I saw a request for hopeful stories a while back and thought I could write a post. I’m in a pretty good spot lately. Holidays can be dicey for me emotionally, but I’ve largely reclaimed them and have enjoyed them in my own way the last several years. When I was a teen that was not the case.
My parents & step parents had all had their own issues, and holidays were not a joyful experience for many years. There was fighting, too much drinking, domestic violence, emotional abuse and lots of crap. So I really did not look forward to them at all. My stepfather had narcissistic personality disorder and when I was around, I was often the scapegoat. There was a lot of pressure to do things exactly “right” and that just didn’t go well for me (not that walking on eggshells goes well for anyone).
When things got really bad, my mom and I would go to a double feature at the movie theater & hope that he had calmed down by the time we got back home. My dad was often in manic episodes or hospitalized during the holidays and he spent a few years in prison, so, while he was by nature a very kind person, he just wasn’t there for me during those years.
Holidays got a lot better for me once I moved out on my own. I have tried really hard to make my home a safe, stable, and peaceful place to be. I’ve been through some bouts of depression, some great therapy, and many hard years of figuring out how I feel about stuff and how to set boundaries with my family. For me, things got a lot better when I decided to no longer have a relationship with my stepfather. There was a lot of guilt and hard feelings involved, and years of pressure from my mom, but I knew this was the right decision for me. I had an awesome therapist to help me see the guilt trips and gaslighting. Unfortunately, my decision made it hard to maintain a relationship with my mom. Some family members just thought I was making a big deal out of nothing (for the record, they never lived with him).
There were about five years when my relationship with my mom consisted of very brief meetings at restaurants after several hours’ drive and her trying to bully me into seeing him, saying he had changed and was doing better. I’d say I was happy for him but that I still did not want to see him. Part of me would have loved to reconcile, but a wiser part of me knew that he would never be able to change enough for me to have a healthy relationship with him. After 20 years of second chances, my heart could not take any more manipulation.
We did not talk on holidays, and sometimes she just wouldn’t show up at all and wouldn’t answer her phone. There was a time that I didn’t see her for two years and we don’t live that far apart. I understood that she was in a very challenging relationship, but I still felt rejected and heartbroken. My life was moving forward, but each time a new milestone passed, I felt that rejection come right back in. During this time I stumbled across Band Back Together, and I drew so much support from the posts and resources here.
These days, my relationship with my mom is in much better shape. My stepfather passed away almost three years ago. I am not saying that is a good thing, because I would never wish him or anyone harm, that is just what happened. It has been very hard on my mom, who is aging and now lives alone, but the silver lining for me is that I get to have a relationship with her again.
There are still lots of difficult feelings there, but she acknowledges that the way he treated me was not okay and he didn’t start to get his shit together at all until I was at least 30. I try not to talk about him.
Now she takes time to visit me (and other family members), and she isn’t worried that he is going to blow up on her for spending time with other people. We are still cautious about holidays. We’ve tried two Thanksgivings together and they went well. We may not be picture perfect, but we do enjoy each other’s company. I’m almost 40 and I still feel like I’m constantly working on boundaries. I still have challenges with anxiety/depression. Sometimes life makes me want to crawl into a blanket cave for a week.
I love that being an adult, I can choose how and who I will spend a holiday with. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunity to have a relationship with my mom. This one thing is going well and I am grateful for it.
The day I started dying inside, I was nineteen. I was shy and socially awkward; a late-blooming virgin, clueless about relationships. He was married with children, almost twice my age. I met him on campus where he worked as a security guard. He reeled me in by pretending to be my friend when I was feeling lonely.
Then, like a swimmer struggling against a tide, I found myself steered into a relationship that I did not want. A relationship I knew was wrong.
At first there were brief, stolen kisses and awkward gropes when no one was watching. Two weeks later, I found myself alone in my apartment with him. I didn’t think anything was going to happen. I’d planned to pick up a book and return to the campus library to complete an assignment due the following day.
He suggested that we hang out for awhile; sit on the balcony and have coffee. I thought, “Why not? What harm can there be in taking twenty minutes to have coffee?”
I was so naive.
I went into the kitchen to set up the coffee maker. As the coffee dripped slowly into the carafe, I went back into the living room – and stopped dead in my tracks. He had closed the blinds so the room was dimly lit. He had stripped down to his underwear and placed a box of condoms on the coffee table.
I was speechless, flustered, panicky. My heart beat so loudly so I was sure he could hear it from the other side of the room.
“We’ll need those,” he said, pointing at the condoms.
He walked slowly towards me, with an odd smile on his face.
“NO!” I said, the fear evident in my voice. “I don’t WANT to!”
I suddenly noticed the difference in our sizes. He was almost a full foot taller than me and built like a tank. I felt very small beside him.
Then, somehow I was lying on my back on the floor with him straddling me. He ran one finger down the length of my neck as he quietly but menacingly said, “We’re going to do this whether you want to or not.”
I let him do it then.
I did not fight him.
I did not try to stop him.
I did not scream or call for help.
I just laid there and let him do it.
Even though I hated it, even though the tears were rolling uncontrollably down my face.
Ever since that day, I have felt haunted that I didn’t stop him. I cannot escape the humiliation and the shame I still feel. I wonder maybe if I HAD stopped him, my life wouldn’t have gone into a free fall. I wouldn’t have experienced the next two hellish years.
My therapist has asked me to write down a list of my emotional traumas.
A list of all the emotionally and physically traumatic experiences that have happened to me in my life, that have contributed to my Bipolar Disorder and PTSD.
Right now, my therapist doesn’t feel as though I’m ready for the therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). As far as I understand, I have to relive physical and emotional traumatic experiences, have the proper emotional response, get over it, then have Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so I can develop some sort of coping mechanism for the future.
But until my medications are adjusted and I’m in a better place, I have to wait.
As a “gifted child,” I was bullied a lot in primary school and high school. I still carry some of those emotional scars with me.
Funnily enough, my brain is currently trying to stop me from accessing more memories. Suck it, brain; stop being a whiny bitch and let me write this shit out.
When I was 16, my mother – being severely depressed – attempted suicide several times. The last time she tried, she had an argument with my father (now a better man, nothing like his days in my earlier life), and downed a ton of pills. I found her and her suicide note. I actively suppress the things written on that note thanks to the emotional trauma but I know how it began.
That sentence haunts me in my dreams. She is fine now, thankfully, but I refused to talk about it with anyone and pretended it never happened.
I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder when I had a panic attack at high school so bad my heart rate was 180, and I had to be rushed to hospital for fear of doing damage to my heart.
Since that day, I regularly have heart palpitations.
I had a psychotic episode at 17, when voices told me to stab my mother. I became paralyzed in my own bed while lights shone down from the ceiling, and I was convinced aliens were coming for me, despite my logical brain telling me I was being stupid.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis and told I should probably have children before 25. I’m currently a week away from my 24th birthday. Talk about another emotional trauma.
I dated a Muslim man for eight months. Toward the end of the relationship, I was emotionally abused, when he called me a dog. I went running into the arms of a male friend.
I decided I was the worst person in the world and went off screwing any guy who looked my way, drinking myself into oblivion, and eating pills like candy, just to numb the pain. I wanted to be used. I asked my male friend – now my fuck buddy – if he was using me for sex. He replied yes. I cried and said, “good.
” Turned out he wasn’t using me: he was in love with me; as a result of my promiscuity, and his inability to tell me how he felt, he quit university, broken-hearted.
I started dating my current partner, whom I have been with for five years now. We lived with his sister, her fiancé, and their daughter. His sister is a lazy bully who cannot look after herself, let alone children (currently a total of three). Her fiancé is a violent, alcoholic gambler. After being made a prisoner in my own bedroom, we got our own place.
My diagnosis of fibromyalgia explained my constant pain and tiredness. Yay for inheriting every single shitty illness my parents have.
Recently, I have started to have feelings for a close friend, who also has a partner. While drunk, we have made twice. I have feelings for him, but he is just attracted to me. I have immense guilt over betraying my partner, who is emotionally stunted. I think I’m just attracted to my friend because he has the social and emotional skills my partner lacks.
I was severely bullied at my last job until I began having daily panic attacks and getting into a screaming matches with a higher-up and former friend.
I decided to self-harm and contemplated suicide when the medication I was taking for five years stopped working. Unfortunately, while the medication stopped working, my now non-existant libido did not return.
Have also suffered dermatillomania (chronic skin-picking) for most of my life, particularly my feet. It is disgusting.
Currently, I am plagued by insomnia, headaches, anxiety, shame, severe depression, guilt, and every other horrible feeling imaginable. According to my therapist, I have feelings of low self-worth. According to my friends, I have a much lower opinion of myself than everyone else does of me.
I am both numb and emotionally unstable. I can’t cry, even though I really want to let it out. I think of myself as selfish and horrible, a terrible person who doesn’t deserve what I have. I theorize that I have some subconscious need to sabotage myself. Every time something is going well, just to add some drama in my life. Why I do this, I don’t know. And as I have written this list in such a cold, emotionless manner, I find it odd that I can be so numb and feel so many negative emotions at the same time. I feel like a robot.
I don’t want sympathy. At least, I don’t think I do. I am just tired. Tired of struggling through every day with these issues. I want the problems to just magically disappear because I’m tired of fighting.
I know it’s a long road ahead to my recovery. And as much as I don’t want to relive the aforementioned memories, I am also excited for the first time in ages because maybe, finally, with proper therapy…
6:15 AM – My boy wakes up. Deep inhale. What will the day be like today for him; for us?
8:00 AM – Exhale. The noise deadline our downstairs neighbor has imposed (“Can’t you find some way to keep him quiet?”) has passed. Now he can play in his room.
8:15 AM – Inhale. He is on the bus for school.
Most of this past month I have gotten multiple calls or emails during the morning hours- “He kicked a student,” “He climbed on the desk,” “Other parents are complaining,” “He hit a teacher,” “I’m trying to understand his disorder,” “We really love your son and want to help him, but we may need to discuss a more restrictive environment.”
If those calls do not come by 12:55, when he is in his afternoon small-group special ed. classroom, I can exhale.
4:30 PM – Inhale. Hoping for a smooth homework, dinner, and bath routine.
If all goes well and no one is screaming by 7:00 PM I’ll exhale.
7:30 PM – Inhale. Just a bit longer now – PJs, brush teeth, read story. Melatonin has made this routine so much easier at night, but does extend the stretch of time between wakeup and noise deadline in the morning.
8:30 PM – He sleeps. Deep exhale. He has probably been corrected many more times than he has been praised. He has told me detailed stories about school, Thomas the Train, the solar system, insects. He has gone to therapy yet has not been able to keep his body still for more than five minutes all day. He has called me “cute little Mommy,” but called a teacher’s aide “a moron.” He has gotten along better with his little sister and lost his first tooth. He has heard and spoken the words, “I love you.”
She was a freaking PRO at latching-on, and breastfeeding went spectacularly. My recently-born third child is also proving himself to be quite the little breastfeeding champ.
My second child? Not so much. He couldn’t get the hang of latching-on, even with special equipment, like those freaky-looking nipple shields.
The stress of a cross-country move three weeks postpartum, moving in with my in-laws, while my husband had to take an extended job out-of-state (he spent eight months of my son’s first year out-of-state), my supply of breastmilk steadily decreased.
I was too poor to get a decent breast pump, we were in-between insurance, which meant that pumping my breasts to keep up my breastmilk supply was not an option.
Multiple lactation consultants and doctors were seen – no success. We began supplementing with formula, and while he was still a colicky baby, he was a little happier as he wasn’t hungry anymore.
I went on medication for postpartum depression when he was a few months old. That officially brought an end to our breastfeeding journey.
I spent several years working through the guilt of being unable to continue with breastfeeding. Every asthma attack he had triggered that guilt. When he developed speech problems, I worried that his difficulty speaking was related to not bonding through breastfeeding, or because I had postpartum depression.
Fast-forward to this past February as my four-year old climbed into the dentist’s chair for his first visit to the dentist.
As she was checking out his teeth, the dentist asked, “Does he ever have trouble with his speech?”
Startled, I told her, “Not really. He had a little trouble when he first started, but his last evaluation was good.”
While poking around in his mouth, she said, “Oh, good. I see that he’s tongue-tied. Not badly, borderline even, but sometimes makes it hard for children to learn to speak.”
I’m not sure what I said in return, because my mind was already jumping – tongue-tied. His frenulum is short, so his tongue’s movement is restricted. Not only can it cause problems with speech, having a tongue-tie can make breastfeeding and latching on difficult.
And just like that, all those feelings of guilt rushed back.
All the doctors and consultants that we had seen – not one had caught that he’d been tongue-tied. A tongue-tie is easily correctable. The frenulum is clipped and, tada, the tongue can move more freely.
Logically, I know that we’d still have had other hurdles to overcome to be able to breastfeed successfully. I know that he’s a smart, (more-or-less) healthy little boy, who wasn’t negatively impacted by being formula fed. I know that, given all the circumstances, formula was the best option for ALL of us. I know that he and I are no less bonded together because his food came from a silicone nipple instead of my own.
But my heart is less practical.
My heart is grieving that loss; that missed opportunity all over again.
Or, at least, I think I am. I’d like to think I am. I think about writing all the time – and then I feel ashamed of myself because I’m not writing. I think about all of the stories I could be writing – I think about the text file of ideas for stories on my desktop – and then I get even more depressed because I’m not writing.
The great thing is that I’m not writing because I’m depressed, because I have no job, no friends, am 1300 miles away from all support systems, except for my wonderful soon-to-be husband, and I spend most of my time in an insecure, anxious ball feeling sorry for myself.
I keep seeing over and over again, on Twitter and Facebook and in my MFA program’s forum this statement: “if you don’t write, you aren’t a writer, and you probably shouldn’t be. To be a writer, you must need to write like it’s the way you breathe.” So I second-guess myself; I don’t need that. But I need to need that, if that makes sense.
I miss the feeling of excitement when I pull off a great scene. I miss feeling proud of myself. I miss the sense of self-esteem writing gives me. But right now, depression is taking it away.
I just don’t know how to push through the overwhelming apathy and shame to start writing again. And everyone who tells me to shit or get off the pot – to just start writing regardless – really isn’t helping.