I’ve been sweating the idea that I’ve become every-so much less Ephemily-like recently. And then it hit me. No, I haven’t. Ephemily, from the root Ephemeral. Transient, impermanent. This is yet another ebb. One not to fear, fight, or regret. Though, a small amount of wistfulness for the place I’d rather be doesn’t seem like asking too much. The moment is now, after all.
I’ve long felt like a grand tree, stretching towards the sky, sheltering those below in a confidant shadow. While my arms stretch far to touch many, my roots wither in the ground as if salted before they had the chance seek out water and nutrients.
Some of that I think might come from the fact that I’m adopted. I’m very thankful that I ended up where and how I did. But, knowing nothing of where you came from, the saying “Blood is thicker than water” makes me feel as if I’ve been denied something that’s simply understood by the rest of the population.
The roots that blood should have nourished failed to thrive. Whether it was from a lack of genetics or empathy, I’m not entirely sure. What I do know is that I can point to a list of hurts that to this day go unresolved. They shaped me into the woman I am, flawed, but tough as nails and expecting nothing more than a creased smile while being told no.
My mom is a petite woman. 5’2” and rarely if ever weighing over a buck fifteen. My sister is similar. She’s 5’4” and even when pregnant, I don’t think her maternity clothes were above single digit sizes. I do not fit the look of my family. I’m 5’6”, and currently tip the scales at 215 lbs of spitball personality, cuss words, and a lifelong adoration of all things weird. I’ve never been small, meek, or easy to miss.
I don’t know what her motivations were, but when I was younger, my memories of my mother are peppered with conversations and guilt regarding my size. I was still seeing a pediatrician when the shaming began. My great aunt asked my mom to talk to the doctor about my weight because my hands were puffy and I looked like I was retaining water. This was before my first period, so what an 11 year old was doing retaining water, I have no idea. It was during a school physical that the first betrayal happened.
Having already been indoctrinated into the school of thought that told me I should hate my body and worry about the size and shape of it, I begged my mom to leave the talk of weight between me and the doctor. She denied my request. Not by accompanying me into the exam room where I was weighed, but by sneaking around the receptionist’s desk and poking through my medical file. I was wounded, ashamed, and my trust for her was shaken to the foundations. When, through deliriously teary eyes, I told her how this cut to the bone, she responded that it was her right to know. That she could find out any way she needed to. She was my mother and I should just suck it up. The utter lack of empathy with how her words and actions might feel was lost on her.
Later, in high school, I was the largest girl of my friends. I was a size 14 before most major clothing stores carried plus sizes. (Now most places go at least to a 16.) I never was able to do what my friends did and trade clothes for a day or two. When ordering uniforms for the tennis teams, my shame was magnified by being the only one to wear an XL, powder blue tennis skirt that looked more like a battle banner than the postage stamp my teammates wore.
Heck, for my Junior homecoming, I was trussed up in so many foundation garments, I could have been a thanksgiving turkey! Hold in the belly, push up the breasts, smooth the fat poking out from the top. I could barely move! And when I did, my dress creased in right angles where there should have been curves. I looked lovely in the photos, but was miserable for the other 3 hours and 55 minutes of the dance.
Between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I “ballooned” up to 160 lbs. That was too much to bear for my tiny family. I was taken to a weight loss specialist. I was 18 years old and was prescribed phen-fen. You know, the medication that tears up your heart valves while killing your appetite?
Ask my mom, and she’d tell you she was supportive. She’s the one that suggested I start shopping at the plus sized stores after all. While true on a factual level, there was a sense of shame associated with it, like it was some sort of defeat to *have* to. Never once did I feel good about it, even if I was the smallest size in the store.
My teenage years were a mix of self loathing, obliviousness, crazy love that always left me holding the bag, and the beginnings of mental illness. I would have CDs I’d play on repeat and just cry myself silly for no discernible reason. By the time Christmas break of my sophomore year rolled around, I’d been through 3 different professionals asking for help with depression. None of them were able to see through the mask I was inadvertently putting up. I had a terrible case of the “If Onlys” that eventually saw me transfer back to UNL after two years at Dickinson. My grades were good, but I wasn’t able to handle it emotionally. I needed help, and I wasn’t able to get it.
I would shower up to 4 times a day because the water felt like an embrace. I slept more than I was awake, and I never left my room. I made lists of what I needed to be happy. On that list were things like a TV, a car, and a social life. I read, alot. I tried to start an anime club on campus, but I didn’t have the mental focus to get it off the ground as much as I wanted to. I ate. I called home. My folks had a toll free number, and I would call them almost every day.
It reached the point where I knew something had to give when I found myself on the top floor of the library with my forehead against the glass, wondering if I ran hard enough and landed just right, if I could fall and break my neck. The library was 2 stories. I was in a place where I needed a lifejacket. I was drowning.
The dam burst on Christmas Eve in 1996. I don’t remember how the argument started. I was newly 19, so it could have been over anything. What I do remember is feeling trapped in the dining room, confessing all of my hurt, anger, and hopelessness, pleading for a rope to hang on to. I remember telling my parents that I needed to transfer schools. I was suicidal, and they could send me back, but there was a good chance I would come home in a bag. I cried tears that were hot and prickly like cactus and sand. My nose ran without dignity, and the breath of the world stopped in anticipation of being scooped up into a secure hug and told we’d make it ok. The celestial record scratched when I was told that I had to go back for my second semester because, and I quote, “It was paid for”.
In essence, I was told that tuition money was more important than either my life, or my emotional well being. What I remember happening next is my mom snatching up my keys to my car because I had to get out. I needed to put distance between this pain and myself. If I didn’t, the energy in the room would have eventually reached critical mass, reducing my childhood home to tinder and lies. I grabbed my black wool overcoat and rushed out of the front door into the December night. The neighborhood I lived in at the time was north of the city sprawl, and pretty heavily wooded. I started walking away from the scene of my emotional murder without knowing where I was going. Eventually, I decided I was going to go to the closest person I could even remotely call a friend. She lived about 2 miles away at the time, and all I had were my feet to get me there. Sadly, she wasn’t home when I eventually trudged up her driveway and knocked on the door seeking sanctuary. I late found out that she was celebrating Christmas with her family at their cabin on the lake.
So, I walked aimlessly, hiding in the woods when my panicked family drove by, calling my name. It must have been hours that I was out there, in the cold and dark. My tears froze to my face almost as quickly as I cried them. Snow covered my coat up to the waist from where I’d crouch down when I heard a car. I don’t remember when I got home, or how the argument ended. What I do remember is feeling very much like an animal in line for slaughter and realizing I would never be able to trust my family with my emotions again.
I finished my sophomore year further miserable. My then-best friend and roommate believed I was abandoning her by transferring schools. She had some upheaval in her life as well and I think really needed a friend. I so wish I could have been that person for her, but I was barely holding it together myself.
By the time I graduated college, I could barely function. I missed classes more than I went. I had to be dragged out of the house if I went anywhere. I lived alone and learned to be entirely self sufficient. I had few friends, but the ones I did I was very close to. I tried to date, but it never ended well, if it ever got started. My mental state probably even cost me a job with the university after I graduated. (Which I barely did. Knowing what my head was like at the time, I consider that fucking amazing.) One or two moments stand out as gleaming beacons in the sun. These were days when I could say I was at my worst. I remember a late summer day, with sunlight streaming through the windows of my apartment, heating up the interior. I lay in my bed with blackout curtains on the windows, unable to even put my feet on the floor. I tried. For hours. I needed to get up and take out the 5 bags of garbage that would have made Dahmer's apartment smell like a garden of magnolias in comparison. As soon as I was vertical, the weight of life bear hugged me and knocked me backwards onto the mattress. I couldn't get up. I couldn't move.
In the end, that day took me 5 hours to accomplish the simple act of getting out of bed. The garbage did eventually go out, but that was the extent of the activity I did that day. I was psychicly winded, as if I had just run for my life while being chased by an axe murderer.
I’m not proud of my behavior. Even then I felt out of control, as if there was another force in charge of my actions.
My first taste of restored normalcy was when I participated in a drug study to help bring Lexapro to the market. I was absolutely amazed by the fact that all this doctor had to do was ask me a series of questions to which I answered yes or no. All of the counselors that I'd worked with listened to my words and my stories. I could wrap them up in humor and manners, but they missed the meaning. A page and a half of questions was all it took for me to be determined worthy of medication. I was elated. For the first time since I could remember, there was something called hope in my life.
I don’t know what medication I was on, whether it was Celexa, Lexapro, or what, but the day I could read an entire paragraph without losing my train of thought, it was as if the world was finally in color again. When I caught myself smiling for no reason, I sent the doctor a thank you note.
Over the years, I tried other medications when the one I was on seemed to lose effectiveness. After I’ve moved back to my hometown, I was in more constant contact with my parents. I remember telling them what I was going through, and that I had a disease called clinical depression and general anxiety disorder. Hoping that it could start a dialog about my teenage years and why they were so tumultuous, I told my mom about what was going on in my visits with the psychiatrist I was seeing at the time. This was in about 2003 or so. Maybe 2004. What I remember is that it wasn’t long before my wedding, and I was back to self loathing and wanting to have a thinner silhouette. I was trying one of those stupid expensive weight loss pill regimens at the time as well. The reason I remember this is, while on the phone with my mom telling her about the disease I had been diagnosed with, she paused and asked me if the diet pills could be causing it. As if everything that was malfunctioning in my brain was as simple as heartburn and I needed to stop eating spicy food before bed.
My mother’s lack of empathy astounds me. When my sister was having complications with her pregnancy, she did her level best to browbeat me into being more of a presence in her life and offer my help/sympathies, etc. My sister and I aren’t all that close. We never have been. There’s no animosity there, we’re just radically different people. I didn’t feel that pull to be involved. I have zero maternal instincts and had no idea what to say or do. But, my mom’s insisting got to the level of actual guilt trips and I’d just had enough.
After being told how hard life was for my sister during the course of one particular phone call, I decided I was done just listening. I asked her if, during the years I’d been going through bankruptcy, divorce, selling my house, and living with my ex and his girlfriend under the same roof for about a year, if she’d had the same conversation with my sister. You know, urged her to reach out to me since *my* life was as close to a living hell as I’d ever known. That stopped her cold. No, she hadn’t. Hadn’t even crossed her mind to do so. But, in the same breath, continued on with the pressure she’d been putting to me since the start of the call. No empathy. None. And so we barely speak.
Where is this coming from? Well, my Zoloft seems to have lost its effectiveness, so I’m in another episode. I’m out of medical flex money for the year, and my insurance is such that to walk in the door at a doctor’s office it costs me $150. (I have no co-pay like most people do.) I’m potentially losing a source of income, so that means I’m left with roughly $150 to stretch between each paycheck if I do nothing differently. But, short of a second job, I won’t have much to spread around even if I do cancel a few things here and there. I have $600 a month taken out of my checks for my bankruptcy garnishments. I’m kinda busted. Satisfied with my cozy little life I’ve carved out for myself, but strapped nonetheless.
Tonight, after staring at the phone number for a week, I called 211 asking if there were any low-cost mental health care clinics in the area. There are two that they gave me; both run by religious charities. While I’m glad they exist, I still feel like a bottom feeder for inquiring. Only after I’ve reached out to strangers looking for phone numbers did I realize how sad it is that I don’t trust my family, or feel like they’d have the empathy to know that turning me away would rip out my heart. So, I just didn’t even think about turning to them for the kind of support Hallmark says they're supposed to provide. And with those thoughts, many emotions bloomed on my chest like a wound; resentment, pain, isolation, and even a sense of pride in that I can make my own damn rain. Rain for the tree without roots.
*edit. I thought about not publishing this. I did. There's a part of me that feels like this is almost airing dirty laundry that would more embarrass my mom than anything. Then I considered how I've tried to tell her how much this affected me, at different stages of life. I've tried in my teens, my twenties, and most recently, my early 30s. I have long since given up on establishing common ground and have let the relationship with my family atrophy. When I leave an interaction feeling drained rather than comforted, it's not a hard decision to stand by. That is the inner voice I've listened to. That voice told me that I could tell my story without guilt. So, here you have it. It might not be all of it, but I'm sure I could put a counselor's kids through medical school with just this. Should it get back to my mom, and should she feel hurt by this, Ephemily will turn the screws and remind her that this is what betrayal feels like. This is paid for, with interest.