September 21, 2014

Fix Me

When I was a kid, my mother used to always threaten to call "all those teachers" who liked me so much at school, and tell them what I was really like.

It was as though she thought I had the whole world fooled into thinking I was this sweet, obedient, smart, model student, when in reality I was some kind of dishonest, abusive devil child.

My mother always said I reminded her of the father that used to beat her.

She always tried to convince my father – who wasn't home much, while working two jobs to support us – of how bad I was. She would describe these fits of mine that I could never remember, things I would say and do that I never recalled.

She had me convinced that I was going crazy, and that it was manifesting in these amnesiac episodes.

But when she had the opportunity to record them on a tape machine provided by my father, she never did. In fact, she always refused to.

So although I never had any proof of anything besides my known temper tantrums and crying jags when I would just be sobbing and cowering and begging for it to stop, for everything to just be over, somehow my mother had convinced me that somewhere, deep down inside of me, something was wrong with me.

It started early on – as early as I can remember. When I was three years old, my parents sent me to a psychiatrist whose sessions consisted of my confessions of whatever naughty things I'd done that week, and how I'd felt about it.

"She has a lot of anger," he told my parents.

Later that year, I was diagnosed with such strong astigmatism, I was nearly blind. My eye doctor was not surprised by the tantrums.

As I got older, I had a number of strange physical symptoms, from post-dinner stomach aches that made me writhe on the kitchen floor, to growing pains that made walking difficult with my aching legs. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when I was 15 years old, five years after my mother's diagnosis with it (and the same year as my sister's). I've lived with chronic pain for nearly 25 years since.

And I'm still wondering what's wrong with me.

My parents forced me into psychotherapy again the summer of '93 or '94, one of the summers I spent grounded, and perhaps the summer I finally slapped my mother back after years of receiving corporal punishment from her, and the resulting bruises on my nose. My new therapist – a Syracuse University grad student, because that's all I could afford on my summer wages, since my parents refused to pay – listened to me explain the conflicts with my parents carefully, and offered, "Neither one of you is wrong. You're just different."

This was unsatisfactory, because of course my parents were wrong, and of course something was wrong with me.

In college, having been disowned by my parents and on a self-destructive course of drinking too much and not getting enough sleep (as college students do), I became convinced I had ADD. I couldn't concentrate in class. I was underperforming, compared to the 99th percentile I'd been in during high school. I was desperate for a diagnosis, and I got one but it wasn't ADD: it was dysphoria.

That's right, while my mother was convinced I was psychotic, I was actually just sad.

Throughout my adult years in New York City, I had a number of other weird, unexplained physical ailments, including a visit to the emergency room with abdominal pains that resulted in no diagnosis or treatment. Sometimes these things would go away on their own, and sometimes it seemed like they were a sign of something more deep-seated going on – some secret malaise that would finally be revealed in a big aha moment of "Oh that's what it was!"

My uncle died strapped to a bed with schizophrenia. Maybe that's what I have.
My other uncle is an alcoholic. Maybe that's what I have.
My therapist says that night terrors can be an expression of PTSD. Maybe that's what I have.

Maybe I need a colonic.
Maybe I need a cleanse.

Maybe I need a 12 step program.
Maybe I need antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.

Maybe I need religion.
Maybe I need an exorcism.

Or maybe I just need someone I feel close to, who I can talk with.

Maybe I need to not be alone so much.
Maybe I just need someone I can trust.
Maybe I just need to feel safe for once.

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