Friday Conversations With My Psychiatrist | June 12, 2009

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Psychiatrist Day

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This was my first appointment after telling my parents about my girlfriend being pregnant. It was not a good ten days. There is a level of passive aggression in my family that is unrivalled.

When I first told my mother she seemed happy, at least after the first few moments of indecision. After her first hersitation she seemed happy, even excited. For the next week, however, she let her anxieties show in questions like “are you sure you want to be a father”, “are you happy she’s pregnant” and “is this something you want”.

Do I want to be a father, and am I happy my girlfriend is pregnant. How could I possibly be expected to answer those questions? To me she might as well be asking if I’m going to raise my child or abandon it like my father did me. How can that even be a choice?

More recently she decided the lack of positive response from her and my step-father was my fault because I wasn’t “taking the lead” and I haven’t been “happy enough”. But I was happy when I told her, and also when I told my step-father, and the response from him was as though I had pissed in his cereal. He barely even shook my hand.

One of the things about my mother’s brand of passive aggression is how she’ll create the problem, then offer her own solution as though you were too stupid to even realize the problem could be fixed.

This was the email she sent just before Father’s Day, which was when I planned on telling my extended family about the pregnancy:

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I do – kindly – ask you to think ahead of the overall impression that you want your family to have – such as:
– this is good news
– we care for each other (when you say ‘we’re just girlfriend and boyfriend’ it leaves me feeling empty. Especially, as the two of you are now linked for a lifetime. You are more to each other…)
– we look forward to the child’s arrival

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There is so much in so few lines. Among many others things, it’s like I couldn’t be trusted to explain the situation to adults. So I sent an email response to her crap:

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[My girlfriend] and I are dating, we are girlfriend and boyfriend. I can’t help how the labels makes you feel. We are happy together, and are completely aware that we are tied in some form for life.

I’m not sure where this “you must lead us with joy” thing comes from. So far my friends have all reacted positively. When I told you about the pregnancy I was smiling and I told you it was good news. You reacted with caution, but then became excited after I convinced you I was happy about it, then you went looking for [my step-father]. When I told [him] he reacted badly despite my smiling and moving to shake his hand. Was I supposed to jump around and smack his shoulder? I smiled, he didn’t.

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Most of this happened between appointments, and will be something I actually discuss at my next appointment, but the beginnings of my mother’s anxiety attacks on me began within a few days of my telling her about the pregnancy.

Father’s Day went well. Barely. Everyone responded like I thought they would. Which was basically not the kind of happy-joy-joy crap normal families might exhibit. But I’ll get into that in another post.

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In my previous appointment I had complained about some sleeping irregularities. So my doctor asked me about my sleeping patterns. They’re much better now that I’ve set some boundaries with my girlfriend. I’ve established “me time” days and “we time” days, so I can better prepare for our time together.

Because of the complications with the pregnancy I had been pretty much living at hospitals between midnight and 4am, then out with my girlfriend and her son, then dealing with my own life and taking care of my grandfather. So sleep, for over a month, was a non issue because I wasn’t getting any.

My doctor made sure I knew my seroquel was now the generic kind, and some people have been complaining about sleep being harder to come by… I’m not sure, but I think I have noticed. But if there’s a difference it hasn’t been difficult to overcome.

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I’ve never been capable of setting schedules, or living up to them. I stopped showing up regularly for high school in grade ten, I dropped out in grade twelve and again in grade thirteen. I was fired from my first radio job because I slept through two 5pm drive-time shows in a row, then I slept in again and missed the appointment with my boss where I’m pretty sure he was going to fire me anyway.

I was kicked out of College in my second semester for not showing up for days on end, they had signed the paperwork to kick me out four months earlier, but allowed me to stay on the strength of a feature article.

I grew up as the ward of a pack of communist revolutionaries, with a mother and father who were, respectively, largely and completely absent. After my mother escaped she had to work, which meant my brother and I were latchkey kids and alone until the early or late evening.

For the five years after I left high school I was unmedicated, untreated and unemployable, so my guidelines were set by the welfare office.

So trying to set some boundaries in my life is something new. So is keeping a schedule. I haven’t been very successful with either yet, but they are something I’m starting to understand. My doctor thinks this will be a nearly impossible process, and I agree.

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And then things got weird. Somehow we got onto the topic of betrayal, and how I’m never sure if my reactions to even the slightest betrayal are normal.

Nine years ago someone who called me brother, who used to call me the best friend he had, took a photo of my sister and put it in his back pocket, telling the other three or four friends we were with, that he was keeping her for later.

Our other friends were nervous, but still in on the joke. In my head, at the time, I picked him up by his neck and slammed him onto the pool table. But in reality I had to ask him three times for the photo back. Our relationship was never the same after that, at least not for me. But I allowed it to continue without confronting him, so the resentment kept growing.

After about a year I moved away. And when we found each other again he was still going with the “brother” rhetoric, but I really couldn’t be bothered. But what was the right reaction in the moment?

My life is made up of several instances where I feel a friend has betrayed the trust inherent with friendship, and I’ve never reacted properly in the moment. So the resentment builds up, until finally I just cut them loose. I stop calling, returning calls, whatever, and they have no idea why because I either can’t recognize the moment, or if I can recognize it the moment is long since past.

A lot of times I’ll pin my response on something small, like receiving a suspicious glance, and that’ll be what I base my decision to stop seeing the person on, but really it’s something else from much further back.

It takes place in the blogging world as well. If I have a decent relationship with someone online, but they allow someone else to attack me in the comment section, I’ll take them out of my blogroll and never comment there again. And it doesn’t have to be an overt attack… it can just be a respect thing, like if I feel disrespected I’ll just shut the relationship down completely.

Sometimes I’ll go back and review, just to make sure I’m not overreacting… but the thing is, I may not be overreacting according to my own criteria for betrayal, but my criteria could be overly sensitive.

I really don’t know if my reactions are normal.

My doctor suggested it might be some kind of alpha male thing, where the power was taken away from me and I couldn’t respond in an overtly “alpha” manner. He thinks I need to practise my relationship techniques.

I don’t see it as being completely “alpha” directed. I think the relationship I have / had with my mother plays an enormous role in my “fight or flight” response.

I don’t like blaming my mother for much, but when you’re a thirteen-year old kid and you’re in an argument with your only parental figure, who happens to be a genius, an incredibly strong-minded woman, and insanely stubborn, you’re going to end up just sitting there and taking it until she’s done.

And I did take a lot from her.

My mother spent ten years as the second-in-charge to a rabid pack of overly-educated revolutionaries. Some of whom liked to include the five-year old me in their “debates” / criticism sessions. My brother and I never stood a chance.

I think it’s primarily the betrayal, but there might be some aspects of confrontation avoidance at play here as well. Like, how dare someone put me in a situation of confrontation. Maybe that’s the betrayal, not necessarily only the photo in the pants stuff.

But still, how to respond to the betrayal / confrontation properly, and in the moment, is the problem…

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...thanks.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Appointment Day, Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Pregnancy, Psychiatry. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Friday Conversations With My Psychiatrist | June 12, 2009

  1. thordora says:

    She’s worried for you-but shows it in the worst way possible. It’s a lot for people, especially parents, to swallow. I know if one of my daughters came to me saying they were pregnant after a short while with someone, I would be concerned, concerned that they might be hurt, overwhelmed.

    But I also hope that I’d react with only hope for their happiness, despite my misgivings. I hope your mother can give you that, instead of plain worry.

    I’m pretty much the same with people-there’s a black and white line of things that are dealbreakers-stuff like infidelity with partners, insincerity…I have a long list which explains my lack of friends. 😀

    Hang in there.

  2. Gabriel... says:

    …she’s trying to defend me against myself by attacking me. If a healthy person is concerned about a friend or family member being overwhelmed by a situation they’ll normally just ask what they can do, or do something that makes sense within the context of them having a healthy mind.

    A healthy person isn’t going to respond to your cancer by bringing you a handful of dirt. And they’re not going to respond by making you feel worthless or as though you’ve done something wrong.

    But my mom isn’t healthy. She was raised by my grandmother who was, and still partially is, a psychotic passive aggressive bitch.

    I’m sure healthy parents would, rightfully, have a difficult time at first with news like this, and I’m sure my mother will back off sooner rather than later, but if I’m still around in ten years she’ll still be letting me know about her disappointment.

    I’ve been noticing my general lack of friends issue for the past few years. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to forgive people who don’t realize they’ve been disrespectful, or just accept that their behaviour should have been expected…

    Thanks for the comment Thor.

  3. Bromac says:

    I’m glad you believe your mother will come around. I hope that when your mother is able to resolve her issue, she will be able to simply be excited about having a grandchild.

    I have a very short list of friends as well. I have learned to appreciate my introverted nature, but give up on people easily if I feel I have been wronged. I am trying to embrace the idea that just because someone does something “bad” doesn’t mean they’re a bad person and that it might be a better route to extend myself, and possibly inform teach them how to be more respectful of someone’s feelings and belief’s

  4. markps2 says:

    “respond to the betrayal / confrontation… is the problem”
    IMO Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, don’t read too much into things people do. Communication is important and in a good confrontation truths are exposed, so its scary. Myself I rarely confront I live and let live. When the offence is continual I confront.
    I live in the now of today, and I try to forgive old insults, remembering to not place myself in the same spot to be insulted again. With painful memory. Why am I hanging onto the anger? Do I enjoy it? How do you resolve it? Is it resolvable or just that shit happens in life?

  5. zoom says:

    With all due respect Gabriel, I think your mom’s just being a mom. She loves you. She cares about you. She wants you to be happy. Maybe she senses you’re a little ambivalent, and it makes her ambivalent too.

    Being a parent is complicated work. You can’t just say what your kids want to hear, especially about the stuff that matters the most. Sometimes you say the wrong thing, or the right thing the wrong way. It’ll happen to you as a parent too…it happens to all of us. All we can do is keep on muddling through, generation after generation.

  6. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Zoom… thanks for coming over, what you’ve gone through over the past few days must have been mind numbingly frightening, but I’m not surprised whatsoever that you made it through.

    After my appointment today I’ll be writing more about my relationship with my mother in my next Shrink Day Post. Good times. But for now, my problem with her reaction to my having a child is… basically it’s like she hasn’t been paying attention to my life to date.

    She’s asking me questions like “is this what you want” as though there was an answer other than “yes, of course, I’m proud to be a father”. And I find the suggestion of her expectation of a second answer “no, please get me out of here” to be extremely insulting considering my father, her ex-husband, abused us and abandoned his sons almost the minute we were borne.

    The implication seems to be “are you going to be like your father?”

    My mother was an “unexpected” child, she made a big deal last year over her new theory that she was adopted from another family member. But she was conceived out of wedlock, and raised by two parents who resented each other for having had her.

    So my current theory is she’s projecting from her experience with her parents and bypassing mine… mostly because if she looked at mine she’d have to find fault in herself for the choices she made — ie: having me raised by a political collective for the first eight years of my life, then never wanting to speak about it ever again after we escaped.

    So the implication of her questions seems to be “are you going to be like MY parents?” Which is also insulting. Not enough to sue for emancipation, but enough to be… illuminating.

  7. thordora says:

    I’m wondering too if she’s worried that, after a life full of events that were not of your doing, events you were at the mercy of, that you aren’t here. And I’m not saying that you are-but as a parent, I know I’d worry about that, worry that might be buried underneath a ton of other crap, but worry nonetheless.

    She knows how life changing a child can be, and she’s trying to protect you. But from what I understand, Mother’s can also be really really annoying with that. 🙂

  8. Gabriel... says:

    …here’s my concern. And it’s something I’ve only kind of, sort of, possibly touched on in the past and something I really should write more about soon.

    So… to be glib about it: I don’t feel like normal human beings.

    I don’t think my mother’s worried in quite the same way you and Zoom! do, but it’s possible she’s aware of my inability to connect to people. Or, it’s also about as likely she’s unaware of my inability to connect with people. The end result would be pretty much the same.

    The fact is, and this is something I’m really just putting together, I don’t connect to people — specifically family and “loved ones” — in the way others do.

    These are two pullouts from a post I wrote last September:

    Very early in my life it was decided by the cult no child would have bonds to any specific parent over those of the group. It’s a Maoist thing, but Marxism comes close to the absolutist Mao stuff. So I spent the first eight years of my life having only a vague idea who my specific parents were and, although my mother did try her best to be a mother within the group, my care was a designated chore to the cult members.

    The self-destructive behaviours which come from my childhood are set in the same marble as those which come from the untreated manic depression.

    I know how I feel about the upcoming birth of my first child, and I know how I feel about my girlfriend, but I don’t know if how I feel is the same as how others would feel in my position.

    There are times, to be honest, when it feels as though I’m aping behaviours I’d expect others to feel. Not just in this instance, but that’s common in most situations I face.

  9. touched says:

    I don’t think it’s an alpha thing, or a male thing, to have high criteria for trusting other people.

    I think it’s a normal human response to trauma of any sort. For myself, I am highly selective about who I trust.

    I do frequently struggle with questions of whether I am being “too sensitive” or irrational. I second guess and doubt myself on this quite a lot.

    For now, I’ve decided to trust myself on this. I trust my own judgment. I accept where I am.

    I don’t hurt the other person, but I simply stop trying to reach out. I let them do the work of reaching out. If they approach in a spirit of curiosity and genuine willingness to engage, I let them in. If not, I distance myself.

    It’s not wrong to set boundaries for yourself. It may be too much or too sensitive for other people, but it is just right for me. & while I may revise this criteria one day, I accept that right now, it is enough for where I am.

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