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.

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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.

Winning and losing; surviving and succeeding

sun-eclipses

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

The one thing I wish someone explained to me when I was ten

There are many, many things that I needed to hear as a kid, things that could have helped build my self-esteem, battle my depression, curb my suicidal tendencies. But instead of list all the many things that would have been good to hear, I realized that there was only one thing that I really needed to understand, that everybody needs to understand, especially children growing up in abusive households.

My parents taught me to be helpless. I was afraid of doing anything because of my father’s explosive and unpredictable anger. I believed I couldn’t do anything right, that I was a failure, that I was useless. So even though there were resources available to me that I could have used, I didn’t see them, understand them, or really believe I was capable of helping myself. There were so many things I didn’t do for myself because I didn’t believe I was worth it. I

Everyone has to take care of themselves.”

There are exceptions. There are caveats. There are extremes where we go too far and need to let others take care of us as well, but really, this is the basic human truth. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to bath ourselves, dress ourselves, feed ourselves. Most importantly, we have to guard and protect our freedom, our happiness and our well being. If we do not guard these things ourselves, if we leave these essential duties in the hands of someone else, we risk abuse, neglect and abandonment.

We have the power to take care of ourselves, to go out and get the things we need, to talk to people, to move our lives forward. But power is worthless if a person doesn’t know he or she has it. Useless if a person does not know how to use it.

So please, take a minute to consider what it means to have the power to take care of yourself. For me, it meant the freedom to buy a pineapple at the grocery store (just for fun), to buy new clothes (because I need and deserve good fitting and nice looking garments), to go on vacation out of town (because I can and I want to). What does it mean to you? Do you have a story about how you realized you had power in your life?

Bad Parenting 101: How to give your children nightmares

The ways to screw up a child must be limitless. Some are grotesque and obvious. In my home, there was a constant presence of violence and drugs. At times, my father would be overcome with anger, and would act out in rage. At times, my parents’ desire to fulfill their addiction would win out and they would have to have something. It wasn’t entirely in their control, and I feel certain that my parents knew these things were wrong, on some level.

Unlike those things, there are many instances where my parents did bizarre and unacceptable things. And I don’t think they knew how wrong they were. I say that in part because I didn’t know they were wrong until years later. Only with time and distance away from my parents, away from the crazy, could I see that lines had been crossed.

The Story

My father was a mean drunk, but my mom never did anything to protect us. It was my oldest sister, Mimi, who took care of us. She called the police even though our mother always grounded her for it later. One time, (I was very young so I don’t remember all the details) but my sister struck my father, her stepfather, after one of his episodes began. When the police showed up to arrest him, he demanded they take her too. Days later, after they came home and everything was back to its “walking on eggshells” normal, Dad sat me down to talk about what happened. He told me he was sorry about what he did to my sister, having her arrested when she was just looking out for the rest of us. He told me he felt bad right away, but it was too late and there was only one thing he could do. He tried to kill himself by hitting his head on the wall in his cell. He knew she would be walked by his jail cell, so he used his blood to write to her on the wall, to tell her he was sorry.

I was six when this conversation happened. I don’t remember how I felt at the time. In general, I was very sensitive, raw, in tears at the slightest chastisement, and terrified of the man telling me this story. Blood and violence were normal to me, so this sort of blended into everything else, a quiet little story amidst screaming and breaking glass.

The Image

But it’s actually a terrible thing to say to a child, maybe to anyone. It’s literally a nightmarish image; my sweet, protector sister dragged in handcuffs in front of my dying father, his head bashed in, an apology smeared in blood. What could he have hoped to accomplish by telling me this? Was I supposed to forgive him? Understand him? Feel bad for him? How could he conceive that this story was a good idea? The story may not even be true, which only makes my father’s mistake more glaring.

More than anything else, I just can’t understand why he wanted to do that, to say such disturbing things to such a young child. But my father never made any sense. I don’t think he ever understood right from wrong, not really. I don’t think he ever understood how normal people behave and operate. He walks like a stranger through the world, mimicking as best he can the behavior he sees, a sociopath in his heart, unable to understand what being human really means.

Maybe this is part of what drove him to drugs. Maybe the drugs rotted his mind and with it his sense of morality. It could just as well be both. I can’t know for sure. But from my parents I inherited an inaccurate sense of right and wrong, a skewed idea of normal and abnormal, of appropriate and inappropriate. It is the subtlest of ways they have impacted me, and I walk the world like a creature, trying very hard to fit in but not quite pulling it off.

The Family Fixation

Family is necessarily the focus of life for every good and decent person in the world. Family is really all that matters, more important than brand name shoes, fancy cars, expensive dinners or diamond rings. Family is supposed to be the reason we work ridiculous hours and put up with absurd amounts of stress, all while crying out for more quality time with our family. It is good and right to be fixated on family.

But it doesn’t work out so well for all of us, does it? Not everyone gets to have a family that cares, nurtures and protects. There are people who do not have families at all. They are orphaned, given up for adoption, abandoned. There are people who are alone in the world, and who find the incessant babble about mother’s day brunch, and father daughter dances or family reunions to be strange, unfamiliar, unknowable occasions. Others have the kind of families they could easily do without; drug addicted fathers that react violently to the slightest error, co-dependent mothers who ignore their children to cater to their vicious husbands, vicious uncles who do unspeakable things. It is so lonely to have a mother and father that cannot be called for help, for advice, for comfort.

Thank god we get to make our own families. We choose a partner with which we make children who we can raise and love on our own. We can leave behind the wrongs that happened to us. We can learn from our experience all the things not to do, sometimes more than learning what should be done. We can imagine all the things we wanted, and want, and put those things in place for the people we love. Fixate on the family. Just make it a good one.