Somebody called me brave today.
No, not really. Some of my friends are very brave. They've been talking honestly, recently, about things that terrify me. They're brave. (If you are wondering if I am looking at you, I am, yes.)
There's a conspiracy of silence and shame, and I will not be a part of it.
Still, I find myself wondering. How honest do you want me to be?
See, I'm a fraud. There's an appearance, in this blog, that I'm speaking with extreme candor.
And I'm not.
I don't lie, mind you. I talk about my writing process and its frustrations honestly. I'm honest about how things are professionally hard or easy for me. But I don't bitch about cover art I hate, or people I work with that I can't stand, or my personal life. All of that, you will notice, stays almost entirely under the radar.
It's what my left hand is doing. The patter and the dramatic gestures keep your attention elsewhere, almost all the time.
So if I were honest it would look like melodrama, or it would look like bragging (some of this came up at Penguicon, which also has me thinking), or... I dunno. I fake normalcy a lot....
So I don't talk about myself, really, because I worry what people would think.
And some of it is that I don't thrive on drama (I used to: I didn't know another way to be, and it made me feel important and alive to be at the center of the storm, but that got old and so did I.) and some of it is because really, if I talked about my trauma, it would look like I was working it for attention or making shit up. Because frankly, I don't believe my life.
Why should you?
But the thing is, I suspect part of what's going on in my head right now is related to all those layers of damage. I know I'm processing trauma, and I know what triggered it, and I gotta tell you, I am really fucking tired of processing that trauma and I wish it would go away now. Because the worst thing about PTSD is the constant reminders of things you would really rather had never happened in the first place.
There's this thing. The thing that could make you really bitter, if you let it. The one where you wonder who you would have been if it hadn't happened. Whatever it is. You imagine the person you could have been, and you mourn them.
I really need to get over that grief. I am what I am, and nothing is going to change that. Nobody with a time machine is ever going to go back into a Spider Robinson story and save me from the things that could have never happened. I do not have that option. It's futile dwelling on it.
I've been dwelling lately.
So I am writing this.
I'm writing it now, I think, in part for me, and in part because so many of my friends seem to be in the midst of processing (survivors find each other. it's a magic thing) stuff that's far beyond even my experience. And I offer support, and I say, you know, got the t-shirt, how can I help? But almost nobody who knows me has the full story.
See, I am extraordinarily lucky. I should not be here, and sane, and successful, and 35.
Oh, this is complicated. And I don't know where to start.
Okay, I'm a genius. (That would be the arrogant bragging part.) Diagnosed, signed, sealed, delivered, and so forth. I test well above the range where they can adequately quantify intelligence. (The estimable Doctor Reid still has a few IQ points on me. Twelve. Or eight. Depending on which set of tests you prefer I use.)
I do not have any of the really dramatic cognitive gifts. I'm not a picture thinker or a lightning calculator, what eidetic function I have is intermittent and uncontrollable (I will be reading a book I have forgotten I ever read and suddenly remember a paragraph from a page or two ahead, word for word, or close enough, for example. I remember my first birthday, or flashes of it.), and I actually have a really crap-ass memory for digit strings. What I do get is synthetic flashes: I see things as patterns of relationships, and often in a nonverbal context. I have a hell of a time coping with binary or linear systems, because my brain just does not work that way.
The whole being-a-genius thing, by the way, I mention because it's relevant to the discussion. I have this icon because it makes me laugh and laugh, because being a genius isn't really all that useful in life. It doesn't help. Mostly. It is good for some things, and I'll talk about those later.
V.S. Ramachandran says something awesome in Phantoms in the Brain, and I wish every educator in America could read it and believe it. He says, essentially, that geniuses aren't that different from anybody else. They are very very good at a limited number of things, depending on where their cognitive gifts lie, but you sit down and have dinner with them, and they are just as big dorks as everybody else, and their politics are just as likely to be stupid, and their conversation isn't all that fascinating. Mensa is not necessarily full of Mycroft Holmses.
Actually, most things would probably be improved by being full of Mycroft Holmses, but they wouldn't let me in to see.
Okay, so the genius, and how it plays into the PTSD thing, and why I am lucky.
So my parents divorced when I was really young, and I was profoundly messed up by that. It happens. Kids blame themselves, and my mother was very young, not well-equipped to raise a child (she barely had life skills herself), and I have Abandonment Issues.
She did her level best. She's a bright woman, and an award-winning poet, and she's done better by me than her parents did by her. (They did better by their kids than their parents did by them--or, at the very least, my maternal grandfather may have been a binge drinker and verbally abusive, but he never discharged a revolver into the pillow of his sleeping children, as his mother did to him. She died when I was eight. I was never permitted to meet her.)
There's alcoholism on both sides of the family. And there's brains. And there's various forms of mental illness. This is where the genius thing starts to be important: high intelligence is anecdotally linked to mental illness. I'm diagnosed bipolar. My grandfather suffered from OCD. One of my uncles was a suicide; one of my aunts was a murder victim. Domestic violence. Another aunt is very lucky not to have been killed.
So is my mother. So am I.
I was always a social misfit. I was too smart, we didn't have money, my mom had to work second shift so I was largely on my own recognizance from when I was in second grade on. You know latch-key kids? Anyway, bullying. (So this thing where I identify with that TV character? Yeah, well. There you go. Keep watching for points of congruence.)
I was smart enough to dodge a lot of it. I could have gotten beat up a lot worse. Somewhere in here (circa third grade?) I was diagnosed "gifted & talented" and bipolar, and they started trying to fit me into a program. I was seeing a psychiatrist (mandated) and attending both regular classes and the G&T program. My mom really did everything she could for me, but she was a high school dropout and the system was something of a mystery to her.
So I kind of muddled through on my own. I used to go to the library after school, so I wouldn't be home alone. How they tolerated me I will never know, because I was not a well-socialized child. But they did. I am quite grateful.
When I was somewhere around eight, my mom moved in with the woman who was essentially going to ruin both our lives. Nancy was, I think, from the perspective of not-quite three decades or so, a real, classic borderline personality. She was violent, emotionally cruel, manipulative, egocentric, narcissistic, vindictive, and those were her positive qualities. She was also a really nasty-ass lesbian separatist, but I try not to hold people's crazy politics against them. And besides, I got a book out of it.
But moreover, she had the borderline gift, of finding out what you wanted, and using it to control and punish you.
For me, it was a couple of things. She hit me--she hit my mother, too--and I still have physical reminders of that. (I just got up and went to get a glass of wine, because I am not breathing well as I write this, and it's making me lightheaded.) It hurt, but you learn to cope. The physical abuse was not bad, as such things go: I had bruises, and I have a broken capillary in my face and soft tissue damage from things like being thrown down a flight of stairs by my hair, but there were no burns or broken bones. There's also this thing that abusive parents or surrogate parents do, where they set up impossible tasks for children to attempt--without instruction or support--and punish them when they fail.
But I was not, really, an ordinary child. So I actually learned some of this stuff. While becoming more and more erratic in school, of course, and more and more poorly socialized and prone to acting out.
And I have the habit now of never asking for help. I just told a friend, in reference to her own PTSD, that my throat closes up if I actually try to ask for help.
I learned to do things.
I learned that nobody was going to come to my rescue, I guess.
Unsurprisingly, during this time, I became critically ill. I developed a series of kidney infections that I'm reasonably certain were related to the stress of the abuse. I was misdiagnosed by the family pediatrician, and very nearly died. My mom's medical savvy (she worked at Hartford Hospital) and willingness to fight for me got me hospitalized, and I made it. I was sickly for about a year afterwards, though, and on antibiotics for ages. I can, to this day, dry-swallow anything they put in a pill. *g*
So when I talk about abuse, or torture, or Stockholm syndrome. I'm speaking from experience.
You see, I loved her. I desperately wanted a parent figure. I wanted to be loved, of course, because children need that, and they need to love. And that was the way she really hurt me, because she understood my abandonment issues, and my insecurity, and my conviction that nobody would ever love me (because I was unlovable) and she used that against me. This is where that erratic eidetic function is really unkind. Because I remember a lot of this very clearly. I remember that she told me, in these exact words, "For a genius, you're pretty fucking stupid," and "You're as useless as tits on a bull." And she would threaten to leave, which played into my abandonment issues. She said to me once, "When I leave, there won't be any warning. And I won't say goodbye."
You learn, living with somebody like that, never to show them what you want, and never to care too much about anything. You become frictionless.
I had a dog, too. I was a careless kid, and I let him get killed, the way careless kids will. That was... really devastating.
We were seeing a family counselor through some of this. And eventually, my behavior and academic performance became bad enough that I wound up in a day program, a kind of private school for troublemakers. They tried sending me to a gifted academy first, but I didn't have the social skills or focus to succeed, or the support at home. And there was the bipolar disorder, which... well, I don't envy my teachers.
My mom is good people, but she sucks at caretaking. Which is fine: I suck at it too.
I read a lot. And some of what I read was textbooks, and some of it was psych textbooks. So I knew, intellectually, what was going on. And what was going on with me. But I also hid the abuse, because of a lot of reasons. Because I was ashamed. Because it was my fault, because if I were better it wouldn't happen. Because I was afraid of being taken away from my family. (This was post-HIV Reagan America: if you were queer, you were scared.) Because I was a kid and I didn't know any better.
When I was... thirteen, it must have been, I started hearing voices.
Classic schizophrenic/bipolar auditory hallucinations. People laughing at me and calling me names. (I just watched Stranger than Fiction. You know the scene where the psychiatrist said, "What you are describing is schizophrenia."? I laughed and laughed and laughed.)
Now, here's the thing. I knew what they were. And I knew that if I listened to them, I was sunk. (This is apparently where the genius thing comes in too: this is what those extra processing cycles are good for. Not so much doing your math homework, but running check sums on your brain. I refer you to Dr. John Nash and Dr. Mark Vonnegut for further reading.) So I didn't listen. I told them they weren't real. And carried on.
They went away, eventually.
When I was a teenager, my dad got into AA and we reconciled, and we actually have a pretty good relationship these days.
And eventually, with some help from the counselor, and from the people at the day program, I wound up transitioned back into mainstream classes in the middle of my freshman year of high school. I still wasn't getting the home support (I... you know, kids get help with their homework? That was a totally alien concept to me: I thought it only happened on TV.) but I had some coping skills and I was big enough to physically defend myself, and I started making a couple of friends. Yeah, wounded doves, all of us.
We really can spot each other.
But although we were crazy, we weren't abusive to each other, and it made a difference. And in college (which I did not finish, for various reasons) I found some other friends, and started really having the maturity to use the cognitive feedback skills I'd developed to control the manic cycles (hypomania? is fun. Manic rage is not.) and the physical abuse had mostly ended by then. The post-traumatic stress was really bad, but it's faded over the years. (There was anger and there was grief and there was just plain crazy and there was manufacturing drama and spending time with people who manufactured drama because I had no idea how to live if I wasn't constantly in crisis.) My mom finally threw Nancy out (she'd been trying for years) and there was something like peace and quiet. And I dated this guy, who, along with my best friend, is the reason I am as okay as I am. He was good people.
I'm sorry I was crazy at as many people as I was crazy at.
We all made it. All the ones I know about, anyway.
So I had issues with eating disorders and self-medication and self-injury, like you would, really. Oddly enough, I never took any of it to the kind of extreme that I couldn't walk back from. I think I really, deep down, want to live.
Or I'm just too fucking stubborn.
Those borderline tricks? Don't really work on me anymore.
That's a benefit.
Anyway, that's why I have post-traumatic stress. And I still have symptoms, but they are so much better now. And that's why my characters are almost all trauma survivors, because that's who I know. (I am trying to write some undamaged people now, to stretch myself. It's hard. I don't know how people who don't trigger react to stress. People who do trigger are predictable: once you know our triggers, you know when and how we will react.)
So yeah, I wonder who I would have been and I wonder what it would be like to be able to trust somebody (I tried, actually, and it turned out really badly. I'm in the middle of getting divorced right now, which I haven't talked about here, and probably won't, but that's part of why all this is boiling up.) and I wonder who I would be if I wasn't, you know, a very well-integrated and intellectualized basket case.
And I wonder who I would have been, if I had not been crippled, more or less. If I were whole.
But I'm not.
And all you can do is keep stretching against the damage, trying to approximate a normal range of motion, even though it hurts. And I fail a lot. I'll never have children: it scares me too much. And I may never have a successful relationship: these days, post-disastrous-marriage, I have a panic/anxiety reaction to the idea of anything more than a one-night stand.
But that's okay. Because I actually like being alone.
Of course, it may not be good for me.
That's probably part of the scar tissue, too.
You know what? I'm bored with my trauma. That's it. I'm putting it out there and I am putting it to bed. I can't make the scars go away, and there is no catharsis that will kiss it and make it all better. But I can treat the damage just like everything else about me.
This is me. This is who I am and how I got that way.
And I am okay with that.
All I want from you is to empty your head.