Never wait for New Year’s to make and keep resolutions.

I am sure everyone is aware that most New Year’s resolutions don’t survive the first week let alone the whole year. I made about four resolutions last year, and I am pleased to report that one of them has been very successful. I resolved to quit drinking soda. I had been drinking 1-2 sodas (mostly diet) every day. Now it is the end of October, and I think I have had a dozen or less sodas all together. I am going to call that a win, because my behavior has been hugely altered to my benefit.

Today, on the unauspicious day of October 27th, I am going to make two new official resolutions. (I see changes I need to make in my life, why on earth should I wait to make them?)

These resolutions have very little to do with grad school, but have to do with changing my life for the better.
First, I resolve to stop eating food in front of the TV (popcorn excluded).
Second, I resolve to bring food to my grandmother when I go to visit her. I visit my grandmother twice a week, usually, so I am going to start by saying I resolve to bring her food once a week, with an eye on doing it both times I go to her house. I live pretty far from my grandmother so my visits are planned out ahead of time to save gas money.

These two goals are important to me. One will help me lose weight, be healthy, and pay more attention to the important things in my life. The other is something I should be doing to show my love for my grandmother, who is having a harder and harder time.

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Crying out loud; bad behavior begs for help

I consider myself successful because I avoided the pitfalls my parents dug all around me. I have never been arrested, I am not addicted to any drugs, and I don’t have children with men I can’t stand. I can take a lot of the credit for this, but I can’t take all the credit. Luck was definitely involved. When I was young and hurting in a house of drugs and violence, I acted out. Maybe it was for attention, maybe it was a cry for help, and maybe I couldn’t help but do the things my parents taught me to do.

When I was eleven or twelve, I was a thief. For some reason, the boundary between mine and not mine was blurry and unconvincing. I took things off the shelf and put them in my pocket. Sometimes it was just one little thing, like a packet of gum. Sometimes it was a lot of little things, and I packed me pockets full of jewelry or trinkets.

Twice I was caught.

The second time I was at the mall with some friends. Another customer tracked me down and I was so terrified I went with him. It turns out, he had no authority and I could have kept going. I handed over all the merchandise. The assistant manager at the store took down my name and number, said she would call my dad, and the store would decide if they were going to press charges. I saw my life crumbling before me.

When I got home, I was so terrified I told my parents right away. There was some yelling and screaming. I was sent to my room while they thought about my punishment. A little while later, two of my parents’ friends came over drunk, their kids in tow. I remember it being chaotic. I remember screaming through the front door and trying to get the kids down to my bedroom. In the maelstrom, my parents forgot all about my transgressions, and the store never called.

Was this a lesson learned? I guess. I’ve been on the straight and narrow ever since. But I have to recognize how lucky I was. That store didn’t press charges, and I never got a record. I think we as a society often look at children, especially teenagers, with records and we scoff at them, turn our hearts, hunch our shoulders, blame them for their criminality, hold them accountable like they’re adults. But how many of them were crying out for help the way I was? How many of them only got detention centers and probation when they needed someone to intervene in their lives, to get their parents help, to clean up their whole family? How many of them were only acting out the terrible life lessons their terrible parents bestowed upon them? How many of them fell into the pits and traps left for them by the cycles of abuse, violence and drug addiction? Once they got that record, their lives change drastically. Doors close. I was never labeled as a criminal and was able to walk away from my mistake. If one person in that store had made a different decision, who knows how far I would have made it, if I could have avoided the other traps set for me? Would I have still avoided drugs like the plague? Would I still have protected myself from pregnancy?

I have to wonder. Did I get off easy because I am white?

Money and Love, Love and Money

Men need to listen and sympathize with their partners, instead of just fixing everything for them. This is the advice handed down to us through the media. I remember it as a big part of the plot in White Men Can’t Jump. Modern Family did a similar episode regarding Claire and Phil a few years ago. The moral of the story is that women are adults who can handle their own problems; they just want to vent once in a while.

The media advice is good, I’m sure, but I’m stricken by my exception. When I tell my husband about something I need from the store, he buys it for me. Let’s be clear; not something I want, something I would like, or something that would be convenient. Something I need. Having him step in and take care of it means a lot to me.

As a child, I was neglected, lied to, and burgled. I never valued myself. I grew so accustomed to ill-fitting old clothes that I believed I belonged in them. I would never dream of buying new things for myself. I had no concept of money belonging to myself for my needs.

I came to be quite a cheapskate. At the grocery store, I got the cheapest item on the shelf, carefully comparing per ounce prices from the little stickers. I bought the cheapest cuts of meat, marked down produce, and every dinged up can I could find.

My husband put an end to the cheap food right away. “We don’t live long enough not to eat well,” he says. He hates spending money, especially since we went back to school and have much less income, but “we’re not that poor,” he insists. I have to splurge on extra lean hamburger and chicken breast. A lot of that was for him. He had to show me that I was worth spending money on too.

It gets dark so early now. I ride my bicycle home from classes by myself. I told him it made me nervous. He didn’t commiserate or sympathize. He acted. He bought me a helmet, a head light and a tail light, an expensive one that flashes. He hadn’t thought twice about it. “Feeling safe is priceless,” he said to me. Can you hear my heart fluttering?

When we first moved in together he had been sleeping on the same mattress for at least fifteen years. It was terribly lumpy and there was a hole where a spring poked through. He didn’t mind sleeping on it apparently, but when I complained, he took me to shop for a new one the next day.

Money is certainly no way to buy love and affection, and I hope I don’t sound like some princess who requires monetary devotion. But my self-image made it impossible for me to spend money on myself and seeing my man do it because he believes I deserve it is amazing. It’s refreshing. It’s beautiful.

It’s really what I needed.

Don’t Drive Me Crazy: Doctors, Labels and Why Didn’t Anyone Give A Damn!

In my last post, I described how I periodically found myself at the psychiatrist’s office, where I was promptly given a diagnosis and some prescription pills. I also described how I didn’t take the pills like I was supposed to (because I was a suicidal twelve year old) and how I sometimes even used the prescription pills to try to end my life. Those diagnoses were really meaningful to me at the time. I was already getting messages from my parents, from bullies at school, from all over, that there was something very wrong with me. Then a doctor actually gave it a name, first depression, then bi-polar manic depression. I should also say that I have a sister with serious mental illnesses who was forcibly hospitalized several times growing up. So I absolutely believed I was mentally ill, I was unwell, I had those illnesses. I believed I was just messed up.

Looking back, I find it interesting that the doctors prescribing me pills and throwing around labels didn’t ask me about my home life, didn’t investigate my situation, didn’t probe the kinds of relationships I was having with my parents or friends. So of course, their answers to fixing me resulted in pills instead of rescuing me from a bad home life. These doctors and psychiatrists had me believing I was crazy when I was really just living with crazy people. Moving away from my parents, living on my own and taking care of myself (and actually being taken care of for the first time) made an incredible difference to me, my mindset, my confidence, and my happiness. It wasn’t easy, but I got over it. Now I know that I do not have a biological cause for symptoms. I am not bi-polar. I do not have depression or manic depression. Did I ever or were my responses perfectly normal given the abuse and neglect I went through?

This actually reflects a debate within psychology that is ongoing. Are mental illnesses defined by symptoms or by a medical or biological cause for those symptoms? As a twelve year old hearing “bi-polar manic depression,” I had no idea I could ever recover. I thought it was permanent, incurable, only manageable. That label hung from my neck like an albatross. I was so afraid of being hospitalized like my sister, of losing total control over my mind. I know that mental illnesses are real. After all, if we look just at symptoms, I did have those symptoms. But before throwing around artificial solutions, we should try helping a person live a better life. If someone had done that for me, they might have helped save me from real suffering, as well as the suffering my depression caused me.

The commercials for Abilify drive me crazy. If the first anti-depressant doesn’t work, try a twofer. I find myself wondering how many doctors advise these patients to exercise, journal, go to therapy, or get a new job before whipping out their pad of paper and scribbling their problems away. Given my experience, I bet it’s not many. Of course, some people need medicine to combat their symptoms and the causes, but I believe healthy minds and bodies come from having a healthy life. Do lots of things to make yourself feel better. If it doesn’t work, do some more. Don’t give up.

Lessons from The Handbook: Suicide and the art of paying attention

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When I was in 6th grade, I told my parents I tried to kill myself. They took me to a psychiatrist who promptly diagnosed me with depression and gave me Prozac. I took the Prozac for a day or two and then stopped. I was eleven. I was not very motivated to get my life together. I had just tried to kill myself after all. My mom didn’t make sure I took the pills. Didn’t ask about it. She didn’t seem to notice she never had to get a refill. You know, because I never told her I needed a refill. Later, maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months, but eventually I took several of the anti-depressants and several sleeping pills and tried to kill myself again. I took them over the kitchen sink, then walked back to my bedroom. It hit me right away; I was already high as I walked down the hallway.

My mom awakened me for supper. I trudged back out, sat through the dinner, made small talk. My parents chastised me for staying awake too late at night. Yes, mom. Of course. That’s exactly right.

About a year later, in seventh grade, I tried to kill myself again. My mom walked in on me in the bathroom. I was lying on the floor crying, a sleeping pill bottle open on the counter. My parents debated taking me to get my stomach pumped and asked how many pills I took. I knew I had taken over twenty. I hated swallowing pills, and I counted them in my hand before choking them down. She didn’t believe me and sat at the kitchen table counting all the pills left in the bottle.

“It’s a bottle of sixty. I counted 53 and I’ve been taking them so she couldn’t have taken many,” my mother said. That was, of course, the end of that.

My mom didn’t know how obsessed with suicide I was. She didn’t know that last year I carried a bottle of sleeping pills around with me every day at school. There had been two brand new bottles in the medicine cabinet, sixty count each. After pulling out all the cotton, there was so much room left in the bottle. I put all the pills together, carried 120 pills around in my pocket all at once.

There were so many things she never noticed.

They dragged me back to the psychiatrist. Another man with an accent I couldn’t understand. I was so embarrassed to let my mom translate for me. I felt like a racist. He diagnosed me with manic depression. He gave me Depakote and Wellbutrin. I was supposed to take them twice a day. I obeyed for a day. Two. Maybe a third. But no one was around watching me. Making sure I took my medicine. Again, no refills ordered, no one noticing there should be.

I guess she had her own problems, but twelve year olds are irresponsible and easily sidetracked, and I say this having been constantly complimented for maturity beyond my years. Parents have to take responsibility for their children’s wellbeing. Parents do not just care for their children, they have to care about their children, and that means paying attention.

Winning and losing; surviving and succeeding

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I reflect a lot on what happened to me, on how I was treated, how I was raised (or rather not raised) and the influence that had on me. I am the person I am today in large part because of my parents. Maybe I was a sensitive child, and the screaming, the stealing, the belittling made it worse. Maybe I was always troubled but the abuse took me over the edge. Nature vs. nurture, who can say for sure.

When I graduated high school, I took classes at the local community college. It was terrible. I couldn’t focus on anything. I behaved dangerously. I procrastinated like a criminal. I barely made it through the first semester, B’s, C’s, and even an E.

Those months transitioning away from my parents, away from the crap, was hard but I got through it. I grew strong, I gained confidence, and I did well. I aced my classes, I made Dean’s list. I graduated with my bachelor’s with highest honors.

Did I fix everything and become successful? Did I finally escape the horror and damage my parents inflicted on me to become a great person?

Mmmm, I don’t think so. I work part-time. I have a ton of debt. I watch way too much TV. And I live in a freaking mess. In short, I am a loser. This is my opinion of myself. I am currently going to graduate school to try to fix this, but it might be too late. I might just be a loser.

But I can’t blame this on my parents. I have been out of their house for almost ten years and in that time I grew and changed. I became truly free. And if I compare myself to my parents, to the terrifying cycle of drugs and violence, I definitely won. I have never been in jail, I have no kids with terrible men, and I don’t have any dangerous addictions. I’m even happy. I am. I am a very happy loser.

Being a loser is not my parents’ fault. I remember a few years ago suddenly realizing I was an adult. I knew that I was responsible for myself in every way. There was no one else to take credit or blame for I was and what I was doing with my life. I was in charge, and I had plenty of time to do something, to accomplish something, to be something.

Why haven’t I done anything?

I’m a criminal procrastinator. I haven’t done anything because of my own flaws and weaknesses, like millions of other ordinary, regular people. These are my mistakes, and my life. If I want more, I have to make more. I wonder how much a loser can do.

<a href=”http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/miscellaneous-public-domain-images-pictures/sun-public-domain-images-pictures/sun-eclipses.jpg-royalty-free-stock-image.html&#8221; title=”Sun eclipses”>Sun eclipses</a> by Jon Sullivan