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Dear Prudence: Meet My Hidden Personality

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DEAR PRUDENCE: MEET MY HIDDEN PERSONALITY

You haven’t met Prudence. A few years ago, I introduced you to my multiple personalities — the confused and frightened kids who live inside me and with whom I have largely made peace. Occasionally, their fears still knock me off-center and cause me to lose my inner calm. My therapist has taught me to ask myself, “What part of me is afraid?” and then I can soothe that particular aspect of my being.

I won’t tell you all of my coping skills because I suspect you already think I’m flaky enough, but for instance, if “Sport” is afraid, I can work in the garden. She likes to be outside and get dirty. She likes earthworms and roly-poly bugs. She’s seven.

If “Whisper” is afraid, I can play the piano or sit down and listen to classical music. She learned to play the piano loud when dysfunctional family chaos upset my eleven year-old self.

My teenage self, “Cat,” is the hardest to soothe because she is tough and she’d rather die than admit she is afraid and you can’t teach her anything anyway. Driving really fast makes her feel better, but this is not ideal. She likes banging on the drum.

Careful of the cat

At the time I revealed my inner children to you, I was not aware of Prudence. That’s the thing about her. She is secretive. She is mistrustful and extraordinarily protective of “ourselves.” I think that she directs some of the other kids, though I’m not certain. She’s very strong.

I’ll never forget when I discovered Prudence. I was with my therapist, who asked,

“What part of you is driving that behavior?”

That’s usually fairly simple to figure out, but after a long while, I was still baffled. “I’m not sure who it is. It’s different energy.”

And she said, “Is there another one?” I nodded. She said, “Does she have secrets?” I nodded again. “What’s her name?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

But the moment I walked out of the office and into the flowering courtyard, the song “Dear Prudence” came to me in its entirety, and I knew that was her name.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play

Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day

The sun is up, the sky is blue

It’s beautiful and so are you

Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

♥ ♥ ♥ 

Dear Prudence open up your eyes

Dear Prudence see the sunny skies

The wind is low the birds will sing

That you are part of everything

Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?

♥ ♥ ♥

Dear Prudence let me see you smile

Dear Prudence like a little child

The clouds will be a daisy chain

So let me see you smile again

Dear Prudence won’t you let me see you smile?

Prudence doesn’t smile. She doesn’t come out to play. She mistrusts sun and birdsong and daisy chains. She doesn’t want to be “part of everything.” Life is a serious, treacherous business for Prudence because someone has to be the cautious, watchful one. The prudent one.

Prudence knows that at any moment your perfectly loving father can have one too many glasses of brown stuff and turn into a monster. One day your mother will defend you, one day she will not.

Stay hidden. Trust no one.

The election of President Tweet traumatized all of my inner children. It caught the whole world off-guard. But not Prudence. She could have told you. She always knew a mentally unstable, dangerous man might become president and threaten the future of our country and the planet.

Prudence doesn’t want to be comforted. She has work to do.

♦ ♦ ♦

** Please read this disclaimer about Dissociative Personality Disorder (DID) which I do not have.

** Thanks for the writing prompt: prudent.

Bits O’ Blog

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I don’t seem to be able to finish a blog post lately. My thinking is fractured, what with all the shootings and bombings, the Brexit vote and the ensuing financial chaos, the potential of violence at the upcoming political conventions. Or it could be my late-night binge-watching of Downton Abbey. More than likely, though, it’s Donald Trump’s fault . . . most things are.

Anyway, all I can do is offer you fragments of what were to have been several brilliant and insightful blog posts, possibly capable of moving you to tears or laughter or a personal epiphany.

One: A Memory

I remember the moment. I was nine years old, crunched between my older brother and sister in the back seat of our Dodge Dart as we drove along a main street in Miami Beach singing along with Petula Clark on the radio at the top of our lungs. “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go, DOWNTOWN. When you’ve got worries all the noise and the hurry seem to help I know, DOWNTOWN.”

My Dad glanced in the rearview mirror, probably deciding at what decibel level he should intervene. My mother rubbed her forehead.

“DOWNTOWN!”

“OK, enough,” Daddy said.

My sister Lannie let out a dramatic teenaged sigh and said, “I just loooove the city.”

old-city_M1l1s18u_L

I heard my voice say, “Not me, I like the country much better,” and then I froze. I couldn’t believe I had disagreed with her. I worshipped my big sister and always tried to emulate her taste in food, music, clothes, movie stars — everything. Even though I spent my afternoons squatting on the muddy banks of our backyard pond catching minnows and frogs while Lannie spent her afternoons sunbathing by the pool slathered in Johnson’s Baby Oil and reading Glamour magazine, I still aspired to grow up to be just like her.

I think this memory sticks because it was the first time I expressed an opinion all my own without first hearing what everyone else thought. I’m sure that psychologists have a term for this — differentiation or some such thing. That moment as a child when you realize that you are not actually part of one family organism, you are separate and can have different opinions . . .

Two: Afraid, Afraid, Afraid

Going back to work. A phrase that strikes fear into any “fake retired” person’s heart. I’ve been trying to come to terms with the words for months now, to decide what they mean and how I feel about them and why.

I’m afraid, that’s for sure. Afraid I’ve forgotten how to apply myself, afraid I don’t have enough energy, afraid I won’t take to someone telling me what to do, afraid I have lost all ability to learn, afraid I won’t be able to master new technologies, afraid people won’t want to hire an “older” worker, afraid I won’t be able to muster the confidence for interviews. Afraid, afraid, afraid.

Even so, I think that taking a seven-year break in the middle of my working life has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, if you can call it a decision. In a way, it just happened. I definitely decided to leave my career as an environmental lobbyist, and then I decided to go back to school for a Masters in writing, but did I envision leaving the working world for seven years? No, I don’t think so. I didn’t have a plan . . .

Three: My First Day Back at Work

I wake up thirty minutes late for my first day at my new job, can’t find the number to call the supervisor, curse myself, step in cat vomit on the way to the bathroom, and then burst into tears while brushing my teeth.

This anxiety dream woke me at 6:10 a.m., five minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Flooded with relief that I had not actually overslept for my first workday in seven years, I turned off the alarm, made it to the bathroom without incident, and brushed my teeth. Victory!

The next challenge was making lunch. I figured PB & J would be fastest, but then noticed mold on the lovely multigrain bread I’d bought at a little bakery in upstate New York a few days earlier. Oh well. I quickly boiled some eggs, tossed them in a brown paper bag with an avocado, a banana, and half a cucumber. So they think I’m eccentric. At least I’ll be on time.

Now I’m at my desk in the front office of my housing co-op. I’m feeling capable, if somewhat winded.

cal-retroart-0814-306_L

So far today, I’ve dealt with phone calls or visits from co-op members who have asbestos in their basements, ants in their kitchens, mildew on their aluminum siding, burst pipes in their bathrooms, and clogged sinks in their kitchens. Phew!

I look at the clock, figuring it must be about lunchtime. It’s 9:30 a.m.

Contractors come to fix the internet, pick up a broken computer, drop off gutter-cleaning reports. A guy comes in to say his brother has died and he has to rehab his home. How should he proceed? I do not tell him my brother died. This is progress, I think. I am (at last!) more than someone who has lost a sibling.

I am given a tour of a back room lined floor-to-ceiling with bulging folders and files and binders. I feel at home here amidst the piles of papers in this old-fashioned, uncomputerized office. I can hear the clicking of a keyboard, but I haven’t turned on a computer all day. I like that.

Finally, it’s noon. I feel shell-shocked and ready to escape. I did not get a chance to meditate or pray or journal this morning, and I’m a little off-kilter. I’m surprised how much more introverted I’ve become in the past few years. It’s tiring having to deal with all this humanity . . . 

Four: A Blackjack Poem (Three Lines of Seven Syllables)

Involuntary:

Soon they will take me away

I will protest as I’m dragged:

“It’s not hoarding, it’s just books!”

Stack of vintage books isolated on white

Escape from the Past

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Tomorrow I head north again, up to my writing retreat in New Hampshire. In June, the place was overrun with house painters, carpenters, and roofers. Not so this trip — just four weeks of solitude and freedom with my two felines.

Expect a change in tone here. At least that’s what I’m hoping for: a departure from the darkness, anger, and cycling grief.

It’s been a long and difficult July as I began the task of cleaning out my deceased brother’s house, which is also the house I grew up in. My personal upheaval has been exacerbated by the evil and violence going on in the world. (See recent rant at God.)

I knew cleaning out the house that we’ve owned since 1958 would be not be easy, so I hired someone to do the bulk of it. I thought it would be a relatively simple matter to pack up what I want and leave the rest for the folks who have no emotional involvement. I thought I’d get used to it, and it would become mindless sorting: keep, trash, give away, auction.

Not so much. Every box, cabinet, and drawer contains treasure beyond measure. So many memories, so much life lived!

Well, you can't just throw away Davy Crockett!

Well, you can’t just throw away Davy Crockett!

You don't expect me to toss my very first 45, do you??

You don’t expect me to toss my very first 45, do you??

 

 

Sadly, there have been enough wars in my lifetime to fill a whole box with protest paraphernalia.

Sadly, there have been enough wars in my lifetime to fill a whole box with protest paraphernalia.

Drama in the Basement

I started in the basement, going through boxes of old toys and books while seated on the grey-painted stairs that used to be my stage coach as I rode into dusty western towns and was greeted by that handsome cowboy who bore a striking resemblance to my brother.

“Howdy Miss,” Biff would say, his spurs clinking as he swaggered towards me and tipped his cowboy hat. “You must be Brenda Starr, that new reporter.” I’d giggle and gather my skirts around my ankles as he extended his leather-fringed arm to help me down off the stairs. “I’m Texas John Slaughter,” he’d say. I’d giggle again. That’s pretty much all I did. You have to remember, I was about five or six to his eleven or twelve.

After I had sifted through six boxes of my personal souvenirs — girl scout paraphernalia, notes from fifth-grade boyfriends, matchbooks from long-defunct bars, school band pictures and report cards — I  picked my way down narrow aisles of teetering boxes of books to the other side of the basement to look for my dad’s workbench that I thought I might want to keep.

Fifty-something years ago, that workbench served as my throne where I sat draped in moth-eaten blankets and played Queen Anne to my brother’s three musketeers. Throwing one blanket or another over his shoulders and switching swords, he would quickly morph from the dashing D’Artagnan discussing palace intrigue, to the humble Porthos begging a few coins to fund his exploits, to Aramis thrashing about with his fencing sword and repeatedly stabbing himself, which made me — giggle.

Survival Tactics

Behind the workbench on some rickety pine shelves, I found a few rusty cans of food (Spam, believe it or not, and corned beef hash) that my mother used to keep in the event of nuclear attack.

nuke fallout

Like many American families, we stockpiled food and water in the ridiculous belief that we could survive a nuclear attack. We used to say that if we had enough warning, maybe we could jump into the car and head north to the house in New Hampshire.

It may not have been a nuclear attack, but there’s still plenty of fall-out from Biff’s death, and I’m grateful to have a safe shelter up north where I can hide out for a month before tackling the rest of that house and its attendant memories. 

The Power of Names: Meet My Multiple Personalities

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I discovered my multiple personalities about five years ago while working with my therapist. I am going to introduce you to “my kids,” but first I want to make it clear that I do not have certifiable Multiple Personality Disorder, properly called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

True DID personalities would fight mightily against being introduced to you — it has been called “a disorder of hiddenness” — and they would likely have the power to stop this blog from happening. While my kids are shy and not sure that you’ll like them, they are nevertheless ready to reveal themselves.

I am not making light of DID when I speak of my kids. I know people who have DID, and it is a painful and debilitating disorder involving mistrust and secrecy that can isolate you from others. Many people don’t even know they have DID and have instead been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, or bipolar disorder.

There’s a whole spectrum of dissociative disorders, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder being the “mildest” (ha!) and full-blown DID being the most severe. DID is not a dysfunction, per se, it’s actually a remarkable coping mechanism for people who have experienced traumatic events. In essence, the “parts” of the self that have been traumatized “split off” in order for the psyche to survive.  They keep the painful memories isolated.

This becomes a dysfunction later in life when the trauma has passed, but the self and its dissociated parts remain separate and act as if they are still threatened. Hence, the separate parts are usually mistrustful, somewhat paranoid, and protective.

Psychology lesson over. To learn more, check here and here and here.

The Birth of My Personalities

Like a lot of people who grew up in chaotic, unpredictable homes, I experienced some dissociation when I was a kid. When confronted with painful and confusing situations, like my gentle and loving Daddy suddenly becoming an aggressive and nasty person after tossing back a few tumblers of Gallo sherry, my brain compartmentalized the chaos. Distancing from the craziness made it bearable.

My brother told me that when I was thirteen, I walked into the dining room and my father slammed down his glass and said, “So, are you pregnant yet?” I have no conscious memory of this. But the shock and confusion is in there somewhere.

You may be able to relate. Perhaps you’ve reacted to a situation irrationally and then in retrospect wondered why you were so bent out of shape . . . or since it’s easier to judge others than yourself, you may have noticed such inappropriate overreactions in friends, family, or coworkers. Often, the reason for this behavior is that our brains have made a subconscious connection to a similar upsetting situation from childhood and we are literally reacting with a child’s mentality. We have disassociated from our adult identity.

In short, I have some kids in my head, and they sometimes govern my reactions to life events. I can now recognize them and give them their due. It’s like being a parent to a passel of children. You need to listen to them, reassure them, and meet their emotional needs.

kids charleston2

The cool thing is, these little characters are part of my identity — I am reintegrating them into my adult self and find that they are creative, funny, and inspirational. And they like to express themselves through poetry. Their poems help me understand myself.

This week marks twelve weeks since my brother Biff passed away. The kids honored the event by expressing their feelings through poetry. The poems are Blackjack Poems, three lines of seven syllables each for a total of twenty-one. So without further ado, here are my kids and their poems.

Marnie and Biff

Marnie and Biff

Characterization through Poetry

Marnie

Marnie is what I called myself when I was too small to say Melanie, and the nickname stuck. Mom always called me Marnie when she was feeling mushy. Marnie is about four. She likes to laugh and have fun and play and is easily frightened by anger or confrontation. I have an image of her in a puffy party dress, hiding behind the couch waiting for an argument to blow over. She’s the reason I avoid tense situations. She writes:

The house is very quiet

I don’t know what happens next.

Nobody’s laughing. He’s gone.

Sport

Sport is a nickname my brother gave me when I was seven or eight. Sport is a fun kid with short hair, freckles, and a gap between her front teeth. She’s an animal lover and likes to be active outside. In the early sixties, she would flee whatever madness was going on in the house and escape into nature, which she found to be a healing balmalmost mystical. She’s probably the reason I became a vegetarian and devoted my career to environmental protection, and she’s definitely the reason I get so pissed off when people say they don’t believe in climate change. She knows that honoring nature is a matter of survival on many levels. She writes:

No, that’s silly. He’s hiding.

There’s no sun if he’s not here.

He’s the one that makes us laugh.

Whisper

Whisper didn’t show herself until well after the others had come out and named themselves. Whisper is intensely shy and prefers to be invisible because it’s less painful than being ignored or neglected. She feels responsible for bad stuff happening and carries a lot of shame — another reason for hiding. Whisper spent the late sixties sitting in front of the TV watching sitcoms and eating bologna sandwiches and chips, in the hopes that chubby layers would keep her hidden.

She’s a creative little soul, ten or eleven years old, who finds peace and joy in music and other artistic pursuits. When I decided to face my fear of computers and create a blog, it was to Whisper I turned. I gave her permission to be heard. I think she’s the one who helps me write from the gut. Her poem:

If I am very quiet

And don’t cause any upset,

Maybe he will come back home.

Cat

Cat. Dear Cat. Her name says it all. She is a teenager and powerful in a way that only teenagers can be. She strode in, dressed in patched blue jeans, a paisley t-shirt, and a bandana and stood between my father and the cowering Whisper. We were silent no more, though we could be sullen, surly, and snarky. Passive-aggressive and bitingly sarcastic, Cat was done with my father. (Now that I think of it, she learned those behaviors from her beloved big brother, Biff.)

Cat’s clever and brims with false self-confidence. Underneath, she’s just as fearful as Marnie and Whisper, but you would never know it. I love Cat — she took control and took no prisoners. She’s impulsive and spontaneous and is the one who still occasionally tears down the Beltway at eighty five miles-per-hour in pursuit of some idiot who cut her off. Sometimes she drinks too much and it took me several tries to get her to quit smoking. She cusses a lot. Cat is dismissive of poetry but offers this nonetheless:

How could he do this to me??

What the fuck! This can’t happen.

I gotta get out of here.

 Mel

Mel is a miracle. Mel totally rocks. She is my young adult, twenty or so. She’s the one who started asking, “Why not?” and “What if?” She is smart, capable, determined, and gets things done. Mel worked from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day and held a weekend job as well so she could pay her way through college in night school. When she didn’t find the major she wanted at university, she designed her own Environmental Studies degree. She nagged the folks at the Sierra Club until they hired her in 1982. I think she deserves most of the credit for the Masters in Nonfiction I just received from Hopkins. I need her to get me out of bed during this period of grieving. I’m sure she will step up, she always does. She writes:

I guess I’ll try to do this.

What is an executor?

I’ll ask the lawyer; he’ll know.

Melanie

Finally, there’s Melanie; adult Melanie. Me. Through spiritual disciplines, recovery support groups, and therapy, I’m learning to integrate my kids and am becoming a whole and healthy adult. I seek to appreciate and learn from all my parts — the whimsical joy of Marnie, the outdoor girl in Sport, the creativity of Whisper, the fearlessness of Cat, and the go-getter spirit in Mel. Here’s where I am:

On good days now, I can laugh.

Some days I stay home and cry.

My friends laugh and cry with me.

 ♥♥♥♥♥

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge: Power of Names. I’ve found it empowering and enlightening to name and claim the kids inside of me. Who’s inside of you?

Daily Prompt: An Ode to Dancing Memories

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There are two, two dancing memories:

Early, early on – I think I was three,

My older sister played Elvis

Very, very quietly lest Mom hear the banned music.

My brother and I stood rapt

As she pulled a towel

Back and forth, back and forth across her backside.

Her arms pumped and her hips swayed,

“See? It’s like you’re drying with a towel,” she said,

As she taught us the Twist.

Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock3

At seven, I leapt about the Florida room

Flailing my sun-pinked arms like a gawky flamingo.

My father’s Mexican sombrero lay on the floor

And I danced circles around it to the strains of some Spanish composer,

While Mom paused in her sweeping to smile, nod, and applaud

As the classical music that she so loved

Danced through her youngest child.

* * * * * * * *

Thanks to WordPress for this very fun Daily Prompt. Do you have early memories of dancing?

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