Mental Illness & Writing (My Story Part One)

“Being different and thinking differently make a person unforgettable.” –Suzy Kassem

My mental illness is definitely not something I generally like to talk about; however, it’s probably one of the main reasons why I write.

I saw this quote on the internet the other day, and it got me thinking about things.  Lots of things.

“No matter what we make, creativity always changes the creator.” -anonymous

Anyone who creates, whether you’re a photographer, musician, or writer (the list can go on and on), not only do you have the ability to change your own life through the act of creating, but other people’s lives as well.

How do creatives have such powerful impact?  One of the best answers I found was in this explanation:

“Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.” -Olafur Eliasson, Why Art Has the Power To Change the World

To create is to connect. And in this day and age, we as the whole seemed to have lost the ability to truly connect with ourselves, to people, and to the world that surrounds us.

Is it a wonder to why we feel so lonely? So disconnected?

Yes, we have this thing called technology in abundance but it can NOT fully step into the role of the connector. While there is that feeling of being connected to someone on the other side of the digital barrier, it still feels artificial. Not real or alive.

On the other hand, creative arts have the ability to do just that.

Through music, paintings, sculptures, photographs, poetry, and on and on.  So, while art has the power to bring people together, it also has the power to heal especially for the creator (aka artist, songwriter, poet, etc…you get the idea).

How does art heal us?

Art and music affect every cell in the body instantly to create a healing physiology that changes the immune system and blood flow to all the organs. Art and Music also immediately change a person’s perceptions of their world. They change attitude, emotional state, and pain perception. They create hope and positivity and they help people cope with difficulties. They transform a person’s outlook and way of being in the world.” –How Art Heals-Mind/Body Physiology

Music has always been in my family especially on my mother’s side which yielded several musicians including an uncle who went on to play with an award-winning Native American-Folk band, December Wind.  As a girl, I can remember many occasions when family members gathered together at my Grandmother’s house for a “jam session” completed with guitars, banjo, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and even a set of spoons.  I was at an age where I was misunderstood (no one knew I was partially deaf until later) and music was something I understood. I’d sit on the floor, and “listened” to the beats and deep bass sounds for hours.

Although I loved music, I never learned to play an instrument (the desire was there though), I ended up singing in the school and church choirs for several years (I’d harmonized through the “beats” and reading music).

Since I couldn’t be a musician, I found myself drawn to words.  Words I also understood so I delved deep in the worlds created by words.  Here I connected with characters who became my friends since I had so few in the real world (byproduct of being “different”).  After accidentally discovering writing (the story behind this discovery can be found here), I’d took my favorite characters (Scooby Doo and Shaggy were among those) and created my own world with them in it.

Writing became a lifeline to the intense loneliness I’d felt.

When I was in college, I took to writing journals as a way of dealing with the stress and pressures that went with being a student living away from home.

In 1992, I stopped writing altogether.  This was the year I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome (a form of Retinitis Pigmentosa-progressive blindness-which included hearing loss).

Depression really emerged at this point in my life though I was never diagnosed.  And when I married my first husband, Aaron, anger replaced everything else I was feeling and he bore, unfortunately, the brunt of it.  The depression and anger steadily grew worse over time, and then the worst happened.

He was killed in a car accident.

Grief and regrets overwhelmed me, and I nearly did the unthinkable.  I backed out just before it was too late as I realized that this would be the ultimate regret that I could never return from.  Worse of all, it would hurt my family as well as Aaron’s.

I just couldn’t do it.

Instead, I poured all my attention and strength into finishing college (which I did over a year after Aaron’s death). By this time, I’d moved out in my own apartment, but also had regressed from all social activities becoming a hermit with very little contact to the outside world.

Then Jay came into my life (actually he returned to my life, but that is another story of its own).  He changed everything by not only marrying me, but by reintroducing writing back into my life through a gift of a leather-bound journal.

In this journal, I spew all my anger and pain like vomit.  When the pages were all full, I closed the book and packed it away (even to this day I have not gone back to read it).

Now being emptied, the healing can begin.

(This is just part one of my story.  I plan to continue in the near future)

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Blind (Poem)

I wrote this poem (which I turned into a video-there’s just something about surrounding your written words with images and music that bring them to life) from a perspective of one who’s slowly losing her vision.

 

An Insecured Writer’s Rambles: Will My Writing Have Meaning?

 

*Note: Am participating in the #Write28Days (February) hosted by Anita Ojeda. Click here if you would like to participate.

 

Just celebrated a birthday last month. My 48th one. I’m finding it difficult to believe that I am almost the big 5-0 when most of the time my mind thinks I’m still in my 20’s.

Where on earth did the time go?

I can clearly remember my parents saying the same thing to me when they were in their 40’s.  The sad reality is, my father’s no longer with us. He passed away in 2014. He was only 67.

In my eyes, he was the true steward of God using his carpentry skills (he was so gifted with his hands especially in woodworking, crafting beautiful things) and his time for the church.  Those who knew my father always commented on how cheerful he was, all smiles and loved to whistle tunes from the 60’s as he worked.

Now, I’m looking at myself and wondering, what will people remember about me when I am gone from this earth? How have I used my talent/gift and time to reach others?

After a lifetime with disabilities (hearing and vision loss), I still struggle with my self-worth and whether my writing has any value (especially when most of what I write, both poetry and fiction, tend to be dark). It doesn’t help either when my husband and son think of my writing as just a “hobby” or “fantasy writing.”  And it also doesn’t help when my husband have discouraged me from ever publishing books since I am on disability benefits (there are other factors for his paranoia other than this one reason) when I have many, many stories and poetry within that I wish to share with the world.  So, I have resorted to having my short fiction and poetry published in non-paying zines a few times each year with the remaining items posted on this blog.

Is this me experiencing the dreaded “mid-life crisis?”  Is this me being vain as I worried if all that I’ve written will be lost forever once I am no longer here? How will people remember me? Just a woman who is so and so wife and mother?

I have been given this gift (writing) for a reason, and I don’t want to squander it.  So, no matter what, I will continue to write what’s on my heart and mind through whatever means I can find in the hope of reaching those who need reaching.

 

How Confident Are You (As A Writer)?

Pixabay

*Note: I’m participating in the #Write28Days (February) hosted by Anita Ojeda. Click here if you would like tp participate. 

 

So, really, how confident are you in yourself as a writer and in your writing abilities?

Personally, I can say without hesitation that I have very little confidence in myself as a writer, and many times this lack of confidence stops me from writing.

How sad is that?

What’s holding me back? What am I really afraid of?

Fear of failure? Of what others think about my stories and poems? Fear of success?

What???

The only answers that keep coming back to me are:

I need to write.  I need to tell my story-in my own way.  The price is too high NOT to write.

Again, what??? These tell me nothing about what I’m afraid of.

Then, another answer rings through my head:

My writing has to be perfect. If I can’t get it just right with the first try, why bother? I’ll never be good enough anyway.

Oh…yeah…this one cuts deep.  I keep going back to trying to be good at that one thing. It’s the search that never ends. It all goes back to my childhood when my (hearing) disability made me feel inferior to other normal kids (because they’d thought me strange because I spoke funny, or heard things incorrectly and they’d laugh at me, or called me “booby” when I acted clueless to what was going on around me, etc.). Or when I learned I was slowly losing my sight at the age of 21 just when I was beginning to get a feel of what I wanted for in a career, and this diagnosis shook my confidence, no, it destroyed it, and I gave up any and all aspirations.

On the other side, people who’ve known me for most if not all of my life would tell me how feisty I was when I was younger, how much harder I worked at something when the others believed I’d never be able to accomplish, and I’d do just that, how the guy who used to call me names found out one day he’d pushed me too far when I shove him against a wall with a hockey stick (he never bothered me again after that), and on and on.  My own mother said I was the strongest person she’d ever known, and how I was an inspiration to her.

Now, I look at the mirror and I can’t see that girl anymore.

Where did she go?

But, the real question is:

Will she ever return? Is it possible to become that girl again? 

I can’t help but  to feel so lost. How did I end up being this lost? But, is that necessarily a bad thing? A quote I read some time ago came back:

Sometimes the only way to ever find yourself is to get completely lost.” – Kellie Elmore

I feel there is truth to this quote. I also believe that the path to re-discovering myself will be through writing; and in writing, I believe I will regain my confidence.

 

 

The Night Is My Friend; The Darkness Is Not

 

*Note: Am participating in the #Write28Days (February) hosted by Anita Ojeda. Click here if you would like tp participate. 

 

While growing up, nighttime used to be my favorite time.

I remember playing tag-in-the-dark with friends during the Wednesday’s youth group. Or, sledding down the hills behind our house- never mind the fence of stones waiting near the bottom.  I remember camping in the pop-up out in our backyard-the full moon made it clear as the day.

There were nights when I used to sneak out of the house and wandered down the road, to the mighty rapids, and sat on the rocks, under the rays of the moon. The sound of the water roaring against the bedrock always reminded me that nature can be a great healer.

My imagination would come alive as soon as the sun set, and the stars revealed themselves through their shimmering glory.

But, at some point in my latter teenage years, a veil came over and hid all the beauty of the night. Without any warning, darkness crept in and I’d soon learned its name which forever changed my life.

It’s been a few decades now, and I still enjoy the night, but it’s no longer the same; not since the darkness invaded, and had grown considerably since.

I may be losing my sight, but I will always have the memories of my time spent in the night.  All I need to do is close my eyes, and I’m back in the outdoors gazing up at those countless beautiful stars.

#Write28Days: Strive

 

 

For the entire month of February, I will be participating in a daily blogging challenge called #Write28Days (click on it for more information).

 

Strive

 

According to Dictionary.com, strive is a verb (action) meaning “to exert oneself vigorously; try hard: to make strenuous efforts toward any goal: or, to struggle vigorously.”

I believe each one of us have spent at least some part of our lives striving for something. It may be a singular thing, or it may vary over the course of our lives.

For me, it was trying to find the one thing I could be really good at.

Diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss at the age of 5, I battled with feeling inferior to other “normal” kids. When ,at the age of 8, I discovered I could run faster than most kids (even those who were several years older), I latched on to it, and strove to become better at it.  Running became an integral part of my life for over seventeen years. I competed in college as well as after, and have placed (in the top 3) in a number of meets/races.

Then came the next challenge.

While still in college, I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (a disease where I was slowly going blind). Devastated, I gave up on any dream aspirations I had. I did finish college, but the degree was just a piece of paper. Nothing more. A few years after my diagnosis, I married only to be widowed less than two years later.  Broken. Severely depressed, I withdrew from the world and into one filled with darkness and loneliness (of my own choosing).   Through two special people, I learned to embrace another gift I’d discovered as a young girl but never truly took seriously, writing.

In the beginning, my writing sucked. I mean that sincerely. But, over time, through hard work, it did improve.

Poetry. Short and long fiction. I strove to find that niche I was destined for.

I’m still striving, still learning, still writing.

Since then I have remarried, and gave birth to a son who is nearly sixteen now. I have faced many other challenges as well but the same thing remained for me.

I’m still striving to be good at that one thing, and this keeps me going no matter what life throws at me.

The Birth Of a Writer: My Origin Story

 

*If you’re interested in joining the DIY MFA Book Club to take part in the weekly writing prompts, click here

 

My journey to becoming a writer began when I was about eleven years old. I was a girl, a loner, struggling with being an outsider due to my hearing disability and difficulties with  communication (I spoke funny and didn’t always hear what people said even though I wore hearing aids).  As a result, I spent a lot of time in imaginary worlds and with my imaginary friends. At times, however, this proved dangerous.

An example: A year or so earlier, I was in my basement where I had set up a line of chairs. I was pretending to be Wonder Woman, and wanted to see how far I could jump (or how many chairs I could clear). My imaginary friends kept edging me on, “More! More! Make it longer!” Of course, I didn’t want to look like a poor sport, I added a kiddie rocking chair at the end, and proceeded to jump.

Well, I didn’t make it. In fact, that rocking chair was my undoing as I landed on top of it, straddling it.

I think you get the idea.

I ended up in the ER that evening, and for the next two or three weeks, using the bathroom and stairs were challenging (not to mention, painful!) at best.

Let’s move forward to when I was about eleven years old. My best friend, Melanie (a feisty red-head who didn’t mind my weird lisp and pronunciations) challenged me and a few other classmates to see who could write the “scariest” story. So, I sat down and wrote about a girl who accepted a dare to enter a haunted house where she’d discovered a decapitated head in the fridge. I no longer remember if that girl managed to get out of the house so I’ll just leave it to my imagination. Anyway, what I can clearly remember was how they all reacted when they read my story.  One was totally grossed out by the details, others either squealed or shuttered. I’d loved every reaction.

I then realized that with writing, I could “act” out my imagination without harming myself (or anyone else!). But most of all, after writing that story I felt like I had found something I could be good at. Writing was something I could excel in and not be looked down on as “odd” or as the girl “who spoke funny.”

Writing also gave me that guilty pleasure of making people squirm.

 

Monday Memoir: The Loser

 

Those of us who have been in long-term relationships and/or marriages know well the ups and downs that occur.  Some are more challenging than others.  My marriage to Jay is no different.

Jay comes from a dysfunctional family.  His Dad, a Vietnam vet (served in the 101st Airborne) who came back a changed man, became an alcoholic and abuser of his Mom (of which he witnessed several times).  They divorced by the time he was six (his younger sister Marcy was a year old); but then became mired in vicious child snatching schemes (before it was ruled illegal) that went on for a few years.  His father remarried, and Jay and Marcy went to live with him in another state, and Jay wouldn’t see his mother again for many years.

Jay’s step-mother was a drug-addict (addicted to pain meds) who was physically abusive to his sister, and vindictive towards him (at times she tried to have him arrested for stealing his own stuff).  His half-brother, Walter, was born during this time.

By the time I first met him in college, his father and step-mother was in the midst of a nasty divorce.  He wanted to help and protect his little brother, Walter, but in the end would lose and never see the kid again for a number of years when the step-mother split with more than half of his father’s earnings.

Right from the start, Jay and I had a connection even though at that time I didn’t quite understand it.  He had a girlfriend, Heather and I was dating his best friend, Shaun.  But, he and I became close friends.  When Heather suddenly broadsided him with vicious lies when he refused to sleep with her, he became depressed and well, lost.  I tried to be there for him, but in the end, he left college at the close of our freshman year to join the Navy.

The year was 1990.

I returned for my Sophomore (and final) year at that college for the fall semester.  It was either late November or early December, Jay came to the campus to visit his friends.  He stopped at my dormitory and we visited for a few minutes.  He had on his Naval uniform under a dark gray long coat.  I can remember thinking how handsome he looked.  At this time, there were rumors circulating of a possible war in the Persian Gulf, and they were anticipating high casualty counts. Knowing this, Jay wanted to see as many people as he could before heading overseas.

I wouldn’t hear from him again for the next eight years.

The training he chose while in the Navy was in the Meteorology and Oceanography field, and he was placed on an aviation crew on board a battleship. Since he also had combat training (was in the Army Reserve prior), once he reached the Gulf, he was assigned to a Marine unit that headed to land (to participate in the land assault called Operation Desert Shield/Sabre) after a period of air assaults. To this day, Jay doesn’t talk in detail about what went on during these days.  All I know was that he was with the Marines on Highway 80 (aka Highway of Death), and was responsible for calling in airstrikes on the trapped Iraqis on that road.  I also know that he went with the Marines after the airstrikes on a reconnaissance mission, and saw first hand of the carnage he had a hand in creating.

He was only 19.  Still just a kid.

 

Not too long after the end of the Persian Gulf War, Jay was sent to a Naval base on the Philippine Islands. As “luck” would have it, he experienced the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. He and along with others participated in the search and rescue efforts, and then in the recovery.  From there he went on to Guam, and then to Alaska.

In Alaska he found solace in the rugged landscape of the Aleutian Islands where the base was once located.  Now fully entrenched in his military career as a Meteorologist for the aviation crews, he felt he’d found his true calling.

In October 1993, all that changed when his sister, Marcy (at 17 years of age) was involved in a serious single car accident where she sustained major brain injury, and was in a coma near death.  For this reason, he left behind his blossoming military career and went home to help his family and to be there for his sister.

Between 1995 and 1999, he came close several times to re-enlisting in the military (Navy and Army), but certain life events always interceded.

In June of 1999, we reunited, and then in September, we were married.

I encouraged him to return to the military; but he felt that I would not be happy living a military life. So, he decided against it.

Marcy survived, but has permanent brain damage, and must live in a group home setting.

I’ve always regretted not pushing him to go back to the military as he has never truly re-acclimated to the civilian life. He was also a different man than I knew when we were freshmen in college.

More serious. Cautious

It’s no wonder though given what he’s gone through.

Also given his family background, he was always considered by certain family members (as well as old high school and college mates) as the “loser” who would never amount to anything.

Instead of allowing this and all the past dark experiences break him, he fought back.

One of the things he did was to go back to the same college where we first met, and finished what he began in 1989.  He graduated with double degrees in Psychology and Therapeutic Recreation with a GPA over 3.0 in December 1998.

He worked in the Therapeutic Rec field the first years we were married, but being a relatively young field that no one took seriously, he decided to get out of it.  After working odd jobs for a few years, he went in to the Banking industry which he hated (Corporation ideology).  From there, he was a middle school teacher teaching all things Science which he absolutely enjoyed in the beginning.  Then everything became so bureaucratic where the teachers ended up spending more time working paper works than actual teaching, plus the salary went no where, so he opted to get out.

Jay tried working at a credit union for over one year before being laid off due to the recession.

Enough was enough, he said.  He decided to go back to college, and earned another double degree in Bio-pharmaceutical and Environmental Science Technology, and graduated with high honors in 2014.

This guy never ceased to amaze me.

Everything he tried, he’d master it, and then excel.  It doesn’t matter how much he struggled, he just never gave up.  He’d had this “prove them all wrong” mentality that blows me away.  I so admired his spirit, and tenacity, and secretly wished I could be the same way.

I mean, this guy basically came from nothing, and became a someone.

He’s my inspiration to never giving up on myself.  The reason why I decided to keep trying no matter what obstacle stands in my way.

So, here we are, living up in North Dakota, on a small farmstead in a rural community full of great people.  Jay now working in the USDA, but is getting ready to make a major move to an entirely new direction that excites the heck out of me, in a direction that pulls all his past life, work, college and military experiences together in to one package.

Life works in mysterious ways.  Never count yourself out.

 

 

 

#IWSG: The Ultimate Writing Goals

Click on the image to access this group’s official page

 

This month’s question: What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

 

Ultimately, like many other writers, I’d love to have a book published. But, fearing that I’d be penalized by Social Security (am on disability benefits for my progressive vision loss-called Usher Syndrome) I can’t earn very much so I’ve tabled that…for now.  In the meantime, I write poetry and short (as well as flash) fiction of which some are published in various zines.

Another one of my goals is to learn the playwriting craft, and attempt an one-act play.  I already have a title, just need to write it.  I then would love to see it performed through a local Council for the Arts performance group. Having moved to North Dakota back in 2015, I haven’t made too many friends yet; I figure what better way to get to know people in the community than through the local arts.

I don’t think my writing goals have changed much over the years (started writing seriously in 2007) since they usually involve being published in some capacity which I have done with several of my short works.

 

What about you?  What are some of your biggest goals that you would like to fulfill?

 

 

Monday Memoir: Letting Go…

I never thought I’d use my Physical Education degree, but I did. I enjoyed being a fitness trainer at the YMCA. I worked there for about a year, but it became increasingly difficult to maneuver around the equipments and exercising bodies as my peripheral vision decreased. The bouts with depression increased, and I began to call in sick.

The problem was I still refused to accept the fact that I was going blind, and my waning vision angered me. I was afraid to ask for help as this would mean I had to acknowledge the fact that I had a disability, and I didn’t want people to think me as a liability. I wanted to be an asset. Not a burden.

It grew more difficult to make ends meet, so in come a room-mate…my brother. At first, it was great; but, he had his own demons to battle. Being an adopted child, he’d always sought to be accepted. He’d always felt like an outsider, I believe. While he stayed with me, I noticed he hung around with several less than favorable individuals. When they started to hang around at our apartment, I got fed up and threw them out. I told my brother, no more. Soon after, he moved out and began to date an older lady from Louisiana.

A short time later, I received an unexpected call from someone I knew from college.

Jay and I met as freshmen in college; several years before I met and married my late husband. He had a girlfriend, and I dated his best friend. After our first year in college, he needed to leave the area for a while. He came from a very broken and dysfunctional family life, and felt the need to start a new one for himself. By this time, we’re both single. He enlisted in the Navy. After boot camp, he paid me a visit. It was a brief one as he was getting ready to go over seas to Kuwait to fight in the imminent war in the gulf there. He wanted to see me one more time as they were predicting that the rate of casualties were going to be high. I remember thinking how handsome he was in the military uniform.

He survived the first Gulf War. I saw him twice afterwards before we eventually lost contact with one another. I figured he’d gone on with his life, and I met and married my husband.

Eight years later, he was calling me to ask if he could come and see me. He’d found out that I was a widow, and wanted to check up on how I was doing. Sure, I replied. I’d loved to see him again.

Then, I started to think back to that day he paid me a visit before he headed overseas. Did he like me more than just a friend?

We reunited in a mall, and ate lunch at a local restaurant. That was in early June. I can’t explain it, but things just clicked between the two of us, and the next thing I knew we were dating, and then engaged. That September, we were married.

Before the wedding, he gave me a gift. A journal. A beautiful book full of blank pages. By this time, I hadn’t written in years. Somehow, he knew I needed this. I took the journal, and started to put words in it. The more I wrote, the better I felt. I poured out all the anger and resentment on to those pages. Writing in that journal became therapeutic as it began to sooth the pain and emptiness that I’ve held on for so long.

Writing enabled me to start letting them go.