Category Archives: Relationships

Love is a verb

I often find people bewildering.  Maybe I’m wired wrong or am just naive but I struggle to make sense of a world in which people say one thing then do the complete opposite.  On a purely personal level as a child who lived in the midst of my parents volatile marriage you receive very mixed messages from people who claim to love you yet keep you in an unhealthy situation which fundamentally changes who you are as person, predisposes you to mental health issues, warps your sense of love in the process and affects all your future adult relationships.  Call me daft but that’s not any kind of love that I can get my head around, particularly from the very people who are supposed to protect you.

The last time I spoke to my biological Father was in 1989.  I was getting married and had asked my Step-Dad to give me away, though had invited my biological Dad to the wedding.  My bio-Dad was really angry and said “but you’re MY daughter and I love you” to which I replied “if you love me so much how come you haven’t been to see me since I was 7 years old?  You’ve only met my fiance once and that’s because we came to see you.  You’re not paying for the bloody wedding my Step-Dad is.  He’s the one who came with me to choose dresses and venues and you don’t even know who my bridesmaids are let alone have met them.  Yet you still think you should be top dog on the day?”  He never spoke to me after that, and neither did my entire paternal family.  His version of “love” and my version of “love” were obviously very different.

I’ve had several long term partners over my lifetime.  All of whom either flirted outrageously with other women or were actually unfaithful.  But apparently they “loved” me too.  I would have thought that when you love someone you want them to feel special.  To feel secure.  To feel like they are the most important person in your life.   Not to feel like they’re second best to some bint you just met in the pub or the receptionist at work.

When I was having the talk to my Mum the other week about her drinking she said to me “but I love you”.   To which I replied “I’ve screamed at you and begged you to stop drinking but did you even ring the doctor and ask for help?  Did you try in any way, even though you knew the stress it was putting me under?  No!”.  I’m not sure you can love your child then hurt them so badly through your actions that you make them ill, as she has done to me.

Have you ever watched Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer?  Couples come on where one or both have been cheating and after half an hour of hurling hurt and abuse at each other they’re asked why they’re still together and they invariably say “cos I love him/her”.  Or parents who have fucked up their kids so royally they’re on Jeremy sodding Kyle yet still have the cheek to say to them “but you know I love you!”

The L word is currently a bit too trendy.  We say it at the drop of a hat.  I watch ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ and they say it 5 times before they put the phone down and they’re only talking to the housekeeper 😉  But love is a verb.  It’s a doing word.  It requires action, committment, thought and intention.  It is honest, tender, supportive, encouraging, safe and often selfless.  Most importantly you can’t claim to love someone then do something to hurt them.  It’s a contradiction in terms.

 

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Adult children of dysfunctional families

My parents split up when I was 7 and I was moved 200 miles away from everything I knew to live with a succession of relatives.  In the first 2 years we moved 9 times, usually after my Mum had fallen out with whoever we were living with at the time and often for good reason (eg. my Nanna used to belt me and if I wanted to read a book I was made to sit outside in the car, in the middle of winter).

I’ve never talked to her about it, but my Mum obviously had mental health issues.  Anti-depressants as we know them today didn’t exist though, so I’m fairly sure she was put on some kind of benzodiazepine probably valium.

I’ve always loved animals but had had to leave my cat behind, so when I was 8 my Mum got me a rabbit.  She couldn’t afford to go to a pet shop to buy one so I’m fairly sure my Uncle (with whom we were living at the time) caught a wild one.  It was vicious its whole life and I never even got to stroke it, let alone cuddle it.  I called the rabbit Whiskey, which tells you a lot about my Mum’s drinking habits at the time.  She wasn’t an alcoholic though – that came much much later.

When I was 9 my Mum met my step-Dad.  It was a volatile relationship from the start and they argued like their life depended on it.  I would come home from school with a sick feeling in my stomach, not knowing if they would be speaking, not speaking, if my Dad would be in a strop because his favourite football team had lost a match the night before or if my Mum would chuck something at him across the dinner table in temper.  Our home with filled with a constant under-current of tension and you could often cut the atmosphere with a knife.

On the other hand, when things were good they were great.  My Dad has the most wicked sense of humour and there were days when everything was hunky dory.  But I always knew it wouldn’t last and even when I was laughing I’d be waiting for someone to say the wrong thing and for it all to kick off again.  They were both wonderful with me though and never shouted or raised to a hand to me, but the consequences of living within their toxic relationship and with their almost split-personalities changed me forever.

Of course our home life was a big secret and I instinctively knew I wasn’t allowed to talk about what went on within our four walls.  To the outside world my Mum was lovely and all my friends envied our close relationship.  My Dad was a bloke’s bloke who played darts, loved the footie and would help anyone at any time.  If I meet people in the street even now who know him the first thing they say to me is “he’s a grand fella your Dad” and, when he wasn’t losing his temper like a 5 year old child, I’d agree with them.

Add to the mix the issues I had with my absentee biological Father, my giftedness and the emotional depth and sensitivity which comes along with that, the pressure I was under at school to achieve academically because I was gifted, the lack of any adult in whom to confide and it comes as no surprise that I spent most of my teenager years clinically depressed and by the time I was 18 was on anti-depressants and regularly sat in a Psychologist’s office trying to make some sense of the world.  I couldn’t wait to become an adult and get the fuck away from home.  I loved my parents but when I finally had a house of my own I had peace and stability and could live without the daily anxiety of wondering what was coming next.

Fast forward 30 years, I’m now 50 and both my parents are ill and in need of huge amounts of help.  Consequently I’ve been drawn back into their lives and back into their relationship dramas which, despite being married for 40 years, have never changed.

As if all that weren’t bad enough, my Mum was forced to stop smoking when she had half her lung removed 6 years ago so in order to get through the days her drinking took off in earnest.  She became an alcoholic who was drunk every day by noon.  This brought back hugely negative emotions from my childhood and I really struggled to cope with it, so much so that a year ago I paid to see a counsellor.  She was helpful and I did manage to come to some sort of terms with the situation.

In the summer of this year my Mum contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome and was in hospital for 3 weeks.  During that time she dried out and I lied to her and said the Doctors had told me that if she drank when she got home she would die, so she didn’t.  The last 3 months have been fantastic.  She has been back to the Mum I’ve always known, without the nasty bullying of my Dad (who is in the early stages of dementia), the finding everything hilarious because she’s plastered and who rings me lucidly every day for a chat and a gossip.  Over the past few years I’ve really missed the friendship my Mum and I have always had and it was wonderful to have that back.

But of course she wasn’t receiving help for her alcoholism, so I knew it was just a matter of time before she fell off the wagon.  She was housebound for the first 2 months after coming home from hospital, but the second she told me “I’m going to go with your Dad in the wheelchair to Sainsburys on Friday just to get out of the house” I knew it was only a matter of time.  And sure enough, 3 weeks later I turn up at the house to find her drinking a glass of wine.

She’d only bought one of those little 18cl bottles, and her excuse was “I’d like a glass of wine with my Christmas dinner but don’t know which one to choose, so I thought I’d try this little bottle to see what it’s like”.  I felt sick.  That she would be wondering what she could drink on Christmas day when it was only 14th November tells you everything you need to know about her mind set.  So I sat down and, as gently as I could bearing in mind I was in bits, said that I loved them both but I was going home and I was not coming back.  And I got Bertie and my handbag and left.

That was on Tuesday and I have felt horrendously ill ever since.  I wake up with a huge sick knot in my stomach, can’t eat and feel so exhausted I’m like a rag doll.  Years of living with the anxiety and unpredictability of my parents’ behaviour seems to have come to a head and I feel floored.  I have spent 3 days spontaneously sobbing and feel on the edge of some kind of breakdown.

It would be so easy to simply walk away, but they are old and sick and my poor Dad really doesn’t need this drama.  So I have rung my Mum and told her that I love them both, and I will take care of them, but I simply cannot visit them – not for a while.  Things are going to have to change I’m not sure what the new future looks like yet.

They depend on my hugely, I have been the glue that’s kept our family together, and I know they will be terrified I am going to abandon them, which I would never do because I couldn’t live with the guilt, but there are going to have to be new ground rules.  I have felt responsible for keeping them on an even keel my entire life and I am too fucking tired to do it anymore.  That I am ill myself seems to totally pass them by.

In not visiting them, however, I have no-one to look after Bertie, my dog who is a rescue with severe separation anxiety and who can’t be left on his own.  That means I can’t go to my Camera Club which is my passion and often the only thing which keeps me going.  It’s the only time I get out of the house all week, the only time I ever see anyone other than my cleaner and the post man and is the only social life I have.  I feel such rage that my Mother’s selfish behaviour has robbed me of the only joy I have in life.  A life which is devoid of any pleasure and any of the normal things healthy people take for granted.

Sometimes I wish she were dead.  The second she retired from work she sat in a chair, watched telly, smoked and drank and basically waited to die.  There are times when I wish this would happen and put us all out of our misery.  She has been unhappy her entire life and has made me unhappy along the way.  Then I think about all the times she’s helped me, comforted me, been there for me, loved me and am wracked with guilt.

So, that’s where we are today and I’m in complete turmoil.  I feel so poorly I can barely get dressed and am constantly on the verge of tears.  It’s like every emotion I’ve ever felt towards my parents has come to the surface and I can’t push them down any more.

Please don’t tell me to get help, contact al-anon or anything else.  Trust me when I say there is no avenue I haven’t been down.  My Mum doesn’t want help.  There is no al-anon where I live and in any event I don’t do the bullshit “higher power” thing.  My parents have what they need to live: a cleaner, carers to help my Mum shower, a gardener, their meals provided.  But as I’ve mentioned before it’s all the stuff that paid help can’t do which is the stumbling block, like finances, paperwork, mending the seam on my Mum’s nightie, submitting electric meter readings, grocery shopping, talking to medical staff as neither of my parents are capable and 1001 other things.  I feel so trapped, and resentful and guilty.

There aren’t any easy answers.  Walking away and leaving a parent with dementia is not an option.  Carrying on as we always have is not an option either.  I have no clue what to do.

Great Expectations

I hope I make a pretty good friend and neighbour.  Because I’ve gone through so much, and can easily put myself in other people’s shoes, I’ll offer a helping hand to someone in need if it’s at all humanly possible.  I have often felt entirely alone in my struggles right from childhood and would have given my left arm for someone to help me.   I know intimately what it feels like to have no-one to turn to and to think that no-one cares, consequently I’ll drop everything and go to someone in need.  Even people I don’t like or who have shown me a complete lack of empathy in the past (I do draw the line at people who have hurt me in the past though – they can go swivel).  On the whole, though, I treat others the way I’d like to be treated.

Because I expect so much of myself, however, I have high expectations of other people.  And it’s caused me no end of disappointment.  The majority of folk, in my experience, are shit at stepping up to the plate and their self-interest comes first, second and third.

My neighbours are, on the whole, lovely people and I get on well with them.  When my Mum was in hospital the other week they said “we’re here if you need us, just ask”.  So I took them at their word and asked if they’d look after my dog one day while I visited her.  “Of course we will, just bring him round” they replied, which was such a relief because at the time my Mum was desperately ill and knowing Bertie was being well looked after was a huge weight off my mind.  A week later my Mum was still in Hospital so I asked my neighbours if they’d have Bert again, just for the afternoon so that I could visit her.  “I’m really sorry Jak, but it’s a nice day so we’re going for a drive up the lakes” came the reply.  They are pensioners, who could go for a drive up the lakes any day of the sodding week, month or year.  They could even have taken Bertie with them – he loves to be in the car and they could have stopped off for a nice walk with him.  But no.  My Mum was seriously ill in hospital, I was having the worst few weeks of my entire year, but their need for a jaunt came first.

I’ve lost count of the times in my life that people have offered help then backtracked.   I remember having a relapse a couple of years ago and was really struggling to take Bertie out for his afternoon walk.  Another neighbour rang and said “don’t worry about Bert, I’ll take him out for his afternoon walks this week” which was fabulous.   Only she wanted to go at 5pm, when she knew fine well that Bertie goes for his walk at 2.30pm.  This is so that he’s home, sorted out and fed by 4pm which is when I go to bed for my afternoon rest, every day being carefully managed around my energy limits and doubly so during a relapse.  5pm is my very worst part of the day, not to mention the fact that Bert would be totally desperate for a poop by then and it would be well past his dinner time.  If that were me, and I were offering to do a really sick friend a favour I’d just say “what do you need?” then do it.  I wouldn’t look at my schedule and wonder how I could fit their crisis in without it affecting my day in any way.   Help, it seems, is conditional on your dire need not interfering with someone else’s leisure time.

Every now and again, though, someone surprises me and while my Mum was in hospital one person was really there for me.  The lady I pay to walk Bertie in a morning said that she would have him any time, and she meant it.  Despite having 3 jobs and 2 kids she had him for four whole days for me and didn’t bat an eyelid.  I’m quite tearful at how much she helped me out, even though I’m sure it made her already hectic life harder.

It’s been said to me, many times, that I need to lower my expectations of other people but I’ve no intention of being a shit friend and neighbour just so that other people can feel less guilty about their own selfish behaviour.  I don’t need to lower my standards, other people need to raise theirs.

 

Friendships

Today I read another wonderful post by Lindsay over at Musings of a Dysautonomiac, a fellow blogger who has POTS and MCAS.   I ‘met’ Linds through my blog and am now privileged to class her as a friend, not in any kind of traditional way because we live in different countries and are online at opposite ends of the day, but in my heart.  I look forward to her posts and Facebook messages, rally for her and struggle with her – all without saying a word because I don’t have the energy but I hope she knows that I see her and care about her life.

It’s a good job I make new friends every now and again because I’ve lost all my pre-illness mates.  Every single one of them.  Sometimes I’ve let the relationship go and sometimes they have but the end result is the same, and no matter who the instigator is saying goodbye to a relationship you once held dear is painful.

Like Lindsay, I traditionally got along with men better than women.  Having said that, I always had one or two very close girl friends but they were often people who were in some way broken or needy and, being a caring person, I often seemed to fall into the parental role in my friendships which of course turned to crap when I got ill because I could barely take care of myself let alone anyone else.   I’m also not a girlie girl and just find the banter and straight-talking attitude of blokes easier to handle than the complex subtleties of women which I often find bewildering.  But then I got sick and realized that, on the whole, men don’t do illness.  They make rubbish carers and simply don’t know how to react around sick people, especially a sick person who used to be feisty and independent and who is now…………well, still feisty but more needy 😉

After all these years I’m not even sure it’s possible for me to have good friendships with healthy people.  They just don’t get it.  Have no clue what my life is like or the struggles I face every day.  And I’ve found I lose patience with their whining over inconsequential shite and am frustrated by how little they value their lives – their healthy, active, vibrant, full of possibilities, lives.  And don’t get me started on how much they moan when they have a cold!

Occasionally, though, healthy people surprise me and there are two or three people at my Camera Club who do make an effort to ask the question “how can I make it easier for you to do x, y or z” and to include me in activities, for which I am hugely grateful.  It’s a lot of pressure though.  Here they are making special efforts to arrange outings and activities which I can take part in, but then I feel like I absolutely must take part because of all the trouble they’ve gone to.  So what happens if, on the day, I wake with a migraine and can’t move, or have anaphylaxis and end up in bed puking?  I let everyone down and although they try not be annoyed I know they are because, after all, they’ve gone to all that trouble just for me and the least I can do is show up.

Having close friendships with other sick people, however, is also challenging.  Neither of you has any energy and trying to find a day to meet up when you’re both well enough can be a struggle.  It’s vitally important you don’t just have illness in common too, otherwise all you do when you get together is talk about being sick which would be monumentally depressing.  I met my now best mate at an M.E. conference about 15 years ago and neither of us are particularly girlie girls.  We’re both creative and practical, like nature, gardening, being outdoors and have renovated houses, so have stuff besides our shared disease in common though I’ll never understand her passion for mines 😉  I honestly think I’d lose my mind if I didn’t have her in my life – no pressure then K!

Friendships when you’re chronically ill are tricky.  I’d love more friends but realistically know I don’t have the energy, especially if the friend is well and expects to meet up regularly or do physical activities.   Friendships with other sick people are easier in some ways yet harder in others – when you both lack energy there is a tendency to not communicate for months on end which, while understandable, is lonely.  And while online friendships are great there’s no substitute for meeting up in real life and actually being with another person.

If you’re lucky enough to find someone you click with, who shares your sense of humour, your interests and who gets you and your disease it’s priceless.  I’ve told my best mate that, should she ever threaten to break up with me, I am chaining her up in my shed so’s she can’t escape 😀  To all my online friends, whose caring, sharing, humour and empathy keep me going every day of my life “THANK YOU!” for being there and for being you.  You make an otherwise unbearable life less lonely.

Little Acts Of Kindness

I sometimes despair of the world.  There is so much greed.  Young people are obsessed with how they look and not who they are.  Older adults are obsessed with what they have, what car they drive and where they go on holiday so that they can brag to their friends.  We’re often too busy in our overly-full-of-stuff lives to bother much with our neighbours or vulnerable family members.  Gone are the days where we all used to not have much of anything but looked out for each other nonetheless.

Despite huge need at times, I haven’t exactly been on my nearest and dearest’s radar (parents aside).  It’s probably my own fault.  I am fiercely independent and don’t want to be treated as a victim, because I don’t feel like a victim.  I don’t want pity or charity, though loving kindness is always welcomed.  I appear to have it all together and it takes a keen eye to see through the act I put on every day.

When I joined my Camera Club I struggled.  It was mostly full of retired professional men who had formerly been Vets or Solicitors and who seemed to have money to burn, or middle aged women who were married to rich men and had holiday homes in Barbados and Spain.  They were buying the latest cameras, lenses and equipment and I, stony broke, was making do with a nine year old 3rd hand camera off Ebay.

My weird and creative pictures often weren’t much liked by the old male judges who preferred photos of steam trains or lighthouses, and at one stage I threatened to quit because I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the rich members and the judges hated my stuff in any event.  I emailed the competition secretary and told him of my decision but instead of just accepting it he helped me.  We ‘talked’ for hours via email, with him encouraging me at every step of the way, building my confidence and listening patiently to my grievances.  The outcome was that the way the competitions were run was changed for the whole club, and a big effort was made to invite female and younger people to judge our images which made for a more level playing field for everyone.

I’d not even spoken to the competition secretary, John, before then.  He was 70, very shy and I hadn’t taken much notice of him to be honest.  But as I got to know him I realized here was a man kind to the bottom of his soul, who lived with honesty and integrity, who saw both sides of the argument, who was quiet and unassuming yet had the strength to stand up for what he believed in if the need arose.  We got on like a house on fire and have regularly emailed each other ever since, though we still don’t speak much at Club as John’s shyness gets in the way.

This week there was an offer online for some software.  I can’t afford it, but with $200 off the recommended price I couldn’t resist buying it anyway!  But then I discovered that it won’t work with my editing software, Photoshop Elements 11, because it’s too old.  John had found the same thing, so he upgraded his Photoshop to Elements 13 and offered to let me put a copy of his new Elements 13 on my machine.  Knowing that you can only do this a limited number of times and that John had more than one laptop, I emailed my thanks but told him to put the software on his own machines and maybe I’d ask Santa for the upgrade for Christmas this year.

This morning, I logged on to my emails to find a message from John which read: “Jak.  Thanks for making the correct moral decision.  I have now ordered you Elements 13 from Amazon which will be delivered to your home next week.  Please accept with my best wishes.”  I feel tearful even now just thinking of his kindness.  Not only that but my lack of greed in not taking one of his licences, even though I really wanted and needed it, had been acknowledged and appreciated.  I can’t possibly accept his offer and have already emailed to say I will reimburse him, but I suspect he won’t accept.

As I said earlier, I haven’t been helped much in my life but now and again someone comes along who sees past my pride and bravado and recognises that I struggle.  As a kid it was a couple of teachers, who realized that being a very bright kid from a dysfunctional working class family was difficult and who gave me extra help to achieve my potential.  As an adult, it’s been a couple of people who have realized that living alone with debilitating illness and a lack of money is challenging and have helped me in subtle, and not so subtle, ways.   They will never know the difference their belief in me and their acts of kindness have made to my life and to my faith in human nature.

Nearly all the people who have helped me have been men, middle aged or older.   I don’t know why that should be, but they just seem able to see past the strong, independent, capable face I show to the world and recognize that maybe my life is harder than I let on.  Maybe they just see that, despite my own hardships (or probably because of them) I try to be a kind and thoughtful person and they want to be kind back.  I don’t really understand the reasons why women haven’t helped me, even as a kid, while men have but I am truly grateful.

We all need help sometimes, even when we pretend we don’t, and our small acts of kindness can be returned to us tenfold in unexpected ways and from unexpected people.

Save the one who’s quiet

In a previous job many moons ago I was the designated fire officer.  As such I was trained to pull a body from a smoke filled building and to give first aid.   On my course I was told that when you come across the scene of an accident you ignore the people who are shouting because they are clearly still alive and find the people who are quiet because they are the ones most likely to be seriously hurt, unconscious or to have stopped breathing.

During my time in the ‘chronic illness world’, particularly online, I have met two groups of people: those who constantly ask for help, advice, love and support and those that don’t.  And it’s those who ask for support that often need it the least.  The friend I fell out with a couple of years ago had parents who had been together for 50 years, a loving, caring, supportive husband of over 20 years, private health care, a beautiful home overlooking the sea, lots of online friends………..yet virtually every post was asking for love, prayers and positive thoughts because she was having yet another crisis or hard time.  On the other side of the coin I have a friend who has been single her whole life, is horrendously ill, can barely leave her bed let alone the house, can’t have pets or friends to visit as she is too poorly to cope with them, must be soul-destroyingly lonely, frustrated and unfulfilled……..yet never complains.  She comes across as cheerful, positive, caring, kind and thoughtful but I worry about her far more than I worried about my other friend.  Yet it was the other friend who got all the support on Facebook, cards and flowers sent through the post, thoughtful gifts on her birthday and Christmas and my very sick, isolated friend is just left to get on with it.

When you meet me, I come across as bubbly, energetic, enthusiastic and hopefully kind and helpful.  I have a strong work ethic and will tackle jobs which actually make me sick or cause me huge pain because I refuse to give in to my diseases.  I will do things to help others, even if it means I end up in bed or braces (which they don’t see because I don’t tell them – I don’t want them to feel bad that helping them has made me worse).  I have been accused of exaggerating my illnesses because I can ‘do stuff’ or because I don’t dwell on the consequences of ‘doing stuff’ so no-one knows how ‘doing stuff’ affects me.  I sometimes wonder if I’d’ve received more help, understanding and support if I’d been more verbal about my limitations.  If I’d constantly gone online saying how lonely I was, or how isolated.  If I’d shown the world how depressed I’ve been at times over the last twenty years.  How I mourn not having a husband to share my life with.  How I’d love to go on holiday to somewhere sunny.  How I worry about finances and how I struggle to afford joint supports, orthotics, supplements and special clothing.  How I’ve sat in a heap on the kitchen floor crying due to the exhaustion and pain of cooking my dinner.  And the 1001 other issues I’ve faced.   But it’s not in my nature to whine.  I’m not comfortable asking for help and on the odd occasion I have asked for help it’s been less than unconditional so I haven’t asked again.  I’ve been around people who are negative and constantly ask for reassurance, help, guidance, advice, love, prayers and support and it’s bloody exhausting…….I don’t want to be a huge black hole of need, sucking the life out of others just so I can feel better.

But it is often those who don’t ask for help who need it most.  It’s not the person shouting “I’m going to top myself” who actually commits suicide, it’s those that pretend everything is fine and paint a smile on who ultimately take their own lives, then everyone is shocked because “they always seemed fine”.

So I make a concerted effort to ask my friends who seem like they have it together if they’re OK and I don’t take the first “yes, I’m fine” answer as the truth.  I dig a bit, and often when I dig a bit they admit that maybe things aren’t so fine after all.  It’s hard to ignore the friends who shout because, well, they’re SHOUTING and it’s easy to not contact the quiet ones for 6 months because they’re just getting on with it but it’s the people who don’t ask for help that often need it the most.

“Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.”

Stevie Smith

 

 

Gaslighting

The term ‘gaslighting‘ has become popular in recent times and, to a degree, I associate with it.  My childhood was weird by anyone’s standards, yet to the outside world my life was tickety boo.  My friends all told me they wished my Mum were theirs because “she’s lovely” and everyone and his dog liked my Dad who was a “grand fella”, but they didn’t have to live with my Mum’s mental health issues, addictions and poor parenting skills or my Dad’s volatile moods, complete lack of parenting or (now suspected) autistic tendencies.  For example, we had a dishwasher fitted in our kitchen and needed a hole putting through to outside for the waste pipe.  My Dad started stabbing at the wall with a kitchen fork and thought he could make a 3″ diameter hole through solid sandstone with it – it’s not exactly rational behaviour.  In response, my Mum chucked a mental and threw an entire shepherd’s pie, in its glass ovenproof dish, at his head which, if it had hit him, could have killed him.  I went up to my bedroom and read a book to escape the insanity – it was just an average week to me.

Although my childhood didn’t fit the strict definition of ‘gaslighting’ I still identify with the warping of reality and the constant pretence by my parents that everything was fine, when it was anything but.  As a child you don’t know this though – you just know that you’re miserable and confused and worried but don’t know why.  You’re unaware you’re living in a dysfunctional household or that your parents can’t cope or have mental health issues.  I knew they both loved me to bits, but their behaviour made me very, very unhappy so then the definition of being loved got warped too.  As a child this is all totally confusing and you simply can’t get your head round it.

I married a man who truly gaslighted.  He would argue with me that black was white and red was no colour at all.  He made me doubt my sanity, my perception and reality.  He would flirt outrageously with other women, then tell me I was being paranoid when I got upset about it.  He isolated me from my friends and family, constantly told me I looked like crap or talked shite, belittled me in front of his friends who all thought he was hilarious, spread rumours that I was mentally unstable (which after 4 years with him I actually was!).  This guy made me question everything about myself, but in such a subtle and manipulative way that I had no idea it was happening.

I had a very interesting conversation with my best mate recently about the fact several of my close friendships have died a death in recent years and it made me realize that the way these women have chosen to fall out with me also feels gaslight-y.  For example, my dearest friend of over 2 decades had become distant.  I could only ring her at certain times, she didn’t confide in me the way she used to and she had a family member she’d become extremely close to who had obviously taken my place.  After not hearing from her for over 3 weeks I wrote a blog post, the gist of which was that I feared for my mental health after my mum dies as we speak every day, my best friend wasn’t making time for me and I’d love to make some new friends to fill the void my Mum will leave when she dies (she wasn’t a raging alcoholic then and we had always been super close).  I didn’t feel I said anything bad and didn’t think my friend would read it as she was too busy to even text me let alone read my blog, but she did read it and went ballistic.  Within 24 hours her husband and son had unfriended me on Facebook and our 20 year friendship was over.  I was made out to be an awful person by her whole family, when she was the one being a shit friend and all I’d done was be honest about the situation and say that I felt isolated and lonely.  I mention my other closest friend in the post, who also read the article, and was not in the least bit offended by it.  In fact we had an honest discussion about our situations and both agreed that although we love our friendship we’d both like more friends as we live some distance from each other and can’t get to see each other as much as we’d like.

The neighbour who was nasty to me recently which I wrote about at the time hasn’t spoken to me since.  So she tells me I look old and miserable not once but 3 times despite knowing I was upset by her comments, then takes the hump and is now no longer speaking to me.  WTF?!

Of course, my biological Dad was the master manipulator.  He wasn’t very involved in my life but sent me to Coventry, along with the rest of my paternal family, when I asked someone else to give me away at my wedding (which I wrote about here).  So he’s a shit Dad but I am the one who is treated like a Leper when I’m honest and tell him he’s been a shit Dad.

In these people’s minds, they are in the right and I am in the wrong.  They can’t admit to themselves that they’ve actually not been the best parent/friend/husband so I am made to feel at fault because it’s easier to blame me than to face up to their own behaviour.  As the gaslighting article reminds me, it’s impossible to reason with them or to get them to take responsibility for their behaviour.  They truly believe you are the one being unreasonable or nasty, not them.

The gaslighting article describes how the author herself survived her childhood, and in reading it I realize that that’s how I survived too:

  • By being defiant and not accepting my parents’ behaviour was normal or healthy – I knew it wasn’t.  “Being defiant does not make you difficult. It makes you resilient.”
  • Accepting that acknowledgement is not on the cards.  I knew my Dad would never in a million years admit he’d been a rubbish parent or that he’d made a mistake in blaming me for our lack of relationship.
  • Letting go of the wish for things to be different.  I didn’t try to change my Dad’s or my Friend’s minds when they stopped speaking to me – I just wished them the best and let it go.  I held on to the knowledge that I’d done nothing wrong other than to react to the pain these people had caused me and that was healthy and normal behaviour.  It was up to them to apologise and take responsibility and that was never going to happen.
  • Detaching from the gaslighting.  In other words, holding on to what you know is reality even when the person is trying to persuade you that black is white.  It’s really hard to do as a gaslighter makes you question your own judgement but I know in my heart I’ve done nothing wrong other than react to a situation caused by someone else and if the other people involved can’t accept that or wants to blame me for their mistakes that’s their choice and there is nothing I can do about it.

I’m a very black and white person – I’ve needed to be to survive a life which has involved altered perceptions of reality.  I needed to hold on to my versions of right and wrong behaviour and to not deviate from them, because if I had deviated I would have lost my grip.  I’m also totally intolerant of bullshit.  I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt because in my world if you like (let alone love) someone you aren’t cruel, nasty or horrible to them – end of story.  The people in your life should always lift you up not put you down.  My best mate is a very honest person and I know she always tells me the truth, but she does it in a way which isn’t hurtful or critical.  I can’t be doing with people who are nicey nice all the time – they’re just blowing smoke up your arse and telling you what you want to hear, which is another way of altering reality.  But when people are honest they have to be honest in ways which protect the other person’s feelings – blurting out “yes, your arse does look big in that” is hurtful.

None of us are perfect.  I know I’ve said and done things which have inadvertently been hurtful, but I’m the first person to apologise when that happens and to acknowledge that I’ve made a mistake.  When my closest friend was upset by the blog post I wrote I emailed her to apologise, even though she was the one being a rubbish friend and it was her behaviour which had in part led to the post.  Needless to say she’s never apologised for upsetting me.  It’s important to take ownership of our behaviour and acknowledge the impact our words and actions have on others.  Even when I had my famous melt-down on Christmas Day, which I felt was in no way my fault, the first thing I did when I got back to my parents’ house was apologise to both of them.  Yes I was justified in blowing up, but I went too far and said things I shouldn’t (even though they were actually true!).

Now I’m older and, hopefully, wiser the thing I value most in any of my relationships is kindness.  When you’re kind to people you can’t go far wrong and when people are being un-kind it’s easy to recognize.  However, I am not kind to the point of being a doormat.  During the conversation with my best mate recently she said “for someone who hates confrontation you still seem to have more than your fair share” and I realize the reason for that is that some people mistake my kindness for weakness, then when I confront them with the fact that their behaviour towards me is shabby they can’t handle the fact I am standing up for myself.  Yes I try and see all sides of the argument and the other person’s point of view but I don’t make excuses for hurtful behaviour and I expect the people in my life to take ownership of their role in any discord.  If they can’t do that I’m not afraid to call them on it or to ultimately walk away.  Hand on heart I can honestly say that I have not missed the people who have fallen out with me for any second of any day – in fact, it was a relief to stop pretending that the relationship was fine when it clearly wasn’t.  It was a relief to stop questioning myself and wondering if I was doing something to make the other person treat me poorly – I wasn’t.