Dear Reader,

I apologize for the time that has gone by since my last post. Please be assured that it is not because I have given up on the blog (again), nor is it that I haven’t wanted to write. On the contrary. I am desperate to write; but also, to go about the task informed.

I have been (and am still) on a quest for knowledge… because the things that I wish to write about at the moment require that I do so responsibly.

I have been (and am still) studying cult mentality, race relations history, and the creation (and subsequent mutation) of twelve-step programs. (Though, obviously, not all of these things are related.)

To my surprise, it has not been as intimidating as I imagined it would be. It has, however, been time consuming (and it takes me longer than the average person to get through such tasks).

Desperate to see this through (and not to give up, as I normally would), I have made several concessions:

  • I am allowing myself to take things at a pace that works for me.
  • I am allowing myself to jump from one subject to another – and then back again.
  • I am allowing myself to walk away, and take a break, when I feel overwhelmed or discouraged.
  • I am allowing myself to be less than perfect.

Historically, I demand perfection in every task I take on… and then do not finish any of them (because they’re never as literally perfect as I would like). So I am trying a new approach. One that allows me to be the inherently flawed individual that I actually am.

You, Dear Reader (and Fellow Writer), have inspired me… and I hope not to let you down. So please have patience, and stay tuned. There is much to come.

Husbands and Wives and Fighting… Oh, My!

Marriage sometimes sucks. There is as much pain and disappointment in true love, as there is joy and happiness. Why do the fairy tales, and ever-popular romantic comedies, never tell us that?

You would think that by observing the dynamics between our parents (or parental figures) that we would know that; but there seems to be an inherent disconnect between knowing and feeling – at least, in me.

As a child, I thought my parents had a “happily ever after” romance. Sure, they sometimes fought (mostly over my brothers and I); but I remember them being happy more than not.

As an adolescent, I noticed cracks in the public veneer of their relationship. It seemed they fought more (and perhaps they did… they had three surly teenagers to deal with – one with fairly severe mental-health issues), and they sure as hell talked far less. They didn’t do things together as often, and were definitely divided more than they were a united front.

My brothers and I, at that point, often wondered out loud why they stayed together. We imagined that they would be happier apart, and assumed that they would split after my youngest brother moved out of the house.

They didn’t. They’ve been married forty-five years; surviving – together – the tragic loss of their middle child.

From the outside, they seem stronger than ever… and I wish I knew their secret.

Mitchell and I are somewhat similar to my folks, but definitely not the same (in both good ways and bad).

I am a very passionate, emotionally driven person (like my dad); with a huge bleeding heart (like my mom). I have always romanticized love.

I think love should be so beautiful, and powerful. I want to be swept away by love.

The Man in the Moon, 1991

Mitchell is a very reserved, logically driven person (like his – and my – mom); and doesn’t really care for humanity as a whole (like his dad). He was a romantic once (albeit, never at my level); but seems to have lost interest in passionate matters of the heart, especially as they relate to us.

Opposites attract, as they say.

Of course, they also say that the thing you are originally drawn to in a mate is the very thing you’ll eventually end up hating about them.

I don’t hate my husband, nor do I hate any one thing about him. I’m disappointed in him. And, I know he’s been disappointed in me.

I cannot effectively communicate with him anymore. I don’t know that it’s a failing on my part; but often, it feels like it is.

When attempting to tell him something, he often gets hung up on specific words and their precise meanings. He does take the time to explain to me what he’s hearing… but it’s commonly not what I’m trying to say.

If I want to have a conversation with him about something that’s important to me, I literally have to prep for it. I have to choose my words carefully, and have an outline in my head.

Unfortunately, I always make some kind of unintentional semantic error (Seriously, it never fails.); usually, right out of the gate.

He gets frustrated. He explains why he’s frustrated. I take a moment to rephrase what I’m trying to say. He gets more frustrated – either by the silence, or by the newly chosen phrasing (that also doesn’t seem to make any sense). I get frustrated. My frustration turns to tears and breathing exercises. He leaves the room furious, accusing me of being passive-aggressive. I remain in the room, feeling utterly destroyed.

Today is one of those days… when my marriage feels like an exhausting exercise in futility.

It’s exacerbated by a couple of factors:

  1. I haven’t been feeling well, and am demonstrating flu-like symptoms.
  2. Mitchell’s allergies have been kicking his butt, and he’s doped up on antihistamines.
  3. We’ve been locked in this house together, day-after-day, for months (much like everyone else who’s taking safety precautions).

We’re both aware of the exacerbation, but it doesn’t make dealing with it any easier.

Mitchell actually screamed in response to my frustration this morning. Literally. In my face. Screaming (and swearing).

I have learned – through decades of therapy – not to respond in kind. (I used to try and one-up him, when things like this happened.) I try to stay calm, but can never stop my tears. (Which makes me feel stupid, and extremely vulnerable.)

I did, at one point, tell him (without raising my voice) that he was an “asshole when he’s mean.” (I regret saying it; but it was warranted, and far less hurtful than the other things I wanted to say.) He continued yelling, and then stormed out of the room.

I did the only thing I could to prevent the vengeful harpy that rises as my protector from emerging: I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and used practiced mantras. You are safe. You are okay. This will pass.

In the midst of this exercise, Mitchell returned to the room and tried to apologize. He had calmed from the skirmish. I had not.

That’s the trouble with being a Borderline. I continue to feel hurt; until I can do something about it.

That “something” used to mean giving the harpy carte blanche to set the world on fire. Hurt Mitchell. Feel guilt (over hurting Mitchell). Hurt myself. Only then, could I return to any semblance of my “normal” self.

Now-a-days that “something” looks more like a scared little girl, crying in a corner, acting the victim. I hate feeling like a victim. Being made to feel that way, just further pisses me off.

So, I write. And believe me, I wrote a lot of other sh*t prior to what I’m writing now. Hurtful, angry sh*t that made very little coherent sense. It helps, though.

It helps if I allow the emotional wound to bleed until it’s cauterized. (Only then, can I be a little more coherent; and share what I’m going through with you, Dear Reader.)

No longer bleeding, I’m left clicking away on the laptop – wondering (yet again) how two people who clearly love one another (because we do love each other) can stand so very far apart.

How is it that we have lost the ability to effectively communicate with one another? And how – how – Dear Reader, do we find our way back?

He is not a bully. I am not a victim. We cannot remain in these roles, if we hope to survive.

Are the Mentally Ill Allowed to Feel?

Do you know what the most frustrating part of being “crazy” is? That whenever I am emotional about something, it is often attributed to the fact that I’m “crazy”; and whatever I’m feeling is written off as a symptom of my mental-health issues.

Most commonly – because my husband and I spend more time with one another than we do with anyone else – this is an issue in my marriage.

Mitchell and I will be fighting over something. He gets upset. I get upset. (Or vice versa.) We both raise our voices, and the discussion quickly deteriorates into the aggregated hurt inevitably incurred in a twenty-year relationship.

An argument that begins over who should check the mail, can quickly turn into a screaming match about who is less responsible… and ultimately end up with us shouting over so much of the past, that we can no longer remember what started the damn fight in the first f*ckin’ place! (If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship – of any kind – I’m sure you can relate.)

Mitchell, being the more rational creature in our relationship, is usually the first to calm down. When he decides enough is enough, he can tag-out and regroup (with astonishing speed). And while I envy him this ability, it’s his ability; not mine.

I am calm until I’m not. Once I’m not, all bets are off the table.

Here’s why…

One of the symptoms of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) is an inability to think and/or feel in more than one emotional dimension. We think and/or feel with “white” (i.e. good) emotion or “black” (i.e. bad) emotion. And once on a side, it can be incredibly difficult to return to the other. Borderlines have an underdeveloped capacity to think in shades of grey (like most “normal” people do).

…and here’s what it looks (and feels) like.

Facts of the Case

Mitchell states that he is going to fix the pilot light on the water heater. Two days later – working on the assumption that he has fixed the water heater – I step into a shower, and have no hot water. Mitchell probably just forgot to take a look at the water heater.

Feelings (Stupid Hamsters) of the Case

Anger Hamster has just woken up, and was crabby before she got doused with shockingly cold water. But now? Now she has found a justification for being angry; and therefore, takes the wheel.

She makes an abrupt right-hand turn off of the “white” (i.e. good) emotional highway, onto the “black” (i.e. bad); and drives past every grievance she has ever had against Mitchell: drab, dilapidated houses all up and down this dark, lonely road.

She starts snarling, and growling through gritted teeth, “Look! There’s the bookshelves he never restored! Check it out! There’s the dirty kitchen floor he ‘forgot’ to sweep! Ha! The car he promised to sell! I can drive all damn day if I have to. There’s nothing good to see here, folks!”

And that nasty little fur-ball is never alone in the car. Sadness is always riding shotgun. She’s listening to Anger (while looking out at the desolate scenery), and starts to cry, “Things are never going to change. There is no hope. What am I doing on this stupid ride?”

Facts of the Case

I get out of the shower, tense and irritated.

Mitchell walks around the corner and says, “Good morning.”

I grouch back, “You may enjoy taking cold showers, but I do not!”

I have been rude. Mitchell has just woken up, and wasn’t expecting a fight. Voices start to escalate. Things quickly deteriorate, as they often do.

Feelings (Borderline Personality Affected Hamsters) of the Case

Mitchell says something that nicks an emotional nerve (intentionally, or unintentionally… it doesn’t matter, to my mind), and Anger Hamster drives – petal to the metal – further down the highway of despair.

Not able to see anything good through the windows of the car, she starts to feel as if this is the only road there is to drive. And the thought of that never-ending darkness? It’s completely overwhelming.

Anger Hamster’s first inclination is to wreck the car; kill the passengers. (But we’ve been there, done that; and it doesn’t end well.) Frustrated that she can no longer do so (because she has made some progress in anger management), she pulls over, crosses her fuzzy lil’ arms across her chest, and sulks in a boggy mire.

Sadness hamster simply continues to cry in the seat beside her.

Facts of the Case

Mitchell has simmered from hurt to angry to hurt to calm frustration.

I have begun to cry, and am not making any sense (because the hamsters in my head are confusing as f*ck).

Mitchell (truly trying to help) says, “This is your disease, remember? It’ll pass.”

Different vs. Crazy

I know that in part, my husband is correct. Him forgetting to check the pilot light isn’t really justification for a fight.

I, however, am right to be frustrated and upset. Not because of the pilot light, but because it’s a pattern in his behavior not to follow through.

Once he intimates to the fact that I might be acting crazy, though, things go one of two ways:

  • I give in and apologize for being mentally afflicted.
  • I blow up (albeit, usually in disproportionate rage) at having my valid feelings dismissed because I have a mental-health affliction.

It is difficult for me to express my emotions appropriately. It is not difficult for me to feel them appropriately.

This distinction often goes unacknowledged when folks deal with those they think of as “crazy.” Even when they understand this separation, they tend to forget it – especially in communicating with us.

I feel emotion more acutely than most. I know this. I am aware that my brain processes emotions differently than most… but this doesn’t mean that my emotions are any less valid than those of a “normal” person.

So, what can we do?

Thankfully, both my husband and I are working on this.

This morning I was able to analyze my reaction to the pilot light, and did not approach Mitchell as I normally would (like in the example above). Don’t get me wrong, here. I thought about approaching him that way… but then made a cognitive decision not to. (Yep, crazy people have rational thoughts, too!)

Instead, I was able to remind myself that though he frustrates – and angers – me more than anyone else on the planet; I also like him more than anyone else on the planet (at least 85% of the time, anyway).

I took some time for myself, before speaking to him; and when I did, I was honest about how I wanted to react; and shared my reasons for not doing so. He rolled his eyes at my initial reaction (that’s to be expected when my initial reaction borders on the “crazy” side), but said he appreciated the fact that I didn’t act on it.

I asked him to do a few of the other chores that Anger Hamster was on about, and he did them (to his credit, without any grumbling).

Today was a good day, all things considered.

Something to keep in mind…

They won’t all be good days. Mitchell and I both know that.

Bad days are made worse, though, if what I am feeling gets labeled as “crazy.”

If every emotion that swells inside my soul is dismissed as “disease,” how can I be expected to appropriately navigate my way through life?

Crazy doesn’t mean I’m inhuman. Crazy adds a bit of odd irrationality to my responsive behaviors; but it doesn’t stop the very valid way I feel… because I am human. (Just a lil’ bit more bizarre than most!)

Technically, This is Sudden Fiction

The following post is a fictional narrative, inspired by the photo below. At 617 words, it is considered Sudden Fiction – a shorter form of the Flash Fiction genre. Comments and criticism (hopefully, constructive) are welcomed.

My shrink might as well be an Angel of Death – and not the merciful kind.

This stupid exercise – another curse in the technological advances of medicine – was supposed to curb my enthusiasm for cutting myself with sharp-edged objects.

Fatal mistake, Dr. Reaper.

Eyes downcast on my raggedy, unpolished toes, I contemplate whether or not I can brave – and bear – another look at the sad, holographic, representation of self standing before me.

I should have listened to myself. How many times have I lamented that same sentiment, while standing in the holocaustal aftermath of second-guessed decisions? You’d think I would have learned by now.

As I doffed my frumpy clothing, and donned the gossamer chamber gown – not yet an hour ago – Dr. Reaper assured me that I was making a valid choice. One look into the Spectral Reflector, and I would clearly see that I was so much more than my various, paralyzing, mental afflictions. I would see in myself what he saw in me, what my husband saw in me: some mystical creature with the endless potential for acute mental clarity.

I’d known others who had braved this dark cavity of hidden truth, and come out the other side better for it. They spoke of beauty, with intoxicating confidence. They had overcome. I was foolish enough to believe that I could prevail, as well.

A single tear slides down my cheek, splashing the shallow ocher grout between expensive, carefully broken, cerulean saltillo tiles – no doubt chosen to reinforce the supposed opulence to be found in mental salvation.

Auburn curls suddenly break loose from the restraint of their imprisoning barrette, softly grazing the thumb of my left hand; a hand protectively cradling my now sodden face. An imaginary face. A well-practiced facade for… for what? Little more than misted lunacy?

The cool, filtered air of the chamber blows delicately across my uncomfortably naked skin. The goose flesh creeping up my spine a tingling reminder that I am, I think, real.

I know that I must look again. (Much like goose-necking near a car accident.) I have to confirm that which I have known to be true all along… that without the frenzied madness of my psychosis, I truly don’t exist.

The light of the Spectral Reflector dances like the fantastically calming waves that ripple around a pebble tossed in the serene waters of a pool; but its iridescent beauty cannot belie my darkest of inner truths.

One more cossetting sigh. One more moment to deny.

I drop my left hand – slowly – from my eyes, and reluctantly face the reflection standing before me.

This magical machine – built to strip away all faults, and show us only the truest parts of our selves – mirrors not the keen eyes and brightly glowing smile I was promised: only the pallid shadows of vapor, and the chill of empty space.

I reach toward my phantom counterpart, and she reaches back. Our fingertips nearly connect… but the fog flutters away at the hint of my touch. I frighten even my ghostly self, it would seem.

Dr. Reaper’s voice, loud and startling, reverberates from a tiny speaker in the wall, “Have you had ample time to look? Are you ready to speak of the enchanting vision you have seen?”

I whisper back, with a heavy threaded knot in my throat, “Yes.”

“Ah, good! I cannot wait for you to tell!”

The door opens with a heavy thundering sound. Bright lights flood the room, and I turn towards the dressing antechamber.

Dr. Reaper will ask with hopeful anticipation that I reveal to him my hitherto unseen truth… and all I will say is that I have not yet carved deeply enough.

Ernest Hemingway Wrote Flash Fiction?!

While flipping through the Classifieds in Poets & Writers magazine recently, I skimmed over the words “Flash Fiction” in the “Call for Manuscripts” ads too many times to count; and found myself rolling my eyes as I sighed with weighted sarcasm.

As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for more than twenty years (most of them in call centers), I have had plenty of exposure to an up and coming younger generation that has lost the art of conversation (communication in general, really); and – due to our fascination with the brevity of social media – has the attention span of a gnat. (And let’s be honest, sometimes the gnats are a more focused audience.)

I couldn’t help thinking that “Flash Fiction” was simply a way of granting writers the lazy permission to call pieces that have less than 280 characters “stories.” (Damn you, Twitter!)

However, after a few moments of rather indulgent fury – and being the quintessential over-thinker – I realized that I may in fact be stereotyping based on my own limited experience. Paused in a calmer state of rational thought, I also acknowledged that I really had no idea what the term “Flash Fiction” truly meant. So I busted out the laptop, and asked the omnipotent internet for an answer.

I read several articles from different sources, but liked the article I found on reedsyblog best. In part, because it offered a downloadable word count cheat sheet that I found entertaining. (Though I laughed out loud when I read “… help create stories that are free from plot or pacing issues that can exhaust readers.” Clearly, they are not fans of Stephen King’s early novels. Which, by the way, I find fascinating.)

The first paragraph of the reedsyblog article says:

Flash fiction is a medium of brief and enclosed stories. Its average word count ranges anywhere from five to 1,500 words, but the consensus is that the maximum tops out at 2,000.

And on the cheat sheet, it specifically states ⚡Flash fiction: up to 1,500 – with a five-hundred count word gap between the 1,500 word maximum, and the 2,000 word minimum for short stories. Po – tay – toh: Pa – tah – toh, I suppose.

The article also offers a brief look at some of Ernest Hemingway’s “micro-stories”; references well-known works in “Grimms’ Fairy Tales” and “Aesop’s Fables”; and gives shout-out honorable mentions to other prolific writers.

Conclusion? Shorter works can, in fact, be art.

I am no Ernest Hemingway

The reason that I am rambling on about short fiction is because I was considering giving it a go today.

As someone who rarely writes (or speaks, for that matter) with brevity, shorter pieces present a difficult challenge for me. And lately, I’ve been in an I shall overcome type of mood.

In addition, I glanced at the 365 days of writing prompts from The Daily Post at WordPress this morning (which you can download here), and read this:

July 14
Opposite day
If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.

I normally write non-fiction (as you, Dear Reader, well know); so my first assignment for today is to post a photo.

What’s haunting about the “Opposite Day” suggestion is that I am a very visual writer. I far prefer having to write a story about an image over having to write one from a verbal and/or written prompt.

Add it all up, and you get this:

Poets & Writers Classifieds Frustration + Omnipotent Internet Inquiry + WordPress Writing Prompt + Image = Dare to Attempt a Flash Fiction Piece

Clearly, the universe is mocking me; and I (albeit, hesitantly) accept the challenge!

Stay tuned for a Flash Fiction piece based on the image above… though I can promise you, Dear Reader, that I am no Ernest Hemingway.

Dear Readers,

I know what this looks like. Good Lord, that daffy broad went and nuked her site again. In the most literal sense – past posts have been removed, color scheme has changed, site identification/title has been deemed irrelevant, custom header image has been revised – you would be right… but this time around is different, I assure you; so please, let me try to explain.

Have you ever heard anyone say, Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it? It’s an old proverb that’s tossed around quite a lot; and I’d never really understood it.

In fact, my gut reaction to hearing such “nonsense” had always been, Why in the holy hell would I not want to receive what I’ve wished for?

I was working under the questionable assumption that wishes were the equalivent of best intentions. I.e. I wish for happiness, health, comfort, etc. – and that having them granted was an inherently good thing.

But then, about a year ago, I heard an Anonymous gentleman take this proverb one step further. He said, “Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it… and not always in the way you had hoped.”

Honestly? My mind was blown. All of a sudden, an old saw that I considered to be downright stupid, made total and complete sense.

At the time, my brother’s death was still a raw, gaping, open wound. (Still is, if I’m being completely forthright.) And as soon as I heard that gentleman say what he did, I thought, Wow. We asked for my brother’s pain and suffering to end. He’s no longer in pain. He’s no longer suffering. But, the boy is dead.

All of the prayers that had been sent into the universe on my younger brother’s behalf had been answered. We just never considered the fact that death was a viable solution. (I mean, how much more of a final end to anything is there?)

I was stricken with renewed grief, unbearable guilt, and paralyzing fear.

Light Bulb!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but hearing that Anonymous gentleman speak would have a paralyzing effect on my already delicate inability to make decisions.

Subconsciously, I began to worry that I could ask for the right thing at the wrong time (say when the universe was ovulating, and therefore, terribly moody), and end up with a catastrophic answer to a well-intentioned inquiry.

I stopped praying. I stopped analyzing. I stopped asking. I got stuck.

I found my way back to the path of least resistance. I started pointing fingers, and assigning blame.

Instead of trying to move forward, I fell back into the past. Old fears and bygone hurts resurfaced; and before I knew it, they had taken over my already limited world view.

In response to the fear of being without a pay check (even though we’re doing okay), I took the first employment offer that came my way. An offer that wasn’t in my field. An offer I didn’t really want. But, I threw myself into it because that’s all I’d been able to do.

My life – since hearing that Anonymous gentleman speak (and I say that without assignment of blame) – had once again become an exercise in survival, as opposed to one being lived.

Mitchell saw it. My friends saw it. They all warned me that I was spiraling out, and dangerously close to losing my sh*t… because all they were reading in my writing was pain, despair, loneliness, and grief.

I had foolishly forgotten that life is so much more than the sum of our fears… and did not see that my addictions were actively working to reclaim their tyrannous throne.

Thankfully, the universe stepped in when I needed her most; and not in a catastrophic way.

On Friday evening, my mother-in-law (who never calls me, because I don’t ever pick up) called… and in a moment of rare bravery, I answered the phone.

We didn’t speak for long, but we used those brief moments wisely. We shared our concerns about my husband’s health, and my own.

She offered a way out from under the job that was causing my crippling anxiety, and the consequent breakdown in sanity. My husband and I – albeit, hesitantly – decided to take it.

With the self-imposed weight of the world off my shoulders, I started to examine other parts of my life that were causing undue stress, and the way I was approaching this blog – like a menacing project – was one of those parts.

Project: An individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.

Oxford Dictionary

I started reading the posts, and realized that I was writing for all the wrong reasons.

When you work in Exceptional (Special) Education, you learn that children stand apart from their diagnoses: Down’s Syndrome, Autism, ADHD, etc.

These various afflictions are but a small part of a much larger whole. Diagnoses are labels. Labels imply limits. And if my kids have taught me anything, it’s that individuals are limitless.

I needed not to start over, but to shift my perception.

Yes, I am an alcoholic and an addict. Yes, I am a Borderline. Yes, I am unemployed. Yes, I sometimes fail to meet expectations (mine, and those of others). However, these things do not define the whole of who I am.

I am not a writer because of these things, but in spite of them.

So I decided to remove the subtitle – formerly The Absurd Misadventures of a Borderline – because I felt it imposed limits on who I am, and what I sensed it was appropriate to write about.

I need for this blog to reflect all of me, instead of only a part – a part that is often dark and full of miserable despondency. The part that assigns blame, instead of taking self-accountability.

I’m not saying that the malicious harpy within won’t pound away on the keys of my laptop from time to time (She calls this “typing with purpose.” Up in the Air, anyone?), nor that she won’t show up in my posts uninvited. I’m simply saying that she’s not the only one allowed at the helm of this crazy ship.

Stephen King once said, “The glory of a good tale is that it is limitless and fluid…” And to that I say, Amen, Brother!

I first started writing because in doing so I often surprised myself. I found hidden answers to internal questions. I made bizarre, seemingly random connections from point A to point Z… and could follow that itinerant road map into the wilds of imagination.

Do I sometimes write to deal with anger? Absolutely.

Is anger my only emotion? Am I nothing more than a rambling, lunatic hostage to my mental afflictions? Absolutely not.

I am the whole sum of a myriad of pieces. Some are shattered, and have dangerously sharp edges; but others are silky smooth, and covered in glitter and gold… and I’d like for you, Dear Reader, to see them all.

When Mitchell saw what I had done to the blog, he looked at me, mouth agape, and said, “Again? Seriously? I give up.” But he won’t. He will cheer for me, as he always has. So I beg of you… grab a pom-pom, and shout loudly from the sidelines. Don’t give up on me yet.