A Wild and Rainy Day

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

The second of three storms has hit the coast this morning. The wind is not to intense at this moment. The rain is coming down in buckets. Soon I will take the dog out for his morning walk. The rain is bringing down the leaves as much as the wind.

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Family Events as Vectors for Healing

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

I attended a family funeral on Tuesday, October 11. I have not attended many funerals in my lifetime. Perhaps the only other funeral I have attended was for my grandmother, who died in 1986. I am unfamiliar with the rituals and routines for funerals.

This family funeral was held in a Catholic church. The body of my deceased cousin was in attendance in the form of a casket on wheels covered in a draped cloth.

The alter was nicely decorated with a few beautiful bouquets of flowers. There were these gigantic candles placed around the altar. The candles were lit. A choir was placed in the upper loft at the back of the church. It was a small wobbly choir, not strong singing voices nor strong musicianship. A little frail sounding. There was an organ somewhere in the church, I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting. The sound of the organ was mysterious as it flouted out from behind us. However, the organist was not a strong musician and the organ playing also sounded a little wobbly.

The church was sparsely filled with family of the deceased, some of his friends from his group home, and others. I wasn’t sure who all these other people were. Perhaps they were parishioners who were friends of my aunt and uncle. My aunt and uncle are members of this Catholic church.

My bereaved aunt and uncle sat in the front row of pews beside the casket. Beside them on the same pew was their remaining son and his wife. Their daughter, CousinB, sat beside me on my left the pew behind them. My sister and her boyfriend sat beside me on my right. On the pew behind me was my mother, BrotherTo, SisterinlawG, NephewA and BrotherTr. Behind them on the next pew was BrotherA and SisterinlawV.

There were at least three layers of experience that I encountered during this funeral. First, there was the Catholic funeral mass. Second, there was the family of deceased cousin. Third, there was my own immediate family, represented by my mother and four of my five siblings.

Each of these layers provided a rich source of notes and observations. Information. And each of them had an effect on me. Each created their own sets of perturbations that I processed as sensory motor data from my field of perception.

There hasn’t been anyone that I can talk to about my experiences that day. I do not want to burden my marriage with any more family talk. I can’t talk to my best friend about it because she is sick and already grieving the lost of her 14 year dog companion. I can’t talk to any family members about it because they are unable to actually discuss anything of substance about it. They are able to identify things they liked, or appreciated about the gathering, but they are not able to inquire any deeper into the experience. I need to talk about it.

So I will discuss it in relation to various readings that I will draw on to tease out the elements of these encounters that have so deeply affected me.

One Encounter with Family

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

All it takes is one encounter with family to unleash this awful queasy sick feeling in my stomach.

I observe that I did not have this feeling on my four day road trip with my sister and my mother. We got along fine and I never felt like I did not belong or like I was a placeholder.

A week later I attended my cousin’s funeral and I came away with a whole trunk full of distressing feelings.

Yesterday, two days after the funeral, I had a terrible day. I had this very old, very familiar, but at the same time, strange, feeling. It feels like it is in the pit of my stomach. It is a feeling that I am the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time and there is no where that I can go or no one that I can be that will make it go away. It is a deep seated feeling of discomfort but extremely hard to put my finger on. I had been feeling it for hours before I finally identified it.

What this tells me is that the feeling was very, very old. It was rooted in childhood. And it was activated attending the funeral.

I was listening to a brain science podcast yesterday where the author, Carol Tavris, discussed her research in cognitive dissonance. It was really interesting because she, and her colleague, Elliot Aronson, have identified the relationship between cognitive dissonance and pain. Although it wasn’t the focus of their research, I believe their findings could be applied to understanding the irrational persistence of self deception in families that have endured catastrophic adverse childhood experiences.

For the past couple of weeks I have noted comments from each my mother and her two sisters that indicate that their mother was an emotional and physical abuser. I have also noted evidence that they have suffered some form of debilitating adverse childhood experiences by their demonstrations of toxic co-dependence. It is possible that their co-dependence is a result of cultural norms given the period they were raised in. But there is a deeper stress to their disabling system of belief, self-worth, and behaviours.

If it were merely societally constituted, they would have also gone through the consciousness raising of later decades and been able to see themselves and their actions from a different perspective. My idea here is that socially constituted experiences will have different effects at different ages and during different times of cultural change. Family constituted experiences will not be affected by societal change except in the situations where societal change contributes to an opening of possibilities for looking at the effects of family systems on individual mental health.

Today I am feeling more hopeful. I can identify the internal and external perturbations in my field of perception and make new choices about how I want to respond. I don’t have to be ruled by these ‘icky’ feelings. I don’t have to be subjugated by a family system that is unable to provide me with legitimate protection, validation, and support.

Attending a Funeral

October 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

I attended my CousinF’s funeral yesterday and promptly over ate chocolate when I got home. It has been awhile since I abused food and I was surprised the compulsion had re-surfaced. I could not put my finger on the cause of the trigger. It was more a composite of small activations leading to a critical mass of feeling ashamed and unworthy.

It is so strange to identify the feelings that I was filled with after this family event because there were so many overt gestures of love. It was a mixed bag, though, and there were plenty of non-gestures that indicated these gestures of love were also conditional.

CousinF did not have an easy life. He was a survivor of mental illness. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19. It took decades before he was able to stabilize and find some measure of peace living in a group home. He was afflicted with mental illness, he was also afflicted with a skin condition, a speech impediment and was not particularly physically attractive. This combination of conditions meant that he was never able to find a life mate.

CousinF was gifted with great intelligence and a wonderful sense of humour. He had great life energy and a boisterous, playful attitude. He was kind and thoughtful. He read widely and loved the history of rock and roll. He was a truly loving man.

He was older than me by six years. I was a shy, introverted child in a family of six children. I felt overwhelmed by family gatherings when I would be consumed by fits of shyness. I wasn’t always shy. When I wasn’t self conscious I could fit right in and play with the best of them. But there was something about CousinF or CousinF’s family that made me self conscious and then I would become shy. CousinF was socially awkward, and it could be that I felt uneasy because he suffered the same mental illness that so profoundly affected my mother.

As I recall the funeral yesterday, I am able to identify my feeling of self consciousness. That I felt I was being watched and judged and I could not wholly relax because of this. I felt this tension of self consciousness and it made me aware of whether I was thinking or feeling the ‘right’ things. I cannot pinpoint the source of my self consciousness. It wasn’t my Uncle and Aunt, who were now processing the loss of their second child. It was others in the room, others who I did not know very well. I could ask myself, who did I feel was judging me? My estranged BrotherA, whom I had not seen for a very long time. Anyone else?

There was this subtext of body language at the funeral that was disconcerting. Tension. Standing off. I definitely picked up on that. There were also overt displays of conditional love, as the religious entity that gave structure to the funeral was clearly demarcating those where were members of the religion and those who were not.

I suppose I could list the main entities whose relational dynamics were contributing to my experience: the church and reception hall, the members of the church, the dictates of the religion, the funeral rites of the religion, CousinF’s FamilyB relational dynamics, my FamilyA relational dynamics, the structure of the program for the reception.

One key element I noticed as an absence was there was not one moment when the structure of events provided us with a moment to connect with our hearts, with our feelings, and with our loved ones, to feel the loss and to comfort each other in our grief.

It was just so very strange. There were all these formal and informal rituals carried out over the course of a couple of hours. And there was not one moment when we acknowledged the loss, when we expressed our feelings, and when we actually, overtly comforted each other for our loss. I would have thought that would be the most important thing to do at a funeral, or second most important after laying our loved one to rest. Instead there was this empty liturgy, devoid of feeling, completely anchored in intellectual ideas about our human relationship to a divine entity. But it went beyond that, I found the liturgy to be assuming and almost hectoring – lecturing me on my relationship to the mystery rather than compelling me or attracting me.

I guess it was these conflicting layers of experience – the church, the reception, and family dynamics, that led to an overall feeling of self consciousness, a sense that I did not belong and that I had to put on an act to be seen as belonging. I think that was the deepest source of my compulsion to eat too much chocolate when I got home. At the heart of it, I did not feel like I belonged, even as I knew that my presence at the funeral was very much appreciated and I would not have missed it for the world. I can say that this sense of not belonging, while knowing that my presence is essential, is the central conflict of my own battles for mental health.

It has been a long time since I abused food. This experience has shed light on this core incongruence of my experience in my family. Required to attend but not accepted for who I am.

Talk about emotional labor.

Tracking my own instability

August 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

I live with a husband who suffers from depression. By some miracle we were able to fall in love 20 years ago. It is that love that endures today. I struggle with my own mental health on a daily basis. I don’t know what effect my husband’s depression has on my own state of mind. I have never known what it would be to live with a mentally healthy person. I have only loved, and been loved, by people who suffer from chronic conditions of mental illness.

I wonder if there are any truly mentally healthy people out there? So, then I have to ask myself, could it actually be any better than it is right now? And, if that is the case, how am I going to make the best of the situation I find myself in?

Right now I am triggered and unhappy on a daily basis. Whatever respite I find from my husband’s depression is invaded with my own unhappy interpretation of the condition of my life.

I am working hard everyday and I am exhausted. I would like to retire but that is out of the question. I am facing at least 3 years of major renovations on our home, probably more like 5 years. We hope we have enough money to get them all done before we run out.

Last week we finally pulled the permit to implement our plans. Since then I have been feeling even more out of sorts than usual. Today I got up at 4 am to prepare our rental suite, which amounts to an extra part time job for me to help make ends meet.

I have been trying to recover from burnout after 10 years of graduate school.

I continue to struggle to just get daily chores done and practice some modicum of self care.

I could use mental health support, but I can’t afford the time or energy to actually find a counsellor or therapist. I know from experience when I get this low and distressed that I will turn it around and I will feel better by implementing a few simple steps. The first step is admitting I need help and acknowledging that my point of view has been corrupted by my own interpretation of my husband’s depression. I cannot demand that he not be depressed and I can’t demand that he make our working together more pleasant.

I just need help to get my own mojo back and not be so dependent and distractible by his moods, attitudes and behaviour. I need my own base to work from instead of leaning on him.

the loneliness of living with insomnia

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is hard to describe the loneliness of living with an insomniac. There is no mutual bed time. That is, there is no time when you are both in bed and ready to sleep. There is never a time that you fall asleep together. You live in parallel worlds, never quite feeling in synch because one of you is asleep or the other of you is sleep deprived.

For years I have fought to find a commonality with my insomniac husband.

I typically go to bed at 10 pm and am asleep by 11. Especially on work nights, when I know I am going to be up at 5 am. He typically does not go to bed until 2 am or later. He gets up with just enough time to get ready to go to work, and we are always rushed to get to work on time because he just cannot get out the door with enough time for a relaxed drive to work. I find the possibility of being late for work anxiety provoking, so we are generally tense and unhappy on our drive to work.

His insomnia wakes me up. I will go to bed and put myself to sleep. Alone. Every night. Later, he will be creaking around the house, running the bath, and rustling clothing as he gets ready for bed. I will wake up and feel this awful wave of loneliness and inadequacy. The way my brain processes the situation is that I am not worth him wanting to come to bed and spend time with me. I am somehow inadequate. Deeply, irrevocably inadequate. This plunges me into a state of panic and despair. I am triggered into childhood trauma of abandonment and betrayal. He would get into bed and fall asleep while I would lie there in a state of contained emotional turmoil. Eventually I would fall back to sleep, but not without a huge expenditure of emotional and mental effort. At the same time, because it was so late, I would be afraid of waking him up.

Eventually I opted to make my own bedroom and sleep in my own bed. At least then I could sleep all night and not go through a nightly ritual of feeling rejected. However, we have never really talked it through and I still, after 20 years, feel deep loneliness in my relationship with my husband.

a Sunday dinner

August 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I attended a lovely dinner with my family. In attendance: My 93 year old Uncle, 90 year old Aunti, 85 year old Mother, 67 year old Cousin1, 65 year old Cousin2, and 63 year old Sister. Also in attendance, 64 year old Old Family Friend (OFF).

If you have never spent time with your geriatric relatives, I highly recommend it. Everything moves at a different pace. Canes are important. Words must be chosen carefully, enunciated clearly, and spoken louder. Be prepared for small appetites. Don’t get hung up on issues of ideology, politics, or selective memory. They have lasted this long, why not let them keep what they have.

It is hard to explain the aura of these old folks, but it seems like time itself has slowed down. There is no rushing, no urgency, no crisis. If you decide to move everyone from one room to another it will be more like the tide washing out of one room and into another.

Family history can be opaque, the truth of past family relationships obscured by mythical embellishment. However, with these elderly relatives, the truth can appear in unguarded moments. I glanced at my Mother’s resting face and was surprised to read deep sadness in her unconscious expression. In that moment my Sister spoke to her and her entire countenance brightened into a big smile.

My Aunti and Uncle have always appeared to me to be a stalwart, conventional family, my own mythologized definition of ‘normal’. We had finished dinner and were dishing up desert when my Aunti announced that she was not able to help my Mother when she was succumbing to mental illness back when we were children because she was struggling herself with her own inability to take care of her children. She recounted that she was deeply ashamed because a babysitter had to be brought in to the house to take care of the kids after her fourth child was bornĀ while she was still in the house. As Aunti shared these remembrances I saw a dark shadow of pain cross her face.

Cousin1 is afflicted with a strange disease that is covering his body with an ugly rash. Apparently the rash is weeping cancerous cells. Medical treatments have failed to arrest the disease and they do not know how long he has to live. Cousin1 was mentally disabled as a young child when he suffered through a childhood illness. I have never been clear on what the illness was – rheumatic fever? Anyway, the illness left him with brain damage that meant he was never able to complete his education, get a job, have a girlfriend, or live on his own. Despite these hardships, Cousin1 has one of the most buoyant dispositions of anyone I know. For the dinner party he brought my Sister a gift of two iconic Doors albums. It was wonderful to hear that music played on the record player while we hung out together looking at photo albums.