Daily Archives: March 30, 2013

My Mother and Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish

Some non-Jewish people know what Kaddish is.  Some Jewish people also know what Kaddish is.  I would guess that more Jewish people don’t than do, because of the secularization of the Jewish people due to the Holocaust and subsequent rush to blend in with whatever dominant culture we found ourselves washed ashore in, those who escaped the ovens.

Kaddish, for those who don’t know, is a Jewish prayer that is an integral part of observant Jewish life.  It is best known as the “prayer for the dead,” although death is never mentioned in the prayer itself.  It is, in fact, a joyous song of praise, enumerating the awesome powers and grace of the Almighty.  It is indeed said at Jewish funerals and at each of the three daily communal prayers, on behalf of the departed, for eleven months.  But it is also said many times during each prayer service, as a marker that divides the different segments of the service.  There are wonderful mystical reasons for this, having to do with elevating the congregation up through the layers of world upon world that lead to complete unification with God.  Most religious Jews don’t know these things, but say the prayers by rote.   Much knowledge has been lost in the years of our physical and spiritual exile.

My parents are among the first-generation children of immigrant parents from Russia and Poland who escaped the Holocaust as children, and had no religious background whatsoever.  Correction: my father’s father was the child of a Hassidic rabbi from Prussia, and his mother was the daughter of a rabbi in the Ukraine.  Both were sent out of their respective countries as children, experiencing exploitation and multitudinous horrors on their way to New York City, where they met and became members of the Communist Party, rejecting their religion out of bitterness; so my father was brought up without religion, to endure antisemitism on a strictly genetic/racial basis.

My mother was raised in a mildly religious environment, but it never really rubbed off on her.  She came away with a few legends and fears, but quickly learned how to cook pork ounce she was out of her culturally kosher home, throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

My mother likes to throw things out.  She threw out her rudimentary Judaism once she was free of the parental home.  She likes to keep a tidy house, so she throws out anything that seems out of place.  She has thrown me out many times.  I have kept coming back, out of a childish wish that she would all of a sudden become the Good Fairy Mother, but that has not happened yet and as she is 86 and I am nearing 60, I don’t think it is likely to happen.

My mother has two sides: childlike, and childish.  Her childlike side is quite charming.  She is filled with wonder at a pair of redbirds on a bush, deer in the yard, a squirrel sitting on a railing eating corn she has put out for it.  She adores her cat with something approaching sexual love.

On the other hand, when tired or vexed she will burst into childish tantrums, cursing and belittling, mocking, slamming doors and kicking the dog.  And throwing things out.

The other day she was in a childish mood, a mild one, and concentrating on throwing things out.  She can’t throw me out at the moment, because she needs my help with my invalid father, but she can throw his things out, and that’s what she was up to.  I happened along just as Allen Ginsberg’s volume of poetry Kaddish was hitting the dust bin.

“Why are you throwing that out?” I asked.  I noted that their once voluminous library seemed to have shrunken, and wondered how many old friends of my youth had gone the way that Kaddish seemed destined.

Kaddish,” she shuddered, twisting her face in horror.  I got it.  Kaddish, the “prayer for the dead.”  Death is lingering around our house now.  In a way it is a marvel: every new day a gift, if my father is still living.  Nevertheless it is a spectre hovering, palpable to all.  I understand: Kaddish is an unwelcome resident here.  I fished it out of the waste basket and dusted it off.

“I’ve never read this,” I remarked.

“Take it,” she said. “Get it out of this house.”

I did.  I took it to The Studio, my father’s old studio where I now reside.  And began to read.  On the first page, Ginsberg is mourning his mother’s death, pacing his living room and saying Kaddish aloud, alone, which is something one is never supposed to do because the prayer is so powerful it could be damaging without the power of ten people to say it.  But there he is, the power of his grief holding him safe in his living room, crying out loud the poem of God’s greatness to the Universe.

His mother died of insanity.  It struck her like a brick to the head when Ginsberg was a young child, and he spent his childhood accompanying her on trains and buses from one institution to another, until she finally ended up in Bellevue, the end of the line, and when countless shock treatments failed, the lobotomy.  She quickly grew old, and died at the age of 60.  My age.

He never gave up on his mother, and he never stopped loving her.  His family spiralled into collective dysfunction around her.  But it seemed to me that somehow he was able to extract, and treasure, the remnants of the delightful, dignified woman his mother once was, and carry that in his heart always.  It made me smile and cry.

I have never been able to feel that way about my mother.  Perhaps it has something to do with the stories she likes to tell about how I was such an idiot as a baby to climb out of my crib and fall onto a radiator, necessitating a trip to the emergency room; or another time, when, at seven months of age I disrupted dinner by climbing into a cupboard and getting hold of a bottle of Tabasco Sauce, which I somehow got all over me, burning my skin and prompting another visit to the emergency room.

These things, and more, might explain why I recoil at her touch, and why I break into a cold sweat at the sound of her voice.

Reading Ginsberg caused me to go inside and feel what I would feel when at last my mother dies (which is not likely to be for a very long time, given the longevity of her branch of the family, who often live to be 100 or more).

What did I feel then, when I went inside?

Relief, yes.  And grief: for the mother I never had.

The hangover that is surviving one more week of mental illness

I am sans spawn this morning. My dad showed up at 7 pm last night and asked if they could keep her overnight so she could go on an Easter egg hunt at their church this morning. They’d been talking about it for awhile, so other than the surprise timing, it was fine. It’s been months since I’ve had a break and I always feel guilty when I get one, but she is with her grandparents and she has fun with them, so it’s all good. Though getting a good night’s sleep was weird. It happens almost never.

Another week survived. I feel hungover. Not the kind of hangover that signifies you had a good time prior to it. Life hangover. It was  such a stressful week I didn’t think it would ever end or that the pressure would ever be off of me. Now it is and I am up and functioning but I’m a bit of a zombie going through the motions. It feels hollow. No joy, just functioning.

I have been trying to explain it to the shrink and counselor for awhile now. How my mood may go up for a bit and my functionality is high, but I still don’t feel alive. I still don’t enjoy life. I still can’t see a light at the end of the blackened tunnel (and if I do, it’s probably just an oncoming train.)

I don’t understand why I can’t  bounce back. But something in my chemistry changed after pregnancy (the birth was the easy part) and now I just feel devoid of the warm fuzzy feelings. And that’s not my norm because before at least for a few months of the year after the seasonal affect lifted and I went semi manic, things were wondermous.

I wonder sometimes if my kid doesn’t deserve better than a mom who for all intents and purposes is sleepwalking through life without a touch of joy. I am for the most part content…But happiness continues to elude me. What will that do to her mind? Because my mother was always up and down, more down than up, and it was not a fun life for a kid. I  guess the difference is I am aware of my problems and trying to get help and better myself for my kid. My mom just denied and wallowed.

The counselor once again spewed sunshine about how impressive it is that I am doing so well after switching back to xanax.(I still think the klonopin was having an adverse affect and making me psychotic.) She got to see me on a morning my mood was good. Because shortly after I saw her, it crashed and went into “quiet and broody” and I was antsy to not be around people.

Which of course meant last night my phone was blowing up from R and his wife inviting me and Spook over for drinks and pizza. I uh, developed a hearing problem in which I uh ignored the phone. I appreciate them thinking of us, I really do, and had it not been such a horrid week for me, I might have gone. But I just needed to decompress. I feel guilty now but last night it was like NOOOOO, no more people.

Weird thing is, I don’t mind being with my kid. It’s not that I don’t consider her a person, it’s just different with her. I chose to have her, so whether my mood is amenable to company is not relevant. Others, though, I didn’t choose to bring them into my life therefore it is within my rights to be a hermit and shun contact.

I dunno, I am a hot mess.

Now I need to dig through 6 loads of unfolded laundry for clothes, go get some cat litter, then come back and clean my kid’s room out of toys she no longer plays with. It’s a fucking disaster in there. I am gonna be hauling bags out to the shed for two solid hours. Yay. But I have been itching to do it for weeks now and it was impossible with her here, so I must get on it. I gotta go get cat litter, so the trip into the petri dish cannot be avoided.

Then I am going to vegetate and get my strength reserves up because tomorrow is Easter at my mom’s and who knows how many chunks of my ass she is going to sink her fangs into. I need to steel myself.

Ugh, like yesterday morning, I am beginning to feel a little nauseous. Not sure what that is about. Stress?

Or just a life hangover.

I know the doctor and counselor thinks it’s impressive that I am ambling about in a semi lucid daze accomplishing things but…I want more out of life than being a coherent zombie. Is that really asking too much?


Irritability, Triggered

I’m experiencing a lot of irritability lately. Like way more than usual, more than I expect, more than is reasonable. …

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Better Than (Isn’t Cured)

Living with bipolar can sometimes leave a person feeling isolated.I’ve known all of my life that something wasn’t quite right. Even from a young age, I felt out of sync with everyone around me. As I got older, this widened to a larger and larger gap, to the point where I felt stranded on an island by myself. The reverberations of my mood instability, I understand, was frightening, a turn-off; why would anyone want to subject themselves to such if they could avoid it? And of course, how does one close the gap once it has yawned open so widely?

For that, and many other reasons, getting my bipolar diagnosis was a godsend. Knowing what made me tick officially, plus gave me the tools to rein in the violence of my moods. It has been nothing short of brilliant in knowing that the most recent relationships I’ve developed have no idea of how bad it used to be. It’s brilliant that I don’t have to sit back and watch me scare people away because the way everything felt was so overwhelming that a leaf in a river current had a better chance of survival.

That doesn’t mean that I’m cured, though. Bipolar isn’t exactly something that one can wave a magic wand at and make disappear. Even though my meds are just about to a point where my swings are very slow and less brutal, I know that they’ll never fully go away. Not that I don’t want to know the feelings of ups and downs… I just want them more manageable, bite-sized, not the life-encompassing hell that was undiagnosed and untreated bipolar. I want to have as normal a life as possible, same as anyone else. I think it’s getting there, slowly; there’s a lot of avoidance I have to train out of myself for the nth time. And it’s still no guarantee that the bipolar won’t adapt and find a new way to shiv me in the back; it’s done it before, and it will find new ways to get at me. I know this, and grump at my brain for trying to shoot me in the foot before I can even try to walk. Good thing I’m extremely stubborn, right?

For now though, I will bow to my gratitude that I have friendships gained since diagnosis that are practically unaffected by my bipolar. I will be grateful that I’m still progressing in a better direction. ‘Cause really, if I don’t appreciate the crap out of the good times as they spring up, the bad side of things has won… and screw that bastid. *nods firmly*


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