Pretending to be normal.

201200003769_003The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well. ~ Alfred Adler

Definition of normal:  not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle; conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern; free from mental disorder — Merriam-Webster

I stashed this picture and the beginnings of a post in my files a long time ago, knowing that one day I wanted to write about it, but having no idea what I wanted to say.  It seemed important to me at the time.  Also, I love the cheerful, happy women in Suzy Toronto’s work.

At the time, I think I was exhausted by trying to be normal.  At the same time I wondered, “Why would I want to be normal?  I want to be more than normal.  I want to sparkle. I want to shine.  I want to leave my mark!”  The sad truth is I couldn’t get to normal, so how was I ever going to sparkle, let alone shine?  What on earth was wrong with me?

I have mentioned before that my family is rife with alcoholics/drug addicts.  I don’t remember having talked about the other family scourge–depression and/or anxiety.  I think that if I made a list of relatives who suffer from depression, it would be longer than the list of those who do not.  Most of my life I would have put my name on the those-who-do-not list.  Even after having taken an anti-depressant (SSRI) to help me through my divorce, I still would have considered myself a non-depressed person.  I have, in the past two or three years, admitted that I sometimes have bouts of depression.  But did I consider myself a depressed person?  Never!

This last bout of functioning-well-below-normal depression has changed my mind.  “And why is that?” you might ask.  I’m still trying to figure out the answer.  This time it went on and on for a very long time–close to a year, I think.  I was anxious.  I was worried.  I was tired.  I was so very, very sad.  I was short-tempered, impatient, critical.  The biggest clue of all was, I think, that I started to have numerous physical symptoms.  Test after medical test turned up nothing.  I started to realize that the chest pain I went to the emergency room for was probably an anxiety or panic attack.  The digestive symptoms I was having may have been due to what was eating me rather than what I was or was not eating.

I have spent a lifetime resisting the depressed label.  There are a couple of reasons for my attitude toward this particular illness: 1) I don’t like to admit to being less than healthy (as in it seems like a weakness to me), and 2) there is too much stigma still attached to any type of mental illness.  Number two is changing slowly but there’s much educating to be done before it becomes just another illness.

I believe that my reasons for thinking the way I did probably come from my attitudes toward my parents as I reached adulthood.  I saw my mother as weak because she played the poor-pitiful-me role her entire life.  I needed her to pull herself up and take control of the family.  I realize now that she couldn’t.  I saw my father as the drunk who didn’t provide well for his family.  I know now that he suffered from depression, too, and was likely drinking because of the anxiety and depression.  His drinking then exacerbated the problem.  I now believe that both parents did the best they could under very trying circumstances.

I’m happy to report that I no longer have to pretend to be normal.  I feel normal.  I’m not sure I’m shining just yet, but I’m beginning to notice a few sparks on a fairly regular basis.  I’m planning to sparkle soon.  About two months ago, after taking a long, but gentle look, at myself, and recognizing that I have spent most of my adult life depressed and anxious, I decided to be kind to me and I put myself back on antidepressant medication.  One month ago I told my doctor what I had done.  She asked many, many questions about how I had been and how I was on medication.  She agreed with me.  I did the right thing.

photo(9)Disclaimer:  I am not suggesting that anyone reading this post should do what I did.  If you think you are depressed, please see an appropriate professional.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

photo(6)He was my brother, and sometimes he got pretty heavy.  ~ Pat

The Korean Peninsula is perhaps the most talked-about item in the news nowadays.  At least that is the case here in the United States.  And all the chatter about North Korea/South Korea has caused me to think a great deal about my late older brother.

Jack was his name and he spent about fourteen months in South Korea with the US Army.  I can’t remember the exact dates of his tenure there but I do know that a part of it would have been in 1961, about eight years after the so-called end of the Korean Conflict.  I think of it as one of the many “conflicts” the US should never have entered. Peninsula-Korean-001

My uncle fought in Korea.  Like many veterans of war, he wouldn’t talk about it.  I remember one time when he had been drinking heavily he said, “It isn’t fun seeing your buddies’ arms and legs flying through the air.”  That’s the only time I ever heard him mention it.  He received a bullet wound in his wrist.  I used to ask him about the scar but he would make up some joke about how it might have happened.

Back to my brother.  Jack used to say that the best he could tell, he and the other GI’s were in South Korea to play war games at the border from time to time, and to sit around playing cards and drinking beer the rest of the time.  He told me the North Koreans and the Chinese would line up their tanks at the border and aim them toward the troops.  Then the US Army would do the same, aiming at the North.  The North would retreat.  Then the US troops would retreat and go back to their beer.  I realize that not all American soldiers were sitting around drinking beer but that would have been important to my brother.  He had the genetic predisposition to alcoholism which has been the demise of many of my relatives.

I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR as I was driving home from Chapel Hill this week.  The first hour Diane and her guests discussed the scary young President of North Korea and his irresponsible threats.  A guest on the show talked about the war games that are going on now at the North-South border.  The description sounded almost exactly like the one given by my brother more than fifty years ago.  I think my jaw dropped.  Are we still doing that!?  Should I take heart in the fact that there’s now a woman in charge in S. Korea?  I can hope.

The black and white photo at the top of this post is my brother surrounded by children while he was in Asia.  Jack is the tall one with blond hair.  😉  This is my favorite shot of him.  I’m not sure where he was at the time but wherever he went the children gathered around him.  Dogs liked him too.  The ubiquitous but vague they say that anyone who’s loved by children and dogs can’t be all bad.  Many times that thought comforted me.

My brother died at the age of sixty-one of an alcohol and drug overdose.  That was almost eleven years ago.  I still miss him.  When I think of him I try to remember his charming smile, his sense of humor, his big heart for animals and children.  My daughters loved him, as did the older grandchildren.  The younger ones either didn’t meet him or were too young to remember him.  It gives me pleasure to show them this snapshot of him and to tell them they would have loved him.  RIP Jack T.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by Neil Diamond

Looking back, but leaning forward.

I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me cry.             ~ Cat Stevens

I cry a little every day.  I have done so for almost six years now.  Maybe it’s cleansing, but I’m getting rather tired of it.

I grew up being the dependable, strong child in the family.  That sounds like a good thing, but it wasn’t necessarily.  I was the middle of five children and what I was really doing was trying to keep the peace.  Discord terrified me because my dad was a violent alcoholic, and at times violent while sober.  I tried to soothe my younger sisters and I begged my older angry brother not to make waves at the dinner table.  Then, when my brother didn’t take my advice and Daddy dragged him from the table beating him with a belt, buckle and all, I would plead with my dad to stop.  I learned to plead from a distance else my dad would give me a whack on his back swing.  Dinner was fun at my house.

I’m not sure why that last paragraph popped in on this post.  I think it’s the fact that I was scolded for crying when I was a child.  For example, I would be crying when my father finally let go of my brother and he (Dad) would scream, “Stop your damn crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”  So I learned not to cry.  Maybe I’m just catching up now.  All those unshed tears from my youth are finally allowed to flow.  And so they do.

Does this mean that my ex-husband did me a favor by leaving?  He saw how desperately I needed to cry so he decided to help me out?  Gave me a reason to cry?  Gave me many reasons to cry?  My tongue is firmly in my cheek now and I’m not crying.  I’m laughing.  It feels good to laugh.  It reminds me that I still have a sense of humor, and I can laugh at myself and my situation.  This would make great slapstick.  Maybe I’ll write a play.  I’ll call it “Now That You Broke My Heart, What’s Gonna Pump My Blood?”

I saw my ex on Saturday at Stella’s birthday party.  (She’s six.)  I recognize now, and have for some time, that he’s nothing like the D I once knew and loved.  Sometimes I may sound like I want him back, but I don’t.  It simply means I’m having a weak moment.  Or I’m feeling lonely.  Or maybe I’m remembering and longing for what was a long time ago.  We had a lot of good years together.  There’s much to remember fondly.  But wanting it back is fantasy.  It doesn’t exist now.

Happy tears.  Sad tears.  They’re all good.

Bitterblue by Cat Stevens at Royal Albert Hall (1970s)

The family tree and other scary stories.

We all grow up with the weight of history on us.  Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.                        ~ Shirley Abbott

Yesterday my daughter (I’ll refer to her as DJ in this post.) and I went on a little road trip to our home town, Boone, NC.  It was good to get out of the humidity and enjoy the mountains.  We went up to have lunch with my youngest sister and to take some things for her thrift shop.  We were all happy to see each other and had a nice time together as we caught up with what’s going on in whose life over lunch.

After lunch DJ and I walked down to Daniel Boone Native Gardens.  It’s one of her favorite spots.  I hadn’t been there in years so I was happy to see it again and snap a few photos.  No matter how many times I return to my native “stomping grounds” I continue to be taken aback by how green everything is.  The reason is, of course, the fact that there is adequate (an understatement) rainfall there.  I took this photo of ferns in the moss and fern garden to emphasize the green-ness of it all.

From the beginning to the end of our little tour, we kept seeing plaques honoring, thanking, memorializing people with my family surname, people I knew or sorta knew as a child.  I started thinking about the family tree  and where these people should be placed on said tree.  I grew up thinking they must have been on the right side, up high, reaching for the sun (or the moon).  And we must have been on the left side barely above the root system, struggling for a little ray of light to keep us alive and growing.  That was my perception, more or less.  Alas, perceptions aren’t always reality.

Why did I have that perception?  That’s the question I’ve had rolling around in my brain this afternoon.  It sounds like a simple enough question, but of course it’s actually very complex.  As a child and a young person, I thought they have money and we don’t.  They are educated and we are not.  They have fancy homes and we do not.

I know now that my perceptions, my attitudes toward the upwardly mobile branches of the family came from my insecure parents.  And they got their attitudes from their parents.  Who knows why brothers and cousins from the same family started out with equal amounts of wealth and acres of land– in the same county at about the same time and some wound up wealthy while others were destitute?  That’s the way it’s always been and ever will be.  Different personalities.  Different sets of skills and training.  Different ambitions.

I’m happy to say that the destitute don’t have to stay that way.  They can learn things.  They can go to the university.  They can have a better life than their parents, and in so doing they teach their children that lesson as well.  My childhood wasn’t always fun but I learned how to survive and then how to thrive.  Would I have learned those valuable life lessons if I hadn’t suffered hardships growing up?  I also know now that those “Ozzie and Harriet” relatives probably weren’t.  They were just people fumbling much like the rest of us.

My Hometown by The Boss.