Open Response to Kayne West’s Tweets on Mental Illness

(as appears on Medium.com – https://medium.com/@penneywrites/open-response-to-kayne-wests-tweets-on-mental-illness-a92c883d46dd)

Please show me the beauty.

Please.

I need to see this beauty. Or to at least believe this beauty you speak of exists.

I suffer from Generalised Panic Disorder, Panic Attack Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder and Agoraphobia. It’s been forty years. I was five the first time I remember having a panic attack. I was at school.

Have you ever watched a child have a panic attack?

My parents saw it daily and didn’t know what to do.

It was never beautiful.

Have you ever watched a mother lie on her bed, everyday, weeping, all the while softly saying,  ‘I wish I were dead’in front of her children?

It wasn’t beautiful.

I’ve watched a child with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) touch the wall, while simultaneously saying the Lord’s Prayer, aiming for a certain number so no one she knew would die that night.

And it was not beautiful. It was heartbreaking.

I’ve watched my husband taken away from the doctor’s clinic in an ambulance with an armed cop. My daughter and I separated from him at the ER and ‘handled’under police guard while he was tricked into taking a pill. He believed that he would be free to go home if he just took the medicine.

They placed him in a psychiatric ward, and you are so right that no one would choose to go there. His shoes held on with cable ties instead of laces, his jeans held up with more cable ties – they took his belt. More drugs that he still doesn’t know the name of two years later.

It was not beautiful.

And there is still a stigma.

One cop kept telling me how far we’d come in ending stigma, but my own blood worked in the ER and would not stand up for us. Would not stand up for my husband to see his only family available. Would not stand up for him to have informed consent or have me take that role. Would not stand up for two of her own blood while we were treated like common criminals under police guard because the stigma is part of the culture for many in the front line, the ER, the police, the paramedics.

God did not choose me, my genetics did. This mental illness runs through the maternal genes in me. It goes back many generations, to great aunties who hid in their bedrooms only coming out to cook meals, to grandmothers who had their trembling legs sat on by a doctor during a house call, clapping his hands like thunder ‘Stop that. Enough. Stop it right now!’ If only we could stop it just like that. Through to mothers on Serapax and mother’s little helper, Valium.

To my childhood.

Where generations of mental illness collide. Where I miss almost as much school as I attend. Lucky I’ve always been in love with learning. An independent learner is what my reports often read.

Age sixteen, sweet sixteen, and the Valium and the tricyclic anti-depressants start. The point at which a doctor and my parents unwittingly signed me up for a lifetime of benzos and pills the FDA wouldn’t approve, but here in Australia they only take you off them after you have a heart attack.

And here I am aged 45 and my career has never started.

Before the medication I was a highly creative person. I’ve always written, I liked to act, to perform. Now my senses are dulled.

Don’t feel as strongly as I remember.

I was always torn between law and writing – I qualified for both.

But the government considered me disabled 28 years ago, collecting disability and stories. I’m crazy, I’m washed up before I’ve even started.

I have nothing to offer society – that’s how it sounds to me.

I’ve never held a full time job for more than three months. But I’ve raised a daughter who has, married a man who has, and I have a master’s degree, but no one wants me to write for them, not when I’m agoraphobic, have social anxiety disorder and live on the other side of this screen. Who wants a freelancer that doesn’t attend the office? Who isn’t a team player? Someone who’s a little bit different even if they’re not crazy, not washed up?

Yet the tales I could tell. The stigma I could break.

I’ll never be off those drugs.

I guess I’ll never work.

I never chose this, and it isn’t beautiful.

But I will NOT be written off.

My husband will NOT be written off.

My maternal genes over which I have no control through the generations will NOT be written off.

I’m glad we had the chance to have this discussion. If we, the not so crazy ones, can generate more discussion then we have done society an honourable and much needed service.

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Stranger’s DV – When do we speak up?

I’ve just finished reading about MrDeadMoth aka Luke Munday. Apparently a 26 year old Telstra employee (possibly ex-employee), with a 21 year old partner and two children ages 3 and 20 months with a third on the way. That’s a handful!

Munday was playing an online game, Fortnite, when he was repeatedly asked to join the family, but in the footage I viewed (now living in the pile of things I wish I could unsee or unhear) it was he who sounded like the little child who didn’t want to do something. I’ve seen toddlers hold it together better.

Sadly it was fellow online gamers watching him disappear from view, hearing the slap of flesh on flesh and the screams of his pregnant partner who had to make the decision whether to get involved.

They did.

Thank you.

Munday is on conditional bail for common assault according to news reports, yet other gamers have come out in support of his actions, somehow throwing a flattened cardboard box at him or wanting him to help with the children he helped crate justified his reaction to physically assault this mother in front of her children. You can read about it here.

This made me think long and hard about my neighbours. Over six years I’ve been guilty, at times, to turning a blind eye by turning up the stereo or moving to a room further from the fence line.

Should I get involved?

Would you get involved?

I really want to know.

Over my back fence, there’s a property for young families in crisis and new tenants have just moved in ready for Christmas, but really they could be any of the other tenants we have shared this fence line with.

A young couple with kids. Quite, aside from the sounds of little children playing, squealing under the hose on a hot day, talking to themselves as they jump on a trampoline, the mother coming out to peg clothes on the line, excited screams of “watch me, watch me, watch me, Mummy” and she does, often with a mobile phone in hand.

My cat likes to watch from the bathroom window ledge, she meows until I open it. Once I opened it later in the evening, around 6pm, that’s when the males seem to return to the house. I was still sliding it when a man approached the fence, no sunglasses and his pupils were huge. He screamed “What the fuck do you want?” and before I had time to process that I’d automatically slammed the window shut. This had upset him and he was yelling twice as loud at the woman, the mother of his kids, and I heard the unmistakable sound of flesh hitting flesh.

I called the cops.

He yelled, one cop raised his voice and told the man to go back to his own house. Then it occurred to me the woman probably had the emergency house to escape the domestic violence she’d been raising the kids in that she’d been living in but here it was, it followed her like some foul odour.

I don’t know if the men over that fence work, or sell drugs, but they always seem angry and start yelling. This is when I usually close the window. I sneak into my bathroom, crouching down, think of the opening scenes of M*A*S*H* with the chopper, and I climb into the bathtub, reach up and slide the window shut. Because I’m scared. I’m scared for the woman over the fence but I’m also scared for me. This violence spewing creature is like a pebble in a pond and his intimidation ripples outwards from her home to my home, to the neighbours on the other two sides, presumably to their friends, and families, who knows how far, but for all of us feeling those ripples, he’s still in her house, and she’s still taking it even though the mere fact she’s in this temporary accommodation says she’s tried to separate herself.

I’m watching the clock. It’s 4pm. In another two hours the domestic will start up and the neighbours, some old and hard of hearing, and others jaded by seeing intervention go nowhere will all turn their TVs up a few notches and away it will fade. I’m scared that one day we’ll mill around as a body is removed saying things like, ‘she was so good to her kids, such a good young mum, those poor little mites, hope they don’t end up with him, shame she was involved with him’ and then we’ll get new tenants and start fresh.

But it doesn’t stop in the intimacy of our shared fence line, which offers some kind of privacy – just them and the neighbours. No. I see it out shopping too, full volume and as public as it gets.

The other day I was at the shopping plaza and this guy was laying into his girlfriend viciously, telling her how useless she was, how dumb, how she didn’t deserve him, how she was a useless bitch, how she could disappear and no one would miss her.

That was it for me, the veiled threat.

‘You don’t have to put up with that. I’d report him., I said loud enough to make sure they both heard me. He gave me the stink eye but she, who had been struggling to stop the tears rolling out and showing her hurt was instantly full of rage. ‘Mind ya own business ya dog.’

Once more I was reminded that victims often defend their abuser and left to ponder why ‘dog’ was always the go to insult, even Luke Munday used it.

I quite like dogs.

Is 45 too late for a career?

I had a dream, back in high school.
I would graduate.
I would get a job.
I would study.
I would buy a car.
I would leave home.
I would have a career.

I woke up at 45 and realised
I’ve graduated more times than I like to admit.
I’ve been on disability since I graduated high school.
I have a twenty-year-old Lancer in my driveway and P platers drive newer cars than me.
I’m still waiting on that career.
It might be too late for a career.

*

It’s hard to get ahead in this world when you’ve been on welfare so long that the salary included in a job advertisement reads like a foreign language to you.

And you think over all the casual and part time jobs you’ve had and none of them required any of the study or skills you’ve collected along the way, the shells on beach walks.

You need someone to give you that big break.

That crack of an open door where you can use you skills.

You also need them to give you space to dip your toe in and make sure the anxiety monster isn’t going to do a Jaws on you and leap out of the water to chew you up. You need to get used the tides, the breaking of the waves and the calms.

*
Forty-five can’t be too old.
You have to believe this is true. To hold this truth like a sick bird in your hands, cupped so gently, with every good intention.
You need to know you’ll learn to swim in life, because if you can’t believe in that, you might as well drown.

Being Vulnerable & Wearing Masks

I’ve become hyper aware that my writing life and real day-to-day life have hit a impasse that has never been apparent to me before. I love learning more about myself though writing and learning more about the world I inhabit.

In wiring memoir, the author, through her character self, is required to come across as a reliable narrator in the telling of her/his life. Of course, it’s a life the author picked apart so as to choose the parts that make for an interesting tale, yet still rings true for the reader. The narrative needs to both bare the soul to the reader and to tell a story that somehow shows the character changing in some significant way.

As Miss Mona, my pin-up name, I take on a whole other persona. When the winged eyeliner, the red lipstick, the tight sweater or swing dress go on, and the wet set gets brushed out of my temporary red hair I lose a large part of my daily anxiety, and a confidence pops up as soon as I catch a glimpse of the mask in the mirror.

As a teenager I was heavily into make up but it wasn’t until I started working after school and could afford the likes of hair dye and eyeliner that I found myself at home on a stage. Who would believe a periodic agoraphobic could suddenly perform in vaudeville shows, sing, dance, and generally become a person I have never known before. Now I wonder, where did she go? Perhaps she will only ever be seen on the papers of a memoir. For some reason I don’t want to write about that period in my life. It’s like if I pick it to pieces for a story I will kill the fairytale. What if I could find a way back to that place though? A place void of pills and panic attacks, a place where leaving the house was not a decision each day to worry about but rather a given, no thought to it whatsoever.

My mistake was in who I chose to associate with after school’s summer break over 1989/90. Teenagers can be caught up in dramas so much so that they don’t realise the impact they’re having on their friends. In this friendship I lost my identity and conformed to the standards of the group, which were set by the alpha-girl. I put the mask down and gave up on the me that felt good for the sake of acceptance. I put on a new mask, one to hide the pain, to blend in. I started writing. That was the only place it was safe to be me. Of course, no one read any of what I wrote.

To be vulnerable on the page do I have to take off all the masks, or to be vulnerable on the page do I need to find the mask that fits best for what I want to write?

Throwing Shade on Memories

This week has really thrown my writing habit out of whack.

We had some unexpected news, and it was family news that needed to be relayed to people who are not really in my life anymore but are very much a part of the manuscript I am currently working on.

I’d managed to dig down deep and find the good times with someone that was important to my story. I was just getting a bit of a happy glow going over the good times we shared when the news had to be shared. I volunteered seeing as I was feeling good about this person from writing of our good times together.

Well, let’s just say this person didn’t show their best version of themselves.

Now I’m stuck and haven’t worked on the project for days. Every time I try to focus on a scene all I see is the bad once more. It rally is going to take some work to get back into that frame of mind.

In between there is alway writing exercises to do as writing practice is so important to keep things moving. I did buy the egg timer I decided I need to that I can make sure I sit in my chair for the required minimum time per day, without having a phone near me.

And on a side note, I’ve been following a blog of a modern day pin up girl, it’s a look I’ve always loved, and I began to wonder if there is a genre for fiction written for this sub-culture? If there is I’d love to get some titles.

Confrontations

Once upon a time, a young woman use to stand up for herself. Unfortunately she would do so even when the threat was only a perceived one.

Eventually she worked out this only escalated her anxiety levels.

Now she sits with that dodgy purchase she made, and contemplates ways to justify wasting the money, to write it off as just one of those things that happen to people.

Back to her writing project she wonders why she chose to write in memoir when she gets to one of those key scenes that she cannot work her way around, they have to be in the narrative for the story she’s telling to work.

But.

Her heart rate advances.

Her blood pressure drops, leaving her light headed, vision a little hazy as she writes.

Her concentration moves away from the scene she’s writing, and she forgets that even though this is memoir, these people can’t harm her anymore, they are just characters, and she forgets to take a fresh look at the events and remember that she can write this in anyway she wants. She’s not a magician and can’t change the facts, but she can put in her reflection, a magic that time passing allows her.

Breathe.

Write.

Rest.

Repeat.

Confrontation doesn’t always have to raise anxiety. (As for that dodgy purchase, she’ll have to work on that.)

Ghost Cat

(In honour of one year without a dear furry friend.)

Last night ghost cat passed through the living room. My husband felt the air around his ankles alter just enough to accommodate the passing of a mid sized feline, just as he’d felt every night for fourteen years until a year ago.

I read an article on pet grief that classified animals as spiritual and claimed they stayed with us for a full year after death. I know better than to believe everything that I read on the Internet. He was not a particularly smart cat and I cannot see him possessing any exceptional powers other than those of love and loyalty.

Still, I see his white presence vanish around corners, like vapour, and I hear his noisy cry at times. The other night my husband heard it too. Is this a phenomenon of grief or is Ghost Cat staying for a year?

If you’re staying, I want to apologise for my annoyance on that last day when you tracked crap through the house, for making you spend those last few hours outside when you wanted to sit in a window inside, for crying in front of you as you drew your last.

I don’t know where you’re spending the afterlife, but I hope you’ve found your two friends and once again you’re the three musketeers. Most of all, I look at the cat that’s been left behind and realise how many times I’ve said goodbye, that I’ll have to do it one more time and I don’t think I can do it again, so Ghost Cat please jump upon my bed, vanish into cupboards, leave fur upon the curtains until I can face the days without you, just so I know when the years rush by and I say goodbye again I’ll know she’ll haunt me too until I face the world bravely on my own. Ghost Cat, you’ll never know how much life you took up when an agoraphobic’s world is so small. Thank you.