Very Black Friday

Listen, even though I’m living with mental illness, I’m trying to improve, millimeter by millimeter.  I’m trying to carve out a modest existence.  I get dressed every day.  I keep myself clean.  I take my medicine.  I exercise.  I have a service dog who makes sure, by her very existence, that I actually get out of bed to take care of her needs, and that I go on living, because she loves me so, and because I love her so.  I am a creature that lives only because of love.

It might seem silly that I felt blindsided by the family Thanksgiving celebrations,  the ones I was not invited to.  Why should that come as a surprise?  It’s been clear that my mother has recruited her family in her retaliation campaign.  

Yes, I know it’s textbook Narc reprisal.  I have been working to increase the distance to one that’s tolerable for me.  I stopped ending phone conversations with “I love you,” because I don’t.  I don’t hug her, because her touch is abhorrent.

Her style is “love me or fear me.”  I expected widespread destruction.  She’s been working on polarizing the extended family for some years.  And she loves to try to “Cinderella” me, by, for instance, tricking me into taking care of her cats while she goes on vacation with my cousins.  I stopped that.

I do still keep in touch with my mother.  I’m trying to help her find a way to move into appropriate housing.  She’ll be 90 soon, and the house she and my late father lived in for most of their married lives is not a good place for a very elderly person.  She’s very willing to accept my help, because, you know, “I owe her.”

But she is just now on a scorched-earth campaign of fiery vengeance, so instead of returning my calls she sent me a text on Wednesday, announcing that the entire surviving M__ family would be gathering around the Turkey Table…”well, almost!”  She added, just to make sure I got it.

Nice one, Mom.  Hope it brightened up your holiday!

Last year’s Turkey Day was also a bust.  Several years ago, when my dad was still living, I convinced my son that it really wasn’t fair that he spent ALL of the holidays with his father’s family.  Couldn’t he come to his grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving?  

Ugh, that even sounds bad when I read it, but I can’t whitewash it.  This is my blog, for heaven’s sake!  I’m supposed to be brutally honest, and so I shall be.

The first couple of years were pretty good.  He even used a picture of the two of us furiously cooking together as his Facebook profile picture!  And he got to know some of his cousins on my side.   And it was good for him to be with his grandpa, even though the latter, who I nicknamed “The Doormouse,” retreated into slumber after greeting the guests, and stayed there until it was safe to wake up.  A good strategy!

The downside was that he also got to witness my mother “disciplining” me for one or another perceived outrage.  Name-calling, belittling, mockery, silent treatment…oh, she loves to show off!   I was mortified, and unable to just shake it off, I told him how upset I was that she was doing this in front of him.  Another nail in my coffin, all of that.

When my father died, Thanksgiving broke up.  My mother’s absolute savagery toward my father in his last years acted as an absolute repellant!   The moment he died, I wanted to be out of there.  Nothing more to bind me!

Thanksgiving 2014 arrived just three weeks after my father’s death.  I spent it with my son, his girlfriend, and a swirling cloud of their friends, who dropped in for eats and smokes and beers.  I lay on the couch in a stupor of grief and allowed myself to be fed and cared for.  It was very much needed and appreciated.  

Then that woman exited his life.  Things might have been different had she stayed.  Who knows?

T.G. ’15 arrived.  Again, I didn’t want to be around my mother.  I tried to interest my son in inviting people for a potluck, or any sort of a gathering, at his house.   Or perhaps we could go to his friends who were making dinner?  No, he wanted to dine together, the two of us, alone.  I thought that was very strange, but if that’s what he wanted….

I went.  He was furious, and fed me his roast duck, and I slept in my camper in his parking lot.  The next morning he insisted I leave.  I felt as if I had been yanked in and beaten.  And I had been!  I don’t know why.

I called him last week.  He knows I’m in Arizona, no danger of my intruding on his East Coast safety zone.  He texted me, “I’m crazy busy.  Can we talk next week?”  Which is, of course, this week.

But no life-sign from him this week.  Not even a “Happy Thanksgiving!” text.  And that generally means he’s with his dad.  That is perfectly fine.  I don’t expect him to keep up with me.  He’s made it very clear that he’s not interested in sharing any part of my life, unless it’s the part where I give him money.  He doesn’t have to go all silent in order to avoid telling me that he’s reestablished his status quo, enjoying all of his holidays with his father.

What I can’t figure out is exactly why my son is so deeply angry with me.  I wish I could see and experience things through his eyes, his mind, his heart.  What do I do that so profoundly triggers him?

On the other hand, he has always made sure to get his way.  He is the master of the Battle of Wills game.  I was often the villain, because I refused to let his terrorist tactics ruin plans for hiking, skiing, swimming, horseback riding, barbecues, camping, dancing, and anything else that might potentially be spoiled by a child refusing to participate, scowling, stubbing up/going silent, and generally attempting to disrupt any fun that might be brewing.   Refusal to enjoy life!  And determined to take me down with him.  I refused.  I still refuse!  

In essence, I have spent half my life trying to teach my son how to enjoy life, and he has spent all of his resisting me.  Well, now he’s an adult, with a PhD even, and just as I shun my mother and her family shuns me, my own son and his extended family shun me.   Will this circle be unbroken?  God in heaven, how I’ve tried to break it!  But it keeps rebuilding itself: the hoop snake, with its tail in its mouth, spreading poison from one generation to the next.  Dare I hope it stops, one way or another, with his?

It all seems like a surreal mistake.  My mother raised me by threats and fear, violence and withholding.  I tried very hard to use only positive reinforcement (love and praise), but the child I got gave me a fortnight of newborn bliss, then erupted into rage-and-resistance personified.  How can a baby be enraged practically from birth?  I loved him so completely.  

The truth is, I don’t know what it’s like to live with me.  Consider the evidence!  Not so good.

Then what shall I do about this?  This life.  When I look into the future, I see muddy brown dust.

My world is spinning down.  It’s consolidating into a dense blackness.  I’m too dulled out to even feel, let alone care.  

I tried to get drunk yesterday, in order to be fully and righteously dysfunctional.  But I forgot about my drink and instead knocked it over into my bed.  I have never got the hang of drinking.  Just as well–wouldn’t want to add that to the list.  But now I’m sounding maudlin.  Must stop.

Wiped out

This week has wiped me out, mentally and physically.  I stay on a knife’s edge between functionality and nonfunction, largely with the aid of the Five Medications:  Lithium, Lamectil, Seroquel, Ambien, Ativan.

When I lived in Israel, 2007-2010, I was down to 50 mg. of Lamectil daily: practically a homeopathic dose.  I was on Lithium when I moved there, but the dry heat makes it very easy to get dehydrated, and that can be lethal on Lithium.  So my shrink had me very slowly and carefully wean off of it, since I had been very stable for several years by then.  I found that I felt no different at all without it, so I had nearly a four year vacation from Lithium.

I attribute my stability to the wonderful network of friends and advisors I had in Israel.  I have never felt so loved and cared for.  For the first time in my life I felt that I had family.  Lots of family.  Where else in the world can you walk down the street on the evening of a holiday or the Sabbath and have people you hardly know invite you to come and share their festive meals?

I had several extended visits back to the States during that period of time, for a few weeks or a month, keeping tabs on my aging parents.  I am the only child, and they are getting precariously old and poorly functioning.  Usually these visits were precipitated by some crisis or other:  my father had a stroke;  my father had surgery.  My father.

To say that my mother and I don’t get along would be a gross minimization.  The truth is, we are oil and water.  Actually we are more like gasoline and a match.  My mother knows how to devastate me with a look or a gesture.  Five seconds in her presence and I am once again a cowering child hiding under the covers hoping to become invisible to her rages.

I have lived my entire life trying to find ways to appease Mom, so that she would love me and not tear me apart with tooth and claw.  And wonder of wonders, none of it has worked more than briefly.

So each visit took its toll:  on one three week visit I became so depressed I had to go to Canada afterward for 30 rTMS (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) treatments.  This is the best thing since sliced bread for treating major depression, PTSD, and a growing plethora of other neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.  (I plan to write a future post about rTMS, so stay tuned.) Sliced bread or not, it’s really not what one wants to have to do in order to cope with a family visit.

In January, 2010, two months shy of my fourth anniversary of moving to Israel, I returned to the States on an open-ended visit, since my father’s health was declining rapidly and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with him before he became totally out of it.

I’m glad I did, as he is now at the stage of dementia where he is in another world most of the time.  He still recognizes people, but sleeps on and off all day, and can’t perform any tasks more complex than eating.  I am grateful that he’s still able to feed himself and do most of his activities of daily living.  I can see those decaying, too, though.  Soon he will be totally dependent on others.  It breaks my heart to watch it happening.

The price tag of my leaving my support system in Israel has been brutal.  In order to keep myself from going stark raving mad, I’ve had to work with my psychiatrist here to find a cocktail that will keep my bipolar stable while helping me to control the symptoms of PTSD that threaten to rage out of control every time my mother looks at me.

Sleep is a constant struggle.  Sleep is essential to the stabilization of bipolar disease.  In fact, one of my neuropsychiatrists treated hypomania or mixed episodes by inducing sleep for 24 hours.  It’s like hitting the reset button.  As we know, one of the huge bugaboos of PTSD is the eyes-wide-open-like-dinner-plates horrible sleep disorder.  So the combination of PTSD and BP is deadly.

Hence the addition of drugs:  more Lamectil.  Back on Lithium (hydrate, hydrate, hydrate).  Ambien for sleep, except that’s not enough to quell the PTSD horrors, so Seroquel to deliver the knockout punch.  Oh, and a benzo to keep the Mom jitters down to a dull roar.

Why do I do this to myself?

Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved