Moving beyond the subconscious: Key Life Decisions I made very early in life
There are significant moments in each person’s life, not neccessarily the high and low points, but the factors that led up to those moments. These can become unconscious or automatic once the thinking is ingrained. This is an accounting of the key life decisions that I remember making, with as many details surrounding the event that I can remember. I made this account at a time when I was still deciding if recovery from mental health labels was possible, right after my divorce, when neither the Olympics or grad school had seemed to work out.
This might be a good exercise for you to work through if you might be held back by unconscious key life decisions.
Key life decision 1: I will die.
EVENT: House in neighborhood burned down
EXPLANATION: This was the first house that I remember, in Chico, California. It was a small white house on Elm Street. My mom and my brother lived there along with one of my mom’s boyfriends who was named Bruce Guildener. My mom had a huge garden in the back yard where she grew artichokes, eggplants, and lufas. This is lufas the scrubby thing sold in all the hippy stores. Did you know they were a plant?
One night I woke up and my mom’s boyfriend told to come outside, that a house on our street was on fire. We all traipsed outside to watch, and the house was definitely in trouble. The fire department came and eventually the fire was put out, although the house was ruined. I don’t think anyone was hurt.
My mom tells me that in the daycare I attended, we were doing a unit on fire safety, and this seemed to compound my fears. She says I had nightmares for a long time after this, maybe weeks. I still have nightmares if I watch gruesome fire movies, including three nights of terrors after I saw the botched eluctrocution scene recently in The Green Mile. I still have to tell my fiance not to joke about cooking babies in a huge skillet or to tell me about setting dogs on fire by accident with hairspray and have me think it’s funny.
I think this was the first first key life decision I made, and I don’t clearly remember what it was, but it might be summarized as recognizing my immortality, that I would die someday. Maybe I also decided that I would die prematurely, or violently. I have always been afraid of fire since this, and I was eight before I had to courage to light my first match. I was also afraid of vacuum cleaners until about that age, because I saw one burn a T-shirt that got into the vacuum. I was so proud of myself just last week for sitting around the 3rd campfire I’ve ever started. That’s saying something, because I camp a lot.
Key Life Decision 2: If girls were too emotional, I would have no emotions.
EVENT: My dad showed a preference for my brother
EXPLANATION: My dad used to come from Oregon to California to visit us at least once each summer. At some point I realized that he liked my brother better because he was a boy. I resolved to become like a boy, and have no feelings. I remember one time we were at the daycare where we usually went, and our dad drove up. It was towards the end of the summer, so we knew he would be coming soon. We saw his truck pull up and ran out to meet him. Our dad jumped out and hugged Dodge, and I remember stanidng there in the dirt, by myself. I reached up and hugged my stepmom, Jeanne, but it wasn’t what I really wanted. Years later Jeanne told me that she thought I was special because I hugged her, but it wasn’t really much consolation. I just wrote a poem about this, called “The Pitbull Poem,” which I’ll be posting soon.
Some people say that mental health diagnoses are repressed emotion, including a book my friend Paul Cumming referred me to that says that most of back pain is a mindbody illness because people can’t express emotion. My friend Susan Kingsley-Smith makes her living helping people connect back with this emotion. This is why art, meditation, animals, and gardening are so useful for people with mental health labels.
Key Life Decision 3: I could compete in the Olympics
EVENT: Swimming in Milbourne Lake with my grandparents
EXPLANATION: I was visiting my Grandparents in Marion, KS, and they took my brother and me to a local lake because it was a really hot day. I swam all the way to the end of the swimming area, a three or four minute swim back then, and the thought occurred to me that I could make it to the Olympics if I wanted. Actually, this might have been 1984, when the LA Olumpics were on TV. This lake, Milbourne Lake, was the site of my second date. My fiance drove me out there from Kansas City and dropped me and my bike off in the middle of the night so I could ride back. He said he’d always joked about dropping a girl off in the woods, but this was the first time he’d done it.
I thought, “I am good at running, and swimming, and wrestling. I don’t know which one it could be, but I could do it.” This is the line in my Olympic Poem about “Before I ever knew a single competitive sport.” I forgot this summer day until I had been in Judo for a few years, and my coaches brought me out to the Olympic Training Center. I saw a movie where a little kid is running in his driveway out in the country, and I remembered that I had decided that I could do what it takes to make an Olympic team. I heard a funny story lately about Serge Bouyssou, one of my coaches from the Junior World Championships. He said that when his daughter was six she was on TV and after watching the Olympics a couple of days later said, “Daddy, I want to go to that tournament with the the rings.”
Key Life Decsion 4: It’s better to fight than to ignore it.
EVENT: Kids continually teased me in 5th grade
EXPLANATION: I was promoted from 3rd grade to 4th grade in the middle of the year, and in 4th grade it was great. But then in 5th grade I was year younger than all the rest of the students, and they made fun of me because I read a lot and used big words. This was in the 80’s, and metal music was popular. One boy put an empty cardborad box over my head and sang, “Bang your head, bang your head,” the lyrics to a popular song at the time. After a while my best friend stopped defending me and joined the other group.
My mom told me to ignore it and it would go away, but after almost the whole school year, she was exasperated and finally said it was OK to hit them as soon as they did something. I waited a couple of days for the right moment and finally socked the ringleader when she made a nasty comment. The teasing stopped immediately. Much later I wrote two poems about that year.
THE PAIN POEM
Mother, you taught me well.
You taught me not to hate, but to please.
I learned to walk away.
But now I need my pride.
I will teach myself to fight.
And I will fight long and hard.
FIFTH GRADE SONNET
In my tenth year I became a machine;
That was the me that learned to survive.
Busy people told me not to be seen,
Kids called me squasheater.
I froze in my clamp behind my gray wall,
But my bold beam still roared out if I cracked.
I tried to hide under no one at all.
It hurt to be alone.
I drove myself through the cold to my goal.
So tough I never needed the people.
My dreams were the only light in my soul.
Now I can move beyond the fear of their eyes,
And step into the warmth of their lives.
My dreams have become real, and so have I.
Key Life Decision 5: I want to be a writer
EVENT: Eighth grade English class
EXPLANATION: We were studying poetry in English and I started writing some poems. At this time I also started writing an article for Mothering Magazine about having a single mom. In 9th grade I petitioned successfully to get into a Journalism class that was supposed to be for sophomores and above, and I wrote book reviews for the school newspaper. I remember reviewing Watership Down my freshman year. The teacher got me hooked up with the Kansas City Star so I could review current novels. The Star gave me four or five book to read and review in three weeks, and the reading was fine, but I got paralysis of perfectionism when it came time to write the reviews.
The next two years in Massachusetts, I didn’t even join the school paper, partly because things were new, but also because that experience had convinced me that writing was hard work. In college I took a Journalism class and wrote for the school paper for about a month, but I got fired because I missed a deadline to go to Judo practice. I was going to double major in Communications and English to learn how to be a writer, but after taking some classes, I realized that Communications was just jargon without content, and English was just taking other people’s writing apart. Also I realized that everyone wants to be a writer just like all girls like horses.
Now with all the grant writing and content creation online that I do, it turns out that I became a writer after all. Funny how things work out in the end. I just had to work my way around to it.
Key life decsion 6: I have the talent to make it to the Olympics in Judo
EVENT: Talk with Steve Scott
EXPLANATION: I remember stopping Steve Scott, my Judo coach, in the kitchen of the community center where I worked out, and asking him if I had the talent to make it to the Olympics. I forgot his exact words, but he said I could do it if I worked hard, that Judo takes hard work and not just pure talent. I put a line about this into my Olympic Poem, “He said yes, if you work hard enough. And I believed in the work ethic. I believed I could overcome anything with enough resistance. Anything that got in the way, I just overcame the resistance.”
Later that year I convinced my mom that I would start running for fitness if she would get me a dog. She wasn’t convinced, so I collected 150 + signatures from school for a petition to allow me a dog. I used to make signs about the benefits of dogs. Once I took away all her bathroom literature and replaced it with the dog propaganda. I got the dog, named him Brown Dog, started running, and kept training after that year.
Key Life Decision 7: I can get along with other people
EVENT: My brother returned from a year in Oregon
EXPLANATION: My brother and I fought viciously, expecially during my mom’s first three years of med school, when there wasn’t much attention to go around. My dad offered him a place to live in Oregon, and Dodge (my brother) left to go out there. I hated him until that point, but after he had been gone for a year, we were able to grudgingly get along. I wrote an essay about it that got read to the whole class in English. I may eventually post that article. That was the point where I starting trying to get along with people instead of being so idealistic and judgmental. I guess I still have a long, long way to go.
Key Life Decision 8: I have to choose a profitable career
EVENT: Letter from veterinarian
EXPLANATION: I volunteered with a veterinarian starting when I was 11, until I left kansas City two years later. I really enjoyed working with him and getting into the science. When my pet rabbit died, I even had him do an autopsy and watched. I was convinced that I wanted to be a vet and work with animals.
A few months after I moved to Massachusetts the vet sent me a letter explaining that vet school would take four years of college, plus the four years of graduate work, that vets didn’t really make much money, and that it was very competitive to get into veterinary school. This letter broke my heart, and I was bummed for months.
I also remember something about needing to be a people person to be a vet, and I had decided that I wasn’t. However, I recently reread this letter and didn’t see anything at all about personality, so I am wondering where I got that idea.
Key Life Decision 9: I can handle science classes
EVENT: I saw a former classmate in Pre-Med
EXPLANATION: At this time I was training for Judo and missing a lot of school due to Judo. I didn’t think I could manage tough classes. I don’t know where I got this idea, since I did fine in high school science. It might have been just thinking that veterinary school was not my destiny, so I didn’t want to make an attempt at the tough classes.
I went back to Massachussetts to visit my mom one Christmas, and got in touch with Heather Leahy, a friend from high school. We had taken honors classes tongether, and I was scheduled to take Advanced Placement classes with her, except that I moved out to Colorado for my senior year of high school. We had been pretty much the two smartest kids in our junior year. This friend mentioned a third person, who was nowhere near as smart as us. I thought, “If that girl can take pre-med, I definitely can.” I started wondering what had been holding me back all those years.
Key Life Decision 10: I decided Christianity made sense
EVENT: Various Christian influences
EXPLANATION: I had a small amount of Catholic influence coming from my grandparents, and I was baptized a Catholic at age 12 when I went to Catholic school. However, I never really got involved with religion or enjoyed attending church.
At college, I got a Gideon bible, and starting talking to a missionary at work, and the final touch was finding a 12 page document that outlined the scientific basis for Creationsim instead of evolution. I decided that I was a Christian, and started studying the Bible.
Several months later I was in Argentina at the Pan-An games, and I saw Gene Davis, a wrestling coach that wore an Athletes in Action T-shirt. I had the idea that it was a Christian group, so I started talking to him. It turned out that he lived in Colorado Springs, too, so he invited me to join his church. I didn’t have a car at the time, so he was surprised a week after we got back that I had ridden my bike the ten miles across town to come for a visit. We became good friends after that and I attended that church for about two years. Now I think that ten miles is only about a quarter of the way across town since Kansas City is so huge.