Friday, May 19, 2017


It wasn't just a Tylenol headache.  I knew I had a different kind of sick in my head.  I knew I'd have to see a doctor and get a prescription medication for this brain pain. I already knew.  My mother had been dealing with major clinical depression for as long as I was old enough to understand my mom was human and not just, "Mom."  And you know, I was never going to feel the same again. 
I just didn't know it then.  

I was in college.  It was the beginning of my depression, and then end of my "mental healthiness."  
Honestly, though, how many girls really made it out of college without being a little messed up?  
I mean, I had experienced difficult things in my life already, to be sure.  But I was doing pretty okay, and I was 19.  I though I was...

However, there I was at the beginning of second semester, and a survey handed out to the 200 student-huge-lecture-hall-freshmen-general-education-requirement-Psychology 101 class told me I needed to seek professional help immediately.  Immediately!  I looked around, as my classmates were either still filling it out, or falling asleep, or just fucking around with their fingernails or gum or writing implements.  I was always a stellar student, so I took that survey-quiz thing like it was my job. No fucking around or sleeping on the job for me, ever.  Never.  Hmmmm...

But, damn, my Psychology 101 class materials were telling me I was totally fucked.  I should have had a really awesome reaction to my survey results...  There were so many opportunities for craziness, but I was in shock that I was crazy, so I didn't think of them!  Like, if I had only stood up after tallying my score, announced my results loudly to the auditorium-sized room, and said, "Whoa, I'm fucking crazy. I need to find a doctor Stat," then run up the aisle and through the double doors, and out of that room.  I mean, maybe I could have gone shopping with my friends on Church Street that afternoon instead of shifting uncomfortably in the crappy fixed-row, fold-down seat, listening to all the causes and symptoms of mental illness.  I obviously had experienced most of them.  It said it right there on the survey.

Oh!  alternately, I could have done this: (Why the F didn't I think of this one?) I could also have raised my hand, waving it wildly until I attention up front (because who asks questions in a lecture hall class?) and asked the rotating professor (or TA) of the day, what I should do with my results. They made us take the test, didn't they?  What did they want us to do with that shit?  

Or! I should have descended down the aisle from my theater seat, taken over the microphone, and began a discussion about me, beginning by listing each item that led me to the score of, Girl, you be crazy, get some freaking help, then asking, "So... How?  What? Let's open this room to discussion, instead of another boring lecture."
         I am thinking that my classmates would be absolutely unaware that the professor wasn't lecturing still, or think, "Girl you be crazy," but I would persist.  
"What do you think about the score on this life event I experienced?  Yes, you there, in row thirty in the red and yellow striped rugby shirt." (Then it would dawn on me, Hell to the no, that isn't the guy who grabbed my arm and pulled, until I fell into him, and then tried to make out with me, his arms "hugging me,"at the frat party on Friday night after he did a Milwaukee Best keg stand, vomited into a cooler, and proceeded to do another keg stand? Yes, he sure looks familiar.  I was leaving the party, and standing alone on the sidewalk waiting for my friends.  He followed me outside.  Wouldn't you know it, it is the same guy! Of all the coincidences...  That guy who called me a bitch, and a fucking tease because instead of letting him kiss me, I pulled my head back away from his face with disgust, wriggled myself out of his arms, finally pushing him away and saying, "Gross, let go of me. I just saw you puke." I didn't have to point out that I had never spoken to him... ever...  Luckily my friends stumbled down the porch steps towards us, because he looked like he was going to, well, slap me.  I was a freshman, so I thought he would slap me...  [Thank goodness I didn't enjoy drinking "The Beast," as we called the cheapest beer frats could purchase to get girls drunk, or accept any of the Jello shots offered to me several times before I convinced my friends that maybe it wasn't very fun there.  And I had spent way too much time in front of the big trough of water teeming with little, swimming goldfish, which was apparently provided so guys could prove how manly they were by scooping up the water and fish into their red cups, and swallowing the fish alive.  Nope.  I was going to guard the fish.  Poor little fish.  I would guard the fucking goldfish.  I failed at guarding the fish; very few guys cared what I had to say about those poor living creatures dying a slow death, either suffocating in their esophagus, or drowning in stomach acid. No wonder guys were puking. And holy shit: were the fish coming back up still alive, and then just dying in vomit and beer puddles?] 
Perfect! that's the guy.  His opinion is most helpful in determining why this generic psychological quiz deemed me mentally unwell).  

None of those awesome things happened.  I mean, I didn't do any awesome things during my Psychology class that day, the puke guy story was absolutely true.  I didn't raise my hand. 

To be honest, at that point I didn't think I needed professional help, or that I was in danger of anything psychologically serious.  I was well adjusted, considering everything I had experienced in my life that far.  18 years.  Let me think about that a bit.  What happened that led me to feeling the need to hide the survey in my backpack, as soon as I had tallied my results, so the people sitting around me wouldn't be afraid to be sitting next to a woman on the brink of insanity?  

    Let me see...  

  Well, my parents got divorced when I was 6.  I didn't really remember my biological father being in my life at that age, (like him even being home), so it wasn't something that could touch me deeply at that age. Although staying with him during his custody agreement weekends, not being sure if it was sexual abuse, or just fucked up neglect to leave us alone in his house, while he worked at the attached mom and pop grocery store, the house filled with pornography, and my older sister putting on movies that showed people being mutilated and violated--I still see every scene so vividly--The men fighting to the gorey death by huge mallets in medieval pits of violence, where guts and blood were shown dripping off weapons, and then the survivors raped naked women chained to walls.  It would be turned off.  But not by my older sister.  When this all started I first I cried and said I was scared, and my sister pulled my hair and told me to shut up.  But then I figured out if I pretended I was not upset long enough, and she wasn't paying attention, I could run through the door that connected the store to the house, through a garage-type redemption area that smelled like garbage mixed with Sunkist Orange Soda, and open the door into the butcher department, where my father would be working, and if I made enough of a scene, crying and begging him to come and stop my sister, he would... and he would spank her.  He wouldn't even take his apron off.  He smelled like raw meat.  But I would cry more, because I didn't want him to spank her, I just wanted to not be nine years old, and traumatized...  He had to work. He would turn it off, go back to work, but then my sister would torture me until she got bored. I quickly learned not to run and get my father, or ask him for help, but to hide from my sister and the television and the magazines, until the store closed.  My little brother would have just stayed watching, or hide in the bathroom looking at Hustler and Playboy, which were in a stack next to the toilet.  He was seven. I was nine, and I remember pulling the magazines out of my his hands, and dragging him away from the smut, and I began standing up to my sister, and she didn't like it.  But she was kind of scared when I finally fought back... 
       Sigh... my older sister.  She told me she hated me and I was ugly for most of our young lives.  She also used to stab me in the stomach with pencils, and pull my hair, and tell me scary stories, and not let me cover my ears.  She was not awesome.  
     I was sad when my great-grandfather died when I was eight, even though I didn't know him as I wished I could have.  My mother told me the most wonderful stories of growing up with him as a central part of her life, because she lived in a multi-generation family home.  Her grandparents were right upstairs, in a small apartment, and she saw them every day.  Her grandfather, my great-grandfather, had a stroke before I could remember, and couldn't talk well, or get around.  I was devastated by the grief of my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. 
       I know many people are close to their grandparents, but not the way my mother and aunts and uncles grew up.  And although I didn't live with my grandparents,  I grew up less than a from their house.  My great-grandmother, Stella, still lived upstairs until she couldn't...  She had alzheimer's disease, which seemed to come upon her out of the blue, because it progressed so rapidly.  I was the closest of all the great-grandchildren to Nanny Stell, (I named my daughter after her), and as a teenager, I used to stay with her most weekends, and during the summer days, and after school quite often, because she couldn't be left alone, and my grandparents needed to live.  I'm so glad, looking back, that I had that time with my Nanny Stell, but also because it allowed my grandparents, who I can see now were still but young, to be alone together.  Even before they knew she had alzheimers, I would go over to sleep upstairs with my great-grandmother, so she wouldn't be lonely.  She brought me or a butterscotch hard candy, or homemade applesauce to eat, when I was coughing at night, and she would sit on the edge of the couch and talk to me. She couldn't sleep anyway, she'd tell me, when I expressed regret in coughing so loud to wake her.  She would comfort me until I fell asleep. Within two years, I was sleeping there because she couldn't be alone. She would wake me, but now it was to ask me where her baby was.  She asked me to please not make her be in the Saint Patrick's Day play at school the next day.  She'd wonder who had the baby.  That was difficult, but I loved her, and knew how to comfort her until she fell asleep.  
       Being raped at 17 was traumatic, but it was a "thing" I could ignore.  I had blocked it out, really.  That seemed like a healthy coping tactic to me.
       I was horribly sad and lonely leaving my younger sister to go off to college.  She was born when I was ten, yet she was my little best friend. I came home often to see her and that comforted me.  I could go home or my parents would bring her to Burlington any time we were missing each other.  Missing Mikhaila felt like a punch in the stomach, but I could still live my life separate from my home life, and enjoy my friends and my classes and experiences away from home.
I guess I should have known and I know now, that it didn't matter really what happened to me in my life, before I broke.  I mean, I've read so many times, it's now what you experience, it's how you react to it, that makes or breaks you.  I didn't think I was broken, yet.  Yet I also know, now, that depression was already dormant in my genetic makeup all along, just waiting for me to hit my head and crack it open. Looking back, (and I actually had to reach into the depths of my memories to think all this through: when did you become crazy, Joanna?), I attribute it to the phone call from my mother, while I was in Burlington, telling me my grandfather, one half of the golden center of my universe, had prostate cancer.  I realized that was the first time I remember feeling absolutely depressed, and unable to shake the feeling...  It was the first time I could not cope with the emotions I was experiencing on my own.  I mean, my mom had always helped me cope with anything that needed some coping. She would tell me things would be alright, or tell me what to do to make it alright, and I would listen. She couldn't tell me everything would be alright and I had no resources inside my own self to make it all feel better.

See, when my mom told me my grandfather had cancer, she was telling me something I would never have control over.  I wanted to control things in my life.  I needed to.  I started questioning everything about my life, and my capabilities. That day the dark, numbing substance that entered my ear through the phone, swirled around my brain, and found its way into my weakest parts, and opened them, gaping, filling them up with their poison. Everyone has weak parts.  I knew that.   But...

I had to go to my afternoon classes, but when my mother called, I was thrown into a state of disbelief.  I didn't know how to be myself. As I listened to my mother, that denial allowed reality, (which was just the truth of humanity), to lift me off the ground and slam me against the cinderblock wall;  instead of cracking the mortar and concrete, my own foundation shook, weakened, and shifted.  I didn't know I would never be completely balanced again. I didn't know how to keep acting like anything was normal, when it wasn't! I was not a weak person, but I so clearly remember that I was suddenly sitting in one of my many literature classes, and I didn't remember dragging my body across the quad to get to class, or that I was crying the entire time, until it was obvious I looked a hella mess sitting at the desk in the classroom, and my professor walking over to hand me a tissue.  I looked up and realized everyone was looking at me..  I was sobbing.  Oh my.  That wasn't like me at all.  "I'm sorry.  I just found out my grandfather has cancer," I blurted.  After that no one minded that I put my head down and just listened, covering my face for the 80 minutes, even though I was usually the most vocal, involved, and attentive student in the class.  Haha, can't hide under my crazy freaking wings today, guys.  Hope some of you actually did the reading.

I had lost control and lost my composure.
It was the cracking of me.  
Perfect family, me.  
Perfect life, me.  
Perfect everything, me.

Didn't you know my life was going to be perfect?  I did, when I was 19.  It would be perfect. Everything would be fucking perfect.  It had to be fucking perfect.  I had it all planned out.  I saw it all.
I knew.  And then I didn't...  I can't believe that I'm such a mess now... but here I am... Just a living wreck.

I'm telling myself to get my shit together right now.  I think I end every piece of writing either stating I need to get my shit together, will get my shit together, or should get my shit together...  

Yeah! Get your shit together!  That's exactly what my younger 18-22 year old self would say to myself right now... (Ah, because compared to now, at that time, I was posed, plastered with a smile, and perfectly coiffed in a pink box in the toy aisle.)