I’ve decided to republish the original posts from May 2020. I didn’t know about my disorders then. I just knew that I was tired of being pushed around and being hurt for something that I couldn’t control. I wanted to spread the word; to speak out to let others know that they aren’t alone.
Any notes from 2021 Amber will be highlighted in purple.
This post was originally published May 2, 2020. I skated around the fact that, during this time in my life, I was being subjected to mental and emotional abuse and neglect. I wasn’t strong enough to call it that when I first started writing. I was afraid. I still am. But I’m trying to live in my truth and the truth is, I was not loved and supported like I should have been as a child. No doubt that it affected what was happening inside my brain.
“Children are not things to be molded, but are people to be unfolded.” – Jess Lair
I’ve been doing a lot of research about blogging and how to get readers and how to write in this arena. Today I’m here to tell you that I’m scrapping most of that. I am a storyteller. I always have been. That’s what I know about. So, I’m going to tell you a story in the only way that I know how and hope for the best. So, without further adieu…
I was born under a waning crescent moon…
Just kidding. I mean, I was born under a waning crescent moon. I’m not sure why I know that but I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with what I’m about to share. I have just always thought that it would be a great opening line for a story. So, there it is.
In The Beginning
I was not an unhappy child; not at first and maybe not ever outwardly. It is clear to me now that I started exhibiting symptoms of mental illness early in life. My earliest memories are tinged with an inexplicable sadness deep inside me. I started feeling almost painful empathy at a young age, something I still experience as an adult.
My mom often tells me about taking me to the movies to see Honey I Shrunk the Kids. On the way to the car after the movie, she noticed that I seemed on the verge of tears. When she asked me what was wrong, I burst into tears and questioned why they had to kill the ant in the movie. This reaction led to the decision not to see Turner and Hooch that same year when we were standing in line to buy tickets and she overheard someone say that the dog dies in the end.
My parents were separated by the time I turned a year old and officially divorced the year I turned two. I don’t even remember them being together and never have, but as I became more aware of my surroundings it twisted me up inside.
I wanted my parents to be together, like most small children whose parents just weren’t right for each other. I wanted us to be a real family and, because I was a little kid, I believed that there was still a chance for that.
I used to have a Walkman that I carried around for years. I would listen to love songs by Tiffany and New Kids On the Block and I would sing the words as hard and loud as I could. I thought if my dad heard the lyrics about love and love lost, he would “remember” that he loved my mom and vice versa. It didn’t work.
It’s important to note here that my parents were not meant to be. As an adult with a better understanding of relationships and the world at large, I understand that and have for many years. They were a season in each other’s lives and I’m grateful that they loved each other once because, well…here I am!
A Slow Creep
When I started exhibiting signs of mental illness, no one in my life was knowledgeable enough to know what they meant and they seemed to the adults in my life as extreme willfulness and defiance. A difficult child to deal with. They made sure I knew it, too. I wasn’t a bad kid, by any stretch of the word, but I made my fair share of bad and stupid decisions. Sometimes I lied to stay out of trouble and I sometimes did things that weren’t dangerous, but were inappropriate.
People often harp about how children are resilient, and they are. They are resilient in the same way that all humans beings are resilient; in the way that all life is resilient. But that is not to say that children are unbreakable, mentally. We often throw them in situations that they have no control over and then we blame their poor attitude when they start dealing with complicated emotions in astonishing ways. The heat goes back on them and then they just have more complicated feelings of shame and guilt to figure out how to deal with. Its a cycle.
My mom and her side of my extended family moved to a different state soon after my parent’s divorce. For several years I would live with my dad in one state for a year and then my mom in another state for the next. Finally, when I was seven, my parents decided that the back and forth wasn’t good for me and I took up permanent residence with my dad. That same year, he introduced me to his new girlfriend and her daughter.
When I was nine, two things happened that would affect my mental state. My dad and my stepmom got married, essentially crushing the secret dream that I carried for my parents, and my mom moved to a different state, further than she’d ever been. This caused us to go a longer period than normal without seeing each other.
I don’t remember what behaviors I was showing at the time, but my mom and dad finally agreed over the phone that I should start some sort of counseling. I don’t really remember much about or if I even talked to him about anything; I only remember playing board games a lot. I don’t know if it worked or if my behavior improved.
My feelings evolved during this period. I still had a burning sadness somewhere inside, but I was also starting to understand fear, abandonment, and loneliness. I still made friends, laughed, and played, and I did all of the things that normal little kids do. On the outside, I was a happy-go-lucky kid who just got in trouble a lot. The inside, though. The inside was much more complicated.
A Lazy, Willful Girl
There were other signs that something was probably not right but, as so often is the case with children, the signs looked like they were pointing to something else. I had trouble focusing on anything difficult or not enjoyable to me. I was smart, but only a mediocre student. I couldn’t pay attention in class, had trouble remembering assignments, and bombed on tests.
I mentioned before being impulsive in a sometimes inappropriate way and taking to lying to get out of trouble, but I also had trouble staying on top of household chores and following directions. When I did do my duties, they often weren’t “up to par.” These things seemed trivial and mind-boggling to my dad and my stepmom; simple tasks, easy to complete. It never occurred to anyone that these things might be an indication of something bigger; more sinister.
Of course, I only knew what they told me…that I should be able to do them and I should be doing them and I wasn’t doing them and that somehow made me less. How do you explain to someone that, yes, you are smart and capable and young…but you still can’t seem to remember to pick up the socks off of the floor?
To this day it hits me deep in my core when I get called lazy, as though somehow my worth as a human is based on my ability or desire to scrub a toilet or fold underwear. It’s hurtful. Mostly because for most of my life I believed it.
Sometimes they still tease me about how it seemed I always *wanted* to be in trouble. Here’s what I could never get them to believe: I was trying. I was really trying. I was born with an insatiable desire to people please. I hate it when people are mad at me or don’t like me and it’s even worse when it’s disappointment from someone that I love. This is not an enviable trait to have; it makes life hard and painful.
My desire to please is tripled when it comes to my dad, even as I sit here typing. It has always been that way for me. The thought of disappointing him is crushing to me. So, while he saw defiance and stubbornness, I really was trying to live by the rules and I just couldn’t seem to get it. It was disheartening; soul-crushing, even. I could never *quite* be what they wanted me to be. It eroded my sense of self. I didn’t want to be a disappointment…I just was.
A Battle and A Spiral
We rounded out my last summer of childhood in grand fashion…with a custody battle. My mom and dad had always just had a verbal custody arrangement. What was on paper was not necessarily what they did. They would discuss things among themselves and decide what was best for me. For reasons that are more complicated than I care to explain in this already scrolling tome, my dad decided to make his custody of me legal. He won.
I did not like this. Things at home were extremely difficult and hostile and had been for many years. Blended families are not easy under any circumstances and our family seemed to have its own set of extenuating circumstances. For years all I had wanted was to go live with my mom; it was my only hope of a happy ending. Making up a perfect life in my head to escape the painful one I am living would become a recurring coping mechanism in my life, but I didn’t know that the summer I turned twelve. Once again, unrealistic hopes dashed.
After the court case was over, I asked my mom to take me for a haircut. I had always worn my hair long, at my parent’s insistence, and I walked in and asked her to cut it above my ears. It was a terrible haircut. It was also the first, and not even close to the last, time that I would use an extreme change in hair as a way to feel in control of what was happening to me.
In the year that followed, my sadness would turn to an internalized despair. It started to eat at me then, slowly, from some internal cavern. With my “only” hope for happiness snatched away, I also started to feel angry and resentful. I no longer presented as defiant, but I was defiant. I was still trying to figure out how to live within the rules. Trying to figure out how to go along to get along. Still trying to be good enough; still failing. But I was weary from trying. Then the hormones hit.
…and I promise to tell you all about it later! I’m tired and this is long. I hope you stuck with me and I hope you come back. I have much more to tell you about.