It worries Mom that I wet the bed, but I tell myself it’s just that nobody hears me yelling to get up. Just after I get on the morning bus, I snap. Reality pushes its way into my mind and refused to go away. The make believe world, that I feel like I need to survive, is smashed in an instant. In five minutes, a lot of unwanted thoughts start whirling around in my brain like a hurricane.
By the time first period starts, everybody sees me fall apart. In an eerie, disconnected voice, I say"I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto." The whole class, except a few real friends roars laughing, thinking I’m clowning around. My good friend Carrie helps me back to home room. She must be freaked out. Normally, I’d be freaked out if somebody acted like I ‘m acting.
Until now, I’ve been so involved in school that my disability hasn’t been important.
My wheelchair’s been the only thing that somebody would even notice. Recognizing myself as disabled is destroying my life.
5 Around ten o’clock, Ms Bannan phones Mom. She says somebody should come and take me home, but doesn’t try to explain why. Daddy ‘s distraught when he comes to school and finds me in such an anxious state. Mom thinks I ‘m physically sick. She’s not prepared to find me acting, she says, ‘like somebody on a bad LSD trip.’
She keeps hounding me, asking if anybody slipped me anything. Each time she asks, I say, "No, I’m fine honest. Nobody slipped me anything!"
When I tell Mom I need to put a hat on to get rid of a headache, she says, "I’ll get you something to eat if that helps, but I’ve never heard of a hat helping a headache!"
At home, Dad tries to nap, but he finds no escape. I say, "Don’t let Daddy fall asleep! He’ll forget to breathe, and he’ll die!" In a little while, Mom puts me to bed. I’m glad Mr. G. was late this morning. I’ve liked Civics a lot, and German too. He’s one of my two favorite teachers this year, so I’m glad he didn’t have to watch me come unglued.
Everybody else knows something’s really wrong. But I’m so clueless, that to me, my off the wall behavior seems normal. What’ s the big deal?
Mom’s so distressed by my crazy comments, that she calls my orthopedic doctor, worried that the rods in my back might be causing pressure on my brain. He says this doesn’t seem likely, but agrees that if my behavior persists, it merits checking out. "I don’t think it’ll help, but I’ll give her some Valium, and see if it calms her down. If not call me back, and we’ll have her admitted to the hospital." he says. 6 She keeps me home for a week, to see if things will get better, before she calls him back. I’m so confused, that I don’t know what’s happening. The anxiety affects my consciousness the same way as the morphineshots I took after surgery.
Only a couple of things stick out in my mind. One is , the phone confrontation Mom has with school nurse, who verbally attacks her. "You don’t call a toe doctor for an appendectomy!"
"You have no right to speak to me like that!" Mom says. "You don’t know how much I care about my kids. She had major surgery two years ago, and I couldn’t be sure there was nothing wrong!" The other is a note from Mom:
You have Cerebral Palsy. Not a brain tumor, not schizophrenia, and not anything else. Why you question this, I don’t know. Dad and I have always told you the truth. Please calm down. You don’t want anybody to think there is anything more serious wrong with you.... I don’t remember anything else that week, let alone what else the note says.
At the end of the week, she sends me to school. She’ s still giving me Valium. It makes me slightly sleepy, but doesn’t help me calm down. Before going home on the bus, I’m told that my parents want me admitted. As much as I object, their decision is final!
All the way to the hospital I curse. I don’t want to go. Blood tests and x-rays don’t show anything that might be driving me nutty, so the doctor has me see a staff psychiatrist on Saturday morning.
7 He manages to make me feel comfortable enough to give him some useful information, even when I can’t communicate in a meaningful way with anybody in my daily life. While we talk, I tell him about losing my young friend to cancer.
I explain that I’ve been reading Death Be Not Proud. After seeing me only once, for about an hour, he infers that the book contributed to my focusing on my personal situation. He calls it Severe Juvenile Anxiety.
It almost makes me sick, but I don’t tell him about watching a nurse change a bandage that morning for a teenage girl who recently had a spinal fusion. It’s not so much seeing this that disturbs me, but what it makes me remember.
When Mom comes to see me at the hospital, she comments to the orthopedic doctor about the difficulty she has in dealing with what I ‘m going through.
She ‘s frustrated, and embarrassed at being asked to bring me clean underwear because I’ve wet on myself. By now, we ‘ve known him for a long time. He sympathetically says, ‘You give them life, and you give them wings.’
As sad as it is, I’m not ready to try my ‘wings. The only wings I want would take me to heaven, away from the depression that’s drowning me.
Leaving the hospital on Saturday, I ‘m still just as angry as I was on the way there. How could my parents have me admitted for an emotional problem? Don’t they care that everybody will think I’ve gone crazy? It doesn’t concern me at all that I’m acting crazy. I don’ t even think about that.
Mom and Dad get me some make-up before I come home, hoping it will help me feel like a young lady. But I’m so boiling mad about the hospital trip, that I smear it on my face like a preschooler. When I’m done screwing around, I look like a clown.
One night, Jeanne gets in bed with me. When I say something stupid like, ‘Remember to breathe,’ she says, ‘No, stop it! You’re scaring me to death!’
Back at school, Mr. Sharp speaks with Ms. Bannan, and they come up with a system for monitoring my behavior. I ‘m given index cards, which each of my teachers will initial at the end of a period, if I behave myself. My resentment shows when I make the decision to initial the index cards myself.
So, I get put in in- school suspension for three days, because I keep doing it every day. I’m placed in a small room next to Mr. Sharp’s office.
He growls at me all day, demanding, ‘Do you know what you’re in here for?’ When he asks, I’m defiant.
‘Bigamy!’ I say angrily.
Every time he asks, I say something just as inappropriate to confuse the issue. Even though I’m very disturbed, I ‘m aware of what I’ve done, but I don’t want to admit to it. "She wants everybody to think she’s crazy," he tells Mom, "but she uses big words like this. I have to turn my back on her, so she doesn’t see me laughing!"
One morning in utter exasperation, he says, "Girl, you’ve been used to everybody giving you a pat on the head, but you’re acting like you need a good whack on the behind!"
Rowe- Dark Days
9 After I’ve been there three whole days, I finally admit that I got put in suspension for forgery, and I decide to behave myself.
Since the index card system doesn’t work, Mr. Sharp makes periodic visits to my classes, usually when class lets out. When he walks in, I ignore him completely unless he
asks me something specific.
Even though the psychiatrist says I need to remain at school, no matter what, I get being sent home at first, because the staff at school can’t deal with me. After I get sent home the second time, Mom phones Mr. Sharp and explains that I shouldn’t be sent home. However bizarre my behavior, I have to be responsible.
A week after I’m out of the hospital, I go to visit some neighbors our family has been close friends with. When the lady brings me into her house, I see a red tone in her complexion I haven’t noticed before. I say,‘You look like mud!’
By the time I get home, the lady has phoned Mom, and when I come in, she asks, ‘What’s the matter with you?’
I know I have to say something. But I’m not sure I can face the truth. It’s so atrocious, I’ve been hiding from it for two weeks. So, I come up with more nonsense, to put it off as long as can.
Mom starts to dismiss me, saying, "I can’t listen to this anymore!" But I refuse to let her. I can feel the anxiety boiling over inside me. Her tone tells me I can’t stall anymore.
I explode. ‘I don’t care if I am going all the way around Lady O’Leary’s barnyard.
I’m going to take as long as I need to say this, and by God, you’ll listen, because if I don’t say it now, I may not have the courage to say it at all!’
Just before I say it, my mind acknowledges it.
"Oh my God, oh my God, the pretend’s gone, and I can’t get it back!"
I’ve tried to push the reality back into my subconscious where it’s always been. But it just won’t go.
Now, I sit terrified of what I have to say. I know I have to explain it in my own way. If I don’t, the deep emotional wound can’t start to heal. But can I ever find the guts? Right now, I don’t think so.
‘What are you talking about?’ Mom demands.
‘Whenever the other kids were doing something I couldn’t do, I pretended I was doing it with them. But I’ll never roller skate, or ride a bike, or climb a tree, or anything!’
How did I just say that? I’ll never know. It hurts damn much, I didn’t think I could force the words out. Deep inside, I know I can’t adjust to this by myself. I’m not just bawling. My cry is like a wounded animal. Mom holds me for about ten minutes. It doesn’t help.
‘Oh my God, child! No more pretending! You absolutely can’t play that game anymore! The last sane thing I say is, ‘Mom, I wish the pretend would come back, so everything could be like it was before.’
‘No, Sweetheart. You don’t want the pretend back. You have to face reality. You couldn’t pretend anymore if you wanted to, your mind won’t let you.’
11 This idea is much more threatening than I can handle right now. The brief return to sanity is as much as I can stand. When I get through bawling, I block everything out again. My eyes go blank, and I can’t let myself make sense.
A few minutes later, I poop on myself. I swear I don’t even feel it coming. "Jesus Christ, how could you do that? You’re fifteen years old!" In total frustration, she gives me a sharp whack on my bottom when she’s finished cleaning me up. OW!
She feels horribly guilty, and immediately phones the psychiatrist. He assures her that I’m still capable of exercising conscious control, but I have to be forced to do so. She did the right thing, as awful as she feels. Ignoring it would lead to more frequent accidents.
She can’t overlook this, but I can’t help wondering, How can she hit me? Doesn’t she understand how much I’m hurting? This is the cruelest thing in the world!
The bad thing about acknowledging what hurts is now I can’t hide from it anymore.
I’ll have to learn how to live with it. Until I figure out how, the only thing that protects me from the pain is blocking everything out. After she whacks me, I’m not aware of anything for hours.
She and Daddy have only spanked me a few times. Not hard enough to hurt. But Mom panics. She’s afraid I’ll go crazy. She starts spanking me hard about three times a week. The first time I get more than one hard whack I’m shocked!
. "Cry, scream, get angry, do anything, but don’t just sit there with that vacant stare!" she says. She and Glenn both say,’Don’t look at me!’ That’s a hard thing to hear.
Mainly, she whacks me on my butt. She only slaps my face once or twice when she’s really frightened. She’s read about people retreating to the point that they’re unreachable.
Mom can’t let that happen to me, even if she feels like a monster to be so harsh with me when I’m in such a helpless condition. As hard as she hits me, I don’t want to cry, but when I do cry, I feel better for a while.
Right now, this is the only way I can cry. It starts out sounding weaker than a mewing kitten, but once I start, it s hard to stop.
I say to Mom ‘I love you,’ in an emotionless voice. I’m hoping if I say it enough, it ‘ll start to feel normal and natural again. But Mom won’t even let me say it. ‘Bullshit, you love me! ‘I love you, let me make you miserable!’ Mom doesn’t care that I want to love her like I used to. She only knows I don’t show it lately.
At school, I keep my bodily functions mostly under control, except for the fact that I start to gag at lunch. My throat feels so tight that I can’t swallow. This is embarrassing enough, since it causes unkind comments. One of the other English teachers remarks to Mrs. C., "How can she claim it’s not deliberate when she does it every day!"
But after school and on weekends, I continue to have wetting accidents, and sometimes poop accidents. It takes all my self control to avoid this embarrassment at school. By the time I come home, I can’t control it any longer. There’s a small part of me that struggles to regain control, and return to a basically normal life. It’s this small part that feels the sting of every insult. No one seems to notice that I’m trying at all. It seems like nobody knows how much I’m hurting inside.
13 When Mom gets tired of me gagging at dinner, she says, "You chew, you swallow, you be a person!" That tiny part of my mind reacts, "I am a person! I’m your God damn daughter!"
Just because I ‘m struggling to hold myself together doesn’t make me subhuman.
With my teachers, I have to take any insults quietly, since I don’t want any more trouble with Mr. Sharp.
Mrs. C. is the most compassionate of all my teachers. When we’re still reading the book, she not only allows Mom to tutor me at home, but also gives me one on one instruction during her free periods. One afternoon, she tries to explain tunnel vision.
She sees that I’m confused, prints a group of letters on a sheet of scrap paper, and divides them with a set of parallel lines. "Which letters couldn’t Johnny see?" she asks. My comprehension’s really suffering. This should be self explanatory. Somehow even the extra visual aid doesn’t help. Even before I entered her honors class, I adored Mrs. C., but she’s so sympathetic to my current situation that I love her even more.
She finds me stories about handicapped adults, which might comfort me if I could focus on them. But her patience has its limits. My friend Betsy repeats a remark I make about wanting to be a candy striper. ‘I’m not interested in whatever stupid thing she said!" she snaps. It hurts worse than a slap. It isn’t possible for me to realize that she wouldn’t react this way normally. She’ s calling my behavior stupid, but I feel like she’s calling me stupid.
I’m so used to being insulted, I start to see myself as stupid, and worthless. My self esteem goes through the floor. There‘s a part of me that takes these things personally. I say to myself, Everybody should be angry with me, because I deserve it! I’d be better off not to think like this. But what’s even worse is being treated like I don’t exist.
The first half of the year, I did well in my General Math class, even though math is my most difficult subject. But now, math is the first subject to go down the drain. We’re studying graphing, but my depression’s so serious, I can barely concentrate. We’re supposed to connect the coordinates to form cute little cartoons. But I start doodling whatever thing pops in my head. I draw a caricature of Hitler.
Mr. J. has to recognize it, but he doesn’t say anything. All weekend, Mom insists that I redo it correctly, but every time she erases it, I put it right back. One morning, during class, I sit sucking my thumb for about ten minutes, not caring whether anybody notices. Mom says that to me, any attention seems better than none at all. This isn’t true. I sure didn’t like in school suspension.
My Physics teacher was thrilled with me when school started, but when she sees Mom in the hall, she rudely says, ‘Mental illness is a fact of life!’ Mom says this woman ought to know. By April, I get a note from this instructor, who supervises the National Junior Honor Society. The note says if I don’t bring my grades back up to at least a 3.0 average by the end of the year, my membership will be revoked. It makes me sick inside, but there’s nothing I can do. Most days I go to class with my heart pounding in my chest like a jackhammer. Nothing helps the anxiety.
Rowe- Dark Days
15 One weekend, I’m so sick, I slide downstairs dropping little rabbit poops. My throat burns, and so does my stomach. Mom keeps me home for a couple days. Then, I have to go back to school, but I wish I could go some place else, that might actually help me. Focusing on anything’s almost impossible. Before I got depressed, my grades were somewhere between 3.2 and 3.6. Now the best I can do is a .9 .
Just before school’ s out, Mom’s disgust reaches its high point. ‘Jesus Christ, haven’t you ever had a happy birthday, or a Merry Christmas! Can’t you snap yourself out of this and enjoy the summer?’
‘It’s going to be a long summer!"I snap. It ‘s hard enough to be so depressed without having everybody pushing and shoving at me to snap out of it. Everybody seems convinced that I enjoy feeling down. The truth is I can’t stand it, but I feel powerless.
‘It’s nice that you’ve made that decision!’ Her tone’s as angry as mine. After six months, Mom’s reaching the end of her rope. All she wants is for me to be happier. I can’t blame her, but she’s causing me extra stress.
‘Why don’t you leave me alone. I’ve begged you to leave me alone, and you won’t! I wish you would die!’ I can’t believe my own words. It’s the depression talking, not me. The me everybody cares about is stuck at the bottom of a deep, dark pit, with no way to crawl out.
Counseling isn’t helping. It just makes me more nervous. I can’t talk about my feelings. The counselor thinks stupid stuff like making toast will help. But it doesn’t. I’m way too depressed for that. Even as emotionally sick as I am, I want things to get better. I talk Mom and Dad into doing things we normally do in the summer. I hope with all my heart that weekend trips to Port Clinton, or a trip to Grandma’s house will help my mood. Nothing helps.
Every time we get ready to take a trip, I try to back out, thinking it won’t do me any good. When we we’re ready to leave for Grandma’s house I say,"I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to go! Tell her anything! Tell her I died! Everything inside is dead anyway. I don’t want her to see me like this!"
Coming back from Grandma’s house, I pray, ‘God, I’ll go through this for as long as it takes, if I’m ever going to be alright again. But if I’m never going to have room in my heart to love, or laugh, or care about anybody any more, please just let me die. I don’t want to live like this!’ I pray this prayer over and over.
It’s not possible to pray with all my heart that the depression will go away. I would need complete faith that He will make it better. If it won’t get better, I ‘ve suffered enough. My anxiety ‘s so bad that my hands and feet are as cold as a corpse. It’s useless for Mom to put me in the shower, because twenty minutes later, I’m soaked with sweat.
All summer, Mom sits in the rocker, praying and crying. This makes Daddy mad. He often says, ‘Congratulations, you’ve got your mother all upset again!’
17 Glenn almost never cries, but one day I hear him sobbing, and blowing his nose, like he’s at my funeral. I’m not a mean person, but like I tell Daddy, I’m hurting so much myself, I don’t care. He says, ‘I wish I could take some of that pain.’ I appreciate this, but I wonder why nobody’s trying harder to help me. If something was making me puke all over the place, or I was bleeding like crazy, somebody’d want to find out why, and make it stop. But because it’s an emotional problem, I’m supposed to get better by myself.
The things I hate most are the endless nights with next to no sleep, the times I’m in shock, where I’m only aware of about twenty or thirty percent of what’ s going on around me, and the deep open sores I keep nervously scratching in my scalp. I begin writing little notes: ‘Mom, please get me out of here, [lock me up] you have three other children.’
Mom’s distressed by this. I want relief from my guilt. I can’t understand that she still cares about me even though I ‘m very depressed. She enters my room every morning, and asks hopefully, ‘Are you feeling any better?’ I try telling her what she wants to hear. But it’s no use. I’m no better.
One day, she leaves Snoopy on the floor in my room. She must think it’s better for me to have a soft toy to beat on instead of pounding on my legs. I’ve been bruising myself. I beat on Snoopy like a pinata. In a few minutes, Snoopy’s ’bleeding’ little white pellets all over the place. He takes a trip to the garbage.When I lose my temper, I repeatedly flip the large console television upside down, and take all the clothes in the closet from their hangers. Jeanne’s tired of having the room a mess. Mom moves her out of the room.
18More than once, I scald myself in the tub. Mom thinks it’s a conscious act. Like when some kids cut themselves. I know it isn’t conscious. I hate pain.
This doesn’t keep me from seriously considering suicide. I make weak attempts to end it all. If I could find a painless way out, I’d take it. Hanging onto the ladder in the deep end of the backyard pool, I blow bubbles until my lungs almost deflate. Something keeps me from doing it, because every time I start to gasp for breath, I scramble for the surface in a panic. Still, I think this is the only.way to get relief from a ton of miserable emotions
Family friends have different reactions to hearing me talk about suicide. Auntie Mac is as close as she can be, without being my grandmother. She’s never been cross with me. But her hurt comes out as anger. She says, ‘How can you think like that? Stop talking nonsense and eat your eggs!’ She tells Mom what grandpa said a few years ago. ‘She seems happy enough now, but she might not be so happy in a few years.’
Auntie Helen is just sad. ‘Oh, doll, you can’t think like that. You have so much to live for!’ I know she’s hurt, even though I’m hurting inside myself.
By late October, things are slowly getting better, but I’m still very depressed. One morning, I hear Mom say to Daddy, ‘Oh Roger, we have to do something. I don’t want to put her in an institution.’ I wonder if I’ve finally pushed Mom over the edge. I’m relieved when Daddy says, ‘No, the hell with that!’ Maybe I’ll finally get the kind of help I need. I don’t know how. Nothing’s helped too much so far. I’ll have to wait and see what happens next.