.

I can’t find it in me to be funny, or introspective, or strong, or wise, or even sad in my post.

So this week I have no words for you. I’m sorry.

Mental illness is a civil war.

Next week they are doing an inquiry into my mother’s suicide, because she died in the hospital.  This post talks about suicide and mental illness and may contain triggers.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m funny again.  This is for all of you out there that might be missing someone you lost to mental illness. Or grieving at all.

******

This is a quote someone shared with me that represents the battle that so many face with mental illness.  I unfortunately don’t have a source.
“Our friend [your mother] died on her own battlefield. She was killed in action fighting a civil war. She fought against adversaries that were as real to her as her casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of her energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of her courage and strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed her. And it appeared that she lost the war. But did she? I see a host of victories that she has won!
For one thing — she has won our admiration — because even if she lost the war, we give her credit for her bravery on the battlefield. And we give her credit for the courage and pride and hope that she used as her weapons as long as she could.  Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes. We shall remember not her death, but her daily victories gained through her kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through her love for family and friends, for animals and books and music, for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember the many days that she was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought she had left, but the intensity with which she lived the years she had!”

I couldn’t have said it better.

The Unopened Christmas Present

Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. The Christmas season will always be tinged with sadness for me – everybody else is gearing up for the holidays while I look back to what I lost.

The worst part about this grief it that it holds the loss of hope – that’s what I lost. Hope. My relationship with my mother was complex, and mostly difficult. I lost the hope that I would get a chance to create a relationship that was less painful – that we could find a way to be happy, to create more good memories to balance out the bad ones. I lost the opportunity to make it right, somehow.

I not sure that would have been possible – but I irrevocably lost the chance to even try.

Our relationship will forever remain, unfinished. Perhaps all relationships do. But all those conversations we never had, the memories we never made, the laughs we never got to share – they haunt me.

Perhaps that’s why I have a Christmas present from my mother that I’ve never opened.  Before she died she went Christmas shopping – it’s the last present I’ll ever get from her. It’s been said that I can’t get closure until I open it, that I’m not letting go. The people that say these things might be right.

That way I see it though, as long as I still have that present to open our relationship isn’t completely over. There’s still something left to be exchanged between us.

That present represents a small piece of possibility. It represents a future.

Maybe what’s inside will provide a small measure of comfort, and I’m missing out on that. Maybe it’s terrible (my mother was actually a notoriously bad gift-giver). I won’t say I’m not curious, it’s just that right now what the present represents is more important to me than what’s inside.

I’m not ready for it to be over between us. Perhaps one day I will be. Perhaps that will be the day I find peace.


What do you think? Weigh in – to open, or not to open?

On a good day, this is how I view my grief. But some days – like today – it’s ok to not be ok. I’m embracing that.

And if you’d like to do something for me – remember this Christmas that not everyone has big, joyful families to spend the holidays with. Take a look around you – and if you see someone who might need a little more joy in their Christmas – do something for them. It doesn’t have to be big, sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference.  If you can make the world around you a better place, even in the smallest of ways – I can see no better embodiment of the holiday spirit than that.  I’ve been very lucky that I have amazing people in my life that make sure fun, and laughter, and joy, and love are a part of my holidays. I’ve always been very grateful for that.

The upside of rage

WARNING: This post may contain triggers for some.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m feeling funny again.

*******

It was the day of my mother’s funeral.  I felt everything.  I felt nothing.

I was preoccupied with the endlessly demanding, tiny, minute tasks.  I couldn’t process all that I was feeling, I still can’t.  I’ve always been able to articulate myself, but to this day on the topic of my mother’s death I’m left with a profound sense that I have nothing to say.

All I have are fragments of thoughts, the stunted beginnings of sentences, complex emotions aching to express themselves but facing the brutality of an inadequate language.

So bear with me as I attempt to share a story with you.  A fragment of one of the worst days of my life.  One without a clear moral, or direction.  A story for story’s sake.

Two hours until funeral time, rather than being present in my grief and pain I was desperately focusing on slideshows, printing pictures, setting up a display, calculating the time it would take to drive across town to accomplish these things and knowing that it would come down to minutes to spare even if everything went smoothly.  Underneath these frantic thoughts, I was simply suppressing a multitude of emotions that churned below the surface.

Then I received a phone call.  This particular phone call came from a social worker that worked with my grandmother, and she told me that my grandfather was refusing to drive my grandmother to the funeral because she had been disrespectful to his new wife the day prior and now my grandmother was distraught because she might not have a way to her daughter’s funeral.

Suddenly, my temper snapped.  I am usually an incredibly calm person.  Due to the amount of tragedy and loss I have faced in life, my cage is hard to rattle.  That’s the upside to hard times, they make us stronger.

Not this day.

Rage bubbled up to the surface, blissfully eclipsing all other emotion.  I had done everything for the funeral, these two adults simply had to show up and they couldn’t seem to accomplish this simple task without complications.  The anger I felt was instant.

And here’s the thing; it felt good.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel broken.  I didn’t feel grief.  I didn’t feel pain.  I didn’t feel sadness.  I had fire running through my veins.  My eyes flashed cold and hard with ice.  No longer listless, I had energy fueled by unadulterated, exquisite rage.  I seethed.  I drew myself up to my full height, pacing my kitchen, cursing and ranting, barely restraining myself from screaming, about the immaturity of those more than twice my age.  I no longer felt overwhelmed. I was focused on one this one, pure emotion.  I suddenly felt powerful.  I was a force to be reckoned with.

I remember the stunned face of a close friend, who in more than a decade of friendship, had never seen me truly angry.  No one in the room spoke.  It seems as if the whole world was holding it’s breath, teetering on the edge of precipice.

Finally, my stepfather caught my eye.  He said quietly, “I know.  I understand.  I’m sorry, but you don’t have time for this.  You have more important things you need to focus on.”

His words were like a siren call to my logic.  I knew that swirling in that cauldron of emotion I carried had been anger at my mother’s suicide, anger at her and anger at the world.  Anger at a broken system that had fostered this tragedy.  I knew I was funneling all that anger through this incident because it gave it somewhere concrete to land.

I had a choice to make.

Taking a deep shuddering breath, I pushed the rage back down with visible effort and it slowly ebbed away leaving me once again anxious and afraid of the hours to come, the terrible day I still had yet to face.  Leaving me exhausted and drained from a week of too little sleep and too much crying.  Leaving me once again, feeling only heartbroken.

The allure of my rage was undeniable, but I had things to do.

Broken.

This post is about my mother’s suicide, and may contain triggers for some.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m funny.

******

Today is the 1-year anniversary of my mother’s suicide.   This has been a difficult journey, to say the least.  A hard road to walk.  There have been days where it was all I could do to crawl forward.  There have even been days I simply lay down on the path, gasping and defeated.  Suicide is what they call a complicated grief, and the past year has been a whirlwind of emotions.  I have been overwhelmed by guilt.  I have been angry.  I have been sad.  I have been heartbroken.  I have been broken.

I have these emotional wounds that aren’t visible to the human eye.  That no one can see just by looking at me.  I carry them within, and I can choose to revel them, or keep them hidden.  But they will always be there.  Eventually they scab and scar over, but time alone does not heal.  We have to work at it.  We do not get over grief, we get through it.  We do not let go of our grief, we grow and expand to make room for it until it doesn’t hurt so bad.  But the scars remain.  We carry them with us always.

But we can heal.

Someone showed me this picture on the internet the other day, about kintsukuroi.  Kintsukuroi is the “art of repairing broken pottery with silver or gold and the understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken”.

Source can be found here.

Source can be found here.

With how many times I have felt broken over the last year, this really resonated with me.  I believe that this applies to people as well.  There is room for hope and healing, if we make it.  We can thread silver or gold through our internal scars and become better people for them, with a richer history.  Our pain can make us more empathetic to others, more compassionate, more understanding, more caring.  Stronger.  More beautiful.

My mother and me on her wedding day.

My mother and me on her wedding day.

I miss you mom.  Today and every day until the end of my days.  Thank you for making me more beautiful, in your own way.  I hope that wherever you are, you too have found hope and healing.  Happiness and peace.  Rest.  And although you are no longer here, our love for you remains.

******

There is a lot of laughter and joy in my life, but sometimes, some days, it’s ok to not be ok.  Today is one of those days for me.  I find it easier to be vulnerable in writing – so I write.  Thank you for allowing me to share that here.

My mother’s suicide.

This was something I wrote shortly after my mother’s suicide.  It’s not funny, there’s no ‘positive gloss’.  For some, it may contain triggers.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m funny.  I’ve done a lot of healing since I wrote this piece nearly a year ago, but it will be something I carry with me always.  Thank you for allowing me to share it here.

Also, be warned, this post is crazy long.  If you’re going to read it, feel free to read it in pieces.

******

I had been waiting a long time for that phone call.

The one that would change everything.

My mother had always been sick. She’d been diagnosed schizophrenic, bipolar, and borderline split-personality disorder.  I never knew my father.  I grew up in and out of her care (when she was stable), foster homes, group homes and the occasional women’s shelter or homeless shelter.  Needless to say, we had a complicated relationship.  At 16, I was able to legally sign myself out of her care and regain a semblance of control over my life.  But she was always there, always playing a role in my stories.  She was my mother.  You only get one.

She was brilliant, beautiful, full of potential. She had not been given a fair shake at life. She was passionate, giving, strong and funny.  She would have done anything for me.  Her whole face lit up when I walked into the room. She loved me fiercely, and was proud of me. I loved her right back.

But there was this other part of her. This frustrating, parasitic, malicious, manipulative, hurtful part of her. She had tried to commit suicide multiple times in the past. She would also use the reason that she was “feeling suicidal” to try to manipulate me into buying or doing things for her. After a while, this angered me.  What kind of person would inflict this kind of emotional abuse upon her eldest daughter over a lamp, or a rocking chair, or whatever struck her fancy that week?  It was unconscionable.

She was also completely unpredictable.  I came home once when when I was 9 and she had smashed everything we owned. The place looked like it had been hit by a natural disaster. I had to clean up, pack whatever essentials that hadn’t been destroyed in a garbage bag and it was off to another foster home yet again. She did and said many hurtful things to me over the course of our lives together. And I was always left picking up the pieces after her.

But it wasn’t her fault. She had an illness.

I knew this intellectually, but that was not what I felt emotionally. I was angry with her. I had been classically conditioned to tense at the very sound of her voice. I was always preparing myself for the next crisis. I felt both good and bad things about my mother simultaneously. I loved her, I just didn’t like her. Over the last few years of my life, frustration and exasperation seemed to dominate how I felt about her.  I was hoping to fix that.  I was joining a support group for family members of those with mental instabilities, I wanted to re-wire my reactions to her so that I could just build the best relationship that was possible for us.  She was never going to change, but maybe I could be better.  Perhaps I might have been able to make some better memories to look back on someday.  I ache now for those memories that never quite made their way into fruition.  The lost moments.

She would ask me all the time though “Do you still love me?” and mostly I would reply with the obligatory ‘yes, of course’, but the last time I voluntarily told her I loved her was a few years ago.  I remember it vividly because I had to break into her apartment to find out if she was dead or not.  I’ll never forget walking into that apartment and seeing her laying on the floor.  Yelling her name, getting no response.  The panic.  The bile at the back of my throat.  Shaking her violently until her eyelids eventually fluttered open.  She wasn’t dead, but very sick.  I fought all my natural instincts about distancing myself emotionally from her and begged her not to commit suicide. She had tried a couple times before, and I feared she would again. I told her there were people that needed her and the world would not be the same without her in it. I begged and I cried. I looked directly into her eyes and said “I love you.  I need you in my life.  Please don’t leave me all alone in this world.”.

A couple weeks later, she tried to kill herself anyway. I can’t begin to describe how this felt. I was not angry, but crushed. Heartbroken.  Ripped apart.  Utterly powerless.  Pulverized.  I was actually surprised by the depth of what I felt. I had thought I had distanced myself more from this.  I had thought I had built walls high enough to hide behind forever.  Shortly thereafter she went into the institution where she spent the rest of her days on this earth.

There were more suicide attempts. Ups and downs. I had resigned myself to the idea that when she went, it would probably be from suicide. Every time my phone rang, and it was the police or hospital, a part of me would panic and think: “Is this it? Is this the call?”

And then one night it was.

I was supposed to go and visit her that day.  I had picked up some some stuff for her; shampoo, conditioner, and some hair clips. Then some friends came over for what we affectionately refer to as a ‘Sunday Funday’: games, a few drinks, good company. Being the fun-loving 20-something I am, I did that instead. “I’ll go and see her sometime this week,” I thought.

Then, much too late at night, my phone rang. It was a worker from the hospital.

I was immediately tense, my whole mood changed. “It’s nothing,” I thought. “It’s something small, some altercation she’s been in.”. I fought my rising sense of panic by telling myself to stop being melodramatic.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is Sophia there?”, a voice answered.

“Speaking,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Where are you? Are you driving?”, the voice on the other end replied.

I suddenly felt disconnected from my legs. A little dizzy. “No, I’m at home. What’s happened?”

“Are you sitting down?” The last of my hope was quickly slipping through my fingertips. I was hanging on by fingernails.

“Just say it,” I replied. Say anything else, I thought. For a brief moment, I begged the universe for the voice on the other end of that line to say something else. Anything else at all.  Anything.  Please god, anything.

I knew.

“Your mother’s dead. She committed suicide today.”

Not for the first time in my life, my universe had ripped wide open in an instant.  She had been snatched from me, leaving a gaping hole where she used to be, threads dangling, and my world would never again be the same.  There was a dagger of pain burning it’s way through my chest, I couldn’t quite feel my legs and my lungs couldn’t quite draw in enough air.  There was a sound coming out of my throat, wringing it’s way around a white-hot lump, that my brain couldn’t quite account for.  It took just one sentence, one second, one voice on the other end of the phone to fundamentally alter me forever.

She… was… gone.

My mother and my sister.

My mother and my sister. If anybody can rock a mullet (they can’t. mullets were a terrible hairstyle) it was my mother.

It was December 1st, 2013.

I picked up the pieces, because that’s what I knew how to do. I made the necessary calls, offered comfort wherever and whenever needed.  I said “It’s going to be ok” to countless people.  I took a week off work and planned the entire funeral. I took care of everybody else, and honesty it was easier to focus on their pain instead of my own.  I pulled myself together, buried my pain, and ran full tilt from my feelings.

I went back to work. I smile, I laugh, I spend time with my friends. I know that someday, I will be okay. I am not lost, or broken.

But this loss, this pain is constantly there. Deep and true loss, “grief”, it physically hurts.  All I have to do is look over my shoulder and there it is waiting for me.  My grief.  This giant, throbbing ball of loss that I cannot seem to outrun no matter how fast I move.  Sometimes it sneaks up on me, an idle thought slipping through my mind, and suddenly I’m unwillingly transported right back into my own personal hell.

Just as in life, with her, what I know intellectually and what I feel are two different things; I know there is nothing I could have done. I could not have changed this outcome, only postponed it.  I still feel guilty. I wish I had been a better daughter. I wish I had tried harder. Had more patience. More understanding. More kindness. Been more open and loving.  Been better.

She was sick, and had a terrible life with no hope of ever getting better. I can’t blame her, and she didn’t do this to me, she did it for her. She’s finally at peace. I still feel livid. She walked away from me, she left me. She did this one, last, terrible thing to me.  Fuck her.  I miss her.

Everything will be fine, and it won’t always feel this terrible. It won’t always be so bad. Time has a way of healing these deep-set wounds even though the scars remain. But right now there is this ball of hot coal sitting heavily in the center of my chest; burning, burning, burning right through me and it hurts so bad I can’t breathe. It feels like it’s getting worse, not better.

I know I will be okay. I am a survivor. My life has made me strong, and I know I can bear this story.  I can bear this scar.

I am not okay.