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.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mirthful Monday: The most awesome greeting card ever!

The inside says, "Have a nice day."

Published by Palm Press

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Book Review: Hold on the Light Will Come

Hi friends!

One quick note: I updated my goodreads widget so check it out to see what I've been reading!

Now to business.

I recently read Michael McLean's book, Hold On, the Light Will Come, and I have to say that I was a little disappointed. I suppose it was because I had my hopes all up and that rarely leads to a good reading experience. You'd think I'd know better by now.

McLean and I go way back. Fifteen years in fact. I remember getting a tape of his for Christmas when I was eleven (I think it was the only tape I ever owned; I got cd's after that) and my dad was in the bishopric of a student ward. I was doing community theater by that point and was gone a lot. Anyway, I came home from play practice one Monday night to a house full of college students and my parents nowhere in sight. I mean, the place was packed. It was a Family Home Evening group and since we lived in Utah there were probably forty giddy co-eds kicking it in our house. They were in the kitchen, the living room, the backyard, everywhere. So I did what any tweenaged girl would do. I panicked. I locked myself in my bedroom (which I was sharing with my older sister) and turned on the tunes. Michael McLean's "You're Not Alone" came pouring out of the speakers on my little boombox and soothed me. I rewound it and listened to it over and over until my sister finally came in and asked me what the heck I was doing and didn't I want refreshments?

As an older teen I liked listening to his music and I would sometimes put lines up on my wall (I wallpapered my room in quotations from music, poetry, and books), but even then I knew they didn't make whole lot of sense. Emotionally they were satisfying but artistically they left something to be desired. (His song about anger, "If it's not love, simply let it go", is a perfect is example. Since when is anger like an innocent, injured bird? Only if that bird is an angry goose and you're the last picnicker and you're all out of bread crumbs.) Nevertheless, I still looked forward to our family's annual attendance of The Forgotten Carols concert at USU and even the cheesy hand holding and singing at the end.

I eventually got too sophisticated for Michael McLean and forgot him completely until my sister mentioned the fact that he was depressed. She said she'd read about it in one of his books and she liked what he had said. My heart thrilled a little. What? Another depressed Mormon? One who's open about? One who used his art to help fix it? Maybe, just maybe, Michael McLean had a few more thoughts worth hearing. So I read the book.

Here's what he said about depression:
I know life's hard and things are tough . . . I know how dark it can feel . . . why do you think I'm waiting in line for antidepressants? But when i hear a story in a song, and someone overcomes something, or finds a way to hold on or learns how to let go or discovers something that alters the way they view their life, I want to celebrate it[. . .]I want to know that somewhere inside of me I'm capable of feeling hope" (p. 3).

And that was it. The rest of the book is just as cheesy and campy as his music. At first I took it personally that he glossed over all the struggles and I wondered if Deseret Book had pressured him keep the depression talk to a minimum. And maybe they did. Maybe I should just be happy that he owned up the fact that he's depressed and on antidepressants. Besides Marie Osmond, who also sings campy music (coincidentally? hmm. . .), McLean is one of the few Mormons who owns up to mood disorder struggles and needing help.

But I wanted more. I still want to know if he has suicidal thoughts or violent visions. Has he ever been so depressed he couldn't feel the Spirit? How does his wife live with it? How has it affected his children? How could he hear the music through the crazy? Really, I wanted to know if he was like me and if had any survival tips. This book didn't answer any of those questions.

It's funny to me, though, that I can't let Michael McLean go. I still have his autograph tucked away in one of my journals somewhere. Seriously. I actually waited in line at a book store so that he could sign a bright green sticky note for me.(My only thought at the time: "Man! He's old!") A lot of the time, when I'm really frustrated and overwhelmed random lyrics will come to me. "Which part is mine? And, God, which part is yours? Could you tell me one more time? I'm never quite sure?" is like a muzak-ghost some days. Or even, "like an awkward dancer on a crowded floor, I'll learn to dance once more, someday." And, of course, "You're not alone." My brain still pulls that out as a reminder sometimes.

Despite my general frustration with his music, there is one song of his that I have always loved. "Gentle" really meant a lot to me as a high schooler and I still think it has some merit. Here's my favorite part (for all the lyrics click here):

Life can hard, but we need not be
so hard on ourselves, if we will see…

Like the shepherd leads his flock with gentle commands.
With his gentle voice that only hearts understand.
One thing we can know for certain, He has borne the awful burdens
So we can be gentle with ourselves.

Still gets me. Every time. I guess I shouldn't write him off after all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Good Idea from my Therapist

I saw my therapist today and told her about the roadblocks I'd encountered in trying to find a psychiatrist. She suggested I leave a message saying I didn't necessarily want to be a new patient but I was wondering if I could have one appointment to ask them a couple questions about my antidepressant and pregnancy. (Quick clarifying note: I am not at this time pregnant. Husband and I are still discussing the possibility. A commenter said they thought I was but I am not.)

I'm going to try it. I don't know that it will work, but I figure it's worth a shot!

P.S. J is doing better. I've been talking to him about his sleep in a very straightforward and adult manner; I've told him what I will accept and what I won't accept. He's been sleeping all night in his crib! He still wakes up every now and again, but no longer insists on sleeping with me. I'd like to credit my parenting skills (ha!) but I'm pretty sure the improvement is due to the fact that he is now recovering from his cold. Actually, it's probably all your prayers! Thanks guys! I now have hope!

Monday, May 11, 2009


Well, J is not sleeping any better. It may be due to a cold he got right after the surgery or it may be that I'm a terrible parent who has trained him to only sleep when I hold him. It's hard to tell because he's had physical reasons for his night wakings for so long and he genuinely needed help.

Anyway, he's screaming his guts out right now and has been for an hour. I'm so frustrated.

It's got me asking over and over and over again, "What's the point?"

Apparently there is none. It seems that no matter how hard I try things don't change and don't improve.