Up and Down (Part 1)

In 2007 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. As a child, people called me “spastic,” and “hyper.” In my pre-teen and teenage years I would feel depressed from time to time. As a young adult the depression would be so deep that I felt I could hardly breathe sometimes.

But it was only when I was 36 that I was diagnosed. Did I suspect before then that I had a serious problem. YES. I have kept journals since I was in the 8th grade and I had an English teacher who required that we do so. It’s impossible to journal on a regular basis and not eventually notice a pattern in your moods. And yet, every time the cloud would lift, I had the insane idea that I would never again feel so much like killing myself. Can you believe I thought that EVERY SINGLE TIME?

Then my husband cheated on me. And left me and my four sons to live in the church that he used to pastor. And then I took him back after a year of praying to God to PLEASE send him back. [Yes, in retrospect I do realize just how insane I had to be.] And then I realized I’d made a mistake in taking him back and the depressive phases would last much longer. And then I decided to stay with him until I could finish college and enter the work force so that I could leave his ass. But then, years later while I was working on my Master’s Degree–which is enough to drive anyone batty all by itself–he left me for the second time.

What I’m trying to demonstrate is that I was never sure that it was ME who had the problem. I just thought my LIFE was extremely problematic. I sincerely thought that the trauma of my life (having been molested as a child; experiencing teenage pregnancy, the homesickness of living in Europe for 2 years, the poverty associated with marrying young, having four sons and being uneducated and jobless, having a husband who was a preacher, liar, and adulterer, the stresses associated with maintaining a 4.0 average in college and grad school as an adult and as a sometimes-single-parent) were causing me to be…well, you know, “up and down.”

If it had not been for the fact that I was nominated for the only full-ride scholarship and stipend given annually in the department where I was to do grad studies, I may never have even sought psychiatric evaluation and psychological therapy, much less been able to afford them. Indeed, if I had not forced by the dean to stop breaking down in the bathroom in uncontrollable crying and screaming fits, I guess I would have just continued the silent suffering that had become my life story. I would never have put myself into the category of people who have a “chemical imbalance.”

And the good times were no longer just good; they were AMAZING beyond belief. I began to feel high on life whenever I wasn’t in the black pit. And once my husband had left me I was free to experience all the “life” that I had given up after high school in order to marry him. And even more incredible was the fact that I was taking 5 classes at a time, and learning other languages and producing some the best academic writing I have ever done. I was a freaking GENIUS. All while I was losing my mind.

And then came the meds.


BRAZEN, by Camelia Flores

51UZpSYF6rL__SS140_SH35_This is a book I wrote a couple of years ago, much to the embarrassment of some people dear to me. And yet, it is a story very dear to my heart. It is still for sale on Amazon; this cover is from the paperback version. If you do not understand Bipolar Disorder with extreme psychosis, paranoia, and schizophrenia, then you may not be prepared to read this short book. Your thoughts?


People: My First Grade Teacher

lgekkc3tperdvzis70v3  My favorite teacher was either my First Grade teacher, Mrs. Schwakowski, or my Third Grade Teacher, Mrs. Calabrese, who looked exactly like her husband, the band director of the town’s only high school.

Mrs. Schwakowski was thin, lanky, and athletic-looking. She always wore pants and sweaters. She had an angular face and a sharp-edged haircut that accentuated that fact even more.

She seemed so evenly good-natured. I guess that’s the thing I must have liked most about her. She neither snapped her fingers and referred to groups of her students as “people,” like one of the Sixth Grade teachers could be heard doing [People, get in line!]; nor did she coddle and fawn over her students as some of the Kindergarten teachers downstairs did.

I wasn’t her favorite student. If she had a pet it was Stephanie Shmidt. How could Stephanie not be anyone’s favorite with her long eyelashes that looked like they were snow frosted on the tips. How can anyone’s lashes look like that?! But I sure liked the way the way the teacher would entrust to me certain responsibilities that made me feel important and grown-up. Like when she would tell me to deliver the attendance to the office!

Honestly, though, I don’t really imagine that she had a favorite. She treated us all fairly and kept us all at the same distance. I’ve seen some teachers hug their students. Mrs. Schwakowski was not a hugger. I don’t even remember her giving any special attention to Angie, who used to make a point of crying every single day. To me, it was kind of embarrassing. I remember wondering if she was really supposed to be in the First Grade, after all, or if her parents had gotten her moved up a grade. You know how some of the more affluent people of the dominant culture used to get their kids moved up a grade all the time. At any rate, whenever Angie cried–that is, upon being dropped off by her mom; whenever it was time to change from one activity to another; or whenever it was time to go home–Mrs. Schwakowski would simply ignore her!

I’ve never met anyone so gifted at ignoring another human. It is an amazing skill that I cultivated while raising my own kids. Angie used to make a point of her crying. Some days it was obvious that even she was not that enthused about her task and she’d have to put forth extra effort just to work herself up into her usual frenzy. First she would manufacture big crocodile tears. Then the whimpering would start. With each whimper, her bottom lip would pout further and further outward. Then she’d begin the pathetic wail that would lead anyone with a less-experienced ear to believe that there was truly something wrong with this child. But when this would avail nothing, then next step in her routine would be to ratchet up her cries to those of the despondent; and then the outraged because Mrs. Schwakowski was as unmoved as a mountain impervious to pebbles tossed at it.

Angie’s entire performances from start to finish never lasted more than four minutes from start to finish. And every day we were as shocked and happily surprised to notice that because of the quiet and firm impasse created by the force of Mrs. Schwakowski’s personality, Angie had suddenly become just as engrossed in coloring or writing or reading as the rest of us.

But ignoring Angie wasn’t her only gift. Mrs. Schwakowski commanded her troop in a way that I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a woman command, direct, and instruct 30 small individuals. I don’t remember ever hearing her voice raised in shrill tones like I used to hear Mrs. Daniels. I don’t remember her making sarcastic remarks that might go over our heads like the Fifth Grade teacher, Mrs. Summers, or the Fourth Grade teacher, Mrs. Edminston.

Her presence alone held sway. Her wish was our command. Somehow her will became our own and we found ourselves repositories of vast amounts of knowledge: how to read long sequences of ABC’s strung together into words and sentences; how to manipulate those same ABC’s on paper, creating our own words; how to stick blocks together to represent numbers we could never have imagined as real things; and above all, how to color inside the lines!

You might imagine that her somewhat boyish haircut outlining her facial features might make her intimidating. Especially since under her daily sweater she only had tiny insinuations instead of the big mounds that motherly teachers sometimes smothered their charges with. But she was approachable. She had a just-right warm candle smell, like a person who only uses body spritzers instead of colognes and perfumes. And her skin–you could only ever see her face and hands–was the exact peachiness of the “flesh-colored” Crayola crayon that comes in the big box of 68.   At the end of every single day, Mrs. Schwakowski looked as quietly energetic and unruffled as she had that morning. Her goodbye was as calmly expectant as her morning hello. I have never known a more person more constant. I wish that every single child who has to attend public school could have a Mrs. Schwakowski as her First Grade teacher.