Romancing the Stone

So, I don’t even know how to start this post except by saying WHAT THE HELL? Now, if that’s not a great first sentence to pull you in, I don’t know what is.

Did you know, my sweet peeps, that it is now ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ to be mentally ill? OK. I’m going to pause a minute to let you take that in………la dee dah……la dee dah…..(pretend this is Jeopardy music 🎵). Yes my dears, it’s ‘in’ to be mentally ill. In fact, it’s become something that is not only sensationalized, but romanticized in so many ways in our society right now, particularly on social media.

It’s sad to me that to belong, too many younger people are now embracing the idea that they themselves have some type of mental disorder. Depression, anxiety, bipolar (🙄), a personality disorder, etc. These disorders have become ‘tragically beautiful’ or, at the very least, trivialize what mental illness really is. Regardless, mental illnesses are being sensationalized for attention and grasshoppers, that’s not right.

Look on Twitter…there’s this hashtag: #IGetDepressedWhen and here’s a couple of goodies – “I get depressed when my battery low” , or “I get depressed when I know summers almost over”, or “I get depressed when there’s no bacon for lunch.” Hmmmmm. I gotta be honest here. I’ve been struggling with depression as part of being bipolar for the great majority of my 40 years on earth (heh? OK, 50?), and I can honestly say, without reservation, that I’ve never ever been thrown into a depressive episode because I’m having a PBJ for lunch instead of bacon. Never.

Here’s a ‘quote’ I found: “She can paint a pretty picture but the story has a twist. Her paintbrush is a razor and her canvas is a wrist.” (Seriously…are you kidding me?) And another: “I think suicidal people are just angels who want to go home.” One more: “I’m jealous of people with enough self-control to be anorexic.” What the hell??? 😡

Let’s give these folks the reality of mental illness. Suicide is not a Shakespearean tragedy where the person was gracefully lifted from their pain while looking beautiful in their peaceful death. Not by a fucking (sorry, ma) long shot. Suicide is guns or pills or razors or ropes and it’s bloody and ugly and messy and scary and heartbreaking and irreversible. These people are never going to take a breath again…never have a chance of life again…never going to realize that what they went through could have gotten better to where suicide wasn’t the only option they could see. Plus, it’s hell on earth for the one’s that are left. The person didn’t commit suicide and then see how dramatically it played out on social media or how it became the basis for a Netflix show. They killed themselves. They are dead. And no matter what their situation or pain or illness, it’s nothing but a tragedy for both the victim and the survivors. Period.

And self-harm? Those of you that know me are aware that have I cut myself in the past and have 16 scars on my legs, arm, belly and boob. Two of my scars are over 4″ long and will be angry red welts forever. These scars are not beautiful. My body was not a ‘canvas’ I was decorating. The razor in my hand was not a paintbrush. There is nothing glamorous about what I did. I cut myself because I was having a mental breakdown that put me in such a depression that my mind told me it was the only thing I could do to release some of the pain. When I see my scars everyday, I don’t see a victory or a tragic piece of art. And I definitely don’t see them as being sexy as this quote says: “Call me crazy but I think emo girls/guys with self harm scars are sexy because it shows how much they have been through but never actually gave up.” And no, if any man ever looked at them and saw them as being arousing, I would run. Quickly.

And there are people who wish they were anorexic? Really? Well, as luck would have it, I have experience with this gem of a mental illness as well. There has not been a moment in my life from the time I was a freshman in high school (just a few years ago…) that I haven’t thought about how many calories are in a bite of food every time I eat something. Every. Single. Time. I can’t eat something because it tastes good. I can’t eat something out of pleasure. I can’t eat something not ‘necessary’ without feeling a lot of guilt and that I’m ‘bad’ for wanting it. I’ve known countless times what it’s like to be so weak from not eating that you can barely go from one task to another, and I don’t know how many birthday cakes, cookies, and other goodies people have made me over the years that I’ve trashed the moment they leave. You don’t recover from anorexia…you work every single solitary day to keep it in check, knowing that if you veer off a healthy course, you will succomb to the illness again. That is not having self-control, peeps…it’s actually quite the opposite.

You know, not only is this glamourization of mental illness a dangerous thing, it makes me wonder why anyone would want to be associated with something so stigmatizing in the first place. Maybe it’s giving the person attention or empathy or validation they are so desperately looking for. And if this is the only way that can happen in their lives, that’s something that needs to be addressed. Are there that many people not receiving the love and support they need without having to go to such lengths? Are there that many people shouting out: “See me” because they don’t feel ‘seen’ any other way? Are we living in a world where we are so into ourselves that we can’t see others crying for help unless the cry is so dramatic it can’t be missed? How sad this is.

I can’t imagine ‘pretending’ to have a mental illness…I wish to heaven I could experience what it’s like not to be mentally ill. It’s hard for me to understand why you would want to invent, and then share, a ‘mental illness’ because in reality, admitting you have one causes you to lose friends, opportunities, respect, and the list goes on. There are so many people that treat me differently now that I’ve ‘come-out.’ Some people/acquaintances/colleagues just stay away (which is fine…), others use it against me, while many just ignore it and pretend it simply doesn’t exist (“but you look normal”), plus I know it’s affected a couple of men from asking me out. Revealing a mental illness does not bring you the type of attention you think it might…trust me on this.

I talk about being bipolar for one reason, and one reason only, and this was voiced by a friend yesterday: “Well, you’re one of the people I look up too. You were one of the first people I knew to be extremely transparent about your mental health and that’s had an impact on me. It’s so important to destigmatize mental illness.” This is why I share it, my sweet peeps. I don’t share it for attention or sympathy or for ‘likes’. I share because I want people to know that mental illness sucks balls, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing that should have to be hid. It’s a reality that too many people live with and we need to come together and make sure it’s treated like any other illness with support and understanding given to all who suffer from it.

Kristi xoxo

“…it’s about how much you can take and keep moving forward.” ~ Rocky Balboa

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Dear Breakdown,

So, this is the last time I’m ever going to talk about you because I’m sick of you still having a hold on me that way.  I need to put you away…not forget that you happened, but not have you continue to haunt me either.  K?

Anyhoot, I decided to write this now, because it was exactly 3 years ago today you started to happen.  And yes, I remember the exact date.  Luckily, it was right before a holiday that you started seeping into my life so thanks for that 🤨.

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It’s funny I used the word seep just now but that’s exactly what you did.  At first it was like a tiny trickle telling me something was very wrong…but tiny trickles don’t cause much damage, do they?  You know it’s there, but you also hope the damn thing just stops on it’s own.  If you wouldn’t have become the deluge you did, things would have been a hell of a lot better, so thanks for that too 🙄.  Gotta hand it to you…when you show yourself, you really go all out.

Look, I know a lot of things opened up that little crack that welcomed you in.  I understand that.  You were just seeing an opportunity, like breakdowns do…I mean, that’s sorta your ‘job’ if you will…and I was a great one to start working on.

I could go on and on about what led up to you, but that would literally take pages and pages and I’d prefer not to get carpal tunnel since I’m teaching online until January.  I do know it started as a teenager though.  Yes, I know that was eons ago (can we please not mention my age again…for piss sakes, we all know I’m a dinosaur 😐) but cracks were starting to appear already.

See…I knew I was different than other kids very young.  I never really fit in, and when I did, I was just being what they wanted me to be.  I think a lot of that was because I didn’t know who the fuck I was.  (Sorry ma…I’ll try to make that the only one.  But did you know that in Great Britain, that word is used as easily as we say crap?  And you know what an Anglophile I am).  As I started going through pubes, I could feel it getting worse and worse.  So much was happening in my head, and I was scared.  Very scared.  I developed an eating disorder and ma got help for me.  He turned out to be a sexually abusing asshole though, so I really wasn’t too keen on ever getting help again.  I think that’s understandable, but I know I needed it.

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Fast forward the next couple of decades, and I buried and buried what I was feeling and tried to deal with it the best I could.  Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I failed.  At times I’d get so depressed that I couldn’t hide it, or I’d be so freaking high I’d bounce off the walls.  At least I could direct that into work and activities…I’ll tell you what, my yard is always the prettiest on the block and my son says my house is slowing shrinking because of all the paint I slap on the walls.

So, 1 had 2 divorces under my belt (😐), and was going through another one.  Yep…I loved my first 2 hubbies very much and those divorces were hellish at best.  But with R, it was really tough because we both still loved each other.  We used the same lawyer, faced the judge together, and hugged each other and cried the entire time when our divorce was being finalized.  But we were living 2 different lives and that just doesn’t make for a good marriage.

I met a guy and we started to get involved after R and I separated.  He took my breath away and he said I was his forever.  I felt the same.  But, he was mentally ill too.  He has Borderline Personality Disorder that as you know, without help, can be extremely difficult to deal with.  He also has PTSD from his 3 tours in the Middle East.  I cut him a lot of slack for this…something so many people in my life didn’t understand.

Three years ago today, I found out he was making plans to be with his ex-girlfriend who was driving to see him, and as we spent time together, he got angrier and angrier with me.  It hurt me so so much because I had been very good to him.

He’s a lot younger than me, and I was always very self-conscious about that.  So, I had a face lift that June.  Yep.  It wasn’t because he asked me too and he even tried to talk me out of it.  But I was starting to make very bad decisions and I went through with it.  I think him being with his ex later freaked me out even more since I took such an extreme step to be ‘perfect’ for him.  Yes, I know that was my issue, but it was hard to deal with.

Then my nephew died on the USS McCain.  He was born 6 months after my son, and all of the kids in our 2 families grew up together since we lived within a mile radius of one another.  My nephews and son always played ball on the same team in Little League together, went swimming at the same pool every summer, and we all were members of the same church.  L was a sweet, playful, funny kid that was very much his own person.  After my son’s dad and I divorced, I never stopped being a part of my niece and nephew’s lives.  L took a few of my classes in college, and having him there always made me smile.  In fact, his smile was truly infectious.  He came to see me right before he left for sea, and we hugged and I cried.  His brother took a pic of us and that was the pic he had on his badge that he wore everyday.  Losing him was the hardest loss I’ve ever faced.  He was still a kid, and there’s no justification for it like you often hear with older people; it wasn’t a blessing and it wasn’t God’s will.  It was stupid, horrible actions of the ones in charge.  Period.  It didn’t have to happen and that makes the pain even worse.

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A student started bothering me exactly around this time too.  I was told to befriend him outside of class because his disruptions were too much to handle in the classroom, and I did.  We talked and joked around and developed a friendship (we are the same age), but never saw each other out of school or even spoke on the phone.  All of our interaction was online.  One night, he got drunk and sent me texts telling me he wanted to rape me, kill me, and make me into a lampshade.  I obviously sought help for this at work but was told it was my fault and had a letter placed in my file.  I actually could have lost my job which would have killed me.  Being a prof means everything to me and I am so invested in my institution and my sweetie students.

So, all of this led to the dam gates opening and you rushing right in.  It seemed so fast.  It was like you wrapped your hands around my throat, stifled my ability to breathe (I’m actually having trouble right now just writing this…another reason I need to purge you) and then shoved me down a black hole I couldn’t see out of.  You know, I believe in God, in heaven, and in hell.  I know hell is the worse possible place imaginable and outside our human realm of thinking, but I had a little taste of it through you (once again, thanks asshole).

You made it so I could hardly talk…it took too much out of me and I couldn’t expend the effort.  I couldn’t go 10 minutes without crying.  I had so much trouble eating.  Sleeping.  It was like I was in a trance.  I was a zombie.  I couldn’t do anything.  I sat.  I ate.  I laid down.  Day after day.  You had gotten rid of ‘me’ and put this shell in it’s place.

So, I started seeing a counselor and my doctor who I’ve known for 20 years.  They saw me more than once a week, and I was in constant touch with both of them because they demanded I be.  As much as they helped me, I lied to them about the seriousness of some of what I was doing (I still can’t see my doc without bawling because I remember how much he did for me and how so supportive he was…he spent hours with me most weeks).  I didn’t want them to know you showed me that razor blade, and when you did,  I didn’t know what I would do with it when I took it from your hand anyway.  But then one night I pressed it against my skin and cut.  It hurt like fuck (my bad, ma) but it was something to concentrate on besides you.  The pain in my leg was much easier to deal with than you were.  My 12 scars are hard to look at but at the time, it seemed right.  That’s how much power you had over me.

I guess that wasn’t enough for you though, so you showed me that bottle of pills I had in my cabinet.  Look, you knew I didn’t want to leave my son and my ma and my family and students and the world itself, so why did you make my pain so bad that I couldn’t find any other way out?  That was when God took over.  He got me up off my bed and I threw up what you had given me.  I don’t care what unbelievers say…I know it was God, because it certainly wasn’t me.

That’s when I finally saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with bipolar.  After hearing my history, doc said I am one of the few cases that show itself before adolescence.  When I do something, I do it well…huh?  I got on meds, sought more help, and slowly climbed out of the black hole you were trying so hard to keep me in.

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And it’s over.  It’s finally over.  You’re gone.  And as much as you might hate to hear it, I won.  I fucking won.  Look, I’ve run marathons, did a triathalon, and have really pushed myself physically at times, but those were cakewalks compared to you.  Yet I beat you…I sorta feel like Rocky.

I slowly got strong again, and after a long while I started running because I could finally breathe and leave the house with getting panicky. I can’t tell you how good it felt to lace up my sneakers again.  I was so proud when I did a couple of miles; for someone who used to run 40 miles a week, that doesn’t sound like much, but for me it was huge.  I started doing yoga, and you should see my arms…they freaking rock.  I started doing my art and crafts again, read books I hadn’t been able to concentrate on for so long, reconnected with neighbors who I hadn’t see for months and months, started posting on social media again and basically just started living my life without you.

Look, I know you’re out there.  And I know you can come back at anytime.  That used to scare the shit out of me, but here’s the thing.  I’ve beaten you once, and if you ever show yourself again, I’ll kick your ass one more time.  You don’t scare me anymore and I’m not going to live in dread thinking you’ll return.  I’m too busy being happy, content, proud and healed.

You’re gone.  You lost.  You put up a hell of a fight for me, but I won.  I WON.  Me.  So there.

Kristi xoxo

Let ’em Say It.

So, my sister and I were yacking yesterday (have you noticed that I’m usually talking with someone?) and we started discussing words that people are very apprehensive to say.  Let’s take a look-see:

  • suicide
  • domestic violence
  • cutting
  • depression
  • abuse
  • rape
  • molestation

And the list could go on.

The reason we got on this subject was that we were talking about the Netflix series “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.”  This little 8 year old boy was brutally murdered by his mother and her boyfriend and suffered horrific abuse all of his life.  The most heart-breaking thing about this poor child was how social services and law enforcement let him down time after time after time, allowing this abuse to continue.  Once, a social worker actually told little Gabriel to quit lying about being hurt by his mom.  Wow.

As my sis (T) and I were talking about this, I told her how incredibly hard this documentary is to watch and how, at that point, I hadn’t finished the last couple of episodes.  So we had this conversation:

“Are you going to finish watching it?”
“Yes, T. But it’s hard to get through…it’s upsetting me so much.”
“Well guess what? What he went through is harder than what you’re watching.”
“I know. You’re right.”
“Kristi, how are we going to stop things like this from happening if we can’t face it or talk about it?”

And she is absolutely right (she loves hearing that from me).  There are so many issues we need to acknowledge, learn to talk about, learn to ask about, but for some reason we turn away from them.  Maybe hoping they’ll go away?

In my classes, I talk about a LOT of ‘icky’ stuff;  after all, I teach Psych and Socio so it’s part of the job.  We talk about everything I listed above, and I know how uncomfortable that makes some of my students.  Many of them have never heard the words being used so freely.  And to be honest with you, some of them are still new to me.

Those of y’all that know me have already heard my mom’s story.  She married her 2nd husband (the fucking asshole…sorry, that’s what I say EVERY TIME I think of him.) when I was in high school and they were married for 28 years.  During those 28 years, he beat her, strangled her, slammed her head against the ceramic tile in the bathtub more times than she can count, and mentally tortured her until she turned to alcohol to dull some of the pain.  It took so much to do so that she developed cirrhosis of the liver and has esophageal varices.  She finally came to me at 5:00 a.m. on Aug. 13th, 2011 (yep, I remember it to the minute) and said this:  “You said you would help me and I can’t take it anymore.  He’s going to kill me if I stay.”  Hubby 3 and I called the police, got a restraining order, got his stuff out, installed an alarm system, etc.  You know, T and I spent 28 years trying our best to help her, but like many of you know, until the person is ready, all you can do is be there the best you can.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

To this day, there are still people in our family that won’t use the words domestic violence in regards to what mom went through.  They won’t say that R beat the shit out of her, once to the point where she was throwing up blood in the ER with her back looking like someone water colored it purple (I will never forget that sight as long as I live).   They don’t want to admit that mom had black eyes more times they can remember (but chose to ignore), because talking about DV just isn’t OK.  In fact, some of them are actually friends with this monster on social media (Yes, he is a monster.  His 3rd wife died of a stroke she suffered after R threw her against a wall).  Well…I guess ignoring it makes it go away right?  (By the way, mom has been sober now for over a decade…T and I are so proud of her!).

NO!  Things like abuse, rape, suicide, and molestation thrive in secrecy.  And for years, my sis and I kept the ‘secret’ too.  We didn’t want to face what R was doing to mom and mom wouldn’t admit to anything;  but we knew we finally had too.  We HAD too.  We had to let the secret out so mom would know we were there for her, that we knew what was happening.  Mom talks about it now and is open with her experiences.  It’s no longer just ‘something in C’s marriage’, or ‘R is just crazy’, etc.; it was ABUSE.  Serious abuse that could have killed her, but by the grace of God, didn’t.

Mom’s guilty of sugar-coating things too though.  After my formal diagnosis of bipolar, she would tell her friends about “Kristi’s problem” , “Kristi’s condition.”  Finally, I said this to her (and I wish you could hear my screechy voice to get the full effect), “MA. I have bipolar.  I’m fucking mentally ill.  Get it?” She laughed…and yes, she got it.

Take suicide.  Sometimes people will ask me, “What was it like when you tried to hurt yourself?”  And I say, “You mean when I attempted suicide?”  Say what it is, man!  It’s OK to use the word.  I didn’t try to hurt myself.  I tried to KILL myself.  There’s a difference, isn’t there?

Yep.  I’ve also cut.  A lot.  In fact, if I EVER get a new partner (that’s a slim chance, peeps), I’m going to be most worried about him seeing the scars.  Anyhoot, I’m not going to lie about the scars people see.  “Oh my God…were you in an accident?”  “No.  I cut myself.  I’m bipolar, I was going through a terrible breakdown, and I used a razor blade and cut myself numerous times.  Luckily, I’m doing better now…thanks for asking.”  People look gobsmacked when I say that, but hey, it’s the truth.

How is it a little boy can be fatally abused while scores of people obviously turned their heads?  How can molestation go on for years in a household when there are obvious signs to what’s happening?  Why is it we say “How ya doing?” as we walk by someone who is looking down, instead of saying “Hey, you look really depressed.  Is something going on with you?  Would you like to talk?”

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

One of my students came to me a few months ago, and I knew she was trying to tell me something, but just couldn’t get it out.  Knowing she’d been depressed, I said this:  “Are you thinking about suicide?”  She literally gasped and started crying.  She said: “You said it.  You said suicide.  You SEE me.”  And yes, I did.

I know these words…these issues…these horrible problems are hard to discuss.  Uncomfortable to talk about.  Not ‘polite’ conversation.  And here’s what I say about that (in me and my sister’s words):  “Who fucking cares?!”

If we don’t ask a friend about her bruise, how will she know we are there to help and support her (or him) if it is abuse?  If we don’t look in the eyes of a child who is exhibiting signs of sexual abuse and ask them if anyone is touching them inappropriately, how will they find the strength to share their ‘secret?’  If we don’t use the words rape when a drunk girl is assaulted at a party while passed out, how can we ever punish the offenders and make sure they can’t hurt another girl again for a long time?  If we see a teen (or an old lady of 53) with multiple bandaids in odd areas and never ask if they are cutting themselves, how will they know others are suffering that same compulsion too?

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Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

My God…think about this.  We can’t use these uncomfortable words, so the consequence is to keep our heads buried while people continue to be hurt?  Really?  I’m sure when mom hears the words Domestic Violence, it isn’t as bad as when R had her on the floor with his hands around her neck, squeezing until she couldn’t breathe.  Right?

For fucks sake (I only use that word to make ma cringe and my sis laugh every time they read my blog), we have to address these issues head on.  Not use the vocabulary that tiptoes around the problem, but words that lay it out there bare.  Naked.  For all of us to see.  Because until we do that, grasshoppers, little sweet Gabriel isn’t going to be the only victim to be let down by us all.

Kristi xoxo