Lonely

I don’t have friends. Not real ones. I don’t trust I guess. I’m not capable of being a good friend. I don’t reach out.

I wish I did.

I don’t have anyone but my husband and therapist to really confide in. They both analyze everything I say.

I think this will be just be how it is forever. No matter the progress I’ve made. There is only so much repair that can be made. Some things are irreparably damaged.

Pretending

I haven’t spoken to my mother much since my sister was murdered over a year ago. Honestly, that started a month before my sister died. I tried to talk to her about things I’ve learned in therapy and she hung up on me.

So I don’t talk to her.

Talking to her means I have to pretend. That I don’t know what I know. That I don’t suspect what I suspect. I have to pretend that my mental health issues are genetic and not environmental. That environmental doesn’t just mean the 2.5 years we were homeless. That environmental means my entire childhood.

I am having a hard time with her entire side of my family. Interacting with any of them means I have to pretend. With my uncle it’s that my grandfather, his father, didn’t have a drinking problem. That the “don’t worry” attitude my grandfather had wasn’t supplemented with cases of beer and Seagram’s 7. Talking to my grandmother means I have to pretend that I can’t see how she still to this day treats her son much better than she treats her daughters. How that dynamic was toxic on top of the already toxic environment of living with an alcoholic father. It means pretending that my dad was the sole cause of our homelessness.

Being with my mother’s family means pretending that all mothers do the best they can for their children. It means pretending that my own mother and my grandmother didn’t make grave mistakes in raising their children. That they didn’t put their own wants and needs above their children’s. That it’s bad parenting decisions, not genetics, that are the cause of my mental health struggles.

I feel near constant guilt for anything my mental illness has done to my children. It is so heavy at times that I can barely function. Having any contact with my mother’s family means I have to pretend that a mother cannot do damage to their children. I know that’s not true.

I cannot heal while also pretending to not be damaged. So I stay away.

Teary-eyed Female

My sophomore year of college was rough. My freshman year ended badly, I had two jobs and a nervous breakdown that summer. Going into sophomore year I was a Resident Assistant and wasn’t sure if I had any friends.

I didn’t have a roommate. I gained twenty pounds. I went to the health center a lot. I was convinced I had a rare adrenal gland disease. I did workouts in my room alone with plastic wrap around my waist to sweat off the weight. I ate fried food from the on campus grill for dinner every night alone in my room.

During one visit to the health center I saw the doctor’s notes. “Teary-eyed female”. It made me so angry. It was so dismissive. I was sick and needed help. But she was right. I was teary-eyed. I wasn’t the kind of sick she could help with. No one recommended a therapist or psychiatrist, not that I’d have gone. It would be several more years before I started looking into my mental health. And nearly 20 before I got the right help.

Hypochondria has always been a symptom of my mental illness. I never make up symptoms – that’s not what hypochondria is. The symptoms are real. The weight gain, high blood pressure, depression. All really happening. It’s just not Addison’s disease.

Recently I had to go to the ER for possible diverticulitis. Again. I had it summer 2018. Ended up needing a colonoscopy. They diagnosed me with diverticulosis and recommended a high fiber diet. No big deal. Fast forward almost 2 years later and it happened again. It presented differently this time and the treatment was different. They didn’t give me IV antibiotics. And instead of the oral sulfa antibiotics they gave me last time, they prescribed Augmentin.

After one pill I broke out in a rash. Mostly it was underneath my breasts like a waterfall down to my mid stomach. I was having an allergic reaction to the medication. But I didn’t know that. That didn’t even occur to me. I thought the rash was from the infection. Dr Google said it could be ulcerative colitis. I took a second dose. Rash got worse. Now it was around my chest and neck. I panicked. I could feel my mental state deteriorating. Every negative thought swirling around came to the front. I’m a bad mom, a bad wife, I’m going to die!

I was able to CBT my way out of most of them. But nothing could shake the feeling I was dying. I was convinced the infection in my lower colon had seeped into my blood stream and the rash was a sign of that blood infection. I was afraid I was going to die in my sleep.

I took my temperature. 97.6 That couldn’t be right. I had my husband take his temperature to see if the thermometer was working correctly. 95.3. Oh no! What if it was off by 3 degrees? That means my temp is 100.6. A low grade fever. Should I go to the ER? I don’t want to. I’ll be there forever. I’m tired. The kids will worry. But if I don’t treat this infection I’ll die. I’ll leave them alone with no mother. I can’t let them feel that pain. They are too young! Quickly but silently I was loosing my grip on reality. I shot up out of bed and ran to the bathroom to vomit. Surprisingly that knocked me out of that state of mind for just long enough to think rationally. I could call the doctor and ask what I should do. So I did. She called back a few minutes later and said that the rash sounded like an allergic reaction to the Augmentin. Stop taking it, take 2 Benadryl and get a new antibiotic at the GI doc the next day. Only come into the ER if I vomit again.

I slept well, did some work and errands and went to the appt. I started breaking down again. I texted my sister, teary-eyed, about my fears that I was dying. That I would die young due to the childhood trauma and toxic stress. With everything else going on being sick was too much. My cup was empty. I felt bad about that. Why is it empty? Why does that happen so easily? She said because it has holes. Hers does too. We didn’t make those holes but we are doing the work to patch them.

I am so exhausted. Things like this happen and I feel discouraged. I want to be normal. Have normal reactions to stress. Not vomiting from nerves. Not spiraling with thoughts of dying and leaving my children motherless.

My hypochondria hasn’t been that bad in a very long time. I hope this isn’t the start of a set back. There’s no time for a set back.

On the Road

When I was 2 and my sister Sara was 1, my mother joined the Army. This was late 1981, early 1982. It never occurred to me until recently how strange a choice it was for a mother of two babies to make, especially in the early 80s.

She went to boot camp in New Jersey and A school in Arizona. We lived with my grandmother for a bit, until that didn’t work out, and then with my dad who was squatting on his cousin’s couch. He planned to take us to Arizona to be near my mom. He built a trailer to haul behind his car so we’d have a place to sleep.

Me and Sara in my father’s arms at the VA/NC border.

He took pictures with us at every state line we crossed. I knew that story. I didn’t see any of the pictures until Sara died in June 2019. My grandmother had this one in a pile of old pictures she brought the week of the funeral.

That trip marked the start of what would be two and a half years of homelessness. Living in cars, motels, with random members of a church they joined. A brief stint back in Maryland, after my mother left the Army, with my grandmother when my second sister was born in mid 1983. The most stable we were during that time was in northern California in a motel called RJs. I have lots of memories of that place. I remember the layout of it. Our room was towards the back the motel complex, on the left. Bottom floor.

I don’t remember that road trip, I was a baby. I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw this picture. I never heard any stories about it except that he took pictures at the state lines. The trailer bit I heard from his cousin at his memorial lunch in June 2018. It was too late to ask my dad about it.

But I think I do remember something.

Willie Nelson’s album Always On My Mind came out in 1982. My mother told me, again recently, that he would play that song to her over the phone when she called from Maryland after my sister was born. Like a lovesick teenager. He loved Willie Nelson. I love Willie Nelson. Always have. He always reminded me of my dad and I could never figure out why. Yeah, they look a little similar. Mainly they are just skinny dudes that look like they’ve lived a rough life. Lots of strung out homeless dudes look like Willie Nelson, or my dad.

I think he must have played that album in the car. Or searched out country stations that played lots of Willie Nelson as we drove cross country. Something early on tied him to Willie and it has to be that trip. This epic road trip with two babies in the back (I hope), singing along with the Red Headed Stranger.

I wish I could remember. I wish I knew enough when he was alive to ask.

I saw Willie Nelson live the night before Sara died. It was an amazing show. His voice wasn’t what he was and he mainly talk-sang. I sang along with tears in my eyes to On the Road again and was so happy he saved his voice for Always On My Mind.

The Glass Castle

This is repost from my Facebook page from February 2019:

My therapist had me read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls for homework (PS if your therapist doesn’t give you homework, ask for it. If they don’t, find a new therapist.). She thought, because of my background, I’d relate to it. My family’s situation didn’t last nearly as long as the Walls’ and wasn’t as extreme but yes, I did relate. Some of it was so similar. It almost seemed like fiction. I didn’t cry reading it. I almost felt numb. Depersonalization is a word I realized applies me and to the way I think and feel and talk about that time in my life. It’s what caused me to not really understand or give credit to that experience for the way I am. The effects of that time, even though it was mostly over by the time I was 5, are long lasting. I have memories of those times and even if I didn’t, it was still damaging. To go through such instability at such a young age actually damages the brain. It’s damage that won’t heal. I have to just find a way to cope with it. The first step was a year and a half with a great cognitive behavioral therapist. This next step is with a trauma therapist (the one that had me read this). It’s really really hard. 

On a lighter note – Brie Larson plays the main character in the movie version and also Captain Marvel. I told my therapist that this means I’m basically Captain Marvel. The most powerful being in the Marvel Universe.

Welcome to Big Sister

I had a nervous breakdown in February 2017. Since then I’ve learned a lot about myself and my family. I’ve also learned a lot about mental illnesses, personality disorders, addiction, homelessness and childhood trauma. Then between February 2017 and now, my estranged father died and my younger sister was murdered.

I’m not sure what this blog will end up being. I want it to be a book. I think this story is interesting. It’s about a young Polish girl that marries a philandering Irishman when she comes to this country. It’s about men from different generations and on different sides of my family growing up without their fathers. It’s about alcoholism. It’s about childhood trauma and homelessness. Family secrets that aren’t so much secrets as they are just normalizing of very serious circumstances. It’s about the generations of childhood trauma and untreated mental illness that lead to the struggles of myself and my 3 younger sisters.

My trauma therapist recommended I read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls within three sessions of meeting me. She said she recommends it a lot to patients with unhealthy families of origin. The dynamic between parents like in the book sends a lot of people therapy. My specific story was the most similar to Jeanette Walls’, though, she said. After reading it I commented to her that I wanted to know what kind of therapy Jeannette Walls did to get over her traumatic childhood. What medications or drugs did she take. My therapist said “She wrote a book. She took control of her story.”

This blog is me doing that. Let’s see where it goes.