How I Earned My Wings

“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. And ticks. Lots of ticks. My father eventually kicked my sisters out and we relocated to rural Mexico to become expatriates.

Pablo
Pablo and me, kickin’ it.

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.

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One of these things is not like the other…

My parents were devout atheists so, of course, 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 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 five. My parents also took me to my first cockfight that year. I went to a bullfight when I was seven. 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 eight, we moved Reno because my sisters and my mom’s ex-husband were there. My dad drained our bank account and left us five dollars. 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.

reno
Yes, that Reno.

My biological father was a very sick man, but I loved and missed him. We would talk on the phone and he would tell me of his delusional 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 fourth to eighth grade so horribly I found solace in drugs and alcohol after my suicide attempt in seventh grade.

I started smoking at nine, then added in alcohol, weed, huffing, sex… then I turned 14 and decided to take it up a notch.

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Girl gone Goth.

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.

Celimene, in The Misanthrope.

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 four years and completely self-destructing whenever off stage.

Soon after turning 21, I was raped. I spent the next three 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 five 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.

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It didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would…

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 four-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 nine. 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 with my stepfather.

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.

Me & my dude.

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 and 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 six-weeks into grad school and almost dropped out. Instead, I saw a school psychiatrist and went on an antidepressant.

And it worked. The four-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!

Depressed
3 months after my hospitalization.

It only took eight months for me to spiral into the darkest depression I had ever experienced. 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 – 20 minutes, not four-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 fertility doctor (since this was my second miscarriage – the other one was at 17 and was good news) and I found out that after a few weeks of pregnancy, my progesterone plummets and kill the fetus.

prego
Toward the end of my miserable pregnancy.

This time I got pregnant and stayed pregnant with medical help. My depression came back with a vengeance. It would be four excruciating years until I’d experience sanity again.

On August 23, 2011, my beautiful 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 six months before the looping OCD murder thoughts, visuals and fears would subside.

Over the next three years, an unrelenting darkness 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.

blonde cf

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 two 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 from years of illness 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 very early, lost my ability to sleep and eat, relapsed on pot, went through a useless intensive outpatient program and was hospitalized two more times.

brain
I’m not even kidding.

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. 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 a stand-up comedy class as a challenge to myself. My only goal was to finish all eight weeks and perform in the graduation showcase. (I was interviewed for the Pretty, Funny Women Podcast if you want to hear the whole story.)

CourtComedy

I did.

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 three 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 three times in a row. In April, I was diagnosed with the chronic active Epstein-Barr virus (CAEBV). After making a lot of dietary changes, IV’s and supplements, I was rafting with my family on the fourth of July!

A little over two months later, I was bedridden again. I thought the CAEBV had returned, but it felt much more intense. I could function until noon or one and then the headache and fatigue would literally close my eyes and I’d pass out.

In October of 2019, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. My mom reminded me that I was bitten by a tick on my soft spot when I was an infant and most likely bitten again on a Cub Scout camping trip in October of 2018.

For every problem there is a solution, but I have to know the problem first. I’ve struggled with chronic fatigue and mental illness most of my life and I finally know the cause.

I’ve been in some sort of therapy since my first hospitalization in 2006 and I’ve learned that trauma stores in our bodies. This is just another speed bump. It’s not a wall. Not even close.

I see my traumas 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 the opportunity to find out that I’m so much stronger than I ever knew. There’s no limit to my strength and I refuse to limit myself. 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.

Freedom is an inside job.

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