Precious or costly things

Dear Internet,

I often feel like a spectator to my own train wreck of a life.

After years in the making, my mother and I broke up on Sunday. I spent much of the afternoon and night writing about it, only to find that I could not wrap my brain, and apparently my fingers, around the whole episode. Thousands of words were written and thousands were tossed aside.1 Instead of the world lifting from my shoulders, I felt the guilt that often hides in the shadows and was now dancing around my peripheral heart with glee. My heart itself felt like it was tightening so hard that I could not breathe.

The cumulation of our break-up, for me, was the realization she may have lied to me about something very big. After getting over the initial shock of, “Why in thee fuck have I not thought of this sooner?”, I felt my entire world crumble and I was instantly emotionally drained

Her potential lie has two consequences:

  • If what she told me was indeed a lie, then she not only poisoned me with her hatred against my father, but she ruined my relationship with him; whom I’ll never get a chance to make-up with since he’s been dead 12 years.
  • If what she told me was not a lie, then why did she never protect me, ever, from that danger?

What started down this road of holy fuckery was putting the connections together after her birthday lunch earlier in the day. She and I were buffered by TheHusband and my brother, ensuring that we barely spoke a word throughout the entire strained meal. After, I spent the better part of the afternoon obsessing over how thin our links had become to the other in the last year; with TheHusband wondering loudly, and quite rightly, why I had not broken the connection long ago. I steadfastly believed, until the very second I did not, I could not be that girl. I could not, no matter how horrid our relationship was, give up on her as a daughter. I did not want to be filled with regret after she was dead for missed chances and opportunities for maternal connection. I was barely on speaking terms with my father when he died and it has haunted me for over a decade on everything I may have potentially lost with him and I did not want to go through with that with her.

I’ve never known a time when she said anything even remotely kind about him. As I got older, I started piercing together some of the mistruths she had told in relation to him and of course to me, and rationalized it was all due to, at various times of her life, depression, being bi-polar, or general bitchiness about her divorce from him. But whatever reason she may have had for what she said, in this particular instance, could only come from pure evil and I could not rationale away what she did any other way.

When that connection was made, that I knew she had lied to me in the past and that this one event that shaped much of my teenage years and beyond could also potentially be a lie, the bond between us was finally broken.

Just so we’re clear, there was a long period of time in my ’20s when she and I did not speak. However, since the death of my father in 2000, I have tried desperately in vein to work things out with her. And in the years since then, anytime I’ve tried to tell her or even just to discuss my thoughts and feelings about our relationship (good or bad), it usually boils down to she either telling me if she hurt my feelings, she didn’t mean it and she’s sorry or that I’m insanely jealous of my brother (because it is always about him) or she claims she never said whatever it is I’m supposing telling her she said. There is no real discussion, catharsis, emotional break throughs or fuck, even understanding.

In the very near future, I will be removing myself from her legal documents and transferring that over to my brother. I will be canceling and/or removing her from any accounts or services she may use through me.

While I know I may be revisiting this again and again in the future to work out feelings, she no longer exists in my world.

TTFN,
Lisa


1. The baby was not quite thrown out with the bathwater just yet. I have been using, daily, Day One for all of my personal journaling needs. Since I have it on all my devices and machines, it syncs seamlessly with iTunes and Dropbox. The tossed aside content was added as Sunday’s journal entry and will probably remain there until I feel braver discussing it publicly.

conversations about mother (part ii)

To support NaNoWriMo this month, I’m finishing the 30+ odd drafts laying about and posting them through the month of November.

Part I: Conversations about mother
Part III: Conversations about mother (part iii)

I lied.

But I’ll maintain it was for the sake of good copy. The realization to write about my family is not something that came to me in an instant but something that I’ve been struggling with for months. My panic attacks and anxiety levels, which have been fairly dormant these last few years, have come aggressively to the surface with the move to Grand Rapids. My precious supply of Klonopin, when before I used so sparingly and only when under extreme need, I’m now eating like TicTacs.

On the surface, things are falling into place for TheHusband and me after months and years of sacrifice and financial starvation. Things are not absolutely perfect (I work part-time as opposed to full-time, as an example), but when are they ever? We are starting to build a lovely life – so why all the goddamned almost crippling anxiety? Again? The conclusion: If after ruling out everything else that could be detrimental to my mental health and the only thing left is my family, therefore they must be the cause of this unwarranted stress. It is also equally important, I feel, that in order to continue on discussing my familial relationships, it is also equally important to lay out the history of my anxiety.

I had my first panic attack when I was barely a teenager. What I can recall is that I was walking with a girlfriend from one class to the next when my heart started racing a million miles per minute. I can also remember looking down and seeing the fabric of my shirt move ever so slightly to the tune of my heart beat. I do not remember the eventual underlying cause for the attack but it was, in my living memory, the first real physical experience of being physically anxious. The heart racing went on for a few moments before settling back down to its normal rhythm. And as it happened, just like that!, it also ended. I must have, at the time, reported the incident to my mother who took me to the family GP who announced I had mitral valve prolapse. Stress, fear or anxiety were never mentioned in my diagnosis though much later, I would find out it is those things that triggered it.

(For many years I told people I had a literal broken heart. It sounded much more dramatic and romantic while fueling my ever active imagination.)

As I age, the anxiety comes and goes in ebbs and tides. Sometimes, symptoms are minute and barely noticeable when I know I am under extreme stress and others, it would have me convinced that I was having a heart attack, dying or riddled with cancer when I felt I had no stress in my life. Sometimes still, the more frightened, cornered, or helpless I feel, the more intense the symptoms would manifest. Others, I would be conscious that I was anxious or upset which easily could explain the flight or fight feeling while others, I could be at an event having a good time when the symptoms would begin to manifest themselves for no apparent reason.

With me, there is no straight path with anxiety, and almost always, if it happened one way before it would not necessarily happen the same way again. The symptoms would almost never repeat themselves. Sometimes it would be a racing heartbeat for a few minutes, other times it would be traveling aches/pains that would appear and disappear with no introduction or farewell. Once I had hair randomly fall out for months and then stop. This past winter, after TheHusband and I moved to Grand Rapids, I got something in my eye when I was getting ready for bed. Most normal people wash their eyes out and continue on with their life, but instead, I became ultra-hysterical and belligerent. I was convinced I had cancer, I was going to lose my eye and thus was going to die in five minutes! After washing my eye out with water AND saline a million times, on top of crying hysterically; TheHusband could not find the offending piece of whatever that was driving me insane. The only way he could calm me down was by drugging me up. Within minutes I was asleep and was incredibly sheepish about the whole incident the following day.1

To be fair, the anxiety of my youth paled to that which would come in my 20s and 30s as illustrated by the examples above. By 1997, I was desperately unhappy with my life and under the wooing of a man-boy, I sold all my worldly possession and ran to the Bay Area to start my life anew. The man-boy promised fame and fortune, but instead left me in an illegal apartment culled out of a walk-out basement, in a house controlled by a dominatrix. Within several months of my move, he and I were over and I was working for a small tech firm in San Francisco. Within a year, TheHusband (then as TheBoyfriend part i) and I were living together in Oakland. According to TheHusband, I spent most of our relationship during that time on wild bouts of alcohol infused desperation. I don’t remember much of our time together during that period other than I drank a lot, we were dirt poor, and it seemed no matter what I did to improve my life, I was still so desperately unhappy.

By the summer of 1999, TheHusband and I were broken up but still living together. I was restless and always on the lookout for an escape route to get out of California2. I found the escape by applying for and being offered a position at UUNet, located a million miles away.3 For the move, I was driving across the country alone with the most precious of my worldly belongings in my car and the rest shipped to my final destination. To make the move even more bittersweet, the day I went to hand in my resignation, I was made redundant from my current job.

While all of this was going on over the course of the summer (breaking up, drinking binges, concocting wild & desperate plans to escape), I started getting intense physical pains in my right arm – eventually to the point that it would not bend or move as it was meant to bend or move. Soon, I needed to have TheHusband’s help to get clothes on or off. This was in addition to the minute symptoms of stress also occurring, such as the rapid heart rate, clammy skin and random aches and pains. Convinced I was dying, I headed to the emergency room, where after battery of tests I was informed nothing was wrong with me. As soon as the diagnosis came, the pain vanished. I was as healthy as a horse, except for the tiny, picky little thing called stress. The ER docs did warn me, however, that if I did not do something about it soon, I may find myself slightly dead.

Sometime shortly thereafter that announcement, I bade TheHusband goodbye, climbed into my car and left San Francisco and all of my California problems behind, forever. From San Francisco to Virginia, with a pit stop in Atlanta, my drive was the 5->10->20 and then north, cutting across the lower part of the U.S. and across the widest part of Texas.

I felt fine in LA and in Phoenix (no minute or heavy stress attacks) as I drove but somewhere around Las Cruces, NM I began to have a major panic attack. It was late at night, I was stuck between two semis and the 10 had turned into single, each way lanes coupled with high cement shoulders due to construction. To top this wondrous night off, it was raining and raining hard. I began to panic. I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t breathe and I was freaked out of my wits. This stepped up the racing thoughts that any second I was going to careen into the cement shoulder, hit a semi or get run over by the semi behind me. After what seemed like hours but was probably only mere minutes, I pulled off the road when I found the first mom and pop motel where I grabbed a room for the night. Even by taking myself out of what I thought was a dangerous situation, my heart wouldn’t stop racing. I made deals, bets, begged, cajoled, pleaded and bargained with whatever deity was above me to make this end. Nothing happened. I paced my room, smoked a million cigarettes and did everything I thought of in my power but I could not calm down.

The situation was made more intense that while I was no longer freaking out about my impending death on the 10, new thoughts would appear about my situation. I was in the wilds of New Mexico! Alone! With hardly any money! No one I know for hundreds of miles! With a crap cell phone!4I was literally thousands of miles from my destination, alone, nearly broke, and frightened and scared.

Common sense roused its stately head and forced me to go wake mom and pop up to explain in very poor pidgin Spanish that I felt like I was unable to breathe because that was the first thing I could think of to tell them. I could hear the crackling of Spanish on the radio in the make-shift lobby as I spoke. I remember how warm the night felt against my skin and the air hung with wetness from the recent downpour. I must have looked like a crazy person, standing there, begging for help in a reasonable voice while my heart raged on and clearly, able to breathe.

EMTs shortly arrived thereafter and gave me oxygen, which upon my first inhale I immediately calmed down. They found, just as the ER docs found a few weeks before, nothing wrong with me. Healthy as a horse. It is like once the attack has been fully addressed in some manner, it decides to leave as quickly as it sprang up. Instead of being thankful to the EMTs for the reassurance, I remember feeling chastened. Slightly ridiculous that I called them out in the middle of the night for a panic attack. Also a little stupid, a little insane and a whole lot of embarrassed.

Moments of lucidness during my attacks, when I knew I was fine and I knew I was not in harms way were always felt to be made like disappearing bread crumbs along a well worn road by the panic. It is a struggle, still in the now and sometimes almost daily, to differentiate between the world colored by anxiety and the world in which is real. It is an exhausting struggle within my brain to fight for what could be potentially destructive behavior as compared as to what is termed normal behavior.

Intensive bouts of therapy over the years has taught me how to work with and for the anxiety, to control it, subdue it and to live a fairly normal life. In 2003, in addition to being diagnosed with anxiety, I was further diagnosed as a high functioning Borderline Personality Disorder. Treatment via talk therapy (I had a regular shrink) coupled with techniques learned from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

1. We laugh about this incident now and anytime one of us has a something in their eye, it’s automatically termed the problem is cancer.
2. Which I would later swore I would never return nor step foot west of the Mississippi. That too turned to be false when I would go visit a friend of mine in Sacramento in 2003. So much for big threatening gestures.
3. Northern Virginia.
4. Back in ye olde times when cell phones were bricks, on analog service and you paid by the minute.

Conversations About Mother (part i)

My brother and I are not on cordial enough speaking terms to the effect that we do not meet up, speak/text or are even Facebook BFFs. Our only connection is in regards to our mother, and even then contact is either brief moments filled with monosyllabic conversations or heated arguments that result in a lot of shameless threats thrown from both sides.

TheHusband, who finds my brother to be a gigantic asshole and refuses to allow him to step foot into our home until my brother apologizes for several unsavory things he’s said to me, did agree that any kind of “family” gathering should be done in a neutral location to keep the drama to low murmur. This is done to appease mother who continually harps and makes noises on “Why can’t you all just be civil to one another?” whenever my brother and I begin to bicker. Mother, however, seemingly and innocently forgets that much of my brother’s and I intolerance of each other has been started by her in some way and additionally while complaining about our sibling behavior, chooses to ignore the fact that she’s not spoken to half of her own brethren (she is the eldest of seven) in nearly five years for various infractions only known to her (and of which she can never explain when asked). Regardless of historical nods, my frustration levels skyrocket whenever a tentative olive branch is swung out to greet him, my brother will consistently denounce any kind of gathering, neutral or otherwise and effectively cock blocks any kind of civility I attempt to share when planning “family time,” regardless of how desperate my mother is to have it.

Therefore to save my sanity and have less dealings with my brother, family celebrations are now split in half for mother, who spends half her time with me and the remaining with my brother.

It is no surprise for this past Mother’s Day, I told mother that she should make plans with my brother first and then we would do our plans around those plans with my brother were made concrete. A day or two later, she tells me that she and my brother were having a mid-day meal at the retirement villa and that after, she’d like to come to our place to hang out while TheHusband and I gardened, followed by meal and game playing (Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit). Because it was her day, I also told her to pick the meal which to her meant giving me the breakdown of a four course (but very simple) meal, which TheHusband and I shopped and prepped for the day before. As mother no longer drives due to neuropathy in her feet caused by diabetes, additional timing is taken into consideration when scheduling events with her. I made it very clear to her that due to my work schedule the following day, it would need to be an early night and that since dinner would take about 1.5 to 2 hours from prep time to table, we would like to eat in the later afternoon with her tucked up back home at a fairly reasonable hour. She agreed.

With surface history of the dealings with my brother mentioned, I was not surprised upon receiving a call from my mother an hour before I was to pick her telling me that my brother could not make it to the mid-day meal (of course) and that instead, he was picking her up in the mid-afternoon to go to a party that was being held in his honor (his birthday was last week). With no thought to our feelings, plans, or prep for the meal she informs me that she’s going to this party. I asked her to call me if she was going to be arriving later then 5pm so we could plan accordingly. She in fact didn’t call until 6pm and was terribly surprised to find out that no, I was not picking her up and no, we were not having dinner as planned and in short, no, we’re not celebrating Mother’s Day with her. I made mention to dropping off some items of hers at her house the following day and hung up.

The following day, I kept to my promise and dropped some goods off at her apartment that I had ordered for mother from Amazon. Mother looked emotionally beaten and was clearly visibly upset. While I sat ramrod straight in a chair, pissed at how rude she behaved the day before, she proceeds to tell me with fat tears running down her cheeks that my brother spent the most of their time together the day before berating her for her behavior. Why was she not fast enough with her cane? Why is she so slow? Why is she not doing a million things at once like she used to do? My brother then apparently bragged that the people who were throwing him the party considered him as a second son (their own son died in a car accident in October 2010 and he and my brother were quite close) and that he wanted to be adopted by them. My brother is 32. On Mother’s Day, my brother used his time with her to talk about her failings, her missed actions and how horrible she was as a mother and did absolutely nothing else.

I struggled with two things that day: One how best to approach mother diplomatically in regards to her own fairly atrocious behavior and secondly, to not get caught up in the mother/brother drama that has pervaded me for nearly my entire life. I succeeded in the first but failed in the second.

This is a gloss over the day to day workings of my immediate family, which accounts for the partial disjointedness of the writing when attempting to explain in the shortest amount of time possible a second in a dysfunction that has been ongoing for decades. Much like that day when I sat ramrod straight in the chair, upset and angry for her behavior towards me, I could feel the undertow pull of her laying down the guilt no matter how much I fought against it. The unspoken listing of her wants and needs, rejecting the possibility that she’s ever done anything wrong is strong. How dare I criticize her when clearly my brother offended her the most with his behavior? Obviously, she should not want to live if we both think she’s the most horrible mother in the world!

I realised then I had two options: Instead of writing short stories where the mother is always violently killed, I would end up murdering my own OR I could start writing publicly about my family to get the tale out into the open. At the very least, it will keep me out of prison. At the very most, it will serve to help articulate years of feeling inadequacy for being born and save me thousands in future therapists bills.