If bitter is your only flavor, you grow accustomed to the taste.
Your palate is atrophied, you find you savor its sour paste.
Bitter will habituate, you inure, sense gone to waste.
Mostly a place to put both the thoughts I have while I’m cleaning and the things I actually do when I’m not cleaning.
I’m a mom, “a rebel, Dottie.” Avant Mama is my contribution to the world as a weird mom with crazy heart. I genuinely want to make the world a better place. In fact, I actively demand it. So what?
Posted in: REFLECTIONS
If bitter is your only flavor, you grow accustomed to the taste.
Your palate is atrophied, you find you savor its sour paste.
Bitter will habituate, you inure, sense gone to waste.
A good morning is when the kids are on time. But that’s not always a necessity. Smiles, laughs, and I-love-you’s. Silly without stress. No talking back. Just doing it. Together.
I love waving goodbye to my kids when their Dad is pulling out of my driveway to take them to school. That he was able. I love seeing more smiles, feeling the smile on my own face.
I turn to go into the empty, quiet house to begin my own, post-school-drop-off routine. I open the door still smiling, with my heart full and content. I step into the kitchen and whisper to myself, “you’re such an asshole.”
My most meaningful work contributions are unsung. Yet they shape the future; it’s biases and memories.
Like the key question of a history activity my daughter’s teacher designed: how should we remember historical events?
It doesn’t count as history if there is only one account, one perspective, and one axiom.
Reading, reading, ever reading.
News and politics. Constant inputs.
Contextualize and personalize.
Historical hypocrisy. Contemporary contradictions.
Some rights were won. Labeled inalienable.
All rights are still being hard fought. Inalienable only if liable.
To fight, summon courage to overcome complacency.
Must beat the fear that roots the silence.
It costs to stand up. Bravery is vulnerability.
Today, the bill is due. You want change?
Pay the balance for yourself, see what change you get back.
It always takes me awhile with the big, complex things. Naturally. I’ve always struggled. I suppose it is something that I wish to help others with, and why I’ve wanted to teach, and really teach geography. Anyway, for better, and more often for worse, my past-pain, maladapted hypocrisies and contradictions, have really led to some complicated, quite painful present-pain choices that have led me away from the classroom. When I was teaching in the past, I was my best self. But my anxious fears, type-A-assigned duties, and anti-authoritarian habits would overwhelm me somehow.
I’ve been dancing around those questions, but more accurately those feelings, because never could I really articulate the question, nor could I properly attribute the feelings. Nevertheless, I was conditioned to react. But my reactions often prove flawed. My reactions yes, those things. My intention, my values, my compassion, my sense—my mind just cannot get in front of them. I can admit that by 35 years I have not figured it out.
And now… I’m back at the starting line… of square one… on a blank slate. Point made. Still, while I’m trying to do all the things I need to do. Making time for the things that I want to do. I was so strongly, viscerally compelled to write this today – I had to. I feel it in my gut. Bubbling over with that deep, vulnerable knot of emotion that I often feel. That I read that others feel and describe. Distress.
I have felt this distress so.many.times. in my life. It truly feels like one of my earliest memories. This is my core. Little by little, conversation by conversation. But really contemplation into rumination is what really brought me to my childhood. Again and again. When I told myself, and then other people, that “I raised myself.” It was true. It sounded empowering, but now it saddens me. Now I stay in that sad spot, to understand it. So many fears and so much left that I see like it’s a sad, weird and really boring mystery-drama telling the story of a forever-girl and why she is so sad and failed.
Neglect. Forgiveness. Where do you start? Identifying. Then blaming. Then retribution, or powerlessness. Forgiveness.
Obviously, my use of figurative language is how I make sense of the world. Finding the right words and right imagery to most effectively communicate is a desperate task for a fraught mind. For an ADHD/global thinker, impulsive creative, compulsive over-thinker, I have to overprepare to communicate. I cower at the thought of being judged, criticized, punished. Somehow, I have cultivated a façade of courage to overcome many fears. Yet, they are there.
It is in the name of my fear that I feel compelled to preface this piece of writing. My analogies and similes, metaphors and narratives, are much deeper than they may appear on the surface. Empathetic pain abrades my “scabbed heart” (I love to read). It bleeds not only for my own pain, but also for the pain of others. Like a body occupied, I relive deep emotional pain, traumas of the tragic and mundane. Thus, I find myself surrounded and inundated by people in pain. I am unable to observe the transgressions of the vulnerable without feeling the pain behind their motives. I cannot be complacent in pervasive, protected microaggressions of the privileged.
The essay here is inspired by direct experience with recovery groups and relationships with the addicted. This experience from my past has returned to me as I now struggle with my mental health. In writing this essay, I am ever afraid of stigma, misunderstanding, and further damage. But I have no other opportunity to be heard and the existential compulsion to tell my story.
I’ve written before how emotional pain is experienced synonymously as physical pain. They are inseparable in the brain. Yet, emotional pain can be more damaging. It’s invisibility. It’s impact on the mind, of the ability to judge one’s self and reality accurately. Emotional pain largely fuels risk-taking behavior, which additionally leads to self-sabotaging choices, to either numb or escape the pain. In the worst cases, risky and self-sabotaging behaviors are sadomasochistic forms of self-flagellation that subject oneself to further pain. Often deeply conditioned from childhoods and in response to the world around us. People with severe emotional pain, develop a voice that tells ourselves we are not worthy of things that so many others seem to enjoy as birthright. Namely peace or sanity. Self-flagellation not only hurts the person already in pain further, but does also harm those around us. The desperate, misguided acts of the emotionally pained are attempts to communicate or commune with deeper pains that we often are not sure from where they come or what to do with them. Emotional pain, wherever its genesis, in brain or in environment, is universally tragic, yet pervasively inconspicuous.
Back to comparing physical pain and emotional pain, I started thinking about recovery. Depending on the type of pain a person has experienced, the recovery process is differently treated and supported. Consider persons recovering from a car accident or bout with cancer. Now consider persons recovering from traumas, mood episodes, or addictions. While their injuries are defined differently, experienced differently, treated differently by support systems and outsiders, the recovery process has significant parallels. Each person in recovery is experiencing pain that is visceral. The brain experiences the literal pain of a bone fracture in the same areas as a figurative stab-in-the-back.
Yet recovery from emotional pain is a stigma-filled, merry go ‘round of triggering and suffering. Symptoms are evident, but ambiguous. They are made up of behaviors that cross-reference the entire continuum of the human condition. Treatment of emotional pains is enervated by its nearness to ‘social ills’ and difficult persons. The sheer complexity of mental health episodes and resulting difficulty in understanding, plagues both the experts and the afflicted alike. Junkies and crazies are often misunderstood, pitied, judged, bullied or penalized, during their journey with emotional pain. Arrest and incarceration are only the most extreme variant. But social stigma is at play in classrooms and workplaces abound. The “neurotypical” are privileged in their predominance. Those without direct experience with such deep pains or with placement on some neurological continuum, the majority of “neurotypicals” just cannot imagine or interpret the actions of those persons whose neural pathways have been differently adapted by genetics or by their surroundings. That these pathways are often shaped by both, underscores emotional pain’s infinite complexity.
That so many people experiencing emotional pain is becoming more evident with changes to our urbanized, industrialized, world of toxic capitalism. Treating emotional pain and neurological struggles have been capitalized upon at the cost to the most vulnerable of us. Consider how big tobacco, the alcohol industry, and big pharma have shaped markets serving the ‘indulgences’ of hedonistic consumer demands, but to with particular damage to the self-flagellating tendencies of the pained masses. What a person in stigmatized recovery knows better than their counterparts in pain rehab or physical therapy, is that substances have a greater capacity to add, worsen, merely delay the onset of further pain. Never having felt the cold of stigma, always being in the sunshine of privilege, many folks trust doctors, conflate ‘legal’ with safe, and so easily write-off bad behavior to being a “bad person.”
Still, recovery, from any injury or affliction, is a process that necessitates small steps and requires dedication to a longer journey. Along the way, the path of recovery is riddled with landmines of relapse or re-hurt. My own recovery journey has been marked by desperate self-delusions, hypersensitivity to stigma and injustice, clouded by misdiagnosis and the maladaptations of neglect, and scourged by self-sabotaging choices. Emotional pain clouds the judgement and impairs abilities tantamount to being “under the influence” or to the obvious impairment of physical disability or injury. Still, I don’t have an x-ray or obvious symptom that explains why I do fucked up things to feel better or to not feel at all.
The recovery process associated with alcoholism has particularly resonated with me during this latest and worst mood episode of my life. My judgement and abilities have been deeply impacted by my undiagnosed ADHD, which I come to know as a neurological condition, rather than its indicator as a learning disability. Now I know that my neuro-atypical ADHD brain is more prone to develop anxiety/depression and vulnerable to damaging thought patterns that trigger episodes. These brains (my brain, too) in efforts to soothe and recuperate, are subjected to flawed treatments, misdiagnoses, and medication side effects that further worsen physical and emotional pain. In my experience, medication has kicked in new variants of mood episodes that have me suffering through new physical and emotional pathologies. While I managed my ADHD for years through self-medicating my anxiety, deliberate cognitive change, and building structured habits, I was left vulnerably ignorant of the deeper currents behind my struggles. And so they kept resurfacing, especially in times of distress. Whether from environment, hormones or medication, I now have a ‘rap sheet’ that includes anxiety, major depression, and rapid-cycling bipolar II disorder.
My own research has uncovered studies that indicate ADHD women are more susceptible to erratic, damaging mood disorders that worsen their neurological condition. So I win the odds to be one of the 4.4% of adults that have ADHD, parlayed to beat the odds by being a woman, and being an woman with ADHD to develop bipolar disorder. Never mind how I’ve already won the chronic conditions game. My brain has been wired differently since birth. I have lived neglectful of my brain, have tried to be “normal” and then “tougher” and then “better than.” All have been iterations of behavior and identity narrations to manage my internal struggle with painful neglect, learning difficulties, and self-sabotage. These iterations have further re-wired my brain. My amygdala, our deeply human, fight-or-flight center, has been maladapted to both fight and fly. There is no dichotomy for me. When my brain’s faulty wiring backfires my malformed amygdala, mood episodes kick in and I do things that aren’t “like me.” Out of fear, desperation, anger, shame, I do fucked up things and fuck myself up. When I come out of these episodes, I have to work insanely hard to not descend back into them as I assess the damage to my physical body, my nearest and dearest, my values and identity. Picking up the pieces of shattered relationship and a compromised identity IS recovery.
During my years of struggle, I return back to one of my experiences observing addiction recovery, in particular with Alcoholism’s characteristic approach and the recovery process it represents. With some exceptions, the “12 Steps” process very much parallels my mental health recoveries and deeply resonates with the process of dealing with resulting shame and injury. Each time I had an episode, I would see myself in a new light, would become ashamed and afraid, would try to keep living ‘normally’ with the same habits. The inevitable next relapse, I would fall so much harder, lose so much more, be more emotionally crippled. After each relapse, I had to survey the damage, count the personal losses, and account for persons I hurt. I have a list of the people that have been hurt or let down during each of these episodes. This is the where the “12 Steps” really hit home. In steps 8 & 9, the damage to others is addressed and each step stresses making amends to others (in mind, on paper, or in person).
Persons coming out of mental health episodes, like recovering addicts or alcoholics, must also make amends. Amends for the remorse of missing birthday parties while in deep depression. Amends for the impulsive outbursts from ADHD hypomania that ruins holidays and turns vacation breaks into self-isolation monasteries of regret and repentance. Amends for missed deadlines, unsent emails, and responsibilities not met. Amends for the way that insidious, negative thinking grows thorny vines of resentment, disappointment, and frustration to suffocate and spoil relationships with other humans, just as flawed as I am. Amends for misunderstood intrusions, that are triggered by pain, that set off latent anger from suffering in silence, powerlessness, hopelessness, and that incite wayward ADHD impulsivity and risk-taking. As I said, I do fucked up things, fuck myself up, but it also fucks up other people.
I have many amends to make. So many. Many to myself. But it is the others, with their capacity to help or hurt me further, that priority amends must be made. My list of people that I am sorry to is long. It overwhelms me, it deeply saddens me. I relive the pain and loss associated with each. In some cases, I’m not sure that I should apologize. My distressed, angry mind, can recount these ambivalent persons with the vengeful determination of Arya Stark, or the lonesome fortitude of Inigo Montoya. Yet I always circle back to the self-loathing that tells me time and again that it is MY fault, and my fault alone. And where it is my fault, I am a repentant soul. I am sorry, so sorry. Allow my amends. Accept them if you can. Know that I am in recovery, that I am trying to be my best self.
My ears scream at me. My nose runs, and backfires. My throat system shot by congestion vicissitudes. My skin on my hands is literally dissolving itself into rashes and fuckwhat. My nights wake to shallow breaths. My asthma feeds my anxiety dreams. At any time during my rapid cycling events, my heart will feel like I am running marathons without taking any steps. It happens so often, it is the low bass thumping underneath the feedback screeching of my ears.
That’s just what is inside this body, this torture temple. This prison of chronic pain. Tormented by auto-immune inflammation. Pillaged and desecrated by hormones.
The vulnerability, shame, and isolation that afflict those of us with chronic physical conditions that steal our comfort can cause intangible injuries of the mind. I can only speak to the trifecta of allergies, asthma, and eczema, the badges of misspent youth like tinnitus, the complications from conditions untreated or medications required in treating the litany of shit. The weight of those conditions, the stigma of ab-normalcy, and the demands of treatment take an awful toll on the mind.
My mood disorder must have its roots in my physical struggles, growing stunted by the quality of the light in my life as a young child. Counseling/therapy has me digging through midden piles of childhood deprivation, isolation, and repression. I struggle through the sprouting of resentment, the full blossom of internal conflict between anger and forgiveness, the dying back of branches not offered, and the revealing of all those limbs I went out on, only to fall.
My ADHD runs frantic. Mixing metaphors like mixed drinks. Tossing back thoughts like strong shots. Stumbling senses like drunken distortions.
It’s all pain. My body. My brain. In pain. Sometimes it’s one thing at a time; most times it’s many things all at once. One leads to the other and into the next.
If that was your reality, would you want to talk about it?
Something about some of us is just too much for most people. It’s sensible, rarely spoken.
We can get close because there is spirit to us that most see. A mesmerizing light that shines with warmth. A cultivated facade, faux confidence, anxious affability, self-deprecating protagonist.
Yet, when you are closer, you see us differently. See the darkened void that exists behind the spirited light. A sad space, haven from happy, a slipshod construction made of mistakes and delusions.
Some feel trepidation at the bleak, shadowed dark, devoid of warmth. Some others fear its presence, never having felt it or having felt it too closely before. Some harm—feeling burned by the bright or fearing caught in the cold.
Something about being both so outwardly vulnerable and so ‘high-functioning’ is just too much for most people. It’s stigma, rejection unspoken.