The tears were flowing, and a little moan escaped her pursed lips. I couldn’t tell if the little moan was a sob or Zoey trying to tell me she hurt inside. The little lopsided ovals stared back from the page — a tear dropped on the page and smeared the pencil lines.
She yelled, “I can’t do it! I’m not doing it!”
It seemed my vision went black for a few seconds, but I was still able to grab the pencil from her hand and throw it hard on the floor. It shattered in two pieces, and the eraser rolled off under the bed.
“Goddamn it, Zoey! Stop it!” I screamed and shook in anger.
I knew right away I overreacted. I knew I let my anxiety and panic take over for a split second and it was enough to do damage. My beautiful little girl was rocking back and forth and crying, unconsolable now that her Tatay was angry with her.
I looked over at my wife sitting on the bed, holding the baby. Her face was pale, and her lips pressed tightly together. I couldn’t tell if she was mad or scared. Maybe a little of both.
The anger passed as quickly as it rose. I sat staring at the red face and puffy eyes of the one person who I let wrap me around her finger. The little anger left inside I swallowed, for allowing myself to lose control again. I’d been working so hard on not letting my illness dictate my emotions, and it surprised me that I had fallen from grace so easily.
I didn’t know what to do or say, so I grabbed the long end of the broken pencil and went on a search of a pencil sharpener. Zoey stamped out after me and fled crying to her room.
The acting of methodically turning the pencil against the small blade of the blue plastic sharpener calmed me, and it wasn’t long until I’d regained my composure and was ready to try and fix the mess I’d made in the other room.
As I walked across the dining room, I could Zoey sobbing in her bedroom, and I found her collapsed on the floor with her face in her hands. She heard me come in and got up and ran to me, finally letting out the pent-up emotion. She said over and over that she was sorry, and I told her that it wasn’t her fault. I told her I was sorry for yelling and stroked her hair.
My wife came out of the other room and gave me a look that only could mean displeasure and I was to do whatever I could to solve the problems that started this whole episode.
I held Zoey while she cried and when I was sure no one would see, let a tear run down my cheek.
Later, after I’d made amends and we’d finished the offensive homework, I stood Zoey on her feet, looked her in the eye, and explained why I’d been so mad at her.
When I was her age, I did the same thing she does to herself. I thought I had to be perfect in everything I did and said.
Not only did I have an older brother who was an overachiever that didn’t have to try at all to get straight-As, but I was growing up in a religion that caused my parents to expect more out of me than any child should be responsible for. As a Jehovah’s Witness, I had to be an example to the world and show the “worldly” people what a good Christian I was. I had to prove how Witnesses were so much better in every way than other people.
I don’t blame my parents, because conditioning caused them to believe everything that came from the Elders and the Anointed in their castle in New York City. They were forced-fed information every day for years and had no choice but to comply or suffer shunning.
That pressure passed on to us kids, but for some reason, my brother didn’t seem to be breaking at the seams like I was. I walked through every day of my life worried about everything. I worried what the other kids and teachers thought of me. I was too concerned with my image, and instead of having fun and being a kid, I was trying to uphold the unsoiled reputation of the Witnesses who ruled my life.
I made myself sick to the point of having to either throw up or almost shit my pants regularly. I rarely told my parents what was going on because I didn’t want to appear weak and faithless. Later in my childhood, I told them about my sick stomach, and for a short time, the doctor put me on a sedative drug to help my anxiety. My parents took me off before long because it made my eyes look like I was stoned, and as much as it helped, I couldn’t appear like I was a drug addict. I was, after all, representing all Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Again. I don’t blame my parents. They were only acting on the conditioning they got from the “Faithful and Discreet Slave,” and they believed (and still do) that if we didn’t do what these people representing God said, we would die a horrible and painful death and would not be allowed to live forever in a paradise earth.
My parents were looking out for our lives, and I will never, ever fault them for raising me the way they did. My parents loved me so much that if there was a way I could live forever, they were going to make sure I had every opportunity to survive this wicked system of things.
But all this pressure made me a very scared and anxious little boy. I put so much pressure on myself to be the best at everything that I destroyed my own mental health. I blame no one for my problems. I was the one who was so hard on myself and wouldn’t compromise when it came to weakness.
This situation is one of the reasons I screwed up my whole life. I pushed myself until I had nothing left. Later, when I couldn’t push anymore, I lost everything.
I don’t want that for Zoey.
So when Zoey is unkind to herself because she feels she has to be perfect, it affects me. Sometimes I get depressed because I am the way I am, and she only mirrors what she sees. Sometimes, like last night, I get angry and let my panic make me lash out at the people I love.
I feel like a horrible person for allowing my weakness to hurt other people, but sometimes I can’t control the flood of emotion. Sometimes I explode, either with anger or by damaging myself in some way.
Mental Illness is a hell of a thing. I know it made me the person I am today, but sometimes I wish I had a life do-over, and I could live it all again never falling victim to an illness. I wish I could face my life not having this monkey on my back, shitting on me and whispering hateful nothings in my ear.
But, I can wish all I want, and it will never change the fact that I am mentally ill, and I’m going to screw things up all the time. I’m going to get depressed. I’m going to panic and get anxious. I’m going to cry and scream at the top of my lungs.
Flora and Zoey know the score. They have both forgiven me already after I spent the evening apologizing, and the baby, Joey, only knows he got scared when the big man screamed.
I can be hard on myself and call myself a bad parent or I can learn and hopefully be able to control the torrent of emotion next time. I hope for both my family and my sake that next time, I’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief that a storm had passed, and no one got hurt.
I can only hope.