I grew up on a farm in the piedmont of North Carolina. My maternal grandfather was an alcoholic; therefore, I had a mother who had grown up with shame embedded into her being. A year after my grandmother died, my grandfather, who whittled fishing poles for his grandchildren, spent his whittling time one summer to fashion a strong tree limb into the shape of a Y and in the nighttime hours on a humid night in July of 1951, a muffled sound was not loud enough for anyone to investigate. It was in the dawn of the new day that it was discovered he had gotten into a hurry to leave us and join her.
My childhood could be considered idyllic by some, I suppose. Being raised by the daughter of an alcoholic and a farmboy whose late teens were spent turning the soil during the Great Depression, I took lessons daily in how to be perfect in everything I did. I had a difficult time in that home. I was treated well and well loved. But always, I felt I never pleased anyone.
My years of earning three college degrees were filled with the homemaking and mothering tasks of any married woman, but with a strong work ethic and lots of determination I succeeded. I loved working as principal of a school more than anything I have done in my life. Later I would become Director of Special Education. There were committed reasons for doing that job. Before Public Law. 94-142 was passed by the federal government to teach all of the children of all of the people, one of my sons had waged his battle through high school as we tried at home to circumvent regular teaching strategies in order to overcome learning disabilities.
We moved to another state because of my husband's work. We divorced because of the opportunities afforded him by the nature of his work. Soon I began a slide into the Black Hole of depression and in a nearby city I received help from a psychiatrist who became my lifeline, treating me for 30 years until he closed his practice.
I have lived through the fire, so I can now speak with some authority. There were genes hidden in my brain that finally exploded when combined with the serious circumstances of stress and emotional abuse in my life. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I never knew about mental illness and only a little bit about suicide. Now I know a lot about mental illnesses and have touched the fingers of seventeen of us who chose to leave this life in the manner of my grandfather.
Maybe, as Styron has said, it's the melancholia that brings the need to write into the lives of many of us. That is until the pit is so dark and deep one cannot hold a pen. I was totally unconscious of ever having a shadow side to me, but now that I know it and have had to contront it and try to grasp it and control it, my need to write tends to flow with much of the melancholia that is within me. With no specific schedule in my life, I find that I prowl during the night. Anything I've written that has been published has been written at night. It's a constant battle to find any nomal circadian rhythm and each night I must choose - will I sleep with a pill-induced sleep tonight or will sleep come naturally tomorrow?
The clock at the bottom of my computer now shows 3:37AM. So I suppose I will sleep tomorrow.