Broken Pickers

Broken Picker

Broken Picker

Well folks, now you know the worst of it (see post ~ In the Well With Tolstoy).  Being a creative type, I sometimes imagine something worse happening to me in the future, but thankfully, so far, nothing has come close to losing my brother and father to suicide.  Sometimes I still catch myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I console myself with the knowledge that it already has, and most of us only have one left one and one right one for each pair we own.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  After my father died, I still experienced divorce and another marriage to yet another abusive, controlling man, a divorce from said man, a broken neck, and a terminal brain tumor, and that’s just for starters.  But as horrible as all that sounds, it still did not compare to the total destruction of my family.

So, I still had a long row to hoe if I ever wanted to feel remotely “normal” again. I was beginning to understand my illness a little bit.  And I believed that the Lord was guiding me through the muddied waters rushing through the storm drains of life.  But I had a problem a lot of people suffering from serious mental illness have.  We really have no idea how much the trauma, abuse, and neglect has hindered our decision-making capability.

We have “broken pickers.”  We tend to make some of the same mistakes over and over again, and it can take awhile to figure it out.  We try, but we tend to follow certain patterns, especially in relationships.  It goes something like this.  The next time, all you need to do is pick someone at least one step up from the last one you ended up with and it’ll all work out.  For me, that meant that the next one must not beat the hell out of me.  That was the deal breaker.  But I digress.

One thing I did after my father died, after much consideration and forethought, is to get pregnant with my third child.  If there is one thing I do not regret in my life, it is my decisions to give birth to various and sundry individuals.  They are all now my best friends, and they make a mama proud.  God knew each one of them before they were even “knit together in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139) and all three of them love him dearly.  So, under ordinary circumstances, my decision to get pregnant at that time of life may have made some sense.  My fantasy of having a nice, calm Christian family life was not to be, however, and it’s possible that maybe I should have seen this coming.

To my ex-husband’s credit, he never once beat the hell out of me.  Not only that, but he was extremely helpful to me during the years I experienced the worst of suffering serious mental illness.  He took me to appointments with my therapists because I could not drive.  In the beginning, he came home early when I called, sick with fear, and he watched the children when I could not cope with the unrelenting anxiety, depression, and grief.  He attended church with me, at first as a way to support me, and eventually, he developed his own relationship with the Lord.  We were as happy as happy could be, outside of the hell I experienced in my own mind.  And having a new baby in the house helped.  He was a joy to both of us.

Then something began to change.  My husband had a problem with drugs before we married, but he had trusted God to take away his appetite for smoking a doobie before breakfast.  And God had come through…that is until my husband took a new job working with a bunch of Deadheads in the next town over.  He just could not resist the stuff and returned to it again and again like a dog returning to its vomit.  I argued and cajoled, pleaded and begged, to no avail.  The following years were filled with alcohol, drugs, lies, and infidelity.  I prayed. I waited. I prayed some more.  I waited some more.  I finally gave up.  A second failed marriage, and I was still not a well woman.  I had progressed, but the fear, anxiety, and depression were ever present, partly because my life was still a series of crises.

Driving down the street one foggy morning, tears popped into my eyes.  I had just dropped my daughter off at her middle school and watched as her friend’s father hugged his pre-teen and waved goodbye as he drove away.  As one thought led to another, an imaginary phone call with my deceased father ensued in my mind.

“Dad?  It’s Linda.  Um, I’m kinda in dire straights (again).  My husband left and I don’t have any way to support us.  Can I come home and stay for awhile?”

“Of course,” my Dad would say, wearing a blue cardigan and smoking a pipe.  “Your room is just how you left it.”

My heart ached with the thought of it.  To feel that kind of love from a father!  To be taken care of, if only for a little while!  I saw myself tucked safely away in my twin bed with the lavender ruffled spread.  I was so weary of constantly worrying about what I would do with three children, no husband, and anxiety and depression still such a huge part of my days. I had not been able to work for over ten years.

Suddenly a thought inserted itself into the middle of my reverie.   As I continued to drive on auto-pilot towards home, a Scripture I had read seemed to force its way to the forefront.

“The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13 TLB).  For the first time I “saw” God as the compassionate father, one who, unlike any earthly father, can actually change circumstances and make permanent changes in my life.  Instead of band-aid fixes, he could move hearts and open closed doors.

I continued towards home, a little warm glow beginning to melt the icy grip of fear.  There were more battles to face, but it was a start.  I couldn’t quite trust enough to hand over the reigns completely.  But amazing doors were about to open.  And unbeknownst to me, I was headed on a path to healing.

In the Well with Tolstoy

edvard munch - the scream  1893

edvard munch – the scream 1893 (Photo credit: oddsock)

My brother’s suicide left me feeling as if I had been pushed over an emotional cliff, arms flailing as my body hit the jagged edges of rock outcroppings on the way down. The suicide of my father felt like I had been tied to the front of a runaway train that broke away from the tracks and headed over the edge going 110 miles per hour.  I hit bottom and lay there, stunned, and unable to move.

Slowly, I rolled onto my back, exposing my belly like a trusting cat. But it wasn’t that I trusted, it was that I no longer cared.  Hurt me if you want to, kill me if you must, just get it over with.  The God I knew had broken me, but there was no supervisor above him to take him to task.  In a small, dark corner of my mind, I thought there may be a hell worse than the one I was in, so I got up and kept moving, and spoke to no one about how I really felt about any of it.

My father’s suicide coincided with a time when churches all over America were chatting it up big time about the end of the world.  Author Hal Lindsey was pushing his theory that the planet was headed for disaster very soon. He had written a best-selling book and a film, aptly titled The Late Great Planet Earth.  Another lovely end of the world scenario was published under the title, The Jupiter Effect, a best-selling book by John Gribbin, Ph.D, and Stephen Plagemann (1974) that predicted that an alignment of the planets of the solar system would create a number of catastrophes, including a great earthquake in my area of the country.  This was supposed to take place in eight years.  I was sitting on death row without the right to an appeal.

In response to all this, pastors hurriedly began studying and teaching the Book of Revelation, readying the flock for the Great Tribulation.  A conversation amongst believers hardly took place without the mention that time was short. The solid rock became shifting shale. I smiled as I sat in on a conversation about the fruitlessness of getting a living room re-carpeted (considering we were all about to die) but the tentacles of fear and sadness crept over and around me, squeezing the very breath from my lungs.  My therapist added “with psychotic features” to my major depression diagnosis.  I began “seeing” bushes dying, stairways crumbling, as if I could see the end of the world taking place before my very eyes.  God had pushed the “fast-forward” button.

The God I loved and trusted became the God I feared.  This God had some bizarre plan for mankind that culminated in the “rapture of the church” and the “Mark of the Beast.”  I observed those around me.  I could not figure out how those who knew that this horror was on our very doorstep could go on living as before.  Why weren’t they on their knees day and night, or snatching poor souls off street corners and away from death’s grip?  I literally could not figure it out.  It never occurred to me that they did not believe what they were saying.

I found myself a member of a club to which I no longer wanted to belong.  I tried to ignore the leader, become invisible in the crowd.  I had become afraid of Him.  I politely listened to the others, but one of us was crazy, and I was pretty sure it had to be me.

My pastor tried to help me.  He was the voice of reason.  I sequestered myself in my house, not daring to come out and face the zombie apocalypse.  I asked question after question but the thoughts in my mind were tangled, like a rubber band ball.  Trying to untangle them was exhausting, and I began to lose the ability to keep a thought in my mind for more than one or two seconds.

He had compelling reasons why I should not succumb to the hysteria of the moment, but his words were like vapor, slipping through my fingers and away.  So I made him write all the good thoughts down…the ones that gave me hope that the zombies out in the street had it wrong, had come out too soon.

I was coming to a crisis of faith.  I read My Confession, by Tolstoy, and I identified with his plight.  I was precariously close to releasing my grip on the branch in Tolstoy’s well.  I may as well let go of my grip and sacrifice myself to the dragons below than wait for the mice to gnaw through it.

Once in awhile I would have a thought, and to quote Tolstoy himself, “life rose within me.”  Then, like my hallucinations, the thought would melt away and I’d be left with nothing but a desire for death.  Over and over this happened.  I suffered from circuitry overload, and thoughts continued to disintegrate as fast as they would come.

One day, a spark of hope lasted longer than usual.  I realized that in all my railing against God, I had never felt his presence more sweetly.  In all my anger and confusion, I had not succeeded in pushing him away.  The opposite was true.  Instead of allowing me to turn my back and walk away, he seemed to be relentlessly pursuing me.  The hallucinations began to melt away along with the block of ice surrounding my heart.  A cloak had been gently placed around my shoulders, and it felt a lot like love.  My heart and mind began to heal. I had walked through the valley of the shadow and survived.  Now it was time to stop awhile and rest by the stream, and then pick up my pack and keep moving.

Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.

~ Leo Tolstoy

It’s Too Late – She’s Come Undone

hI could say I didn’t see it coming.  Except that I did.  I worried and fretted and tried to talk to other family members about my fears.  I saw signs, and I especially tried to warn my mother.  She didn’t even have her name on their joint checking account.  What would she do if anything happened?

No one listened so I prayed.  I prayed every morning for six months straight. Please Lord, don’t let that horrible thing happen.

I had been attending the little white church for three years, and the sense of family and my relationship with God were wonderful additions to a life shaped by fear and sadness.   I had finally left Dr. Teemis and began seeing a young masters level student counselor doing his internship.  He continued to probe into all the dark places, the hurts that weren’t healed yet, the wounds that were still fresh.   I still didn’t understand my illness and hadn’t made a lot of progress.

My mother invited us over for dinner a few days after Thanksgiving.  My dad loved chocolate cream pie, so I decided to surprise him and bring one with me.  I was baking the crust when the phone rang.

“Linda, you need to come over here!”  I heard panic in my mother’s voice and got her to calm down long enough to tell me what happened.  My dad had put his shoes on and told her he was going to the garage.  When he didn’t return she went to see what he was up to.  She peeked in and saw him lying on the cement; she ran back into the apartment and called the paramedics, then me.

My chest felt hollow, and once again I found myself holding on to the dashboard of the car as we rushed over to the apartment.  My mind filled with memories of another emergency three years earlier, in August of 1975, when my brother committed suicide.  I tried to will the thoughts away, but they seemed to force the breath from my lungs.

We pulled up to the curb outside my parent’s apartment and I noticed a small crowd gathered across the street.  A paramedic was closing the back doors of the van and I saw there was no one on the gurney.  I looked over at the garage, hoping that my dad was chatting with a police officer nearby.  The garage door was partially closed, and my heart lurched as I turned away.  I went into the apartment and stood in the center of the living room, staring at my mom.  We didn’t speak.  There was a knock at the door.

A young police officer stood with a clipboard in his hand.  “I need to ask you some questions,” he said quietly.  “Was your father right-handed or left-handed?”

“Right-handed,” I answered.  What is he getting at?  I wasn’t about to ask any questions.  Maybe Dad will come walking in the door and we can all just go home and pretend this never happened.

“How old was your father?” he continued.

How old was he?  Was?  “Fifty-one.”  I am a robot.  My mind has become separated from my body.  I’m on another plane.  I may not be able to get back this time. 

It’s too late. She’s gone too far. She’s lost the sun. She’s come undone

~The Guess Who

Once the questions were over and the front door shut against the world, I walked past my mother sitting silently on the couch and went into the bathroom.  I shut the door and locked it.  And then I did what I thought any self-respecting believer in Christ who has any faith at all should do.  I stared in the mirror and whispered a prayer.  “Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus, praise you, Jesus.”  But deep in the brain that had detached from the body, another phrase was repeating itself over and over again.  You’ve destroyed me, God.  I’m done.

But Allow Me to Start at the Beginning

Hi everyone!  This is a “memoir” blog, which means I am telling the story of my life.  I want this story to reach as many people as possible.  It is a story of neglect, pain, trauma, and mental illness.  It is also the story of hope, perseverance, and triumph.  In case you are just “tuning in,” it might be helpful to start at the beginning.  To that end, I am reposting my first post, “Family Legacy.”  Once you read that one and the ones following, it all becomes clear.  Thanks!  And if you know anyone who would find this story helpful, please feel free to Tweet or re-post.  Here’s the link…

http://lindalochridge.com/2012/05/15/family-legacy-5-2/