Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trying to Be Brave

I don't feel brave.  Not at all.  I feel scared.

People tell me I'm brave for writing about my therapeutic journey.  Sometimes it's not hard.  Those days I guess I do feel kind of strong.  But days like today, times like now, I'm just a scared little girl.  I'm afraid someone who knows me and knows my parents will read this and tell them about it.  I'm afraid of getting in trouble with my dad.  I'm afraid of hurting my mom.  I'm so, so afraid.

But I do it anyway.  Not because I'm brave.  Just because I'm so desperate to heal.

I'm fighting that deep, dark place again.  Because of my seventy-year old parents and my own co-dependence.

Eight months ago I wrote about my mom and her struggles.  I'd been out of touch and when I checked back in I'd found her much worse off than I was prepared for.  I thought it was horrible.  I thought it was unbelievable.  I thought it was as bad as it could get.

I was wrong.

She is much worse than she was when I wrote that.  And my life has gotten so much harder.

Things are really ugly between her and my dad.  I've listened to both of them tell my why so many times I don't even listen anymore.  At this point I don't care.  They can't seem to stand each other.  Which would be fine if they could just go their separate ways and be okay.  But they can't.  Because she's deteriorating.  And he's trying to take care of her (I admire him for that).  And she only wants him to do what she wants and leave her alone, whether it's good for her or not.  Whether it's a rational request or not.  Mostly, give me money and go away.  And since she wants nothing to do with him, I've found myself in the middle again.

She doesn't have her driver's license anymore.  It expired.  She didn't know.  Now she has to take the written and driving tests to get it back.  Could she pass them?  Maybe on her best day.  Maybe.  But she doesn't have many best days.  So she can't drive.  But she also can't stay home.

She was practically living out of her car before she lost her license.  She had been for years.  And without her license, the car wasn't going anywhere.  But she refused to stay home.  So before long, her car was parked in front of my house.  Every morning she would walk a mile to my house, get into her car and do her makeup or sleep or whatever, and leave for the day.  She's learned to ride the bus.  She's learned that we actually do have taxis in our area.  And she's done a lot of walking.

But she also gets stranded a lot.  She finds herself two or three towns over after the buses have stopped running or she's run out of money.  And then she calls me to come rescue her.  And spends the next two or three hours complaining to me and holding my life hostage.  This was probably happening three or four times a week.

Which was a hard enough situation to deal with, but it gets worse.

Memorial Day my phone rang.  It was my dad.  He asked if I'd seen or heard from my mom recently.  I told him I hadn't for a couple of days.  He said she'd left in a huff on Saturday saying she would never come back to that house, and he hadn't heard from her since.  He said he was ready to call the police.  I asked him to give me a few minutes to try to contact her.  I called her phone; straight to voicemail.  I sent her a text; no response.  I let my dad know.  About fifteen minutes later she sent me a text.  She was in the next town over and said I better come and get her.  I let my dad know and left to pick her up.

Once in the car, she started in on how awful my dad is and that she won't go back there and if he would just move her small motor home somewhere else she'd have somewhere to stay until they move this weekend.  I really thought my patience and my nerves were completely depleted before this episode.  I really thought I had nothing left.  Apparently there were reserves, but they were very shallow.  I had no idea what to do.  I was not in a strong place.  And I needed her to have somewhere to be other than my front porch -- talking non-stop about her horrible life and how awful my dad is.  Still.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I told my dad he could park her little motor home at my house until the weekend.

It took him about two hours to bring it down.  We sat on the porch and she talked to me the entire time.  There is no way for me to express what it's like having her talk to me in a way that you can understand, unless you've dealt with someone in the middle of a breakdown.  It's like a bad, non-productive therapy session that just goes on and on.  Like I am her therapist.  And she never runs out of things to talk about.  And it doesn't matter if I'm listening or not.  She just keeps going and going.  It's emotionally exhausting.

She eventually walked to the nearby grocery store to get something to eat so she wouldn't be there when he brought it down.  It's now parked in my driveway, plugged into an outlet in my carport.  She hasn't been much trouble out there, although she has called me from various other locations to pick her up a couple of times since.  And to bring her home.  To my house.

And I am struggling.  A lot.  Having to deal with him and his rants about her and her and her rants about him while trying to help and be kind to both of them has me at my absolute limit.  I've broken down in tears multiple times these last few days.  It's all so ridiculous and pathetic and sad.  And I feel so selfish for not being happy to help.  I feel so selfish for worrying more about how she's interfering with my life than worrying about her well-being.

But today was therapy.  My therapy.  With my therapist.  A real therapist that I pay to help me.  Not some friend or family member who feels trapped and helpless and taken advantage of.  My therapist.

It was a good session, even though it was incredibly hard for me.  We discussed lots of options.  I can laugh it off and just keep going.  I can do nothing and keep complaining.  I can tell them both the hard truth (which isn't going to happen yet in any way, shape, or form).  Or I can do what I need to for my own protection:  I can learn to lie and fake helplessness.  (Let me just say, those two things are so completely not a part of my personality -- which might have something to do with why I always find myself taken advantage of.)  Little white lies like, "I'm sorry.  I can't come right now.  My daughter who just had brain surgery needs me" -- even when she doesn't.  Fake helplessness like, "I'm sorry, dad, I just don't know what to do" -- instead of doing everything possible to solve their problems for them.  I'm supposed to be less available and more helpless than my dad.  So he has to start taking care of things again.  One way or another.

Because this isn't taking care of my parents.  This is enabling.  This is prolonging an unhealthy situation.  This is hurting them more in the long run than confronting them would now.  Even though my heart is struggling with it. 

My dad doesn't know what to do.  But that doesn't mean it isn't his job to figure it out.  My therapist thinks it will take a crisis for him to find his way.  It might take a ride home for my mom in a police car.  From a stranded situation I didn't rescue her from.  And when she tells them to bring her to my house, which she will, I need to be ready to tell them she can't stay and they need to take her back to her house.  Whether she wants to go there or not.  This was about the time in the session when I completely lost it and started sobbing just thinking about her face when I tell her she can't stay and how her heart would be breaking.  I'm letting this idea simmer for a while.  I'm not capable of doing this today.  I don't know if I ever will be or if it will come to this.  But I'm letting the idea simmer because in my therapeutic heart it feels like truth, even if in my tender co-dependent heart it feels like the worst thing I could ever do to her.

For now, I am going to be less available.  And I'm going to work on differentiating between routine care, urgent care, and emergency care.  If it's not an emergency, I am going to work very hard to make myself put it back on my dad.  Because this is his job.  Not mine.

And, come heck or high water, that motor home is leaving my driveway this weekend!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tucked Safely Under My Wing

My third child is graduating from high school later today.  It's a wonderful day that marks the successful completion of many years of hard work.  Hers and mine. 

But it also marks the beginning.

She is eighteen.  She is legally responsible for her actions.  She could move out and do whatever she wants without my approval.

Those of you with small children will read this and think eighteen sounds so old.  You won't be able to imagine that tiny baby or toddler so far into the future.  And you probably think by the time they turn eighteen you'll be ready.  You'll see how smart and independent they are.  You'll see them reaching for the world and you'll do everything you can to help them grab it.  You'll know it's time for them to leap into the wonder around them and learn to fly.  You think you'll be ready.

You're kidding yourself.

They'll feel like they're all grown up and you'll still see that five-year old, crying because she hurt herself on the playground  They'll be making plans to take off on their grand adventure and you'll think of all the times they called you from school begging you to bring them something they forgot.

How will they make it in the big, bad world without you?  Why aren't they content to stay tucked safely under your wing forever?

Well, they outgrow that wing.  They just don't fit anymore.  They eventually see the fragility of that wing and realize it's not as safe as they thought and they need to create their own shelter.  And they need to learn to fly.

You will understand all this in your head, but your heart will still ache for simpler times.  You will yearn for those days when all they wanted was to climb into bed with you and snuggle up.  Those days when a juice box or a popsicle made everything all better.

And with the strength of Hercules you will open your heart and release them into the world.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Living with Chronic Illness

Living with chronic illness, my daily "to do" lists don't look like most.  I can't plan much because I don't know if I'll be able to get out of bed that day, how much I'll be hurting, or what level of energy I might have.  With a husband and five active children, there are plenty of things added to each day.  I have to keep my own plans simple.  Very simple.  Many times this has left me feeling like a failure because I can't do as much as others.  Or overwhelmed and paralyzed because there was so much to do and I didn't feel like I could do anything.  As a therapeutic project, I spent a lot of time examining my life and figuring out what I could realistically expect to get done each day.  This way, even on my worst days I can feel like I've accomplished something.  It helps.

Worst Days:
  • eat something
  • do something - anything
  • try to communicate current status to family
Bad Days:
  • eat
  • make my bed
  • put a bra on
  • spend time out of my room, at least five minutes
  • communicate with family
Down Days:
  • eat
  • make my bed
  • get dressed
  • open curtains/windows
  • shower if needed
  • brush teeth and hair
  • try to spend some time outside, no matter how small the amount
  • let family visit with me in my room
Iffy Days:
  • eat
  • make my bed
  • get cleaned up enough to leave the house
  • open curtains/windows
  • leave the house
  • talk to someone outside of my family, even if only online
  • clean something - anything
  • shower if needed
  • spend time with family outside of my room, no matter how small the amount
Good Days:
  • eat healthy food, try to stick to schedule and track
  • make my bed
  • get cleaned up enough to visit with friends
  • open curtains/windows
  • drive somewhere - anywhere
  • go for a walk or do yard work
  • listen to a conference talk/devotional or read church magazines
  • shower
  • pick up the living room
  • talk to someone outside my family, in person or by phone
  • try to stay out of my room
Great Days (add any of the following to Good Day plans):
  • do something creative (write, draw, color, crochet, flute)
  • do something that feeds my soul
  • do real exercise
  • meditate
  • vacuum the living room
  • straighten the dining room
  • clean the kitchen, including a load of dishes
  • do a load of laundry
  • write a list of what's been weighing heavily on my mind
  • run errands
  • shop for fresh fruits and vegetables
  • play a game with someone
  • clean for 15 minutes - no more
  • do deep breathing
  • do calendaring/scheduling
  • do budget/bills
  • spend more time out of my room than in it
Every Night:  choose one thing I want to get done the next day; forgive myself if it doesn't happen
Every Day:  pray and spend some time in the scriptures, no matter how small the amount
Bonus Points:  talk to my husband in person and make some kind of physical contact

I try to make my bed every day because it makes me happy.  Anything beyond what's on these lists would be a major accomplishment and might cost me the next day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mother's Day Sucks!

It's that dreaded time of year again.  Mother's Day.  Those two words strike fear in the hearts of men everywhere.  (Is it everywhere?  Is Mother's Day recognized in other countries?)  And so many men think they are the only ones who dread this day, but they are wrong.  So many women dread this day, too.

I know there are women and men and children out there who are looking forward to this day.  I'm happy for you.  I would wish you a happy Mother's Day, but you don't need that.  You will have a great day full of love.  Because somehow you've found the magic tunnel that leads to a world of joy and celebration and giving and love.

The rest of us live in a fallen world full of heartache and unmet expectations.  I rejoice in the fact that some of my friends will have a wonderful day this Sunday.  I ask that you try to understand why so many others don't.  Please don't judge.  Please don't tell us to make it a great day.  Please don't throw sunshine and Disney songs at us and tell us to cheer up.  For so many women (and many men) today is a day of pain and mourning.  That should be respected.  It should be honored.

I expect Sunday to be a good day for me.  A couple of years ago I was able to redefine Mother's Day for me in a way that's really helped break through that dark cloud.  Even still, there are treacherous areas for me on that day.  I have to be careful.  And my associations with Mother's Day aren't nearly as tough as so many of my friends.  They are the ones I'm thinking about at this time.  They are the ones I am worried about.  They are the ones my heart is aching for.

There is my friend whose mom knowingly allowed her to be sexually abused for years.  Who barely noticed her daughter.  This friend is a wonderful mother and I hope the day is about her.  I hope she is able to celebrate her own motherhood.  But I can't imagine there isn't a twinge of pain for that mother she doesn't have.  Whether we like it or not, whether we fight it our whole lives or not, there is something in us that longs for loving parents.  It's part of our make up.  I know she is strong and loving and does her best not to let that part of her past control her, but I know there's still pain there.

There is my friend who has never been able to have a child.  She and her husband are good people.  They would make wonderful parents.  But for whatever reason, that blessing has been withheld from them.  I have watched them reach out and touch the lives of others' children, but I know their hearts have ached for that child of their own.

There is my friend who has experienced multiple miscarriages.  She has children.  But her heart longs for more.  Her heart aches for more.  But her body seems unwilling to cooperate.  I know her heart aches.  I know she feels an absence.

  • There is my friend who lost a grandchild she never got to know.
  • There is my friend who has been disowned by her mother.
  • There is my friend who has been disowned by her children.
  • There is my friend whose mother was taken from her while she was still in grade school.
  • There is my friend who has been told over and over by her husband what an awful mother she is.
  • There is my friend who's children won't allow her to see her grandchildren or be a part of their lives.
  • There is my friend who lost a child to cancer.
  • There is my friend whose mother killed her father and then herself.
  • There is my friend whose mother beat him.
  • There is my friend who's husband and children will forget Mother's Day because they don't think it matters and she will feel as if they are saying she doesn't matter.
  • There is my elderly friend who has outlived all her children.
  • There is my friend who grew up knowing her mom never wanted to have children -- never wanted her.
  • There is my friend whose mother abandoned him and his siblings.
  • There are my friends who are single mothers, doing the work of both parents, who would love to have a loving husband tell them how grateful they are for these wonderful women who are raising their children.
  • There is my friend who feels so inadequate as a mother and sees Mother's Day as a reminder of all her failings.
  • There is my friend who is caring for her mother with dementia and mourns the mother she doesn't have anymore.
  • There is my friend who is watching her drug-addicted mother ruin her life and can't do anything about it.
  • There is my husband who will be reminded that his mom is gone.
  • There are all the women who will feel guilty for having a good Mother's Day when they know their friends are hurting.
There are so many people around us who will be hurting this Sunday.  And whoever thinks one day a year is enough to recognize and value all the work mothers do is crazy.  One day a year doesn't begin to cover the sacrifice and heartache it means to be a mother.  One day a year has turned it into a marketing ploy.  A way to make money off the guilt of people who should be more appreciative more often.
But for those of us who hurt so deeply on Mother's Day, one day a year is more than enough.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Letting People See My Scars

*** Warning: This post contains possible triggers for self-injurious behavior.  Do not read this if you are not safe. ***

I have a history of self-injurious behavior.  Self-injurious behavior is addictive.  If you don't/haven't self injured, it won't make sense to you.  It doesn't make sense in the logical part of my brain.  But my body remembers how good it made me feel and when I read or write about it my body begins to crave it.  Those who self injure understand.  That's why the warning is there.


This post wasn't meant to be about self-injurious behavior (SI), but I guess it is.  I've written about hurting myself on my other blog (here, here, here, and here).  Read those if you want to understand it better.  What I haven't written is the post that really explains why I do it.  How it feels.  The high I get.  Why it's so compelling.  I'll write that some day, but not today.

This post is about revealing it.  Especially to my children.

Self-injurious behavior most often starts in the teen years.  Looking back, I definitely had some self-injurious behavior as a teen.  But nothing like what hit in my mid-thirties.

December 14, 2006.  I was thirty-six years old.  I was sitting in our white van outside my kids' elementary school.  I'd been on my way home from errands and decided just to park and wait there even though it was about an hour before school would be out.  And I was having a meltdown.  Everything was hitting at once.

I'd been in therapy for almost a year, so I was facing some pretty ugly and dark stuff for the first time.  I was five years into my struggle with chronic fatigue and a year into my struggle with my chronic headache -- both with lots of doctors, tests, and medication trials but no answers or improvement.  My husband and I were not good; we were discussing separation or divorce.  He'd recently chosen to have his name removed from the records of the church.  We were having financial problems and Christmas was right around the corner.  I'd had a difficult and confrontational conversation with my dad a few days before.  And I was on an anti-depressant that was making my depression so much worse.

I was losing it.  I saw the broken plastic spoon.  And I scratched.

This was the beginning of a long road of self-injurious behavior for me.  My arms are covered with scars, mostly very faded.  This was also the beginning of long sleeves.  In all sorts of weather, even coaching softball in the heat of the summer, I wore long sleeves.

Why?  At first it was because I was afraid of the reactions of others.  And because I didn't have the answers to the questions I knew would follow.  Later it was because I worried what it would do to my children.  How would I explain it to them?  I didn't want it to rob them of their childhoods because they were constantly worried about me hurting myself.  Or worse, killing myself.  (It's a common misconception that self-injurious behavior is a precursor to suicide.  That's rarely the case.  In my case, self-injurious behavior kept me from killing myself.)

But the time came when I was ready to tell them.  I was sick of living in long sleeves.  I was sick of hiding.  I was sick of feeling like I was lying to my kids.

I discussed it with my therapist and my ecclesiastical leader and my husband.  I told them I was ready.  We discussed possible fallout.  But I knew the time had come.

It was spring, 2009.  My oldest daughter was graduating high school.  We had a week-long graduation trip to California planned.  I would do it then.  That way they would have time to adjust before having to answer questions of friends who might see my arms.  And I could wear short sleeves on our trip.

My kids were 18, 16, 14, 12, and 10.  It was the right time.  The reveal went okay.  I answered questions.  I'd chosen to blame it mostly on the medication I was taking (which I think was what pushed me over the edge) and leave out so much of the ugly.  They didn't need to know all that.  I also told them I was done with it.  It had been a long time since I'd hurt myself.  I hoped that part was true more than I believed it was true.

Sometimes it comes up in our conversation.  I know they've struggled with it at times and had conversations about it I wasn't privy to.  I also know it's been used as a cool thing.  "Yeah, my mom was a cutter."  But it's mostly just part of who I am now.

And that was the end of constant long sleeves.  People don't really ask about my scars very often.  Medical personnel ask when I'm being seen for something.  Children sometimes ask (I usually just tell them my scars are from scratches).  Others either don't notice or are too polite or scared to ask.

I've relapsed a few times since then.  Each time, I've gone back to the long sleeves.  At least while the marks were fresh.  Mostly, so my kids don't start worrying again.

But since it's an addiction, it would be wrong to say I used to be a cutter.  I am a cutter.  I think it will always be a part of me.  An itch that occasionally hits me.  I work hard to stay in a healthy place so it doesn't happen again.  I wish I could say it never will.  But I can't.

These scars are me.  They are my triumph over something so dark and ugly that most people never experience and will never understand.  They saved my life.  And, honestly, I like them.