Mutiny

Much has happened. Here’s where things are right now.

Luna is improving, I think. She is a day away from being discharged. Clark remains pretty amazing. I don’t tell him that nearly enough probably. Most likely because we’ll have a stretch of days where things are really great and then something will happen (usually with the kids) and I’ll get angry, not at him but have trouble showing him affection.

Anyway, Luna is definitely better than she was in January. As usual, there are probably a variety of reasons. We increased her medications (Slightly. Her dosages are still below what’s average), got her plugged into a new outpatient therapist (finally) and I think she’s starting to talk about stuff she hasn’t usually – like what kinds of things get said at her dad’s house and how she feels about it.

I told Steve (Luna’s dad) that I don’t want her visiting his house this summer because it seems clear to me that she gets triggered being in the same house where everything happened years ago. Of course, he doesn’t agree with that but at least it seems her time there this summer will at least be limited to two nights.

Things with Clark’s girls are, for me, more and more challenging. It’s more than not being appreciated. I think am actively disliked and resented. I have no idea how to move through this experience. Melody (the 15 year old) and Miranda (the 12 year old) now say they don’t have to respect me because not only am I not their step mom, I’m not even Clark’s fiance. (Meanwhile, they lived with and respected their mom’s live-in boyfriend for three years. He didn’t become their mom’s fiancé until the day they had their surprise wedding in July. But just like everything, there are rules that apply to me and different rules for everyone else.)

On Sunday, Clark and I talked about how Rinda (Melody and Miranda’s mother)  continues to discourage her kids from adjusting to the move and their new school. “Don’t worry kids, I’m going to fix that nasty thing your dad did and you will be able to go back to your old school.” Over the summer, before we moved, Melody told me that her mom told her and Miranda that they didn’t have to move. They could just tell a judge where they wanted to live. Mind you, there wasn’t even anything going on in court and Clark’s move was well within their agreed-upon geographical radius. Clark’s move even made Rinda’s commute easier. But none of that seems to matter. Rinda tells her kids whatever she wants to make herself sound like a victim, without any regard for how it impacts Melody and Miranda. It is also really frustrating how much Luna and I are scapegoats. Melody and Miranda complain about me and Luna to their mom, their counselors, their dad… I can’t even process it any more.

I love my grad school class. It’s probably the only thing keeping me going at this point. Well, that and the support of good friends. One friend sent me flowers on Saturday – just to brighten my day. Another one sent me money to my because she wants to contribute to the cost my grad school class.

I’m asking myself if/how I can actually find happiness in this situation. Clark is a good man. He’s able to smile, regardless of all this other stuff. I don’t know how to do that. I want to. I think it would be helpful for me – not just in this situation but in other areas of life. I know I’m not the first person to deal with this stuff. It’s just, being despised by your future step kids and their mom is not the kind of thing you dream of as a child.

Deeper Than You Think and Gasping For Air

Have you ever been in a boat or even on a bridge or near a pool and looked at the water and assumed you know how deep the water is?  I know in my experience, the water is usually deeper thank I think it’s going to be, especially if I can see the bottom. Standing – or more accurately, treading water in to 8 feet of water, I discover that 8 feet of water is much deeper than it looks from the surface.

Someone recently suggested to me that because they don’t observe me cry or demonstrate typical indications of emotion that I don’t feel as deeply as others. That is such a hard thing to hear. Not only because it isn’t true but because it is another wound. I feel like I’ve spent a lifetime dealing with people not knowing what drowning looks like.

Sometimes I feel like my adult life has been all about making getting my head above water so I can gasp for breath. Sometimes I feel like my loved ones have been sunning themselves on the beach or, in some cases, they have dumped a bucket of water over me while I silently sink further and further beneath the surface.

In any case, my tipping my hat toward the movie Spinal Tap, I put together a list of 11 times (I have many, many more) when I felt I expressed my feelings and my feelings were either completely ignored or smothered by the bucket of selfishness and abuse by someone else.

1. If I were a psychologist, I would certainly give some weight to the fact that I spent the first week of my life – a fragile, vulnerable and pre-mature newborn – in an incubator away from my mother and anyone else in my family. My mother had flat-lined after hemorrhaging from delivering me. The focus – both at that time and in the story-telling in the decades since – has always been on my mother. I don’t know anything about my “birth story” other than that I was six weeks early and that my dad is the one who selected my name. That’s all I know. That and that I was born around 3am and weighed around 5 lbs. I don’t know how anyone felt about my being born, if they were scared about me being so little, if my mom took an ambulance to the hospital, if she craved any particular food during pregnancy, how my brother or sister reacted to a baby entering the family — nothing. The story is completely focused on my mother and her near-death experience. I know more about her seeing a field of purple flowers and being told to “go back” than I do anything else.

2. When I was a little more than 2 years old, we moved from California back to New York. I know it might seem hard to believe, but I remember being in the car when we drove over a bridge over the Irondequoit Bay in Rochester. I remember asking my mother, “Where are all the seals?” since I had grown accustomed, in just two years, to seeing seals any time we saw water. After all, we lived in California. My mom’s response was, “Maybe they’re sleeping.” This represents the approach, I believe, my parents had toward anything that were concerned might be problematic. In other words, “Elaine might get upset if she realizes we don’t live in California any more and that she’s not going to get to see seals. We don’t want Elaine to be upset. Let’s not tell her that we’ve moved away from California and now live in NY. Let’s certainly not tell her that she’s not going to see seals in the lakes and streams here in NY.” And therefore, “Let’s ignore how Elaine feels about seals and about moving.”

3. I didn’t choose to play the violin. I would have liked to play the trumpet or even the drums. But my mom, to this day, loves to tell people how she grew up in a house with a brother who played the drums and she was not going to have anyone playing drums in her house. My brother started playing the violin – probably because we had an old violin from my grandmother – and therefore my parents deemed that I, too, would learn the violin. There was no choice. I “had” to play it and took lessons for 10 years. Even when I asked about taking an additional instrument, the only one they would approve was the piano – and that’s because my sister had learned to play it. I finally stopped playing after I went to college.

4. I never got to choose my own hairstyle until I turned 14. And that was after I finally refused to go with my mother to get my hair cut. I started letting my hair grow on its own and began using my own scissors to try to cut my own hair to let it grow long. Even though I succeeded in getting to let my hair grow long, my mother was very vocal about not liking it or long hair in general. Another well-known story growing up was that my mother had long hair when my dad first met her and the next time they went out, my mother had cut it off. He expressed to her that he liked her long hair and she made a point of telling him that it was her hair and she could do whatever she wanted with it. Interestingly, I never heard my dad express that he liked long hair. (I can only assume he learned not to say anything to contradict my mother).

5. Around that same time I began to become very invested in my own faith journey. I started memorizing scripture and studying the Bible a lot – on my own, because I was interested. I remember coming downstairs from my bedroom to the family room where both my parents were sitting watching tv. I had just read something in the New Testament which made me so excited I wanted to tell them about it. (I wish I could remember what I had read of why I was so excited!) I told them about it and neither one of them turned their head, turned off the tv or interacted with me much at all about it. They gave a “that’s nice” kind of response, and that was it. I remember feeling deflated. And as my high school “career” continued and I would get punished for getting home “late” from youth group (where I was literally studying the Bible), I felt wronged and misunderstood. I felt my parents didn’t know me and didn’t appreciate what they had in me as a model student, a morally compliant child and were willing to discipline me simply for not conforming to their routine and schedule of things. Meanwhile, they were late for everything – church, family gatherings, etc. But I watched them fabricate stories or exaggerate circumstances as explanations for why they were never able to get anywhere on time.

6. My first semester freshman year at college, I made what I thought was a sound financial decision and that was to temporarily drop out of college because I did not have enough money continue going! I was planning to take the opportunity to do overseas missions and then work and save up money to continue college. The short story is that although my parents weren’t paying for my semester, they made it very clear that this was absolutely unacceptable. They sent me letters (which I believe I have since destroyed) laying guilt trips on me for thinking that way and told me that I was an ungrateful child for not appreciating all that they had done for me. Their letters included their sad story about how when they first got married (so, like 1960), they had money saved up to buy furniture but then my dad totaled his car so they had to take the money they had saved to buy furniture and buy a new car. This was their explanation for a lifetime of debt and why they could not help me financially with college. My parents were very good at making life miserable and by the time I was 18, I had been repeatedly humiliated and discouraged from being independent, so, I signed on to take out tens of thousands of dollars of debt in college.

7. After deciding to stay enrolled in college, I wanted to go to seminary to become more educated about theology and philosophy and the way people think and believe. The short story is, my parents weren’t supportive of that and instead encouraged me to earn a living and then give my money to support someone else doing missions. (Meanwhile, when my brother expressed this thought – which he didn’t ultimately pursue – they took pictures of him behind the pulpit at our church.)

8. When my dad was sick and in the hospital or even at home, all I ever really wanted to do was cry and let him that I loved him and that I was so sad he was dying and I didn’t know how I was going to be able to fashion for myself a life without his participation in it. Unfortunately, not only did my mother make it clear that nobody was supposed to “bring him down” like that and therefore we were only permitted to discuss encouraging things or plans for the future, even my dad avoided these conversations with me. One night, the doctors told me and my mom that he only had a few days left and they encouraged us to talk with him about plans for the future to help him rally and get through (which he did – he recovered and didn’t die until 10 months later). I tried to talk to my dad about going to a movie together – just the two of us. But he wasn’t interested. He said he was interested in doing things if they included time with my mother.

9. After my dad died, I went to Alaska for 5 months. I told my mother that I did not want her to come and visit me. She had already been to Alaska (the previous summer, with me) and I really wanted time away from everyone and to be by myself. I sent her a birthday card in June and I expressed what a grand time I was having and that I had seen the mountain, Mt. McKinley, aka Denali. (When my mom and I were in Denali National Park the previous summer, we didn’t get to see The Mountain. It is only visible about 25% of the time due to the clouds and weather system surrounding it.) I wrote about how it was an incredibly moving experience for me and that I felt I’d had a spiritual experience. My mother’s response was to send me a letter letting me know that she had purchased tickets to fly out and would be staying at one of the hotels in the park because reading my letter made her realize that she wanted that experience too – for herself. In hindsight, it is an early indication of my ability to write a compelling and persuasive letter, eh? But I had made it clear that I didn’t want her to come out. I shared about how powerful that experience was for me as a birthday gift – in the birthday card – to my mother. I couldn’t tell her I felt she violated the boundary I had communicated so I certainly couldn’t express how I felt that, like a vampire, she seemed to think that she could obtain and possess me and/or my experience. That feeling I had when I saw the mountain, that was mine. She wanted it for herself.

10. I don’t even know how to begin sharing examples from my time with Steve. He flat out lied to me many times. That alone erodes the trust we have with someone. Perhaps the most damaging interaction with him wasn’t when he became violent and physically hurt me but a year or two earlier when I expressed to him that I was feeling sexually dissatisfied and what I would like more of (what I wanted him to do) to feel sexually satisfied. His response was to ask me if I had ever heard the joke, “What’s the secret to making a woman cum?” I said I hadn’t heard that joke. He said the answer is, “Who cares?”

11. On a date with Reuben (about 3 years after my divorce from Steve), he was here at my house. We were supposed to watch a movie but he was sort of aggressive at making out on my couch. My body was certainly responding to being touched and things got hot an heavy. I made it clear to him, however, that I did not want to have sex. It is very difficult to talk about (especially because I continued to date him for another two months) but the truth is, he didn’t listen and I don’t know if it is accurate to say we had sex that night or that he forced himself upon me that night. If it’s the latter and not the first, I can totally identify with all the feelings of guilt that women experience despite it being an assault and therefore they were victimized and therefore shouldn’t blame themselves at all. Intellectually, I know I shouldn’t blame myself. But emotionally, it’s painful to think about. It’s scary to feel those feelings.

I don’t expect anyone else to “fix” these things for me. I didn’t share any of this as an excuse for how or why I behave or don’t behave or communicate or don’t communicate the things I do. This is just my attempt to continue to save myself from drowning and to keep gasping for air.

The Secret Keepers

Quoting the blogger, “This message is not just for survivors of childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse but for people who have been victimized as adults as well. Even if you haven’t been directly affected by abuse, someone you know might need to be reached by this so please share this post.” In this case, I’ll do as I’m told.

Mended Musings

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I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to ask you to share this post. Reblog it, share it on Facebook, tweet it. Someone out there needs to hear this message today. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who has been abused. Even if you don’t read the entire post.

About a month ago I was asked by Dawn at WTF words, thoughts, feelings to contribute an essay for an anthology that she and Joyelle are creating for parents who are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse (learn more at https://www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology).

I submitted my essay but I also want to shine a bigger spotlight on this project because I fear that they may not get many submissions. Not because it’s not a worthy cause or because there aren’t enough people out there to contribute but because survivors of abuse are secret…

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Scuba (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus)

I became a certified scuba diver in 1998. The last time I went scuba diving was in… 2006.  However, after months of feeling like I might drown and/or am underwater, and after a particularly bad visit with my parents (I’ve been saying ‘parents’ but it is technically my mother and my step-father since my own father died over twenty years ago), I am realizing that I have been in possession of a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. I am still here. I am alive. I am not drowning. I don’t want to drown and, in fact, I am still swimming.

Ironically, it was my parents’ – my mother’s in particular – uninvited (and unqualified) assessment of my mental health that helped me see all this. My mother called two of my close friends and my boyfriend Clark, concerned that I had “changed.” She, of course, postured herself as a most qualified and compassionate rescue diver, suggesting that I was in deep water and would not be able to get myself back to the surface. She even went so fart as to suggest to them that I perhaps need a decompression chamber and should be in a hospital myself. This, coming from a woman who has never, ever gone scuba diving and given her ginger quality (she has red hair and very fair skin) she hardly ever goes to the beach let alone in the water. She has never participated in therapy herself and yet she had the audacity to say she is disappointed with my therapist (whom she has never met) because I haven’t been put on medication. So, even though my mother has never opened even a magazine about scuba diving, she was going to be “helpful” by saying she knows how much air I have left in that rebreather tank of mine.

Just so you all know, I am in therapy and have been for years, even paying out pocket for the last year (since I have been unemployed – another difficulty I am navigating right now). In response to my therapist’s recommendation, I made an appointment with my primary care physician to get – among other things – an evaluation to determine if starting an anti-depressant is something I should consider. The results of that conversation? Nah. Not unless I really want to.

Why not? 1) I am not as depressed as I thought I was. I was comparing myself to myself at different times in my life and, yes, I am depressed. Who wouldn’t have reactive depression? But when comparing myself to other places on can be the spectrum of depression… 2) I am not only doing a lot of things “right” for myself, there are many other things I can continue to do for my own emotional well-being. Like exercising. Getting a dog. Spending more time with friends. All of which I have begun doing more. Plus… 3) It is finally not freezing where I live. The sun has been occasionally shining and the temperatures are sometimes in the 70s. 4) Did I mention I got a dog? A puppy actually. American Cocker Spaniel. While he is like having a baby again, Luna and I are totally in love with him.

Anyway, my mother never sat me down over my favorite cup of coffee and said, “I’d like to talk to you about how concerned I am about you since you have so much going on (Luna’s hospitalizations; your unemployment; the pending trial with your jerk of an ex-husband Steve). No. She came to my house with her husband and refused to share when they were planning to leave. If I asked her about her plans for departing and where she was planning to go after she left my apartment, she felt those questions were an invasion of her privacy (how ironic!) and responded as if I was being disrespectful.

I was being disrespectful for making sure she and her husband didn’t suck my tank dry?

I don’t know how much value there would be in re-hashing details of the insanity of their visit. What I will say is that it is crazy-making. I don’t know how anyone could know my circumstances – which I have been openly sharing with her – and think there is/was anything helpful about her attempts to “save” me.

The gift about getting angry is that it reminds us we are alive and that we have power. I told them they needed to leave. They did and they took their “life boat” of self-righteousness with them.

To be clear, I am aware I need help. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place and now I finally want to get out. Now that I finally want to get out, I see it’s going to take time to do so. I also know that I need to conserve the air I have. And once I get myself unstuck, I can make an emergency ascent if necessary. I’ve not only been trained, I have done it before. And I’m not alone. I know I have people at the surface who know I’m down here and want to help me. I can see Clark. He found some way to drop a fresh tank of air to me. I don’t know how he did it but I got it and I’m gonna use it to get out of here and back to the surface.

Underwater

When Luna was hospitalized the first time, it felt like a crisis but it also felt slightly validating. Like, I knew her struggles were extreme and the fact that a team of people had decided she should be admitted to a locked ward where she would receive more intense care and evaluation made me feel, well, supported. Affirmed. Right.

When Luna was hospitalized the second time, about four months later, she was violent. It felt more traumatic. Since she went back to the hospital only 5 days after seeing her father, it also seemed like the connection between her dis-regulation and her visits to see him had become obvious. I felt sad, exhausted and like I was never going to be able to fully move on from the trauma I had experienced when I was married to Steve because I kept being asked to talk about it as context for Luna’s experience(s). I became discouraged.

Luna’s third hospitalization, just three months after the second and a mere few weeks ago, was preceded by a very specific and calmly communicated suicide threat. I honestly felt almost… detached about it. I felt – and in many ways still feel – numb about it. I felt overwhelmed. Victimized. Hopeless. It was very clear that Luna’s struggles weren’t just about the things she experienced with me when I was married. Luna has real struggles and will be dealing with them for a long time.

I’ve effectively withdrawn from many of my friendships. I’ve become so depressed I went to see my own doctor to be evaluated for antidepressants. I’ve been so sad. So angry.  So negative. So fearful.  I’m convinced my boyfriend is going to break up with me and that nothing is going to get better. It’s only going to get worse.

When a home is “underwater,” it is the homeowner is stuck. Either the homeowner must 1) continue making the mortgage payments, 2) give the bank – in cash – the difference between the amount of the mortgage and the amount the house is worth before being able to sell it 3) let the house go into foreclosure. Those are the options.  When homeowners have regular income, continue to make payments and want to stay in the house long term, it’s not so big a deal when a home is underwater. The market fluctuates so it is likely that the value of the home will again increase at some point. But when a homeowner has been laid off and doesn’t have income and wants to move, having a home that is underwater is discouraging and depressing.

When we are literally underwater, our visibility is often compromised (even in the best of circumstances we can’t usually see as far as we can on the surface) but our ability to hear noise is enhanced. Sounds that would normally be undetectable are easily detected when under water.

I’m underwater. I don’t understand why I’m not trying to gasp for air. I’m not drowning but I also don’t seem to have any inclination to try to get to the surface. I feel like I’m just waiting for foreclosure. I’m hearing the underwater “ping” of inevitability.

Not Waving but Drowning

I do not feel like a piece of glass being made smooth and beautiful by the surf.

I believe I was once beautiful and I used to feel like I was a broken beautiful thing, being tumbled about in the surf, getting my jagged edges rounded out.

Right now, however, I feel more like an empty soda can. I am filling up with water and not only am I having a hard time staying afloat, I am actually thinking about letting the water fill up the void so I can submerge and sink to the bottom, where it’s desolate and quiet and I won’t have to feel anything any more. Either that or someone should recycle me.

Luna is the only thing that is giving me purpose right now.  I know friends who would be worried, “What if you didn’t have Luna?” If I didn’t have Luna, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. If she had never been born, I would be living in an alternate universe. And if she had been born but weren’t with me, for some reason, I would be investing everything I have to get her back and make sure she was ok.

I am currently investing everything I have to keep her with me and make sure she is ok.

Yesterday, I told my boyfriend Clark that I don’t think I do anything well. He literally laughed. I know his laughter was out of love. He sees me much differently than I see myself right now. It reminds me of the line of poetry, “I was much further out than you thought. And not waving, but drowning.”

Blog for Mental Health 2014

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

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I grew up in a family unofficially experiencing anxiety, depression and PTSD. I married into a family with undiagnosed anxiety, depression and addiction. (I left that marriage almost a decade ago.)  I have a daughter who has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and PTSD.  Sometimes I struggle with anxiety, depression and PTSD.

My daughter has been hospitalized, twice, for struggles related to PTSD. Both instances were in middle school and were preceded by  a visit with her father. My sister has been hospitalized, twice, for struggles related to PTSD. Her first admission was in high school. She was admitted again as an adult, before she married my brother-in-law. My grandmother was hospitalized sometime in or after high school, before she married my grandfather.

I am working on learning how to share as candidly as possible while preserving the privacy of my family. I guess this is where I acknowledge that I’m writing under the alias Elaine J. Demeter. Similarly, I will use a set of aliases to refer to the people I know and love in my life.

Obviously, I come from a long line of mental illnesses and emotional disorders and yet when my daughter was diagnosed, I overwhelmed, frustrated felt very alone. Who am I kidding? I still feel all those things. It is especially difficult when something she experiences because of her PTSD ends up triggering my own PTSD. It is difficult and lonely and one of the things I am most committed to getting through.

It has been a mere three weeks since I learned about this endeavor. In that short time I have been able to find more blogs than I can possibly read and, perhaps more importantly, bloggers bravely sharing their experiences and stories with candor and creativity. I am connected to more resources and more people on the very issues I was seeking community and, dare I say, camaraderie.

We don’t have to be alone.

We are not alone.

Visit A Canvas of the Minds for more information about The Blog For Mental Health 2014, including information on how to participate yourself.