I’ve always been the responsible girl, the friend you could tell anything too, the girl who was going places. Fifteen years later, I’m working at a dead-end job, in a floundering relationship with few real friends, and no hobbies. There is little joy in my life. How did this happen?
I’ll tell you. My mother. My mother has always had bipolar disorder with major depressive episodes, although it took her a damn long time to tell me. I think I was about twelve. I knew something was wrong long before that. She would have a glorious day or two where everything was sunshine and roses. I could tell her about my day without her making it about her and she wouldn’t fight with my father for one beautiful night of the month. The rest of the time, well, let’s just say she was dubbed “The Dragon” for a reason. You didn’t want to wake The Dragon when it was napping, or risk agitated nagging for the rest of the day, and most of the night. You didn’t want to have any last-minute plans. The Dragon was on a very strict schedule even though The Dragon didn’t work. Don’t disagree with The Dragon unless you are ready for a lecture where you might have an eyebrow burned off from all the smoke The Dragon blows at you, your education and logic be damned. You get the idea.
It was always a dice roll with her. Roll a natural twenty and you’ll have a regular human interaction. Anything lower and too bad, critical fail. Anyways, I was always what she liked to call her “sounding board”. She could tell me anything because I was stubborn and foolish and liked to gamble too often like she did. My dad didn’t. By the time I came around, she had him trained and complacent. He still knows to agree to anything, promise everything no matter how unlikely he is to follow through and work himself to the bone, so he can delay the nightly tirade as long as possible. My brother wasn’t much better. He has his own problems to deal with. (That’s another story.) That left me. A good old, sturdy, emotion-absorbing rock. Inside I was a turbulent, lonely, confused girl. I’ve never experienced much, I didn’t have close friends, I didn’t have a boyfriend until 18 even though I’m nice and pretty, I never developed any decent coping skills, any practical skills, or any street smarts. I was too busy pushing it all down, so I could make room for someone else’s emotions. I started to figure it out as I got older. I started to resent my family. I started acting out. I stole the car, crashed the car, got alcohol poisoning, skipped school. I never got into drugs, but I did start having my own emotional outbursts. Shit hit the fan when my first boyfriend and I broke up. I acted like someone had died. I screamed at him at school. I couldn’t understand. I’d done everything right. Why did this happen? I lost friends after I wouldn’t stop talking about my problems with them. I didn’t understand. Isn’t that what friends are for? Listening to my problems and giving good advice? Why wasn’t everything working out like on TV? That’s the only place I’d seen people in happy relationships.
I went away to school. My mother did not take the separation well. She called every other day at first until I pushed back for every week. That was manageable. School got difficult. I was always smart, but this required work, and dedication. I didn’t know what I wanted because I picked the first thing I thought I could do decently well at so that I could get out of that house. I had fun at first. My roommates were very different but liked me. It went downhill when I did not handle conflict well. I would go quiet, freeze, and find an excuse to avoid the situation, anticipating a colossal meltdown from the more emotional one. Near the end of the year, I had developed some social skills, so I tried not running away. To my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. She was rude but stormed off. Wow! I can deal with this. I still dreaded my weekly phone calls. They would always turn into an interrogation of my whereabouts, my eating and exercising habits, my grades, etc.
Eventually, my mother would find things to “give advice” on. This advice turned inevitably into intense arguing for about ten minutes at which point she would relate the situation to how hard her life was growing up and her problems. She would talk for another hour or two. I realized recently that every single piece of advice she has given me has been terrible. Doing the opposite of her suggestions, to recent problems at least, has led to much better results than the outcomes I experienced back then. You have a small issue with a teammate in a group project? Confront them about it! Clearly, they are a horrible spoiled brat who doesn’t know what they are doing! Okay…Oh look! It didn’t work. Also, everyone thinks I’m crazy now. Thanks mom.
I finished school. The last two years of which, I felt nothing for. I started realizing that my lack of effective networking skills would hold me back from success in the job market. I started giving up. I became listless, didn’t care about anything but being productive and perfect, and took out my frustration on those around me. Roommates, friends, my loving boyfriend-now-husband who was nothing but supportive for as long as he could be. For the first three years he did nothing but try and make me happy.
He travelled for me, he worshiped me, he worked crazy hours to keep us living comfortably, he worked hard in school even though he also didn’t like it, he got me something every holiday and birthday. He remembered everything we did together. I was not a great girlfriend during this time. I would fight about silly things. (I still do.) I would ignore some of his needs. I would complain about what he didn’t do when I didn’t do these things either and I had never asked him to do them. I started forgetting things. I got burnt out. I neglected him the most. I forgot a couple of important dates. He said he was hurt but that he didn’t care too much about holidays anyways. His family never really celebrated them. It was mostly for me. He couldn’t listen anymore. He started pushing back. We really fought now. I realized what I had been doing. I made a conscious effort to change. I did but it was too little too late for him to bounce back. He loves me, but he truly doesn’t see what he is missing. It was such a gradual, insidious change. A darkness came over him. He couldn’t sleep. He took medication. He slept too much for months. He stopped taking it. He slowly adjusted. He lost weight. He started smoking weed. I started smoking weed. I was so sad. We both couldn’t find jobs. We took minimum wage jobs. That was three years ago.
That first year was a blur of joyful intoxicated highs and extreme sober lows. No dates were noticed, no life changes were made. Friends were lost or moved away. We were together in our desperate day-to-day pay check-to-pay check life, but I felt so alone. Part of me died that year. I hid this from everyone. Including my family who got more and more frustrated with my lack of enthusiasm/positivity. (Apparently, they relied on it to keep them from truly sinking and possibly getting the help they really should be getting.) We got slightly better jobs and kept them. I hit a low point where I realized I was a ship sailing through my life. My family was the anchor weighing me down, keeping me in place as everyone else sailed by. I stopped answering my phone, email, social media messages. For three days I laid in bed mourning, feeling. I got up and decided to change my life. I worked on my house (rental). (Goal number One.) I had very involved plans, a very strict time line, and a very tight budget. It did not go as planned. I had nights where I would manically get home after a back-breaking day at work and paint walls for six hours, or put up all of the curtains, etc. I, again, started to burn out so I would take rest days which turned into weeks and I would feel guiltier and guiltier. My roommate and boyfriend never helped even though we’d sometimes make plans and I grew to resent them as well. I didn’t realize it was because I was so difficult to work with at home when manic. At work I was great. I hid my frustrations, impatience, and rage from all co-workers. I hid the rest of myself as well, so I didn’t make many friends. Eventually my roommate moved out, I started to feel better as I slowed down and realized how unreasonable I could be. During this time, I had been exercising fairly regularly (Goal number three) and controlling my eating (Goal number two). I had started a regular routine more-or-less and I attribute this as well as time away from the emotions of my family to me getting more aware of my own feelings.
Nearing the end of that second year, I felt myself harden, become persistent in what I knew I needed to survive but still able to parse these things from what I just thought I wanted. I decided to let my family back in with conditions. It took several months but we have come to a bit of an agreement. Weekly calls, only positive conversation. If there is negative news, it must be important enough to break the first rule. My mother can’t unload her feelings onto me. I will just hang up if it starts to happen. We are half way through year three now and I have been able to visit in person three times, slightly longer each time. During this time, I stopped smoking marijuana. It has definitely led to cognitive improvements over the last few months and a much more stable emotional state, as does not drinking. I am still discovering my inner mind and struggling with my habits of procrastination and fear of failure. I used to get panic attacks. With meditation and reflection, I have been able to weather the storms for the most part and understand when they are about to occur. I realize that I cannot stop them as that will only make them worse. I have started therapy for my depression as those thoughts are what is causing the anxiety and a lot of the habits and “stuck” feeling to occur. That part of me scares me. Depression is a dangerous epidemic that I believe my husband and I share. He refuses to admit it. He thinks he just works too hard and sleeps poorly. Maybe this is true. Maybe it’s all just me in his life that is bringing him down. Maybe I am his anchor. It is probably a combination of things but the defeated look in his eyes every time I start talking about my feelings or our relationship just seems too familiar.
We’ve been together for 8 and a half years now. He loves me. I know it. I can see it and I can feel it, but I don’t think he wants to love me anymore. I’m truly terrified we are becoming my parents. I have made a promise to change. To start listening to his feelings more. I really hope it’s not too late. I really hope I can keep my promise. It gets so difficult while dealing with my depression. Sometimes all it takes is him telling me he needs alone time and I start to go off on him. I really do just want him to be happy. He’s my best friend. He’s been with me through my hell. I don’t know if I can be with someone when I’ll always wonder if he’s just doing what he thinks he should do to try and make me happy. I want someone not with the goal of making me happy but of making their own happiness. I want to emulate that. I want that for my husband as well. Can we become that for each other? I don’t know if that’s possible. Even if it is possible, do we have enough time to get there? What’s the point if we’re miserable for most of our lives and we both could have been happier. Would we be worse off apart? I just don’t know where to go from here.