As a child, and truthfully, pretty much up until she died, when I got excited about something, my mother would say, “Calm down or else soon you’ll be crying.” And she was right. I’d be on top of the world, and then, out of nowhere, I’d get sad. Really sad.
I have had more than one person ask if I was bipolar. Granted, the three people who asked were bipolar themselves, and I always said no, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t feel bipolar, whatever that felt like, just as, when therapists suggested I take antidepressants I thought they were missing the mark. I didn’t feel depressed. I felt…wrong.
The thing was, I had a pretty good sense of what normal was. Much of the time I was, am…normal. Most people describe me as nice, funny, smart, maybe a little weird, maybe a little spacey. I am fine until I’m not, and then I run.
Historically, if I was dating and this feeling hit, I would decide the guy was the problem and try to get out of the relationship. If I had a job, I might decide to quit because everything was so wrong I felt I would go insane if I stayed a moment longer.
If there was a way for me to climb out of my own skin at these times, I would. Even if it was super painful. I just want out.
The wild stress that comes over me is like what a woman feels who eats like a regular human being until PMS hits, and suddenly she is eating bits of old brownies out of the garbage because she thinks she will blow apart if she doesn’t eat chocolate.
Eating chocolate out of the garbage is generally not something you want the world, or even your husband, to witness. And so I have found it is safer to have a lot of privacy in preparation for the times the shit hits the fan in my mind.
These mood shifts have gotten in the way of me living a normal life. I started going to therapists when I was about nineteen because I didn’t understand how to get out of my own way, but speaking about how I felt was like trying to talk about the back of my own head or trying to corral beads of spilled mercury on a slick bathroom floor (for those of you who remember the thrill of old thermometers).
If only even one of my therapists had known anything about how adoption affects people, our sessions would have been entirely different (read: productive) experiences. I can barely stand to think about the hours and dollars I wasted talking about my behaviors and feelings while these (I’m sorry…I’m mad) morons took my money and suggested medication.
As I wrote my memoir, I began to truly acknowledge how I had been affected by adoption. I started reading everything I could get my hands on surrounding the subject, and community happened. I went from knowing almost no one else who had been adopted aside from my brothers to moderating a private Facebook page that is for adoptees only to talking almost nonstop to others in the adoption triad.
I am not alone. So many things I thought were problems in my character: my moodiness, my difficulty in attaching, my habit of moving, of giving everything away, of getting into debt, of quitting, of running, of having a brain that, when I am very happy, tells me: You are no good. You should be dead.
Doesn’t it make sense that if our preverbal memories are stored in our brain stem, that the experience of being born and of not going to the one place my body and brain had been programmed to need, the one place by body and brain thought I was still part of (the mothership), that this feeling-memory will surface when the thrill of prefrontal cortex experiences of, This day is so fun! I’m an okay person! has had a chance to settle?
I need to learn more about the brain. I’m working on it. But I think I’m onto something. I think my brain stem wants me to die because it thinks I should finish off the job my birth mother started by handing me off. If the source of your self doesn’t want you, then you shouldn’t be here, my little dinosaur brain says. My right to happiness disappears, and I am back in the terror of I am going to die because she is not there to accept me.
All my life I thought I was an introvert, but now I’m starting to think I’m actually an extrovert who is afraid of being witnessed. I don’t want anyone to see what happens when the mask of Anne falls off and all that is left is dark failure.
Last year when I wrote about being adopted, I took what I felt was the dramatic position of stating it was very possible adoption was a traumatic event. I thought I was being so daring. The very thing that had brought me my family, my shelter, my childhood, my sweet parents, I was saying was dangerous. I waited for God to smote me. No lie. I truly thought writing about adoption might kill me. I wrote and waited for cancer to take me down.
To be perfectly honest, I still think writing about adoption is going to kill me. I wake up at least once a night convinced the cough I have or the itch on my face is death headed straight for me. Do not talk about your adoption. You are lucky. They could leave you at any time and you will die (hello, brain stem).
I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I’m a big believer in following your bliss, in the idea that anything is possible, that life is what you make it. And I don’t think I have unspeakable characters flaws any more. I think I’m adopted. And I think that 45% of my brain (or some number that isn’t more than fifty but is large enough to have a significant vote) wants me dead. The other 55% wants to live this life large. The bigger part wants to go big, be big.
It’s a battle.
And I’m going to win because, as the artist Jenny Holtzer said, All things are delicately interconnected, and I’ve got you, and you’ve got me, and as a community we are have this thing, this life, by the tail.
We are going to live large tell our stories. And we are going to listen.
It’s already happening.