“It’s a fucking girl!” my father announced to my two older half sisters the night I arrived. I was born in Northern California to a violent alcoholic father who fancied himself the next Hemingway and an artist mother who provided for all 5 of us solely from her sales at street fairs in the 1970’s.
We were quite poor. The first house I lived in had mushrooms growing up the walls and one wood burning stove. My father eventually kicked my sisters out and we relocated to rural Mexico to become expatriates.
And now we were rich! We lived in a 3-story house. I ate lunch in the jungle with our gardner named Pablo everyday.
In rural Mexico, my dad could beat my mom in the streets and no one interfered. At home, I would talk him out of killing her because I knew I’d be next. There was no safety net. No family. No phone a friend.
My parents were devout atheists but they put me in an all Spanish speaking Catholic School. The only other white person in the school was Jesus. I learned Spanish in a week, hung out with orphans and was abused by nuns.
My father psychologically tortured me. He systematically brainwashed me to never have a baby. I wasn’t allowed to have dolls of any kind and he forbade me to ever be pregnant because that would make me a failure. He told me I was stupid like my mother and I believed him. He wanted me to be a prodigy and I failed him.
The first time I got drunk and passed out, I was 5. My parents also took me to a cockfight that year. I went to my first bullfight when I was 7. I was surrounded by alcohol and violence.
I spent most of my free time trying to save my mom’s life. And my own. He ended up doing unspeakable things to both of us.
When I was 8, we moved Reno because my sisters and my mom’s ex-husband were there. My dad drained our bank account and left us $5. My mom was waiting tables at the Holiday Inn and we were living in a weekly motel. My mom’s ex and my soon-to-be stepdad (yes, she married the same man twice) saved us from homelessness and got us a small apartment.
My biological father was horrible, but I loved and missed him. We would talk on the phone and he would tell me of his adventures as a spy in Russia. I cried a lot.
My home was no longer violent, but school quickly filled that void. I was bullied from 4th to 8th grade so horribly I found solace in drugs and alcohol after my suicide attempt in 7th grade.
I started smoking at 9, then added in alcohol, weed, huffing, sex… then I turned 14 and decided to take it up a notch.
To LSD, cocaine, snorting NoDoz, ‘shrooms, whip-its (did I mention my first job was at Dairy Queen?), meth, dirty bathtub crank, peyote, MDMA (now called Molly), X (now called E) and heroin. Oh, and prostitution. Almost forgot about that one.
My favorite was mixing speed and alcohol. Up, down, up, down, up… you get the picture.
I also started acting at 14. I’d been acting my whole life already, why not take it to the stage?
I was an award-winning member of Nevada Repertory Company for 4 years and completely self-destructing whenever off stage.
Soon after turning 21, I was raped. I spent the next 3 years either trying to get sober or trying to drink myself to death.
I wouldn’t die. No matter how hard I tried. I had my first nervous breakdown after 5 months of not drinking or using, so I quit quitting.
By 24, I was exhausted. So I went to a program and really got sober.
I felt amazing! I barely even needed sleep. So I moved to LA to be a movie star!
But the more sober I got, the more my mental health deteriorated. It was like speed and booze, only the ups always went too high and the downs were unbearably dark and physically taxing.
When the panic attacks became daily and 4-hours long, I quit acting after 16 years, got a corporate job and started writing plays. There was light in the darkness, though. I met a young filmmaker named Matt Rundell and promptly fell in love with him.
All within a year, I had the most intense father experiences of my life. I met my biological father for the first time since I was 9. I wouldn’t have recognized him on the street. He was skinny and yellow. And he was still drinking and beating his current girlfriend. The 3am phone calls started and I severed the relationship.
Then my stepdad and mom suddenly divorced, but we ended up growing closer than ever. After being terrorized by my biological father, I finally got to have a real loving father/daughter relationship.
And then my biological father got terminal cancer. He asked for me on his deathbed and I told him to fuck off. He died a month later. It took me years to forgive myself and another decade to finally forgive him.
But I also got engaged! Right before we got married, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (learning later that my father had it as well) and was prescribed medication which would hopefully improve my panic attacks.
Matt and I had a dream wedding. We honeymooned in Fiji. I was awarded a fellowship to graduate school at UCSB. Life was getting really good, but I still had really bad anxiety – even in Fiji.
I had my second nervous breakdown 6-weeks into grad school and almost dropped out. Instead, I saw a school psychiatrist and went on an antidepressant.
And it worked. The 4-hour panic attacks stopped. My highs and lows were manageable. I couldn’t believe it.
I got my Masters, landed a paid directing gig and got a puppy. I decided to go off my medication because life was so good!
It only took 5 months for me to spiral into the darkest depression I had ever experienced thus far. The walls in my house changed color and I couldn’t move. I decided to slash my wrists.
It was March 4, 2006.
I was placed on a 72-hour hold at a county psychiatric hospital. I was diagnosed with PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. I lost the directing gig and quit doing theatre altogether.
I continued with my 12-step program, did intense therapy twice a week and found a cocktail of medications that worked. I worked my ass off and life got really good. I worked as a bookkeeper and copywriter and had a screenplay optioned.
I learned that my panic attacks were from PTSD – that’s why they were so long. A normal panic attack only lasts about 15 minutes, not 4-hours.
Even after attaining a Master’s Degree, I still believed the brainwashing from my father. Through therapy, I unraveled the truth, realized I was smart and I was worthy of having a child.
So we tried.
In 2009, we suffered a really sad miscarriage and I had a D&C. I was thrown into a deep depression from the hormone drop off. I saw a doctor (since this was my second miscarriage – the other one was at 17 and was good news) and I found out that my thyroid disease causes my progesterone to plummet and kill the fetus.
This time I got pregnant and stayed pregnant with medical help. My depression came back with a vengeance. It would be 4 excruciating years until I’d experience sanity again.
On August 23, 2011, my son was born. The next morning my OB told me about a woman who threw her baby out of a hospital window to its death. I knew at that moment that I was fated to murder my child.
Graphic, scary thoughts of throwing my baby looped constantly through my brain. I duct taped all the upstairs windows shut in our townhouse. Then I was hit with a mania akin to a kilo of cocaine.
And then my breast pump started talking to me. The postpartum psychosis was short-lived, but it took 6 months before the looping OCD murder thoughts, visuals and fears would subside.
Over the next 3 years, an unrelenting blackness took away everything for which I’d worked so hard. The guilt and shame over being a mother and a failing one at that made the downward spiral complete.
I tried integrative doctors, meds, no meds, jogging, CrossFit, yoga, the Autoimmune Paleo diet (for 18 months solid), tons of supplements, waking and sleeping at the same time (still do), eating animal thyroid (still do), adrenal and thymus glands, testes, and ovaries, taking pregnant horse urine pills, upping my 12-step game, going blonde, meditation, prayer, therapy, acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I also took a stand-up comedy class, but was unable to finish it due to my physically debilitating depression.
All the while, my sister disowned me, I got in 2 car accidents, I lost most of my closest friends, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, one good friend killed herself and another overdosed.
And then my amazing stepfather died suddenly. I’m still so grateful he got to meet my son on his first birthday, as hard as it was to travel when I was that sick. He wanted to meet his grandson so badly and it was a great visit. The only visit.
My marriage was so broken we considered divorce. And my head screamed “kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself” whenever I was awake. I went through maddening medication side effects, went into perimenopause, lost my ability to sleep and eat, relapsed on pot, went through a useless intensive outpatient program and 2 more mental hospitals.
Finally, I went through a process called TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation).
If it didn’t work, my only option was ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy, aka, Shock Therapy) and long term hospitalization.
It gave me a ladder out of the hole. I had a lot of work to do to pull myself completely out and I continue to do a lot to stay out of the hole. Alcoholism, PTSD and bipolar disorder are no joke.
I had to make a lot of changes in my life. I started over. From scratch. Our marriage repaired and I realized that I’m actually a pretty awesome mom.
When I realized I was going to live and while I was still having TMS treatments (I had 36 sessions), I took that stand-up comedy class again as a challenge to myself. My only goal was to finish all 8 weeks and do the graduation showcase. (I was interviewed for the Pretty, Funny Women Podcast if you want to hear the whole story.)
And the laughter healed me. The more shows I did, the more I healed. The more I wrote the more I healed.
And I didn’t stop for 3 years. I’ve done stand-up at The Comedy Store, The Improv and The Laugh Factory. I was really coming into my own.
And then it all stopped again at the end of November, 2018. I got bronchitis and it just wouldn’t get better. In April, I was diagnosed with the chronic Epstein-Barr virus (CEBV). I was bedridden for over 6 months and after making a lot of changes, am up and about most days now. I also found out that CAEBV is the missing piece of my health puzzle – the virus settled in my thyroid and caused Hashimoto’s because my immune system was trying to kill the virus that was in my thyroid.
Long story short, I’ve struggled with chronic fatigue most of my life and I finally know the cause. For every problem there is a solution, but I have to know the problem first!
I’ve been in some sort of therapy since my first hospitalization in 2006, but now I’m doing somatic therapy and working with a health coach. I’ve learned that trauma stores in our bodies and this is just another speed bump. It’s not a wall. Not even close.
I see my childhood and illnesses as the best things to happen to me. They made me who I am today. They gave me the courage to unapologetically be me. They gave me an inner strength I would have never known possible. I still have fear, but there are few things that truly scare me.
I’m a phoenix. I am not defined by the speed bumps in my life; I am defined by how I get over them.