Yep…that’s right. I’m going there. When I started this blog that I have been neglecting due to well – life – I mentioned briefly becoming a stripper when I was in the middle of my breakdown. Now I am here to elaborate.
First I will tell you I am not ashamed of being a stripper. The other ladies there were just that – other ladies. Women trying to make a living. They had kids, lives, and it wasn’t a place where breaking the rules was tolerated even by the strippers themselves. The majority didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, went home to their families and maybe even worked a day job. Feet were tired and in rough shape from hours of being on them in those famous “stripper heels” that everyone now wears to their day job cubicle. So don’t judge..really.
Now I was working for an ambulance service doing billing and accounting. At this time I was taking Prozac and didn’t “feel” anything but still had LOTS of crazy running through my head. I was just numb to it which brought its very own type of fear. The fear of just not giving a damn. I was a temp and they decided to hire me on full time with a promotion. That was just too much – so I never went back. I had played with the idea of being a “dancer”. I wanted to do something completely, utterly different. No desks, no real responsibilities – dancing and “easy money”. So my friend and I went to one of the nicest clubs in town – lied about our previous experience (which was the norm) and they put us on the day shift.
Now one would think with all the partying and drinking I was doing that I would HAVE to be drunk every time I danced. Nope -I decided I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of nor was I going to fear what I was doing. It not only was against club rules but against mine. I was done being afraid. I was always straight and sober. My first run on the catwalk was like I had been doing it for years. I was fearless. And it felt good.
No I am not suggesting everyone become a stripper or the like. However what I realized is that every night I was working out – really hard. I danced and loved it. I was drinking lots of water, wasn’t drinking alcohol or doing any other types of drugs. It was helping me to get physically healthier. Now what I hated was “asking for a dance” and I just couldn’t pretend very well to be someone that I’m not. But when I was on stage I felt good, sexy, defiant. I never felt in danger – the club owners made sure of that and the girls were all really tight. So basically I was working out, drinking and eating healthier, resting more, got some self esteem back without giving away everything to everyone and I made a lot of good friends. I started feeling better.
I could go home and my anxiety levels were cut in half – less thoughts – less crazy – more in control. So after about a year I felt more like myself and after watching a new girl accidentally OD I decided it was time for me to get out.
So again – you never know who you are judging when you do – so just don’t. I was a scared, hurting woman – I was a stripper – and those stripper heels helped me to save my life.
It starts really small…just a thought even. Then without even realizing it gets bigger and bigger. You keep just pushing along making it larger and larger but what you don’t realize is the huge, steep hill just below you. Everything is so white, so big, these little pushes can’t amount to anything – but then it drops and the snowball is accumulating more speed, more snow and debris and becomes huge, almost unstoppable. You are left at the top of the hill screaming for everyone to get out of the way and for the snowball to just stop before it crushes everything in its path…everything that you love…every piece of who you are.
That for me is the easiest and most precise description of a “break down”. Yes there is that “trigger” that may set the whole thing in motion…but I promise..there were little steps to get there…little flakes of “crazy” that were at the time easy to ignore. Once it all hits that final hill, and no one is there to slow it down…it rolls down faster and faster getting crazier and crazier.
You see life choices, DNA, environment all played into my breakdown. Yes, my family has a STRONG history of mental illness – but the choices I was making – i.e. the bad ones…didn’t help. I didn’t have a healthy way to communicate pain, disappointment, sadness. I bottled it up…then drank the bottle. No I wasn’t an alcoholic – that would be way to easy to explain away. I was just miserable and lonely. Then add some major hormonal changes and BAM! Off to the races of hating myself and being too afraid of what was happening to get help. I was afraid to be around my daughter – the one person in my life that I loved unconditionally. Then instead of making better choices…I did everything I could to run away from it. Hoping that if I did something daring enough that I could “shock” it away.
I didn’t talk about what was really in my head. It was terrifying. Thoughts that I didn’t want – they weren’t mine. So on the outside it just looked like I was shirking my responsibilities as a mother and “partying”. I can’t blame them…that is what I was doing, but only because I was scared and wanted to protect my little girl from me…or whatever was happening to me. You see I didn’t realize it was a severe form of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) or that Zoloft would make it stop. Nope…just kept wishing the snowball would melt. They take a REALLY long time to melt…so what you need is something to stop it in its tracks and bust it open.
So before you judge someone just realize that there may be things they are going through that you don’t know. Does it make it right that I wasn’t there for her like I needed to be for that 2 years? No. But I have asked for her forgiveness and explained it to her. I have fought to get better and have fought to help others do the same. I can’t get back those years…but damn it…I will do everything possible to make sure that every year that I have matter. And I am so blessed that my baby girl and I have the best relationship that a mother could ever wish for. Just keep in mind…I had to FIGHT for it. I love you Lydia!
I don’t get tired of describing her….bright red hair, spunky, small hands, a bit eccentric – and so loving. I can think back now and hear the sadness in her voice. The sadness that would swallow her in the dark and tell her she was all alone. The sadness that prompted her to tell me to “Never kill yourself – you’ll go to hell”. The sadness that engulfed her some days so much that getting out of bed seemed impossible. The sadness that eventually killed her – took her from me and left me with so many questions. No, I didn’t see it then. She would tell me things about some of the abuse she suffered from her husband and how she cried out for Jesus. I witnessed the breakdown of her and her daughter over how the rest of my family treated them – like outsiders. But I didn’t know then how very lost she was. She did everything she could to lift me up. She made me feel pretty and smart and loved. Other than my parents she was the one that came to my Baptism and my first piano recital. She would be the one to come pick me up in her bright blue Firebird and make me feel “cool” even if just for the amount of time I rode in her car. She brought me the book “Makeup for Blondes” to help me learn how to apply makeup the right way (nix the makeup line.) I still have that book.
The day it happened was surreal. I was 12 years old – I hadn’t seen Sue in about 2 months. I wasn’t sure at the time what was going on. My family wasn’t very forthcoming with anything. My Uncle Danny and cousin Suzanne came to the house to tell us that Sue shot herself. My mom asked if she was ok. They looked at us like we were crazy and said…”No..she’s dead!”. I remember mom calling my dad – Sue’s brother. She had written many suicide notes according to the police, lit the house on fire, put a towel under her bedroom door, played Christian music on her radio then took a gun and shot herself in the stomach. I honestly don’t know if she died instantly. I never saw the notes. I never saw the letter that I knew she wrote to me. All I know is that I lost a woman that I loved dearly.
The next thing I remember is the funeral. I don’t remember the feelings before the funeral or any of the conversations until then – just the funeral. We walked in and I can remember the smell of the lilies – to this day I can’t stand the smell. She was laying in her casket…so still and so pretty. Even in death she was stunning to me. My dad went out on the funeral homes porch and cried. I went out and tried to comfort him. I told him that she was ok and was in Heaven. It didn’t really comfort him – he just cried more. I felt defeated. My family sat in the back pews. I didn’t really understand why then but found out later they didn’t want to sit next to my uncle or anywhere close to him. Three months after Sue’s death he moved in with his new wife – to the same house where she took her life. Very telling.
I don’t remember what was said at the funeral, or her being buried. Just her in the casket. For years she had threatened so many times to kill herself before – with aspirin or anything on hand. My dad or someone else would go to the house, wait her out, and be there when she emerged from her bedroom promising that she didn’t really mean it. But this time…the final time…she didn’t call anyone. She just ended it. My family blamed medications (she had just survived cancer). I blame ignorance by others and society and depression. I understand now that she didn’t really want to die…she just wanted it to end. The hatred, the doubt, the sadness – all of it to end because she wasn’t living.
For a while I didn’t want to tell people that I named my first daughter after her. Her full name was Lydia Sue Poole Smith. I didn’t want people to think that it was wrong to name my daughter after a woman who killed herself. It became Sue’s identity for a while – the woman who killed herself. But now…my daughter Lydia is a radiant woman – just like Sue. Sue’s identity was not how she ended her life but by the impact she made in her life. I do not believe that those who take their own lives go to hell – honestly that is ridiculous (although growing up in the Bible Belt it was a question). I know that she is finally okay. I have stopped blaming myself for not calling her (yes even at 12 years old). She was in so much pain – a pain that I too have felt but did not want to leave others with the same questions that she had left.
She was an amazing woman. I only wish I could let her know now how much she impacted my life in such wonderful ways. If she could have only seen that – but the sadness…that dark devil…wouldn’t let her see it.
Mental illness is real – we like to push it to the background and believe that if we are “strong enough” that we can beat it. We can ignore it all we want – but all we are doing is allowing others to suffer. Sue was a wonderful loving person – but she is dead now because she never could see it. She had a veil of darkness that clouded her judgement. A veil that could have been lifted with treatment and understanding. I want to lift the veil – then we can ALL see the light.
It’s funny to me how people always talk about the long road to recovery from mental issues. They describe it as a long, drawn out, painful, seemingly impossible feat. It doesn’t matter what they are recovering from really – addiction, abuse, depression, obsessive disorders, etc. What they talk about is very true don’t get me wrong – but I rarely hear them talk about the road to the actual thing they had to recover from. Most people don’t wake up one day and think, “Man – my life is great – I think I’ll go ahead and get addicted to Meth – who needs teeth” or “I’m so happy all the time – great childhood, great life – let’s change it up..I’m going to be really depressed today – so back to bed!” No – it doesn’t happen that way (usually – there may be that odd ball statistic out there that says otherwise – but I’m going with my gut on this one.) Typically – as it was with me – it is a very long road to what I lovingly call “crazy”.
Crazy is what I claim. I know – there are all kinds of people out there really trying to get rid of that word because they believe it is too derogatory. Well guess what – I’m going to print a t-shirt that says – I’M CRAZY BUT I TAKE ZOLOFT SO I’M COOL. Do you have any idea where that comes from? My defiance to bottling it in some “pretty” label? It comes from the fact that I am so very NOT ashamed of my mental issues. I have no problem with the fact that I had a nervous breakdown, that I struggled with severe anxiety and obsessive thoughts since I was 6 years old, that it took me years to finally find the right equation to fit my life to equal sanity (or my definition of sanity). Why you ask? Because mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of – but it is something to face head on – take seriously – not hide – and something we must actively work on so to keep our minds as healthy as they can be. You see – shame doesn’t help anyone to be healed or deal with their issues. Actually it’s just a tool to keep people down. Shame sucks. So I threw it out the door – screaming.
My “road to crazy” started when I was born. I was born into a family where both my father and mother’s family histories were wrought with stories of severe mental illness, addiction, abuse, suicide, depression, etc. Now I’m not going to argue whether or not it is inherited completely. I’m not a doctor. However as much as my parents tried to shelter me from all of the issues of our family and their own issues – the “crazy” crept up on me – slowly. The earliest thing I remember was trying to count to 8 before the refrigerator door closed – and if I made it to 8 – then the rest of the day was going to be ok. Most could brush that off as a silly thing a little 6 year old girl might do for fun – I did it every day for quite a while – but at that age I didn’t know that I should probably let someone know that this was the way I would get through my day. 8 comforted me I think because I loved music and singing – so counting in “4’s” seemed natural. Crazy right?
Flash forward 15 years when horrible, unwanted thoughts were crowding my head. It was like a cloud of Hell over my head and in my soul. The “real me” was there – fighting and exhausted. I withdrew from the ones I loved for fear of hurting them. From morning to night I had the same, awful, intrusive thoughts over and over and over. I stopped caring for my 3 year old daughter when it happened so my parents had to take over. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “snap out of it”. However I didn’t tell them how vivid and terrifying fears had become. How I couldn’t even imagine giving the little girl that I loved so much a hug because in my mind my hands and arms became razor blades. So even imagining being near her was terrifying. I drank to make my mind slow – had sex to numb my body. All I really wanted was to be the mother I was before I broke completely.
Now from 6 years old to 21 years old – I didn’t live this perfect, untarnished life. It was my road to crazy – a very long one. One that I will share bits at a time. My recovery however was a leap onto the highest mountain – screw long roads – sometimes you just gotta take a bull by the horns.