I wanna be big and let go of this grudge

Don’t you just hate it when you spend years helping someone you love escape an abusive relationship (and protect her, and care for her kids, and scoop her off the floor and dry her tears) and just when she starts to feel whole again, she reconnects with her abuser? I would hate that too…if it wasn’t me who did it.

In the fall, I dropped by my parents’ apartment one day while I was driving by. I hadn’t seen them in 3 years. I was in a deep depression, feeling very alone and really needed someone to be really happy to see me. They were.

Since then, I’ve met my mom for coffee, introduced her to my kids, and started talking to her on the phone once in a while. At first, I was able to set and maintain very clear boundaries with her. I just ignored the potentially hurtful things that she said and focused on the positives. But I feel that my boundaryis beginning to slip. I feel I am being pushed too close to her spider’s web.

The borderline witch persona inside my mother peaked her head out last week. I shouldn’t have been surprised… but it really gets me every time.

I was hurting and asked her to help me in a way that I needed, rather than the way that she wanted to be seen helping. This triggered her rejection sensors. From there, she went into survival mode and (as always) kicked me when I was down. #storyofmylife.

I desperatly want to repair my relationship with my mom. I want to help her feel less alone, less lost. But she hasn’t changed. The behaviours that pushed me away (and tore me apart) are still engrained in her. I know now that it’s not her fault, that she has a serious mental illness and that her motivation is self-protection and not directly intent to hurt, but that doesn’t make the slaps sting less.

By going back to my mom, letting her into my new life and into my head, I think that I may have hurt the people who have really been there for me throughout these impossible years. I imagine that they feel frustrated, used and see me as ungrateful. They all worked hard with love to help me escape my abuser just to have me turn around and jump back into the lion’s den.

The people who were there for me- I can count you on one hand and I don’t thank you enough. IJ, HB, SA, SJ and (of course) OA, you kept my life together while I fell apart. You all became a team with a mission to save my kids and protect me from myself. You made sure that I had a life to come back to. For that I am eternally grateful. Thank you.

I didn’t mean to choose between hurting you and trying to heal my mother. But at first, it felt so good to see her. It felt good to be kind to her. It helped me see that there were good things that I learned from her and could share with my kids (reading, academia, traditions, cooking badly). Her superficial good lured me in and I forgot why I had pushed away.

I began to feel guilty for abandoning her. I began to feel responsibility to help her heal, to teach her to be the person she thought she was. I felt a need (an urgent, pressured need) to ‘fix’ our family and bring all of my siblings back together with her. I thought that they were all just waiting for me to come around (they weren’t).

I see now that the strength and empathy that I felt towards her was actually only possible because I had cut her out of my life and my head for so long. Her absence made me forget that she is a dangerous and manipulative person to be around.

I want so badly to be a good person who can be kind to her old, sad mother. But she just won’t let me – she can’t keep the witch at bay.

As always, Alanis Morisette articulates my deep feelings:
“I want to be big and let go of this grudge that’s grown old. All this time I’ve not known how to rest this bygone. I want to be soft and resolved, clean of slate and released. I want to forgive the both of us.”

maleficent makeup

Fruma Sarah

Fruma Sarah

I dreamed about my mom again last night. She was chasing me. I screamed at her in the lobby of a theatre and pulled her hair. She screamed. Then I screamed. Then I ran away. Terrified.

I woke up feeling scared and unsettled. This was the second night in a row. Like I’m being haunted by the ghost of my mother. (except she’s alive).

I’m scared to go to sleep tonight. I feel like she’s there, in my dreams, waiting for me to drop my guard and fall asleep. Then she’ll pounce. She’s angry that I’m writing about her. Her anger still makes me very scared.

Scared.
Fear.
I don’t feel safe.

Safety is the first non-tangible thing a baby needs to feel in order to relax her survival instincts and allow her brain to give attention to developing into a complete person. Without safety, the baby is consumed by fear. We are wired that way. When fear leads the way, all thoughts are obviously focused on creating safety. When the fear gets out of the way, her brain is able to focus on thoughts, words, people, feelings. Life.

Fear has been leading the way in my brain for as long as I can remember. Anxiety is just another word for FEAR. I feel anxious = I am afraid. When the fear gets out of the way I can think. I can breath. I can be creative. I can be alive.

Long ago I learned that people are unpredictable, dangerous and will emotionally hurt you if you let them. At a young age, I developed two key coping mechanisms to assuage the fear. I either dissociated around others or found reasons to be alone. But the pain of being alone for too long also made me dissociate. I dissociated into depression and also into hypomania. In other words, I could only really feel safe when I hid my mind from my brain.

“There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” ― Patrick Rothfuss

This strategy seemed to sort of work for me. It allowed me periods of time where I could be creative, intellectual and engage with others in what felt like an authentic way.

But… becoming a parent changes everything. When I became a mother, my fear for my baby’s safety was more powerful than my fear for my own. It led the way. I just couldn’t let myself fall into insanity and dissociate. I had to build for her a feeling of safety and predictability to ease her fears.

I assumed her fears were enormous like mine. I thought that safety was a very perilous thing that could be broken with ease. I had to focus all my energy on preventing my daughter from feeling always afraid like I was.

To create this safety for my daughter, I never put her down. I never let anyone hold her. I didn’t want her to think that she wasn’t seen. I wanted her to know that I would be there. That she didn’t owe me anything. She didn’t have to laugh and perform for me to keep me interested and engaged.

Like any new mother, I put my own fears onto my daughter. The problem was… I just have so so many fears.

When she was a newborn, I developed a new coping mechanism. I contained my fear by creating and following highly rigid routines. I found safety within my routines. I thought my daughter needed them to feel safe too.

I didn’t address the fear- I just replaced my frequent dissociation with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). (I’m brilliant.)

It’s time to address the fear.

These routines aren’t working anymore. They don’t make me feel good. They make me feel trapped. They have been suffocating me. So, I started dissociating a lot. This doesn’t feel good either. It’s not helping build relationships with those I love.

I need to figure out how to empower myself to conquer the fear – to find safety within myself. I need to trust that I can keep my mind inside my body.

My new therapist said that she will help me find that safety within myself. She will help me strengthen the other parts of my brain that have been pushed aside while fear led the charge. It’s called ‘integration therapy’.

There’s a very scared little girl inside of me and it’s time for her to stop running the show.

 

frummma

Softening

Softening

How much can I procrastinate writing this… all week apparently.

Unfortunately my award winning strategy for living with bipolar 2 isn’t working very well. (I’ll have to postpone my Oprah show appearance again.)

I thought I was doing really well at this ‘life’ thing. I thought the daily motions that I was working really hard to complete were meeting my goals of giving my kids a decent mother and making my husband’s life less miserable. (Can you feel the self loathing?)

But as this year’s winter depression got worse, my husband and my employer finally ran out of patience (not together but it happened at the same time) and forced me to hear some feedback that I’ve been ignoring for a long time. Not only was I failing at both of my goals, my efforts were aimed in the wrong directions.

The feedback that I finally heard was this:
(I don’t want reassurance. This is true and it’s important that I see it for what it is.)

I am volatile. I am overweight. I am overly critical. I expect perfection from others but rarely provide it. I am judgemental. I am messy. I am lazy. I am not nurturing. I am overly intense. My intensity is not appropriate for the situations.

This list is how they described me. But it’s really how I would have described my mother. Ouch.

I was just working so hard to not cause pain to the people I love. But instead of protecting them, I was actually instilling fear in them. I don’t even know if they were more afraid of my anger or my silence. Are they afraid of pushing me over the edge or of me pushing them down?

The only way I knew to make them less afraid was to stay out of their way but then I learned that wasn’t really what they wanted. Something needed to change. I knew it deep down but I wasn’t sure if it was worth investing more energy in the lost cause of fixing me. I was in a deep hole.

After a lot of crying in the shower and more deep self hatred. I realized that I had to get more and different help to figure out how to take more effective action or I would really lose everything. I learned that I didn’t necessarily need to work harder, I needed to work smarter. And I needed some more tools for that.

So, I called every mood disorder/bipolar organization for help finding services (they were not helpful). Then I called almost every psychologist in the directory (many of them were not helpful).  I finally felt empowered to try something new. I felt like I had a bit more agency over my life but I still wasn’t sure what that meant.

When I realized that the routine and rules that I had created and held sacred weren’t actually protecting me from failure after all, I felt a bit more freedom to stray from the prison I had created for myself. I gave myself more permission to check in with my body and mind and consider listening to myself.  I had been a prisoner to my own routine.

The new therapist that I’ve started seeing focuses on very intense trauma repair work. It’s very raw and very intense. We work on reintegrating myself with myself. We don’t over-analyse the trauma. I’ve done that already.

I’ve also made huge efforts at work to be punctual and remember that I’m not invisible and am being paid to do a specific job- not just to sit in a chair.

Also, I’ve lost 15 pounds since mid-March. I’m feeling empowered to step away from my routines because they weren’t working. I started overeating to manage anxiety but for a long time, I’ve been over-eating because I was afraid to break the routine. And I’m realizing just how disconnected I have been.

Something is opening inside of me.

When did it close? Was I always so shut down? So reserved?

Around the spring of 2014 two things happened that I think started this shut down. I finally agreed to a request by my dad to visit us for the first time in an entire year and he decided to stay home and fix the dishwasher that day. Then I sent my mom a video of my son singing and her radio silence broke my heart again. I opened and I got burned. I opened and I got burned.

After that, my mind went very wonky for a while (for a variety of reasons #bipolar?). I chased it round and round the mulberry bush until the late fall when I got a wake up call from my psychiatrist. She told me I could benefit from taking a leave from work to participate in an 8 week intensive trauma therapy program. I knew this was asking too much. I knew that I couldn’t tell my husband that I was taking a leave from work to spend more time focusing on myself.

I decided to stop chasing it and just try to go on without my emotional mind.

I skipped my nephew’s bar mitzvah, stopped fantasizing about fixing the relationship with my parents and blocked their phone numbers from my phone. They were dead to me and I dissociated enough to believe it. I forgot what they looked like, sounded like, and avoided any reminders of my past.

“I’m sick of therapy. I’m sick of over-analyzing myself. I’m not that interesting. I’m sick and tired of traipsing around in my crazy mind….I feel okay enough. I’m mostly able to take care of many daily tasks. I just want to stop focusing on my mental state and focus on nurturing my family.” – me, Nov 2014

I shut down the emotional part of me. It was too overwhelming, too all consuming. It felt too selfish to keep indulging and listening to it. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere anyways.

I tried to put my emotional needs aside. I made peace with the idea that I would never truly feeling anything and worked to give my kids and husband the appearance of what they needed. But…now I see that it didn’t exactly work.

I just couldn’t connect in a meaningful way. I eventually stopped talking much. I didn’t think anyone would notice if I spoke or not and every idea I had just seemed like a waste of words. I wasn’t thinking of anything to say anyways. I didn’t trust my thoughts and I was teaching myself to ignore them.  I wasn’t totally sure that I was really in the room anyway.

My new therapist said that she admires my skill of dissociation. She said that it was an important tool in my survival. But that now it’s time to move past that and reintegrate myself with myself. She is helping me find/create my inner self.

What my family needed wasn’t for me to seem okay. They needed me to actually be okay. And at that time, without more intensive therapy and more medication roulette, I just couldn’t get there. Honestly, I’m still not sure I ever will be. But I need to try. Not harder, but differently.

I’d like to give them a true me. A thinking, feeling, safe woman and mother. I’d like to give myself that too. Maybe I will always be a wounded person, but I’d like to be a wounded person who can actually feel and be present.

Uterus by artist Emma Plunkett
Uterus by artist Emma Plunkett

Which me is me?

Which me is me?

In the past six years my identity has been completely knocked off the wobbly legs that it teetered on.

My sense of self has always been somewhat unstable. I was dependant upon extended periods of time alone to help me present only my best self to others. My sense of self was deeply dependant on my sex appeal, my intelligence, my mother, and my place in the Jewish community. 

Having a child and postpartum depression changed me profoundly. In the months and years that followed, each of these tenants of my identity fell away (crashed and burned).

I no longer had any time alone (because I was  afraid to “abandon” my daughter for even a moment). My body became something that belonged to and served my relationship with my baby and not my husband (or even me). 

And my mother… well…I could no longer base my sense of self on the feedback I received from her. I had to disentangle and became disillusioned with her and everything that she taught me. Including the central place that the Jewish community was supposed to have in my life. It just didn’t make sense to care about interacting with people I didn’t know or like. that I had to choose my friends from such a small pool or

The other element of my identity as a writer and reader, as someone who had impeccable grammar and a strong basis of literary and cultural references. 

Beyond ‘mommy brain’, the postpartum depression that I experienced made it hard for me to read or recall what I’d read. As my friends graduated from professional school and got high paying jobs, I also began to realize that maybe I wasn’t as smart as I had imagined I was. 

So, the external elements by which I defined myself began to fall away and the only thing I could lean on was my husband (lucky me) and my inner voice. 

The trouble was, my inner voice was not very nice to me. It was depressed, riddled with anxiety and misinterpreting everything. It whispered mean things in my ear and loved to tell me exactly why I was a complete waste of space. 

Experiencing postpartum depression and a complete nervous breakdown was enough to shock my soul. But to add a cherry on top, I experienced severe symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

Once diagnosed, I looked back and realized how much my memories of my entire life were tainted with effects of my disordered moods. From my behaviour at school and work, and the decisions I made, to my social relationships and my daily interactions. 

The trauma that I feel from the experiences of realizing that I am ultimately not entirely control of my own mind is intense. My perception of reality is perpetually skewed. I literally cannot trust my senses or ideas. 

In her famous poem Lady Lazerus, Sylvia Plath writes: 

Dying is an art, like everything else.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical comeback in broad day to the same place, the same face, the same brute amused shout: ‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.

I hope that you understand what I’m saying here. The falling apart hurts like hell but it’s like rolling down a hill. There is momentum to it- it is painful but almost effortless. The putting back together, on the other hand, is brutal. 

First you must decide to try to survive the war against yourself (which never completely ends), then there is finding the strength to continue fighting and try to build a new life with the people you love. 

But then, and this is the kicker, you must address the fact that you can’t actually figure out how to be the person that they used to love- the person that you wanted to be and thought you were and only vaguely remember anyway. Because, she doesn’t exist anymore. 

Rejoining the living is hard. Who am I? What do I want? Am I being the person that I want to be? Am I actually even acting the way that I think I am. Can I trust my own self perception? (I can’t). It’s just hard. 

And now my battery is running out. Both emotionally and technologically. 

I came this far- I know I can figure this out. I’m just not quite sure how right now. 

  

A bandaid to hide the pain

What is a bandaid? It’s a little piece of plastic to keep a cut clean while our bodies work at healing the wound. The bandaid doesn’t actually heal the cut and, though we may think it does, it doesn’t remove the pain.

A bandaid solution is really not a solution at all. It’s just a cover to try to slow the bleeding while we work on fixing the actual problem that is causing the bleeding. If we ignore the problem now that we can’t see it under the bandaid, it just festers. We need to remove the bandaid and apply the salve.

I hear that people with healthy emotions (I’m working on joining this group) get very upset when someone they love is hurt or suffering. It can seem like a good idea when someone you love is having a hard time to rush in with a bandaid and distract her from her pain.

But sometimes, the best thing that you can do to help someone you love is to see her pain – acknowledge that it is real – and then sit beside her, on your hands. Empower her. Teach her tools to heal herself. Give her a safe space to try to climb her own mountain.

We derive joy from overcoming challenges. We build confidence from overcoming challenges. To deprive our children from struggling (safely), we are denying them the ability to believe in themselves. When we swoop in to save them constantly, we are teaching them that they need to be saved- that we don’t believe that they can handle this.

When we place a bible in the hands of someone who is suffering, it is a bandaid. Bandaids are not necessarily bad, they are not necessarily helpful either. Religion can provide an easy way to feel less afraid of your pain without even having to look at it. Just wear these clothes, and eat this food and say these words and trust that everything will be okay.

But a cut cannot be healed unless you look at it. Unless you examine it and understand what it needs. Sometimes everything will not be okay. And that is okay.

Some people say that religion is empowering, that it helps them feel safe. But really, I think that waiting for god to save you is extremely disempowering on a very deep level. We must always be preparing to save ourselves. We cannot rely on the lifeguard who may or may not be there, we must learn to swim.

A few hours after my sister-in-law had her c-section, the nurse came in to help her to the bathroom. I went to pull her arm up and the nurse stopped me. The nurse insisted that this new mama could get up on her own…and we waited while she struggled, and we walked beside her to catch her if she fell, but she did it. I thought the nurse was being harsh. But really, she was being terribly kind.

When we are willing to stay even for a moment with uncomfortable energy, we gradually learn not to fear it.