We have to take a minute and look at the things Sunshine is doing in the background here because, damn.
After Urgent left, Sunshine jumped to action fast. Within a week she had me in to a family practice doctor for a checkup. I had been gaining weight for a while. Since my suicide attempt (be patient, we will get there), I had been putting on pounds and it was getting to be a problem.
We found out in the visits subsequent my suicide attempts, that my thyroid had been stopped. It was effectively dead, and I would have to take pills for it for the rest of my life. The pills were a small cost and Urgent had gotten me on emergency Medicaid, so that soaked the cost. Next was my psychiatrist.
Sunshine stopped me at the door.
“He is not an asshole. He is just busy,” she said.
“Okay?” I replied.
“Now, every one of my clients complains about this guy. He is the best we work with but he is, best to use the word gruff. He is very busy and doesn’t like people wasting his time. Don’t try to let the conversation wander. No extras. Answer his questions and leave it at that and you will find Dr. J to be your best friend.”
And I did. I didn’t need him to be my friend or my counselor. I had plenty of those. I needed a guy to do this job and I didn’t need him to hold my hand to do it. We met for years until he quit to go into private practice. He said he was not allowing any patients to come with him from that place to his new office, with the exception of me. He liked working with me, felt as if I respected his time and valued his services.
Dr. J would be my guy until I moved back to Milwaukee. He did a lot of great things for me and I have few regrets. That first day, I gave him my history with bipolar and he asked me to repeat it. When I was done, he told me his diagnosis. Said I had a very extreme level of bipolar and that I had, by my description, had a psychotic break the day I was fired from Pizza Hut the second time. (Again, we will get there. Stop interrupting me). He said that if I had another one I would likely not come out of it. He told me to never go off my meds, and I never did.
More on that, I promise. Let’s stay with Sunshine. She is about to get pissed.
So, she talked to my therapist often. I had signed a waiver allowing her to know a bit of what he had to say, and he kept her apprised of our progress. I talked to her about it, too. It was just that sometimes she needed to hear it from the source.
See, mental illness has such a stigma to it that often those suffering from it will lie about the effects or even how bad they are. They often feel like their therapist is getting too personal and they pull back. They don’t want to change certain things about themselves and they will often hold their secrets. Sunshine had no way of knowing if I was doing that or not, so she checked in on me every now and then. She found that I was always telling her the truth.
I was just so happy to have her and Steven listening to me and telling me it was going to be alright. That I was in deep, but not too deep, and vowing to be with me through all of it. I was so happy to be getting the help that I was open about all of it. So, when the rejection letter showed up and I showed it to Sunshine, she kinda lost it a little.
She has a look. I have only seen it once. It is a cold, dead eye stare that comes with anger and determination. When she found out I had been rejected for disability, she got that look. She knew what I was dealing with and she knew that if anyone needed to be on mental disability, it was me.
I made an argument that if they said I didn’t qualify, then I didn’t want to push the issue, and she snapped back, “No! They don’t deny you. Not you. And they do this anyway. They deny 60% of applicants straight away. The only real work gets done in appeals. No, we are not done here. Not at all.”
Urgent had filled out all the paperwork early, so Sunshine took that application and found out that before they denied me, they did not even request my documents. They took what was sitting in front of them and went with that. The only thing they even considered was my thyroid. They said this was easy, fixed with a pill, and noped me out. Sunshine did not want to chance it, so we went to Columbia to get my records.
See, I had been admitted to the psych ward of the Columbia hospital years before. (I swear guys, it will all play out. Just be patient. God!) We drove the two hours up there and sat in the waiting room outside of records until they signed my medical documents over and we drove home.
She hit up Dr. J. He had a policy of never signing a request for disability. He would not even consider touching the paper. Sunshine had a conversation with him about it without me present, and without even giving it a second thought, he signed the papers. He wrote a detailed description of what I was capable of with my disorder and what could be expected of me. He put it all down on paper. When I heard it read back to me, it was daunting.
Next stop was a lawyer. I told her this was not necessary a few times. My working-class background had taught me that disability was for lazy people or injured people, not for the sad and depressed. Mental health got no respect from my family, and they were quick to deny it all and tell me to buck up. I had their voices in my head when she walked me into that lawyer’s office and sat me down.
She didn’t even let me speak for myself. She answered all the questions asked of me except the most basic, and she lined it all up for me.
One day she came to my house and saw a stack of papers between the wall and the end table. She asked about it and I had no answer for her. She pulled them out, laid them on the table, and gasped.
“These are bills,” she said. “What are they doing back here?”
I stared shocked and stunned. “I have no idea. I have never seen that stack of papers a day of my life.”
“Shadow?” Sunshine said.
And she was not wrong. He admitted to just tossing the mail back there and never opening it.
She opened everything. She stacked them all according to date. She added everything up and came up with a final total. She told me they were a stone away from shutting off my phone. My bill was months late and she grabbed my checkbook, wrote a few checks, and I signed them.
I think she paid for the stamp to get it mailed.
One day in therapy I recovered a memory. It was a moment of such horrifying abuse that I was broken and shamed by it. Of all the abuse I had suffered in my life, this was beyond anything I could ever imagine, and I had no one I felt comfortable telling about it.
Now in this collection, I have detailed very little of the actual abuse I suffered. I did not want to turn this into that kind of book. I don’t want it to read as a disgusting, mind-shattering experience for the reader. I want this to read as a story of overcoming odds and self-transformation. I want a story filled with heroes, with little light shined on the villains. So, I will not be telling this bit of information. It is so dark and so twisted that hearing of the incident can only bring harm to you as a reader. You will not be able to give this back if I tell it to you, so like all the really bad stuff, I will hold on to this.
I couldn’t handle it alone, though. No way. It was too immense. Too God awful to ever allow myself to share with anyone. The pure burden of the knowledge of this abuse made it almost a crime to tell anyone. Whoever I told would have a new kind of darkness in their life.
When we found it in therapy, Steven said, “You can’t sit on this. You have to talk about this with someone.” He shook his head. “This is not a thing you deal with alone.”
“I can’t tell Bekah or Siren. I can’t tell anyone in my life. This is too much. It is too horrific.”
“Then tell Sunshine,” Steven said. “Tell her. Call her and tell her all of it. She can handle it. Even if no one else can, she can.”
“I don’t want anyone to know about this.” I sobbed.
“Yes, you do,” he said. “Trust me. You want to share this. Go to Sunshine. She can help you.”
So that night I called her. “Sunshine listen, I found something out in therapy today. It’s so horrible.” I broke into sobs. “I can’t tell anyone else. I don’t want Bekah to know. I can’t face her. I can’t look in her eyes and tell her this. Steven said I should ask you to hear it. To talk to me about it. But it will stain you. It will stain your ears. You will never be the same again.” I said all of this to a message service that her health care offices used. “I’ll be at my house. I won’t be asleep.”
I let Bekah and Siren come by that day but I did not talk to them. I was haunted. Could not speak without crying. Could not look at them without feeling sick to my stomach. Siren pushed the issue.
“How can I help you if you don’t tell me everything?” she said. “This is important. You need to talk to someone.”
Without looking at her I told her I had called Sunshine.
“Sunshine doesn’t love you like I love you. You need to tell me right now. You need to let this off of your chest. Spit it out. What happened?”
I threw her out.
When I told Bekah about the darkness of the session and how I could not tell her about it, she nodded. “What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “All I know is, I can’t look at you.”
She turned off all the lights and we watched a movie. Then we watched another one. We did not talk. She got me drinks every now and then, and Lenore watched movies and slowly wept.
Sunshine called early that morning telling us she would be there at ten. She said she had canceled every other appointment she had. I had her for as long as I needed her. Then she said, “You’re not a stain in my life. You are hope for all of us. I want you to see that one day. One day your story is going to matter to the world. Today it matters to me. I’ll be there at ten.”
Bekah stayed until nine thirty, while Siren called every hour or two to yell on my answering machine and tell me I needed her and to let her come help me. When Bekah left, she did not touch me. She did not tell me she loved me. She knew I was incapable of hearing or feeling any of that. She simply said, “When you want to see me again, let me know. I’ll come as soon as you need me.” She closed the door and I locked it.
Sunshine came to the door and when I let her in, she had Taco Bell. She knew my order. We had gone before. Now she had lunch for me and she said, “After this is all over you will eat. I know you have not eaten at all yet.”
“I can’t look at you and tell you this,” I said.
“Then we do it in the dark,” she said.
To this day, if my sons have anything they need to talk to me about that they have a problem saying to my face, we go into my office, close the door, and turn off the lights. It is the best way to deal with embarrassing or difficult subjects. I learned it from Sunshine.
She pulled the drapes and we sat on my bed, both of us with our backs to the wall, me talking. And I told her. I told her my darkest secret. The most horrifying thing I had ever seen or heard tell of. And I had lived it. She took it all like a boxer taking a punch to the jaw.
When I was done talking, I was wrung out. I was beyond myself. I was not even on that bed anymore. My mind had dissociated so badly that I could see us from the couch. The telling had been so traumatic that I had an out-of-body experience just going through the trauma of telling about it.
For a long time, she said nothing. She let it all sit. Let me hear the ring and the echo of the story on the air around me.
Then she sighed. She said these words: “When I hear that, I do not hear a story about a child being abused. I hear a story about a child surviving torture and horror. You said that if you told me this story that it would stain me. It does not stain me. It gives me hope. One day you are going to do great things. We will get you there. It will just take a bit more work than we want it to.”
She dropped the bag of Taco Bell in my lap. “Now eat. You need food and I know you haven’t eaten since yesterday.”
I cried. I sobbed. I curled up and she did not touch me. She did not hold me or hug me. She let me get it all out. I thought about that for a long time. For years I thought about the fact that she did not comfort me. I know part of it was professionalism. She had boundaries she needed to keep firm. She was also married and did not want to send the wrong message. That might be the reason she did it. But that is not what I took from it.
What I took from her letting me cry alone was that she knew I would be fine. She needed to let me self soothe. Needed to let me find a way back to myself without the help of other people.
I ate. And when I was done, she took me outside. She swore it was a beautiful day. She swore it. However, I cannot agree because the sun was up and out where everyone could see it and it was warm with a nice breeze. I preferred darkness, cold and cutting wind. She took me to the park outside my apartment, had me sit on the sidewalk, and let the sun touch me.
She said she was a Sun Worshipper. She needed the sun to keep her alive. Said she spent as much time in the sunlight as possible.
I was sure that was gross, but I guess to some people there is an appeal to the sun, so I didn’t tell her.
You will see her a few more times in this book, I am sure. But I wanted to line it all up for you, let you see this amazing person and what she did for me. I love you, Sunshine. I will always love you as a big sister. Wherever you go, you will have that love following you. I wish you nothing but happiness and I will say that I am better now. I am making the difference you talked about that day.
Sunshine found me at a book signing last year. She just walked right up to me, like it was nothing at all. I wept and I thanked her, and she giggled and smiled. She told me how proud she was of me. We were at a library that day and she leaned in so as to not let anyone else hear, and she pointed at me and said, “Yours is the most inspirational story in this whole fucking building.”
Thinking about those words is why I started Reality of the Unreal Mind. In that way too, if not for her, you would not be reading this story.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.