Wednesday, March 22, 2006

here be dragons

There’s a particular post on a group blog that I read regularly. The post was about Andrea Yates – you remember, the woman in Texas who drowned her kids. A comment was made in the discussion stating that the poster thought Andrea Yates should have been sterilized at birth.

I had some things to offer in this conversation, so I did. I tried to bring my own experience to the discussion, not in defense of Ms. Yates’ actions, but in response to the notion of forced sterilization due to mental illness – which really isn’t something you can predict at birth. Not yet, anyway. Otherwise Duckie would have been neutered already – after all, some of the bipolar condition has been scientifically proven to be linked to a genetic predisposition. So there’s a good chance that Duckie will have to deal with this at some point in her life. But I wouldn’t rob her of her chance to have children, even so. That decision will be up to her.

(If I had known I was bipolar before I got pregnant, I don't know whether I would have had children or not. Hard to tell at this point.)

Anyway, my contribution to the discussion, personal as it was, was met by the original commenter with a rant of her own – in which she proved herself once again the mistress of eloquent, savage invective.

Nothing she said was new to me. A lot of it didn’t even apply to me. I agree with some of what she said, and I disagree with others (now that I’ve had a chance to re-read it.)

Regardless, I’m sitting here “at my pitiful desk,” heart racing, crying into my coffee, stunned and stricken that anyone would direct such a polemic in my general direction.

Now, I know that she doesn’t know me from Adam. I know that. She doesn’t have a clue what my life is like, nor do I know what hers is like, except that she has endured some horrific suffering at the hands of her parents and family, and that serendipity seems to have forgotten her even now. Oh, and that we happen to share a diagnosis.

I don’t even know what my point is.

I’ve been trying to move away from rants for a while. Sometimes things get ugly, as they did in the post last week about the abortion issue. Today I experienced first-hand (again) what it’s like to be in the general vicinity of such exquisitely expressed emotional violence. It’s scary. It reminds me more than anything of an improv class I took in NYC, where a woman let loose a lot of rage and heartbreak as part of an improvised skit. It wasn’t directed at me, and still I felt it, physically, a knife in the gut.

Obviously I have some challenges maintaining boundaries. On the other hand, I think experiences like these are meant to be lessons.

I have a lousy, mean temper when I’m tired, hungry, hormonally imbalanced, or missing my medication. I’m dead certain that I do the same thing to my husband and daughter that this woman did to me today.

I don’t want to get into the specifics of identity. There’s hardly any point, although if that’s bad form in the blogosphere, feel free to educate me on the etiquette.

I really don’t want to start a conflict with this lady – I don’t stand a chance. This post, to me, is about my own journey, and I’d like it to stay that way. I can't handle the drama otherwise. Yeah, I know, I’m gutless. Tell me something I don’t know.

But this comment in particular won’t get unstuck from my head [emphasis hers]:

“if you KNOW for damned sure that you are mentally ill, and you aren't responsible or mature enough to do what it takes to keep that shit MANAGEABLE, then you CHOOSE to inflict yourself upon children, and you CHOOSE to bring children into an unstable environment with a parent who might not be trust-worthy or competent, then yeah, you OUGHT to feel DAMNED GUILTY for being so selfish and inconsiderate and just plain GREEDY. And you'd damned well better reach out to all of the help that's available, whether public, private, or family, because NO CHILD DESERVES TO BE ABUSED, NEGLECTED, TORTURED, OR MURDERED BY A PSYCHOTIC PARENT WHO WILL NOT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR OWN ACTIONS.

This is a perfect example of something that cuts to the bone, but isn’t specifically directed at me. It ought to, by rights, be directed at everyone, not just the mentally ill.

Obviously I feel like I inflict myself on my family and my friends, and the closer you get to me, the worse the damage becomes. So how do you define “manageable?” Is it a matter of impulse control, as my medication doctor calls it? Is it a matter of maintaining coping mechanisms and medications as needed? Is it a matter of being perfect?

Because there ain’t nobody perfect in this world. I think everyone inflicts themselves on their kids to one degree or another. Hopefully our imperfections don’t always constitute abuse (at least I fervently pray that they don’t.)

No child deserves to be abused by anyone, period. Child abuse is a function of mental illness in my opinion. You just can’t be sane and do that.

She made another comment that was utterly heartbreaking.

“Unwanted children stay unwanted all of their lives.”

I have one friend for whom this is a certainty. She said to me once that she was broken by her childhood, and she would be broken for the rest of her life because of it. I didn’t understand it until just that second. Then, suddenly, I did. I wish I could have been with her then, because I would have hugged her for a long time. As it was, I could only sniffle and weep with her over the phone.

There are two girls who were adopted by another friend – they came from another broken family, where drug abuse, child abuse, and neglect were everyday occurrences. They’ve got some problems because of that, and I’m pretty sure that they will carry the scars throughout their lives. But will they always feel unwanted? I know that they are wanted, very much, by their “forever family.” I hope that it will bring about some healing.

I wonder how much of this woman’s own rants are directed at the people who hurt her. In which case, it’s critical for me not to take this personally, but to move past the shock and learn from it what I can. And to know that at some point in this life (or the next, or the next) she will come out from under the heavy load of abuse that has been heaped on her. She is, after all, a brilliant, beautiful woman, with an amazing command of language and a great, huge heart. It just sucks to see her so painfully unhappy, and to know that there is not a thing in the world I can do to help her. (Selfish of me, I know, but there it is.)

The main lesson here is that no matter how lousy I feel, no matter how angry I get or how justified that anger is, I do not feel that I have the right to loose that violence upon the world. Rants are good and precious things – RB spends a good portion of every month listening to mine, for which I am humbly and profoundly grateful. But it’s important for me to make sure that my own anger and outrage doesn’t fly out and bite someone else’s head off.

I am reminded of a great fantasy series in which one of the main characters has three growing dragons. They’re a blessing and a problem. As they get bigger, they need more food. Their power grows and their range is greater. So this woman has to make regular reparations to local farmers whose livestock becomes barbeque for her dragons, especially the big one, the alpha. It’s a problem that disturbs her. She knows it will only get worse.

One day a farmer comes to seek an audience with her. He trembles and sobs as he shows her the evidence of her dragon’s hunger, a bag of charred bones that he empties onto the marble floor in front of her throne.

One of her attendants, I can’t remember which, says that of course they’ll repay the man, but why is he so upset about the loss of a sheep?

The queen says nothing at first, stricken into silence. Because she sees at once that the bones are not the bones of a sheep. They’re the bones of a child.

Dragons are beautiful, magical, and extremely dangerous. If you have a dragon, it’s your responsibility to direct that magic and danger. How you direct it is up to you.

So once again, I am reminded to keep my dragon at my side, unleashing her only in the greatest need, and keeping her as happy as she can be on a restricted diet. Poor thing. Dragons probably aren’t meant to be vegetarians.

But that’s how it has to be with us.

Others with dragons make different choices.


Kiki said...

hey girl, we all have bad days when we take out our own ugliness on others (hopefully rarely), but i will say this: i have no doubt that you know the difference between a rant and a personal attack. i don't think this blogger person does. i do think that she might be stuck too much in the past -- we all have issues from the past, whether abuse or mental illness or less severe issues -- and there's no point in too much screaming about what *should* have been, e.g. whether a particular person should have had kids. the fact is, once someone has kids, they better focus on the damned future.

or at least that's what i would do if i had kids, instead of cats. but you get my point. chin up. i can tell from your posts (and just from knowing you) that you are an excellent mother, and you can't let someone else's hang-ups get to you.

andi said...

hey kiki - nice to see you! how's spring training going?

yeah, i guess i just needed to work out the ramifications of the exchange somewhere relatively private (not like this is private, but at least it's not in the comments section of someone else's blog.)

i think there are just some lessons we have to keep learning over and over, y'know? at least i do, that's for sure. and part of it, for me, is how to maintain a healthy level of criticism of my own conduct without letting it devolve into self-torment. kind of a self-compassion check, kinda thing.

hope you're doing well out there in the desert with the cat gods.

SB Gypsy said...

Oh, Andi, I was there, and she wasn't talking about you, really. You may be bipolar, but you're not psychotic, that I could ever see. I have a stepson who is bipolar, and he never shows the disconnect in empathy that she was talking about, even when he doesn't take his meds.

I got the sense that she was talking about severely psychotic, even sadistic people. These people who hear voices in their heads have extreme disruptions in their brain chemistry. Unfortunately they are the very last ones who should be taking on a committment to a helpless, and sometimes screaming infant. They are also too unreliable at taking meds because of their affliction. They are also easily victimized by selfish shameless men.

And that is SO not you.

andi said...

Dear SB -

Yeah, after a moment to re-read her post, I was able to come to that conclusion, too. Took me a minute to catch my breath, though - she's got a talent for shocking the hell out of me. ;)


rach said...

interesting. Just found your blog!

I just wrote about the Yates case. So tragic. I am one of those who's glad he's moving on...