This is the statement I have been using for my recent sort of breakdown. "I dropped my basket." I think it’s in the Ya-ya Sisterhood, but it’s old country talk as well, so I claim it.
There’s beauty in the breakdown, didn’t you know?
So says Frou Frou (Beauty in the Breakdown) and God. (Beauty for ashes… Isaiah 6:1)
Many around me want to point to something to blame, so they say things like:
"Teaching middle school would drive me insane, so I'm sure it’s well over due."
It wasn’t the job.
"Well I can understand with three kids at three different schools and you, with your own. It’s a lot."
Nope, not the overscheduled family life.
"Well, Chris is traveling a lot, so I can see how the pressure of having to do it all could weigh you down."
Not super mom syndrome, either.
"Well with Chaz’s seizures increasing, the paperwork, the attendant care, and having to make all these decisions about his future, we can see how it can get the best of you."
Not the apprehension of planning for a grown up child with special needs.
"Well, with that family of yours- jail, drugs, violence, what do you expect?"
It wasn’t my extended family either.
It was me.
At around the same age I am now, my own mother (this is not blame, but eye-opening) took to a section of the couch and didn’t move very much after that. Odd for me because I had seen her fight through an abusive marriage, work her whole life, live through some serious tragedy only to give up quietly and retreat.
I can see now that she had spent much of her adult life attempting to save her family. The drug busts, the bailouts, the collateral, the money, the roof over their heads, the other kids who weren’t being cared for, the violence, the bologna in the fridge, the bread and gravy… the bread and gravy. It didn’t work. The cycle for them was never ending.
She did everything she could with only negative results.
She dropped her basket. She didn’t pick it back up.
Now, back to me… me losing EVERY self-redemptive strategy I have tried to be accepted, gain love and feel important. It's been coming for a couple of years. I kept telling my husband, "Something is wrong with the way I am thinking. My brain feels mushy. I’m falling apart."
He didn’t believe me. I had always held everything together for the family, if I fell apart, what would happen then?
The summer of 2006 proved to be a great one. I cooked, I cleaned, I planned, we vacationed and had lots of time together because Chris's new job let him office out of the house. I was at arms reach when he was at home and he liked it. The beginning of that school year he said that I could quit teaching the next year. That everyone was happier when I was home. Then he grinned and said, "Most importantly, my needs are being met."
The 2006-2007 school year was pretty great. I was moving through it effortlessly knowing it would be my last. However, by the end of April, it didn’t look like we could cut it financially if I quit, and even when I begged, said I couldn’t do it, that I was falling part, Chris assured me I would be fine. I had always been fine, why would now be any different, right?
If you've read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, there is a line where the main character, Dolores Price, (dolor means pain in Spanish- get it, get it, the price of pain?) says after recovering from a lifetime of major instability, "The fat girl is coming for me." When I read those words that year, I put the book down and cried, I mean sobbed, because I knew exactly what she meant, only my craziness didn’t manifest itself in food, it manifested itself in chaos.
It looked controlled on the outside-the clean house, the A-honor roll kids, the talented husband, the birthday party bashes, the successful careers, the perfect school for Chaz, the creative performances, just the right church, but on the inside-I was crumbling.
I couldn’t say no. My attempts at love and living had become obstacles. My motive to be loved and accepted, even though I didn’t know I had a motive at the time, was driving full force, but I was only spinning.
The crazy girl was coming for me. I was powerless to stop her.
Making simple decisions became difficult. My once lucid and accurate memory was struggling to make everyone’s life run smoothly. After all, wasn’t that my job? Finder of all things, knower of all dates, memorizer of all important numbers and mediator of all crisis. God forbid anyone be disappointed, I HAD to act or else…or else… I would be a failure.
I didn’t know it, couldn’t know it apparently, even if someone told me to my face. Saving the ass of the ones I loved was my pattern. It was how I showed love. The main problem with that mentality is that not everyone wants to be saved.
I mean, look at Israel. How many times did God save their ass only for them to wail, complain and want to turn back? And , well, the broken saving the broken, isn’t always that healthy. It reminds me of this quote from the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, "She’s the sort of woman who lives for others - you can always tell the others by their hunted expression."
It was also how I was expecting to get love. The more I do for you, the more you will love me. I have taken to calling this the See Daddy, See Daddy Syndrome.
The more I felt like a failure, the more I could not say no.
As my kids grew older and attended different schools, the demand for projects, extra curricular activities, parent involvement grew exponentially.
When your children outnumber you, your amount of free time really goes out the window. They are pretty talented and outgoing. Like Chris and I, they tend to be hyper-involved as well. Doers and pleasers. There wasn’t much showing up for me as a child, so I HAD to make sure I showed up for all of their activities as well as bring their lunch, viola, science project when they left it behind and have the coolest clown costume on circus day, the best Bob Dylan costume for Living history, or the sweetest pralines for the teachers at Christmas.
Eventually Chris’ job required him to travel more frequently, so the more time I spent taking care of things for him. Finding phone numbers, organizing his files, making his doctor appointments, keeping up with his travel dates so he knew where he was and if he needed to be here for a kid event or a performance, added to insurance, cars, bank accounts, paperwork that I had been taking care of for years. And when he came home, he wanted all our worlds to stop and revolve around him, but the inertia alone made him feel like an outsider. Our worlds were spinning with or without him.
I attempted to give up duties at work to no avail: department head, team leader, extended day, best darn bulletin board creator in the universe- they fall under the part of your contract that reads "other requested duties."
Add to this the creative part of our lives, films, plays, and nights coming home at three in the morning, waking up at six getting everyone to their own school on time, Chris off to the airport and getting to the parent conference by eight. And still being able to look at sixty-two shiny faces waiting for me to shine back, edit and revise papers and input grades and be fun and cool and innovative and have high test scores and try to get my kids published. Not to mention trying to write a book of my own.
And Chaz. The paperwork for him alone is astounding. What if the asthma causes the anxiety that causes the seizures? What if the anxiety causes the asthma causes the seizure? What if the seizure causes the anxiety causes asthma? Can we take him off the medicine, up the medicine, switch the medicine? What about Neuropathic therapy? Will hippotherapy correct his gait? Is his shunt tubing infected? No need for a shunt revison, right? But what’s causing the sharp pains in his head? (Write it down in the notebook. Make a pain chart. Hah! A pain chart.) And the stem cell research. I wonder in the future….if it works….I mean maybe…. I mean, I know it’s a long shot, but could the parts of his brain that are damaged be repaired, even a little? And soon, he’ll be old enough to drive, ya know? Will DARS be the organization that tells him he can’t? Because I can’t bring myself to tell him. And do we need to file for guardianship. If so, how soon? Will AHS and DSSW and CLASS follow him through adulthood? What happens to him, if something happens to me?
Now, let’s see how many other asses I can save, or thought I was saving really. Let’s fill out that FAFSA, paperwork for counseling, get those transcripts in the mail, medicare part A, B or D, parole or probation, Children’s Protection Service on speed dial.
See Daddy? See?
Oh, people said it all the time. I would open my calendar that was actually a month by month inserted into a binder with pocket folders for each family member. We all had our own highlighter color, as well as a color for the whole family, and a color for Chris and I together. The pocket folder was for all the papers that needed be saved and referred to for each person.
"How do you do it all?"
"I don’t know. I just do it."
One night, after folding laundry, I was lying beside my husband. He was considering divorcing me at the time, but we weren’t really acting like a couple on the brink of divorce. We were just holding each other, staring at the ceiling and talking when I said I had to get up and fax paperwork for Chaz’s attendant care to DSSW and input some grades, but I wanted to lay with him for a while before he went to sleep.
"How do you do all of this?" he asked. I burst into tears.
"I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s going to last much longer. Glad you noticed."
See Daddy? See? -- Validation for a spinning life.
Everything I was DOING was not the problem. It was the motive for DOING all of those things. No matter how hard I tried, I would fail somewhere, somehow. I am after all, only human. Performance based love is a fearful thing.
Perfect love casteth out fear. (1 John 4:18)
I've always said I am addicted to fear. I'm comfortable being afraid. This is why I am a last minute, fly by the seat of my pants person when it comes to most things in my life. I want to be afraid it won’t get done. I want to feel the pressure of not getting it done right. I work best this way because truly, my emotions for as long as I can remember, on a scale from 1-10, 10 being high, hover around an 8.
My biological father beat my mom, we moved ten times before third grade (I’ve slept on floors, back porches, bean bags) drug busts, needles, fights, stabbings, drive by’s …etc. I went to a different school each year until fifth grade. I stayed on the A- honor roll and hopped on any church bus that would come my way Sunday morning and hoped for the best.
MANY people in this world have suffered worse. I know. I am related to some of them. The others we read about in the papers. This just happens to be the journey I am on. I am not excusing my insanity, just figuring out how the crazy girl came to be. Trying to decipher the lies she whispers in my ear so I can respond with the truth about me.
I am a beloved child of God in whom he delights.
Now, if I forget to sign the permission slip or turn the dryer on and no one has clean socks, or there is hair in the bathroom sink, or I forgot to pay the car insurance payment, or forget to refill Chaz’s medicine, or can’t find Chris’ passport, or write down the wrong date for a performance, or forget my best friend’s birthday (Ugh! Sorry Mimi) or do anything that causes discomfort or inconvenience to anyone else, I know I am not a loser, failure, unworthy of love.
No matter if I am married or divorced. (I prefer being married to you Chris.) Have a thousand love notes on my mirror when I wake up or none. (The love notes are treasured much though.) If my children rise up and call me blessed or they hate me. (OK, so they don’t use the word blessed, but they do love me.) If I am living in a house, or on a school bus. (Jubilee's cozy.) If I publish a book or get a thousand rejection letters. (I am on the second revision.) If the lies the crazy girl whispers actually come out of someone’s mouth in anger, disappointment or hate,the obstacles(lies) within me are falling away by no power of my own.
I can’t close my eyes to what I am being shown even if I wanted. All the strategies I have used before are not the core of who I am.
Yes, I can work a room, I can hold someone captive with conversation at the bar, entertain and teach before anyone realizes what I'm doing. I can be charming and witty and winsome. I can use words that make pictures in people’s heads and sometimes even make them think what I think. Stars squeak from eyes at times and so on and so forth. I had been throwing these things out of my basket for a while not wanting to be seen. Hoping to disappear. Only wanting to keep the things that seemed sacrificial.
At the moment, I sit on my knees making peace with the crazy girl, my basket totally tumped over. I pick up each little bit to hold it up to the light. There are pieces of me spread out that are essential to who I am, but I do not have to be ruled by them. Some of these I have to keep. My past from birth to the present is not to be forgotten. How I see it now, with new eyes is critical.
The crazy girl and I are being very still and being transformed, by the renewing of this ferocious and fragile mind.