To my Therapist,
I could spend the next twenty minutes studying. I have been wanting to catch up on the reading I missed out on during my intensively-paced introduction to child development course. I read tonight’s chapter about substance abuse while on my patio at home and at the pool laying in the sun over the warm weekend. I wasn’t able to get all of the reading done for tonight, however. I am lacking on one chapter. I am choosing to do something, rather, to ease my mind, because studying takes concentration, and there’s only so much concentration in a day a person can take. I didn’t get as much done at work today as I could have and I don’t mind. No one is looking over my shoulder. There are days where I strive to be my best, and there are days where I just “am”. I give myself a bit of a break. I cannot imagine, however, doing anything but my best when I am a therapist.
I’ve been told that I am preppy, that I have a hard time giving up control, that I like to tell people what to do. What else comes to mind? I know I have high standards for myself. I’m not so sure I like the word “preppy” because it seems to have a negative connotation. I have a month left in my abnormal psychology course and I am getting about 100% in the class thanks to some extra credit points which were offered. My 92% in the 8-week course was kind of abysmal. My 4-week 3-unit intensive course netted me about a 96% which is decent. If I get 98% I’m not satisfied because I think, “I could have done better.” But of course, I have to remind myself that I cannot be perfect. Perfectionist. That’s another one I’ve been called.
These are all new traits that I’ve developed in the last year. I didn’t know I liked to teach and that I enjoy being the “boss”. Maybe those qualities were within me, but they were hidden, undernourished, and dormant for all of my 20s. Age nineteen was the last year I had of freedom before the darkness really started to creep into my life. Now I’m 33 and applying to graduate school. It’s something I have always wanted to do, at least for about half of my life. Five years ago I could not have foreseen myself being in the place where I am today.
Gratitude. Maybe this is a journal of gratitude. Can I list all of the things which are great about my life? I certainly don’t need to remind myself because I am living it every day. But then again, my moods shift and at times they plummet, and the reality is that I do need the reminders. I have a nice home. It is quaint and affordable and I have some nice possessions like my wall mirror, my L-shaped light green couch and my teak wooden lounge chair on the patio. I have my first and my own dining room table. I’ve never had my own dining room table before. Not since my marriage ended.
I have a life. I have a life that is worth living. I have my therapist and a few friends and my immediate family members which comprise the entirety of my social support. Although now I am my mother’s supporter, and it’s as it should be. The roles have shifted and she needs my support now, and I am strong enough to be able to be there for her.
Although I am extremely attached to my couch, the first piece of expensive furniture I bought after my divorce, I would actually give it up in an instant. I would give it up if it meant helping someone I love. I would give it up in an instant if the decision seemed imminent. But, I am not in that position right now. I just have to recognize that my possessions don’t own me. I own them. I gave away all of my nice ceramic painted planter pots when I had to downsize. No problem! I have simply bought new ones. Things, physical things, can be replaced. People and experiences cannot be replaced. I need to keep this in mind. I own so many things which I treasure: my paintings, my tea cups, my piano keyboard which rarely sees the sight of my fingers, some of my shoes even. As much as I enjoy having those things and using them, I need to remind myself that things, physical things, are replaceable. I keep repeating this because things, physical things, are what define my mother. The things she owns own her. She has not dealt with the traumas of her past and she cannot get rid of anything. She hoards and she will be moving out of her three bedroom home which is completely full of possessions, everywhere, on every surface, and they will be put in storage. I am not sure she will ever be able to afford a home big enough again which will fit all of her things. All I can do is be there for her, visit her, talk to her, accept her for who she is. I can pray for her healing, but that has to come with a willingness which is not currently there. Not yet. I can always hope.
Sometimes all I want to do it to write a blog. You know, just write. For me. I put my heart into it. All of me. My whole being. What I write is the epitome of me, my existence, who I am. Writing defines me. It helps me express my feelings and organize my thoughts. It solidifies the experiences that I have had. It gives me space to reflect. What would I do without writing as a part of my life? I don’t know. Writing has always been a part of my life. I know I kept a journal as a kid but I have no idea where that journal ended up. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of writing. I don’t always go back to read what I have written. I don’t always want to. The act of writing in and of itself helps. I cannot bring myself to throw away the old journals which contain accounts of the horrors I have lived through, because they are a part of me. I know that if I were to read them, as I have done to myself in the past, it would have a negative effect on me. It might not retraumatize me, but it would certainly bring back the nightmares and a flood of tears.
Writing to my therapist by email daily is a part of my therapy. I need to connect with him daily. I need him, someone, to know how I am doing and to be a witness to my experience and of my innermost thoughts. I need him to know when I am not doing well, how that is for me, and I need him to know about the beautiful moments in life which make my life worth living. I want him to know it all. The act of writing it down is therapeutic.
I just had my morning weekend coffee. It’s past 1:00 pm (aka 13,00 hours) and I am sitting on my patio with new and old plants in pots, enjoying the song of birds and indirect sunlight. This is good for me. In less than two hours I have a Skype date with my aunt in Australia which I have been looking forward to for more than a week. We had to reschedule but I am okay with that. My afternoon is her morning and so it will be her Monday morning.
Three and four years ago, I had a garden of my own. I lived in a one bedroom apartment on the second floor and my balcony was filled with beautiful ceramic pots and soil and plants which I had grown from scratch. I didn’t even buy starter plants; I planted my plants from seed. I kept that garden. It was a part of my self-therapy. In tending to those plants, I was nurturing myself. In watching those plants grow, I was watching the act of life itself happen. It was helping to keep me alive. My life the way it is now? I could have never imagined such a life. Because the life I live now is not filled with nightmares and dark spaces and suicidal thoughts. The life I live now is just full of… life.
When I had to move away from that home I had spent two years building, because my alimony was ending and I couldn’t afford it any longer, I was devastated. Absolutely devastated. I got rid of all of my pots, along with other things, and life as I knew it was over. I stopped doing everything creative and sunk into an even deeper depression. I stopped painting with acrylic on canvas. I stopped making homemade paper and candying orange peels to eat. I stopped preparing fresh foods for myself. No salads, only frozen foods. I stopped writing poetry and playing the piano. It was the end of my gardening days as I knew it. I no longer sewed and knitted. I got rid of all of my extra, unused rolls of yarn to Goodwill. I stopped seeing people. The priest I had been friends with had moved away to another state on the other side of the country. I survived the entirety of 2015 by sleeping. On weekends I would stay in bed 22 hours a day. It was a miserable year and although I was not often in the mindset of wanting to end my life, the depression was absolutely crippling. It is a wonder that I was able to hold a job and start my career in finance again starting that August. But I did it because I am fucking amazing and because I am a warrior woman.
In December last year when my Mum came to visit, I had her buy me some plants from a nursery. Keeping those plants alive, albeit barely, brought me to this point. It is now well into Spring and my life is full of life. I still sleep a long time on weekends, sometimes 12 hours as I did last night, but I do things that people who don’t have depression do. I am living my life as best as I can, and I would say I am doing a pretty darn good job at it.
Friday night was revolutionary for me. Why, you ask? Because I was inspired! I was inspired to start my garden! I went on Offer Up, a site that I had just found out the day before from my friend at work. I’ve never bought anything via that site before. And I found a lady, Lily, who has a home business selling pottery. I made sure she was a woman, by asking her, because it was Friday night and dark outside and I didn’t feel comfortable having to deal with a man at that hour, under those circumstances. I drove the 25 minutes to her home. She had me park in her driveway and she was waiting outside for me. As she led me through the wooden gate to her large backyard, I noticed and pointed out how beautiful it was, with well-kempt bushes and flowers and lush grass. There was some lighting coming from the trellis which covered a part of her patio and she used the flashlight feature on her phone to show me the beautiful ceramic planter pots she had in her inventory. There must have easily been 100 pots to choose from, all different styles and sizes, but most in pairs and matching.
I chose three bright blue matching pots and a pot on a pedestal which was beige-coloured with the image of a sun with a face on it painted orange on the sides. I am phenomenally pleased with my selections and they are so much nicer than any pot I could have gotten at a hardware store such as Lowe’s or The Home Depot. I had to go to a pottery store, or in this case, a pottery home-based business. Lily explained to me how she had fallen ill at the end of last year and had to be bed-bound for three months, so she was just now starting up her pottery-selling business over again. She gave me her business card and I am keeping it for the future.
I have a few lettuce seeds planted in one pot. I planted green onions in another. In the third matching blue pot I planted cilantro and Italian parsley. I tried to only plant things that I would actually eat. I used to grow my own zucchini but I have decided for now that I don’t like zucchini. Probably because I am not very big on cooking still these days. Homegrown zucchini is really wonderful though, I must say. I wanted to plant mint but I couldn’t find the seeds for it and I don’t want to buy a starter plant, but I might just do exactly that. In the pedestal pot I planted morning glories. I find them to be really beautiful. I had forgotten that you have to nick the seeds with a knife and leave them to soak in water before planting them. I did that and I was so pleased to see the seedlings already bulging with life the next morning. The miracle of water and life. Water is life.
I have another large pot that I had stored at a friend’s house for the past two years. I finally picked it up last weekend. I bought sunflower seeds. These seeds are actually for growing gigantic sunflowers which will supposedly be a foot in diameter when the bloom is blooming! I wanted to maximize my space, and so I planted most of my seeds, well, all of them, too close together. Closer than was recommended. We’ll have to see how that works out. My little seedlings are already an inch tall and they are just a week old! I had planted them last weekend. They are pushing their way through the surface of the soil and spreading their first little leaves. Unfortunately, I have roly polies. Apparently another name for this bug is a “pill bug” but I have always known it as a “roly poly”. That’s because when it is under threat (I had to look this up) it rolls its little crustacean body up into a ball. My pot, which spent two years in an untended location, is full of these little bugs. I didn’t think anything of it, but when my seedlings were beginning to sprout I noticed the bugs congregating around the baby plants. Apparently they are harmless in gardens because they decompose old plant matter and eat their own poop. But when there is no decomposed matter to eat, they will eat sprouting plants. They won’t eat established plants. Now, several of my baby plants have half-eaten leaves and whenever I see a new roly poly that was previously hidden, I toss it out of the pot onto the grass beyond my patio.
Food is amazing. It nourishes us and keeps us alive just like water does to plants. Plus, water is life too. Water is even more necessary for living creatures than food. We can only go three days without water, but longer without food. I just ate a peanut butter protein bar. It was delicious. Of course, it has a certain amount of sugar in it. It’s like eating peanut butter fudge, as my roommate put it. The bar is called a Perfect Bar and they are sold everywhere but they are cheaper at Costco. Costco was having a sale on them a while back and I bought six twelve-packs of bars which come in three different flavours. There are easily ten or fifteen different flavours of the Perfect Bar but Costco has a limited selection in their twelve-pack: peanut butter, peanut butter cranberry, and almond with sesame seeds on the outside. They are all really good. I discovered them when my former roommate bought them back in September and I have been eating them daily for breakfast for the last six months and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. The bars are packed with superfoods and nutrients and are really good for you.
I have been spending a lot of money. I spend much more than I make every month and if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to get a settlement of a last bit of alimony last year then I would be completely broke with only a thousand dollars left in the bank, which is nothing. Scary little. But I’m doing okay even though I haven’t been saving money. I have been spending it. About a thousand has gone toward travel last year and then another eight hundred to new tires in December. Read: tyres, for those British-spellers. This year I have spent about a thousand on new clothes and shoes over the months. I am working on a new and better wardrobe for work, and looking toward my wardrobe as a therapist in my future career. It’s expensive to build a nice wardrobe. I have also gotten rid of small clothes which no longer fit me, which is a big deal. Now they aren’t taking up space in my closet. It feels really good to have clothes which actually fit me.
I also recently spent five hundred dollars on a laser hair removal package of treatment series. In 2009 I started a series of treatments and it significantly reduced the amount of hair I have on various parts of my body but it isn’t completely gone. It has been on my mind in the last several months to finish those series. I finally got up the courage to do some research on it, and I didn’t look very far. I actually went with the first place I found on Google. They were having a sale and it was meant to be! I have to wait several months before my first appointment because they don’t do Saturdays and the weekday evening spots are the most popular and always taken. I’m good. I can wait. This would have never been possible without the alimony I got last year. I am visiting my Mum for mother’s day weekend and there is no way I could have been able to afford the cheap plane tickets without the extra alimony I got. Money makes so many things possible and opens up opportunities. I feel fortunate to have just enough. Not a lot, but enough to be able to have luxuries in my life. There are many people who don’t have the nice things in their lives that I have and I am truly grateful.
I have been writing now for over an hour and my Skype date with my aunt is imminently around the corner. We always talk for an hour but I want to not be limited by time and I hope to get to have a couple hours with her, so I have to go microwave that sweet potato that I baked the other night so that I can have food in my stomach so that I can remain calm and centered during my conversation with my aunt. All this stuff takes planning. I learned about “HALT” while listening to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s books. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Those are risk factors for being unable to cope emotionally. In the books it applies to parenting, but I can parent myself and pay attention to those risk factors too. I have to make sure that all of those aspects are taken care of so that I can remain calm and centered. So, I am going to eat something right now. Cheers!
I put my friend’s five-year-old to bed last night. It was quite precious. I was babysitting while my friend was at a concert and surprisingly, it was my first time ever alone with him. I used to help with the bedtime routine when he was one and two years old back when I wasn’t working and in addition to being therapeutic for my friend because of the negative household environment that her now ex-husband brought into the situation, it was therapeutic for me. I used to watch her breastfeed her baby and I read stories and played with this child while he was taking a bath. He still likes baths to this day.
This little boy kept wanting me to call or text his mom. His excuse was that he wanted his “normal” pillow and that the pillow on his bed wasn’t his usual one. We went to his mom’s room together but the pillows on the ground didn’t have covers on them because the linens were in the wash. “Please call my mom so you can ask about the pillow!” he pleaded with me. “What would that accomplish?” I asked. “So then she would come home to me instead of in the morning.” My heart broke. I didn’t realize he missed his mommy that much. In order to distract him I said, “how about I tuck you in like a burrito?” “What’s that?” he asked intrigued. I said, “Well, you have to lay flat on the bed with your arms to the side and the covers pulled all the way up.” Then I proceeded to tuck the blanket around his entire body while repeating the words, “squish, squish, squish.” Apparently he thought it was a fun game because he had me do it again later and then asked me to show it to his mom so she can do it too.
When I asked if he wanted me to rub his back as his mom had told me he likes that, he said, “You’re not my mom!” “No, I’m not.” I replied. Later on when I asked if he wanted me to pat his back while he was going to sleep he said, “of course.” He kept fidgeting around a lot while trying to go to sleep. “Close your eyes,” I instructed him in the dim glow of the fish tank on the other side of the room. I had to switch hands from patting his back every once in awhile because the other hand would get tired. He also let me lightly stroke his head. It was very gentle and a special moment. He is five, but in those moments while he was falling asleep with his back to me as I was sitting on the stool next to his bed, he seemed like a baby. He is five but he is still that little baby I once knew.
Now I understand when mothers will say, “yes, baby?” to their elementary school-aged child. Because your child is always your baby, even when they are grown up. You gave birth to them; you helped give them life. They were born unto you as a baby. Life is precious and so are children. So in a sense, that makes everyone in the world precious, because we all once were babies. Of course, babies are so innocent.
Adults have a self-awareness and a moral conscience, and so, they are not really “innocent” human beings. I remember last December when a man on the roadside helped me change my tire. I did pay him royally for his kindness but even before I had offered him money, he told me, “you are someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. I would want someone to help my daughter.” We are all someone’s daughter or someone’s son, we are someone’s grandchild, and we could be someone’s sibling, aunt, parent. We are all neighbours in this world, yet there is so much prejudice and stigma and fighting. I want to do away with the lot and treat everyone equally. Everyone is equal and everyone deserves kindness. Every. Single. Person.
When my friend came home around midnight I recapped the evening, including when her son, who has some behavioural difficulties due to the divorce and verbal abuse from the father directed to the mother, tried to hit me. I had told him, “don’t hit me, I’m your friend.” “You’re not my friend!” he responded. “I am your friend.” “No, you’re not,” he insisted. “What am I then?” I asked. “You’re… you’re… nothing!” he managed to eek out. I said nothing but he did not try to hit me again. My friend called me the “child whisperer.” Apparently in all of her son’s five years, she has never had anyone put him to bed other than herself or her mom. She was very pleased and grateful and she came up with my reward (since I didn’t ask to be paid): fresh, homemade tortillas. I told her I want to watch her make them. I am much looking forward to it. She has offered to take me out to dinner as a “thank you” but she knows now that I much prefer homemade meals, and she is really such a good cook. Much better than me.
At first, when my friend had asked me on Sunday to babysit, I had said “yes” having forgotten that I had scheduled a Skype date with my aunt for that night a week ago. When I realized I didn’t have the courage to take back my “yes.” I have a really hard time saying “no” to people. I’m the person who can always do whatever is asked of me. That has gotten me into some difficult situations at work in terms of feeling overwhelmed. I talked it over with my friend at work yesterday and came to the conclusion that it’s okay to say no. I don’t have to say “yes.” I have a life too; I have things to do too. I had really been looking forward to my Skype date and felt regret at having to reschedule it for a later date. I felt angry toward my friend who had asked me to babysit even though this had been my own doing. I vowed to not let my friend know that I was angry, and to take this as a learning experience: that it’s okay to say no.
Today is Christmas Eve and it is still light outside. I have Christmas music playing. I am in very comfy clothes with my legs crossed on a couch with my laptop in my lap. Emotions come and go, but I still remain. I must often remind myself of this imperative phrase. My therapist taught it to me.
Last night I cried. For good reason, I think. I want my Mum to see a therapist. I want her to be able to live her life fully and for her to heal the hurts of the past as I have done and am doing. But therapy isn’t for everyone, and the person has to want it themselves. So, I won’t go into it. But it still makes me feel sad.
Two of my friends from Switzerland sent me Christmas greetings in the physical mail. I only got around to sending out cards to people locally in the U.S. I will have to write them nice emails some time. Luckily they speak English as I have forgotten much of my German.
I am trying my best to keep my mood afloat today. I want to feel happy, calm and content, and that means focusing on positive thoughts. I was reading some emails I had sent to my therapist earlier in the year and it is apparent that my mental health has improved a great deal. I used to cry a lot more, I used to choose to not get out of bed or eat or shower on weekends. I was much more depressed. Life was a lot more difficult to live.
The main part of my diet in the last three days at my Mum’s house has consisted of bread and brie cheese. It has been lovely. Since I drove here I was able to bring whatever I wanted, like my decent-sized and really soft teddy bear, which is actually an elephant, and I have been holding on to it to comfort myself, as I do every night. Mum took me for our favourite walk around a lake today and we held hands together and smiled and talked. I think she did most of the talking, and it was nice to connect. I know she actually doesn’t have a lot of people to talk to. Every time we walk around this lake, which is seldom, she tells me about my late father and about how when they were dating they used to take walks there, have picnics, and watch the sunset. Those are very sentimental and special memories and stories for me to hear.
I have nothing special to say. I have nothing else to share. I am simply writing to fill my life with meaning, my day with joy, and the world with words. Words can make a difference and they are worth writing down and sharing if it touches just one person. Thank you for reading my continued story, and Happy Christmas.
There are so many things I could be doing right now. I still have two more essays to write for my grad school applications. I could be writing in my personal journal. I could be writing my thank you cards to people at work who gave me holiday gifts. I am on vacation now. Staying with my Mum. It took nine hours to get here. The Christmas tree is lit and there is holiday spirit.
I have joy in my life yet my heart also lays heavy because I love my Mum so much. Basically I want her to move in with me and I want to take care of her financially so she doesn’t have to worry any longer. She works so hard and doesn’t earn enough and does a job that is far below her level of a Ph.D. just to have an income. Her husband has been unemployed for a year. He doesn’t contribute. He doesn’t do any chores. He doesn’t buy groceries or write checks for paying the bills and he doesn’t cook. She has to do everything for him. I know it would be a huge life-changing decision to make. She has been with him for 15 years. Not all of that time has been pleasant. Actually, I don’t believe most of it has been pleasant and plenty has been far less than pleasant.
I sent out some Christmas cards this year. I sent one to the victim advocate at the district attorney’s office and got a lovely email reply. She is so supportive. She calls me strong and inspiring. We are going to keep in touch. I sent a card to my psychiatrist and my former DBT therapist at the hospital. Occasionally I leave her voicemail messages every few months to give her an update of how I am doing. I remember telling her once that I am going to come back and take her job one day. She said she would love to give her job to me and she sounded sincere. She has a very important role at the hospital and if I were able to reach her level of accomplishment that would be a huge achievement. She wants the best for me.
I saw my psychiatrist last week right before I had gotten triggered of something from the past. I won’t go into it, but it’s basically a bill from the city saying that I owe them monies that I don’t think I should have to pay from three years ago and this bill was not a part of my bankruptcy. It brought up memories from the past and strong emotions. It was completely overwhelming. I felt very angry. In the past when I used to get angry, my mind would just straight to suicide as a solution. I went back to that old coping. I told my psychiatrist that I would rather be dead and that I wish I had died when I tried years ago. He asked me if I had any plans to go forward with a suicide. I said no. He asked me if I will stay safe. I wouldn’t answer him. I was so angry and I didn’t want to be safe. To be honest, it was shocking and scary that my mind jumped straight to suicide, but as my psychotherapist pointed out the next day, this happens with much less frequency than it used to. The last time I felt suicidal I believe was in the summer time. That is a long time ago. After talking with my therapist I decided to leave my psychiatrist a voicemail message letting him know that I will stay safe. We are seeing each other again in less than three weeks. I think he wanted to check in with me sooner because he was concerned, and with good reason. A professional in the business knows to not take it lightly when a patient says that they feel suicidal. Even though I occasionally feel suicidal I don’t think I’ll ever attempt suicide again. I think I have healed enough to the point where I am past having to go that far.
Because I am doing so much better in my life I have been able to do more things on the weekend… by choice! I haven’t had time to stay in bed with my eyes closed and sleeping for 22 hours a day on the weekend. I am doing so much better. Earlier this month I took a roadtrip with a friend to watch my second youngest cousin’s dance performance at her university. She is majoring in dance and minoring in English. I want to be friends with her and we have never really connected as adults. I remember when she was still wearing diapers. Now she’s going to be 21 years old. She wants to be a professional dancer in a dance company but her parents are not so supportive. I was glad to be able to visit with her today. We talked about her school and her plans. She was willing to listen for a while during which I gave her a lesson on investing and starting to save for retirement. I suggested she invest in a cd (certificate of deposit) at her credit union where she banks. I don’t know if she will do it but at least I planted the seed of thought and hopefully it can germinate. And I will certainly remind her. I feel like a big sister to her even though she does have two older siblings, a sister and a brother. I wanted to tell her all about my life and my plans for grad school. But just as a big sister does, just as a therapist does to her patient, I didn’t talk much about myself. We talked mostly about her for two hours and I was glad to do it. Even though I will be in school and studying will be intensive, I am going to try to go to some more of her dance performances next year and the year after that, while she lives within driving distance of me. Because the dance companies that she wants to work with professionally are on the other side of the country and I wouldn’t be able to just go for a short weekend trip.
Now that I am doing better, now that I am no longer in and out of the hospital for suicidal ideations, now that I have been able to hold a steady job for a year and a half after not having worked for five years, I am able to add positivity to other people’s lives. My mum no longer has to worry about me surviving and not killing myself. She knows I am doing well and we have been able to connect with each other and strengthen and repair and heal our relationship this year for the first time in my adult life. It took a long time to get here. She knows that moving in with me is an option, although it would be a huge life change. I don’t want her to have to work. I just want her to live a free life and have space to heal her wounds, her sorrows, her heart aches and her anxieties. She took care of me for the first 18 years of my life and I want and need to give that back to her. She hasn’t been able to save for retirement. I told her not to worry because I will take care of her when she is no longer working. I will take care of her when she is no longer able to take care of herself. Along with becoming a therapist and becoming a mother one day, my calling is to take care of my mum. It is the least I can do for her, and will never make up for the bad years of her life but if she can live a free life in the moment without having to look too much into the past or the future, then maybe, maybe she can experience true happiness. I want her to have peace.
My life is really good right now. It’s balanced. I am happy. I actually feel happiness these days. Yes, it’s true! It has been a good stretch of consistent happiness too, for the past two months, despite some upsets here and there. But overall, I am content.
I am throwing myself a party tomorrow! The last time I threw myself a party was for my birthday in 2013. I had several friends over to my place and my mom came to town to visit. She’s coming again tomorrow and I’ll be picking her up from the airport. It’s just a two-day trip but it’s enough, and it’s important to me. I want her to meet my friends, the people that I talk to every week. There will be 15 of us in my small apartment. I’ve already done the shopping. It’s an afternoon event, so just snacks will be provided. I have tortilla chips and hummus and brie and goat cheese and crackers and fig jam for the goat cheese, carrots, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, grapes, banana bread. I have too much food and I think it will be lovely. My roommate said it all sounds healthy, but that’s the food that I would normally eat myself anyway. She is going to be making the guacamole from scratch – delicious!
I met someone who speaks Italian online today. He lives in the same city but we haven’t talked about getting together yet. We are just getting to know each other. I have big plans for the future! I may be planning a trip to Italy for next year! I just asked my boss today if I can take three weeks off and she gave the okay. I might want to stay longer but that would not be possible if I want to keep my job. I am very excited about this prospect.
I signed up for two undergraduate classes next year. The first is psychology 101 and it’s during the intersession, meaning a semester’s worth of work is crammed into four weeks. The next is child development 101 in an eight-week course. I want to get those classes out of the way before I travel to Italy, and I figure I should take them since I am going to be studying psychology in grad school. My first application is due next week and all I have left is to edit my personal statement which is a three-page essay.
I will be traveling to see my family for Christmas. I’m doing the eight hour drive to go see them. Hopefully I will stay at my brother’s house depending on his plans. My mom still is thinking of moving soon, but it hasn’t happened yet. Instead of a one-hour plane ride she will be a three-hour plane ride away. Still, it’s pretty close. I just don’t know how often I will see her.
I’m staying with my mum and her husband right now, for my one week of vacation. It took me 9 hours to drive here, and I made it without caffeine and with making only one stop. It was actually a beautiful drive. Getting out of the city to the countryside is quite lovely. Now I see why people visit national parks. I’m using the last five days of my paid time off before those days expire next month. I think I would like to take a week off again sometime this year, even if it’s unpaid leave from work. These sound like the words of a non-depressed person, don’t they?
My mum is very glad that I’m visiting. She’s happy to see me. She cooks me meals, dotes on me, wakes me up at 10 in the morning, my preferred waking time for vacation. I’ve been sleeping 12 hours every night since Friday. Pretty typical for my weekends, actually.
Yesterday my brother made dinner at my grandfather’s house. He went over in the early afternoon to start cooking. Dinner was salad, bread, lasagna. He made a small, vegetarian lasagna just for me, and kept the cooking utensils separate from the meat. He’s so sweet and thoughtful. He made the whole wheat bread loaf from scratch, as well as the lasagna sauces, the bechamel sauce, the salad dressings. Everything was from scratch. He is such a good cook. Gourmet too. My grandfather said it was the best lasagna that he’s had in the last 10 – 15 years. He’s 82, so he does have bragging rights as to the best lasagna’s that he has enjoyed over the course of his life.
The best part was when I hugged my brother, and he put his arm around me, and I told him I loved him, and he said, “I love you too.” That was the best feeling. My mum and I have been sharing brief conversations in the kitchen. I’m seated at the table and she is always standing. We talk about how difficult it was for her living in foreign countries working full time and taking care of two children by herself. We’re going to go for a walk later today, just she and I, at a lovely park which is just a short drive away.
She’s also been filling me in on the family problems and disputes and also about the difficulties of her own life. Her husband gets upset very easily and has anger issues. I’m sure it’s something that could be fixed with psychotherapy and possibly medication, but he’s never been to see a therapist and probably never will. My mum hoards things and hasn’t thrown anything away since my father died in 1987. Well, that’s not entirely true. Over the years she has slowly been going through things and cleaning up and getting rid of things, but she and her husband have a four car garage that is just full of stuff, along with the interior of the rest of the house. The upright piano hasn’t been tuned or used for over 10 years and it just sits there collecting dust and serves as a vehicle for storing stuff on its’ surface. I think my mum could benefit from seeing a psychotherapist but I don’t know if she would be willing to or if I could convince her, and she cannot afford it anyway. I would be willing to pay for her to go.
My grandmother is dead and my grandfather knows that he’s going to go soon too. My mum says that he keeps delaying finishing his will, and that he established a trust but there’s no money in it, and he’s telling his eldest daughter, my mum, that it’s her job to fund it, but she makes less than $1,000 per month and that’s not nearly enough to live off of in the big city where she lives. My mum’s next younger sibling is my uncle and his wife. They want to have nothing to do with my mum’s husband because they don’t like him and because he kicked me and my brother out of his home multiple times. At one point my brother was even living on the street out of his car because he had nowhere to go, and relations were strained with all of the family members so no one was willing to take him in. The next sibling is my aunt, who lives with her dad, my grandfather. She is prodigal in her ability to compose the most amazing songs on the piano. But she has severe scoliosis and is overweight and has pigmentation abnormalities on her skin that make her very unattractive. She also has mental illness and takes psychotropic medication. She will never be able to provide for herself, never will be able to have a husband, and that is what the unfunded trust is for that my grandfather created, so that when he dies, she will somehow be taken care of. My mum’s second sibling, my uncle, is very rich because he is a doctor, but is unwilling to help anyone but his own children. He is also very narcissistic. Then there’s the youngest sibling, another uncle, and he lives on the other side of the country. He’s a teacher and will not change professions and will never be able to make enough money to afford living where the rest of his family lives. This is a very expensive neighbourhood. He sides with his brother on every family dispute.
My grandfather wants my mother to divorce her husband and my mother thinks that her youngest sibling’s marriage isn’t going to last. He has a 3-year-old child, my youngest cousin. My brother seems to be doing okay, despite all of the difficulties in the external family. My mum’s husband constantly threatens to leave her and move to the Midwest where things are cheaper, cost of living, and the ideology is more republican and much less democratic. He is a republican in a sea of democrats. He hates his job and constantly threatens to quit.
I worry about my mum and her life, and how she’s going to manage if her husband moves away or quits his job or divorces her. She may have already separated from him had it not been for the fact that she is financially dependent on him. He provides for the two of them. She said it’s not much of a marriage and that all he cares about is money. That’s the substance of the relationship, is money. He’s trying to get her to learn programming because he is a computer programmer, and she just doesn’t get it, but he keeps pushing her, and so she keeps trying, all in an effort to please, or rather, appease, him. I also don’t understand how he can manage to live in my mum’s mess, because the hoarding seems to be all her doing. But things just collect and there are piles on the table and piles on every surface of the home, including the floors. There are small pathways to walk throughout the home.
My brother just recently bought a home and he and his partner have discussed taking my mum in and letting her live there, if need be. All of her stuff would go into storage and it would cost thousands of dollars a year to store her accumulated belongings. I’m so glad I no longer have a storage unit, and that I gave away so much stuff to Goodwill in order to be able to fit my life into my small apartment. It feels good to have less stuff.
I’m supposed to be studying but I am disillusioned after having taken my GRE diagnostic exam. I passed the verbal section by getting a 76%. But for math, I am in the 3% percentile. Not 30, it’s a 3. Meaning I only got a handful of questions right. Math used to make sense to me when I was in school but it no longer does, and I’ve forgotten all of the rules and formulas. I only have 2 months to study and I’m afraid my score is not going to improve by much. This means I probably won’t get into my school of choice. It is rather disappointing.
I have a week left of staying here. I won’t have to go to work during the week which is nice. My mum doesn’t have air conditioning and it gets very hot in the house. They have fans to circulate the warm air. I won’t get to see my therapist this week as I am out of town and I am not doing so poorly that I need a video internet chat session. I am going to be okay. It’s good for me that I am reconnecting with my family. I don’t do this very often.
A blank page is what I start with every time. And I manage to fill the page with words that are meaningful to me. Right now I am going to recount the story my psychotherapist told me today. He has told me before, but I had forgotten.
My therapist grew up in a Catholic family with nine children on the East Coast. He remembers diapering his baby brother when he was 10 years old, which is how he remembered how to use cloth diapers on his own children many years later. I believe he grew up on a farm. He knows a lot about farming and about growing apples. His first degree was in agriculture. He wanted to become a farmer. Back then farmers made about $9,000 per year. It was and is not a lucrative business. Actually, he told me, his first dream was to become a pilot, when he was in his childhood. But he had never been in an airplane or a boat before and as he got older he discovered that he gets motion sickness, even in a car. So, becoming a pilot was not a possibility.
When my therapist went for his masters degree, he signed up to get a dual masters in agriculture and education. He worked on a 350 acre farm that his university had, growing crop for the studies that the university conducted. However, land that was near a market for buyers was very expensive and he wasn’t inheriting any land. He could have purchased no more than 10 acres. So, he decided, if he couldn’t become a farmer, he would teach the subject at community colleges. Hence, the masters in education.
As a part of the education masters degree he was required to complete some teaching hours. He thought he was going to be assigned to teach teenagers at a high school. Instead, his first assignment was working in a first grade classroom. He told the teacher he would be assisting that he didn’t know anything about teaching children. She said to him, I want you to help these three children, and she gave him their names. They are having difficulties with their behavior and I want you to work with only these three students. That’s all you will do, all semester.
The first young student was a boy. He often got into trouble. My therapist noticed that this boy never instigated the commotion, but was always the second person to become involved in an event that was taking place. He became the center of attention. As my therapist worked with him more, he came to know more about this child’s situation. The mother was ill and could not function, and the father had some unknown poisoning that no doctor could diagnose and it confined him to a wheelchair. These parents could barely provide the needs for their child. CPS was constantly checking on them to see if they needed to pull the boy out of the situation. This child was starving for guidance in how to act and behave with other people. He needed another adult in his life.
The second student was a girl named Tina. She had these strange behaviors. She would get up during the middle of class, more times than any of the other students and ask to use the bathroom. Instead of using the bathroom she spent a lot of time staring at herself in front of the mirror. She would wander down the hallways, just passing the time until break. As soon as the recess bell rang, she was always the first one out the door. She had incredible dexterity and was often on the monkey bars. First one out the door and always the last one to come back in from recess. She was behind in most of her subjects and could not grasp the concept of 1 + 1 = 2. Her activity page was blank at her desk.
My therapist asked a teacher at one of the local Montessori schools about this child. He was given the advice to incorporate physical activity into the learning, because physiologically she was very good. Do you have lollipop sticks? He was asked. Yes. Okay, well, use the lollipop sticks to demonstrate addition. “Can I have one lollipop stick?” “Now, can I have another? That makes two.” Tina quickly learned the concept, and it was subtraction she understood before the addition. She was beginning to be able to complete some of the class assignments.
There was an exercise where the teacher drew on the board an example of a house and a tree and a bird. She asked the students to copy it and draw their own version. Most of the students handed in a fairly good replica. Then it came to Tina’s drawing. The general expression from teachers with this child was just, “poor Tina”. They just didn’t understand her. It was a much more simplified version of a tree and a couple lines for a bird, and for the house it was just one large rectangle with a square in front of it, below it. “Poor Tina,” was all they could say.
In spite of many phone calls and invitations to include Tina’s mom, the teacher got no response. They took it upon themselves to do a home visit. The teacher called the night before and the morning of, to confirm they were coming over, and didn’t get a response. She asked my therapist to come along because he had been working with her this semester. “I’m not an expert,” he told the teacher. “Yes, but you were the one working with her,” she replied. They got there and knocked on the door of the apartment. There was some shuffling noises, and then the door finally opened. They were invited in. On the couch as soon as you entered there was the mom’s boyfriend. He was passed out. He was naked and the mom had covered him with some blankets. The only place to sit was on the floor, because the couch was taken, so they sat in a circle on the floor. During this whole time, the boyfriend didn’t wake up during the conversation. Not a stir. If he did, he didn’t move.
They went through the whole visitation process. When they were done my therapist told the mom he had some questions. “She seems to spend a lot of time looking at herself in front of the mirror at school. Why do you think that is?” Turns out, the mom was embarrassed to admit, they didn’t have any mirrors in the apartment. The only mirror was a small circle that was left of a broken mirror above the bathroom sink and that sliver of mirror was at adult height.
Then he asked Tina about her drawing. He said, “I get that’s a tree, and that’s a bird, but what’s this?” he asked, pointing to the rectangle and the square. “That’s the sofa,” she said, pointing to the rectangle, “and that’s the T.V.” she said, pointing to the square beneath it. There wasn’t any other furniture in the house other than the sofa and the television. Nothing. Just those and the beds. The family was very poor. In the end, this young girl drew a more accurate picture than anyone else who drew a house during that class assignment.
On the day he was to leave, the first boy saw that my therapist was leaving the classroom. It was the end of the semester. He ran over to my therapist and grabbed his arm and wouldn’t let go. He started kissing his arm, and saying, “Don’t leave. Don’t leave.” It was heartbreaking.
My therapist found it fascinating to study these children. From then on, he was hooked. He changed his focus and took all of the psychology classes that his school had to offer. After that, he transferred to another school where they offered more psychology classes. Before this experience, he had never considered psychology as a subject he wanted to study.
“That’s a lot of studying, and a lot of work and a long time,” I told him at the end of the story. “Yes,” he replied to me.
“I keep telling myself, I don’t have to get my masters,” I said. “And at my age, they’re asking me to go back to school to get my doctorate,” he subtly reminded me.
I saw fireworks tonight. It was actually wonderful. Once I managed to get myself out of bed at noon, I engaged with life. I made two coffees in an unhurried fashion. I did two loads of laundry in the middle of the day instead of late at night at the last minute (no, I haven’t put it away yet, it’s just in a big, clean pile!), and then I went over to my friends’ house to spend the fourth of July with her other friends, their children, her fiance. It was just so lovely. I actively engaged in my life. Having two days of hibernation and difficult days this weekend were worth it, because today made my whole weekend and being alive still, just worth it. I feel loved and these friends are my chosen family. My friend is teaching me first hand how to be a mom just by mothering her own child. She has healthy boundaries and sets limits and negotiates with her child and honours him at the same time. There is love in the family.
I know I’ve been focusing a lot on my blog lately. That’s because I’ve been through some difficult things in the past few weeks, the past months, heck, the past years, and writing about it helps me to bring some equilibrium to the equation. If I write, then I know it’s real, and I haven’t imagined it, and I get to validate the experience that I am having, unlike in my past when I wasn’t valued as a human being, but as an object, and my needs and desires and feelings just meant nothing. I had learned that I was worth nothing. My friends’ fiance told me today candidly that I am beautiful, and I took it as such a compliment, coming from him, because he has no interest in me other than friendship. I don’t often get complimented in that way. I have a pink sticky note on my mirror in the bathroom that says I am worthy and I am beautiful and that every day I live is an accomplishment. I need it there because I forget those things all the time.
On my 40 minute drive home all I was thinking about was my therapist and how I get to see him in two days. I can’t wait to see him. I need to tell him about my experience this weekend, every part of it. He is witness to my life, and I need him and want him in my life. I’m sure I could do without him, right? But my life is so much richer because of him. He makes me think about things from a different perspective, and he reminds me of the things that are important.
Tomorrow will be no surprise. I don’t have any variation in my days and weeks. I know what to expect. Sometimes this is a blessing, and sometimes I want more. I just have to take things day by day, week by week, and see what I can take on and manage. I do know though, that if I want change to happen, I have the ability to make it happen. I have a proven history of that in my short past of four years of freedom. I can do this.