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Why I’m better off living in a war zone


Three months ago I had a psychotic attack, one brought on by  childhood trauma and a heavy batch of manic depression. It was horrible. My family, I put them through hell one more time.

Since then, I have been writing myself out of the madness. This blog has been a place for me to think out loud. I’ve written thirty essays since January first, touching on subjects that some people have had a hard time reading: childhood sex abuse, genetic mental illness, suicidal ideation, and cutting.

Then the essays took a different direction, one that didn’t surprise me: I’m now writing about our days when we lived in a Nicaraguan war zone. And I began writing about the El Salvador in me.

I have an arsenal that helps me crawl out of the crater of a breakdown, out of the horrors, when your own mind turns against you. A cocktail of medications (Lamictal, Trazodone, and Duloxetine). My family. My teaching. And my Salvadoran culture.

It’s always been this way. I have a mental breakdown then spend the next several months digging into the soil of memories. I read a slew of Spanish poets and novelists, I get out in the neighborhood and talk with Salvadoran, Mexican, and Guatemalan neighbors. I plunge, deeper and deeper, into the culture my mother gave me.

This blog is a memoir on the march. Little by little, essay by essay, I find myself again, my center. Now, I’m writing about war. Because that is my metaphor: my life, since the attacker lifted off my five year old body for the last time, has been nothing more nor less than a war.

I like the metaphor. Living in Central America taught me how a people, together, survive. I make connections between the battles in my brain and the ongoing struggle of people living in terror. How they survived, and even thrived. How they, while needing to prepare for attacks, also developed a literacy campaign that reached the most remote villages in the mountains. How they came together to pick a harvest of coffee, even with the Contras roaming the territory. How they laughed, partied, gossiped and cursed the injustice of a crazed U.S. president hell-bent on destroying their nation.

I learned that a people who have been oppressed will fight, tooth, nail, claw, and soul against the oppressor. They protest. And when that doesn’t work, they run to the mountains, train in guerrilla tactics, and take on their national predator: a dictatorship. A communist-obsessed U.S. president. Any power that has its boot on their neck–they’ll tear apart the leg, even as the foot crushes their throat.

This war in my head–it won’t end until I do. It’s important to recognize this. It’s an exhausting notion, but it’s honest. There will be no peace accords. I will die in battle.

My goal is to die like a Salvadoran guerrilla, taking up arms against the oppressors in my mind, and in the moment of dying, recognizing, even with the violence put in me so young, that I have survived, thrived, and even known happiness.

That, to me, is victory.

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