(I won a Community Writing Contest with this Blog Assignment from my English class. So thought I’d share it.)
I grew up in a small village in rural Manitoba. I was the youngest of three children and the only girl. In the 60’s I could play outside all day, but my borders were Mrs. McKay’s house and Mr. Habar’s house. There were no girls in those two houses or the houses in between. There were boys and I was the youngest child. My grandparents had immigrated from Northern Ireland and Sweden. We lived in an old house that had been moved off a farm and into the village. Wood stove, no plumbing, plaster walls, a kitchen, living room, basement, and an attic, our home. My brothers and I slept upstairs, and my mom and dad slept on the pullout sofa in the living room. My father was an ironworker with a grade 8 education. My mother was an avid reader and loved to learn. My father was a binge alcoholic who loved to fight the world, and the most charming and polite gentleman when sober. While away on construction sites he often would drink, gamble, fight, womanize, and lose all his pay cheque before he could get it back to Mom. Mom ran the home. She had a huge garden that produced what we lived on for the year. But we were poor. Dad’s Irish pride would not hear of his wife having to work. Our only convenience was a large freezer to freeze wild meat and vegetables for our food supply. The rest was in the basement canned or in the root cellar.
Both my parents came from their own world of disfunction. My father’s family had addictions and depression. His brother committed suicide in the 50’s and my father was hospitalized for three months due to a mental breakdown when I was 9. My mother always held her emotions in check., I only seen her cry once. No hugs but caring. Her father had been a strict disciplinarian and was often abusive in his verbal and physical discipline. My mother’s sister died of a heroin overdose when I was about 4. My Mom often suffered the pain and bruises from Dad’s drunken temper. I learned early to be the good child. I learned early to be the peacemaker. I learned early how to distract my father so mom could go to bed unharmed. I learned early to really want to be happy. I should be happy. All the other kids seemed happy.
Ahhh a feeling of happy. A way to leave my unhappy home. My boyfriend had bought me an engagement ring and wedding ring when I just turned 15. He was controlling, chose my clothing told me who I could be friends with, where I could go to school, and who I couldn’t talk to. But he loved me. He was so jealous of any man I talked to or even looked at too long. Oh my he loved me so. I learned quickly it was his way or no way, and I loved him. I was sure my love would make him more secure and happy. I had learned to be a peacemaker and a fixer to survive, and I could do this again. So at Christmas of my 16th year we were engaged. He was working 12 hours a day and 7 days a week. We had financial security and love. Who could ask for anything more? I had done it. I was married, having a baby in the fall, and had my own home and family to care for. After three years I was crying, banging walls, and hating myself. Dreaming of just being happy but I was just barely surviving. I loved my babies, born 15 months apart, and they made me laugh and smile.
When I attempted to leave my husband my mother asked, “Does he hit you?” No, he never hit me, he punched walls, broke a knuckle, and said it was my fault for making him mad. “Well if he doesn’t hit you what’s the problem?”. My husband had often said that if I ever cheated on him, I could take my kids, leave, and never come back. Seemed a fool proof plan. I made up a story that I cheated on him so he would let me leave. He forgave me but held it over my head for 20 years. I survived.
2.Finding Moments of Happy
I found that being in a stressful relationship and living with unhappy people wears on the soul. I am a survivor and one of the things that helped me survive was seeking and holding onto moments of joy. Each summer I spent the month of July with my Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack at their log cabin in Silver Falls. As I lay on my bed in the veranda, the summer breeze blowing gently across my skin, I could hear the rapids flowing, I could see the moon glistening off the water. There were no fights, no drunken arguments, great food, new clothes, and a movie theatre to go to. In their house in town, they had bridge parties and dinner parties with crystal goblets, polished silver, Royal Albert China, and soft green carpeting. At the cabin I would wander through the bush, climbing over the Canadian Shield rock formations, loving the Winnipeg River as it flowed past. I could swim for hours. To this day, I love and find peace, with rocks and water. I learned to love the beauty of nature. Wildflowers, green moss, and the crunch of leaves on the forest floor. I found joy in the simple and quiet things.
3.Ups and Downs
I have suffered from depression all my life. But sadly, for the first 40 years I was in survival mode. I attempted to commit suicide when I was 25. My mom and dad had passed away two weeks apart when I was 23. My two-year-old nephew had drowned at my home the summer before. My great uncle had passed away at Easter. With three children and a ten-year marriage, I was sure I was a horrible wife, a horrible mother, and a failure as a person. My family would be better off without me. I had no one in my corner. Thankfully my youngest woke up in the middle of the night crying and I went to comfort him so I could get on with my plan. This woke everyone and I was to seek help. An anti-depressant knocked me out. Couldn’t stay awake. So stopped that. There were not a lot of services for mental health patients. My friends were my savior. They all showed up one morning with coffee and treats and proceeded to clean my house from top to bottom. They made me feel valued. I learned to trust friendships.
I feared medication for my depression. For one, I feared the addictions that plagued my family. Two, I had heard the numbing effect of drugs like Prozac and Paxil from the world of television and magazine articles. Yeah, the 70’s cure for home maker syndrome. It wasn’t until I had a breakdown at the age of 58 that I once again considered suicide as an end to the pain. My wonderful family doctor and my trusted therapist convinced me that Citalopram would help me way more than any side-affects would hurt me. Wow!! My psychologist helped me love myself. The medication helped me through the severe ups and downs of depression. Both allowed me to think. I quit trying to fix everything. I quit trying to make others happy. I quit assuming everyone found fault with me. I could see the world as it was.
5.Talk to Professionals
Friends and family are great supports, but they love you. They don’t always make you see the reality or the consequences of your behavior because they don’t want to hurt you. Plus, unaware to you, they may have their own triggers and traumas that affect how they treat your needs. So, don’t seek mental health advice from your loved ones. A certified professional psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor can help you find your reality, your heart, and your spirit again. There is a security and comfort in confiding in someone who has no stake in you except to help you be happy. Although finding a good mental health professional can be difficult, it is worth being patient and getting the help you need. If you don’t “click” with your professional, then move on to the next one. You must be able to trust this person. You must be able to be you with this person.
Find books that are recommended by professionals to help you. These are three that helped me immensely. I thank my psychologist every day for guiding me to books that I can grab on the days when the pit of despair looms just ahead. The Mindful Path to Self-compassion by Christopher K. Germer, Phd., Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger, and The Assertive Workbook by Randy J. Paterson, Phd. Cognitive therapy worked for me.
6.Call for Help
Call for help. Call a friend. Call a family member. In the depth of depression our thoughts are unable to see the positives and possibilities of our lives. We can only see that everyone would be better off without us. Call.
Mobile Crisis Unit Selkirk 204-482-5376
Crisis Response Centre Winnipeg 204-940-1781
Manitoba Suicide Line (24 Hours) 1-877-435-7170
Interlake Crisis 866-427-8628
Anishnawbe Mental Health Crisis Services 855-242-3310
Here I am at the twilight of my life. I am happy. I am at peace. I have no regrets. I have no guilt. I love the me that I have become. I am sorry there was no one to tell a little girl that she was wonderous. I am sorry there was no one to tell a little girl she was perfect just the way she was. I am sorry that little girl didn’t live without fear and constant anxiety. I am sorry she couldn’t feel joy every day of her childhood.
I have children I am very proud of. They have kind hearts and gentle souls. I have taught them to appreciate the beauty this world holds and to always search for their happy. I hope I am an example for them. Dreams do come true. Peace is possible. Love and be loved but above all else love yourself. It is not up to you to fix the world. You are only responsible for your reactions to the world and humanity. Be kind. Be caring. Be compassionate. Breathe. Be at peace.