Sentimental Illness

Hello, my hearts,

We had a sleepover last night. Yay! So, you know, for a night, Mummy got to go home…because she was with you. Being apart from home a lot really makes you appreciate home more than you ever imagined you could. I learned, when I moved away from my family in Buffalo, that some places are great and some places are not-so-great but home always has to do with the ones you love. So I had a night at home. How lucky am I for that!

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HOME SWEET HOME

We had fun doing our usual overnight thing, and Darah, your passion of the night was for a book series that you discovered at school called ‘The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids.’ You had read a couple of them at school, including Mrs. Jeepers is Missing. You said you didn’t like the way the word Jeepers sounded, so you called her Mrs. Jeppers. You said I would love the series and you spent over an hour telling us all about the stories from the series that you had read, browsing other titles and book covers from the series on Amazon, and going through the titles with us to ask us which ones we were most interested in. I loved your passion for the books and I loved how you identified titles that you thought I would find interesting, like the ones featuring pirates, witches, and martians. That was so thoughtful. You know your mummy well, Kiddo.

Elanah, your passion of the night was snuggling me and also helping me pack up the summer clothes I picked up at Goodwill to take with me to Buffalo. You folded the shirts and I put them in the suitcase, and you were so sweet because you would compliment every shirt you folded, trying to make me feel good about each one. You did that because you love clothes and you love being helpful, but most of all because you love me. Oh, and before you both went to sleep, I tried to teach you the Button Factory Song. That went over well. You both loved it, but it got you riled up and then it was hard to wind back down. I’m sure we’ll sing that song again. I can’t believe I had forgotten it until now!

Something that’s fresh on my mind is a conversation that we had at the Old Dairy yesterday, when we were there for lunch, after going to the library. We were having a bit of a late lunch because we had a lot of pancakes for (late) breakfast so we decided to go to the library first. The three of us must have been feeling deprived of books, after not having been to the public library in a couple of weeks; maybe that would explain how we each went and loaded up on more books than usual. Or maybe the three of us were feeling the fact that we won’t have lunch and library days until September. We’ll never know, but yesterday we were book hounds. No one wanted to put back one single book in her pile. So we just ended up getting them all.

We also ended up at the library at just the right time because we ran into Heather McMeekan, who was running a reading and kite-making activity to share her passion for kites and kite-flying. I liked listening to her read the Curious George book; she has a very soothing-sounding voice. You each made a kite and played with scarves, just like old times. It hearkened back to earlier times, when you were very little and we attended play groups at the library. I’ve always enjoyed reading aloud and singing with you and other little ones, and it’s because I had the two of you that I discovered that I am crazy about children’s literature. Going to the children’s library with you has become one of my very favorite activities.

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So back to that conversation we had at lunch, when I was starting to read the hilarious Mo Willem’s Pigeon series books to you (those were excellent picks, by the way; very theatrical and funny). Darah, you started to tell me that you and Momma Si had been having a pretty serious conversation about some events that took place recently in my life. I have to say, Honey, that I was a little shocked to find this out– not because I was surprised that Momma Si had talked about it with you but because you had not talked about it with me, and therefore, had been keeping it in for a couple of weeks. I know how you operate, Little One, and I know that you don’t like to keep things in; you love to say what’s on your mind, just like I do. I know that whatever you and Momma Si talked about was probably on your mind a lot, but you didn’t say anything to me about it. That makes me sad. Just like I always want the two of you to talk to Momma Si about anything and everything, I always want you to feel like you can talk to me about anything and everything, too. You can always talk to me. You never have to be afraid. You can always trust me. I have been a good mummy to you since you were born and I will never stop being a good mummy to you.

Dar, when you told me that you and Momma Si had talked about a couple of recent unfortunate events that unfolded in my life, you said that you did not tell me because you were afraid it would hurt my feelings. You began by telling me that Momma Si didn’t talk to Elanah about this; that the two of you were talking about it after Elanah had fallen asleep one night. It was at the time (that you told me what was on your mind) that Elanah climbed onto my lap and started giving me kisses. Elan, I think that was your way of dealing with not really understanding what was going on and maybe feeling a little bit worried about mummy. The first thing I tried to assure you, and that I remind you both of now, is that you do not need to worry about Mummy, sweeties, ever; you never need to worry about Mummy.

After this happened, we talked about Mummy’s slow transitional migration to Buffalo and you, as usual, tried to give me reasons why I should stay in Macomb. It breaks my heart to have these kinds of conversations, as it makes it clear to me that you are both hurting inside over it. I wish there were a way for it to be different. The fact of the matter is that Macomb does not have any job opportunities for mummy and that having no job opportunities and no family to lean on means that I cannot survive here, even if I liked it here, which I do not. So we have the time while I am in the graduate program to slowly transition to our new living situation, and in three or so years, we should have it sorted out. It’s painful now and I know it’s affecting you, and I’m so sorry for that, but in the long run I believe whatever God has in store for us is going to be good.

I keep thinking, Elanah, about what you said to Darah, trying to ease her fears. You told me I could get a job at the Old Dairy. You said, “You could work right here.” I said, in response, “No, I can’t. This is not my area.” I don’t know if you knew what I meant when I said that but what I meant is that if I work at the Old Dairy as a server, I will not be making enough money to survive and I will also be very unhappy doing so because I will not be pursuing my intellectual and creative passions. Elan, you told Darah that Mummy needs to get a good job so she can make money so she can get a good house and come back and live with you. You said it with so much faith and with such positivity that my heart ached. I felt like I crushed you when I had to tell you that I probably would not be living in Macomb in the future, but then I assured you that you had all of it right: I do need to get a good job so I can make enough money to have a home so that I can be with you. I don’t know how it’s all going to work out but I know that everything I do now is in the hopes that I can support you and live with you, at least part of the time. My dream is to be with you both. I cannot do it while I am poor and without resources and support, except for by being with you in spirit. I pray to God that we will be together someday. Divorce is so hard. I am trying my very best to do the least harm to you.

I have made many decisions that have created this situation for us, and I can only do my best now to make decisions that will create a better future for us. I would never separate you from your Momma Si, but I also pray that there is a way for me to have you, too. I know I am repeating myself a lot, but it helps me to do it. Please know this, please always know this: Mummy never wants to be apart from you. I hate being away from you. I love you and I want to be with you. I wish I were squishing you both right NOW. My dream is to live with you. I don’t care if you’re eight or eighty, six or thirty six: I want to be with you. And I believe someday we will be together. That is what gives me strength and hope. That is the light leading me through the tunnel, my babies. You. Hope.

Darah, shortly after our conversation turned to your conversation with Momma Si, I asked you why you didn’t tell me about it earlier. You said because you were scared that Momma Si would be upset with you. I reassured you that you are never at fault for repeating what an adult, whether Momma Si or Mummy or someone else, tells you. I told you that Momma Si would never want you to feel afraid to tell me something, which I believe is true, and I reminded you that both Momma Si and Mummy talk to you about things, and that anything we tell you that makes either of us upset is our responsibility, not yours. But I know you’re a kid, so you might still feel like you have done something wrong even if you absolutely, positively have not. Darah, I could see something was bothering you and I knew that there was more to the conversation with your Momma that was weighing on you and that you wanted to tell me. I recognized the look on your face. You were carrying a burden; your conscience was telling you that you needed to share something with me.

When I told you I could see on your face that something was bothering you and you wanted to tell me something, you said, “But what if it hurts your feelings.” Immediately, I assured you that it’s A-OKAY if you hurt my feelings. I reminded you that your mummy is one tough cookie, despite how sensitive I am at times, and that you NEVER EVER have to be afraid of saying something that will hurt my feelings. I am your mother and you can say anything to me. You can hurt my feelings. You can and you must. You are my child and I need you to come to me and to trust me and to tell me everything that weighs on your mind and your heart.

After I tried to convince you that you cannot possibly hurt my feelings, you said, “I was told that using that word would hurt your feelings.” I said, “What word?” You then retracted a bit and looked scared. I tried to let you know that I am not scared of any word you might say. I said, “What word? Crazy? What word, Honey?” You protested more about telling me the word, saying you were afraid you would get in trouble. I told you that you would NOT in any way get in trouble for telling me and that whatever word it was will NOT hurt my feelings. And then I told you that you didn’t have to say the word, because I felt like I was pressuring you, and that wasn’t right. I said, “Just know that I’ve heard a lot of different words and I’ve been called a lot of different names and it’s probably not going to hurt my feelings.” You then started to try to tell me the word. You stumbled a bit as you stood up and moved toward me. With my encouragement, you said, as gently and quietly as you could, “Sentimental illness.”

Sentimental illness. I wasn’t sure I had heard you right. “What? Sentimental what?” I asked.

You tried to articulate it again and said slowly: “Sentimentally ill.”

Oh, Honey. Oh my Darah. You will never know how you warmed my heart and brought me joy when you told me that Momma Si told you I was sentimentally ill.

I know what you meant (and told you that the phrase Momma Si actually must have used) was “mentally ill” but I like your version so much better and you know what, you’re right. If Mummy is ill with anything, it’s definitely sentimental illness.

Our conversation went on:

“Mentally ill? Mentally ill. It’s okay. Sit down. I’m not scared of that word at all. Come sit near me.”

Elanah, you asked, “What does it mean?”

I said, “It means like… like, uh… did you talk about what it meant?”

And then Darah, you said that Momma Si told you it was like what happened to Momma Si’s mom. You said, “No, um, she said it was like when her mom was mentally ill and thought the whole town was after her. But then she got a little bit better.”

I said, “Ohhhhh boy.”

And then I said to you, “I know that Momma Si thinks I’m mentally ill, Honey. That’s nothing new to me… and I already know that she’s already told you that she thinks I’m mentally ill. And there’s nothing embarrassing or shameful about saying that you’re mentally ill.” You then asked if we could return to the Pigeon books, and we did.

But I want to say just a few more words about this, here, my little ones, because mental illness is something we should talk about, since it’s already being talked about in your home with Momma Si– and with respect to me, your mum.

First, I want to say to you, Darah, that I think the reason that you were so scared to tell Mummy “the word” Momma Si called me was because you think it means something really bad and because you don’t fully understand what it means yourself, which makes you feel uneasy. I know you don’t want to think that either of your moms is sick, so I can understand why, given that the phrase scares you, you would not want to think about me this way or tell me that your other mom thinks of me this way. Your feelings are all valid.

I don’t like being called “mentally ill” but that’s not because there’s something horrible and awful about people who label themselves as “mentally ill.” It’s because I don’t identify with that phrase or concept. At all. It’s a made up phrase used sometimes by professional people to help others and sometimes by ignorant, mean people to hurt others. It’s a phrase that a lot of people in our society fear and don’t understand, and it’s a term that I think comes with a lot of negative baggage.

Across history in Eastern Europe and the United States, traditionally, people with money and power and prestige are the ones who call people without those things “mentally ill.” A long time ago, women who did not want to be “proper wives and mothers” and women who did not adhere to the conventions that society set for them were thought to be “mentally ill,” and they were given terrible treatments for so-called “illnesses” and sometimes even locked away in asylums and tortured.

Not too long ago, in fact, women like your Momma Si and Mummy J could have been put into asylums for being women who openly love women because not too long ago being a lesbian, or a homosexual, was criminalized and pathologized– what this means is that girls who love girls used to be thought of as “mentally ill.” It’s an over-simplification, yes, but it’s still true. There are a lot of backward, terrible things that people have, at one time or another, believed to be true. Although today we think about mental illness differently and there are people who treat those who label themselves as having a mental illness with dignity and respect, I don’t like the phrase because it is still looked at with fear and misunderstanding. When many people fear something and treat people poorly based on that fear, we refer to the widespread fear as a “stigma.” It’s kind of like a scary and untrue myth that people hold that keeps them from understanding something.

People sometimes label people as mentally ill when they don’t wear the clothing that most people wear or look like most people look or behave the way that most people behave. When they don’t follow the rules. When they cannot be put into a category easily. They do this because they feel unsure and afraid. The main problem is that “ill” has a decidedly negative connotation. No one wants to be ill. No one wants to think of themselves as ill or of others thinking about them as ill, and that’s because in the English language, to be “ill” is not a good thing. As such, people still see people who are labeled as mentally ill in a certain, not-good, light.

I think the term “mental illness” is silly because it puts complicated people into one of two categories: either a person can be well and good or ill and bad. That just doesn’t seem to accurately describe the human experience. Another reason I don’t like the phrase “mental illness” is because it is too broad. Why would we label a bunch of people with a category that has been misused for such a long time and used to hurt those who don’t fit in. It’s a big category. Too big. It lumps too many people into one hurtful label with a bad history.

The reason you didn’t know how to explain mental illness to me when I asked is because it can mean a lot of things. The phrase “mentally ill”  is used by psychologists, psychiatrists, and lots of other people to describe any number of things. There are a lot lot lot of problems with the phrase, but the last thing we need to do is run away from it. I stand by and for people who identify as mentally ill. But I do not stand by the phrase, itself. To me, it enacts violence against marginalized communities.

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Mummy is queer. Just like Shakesqueer. Queer is not the same thing as ill, according to Mummy.

I was not shocked to hear that Momma Si told you I was mentally ill at all. The reason is because, Darah, you had already told me at an earlier time that Momma Si had told you that “Mummy has a sickness in her brain” / that “Mummy’s brain is sick.” When I heard that she told you that the first time, I did feel sick in my brain and my heart over it –and I cried– but any parent who learns that her eight-year-old kid is worrying about her mom being sick in her brain is, well, going to feel sick in her brain. You know, my dolls, anyone can feel kind of brain-sick at any time. This can mean anything. You know when you get mad and you want to scream? Maybe your brain is sick then. Or maybe it’s not; maybe it’s just being healthy. I don’t really know. But I do know that it sounds scary to little kids to hear that their mummy has a sickness in her brain, and so I need to write to you to tell you that (1) your mummy is just fine and (2) that your mummy has a fine brain.

Nothing is wrong with your mummy’s brain. I have a great brain and I like it just the way it is and I don’t think my brain is sick and I don’t believe anyone who says my brain is sick, and I never will, and I never want either of you to think that your mummy’s brain is sick. But trust your gut, use your amazing intellects, and decide for yourselves.

Now that doesn’t mean that my brain doesn’t feel yucky sometimes. Sometimes I get very sad. So very sad that sometimes I have to be by myself and write the sadness away. But that always passes. I consider myself healthy, actually, because I can take any terrible situation and turn it into an opportunity for strength, growth, and learning. It’s true that sometimes I do things, like wear costumes and sing and dance around in public places and do outlandish and entertaining things, that others would see as odd and strange. But that doesn’t make me ill. I reserve the illness label for those who label themselves as such and for those who perpetuate systems of oppression against the marginalized and downtrodden. I would say that Donald Trump (or Donald Duck/Donald Trumpet as you like to call him) is ill and that the illness he and so many of us suffer from is capitalism (which might also be called “greed”).

There are people who place labels on others for a living– they are called psychologists and psychiatrists and counselors. They do it so that they can help people and so that they can keep things organized and so that they can receive the support of insurance companies. I support the helpful work they do for others. I love counselors and the work they do; in fact, remember how I was accepted into a program for clinical mental health counseling and was granted full tuition, an assistantship, and the only departmental scholarship, and how I was going to counsel others for a living? That is because I love people and I love helping people– all kinds of people. That is because I wanted to help people love themselves and get away from the stigma of mental illness so that they can live their best lives according to who they are, without limiting labels that hurt. I would have been a great counselor. But I decided it wasn’t for me– labeling and categorizing people according to standards set by psychologists isn’t for me. Just like the label of “mentally ill” isn’t for me. I am what I am and I do what I do, and I don’t need a label to tell me whether I’m okay or not okay. I know I’m okay. And I want you to know it, too. I will help others love and accept themselves by, first and foremost, loving myself.

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Sometimes I hold hands with my cake in the car. It’s because I’m sentimentally well, not mentally ill.

Momma Si and Mummy might have differing beliefs about things, and even a different concept of reality at times, but that doesn’t mean that one is wrong and one is right. As long as we are good parents to you and are committed to taking good care of you, then everything is okay. Mummy had something bad happen recently, and I will talk to you about it any time you want privately, but that had nothing to do with Mummy’s brain– at least no more than anything else has to do with anyone else’s brain. That had to do my creative freedom and right to my beliefs. It was an adult thing that had to do with Mummy’s creative writing and with Mummy’s personal adult life– something that Momma Si is not really part of anymore because we’re divorced. I know it’s hard because Momma Si does care about me, but now that we’re divorced, I am taking care of myself, and I assure you that I am fine. You are little stinkers, and you don’t need to worry about it. I know you want to know all about Mummy’s personal life and life as a creative writer and activist, but really the only thing you need to know is that mummy is ethical, that mummy is strong, that Mummy is bold and goes where others dare not go, that Mummy is honest, that Mummy is smart, that Mummy is against war and for peace and freedom, and that Mummy is someone you can always look up to and admire, even when she makes mistakes and then does her best to learn from them.

Little ones, I am not like other moms. I am YOUR mom. Your Mummy. I do not apologize for being the way I am. There is nothing about me that is scary or to be feared. I have a beautiful mind and a good heart. I’m pretty nice most of the time. Sometimes I am sad. Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes I am sentimentally ill. Most of the time I am sentimentally well. Most of the time I feel good. And all of the time: I am happy to be your mummy and I love you both more than anything.

Mummy is content. About having two amazing hexlings and about taking a sentimental journey forward in life. Let’s watch these two sentimentalist performers tell us all about what it means to be a mover and a shaker, like your mummy:

Mummy is not upset: not at either of you and not at Momma Si. I know Momma Si cares about me and is doing the best she can to understand me. She’s a smart dude and her beliefs about Mummy are not unreasonable. But Mummy knows Mummy best, and I think I should get to play a part in the labels that are used to describe me. We’ll talk about our brains more and about the word “mental illness” more because we’re not afraid of words; we love words. We will take the scary right out of the conversation and everything’s going to be all right. Be happy, my hexlings, be happy because you came up with one of the best phrases I have ever heard– sentimentally ill. Hexlings, word invention is where it’s at.

Heaven bears is also where it’s at. Yesterday the Mummy Bears arrived. You both LOVED them.

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They were bigger than I expected, which made me happy, and you hugged them right up. SO. SOFT. Darah, you insisted that yours be named “Jessica Logan Lake” because you wanted to call the bear ‘Jessica’ and Elanah, you went with “Finley Jessy Lake” because you actually liked the name I gave your bear.

Hug your mummy bears whenever you’re worried about sentimental illness. Love and hugs transcend all language.

Love Always,

Your Mentally Awesome Mummy

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Hugh Hunter says:

    I wish you, and your beautiful daughters, luck, light and much love until you can all be together again.

    Liked by 1 person

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