The Ornaments Look Pretty, But They’re Pulling Down The Branches Of The Tree

Probably the hardest thing about admitting to myself that I have a problem (Hello, Al-Anon training!), is not that it’s “a” problem, but that it’s “this” problem. I wish it could be something simpler like “porn addiction” or that disease that makes you pull out your hair (I keep thinking trichamoniasis, which is NOT that disease, but a lovely STD. Forgive me for not researching further), because then it would not be my worst nightmare come true. It would be something simpler, at least for me to handle.

When you grow up surrounded by mental illness, there are a few things that happen to your development.

One, you associate all of the “bad things” that happen to your parent with something unrelated, a bit of magical thinking if I may (and I always may), i.e. Mom is sick because the house is dirty. Of course, this carried over into my adulthood, and maybe I’m not the most fastidious housekeeper on the planet, but my house is usually fairly clean, even on bad days.

Later on it occurs to your childish brain that maybe, just maybe, the reason for her illness is because YOU did something wrong. Kids, apparently have a knack for guilt rivaled only by the Catholic Church. This, too, carries over to your adulthood, and you find yourself blaming YOU for any little thing that has gone awry i.e. it’s obvious (to you) that it’s YOUR fault that the dog crapped on the carpet because you’re such a bad pet owner (and not the more logical “the dog crapped on the carpet because he is an asshole”).

I was once told that this is the way children of alcoholics feel as well, so let’s just give your Aunt Becky a double whammy here: my parents are BOTH alcoholics, too!

And lastly (this is a brief list here), children who have a mentally ill parent become absolutely phobic about turning into this parent (in this case, my mother). Admittedly, no one wants to turn into their mother, because ew! but I can assure you that it’s that much worse when your parent is completely unbalanced and unstable.

WHO would want THAT to be their aspiration?

(Please God, let me turn into someone who alternately screams or cries or looks comatose at a mere change in the breeze. Let me be unable to get out of bed for weeks at a time, and let my kids raise themselves until I can get my medication regime right. Please, please, please, please?)

Not so much fun, right?

So let me assure you that I do mental health checks daily (if not hourly) to make sure that I am not Going Off The Wheels On A Crazy Train, and to check whether or not my reactions to situations (pleasant or unpleasant) are normal enough. Dave informs me that this is one of my better features, as it leaves me pretty stable most of the time. I rarely fly off the handle at minor infractions (real or imagined), I approach (most) fights as logically as I can, and because I am prone to think and rethink issues, I’m fairly level.

Shit, I just wish it wasn’t this problem, y’all. Really, I do.

(is it weird to want to bargain with God to give me an STD instead of PPD? Don’t answer that.)

All The Dishes Rattle In The Cupboard When The Elephants Arrive

My first clue should have been when our ice maker went kaput. Now, I adore having tiny ice cubes made by my freezer (or is it by ickle gnomes? I’m just not sure WHAT to believe) just as much as the next person, and I won’t lie when I tell you that this is probably the best feature of our crappy ancient side-by-side fridge.

But when I realized last week that it was broken, I was slayed. Floored. Insanely upset and saddened. I went over it in my mind, over and over, when was the last time I heard it make ice? Why hadn’t I seen that the ice I had been getting was badly freezer burned and stinky? How long had it been broken before I noticed it?

No matter what Freud would say, sometimes an ice maker isn’t just an ice maker, is it?

It seems that after 10 months, I am finally falling victim to post-partum depression.

I considered not telling The Internet (not because I don’t trust you, darling Internet, because I do) what I’ve been going through, and I can’t pinpoint why. It’s probably a mixture of shame and remorse, and when I realized that this was what was keeping me from doing it, I further strengthened my resolve to tell you about it EVEN IF I’M NOT BEING CLEVER OR FUNNY OR CUTE.

It’s not pretty to admit, and Heaven knows, with my genetic predisposition to mental illness, it’s an even more bitter pill to swallow (when I inform you that my biggest fear on the planet is NOT a New Kids On The Block comeback, but is that I might someday turn into my mother, this should clarify it). It sucks realizing that this is something you cannot simply will away (like a food craving) and that you just might need someone else to help you through it.

I hate asking for help. Really, I do.

I could type for the next 36 years of my life about why I hate this so much, cleverly illustrate my posts with color coded charts, graphs, and footnotes, write AND deliver 9,308 Power Point presentations (complete with blinky graphics!) to a billion African schoolchildren, and STILL wouldn’t be done complaining about my dislike of admitting that I do, indeed, need some help.

But today I made that call, against every fiber of my being, and on Wednesday I will be seeing my OB about this.

And one can only hope that his suggestion isn’t warm milk.

Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam

In a fit of what I can only call “mid-twenties rebellion” my husband married me. It’s not like I’m a bad person, on the whole, if you were to meet me, you’d probably think I was “nice” or at the very least “interesting.” I don’t have oozing sores, I am freakishly fanatical (read: annoying) about saying my Pleases and Thank Yous, and if nothing else, I can probably talk to you about nothing at all. For a long time. Even if you want me to shut the fuck up already, Aunt Becky.

But our respective childhood’s could not have been any more dissimilar if you had tried. In fact, dissimilar is not the right word. Not even close. Opposite is probably a better term, and even that doesn’t truly encompass our differences.

My parents were hippies, and his were religious. Very religious.

Now, these aren’t mutually exclusive situations, not by a long shot, and I would probably never think of myself as “anti-religion” in an way shape or form, despite my non-affiliation with any major faiths. To place my faith most simply, God and I get along just fine.

And the only problem that I have with certain sects of religious people is their propensity towards being assholes.

And I don’t mean that ANYONE who goes to church qualifies as an asshole (so please don’t mistake me here. I have know a number of people who were both religious and nice at the same time), but there are certain people who manage to both be church-goers and fuck-heads (there are plenty of non-religious fuck-heads too, but at least they’re not trying to evoke the name of Jesus in their assholedom. I have read the Bible, and am pretty sure Jesus doesn’t approve of treating other people like dog shit ESPECIALLY IN HIS NAME.). Like being a member of XYZ Church qualifies them as better than you could ever be, and they have no problems telling you so.

That doesn’t seem too God-fearing to me, it seems more to be a study in duplicity.

Ask a waitress, ANY waitress and she’ll back me up here. This type of religious people are the hardest to wait on. No, I don’t mean those that just go to church, believe in God, whatever goes along with that, no not at all. I’m referring to the people who have a problem with ME (who is presumed not to be a member of their church) the moment they sit down. They scream their orders while their kids throw sugar packets at my head and syrup into my apron pockets, bark at me when their food is not quite whatever enough, run me around like I had no other tables and then, in lieu of a tip, I’d get a pamphlet on their church, which neatly detailed how I could change my obviously crappy life for a better one if I joined it.

Wow, their behavior ABSOLUTELY makes me want to join them in worship (if the sarcasm isn’t dripping off your screen, it should be).

Now, before you think that I am merely bitching about not getting paid, that could not be farther from the truth.

(Editorial Side Note: Let me break this down simply for you who have not had the pleasure of serving: A server in Illinois makes $3.09 an hour, whether they are running their asses off or picking lint from between their toes. All of the taxes from tips–even if you do not get any–are estimated at about an 8% tip per bill, and removed from this amount. Most of the paychecks I got as a waitress were for some ridiculous amount: $0.21, $0.10, or my favorite “why’d you bother printing this out” $0.00. So if you do not get tipped, you don’t get anything to compensate, and if a table were to walk out on you, the amount of their checks would be taken from your tips.)

I’ve been broke before. I’ve forgotten to grab extra cash and stiffed a server one night (after telling them, of course) and had to go back in the following day with their tip. It happens. Some of my favorite tables were not my high-rollers, they were the people who had carefully scrimped and saved all month to go out for dinner, requested me as their server (wouldn’t you? Don’t answer that.) and then realized they didn’t have enough to leave me a tip. I didn’t care.

Their kindness made up for it. Period.

But it is unacceptable (religious or not) to treat me as though I am somehow beneath you and then try to shove your religion (you cannot tell me that any religion condones this sort of behavior) down my throat.

So it was with great trepidation that I met and married my husband, knowing full well that his parents were as wary of me as I was of them. Thankfully enough, we don’t discuss matters of religion or politics around my house (nor am I honestly trying to do that here), and we keep our opinions on hot button issues quiet. I’m certain that I’ll never be 100% approved of, considering I spent a good couple of months trying to work the whole Schweaty Ball thing into Christmas this year, and have already enlisted the help of my brother to work “boner” into next year’s celebration, but we have reached an uneasy peace.

The whole Baptism thing has come up now and again, and I have promised that either of the children can be baptized so long as I don’t have to plan it. I would have no way of knowing what to do, and between all of the birthday parties, I’m pretty sick of planning crap.

I don’t know. I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be all offensive and say “religious people are assholes” as some kind of rule, because I don’t believe that. I just find it interesting that those people who are VERY obviously churchy, can also be the biggest fucks that I’ve ever met.

So what pissed YOU off the last time you worked in customer service (if you’ve ever had the pleasure)? And what made you scared and/or biased toward certain people? Aunt Becky needs your stories today, as she’s feeling all out of sorts.

Um, Yeah, Hi Christmas, I Am TOTALLY Over You.

After the whole Thanksgiving Debacle, I am decidedly not looking forward to hosting Christmas Eve.

Now maybe I didn’t exactly TELL you, fair Internet about what happened to inspire such dread in me, but you’ll have to forgive me. I wasn’t willing to accept it myself until Friday, when Dave came home to an earful about how I was NOT happy any longer about agreeing (not even agreeing, SUGGESTING. I am stupidly stupid.) that we host Christmas Eve again. Poor, poor Dave didn’t realize he was walking into a WASP’s nest of hatorade, when he walked happily off the train that day. I’m sure that had he known what a mood I was in, he’d have happily joined the homeless on Lower Wacker until it blew over.

Thanksgiving, you see, on the surface was hunky-dory, maybe the roast was still moo-ing and therefore I refused to eat it (I’ve never been able to eat meat that looks like it did before it died), and possibly the potatoes were a bit too dijon-ey for my own liking, but the food, it turned out well (no small feat).

The problem was less superficial and more festering below the surface. Let me back dat ass up and explain.

After years of psychotropic medication, chronic alcoholism and several botched ECT sessions, my mother, she ain’t what she used to be. This is a standard problem with people who suffer from what she does, and therefore to be expected. My memory of my mother when I was a wee one is significantly different from my brother’s (as he is 10 years older). Like the old joke about weather here in Chicago, (you know, you don’t like it? Wait 5 minutes) people like my mother are never the same person twice. It changes unpredictably every couple of years, so the woman who I now call “Mom” is not the same person she was before and not the same person she will be later.

(Side story time! One year, when I was about 8, apparently I was such an asshole that she cancelled Christmas for me. Just me. Everyone else got presents while I had to sit there and not open a damn thing. She has no memory of this. And I am just amazed that I am not more twisted than I am.)

Talk about a mind-fcuk, right?

Needless to say, I am still adjusting to who she currently is, and it’s a hard one for me. She’s now far quieter than she ever was and far less responsive. I can be obviously fishing for some reassurance about something or another and she’ll just blankly stare at me. Pleasant, right?

On the other side of the table, we have my mother-in-law, who, when she imagined the person her youngest son would marry, would never in her wildest nightmares have pictured me (hell, would you?). She’s an extremely sweet person who has never been anything but unfailingly nice to me and my children, but she tries to avoid me. Maybe it was the naked picture debacle, or maybe it’s just me being me, but her discomfort is palpable.

And this is who I ended up sitting sandwiched between after Thanksgiving dinner. We engaged in a rousing discussion about our various medical ailments (trust me, it sounds more exciting than it is), and then for good measure, when the baby didn’t wake up from his nap like I kept praying for him to do, we had the EXACT SAME discussion again.

Poor Dave faired no better. He got stuck in the basement with our fathers, where he sat in silence watching Ben play this stupid golf game. I can’t be sure, as I was in the middle of discussing rectocele and polyps (and wishing that I were possibly worse than dead), but I imagine that there was much staring at hands and uncomfortable throat clearning.

Our familes, despite not particularly caring for the other (I think. Not sure. Seems that way. Not interested in finding out) are far too quiet to actually tell each other off, but given the choice, I’m fairly sure we could easily seperate back into our original places (imagine oil and water here). Dave with his family, me with mine. Maybe we could even make signs like “No (my maiden name)’s Allowed! This Means YOU, Becky!” put them on the doors and quarrantine our respective selves to various floors.

Problem for us is that I’d much rather spend the time with Dave and my children than play stupid immature games with our parents. It’s hard to imagine that I’m actually talking about 60-year-old adults and not petulant teenagers, isn’t it?

Maybe I’m being hormonal and highstrung here (it’s not even likely, it’s a certainty) and maybe everyone will gather around a campfire singing rounds of “Gin ‘n Juice” and I will, yet again, be proven wrong. I certainly hope so. They’re going to HAVE to start getting along SOME day, right?

And if I am not, the beckoning arms of booze-laden eggnog will surely envelop us both and suddenly, we will not care one tiny bit WHAT our parents think.

Chordae Tendineae

The chordae tendineae, or heart strings, are cord-like tendons that connect the papillary muscles to the tricuspid valve and the mitral valve in the heart. Despite how hokey it sounds, it appears as though one can literally have their heart strings pulled.

My father is in the ER today, after experiencing chest pains since Sunday (he too, is a health care professional, and what did I say about them? OH YEAH, they are always the last to seek medical care).

My mother, who for all of her faults, is as non-alarmist as myself, is pretty certain that this is a panic attack.

The doctors in the ER are, of course, alerted to rush anyone who is experiencing “chest pain” or “shortness of breath” (hilariously abreviated SOB), so I am certain he is currently recieving a battery of tests that will provide some concrete evidence either way.

When I was a small child, I lived in perpetual fear of murderers. Convinced that they would want to sneak in to my bedroom late at night and kill me (for what, I don’t know. My banana clip? My awesome Hypercolor tee-shirt? My insanely large set of headbands? Who knows), I would slip to and from the bathroom like I was being chased, throw my bedroom door closed, hurl myself up onto my bed (it’s one of those enormous antique beds), pull up the covers and start chanting my mantra “It’s never been anything before. It’s never been anything before. It will be all right. It will be all right.”

Thankfully, as I’ve grown, I no longer am terrified of being murdered (but my fears are equally absurd), but it appears that old habits do, indeed, die hard. As I sit here and watch my son, who is named after my father, I am softly whispering to myself “It’s never been anything before. It’ll be okay. It’s never been anything before. It’ll be okay.”

And I can only hope that just as it worked when I was a child, it’ll work again today.

What Is The Sound Of The Other Shoe Dropping?

I’ve spent most of my adult life waiting for that other shoe to drop. Similarly, I’d imagine, somewhat to relatives of patients afflicted by Huntington’s Chorea. Whether it is a blessing or curse, a genetic test is available to determine their fate. What horrid knowledge that must be. What a terrible burden to be able to ascertain whether or not they will someday cease to control simple bodily movements, slowly losing their physical identity, and ultimately become an invalid. I wonder if I would be brave enough to undergo that testing.

There is no known test for mental illness, only a bit of evidence that the disease may have a genetic link, much like alcoholism. So those of us with a close genetic relative afflicted (especially with both) must simply watch and wait, fearful that each and every irrational emotion, every outburst, each tear may be the start of something far more terrible and ominous. The end of every bad day is met with relief, a feeling of dodging a nasty bullet once again.

The downside of up here, is that I tend never to overreact or let myself be overcome with any kind of emotion without examining it explicitly and exhaustively. This is something that my husband claims to appreciate, while assuring me that it is a rarity. I’d never thought of it like that.

I look back at pictures from my childhood, and it’s interesting to note that one can actually determine when my mother began her decent into madness. Her youngest child, her only daughter, began to transform in front of my adult eyes from an obviously well-groomed and loved child into someone who it appears is suddenly expected to care for herself and has no earthly idea how to do so.

This visual reminder of her illness has bothered me so tremendously that I had to stop sorting and organizing the pictures. So now they sit in my bedroom in a large Tupperware container waiting patiently for me to face my own demons.

Tickity-tock, tick-tock. Time will tell, it always does.

Chicken Little

When I was eleventy-hundred months pregnant with Alexander, I got into a discussion with a couple of pregnant women in my OB’s office (as a rule, I avoid pregnant women like the plague because well, someone once told me that pregnant women were 3 doors down from the nuthouse, but I firmly believe that they are actually much, much closer than that). The subject: 3 year olds. The concensus: 3 was much, much, much worse than 2. I agreed wholeheartedly, 2 was great, 4 was great, but 3? 3 found my hands making repeated contact with his cute, ickle, tantrum-y, willfull, annoying, butt.

Just like I would never tell a woman pregnant with her second child that having 2 is much harder than twice the work of having 1 (follow me?), I remain mum with my friends who rapidly approaching the dreaded 3. Until they mention it to me, I have nothing to say about the matter.

I don’t mention to newly pregnant women how sick I got while pregnant, I don’t tell them that labor hurts like hell, and I pretend that having a newborn and breastfeeding is great fun. Once they’ve gotten past all of those milestones, I’ll commiserate, but not before that point.

Why would I avoid something that so many others like to blab about (especially to complete strangers)? I don’t want to be a naysayer and I don’t wish to make others fearful unnecessarily. It’s not fair and it isn’t nice. Just because those were my own experiences doesn’t make them universal.

Just like you cannot actually prepare a child fully for the arrival of a sibling (try as you might, but no child could possibly wrap their mind around it. You may as well tell them that you are moving to the moon in a couple of months. We bought Ben a book that was actually pretty scientific and read it over and over, which meant that we had to listen to a multitude of songs written by Ben which went “I’m the lucky spermy who met the ova and that became ME!” Thankfully, he didn’t ask how the sperm got to be there in the first place. Yikes.), no amount of naysaying will do any good to anyone else because their experiences will probably be different than your own, so why bother if you’re just trying to scare someone?

I’m using children as my example here, but fearmongers (thanks Al!) know no boundries. Have a puppy? (OhmyGOD, when *I* had a puppy, I was up *all* night! for weeks! It’s SOOOO hard!) Have a house? (OhmyGOD! the furnace went out and we had lead paint! and I HAVE TO PAY SOMEONE TO MOW THE LAWN. Why not rent instead? Owning SUCKS!)

You can smell what The Becky is cooking.