Tag Archive: Family


I am at a point in my life where there are some things I can’t tolerate anymore, especially while dealing with the stress of having both physical and mental problems. As much as I know spiritually that everyone has good within them there are those that simply can’t be trusted. In many ways I am naïve in that I think certain people will change if I just give them the chance or if I conform to what they want from me. The way I am with people is that I bounce between being totally wide open to being totally shut down. Neither side is healthy but I think a good start for me to fix this problem is to figure out what kinds of behaviors are warning signs that I need to pay attention to.

That brings me back to my family problems but instead of talking about my sister and my problems with her as I have done a lot, I will focus on my brother-in-law. In fact I am beginning to understand that some of my sister’s antagonism towards me stems from his behavior and the fact that he is a master manipulator and a liar.

I do realize that there is no point in trying to change him but I am using him as an example of what I need to watch out for. Perhaps this is karma, except that as I frame it (in my better moods) it has less to do with punishment and more to do with second chances. The Universe keeps sending me messages that I cannot afford to ignore.

I will start with an example of how he has set me up to fail.

When we as a family went out for dinner my brother-in-law would pay for everyone. I would have my debit card out to pay and he would tell me to not worry about it since he would get it. I asked him “Are you sure?” He always said yes and I thanked him. It was a break for me as I am on disability.

Later on when my sister and I had a falling-out he sent me a very nasty e-mail and made the charge “Every time I see you, you pick my pocket!” What the hell???

I mentioned this bizarre charge to my father and he clarified what was going on. My father asked my brother-in-law to put my meals on his credit card without my knowledge.. The reason why is simple, my father pays off his credit card and in fact all his bills since he does not have a job. My father was the one who was paying for my meal, not my brother-in-law. He just found it convenient to do it this way.

Now I have tried to blow this off as a simple misunderstanding, but I am wondering if it is more than that. Because how could he possibly think that I put my father up to this when I had my debit card out to pay? And surely he is intelligent enough to figure out the reason why my father asked him to do this. How could I be “picking his pocket” when it was not his money in the first place???

If he had a problem with what my dad asked him to do then he should have addressed it with him. But now I have the reputation with him and my sister of being “a thief.”

Later on my sister told me that he sometimes puts the meals on his business account, which is still funded by my father because it is not successful. In fact the reason why my father is paying their bills is because he refuses to get an outside job as my father has repeatedly told him to do.

How the hell does he expect me or my father to know that he is doing that, especially when it is only “sometimes”?

The irony here is that in actuality he is picking my father’s pocket and mine indirectly because it would be nice if I had an inheritance., especially since I am disabled. But even more important is that my father needs the money for himself. He is 86 years old and retired. He worked hard to save his money, but my brother=in-law has not made a serious attempt to get a job in three years, since he lost his last job.

Because of stuff like this it is becoming more and more clear to me that with all this going on that having a relationship with them at this point would be an exercise in futility. I do realize that I have made mistakes in our relationship but in some cases it is obvious that I am being set up. And my brother-in-law lies about me all the time to make me look bad. He has done it with my father, who doesn’t buy it for a second but he has told me about it. I am sure he is doing the same with my sister.

I once had a dream where I was so mad at my sister I was literally at her throat in anger and then the scene changed to my brother-in-law flying a model airplane with a smirk on his face. While I am not an expert in dream interpretation I wonder if this was a warning about him playing games behind the scenes to intensify the problems with my sister. Flying a model airplane could symbolize manipulation.

This is just one example of many of where I simply cannot trust him and by extension my sister as well. It is a hard lesson for me to realize that not all people I encounter have good intentions. On the surface he is a very nice and pleasant person. And he has done some good things as well for me. But that does not mean that I can trust him. Sad but true.

Magical Merry Go Round

Magical Merry Go Round (Photo credit: Floyd’s Noise)

There are times in a family relationship when it can’t be maintained anymore. But I feel that it is still my fault, because to be honest, part of it is. But apologies mean nothing unless I totally capitulate to her point of view, that basically I am a horrible person and therefore my position on anything is totally invalid. Because, you know, that “bipolar thing.”

She refuses to acknowledge that I have genuine concerns in this “relationship” Quotes because it really fell apart years ago. There is no relationship, unless it is totally on her terms.

I started the argument. So lots of guilt right there. But after a reluctant look at myself I realized that I was wrong and apologized. But not until after I got blindsided with a whole bunch of rules I should follow, based on grievances that I had no way of knowing about others that I thought had been resolved.

Like the fact that she openly agreed to an arrangement we had and every single time I asked her about it she assured me that she was fine with it. But she wasn’t and so she has a lot of anger about it and so one of her “rules” was that I should not expect that from her and that I apparently should have known that. What is wrong with her just saying “No” in the first place? I would have been fine with that. This has been an ongoing pattern in our relationship, but she will not take responsibility for it. I actually feel completely set-up by her. I go along thinking everything is fine until I get dumped on. And she completely mangled my motives for having this arrangement. I have gotten dumped on by both her and her husband for many years about how selfish and thoughtless I am (which it true that I can be that way, but not most of the time as they claim) but here I bend over backwards to make sure that everything is okay by asking her repeatedly if it was. I did not pressure her in any way.

Then I got a lot of verbal vomit about a situation that I thought we had resolved. She even accused me of things that I had not done. A while back she threw me out of her house over a minor misunderstanding. When I saw she was upset I kept calm and asked her what the problem was. I asked repeatedly but she thought I knew so she did not answer. She just threw me out with no explanation.

Now her version of this is that I yelled at her and that is why she threw me out. So therefore one of her “rules” is that she has the right to throw me out if I yell at her, Well I would agree that she has that right, but I resent the accusation because I took great pains not to yell at her. In fact I was completely and totally stunned.

After months of not talking she reached out to me and she even seemed to reluctantly acknowledge my point of view that the problem had been miscommunication on both our parts. Which is something I told her at the time.

Doesn’t that sound like an apology of sorts?

But now it appears that she still thinks it is my fault and it is not just about my supposed yelling incident but about everything.

I sent an e-mail to her saying that I am willing to abide by rules but that I did not appreciate the nastiness. Then I had a few rules of my own. That went over like a lead balloon!

You see she wants a relationship with me only on her terms. In fact she gave me a condescending figurative “pat on the head” by saying I sounded too upset, implying of course that my feelings were not worth listening to because “obviously” it has to do with my having bipolar disorder. So essentially only she has the right to be angry and make ridiculous accusations, but I am not allowed to respond. Ever.

She has taken a page from our upbringing. The only people who were allowed to have feelings were mom and dad. Actually my father was not hands-on so it was mostly my mother. I can only think of a few times where I expressed a feeling, only to be shot down. I went numb inside. At least until I had a nervous breakdown at sixteen.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to that numb state. But I digress.

My mother would often take a minor incident (such as my talking at the wrong time) and turn it into an “attack” on her. She would cry and ask me why I wanted to hurt her. At the time she started doing that I was so young that I actually thought I had wanted to hurt her somehow, even if I didn’t feel it. Because mommy was “always right.” Then one day it dawned on me that I did not have that motive so while I was grounded in my room after the lecture I started crying hysterically. My mother came to check on me and while crying I told her that I did not want to hurt her. She simply said that I was feeling sorry for myself and left.

Now I have forgiven her, but I am simply looking at the dynamics of what went on between us. And to be honest, I have treated people the same way in my illness. I am actually glad that I never had children, because I think I would have been a horrible mother.

So how much am I at fault for what happened between my sister and I? I did start the original argument but I did apologize. But it isn’t just me that is the problem and she refuses to take any responsibility for her actions.

Supposedly she is the “normal” person in the family. but she definitely has issues. Big issues. She is a very angry person, but in her mind I am the only one with an anger problem.

We exchanged a few e-mails but the last time she said she was cutting off contact. I told her that when she was ready to be honest with herself and take responsibility for her actions then I would be here. I don’t know if she read it but if she did I doubt that went over well either. But I am tired of this and I don’t really care anymore.

I have a choice. I can blame myself for the whole thing (which I have certainly done in the past) and become depressed and destructive to myself. I can blame her for everything wrong in our relationship (which I have done also). Or I can simply let her go like I have done in the past. She simply can’t be what I want her to be. Ever.

I could apologize until the cows come home and not only would that not work, but I would be giving away my power. She wants to be in complete control of the relationship. I don’t consider one person being in control as even fitting the definition of a “relationship”

I am exhausted from this and I simply can’t do this anymore.

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Portrait of Sadness

Portrait of Sadness (Photo credit: Paula Abrahão)

I have talked quite a bit here about my conflicts with my sister and brother-in-law. We were not speaking for several weeks, but last week my sister called to let me know that our dad was in the emergency room at the hospital. She gave me a ride which I am very grateful for. It turns out that our dad was not in serious condition, and he was released to go home with a prescription.

When my sister took me home I told her that I was very grateful for her giving me a ride, since I would have had to spend a fortune on cab fare if she hadn’t. Then I broached the topic of why I am having trouble with the local dial-a-service, because part of our argument was that she thought that I had intentionally decided not to use it at our last visit. I think they have cut their services way back because there seems to be a rush going on and when I try to call first thing in the morning I often cannot even get through to them. When I told this to my sister I was under the impression that she accepted my story.

One nice thing that happened was that I was able to take my nephew aside and explain that the conflict between my sister and I had nothing to with him and that I was sorry that this affected him on his birthday. He seemed to be okay with that.

Then I made a big mistake. I thought that since my sister was being so nice that maybe I could write an e-mail to her to explain to her my confusion as far as what happened between us. My basic point was that she cannot expect me to be a mind reader. I did not know that she expected me to pay for part of my nephews birthday lunch. Furthermore I explained that our dad had no idea that he was expected to pay half either, because it was his birthday also! My sister gets mad at me for “tattling” but actually I think that if she claims to speak for our dad that in fact she has already brought him into the situation and I have the perfect right to ask his opinion.

I explained to her that since I had no idea that she expected our dad to pay either, that she came across as insisting that I pay for my nephew’s entire meal. Since I am on disability I do not have a lot of money available. I was planning on paying for my own meal, and also part of our dad’s. It sounded like she was demanding that I shell out a considerable amount of money, meanwhile I did not have a lot of money left for the rest of the month and I had no food in the house.

The most ridiculous part of this whole thing was that she was mad at me for my giving my nephew a gift, instead of paying for his meal! My understanding of birthday etiquette is that I am required to bring a gift only. I gave my nephew what he wanted, not what she wanted and I got kicked out of her house for it!

The reason why she kicked me out according to her was that I would upset our dad, because you see in her mind I was taking advantage of him by not paying my “fair share.”  I pointed out to her that that would have been up to our dad to decide what was fair, not her. Again she does not have the right to speak for someone else. I went to the source and our dad was completely baffled as to why this should be an issue, because he is used to both of us being short on money. Besides he has been paying most of their bills for over two years because her husband refuses to look for a job! He is not completely lazy. He started his own business, which is not a bad thing in itself, however my dad has made it clear that he cannot pay their bills while he is doing that. My brother-in-law apparently thinks that by deciding to try a different career path that gets him out of his wedding vows to take care of his family!

In my letter I did not mention the hypocrisy of her position, although she is well aware of my feelings in that matter. What I mainly focused on is that there was a huge lack of communication on all our parts and that this is what led to this situation, especially since her husband was planning on paying for everybody and did not communicate with her about it at all! I told her that I need clear communication from both her and her husband, and to not expect me to always agree with them. I told her also that I have the right to set certain boundaries on her behavior as well. The ironic thing about this whole thing is that she has set boundaries on me to not yell, scream, and make wild accusations, and yet she does not feel compelled to abide by the same rules herself.  I have not engaged in that kind of behavior for years, which apparently does not matter to them at all.

I also told her that it is very hurtful for her to automatically assume that when I do not do what she expects that I have done this on purpose to hurt her. I gave the example of the dial-a-ride situation that she jumped to the conclusion that I chose not to use their services despite that fact that I had told her very clearly in my e-mail requesting a ride from her that I was unable to get a ride with them. She does this a lot, she does not read what I have said and then attacks me for her misperception. I once sent her an e-mail making a request from her and I specifically said that I did not blame her! Yet she attacked me for “reaming her”, which I did not do. When I told her to look at what I wrote she just came back with the attitude that it was still my fault because of my “abusive” behavior in the past. So let me get this straight. I do something wrong, I get clobbered. But if I do something right I get clobbered twice as much!

It was a big mistake to say I felt hurt by her attitude because I forgot the cardinal rule in our relationship which is that I am not allowed to feel anything. Only they are allowed, not me.

I really do not understand my sister anymore because we used to be able to work out the small stuff and while she has always had a tendency to be controlling, I have never seen it to this extent. I do not know where this rage is coming from at all. This why I thought that it was worth one more shot at resolving this.

She has not responded but I got this “lovely” e-mail from my brother-in-law:

“Mary, our recent experiences are not new or unique. You want to know what we expect of you? Here it is: act like a grownup. Contribute. Don’t expect us to pay your way.

In almost every encounter I’ve had with you (beginning about ten minutes after we met), you complain about something. You take without giving, and argue over the pettiest things. You wallow in self-pity and demand that we rescue you from every jam you get yourself into, but you don’t give a damn about me. Is it any wonder you have no friends?

You mess with my wife, you mess with me. If you can’t be grateful, or at least cordial, please leave us alone.”

This is the last straw with them. They have made it clear that I am simply their whipping post. My feelings don’t count at all. If I am hurt by their behavior I am being “petty” and I am “wallowing in self-pity.” I take without giving? I gave a gift to my nephew. If I hadn’t then they might have cause to complain, but in fact I am a very giving person. I also gave them my car gratis because I knew they needed it. It was in excellent condition and it had low mileage. I could have sold it and gotten several thousand dollars, which considering the fact that I am disabled and live on only a thousand dollars a month, that money would have been a big help to me.

I don’t expect them to pay my way. I was planning on paying for my own meal. Frankly it is them that expect everyone to pay their way. They do that to our dad and now they tried to do that with me!

As far as the “jams” I have gotten myself into? He is talking about my mental breakdowns! And I have never asked them to rescue me from anything! The only thing that I can figure he is talking about is that there have been times when my dad has asked them to help me with moving, because of my mental condition I could not always stay in the same living situation as before. Besides he expects our dad to rescue him from the results of his lousy work-ethic. The entire time I have known him he has never been able to keep a job for very long because he refuses to follow orders! This ‘”man” is in his fifties for god’s sake. Shouldn’t he have learned a thing or two about keeping a job?

The fact is that I try to not ask them for anything! I get dumped on for the one time that I could not get a ride and needed help to go to a family get-together! The only other times I have asked for help is when it was a holiday and the dial-a-ride wasn’t running.

His attitude that I am ungrateful is totally unwarranted. I thanked them both profusely for helping our dad out and for giving me transportation to see him. But if they expect me to be grateful for trying to throw me under the bus, then that is crazy!

The fact is that all of their accusations apply more to them than to me. In the past I have let my entire self-esteem rest on what others think of me. I can’t do that anymore, because that will destroy me.

This is the end for me. I am sad that this has to be this way, but I cannot work with people who won’t at least meet me halfway. I am not their “emotional toilet” that they can just dump on whenever they feel like it. I am a person and I deserve to be treated with the same respect that they ask from me. They want to call me petty? They are the ones being petty for making this into a huge issue. They are the one’s being petty when they will not take any responsibility for their own mistakes. They are the ones being petty for ruining this friendship, placing a dispute about money over a relationship with me. While my brother-in-law may be right that I don’t have many friends, I seem to know more about friendship than they do because I would never treat a friend the way that they have treated me!

Update: 3/28/13

I had my new resolve tested today. Believe it or not my sister actually e-mailed me as if nothing had happened and invited me to a family visit with a cousin. By my sister’s name was a little smiley face. I politely said I was interested as long as she would agree to treat me with the same respect that she would show any other guest in her home. I did not really expect her to respond well, but I thought it needed to be said. She recinded the invitation.

My Upside Down Bill of Rights

It's not that hard to say no

It’s not that hard to say no (Photo credit: cheerfulmonk)

 

I have still been doing a lot of thinking about my relationships with my family and as upsetting as this whole situation is I know that this is a learning opportunity for me (although the lessons SUCK). The truth is that spiritually anyone who pushes our buttons is our teacher. In this case I need to separate myself from other people’s hurtful behavior and learn where my boundaries lie. This is very difficult for me because it is hard for me to know when something is legitimately my fault or the other person’s fault. I go back and forth between feeling like a completely worthless person who can’t do anything right so I try to please everyone, to feeling like telling everyone to leave me alone and go to hell. But one thing I am learning is that even if I have done something wrong, IT IS NEVER OKAY TO BE TREATED LIKE A WORTHLESS PERSON.

Some of my relatives have had legitimate reasons to be upset with my behavior in the past with my bipolar disorder. And yet what I have found is that as I have tried to make things right with them it seems to have given them permission run right over me.  They insist on standards for me that they are not willing to abide by themselves. So for instance it is not okay for me to yell and scream and make wild accusations and I haven’t done that in years. But it is okay for them to yell and scream and make wild accusations against me! I feel very betrayed because frankly they are taking advantage of my genuine desire to make things right.  Nothing is good enough for them. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I got a while back:

“YOU HAVEN’T YELLED AT ME FOR A WHILE, SO YES, THAT’S AN IMPROVEMENT. BUT IT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. NOT EVEN CLOSE. THE NEXT STEP IS TO LEARN HOW TO GENUINELY CARE ABOUT PEOPLE, AND SHOW IT, AND PUT A STOP TO THIS CONSTANT SELF-PITY.”

Learn how to care about people? I gave them my car for FREE, low-mileage. That was several thousand dollars in their pockets!

I got another e-mail saying that my standards of treating them weren’t good enough, and THEY DEMANDED THAT I LIVE UP TO THEIR STANDARDS (without specifying what they were).

Apparently living up to their standards involves doing everything they say without question.

That was from about a year ago and I thought we had recovered, but no things fell apart again and this time I’ve had it. I can’t deal with this anymore. It doesn’t work to do everything their way just because I feel guilty about the past. It is time to move on and if they don’t like it, tough.

IT DOESN’T MEAN THOUGH THAT I DON’T HURT. I CRY A LOT. BUT I AM NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE ANY FEELINGS AT ALL BECAUSE THAT IS “SELF-PITY.”

Anyway these are some thoughts I’ve put together about MY RIGHTS in a relationship:

1. I have the right to make mistakes and learn from them

2. I have the right to be imperfect and be okay with that

3. I have the right to not take on other people’s emotional baggage

4. I have the right to not live up to other’s expectations if I don’t agree with them

5. I have the right to negotiate the terms of any relationship I choose to be in

6. I have the right to expect mutual respect in a relationship

7. I have the right to have my feelings be taken seriously

8. I have the right to express my needs

9. I have the right to end unhealthy relationships without being made to feel guilty

10. I have the right to live my life as I choose without anyone’s permission or approval

We Are All Broken

Brokeness

Brokeness (Photo credit: TheMarque)

 

I was discussing with a friend of mine our mutual frustrations with our families and she pointed out something that someone had told her: We are all broken.

All of my life I have felt that something was wrong with me, even before I developed bipolar disorder. The wrongness I felt had nothing to do with mental illness, it had to do with something more basic than that. It had to do with being imperfect, being held to a standard that I could never attain. Now I want to make it clear that I am not saying that I didn’t deserve discipline from time to time. It was my mother’s over-the–top reactions that was the problem. Even though she never abused me physically, her words cut me to the core. The difference between constructive criticism  and emotional abuse is that the first addresses your behavior and the later attacks your character.

As an adult I still have trouble differentiating between the two. I have a tendency to beat on myself about every little actual or perceived  mistake. It doesn’t help when my sister chimes in and does the same thing to me.

I have been hurt so much by my sister and yet I need to acknowledge that she has suffered from the same perceived need to be perfect that I have. That isn’t apparent at first glance because she never received the harsh judgments that I did from my mother. In fact, she was held out as the example of how I should be, and I was constantly told “Why can’t you be like your sister?” This in spite of the fact that I was a different person, with different needs and a different personality. Also I was three years younger than my sister and my mother had no concept of age-appropriate behavior. Whenever she said this to me I felt an extreme sense of shame and also confusion and the question that always came up in my mind was “How can I be like my sister? I am me!!!” In fact in my immature reasoning I felt like my mother was telling me that I had to be my sister, not just follow her example. Not literally of course, but the basic idea was that there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was and not just my behavior.

That must mean that my sister had a better time of it than I did, right? Well, yes and no.  She was never subject to the verbal abuse that I was but I really don’t see was spoiled in any way either. She was expected to tow the line too and yes she was punished from time to time. One time she put off doing a school report until the last minute and she was forced to stay up all night to finish it. I consider that appropriate punishment.

Surprisingly one of the few things that my sister and I do agree on is that she was the favorite (although both our parents denied this).  So I have learned a few things about her perspective of what went on.  While I was expected to be like her, I was also held up to her as an example of who not to be. I was the “bad” kid and she was the “good” kid and while that provided a certain sense of self-esteem (which I argue was not true self-esteem because it was not based in unconditional love) for herself it also created anxiety. She was expected to take on the responsibility of being a good role model. To a certain extent that is fine, but I get the impression that she was expected to take this on at a very young age, possibly when I was a toddler. In a sense she was robbed of a normal childhood and held to an unrealistic standard just as I was.

She has never gone through a lot of the normal development that kids have growing up. She never went through the teenage “rebellion” stage which is necessary to building a sense of self-identity.  She is extremely dependent on other people’s opinions, and belongs to an extremely controlling church that tells her exactly what she should do at all times.  I have always been wary of this church, and although I have heard that it has changed, I am still not convinced. One of the many things that I was worried about years ago is that every member of the church that was single was required to go on a “Saturday Night Date” (with only church members of course and always in a group). Eventually this was supposed to lead to marriage. In other words it was wrong if you just wanted to be single and enjoy your life on that basis! This was labeled “New Testament theology” but to be quite honest I have never found anything in the New Testament to support this kind of extreme control over its members.  Eventually their own leader got expelled from the church because he broke one of his own (ridiculous) rules! He had a rule that anyone who was a leader in the church had to control his own family. If one of the family members left the church then the person could no longer qualify to be a leader. So the mighty emperor was defrocked when his own wife left the church!! Sweet justice!!!

This kind of environment is extremely attractive and yet also very toxic. It is seductive because if you have all the answers handed to you then you can believe that you can never be wrong and thus it relieves anxiety. It is toxic because the people who claim to have all the answers usually don’t. Advice turns into abuse and you are locked into a certain mindset where if you question anything then you are questioning God himself and you are in danger of going to hell.

Even as I am writing this I realize how much of a victim my sister is and how impossible it is for me to expect her to change. She has created the same environment that she grew up with where if things are not perfect she flips out. I have a hard time understanding why a small change in her plans (which she expected me to magically know) would cause her to get angry and throw me out of her house. But here is the thing, I don’t think she was reacting in anger alone. It is hard for me to see this when she is being sanctimonious towards me. But I think she was panicked because she thought our father would get mad. Of course this was never the case.  Our dad is not like that and for him it was a non-issue. It was a non-issue for everyone involved except her.

As wrong as she was I can definitely identify with the fear of not being perfect. In that way, we are the same although we deal with it in radically different ways. I have always wanted her to be something that she can’t be, a nurturing and unconditionally loving sister. But she is as trapped in her role just as I have been in mine.

Should I have compassion towards her? Yes. Should I accept her improper behavior? No, because I can’t take on the responsibility of trying to heal her. That is her responsibility alone. I have the right to be treated with respect and when I am not then I have the right to separate myself from that person.

I do miss her and in my better moments I have prayed for healing for both of us. I have trouble with this as I tend to nurture my anger, however I keep having to remind myself that her journey is different than mine. We are both wounded and in essence I cannot expect her to be anything other than who she is.

Sad Clown free creative commons

Sad Clown free creative commons (Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography)

Here is something I wrote in 1997 during my “depressed poet” phase:

i anorexically

keep to myself

i want, i need,

i want

Deprivation is a form

of Saintliness

i am not the Bitch,

the Whore,

the War-monger

i just starve

i hurt no one

I am not anorexic and never have been, but the symbolism of a starving young girl speaks to me.  It is the loneliness of the damned, the crying out for love, and yet knowing that you deep down you don’t deserve it.  It is a self-imposed prison of course, but the iron bars seem real enough, solid enough that you know you will never be free. Who erected those bars? Was it me or others? I can’t tell anymore.

I have grown a great deal since I wrote that poem sixteen years ago. Yet I still find myself in that cage. I venture out into the world to forage a bit for sustenance and then quickly duck into my hidey-hole when I sense a shadow above me. In my mind it could be a hawk, circling around and waiting until I have let down my guard. Hawks have good eyesight, they can see my vulnerabilities, my weaknesses, my shame. I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of living under its unholy gaze pinning me up against the wall, letting me know that he only lets me live so that he can remind me of my sins and how unworthy I am.

Ironically enough, I have learned to become much more social since I wrote that poem, but only to a point. I am most comfortable in support groups and I am very vocal. I feel safe in that environment. However I still have trouble with making one on one friendships. I am pretty much terrified because I feel so ashamed. I am constantly afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. I am too needy, and weak. They are going to see me as a burden at best, at worst as an evil person who they would avoid like a leper.

I know that much of this comes from my childhood environment, where I felt like everything was my fault. I was a scapegoat then, and even now there are some family members who still treat me that way. I am fortunate that my dad does not see me that way at all. He actually loves me and does not see me as a “bad” person at all. I literally owe him my life. He is the main reason that I haven’t offed myself a long time ago. He is my best friend. Still he is eighty-five and I do not want to burden him in his old age.

I have to venture into the big, bad world and make some friends. Right now I have only one and she is dealing with her own issues right now. I try to be supportive of her and not burden her too much with my problems.

Another friend that I had turned out to be completely unreliable and took advantage of me. He has schizophrenia but decided to go off his medications. He ended up jobless, homeless and demanded that I take him in. Long story short, instead of sending him to the local mental health agency so he could get help and a place to live, I felt that as a friend I should take care of him.  I felt I owed him (he used to be my boss as well).  While I understand that someone who is schizophrenic may not be in complete control of his behavior, the fact was that when he chose to go off of his medication (and knowing perfectly well what could happen since he had done this before) he chose a course of action that affected others. By taking him in I was acting like an enabler, just as much as I would if I had taken in an alcoholic or a drug addict. Unfortunately I ended up losing what I considered a good friendship.

I realize that many of my problems with people are due to not knowing how to set good boundaries and not knowing how to determine whether someone is trustworthy or not. I grew up not being able to set boundaries for myself in my family. Basically only my mother’s feelings mattered, not mine. The same with my sister, and I am still having problems with her and her family. In fact at this time I don’t consider them trustworthy at all. I do not want to be estranged forever, but I can’t let them trample on me anymore.

My dad, who seems to be the only voice of reason in the family, has in frustration pointed out that my sister has never been sympathetic towards me and has told me that I need to make more friends. I am trying to hold on to someone who has never been there for me and most likely never will be. Her reaction towards my bipolar illness has been that of sheer rage, even when it hasn’t been warranted, such as just wanting a shoulder to cry on. The first time I ended up in the hospital (in my twenties) we were working for the same company, although different shifts. Our boss asked my sister to cover my part-time shift. She was already working full-time so it meant that she was working seven days a week. When I was released from the hospital I was on medication, but I was far from well. My sister raged at me and said “I thought you would be better by now!!”  I was clearly not in shape to go back to work. I literally could not stop crying. But I felt guilty of “inconveniencing” my sister and so I went back to work. Fortunately I worked the night shift and pretty much worked alone except for people who were passing through. I had a big roll of toilet paper beside me to wipe my tears and told anyone walking past that I had a cold. I did my job even though I was crying the whole time.  It never occurred to me or my sister that maybe our boss could arrange for someone else to cover my shift.

That was a long time ago (I am pushing 50 now) but she really hasn’t changed much. I think for a long time she thought I was faking or exaggerating my problems. Now she says that she does believe that I have bipolar disorder, however she shows little understanding of what it actually is. She still treats it like it is a moral problem. She accuses me of “using” my bipolar disorder as a “weapon to manipulate her.” Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I thought that if I could explain my illness that she would understand things better.  But no, I apparently still am the “brat” who is an “inconvenience” or worse according to her.  So it is patently obvious that she has not changed in twenty-some years. Only the vocabulary has changed. She still thinks I am a brat, just a bipolar brat.

So why do I keep going back for more? Because in my family we are Christians who “love” each other. That rational has been used many, many times to gloss over our problems. I let my sister off the hook because I don’t want to be responsible for “breaking up the family.”  And I am sad because when my dad passes on I won’t have any close family. I am also sad because I want to get to know my nephew, which seems impossible now. In four years he will be eighteen. Will he even want to have any contact with me? I hate the way things were left between us, my sister threw me out of her house and he thought it was his fault that we were fighting.

But there is a more basic reason for why I have continued to be in a destructive relationship with her. I think it is the same reason why anyone stays in an abusive relationship. I just want her to love me, pure and simple. I want her to see who I really am, to acknowledge that I am a good and worthwhile person. Instead I get morsels of approval and get led about like a horse with a carrot dangling just out-of-reach. And even though the track that I am on looks different, it is actually the same stupid circular road we have always been on.

So right now seems a good time for me to learn to recognize what a trustworthy relationship looks like and how to set healthy boundaries. I will talk about that in my next post.

Doll

Doll (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

 

I never had a Barbie doll.

That sounds like a trivial thing to be upset about, but it was never about the doll. It was about forgiveness. Specifically my mother’s lack of.

When I was little I accidentally broke my sister’s Barbie doll. I didn’t know the doll couldn’t bend in a certain way. I tried to make her straddle a model horse, and her legs broke.

My mother was very upset, and vowed that I would never get a Barbie doll until I learned how to take care of my toys. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t in the habit of breaking my toys. (Unless you count my trying to bathe my cloth baby doll, which had a device inside that made it cry. Poor thing never cried again.  That was treated as a joke in the family.)

For years I waited for that Barbie doll, even when I would normally be considered too old for one. On my eleventh or twelfth  birthday my mother got me a cheap knock-off version of a Barbie doll. The doll didn’t last long because it was (literally) held together with rubber bands. The bands broke and I was left again without a doll.

Now I don’t think that my mother knew that it was held together by rubber bands when she bought it, but she was not apologetic when she found out. She never suggested that we could go get a better doll. Although I do not remember her going into a rage about it, it was understood that that was my one and only chance to prove I was worthy of a Barbie doll.

Even as an adult I have struggled at times with a profound sense of guilt when I have accidentally broken something. One time I broke the chain of a necklace that a boyfriend had given me. I had set up a camera on a tripod and as I bent down to take the picture the chain got caught on one of the parts of the tripod. When I stood up the chain broke. I felt so guilty that I never got a new chain and never wore that necklace again.

The reason why this is coming up for me now is that my sister is behaving in the same way. Getting upset and banishing me for little things, such as my not having enough money to pay for my nephew’s birthday meal even though I gave him a gift.  And I happen to think it goes a lot deeper than just these things. It doesn’t make sense to go into a rage over things that can be easily worked out.

In a sense I feel set up. Just as I was set-up by my mother so many years ago. Nothing I do will ever please my sister. She has claimed that if I had talked to her before we got together that we could have worked something out. I don’t believe her because she would have probably found something else to be angry about. In fact, she did. She was already mad at me for something that I had no control over, transportation to her place. She decided that I had purposely neglected to schedule the Dial-a-Ride service (for the disabled). She knew full well that the services have been cut and that there was no guarantee that I could get a ride.

I believe that at least some of her behavior is due to the fact that she simply will not forgive me for the past, the things I said and did when I was ill with bipolar disorder. Strangely enough, she seems to be furious that I have moved on from that kind of behavior and that I have learned to treat her and others well.  For her, things were better when she had a reason to be mad at me. Now she doesn’t know what to do because she is faced with the prospect of forgiving me.

I am certainly not a mind reader but I am putting this theory together based on things that she has said over the past year:

1. She acknowledges that I don’t yell at her (or her family) anymore but insists at the same time that I haven’t changed and that I am “disrespectful” towards her and her family. She won’t give me an example of this so-called “disrespectful” behavior.

2. She has told me that I do not want to deal with my “abusive” behavior in the past. That is not true. I have offered to go into therapy with her before and she has declined. I think the problem as she sees it that I won’t admit to having the motives that she has decided that I must have had during my bipolar episodes. I have tried to tell her that my actions during my illness had very little to do with her. She apparently thinks I am lying.

3. At the same time she has also engaged in abusive behavior against me when I was ill and, although I cannot hold her responsible for my behavior, she didn’t make things easier for me. For instance, when I needed a shoulder to cry on she would get angry and say sarcastic things to me. This was part of a pattern of her trying to control me when I was sick and of course I would get upset at her interference in my life. Another example was her deciding that my taking medications was a moral issue and accusing me of lying about my symptoms and  “making excuses” when I tried to explain why I needed them. (Of course she and her husband thought that I was the one being abusive when I got angry!)

It is for all these reasons that I don’t feel comfortable talking about these things with her. She wants me to admit to things that I have not done. Yes, did some wrong things when I was ill. But I never intended to hurt anybody. For example, my suicide attempts were about punishing myself, not others. That ought to make my sister feel better about what happened, not worse!

One of the reasons my dad and I get along so well is that he figured out a long time ago that my behavior in the past was not about him. He actually forgave me before I even asked him to!

Why can’t my sister do the same thing? I am not engaging in any of that behavior now.

It doesn’t matter to her. In her mind I deserve to be punished forever. Just like my mother did. So if my sister can’t find anything to punish me about, she will make up one. Or several. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as she delivers her self-righteous punishment and banishes me from her presence like the Queen she seems to believe herself to be.

This is why I feel like that there is no way that I can fix what is going on with my sister. Because she doesn’t want to put any work into this relationship. She is letting me know that I am not “good enough” just like our Mom did. For me, that is a losing game.

coming out of the fog

coming out of the fog (Photo credit: theloushe)

In my last two posts I have talked about my difficulties with my sister and her husband, and how I have come to the conclusion that it is best to cut off contact, at least for now. It is not my desire to do this but their behavior has become so toxic to me that I feel like I have to back off for my own mental well-being. What has complicated our problems for so many years is that I have at times been out of control with my bipolar behavior and so they did have some legitimate grievances with me. But as I have worked on improving my behavior I have found that to my surprise they have become more angry with me, not less. There is another dynamic going on, something that I haven’t wanted to acknowledge until recently. They have serious behavioral problems themselves and often take it out on me.

I am not completely ignorant of what constitutes abusive behavior, however it is difficult at times for me to recognize it simply because I am used to having blame placed on me because of how I have acted when I have been out of control with my bipolar disorder.  But things are becoming much clearer to me now because while I have changed my behavior towards them, they have not changed their behavior towards me at all.  Well, that is not entirely true. Their behavior has gotten much worse towards me.

Anyway here is a list of characteristics of abusers that can help identify whether you are in an abusive relationship:

1. They demand respect, but do not feel obligated to give it.

2. Only their feelings matter. If you express a feeling you are belittled and told that you are feeling sorry for yourself. Often you are accused of being selfish, sitting on your “pity-pot”, or being a “cry-baby.” Tears are not allowed.

3. They expect you to be a “mind-reader”, to anticipate their every need or want, and to comply with their desires without question.

4.  They will accuse you of their own flaws to deflect responsibility from themselves. So for instance, if you have a need and express it then you are being “manipulative’ and “selfish.”

5.  There is no room for compromise. It is either “My way or the highway.”

6.   When they get angry, they assume the worst about you. They pretend that they are mind readers who “know” that there was some evil motive behind your actions. When you try to explain you are accused of “making excuses.”

7.  They make you responsible for their unhappiness. Everything would be fine if you would just behave yourself.

8.  They consciously or unconsciously set you up to fail. Remember the comic strip “Peanuts” where Lucy would set up Charlie Brown every football season? Lucy would hold the ball for Charlie to kick and then when he got a running start she would pull the ball away at the last minute. Nothing you can do will be good enough for your abuser.

9.  Abusers are addicted to being “right.”  Have you heard of the saying “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”  Of course what this says is to not sweat the small stuff. Unfortunately, abusers would rather forgo happiness than to admit that they are wrong. And then they pass their misery to the rest of us.

10.  Abusers will always deny that they are abusive. They will paint themselves as long-suffering saints and act like you are the one who is unreasonable. They will say or do anything to try to justify their irrational behavior, including telling outright lies. For example, my brother-in-law  told me that when he yelled at me to get a job (I am disabled), that he meant it as a compliment!

I hope you all will find this list helpful. If you have anything to add please feel free to share Winking smile

think

think (Photo credit: the|G|™)

 

You can’t get water from an empty well.

This is what a therapist told me in my twenties in regards to my relationship with my mother. She was right and yet I here I am in my late forties and I have yet to master that truth. Not with my mother, who passed on years ago, but with my sister.

In my last post I detailed the latest problems with my sister,  and how I realized that I can’t fix the problems in our relationship all by myself because I didn’t create all those problems alone.

You would think that I would be relieved to learn that I am not responsible for every grievance my sister holds against me. In a way yes, I feel better. But in a way I don’t feel good about this at all.

Why? Because as long as I thought everything was my fault then I could hold onto the hope that I would be able to change things between us.

The truth is, just as the Serenity Prayer says, there are just some things that are out of my control.

I feel that 90% of our problems have to do with poor communication and jumping to conclusions about each other. But in her mind, when I say this I am making excuses, even when I am admitting that I have been guilty of that also. Because she believes that I am a bad person to the core and no amount of proof to the contrary will change that.

In the past several years it has become evident to me that she holds grudges about things that I could not have possibly known that she was upset about.  While I realize that siblings are going to argue at times, I have decided that it is impossible for me to continue a relationship where I am under the gimlet gaze of someone who is looking to find fault with everything I do.

A couple of years ago, I asked for my sister’s help in picking up a prescription at Walmart. I happened to make a big mistake that day of taking an over-the-counter anti-histamine together with cogentin, a prescription medication. I usually try to keep track of possible medication interactions, but I dropped the ball on this one. When she came to pick me up I was in a confused state and I kept falling down as I was trying to walk. She dropped me off at the store and I did my grocery shopping and got my prescription. When I came out I put the groceries in her car, but when I went to put my cart away something really strange happened. I blacked out for a few seconds and when I came to I was just wandering in the parking lot with no idea of where I was or why I was there. My sister called out to me and I came to my senses.

I told my sister what had happened and she seemed to accept my explanation.

About a year later she attacked me for “taking advantage” of her. Not only did I not know what she was talking about but she didn’t give me much of a clue to even figure out what incident she was upset about. I had to guess.

According to her I “tricked” her because she only agreed to help me with my prescription, not a full shopping trip. I, on the other hand, had thought that I had brought up both things with her.

The most obvious explanation was that I was mentally impaired that day. She saw and acknowledged that I was in a bad state, and yet she still thought I had enough wits about me to deceive her?

The truth is that I was confused and not responsible for my actions. Also my sister had previously complained to our dad about me saying that I should only ask her for help if I was going to do a full shopping trip. She felt it was a waste of her time for me to go for just one item.

I guess the thing that irritates me that most people would look at that and think, “Wow she was acting really strange and out of character that day.” I am not in the habit of taking advantage of anyone, much less my sister and so I should have been given the benefit of the doubt.

The fact is that I was trying to do exactly what I thought my sister wanted.

I grew up with a mother who ascribed all sorts of bad intentions to my behavior that were not true. I think the nuttiest was when at the age of 16, when so many of my peers were doing drugs or getting pregnant, I wanted to learn to do my own laundry.

Yes you read that correctly. Laundry! My mom screamed at me and said I was spoiled and selfish for asking her to show me how to do my own laundry.

I wasn’t always that innocent but I was certainly nowhere near an evil child.

I should give my mother credit where credit is due because she did go into therapy with me so a lot of these behaviors stopped but she really never gave me an explanation as to why she thought I was such a bad child. I am not sure that she even knew.

Now I am dealing with the same crap with my sister and what I want to know from her is “Why?” 

Maybe she doesn’t have an answer either.

All I know is that I cannot expect her to be anything other that what she is. I can’t change her. She has never been there for me and she never will. For whatever reason, she is incapable of showing me any kind of understanding or empathy.

One of the funny things about my family, is that we always have said “I love you” freely to each other. Yet I feel that with my upbringing saying that phrase was often a cover for unloving behavior. My mother always said that right after she had finished telling me what a horrible child I was for making her so miserable.  I feel the same way with my sister.

LOVE IS A VERB. PERIOD.

Confronting My Family

because we can

because we can (Photo credit: ben matthews :::)

Several months ago I had a big blow-up with my sister and brother-in-law. Accusations ran fast and furious and I was left wondering exactly what I had done wrong. I had innocently triggered a lot of old feelings from them. I was accused of being viciously insensitive and abusive.

They were partly right. I have done and said a lot of wrong things when in the middle of depressive episodes. I accept responsibility for that. However I have controlled my reactions for some time. So when they attacked me I was befuddled and hurt. In their eyes I have always been abusive. This is patently untrue. It hurt me to realize that even the good times we had when I was well didn’t count. And that my learning to control my reactions towards them in recent years didn’t count either.

The problem was that they were mistaking my behavior from my illness for who I really am. And they should know better.

Anyway I tried reasoning with my sister but eventually lost my patience because she was more interested in beating me up with all the things I had done wrong in the past. I lashed back in a rather mean way telling her that she needed to deal with the problems in her own life rather than focus on me. Specifically dealing with her husband’s abusive behavior towards my dad and myself.

I wouldn’t have said anything except for the fact that he had come down on me so hard and let me know that he considered me a completely worthless piece of trash. The irony is that everything he was accusing me of was more true of him than of me. He boasted about what a loving, caring person he was and how much he does for others while accusing me of being completely unable to care about or do anything nice for anyone in my entire life (despite the fact that I gave him my low-mileage car, gratis).

The truth is that he is an insensitive jerk who is taking financial advantage of my father.

Unfortunately my sister completely supported his attack on me. So basically I lashed back saying that he needed to stop using our dad as a piggy-bank and look for a job which he has refused to do for two years.

My sister didn’t talk to me for six weeks. I felt awful about that but I felt like I really needed to be firm about it and not back down. Eventually she called and although she did not apologize to me we did our usual thing of sweeping things under the rug and not talking about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad she is back in my life and I do care about her. But it is the uncomfortable feeling that since these things have not been talked about and could erupt again at any time that bothers me.

Frankly I am tired of this. I am tired of pretending that things are ok when they are not. I go on believing that we are getting along great and that they have forgiven me for the past until, guess what? They’re baaack!

I am tired of them playing on my guilt about the past. And I am tired of them pretending that they haven’t contributed to some of the problems in our relationship.  Because they have been hurtful and abusive also.

For instance my brother-in-laws’ hatred of me stems from the fact that he thinks I never liked him. Apparently I did something when we first met but I don’t remember it. I honestly don’t. My sister told me that I started crying and that he felt that I blamed him for that. Interestingly enough, she herself doesn’t remember anything happening either. I had gone years not knowing that he felt that way until she told me that is why he doesn’t like me. So here I was with my damn bipolar guilt thinking I probably did do something so I actually went to him and pretended that I remembered what happened and apologized.

Maybe I did cry (I mean that goes with bipolar right?) but I certainly do not remember hating him at first sight. I didn’t even know him, I thought he was pleasant and was glad that he was making my sister happy. Honestly though, I don’t remember being depressed that day so I guess it will always be a puzzle to me.

The truth is over the years I have observed things about him that have disturbed me and I have actually gone out of my way to be nice and not say anything and to be supportive. For instance that fact that he gets fired from jobs (usually because he won’t do what the boss asks him to do) and expects my dad to bail him out. And it has gotten worse to the point where he literally expects my elderly dad to support his entire family indefinitely (or at least until he gets his “big break” as a writer, which hasn’t happened yet). This behavior has gone on for about twenty years and I have said nothing.

At the same time he has cruelly persecuted me for being disabled and not working. I actually was working part-time for a while and even that wasn’t good enough for him. I actually had one of his friends verbally attack me at a family function because she thought I was faking my problems. I have never said anything to him about how much his attitude has hurt me. He would probably just tell me to get off my pity-pot.

What can you expect from a man who criticises my eighty-four year old father for not walking fast enough?

But, you see, I am the problem. I am abusive, not him. Because of that whole “bipolar thing”, you know.

I asked him to trim my bushes in my yard once and only once. Paid him a handsome $100 for it, too. He trimmed the sides of my very overgrown bushes and then left. I called him telling him that he had done a good job and asked when he was coming back to finish since he had not trimmed the tops of the bushes. He got mad and hung up. You see I had not told him specifically to trim the tops of the bushes so he felt no obligation to do it, despite the fact that they were very overgrown. I was out of $100 (another nice thing I had done for him that he won’t acknowledge) and had to hire someone else to finish the job.

He of course told my sister about how I didn’t appreciate what he had done for me and how “mean” I was.

Cry me a river, I am sick of this sh**.

I am at the point where I think I need to set some firm boundaries with him and my sister both. I am not sure how to do this but I know that both of them have been using my guilt about my past behavior as an excuse to treat me badly. I can’t let that go on, They accuse me of not having respect for them but they do not believe that I deserve the same right.

It ends now.