You May Think That I Am Crazy

You may think that I am crazy by the time you have read this post, but that’s okay. As long as you don’t abuse me, I am finally (after 50 years) getting to a point where what you think of me doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t change me. You’re entitled to your opinion.

Do you believe in the divine? The supernatural even? Maybe you believe in God, or maybe you believe in some other religious or spiritual being. Do you believe that there is more to this earth than you, me and the animals who inhabit it? I do.

I believe that there is something more. I can’t give you a complicated explanation of why I believe there is something more. I just do. I believe there is something more than us, and there is even something more than our lifespan. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. My beliefs come from my experience. I have experienced what simply must have been a force beyond human kind. I will never be the kind of person who can give you a lecture on this. Maybe I’m copping out, I don’t have to have all my theories worked out, for me to be at peace with what I believe. That’s enough for me.

I started on this earth in a Christian environment. My family lived and breathed the Bible and its teachings. It was my father’s calling in life. My views have changed since then, and I know that some of what I believe wouldn’t sit comfortably with those Christians from my upbringing. That’s okay with me too. We don’t all have to agree.

Time to get to the point, though…

A few days ago I had a particularly hard day with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. We were talking about family and I was ‘introducing to her’ (for want of a better word) photos of family members whom her decaying brain had wiped from her memory. It was tough. I don’t think it was tough on her, but it was definitely tough on me. When I left I knew that there would be many days ahead when we would repeat the process of identifying the photos of family sitting on her window sill. Explaining why their particular photos were even there.

When I left I really wanted to be with those family members we had identified, but there were none close by. More so, the person I most wanted to be with was my father, who died nearly six years ago.

I did the next best thing and went to the cemetery to spend some time ‘with Dad’. Okay, so it wasn’t really Dad but I believe I can go there and talk to Dad. I don’t do it often. Just when I need to focus on remembering him and identifying for myself what advice he might give me.

I believe that where ever Dad is now, he can hear me. What’s more, I believe he can help me, particularly as I care for my mother. Before you start worrying, no I don’t see him but I guess I can remember being with him. Being loved. Being with someone who believed in me, and always importantly, had hope for me.

When I go to the cemetery I regularly take some coffee. I sit on the grass, drink my coffee and talk to Dad. I usually go at a time when the cemetery is pretty much deserted, just the gardeners maybe, somewhere in the distance. It’s peaceful. And after I have removed the odd weeds growing, I focus on talking to Dad.

That day there was no one there when I arrived. I really needed to focus on how Dad might help me if he were still here. I felt like something my mother had said had swept the wind right out of me. I felt lost and desperately sad.

After maybe fifteen minutes, another car pulled up. Two women and a dog got out and headed towards me. In a huge cemetery, they happened to be coming to a gravestone just two down from Dad’s.

The dog (a Jack Russell) immediately came over to me and was jumping over me and eventually sat down right next to me. The two woman were amazed that their dog was so friendly with a complete stranger. I asked the dog’s name. Her name was Hope.

This is where you might think I’m crazy. I believe that dog came to me as a messenger sent by my father. Hope was a reminder for me that there is hope. It was exactly what I needed, and once I realised this I felt an instant feeling of peace. I no longer had to worry about my mother. I could be at peace. And one day, my mother would be at peace. For a number of reasons that day, it was exactly what I needed.

A dog named Hope.

Think I’m crazy if you want to. It doesn’t matter to me. I believe that there is not just one explanation of the divine forces at work on our planet. There is space for us all to have our own beliefs. There is no right or wrong. If you want to laugh at my interpretation of my encounter with Hope (and hope), that is okay. That’s your choice. What matters to me is that it helped me enormously that afternoon to have that encounter. And so often such gifts for me come in the form of animals. I am so lucky.

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Me And Mum

World Alzheimer’s Day – 21 September

Image credit: courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image credit: courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I hadn’t intended to post again so soon after my last post, but World Alzheimer’s Day today is too good an opportunity to say let’s support the people in our communities who live with Alzheimer’s. People who have the disease, people who support those with the disease, and people who are employed in working with both groups of people.

In writing about Alzheimer’s and my family’s journey it is really important to me that I don’t take advantage of my mother’s plight. She deserves her privacy, something which she has always held tightly to. She doesn’t deserve to be some kind of joke. The struggle she lives with is real, but she is also real. She has feelings. Part of my task in supporting her is to protect those feelings, even though she might not be able to express or even understand them.

This post comes from my own reactions to my mother’s illness. I have tried to write from a perspective of my journey, rather than my mother’s. I hope that in doing so, I have preserved at least some of Mum’s right to privacy.

It’s funny how things happen. I think I would be pretty much the last person my mother expected or even wanted, to be there for her as she traverses her last years – with Alzheimer’s Disease.

“The phrase ‘Love one another’ is so wise. By loving one another, we invest in each other and in ourselves. Perhaps someday, when we need someone to care for us, it may not come from the person we expect, but from the person we least expect… [ someone] whose love for us has assigned them to the honorable, yet dangerous position of caregiver.”

Peggi Speers, The Inspired Caregiver: Finding Joy While Caring for Those You Love

Mum and I never got on. Not when I was a child and not for most of my adult life. It might seem harsh but the reality is that I think Mum and I tolerated each other for the sake of my (now late) father. I always got on great with Dad, but Mum didn’t appear to understand me and I didn’t understand her. I fully expected that when she was old, we would simply go our own ways.

My father died suddenly nearly six years ago. My parents had been temporarily living with me (after they lost their home in the Christchurch 2010/11 earthquakes). I remember the night after Dad’s funeral, I looked across the room at Mum and wondered how we would go from here. Mum hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at that stage, but both Dad and I were clear that she was showing symptoms.

You see, Alzheimer’s runs in my family. My grandmother died of it, as did one of my uncles more recently. Earlier generations possibly bore it’s burden too. I have known it for most of my life, being only about ten when my grandmother was moved into residential care back in the late 1970’s.

Sadly, it’s something we have grown to expect. Mum never talked about this family heritage, but I’m sure she was probably quietly terrified. Frankly, I’m quietly terrified of it myself. But I’ll face that when I get there. My fear is not the focus for today.

It wasn’t long after Dad died that I got a very clear sense that he would want me to ‘be there’ for Mum. People have since told me “don’t be silly, he wouldn’t put that burden on you” but that’s not the way I saw it. To me, it was just one last thing I could do for him. I never stopped to see it as some type of burden. It was just the way it was going to be. Strangely, doing it for Mum never came into it back then. Supporting her would be definitely something I did for my father. Perhaps that’s just the way I needed to see it back then.

Mum was finally diagnosed about two years ago, but symptoms were obvious to those of us who were with her regularly, about six years earlier. And I’ve been learning ever since. I thought I knew the disease, but I really didn’t know anything until I learnt to live with it daily. There are new lessons each day.

Our relationship has changed enormously. It’s still not what I would call a typical close mother-daughter relationship. It never will be. Our relationship centres around her, and what she needs. My needs don’t really come into it. Some days that is really hard. Some days when I’m not well myself I want to scream “what about me?”. But mostly it’s okay. While Mum isn’t able to acknowledge it, I know that she needs me to prioritise her. This is her time now.

Mum needs me. She is living in a rest home, so yes, her basic needs are met. But I see her most days. I am clear that when I am not there, the staff take good care of her, but they are clear that Mum needs (and wants) my presence.

I’m the one that meets all Mum’s other needs. It might be the little things that no one would ever think of, or maybe bigger things like making decisions for her. I’m the one that notices the dirt on her shoes and stops to scrub it off just before taking her out to church. Maybe the dirt doesn’t matter, but it would have mattered to her… and so, now it matters to me.

Mum never appears to have any difficulty knowing who I am. She’s never once hesitated over my name and has no problem telling anyone who will listen that I am her daughter. That said, there are times when it’s quite clear to me that she is talking to me thinking I am my father. Other times I am a mystery third person, who she was eventually able to reveal to me was her sister (she never had a sister!).

I know that Mum has a great deal of difficulty knowing who most other people are. She’s confusing names or having to ask me who someone is. I admit that I try to keep the family names alive in her mind. I talk about my brothers (by name), about her grandchildren (again by name). I talk about my father because I can’t bear to think that she might forget the man she was married to for 53 years.

Maybe I do all of that for my own sake. Maybe I make decisions for her in such a way that will save me from having to see her suffer. I don’t know if it’s that I don’t want her to suffer, or that I can’t bear her suffering. Does that make sense? The two things are different to me.

Alzheimer’s Disease is a terribly cruel illness. I’m not the first person to write that. I see it’s cruelty daily as it robs little pieces of my mother.

I see the pictures in many Alzheimer’s publications of two brains side-by-side. On the left is a ‘normal’ brain and on the right is the smaller ‘Alzheimer’s’ brain. I wonder what my mother’s brain looks like now. How much has it shrunk? And for how long it can go on as it is? I don’t know.

The future of the journey which Mum and I are on is unknown. There is so much that is unknown. Each day, I don’t know what it will contain. Even though I already see my mother struggle so much, I know the struggle will only get worse. It’s just a matter of time. Will it be today? Or some time ahead?

What I do know, is that I have a remarkable opportunity to serve a woman, my mother, in her final days. What an honour. Seriously. I never thought I would say that, but Mum’s willingness to let me be there for her is a gift.

I read that “being a mother is about protecting your children from every conceivable thing that might cause them hurt”.  I’m not a mother myself but I now see my role as protecting my mother from everything that might cause her hurt. Sometimes I can achieve that but sometimes I can’t. At least I can try.

By choosing to look at our journey in these ways makes it bearable for me. I dearly hope that I am somehow making it bearable for Mum.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

Other Posts You Might Be Interested In

Bewildered

Never Say Never

 

September 11 – A Birthday ‘Girl’

There were times when I thought birthdays were simply a kick in the teeth. A day which celebrates your life? When you’re seriously depressed? Exactly. It doesn’t work.

I would fight my family, especially my Dad. There was no way I wanted to celebrate my life or my birthday. Love him as I did, Dad couldn’t get why I didn’t want to celebrate anything, and having an eating disorder (think Anorexia) I had no desire to face any extra food. Why was all this so hard to explain? And why do all celebrations centre around food?

Now that Dad has been gone for over five years, I know he just wanted to take the bad stuff away, see me happy; and now I would give anything for him to have been here today. I would even have put up with his sometimes, over-exuberance for my life.

Sometimes birthdays are just as much about who is there, as who is missing.

This morning I took my mother to church (we do it pretty much every Sunday). I go so that Mum can continue her life-long habit of church involvement. If I didn’t go, she wouldn’t be able to. With Alzheimer’s to contend with she doesn’t altogether understand that this is the only reason I go, but that’s okay.

While I used to have a Christian faith which would fit with my mother’s church, I admit that now days I find it frustrating, bordering on annoying to even angry-making. I admit today was at the angry end of the spectrum.

So my mind wandered, out the window, and I watched as firefighters were preparing for a 9/11 commemoration ceremony across the road. I watched as they tied both American and New Zealand flags to the handrail going over the bridge. I could just see the two beams from the World Trade Center towers, which are now the focus of the Fireman’s Reserve here.

There have been times since that I hated that 9/11 was my birthday. It is a reminder of a very dark time in my life. 2001, I was desperately suicidal and had planned to be dead by my birthday. Instead, I was in a psychiatric hospital in Dunedin.  I was close to psychotic and the staff would tell me they were running out of ideas of what to do with me. I was becoming a hopeless case. I certainly felt hope-less. Without hope.

Each year when 9/11 is commemorated, I am almost forced to remember my own hell of 9/11. I actually want to think of anything but. That morning (it was actually 12 September by then in New Zealand, but that didn’t matter) the nurse woke me and told me “the world had gone mad“. I wondered what I had done. Why else would she say that?

That was fifteen years ago, and much has changed. I’m glad it has changed, and actually, I’m glad I have a birthday today. Yes, I did just say that (for the benefit of family who may be reading). Today I can remember my 9/11 hell and not have it pull me down into despair. I remember my time in Dunedin but I know it is firmly in my past.

When I see the American and New Zealand flags side by side on 9/11, I can remember what happened that day, and the people who died, but I can remember my American friends too. Without having gone through my own version of hell back 2001, I probably wouldn’t have some of the friends I now have. I’m glad I have them.

Happy Birthday to me.

Below is my gift today from my niece L, still my favourite little person in the world. She makes being alive worthwhile.

livy-birthday-001

I know you might not be able to read the message, but that’s for me anyway. The picture is of her and I. I love it.

The fact that I can now love anything, anyone and especially my five-year-old niece tells me that there is hope. I would never have imagined being able to enjoy a birthday or enjoy L.

Life isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t even say it is great. Life is what it is, and often that’s really hard. But it is worth being alive.

And that makes 9/11 worthwhile for me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Bewildered

Bewildered was reflected in my eyes. I hadn’t seen it before, but there was something devastatingly familiar in that look. I couldn’t turn away from it.

I had been Bewildered in times past. It came as a symptom often not recognised, from too many anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics and even too much ECT (yes, it is possible to have too much). Those left me with little idea of the world around me. I didn’t know the people around me. I didn’t know the world around me. I was a little bit scared but mostly I didn’t care.

The Bewildered now reflected in my eyes was mostly not there to reflect mine in the days I needed it. I was mostly alone. It’s not that they didn’t care. I had just pushed away anyone who cared. I had moved away to places no one knew me. Those that cared were few in number. Well, that’s what Bewildered wanted me to believe.

Actually many people, admittedly at a distance, cared. Actually, many people, family and friends, wanted to care, but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps it was the psychosis, the depression or perhaps it was the drugs… they wanted me to think I was alone. Actually, Alone was the last thing I needed. Alone would kill me if I let it.

It’s what made me think when I saw Bewildered staring back at me last night. Alone is the last thing that Bewilderment needs. It’s not that it would kill them. Well, not yet and not in the way it threatened to kill me.

It is easier to stay away. Because it’s difficult. What do I say? How do I respond to Bewildered’s strange statements? How do I stay, when Bewildered seems to push me away?

I’m lucky in a way. I have my Grandfather’s example to follow. He wasn’t alive by the time I faced my Bewildered, but I know what he would have done because I’d seen him do it before. He would stare Bewildered straight in the face, and say, “I’m not leaving you”. And he didn’t.

Whatever Bewildered you find reflected in your eyes, I challenge you to stare them straight back in the face and say “I’m not leaving you.” It seems so small, but maybe if it can take out a little of the fear that Bewildered faces alone, it has to be worth it. It will probably be difficult, but still worth it.

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart.”

 – Unknown

Peace is something that even the Bewildered deserve. No matter where that Bewildered is sourced, I believe that I can help someone Bewildered find even just a little of their own peace just by being willing to let that Bewildered be reflected back in my eyes. In that, they are not alone.

Thanks for reading

Cate

 

Halfway To A Hundred

Look at it that way, and it seems impressive. 50 years ago today at 1.30am my mother gave birth to me. My father had been sent home to sleep, as was the practice in those days. Much as I know he loved me when he eventually met me, I know he wouldn’t have needed any encouragement to go home.

I can honestly say that 50 is not a big deal for me. What is a big and slightly frightening deal is that 60 is only 10 years away. For some reason, that has hit me in recent days and won’t go away. Am I really that close to 60? Where has my life gone? I’m sure I was 25 last time I looked, but now look at me.

I’ve had a struggle with birthdays, really since I started battling for my mental health. It’s really hard to celebrate anything when you’re depressed, let alone the idea of celebrating your own life. And with experience, I can tell you that it is worst if you’re living with suicidal thoughts. Worst too, if you have an eating disorder and everything seems to focus on food.

The irony is not lost on me that World Suicide Prevention Day 2015 is the day before my birthday (that I don’t want to celebrate). What’s more, perhaps most of my friends are in a different hemisphere and so while they are acknowledging World Suicide Prevention Day, I am trying to avoid even  acknowledging my birthday.  They will want to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, taking it to two days. Add to this that my birthday is 9/11. A day on which even outside of America, it is difficult to find the will to celebrate anything.

Yet there are people who want to celebrate my life, and my birthday.  In spite of my struggles, I know that I am lucky to have these people who love and care for me. I know that when I see my four-year-old niece (and her family) tonight that she will be very much committed to celebrating my day. Her family are apparently also committed to this task.

Because of those people, I chose to celebrate my birthday this year. I struggle to see the worth of my life for myself sometimes, but strangely (to me) I know they do. So I will go with what they wish for the day, hoping that next year I might just see it differently.

Today I finish my post with a great kiwi song. My words for today. The lyrics are below.

Cate

Lyrics:

You call me up, I’ll say a few words
But I’ll try not to speak too long
Please to be kind and I’ll try to explain
I’ll probably get it all wrong

What does it mean when you promise someone?
That no matter how hard or whatever may come

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Play it once, disappear

Once in a while I return to the fold
With people I call my own
Even if time is just a flicker of light
And we all have to die alone

What does it mean when you belong to someone?
When you’re born with a name, when you carry it on

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
All at once, and I’ll show you how to get me there

Come on now, come on now, can you feel it, I can see it in ya
Come on now, come on now, reveal it, turn around won’t ya
The right time, the right place, right now, turn around

A chance is made, a chance is lost
I carry myself to the edge of the earth

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Say it once, just say it and disappear

 

 

4.35am

It is five years today since my city, of Christchurch, was shaken so badly that I seriously thought the end of the world had come and was happening right on my doorstep.  A shallow, 7.1 Richter scale earthquake began a rollercoaster of quakes which would last more than two years. What followed was four earthquakes over 6 Richter scale and a staggering 16,000 plus quakes to today.

Not to mention the physical and emotional damage, it is without exaggeration that I say my life totally changed that day. How I live, how I think, how I feel and perhaps most importantly (in my eyes anyway), what matters to me. I am more compassionate. More mindful.

Christchurch wasn’t a city that got earthquakes.  That was Wellington (head north).  I had grown up knowing how to deal with earthquakes (run for the nearest doorway and hold on!), yet that 40 second quake was beyond anything I knew or had ever thought would happen to me.

It was 4.35am, so it was dark and I was asleep when I hit.  When I woke to the bed rocking and rolling, I immediately knew I had to get to the doorway (some maybe two metres away). You have no idea how hard is to get to a doorway in the midst of such a quake.

As I left my bed I instinctively grabbed one of my most precious possessions which was sitting by my bed. But when I (finally) made the doorway I realised I had left another very precious item still beside the bed. I immediately wanted it with me but wasn’t sure I could get back to the bed to get it… and perhaps most importantly still be alive. I chose not to go back.  I didn’t think I could get back and then back to the doorway alive. I still find it incredible that all that was in 40 seconds, it seemed so much longer.

No one died that day but more quakes happened, and people did die,  I admit I moved my focus of what mattered.

When people died in the quake of 22 February it really hit me that lives were at stake.  As I stood in an office car park with hundreds of others, having been evacuated from the building I was in, I saw injured people. While I probably had no doubt by then of the risks we faced, I heard on the grapevine that other buildings had collapsed. I knew that lives would be lost today. That said, my parents were by my side so I knew they were safe.  It was only a few hours before I could speak to my sister-in-law and knew they were all safe.  This was bad, but the worst (death) was happening to other people. I know that sounds a little callous, but it is what I was thinking at the time.

185 people died that day, one was known to me.

Six weeks later, my thinking changed again in a very abrupt way. The quakes continued and as a result of extreme stress, my father suffered heart failure. I was down on the floor in my lounge (my parents were by now living with me as their home had been declared unlivable and would later be demolished) doing CPR on Dad. I had never expected to be here, but thankfully had learnt CPR some 20 years ago. It took 20 minutes before paramedics arrived and took over (many roads were still blocked and impassable), another 20 minutes before they declared Dad dead.

Now this ‘worst thing possible’ had happened to me. Earthquakes now meant death, what’s more, death of my father and best friend. I now had to look after my mother, and this time when the phone calls were made to the family, I could no longer say that everyone was safe.

Some seven months earlier, my focus was on my possessions.  Of my most valuable, I had one with me but had left the other just a few metres away. The death of anyone hadn’t really  occurred to me. While the quake was bad, I never thought someone close to me might die. Now the unthinkable had happened.

Draw your own conclusions, that’s really what we have to do in such situations.  But I’ll tell you my conclusions.  I’m reminded of them each time I feel yet another shake (last night).

I’ve concluded that taking one day at a time is not an option. It’s essential. It’s what I have to do because I simply don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I love you” tomorrow and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I’m sorry“. I don’t know if my precious possessions will be gone, and whether my house will still be standing. Think that’s going too far, and in my opinion (now) you’re fooling yourself. My aim now is to take each day as it comes, because I really don’t know if tomorrow will actually come.

Five years on and I’m still waiting for my house to be repaired.  It is expected to start in November and will take six months.  I’ll be looking for somewhere else to live shortly. My brother’s business was all but destroyed five years ago. He’s still working hard to try to rebuild it. We are not finished with the aftermath. Not by a long shot. It will be a long time yet before we can breathe easily again. But meantime, kiwis (and especially kids) are now taught to “Drop, Cover, Hold” rather than trying to run for far away doorways.

Kia kaha, Christchurch
(Be strong)

Cate

Good Intentions

I had good intentions.  You know when an event is coming up and for once you’re organised?  Each day leading to the event is planned?  That’s how I was with Christmas this year.  I knew what I had to do, I had most of what I had to do done.

But then I got a phone call on Monday morning.

It changed all that.  While Christmas still happened (like such events have a habit of doing regardless of what we have happening in our lives), Christmas changed.  The days before, and the days afterward changed.  I think I’ll remember this Christmas.

I had already come to the conclusion that Christmas this year would be about family.  For once, I was actually looking forward to the day.  I don’t usually.  I’m one of those people who would rather ignore the day.  Usually I grudgingly do the things expected of me, but mostly detest this celebration… for a number of reasons.  This year was going to be different.  Somehow my mindset had changed just a little.

Early Monday morning I got a phone call to say my almost-87-year-old mother was not well.  I wasn’t yet dressed but threw on the nearest clean clothes I could find, and drove over to Mum’s flat in a nearby retirement village.  And there began a search to get help for her.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to do to begin with.  We are all fairly new to all this.  Thankfully I was able to get some quick advice and then acted on it.  Many phone calls later, Mum had an emergency appointment with her doctor in a few hours.  That followed with more appointments.

I can tell you that a few days before Christmas is not the time to seek help from health professionals.  Everyone wants to see them, but luckily those involved made room for mum.  Unfortunately the problem wasn’t solved and the conclusion was eventually that family would have to provide the care Mum needed.  That basically meant me!

What followed was three nights on Mum’s couch.  The most uncomfortable sofa bed I have ever had the misfortune to attempt to sleep on.  I have now spent seven days with Mum, although we agreed that she didn’t need me so much at night and that because my back was now extremely sore, I have been home at night.  I only live five minutes away and I can easily jump (if my body lets me) in the car and go back (as I have had to do).

Nearly a week on, Mum is doing better although is not herself.  I wonder whether I will ever see that ‘herself‘ again.  I don’t know.  That’s the nature of the illness.

I will continue to spend days with my mother, and then on Wednesday she will move to a rest home, providing residential care for the elderly.  This is something that was already planned.  This past week we tried unsuccessfully to move Mum early.  It didn’t happen because… well, I won’t get into that here.

That is the short story.  The purpose of sharing it here, as well as to simply write out for myself what happened, is that it very much fit with what I had already been thinking of for Christmas, and what I had intended to post about on Monday.  Obviously it didn’t happen.

Image credit: Permission obtained from Penny Redshaw http//: motivating giraffe.wordpress.com

I am sharing this image firstly because I love Penny’s blog.  Somehow, without my involvement (obviously… it is not my blog) she illustrates what I am thinking.  Amazing!  I also love images of giraffes.  I’m sure I would love giraffes themselves but there are not many in this country.

For some weeks I have been thinking about what is important for me at Christmas.  My thoughts came from a disappointment that I simply wasn’t going to be able to give my nieces and nephews gifts this Christmas.  I had no money as a result of not only a very small income but also because of some recent very large and unexpected bills.

I started (a few weeks back) to feel pretty down about this, not to mention embarrassed.  I had to shift my thinking somehow, and I started to do that with Penny’s statement in this image.  Remember what is important.

What is important is that I am alive and can be with at least some of my family.  The niece and two nephews who I would be with were really what mattered.  But that doesn’t exclude the other family members I would also be with.

When my mother got sick this week, it gave me a new appreciation of the fact that I still have her, and that regardless of her illness she would (and was) with us on Christmas Day. Who knows how long she will be with us? I had to take her presence on Thursday as another thing that mattered.

It’s been a long, hard week.  And it’s not over yet.  My fibromyalgia is screaming, as are side effects of a new medication which made it almost, but not quite, impossible to get down on the floor and do jigsaws with four-year-old niece L.  Getting up afterwards was even harder.  But it was fun, and that was what was important.

Hey, life goes on and I have a new appreciation of what’s important for me.  It didn’t matter that I hadn’t given gifts.  I suspect the teenagers might have objected a little, but they didn’t to me.  We just had fun together, with their Grandma quietly looking on.  I wonder what she was thinking.  I know I’ll never know

But that’s what’s important to me right now.

 “My dear young cousin, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons, it’s that you can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it.”

― Rick Riordan

What I Did And Didn’t Want

Do I exaggerate? That’s a rhetorical question for most of you.  My family (who might or might not be reading) are welcome to try to answer that question but you must be kind.  Very kind.  Your purpose in attempting to answer must be purely to educate me and not to, in any way, attack me or get back at me for some random, unrelated misdemeanor.  The question is really one for myself if I am completely truthful.  It won’t be the first time I try to answer, and it certainly won’t be the last.

I just have got the impression over the years that those people close to me have the impression that yes, I do exaggerate.  Personally I don’t think I do.  I think that I feel things strongly and that I notice a lot of what is happening around me.  Perhaps more than others.  But when I express it, it’s not exaggeration but simply what I am seeing and/or experiencing.

This past week I have been through a lot, and for some of the people around me, they have been through even more.  It has been really hard.  Emotional, soul-searching and stressful.  And no, that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been hard on us, and it’s not over yet.  Actually in some ways I suspect it is only just beginning.  For some of us, it has been something that we always knew might happen, going even as far back as childhood.

It comes down to what I did, and didn’t want.  Clear as mud, I know!

It’s always important to me that just because I am a blogger, that doesn’t mean those around me must have their lives printed here too.  As such, there are no details.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you will know that is how I sometimes write in order to protect the privacy of those people.

For what seems like a long time, I have been very concerned about something that others around me seemed to not see.  Of course, we see not only what is apparent but also what we are open and willing to see.  In addition, we can only see what is there.  If it comes and goes, if at times it gets hidden, it is pretty hard for others to see.

No one has said it out loud but I got the impression that they thought I was exaggerating.  Maybe they thought that was because of my mental illness.  I don’t know.  No one has ever said.  Maybe they thought I was simply too emotional and reacting too strongly to what I could see.  Again, I don’t know.  No one has ever said.

This week finally, some other people told me that they could see what I could see.  Wow!  That was such a relief (in some ways!).  As I watched them, watch what was going on, I was quietly terrified that they would say they couldn’t see it.  They didn’t.  They could see it clear as day.

It’s hard because I wanted them to see, but at the same time I wanted to be wrong.  I know that will make little sense, but I guess it’s just human nature.  I wanted to be right, but I also didn’t want to be right.

I was right, and actually those other people assessing what was happening, were even more concerned than I was.  I didn’t know how to feel then.  I wasn’t quite ready for the depth of their concern, even though I was glad they could see and were concerned.

What had been sometimes unspoken, and sometimes barely whispered, had now come amongst us.  I had really hoped it never would.  Others around me had hoped it never would.  Even those who had passed on hoped it never would.  But now, here it was, and there was no denying it… for any of us.  I got what I wanted.  I wanted others to see.  But now I really didn’t want what I had got.

I can’t wind back the clock, and that is painful.  I want the clock set on today when everyone concerned can see what I see, but I so don’t want it.  It’s totally thrown me off-balance, even though I wanted this, I also knew that what I wanted was the last thing I would ever want.

If you’re confused, then I apologise, but just imagine how I might be feeling with all this in my head.

I think I need a rest.

“Because that’s life, you know? Good and bad. You can’t have one without the other. The bad brings out the good in us, and the good can be corrupted by the bad. It’s always a struggle—to fight for the good, so it tips the scale. – Jet Phoenix”

― Rachael Wade, Repossession

 

Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

This week, not surprisingly, there has been a whole lot of talk on our screens about mental illness and suicide.  Having those subjects ‘out there‘ is a good thing, but I can’t deny that unwise words and ill-formed arguments have not helped anyone, most especially those personally affected by the tragic death of Robin Williams, and also importantly, those people struggling with their own mental illness battles and suicidal thoughts.

I read a lot that I really wish I hadn’t read, but one article I came across perhaps summed up the issues for me more than ever.  I have shared that article in several places but if you haven’t seen it I urge you to read the wise writings of Molly Pohlig:

When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News
(I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness)
http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/08/12/robin_williams_and_mental_illness_when_depression_is_breaking_news.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_bot

One thing we perhaps know from this week, is that fame, fortune, a great sense of humour, laughter, family and perhaps above all, love does not cure mental illness.  Robin Williams appeared to have all these things.  Depression is not magically spirited away by the possession of such things, and the struggle with suicidal thoughts is not relieved.  Oh, that it could be.  Wouldn’t it be great if mental illness was so easy?

If love were enough, my depression would have been cured years ago.

If love were enough, along with maybe a plate of my favourite food of course,  then perhaps my Anorexia would never have got the dangerous point it did, not to mention halting the permanent damage it did to my body.

If love were enough, I wouldn’t have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation for so long, several times plunging my body close to death.

If love were enough just maybe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) would never have become the major stumbling block in my life that it is.

And perhaps finally, if love were enough then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would have been cured.  But then for me PTSD was triggered into a perhaps worse state by the presence of love in my life.  Now that’s confusing if you believe love will solve all.

Love certainly made the last 20 years of my life better than it would have been without it, but only because in spite of the pain I was in, I knew someone cared and perhaps I wasn’t quite as alone as I felt.

But love didn’t fix the pain for me.  It didn’t cure my mental illness.  I had a family surrounding me who loved me.   It was hard for them to know that their love couldn’t fix me.  I guess that hurt like hell.

As I have said before (An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree), I tried very hard to prove for myself that my family didn’t really love me.  They did.  I can’t deny that.  Some of them (at least) probably thought they could help me if they could just love me a bit more and provide for the needs I had.  Maybe to sit down with me and watch a Robin Williams’ movie to make me laugh for a while.  I should say that just because I might laugh, doesn’t mean I am cured either.

I had friends who loved me, and though I tried very hard to push them away, some of those people are still my friends today.  No, they didn’t cure me, but they’ve stayed in for the long haul.  Mostly they simply kept being there.  But that didn’t cure me.

And then there was my marriage where for years a dedicated and caring husband tried harder than you could imagine to love my suffering away.  No one could fault him for the effort he made during what were the worst years of my suffering.  Strangely, the more he loved me, the more I kicked up my heels and pushed him away.  He loved me so much yet it wasn’t enough to save or cure me.  In the end was a broken marriage and still a mentally ill woman.

Why?  Obviously this is just my opinion but I think the reason my ex-husband’s and others’ love, weren’t enough to cure my mental illness was because:

I knew that I was unlovable

It wasn’t that I felt unlovable, but that I knew I was unlovable.  It is that certain.  I knew in my heart.  From my earliest days I knew I was unlovable, and actually I would go so far as to say that I knew this before I was born.  That might seem extreme and you’ll have to do without the reasons this time.  Some things are too private.

All the love around me meant nothing to me because I knew that it couldn’t be real, and I knew that eventually I would prove it to be false.  There was no way (in my mind) that those people really could love me like they said.  It just wasn’t possible.  I knew.

It’s certainly not the fault of the people who tried to love my mental illness away.  They didn’t understand that their love meant little because I was unlovable.  I couldn’t have explained it if I tried and so instead, the more they loved me the more of a fake I felt.  The more guilty I felt for not getting well.  This was not something any of them could fix.  It just was.

While I needed the love they were offering,  it was never going to be enough to cure my mental illness.  I can’t speak for others and I don’t pretend to.  This post is about me, and not the thousands who suffer from mental illness.  I can’t say if more love would have saved Robin Williams’ life.  In spite of many contrary opinions voiced this week, I believe that only he could have said what, if anything, could save his life.  And I suspect that he, like me, didn’t know if anything could cure us.

Mental illness affects different people differently.  And what is needed to cure it, if indeed that is possible, varies. To generalize simply isn’t fair on anyone.  I simply know that love was never going to cure me.

Thank you to those who tried to make love enough.  I am lucky to have you on my side and I’m sorry if I disappointed you.  There was nothing wrong with your love, it just was never going to be enough.

I saw a meme yesterday which said that love can cure everything.  I don’t believe that.  If only it were so easy.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

― Elizabeth Wurtzel

 

An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

Caution: This post contains a (small) mention of self harm and eating disorders.  Read at your discretion.

Today my family are gathering together.  No special reason, except that it is a rare opportunity when we are all in the same place at the same time.  My memory is a little hazy but I’m guessing that it is about 18 months since we have been altogether.  Of course, one important person will be missing.  My father who died over three years ago is a very big absence in the room.  Perhaps especially because Dad was always my reason for being part of the family.  Now I feel a little lost without him there.

Family gatherings are something I find hard.  I have fallen near the tree yet I struggle to find a place for myself amongst that basket of apples.  I don’t fit.  Perhaps I should say I don’t feel I fit.  Actually I have never felt I belonged there.  I guess, that I have felt an outsider in so much of life, and the family context is just one more.

In the past I have tried very hard to get my family to reject me.  I grew up with this notion of unconditional love, which I didn’t believe really existed and also didn’t really understand.  I spent years doing and being something that I expected my family would reject.  I would prove that this unconditional love thing was a hoax.  To my surprise, they didn’t reject me.  Perhaps they didn’t like what I did always, but they never rejected me.  I admit I was surprised.  I was sure I could prove them out, but I never did.  For some reason, largely beyond my understanding, they kept on loving me.

I’m not at all sure that they necessarily like me, or actually ever liked me, but that is a different thing than love.

I don’t fit.  I’m not sure that I fit anywhere in this planet (except maybe surrounded by another family of stuffed animals) and so when I am in a group (whether it is my family or any other) I feel out of place.

While my siblings were creating marriages and families (very lovable families at that), I was creating a canvas across my body of places I had dragged the razor blade, not to mention destroying my own marriage.

When they were building careers, I was focussed on starving myself  and plans for death.

When they were building lives, I was gradually destroying mine.

Admittedly I am not in that destruction phase now, but I know it still hovers not far from the distance.  That’s just what chronic mental illness does.

When their children are growing up (fast), I am by choice, alone.  I don’t know how to be anything else, nor do I think I want to.

My life has turned out (so far) very different from my family.  Practically, I have no idea what to talk about with them.  My interests, let alone my goals are so very different.  But more than that, I just feel like I have no right to belong.  My achievement for life is to still be living today, and while that is big for me, I know it is not easily comprehended by others.  Nor is it something to talk about around the dinner table while the children play.  It’s a conversation stopper rather than anything else.  I just don’t know how to fit into the conversation in the room.

I’m more comfortable outside with my good canine friend Duncan.  He will no doubt be locked in his kennel today, to protect unfamiliar children and Grandma who risks being knocked over in his exuberance and friendliness.  Frankly I would almost be happier out in the kennel with Duncan.  He’s not worried about social niceties, careers and school reports.  He’s not worried about having conversation.

But it’s not like that, is it?  I can’t hang out in the kennel, and to be honest sometimes Duncan’s kennel needs some ‘housekeeping‘.

It’s another time when I have to be with the people, yet I feel so out of place.

My family are good people and I know they love me.  I want, and need them in my life.  I’m still not convinced that it’s unconditional love but I’ve stopped trying to prove that.  I’m not sure that humans are capable of unconditional love, but maybe that’s another topic.

I know my family have suffered in a different way, during the years of my destruction.  But they seem to have little understanding of my life of chronic illness, both mental and physical.  We are two types of apples, from the one tree.  I want to be with my family today, but yet again I have no idea of how to be with them.  Somehow Duncan is so much easier.

“The boughs, without becoming detached from the trunk grow away from it.” 

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables