The Center of the Universe

I take a lot of shit from my brain.

No, seriously. There are many days when I just wish my mind had an off switch. I guess this is why so many people take drugs, drink copious amounts of alcohol, or end their lives. Those are all temporary and permanent off switches that tell the over-active, nasty parts of our brains to shut the hell up.

My coping mechanism is earbuds, loud music, chocolate, and shitty TV.

And writing.

I’m supposed to be writing a chapter for my second book right now. Instead, I’m whining on the internet about my asshole brain.

One of the “lovely” things about being the child of a borderline personality parent is that you yourself show many borderline traits. It’s how I learned to function in society. Mom blows up at the least little thing? OK, that must be how it goes. So, I blow up at the least little thing. Mom took offense to that person ribbing her good-naturedly? Cool. I’ll do the same. Mom assumes everything is about her? On it. I’ll be the center of the universe, too!

The majority of my life, I’m fairly well balanced. I take my daily Zoloft, I’m a productive member of society, and I read and take to heart the affirmations I have displayed across my bathroom sink:

By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before.

or

What is really hard, and really amazing is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.

then there’s

To be happy, drop the words “if only” and substitute instead the words “next time.”

All really awesome, inspirational stuff. I’ll look at those while putting on mascara and think, Hell, yeah. I’m a neat person. I don’t need to be perfect. I’m an individual who people like and appreciate! LIFE IS AWESOME! I’M A PURPLE-HAIRED GODDESS!

But, then? There are days when several things all happen at once and my borderline tendencies all rear their ugly heads at the same time. I brush my teeth, looking at those quotes and I think the opposite. Oh, yeah, by being myself, I put something in the world for sure. Something annoying that nobody likes. And like I’m ever going to be truly happy. Whatever.

I absolutely despise these days. The slightest cock-eyed look from someone is clearly because of their displeasure over my existence and not because maybe they’re having a bad day due to their own lives. Good constructive criticism is actually the person trying to lord their superior brain and knowledge over me because, clearly, I’m shit and they know it. And my personal favorite is that I can’t take a danged joke for anything. God forbid I laugh at myself.

These are the days when I don’t respond to texts, I don’t look at emails, I stay indoors, and I try to talk to as few people as possible. Because I know it’s a day when I’ve got “Center of the Universe”-itis and the only cure is distance, self-reflection, and corny 80s cop shows.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that if I’m quiet, it’s not you. It’s me. Whoa, Nelly, is it ever me. Slowly, but surely, this upset in our regular programming will go away and we’ll get back to business as usual.

The Five Stages of Mother’s Day

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you may have no idea that we recently celebrated the United States’ version of Mother’s Day. It’s a day of frantic flower deliveries, crowded brunches, gifts of handmade cards, and forced good wishes muttered under surly teen breaths. For some, it’s a day of sadness. If a mother has passed, if a child is lost, or a woman who desperately wants children doesn’t have any, Mother’s Day can be very painful. I remember being part of that latter group, keeping a smiling, brave face on for my own mother and mother-in-law, and then returning home after the obligatory brunch to cry my eyes out.

Grief is a weird, ever-changing emotion. Here in America, where the lifestyle is one of instant gratification mixed with unfailing optimism, grief isn’t really allowed after a certain amount of time. After about a year, people start worrying if you’re still crying over your dead loved one. I remember still being a wreck a year on from Dad’s death and wondering what was wrong with me. Eventually, I learned about the five stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It took me a while, but I eventually accepted Dad’s death, his absence, and the hole he left behind.

I’m currently working on acceptance regarding my relationship with my mother.

Since becoming estranged from her last February–my choice–I have worked through many, many… many emotions. Probably the biggest emotion of all has been guilt.

Guilt that I should be a better daughter, buck up, and deal with the roller coaster of her borderline personality disorder.

Guilt that I didn’t notice her mental issue earlier and try to get her help when she was younger.

Guilt that I believed all of her lies and just swallowed them whole.

Guilt that I existed with her bad choices, made excuses for them, and put my friends and family through the stress of our fractured relationship.

While chewing on the guilt, I’m also working through the five stages of grief. But, rather than grief, I’ve decided for the purpose of this post to call it The Five Stages of Mother’s Day. Because this hasn’t been a 15-month-long process. This has been my life.

~Denial~

When I watched how she treated Dad, her friends, her family, I just assumed that was how everyone was to everyone else. I was a child and didn’t know any different. My parents never hit me or berated me, but my mother berated everyone else. I was a nervous kid, but could never put my finger on why I was this way. Eventually, I grew up just like her. I had a short fuse that would ignite at the slightest provocation. Tyler, the kids, my closest mates, no one was immune. Throughout my childhood, I made all the awful Crayon cards for my mother, school art projects, knick-knacks and such for Mother’s Day. And… she didn’t keep them.

~Anger~

The April after Dad’s death, I returned to West Virginia to bury his ashes and celebrate Mom’s birthday and Easter. After paying for two funerals, four plane tickets, and helping out Mom financially, Tyler and I were cash-strapped. But, I still took her to the mall and bought her a passel of clothes. For Mother’s Day, I sent her a card. I found out from my cousin that my mother was angry that I didn’t get her a gift for the holiday. I explained, exasperated, what I had purchased for her just the month before, and that I couldn’t even really afford that. This was the first time I was really, truly hurt. And pissed.

~Bargaining~

Between 1999 and 2006, I spent every Mother’s Day on pins and needles, making sure she received something that was worthy of her appreciation. Flowers, cards, gifts, didn’t matter. I learned pretty quickly that Mom didn’t want something that she needed. It needed to be some ornament that outwardly showed status. A pricey scarf, teacups, jewelry, purses–I was essentially buying her love. And she ate it up. Because that’s what she wanted. Not thoughtfulness, but fripperies. Once, when I did give her items of usefulness, I found out from a friend that her response to that holiday when asked, “What did you get?”

“Nothing good,” came the reply.

~Depression~

As I became the recipient of the handmade scribbles, elementary school artwork, hugs, and such, I cherished each one. I struggled to find a special place to put each item. Bookshelves became full of hand-drawn pictures and a basket turned into the reservoir of all those precious memories. Meanwhile, I struggled to find the right card to express that I loved my own mother, but when it came to saying, “Thank you.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t thank her for the depression, anxiety, and constant upset. Finding that “perfect” gift was making sure the gift would pass her inspection and would be appreciated. There was no joy in the selection. No happiness in the forced Mother’s Day lunch conversation. No comfort in the hug. Only stress and sadness.

~Acceptance~

After two Mother’s Days without my own mother, I realize that this is now my life. My mother’s day was a day of hiding out in my basement, cross-stitching and watching true crime shows. The kids came down every now and then to check on me, give me hugs, wish me a happy day, and give me their gifts. They make me whole, give me joy and happiness in their every action. I am so incredibly lucky to have them as my children and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone or anything. But I felt that I had to hide, that I’m a horrible daughter for not calling my mother, texting my friends, calling my grandmother, emailing my relatives. I just couldn’t do it. I put my phone on do not disturb and immersed myself in the counted stitches of my latest project, allowing the tiny embroidery to calm my anxiety. Acceptance will take a really long time–probably years. It’s the stage I’m still working towards. Someday, I’ll be able to face the day knowing that I’m a daughter who told her mother to go away and that that was the right choice.

I wish for my mother comfort. I wish her love and joy with her friends. I wish her peace. But, I need to wish her those things from afar. Our lives are better for it.

The 13th Floor

“What floor are we on, Papa?”

Jarrod stood there, in the elevator, one hand on the door making sure it stayed open, other hand poised over the buttons, index finger extended and ready to press the floor we needed to access for our stay.

“Fourteenth,” Tyler responded.

“Technically,” I replied, “we’re on the 13th floor.”

All three kids looked at me quizzically.

“Well, it’s supposedly bad luck for hotels to have a 13th floor, so if you look on the elevator button panel, there’s a 12th floor and a 14th, but no 13th. Technically, though, the 14th floor is the 13th. So, we’re on the 13th floor.”

“Huh.” Amelia said, “That means that we’re in room 1313 because our room number says 1413 but if the 14th floor is actually the 13th floor, then we’re in the most unlucky room in the building.”

“But, only if you’re a Templar, Amelia.” Heath stated.

“I need a drink.” Tyler muttered.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You always told me that you worked the hardest during our summers in Lewisburg. That it was you who did all the canning and the summer garden work around my grandparents’ house. You always made sure to point out that my aunt, your sister, did nothing, that she was lazy and acted like a princess, making sure to do just enough to stay in your father’s good graces and make you look like the bad guy.

Except, that wasn’t it at all. Turns out, you were the daughter who needed reminding that in order to reap your share of the bounty, you needed to sow. You were the one who acted disgruntled every time you were reminded to get up and do your share. Your sister was the one who was always there, ready to throw in a lending hand and willingly do her part. Meanwhile, you did just the absolute minimum while telling everyone the opposite.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You know what drives me nuts?” Tyler asked one morning, feet propped on the ottoman, enjoying his last few minutes of freedom before work.

“What?” I responded.

“The fact that the Chick-fil-A hash browns box can hold 16 hash browns but they only throw in like 12. Sometimes 10!” He held up the open box to show that he had lined up the offending rounds of browned potatoes with a large space to the left where five hash browns should have been.

“Well,” I looked at him over my reading glasses, “they’re not actually counting them. They just throw handfuls in there. They’re in a hurry because every high schooler in Towne Lake is running there for breakfast in the morning and the crowds are horrendous.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he harrumphed, “if it can hold 16, there should be 16 in here. Bunch of liars.”

“Bless your heart.” I muttered for the 1,000th time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Your father always made fun of anything I ever did.”

“What?!” I exclaimed, not believing I had just heard what she said.

“He did! Any time I made anything, he made fun of it.”

It was the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, always a hard day for me. And now she was remembering him with a lie.

“He did no such thing. He was always proud of everything you did.”

She grumbled under her breath and nothing more was said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Lying is the worst,” I’ve always said to our children. “Don’t lie to me or to your Papa. We will always tell you the truth. Even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. We expect the same courtesy from you. If you lie to us, that is worse than anything else you could possibly do. A lie is a betrayal of self and of our ties as a family.”

I try, really hard, to make sure they don’t lie. But, I know they do. It’s in our nature as humans to lie in order to cover our butts.

Did you practice piano? SURE!

Mom face activated. Teenager skulks into the living room and actually practices.

Did you do your homework? UH-HUH!

Mom face re-activated. Pre-teen heavily sighs, picks up his backpack and pulls out his homework folder.

Honestly, though, those lies don’t bother me. It’s the big ones that would kill me. If they ever lied about loving me, I would die, and I know I feel that way because of the lies of my childhood.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I looked into the stands. I stood in the center of the football field, my last band festival as a senior and as drum major. I could see my mother and my father, but not my grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. We were in Lewisburg, at the local high school, where they all lived. But, none of them were there.

As usual.

You chalked it up to none of them liking us, especially me. I got it. I was the weird grandkid. The odd niece. The strange cousin. I was used to it. But it still hurt.

Later, though, I found out that no one was there because you never told them about it. For six years, they asked and you never responded, never let them know. They never saw me out in the middle of the football field. They never witnessed me win a trophy, salute the crowd, or conduct until my arms ached. You purposefully lied to them and removed them from my life. I still can’t discern the reason for it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gaslighting is a term I didn’t hear until I was an adult. According to Psychology Today,

Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.

Gaslighting is lying. It is projecting. It wears you down. It confuses you. It makes you dependent. It makes you feel crazy. It’s manipulation. It’s abuse.

In the above quote, it talks about cult leaders using gaslighting and I remember last year telling Tyler, “I’ve been a member of the Cult of Mom my entire life.” The cognitive dissonance was strong and I had a horrible time reconciling my experiences to what was actually true. I don’t like to throw around PTSD because there are so many people out there who suffer from awful forms of PTSD. Soldiers, physical abuse victims, victims of violent crime, those are the people who have PTSD. But I’ve discovered that my depression and anxiety are milder symptoms of PTSD. Those are my reactions to having been gaslit my whole life. I always wondered why a ringing phone sent me into a state of panic, why an authority figure in my life wanting to talk to me freaked me out, why I was constantly negative about myself and didn’t feel worthy of love or good things.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slowly, but surely, I’m healing. I don’t expect it to happen overnight. It’s been over a year and I realize that I may never be “over” any of it. I’ll just be able to deal with it in a more healthy manner. There are still moments that will make me pause. Like last night, watching a woman out to eat with her mother, having easy conversation and enjoying each other’s company. I know I’ll never have that, and that’s OK. But it still makes me stop, think, remember, mourn, and move on. Each and every time.

My whole life, I lived on the 13th floor. Instinctually, I knew it was the 13th. I could count. But the most important person in my life kept telling me it was the 14th floor. And I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But not any more. I know it was the 13th. I’m proclaiming it was the 13th. She can stay on the 14th floor without me. I’m done.

Cognitive Dissonance, Eggshells, and Guilt

I don’t talk about Mom a lot online. Last year, I posted that we were no longer in contact and I’ve reached out to a few mutual friends to help me keep an eye on her simply because she’s no spring chicken. But, other than that, unless you’re a close friend who I talk to on a regular basis, I’ve been radio-silent.

I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

I’ve spent the last 13 months reading books about borderline personality disorder, subscribing to Facebook and Reddit groups that allow for safe spaces to post about borderline parents, and going to therapy. Well, scratch that. Therapy only lasted six months because my therapist started talking about reconciliation and Christian resource books and talking to my mother again and I tried to put the kibosh on that but she kept saying those words and so I canceled my next appointment and never went back. Yes, I ghosted my therapist. I figured it was for the best. And I’ve been too lazy, and frankly a little scared, to look for another one.

Reconciliation is a no-go for me as there is nothing to reconcile. Living with someone who has borderline personality disorder is about setting boundaries and keeping those boundaries in place. Except, like a toddler, the person with BPD will constantly push those boundaries and you, the loved one, will spend your life walking on eggshells. As reddit user u/NothingIsEverEnough succinctly stated, One book says “stop walking on eggshells”, I immediately called bullshit on it. The book teaches you how to walk on eggshells with lesser damage, but you will walk on eggshells as long as you’re in the relationship.

I’ve walked on eggshells for over four decades and I’m done, ya’ll.

So, instead of therapy, I call Toni, talk to Jodi over our property line, text Stefanie, and drink more coffee.

Yes, Heather, you made the right decision. Toni tells me.
Your mom pinned something on Pinterest, so she’s still alive. Jodi informs me.
I got your back. Just let me know who I need to cut. Stefanie says.
You are amazing and you are so smart and beautiful and talented. Everything you do and say is brilliant and I love you. Coffee will whisper to me.

I know that coffee is lying but three outta four ain’t bad.

I have a notebook that I bought last year that I use as a silent therapist. In it are neatly written pages of memories of my mother’s lies and mental illness. It’s probably not healthy to have it, but whenever I think, Maybe I’m being too harsh. I just need to call her and apologize and not leave her by herself, I just pick up that notebook and re-read it and remember why I have established this No Contact  boundary and why that needs to remain the status quo. I also read it to remind myself that I have borderline personality tendencies and that I need to fight that and not react as a person with BPD would react. Any time I find myself overthinking a situation, misreading a social cue, or worse, splitting, I pick up that notebook to stop it.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky nailed it when he said, “I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”

My goal is to, someday, burn that book and the memories written in it. But not today. Today, I need it.

I guess, through all this rambling, what I’m trying to say is that I’m going to have blog posts that seem to start in the middle of a discussion, that tell a story halfway through. And those are the posts where I’m working through my relationship with my mother, myself, and our shared mental illness. If you don’t want to read those, I totally get it. If you read and have nothing to add, that’s fine. If you read and decide that you have words of wisdom to share with me, by all means do so. I just need a safe space, outside of my notebook to share my life with my mother. I hope you all understand.