My Humorless Self

The Scream

As long as I could remember, my mom dominated the house with her rules. She was a strong creative, and a very complex woman.

From the time I could talk, I’m sure, there was the no talking rule and no laughing rule. To talk to her or to laugh would bring upon one of her rages, especially at the dinner table. I learned very early on not to laugh at home, and there was no humor in my parent’s relationship with one exception.

With her friends, she was a different person. She laughed, she flirted, and she played. I observed this in astonishment, because this was not the mother I knew. My parents had monthly parties with their group of friends, and they drank and laughed and made sexual innuendos with each other. At home, quiet was the rule and I was to stay in my room away from them and not bother them.

I have always been attracted to funny men. They let me play and laugh, which was downright dangerous as a child. They were free of the rules I had grown up with and I love to be made to laugh, even at my own expense, because I know how serious I am.

I have also had a lot of serious things happen to me. I almost died from polio as a child and had to endure the torture of painful physical therapy to get well. I spent a whole summer in full leg casts.I had a surgery when I was ten for a tendon transplant in my right leg. I was brutally bullied by the neighborhood boys and girls as a disabled child. There was nothing funny about my childhood.

I developed bipolar disorder and suffered. I married an abusive man and acquired PTSD. I was plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and migraines almost daily. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and succumbed to psychosis at times. Later on, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and have had surgery twice for it. There was very little that was funny about my adulthood.

Then I met Frank. He was funny. He poked fun at me, and gave me the permission to play. He taught me to enjoy watching and laughing at comedy. He is the perfect yin to my yang. We’re a lot alike in temperament, but I get the added bonus of having his jokes to laugh at, and his tickling to squirm from.

When I met him, I knew he was fulfilling a lot of childhood needs I had that had gone unmet. His physicality and gentle stroking of my cheek filled a void that the absence of affection in my childhood had caused. His patient listening made me feel valued and heard, even though what I was saying was trauma related and frightening oftentimes. I was badly broken, and he told me I would heal. I hung on his words more than he knew.

He was right. I have healed in a lot of ways. But I am still serious, and a deep thinker. Frank even teases me about my thinking, telling me that it gets me in trouble. He’s right, but a lifetime of thinking doesn’t get turned around in a few years.

Today I can laugh without fear of retribution. I still have trouble making jokes of my own, but that’s okay. Sometimes I think Frank would prefer a funny woman to joke with, but he chose me for reasons of his own, too.

He rescued me in more ways than one.

I hope you have someone to laugh and play with in your life today. Life is short, and laughing is as emotionally necessary as crying to cleanse the soul. There’s nothing like a good belly laugh that causes tears to run down your face.

Love,

Gail

Are you a funny person? Do you have someone in life to joke and play with? Was humor a big part of your upbringing?

 

 

Advertisements

Bipolar is as Bipolar Does

417671_438755949537704_1489572964_n-181x300

When I was fifteen, I suffered my first depression. My creative writing teacher sent me to the guidance office because he was concerned about the content of my writing. I was relieved to see the counselor, and told her my feelings and the fact that my brother had just been arrested for heroin possession and I was afraid he was going to die.

I went home that day and told my mother that I had been sent to the guidance office. She flew into a rage and screamed something about never talking about our family to anyone. It was the first chance I had of getting help for what would later be diagnosed as bipolar disorder. And because of my mother’s reaction, it would be fifteen years and take a nervous breakdown and hospitalization before I actually got the help I needed.

Bipolar disorder is marked by periods of clinical depression which “swing” to periods of mania or expansive and high mood. In between there can be periods of normal mood and activity.

Depression is marked by hopelessness, suicidal ideation or attempts, and excessive dark thoughts and excessive sleeping or the inability to sleep. It is difficult to take care of oneself, and one often lacks the interest in doing so.

Mania is marked by elevated moods or a period of “highs” which may include pressured speech, irritablity, excessive physical activity, risk-taking activity, promiscuity, spending sprees and high creativity. In severe cases, there can be psychotic episodes.

23.3 million people in the United States, and 60 million people worldwide have this chronic mental illness. It may have familial roots, and affects the chemistry of the brain.

The treatment is often a combination of supportive therapy and pharmaceuticals. Some patients stop treatment thinking that the illness is “gone,” but it is chronic and incurable.

Now that I look back, I suspect that my mother may have suffered from manias, being excessively active and creative and also bursting into unprovoked and unpredictable rages.

But I don’t suffer from that. I am what you would call a highly controlled person with bipolar disorder. I have my mood swings, sometimes extreme, but I also cycle quickly into and out of the swings and am able to remind myself that this, too, shall pass.

People with bipolar disorder do suffer greatly, but for those whose creativity and productivity is boundless during the “highs,” it can also be felt to be a blessing if it contributes to their art.

Bipolar disorder can contribute to high success in business, comedy, acting, music, writing, and art. Many famous people have and have had the disorder and gone on to success in their chosen field. They are exciting people to be around, with infectious humor and flights of ideas.

If you suspect that a young teen or twenty-something is suffering from bipolar disorder, offer support without judgement, and the opportunity to get professional help. Many suffer needless years because of the stigma of mental illness preventing them from seeking help.

Love,

Gail

Do you know someone with a chronic mental illness? Have you been reticent to talk about it with them? 

Prose – Another Mountain to Climb

These days I am engrossed in my next big project: the writing of my next memoir.

The title? “Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown.”

On the cusp of turning thirty in 1985, I suffered a complete nervous breakdown. This memoir is my journey of climbing a metaphorical mountain to recovery and health. There were many mitigating factors, but in the final analysis, I have no regrets about my life choices.

Set in a Victorian institution in the 1980’s, the book offers up huge doses of human frailty, growth and sublime comedy.

My philosophy for writing this book, which I am writing for myself, is that we all have our breaking point. If you’re religious, which I am not, reading it may be one of those “There but for the grace of God, go I” experiences. If indeed truth is stranger than fiction, this book is hitting its mark.

I am being extremely strict with myself about honesty. It would do me no good, assist in no healing, wouldn’t help others for me to fabricate anything within this book. Few of us are as honest with themselves as I am attempting to be. Revisiting this time in my life through the writing of it makes me wonder how I survived, both physically and emotionally. As I write, I am revisited with the pain and horror of my own flawed, distorted, and ill mind of those days. I am also revisiting the love I found in a locked ward. Who would expect through such a human tragedy would bloom hope and love and new life? I didn’t. But that’s what I found.

And I am finding it again. I belong to wonderful writer’s group made up of thirteen or so writers who put their hearts into their own writing to better themselves. They also offer critique and edits and feedback on each piece every person brings in. The side effects of this sharing are kindness, camaraderie, and love. Were it not for them, I wouldn’t have the courage to do what I am doing.

While I was writing my first memoir, “The Girl in the Iron Lung,” I kept a scrapbook unknown to anyone. The marked up pages of my chapters which I received back from the writers were full of comments. I cut out the comments and pasted them into a journal to help me keep writing, to find purpose in the pain of it, and to ward off the loneliness I felt with the memories of my past. I still have that journal and turn to it sometimes.

I think it’s time for me to start another journal. This one will be even more meaningful than the first. Rather than exposing the broken heart of a little girl, I am revealing the depth and fractures of the distorted mind of a young woman.

That woman was me.

 

Love,

Gail

 

 

 

 

Poem – Anaphoric Ride

The train grinds to life, eating virgin track.
Passengers shift and move around like silverfish.
The tired man has a window seat.
Picking up speed, the train passes through…

A place that looks like the Grand Canyon
but is really the black hole of his longings.
Being a thin man, he longs for many things.

A place where only Portuguese is spoken
and he finds the only word he understands is “gringo.”
He knows that means him.

A place where bulimic cats toss dishes into the sink
and spray graffiti over the refrigerator, implicating
their owners in hideous crimes.

A place where Siamese twins marry brothers
and each have eleven children, no twins.
He knows this could only happen in Siam.

A place where he is born into a vortex of vowels
that envelop him in their amniotic way,
as they hunger for something solid.

A place where he finds he is the starlet in a snuff film
and it is fitting somehow. He wants to finish this page anyway,
discontinue this B-rated romance.

A place where the aging cashier has a four inch thumbnail,
painted pink, with her black hair tied up in a bow and he asks himself,
“And I thought money was dirty?”

A place where he wonders in the train what everyone else thinks about ‘eye contact,’ because he is making eye contact. Then he realizes that you aren’t supposed to make eye contact, and now the rest of the train ride is just hard work staring at someone’s shoes, shifting to a purse, to a newspaper, to wishing this ride was over, to a book, to a uniform, to a reflection in the window…

To a place where the train never stops.