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Death by Killer Ball

 

I grew up in a small country town. I mean a really small town-it was almost too small to be called a town. It had a feed mill, a lumber yard/hardware store, and a gas station, all in a row, surrounded by a light sprinkling of houses. And those were surrounded by farms. So I went to school with healthy, robust country kids. Strong, big, athletic, tough, tough damn kids. We played hard. The girls in my school played tougher, rougher, better football than the surrounding towns’  high school teams, without padding. Those kids ate their Wheaties.

Me? Um, not so robust. I was definitely not made for sports. I didn’t have the strength of my tough peers, and I couldn’t run very fast (which is not a good thing if you are also a smart ass. I usually couldn’t outrun those I pissed off.) I was small. I mean, I was really small. I hated being small (which I now think is sad.) Sports were just not my thing. The only one I didn’t hate was floor hockey. I rather enjoyed it because I had a stick and there were a lot of shins in there, belonging to the kids I disliked. What I lacked in athletic aptitude, I made up for with aggression. But mostly, I hated sports.

There was one game we played that I absolutely hated more than all the other sports and games combined. And we played it a lot. It was called Killer Ball. We were split into two teams, one at each end of the gymnasium. The balls were set out on the center line. The teacher would blow the whistle, and everyone raced to the center of the gym to get a ball. The object of the game was to hit members of the other team (without going over the center line) until they were all “out.” So of course the biggest, fastest and strongest kids got to the center line first, and gathered up the ammunition before the rest of us had a chance. There are a couple important facts you need to know before we go on. 1.) Being a small country school with multiple grades per classroom up to grade 9 meant there was a wide range of age and size of kids playing. 2.) We did not use the soft little foam balls kids use today; we used fully inflated, rock hard volleyballs. 3.) The gymnasium, just like the school, was quite small, so when those big guys stood on the line and fired that ball, it would hit the cinder block wall sounding like a gunshot. (A boy will always put all his energy and strength into throwing the ball as hard as he possibly can. The risk of knocking out a little kid or even blowing a nut in the process is less detrimental than looking like a wuss.)

That game scared the absolute shit out of me, and the times when those balls hit the wall inches from my head, there would be a terrifying moment where I’d fear that this was also the case literally. I’d be paralyzed with fear (of death or humiliation-one is as bad as the other for an adolescent) then wait a moment before moving again until I was sure I hadn’t crapped my little Adidas shorts. My coping strategy? Turtling. (Microsoft Word does not accept this as a word, but I assure you it is. It’s a defense technique utilized in a state of terror where, as all your innards drop into your lowest nether regions, your shoulders pull up to your ears, your chin hunkers into your chest and your arms wrap around your head while you are screaming and swearing.)

A few years later I saw an image of what I always pictured would happen if one of those volleyballs didn’t miss my head. It was in a movie I saw at the drive in theater when I was in high school, called “Deadly Friend.” There was a scene where the psycho-zombie-teen-aged-girl-robot got revenge on the mean old lady on the block who stole her friends’ basketball. The psycho-zombie-teenage-girl-robot threw the basketball at the old lady’s head and it exploded on the wall. Her head, that is, not the ball. Well shit, I jumped in my seat and pointed at the screen where this decapitated lady was flopping around and her head was just a big splash on the wall (gotta thank Wes Craven. The movie sucked hugely, but that scene was probably one of the best gross-but-funny murder scenes of the day) and I yelled, “That’s it! That’s It! That is the shit I pictured happening to my head when we played that stupid game! And that declaration, of course, would have been peppered with profanity. It’s the way we talked when we were 17 ‘cause it was cool. And badass. It also got much, much worse when we were drunk, which everyone usually was at the drive in theater. Drive ins were awesome.

So back to killer ball. Maybe somebody got smart somewhere between then and now, and went to the school board with a convincing argument involving a scenario with a 30 lb 4th grader, a cinder block wall, and a grade 8 boy throwing a rock hard volley ball. I don’t know. They use foam balls now.

 

No Dirt Nap Today

A while ago my brother asked me to describe my thoughts when I’m depressed. I was caught off guard-very few people have asked me that. I stammered and fumbled and finally said I couldn’t, but that maybe someday, I could write it down. He encouraged me to do that. I’ve given it a lot of thought since then. How does one describe something like that? I tend to over communicate a lot, so where do I draw the line? I don’t want to be too graphic and upset anyone. It’s some pretty naked, soul-bearing stuff. And it’s dark. As much as I promote opening up to your loved ones (at least one. Don’t have anyone in your life you can confide in? Find yourself a great psychiatrist. You will have no greater ally) and being honest about your symptoms and feelings, there might be some things better left unsaid until you see your psychiatrist. Grandma might not want to know there are times you have a strong urge to stab yourself and watch your blood circle the drain. So it’s a bit of a conundrum. What goes on in my head? Hmm…I just had a vision of myself spilling my guts to my wide eyed, horrified brother, while the rest of the family is sneaking up behind me with a straight jacket and a syringe.

So what the hell. Here I go.

Let me start with a couple of metaphors from the movies. The first one is a scene in “The Never Ending Story II.” The main character, a young boy named Atrayu, has to travel through the swamp of sadness on his journey with his horse, Artax. He was warned to never stop, to keep going and not give in to the sadness or he would sink into the bog and die. Well, it was the horse that ended up being overcome with sadness and sank while Atrayu screamed and begged it to fight. The first time I saw this scene I bawled and the kids bawled and we were just an inconsolable mess (we’re a sensitive lot.) They thought I was crying about the horse pegging out (you will find me using many of Robin Williams’ death metaphors that he used in one of my favorite movies ever, Patch Adams. If you haven’t seen it, watch it immediately. You may finish reading my blog first,) which I was too, but more than that, I was identifying with it (man, how did they make that horse look so sad?) It was a powerful scene, and it hit home.

Harry Potter’s dementors are probably the clearest and strongest metaphor for depression I have found to date (Courtesy of the brilliant J.K. Rowling, whom I am a huge fan of, as are my boys who grew up with Harry Potter). These guys are dark and cold and they suck all the joy, light, and hope out of you, leaving you feeling nothing but hopeless despair. They can even suck out your soul. As I go down in my cycle, I start feeling more and more like my soul, my personality-everything that makes me me-is gone. Detached from everyone and everything, a dead hollow thing, but with huge, overwhelming emotions. Negative ones. I had chills the first time I saw the episode of Harry Potter when Harry and Ron had their first encounter with a dementor and Ron said he felt like he would never feel cheerful again. That’s exactly what it feels like. Everything is dark, grey and shitty.

The dementors also guard the prison, Azkaban, where the prisoners inevitably go mad from always being in their presence and the constant barrage of horrible thoughts the dementors put in their heads. The feeling of going insane is terrifying. It’s a helpless, horrible place to be. I wasn’t surprised to learn recently that J.K. Rowling has experienced depression. You’d have to have been there, I think, to be able to come up with such a perfect metaphor.

Combine these two concepts and you might get a bit of an idea. Dementors circling and swooping around you while you are slogging through that depressing swamp. Everything in and around you is telling you you will never feel sunshine again, never stop feeling heavy, sad, hopeless, worthless, so just give up, stop fighting it, lay down and let go. The idea of giving up becomes more and more appealing the longer you slog along, because you’re just so damn tired. Tired of fighting, tired of trying to be the person you are supposed to be, used to be. It takes such a tremendous amount of mental energy to function normally when inside you are panicking and screaming and wanting more than anything to hide away from everything and everyone (yes, this people person is quite unsociable for a good chunk of the year.) And sad. So damn sad, all the time. Decision making is difficult and brings on chest crushing anxiety. Thoughts are distorted, feelings are too intense, emotions are inappropriate (explosive anger over nothing, guilt for no reason etc.) and that constant self-loathing berating, critical, inner voice, beating you over the head with every mistake and regret in your memory.

I think the hardest thing for people to understand, is that circumstances are not responsible for this kind of depression. You can have the most perfect life possible and have great things happening, but when it’s that time in your bipolar cycle to go down, you will go down. Bad circumstances at this time certainly make it suck more, because your coping skills have buggered off along with all your happy thoughts.

And here I am again. This is my time of year in the swamp.

I’m going to fight it though, like I always do. I have a lot of living to do before I cash in my chips. I know my cycle. I know I will begin going up again by the end of summer. I am working with my doc to get the meds right. They work for a while, then they stop working and I have to try new ones (he says I am very resistant to medication. I’ve kind of noticed that, thanks doc.) I have fought against taking medication and tried to go without. It never went well. It’s different for everyone, but I am pretty sure they save my life. Without medication, I go down to a level where everything I previously described increases to an intensity that is unbearable. Thoughts and reality become warped and self loathing becomes hatred to a degree where you want to hurt yourself. Suicide becomes a real threat when you get low enough to believe that even your closest loved ones would be better off with you gone. That is the bottom of my pit that medication keeps me out of.

With the medication, I’m in the swamp. Without it, I’m in Azkaban.

I am continuously striving to add new coping mechanisms to my arsenal. I’ve started yoga and meditation (any idea how hard it is to meditate when you have ADHD?) and I try to replace bad thoughts with something good, like the names of my loved ones repeated over and over. It’s hard to think about death with those faces flashing through your mind. I listen to others on Youtube, picking up bits of wisdom from their experiences. I read books and I do research continuously. And I lean on my family.

Writing about this has been harder than I thought. It brings back some tough memories. It hurts me to think how close I’ve come to ending it and hurting my family in that way. I would have missed my son’s wedding, my youngest son’s graduation, the birth of my first grandchild-a lifetime of love and experiences that could have been lost. And I have been thinking of you all, my bipolar friends, and how many of you are experiencing this stuff and hurting. I hope you are well and hanging in there. We can thrive and be happy, you know, but we have to fight for it. Take good care of yourselves. Make sure you are getting help, even if it takes going through ten doctors before you find the right one. You deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect so don’t take any shit. Be kind to yourselves. And don’t give up. Get through the swamp so you can get on with your life. Don’t take that dirt nap yet.

Move over, Moses

Growing up in a religious home in a religious town meant everything in our lives was, well, religious. The church was the hub of the community. It hosted not only all your typical church services, programs and ceremonies, but also community activities, special events, revivals and meetings to discuss and plan these events. For our social needs there were bible study groups, prayer groups (men’s separate from women’s) fellowship groups (also separate for men and women) and youth groups. In the summer, we had Bible camp.

Oh, yeah, we were immersed. It was all part of our shaping. It takes a whole community to hammer a kid into a mould, you know. I went to all the kid and youth group functions, as did all the other little lumps of clay I grew up with. (If you aren’t up on your biblical metaphors, we are the clay, God is the sculptor. I’d say he took more time with some than with others, don’t you think?)

One time at Bible camp (I recommend you read this introduction with Michelle Flaherty’s flair when she introduced one of her band camp Stories in “American Pie.” It’s just more fun that way) I saw something that shook me to my core and dropped me to me knees. It was not a religious revelation brought on by a miraculous event such as the parting of the sea or the tumbling walls of Jericho or Moses and his burning bush (if you’re not up on your Bible stories, I am referring to a shrub, not his bush.) I saw a bush all right, but not the kind that bursts into flame and strikes up a conversation with you.

We were all packed into tiny, one room cabins and there wasn’t much privacy. I had major anxiety over being seen naked as a kid, so I’d change in my sleeping bag (which required some skill and was awkward as shit.) Well, there was a particular fellow camper with no such concerns. She had shucked every bit of her clothing and was sitting on her bed nonchalantly as you please, talking with another girl. I did my best to respect her privacy and politely avert my eyes but something caught my attention. I didn’t want to risk offending her by looking, but you know how insistent curiosity can be. It’s in our nature to look at the bad, the ugly and the bizarre. I simply had to ascertain the validity of what I thought I saw.

So I looked. I know! I know! I’m shameless! But be assured my punishment came immediately, because damn, you sure can’t un-see that shit either.

I looked at my naked cabin-mate and ho-leeeee, did that girl have a bush! No, there is no shrubbery you could compare that to. More apt would be the amazon forest. I have never seen anything like it before or since-not even in ‘70s porn. She didn’t seem to be aware of my open mouth stare, praise Jesus, but there I was, incredulous, comparing my little 6 haired treasure trail to that mass. Horrified beyond reason, I thought oh dear God, is mine going to get that carried away? It looked like she had a small animal cradled in her lap. I am not exaggerating. That would be lying, and what the hell do you think we were learning in Bible camp?

All I could think to do while forcing myself out of my paralyzed state and fleeing the cabin was send up a quick prayer to my creator. “Please, dear God, no. Please don’t let me get that hairy. Please. I’ll do anything. I’ll try harder to be a better Christian. I’ll read my bible more. I’ll be good. I’ll stop looking at my brother’s magazines.

Oh, and about those tits I’ve been asking for. I’m still waiting. No pressure, just when you have time.”

On Ranger Rick…and Tits

When we’re little kids, we think our bodies are cool. As soon as we are able, we are checking things out. There’s some cool stuff going on here! Fascinating stuff! Wow, hey, what does this do? What’s this for? We weren’t afraid to check things out, play with them, and we certainly weren’t ashamed (we would learn all about shame and guilt later.) Things just needed to work, we didn’t care what they looked like.

Enter puberty. Puberty changes everything.  Around the time puberty hits, (or you’re waiting for it to because everyone else’s has) there is a shift. We start looking at other bodies. We compare ours to theirs. For some of us it becomes an obsession leading to all kinds of body and self esteem issues.

In one sense, it was an exciting time for me. I was thrilled to become a woman! I wanted curves! I wanted nice clothes, high heals, a boyfriend and a fabulous set of tits! And I knew what great tits looked like. My brother’s under-the-bed stash of magazines was very enlightening in this department. So I waited.

And waited.

In the mean time, I continued shopping in the girls’ section of the store while the other girls in my grade (and several up to 3 grades below me, to my utter shame) were buying clothes made for women. And Bras. I waited. Finally there seemed to be a little growth in this department. Very little. Years passed and my disappointment grew. I looked down at my double A’s again and again and thought, this is it? Seriously?

Clearly my brother’s magazines misled me.They also got me into a fair bit of trouble. I found them under my brother’s bed while cleaning his room-yeah, you read that right. I cleaned my brother’s room. Sometimes. It wasn’t that I was actually forced or even expected to, rather, I was encouraged to develop my domestic skills by utilizing my need to please and my adoration for my brothers. “You know what would be a nice thing to do? You could clean your brothers’ rooms! You could iron their shirts! They will be so happy! They will adore you! Shower you with praise and gratitude!” Likely not even close to my mother’s words, but that’s how things were translated by my mind.

After I found his treasure trove of literature,  I volunteered to clean my brother’s room a lot. Mom was proud, my brother was impressed, and I was learning stuff. Everybody was happy.

But alas, as it always eventually does, the excrement hit the cooling device (as my most beloved writer, Stephen King would say.)  I got busted. I always did (damn it!) I got cornered by my mom and brother for what would be a most humiliating interrogation. Mom, armed with her most guilt inducing stink-eye, asked me, “Have you been looking at your brother’s magazines?” Well, shit. How was I going to get out of this one? Paralyzed by that withering glare, I scrambled for a viable explanation. This is what I came up with: “Um, well, I saw a pile of magazines and thought I’d see if he had any…”-and this was the tricky part, as at that time I had a very limited knowledge of magazine titles (I lived a sheltered life; more about that later) and even less of what a guy might like (other than Play Boy, Penthouse and Hustler, that is.) I could think of only one I saw in school,“…uh, I wanted to see if he had some Ranger Rick* magazines.”

Ranger Rick? Ranger Rick? How lame is that? My brother was like, twenty! Why would an old guy like that have Ranger Rick magazines? Shit!  I’m totally screwed. They know I’m lying and God knows I’m lying on top of looking at dirty magazines.

Everybody hates me. And I’m going to hell.

So my early years sex education came primarily from Porn. Sex was not discussed much in my community, and when it was, it was a topic shrouded in shame and secrecy. Neither extreme is good, and I most certainly don’t recommend dirty magazines for reference manuals. But hey, I was a curious 13 year old with a ton of questions and nobody was talking.

A girl’s got to start somewhere.

*Ranger Rick was a kids’ magazine we had in school. I loved it, but there comes a time where publications of naked people doing the stuff naked people do just trumps those of wild animals and conservation issues. It’s nothing personal, Rick. Your mag was great.

I’m Nobody’s Chicken Soup

Being a teacher has given me the opportunity to observe a lot of kids over the years. Even with the huge variety of personalities, temperaments, talents and behaviors I can basically sort them into 3 main categories, type I, type II and type III (pretty catchy, huh?)

The type I kid is your garden variety typical kid, fairly even tempered, not difficult to reason with, usually does well in school, and respects authority. There will be the occasional bad decision or judgement call, but this kid learns quickly from mistakes. Raising these kids is not a huge challenge.

The type II category features your “Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul” kid. This kid is a sensitive and gentle soul; quiet, slow to anger, and super mellow. The chances of a type II child developing any stress related illness in his or her lifetime is very unlikely. They rarely challenge authority and don’t need much discipline. They step back and watch when their peers do stupid things, rather then succumbing to peer pressure. I have a kid like this and honestly, I’ve had houseplants with more attitude. Type II kids are easy to raise. They respect your authority and on the odd occasion when they are out of line, all it takes is a solid parental stink eye to make them tremble and correct their path.

That brings us to the third category. The kids in this group can give the average adult a full blown anxiety attack in under five minutes. (I also had one of these. He was a real peach. More about him later.) They are hot-tempered, excessively energetic, disruptive, wilful little balls of fire. Their volume levels? Just two. Loud and louder. They make teachers take sick leave or find other careers altogether, and it is not uncommon for their haggard parents to seek comfort in alcohol. These kids are intense.

I was in this group.

When I was very young, I thought I was a normal kid-you know, just like other kids. I made mud pies, climbed trees and played with snakes. I tore jewellery off the necks of ladies in church (their reflexes were no match for my lightening fast ninja toddler hands-hiiyaaah!) and made those same ladies scatter, screaming, at our church picnics with fists full of frogs. Any time there was something stupid or dangerous for kids to do, (often both)  I was either the driving force behind the whole operation, or the first in line (often both.) I also had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. You know that filter people have between their brains and their mouths? I wasn’t born with one of those. I was more than willing to share whatever was on my mind, the very second it popped up. This got me in a world of trouble wherever I went, especially where a certain amount of decorum was expected. Let’s just say I was not a hit at birthday parties.  What was funny to me, was just wildly inappropriate most of the time. It was during the course of my school years that I became aware of the fact that I was different. Kids have a way of letting you know what your “flaws” are. Humiliation , isolation and regret are good teachers. I never meant to offend or hurt anyone. All I wanted was to have friends and for everyone to like me, so I tried hard-too hard-and in all the wrong ways to make this happen.

Years later when my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I connected a few dots of my own. After answering “yes” to every single question on the diagnostic checklist for him, (the kid was a textbook case, and a thrill for the group of paediatricians and psychologists that had him under their microscope. A fine little specimen he was.) I couldn’t help but notice how many of those questions got me thinking about my life. I could only conclude that the kid came by it honestly.

Looking back, knowing what I know now about ADHD, I was a fairly cut and dried case. I was immature for my age, impulsive, and my emotions were intense. I had a crazy imagination, a very inquisitive nature, a strong will, and the energy to fuel these characteristics relentlessly. So you can guess that more often than not, this combination of traits proved to be disastrous in most social settings or interactions with folks who liked order in their universe.

One of the main problems was my lack of control over my emotions. Everything was too intense. My mother always said I was like a raw nerve, that I felt everything twice as intensely as other people. When I was sad, I wanted to fling myself out the nearest window. Happiness was difficult to express adequately, having lacked the gymnastic skills to lunge into a fantastic layout of forward handsprings, aerials, back handsprings and cartwheels to convey my joy. And when I was angry, well, I just lost my shit. I could bring on a nosebleed, screaming. Coping skills were yet to be learned, and all those around me waited for the acquisition of these with great anticipation. And desperation.

My overall lack of social skills conflicted with one very important thing. My love for people. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong. I had an extreme need to love and be loved. I suppose everybody has this need to a certain degree, whether they think so or not, right? Don’t you think? Other then sociopaths, maybe. And dead people.

So I’ve learned a lot from observing kids, having my own, and reading. All the information available today is a tremendous asset. I can look up brain differences between ADHD brains and non ADHD brains and learn about the structural and biochemical differences I was born with. The more I dig, the more I can see that I was not entirely responsible for my actions, and that’s helping me hate that little kid in my memory a little less every day.

“Iceberg, straight ahead!”

I decided to start a blog because I believe that what the internet needs most is another blogger. I’m doing my part, folks, to make the world a better place.

So, blogging. Why? I love writing, obviously, but even more, I love people. I love interacting with people and connecting with them. Blogging offers the opportunity to combine these wonderful things, with a heaping side dish of creative freedom! What’s not to love? Of course it took me a while to jump in, with me shlepping along my old faithful sidekicks, Anxiety, Procrastination, and Mr. Attention Deficiency Humungous. Those silly ADHD-shirts out there? Those are me. Not always fun and games. I tell my frustrated loved ones if they think I am a pain in their asses, they should try being me for a day.

Finally, what really kicked me in the pants was the strength and encouragement I got from other writers and people speaking out on videos I discovered during one of my recent and lowest pits of bipolar depression. People sharing their struggles, openly speaking about mental illness and accepting who they are, neuroses and all, the way they are. I was in awe of these people! For the first time in my life, I was laughing and yelling “Holy shit! That’s me! I totally get that!” I couldn’t get enough. It was therapy. I have spent most of my life fighting against myself, using all my energy to hide my, uh, “intensity.” I didn’t even know what I was fighting, as I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar 2 until my mid 40s. I just thought I was really weird and wound a little too tightly. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, so this discovery was huge. I felt understood, like I finally belonged somewhere (no, I’m not talking about a psychiatric facility, smartass.) I felt like the ugly duckling finding its family! That is you, my bipolar friends! Beautiful swans, welcoming me home! I couldn’t help but think about the difference it would have made in my life 20 years ago, if I could have understood what was going on, had someone to talk to and most importantly, relate to.

But wait! There is a flip side to this pancake, and as the theme of my blog is balance, I am compelled to tell you about it. Blogging also scares the absolute crap out of me! What good can possibly come from me opening up to a gazillion people? This is a legitimate fear, my friends, because when I open up, I really open up. And that has gotten me into a lot of trouble. I have no brakes-it’s all out full steam ahead. Fuck the iceberg. When I start, the floodgates of my brain open and everything comes out, along with a lot of stuff I didn’t plan on letting out and stuff I didn’t even know was in there. Then later, I go, shit! I did it again! I opened my mouth, and all that shit came out! Again! My whole life I agonized over this. Will I ever learn? Why can’t I just shut the hell up? All those nights, as far back as I can remember, laying awake in bed swaddled in regret. Everybody hates me. I’m never talking again.

So I’m scared. I’m a big fat chicken. Of course I’m not literally a chicken, because chickens don’t write. One needs opposable thumbs and a considerably higher IQ than a chicken to type. There, see, I’ve already made enemies and I’ve barely started. Everyone who loves chickens hates me now. But I do love chickens! They’re delicious! Shit! Now along with the chicken enthusiasts, vegetarians and vegans also hate me.You see how this goes?

So as you read, know that I do not intend to offend anyone (except for those individuals who have been carefully selected for a proper roasting.) I am loud and impulsive and a little vulgar, but harmless. Most of the time. I use humour to deal with almost everything; it’s my main coping mechanism (next to some key pharmaceuticals.) I find writing to be very therapeutic, so as my brain works, this blog will be all over the place. I’m going all in, full steam, and you know what I said about that iceberg. I invite you to join me and my ADHD/bipolar II brain and have a laugh, share a thought, and if you have a mental illness, know you’re not alone. You may identify with me a bit or you may think, wow, this woman is a mess and walk away feeling better about yourself and your sanity. So if you do find my blog offensive, please accept my apology. And if you absolutely hate it, please don’t send me death threats. I might just jump off a building, then how would you feel?