A post about some of the difficult things going on in life…
Why is it that writing about shitty things in your life is so much more difficult than writing about positive things? I can think of a million reasons why I shouldn’t write about them, and 999,999 of them are bullshit anxiety reasons about how my problems aren’t important enough to voice.
Someone you write about will see it and recognize themselves and be upset with you or be hurt.
Someone you wish would see it never will and it won’t help to say it if they don’t.
The worst offender for me is the idea that my problems are insignificant and I’m not important enough for anyone to truly care about how I feel. I am lucky enough to have family that loves me, even if they’re the cause of a lot of strife in my life. And most of them would be surprised if they knew how often I fantasize about suicide and how I could do it. How I’ve thought of driving to a field in the country and swallowing a bottle of pills in my car.
How I thought about how I should bring the lawn and leaf trash bags to sit in so that when my bodily functions cease, I don’t permanently fuck up the car seats when I piss and shit myself.
Even worse would be the fact that I most often think about these things when my kid is going off on me. My own kid. I love him and I would die for him, and he’s had a really rough shake in life.
And right now, I am all that he has. Family is an entire state away, he’s had shitty luck making friends in a new(ish) town, his dad and stepmom have abused him, he was raped by a cousin before he hit double digits, he’s been bullied in school. So I am his rock. I am the bucket into which he dumps his overflow of feelings, and often those feelings are full of sharp, painful words.
All the ways in which he feels I’ve failed him, my own insecurities, all thrown in my bucket. And these days, my bucket is often almost at capacity.
My bucket has always been the reliable one into which others could dump their excess and lighten their own load. I always found ways to lighten my own bucket, and now I realize it was probably a convenient slow leak – things just tended to cool down with time for me, I could sleep on things for a night or two and generally the bothersome feeling ebbed on its own.
As I’ve grown older, it’s like the wood has expanded and the slow leak has resolved itself.
Or perhaps it’s that feelings filled my bucket that were too big to drain through that small leak. Feelings that I had when I found out my boyfriend was sexting four of his exes, telling them he loved them, telling them terrible things about me. Feelings I had when I found out that while I was at my grandmother’s funeral, he was at home saving pictures of one of his exes to his Google Drive. Feelings about how he would gaslight me when I confronted him. Feelings about how shitty he was with my kid.
Feelings about how I shouldn’t have let it happen, how I should have ended things the first time I found evidence of his infidelity and read the saved texts to one ex saying he had a dream that he asked her to marry him and she said yes.
On top of those feelings are all the feelings that settled in that bucket surrounding the deaths of my grandparents. They raised me from birth and were parents to me, more so than my birth parents were while I was growing up. I was the only person with my grandpa when he went to the ER with severe abdominal pain. I asked the doctor if it was an ulcer, and I’ll never forget the feelings that crashed in the bucket when he said, “Oh no, we’re pretty sure it’s cancer.”
The feelings started feeling like rocks when I got a call from my aunt in the middle of the night telling me that my grandpa had died, just one week before my birthday. I always joke, even though it’s not a joke, that I must be the Angel of Death because so many people in my life have died the same month I was born. I will never forget walking into that room and seeing his waxy pallor, his eyes closed, and his mouth open, slack-jawed. He was bony and thin, because the cancer had eaten him away – literally. It ate a hole in his colon, and it was inoperable because his type of cancer could be transmitted through the air if they had tried to operate.
When we told my grandma, she closed her eyes and moaned, “noooo” over and over again. One week later, the night of my grandpa’s funeral, she was brought to the ER and it was discovered that one of her diabetic ulcers developed gangrene. If they amputated the leg, she likely never would have recovered. She opted for hospice instead. My bucket could barely hold the feelings I had when I had to work instead of being with my family at her bedside because just a few months prior, my old job had to lay me off due to miscalculations by the CFO. So I got a day of bereavement leave for each of their deaths, and any other time off was unpaid. As a mother who barely made enough, I couldn’t afford not to work. So my anxiety swam through that full bucket every day, waiting for a call that I had missed it. Missed saying goodbye. Thankfully it happened while almost all her family was by her side, myself included. And I had the good fortune to sing to her to try and help her relax so she could let go. And I held her hand while I watched her face, wide-eyed and mouth gasping, take her last breath and finally release into peace and stillness, three weeks to the day after my grandpa.
My grief was handled alone as I became the rock to everyone else. Handled isn’t even the right word for it. It went ignored as I let everyone else pour their excess into my bucket. And then all the terrible things began to happen. As it often does, death brought out the worst in some family members. Money became a motivator, and they acted as though each red cent of their painstakingly maintained insurance policies was a gasp of oxygen and they needed it to live. I wanted to strangle the breath from them and give it back to my grandparents. I wanted to punch them and scream that I’d give every dollar to have them back. More big feelings as I watched the ugly sides of my parents, the people I was supposed to lean on, show themselves. I cannot forget it, and I cannot let myself fully trust them ever again.
Then the blow that no parent is prepared for – finding out their child was abused. I can’t describe the feelings I had when my son told me, but I remember it like it was yesterday. And he asked me not to tell anyone who didn’t need to know. He was already afraid to tell me, because his abuser threatened to kill him if he ever told anyone else. And so beyond people who were necessary, no one knew what had happened. I respected his wish for silence, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything. But the weight of what happened to my bright, lovely, sunshine child was heavy. And fighting for justice within the legal system, alone, was hard as fuck. The justice system doesn’t do much when the perpetrator is a juvenile, and my son ended up having to jump through more hoops than anyone which led him to develop the feeling that he was being punished for what happened to him. He’s never truly recovered from that, and it infuriates me whenever I think about it.
He was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and talk therapy wasn’t working. I decided to try medication to help him cope better with daily life while we continued talk therapy. Eight months later, he was on Prozac and his doctor doubled the dosage because he thought he was metabolizing it too quickly. He was wrong.
One night it was like a switch flipped in my son, he went off and was threatening to stab us, laughing in my face as I cried, and more. I told him I was going to have to have him committed to a treatment facility, and the switch flipped back. He broke down in tears, and begged me to get him help because he couldn’t control what was happening. I brought him to the ER to be admitted to inpatient treatment and the doctor said it was from too many video games and treated me like an idiot when I explained it was from an increased dosage of medication.
We spent three days and two nights in the ER waiting for a bed, and were finally discharged with a referral for outpatient treatment.
It’s been a long time since you’ve asked me to comment on the book you wrote about your mom’s suicide. I think you are amazing to write about it and I’m glad that you did. I don’t enjoy bringing that chapter of life to mind, given the chaos of those years, but I’ve thought about it often. Especially when I think about what it means to be a mother and uncovering fresh layers of fucked up that we both learned from our mothers.
I know it’s not fair of me to judge them now — but it’s hard not to.
Talking about my relationship with your mom is hard for me because I admired her very much — I was flabbergasted by the way that she slipped back into drugs and addiction.
I was shocked that she abandoned you like that. I was just shocked.
I couldn’t believe your mom would die by suicide.
I still can’t.
I remember the first time I met your mom, I was playing in the front yard while she moved in across the street. She introduced herself from over the fence and told me that she had a daughter just my age, with my name: “I have a Sarah too.”
By the time you came to visit for the summer she had already arranged that we would be playmates. She even arranged a phone call between us before your visit.
When you showed up at my front door, I knew we would be lifelong friends.
My mom worked a lot and my dad was physically or mentally absent most of the time, so your home was like a second home to me.
During these years, your house felt like a Norman Rockwell to me, though now I see that it was far from it.
My mom remarried a man who was addicted to heroin, while at your house, your mom packed lunches, set up the tent in the backyard for us to “camp,” and made goody bags filled with candy. She took us to the zoo, the mall, and the flea market. She prescreened movies, took us for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and insisted that you wore a bike helmet. I remember going with her to an NA picnic in the park and how proud she was of her sober chips. We’d to admire the shiny metal coins she earned for racking up months and years of sobriety.
I envied the amount of time and attention that your mom spent with you when she was sober As a kid, I saw your mom as kind, fair, the type who would take the time to listen.
It was very late and your mom answered the phone and insisted that I tell her what was happening. My stepfather hadn’t started hitting my mom yet, but the yelling was really over the top. She gave me a speech about how adults sometimes argue and it can be scary for children to hear and explained that my mom and step dad would never want to do anything to scare me. She told me to go downstairs and tell them that they were scaring me and I couldn’t sleep. They told me to go back up to my room.
Many nights of fighting followed with growing intensity and I tried to call you but ended up talking to Beth.
Beth eventually called my mom and told her that she was concerned about me – I was in big trouble. I was forbidden to speak about “private family business.” It worked: I didn’t speak of the violence again until after his death.
The violence escalated and my stepfather began beating my mom and my brother when he was angry. We moved on several occasions to get away from him.
The emotional abuse from my stepfather became our new normal and we began spending school nights on random people’s sofas, hiding our car down the street.
I spent as much time as possible at friend’s houses and took up babysitting to get out of the house on weekends.
Beth was the only person who knew what was happening; I’d assumed that she would be the person to help me out of that situation. I’m no longer sure she understood how bad things had gotten. She provided me a safe place to go whenever I needed one and a reminder that there are kind people in the world. She told me that I should become one of them. She affirmed that there were a lot of fucked-up things in the world and they would probably never make sense.
Honestly, I don’t know how I would have turned out without Beth as a moral reference point during those years.
Beth became addicted to codeine cough syrup and her behavior changed: she didn’t take us on outings she slept all day everyday. One occasion when she woke up, I remember her running down the hallway singing “boo boop be boo.” This is when I learned that there was something wrong. I was pretty sure that people with bronchitis didn’t do that kind of thing normally.
I knew things were coming unhinged for you, but was too young to appreciate the full weight of what was happening.
I lived in Beth’s house twice, once for a short time when I ran away after my stepfather died and for the school term after that.
By the time I officially lived with Beth she was pretty far gone in her addiction. She slept or was gone most of the time.
It seemed that you were on your own, too.
I still cared what Beth thought of me. She seemed one of the few people who didn’t see me as a lost cause and so I didn’t see myself that way when I was around her.
On Fridays, Beth would take us to the grocery store. She taught us how to grocery shop and some very basic cooking skills.
Things went sour when my mom suspected Beth was using the money she gave her for things other than my upkeep. You and Beth were at odds more often than not. I decided it was best to move back home. Home was a sort of hell, but it was my own hell and I knew how to navigate it.
I didn’t see much of Beth after that.
I’d spend weekends at her apartment while she agreed to leave us totally unattended. The last time I saw her, she’d picked me up from my house to bring me back to your house for the weekend. I remember her being warm and chatting with me for the ride, though I can’t remember what about.
I remember her smiling and I remember that she mentioned that you were unhappy with her these days.
The next time I saw her she was in a coma.
Atrophied hands, hair cut short, dead to the world.
No warm smile, no more sun-kissed freckles, no more frizzy bun atop her head.
She was gone to the world and she couldn’t recover. That’s the last I saw her.
I couldn’t talk about her death with you. It didn’t seem like you wanted to and then you were gone I knew that she let you down and ultimately abandoned you with her suicide. You have every right to be angry with her; hell I was angry on your behalf.
I was just shocked and sad. I think I felt abandoned too.
The next few years were hard for us; the one person I saw as a safe adult had succumbed to drugs and took her own life. It didn’t add up.
Suicide was cruel and yet I remembered her as such a kind person.
There was nothing I could say that would lessen the pain for you so I said nothing.
You remind me of her because you look so much like her now. If you want to talk about what happened, I’d let you start.
What is there to say now, after all of these years?
That was fucked up. There is some fucked up bad shit in the world and it will never make sense, but there is some wonderful stuff too. I think that, despite it all, we both turned out to be people who contribute more to the good than to the uglyl.
I hold you close in my heart, my sister and my dear friend.
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My daughter Katy was always a challenge – she’d not left the Terrible Twos – and when she got older, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). As much of a challenge as she could be, she was also very pretty, smart, and funny. One of my favorite memories is how she loved to eat so much that she’d eat in her sleep – sometimes she’d fall asleep and wake up and continue chewing. No one came between her and her food.
My very favorite Katy moment was right after she was born, they laid her on me, and she lifted her head and looked right at me. Crazy, right?
I still hold that moment close to my heart – has gotten me through a lot of tough times.
Morphine turned into methamphetamines and our relationship began to crumble.
By then, I’d gotten remarried and my new husband didn’t want her to live with us when she asked to move back in. I enforced my previous statement, telling her that she couldn’t come home.
Shortly thereafter, she moved back in with her dad.
In 2007, she married a nice guy; one who complemented Katy well. She was very manipulative and he was able to deal with it. Unfortunately, after he joined the Army Reserves and was deployed to Egypt, which left Katy alone with my newborn granddaughter, Rae. Her daughter’s birth, of course, was crippled with complications; she developed a uterine infection and a week after discharge, her uterus burst.
After her major surgery, the doctors told Katy that she probably couldn’t have any more kids.
Katy was a fierce mom. She was a good mother – very firm but fair. Rae still has excellent manners and is very well-behaved because of her amazing mother. During her ten day hospital stay, she fought the nurses to make sure she could nurse Rae. Once home, she was in huge amounts of pain. This is when I believe her addiction to opiates began.
With her husband away in Egypt, Katy got involved with an old friend and with her pain pill prescriptions used up, she turned to heroin. Our relationship was still very shaky – when I told her she wasn’t allowed to come to Easter, we didn’t speak for over a year. Even still, she let me see my granddaughter.
Drugs had rotted her teeth and beautiful smile. The poor thing had to have them extracted and get dentures. I was with her and it was gruesome.
For my own mental health, I had to distance myself from her. I couldn’t deal with the drama in her life – especially the drama with her father. He, and I believe Katy as well, had borderline personality disorder. She was a difficult person – always talking, needing help, wanting something, craving love, starved for attention, and it drained my husband and son. I’d try to avoid getting drawn into her drama, but she’d sense me pulling away and she’d draw me back in.
When Mike, her husband returned from Egypt, Mike began using heroin as well and the three of them moved in with my ex-husband.
Both Katy and my son, Chris were very relieved when their dad died because he was so cruel to them. Katy replied to someone who said that “he was in a better place” by saying that “no, he was in hell.”
In 2017, Katy began the process of getting clean and sober and had moved to a city with a friend to get away from her husband who was still using.
I thought she was faking it and using the lymphoma as a way for us to take her in. We had a huge blowout and she turned around and left my house.
Thanks to the heroin, her husband Mike had a bad heart valve and needed open heart surgery, and, being a caregiver, she moved back in with him.
That summer, she ended up staying with us in our cabin in Pennsylvania and I noticed she was tired. Always so tired. She slept so much and so often that I wondered if she was on drugs.
Concerned, we took her to a hospital in Pittsburgh on Father’s Day 2017 where she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
I remember staring at those three awful words written on a whiteboard in her room. She had been within days of dying. Days.
And I hadn’t believed her.
The hospital started her treatment and we had her transferred to the Cleveland Clinic closer to our house. From then on, I was on auto-pilot.
I was a caretaker too: my mom was bipolar which meant that I had to take care of her when I was a kid.
I was the oldest of four and my parents divorced when I was 15, so becoming her caretaker fell into my lap. She’d made numerous suicide attempts and was in and out of the inpatient psych ward multiple times a year.
My dad had a stroke 12 years ago and was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes for seven months before he died. I went multiple times a week to visit, it was nice to spend time with him.
I was raised to be a caretaker.
I stayed with Katy constantly from the moment she had been admitted until the day she died. There were a few nights that her friends would spend time with her so that I could rest. Otherwise, I slept on a chair that converted to a bed. I showered in the family showers and drank coffee from their family lounge
Katy’s first treatment course lasted five weeks and she was stuck in the hospital for the entirety of it. The staff was awesome. They didn’t even mention the track marks on her arms or asked if she’d done drugs.
Just another one of her episodes, I tell myself. But another one on Christmas. Usually these episodes last for one week to three. If I’m lucky, that’s getting away easy.
“Ungrateful stupid child, I do everything for you. *Curse word* and you get mad because I say this simple word in front of your son that isn’t even a curse word. All the things I do for both of you, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
It’s kind of hard to shut off that voice from my brain when it’s waking me up at that hour. When it’s shouting at me so hotly, hurting my ears. Still, I ignore her because I’m genuinely tired; I put my son to bed almost at 2 AM and managed to fall asleep at 4:30.
“DRESS UP! YOU’RE COMING WITH ME.”
No, simply no. That’s all I said. There was no power on earth that was going to move me from that bed in that very moment, like there was no power on earth last night that was going to make me do as she said.
This triggered one of her episodes, which I had coming for two days now. My cousin had been staying over for two days doing all she commanded and asked, making him do chores. Simple things she could do herself, she just loves saying to someone “do this” and they go like well-trained puppies and do as they are told. Kind of funny how sweet and nice she was to him and how sometimes she was actually nice to me.
Through our one-sided conversations where I talk while he writes, I realized that through my childhood and adolescent years I felt like I was never wanted. I was just ‘there.’ A nuisance. A pain. Not a being – but a thing that was part of life. How awful for a child to go through life feeling like this.
Then it hit me that the child I was sympathizing with was me. I was distancing myself from MY actual life by thinking of myself as a ‘thing’ instead of a being.
Self-loathing takes on so many forms … it mutates in your brain to become something from another world. A world of hate.
Why would I feel this way? I don’t want to ask “who made me feel this way,” but rather, why? Why did I – why DO I – not hold myself to a higher standard in my own mind? Why do I hate myself so much? When did it start? I have so many questions today that I wish could be answered.