Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"Don't You Even Know How to Use a BROOM?!"

There wasn't a lot of regular cleaning in my house growing up, as is typical in a hoard.  At least once a week my mother or dad would demand, "Go clean your room!" but I wasn't allowed to get rid of things I'd inherited from Dante (like entire collections of books) or anything someone had made for me (such as nursery decor).  I had no idea "getting rid of things" was something most people did.  As far as I can tell, when I was in elementary school I still had every toy and piece of decor I'd owned since birth, which made tidying up problematic.

I remember my dad helping me clean my room by parking his wheelchair in the doorway so I couldn't leave, watching me, and occasionally yelling at me to clean.  I remember my mother helping me once by actually sitting down in my room with me and then rifling through my belongings until she found something I had written, read it aloud in a mocking voice, and laughed. 

On one of the few occasions that the floor of my room was mostly clear, my mother presented me with a broom and told me to sweep.  I was maybe seven at the time.  I had never seen someone sweep in real life since you can't sweep hoard, so I brushed from side to side haphazardly like I'd seen Cinderella do in the Disney animated movie.  My mother stopped me, shouting, "GAWD!  Don't you even know how to use a BROOM?!" and took the broom away to show me the "right way," the way janitors do it on TV (my frame of reference for normal household behavior will forever be what I've seen on television, I just realized). 

I don't understand why she thought I would know how to sweep a floor when I had literally never seen it done.  She had similar reactions to other chores, such as getting angry that I "never washed the dishes without having to be told" when I was eight and had literally never washed dishes before, or been told to wash dishes, or been permitted to wash dishes.  Wanting to help out also tended to get me yelled at for getting in the way or doing things "wrong."  "Why don't you know how to do this?" she asked me about various skills throughout my life.  "I remember teaching Dante this when he was six!"  Dante is seven years older than me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The First Time I Self-Injured, I Thought I'd Invented It

[Trigger warning:  This post is about self-injury.  Also, I lifted most of the title from a Chuck Palanhiuk novel.  That's probably not a trigger, but I want you to know I know.]

When I was in high school, I started hitting myself in the head.  Slapping quickly progressed to closed fisted punching.  Eventually I escalated to banging my head against the wall of my bedroom.  

The first time I did it was fairly instinctual -- I think.  I don't remember if it was before or after I'd first heard of cutting, but the idea of cutting was unappealing to me because I was self-conscious enough about my body already and didn't want to add scars to the list of attributes I felt I had to hide.  When I hit myself though, it was instinctual.  I didn't know anyone had ever done that before.  The physical pain anesthetized my emotions.  It was immediate.  It felt good simply because I didn't feel as bad anymore.

I don't remember what prompted each occasion I hit my head, or any of the occasions.  I had a hard time living at home with my parents, especially after the dawn of adolescence, which also coincided with the start of my mother's prescription drug abuse.  I had plenty of friends and did well in school, but I was not entirely well and home was not a happy place.  I hit myself a lot the year I was, I think, seventeen.  Seventeen was hard.  I remember dreaming that I was graduating and moving away and then awakening to find myself still a junior in high school.  I cried and cried.  The cheap wood-paneled walls of my bedroom gave a satisfying vibration when I slammed my head against them.

I eventually developed a dull, lingering headache that lasted for weeks.  I don't often get headaches, so I was a bit alarmed.  I think now, in hindsight, I had possibly given myself a minor concussion.  At the time though, I thought I might have caused a brain bleed.  My grandmother suffered a brain aneurysm not long before this time, and I worried that I might have caused some kind of hemorrhage in my brain that was going to kill me.  My primary concern wasn't so much the dying as the possibility that God would count my self-initiated brain hemorrhage as a sort of "long con" suicide attempt and that I would burn in hell for all eternity for instigating it. 

In a panic, I bargained with God that I would stop hitting myself in the head if he would excuse me from dying of a brain hemorrhage and burning in hell.  I stopped hitting myself, and within a couple of weeks my headache subsided.

I took up banging my head against the wall again in the final year or two of my contact with my mother.  I don't remember the circumstances.  My mother was at her worst in terms of leaving me raging voicemails and waging campaigns against me with family at that time.  It was around the same time I started drinking and actively researching suicide techniques (spoiler alert:  the most effective ones sound horrifying).  I don't remember any of this in reference to self-injury though.  I just remember the apartment where I lived at the time.  My bedroom had an exposed brick wall, and I made the mistake of banging my head into it.  Just once.  It hurt.  It hurt really, really bad.  There was no satisfying vibration or echo or even a thud.  It barely made a sound and it HURT, and the bricks were actually sharp.  I remember that wall.  I stopped not too long after that and haven't taken it up again. 

Now I know that 45+ minutes of high intensity cardio creates the same numbing effect in me, except my head doesn't hurt and the only physical sensation is a sort of warm, sore, jellied feeling in my muscles.  It isn't as immediate an effect, but it's close enough.  This end note sounds off here to me, like it doesn't belong with the rest of the story, but I think it's worth noting it's hard to quit self-injuring without finding a coping tactic with which to replace it.  I didn't come up with exercise right away either.  I don't remember that time all that well, but I probably just drank more for awhile, until that stopped helping too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Get Rich Quick Scheme #2: Mailing People Money

Get Rich Quick Scheme #1 was the paper route, by the way. 

When I was in middle school or so, my mother stumbled across another get rich quick scheme.  I don't know where she found it -- the mail maybe? -- but it involved mailing two dollars each to a long list of people.  If I recall correctly, she requested a second list because she wanted to earn double the money.  I remember my mother sank over $500 in postage and envelopes stuffed with two dollars a piece.  It seemed like a massive sum of money to me back then, and I questioned how she could possibly recoup her costs. 

"Why are you doing this?"  I asked.  "What is this supposed to do?"  She claimed she would receive $2 each from even more people, and it would be like winning the lottery.  What were they paying for?  What were they being paid to do?  It sounded fishy to me.  And nonsensical.  If someone mailed me $2 and some instructions, I'd put the money in my wallet and throw the instructions away (those charities that mail people nickels and address labels must hate me).  My dad explained that it was a pyramid scheme.  This was my introduction to pyramid schemes.  My primary takeaways at the time were that it was a scam and that only the people at the top of the pyramid would make money.  Everyone who joined later -- like my mom -- was going to lose their money.  We had this conversation in front of my mother, but she did it anyway.  She was sure she was going to be rich. 

Ultimately my mother received one envelope with $2 inside.  She argued that the net loss was actually less because several of the envelopes were eventually returned to sender.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Genetic Counseling for the Donor Conceived

I'm getting to the point where I'm posting enough stuff my half-siblings know that, if they stumbled across this blog for whatever reason, they would be able to identify me.  This makes me nervous, but not nervous enough to stop posting.  Obviously.

My half-brother Hans emailed me the other day to say our uncle had tested positive for some sort of mutation that puts people at higher risk for specific types of cancer.  He said our father had asked him to let me know in case I wanted to get myself or my daughter tested.  Below Hans' note was a series of emails between my biological father and my uncle's wife.  She had the job of informing my uncle's family members that they might want to get tested.  There was a limited amount of information exchanged.  The emails were from several months ago, but the dates showed my biological father just had forwarded them to Hans to forward to me this week.  It reminded me vaguely of how people who find out they have an STD are supposed to reach out to everyone they've been intimate with.  "Hey, it's Joseph.  Yeah, the Joseph who sired you about 30 years ago.  Good times, huh?  So anyway, I tested positive, and it turns out you might want to get yourself tested too..."  I wish I had more known half-siblings, just to add to the comic effect.

I had a check up scheduled with my doctor for just a few days later, so I brought a print-out of the email chain to my appointment and asked my doctor what he thought of genetic testing.  I'd assumed he would say there wasn't much point in it if I'm not planning to have more kids and there is nothing actionable I can do with the results anyway.  When I'd brought up prenatal testing before conceiving my daughter, my OB/GYN at the time had said, "What for?  If you don't even know your family medical history, how can we know what tests to run?"  I hadn't known who my biological father was back then or anything about his family medical history, but I thought there were standard tests doctors could run for common disorders. 

To my surprise, maybe because I have more family information now, my current doctor had a different reaction.  He referred me to a local cancer center that does genetic counseling and strongly recommended I do it.  He said that, while there isn't often something actionable to be done with a heightened cancer risk, there might be more screening options in the future, and the field of genetics is progressing constantly so it would be good to have my results on file.

I called the genetic counselor to make an appointment.  She asked me if I had a copy of my uncle's report because there was relevant information in it that they could use in testing me.  I told her I might be able to get a copy.  She stressed the importance of it until I finally explained that my biological father was an anonymous sperm donor and I'm still a secret to most of his family, said uncle probably included.  I told her I would ask my brother for the report, but I wasn't sure I could get it.  She told me it was okay.  While it's useful information and would inform what genetic tests would be done on me and would probably make my testing cheaper, they can work without it. 

Then she asked me to compile a list of every  member of my extended family who has had cancer too, as well as which type of cancer and at what age it developed.  I know some of that.  I know what I know anyway.  I don't know when their various cancers developed, but I know they all died soon thereafter or as a result of the cancer, and I know when they died, so surely that counts for something.  My information isn't lacking enough that I would try to ask for more anyway.  Most of the cancer in my family is on my father's side.  All of the "lady cancers" are, and those are the ones whose risk are heightened the most dramatically by this particular gene mutation.

I told my brother thank you for the information and thank you when he got me the extra pages from our uncle's report.  He's always very prompt in his replies.  I didn't mention that I already have heightened risk for colon cancer, which I inherited from our father's genes, in spite of our father pointing out in the email chain that he thinks he got "the good genes" because he hasn't yet had the same colon issues his brother or mother have had.  I'm not going to tell any of them the results of my genetics testing either, both because I don't think they want to know and also because I want to have information they don't have for a change.  I'm not mad at my half-siblings.  They are nice and kind to me, but I'm angry at my father every time I remember he exists, not just for this.  I get so angry when I think of him that I often cry in impotent rage, and I don't want anyone in his family to know that.  I want them to think I'm calmer and cooler than them, as I've always pretended to be.  I do not want them thinking I'm irrational and ungrateful or expecting too much.  I will take what I can get.  I will take months' old forwarded emails indicating that my daughter and I might want to get ourselves checked out for new and exotic cancer risks, carefully funneled through a third party so that I don't dare take liberties with my father by responding to him directly.  I know I have more than most DC people already.  But I'm still angry.  

Bright Side:  At least it's not ALS.  I scoured my raw genome data from 23andMe, and I'm definitely not getting ALS.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The First Time My Dad Gave Me the Silent Treatment

When I was about ten, give or take a couple of years, my mother and I got home from back-to-school clothes shopping.  It was the one time per year I got to go shopping as a kid.  My dad told me cheerily to put on a fashion show for him so he could see everything we'd bought, something I had previously been happy to do.  But this year I didn't want to.  I told my dad I was tired and didn't feel like doing a fashion show.  He stopped being cheery and said something along the lines of, "Tough shit.  Those are my clothes paid for with my money.  If I want to see what they look like on, you have to show me." 

I replied -- and this is going to be pretty close to verbatim because the fallout burned it into my brain -- "I will give you all the money I have never to speak to me again."

Was it hyperbolic?  A bit.  Was it mean?  Absolutely.  Was it unfair?  Not really from where I'm sitting.  My dad threw around his ownership of us and our belongings pretty regularly.  It was his house, his food, his toys, all bought with his money from his disability checks.  Two of the monthly social security checks came specifically for care of Dante and me, with our names printed on them, but I didn't know that at the time.  Or maybe I did and it didn't matter.  I remember the time my mother told me they had gotten extra government money when they adopted Dante but that they had gotten nothing for me.  Dante's check simply got cut in half when I was born.  Poor Dante.  Freeloading me.  I can't remember when I learned about social security.  I also can't remember a time I didn't know I cost my family money and brought in nothing.  I was worthless in the most literal sense of the word.

My dad got upset and decided to respond by giving me exactly what I'd requested -- he stopped speaking to me or even acknowledging my existence.

The really scary part was when I let slip something that might normally upset him.  I don't remember what I said.  It wasn't anything big or intentionally offensive -- it was probably a lame joke, knowing me -- but it didn't take much to set him off.  Both my parents tended to freak out at things I never would have anticipated.  We were in the living room and I said something to my mother or Dante or someone else who did still speak to me, immediately followed by the realization that I'd said something that might upset my dad.  My entire body went tense, as it often did.  I paused and didn't move or speak or breathe, waiting to see if he'd erupt.  Imagine the Jurassic Park kids trying to hide from the T-Rex.  I would freeze like that.  But he didn't erupt.  He didn't acknowledge that I'd spoken at all.  That was when I first realized that he could actually control his rages and tantrums.  He simply hadn't bothered to control himself before.

Before that time, I had seen him more as a wounded wild animal -- dangerous and scary, but not willfully violent or cruel.  When I realized his screaming outbursts -- a several time per day occurrence -- were at least partly within his control, he got a whole lot scarier.  I knew now that he had been mistreating us and scaring us on purpose.  He wasn't weak and broken and completely out of control like I'd always assumed.  He was uncaring.  I had always assumed he was the one who cared for me the most, but if his behavior clearly hurt me and he could in fact control his behavior, he must not care if he hurt me.  That realization felt like a punch in the gut. 

As much as my dad's refusal to rage at me should have been a welcome relief, much like my mother's glee at getting high for the first time, I found it creepy and disconcerting.  It was like being stuck in a nightmare that shouldn't even qualify as a nightmare because nothing is happening, but it's too quiet and something just seems off and I keep waiting for a monster to jump out and assault me.

Within a matter of days, I came to my dad sobbing, begging for forgiveness, begging him to speak to me again.  I couldn't handle the silent treatment from the ruler of our house.  I couldn't handle knowing he was constantly displeased with me but always nearby at the same time.  I felt disgusting and ashamed for crying to him and begging him to speak to me when I knew how he judged me for crying and I didn't particularly like hearing from him anyway, but I was a perfectionist and a people pleaser and I had to keep him happy with me.  It was too scary for me when he wasn't happy with me.  After all, everything I owned was his.  If I didn't stay on his good side, I wouldn't have a home or food or clothes or toys.  What would become of me?  I was just a child, as my parents liked to remind me.  I had nothing.

My dad deigned to speak to me again, shutting off the silent treatment and anger toward me like flipping a switch.  I had learned my lesson.  We treated this spat the way we treated every other unpleasantness in our family -- we pretended none of it had ever happened.  I cannot remember a time I ever confronted him with my anger again.