Bad Mother

So.

I talked to The Entitled Brat, I mean my son, today.

It came out that what he wants is A Real Mother, one that he can visit and smell cookies baking as he steps onto the welcoming front porch.  A place where he could always find me, from which I would never move.

He doesn’t want his mother to be a nomad, forever wandering about in her camper enjoying Nature, meeting other interesting nomads-by-choice, writing and photographing and living the rest of her life doing what makes her happy.

No.

He wants his mother to do what makes HIM happy.

And he’s willing to make life unpleasant for his mother, should she make the mistake of taking up an invitation to spend a holiday with him (and get thrown out, because her presence irks him).

He does not regret throwing me out at Thanksgiving.  The opposite: “he needed his space.”

Lovely readers, I have done everything in my power to help this 30 year old child have a happy life.

He doesn’t see it that way.

What he sees is that I moved him around too much, and holds that against me.

We did move three times. And for someone on the Autistic Spectrum that can be traumatic.  His father moved once, across town, when he was a child, and still can’t get over it.

You know, there are only so many times I can apologize for the way my life has gone and the way it has affected him.  And then, On The Spectrum (which he fiercely denies) or not, he’s got to take the reins and determine his own destiny.

Even if he does have…

A bad mother

A Coupla Bummers and A Miracle

Well, it was Thanksgiving in America, again.

A friend of mine calls it Shabbos Hodu.  (“Shabbos” is the Eastern European version of the Hebrew word “Shabbat,” or Sabbath).  “Hodu” is the Hebrew word for both “turkey (the bird)” and the imperative form of one of the many words for “to thank.”  Thus, “Shabbos Hodu!”

In Orthodox Judaism there is no “Thanksgiving Day,” because we formally give thanks to God at least six times a day, and sometimes more often.

The three daily prayers, which take up to an hour each, contain 19 paragraphs of blessing.  Each of these blessings opens and closes with a verse of thanks.  There is a separate blessing expressing thanks in general, and when there is a quorum of ten people, a special very beautiful paragraph is sung that describes the praises of the Angels.  There is a verse in every prayer beseeching the Creator to rebuild Jerusalem, our Holy City.

The other three “Thank you’s” are contained in the Blessing After Meals, said after any meal containing more than a certain amount of bread (the exact amount is part of Jewish Law), and a shorter version that is said after eating any non-bread product containing one of the five varieties of grain that grow in the Land of Israel: wheat, spelt, rye, oats, barley.  The long version takes me 45 minutes to say, because I say each word with concentration on its meaning.  I learned this from my teachers.

In these prayers also, the rebuilding of Jerusalem figures large.  Both sets of prayers were codified while the Hebrews were in exile in Babylon, after the Babylonian conquest had razed Jerusalem.

However, I no longer live in a Jewish community, let alone Israel; and to tell you the truth, I’m not really practicing Orthodox Judaism these days.

It was so wonderful living in our little country, being able to practice my religion in an unfettered way.  We could wear our special religious items–you know, the ones we are prohibited from bringing to the Temple Mount–right in the street, in the buses, anywhere, without people screaming epithets and other unpleasantries.

I once had a conversation with a black woman from New Orleans who had converted to Islam, married a Lebanese man, and moved with him to Saudi Arabia.  I met her in India.  She wanted to know why we Jews had to have our own country, when we could be Jewish anywhere in the world.

I was so taken aback by this question that I had to sit and think for a minute.  At last I got hold of my senses and asked her,

“Were you able to practice Islam in America?”

“Well, of course!”

“Then why did you move to Saudi Arabia?”

“Oh, because it’s an Islamic country!  Saudi Arabia enforces strict Shari’a Law, so it is the purest Islam…”

For a moment, understanding dawned in her eyes, but it faded just as quickly.  I developed something that needed my urgent attention, and left my friend wondering what went wrong.

Oh yes. I was talking about Thanksgiving in America.

Since I’m in America for the foreseeable future, I am doing some things American style, like Thanksgiving Day and gifts for Hannukah (our Festival of Lights, coming up next week).  In Israel, Hannukah is a time for celebrating miracles.  Gifts are not really a central theme.  It’s all about the light. ( More on that next week.)  The American practice of giving gifts on Hannukah seems to have arisen in order to keep Jewish children from being bummed out because of Christmas.

Since my son’s father is Christian, my son goes to him for Christmas.  For the past few years, my son and I have been “doing” Thanksgiving together.

While my father was alive, my son would come to my parents’ house and he and I would make a kosher turkey, and we would all get gorked on the usual T-day dishes.

Last year I was still in shock from my father’s death in early October, so my son and his then-girlfriend made a huge feast at his house.  People dropped by, roommates who had stayed in town for their own reasons cruised by and partook, we all smoked a lot of weed, and generally had a good time.  My mother was not invited, because she has made herself unwelcome by her delight in shaming me in front of my son.

This year my mother decided to fly to my cousins and have Thanksgiving with them.  I was not invited.  My cousins, who suck up to her for their own reasons, did not invite me either.  That being the case, I felt no pangs of guilt when I accepted my son’s invitation, party of one.

Then my mother decided to cancel her Thanksgiving plans, for her own reasons.  Since she knew my son had invited me (party of one), she got herself invited to one of her many friends, who has a big family, so my mom could feel really angry that her own family had not invited her.

For some reason my son did not invite anyone else to dinner.  His own reasons, I guess.  It was a little weird having just he and I, especially since he was in one of his dark moods, brooding and irritable.  I really wish he would start taking lithium again, but he angrily rejects the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder that, in his opinion, was foisted upon him as a teenager.

So that was Thursday.

I slept in my camper van, in the parking lot of his apartment complex.  One of his neighbors, who had clearly been watching out for me, accosted me as I headed out to go to bed, demanding to know if I was visiting someone in the complex.  Surely he had seen me exiting my son’s door…

My nerves were already frazzled from dinner with my glowering son, so I fired back,

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I think you’re just camping here.”  Whoa, let’s just get some holiday spirit of giving on here, hey?

I wanted to say to him, “Listen, Mr. Nice Guy, even if I was ‘just camping here,’ there’s a whole fucking empty parking lot because everyone has gone elsewhere for the holiday.  And what are you angry at, anyway?”

But I didn’t say that, because there’s always the possibility that a poor unhappy fucker like that will call the police, and I was already tired and tense enough.  So instead I said,

“Well, I am camping here.  This (pointing to my camper) is my bedroom.  I’m visiting ____ in Apartment _____.  Would you like him to come out and speak with you?”

As it turns out, this unfortunate fellow has seen my son, who is a weight lifter and quite muscular and buff.  So the sorry sucker subsided, and allowed as how that would not be necessary.  I also subsided, went into my spaceship and slept fitfully, as people constantly came and went, car lights and porch lights flashing.  My PTSD surrounding cops blazed like a tiger in the night.

Friday.  I woke up feeling like shit.  Depression.  Again. Still.

Went in and stood under my son’s excellent shower for half an hour while he went to work for a while.

When he came back, I said, “Listen, I’m feeling really disorganized brain-wise.  Do you mind if I hang out till tomorrow?”

The minute the words left my mouth I saw the twitch in his face that said, Oh No, Not That!

“Um…listen, Mom, to be honest, um, I really need my space.”

My heart hit the pavement.  Then I noticed the spiffy outfit.

Date.

Yeah, I was glad he was able to tell me no, but on the other hand I wished he had seen fit to be honest and say something more like, “Oh wow, Mom, I really wish you could, but since I thought you were leaving today, I made plans.”  That would have sent me off with a smile and a lighter heart.

“Oh, that’s OK,” I chirped, suddenly feeling like I’d been handed the bum rush.*

He graciously allowed me to stay long enough to use his internet to find a campground.  I found one pretty close by, said my goodbyes, and lit a shuck out of there.**

____________________________________________________

I called my mother today, just to see how she is doing, and I wish I had put money on the bet that I made with myself.  I would have won.  She barely spoke to me, and clearly had her victim act all planned out, in case I called.  I laughed.  Couldn’t help myself: it was all too predictable.

Now for the Miracle part.

My sweet Belgian Malinois, Atina, is most certainly an angel.

She sleeps in the right-hand third of my bed.  The left-hand third is reserved for all the computer-related shit that won’t fit anywhere else.

The only thing I had the energy to make for dinner was a cup of gluten-free microwave macaroni and cheese.  While I was mechanically going through the motions of making it, Atina was busy doing something in the bed.

She was pushing my duvet into a nest-like shape toward the pillow.  No, wait.  She was pushing it with her nose, straightening the edge up toward the pillow.  I thought, you cutie, you are making yourself a nest out of my duvet, and you know that’s my spot in the bed!  But I did not scold her.  My heart was brimming with love.  She pushed and pulled at my pillow, fluffing it and making it into a nice continuum with my duvet.  Aha, I thought, now I will see you plump yourself down in my spot!

But that’s not what she was about at all.

When she got my part of the bed all fixed up to her satisfaction, she plopped herself down–on her side of the bed!  She had made my bed up–for me!

I dropped what I was doing and hugged and kissed her for a long time.  By the way she reacted, she knew that I knew what she had done for me…she made a place for me to rest.  She did it with love and care.  As I write this, I am lying in the bed my dog prepared for me.  Her breathing is soft and even as she sleeps in her own third of the bed.

“Friends may come and friends may go, but your dog will always be glad to see you.”

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*”The bum rush”: A term dating from the Great Depression and possibly earlier, when many out-of-work men went “on the bum,” going from door to door begging for food, money, a place to sleep…if the man of the house took offense, the beggar would be chased off the place–“given the bum rush.”

**”To light a shuck” means “to leave in a hurry.”  It has its origin in the  Civil War, when dried corn shucks were used as fuses for light cannons and field artillery.  Once you “lit a shuck,” you had to run like hell because not only did the big guns recoil (and could run you over), but also sometimes the cannons would backfire, shooting cannon balls behind instead of in front of them.  The idiom is still in use in the Southern and Southwestern United States.  It is one of my favorites.

 

 

Close Encounter With The Mind Of A Narcissist

Dearest Readers, those of you who have been with me for some time are aware that I am an ACoN, which stands for Adult Child of a Narcissist.  The Narcissist in my life is my mother.

I have never understood her way of thinking, and she has never understood mine.  Therefore, our relationship has always been superficial and unsatisfactory on both sides.

Narcissists, by definition, are unable to think outside their own box.  They are the center of their own universe-no, the Universe. Anything negative that happens is someone else’s fault. Positive things, on the other hand, are clearly their own handiwork.

They thrive on praise and flattery.  The latter is as good as the former.  Sincerity is not an issue, as long as the adulation is centered on themselves.  They will work hard to achieve success and status, for the purpose of feeling important, and hopefully getting publicly honored.

Narcissists see their children as reflections of themselves.  The children are expected to bring praise and adulation to their narcissistic parent.  They must succeed and excel in academics, accomplishments, and anything that reflects well on their Narcissist.

A Narcissist expects, no–demands, respect and admiration from her children.  If she does not get it, she will retaliate with all kinds of abuse, be it physical, emotional, psychological, and sometimes even sexual, if she needs reassurance that she is still beautiful and sexy.

Somehow or other, I ended up with not one (which would have been enough, dayenu*) but two narcissists in my life–my mother, of course, and her sister.  As often happens, I was much closer to the sister when I was growing up, and her two children were my mother’s darlings.

Time has passed and the sisters have suddenly found themselves in the category of the very elderly.  My mother is 88 and her sister is, I believe, 91, although that side of the family has no compunctions about shaving a few years off their true age.  They tend to live to over 100, God help us, so what does it matter, really?

It doesn’t matter in itself, but they also don’t mind stuffing their purses with the packets of sweetener, soy sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, that populate the tables in various types of restaurants.  One time I was sent to retrieve something out of a purse, and had to paw through enough condiments to run a fast food joint.

My mother has no problem using my father’s handicapped placard to get a space closer to the supermarket doors, even if the weather is fine.  No matter that he’s been dead for six months.  I try to explain to her that this is lying–she is in no way handicapped (she said her knee hurt, and feigned a limp for a few steps, then forgot about it and switched into her locally famous confident stride)–and it is also stealing, because she is taking a parking space that a really handicapped person might need.  I had that happen once, when I was on crutches for something, and all the handicapped spots were taken.  While waiting for one to open up, I watched several totally able-bodied people come along to their vehicles parked in spots that I could have used, had they not been stolen by the Temporarily Able Bodied.  So in Jewish Law, at least, using your late husband’s handicap tag simply because you can, is both lying and stealing.  Bad things.  But she doesn’t think it’s bad.  She thinks it’s “getting away with something,” sort of like shoplifting, which she doesn’t really see as a crime.

To get to the meat of this story, now that I have given a dissertation on Narcissistic Personality Disorder: the sister’s life has taken a devastating turn for the worse.  First off, her husband, who has been her landmark in her stormy emotional sea, and whose constant praise has sustained her, got MRSA (Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus, AKA Flesh Eating Disease) in a sore on his leg, and being 97 (although an extraordinarily active, and healthy up till now, 97), his immune system couldn’t fight it, and he seemed imminently moribund.  All the family gathered at his hospital bed, gowned and masked against the horrid disease, to await his demise.

Imagine their surprise when they showed up one day to find him sitting up eating a hearty breakfast!  Miracle.

But it didn’t last too long.  The profound dips in his blood pressure during the critical days of his illness had done their work on his brain, and now he is being cared for by his daughter, who says that he is “in and out of it.”  No telling how long he’ll last.

In the meantime my mother flew to be with her sister, which was a good thing because her sister has florid dementia and can’t be left on her own.  I think she might have had it for quite some time, but her husband kept things together and served as her stabilizer.  But now he was not at home, and to her that means he is gone, no matter how many times they brought her to see him.

But that’s not all, folks, that’s not all.  The sister had a sore place on her leg.  It was red and puffy.  My mother took her to her doctor’s office, but the doctor had no openings, so she saw a PA, who diagnosed her with MRSA empirically, (which was probably correct), did not take a culture (bad), and sent her home on the wrong medicine.  Bad, bad.  Possibly fatal.

In the meantime, my 88 year old mother is reveling in the adulation she’s getting from the rest of the family for caring for her sister.  It was the right thing to do.  But she was wallowing in an environment crawling with MRSA, since it is passed by fomites.  That’s one of my favorite words, fomites.  A fomite is any article that can pass germs from one person to another, like a hand towel.  Let’s say somebody’s sick with oh, let’s say, MRSA, and they touched an infected part of their body.  They went to wash their hands, and they opened the bathroom door with the now-contaminated hand.  The MRSA germs are now on the door handle.  Different germs live for different amounts of time on different surfaces (did you know that the HIV virus can only live less than 5 seconds on a fomite?).  MRSA can live quite a while, especially on damp surfaces like the hand towel they just dried their poorly washed contaminated hand on.

Now we have an infected bathroom.  Door handle, sink handles, hand towel.

But someone else has been impatiently waiting because they have to go to the bathroom.  The infected person comes out and closes the door.  The Someone Else opens the door, getting MRSA on their hands.  They use the toilet and flush–now it’s on the toilet handle.  Wash hands, dry on the infected hand towel…

Now you might be wondering, in that case, why doesn’t everyone come down with it?  The answer is: it’s because of the wonders of the immune system.  If you are a healthy human being with a normal immune system, you’re going to be fine, most likely.  But if you are 90 and have a weakened immune system, you might be in trouble.

How does MRSA get into our bodies in the first place?  Usually it needs a break in the skin, no matter how small, to take hold, and a weakened immune system that can’t fight it off.  So let’s say the person comes out of the bathroom, having been bathing in MRSA bacteria, and scratches an itch.  This causes a tiny break in the skin; and the MRSA germs that have been patiently hanging out under their nails just bail right into the tiny cut.

Under the right conditions, these germs can now have a holiday infecting skin, fat, muscle…whatever they can manage to spread.  Since they are Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus, that means that most of the usual antibiotics used for soft tissue infections will not work.  And the library of resistant Staph Aureus germs is growing at a frightening pace.

MRSA is not something that can or should be treated on an outpatient basis.  Anyone with a confirmed MRSA infection needs to be hospitalized and treated with the few remaining IV antibiotics left in the arsenal.  And, oh yes, they must be isolated, quarantined so that they can’t spread the disease to others.

Back to the present.  My dear aunt is now surrounded by her two terribly dysfunctional children (in their 60’s), who are almost as clueless as she is.  They are ostensibly taking her–today–to live with, or near (in a nursing home), one of them, which involves an airplane ride.  That should be interesting.

So the female cousin mentions, this morning before the flight, that both of my aunt’s legs are swollen up to the knees today.  She’s not eating. Not good.  I get this information by way of my mother, who I’m pretty sure is losing what marbles she had left.  She should have put a halt to the travel plans and had her sister hospitalized right away.  Instead, they took her on the plane (which is now a contaminated plane), with the plan of taking her to the ER when they landed.  Sigh.

As my mother was telling me this sad story, she digresses to mention the ice in her driveway and how she needs something outside (nothing critically important), and she is going to put her ice grippers on and go and get it.

Please, Mom, don’t do that.  I don’t want you to fall and get hurt.

“What, you mean you don’t want me to mess up your trip?” she says sarcastically.

It took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about.  Then I got it!  She was talking about my plans to go RVing, sometime in the near future, when the weather finally breaks.

She was projecting her thought process onto me!  That is what she would have assumed, were she in my position.  For a fleeting moment I understood how her mind works.

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*Dayenu=Hebrew for “Enough for us!”

Just a Hunch

I take care of Dad on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 11:30 till 5.  I give him lunch.  He always has something good in mind for me to construct for him (like sardines, ugh).  It makes my heart full to do anything at all to make his life easier, these days.

On Mondays the Hospice nurses visit.  They are certainly angels come to minister in a bleak and terrifying landscape.  Dad tries to tell her how Mom bullies him, he’s afraid of her.  Now that he’s helpless, he can’t do anything to hold her in check when she explodes.

I see it all the time: the way he looks up, terrified, when his barely-functional hands betray him and he drops food in his lap.  He says “Damn,” as if to let her know he knows he’s been bad; and he scrambles as fast as he can to pick the food up off his bib or his lap, wherever it’s landed.  He can no longer bend over from his wheelchair to pick things up off the floor.  Whenever something eludes him completely and ends up on the floor, he is near to panic.

I miss the obscenely obese old dog they used to have, who eagerly waited under the table for dropped treats.  He became incontinent and my mother had him put down.  I understand that she couldn’t handle my dad and the sick dog at the same time, but it makes me sad, and I miss the dog’s function.

But getting back to the hospice nurse who visits on Mondays.  She always checks Dad’s feet, since he is diabetic and feet are sitting ducks for getting ulcers and ultimately needing to be amputated.  We don’t want that.

He had sandals on, with Velcro straps that had been put on way too tight, probably by the untrained helper who gets him out of bed, showered, and dressed in the morning.  He does mean well, but he doesn’t understand certain things.  One is that Dad’s feet and legs are tremendously vulnerable, not only because of the diabetes but because his heart is failing, and that means his circulation in his lower legs and feet is even worse than usual.

On Monday, when we got his sandals and socks off, his feet were black.  I mean black.

The nurse was emphatic that he see a doctor about his feet ASAP; I didn’t need any convincing.

Since Mom was out, the nurse asked me to convey this to Mom as soon as she returned.

However, I know what happens whenever I do anything like that: “You make a big deal out of everything.  You’re always overreacting.”

I asked the nurse if she would please call my mother and tell her.  Mom would take her word of authority.  The nurse did that.

After the nurse left, I got Dad settled with his feet up on a cushioned chair, where he fell asleep.  I inspected his feet further, and as I did, I got a whiff of an odor I have smelled many times before: the sickly-sweet smell of dying flesh.  Tears wet my cheeks, made their way into my mouth, and I had to run for a tissue to catch the snot.  I always snot a lot when I cry.

After the nurse’s phone call, Mom did scramble to get an appointment with the podiatrist.  It’s now Wednesday, and he saw the podiatrist this morning.  A fungal infection, he said, and prescribed some cream.  I took a look at the feet today, and there are some bubbles; somehow I don’t think it’s fungus, but I will be very happy if I am indeed over-reacting.  I guess I have seen too much, and amputated too many feet during my time in practice.

Monday night I got take-out Chinese food for them.  I made an exception to my strictly Kosher diet, and ate some vegetarian fried rice.

Dad has been having dreadful, painful coughing fits, especially when eating (which takes more effort than you would think), and coughing up clear and/or frothy fluid: congestive heart failure.  The heart does not have the strength to pump the blood through the lungs and out to the body, so the blood stagnates in the lungs.  Fluid from the blood makes its way into the airway, causing cough and shortness of breath.  The person is literally drowning in their own fluids.

Dinner on Monday night was dicey.  He was coughing and eating fried rice, and I was afraid he would inhale it.  He was afraid he would drop something in his lap.

Although Tuesday is supposedly my day to catch up on errands, etc., I had a hunch I’d better stop by the house.  They were having lunch when I arrived.  Dad was really having trouble eating.  It seemed as if every bite he took cost him a coughing fit.  Finally the coughing overcame his will, and he succumbed to it.  He couldn’t catch his breath at all, and turned absolutely blue.

Hospice has provided us with an emergency med box, containing everything from Tylenol suppositories to morphine drops, to, frighteningly, drops to put under the tongue of a dying person to thin the agonal secretions and relieve air hunger.

Fortunately, the box also contains a few tablets of Lasix, a diuretic (water pill) that magically sends extra fluids to the kidneys, where they leave the body as urine.  That’s what was needed, to get the fluid out, and fast.

I rummaged in the box, found the Lasix, and then felt that I should at least call Hospice and let them know that I had pillaged the box.  Most Hospice family members are not doctors, and I thought it would at least be courteous to let them know I was going to use one of the contents of the box.

The nurse on call was not one I knew, and she didn’t know who I am.  She disagreed with my plan, and suggested I give him some morphine for comfort.  I explained that he had been on Lasix previously for his heart, but it had been discontinued because he was incontinent of urine, which made my mother mad.  Now she’s used to it, especially since other people change his bed and diapers, for the most part.

At that the nurse agreed.  I gave him the pill, and half an hour later he peed the fluid out.  He’s been mostly OK in the respiratory department since then, although I notice today that he’s starting up again.  I had our regular nurse call us in a prescription, so we’ll have a supply of Lasix for when we need it.

It’s Wednesday, and I spent the day with Dad as usual.  He’s been hallucinating a lot, and was pretty scared.  His feet were swollen again, so I wheeled him over where he could put his feet up on his hospital bed.  He took a nap for a while, and I read, until 3 o’clock when he woke up a bit restless.  He wanted the Westerns channel on TV.  I put that on for him, and suggested a l’chaim.  He lit up at that.  So I got us each a Scotch, and we toasted each other’s happiness, wherever our paths might lead.  Then we drank likker and made a running commentary on Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, he with his feet up and me sitting on his bed, happy as a couple of cackling crows.

I’m really, really going to miss him when he goes.

The Dinner Guest

I went to a dinner party at my parents’ house tonight.

I wasn’t invited.

Only big deal art collectors and a big deal artist were invited.

My parents live one minute away from my rude yet adequate dwelling–my father’s former studio, just a pole building really.

The way I found out about the dinner party was that my mother was whining on the phone about having to cook again, after having had a dinner party last night, to which I also was not invited.  The guests were the same art collectors.  They bought a lot of stuff, you know.

She was having ribs tonight.  I don’t eat pork.  Maybe that’s why she didn’t invite me.

I decided to make an appearance anyway.  I didn’t dress up: I wasn’t an invited guest.  Jeans and a clean shirt, good enough for a “just dropped in.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence when I walked through the door.  They were just sitting down.  The big deal art collectors offered to make me a place at the table.  No thank you, I smiled, I’ve just come by to say hi. The female art collector hugged me.  So did her husband.  The big deal local artist who can’t stand me and makes no bones about it, didn’t want to hug me but I hugged her just to piss her off.  Don’t ask me why she can’t stand me.  I don’t know and I don’t care.

My mother flew at me to try to hug me for the benefit of her invited guests: pretending to be glad to see me, as if I had just blown in from far away instead of down the dirt path.  I sidestepped her.

My dad, of course, was ecstatic to see me, and showed it.  That’s all I wanted.  That’s all I came for.  That, and to let Boo Radley make a public appearance.

And–I admit it–to make a small, silent statement: there is a daughter.  She lives one minute down the path, but we don’t invite her…or speak about her.  She’s disabled…..but we can’t say how, so we just don’t mention her.  And we certainly don’t invite her.

I stayed three-quarters of an hour, enough to be polite.  For table talk, my mother announced she had booked a massage with the new massage therapist in town.  Big deal artist said she’d already been (of course).  I asked her the details, what it cost.  A dollar a minute.  Maybe I could trade her, I said.  Lots of massage therapists are happy to trade with me.

My mother snorted audibly(cringe).  “What have you got to trade?”  Acid dripping on the floor.  Sssssssssss………

“Acupuncture,” I answered.

“What?”  As if she hadn’t heard me the first time.

“Acupuncture, or a custom perfume.”  My voice sounded hollow in my ears.  The noises of the dinner party pounded.  The woman rich art collector looked up sharply.  She had heard.  How could she not have?  My mother’s voice is famous for its booming quality.  She does not need a microphone.

I sat silent in my chair, which I had pulled up outside the inner circle of diners.  Images flashed: little girl circulating the loud and laughing room with trays of hors d’oeuvre,  smiling politely, speaking when spoken to and shutting up at the hard glance across the room.  Back to the kitchen to reload the tray, careful to make an artful arrangement for the guests to dismantle one by one, or maybe by twos and threes if it was caviar on cream cheese.

Then help serve the meal, and sit quietly (“children are to be seen and not heard”) unless there happened to be one of my special adult friends present, in which case I was allowed to sit next to them and talk for a little while, as long as I was not “monopolizing” them. It’s important that children learn how to conduct themselves at dinner parties, especially when there are honored guests, so that they don’t embarrass their parents.

After clearing the table (“Thank you, dear”) I was expected to disappear to my room, which is where I wanted to be, while the adults repaired to the living room to get drunk.

I stood, carefully replaced my chair where I had found it, and put on my wraps.  It’s still a bit chilly here, nights.

“Oh, are you leaving us?” cries the big deal art collector woman.

“You’re leaving?” says dad, tearing up.  I can’t kiss the top of his bald head because my mother is swinging at me, trying for a fake hug, and he’s stuck on the other side of her.   Leave it for tomorrow.

I smile and say goodbye, hope to see you again soon, making eye contact with the big deal art collectors.  Fuck the big deal artist, she can’t stand me anyway.  And she’s parked her gently ostentatious new car in an impossible place in the driveway.  I have to make a 5-point turn to get around her.

Back in my pole barn, I feel like having a drink or two or three or four, but I know it will only give me a bigger headache.  What about organizing some of this unbelievable clutter instead?  Do something constructive, shake it off.

Leave it for tomorrow.

Pass the hors d’oeuvres, please.

 

Which Disaster Will You Be Having Today, Ma’am?

It’s hard to know where to start.

When I last posted, I believe my dad was already in the nursing home, ostensibly for rehabilitation after a fall.  Medicare pays for 100 days of rehab, and then if long-term care is needed, one’s own funds have to be used until gone, and then Medicaid kicks in.  But then you are pretty broke, both the patient and the spouse, because the nursing home costs $6000 per month more or less, and that doesn’t include a lot of necessary things.  So for most normal people, it doesn’t take long to run through the savings/retirement account at that rate.

But it does include the basic care an invalided person needs, like feeding and diapering, showering, and a variety of entertainments for those who are able to take them in.

Well.  Dad’s 100 days were up, and Mom, who used to work at the very nursing home he was in, went to look at the room on the long-term care wing where he was to go.  I didn’t see the room, but apparently it was dark, tiny, and horrible, and Mom freaked out, and she was talking about it in front of Dad so HE freaked out even though he didn’t really understand what it was all about, and he started crying and in his broken language, begging to “go home to his house.”  So I freaked out too.

So Mom decided to bring him home, and I went along with that because Dad’s pleas were heartbreaking.

But.  I had tickets to Israel for the two weeks surrounding the festival of Purim, and Mom wanted to bring Dad home before I came back.  I didn’t like that idea, but when Mom gets a bee in her bonnet about something, it will happen regardless of any extenuating circumstances.

But.  I refused to cancel my trip on account of her poor judgement, so I put Noga in the boarding kennel and went off to Raleigh to spend a few days with my son before hopping a Delta flight (free with miles) to New York, and from there to Israel on Turkish Airways.

Time with my nearly-29-year-old baby boy was wonderful as always.  We never run out of things to talk about.

I arranged with my hotel to keep my car in their garage at $5 per day, cheaper even than the airport’s long-term-parking where you have to drag your luggage to a shuttle stop, then hope the shuttle appears before your flight leaves.  Then, when I returned, I would stay the night at the hotel and drive back to West Bumfuck (as my gay boyfriend in Jerusalem calls it).

My flight was at 7 am.  The night before, I called the front desk and asked them to arrange a cab for me at 5:30–the airport is a 20 minute drive, and since it was a domestic flight I only had to be there an hour before.

The desk person told me they don’t do that (calling cabs), but that there are tons of cabs hanging around at that hour because of all the guests leaving for flights.  But did I want a wake-up call?  I did.  At four am, please.  It takes me a long time to get ready in the morning.

Four am, both my phone alarm and the room telephone go off, and I levitate, thrashing for the light, the phone, whatever I could get my hands on first, sending everything on the bedside table flying: water bottle, glasses, asthma inhaler, cell phone, telephone, lamp.  Fuck.

I felt around and got hold of the lamp.  It still worked.  Then I collected the rest of my belongings, calmed down, and went for the shower.

I got down to the lobby with my bags at about twenty after five.  There was a cab waiting outside.  I rushed to the desk and asked them to reserve that one for me; but at that very moment a couple jumped in and off it went.  So I asked the clerk to please call another one, which she did.  I finished checking out and sat down to wait for the taxi.

An elderly yet fit couple came down, checked out, and sat down to wait for a cab.  Their flight was three-quarters of an hour after mine.

The cab showed up forty-five minutes late.  We all rushed out.  They had a lot of luggage; it took several tries to get it all arranged so that the back hatch would close.  By now it was well after six.  There was hardly any traffic; I entreated my driver to go faster, but he just bumped along.  It wasn’t his flight, after all.

In short, I arrived at the check-in exactly five minutes late.  Would they hold the flight?  No.

But I could go on the next flight, which got into JFK at 1:30 pm.  Great: that was exactly the time my Turkish Airways flight took off.  I called Turkish Airways.  It took a while to get someone who spoke English on the line.  Wouldn’t you think they would have English speaking customer service people in their New York office?

Anyway.

There is only one Turkish Airways flight to Istanbul (the only place T.A. flies from JFK) per day.  I could take the same flight out the following day: for an additional $444.

I considered it briefly.

Then it became clear that this pattern of obstacles was trying to tell me something.  But which thing was it?  Was it a test, to see how many obstacles I could overcome in order to merit to be in the Holy Land for Purim?  Or was it a sign that I’d better turn back, let go, let all my plans (and considerable money) slide?

I chose the latter.

So I took another cab back to my hotel (another $45 fare!), collected my car, drove the five hours back to get Miss Noga, who was of course thrilled to see me (and I her), and drove back up the mountain to beautiful West Bumfuck.  I fell into bed at 7 pm and slept until 10 the next morning.

I figured I’d better go up to the house (remember, I live in an outbuilding on the property) and see what was going on.

Mom was sitting at the table having her breakfast.  Dad was sitting at the table in his wheelchair, staring at the slices of cheese on toast, pawing at them with his nearly useless hands while Mom ate her food and mildly scolded him for playing with his food.

She had only just brought him home, it turned out.  She brought him home in her car, having forgotten that there is a county van service that would transport him safely in his wheelchair, for free.  The very same one we used last week to take him to the dentist.

I fed him his cheese, but the toast was too much for him: it stuck in his throat.  He can’t eat solid foods anymore.  It has to be mashed up or put through the blender.  And his hands have forgotten how to get his fork/spoon/hands to his mouth.  If no one feeds him, he doesn’t eat.

Then the home hospice nurse came and did an intake.  They have someone coming to the house a few times a week, and they provide a wide range of services that I am grateful for.

Mom has arranged for three hours a day of private nursing assistance.  The guy came today and got Dad out of bed, which was a good thing because Mom was unable to get him out of bed by herself.  TYS, TYS, not funny.

The bed of course was soaked in urine, since my dad is incontinent.  So he wanted to get up, naturally, but couldn’t because he is mostly immobile, and Mom is 87 although she has not so far awakened to that fact.  So they had to wait for the nursing assistant to arrive, to get Dad out of bed and showered and dressed.

I showed up there at noon, having slept till 11 am (am I stressed or something?!).  Mom had made Dad a sardine sandwich–his favorite!–that he had not had in 103 days, the time he was in the hospital and nursing home.  So Mom was very excited about the sardine sandwich.  Dad was asleep in his wheelchair, drooling on his front.

She sets this delicious sandwich down in front of him, with all sorts of expressions of anticipated delight.  He stares at it blankly.  I ask him if he wants a bite.  He nods, so I pick up the sandwich and bring it to his mouth, which remains closed.

“Do you want a bite of sardine sandwich, Dad?”

Nods.

“Then you have to open your mouth.”

He does, I slip the sandwich in, and he takes a bite.  I watch out for my fingers.  He is known to have a ferocious bite.

We manage another bite, and then his throat rebels.  I wait anxiously for him to get it swallowed.  I guess that’s the end of the sardine sandwich experiment.

But Dad reaches over, in a rare moment of coordination, and takes the top piece of bread off the sandwich: he uses his spoon to carefully butter the bread with apple sauce, then drops it on the plate.

Mom mashes up the remaining sardines and takes the bread away.  I feed Dad the sardines.  When they’re gone, he spies a bit of onion on the plate and points to it.  I feed it to him.  There are little specks of sardine here and there on his plate; he points to them, and I gather them up on the tip of the fork and put them into his mouth.

Then he has an attack of acute chest pain.  This has been happening more and more often.  In my opinion he’s having cardiac angina–when the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen, it complains loudly with pain.  My mother has convinced herself it’s indigestion.  Well, whatever.  I try to convince her to give him a nitroglycerine tablet when he complains of chest pain, but she looks off into the distance, which I know means “I won’t.”  She says she will give him an antacid.

And now she’s decided that he doesn’t need his pain medication for his destroyed spine and shoulder, because “he just sleeps all day.”  I remind her that maybe sleeping all day might be better than being in agony all day.  Quality of life and all that.  Besides, he sleeps all days anyway.

She briefly brightens up at “quality of life,” being a social worker and all, but then starts complaining again that the medicine “dopes him up.”  So I don’t doubt she will withhold his pain meds.  If she does, I will speak with the hospice nurse and see what good it’ll do.

So here I am, back in my own little hornet’s nest in West Bumfuck, waiting to see what will be.  I know what will be; it’s a matter of when.

 

And Here Goes The Other One…What Will I Do?

As my regular readers know, life with my mom has always been far from pleasant.

And now….Dementia Case #2.

I had suspected it, even before I left Jerusalem in 2011 (January 11, 2011, to be exact) to come to the US and help with my dad.  Fears out of proportion, throwing screaming fits in public and not just in private, arguing with the carpenter about whether or not she had paid his bill (she hadn’t).  He even came to me and asked if I had noticed anything wrong with my mom.  He’s been working for us for years, and never saw anything like that.

Interesting how dementia brings out a person’s true character traits.  Take my dad: soft, sweet, gentle, kind.  Very occasionally grumpy or moody, but who isn’t?

My mom, on the other hand, is selfish, angry, suspicious, and nasty.  And she lies.  In fact, she likes to say, “a little white lie won’t hurt.”

The hell it won’t!

But one or two of you might know her personally, and you will say, “Oh, but she is just the sweetest person!  How can you say such things about her?  It must be YOUR misperception.”

The hell I say!

That’s the way people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder operate.  They bask in public accolades, while conducting a Reign of Terror at home.  But the abused ones are in a pickle, because if we try to get help from anyone who knows her, they will shout, “How can you say such a thing about your lovely mother, who is such a gift to the community, such an angel, has dried so many tears and started so many non-profit charities!?”

So in general we just shut up and take it, and marry someone equally dysfunctional.

That’s the way I grew up.  And my dad was terrified of her and hopelessly in love with her, both at once.

Think “Mommie Dearest.”

No, she never dragged me out of bed to scrub the bathroom floor, but plenty went on, and I won’t elaborate here, because today I got the confirmation of a growing suspicion: she’s got dementia.

I’ve been too caught up in the emotional tempest surrounding Dad’s plight to really pay attention to her acting-out.  I’ve been mightily pissed off because she threw a bunch of pottery items that my dad made (he’s a potter) behind the refrigerator.  Right.  And she somehow disposed of a beautiful porcelain vase that Dad and I collaborated on back in my painter days.  It just “disappeared.”  And like the little cups that ended up smashed behind the refrigerator, every inquiry about my vase gets an “I don’t know” with averted eyes and a little smirk.

She’s been on a gaslighting campaign regarding my memory, accusing me of forgetting things that she never told me, such as important appointments.  Gaslighting, if you don’t already know, is when someone tries to make you think you’re crazy by setting up situations that don’t really exist.  It’s a power trip, or it can be used as a coverup for someone’s own mistakes.

Last year I went to the trouble of having a complete cognitive workup–lasted two days and cost me $1200.  And it turns out that I do have one very specific hole in my memory: reconstruction of long and detailed stories–which is distressing for someone whose job used to be collecting and reconstructing long and detailed stories, as a physician.  But my long, medium, and short-term memories are perfect.  So it ain’t me, babe, as someone once wrote in a song.

So this whole business of Dad being in a nursing home has brought out some interesting (heh) and instructive situations.  On a couple of occasions she has asked me to bring something from the house, and when I bought it, she would scold me for bringing the wrong thing, citing my “terrible memory.”

Today, in fact, she called me from the nursing home, asking me to bring Dad’s slippers and a couple of packages of pull-up diapers.  When I reached their house, though, she was already home, having lunch.  The slippers were sitting on a chair.  I picked them up to put them in my backpack and she screamed with her mouth full, “No, not that!  Those are his Pads.”  “Pads” are the brand name of the slippers.

“Didn’t you put these out for me to take?  Did you mean a different pair of slippers?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing.  Go take your shower.”  The building I live in does not have a bathroom, in the usual sense of the word, and I was in fact planning to take a shower at their house before going to the nursing home.  So, cursing under my breath, I did.

I hoped that by the time I finished my toilette that she would be in a more reasonable mood, but no luck.  As soon as I landed downstairs she began screaming at me about my terrible memory, and shoved a bag of stuff in my general direction.  It contained a couple of packets of diapers, with the already mentioned slippers on top.

“Wait a minute, Mom,” I said, trying to control my temper and not doing a very good job.  “These are the same slippers that you said were the wrong ones.  These are the ones that were sitting on the chair, and I picked them up, and you said they weren’t the right ones!”

“No I didn’t!  I told you to get the Depends (diapers).  You don’t know what you’re talking about.  You can’t remember anything!”

At that point I put my coat on, gathered up my stuff and the package, and sailed out the door cursing, not so much under my breath, and not caring whether she heard or not.

When the blood stopped pounding in my ears, I realized that my suspicion is dead-on: she’s sliding into dementia.

Now what am I gonna do?

My dad is safe where he is, but she is a loose cannon and could do anything.  She’s already made some disastrous financial decisions that I am powerless to reverse, because at this point it would be very difficult to prove her incompetent.  That may change very quickly.  But what am I going to do in the meantime, having to interact with her on a daily basis because of my dad, having her living in a place that is now completely inappropriate for her, and having her seething anger aimed in my direction?    Granted, part of the anger is due to the grieving process for my dad.  But that does not excuse her leveling it at me.

I can’t go to the Social Services people, because they all know her in her “public face” and none of them would believe me if I tried to tell them what’s going on.  And of course if they approached her about it, she would tell them all about her mentally ill daughter with the “terrible memory.”  She even has a story about how my memory got so terrible: it was the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatments that have saved my life over the years.  That’s her explanation for why I can’t remember anything.  And of course the Social Services people would shake their heads and cluck their tongues, because they KNOW her and they know she’s a competent person, a kind, sweet angel.

So what am I going to do?

Two Hebrew Kings Blog For Mental Health

I lived in Seattle for a time, and was crazy as a bed bug (ugh! bed bugs!) due to indiscretions in several arenas of my life and untreated bipolar disorder.  Fortunately, I found a wonderful psychiatrist named Ray Vath.  Dr. Vath, if you are reading this, please know you saved my life.

On more than one occasion, I got so manic and paranoid that I locked myself in a hotel room for several days at a time, hallucinating, emerging only to walk my service dog and get more bottled water.  I ate nothing.  No amount of Ativan slowed my mind.  I had to wait it out.  I would not call the doctor for fear he would put me in the hospital–something I feared worse than death, having been in twice already.

On one post-mania visit, Dr. Vath, after writing a script for Lithium, suggested that King David was manic-depressive.  Just look at Psalms, he said.  In one poem he would be elated, dancing and singing before G-d, and in another, crying out in pain and suffering, begging forgiveness and professing to be nothing but a lowly sinner.

I did look at the Psalms, but at the time had no Hebrew, so I had to make do with translations.  These did put across Dr. Vath’s point.  But it wasn’t until I learned Hebrew that I really got the impact of the language David used.  It is so poignant–and so bipolar.

As I got more confident in my Hebrew (and my ability to use a dictionary) I set myself the task of reading the first book of Samuel in Hebrew.  It’s easier than a lot of the ancient texts, because the language is more like modern Hebrew; and it’s easier than the later prophets, because they raved on so.  (It says in Samuel I that the prophets would fall down in something like an epileptic fit and prophesy.  Hmmm, sounds like a Pentacostal Church service.  Maybe they read the Prophets too?)

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that David’s uncle Saul, the first King of Israel, suffered terribly from depression!  He would send for David, “The Sweet Singer of Israel,” to play his harp and sing for him.  That was the only thing that would pop Saul out of his black melancholy.  But what happened then!  David, playing his lyre and seemingly oblivious, would jump slightly to the right or left, in order to avoid the spear that Saul, waking from his depressive trance, heaved at his head!  And David would just keep playing, while Saul hurled spears at him right and left.  Crazy, or not crazy?  I vote crazy.  Sounds like one of my family get-togethers, fortunately rare.

Saul did some other manic-type things, like going to a necromancer to call up the prophet Samuel, who had recently died.  Saul needed some information quick, so that was the best course of action, he reasoned.  He got severely punished for that through Divine Retribution.

Saul had this thing about trying to kill David.  David would run to various difficult to get to places in the Land of Israel, like the caves at Ein Gedi, which overlook a beautiful waterfall and pool. I have taken a dip in it.  It was cold.  The caves are very high up, but that did not deter Saul and his army from hunting David down.

One time, David was hiding in a very dark cave.  Saul needed to “relieve himself,” so he went into the very cave in which David had crammed himself way in the back.  While Saul was indisposed, David sneaked up and silently sliced off a piece of Saul’s garment.  Must have been a very sharp knife!  After Saul finished and left the cave, David ran after him and handed him the piece of cloth, entreating him to show some reason and call off his dogs.  This only intensified Saul’s paranoia, and he continued to hunt David from North to South and East to West.

It gives me comfort to know that I am not the only crazy person in the world.  Yes, I know the numbers and statistics, but sometimes the isolation of my own particular variety of bent mind makes me feel as if no one else could possibly have experiences even mildly reminiscent of mine.

This is where Mental Health Blogging comes in.  Here in this wonderfully crazy part of the blogosphere, we let our hair down, and let our brains hang out.  We listen and console and comfort each other.  We do not throw spears at each others’ heads.  Instead, we provide a warm, loving community, something we all need desperately.

Some of us are more functional than others, holding down jobs, having families and social lives.  Others, like myself, confine our social interactions to the safety of the Internet and especially our safe Mental Health Blogging community.

A cornerstone of our community is that paragon of group blogging,  A Canvas of the Minds.  Masterminded by Ruby Tuesday and Lulu Stark, it is truly a place where mental health issues are out of the closet.  If you haven’t been there yet, I urge you to do so immediately!  But not before you finish reading my post 🙂

Although Lulu has retired from Canvas, she left a very special legacy.  Each year, Mental Health Bloggers from all corners of the Blogosphere take the following pledge:

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

blogging mental health

 

Well, that was easy, wasn’t it?  Because that’s what I do anyway, and I intend to continue to do it until my fingers dry up and fall off (Heaven forfend), and after that I’ll have to learn Dragon Dictate that I already bought but haven’t even looked at yet.

So.  You’ve heard about my crazy Hebrew relatives, and I hope you enjoyed their stories.  Reading this post over, I realized that my own 21st Century family gatherings are no more shockingly unhealthy than the Hebrew families of 2500 years ago.  Not that it makes me feel any better about family gatherings.  On the contrary, it reinforces my commitment to being a recluse.  Lonely at times, but many fewer slings and arrows!

The King and Queen of Denial

Today started out like any Wednesday, taking care of my 89-year-old father so my 87-year-old mother could get out of the house for the afternoon.

Dad was a little “off” today: he wasn’t happy with his omelette for lunch.  He would rather have had one more piece of toast but preferred to grumble about it rather than ask for it.  I didn’t mind.  After all, he’s 89 and very disabled, in pain all the time, and it amazes me that he manages to get through most of his days in mild-to-moderately good spirits.

Mom came in from shopping, bringing the mail that she picked up at the post office.  There was a package from LL Bean for me.  She wanted to see what was in it; I demurred, because the gift for her upcoming birthday was in it.  She got demanding and insistent.  There was a bit of a tussle until I finally remembered that there was something in that package for me, too, and I cagily extracted it.  That satisfied her.

I looked at my mail; nothing but “begging letters.”  I have specific charities I give to regularly, so I threw them all in the recycle bin.

The conversation turned to politics, and somehow got onto someone whose past as a prostitute had recently been revealed.

Mom reacted acidly.  How could anyone sink so low?  What in the world would cause anyone to do THAT?  She’d rather die.

“I did that,” I said quietly.

“YOU DID NOT!” She shouted, staring at me blinking out of her little birdy eyes as if I was the world’s biggest liar.

“Come OFF IT” shouted my father, several decibels softer than he would have in his prime, but doing the best he could muster.

“You were never a prostitute,” stated my mother matter-of-factly.

“Unfortunately, I was, when I ran away.”

“Then you deserved what you got!  You’re lucky you didn’t pick up some disease!  Maybe you DID pick up some disease,” she said thoughtfully.  “Why in the world did you do that?”

“I did it because I was cold and hungry, I needed food and shelter and safety from the streets.”

“You never told us that.  You never told us anything.  You just left us all of a sudden.  You robbed us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

I robbed them of their only child.  That was all they could think of.  They didn’t ask me why I ran away to California, or why, when they flew me back East for a family event, I ran back to California as soon as it was over.  Even if they had asked me then, I wouldn’t have told them.

I was scheduled for an abortion. I needed to get back to California.

It’s been forty-four years since I bought that one-way ticket to San Francisco.  Forty-four years since the bullying at school, my mother’s frequent unpredictable rages, and the vicious rape that took my virginity rolled up into critical mass.  I knew I had to either kill myself or get out of there.  I chose the latter.

I hit the streets in California broke, disoriented, and from my perspective now, unbelievably vulnerable.  Nowhere to stay, nothing to eat.  The weather was cold that spring, and I was dressed for California sunshine, not cold fog.

The first night I stayed with a friend I had met at a summer camp.  Her parents had a party that very night, and I went to bed early, exhausted from the trip.  The bedroom door opened and closed, and suddenly a man’s body was on top of mine.  A voice hissed in my ear, “Don’t make any noise and you won’t get hurt.”

It was the same thing my first rapist had hissed.  That first time.

Many more rapes, and finally it dawned on me that I could get food and places to stay and maybe a little money to buy a new toothbrush.  Nothing big-time: I didn’t even know what I was doing.  Just surviving, that’s all.

Why didn’t I give up and go home?

Because the streets and the rapes and the johns were better than the screaming and the “silent treatment” and the rapist there who watched me like a hawk, trying to get me to “be nice” to his friends in exchange for some Panama Red….and the school principal who regularly lectured me on the fact that I was a weirdo and would never amount to anything.  At least this bad scene was MY bad scene.  I chose it over being a one-girl shooting range at “home.”

“Home is where the heart is.”  There was only one heart, and it was beating in my chest.  Now, as then.

“You deprived us of raising you!  You robbed us of our only child!”

And yet…and yet what?  You only thought of yourselves?  You still, forty-four years later, think only of yourselves and not why I ran away, let alone what happened to me out there?

“You deserved whatever you got.  You chose it.  You deprived us of our only child!”

God help us.

Stigma: A Family Tradition, Part Two

I got so excited writing my last post that I forgot to mention the “family tradition” part!  So here it is, in all its sad gory.  Yes, that’s what I wrote: sad gory.

Let’s start with the unfortunate fact that the first time I heard anything whatsoever about my family’s mental health history was when my mother came to visit me during my first psychiatric hospitalization.  That’s when she chose to open up about the fact that her own mother had been hospitalized countless times for depression, and had hundreds of ECT (Electro-Convulsive Therapy) treatments, many of them AT HOME, where my mother and her sister had to hold their mother down on the bed while the doctor administered the treatments.  Apparently at that time they did not anesthetize the patient, but just let ‘er rip with the voltage.

Then poor Nana got hooked on Miltown, and after that, various barbiturates, which the doctors later switched over to benzodiazepines.  When she was put in a nursing home, her dose of Librium was limited to doctor’s orders, far less than the dose she was used to.  “They didn’t want her to become addicted.”  She already was addicted, the fools. She used to get other people to sneak her a stash, which she always put in the drawer of her bedside table, and the nurses’ aides always confiscated.  Then she would call me (I was a med student at the time) and beg me to prescribe her some more.  I always had to say the same thing: “I’m sorry, Nana, I can’t do that.  I would if I could.”

I felt bad for her, since she was really an addict, and why should they deprive a 90 year old woman of her comfort?  Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a terrible thing.   Luckily Tricyclic Antidepressants came along and saved her some suffering.

And now for my father’s side of the family.  The first to come up was my Great-Uncle Benny, who was my paternal grandmother’s brother.  He was a doctor, and the two siblings had escaped from the Ukraine just before the Bolshevik Revolution, when terrible pogroms were decimating Jewish communities.  Their parents sent them to America to escape the atrocities.  Unfortunately, Benny “had a breakdown” sometime after reaching New York, was put into Rockland State Hospital, and was never heard from again.  The family just shut the door on him and assumed that he had lived there till he died.  That’s what my mother told me, anyway.

But.  On a hunch, I looked him up in Ancestry.com and by using all the data that I had about Uncle Benny found a living son, in California.  So it seems that the man the family threw away DID get out of the hospital, and went on to have a life and a family.  But to MY family, Uncle Benny went into the black hole of the hospital and never came out.  And I don’t blame him for not getting back in touch with them!

And then there was my Grandpa on my father’s side, who married Benny’s sister.  Grandpa became overwhelmingly depressed at the age of thirty or so, and never recovered.  His doctor, who was a cousin of my grandmother’s, (and actually a urologist, if the truth be known), advised that he spend winters in Florida instead of upstate New York (where they lived), and knowing what we now know about light and its effects on depression, that was good advice.  But Grandpa was never able to work, never able to do much at all.  He had no treatment whatsoever for his depression.  He lived a miserable life until the age of 91.  I have great pity for him, having to live so long in that hell, even though he was very unpleasant to be around.

Speaking of the doctor who was a cousin of my grandmother, who would have been Uncle Benny’s, um, second cousin once removed, or something like that–anyway, one of his sons committed suicide.

So here I was, in the hospital, having felt terrible literally my entire life, and I do not exaggerate here–I cannot remember a time when I did not feel terrible, as a baseline, with episodes of euphoria that unfailingly got me into some kind of trouble–and only then was I told that the genetic cards had been stacked against me.  And I was forty-five years old.

I felt as if a closet had been opened and a whole family’s worth of skeletons came tumbling out with a crash and a shattering of bones, some of them mine.

Why had I not been told?  The impact on my life was so profound.  If I had known, then I could have sought help as a young adult, after I left home, at least–since my parents believed in psychiatry only for other people, not any of us: that was for crazy people, and they drugged you up and you were a zombie.  Well, that may have been true, for some people, because the medicines they had back then were crude.  But they certainly did have psychotherapists back then, and I sure could have used one.  At the very least I would have had some insight into why I felt terrible all the time, and not have to feel like I was some kind of freak.

But our family history was seen as an embarrassment to be hushed up and stuffed into the closet, skeleton by skeleton, and the door wallpapered over and that part of history as good as erased.  Until I came along and broke up the party.

I will never forget the shock I felt, after I had lost my medical practice and had a serious breakdown as a result, and my first hospitalization–I ran into a bevy of my mother’s friends in a parking lot, and they all started cooing about how my mother had said my practice was flourishing and how well I was doing.  I had a moment of mental white-out and then said, “Well, actually, no.  I’ve lost my practice, and just got out of the mental hospital.”   Then I turned on my heel and walked off, noting with satisfaction their jaws resting on their shoe-tops while flies flew in and out of their big mouths.  But it really wasn’t their fault.  They were just told a pack of lies.