Friday, August 16, 2013

Songbird Uncaged

In case anyone is ever curious about where this blog name comes from, here is the answer. This is something I originally wrote in my art journal on July 30, 2012. It's my life story, in a nutshell.

If a bird is raised in a cage, does it resent it's lack of freedom? Probably not. Most likely it would not know what it was missing. It might have an undefined longing in it's heart, but it would not truly understand it.
But later... If it was somehow freed as an adult; and then tried to fly and found it's flight muscles were weak, that it had not learned to fly as a young bird and was now struggling to learn as an adult what most birds learn while adolescents, then it might feel anger and resentment. Both at those who had kept it in a cage, at the cage itself, and at herself too. For all those wasted days spent cheerfully singing in a cage, instead of learning to fly. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Shedding My Skin

I have been terribly itchy all day today. All over. No idea why... No rash, no hives, just itchy from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet and everywhere in between. Talking on Facebook with other Hashimoto's sufferers, apparently this is not uncommon. Maybe I'm reacting to something. But as I soak in a baking soda bath in a hopeless attempt to calm the itching enough to sleep (it's after 1 am!) I was thinking that maybe this is how a lizard feels when it is trying to rub and scratch off it's old skin, so that shiny new skin can emerge. And that reminded me (free association here!) of something I read recently about "feeling uncomfortable in your skin", how that can be a symptom of your brain rewiring itself. So maybe the mental/emotional "itching" I've been dealing with lately, the cognitive dissonance of trying to learn to see myself, my childhood, and my parents as neither all good or all bad... But rather as a mix of both... Maybe this struggle is a good thing. It's me mentally rubbing and scratching off that itching old skin that no longer fits who I am. And hopefully after this struggle I will emerge as a more kind, loving, grace-filled, tolerant person... Who is still gutsy enough to stand up to lies and oppression, and speak the truth in love. I want to be a person who can change people's minds and hearts, and open their eyes, and shine the light of God's grace (unmerited favor and kindness) into people's lives. God's grace freed me from the bondage of legalism, and I'd like to help others break free as well. But for now I'm still itchy so I'd better take some sleep meds and hit the hay. Good-night, world. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My First Memory

I have a bizarrely good memory. I'm not sure why, I just do. Not quite photographic, but I can remember a lot of incidents from when I was very, very young. Which is something I've always liked, most of my early memories are happy so i enjoy reliving them. My family was much more "normal" when i was little. I was loved, treasured, enjoyed, and encouraged to be myself. My family was not without problems, my parents fought a lot, my Dad was a partier and heavy drinker, and my Mom was very unhappy in their marriage, but like most small children, I was completely oblivious to all that, I was the center of my own little world. 
I've heard a theory that memory is tied to language, and that makes sense because I was also an early talker. My parents tell me that before I turned two I was talking in full sentences, and loved to tell people that my Mom and I were going to take a trip "to Sausalito to see Grandma Petrivoski*" 
And it was actually a small part of that very trip that I remember.

The airport was huge, the tiled floors seemed to stretch forever in every direction. The floor was mostly whitish, but there were black squares here and there, so I was jumping from black square to black square. Mom was with me, but she seemed kind of distracted. Finally we reached a counter that seemed as tall as a cliff. Mom talked to another grown up up there, while I looked around at all the people and the tall, tall glass windows. Finally, a pretty lady in a blue uniform came around the counter and crouched down to my level. She said I was really cute. Then she gave me a present! It was a little white vinyl pencil box, with a symbol of the airline on top. It had a funny clasp that you could twist, then pull it through a slot, to open the lid. I thought that box was the most fascinating thing ever. I say there in the waiting area for a long time, twisting and untwisting the clasp, opening and closing the lid, putting things in, and taking them out. 
And that's all I remember. I don't remember anything at all about the actual visit, although I have some treasured photos of little me and my Grandma together. Maybe the reason I remember that so well is because I kept that pencil box for years. I even used it for my pencils in first grade. I have no idea what eventually became of it. Most likely it fell apart and was thrown away. But I will never forget that nice airline employee and her kindness to a little child. 
I turned two on that trip, while visiting my grandparents. To this day, I will look at little toddlers and shake my head in amazement that I can remember being so small. But it also reminds me to always be kind to little children. You never know whose first memory you may be a part of! I want to do my part to make sure to give kids good memories! 

*name changed to protect my anonymity. But the real name was just as long and complicated to say, lol! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Conversation With My Inner Child

I just watched this video and the first part as well (this is part 2) and its really excellent. I think I have a lot of work to do with my inner child. I am very visual, so I was able to see clearly. John, the guy in the above video, said to picture your child walking toward you. Immediately I was in a cool, mossy forest. I have always loved forests and felt most at peace there. I saw a little girl, about nine years old, slim and petite and a little elfin looking, with shoulder-length light brown hair and big hazel eyes. She was walking through the forest as I used to love to do... Leaving the path frequently to climb trees or balance as she walked on logs, pausing to check out mossy hollow trees and other interesting things. Eventually she reached my adult self, and she pulled out a picture to show me, a snapshot of a traumatic or hurtful event. At first I wasn't sure which event to choose for this, but eventually settled on one during my last year of school before my parents started homeschooling me, which was fourth grade, when I was nine. It was the first time I had a severe hypoglycemic episode. The child me and the adult me stepped into the photo and started reliving the memory.   
I started feeling sick and weak on the playground during noon recess, so I walked all alone, all the way to the school office. None of my friends took me seriously or would go with me, no adults noticed, no one seemed to care. I felt sicker and sicker, in kind of a daze, and the office seemed to be so far away. When I finally got there, I don't remember what I said, because I fainted. When I came to, everything was confusion, teachers and office people were fluttering around all worried. My mother was there, I think she was holding me, but her focus was not on me other than to try to get me to eat an apple (I was so weak and nauseous still I didn't feel like eating anything) but mostly she was trying to explain to the other adults that I must have hypoglycemia, like she herself had, and that this was just a low blood sugar episode, nothing too serious, but she would be taking me to a doctor... Etc. I felt invisible. No one really talked to me or addressed my feelings or how terrifying the whole episode had been to me. I don't remember if I went home with her and skipped the rest of the day of school, or if I just rested in the office and ate and then went back to the playground. But I remember the very next time I saw my two closest friends, either that same day or the next day, they looked at me with suspicion and disgust in their eyes. It was obvious they had been talking about me behind my back, because they said "We think you were faking being sick, just to get attention". I remember feeling so shocked, hurt, betrayed... I was staggered that my closest friends would think that of me. I think I cried and said that wasn't true, that I really had been sick with hypoglycemia (which probably sounded like a made-up word to them) and my Mom was taking me to a doctor and all. They finally, grudgingly, said ok, they believed me and they were sorry. But I could see in their eyes that they were still suspicious. 
I think this incident is at the root of my deep sense of shame about my health problems, plus the idea I've always had that everyone around me thinks I fake my symptoms. Especially as more and more health problems cropped up and i was diagnosed with reactive hypoglycemia, asthma, multiple food and environmental allergies, and epilepsy. It didn't help that in several incidents in later years, my parents did accuse me of faking or exaggerating my symptoms because I was "lazy, and just trying to get out of work". But I've always felt ashamed of being sick, and also like I am all alone. Like no one else really cares how I feel. No one was there to comfort me when I was nine and had this terrifying situation, I was alone in the fear and sickness.
After reliving that memory with my inner child, who I have nicknamed Baby Bird, my adult self stepped into the memory to comfort her. I picked her up and held her in my arms and validated her feelings, saying it was very scary what happened, and letting her cry about it. I told her it was ok, it was ok to have health problems, lots of people do, and that she would grow up strong and healthy in spite of having some health challenges. I told her it was wrong for her friends to act that way, that they should have trusted her and been kind and understanding and supportive. I held her and hugged her and told her that I loved her and would always be there for her and believe in her, no matter what, that I was her Fairy Godmother and loved her and would take care of her. 
This felt really amazing and healing, and that painful memory has a little less bite to it now. :-) 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Voices in my Head

An acquaintance once told me that everyone hears voices. But only crazy people believe everything the voices say. We all have voices from people in our pasts, telling us things... Some good, encouraging, supportive. Other voices are derisive, dismissive, and tear us down. For most of us, for better or for worse, our parents' voices are among the loudest in our heads. 
I am getting better, with practice, at ignoring those voices. But they are still there. And the messages they tell me conflict, and add to my sense of confusion. They tell me, when I am sick (which is often, with my chronic health issues. I have adrenal insufficiency and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, which cause fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue) that I am faking or exaggerating my symptoms and I need to stop being so lazy and learn to use my time wisely. Even though I am married with no kids and only work very part time, due to the health problems... So many days, it really doesn't matter if I do anything or not. But I still hear those voices saying I'm lazy if I don't work all the time. I ignore them most of the time, but I still hear them. I hear my Mom criticizing me for wasting money and "no wonder you are sick" whenever I cook anything that's not from scratch. No matter if its carefully chosen to be organic and free of chemicals, and I'm so tired that if I had to cook from scratch I just wouldn't eat. 
Don't get me wrong, the voices aren't all bad. Sometimes I bust into giggles because I know exactly what funny one-liner my Dad would say in response to something that happened, or something someone said. 
But for the most part, they are critical and depressing, a heavy burden to bear. An excellent book I am reading, "Trapped in the Mirror, Adult Children of Narcissists in  Their Struggle For Self" by √Član Golemb, Ph.D., called these voices a "negative parental interject". And pretty much the only way to heal seems to be to learn to talk back to that internal parent, to "rebel" in a way. Sometimes I do that. Other times I just roll my eyes and ignore the voices. Which is also a form of rebellion I guess. 

On colors, and shades of gray

I spent much of my childhood seeing the world in black and white. Some things were right, others were wrong. In the beginning, when I was very young, there were a lot of gray areas with no moral judgement. But as I got older, and my parents were sucked deeper and deeper into the world of quiverfull, Christian homeschooler fundamentalism, specifically the Gothard branch of that movement, the gray started to fade, and more and more of the world was taught to me as black and white, good and evil, with little to no middle ground. Wearing long skirts was good. Wearing skirts above the knee, or pants, was bad. Wearing anything that showed my curvy feminine body shape was bad. Wearing baggy, shapeless clothing that hid my form was good, no matter how frumpy and unattractive it made me feel. The fact that I longed for something different, being able to dress cute and fashionable and fun like other teens was bad, I should instead feel sorry for and pray for those misguided, immodest youths who either had no idea that wearing shorts and a tank top on a summer day could turn every man who saw them into some kind of insane lustful animal; or they did know it, and dressed that way on purpose, in which case they were behaving like harlots. At least in my mother's opinion. 
Listening to hymns and classical music was good, even healthy. Singing hymns was good too. But listening to pretty much any other kind of music, whether Christian or secular, was wrong. Particularly if it had a beat that made you want to tap your foot or move your body or (horrors!) dance. 
I could list many other examples, but these will suffice for now. So I was trained to see the world this way. Black and white. Right and wrong. Because my parents or Bill Gothard or some other teacher said so. Not because it was in the Bible really, but because some very wise teacher had uncovered some long-hidden "Biblical Principle" that wasn't really spelled out in Scripture per se, but this wise teacher had found it by reading between the lines, digging deep, and praying and fasting. So if you didn't follow this special set of rules, you weren't "really" godly or spiritual or holy or whatever. 
And then I finally, finally got out into the real world. When I was 25 years old. And I realized that I wasn't prepared for it. At all. It was so much more complicated and scary and wonderful than I had expected. And it certainly didn't fit into my black and white worldview. It was full of color and nuance and shades of gray. Nothing was as clear or as simple as it had been in my little authoritarian world where I was surrounded by others who thought and acted and dressed and talked almost exactly like my parents. It was overwhelming at first. Still is at times,  8 years later. But looking back on those 8 years of learning to step out of my caged existence and live in freedom, I have realized something. I still struggle with seeing some things in black and white. Except it has flip-flopped from my childhood world. Now anything that reminds me of that world seems bad, like a symbol of slavery, a gilded cage. Others may look at that cage and think it's pretty. But for one who grew up trapped inside, and is still trying to learn to fly, it's nothing but a symbol of bondage. An example/confession? I can't watch the Duggar's show, Nineteen Kids and Counting. It's too similar to my own experience. I was the oldest of 10 kids and raised my siblings. Others may watch the show and think it looks wonderful, all I see is a gilded cage. Others may enjoy wearing long skirts and dressing ultra-little-girly-feminine with lace collars and ruffles and long hair... It reminds me too much of my cage. It's what psychologists refer to as "triggering" to me. It makes me feel panicky, like if I ever go there, if I wear those clothes again, go to one of those conferences, listen to that music, I'll somehow get sucked back into that world and lose my freedom. It's an irrational fear, I know. I can't go back there. I see through it now. I know better. I'm an intelligent adult, not an impressionable child. Someday I'll learn to see shades of gray in even that world. It's not all bad. Not all homeschoolers over-shelter and emotionally abuse their kids. Not all large families overwork the older siblings and force them to grow up too fast and become parent figures to their siblings. My childhood was certainly not 100% bad. But I still struggle with that black and white thinking, only now it's the opposite of how I was raised, normal American culture seems good to me, and everything that reminds me at all of legalism and fundamentalism is bad. Which just creates this deep sense of confusion in my heart because I know that's not quite true. There's this cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, in some ways my parents were great parents. They really did what they thought would be best for us. But on the other hand they worked me like a slave as a young teenager until I finally left the household at 25. With very little appreciation, on the contrary, no matter how much housework or whatever I did it was never enough. It was rarely done well enough or fast enough or cheerfully enough. I was so tired, and depressed, and physically ill for so many years... How could they have not seen or cared? But then again, I also have happy memories of outings to the lake, camping trips, wonderful pets on our farm, family movie nights or game nights. My parents being impressed with my creativity and artistic skills. How can those parents be the same people who yelled at me and told me someday I'd regret not helping my mother more? Who told me I was airheaded, rebellious, and had no work ethic? Who castigated me for "always making the soft choices" and told me, when I was sick or exhausted or both, that I should just "work sick" like they did, and reach down to my inner reserves of strength through sheer force of will, and put a smile on my face and a spring in my step and just "sparkle up" so I could be a good example to my younger siblings? I ended up learning that so well that I worked myself into complete physical exhaustion, with severe health problems. Still to this day i have trouble listening to my body and taking care if myself, and not working myself to exhaustion. How can that be the same Dad who also called me sweetheart and asked my opinion about things and sometimes brought me special treats, just for me? And taught me to paint with water colors and told me I could do anything in life, and encouraged my love of singing?  It's so confusing! So are they good people or bad people? Are my parents good people who just made some bad choices and were misguided? Or are they bad people who manipulated and used me for their own selfish ends and to meet their own emotional needs, and the good times were just "honeymoon periods" between abuse, when they were manipulating me into trusting and trying to please them? Or are they both just complete narcissists who saw me as an extension of themselves, used me as they saw fit, my needs not really entering their mental scope at all?  And are they incapable of seeing themselves as ever wrong?  I really, really, truly don't know. I just feel so confused.