Friday, May 23, 2008


I took a blog-writing hiatus during the month of April to be with life. I needed a little privacy and the time to get some other writing done, writing just for me. But there was some stuff I wrote that I'd like to share. Here's a piece from the archive:

April 20, 2008

17 years ago when I graduated from High School, I was offered University scholarships. I pretty much had my pick of the litter. Instead of pursuing a “higher education” (as the jw's refer to it) I got sick. The diagnosis was Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. I have lead myself to believe that this stemmed from the stress of my perfectionism, handling an abusive relationship with my first boyfriend, the stresses of being a good little Jehovah’s Witness girl and the model daughter. And yes, I believe all were factors, but if I’m willing to look a little deeper, to open myself to a truly honest estimation of what happened, I think the answer may be much more simple than that.

I had so many questions as a teen. Normal questions about life and meaning. But there were also the deeper questions I did not even know I was asking, about truth. Having been raised with such a narrow view of the world, I could not even allow myself to question my questions, to delve any deeper than the surface of a search for love, a search for self. After all, my religion taught me that I had “the truth”, what more was there?

My mother tells a story with great pride of my third grade year when my teacher came and asked that I be permitted to be tested for the gifted program. This would have meant being streamed into another school with special gifted classes and a peer group to match my own strengths. My mother gave a firm no to the request stating that she didn’t want me to be seen as different. This from a woman who decided three years earlier to convert the family into a cult. My mother, never without a sense of irony. But, I digress.

My teacher said, “It’s very likely (tall penguin) will become bored in this setting.”

“You’re her teacher. It’s your job to keep her busy,” was my mother’s answer, and when she tells this part of the story, there’s this glint of power in her eyes that would make Pol Pot squirm.

And so, busy I was kept. I remember being the first one finished assignments and tests. I would wander up to the teacher’s desk, hand her my assignment and ask if there was anything else for me to do. Invariably, I would be given busy work like marking class tests, changing bulletin boards or, I’d be sent down to the main office to collate newsletters and help the secretary with some odd jobs. Funny that I spent most of my subsequent years playing teacher or tutor in some form or fashion. We become what we’ve been taught to become; perhaps just as often by the seemingly insignificant interactions of life as the traumatic.

I enjoyed the busy work. It made me feel special. If I wasn’t already a people pleaser, the way was paved in these early years to derive my sense of enjoyment, not from my school work, but from what others thought of me. Somewhere between the perfect test scores and the putting up of blue corrugated paper for the Spring bulletin board, the stage was set. And the band played on.

By the time I reached high school, the stakes had risen. Unbeknownst to me, high school gave out awards for year-end academic standing. At the end of Grade Nine, I was given 7 awards, the most anyone had received that year. On ceremony night, I crossed the stage so many times I felt like Michael Jackson at the Grammys. I was a legend. And I knew it.

From Grade 10 to graduation I fought for those awards, for my reputation. I derived very little satisfaction from the work I did. I was doing it for the accolades, the recognition. What I thought of myself mattered little compared to what others thought of me. I was competitive. I was tenacious. And I was becoming increasingly exhausted.

I don’t know when the moment happened or if it was a moment. Sometime it’s a series of moments before you wake up and ask, “What the fuck am I doing here?” Most people have a midlife crisis at 40, I had mine at 15. I was having daily panic attacks. I got a doctor’s note stating I could leave class whenever I liked and get some air or go home or do whatever I needed to do. I could basically come and go as I pleased. It was the autonomy I believe my soul was craving and maybe this was the only way it knew how to get it.

Classes were long. The assignments were tedious. I spent most of my classes doodling. My notebooks from that time are filled with sketches and random jots. I remember the slump of my body over my too-small desk. I remember fluorescent lights and the smell of too many bodies in too small a room.

The esteem of my colleagues, my teachers, was beginning to lose its appeal. Who were these people and why did what they think of me matter? In my journals then, I would write about the education system and how much it had failed to nurture human beings, that our worth had become gauged by what we did, not who we were. I had lost myself in the shuffle of overachieving, or underachieving, if you will. The reality was nothing I was studying was sparking my soul or honoring my questions. The only light in that dark tunnel were my Enriched English classes where I could at least find a voice for my creativity, for my thirst for meaning.

In all of the mess that was my teens, I managed to graduate with a 91% average. In my High School graduation picture, my gown sleeve is caught on my jacket to reveal my newly acquired Medic Alert bracelet. My new identity as sick person was firmly established. That little gifted Grade Three student had been replaced with an 80 year-old woman. Life would become her University. And challenge her it did.

Seventeen years later, my life has come full circle. I have extricated myself from the cult I was raised in. I have come through marriage, divorce, illness of various sorts, therapies of various sorts, car accidents, business, bankruptcy, heartbreak, grief, anger, and the longing for death. And right now, all I can say is, maybe I was just bored.

tall penguin

1 comment:

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