The story unfolds

So now the story unfolds. It’s been over a month since Arabella has been home from residential. She was there for over two months.

She is now writing her own story in a book that will perhaps never be written. We did our best. Now here we will remain as a landing pad when her wings are broken from life as sometimes happens when a bird first leaves the nest.

We keep telling ourselves that everything will be okay. Even if it’s not, we will still walk through it together.

On the rough days we talk of Paul’s mom. She made a good life for herself. She didn’t have much. She didn’t have a high school diploma but was always able to find a job. She raised a child as a single parent when she was right around Arabella’s age. She struggled with mental health issues, but she had her mother to help her and later in life she married a good man. She had a house to live in.

If Martha could do it, then Arabella has a good chance to live life independently. In some ways, I think that Martha was happier than most people I know. Ignorance is bliss they say. I don’t even think she knew she was not very bright or that she was mentally ill.

Arabella is out in the world now. She is finding her way, even if it is not the path I would’ve chosen for her. She is not out of the woods, but she is doing so much better. She wants to live now. Crazy can be fun and exciting. Normal is boring anyway.

I am closing this series. It’s been very challenging to write about my daughter’s mental health struggles in only the way that personal painful pieces can be. But I feel like it’s been therapeutic for me as well.

From here on out I might get a little light and fluffy for awhile. I might post about my travels, wedding planning (yeah!), or go back to writing about the fortune cookies I’ve amassed. But I’m not going anywhere. I just need to lighten things up after talking about such serious personal topics.

I can be fun too, but you guys probably don’t know that about me.

From the beginning

Strangely enough after Arabella went to residential I got asked even more (rather unusual) questions by the therapist. What was your pregnancy, childbirth, and Arabella’s early infancy years like?

When I got pregnant with Arabella I had a 4 year old and a 2 year old. I was also babysitting 50 hours a week for the next door neighbor’s kid who was 3. She called me mom. The neighbors worked all the time then every weekend they dumped their kid off at grandma’s so they could party with friends. The mom was harsh and I thought she was rather verbally abusive. The dad wasn’t the greatest either. The whole situation disgusted me, but I felt rather envious too. I rarely got a break from my kids.

Right before I got pregnant, my brother Matt heard voices to tell him to attack my daughter Angel which he did at her 4th birthday party. After he hurt her, I set a boundary with my mom that Matt could not be around my children anymore. My mom pushed back against that boundary and tried to force Matt back into my kids life which caused a lot of stress. I lost all help when I pushed Matt away because my mom had to care for him and he wasn’t allowed around my kids. My MIL didn’t help much at all. She could barely handle the one kid she had. Even my husband had to work the day our daughter was born because he just started his business at the time. He was a one man show and he was the one that paid our bills.

I was worried when I found out I was having another girl. I would have been more worried if it was a boy though. My brother was fixated on hurting little girls. But if I had a boy I worried he would be schizophrenic/autistic like my brother. I didn’t tell anyone the gender because it was too painful. Either way invoked worry that robbed me of the joy of pregnancy.

Arabella was breech. They told me it didn’t matter because she was to be my 3rd C-section. I felt really sick after she was born and didn’t even want to nurse her because I had a reaction to the pain medicine. My mom stayed with the older kids overnight so I could have Arabella early in the morning. Then she dropped the kids off at the hospital right after Arabella was born because Matt had a dentist appointment. I scheduled my C-section so I would be in the hospital over the weekend when my husband didn’t have to work because we didn’t have anyone to watch the kids.

A week after my C-section I was home alone with all three kids. I remember being a zombie hopped up on pain medicine after sleepless nights. I’m not going to lie, it was hard. Thankfully the neighbors got divorced and I wasn’t babysitting anymore.

I was constantly stressed because I didn’t have the help I needed. I didn’t take very good care of myself. I sometimes wonder if I caused this with all the stress hormones constantly pumping through my body. I ended up getting mastitis twice. I was sick all the time. Right after Arabella was born my grandma had open heart surgery. I took on all the holidays since my grandma wasn’t able to.

I had a baby that cried constantly day and night. She refused to be comforted. She wouldn’t take a pacifier. She didn’t suck her thumb or fingers. She didn’t want to be held unless she was nursing. The only thing that she responded to was the infant rocker and having music constantly playing on repeat in her room at night on the CD player. When the CD would stop at the end and go back to the beginning, she would cry.

I took her to several doctors. Did she have an ear infection? That was the only reason my other kids would cry at that age. Was she autistic like my brother? Colic? (I suspect doctors tell parents that when they don’t know why your baby doesn’t stop crying). Big surprise, they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. I nursed her longer than the rest of my babies. When I weaned her, she took her tiny fists and beat them against my chest while screaming. My other kids didn’t do that. Everything seemed wrong but nothing was wrong. It took her over a year to finally sleep through the night.

The therapist thought that Arabella always had emotional dysregulation and that her condition was genetic. She didn’t experience any out of the norm trauma (death of a grandparent). She was a lot like my MIL who did experience trauma. Or did she? I don’t even know anymore. And if trauma caused her mental illness then how did it influence her genes to pass borderline on to her granddaughters? There is so much that I don’t understand yet, but I do know that Arabella’s infancy years were tough and apparently that is indicative of future problems.

If I could change things…

If I could go back and change things, I would rewrite the whole story. I would throw out the manuscript and start over. I wouldn’t even be a character. My mom would still marry my dad. But I would change the timeline a bit. She would marry my dad before he went to Vietnam. She would be pregnant when he left with my brother Luke. There wouldn’t be a Matt, Mark, or me. Luke has had the most positive impact on the world. My dad would never return from the war. My grandparents would be heartbroken losing their only child. But they had Luke who is so much more than my dad ever would be. My mom would eventually move on with her life and everything would end happily.

Yet here I am, a part of me wishing I never was. I sometimes wonder why I’m still here. I could never leave my husband and children. Although I feel my sanity slipping. I have this feverish obsession to tell my story, all of it. I don’t even know why. It seems to be my purpose.

It’s been a week since my mom moved in. Over this week I’ve heard stories about my dad that I’ve never heard before that fueled my hatred for him even more. I think my parents marriage was a big mistake. I wish they never got married, but that leaves a big problem. If I wish away them, I wish away me. I was okay taking my mom in. I think she is safer here. I don’t even mind driving her to appointments. Yesterday I spent half a day with her in the ER because she had an adverse reaction to a medication.

It’s been an adjustment having my mom here. We’ve all switched up our routine a bit. My mom wants to help with household chores but more than anything ends up getting in the way. I want her to be able to fit within the flow of our life. Next weekend she wants my brother Matt to come. I’m not sure how that will all work out yet. I think she will want us to cater to him and adjust our home life around him which might not work out that well. I really need to have some time to myself once in a while. I need my space without feeling smothered or policed like a little child. I want life to be carefree without extra responsibilities. I long to break things but I am the broken one.

What has been really hard is helping my mom process her trauma. It’s not easy to see your mother in pain. My mom sobbed more days than she did not. I heard some things I would rather not have heard. It really has been triggering for me. There have been a lot of things that happened that my mom doesn’t even know about and I am not going to tell her. I feel re-pungent of the thought of sharing my trauma with my mother but even more so in front of my children. It’s painful to know my mother has been hurt and is not happy. It’s very heavy and it weighs down my soul.

It is especially hard because I probably should be taking this time while my daughter is in the hospital to strengthen myself for when she comes back home. Yet here I am completely depleted and devastated. Yesterday was prom at Arabella’s school. It pained me greatly that she will never be able to go. Her junior prom was cancelled because of COVID and now she is in the mental hospital. I felt sad to see all the prom pictures on social media. It is one more lost dream for my daughter. Her prom dress will forever hang in her closet never worn.

I am once again taking care of my mother when I need help. Will this suffering never end? I don’t know how much more of it I can take. Will I ever feel real joy again? It seems to slip through my fingers fleetingly at best. When will God intervene? His silence echoes I am alone in my darkest hours. I wish I could change things…

The bad ones

Arabella wanted to leave, but as I mentioned before she didn’t want to be left. She wanted to use our car. She wanted to borrow money. She wanted to come home for Christmas. She wanted her reduction surgery scheduled in December. I said that I would cancel it if she wasn’t living at home because it was going to require at least two weeks of someone caring for her. I didn’t want her calling or texting every time she ran into a problem she couldn’t handle. If she didn’t want me in her life she had to let me go so I could get on with mine.

We wanted her home but we weren’t going to fight her anymore. She had conversations with Jordan’s mom about emancipation. They were ready to take her in rent free so she could escape her abusive home environment.

At this point I started wondering what was wrong with my daughter. It had to be more than just depression or anxiety. Arabella at this time started a relationship with her first girlfriend. She wanted to bring this girl home to introduce her to us. Her girlfriend was pretty, personable, and bubbly. She seemed really nice. Afterwards, Arabella called us on the way back to Jordan’s house. She asked her dad what he thought of her girlfriend. I think she was trying to bait us in some way to get in a fight. If she could get Paul upset then she would have justification for moving out. My parents hate me because I’m gay. It would just feed into this whole we are bad parents thing. Instead, Paul said that she seemed very nice. We even talked about having her girlfriend over for the holidays if only Arabella would make the effort to come home and have a relationship with her real family again.

What would cause someone to randomly hate their family? Not just her parents, but her siblings as well. To take it one step further, she attached herself to a brand new family one she only got to know a couple months before. They were perfect, every single one of them. I became convinced my daughter had Borderline Personality Disorder. She had almost every symptom.

Although never diagnosed, I always thought my mother-in-law was borderline. Arabella was her angel grandchild. Alex and Angel were demons. My MIL would fly into random rages with her husband, my husband, myself, and my children. We were either the best thing that ever happened to her or we were awful people. She was impulsive and at times could be a lot of fun. Her mood was all over the place, sometimes even on the same day. You never knew what you were going to get. We never could believe anything she said either.

Lately I’ve been also wondering if my own mother has borderline. She has this unusual attachment to my dad. After my daughter Angel turned in my dad to the police for child porn, my mom stayed. Now I suppose you might say someone could forgive their spouse and I understand that. But every single conversation with my mom is about how she can’t handle being alone. She now loves my dad more than she ever did. On occasion she mentions forgiveness and God, but mainly it’s about her fear of abandonment. She latches on to people that will never leave her like my dad and my autistic/schizophrenic brother Matt. This has lead to conflict because she is manipulative and tries to force my dad and brother on everyone because she doesn’t want anyone to leave her. (They have both hurt my siblings and I and our children). It makes her seem like a martyr and we are bad/selfish if we don’t forgive. Could that be borderline? I don’t even know.

I don’t want to make more of it than it is but I can tell you most would agree that my mother and MIL were neither sane nor rational. I saw those same patterns starting to emerge in my own daughter Arabella. Why did I think my children could somehow escape the mental illness that runs deep in both sides of the family?

I thought it would be a good idea to sit down with Jordan’s mom to express my concerns to her. I was worried for my daughter’s safety under her care. She was unstable, suicidal, and cutting. Jordan’s mom should know what she would be getting herself into. If she thought she would providing a safe place for an abused child to live (which is noble of her), she needed to know the truth. I told her my fears that my daughter was severely mentally ill. But I’m not really sure if she believed me.

After all, isn’t that what most abusers say?

Still waiting…

We were expecting something to happen at any minute when COVID hit the nation. Nothing happened. Would they delay pressing charges?

The detective told me they found 20 images on the laptop. That was before they took my dad’s main computer. I hardly think that would be overlooked. We are talking felony charges, a hefty fine, and my dad spending the rest of his life in prison. It’s hard to process. Would I go to the trial? Would I visit him in prison? Write letters? A part of me doesn’t want to worry about that until it happen.

When the pandemic hit the nation, my brother’s group home shut down temporarily and my brother came home. My mom became paranoid about the virus. She pushed almost everyone away. Yet she was stuck at home with my dad and brother, both who needed care. I watched my mom start to slip. It wore her down and she stopped sleeping. She started taking anti-depressants and sleeping pills but none of it really worked. She ended up having a bad side effect from the medication and ended up in the hospital.

I took my brother back to his group home. Once they took him back he was not allowed to come back home and hasn’t been home since. Meanwhile, my mom stayed at home locked in the house with my dad. She started doing strange things. Sometimes she wanted to leave my dad, then at other times she told me that my dad was now the love of her life. He held her at night when she couldn’t sleep and helped her through it. He comforted her from the pain he caused her. It was all very bizarre and I had to wonder if she had some sort of mental illness that went beyond anxiety. No one would blame her for wanting to leave. But staying?

In June, the police department contacted my parents and said they could pick up some of the items from evidence. They printed off the photos on the laptop for my mom like they said they would. That is how this whole thing started. My mom’s laptop crashed and she wanted to save her pictures so she gave it to my daughter’s boyfriend to fix. The police printed off her pictures but kept the laptop as evidence. They also kept my dad’s computer. I can’t even imagine how many images were found on there.

This set us off to feeling upset, angry, and on edge again. It could be any minute, any time that they would receive a knock on the door. I accompanied my mom to visit the lawyer to get her affairs in order. The conversation about my dad was very uncomfortable. In the end, she didn’t end up doing anything.

I think part of my mom’s decision to stay with my dad was because she didn’t want to leave the house she has been living in for the last 45 years. Also, if he is arrested and goes to prison she really doesn’t have to go through all the work of moving. The house would be hers.

But there was a part of her that pressured us to accept our dad. Your dad loves you. Your dad is praying for you. She wrote birthday cards where she went back to cross out the I and wrote WE love you. Sometimes she would talk to me on speaker phone and I didn’t know my dad was listening to the conversation. Sometimes she would prompt him to say things to me…tell your daughter that you love her. It was uncomfortable and disturbing. I honestly think that both of my parents might have serious mental health problems.

It’s been over a year now. Still nothing has happened. The first 7 months were especially challenging. With COVID and my dad we haven’t gotten together with family for over a year. I didn’t even talk to or see my brother Mark in 2020. The family cabin has fallen into disrepair. Our hands are tied because our dad owns the cabin. There have been miscommunications and hard feelings. It sucks!

It’s messed up but I’ve been processing it. I realize it could all unravel at any minute. But until then I’ll be waiting for the ax to drop. As the song says, sometimes the waiting is the hardest part.

The ultimatum, part 8

Paul struggled with what it meant to be a husband and a dad. He never had a dad and barely remembered his mother’s brief marriage when he was 4 to a man that was supposedly abusive towards him.

His only parent was very childlike herself. They were dirt poor. He spent the first half of his childhood in low income housing in the inner city of Chicago. His mother was slow and uneducated. She also struggled with mental health issues that I would guess were trauma related.

Martha’s dad died when she was 12, so Paul didn’t have a grandpa either. He wouldn’t have made a good grandpa anyway. He was known to abuse his children and cheat on his wife. He wouldn’t be my chosen father figure for a future husband.

Martha didn’t always make the best decisions but she was a good mother. She always told Paul he could do anything he put his mind to. She did the best she could with the hand she was given.

Sometimes I feel like Paul was more of a parent to Martha than she was to him. But that could be because I saw him give her advice as an adult. She would argue that credit cards were money. She wasn’t a drinker but I think she was addicted to gambling. I’m sure that is why Paul is obsessed with keeping our finances in order.

Martha also had a really bad temper. She was very reactive and emotional. She often was angry and thought people were out to get her. Or you could be the best thing that ever happened to her. In those times you could do nothing wrong. She was crazy fun, exciting, and impulsive.

After her brief marriage, Martha didn’t have a lot of boyfriends. She worked a lot. Sometimes she lost her jobs due to her chronic tardiness. She married for the 2nd time right before I met Paul. Her husband Darryl is only 15 years older than Paul. He had kids but his ex took off with them and they spent most of their adult life in and out of prison. Maybe if Paul was still a child he would’ve been a good father.

I wish I could say that my own dad was able to take him under his wing. If anything, my dad taught him what not to do as a husband and a father. It seems like we both had to parent our parents more than they parented us. It caused a lot of stress shouldering all of that responsibility.

There was no one, just a big empty void of abandonment. He was expected to be good at something he never learned how to do. He didn’t have a dad to play ball with. No one taught him how to fix things or work on cars. He was never disciplined. He didn’t have a dad to embarrass him or give him advice on girls. Like most things, he just had to figure it out himself.

I tried to gloss it over and glamorize it by saying that at least he could develop his own style. But it wasn’t easy. I think he is a wonderful father and husband despite his insecurities. When he screws up he apologizes and tries harder to be a better person. He is doing a wonderful job and I appreciate his commitment.

He could’ve walked away like his own father did. Instead he was willing to roll up his sleeves and work on himself and our relationship.

Trauma drama

Last night I was having a debate with Arabella. She said she believes that everyone experiences traumatic childhoods.

What??

So I gave her a scenario. Girl A spent her childhood as an incest victim. Girl B’s most traumatic experience was that she didn’t get what she wanted for Christmas one year.

I asked her if both girls experienced a traumatic childhood. Arabella responded that they both did. I couldn’t believe it. Then she further stated that my childhood was no more traumatic than her own. I felt offended by her comments and am hoping that her viewpoint will change once she matures.

Arabella asked me if I knew anyone with a perfect childhood. I responded “yes” that I believe my sister-in-law Emily had a perfect childhood. Both my brother and I have flashbacks and at times PTSD from our childhood. It has been very painful dealing with this far into adulthood. Emily has been trying her hardest to help my brother through the pain he is experiencing.

The other day I told my husband Paul that maybe he is better equipped to help me than Emily is to help Luke because his childhood was less than perfect. He disagreed claiming that he has his own demons and voids to fill from his own childhood. He said that someone with a firm foundation is better equipped to help someone who is struggling.

Paul grew up without ever knowing his father. His mother was a teenage high school dropout when she had him. She was willing to work, but struggled financially due to her lack of education. She wasn’t very bright, and although she tried couldn’t earn her GED. We also suspect that his mom was mentally ill. She had a lot of symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Paul’s mother Martha was never a boring person. Sometimes she was a lot of fun to be around. She was exciting and when she loved you she made you feel like you were on the top of the world. There was a time when I was absolutely wonderful and I could do nothing wrong. She made me feel special, important, and loved. In those times, she was a very positive and encouraging mother to Paul. She told him he could do anything he put his mind to.

But there were times that I couldn’t do anything right. Everything was my fault. I was a horrible person. At times she was paranoid. She accused me a taking her boots and leaving a pair of boots that were just like hers but weren’t. She would scream and kick us out of her house. Nothing was ever her fault. Someone else was always to blame. She didn’t lose her job because she was always late, it was because someone was out to get her.

She couldn’t handle watching all of our kids if we wanted to get away for a weekend. She called the oldest two kids demons and our youngest an angel one of the few times she watched them. My son locked himself in the bathroom on the last day until we picked them up. Even her one on one time with the grandchildren turned into big fights. She got into huge arguments with everyone she was close to, then the next time she saw you acted like nothing happened at all.

Martha could convince anyone that she should be the mother of the year. She said things that weren’t true, but were absolutely believable because she believed them. I could go on and on. I don’t believe that Martha was a bad mother. She was just mentally ill. In some ways that makes it so much easier to understand and accept. As you can see, Paul has his own baggage. How can he help me? We tend to stumble along down this path together.

Paul and I did the best we could to be the best parents we could be with what we were given. We didn’t get a lot of help and support with our children and at times felt like we needed to care for our parents.

Paul said that Emily is better equipped to help her spouse through hard times because she has a good foundation to lean back on. Being able to relate is overrated. He convinced me and I changed my mind. Now if I could only convince Arabella and change her mind.