druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)
I never thought much about Dad's family when I was growing up. In the back of my mind, I suppose I decided that they weren't as important as Mom's family; after all, Mom's family has the more interesting legend (The Right Hand of Ulster), the more frequent family gatherings*, the more open storytelling about what it was like growing up**, and I physically resemble them the more. Most of all, though, I pay more attention to Mom's family because my father was physically abusive when I was young, and I didn't want anything to do with that part of my history. But that was more than ten years ago now. I'm sometimes still angry about it, and it's not resolved, but my father has worked hard for most of my life to not repeat his father's mistakes.
Saturday we went to my Aunt Donna's for a Derby party. Aunt Donna and Uncle Bob were there (of course, since it's their house), and so were my Aunt Judy, Aunt Mary, Uncle Dennis, Aunt Erlene, and my cousin Lonnie and his wife Cindy. Not present (at this, nor so many other family gatherings) were my Uncle Tom and Aunt Charlie or any of their kids and grandkids. After dinner, Cindy asked where they were, and Aunt Donna and Aunt Mary and Aunt Erlene explained that they were almost never at any Newton gatherings, and hadn't been since Grandma Newton passed back in 1995. I have cousins I haven't seen in almost a decade, and they wouldn't recognize me (or vice versa) if we were in the same room. They are strangers to us. And it's because Uncle Tom doesn't believe that the relationship between him and his siblings is all that important in the scheme of things, especially not compared to his relationship with his children and his in-laws. After Grandma died my dad's brothers and sisters promised not to drift apart, but Uncle Tom and Aunt Charlie are more concerned with their descendants than with his siblings. (I say "his" because as far as anyone knows, they're still concerned with her siblings.) And it hurts the rest of them deeply. My Aunt Donna says she's closer to her brothers and sisters than she is to her kids, and she's involved with her kids. When my Aunt Mary needed a place to stay after things went to shit for her, she lived with Aunt Donna and Uncle Bob. Those two are best friends, even into their 50s.
But until Saturday I hadn't really thought about where my immediate family fits into the Newton dynamic. Stephanie gets mad because the Newtons get together and don't invite us--I think now that what actually happens is that they do invite us, but Dad makes excuses to not go. My Aunt Donna tries really hard to keep the family together despite the flakiness of Aunt Mary, the absentmindedness of Aunt Judy, the apparent indifference of Uncle Tom, the sheer busy-ness of Uncle Dennis, and the avoidance of Dad.
Daddy can be unintentionally cutting, vocally critical, is sarcastic more often than not, and in general is kind of a hermit. He'd do anything for his family, but my dad is also a severely depressed individual who has unresolved issues with his own father and family dynamics, and is defensive and passive-aggressive to boot.
In other words, he's a lot like me.
I realized Saturday where I get a lot of my self-defense mechanisms, and also some of my more unhealthy coping strategies. (Not all of them, mind you, not by any means; some I get from Mom, and a few are all my own, but some things: avoidance of my family, tendency to retreat from the world, using sarcasm as a shield--all those I get from Dad.) How often have I made the claim that I love my family dearly, but I like them better from a distance? How many things do I keep from my family to avoid hurting or worrying them, even (especially) the things I need to share to keep from buckling under the pressure? How much important news have I conveyed via a throw-away line in an email? For the first time on Saturday, I realized how much I'm like my father beneath the skin, and it's not a bad realization, just one that brings into perspective how much frustration Daddy must feel with the world (and how much frustration the world must feel with me).
From now on, I resolve to do as much as I am able to keep either my dad or myself from alienating ourselves from our most valuable support systems. We don't have to be alone, and neither of us is broken beyond repair. We just might need some help making the necessary mends and modifications.


*This is false. The Newtons get together a LOT. We just don't go very often.
**This not true either; Dad's family are a bunch of born storytellers, and have hundreds of stories that I've not paid enough attention to to recognize.
druidspell: Broken (Broken)
Walking into that hospital room, I was probably more frightened than I'd ever been in my life. Aunt Anne, Ross' dad Randy, our grandparents, my Aunt Linda, my Aunt Doris, and my mom, sisters, and I all crowded around Ross' hospital bed (which dwarfed him--Ross was about 3'4", and the bed was adult-sized). He was hooked up to so many tubes and machines, and the TV was playing something asinine, and Ross was still screaming. Tears and snot were all over his face (my mom's family does not have the ability to cry beautifully, and Ross is no exception to that; no seven year old is). He was upset and in pain, and above all that he was hungry because he had to have tests run that required him to not eat or drink for 24 hours. It had been 12 when we got there.
It was cloudy and chilly, and I remember both how everyone gave Ross Beanie Babies while he was in the hospital, and also how everyone was so much angrier all the time--people were fed up with everyone; my Aunt Doris talked shit about Ross' dad like she was being paid to do it.
Myself, I remember being filled with sick, desperate fear, and rage I thought would never end. I wanted the whole world to disappear, just leave me and a Ross who would get better, who would stop wasting away, would stop crying, would stop being sick and pale and weak, would make me not feel so helpless. I wanted his doctors who'd missed the problem to be dragged over broken glass and burning coals, wanted to somehow infect them with Ewing's Sarcoma, the disease that was eating him up inside. I wanted my classmates, teachers, and family to somehow intuit that my heart was breaking, and treat me more gently than they were--more than that, I wanted the strength to tell them that my heart was breaking, and mandate that they treat me more gently.
Every day in Sr. Theresa Giardino's class (dear gods, may this lady rest in peace), I offered up my prayer intentions that my cousin would be cured. A few people asked me about it, and I remember Sister once remarked that it was really admirable the way I prayed for him every single day. But there were entire notebooks filled with one simple phrase: Please let Ross be cured. Please let Ross be cured. Please let Ross be cured.
And finally, finally, finally, after they'd done chemo and radiation and removed his appendix and tonsils and done a bone marrow and stem cell transplant, finally he came home. He was tiny--not just in weight (although he was that, too--he weighed something like 25 pounds at eight and a half) but also in height; he was still 3'4". The way chemotherapy works, one of the things it does is attacks rapidly growing cells. Well, in a seven year old boy, every cell is a rapidly growing cell. For a year and a half, Ross hadn't grown at all. He had no hair except for a few stubborn wisps on his head (none on his arms or legs, no eyebrows, no eyelashes), he was pale as death (because the cancer treatment reacted badly with UV light), he was severely underweight (because the chemo always made him sick, and for a long time he couldn't keep food down at all--they put an IV line in him for essential nutrients), he had a tunneled catheter line in his chest (and still has the scar from it), and he was the most precious thing I'd ever seen. Ross had to take the rest of the year off from school so that he missed first and second grades (he had a private tutor) and I babysat him every Friday night--some nights Aunt Anne wouldn't even go out, and I'd still stay over, because part of me couldn't bear to let him out of my sight for a weekend. While he was in the hospital one of the chaplains taught him to play chess, and when he was released, he taught me. (I was good enough to beat some people, and while I was there I was intensely dedicated to learning, but chess is never going to be my game; I'm just not good enough at plotting out moves and counter-moves far enough in advance to regularly triumph.) He also got me into trading Pokemon cards, and we'd battle Pokemon and watch the first movie for hours and hours--I probably spent, no joke, more than $500 on cards, most of which I didn't keep for myself; if there was one that Ross wanted, I'd give it up (not always without a fight). I still have a binder filled with the cards too precious for me to give away when I got out of the game.
druidspell: For you? Anything. (Anything)
I've talked around Ross' sickness a lot--the most common phrase I use is a variation on "when I was twelve, I watched this boy die by inches." And for what it is, that's a phrase that says a lot: I was young, he was incredibly sick, the illness lasted a long time and took him away bit by bit.
Here's what I haven't said since I actually was twelve.

First, the basic facts:

  1. Ross is my younger cousin on my mom's side; his mother is my mom's "Irish twin" sister.
    • Mom and Aunt Anne are 376 days apart. Mom is the oldest in her family of 8 siblings; the five oldest are all roughly a year or so apart--the biggest age gap is between Aunt Anne and the next sibling, my Aunt Doris.

  2. Ross is often referred to as my twin separated at birth (by five years, two different sets of parents, and different hospitals.) He's my mini-me, my best friend, my most treasured person in my life.
    • Possibly even more than my soulsister, but it's hard to say; once someone's that close, it becomes a "how many angels on the head of a pin" question: it's impossible to answer for sure, and debating it is something only people with a lot of time on their hands and a desperate need of a hobby discuss.

  3. I began babysitting Ross every Friday night when I was eleven and he was six; I stole the job from my older sister Stephanie.
  4. In April 1998, when he was six and a half years old, he began complaining of leg pain. His mother took him to the pediatrician, who couldn't find a reason for the pain, but advised him to take hot baths to relax his leg muscles and ease the pain.
  5. In July 1998, the family took a trip down to Huntsville, Alabama to celebrate the wedding of my Uncle Willie. Ross complained of such severe pain that several of our relatives were concerned. Aunt Anne was mostly frustrated at this point; for three months he'd been complaining, and there was no reason any doctor could find for him to be hurting.
  6. By late September 1998, in the space of five months, Ross had been to the pediatrician more than most children go the doctor in five years. He'd gotten every diagnosis from growing pains (hot baths, exercise) to constipation (drinking castor oil every night before supper and again before bed) to making it all up for attention. He was taking two or three hot baths a night, because the pain wouldn't stop--he'd take more when I was babysitting; four was typical, but five or six weren't out of the question.
  7. Early October 1998: Ross turned seven. His birthday was on a Sunday, and I remember that it was a perfect fall day: sunny, clear, a little windy, and the trees were turning from green to gold and orange and red. Everything was idyllic. He tried to get me to play Pokemon with him, and we played with his massive collection of LEGOs and dinosaurs; he had that Jurassic Park dinosaur toy whose rib meat detached and showed the bone and bloody muscle... it was my favorite.
  8. This was when I was in 6th grade, and our school district had just moved to modified-year-round schedule, which gave us two weeks off in October. Two days after his birthday, my sister and I were at home when our grandmother called. I answered the phone, and she said that Ross was in the hospital; some tests from the doctor had come back with results the doctor didn't like, but she didn't say what they were.
    • The next night, Aunt Anne called with the test results and the diagnosis.

  9. I was in the living room watching Full House in the dark, and Stephanie, Mom, and Andrea (home on break from college) were in the kitchen talking. Mom answered when Aunt Anne called, and I thought I heard them say the word "cancer." I came into the kitchen, and I remember blinking because the bright light disoriented me. Andrea and Steph looked really upset, and Mom told me that Ross had cancer.
  10. I remember being frozen--I know that I must have started to cry. Andrea tried to hug me, and I shoved her away and started to walk, then run, to the back of the house where my bedroom was. I slammed the door shut, punched the wall a few times, and then did that slow slide down the wall crying all the while. (People say that nobody does that in real life, that it's a chick flick cliche. As one friend so memorably, so pithily, puts it: They can suck my clit. I've done it, and my life is not a chick flick.)
  11. The next day, we went to see Ross in Kosair Hospital. The 7th floor is (or was at the time) their oncology ward. [Just as a side note: there is NOTHING sadder than a pediatric oncology ward.] We stepped off the elevator and the sound of screams immediately assaulted our ears. I don't remember the hallways we walked through, just that it sounded like we were getting closer and closer to the mouth of hell, and the wailing of the damned just kept getting louder and louder. When we reached Ross' room, of course, we discovered that it was coming from him. (He was only barely seven, had been told he had cancer, pulled out of his school, told he'd be staying in the hospital, denied food and water, and wasn't on sufficient pain medication. He was scared and in pain and so fucking young.)
druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)
It's hard, sometimes, to not feel like I have to justify myself to the world. To not feel like I must fight and scramble for every last bit of acknowledgment of my basic human worth, my inalienable right to feel what I feel, when I feel it, and not have to justify WHY I feel the way that I do.

I answered a survey question earlier, asking what my favorite age had been so far. I haven't had one, if you're curious, and you skipped the quiz. I haven't had a favorite age, because you could not pay me enough money to go back and relive one of those years. If you offered me my dearest wish in exchange for going back and being any previous age again, I'd turn you down. Jay answered that her favorite age was 17.

When I was 17, I started cutting.

Not often, and not a lot. But it was so easy to "nick myself shaving," or "scratch too hard at an itch," or let the knife "slip" when I was preparing food--food that I would eat alone, in an empty house.

Sometimes I wouldn't eat at all.

***

The year I was seventeen (and the last half of the year I was sixteen), my father went back to working second shift at the distillery where he's worked for the last 40 years. My mother was still working night shift in the ER, but was beginning to alternate with day shift to ease back into the world of people who were awake when the sun was up, and asleep when it was dark. Stephanie had moved to Lexington in July of my sixteenth year; Jacynthia moved in August. Andrea was in Bowling Green, Shannon and I couldn't seem to coordinate our schedules for the life of us and everything I did was wrong anyway, and I had never felt more alone.

I soldiered through until around December, probably. With Jay gone, I didn't get out to Mommy's, and with her gone... I was lost, a little. And I understood (still understand) why she didn't return often to Bardstown. I do. But at the same time, I was stuck there.

It wasn't a good year for me; I've tried to kill myself, and felt better afterwards than I did the entire year I was seventeen.

***

I remember not realizing that it wasn't normal that Daddy'd get drunk and scream and yell and hit us, not until I was eleven years old. Both of my sisters knew; I'd never known anything else. My friends' families weren't exactly normal, and I spent most of my time at home with my family anyway. But even though Dad sobered up by the time I was four, I still didn't realize how abnormal my childhood had been until I was eleven, maybe twelve, and someone told me that it wasn't. Not until years went by between one beating and the next, and my father nearly shoved me through the banister and down the stairs because I hadn't cleaned my room. Not until I became the first child in the Newton family to DUCK when Daddy raised his hand to me.

I was twelve when that happened, by the way.

***

I remember being in the first grade, having all of my writing assignments (and we did them once a week) contain these two sentences: "I hate my family. I hate my life." I remember that my teacher was concerned. I also remember that my parents did nothing about it.

I remember crying myself to sleep 5 nights out of 7 when I was ten. I remember being so miserable that I drafted my first suicide note when I was not quite eleven years old.

My sisters found the note.

Guess how much they mocked me?

If you guessed "a lot", you win.

I remember my first physical before starting sports going into the fifth grade--my mom was in the room during the first part of it, and she brought up my planned suicide as "me being overly dramatic, not serious."

I didn't write the note(s) for attention. I wrote it (them) so that I'd have things in order when I died, so that my family and friends would understand why I'd been alive one minute, and dead by my own hand, my own actions, the next.

***

(continued later.)
druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)
I want to take some time and go over what I talked about with Shannon (therapist Shannon, not [livejournal.com profile] nightly_path Shannon) on Monday.
Because it's my journal, and since I don't keep a written journal anymore, this all has to go somewhere.

Last Monday, I'd had a bitch of a week--the only thing I'd made it out of my dorm for was to go to Individual/DBT the previous Monday, and work on Tuesday and Thursday, and a trip to UK Clinic on Friday. Work was the highlight of that week.

Now, here's some background.

Over the course of my life, I've had five different therapists. The first was... Jenny? Jamie? Amy? (moving on, because her name wasn't the point) in middle school. I went to her intending to get some kind of help for my rage; we ended up talking about time management and turning in homework on time. We did this not because she was a bad therapist who didn't stay on topic; we did this because Laura was bad at being honest about her reasons for being in therapy. I think I freaked out before I could explain why I was there, so that when she asked, the thing about homework is what popped out.
Needless to say, I didn't get much out of those sessions.

My next therapist was Sr. Mary Ninette in high school. A lot of people didn't like her; I liked her just fine, by the end of things. I started going to her because I was having an emotional breakdown in the middle of class March 3, 2004. Within the first five minutes of being in her office, I'd blurted out that I was bi, that I was depressed, that I couldn't relate to my family, that I couldn't sleep, and that I hated being alone. All within the first five minutes. I continued to see Sr. Ninette for the rest of high school, until I graduated in May of '05.

My third therapist was Dr. Cohen-Archer. (I always called her Dr. Cohen-Archer, never Colby (her first name) or even Dr. Colby.) She was pretty good at getting me to talk about the important issues, the things I didn't even really realize were still bothering me until we devoted three sessions to discussing them.

Next on the list is Dr. Tabony--I always called her Becky. I started seeing her in September of 2006, and continued seeing her for the next three months. I started because I had these feelings of failure, feelings that I couldn't really place, couldn't find a cause for. We talked about invalidation a lot--it was the first time I'd ever heard the term in that context, and it really seemed to fit. I stopped seeing her just before Christmas, because I was scheduled to start DBT/Individual at the Harris Clinic in January, and it seemed logical to start seeing the same people for everything.
DBT is intended for people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. (No, not a borderline "personality disorder" like Anti-Social Personality Disorder; BPD is the name of the disorder, and is a mental illness all on it's own.) It's also for people who grew up in an invalidating environment (which tends to exacerbate BPD).

I'm seeing Shannon now as my individual therapist, and she's one of the group leaders for DBT as well. And she brought up something interesting last time. Last week was a much better week for me, as far as things like getting to class and enjoying my life went.

Anyway, because that line of thought leads to me getting sidetracked and not telling the story I want to tell.

When I sit down in a therapy session, I talk about events. I talk about stuff going on externally. I give great after-action reports, play-by-play analysis, but I don't interpret. I leave the facts as I see them for the therapist to interpret, and let them draw their own conclusions. If they verbalize their conclusions, I'll tell them if they're right or wrong, but I rarely offer any insight of my own.

I do this for a very simple reason: it's not that I want them to do all the work, just that... I live my life stuck in what DBT refers to as "Reasonable Mind". Unless you force me to deal with them, I hate to talk about emotions, because I'm bad at it. If you've ever had a deep IM conversation with me, then you already know it takes me a fairly long time to respond with articulate emotional analysis to something happening to me ([livejournal.com profile] duchesspariah, I'm looking at you here). (Case in point: I started this entry at 2314 February 21; it's now 0130 February 22, and I'm not even halfway finished with this post. It's not even because I'm not interested, or not paying attention. It just takes me SO LONG to find the words I'm looking for that will describe what's going on inside my heart.)

(went to bed and work. back at 1627)

I don't talk about my depression very often, and maybe I should, and maybe I shouldn't; that's really a discussion for another day. But I don't talk about it because, at the core, I don't know how. I mean, I know the words to describe what I feel, but... I don't know how to make people understand what I went through/am going through in a way that doesn't sound trite and melodramatic. (Melodramatic more than trite, honestly.) It's one situation where my ability and gift for writing fails me, because if I can't think of a way to say something original and still true, I won't say it at all. (In therapy, I resort to analogies and metaphor a lot, because those are the only words I have to express something I don't like to talk about.) Another reason I don't talk about depression is because yes, I am ashamed of it. I do feel like I don't have the right to feel this way, like I'm just being a sissy and a whiny baby who should suck it up and deal with it already. And I also feel like no one would really care. Like no one would notice. (This is not just me being dramatic--this is me coming from a place where I tried to commit suicide and NO ONE IN MY FAMILY NOTICED/CARED/TOOK IT SERIOUSLY.)

In addition to not talking about it, if you meet me in person, most people wouldn't ever guess that I'm depressed. I can't even begin to number the people who've told me "You don't seem depressed." or some variation on that theme. And I see their point; I don't seem depressed. I've created a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy and I'm caught in a Catch-22: People don't believe me when I say that I'm depressed because I don't act depressed; I don't act depressed because no one believes me when I say that I am.

The reason I do it is because I spent a good five years wearing my broken heart on my sleeve, and no one noticed, no one bothered, no one cared. I didn't know how to ask for help--I was only 9, at the beginning--and no one paid any attention to know that I needed it. And for five years, the pattern went on. Eventually, I got so tired of having all my cracks and breaks and wounds showing, being ignored or brushed aside, and I was exhausted from the energy I was expending trying to go on despite the pain. So I started to act as if it was all okay, act as if I was better, act as if everything would be okay if I could just pretend hard enough that it was never wrong in the first place. And since this coincided with starting high school, it worked. I was around different people, people who didn't know in the first place that I'd been so low, and they never noticed any difference. But it's just a mask. Unfortunately, it's a mask I've been wearing so long that the lie is easier than the truth. I don't remember how to be that honest about my feelings anymore.

It's a pretty big roadblock in the whole therapy thing; since I talk about events instead of emotions, most therapists decide that I'm better before I actually am. It's not their fault in the least; they aren't mind readers, and I'm not talking about the issues. It's a waste of their time and mine if the only thing I'm getting out of a session is 50 minutes of talking about my weekend.

So. Starting now, I'm going to try to act in a more honest manner, to actually talk about my feelings in therapy. Because otherwise, what am I doing there?

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druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)
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