New Year’s seems to always be about “resolutions”: This episode of “I’m with Crazy: A Love Story” shares some revelations instead. It’s about a year of realigning my internal compass, and no longer pointing it outward. Rather it’s redirected to within. I tell the story of my Papà – my human GPS – losing his sense of direction while we were searching for my mentally ill mother. My father getting lost is something that would have happened to anyone in his shoes. I’m actually surprised it took so long. He became totally overwhelmed by a circumstances. As scary as that was to the 14 year old me, I actually think my fear wasn’t just because we were lost, but because something inside of me thought something else. I thought, “Oh my God, if someone is strong and as smart and as directionally gifted as my Papa can lose his way, what hope is there for the rest of us? What chance did I have to find my path to navigate rough waters and emerging intact and to get to where I’m supposed to be?”Subscribe on iTunes Listen on Soundcloud
Hi, and welcome to Madness To Magic, and my podcast, I’m with Crazy: A Love Story. I’m your host, Paolina Milana, author of “The S Word”.
This show is for those of us who find ourselves surrounded by madness and wanting to find the magic within. We’re going to come together here as caregivers to those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Maybe it’s someone in the family we’ve been born into. Maybe it’s someone we love. Maybe it’s someone we work with. Maybe, even, it’s ourselves. Whether we’ve been thrust into this caregiver role or taken it on by choice, this podcast is where we’re going to share our stories and learn to realize the magic in all the madness we may have been experiencing. I promise you, it can be done. So let’s get to it.
Hello again and Happy New Year everybody. It is 2019. January one. Wow. How many of you are like me wondering where the heck this past year went? And if you’re also like me, you’re probably thinking where have all the years gone? Maybe you’re even thinking, how the heck did I get here? I am reminded of that Talking Heads song. I won’t try to sing it, but the lyrics are something like “and you ask yourself, this isn’t my life.” I can’t even remember the name of the song right now, but I think about that. I think about that a lot, and I’m just wondering if you do to. I can’t help but think aren’t I supposed to be there already or aren’t I supposed to be somewhere, not here. That that plays in my mind a lot and then of course New Year’s Day I make plans to get there.
Now let’s ignore the fact that it’s not always easy to even know where the heck there is, but the start of my planning complete with vision board and everything else, it happens on New Year’s Day. I am doing this podcast on New Year’s Day because I wanted to share something related to that. This time of year, I feel within me a need to chart a course to some place, something that I desire. Usually my New Year’s resolutions have included things like losing weight, exercising more, making more money, paying off bills, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And I feel lately is if they’re fueled even more by this bombardment of people and promotions, everyone advising you on how to make it happen in 2019 or how to not make the mistakes of the past, and how not to feel that regret when December 31 rolls around again.
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s just me. I wonder often why can’t I just be. That is what sparked me doing this episode three of my podcast on New Year’s Day. So just to kind of start this off by, if it hasn’t been abundantly clear to you yet, let me spell it out. A lot has happened to me in my 50 plus years on this planet. I know that could be said of every other individual who shares the same air I breathe. The a lot is both positive, right? So we’ve all got birth, celebrations, travel. For me a specific example would be that today is actually my wedding anniversary, so I definitely would put that in the plus column. And then there’s that not so positive column. The deaths, the rejections, the loss of jobs, the health scares. I am sure I don’t have to spell out those kinds of things that belong there.
We’ve all had them, and I know I’m not alone. So plain and simple, it’s all a part of life, right? So this kind of etch-a-sketch concept. Do you remember those? I used to have one. I loved mine. Just like in life, I loved it because it was like sometimes you were up, sometimes you were down, sometimes you were status quo or flat line. And if you’re anything like me, whatever came out, it’s an interesting picture. Sometimes a pretty picture. Sometimes it’s even a bunch of scribbly lines, but there’s something pretty awesome in it. At least I think so. The end of one year and the start of another always seems to make me retrospective, nostalgic, hopeful as much as it has the power to make me melancholy, pensive, and regretful. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that either.
From my perspective, it’s all about madness and magic because it’s in every one of our lives. Now, this New Year’s Day 2019, it has for me been more about revelations than resolutions. And today just such a revelation, a memory, came to mind, and it’s the story I want to share with you.
So to do that, I’m going to ask you to think back to 1979, 1980 do you remember those years? Or hopefully I’m not dating myself too much here, but I remember them. Rod Stewart, one of my favorites, he was belting out do you think I’m sexy? Blondie was asking us to call me, and my all time favorite band queen was talking crazy with a little thing called love. Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, she had just set her eyes on the love of her life, Almanzo. I loved that show.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to Little House on the Prairie, and then there was Natalie, a girl my age, my size, getting schooled on the Facts of Life. I would have been about 14 years old then, taking it all in. I was struggling with what was and what wasn’t normal, and I was keeping secrets. If you’ve read my book, The S Word, you know what I’m talking about. I’m going to be sharing a bit from that here.
Know that it was a really confusing time for me and my family. My mama was pretty sick. Delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, all of the symptoms of schizophrenia consumed her and with her, us. At that time, we had managed to get her into a psychiatric facility, committing her against her will. She had become a danger to herself and to us, constantly threatening to set the house on fire or stabbing Papa to death in his sleep. None of what we were going through made it into mainstream music or TV.
When we left Mama at the hospital, we were told that we couldn’t come to visit for a couple of weeks. Mama had descended into such deep despair and madness that the doctors needed time to get her stabilized on meds. It was the hospital rules. Psych ward demanded no visits. To be honest, I couldn’t have been more thankful for the break from crazy. For some of you, this may sound harsh or wrong. How in the world could you love someone and yet lock them away and be happy about it? For others of you who have been there, I bet you’re nodding right now because you know how. In my case, I think that that was the first time in a long time that my entire family slept. The house was silent. The tension, fear, drama, all of it was non-existent and even though we all knew it was just for a few weeks, I remember us all rejoicing in it.
Now mind you, it wasn’t like we were throwing parties and doing happy dances. That’s not what I mean when I say rejoicing. When my Mama and all the madness wasn’t home, we rejoiced by breathing, kind of exhaling, by letting our guard down. We welcomed the reprieve and pretended it would go on forever, like normal, but spoiler alert, it didn’t go on forever. Nope. The day came when we were allowed to see Mama and we all, my father, my brother and my two sisters. We all went, but we dreaded it. I would venture to guess, maybe dreaded is a poor choice of words at least for my father. He probably still held a glimmer of hope that we’d arrive, and Mama would be miraculously cured. Maybe even my siblings were at least curious to see how she was doing but, I can confidently say that back then I dreaded it.
I, back then, could have left her there to rot. The thought of interrupting silence and normalcy on purpose to get a dose of noisy, crazy back was not on my list of to do’s. The night we were to head out for our visit, as usual, we ate dinner at home. It was winter and already dark outside and cold. Slush and stale snow covered the ground. The trees were bare skeletons, and we all put on our coats and piled into the car. I remember sitting in the backseat by the left window. I paid little attention to what was being said in the car or even to where we were going. Occasionally, I’d look up, and I’d see my dad looking back at me in the rear view mirror. I could see that he wanted to say something or wanted me to say something during that ride. I usually was Ms. Talkative and Ms. Cheery, but that night I just didn’t have it in me, and I pretended not to notice what he wanted.
My Papa was like a human GPS. He could navigate us through anything to anywhere, so I wasn’t worried about not getting to our destination. Quite the opposite. I feared actually arriving. We parked the car and entered the hospital doors. The lobby was like every other hospital lobby I had seen. Same for the nurses at the front desk who checked us in. All five of us were allowed to go up to the psych ward where Mama was kept under lock and key. But once up there, the intake person explained we’d be allowed in only two at a time. I remember thinking, “Hey, I’m fine. I don’t even need to go in. No need for a turn for me.” Like a robot, I followed my family. We walked down long halls, void of anything memorable. Actually, you know what? I do remember a giant light overhead, and I remember thinking to myself, “This is like death row, right? This is like walking the hall to be executed.” And honestly back then I felt like what I assumed it would feel like.
So we jammed into an elevator. Maybe there were other people in there with us. I really don’t remember. I do remember all of us together, and yet all of us completely alone. That I remember, feeling alone. We reached the nurses station or the floor that Mama was on. And I remember hearing someone say something about my Mama taking cooking classes and making friends, and I remember thinking “What?” It kind of snapped me too for a bit because I was like, “Wait a minute. You all must be crazy because this version of my Mama, not possible. Cooking classes, friends, no.” But I didn’t say anything.
I remember going into her room, and she was in this tiny room, and she shared it with this other woman, and I’m sure the other one was someone else’s mother, sister, daughter. I didn’t give it much thought. I really could have cared less, didn’t conjure up any caring for anybody, not only my own mother but anyone else’s. And I remember seeing my mom for like just a moment, and my brother and I were the first duo to go in and when we went in there, I remember not much. I remember she had like a little case with her, but I didn’t really give it much thought. Anyway, next thing I knew, surprise, Mama is missing. There was no trace of her anywhere in the hospital. It was as if she had just vanished. My father was completely beside himself.
I know all of us, we were confused. The doctors and the nurses on the floor, they raced around, they apologized, and they expressed complete disbelief that anybody could slip out of their psych ward. It had never happened before. No one had ever done that entirely undetected. And that’s when I sort of thought, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with.” And I did. So we were assured that the authorities had been called and that they would comb the city looking for Mama. They told us that they would find her, bring her back. They promised. And in my mind, I thought “Keep her.” We all walked without a word back to the car. And we all took our same seats in the car. And Papa started to drive off. He was winding his way up and down the streets surrounding the hospital, asking us all to keep an eye out in search of Mama.
Maybe my siblings did, but I know I didn’t. So after about an hour or so, my Papa said, “It’s late. Tomorrow’s a school day. I think we should head home,” and that’s what we did. And I sat in that car. I looked out the window. I remember the little kind of smoky puffs that were burping out of the exhaust pipes of the other cars on the road. I remember the neighborhood. It wasn’t exactly the safest place to be at at night. And then I started realizing that we were passing what looked like the same houses a couple of times, and then I paid even more attention. I noticed it was the same street and then the same turns. It was then that my Papa stopped the car. Our human GPS had broken down. I remember he said, “[foreign language 00:16:42]” He said it in this nervous, frightened voice, one that I rarely if ever had heard, and he was asking us where we were.
That shook me to my core. My Papa never got lost and here finally my Mama had succeeded in breaking him. He no longer knew the way. I started to cry. I think that was maybe the first time I had really cried as a teenager dealing with so much madness.
Now, I told you this is a story that I share in my book The S Word, but it still has the power to choke me up today. I couldn’t stand the fact that my father, the only adult authority figure at that time, who for me represented what little stability and hope there was to be found among the madness, I couldn’t stand that he had lost his way. Beyond that though, when I had my meltdown in that car, and my father saw me sobbing uncontrollably, I have to say my 14-year-old self felt such guilt, guilt for how I felt about my mother, guilt for how I was making my father now feel. The last thing I wanted was for my father to think he was a failure.
True, he couldn’t find our way home.and true again, he couldn’t fix what was happening to Mama. True again, he wasn’t protecting any of us or giving us that carefree childhood that every kid deserves. All of that was true, but so too was it true that him seeing me so distraught was killing him in return. Look, my father did the best he could do with what he had and what he knew at the time. So did my Mama. So did I. So did every other person good, bad, or otherwise.
I have spent so much of my life driving myself to achieve so many goals, trying to stay on the straight and narrow, trying to do things as perfectly as possible and beating myself up when I didn’t or when I went off course. I’ve chastised myself for thinking less than charitable thoughts, for being less than I can be, in essence for being human. I’ve been chasing some elusive there as a final destination and never quite feeling as if I’ve arrived. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I would bet most people, especially those who have grown up surrounded by madness, those who have become caregivers, maybe those of you out there right now listening, I’m sure you can relate. I wonder how many of you feel as I do. We’ve worked so hard to navigate our lives, to figure out the best routes to get to wherever we think there is and then and only then do we think we’ve made it then and only then do we believe we’re worthy.
It’s so been a part of my beliefs that I’ll even admit to loving, and I mean absolutely loving, each and every time my cars GPS declares at the end of a journey “You have arrived.” Doesn’t matter if I just came back from the grocery store, and it was only two seconds. When my GPS says those three little words “You have arrived,” I find it both comforting and comical. Yes, I know. I sound crazy. Tell me something I don’t know.
This past year I will say it’s been a year of realigning my internal compass, and no longer is it pointing outward. Rather it’s redirected to within. My father losing his sense of direction is something that would have happened to anyone in his shoes. I’m actually surprised it took so long. He became totally overwhelmed by a circumstances. As scary as that was to the 14 year old me, I actually think my fear wasn’t just because we were lost, but because something inside of me thought something else. I thought, “Oh my God, if someone is strong and as smart and as directionally gifted as my Papa can get lost, what hope is there for the rest of us? What chance did I have to find my path to navigate rough waters and emerging intact and to get to where I’m supposed to be?”
I think throughout my life I tried so hard to strategize, to climb mountain after mountain, to succeed and to always keep it together while doing so, and then on top of that to always be mindful of and have a plan B for when that other shoe might fall. Something has changed though of late. I have to say, it has really challenged what I’ve come to believe and how I’ve been living my life. And today on the first day of this new year, I realize in my entire being that losing one’s way is a great gift. Like my father on that night when he no longer knew the way home, something inside of me broke open. What I had tried to keep secret, could no longer be kept silent. My meltdown allowed the whole family to fall apart and to course correct. Then and only then is it possible to emerge intact whole and on higher ground. That’s what I now realize.
One of my favorite movies is It’s A Wonderful Life. I watch it every Christmas Eve, and that’s a tradition that started with my father when we both first saw it aired for I think like the first time on TV. I was about 11 years old. When watching that film this year, the scene when Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, breaks down in martinis bar, he tells God he’s not a praying man, but he’s lost his way and he asks for God’s help in showing him, showing him the path to take. You know, for as many times as I have seen that this year, it’s brought a whole new level of understanding to me. We all are surrounded at times by madness. We all lose our way. We all feel worthless. We all feel guilty. We all fall apart. Finding the magic in those moments, embracing them, realizing that they are exactly what we need exactly when we need them is how we learned to love the journey and to stop being focused on being anywhere but exactly where we are. In that realization is joy. In it is power. It is knowing that I’m more than good enough.
I have in me all that I need to be who I am. Both the good, the bad and everything in between. Everything I have experienced in my 50 plus years has made me who I am today, stronger and smarter and more in tune with the universe and other beings I encounter within it. This New Year’s revelations are all about shining a light on the shadows, those beliefs that contribute to me playing small, letting the light that shines from within illuminate not only my steps but also the path and the promise of those around me is where I am and where I am meant to be. There is no other there to get to. So if any of this resonated with you, I would love to hear your story. I’d love to get your comments. Let me know. I’m here.
Thanks so much for listening to Madness2Magic, and my podcast I’m With Crazy: A Love Story. I believe we’re all here for a purpose, and I know that this is part of mine. Please share this with anyone you think might benefit or might even have a story of their own to share. You also can visit me at madness2magic.com or check out more of my stories, including info on my book, The S Word at PaolinaMilanarights.com. I hope to hear from you and to join forces with what I consider a unique caregiver tribe as we all learned to embrace all of ourselves, to have compassion for others, and to come into our full power by the grace that is both madness and magic. Until we meet again, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite mantras. Be bold and mighty forces shall come to your aid. Thank you.