Beveiligd: Healing relationship with self and family
Can you speak of an individual having mental health problems? Is there something as a ‘sick person’, or is it a sick system, family or environment? What do you think? Read my story and tell me again at the end. Tonight I’m cleaning up my closet. I’d like to tell you about the skeletons in my closet. At this moment, my heart is shattered and broken into a million pieces. To tell you the truth, it has been this broken for a long time. A part of my closest family has abandoned me, for the main reason of looking help for my, at that moment severe, mental health problems. Since then, I’ve improved tremendously due to working and gritting my teeth to try to pick myself back up, again and again. As the merry go round of patterns laid down in my youth keeps on knocking me to the floor, I am still fighting against them. But when I was down, they stood on me. For not being enough. For not doing things according to their expectations. For not obeying. I’d like to tell you about my journey. Even though I was already 27 years old, I told my grandmother: “I want to have a child.” to which she said: “It is not the time for it, is it?”. I thought to myself: “Who are you to tell me whether or not it is my time to procreate?” That was the breaking point where I felt I had to rid myself of her way of trying to help me and her way of exerting power over me. As a millennial, I suffer the same discrimination as so many of my generation. Parents and elders pushing and prodding us to succeed more and more. To be successful at a career. Why aren’t you financially independent yet? Why aren’t you earning more? Why aren’t you having a proper job yet? Why are you so depressed? Why are you so anxious? Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t look for help, that is for weaklings. Time and again I hear of my peers being treated in this way. The circumstances of my generation are washed away with wine and called exaggeration. I am sorry, but the babyboomer generation before me, those people who finished Uni in the booming nineties, they have no idea how hard it is. Economic crisis To start studying in a time where you were told you could reach the stars, do whatever the ˆ&!&$ you wanted and succeed, that it is important to follow your passions, your heart and find what makes you tick. Then, in the middle of my studies at least, the economic bomb bursted and that’s when all the myriad job opportunities I was so tempted by before starting studying just got blasted away. Cultural scene? In the Netherlands? Sorry, we don’t have money for arts & culture. No, we don’t have money to spend on your ‘leftish hobbies’ as one of our political ‘leaders’ called it. Jobs and institutions lost. Cultural heritage obliterated. And our generation with our high hopes, just felt the black hole opening up that was ‘Graduation’. So, I desperately tried to avoid that. I was very depressed in my twenties, I was wrought with fear and anxiety after my family suffered a series of unfortunate deaths. Grief and loss My uncle was felled by cancer at 58. My aunt followed a year later mainly due to anorexia and a virus at 38. The one after the other died on both sides of my family and those circles dwindled. I couldn’t bear to feel the grief myself, I had to be strong for the rest of my family. And that’s where the suicidal thoughts resurfaced, the ones I had felt when I was nine going on ten, now while I was a tender twenty year old. I felt the pressure of now having to become the accomplished one, to make up for all the lost dreams of my intelligent, but unemployed and alcoholic parents, my genius yet terribly unhappy uncle and wonderful, elegant and anorexic aunt. Me and my fifteen year older half-sister were the only ones left from my grandmother’s side. And what opportunity did I have to fulfill their expectations? I would have to be an worldwide award-winning artist (for my mother’s potential), an elegant spiritual guru/reverend (my aunt), a doctor in western medicine as well as eastern medicine, artist and black belt in karate (my uncle). I carried a piece of all their lives within me. In a way I wanted to be like them too, and I tried my very best. While studying Anthropology, I practiced yoga and chi qong. I devoured everything about Eastern philosophy. I learned about herbal remedies, alternative medicine, how to heal through food. And I worked hard on my relationship with food and my body, through earth-based spirituality I rekindled the fire of sacred reverence for the Mother, within and within. The cosmic connection caused me to see all life as sacred, and to stop trying to hurt my body. The mental anguish didn’t leave me though. The reason for my life and all the things I did was still, unconsciously, looking for approval. I felt the gaping emptiness within. Spirit filled some hole, but never brought to light the complicated psychological patterns that was causing my underlying and relentless feeling of inadequacy and dependence. Searching for approval The video below was completely my way to go 🙂 : I was aching for my family’s approval, wanted to hear that I was alright. That they respected me. My childhood neglect caused this external motivation to become my internal slave driver. It pushed me to work harder. To be better, to achieve more, and more broadly especially. Focus was my biggest problem, I was so afraid to commit to anything. Boyfriends, my gender, a sexual orientation, a major in University. Yet at the same time I wanted so badly to be safe, to commit, to have the stability I had always lacked in life. The uncertainty that I could see due to the economic crisis frightened me terribly. I was able to find the breadth of what I was interested in in Anthropology as I started studying. Anthropology concerns the ways that people worldwide deal with the world. Especially non-western approaches to life inspired me, as well as gender studies. In these academic approaches I could find some resolve and theoretical means to deal with the ambiguity I’ve felt about the absurdity of contemporary life as I’d experienced it thus-far. Simplification angered me, how complex things were rendered black and white by the media, and presented in bite-sized tidbits. Yet my own emotional nature was acting the same way, painting myself black time and again, every time I made a little mistake, or failed to achieve the grandiose goals I set out for myself. I set myself up for failure. Generational divide My half-sister belongs to a different generation. She never understood my struggles. Her ease in finding a job after University pushed her to blame me for my own failure. Rather than helping me, by trying to understand or see what I was going through, offering practical help by extending her network to me, she kept on reminding me of the same issues I was so frightened about: “Why don’t you have a job?”. Pride kept me from asking support from the government. I was supported by my grandmother. I was studying, working, doing voluntary work and doing therapy. I did this for years and years to avoid the black hole of un- or underemployment. Therapy has been a part of my life since the suicidal ideation started bubbling above the surface each day. A wanted but unplanned pregnancy ended in abortion, a rational decision, but completely disregarding my feelings of tremendous love for my unborn child. How this aggravated the already feeling of being worthless. I spent months just playing Sims, and slowly taking one course at a time at Uni. I’m a privileged woman, I have been able to pursue my interests, travel and deeply engage with what I loved and made me feel alive. Yet during all of this, I was struggling with a wish to die. The need for enlightenment, peace, release from the pressures that were so strong. I didn’t tell a soul of my family about my feelings, I kept painting a pretty picture that was true, but I hid the swirling darkness looming in the corners. I was afraid to share it, as I sensitively felt which turned out to be true: they couldn’t bear the truth. Alone I toiled, with my friends that have become like family. Always it felt like it wasn’t being enough. I could never fulfill both my half-sister’s expectations and my grandmother’s at the same time. And what I wanted myself was snowed under by the power they were both exerting over me. As all my means of living were supplied by my rich grandmother. My sister wanted me to be financially independent, and of course, I wanted this too. But my insecurity, fears and depression made this quite hard. Besides that, I couldn’t find a single job offer for what would somewhat be in line with my work. The only job offers available were ‘Internships’. Unpaid internship My grandmother wanted me to do a PhD, on her costs. She called it “finishing my studies”. Very kind of her, as I really wanted to do so as well. But it would mean remaining financially dependent for another eight years or so, and probably not procreate as well. I wanted a family. I wanted to be creative and follow my academic interests. I showed her a couple of PhD programs I wanted to contribute to, but she all turned them simply and easily. While I had ideas, I also felt cornered by my dependent position and I was terribly afraid of the consequences of doing a PhD and getting stuck without a job and being overqualified for anything. I wanted to get work experience and learn how to make a living, before starting this academic venture. My stresslevels went completely out of whack too when I was considering to do it. The pressure of not being independent and fulfilling my own as well as my sister’s expectations just stifled me completely. So, I did an unpaid internship. While my grandmother was paying for my food and supplying my housing, I worked for 32-40 hours a week for 0 euros a month, getting free lunches but not even travel expenses. My internal slave driver got an extra job too, to push me further and take on more and more. I showed plenty of promise, and created wonderful things for the cultural institution I was working for. In the evenings I would fall apart though and smoke weed to try to calm myself and find a sliver of peace. My boyfriend was with me at that time, we were living together and he felt like he hardly saw me, as I was offering all of myself up to my work. Still it was a good time in a way since I felt so happy to finally work and do something that felt meaningful and involved my brain. My sister kept on buggering me, on my 28th birthday she send me a message: Happy Birthday! How are you? And did you find a job yet?” So I was pretty pissed that she asked me this on my birthday, but yes, I was working so I told her so. The next question was: “Do you have a year contract?”. The sheer insolence of this question baffled me. On my birthday I was working unpaid as a personal assistant to an employee who was on a three month contract herself. Literally, my internship supervisor didn’t even have a year contract! So I just blew up in her face and got tremendously angry with her. For the first time ever. To explain my anger, this is not the only negativity she has barraged me with. In the past she had also told me I was a bad and faulty feminist for not being financially independent yet. She told me this while I was writing my masterthesis, all within perfect time of starting it. She never once wished me ‘Good Luck’ or offered encouragement or emotional support while I was studying. I was only receiving her aggravated text messages pushing me down into the dirt, during a time where deep depression resurfaced while I was also finishing my studies. After becoming angry with her, she broke off all contact with me. My reconciliatory emails and messages, voicemails all got ignored. Talking was out of the question. Not invited for Christmas That Christmas, I wasn’t invited to come. Each Christmas we would celebrate it with my grandparents, my sister and her children, my mother and before my aunt and uncle. So now the circle had diminished to only my sister and my grandparents. When I asked my grandmother about it, I sent several letters in advance and after, she told me I had decided not to come myself, completely disregarding the fact that I didn’t receive a letter. That January she cut off the financial support, which was fine by me as I really wanted to be free from her ways of trying to help/control me. I went to Thailand, with the remainder of my savings. To do an artist in residency program, still trying to piece together that part of my destiny called ‘artist’. There, I was quite tired all the time. And wondering what was going on. Was I depressed? Actually, I felt more free and happy than I had felt in years. And when I didn’t get my period, I thought it had to do with traveling upsetting my hormones. Then I discovered that the little miracle now called Jet Sage was living in my womb. New life and longing for family When I returned, I wanted my family to return to harmony more than ever. So I wrote my sister and attempted something I hadn’t ever tried before. I was vulnerable and truthful. I told her about the depth of my pain within, the depression, the suicidal thoughts. That I was looking for treatment once again. And please, don’t tell grandmother. I thought by telling her this, she might find some semblance of compassion and love in her heart, knowing that I didn’t mean to “hurt her”. Which was she was repeating all the time, that she was so incredibly hurt by my anger. Even though I was just standing up for the first time against what had felt like a lifetime of abuse. She replied kindly, I was so happy about that. She was so sad to hear about my struggles, she told me she didn’t know and that was what she was so afraid of. I really felt a heart connection then, for the first time she was not badgering me, but really opening up. When I saw her in real life, after breaking bread together and having a kind reunion, I told her about the life that was growing within me. She was happy for me and said something along the lines of “You can do this, I’m sure about it. Right?” Kind of scared she was but at the same time confident that I was able. Since she doesn’t know me at all, she hasn’t seen me more than a handful of times after she left home when I was aged four, I don’t take her judgements about my abilities that serious. I did hunker for her approval, since she was one of the few people around me when I was a tiny kid. From 0-4 she was there, and then she left. I named my journal after her, wrote in her every day. I missed her so much, and recognized her in all the television show characters I saw each day. While my parents were sleeping off their hangovers, I watched cartoons, eating chocolate and drinking cola. As an adolescent I hardly saw her after I had turned to spirituality for my quest for getting ‘fixed’. Fixed as I felt broken and defective for as long as I can remember. Buddhism and spirituality for me held a key to feeling whole and at one with the Universe. This brought tremendous joy to me. As my pregnancy did. When I shared the joyous news with my grandmother with a cozy card of a bird making a nest, I didn’t receive any news. No congratulations. Nothing. After several urgings, I received a short note: “Dear Sabine. I hope you will be happy with it. All the Best, Grandmother.” Reconciliation in the face of death and new life? How sad. How disappointing. I was wrought with anger and sadness and confusion. I tried to write, I asked my sister for help, I looked for help at my mother’s side but she was also getting waylaid and pushed away. My sister refused me, even though she knew grandma was dying. She was “busy enough as it was” and just plainly said “No.” I discovered that she was ill with lung cancer shortly after I gave birth. I called and my grandfather tearfully told me on the phone. My heart broke and I wanted to see her immediately, but my grandfather told me: not yet, not now. I sent her flowers, I sent her cards. No answer. My anger at her non-reaction was gone, here came the sadness. Yet I couldn’t do anything. In the end I went there without Jet, and my grandfather welcomed me but I wasn’t allowed to see her. The reason was never given. She didn’t want to see her great-grandson.My sister refused to play a role, especially when she really knew grandma was dying. She was “busy enough as it was” and just plainly said “No.” I hadn’t seen my grandmother then for one year, the last time we walked across her great yard, underneath the big tree I told her about my mental health, and that I was choosing to take care of myself before I was going to continue with my academic studies. And that I wanted a child at some point. The conversation I referred to at the beginning. Before giving birth and I knew she was ill, I had written a beautiful eight page letter, urging her for forgiveness for whatever slights there might have happened of which I had no idea, asking her for loving me again like our cats love unconditionally. I didn’t send it yet. My sister came three days post-partum, and she coldly told me that she and even my mother were allowed to celebrate her birthday in June, but that I was persona non grata. If my mother tried to mention me, she later told me, she didn’t even want to talk about me or acknowledge I was alive. I was just some kind of evil to her that she didn’t want to discuss. And why? The reason eluded me until only this Easter. I felt incredible disappointed and in pain since my sister’s shared her idiotic and mindlessly story of that I wasn’t invited to her birthday. Previously my mother had told me, to protect me, that she wouldn’t celebrate it. So I never sent that letter. My sister refused to believe she had lung cancer when I told her. She said it was another one of our mother’s lies. I was confused and also just overcome with emotion and hormones. Maybe it wasn’t true then that she was ill? But why would my grandfather tell me? I was so busy with my baby and other matters so I couldn’t go into it. I tried to believe my sister, so I could feel not so afraid of losing her. Stigmatized because of a label. Now last Easter, my mother told me what had happened. My sister had mindlessly shared my diagnosis with my already ill and weak grandmother. And she had asked her minion/employee, a man I know and liked, to look it up online, what it actually meant. He had found a terribly stigmatizing text I can only presume. And she then believed that this meant that I was incapable of taking care of a child, that my child after birth would actually even be taken away from me. That’s why she didn’t want to see me before her death, or her happy and beautiful great-grandson. …. Rather than embracing me for trying to deal with my issues, rather than supporting me for my battle against the wounds that childhood dealt with me, she excommunicated me. My sister too, whenever I stand up to her abuse, she excommunicates me. She can only communicate with me, if I do not have ‘an attack’ or become angry with her. I have, needless to say, chosen not to have communication with her anymore. I wanted to talk to my sister about this after the final clarification this Easter. But, in the end, I decided against it. After inviting her to coffee, she sent me a flowery card in which she said a hesistant yes to my invitation, all the while painting me like a dangerous insane person in her manner of writing. As if my mental health issues make all my feelings invalid, the fabulous ad hominem fallacy. She doesn’t know me. And she doesn’t know what she has done. Maybe now she will know, if she will ever read this. Compassion and healing The wounds in my family are not a matter of wrong and evil individuals. They come from sick systems, patriarchy and neglect and abuse generation upon generation. That is why I started therapy, that’s why I’m writing here, that’s why I’m working so hard to change my own habits and patterns in my psyche. The pain and suffering stops here. Who knows, maybe my son will also need some therapy when he grows up. But I definitely am working hard to protect him from the blows that have been dealt to me as a tiny kid to make the need for that as small as possible. Blows that are still hurting me to this day, but thanks to my hard work, since I was an adolescent and perhaps even before that, I am getting better. And better. Each day. No matter what, I am proud of myself for doing this “self”-healing work. When I will finish my therapy that I’m doing since August last year, I know I will have joined the ranks of the recovered. And thankfully for that illness of mine, there are many. No matter what my grandmother ignorantly had supposed. I know where my grandmother’s lack of empathy and compassion originate. She has had her own terrible troubles, losing two wonderful children and having experienced loss and trauma in her childhood as well. Mental health ‘patients’ and survivors are not sick individuals. In fact, I do not believe in ‘individuals’ meaning people existing unto themselves as separate beings. Mental health patients are parts of a larger family, system and/or environment that is helping to heal and make the entire system whole again. We should see them as great healers and respect them greatly as we did in ancient civilizations or some non-western ones. We should support their struggle and valor their efforts. Cultural Trauma War, famine, patriarchy, rapid development, all these tremendous tidal waves have crashed upon the human psyche. How could you declare mental health suffering to be an individual matter, while entire cultures, groups and nations are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? While cultural trauma is entrenched deep within our everyday realities. And it is even on a genetic level, trauma is transmitting through our very genes. So how can we talk about some sick individuals who should be shunned and excluded from society, rather than praising their hard work in trying to heal themselves? The weight of stigmatization makes the suffering even worse. Who is healing our children and future grandchildren? We are. Right now. By the choices we make, by the ways we deal with our own psyches, emotions and by how we deal with other people. Choosing compassion and understanding, rather than blaming. What my sister has caused within my family, is not her fault. (Like Jesus said: ‘They know not what they do’) She simply lacks reflection, empathy and compassion, she cannot even see that she has done something wrong by carelessly and unmindfully revealing my very stigmatized diagnosis to my already ill and weakened grandmother. This is for me, incredibly painful of course. I haven’t confronted her with the story my mother told me, which for me intuitively feels very true and is probably close to what happened. I don’t believe my sister actually knew why my grandmother didn’t want to see me anymore. I think my grandmother simply kept her mouth shut about it. Conclusion I’m still very sad that I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my grandmother while she was still alive. I was able to say goodbye to her as she lay in her house. On her face there was a mysterious smile, as she lay there surrounded by flowers. She was such a special and important person to me in my life, who helped me and believed in me when I was very insecure and unable to decide what to do. We had so much fun together as well. She will never return to me, but I can only cherish the memories I have of her. Even though she rejected me in the end, I know somewhere she really did love me. She just didn’t know how to love. Me and her more fragile parts of self that I was reflecting to her. I will always love her regardless for all that she has meant to me. And I will heal myself, for her sake, for Jet’s sake and for my grandchildren’s sake. Whom I will never, ever forsake, I swear to God/Goddess. May love rule and may we all take care of ourselves and our families.