Who’s The Bully?

This gem of a clip from Carol Burnett poses some deep questions and ethical dilemmas.

See if you can catch the 5 techniques of psychological abuse demonstrated in the skitūüėĄ

Lives Matter…Even If Not Black

I read all kinds of news sources.  Lots and lots!  All news outlets have agendas, so if I’m going to get a really “fair and balanced” picture, I’d better see what the various sides are saying.

I came across this little nugget of uncomfortableness tonight, and thought I’d share it with you. 

Thoughts?

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/08/03/student-facing-50-day-suspension-for-saying-all-lives-matter.html

Your Writing Sucks!

It glared at me, scrawled in blood-red pencil, across the title page of my Master’s Thesis proposal.

My first impulse was to tear the damn thing up and stuff it in the nearest dumpster.  My writing sucked!  My thesis advisor, who was also the department chair, had written it large and red!

But then, it made no sense.¬† None of my previous writings in the six years I’d already been his graduate advisee had sucked.¬† Or if they had, he hadn’t said as much….

So I hightailed it, still bawling, to my favorite committee member’s office.¬† Thank goodness, she was in!¬† I dropped the hated document on her desk, hid my face in my hands, and bawled some more.

She flipped through the pages of my manuscript, exclamations of disbelief alternating with heavy sighs as she read the many other profanity-laden comments that I thankfully had not taken the time to read.

“This is serious.¬† Really serious.¬† Do you mind if I call on your other committee member?¬† Right now?¬† We need to have an emergency meeting.¬† This could ruin your career.”

I nodded dumbly.¬† Black spots danced before my eyes.¬† My head sank down on the professor’s desk.

A glass of water appeared in my hand, and I forced myself to drink it.  The spots cleared, and I heard the anxious voices of the two professors out in the hall, discussing the case and what to do about it.

They entered the room, tight-lipped and furious.

J. lead off.

“Laura, this is inexcusable.¬† In fact, it’s criminal.¬† But before we go off half-cocked, I need to fill you in on some background that the department has kept under very close wraps until now.¬† Promise me that not one word of what I am about to tell you will go beyond the walls of this room.”

I promised.

J. drew a deep breath and began.

“C., the chairman, is a very ill alcoholic.¬† He’s handled it well until recently.¬† For some reason, lately it seems it’s taken him over. ¬†Now his wife’s left him.¬† And the department has given him notice.¬† He’ll be out at the end of this semester.¬† They’ve done him the kindness of offering him early retirement.

“This,” she said ruefully, picking up my defaced paper and passing it to A., who had not yet seen the thing, “is the product of his illness.¬† He was no doubt roaring drunk when he did it, and if you showed it to him now he’d be mortified…or not,” she mused, as an afterthought.

An hour later I left her office burning with rage, fantasizing about what I could do to C. if I were to take the matter to the Administration.¬† But I knew I wouldn’t.¬† He was sick, he was injured, he was to be gone and out of my life not at the end of the semester, but NOW.

In J’s office I learned that she herself was to replace C as department chair, and she offered to be my committee chair as well.¬† I jumped at the opportunity.¬† J was a brilliant scholar, an exacting mentor, but fair and kind.¬† She would see to it that C and I would not cross paths again.¬† I wept again–this time, for gratitude.

My thesis made its way through many a revision, guided by my new committee.  A new third member was added, in the person of someone whose work I idolized.  I could not have been happier, except that when copies of my final draft arrived back in my inbox, my writing idol had written, in blood-red pencil, in neat letters across the top of the title page:

I want to write like you write.

Story Construct Dialog Mind

Yesterday I went to my mother’s–formerly my parents’, but since my father’s death she has erased every trace of him, except the works of art that she either likes or keeps for their value, I don’t know which–to take a shower. ¬†I avoid going there now, if she is at home. ¬†There is always some kind of unpleasantness, because she resents the fact that I avoid her.

On Thursday she had forwarded me an email from a former student of my father’s. ¬†It turns out that unbeknownst to me, the professional organization of ceramic artists of which he was a founding member had, at their annual meeting not long ago, given a touching memorial presentation dedicated to my father’s life.

The email contained a series of photos of the memorial, with a transcript of the speech.

I was flabbergasted that I had not been invited.  I would have turned myself into a pretzel to get there.

So I asked my mother why we had not been invited.

“Your memory! ¬†Your memory is so terrible!” she shouted. ¬†This has become a refrain that I hear every time she forgets to tell me something. ¬†“My memory.” ¬†Always “My memory.”

I confronted her. ¬†I told her she was gaslighting me, trying to pass off anything she hadn’t told me as “my memory,” so that hopefully (her hope) I would believe that it was in fact “my memory,” that I am “losing it,” that the only truth is her truth and that I am a helpless, powerless imbecile with a bad memory.

I suggested that perhaps this was her story about me, and it might not be entirely accurate.  This sent her off on a tirade about how she and my father had always given me everything, etc.;  which somehow did not seem to be connected with my memory, but with a memory of her own.  And I know which one.

So I asked her why she thought I had left home at the age of 16.

My purpose was not to drag out old arguments, but to engage in meaningful dialogue which might lead to a discussion of how memory works, and how we sometimes make constructs out of our memories, especially painful ones, or ones we’d rather forget.

“Because we wouldn’t let you smoke pot in your room! ¬†And every time I took you to buy clothes and nothing fit (because I was a bit chubby at puberty), you wouldn’t get anything until you lost weight!”

I don’t know what my weight had to do with my running away, since she never noticed I had become anorexic as a result of her calling me “Fat Ass” and teasing me about needing a girdle, but that is another story. ¬†And the pot–frankly, mother, I didn’t give a damn whether she did or did not approve, although I dreaded my father’s lectures on the inevitable downfall of the Pothead. ¬†As for her explosions of expletives, they were just more of the same.

Stories.

We all have stories, especially those crafted by memories of childhood events: “I was up in the tree and this boy pushed me out and I broke my arm.” ¬†So every time this boy’s memory comes up, so does the story about the episode of the tree. ¬†That is a normal story, filed away in our mind, solid in our neural net.

And then there are constructs, where memories trigger not only a picture of what happened, but also a fixed theory of why they happened.  These are often accompanied by some sort of positive or negative judgement:

“Oh, So-And-So. ¬†She was an out-of-control drunk. ¬†She used to get pissing drunk and slash her husband’s paintings with a knife. ¬†That’s why he left her, you know.”

I know that if I mention So-And-So, or her husband, or even their children, I will get exactly the very same barrage quoted above, verbatim, as if from a factory package, from episode to episode.

Likewise if I try to engage in dialogue about events of my childhood, I am shouted down by her yelling me her constructs.  If I ask permission to add my own perception, my childhood neural memory snapshot of what happened, I am scolded that that is intrinsically not true.  Only her construct is true, and my story has no truth in it, and is of no value.  It is only made up in defiance of authority.

She often asks me why I never tell her anything. ¬†So this time I venture out on a limb and say, “If you want to know why I never tell you anything, this is why.”

“Why? ¬†Because I’m telling you the truth and you don’t want to hear it?” She challenges, in a childish “nah-nah-na-boo-boo” voice.

“Because,” I try to keep my voice even and fail, end up shouting, “Because every time I try to share something with you it gets thrown right back in my face.” ¬†I didn’t start crying.

“That is not true,” she counters, icy voice.

“It is true. ¬†Next time it happens I will point it out.” ¬†Psychology 101.

“You just do that!” ¬†Conversation over. ¬†If you can call that a conversation.

I change the subject.  She is angry about that.  Fuck her.

I engage her in a project that needs doing. ¬†It takes up several hours. ¬†Then, at last, I spend a blissful half hour in the shower, grateful for the new water well–previously it was spring water and one had to take 5 minute showers–and the on-demand hot water heater.

Refreshed and not caring, I descended the spiral staircase into the lower living space.  She was waiting for me.

“You know,” she said sheepishly, “the reason I didn’t tell you about the memorial is that the organization expected us to pay our own way, including the $500, $600 admission fee.”

“Oh,” I said, ignoring the fact that my memory had just been restored, “That’s horrible! ¬†What nerve! ¬†I can’t believe they would do such a thing!”

As I gathered my things and exited, she looked at me wistfully and said, “Good Shabbos.” ¬†It was Friday night. ¬†When Dad was alive, I always made them dinner on Friday nights. ¬†I tried to do it a couple of times with just my mother, but found it too awkward, since there was nothing to say. ¬†So I stopped.

“Oh,” I lied. ¬†“I thought it was Thursday. ¬†Guess I lost a day. ¬†Good Shabbos to you!”

I got in my car and drove back to my little house on wheels, tears burning my vision.

Expectations

I don’t know why, but tonight I’ve been thinking about the idea of “expectations.” ¬†I have never been good at “expecting” things. ¬†Maybe that’s because I’ve never had much permanency in my life. ¬†We moved a lot when I was a child, so I never got to develop solid friendships. Every time we moved and I started a new school, I’d get to be the “new kid” and get “picked on” constantly, which today’s parlance would call “bullied.”

Just about the time I was starting to get at least a lukewarm reception from the other weird kids, we’d pick up and move again. ¬†As I got old enough to understand such things, I was informed why we needed to move (again), but before I reached the age of reason, it was just: out come the boxes, in go the belongings, and off to some other dwelling, echoing, empty and in need of paint and curtains–sometimes in need of a whole lot more.

It almost became a hobby, moving into a new house and fixing it up nice. ¬†I wasn’t aware that most families did not move every two years, plus or minus.

There were other differences that were more important to me. ¬† Sometimes I would go to some kid’s house and it would be lunch or dinner time, and they would invite me, and the mother would call my mother on the black dial phone so heavy you could kill somebody with it, and I would get to stay.

When it came down to the actual food, it got a little tricky, because I had never seen Chef Boy-Ar-dee** canned spaghetti, or Spaghetti-Os that they served to the children while the parents ate steak, and nobody seemed to mind. ¬†Or Ore-Ida instant mashed potatoes with brown gravy made from an envelope. Or Rice-a-Roni, “the San Francisco treat.” ¬†It just did not look, smell, or taste like food to me. ¬†I couldn’t eat the stuff, and the mothers would get frantic or angry, depending. ¬†But I had never eaten anything out of a can or a box, so it seemed alien to me.

We couldn’t afford such luxury food even if we had wanted to. ¬†We grew a big garden instead. ¬†In the late summer, my mom and I would start canning Kentucky Wonder pole beans, squash, and tomatoes. ¬†We finished up canning season¬†in the fall with home-made apple sauce. Every time I invited another kid to stay to dinner with us, they refused to eat my mother’s home-made spaghetti sauce with fresh veggies out of the garden. ¬†They didn’t think our food was food, and I didn’t think our food was food.

These children, whose parents fed them Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, had real beds with headboards and bed skirts. ¬†My bed was a door–without the handle–on a metal frame with casters, topped with a four inch thick piece of foam rubber. ¬†If you sat on it in the wrong place it would tip over and buck you right off.

They had dining room sets encased in plastic, living room sets encased in plastic, and gigantic color televisions. ¬†We had a trestle table with a bench on each side, like a picnic table only my dad made ours out of some nice kind of wood, and it came apart and folded up, to move. ¬†Our couch was another door-and-foam combo, with a blue slip-cover made by my grandpa, who had been an upholsterer in his prime.. ¬†We had a “bat chair” saved from the Beatnik days, that folded up, and a few other old and trusted pieces of furniture from various eras in the moving days. ¬†When we finally got a TV after Kennedy died it was one of those little portable ones that you could actually put on the kitchen table to watch while you ate. ¬†Bad habit, I know.

I never knew we were poor. ¬†Since I never really liked other kids that much, I only rarely went to somebody else’s home; and since all I knew was utter simplicity and impermanence, the houses of what I came to think of as “rich kids” (although they were probably regular middle class kids) seemed opulent and even overdone. ¬†I liked their big TVs and swing sets in the back yard, but I was relieved when I got back to my simple homespun surroundings, where I felt comfortable. ¬†It was as if every time we moved, the physical dwelling changed, but the interior with the beatnik furniture and all the art and paintings on the walls, remained the same as though they had been picked up as a unit and dropped into the new house, all intact.

This normalization of impermanence may be why when someone asks me “Is this what you expected it to be?” referring to an experience, not an object–I have to honestly answer, “I can’t tell you, because I don’t expect anything.”

My Buddhist friends applaud my expectation deficiency. ¬†According to them, it is something one must strive to accomplish. ¬†I can’t take any credit for mine, since I didn’t do anything on purpose to achieve this state. ¬†I think it is sad, to grow up in a way that is devoid of reasons to expect anything. ¬†But since I was never aware that I was missing anything, and the only constant in my life was change, I simply never grew the “expectation organ.”

N.B. For those of you who grew up with Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Spaghetti-Os, Ore-Idas, furniture covered with plastic, large color TVs, and/or swing sets, I beg you not to take offense. ¬†It is simply that since I didn’t, they seemed strange–just as our house and food would have seemed strange to you!

Riding For My Life, Part Two: Hello, Ana

That fall Caroline’s big sister went off to college. ¬†Caroline had to confine her voyeurism to her mating parakeets. ¬†The big Thoroughbred went to a new home, and I was horseless all that winter.

The name-calling and mocking continued unabated at home, and since I really was a bit pudgy, the kids at school were relentless. ¬†Twiggy made a splash as Model of the Year: “Thin was In.” ¬†I stumbled through that school year by immersing myself in Latin. ¬†I took a bullying beating for that one too (“Egghead, Dork, Brain), but I didn’t care because I knew they were just jealous.

By the time school got out that summer between Junior High and High School, I resolved that things were going to change.  I would not enter High School pudgy.  I would be Thin.  Very Thin.  I hatched a plan.  Half a piece of toast with butter, sugar, and cinnamon for breakfast, with black coffee; a blob of peanut butter for lunch; and as little for dinner as I could get away with.  The latter turned out to be easy, since my mother approved of my efforts to lose weight.

Since I had lost “my” horse, I looked to the nearest horse-source: the riding stable in the center of town. ¬†It was around five miles from our house. ¬†I mounted my Schwinn three-speed and pumped my way mostly uphill to the stable, marched in, and announced to the owner that I would be willing to clean stalls and tack in exchange for an hour of riding a day. ¬†He almost fell over backward with joy.

I started that very day, mucking out stalls, tossing the manure and soiled bedding into a wheel barrow and toting it to the manure pile out back.  It was back-breaking labor, but I counted the seconds until I had finished and would get my first ride.

The owner looked at my sneakers and clucked his disapproval. ¬†I flushed, knowing that sneakers were not only inappropriate, but forbidden, because one’s foot could slide through the stirrup and get caught, leading to a bad accident. ¬†He pointed me to a pile of cast-off riding togs left by disaffected (and wealthy) pupils. ¬†I found a pair of tall boots only two sizes too big, and a pair of baggy English britches to go with them.

He nodded his approval and pointed to a ragged-looking, skinny nag. ¬†I eagerly took up a rubber curry, brushes and mane comb, and soon had him looking as presentable as he was going to get. ¬†I tacked him up with saddle and bridle, led him out into the arena, and clambered onto his back via the mounting block. ¬†The owner watched as I steered him around the arena, demonstrating my expertise at posting to the trot. ¬†The poor old horse could barely manage a canter, so I didn’t press him. ¬†My hour passed before I knew it, and I led my mount heaving and steaming into the barn. ¬†His name, I found out, was Kelso, named after the great race horse. ¬†I wondered if that was someone’s idea of a bad joke.

Kelso and I became best friends that summer.  I was soon allowed out of the arena with him, and we wandered the wide network of trails that sprawled behind the stable.  With care and patience, Kelso soon filled out, and became sleek and fast.

As Kelso was filling out, I was, to my great satisfaction, shrinking rapidly.  I learned to recognize the dizziness of hypoglycemia as a welcome sign of becoming thinner.  I abandoned the noontime peanut butter in favor of spending more time working and riding.  My English riding britches started falling off me, and I had to dig through the cast-off pile for a smaller pair.

I noticed that as a thin person, my mother’s rants meant less to me. ¬†They lost their sting. ¬†I was Thin. ¬†I was In. ¬†I forged ahead with my campaign, determined to get as willowy as possible. ¬†What was possible, I didn’t know. ¬†I only knew that for the first time in my life, I felt in control of Something. ¬†And that Something was Me. ¬†My life.

In the meantime, the owner of the stable got a trailer load of horses in from Out West. ¬†“Green-broke,” he called them. ¬†As I later discovered, “green-broke” meant that someone had been on their back before. ¬†It did not mean that someone had stayed on their back.

He called me over and pointed out a fine-looking gelding, about fifteen hands high (a “hand” is four inches).

“Think you can ride him?” he asked casually.

“Of course!” I snorted. ¬†What a foolish question.

“Tack him up, then, and take him out in the arena.”

He was a little skittish in the cross-ties, and shied violently when I tightened the girth. ¬†He clamped his teeth firmly when I went to put the bit in his mouth, and bit me good when I used the horseman’s trick of sliding my thumb into the space behind his teeth (called the “bars”) to make him open his mouth. ¬†That just made me more determined, and we had one hell of a fight, until I had saddle and bridle both properly on, and lead him out into the arena.

He wouldn’t stand next to the mounting block, so I pulled him up to the fence. ¬†No sooner had I got one foot into the stirrup and the other off the ground, preparing to swing into the saddle, when he commenced bucking.

Well, there wasn’t any choice at that point but to swing my leg over anyway and try to get as much purchase in the saddle as I could, given the commotion that was going on underneath me. ¬†I managed to catch the other stirrup on the fly, and remembering my riding master’s chant, “Keep your heels down, keep your heels down,” I kept my heels down and stood up in the stirrups, hanging on to a piece of mane, until my wild one wore himself out and stood heaving and snorting beneath me.

“That’s a good boy,” I said, trying hard not to shake. ¬†I turned his head and walked him gently around the ring counterclockwise, then turned him toward the fence and rode him clockwise. ¬†Then I urged him into a trot, but when I began to post he stood straight up in the air, teetering.

By the dictate of what instinct I know not, I stood up in the stirrups, keeping my heels down, and sprung off backward, keeping hold of the reins.  The horse crashed down on his back and I let go and jumped out of the way.  He thrashed in the dust of the ring and struggled to his feet panting, his eyes showing white with fear.

I walked up to him, talking to him gently, and took the reins.  The English saddle on his back was smashed.

I led him around the ring until both of our jitters calmed down a bit, then turned and headed for the barn.

The owner was standing there grinning.  I was petrified: a good saddle smashed, a horse nearly killed.  For myself, I thought nothing.

“Well,” he said around his cigar, “You’re a good little rider, aren’t you?”

It’s Not Easy Being Brilliant

Last night I had the strangest dream. ¬†I was walking down alleys in some foreign country–it might have been Morocco, judging from what I saw in store windows. ¬†I have never been to Morocco, but I went to the Moroccan restaurant in Disney World and had some fantastic food. ¬†And a store that I frequent in Jerusalem, Rika’s, carries Moroccan stuff, everything from clothing to solid brass mortar and pestle sets, which I regret not getting when I moved to the States. ¬†Never mind, I’ll get one when I move back ūüôā

Anyway. ¬†Back to the dream. ¬†I was consumed by anxiety because I was supposed to meet with someone at a restaurant somewhere around there, and I couldn’t find it and my cell phone had turned into a wristwatch, courtesy of Dick Tracy I’m sure. ¬†So I had no way to locate the place, or to tell the people I was going to meet with that I would be late.

In my growing state of panic, I turned out of the narrow lanes and found myself in a cityscape not unlike the South Side of Chicago, which is where I did my undergraduate work.  Dreams, right?  I decided to just let my intuition guide me, since I had no other guidance, and found myself in an underground mall full of fast food joints and cheap clothing stores.  I wandered through the passages in the mall until I found the restaurant: a shiny, upscale place full of chrome and stainless steel, very unlike the people I was going to meet.

And those people were: ¬†my ex-husband, his wife, and my ex’s sister’s husband. ¬†I joined them and apologized for being late, but they were very understanding. ¬†We got right to the reason for the meeting, which was: ¬†my ex was having a breakdown because of the guilt he suddenly felt for how he believed he had treated our son when our son was little. ¬†I was shocked, because although they didn’t have a lot of contact for a few years, I didn’t think he had done anything more than most parents do in the way of mistakes, and he had already been forgiven for those. ¬†But there he was, crying and begging me for forgiveness. ¬†I didn’t know how to feel. ¬†Ah, dreams.

In a few days we will celebrate our son’s 28th birthday. ¬†In the Hebrew system of numerology, 28 is the number for “strength.” ¬†I bless our son to have lots of strength, for now and for many, many healthy years to come.

He was not an easy child to raise. ¬†The brilliant ones never are. ¬†He always wanted more, and better, and faster; but at the same time he would get overloaded and have classic melt-downs, needing to be bear-hugged until he calmed down enough to go to his room and totally wreck it. ¬†And he wasn’t so good with children his age. ¬†In kindergarten he absolutely refused to participate. ¬†I went to the child psychologist he had been seeing since age three, and together with the teachers we worked out a behavioral contract: for each five minutes that he cooperated and participated in class, he got to do whatever he wanted for fifteen minutes. ¬†At first that was reading to himself in a loft they had in the room (he had taught himself to read when he was three). ¬†Then he discovered the laminating machine in the office, and fell in love. ¬†All of his out-of-class time was spent laminating things for the teachers and staff. ¬†I joked that they should have paid him.

First grade was a wash-out. ¬†It was a lovely Quaker school, and each morning the children had a meeting to cooperatively decide what they would learn today. ¬†No dice: my son staunchly refused to participate, and stationed himself in a corner like a wooden Indian. ¬†But somehow managed to get perfect grades on the tests. ¬†Countless phone calls from the sweet young teacher later, I said to him, why don’t you just give him a job? ¬†How about giving him a tape recorder and making him the class documentarian? ¬†It worked. ¬†He followed the class everywhere with his tape recorder. ¬†That was his role.

Second grade was better because the new school had a pull-out Gifted Student program, and not only did he get one-on-one instruction, but he had peers with whom he could interact, that were on his wavelength.  They did stuff outside of school together too, like observing our goats having babies and speculating about how the babies got in there.  Then they observed our stallion in action, and that answered that question.

But then there was the constant bullying, because my son was weird. ¬†Time after time he’d come home crying with a new bruise he’d acquired on the playground or the bus. ¬†Countless phone calls to and meetings with the school principal bore no fruit, as they insisted that the incidents had to be witnessed by an adult, and of course the bullies were smarter than that.

So one day when we were at wit’s end, I said to him, look, the next time someone hits you, you hit ’em back! ¬†And indeed the next day some kid whacked him upside the head while standing in line to get off the school bus, and my son turned around and decked the little bastard. ¬†Oh, didn’t that precipitate an uproar! ¬†The kid’s parents called the principal and threatened to call the police (on a seven-year-old?), and my son was suspended for two days. ¬†But the bullying stopped. ¬†That time, anyway.

After a few years of relative peace, we moved to another state, and there the bullying started anew, and my son stopped doing school. ¬†He went, yes, but once again he stopped participating. ¬† There was a dominant religion there, and the boys used to follow my son around yelling “You’re Jewish and you’re going to hell!” ¬†One day my son turned around and said, “Fine, at least you won’t be there.” ¬†Suspended again, two days.

Things progressed from bad to worse. ¬†He was in seventh grade; I took him for educational testing and he turned out to be working at college sophomore level in reading, and college freshman level in math. ¬†No wonder he wasn’t interested in seventh grade.

But he began to have behavioral issues similar to what he had had as a three year old: tantrums, but now with a simmering anger that frightened me, as he was literally twice my size.  His alternating angry outbursts and silent gloominess had me worried about depression.  We have a long family tradition of depression, and he certainly had both situational and genetic reasons to be depressed.

So I took him to a psychiatrist. ¬†He would not say a word. ¬†The psychiatrist recommended a psychologist, but the same thing happened: ¬†arms crossed, staring at floor. ¬†After five iterations of this, I gave up. ¬†But then I found the suicidal note that “just happened” to slip out of his notebook. ¬†Terrified, I got him into the car by means of screaming threats of calling the ambulance, and drove him to the emergency room, where I showed the note to the doctor and they sent for the psychiatrist on call, who read the letter and asked him if he felt suicidal now. ¬†He shook his head. ¬†Question repeated, response repeated. ¬†Recommend follow-up with regular doctor in the morning.

Please, I pleaded, please just admit him for a 24 hour observation.  This note is really serious.  (As a pediatrician myself, I was trained that there are two kinds of suicide threats:  serious, and more serious.  And this one was more serious, because it specified a plan.)  They sent him home.

Then, it seemed moments later now, the Columbine school shooting happened.  Panic shot through every school in the country.  Some went on lockdown, some installed metal detectors.  Many started conducting regular routine locker searches.  Our school was one of those.

When they searched my son’s locker, they found it stuffed with papers. ¬†Most of them were his homework papers that he never turned in: all done perfectly. ¬†Some of the papers were more concerning: images of guns and missiles and ominous, dark poems about death and mayhem. ¬†They called me in, showed me all the stuff, and threw him out.

It was at this point that I sent him to a wilderness therapy program, one that he couldn’t get out of until he started seriously dealing with his “shit.” ¬†That is a whole ‘nother story, but it was the first of many outpatient and residential treatment programs. ¬†He got into drugs, much more seriously than I had any idea of, as he told me later. ¬†At the age of sixteen he had failed many programs and torn up the family, and his step-mother–I had sent him to live with his father because I couldn’t handle him anymore and thought that being with his dad might help–threw him out. ¬†He went to live with a bunch of gangsters and sold drugs until they thew him out, and then he crashed where he could and ate cold pizza out of the dumpsters. ¬†Somehow we got him into an adolescent psychiatric hospital, and they drugged him into a stupor, and there he lay on couches listlessly watching TV, until some kid started bullying him and he picked the kid up and threw him into a refrigerator, and they threw him out. ¬†So he went to live in a homeless shelter, back to dealing drugs.

Then, serendipitously, he got busted for a small amount of pot. ¬†I called the judge–I worked with the courts in that county a lot and knew all the judges–and begged him to remand my son to long-term residential therapy. ¬†I knew that if I didn’t do something before he turned 18 that he would be lost, in jail, or dead. ¬†The judge did me that favor, and I found a wonderful therapeutic boarding school that helped him find his way out of the hole he had fallen into and discover his wonderful talents. ¬†He also got started on the right antidepressants, and thrived.

And now, bli ayin hara (a Jewish prayer against the Evil Eye, just ignore it), he is working on his Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry, doing things with the insides of cells that no one else has done before. ¬†I am so proud of him! ¬†He has taken charge of his mental health issues, working with a therapist and doing DBT. ¬†He consciously cultivates hobbies that round out his life so that he’s not spending all his time in the lab, which he knows he would do if he didn’t do something on purpose to change it.

Looking back on this post, it’s amazing to see how many paragraphs of difficulty and heartbreak it took, to get to this last paragraph of triumph over desperation and despair. ¬†And what I’ve told you is just the tip of the iceberg. ¬†And he still has to work constantly to keep himself on an even keel, and living a healthy life. ¬†But he’s doing it, thank God.¬†¬†It isn’t easy being brilliant.

 

 

Teenage Runaways and Bipolar Illness: Related?

By now most of you know that I split from home when I was sixteen. ¬†I shall not go into the “why” of it here. ¬†That is treated on my “secret blog.” ¬† Anyone who wishes to have access to that blog is welcome to write to me at moxadox@gmail.com, and I will send you the link.

My question for today is: what proportion of teenagers who really run away from home, and by that I mean not just for a day or a few days, but more or less permanently, have Bipolar Illness that is undiagnosed or untreated? ¬†And not only Bipolar, but PTSD from childhood abuse, especially sexual abuse, or schizophrenia, Borderline, Major Depression…mental illness in general. ¬†

My own experience on the streets put me in contact with many fellow runaways.  Most of them had some kind of what I would now categorize as psychopathology that predated their running away.  Certainly running away and the sometimes horrific experiences and conditions that one encounters can do nothing but aggravate any underlying condition.

Runaways are often witnesses to violence, victims of violence and predation, subjected to homelessness and various forms of degradation.  All of these set them up for PTSD, whether this was a precondition of their running away or not.

I have seen kids bullied, either at home or at school, who found the predictable privation of life on the street preferable to life at home or in shelters, where the bullying continues. ¬†Aspergerian kids fall into this category because of their odd appearance and often stereotyped behaviors. ¬†So do overweight kids, or even dyslexic kids because of their difficulties with reading and writing. ¬†Life on the streets does not depend on one’s aptitude for written language, but only on the ability to survive in an environment that uniquely combines routine with chaos.

I myself fell into a number of these categories. ¬†I was terribly depressed, when I wasn’t having bouts of extreme clarity where I found myself deeply engaged in the study of physics; and sometimes, ever since childhood, I emerged from my depressive state into a wild grandiosity, which was sometimes satisfying but mostly disturbing and dysphoric.

I was thoroughly bullied at school for being “weird,” and avoided human contact, interacting with dogs, cats, horses, rodents, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but not fish, because they always died on me. ¬†I wore sandals and clothes from the Indian store in the nearby city, fragrant with incense. ¬†They rooted for the football team; ¬†I dug roots and made medicines from them.

To these high class bumpkins from rural coastal Massachusetts, who went with their mothers to Daughters of the American Revolution meetings and Order of the Eastern Star while their fathers and sons went to whatever meetings they went to, I was a witch and an outcast.  Their children were not permitted to play with me, and they teased me relentlessly about my differences.

Worse yet, the teachers considered me a distraction in their classes since I dressed differently and even wore my hair differently.  They lobbied to get me out, and finally figured out a way to do it.

Being different in a homogeneous society is considered unacceptable. ¬†Anthropologists have written books about this. ¬†We the bipolar, the borderline, the ADD, the PTSD, the schizophrenic: ¬†where do we fit in? ¬†We don’t.

Many good studies are now looking at the creative and innovative advantage of the “different” brain. ¬†We who have them have always known that; yet we have historically been anathema to society. ¬†I cringe every time there is some kind of random killing or other act of violence and the first thing the press asks is: does the person have a history of mental illness? ¬†This, when there is solid research that shows that the mentally ill have no greater incidence of performing violent crimes than the general population; but we do have a greater tendency to be victims of violent crimes: no surprise there.

I hope the generation of children who are coming up now will find a more welcoming, better informed public in general, and a constructive school environment in particular, so that we don’t have to run away in order to not be abused, and to have to seek a kindred society of “misfits” on the streets.