The Monster Returns.

Hello darlings.

It’s been a while, far longer than I would have liked for it to be. That is, I didn’t intend for there to be a radio silence over the past few months, nor did I intend to still have comments from January that are unanswered.

But life…Got in the way. The combination of emotional and psychological circumstances of the last few months built up and led to a kind of writing paralysis. I didn’t respond to comments, didn’t write, didn’t actually do much looking at this spot at all. I thought about it—Oh I thought about it often, feeling guilty about the back-log and wishing that I could get myself back into the habit of writing…But also not knowing what to say.

In a world where everything feels constantly on the brink of destruction, I thought, how could I, why would I, be self-indulgent enough to think that my writing, my tiny blog, mattered? Why would pop culture commentary and talk of mental illness and anecdotes about parenting actually matter? Instead of creating, I immersed myself in the writing of others. I gobbled up book after book, comic after comic, show after show. I engaged in online debate via social media channels, but I didn’t write, not really.

Mostly, I just lost myself. I let the words of others wash over me, let them frighten and amuse and bolster me. I let them heal me.

And I suppose that this wealth of things I’ve read and watched over the last few months is what has finally led me to wanting to write again. I’ve remembered that creating something matters…Whether the thing is a fiction or a nonfiction, a representation or a reality, creation matters. As I watch Get Out and Kubo and the Two Strings, American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale, as I read It and The Secret Loves of Geek Girls and Monstress, Saga and Rat Queens and The Girl Who Drank the Moon, I can only be reminded just how very much our pop culture matters. The stories we tell are are important, and we absolutely should talk about them, hold them up and decide how they complicate, reflect, and refract our cultural narratives.

I’ve read smart writings about many of the works I’ve immersed myself in, writings that critique the presentation of the subjects and the subjects themselves. I’m fascinated by finding out what other people think about things, what they see that I don’t see. At some point, because I wasn’t an academic, I stopped being the person who wrote those things. But now I think that maybe being an academic doesn’t have all that much to do with whether or not you’re a doctor or currently taking classes in an organized and recognized institution. Maybe it’s more about using academic methods and applying them…Researching and hypothesizing and writing, creating arguments and supporting them with evidence.

Either way, it’s time for me to start again–about pop culture and about my illness and just about life in general. Because what I’ve found is that I need to write. I need to talk about my own experiences and to keep allowing others to use this space in the same way. I have to talk about my mental illnesses…A probable diagnosis of biploar type 2, definite diagnoses of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I also have to talk about the difficult things–old traumas and new, the current political situation as well as current literature, film, and TV. I need to talk, and this is the best place to talk.

And so the Monster returns.

When Getting to School Is A Fight For Your Life

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here in such an open, honest essay about her experiences. Please be aware that this post contains frank discussion of physical abuse.

(Content Warning: Descriptions of physical abuse.)

The little yellow bus—commonly called “the retard bus” by my peers–was my only way to get to school. My mother took the car to work with her at 5:45, and the “regular” bus didn’t have a wheelchair lift.

The little yellow bus pulled up at precisely 7:30 every weekday morning. It would honk once, idle for five minutes, and if I wasn’t outside by then, the driver would leave.

This was the mid-80s, well before the ADA, so I was lucky to have the little yellow bus at all.

[Read more…]

The Truth About Children and Domestic Violence

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here. Please be aware that this post contains frank discussion of abuse.

Whenever I hear a car door slam, I break into sweat. My breath catches in my throat, I clench my fists, my stomach tightens, and I have to talk myself down from the edge of a panic attack. As a child, the slamming of the car door meant my dad was home from the bar. He would stomp inside, shove the table, scream and yell, usually break something, and then my mother would storm out of the bedroom. She would scream back at him, and the arguments would last for hours. My siblings and I would lay awake in our rooms, too scared to move, even if we had to go to the bathroom.

One night, my dad smashed our aquarium. He wanted to get back at my mother, and she always liked to watch the fish. We lost the whole cabinet and the chair to water damage, but the deeper loss was my sense of security.  For all that my dad was a loud, belligerent drunk, that was the first time I saw him willfully destroy something for spite.  It wouldn’t be the last.

I moved out of my parents someone I was 19. That same year, I got married, and my husband started abusing me. It wasn’t like my father at first. His abuse tactics were mostly covert, emotional manipulation, crying, lying and gas lighting me. Over time, he escalated into physical abuse.  First it was just unwanted contact. He would slide his hand up my shirt in public when I had asked him not to. He would pinch or slap me on the ass, or pinch my nipples.  When I asked him not to, he would laugh and tell me that I was too sensitive.  I knew that he was doing it intentionally to upset me but that didn’t make it easier to cope with.  Eventually it became unwanted sexual advances.  I couldn’t say no to him without a three-hour fight that would end with him pouting in the corner and threatening to kill himself.  Finally he stopped listening when I said no at all.

Then, the physical violence moved out of the bedroom.  He dragged me out of my wheelchair and tried to choke me.  I only saved myself that night by getting my hands around his throat and choking him instead.  Another time, he was angry with me for something minor and threw a coffee maker at my head.

That was the last straw. I left him that night, and I’ve never looked back, but my struggles were far from over.

I don’t know when car doors came to be such a problem. I have some trouble with loud noises of any kind, but most of the time I can control my reactions. I know enough about PTSD symptoms and how to manage them that I can pretend to be fine even when I’m not. I can de-escalate myself and calm down without much trouble. Car doors are another story. That sound can send me over the edge without warning.

I think I first noticed it in my mid-20s. I had been living on my own since I was 19, and gradually I realized that even though my father was nowhere around me, I was still always afraid if I heard a car door slam. I didn’t know much about PTSD at the time, and I didn’t realize that children who witness domestic violence have a much higher rate of PTSD symptoms than soldiers or war veterans.  Everything I knew about PTSD at the time related to vets.

I also didn’t understand that PTSD can sometimes develop or worsen when a child grows up and leaves the domestic violence situation. The reason for this is that when you’re in the situation, your mind compartmentalizes so that you can continue to function.  When the immediate danger is removed, you can start to experience more symptoms.

I wish I had understood this sooner.  By the time I learned that I had PTSD, my symptoms had gone on unchecked for years and were so out of control that I never let anyone into my home.  I still have anxiety about that, and I find it difficult to go out for more than a few hours.  If there’s a possibility that I might have to stay longer, I need to have a “plan” to get myself out of the situation safely, even if I know there’s no danger.

None of those things have much to do with my father or my ex-husband, but I think as I got older, my home became my safe space. Leaving it or allowing people in meant that I had to prepare myself for possible dangers. I didn’t realize that was happening until it was so bad that it was impossible to ignore.

I’m sharing my story because, most often, when we speak of domestic violence, we speak of partner-violence, or more specifically, violence perpetrated on a woman by a man. Domestic violence encompasses much more than that. While women are statistically more likely to be targeted by male abusers, many men have also been abused by a partner or member of the family. Children are the silent victims of domestic violence. We know that they’re present, and that domestic violence is often a cycle perpetuated through generations, but we don’t invite people who witness domestic violence as children to share their stories and we offer little, if anything, in the way of treatment for them.

We’re the people who understand domestic violence most intimately. It was our cradle, our coming of age, and too often, it becomes our prison.  I want that to stop.  I don’t want another child to grow up terrified, and I don’t want a single survivor to panic over something as innocuous as a car door.


Rose B. Fischer is an avid fan of foxes, Stargate: SG-1, and Star Trek.  She would rather be on the Enterprise right now.

Since she can’t be a Starfleet Officer, she became a speculative fiction author whose stories feature women who defy cultural stereotypes.

To support her artistic habits, Rose has a paying gig as a Digital Creativity Consultant. She works with female and nonbinary creatives to help build powerful online presences that remain in line with her clients’ artistic visions.

You can find her on The Evil Genius blog.

In Which I Make an Extended Metaphor

Today is a difficult day. An impossible day. A day that I wish I could’ve stayed in bed. The noises of the office, the buzz of people talking, typing, laughing, chewing–living their lives–feels too big and too loud. Even the sound of my own fingers hitting the keys as I type this is Just Too Much. Today is a day I’ll cry on the way home, out of exhaustion and frustration and sheer sadness.

Today is a day that I have to deal with my monster. Well…Every day is a day that I have to deal with my monster. She never goes away, really. But sometimes she is small and easily sated. When she is medicated, she is a Good Monster, a Watchful Monster. Other times, like today, she is big and bossy and horrid.

And yet.

And yet, I have to teach. I have to walk into a classroom full of college students (two rooms, actually), and command respect and diligence from my students. I have to talk to them, and I have to listen to them. I have to be attentive to what they need from me. I have to do my job. At a time when every noise I hear makes me wish I could curl further into the fetal position, I have to be upright and on-task.

And that’s what life is like for me–knowing that I must be upright when there’s a literal weight and heft to my anxiety pushing me downward. Being out of bed and out of home instead of being bundled under the covers, my pup curled next to me. Even when it’s difficult to move through the day, I must move through it. This is what I must do, not every day, but many days.

There are lots of days when just getting out of bed, going through the routine of bathing, getting dressed, and getting the breakfast-and-medication routine finished, zaps whatever energy I have. That’s today, a Monday that has brought both a rise in anxiety and some PMS symptoms. Those are beasts, both of them. Big, ugly monsters–bossy ones, at that. But I can’t stay in bed, and I can’t avoid the things that need to be done. I either have to do what needs to be done or forfeit some part(s) of my life, a thing that I am unable (and unwilling) to do. The bills still have to be paid, the child and dog still need to be taken care of, my students still have to be taught, and I still have to keep going.

I’ve been reading up on the Spoon Theory today, wondering if I can use it to help explain how my anxiety and depression work. And to a certain extent, it does work–I have a finite amount of energy each day, and I must consider which tasks have to be done and which can wait. But my illness deviates from Spoon Theory, perhaps because it is of a mental rather than physical nature–or perhaps just because we’re all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all way of explaining what it’s like to live with an illness.

Some days, I wake up and bounce out of bed, moving through the getting-ready-to-be-out-in-the-world phase pretty quickly and easily. Some days, it’s easy to face my classroom full of students–and there are times when it even gives me some spoons back, almost like re-charging. On those days, the monster sits quietly by, attentive but not active. Leashed. (Modern medicine is a Wonder, and it is Key to Keeping the Monster on a Leash.)

And then some days (like today), getting out of bed feels like slogging through mud–with an unruly, awful critter screaming at me to hurry up. That I’m not doing well enough. That I’m weak. That the world is big and ugly and always will be. That I’m insignificant. These taunts make me so afraid that I start dropping spoons. And once I start dropping spoons, it’s difficult to get them back. Everything is scary, and nothing is good enough.

Some days (like today), I start thinking about how I’ll have the energy to parent, because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I need spoons when Little Jedi is home. I need spoons when he’s home so that I can find him something to snack on, help with homework, and give him the emotional and mental support and care that he needs from his mother. And if there’s one thing that I’m afraid of, especially on a day like today, it’s that I’m doing him a disservice by using up my spoons on the rest of the world. And so the monster grows louder, needier.

That monster–that loud, mean monster–is more difficult to quiet on some days than others. And while I am lucky enough to have a wonderful, supportive spouse and a fantastic kid and a comfortable home, none of those things can make the monster quieter.

On these days, we wait for the monster to wear herself out.

Monday Re-Run: Body Image, Body Compassion, and Choosing Myself

 

In the hospital after surgery. It's probably not an accident that I can't find any pictures in the swimming cap---they're all locked away at my parents' house.

In the hospital after surgery.

At 5, I had surgery on my left eardrum to repair a hole. The surgery left my eardrum permanently weakened. I had to wear ear plugs and a rubber swimming cap to protect my ears when I went swimming.

And in the South, especially when there’s a pool nearby, we spend a lot of time swimming. There was a pool in our backyard. I looked a little weird in my cap, but I didn’t think much of it until one kid called me “rubberhead” during swimming lessons. Then it became all I could think about.

*****

At 10, I had huge glasses, braces, and hair that was long and frizzy, because my mom had no idea what to do with curly hair. Sometimes the boy I sat next to at lunch would call me Medusa. I had scrawny legs and was just discovering that I was, in fact, awkward.

I didn’t have any curve to my body, and though a few of my friends had started developing (or at least said they had started developing) breasts, mine were nowhere to be found. I became bothered that I had hair on my legs and that most women didn’t, and I asked my mom if I could start shaving.

She was taken aback, of course. I was 10. She expected me to be younger for longer, I think. Bless her, she asked a close family member what to do, and the answer was “if she’s old enough to be self conscious about it, she’s old enough to shave.”

It was a relief to do something grown up, to have some control over my out-of-control, developing body.

*****

At 13, I had no braces and no glasses. I’d grown curves and gone through puberty. I learned to work with, rather than against, the texture of my hair, and for the first time in years I didn’t have hair that made me feel embarrassed.

Instead, I had the kind of hair I could hide inside of. It was long, just past my shoulders, with a deep part on the right so that my hair swung in front of my eyes.

My hair was large and wild.

Hiding inside it turned out to be a good tactic as boys (and men) started to notice my body. Hiding inside that veil of hair allowed me to look coy and flirtatious while hiding my embarrassment at the attention.

That same year, one of my teachers found a note I’d written a classmate in which I’d divulged suicidal thoughts. They called me to the principal’s office to meet with my parents, who took me home. I entered counseling for the first time.

*****

At 17, sitting on my parents' front porch.

At 17, sitting on my parents’ front porch.

At 17, I was tiny and insecure. I was so small, but I felt so large.

I’d been told to watch out for getting fat. In my teenage years, that translated to “you are already fat, so don’t get any fatter.” Looking back, I should’ve seen the absurdity. I was a size 8.

But I felt like I took up so much space sometimes.

People often thought I was older than I was. I carried myself with an assuredness that I didn’t feel. I retreated behind my mane of hair, into my books, and with a close group of friends who understood me.

*****

Just after returning to college from working at camps all summer long.

Just after returning to college.

At 19, I was a college sophomore, in love for the first time. I was engaged, though of course it didn’t last long. I’d let go of the strong religious leanings that I had in high school, and I liked to party. I was beautiful, and young, and free to

do whatever I wanted as long as I could make it to an 8:00 class the next day.

I was a ropes course instructor and a lifeguard, so I swam often. I was very, very pretty, which got me into more than a little trouble, some of my own making and some of others’. I gained friends and quickly lost them, moving from group to group and party to party.

I still hid behind my hair—it got larger over the years. I got my first tattoo, a symbol of peace and happiness.

I went into counseling again for depression and anxiety, and for the first time I was put on medication. It eased many of my symptoms, but I had a significant weight gain from the medicine. And of course, it worked erratically because I wasn’t careful about drinking while I was on the medication.

I gained about 50 pounds. I was lethargic and stopped swimming, so the partying and the new medicine added up quickly. I went to monthly check-ups, but of course I wasn’t quite honest with my doctors about the partying I did.

*****

At my baby shower, which turned out to be just weeks before delivery. My hands and face are obviously swollen already.

At my baby shower just weeks before delivery.

At 24, I was a master’s student with an on-and-off-again fiancee.  My body wasn’t as good as it had been in my early years of college, when I was a ropes course instructor and a lifeguard, but it was still a young, healthy, beautiful body.

I got a second tattoo, this time a phoenix rising, flanked by the words “carpe diem.” I spent a lot of time reading and writing, and the rest of my time partying. Life was challenging but relatively carefree.

And then it wasn’t.

I wasn’t sure, at first, how I felt about the pregnancy. I knew it would change everything about my life, and I hadn’t planned for that to happen quite so quickly. I knew I wouldn’t be so carefree anymore. I knew my body would change. I went to doctor’s appointments, read books on pregnancy and parenting, changed my eating habits, and researched whether I could screw up my baby by coloring my hair and paining my toenails.

But around 26 weeks of the pregnancy, I had to research new topics. I was diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction, and I had to find out more about it.

When I next returned to my OB, she determined that I was actually preeclamptic. At 32 weeks, I went directly to the hospital from her office. I’d just been at work the day before, and aside from extremely swollen feet and ankles, I felt just fine. But I wasn’t.

I couldn’t wait any longer than a day to be hooked up to a magnesium drip and two days, mostly to be given vital steroid shots to help my baby’s lungs develop, before his delivery via C-section.

I barely remember seeing my child’s face for the first time. I vaguely remember his first cry. I remember thinking that somehow I’d made my baby sick, that maybe because I wasn’t sure if I wanted him at first, we were being punished.

My brother wheeled me down to see my baby for the first time, and I could only stay for a few moments. At 2 pounds, 14 ounces and 15 1/4 inches long, he was the tiniest baby I’d ever seen. I felt paralyzed by his smallness and crippled by

Holding Little Jedi for the first time ever.

Holding Little Jedi for the first time ever.

his fragility.

I felt like it was my fault that he’d come into the world already fighting. My body couldn’t nourish him properly or give him the place he needed to grow until birth.

For a long time, I beat myself up for that. Why couldn’t my body do what it was designed to do? Could I have done something differently? Why didn’t I get to have a have a healthy baby?

****

At 30, I had moved to New Orleans with my son, The Little Jedi, and my then-fiancee-now-husband, Sam.

I fell down the basement stairs on Halloween and sprained my ankle terribly. I was immobile for almost a week and on crutches for another week, and my ankle still isn’t quite the same. The walks I’d been taking with our terrier could no longer be taken—he is really energetic and needs to move quickly.

I gained quite a bit of weight again during the recovery, and I was bothered by

At 30, getting married in Vegas.

At 30, getting married in Vegas.

how long my body took to heal. A few months later, I would fall again and sprain my other ankle. And a year after that, I tore the meniscus in my right

knee.

Changes were around every corner—my own adjustment to living in New Orleans; Little Jedi adjusting to not living with my parents anymore, living with Sam for the first time, going to daycare/school for the first time, and living in a city like New Orleans after small town Mississippi; leaving school for a new career path; my husband changing jobs; a marriage.

*****

At 31, my body is scarred. I’m heavier than I’ve been probably ever in my life. My ankles and knee swell after high-impact exercise, and though I’ve stopped smoking, I’m still out of shape enough to be breathless after exercising in small bouts.

But I’ve come to see the value in what my body has been able to do, and I can forgive it for its shortcomings.

I’m choosing not just body acceptance, but body compassion and body love.

For me, this means holding myself accountable for what I put into my body now but not punishing myself for my past. It means that when I make a mistake (or 5 days of mistakes, like when Mardi Gras happens and then my birthday happens), I don’t beat myself up over it.

I have to re-choose body compassion every day.

My instinct is to get discouraged when I don’t meet the goals I set for myself, especially as concerns diet and exercise. But body compassion sets me up to say “oh well” and move along after a screw up. In some ways that’s more difficult for me.

But I choose body compassion.

I choose it because I need to be compassionate with my body before I can truly love my body. I choose it because I have to remember the life that my body has been through before that I can get to the life I want.

I choose body compassion. I choose me.

(This post was part of the first 1,000 Voices Speak for Compassion Link-up.)

Confessions of a Chronic Flaker

ConfessionsofaChronicFlaker

Sometimes we wonder what other people say about us when we’re not listening. Behind our backs, so to speak. We wonder what they think about us, when and if they do think about us at all, and who they share those thoughts with. I know this isn’t just me, because society is in many ways built on this kind of question, many of us performing the way we do (and make no mistake–we are all performing) based on who is looking. And sometimes, we can make good guesses about what other people say.

As an adult I’ve become known for my likelihood to flake out of an engagement, especially of the social sort. And it is as frustrating for me as it is for people that I cancel on. (I know this, because in some sort of oxymoronic turn of life, I am deeply annoyed by flaky people, so I know how you guys feel when I cancel.)

Though the actual circumstances may vary, what usually happens is, essentially, that I become so anxious about one or more elements of the pending even that I decide I just can’t face it. Maybe I don’t know the way, or I have to drive through a particularly confusing part of the city. (Driving is a huge anxiety trigger for me. I hate driving, especially in this city full of potholes, one-way streets, minimal parking lots, and no left turns.) Maybe I’m going to see a lot of new people, or I’m going to be in an unfamiliar place. Maybe I can’t find anything to wear that doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable or unattractive. Maybe the event will require me to talk a lot, or maybe it’s going to take a long time. Maybe I’m just out of energy. Sometimes it’s several of those things combined.

At some point, I start to feel like it’d just be better if I didn’t go. But then, I have to notify the person that I’m standing up that I won’t be there after all. This makes me even more anxious. I start wondering if they’ll be mad at me for inconveniencing them or if they’ll feel as though I don’t want to be around them. I wonder about plausible excuses for cancelling.

If it’s a bad day, then I decide to cancel plans. If it’s a really bad day, then I might send an e-mail or text cancellation instead of calling. If I do call, I hope that the person I’m calling is busy so that I can leave a message instead of talking to them. (Phones also activate my anxiety. I have significant hearing loss in one ear, and I tend to mumble a bit, so phones cause more confusion for me than straight-forward text.) The closer to event-time that this happens, the worse I feel about the cancellation.

And then, after I cancel, I feel sad and worried. Undependable. Flaky. Lazy. Isolated.

Meanwhile, it is entirely possible that the person I’ve cancelled on is thankful for some extra time on that Netflix binge or that they’re so busy with other things they haven’t had time or inclination to really notice my absence. In fact, this is probably quite often the case–because if it’s true that we wonder what others think of us, it’s also true that they don’t think of us as often as we suppose they might.

We occupy larger parts of our own imaginations than those of others. The shadow of our own failings, much like the light of our successes, falls heavier over our own selves than others.

Code Words for Crazy

codewordsforcrazy

I was six when I had my first panic attack.

I’d gone back to my grandmother’s house after church on a Sunday night, something I did often when I was young. On this particular night, the church service we attended focused on heaven—on what it would be like to spend eternity with Jesus and the angels. But instead of being comforted, I was afraid. I didn’t like the idea that forever had no end, none at all, and I felt suffocated by the idea of being in one place forever. It didn’t matter that Jesus or his angels would be there, that the streets would be paved of gold, or that there were be no more sorrow or pain there. In fact, I could not imagine how it would be possible not to experience pain or loss or sorrow if I had to stay in one place for always, especially if those people I loved didn’t make it there, too.

That night, as I crawled into bed beside my grandmother, I started to cry. She asked me why I was crying, what she could do tell help. And so I told her. I told her that I was afraid of forever, that something never-ending was so far beyond my comfort zone and so enormous as to be horrifying. She told me I needn’t be afraid, of course, and somehow she soothed my fears enough for me to go to sleep.

That was, really and truly, my first indication that I was different…Different from my family, different from my friends and the other kids my age. I thought about things they did not, or at least if they did consider the things I did, they were not bothered by them.

This would become commonplace for me—being troubled by things that did not seem to trouble other people.

*****

I was 13 when I threatened to commit suicide. I wrote a note to a friend, told him about how sad and lonely I felt, how I thought it might be better if I just didn’t exist.

I don’t remember if he meant to show anyone the note, but I do remember that one of my teachers found it. She went to the principal’s office with the note, and my parents were called in. They didn’t understand why I was so sad—but of course, I didn’t really understand either.

I was taken to my first counseling sessions after that. We had to drive half an hour to the closest therapist, because our little town didn’t have any mental health professionals. I don’t actually remember much about the sessions, though I was certainly more than old enough to have a good memory of them. Mostly what I remember is that it didn’t help much, but I pretended that it did.

I spent the rest of middle and high school hiding most of my anxiety and sadness, though there were still times it would rise to the top. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 17, and I had to take the test three times. Mostly, I was too nervous when someone else was in the car—but I also just hated driving. It frightened me. The bad stuff was usually explained away as PMS, or maybe just because I was a teenager, or maybe I was too emotional.

******

When I got to college, everything exploded. I took my first drink of alcohol during my freshman year, and I found that my thirst was difficult to satisfy. I drank too much. I smoked too much. I was too promiscuous. I dated men and women.

The social club I’d joined (which was much like a sorority) ordered me into counseling. I went to a session or two, but I wasn’t really ready to talk, and in any case the focus seemed to be on how much I was drinking instead of why I was drinking so much. The club told me I couldn’t come back without going to counseling. I told them to fuck off, and I spiraled into more drinking, more sex, more fights with my friends and my off-and-on again boyfriend.

I’d reached a point where I felt anxious all the time, and I cried a lot. I saw a psychiatrist, who put me on anti-depressants for the first time and gave me a name for what I was feeling…Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I always managed to keep good grades, and somehow I found myself preparing to go to graduate school, and then actually going, making a move that I promised myself would help me change things. I felt better than I had in ages.

******

When I was 24 and in the final stages of grad school, I returned home from a summer abroad and very soon thereafter conceived my son. There was pressure on all sides for me to marry before the baby was born—pressure from the people who had been helping me pay bills while I was in school and who would be helping me while he was a baby, pressure that I couldn’t ignore.

And so, at 24 and four months pregnant, I married my off-and-on boyfriend and we moved in together. Our son was born 8 weeks early because I had preeclampsia, and he had to spend 5 weeks in the NICU. After pregnancy and 6 months of pumping-breast-milk-because-the-kid-wouldn’t-latch, I returned to my anti-depressant regimen under the care of a general practitioner.

My son’s father and I didn’t live together a full year before I asked him to move out. The relationship had always been tempestuous, and we knew we did not want to raise our child with both of us so unhappy, so we didn’t.

I returned to graduate school to work on a PhD, and I moved back into my parents’ house. It was only an hour from my university, and my retired mother was willing to stay with my son during my classes and while I was teaching. I stopped drinking, and I mostly stopped smoking. I tried counseling again, but the cognitive behavioral therapy approach to my anxiety didn’t work. I continued on with the anti-depressants and the anti-anxiety medication cocktail, and it mostly worked.

*****

At 32, I live in New Orleans with my child and my second husband, an amazing man who I met at a birthday party for a college friend….Her older brother. I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink very often either. I left graduate school over a year ago.

But not long ago, I admitted to myself and my husband that the anti-depressants had stopped working, that they hadn’t been working for a while. And so I went to a new doctor. He gave me a new word for crazy: bipolar type 2 disorder. Looking at the criteria, the diagnosis is a far better one than MDD or GAD. The medication he prescribed works better. And so here I am, trying to get better.

Over the years, I’ve been called overly-empathetic, pathetic, emotionally unstable, emotionally manipulative, too emotional, bitchy, and a laundry list of other things that were code words for crazy–because I felt too keenly, cried too easily, and fought too hard. Because I panicked.

This new word is a better one, but a harder one to come to terms with. Another word for crazy. A real word. A difficult word. It’s not even a code word for crazy—but maybe that’s good, because I’m finished with code words.