Shame, Suspicion, & Mental Health
It's Okay to Admit You Are Not Fine
This is a much-needed follow-up to last week’s blog, Depression, Suicidal Thoughts, & Support. Needed because I want readers to know I am doing okay; I want to thank everyone who reached out; I want to talk to about what has happened since my last post, and I want to provide what I consider important information. So here goes…
Midlife Madness Purpose Fulfilled
The reason I launched Midlife Madness was because that although I often felt alone in my daily struggles, logically I knew I could not be. I knew that if I had times I found motherhood, marriage, and the monumental responsibilities that come with both really f’ing difficult, then other women HAD to be feeling the same way. But… and this is a BIG BUT, women too often put forward their brave, shiny, "happy" face, hiding their honest internal struggles. This false face is more than a little toxic though. In only showing our best side to others, we unintentionally send the message that those others are not as strong or as good as us. I have always wished I could be more honest about how I really felt about life’s challenges without feeling judged by other women.
It was during my first pregnancy that I first felt like I viewed motherhood differently from other women. I did not enjoy being pregnant; it was a 40-week sacrifice I had to make to get the prize at the end. I did not feel like I was “glowing,” I felt like I was a sweaty, fat, gross, mess. I was never comfortable, and I could hardly wait for the first phase of motherhood to end. But God forbid I actually expressed that to anyone. It would have been interpreted as me not wanting the baby, or that I lacked maternal instincts. And this pattern followed me all the way through parenthood. Never be honest about the tough things because then others would label me as not maternal or a bad mother.
But, but, but… I knew other women were struggling. I knew exhausted and frustrated women. I knew other mothers/wives also felt unseen and unappreciated. And I also knew that even though they felt this way that being a wife and mother was their greatest pride. The struggle was in not being allowed to express both feelings. So, after thinking about it for more than a decade, I finally decided the only way to change this was to start the conversation by bravely putting myself out there hoping, as the saying goes, if I build it, they will come. And slowly but surely they (you) are coming.
A Community of ‘Mad’ Women
I am doing much better than I was when I wrote last week’s post. This because of the people who reached out to me, both publicly and privately. I had both close friends and social media acquaintances reach out with positive and encouraging messages. In a few, women tentatively opened up about the challenges they are having with their daughters or other family estrangements. Getting confirmation that I was not alone was huge! Also, learning how much my situation with my daughters has in common with other mother/daughter relationships brought more understanding to what is going on in my relationships. And it also felt great to see the very first shimmering light of Midlife Madness doing what I hoped it would do. That is provide a safe place for women to share their stories and experiences with each other to help us all feel more supported and connected. I do—and for that I am extremely grateful.
Pushing Back to the Surface
I am actually in a profoundly better place than I was 10 days ago, and this has really made me think about how low I went and how and why I bounced back. I think I needed to sink to the lowest depths. Although I had been expressing myself about everything that was going on with my mother and daughters, I was still very bottled up. I was working hard to control my reactions and carry on with my life, but the pain was festering, and it needed some place to go. Mother’s Day was my trigger, and I spiralled out of control emotionally to where it scared me. But here is the thing about sinking, if you go with it and let yourself hit bottom, you can then use that bottom to project yourself back up to the surface. That is what I did. As soon as my feet hit rock bottom, I pushed off as hard and fast as I could, and I have had my head above water and breathing easier for almost a week now. I feel like a weight was lifted. I am still devastated about what is transpiring with my mother and daughters, but my perspective, approach, and attitude have all changed and I feel well equipped to move forward with my own life, with or without them.
Two friends helped me get to this place. Both have known me for decades and they know me differently than my parents, husband, or children do. They see and value a side of me that my family sometimes appears blind to. And with their different view of me, they brought a fresh perspective to the situation. The interesting thing here is that these two women do not know each other (although they have met) but they had similar perspectives and advice. Truth be told, it is like some things my husband has been saying to me as well. And I also received similar feedback from an acquaintance. For me, this gives their observations a lot of credence, because the same point of view has come from different people, who do not all know each other, but who, except for the acquaintance, know me extremely well.
What they said they knew about me was that family was extremely important to me and they understood how hard I had worked to provide my kids with the home, stability, and family atmosphere that I did not have growing up. They said they did not doubt my love for my girls and did not believe for a second that I was abusive. They said they know me to be an honest person, so they did not think I was telling my story in a way to make myself look good or without fault; they believed I was being honest as they understood I was someone who did not really know how to be anything but. They said that they knew me to be someone who took responsibility for her actions and the things she says. They also said they knew me to be someone who is incredibly hard on herself and that they knew I would hyper-analyze the shit out of any accusation against me and take full responsibility and beat myself up for any harm I caused. And they reminded me I am a strong, capable, survivor who is loved.
And in knowing all the above, their resounding advice to me was that I needed to stop blaming myself for what has happened, and that I must stop taking responsibility for the actions of my daughters and mother. I will repeat that one, because it was a mindblower: I MUST STOP taking responsibility for the actions of my daughters and mother! I have been piling the pain on myself. The things they are doing and saying are hurting me. I cannot deny that. But I was making it worse because I was blaming myself for what they were doing. I felt I must have failed as a mother if my daughters can behave in such a self-centred and cruel way. Every terrible thing they said about me, every hurtful accusation, I believed and bought into and beat myself up over! By believing it all and then punishing myself for it, I was giving them all complete control over my life. And once I started handing over that control, I lost control.
As my friends reminded me, I am NOT responsible for their actions. I am NOT responsible for the way they are treating me. I am NOT responsible for their choices. As soon as I let go of feeling responsible, I became so much lighter, and the world before me became clearer. I have felt for some time underneath my self-punishment that the way my mother and daughters are treating me has more to do with how they feel about themselves and their own lives than it does about me. Each one of them is going through a transformation in their life during a pandemic. And each one of them is reacting to me shifting my focus and attention from their care and needs to my own. All I can do is continue with my life and plans and hope that once they swim through their current depths, they see I am still here patiently waiting with loving, supportive arms wide open. And if they never get to that place, then I will fill my life with other kinds of love; I have lots to give, and there is lots out there to be had!
Reality of Reactions
To put a wrap on last week, my husband received a text message from our youngest daughter admitting she was the one that called the RCMP to our house. But in it she confessed what I suspected all along. She did not make the call because she was concerned for my well-being, but to teach me a lesson. In her message she made the entire situation all about herself, asking if I considered her and her mental health. Railing that, if I was suicidal that I should check myself into the hospital and get help, saying that she, her sister, and grandmother were not mental health professionals. But, notably, also said that she would “not hesitate to call the police again if Mom (I) doesn’t leave grandma alone.” So, not a well-being call for me, but a threat to leave my mother alone, “or else.”
She overlooks and twists a lot in her brief text message. She steeped it in accusations of me faking my crisis for attention (this from someone who has struggled with anxiety her entire life and depressive episodes for 5 years). She accused me of traumatizing her with the call, but I called my mother, not her. She should not have known about that call. I was calling my mother because I wanted to talk to my mother. Instead, she called my daughters and ignored my call for help for 24 hours! My mother traumatized my daughter, not me! Her comment that I should check into a hospital shows her lack of understanding of the spectrum of depression. And her comment about them not being mental health professionals completely ignores the fact that I specifically wanted to speak to my mother because my depressive state was causally related to her ignoring all my efforts to communicate with her. It was a shockingly hurtful text message, but made me realize once and for all that I needed to stop reaching out to all of them.
For those that don’t know, there is a difference between reactive depression also known as adjustment disorder, and major depressive disorder (MDD). Reactive depression is very much what it sounds like, depression in reaction to a stressful event like death, divorce, job loss, or in my case, a significant relationship loss. Reactive depression is common and not permanent. While people sometimes need therapy to help them through these tough times, the episodes rarely last longer than six months. In my case I was clear on the cause of my depression and even while in my worst moment I knew I had the power to get to a better place. It is for these reasons my daughter’s flippant comments that I was faking and if not should admit myself to hospital for treatment were hurtful and useless.
The irony of my daughter’s text is also not lost on me. I have been talking about mental health with her and dealing with her mental health issues for years. Frequently when discussing her struggles, she has accused me of being insensitive, uninformed, and that she thought I was implying she was faking or exaggerating her problems. None of which was true, but here we are. At my first sign of struggle, she displays a shocking lack of sensitivity and ignorance despite years of lecturing me for supposedly doing the same. A real forehead slap moment for me!
Shame & Suspicion
This brings me full circle back to the title of this blog, Shame, Suspicion, & Mental Health. The younger generations talk a good talk about mental health awareness, but they don’t seem to walk the message much better than the generations before them. There is so much shame tangled up in admitting that we are having a hard time. We all think we should be able to manage, that we should suck-it-up and carry on. It is difficult to admit to others that we aren’t managing and can’t carry on. Our own weakness embarrasses us, but also we do not want to burden others with our problems. So shame prevents us from opening up. Sadly, if we find the courage to open up, too often the people we need the most question our intentions. Showing our emotions and exposing ourselves in a raw way is too frequently interpreted as being manipulative and attention-seeking. And the rawer we are, the more intense the suspicion. This of course piles on our shame, which feeds our desperate state of mind. It becomes a vicious cycle that can lead to a spiral like the one I had.
Woke for Others
I hear the younger generation talking a lot about mental health. They often wrap it in the need for their feelings and boundaries to be respected, but their feelings always seem to trump others, and they never define their boundaries. This means others often unknowingly cross their boundaries as I do with my girls, which leads to their feelings being offended. Again, a vicious circle. It is fine to have boundaries, but you must clearly define them for others. If there is no fence or marker to indicate a property line, you are going to have a lot of inadvertent trespassers. This younger “woke” generation is only woke in terms of their own wants and needs, but not so much in terms of society. My advice to them is to treat the generations before and after them the same way that they are demanding those generations treat them. If they do, maybe there would be more harmony between generations and less finger pointing and blaming.
Shift in Attitude
I cannot say I have enjoyed much about the last year. The pandemic has created a weird environment. I do not think anyone is quite themselves. I had a major health crisis; I have had major fallings out with the people who are most important to me; and planning for the future feels a little more complicated than it used to. But I embrace that uncertain future because it is easier for me to envision great things than it is terrible. And I have many things to be grateful for: the amazing friends who stepped up for me in my time of need; a husband I adore; a cute office where I get to work at the job I dreamed of when I was a little girl (writer); a house by a lush forest and bountiful river where I am entertained by humming birds, squirrels, bears, salmon, and more; three doggies including my faithful companion Bowie the pug; and big ideas and dreams for our future. I miss my girls, am desperately sad that I am not seeing my grandchildren grow up, and am hurt beyond measure by my mother’s betrayal, but I will not allow what they are doing to me to rob me of the outstanding future I deserve. They can eventually come back to us or be jealous from a distance of what we build for ourselves! Either way, I am going to be okay!!!