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…

Poetry: Waffle House at 3am

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Waffle House at 3am
By: Maranda Russell

Waffle House
at 3 am
is not the place
to make a scene.

It doesn’t matter
if your heart
is broken,
if your brother
just ran off
with your boyfriend,
or if you want
to punch
that smarmy cook
right
in the left
testicle.

Stringy hashbrowns
cover a multitude
of sins,
vanilla coke
softly bubbles
over salty wounds,
and once in a while,
raisin toast
can be sweeter
than revenge.

My Mother Helped a Guy to Stalk Me

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Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot of resentment and anger towards my mother. To explain why, let me share a specific incident that kind of illustrates why I am upset.

When I was 14/15, my mother worked with a guy named Danny who met me and developed a huge crush on me. He was in his late teens or early twenties, but was definitely an adult already. I DID NOT share his romantic interest and made that plain. I had absolutely no interest in dating him or getting to know him better. He bought me an expensive bracelet as a gift, which I immediately returned to him to make it clear I wasn’t interested.

Even with my mother knowing how I felt and that I was stressed out by the attention, she actually egged him on in spite of how I felt or what I wanted. She even gave him our home address and told him when I would be home. So, he ended up coming to my house while I was there alone and banged on the door and called my name for what felt like forever. He yelled about how he knew I was home because my mom had told him so. I never answered the door or responded to his calls. In fact, I hid in the closet because I was scared at the aggressiveness he was displaying.

I felt like I was being stalked, and worst of all, my own mother was encouraging it. This is just one small incident that portrays an issue with boundaries and respecting my privacy that was even more disturbing in other ways which perhaps I will share someday if and when I am ready to do so. I know it might sound odd, but I almost have a feeling like my mother WANTED to whore me out for some reason. I can’t even describe what that did to me psychologically.

Hypomania Turns Me Into a Jerk

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Yesterday was a weird day. I started feeling hypomanic (probably because of my psychiatrist upping my antidepressant again). Even though I was already feeling restless and off, I decided to go ahead and go with my husband to our weekly meditation group. Turns out that wasn’t the best idea. Have you ever tried meditating or even just sitting still in the dark for 30 minutes while hypomanic? STRESSFUL.

I didn’t outwardly spaz out or draw attention to myself, but I sure felt like it. My head was buzzing with what felt like a million thoughts and feelings, and my body wanted to get up and run around the room. I wanted to scream, but of course I didn’t want to make a scene and freak everyone out, so I screamed on the inside. By the time it was over, I felt like a nervous wreck.

As we were leaving, I told my husband what was going on and how much I had struggled, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t really get it, because a few minutes later he sort of sent me over the edge a bit. We stopped at the Chick-fil-A drive-thru to get some ice cream, and I became pretty agitated because there were two lanes and the one we joined took FOREVER. People who joined the other line after we got there had gotten their food and driven off BEFORE we ever got to order! Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t bother me so much, but in the state of mind I was in, it was infuriating.

My husband tried to distract me and cheer me up by being playful and sort of tickling/poking me. Normally this would make me laugh, but with all my senses already on overdrive and feeling angry, I screamed at him to stop and smacked his hand away. It was a huge overreaction and I felt bad afterwards, but I simply couldn’t help it. The rest of the drive home I could tell he was not sure how to act and that made me feel even worse.

Today I’m feeling more normal again, but we’ll see how it goes once I take my medication…

Feeling Like Shit Art

I’ve been feeling like shit for a few days now (honestly, it has been longer than that, but the last few days were especially bad). So, my creative side has definitely been expressing that. I decided to make a couple ACEO sticker collages, and as you can see below, my mood comes across loud and clear with my black graffiti scrawls on the colorful backgrounds. I wouldn’t exactly call it “good art”, but it is expressive.

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Anger, Mania, and Standing Up for Myself

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Last night I had a definite episode of mania. Wanting to stay up all night again, feeling like doing a million things at once, wanting to jump out of my skin, tempted to spend way more money than I should, barely able to sleep. If you read my rant yesterday, then you know that I was already dealing with a lot of anger, so I can’t help but wonder if anger can bring on a manic episode? I honestly don’t know whether that is possible or not, I should probably ask my psychiatrist, but it does seem interesting that after being upset and angry I became so manic.

Something else happened last night that made me even angrier than I had been when I wrote the rant post yesterday. Someone else in that Facebook group commented on the post I had written that only 1 or 2 of my mental or physical conditions could be disabling. They said that the Asperger’s and Bipolar might be disabling, but the PTSD, Social Anxiety Disorder, Fibromyalgia, CFS, Plantar Fasciitis, IBS, chronic infections, Degenerative Disc Disease, and bulging discs are NOT disabling. That really set me off.

At first I just told the girl that she should research the conditions and learn more about them if she thought that. However, she went on to say that I was the one who was ignorant and that I would probably “argue with a brick wall”. That really made me mad. I even asked her why she was being such a bitch because I hadn’t done anything to her. For me, saying something like that is EXTREMELY CONFRONTATIVE, but I also felt so proud of myself for standing up for myself for once in my life. Standing up for myself has always been a real challenge for me, so much so, that many people have told me over the course of my life that I needed to stop being a doormat and quit letting people walk all over me.

In person, I would still likely have a really hard time standing up for myself, mostly because when things become confrontative or stressful, I tend to struggle with selective mutism, which is a common thing for people with autism to deal with. Throughout my life, whenever I was bullied or abused, I almost always found myself temporarily struck dumb, unable to formulate a response or rebuttal. It generally only happens when I feel threatened in some way, but it is very frustrating. I figure standing up for myself online is at least a start though!

Psychiatrist Visit Anxiety

Today I see my psychiatrist again. These appointments make me nervous because there is always worry that my meds might get changed and I might have a bad reaction to another one, like I did the Cymbalta. I also often wonder what to share with him. I want to be as honest and open as possible, so I get the best treatment, but I also sometimes have a tendency to overshare or over-explain things that might not be pertinent.

I figure the things that I should share with him most this visit are my “episodes” of rage and paranoia the past couple months, even though they only lasted a few days to a week each. I have actually had a couple “episodes” of feeling almost hopeful and optimistic recently, so that is good I think. It was really odd that during one of these times of having at least a few days in a row of feeling pretty good, I had one of the worst days I have had in a while, where I was so horribly depressed and so full of despair that I sat on the couch holding a bottle of pills and wishing I could take them all and maybe not have to wake up again, but of course, I know that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. Especially to my husband. Oddly enough, the very next day I was back to feeling fairly decent overall.

I also always wonder how much to address my physical problems with the psychiatrist. After all, he isn’t a doctor who treats those conditions, but those conditions greatly affect my depression and anxiety levels. When the physical pain is extremely bad for a few days in a row, that tends to bring on a kind of despair that is hard to cope with. It blackens my view of my entire future and makes me honestly feel sometimes that life isn’t worth living if you have to be in this kind of pain. I probably should take my Tramadol (opioid pain killers) more during those times, but I am afraid of becoming dependent on it if I take it too often.

Well, thank you for listening to me overthink things as I always do lol.

The Most Humiliating Experience of My Life

Today I’m doing something rare for me…two posts in one day! I didn’t plan to post this second entry today, but I feel compelled to do so and get something off my chest that I’m tired of hiding. For a long time I debated whether to tell my real story or not, because even when our family hurts us, we still feel a need to protect them.

So this post is about the most humiliating and potentially traumatic experience of my life. It happened when I was 15 years old. At that point I had already endured a rough childhood of turmoil, including being surrounded by and sometimes the target of verbal, mental and physical abuse, my parents’ constant instability in relationships, and the death of my father when I was 12. So, I was already pretty banged up emotionally and mentally. Not to mention the fact that I had undiagnosed high-functioning autism, which made it really hard for me to find my place in the world or understand it.

Anyhow, when I was 15, a boy who was I had been school friends with for years started showing interest in dating me. He was two grades ahead of me and 17 years old at the time. I agreed, but wasn’t sure if I really wanted to date or just be friends. So, I did bring him to my house a few times to hang out with him. In the end, I decided I just wanted to be friends and we decided not to date. Ironically enough (as you shall soon see), my mother actually helped me officially “break up” with him. We never kissed or anything like that, but the kids at school thought we were together and he was technically the first boy I ever “brought home”.

So after deciding to just be friends, I thought life would just go back to normal. But I was wrong. My mom started acting sort of weird. She was sneaking around having mysterious phone conversations and I even once caught her hiding outside, smoking, something I had NEVER seen her do before! I knew something was up, so one night I quietly picked up an extra phone extension to see who it was she was talking with at night. I was shocked to hear her and the guy I had been “dating” exchanging “I love you’s”. I confronted her after the call and she admitted to being in a relationship with him. I was angry, humiliated, shocked, and sickened.

After that, she quit hiding it and started taking off on dates with him pretty much every night, leaving me all alone night after night after night, or even dumping me off on random people so they could go away for days at a time. Before long, she moved him in and I had to live with them. By this time, everyone at school knew that he was dating my mother, which brought me a lot of uncomfortable questions about the situation, since they had all thought I had dated him. I even overheard teachers talking about my mom and the boy. Everyone treated me like my family was insane, and I felt like they had a right to do so because we WERE insane. It felt like Jerry Springer type stuff.

One of the most hurtful incidents I remember during this whole time was when I got into a fight with my mom’s new boyfriend. It was just a verbal fight, but I made him so mad with what I said that he punched me. I was so hurt by this that I jumped on my bike and rode away, even with my mom yelling after me to stop. Eventually I came back home, and instead of making him apologize to me for hitting me, my mom threatened to send me away to live with relatives. At this point, I felt like I was nothing and no one wanted me.

My mom married this boy the very day he turned 18. So I was going to the same school with my new “step-father”. Even though school had always been a refuge for me in the past, now it felt like torture every single day. I started skipping constantly and barely ended up graduating in the end because of all of it. When I was 16 we moved to another state and I went to a new school, but the feeling of shame followed me and I had given up on caring about school or about anything else. I was soon diagnosed with depression for the first time (not surprisingly!)

To this day I still hold a lot of resentment, anger, feelings of betrayal, and embarrassment about the whole thing. I have a relationship with my mother, but it is precarious and not the most trusting.