Monday, May 25, 2009

_Ecology of a Cracker Childhood_( a reader response review)

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray

I am having an extremely intense reaction right now.

As I type my chin is chattering uncontrollably. My teeth are rattling in my head like muted machine guns. My back is tightening in small spasms, up and down and at random, and I keep rolling my shoulders and stretching my neck to offset the tremors. If I try to hold my back and shoulders still I tic and twitch like someone with Tourette's. My breath is ragged between my teeth and I sound like I am freezing to death. Unless I clench my jaw. Then I can drag my breath through my nose. But it won't come fast enough and it makes me shake my head which makes me nauseous.

My body is out of control but my mind is not. I've been here before and I know what it is. I am panicking. In a severe way. I haven't had one like this in quite a while. I did this once after orienting a new Primary teacher to her class, after having a argument with a friend, before singing for Enrichment (which I enjoyed doing anyway; I hope they ask me again some time),after a New Year's Eve party, and while giving birth to my second child. Usually, I curl up in the fetal position or try to find a yoga pose that calms my body and just let it shake out. Because there is no controlling this. It's like a roller coaster; once you're on the ride you have to keep your arms and hands in the car and remain seated until the ride has come to a complete stop.

So what brought this on tonight? A book. Actually, a paragraph. The written word, when wielded with thought and effort, is powerful. The book is Ecology of a Cracker Childhood and the paragraph goes like this:

Daddy [who was genetically predisposed to manic episodes/bipolar disorder] said that after lunch he began to feel unusual sensations. He felt shaky, his insides turning to gelatin, then shakier, as if he operated a noiseless and invisible jackhammer. He couldn't calm down. His heart sped up, beating like a crazed vulture inside his chest. By the time [his friend] delivered him to his door, he no longer controlled much of his body, the mind chopped from it the way you'd chop a chicken's neck, leaving the carcass to go dancing off in it manic convolutions of nerve endings. He had begun to hallucinate (p 92).

Yep. It's like that. Postpartum depression is like that. Uncontrolled anxiety disorder is like that. My body remembers it. My muscles, my nerves, my bones, they know it. They've memorized it. It is second nature to them.

Ecology is a memoir of the best kind: honest and soul searching. For Ray, who can list relative after relative who suffered from mania and whose own father took three years to recover from his nervous breakdown, mental illness is a specter that looms in every shadowy corner and every unuttered word. Ray takes to the woods, the almost extinct longleaf pines, which her parents say bore her, for her salvation. She looks to her ecology to ease the pain of her genealogy.

I haven't finished the book yet, but I find myself wanting to tell the author that her ecology will never solve her genealogy. Our environments shape us, but our parents made us. The answers are in them and in loving them--maybe even accepting them.

When, as an adult, Ray questioned her father about his nervous breakdown he wrote her this letter:

Mental illness, or nervous breakdown as some call it, is nothing to be afraid of, or to put it in better perspective, nothing to live in fear of [. . .] Thirty years ago I had what people call mental illness. I call it one of the greatest experiences of my life. I would not erase it from my past even if I could. I would not sell it for a million dollars. Its value to me cannot be measured. I can only assume that God allowed it to happen and was with me all the way through it--one in the Church said mental illness is of the devil, which I do not agree with.

It taught me: 1) greater love for people. 2) greater love for the earth, the trees, the hills, the valley, the streams, the soil, the animals. 3)the future is everything. 4) My wife is me. 5) to love my family. 6)the true value of my sanity, my health, my well-being. 7) to respect our Creator. I will not list the minuses because everybody knows what it would be like to be called crazy [. . .]

In closing, I would like to remind you of what our Creator said many times. Fear not.

Perspectives like his are almost as scarce as the longleaf pine and, I daresay, have as big a need for nuturing.

1 comment:

Katherine Stone said...

Just gorgeous Laura. I will be sharing this at Postpartum Progress.