So, I finished reading a book yesterday with a very disturbing theme about a father and grown daughter having a sexual relationship. I bought the book on my Kindle after being intrigued by the subject matter, especially because I teach Psychology and Human Sexuality. Katheryn Harrison published “The Kiss” in 1997 and after I had read the last page, I sat for a few minutes thinking about the characters and how they were portrayed. The mother, father and daughter were not well developed and the incidents of incest were described only briefly. I didn’t necessarily feel close to any one character, but still felt I knew them all. It was a very different type of writing but appropriate, I feel, for the subject matter.
Anyhoot, after I had pondered it for a while, I noticed that I still had 12% unread and found an interview with the author after the last page; although I had assumed this book was a novel it was actually a memoir, with the daughters voice throughout the book being the author herself.
I was gobsmacked…and I think it was for a couple of reasons. First, the bravery Kathryn had to write about a situation in which there was going to be a lot of judgement (particularly in 1997 when we were still hiding so much), and secondly, to put herself out there and make her secret known to other family, friends, students, and her older children. She has never identified the dad, so outside of the close family circle he’s anonymous, and her intention was never ‘out’ him. I also understand her ‘lesser than’ characters since the story wasn’t written for shock value or drama, but to purge a secret from her soul in the only way she had as an outlet to use, and to do it in the most honest, straightforward way she could.
After reading the authors interview about using writing to heal, I thought about this blog and my purpose behind it. In Kathryn’s interview she says a lot of things I could relate too:
“I think human beings exist poised between two terrors: being known, really known, for who they are, and never being known, and therefore never being loved for who they really are.”
“When I teach I tell my students there’s a paradox – an essential paradox – in writing memoir. The process will bring them both closer to and further away from themselves, their histories. To succeed they will have to examine material that is painful, see what they don’t want to see, especially about themselves.”
She goes on to say:
“The past is something they’ll have to admit, in the sense of both confessing and inviting in. But they’ll be able to tolerate the discomfort of admission because writing about the past demands that they objectify it, shape and manipulate the same events or transactions that once overwhelmed them.”
Now, the other day someone messaged me and said that I was always going to be known as the bipolar (‘the bipolar’? It sounds like I’m an alien and the only one out there 😳) and why would I want EVERYONE to know I was mentally ill anyway?
Well…the short answer is that I really don’t give a flying fuck how people see me (sorry ma, sis is the one who taught me all of these words…you need to speak with her and while I have your ear, ask her to help you with any issues you encounter with your new computer which I had to set up on that God awful day when I thought we were going to maim each other…just sayin’).
Wanna know why? Because I have bipolar (and an eating disorder 😐), know I’m mentally ill, and that’s finally OK with me. Look, I hid it and hid it and hid it, until I couldn’t even see it myself for so many years. I was ashamed to think there was something seriously wrong with me…that I wasn’t the ‘perfect’ mama, daughter, sis, professor, etc. I tried so hard to be. Suppressing any thoughts I had that were telling me I needed serious help wasn’t easy, but was more acceptable. I didn’t want to be ‘the bipolar’. I wanted to be Kristi. But I wasn’t being Kristi because I had buried myself deep down inside of my mind and then acted my way through life the best I could. And when I simply couldn’t keep up my act, I’d blame whatever was convenient to blame.
I didn’t want people to know the real me…the really mentally ill me. But here’s the thing: like Kathryn said, have I ever really been loved for who I actually am? To be honest with you, I don’t know the answer to that. I do know so many people have stepped away from me. I guess they liked me being on my personal stage and smiling and laughing my way through life, before I’d go home and collapse in tears. They liked hearing about my relaxing weekend when I’d actually been cycling through a mania that I tried to hide at school, but which came out in droves on the weekend when I might stay up 16 hours straight doing whatever needed to be done, and other things that didn’t need to be done but I wanted to do anyway. Phew.
The only relationship I’ve been in since being formally diagnosed and getting help was with J. I don’t know if he got it though. I think he liked the acting Kristi too. It was almost like we reversed our dynamics in a way: when he started being good to me (and there really was a lot of good) after our 1st year together, he’d say “This is me…the real J!” And I had a hard time believing it because the only J I had known prior to this was the mentally ill J that hurt me. It was the same with him though. Once my masks fell off, I sensed that he didn’t like the authentic me. And unlike I tried to do with him in terms of his mental illnesses, he didn’t really take my bipolar, and related effects, into consideration when we would have issues. I think in the back of his mind, I was still the ‘perfect professor’ who was there TO help…not someone that sometimes NEEDED help.
A couple of the guys I’ve gone out with since then have used my diagnosis against me when it’s convenient. They’d remind me that I’m mentally ill (thanks for that tidbit guys, I have a hard time remembering it myself 🙄) and that’s probably why I got angry at them. Or sad. Or excited. Or whatever it was that could take the focus off of their part in the issue and put it solely on me.
Also, like Kathryn states, it is so helpful for me to write out the things I need to say. Whether it’s about problems I’m having with bipolar on a particular day or other issues in my life, writing helps me sort it out, it’s cathartic (by the way, I’ve finally cycled into my summer mania which isn’t off the charts because of my mood stabilizer, but I’m getting a hell of a lot of stuff done. Need your gutters cleaned?). Seeing what I’ve written about the psychologist that abused me has helped me put that to rest more than it’s ever been in my life. Publishing that…getting it out there…and knowing I’m not alone because of the stories you sweet peeps have shared with me has helped tremendously.
Figuring out the relationships I’ve had, particularly J’s since that’s the one that haunts me the most, has helped me to see parts of it I haven’t recognized before. It’s also helped me to understand his actions better and to see how I was also a part of our conflict. I have come to understand I have to take ownership for the role I played and not just put the burden of blame solely on him. That’s humbling. But also right. Without writing some of my posts and re-reading them a few times later on, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten to this point.
And Kathryn is so right when she says that by writing and publishing publicly, you aren’t just ‘confessing’ your trials and tribulations, but you are inviting others into that fold as well. Yesterday, a student (she’s a doll) wrote me and told me how much she loved my blog and how many posts spoke to her to the point she has shared them with her mama who also benefits from them. Yeppers…it’s hard to say some of what I say, but it’s worth it when I get a message like that. It’s worth losing friendly colleagues, worth having people look at me differently, worth having some family step away from me at times when I need them the most (some have never mentioned my suicide attempt as if it was just another thing Kristi did for the hell of it…that, my grasshoppers, breaks my heart), worth being known as the ‘bipolar professor’ (I wonder if I could get a book out of that…hmmmm), worth having to examine myself under a microscope and look at what’s really there, instead of what I tricked myself into seeing for so many years.
My son (almost 27, even though I’m still 40 🙄) doesn’t mention my blog much, and sometimes I’ll ask if he’s read any posts lately. He’ll say he has but by the way he comments I know he hasn’t. At times I think he’s ashamed of me…that he wants that perfect, step-fordy mama back where I continuously nod and say “everything’s perfect, sweetie.” And then I feel guilty, because I think to myself that maybe I should go back to that. To being fake and pretending my way through life. To posting filtered pics on FB where I am in the right pose with the right background with the right smile with the right message. But, as much as I love my son and would give my life for him in a second, I’m not going to go back to that because I simply can’t. Once the words have been released, there’s no taking them back. And as you know, peeps, I’ve released a heck of a lot of words.
I like that image of release though. Like letting go of a balloon and watching it float into the sky until it simply disappears from your sight. I can’t tell you how much better I feel by being Kristi, the gal who has bipolar. I’m here to tell you peeps, pretending is freaking exhausting. So now, I cry when I need to cry, I laugh too loud when I hear something funny, and if I’m having a really shitty day, I say to people: “I’m having a really shitty day.” I don’t use filters anymore on FB and pretend to have a picture perfect life; in fact, the last few pics I’ve posted are me after doing yard work where I’m dirty, sweaty, stinky, and have a stupid look on my face. But, it’s me. One take. And I’m OK with that.
When I’m in the great craft area of heaven one day, I hope this: that people will remember me as a good mom, good daughter, good sister, freaking amazing as hell professor (😁) who had a mental illness she made public so that others would also feel free to expose their own…get help for it…learn to manage it…and live with it in the best way they could. And you know what? If that’s all that’s said about me, that’s enough. And this blog was totally worth it.