I don’t think about David Funchess much anymore. I watched him die on April 22, 1986 in Florida’s electric chair. He was the first Vietnam Veteran executed in the United States. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had yet to be discovered when Funchess, a highly-decorated combat Marine, fatally stabbed a couple during a hold-up in Jacksonville in 1974.
I was a cub reporter and was morbidly thrilled to have the opportunity to cover an execution. The little motel where I stayed in Starke, Florida was excited to see me, too, and had posted “Welcome Christine” on its roadside marquee. This story would be the crown jewel in my growing collection of clips – mostly stories of last night’s school board meeting and car wrecks. That’s how I looked at it.
On a personal level, I was hoping the execution would finally settle my doubts about the death penalty. I was brought up Catholic but having covered a few murders, I was not convinced that the death penalty was unjust. I was on the fence. I had heard of reporters who had fainted or barfed covering executions. I did not know how I would react.
“Brace yourself,” she said.
It seemed like any other Friday morning. I went to the gym, took Dog to the park, made lunch and drove to work. I parked in the same spot. Swiped my security card at the same door and said “Mornin'” like I do every morning.
My co-worker, Carol looked like she had been crying.
Three in my department – 24 overall.
The layoffs and buyouts began at my company about three years ago. The company has offered generous severance packages and had always let us know when layoffs were looming. Not this time. Although they still offered generous severance packages, we had no warning.
My phone rang at 4:45 am on Thursday morning. I didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t answer it. Then I heard that little voicemail alarm and I was like, oh man, what now?
It was a friend who was about to be arrested. The deputy was kind enough to let my friend use his phone and make a call. An arrest warrant had been issued because my friend had failed to pay the court costs from a DUI 18 months ago. My friend performed all the other conditions of probation except the court costs of $373.
Did someone scribble my phone number on the bathroom walls at university engineering departments? I have people calling me with the solution. I have blueprints of contraptions that will allegedly stop the flow of oil coming from a hole in the ocean floor. I have people wanting me to pass along their idea to BP. I have people wanting me to write a story about their invention.
People, I am a newspaper reporter, not Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I have a short fuse and I cannot tell if it is attached to my mania or my stress. Whatever it is attached to, I am afraid it could blow and I am not sure my blowout preventer is working right now.
When I get manic I get righteous and sarcastic. I want to raise my eyebrows, cock my head and say: “When my clone gets in I will have her give Tony Hayward a jingle and check on that.” “If I knew when they were going to plug it I would be planning my summer vacation, now wouldn’t I?” “Everything I know about dead fish I learned from a worm.” “Do I look like I know where the Loop Current is going to be next week?”
“… my finely wired, exquisitely alert nervous system.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of my mania. Unfortunately, I didn’t write it. Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison did. It is in the first paragraph of the prologue to her brilliant bestseller An Unquiet Mind.
I like the word “exquisite” because it implies a sense of refinement and elegance and I am neither when I am manic. I envision a chaotic mess of synapses frantically trying to keep up with a torrent of hormones. Some explode like a blown transformer and sizzle like a live wire.
It feels like a primal part of my brain has taken over. Every cell attached to my senses — smell, touch, sight, taste, sound — is ready, like a racehorse in the gate, snorting, pounding a hoof and waiting for the race to begin.
Good news! The Federal Aviation Administration is lifting its ban on allowing pilots to fly while on antidepressants.
Bad news! I still can’t be a pilot.
While lifting the ban on antidepressants made for great headlines today, it’s not until you read down into the story that you learn that under the new policy, pilots who take one of four antidepressants — Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro — or their generic equivalents will be allowed to fly “if they have been successfully treated by those medications for a year without side effects that could pose a safety hazard in the cockpit.”
That’s cool, but they are all SSRIs. What if a pilot needs more, like Wellbutrin, an NDRI, along with an SSRI? That’s my regimen. I take Lexapro AND Wellbutrin. Does that mean the pilot cannot fly? Yes.
Right now codependency is my biggest problem. Right now codependency is the #1 threat to my mental health. Right now I am saying “yes” when I know I should say “no.” I should be setting boundaries and asking questions. I should be putting my own needs first instead of trying to please another.
I should not be sitting here rehearsing speeches in my head that will likely never leave my lips. I should be saying “no” – as a complete sentences, no explanations. I should not wait for you to tell me how you feel before I decide how I feel. I should not want to do what you want to do because I am afraid you won’t want to be with me if I say “I don’t want to do that.”
Now that I know what codependency is and I understand how it damages me, I get angry at myself when I see myself doing it. It’s like watching myself put my hand over a flame knowing that it will burn me. I get angry at myself because I am a dogged, driven, annoying newspaper reporter. I have no problem hammering a politician with questions or asking a victim intimate details of a crime. So, why can’t I – won’t I – ask the questions I need answered – deserved to have answered – in my personal relationships?
My anger at myself decimates my self-esteem. I soul brims with resentments against you. My brain whirls. I hate myself for being so weak. I hate myself for not standing up for myself. And I hate myself because I lose myself and don’t even know what I really want anymore.
One thing I know and want – stop being codependent. Say it. Ask it. Believe it. Want it. Take it. You deserve it.
My daughter gave me the gift that was at the top of my list: A bird feeder – and 10 lbs. of “deluxe mix” bird food. I think she thought it was kind of lame. She’s 18 and her idea of a gift comes in a turquoise box. But she has no idea what she really gave me.
My father was an alcoholic. Our relationship was, at its best, unemotional. He never raised a hand or his voice. Sarcasm was his weapon. Still, he embarrassed me. He didn’t provide for our family in the way I thought he should. He was incapable of sharing his feelings. I never saw him hold my mother’s hand or put his arm around her or give her the kind of hug I thought he should. I don’t remember him ever being romantic. It was as though physical affection was painful and emotional intimacy was excruciating.
But my father was a good father. He did the very best he could. I know that now – seven years after his death. There were two things that my father was passionate about: our dog and keeping squirrels off the bird feeder. Our kitchen table looked out over the backyard. He had set a bird feeder on a pole about 10 feet outside the windows. It was great watching the cardinals and sparrows and blue jays visit while eating breakfast.
My dad would sit for an hour or so, drink coffee, read the paper, watch the birds and cuss the squirrels – which sent the dog into a frenzy. It got to the point where we couldn’t even say the word “squirrel” without the dog going nuts. So we referred to squirrels as s-q-u’s.
My dad became the MacGyver of squirrel repellant devices. My favorite was a foot-long piece of rainspout with the sharp edges peeled back like a banana. He ran the pole holding the bird feeder through the mangled rain spout, which he had suspended from the bottom of the bird feeder with some of mom’s clothesline.
I think the idea was that the dangling, mangled rain spout would act like squirrel shrapnel – shredding the …
When you spend a lifetime trying to make other people happy, you forget what makes you happy. You convince yourself that making other people happy makes you happy. You become so consumed in making others happy – people pleasing – that you have to think – really think – when you are asked what you would like for your birthday.
You come up with gift ideas that you know would make others happy. Slippers. An apron. Perfume. A photo album. Or the ever popular gift certificate. They are clueless. They don’t know what makes you happy because you don’t know what makes you happy. You try on the apron, stare at the gift card and try on the slippers.
Secretly, you seethe. Then you go back to making them happy with a huge chip on your shoulder. You try to ignore the resentment but it grows because now they expect you to make them happy. You get angry – at yourself and them. You sit on the pity pot and listen to those tapes in your head that say what you really want to say – You take me for granted! You don’t appreciate all I do for you! You expect me to do everything!
That was me. That was the kind of behavior I had to unlearn when I was finally diagnosed with depression and bipolar. The medications were not enough. I had been holding the hand that held me down. This behavior fueled my depression. I had to learn a new way of life.
So, I asked myself “What makes ME happy?” Silence. Hmmm. More silence. Hmmm. Even more silence. Hmmm. What makes ME happy? Took me awhile. SCUBA DIVING! That would make ME really happy. I live a mile from the ocean, on the northern edge of the only reef off the continental U.S.
I did it. I got certified. Every Saturday morning – water temp and weather permitting – I sit on the bow of the dive boat. Then I put on my gear, jump in the ocean and gently fall to the ocean floor. No cell phones, no television, no IPods, no newspapers. Just me and …
Where do I end and you begin?
You could be a stranger and I would not know. Your problems are mine. Your consequences are my challenges. “I will take care of that.” “You don’t have to worry about it.” ” Lemme see what I can do.”
This is my codependency. It is masked in selflessness and martyrdom. “Go ahead. I didn’t want it anyway.” “Oh, you shouldn’t have.” “I would never think of…”
I will offer advice and directions when you don’t want it. I will push and pull you at the same time. I am like a tick – I will dig my fingernails into your psyche and suck out your free will. No matter what you do to me, you cannot get rid of me. I will mask all my demands in good intentions. I will take care of all your needs — even the ones you do not know you have — and you will feel guilty. I will mirror your feelings.
Nothing I do will ever be good enough. You will embarrass me if you praise me. I will resent you if you don’t let me help. I will never ask ask for anything and I will lavish gifts and favors on you. “Let’s do what you want to do.” “Why don’t we go to your favorite restaurant?” “That’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it.”
Someday I’m gonna make some man a wonderful doormat.
I had heard about codependency. It sounded like psycho-babble. Then, on April 27, 2006, I fell into the darkest hole I could have imagined. To get out I needed medicine and a new way of living. Not just eating better and getting more exercise. I needed a new paradigm. I needed to be willing to accept that my good deeds were often bad. My right was wrong. Your free-will was not mine. And God forbid – I deserved more.
I went to co-dependency camp at a treatment center. The cost was about $3,000 (including airfare) and I had never spent that much money on myself. I cringed with guilt. I was scared. It was excruciating but thrilling work. It was as if the clouds …