My first time

Since I’m procrastinating on preparing for Friday’s big work thing, I figured I may as well go ahead and write a little. Mood is not good now, and I said I was going to write about the first episode I had. Probably better to do that than to whine about all the shit that is going on in here now.

I was in sixth grade the first time I had a breakdown. There were signs before that. I was always a moody kid, fearful yet rebellious. I was creative, always writing something. Had a bitter sense of humor for as long as I can remember. In trouble in school (and by extension, with the parents) because I hated it, felt it confined me, was bored. I spent a lot of time thinking how to best antagonize my teachers. There was a blip of a depression in third grade, perhaps three weeks when I didn’t go to school…but at that age they could pretty much make me go, and remain blind to everything else. Public school seemed like the perfect metaphor for the inside of my head: stifling, minute-by-minute torture, having the books I was reading taken away, replaced with government approved readers. I always get the feeling that had I not been in such an external torture chamber, I might have had the inner resources to combat my internal torture. But by that time, the brave, free-spirited waif was long gone.

In sixth grade, I really lost it. I got that pre-puberty growth spurt last bit of baby fat, started to get breasts, and everyone around was starting to get interested in things like clothes and popularity. I got my period that year, which is possibly relevant because they do say hormones change this stuff. But I was still a kid – 12 years old. My school hate was getting worse, though I did have a teacher who I liked, who had a good sense of humor, enjoyed my writing and didn’t make a big deal if it was off topic, and who was content to let me coast through and not make a scarlet letter of my genius IQ.

Side note on that: don’t ever let schools test your IQ. The number will follow you around and haunt you forever. Every year, the teachers would chastise me for not “working to my potential” (on things that I had no interest in, naturally), which would lead to increasingly harsh punishments at home. All because of a stupid number, from a stupid test that I had sobbed and begged not to take at age 6. It’s funny, in retrospect. At the time, I just didn’t want to take that test, didn’t want to be put in special classes. I sobbed and cried, begging not to go, until finally, my father hit me with an iron and made me. The funny thing is that I couldn’t have possibly known at that time what influence that one stupid number would have on my life, yet it seems like some primal, prescient instinct must have taken over me. Sadly, I think that being forced to go there was one of the things that really broke my spirit. After that incident, I just retreated on some fundamental psychic level, lost all my instincts, suffered in silence. One IQ test ruined my childhood.

Sixth grade. The girls were girls, or starting to be. There was one girl who wanted to actually be a model. She got popular. Things started to shift around, both inside and out.

Then, one day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I can’t remember very much about how it started, though I remember the time period itself better. I finally told my parents I was too sick to go to school, and proceeded to lie in bed for six weeks. I did not eat. I watched television a little each day. I went from my nearly 100 pounds to 85. Cute baby fat was gone. The only relief I had was when everybody had already left the house to work or school, and I was left alone to not really watch morning TV, make it through one more day in blessed silence, in a dark room.

I try to reconstruct my thought processes at the time. I don’t think I was suicidal. I just couldn’t take everything anymore. I don’t remember it being a horrible time – except for the fear that I would have to eventually face the world again. The ringing phone made me sick to my stomach; calls from the school to find out where I was, when I just wanted to disappear, for everyone to leave me the fuck alone and let me rest.

Due to HMO shifting, I ended up with a new pediatrician. She was wonderful, and I am grateful to her for everything. She was a former school nurse who took a special interest in adolescent girls. She was kind to me. She knew, somehow, and managed to keep me from invasive tests for the weight loss, and to keep me out of the hospital. I think she intuited that the problem was school, and my father. He always hated her, I suspect because she was on to how crazy he was. And he was. His own moods were worse than my own, but then he would take them out on us, make us listen while he tearfully and drunkenly debated suicide, drag us on manic excursions for ingredients to make fresh gnocchi from scratch, only to cover the entire kitchen in flour, and then leave to chase some other manic pursuit with equal fervor.

She told me that I couldn’t stay out of school forever, yet knew that I couldn’t confess what was really wrong to her. I think that at the time I didn’t have words for it myself. When I was about 16, she got me a referral to a psych for medication, but at that time, she knew that were I to admit the abuse at home or the depths of my own disturbance, that she would be forced to thrust me onto a child welfare system that would be infinitely worse than whatever torment my brain (or my father) had devised for me. So she didn’t ask. And so, almost two months later, somehow, I just climbed out of things, went shopping one night with my mother for a few new clothes that fit, and went back to school.

It’s strange the details I remember from that time. I cannot reconstruct my mental state. I just don’t remember. I do remember, however, the alarm clock that went off every morning in my mother’s room, the pillow I used to recline on while not-really-watching TV. The carpet. The curtains. The dreaded phone in the kitchen that would ring with some well-meaning schoolmate or teacher asking what was going on. But I do not remember being sad.

I, of course, had tons of make-up work to do. One of the things was to do a biography of someone, then dress up and present it in the first person to the class. I had to do this after everyone else had finished. I was previously famous at the school for doing a similar project in third grade on Jeanne D’Arc (which was excellent due to my father terrorizing me into hours of practice). Everyone expected elementary school greatness from me as Florence Nightingale as well. But I just couldn’t do it. I did the bare minimum. I hated it. Who wanted to be martyrous Florence Nightingale? Not I. (Ironic, as I turned out.)

Was there a manic phase that year as well? I don’t remember one, but it was the same year that the whole class would beg me to write scripts, to write stories, because they were so funny and fun to read. They used to ask the teacher to read my assignments out loud. They loved my satirical version of the Knights of the Round Table, my strange puppet show dramatizing the beheading of the explorer Balboa. (We must have done explorers that year. Snore.) There were times when I was undoubtedly witty, charming. I won writing contests in newspapers. And if I was writing that funnily, that profusely, with that much sense of an audience, then I suspect there was an undercurrent of exuberant enthusiasm there, at least for something. I wanted to spread my expansiveness, my laughter, my spinning-out-of-control with everyone around me.

But I was never really the same after that year. It’s strange, that year is such a cutting point in my life that I think of my life as before that year and after, yet I hardly remember its emotional tone. I know there was rage, I know there was withdrawal; more than that, I do not know.

Things just went downhill from there. We moved to an even more ridiculously white-bread nouveau riche suburb where even my strange talents were not appreciated, no doubt my father’s grasp at respectability and mental stability. I was immediately in trouble with the administration for, god, I don’t know, just being too weird, and I missed my old friends from sixth grade, where, even if I wasn’t the popular and pretty girl, I had a place as the entertainer, the writer, and there were a few other weird genius kids who made me laugh. I never got back the confidence to try to make other people laugh again, to bring them into my joy and expansiveness. My lows, well, during them I was just lonely, but I kept going to school in a fog, knowing that, like the entropy of the universe, even if it was cosmic and essential and of vast weight, it didn’t really matter where I sat and took my broken mind away. I did not speak much; I turned inward, dreaming of sailing ships, theaters, constellations, beautiful men, and colors. I painted my face with heavy and different makeup every day, my appearance becoming the only canvas visible to the outside world of the storm within. My immense manic appetite for the world and experiences, so long frustrated, knew that only more of the same dull disappointment would follow, and learned to content itself with fantasy, more real than any of the people around me at the time.

And I slipped into a semi-existence for the next four years, with only brief, bright points of feeling and shuddering with pleasure or pain – my first sex in the back of a speeding truck on a winter’s night, the cold hard metal of the truck and gears beneath and the hard muscular body of the first man I ever had touched like that; a firework, set off illegally in a manic frenzy felt cosmically, felt at that moment in the depths of my being, as the perfect metaphor for my youth and the evanescence of that mood; devouring the Spanish textbook and teaching myself that language in a month. The next manic blip led to me yelling at the high school principal and leaving school, never to return and complete high school, off to seek high adventure in a tropical jungle. Finally, my rebellious self surfaced for the few moments necessary to save my soul.

But then, after that, I went back into hibernation, and now, whenever I wake up, I am shocked at the conservative, boring, altruistic life I have built for myself. The routine, the ability to see where, if I continue on this path, I will be in one, three, ten, twenty years. I am now far too medicated, and too thankful for the relief this brings, to freefall anymore.

So that is what I remember of the first time I went crazy, the point of no return. Now, drugged into sanity, I guess I should work.



  1. I know this was written last year, but I have been devouring your blog today and wow, wow your writing pierces me. I am moved greatly by this one and just wanted to say wow and…..thanks.

  2. Thank you, Dave. I sort of always write into a void, never know if anyone is reading or not…and it means a lot to me whenever someone enjoys something or finds a little bit of something they can identify with.

    You didn’t leave a website, do you have a blog?

  3. Hi Sara, I did not have a blog when I left the comment, but after reading yours, I decided to start one, I put up my first post today, we shall see if I still know how to string a sentance together with it’s coherence intact. It is a “candy coated” blog as I think you put it in one of your other posts. It is

  4. Im reading this chronologically so maybe youve already done this, but I sure hope you pursued therapy to help with this stuff because while some of it is biological there is a big component thats emotional and it sounds like you have the same trauma to work out that I did. You dont have experiences like that with parents and walk away unscathed on some level. You just dont.
    My dad never showed any obvious illness, but he was never -there- its like you were trying to be friendly with a toaster. A child is the center of his world. If the parent hates the child, it certainly must be the child’s fault. The only way to feel like you -existed- was to make him angry. And when he got angry he would turn beet red, foam at the mouth and look like he was about to kill you. Now tell me, what is a 5 year old going to make of that?
    Youre damned right hes going to be traumatized.
    cut yourself some slack, this stuff is real and its good at hiding inside where you cant drain the wounds.

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