Skies the color of sparrows' wings;
Trees whose branches end in twigs.
The barren ground is hard and cold
As daylight into dark enfolds.
The warmth has left my soul bereft
Of life and love--the lack thereof.
Uncertain future with no plan--
The days drift by; a shell, not man.
An empty fog; a darkened day
Without the sun, the clouds are gray.
A clouded vision, impaired sight
Oh God! I cry. Where is the Light?
A silent scream, an unheard cry,
A sleepless dream. I wonder, "Why?"
A still-life painting--moving not.
The world's arranged, but I am not.
A joyous dance; their hearts are free!
All take part, except for me.
--by Dixie-Lee Weber
Changing the World
Just Jen in her bridal gown and I, on the dance floor, the evening almost over. We held hands, as I told her how happy I was for her, and how proud I was of her and her accomplishments…a doctorate in neuroscience, researching a cure for Alzheimer's. "You are changing the world!" I said.
She was obviously uncomfortable with the compliment, so she laughed and looked away, saying, “I don’t know about that! But thank you. You! Look at what YOU are doing! YOU are changing the world!”
I thought, she is humble (has never liked praise or attention), and her words were extremely kind. She is lovingly intuitive, as well. While I was complimenting her, she was finding good in me!
She continued, “You are side by side with people who are struggling! I could never do that! Shoulder to shoulder you are right there with them, when they need someone the most! I'm just in a lab somewhere working on mice and rat brains." I was a little uncomfortable and definitely taken aback, I pretended to agree (because I knew she'd be uncomfortable if I tried to protest.) In my mind, what I was doing in my life seemed too small to be significant.
We shared a long and loving embrace, and then parted ways. (I went to the dessert buffet; she returned her attention to her bridesmaids.) With so much else going on: lots of good byes, hugs, good wishes (and a few more desserts for the road), I didn’t think much about it, until I was driving home the next day.
I started to cry. I pulled off the Interstate, onto a side road. This is what was going through my mind: There is so much promise for her and her new husband Tyler ahead!! He is an engineer, working to provide clean water in third-world countries. (He also has an MBA degree, and is a really talented break-dancer!) They have so much to give to the world!
I thought, I am 60, almost twice her age. Oh, to be young again, and ready to GIVE to the world…in a position to CHANGE the world! And then her words rang in my ears. Humbly, I thought, perhaps I had already ‘changed the world’, so to speak…starting thirty years ago. My “accomplishments” had spanned three decades, but I had discounted them. Now, as the next generation, she was ready to do her part.
The reasoning in my head continued: Every one of us, no matter what age, no matter what we have done, has changed the world! And each of us continues to change the world; we are continuously afforded the opportunity!
The familiar DJ tunes and laughter had almost drowned out our voices, so we had to shout in each other’s ears. It wasn't a long conversation, but Jen's words were inspiring. Jen gave me a most valuable gift . . . reminding me that I guess I was changing the world.
I am anxious to share this at my class, with my peers (literally), this Tuesday night, as I continue working on my Peer Specialist certification. I hope I can deliver the message to them with confidence and joy, but there will probably be tears, too. This is a group that is training to be in the "shoulder-to-shoulder" army, in the field of mental health.
To Jen, I say, “You have renewed my joy and excitement to keep pursuing new goals, to remember the gifts that I have…and look forward to encouraging others to see their strengths and give them hope . . . and for them to do the same for others. Please know that you have given me a little piece of your heart, and I’ll be sharing that with the world…changing. . . the world.
I started writing this book, Portrait of a Mental Illness, in September of 2005. It is a chronological journal of what I experienced living with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I'd like to share a bit of the book I've been working on since 2005.
(Part 1 of 2 posts): 'For him, life is a struggle within and without. Bryan (not his real name) described his frequent nightmares: "I'm walking down a long path, lined with flaming torches that lead to a door. I'm not afraid to open the door, but once I do, there is a roller coaster. I'm deathly afraid of roller coasters!" I envision the dizzying heights and the terrifying depths, the convoluted path of twists and turns, the total lack of control over where he is going, and when he will arrive there. He lives with bipolar disorder.
"All around the roller coaster are my greatest fears: the sinister memories torture me! They are terrifyingly real. I relive them constantly!" Described with frightening clarity, he is hurled toward them, at breakneck speed. "I'm forced to see them from every angle. It's a torture chamber!" He travels through space and time in that Machiavellian machine. "It's a ride that never ends..." '
(--excerpts from "Portrait of a Mental Illness," copyright 2017.
(Part 2 of 2 posts): Bryan (not his real name) has told me: ' "On more than one occasion, I've locked my door and tied myself to my bed, afraid of what I might do to myself or someone else." Bryan is immersed in past traumas, writhing in overwhelming anguish. "Suicide seems like the perfect solution," he says. "If I can get past that, and I survive, I'm dreading--and hoping--at the same time, that my next experience like this will be my last."
Survival is not a victory; it merely marks the end of another battle in this endless war.'
(--excerpts from "Portrait of a Mental Illness," c. 2017. Dixie-Lee Weber
His voice was odd; I'd heard it when he ordered food at Burger King, and observed him later sitting alone. Now he knocked on my door. Yesterday, I'd taken him and our other neighbor, Dave, to the Salvation Army, so we could all get food. "Here," he said, "you might as well have this loaf of bread. Dave and I are leaving today, and we won't be able to take it along. But, could you make me a couple pieces of toast and butter them?" I thought, what?? But my friend John had bought the butter for me, and my electric bill wasn't going to go up if I made two pieces of toast.
I offered him my hospitality, asking him to sit down. We talked about how we (and many others) were struggling with life--with finances, a place to live, just "fitting in" in the community. Neither one of us said "mental illness." The more Dan talked, the less strange his voice seemed. I could understand his speech better; it was more distinct. He said, "People are afraid of me because of my voice. Nobody seems to want to be near me. Some people hate me, and they don't even know me!" With tears welling up in his eyes, he said,"I don't understand why they can't see that I'm a person, too! And there's no need to be afraid of me-- I'd like to be friends." I cried with him."
September 27th, 2005. " . . . this physical disarray mirrors the tangled mess in my mind. Like a ball of yarn that is hopelessly knotted and twisted . . . all I can think of is how frustrating it is to untangle things. I was never good at that. I usually (and quickly) gave up in frustration, and searched for the scissors. Cut! Just cut! Cut anywhere! It didn’t matter if I had to throw a bunch of yarn away. I didn’t have the time or the patience to carefully remove the knots and . . .entanglements. Cutting leaves loose ends hanging, as connections are severed abruptly, and there is no chance to repair these. I cannot make them (or myself) whole again. I can't be part of that whole." --excerpt from "Portrait of a Mental Illness" c. 2017. Dixie Weber
"October 26, 2005. 8:30am. Lying in bed, I feel like a pancake—flat, as if I had been run over by one of those cement rollers you use when you glue down vinyl flooring. Or, like I’d been through the wringer of my mother’s old wringer washing machine. The clothes would come through, almost unrecognizable, like flexible surfboards. As they touched the clear, cool water in that big tin rinse tub, they blossomed back into what they were before. I wish I could do that. I wish I had a magic pool such as that—one that would wash away this flatness, and wash away all the pressures that have flattened me, and allow me to feel more than one-dimensional again, to feel human again."--excerpt from Portrait of a Mental Illness, c. 2017 Dixie Weber
Saturday morning, December 3rd, 2005. "I called my mother last night, and at least...she...was willing to listen to me.Thank God that SHE is still alive. I think about that with my own kids--that they'll need me--maybe more in the future than they do now. I never thought I would need my own mother so desperately, as I approach 49, in just a few weeks. She can't do anything, but she always listens, and says, "Love You!" at the end of every conversation, and I acknowledge that incredible gift by providing the counterpart: "Love you, too!" If she only knew how much those two words mean to me now! Just two words, delivered convincingly, and meant sincerely. Those two words: accepted graciously, believed humbly. My simple, but potent response, mirrors hers in semantics. It carries an intensity that cannot be shown, except perhaps in mathematical terms that represent a numeral raised to the power of infinity..
My own children and I use this ritual as well, although in these relationships, I am the Mother, the Giver: "Love You!" I say, then wait for their response. They know just what to say, as if programmed, And, I guess, in a way, they are. The continual giving of that love back to the source- readied for them to accept--connecting our hearts together in an unending circle." (excerpt from "Portrait of a Mental Illness, Copyright 2017. Dixie-Lee Weber.)
"December 8, 2005. 8 pm. I color my hair, and plaster my face with Queen Helene Mint Julep Facial Mask. I resemble the lady in a recent movie preview, who sticks her towel-wrapped head out of the bathroom doorway, wearing a ratty bathrobe, and some "beauty cream," and yells to her husband..."There better be some beer left for Christmas morning!"
I laugh hysterically at this! Then I recall I enjoyed several Miller Lites last Christmas, while waiting for my kids to come over and spend time with me. When my son arrived, we rented a movie. Ironically, the movie started out with a guy who was sitting home on Christmas, with his son, having a few beers, and watching a movie. My son and I stared at the TV screen, looked at the beer in our hands, looked at each other, and laughed.
So, art imitates life, and life imitates art, and thereby each reinforces the legitimacy of the other." --excerpt from "Portrait of a Mental Illness," c. 2017. Dixie Weber
"December 12, 2005.
I feel sick inside—actually nauseous—because of the despair that is welling up inside me. Do I tell someone? Do I suffer in silence? Do I end it all? Well, in that case, the more I write, the more “evidence” I’ll have to support that decision. So, I guess I can’t stop now; I’m not sure if I made my case yet. Of course, there is always the option of a plea deal…whatever that looks like." --Portrait of a Mental Illness c. 2017 Dixie Weber
Books Are Keys to Knowledge
The new Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library....impressive! Laurie Belongia, Library Director, provided a tour for the group meeting I attended this week. It was hard to see everything; there were so many features.
As we walked along, I noticed the doors. More specifically, the silver metal plates on each door, inscribed with various quotes from recognizably-famous men and women. They reminded me of a poem I wrote in 5th grade. If you'll indulge me. . .it goes like this:
(Ahem...) My poem is entitled, "Books Are Keys to Knowledge"
When I open a book,
It's like turning a key
To bring knowledge closer
To noone but me.
A person can find,
I am sure, in a book--
Very much knowledge--
If he would just look.
Books offer joys
The hopes, and desires
That come from Authors
Who try to inspire.
Yes, books are like keys.
If they open the door
That was shut so long,
Out Knowledge will pour.
There might have been one more verse, but you get the idea. I was in love with books.
It was my goal to read every book in our Elementary School classroom library. Early on in my educational journey, I won a prize for reading the most books. I can still see (in my mind's eye) the teacher's handwriting on my First Grade Report Card: "Dixie has read 144 books this year." The prize was a long necklace of tiny "pearls" strung on a double white thread, which I played with, looping in in two long loops, then four loops half that long, trying it on, taking it off....until it broke all over the hardwood floor of my bedroom. I swept it up, whisking it away to the box it came in, still treasuring my prize even though it was broken.
In second grade, I developed a system to read every book. Remember the I Want to Be A....(Astronaut, Engineer, Farmer, Teacher, ...) series, and the entire Did You Know? series. Then there were Places to Go...every country enjoyed the honor of it's own book, a cloth-infused hardcover that provided bookends (if you'll indulge the pun), holding together those glorious pages in between.
I remember being sick for a few days, and returning to school, only to find that someone had decided to steal the library books from my desk. I was devastated. How dare they take away my treasures! I wasn't done with them! Never mind the fact that my desk barely shut, and they had to be shuffled around constantly to get at the textbooks beneath the pile. It was done with my teacher's blessing, as they dug out my textbooks to send home with my older brother and sister.
I loved books! They way they smelled, a bit musty and a little like ink. I loved the way they felt in my hands, firm, with their own inherent strength, like a magic carpet that could take me to places worlds away from the farm on the outskirts of tiny Stratford, Wisconsin. And I treated these treasures gently, opening them up slowly to the center of the spine, carely smoothing it down. Then opening them up to about one-fourth of the way and repeating the process, and opening it to the three-quarter mark of the book, and following suit. It was a loving way to prepare the book to be opened and enjoyed, so it's contents could pour out easily.
As much as I love books, I can't go to the library. No, it's not the fines...I've paid all of those. Although, there were often fines, as I was reluctant to give up the books I so tightly clutched to my chest, and just needed a little more time to finish...or start.
No, going to the library for me is like Christmas! There are gifts all over that fairly leap off the shelves! "Look at Me!" one yells. "How about Me?" another calls out. "Hey, did you see this?!" I swear I hear the books calling my name as I walk by, much like puppies and cats at the Humane Society, and I feel bad for them, so I rescue them...but no one has ever heard of "rescue books," so I guess that's not really a thing.
If you go to the Everett Roehld Marshfield Public Library, check out some books, but check out the doors, too! They open the door to fantasy, mystery, intrigue, information, excitement, drama, and so much more! Books are keys to knowledge. I always knew that. I hope you do, too! Escape, pretend, be enlightened, become relaxed...it's all there. Open a book, and you open a door.
A church bulletin contained a brief article that caught my eye. It was a poem entitled "Mothers Are Gardeners." Oh, great news for me, I thought, I've killed pretty much every plant I've ever owned, except for the silk ones, and some of them don't look so hot, either! Anything that takes consistency, patience, and careful tending is too difficult for me.
Being a good parent requires planting the seeds of love in my children , trying to remember to water them regularly--but not too much; making sure they get enough sunlight--but not too much; adding in extra nutrients--but not too much. As their mother, I watched them grow and adapt wherever they were placed, and with a mixture of excitement and concern. I helped with re-potting them when their roots had grown too big for their containers. And I am still tending them, but not as much, because they have strong roots and sturdy branches, so they will withstand the storms of life.
My relationships with my children were carefully cultivated over the years. My heart warms when I think about all those purposefully arranged meetings, like Taco Tuesdays and Whopper Wednesdays, and of course, Curly Fries for Clint, and a Deluxe Potato with Everything on the Side for Autumn.
At the time, spending thirty minutes to an hour together didn't seem like much, but layered over time, they have produced a mountain of memories and shared experiences.
There were lunches that I took to school for Autumn (from my restaurant, the Cozy Kitchen in Neillsville)..with her friends jealous that she got delivery from a restaurant! There were the lunches with Clint, first at Jr. High, then High School, then just visits when I'd stop to buy gas from the Cenex station where he worked. As he got older, we'd meet during his workday, for lunch or breakfast, when he worked for Charter Communications, and mostly lunches during the year that he worked as a Communications intern at the Marshfield Clinic.
There were trips to Mosinee to take Autumn to school, and trips to Mosinee to pick her up again, stopping at MacDonald's on the way back to see her friends who worked there. We loved the free cookies! And there were trips to her old job, at "Nice As New," and to her new job, at "Old Navy." She thinks I just like to shop, but the truth is, I only went to these places to see her. I loved seeing her superior customer service! The shopping was just a ruse.
As my two children have grown, becoming more and more independent, I cherish the phone calls and visits we have. (This story was originally written in February, 2006, so for 2016, so I'll have to had "texts" and "Facebook Posts.") Hearing their thoughts, their fears, their joys, their frustrations, their greatest dreams, and their deepest hurts, I am so privileged that they are willing to share themselves so completely with me. They add beauty and life to the world that others can enjoy, too. They have blossomed into adults whose characters I respect and admire.
Perhaps I'm not such a bad gardener after all.
The Gifts You Have