Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm Tired of "The Journey"

The next time someone tells me to "enjoy The Journey," I'm going to slap him upside the head.  Or puke on his shoes.

I get that this might be a valuable piece of advice for Type-A persons who are entirely goal-oriented.  I'm not one of them.

And right now I need--have needed for several months, in fact--some result.  You see, my whole life has been about process.  About "The Journey."  And it seems to me right now that "enjoying The Journey" is a super lame substitute for accomplishing something real.  "Enjoy the Journey" is something that people who have never had a problem getting what they want tell those of us who haven't been able to, so they don't have to feel bad.

I'm tired.  I'm tired of constant travel without arrival.  I'm tired of constant process without meaningful achievement.  I'm tired of being always in a state of flux, always changing to suit the environment.  For me, it's been a survival skill.  I've had to develop the ability to let go of dreams, goals, attitudes and ideas at a moment's notice to keep from getting bullied and abused.  Okay, yeah: I'm glad I have an open mind.  That's a good thing.  But I want solidity.

Sometimes I envy people who have that kind of grasp on life, some firm idea of what's right and what's wrong (whether or not I agree with them).  Some solid concept of self.  I don't have any of that.

I'm tired of going without stopping, of doing without realising any benefit.  Of not even daring to hope for benefit because I just never get what I want.  I'm tired of feeling like I have to say, "I eat right and exercise because it helps my overall health," instead of being able to say I'd like to achieve a body weight and image I can live with without self-disgust.  Because I never seem to be able to achieve that.  I'm tired of trying to do creative things "for the joy of it," instead of admitting that I want a success I've never found.

I want things.  I want a stopping place.  I want a reward.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I thought I was over it, but I'm not

As long as I've lived, as far back as I can remember, I have always believed that if I did not do everything exactly right, if I caused any kind of trouble for the people around me, I would be exposed on the mountains for the wolves or left out in the snow to die.

Even after nearly twenty years in a good marriage with a man who I know loves me to bits, I am still convinced of this.

I cannot clearly explain where this belief came from.  I've just always known in my heart that my parents, and maybe my whole family, did not want me.  Of course, now, as an adult, I can tell myself things like, "They had their own concerns," and "They acted out of their own issues," and "They did the best they could with what they had."  That doesn't negate the fact that I spent 20 years of my life being neglected and emotionally abused.  Treated, in fact, as a non-person.  I remember thinking often that my mother loved the house cat more than she did me.

Maybe it was the fact that no one ever seemed to talk to me unless I was in trouble.  I never really bonded with any of my siblings; to this day they rarely communicate with me unless I put myself forward, and sometimes not even then.  And it's really probably better to say nothing of my parents.  My husband assures me that parents are supposed to be involved with their children.  I find it hard to believe him.  I remember asking my mother for attention and being told to go away and find something to do and leave her alone.  I remember how, when I wanted a clothespin or a scrap of aluminum foil for a craft project, my father would tell me how much those items cost and how bad I was for wanting to waste them.  Being in a position now to buy my own aluminum foil and clothespins, I find that sentiment positively ludicrous.  I can't believe that my father valued aluminum foil more than he did me, but it seems he did.  I remember getting bullied in school and trying to get someone to do something about it, and being told "Just ignore it and it will go away."  It NEVER went away, and the people who were supposed to defend me couldn't concern themselves.  I remember going through dresser drawers for my sisters' abandoned nightgowns as a teenager, because I never got any of my own.  Okay, I get that lots of younger siblings wear hand-me-downs.  But I resent that no one ever explained the necessity of this.  I was just left to fend for myself as best I could.  And it's a good thing I got anorexic and stopped menstruating when I was 14, because gods forbid I should have tried to get anyone to buy me sanitary supplies.

From the time I was 11 and my brother left for college to the time I turned 20 and finally managed to escape, it was just me and my parents.  And for the most part the message I got from them was "Take care of yourself, don't bother us, don't expect anything from us. You don't matter."

One time, about 10 years ago, when I was in a bad place and feeling the need for family, I tried expressing this to one of my sisters.  She wrote me back that of course it hadn't been like that--that our parents loved me and would never be that way.  I still have the letter.  Thanks so much for the validation.

In family therapy, which came later, I had to listen to my mother's bile about how ungrateful, selfish, sly and manipulative I was for wanting anything from her.  Once she cornered me and told me that she knew I was saying horrible lies about her to my psychiatrist.  She said he had told her all about it and he had it all on tape.  I knew this to be untrue because at the time I had spent about 4 months sitting in his office an hour every week not saying a word.  And I think it would have violated every code of ethics for my psychiatrist to have told my mother any such thing.  I wonder why she needed to lie about this.  I don't think she was crazy.  But I honestly don't know anymore.

Is it so evil to want to be cared for?  To want the people around one to do what they are supposed to do?  I confessed to my husband last night that I wanted this, and then I was so ashamed.  To want others to be involved with me in a positive way seems the gravest sin.  To want to be taken care of...I can hardly even express how wrong and awful and bad that makes me in my mind.  And to think that I might actually be due anything makes me want to throw up.

Right now I am so tired.  I am tired of trying and tired of having to do everything for myself.  It seems nothing has ever come of anything I've done.  Why work hard when I never get anything I want for it?  And still, the idea that one might actually deserve recognition for hard work, let alone any kind of reward, is so alien to me that it hurts.  Always, it seems that someone or something else has the power to grant favor, and I never merit it.  Time and time again in my life this has been the case.  And I've had to swallow it.  I've tried to take responsibility and keep a positive face on things.  When I got denied admission to the Master's programme I had set my hopes on for a spurious reason because I had made some unpopular observations during my time as an undergraduate (and I can still hear the voices in my head telling me that I am making excuses for my lack of worthiness), I told myself it was probably for the best and that it was stupid to want to continue at a school where I was so at odds with the administration.  When my fellow band members failed to follow through on their obligations, I said it was wrong to have expectations of them and I needed to work with what they were willing to give.  And see, that stuff isn't necessarily untrue.  But I'm tired of making excuses, blaming myself and never getting what I want.

Over and over again in therapy--and I've been in and out of therapy for over 30 years--I have heard the old saw: "You can't change other people; you can only change yourself."  I heard this for the first time when I was 14.  And I think that telling such a thing to a child without holding her abusers responsible for their actions is criminal.

I have no power, no foundation on which to build.  I did not get what I was supposed to get, and I don't see any way of making up the lack of it.

I can't do this anymore.  The universe needs to throw me a bone.

Friday, February 25, 2011

In Memoriam: Heather MacAllister, 25 Feb. 1968 - 13 Feb. 2007

I've been thinking about Heather all day, on what would have been her 43rd birthday.

I guess this is kind of an "I knew her when" post. Because later, Heather became famous as an LBGT and fat activist. Which never actually surprised me. Even when I first met her, at an anti-Apartheid shantytown on the steps of the University of Michigan Undergraduate Library, she had that thing. I don't know what to call it. Drive, determination. She was an activist to her soul.

She was sixteen, then.

We used to argue a lot about the value of radical activism versus a grass roots approach. Heather, of course, was on the side of radical activism. I don't think that ever changed.

We were good friends for what seemed like quite a few years at the time, but now, from the perspective of age, seems like only a little while. We used to go out dancing together. We were housemates; we moved in similar circles. We talked about starting a band. It seems kind of odd, now.

I moved to New York and she moved to Santa Barbara. She came to visit me at Christmas. Later, she sent me an airline ticket to come visit her. I ended up never going back.

I remember when she wanted to dye her hair silver. It turned out green, and she looked like a mermaid.

I remember being so pissed off when she ate the ice cream I had been saving for after work. "I had a couple spoonsful of your ice cream; I hope you don't mind," she said, and when I looked in the carton, only a little New York Super Fudge Chunk was left clinging to the edges of the cardboard.

I remember her saying to me, "How can I be a voice for fat people's rights when I'm only attracted to skinny people? It seems really hypocritical."

I moved to Colorado. She moved to San Francisco. I didn't hear from her much after that. One day, out of the blue, she called me to tell me she was back in Ann Arbor. She had met the love of her life and they were going to move to Sweden, or maybe Arizona. She promised to send me a letter and stay in touch.

I never heard from her again. From time to time I looked for her, but somehow I could never get in touch with her. I didn't even know about her struggle with ovarian cancer until after she had died.

Heather was one of the most positive and determined people I have ever known. Today, thinking about her, I read a lot of articles about her on the 'net. She touched so many lives. I wish I could say that I predicted that when she was sleeping on my couch because she had no place else to go, but I didn't.

Here's a poem I wrote for her in the long-ago time. It probably sucks, but well.

Perfect Shades

Get laid
back. Your shoulders loose you dance
with twisting hips completely
real, let
go. You are
the coolest. Make

it; shake
that cosmic groove thang, baby! Be
my blonde sex-mama, my amoral
rhythm queen. Show
me how it is. Be

my seer-priestess high
on dream-inducing herbs. Teach
me secret
hymns you chant in full moon
circles when frenzy tears

you from yourself, wings
you past the walls of night. Get laid

back. Reach
through my poker-assed
uptightness. Rip off
perfect shades and chill
me with your icebox eyes. No acting

here. No pretense. Take
me out front; expose
me naked. Red earth
natural you are.
You are.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I don’t know how to write this. I keep having the same thoughts, over and over again—splintered, incoherent. I believe they must go together somehow, must make a pattern that will help me make sense of what my life has become. But I don’t know.

When I was one year old, my oldest sister, then fifteen, got pregnant.

This was in 1963. These days, teen pregnancy is almost taken for granted. Maybe in some social classes it was even back then; I don’t know. But to our middle-class family, the event was devastating. It shaped everything the family was ever to be, then and after. It shaped my life.

Mt parents made arrangements for my sister to leave school, go to a home for unwed mothers, and give the baby up for adoption. That didn’t end up happening, but what did happen isn’t really part of this story. Whatever; in any case, my mom had to go to the private school my sister attended, where she was a teacher, and explain to everyone why my sister “wasn’t coming back.”

According to my dad, this was the worst thing that had ever happened in the history of my mother’s life. According to my dad, it was the worst thing that could ever happen in anyone’s life. He told me this when I was fifteen and going through some problems of my own. According to him, I could never experience anything so painful, so humiliating, so soul-destroying as my mother had in that instance.

It gave me a clear message: Pregnancy is wrong. It’s shameful. It causes pain to everyone around you. Don’t get pregnant.

By that time, though, I had already deciphered that message many times over. Because my oldest sister wasn’t the only one in my family to transgress in that way. My second sister did the same thing, having two children by two different fathers by the time I was ten. I didn’t find out about this until later; the whole thing was hushed up, never spoken of. I stumbled upon it, actually, when I walked in on my parents looking at pictures of the grandchildren of whom they had never made me aware. Many years later, a similar event: my mother sent me a picture of a little girl, about seven years old. Upon asking, I learned it was the daughter of one of my nieces. I had never known my niece was pregnant. The subject was taboo.

As far back as I can remember, whenever I did something that my parents disliked, which in my family meant anything that showed I was an individual with needs and desires of my own, my parents told me I was going to end up “just like my two older sisters.” I was doomed to fail them, break their hearts. Transgress in some irredeemable way.

I spent the first twenty-five years of my life being punished for something I had not done.

Of course, like any child, I wanted my parents’ approval. I wanted to be good. I wanted to show them they were wrong and I would not do the horrible thing. I’m sure there were many horrible things included in the litany. But the more I think about it now, the more it seems that one thing was at the core: Sex and pregnancy. Dangerous, shameful, wrong.

How to reconcile this with the desire, which I experienced from quite a young age, to have children and a family of my own?

I couldn’t. And so I wasted my fertile years.

As I write this, I know it is an over-simplification. Many things went into the fact that I never had children, never even allowed myself to experience the desire for children until recently. All my life, I have struggled with depression. For many years, I told myself I should not have children; I could not be a proper mother, given my mental state. Moreover, it would be irresponsible to burden a child with my family’s defective genes, the ones that carry mental illness. Too, I have been financially impoverished. I had not the physical resources to support a child. Until I was thirty, I didn’t even meet a man with whom I wanted to have children. All those things contributed to my waiting, and waiting, and putting off. To saying, over and over again, “Not now.”

I did try, at one point. After I had been married for several years, when I was thirty-seven—already what is considered “Advanced Maternal Age,” though then I didn’t realize the implications—I broached the subject with my husband. It was hard. Admitting to wanting children was like admitting to being morally flawed, dirty, perverted. I was ashamed. And so, I made it sound like no big deal I’d like to try, but if it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen.

I wonder how much this attitude contributed to my two subsequent miscarriages. Because I did get pregnant, twice, and both times lost the baby.

It was a long time ago, now. I can’t remember what pregnancy felt like, now. I remember I was sick. I remember the physical pain of the miscarriages. But I have to imagine my mental state. Trying to balance the desire for a child with the certainty that I was contaminated. I do remember telling my mother, the second time, and feeling so bad, as if I were confessing to a heinous crime.

It is tearing me apart to write this, and I don’t know where it’s going.

Ten years later. My husband has gone back to college, earned a degree in education, gotten a steady job. There have been advances in medicine. I am on a new anti-depressant, and it works better than I could ever have dreamed. And I face the unrealized desire: the desire for a child of my own. Everything seems to have come together. Financially, emotionally, the time is right.

And I am too old.

I do not feel old. The years lie lightly on me. But in terms of reproductive biology, I am ancient. I tell myself otherwise. I tell myself that it could still happen for me, that miracles occur. That women even older than I am have experienced healthy pregnancies. I tell myself these things because if I did not, I do not know how I could live.

I keep track of my basal temperature, trying to pinpoint ovulation that never comes.

By evolutionary standards, I am already dead. I did not pass on my genetic material; there is no use for me.

But aside from that, the thing with which I cannot come to grips is this: The way I have bought into my family story and followed it to its inevitable conclusion. I have allowed myself to be negated in a way that I swore I never would be. I have let the defining event infect me to the point that I could not even address its implications and my desires in words until now.

I had hope for a while. But today I just heard back from a new doctor about some blood work she ordered. My FSH, the hormone that stimulates your ovaries to produce viable follicles, is 33, exceptionally high. This means that, barring a miracle, I cannot have a child of my own.

I feel wasted. How many years have I spent, trying to be the good daughter? How long have I been supportive to other people's dreams while putting my own on hold? I cannot believe in any gods. I cannot believe in any justice. You don't get rewarded for doing what you think is right; you just get more shit heaped on you, over and over, until you break.

I do not know how to live with this pain. So many years, I've lived with various pains and told myself that some day, things would get better. Some day, I would be able to have what I want. But I can't.

I don't know why I bothered to live so long.