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. )

Blue Moon Blues

th-3.jpegMy mother and I sat back to back on the tiny step stool used to help patients scoot up on examining tables.  My sister laid in the bed beside us, disoriented and fearful.  She’d tried to commit suicide again.

The emergency ward was overflowing with people seeking attention, and the presence of several officers in uniform indicated that this was an unusual time.

“Busy night?” I asked one whose leg brushed up against me.

He looked down and considered who he was talking to.  “Yes,” he said.  “Always is on a blue moon.”

Say what you will about superstition, but there is something to the phenomena of full moons.  When I used to be a customer service representative for the phone company, our bosses would bring in treats to keep us going through the onslaught of bizarre phone calls that accompanied full moons.  Aliens, wiretapping, and conspiracy theories replaced our typically routine calls.

th-2Blue moons – the occurrence of two full moons in a month – seem to be worse.  My sister was one of many that night who, swayed by a force they could not articulate, tried to end their lives.  She was not successful, and her efforts fortunately landed her in professional care, but we all knew it was only a matter of time until it happened again.

Today’s lunar activity is being dubbed a super blue moon.  Take extra care out there, all who suffer from mental illness, and those who love them.

Distraught? Pause

Yesterday, I was ready to give up – on everything.  I was convinced that my husband’s distraction meant he didn’t love me and that our marriage was coming to an end.  I  panicked to think that we are planning to leave home and I will be cut off from family.  I convinced myself that I am doomed to a loveless, sterile existence, and wondered what was the point of it all.

Typically verbose and sunny, I barely uttered two words – my mind was clouded with too many dark thoughts.

What triggered it?

th-1Hard to tell for sure, but yesterday’s blog post, courtesy of Dr. Nicholas Jenner served as an anchor that stopped me from blurting out things I would surely have regretted later.  His timely words reminded me of how deeply my relationship with my father still affects me.  Everything I was feeling could be linked back to childhood.

Thank goodness I had the common sense to wait for my inner churning to settle before speaking.

Initiating a confrontation when emotions and anxieties are at a climax is never a good idea.

Today, exhausted, and calmer, I am able to recognize that the problems that made me want to jump ship yesterday, are likely easily resolved with open and honest dialogue.

I recognize now that I had projected my father’s emotional absence into my husband’s distraction.  While it’s true that we pick partners with whom we can replay the wounded areas of our original child/parent relationship, it is important to separate out the realities.  My father was emotionally unavailable because he was a) a workaholic, and b) an alcoholic, and c) unable to live authentically (he identified as female although his outer body was male).  Is my husband emotionally unavailable?  At times, yes.  But neither to the extent, nor for the same reasons as my dad.  I can talk to him about it, without the backlash that might have resulted with Dad.

As a child, my need for love and reassurance was constantly squashed.  “You have no problems; you don’t need anything” were the messages I received; so much so that I would rock my sobbing self to sleep with the mantra:  “I don’t need anyone; I don’t need anything.”

As an adult, I recognize the fallacy in this type of thinking, and have worked hard at articulating and addressing my personal needs.  Relationships, I have come to understand, are about meeting each others needs.   This morning, I am able to recognize that this subject is up for discussion without the panic and childlike terror of yesterday.

th.jpgYesterday, I was read to give up – for whatever reason.  It was an emotional crisis triggered by unknown fear.

Thank goodness I had the wherewithal to wait before reacting.

The Vortex

(Note:  Much of my inspiration for writing comes from dreams, which I typically interpret in the form of poetry, but recently I have been challenging myself to write prose.  A Bee’s Perspective is the poetic response to the dream behind this piece.)

Even as the floorboards beneath her heave and crack with a thunderous roar, Mackenzie remains fixated on the screen in front of her, unable to wrench herself from an all time high game score.

Upstairs, she knows, the children are alone, too young really to console themselves against the raging winds that encircle their tiny vessel of a house – a ship, she’d once thought of it, a dream come true.  But that was so long ago and the build up to this storm had been so gradual, so inevitable, that she cannot pull herself away from distraction long enough to address the mountain of needs stockpiling around her.

A buzzing close to her ear warns Mackenzie that a bee has flown into her tempest and the threat of being stung and suffering an anaphylactic reaction is very real, and yet; she continues, hands locked on controller, eyes riveted.

Dave sits at the kitchen table, sipping his late night tea, absorbed in some absurd self-satisfaction, oblivious to the drama unfolding around him.  His external persona is subdued – polite civility, he calls it – and he is more observer than participant, cannot tolerate conflict, prefers to let his wife deal with the household, the children, and other mundanities.  His disinterest is far-reaching, and even as he sits, his very presence spurs Mackenzie on, driving her deeper into manic desperation.

The presence of chubby legs at the upstairs baby gate breaks her reverie, and in a moment of sudden clarity Mackenzie realizes the safeguard is not hinged, and she senses before she sees her son’s tiny body propelling forward, as the rails give way.  Her arms reach out helplessly ineffective as the tot plunges, their cries a tangle of shock and woe.

It is over in an instance, and neither husband nor the baby’s older sister startle from their reveries, and Mackenzie, the now limp body of her child crumpled at her feet, hears the drone of the bee’s buzz, her last conscious awareness before succumbing to the vacuum pull of a personal vortex.

(Image: witnessandtestimony.blogspot.com)

Illness and Isolation

Prolonged illness almost always equates to isolation.

Initially, kindness reveals itself through visits from friends and coworkers, meals dropped off, and many offers to help in any way.  Not yet adjusted to my rapidly changing situation, I was overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed by such an outpouring, having always considered myself strong and independent.

Perhaps, I pushed others away.  More likely, having been forced off the highway of life, everyone else moved on.

In the past, I defined a relationship in terms of responsibility.  If I felt needed, then the relationship had value.  In illness, I no longer have much to give. I now recognize that my former definition was not necessarily healthy, yet still struggle to imagine who would find my friendship worthwhile: another barrier to connecting.

Professional relationships have almost all disappeared.  The commonality of ongoing training sessions and shared education-related challenges are no longer part of my life.  Annual goal-setting reports absent, I am focusing on new goals now:  baby steps really.  Who can relate when aspirations equate to meeting daily hygiene requirements and hoping to publish one blog post every other day?  Hardly inspirational.

Illness changes a person.  From the outside, the transformation must be incomprehensible.  Having grown up with a sister plagued by life-threatening illnesses, I know I interpreted much of her behaviour as selfish.  Only now (long after she passed away) do I understand that it is self-preservation that drove her actions, not selfishness.  I suspect most outsiders lack that perspective.th-1

Add depression into the mix – a natural response to such dramatic life change – and there is another wall to interacting.  I find myself battling with hypersensitivity, analyzing personal comments and twisting them into evil rejection.  I am anxious of conversations that involve justification of how my life turned out so pathetically.  I fear judgment.

Isolation is seldom listed as a symptom of chronic disease, but it certainly is a component.  The need for human interaction is very real, in fact, psychologically, I would say it is essential.

Making a conscientious effort to reach out to others, balancing social activity with limited energy, and valuing myself enough to keep the negative self-talk to a minimum, is how I am currently countering isolation.

(Featured image:  jessica-art.deviantart.com)

Depression On Board

Depression rides along with chronic illness, not as a cause, but as a response.  th

The limitations of this disease (ME/CFS) are not easily defined, yet, if pushed, will result in undeniable consequences.  You would think that after three years, I would know this, and yet, I continually fall into patterns of denial.

We travelled 3,000 miles in February.  I was able to visit with friends, attend meals out, and enjoy myself.  We came home, and I felt obligated to help with the unpacking.  I ignored the cramps in my muscles.  I pushed myself to attend a family get together, thinking that a day in bed afterwards would refresh me.  Two days later, I went for a prescheduled ultrasound and since I was already out of the house, decided to also pay a visit to my mother in the Nursing Home.  It’s been a week and I am still trying to recover – having spent the last week in bed.

All the symptoms are back – flu-like symptoms, IBS, swollen lymph nodes, insomnia, pain, and brain fog, to name a few.

And I feel depressed.

“I’m sliding back,”  I tell my husband.

“You’ve had a setback,” he agrees.   “You are not going backwards.”

My voice of reason.

Taking care of the physical side of the disease is straight forward – rest as much as possible, stay hydrated, and watch what I eat.

Taking care of the mental/emotional is a little more complicated.  I feel defeated.  I feel like the effort it takes to do anything is too much.  I am tempted to withdraw from others until I am better.

I am also aware that this is what depression looks like.

So today, I set a goal for myself to make a batch of chili, and I sent a text out to the kids that mom was making dinner.

It wasn’t easy.  I had to lie down many times in the process, and my brain failed me a couple of times, but dinner made it to the table, and I managed to get a few pint-sized hugs.  More than that, I knew that my daughter and her husband were very grateful to have someone else cook dinner for a change.

They all gathered around me in the bedroom after dinner;  we had a short visit, and then they were gone.

It was just the lift I needed.

Tomorrow, a friend is coming to visit.

Small things, but important if I’m going to keep depression out of the driver’s seat.

(Image:  www.thelittleblackgallery.com)


Inner Children Need Care Too

“Pay attention to your inner child,” my therapist advised me when I first got sick.  th

It seems that fear causes emotional regression and any needs suppressed over the years come barreling forward in irrational outbursts.  Hard to deny that one from where I’m sitting.

I’ve been dreaming about children lately – children in my care – and I am constantly losing sight of one or another.  Is my inner child trying to tell me something, I wonder.  Then it hits me:

My inner child is twins!  No wonder I’m having such a hard time.

One twin is forever taking risks, while the other hovers near, afraid of her own shadow.  The first climbs to impossible heights, jumps without ensuring there is support to catch her, and is constantly on the move.  Child two is content with floor play, entertains herself nicely, but has trouble with social interactions and new experiences.

So, which one do I tend to?  Do I chase after over-confidence and try to instil a little fear into her, or do I hover over the sensitive one trying to convince her to be more like her sister?

I’m reminded of being a parent with two young toddlers, who interestingly enough, fit these two personality types.  It was hard to be fair, and ensure equal attention for both when their needs were so diverse.  I was exhausted then; no wonder I still am.th-1

“Ask your inner child what she needs,” my therapist had suggested, so I try to imagine it.

I picture sitting each of the girls down on my lap and asking them directly.

“I like to have fun and adventure,” I see twin number one saying, “but I need you to tell me when I’m going too far, because I can’t set limits for myself.  I may get mad, but I’ll know you’re doing it out of love.”

I check this request with my own childhood and it fits.  I never had any restrictions on my behaviour.  In fact, from the age of five onward, I was often locked out of my house and left to my own devices, and one of my favourite things to do was climb trees, as high as I could get.  Other kids’ moms would tell them to come down before they hurt themselves, but no one ever told me.  This lack of healthy guidelines followed me into adolescence where I seldom had curfews.  I never felt free, though, just uncared for.th-2

“I will do my best to ensure you are safe,” I tell her,” because I do care.  I love you very much.”

I let her sister take her place, and ask the same question:  “What do you need from me?”

She looks at me with big doe eyes and for the first time I realize she is much younger than her sister, so not a twin.  She does not have the words to tell me what she wants, but I sense that just being held brings her comfort.

“Do you like cuddles?”  I ask her.

She leans in.

“You’re a very good girl,” I tell her caressing her long curls.  I hug her to me and try to visualize things from her side.

Life was very confusing in our household when I was her age.  My oldest sister – a half-sister, although I didn’t know it – was dying.  My parents, overwhelmed by medical costs, juggled working with visits to the hospital.  I was tossed to whoever could care for me.  This inner child is manifesting the insecurity and uncertainty that must have permeated the atmosphere back then.  Despite her young years, she tries very hard to be ‘good’ but is afraid at the same time.

“I love you, and I will take good care of you,” I tell her.  “You are safe now.”

thI know this child, also.  She is the part of me that craves physical attention, that wants to be held when I’m scared.  She is the one that shies away from new situations and needs extra reassurance.  These are not weaknesses, they are part of my reality.

I think I finally understand what my therapist means.  We need to take care of our inner little ones if we are to be well.


Why Are We Not Talking About the Real Issues?

I was sixteen and starry-eyed when the handsome, eighteen-year-old G asked me out.  For two years I had secretly swooned over him but I never dreamed that he would notice me.  I felt like the luckiest girl alive!

When he told me that he was going to be the next drummer for The Who, I didn’t think anything of it – who didn’t want to be a rock star in the ’70s?

When he said he’d talked to Pete Townsend, I was impressed with his ambition and the lengths he would go to in pursuit of achieving his goal.  He spoke with such intensity, his dark eyes gleaming with a far away dreamy glint that pulled me in.  I just wanted to bask in the light of his enthusiasm.

Then he borrowed my sister’s car so that he could deliver Christmas cards to all the churches.  While the gesture was nice, it also seemed odd.

“Why?” I asked.

“Look at me,”  he responded.  “Look into these eyes.  Who do you see?”

I saw G.

“Jesus Christ,” he stated emphatically.  “Don’t you see it?  I am the second coming!”

I broke it off with G. and didn’t think much about him until I received a phone call months later from a prison.  It was G.; he had stabbed his father and stepmother.

“Why did you do it?” I asked, stunned.

He might have said they were the antichrist, or that they were Judas, or some other such nonsensical explanation, I don’t remember.  I just remember wondering how this young man’s mind had led him so far astray.  th-1

In her book, A Mother’s Reckoning, the mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Kiebold describes her son’s journey through mental illness, culminating in the violent death of many.  Sue Kiebold’s courageous exploration of her son’s motivations points to a system that failed to recognize the depth of his angst.  In the end, his act was ultimately a tragic form of suicide.

As the sister of a paranoid schizophrenic, I can relate to how difficult it is to find quality health care, and help during crisis moments.  The number of individuals needing help far exceeds the available health care professionals in our city.  Waiting lists are long, and the care offered limited.  My family has despaired for many years over the lack of solutions offered to our often suicidal loved one.

It seems to me that the greatest threat facing society today is not the radicalization of our youth, but the lack of effective treatment for those suffering mental health conditions.  While the media rushes to identify terrorist connections they are overlooking the more essential question.  th-2

The unbalanced mind, bent on destruction, will align itself with forces that aggrandize and support its need for validation.  (Perhaps that is not the right word, but I think my point is made.)

While fear sells –  and that is basically what journalism is pandering for – it is socially irresponsible that media is ignoring the real issue here.

9/11 was an organized terrorist attack.  It involved in-depth planning, spread out over a number of years.  It was not a random, nor isolated event.

Individuals seeking media attention, who follow trends in violence, will associate with factions such as ISIS, more out of misguided delusions than true affiliation with any one cause.  These individuals should be forcing society to ask the difficult questions, including what needs to be done to better address the needs of the mentally ill.

The energy with which the media sensationalize the perpetrators of mass killings only fuels further acts of violence.  Imagine what would happen if that same fervor was invested in identifying and providing help for those at risk.