Safety, Society, Stigma, Stability: Finding the Inner Child (repost)

For years I thought that my inner child within [1] was about ten years old.  This is about the time my parents separated for a divorce.  Like most children, I took this news personally and thought that I was personally responsible for their break-up.  I recall the Valentine’s Day after my parents separated I gave them both together a huge Valentine’s heart box filled with Russell Stover candies.  I could tell something was wrong by the look of sheer anxiety on my father’s face.   

In addition to this divorce, my inner child has been somewhat over-shadowed by being the replacement child for my older brother who died as an infant the year before I was born.  At least with my father, I always felt like the replacement child who did not quite measure up.  With my mom, this was not always so much the case.  

Today I feel that my inner child is more like 6 years old (than 10 years old) though I do not know of a specific incident that would have triggered this child within to “stop” at this age.  Perhaps my parents stopped communicating with each other when I turned 6, perhaps I experienced some childhood tragedy that I can no longer recall or name, perhaps this was the beginning of financial differences between my Mom and my Dad and all that that entails.

In any case, this six-year-old child within tends to believe in all sorts of magic just as would a child at six years of age.  She is a matchmaker at heart and seeks continually to imagine people together who might be good with each other – imaginarily or not.  She tends to see things in circular time or dream time often before they occur in linear time.  This early perception is not jarring to her mental health so long as there is not a safety component to it.  If there is a safety component to the perception, my child within seems to turn ten years old and not only feels ”unsafe” but also feels the responsibility for the “unsafe event.” 

I have spent years if not decades trying to understand this child within and her fears for safety.   I have particularly been focused on this child and her safety concerns since becoming a mother 17 years ago.   If I listen closely, it may be that this six-year-old child holds no fears only perceptions of a beautiful place and beautiful planet.  It may be that my true child within is largely guarded from feelings of unsafety, and it is more the child of ten years or the child of divorce or replacement that holds onto those feelings of responsibility and angst and anxiety.

If only I could get the ten-year-old child to listen to the six-year-old child, perhaps I could start to see and hear and experience a world in which everything is whole and in which God is truly in control.  If I am able to honor that six-year-old child fully, I may be able to let go of the ten-year-old child who forever feels responsible for any and almost every calamity that exists.  The ten-year-old feels responsibility for safety of self, safety of community, safety of nation and safety of the world, while the six-year-old appears unencumbered by these rampant safety concerns.  The six-year-old is largely concerned with whether or not people are happy and who might meet whom and what is needed in order to stay happy. 


[1]  I am aware that there are several texts that have been published that address finding the child within and healing the inner child.  I have never read any of these texts but I have worked directly with a therapist over several years in listening to and acknowledging that child.   I would assume that my therapist has read these books and has imparted their knowledge to me.  These books are not included in my Bibliography as I have never read them.

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Paranoid Thoughts and Depression

Just because I have been able to hold a good job (at times) and have married successfully and had a child in no way shape or form means I have been immune from paranoid thoughts, depressive thoughts, anxiety or mania.  My illness over the years includes acute paranoia that I have had to process or let go of and get past. 

My first episode at the West Ferry airport is a case in point.  In addition to that mania and paranoia I have believed that I could see some terrorists in the Himalayas who had two “broken arrows” pointed at the US specifically at Washington, DC.  I have felt that I could see the boot camp of these terrorists as well as know the path that got them to their hide-out and the code associated with both of the bombs at their disposal.  I have envisioned the recovery of these weapons from such a terrorist camp via a team of highly trained military personnel and their dogs. 

The day the Challenger exploded, I was in a complete state of paranoia.  I was on the train from Chicago back to my college campus and believed the conductor was signaling me to exit the train.  I got off in an unknown location and started hitch-hiking down icy back roads in the pitch black of night with snow and frozen ice all around.  At some point I ended up on Interstate 400 going North.  I believed I was conducting the cars in various colors in a symphony along the highway.  I must have been in the middle of the interstate when a trucker named Bill picked me up on the highway and took me to a nearby exit from the highway where by some turn of fate I ended up at the police station.  I remember that the Challenger had exploded and that I felt somehow responsible for this.  I kept repeating that “I have a dream….” like Martin Luther King but instead of stating it I was screaming it over and over as if it were more a nightmare that I had instead of a dream…  Thanks to the police, I ended up back at the hospital on campus.

In addition, I later came to believe that I was a master code-breaker for bombs and machines that had been constructed by the military.  I believed that I was able to isolate code line by line that had been altered by terrorists and to communicate those lines of code to the military so that the code could be disengaged.

In addition, I came to believe that HIV was becoming a food-borne illness in need of early intervention and that a nuclear meltdown had been grossly underestimated by the military establishment — that the whole electric grid was liable to go up in smoke within minutes considering the griddle like effect that the grid provides its ability to relay power between destinations within seconds. 

In the early months of the postpartum period, I believed that three men from Eastern Europe had immigrated to Canada in order to migrate from Canada to the US as Canadian citizens.  I believed that these three men were planning a “nuclear accident” somewhere in New Hampshire such that the entire watershed East of the Mississippi would be unpotable and contaminated with nuclear waste.

Almost all of my paranoid thoughts have involved feelings of unsafety.  Whether around the corner at a neighbor’s house or on the international nuclear war stage, I can get easily paranoid about human safety.    Could these issues of safety be tied to the fact that I was not safe as a six-year-old child?  Probably so – more work is needed.

This tendency toward thoughts of safety more than likely dates back to my first episode in the snow at the West Ferry airport.  When I allowed my fears about safety to be expressed, I was treated as a criminal and as someone who was unsafe.  If my fears had somehow been allowed to be conveyed to friends, family, an airport personnel or even a passer-by, perhaps the reaction to my fears might not have been so dramatic.  Even more compelling, if my fears of flying had been addressed in the airport with airport personnel in a way that they could understand, I may have been able to avoid what became years of preoccupation with fear and safety.  Instead of them seeing me as a threat to self and others, perhaps they would have been able to request I be moved directly to a hospital setting rather than being arrested and handcuffed and locked to the door of a police vehicle with flashing blue lights. 

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Imprinting

What I took away from this first break experience during my Senior winter at Ivy College is that being mentally ill meant I was first a criminal and second a person. I know that first responders were doing their jobs to watch out for the safety of all those who were boarding the plane and/or in the airport. But that experience told me: “You are a criminal. You were trying to bomb the plane. You are guilty of anything and everything until proven innocent. You need to be handcuffed. You do not have the right to have fears much less to express them. You do not have the right to have perceptions that are not 100 percent clear. You are a danger to others around you and you need to be locked up.”

My first episode imprinted me for the rest of my life. For years, I would try to escape the label of criminal that had been imposed on me by circumstance and happenstance. But try as I might, I still felt like I was a criminal every time I had a subsequent break-through episode no matter how big or how small.

In hindsight, things could have unfolded quite differently. I could have reported to the school clinic that I was having anxiety about traveling to Chicago and had been having some trouble sleeping. I could have gone into the clinic for a routine evaluation and perhaps been put on lithium or some other drug for bipolar. But sadly, that is not the way my first episode and subsequent diagnosis of bipolar went. I remember to this day looking at those pictures on the wall in the police station and thinking they must be looking for me as “most wanted.” Being mentally ill simply meant I was a criminal.

I will talk later on about stigma and first responders — including the importance of training first responders how to recognize the signs if a person is a danger to him or herself or whether the person is also a danger to those around him or her. But that discussion about stigma and first responder training is for another day.