Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Current Crazy

This one's tough.  I want to be honest and express what I'm struggling with while still treating the subject delicately.  I don't generally do delicate very well.

While I do believe my current depressive state is biochemical, it comes closely on the heals of a rather big stress storm.  And I have to be careful talking about it because the center of this storm is my mother.  No matter what she's been or done in my life, she deserves to be treated with respect.  I will try to honor that.

But I also deserve to share my story.  Sharing my story when it is closely entwined with hers is tricky.  Here goes.

My mom lives a few miles from me.  She and my dad are still married and living together.  I'm not really sure why.  But I gave up worrying about that a long time ago.

My mom went off the deep end when I was born.  Not that she didn't want me or blames me, but that's when her mental health tanked.  She had an emotional breakdown.  Long story short, she ended up addicted to Valium for several years.  So much more to the story, but that's not mine to tell.

She beat it.  They stayed married.  Life went on.  Again, lots of history.

Jumping ahead to where we are now.

I am the only daughter.  My whole life my mom has told me how important I am to her.  How I am her refuge.  That we stand united amidst the men.  (Kind of against the men, but that's another therapy session.)  For most of my life she's considered me her confidante.  Her closest friend.  The one who understands her.  That's a heavy burden.  Please don't do this to your children.

I've written about some of the other parts of my home life.  It was not a mentally healthy environment.  In order to heal and figure out who the heck I was and who I wanted to be, I've had to distance myself from them over the last few years.  Even though we live in the same town, I could go a month or two without talking to them.  It's not usually that long, but sometimes.  We pulled back from family events, putting in an appearance but leaving before I got triggered.  It's taken a lot of work and a lot of therapy to get to a place where I felt healthy with them.

But recently my life got a shake up again.

Over the years she's struggled with her emotional health.  I've watched her try this and that to make it better.  I've watched everything fail.  I've watched her mental health get worse and worse.  We are now at a point where she can't be in the room with others for long unless it's silent and dark.  She is no longer capable of listening to more than a sentence or two from anyone else.  She has bad ADD and struggles to stay on topic; she often can't finish a sentence.  She can't sit still.  When she's at my house she sits, gets up and moves, sits again, gets up and moves.  Over and over.  And she talks and talks without getting anywhere productive and without hearing anything we have to say.

She's 70-years old.  She's still married and he is healthy.  I didn't think I'd be put in the position of being her caretaker so early.  We're not quite there, but it's close.  She wants to put me in charge of things but also accuses me of trying to be in control.  She says she wishes she'd had a mom like me but tells me how much I'm like my dad who she can't stand.

Current situation.  On many meds and hormones.  Takes them as she feels she needs them, kind of close to as prescribed but not really.  Very much self-medicating.  She goes to her room and won't come out when my dad is there.  She waits until he's gone for the day before she comes out.  She leaves and stays gone all day, practically living out of her car.  She won't come home until she knows he's gone to bed.  She's a compulsive shopper and hoarder -- which leads to the many money fights I've been hearing about my whole life.  Her rooms (apparently she needs more than one room to herself) are so full there's about a foot wide walking path.  She's put wallpaper up to cover her bathroom mirror.  She's hung dark blankets over her windows with masking tape.  She has a mini-fridge, microwave, toaster, and food in her room/bathroom/closet.  She almost never eats at her house unless it's junk food in her room.  She's on a backward sleep cycle.  She never sleeps before 2am.  She doesn't function in the morning.  And she sleeps on the floor of her bathroom or walk-in closet.  Not on a mattress or anything, just a thick rug.  And she recently told me she has bad cataracts and needs to have them taken care of but hasn't felt well enough.  Because of the cataracts, night driving is very difficult for her.  But she keeps doing it anyway.  Her need to get away is apparently greater than her concern for her own or others' safety.  I have expressed my concern.

My dad knows most of this but has lived with it so long he just accepts it.  I think he feels helpless.  Theirs is not a good partnership.

She's recently been coming around more, leaning on me more.  She'll show up at our house and talk for several hours two or three times a week.  I feel held hostage in those moments.  She's asked me for prescription meds (I didn't give them to her).  She tells me things and wants me to keep them secret from my dad, from everyone really.  She's shown up at the church a few times while I was trying to perform my calling.  She's very needy and has no friends.  The only people she has in her life on a regular basis are me, my dad, and my adult niece who lives with them. 

On the bright side, I've had plenty to talk about in therapy.  My therapist has helped me define what my responsibilities are and what they are not.  He's helping me set boundaries.  I will no longer listen to her tell me everything awful about my dad for hours.  I will change the subject or leave.  I will no longer let her take over my life.  I will give where I should but draw lines as well.

She says she's going back to therapy (at my suggestion).  And her primary care doctor (who is a pediatrician -- don't get me started on that) says she has to get in to see a psychiatrist and an internist within the month or he won't see her anymore.  He's worried about her psychological health.  Yeah, me too.

I'm trying to keep my out-of-state brother informed, because I don't want to carry this information alone.  I am leaning on others.  And I've done great with boundaries the last week or so.  But it is a heavy burden that's likely to get worse before it gets better.

And heaven forbid they finally do decide to divorce!  I can't imagine what my life will become if that happens.

So please forgive me if I let you down recently.  Or if I'm not up to getting together.  I'm doing the best I can.

And I'm so scared of turning into her.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Today is a Down Day

A dark day.  A heavy, painful day.  One of those days when I feel like I am walking through tar and it's so hard to pick up my feet to even take a step that I want to just lie down and curl up and sleep in the muck. 

Every task weighs a ton.  Nothing matters.  A day of hiding and isolation.  A day of knowing what's healthy and not caring.  A day of avoidance.

A day of feeling held captive by biochemistry.  At war with my own body and mind.  Fighting not to lose myself.  And losing.

Nothing is wrong.  There is no great tragedy in my life, no new crisis.  I'm  just quietly sinking.

It's not that I don't have hope or that I'm not happy.  I know it will pass and that I have a wonderful life with much to be grateful for.  But I am also so sad.  And lonely.  And hopeless.  It's like the hope and happy of my life are a bright outfit I'm wearing, but I am also wrapped in a heavy, dark coat.  So heavy I can't take it off.  So heavy I can't function with it on.

I get better.  Over and over again I get better.  And I start to believe I am healed.  That I have finally found the way.  I finally know the behaviors and thoughts that will keep me afloat.  And then something grabs my ankle and pulls me under.  I'm walking along strong and turn the corner to find the big, black dog growling at me.  Before I know it he's knocked me to the ground and is chewing on my face.  All I can do is curl into the fetal position to try to protect myself.

And that's where I am today.  Curled up, trying to stay alive.  Trying to stay me.


I'm not in danger.  I'm not going to hurt myself.  I just need time to lick my wounds.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weak People Need Therapy

This is what my 15-year old son said to me.  Something happened and I joked that he would need therapy for it.  That's when he said it.  And he meant it.  He would never need therapy because he wasn't weak.

I was struck.  I didn't know what to say.  His 21-year old sister did.  She turned to him and said, "Do you have any idea how rude what you just said was?  Especially to someone who goes to therapy?"

He didn't.  They argued about it for a bit.  I just left the room, trying to sort out my emotions.  Not really upset but definitely unsettled.  Not because his statement implied that he thought I was weak, although that didn't thrill me.  I was unsettled because his statement showed a real lack of understanding and empathy.

After thinking about it for a week or so, I'm trying to chalk it up to immaturity.  He's a 15-year old boy.  He really isn't expected to have much empathy at this point.

But I am doing everything I can to raise him to be a good man.  A considerate husband.  A caring father.  Including going to therapy.

That's one of the biggest reasons I'm in therapy, to know better how to raise my kids.  To know how to help them be good people who are happy.

Because this is something most of us aren't taught growing up -- how to parent.  We learn through modeling, through what we see around us, primarily in our own home.  And when we learn abusive parenting at home, it's tough to know any other way.

Growing up, my heart told me that the way I was treated wasn't right.  Honestly, that it wasn't how God wanted me to be treated.  I deserved better.  Everyone deserves better.

But I didn't know how to do any differently.  Early in my marriage a lot of my behavior with my husband and children was so much like how I grew up.  I had the mentality that it was important for a child to submit to his parents.  That if a child balked at what he was told, he was to be put in his place.  That I had to break their will if I wanted them to be good people.

Even though I was a lot more gentle and involved than my parents generally, when there were behavior problems I still reverted to what I'd experienced.  Way too often.  Partly because I wanted my parents to see how well behaved my children were.  Because I thought having children who always do what they're told was a sign of good parenting.

Luckily I found a better way.  I spent less time listening to my parents' tapes playing in my head and more time listening to my heart.  I spent a lot more time on my knees, asking God to help me do better.  And I went to therapy.

Therapy has changed me.  It's made me a stronger person.  It's helped me trust my heart.  And it's taught me so many truths about how to have healthy relationships.

And it's made me a better parent.

I talked to my son about this a few days later.  I told him he'd hurt my feelings; he was genuinely sorry about that.  I told him I was doing everything I could to help him not experience what I experienced.  I told him going to therapy was one of those things.

I told him he needs to work on thinking before he speaks.  I told him that as he grows I think he'll find I'm one of the strongest people he knows.  And I told him I hope he never needs therapy.

Because then I'll know all my therapy paid off.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

If They Don't Mean to Hurt You, Is It Still Abuse?

As a teen it seemed like every show on TV had an abuse theme, either the main theme or secondary.  I think the 80s were some kind of waking up period for the world.  Here's this awful thing and you need to know about it.  Like that.

And on TV, abuse was easy to recognize.  You could always pick out the villain.  He was charming in public and a monster behind closed doors.  If he was nice to his victim, it was just to manipulate her into what he wanted.  It was all so black and white.

But in real life it's not always like that.

Sometimes someone's behavior hurts you so much.  You know they love you and weren't trying to hurt you, but they did.  And when you know they didn't mean to hurt you it's easy to overlook it.  It's easy to say it doesn't matter.  It's easy to forgive and move on.

Sometimes you see their suffering and excuse their behavior because of it.  If she weren't struggling so, she never would have said those things.  She never would have called me that.  She never would have made me feel so worthless.

And after a while it becomes the norm.  It's just who they are so you accept it.  You know you can't change them so you just take it.

But guess what?  That's not healthy.  Just taking it isn't okay.  It will destroy you.

I'm big on identifying motivation.  I try to look for why people do what they do.  And I generally assume they didn't mean to.  Maybe it's because when I am mean I don't usually mean to be.  We tend to ascribe our motivations to others; it's human nature.

So if someone hurts you.  A lot.  Over and over.  But they didn't mean to.  Is it still abuse?

Yes, it is.  Even if they're sorry.  Even if they're not.  You can try to reason it away.  You can excuse it all you want.  But it's still abuse.

Because sometimes abuse isn't about intent -- it's about results.  It's about one person putting their own emotional needs above yours in an unhealthy way.  It's about crossing boundaries.  It's about using another person for your own benefit.

And it's about how it makes you feel.  When you've spent years in abusive relationships, sometimes you don't see it.  You sit and take it and later you crumble.  The crumbling is a sign.

Sometimes you see the crumbling as a sign that you aren't strong enough.  That you aren't kind enough.  That you aren't forgiving enough.  That's not what it's signaling.

You are crumbling because you are wounded.  Because what was done to you wasn't right.  And whether anyone else noticed it or not, it was still wrong.

And you can learn from it.  You can learn to protect yourself.  You can set boundaries.  You can refuse to see people.  You can leave.  You can make excuses.  You can even lie to protect yourself. 

When you are young, you are sometimes helpless and trapped.  When you are an adult, you aren't.  Unless you are actually chained up, you can get out.  It may not be the ending you were looking for.  It may not be easy.  In fact, it will probably be the toughest thing you ever do.  But sometimes you have to leave.

But if you stay, it's your job to protect yourself.  You can spend all the time in the world blaming the other person.  Saying it's their fault.  And you would be mostly right.  But you won't heal.  You won't heal until you see that little glimmer of power that you still have.  You won't heal until you take back control of your life and your own emotional health.  You won't heal until you refuse to be a punching bag.  Ever again!

It takes time.  It takes practice.  And you might have to learn over and over again with multiple people.  But each time you set a boundary and stick to it, demand that it be respected, you will be stronger.  More whole.  More healthy.   Better able to face the next day.

And you are worth protecting.  Say it over and over to yourself if you have to.  If that's too hard right now, just remember that it's your job.  You are the only person on this planet whose job it is to keep you safe your whole life.  Sometimes it's easier to think of it this way.

Abuse isn't always easy to see.  But if the same person keeps hurting you over and over, protect yourself.  Whether they mean it or not doesn't matter.

It's not okay to hurt people.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Collapse-in-the-Shower Moment

I've been putting off writing this post.  I'm anxious about it.  I worry I won't capture this important experience properly.  That you won't understand.  And I'm scared to find those feelings again, to be in that moment of intense pain and fear so I can write it.  But I must.  It needs to be told.

Seven years ago my life was very different.  I was working.  A lot.  My kids were younger (7, 8, 10, 12, 14) and involved in many activities.  My husband and I were in therapy.  I was just going through life, trying to stay afloat.  My husband finally saw that he was abusive and was trying to change.  He was questioning the church and trying to decide if he believed in God.  I was learning how to set boundaries and choose for myself.  I was trying to figure out who I was.  Who I truly was and who I wanted to be.

And then I got a headache.

I'd had headaches before.  Bad headaches.  Headaches that lasted for days.  A headache that made me go blind.  And headaches that weren't severe but just made life hard.  Headaches were nothing new.

So when I got this headache I figured it would be like the others.  I would wait it out, treat it with Excedrin, and eventually it would go away.  But it didn't.  Some days it was so bad I couldn't work.  Some days my vision and dizziness were so bad someone else had to drive me home from work.  Some days it was more subtle and I could go on.  But it was always there.

After a few weeks, my husband started to think I was faking.  He even said so.  No one has a headache that long.  You're just using it as an excuse so I have to do everything.  I'm so sick of this stupid headache excuse.  Yeah, me too.

After I'd had it six weeks, two of my toes went numb.  This made me nervous.  When you get a headache that doesn't go away that long, there is a tiny tickling in your mind that says, "What if it's a brain tumor?"  That tickling got stronger.

I told my husband.  He freaked out and immediately made an appointment for me to see the doctor.

We went to the doctor together.  He did a regular work up.  Then he did a neurological screening.  Looking for signs that it might be a brain tumor.  He didn't find anything that pointed that direction, but he was bothered by how long I'd had it and the numbness in my toes.  He talked to me about migraines and said that's what he thought it was; they can cause numbness, too.  He gave me some meds to try and said if it didn't break in a week I needed to come back.  After this appointment Bill said, "At least I know you're not faking."

It didn't break.  I went back.  He repeated the neurological screening.  He still didn't find anything, but he was concerned.  He suggested we do an MRI. 

By this point I was getting nervous.  My headache should have broken by now.  I'd never had a headache like this.  What if this is for real?  What if it's a tumor?

We couldn't get in for the MRI for a few days.  Waiting for that was so hard.  And that's when it happened.

It was the night before my MRI.  I was taking a shower so I'd be all ready in the morning.  And all the walls I'd been putting up to protect myself and my family from the fear came crashing down.  What if it is a tumor?  What if it isn't something that can be fixed?  What if I die?  What about my children?  What will happen to my children?  Although he was finally aware of being abusive, my husband was still mean a lot of the time.  He was learning to be more kind, but his natural tendency was still to strike out when he was stressed or angry.  What would happen if I wasn't there to protect my children?  If I died, they would be alone with him.  Who would protect them?  And I knew he no longer believed in God or going to church.  How would my children remain close to God?  How would they be taught all they needed to know without the gospel in their lives?  How would they know how precious they were to God and how powerful they were and what they should do if I wasn't there to teach them?  I was living with a man who'd made our lives hell for so many years.  These children were his.  I didn't trust him alone with them.  How could I go away and leave them to him?  This is too much for them.  How can they go on without me?  He would put the older ones in charge, make them assume many of my duties.  They would no longer be able to be children.  This isn't fair to them.  It's too much.  If I'm not here to guide their lives, they could become lost.  My death would push my husband to a very dark place; what if he takes it out on the children?  What if he goes into a depression again?  How will they deal with it without me?  How will they get through it?  Who will take care of my children?  Who will love them?  Who will make sure they know they are God's children?

The weight of all of this overwhelmed me.  I crumpled to the floor of the shower in a ball.  Hugging my knees.  Rocking.  Sobbing.  In so much emotional anguish.  In so much pain for my children.

I began to pray.  I wanted to beg to be spared, for my children.  I wanted to plead for my life.  But that wasn't the prayer that came to my heart.  I knew the prayer I needed to offer.  And it was the hardest prayer in my life.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't say it.  I knew I needed to, but I just couldn't.  The wrestle in my mind and heart was great.  I fought with all I had.  Until I could finally say it.  And mean it.

"Please.  I want to live.  I want to raise my children.  I want to protect them.  I want to love them through the difficulties of life.  Please.  But . . . thy will be done.  If it is not to be, if I am not to live, I know that they are thy children.  I trust that thou wilt love them and protect them.  I know you want the world for them, too.  I know you love them in a way I can't even understand.  As much as I love them and want to stay, I trust thy will."

Meaning it was so important.  In that moment, I fully surrendered my will to God in a way I never had before.  I understood that all would be well even if I weren't to live.  I understood, more than I ever had before, that He watches over and cares.

There was still some fear of what would come.  But there was also an underlying peace.  A knowledge that my children wouldn't be alone.  An understanding that if I couldn't be there, He would bring others into their lives who would meet those needs.  He loves them.  He watches over them.  They are His.

And to this day, that is a knowledge that gets me through.


Update:  My husband went to therapy for a long time.  He's doing much better.  He still slips occasionally, but we both know how to handle it in healthier ways.  There is no tumor.  They still have no answer for my headache, but all tests indicate it isn't life-threatening.  Yes, I still have it.