Being here, in this moment, no where else, is both a struggle and a blessing.
I should do it. “Don’t should yourself” I hear my therapist say, her voice distinct in my head, her warm smile. But I want to, I know I need to, I should.
And so I open a browser and I type these words. Words that don’t know where they are going. Words that might have a map, but might not, and either way, they aren’t ready to let me see it just yet.
The terrain has been rough lately. Poison arrows being flung my way by someone who I thought I could trust. Someone who, when belly up, fights dirty. And I could recoil. I could drown in the feeling that I’m responsible for everyone’s happiness and I have, again, failed.
Instead I’m buoyed. It’s a strange feeling, really, to be tossed about in these rough waters having shed the fear of being pulled under. So things aren’t as I thought. So someone behaved in a way that I didn’t expect. And instead of self-deprication, I’ve pulled up on shore. Sitting back on these rocks, watching the water ebb and flow, like it always does, I see the curve of the earth in a different light.
From here I can see the ways, even more ways, that I make myself small and tiny and easily digestible for others. I see the vast vacuum into which I have put so much energy trying to be ‘good enough’. Being quiet. Being smooth and unprickly. Changing and shifting who I really am to make someone else more comfortable in their own life.
This is becoming a problem.
I realize just how huge a problem this is when people who I’ve shape shifted for, people who I’ve molded myself into someone else for, throw their venom at me and show me that I’m just as expendable as everyone else in their life. I can’t sit at the master’s feet like a dog and allow myself to be kicked.
The truth is, I don’t need her love. I wanted it. I’ve always wanted it. And she’s always withheld it, being a fortress of iron bars and walls and electric fences she has guarded her vulnerability and dangled her acceptance of me like a carrot. Now, though, I can see that not only was I never going to ever be good enough to truly be loved by her, but I don’t need that love. I don’t want love, any love, that comes with even a hint of condition.
Some day I will get to that place, perhaps at the foot of a rainbow, perhaps at the end of the yellow brick road, but I will get to that place where I simply am enough. Where I will look into a mirror and see that I am perfect just the way I am. Even with this myriad of imperfect features – my not curly enough or straight enough hair, my soft, lumpy body, my love affair with foul language, my dark and twisty humor – I will feel it vibrating from my core.
Yes Danielle, you are okay. You are enough. You are beautiful. You are whole.
It’s been two weeks since I posted here. So much has happened in the world and in my life. I’m struggling to make sense of it all but the words seem awkward and inadequate. I feel that pull though, that need to write it out, even if it’s imperfect and messy and doesn’t make sense to anyone but me. I want to write about Robin Williams and racism and Ferguson, MO and homecomings and cancer and abusive relationships. But I can’t do that all at once. So, one thing at a time.
When I heard about Robin Williams my heart sank, the surface of my skin tingled, tears welled in my eyes. His was an outlier among outliers as a creative, as an actor, as a comedian. He took you with him on whatever roller coaster he was on. He was gifted and he was magnetic. Nearly two weeks later, it’s still hard to believe he is gone.
I’ve thought a lot about who he was as a human, not just a celebrity. As a person who has used humor in her life as a way to defer and deflect pain, I can see that at least some of Robin’s comedy was in response to his own anxiety. If you watch closely, you can tell. This was especially apparent if he was on a talk show or in other situations where he didn’t ‘have’ to be on, but was. When the anxiety is too much, the comedy and humor turn on, full volume, to drown out the anxiety. To an outsider, he’s just being funny and we catch a ride on these brilliant riffs and hold our stomachs and wipe our tears of laughter. In reality, it’s an escape from the discomfort of anxiety and like any escape it can be very addicting and very draining. I can’t pretend to know exactly what happened for him, but there are a lot of things in him that I can identify with. The fact that he was unable to heal from whatever triggered his obvious anxiety and, ultimately, his depression, breaks my heart.
I see Robin Williams as one of those people who, themselves, is a thin place. A thin place is somewhere that the barrier between the physical and ‘other’ world is, well, thin. A place where you can feel the peaceful buzz of energy from ‘somewhere else’. In my creative life, when I allow myself to be vulnerable and open, I feel it. The idea, the string of perfect words, the vision enters into my brain with no effort, like someone reached across the veil and dropped it into my consciousness. It’s a difficult thing to articulate, but if you’ve experienced it, you know what I mean; lots of creative people feel and experience this. Some people experience this as ‘flow’.
The problem with allowing yourself to be sensitive, opening yourself to the thin places, allowing the gifts, means opening up to all of the feelings, all of the emotions, all of the input. If we don’t know how to manage all of that, it can be easily overwhelming. Our society does not honor or equip us to deal with this onslaught of intense feeling and sensory information. We are not taught to respect and cultivate our intuition. For very sensitive people it can be confusing and scary. It can be mistaken for, or lead to, mental illness. It can lead to substance abuse. It can be all of that. For some people, it is just too much.
I believe Robin was a very sensitive person living very close to the veil and comedy was a way for him to push the painful things aside. When he did, it opened the flood gates for his comedic and theatrical brilliance. You can see it flowing through him. Often, he was not truly in control of these riffs, he was but a vessel. And when he was in this space, he likely wasn’t thinking about his anxiety and wasn’t feeling his pain. But when the riff is over, when the laughter is gone, he was still left with his pain, depression and anxiety. That’s how escapes work – they numb the pain for a little while, but eventually the bandage falls off and the raw wound is still there.
I’m sorry that Robin chose to cross over and that, whatever place he was in, he felt it was his only choice. He is missed, mostly by his children and family, but also by the millions of people whose adoration and love couldn’t save him.
When you have a child who is diagnosed as having an Autism spectrum disorder (or in the new DSM-V – Autistic Disorder), there seems to be this notion that you have two choices – to accept the Autism… or not. It’s even a thing, “Autism Acceptance”.
There is this idea that Autism is an untreatable disorder that just happens to people. Most claim that we don’t know ‘why’ this is happening to 1 in 66 children. It just is. We must accept it.
If only it were that simple.
I refuse to accept this epidemic that is causing millions of children to live in physical and emotional pain for their entire lives. When you add to that the ripple effect of this disorder on caregivers, communities, schools, and healthcare providers – which sometimes leads parents to kill or abuse their children with Autism – how can we dream of simply accepting the weight of this burden?
I understand the goal of “Autism Acceptance”. We all want, and have a right, to be accepted and celebrated regardless of our differences – the things that make us uniquely who we are. Working and relating with people on the spectrum – 1 in 66 humans in the US at this point, though I actually believe the numbers to be higher – takes special skills, an open heart and a willingness to put aside our own ideas about what people ‘should’ be like. We have to accept that humans on the spectrum, and all other humans, are allowed to be who they are and accepted for who they are, completely. I will always accept people who have Autism, but I can not simply accept the fate of Autism itself.
You see, my son is not Autism and he is not Aspergers. He is a human. He carries a diagnosis of Aspergers Disorder. And I accept him.
But when he was 3 years old and experiencing full blown emotional breakdown because I put his food in the wrong colored bowl – no, I could not accept that this was going to be his reality, our reality, forever.
He was in pain; it was physically and emotionally painful for him to switch from wearing long sleeves to short sleeves in the summer. When his emotions went off the rails because of a change, and we could rarely predict which one or when it would happen, his emotional distress was completely genuine. He wasn’t being a brat, he didn’t need a ‘good spanking’ and we weren’t doing anything wrong as his parents. His brain just could not compute the input and off the rails we would go. It was a ride we would go on several times a day, 10, 20, 30, 40 minutes at a time, never really knowing when it would end. When your child is screaming, 2 minutes is a long time, but 40 minutes is an eternity.
If your child was sick, say with cancer, would you just accept they were in pain, that the cancer was destroying them? No, you would treat them in whatever ways you knew how. You would do everything in your power to eliminate their pain and improve their quality of life. You would accept the diagnosis, but you wouldn’t be complacent to it. You would fight.
So that’s what I did.
Doctors didn’t have any answers, just a diagnosis. While it was validating as a parent to know it wasn’t some fatal parenting flaw that caused him to behave and react how he did, it didn’t change anything in our day to day lives. My insurance wouldn’t even pay for more than 2 sessions of OT for sensory integration therapy. I was completely on my own to navigate this. I had to treat my son’s pain and discomfort. I had to do something.
At the resistance of my then partner, his other mom, I implemented diet changes. I added in supplements. Some of it did nothing, some of it changed the course of his life forever.
I don’t believe anything we did to help treat his Autism changed who he is at his core. He is still bright and affable with a huge heart. All we did was turn down the noise and static that was preventing him from living fully – we helped remove the big barriers that were keeping him from being who he truly is.
From the moment he entered first grade he has never needed much extra support in school – at least no more than your average kid. He has negotiated friendships and his learning environments beautifully with a few, typical, speed bumps. Today, he is a quirky teenage boy who loves playing Monopoly with his friends. Yes, he gets disappointed when he loses, but he doesn’t flip tables or break down when this happens. He handles it as well as any other kid would. If I had accepted his diagnosis of Autism and done nothing, we would not be here.
When we were in the trenches, there were times when I clutched the edge of a horrible day with white knuckles, fearing that tumult would be the climate of our lives forever. It was those times when I didn’t dare let myself dream that his life would turn out the way it has. It was those times that forced me to sweep together all the little bits of hope I allowed myself and do something, anything, to help treat this ‘untreatable’ disorder.
I asked him the other day, now 13 years old, if he wanted to be re-evaluated. I told him he would very likely lose the diagnosis. He said he didn’t care. He doesn’t believe it will affect his life either way. He accepts who he is, and I accept who he is. All the neurotypical parts. All the Aspergers parts. All of him. I accept my son, but I will never sit silently and accept that fate that Autism has to offer.
I will always support parents who choose to seek recovery and remediation because I know they don’t want to change who their children are, they want to allow their children to live fully, just like the rest of us. And that’s not too much for any parent to ask.
All day, for days now, ideas are constantly flitting around my head. I notice one, a white butterfly contrasting the lush green grass. I watch her for a while, appreciating her beauty, the way she moves with a random grace. I wonder where she’ll go next. And then I’m distracted by something, a child usually, needing a part of me I don’t want to give. When I’m done pouring myself into the crevices that need filling, I look back. But she’s gone. While I was busy emptying myself into squabbles over toys and unmet expectations, the idea left, just like that.
Is that what the collective conscious is like? Ideas flit about this large field of conscious thought looking for a place to land, but if you look away, if you turn your attention to the physical, to a place where you’re already empty, that idea moves on to find another field, another flower to drink from, another leaf to lay her eggs under where the chance of those eggs hatching and growing and flying on their own is really possible.
Lately I’ve been dragging words through thick mud trying to get them on the page. Tonight, I sat down to pour out something, anything, to help me get unstuck. I caught the faintest breeze off that butterfly’s wings, enough for me to remember she was there earlier, but not enough for me to get a true sense of her beauty. Perhaps the idea will come back, the thing I felt moved about in that moment, but just as likely not.
It’s been this way lately. The thoughts, feelings, and ideas are but transient settlers in my brain. I’m distracted by too many things – wobbly emotions, mountains of anxiety and children who need me to be their mother. Never enough time or quiet for me to allow something to fully unfold. Everything about who I am and what I want feels wispy and fragmented.
I need to be able to stop long enough to let her thin black legs land on my heart, her powdery wings flicking silently apart then together, waiting for me to open to her. I need to let her speak to me until the idea has enough of it’s own weight that it won’t fly away with her when she takes off again, finding her way on a current of thought to another woman in need of her inspiration.
I need more dirt under my feet, more salt air in my lungs. I need more stillness, more peace. I know these things like I know my bones, but I just don’t quite know how to get them.
Nearly 10 years ago I started blogging. It was another space in another time. I had things that needed saying and found a way to say them, to shout them into the vacuum of the internet where they had a life outside my head. Initially, I wanted validation, I wanted the community I saw blossoming on other blogs. I felt so invisible in my own life and I wanted desperately to be seen.
It started out as a craft blog, but with no time or space to be creative, or to even be myself, I blogged about what was happening in my life. Sometimes it was sunshine and roses, and sometimes swirling clouds rained darkness. There was a lot of the latter. I chronicled four years of failures and triumphs, break ups and new love, diagnoses and treatments – the makings of food, crafts and my early years as a mother.
I went back there tonight, to find a short story I’d once written, wondering if I might submit it for a women writers publication. It was there, nestled between recipes, thoughts, and snippets of every day; moments of my life that I’d almost forgotten. But what I discovered was far more than any short story.
On those forgotten pages of a lifetime ago, I found my voice. I found unencumbered authenticity. I found joy and sadness and 4 years of my journey in black and white, 4 years of my childrens’ lives, 4 years of my evolution as a human and a mother and writer. I didn’t care who read it or didn’t. I didn’t care about page views or hits or pictures in my posts. I didn’t care about what days more people read blog posts. I didn’t write for anyone else. I just wrote. Some days I didn’t. I was just there, in those posts, a million words or 10 words, there I was.
Those words wrapped around me like a perfectly tattered blanket. It felt like coming home.
I felt a cognitive dissonance washing over me. Where did I go?
I ended that blog because someone I knew was reading who, at that time, I didn’t want having a birds eye view into my life anymore. When I started blogging here I felt free again, but then my goals shifted a little. I thought about building my writing career; thought about this blog being something that editors would be able to reference when they wanted to know about my ‘work’. Those familiar feelings of wanting to ‘fit in’, to be accepted, and to be validated crept in and took over. I started censoring myself again, my true voice but a small whisper. And then, as it happens on the PUBLIC internet, that same person from my past found their way here and I just shut it all down until I could get my mental shit together enough to come back.
As I read those snippets of my life from ‘before’, I began to feel even more fully the impact of giving away my power to an ideal, to an unknown, to fear. Yet as much as I feel sadness at the lost opportunity to have recorded the last 6 years, I realize that I still have now. My voice never went anywhere, I just hushed it and made it sit quietly in a corner while I tried to fit who I was into a tidy pigeon hole. I have an opportunity, right now, to take this space and reclaim it one more time, in an even deeper and more fulfilling way.
I don’t have it all figured out and I never will. But being real means not hushing myself, it means stepping into my life and living it, out loud, as real and authentically as I can. And right now that means speaking my truth here, in my way, even if I’m the only one listening.
Most of us have heard about, or read, the article about the woman who went to pick up ‘food stamps’ with her Mercedes. Though, from what I read it looks like she really went to get WIC benefits, which are a whole different thing, but let’s not get caught up in semantics.
The snapshot is this: an upper middle class white lady with kids has a blip on her economic radar and has to get benefits and has an awakening about what it means to be poor.
This is not poverty. Not even close.
She’s not part of the population of women stigmatized and shamed for being poor. She’s part of the pat on the head, look what they had to do to get by, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, better days are coming, poor for a few minutes poor. When the conservative right talks about welfare reform, they’re not targeting her. They’re targeting the millions of people in culturally propagated poverty. People whose mothers and grandmothers were on welfare. People who were raised in a multi-generational culture of poverty and lack and struggle and oppression, who often don’t know any different. And if those folks raised in this ‘norm’ of poverty do know, if they want to escape the oppression, finding the way out can be harder than just staying in it.
I once had a teenager on my caseload when I was a Child Protective Worker. One of her primary objectives as she approached her 18th birthday was not to graduate high school, get a job or go to college. It was to have a baby so that she could get on benefits. She grew up in a constellation of abuse, mental illness and addiction. I don’t fault her at all – she knew no different. For her it was a way to be independent, ironically, in the only culture of survival that she knew.
Welfare reformists might use this case to point out the need for reform, but that’s missing the mark as well. Poverty for some is a jail they have lived in their whole lives where they have been, if they are lucky, provided food and shelter. It becomes the only means of survival they know. You cannot rip the roof from their heads and the food from their plates and expect they will ‘figure it out’. Living in abject, multi-generational poverty is traumatic in and of itself. And we can’t simply ignore the underlying contributors to poverty like mental illness, addiction, and racism – things that keep people in the cycle of poverty – and expect people to land on their feet when we pull the rug out from under them.
It’s not welfare that needs reform, it’s how we approach our humanity and the humanity of others that needs a complete overhaul. We need far better access to mental health services, to substance abuse treatment and services, and we could use a whole lot of compassion. “Those people” aren’t the other, they are us. They are us because we are all human. We all deserve dignity, respect and love.
Our warped sense of poverty and classicism was highlighted for me this week in an exchange that I’m still shaking my head at. A fellow social worker was venting that she did not think it was “fair” that people on WIC and SNAP get a “50% discount” at our local Farmer’s Market. Her rationale is that the Farmer’s Market is “so expensive, y’all” and she lamented that she can’t even afford it and she has a “job”. She thinks everyone should get a discount, you know, to be “fair”. Oh and, by the way, she’s not going to be giving the Farmer’s Market a cent of her money. So there. ::: insert stomping feet and hands on hips :::
The fact that SNAP and WIC recipients really don’t get 50% off the run of the Farmer’s Market is really moot. What is also moot is the fact that many, if not a majority of, SNAP recipients work.
What this person does not seem to grasp is that she has the privilege of having choices that people who rely on SNAP and WIC do not. Every day that she gets up in her 4 bedroom house where her children all have their own rooms, gets in her car that is not falling apart, drives herself to her job that allows her paid sick and vacation time, goes to Whole Foods for lunch or Starbucks for a coffee, leaves work early to go to her kids sports games, she has choices that those living in poverty simply do not have.
She gets to choose if she takes the day off with her sick child because she has a job with sick time. For many working parents, taking the day off to be with your sick child means you do not get paid. That means no money; at least 20% of your weekly paycheck gone.
She gets to choose if she spends $50 this week between Starbucks, Whole Foods hot bar and the local sushi place or spends that money at the Farmer’s Market. Many parents on SNAP have a simple choice between eating and not eating; between cheap boxed chemical laden junk and healthy food full of nutrition (that they hope can help their children’s bodies combat the stress and trauma of living in poverty).
Please tell me what’s wrong with improving SNAP and WIC recipient access to fresh, local, often organic, produce. I’ll wait.
The reality is, there are no privileges to being poor. There is no red carpet of choices that opens up like the heavens when you finally are ‘lucky’ enough to have your head dip below the poverty line. It’s not a privilege to have to justify your worthiness as a human in order to have access to healthy nourishment for your body. It’s not a privilege to be trapped under the weight of shame, stigma, racism, sexism, mental illness, addiction, trauma and all the other things that keep people firmly planted in cyclical, generational poverty. It’s not a privilege to learn how to stuff and swallow that shame just so you can look at yourself in the mirror, get yourself on the bus, drop your kids off at daycare, go to your minimum wage shit job that no one else wants, go back and get your kids, throw some moderately healthy food at them, try to find enough love for yourself to give to them and pray for the strength to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.
Privilege is knowing, like that woman in the Mercedes, that one day she’ll drive away from that church basement never to return again. Or better yet, like my former co-worker, that she’ll never have the ‘privilege’ of needing to go in the first place.