Taking a break down instead

Maybe she just needed a break. That always makes me feel better.

We had a trip planned. Paul and I were renting a van to drive down to Florida. We were taking Arabella and our two foreign exchange students with us.

I imagined how perfect spring break was going to be. Sunshine and shorts after another long winter. Estelle and Arabella together on a long road trip becoming best friends once again. My daughter becoming a functional depressed person like I am. She said it was a mistake and wouldn’t happen again.

But our magical trip wasn’t meant to be. The week we were scheduled to leave Disney World closed. A new virus was sweeping through the nation. In my lifetime I’ve seen many viruses come and go, but this was different. People were panicking. We didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know what to believe. It reminded me of when HIV first came out and people were afraid to use public bathrooms. With a world of information at our fingertips, we still didn’t know what we were dealing with.

We debated whether or not to take the trip after Disney closed. Since we were driving, would we be able to stop to have sit down meals after a long drive? Some states were closing. Would gas station bathrooms and rest stops even be open? Was that the America we wanted our foreign visitors to see? What happens if someone gets sick? Could we get trapped somewhere? What if our decisions caused sickness and/or death in the children who weren’t ours that we were responsible for? The beaches in Florida started to close. We decided to stay home.

The high school closed and schooling went to online. The spring play, going to state, track, and prom all were cancelled yet the school work remained. Everyone felt the loss of what was planned that could no longer be. The beautiful prom dresses hung in the closets unworn. Time lost that could never be recaptured. Our German foreign exchange student Clara went home a couple months early whereas Estelle stayed an extra month.

I thought that Arabella and Estelle would be forced to work out their differences because they would have to be together all the time without much outside contact. It didn’t work out that way. Arabella withdrew into herself and snarled at me to leave her alone when I reached out. She would take long walks or drive to the park to sit by herself for hours sometimes after dark or in the rain. Estelle grew very close to me. She would fight with Arabella if she felt like Arabella was being mean to me.

Florida was gone. Arabella’s opportunity to be a foreign exchange student was gone. It was all she ever talked about for over a year. She was already signed up and the paperwork completed. Thankfully I could say that she wasn’t going because of COVID versus a suicide attempt. We were going to tour Europe in the summer, but that was gone too.

With everything that was lost, I’m grateful that we didn’t lose Arabella too.

Right before the pandemic

Maybe she was crying out but I wasn’t listening. Her problems seemed so petty, like the fight with Estelle. I had given her everything I wanted but never had as a child. In my mind my problems always trumped hers because I was shielding her from life’s real problems. I didn’t listen to any complaints about how hard she had it for anything.

But in reality I really was trying to protect her. She just didn’t know about it. I didn’t tell her anything about my dad. I didn’t tell her that several weeks back her older sister found child porn on their grandpa’s computer and turned him in to the police. She was a child. I wanted to protect her from that. She seemed so innocent, carefree, and happy. Why take that from her?

I developed a plan. Arabella was going to be a foreign exchange student. Maybe she wouldn’t find out about her grandpa until it was all over. But I was worried. There were a few problems with the plan for the children in my house to have the perfect childhood. The police could arrest him any day and then the world would know what kind of monster my dad is. Our foreign exchange students might get sent home. Their parents might not want them here although they would have nothing to do with my dad.

Then there was the part about me being a complete and total mess. I fell into a downward spiral of depression and despair after I heard about my dad. I suffered greatly from the blow and the trauma I experienced as a child resurfaced in the worst way. I knew I was suffering from Complex PTSD. But that knowledge didn’t stop me from going through what I did.

I pushed everyone away. I pretended everything was okay. But I wondered how anything could ever be fine again.

I experienced moments of extreme anxiety and hyper-vigilance. One day I thought I could try to calm myself by listening to music in my earbuds. Arabella came up behind me unexpectedly to give me a hug. I freaked out and screamed at her to not touch me and get away from me. I was horrified. I apologized and tried to explain to her not to touch me if my back was to her. But I could tell she didn’t understand. She felt rejected and I blamed myself for it.

After Arabella’s suicide attempt, we had a long talk. I decided to tell her everything that was happening with my dad. I told her that I was having a hard time with it and me pushing her away had nothing to do with her. Together we cried.

Inside, though, I was furious. If my dad didn’t screw up my life once again I would’ve noticed that my daughter was depressed. I didn’t call him on his birthday. I didn’t even send a card. I blamed him for what happened with Arabella. I was so focused on his mess that I didn’t even notice my own child was suffering.

I wasn’t doing well before the suicide attempt and I certainly didn’t do well after. I suffered severely from insomnia and nightmares for over a month. I thought I was going to lose my mind. That all happened right before the pandemic.

A year and two days ago

It’s been a year and two days since my daughter tried to take her life. It was on a day like today. It happened while I was sitting in the same spot I’m in today, writing my post oblivious to what was happening a couple rooms away.

It came out of nowhere. I blamed myself for not noticing something was wrong. Me, the hyper-vigilant one. I was focused on other things, other problems.

There was a fight between my daughter and our foreign exchange student Estelle. Before then things were great between them, better than I could’ve ever expected. Arabella and Estelle were best friends. We even signed Arabella up to be a foreign exchange student hosted by Estelle’s family. Then there was the fight. Arabella accused Estelle of trying to steal her friends. I thought it was temporary, petty even. They would work it out themselves. But a few days later my daughter tried to kill herself.

She tried to OD and laid down in her bed to go into a forever sleep. She was filled with horror and threw up the pills she ingested. She reached out to her friends, then she reached out to me. That is when she found me writing my post on a day just like today. She came into the room sobbing hysterically. I literally thought someone had died. She said it was a mistake and it wouldn’t happen again. I don’t know why I believed her. We were na├»ve and new to her mental health struggles back then. We didn’t know what to do and certainly had no idea what would happen next.

One of the first feelings I felt was enraged. I screamed and kicked the garbage can across the room spilling its contents everywhere. I can’t remember a time of such anger and uncontrolled rage in myself. I wanted to punch a wall or through the glass in the door. Looking back it seemed like an unusual response because I usually suppress my anger. But that is what happened.

Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if she succeeded that night in February. Succeeded, what a horrible word to describe something like that. I don’t think I would’ve made it through to share my story. My demons could have me. I just wouldn’t have the fight to run from them anymore.

For a long time after that night, I would awake in the middle of the night to see if she was still breathing. I would watch for the rise and fall of the blankets. Sometimes I couldn’t see and would reach out to touch her gently as to not wake her reminiscent of the early years when I checked on my sweet baby to see if she was still breathing after she stopped crying out for me in the middle of the night.

Now there was a new fear that robbed me of my peace both day and night. Will my daughter choose life today? I rejoice that it’s been over a year and she is alive!!

It was the start of a new journey. I was no longer just a sibling of someone with serious mental health issues, now I am a mother.

Collateral damage

Nothing happened. Christmas passed, then we entered the new year. It was a month after the police came, still nothing.

My mom stayed with us a few days, then with her siblings. Eventually she went back home. My mom had a doctor appointment she wanted me to take her to. She didn’t trust that my dad wouldn’t drive them both off the road. I talked to my dad that day for the first time since everything happened. He looked sickly and lost a lot of weight. I told him I was sorry which seemed kind of weird since he was the one that committed the crime. He asked why I was sorry and I said that I never wanted things to be the way they were. I wanted a dad that loved and protected me.

As a child, I wanted retribution. I wanted my dad to burn in hell and pay for every cruel thing he did. But when his head was on the chopping block I found I didn’t want it as much anymore. It really was painful for the rest of us.

It wasn’t long before things went back to normal almost. My mom’s doctor visit went well. A week later my dad went in for a stress test. I wasn’t hoping for good results. I was hoping that he would have congestive heart failure like his mother. I was hoping that he would silently die and the whole prison thing would just go away.

You see, I didn’t want us to pay the price for his crime. My dad would be far worse then not being respected. He would be a registered sex offender, a pedophile. I would have a parent in prison. It wasn’t the kind of inheritance I was planning on receiving. The family name would be dragged through the dirt. Having the same last name might reflect negatively on my brother’s career. My dad lives in the same small town he grew up in. It would ruin the family name that my grandparents and their parents before them proudly built in that small town.

We probably couldn’t even go up north to the family cabin because everyone knows us up there too. People might make assumptions about the character of the rest of us. People might destroy our property or even threaten my mother who still lives in the house she spent the past 45 years in. A single heart attack and those worries would all be gone. But his physical heart was fine.

So we waited and we waited some more. Nothing happened. We were all on edge, waiting. Nobody did anything so I called the detective. The detective said that after the holidays he had to take a couple weeks off work because he broke his leg. He was still working on the case and it should be wrapped up soon. He seemed blunt and rather harsh in his tone. He was hesitant to talk to me until I told him I was the mother of the girl that brought her grandpa’s computer to the police department.

I asked the detective if there were any resources for families. Maybe a support group? He said he didn’t know of any and that we should get some counseling. He said he sees it all the time, collateral damage. It’s like being in a war. Sometimes innocent people get hit by stray bullets.

It wasn’t long after the conversation that COVID hit the nation which once again left us waiting…

Shot nerves

A freak thing happened a week after I heard the news about my dad. I ended up getting a sliver under my fingernail. I tried in vain to get the sliver out myself. It was rather painful as I had to dig under my nail into the nail bed. I had the sick feeling of pain mixed with panic as I summoned my husband to help me. Every time he placed the tweezers near my finger, I howled out in pain. He said he couldn’t do it.

In the meantime, I started receiving texts from my aunt Jan. My mom started telling close family members of my dad’s crime. My aunt Jan told me I needed to be strong for my mom to help her through these hard times. It rubbed me the wrong way. It’s like she was dishing everything off on me. Before I was even a teenager I was told to take care of my mom. It was as if the parent-child roles were reversed. Why was that my responsibility when I needed a mom? I was just a kid.

I was having this throbbing pain in my finger while being upset that I was told to take care of my mom because my dad committed a crime. My mom was an adult, she could leave which I was supportive of. All this happened while I called the doctor’s office who told me they couldn’t fit me in for days. I decided to go to quick care located in a store. They turned me away because they didn’t have the proper tools to remove the sliver. I had to decide if I should go to the ER or return home to soak my finger to see if it would come out on its own in a couple days. We wandered around the store as I made up my mind.

My aunt Jan called as we walked the aisles of the store. I didn’t want to answer her call, so Paul did. I could hear Jan pleading with Paul for me to step up and be a good daughter. Paul really laid into her. He told her that I was always expected to take care of my mother but who would take care of me. It was my dad who committed a crime. It was my daughter that reported it and she had to deal with that alone while she was at school hours away. I was having a hard time dealing with it myself. I wasn’t sleeping. I was having nightmares. I was in a state of despair. Yet I was expected to shoulder my parents problems once again. I have to laugh a little about the people who overheard that conversation in the store. Paul gave me the phone to hear the apologetic Jan treat me with compassion. She realized that I couldn’t always be the strong one, I was hurting too.

I decided to go to the ER. I didn’t want the sliver festering under my skin anymore. I wanted to be done with the pain. They couldn’t get the sliver out right away. They could keep trying after numbing my finger which I agreed to. My finger numbed up but I could still feel the pain. Just like a trip to the dentist, the shots to take away the pain didn’t work. They could keep trying or they could give me a referral to a hand surgeon. Keep trying! I felt like I was going to throw up as I broke into a cold sweat. Just get it over with and take the pain away already. It seemed to take hours, but he finally got it out.

My nerves were pretty shot that day. That was hands down one of the worst days in 2019.

Self-diagnosis

24 Dec 2019

If you are reading this, it is over. I have nothing left to live for. My whole life has been a joke. Hell couldn’t be any worse than living at this point.

Why? Why did it have to end this way? There isn’t a day in my life that I feel joy or peace. It’s just un-relentless pain. Why would I want to continue down this path of suffering? I just want it to end. Every day its the same struggle to place one foot in front of the other. Every day I fight against this meaningless existence. I don’t want to do this anymore. I feel like I have nothing left here for me.

It took months to get over the initial blow. It was months and months of insomnia and nightmares like the one I described the last time I posted. I was having flashbacks of the abuse I suffered and oddly enough images of things I didn’t remember, fragments of dreams you could say. These flashbacks were incredibly painful and the urge to destroy myself in the process was overwhelmingly powerful. In some ways I was already gone, stuck in my own head. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but hopefully it will be the last.

I decided to write my way through the process. I was only functioning on one cylinder, but I was functioning. How could I tell anyone that I wanted to kill myself because my daughter found child porn on my dad’s computer? It wasn’t logical or rational anyway. Why destroy myself over a crime I didn’t commit? I was sticking to the cover story of my parents getting a divorce if people noticed something was wrong. They could find out the full story later when my dad is in prison.

I couldn’t live this way. I started researching PTSD when I found out about Complex PTSD. I found my home there. Everything I was going through started making sense. What happened with my dad was very triggering for me. I had to fight through this to get to the other side, healing.

How was I going to get through? I already was embracing a holistic approach to healing. I started seeing a therapist to start working through the trauma. I was working with a wellness nurse to heal the trauma that ravaged my physical body. I was seeking solace in spirituality. I was writing my way through the experience. I was doing what I was supposed to do to heal, but this was a huge crater in the road. I couldn’t trust anyone or any God. I never could and honestly don’t know if I ever will be able to fully. I’m even afraid to share with you because I don’t trust you either. I’m not even sure what compels me to share this in full honesty.

I diagnosed myself with Complex PTSD. Part of me is in denial of this. Maybe I didn’t have it that bad. You see, my dad never sexually abused me. The few people I’ve told about his crime assume this though because they have outright asked me. Instead my dad treated me like I didn’t exist. He didn’t hug or hold me. He didn’t protect me from the teen boys when they came knocking. He didn’t tell me I was special or that he was proud of me. He didn’t protect me from my psychotic brother’s physical attacks. Nothing. That is how his addiction robbed me. He mainly made lewd comments to me and my children.

I tried to act like he was a good man. I didn’t tell my children much about my childhood. I tried to protect them from that. Maybe I was wrong. Angel found out the hard way by finding porn on his computer. I can’t imagine the images she saw or how damaging that was for her. I couldn’t even help her. She was a senior in college 4 hours away. She found this right before finals. She was struggling and I couldn’t help her. Thanks a lot dad.

I’m thankful I made it through and am ready to share my experience with you no matter how difficult it is.

Nightmares of my inner child

Alissa came to me in a dream. She told me she was very frightened to go back into the camper. She had to go before and she doesn’t want to go back again. She can’t go back anyway. If she tells anyone, the cat will die. She shows me an image of a black cat with its neck cut open. There is dried blood matted on its fur.

She said she could tell about things outside of the camper. She showed me an image of herself naked on the rope swing that hung on the big tree outside of the camper. Her long hair was in piggy tails.

She told me that she was me. She said I might find pictures of me.

I felt disgusted with the girl but I left her alone. She was crying and felt like she was in trouble for what she did. Maybe she is the reason the cat died.

This was just one of the many nightmares I had over the next couple months as I processed everything that happened with my dad. I wrote this dream down immediately upon awakening. It was especially horrifying as I awoke in a state of panic with tears streaming down my face. It felt incredibly real.

The men in the camper

I was having nightmares again, that is when I could sleep. I felt anxious, hypervigilant, and swept the bottom of the depth of despair since I heard the news about my dad. My husband wasn’t sure I would make it through this time.

I felt triggered. Ancient memories were stirred. I couldn’t outrun my demons. The old coping mechanisms didn’t work. I started thinking about things that I didn’t want to think about. I was drowning in the flames. Nothing made sense.

I remembered the camper that was parked under the big tree next to our house. I remembered a man saying if I was a good girl I would get a soda out of the camper fridge. I always remembered something bad about the camper. But I didn’t want to think about it. If certain bad things happened, I wouldn’t have the will to live and I wouldn’t survive childhood. So certain bad things didn’t happen.

The camper under the big tree had a screened in porch. It sat on a big concrete slab. There were other things inside the screened porch such as firewood and bikes. It was only there for a summer or two. Around the time I started kindergarten only an empty slab remained.

I knew the men involved. There were snippets of blurry memories. One of the men I rather liked. He is dead now. The other man I secretly hated. There once was a picture of that man in a frame on the dresser with the fish tank. I hated him so much I crumpled up the picture and threw it behind the dresser. My mom would think Matt did it because Matt always wrecked things. I will never mention his name because I don’t want to make accusations of things I am unsure of. Maybe nothing happened. Or maybe I’m in denial. I can’t remember clearly, nor do I want to.

Then there was my dad. I think he might have been there as well with a camera. I was afraid when the police searched my parents house that they would find pictures of me. But what was I paranoid about? Nothing ever happened. Right? Were my fears irrational or grounded in some warped reality that I could barely remember? I couldn’t understand why I was so worried about it. It was similar to feeling guilty for a crime I didn’t commit.

For some reason, though, I couldn’t rest until I heard what my inner child was crying about. The more I tried to hide, the more it assailed me. I had to accept that maybe something happened to me in there. But there will always be a part of me that doesn’t believe any of it. I was too young to remember anything in vivid detail. Decades later I’m not even sure why my mind wanders back to the camper that was only there for a summer or two.

I don’t want to remember, yet somehow I can’t seem to forget.

Guilty!

One thing I wasn’t expecting was to feel guilty for my dad’s crime.

I felt paranoid. I worried that the police were going to come to my house and confiscate my computers. Maybe they were going to investigate me. I knew the fear was irrational since I’ve never done anything the police would take an interest in. All other family members that I talked to about it felt the same way. It was like his dirt rubbed off on the rest of us. We all felt familial guilt for a crime only one of us committed.

The bar was set low. It didn’t take much to step over it. I wanted more for my children, for my brothers and I. I wanted a family name they could strive to live up to. Would we be looked down upon for the sins of our father?

Would they take our foreign exchange students away? I would feel a moral obligation to report a conviction to our coordinator like she told us to if the case should arise. She did have an exchange student that wrote letters to an exchange uncle in prison who was removed from the home she was placed in. Maybe they would get removed since they saw my dad once or twice before I knew of his crime. I was not planning on having them around my dad again. My brother Luke was also not planning on having his pre-teen daughters around their grandpa ever again. Do you know how difficult that was especially around Christmas time? I hope not.

I didn’t want to see my dad again either. The children were what I was living for. Otherwise I might not have bothered getting out of bed. I had to have them up and ready for school in the morning. I had to force myself to be excited, to give them a memorable Christmas. The kids are really what kept me going. I had to be alive for them. What if they were taken away? How would I explain things to their parents? Was I going to be punished for his crime? Does the trauma never end?

I felt like I received a life sentence for a crime I didn’t commit. All happiness and joy were striped away. I was guilty for a crime I didn’t commit. Guilty until I could prove to be innocent.

Gratitude week 53

  1. Yeah, 2020 is finally behind us!!
  2. I’m grateful for my best friend. She had her birthday this past week and I did something I haven’t tried since I was a teenager. We went to a shooting range. I was really nervous about it, but it was a lot of fun.
  3. Paul decided to quit drinking. Here’s to 5 days sober! Yes, he made it through New Year’s Eve. I’m grateful for the positive changes he is making in his life, in our life together.
  4. I’m grateful for the snow that blankets the ground. We had our first real snowfall of the season this week. It is really beautiful.
  5. I’m grateful that my routine mammogram came back normal.
  6. I’m grateful that my daughter Arabella will start attending outpatient tomorrow as we wait for residential care. I’m hoping this will be beneficial for improving her mental health.
  7. I’m grateful that my son will be getting his wisdom teeth removed tomorrow and will no longer be in pain.
  8. I’m grateful that I have all the holiday decorations cleaned up and put away.
  9. I’m grateful to get out of the house and go to the movies with my daughter and her boyfriend. We watched Promising Young Lady and it was pretty good.
  10. I’m grateful for clean sheets and warm jammies on these dark cold days.