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.

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

Not So Fast

Uh-oh.  My dream of hitting the road and being a wandering gypsy might get a little sidetracked.  My aunt and uncle both have MRSA (Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus) and the entire family is in an uproar.  They are both very elderly, and between the illness and the stress they have both gone off the deep end into dementia.  Various family members are taking turns caring for them.  I haven’t been tapped yet, but it seems only a matter of time…

And yet I still intend to pick up my RV as planned, drive it home, pack up, and if need be drive to (chilly) Florida where they live.  I do worry about myself, because my immune system is not so good.  I hope I can avoid yet another family obligation, as selfish as that sounds.

I’ll keep you all posted on the developments…

Talking Shop

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but I’ve noticed, that I haven’t been posting.

Lord knows I’ve wanted to.

Blogging serves many purposes for me, as I’m sure it does for you: catharsis, self-expression, connection, community, dialogue, intellectual challenge, exercise and sharpening of one’s writers’ craft teeth, etc.

But: things around here have been less than peachy.

Dad had another stroke a week ago, was in a coma for a couple of days.  Then he began his struggle back into This World.  He’s not quite as “with it” as he was before–and he wasn’t too “with it” then either–but sometimes he knows where he is.  Thankfully he still knows who I am.

While we thought he was dying or about to die, there was a certain amount of drama (really?!) on the part of my mother, who actually hugged me and wept on my shoulder for an uncomfortable while.  I do feel sorry for her, but not that sorry.  But it’s not as if I would push my mother away while she’s having a dramatic sad moment, or a sadly dramatic moment, being about to lose her husband of sixty-six years.

Life is now a patchwork of caregivers and nurses coming in and out of the house.  That’s good, because I cannot help with physical needs other than the food-related ones.  I can prepare food, and help him eat it; and if he’s too “out of it” to get his food into his mouth, I can feed him.  Some days he’s able to feed himself, and some days he’s just too exhausted.  He’s hungry, but he just can’t manage the eating part.  I never realized how complex the act of eating is, until this experience of watching Dad’s stepwise loss of the mechanical ability to manipulate food, even with his hands, let alone utensils.

Once it’s in his mouth he can usually chew it up and swallow, but sometimes he needs his food “blenderized” and sometimes he just can’t eat at all.  I know that’s part of dying.  And sometimes he absolutely refuses to eat, and that’s part of dying too.

We try to keep him hydrated, at least.  He’s on a medicine that decreases the fluid in his blood, taking some stress off his heart, which does make him feel better but causes increased urination, so getting the fluids into him is important.  I know, it seems paradoxical: on one hand, taking the fluids out, on the other, shoving them in.

The other day we were sitting alone together, watching the afternoon coming in through the brilliant greens of the forest canopy, and he said:  “You and I need to go up into the woods and talk shop.”

I know what he meant.

We have always been best buddies, even when times weren’t so good, even though he served as my own private “Flying Monkey” who tried to explain away my mother’s evil ways.  I always came back, for my dad.  Here I am!

Just about every night, starting from…when?  Maybe after I got back off the road, when I was seventeen–every night when I was visiting and would be staying over, my dad and I would sit up late drinking whiskey and “talking shop.”  We would solve the world’s problems, solve problems for worlds that were entirely theoretical at the time but in fact exist now, and dig deep into authors, poetry, philosophical genres, the nature of human existence, art (of course), artists (same), relationships of all sorts….and now and then my mother would stick her head down the stairway to ask us to please “keep it down.”

I do salute her for allowing us those times together and not throwing a monkey-wrench into things, which she is quite capable of doing.  She knew that those late-night rap sessions were sacred.

The only time my dad and I ever got into a shouting match was oh, around 3 am when we were both three sheets to the wind, and somehow or other we fell into the topic: “Does God have a sense of humor?”

He staunchly and solidly maintained that God does NOT have a sense of humor.  The Holocaust.

I equally stubbornly held that God DOES have a sense of humor, because WE exist and that is the ridiculous proof!

Neither of us would budge, and having put a good dent in a fifth of Bourbon whiskey, the volume worked its way up until we were actually shouting at each other in earnest.  Luckily my mother yelled down the stairs for us to “knock it off down there.”  We sheepishly toasted “to Life” and stumbled off to our respective beds.  We never did resolve that point.

So, we need to go up into the woods and talk shop.  Some more.  Soon.

Making Hay

I met him in a cowboy bar in Lima, Ohio.  I needed a dance partner for the two-steps and waltzes.  The hostess got me Dale.  He was newly divorced and still smarting, didn’t want anything to do with women–guaranteed–but he also needed a dance partner.  I was safe.  We were married the next year.

He was a trackman on the railroad.  I was the director of a pediatric emergency department.  That gave us an interesting socioeconomic dichotomy.  I didn’t care; he was my savage gamekeeper, and I his Lady Chatterley.  ‘Nuff said.

One night a colleague at work said to me, “Don’t drive down Slabtown Road.  There’s a horse farm for sale there.  If you go down there, you’ll surely buy it so don’t go down there.

I went down there the next day.  I bought it.

When I was shit-poor, playing the banjo on the streets in Boston to make rent money, throwing rent parties when it didn’t pan out, I promised myself three things if I ever got rich:

I would have nice underwear.

I would learn to fly.

I would have a horse.

It was a 40 acre farm with two barns and a brick ranch house.  There were 32 stalls with 32 horses in them.  13 of the stalls were filled with the outgoing owner’s own horses, which would come with the deal; the other stalls were boarders.  So instead of “a” horse, I suddenly had thirteen!

It was a “turn-key operation.”  That meant the owners wanted out, Right Now, and wanted rid of the place and everything on it.  Suited me fine.

There was a wonderful 4 wheel drive John Deere tractor with a backhoe, front end loader, snow blade, brush cutter, power take off (PTO), PTO powered John Deere hay baler, a powered manure spreader (very important when you have 32 horses!), a 1949 Allis Chalmers tractor, hay mower, a couple of wheel-powered hay rakes, and everything else you’d need to manage and bale five cuttings a year of 25 acres of prime alfalfa.

That was the only time in my life I’ve ever watched TV.  If you’re going to make hay in Ohio, you’d better be adept at gauging the weather patterns from the Pacific Northwest to the Upper Midwest, during haying time.  That’s the way the jet stream flows in summer, and that’s the path the storms take.  It takes about three days for a storm system to travel from Seattle to Lima.  Like it says, you have to make hay when the sun shines!

Timing is critical when making hay.  First off, you have to know when to cut it.  The alfalfa plant is highest in protein–up to 28%–right before it blooms.  If you cut it right then, you will have soft, fragrant green hay that is loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals, and there is little chance for toxic molds to settle in.  If you miss this tiny window of time–only a few days–what you’ll have is coarse, tough, not-very-nutritious hay, good for cows at $1 a bale but not suitable for horse feed at $5 a pop.

Now, the absolute minimum time frame for making a crop of hay is three sunny days: day one to cut, day two to turn it over and dry it on the other side, and day three to bale and put it away in the haymow.

So the art of it all was to pinpoint the exact three-day window between rain storms, coordinated with the ideal growth stage of the alfalfa.  It was exciting.  Heart-pounding.

To make it all more interesting, those three-day windows always seemed to occur when the temperature was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The upshot of the torrid temperatures was that we could never manage to bribe the local high school boys who lolled around during summer break doing nothing but getting into trouble–we could never get them to help us put up hay, even for good money.  So it fell out that Dale and I did all of the cutting and raking ourselves.

He would go out first, as soon as the dew dried off the hay.  That was another obstacle–you can’t just get up with the birds and expect to go cut hay.  If you do anything to hay while it’s wet, it will do something bad to you, like turn directly into mold. And worse, if you put wet hay in your haymow, it creates so much heat in the process of fermentation that many a good barn has burned down due to hay fires, and many a good animal lost!  So you had to pat your foot and drink cup after cup of coffee until the sun had dried the standing hay.

As soon as the sun was full on, beating down like brimstone, Dale would jump on the John Deere with the mower on, and cut hay for dear life.  If we were lucky, it was so damn hot that I could give him an hour’s head start and follow right after him with the old Allis Chalmers, with a wheel-drive rake on the back.  The sun was so hot, the hay dried enough to turn over in just an hour!  So we’d get the whole 25 acres cut and turned over in a day.  But most of the time it was a two-day process before we were set to bale.  Cut the first day, and the second day I’d go out with one rake on the Chalmers and turn over the front field while he did the back field with the Deere.

Driving the Chalmers was an adventure in itself.  It had all kinds of convenient features, like a dead-man’s switch.  That’s a metal button on the floor that you have to keep your foot on at all times, otherwise it cuts the engine off.  Obviously, because it’s called a dead-man’s switch, if you died while driving tractor it would most likely cut off.  If you are five feet tall and have to drive the tractor half-standing, half hanging onto the steering wheel, it’s damned hard to keep your weight on that stupid switch.  Of course, if you fell off the tractor it would be handy to have it stop automatically, saving you from getting run over or having to run like hell to catch up with an escaped tractor.

The Allis had no brakes.

Therefore, I had to devise a strategy for what to do when I came to the corner of the field and had to make a turn.  Luckily the Allis tolerated letting the engine idle down real slow, since it only had two gears: fast, and faster.  But it would throttle down to a creeping crawl before it stalled.  That was good in another way: the starter was on the floor too, and required a good stomp to fire it up.  I must have looked like a monkey on a string hopping up and down trying to get that damn tractor started.

On the third morning, after the horses were fed and watered and the stalls mucked out, and after four or five more cups of coffee, Dale would hitch the baler to the Deere.  If we were lucky, and school was out, we’d have our two boys (his and mine) as slave labor.  When you live on a farm, there are certain realities of life, like barn chores and baling hay.  Let’s face it: none of us woke up in the morning shouting, “Yaaay!  Let’s go fry our ass, get good and sweaty and covered with itchy hay dust, and totally dehydrated because there isn’t time to stop to drink!  Yaaaay!”

Nope.  So it was on Baling Day that I drove the John Deere tractor with a baler on the PTO and a 14 foot flatbed wagon hitched behind, no automatic balers that shoot the bales into a tall stake wagon for us: we had the old-fashioned kind that plops the bales down in the field.  So Dale would horse the 60-to-70 pound bales up to the wagon, one of the boys would grab it from him, and the other boy would stack it on the wagon.  As the wagon filled up, it got harder and harder……but those boys could sometimes load that wagon five bales high.  Then we’d unhitch from the Deere and one of the boys would get the Allis, and haul the load to the barn.

Without the boys to help, it was just me driving tractor and Dale working the wagon like a madman with rabies.  I had to stop a lot to let him catch up on the stacking.  Sometimes I’d hop off the tractor and help stack, then we’d have another go at it till we were ready to put the bales in the barn.

If we hadn’t had a powered hay conveyer, I don’t know what we would have done.  This looked like a playground slide with a conveyer belt going up to the haymow.  We’d generally have the two kids (did I mention that they were ages 8 (mine) and 10 (his) when we started doing this?) up in the haymow stacking, and I’d be on the wagon heaving the bales down to Dale, who heaved them onto the conveyer.

And then we’d go out to the field and do it again, until it was done.  It was a race against the evening dew, or the coming rain, whichever came first.

Sometimes something exciting would happen: I always drove tractor with my head cocked over my left shoulder, one eye on the windrow and one ear on the baler, in case somebody got in some kind of trouble.

So when I heard shrieks coming from the direction of the wagon, I shut the whole works down and leaped out of the tractor seat.  (The dead-man’s switch on the Deere was conveniently located under the spring-loaded seat, so all you had to do was stand up and the tractor shut down.)

Son of a gun, if we hadn’t baled up a smallish rattlesnake; and before anyone noticed, it had been tossed up on the wagon, its head sticking out and snapping for all it was worth!  Dale whacked it with something or other, and threw that bale back into the field.  Reject!  We laughed over that for years.

After the last bale was put away in the mow, there was a mad rush for the Gatorade and the shower.  Then barn chores, which never wait till tomorrow.  And the blessed coolth of the evening.  Let the dew fall where it may; the hay is safe, and so are we, until time to bale again!

Postscript: although at the time my son thought he was being abused by being forced to do what all farm kids do, he now remembers those years as the best in his life. 

Bunny Boiling Close Call

If you aren’t yet familiar with it, “Bunny Boiling” is a term referencing a scene in the movie Fatal Attraction.  The movie stars Glenn Close as a person who is supposed to have Borderline Personality Disorder.  (I don’t agree with that assessment, but that’s the consensus.)

There’s a scene in the movie where Close’s character, Alex, in retaliation for a perceived slight from the object of her affection (Michael Douglas), takes his family’s pet rabbit and boils it on the stove.  No, I haven’t watched this scene.  I would freak out or throw up or something, so I leave it to others to write about it.  I learned about the term on the excellent site Out of the Fog, which provides support and resources for people in relationships, whether chosen or unchosen, with people with Personality Disorders.

What it boils down to (sorry, bad pun) is that the disordered person, for whatever reason/non-reason, takes something that is precious to the person they want to hurt, and breaks/destroys/kills it.  It’s not a pretty thing.

And that’s one of the reasons I don’t think “Bunny Boiling” is a feature of Borderline Personality Disorder.  In my experience, Borderlines rarely if ever take out their anguish on other people in planned, complex ways.  Borderlines turn their pain in on themselves, via self-harm that may either be physical such as cutting/overdosing, or in exposing themselves to danger, usually subconsciously.  Some Borderlines have rage attacks and level their explosive anger at people they love, and some hit or throw things.

But they are usually contrite and filled with self-loathing after these spontaneous outbursts, and that’s when self-harm becomes a risk.

Please note: The characterizations of Personality Disorders you will see here are a combination of my own clinical experiences, cross-checked with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V.

Contrast that with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where the person does not feel disordered at all.  Rather, s/he expects the world to put her on a pedestal and worship her.  If she thinks she is not getting enough adulation, she will attempt to emotionally cow everyone in her inner circle, using an arsenal of weapons such as intimidation, gaslighting, temper tantrums, physical and/or emotional abuse, and disregard of boundaries.  She is not above stealing from her own family, and she is not above….Bunny Boiling.  Outside the family, she is all smiles and sunshine, usually a pillar of the community, craving (and getting) admiration and accolades at work and in the community.  The family is powerless to gain support from the community, because if they try to get help no one believes them, because the disordered person is SUCH an angel, anyone who speaks against her must be the devil incarnate.

I’ve noticed some overlap here with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  Both Narcissists and Antisocials tend to have no remorse for the sometimes heinous deeds they do.  They will willingly steal, and feel that it’s merely what they deserve to have, after all.  They both use others for their own designs. They lack empathy.  Neither type has any problem with destroying things belonging to other people, although they do it for different reasons.

Narcissists will destroy things belonging to loved ones because they feel they are not getting the attention or adulation they deserve; therefore they will steal/break/destroy/kill something of special value to the loved one or family.

Antisocials don’t need a motive.  They do destructive acts because they enjoy it.  I have had some horrific experiences with Antisocials, and have observed them torturing animals and getting sexual pleasure from it.  I’ve had Antisocial children in my pediatrics practice as young as five or six, who purposely set the house on fire or set the family cat on fire, etc.  Therapy did not help.  It’s tragic and terrifying to see this developing over time in a youngster.  I know that some of you who are reading this will be angered by my characterization of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and accuse me of demonizing it, but what I am describing is from my direct experience, so I can’t soft-pedal it.

I have written a lot about my mother and my anguish at trying to escape her abuse, only to get sucked back in.  I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself around this, and I am starting to see the way the roles have played out over my lifetime.  My mother is the Disordered One who has absolutely no remorse about tormenting me, kicking the dog, breaking precious fragile one-of-a-kind handmade objects, and saying shockingly denigrating things about my father in front of selected other people.

I am the scapegoat, the one she takes her anger and frustration out on, and then is furious that I don’t adore her the way she envisioned being adored by her child.  For my part, I desperately seek ways to appease her and make her love me, or at least accept me, or at least stop treating me like a contemptuous piece of shit.

My father is the “Winged Monkey,” a term taken from the Wizard of Oz.  The Wicked Witch of the (East or West, can’t remember) had a band of Winged Monkeys that she sent to retrieve Dorothy and crew when they escaped.  In a Personality Disordered family/relationship, a Winged Monkey is the person who, after the scapegoat has fled, goes to her and explains that Mom really didn’t mean to say what she said, she was tired, she was aggravated about something at work, she had her period.

And the scapegoat, not wanting to believe that Mom is such a mean person, capitulates and returns to the abusive situation, hoping that this time will be different, and resorting time and again to appeasement behaviors to try to make Mom proud, so that THIS time she’ll be as nice to me as she is to everyone else.  And since this is just another cycle-of-abuse situation, there is often a “honeymoon” period where everything is lovely, because Mom really didn’t want me to leave–she just wanted to throw me out.

I’ve tried all kinds of strategies to get away from my mother.  I’ve been in therapy since 1984.  I’ve utilized the Geographic Solution, even moving to the other side of the world to get as far away from her as I could.  Hell, if they offered a one-way trip to Mars I’d jump at the chance.

There I was, on the other side of the planet, enjoying myself immensely, assuaging my guilt for enjoying life by calling Mom on Sundays and Thursdays.  Then the Winged Monkey struck again.

He didn’t mean to do it.  He just got awful sick, and they are awful old, and I couldn’t just let them flounder.  Could I?  So I packed up my stuff and came back to the States after four glorious years abroad, and moved into the barn.  No bathroom, no kitchen, but it’s a roof and it has heat, and I’m damned well not going to live in the house with THEM.

Except now, as of about a month ago, it’s not THEM who live in the “real house,” because my Winged Monkey has moved into the nursing home, and it looks to be for the rest of his life.  It is a tragedy.

Last Tuesday I was visiting him, as I do every day, and I brought along Noga, as I do every day.  She has become the unofficial Therapy Dog at the nursing home.  When we finally get to my dad’s room, after greeting all the residents and staff along the way, she cuddles up to him in his bed,

Noga, the Angel Puppy

Noga, the Angel Puppy

and he buries his hand in her silky fur.  Sometimes he cries.  If nobody stops her, she will lick his ears till he convulses with laughter.  She is his angel.

Last Tuesday Mom was looking distracted and a bit agitated.  She asked me if she could take Noga for a walk in the park that adjoins the nursing home.  I didn’t see any harm in that, and I thought it might be therapeutic for Mom, as it was a beautiful day for a walk.  I handed over Noga’s leash, and turned my attention to Dad, who was having a rough day as well.

Half an hour later, Mom came striding into the room with Noga gunny-sacked under her arm.  Her hair (Noga’s) was a mess and her harness hung around her neck.  I took her–she was shaking and grabbed onto me with her claws, terrified–and I noticed that the part of the harness that was hanging from her neck was a part that normally goes over her leg.  The harness had been completely off, and hastily thrown on–not put back on properly.

“What happened?” I asked Mom, keeping my voice even.

“I don’t know, she got out of her harness,” says Mom, avoiding eye contact.

“Did she get scared and pull back?  Did she see a rabbit or something?”  I was hopeful there would be some rational explanation.

“No, she just got out of her harness,” Mom repeated.

I got a chill in the pit of my stomach.

First it was a group of four little shot glasses my dad had made, that he and I used to use every afternoon.  They disappeared, and I found them behind the refrigerator after much grilling.  Two of them are still whole, but the fridge is huge.  I’ll have to wait for someone to help me, but for now they’re safe.

Next it was a really beautiful porcelain vase that my dad and I collaborated on–he threw the vase, and I painted it.  It disappeared from its place on the shelf, and all the other pieces of pottery have been rearranged to fill the gap.  She “doesn’t know” what happened to that either, and she’s not budging on this one.  I think she sold it.

And now, I can only be grateful that whatever occurred to induce her to bring Noga back to me intact–whether it was a moment of remorse, or fear, or whether Noga simply would not leave her–she brought my Angel Puppy back to me.

Although I don’t fool myself that there will be no more “Bunny Boilings,” I will do my best to keep Noga safe, and not to let my own pattern of appeasement deliver her over to….her.

 

Status Update

First of all I thank all of you who have been so supportive during this time of crisis.  I really appreciate all y’all.

Just a quick update, because I am finally home and exhausted.  Feet are up, trying to think of something for dinner more nutritious than frozen french fries.

Dad was transferred to the rehab wing of the nursing home this morning.  It was a very difficult thing to see, and a very difficult thing to be, for him.  There is such a marked difference in the level of care between the hospital, where they took amazing care of him, to the nursing home, where it took 20 minutes for the nurse to get him a snack after a low blood sugar event.  Luckily my mom had left a couple of energy bars on the bedside table, and luckily I was there to give him one.

On the upside, I had a long talk with the Occupational Therapist, who had excellent questions and listened intently.  Together we identified several key areas to work on in rehab, making realistic goals such as, that he should be able to feed himself unaided, to use an adaptive wheelchair, and hopefully to transfer himself to a chair or commode from the wheelchair.  I was happy with that.

As far as discharge expectations, it became increasingly clear from that conversation that home is not going to be an option.  That’s a very sad thought, and I don’t like to think it.

I had lunch with my mom and we discussed all these things, and thought about what the future might look like.  This will certainly be an evolving process.

In other news, I went to bed around midnight last night and got up, after very little sleep because I didn’t take my knock-out pills, at 5:30 in order to catch the doctor when she made rounds at the hospital.  I think I must have fallen asleep for the last hour, because I woke up to find my left knee stuck in a bent position, extremely painful if I tried to straighten it, which I couldn’t have anyway because I instantly knew what it was: a tear of my meniscus, which is the rim of cartilage that sits on top of your shinbone in your knee joint and keeps things from slipping around.  I knew this not because I am a doctor, but because it happened to me in the past, when I was like 24 years old and playing soccer–in other words, a sports injury.  So WTF???  I was, like, this can’t be happening to me.  I have to be at the hospital at 7 sharp.

Once again, my little dog Noga saved the day.  She has these rituals.  One of them is that she refuses to get out of bed (my bed, that is!) in the morning without a set quota of kisses and hugs.  So in order to get on with the morning somehow, I knelt on the bed and gave Noga her kisses and hugs.  Miraculously, the act of sitting on my heels opened up my knee joint enough to let the errant piece of cartilage pop back into its place.  Orthopedic appointment tomorrow.  Arthroscopic surgery in the future, just like the other knee, which has been swelling up again lately….sigh…..

I have HAD It With Stalkers!

I’ve HAD it.  HAD IT with lurkers from my past who read my blogs and either comment, knowing I will delete them (but I’ve fixed that now), or don’t comment and then private email me because they’ve figured out they’ve been blocked.  Or try to Facebook me, which results in my blocking them there too.  Don’t they GET it?  I don’t WANT certain people from my private life, whom I have already banned from my private life, stalking my blog.  I mean, didn’t I JUST write a post about that very thing???  You people from my private life (NOT my Bloggie Friends), get out of my blog and leave me alone.

One of the truly wonderfully comforting things about our welcoming and supportive community of bloggers here in this corner of the Blogosphere is that we choose each other, because we are people we want to share with.  We share deeply, honestly, openly.  It’s a world of trust that I don’t have “in real life,” so I really treasure it here.  We are “family of choice.”

I’ve considered doing a blogroll, but there are so many of you whose blogs I love that it would take much more sidebar space than is allotted to get you all in.  And that’s not even including those of you whom I read and don’t comment, usually late at night when my brain isn’t so functional anyway.  There, you see, I am a lurker too, I admit it 😉

What I’m trying to say here is that our ever-growing Bloggie Community, and especially our Mental Health bloggers, are my trusted family.  And I don’t want to have it in the back of my mind that some creepy person that I used to date, or some other people with whom I’ve gone No Contact, are reading my words–because in this blog, I don’t hold back.  It’s straight from the gut.  Yes, sometimes I write anecdotes or amusing stories for comic relief, but then I often follow those up with exactly what’s going down for me now.

And I really love and appreciate all of you amazing friends who support me with your wonderful comments.  It’s such a comfort to know that you are there, each and every one of you.  I wish we could have a party.  Hey, wouldn’t that be fun?  A bunch of us could all get on at the same time and hop from one person’s blog to another….I’m sure that’s not an original idea but it sounds good to me right now!

I’m slowly recovering from Thursday night’s attack of mania or whatever it was.  One of my shrink-o-matics thinks that I have nocturnal seizures.  I think I agree with him, at least this time, because after making some food for myself Friday afternoon, I fell into bed at 7 pm and slept until 12:30 Saturday afternoon.  And woke up with a headache that has lasted till now, Saturday evening.  I even put my carbon monoxide monitors into service, just in case, and they said zero so it’s not that.

Even now, I don’t feel like the sharpest knife in the drawer.  It might take a while to recover from that one.

So I think I’m going to wind up this day with our usual 5 minutes of obedience training (my dog Noga and I) followed by her Tooth Cleaning Treat, my Tooth Cleaning Ritual, a dose of Cod-Acamol, which is a wonderful Israeli concoction of 10 mg codeine and 500 mg acetominophen, just enough codeine to get a run-of-the-mill headache gone, and a large dose of Bedtime.

‘Night, y’all, and thanks for listening.

A Gentle Soul Has Left His Body

I knew him when I was a child, mostly.  I’ve spent many giggly times on his knee.  He was one of those funny people who didn’t put any effort into being funny.  He had a heart that spanned the whole world, and would instantly give you anything he had, if you wanted it.  He was open-hearted, open-souled, completely without the egotistical layers that most artists cultivate.

He was soft-spoken, but could be boisterous in his own way–which was balanced by his wife, a former nurse, who retained her identity and function as the family and community nurse until this day, I am sure.  I remember well being chased down with the intention of giving me an enema, which I didn’t at all want, by our gentle yet strict family nurse…and locking my three-year-old self in the bathroom.  They had to take the hinges off.  I got the enema anyway!

His son and I were in love.  We were three and four.  We grew up and married other people, but at the time it was taken as a known fact that we should certainly marry.  I often wonder what would have happened–and then, with my bipolar disease, I cringe to think what might have happened, what beautiful things broken, what bridges burned–and I’m happy to remain with the family fantasy, and the family intact.

For our two families have really been one as long as I can remember.  Although we have all gone our own ways over the years, there is still the sense of wholeness and familiarity, the heart-bond that will never be broken.

And so, when I heard of his passing, I felt struck in the heart as if by a fist.  I have cried on and off all day.  It will be hard to imagine the place where they live without him, as he was a legendary icon in his area of art.

Fare well, Val Cushing, wherever you fare.

http://www.valcushing.com/artist.html

Holy moley, back to the Holy Land again!

So yes, I have been back and forth a lot this year.  Israel is my home.  There is no where else in this world that I feel at home.  I felt at home there the moment I stepped off the plane on my first visit in 2005.  I returned in 2006 to study in a women’s seminary, and in 2007 I made Aliyah: I moved to Israel.

When I settled there, I knew that at some point I would be obligated to return to America to help my parents, who are now 88 and 86, respectively.  That point came in the terrible winter of 2010-2011, when their remote mountain home was completely surrounded by ice, and my father had begun to fall frequently, and my mother was freaking out.  I had already flown in from Israel three times to “put out fires,” and the fourth time my mother called begging for help I packed up my house and was back in the U.S. in three weeks.

They really did need me then.  My father was in the early stages of dementia, and was struggling to maintain what was left of himself.   He refused to use any assistive devices, not even a cane.  He was constantly falling asleep at the dining table and sometimes falling off his chair.  One time I had to extract him from under the table, where he had slid down and was tangled among the table legs with his arms pinned under him.

Then finally he fell and broke his wrist badly and got a concussion to boot, and was in the hospital for a couple of days.  While he was there, I had his bed brought down from upstairs and made the living room into a bedroom.   When he had recovered enough to understand speech, my mother and I forbade him ever to use the spiral staircase again.  He was incensed and called us his jailers, which he does to this day, but better jailers than to have some disaster on the steel spiral staircase that reminds me of a submarine.

The past two-and-a-half years, since I’ve been here, have been tempestuous and productive all at once.  If you are a regular reader, you will know that I have had issues with PTSD caused by my abusive mother, who has not changed any since I left home at 16.  So staying here has been a challenge, to say the least.

A few weeks ago I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had developed high blood pressure.  I was constantly filled with rage.  Suicidal fantasies filled my days and nights.  Not just THAT I wanted to kill myself: developing more and better and more sophisticated methods, so that I wouldn’t be found.  Oy.

I knew I had to get out of here, get back to the Holy Land for a few weeks, breathe the air in Jerusalem that is filled with holiness, even if it’s also sometimes filled with dust.  So I booked a flight for a three week respite, announced my plans to the P’s, and took off.

Do you know, I have so many friends in the Holy Land that in three weeks I could not even visit two-thirds of them?  My family is there, my family of choice, the loves of my life.  I got to see some of my patients, who have become dear friends.  Two of them have had children while I was gone.  Actually, more than two–no, three–no, four–and three of those have had TWO children while I was gone!  I went around smooching babies.  I had coffee and Israeli breakfast (oh, Israeli breakfast!  I could do a whole post on Israeli breakfast.  Maybe I will.) with a lady so pregnant that she could hardly reach the table.  She has since given birth to a girl, MAZAL TOV, even more mazal tov since she already has four little boys.

I stayed with my adopted brother. We took bus trips to exotic places and had extraordinary meals and adventures.  And we made Shabbos together and drank strong Israeli port wine (20% alcohol!) and solved all the problems of the world.

I spent one Shabbos with my adoptive family, my rabbi and his wonderful wife (my adopted sister) and their adult children and grandchildren.  We sang and learned Torah together and laughed and cried and I felt bathed in love.

And then it was time to leave.

I freaked out.  I ran to the rabbi upstairs.  He is an expert in Jewish Law, and qualified to judge cases.  He is also an expert therapist.  Two hours with him, and I knew what I had to do: I had to save myself by being in the Land with my real family.  So I scuttled about and **voila** found a tiny apartment, just right for my needs, and signed a one-year lease.  That night I flew back to the States.

I had already told my parents that I planned to return to Israel for the High Holidays plus the month preceding them.  My custom is to devote that month, Elul, to intense Torah learning, in preparation for the Days of Awe: the ten days between Rosh Ha’Shanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  There is much spiritual work to be done, if one is to get the most out of those intense and heavy days.

But as soon as the plane hit the tarmac on my return from this three week trip, my heart sank into my shoes.  I just feel terrible here.  I belong in Israel.  I belong TO Israel, and she belongs to me.  We are lovers.  I am my lover, and my lover is me.  I did not know what I would do, how I would be able to survive the–what, six weeks?–of what remained of the summer, because I knew that after the next trip, I would be back here for the winter, and who knows how much longer?

I tried to put a good face on it, and smile, and I don’t think it worked, because yesterday my parents told me, in a kind way, that they know I am not happy here, and they know I am very happy there, and they want me to be happy, so they want me to return to the Holy Land.

This is bitter-sweet for me.  Part of me is elated that they have released me.  Part of me feels like I am failing them.  Both the rabbi in Jerusalem and my therapist here tell me that this is guilt, and guilt is in no way productive, and it is entirely optional.  I plan to get over that guilt, because this place is killing me.  The rabbi in Jerusalem reminded me that we are not permitted to harm ourselves in any way, and even I have said that very thing on this very blog.

My ticket is at the end of July, with an early October return.  I might extend that through November so that I can spend Chanukah in Jerusalem, that amazing festival of light and enlightenment.  And then we will see, we will see what the light brings in.

My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem

My Channukiyah (menorah) in Jerusalem