b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: husband

unwelcome passenger

There you are again. The unwelcome, familiar passenger. Sitting on my chest. Heavy. Unshakable. I can’t breath. Gulping air in but cannot fill my lungs. When I carry you around, you get in the way of everything. I no longer directly touch anything I come in contact with. Everything is a few feet away farther. Just out of reach. Distorted by your interference. When I hug my child. When I hug my husband. When I watch tv. When I eat a meal. When I talk to someone. You make it hard to hear. You make it hard to pay attention, to stay focused. I start to talk and you get in the way, what was I saying, what were the words I was looking for. You’re blocking them. A wall in between me and everything else. If I move fast, can I get around – no, you’re already there. And so I’m not quite myself, not quite inside my body. Because my body is such an uncomfortable place to be. When I’m touched, I don’t feel anything. When I’m spoken to, it’s from miles away. I’m in limbo, not quite anywhere. I’m a balloon, floating further and further away.

what pieces, all put together, help keep you up

It takes a crew of about 100 people to help keep my mood up. Just kidding. But I’m lucky enough to have many different people in my life that help support my mental well being.

My husband. Even though he doesn’t fully understand my experience, he hangs around. He takes care of the things in our family that need to be taken care of so that I don’t have to. He’s not big on supportive words (I can’t remember the last time he specifically said something supportive), but instead shows his support by doing. It takes a little bit of effort for me to translate his method of love, but it’s valuable nonetheless. Knowing he’s there taking care of things allows me the space to fall apart if I need to. I don’t have to share how far I’ve fallen, but I can dive, and then I can climb back up, knowing he’ll still be there.

My friends. I have the best friends anyone could have. Not all of them know about my struggles. And only a few know how dark my night can get. But all of them love me no matter what, just as I am. I know that I can call on them (or, rather, text them), and they would do just about anything for me. I don’t reach out that often (rarely, really), but knowing they’re there and available if I wanted to reach out, can be such a lifeline when I’m sinking fast. It means that even though I feel like I’m utterly alone, I know I’m not. I hold onto the tether, the rope, because at the end of it is love, the anchor. I know they love me, no matter what. Even if I feel like I don’t deserve it, I know it’s there anyway.

After-care group. This group has literally been a lifesaver. I have lost count of how many times I have broken down, crumbled, split open. I have “lost it” in a place where so many others know exactly what that feels like. I have come apart at the seams, looked up and seen others holding up their threads too. I have never felt judged here, only complete support. Here is where I am reflected back to myself as someone strong, even when I’m feeling like wet cardboard. Here I’m told how far I’ve come and how much better I’ve become. Here is where I can measure my health, because these people, these walls, have seen my dark, crumbled core. Here is where I’m able to help others. Where I get to be a lifeline. Even when I’m empty for myself, I’m able to find hope for others. And even just offering up a tiny spark to someone else, helps refill my own tank. We’re in this together. We’ve got each others’ backs. We’re an army of strength and hope and love. We will survive, we will thrive.

have a mother’s day

I am deeply ambivalent about today’s hallmark holiday. Even with this beautiful girl sitting in front of me so full of life and love, I am flipping through the list of ways I have hurt her or failed her. Thank goodness she’s so resilient. But mostly, thank goodness I’m not my mom. She showed me over and over that I was worthless and undeserving of respect. She chose everyone and everything over me. She took my childish worship for granted. She whines that she loves me, she misses me, but her “love” is limited and unhealthy. And it hurts. Sure, you miss me now, now that you’re old and lonely. Her neediness makes me angry. What about when I needed you. Yes you feel guilt for so many of your choices. But I remember your face when you first made those decisions. Completely unapologetic, proud even. Ugh, stop, I don’t want to waste my time dredging up the ugliness again. I forgave you long ago, not that you’re off the hook, but that I chose to not carry around my resentment anymore. I set it down, and decided to accept you just as you are, limited, selfish, OCD, and not welcome in my life except when I feel like I can handle your immaturity and disconnectedness. And I decided to look at my current life with relief and gratitude. This is Motherhood 2.0 – my turn. I get to create a new mother/daughter relationship. In this version, the mother is present for her daughter, listens to her, treats her like a complete human being and shows her she believes in her. This time when the mother makes mistakes, she admits them and apologizes for them, and doesn’t make excuses and doesn’t laugh about the pain she’s caused. This time the daughter is able to ask for her needs and get them met. This time the daughter knows how much she’s loved both in actions and words, over and over. And this time the daughter has a very loving and supportive and fun and safe father who would never harm her, never torture her, not in a zillion years. I am so lucky and so grateful for my family. We are imperfect. But we are good people. Sometimes I forget that I’m part of the good. Sometimes it’s helpful for me to look back at the bad, and see how much I am not that, not by a long shot. Then I can go through my list of successes instead – and realize that I am a part of making my child’s life good.

Teachers

I have had many great teachers in my life. Some have been in the classroom. My junior year high school English teacher inspired my love of literature. My college comparative literature professor-turned-adviser did as well. But most of the significantly impacting teachers in my life never held a credential. One high school friend of mine that walks slowly, saunters, taught me to slow down. Other high school friends taught me to appreciate diversity in perspectives. To accept people as they are and learn from what they have experienced. The students I taught over the course of 6 years taught me empathy and compassion. My husband taught me that relationships don’t need to be dramatic to be full of love and meaning. A dear friend of mine has taught me to recognize the light inside me, and how warm and beautiful it is, when I long believed it extinguished. That possibility always exists, we just need to turn our head in another direction to see it. That the universe wants to bring me my greatest good and is always full of abundance. From my fellow outpatient and after-care friends I have learned that we may be suffering alone, but we are not alone. That we may feel broken, but that sharing our brokenness heals us all.

And finally, my daughter. Through her I am learning every single day.

I have learned what it means to love so intensely I feel like my body can not contain it. I have learned that I can handle other people’s bodily fluids at 3 AM. I have learned that I can push myself beyond the limits of exhaustion and survive (it’s not a pretty picture though). I continue to revisit the lesson of patience. Over and over. I’m still working on that one. I’m still learning how to not react when my buttons are pushed. I struggle with that lesson. I have learned how to be present, even during the 100th game of princesses. And last but not least, I am learning forgiveness, for the mistakes I’m making along the way because I’m doing the best I can.

not my mother

This burning anger. She’s keeping me waiting again. She doesn’t respect me. She is actively insulting me with her behavior. She’s pissing me off! It’s not my mom, this time. It’s my 5 1/2 year old child. She’s driving me crazy…being developmentally appropriate. I have mapped my childhood years of neglect and rage onto my baby. How do I stop? How do I not get pissed when she stalls or procrastinates or ignores me or refuses to do what I tell her to? I try to remind myself, “she’s 5, she’s only 5.” That helps, a little. But I still have this timer in my head, this schedule. I feel like I’m always failing to follow it, to keep up with it. My husband gently suggested allowing more flexibility into the schedule. “We don’t have to eat right at 6pm.” He’s right. My schedule times are kind of arbitrary. Self-imposed requirements. I picked them, so I can adjust them. What happened to my ability to be flexible? I had it when I was teaching. “Overprepare, but be flexible,” was my motto. But with my child I just want to get through each item on the checklist. Check it off, move to the next item, efficient. Except that it’s not working. I’m not enjoying any of the to-do’s. And I’m sure she can tell, sense it. How do people enjoy these lather, rinse, repeat duties? I guess maybe they can recognize how fleeting this is in the long run. Before I know it, I won’t get to nag her to get in the bath already. I won’t get to cradle and rock her in her towel afterwards. She’ll be showering all on her own. Before I know it, I won’t be arguing with her at bedtime over which books to read and which songs to sing. She’ll wave to me, “goodnight,” and head upstairs on her own. She’s only this sweet, adorable age for a little while. This is what I need to remember. Also, she’s not my mother.

a new year

It’s Rosh Hashanah. The head of the year. The couple of days that are supposed to represent the rest of the year. The beginning of the 10 Days of Awe. The Book of Life is open. At the end of Yom Kippur it is closed, sealed. 10 days to repent, revisit, review. 10 days to think long and hard about the year that passed, the lifetime that has passed. Time to decide on how the new year will be. So much pressure. No wonder I fought with my sister and mother every single Rosh Hashanah growing up. Where’s my life now. A husband that is working hard, doing what he always does, taking care of us, and is just a little bit out of reach, distant. My fault? A gorgeous 5 year old daughter. Super creative and a non-stop talker. Non-stop. Non. Stop. My poor brain tunes her out so I can have head space to get the every day banal necessities completed. No room in my head otherwise. I still see her as an adult-human sometimes. I forget she’s 5 and I lose my patience, lose my temper. “Stop acting like a 5 year old!” Oh wait, right.

Another set of meds I’m testing out, ever the lab rat. Is it working? How can I tell? All I know is the side-effects and how they impact my day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Have I improved? It feels like running in place most days. How long has it been since the last breakdown? 2 years? 3? That’s pretty good. I’m not gibbering and rocking and sobbing in a corner. So that’s a definite improvement?

What do I want for the new year? More patience. Less hurrying and adhering to the clock. More in-the-moment experiences. Those fill me with gratitude. Gratitude, the high beam that banishes my darkness. The electricity that wakes up my heart. The surge of hope that makes it possible to see more days, more moments filled with more gratitude.

I want more closeness. I’ve been holding myself out at an arms reach. Sure it’s safer. But it’s also lonely.

I want more energy. How do I achieve that? Probably not on my current meds… More walking. More yoga. Less cell phone and tv time. An easy time waster/time sucker, that brings me to bedtime, and morning, and a repeat of the repeat of the repeat. Which is not a motivator.

I stopped wishing for my old self back long ago. Who or where she is, I don’t know, she’s long gone. This me is a little more serious, a lot wiser, and a bit more compassionate. I’m okay with the current me. That surprises me. I never thought I’d think that. I’m glad I do. Acceptance is way smoother and easier than the alternative, fighting and thrashing against the perceived loss of the stronger, stabler me I used to be. I remember taking for granted the day to day, it was so easy. Was it? I don’t really remember. Everything’s a blur. It’s not helpful to imagine a time that I can never get back. I’ve mourned it already. I’m ready to be in the now. I’m ready to look forward to the year. One year at a time. One day at a time. One minute at a time. So far, so good.

What is your birth position in your family? Does it impact your mental health? Why?

So, as the story goes, when my little sister was born I tried to climb into her crib to kill her. I was one month shy of 2 years old. Of course I have no memory of this. But it was enthusiastically rolled out at social events by my mom. I can always count on her for embarrassing stories. Is that who we become when we get old? Just a collection of stories?

I was always faster and stronger and smarter growing up. I felt good about that. But it wouldn’t be a competition if there wasn’t more than one person. And competition definitely took place. Scholastic success was always easy for me. I don’t remember if she struggled. I was articulate and enunciated perfectly, she smeared her words. I was always taller. Even now, when we’re both adults, I’m 3 1/2 inches taller. And I loved it. She won in other areas, she hit puberty first. And she loved to rub that in my face. Boy we were mean to each other. She would claim to have a better voice, a soprano to my second alto. I have better nails, she was a nail biter for so long that her nails are wide and squat. I was proud of that. We both talk incredibly fast. In fact, if you don’t know us well, you’d be hard pressed to determine which of us was talking to you over the phone. We actually tricked a friend once, on purpose. She was prettier, but I was smarter. And did I mention I’m taller.

I don’t have many memories of our early years. But when I’ve babysat young sisters close in age and I watch the way the older one treats the younger one, I feel shame. Something inside me tells me I did that. And even though it’s clearly human nature, I still feel guilt. We tormented each other, but I was perhaps a little better at it. She was definitely more sensitive, the wounds I inflicted years ago are still festering. That’s her choice, she loves to hold onto pain and wave it around like a flag of glory. I won’t take responsibility for her pain. And she hates me for that.

It’s been over 4 years since we stopped talking. 2 weeks after my daughter was born. Our “on again” lapse was tenuous at best. Basically a reconciliation about a year earlier for my wedding, heavily driven by my mom’s desire to live in an alternate reality where we’re a tight-knit loving family.

Well thanks to my dad’s death, and my sister’s need for a new drama/stressful project, plus her poverty/debt/greed, we’re back in communication. The estate lawyer, and more importantly, my husband, said to “walk away” from dealing with the mysterious trustee, who my sister now says should never have gotten any of his money. She’s on a mission, filing criminal charges. Let her have her crusade. I’d never be able to talk her out of it. No one could. She keeps texting me, updates and steps she’s taking, but also how stressed and anxious she is. Oh woe is her, look how she’s suffering. When my mom called me up to tell me what my sister was going to do, she was all riled up. I had to talk her off the ledge, I said to her, “he’s dead, why do you want to dig him back up?” I mean really, why waste another second on him. Let him fade away till even his memory is vague. Indifference is what he deserves. He’s gone, he no longer exists, it’s glorious. Why bring him back?? One of today’s texts from my sister says, “Hate that it came to this. That even after death he makes me sick.” Oh what a victim she is! How about instead you take responsibility for the choices you are making. Up to and including how you think and feel about what’s going on. Not everything needs to be a nuclear meltdown.

But maybe she needs that. I remember when I needed intensity all the time. It made me feel alive. I invited all sorts of brilliant but toxic/destructive people into my life. I enjoyed them thoroughly. The stings didn’t warn me to run, they were familiar and comfortable and understandable, and they produced endorphins. Yes, I got high off of cruelty, both giving and receiving. Somehow I justified it, believed I had it all under control. Do I miss it? Only theoretically. I don’t have the time or energy for drama anymore. What little energy I can scrape together is for myself, and my family (husband and daughter).

I feel like I haven’t really answered the question. Yes, birth order matters. I was looked up to (literally), copied, followed around. And it made me proud (and sometimes pridefully annoyed). And when my sister finally found her own power, was she embarrassed of the esteem she had had of me, and was she resentful of my position. I’m sure of it. Into our young adult years I was our mom’s favorite. I’m sure she knew it. And my damaged mom, overflowing with guilt for decisions she’s made and our resulting childhood, clings now to the only daughter that will throw her crumbs. Hint, that’s not me.

It’s complicated, but also simple. We all just want to feel important. We want to be listened to. Why couldn’t we be kind to each other – our parents didn’t model that behavior. Even after years and years of therapy, it took my auto-immune disease to humble me, and my teaching experience to learn to understand and love all kinds of personalities, and then, most importantly, my husband’s sweetness and honesty, to melt my ice fortress.

And now, it’s my daughter’s temper and impatience and stubbornness that is teaching me just how hard it is to break old behavior patterns. But that story is for another post…

Gratitude

Everyone is doing it on Facebook, so I’ll do it here.

I am most of all grateful for my husband. He’s not perfect, but no one is. But he is in it for the long haul. He took his wedding vows seriously, he is committed. And with that perspective, he will do whatever it takes to keep our family unit safe and healthy and running. Even when I can’t. And, when I can’t, he doesn’t judge. He simply keeps on keeping on. He hangs in there, even when I’m swinging all over the place. He holds steady. He is calm. The calm of a mountain. Immobile, unshakable. (At least, on the surface.) He is sweet and adorable and kind and generous. Our 5th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I still have a huge crush on him. Something about the combination of strength and shyness is wildly attractive to me.

My daughter. Oh how you test me. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, constantly looking for a weak spot in the fence. You mirror me, so I see both my positive and negative qualities reflected back in my face. You’re an eye opener all right. So stubborn and so persistent and such a drama queen (er, princess). Oh how you are able to hurt me. Oh how you are able to crush my heart. But then just a moment later be sweet and adorable, and utterly unaware of the consequences of what you do or say. Because really, my reactions say more about my own demons and ghosts. You are the ultimate test, lessons after lessons, forcing me to prove my life philosophies are practical. I am exhausted by you, but also obsessed with you. Your eyelashes. The fuzz on your arms and legs and cheeks. Those cheeks. Your chubby fingers, delicately posing as any princess would. Your breathing, your heartbeat. Through you I have wielded the knife of judgment against myself – having had lots of practice using it on my mother. I have cut myself violently. And through you I have laid that sword down. I have hugged you and rocked you and loved you, and in doing so have comforted my inner child. So much healing through you. I want to run away, and I want to scoop you up and put you back inside me. What a crazy mix of emotions this parenting thing is.

My friends. Oh my friends. You are my family. You have seen me so ugly. And you have seen my successes. And everything in between. And still you stay. I was sure you’d run screaming, many times. But here you still are. And you love me. Warts and stench and all. How or why, I don’t know. But I do know I am beyond grateful that you exist. That you have always stood by me. That I know you will always stand by me. That you will cry with me and laugh with me. And that you love me, as is, just the way I am.

How

I am so exhausted. Mentally and physically. It’s like the top layer of my skin has been scraped off leaving all my nerves exposed. All stimulus is pain – fire and lightening, everywhere. I’m dragging myself forward. Dragged myself to the interview. Thank goodness I moved it to the morning or I would have spent even longer in terror, every minute leading up to it was torture. It’s farther away than I’d like, 20 to 30 minutes. It’s much less than I’ve been paid, since college. But the interviewer would let me work part time. And I’d be working with a dear friend. High volume, but not “rocket science.” I definitely need something that doesn’t require my pre-depression brain skillset. Writing this down makes it seem like a good choice. So why do I still feel a wreck at just the idea. How can I possibly reintegrate with a workforce. I’m so completely exhausted. Every single thing I do takes monumental effort. Every tiny thing I do raises my anxiety level to block out anything around me in prickly, discordant static. I’m walking forward, sure, but the pilot light is out. Somehow I haven’t walked into a pole or a ditch yet. Just lucky I suppose. And I can keep the mask on for swallows of time here and there. Takes monumental effort, but it’s possible. Just look at my interview. But how can I do that for hours at a time in an office. How in the world. In order to keep my head during the long drive I kept saying a mantra I had heard before. I’m sure I was saying it wrong, but I had to keep repeating it anyway. Chanted it over and over the whole drive. Focus on the chant. Nothing but the chant. No words. No images. Just the chant. I made it there. I made it home. Actually I didn’t go home. I went to lunch with a friend from the group. Exposed in a restaurant. But so frazzled from the effort of the interview I couldn’t care. Then I went home. Then I went with my husband to the local amusement park. That was tough. I thought the exercise would do my anxiety good. It did. But crowds and small spaces (in lines) were a tidal wave. I made it. We went on lots of rides. And I actually had fun on one of them. But I felt like crap. I was a puddle of intestinal pulp. And even after going to bed early, I feel only minutely better today. I made it to group, I needed to for my sanity. But I’m going straight home and going back to sleep. My body and mind are demanding it. I am beyond overloaded. I have to find a way to recharge, even just a tiny bit. There has to be a way, I can’t continue like this. It’s not sustainable. I feel like as I’m dragging myself forward limbs are going to start falling off. Piece by piece I’m falling apart, leaving a trail of body parts behind me, till there is nothing left.

Dead.

Finally. Fully. Completely.

My heart raced as I read the email, “I regret to inform you your father is dead.” Just a few minutes ago, I told a longtime friend that I just had to accept that you would never die. You’d cling to life with your fingernails, being around to scare us forever. And then, just like that, you expired. I was elated. I called my mom and we shouted and laughed. The world outside seemed brighter, the leaves greener, everything was sharper and in focus. I went with another friend to the coroner’s office to pick up your keys. She said you had died the morning before, around 11:30 AM. I liked to imagine you woke up early, like you always do, and lay there suffering, paralyzed, until your shriveled, black heart finally gave up hours later. I want to imagine that I gave a speech at your funeral where I told everyone the ugly truth about you. I like to plan going to your grave and pouring urine over it. But this isn’t making me feel the justified anger and superiority it used to. I don’t feel good about these thoughts. I just feel sick to my stomach, nauseated. And I didn’t just cry. I sobbed. I sat there in my car after leaving your apartment and I sobbed and my shoulders heaved and I screamed. I felt like a crazy woman. And as I sobbed I’d start smiling, and then my heart was filled with so much pain that I screamed again.

You’d love to know your trustee and full beneficiary showed up. She gave you an honored man’s burial, whereas I’d have had you cremated and flushed you, or unceremoniously dumped you in the trash (which is where I put your 30-day memorial candle, by the way). I don’t care that she gets all your crap. I cut ties with you long ago. That Will I found where you said I get “NOTHING!” I laughed. Of course. But her stories about how wonderful you were made me want to vomit. That’s what made me sick. You loved her children in the non-violent ways you never loved us. I wanted to yell at her to shut up. I wanted to tell her my stories. How you told me every night that if we ever tried to leave you’d chop off our heads and burn down the house. And then finally, during those 4 torturous hours at the mortuary, she finally let me tell her. I didn’t see her face, I was so lost in my pain.

I did a releasing meditation. The first step was to imagine the situation(s) that brought me pain. I was lost in the primal child’s experience of “please don’t hurt me” and “I’m so afraid.” Then the second step was to confront you, and boy I let you have it. Then, during the third step, I pushed you off my cloud and cut the rope and said, “I forgive you. I release you. I let go.” But it was too late. That box, those boxes, that I had shelved long ago, that I had built justified anger around, they tumbled off the shelf and it all spilled out. An ocean of pain. Every last drop. And I sobbed. I sobbed till I was wrung out, like a towel, dry and twisted.

And when I stopped, I started to be filled again, slowly at first, then so fast I was completely soaked with joy and gratitude. My life, my husband, my daughter, my friends who are my family – they love me so much. They would do anything for me. They are healthy (oh yes you are!) and positive and caring and so, so loving. And I am so lucky, so blessed, so grateful that this is my life now. So relieved and thankful of the decisions and choices I have made, not despite his torture, but because of it. This day and every day is so bright and beautiful because we can and will continue to bring in love and laughter to our lives. And we never have to live as he did or torture as he did or suffer as he did.

I can move forward now, untethered.

I leave the past behind me. And I walk forward with strength and gratitude and a new love for life.