Friday Conversations With My Psychiatrist | Reexamining the causes for exile

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Psychiatrist Day

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This one has been hard to write. Not so much because of the emotions involved, more because just getting the context right is difficult.

On August 29 my mother and I had a confrontation regarding my decision to prevent her abusive mother from being around my infant son. At the end of the meeting I told my mother she could visit with my son anytime she wished but, because my mother wasn’t taking our concerns about my grandmother seriously, we insisted the visits take place at my girlfriend’s apartment.

And now it has been almost three months since my mother has visited with my son. Until recently I believed her self-imposed exile was entirely about her pride, that she was unwilling to make the phone call because she believes she deserves unfettered access to my infant son.

From March until August we had allowed her to “babysit” on Thursday’s. It was my idea to give my mother a few hours alone with my son to give them time to bond. We told her it was to give my girlfriend some time off, but in reality I had to practically force my girlfriend to give in to the idea.

The problems started almost right away. Two hours became four, and pretty soon my mother was looking after my son every Thursday for six to eight hours.

My mother was basically becoming a third parent. So when I, after the meeting in August, cut the Thursday “babysitting” and relegated her to only having access in one of our apartments, I thought this was what she was basing her decision to stay away from my son on.

But we never cut off her access to her grandson. We just turned her from being my son’s Thursday Parent, back into being a grandparent. All she had to do was call to make sure we were home.

But, despite telling me several times during our confrontation that she needed to have visits with my son, the call still has not come.

We’ve had two encounters in the past few weeks that have led me to believe her self-exile is about more than access to my son, or about how I’ve dealt with her abusive mother.

Roughly a month ago my mother and step-father invited my girlfriend and I out to dinner at a local restaurant. Of course we showed up with our son. When we were all sitting down I stood back from the table, because I thought my mother would want to sit next to her grandson. Instead she chose the seat that put me in between her and him.

My step-father, who said several truly stupid things during the August meeting, couldn’t even look at me, and never engaged my son.

The next time was on Halloween. We dressed our son up as The Joker and walked to my little brother’s home. When we arrived both my step-father and mother were there. My step-father saw us coming, and disappeared. My mother eventually came over and played with my son for a few seconds.

In addition to what was said during the meeting, and how I’ve become the first one in sixty-one years to put consequences to my grandmother for her abuse, there are other things going on…

My mother has always been uncomfortable around my girlfriend — which isn’t really new, but the pregnancy part is. My girlfriend and I had only dated for ten weeks before she became pregnant. My mother did not react well to the news. Neither did my step-father.

There were no cheers. My mother told me it was my responsibility, when I told people, to make sure I did it in a manner that made people understand the pregnancy was a good thing… to “set the tone”. Which I found odd, and vaguely insulting. Aren’t family just supposed to be happy in situations like that?

But when my step-father walked into the room, I followed my mother’s advice. I smiled, and told him I had “great news”, and reached out to shake his hand as I called him “grandfather”. He stared at my mother with disbelief, gave me a limp handshake, then turned and walked out of the room without saying anything.

My mother asked me three or four times during the first six months of the pregnancy “are you sure this is what you want?”, as if she expected an answer of “no, where are the abortion clinics around here?”, or “no, what are my options on how to get out of this?”.

As the pregnancy was coming to full term, my mother decided she needed to put on a baby shower. My girlfriend asked her to keep it under ten people, and only ones we knew. But my mother turned it into a massive event, inviting ten people we knew, but also forty my mother knew.

By the time the date arrived my girlfriend had no plans to attend, but she went into labour the night before, so that saved us from having to cancel.

My mother, who had been at a Christmas party in Ottawa that night, was the first one to meet my girlfriend at the hospital — there was no room for me in the ambulance. I can’t remember exactly what my mother said to my girlfriend that night, but it made my girlfriend feel very uncomfortable.

Just before my baby was born, but after the baby shower, my mother sent out a mass email to everyone who had been at the shower. She thanked them for the gifts (which she opened), and then she added a line about how I was “on permanent disability and continuing to recover from bipolar”.

The email went out to friends of mine who did not know about the manic depression, or the disability. It also went out to extended family, as well as to our Mayor, the publisher of the local paper, a few lawyers and a judge.

…basically, what I’m trying to say, is that it’s a control issue.

When I confronted my mother about the email, she tried to defend herself. But it was obvious I was right, it was my privacy that she destroyed. When she finally admitted to herself that she had done something wrong, she cried. But it wasn’t because she had done something wrong, she told me repeatedly that “our relationship is changing”.

My mother has never taken my girlfriend shopping. But she has given my youngest brother’s girlfriend a job with the local historical society.

My mother can have a conversation with my brother’s girlfriend. But during our August meeting my mother — who is the strongest woman I’ve ever known — actually admitted that she was afraid of my girlfriend.

My girlfriend was abused by her own mother, and they have had a very confrontational relationship. At one point during our meeting my mother actually wilted in her chair and said “”I will not be treated by [my girlfriend] like she does her mother”. It literally came out of nowhere. It was completely off-topic. There was a no chance of that happening.

It was almost as though my mother were saying to me “admit there’s a chance of your girlfriend abusing me, and tell me you’ll chose to defend me over her”.

Then, a few moments later, she was back to being aggressive towards me: “I have concerns for [my baby’s] safety while he’s in your apartment”.

So… she was never close to being enthusiastic about the pregnancy; she showed very little interest in getting to know my girlfriend; she took over the shower and turned it into the one thing my girlfriend wanted no part in; the night my girlfriend goes into labour my mother says something to make her uncomfortable; my mother sends out an email destroying my privacy; she treats my decision regarding my grandmother as an inconvenience to be overcome then, after shoving my son into my abusive grandmother’s face, she treats me as though I’ve done something wrong, then; she lashes out by telling me she’s afraid of my girlfriend, and that I’m probably a bad father.

And now she has spent three months in self-exile from her grandson.

It’s control… she’s lost whatever control she thought she had — both in my life, from when I announced the pregnancy, and from my son’s life when I cancelled the Thursday thing, and now she’s getting back whatever control she can by staying away from my son.

Or something. I’m still working this out. I’m just glad I was finally able to make some sense out of all this.

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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, CSG, Granny, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health, Pregnancy, Psychiatry and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Friday Conversations With My Psychiatrist | Reexamining the causes for exile

  1. Melodika says:

    Oh my. Gabriel, I often wonder, when reading your blog, how on earth you manage to stay so stable in the face of all this emotional trauma. I would suggest showing your mother this blog so that she can see exactly what she’s doing, but, in this case I doubt that it would do much good (and also, this is of course your private place to vent about these things).

    Your girlfriend must be an extremely stable person too, to cope with all she has coped with in her own life and now to tolerate this kind of treatment. I’m so pleased that you have each other, and that the bond between you is so strong. Hugs to you both from me.

    I suppose many people would say “maybe it would help if you could try to find a way to make your mom feel valued too, she probably feels pushed out by your girlfriend and son”, but I really do feel that you’ve already made all the effort possible to make that happen. It reminds me of my own (ex) mother-in-law. She saw me as a threat, someone who was ‘taking her son away from her’, and in fact went so far as to call me an ‘evil, calculating witch’ on one occasion simply because on one evening, when we were supposed to be visiting her, my then-husband chose to be with me (who had just been rushed into hospital) rather than with her. I see now that it was all down to fear, jealousy and insecurity of course. As I believe it probably is with your mom too.

    As for your grandmother… well, words fail me, as they have throughout this entire episode. For what it’s worth, I think you’re handling this entire situation admirably. Far more admirably than many would, including myself I have to say.

    Regarding the disclosure of private information about you, I find that unforgiveable. As you say, that smacks of control. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, on top of everything else.

    You have a gorgeous family of your own now Gabriel, and what makes me smile through all of this is the obvious love both you and your girlfriend have for your son. I know it’s easier said than done, but if you can just stay focused on those two, the people who really matter, you’ll actually inadvertently be getting the best revenge ever on those who are trying to keep you down. Nothing spits in people’s eyes as well as success and happiness. 🙂

    Hang in there hun.
    x

    • Gabriel... says:

      Hi Melodika… I think mostly I survive by sleeping twenty-two hours every day, and laying motionless on the couch for at least another two hours. I did think this was going to be harder, to be honest.

      When my grandmother and I shared our moment back in February, I was really concerned for a few days that I would slip back into the kind of soul-sucking depressions I used to have. But there was a kind of liberation moment. Like I was expecting Charles Bukowski but got Joni Mitchell.

      That’s what made my mother’s decision to not take my decision seriously suck so much. Here I was, finally free of the Queen of my family’s abuse, and my mother was trying to put us back together.

      Then there was the moment when my mother and step-father ganged up on me in an attempt to put things in our family back to the normal they needed. Again, for about two weeks I was just a nervous wreck because I thought my life was falling apart. But, I’d say two weeks after the confrontation, I realized I was feeling better… not worse.

      My mother has been, for great portions of my life, a negative, not a positive. I feel better today than I did last year at this time… and it’s because:

      1. My son is here with me
      2. My girlfriend is no longer pregnant
      3. I no longer think about my grandmother — at least not in terms of “fuck, do I have to see her this weekend?”
      4. I no longer worry about the passive aggressive bullshit my mother throws around.

      Although, that last one is sliding a bit as my mother is trying to take over my son’s birthday plans. But, fuck it, I actually feel good right now, and it’s got a great deal to do with not playing in the family games anymore.

      Thanks for coming over, Melodika. Your comments are always appreciated.

  2. It’s so awesome that you’ve been able to identify what’s going on with your mom. When I’m able to pinpoint the motivations behind someone’s attempts to manipulate me, it’s so much easier for me to detach from their behavior.

    If she wants to remove herself from your son in an attempt to spite you, she’s only hurting herself. Just keep doing what you’re doing — you’re absolutely doing the right thing!

    • Gabriel... says:

      Hi Heather, thanks for coming back. It’s an interesting thing… without my grandmother taking me aside and saying the disgusting things she did about my girlfriend, son and my mother — “get a paternity test”, “you should have gotten an abortion”, “blah, blah, I’m an insane old troll” — I never would have been able to stop our relationship. Without her… ‘assault’, I’d still be trapped in the dysfunction that is my family, instead of moving myself to a safer place.

      When she did what she did it allowed me to see first hand and up close how lunatic the response was from my parents, and even my grandfather as they all fell over themselves trying to excuse her behaviours.

      In a way it’s actually a little like mental illness… you have to discover the behaviours before you can work on changing them.

      Thanks a lot for coming back, and sorry for the delayed response… I’ve been spending a lot of time this week with my son, and away from the computer.

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  4. Bromac says:

    Hmmm, I wonder if there’s a connection between your gf’s reaction to abuse from her mother and your mother’s reaction to abuse from her mother.

    Your mother is losing in this deal. Whatever control she has asserted over her own life by staying away from victor will not compare, in satisfaction, to what she could have with victor as a grandmother. Hopefully it won’t take too long for her to realize that…but I’m thinking it will.

    Sometimes, as parents, as you’ve seen, we have to make decisions that hurt us in order to keep our child safe. My daughter only sees her paternal grandfather a couple of times a year. I know this will one day sadden her but I know I am protecting her from even greater emotional upset.

    • Gabriel... says:

      Hi Bromac… I’ve referred to my girlfriend’s mother as “granny lite” to both my girlfriend and my mother. Neither one laughed. I think my girlfriend and my mother grew up in very similar households. The biggest differences would be my girlfriend’s childhood was more physically abusive, and much louder… beyond that the similarities are a little weird.

      My mother has already lost, as far as I’m concerned. What she wants is for time to turn back to the day before my grandmother’s verbal assault. That’s not happening. Not only will I not allow my mother to have the control she used to, there are the insane things she said to me from when my parents confronted me, which are keeping the two of us from finding a polite normality, then there’s also her self-imposed exile to deal with.

      The fact it has been three months… it just blows my mind. Seriously, all she has ever had to do is make a call to my girlfriend, and she can come over to visit with my son whenever she wants.

      But what she really wants, it seems to me, is to be a martyr. And now she has the martyrdom brought on from her continuing relationship with her mother… and now she’s suffering because she’s not in control of where she visits with my son.

      It’s so fucking bizarre.

      Thanks, as always, for the comment Bromac. I hope everything’s great where you are.

  5. Anton says:

    Jeez….it must be really hard to have such mother! I’m in no position to give you advice, but I think you’re doing the right thing. If your mother don’t want to understand anything apart from her own interest then by all means you have the right to act.

  6. NiroZ says:

    I get the impression that she’s acting out of fear. The pregnancy was early, you are on a disability pension, you do have Bipolar, you have diabetes, she has concerns about your girlfriend, whatever they are, and neither of you are well off. Not the ideal situation you’d want to land your grandson. Thus it’s more likely she thinks she has to make sure Victor is brought up well. Given that you’re not letting her, the only recourse they have is to disown you until you do.

    It’s also possible that she doesn’t like being told what to do by her son. (there does seem to be a bit of a age hierarchy in your family)

    Having said that, I don’t think she’s that horrible a person either, just worried.

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