Why do I write?

I made a joke the other day, “If I spend my whole summer watching docuseries about cults, does that mean I am in a cult?”

But, of course, like most jokes, there was a tiny sliver of truth in my question. My husband and I, in our ultimate quest for distraction from real life, have watched all sorts of different people living through the experience of realizing they are in a cult.

Of course, it’s interesting in the way that we all stop and look at a car accident on the side of the road, but there is one main umbrella theme over all these shows and podcasts: pain.

Pain. When I think of it, I think of the moment I got home from the hospital with neither of my twin babies, and I sat in the bathtub and the most guttural, earth-splitting sound came out of me. My babies were dead. That was the worst moment of pain I’ve ever experienced. There is divorce and death and so much loss.

But then there are small, repeated moments of pain – a feeling of rejection, a loss, a pang of self-loathing. Feeling less-than, arguing, feeling not-good-enough.

The theme in all these shows – people like you and me, hurting so bad and looking for a way to feel better. To heal. To be seen. And so it’s not like they set out to join a cult. They set out to be understood. I recently watched one that had film clips of the leader in a giant venue, who said, “By raise of hands, who has thought they would be better off dead?”

And every last person in the theater raised their hand. And while of course, most of them found this person because they were suicidal in some form or another, it was so overwhelming to see hundreds (thousands) of people with their hands up.

On July 4th, my family and went to see a ski show on this teeny lake, something we’ve done every year for as long as I can remember. It was taking a while for the ski show to start, and people were beginning to sort of grumble about it, you know — what’s going on, what’s the holdup, let’s get this show on the road.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there were several large adults holding onto a stretcher/chair kind of contraption. “I think there’s been an accident,” I said to my husband, as I watched them struggle to put an older man who clearly couldn’t stand or walk into this stretcher.

That nagging feeling of worry settled into my belly. I hate accidents and my brain often goes to the worst possible scenario. But then my husband nudged me, “Look, they’re putting him into a boat.”

As it turns out, this man was the founder of the ski team. He’d been skiing with them for 40+ years, but in the last year had developed ALS. And so the ski team members carried him down this difficult embankment to get him into a speed boat so he could be a part of the opening ceremony.

People all around me had tears in their eyes, as I imagined how painful it must be to watch something as horrible as ALS take hold of someone you love so much. I thought about that pain they are experiencing, and how just the whole human experience is just so impossible. We live through the worst, hardest shit. And that’s not even counting the basics of just food and shelter and health.

I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, “Why do I write?” Because, I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s difficult to find an answer. This is clearly not a great profession for me because it involves marketing myself and my words, and as a highly-sensitive person it completely conflates my already-there tendency to dislike myself. Just the other day, a woman I’ve connected with several times in a very positive way, unsubscribed from my newsletter and then left a super mean comment on a post I made. I felt that rejection so deeply, and my husband is like, “Who cares? It’s just someone from the internet.” But to me, it’s not. And to me, I wonder, always, what did I do wrong. Because as a child, I was always, always in the wrong. And that’s getting a little deep, okay, so forgive me.

My response? This is so stupid. Why am I doing this? Why do I put myself out there over and over to the same potential to be rejected? Why can’t I grow my following? Why aren’t people buying books? Clearly it’s what I knew all along: I’m not worthy of love.

Which is, of course, not true. Because I can’t tell everyone else they are worth of love and then turn around and say, “I mean, unless you’re me.”

But truly, I’m in a lot of pain. Life is hard. 20 times a day I think about how I’m not thin-that is disordered thinking, but it’s a part of our dumb society and I see it everything and I think it. 20 times a day I wonder if my friends still love me. 20 times a day, I feel guilt about my father and I miss my twins. On especially bad days, I think about how our family has rejected us, and what I did wrong, and blah blah blah, you all know the drill.

What I’ve learned is that no, it’s not exactly normal to feel that way, and yes, I’m very hard on myself. But, I was also traumatized and abused as a child. And while I’ll never let that be my excuse, I know it’s the reason for my pain. And so I write because it makes me feel better. And I write because I know so many people might be feeling the same way.

But I have to stop writing to get validation. I have to stop writing for the “likes” and “follows” because it, frankly, hurts. I feel like I beg: please share, please invite your friends, I want to reach more people!

And instead, I want you all to know that I don’t care how few people are here- you are my people and I see you. I see your pain and your joy and your struggles and I want you to know you’re not alone.

Just don’t join a cult, okay?

Netflix’s ‘Maid’ was a huge trigger for me-and not because of my husband.

Like so many others, I follow the trends when it comes to Netflix. If a handful of my friends start talking about something they’ve watched, I add it to a note in my phone that’s titled “shows to watch someday.” I don’t make much time for TV because I prefer to read, but sometimes it’s just the break I need.

This week was Thanksgiving break, and thus I kinda sorta let my kids have extra screen time and my husband and I burrowed in the basement and started the show. I knew it was about domestic violence, and yet I wasn’t quite prepared.

(No spoilers, by the way. I wouldn’t do that to you.)

This show had me in an outrage right outta the gate. So much of it reminded me of the abuse that I’ve seen my students suffer, and the systems that are so broken that make it almost impossible to help. **NOTE**I am in constant awe of social workers–I find them to be superheroes–but I also know that they are working in the confines of the system, just like teachers. I hold them in the highest esteem, just like teachers.

One of my first years teaching elementary school, a child told me that their parents had hit their little sister more than once. Teachers are mandated reporters, so we investigated further and ended up calling Child Protective Services. The next week, the child came into my room, sobbing. “They threw all my toys away!” they wailed. Their parents had received a letter from CPS and out of fear they wanted to clean up their apartment. The child’s legos were bagged up in garbage bags and tossed out.

It was a complete wake up for me. As with everything, there was so much for me to learn. I don’t think I did anything wrong, just to be clear, it’s just an example of my naïveté. Since then I have had many students who have witnessed their mom being abused. Thrown down the stairs, dragged by the hair, punched and burned. There are custody issues and supervised visits and calls from the police and restraining orders.

I’ve sat at parent/teacher conferences and listened to moms cry, so worried that their kids are not going to be okay. They just need someone to tell them that their kids are making it through, that they are resilient.

But one of the major things about this series that I was surprised about is that there is definitely a portrayal of domestic violence — but it is emotional abuse, not physical. The main character is abused with words and control and anger. And I’ll be honest: it triggered me.

You see, I lived that as a kid. I hid in my closet. And I worried and worried and worried. I did everything I could to avoid being “in trouble” and tried so hard to be perfect, but I could never be. You see, the dog would still get out when I opened the door, or I would still spill a tall glass of milk, or sometimes I would even be a little late coming home.

I have this one memory that I think of often. My aunt was home for some reason. She travels the world and wasn’t home very often. My parents were fighting, and it was a very bad one. It could have been about not having a plan for dinner or it could have been about money – I couldn’t tell you. But it got more heated than it ever had before. And I witnessed something that frightened me so badly, I ran out of my house and ran next door to my grandma’s.

I was hyperventilating because I was crying so hard. And I remember my grandma just hugging me close, like she always did, because she wasn’t surprised. But my aunt was bewildered. “What in the world could be SO wrong? Did your dog get hit by a car?” I remember feeling mute, unable to explain what I saw.

And up until a few years ago when I had a blowout fight with my sister (Hey, Christy, hold everything in for 15 years and then scream and cry about it while waiting for a musical to start in the Wisconsin Dells!) I had been remembering it wrong. It was even worse than what I remembered and my brain had actually supplanted my memory with something else. My mom backed me up and I could barely wrap my mind around it.

We are often gaslighted into believing that abuse is only physical. I know I was. I even did it to myself- omg, so you got yelled at a lot. Parents yell. Big deal. Let’s just get over it. In the show, the abusive man is an alcoholic. Nobody in my family was, so it couldn’t have been that bad!

Yet, so much of who I am today is a result of living in survival mode for so long, though. And so much of my anxiety is being worried that I’ll become that abusive person myself. Just yesterday I completely lost my mind over a Hershey’s kiss (proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back) and I yelled. Then I decided I should give my kids up for adoption because I’m not fit to parent them. Sigh.

This show, Maid, is why we need art in this world. It’s why I write books, and Facebook posts, and blog posts. Because our stories need to be told and shared. We need to see that our feelings are VALID and that we are not the only ones. It’s my mission in life — to not let anyone be gaslighted into thinking that their hurt isn’t “earned.”

All my love–Christy

Someone else’s extraordinary life

A few months ago, I was asked if I’d be willing to facilitate a book club for the local community center. I said yes, of course, but then I was anxious about it (you’re not shocked, are you?). Would anyone show up? Would too many people show up? Would I run out of questions? Did the book I picked have too many controversial topics for strangers to discuss?

In true Christy fashion, I made props and a slide show and re-read the book because I was so nervous and it had been a while. 11 INCREDIBLE women showed up. I mean it, as each person introduced herself, I was like, oh man, I want to be your friend.

Anyway, we read the book, “The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell,” which is a book that covers so many themes, from the meaning of God’s Will, to bullying, to child abuse, to discrimination-it has, as we so often put it, “all the feels.”

Sam is born with ocular albinism and so his eyes are RED. They call him Devil Boy and tease him relentlessly. As an adult, we then find out that he is wearing brown-colored contacts. Just like that, his differences are gone.

Just kidding. He still has plenty o’problems, just like the rest of us.

I think the reason this book spoke to me is that I’ve often thought that if I could just get (skinny, rich, beautiful …) my life would be easy. And it’s not true, but I do think it would be a lot easier in some ways. And as we discussed this, someone asked why we thought we have so much empathy for others. Why it hurt us to read about Sam’s struggle and his bully that shows back up in adulthood.

I think that, sure, many people gain empathy when they go through difficult things. I know the twins dying and my severed relationship with my father has changed me profoundly. But if I’m honest, I think the biggest place my empathy comes from is books.

I read so many books. I let the words take me in and I feel the pain of others, and I weep with them. I celebrate with them. I laugh with them. It’s kind of like living in their shoes, even if just for a moment. If you’ve ever seen me speak before, then you know I’m very honest about how books saved me. When I was young, my parents fought a lot and so I spent hours and hours at our tiny community library. So often was I there that I actually read through the entire children’s section at one point and let’s just say I was reading Stephen King books WAY before an appropriate age. 🙂

I’m a writer because I think words make a difference in this world. I’m a reader because I think seeing the world from someone else’s point of view shapes who we are. I read because seeing myself in a book is a thrill.

I share my thoughts not because I think they’re better than anyone else’s, but because I know that when I really hear what someone else thinks it helps me grow as a person. I’m so proud to be here, sharing my world with you–thanks for being here.


Yo, teach!

I have a savior complex, especially with my students.

I’m sure in some ways it can be beneficial, but mostly I don’t think it’s doing anyone any favors.

I’m fiercely protective of my students. I want to be the one who makes everything turn right again. I want to be the one they trust. Me, me, me. So if it is about me, am I actually helping them at all?

Over the years I have seen so many sad things. Kids hurting and kids hurt and this is all in a middle-class, mostly white, suburban area. I used to think that kids here were ok, but as it turns out abuse is everywhere.

The thing is, if I weren’t me, I probably wouldn’t know in most cases. Sure, some were obvious, like the student who had to leave with the police on the last day of school because the meth house she lived in was discovered. But more are subtle, you don’t know until they ask to have lunch with you and they mention something that gives you pause. My first year teaching, a girl wrote a suicide note to me in her daily journal. So much grief and trauma and …

This year, more than ever, has cemented the role of public schools in society. It has made me acutely aware of the limitations you have when the only way to connect with a kid is through a computer. It has caused me to sit and stare at the wall trying to figure out how to reach a kid. Sitting on a zoom call while a kid sobs to you and tells you how sad they are– I haven’t quite figured out a way to describe that feeling.

So much of my life and health is impacted by my career. My anxiety, my sadness, my savior complex, my fixation on trying to save kids, the way I tie my success to empathy and kindness, it sucks the life out of me.

And, one could argue (and they have) that it’s not even my job. Right? My job is to educate. Deliver a curriculum.

But how do you deliver a curriculum to the child whose dad was just put in jail? How do you keep a child in for not doing homework when you know they take care of their baby sister all night? How do you punish a child for not paying attention when you know they had fetal alcohol syndrome?

I’ve heard so many things during this pandemic. Shut up. Do your job. Must be nice to not have to do any work. You are lazy.

It’s wearing on me. I don’t like to admit that, because I’m supposed to be stronger, but it is. Did people in other generations feel like this? Like the world was going to shit and there is nothing you can do to stop it? I’m so terrified of everyone’s anger. I’m so heartsick at the lack of kindness and the fight over politics. If you cannot even hear a sentence you disagree with without having your blood pressure rise, perhaps it’s time to reflect a little.

Maybe it’s just me. And maybe I’ve had way too much time in my head without the normal distractions of life. But I had a dream last night that a long-lost relative left me a fortune so I could stop working and write. And I woke up crying, which is strange—because isn’t that my dream? A way to be a full-time writer?

I will admit-the thought of logging back onto Zoom in a few days makes me feel ill. I’m weary. I’m tired. We’re heading back to school f2f in a few weeks and I’m thrilled-except that I’m high-risk and the kids eat lunch in my room, unmasked, and that keeps me up at night. But I cannot wait-I can’t wait to have to deal with recess drama and dance around the room while the kids are working and randomly blast music to take them off guard and decide to take a day off writing and turn off the lights and tell ghost stories and read books outside once it gets warm and all the other tiny joys of life with a class of 10-year-olds who hang on your every move.

Teachers out there-maybe you’re like me. Maybe you’re not. But what I know is there ain’t NO WAY we’d all be doing this anymore if we didn’t love kids. And so I want you to know that I see you. I’m with you. Hang in there, if you can. If you can’t? Ain’t no shame in that, either.