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Here is something I wrote in 1997 during my “depressed poet” phase:
keep to myself
i want, i need,
Deprivation is a form
i am not the Bitch,
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.