October 2015, I last modified the import of my blog into Scrivener thinking I’d massage my writing into a book. The next month, my mother had a stroke. Never got back to the book or to figuring out Scrivener. Just finished the tutorial.
My first Scrivener project contains my outdated blog dump. Sometimes I edit old posts and pages, so I need to figure out how to import my current version of this site. Haven’t had luck so far today. I did create a blank new project into which I plan to organize my writing under four categories:
Kate — fictionalized autobiography, starting at the beginning…
I don’t want to write about suicide
I don’t want the image of her
Clinging onto a chain link fence
Chef’s knife in hand
Chef’s knife inside of her
Looking through the chain link
At kids playing in the park
She mourned the loss of her son
She could not contain her grief
She could not hold on
She had other children
They no longer had a mother
My father no longer had a cousin
I no longer had a cousin once removed
When I was 18
I, too, wanted to kill myself
I thought the world
Better off without me
Better off without me
The emotional pain
A living hell
But I didn’t kill myself
I sought help
I got help
But I was not a mother
Grieving the loss of her son
In the early 60s on a pleasant August morning in San Francisco, Kate entered this world as the first daughter of her parents, Brandan and Ruby O’Brien, both firstborns in their respective families. They, all three of them, were members of the firstborn club — the club of overachievers, of type A personalities. Three type A’s in a four person family — perhaps a bit much for that fourth person, Kate’s younger sister (affectionately still thought of as her “baby” sister).
After Kate was born, Ruby stopped working in public relations and personnel at McCormick-Shilling to stay home with her daughter. Brandan worked for Standard Oil as a chemical engineer. When Kate was two, her father had an opportunity to move to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco — then Arabian American Oil Company (now Saudi Aramco or Saudi Arabian Oil Company). The three O’Briens moved to Saudi Arabia where Kate lived for five years, from the ages of two to seven.
When Kate was almost three, her mother Ruby gave her a baby sister. Yep. That baby was hers. Kate considered the baby the best birthday present ever. Her sister was far superior to any of her lifeless boring dolls. She moved of her own volition, cried, laughed, peed, and had her very own personality.
When Kate’s mother Ruby was pregnant and after she gave birth to her baby sister, Kate would inform everyone within listening distance that she had itsy bitsy teeny weeny babies inside her and that once she grew up she’d go to the hospital and have them cut out, just like her mom did. Clearly, she didn’t understand the fine points of reproduction or birth. She just reasoned that her sister grew inside her mom’s belly until her mom had to the hospital to get her out. To her, going to the hospital meant getting surgery. How else would they get her sister out of her mother’s belly?
About this time, Kate developed her skills as a surgeon by operating on her stuffed animals. She’d cut them open to remove unwanted parts — usually pesky noise-makers — and then would sew them back up. Perhaps, she operated on her toys when she was older than three. Well, she knows that she did it when she lived in Dhahran. That much she remembers clearly.
As for that adorable baby sister, Ruby and Brandan considered naming the baby Jamila, which means beautiful in Arabic, for she was born in Saudi Arabia. Though they didn’t name her Jamila, in this story she’s named Jamie, with a nod to Jamila, as she was and still is quite beautiful. Kate will do her best to leave her far more private sister out of this story, except to boast from time to time. As a proud big sister, she has bragging rights. Plus, remember, this is fiction.
The O’Briens lived in modest 2-bedroom garden apartments within company compounds in Dhahran, Abqaiq, and Ras Tanura. Kate remembers going to the compound fence while her mother played tennis, looking out and seeing unending desert and nomadic Bedhouins traveling with their camel caravans.
Saudi Arabia was really hot and sandy. Kate doesn’t miss extreme heat or sandstorms. To this day, she can’t stand heat, be it dry or humid. She was made for foggy boggy places, like the climates of her Irish and Germanic ancestors. In company compounds, they dressed as Americans did in the 60s. So when Kate got stuck in a sandstorm, wearing a sleeveless minidress that left her face, arms and legs unprotected, the sand blinded her and felt like millions of needles cutting into her exposed skin. Robes are functional in the desert. You need to cover your face, too, during a sandstorm.
Kate attended preschool, kindergarten and first grade in Dhahran. In the private Dhahran American school within the compound, Kate had both Arab and American friends and classmates. They were taught an advanced American curriculum, plus the English-speakers learned Arabic (and the Arabic-speakers, English). Even though she did learn some Arabic in school, she no longer remembers it. To go to high school, kids had to go to boarding school outside the country or their families moved. Many families moved rather than send their teens to boarding schools.
What she misses most from her years in Saudi Arabia is Abduh, their Yemeni domestic worker. The term used in the mid-60s among Americans in Arabia was “house boy” — clearly offensive. Abduh was not a boy. He was a dignified man, a husband and a father. Though we all lived in modest apartments, everyone had help. The men lived in dormitories on the compound and sent their earnings back home to their families.
Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien taught their daughters to show Abduh respect. They explained that he had a wife and daughter Jamie’s age back in Yemen and had come to Saudi Arabia to support his family and save money to open a shop one day. Kate loved Abduh. When he babysat, he brought 6 oz bottles of Coca Cola and Juicy Fruit gum. He let them watch TV. Her favorite program was Daktari about a veterinarian in East Africa. Kate loved the antics of the chimp named Judy and lion named Clarence.
Back in the 60s, most American Aramco employees and their spouses didn’t bother to learn Arabic. Kate’s parents did. When her mother was in the hospital having her sister removed (in labor), the Bedouins were fascinated by her mother, as she was the first white woman they had met. The nursing staff intervened and tried to separate them from her mother. Ruby refused to let the nurses keep them apart. She spoke to the Bedouin women in Arabic, for she was just as interested in them as they were in her.
Once when Ruby brought Kate and Jamie to visited their grandparents in Seattle, she knew something was wrong with Brandon. She frantically called Aramco and demanded that she be told what was wrong with her husband. At that exact moment, there was a poisonous gas leak where Brandon was working. He didn’t want any of his workers to climb the ladder to close the valve, for inhaling the gas stopped all body functions immediately. Brandan took a deep breath, climbed the ladder, closed the valve, but on his way down gasped, inhaled the gas and fell to the ground. He was not breathing and his heart had stopped. His workers carried him to safety and resuscitated him. Kate’s parents believed that the workers saved his life because he had taken the time to learn Arabic and speak to them in Arabic (plus he risked his life to save theirs).
Kate’s proud of her parents. Both Brandan and Ruby were pretty kick ass.
Third Culture Kid
As Kate spent the formative years of her life outside her parents’ culture, she is what is called a “third culture kid.”
A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.
Common characteristics of Third Culture experience (for adults as well as kids)
Often a “system identity” with sponsoring organization/business (e.g. military, missionary, corporate, foreign service)
Common personal characteristics of TCKs (children who grow up in this world)
Large world view
Can be cultural bridges
Rootlessness—“Home” is everywhere and nowhere
Sense of belonging is often in relationship to others of similar background rather than shared race or ethnicity alone
“ Cultural marginality ”
“Cultural marginality” describes an experience in which people don’t tend to fit perfectly into any one of the cultures to which they have been exposed or with which they have interacted, but may fit comfortably on the edge, in the margins, of each. (For how that relates to TCKs see http://www.worldweave.com/BSidentity.html)
Many of their losses are not visible or recognized by others. With no language or understanding to process these losses, many TCKs never learned how to deal with them as they happened and the grief comes out in other ways (e.g. denial, anger, depression, extreme busyness, etc.).
Motherhood transformed me. My identity changed. Now it changes again. I have constantly reinvented myself over my lifetime.
As a pre-med biochemistry major at UCLA, I was miserable and suicidal. Then I studied part-time at a community college, biding time to find my direction. Finding a niche as a legal studies major at UC Berkeley, I tried to reconcile my inner turmoil with very high professional aspirations.
First I worked as a legal assistant, then went to graduate school, earned a master’s in psychology and became a psychotherapist, only to crash and burn. Recovering from that breakdown, I re-entered the workforce as a temporary file clerk in the commercial real estate industry where I had ten years of success.
Trying to balance work with motherhood, I failed miserably, and ended up hospitalized in a psychiatric unit with rapid cycling and mixed symptoms of bipolar disorder. After months of partial hospitalization, I became a reluctant stay-at-home mother on disability.
What does an overeducated and reluctant stay-at-home mother with a recurring sense of calling (or a manic and delusional symptom of bipolar disorder, depending on one’s perspective) do with her mind? Why attend seminary, of course, which I did on two separate occasions and on two separate occasions had to quit due to symptoms.
Here I am writing my story again. To what end? To reinvent myself once again – not as someone who is ill, but as someone who fights and loves and writes and has hope that new chapters of her life lie ahead.
I have a voice that must be heard. I have a message to share and share it I do. I am not just my son’s mother. I am not my diagnosis. I am able. I am able to affect change. I wield power. I am a mover and a shaker. I do not whisper. I ROAR.
Dyane Harwood thrilled me when she sent me an advance copy of her memoir, Birth of a New Brain: Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder. (I pre-ordered it and was anxiously awaiting it’s October 2017 release.) Her memoir fills a much-needed niche in sharing the experience of bipolar disorder, peripartum onset (beginning during pregnancy or within four weeks after delivery).
With her friendly approachable writing style, her strong spirit shines throughout her memoir, even when describing the devastation of bipolar disorder. Her story shows how important it is to not give up. She had to undergo ECT and multiple medication trials to find what worked for her.
Dyane explains both the traumatic symptoms she experienced and technical psychiatric information clearly and accurately. She managed to inform and inspire me. Her book is well-researched and includes useful and informative resources throughout and in her appendices. She even includes me as a resource (I’m totally flattered).
I identify with Dyane’s experience as a mother diagnosed with bipolar disorder postpartum, for I too began hypomanic ramping when breastfeeding my son. Honestly, I began ramping during my pregnancy — which led to workaholism, overactivity, and then bed rest — but I wasn’t diagnosed until he was a toddler. My diagnosis of dysthymia, which I had since I was eighteen, changed to bipolar type II. Both Dyane and I had our worlds turned upside down by the onset of our illnesses. As I write, I’m almost brought to tears remembering that time.