Losing the Family Illusion and Finding Freedom

I just finished reading a most excellent memoir entitled Mother Daughter Me, by Katie Hafner. I was barely able to put it down, highlighting half of it using the nifty feature on my Kindle for iPad app. My own mother currently lives with my husband, my daughter, and me and I am resonating all over the place with Hafner’s tale.

Removing my loving husband from the equation, I am the meat in a multi-generational female sandwich. My mother would probably be sourdough, while my daughter would be some exotic bread that made your mouth explode with happiness. I think I am pretty much the bologna: tasty enough, but mostly a barrier between the condiments and the bread.

I was very anxious last year when the idea of my mother coming to reside with us was broached. As in any family, there was some history there that I wasn’t too sure what to do with. Yet, Mom was getting forgetful and falling down more often. Neither one of us was ready to consider the dreaded “assisted living” facilities that dot the city, yet it was obvious that she needed to not be alone.

The decision made, we converted our guest room into Mom’s bedroom, which made her my teenage daughter’s next door neighbor and new bathroom-mate. I already had visions of my kid and her friends keeping my mother awake all night or my mom leaving her dentures in the middle of my daughter’s makeup set. Fortunately, they have worked all that out on their own.

What I am now discovering is that my mother can work out things on her own. When she first moved in, I hovered constantly, “translating” what she said to my husband and daughter while they looked at me like I was a freak. I realized that I had the mother that I grew up with stuck in my head, not the pleasant, elderly woman that stood before me now. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

My “job” in my family growing up was to be the buffer – the peacemaker. My mother had undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder and dealt with her tumultuous feelings by dulling them with alcohol for many years. Even after she received the proper diagnosis and found a good medication regimen, there were times that she was just, well, bat-shit crazy. My father dealt with this mostly by going to work early in the morning and coming home after dark and attending to various “projects” on the weekends that kept him outside and busy.

While I know now that they both did the best they could with the resources they had at the time, as an only child, I more than once felt that I had been dealt a pretty bad hand. I learned how to finish an abandoned dinner after my mother had passed out. I even learned how to serve it on a plate to my father with a smile, like nothing was wrong. I learned how to listen to their separate rants and agree that the other was a complete jerk. I kept the peace. And so, I thought that would automatically be my role now that one of my parents was going to live with me.

My, how wrong I was! Not only was it unnecessary for me to keep the peace, I learned that it was essential for me to get out of the way and let my mother forge her own relationships with my husband and daughter. The drunken, unreasonable, embarrassing mother was nowhere to be found! She’s still a little bat-shit crazy, but who am I to judge since I obviously got half of my genes from her? I’m sure my daughter calls me similar things, because – I admit it – I can be quite insane sometimes. Whether it’s giggling hysterically at a fart joke, being irrational or communicating ineffectively, there’s a lot of “crazy” in me, too. I think we all have a little bit of that je ne sais quoi brand of nuts in us; that makes us human.

There’s a quote in Hafner’s memoir that really struck a chord with me:

“What stands between me and the person I would like to be is this illusion of perfect love between my mother and me. It is a lie I can no longer afford.” – Nancy Friday, from My Mother/ My Self.

That’s what I am slowly stepping away from – the illusion. Not only the thought that my mother and I could have a perfect love, because human love is never perfect; but from the illusion that she is still today who she was back then. And with this understanding, I realize that I don’t have to be bologna anymore.

Little Girls, Get up! Get Up and Eat!

I’m reposting this wonderful prose from Momastery. View the original article HERE. — Stacey

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“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because the world needs more people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I went to school for Tish’s conference this morning. All is well enough. She’s doing fine- especially in her own estimation. As we were waiting in the hall, I saw [some] art work on the wall. Tish explained that the assignment was to write about their biggest, boldest dream.

You guys- I only had time to get three pictures, but over and over- again and again and again- I read: “My dream is for my family to be happy.”

Tish’s  poster wasn’t done yet. I asked what her dream was and she said: “To be Taylor Swift and for my mommy to be happy.” Oh, I said. Then she added: “Everyone at my table wrote ‘I want my mommy to be happy!’” Oh, I said again.

You guys. They want us to be happy.

They’re not saying: My dream is for my mom to be perfect. Or my dream is for my mom to be thinner or better looking. Or cooler. Or have more friends. Or have better things. Or to have had a prettier past. Or have a cleaner, bigger, nicer house. Or be richer. Or be divorced or reunited. Or work less or more or outside the home or inside the home or part time or what-have-you. None of that.

Just: My dream is for my family and my mommy to be happy.

Holy crap, you guys. We’ve got to get our joy back. We think it’s love to allow our roles –mother, wife, volunteer, career woman – to consume us like a fire until we can’t even be seen anymore – but that’s not love. I think our kids want to really see us. They want us to leave a part of ourselves unconsumed so they can see us. I think our kids want to see us come alive sometimes. Our kids never asked for martyrs.  It is not love to allow yourself – your spirit – to be buried and then fade away.

At first- these thoughts stressed me out this morning because I am passionate and I am kind and sometimes I’m ecstatic and I can usually find gratitude but I’m not “happy.” I’m intense and up and down and I get depressed and anxious and my anxiety makes me hard to be around sometimes. Because I’m impatient and snappy. I snap at people I love all the time and that makes me feel bad about myself. I want to be zen. I am so not zen. Whatever zen is- I’m the opposite of it.

But you know what- none of those papers said that, “My dream is for my mom to stop snapping.” None said, “I wish my mom would stop being so anxious and just relax and be more like Jesus or Buddha.” Their dreams were less about us in relationship to THEM and more about what they really want for US. As PEOPLE. They want us to be happy. Because they love US. And because they know, likely, that they are supposed to learn how to be happy during this beautiful life from us. And so if we’re slugging our way through life without joy- they are probably thinking- deep down– if she can’t pull some joy out of life- how will I?

And so those posters served as some SMELLING SALTS for me this morning. They woke me up. And I thought: WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY? What is one thing that I could do today that has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ROLES I PLAY and just FEEDS MY SOUL?

Because that’s important. It is important to feed my body, mind and soul every day. If we are going to ask for our daily bread- we’ve got to take the time to receive it and eat it. God provides –but we’ve got to slow down long enough to TASTE AND SEE. And we cannot say that our list of things to do is too long to slow down and feed ourselves. Because there are URGENT things and there are IMPORTANT things – and no matter how much URGENT there is – we must fit a few TRULY IMPORTANT things into our day or the URGENT things will consume us every day forever and ever ’till we die. We feed ourselves or we die. It’s inconvenient- especially in a culture that worships productivity and efficiency and busyness for busyness’ sake- but it’s THE TRUTH. We eat or we die.

WHAT MAKES YOU COME ALIVE? WHO ARE YOU BENEATH ALL OF YOUR ROLES? HOW DO YOU FEED YOURSELF?

Listen. This is a thing. We are going to figure this out together. If joy is so far out of reach that you don’t even remember what the word means- let’s talk about getting to a doctor. That’s step one. If you can’t remember how to feed yourself but you remember what joy is: BE STILL. YOU HAVE TO GET STILL BEFORE YOU CAN REALLY GET UP. GOD MADE EVERYTHING WONDERFUL AND CREATIVE AND BEAUTIFUL OUT OF NOTHINGNESS- STILLNESS AND GOD STILL DOES. So find some quiet. 10 – 5 minutes a day. Try this- Travis sent it to us last night:

1) Prepare to pray the Psalm in 5 consecutively diminishing sentences.
2) Either aloud or quietly to yourself, say the words, “Be still and know that I am God”
3) After a couple deep breaths, pray, “Be still and know that I am.”
4) After a couple deep breaths, pray “Be still and know.”
5) After a couple deep breaths, pray, “Be still.”
6) After a couple deep breaths, pray, “Be.”
7) When ready, pray, “Amen.”

AH! 12 years old. That’s when it happens. That’s when we start looking to find our joy in other’s expectations and boys and magazines and cigarettes and food and we start getting buried. Go back. Before you were 12. What did you love?

MY FRIEND: YOU ARE NOT DEAD. YOU ARE JUST ASLEEP. YOU JUST NEED TO GET UP AND EAT.

LITTLE GIRL, GET UP!

GET UP AND EAT!!!!

Some Inspiration for Your Weekend

Non-treatment of mental illness: Who’s to blame?

This year (2013), October 10 is World Mental Health Day. I’d be remiss not to mention this considering that I write about mental health all of the time. Actually, I find that I write about mental illness more often than “health.” Like most things in life, we tend to take notice of things that go wrong because, really, most other things go right. It’s just that we take these things for granted.

Think about it. The very fact that you’re breathing is “right.” If you’re reading this post that means you can see. That’s pretty cool. Even if you’re going through a crisis, you do have many other things that go smoothly, even if they seem “behind the scenes.” The reason humans tend to focus on the negative so much is because it is out of the ordinary.

That being said, mental illness is unfortunately more ordinary than most people think.  According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), one in four American adults (61.5 million people) and about 20% of adolescents age 13 – 18 experience some kind of mental illness in any given year. These people are just like you and me – they may even be you and me.

Even though education about mental illness has increased over the last decade or so, there’s still a huge stigma associated with it. It breaks my heart to hear about someone who could have been helped if they had just reached out for it, but instead ended up in a tragic situation.

Why does this still happen? I wish there was a simple answer, but in many instances, the person is either not aware he/she is ill, is not aware of local and national resources or is too afraid to be labeled “crazy” if he/she seeks out help. Sometimes, as in the case of Andrea Yates, many entities fail.

After the birth of her first child, Noah, in February of 1994, the Yates were advised not to have any more children because Andrea developed Postpartum Psychosis. Due to their religious beliefs and family influences, they continued on to have four more: John (December, 1995), Paul (September, 1997), Luke (February, 1999) and Mary (November, 2000). Andrea had trouble after each birth, but never stopped being open to, “having as many children as God wanted.”

After Mary’s birth in 2000, Andrea’s psychosis went into overdrive and once again, the Yates sought help for her. She was hospitalized, placed on anti-psychotic medication, and eventually sent home. One problem that psychosis presents to the mental health practitioner is that a diagnosis relies heavily on self-report from the patient. In 2001, Andrea reported to her psychiatrist that she was no longer having delusions or hallucinations, and she stopped taking her medication. You probably know the rest, but if you’re interested in learning about Andrea’s specific delusions that prompted her tragic actions, visit Wikipedia’s page.

So, who’s to blame? We can point fingers at multiple system failures:

  • Andrea herself, who could have stopped having children, been more honest about her experiences or could have taken her medications as prescribed;
  • Rusty, Andrea’s husband, for insisting that they follow “God’s plan,” for not carefully monitoring his wife’s medication regimen and leaving her alone with the kids for even 5 minutes;
  • Their religion, which encouraged couples to have as many children as they could naturally;
  • The mental health professionals for not insisting that she stay on her medication, no matter how much better she was feeling;
  • Her family, for not seeing how ill she really was and believing that she could never hurt anyone except herself (she had tried to commit suicide multiple times);
  • Her parents for passing on the genes that biologically allow for the expression of symptoms;
  • American society, for making mental illness so stigmatizing that she was extremely embarrassed to have to see a professional at all; or
  • Everyone who came in contact with this woman and either missed or dismissed the odd behavior she was exhibiting

As you can see from this one case, “the system” failed on multiple levels. Unfortunately, the loss of innocent lives are not the only fatalities caused in some part by mental illness. NAMI estimates 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, with about 90% struggling with mental illness.

What can we do? Each person that reads this needs to pass it on to others so that they can educate themselves about what mental illnesses are, how to look for signs of symptoms in others and themselves and find local and national resources that can provide help. With each person that is educated and prepared, another piece of the stigma falls away. It is my personal hope that mental illness will be almost completely de-stigmatized in my lifetime, but that is up to you.

[Re-posted from its original source at Examiner.com]

Happy Birthday Diane!

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Beauty comes in many forms–and there is no form more beautiful than you. Just exactly as you are, this minute, right now, without changing a thing…you are beautiful. Beautiful enough to take God’s breath away. – Neale Donald Walsch

Happy Thanksgiving!

We here at Living Self-Care would like to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving! This year has been full of changes for us, and I think I can speak for Diane when I say we are very grateful for each and every one of them.

When things happen, they’re just things. We are responsible for what we label them (good or bad). It’s hard to imagine something like a cancer diagnosis being something GOOD, but I have also heard from several survivors and current cancer patients that their diagnosis and journey has ultimately changed them for the better.

It’s easy to be thankful for the obviously positive things in life, but most of the time, the negative (or what we label as “bad”) presents a learning opportunity. The trick is to be open minded and try to look at the situation outside of your usual way of thinking. There’s usually the proverbial “silver lining” to be found, and I truly believe there is no such thing as failure, only lessons.

This year, as challenging as the change has been, I am so thankful that my mother moved in with us. We don’t have to worry about each other long distance anymore. And though we bump heads often, I am so thankful that we are learning how to relate to each other again (in a much more healthy manner this time).

As you go about your Thanksgiving traditions, remember that there are so many things to be grateful for – even the things that you may have categorized as “awful.” Have a safe and happy one!!

All of our love,

Diane Sanford and Stacey Glaesmann

Big Changes

Diane will be back posting next Monday after she gets back from her fabulous trip  to Spain! Hopefully we’ll get to hear all about it!

In the meantime, I wanted to share an experience of my own with you. My family and I recently decided that it was time for my mother to move in with us for several reasons. I felt such a mixture of emotions at the thought: happiness because I’ll see her more and because I’ll be there if she needs anything medically; apprehension because of our past relationship (though it has since been healed); and wariness that I might fall back into my childhood relationship patterns with her.

She’s only been here a couple of days and I have to keep myself from treating her like a guest. My impulse is to ask, “Can I do something or get something for you?” In reality, all she wants is to find her own way and settle into her own routine that is harmonious with ours. My offers to do things for her would just enable her to be more dependent than independent, and neither of us want that.

We have agreed on a code of complete honesty, even if that may mean hurt feelings. We have discovered the hard way through the years that mind reading is just not possible!

This is a big change for all of us, and I struggle to remember that. Holding myself back from offering things and allowing myself to be calm in spite of my mother’s habitual anxiety is a challenge. But my intuition is telling me that this is a good situation, so I’m focusing on an attitude of gratitude instead of stressing out. It’s not easy, but I am worth it – and so are YOU!

Instant BFFs: Is it Possible?

Have you ever encountered someone that you’ve never met before, but it seems like you’ve known them forever? Someone that you knew within the first 5 minutes of talking to him/her that you want to be in his/her life (in friendship or romantic relationship)? If you have, you know how rare that is. If you haven’t, let me tell you about it!

Recently, I was on a writing assignment and went to interview my source for the story. The interview went very well and we were both professional. After the “official” work was over, this young lady and I sat around talking about this and that; it was surface chit-chat, but I felt as if I could tell her my deepest secrets – and I had only just met her!

It turns out that she had experienced the same phenomenon with me, and we found ourselves contacting each other to find ways to hang out. She’s a volunteer with a local animal charity, so I signed up too. I have made time to help out on 2 occasions so far, and while I enjoy working with the animals and people, it is nice to have extra time with my new friend!

If one of us is not feeling well, the other will offer (and mean it) to cook chicken soup or go to the store for remedies. If one of us is having a crisis, we instinctively contact each other. Keep in mind that I have known this woman for less than a month.

Somehow, I just know that I can trust her and that I can count on her. I also know that I feel a deep loyalty to her and will make myself available whenever I am able when she needs something. How can someone I just met feel like a best friend? How can such a short relationship feel like it’s taken years to build and cultivate?

I firmly believe that people are put in our lives for a reason: to teach us lessons, to see us through a crisis or victory, to be there when we need them. My “new” friend and I joke that we are long-lost sisters, but I know without a doubt that she is supposed to be in my life and I am grateful to have found her!

A Different Take on 9/11

The 9/11 tragedy affected so many people on so many different levels. Of course, there was loss, hatred, patriotism, conspiracy and a myriad of other feelings and consequences that came out of the loss of the World Trade Center in 2001. But what about the people who have birthdays and anniversaries on this significant date? What do they experience every year?

Dora* and Andrew* will have been married 11 years on September 11, 2012. They were married in a modest ceremony in a small town in southeast Texas. They had seriously considered postponing the wedding after watching what had happened that morning. Their friends and family convinced them to go ahead with the weekday wedding, as they didn’t know when Andrew would be available again. He had an offshore job that took him away from home for weeks at a time.

“Even 10 years after the whole World Trade Center thing, we get strange looks if we’re out celebrating our anniversary at a restaurant. We’ve even had one guy tell us that we were heartless for having a good time!” Andrew recalls. “When is this ever going to stop?”

Dora and Andrew are by no means alone. Over 10,000 babies were born on September 11, 2001. As it was a weekday, not as many weddings took place. However in 2004, when 9/11 fell on a Saturday, 8,000 weddings were held across the country. Reasons for choosing this date range from “taking back that day as a happy one,” to “honoring a fallen loved one.”

While birth dates are not as widely chosen as happen by chance, children born on that fateful day will turn 11 years old this year. Amanda*, a rambunctious 4th grader, has always known that something was different about her birthday. “Sometimes, people are sad on my birthday,” she says, frowning. “But everybody at my party is happy!” Her mother, Sandy*, says that she has experienced all kinds of reactions to party invitations she sends home with Amanda’s classmates. “I had one mom call me and yell at me once,” she remembers. “She asked me how I could be so thoughtless – like I had any say in when my daughter was born!” Most people are very gracious, Sandy says. “They realize this is a little girl’s birthday party and nothing else. Amanda hasn’t ever had a bad experience with her birth date.”

Perhaps the country will always mourn each year when September 11 rolls around. But for 10,000 kids and countless couples, that date will be special to them for entirely different – and joyous – reasons.

*Names have been changed for privacy reasons