As I get older, my relationship to the events of my past changes. The chronology seems far less significant than it once did, and I find myself skipping from a story from when I was thirty to a game I played when I was three, connecting them by intuitive rather than direct association. When I tell these stories now about my history with mental illness, I move through the events that describe it in a seemingly haphazard manner, picking up pieces of it from very different times and places and hanging them together in constantly shifting triptychs.
My intent when I began this series was to follow a natural, chronological progression through my initial experiences with psychiatry, but that turned out to be less natural than I thought. It seems more rational to begin with the place at which I arrived, the point of the story, the point at which I began to seek help, and then work my way back to how that point came about.
So, I will tell you about when I was two, which I remember quite well. I can remember being one-and-a-half and wearing itchy plastic diaper pants that scratched my skin, so two is pretty clear. One of my first memories is of my sudden attachment to a pair of white oxford-like shoes with navy stripes on the sides. My mother decided to put them in a neighbour's garage sale, because I outgrew them, and I was gripped by a terrible anxiety about not being able to have them anymore. They were mine! Mine! And I loved them! I really LOVED them!
My mother explained about how I could not wear them anymore, but I did not care. Those shoes were beautiful. I did not want to be bigger than those shoes. Those shoes should be mine and stay in my closet. I did not care that they no longer fit on my feet. I wanted to be able to touch them whenever I wanted. I still remember how they smelled.
At each stage of life until I was an adult in my twenties, I panicked over leaving an era of myself behind. On my fifth birthday, I cried all day, because I knew that I was leaving being a really little kid behind and that I was going to get old and die. The day I could no longer wear my red nightie, not even as a shirt, made me feel like I had moved into some parallel netherworld I no longer recognized. When I got my first period, my body's betrayal of my childhood devastated me, and I avoided human touch for months. I felt no joy in the changes that some children embrace.
Of course, those shoes disappeared. I knew that some other kid was going to wear those on their feet, because my mother told me that would happen, and it made me very sad. How could something be mine and then not be mine? The space on the floor of my closet where they used to sit was empty, but I checked it often, hoping I might see them. I sat on my bed and wept. I was grieving.
This sense of grieving became a near constant throughout my childhood. It took me another eight years to put a word to what I was feeling, and at ten years old, I realized that I was depressed. Upon that realization, I began to hatch plans, because even at that young age, I was weary of my condition. I did not know how to express my agony, and I did not know how to ask for help or that help was even available. I only knew that the way I was was not "normal" by any means, and I began to plot my escape. Any number of escapes were possible: physical pain, suicide, running away - under the weight of my grief, any type of relief or way out seemed reasonable.
Escape felt necessary to my very survival, and I began a long road filled with many ineffective attempts at distancing my pain. If anything good can be said about that part of my life, it is that I was certainly goal-oriented and persistent.
... to be continued ...
(This entry is also posted at RealMental.org)
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