Prologue for memoir
I could be one of those memoirists who shares about all of the traumatic and nitty gritty nightmarish things people normally have only seen in bad movies that they never want to see again, but I’m not going to do that in my memoir. I am going to focus on positive things to help others who struggle with mental health issues. I am going to focus on how my faith in God, a love for the arts, sports, meditation practices, animals and nature, and having an incredible support system are so important and key to a good life.
Yes, unfortunately I have experienced a lot of trauma in my life. My father wasn’t always the nicest person in the world, my mom and grandma were both very critical people. They all probably shaped my insecurities and low self-esteem I often struggle with, however, I had some pretty amazing memories and experiences because of them, too. And I was close to all three of them.
My dating life wasn’t always golden. I mainly chose guys who were a lot like my dad, all of his bad traits. And unfortunately I dealt with sexual trauma, which I often have PTSD from. I even had one guy physically beat me. Fortunately I met my husband, who is ever so much like the heroes straight out of a Hallmark movie, or a really good romance novel. But, the poor guy has had to deal with my PTSD issues, triggers not even from things he says or how he acts, but something as simple as an advertisement in a movie, or somebody’s poem about their own trauma about something I would normally avoid, because it reminds me too much of previous traumas. The PTSD I have is similar to a war veteran’s, but stems from abuse. I even have taken the same medicines a war veteran would use for their PTSD. And unfortunately I have been hospitalized several times, due to emotional triggers, which is incredibly embarrassing to me. I have always been taught to be ashamed of “my illness.”
In 1989, when my parents divorced and I was a preteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at Primary Children’s Hospital. That was in the 1980s, when it was very much a stigma to have that attached to your name, your being. When a supposed friend tells your entire middle school that, that’s your big secret when their aunt worked as a nurse in your psychiatric unit. Yup, that was BEFORE HIPPA, welcome to being an immediate outcast, or so I thought I was.
Turns out that bipolar disorder runs deep in our family’s genes. And yes, it’s like any genetic condition. Your brain lacks dopamine and it truly is a chemical imbalance. I have been on some form of psychiatric medications since I was 13 years old, and have seen psychiatrists and counselors for as long as I can remember. I am in my 40s. And I have tried my best to remain as “normal” as possible for as long as I can remember. And those psychiatric medications have taken a toll on my body, too. Did you know that there is a complete correlation between diabetes and psychiatric medications? The meds make you gain weight, weight that is almost impossible to exercise off, diet off, etc. You need the medicine to help you stay “normal” and yet, they affect your body. I have done research about it, studied medical journals and I am very knowledgeable about mental health issues. One correlation between mental health is addiction to drugs and alcohol.
I will tell you I have never done a recreational drug of any sort. I have had one sip of communion wine when I was confirmed Catholic, a non-alcoholic beer that I drank at a writing conference, because I thought it didn’t have any alcohol in it, and a teaser of wine at Olive Garden. Other than that I haven’t drank anything. And I just don’t like the taste, the smell, or what it can do to your mind, and body. My father drank alcohol, too much, the smell reminds me of some terrible experiences. So, I try to avoid it as much as possible. And it just never has been something I ever desired. Also smoking absolutely repulses me, too. I have never done that and never will. Tobacco, is miserable, horrible, nasty urgh! I have watched how it can just consume someone’s lungs through X-rays, through nebulizer treatments, through the use of oxygen, to how colds and flu can affect a smoker’s lungs, to C-paps, ventilators … It’s just plain nasty and the people who made it cool in the 1950s and even earlier, well they should rot in Hell. And maybe they are, who knows. But, I lost my mom to it in 2019. It’s ugly to watch someone you love deteriorate like that. My brother and I helped her try to quit. She did in 2011 when I became pregnant with my daughter. So, you could say my little preemie Christmas miracle gave my mom an extra eight years of life? But, it was far too late as far as her lungs were concerned and she had developed COPD.
So, how have I coped through the trauma you may ask? Through all of this negative stuff, the stuff that therapists, and psychiatrists want me to repeat when they do my whole life story. The whole let’s get to know you and “your history,” every time I have to get to know a new doc, or therapist?
Well, there was this sheet of paper that I was given way back in 1989, 99 healthy coping strategies. That I took to heart and practiced. That sheet of paper is a website now.
What are my coping skills?
First and foremost, I am going to say my Faith in God and Jesus Christ has been so huge to me. Regardless of the fact that I was raised Methodist, and later Episcopalian, and then back to Methodist I went after the Episcopalian church split over a gay Bishop, and then I tried some other religions. I was confirmed Catholic.
What I’ve discovered is one thing, there is sin in every religion, every church, every person, especially including me. And I go to church for community and to learn more about God. I listen to Christian music and I sing it and play it, to worship the Creator of all of us, who I believe is God. I have read the Bible from cover to cover over and over again.
My very first Bible was given to me by my aunt and uncle. When my parents would get into one of their lousy fights, I would take my flashlight and hide in my closet and read my Bible. I also read my other favorite book, which was Lassie Come Home.
My favorite holiday is Christmas and my least favorite holiday is Easter, because every Easter you remember why and how Jesus died and it just makes me incredibly sad. I know Christ also was risen and went to be in Heaven with his Father, God, but it still makes me sad listening to the story about how brutally He died for all of our sins.
Every Christmas you celebrate Jesus being born in a manger, sing carols, give people you care about presents, make cookies and sweets, go to church a lot, it is just fun, meaningful, spiritual, uplifting, and the idea of Santa, St. Nicholas, has also always played a special part in my life.
I’ve been asked this before, if I could go back in a big ole time machine, like in Back to the Future, where would I go? Well, I would go back to the days of when Jesus walked the Earth. He was just so amazing.
I love Him so much. I tell you He has as gotten me through A Lot of dark times. And He has been there for me through some really good times, too, and I am truly blessed.
So, I am going to tell you about some amazing beautiful things in my life in this memoir. How the arts have helped me get through so, so much, too. The very first time I danced, the first time I was read to, the first time I sang, played on a piano, which truly is my favorite instrument to play. You will learn about why I like to write.
Why I feel that self-care is so important. Getting your hair and nails done, well and massages and facials, when you are stressed. I will talk about how yoga and meditation are so amazing and how I was introduced to those techniques. Also I like animals, too, all kinds of animals. I even have three emotional support animals, especially my little Mini Schnauzer, who really was an Easter God sent during 2020, one of the craziest years every. Right?
On Facebook I try to find all of the animals who are lost and help return them to their owners, and help protect the endangered ones. One of my favorite Bible stories is when Noah saved all of the animals two by two when God flooded the Earth. I adore rainbows because that was God’s promise to never flood the Earth again. I mean and seriously who hasn’t tried to find an end of a rainbow to see if there is gold at the end? Or even a leprechaun. And just be amazed at every color in the rainbow? Especially that gorgeous glow it leaves on the Earth. Speaking about the sky and Earth I have always had a love for astronomy. And all the work that NASA has ever done.
I have been to Cape Canaveral. I have seen Hailey’s comet in a huge telescope, as well as many planets and the 2020 Star of Bethlehem. I have been to many planetariums and I interviewed a lot of astronauts when I worked in the media.
When I was a teenager I got scolded by a pastor’s wife when I told her that I asked God to send me a shooting star to let me know He was there. And He actually did. And it was when I had lost a close friend in high school. He passed away tragically in a car accident. Another prayer that came true was when I wished for a huge snowstorm to put out the forest fires in 2020, and yes the day after there was a massive snowstorm in Wyoming, the wind played a huge role in that and it also caused a lot of damage, so the next time I prayed for a large snowstorm, I asked politely to not include wind.
Prayer is also incredibly important. And seriously it works. I have kept prayer journals for many many years, and God listens. You can actually go back through a prayer journal and see all the amazing work He does in your life when you aren’t paying attention. I highly recommend keeping one, even if you aren’t a “believer.”
We as people, well we should just be fortunate to be alive. Here in 2021 we have cars, planes, trains, airplanes, ships, boats, computers, smart phones, the Internet, video chatting, and even spaceships that actually work, and rovers, telescopes, and amazing modern medicine. My sweet preemie little girl is a huge example of that. She is incredibly amazing.
That psychiatrist who told me in college it would be unethical for me to ever have kids because I am bipolar, well my daughter, she is amazing, kind, gentle, sweet, talented, and truly the love of my life. I tell her that all of the time. And I really always wanted to be a mom. I love being a mom and that honestly has been the best “job” I have ever had.
Speaking of the other love of my life, it is my husband of 20 years this year, 2021, when I am writing this. We actually have been together since the day we met on May 15 of 1998, which was straight out of a Hallmark movie in every sense.
We have had our ups and downs, 2010, 2011, 2019, 2020, were extremely hard. When we both had big losses in our lives. My father died in 2010. His grandma died in 2011 of cancer. In 2019 my mom died, I had a miscarriage and my 14-year-old dog died of cancer. In 2020 we lost grandpa, a great aunt, and a cousin and dealt with a pandemic.
I forgot to mention, how much cooking has helped me, which is why this memoir will be filled with recipes that shaped my life.
Some of my other coping skills include photography, of course writing, art, and crafts. And how Girl Scout has helped, and shaped me too. I do like to travel and to be outdoors.
I also like science, organizing, cleaning, and yes, math. Math can be fun, but it also hurts, literally hurts my brain. I have told people for years that I suck at I, because I was told that girls shouldn’t be smart at math, well or chemistry, by teachers and classmates. To be honest I have always been really good at it.
Music. Music has helped that. I play A lot of instruments; the piano, guitar, violin, Native American flute, clarinet (well the whole clarinet family), percussion, gamelan, dodrahn, Irish tin whistle. I love to sing and song-write. I have always wanted to perform with some of my favorite musicians, the ones I got to interview when I worked as a journalist. I still do some journalism, but mainly I write books now. It’s just a lot less stressful.
I also have always wanted to win a Grammy. And when I was in L.A. for a NEA Fellowship I almost got to go as a journalist when I interviewed the Grammy producer, Ken Ehrlich. He wrote a memoir about the people he got to meet during his time as the producer, and he and I became friends just professionally.
So, in this memoir I will also cover some of the amazing experiences I had as a journalist, but I am going to tie in recipes, and photos. I even have audio and video recordings of the celebrities that I have talked to. You can listen to them in two of my museum collections. There is a collection at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. The “Karen Cotton collection.” The other collection is at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum. I was told by its curator that it will be on display during the 126th CFD event , which is next year. Well, hopefully fingers crossed. As I write this I am hoping I will be done with this memoir in time for it to come out, in order or it to go along as a companion to that exhibit. It was so weird to not have Cheyenne Frontier Days in 2020 because of the pandemic. It was the first times in its 124 years of being around.
I almost forgot about how dance and theater have also been amazing coping skills for me, as
I have done ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, and lyrical dancing. My daughter and I were in a production of San Diego Ballet’s Nutcracker.
I have performed in musicals and I lettered in theater in high school, but it is a lot of work and physically draining.
I guess you could call me a Jack, of all trades, no a Jill because that’s an old saying.
I also enjoy gardening, fishing, geology, fossil and rock hunting, hiking, camping, and archeology. Well I guess you could say if I had copious amounts of money I would go to college forever because I just love to learn, which leads me back to writing and reading.
My favorite places are libraries and book stores. A library card can open the whole world up to a person and it was the best gift my mom ever gave me. Belle is my absolute favorite and relatable Disney princess, fairytale character. The live action Disney film is my favorite movie. The classic fairytale is my favorite. And I would be in heaven in a beautiful big library like the one in that movie…
Which leads me back to being an author, a journalist, writing is just is what drives me, but that doesn’t mean that it is fun. Music also drives me. When I play music or sing it, it just makes me feel good and it helps other people feel good. Music truly is the universal language.
If I could have picked a better suited profession I would have been a professional musician. But, their lives are tough, incredibly difficult. They have zero privacy, they rarely spend time with their families or friends, and they are constantly touring, which also has its downsides. Rarely does a musician have time to actually be a tourist in a place that they are visiting. They fly in an airplane, or ride a bus into their destination, they do some interviews with the press, eat, do sound checks, meet fans, perform and move onto the next town. Some musicians are fortunate to make a good living from their livelihood, but they are rarely home in their mansion to enjoy having one. And they live in mansions because it is difficult to be a regular person out in the world. And there are reasons why they don’t stay married, and have trouble dating. I know because I have interviewed thousands of musicians on the phone, in person and I have spent time with them. I am even friends with some of them. I have always wanted to perform with them, but I have never had the opportunity, yet.
I recently rejoined the Gospel Music Association, I have started taking voice lessons, and I am still taking guitar and violin lessons, as well as attending songwriting seminars online. Back in 2020 I majored in music at the University of Wyoming under a COVID-19 relief Cares grant, but I had to drop out of school at the time because I was helping my daughter with virtual learning.
So, there you have it, if I still have your attention maybe you’ll turn the page and learn about me. You will be taken on a journey behind some pretty incredible experiences I have had. And how you too, can have a happy life. If you picked up this book because you, or someone you know who is close to you also suffers form mental health issues. I will teach you some amazing coping skills in a very creative and faith based way. And how I live by the Bible verse, “Today is the day that the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it.”