Opening a Big Can of Worms

Talking to My Children about My Mental Illness

For years, I tried to hide my mental illness from my children.  They were aware that I had some issues, but I downplayed the severity of my situation.  I shared joint custody of my boys with my ex-husband, with them travelling back and forth between our homes.  The entire time they were with their father each week, I would do the bare minimum, stockpiling my energy for their joyful return.  When they would arrive, I would do my best to greet them with exuberance, making plans with them and baking their favorite treats.  I would paint on a smile and pretend everything in life was as it should be, hoping to be that idealized mother I felt they deserved.  My children were my everything and I wanted every visit with me to be special, whether we ventured out to do things or stayed home for family game nights or bad movie nights.  We always made time to have extended talks about books, movies, shows, games, friends, school and life in general so that they always knew every aspect of their lives was important to me.  Meanwhile, my demons were eating me alive from the inside.  I’d take long showers, silently sobbing so they could not hear me;  After they went to bed, I would quietly sob into my pillow.  When they left to return to their father’s, I would collapse until their next visit.  Wearing that facade was exhausting.

I dreaded them discovering how bad things truly were for many reasons.  Primarily, I didn’t want them to view their mother as damaged or broken.  In my mind, parents were supposed to be these strong, invincible, larger than life entities that guide their children through life.  Children were not supposed to worry about their parents.  Their parents were not supposed to be weak or easily destroyed by their own emotions.  I was supposed to be their rock, their pillar of strength, someone they could look up to in life.  I felt that by letting them see how bad things truly were, I was somehow failing them as a mother.

I also feared their father, my ex-husband.  As much as I try to never speak unkindly about him, especially within earshot of my children, purely out of respect for the fact that he is their father, truth be told our break up was horrendous.  I carried with me the constant fear that the severity of my depression might get back to him and it would be used as a weapon for him to try to lessen my time with them.  From time to time, we would end up back in family court, him wanting to change the order for no other reason than that frequent swaps were inconvenient.  I dreaded him getting his hands on true ammunition he could use to get his way.

One of my biggest fears, though, was that my children would have questions for which there were no easy answers.  I’ve gone through different types of abuse from different people throughout my life, some of them my children genuinely admire or love.  These people, though they have caused me heartache, have always been good to my kids and I did not want to be the one to share anything with them that may cause them to see the people they cared for differently, especially their father.  There may come a day when those hard questions will be asked, but I never wanted to taint their childhood or make them feel they had to hate anyone solely based on my interactions with them.

There were a handful of times when I had breakdowns throughout their childhood and would end up admitted to an inpatient setting for a short period of time.  As far as my ex-husband knew, it was to balance medications; As far as my children were concerned, I was just feeling under the weather so I was exchanging a few days this week for some more the next.  Eventually, though, my entire life collapsed.  My then-fiance had left me for another woman.  I had no real support system and no family to turn to in my time of need.  There was no way for me to paint on a smile and pretend everything was okay.  Things were the farthest from okay they could possibly be and I was scared to death.  There was no way to hide it.

By this time, my boys were fifteen and eighteen.  They were no longer the fragile little children I had to watch over and protect, regardless of the fact that they were still my babies in my heart and mind.  I sat down with them, terrified to the bottom of my soul, and had the most honest conversation with them that I have ever had.  I didn’t go into details about a lot of my past abuse, but I didn’t sugarcoat it’s affect on me, either.  I explained the struggles ahead and all I would need to do to put my life back together and get back on my feet.  While I let them know that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, I made it clear that the journey ahead would not be an easy one for me.

I also let them know I had begun to write, having put my life’s story out there both in a book and a follow-up blog.  I was honest with them that they may want to wait until they’re older to read my book  because, while I discussed things I needed to talk about for my own self-healing, there were some hard truths in it I didn’t feel they were ready to face.  I welcomed them to read my blog, however, if they wanted to so they could follow my journey as I worked through things and healed.  I also let them know I would answer any questions they had because I did not want them worrying that things were worse than they appeared.   Both my sons hugged me tightly after our talk and have continued to do so more often since then.  They both admitted to not feeling ready to read anything I’ve written so I did not press the issue.  I had not expected them to want to read anything I wrote or to have any questions, but I wanted to leave the lines of communication open just in case they wanted to talk.

I had another blog I had begun, as well, that focused primarily on the positive aspects of my healing, that I welcomed them to read as an alternative to the blog that revolved around my struggles with mental illness.  The other day, I recommended that my older son read my most recent positive blog about stepping out of my comfort zone and trying to live my life more fully.  After reading that blog, unbeknownst to me, my son decided to follow a link to my mental illness blog.  Much to my surprise, he read every entry I had posted so far.  After finishing, he left me this message:

“after I read that article you sent me earlier, I saw the link to your blog and read it. I didn’t want to at first, but something in me told me to listen to your story and finally be able to truly empathize with you. After reading it, I can hardly believe you went through so much without reaching out for so long, and am glad you finally did.”

Truthfully, I cried when I received that message; Not small tears that cascade gracefully down your cheeks, but rather chest-wracking, snot-bubble-inducing sobs that shook my entire body.  For so long, I had been terrified of my children finding out about the extent of my mental illness, fearing that they would see me as broken or damaged or not worthy to be their mother.  Yet here was my son, after reading only a fraction of what I had endured, able to empathize with how much I had struggled.  Even more amazingly, he was proud of me for surviving it all, finally coming out with my story and reaching out for help.

The truth is, as much as in my heart and mind my children will be frozen forever as those sweet-faced, innocent babies they once were years ago, they’ve since grown into strong, intelligent, empathetic young men.  While it is every parent’s greatest fear that they will let their children down in some unforgivable way by not being that strong, unbreakable entity atop a pedestal, in reality no one can live up to that ideal.  I’m slowly beginning to accept that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of because we all have our struggles and our demons to face.  I couldn’t be prouder of the men they’ve become or how supportive and compassionate they’ve been when facing the harsh truths about my mental illness.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 9/6/16.

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It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Times.

A Tale of a Dysfunctional Relationship

When a relationship ends, everyone goes through the different stages of grief.   Denial.   Bargaining.  Anger.  Depression.  Acceptance.  Through each stage, you see your ex differently.  You hold onto the good times, refusing to believe it is truly over.  You tear yourself apart, carrying the blame for everything you could have done differently.  You swear they were the Anti-Christ personified, convinced they were placed on this earth to torment you.  You sob and cry your heart out about all that you’ve lost and all that will never be again.  Then a miraculous thing happens.  Acceptance.  With acceptance comes clarity.

Everyone always says hindsight is twenty-twenty but never is that more true than when looking back at a failed relationship once acceptance has sunk in.  Unlike the other stages of grief, where you’re viewing your ex through a cloud of emotions,  everything becomes so transparent once you have accepted things are over and there is no going back.  Everything you overlooked out of love or glossed over and begrudgingly accepted because it was easier to let it slide than to argue becomes shockingly clear.  There is no more lying to yourself when those blinders come off and acceptance shines brightly in the stark light of day.

When I look back at the last eleven years with my ex, I’m reminded of an old nursery rhyme about a little girl with a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.  It goes on to say “When she was good, she was very, very good.  When she was bad, she was horrid”.  No words could more perfectly describe my last relationship than that.  There were times when it was the most amazingly perfect relationship I could have ever imagined;  Other times, however, it was so soul-crushingly agonizing that no amount of tears could wash away the pain.

My ex was the first person I had fully shared everything with – every last scar, every trauma I had endured.  It was not an easy task because I had enormous trust issues and had built mile-high walls for self-preservation.  He was the first person that saw all of me and made me feel like it was okay to be me;  Though I saw myself as damaged and broken, he saw someone that was still beautiful, wonderful, worthy of being loved.  It began as a great love affair where everything in life finally made sense and I finally felt like I found a place where I belonged.  For the first time in my life, I truly felt loved and accepted.  I felt safe.  I could face anything with him at my side.

Everything was not always perfect between us, though.  We had both endured a multitude of abuses growing up and our demons reared their heads in different ways.  My flight response was always high.  I could not handle conflict.  Yelling, screaming and personal attacks would make me withdraw and want to flee.  The demons that haunted my ex were of a different breed.  When he became upset, he would rant and rage, unyielding and reiterating until he felt he got his point across.  Problems would arise, he would yell and harp; I, in turn, would flee, all the while begging him to please stop.

Though his rage when we fought terrified me, in so many ways he was my protector and guardian.  When my ex-husband would come to the door screaming about issues regarding joint-custody of our kids, my ex would stand defiantly between us, making sure he knew his behavior was unacceptable and had to stop.  When I fell apart after my daughter chose to live with her father, he was there to comfort me and pick up the pieces.  He wrapped his arms around me tightly as I broke down about loss after loss I had endured, from the death of my parents to the loss of my babies.  He stood by me through multiple breakdowns, telling me it would be okay, that he’d always be there.  It felt safe to be vulnerable around him because when I wasn’t strong enough to face things alone, he would be my rock.

Our insecurities and poor self-esteem reared its head in different ways, as well.  We both were fiercely jealous.  I worried and questioned any woman who entered his life because they all became a pursuit or an affair over time.  He was jealous of everyone that took my attention or affection away from him, whether it was my children or my friends.  I had been so convinced that I was inherently unlovable that I needed constant validation and reassurance from him that I was still loved and wanted.  He, on the other hand, sought validation through others.  Knowing he was loved and accepted fully by me for who he was would never be enough; He needed constant reaffirmation from others, to convince strangers that he was worth being desired and adored.  He was so convinced that he was garbage that the only self worth he could achieve was through others.  Over time, those feelings even extended to me – he began to only value me when others saw value in me, as well.

Over the years, our relationship dynamic changed and warped.  The infidelities and fighting made my depression increasingly worse and with each breakdown, it became harder and harder for me to function.  I still managed to get dinner on the table and go through the basic motions of life, but I found myself struggling more and more to get out of bed every morning and hiding in the bathroom to cry every night.  In many ways, I think a part of me gave up because I no longer felt loved or appreciated.  I went from being reassured I was beautiful and wonderful to hearing that I was a burden he was tired of carrying.  He would mentally and emotionally knock me down then rage that I no longer had the strength to pull myself back up.  Where we used to talk for hours, sharing stories and thoughts, he now tuned me out or cut me off, informing me he had already heard things or was not interested.  I withdrew to playing online games with friends, hoping to feel wanted or needed by someone.  He withdrew into further affairs with other women, often making me the brunt of their shared jokes.

Our relationship was a roller coaster of ups and downs.  We would take long drives, holding hands and feeling like it was us against the world and nothing could break us apart.  We would go out and listen to bands or stroll through the farmer’s market or do one of a hundred different things, smiling and holding onto each other like the world only existed for the two of us.  No matter how bad the day felt, laying my head on his chest and having his arms wrap around me made the world feel right again. Everything felt wonderful and perfect when he was at my side.  Except sometimes it truly wasn’t.  We’d have huge fights where I would leave the house sobbing at 2 a.m. and walk for hours before checking myself into the hospital because my mind was tormented by thoughts of dying to escape the pain he had caused.  In the beginning, when I would run out in tears, he would chase me, apologizing, begging to talk and make things right again.  Over time, he no longer cared and I would walk and walk alone down dark city streets, along the sides of highways, feeling lost and hopeless, wanting to die.  Eventually, he would use that time to message other women, hoping to hook up while I was away in the hospital for a day or two.

Over the years, I lost so much of myself because it was easier not to argue.  He didn’t like some meals I enjoyed so we ate them less and less.  He didn’t like some shows I enjoyed so I only watched them when he wasn’t home then eventually not at all.  He thought this friend of mine had a crush or that friend had a problem with our relationship, so little by little, I pushed people away.  The more I conceded to his wishes, the more he pushed for me to change.  I lived so fully for each of the highs that I was willing to give up anything to avoid the lows.  Eventually, I lost myself completely and felt like I was living solely for him yet I was still never enough.  Though I had avoided all the addictions that had plagued my family, I still succumbed to the same codependent relationship.

When my ex eventually abandoned me for the last in a long line of women he had cheated on me with, I felt utterly heartbroken and lost.  At first, I could not believe he would leave me and walk away after all we had been through together, all we had built.  I wanted so badly to talk to him, to understand where things went wrong.  I was so angry that all he cared about was himself.  I laid in bed, sobbing, feeling like my life was over and nothing would ever be okay again.  Then clarity hit and I began to write.  Truthfully, he will always be one of the greatest loves of my life because he was the first person that ever saw past all of my damage to see the beauty underneath.  He will always have a place in my heart for that.  But our relationship was also the most unhealthy, dysfunctional period of my life.    While part of me will always love him for the good times, I can never fully forgive the bad.  He was toxic to me – the longer we stayed together, the more of me died.  I fully accept that life after him will never be the same because those eleven years with him changed me in so many ways.  But, truth be told, it’s a far, far better place I am at now that I am no longer with him.

…Perhaps Another Time

Explaining the Obstacles of Maintaining

Friendships when Suffering from Mental Illness

 

I know I am not an easy person to be around.  I know that I can be a handful.  I’m fully aware that I have a lot of issues and can be very intense at times.  I know it cannot be easy being my friend.  Mental illness is a scary beast and mine is chained to me like a rabid animal, likely to lurch out, snarling and baring its teeth, at any given moment.  I truly never blame anyone that feels they need to exit stage right and not look back.  While my friends might tout all these wonderful qualities they feel I possess, I am under no misconceptions or illusions.

I am a great listener and genuinely care about how my friends are doing.  I will often look my friends straight in the eye, though, and lie to their faces.  When asked how I am doing, it is usually easier to paint on a smile and reassure them that I am peachy than to unload everything that is going on in my world at the moment.   It isn’t that I don’t want to trust my friends.  My trust issues often have nothing to do with my current friendships, but rather revolve around the traumas of my past. I also don’t want to scare or overwhelm anyone.  I don’t see myself as a priority because my friends have enough issues of their own and I know that unloading my problems onto my friends won’t change my situation but will negatively impact their lives.  Truth be told, I’m also terrified that if I begin talking, the floodgates will open and I’ll end up terrifying them.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of my friends offering to be there; I just am often physically, mentally and emotionally unable to share.  Perhaps another time when I’m in a better place and feeling like less of a burden.

I am very empathetic.  Though I can sympathize and give comfort and reassurances, I’m hesitant to give any advice when it comes to matters of the heart.  If you need suggestions with recipes, crafts, or local outings, I’m your woman.  However, it makes me severely uncomfortable when friends ask for relationship advice regarding their friends, family or romantic lives.  My life has been a wreck so far in many ways.  I’ve been wrapped up in so much dysfunction over the years that it feels like the normal status quo to me.  I can feel their pain but am afraid to offer advice because I don’t want to be responsible for my friends crashing into the ten car pile-up that is my life.  Please know, though, that while I don’t give advice easily, if I toss a warning out there, I truly need my friends to listen.  I’ve lived through enough disasters in life that I have learned to spot many of them from a mile away.  If I suggest being careful or running, I have a concrete reason even if I am unable to share it at the time.  While I would love to go beyond just listening and sympathizing and genuinely help my friends with all of their problems, I rarely feel I have any positive or helpful advice to share.  Perhaps another time after I’ve learned to have successful relationships myself.

I am sad a lot of the time.  Not dropped-my-ice-cream-disappointed, but to the depths of my soul depressed.  There’s days I must repeatedly bite my lip throughout the day just to avoid breaking down into tears.  It does not mean I do not enjoy time with my friends.  I often have no control over my emotions.  I try to paint on a smile so my friends don’t worry but there’s often visible cracks in the facade.  I know friends care and want to reassure me that I don’t have to pretend to be happy for their sake, that they’d be there regardless, but it is easier for me to pretend life is okay, even if just for a short time.   While I appreciate when friends trying to share encouraging cliches about life eventually working out, merely trying to be more positive or learning to let things go will not solve my issues.  I often find myself smiling sadly, conceding “perhaps,” but inside, I am know depression is not solved that easily; It has never worked before, will not work in the future, not now, not another time.

I always seem eager to make plans with friends and find ways to rearrange and juggle everything to make things happen.  Though I do truly love seeing my friends, please know that my eagerness stems from the intense loneliness of depression.  There are times when my anxiety is so high and thoughts have been racing in my head, driving me crazy, for so long that I’d happily do almost anything suggested just for the distraction.  I am more likely to offer to be there for friends than to ask for anything myself.  While I might toss ideas out there, it is hard for me to outright ask for help or to be a priority in anyone else’s life; If I cannot fathom making myself a priority, how can I imagine anyone else volunteering their time and energy towards my interests and goals.  Even when tentative plans have been thrown out there, I will check repeatedly with friends, making sure they truly want to hang out – it isn’t that I’m hoping to cancel or don’t want to do anything – I’m trying to offer others an out in case they’ve had second thoughts about our plans.  Admittedly, I always expect friends to jump at that easy out, telling me “..perhaps another time”.

I take scheduling plans more seriously than most people do.  My depression saps my energy on a regular basis.  There are days I have trouble even finding the energy to get out of bed so dedicating my entire energy storage to spending time with friends is a huge commitment for me.  While it’s easy for others to cancel plans at the last minute on a whim, it’s a large blow to my psyche.  I’ve dug deep into my reserves just getting ready.  Putting things off until tomorrow is rarely a viable option for me.  Cancelled plans are severely mentally and emotionally defeating and take days to recover from, especially if I have gone out on a limb to ask for something I consider personally important.  I have severe abandonment issues.  My feelings are easily hurt and I withdraw when I feel others see me as unimportant or insignificant.  I agonize and internalize over cancellations, tracing back over previous events to make sure it wasn’t caused by something I said or did.  I will always try to reassure friends that it is okay when they cancel, that real life happens to us all, but it is truly difficult for me when it happens because I feel I’ve wasted a good portion of my stored energy for nothing and that, on some level, I do not matter.  While saying “..perhaps another time” at the last minute might feel like nothing to my friends, it is truly agonizing to me.

Much like I agonize over cancellations, I  beat myself up whenever things do not go according to my own plans.  Friends might tell me that my being late is no big deal, but I feel like I’ve let them down in a severely drastic way.  Even when it is not entirely my fault, I internalize every miscalculation, blaming myself completely for not living up to the idealistic view I have of the friend I should be.  I hold myself up to higher standards than I expect from anyone else and am my own worst critic.  If I have to cancel for any reason, I will apologize profusely, over and over again, because I feel like I’ve committed a cardinal sin.  It is heart-wrenching for me to suggest “..maybe another time?” because I cannot imagine anyone wanting to perhaps reschedule after I’ve ruined the day for them.

I think a lot.  I analyze.  I overthink.  I analyze my overthinking.  I internalize everything I have over-analyzed.  Friends have told me many times not to let my mind run away with itself but there’s no controlling it once my anxiety has taken root.  Perhaps another time if I can find a way to stop myself before it begins.  I also often isolate and pull away.   If I feel I’ve let down friends, I isolate out of shame.  If friends mistreat me or repeatedly blow me off, I isolate because I begin to feel abandoned and figure they do not care about being in my life.  If I am faced with a difficult time and my facade has begun to crack, I isolate because I do not want to overwhelm anyone or become a burden.  I isolate because it is easier to be alone than to cause drama in other people’s lives.  Friends try to remind me not to pull away, but my flight response is so high that isolation has become my go to move.  Perhaps one day I’ll find a way to stop myself from wanting to run, another day, another time.

There are so many ways my depression and anxiety present itself every day, leaving a glaringly negative impact on my relationships with others.  Friends may reassure me that I’m sweet, funny, compassionate, smart and fun, that everyone has their demons and it is no big deal, but all I can see is the giant gorilla that is my mental illness in the room .  I would love to be a better friend, to not need so much reassurance, to not over-analyze, not internalize, not isolate and not spend every day depressed and living in fear of disappointing the people that matter in my life.  Unfortunately, I have very little control over this giant rabid beast chained at my side, pulling me every which way, forcing its will upon me.  I am trying to work through everything and to heal.  Perhaps, one day, I’ll be in a better place.  For now, however, I’m struggling just to stay on my feet and function. Perhaps another day..

 

~ Dedicated to all those friends of mine who have stuck with me, despite my struggles, over the years and have forgiven me whenever I’ve isolated and disappeared for periods of time.  I sincerely love you all and appreciate the kindness, compassion and understanding you all have shown me time and time again.  I could not imagine my life without any of you in it.

 

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 8/10/16.

Self-Awareness and Avoidance

Accepting the Realization That I Carry

The Sins of Others on My Back

 

An old friend of mine often joked with me to “…get off the cross, we need the wood” because I had a horrible habit of internalizing everything and blaming myself for situations where I wasn’t at fault.  My mother suffered from what my sister used to refer to as the “Poor Patty complex” because my mother never accepted responsibility for her actions, instead swearing that the world was working in unison against her.  I was raised with continuous mental and emotional abuse, convinced from an early age that I was at fault for the majority of the problems in my mother’s life.  Add those together, combined with the fact that I made it a personal mission in life for years to be the polar opposite of my mother in every way, there is no wonder why it was always so easy to blame myself for everything and accept full responsibility even when the fault rested elsewhere.

In my ongoing quest for self-awareness, I have come to the realization that this particular quirk of mine extends beyond merely accepting blame where none is due.  Not only do I carry the sins of others on my shoulders, but I let their lives guide my choices, as well.  Throughout my life, I have made a multitude of decisions based not on my own faults or experiences, but rather based solely on the actions of others.

My mother shot my father.  I have never personally done anything violent or illegal involving a gun.  Over the years, friends and exes have teased me about hiding weapons from me so I wouldn’t follow in her footsteps.  I have no issue with guns themselves or with people owning guns, yet I have avoided firearms throughout my life because I didn’t want to be like her.

My father was a compulsive gambler.  The ponies and OTB, in particular, were his drugs of choice.  Addiction ran strong in his side of the family, with alcohol and drug abuse running rampant.  My brother even battled with drugs and alcohol for years.  I have never gone to the track and watched a horse race, never been drunk and never tried any type of drug.  Addiction scares me.  I feel like there’s a predisposition towards my becoming an addict and I don’t want to follow in those footsteps.

My mother was a hypochondriac.  She ran to the doctor for everything, real or imagined.  If a doctor didn’t give her the answer she wanted to hear, she would get a second, third or fourth opinion until the outcome met her satisfaction.  Personally, I have no problem with doctors or modern medicine, yet time and time again I have avoided going to the doctors until my condition has escalated to serious for no other reason than I did not want to be like my mother, running to the doctor about every little thing.

Throughout my life,  many of my decisions have been based on the actions and experiences of others rather than my own life experiences.  My parenting choices, in many cases, were based on raising my children completely opposite from the way I was raised.  I shut down and avoid confrontations in relationships because I spent my childhood watching my parents explode at one another and I never wanted to repeat that cycle.  Instead of living my own life and learning from my own experiences and mistakes, I have stumbled through life making many of my choices based on the lives those around me have lived.

In an effort to overcome this glitch in myself, I have decided to own many of these past choices as unreasonable and face them head on.  While there are some decisions I can continue to stand behind, such as avoiding addictive behaviors and vices, the majority need to be honestly reevaluated and readjusted.  I cannot spend my life avoiding doctors until my health plummets, nor can I indulge my flight response in order to avoid conflict in my relationships.  More importantly, I cannot live my life in fear of embodying the worst aspects of my parents or repeating their mistakes.  Learning to shoot a gun will not make me more likely to shoot someone.  Going to a racetrack to watch the horses won’t spiral me down into the world of compulsive gambling.  I cannot spend my life letting the actions and mistakes of others in the past that have nothing to do with me preside over my decisions in the future.

I have heard “Get off the cross Beth…  We need the wood…” many times over the years.  It is time I not only stop accepting fault when I am not to blame, but that I also stop letting the past mistakes of others control the way I live my life.  I have added some of these things to my living list, as well, because I truly need to start living for myself instead of living in the shadow of the sins of others.  I will learn to shoot a gun.  I will go to the track and watch a horse race.  I will live my own life and learn from my own mistakes and experiences.  While I can learn from the experiences of others, I will no longer allow their past to unreasonably control my future.

Learning to Love Yourself More

Identifying and Overcoming the Toxicity of a Narcissist

 

When a narcissist enters a room, it isn’t long until all eyes are on them.  They are full of charisma, seemingly knowing everyone in the room.  They thrive on the attention of others, throwing out winks and sly smiles that they’ve perfected over the years.  They walk around, larger than life, exuding confidence with every word, every look, every step.  When they enter the room and single you out, you feel in some way blessed to be chosen.

It is easy to fall for a narcissist, especially when you have self-esteem issues yourself.  They seek out those struggling because it is easier to manipulate someone who already feels damaged and broken.  In the beginning, you see their entrance in your life as a blessing, believing they see some hidden inner fragment of yourself that is beautiful and worthy of love.  Sadly, it is never about you.  With a narcissist, it is always about them.

For eleven years, I struggled to have a relationship with a narcissist. I had seen him as alluringly self-confident and charming, fiercely cocky about every aspect of his life.  In rare moments of what felt like unadulterated honesty, he showed me the scars of childhood abuse.   On some level, I understood his façade as his survival mechanism.  I felt a strong bond to him.  We were two damaged souls struggling to survive together.  However, it was a togetherness that only existed when it suited him.

When we were at our best, it felt like it was us against the world.  He had a thundering presence, carrying me along on his coattails.  I was never his equal, however.  I was just along for the ride.  His attention waxed and waned.  The harder I tried to be there for him, the more he withdrew; If I considered giving up, he would reel me back in with promises of change.  Everything was on his terms and he needed complete control.  He was at the helm of this relationship in no uncertain terms.

Any love or energy I put into the relationship was taken for granted as something expected and well deserved.  Though I went above and beyond in my attention and affection, my efforts often went unnoticed.  Only when others would remark on all the wonderful things I did for him did I become an asset.  He thrived when others took notice of me, bringing their attentions into the bedroom as pillow talk.  The more desirable I was to others, the more he wanted me.

He had a constant need for the attention and validation of others.  I stood by him through multiple infidelities and heartbreaks.  On rare occasions, he would blame his actions on his nature; That is just who he was – garbage.  My heart went out to him in those moments, reassuring him of all that was wonderful about himself.  More often, he would find ways to twist the situation.  I was somehow at fault because I was not working at the time, or because my asking him to call if he would be running late after work made him feel trapped.  He would always downplay his infidelities to minor infractions, lashing out in frustration because I could never just let it go.

Throughout it all, I poured all my energy into loving him.  Whenever I saw cracks in his façade, I would try to mend those wounds with reassurance and compassion.  I felt, in our strange bond, I saw a side of him no one else had and wholeheartedly believed that if I just loved him enough, doted on him enough, I could get through to him and help him heal.  No matter how much I gave, it was never enough to fix things, never enough to reassure him that he was loved and cherished, never enough to stop the infidelities.  I put every ounce of myself into making him feel like he was enough; Meanwhile, he continuously showered other women with flirtations and affections while I was starving for love and validation myself.

Often, I was the brunt of jokes to his friends and lovers.  I was an easy target.  As I crumbled farther into my own depression, I was the pathetic mess he was saddled with, a joke he shared at my expense.  Though I poured all my attention and affection into our relationship, others would hear that I was a leech, sucking the life out of him.  When I would beg him to stop straying and work on us, I was described to them as laughably needy.  The harder I tried to make things work, the more of a joke I became.

When he finally left me for someone else, my world had shattered.  By that time, my self-worth was so intertwined with his approval that I internalized his abandonment as being proof that I was worthless; I felt he had discarded me because I could not love him enough.  He went so far as to flaunt the things she had that I did not, the majority of them being fiscal in nature; She owned her own house and didn’t rely on him for anything financially.  He openly admitted to not being in love with her, but rather touted her convenience while bragging about having other women lined up on the side.  It crushed me to hear that he would discard someone who had loved him wholly for over a decade and had stood by him through better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health, for someone else who he admittedly didn’t love, all in the name of financial security.  In the weeks and months after he left, however, no longer scrambling every moment to try to win his love and affection, I began to see things differently.

There were so many red flags I should have seen, beyond the obvious infidelities.  Any time my attention or affection was focused on anyone else, especially my children, there was strife.  Holidays, in particular, were always tainted by arguments he started because the attention placed on festivities took away from the focus he felt he deserved.  Whenever we would fight about his lying or cheating, he would find a way to twist things and place blame on me for something else, put me on the defensive and justify his actions.

  • I was in treatment for depression and unable to work, so the stress of paying bills by himself led him to cheat.  How many times does he have to tell me to just get over things and get a job?  

He systematically isolated me from friends under the pretense that they all desired me or hoped for our relationship to fail; In reality, it forced me to revolve my life around him because I had no one else.  Finances were always a battle because it was his money.  He should not have to answer for how he spent his money or his time.  I was to blame for money always being tight because he had to give me money for groceries, regardless of the fact that a large chunk was taken off the top to cover his vices and whims before even bills were paid.  He fought any plea I had for counselling because he didn’t want his dirty laundry put out there; It was imperative that everyone else saw only his strengths and never his flaws.  Little by little, over eleven years, he broke me down until I was unable to function than used that fact as his reason to leave me for someone else he had been secretly seeing.  I was, at best, a convenience in his life to help raise him up when he felt down; At worst, I was a burden he told others he carried until he felt he could find better.  I could have been anyone.  I was never anything special to him.  Even in his new relationship, she was nothing special; By his own admission, she was a convenience, nothing more; Someone who bought him things, paid his bills and showered him with money.  It was always about him.

It is easy to put it all on him.  He came into my life during a very difficult time and was a master manipulator.  But the truth is that we both had dysfunctional upbringings and came into the relationship with a lot of baggage.  I would not have succumbed so easily if I had learned along the way to love myself.  My self-image was so low that I sought the validation from others that I could never give myself.  I had made myself an easy target.  Until I learn to see worth in myself, I cannot expect others to value me.  Until I have a healthy relationship with myself, I will never be able to build a healthy relationship with anyone else.  People say hindsight is 20/20.  I hope to take the painful lessons I’ve learned in this relationship to avoid ever falling for another narcissist again.

In all honesty, looking back, I do not hate him or regret my time with him.  He wasn’t entirely a bad person.  He was intelligent, witty and loving, even if only on his terms.  In between the hurt, we shared some good memories.  He had, to an extent, attempted to be kind in his departure from my life and ease me into the transition of standing on my own again – at least until it became inconvenient in his new relationship.  I do not doubt that he, in his own way, had sincere feelings for me though I hesitate to call it love; He just was too consumed with himself to consider how his actions affected others.  He’s struggling through his life, seeking validation through others, as well.  He has his own demons to fight and his own dysfunctions to face.  I truly wish him well and hope he finds peace in whatever it is he has been searching for his entire life.  Sadly, however, I do not see that happening for him.  First, he must learn to find worth in himself instead of seeking it in others; Likewise, he must learn to see value in others based on their own merit and not what they can do for him.  His narcissism, like my depression, is a mental illness that will never go away on its own.  Acknowledgement and treatment are needed for there to be change.

Checking Doors

Explaining How Anxiety Rules my Life

 

When I leave the house, I have to always pull on the door knob to make sure the door is closed and locked.  Likewise, when I come home, I make sure the door is securely closed and locked before walking away.  If I am heading out and leaving my children home alone, I will check twice.  It isn’t that I fear for the safety of my two large teenage boys who are fully capable of taking care of themselves; I just want to assure myself they’re locked safely inside.  After returning my sugar gliders to their cage, I must always tug at their doors to assure myself that they’re properly latched.  I am admittedly obsessed with whether doors have been properly secured.  This isn’t an occasional occurrence.  It happens EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  If I am not the last one at the door, I will ask apprehensively if they’re SURE the door is closed and locked.  If not secure in their response, I will run back and check again for my own peace of mind.  My ex used to tease me about having OCD.  For years, I tried unsuccessfully to help him understand that my actions were not driven by OCD.  They were one of many ways that my anxiety disorder presented itself.

Growing up, my mother did not believe children were entitled to locks on their bedroom doors.  If we were getting changed, doors could be temporarily shut; However, doors must be reopened immediately afterwards because children were not entitled to privacy.  Our bedrooms did not have sturdy wooden doors.  We had flimsy accordion-style doors that could be easily slid open and closed or broken through without much effort.  It was this lack of security and safety that led to a childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse.  My bedroom was never a safe haven from beatings or sexual assaults.  Anyone could come in through doors that could not lock and come in, they did.

I check doorknobs and locks because locks mean safety in my mind.  I need to know my children are safe, my pets are safe, that my life is safely locked away behind a secure door.  I know it is not rational.  I know that a locked door cannot protect anyone or anything from all the evils of the world, but I cannot control that apprehension from rising every time I question whether everything has been properly closed.  For years, I had no control and no safety.  Making sure doors have been properly latched and locked is one way I have of regaining control of my life and the safety of those I love.

My anxiety extends beyond locked doors.  It rears its head in many ways.  Mental illness runs in my family.  I am deathly afraid that my children might be suffering in silence so I am forever checking in, wanting to make sure they’re okay and they know I’m here to listen if they need to talk.  Relationships are difficult for me because I’ve been cheated on, abandoned and discarded so many times that I live in constant fear of loss and betrayal.  It isn’t that I do not want to trust those I love.  Whenever things don’t go completely according to plan, my mind searches for a reason and usually lands on the worst case scenario.  I need reassurance that I’m loved and not forgotten because I’m terrified of being in that position again.  I am forever anxious about money and bills because I’ve been homeless before.  I am petrified of doctors because I’ve seen people I love eaten alive by illnesses, dying in hospice not even remembering my name.  One of my greatest fears is that something will happen to my children; I am forever reminding them to be careful and safe.  Fears with a hundred different faces run through my head on any given day.

It is a constant battle to keep my anxiety in check.  When I can maintain even the slightest control, it gives me peace of mind, even if it means obsessively checking locks.  I know there are so many things in life I cannot control.  That fact keeps me up at night.  I cannot tell you the last night I slept peacefully because I’m not sure I ever have.  The worst, though, is when one of my fears becomes even partially realized.  When I found a lump on the side of my breast a few years ago, I had a complete breakdown because I could not go through cancer eating me alive like it had my father; It turned out to be benign but my anxiety convinced me I was dying each and every moment of every day until those results came back.  Each and every time my ex would cheat, my anxiety would charge in, full force, reaffirming my fears of rejection and abandonment.  When fears are fully realized, anxiety attacks ensue.

It is impossible to fully explain anxiety attacks to someone who has never had one.  My chest tightens like a heavy weight has been placed on it and I cannot breathe.  My body shakes.  My heart pounds fiercely and wildly, as if it might burst from my chest.  My mind races in panic mode.  My stomach tightens into knots and I have to throw up.  I cannot find the words to express myself, nor can I control my mouth to speak them.  I want to scream, cry, tear the world apart and shrink into a ball and disappear all at once.  My head is everywhere and nowhere.  I have no control.  I am completely and utterly terrified, like a deer caught in the headlights, and I cannot move, cannot get it to stop, cannot stop crying.  At most, I might mutter no more, no mas, pleading with myself to make it stop, to give me back control.  At best, I hyperventilate and pass out.

I’ve tried and failed many times over the years to help others understand my anxiety; Again and again, I’ve heard critical remarks from others about how my anxiety is completely irrational.  As if delivering some hysterical punch line, I always want to laugh and exclaim “Exactly!”  Anxiety is never rational.  It NEVER makes sense.  Anxiety leaks from past traumas and bleeds into every aspect of life.  It digs at us like an itch we can’t scratch, gnaws at us so fiercely that it cannot be ignored.  When anxiety puts a thought into our head, it becomes an obsession.  When fears become realized, there’s no way to stave off breakdowns or anxiety attacks.  I control my anxiety to the best of my ability, repeatedly doing things like checking doors to give myself some peace of mind because, while I know I cannot control everything in life, I need to feel I have even the slightest control over my anxiety disorder and my life.


EmpowHER Health Blogger - BLAcker
Republished on EmpowHER on 8/23/16.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 8/26/16.

Suicidal Ideation

Hello Old Friend:

Talking about Those Persistent

Thoughts of Wanting to Give Up

I’d like to begin by stating that I am NOT currently suicidal.  My children need me and killing myself would break their hearts in a way they may never heal from.  I could not do that to them.  I am writing not about any plan to kill myself but rather about those lingering thoughts that haunt not only me but others suffering from depression, as well.  Suicidal ideation is a taboo topic, not allowed in most groups for fears of triggering others and misunderstood by anyone who has not suffered themselves.

Anyone who has suffered from depression knows these feelings well.  It’s that little voice, that devil on your shoulder, that constant companion who overstays their welcome like an unwanted house guest.  It internalizes everything in my life and makes me feel helpless, my life hopeless.  It is that constant weight on my chest controlling my every breath, that elephant in the room I cannot ignore.

There’s times that I greet that little demon on my shoulder as I would an old friend.  It has been there more consistently than any friendship, and has been the only one to offer any real solution to my continuous suffering.  I know, however, that this demon is a bully.  It does not care for me and is not looking out for my best interest.  It is ever present, always badgering, forever insistent that giving up is the only way to stop the pain.  That demon is the personification of all the trauma and abuses I have endured and it wants me to give up.  It wants me to fail.  It wants to win.

I cannot tell you the times over the years I have written out my goodbyes to people I loved, apologizing for being me, the mess that I am;  Apologizing for not being strong enough, good enough, for just plain not being enough.  I have cried no more, no mas, please make all this pain stop so often that I am thoroughly convinced that if there is a God he is not a benevolent one because nobody could allow anyone to suffer this much in life.  I have begged for those I loved to not give me another thought because I’m truly not worth it.

I admittedly have daydreamed about giving up many times.  I imagine those final moments, knowing my pain would finally be over, drifting peacefully away.  Where other people fantasize about far off white sandy beaches or beautiful crisp nights under a starry sky, my bliss is simply a world where I am no longer suffering, no longer in pain.  When life feels unbearable, a piece of me longs to surrender to that inner voice, to say You Win! and just fade away.

Anyone who has not walked in my shoes cannot understand what it’s like to constantly battle my own brain, my own thoughts and emotions.  They cannot comprehend having that inner voice that is always poking at me, telling me I’m not enough, life will never get better, that this pain will never stop.  When I’ve spent years in that constant torment, any escape seems almost blissful.  I’m constantly haunted by these feelings while simultaneously being afraid to speak about them.

The hardest part about having these feelings is that I’ve never been able to talk openly about them.  The moment I verbalize having these thoughts, even if I do not intend to act on them, there’s the very real fear that people will want to lock me up for my own safety.  People are comfortable with me suffering in silence but panic when any of the despair I feel every single day spills out.  Rather than let me acknowledge and discuss these feelings, some will ultimately try to use my vulnerability against me, wanting to send me away so others can deal with those uncomfortable thoughts instead of them.

Perhaps worse than those who want to lock me away out of panic are the naysayers and the minimizers.  Those who have never suffered through depression assume expressing these thoughts is akin to having a pity party.  If I even bring up these thoughts, some people accuse me of wanting to take the coward’s way out.  I’m accused of being a drama queen, some swearing I’m not serious or even daring me to follow through, declaring that I only want attention.  Others cannot grasp that I’d even consider giving up on life.  They assure me that my life cannot possibly be as horrible as it seems right now and toss out cliches about there being a rainbow after the storm or encourage me to keep my head up, things can only go up from here.

There needs to be a middle ground where everyone feeling this way, myself included, can openly discuss our feelings, without fear of judgment, rejection or being locked away against our will for using one of those trigger words that make others uncomfortable.  Thinking about suicide does not mean we are actively planning to kill ourselves.  Finding bliss in the thought of there being an end to our suffering does not mean we intend to follow through with it.  Many times suicides occur because someone has been suffering alone, without a voice, for so long that their demons begin to make sense.  If left alone with our demons long enough, some will succumb to their will.  Those who still want to talk are still trying to survive their battles; Suicide often occurs when someone loses the will to talk or to fight.  Listening non-judgmentally to us venting our feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, while moderately uncomfortable to you, may save our lives in the long run. It lets us know we are not alone and validates our voices.  We would not be reaching out if we did not want help.  We would not be speaking up if we didn’t want to fight, want to survive.  We’re putting our trust in you by letting you see us at our most vulnerable.  Please do not let us down.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 8/6/16.

tspn

Republished in the December 2016 / January 2017 Newsletter.