Last night as I lay awake I recall how for years I have felt straight up crazy.
While I am permitted to say that of myself, you on the other hand, may never.
As far back as when I was a thirteen-year-old my mother would say she thought I had a hormonal imbalance. The strange thing in saying it, what was it based on, and if she believed it why didn't I see a doctor?
A director I met in Chicago while taking acting classes gave me three or four short monologues to memorise and learn to perform, tools in my satchel. It didn't pass my notice that all had common themes of self-actualisation, a self-taught learner or more to the point, a character who has obtained, grown, learned and materialised near the fire.
Previously I wrote how I initiated the search for help outside my family, seeing a therapist for the first time, a short-lived effort directly cut off by my father and my mother's collaboration.
My mother also did not take me to the doctor in the same way my brothers might go or particularly my father. As children, we had the usual maladies, mumps, measles, flu's, though overall I would not say we were sickly, rather the opposite. We were a strapping crew. At some point in my early twenties it occurred to me that as a child I was expected to just get well in the same way my mother was expected to get well. Because being well means you are able to perform household duties and care for your family, a task as well-suited to men as women.
Only twice did I see her in need of medical attention, once when I had been given a kitten, as it turned out, she was deathly allergic. As she wheezed and gasped, I watched in terror as she was hurried to the hospital. Another time she had pleurisy, an inflammation of the lung's outer lining that causes stabbing chest pain and can be deadly. She lay in her bedroom for days, each breath painful. I sat on the bed with her hoping she would not die. If my mother died I'd kill myself as I'd never be able to live with my father. And there is the sting.
This woman who I wished to shower with armfuls of hot yellow daffodils and beautiful objects pushed and pushed me away. The person I most needed to protect me was buffer between me and my father, a loathsome triangle. He verbally abused her, she mostly took it. I observed the process enraged that she withstood these blows. When I rejected or stood up for her the blows fell on me.
At times she shrunk away to preserve her peace and left me defenceless against him, against sickness, awakening to my need for mental health care, to the conditions of my education and the wreckage of my young sexuality.
Camille Claudel, a French movie, tells the story of the young female artist in a battle over family expectations, that she marry, that she give up the humiliating act of digging her own clay and generally, behave. When she meets the larger-than life sculptor Rodin, she becomes model, muse and lover though she was a formidable sculptor herself. He later rejects her passions in part due to her own rising star and his ongoing love affair with another woman. Camille does what so many women do and have done; she destroys some of her artwork and second guesses her abilities. Falling prey to her jealous brother's firm grip, "he conspired with her mother, who never forgave her for her supposed immorality, to later ruin her and keep her confined to a mental hospital. Camille was institutionalised in 1913 and while doctors and staff often stated she was not insane, her family refused to have her released. She spent thirty years in an asylum separated from civilian life, dying seventy-seven years ago today,19 October 1943. She never sculpted again.
I don't refer to the story as a direct parallel to mine, only this. Going "home' was always fraught. Years I dreamt of dying in Tennessee or being trapped there without my possessions. At twenty-nine I saw for the first time the unfaithfulness of my mother, her duplicity in my disrepair when I thought it was only my father with whom I was enraged.
The gaslighting affect of saying I have a hormonal imbalance and yet an unwillingness to treat what caused my despair. Sure, my parents were of a generation that was unused to therapy. But the burden I've carried so often alone has been heavy. For more than twenty-odd years I spent more money and hours than I could reasonably afford inside a therapist's office trying to unravel the knots. And since we know therapy is not a one-stop cure but an unfolding of traumas and gathering tools for healing, it's not surprising many people take years to salvage and rebuild their lives. And I to break the bond of abandoning myself and my desires.
And so I say- hopefully- with Sinead O'Connor,
"I'm sailing on this terrible ocean, I've come for myself to retrieve…..