The Reconnect

I have been visiting with My Former Life these last few days.  Going back through my stories of various people and places, wrapping them about myself like a warm blanket to keep me company.  It is comforting to me to reconnect with people who were so incredibly significant in my life at a certain moment in time.  In some cases, it is the only place possible to do so.

In other cases, this blog has motivated me to reconnect with people from my past.  I’ve done so most recently with one of my former high school teachers.  Mr. V.  He was probably my most significant influence during my senior year of high school.  A year so full of torment and drama that I actually attempted suicide a week before Christmas that year.

To be honest, if it weren’t for Mr. V, things could have gone very differently for me during my final year of high school.

His class was a favorite of pretty much every student in it.  To earn his praise was the highest form of compliment, and earned you respect from every student in it:  even those who didn’t care much about school cared what Mr. V thought.  He pushed us.  He was tough, had high standards.

But he also cared.  You knew he cared.  You knew he was paying attention.

He was one of the first adults in my life outside of my family to truly believe in me.  I take that back, there were probably a great many that did.  There was something about his method, his way of letting me know that:  through quiet comments in my papers or my journal, through conversations after school, through his lessons that not only taught us about prepositions and sentence structure but about life.  His affirmation, his respect, when everyone around us respected him so highly, was huge.  It made a difference.  It put me on a different path.  He helped me finally start sowing the seeds of my own self confidence and belief.

Someone had mentioned him in passing on my Facebook page and I thought about him again.  I did a quick internet search and it wasn’t long before I found his Facebook profile, full of the same passion and energy about world events and life that he gave to us in class.  I thought about it for about twelve hours and then in a fit of reckless abandon, I sent a Friend Request.

I immediately regretted it, but somehow couldn’t pull it back.  I didn’t see any mutual friends in his friends listing, so I worried.  He probably didn’t accept former students into his circle.  Was it weird to think that he would remember me?  That he wondered where my life had taken me?  What if he didn’t accept it?

Days passed by and my fears seemed to be coming to fruition.  Nothing.  No acceptance.  I resigned myself to understanding that I wasn’t that different from every other student.  He might have been a standout for me, but after thirty years of teaching it was foolish for me to think I’d been a standout to him, who had taught thousands of kids, all with struggles and challenges of their own.  I wasn’t that different.  I wasn’t special.

And then, four days later, the notice came.  He’d accepted my request.

Just like that, reconnected.  With someone who made such a difference in my life whom I have always wondered about in the twenty six years since.  Reconnected.  Knowing all of the unknowns.  Knowing that he did remember me, that I made a difference, somehow to him too, all those years ago.

I’ve been enjoying my walk backwards these last few days.  Back through time.  It’ll pass, as it always does, but for now?  Having that one more piece of my lost puzzle of my former life back in place?  It’s priceless.

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No More Waiting

I spent this morning looking for therapists.  Well, doing work on a freelance web design job that came up quickly and needs to be done quickly, and looking for therapists.

It kind of feels good to be honest about it, frankly.  I think I spend a lot of time projecting to the world what I want them to see.  People tell me all of the time that they find it hard to believe how insecure I am; they only really find out if they become a close friend.  Most people see me as someone who is organized, intelligent, confident enough to stand up in front of the whole town and speak their mind or boldly walk up to their favorite rock star and ask for a job.

They don’t know what goes on in my head.  I don’t go around talking about it.  A very few people know the stories that I have shared here on this blog.  That I grew up in an exceedingly dysfunctional family.  That I had a brother who spent a great deal of time under psychiatric care.  That I too spent years in therapy trying to figure out to break that cycle.

I never really thought I had, of course.  I knew that when my husband and I got down and dirty in our fights the despair felt black and all encompassing.  It’s true that I have actually attempted suicide several times since I’ve been married.  I know who I am.  I know where my mind goes.  My strength isn’t that I have grown beyond those impulses; I think I have finally accepted that they will always be there.  My strength has to lie in the desire to push back against those impulses when they come, and to try and lessen the amount of times they come.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this badly.   I remember feeling this way after my third child was born.  I was overwhelmed and frustrated by my husband’s work schedule and my inability to be able to manage the house, the three kids, the burgeoning duties I had working for a rock star.  I went to my doctor then, asking for help.  He suggested exercise rather than drugs.  Not that I wanted to be taking the drugs anyway, since I was nursing and all, but I thought it was a pretty cavalier attitude for an OBGYN who should have known how serious post partum depression can be in a person with depression and anxiety in their background.

The other time I remember feeling this blackness, although not to this level, was a few years back after I ran for elected office and lost.  It feels silly now to type that sentence, actually.  But there was something about this small town I live in, feeling as if the entire world was against me, didn’t want me, didn’t find value in me.  My husband was out of town at the time, and I think that was when I truly started drinking alone at night when he wasn’t home.

And frankly, I have been self medicating with those drinks ever since.  Drinking away the sadness, the pain, the frustration, the paralyzing feeling I have when it comes to what is wrong in my life.  When it all becomes too much, when I am sad or hurt, I pour myself a glass.  There have been nights when I have drunk a whole bottle by myself here at home, which is horrible to admit.  It’s easy enough to do when it seems so culturally accepted; it’s sort of a joke that moms drink their wine at playdates, at night, whenever.  It’s easier to pour a glass than to work on what’s really going on in my head.

But it’s time.  I can’t keep going on like this.  I can’t be this unhappy.  I can’t keep showing my children that it’s OK to live an unhappy life.  In everything else in my life, I see a problem and I lay out the steps to fix it.  And one by one, I complete the steps until a goal is accomplished or a problem is solved.  This has to be the same.

The alternative is simply not an option.

Struggling

It’s not been an easy time in my head the last week.

After I wrote the previous post here, I stayed up most of the night feeling very alone.  Very despondent.  Wanting things to be different, but not knowing at all how to make them so.

As the hours wore on, the darkness kept encroaching in on me.  My dark thoughts went to places they shouldn’t go.

I just want it to stop hurting, I thought.  Maybe things would be easier if I could just disappear.  My husband could find someone who makes him happy.  A better wife, a better mother.  I thought all the things that I know I shouldn’t think:  which way would be easiest?  Least painful?  Least scary?  Least messy to clean up?

I spent years in therapy trying to combat those thoughts.  But I guess when you’re prone to depression, those thoughts really never go away.  You just learn how to make sure that the thoughts do not become action.

What stopped me from sitting in my car in closed garage with the engine running?  The thought of my kids finding me.  The thought of my kids losing their mother at an even younger age than I was when I lost mine.  Thinking of how profoundly awful it would be to inflict that kind of pain on them, and my husband, and my family.

It has been a dark week for me, full of fighting and tears and strange thoughts.  I thought I was past all of this, frankly.  I thought that I grew past all of those selfish, tunnel vision thoughts and was able to use the skills I’ve learned along the way to pull my head and chin up out of the water.  But mostly I’ve realized that I am the kind of person who’s had goes there.  And if I want to get through this rough patch without taking my whole family down with me, I’m going to have to get some help.  And not the kind that I have been using lately, the kind that comes in a bottle and burns your throat going down.

No, I think it’s time for me to find a therapist (again).  I think I need some help figuring all of this out.  Where I am.  Where I’m headed.  Why I can’t be grateful and gracious and happy with all of the blessings in my life.  How to know when I’m fully right and how to accept when I’m not.  And if nothing else, to know that it is OK to not completely know any of that.

I’m struggling, but I’ve still got some fight left me.

Just Like Everyone Else

I sat on the bench at the local kids’ play gym, watching my two youngest.  Tonight was the Special Needs Playgroup night at the gym, and about ten families of children were in the huge enclosed space of toys and mats and dress up clothes.  R was working in New York City these days, so I was alone with the kids; Zach was working at his new job at the local sub shop this Friday night.

It was good for me to get out of the house.  I’d been wallowing in self pity for weeks, watching as the fans moved on.  I felt stupid.  I felt like I’d wasted so much time that I should have given to my children and my husband on something that evaporated before my eyes.  I admonished myself daily that perhaps if I wasn’t so worried about promoting Rick Springfield that I would have noticed Michael’s issues sooner, and gotten him more help faster.  How many hours had my three kids sat around watching TV while I talked with managers, record companies, other fans?  How many fits of stress induced anger had they been subjected to because I was trying to be everything to everyone?

I looked up to see Michael getting upset because another child wanted to go through the flexible fabric tube he was playing in.  He’d been in there ten minutes, repeatedly and incessantly going back and forth in it.  I went over to try to convince him that he needed to let the child have a turn when the little boy turned away and made a beeline for the train table.  “Sorry,” I offered to the mother.  “He isn’t really great at sharing, yet.”

“Well if there’s anywhere else that someone would get that, it would be here,” she responded, smiling.  She was young, younger than me. “My name’s Jessica.”

I nodded and held out my hand, telling her my name.  “Do you mind me asking what your son’s diagnosis is?”

She bolted and ran from me.  I followed the direction of her sprint to see her stop her son just in the nick of time; he’d been about to whack another little boy, this one with obvious Down’s Syndrome, on the head with one of the trains from the set.  “No!”

It almost made me feel a little better.  Here, Michael didn’t seem so different.  People weren’t going to stare when he launched into his recital of the theme from his favorite TV show; they weren’t going to be fazed by the Pull Up peeking out from his trousers even though he’d just celebrated his fifth birthday.  They weren’t going to bat an eye when he screamed about someone else hogging his favorite toy.

And here, I didn’t seem so different, although I was.  No one here knew.  No one here knew my very public shame, that I’d lost the gig working for the famous rockstar.  In my tiny New England town, at the special needs playgroup, I was just like every other frazzled mom of a spectrum child.  I was trying to balance the needs of my typical kids with those of my very needy child.  I was a stay at  home mother because of the crazy schedule I carried of preschool, therapy appointments and support groups.  No one here was whispering about my fall from grace, or was talking about how I hadn’t been good enough.  And here, watching Melinda play with Jessica’s older daughter while keeping tabs on Michael’s current mood, I almost didn’t even have time to think about who I used to be, not so long ago.

I wondered, in that quiet moment, if Jessica or the other parents could sense the sadness I carried with me, heavy in my chest, just under the surface of my sympathetic smile. When I paused, the guilt, the regret, the self loathing rose into my throat.   What did these people see when they looked at me, these other parents?  They didn’t know the girl I used to be in any my former lives.  These strangers couldn’t imagine all of the things that floated in my head these days, the things that I once had and now lost:  Joe, Ray, my teaching career, my job working for my idol.  I was 35, overweight, and all I saw in the mirror was the shell of the shining potential I used to think I had.

I looked up to see Jessica return to the center of the room where I stood, able to be within arms reach of Michael.  “He’s not diagnosed,” Jessica responded breathlessly.  “But he’s over there repeating the presidents of the United States over and over, in order.  What do you think that means?”  Her face was full of anxiety and fear.  “He’s just turned four.”

I looked at her, trying to put on my friendliest, most sympathetic face.  “I’m not sure,” I answered.  “But I can’t help but be jealous.  My kid just recites the the scenes from Blue’s Clues over and over.  At least your kid memorized something useful.”

Jessica laughed and looked around.  “It would really be so much more helpful if they served alcohol here at the snack bar.  Don’t we deserve a little nip for all we have to deal with?”  And off she went again, to rescue a six year old red head who had unwittingly interrupted her son between McKinley and Roosevelt.

I smiled, for the first time in what felt like years.

 

One Foot In Front of the Other

“Wow, are you serious?”  It was 4pm the following Tuesday, and I had just finished practice with my newly formed Academic Games team.  We were going to our first competition the following weekend, and the kids seemed excited and ready.  I had been so proud to bring the program to my new school, form a new team and register us for the first time in the Michigan League of Academic Games.  We were going to be working closely with my friend DC from my old school, competing in the same division as them.  I was looking forward to seeing her again and sharing all of the wonderful things happening at my new school.

Julie, the teacher next door to me, had run into me last Friday as I dropped off my sub plans.  I had hoped not to run into anyone  at seven in the morning.   After the sleepless night at the hotel and later at home as I waited for word from R’s father, I knew I wouldn’t be able to function at work.  I was sure I looked wild eyed and crazy as I ran into the building to write up something for a sub and leave it on my desk; I’d been right.  Julie had taken one look at me and known something was wrong.   I hadn’t told her then, just told her that there was a family thing going on that I needed to deal with.  But the following Monday when I returned to work, her kindness and thoughtfulness had led me to trust her and so I told her about R and the scene at the hotel.

“Yes, a three day involuntary stay.  His father took him home Monday morning.”

“I’m so sorry, I had no idea.  You always seem so happy and upbeat here at work, I’d never guess that you were the one with issues at home.”

I laughed.  “The thing about this is that I am happy at work.  I love my job, it’s even better than I had imagined it could be.  The kids are great, I love my coworkers, it’s all going well.  So it’s easy to not let the home stuff interfere because this is all so great…it’s much easier to focus on the good stuff going on than the bad, you know?”

“Yeah, I get that.  It’s easy to let work become the focus when everything else starts to suck.”

“Exactly.  I guess I’m lucky; a year ago I’d be in a  puddle in the corner because then I’d be dealing with work sucking and my home life sucking.  I can handle one at a time, but not both.”

“Fair enough.”  Julie paused.  “I know we don’t know each other very well, but seriously…if you need anything, help with Zach, or anything, I’d be happy to help.”

I looked down to the floor, my automatic response when I didn’t feel worthy of the kindness someone was extending to me.  I forced myself to look up at Julie and smile.  “Thank you.  That’s really nice of you.”

“It’s not nice at all,” she responded.  “It’s completely selfish.  I really don’t want a sub to cover your classes again; I had no one to talk to all day long, and the kids were loud.  I’m just trying to make sure you show up to work, is all.”

I laughed.  “Point taken,” I answered lightly and gathered my things to go home.

Hotel Rooms and Pills

I got to the hotel first.

R’s sense of drama had been on full display when he chose the scene for his suicide attempt:  he’d taken a room in the same hotel we’d spent our wedding night in.  I raced down the hall and found the door cracked open so that I didn’t have to knock to enter the room.

R was splayed half conscious on the bed, two bottles of pills and a bottle of vodka on the table next to the bed.   I couldn’t tell how serious the situation was, I had no idea what he’d taken or how much.

“R…what were you thinking?  This is not a solution, here.  All you will do is hurt everyone who loves you.”

“Which doesn’t include you,” he said groggily, reaching over to check my left hand.  It was empty; I hadn’t worn the ring in months, vowing not to put it back in my hand until we had reached a place where we both felt respected and solidly in the marriage for the right reasons.

I sat down next to him on the bed.  “R, I do love you.  I just don’t like some of the things you do.  You’re right, things are not great between us now.  But that’s not a reason to do this.  It’s just not,” I said.

I remembered when I’d tried to kill myself as a teenager; it all came flooding back standing there in the dimly lit room.  I’d cut my wrists once, but not enough for it to put me in any real danger.  I’d taken pills once, all alone one night my senior year in high school.  Both times, if I was being honest with myself, I was just begging for someone, anyone, to come find me and help take away my pain.  To prove to me that I mattered enough to someone, anyone, enough to take time out of their day to console me, to help me, to say to me that I meant something to them.

I was sure that R was doing the same here.  It was no mistake that he had called me, not his parents.  He wanted me to be his savior, to prove to him that our marriage wasn’t over, that I still cared about him, that we could make a go of it.   I wanted to be that person, I did.  I wanted everything to be different.  But I couldn’t help also feeling more anger than sympathy.

I’d never had anyone stop me, so I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t tell how bad the situation was; I glanced down at the empty pill bottles and realized they would have his doctor’s information on them.  I found the name and number of his psychiatrist and dialed the numbers quickly into my cell phone.

“No, he should be fine,” the doctor said on the other end of the line after I explained the situation.  “I don’t think that you’ll need to get an ambulance, but he still should be taken to the ER to be checked out.  Has he vomited at all?”

I repeated the question to R, who answered by shaking his head slowly, his eyes now closed.

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” the doctor told me next, instructing me as to which hospital, which entrance.  I hung up the phone, dumbfounded, staring at it.  I had to do this.  I had to gain control and fix this.

As I started gathering up R’s things, the door opened and R’s father rushed in.  Questions rang out in rapid fire speech as he strode across the room.  One by one I answered them, backing away from the bed as he approached.   I had called him after R’s quiet phone call to me, telling him where R had said he was and reporting exactly what he’d said.  I knew I’d need his help.

He stood next to the bed and started talking to R, loudly, rousing him and bringing tears to both of their eyes.  I watched them together, wondering how we got here.  A year ago we were finalizing plans for our wedding.  R’s parents were having us over for dinner and we were talking, drinking, appreciating each other’s company.  We were a team.  Now the worst of both of us was on display for his father as R hurled accusations at me in slurred speech while I shook my head quietly from across the room.

“Enough,” his father said.  He looked over to me and said calmly, “You probably should go.  There’s nothing more you can do here for him, with him like this.  I’ll get him to the hospital and call you when we have a better sense of what is going on with him, ok?”  He gave me a sympathetic smile that I could tell he was hiding from his son.

“OK,” I whispered, gathering up my things.

I walked over to the bed, where R had gone from listless to tearful to angry.  “I’m going to go now, your Dad is here.  I’m sorry, R…I am truly, truly sorry that you felt you had to resort to something like this.”

“No, you’re not,” he responded without meeting my eyes.

R’s father shook his head and nodded towards the door.  “Just go,” he said softly.

I closed the door behind me, the symbolism not lost on me.

What The ….

“I don’t know where he is,” I said to R’s mother on the phone late that evening.  “Have you heard from him?”

R had spent the first month or so of our separation living in the sleeper cabin of his boat the marina.  We’d gone to marriage counseling every week in order to help repair the damage, but it hadn’t been going very well.  My hurt and anger was slow to heal, and I just couldn’t find myself willing to allow R back in the house.  His hurt increased with every single day he was out of the house, and finally when we stopped seeing our expensive therapist, he started seeing a different one on his own.

I was finding a strange empowerment being on my own again; while the bills were tough to meet on my reduced salary and without R, I was loving my job.  Already plans were forming in my head for advancement; I was already working on my Master’s degree and was now sure I would try for a curriculum position in one of our local districts.  Work was going amazingly well; the days sped by, and I looked forward to each day of the students and fellow colleagues.  It was starting to become clear to me that I didn’t have to settle for mediocrity; it took me a while to find a job that fulfilled me but now I had it.  Was I willing to go back to a marriage that didn’t fill my needs?  I wasn’t sure any more.

R went to stay with his parents after the weather turned colder and the boat was no longer an option for his residence.  They called me on the phone several times to try and help matters along, but the efforts always ended in them agreeing on the points that I was upset about.  They knew their son could be difficult and they promised to try and work with him to help him see where I was coming from.

And so it was odd that they would call me on a weekday evening after 8pm; R was usually home by then.  “We haven’t seen him since this morning.  Something just doesn’t feel right,” said his mother.

“Have you called his cell phone?  What about his friends there in town?  Work?”  I went through the options for them, but no, they told me they’d called each one.

“If you hear from him, please have him call us,” they told me.  I promised I would, and then started the work of dialing all of the numbers that I had just instructed them to call.  No answer at work, no answer at his cell phone.  Maybe he was just out with a friend and forgot to charge his phone, I thought.  But something felt wrong.

I jumped when the phone rang five minutes later, the caller ID showing a local number that I didn’t recognize.  “Hello?” I said into the receiver.

A distant voice on the other end of the line responded.  “I called to tell you goodbye,” R said quietly.

“Hey, where are you?” I answered.  “Your parents have been calling here looking for you.  They are worried sick about you.   You really should call them.”

“I can’t talk to them right now,” he said, the voice thin and odd on the other end of the line.

“Why not?” I asked, my mind racing with annoyance mingled with questions.

“I took some pills,” he answered.  “I’m just waiting, now.  You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”

Oh, fuck.

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