This post has been on my mind for a few days now. I'm becoming increasingly aware of the people who are reading this blog - although I hoped it would draw a larger audience, I didn't truly expect more than a few friends to occasionally check up on it. I am grateful that others find my writing interesting enough to follow (as I mentioned in the previous post, it's just about the only thing I've ever for which I had any talent), but I feel the need to post a disclaimer as a result.
I do not intend to filter myself here. Previously, keeping a blog or journal got me into some trouble. Picking the most interesting tale is actually difficult, though it'd have to be a toss up between being called "the next Columbine" and having my ass dragged into the counselors office to be accused of lying about my retelling of the childhood abuse I suffered. You're right, "the next Columbine" definitely sounds more interesting.
That's a story for another day, perhaps.
My run-ins with the authorities regarding my unabashed record keeping relate to the interesting characters of Charade and Catalyst, however. Please fasten your safety belts and keep all arms and legs inside the ride at all times. This is going to be a long one.
As you no doubt have deduced, my youth was not filled to the brim with sunshine and sidewalk chalk. Though it did involve some, a majority of it (or at least, what I can remember), involve television sets being thrown and being picked up by my hair.
Believe it or not, this sort of turbulent childhood is prone to mess you up. It reminds me of a quote: "childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome." John Keats. Just kidding, it's from Hope Floats. I used to be very into Sandra Bullock.
As a result, I've been battling with depression and anxiety for the majority of my life. Though it's difficult to pinpoint the moment this struggle began, I distinctly remember the event that made me realize I was not normal in the head.
I'm nine years old, blonder than a Barbie and obsessed with playing Pokemon on my Gameboy Color inside of cardboard boxes. It was a brilliant, sunny day but I was inside my room, safe within it's lemonade pink walls. I was reading something while sprawled out on the bottom bunk of my bunk bed. My mother slept on this bed but since she wasn't in the room at the moment, I decided to enjoy the full mattress that seemed giant compared to the twin on top where I spent my nights. It never occurred to me that it was odd that my mother did not share a bed with my father. I didn't have many friends and I had no desire to compare and contrast families with the few I did have.
My relaxation is cut off when I hear faint yelling from downstairs. It's my parents. I try to block the unsettling noise out since this is by far from a new occurrence. They persist, my mother growing more shrill with each passing moment. It's impossible to ignore. Looking up from my book, I realize the sound is pouring out of the heating vent in my floor. I scramble off the bed and lower myself to the carpet, letting my ear hover inches above the grate.
Their words are lost to me now. I'm sure that my mother was trying to confront my father about his drinking and persuade him to stop, just as I am sure that the sun rises in the east. This is one of the only conversations they had near the end of us living on 410 Clark Street. Despite the repetitive nature of the shouting match, I am unsettled.
I stand up, not wanting to listen anymore. A wretched sick feeling crawls up from my toes and into the pit of my stomach as I begin the pace my bedroom. This will never end. I will live in this nightmare until I die. The pain will only get worse, more frequent, more difficult to conceal. My life is pointless. My mother is stuck here because of me. Tyler, my older brother, is almost eighteen. He will finish high school soon. Once he does, they could leave. If it wasn't for me. I won't finish school for another nine years. Nine years. Everything is pointless. Why is this my life? Another lifetime of this. This will never end. I will live in this nightmare until I die. I will live in this nightmare until I die. I will live in this nightmare until I die.
My feet disappear from under me. I am no longer pacing. I am hurtling forward. Not towards the door. Towards the window. My heart is pounding. I will live in this nightmare until I die. The window shatters.
I am outside. No, wait, only most of me is outside. A voice calls to me.
"Are you alright?"
It's a man, on the roof of a building across the field behind my house. I've picked daffodils there before, barefoot and free. I'm not sure but I yell back to him, "I'm okay." This is my most practiced lie.
Feet are pounding up the stairs as I get my bearings. I am half hanging out of my bedroom window. I see the tall, brown privacy fence that surrounds our backyard below me. It is an eerie second in time that seems to stretch to an unnatural length. For just a heartbeat, I imagine myself impaled on the spiked top.
"Oh my God, Carly!" my mother exclaims. She wastes no time pulling me back into my room. The window is destroyed. Small shards of glass sit on the sill.
My mom looks me over quickly. She kneels before me and inspects my arms and hands. I realize now they are bleeding. Strangely, I don't feel it. I don't feel anything.
"Come on," she says calmly. I know now the utter panic that she felt inside of her heart but at the time I was ignorant to it. Mirroring her serenity, we march to the bathroom just down the hall and I rinse my hands with warm water as she picks out tiny pieces of glass. Numbly, I watch the blood trickle down the drain.
She is relieved that I am not seriously injured. Through some small miracle, I only managed to suffer a handful of cuts on my hands and arms. Her trepidation declining, she asks me, "What happened?"
I am unsure how to explain something so bizarre to my mother. One moment I was overcome with fear, the next I was hanging by my hips, looking at our backyard through a golden curtain of hair. Afraid of scaring her, I recite yet another lie, "I tripped over a teddy bear."
Through narrowed eyes, she gives me a stern look. I know she is inspecting my face for the tell-tale signs of a fib. She has as outstanding bullshit detector, so I try to deflect it with an ego boost.
"You were right, I need to clean my room."
It didn't sink in immediately the exact explanation of what I had done. Thanks to the relatively modern education system of Chicago and all it's suburbs, I had learned about suicide in school and soon enough came to the conclusion that this was what I had attempted to do. Once I had figured it out, I was even more intent on not upsetting my mother with the truth. She had suspected I was full of shit, of course, but whether due to the desire to not believe your pre-pubescent child had not just made an attempt on their life or the chillingly deadpan delivery of my deception, she did not question me further.
Years later, I told my mother the true version of what had occurred that day. I had just come home from work and it was the very definition of a good day. Fifteen years old, I had the immense pleasure of working with children from programs such as Community Mental Health, Youth Runaway Services and Big Brothers Big Sisters. My mentees were incredible kids and the activities we did were a dream. Despite being the youngest mentor in the program (indeed, I turned fourteen on the first day of our training retreat), I was comfortable and competent at my job thanks to this being my second summer doing it. Despite all this, I walked through the door of our one bedroom apartment in tears.
Compassionately, my mother asked me what was wrong. I plopped down in the office chair in my bedroom and wept. She tried again, "What happened?"
"That's the thing," I told her through tears. "Nothing happened. Today was great."
"Then why are you crying?" she pressed me, not unkindly.
My chest heaved as I choked out, "I don't know!"
I began to try and explain to her what I was feeling - what I had been feeling for six odd years. How no matter how hard I tried, or how well things were going, I couldn't shake this unbearable sadness. Or keep myself from being afraid. It was as if I had never left Clark Street, that I still had a backpack at the foot of my bed filled with my favorite things in case Lloyd set fire to the house in his intoxication. No matter how our lives had changed, I couldn't let go of the fear and hopelessness that seemed to hold me hostage.
She began to cry as well. She opened up to me, told me about her fear, about the things she heard in her mind. We held each other, sobbing. I told her that I wanted to be happy but even more I wanted her to be happy, too.
"CMH does counseling," I told her. I had learned quite a bit about the Community Mental Health system through my work. "We could go there. It helps."
"You can go if you want to," she told me. I shook my head.
"No," I answered firmly. The tears had subsided now, though they weren't quite through with me. "I'll only go if you go. We both need help."
Though my mother was older and more practiced at controlling her emotions, I was sure that she would never be free if she didn't see someone about her problems. She was resolute.
"We can't afford to both go at the same time," my mother informed me. With her working at the local newspaper in the printing line, this was most likely true.
"Then when? When will you go?"
She held my shoulders tight and managed a smile, full of strength and encouragement. "When you feel better."
We called CMH right away. I had my mother tell them about her struggles anyway and we asked for a family consultation. It turned out after our first session that they didn't think it would be wise for us to come together, as our problems were not the result of our relationship but of a past still chasing us in our minds.
I wish I could say that this experience brought light into my life and that my mental health issues disappeared as a result. Unfortunately, they only got worse. Tentatively diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I began a regiment of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds and mood stabilizers. At the time, my mother and I were wary of the drug trio I was to take but trusted in the mental health system.
Thus came the birth of Charade and Catalyst.
Though I definitely had mood swings before beginning medication, the daily pills slowly intensified my symptoms. Ironically, my moods were more unstable than ever. I would quickly cycle between periods of intense mania where my rage and sense of power would peak viciously then within an instant come crashing down, full of self-loathing and emptiness.
After a few months of taking these drugs, I became insatiable. Depending on who had the reigns, I was prone to scream or sob at every minor hurdle in my life. At some point, I had named the personas I seemed to take on when my mood fluctuated. Charade would seduce whomever was looking, steal fearlessly and fight like an beast trying to be released from it's cage. Catalyst would crumble at the slightest off remark, lay in bed for hours without sleeping or moving and tear open her flesh just to try and feel something.
I feel terribly for everyone who interacted with me during this period of time but my sympathy goes most towards my mother and boyfriend of the time, Steven*.
My mother, bless her heart, worked like a dog. She picked up extra days every opportunity she had in a fervent effort to save money to get out out of the tiny apartment we were crammed into. I blamed the lack of space and privacy for all of my mood issues. Steven received the majority of my anger and listlessness as a result of her frequent absence. I had long since destroyed or watched the destruction of all of my friendships, so he was the only person I spend time with outside of school.
At the end of the school year, I had reached the peak of the crazy train. Understand, I do not think the ridiculous amount of drugs I took excuses the horrific way I treated people. Nothing excuses violence. All the same, it's almost positive that without their influence, my instability would not have gotten so out of control.
Finally realizing that the meds were doing more harm than good, I stopped taking them. While I had expected this to make things better, the sudden withdrawal (that I was ignorant of since I had ceased going to counseling), tipped me absolutely over the edge.
Blaming Steven for every awful thing I felt became my solution. Rashly, I broke up with him during a manic fit and realizing later what I had done, begged for him to take me back. Being infinitely patient and kind, he did, but this made no difference. I was still utterly miserable.
Something incredibly fun about manic episodes is the memory loss. I have done some terrible things only to vaguely be able to recollect what happened later. One such episode occurred in my apartment while my mother was at work.
(I apologize to Steven if he should read this. Not only for posting something fairly personal that happened between us - that I will remove should he request I do so [though it was so stupidly long ago that I'm sure both of us don't really care who's aware of a pointless fight two sixteen year-olds had] - but more importantly for how I treated him. I'm really, incredibly sorry.)
The details are lost to me but Steven and I are fighting. It escalates rapidly and I'm screaming at him. He is standing in the doorway of my bedroom as I'm getting ready for work. I missed the deadline to reapply for my mentoring job this summer so I'm in my House of Flavors uniform, preparing for a wondrous day of washing dishes. Irate that he wants to discuss our relationship right before I have to go to work, I snap and hit him. He doesn't back down.
At some point - I will never forget these words as they chill me to the bone even today - I screech at him, "You listen better when I hit you!" Rightfully distraught, he begins to hit himself. At first, I am still angry but within one, two, three punches the switch flips and I am trying to stop him, crying. Remorse drowns me as I realize what I've done, how I've hurt him. But I'm running late and don't have time to fix this. I apologize and say we'll talk about this later. I go out the door, walk the block and a half to work, and by the time I'm behind the sink, I am numb.
I spent that summer destroying myself and everyone around me. As often as I could, I drank and smoked and ran away from every problem I ever had. I tried to go back on the meds once or twice but they never helped. Self-centered and hurtling towards rock bottom, I pushed away those sweet enough to try and love me and took advantage of their attention. By the beginning of my junior year, I was beginning to mellow out again but the damage had been done. I was very much alone. I had to start entirely from scratch since the one person who did still want to talk to me had graduated. Since his mother and aunt had stalked we and threatened to "tell all the parents" about me, it was probably for the best. Though I hadn't really figured out how to eradicate my depression and anxiety, I was much better at keeping them at bay since my skull wasn't burning with pharmaceuticals.
Charade and Catalyst lay dormant. My cutting decreased and I buried myself in school activities. With a little time, I found a new circle of friends and without even a full month passing after the end of a brief, strange relationship with my recently graduated friend (that sprung up almost immediately after losing Steven, so desperate was my fear of being alone), I began a new relationship.
Though the first month was next to perfect, it wasn't long until Charade and Catalyst insisted on meeting Victor.
* Names have been changed to protect people's identity and all that shit.