YA Book Review: “Without Tess” by Marcella Pixley

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“Without Tess”, written by Marcella Pixley, is one of the best YA novels I have read in a while. I rarely give books five stars when rating them, but this one I did. The story revolves around the main character (Lizzie), and her dead sister (Tess). Lizzie is the younger sister by a couple years and was only 10 when her older sister tragically passed away.

The real star of the novel is Tess. As you read through the book and relive vibrant memories Lizzie shared with Tess, you come to both love and sometimes dislike Tess. Tess was a true believer in magic. She was creative and passionate. She was both loving and loyal, but at times cruel and violent. She was mentally ill, and at times downright psychotic. This novel is a lifelike retelling of what it is like to grow up with an extremely mentally ill sibling. It addresses the love, the hate, the sadness, the pain, the rage, the guilt, and all the other emotions that come along with such a disturbing family dynamic.

I had a deeply personal connection with this book, both as someone who grew up with a mentally ill sibling, and someone who eventually lost that sibling, mostly due to that mental illness. At one point the book even made me tear up, which is extremely rare for any book to do. Definitely recommended!

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Autism Sensory Issues – Me vs. the Crickets

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Some of you will probably find this post funny (honestly it is rather amusing), but if you happen to be autistic, OCD, or have a sensory processing disorder, you may relate to my very real struggles here lol.

So….I am at war with the crickets. Every single night they seem to congregate outside my bedroom window and conspire to drive me crazy and keep me from sleeping. Their constant noise is maddening and sometimes enraging.

I’ve tried several strategies to deal with the issue so far:

  • Sometimes I just lay in bed and imagine stepping on them all and squishing the life out of them. Or I envision dog-size crickets that I blow apart with an assault rifle. Imagining their cricket heads exploding brings a momentary sense of satisfaction from the annoyance.
  • A few nights I have gone outside at around 2am (when I normally go to bed), and took a broom to try to sweep them all away from the area or sprayed bug spray all around the area. Unfortunately, one night it was raining and windy when I did the bug spray thing and most of it ended up blowing back in my face and I think I might have poisoned myself instead of them. I don’t know if any of my neighbors have seen any of these late-night confrontations, but if they have, I do wonder what they think…
  • Yesterday we went to Home Depot and got some outside insect repellent pellets to put all along the yard on that side of the house. Not sure if that will work either, but it’s worth a try I suppose. The crickets were still around last night, so it definitely hasn’t worked yet.
  • Before you suggest noise-cancelling headphones or ear plugs, please know that those things are sensory hell to me in themselves. I do not like the feeling of headphones and certainly couldn’t sleep with them in. Same with ear plugs.

And so, the war rages on…

Journal Writings from a Severe Depressive Episode

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Once in a while I share intimate writings from my journal, from times when I was severely depressed. I don’t do this to get sympathy, but because I hope to educate people who haven’t experienced depression themselves to get even a glimpse of the mental torture you undergo when extremely depressed. I hope sharing might help reduce the stigma and the judgmental attitudes that persist in the face of major depression. So, here goes:

“Why is it that I am screaming on the inside, and yet my voice is mute? Not a peep must pass these lips. I am invisible, even as I am seen.”

“I had to get out. I had to leave. Repeating “I’m ok”, over and over to myself, wasn’t working. I couldn’t breathe, or maybe I didn’t want to any longer. My entire body shook, even as I threw on clothes and grabbed the car keys. I’m still shaking now.”

“I’ve lost it. My composure, my hope, my perception of living. I no longer know if I even exist. No one else seems to see me either.”

“As I walk down the road, tears streaming down my face, a ribbon dangles from my journal, suspended not by wind but by movement. I should tuck it in, but I want to look unkempt. Let the outside, even my props, match the inner disarray.”

“The question asks itself, am I sad or just spoiled? Do I put this on? Is it a show? Do I want to appear unhinged? Is this for attention, and if so, why do I fail so miserably even at that, as it is made clear that nobody sees me?”

*You might notice a pattern in many of these writings, a feeling of invisibility, of not being seen, and not feeling like I matter. As the last quote shows, I even wonder if I am crying out for the attention that I don’t know how to get. Perhaps this aspect is tied to the social limitations of being autistic and suffering from severe social anxiety disorder? I wondered if others who are not autistic or socially anxious feel these same things when depressed, or if it is just me?

By the way, BetterHelp has some great resources on depression as well, so check them out!

 

Dysfunctional Family: My Mom Married My High School Friend

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Ok, so in the past I already wrote a more serious post about the trauma I experienced when my mom ended up marrying the first guy I ever brought home (read it here). He was a friend of mine, two years older, going to the same high school. They got married on his 18th birthday, so there I was, 15-16, going to school WITH my new “step-dad”.

Yesterday, while my husband and I were out driving, I talked about how isolated I feel in dealing with the after-effects of this whole ordeal. I can find plenty of people who have experienced other things I have gone through or live with (autism, bipolar, chronic pain/illness, loss of a sibling to suicide, loss of a parent at a young age, physical and emotional abuse, etc.), but I have never ONCE found someone who understands the public humiliation and the just outright fucked-up-ness of their parent MARRYING a friend that they go to high school with (and even considered dating at one time)!

Maybe I would have to visit the Jerry Springer show to find something similar. I feel like no one understands how this whole event derailed my life severely at the time. I went from being a straight A, college bound honor student, to skipping school more than I went, and not caring about much of anything. It was a horrible time in my life. To make matters worse, when my mom’s messed up marriage finally blew up, it was shortly after I got married (at the age of 20), and since she had no resources of her own, I felt like I had to take her in, which was not an easy decision for a newlywed to make, especially given the messed up history between my mom and me.

I’m not sharing all this to look for pity, but more in the hopes that maybe someone, somewhere, has gone through something similar and could make me feel less alone. I think this whole ordeal made me feel like a real freak at the time it happened, and never finding anyone who could relate only reinforced that feeling.

*By the way, if you are looking for online therapy options, BetterHelp is a great place to start!

Hallucinations in Childhood

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Something I’ve been thinking about recently is hallucinations. As an adult, I haven’t really had a history of hallucinations. The closest things I can think of are a few times I have been awoken from my sleep by my husband or my mother’s voice loudly calling my name, only to find they are either not even at home or they swear they didn’t call for me. It is easy to assume this might be just weird remnants of a dream though, so I don’t consider it definitely a hallucination. There have also been a few times I hear a weird, high-pitched whining noise that no one else seems to hear. This could just be my autistic sensitivity though, picking up on something others don’t. It isn’t tinnitus, I have that as well, so I know the difference.

However, as a child I do have at least one vivid memory of a hallucination, maybe two. The first happened when I was around 5 or so, and it happened in the middle of a church service at my grandfather’s house (he was a pastor that ran his own church). In the middle of the service, this huge bird suddenly appeared next to my grandfather as he talked. It was a beautiful, rainbow colored bird, and I could physically see it, so it wasn’t like an imaginary friend (which I also had). I was excited by its appearance and made a bit of a fuss trying to tell my mom about it, but it became clear soon that she couldn’t see it and apparently no one else did either. I got in trouble for yelling out, so ended up sitting there staring at this huge bird and wondering what the heck was going on and why no one else could see it. To this day, I have no idea what happened that day or why. I wish I remembered what was going on in my life at the time, to see if I was under acute stress at the time, but I really don’t know.

The other possible hallucination happened when I was 12. It was soon after my father died and I was having the worst panic attack of my life up until that point. I was sitting on the bed, trying to breathe, feeling terrified and alone, when suddenly a bright figure appeared at the end of the bed. At first I was terrified, but the being told me not to be afraid and I immediately felt a calm I had never felt before in my life. The panic attack was gone and the bright figure somehow communicated to me that I was safe and protected before leaving. I assumed at the time it was my guardian angel, but now that I am no longer religious and not sure what I believe in, I wonder if it could have possibly been a hallucination brought on by grief and terror. I honestly don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a guardian angel, but if I do, why didn’t they protect me or show up during even more dangerous moments of my life, moments when my life was actually in danger?

These two experiences as a child makes me wonder if they were hallucinations, and if they were, is it normal for children to have hallucinations and then grow out of them? Or is this just a warning that if I am pushed too far emotionally or mentally, that something may break inside me and I could lose touch with reality? Could I someday have another hallucination out of nowhere? That is a scary thought. Has anyone else out there also had experiences like this as a kid and apparently grown out of them?

*Art by Maranda Russell

Matchbox 20 “Unwell” – Lyrics of My Life

If I had to choose a song to represent how I honestly feel about myself and my life most of the time these days, this song would definitely be near the top. It isn’t actually even my favorite Matchbox 20 song (which would be hard to narrow down anyhow, but would likely be something off their first or second album), but the lyrics hit home in a way that not a lot of songs do. I don’t hear voices (other than my own endlessly chattering inner monologues), but at this point, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if someday I started lol.

I think the saddest line in this entire song is “But soon enough, you’re gonna think of me and how I used to be…”, which also happens to be the line that hits home for me the hardest. A few years ago, this wasn’t me. Back then I had repressed so much that I was able to function at least, but when my sister committed suicide, it was like the floodgates opened and all the repressed memories came flooding in at the same time that all of my carefully crafted defenses came crashing down. My mental and physical health took a nosedive and has been sinking further and floundering since. Sometimes I’m almost angry at my sister for killing herself and thereby forcing me to face what I had always ran away from or purposefully pushed aside.

All Over the Place

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Lately I’ve been all over the place emotionally. I’ve especially been struggling with feelings of rage (I even stabbed an inflatable black cat to death), panic, and dread. Often I find myself laying in bed and these feelings come over me, settling like a heavy blanket around me, so that I feel like I can’t move or fight it off. During these times I truly believe that if it were possible to die from such misery, I would have been dead a hundred times over.

These storms of emotion definitely seem to be worse at night, when I try to go to bed, but even during the day I feel the remnants of these episodes wrap around me like tentacles. I’m honestly not sure what is causing it. Is it the PTSD? The bipolar? Autistic meltdowns? Is it a combination of my mental and physical conditions just wearing me down to an extent I can’t handle? Or am I just slowly slipping further into insanity?

* Art by Maranda Russell

How Crazy Am I?

Art by Maranda Russell

*I wrote this fun little poem while sitting at Burger King, eating my hamburger and onion rings. It just kind of “came” to me lol. It is meant to be cynically humorous, hopefully it is.

How Crazy Am I?

I don’t know
a 10?
Nah…
I ain’t THAT fucking
insane.

A 9?
Well, I’m not
quite drooling
on myself yet…
at least not
on a regular basis.

An 8?
That sounds about
right, but
over the years
I’ve learned
if something sounds right
it almost never is.

7?
Lucky seven?
I sure ain’t
been lucky
in this life,
or any other.

6?
Sure, let’s just
settle on six.
Because really,
who gives a shit
anyhow?
And I’m tired
of counting.

– Art and Poetry by Maranda Russell

Hypomanic Writing

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I wrote the following while I was pretty hypomanic. Thought I would share more as a glimpse into my life and hopefully educational about bipolar 2:

I AM bipolar, I’m officially crazy. I can’t seem to control myself, but on the medicine I feel SO much better, who cares if I’m hypomanic? Not sure I wanna tell the doctor the truth. Thank God I have my husband to keep me in check. I AM perpetuating the cycle. Thank God I never had kids. My muscles twitch and I can’t control them. I feel like I have Parkinson’s, but I’m good with that. I am stressed the fuck out, but I don’t care. I don’t want to sleep, but I have a magic bullet called Seroquel. I just worry I’ll get fat, but how fat can I get when I can’t sit still? Every dance in creation I think I’ve done today, even if it was spazzy. Some might look at me and say I’m a danger. I look at me and say I’m alive.