Yesterday, after a particularly difficult time in therapy, I was thinking about my family who had to stand by and watch me try to self destruct over and over again, as the years went by, and I struggled with mental illness. At the time the relationships in my family were a bit different from they are today. In addition to that my father, who was perhaps my staunchest supporter has died, and there is a whole new generation of nieces and nephews, who actually are still too young to know what pain my family went through. I know that it is not just my pain, they bore theirs too.
I also know that while I pushed many friends away, there were a few who also had to stand by and watch me in my determination to self destruct. I admit I don’t really know what they went through. I have been in the same situation of watching others go through this journey, but I have always had my own experiences as a kind of backdrop to understanding what was happening.
This morning a friend posted some music on Facebook. Often I pass by other people’s music post but the title caught my mind and I chose to listen (and watch) this time. It’s amazing. It is from Ashley Jordan
I was fading away… right in front of my family and friends. They had no idea how to make a difference, and I know that I made it difficult for them because I was so intent on destroying myself that I didn’t want them to get close.
My fading away took the course of a physical fading as I starved myself through Anorexia. But I was also fading away as the heavy doses of medication took from them, who I was. I was different to the person they had known and loved. They didn’t know how to be with this new, angry but desolate me.
As I repeatedly tried to kill myself, they were left wondering just how long it would be before I achieved my goal. I know this because one of them had the balls to tell me that he wondered how much longer he would have a sister. He even said in a letter that in some ways he wished I would achieve my goal… and then at least my nightmare would be finished and there could be peace.
In addition to the anorexia, heavy medication and suicide attempts, my nightmare journey also consisted of constantly worsening self harm, reliance on drinking and over-medicating to get me through the day… or the night, not to mention the repeated rounds of Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT). The ECT also saw their sister, daughter, grand-daughter, wife, friend fading away as my memory was badly affected and to some extent just never returned.
Cate was fading before their eyes, and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it. Those that could, poured money into treatment but it produced no results. Those who I allowed, tried to let me know they loved me. But then I was pretty determined to not let anyone near, and I had a husband who enabled that to be in his thinking that he was doing the right thing. He kept them away.
And as for the husband, now an ex, I have little idea what was going through his mind. While he wasn’t the right person for me, he still was an essentially good person who had somehow landed himself in the situation of loving someone who was fading away fast.
There is a chapter in my book, Infinite Sadness, about the role that family and friends took. Of course it is written from my perspective, and not theirs. Their perspective is hard for me to even imagine, but I know it had to have been rough.
“…It is strange how when I most needed people I couldn’t bear to be with them. I hid from many phone calls. The answer phone and Dave proved very useful. When people knocked on the door I hid and pretended to be out. I couldn’t stand myself or my feelings and I couldn’t handle the thought of others seeing me like that and maybe agreeing with me. What if they couldn’t stand me either? I maintained that I was not lonely but rather just very alone. There is a difference and being with people wasn’t going to help me. Many times being with people left me feeling totally out of the real world. I didn’t fit. I didn’t like what I saw of myself and I didn’t want others to reject what I knew they would see….”
“…So why did I push them away? Part of it was what I didn’t like about myself, that they might see if I gave them a chance. But more so it was because I didn’t think they could understand. Perhaps too, at times, I felt it was partly their fault that I was suffering so much. Of course it wasn’t their fault. There were definitely things about my life growing up with my family that were now affecting me, but equally there were things that had happened since I had become an adult. I couldn’t blame my family for those things – but I did. For a while everything was their fault. I didn’t want to see them or hear from them. Dave, thinking he was doing the right thing, made this easy….”
(p. 174,5 Infinite Sadness, 2009)
So why am I choosing to write, and cry, my way through this today? Because when I listened to that song I heard, and thought about my family and what perhaps they felt as they watched me self destruct. I know for me I constantly thought they didn’t get it. The truth is that they probably didn’t. How could they? They had never faced this before and they were seeing me fade (mentally and physically) before their eyes. To watch someone you love do that must be devastating.
When I was caught in that nightmare there was little time or even inclination to stop and think how what was happening to me, was affecting those around me. I will never know how some of it affected people, but I know now that I am not the only person who suffered as a result of my mental illness. Somehow for me, it is important now to be able to look beyond myself a bit.
I don’t have the perfect family. Not at all. Aside all of this, most of us have been through some very traumatic experiences in the past couple of years, what with earthquakes, deaths, health issues and more which have taken their toll on us. We’re like any other family and some of my family actually had roles in the causes of my illness. My friends are just like anyone else’s friends. Human, with feelings and limits.
The good news is that I came back from fading away. I know plenty of families don’t get their loved one back. We are all different now, and the scars are clear, but I guess what matters is that we are here.
It’s worth thinking about sometime. How it might be for our friends and families to watch. They are pretty much helpless and generally don’t, or won’t understand for their own reasons. Writing this has made me cry a lot today, because there have been losses. Isn’t it amazing how a random piece of music (and video) can take our thinking down tracks we weren’t expecting?
And on a slightly lighter note…
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
― George Bernard Shaw, Immaturity
- Infinite Sadness… the book (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)