This is from the email I sent after my mom said I made her feel bullied because I took a stand against her continuing to ignore my boundaries around talking to or about my brother:
I have told you repeatedly that I don’t want to talk about/argue about [brother.] I have real and significant trauma because of [brother.] Ever since I cut him out of my life, I’ve felt that you don’t respect my decision, that you don’t think I have good reasons for that decision. I know it makes you sad that your kids don’t talk, but I’m not willing to consent to be abused by him any longer. It is very painful for me to have to keep drawing this line with you, it keeps the trauma alive.
I sent that on February 24th, 2020. Again, what the fuck is unclear about that?
Also, the title is from the song “Hero” by Regina Spektor. It’s a really good song!
I am writing this on Wednesday, June 16th, 2021. I will not post it today. I want to edit it, I want to sleep on it, I want to think about it. I only got four hours of sleep last night, which is even worse for me than usual because I have this damn head injury. But I might very well post it.
I’m probably going to post it.
[Trigger warnings, although I never do these: Child neglect and sexual abuse, rape, violence… maybe don’t read this first thing in the morning or last thing at night.]
The reason I only got four hours of sleep last night is that I woke myself up from a dream by yelling out loud. I woke my husband up, too. According to my husband, what I shouted was “Remember that time you found me sitting next to the bathtub? I’d tried to kill myself with pills, and you justput me to bed.“
He knew who I was yelling at. I was yelling at my mother.
When I came back from grabbing an ice cream sandwich [I often half-sleepwalk to the freezer,] he asked, “did that really happen?”
Yes. It did.
Since this past Saturday, I’ve had to come to terms with some truths I’d been trying to avoid for a long time. Followers of my Twitter have probably seen me posting vague things about boundaries and bad dreams and family drama. It comes from wanting to share, but not being sure how much to call out or indict other people’s behavior. Because I’ve spent most of my life trying to protect the people who’ve neglected and abused me.
My mom is the kind of person who makes friends wherever she goes. She’s gregarious, fun, generous, and knows how to have a good time. She’s good at distracting herself from negativity and can make a home practically anywhere. She always let me know that I am loved. We had a lot of books around when I was a kid, and I was always treated like I was intelligent. She tried to give me a good life. These are some of the things I like about my mother. There are a lot of things to like about my mother.
What I don’t like is that my mother is that, as I mentioned above, she’s just so good at distracting herself from negativity. So much so that when I finally broke down and told her, in separate, difficult conversations…
that I’d tried to kill myself
that I had done hard drugs
…she forgot. And then when I mentioned these facts again some time later, she said “you never told me that!”
Yes, Mom. I did.
I have often said about myself that I will overreact to a stubbed toe, but barely mention a sprained ankle, walking on it for months before I get it checked out. When I was 20, I did exactly that. I fell down a flight of stairs in London, flew home the next day, and then walked around on a sprained ankle for months because I didn’t want to make a fuss or seem melodramatic. I couldn’t even wear the gorgeous boots I had bought in London because it hurt to put pressure on the ankle. I mentioned it to my doctor at an appointment for something else, and that’s when it was diagnosed. She asked “Why didn’t you come in six months ago?” Well, I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. Duh.
Those who know me in real life know that I’m not shy about expressing myself. But I use that as a shield so people assume they already know everything important. I’ll tell you about the minor annoyances but spare you the worst of it. So I’ll bitch and moan about my bad day at work, but I won’t tell you that it only reinforced my sense that the world is cruel and there’s no reason to keep living.
Because the small hurts get treated, or they don’t, and it doesn’t really matter. But if the small hurts don’t get treated, well, how could I ever trust you with the big ones?
I’m not saying this is healthy. It’s one of the terrible life skills one picks up as a product of neglect and abuse.
When I was 13, in my gi and getting ready for jiujitsu class, another kid, just goofing off, did something that caused me to flip over backwards onto my left shoulder. I heard a crack. I heard a crunch. I knew with 100% certainty that I had just broken… something. My neck seized up and my head was pulled to the left side. I could barely move my arm. The jiujitsu instructors went to get my mom, who was outside in the car, and they assured her that it was just a muscle strain.
I heard it crack. I heard it crunch. I told them that. I told her that. I think those were the two loudest noises I’ve ever heard.
My mother, taking her cue from the not-medically-trained marital arts teachers instead of the daughter who had heard her own bone break, took me home instead of to the hospital. She bitched at me when I couldn’t buckle my seatbelt. But at home, while I was trying to eat dinner, she noticed that my left arm was turning purple. Now she was concerned. So off we went to the urgent care clinic, where the doctor said I had a displaced fracture of my left clavicle.
I mean, it was really, really broken. Very much like in the picture above. Not cracked. Not a hairline fracture. Fucking broken, and to this day I have a crooked collarbone, and my left shoulder is lower than my right.
I had to insist on the x-ray, but I knew it was broken before they verified it. I heard it break.
I was molested by my brother for years when I was a young child. He was older than me, but not so old that it felt like the sort of CRIME that all the afterschool specials told us to tell a trusted adult about. They tell you to watch for guys in trench coats and creepy friends of your dad, not your brother whom you love. When I was a teenager, I heard that it’s fairly normal for kids to experiment, and so I tried to forgive and put it out of my mind. But he was was bigger and stronger and older than me, and he was violent toward me, and what had happened filled me with shame that, to be perfectly honest, fucked me up forever.
Mom knew about one incident. Oddly enough, my brother told her after I confronted him. Her response, I’m told, was underwhelming. I guess she never thought to extrapolate that if it had happened once, it might have happened before. Or that it could happen again. Not to her little girl, not because of her little boy. That wouldn’t fit the narrative. I honestly don’t know if it ever made it into her permanent memory. So many things didn’t.
I didn’t ever come right out and say that I was being molested, but there were signs that something was wrong. And as a teenager, a certain… shall we say “precociousness” was pretty evident. Oh, I was terrified of sex, but I often dressed like an underage hooker, was desperate for attention, and begged to be in therapy. I was clearly very unhappy. It was clear to most everyone, except my parents. My dad was mostly disengaged, when he wasn’t shouting. I was pretty close with my mother, but a depressed daughter didn’t fit into her world view. “You’re too pretty to be depressed!” she told me. “You sing all the time!”
I was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance at 15, and it took me months to finally get up the nerve to tell my parents. Actually, I never got the courage– it came to light because, at Planned Parenthood, I checked the “yes” box on a form that asked “Have you ever felt coerced into sexual activity?” Nurses are mandatory reporters, so it got reported. And a detective came to my school and was asking a bunch of questions about whether I was sexually active, what I was wearing when it happened, and threatening to interrogate/accuse my (very nice, not-a-rapist) boyfriend if I didn’t tell this shitty asshole cop who’d done it. So I told him. After that interview, which felt more like an inquisition, I told my parents what had happened to me the previous summer. The detective was coming by later and I wanted them to hear it from me.
My mother’s response was “I had to play fight-the-rapist when I was your age, too.”
I think some part of me has been screaming ever since.
Despite what happened when we were kids, I tried to have a good sibling relationship with my brother. I was willing, at great cost to myself, to chalk it up to youthful weirdness, and to not hold it against him. We had times when we hated each other and didn’t talk, we had times when we were quite close. We grew up in the same house, after all. We have a lot in common. He and his second wife moved to Portland because I was here, and the three of us lived together in an apartment for awhile. That ended badly, but when Wife #2 left him, I tried to be a good sister. By the time he left Portland in 2017, though, I was very relieved to see him go. He was espousing some ignorant and scary beliefs. He wasn’t very nice to my husband. He made me uncomfortable.
A few months after he moved away, my brother posted a stream of horrible rants on Facebook blaming the Charlottesville counter-protesters (the ones without tiki torches and swastikas) for the death of Heather Heyer, I decided I’d had enough of him for a while. I blocked him and didn’t tell him why. For a few months, he didn’t notice. But eventually he asked my mom if I’d left Facebook or something. She didn’t know what to tell him. She asked me to explain my reasoning to him.
So I did. And he responded as well as could be hoped. He said he understood! But I didn’t feel better. I agonized about the fact that I didn’t feel better. And then I realized why– my brother is a terrifying, abusive person, and I could no longer be in denial about that.
So I made the estrangement permanent. I didn’t tell him what I’d decided or why. My brother, as far as I know, has not tried to contact me since.
And here’s where we get into the really terrible shit.
In 2011, almost seven years before I decided to make the cut permanent, I was turning 30. I invited my brother and his then-girlfriend (the future Wife #2) to come to a kink event in San Francisco. It was a monthly party that I had been volunteering at for the previous nine months, and at which I had some special privileges. One of those privileges was a private, invitation-only room for my birthday. These events were more about community to me than whips and chains, and I invited them with the understanding that they would leave my room if I asked them to. I thought I could keep stuff PG and that if they wanted to do anything R-rated, they could go to another room at the party. But when I asked them to leave my special birthday room, my brother’s girlfriend dug in her heels, and I had to get really pissed off and insistent to get them to go. There was the whole rest of the party to enjoy! They finally left when I made it excruciatingly clear that they weren’t welcome in my space anymore.
A few days later, they told me how much they’d loved the event and wanted to go again. I said that they’d made me uncomfortable and I did not want them there. Boundaries and consent are all-important in that environment, and they’d made me feel unsafe. I told them that the space hosted similar events that they were welcome to go to, but this one monthly party was mine. They said I couldn’t keep them out. I told them I was a trusted volunteer who worked the door, and I was pretty sure that I could have them banned not only from that party but from the space itself if I had to.
She started crying. He came at me like he was going to hit me, and screamed in my face, so loud and so close that I felt his spittle hit me, “You fucking bitch.” He screamed at me with such intensity that his girlfriend almost broke up with him that night. And maybe the reason she didn’t leave him that night was that I begged her not to. I thought that if she left there was a chance that he would kill me.
I found out a few months later that his partner had an “incest fetish” because the two of them asked for advice about how to seduce her 18-year-old sister into a threesome. I told them they should absolutely not try to seduce her 18-year-old sister into a threesome. I don’t know if they did.
I tried to put that in the past, like I tried to put everything in the past, and I didn’t really consider the implications of all the facts put together. He had anger issues, and he yelled at me. Same old same old.
But almost seven years later, after I stopped speaking to him for other reasons, it finally came together for me.
I was screamed at in a very threatening way for not letting my brother and his partner indulge their incest fetish with me.
I knew all the components:
screamed at for not letting them go to a party
because they violated boundaries
someone has an incest fetish
scary, angry, brother who threatens and yells when he doesn’t get his way
and who “was inappropriate with me” me when I was a kid
But I never put them all together before. Because who the fuck wants to think that about someone in their family?
I was trying to protect and be a good sister to my brother, who once tried to spit in my face during an argument when I was 18 or 20. He missed and hit himself.
My brother, who used to beat me up when we were kids, but I was told by my parents that “you gave as good as you got,” even though I was less than half his weight.
My brother who once held me down while I was choking on my own snot and tears and told me that no one would believe what he was doing to me because I was crazy.
My brother, who had obvious, terrifying anger issues that my parents simply didn’t address. The anger did not improve as he aged. It got worse, more entrenched, more self-righteous. And he took it out on me.
He got therapy because he was being bullied at the public middle school and his new, private school demanded it. I don’t know what he talked about, but he certainly didn’t seem to get better.
I did not get therapy for another three and a half years, even though I begged. When they finally agreed, it was because a friend was concerned enough about my cutting myself that she told my mom, who didn’t say a word about it until, in the middle of Walgreens, she grabbed my wrist and yanked up my sleeve and yelled something like WHAT DID YOU DO? My sleeve had slipped up my arm, and she’d seen. I guess that it wasn’t real to her when she was just hearing about it.
So I got sent to a therapist who asked me to draw what kind of tree I’d be if I were a tree. And the matter was mostly considered settled.
Until this past weekend, I never blamed my later sexual misadventures on being molested as a kid. I would not have used the word “molested” in relation to what happened to me. I never traced my trauma to its root, which is that I believed from a very young age that no one would care– so I never dealt with it.
I thought that no would care, because they had shown that they didn’t.
I also believed that a lot of my value was in being pretty, and being desirable, so I got myself into situations that were destined to end badly. That’s not me blaming myself, it’s just a fact. I would not have been in those situations had I not wanted so badly to be wanted. Or if I thought my very real trauma was valid. I’d been told over and over that it wasn’t.
When I was little, my family used to say “Kate remembers everything, whether it happened or not.”
Do you know what that does to a kid?
So I stopped talking to my brother almost four years ago.
My brother seems to have accepted this.
But my mother couldn’t let it go. Of course, I never told her the real reason. I was trying to protect her.
Every six months or so, she has brought it up in a way I’m sure she thinks is subtle and gentle. She’d tell me how he was doing even when I told her I didn’t care to know. She sent an email to both of us about how much she loves her kids, and got pretty upset when I told her to never do that again. She kept searching for an opening.
When I visited her, she’d needle me about it. When we talked on the phone, she’d hint or try to change my mind. She didn’t understand. She kept acting as if my decision to stop having anything to do with my brother was silly, temporary, invalid. Not every time we talked, but often enough that I told her repeatedly to back off.
When my husband and I eloped in January, 2020, and were planning to have a reception in the summer, she asked “Are you going to invite your brother?”
I responded pretty emphatically:
Asking about [brother] and whether I plan to invite him to my wedding celebration makes me feel like my boundaries are being stomped all over. I have told you that I have my reasons for not wanting to be in touch with him, and I know that “I have my reasons” might leave you with a lot of questions, but… tough. I don’t want to have a relationship with my brother, I have solid reasons, and those reasons are not something I’m choosing to share with you at this time. You should take it as a kindness that I’m not trying to affect your feelings about him or make you pick sides. I am at peace with my decision not to let [brother] be a part of my life anymore, and no amount of passive-aggressive questions or hints is going to change that. Neither is propriety or concern for appearances; you should know by now that I don’t care about those things. I am just not interested in having [brother] in my life anymore, and I really don’t want to argue about it.
For years I kept reaching out to him, and in a lot of ways it was because you did your best to remind us that we only had each other and we needed to get along. I believed that for a long time, but I don’t anymore.
I love you and I want you at my wedding celebration, but I don’t need any more stress about it. I’m sorry that your kids don’t talk. I’m sorry that your daughter is nuts, but I think your son is a bully, and so does my husband, and we do not want him anywhere near our “special day.”
Don’t be a boundary-stomper. Be supportive. Let “I have my reasons” be good enough.
I think that was pretty clear.
She responded that she felt bullied. By me. Because I took a stand.
I stopped talking to her for two months after that exchange, because this was not the first time she’d ignored my boundaries. But then Covid hit and I thought she might die, so we started talking again. I hoped against hope that she’d gotten the point finally.
She did not get the point.
This past Saturday, she emailed me with the normal breezy chitchat, and mentioned that brother is getting married next month and would I like to email with his lovely fiancée? As I was crafting my response, she sent me an instant message.
I said that I wasn’t interested in talking to the fiancée.
And then I wrote her an epic email of no-turning-back.
I told her that he’d molested me when we were kids. I told her that he’d tried to coerce me into a sexual situation with him and his then-partner. And I told her that she should have taken “I have my reasons” for an answer instead of forcing me to relive and relate to her something that I had told her was traumatic, shameful, and none of her fucking business.
Her response was “I am so sorry that those things happened to you. I will not mention your brother to you again.“
On its surface, it looks like she’s giving in, but I know my mother. She isn’t conceding anything. It doesn’t even mean that she believes me.
She didn’t say “I’m sorry that I didn’t take you at your word“ or “I had no idea, I apologize for pushing you.” She admitted no fault for trying to convince me to talk to my brother after I told her so many times that I didn’t want to talk about it and she wasn’t going to change my mind.
There is no wiggle room in this: I am just not interested in having [brother] in my life anymore, and I really don’t want to argue about it.
Yesterday, Wednesday, only four days after she once again tried to get me to talk to my brother (or, y’know, his fiancée,) and after I told her that my brother is a creepy sister-molester, four days after I told her that I was taking some space from her, she sent me an instant message asking about my first appointment at brain injury rehab: How did Monday go?
She does this. She finds her way back in because an uncle is in the hospital, or there’s some news she just has to share. Or she’s concerned.
Nope. Not this time.
This was my response:
When I told you that we aren’t going to talk for awhile, I meant that we aren’t going to talk for awhile. If something major happens, I’ll let you know. If you or my dog are dying, I would like to know. But I don’t care to talk to you about anything other than that. If a relative is in the hospital, ask Dad to tell me. You are on a time-out.
Don’t get me wrong: This is agonizing.
I love my mother. I don’t want to hurt my mother. Good daughters don’t tell their mothers to leave them alone.
I don’t even want to cause my brother distress. I really don’t. I am reluctant to post this because he’s out of my life now, and I’m pretty sure he’s fine with staying out of my life. He’s not even in this country anymore. I don’t want anyone who knows him, or knows me, or knows enough to put it all together, to go after him or shame him. I also have the somewhat irrational fear that he’ll fly 5,000 miles back from Europe and kill me.
Maybe I’m still trying to protect people who haven’t earned my protection.
Or maybe I’m scared that someone will blame me for what happened, for not forgetting, for making a big deal out of it, for being irreparably broken and shaped by what was done to me. I’m worried that some family member will see this and yell at me for airing dirty laundry. I’m worried that some stranger will see this and tell me I’m a whore and I deserved it. That I’ll be blamed for my own lack of boundaries, for my indiscretion, for talking about it. For being the type of person who volunteered at kink parties. For being the type of person who writes publicly about what’s in my head and heart.
I’m scared that someone will say it isn’t true, that I’m being melodramatic, that I’m remembering wrong. That’s not how it went. We would have known. We would have seen.
And my mother reads this blog.
One of the many things that have come to light for me in the past several days is that my mom wasn’t trying to get me to forgive my brother because he’s upset that we’re estranged. It’s never “your brother asked me to tell you that he’s here when you want to talk” or even “[brother] asked about how you’re doing.” As far as I know, he’s fine with the estrangement.
My mother wants me to have a relationship with my brother because that’s what she wants. It’s not about him, and it’s definitely not about what’s best forme. It’s about what’s best for her. And surely my reasons can’t be good reasons because if I had good reasons she’d have to accept it, and that’s something she simply won’t do.
When I was in my twenties, I was in an abusive relationship. He never hit me, but he spent four years telling me I was a slut and a whore and that no one would ever love me if they knew who I really was. He spat in my face on the way home from couples therapy. He once got drunk and tried to push me down the stairs. He destroyed my possessions. He destroyed my sense of self-worth.
When I got out of that hellish relationship, my mom told me “I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for him,” even though she knew he’d abused me. “He’s such a troubled soul. He had such a bad childhood.”
I have been expected, for the entirety of my life, to shut up and take abuse from people who had shitty childhoods. Or who were good people, deep down, if you really get to know them. If you’re willing to just let all that cruelty flow off of you, they’re actually worth getting to know.
If you’re willing to shove your feelings into a drawer and never call anyone on their bullshit
If you’re willing to play along that you’re happy and that nothing is bothering you
If you’re willing to sacrifice the best parts of yourself, it’s totally worth it.
I don’t know what made my mother this way.
But I know that I don’t want to emulate it.
I talked to my therapist yesterday. I don’t need to see her much anymore, because other than the brain injury, I’ve been doing great! She already knew all the background about my brother and mother; I’ve been working with her for almost nine years. I had already written most of the stuff above this paragraph, and so my thoughts were pretty organized. Even though my shrink knows most of this stuff, when I was laying it all out, she kept shaking her head, not because she didn’t believe me, but because she can’t believe them. At the end of the session, she told me that she’s proud of me.
That means a lot.
I told her about my desire, still, to protect my mom. To protect my brother, even. She asked “protect them from what?”
And I replied these exact words: “The consequences of their actions and inaction.”
She smiled and nodded.
And she said that this is what the Me Too movement is trying to address. How we hold such shame, such secrets, and they fester and they burn and we are told by society that we must hold the shame and the secrets and never ever let them out. She wasn’t that poetic, but that was the crux of it.
She told me it’s okay to stop protecting people.
She said that I don’t have to post this if I don’t want to, but she doesn’t think I should hold back out of a sense of wanting to protect my brother and mother from the fallout. That I’m strong and I have a right to speak my truth. I don’t have to protect people from the consequences of their actions and inaction.
I said “I think that it could help people, but if I post it, I’m not going to do it for them. I’m not that altruistic.”
And she said “You’re writing it for yourself. But it could help people.”
I have told the world about being raped. I have shared about my periods, perimenopause and hot flashes, my devastating mental illness, how great my boobs are, what a good cook I am. But I haven’t shared the stark facts about how my brother molested me and beat me up when we were kids, that my parents didn’t do anything, that my brother was violent and inappropriate with me when we were very much adults and that I have shame, oh such shame, about it all.
Why did I invite them to that party in the first place? Why did I choose to live with them in Portland? Why did I keep trying so hard to have a relationship with someone who terrorized me?
So much shame. But I won’t let that hold me back any longer.
I’m done protecting my abusers.
It’s Thursday the 17th. I’ve been awake since 3:23 AM. It’s now 7:30. I had such a terrible headache that I look one of my precious Percocet because my head was just pulsing with pain when I moved or stood up. That’s calmed down quite a bit, but I’m on Percocet, so a little woozier than I was before–and I was plenty woozy. Called out of work. I have a doctors appointment scheduled later so that I can get my Reasonable Accommodation paperwork filled out. And I have tomorrow off.
Instant messaging with my husband on Tuesday, he said that he hopes I can still focus on good things in my life, that this won’t consume me.
I told him “I’m seeing how strong I am.”
He sent back a smiley.
I’m doing really well. That’s not bluster or trying to appear more resilient than I am. I’m really okay! It’s the situation that isn’t okay.
Coping with my brain injury continues to be a challenge, but I found my happiness again after two months of feeling despair about how terrible this is.
Coping with this family bullshit is so incredibly hard, but I am so incredibly strong. I finally grew a spine. And I know that I’m living the life I want to live– stable, happy, good. There are problems and struggles, but after a life of such darkness and depression, I continue to be grateful for all the sweet things in life, knowing how fragile they can be.
I don’t believe in an invisible sky daddy, I believe in weird things like human kindness and cherry trees and the power of love. If I’m spiritual, it’s in a very down-to-earth way, and I take comfort and experience wonder and all that good shit. If life has no inherent meaning, it’s up to us to find our own. And I do it every day.
That hasn’t changed, even in the face of all of this horror.
Why am I talking about this now?
I never forgot that my brother abused me, or that my parents abused and neglected me. This isn’t some recovered memory shit. But I put all of it in a lockbox and only took it out on special occasions. It’s so much easier, I thought, to just let bygones be bygones. I tried very hard to forgive and to build good relationships with my family, flawed as they are. I admired my own ability to move past things.
But moving past things allowed the abuse to continue, except I treated it as a momentary aberration rather than a pattern of behavior. I’m not willing to maintain that illusion, it’s already cost me way too much.
I used to be miserable. I used to be a shitty person. But I learned, I grew, I changed.
My dad and I used to have a pretty contentious relationship, but he divorced my mom when I was 20, and over the course of many years, we learned how to get along pretty well. He was willing to change his behavior, so I’m willing to keep him around.
My brother continued to bully me long into adulthood. He continued to be inappropriate with me.
My mother continued to ignore my mental illness and minimize my pain. She kept discounting my own version of my life. Kate remembers everything, whether it happened or not. She kept pushing me when being pushed made me feel rage and incredible pain. I told her she was hurting me. She didn’t stop.
They did not change. I’m not sure they know how.
You might think I’m being unfair to my poor, sweet, well-intentioned mother.
I hope that you can believe that for everything I’ve said, for every horrible story I’ve told, there are many that I didn’t mention. I could go on and on and on. But that would start to feel petulant. I think I’ve explained myself well enough, chosen the right stories, to let anyone reading all of this know that I have my reasons, and they are good ones.
Even the best parents make mistakes. They are only human. I do not think kindly about those people who go through their lives with a chip on their shoulder, thinking the world owes them something because their parents weren’t perfect. I have spent much of my adult life trying not to be one of those people.
But I took it way too far in the other direction. My resolve not to be like that made it so that I ignored and disregarded that my family was still failing me. And that I was letting them. Because I didn’t want to hold a grudge.
I didn’t want to hurt them, so I let them continue to hurt me. In some twisted way, I thought that made me a good person. And as someone who knows that I used to be careless with the feelings of others, I want very badly to be a good person.
I’m proud of who I am now. And a natural extension of that is my newly-rediscovered ability to stand up for myself and say “you don’t get to hurt me anymore.” I don’t expect anyone else to change. I wrote off my brother four years ago. I have told my mother not to contact me. I do not expect them to change one bit. They’ve had time to do so. My mom is almost 70, she’s had time. I’ve tried as hard as I can to accept her just as she is, but she continues to inflict more damage, and I really don’t think she gives a shit.
Oh, she’ll say she cares. She’ll say she didn’t mean anything by it. But I told her over and over, hey, stop, you’re hurting me. And she just kept right on hurting me.
Some people say that you matter to them, but those words function a means to control you. How can you say that when I love you? How can you hurt me when all I’ve ever done is care? I’m so harmless and sweet, I would never intentionally hurt you! How could you think that? They show a face to the world that is caring and kind but inside it’s always, always about control. Your anger and pain hurt them but it’s not empathy, and it’s not shame about their behavior. It’s a demand that you stop being difficult because it stresses them out.
So they don’t ask “How are you feeling,” they ask “Are you feeling better yet?” Instead of “I’m sorry I hurt you,” they say “I’m sorry you got hurt” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Because it’s your job to make them feel better, it’s not their job to offer you meaningful support or acknowledgement of the harm they cause.
This is called narcissism. And it’s often couched in what abusers call “love.”
It’s really, really hard to change my thinking from “She loves me! She’s my mom! I can’t hurt my mom!” and instead face the fact, and the implications of this: When someone you love says that you’re hurting them, you’re supposed to stop.
I’ve been unmedicated since mid-January. Off the Effexor, which could have gotten me killed. Off the Lithium because it made be feel flat, like I hadn’t used color-safe bleach and all the colors had faded. So it’s just me. Unmedicated.
The one thing I still have is gapapentin, which gets rid of my headaches, and makes me feel giddy and slightly high. You can’t overdose on it, and I don’t take it very often. But I took it tonight.
I’m up at 4:30 in the morning, and I have a good and rational reason for it: I’m a night cabbie. My shifts last 12 hours and sometimes don’t end until sunrise. There’s a consolation in that, driving home and seeing the sun come up behind Mt. Hood. I didn’t work tonight, but I feel like if I have to be nocturnal, I might as well get used to it. I am once again a vampire.
I’ve been losing weight, which is fine because I got up to about 210 lbs. last fall, and wanted to cut hunks of fat off myself. I’m lucky; I inherited my mother’s genes, so even at this rather extreme weight, I’m proportional. I haven’t weighed myself lately, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were under 190 now. I haven’t been exercising or paying a great deal of attention to diet, it’s just that more and more foods seem to make me sick. Sushi doesn’t, so I eat a lot of that when I can afford it. Drinking a lot of smoothies. I’m hungry all the time, but my stomach cramps and I feel nauseous when I eat the wrong things. Sometimes I vomit. I soldier on.
The job is going well. I’m better at it than I expected. I’m still learning how to be a cabbie, but I’ve always been a good conversationalist, and my customers seem to like that. It’s a very free job, I go where I want or where the fares take me, and I can have a break whenever. I’ve mostly stopped smoking again (betcha didn’t even know I’d started,) so I puff on my e-cig constantly. I can do that in my cab so I take fewer breaks. I make a lot of money when I try. People seem to like me.
But the depression is still here, tearing holes in my heart. The mania manifests in restlessness, sleeplessness. One would think that driving all night would be good for someone with my temperament, and maybe it is or will be, but I so wanted to be the sort of person who slept at night and woke up in the morning. It seemed healthier, you know? Like what a real grownup would do.
The pieces are in place for me to have a good life. I have a good job, for now, which I’m good at most of the time. I have a sweet and amazingly patient partner who thinks I’m amazing and is pretty damned cool himself. I am making money and my situation is improving. I have plans, goals, hopes, dreams.
But I feel so lost. I am going through the motions. I don’t know how I feel about anything. I don’t know whether I like my job or hate it. I don’t know whether I want to be in a relationship at all. I was thinking the other day, wondering if I’m just with Jeremy because it’s better than being alone. Then I asked myself, how many of my relationships have actually been better than being alone? And then I laughed and realized that I think too much.
My mom is visiting next week. I haven’t seen her in a year and a half. That boggles my mind. Mom has been amazing and supportive through all the mental-health bullshit I’ve been through, unwavering, present, understanding. We are very close these days.
I guess I’ve sort of closed myself off. And I need to open back up if I want to get better. I just don’t really know what “better” looks like, yet, or how to get there. Drugs? Therapy? Buddhism? I think a lot about death, but passively. Wondering if I really am doomed to keep living like this, wondering if the merciful thing to do for myself would be just to end it. But then practicality steps in: it would be very cold jumping off the Fremont Bridge, and I can’t kill myself in Jeremy’s bathtub, the poor boy has been through enough.
So I live, I go to work and to therapy, I talk to my mother, I write blog posts. I try to take care of myself and get out of this fog. I am going through the motions, and I am basically fine.
I almost gave myself an asthma attack earlier. Dancing. I had let Sadie borrow my Kindle, and she somehow started the music player– playing a song I hadn’t heard in years, that I didn’t know I still had on any device, that used to be the one song I couldn’t resist dancing to. And so, seeing this as a good opportunity, I got up and brought Sadie and her dad into the living room, and we all danced. Sadie kept at it the longest, because she is three, and Jeremy and I are out of shape.
I have dated men with kids before, but I have never met the kids in question. I have certainly never lived with them. I think the last time I lived with a toddler was when I was an infant. I have fancied myself good with kids, other people’s kids, for up to a few hours at a time, but I’ve never had to deal with the tantrums, the bathroom trips, carseats, the messes, the discipline. It’s always been someone else’s problem, and nothing I had to concern myself with.
But now there’s this living, breathing, peeing three-year-old IN MY HOME. When she cries, my heart breaks. When she laughs, I laugh too. I don’t know how to be friends with a little kid, but I’m learning fast, and she seems to like me just fine. Which, of course, makes me adore her.
I remember some things about being that small. Being around Sadie, I’m remembering a lot more. Her father is more patient than I am. I am not particularly good at calmly telling her not to scream in my car, not to torture the cat, not to fling her food when she’s supposed to be eating it. Jeremy is endlessly patient both with her and with me being completely inexperienced when it comes to how to deal with a child.
I am reassured to know that he has no idea what he’s doing, either. But he does a good job. And for the three days a week that she’s here, I have the opportunity to learn a lot from someone who hasn’t had time to become cynical or jaded, who is herself still learning about the world, who likes to dance and sing and draw and– really, all the things I love to do, things that I should do more. Tonight I played a bunch of Sesame Street videos for her, and while she found them interesting for a few minutes, Jeremy and I were entranced. Having a kid around reminds me of what it was like to feel real and unabashed joy, and makes me want to pursue the things that make me feel that way.
So she has things to teach me. I am also trying to teach her some important lessons– mostly about the inherent meaningless of a human life in a cold and uncaring universe, the concept of entropy, and the word “chillax.” I think I’m probably learning more than she is. But I’ll keep at it.
I am not a great decorator. After Mike The Asshole told me my taste was tacky, I stopped putting things up on my walls for awhile. After we broke up, I of course plastered my walls with weird postcards and the like. But I’ve moved seven times in 3.5 years, and I seldom put anything up because it’s exhausting and I’m just gonna probably move in six months anyway.
So my current bedroom has only one thing on the walls.
It’s a letter my dad sent me years ago, when I was desperately poor and felt, well, lame. Because I needed help again and I felt like a 28-year-old shouldn’t be asking her daddy for money every month. I should have had my life together, and I didn’t. He sent a check, and included this note, and everywhere I’ve lived in the past five years, this has been on my wall.
I am, whatever our problems, and whether I want to be or not, Daddy’s Girl. I have always wanted to impress him. I tell people, “my father is brilliant, I am merely very,very bright.” My father has something like 13 patents. My father had a part on the space shuttle, although I’m not sure what. My daddy does things with lasers and tank armor and makes assloads of money and lives in a house with a glorious view of the Pacific. My father is generous and charitable and at times astonishingly kind.
Which is why this is so hard for me.
He doesn’t goddamned get it, at all.
Martha says it better than I can:
You say my time here has been some sort of joke
That I’ve been messing around
Some sort of incubating period
For when I really come around
I’m cracking up
And you have no idea
No idea how it feels to be on your own
In your own home
with the fucking phone
And the mother of gloom
In your bedroom
Standing over your head
With her hand in your head
With her hand in your head
I will not pretend
I will not put on a smile
I will not say I’m all right for you
When all I wanted was to be good
To do everything in truth
To do everything in truth
I don’t know if that conveys it to you, but it’s playing in my head on a constant loop these days.
I talked to my dad about 10 days ago. It was about an hour after my weekly therapy appointment (and two days before I cracked up and went to the hospital.) And he gave me his usual dad advice that what I probably needed was some stability, that I should get a job, that the happiest and most stable I’ve ever been was when I was working, and that my first priority should be getting back into school.
Let’s address these points, shall we?
I probably need some stability.
Well fucking DUH
I should get a job
I totally agree! That’s why I’m working on becoming a cabbie! Also, if you haven’t noticed, I’m losing my mind like right now this very moment and perhaps a desk job isn’t going to magically fix things.
The happiest and most stable I’ve ever been was when I was working
Y’know, I’d noticed that too! And I looked for work for months, but I’ve been sort of bedridden with this whole “I want to die I want to die I want to die” thing I’ve been indulging in lately, so it’s made it hard to keep keepin’ on. I applied for everything I could until I could no longer work anyway because the depression and anxiety were close to killing me.
You should go back to school (even though I’m unwilling to adequately support you while you do it.)
I dropped out of school when I was 28 because of what I now know was a raging case of bipolar disorder. I could not sit still in a classroom. I spent my days at home hating everything and my nights at bars with pretty boys because they were the only thing that reliably made me even temporarily less horrid. You won’t help me pay for it, and I’m ineligible for more loans.
And I have some points of my own!
If I went back to school now, the same goddamned thing would happen. I would crash and burn. I know it. This is not a guess, this is the truth.
The last job I had, I had to quit after five hours because I got a panic attack so bad that it gave me diarrhea.
My top priority right now is to get healthy.
My top priority right now should be to get healthy.
I cannot do anything useful until I am healthy.
I have lost 15 lbs in the past MONTH. That’s terrifying (although I did have it to spare.) When I try to eat normal food, I shit or vomit. I’m basically on a liquid diet most days, and that’s more expensive than you’d think. I’m going through withdrawal from Effexor, which means that I burst into tears sometimes and my head constantly feels like it’s receiving electric shocks. All I can think about all day is going to bed, but when bedtime rolls around, I’m wired and don’t get to sleep until 2am when I meant to be in bed at 9pm and have to be awake at 8am. I have not once been on time to the hospital where I spent 20-30 hours a week trying to get better. Getting better is exhausting. Lots of anger, lots of crying.
This is hell. This is hell. This is hell.
Honestly, I’m feeling hopeful and better and therapy is working and I think lithium might fix some of this so I go to my stupid groups and I take my stupid pills and I deal with the BZZZZZZZZZZT in my brain and I get by on not-enough sleep and I try my hardest not to buy that cute vintage jacket or fuck that cute boy because I don’t want my mania to rule my life.
And I unreservedly say FUCK YOU to anyone who has never been through this but thinks they know what’s best for me.
This is HELL. And I am fighting, and I am BRAVE, and I am STRONG and I am going to fucking BEAT THIS even if you don’t believe in me. Even if you think I’m not trying hard enough. All I do is try. I fight and fight and fight and this is hell hell hell.
Today I saw my therapist, the one who isn’t affiliated with the hospital where I’ve been spending my days. I love my therapist. She’s amazing. And of course we had a lot of ground to cover this week. And a lot of things got stirred up.
I’m feeling angry. I don’t know how appropriate it is to try to talk to the people who I’m most angry at, because I don’t know how much good it would do. The people who seem to think I’m overstating my need for immediate help are the ones I do my best to be honest with, so it stings particularly to have these people telling me, essentially, to walk it off.
And I could yell. I want to yell. Or I could keep quiet, and let these relationships decay on their own. I still haven’t made up my mind.
What some of you know, and many of you don’t, is that I stayed in a residential crisis center for five days in late September because I was feeling suicidal.
I’d gotten into a car accident less than two weeks before, and was still suffering some pain and trauma from that. My car was disabled, though not totaled, and I had just found out that my temp job was ending earlier than expected. I held it together pretty well at work, then got home and collapsed. I called my mother, hysterical, and she told me to call 911. Instead, I called the county crisis line, and they sent me to a walk-in crisis clinic, and they, after some stupid red-tape bullshit that wasn’t their fault, sent me to what I deemed “Crazy-Person Sleepover Camp.” I wanted to leave after 24 hours because I was bored and I hated it, but one of the staff convinced me to stay, and I’m glad she did.
I didn’t get fixed, and I’m still a mess, but for a few days at the crisis center and for a few days after I got out, I felt a sense of renewed hope. I got the ball rolling on several things I need to do to make my life better, but it’s all rather slow-going, and it’s easy to lose momentum when there aren’t a lot of tangible effects from all. that. effort.
So I’ve spent a lot of the past two weeks alternating between an almost eerie calm, despair, dread, and terrible anxiety. My sleep is irregular. I want to be held but I don’t want to be touched. So it goes.
Vulnerability is nauseating. Hope feels like a cruel trick.
On most days, I can get out of bed, put on clothes, get things done. I am still capable of dressing myself, washing dishes, going to the store, eating, bathing. But I am exhausted all the time. Some days I can’t summon the nerve or energy to make an important phone call or eat anything that can’t be prepared in a microwave. Other times I’m a flurry of activity, doing all the dishes, scouring the bathroom, or mopping the kitchen floor which was so dirty, I’m nearly certain that no one had really cleaned it in the three years my roommate has lived here. I have fits of annoyance that border on rage.
When I called the crisis line, visited the crisis clinic, and checked into the crisis center, I was asked the same question over and over: Did you have a plan? And the answer to that is, no, not really. I didn’t know how I wanted to kill myself. I wasn’t that resolute, and I hadn’t made up my mind about a method. Perhaps I could have explained that I fantasize about my favorite view of Portland being the last thing I see: the view from the top deck of the Fremont Bridge. Flying, falling, flailing, toward the cold water of the Willamette. Maybe I could have told them that I own surgical scalpels, that it wouldn’t even take much force, that I know how and where to cut, that I’d take painkillers first to dull the pain and thin my blood. Instead I said that I had decided a long time ago that if I ever really wanted to die, I should just go to the hospital, since that’s probably where I’d wake up anyway. When I told these volunteers, clinicians, peer counselors, shrinks and psychiatrists that I did not have a plan for my own death, they seemed to take me less seriously. And so I finally said something along the lines of this:
I am very bright. I have been depressed for a very long time. I have fought thoughts of suicide since I was eleven. I have gotten very, very good at not killing myself. I know that I must try everything I can think of first. Because I am very smart, very pragmatic, I know a lot of ways to soothe myself. I know that the rational thing to do is to try to get help, to fight, because this life is all I have, and there have been times when I was happy, and I remember those times. So no, I did not have a plan. I came here, that was my plan. They seemed to take me more seriously after that.
And I’ve never been to Hawaii. I can’t die before I see if maybe warm water and beaches could save me. I have dreams about swimming in the ocean, somewhere where the water is warm, and I can’t die yet because I’ve never done that. I could live in a tent on the beach somewhere. If that didn’t work, maybe then I could die. Or maybe then I’d realize I’d never seen fjords, or the Aurora Borealis. And I can’t kill myself because it would destroy my mother.
I remember feeling good. I remember being happy. It wasn’t so long ago. And yes, this depression is in my head. I firmly believe that I have a chemical deficiency, faulty wiring, something that makes me more susceptible to these fits of sickness. Because that’s what depression is for me, a chronic, relapsing, recurring, dreadful disease. And it kills people all the time. And I am resigned to fight it as hard as I can.
But I am so tired. And it has gotten very bad again.
My car limps along. I try not to take it above 30mph. My “best” friend in Portland and I have differences that are, for the moment, irreconcilable, and she wants me to move out. I don’t know where I’ll go or how I’ll pay for it. I should start getting unemployment again next week, but it’s not remotely enough to live on. It seems like there are no good choices, only shitty compromises. I’m tired of being pitied, tired of asking for help. But I need help. I cannot work when I’m like this. I am registered to go back to school this winter, but it seems like it’s too soon, and so I need a plan. I don’t have one.
To be honest, it’s really goddamned hard to see the point in any of this. Why keep trying? Why keep starting over? There is no cosmic plan, no one has any answers, and all I can do is keep plodding along and hoping that my medication will stabilize me, or I’ll have some breakthrough, or at least I won’t have to worry so much for awhile.
I’ve moved several times in the last few years, and every more was less a choice than an exile. I have run out of places to run to. There is no “home” anymore that I can go back to. The pills aren’t working anymore and I don’t have money to see my psychiatrist or my psychologist. It’s all such a massive clusterfuck, and I don’t know why I try anymore.
I still try. And I will. I’ll go to bed soon, and I hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Odds are that it will be.
But I am very bright, and pragmatic, and after awhile I know that this will seem like a losing battle against the inevitable. The pain will never stop completely until I die. I can never stop fighting, no matter how tired I am, until I die. How much pain should we be expected to endure before we’re allowed to give up and give in? We’re all going to die anyway. Why keep fighting?
I had a weird bout of anxiety at the grocery store this morning. At one point I was in the aisle with the body washes and shampoos and I had to lean back against the display because it all got to be too overwhelming. It took me an hour to do some basic grocery shopping because I kept sort of zoning out and wandering around. And then I couldn’t find canned olives. And then I couldn’t figure out how the hell to check out and leave the store, even though I go there all the time (in my defense, the layout of this particular store is very confusing.)
But I’m home now, and I just finished doing my nails. Which apparently took two hours. I’m a perfectionist.
I’m desperately poor, but I have fantastic nails.
I also bought a purse yesterday, because it was on sale, and because it makes me happy.
HOW COULD I NOT OWN THIS PURSE?
I need to take my pleasures wherever I can find them, because I have been wicked hella depressed, yo.
I haven’t found work. I’m trying to find work. I have some interesting prospects. I know that I could be an asset to the right business. I want to work, and I’m willing to work hard. But no one will hire me, and I’m at loose ends and barely scraping by financially.
My boyfriend has been living here and helping me pay rent, but lately he seems angry a lot of the time and he’s starting to spook me a bit. I feel trapped with this angry person, but I honestly can’t afford to kick him out, and I don’t want to just leave him homeless, either. It seems like there’s no good solution except to get a job and become financially independent– and I’m trying but no one will hireme and also MEH.
Something I haven’t really talked about here is my new living situation. In May, I moved back in with Delilah. I have a bedroom this time, not just the stuffy garage. But my rent is about 60% of my monthly unemployment income, and I always run out of food stamps long before the end of the month.
I moved because my formerly supportive and encouraging roommates turned on me suddenly. My brother and his wife very quickly changed from being happy and seeming to love having me around to believing that I’m a selfish taker who takes and only thinks of herself. Or something. Although she wrote me about 70 paragraphs of vitriol and accusations, I’m still not entirely sure what the hell happened. But it was clear that I had to move, and so I did.
Losing her as a friend has been both devastating and, in an odd way, affirming. Because I realized quickly that there wasn’t much of anything I could do to change the way she feels, because she was being crazy, and reason doesn’t work on crazy people. I have my own theories about what made her change her attitude toward me so suddenly and sharply, but the most important thing I know is that I can’t fix this right now. And there’s a lot of peace in that. I’m incredibly sad about losing my good relationship with my brother and his wife, but at the same time, I’ve suffered worse. I can live with this.
I haven’t been able to find an even keel for months, though, ever since the family crisis started. There’s a melancholy fog over everything that I just can’t shake. There’s less joie in my vivre. There’s something particularly scarring about someone who you’ve trusted with the most delicate parts of yourself abruptly deciding you’re a terrible person and using what they know against you. Even if you know they’re wrong, it’s still horrible.
My spirits are pretty good, considering all that. Taking into account that I’m in daily pain because my back still hasn’t healed from a car accident 20 months ago. Taking into account that I’ve got a sadness I just can’t seem to shake. Considering that my relationship is starting to seem abusive. In spite of the fact that I’m running out of unemployment and I don’t know how I’m going to make ends meet in a month.
Did you know that most of my blog entry titles are song lyrics? I should really link to the songs in my entries. Like this!
It’s pretty damned relevant.
This month, yo. THIS FUCKING MONTH. Here’s what this month has been like: I had two teeth pulled, got hired and then fired from a job that I actually really liked, was abruptly dumped, and seem to be losing one of my best friends. I haven’t been sleeping super well. But I am strong like YAK*. I will persevere.
And I am taking my pills and going to therapy and relying on my awesome friends, and it’s keeping me sane.
I can be blustery and blunt and I crack jokes at the wrong times, and sometimes this makes people think that I don’t take things seriously, or that I am not introspective, or that I don’t hold myself accountable for things. But I do, I am, I do.
When someone tells me I’ve been an asshole, one of the first thoughts I have is OH MY GOD AM I AN ASSHOLE? When the answer is yes, I apologize and try to make things right. Sometimes it takes me a few days to realize it, but then I do my best to make amends. When someone in my life feels wronged by me, I take it extremely seriously.
I am not perfect. I fuck up. Sometimes I hurt people. But I try super hard not to. And when I do, I say I’m sorry.
I just haven’t held the rest of the people in my life to that standard.
I have held on to the incorrect idea that if I am good enough, people will love me. I have seen where compromises needed to be made and done all the compromising myself because, oh my Google, I have things to be sorry about and to make up for. And maybe if I’m good enough or kind enough or sorry enough, I’ll be forgiven for being human. So I don’t hold people accountable for their actions, because they are in pain. I don’t ask people to make things right, I don’t demand fairness or kindness or consideration. Because I’m bad. Because I owe so much. Because I believe that I deserve the shitty things that happen to me, the careless things that people do to me.
And I drive myself absolutely crazy trying to be good enough, and I vibrate with the tension of holding things in, and I still can’t win anyone’s love.
Love isn’t something you can win like a prize. It isn’t something you have to earn. It is something that is freely given, or it isn’t given at all. You can’t convince anyone to love you. It has nothing, nothing, NOTHING to do with being good enough if what good enough means is that you have to twist yourself into knots, prostrate yourself, or make all the compromises in your relationships.
*Inside joke. You don’t really have to know anything other than that yaks are strong, and it’s meant to be said in a bad Russian accent. That’s the whole damned joke.
So, as you may have noticed, I spent much of August freaking the fuck out. This continued into September, although it let up a bit when my brother and his wife moved to town (!!!) and we got a place together (!!!!!) and… I dunno. I think a lot of the PANICDEPRESSION was because of birth control and my body adjusting to not being on it anymore. Depo Provera has been known to make people crazy. Apparently it works that way for me! Anyway, the PANICDEPRESSION sort of ebbed away and was replaced by numbness! And I didn’t care about anything, really! And I got no pleasure from things! Anhedonia: it’s even less fun than it sounds!
I know that this blankness of mood was partly due to the fact that my psychiatrist upped my dose of antidepressants. As soon as I lowered my dose again* I noticed that I started feeling more human. And the PANICDEPRESSION seems to have receded.
So, yes. Feelings. And I might even get to sleep at a reasonable hour tonight due to sheer exhaustion. Here’s hoping!
*Never never never change your dose of antidepressants without talking to your doctor/nurse/licensed shaman first. I had permission to mess with my dose as necessary.