Monday, March 26, 2007

The Invading Horde

I've been pushing this thought around in my head since my last therapy session. See, people tend to see me as a control freak. I don't think of myself that way; I mean, I like things how I like them, that's all.

Several weeks ago, we uncovered that I don't really have a need to control so much as a need to anticipate. I'm okay with change, so long as I can predict or reason out what comes next.

And this is perfectly reasonable given the environment I grew up in. I knew that if I started a conversation about friends, and mentioned a boy, that could lead to darkness in my mother. So I'd avoid that conversation.

My need for things to be in their place also harkens back to Mom; she always suspected people of stealing from her, from us. If I knew where something was, it wasn't stolen - what she "saw" wasn't real.

As fearful as my Mom was of the outside world, our home was a fortress - if I stayed home alone, the windows had to be closed and locked. The door and phone could not be answered. I wasn't allowed out into the front or back yard. If I did leave the house, I had to call before I left and when I returned. If those calls weren't "on schedule", I knew there would be an outburst.

But our fortress was also a prison for me. Not just because I couldn't leave, but because nothing was "mine". My books, my backpacks, my clothes - these were all subject to search at any time. My room was not a sanctuary - it, too, was subject to entry and search. Worse was when Mom would "find" things that I would be forced to explain.

I was so eager as an adult to have my own home. Not an apartment, where you can't paint the walls or where you have to wait for a landlord to get around to fixing your leaky water heater, but a home.

Now that I have a home of my own, I'm very protective of it, especially when my family comes to visit. I like my things, and my things have their place. I like the order of my home, the cleanliness of it. When my family (and particularly, my mother) comes to visit, I feel as if I'm being invaded by a foreign army. And they force me to feel guilty for asking that they, my family, observe my rules.

This extends to sharing my life with my mother. I simply don't. She asks how things are going for me personally, I say things are fine, and change the subject.

The therapist pointed out how this all comes back to my childhood. I know from childhood experience that if I open up my personal, private life to my mother, I'll be interrogated. My friends' and colleagues' motives will be attacked.

I know that when my mother comes to visit, she will get in to everything. (She even once used a credit card to get into my shed for my gardening tools. I appreciate that she feels she's helping me by doing some yard work, but breaking in to my shed to accomplish it?)

I have to admit to being worried about all this. My sister says I'll never be able to live with someone else. That I'm too set in my ways. And I think I started to fear she was right.

But truly, I can share my life with someone else. I invited Fred into my home, and if anyone can bring chaos to your life, it is a puppy with a sensitive stomach! But Fred is in my home by my choice. I set the rules we live by (some of them, like no paws on the bed, have resulted in a compromise). And Fred is perfectly happy with that.

So, my need for order, my need to anticipate, my need to protect my home and my life from invasion - these are things I need to be conscious of. It's okay to protect my home and my life from my mother, but by not sharing these things with other people, I've isolated myself. I need to open myself up more, but to the right people. People I can trust.


Oh, and another thing, since I just talked about minimizing:

Maybe it was just the movie, but I remember seeing Ya-Ya-Sisterhood in a theatre a few years back. The whole "they're not crazy, they're just colorful southern women" thing bugged me. Talk about minimizing mental illness.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Abyss

These last few weeks have been difficult for me. I feel as if a sinkhole has opened up beneath my fortress, and it is pulling me in.

I think it would be easier if my mother had hit me. Even back then, that was something people acknowledged. If a parent hit you, someone HAD to take action. But if your mom was crazy?

"She's just a little overprotective, honey. That's understandable in this day and age."

"Your mother is just a very intense person. You'll get through this together."

"Mom's just...Mom."

No one wants to see it. And you're left wondering if it's all in your head. No one else sees anything wrong. It must just be me.

It's worse when your own family denies it. If the people you trust, who live with you day in and day out, see the same behavior, don't acknowledge a problem, how can there be a problem?

I get all tangled up in my head. Am I just being melodramatic? Everyone's families have problems. It's not like I was molested or my parents beat me. Why can't I just get over it?

Then, well, so it doesn't matter if it is all in my head. It's my pain and I own it. But I've already moved 200 miles from home, and she's STILL in my head. What else can I do?

I wrote a few weeks ago about how I wasn't able to escape into my books anymore. That realization was earth-shattering.

As a kid, when Mom started yelling, when everything got too dark, I could pick up Nancy Drew or Little Women, and shut the whole world out. Nothing could penetrate the new worlds books built in my head. For just a little while, I could live on the prairie with the Ingalls family or in the city with the March girls. Books were my only refuge in a house I (literally) couldn't escape.

Realizing that I had lost that -my safety net, my security blanket - was just too much. And it seems that the journey from neurotic to psychotic isn't that long or hard of a trip.

Fortunately, this time I reached out for help. And I chose the right person - not another person to minimize the situation or to betray me - but the person I hired to help guide me through this.

It hasn't been easy, trying to climb out of this abyss, but I've finally got a flashlight, and if I'm lucky, the light will hold out 'til I see the sun.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

No Peace

Now it seems even the limited solace of books is beyond my grasp. My whole life, books have been there for me; sometimes, the only one there for me. When I needed escape, when I needed to wrap myself up in someone else's life, books provided a path. When I could no longer feel my own pain, books were there to help me feel alive again.

All I needed was a book. A few pages, a few hundred words, and peace could be mine, if only for an hour or two.

Now, even that is gone. I don't remember the last time I was able to actually finish a new book. A To-Be-Read pile was a foreign concept to me. Now, my TBR pile takes up an entire shelf; bookmarks mock me every time I dare to look.

As for my old friends - the faithful, dog-eared companions that I thought would always be there for me - they've turned their backs on me. Like an old friend who's moved on with life, a few words is all the time they can spare for me now.

Know peace? Once upon a time, I did.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Therapy hasn't been a pleasant experience these last few weeks. I've discovered that the hill my fortress is built on is prone to landslides. The fortress may be sturdy, but come the rains...

Today, we spent a lot of time discussing why I've been unstable lately. My therapist tells me that it is a natural progression of our work together and reminds me that I need to get through this to have any hope of getting better.

Why is therapy so difficult for me?

1. A lifetime of living with my mother's delusions. Puberty, sexuality, flirting, being attractive; these were all dangerous, inciteful things in my mother's world. I learned at my mother's knee not to ever bring them up, not to discuss them. I've spent twenty years hiding my femininity, my sensuality, my sexuality. To willing bring these up a 15'x20' office, with a male therapist, no less?

2. My family. We've spent more than my lifetime minimizing my mother's illness. My sister thinks I'm just melodramatic - it's not that bad. Everyone else has family problems too. But, my sister is too invested in my mother for her to admit the truth, even to herself. If mother is truly that far gone, then how can she leave her to watch her children every day?

I've spent a lifetime hearing, "you're just like your mother", from my Dad, from my sister. They meant it about the little things, but to a kid who knows her mother isn't right? And my mother's whole family is seemingly around the bend. Given that my own father and sister think I'm just like Mom, given that Mom's whole family is nuts, "crazy" for me just seems inescapable.

3. "Shhh, you can never tell." Everytime I tried to reach out, it failed. My father refused to see the damage my mother was capable of inflicting. My sister says it's not that bad.

I told my mother's brother (before I realized he was already quite a ways around the bend himself); only to have him betray me to my mother.

I told the shrink my mother made me see when I was 13. She told me my mother and I were just "intense" and we'd grow through it.

I told the family court counselor, and she separated us. (You'd think that'd be a good thing, right? But to a teenage mind, it just meant that my mother was angry with me for years. My sister was angry with me for messing up Christmas. And Dad didn't know what to do with a teenage daughter.)

Everything that has gotten me this far, every rule of survival I've ever learned, tells me that going to see a therapist is wrong. It's dangerous. It will lead to betrayal, or worse: I'll find out that I'm crazy; or that I'm not, that my mother's not.

Why do I need to move forward?

1. I want to be my best me. Rather Oprah of me, I know, but it's true. I want, need, desire, a more full life. I've had my hair styled, colored; I've had a professional manicure, my first pedicure; I've taken to wearing my jewelry again. I'm taking the time each day to do all those things women do to look their best. And I feel better for it - attractive, appealing, feminine.

2. I can't do this on my own. I've been here before: taking pains with my appearance, getting out among people, opening myself up to the opportunities. And each time before, I'd slowly begun to sabotage myself - getting up "too late" to take time with hair and makeup, not keeping up with hair cuts and color because it was "too expensive", not going out for fear of being found unattractive, lacking. And each time I withdrew, my world got just a little smaller, a little darker.

3. I am strong. Or maybe I've just reached the point where desperation is stronger than experience and fear. My therapist pointed this out today. I don't think he meant it as a "yeah for you"; more as a "this is why you're feeling unstable". Regardless, to discount years of experience, walk willing into a therapist's office to discuss all this - it's progress.