T is for Thanksgiving

t fancyFor anyone unfamiliar: in America, the fourth Thursday in November is a Federal Holiday called Thanksgiving. This holiday commemorates a peaceful harvest meal celebrated by the European colonists and Native Americans nearly 500 years ago (more on that here). Somewhere along the way it became about appreciating your blessings. Now it’s mostly all about food, family, football, and Black Friday. (Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally considered the first shopping day of the Christmas season, when most retailers go from “being in the red” to “being in the black”. More on that here.)

Growing up, my family spent Thanksgiving with our paternal relatives as they lived nearby. Back then, Black Friday wasn’t such a big thing. (Or at least it didn’t seem like it, maybe because the media wasn’t so omnipresent with the internet and all.) Typically, we would go to my paternal grandparents’ house where my grandmother would cook. Stuffing came out of a box and cranberries out of a can, but we always had mashed potatoes freshly smooshed by hand. The kitchen was too small for more than one or two people, so usually I wasn’t allowed to help until the meal was nearly done. As usual for family gatherings, I was in charge of drinks. Then we would all sit around the table, pose for a picture, and dig in. Sometimes we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for, sometimes we just ate until there was nothing left (grandma hated leftovers). The Friday after Thanksgiving was spent at home, relaxing.

After my grandfather had a stroke, and my grandmother sold her house, my aunt (I mean, the only aunt who lived in the area) took over holiday dinners. I hated this. Not because my aunt wasn’t a good cook (she was a fabulous cook), and not because I didn’t like her (she was actually my favorite aunt for years), but because she was married to the man who abused me. I didn’t tell her about the abuse until I was an adult, and when I did she asked me to keep it a secret (and did little about it). My aunt’s house was even smaller than my grandparents’ and somehow it seemed as if I always ended up sitting next to my abuser.

The older I got the more uncomfortable I was with being in that household. There were years where I became physically ill from the stress of being there. I hated having to act as if nothing had happened. As if he hadn’t taken away part of my childhood. But I had promised (because of my own misguided sense of shame) not to tell the rest of the family about the abuse, so I felt obligated to act as if I was fine being there. I learned to smile through the pain in my stomach, to hug him without revealing my revulsion, to keep from shaking with anger.

It wasn’t until my paternal grandmother died that I experienced a Thanksgiving without the stress of being near my abuser. From 2009 to now, I’ve spend Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. My sister-in-law is a great cook and loves to host holiday/family dinners. She lets her kids and grandkids help and makes as much of the dinner from scratch as she can. There are always prayers and laughter. Often, friends are invited. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I may or may not participate in the Black Friday shopping.

But the holiday still gives me anxiety. As much as I love my brother and sister-in-law, their celebration of the holiday is different than how I would celebrate. It’s more rambunctious, louder, crowded. It works for them, and I love that about them. I love that they open their home to friends. They’re wonderful people and deserve every bit of happiness they have. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t enjoy loud, crowded and rambunctious. I like quiet and small. Rambunctious I can handle (as this usually comes from the under 10 crowd. Kids I’m good with.) I’m just hoping that one day I can celebrate this holiday stress-free with an emphasis on thankfulness and peace.

That said, this year I am thankful (in no particular order) for:

  • You! Thank you for reading my blog.
  • Health. Both physical and mental.
  • Family and friends
  • Blue skies and fluffy clouds
  • Cats!
  • Books
  • The internet. It helps distract me.
  • Unemployment insurance. Otherwise I’d be homeless and car-less.
  • That I’m not in a hospital. For any reason.
  • Modern medicine. Without it I’d be either dead or in a hospital.
  • God “from whom all blessings flow.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate!

Happy Hanukah to all who celebrate!

Blessings to all of you.

Be well.

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S is for Sibling

s goldI have one sibling, an older brother. Growing up, our parents compared us to each other, often to his detriment. When he was born, there were complications. When I was born (three years later), everything happened perfectly. My brother was a fussy baby. I was quiet and slept right through the night immediately. My brother threw temper tantrums and ran away from home, repeatedly. I didn’t. My parents often said that I was the “perfect” child, the “good” one. My brother was rebellious, “bad.”

I still feel guilty about these comparisons and not just because they made my brother feel bad about himself. You see the instances that my parents claimed were proof of my “goodness” were really just proof that I kept my mouth shut. My brother wasn’t rebellious; he was just willing to say what he thought. Yes he was loud and occasionally violent about it. But he usually had good reason. When it comes right down to it, my brother got the short end of the proverbial stick. And then had that stick used upside his ass.

My brother was our paternal grandparents’ first grandchild. They lived about a half hour away and insisted that my brother spend as much time as possible with them. As a male child, he was a perfect way for my grandparents to try to fix whatever mistakes they thought they made with their only male child. By the time I came along, my brother was more their child then our parents’. I don’t remember a time when he didn’t spend most of his weekends at their house.

I was jealous of his relationship with our grandparents. I thought they loved him more than me. They never said anything, but I may have been right.

My grandfather often planned activities with by brother in mind. I was never invited. Never even asked if I was interested. My grandfather’s big hobby was model trains. I wasn’t allowed to touch them. My brother was allowed to touch, rearrange, and play with the trains. I have distinct memories of my grandfather driving away from our grandparents’ house with my brother in the car, leaving me behind in an empty house (my grandmother was at work). I was eight.

siblings

No this isn’t us.

My revenge was that our maternal grandmother liked me better. She said so. Out loud. With my brother in the room.

We always went to visit our maternal grandparents during our school’s spring break, which usually fell on or near his birthday. They lived on a farm seven hours away from us and talked with a southern accent. My brother complained about these visits every year. He hated that we had to visit on his birthday, that it took so long to get there, that there were strange smells and stranger people. Everyone always commented on how well behaved I was, how I was such a “good girl” for helping out our parents, how much I looked like my mother. I loved our visits.

The older we got, the less our parents compared us. It wasn’t necessary. My brother and I were stuck with the labels of “bad” and “good” child. Each year, our various resentments grew. He resented having to spend weekdays with our parents. I resented our paternal grandparents love for him. He misbehaved and was spanked for it. I kept my mouth shut and nothing happened to me.

He ran away from home at least once a year. Usually in the summer, which he wanted to spend entirely at our paternal grandparents’ house. He had to be bribed into going to our maternal grandparents’ house. I crept into the persona of “good girl” and rarely allowed myself to act otherwise. The shell of goodness felt safe, comfortable, even if it wasn’t always genuine.

Then my brother became a teenager. Our paternal grandmother bought him his first car and we rarely saw him. When he was seventeen, he moved out of our parents’ house and into our paternal grandmother’s apartment (our grandfather had died years before). I watched our parents endlessly discuss my brother’s rebellion. And I wished I was anyone other than what I was: a boiling mass of jealousy and anger within the façade of a “good girl.”

Then my brother became a father and a husband. An adult. Seemingly all of a sudden he stopped rebelling and became “good.” He got a job, provided for his family and treated our parents with respect. He didn’t go out of his way to spend time with them, but he no longer argued with them, no longer picked fights with them. Our parents began to spend hours discussing how much he’d changed. I was still angry, still jealous and still hiding behind my “good girl” façade. But now, no one noticed.

Years later, my brother and I discussed a little about how we were compared. He told me he had hated them. He said that he had always felt as if our paternal grandparents were his real parents. That our parents were just these people he was required to live with. I told him that I thought our paternal grandparents loved him and not me. I also told him how sorry I was that our paternal grandparents and parents used him as a way to work out their problems. And that I had grown up angry that everyone, our parents included, loved him for who he was, not for what he let them think he was.

You see, by allowing myself to crawl inside that “good girl” shell, I had prevented anyone from knowing the real me. I stayed silent whenever anyone said or did anything that I didn’t like or didn’t agree with. I rarely said or did anything troublesome because a “good girl” didn’t do that. But I wasn’t a “good girl” inside. And no one really knew me.

Looking back at all this, I also can see the seeds for what became my arrogance. Our parents called me their “good girl,” their “perfect” child. People, both related and unrelated, praised me for being there for our parents, for my polite behavior, for my “goodness,” even for my intelligence (long before I showed any signs of being anything other than an average student). Growing up I was constantly thinking I deserved things just because I was there. As an adult, I fight against the bitterness of not having my “goodness” acknowledged. I fight resentment every time I hear about special programs for people with kids or for veterans. Not because I think they don’t deserve it, but because I think “what about me? I deserve those things too!” I think I deserve them without working for them. Why? Because I’m me.

I’m me and I’m not a “good girl.” I don’t deserve to be handed things just because I’m alive. But I also don’t deserve to be labeled as any one thing. I’m not just a woman. Not just mentally ill. Not just fat. I’m all of those things and none of those.

I am a human being. A human. Being. And somehow my sibling learned those things long before I did. And without my shell of “goodness.”

T is for Twitter (the Sequel)

TaslI meant to wait until the first of the year to make this decision but I just couldn’t. I’m quitting Twitter. Yes, I know, I was only on it for 9 days. Here’s why I’m leaving:

  1. Too many tweets. When I signed up to Twitter and started following people/organizations, I purposely only followed those who seemed to not tweet every few seconds. But still, every few minutes I’d get an alert telling me someone tweeted something. Usually it was something silly like “eating PB&J. #yummy” or “join us on…for a discussion of…” So I removed the alerts from my phone and email. That just resulted in a long list of tweets I had to read whenever I signed in.
  2. It was a burden. Since the whole thing about tweeting was to get things in real time, I felt obligated to sign in frequently or to stay logged in whenever I was online. This just made me feel like I had to constantly be looking to make sure I was “up to date” on everything. In other words, a big ol’ burden.
  3. I wasn’t live. Another problem with the “up to date” thing was that it seemed to require that I have access to live TV if I wanted to join in a conversation. I don’t have cable and where I live, you can’t get a good signal over the airwaves. So I get my TV on the internet, usually a day or so after something airs. By then, the conversation is over.
  4.  Irrelevant or repeated information. A lot of tweets seem to be about things I could care less about. While I enjoy knowing that a stranger also likes the same TV shows or charitable causes I do, I don’t care to know how they feel about the color red. And I followed a lot of the same organizations I “like” on Facebook or people who write blogs I enjoy. While most of the bloggers made an effort to differentiate their tweets from their blogs, the organizations didn’t. This resulted in a lot of repeated info.
  5. I started to dislike some celebrities. I’ll admit it, I followed a few celebrities. The problem was, some of them came off in tweets as having an attitude. And not the kinda attitude I appreciate. I’m sure they meant it in a good way, but it came across as kinda weird and was making me think of them differently. Of course, not all of the celebrities did this. Some of them were just as funny, gracious, and intelligent as I imagined them to be. But I prefer all of my celebrities to be the fantasy creatures I make up in my head, not the human beings they are in real life.
  6. Hate-mongering. I purposely followed Pope Francis and read what other people tweeted back. And I was appalled. I’m sensitive enough to hate language in real life and through the media; I don’t need to read it in a forum that is supposed to be about public discussion.
  7. I felt like I was yelling into a void. I did tweet a bit. Sometimes something just as vapid as I complain about above. Sometimes something with substance. But it didn’t feel like a conversation.
  8. I was bored. Maybe I’m just too picky. Or maybe I only like to have a conversation with people I know or who I expect to say something interesting. Or maybe Twitter’s just not the forum for me.
  9. It gave me anxiety. For all of the above reasons.

I think maybe I expected more than Twitter could give me. I wanted to have conversations with people about interesting things. But what I got was a lot of people asking celebrities to tweet them, celebrities tweeting about their favorite makeup artists or newest projects, and hate language.

What I do know is that I probably didn’t give it long enough or didn’t look in the right places. Maybe someday I’ll try Twitter again; hopefully when I can give it more attention or when I’m in a different place. Until then, my only social media experience will be Facebook and this blog.

Question: Should I set up a Facebook page connected with this blog? If I did, I’d have links to articles about mental health, cats, pretty pictures, etc, as well as the usual notifications of blog posts and status updates. Tell me what you think in the comments.

C is for CODA (Child of Deaf Adults)

Please note that everything on this blog is my opinion, based on my experiences. They are not necessarily those of the rest of the Deaf Community or those of other CODAs.

CaslI am a CODA, a Child of a Deaf Adult. This is the term used within the Deaf Culture for hearing adults who have deaf parents (the term for children who have deaf parents is KODA, Kid of Deaf Adults). The term is used even if only one of the hearing adult’s parents is deaf. Since my subsequent posts about my childhood will inevitably include information about my parents, I thought I’d dedicate this post to the common questions I get about my parents.

deaf death

Q: How’d you learn to talk?

A: How’d you learn to talk? No one lives in a vacuum. My parents are the only deaf people in my family, we lived in an all hearing neighborhood, went to a church with both hearing and deaf people, went to the grocery store, watched TV, etc. Truth is, some CODAs do live in a more insular Deaf community and have to have speech therapy. I didn’t.

Q: So you know sign language?

A: Yes. In fact I know a combination of ASL (American Sign Language, the most commonly used form of sign language in America), Basic Sign (an older form of sign language), and “family signs” (signs made up within my own family). Basically I use pidgin sign (kinda like the sign language equivalent of Spanglish).

Q: Sign something for me.

A: No. I’m not a performing monkey. There are plenty of YouTube videos out there for you to look at.

Q: Can you teach me sign language?

A: No. If you really want to learn, take a class or go to a website like Signing Savvy.

beautiful sign

Q: What’s this Deaf Community thing you keep mentioning?

A: Deaf people have a unique culture all their own. If you are a part of that culture, you are part of that community. You consider yourself Deaf (with a capital “D”, indicating you are part of the culture), not just deaf (with a small “d”, indicating the physical inability to hear). You can find out more here.

Q: How’d they become deaf?

A: My family does not have the genetic form of deafness. Because medicine was not up to today’s level when my parents were born, we’ll never really know why my parents are/were deaf (my mother is no longer living). Here’s the best guess as to why they were born deaf:

My Mom: My maternal grandmother had chicken pox while pregnant. My Mom had no usable hearing at birth. Subsequent tests over the years found that she could hear at the very extreme ends of the sound spectrum (think squeals and very deep, deep bass).

My Dad: My paternal grandmother had surgery during the early months of her pregnancy. Apparently back then they didn’t routinely test for pregnancy before surgery. My father was born with enough hearing to use hearing aids for the first decade or so of his life. But his hearing eventually faded to unusable levels. If you stand right next to him and yell into his ear as loud as you can, he can tell that something happened, but he can’t tell you what or what was said.

Q: Are they allowed to drive?

A: Are you allowed to drive with your radio cranked all the way up?

Q: Was your house really quiet growing up?

A: Actually it was the opposite. My parents couldn’t tell if they were making noise when they were closing cabinets, walking heavily, opening packages, singing to themselves (yes, my Dad sang to himself all the time), and so on.

Q: Do they talk out loud?

A: Yes. Neither of my parents were mute. My Dad actually talks really well, probably because he had some hearing as a child. He doesn’t sound like you or me because he can’t regulate his tone or volume like you or me. My Mom never talked as much as my Dad because she was shamed about her voice as a child.

Q: Why aren’t you an interpreter?

A: Because I choose not to. Many CODAs do become interpreters. I didn’t.

Q: I’m soooo sorry.

A: Really? For what? They just couldn’t hear, they weren’t under some awful curse.

deaf sooo sorry

Q: What about those implants they’ve got nowadays. What do you think about them?

A: I have mixed feelings about them but I’m not going to talk about them in this post since my blog is not about that kinda thing. If you really want to hear about my feelings/thoughts on cochlear implants, leave a comment and I’ll devote a post to them.

Q: How do you talk to them on the phone?

A: There used to be a device called a TTY (or TDD depending on the technology used), which was basically a machine that used computer code over the phone lines to another TTY/TDD. If you were hearing you could call up an interpreting service that would type your words into the TTY/TDD then read what the deaf person said back. These days there are videophones which work like Skype™. Again, you can use an interpreter if one of you is hearing. And then there’s Skype™ itself. My Dad doesn’t use Skype™ because he’s a bit of a technophobe.

Q: Can they read lips?

A: My Dad can a little. My Mom was never very good at it.

Q: Can they work/live normal lives/etc?

A: Yes. As the former president of Gallaudet University (the only all-Deaf university in the US), I. King Jordan, said “Deaf people can do anything, but hear.”

miss being deaf

Have I missed anything you want to know?

All comics are courtesy of thatdeafguy.com.

F is for My First Memory

abcalphabet_block_blue_fI’ve spent the last few days avoiding writing this blog post by searching for new graphics to use. Hours upon hours of looking at different versions of pencils, letters, and so forth just so I didn’t have to talk about this memory. The really stupid thing is that I’ve told people about this before since it’s a common “ice breaker” type of activity to ask people to describe their first memory. I’ve told this story to several different college classes, three or four different spiritual institutions and more counselors/therapists/shrinks than you can shake the proverbial stick at. That said, I’ve no idea why it took me so long to write this post.

Anyway, here’s my first memory:

I don’t remember why I woke up, I image I had a bad dream or heard something. I don’t know. All I know is that I was about 2 or 3 years old and I had woken up in the dark. I remember that I was scared and crying and that I pulled myself up in my crib by the slats until I could rest my chin on the top rail. I have an image of my darkened room with a small sliver of light illuminating the floor, but I’m not sure if that is real or if it’s something I’ve added over the years imaging the scene.

I know I cried for what seemed like forever. I don’t know if it was just a few minutes or a few hours. All I know is that eventually I stopped. Not because I stopped being terrified. Not because I was tired. Not even because I ran out of tears. I stopped because I knew, from the bottom of my pajama’d foot to the top of my towhead, that no one was coming. I was alone and I had to deal with whatever it was by myself. And that I’d have to do that for everything for the rest of my life.

So I sat myself down, crossed one leg over the over, hugged a pillow and rocked forward and backward until I fell asleep. I fell asleep that way until I was in my mid-teens.

No this isn't me.

No this isn’t me.

The thing is, there was probably someone home at the time. My brother, my parents, someone. But they didn’t come and likely wouldn’t have. Back then it was believed that if a child wasn’t hungry, sick or wet, you let them cry; it was thought that you were teaching them how to comfort themselves. Well, I guess in a way it did teach me to comfort myself. The problem was that my family’s particular dysfunction combined with my innate way of being ended up giving me problems similar to children brought up by neglectful parents. My parents weren’t neglectful, weren’t bad people; they were doing the best they could at the time. What they didn’t know is that some of the choices they made and some of the ways our family did things would end up giving me more problems than solutions.

As an adult, I logically know that I don’t have to deal with everything by myself. And for the most part, I don’t. If my car breaks down, I talk to a mechanic. If I can’t figure out how to do something on a computer, I ask someone. But if I need help with something I can’t touch, a decision, a feeling, a fear, I hesitate. Especially if it’s something I think is important, I keep whatever it is to myself until I get to some sort of impasse. It isn’t until I’ve chewed the problem to pieces inside my head that I take it to someone else.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: When I went back to college, I had to choose a foreign language. I took a look at how my schedule would be structured and realized I had about five or six choices, which I then narrowed down to two equally good choices. I then spent months, and I do mean months, trying to decide which one to take. This one was more practical, that one sounded like more fun. This one was harder to get into, that one was something I’d thought about taking since I was 12. And on and on. It wasn’t until I had to make a choice that I went to a friend and talked about it out loud. She took one look at me and said “you already know which one you’re going to take.” And she was right; I just didn’t realize that I’d even made the decision until I said it out loud.

Now I imagine a lot of people have similar ways of going over a problem. I just imagine that it doesn’t take them months to get to the point at which they talk to someone about it. Imagine if I had talked through the problem with my friend when I first became aware that I needed to make a decision. I could have saved myself months of dithering over the issue. And I could have used that time and energy thinking about something much more interesting during those months.

I do this with all kinds of problems, both important and trivial. Should I buy that DVD? Should I go to Grad School now or in a few years? What car should I buy? Should I have a brownie or ice cream with dinner? Should I kill myself with pills or by hanging? (Don’t worry, that’s not a current deliberation.)

I honestly think that my problem with asking for help, with trying to take care of everything by myself, can be traced back to that first memory.

And, what might be worse, I think that first memory is when I first started to distrust people. After all, if people aren’t there for a baby, a toddler, why would they be there for a kindergartner, a pre-teen, a teenager, an adult? If a baby can’t depend on anyone to be comforted, why on earth would anyone depend on someone else to comfort them for anything?

So I learned to keep people at a distance very early. I don’t trust people to comfort me. I don’t trust them to do much of anything. This early experience wasn’t the only time people let me down, but it was the first.

Coming up next post: more of my history that caused me to have some sort of issue. Anything in particular you’d like to hear about? Please comment below.

G is for Guilt (and B is for Blame)

abcalphabet-letter-gI’ve started and restarted this posting about ten times now. The fact is I’m not so sure that I can do what I’ve challenged myself to do. You see, my counselor told me that one of the ways I can get beyond some of my issues is to talk about the situations that caused those issues in the first place. So I was going to use this forum to start to tell some of those stories.

The problem is I’m scared to tell some of them. Crazy as that sounds, considering what I’ve already disclosed on this blog. Maybe it’s because the stories I have to tell are not only about me. They’re about my parents and my brother. Relatives and friends. Persons both innocent and guilty.

How do I tell stories of what happened to me without making people I love sound like monsters? By the time I explained why they did such things my blog posts would be millions of words long. And the purpose of telling my stories is not to explain them, it’s to explain me. Me. The person I hate the most. And the person I can’t get away from.

Ultimately I suppose what I’m dealing with here is guilt and blame. I’ve always resisted the impulse to blame people for what they do. In an attempt to make sense of the world I’ve often tried to figure out why people do things (this person stayed with their abuser because they were afraid of being alone. That person abused their partner because that was the behavior modeled to them as a child. And so on). In my head I thought that if I could figure out why a person did something than that meant they weren’t a bad person. If it wasn’t their fault, then they weren’t evil, and ultimately I wasn’t evil.

But the older I get the more I realize that why a person does something doesn’t remove the fact that they have chosen to do it. And just because they chose to do something bad doesn’t mean that I have to find a way to excuse it if it hurt me.

The guilt, however, of it all still gets to me. I feel guilty for making something a person’s fault. If, for example, I say that it’s my mother’s fault for withdrawing her affection at a time that I really needed it, then, in my head anyway, it’s like I’m saying that my mother is a bad person. Then I feel guilty for thinking of her as bad. Because she wasn’t bad, she was just a human being.

What I don’t know how to do is rearrange the thoughts in my head so that I don’t have to place blame. So I don’t have to make everything so black and white, good and bad, blame and guilt.

Can I do it? We’ll find out.

Coming up next post, my first memory.