Friday, July 16, 2010

Life Is Not Fear

A friend of mine accidentally wrote this the other day, when she meant to type, "Life is not fair." I didn't write back and say, "ha! TYPO!" because I sort of like it this way. That, and what kind of person do you think I am, anyway? The kind who points out misspellings in my friends' posts? The kind of person who looks for any little reason to one-up someone? 
So life is not fear.
My life used to be fear. When I was born I was afraid it would be too close to Christmas and everyone would hate me for ruining their Christmas with my birthday party. Not to worry -- it was usually my birthday that was overlooked in favor of Christmas.
When I was 7 and my brother 6 I was afraid that if mom came home and found out we hadn't finished putting away the dishes we'd be punished, for she was sure to be mad, so we scrambled to get things done when we heard her car pull up to the apartment complex, but I don't remember anything else. Another unnecessary fear.
When I was 10 and my father remarried I was worried that my new stepmother and stepsiblings wouldn't like me. I was right, that time, but it's not as if they waged war against me and tortured me to death or anything.
When I was in basic training I feared I wouldn't finish, or I'd be set back and have to stay longer. I'd watch others wash out, and I'd think, "I'm next," but even though I could barely walk and had to limp behind my flight like some sort of giant flightless bird, I finished with the rest of my flight.
When I was 18 I feared my stepmother was right, and no one would ever want to marry me.
When I was 19 I got married and feared I'd rushed into it. Ya think?
Life continued in this same sort of fashion for many years, fear rummaging around the corners of my psyche like some kind of rat, looking for a way in so it can gnaw on my brain and leave me, for all practical purposes, unable to act or move or think.
Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? I have. That's when the fear is a sudden dawning thought that something has gone amiss, that perhaps I forgot to do something really truly important and the world will explode in on me as punishment for my ineptitude. The core of me goes ice cold when that happens, and within the tiny little portion of the brain that I actually use while the rest of it is off gallivanting with unicorns I feel a pinprick of doubt, if one can define a pinprick as a giant sledgehammer. I hear a rushing sound, as if I'm in free fall (and yes, I know what that feels like), but unlike free fall, my chute's not going to open so I can descend gracefully, but instead I will fall to the ground just like that, smashed to smithereens.
Fortunately this condition does not last long and I usually start thawing out before I go splat and become a medical curiosity. 
And I often find out that the fear was for nothing, a pointless exercise. On those few occasions where it wasn't exactly pointless it was also not nearly as horrible as I'd imagined. It's always far less important than I'd imagined, or the thing I worried most about wasn't what I thought, or I was just being silly. It happens to the best of us.
Which isn't to say there isn't plenty to be fearful of in our world. There are more things going on that we can't control than we can even imagine, and if we're to fear them all we're going to keep ourselves very busy, far too busy to do anything really productive like tell people we love that we love them.
But there are things we can control. I am not in expert in these things. There are a few things I am an expert in, and this is not one of them. So I'm working on eliminating the fear, on a more or less daily basis. I've gotten much better, maybe because I'm older and past caring so much, or maybe because I'd like to spend my energy on other things. 
Just today I found myself in a room with ten or so other people I'd never met before, and I was fearful of looking stupid. Well, sounding stupid, anyway. I can't help the way I look. But you know what? Everyone else was busy thinking about 1) themselves, or 2) the people they knew who were there, or 3) themselves, or 4) lunch. That's how people are. 
Before you get any ideas, there'll be no stealing of the words "Life is not fear." They're my words, I stole them honestly, and you can't have them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Welcome to the Clown Farm

Where every day is a circus just waiting to happen.
I’ve been away. Not altogether, but partially, though I’ve been back long enough to grace you with a post about suicide, which is my way of saying to myself, “Welcome Home!”
I’m not really morbid. I just veer off in that direction now and then. I’m also not horribly mentally ill, I just like to write about it because someone has to.
I’ve learned a few things in the past couple of weeks that I’d like to share with you, whether you care to hear it or not.
**When going on a family road trip, stock up on plenty of snacks and drinks.
**Wear comfortable shoes. This goes for days spent at Disneyland as well as days spent on the couch unless you’re like me, and abhor shoes.
**Communication skills are only helpful if the person you’re communicating with has them also.
**Holy Cross Cemetery closes at 6 pm sharp, and after that time they won’t let you in because the alarm system is being armed. Are they afraid someone’s going to try to get out?
**When going to Disneyland, do not miss a visit to the spa at the Grand Californian. DO NOT. It will save you when your last shred of sanity is hanging out, ready to be blown away by the first breeze.
**When you go to San Francisco, do not miss Brandy Ho’s. That is, if you like Hunan. And if you have to walk several blocks on legs that are barely reminiscent of the legs you started out with, ankles sprained, toes aching, pedicure blotched, it’s worth it.
**Museums are fun, but they don’t like it when you try to rearrange the pictures. You’ve been warned.
**If you’re planning on getting some work done while you’re on that family road trip, forget about it because it isn’t going to happen. You can take your laptop along if that makes you feel better, but you won’t be getting anything done, I don’t care how long you’re in the vehicle.
**Horrible things happen to people when they shouldn’t, and there’s no reason for it. It just is.
I’m sure there’s more, but at the moment I’m unsure what they are. See follow up post.
Earlier I came downstairs to work because it was hot in my office. (By coming downstairs to work, I mean “lay on the couch with the good laptop and pretend to do something useful.”) When I came down, I noticed that the fan was indeed on. Charming husband came down with me too, though he had to go back upstairs. I said, “Hey, why’s the fan turned away from me?”
“It’s cooling the xbox,” he said.
“It’s what? It’s hot, and the fan’s working on the xbox? What about me?”
“What about you?” he said.
No, he didn’t say that. Well, he sort of did. But he also said, “Turn it around then. But you’re not the one who’s going to have red lights flashing when you’re overheated.”
“Just watch me,” I said to him, then turned the fan so it was at least blowing in my general direction. I’m sorry, but the xbox can fend for itself.
When this xbox is laid to rest we’re going to keep it as a shrine. It’s Stew’s xbox, and he left it to Andrew when he died. Please note: he left it to my HUSBAND, not to me.
I got the TV.
Saw part of my wonderful charming family when I was at Disneyland. Those that could came and had dinner with us at Downtown Disney. Fabulous Italian restaurant there, or ristorante if we’re being technical. I’m the black sheep of the family, or at least lime green. They are all beautiful and smart and charming. I, on the other hand, am chunky and fat-faced, with a bad complexion and irritating hair, and I have no social graces nor wit to commend me. I envy them their closeness – I’ve been gone from there since I was 18, and my efforts to keep in contact are mostly irritants to them. (Don’t worry, I don’t think they read my blog, unless I say, “Look! You must read this!” And even then it’s doubtful.) I used to wish I had family close by, but I’ve learned to comfort myself during major holidays. And I have charming husband to keep me amused. He is quite amusing.
I used to want them to like me enough to send me the occasional email, and since that may be an unfair expectation, I can live with the reality. At dinner last week I was happy to just sit there and listen to everyone talk. We sat outside, and there was just a slight breeze, and there were two babies in attendance, my nephew, Aidan, who’s now wanting to start toddling off everywhere, and my niece’s 6 month old, Makena. (Aidan’s father is one brother, and Makena’s grandfather is another brother.) They show every sign of continuing their parents’ tradition of happy beautiful lives, and that makes me happy, even if they never really know who Aunt Monique is.
It’s all good. I’m all good.
As long as the red lights don’t start flashing.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Suicidal Ramblings

In Salon today:  A predictable suicide at Camp Lejeune:
Years ago I was writing a regular (or irregular) column for a military publication. My column on suicide prevention and the desperate need for it generated much response, most especially from airmen and soldiers who were stationed overseas in Desert Storm. They sent me emails and told me how desperate they sometimes felt, and how there was so little help for them. That column was later used in a suicide prevention course. 
Fat lot of good it did. 
Years earlier, many years earlier, I was stationed at my first post, and I was despondent, off and on. Occasionally, and sometimes,  usually, I was quite happy. Someone overheard me say something that they took for a wish for suicide, which it wasn't -- believe me, I wouldn't deny it if it had been. I am no stranger to depression. But they believed it, and they called my commander, and next thing I knew I was escorted to the post clinic and then to Ft Ord for further questioning, just in case. I promised not to harm myself, I promised them that I had no intention of harming myself, and eventually they let me go. 
How embarrassing. But better alive than dead, no? On the other hand, how easy it would have been to tell them I was fine, walk away, and then off myself. How very easy. 
We can't tell what's in someone's head.
Years later I found myself encouraging my ex-husband to have faith in a life he couldn't find any joy in. His suicidal ideations were frequent and all consuming, and I paid such close attention to his every mood to ensure I could keep him going that I myself eventually needed psychiatric help. Again, in a mental health clinic, promising not to hurt myself. I had no motivation to hurt myself -- I was just tired and worn out and I was empty. If I'd had enough energy I might have considered it, I don't know. But I didn't. 
Not that I never have. There have been times when I thought the world would be better off without me in it. Those times are in the past, fortunately.
My ex fought the idea of suicide for years, along with major mental illness. Eventually cancer got him instead, which just goes to show. Something's going to get you in the end.
Still, in most cases, putting the end off until it's something physical that takes us is a better choice. The mental pain that comes with being suicidal is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. There's no room there for giving oneself a break, no space for considering alternatives, no space for anything other than the overwhelming thought that life would be better if one weren't actually living it. 
In the military especially mental illness is considered a weakness. I know, I've been there. Best to push it under the rug just a little so no one will see it. We ignore it. We push it away. We tell people to just get over it, as if they wouldn't if they could. No one wants to be in that kind of pain. I'd like to think we've made progress, but the numbers of military suicides don't indicate we have. War sucks. War sucks especially if you're in the middle of it. 
Is this the best we can do for people we send to war?