In my quest for self-discovery, there are some things that I need to blog about that aren’t, well…funny. I have some experiences that some people might not want me to publish for the world to see. After all, my memory of how things happened might not be flattering. Maybe what I’m about to write will just sit in the “edit” stages for eternity, waiting for me to click the “publish post” button and set it free. Maybe not.
I have a friend who is in the process of freeing herself. She’s sharing the painful experience of caring for her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Apparently though, the pain of the relationship didn’t begin with the onset on that ugly disease. Reading about the dysfunctional familial relationships of others interests me. I’m sure that on some level, it is a continuation of my sociological studies, but mostly it makes me think of my own circumstances. Which leads me to ask myself the following questions: Did I actually go to college to find myself through the experiences of others? Do sociological texts interest me because I’m still trying to find my place? Will I always be searching for the why and how of me?
Most of my posts have been snarky glimpses into my past. I tend to use humor to gloss over a childhood that was at times, really painful. Maybe it’s the rain today, or the fact that Patty (my above-referenced friend) has the courage to write about her mother. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling blue and it is about time to open this dark can of worms and throw it away.
Last week, my sister mentioned something about me always wanting to be a writer. It’s true. For years, I believed that to be a writer one had to experience life through travel and extensive education. You had to be interesting. Therefore, I would never be, could never be a writer. Isn’t it silly, how we belittle ourselves and our experiences?
Growing up, we all have aspirations. Sure, some are unrealistic. Of course I wasn’t going to grow another 5 inches, suddenly resemble Elle MacPherson and drive a Ferrari. Admittedly, that one was laughable. Ha ha. But what about design? What was so funny about that? Why was going to the University of Florida so laughable? Why was it so bizarre that I was interested in pursuing a career in journalism? Why were none of these interests encouraged? No talents explored? Why did they laugh when I mentioned college? I can’t imagine doing that to my children or for that matter, allowing someone who isn’t technically my child’s parent to do so.
Divorce is ugly, but kids are resilient. That’s what they say, isn’t it? I “get” the need for divorce. I’m thankful that my parents took that route, but in essence it was simply the lesser of two evils. If they had stayed together there would have been daily exposure to really unhealthy behaviors. Yet, my parents apart also meant that I was truly alone.
Of course, my mother had to work (and worked hard) to support us. I was 11 when they split and my world shattered. My father, who had been God-like to me up to that point, was unexpectedly and, much to my disappointment, quite human. My mother was trying to survive as a single woman and I felt like a unnecessary extremity, simply along for the ride. One day I was having a play date with my friends and, when I got home my mother announced that we were moving away the following day. Just like that… we’re leaving your beloved farmhouse behind tomorrow, your best friends, your family. Death. That’s what it felt like. If it happened differently, I’m sorry, but this is how I remember it. My sister was forced out into the world. She was 18. My brother went with my father. I was suddenly an only child, but had I ever been anything more?
I’ve always felt like the lone wolf. I found that in my immediate family, the best way to survive was to fly under the radar. If, by some chance they did notice my existence, my best bet was to make them laugh before I went back to my bedroom and escaped into a book. Books saved my life and quenched my thirst for something else.
Once that move happened I was truly alone. I spent entire days wandering around in a strange new town. I got myself to school and let myself in the door when I got home. When she wasn’t working, my Mom was trying to enjoy her newly single life. There were only a few boyfriends (one of whom later became my stepfather) and most seemed to tolerate my existence. I was part of my mother’s package. I knew this. Even at 11, I knew this.
One day, on my way to my new school I ran away. I had already missed something like 15 days and it was only early November. As I walked to school, I was overcome with the first feelings of overwhelming darkness. A hopelessness so powerful that I needed to escape, I needed to go back. Back to the farm, back to my father. I needed to run but here’s a little secret: you can’t outrun depression. Not the clinical kind.
I hid in a big tunnel that went underneath the Northway and led to the Prospect Mountain trail. Before I ran, I called my father at the State Police barracks and pled with him to take me back. I stood in a phone booth, 11 years old, sobbing. In essence, I was pleading to go back in time. What I didn’t understand was that I was really begging for someone to remove the growing ball of black desperation from my core. I couldn’t have explained this to you at the time. It took nearly twenty years to be able to verbalize “the darkness”. The darkness has been a nearly constant and unwelcome visitor since I was 11 years old.
I don’t blame my bouts with depression on my parents. I blame insufficient levels of serotonin and the faulty neurons in my brain. Its clinical and, come to find out, hereditary. I know that my maternal grandmother suffered from depression. As I’ve been told, she was diagnosed as “manic depressive”. These days they call it bipolar disorder. I have imagined generations of people in my family feeling this way, hopeless and black, but mixed with days of intense happiness and boundless of energy. We’re a never ending cycle of crazies stuck in a never ending cycle of crazy. Please, God let it end with me. I can’t bear the thought of my children quietly suffering in the way that I have.
Back when I was 11, depression was still a relatively taboo subject, especially in my family. I struggled through my pre-teen and teenage years desperately trying to feel, and more importantly, appear normal. My family situation wasn’t exactly stellar. My mother had seriously dated one man, then married my stepfather. During the whole dating and newly married process I was kind of left to my own devices. Sometimes I feel like I raised myself. I definitely felt like I was in the way and rebelled against the men who, it seemed, so easily influenced my mother’s thoughts and actions. Let’s face it, my stepfather isn’t really a guy who digs children, let alone teenagers struggling with undiagnosed depression and adolescent mood swings.
I don’t have many memories of parental involvement in my school career. Kids tend to go off the grid when their parents don’t show up for track meets or cheerleading or art shows. (Art shows where they won an award for a still life painting.) Teachers tend to lose interest in the kids whose parents aren’t involved. Kids who are bobbing along with no real idea of who they are or where it is that they are going tend to fall off the radar. That’s what I did. I quit track, quit cheering, and stopped pursuing anything related to art. What was the point? They had very little idea who my friends were, unless it was a friend who I could stay with for the weekend when they wanted to go away. I began questioning my worth and abilities. I was feeding the darkness with my teenage angst.
As college application time drew near, it was painfully apparent to me that none of the adults in my life were going to encourage my attendance. My pile of catalogs was met with disdain and laughter. I clearly recall my stepfather’s mean spirited chuckles at my choices and his questioning my ability to pay. It still enrages me. His choice (as if he had the right to make such decisions) was community college. The gist of his suggestion was that it was second rate, but that was about all I was worth and/or capable of. 40 year old Kelli wants to go back to 1987/88 and hug 16 year old Kelli. I want to tell her that she is an amazing artist and writer. That she shouldn’t quit track or cheerleading. That she is smart and capable and oh, don’t worry you’ll discover Zoloft in a few years to help with that debilitating depression. Don’t give up because your people don’t believe in themselves enough to believe in you.
Needless to say, the first year of my college career was a bust and, in my quest to run away from the darkness and find a happy place, I returned to Mahopac. (Actually, I was no longer welcome in my stepfather’s home.) My sister was there, my brother was there, my Aunt Rain and Uncle Joe were there, my cousins, my grandmother…it was my answer. They understood how unhappy my life was in my stepfather’s house. They supported my move and rearranged their lives to accommodate my arrival. I flew to Florida (where Dad lives) and went through an emancipation proceeding simply because I wanted nothing to do with my two selfish, narcissistic absentee parents. It was my statement to myself. I was 19 and, though I’d essentially always been alone, I was announcing to the world that I didn’t need their half-hearted interest any more. We could all just go on with our lives and stop feigning interest in one another.
I tried so hard to fit in somewhere. Anywhere. I was still existing as an outsider and seemed to feel more of a connection with people outside of my family. I dated an older guy who for some reason, my family believed was a “coke head” who was turning me into a drug crazed junkie. Untrue. I never developed a taste for illicit drugs and, had they really known me, they would have realized that hanging around people who drink to much or do drugs freaks me out. Silly, mean spirited, small town/family rumors.
Regardless, I met a different guy who was my own age and began dating him. This made my family happy. He looked like Matthew McConaughey, or so I was told. A bartender/friend of the family dubbed us “Ken and Barbie”. We had nothing in common. I was back in college, he worked in construction. I liked museums, books and art. He liked football. He hated my friends. My family LOVED him. Through their acceptance of him, I finally felt like I belonged. I was an idiot. We dated for 5 years and were married for 3. Three of the longest years of my life.
It was my own fault. I questioned the marriage months before the wedding and even returned the engagement ring shortly after we purchased our first house. My mother and my sister talked me out of calling the wedding off saying, “It’s cold feet”. I felt like an outsider again. I could see it on their faces…Oh jeez, Kelli is going crazy again. She’s being a bitch. What’s her problem? He’s so nice. She’s so mean to him. She’s so bad. She is worthless and we actually like him more. I married him.
It took me 2 and 1/2 years to realize that I was living with what had become a constant and crippling depression. I began seeing a psychologist, then a psychiatrist so that I could try prescription meds. Nothing helped except for that bottle of wine each night, or happy hour with my work friends. I dreaded going home. I wanted to die. Mind you, I’ve never been so depressed that I have attempted to take my life, but I have pleaded with God to end it for me. In my book, when you begin praying for death, its time to act. I decided to leave. A decision that was not met with support. At all.
I got an apartment in Greenwich, CT but had to wait two weeks to move in. With nowhere to go, I slept in my car for two nights and showered at the gym in my office building. Luckily, I worked for a hotel company, so for a few nights I stayed at the Sheraton in Stamford for the employee rate which still quickly added up. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what was happening and forced myself to sit in my office each day and act normal. In private, I was barely able to move.
Dave and I had professionally known each other for about 6 months at this point. I was his client. We had a good rapport. He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel safe and in my second week of upheaval, I confided in him. I told him my story. I told him that I was alone. It all sounds so pathetic now, the circumstances that brought us together, but he was literally my savior. He held out his hand when I had no one and expected absolutely nothing in return. He was attracted, but respected what I was going through and was prepared to simply be a friend. He had worked through his own hardship and was coming out the other side when we found each other. It’s funny how when you aren’t looking, love finds you. At my darkest, most alone time, God threw David in my path.
To this day, my family believes that Dave is the reason for me leaving my first husband. My first husband believes that Dave is to blame for my leaving. They all still stubbornly believe that I was having an affair. David has been accused of being “the other man” in quiet, “manly” confrontations at family gatherings. Someone in my family even referred to him as “the other man” at our wedding. He has never become confrontational in return. He remains unscathed and above it all. He loves me enough to tolerate not being accepted. He is the first person to recognize the extent of my depression and understand how tightly it holds me in it’s grasp. He seems to be the only person who understands that I left because I was severely depressed.
Together, we discovered that Zoloft combined with running is the most effective weapon in battling depression. Pregnancy and post-partum were a challenge. Ample amounts of sleep are a must and too much dreary weather is a really bad idea.
He has pointed out how easily old patterns of behavior emerge when I’m with my family. How to this day, they see what they want to see in me, and not who I really am. He has pointed out that when those old patterns emerge, I am almost immediately on edge and depression creeps back in. No, I don’t like be labeled the bitch/shopaholic/snob/loner and yes, I do become a bitch when those words are spoken. I’m tired of old labels. I never wanted you to make fun of what interests me. All I ever wanted was to be seen and heard, not ignored and interrupted.
So there it is. I just went public with some heavy stuff. If you’re still here reading, thanks for hanging in and I’m sorry if I brought you down. I’m not expecting a lot of feedback on this one, but I do feel slightly more free.