Hidden Messages

“I’m not as smart as you.  I’d probably be okay if I was smarter.”

“That’s not true, June.  You are very smart.”

“Do you really think so?”

My sister and I are doing dishes after supper.  June suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

“You got 96% in your nursing program,” I remind her.  “Intelligence is not your problem.  You have a mental illness.  That is different.”

“I did, didn’t I?’  She pauses.  “I used to be a good nurse.”

“Everyone said you were.”

June would attempt to take her life at least once a year, resulting in the eventual loss of her job and much of her independence.

“Do you want me to do the washing?  You must be tired.”  She sets down her dish towel and backs away from the sink.

“I am fine; we’re almost done.”

“You are probably just tired,” she insists moving out of the kitchen and sitting down.

I have a revelation about my sister in that moment.  It is actually June that is tired, but somehow, unable to articulate her need, she is projecting the fatigue onto me.  This explains much of her behaviour.  She’ll often tells me I’m cold, or hungry, when I’m not.  She is really talking about herself.

“June is unable to speak directly to whatever is bothering her,” I explain to my mother.  “So we can’t take what she says at face value.”

“It must be part of her illness,” Mom deduces.

Except that I notice my mother does the same thing.  Not as blatant as June, but still there are hidden messages in what she says:

“How can you keep a husband and work full-time?” she might ask me, which I often viewed as criticism.  Or:  “You were out having lunch with a friend; what about your husband and children?”

Such statements would grate on my nerves, but now I can see there is more to it.

“Did you ever work outside the house, Mom?”

“Oh, I would have loved to, but your father forbid it.  A woman’s place is in the home.  When I did go to work, it was only after I threatened to leave, but; he never liked it.”

Mom’s ‘judgments’ are actually expressions of regret for the limitations she felt in her own life.  Apart from not being allowed to work outside the home, she also dissuaded from cultivating personal friendships.

“My children are all I need,” she’d say.

My family, it seems, are masters at hiding the truth.  Which gives me pause to think about my own behaviours.

Am I good at articulating what I need?  Am I truthful about what my needs are?

Clearly, I have work to do.

(Looking back over old posts, I found this one from five years ago.  It fits with this week challenge – conversation.  I have revised the post for this publishing. )

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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