Smart but not smart enough. Athletic but not good enough to play in college. Cute but not pretty.
I was a confident child. I was told daily how smart, athletic, and pretty I was.
"She'll make the boys crazy one day" strangers would tell my mother.
"I bet you'll be a lawyer like your daddy" my grandma would say with a proud smile.
It's easy to feel successful when your accomplishments aren't your own. Sure, people think you're smarter than everyone when your reading specialist mother has you reading novels by the time you're in first grade. Of course they think you're a born athlete when your rugby-player dad has you in the yard throwing pitch after pitch until you throw harder than girls twice your size.
Then you get to high school. Your teacher recommends you for honors calculus instead of advanced-placement and it feels like your world is crashing. That's the first time you see disappointment in your parents' eyes. You don't make the school softball team and have to play travel instead. You graduate, and your parents note all the cords around your friends necks.
"Where are yours?" they ask.
You finally make it to college- not with a scholarship like your friends got but at least you're going. You gather the courage to get out of your shell after being invisible for so many years. You notice that you don't get attention from boys the way other girls do. You aren't cut out for pre-med- you need to switch majors. You watch your parents' faith in you fade as they switch their focus onto your younger sister.
I should have everything I need to be happy. I'm smart enough to get a good, average job. I play on the club rugby team. I have a few close friends and a boyfriend who loves me.
I know deep down that this will never be enough. I want to make a difference in the world through my career. I want to be the best player on my team. I want everyone to love me.
My biggest obstruction is being an ordinary person who was raised to be extraordinary.
Stig’s & Cigs
I don't smoke but I've been eyeing these smokeless "essential oil" inhalers with a lot of temptation. I can't use one, I'm allergic to generally every form of fragrance on the planet - can't breathe it or wear it - so it's a fantasy notion, the idea of having something to fixate my anxiety on that looks cool and doesn't cause cancer that we know of yet.
Anxiety is a nasty word I've learned to live with lately, but not as bad as other words I've dealt with including "depression" "breakdown" and - the utterly last word I ever want to hear again - "bipolar". I lovingly refer to it as my family curse, in about the same way one might refer to lycanthropy; it runs in the tree and you pray to God you never manifest it but every full moon you get nervous and start to wonder. In therapy my psych kindly suggested that I didn't seem "bipolar" - but perhaps I suffered because I'd been raised by a mother who was. Little did this psych realize that by scapegoating the very same parent whose curse I dreaded to bear they put a lynchpin in my decision to stop pursuing children via IVF and thus kick off the end of my marriage of twelve years. Because if simply having a "bipolar" parent can cause such turmoil, then why on earth would I subject another human to the same? Or worse, see them turn into a monster one day just like me?
[For the record despite my mother's diagnosis I am a very loved and spoiled child - never beaten or abused - and hence my rather loyal ire at having my mother scapegoated when she should have been better supported during her own breakdown, and I should have received help too. Notice how even among doctors the stigma of their labels persists.]
I don't talk about my family curse, obviously. It's been my experience people will quickly start to put you into stereotypes and boxes as soon as you present one. Suddenly "Oh, that's why you do that" or "You always did seem so and so" will start to trickle into conversations and you become less a person and more a walking statistic. A werewolf only achieves acceptance by staying in human form and passing for normal.
When I brought up my monstrous metaphor to a friend, after sadly failing to keep the wolf at bay during COVID and other life stressors, they kindly suggested I find the gypsy who cursed my family and get them to lift the curse. They didn't see my curse as a defining personality trait; instead, they had also suffered mental health issues and knew - as I did - that it sucks trying to advocate for yourself in a sea of labels and medications. Yet never had it occurred to me to look more carefully at the curse I'd accepted on my family all those years ago. Intrigued, I took an abnormal psychology course and decided to learn "gypsy".
It was an utterly fascinating and horrifying eight week journey.
The gist of what I gleaned from my semester in psych is this: Psychology is fucking $@!%-t. Over half of all psychiatrists don't even practice it anymore; they just prescribe pills. Which have gained popularity as the "biomedical model" of science continues to push the idea that mental illness is a problem of the person suffering it, not the society or circumstances they find themselves in. Except there isn't actually any concrete physical evidence for mental illness as a biological problem. You may read studies that suggest "oh no there's a genetic factor" or "there's a chemical imbalance" but the actual truth exposed by journalists who finally looked through the reports paid for by pharmaceuticals who have nearly quadrupled their clientele over the past few decades have found that actually, in fact, these ideas are not fully proven yet.
The "chemical imbalance" theory sounds good on paper - your brain simply isn't producing the right stuff, that's the problem - however where it breaks down is the fact that 1) it was disproven 25 years ago but mental health professionals didn't feel the need to share that info with the public because it made prescribing meds easier if they believed they were the problem 2) the chemical imbalances that do exist are actually caused by the medications doctors prescribe you when you're diagnosed; and since there are increasingly fewer unmedicated patients nowadays there are no longer any controls to compare to for any studies that continue to refer to these imbalances.
The brain, once prescribed any of the multitude of drugs pushed by psych wards and often forced upon the homeless or the incarcerated, actually changes structure as it tries to adapt to the new chemicals. This process is called "homeostasis" and generally refers to your body trying hard to keep things status quo. When a chemical starts to block serotonin, for example, your brain will create more receptors to absorb it anyway. In a short period of time your brain absorbs more serotonin than normal and the initial imbalance the doctor suggested you had is now reality. These changes progress and cause the doses to rise up and the condition to worsen. Since the use of lithium to treat bipolar started back in the early 80's, for example, the number of bipolar patients recovering from a manic episode has dropped from over 70% to less than 33%. The drugs make us worse, not better. Probably because none of them are actually developed to treat mental illness because - again - they can't find any physical cause for it. They are instead simply uppers, downers, and sedative derivatives that wreck havoc in the receptors of our grey matter and leave us worse off for it. Or, as a wise man put it, they are a thousand different types of aspirin to ease symptoms, not cure a disease. Placebos actually have a higher success rate than most anti-depressants.
The problem with relying on "genetic" factors for mental illness overlooks the contributing factors of intergenerational trauma + learned behavior/coping skills, all of which pass down from one generation to the next with about the same regularity as genes but could actually be a case of nurture more than nature. If one of your family members is ever diagnosed the only genetic testing they do to see if you've got the same issue is to ask about your family history. I was once actually told by a therapist not to give my family history to an intake psychiatrist, because it only made them lazy about diagnosing my symptoms (which they do in only 10 minutes of talking to you because time is money in hospitals). For further evidence my brother - who was also committed at one point for a mental breakdown - did not know to tell the doctors of our family's "bipolar" curse and was diagnosed with "schizophrenia" instead. Which begs the question - is my family really "bipolar" or "schizophrenic"? Furthermore they haven't found the gene for anything yet - including "bipolar" disorder - even though they're sure it's there. The idea that we can genetically treat mental illness is even further away than the ridiculous attempts we've made at medicating it.
The DSM - The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - is updated every few decades by a board of psychiatrists of whom about 60% have their research fully funded by drug companies. With each iteration of the DSM, the criteria for meeting a set disorder are widened such that new cases often triple within the first year of the manual's publication. Interesting how one book can cause such a huge wave of mental illness. A few psychologists have decried the obvious clash of interests, however the industry persists and there's been little progress made since removing homosexuality as a disorder from the DSM in 1974; feeling distress over being homosexual wasn't removed until 2013.
Which begs the question - exactly what is mental illness and what causes it? Well, the insanely simple suggestion posed by my teacher is that it's natural and it's caused by the world continuing to suck. One of the key points made over and over is that mental illness is always defined by society - and sadly, society often overrides the needs of the individual for the needs of the system when it's meant to be the other way around. Often people who are "mentally ill" are struggling with intense trauma or life circumstances; PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - for example is being rebranded now as PTSI - Post Traumatic Stress Injury - because the problem isn't in the person, it's in the situation that broke them. We send soldiers to war then treat them as invalids for witnessing its horrors. We have children suffer attack or abuse then treat them as mentally defective for surviving it. We ignore the loss of home, stability, and community in the homeless population and treat them as if magically they can overcome these basic human needs and function as a sane person while living on the street. Yet in each of these instances the focus is on treating the victim rather than addressing the flaws in our social systems that hurt them. War could be avoided. Families could be better supported in our communities. Housing costs could be regulated. However what will more likely happen is the victim-blaming of those dealing with these larger social evils than society making any meaningful change.
The crazy thing about mental health is that Western scientists literally bend over backwards to ignore everything outside the brain including social background, economic status, race, sex, culture, the whole gamut of overall health and wellness - to focus exclusively on little synapses and genetic coding. The obvious problem with this approach is that our brain isn't disconnected from everything around it. Far from it; in fact, they've proven that subtle changes including light, temperature, social isolation, and diet can all influence one's mood and mental health. Moreover the W.E.I.R.D. - Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic - countries all have the worst track record for mental illness. And unfortunately they're exporting it, through the paid advocacy of pharmaceutical-funded psychiatrists and increasing Western media coverage of what are increasingly now global disorders including depression, anxiety, anorexia, etc.
As for my stigma - my obstacle, the wolfsbane of my family tree? It's still there. Even after this eye-opening learning of the system that failed three generations of my family and branded us monsters. Curses don't die when you learn the gypsy lied. Because curses live in the continued beliefs of the angry mobs and villagers who listen to them.
And as I pack up the last of my things to move to a small apartment in a brand new city in the boonies (where I can afford to live on a single paycheck) while saying goodbye to friends and places I've known, I eye that homeopathic alternative to smoking and wonder if I had smoked whether it would have eased the anxiety for all those years growing up with a family struggling to cope with mental health issues. Or if it simply would have given me one more obstacle to beat.
Further Suggested Reading for Mental Health Issues In America:
Mad in America: https://www.madinamerica.com/blogs/
This is a blog covering the many failings and critiques of the mental healthcare system, including personal stories from people who have survived it
*If you're not a reader, the main founder/editor of Mad in America, Robert Whitaker, has a series of YouTube videos summarizing his research/findings in the mental health care system from his book Anatomy of an Epidemic, the first part of which you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R6MXO2j0V0
Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche
This is a fascinating book that delves into how culture informs madness, and how the way we diagnose and describe mental health in society can impact how it manifests among us.
Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health
This is a perhaps overly optimistic book by the former head of the National Institute of Mental Health that takes a critical look at America's mental healthcare system and its failings, as well as some suggestions for fixing it.
That's all I do
I worry that you're all I have to lose
That all my fears are facts of life
Every scenario of all the bad
An escape plan for when things go wrong
A negative whisper in my ear
For all the things people don't say
And every time I take a step into the light
Cold hands embrace me and drag me back
Shielding me from sight
So around in circles, I go
A road unknown ahead
But I'm always stuck here
My head tells me it's best not to follow
And I know it's right
but I desperately want to feel the light
Gifts I Own
I was never born with any gifts,
so people said I won't succeed,
as the world is too competitive,
and hard to survive.
So I developed my own gifts,
first one being mind- reading.
I'm not psychic, but I observe,
how others act and talk; and
ultimately what they think.
The second is my perseverance.
I preserve until I succeed as
it is the key to the success,
that many people never sees.
The next of course is my writings.
I write off all my emotions;
be it ecstasy or despair,
I write and keep them aside,
in order to protect my mindfulness.
These are my gifts to stay afloat.
Now everyone says I'll survive,
no matter where or when,
as it is my best gift- survival skills.
I am Still Here
My gift doesn’t come in any bright colorful package. My gift isn’t purchased in any festive cheery little shop. No, no, my gift was given life 50 or so years ago, and has grown to a tremendous size. Ripped and seeded by others who were supposed to love and nurture. Its seeds sprouted and grew with every harsh word, every dispirited look in the mirror. Its festering blossoms opened and closed with each new inward lie, failure, and perceived shortcoming.
In my most impressionable years, this was my truth. I was rejected, then I became rejected.
Five decades of hiding behind this monster. Years of being entangled in its vines allowing it to dictate my words, my stories. Those should be mine! My dear words, my precious stories! How dare it take those from me! But I let it. I let it take all that is me and hide it behind a large sap-ridden branch, oozing with self-doubt.
I lift others up, spread cheer and joy outward, but that doesn’t come from a warm soft part of my soul. Oh no, it is the hope to my contempt, the comfort to my despair. The festering blooms eject the good so that the sticky bad is all that remains, tucked neatly in pockets of the monster to rot and mutate.
This monster lives in the depths, the dark places of my soul. It has morphed me into a unique soul who is still here. Still living. Still breathing. Still fighting.
This is my gift. I’m still here.
I WANT IT
Is that what you said you want
Cant’ you see that I’m busy, Please do not bother me with such nonsense
Fine if you are not going to leave tell me what kind of power do you want
The power to do what you want when you want
Not to be controlled by the media and swayed depending on the narrative
You want to escape the matrix that gives you power huh
Well you either been watching to many movies or too much Andrew Tate
Either can get you in trouble if you believe to deep
But fine I can give you the answer to obtain the power that you want
There are two ways to obtain it, you are not equip to do either
The first way Tate is actually right about
Money obtain enough money where the rules don’t apply to you
It doesn’t matter how you obtain it drugs, stealing, business, off the backs of slaves in other countries
Once you obtain a certain amount of wealth the way you obtained it stops mattering
This way is slow and takes a lot of effort
So here’s an easier way for you, give up everything
Quit your job, sell all possessions, give away all your money, cut off all your connections
Do that and you’ll get the power you want.
I know what your thinking how will give you power
You see being ultra wealthy or extremely poor is the same type of power
The power is the same, the lifestyle is different
The wealthy can go where they want, be who they want, the freedom of choice
The misfits of the population can do the same
No one pays attention to the dirt on the street
Youd be free to move how you want, be who you want, it’s the freedom of choice
Think hard about the difference, besides the material things it’s the same
I don’t have the time to explain it to you
Because see you imagine a certain lifestyle that comes with power
But that lifestyle is not power it’s only a possible byproduct of power
The one thing you can never to with you want to obtain power is
To confuse money with power, those things are not interchangeable
You may have money, but that does not mean you have power
Often it’s the opposite the more money you have the less power you have over your life
Sure there’s some billionaires who have money and power
But think of the majority of those with money
The influencers, the actors, the singers, athletes, etc……
What power do they hold, they can’t go where they want, they can’t say what they want, they can’t step out line
OR poof everything’s gone
That’s not power, it’s just a nice form of slavery
A slave to the people
A slave to one master or a slave to a million masters, is still the same slave
So if you want power, THEN STRIVE FOR POWER
Money come and go, people come and go, but power once you obtain it and understand how to obtain it
That stays Forever
Socrates was one of the most powerful philosphophers ever and extremely poor
Yet people followed him, because power isn’t conveyed by what you see
It’s conveyed by what you can make the people FEEL
So go let me see what POWER you can obtain
I am bored of my taste
I see people in a small cafe next to my tiny apartment.
An elderly couple with matching gray for their hair, greet each other with a peck on lips. I wonder what they tasted then? He must have tasted the faint bitterness of the coffee she was sipping earlier, and she dry staleness because he drank a whole glass of water as he sat.
A very busy barista with pouty lips, and golden hair. Few of those golden strands stuck to her neck because of the sweat she was oozing out. She must taste like lipsticks, and fresh salt. Her eyes catch the glimpse of a tall figure.
A tall man with a neat gray stubble, in a gray polo and green khakis has an aura around him. Everybody in that small cafe could smell his presence, I am sure he tastes like sandalwood and sophistication.
A poet in me is bored of my own taste. I wonder how I taste like, to other people. Do people miss kissing me, as I miss kissing people?
Do Not Give Them Your Name
In my house it is well known that you do not give them your name.
Should the voice call out into the night, asking its simple question. “What may I call you?” You shall remain silent. If you hear the rapping on the window followed by its small voice again “What may I call you?”, you do not answer it. When the rapping grows louder, as if many little hands are tapping in sync and then the voice asks stronger “What may I call you?”, you still do not answer, you are not even to move.
In my house it is well known that you must let them in.
The small creatures that have gathered there on the window sill, if they ask properly. The creature below the window stepping out of the forest, twisting and grinning in morbid delight. “May I ask for some hospitality?” You must let them in. The creaking and groaning of its bones and joints as it climbs the wall to the window, smiling at you through the glass. “I have come a long way for your hospitality.” the group of winged things sitting on the window sill “May we ask for some hospitality?”. They’ll lift their wings and sit all pitifully there, smiling when they see you come towards the window. “We’ve flown a long way and are now tired.” You must let them in, and you must do it graciously.
In my house it is well known that you must give them good hospitality.
Offer them proper seating and a table. Make them tea, if you’re able to make the kind they like then make that. Find and serve them snacks of their liking. Serve them well, offer them blankets if they may need it. Give them towels if they are wet, or offer a blow-dryer to air themselves. When you have served them you must engage with small talk. “How has the weather been on your journey?”, “Where do you come from?”, “How has your trip been?”, “Do you enjoy the weather here?”, “Oh yes, it's been quite lovely here lately.”. You must sit there with them at whatever table you offered them and engage with them and serve them. Be it the large creature who bends and twists with manic eyes, or the group of small winged things, you must treat them well and be a good host.
In my house it is well known that you do not tell them your name.
Even if they ask once they are seated at your table, enjoying the tea and snacks and small talk that you've offered. You still must not answer. “I am the child of this house.” I used to reply when they visited me so long ago. “I am the keeper of this house.” I speak quietly as it now suits me. “What may we call you by?” They will ask. Eyes glittering and smiles sinister as they wait for you to either answer or break your hospitality. But you must not give them your name. Should the large ink black creature twist and reach out to you with its gnarled hands you must not flinch nor answer its query. When the winged ones fly up to your shoulders and land on your nose you must not fall for their charms nor answer their queries.
In my house it is well known that you must follow the simple rules.
Do not give them your name, Let them in when they ask properly, Offer them good hospitality, and Do not give them your name. If you follow these simple well-known rules, then you will survive the Fae.
Everyone who said that seeing the love of my life for the first time was going to be "one of the most romantic moments of my life" was wrong.
I was walking down the hall, hair in my mouth as I stared at my textbook cramming for the upcoming calc test when I completely slammed into a locker. Down I fell, book falling and scattering my notes all over the floor, textbooks in my backpack slamming into my lower back since I refused to use a locker, and my hair being slammed into the back of my throat, making me gag. The gasps I heard all around me followed by a mysterious figure hoisting me up so they could attempt to give me the Heimlich as I choked on my hair was - what I thought would be - the most embarrassing moment of my life. My vision was black as I continued to choke, unable to pull the hair out of my mouth since the figure's arms were in front of my arms instead of under.
Suddenly, I found myself in the nurse's office. To my left was Nurse Feldman - someone I knew a little too well with my accidents - in his infamous rolley chair. On the right, however, was a new face I hadn't seen yet. This brown-eyed blond hair beauty was staring straight at me... a little too focused as he wrote on his notepad.
"Armon, stop staring at the patient. You make them feel uncomfortable that way," Nurse Feldman called as he kept his focus on the computer in front of him.
"NURSE Feldman, lad. Nurse. Feldman. Otherwise, I feel too old." Armon tried to hide his smile after being chastised by the head nurse, but he couldn't hide it from me. Nurse Feldman turned from his computer, looked at me, and shook his head in disappointment. "Dannie... What are we going to do with you? You keep getting worse and worse." I tried to give him an innocent smile, but he shook his head at me once more. After showing him some semblance of disappointment in myself, he cracked a smile.
"I'm sorry, Mr... Nurse Feldman.. sir, is this a frequent patient?" Nurse Feldman broke his gaze from me and looked at Armon.
"Yes, this is Dannie. She's one of our regulars. Be it bullying, accidents, or strokes of luck, she makes it in here at least once a week." Armon stuck his hand out to me. I slowly extended mine, which he gripped a little too tightly to shake.
"I'm Armon! I'm an intern!"
"Armon, you're a little too excited. You're in a high school nurse's office, you have to be stern." Armon sheepishly pulled his hand from mine, making me realize that the butterflies he made from touching my skin weren't disappearing. He continued to smile.
"Nice to meet you, Armon... I'm Dannie. I'll probably be seeing you often..."
"I hope so! It seems I'll learn a lot from you!"
"Armon! No flirting with the patients!" I could feel my cheeks getting red, but it looked like his were too. We stared at each other, knowing this was going to be a very interesting semester.
A Rough Night
Once again I found myself back at the old diner, watching the misfits like myself walk in.
Denise knew me by name, order, booth, and schedule. I always came into the diner at 12:39 am and darted to the booth in the left corner of the L-shaped diner ~ it was the best place to people-watch ~ and ordered a mocha with some chocolate chip pancakes. Every once in a while Denise would come sit with me in silence and watch as I wrote in my journals, but she would mostly be catering to the others.
There was Jason: the homeless dude who was always granted a warm cup of coffee and a leftover muffin; Connie: the owner's daughter who would sit near the door on her phone until her friends arrived to pick her up, then take her away until 5 when she got back and pretended she never left; Beverly: the underpaid teacher who always sat in the booth next to mine and graded papers while humming offkey to the radio; and last, but certainly not least, we had Gizmo: the cook with the inappropriate humor and whole-bellied laugh.
Tonight, though, brought something I would never expect.
The door rang at 2:15, indicating a new customer. Looking up at the fourth intruder of the night, it turned out to be someone from my school... his name was... Damien? Devon? Deevaugn? Something like that.
Hands in his pockets and long black hair covering one side of his face, he surveyed the cafe until he saw my table, then began to walk towards me.
This isn't part of the night. This is wrong. My blood began to feel hot, my routine ruined for the night and therefore bringing my body a sense of danger.
"Excuse me, sir. You need to wait for me to seat you," Denise demanded as she stepped between my table and this boy. He looked her up and down, then looked over her shoulder at me.
"Looks like my party is already here, though," he retorted.
"Boy, I suggest you wait," she demanded again as she stepped forward, trying to force him to back down.
"Denise, let him through," I called out. Everyone looked up at me, shocked at hearing my voice. The boy took this chance to slide past Denise and fly over to my table before she could stop him. I slowly closed my journals and stacked them on the corner of the table closest to me up against the windowsill. He took off his black trenchcoat and folded it, setting it down so he could have a layer between his black jeans and the booth's seat.
"You're a hard lady to track down," he jested as he grabbed the menu from in front of me.
"Why are you here?"
"Straight to the point. I like it." He set the menu down and locked eyes with me. "You've done nothing on our project. I know you're still going to school digitally, but I'm not getting an F because of your negligence."
"I've done tons of work on it, I just haven't transferred it over yet."
"Let me see it." My blood went from boiling to ice cold in an instant.
"Let me see your work. It's due in two days, I'm not letting you do all your work tomorrow night if you haven't done it yet." I felt my anxiety rising, my breathing getting irregular, and my body shaking. Before I knew what was happening, he set his hand on top of mine on the table and everything went numb. I felt nothing. No paranoia, no fear, no anxiety... nothing... I looked back up at him, realizing he hadn't stopped looking at me.
"How... how did you do that?"
"Do what?" I shook his hand off mine and all my feelings came back. Looking up at him once more, he put his hand on top of mine again and even the voices stopped. Everything was silent.
"How do you make everything stop?" He looked down at my hand and turned it over, beginning to massage my palm with his thumb
"That's for you to find out," he said gingerly with an endearing smirk. And before I knew it, he was walking out the door, trench coat flowing being him.
... I need him.