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By Robyn Wheeler
BALBOA PRESSCopyright © 2011 Robyn Wheeler
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBorn Mad
The waiting room was the perfect temperature, sparsely decorated with a few paintings and a large dish filled with hard candies. Soft jazz music was playing. The music calmed and comforted me, and I felt a little more relaxed and reassured. Even so, I was nervous and frightened to be in unfamiliar territory.
A small envelope with my name on it lay on the table. I reached for it and tore it opened. It was a note from the psychiatrist saying he'd be with me in a few minutes and to make myself comfortable. Those few minutes seemed like an hour, a dreadful, lonely, and agonizing hour.
While sitting in the doctor's office, all I could really do was pray. A few magazines were sitting on an end table, but I didn't feel like reading. Instead, I asked God for this to be the answer, the solution to my chronic anger, anxiety, and madness.
I had never visited a psychiatrist, so I had no idea what to expect. Would I have to give blood? Would the visit be physically painful? Would I know the answers to his questions? Was I manic? Did I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or some kind of mood disorder? Was I really autistic, as neighbors during my childhood thought I was? This was the make-it-or-break-it point, the moment where I would sink or swim. My mind was racing with a million thoughts.
It may sound rather strange and morbid, but at this point, I wanted to be diagnosed with some kind of disorder. It was my last hope. I had tried everything I could think of—affirmations, anger management, the Emotional Freedom Technique, believing in God—but nothing had a permanent effect. I was still angry every minute of every day.
Was I really a mean, nasty, hateful person, or was my anger beyond my control? If my anger was due to a dysfunction, a chemical imbalance of some kind, then it wasn't me. I anticipated that problem could be treated with medication.
I sat in silence in the waiting room, still nervous but hoping I was mentally unstable, that I did in fact have a mental disorder. I am not a professional in the mental health field, so I didn't have the foggiest idea about what kind of mental disorder would cause chronic anger, but I hoped I had it—whatever it was.
During those few agonizing minutes sitting in the waiting room, I asked myself how I had gotten there. What events in my past had led me to a psychiatrist's office wondering if I had a mental disorder? Reflecting on the past events of my life, it all made sense. The last forty-four years of my life had all been leading up to this defining moment. This was the culmination, the sum total of my life.
* * *
Born on June 1, 1966, I weighed six pounds and four ounces, with a few strands of bright red hair standing straight up on my head.
Like most babies, I was born screaming at the top of my lungs. Little did I know this screaming would become a life-long pattern, haunting me for years afterward and leaving me feeling like I was always doing something wrong and the universe was out to get me.
My family consisted of my mother, my father, and my sister who was two years older than me. My father was a manufacturing engineer. Over the years, he had many interesting jobs, including assembling light bulbs and waterbeds. He was the prankster and jokester who gave my sister and I piggyback rides every night before he threw us down on the bed to "hit the hay." My mother worked at a retail store in the catalog pickup area, back when that kind of service was available. She was the one who brushed our hair and walked us to school; drove us to Girl Scout meetings, swimming lessons, and flute recitals; and read to us every night after dinner from the Little House on the Prairie book series.
No one knew I was born angry, although there were plenty of warning signs over the years. Plagued with sporadic episodes of anger as a child and into adulthood, I often frustrated my parents and sister, made more mistakes and blunders than I wish to admit, and messed up many parts of my life that I shouldn't have.
I learned that anger was a strong emotion of displeasure caused by some type of grievance, either real or perceived. Causes of anger, according to www.ezinearticles.com, include past experiences, behavior learned from others, a genetic predisposition, and a lack of problem-solving skills. In other words, anger is caused by a combination of two factors: an irrational perception of reality and a low frustration point.
These two factors were present in me even as a young child. I expressed my anger and frustration in various ways that should have been obvious clues to those around me that I needed help.
Intrigued by my behavior, my parents have told this story numerous times over the years. As a baby, I apparently disliked everyone, including my father. My mother and my grandmother were the only two adults who could hold me; no one else could get close. I would scream and yell at the top of my lungs, so no one dared come near me. My father couldn't hold me, feed me, change my diapers, look at me, or do anything that might involve coming within a foot of my personal space.
My aversion continued for a good six months. At this point, of course, no one will ever know why I acted like that. Since I can't explain what I was thinking or feeling back then and no one could read my mind, it will always be a mystery.
I do think my behavior was odd, even for an infant. One day, it appeared as though I just "got over it." My fits of rage stopped and suddenly I turned into a happy, bouncing, smiling baby—or at least that's what everyone thought.
I Lost My Kitty Kat
When I was one year old, I was given a stuffed animal—a cat with arms that had wire inside, allowing them to form a stiff circle so the toy could hang tightly around a bedpost or other object. It had a pink-and-white checkered body and fuzzy face, feet, and hands. I named it Kitty Kat.
My sister got a green frog just like it. She put it on her bedpost, and it stayed there, nameless, looking brand new even years later. But not my Kitty Kat. I carried it around with me everywhere. I slept with it; I brought it to the dinner table, outside to play, and anywhere else I could think of.
Soon, Kitty Kat's arms were limp, unable to hang on the bedpost anymore. The fuzz on her face was gone, and my mother was forced to glue on new eyes, a nose, and a mouth because they had worn off too.
When I was two years old, I took Kitty Kat to my grandparents' house for the day. After a day of playing and running around, I joined my family as we all piled into the car late that night to make our way home. But about halfway home, I realized I had accidentally left Kitty Kat at my grandparents' house. Crying and screaming the rest of the way home, I made everyone miserable.
My mother begged my father to turn around to get my cat, but he refused. We were almost home; he was tired and wanted to put my sister and I to bed and call it a night. Still, I cried and begged. My mother put on my pajamas and tucked me in bed, but I still cried and screamed because I didn't have my Kitty Kat. I would not sleep and was determined that no one in the household would have peace until Kitty Kat was safely home again.
At ten o'clock that night, my mother and my grandmother met at a park halfway between their houses so my mother could retrieve my beloved Kitty Kat. After my mother arrived home, I snuggled Kitty Kat close to me under the covers and fell asleep.
Just Call Me Firebucket!
When I was about three years old, my godparents nicknamed me "Firebucket." Just by the sound of it, you know this can't be good, right? Well, it wasn't.
As a young child, my family frequently went to my godparents' house for dinner or the holidays. My godparents had four kids, all about the same age as my sister and I, and we liked to play together while the grown-ups chatted about the latest events and details of their lives.
One day, my sister and godsiblings ran out the front door to go to a neighbor's house. Of course, as is true of all small children at that age, I wanted to do everything the older kids did. But they considered me a nuisance, a tag-along little kid, so they sped out the front door so fast that it slammed closed in my face as they giggled and ran off.
My godparents lived in a large, two-story, five-bedroom home with extremely heavy double front doors. My parents said that I had, in the past, opened the doors by myself. This time I stood there screaming. My face turned red. I yelled at my folks, who were busy chatting. They could see me at the front door with my tiny fists tightly clenched, yelling at the top of my lungs.
I remember thinking I couldn't open the door, and I was upset that everyone had left without me. Being excluded and left behind was no fun. As a three-year-old, I didn't know what to do other than cry. My parents and my godparents continued with their conversation, taking a brief timeout to tell me to open the door and go outside.
After about five minutes of screaming, yelling, making fists, and stomping my feet on the ground until I was red-faced, my tantrum became entertaining for the grown-ups. My godfather said to my folks, "Wow, you got your hands full with this one!" Everyone laughed and joked that my face was bright red and thought if I could have blown fire from my mouth or nostrils, I would.
Again, my godfather piped up, saying, "She's just a small bucket of fire, isn't she?" And there it was, my nickname: Firebucket.
As I was growing up, every time my godparents greeted me or spoke about me, they called me Firebucket. Before that, they called me Robbie, which I wasn't really fond of, but I would have preferred that any day over Firebucket.
I am forty-four years old now. My godparents and I no longer live in the same town, and I haven't seen or spoken with them in several years. But I'll bet if we ran into one another tomorrow, I'd still be their little Firebucket.
I don't mind the name but rather how the name came about. I obviously had mood and anxiety issues, even at three years old. A small child having a temper tantrum over not being able to open a door and being left behind by the older kids probably needs compassion and comfort from an adult. Instead, I acquired a nickname that stuck with me forever.
Caution: I Bite!
At three to four years old, I started the awful habit of biting other kids. I bit kids in my preschool class, neighbors, friends, and, more than once, my sister. In fact, after a while, my sister recognized when I was going to bite her because I ran directly at her, full speed, with my little clenched fists waving in the air and my mouth wide open. She would scream, "Mom, this kid is gonna bite me again. Come get her!"
If other kids teased me, said things I didn't like, or just made me frustrated, I grabbed their arm and sank my teeth into their soft flesh like it was a big juicy hamburger. Have you ever been to the dentist to have a mold of your teeth made? A dentist would have had no problem making a mold of my teeth from the marks I left on other children. Many of those children were rushed to the emergency room so their bleeding wounds could be treated.
The next-door neighbors had three kids, and we played together frequently. But when I started biting them, their folks called my mother and told her she needed to take me to a shrink. They said maybe I had ADHD or autism or some other disorder, but my mother wouldn't hear of it. She would loudly protest, "Not my child! My child does not have autism! How dare you say that!"
One time, the neighbors forced me to go to the doctor with their son, who had blood trickling down his arm from the teeth marks I had left in his skin. To this day, I have no recollection of what the doctor said to me, but soon after that trip to the hospital, I stopped biting.
Today, knowing what I know now, I wish my mother had taken me to a shrink back then.
Shush ... Listen ...
My parents tape recorded one of my tantrums when I was about five years old. They claimed that I yelled, screamed, and snapped at people when I was asked a question. I, of course, angrily denied it, shouting, "No, I don't!" When the tape was played back to me, there it was: proof positive of my bad attitude.
After hearing my own tirades, my comments were somewhere along the lines of "so what?" My father told my mother I learned to snap and raise my voice from hearing her, that I was copying her behavior. Even to this day, most of my family members snap and raise their voices at others when asked a simple question. I don't believe any of us snap on purpose or to intentionally hurt other peoples' feelings, but rather we snap out of a knee-jerk reaction that became a bad habit early in our childhood.
* * *
At the time these events occurred, they meant nothing to me. I thought I was just being a child—and maybe I was. But today, knowing I have suffered from anger and anxiety-causing depression, most likely since childhood, I can't help but wonder whether these incidents were signs of my undiagnosed disorder.
Don't get me wrong; my childhood was not miserable. Good times and happy memories fill the spots in between the tantrums and fits of anger. One of my favorite memories involves startling a hospital orderly when I was four years old. I had been hospitalized for a few days to undergo tests for severe stomach pains.
One time, my parents showed up for their daily visit with a plastic snake that, when held by its tail, would sway back and forth like a real one. I enjoyed playing with the snake and couldn't put it down.
My prankster father had a plan and instructed me to stand up against the inside of the wall and wait for his cue. When he gave me the cue, I was to hold the snake outside the doorjamb just long enough for someone to believe it was a real snake. So when Dad gave the cue, I stuck the snake out the door into the hallway and then I heard it: a loud shriek and fast footsteps. As I peered out the doorway, I saw only a large clutter of towels piled on the floor.
My family was laughing hysterically, and I had no idea why. It turned out my father had waited until a female orderly with a fresh load of clean towels came down the hallway on her way to the linen closet. When she was just a few feet from the door, my father gave me the cue to put the snake in the hallway. The orderly, who turned out to be deathly afraid of snakes, screamed, threw her hands up in the air, and ran the other way. She then told the nurses and doctors that a wild dangerous snake was loose on the hospital floor.
Eventually, the hospital employees got wind of what really happened and, for the next three days, the hallway was empty. In fact, the crew flipped a coin to see who had the task of bringing the food tray to "the little red-headed girl's room."
And my sister and I used to drive my mother crazy at night. After my dad was worn out from the piggyback rides and Mom had tucked us in and turned off the lights, my sister and I would talk to each other from down the hallway. Our beds faced the same direction and, if we looked down the hall, we could see and talk to one another. We gabbed and giggled and laughed it up until my mother closed our doors and demanded we get some sleep.
Many more pleasant times filled my life, but when one suffers from dysthymia, the negative experiences prevail over the positive ones and dominate a person's thoughts. That is the nature of the beast and the theme of Born Mad.
Chapter TwoThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The psychiatrist's office was on the third floor, and the large windows offered a great view of the outdoors.
It was a breezy day, and the trees were peacefully and gently swaying back and forth. The large billowy oak trees reminded me of the large tree I could see from my bedroom window when I was growing up. My mind flooded with memories of my childhood. As I continued waiting for the assessment of my mental state, I reflected on my childhood and those fragile years of growing up and learning life's lessons.
Excerpted from BORN MAD by Robyn Wheeler Copyright © 2011 by Robyn Wheeler. Excerpted by permission of BALBOA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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