If you are a friend, you’ve no doubt heard me refer to the young Prince and my daughter, Sam. You may not have heard me discuss My Dude, who will be 20.
My Dude has lead a life of struggle – he’s no angel, despite his problems and all of our efforts, we could not help him. We tried our best, we failed him, but when he is ready we will try again, and again, and again, and again.
This left his mark on each of our souls in this family; they say when one person has a disease, the entire family is sick. (Whoever the hell “they” are, that’s about the only thing “they” ever got right.)
He also left his marks on our house. Walls written on, slammed doors, the broken dishes. They’re really silly little things in the grand scope of things, when you consider how many times we’ve had to start over: house floods, hurricanes. When his lows were so low and the anger beast would rage out of his fists and into the walls, nothing was safe.
For years, the holes would multiply, weekly, monthly, until eventually, I learned it was silly to fix them because they would come back, bigger, with more vengeance.
So we stopped. We stopped fixing the holes, we focused on simply surviving the best we could. We made horribly hard choices that parents shouldn’t have to make. He grew bigger, stronger, and his disease became more pronounced while he became increasingly distant.
Two years ago this week, what little was left of my world crashed down.
My Sam-I-am, left for the university; she’s my only daughter, my first born, my best friend, the first thing I had ever done right, and my biggest confidant. I wanted her to escape the madness, to spread her wings and go, but the selfish child in me wanted my friend, my baby, my daughter to stay. Two weeks before she left, I received a medical diagnosis that I kept secret for three weeks so she would go, as she’s the kind of girl who would give up her life to stay behind and help.
The diagnosis was so shocking, the amount of research was mind boggling while coping and adjusting our lives and goals around it. But we did. A couple months later, Dude had a break down, freak out, and then he left.
I have spent one and a half years without him, though he did briefly return twice. It didn’t go well either time, and both times he left on bad terms. Once, after a physical altercation with me.
Every night I go to bed not knowing where my son is, if he has eaten, if he is safe, if he is alive. When my phone rings from another state or an unknown number in the middle of the night, chills run up my spine and I feel like I will vomit, as I prepare for that phone call that no parent wants. Because I don’t know. I beg him to get to a doctor. A hospital. A police station. A shelter. Anywhere.
He’s never had a job. He’s never driven a car. He receives no welfare, no medicaid, no anything, he’s not a drain on your tax dollar, but does have mental illness and he is walking around this country. How has he survived? I have no idea. He is good looking, very good looking. He’s also very smart, and a great con man. I love him dearly but I’m not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. I wouldn’t want anyone to cross his path because honestly I have no clue what he is capable of: he hasn’t been on medication for over a year and I can’t legally make him take any, as he is an adult.
So for this past year and a half, when I don’t hear from him for a week or longer, and I worry, or I get a call of him just talking crazy I can sit on my stairs and run my hand over that hole in the wall and try to absorb some of his pain. Because I am his Mom. It’s my job. Kiss the booboo, make it all better, right?
But, I can’t. I have never been able to make it all better. He goes from loving me to wanting me dead in one deep breath. So I leave the holes in the wall to remind me of his pain, to remind me of how I can’t fix him, how I can’t help him. All I can do is love him, remember that he is real, even if he isn’t here.
Over the last three weeks he was calling 10-15 times a day, and full of tiger blood and all grandiose, like Charlie Sheen. For some reason the stars lined up and a guy who did drywall came by, so I hired him and paid him. My dad went in the hospital last Friday. I spent the entire day in the emergency room until he was admitted. I got home and at midnight I got a call from another State that my Dude had been picked up, they wanted to know about his mental health and he had asked them to call me. I had to say horrible things about him, to strangers, who think I that am a mother who doesn’t love her son. What they don’t know is I love him enough to say those things so they will get him help.
In a strange twist of fate. The law being what it is, I can’t find out if they have my son, if he is alive, where he is, how he is. Nothing. Tomorrow will make six days since I have had an update and it’s eating at me, yet I have to go on, with work and life and baseball games for the Prince, Sam-I-am turns 22 on the 11th and graduates on the 13th. Still, I know nothing about my Dude. I kick out jokes, posts, tweets, pictures, but why isn’t my phone ringing, DAMN IT? I am his mother, I need to know he’s okay.
I went to the stairs today, put my hand on the wall where the drywall had been fixed. I just sat on there and felt I couldn’t have betrayed him more if I had tried. I’m so sorry, Honey. I hope one day you will understand that I love you to beyond the universe and back.
To all the parents who feel like they are failing, messing up, being judged, on the edge or losing it: you will survive. While I can’t guarantee your sanity, you will survive.
Fortunately, my daughter Sam, who has ben recently diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, has medical insurance through her employer.
As long as she can keep her job during all of her treatment, it covers a fair amount of some of her costs. At least after her catastrophic cap was met for the year (didn’t take too long to reach it).
We all consider the deductibles and copays, and prescription copays in our lives, but be sure to check your policy on investigative drugs. Medical trials. Travel and time off work. Did you know that many insurances do not cover care if the “Standard of Care” doesn’t work? Some don’t cover food unless it’s eating out instead of buying a loaf of bread and lunch meat. Some only will cover hotel rates available to AAA members in the 1950s. Some will pay a portion of their “idea” of what your gas should cost, but only on the DATE of your appointment, even if you’ve had to drive out of state the day before or after.
Pray you never need to know the intricacies of your health insurance. Even if you mange to jump though the right hoops and snag every receipt, it would take a team of dedicated government trained legal assistants to maneuver through the paperwork. Oh, and then you can wait for over a year for any reimbursement.
Moral of the story.
Including your 20-something year old child should have some type of additional policies, because my 20-something had never been sick in her life. She had to use her insurance for the first time and we learned a very hard lesson: chronic health issues and cancer do NOT care about your age, your gender, your race, your educational level, or your income bracket. Buy that add-on policy you pray you never have to use. I mean, yeah, it’s going to crimp on picking up that name brand mayonnaise, skip a few cups of designer coffee or don’t upgrade your phone to get it, because you don’t know how important it can be.
Pray you never need it, never have to walk this walk or fight this fight while being financially sucker punched at every turn.
Traveling 400 miles for treatment in Houston, TX, at MD Anderson alone adds up. Lodging is expensive. On her third trip out of state, she and I were in Houston away from home and family for several weeks straight. After that, we’ve got weekly visits for treatment and tests will go on for the foreseeable future.
Imagine you are just finishing college. You’ve invested all these years into student loans and grades and worked from the bottom up in a field helping others, so you’d be all set in your field after just one more test. You’re 20-something, but you’re invincible; you’ve never been sick.
You’ve got all your ducks in a row and have considered every possible decision.
You have spent your entire life on college student budget working your own way through school, accumulating debt, but going into a field where you are guaranteed to be a super star. Soon, you are going to kick open the doors and rock the world.
You dream of the vacations you didn’t take because you had to write papers and pay for copies and laundry, and you begin to plan them in your head. You go to sleep, dreaming of how great it’s all going to be now that you’re done. Once that last test is passed, you can consider your future. You have dreamy conversations with your parents about how one day not only will you buy a house, but this will have a little retirement cottage in the back for them, and they won’t have to worry about anything.
You tell your baby brother to keep up his grades, you bribe him and tell him to work his way to and through college, but you will be there for him if there are any hiccups along the way.
Your phone rings on a Friday afternoon as you’re in a store looking for a pink bow tie for your little brother’s prom coming up this weekend. It’s the doctor you saw, and out of nowhere, he says you have cancer and he will see you again next week. Just like that.
You’re alone. All alone.
You’re holding a bow tie for the baby brother you adore and have dressed his entire life. Your life just changed. The air is sucked out of the room, and nothing moves. You walk over to the dress shirts and begin looking for his size, but now you can’t remember for sure if he has that adorable little boy neck or of he has now grown into a lumberjack.
You call your mom to check, but instead, “I have cancer” falls out of your mouth.
Everyone’s life just changed and it all hits you.
Imagine dropping everything to live in a city far away for a month while still having to pay rent, utilities, and a car payment. Leaving your bed, pets, plants, and family behind. Being afraid of checking the mail or answering the phone: there will be bills in there with numbers that look like jackpots for the PowerBall.
Seeing things you never wanted to see. Learning a language you didn’t want to learn (Cancer Speak). Realizing you aren’t in invincible 20-something with the world at your feet, that you now must depend on the kindness of strangers when you don’t even recognize yourself in the mirror.
In the meantime, you travel every week to Texas, three states away, sleep, eat, get prescriptions, anything else you might need. Make sure you keep your job so you can keep your insurance and have a life when this is all over. Oh, also, you’re fighting cancer, so we are going to dump some of the most horrible chemical combinations known to mankind into your body and you are going to be sicker than you could ever possibly imagine.
Lucky that our family is tight. We pull together we pull through. All of my kids have sacrificed what they have and the course of their futures for family members and this is no exception. WE ARE LUCKY.
Samantha’s cancer is rare, which means she’s interesting to the scientific world, which opens us up to the option of seeing the Most Genius Medical people on the planet who study her type of Cancer. WE ARE LUCKY that we were able to get together the resources to get her to the people who could try to help her in the first 3 months.
WE ARE LUCKY that friends, family, and strangers have taken it upon themselves to raise money, cook dinner, open their homes, offer a ride, send a card, give a hug, and pray for us.
We are simply terrified, we know the first chemo regimen and treatment plan failed. We see the doctors and nurses faces when they hear her diagnosis. We realize what it means to be in trials, research programs, and testing studies. We know that we can only get the only hope kind of help out of state. We don’t feel very lucky because we know as a family that as the expenses, bills, costs pile up, the income has gone down on several fronts. Things like car repairs, broken air conditioners and power going out don’t stop because of cancer.
We don’t feel lucky because there’s interest on the credit cards and interest on the payments, and we are paddling like a herd of ducks in a hurricane just to get thru every day. We don’t feel lucky because it’s unnatural, it’s unnatural and soul-emptying to be a parent whose child has cancer. We don’t feel lucky that ”she’s grown up.”
We are her parents and she will always be our child. We don’t feel lucky that “at least she doesn’t have kids,” because she loves children and wanted to be a foster mom, because that’s who she is.
We don’t feel lucky because no one who has cancer is lucky.
The word rolled off my tongue and entered the heavy air in slow motion, “no.”
He was unbuttoning my shirt, and I put my hands up in resistance. He ignored them, pushing them away. There was a wickedly evil smile painted across his face, and he mumbled something under his breath.
I said it again, “No, please.”
He was determined; he shed my protective layer, and I felt even more uneasy. My hands were on his chest, pushing. I moved my legs so they would spill over the side of the couch. I was ready to get up, ready to leave, to pick up my clothes and turn my back on him. He grabbed at my thigh and placed his hand over my pelvis. A bolt of lightning ran through my body from the tip of my toes to the top of my skull. God, it hurt so damn bad.
No. Please no. No.
I squirmed, and he took that as a silent “yes.”
I shook my head, and I felt my mouth open. The words were foreign; they tasted bitter. I tried to spit them out. I had never begged in my life. Especially for something like the right to my own body.
My heart rate increased, and I felt like my lungs couldn’t get enough air. He forced me to touch him, stroke him, pleasure him.
There were tears running down my face as he stuck his hand down my pants.
“No,” I choked out.
He told me to shut up, and my chest constricted. I was trapped underneath his body. His thigh buried in my hip, hands working all over me, violating me as I hoped he’d stop.
After a while, I gave up. I stopped pushing away, stopped kicking, stopped fighting back. I only pleaded quietly, asking until my voice went hoarse. My body limp and that was the first time I truly felt like a corpse. In shock, my functioning ceased altogether.
He told me to be quiet once again; he slapped me, and I went red hot. My cheek burned. He yanked my leggings down; I heard the seams ripping and straining.
He set his face between my legs. His breath made me gasp, and he thought that was a good sign. I was shaking my head vigorously, convulsing. Broken sobs fell past my lips. Stop. Please stop. No.
He didn’t notice. Or he ignored it.
My body was trembling like an earthquake, and I was crying, pushing my fingers through his hair; I shoved his head away from me.
He was getting angry; I could see it in his face.
He grabbed my wrists, gripped them as if I was being taken into custody. In a way, I guess I was. Taken prisoner in my own body. I could feel the scream bubble up in my chest and throat, but no matter what I did, it wouldn’t come out.
He grinned, and I still despise that smile to this day. Going back to work, his tongue performed sins I couldn’t even think to voice.
“No,” I said. “Stop, please.”
I felt helpless and hopeless. I was stripped down, both literally and figuratively, and I was humiliated. I lost all respect for him.
I felt something pierce through my skin, into my veins. It traveled through my blood and made a home in my heart, rooting itself there. It spread into my muscles and tissues. It crawled into my bones and infected the marrow.
I was hollowed out, emptied. Stripped down until I was nothing but pieces of myself, just so he could put me back together how he wanted.
That was the first time. But it certainly wasn’t the last.
A list of all the 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 my 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.
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, but if I actively access that memory, the note started with “I no longer fear death. In fact, I embrace it.” 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 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.
I moved out of my family home to the capital of my state to attend university. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at this stage, and promiscuity, sleepless nights, shopping sprees, and severe irritability kicked in.
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 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.
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-existent 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 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…
I am an only child – an accident. My parents were married, but my mom never hid the fact that she’d never wanted kids. She said she was glad she had me; I was the best thing that ever happened to her, but that she never wanted kids.
I guess when you’re young, you say things you shouldn’t.
My mom got married at 17, had me at 19. She says it wasn’t young at the time, but yeah, it was.
She got married to get out of her mom and step-dad’s house. Married a guy hoping another guy she had “loved” before would come rescue her.
She didn’t plan on staying married. But then I came along; she tried to make it work.
I was blessed. Two weeks later, she met, and we moved in with, the man who would become my step-dad – the only dad I’ve really known.
Life was good. I was loved. There were fights, but they stuck it out.
When I hit 5th grade, my mom started talking up boarding school. Started looking at different schools for me. Figuring out how to afford it. I didn’t understand, but I was young and it sounded like an adventure.
Talk of it fizzled out. Life continued.
One of my chores around the house was the dusting, which included moving all books and magazines to clean under them. One day, I found a spiral bound notebook with a green cover.
I flipped it open. It was my mom’s handwriting, full of information about boarding schools:
“I want to find a Christian boarding school for Charity so when I kill myself she will be with people who can take care of her.”
My world changed that day. And I couldn’t tell a soul.
I’d been snooping. I’d read my mom’s journal. But now I knew there were dark things in my mom’s life.
Honestly, I’d known that as long as I could remember. I don’t even know how young I was when she told me about trying to kill herself as a teenager.
But that was then…this was now. I had to take care of my mom, but keep our family secret. What would people in our Church think, at my small Christian school, how could I tell anyone without confessing that I had read my mom’s journal?
The years went on. I thought about it sometimes, but shoved it down. I graduated from school, went off to a small Christian college. Found out other families were messed up too. Maybe mine was pretty good.
I got a summer job at the same place my mom worked between during summer break. I hated it, but it was a job.
My mom wasn’t in good shape. She was sleeping and crying – a lot. She wasn’t eating much. I got her up for work in the morning, ate lunch with her to make sure she ate. She went to bed as soon as we got home.
I took care of the house, then would head off to bed until I heard my dad come in late at night. I would get back up and talk to him. I figured somebody in the family should be talking to each other, they obviously weren’t, so I decided I better.
A bright spot of that summer was dreaming about going to graduate school.
The end of the summer came; I went back to college. I went early to get settled in and start working. My dad drove down to help build my loft and get my stuff set up.
He had said he wasn’t coming; he didn’t see a point in going to college, I was old enough to do it myself (um, old enough, but definitely not big enough to build that loft).
The only thing I remember my folks talking about that summer was fighting about whether or not he would help me move back to college.
To be honest, I felt guilty, but free to be going back to school.
Then, I couldn’t get reach my mom. No matter what time I called, she never answered.
I tried other family members – no one answered, until my cousin did on Monday night. When she said, “Hi Charity,” I heard my uncle yell in the background, “whatever she needs, tell her we will help.”
That seemed weird, I didn’t need anything, I just wanted to ask my mom a question about my car insurance.
“Your mom is in the hospital. She’s in a coma. They pumped her stomach. I found her in the chair. She had taken 150 pills after I told her I was leaving her Sunday night.”
I said I’d drive home.
“No, just stay at college, there is nothing you can do.”
By the time I got off the phone there was nothing I could do. I just sat there.
Thankfully, my roommate talked me through getting dressed, each step. I missed my first class. All I could see was my mom sitting in that chair, taking those pills.
I couldn’t tell a soul. What would everyone think?
I went to class, I went to work. My roommate kept my secret.
Three days later I told a friend. In class. In a written note.
The demon of depression was alive and well in my family and now people knew my life wasn’t perfect.
She came out of the coma. She was in the hospital a few days. My dad tried to stick it out for a few months. I told him I would come home at the end of the semester to take care of her.
He didn’t make it through the end of the semester. She moved out.
When I asked him why he gave up, when I begged him to stay until I finished that semester, he said, “but you’d been talking about graduate school. I was afraid you wouldn’t come home and I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in the marriage that long.”
I worried about my mom. I cried, I didn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw her taking those pills.
Slowly, she got her feet under her. They divorced. She started dating and met her now husband. It seemed like third time was the charm.
I was terrified of becoming like my mom, but at least she had beat the depression.
Fast forward 15 years.
I am battling my own depression, but unlike my parents, I am getting help. I am fighting. If my mom could beat it without help, I should be able to with help, right?
Just after Christmas, my phone rang. It was my mom. Her husband wanted her to tell me she’d been really depressed again. Crying all the time. Doctors wanted to put her in an intensive outpatient program, but insurance wouldn’t cover it.
My world crashed. Thoughts of reading those words in her journal came back.
Images of her taking those pills invaded my mind. She hadn’t tried to commit suicide – yet – but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When will the phone ring again?
How do I protect my girls when that day comes?
I’ve lived in fear of my mom deciding I wasn’t worth living for as long as I can remember. I have lived knowing that I have to protect her.
I don’t want my girls to worry about me like that. I don’t want them to feel like they have to take care of me. I fight every day to change myself for them.
Tell me, Band, how do I rewrite my girls’ future when my past is coming back to haunt me?
Okay, Band, I am in a quandary and need some mature advice.
My closest friend cheated on her husband this year, her husband found out, and they decided to stay together and work on their marriage.
Last week, my friend confided in me that she had been cheating again (same guy), but it ended the week before she told me. Only this time she did not plan to tell her husband. Our husbands are also close friends and in business together. She told me this but also straight-up said that it was okay for me to tell my husband about what she’s been up to. Because my husband and I love them both and also value the truth, we each talked to her separately and urged her to tell her husband the truth. She agreed that she should be honest with her husband if her marriage had a real chance at being repaired.
Last weekend, she told me that she’d told him, but that they were going to keep the matter to themselves and seek counseling. Over the course of the week it became obvious that her husband had no clue about her affair. My husband and I agonized over what to do.
Did we (1) urge her again to come clean or (2) leave it alone?
We chose option 1. She blew up and told us to back-off. So we did…but with nagging consciences.
Today, my husband decided that if his friend found out at a later date that his had wife cheated again, and found out that we knew about it and hadn’t told him—well, he just couldn’t live with that.
So without actually telling him outright, he gently told his friend today that his wife was not being truthful and he needed to talk to her. (I had no clue he was going to say anything to him.)
My friend’s husband went home to confront her.
Needless to say, the poo hit the fan and the truth is out. Now she’s lashing out at my husband for talking to her husband and “ruining her life.” I feel awful about the whole thing; I love my best friend and her husband as well. They have been amazing friends.
I would love to hear from anyone who has been in a similar situation—do you think my husband did the right thing?
Would you tell your friend if their spouse had cheated on them? Could you live with yourself if you knew and did nothing? Where do we go from here?