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Fight, Flight, or Freeze

I sat in my therapist’s office crying. Heart racing. Feeling like I couldn’t breathe.

I reminded myself that while I felt like I coudn’t breathe I was in fact breathing. I took some deep abdominal breaths.

I heard her voice, but it wasn’t really registering.

I froze.

I just needed a few moments to center and ground myself. A few moments of silence to pull myself together.

She kept talking.

I’m not sure what she was really saying, but her tone grew increasingly frustrated and in turn frustrating.

I had been trying to get myself together, to continue the session. Instead I decided to end it.

I fled.

I gathered my things, took the elevator down, walked out into the sun.

And almost immediately I could breathe.

I want therapy to fix me.  I want my therapist to fix me or tell me how to fix myself.

I may never be fixed.

I cannot postpone all life’s events until I’m fixed.

I may never be fixed.

Instead of hoping things will be easier, better, normal once I’m fixed I need to figure out how to function as I am.

I may never be fixed.

But I will fight.

Brutal Honesty

In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown and so many other Black children in our country. I have some things to say.

I hold my breath when I see police. I’ve been driving for 16 years and been pulled over only three times. I’d say I actually deserved to be pulled over two of those times. One unwarranted traffic stop in 16 years is damn good odds for a Black chick in this country. But the truth is I was terrified through each and every one of those stops.

Regardless of the jokes we may make, and abrupt “I didn’t do it” at the sound of sirens. A jovial “smile like a white kid” when the cruiser is spotted in on coming traffic. I am terrified of the police. I grew up with an Uncle who was a sheriff. I grew up on military installations where my neighbors were MPs. We had Dare Officers and demonstrations from police dogs in our schools. And still. I am terrified of the police.

As I sat outside the social work building on the college campus where I am currently a doctoral student in broad daylight a police officer drove by, and I held my breath and immediately wondered if anything I was doing could be construed as suspicious.

I know not every cop is racist or violent. I know there are more good cops than bad. But I also know it just takes one moment of bad luck with one bad cop.

After the police car passed I exhaled and again had the thought I’m not proud to admit has passed through my mind way too frequently recently.  I am so glad Kidlet looks white.  He’s 13 now. No longer a cute little kid, now a handsome teenager, but still protected by fair skin, blond hair, and light eyes. There are so many ways in which I hope he will always embrace his Black heritage, but I am so thankful a fear of being shot for existing isn’t one of them.

August 14 2001

It took some doing but all the calls were called and the arrangements arranged and all that was left was for a baby to be born.

If only it was that easy.

Amidst the contracting and pushing people showed up. My mom, my boyfriend, his aunt who’d driven him…maybe more I don’t really remember.

There was also a steady stream of strangers coming in to check this or that as is the joy of giving birth at a teaching hospital. I don’t remember much about them either, but why should I they barely spoke to me. Until, that is, one of the strangers brought me a paper to sign.

Turns out I was going to need a Caesarian. I remember asking why and being gruffly told if I didn’t either I or the baby or both would die. My mom ended up being the one to go into the operating room with me. I’m glad because she was able to joke with me when things got scary. For instance when I heard a crash and then “ooppss” or when a voice said “whats that?” both of which are things you don’t want to hear while you’re cut open on a table.

I knew he was finally out not from some announcement. No one said “it’s a boy” or “congratulations” or even “he’s okay” the words I heard instead were

He’s white

I guess dominant and recessive genes aren’t something doctors are taught in med school.

Momma was the first to hold him and she held him near my face so I could see him. And while the operation had felt like it had taken forever the moments i had looking at my baby were gone too soon. They whisked him off to the nursery while they finished sewing me up.

I spent most of the rest of that day in the recovery room area offering to share my popsicles with orderlies (blame it on the morphine), napping, and waiting for my baby’s parents to arrive.

August 13 2001

In August of 2001 I was pregnant. My sister was out of town leaving her car with me. The morning of the 13th started out pretty unremarkable. I stopped and checked my sister’s mail the headed to the clinic for my check up.

After waiting for the typical forever a nurse took my vitals and showed me to an exam room where I waited to be seen by a random OBGYN. I never saw the same doctor, but it didn’t really matter since they all treated me with the same indifference. Ah the joys of a military hospital.

The doc du jour did a quick exam and left the room speaking only a handful of words if any at all. I took that as my cue to leave.

As I walked away from the clinic the nurse who’d taken my vitals stopped me. Apparently the doctor wanted me to go to report to Labor & Delivery.

Once again the staff barely spoke to me. I had no idea why I was there. They connected me to some machines and drew the curtain around my bed.

On the other side of the curtain was another pregnant 18 year old. Only she was married to a soldier while I was the unmarried daughter of one. Perhaps this is why the staff actually explained their procedures to her, answered her questions, and generally treated her like a human being.

I called my father at some point and he came down for awhile. We were told nothing would be happening for awhile so he went home.

I tried to call the parents I’d chosen for my son but couldn’t from the hospital so I had my mom call from home. (Looking back I’d hashtag this as: Holy no cell phone inconvenience batman)

I also called my boyfriend to let him know where I was.

They hooked me up to pitocin and stripped my membranes (broke my water) at least twice. Sometime after 11 that night more phone calls were made to assemble the troops. It was time to start pushing.

And that is how I ended August 13, 2001. Alone behind a curtain scared, in pain, and waiting for my people to join me…

I am mentally ill. Depending on who you ask the diagnoses change, but regardless I am mentally ill. That is nothing to be ashamed of and it shouldn’t be something I have to hide. And yet, I’ve learned over and over that people don’t see it as an illness and they do think it should be hidden.

In 2012 this happened:

Yesterday in passing I was told by my boss’s boss in front of my coworkers “don’t talk to my boss about being on drugs”

As someone who never drank before she was 21 (didn’t really start drinking til 23 when i met my good friend vodka). Never smoked a cigarette or any thing else ever I was completely taken aback by the statement.

I must have looked confused because boss lady clarified “you said you were waiting for the Ativan to kick in”

So I replied oh yeah after driving my hellish commute in the snow and ice where 4-wheel drive vehicles were spinning out and trying to kill me I was trying not to have a panic attack before going to work in the drop in center. Your boss came out of no where and started talking to me. So yeah I probably mentioned the Ativan in my babbling. But it’s a prescribed medication not a drug.

I also mentioned that we work in social services we’re supposed to be fighting the stigma and shame associated with mental illness/ mental health treatment.

Boss lady mentioned she did tell her boss that half the staff is probably medicated, but she also went on to tell me to just avoid her boss. And that her boss just doesn’t “get” me. Wtf what’s there to get? I was one of very few staff who came in that day. I drove from mother fucking Tacoma to Olympia in the ice and snow to serve the youth because I was scheduled in the drop in center. I do my job. The power went out and the rest of the staff went home but the three of us in the center we stayed with the youth.

But it’s fine me and my anxiety will stay on the second floor. All crazy and drugged up.not interacting with the big bosses.

I’m so glad I’m looking for a new job.

I eventually mentioned it to HR, but not until my exit interview. I have no idea what (if anything) came of it. I’m angry still 2.5 years later. If i’d said “I’m waiting for my imitrix to kick in” there would have been no follow up, no questions, no lecture. But i’m also angry at myself for not addressing it then and there. for being too worried about my job to advocate for myself and others.

Mental illness is an illness. Period. It’s about time we stop differentiating between them.

Real, Powerful, Deadly

When someone dies from a fatal disease we (as a society) tend to mention that disease when discussing the person’s death. We lament the unfairness. Pledge money toward research and awareness. Wear ribbons, run races, speak out.

That is unless that disease is a mental illness.

Today Robin Williams passed away. It appears he sucumb to complications from his illness. Most will focus on the apparent suicide, the last act of that illness.

But it isn’t really about the suicide any more than death from cancer is about the heart stopping or the kidneys shutting down those are just the last thing the illness does to a person.

Depression, bi-polar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia… These aren’t fancy words for “you need to get over it” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “you’re a drama queen” or “you have mommy issues”. These are real diseases, with real symptoms and real consequences.  They also have real treatments.

Part of what sucks is not every treatment works for every person and so sometimes it feels like you’ll never find the one that works for you.

Keep looking it’s out there.

Sometimes the act of looking keeps you hanging on.

Sometimes you find something that works, but then it stops working and you have to start the search again.

It’s ok. You found it once, you’ll find it again.

Sometimes it’s a temporary treatment and you can stop once you’re in remission.

Sometimes it’s a treatment you need to continue indefinitely.

The point is these diseases are real and they’re powerful and sometimes they end in death. Not because the victim wasn’t strong enough. Not because they were selfish or stupid. But because sometimes diseases are fatal and it’s not fair and it doesn’t make sense.

 

It’s Okay

It’s okay to cry

She told me as I fought back tears in her office. Just wanting the pain to subside. Not wanting to let it out. Not wanting it to be visible nor audible. Just gone.

And yet I repeated those words tonight to another. And I believed them as I typed them. But I still can’t embrace them.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to grieve.

How many repetitions before I can live these words? How many until I don’t need to remind myself it’s okay?

When will I not only know it’s ok, but also feel it’s okay?

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