The view sometimes looks slightly different depending on who I am.
Just left Neptune’s Net where we had an indulgent, delicious lunch that we save for special occasions. Ocean and sky were blue and beautiful. Happy to be quiet and with Joe.
Originally posted at RealMental.org.
When I was integrated in 2002, I knew it would be for forever. I’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get there, in that office, with the right doctor, to be integrated. There was just no way that I’d ever be split again. I knew it with every fiber of my being. And I was so grateful, thankful. Felt so blessed.
And then I felt SO STRONG. Holy shit, I was a newly ‘whole’ person with super powers. I could do anything and I did do anything it took to create a life worth living. Always working towards the goal of living so close to my kids that they could live with me half of the time. That goal was everything to me.
Through a comedy of errors, there were a few really bad weeks a couple of years ago that almost put me back in the mental hospital under surveillance. The disappointment of my kids not wanting to live with me was the worst pain I’d ever been in and I didn’t want to live. But, I didn’t have to go in hospital and I got on some heavy medication instead because I could feel my mind beginning some separation and it scared the shit out of me. I was so scared I barely could speak it out loud because what did that mean? That my mind was splitting? How could that happen? I was integrated and always would be. Right? Right??
The Invega put me in a mental coma. I couldn’t feel or emote. I certainly wasn’t splitting any further but I wasn’t doing much of anything else, either, which was just what the psychiatrist was hoping for. I was stable. And I couldn’t wait to get off Invega because I had lost my self. The bad and the good and the scary and the great. I had an echo in my skull.
I was scared to get off but I thought about it almost every moment I was awake. With every appointment to the doc, I took a little speech I had prepared to say to her – to allow me to prove to her that I didn’t need it anymore, even if it came with the consequence of the mind splitting being there forever. I had to have myself back.
In December 2007, I went to see friends and while we were driving down the snowy road, popping into thrift stores, I said it out loud to her that Claire was back and maybe she had never left and I didn’t realize it, but I had been lonely for her. And she just said, ‘Ok. Is that ok?’ And I told her I didn’t know for sure, but I thought so. And then we talked about her daughter and my kids and wondered when the snow would end and I felt relieved that I had said it to someone and nothing bad had happened.
In May of last year, I told my doc that I was going to try and get pregnant, so I could no longer take an anti-psychotic drug. She was VERY skeptical, but I persevered and with shaking hands and legs, I walked out of her office with so much relief I could barely make it to the car before weeping. And I slowly found myself again over the next few months after the jaw clenching stopped. I had bad days and some good days but I was always hopeful because I was having days and feelings and I could laugh again and my kids recognized me.
The huge emotions of the past year were slowly being processed. And with every therapy session, I almost talked about how my mind had not just split a little, but actually, Claire was there with every bit of her self as ever. But, I didn’t. I didn’t say the words because I was still scared about what that might mean. If Claire and I were so close together in my mind that we shared all moments with each other and all feelings, desires with each other, there was really nothing to disclose, right? I told myself that a lot. And I thought about what my kids would feel like if they knew. Would they pull even farther away from me? If I spoke the words out loud, would it make it a truth that could never be undone? And that would mean I failed. Because if I wasn’t ‘well’ and ‘integrated,’ then everything I went through and everything I put my kids through was for nothing.
I told my husband. And he asked if there was anything he could do to help my apparent sadness over the truth of it. And I told him no, but thanks for being so loving, kind and understanding. And I assured him that nothing would change between us because having Claire being her self with me didn’t change anything between he and I. Or us and him. And I believed it.
I started looking online and in books to find out if what was going on in my mind was something that had happened to any other integrated person. And I found out, yes. It did happen. And maybe more often than people knew. I felt a little angry that no one had told me. Or if they did, I hadn’t listened. So I was mad at myself. Because now it felt like such a failure when maybe it could have felt like just something that happens sometimes when an integrated dissociative goes through something stressful. But I still didn’t want anyone to know. And I felt like a fake.
For a year, every day, Claire and I would do everything together. And I did nothing and said nothing to anyone else that would alert them to that fact that I had become a We again. Suddenly, I needed a teddy bear. My old teddy bear. Molly. I needed Molly. And I searched through boxes in the garage that had been taped shut for years. I felt silly, searching for a teddy bear. I found Molly in a chest and put her under my pillow so no one would see. But, Joe saw. His eyebrows went up when Molly made her way to my chest before I went to sleep and I saw him wondering what it meant. I lied and said I was using a teddy bear to support my bad arm during the night. My arm did need support, so it was only kind of a lie, right? Partly true? I couldn’t go to sleep if Molly wasn’t tucked in my arms but I didn’t want to think very hard about why I needed her there. So, I didn’t. But in that space between being awake and being asleep, I saw a four year old girl who tucked Molly in her arm, put her thumb in her mouth and curled up for sleep.
We moved. Again. For the second time in a year. And I relied heavily on Claire to help us get boxes packed and things organized. It was too overwhelming to think about for me. So, Claire did it. Things went fine. And I didn’t think very hard about why I was allowing myself to fall back a little bit and why she moved forward a little bit and what that might mean. I just survived the way that my brain knew how to do.
We had Thanksgiving and Christmas and I didn’t write about anything on my blog because I didn’t know what to say. I felt guilty. Claire would do many things instead of me and I worried about what that might mean but I didn’t want to think very hard about it and every time I went to see my psychiatrist, I would lie and tell her that my mind was fit as a fiddle, there was no splitting going on and everything was great. She believed that having more than one personality was the end of the world for me and I disagreed and I just didn’t want to talk about it with her. She would try and make me get back on the Invega and I didn’t want to be a zombie again. And I didn’t mind Claire being around and she liked being back around. So.
In January, Tara started on Showtime, and I felt like a fake because I was split but everyone thought I was still a mono-mind and I felt so guilty. I thought about talking about it on my blog. Telling people the truth. But, I realized that almost everyone in my life now has either met me when I was first integrated and only knows me that way, or depends on my ‘wellness’ and integration to keep their relationship with me safe, namely, my kids and family. And I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing. And I realized that my mantra of always being honest with myself and others, no matter the cost, was a sad, old, worn out lie that I didn’t deserve to say anymore, in my head or to anyone else.
And every episode I watched of Tara reminded me that I was a liar. I loved the show. I loved watching Toni Collette. I was so proud to be a part of it. And then I would remember that I was a liar and a fake and I would go to sleep, knowing that I didn’t deserve anyone’s praise for anything. I stopped answering emails from people congratulating me or asking me for help. I didn’t know what to say anymore. And I’m sorry if you are one of the people I ignored.
A friend of a friend wanted to fly in and interview me for her dissertation. She wanted to talk about how trauma that causes dissociation might be similar to near death experiences. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what to say or how to talk about it. And my mind just wouldn’t work. I couldn’t follow her questions. They were all about how and where Claire came from the first time when I was four and how Claire felt about spirituality and about her role as the connection to the Universe and all things good. I fumbled for the answers. I could hear Claire telling me what to say, but it didn’t make sense. I asked everyone to repeat what they had said and I tried to get a handle on the conversation because I really wanted to help this friend of a friend. And then suddenly it was just like old times. I felt myself moving back, back and the audio going softer. My eyes got a little fuzzy and I thought, yes. I remember this. This is how things used to be and I guess this is how they are going to be again. And I heard Claire talking with such emotion and inflection and she sounded so smart and she knew all the answers to the questions. Things I didn’t know how to explain and things I didn’t even know in the first place, even though we had been integrated for six years. I felt her voice in our throat and felt how much fun she was having being out after so long. Our arms felt like hers. Our legs felt like hers. And we adjusted a little and our body went into a sitting position that was more Claire and less Leah.
The interview was a great success. She was very pleased to have been able to talk to Claire and Claire was very pleased to have been able to talk to her. A few hours later, the friend and her friend left and we were left in the house with ourselves. I asked Claire if she wanted to stay out and she said, yes, if you don’t mind. And I guessed I didn’t. Devon walked into the kitchen and Claire was happy to see him with our eyes, being in front. And Devon knew, immediately, that it was Claire and not Leah in the kitchen. His eyes went a little sharp and he took in a breath a little too quick. And he simply asked, ‘Is there any problem between you and my mom?’ And Claire told him no, there wasn’t. Everything was cool and if he wanted her to go and have Leah come back out front, she would switch right away. But, she hoped he would say no, it was fine. Which he did say. And Leah wondered if it was because he was really alright with it or he could see in our eyes that Claire was hoping he’d say so.
Joe came home a few hours later. He came in, said hello and swept in for his kiss. And he felt like something was just not right. He thought our voice sounded weird and he looked uncomfortable. So, Claire told him it was her. And assured him that she loved him, too, just as much as me, and, trying to make sure he really got the message, she asked him if he wanted to go to the bedroom with her. Leah was fine with that, because intellectually, she knew that it was all her, Claire was her. But Joe was hesitant and said to us that maybe it would be better if he just got to know Claire a little more before jumping in the sack with her. And that was fine. But Claire and Leah both felt bad for Joe because he looked so uncomfortable, so Claire went back and Leah came forward.
My eyes got clearer. The noise in my ears got sharper. And my hands felt like mine and I touched Joe’s face and told him I loved him. He said he loved me, too, but man, that was a little weird. And I felt guilty. But Claire didn’t. And for the first time since she had been back, we had a different feeling at the same time.
I find myself telling you this long tale and wonder why I’m doing it. It’s going to make things complicated. Claire and I have continued to share space and time. We sometimes have different thoughts and different feelings than each other. But we make an effort to always do the thing that is for the greater good. I think she’s here to stay. Maybe I’m glad she is. I can no longer deny what I am. I’m tired of feeling guilty and like a fake. I know some people will not be able to accept this. I worry about my relationships with my kids, if things will change. I worry that my ability to help support our family will get harder because less people will believe I am stable enough to do good work. I worry that people who have been my friend will pull away because it’s too weird. I worry that my family will look at me as a failure.
But more than all those things I’m worried about, the need to get right with myself has become overwhelming. I want to be able to say that I face the truth no matter how hard and have it be true again. I want to say that I’m honest clear down to my inner core. That honesty with myself and others is still as important to me as it used to be. I want to tell people that having a split mind is by no means the worst thing in the world and it feels natural to me. I want to say that nothing has changed, except everything has changed, but I’m still the same person. We are the same person. Maybe things have gone back to normal. That I’m flawed but authentic.
In any case, welcome back Claire. And hello little girl who needs Molly. I’ll keep her on the bed for you for as long as you want.
Last week I went to a Quaker event hosted by Yvonne. I was totally prepared to be awesome and give back and all that stuff. I mean, I AM THAT PERSON. The one that wants to buy local, organic food, conserve water (I turn the water off while I brush! And I only condition once, bleached, colored, damaged hair be damned!), ride a bike instead of a foul beast of a van (I don’t really do this one. I don’t own a bike but I do own Bessy, my black Astro Van that consumes more fuel than a launching rocket ship and kills us all by destroying the ozone layer. Why is it so expensive to not kill us? I want a hybrid.) and use my eco-friendly reusable cloth grocery bags when I go shopping and wants to help the baby puppies and the wild, jungle animals, and the charities that help with micro-loans and the Toys for Tots and help at the Soup Kitchen and make quilts for the homeless (I did this only one time but I’m still counting it.) So. You can see why when Yvonne wanted me to help out at the LA Food Bank, I was all over it. I like to recycle, people!
The thing I didn’t plan on happening was this stupid cyst thing that made me into a frail, whiny, limp-noodle of a person. A few days previous my left ovary said, Hey! I’m bored! I’m going to see what happens when I poke one of these cysts! And then a slow stream of cyst fluid (What is in there, anyway? Maybe I don’t want to know.) began its exit and made it’s way into every pain receptor in a 5-mile area. And sometimes it whispered ‘fuck you’ in a tiny, ghost of a voice behind my back, just loud enough that I could hear it and not get comfortable for hours and then suddenly it would be all, HEYYOUMOTHERFUCKER! I OWN YOU, BITCH! and I would drop to my knees and die.
So, back to the day of the Quaker event, my ovarian cyst was just very uncomfortable as apposed to an 11. So, I figured, dude, this is no big thang. I’ll drive there, be awesome with all my giving back and shit, and then go home. Easy-peasy.
Who’s bored? Do a little stretch at your desk, wake yourself up and come back. I’ll wait.
OK. So. Everything was fine. I found the place with no errors. There was a parking spot up front. I found Yvonne right away. Smooth Sailing, my friends. But, then I had to walk up two flights of stairs to use the bathroom and that was all it took. My ovary used a voice synthesizer to sound like Satan and laughed and laughed at me.
I went downstairs and tried to act like nothing was wrong. I looked in the direction of talking people and tried to smile and look interested. And then the tour of the facility started and we walked up those same two flights of stairs. Again. Another time. Did I mention it was one more time? But, I was already there! Why leave now? I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to be STRONG.
The nice lady walked us through different warehouses and talked about food distribution and companies who give the food and who picks it up and lots of other interesting (really) stuff and I listened enough to write this sentence. A nice guy showed us some backpacks and told us to wipe them out to clean them and then we would fill them with food for some kids. Helping kids, y’all! I started wiping. And I was in pain. And I felt like a failure. And I was in pain. And then Yvonne came to the table and started cleaning backpacks by me and I thought, ok, I’ll just tell her I MIGHT have to leave. Not that I am because maybe I won’t. But I should mention that I MIGHT have to. Yvonne told me going home was the obvious thing to do. And I realized that DUH, it was what I should do and then it happened. I started crying.
My eyes welled up. My face turned red. And Yvonne was all, Leah! Why are you crying? And I was all, Bluh Bluhbluuuuh. And she said, Seriously, you should go now. And I said BLLUUUHbluh in a loud whisper. And I looked for a way to get out of the room without it becoming a big deal and headed that direction. But I couldn’t find the door and I walked though isles and whispered bluuhbluh and then there was a guy and I gestured and pointed, trying to act out a door. He sent me the right way and I got downstairs and just about had my crying under control. Then I realized this was not the place we had come in and I had no idea where I was. There was a long hallway of doors and offices and it seriously got longer and longer while I looked at it. I started walking and randomly opening up doors trying to find an exit until a nice lady in a red suit came out. She looked at me, blinked and then turned into my Aunt Murtle. With her arm around me, she shooed me softly out the door and said (I SHIT YOU NOT) ‘We all have bad days, dear. Buy your self a fresh, new pack of Twizzlers.’ And then with her left arm, she pointed towards a building where I should go.
WELL. Anyone need more stretching time? Maybe head banging on the wall time?
I walked in that building, in burning pain, head held high, crying a little, mascara smeared on only one side, and bumped into an older gentleman wearing overalls. He started to tell me I was in the wrong place and then looked at my face. He ‘oh deared’ me and offered me a handkerchief, changed his mind, handed me a tissue. I tried to ask him where the GOOD parking lot was where my VAN was but he heard bluuhuhuBLUHHHuuh? And he asked a man who was working on a forklift doing actual WORK to stop, climb down and walk me through two more warehouses and to the parking lot. Not only was I not volunteering but I took a person who was ACTUALLY WORKING off his forklift. The kids should hate me, y’all.
He tried to make polite conversation until he realized I was mute. He started pointing out a few things as we walked through the rooms but then stopped when he realized I was too fragile of a flower to bother with all that businessy food real-life stuff. He took my arm and walked me around a pool of water and then warned me when we came to a speed bump. When we exited to the right parking lot, he asked me if I saw my vehicle in a voice that meant he wasn’t sure if I should be operating large machinery. He glanced at both my wrists and neck for some kind of medical tag and emergency number, but found none. I assured him I was fine. FINE. And he watched me climb in my van, only tripping twice, turn the ignition on a second time and make that horrible grinding, whining noise that indicates a newbie driver, fumble with my sunglasses and blow my nose. He waved to me as I pulled out into the street. I pulled over about a block up the road and really let it all out where I hoped he couldn’t see me. And then I drove home.
Hitman Pietro Brwna enters the Witness Protection Program and becomes Peter Brown, an emergency room doctor. A Mafia associate from his past ends up in the hospital on his shift and turns his entire protected life upside down. Packed with medical information and footnotes, the story of Peter’s past and the story of his present intersect beautifully during his last 8 hours at the hospital. Beat the Reaper is Josh Bazell’s first novel.
First, I should tell you that I was completely surprised at how much I liked Beat the Reaper. I’m not much for thriller/action-type novels, but, seriously, from about page two I was completely hooked. And although the ending was one of the most disgusting and painful endings I’ve ever read, I enjoyed it and I will never forget it. That’s what you’re looking for in a good book, eh?
Josh Bazell has a unique writing voice that reminds you of an old, gritty 40s detective movie. Some scenes get to the point so quick with limited dialog that you are taken off guard (and maybe disappointed they didn’t linger longer…) and some have a twist and you can’t believe you just read what you read. But, in all cases, Josh made the right decision on how he worked the story and I’m eagerly looking forward to the second installment of Pietro Brwna’s story.
Josh Bazell came to San Francisco for the hospitals about three years ago. (Did I forget to mention he’s also a doctor?) He’s single (ahem) except for his Boston terrier, Lottie. On the average day you’ll find him sitting around in a Tshirt and doing all the usual human stuff like drink beer, speed race and herb window box gardening (I may have made those last two up) and listening to “America,” by Spinal Tap; a demo version of “Birthday,” by the Sugarcubes; “Wrecking Ball” by Emmylou Harris; and “Gypsy Eyes,” by Hendrix.
How much of you is in Pietro? What’s your favorite characteristic of his?
What I like most about Pietro is that he’s always looking for ways to be moral that don’t require innocence. I’d like to think I do that too, but I definitely don’t put as much energy into it as he does.
Sex can be a difficult thing for people to write well and not indulge into porno-land. Was it hard for you to write the sex scenes?
I didn’t really think about it. I grew up on books like Jaws, that had tons of sex in them. So to me it would feel unnatural to write an entire novel in which the characters don’t think about or have sex, or they do but I can’t be bothered to mention it. Granted, asexuality (or rather the confinement of sex in fiction to pornography) is the trend. Remember when young adult fiction meant Judy Blume and Lois Duncan, and was read by kids? Someone should write a young adult novel called I Am Disappointed In and Afraid Of Sex, so that adults who read young adult fiction in public won’t have to worry about people not getting the message.
Part of the book is set in Russia. Have you been to Russia? Is it in your family roots?
Some of my ancestors were from there. I’ve never been. Russian history reminds me of the alleged Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I’m hoping to get a chance to visit when Beat the Reaper comes out there.
Who is your target audience with Beat the Reaper? What kind of response have you received?
I try to spend as little time as possible thinking along these lines, but I tend to feel that people’s responses to books are so personal and idiosyncratic that pretty much anyone who reads Beat the Reaper deserves my appreciation. If they’re entertained by it and/or can relate to it, obviously that’s a good thing, but if they loathe it that’s strangely entertaining as well. I don’t know why. It’s infantile.
How did you do research for the Hitman part of the story?
I read every memoir I could find by people who have been through the Federal Witness Relocation Program. There are a lot of them, and they’re difficult to read because they’re poorly written and often morally repellent. But if you’re looking for sordid, they’ll give you sordid.
Did you learn anything at Brown that has become invaluable in your writing?
My attitude toward my writing education at Brown varies. I read a lot of books there and got time to write, and I met people who took literature seriously. On the other hand, the writing workshops I took there never discussed structure, or any other concern beyond the “quality of prose” on the page. And there were no classes at all on long-form writing, which is what I’ve always been interested in. Since structural rules are easier to learn than style, and since the idea of structure has been so tarnished by bad screenwriting instruction, I understand not spending a lot of class time on it. But some would have been nice.
The business side of health care you describe is almost too hard to read and sickening. How much of that is the truth from your experience and how much has been fictionalized? If you were God, (I’m not saying you aren’t) what would you do to change things?
Clearly the U.S. healthcare system is in trouble, since it’s crazily expensive and primarily serves the interests of the insurance, pharmaceutical, and (to a smaller but real degree) personal industry industries.
Just as clearly, to fix it (and a lot of other things) we probably need for legislators to not take money from the industries they’re supposed to regulate. Tom Daschle was taking more money from for-profit “health care” corporations than he would have made working 60 hours a week as a general practitioner. And if he hadn’t cheated on his taxes he would now be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
It is true: check it out here.
What impresses me about these companies is their foresight in predicting how quickly world anti-Semitism would rebound after WWII, and how easily they could therefore sell an image of the Holocaust as exaggerated and excessively talked about. Worldwide, this is now the popular consensus, though it’s losing ground to feelings (and statements) that the Holocaust never happened at all, or else did but was justified.
I loved and hated the character Skinflint about equally. You’ve written him in a way that defies someone to not feel compassion for him. How do you feel about him?
It’s pretty much a hate the sin and love the sinner situation. How can you hate someone too weak to fight his instincts?
The theme of the book is about a person being able to change and getting redemption. Have you experienced that in your own life?
Most people I know spend a lot of time either wanting or trying to change themselves. So yeah — I think most of us like the idea of redemption, and don’t seem to mind the judgment it passes on the lives we’re living now. It’s the tension between satisfaction and ambition.
I was annoyed that the footnotes were there and then I was annoyed that I kept wanting to read what they were and I enjoyed every annoying minute of it. As a writer myself, it seemed like a tricky thing to get right, a kind of hook that you gambled on that paid back in a big way. Were you worried about using them?
Yeah, the footnotes. The idea for them came from formatting the novel almost as an “as told to” memoir. And they turned out to be surprisingly useful, since they represent a subtly different voice (and timeframe) from the central narrator. But they were never necessary. It would have been easy to put the information in them, such as it is, in the text, and I was prepared to do that if either my agent or my editor felt strongly that I should. But they both liked the footnotes, and now I’m stuck using them in my next book because so many people have complained about them. By the way, one of them is intentionally irritating so that you’ll remember the information in it later, and all of them are skippable. (Ed. Note: But, you won’t want to.)
Whose writing style to you love to read?
Any book(s) to recommend?
I almost never do that, because, like I say, books seem so personal. It’s like universally recommending a particular girlfriend or something. I did just read Winter World, by Bernd Heinrich, which is about how woodland animals survive winter, and I really liked it. It’s observational biology in the style of Konrad Lorenz. It’s beautiful, and it makes you feel like you just spent a weekend in the country.
If you are 80 and living your dream life, what is it?
I really need to nail that down. It’s probably really helpful.
What interview question(s) are you so tired of answering and how many did I ask you?
The really bad ones only come from people who haven’t read the book. They’re all variations on “I haven’t read the book I’m interviewing you about. Please relieve my anxiety and embarrassment about that, and also entertain me.”
I asked people on Twitter the other day if they had any favorite Etsy sellers. I got a great response and thought I’d list them below. Thanks to all those who sent ideas! Feel free to leave more ideas in the comments.
And then he started yelling No! His face turned dark red and his hands squished his cheeks forward, moving all around his head, messing up his hair, then back to his cheeks. He was so overcome with emotion that the only word he could get out was No! No! He nearly lept out of his skin – I saw it begin to happen and then recede. His body could have charged a car battery.
I watched in disbelief, then horror. And then I refused to see it anymore.
Speaking of social events (weren’t we?), I went ahead and booked the uWink in Hollywood for June 13 at 8pm. They are open until 1am.
I know it’s early to plan this, but my summer gets filled up real fast with kid activities, so I have to be all Ms. Planaheader to make this happen. I can’t wait to meet you! Invite a friend or two!
If you want to sponsor the event, email me here.