This isn’t the blog post I planned to write. I might get to that one eventually; it’s still kicking around in my head and I still know what I want to say. But this one — I needed to make a couple of stops on the way home, and I didn’t, because I had to race back to the laptop. The words kept wanting out. When you’re a writer, that’s how you know you’re on to something.
While I was out driving around, this old song, “Hold On,” by Kansas, came on the radio station. I grew up — in Kansas, poetically enough — listening to Kansas and Styx and Rush and Van Halen and Peter Frampton, and yes, even Rick Springfield.1
But here are the opening lyrics to the song:
Look in the mirror and tell me
Just what you see
What have the years of your life
Taught you to be?
Innocence dyin’ in so many ways
Things that you dream of are lost
Lost in the haze
Most people, somehow or another, are tormented — whether by cruel others or the workings of their own cruel minds — throughout adolescence.
Lucky me: I got both.
I’m deep into my 40s now. I developed bipolar II disorder at age 13. Three-plus decades is one long time to live with a disordered brain. It’s been really, really ugly, I have to tell you.
A lot of the ugliness came from the things others put on me: I’ve been abused, by people related to me and by significant others I stupidly thought loved me as much as I loved them.
I’ve been made fun of for the way I look. (I’m not deformed, I’m just fat.) I’ve never forgotten the guy in 10th grade who sat behind me in a class to be left unnamed and said to someone about me — with me in earshot, mind you — “she’s the nicest girl, but she’s so damn UGLY!” That whole sticks-and-stones thing is desperately untrue. I mean, 10th grade for me was 1981. It’s 2012. I still remember that incident. (I also remember the jerk’s name, but I’m choosing not to shame him.)2
Perhaps that’s why the next verse had meaning for me:
Hold on, baby, hold on
‘Cause it’s closer than you think
And you’re standing on the brink
Hold on, baby, hold on
‘Cause there’s something on the way
Your tomorrow’s not the same as today
I assumed the people who were mean to me were seeing things I didn’t see. I figured I must be deserving what I was getting. If you look at old pictures, I was always smiling. But then my brain and the world at large started conspiring against me.
I still have a terrible time believing I’m worth liking, or loving, or whatever. I spend a lot of time apologizing to people for being a pain in the butt, because that’s what I’m pretty sure I am, most of the time. It took a long time to get this way and it’s taken me a long time to even start to overcome.
I’m fortunate now to have people who believe in me and who haven’t run away, no matter how hard I’ve tried to push them to go. Yet it’s hard for me to let them freely offer to me their love and caring — honestly, it scares me. Even if they’ve given me no reason, ever, to think they’d abandon me, I’d rather keep my distance than risk being hurt again. The song’s next refrain speaks to that:
Don’t you recall what you felt
When you weren’t alone
Someone who stood by your side
A face you have known
Where do you run when it’s too much to bear
Who do you turn to in need
When nobody’s there?
For that matter, it took me 30-odd years to get to where I had no problem telling bullies where to stuff it, but I’ve learned to be outspoken.
I’ve also learned to be outspoken about my mental illness. I don’t hide it anymore. In part, I can’t — it’s taken a turn for the worse in the last couple years. In part, I don’t want to — people need to know that mentally ill people might be their nurse, or their yoga instructor, or that cute, funny cashier at the grocery store. I don’t know if the statistic about 1 in 4 people having to deal with it is still accurate. And the people who do have to deal with it do so in varying degrees of difficulty.
Four months ago, I was in the crisis care unit of a psychiatric hospital, on suicide watch — the one where they check on you every 15 minutes, 24/7. If they don’t see you, they’ll kick open the bathroom door. If they don’t see the outline of a body in bed at night, they’ll shine a flashlight in your eyes. They lock up your shoelaces (to keep you from hanging yourself), for god’s sake. It is not a pleasant place.
For nine months before that, I underwent electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It’s not “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” stuff anymore, but it too is not pretty. And all I got for it was two and a half months of relief before my therapist went sprinting out of her office to find a psychiatrist to sign a commitment order.
I happened to be hospitalized Thanksgiving week. I would say it is a conservative estimate that I got four times the phone calls of the rest of the floor combined, particularly on Thanksgiving Day itself, from people wanting to check on me and wish me well. In the depths of the abyss, when your brain is telling you it’d be a really swell idea to swan-dive off the nearby overpass, it’s also conveniently forgetting to remind you people care. But they do. It’s frustrating to have to work to remember that when it should just be a given.
The state motto of Kansas is “ad astra per aspera” — “To the stars, through difficulties.” In spite of all that has been difficult, there are still people out there who care enough to try to inspire hope.
Outside your door he is waiting
Waiting for you
Sooner or later you know
He’s got to get through
No hesitation and no holding back
Let it all go and you’ll know
You’re on the right track
My point is: I’m not immune. Even after all these years, the crap — whether awful people or wonky brain chemicals or whatever the theory du jour is — still gets to me. The stuff still happens. The difference is, I say so. And the more people who are willing to say so, the more people who are needlessly suffering silently might come forward and ask for help, instead of feeling shamed, or bullied, or like nobody gets it.
As for that song? I think the lyricist, Kerry Livgren, might be one of us. But it sounds to me like he came out on the other side. Maybe that’s where he found the inspiration for the song title:
Somebody will always get it. I can guarantee that: My email address is at the bottom of this post.
- I have a soft spot for Rick Springfield. Try not to mock me. He’s 62 and he’s still smokin’ hot, and he can still sing, and he was the cause of some happy memories from my teens. [↩]
- It’s worth noting that not everybody’s like that. Age and Facebook are great levelers. In the past several months, I’ve received a note from one very gracious man — with whom I had no problem as a child — asking my forgiveness and a chance to atone, because he felt he could have been kinder to me when we were kids and regretted not doing so. Another brought up something it would have taken me forever to unearth on my own — a really goofy memory that embarrassed me, but which he told me he remembered with fondness and appreciated me for it. [↩]