Springtime of the Soul

Winter doesn’t last forever. Thankfully, that’s not only true in our calendar or climatic seasons, but also to life seasons.

I usually live with depression of some description and to some degree or other from the first of October until mid-January.  That’s the season of all the family birthdays and some anniversaries, not to mention the great hype of Thanksgiving and Christmas as family holidays. But this year was different.  I got through the fall and the holidays fairly well, but I got hit hard in mid-January, just at the time I’m usually beginning to feel more myself.

It didn’t take much reflection to realize that I was very conscious of the 30-year anniversary of my separation from DH and the discovery he’s gay, but it took a little longer to realize that this anniversary reaction was compounded by the shadowy memories and continuing influences of other things that happened during the separation. My parents are dead, now, so it won’t shame them if I state that they were no help to me at all, and, in fact, abandoned me, even after they realized for themselves that DH is gay.  They blamed me for the divorce. I was in college, a single mom, and they didn’t come see me in two and a half years (they lived only an hour away from me, and my dad was in my town weekly for work purposes). I needed them and they weren’t there. That, as it turned out, was the largest factor of my descent into depression.

I don’t advocate the sort of self-absorbed introspection that renders us victims or traps us in an emotional childishness or leaves us with a myopic perspective; still, there are some things that need to be recognized and dealt with. I believe that if we are still and wait, if we look carefully, these issues will become clear enough that we can recognize them — and be given the means to lay them to rest. I’ve used the term “exorcise” and that’s not inaccurate, either.  The thing is, I believe, to be fully submitted to a discipleship in Christ, and not experimenting or immersed in any New Age or nonChristian framework; otherwise one might find oneself going into unhealthy spiritual and emotional places where one did not intend.

When I had realized that what was most deeply troubling me was the memory of my parents’ non-support — indeed, their abandonment — I was able to deal with it. There are techniques — you can find them in articles about mental health, or in talking with your own counsellor — but the one that turned the tide for me was pretending my Dad, especially, was sitting in the chair opposite me in the living room.  I gave him pure-T, unreconstituted hell for several minutes, and by the time I got to, “You used to call me your Winesap because I was the apple of your eye. How in HELL could you just abandon your little girl like that?” the cork popped and the tears started flowing —

I don’t cry easily or often; it had been more than two years since my last good cry.  Tears contain hormones, I’ve read, that influence or even control moods. Being unable to cry means that all those little bitty biochemical mood influences were trapped in my body and causing me to sink lower and lower and lower.  I told one friend it’s like standing on the wrong bass pedal of an organ — all that loud, discordant noise is there and can’t be ignored, no matter what delightful little fugue one might be playing on the manuals.  It’s an unpleasant weight around one’s soul.

Being able to cry was the wonder drug of the year. I followed up with a chat with a friend who does counseling and who knew my parents (that was important to me).  “Laura, I just never would have thought that your Daddy would have treated you like that.  I wish you could have told me – – ”  See? I’m not crazy and I’m not hateful.  Yes, I had a nervous breakdown. Yes, I was abandoned shamefully by my parents.  Yes, I forgave them (again).

YES. I SURVIVED.

And I survived the extreme depression season.  Crying worked it out of my body.  I found energy and interest and joy again.

Please note:  if you are trapped in severe depression so that you really can’t function, or are always sad, or can’t pull yourself out of it via ordinary means – sunshine, fresh air, exercise, a good venting cry or talk with a friend — do give some serious consideration to consulting your health care provider.  Life’s too short to spend it trapped in a misery which might find relief through medical treatments.

Also — I NEVER thought of harming myself:  life belongs to God, Period.  If you do think of hurting yourself, then I beg you to get some medical assistance. Your life has value and meaning and importance, even when you are temporarily unable to see it.  And, yes, it is temporary (even though sometimes it’s a long temporary) — the light of day always comes round at some point.  There is a redemptive end to all this.

 

Lancing the boil

Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night.  I called this process “lancing a boil.”

The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything.  It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.

More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.

But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:

* I couldn’t concentrate.  This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot.  I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry.  I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped.  Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity.  Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.

These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point.  For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs.  A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated.  I scored 320.  Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems.  But that was still a frighteningly high number.

Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.

I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.

It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was).  “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.

A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place.  I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.

This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare:  your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path.  You can survive this.  You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.

(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)

 

Thirty Years, Part II

So, Tuesday, the 16th, was the 30th anniversary of the day DH actually moved out of our home.  The day passed quietly, even cheerfully, with work.  I was surrounded by people who like and respect me and I wasn’t troubled by depression at all.

Late last week, however, I experienced a personal challenge which has left me reflecting on these years.  I have spent more than 2/3 of my adult life alone, now.  Emotionally, I have spent the whole of it alone.

When I was a little girl, I wanted a boyfriend, and to be grown up, and to be married and have a home and a family and the whole “white picket fence” scenario.  I never was interested in a career, I never wanted anything other than to be part of a We.  I got a good college education, later on (graduated age 32) and thought of going on for advanced degree, but being a mom was much more important and, furthermore, there was that hope in the back of my mind that I might marry and have a second family . . . so I wanted to be “flexible” . . . which never happened, and now I’m 60 and I realized, last week, it isn’t going to happen.

I don’t know whether being single is my actual vocation, or whether it has become my vocation by default, but here I am.

“Don’t give up,” says a friend.  Don’t burn my bridges, he means.  Easy for him to say, fond as he is of me — but when I think of what I want from marriage, how unlikely it is I should find anyone at this point who would be an equal spouse  . .  I have friends, yes.  Good, decent men — but . . .

There’s that fundamental little trust issue. Thirty years — thirty damn years! — after I was “liberated” from the psychological abuse (okay, the “Free At Last!” day came later, with the divorce, but still – !), I still cringe at perceived disapproval. “Did I just blow that one to smithereens?” I’m still tormented by DH’s contempt.  There are still scars and sometimes they sit on raw nerve.

I expect to be abandoned again, I expect to be emotionally betrayed, so I try to anticipate that crisis before I become too irrevocably invested. I love my friend — admire, esteem, even trust — but I push, sometimes hard. Because everything in my gut says the abandonment will come and let’s get it over with now before it can hurt more than it already will.  I just don’t believe in someone being wholly committed to me. Even in friendship.

The odd thing is that I’ve never really worried about loving a gay man again. That’s not what has tormented me. It’s these other, more universal issues.

Book Review: The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon

I’m only on Ch. 19, but I have to get in this review now.

I’m blessed to call Moira Greyland one of my friends.  We met on Facebook through mutual friends; she is the daughter of gays, I am the ex-wife of one. We have exchanged numerous comments and messages; a number of months ago, she became my voice coach, and we have talked numerous times.  She is a joyous woman, enormously talented, expert in several fields, energetic, cheerful, and beautiful.

She is also a walking miracle.

And a very fine writer.

Moira’s parents were famous writers; I’d come across Marion Zimmer Bradley through her Mists of Avalon (which I bought but never could get into, and eventually threw away), but I wasn’t acquainted with the name of Walter Breen until I met Moira.  Both Marion and Walter were brilliant and famous in their respective fields; I was surprised to learn that she was one of the cofounders of the Society of Creative Anachronisms, and other Faires.

Walter, it turns out, was paranoid schizophrenic. Marion didn’t have a formal diagnosis, having never been institutionalized, but my hunch is that it would have been very bad, had there been one.  Nevertheless, both of them were brutal child molesters and abusers.  Moira was raped by both her parents, she watched her father bring into their home and seduce dozens of young boys, her mother go through bouts of insane and irrational rages.  How she has emerged from that hellhole to be the vibrant and powerful — if sometimes shell-shocked — woman that she is leaves me in utter awe.

There are moments in this book of wry humor (Walter would have sex with “anything with a pulse” — in my head, I can see and hear Moira speaking those words). There are recountings that are so carefully navigated to avoid the salacious but still leave one wanting to scream with fury, to reach through the pages and to rescue that little girl she was.  Moira had told me she has panic attacks in the shower, and now I fully understand why.

But the book is more than just her story; it is also the story of the fomentation of the gay rights and pederasty movement (I’m sorry, the two really are inescapably linked — and Breen wrote about “Greek love”) out of Berkeley in the 1960s and 70s. Walter’s schizophrenia thankfully left him incapable of playing the system by self-editing his thoughts and words, any more than his impulses, he was very vocal in his advocacy of sex with children, and wrote about it, and his words and attitudes have been recounted by more than just Moira, which allows us to see the train of thought of an active pederast. His testimony in the criminal trial that put him in prison for the rest of his life was appallingly candid; he actually seems to have believed he could persuade the judge that he was in the right in seducing young boys, that he was doing them an enormous favor. Moira weaves others’ writings, remembrances, and testimony through her own story to demonstrate that these events she recounts were not the creation of her own mind but a well-documented, publicly-known “secret” in the various communities where the family were connected.

There are hard paragraphs to read, yes, but overall The Last Closet is a story of survival and of triumph of love.  Moira shows us the brokenness that each of her parents brought into their marriage, and the tragic and twisted love they shared (they were so in tune with one another on many levels, that they would regularly buy one another the same gift). She shows us her carefully-forged escapes and survival techniques.

As I said in opening, I’m on Ch. 19.  But I know how the story will end, because I know Moira:  in triumph.

Right now, The Last Closet is only available in Kindle format. It will be available in hard copy soon.  And — I don’t know where she’s going to find the strength to do it all — in audiobook.  Yes, Moira’s going to record it herself.

It’s All Okay

Much better the day after that last post.  Most of the time I do very well.  This one took me unprepared.

There are days I know will be difficult:  my daughters’ birthdays. Our anniversary.  Christmas.  As those approach I give myself a bit extra pampering, allow myself a bit of grieving, buy myself a good chocolate bar and maybe some other delicacy.  I take extra naps.  In advance, I might take extra vitamins and immune boosters, since being low in spirits often coincides with a lowering of resistance to sickness.

I’m not a cry-er; it would probably be better for me if I were.

But what the mind doesn’t consciously identify, the body often will know and react to.  This can be brutally hard at times. Suddenly finding oneself low and not knowing why is almost more distressing than being low in itself.  When I’m low on certain expected dates, I know it’s because it’s that date and will pass by the time I wake up, tomorrow morning; but when I’m leveled and don’t know why, it leers at me and threatens to become my permanent state.  This is unrealistic, of course, but sometimes the feeling dominates all.

The good news is that I got through a couple of anniversaries, this past year, with barely a wobble.  There is a lot to be grateful for:  if time doesn’t heal all wounds, it does generally make them less acute.

Getting through it all SOBER

My friend Gina – her husband left her about ten years ago for another man – ugly, ugly situation. Her doctor gave Gina something to “help her relax.”  The drug was Ativan — and he’s had her on it for EIGHT YEARS.

There’s something unconscionable and unethical about putting a patient on an addictive drug for that long.

And did Gina need it in the first place?

Look, of COURSE your nerves are shot — you’ve been living with a homosexual – a misogynist – for how many years? And now you know the insanity you’ve been blaming on yourself (and he’s probably been blaming you for) is because he’s homosexual? and the earth is rocking and rolling under your feet and you don’t know which end is up and at any minute you’re absolutely sure you’re going to toss your cookies?

WELL, DUH — of COURSE YOUR NERVES ARE FRAYED. OF COURSE EVERYTHING AROUND YOU IS GOING BATSHIT CRAZY.

IT is — not you.

And so you toss your cookies.  Is it really the worst thing that can happen to you? Personally, I think continuing to live with a psychologically abusive and severely disturbed spouse is far, far more undesirable.

Look.  You can take the immediately easy way out and medicate with booze or prescription drugs in order to numb the immediate oh-God-I’m-losing-my-mind feelings.  But I’m telling you, you’ll still have to face the music when you sober back up or the prescription expires.  And if you’re on the junk long enough, you’ll have compounded problems, coming off the crutch AND facing your reality all at one time.

Problem is, the crisis doesn’t go away just because your brain checks out for a while. It will sit and wait for you, however long you try to run away from it.

It’s a LOT easier to grit your teeth and just body-surf through the batshit crazy until you can find some terra firma to plant your feet on.  It takes ten times as much work to pull yourself BACK together as it would have done simply to hang on for dear life in the first place.  Yes, that’s a borrow from Mockingjay — in which book too damn many needles are used to get Katniss and Finnick — to CONTROL THEM instead of healing them. Because, dammit all, it’s so much easier to drug your way through a crisis than it is to have to think and work your way through.  Until you sober up and the emotional upheaval is still right there waiting to say GOTCHA!
Stay sober.  Honestly.