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.
In March, I got a concussion. The story behind it is pretty incredible.
I had some Major Dental Drama in 2019 when I decided to get dental implants done in Mexico. They were not done well, and what I went through was traumatizing and horrible and I would recommend that you don’t get dental implants in Mexico, because in my case (even seeing a well-reviewed doc) it made my oral cavity situation so so so so so so much worse. Unremitting pain for weeks. Don’t do it. So I’m already pretty fucked-up by/about dentists and oral surgeons.
But I need to get all this shitty shit repaired. So I’ve been seeing specialists in my area to get this whole thing managed and get some pretty new teefs put in my head. An important step was taking the old implants out. And that’s why I went to the oral surgeon in March– after much preparation and many visits with this surgeon and other specialists, I was finally ready to have that hardware yanked out of my jaw.
Let me back up a bit here: in 2004, I had my wisdom teeth out. I was 23, which is pretty late, but it was time. And the oral surgeon gave me Versed, which is a drug they use to knock you the fuck out. I did not react well to it. I apparently got combative, my heartrate got above 200bpm, and they almost had to call 911. But they got the teeth out, yay, hooray. That was a long time ago, but I have mentioned to anyone else who wants to render me unconscious that Versed is not a good idea.
I mentioned my paradoxical reaction to Versed to my (erstwhile) oral surgeon during our first visit, and he said “oh, we use Propofol.” So I was assured.
Well, readers, he fucking used Versed.
My last memory is of him placing the IV (on the second try, and I have great veins) and then YANKING my left arm before I passed out. No announcement that they were injecting me. Just POKE YANK BLACKNESS. I woke up about an hour later. Crying. Hysterical. Terrified. I asked one of the women in the room “Did something happen?” and she was like oh of course not you’re fine it’s totally normal to wake from anesthesia terrified and unable to stop crying for 20 minutes. They wanted to get my friend/driver Jay, to come in, but I told them not to. I was embarrassed and confused and altogether very, very upset.
Eventually they walked me out to Jay’s car and he drove me home. I had gauze stuffed in my face-hole so I couldn’t tell him what had happened, but I was obviously a mess.
Jay gets me home. My husband puts me to bed. I couldn’t really walk on my own. I spent the day sleeping it off.
It wasn’t until the next day that I was laying in bed with my husband and he noticed significant bruising on my left arm. Lemme show ya:
Those are obvious finger-marks on my arm. I was black and blue for a couple of weeks. I also discovered muscle strains in both of my forearms, which weren’t visible but were very, uh, feel-able. As the days went on, I found a lump on my head. I felt like I had whiplash, my neck and shoulders were all messed up (still are!) And a few days after the surgery, I figured out that I most likely had a concussion. So I went to see my primary doctor, who is amazing, and she said “yup, that seems like a concussion.” And then a week or so later I realized that I was obviously suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome, because the dizziness, confusion, lack of concentration and other AMAZING! FUN! SYMPTOMS! were not going away. This was also confirmed by my doctor. This isn’t my first concussion, nor is it my first Post Concussion Bullshit rodeo. It’s bullshit, in case you were wondering.
Sooooo I filled out FMLA paperwork, which was approved. I got referred for a CT scan, which thankfully is clear. And I was referred to brain injury rehab, which I’m being evaluated for on June 1st.
During the course of all this unneeded bullshit, I emailed my surgeon’s office. I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know if they’d given me Versed. After a lot of hemming and hawing and “why don’t you just call?” and “I’ll have to get back to you on that” I got a 2000+ word screed from the surgeon, in the middle of which he sheepishly admitted he’d given me Versed. He had reasons, of course. It’s a very safe drug! Complications aren’t unheard of! Other drugs can also cause bad reactions! And to counteract the Versed, they pumped me full of Ketamine, which made it worse. Then they finally, finally gave me FUCKING PROPOFOL which is what I had told them I tolerated well, had experience with, was comfortable with– a drug that, without prompting, the surgeon had told me was the standard drug they used for such procedures. And they had to give me such massive amounts of Propofol to counteract the Versed and the Ketamine that I stopped breathing several times.
I was livid. I remain livid. Obviously, he’s fucking fired– which I decided after I went to a follow-up visit and he fucking POKED my healing mouth-wounds with a POKEY THING and it HURT and I swear the man is a fucking sadist. This wasn’t the first or even second time he was way too rough with me, but it was definitely the last time.
It’s over two months later, and the symptoms of the concussion are still affecting my work. It’s affecting my home life. I can’t reliably concentrate, keep track of time, retain information, or not fuck up everything all the time because of this. I have to go to rehab because of this. It has put a strain on my professional and personal relationships. It is the opposite of good. I can drive most days, because that only requires 10-20 minutes of concentration at a stretch. I can usually do that. I can make simple recipes, but I’m likely to skip steps or mess up if I try to do anything that isn’t super familiar. I can’t make decisions or figure out what the right course of action is. It has made me dependent on my husband in ways I don’t want to be. It has made me dependent on my coworkers in ways that cause me to feel shame.
The words that keep coming to mind are awful and devastating.
But Kate, you’re writing! It seems like you can still write! Yeah, I can do that. It’s one of the things I can do. Which is good, because I’m in college right now in addition to working 40 hours a week. My essays aren’t brilliant, but they’re adequate, and my grades haven’t really suffered.
But I’m exhausted all the time. And if I push myself too hard, all I can do is sleep. And “too hard” means “the way I expect to be able to perform, and how my job expects me to perform.” So it’s been problematic. They’ve been pretty great about it, but it sucks.
Ever since I started my Fitness Quest last year, I’d been feeling a lot better. I’ve had chronic pain my whole life, depression and other mental health issues for as long as I can remember. Walking around my neighborhood helped with that. Along with the pills I take every day to keep me on a relatively even keel, walking made me more emotionally healthy, gave me energy, and helped me lose over 40 lbs.
But now I don’t have enough energy to walk.
I’m used to being sick, is my point. Except, for almost a year, I wasn’t really sick. I wasn’t depressed most of the time. I wasn’t in a lot of pain. And this health crisis has put me back in the position of being feeble, of needing help, of being a fucking invalid.
I hates it, my precioussesssss.
Keep on Keepin’ On
But here’s the reason I titled this post the way I did:
I take my pills every night. I’m on Lexapro for the crazy and Yaz (birth control) for the really crazy, because I suffer from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder so severe that, when unmedicated, I’m suicidally depressed for over half the days out of every month. Everyone hates me, is out to get me, isn’t doing their share, and I might as well just die because nothing is ever going to get better.
I’ve been on Lexapro for a few years and Yaz for about as long. And they’ve been miraculous.
You know what else is miraculous? I’ve been employed steadily for almost 5 years, first through a temp agency, and then I got hired permanently (because of a temp placement!) by the county in which I reside. I went from being on food stamps to working for a place that administers them!
The steady income, the feeling of usefulness, and just the stability of it all has also had a miraculous effect on my mental health. My longest period of unemployment in those 5 years is two weeks in between temp gigs. AND my union has a free college program, and through that I’m working on getting my AAS in Social Work. Then I’ll transfer to Portland State, which has an excellent Social Work program, to do my Bachelors and Masters degrees. This is already in the works! Do you know how much shit you can do with an MSW? A lot! A lot of shit!
It took until I was 35 to be able to show up to an office and not quit within a year or mess up so badly that I got fired. It took until I was about 37 to find the combination of drugs that keeps me relatively sane and healthy. And now I’m 40 and I have good hair, a husband I genuinely love and like, wonderful/diabolical cats, and a steady job. I don’t have trouble making rent. I have retirement benefits and good health insurance. I’m the breadwinner in my relationship. I don’t have to worry that I’m going to have to choose between food and gas. I have a car that hasn’t exploded yet. It’s all good, and a lot of it is better than good. A lot of things are great.
And I’m grateful. So incredibly grateful.
My mental illness was so bad for so long that my brain spent most of my life, from the age of 10 or 11, intermittently trying to kill me. I had calmer, better times, but they were short. And it always came back to the depression and the borderline and all the havoc they caused in my relationships and the inability to keep a job and the kinda-sorta being homeless and the calls to my Mom that scared the shit out of her because her daughter just wanted to die and couldn’t think of a good reason to keep going.
I kept going. But it took until I was 29 to learn what it felt like to not wake up and immediately feel overwhelmed with dread, and that little peaceful little meadow in the dark forest was a place I only stayed in for about nine months. Other than that, my life was pretty fucking awful from the time I was 11 until I was in my late thirties. It took a couple stays in the loony bin, going through (and this is not an exaggeration) at least 20 therapists, trying more medications than I can count, and fucking up a whole lot for me to get here. I wrecked friendships, relationships, people, myself. Oh, and a few cars.
Looking back on all that, it’s hard to tell anyone else that they should go through what I went through because eventually! you might!?! be happy!!! but goddamnit, I’m so glad I didn’t die. Because things right now, other than the head injury and the stupidity that it entails, are awesome.
Did I mention that I have good hair?
I long suspected that if you could just remove all the nasty mental illness shit, I’d be a pretty happy person. And it’s true! Isn’t that a trip?
This might not be the message of hope that Hallmark wants to sell you, but let me repeat it. I am so glad I didn’t die.
I might have to start wearing a helmet, though. Concussions are a bitch.
I took an hour-long nap that evening and woke up feeling a little better. My husband and I watched Scrubs and ate McDonald’s and I felt like life might still have some good things in it. But then my husband fell asleep, and I couldn’t get my mind to settle. So I got back up at about 3am, called in sick to work, and spent a few hours composing and perfecting an email, then I sent it. Here’s my favorite paragraph:
I think that sums it up pretty well.
I finally fell asleep yesterday morning at about 8:30. Woke up at 1:30pm, called into a virtual work meeting, and spent the rest of the afternoon goofing off.
What I realized in the course of writing and revising that email to Amanda –and this isn’t just sour grapes– is that I don’t want to be friends with people who don’t tell me when I’m being an asshole. If something isn’t working, if I’ve pissed you off or upset you, let me know. Even if I can’t fix it, even if what I’ve said or done is unforgivable, at least give me the courtesy of telling me to fuck off. Don’t just disappear like I won’t notice that we’ve gone from hanging out weekly to “what the hell did I do?”
I know a lot of people don’t like confrontation. I get that. But suspecting something’s wrong, but not knowing, is a particularly agonizing sort of hell.
Unless someone is threating to your well-being –like they say vicious things when upset or have been known to bitch-slap people for looking at them funny– you have no excuse to ghost people who you have an established relationship with. It’s cruel, it drags things out, and it’s cowardly and weak. I have no interest in spending time with people who think that’s acceptable behavior.
Does it suck that I lost a friend? Absolutely. But the part that feels the worst is that I obviously misjudged her. Amanda comes off as feisty and opinionated, and I was under the impression that she would never pull shit like this. But she did. And that’s on her, not on me. I’m no longer pulling myself to pieces wondering what I did. After I slept on it, I stopped really caring what her reasons were. Because no reason could be good enough to cut someone off in that way.
There are absolutely people in my life who I’ve cut off. One was an ex who I’d tried to stay in touch with, but who was unsupportive and casually cruel, so I told him that he was awful and that I never wanted to talk to him again. Another was my brother, who I didn’t tell right away because I thought that what he was saying and doing was so singularly awful that I really had nothing to say to him (and he also gets violently angry when opposed.) I eventually did explain that posting Facebook memes sympathizing with the Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville was a pretty fucking shitty thing to do, and he even seemed to understand. I still don’t talk to him, though, for other more complicated reasons that I’ll probably never blog about because YEESH families are messy.
I’ve for sure stopped talking to people I met online and hadn’t known for very long, back in my dating days– but again, a few IM conversations or a first date at a bar don’t equal a relationship.
There are people in the past who’ve cut me off or distanced themselves from me, and in a lot of those cases, I kind of get it. I stole their crushes. I freeloaded off of them. I said things that were careless and offensive. I wasn’t a great person. My high school best friend lives in town, and being that she knew me through all my shittiest phases, I understand why we’re not superbesties 4 lyfe. I was an asshole to her. We’re friendly but not really friends. And that’s okay because I know the reasons.
But now I’m a fucking awesome person. I have flaws, sure. Definitely. But I am fairly responsible, a good cook, funny as hell, smart, caring, generous, kind, and always trying to improve myself. I am warm, and I take the time to hear people out. I made myself into someone worth knowing. It was hard work!
You don’t have to like me, laugh at my jokes, or enjoy my cooking. You are not required to be my friend. But basic human decency and being a non-awful part of society as a whole means that you at least owe someone an explanation if you’ve decided they’re not worth your time after years of friendship. This seems basic to me.
My husband has a friend (whom I’ll call Roxxi) whom he talks to several nights a week. He told her what was going on, and she sent me this amazing email that made me feel 97% better. In part:
I told her I want to print out her email and keep it in my wallet for the bad times. And she’s agreed to tell me if I’m ever being a jackass or simply need to shut the fuck up. Because that sort of thing is obvious to Roxxi, too. I didn’t know it before last night, but she’s not just my husband’s friend. She’s my friend, too.
In 2016, I got a temp job working for the Bureau of Labor and Industries. I worked front desk there for about six months. During my time there, I met Amanda, who first got my attention because she wore amazing lipstick. I decided I would be her friend. We both moved on from BOLI pretty quickly, and once we were both out, I invited her to lunch.
Because I’ve had some bad luck with friends in the past, I made it a point not to put much pressure on the relationship. We hung out about every six months; we would shop at the MAC counter and/or go to lunch. It worked. It was simple. I’d made a friend. She came to my parties and bought us towels for our housewarming a couple years back.
Last year, I got married. My husband and I had a simple, Dude-ist ceremony officiated by our friend, Jordan. We needed witnesses, so I asked Amanda. She came with her husband. And she decided her gift to me would be personal training sessions, because that’s what she does now.
We met for sessions a few times, and then Covid happened. We resumed in the summer, masked and distanced. When cases started going up again, we put the sessions on hold. And then we started meeting about once every week or so on my lunch breaks downtown, just to chat and get some (masked, distanced) social time.
Around Christmas, Amanda stopped texting me back as often. I noticed. I brought it up to my husband, and he said “Maybe she’s busy. Don’t think too much of it.” So I tried not to.
But in the past couple of months, I couldn’t shake the feeling. She’d respond to messages eventually, but she wasn’t volunteering anything. She wasn’t asking to meet up, and she wasn’t initiating conversations. Last week I was pretty worried about it, and so My husband said I should message her. I did. She responded. It seemed fine.
But I still couldn’t shake the feeling. So this morning I sent what was intended to be a lighthearted message, and I got the response you see above.
When I was in California from 2010-2012, I had two parties at my Mom’s, where I was living. Both of them were very well-attended. At the second one, a few people came up to me to tell me that I had awesome friends and sure knew how to throw a party. There are people from that time whom I still talk to, which is nice. But none of them live close by. And I’ve fallen out of touch with most of them. I’ve been written off by a few of them, too.
The past eight years have been awful for friendships. In March, 2013, my sister-in-law (who was also one of my best friends,) cut me off very suddenly and said a bunch of terrible things to me while doing it. We were living together at the time, so I moved out as quickly as I could. My brother also stopped talking to me for awhile, but I’d gotten pretty used to that by that point.
In May 2013, I moved in with my friend Dee, which was pretty much a disaster. I couldn’t keep a job, and I had trouble paying rent. In August of 2013, one of her friends said he’d replace my brakes and I’d only have to pay for the parts. I drove over to where he lived, and as soon as he got the wheels off my car, he started trying to extort more money from me. On the way to the ATM so I could take out cash to pay for the new brakes, he told me that someone had once refused to pay him for his work, and he’d cut that person’s brake line. I was freaked out. I gave him another $40, which I had to call my mother to have her send to me. He wanted an extra $200 or so. Over the next few weeks, he kept trying to intimidate me into giving him more money. I refused. And on Friday, September 13th, my brakes failed on the highway at 50mph, and I steered my car into a ditch so as not to hit anyone else. I’m pretty sure that this friend-of-a-friend tried to murder me. I was lucky that my only injuries were from trying to get out of the car, which had flipped onto the driver’s side. Love that Volvo engineering.
(Dee treated me like I was crazy for thinking her friend had tried to kill me, even when I told her he’d bragged about doing it before. When I confronted him about it a few years later, right in front of Dee, he said “I don’t want to talk about that.” Apparently that didn’t make much of an impression on her, either.)
Eleven days after the car accident, on September 24th, I lost my job, and on the 25th I checked myself into a psych facility because all I wanted to do was die. I spent the next few months in a hell of unemployment and (catastrophically) failed medications.
In January, 2014, Dee kicked me out. Someone else took me in. That was a disaster, too.
I hooked up with my husband in July, 2014, and we’ve pretty much lived together ever since. My housing is finally stable, but I haven’t really succeeded in making new friends. Some of his friends like me. But if we got a divorce, he’d get them in the split.
Amanda was the first person in a long time I’d made friends with all on my own.
My heart is broken. I’ve spent the past hour or so googling “why don’t people like me” and “how to make friends.” It’s pathetic.
I know that there are parts of me that could use a bit of a polish. I tend to talk too much when I’m nervous, and I’m almost always nervous. When people tell stories I have a tendency to say ME TOO and then elaborate, and some people feel like I’m one-upping or talking over them. I’m working on that. My humor can be abrasive, but I’ve toned it way back. Former coworkers who I considered friends dropped me without telling me why. I feel unlovable. I don’t trust anyone not to turn their back on me or ghost me, because it’s happened so many times now.
Last week I told my husband that there’s a voice in my head that says “nobody likes you, and they’re right.”
Ten years ago I was a fucking disaster of a human being. Holy Moly.
But I feel such sympathy for that fucking disaster of a human being. I didn’t know yet. I just didn’t know. I hadn’t been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and wouldn’t be for three and a half more years. That diagnosis was like a magic lens that make all the fucked up shit pop into focus.
I even wrote about how I’d get hooked on people and not be able to let go. I wondered why I was built that way. I obsessed for yeeeeeeeaaaaaarrrrrrrrsssss about poor, poor K who was, yes, kind of a dick sometimes, but did NOT DESERVE years of fucking birthday emailsfrom me in addition to me joining a Meetup group because he and his wife were in it. Even before I knew what flavor of crazy I was being, I should have known that I was being a creepy fucking stalker.
I was so angry at anyone who didn’t love me back the way I thought I deserved to be loved. I thought I was special and everyone else was cold and shut off. Turns out I was, like, super mentally ill. My shrink says all of those things can be true, I’m a special feelings princess, other people are cold and detached, and oh yeah I’m also like super mentally ill.
I see my BPD as being in remission. Like cancer. Like you gotta keep an eye on it and keep seeing your medical professionals on the regular, but you are not actively growing tumors or bleeding into your brain or anything. Woo hoo.
But there are nights like tonight when I feel nostalgia like indigestion in my gut, when certain songs bring back certain people. The only girl I’ve ever loved is a prostitute in Tucson now. The boy who went on vacation and never came back but didn’t ever tell me we’d broken up. My high school sweetheart who got married again and isn’t speaking to me again probably because his wife doesn’t want him to. Fucking Bruce who hasn’t talked to me since I told him that I didn’t really want to hear about his wet dreams through the medium of text message. And so on, and so on. My ghosts.
To paraphrase the late, great Carrie Fisher: Nothing’s ever really over. Just over there.
I started this blog ten years ago this month. I didn’t realize that before I signed in to post, but it’s a neat little coincidence.
There’s a lot in here that I find embarrassing now. Several things I’m probably better off not looking into too deeply tonight. But I can’t bring myself to abandon it, even with all the ranting about a certain someone, even with all the bravado and outbursts and so much documentation of a time before I knew what was wrong with me and how to, mostly, stop.
I have a very sturdy government job and have been relatively stable and working in government jobs for years now. I’ve been with my partner since Summer 2014, and we eloped last month at our favorite bar. I did a jello shot. I seldom drink anymore. I quit smoking. I quit vaping. I got very fat. It is all very stable, for me, and I think the me of February 2010 would be horrified at how boring I’ve become. But I’m no longer tearing myself apart, and that’s worth something.
And here’s some Frank Turner to sum it all up:
I thought that suffering was something profound,
That weighed down on wise heads,
And not just something to be avoided,
Something normal people dread.
I wrote a song a few months ago called “Imposter Syndrome.” Apparently it’s good. But other than that, I haven’t been writing.
I think part of it is that I’ve been busy with work (I’m working now!) and part of it is that I’m content enough and what I usually write about is angst. There hasn’t been a lot of angst.
But if I’m going to consider myself a writer, I have to write.
So I’ve got this temp gig working for a state agency as a receptionist. It was supposed to last for about two months, but I’ve been there for almost five. Maybe they’ll keep me, maybe they won’t, but it’s been a good experience. Having a job, having routine, is really good for me. Even when it’s a grind, it’s better than sitting at home hating myself. Now I can be at work hating myself. Ha ha.
It’s brought out a lot of insecurity, though, this job. Brought it to the surface, more like. Which is what “Imposter Syndrome” is about, that feeling that I’m a fraud and I don’t belong.
Amanda Palmer touches on that feeling a lot in her book The Art of Asking. You should really read it, I just finished it about 20 minutes ago, and it’s excellent.
Anyway. I’m going to try to write more (I always say that) and see what form my writing takes when I’m not ranting about the one that got away or some other agony from my oh-so-tortured life.
I just walked a mile and a half voluntarily. It’s part of my “I’m 35 now so I should probably get off my ass and try to make my life better” project. That might not sound like a lot of walking to you, but considering how sedentary I’ve been for the past nine months, it was an achievement.
I have my period this week, which usually (and currently) means dark moods and a deep well of depression that I have to continually back away from. In idle moments, my mind wanders and I start contemplating the futility of everything, and entropy, and the fact that it’s all basically meaningless. I have to pull myself away from that.
I see myself as basically stuck on this earth and in this life, and I know it’s my job to make the best of it and not bitch too much. I don’t really see the point sometimes, but I’m trying. What else can I do?
I have had a lot more energy! I want to get out and do things! I’m trying to get a job! But there’s not a lot to do, and no one has hired me yet, so there’s this drive to make progress but progress is very slow and not entirely under my control.
I was supposed to go swimming today, which means I proclaimed yesterday that I was GOING SWIMMING ON TUESDAY but it didn’t happen. I wasn’t exactly lazy, more exhausted. I knew that even if I got myself to the pool, which would be a bit of a slog, I wouldn’t have the energy to swim for an hour.
But the distance I just walked is further than that from here to the gym, so… maybe tomorrow? Maybe?
I am doing my best to stay away from the pit of despair and instead be hopeful and inspired and brave because, as I said, I’m stuck here. If I have to live this life, I might as well try to make it a good one. So that’s what I’m doing.
I turned 35 two days ago. I was pretty freaked-out by that number, but I’m feeling okay about it now. I still feel about 16, deep down. I’m trying to treat this birthday like a New Year, in that I’m making resolutions and trying to just… make my life better. You know?
It’s been months and months of sitting on my ass, feeling decrepit and sorry for myself, and I’m sick of it. I’m not back to 100% and there are things I can’t reasonably do, but there are a lot of things I can do and should at least try.
So I’m visiting doctors to try to get better, and taking my pills to try to stay sane, and I still feel like crap and kind of like dying, but there’s hope here as well, and that’s keeping me going.
When I turned 30, I freaked the hell out. I’m glad I’m not doing that now. Getting older is so weird. I don’t feel different, except in the ways that I do. Older, wiser maybe, a lot more exhausted. Today I’m swinging between panic and excitement.
So this post is just checking in, I guess. Hello, Internet. I’m still here.