Piecing and Pasting: Re-Membering (Part 2)

It’s the forgetting I remember most.  The fact of forgetting.  The past is fuzzy for me, something that will make memoir difficult.

So, for me, re-membering will partly be a process of re-constructing and re-assembling the story, piecing and pasting.  Largely, this is due to trauma.  Trauma around growing up in a dysfunctional family whose front door was broken down by the FBI on way too many occasions.  Trauma around having a mental illness that at times disconnected me from reality and the people I love.

However, I have a strategy for doing this detective work, because I, clearly, need to research and document the parts of my life I can’t recall.

So today I’ll outline the most obvious steps to take in reconstructing both the story about my father’s connection to organized crime and the one about my mental illness—what amounts to a 20 year struggle to win (and sometimes seemingly lose) the battle against bipolar disorder.

Though I don’t know that my family is entirely comfortable with my writing about my father, who, in fact, died in 1981 (when I was still a teenager), I plan to do the following to document my dad’s story:

  1.  File a “Freedom of Information” act, so I can access my father’s FBI file.
  2.  Search news paper indexes to locate articles that were published about my father in the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post Gazette during the 1960s and 70s.
  3. Access transcripts of court proceedings, so I can understand why several grand juries indicted my dad and can appreciate the nature of my father’s testimony in court proceedings against him.

And in order to reconstruct the bipolar narrative, I plan to:

  1.  File for copies of in-patient medical records, so I can review notes taken by doctors and nurses during my many hospital stays.
  2. Request copies of notes kept by doctors and therapists during out-patient treatment.  (Some of this I’ve already done.)
  3. Review journals kept from the time I was 15 until the present.  I wrote a lot during the years I was sick.  And though I don’t recall everything about that time, the journals recorded much of what I don’t remember.
  4. Watch video tapes of several years’ worth of out-patient and in-patient therapy.   This will be an invaluable source of information about my symptoms, my behavior, my thoughts and feelings at the time.  (This first involves having the videos transferred to DVDs, so I can bring them back to Haiti.  Frankly, the thought of watching this material terrifies me.  I can’t imagine what it will be like to see myself so sick.  I tried to watch one video a couple of years ago, but had to stop.  It was too painful.)

As I lay out this agenda, I want you to be assured, also, that I am well these days.   No one would ever know I had ever been sick or still carry this diagnosis.  In fact, when I’ve shared this information with folks in recent years, they’ve been shocked. 

My partner can certainly see how moody I remain.  I’m not always easy to live with.  As Sara says, when I feel something, my emotions fill the entire house.  I still hallucinate at times, but you would never know.  I’ve learned to manage the symptoms that remain, the ones that still break through despite the medication.

I hope some of you will help by holding me accountable with regard to the strategy outlined above.  Renee over at “Life in the Boomer Lane” recently posted a two-part series on memoir writing (something you should check out by clicking here and here).  But in the second of those posts Renee suggests assembling a supportive group of friends to keep oneself on track during the process of writing a memoir.  (So, I hope some of you will be willing to “support” me with periodic kicks in my memoir-writing ass.)

Thanks to all of you who read my blog.  Please know how much I appreciate your on-going support.  You all have given me the courage, the faith in myself as a writer, to finally take on this task I’ve been avoiding for years.

Peace to each of you and, as always, hugs from here in Haiti,


39 thoughts on “Piecing and Pasting: Re-Membering (Part 2)

  1. This is truly a mission. As a newer reader I am just getting my feet wet just in reading blogs, but the courage that it will take to pursue this will lead you on an incredible journey.
    I recommend bits at a time as this seems an overwhelming task to even us outsiders. Listen to those around you as they will be your guide in the process. Take care and know that we are all out here.


  2. I’m continually amazed by the hardships people are able to work through in an effort to reclaim their lives. The strategy you’ve outlined is methodical and research-based, which will make your project richer and truthful. Congrats on taking such brave steps. I look forward to hearing more about this.


    • Thanks so much, Maura, for recognizing the research-based approach I plan to take. It is esssential to a project like this, I think. Most memoirs could not be sourced this manner, so, in some ways, I’m blessed with a life that can indeed be documented. Take care, my friend!


  3. I’m going to echo what others have already said, but believe me that I mean it just as much as they do: I am so inspired by your bravery at this undertaking. It can be sometimes exciting and terrifying to uncover our pasts, but I think as long as you do so with a goal in mind (to learn something from it, to trace the trajectory of your progress), then you will absolutely have something to fall back on to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

    I don’t know what capacity I can serve you in this journey, but I am happy to do whatever you need me to. In the meantime, I’ll be cheering you on and offering all the support I can. 🙂


    • Thanks so much For now it helps to have an audience. It helps to share what I discover. Your cheerleading means an enourmous amount.

      Somehow it helps to energize me, if I know otheres are holding me accountable. Sort of like you with your dissertation buddy.

      Hope you and Robert have a great weekend!


  4. Wow, Kathy, this is amazing. I’m so proud of you and impressed by your bravery. If I can help you acquire articles or anything, let me know. Remember, I have all those databases at my finger tips.
    This sounds like intense emotional work and I hope you remember to protect yourself and step away from something if it gets too painful. Sending you lots of love!


    • You are such a good friend, Sarah. I may take you up on the database offer, especially when I come home for a visit near the end of March. I used to have copies of all the newspaper articles, but they got lost in a move, so now I have to recover them and hope I can do that electronically. Just don’t know how those newspapers would be in indexed for the 1970s. Any thoughts?


  5. A big huge Cyber hug to you Kathy! Just know that you are not alone. I know there is a stigma attached to having a “mental illness”, whether it be Depression, Bi-Polar disorder, or something else. Personally, I think those of us who suffer from these diseases are in the MAJORITY these days….not the minority! I applaud you for writing out your own struggles on your blog. Best of luck with your research on your Father and your continued journey with your own issues. You will be fine! Once again, just remember….you are NOT alone….. there are MILLIONS of us who know exactly what struggles you are facing. Have a great day!


  6. Already, I’ve learned so much more about you than I knew before. I am glad to know that you are well, that you were able to rise above your illness and not let it beat you. I see now why it may be painful to remember so much of the past. I hope that the process ends up being therapeutic for you.


    • I think this is really the resolution–telling the tale! It has to be done. I’ve been putting it off for years. Sara has pushed and pushed, but finally I know the time is right. I’m ready——READY, GET SET, GO———————————–


  7. Kathy–
    what a journey you are undertaking…to unearth yourself…

    I pray you are loving to yourself in the process of knowing and finding…this hide and seek game of pouring out…



  8. Both of your stories are going to be so powerful. You are truly a brave woman, to follow that scary path into memory and to share it with others. I imagine that the story of your illness will help so many who face similar issues, because you are strong enough to share. I believe your father’s story will help you and your family understand some important things, plus it sounds very interesting. I don’t know what help I can offer, but I’m here. Even if it is to offer a virtual kick in the butt or hug, or just a friendly ear.


    • Thanks for offering the virtual kick. I suspect at some point that may come in handy–or (what would the equivalent be for foot?). I think the powerful thing about the story of my illness is just how far I’ve come. I know folks in the depths of the disease often despair–can’t imagine things could get better. Maybe it can be a story of hope then.


  9. Good luck on your journey, Kathy…I can understand how watching old videos of your much different self could be painful…I’m happy you have your illness under better control now!



  10. Good plan! Many of my closest friends have suffered (or still suffer) from bipolar disorder, so I know just how intense it can be. I’m happy to hear you are in a place now where you are ready to undertake your memoirs, and it sounds to me like this just might be your destiny! 🙂


  11. I think what you’re doing takes a great deal of courage. I hope the plan in some ways makes it all easier for you. I know sometimes things are easier for me when I escape into organization. There can be a sense of detachment that goes with getting organized. (Not sure how to explain that any better. Sorry.)


    • Actually, this is a hugely helpful comment, Robin. I know exactly what you are talking about. If one can become caught up in the doing of something rather than what the doing is about, then there’s a kind of escape, a relief. It becomes easier to distance oneself by focusing on the task at hand.


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  13. I think this is a wonderful venture and you seem to be well on your way as I see your list for research. I recently attended a lecture by Joseph O’Neill where he spoke of the research in writing his family memoir Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (excerpt available online). Perhaps worth a few minutes of your time.

    Knowing the starting point in which to tell the story has carried me further in my memoir than any of the false starts have. For me, with painful periods to tell, I shift with stream-of-consciousness embedding hope. Perhaps your manic phases were your tool for survival when reality was too dark. Just a thought, along with best wishes for success!


    • I can’t thank you enough for this comment, and I so appreciate your reading my blog! I will check out Joseph O’Neill. I think you advice about knowing where to start is helpful. I have a good idea where I’ll begin my narrative, but from there I don’t know. Thanks again for reading and commenting. Hope you’ll come back!


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