Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, Motherfuckers! And so all week I will be writing about mental health, hopefully helping you understand and learn about some important shit about mental fucking health.
I’ve decided to start this awareness thing by sharing MY personal story, a story I shared in a show called That’s What She Said this past weekend in Champaign, Illnois (in front of 700 people-GAH) at the Krannert center. And all week, the wisdom of Dr. Seuss will accompany my “awareness” posts. Are you ready?
I have a truce with time and should. Will it last? Hard to say! So far, so good. Using timeless wisdom from Dr. Seuss, I’ll tell you the story.
HOW DID IT GET SO LATE SO SOON? IT’S NIGHT BEFORE IT’S AFTERNOON. DECEMBER’S HERE BEFORE IT’S JUNE. GOODNESS HOW THE TIME HAS FLEW! HOW DID IT GET SO LATE SO SOON?
My earliest memories include struggles with time and should. The world’s random rules, impossible expectations, and illogical blocks of time frustrated and confused me. And this is normal for young children, but I was NOT normal.
WHY FIT IN WHEN YOU ARE BORN TO STAND OUT?
Because sometimes you SHOULD!
But I didn’t. Fit in that is. I stood OUT. And I stood UP when I should sit down. I jabbed when I should be quiet. I did ALL the things I shouldn’t. I just couldn’t help it. Everyone wondered why, and so did I.
THINK AND WONDER, WONDER AND THINK.
There was a name for my not-normalness. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Not a common diagnosis in the 1970’s, and not many people knew much about it at all. But I did. I lived that shit, man.
YOU ARE YOU! NOW ISN’T THAT PLEASANT?
Nope. I wouldn’t describe being me as pleasant. Being me was either awesome or terrible. There was no middle ground, no calm, and no peace. Lots of aggravation.
THE MORE YOU READ, THE MORE YOU WILL KNOW. THE MORE THAT YOU LEARN, THE MORE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
Reading was my refuge. Dr. Seuss – my muse. The comforting rhythm and encouraging words made sense to me. Seussisms guided me through difficult times.
Dr. Seuss wasn’t really a doctor, but his words healed me.
Books, boundaries, and places to go: my parents provided me with all of these things, along with many opportunities to learn how to fit in, and embrace standing out.
And because they knew I had NO patience whatsoever, they found a way to help me tolerate time. An example of this? They declared the long drive to my grandparents house in the city to be ONLY 45 minutes long. They knew this number would make me happy! 45 minutes wasn’t some arbitrary number they chose. It meant something to me. 45 minutes was safe, good, and tolerable!
You know why?
Because 45 minutes of being patient and behaving is easier than doing it for a whole hour! I could behave in church, math class, or in the car for 45 minutes. And 45 minutes of having a good time seemed like so much longer than a mere ½ hour of fun.
WILL YOU SUCCEED? INDEED YOU WILL SUCCEED. 98 AND ¾% GUARANTEED!
45 minutes was a compromise. A number that made it more likely that I could and would succeed! You see physical time is not at all reflective of the way MY ADHD brain experienced it. Try to imagine experiencing time within time – all the time! Instead of flowing through time being in THE moment, you feel your past, present, and future collide in EVERY moment.
STEP WITH GREAT CARE AND GREAT TACT. AND REMEMBER THAT LIFE IS A BALANCING ACT.
I cared, but was tactless, stubborn, and impulsive, which made finding balance quite difficult. I learned everything the hard way. Taking medication helped. It made it a little easier for me, but it was still hard!
TODAY I SHALL BEHAVE. AS IF THIS DAY SHALL BE REMEMBERED.
This particular Seussism became my mantra. In all of the good doc’s stories, I noticed that behaving didn’t require conforming. I realized that I could fit in AND stand out.
Once I COULD do as I SHOULD, remembering to behave was easier. But it was still hard.
BE WHO YOU ARE AND SAY WHAT YOU FEEL, BECAUSE THOSE WHO MIND DON’T MATTER, AND THOSE WHO MATTER, DON’T MIND.
Adult me wasn’t that different from kid me, because nobody grows out of ADHD. We just learn to live with it. Even as adults, we still need firm boundaries, so when making them for myself. 45 minutes was still my safe measure.
I sought it out. Made it so. Higher education is heaven for the unquiet mind. So many 45-minute blocks of time filled with fascinating people and things.
I made it through college, grad school, and found a career. I had good friends and was close to my family. I married my love and became a mother. I felt successful, but never content.
It kept getting easier, but it was still so hard to be me sometimes.
One day, I was driving along and experienced my first truly peaceful moment as I listened to my son signing and giggling in the backseat. Holy shit! So THIS is what it felt like to be in THE moment, I thought; to be content. Before I knew it, the moment turned into a memory, a memory that often provided me with great comfort. My tussles with time and should occurred less and less as I learned how to BE, I learned how to balance.
ONLY YOU CAN CONTROL YOUR FUTURE.
I worked so hard to stay in control, and still let go. And just when I was starting to feel in control of my future, the future took control of me.
CANCER. A future nobody can control.
Cancer quickly ravaged my father, and I found it impossible to balance anything during the time he was sick. And forget about being content. I was TERRIFIED.
OU HAVE BRAINS IN YOUR HEAD AND FEET IN YOUR SHOES, YOU CAN STEER YOURSELF IN ANY DIRECTION YOU CHOOSE!
But how COULD I choose? Should I be with my father, my family, my friends, at work? There were too many shoulds and not enough time. And my father’s time was running out. Being with him became the should, that took up most of my time.
Yet somehow, I wasn’t with him when he died.
“How much longer, Mommy?” my son whined. He was frustrated and confused during the long drive to his grandparents. I understood. I remembered! And I felt the same way.
I had to make it better for him, the way my parents did for me. “ONLY 45 minutes, baby, you just have to hold on for 45 minutes and we will be there.” But nothing could make the time less painful for me; even my safe time frame gave me zero comfort.
My father was dead.
“Hold him here and here.” My hands took the place of my mother’s. My mom stayed with my father from the moment he died, rubbing his arms, neck, and face, keeping him as warm and soft as she could until I arrived. She didn’t want me to have to say goodbye to a cold, stiff body. What must the time have felt like for her?
Too much? Not Enough? Both I supposed.
I ran my fingers through his curly black hair. And it happened again; that being in the moment thing. I was only right there at that moment with my father as his body cooled and hardened. This was goodbye.
And so I formed a truce with time and should, my lifelong adversaries. In the moment when life and death met, these things lost some of their power over me. In that moment, I realized that life and death happen regardless of how I chose to spend my time. What matters is simply what IS in every single moment of that time, and I’d never be able to control how many of those moments I would have, even if I did every single thing I should.
This is true for everyone. Whether you fit in or stand out.
SOMETIMES THE QUESTIONS ARE COMPLICATED, BUT THE ANSWERS ARE SIMPLE.
This truce is still alive ten years later. It’s gotten easier, but it’s still hard.
Just do it. Don’t miss a post during Mental Health Awareness Week – October 6 – October 12.
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