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How the Easter Bunny Saved Me, Sort Of

One of my earliest memories, probably when I was around four or so, is of making a crayon picture of the Easter Bunny. I was very proud of it - it had decorated eggs and flowers, and lots of Spring colors - so my mother dutifully hung it up on the refrigerator with scotch tape. I sat in the kitchen looking at it for a while, then got up, went over to it, took it down and tore it up. Then I began to cry.

My mom was surprised, and gave me a hug, asking why I was crying. But she had two other little kids to take care of, so moved on quickly to the next crisis.

The memory had emerged  in my mid-thirties while I was seeing a psychologist I knew for depression and suicidal ideation (a term for considering suicide as an option, but not fully committing). She wasn’t sure how important it was, or what it meant, so she tried to progress beyond it in our therapy sessions. But I couldn’t let go of the hurt this memory caused me, translating into severe and constant headaches, and I became more dangerously suicidal, to the point where I was hospitalized for about a week for observation.

I had two little children at the time, who were six and four. 

While I was being treated/prevented from doing harm to myself, my husband Larry got busy finding me a doctor who could actually help my condition, and I ended up with a psychiatrist who was known for treating creative people, and who also saw some of my musician colleagues. 

A few sessions in, when I related this bunny story to my psychiatrist, he sat there in silence for several seconds, then commented sadly, “That’s a beautiful story of childhood guilt.”

I was taken off guard. Guilt? I thought. What did I have to be guilty about?

It turned out, and as I learned during our subsequent sessions together, he was showing me that guilt emerges from rage. The guilt/rage link from my early life was a knee jerk reaction that went back so far, I wasn’t consciously aware of it. 

My mother always did tell me that I was born angry. 

Now, if you’re a parent, and even if you’re not, this sentiment has a lot to not recommend it. Nobody is born angry, and to tell a little child this is paramount to abuse. The more likely explanation of what happened to me is that I became miffed if something didn’t go my way (such as when my sister was born - I was already dealing with an older brother, I didn’t need her entering and complicating my two-year-old life), and spoke my mind or acted out about it.

So for me, the cycle began early. I would get angry at something, and the parental cure was to find a way to make me feel guilty about the anger so I wouldn’t continue in my fury campaign. (My brother tells me he has struggled with the same issues, and has been seeing someone to get help for it.) The result of this pattern is that the person feels like they can never get angry at anything. However, suppressing the anger has an even worse outcome (such as messing up your innards), and even when suppressed, the guilt still kicks in. 

Luckily for me, I married someone who has never thrown a guilt trip in his life (unless it’s at some politician who clearly deserves it….), much less at the person he loves. He has a set amount of patience with my self-loathing, and then tells me nicely and rationally to snap out of it. That usually works pretty well, as it reminds me that I’m okay, I’m simply responding in knee-jerk fashion to a decrepit cue that I can now ignore. 

However, I need to be on the alert at all times. I’m working with someone right now who sometimes uses guilt as a motivator, and fortunately I see through that ploy and stand up for myself. More importantly, I give myself the respect I deserve, and I’ve found that’s contagious in terms of how others regard me. Toxic people in my life can no longer manipulate how I look at myself, and that’s saying a lot, considering where I started out.

If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away.

  • Call 911 for emergency services.

  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

  • In the US, call or text 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat

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