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.

Maybe it was the fried eggs

Maybe it was the fried eggs.

It’s been a rough couple of days since we got back home. There is so much to catch up on it makes me wonder if it was worth it to get away.

This morning our dog stopped eating. I think it might be time for him to cross the rainbow bridge. Angel said that he didn’t eat much on one of the days we were gone. Maybe he got into something or someone else fed him I thought. When we got home everything seemed to be fine. Yesterday I took him for a walk. Then he got sick later that night. He pretty much stopped eating and is shivering a lot. I called the vet and got him an appointment for Friday afternoon. I got the number for the emergency vet just in case.

I feel sad that his end may be near. He’s been a part of our family for the last 13 years. If I think about it too much I want to cry.

Maybe it was just the fried eggs. That is what my son said.

Yesterday there was a big fight, or maybe it was the day before. It wasn’t over something that big. Each of the kids had chores to do while we were gone. I told them, however, that they were in charge of cooking and cleaning the mess for themselves. Angel is pretty anal. She cooked and cleaned up right away. Alex not so much. He tends to procrastinate and that is where the trouble started. Angel got on his case about cleaning up his mess and he didn’t respond all that well to being told what to do by his older sister.

I thought it was relatively minor and everything would blow over once we got home. Boy was I wrong. Angel and Alex got into a huge fight. I felt like I was their referee. Although I sided more with Angel, I could understand why Alex did not want to be told what to do by his sister. The fight devolved into name calling and ended when Alex threw a fried egg at his sister.

I took each kid aside and had a conversation with them about the fight. I listened to their point of view, validated it, and encouraged them to work it out. There are things that both of them did wrong and it pains me to see them wreck their relationship over a petty little fight. Neither one would hear of it though. Angel said she was moving out and staying at her boyfriend’s house with him and his parents for awhile. Apparently they never have conflict at their house like I do at mine.

When I finished talking to Alex I told him he needed to clean up the mess he made with the eggs. But by the time we finished our talk he lucked out because the dog gobbled it up.

Fast forward to today. My son thought maybe the dog was sick because he ate the eggs. I googled if eggs were bad for dogs. I found out that eggs are good for dogs especially ones with upset stomachs. It’s not the eggs. If only the answers were that easy to find.

I wish I could tell you by the end of this post that everything is fine but it’s clearly not. Instead of talking things out with her brother, my daughter avoided it by leaving. It’s probably something that I would do. Oftentimes I also avoid talking about problems with people I am upset with. My son didn’t seek out his sister and apologize either. They were getting along so well before we left, better than they ever did before. Then everything fell apart. It’s very upsetting to me to have such conflict and strife between them.

I don’t know what is wrong with our dog either but I don’t think it was the fried eggs.

What if…tomorrow

My husband and I are still planning on going on our trip tomorrow. Worse comes to worse we only are a couple hours from home by plane and thanks to modern technology we can be reached by phone. The world won’t end without us (but it is a good idea to stock up on toilet paper and be prepared anyway).

I wrestled with myself about going. I have to fight the guilt I feel about going away. What if something goes wrong at home while I am gone? What if my daughter kills herself? What if someone gets in an accident on the icy roads? What if someone gets sick? The what if scenarios swirl around in my head so fast I can barely catch up with them.

What if????…………………………………

But the truth of the matter is that life goes on without me. I could die in a plane crash tomorrow. Okay, maybe that was a little too close to home. Do I have control over the virus, accidents, decisions of others, acts of God and fate itself? No. Sometimes I feel like I have to be responsible for things I can’t control anyway.

I have other things to consider. My husband’s parents both died in their mid-60’s. My husband is within 10 years of the death of his first parent. That is sobering as you all know how fast 10 years can fly. I can’t put time back in the hourglass once it is gone. My mom isn’t even within 10 years of her dad’s death if you don’t count her mother dying during childbirth. It could be realistic that my mom outlives my husband. I have been considering these things. You just don’t know how much time someone has so you had better make the most of the time you do have.

To make matters worse, since Paul didn’t know his dad we don’t even know how he died. I was tempted to order a death certificate just to know. If it was diabetes, I would cut back on the sweets in the house. Paul said it was worse to know because then I would be difficult to live with and he would be right. Sometimes I feel like knowledge is power just like those damn TV shows said when I was a kid. Who do I think I am? God??

All of our days are numbered and there is nothing I can do to change that. I try to be as healthy as I can but that doesn’t stop time. I still can’t stop doing unhealthy things like worrying all the time.

Some day life will go on without me. The clock is ticking and I want to make as many memories as I can. My husband is important and I shouldn’t let a bad case of the what ifs stop us from getting a much needed break. It’s time to start packing!

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.

Finding God?

Something else strange happened. A couple weeks after the police came, old friends of my parents showed up at their door. They hadn’t seen each other for about 10 years. The couple said they were sent by God. The man reached out to my dad and my dad accepted.

A couple months previous I told my dad that I hope he finds God before God found him. At that time my dad smugly laughed and said it was unlikely that would ever happen. Apparently he had a change of heart.

It was an especially confusing and difficult time for me. If my dad truly accepted Christ then I expected my phone to be ringing off the hook from his contrite heart asking for forgiveness. It didn’t happen. I had this salvation fantasy that we would have this new relationship and he would be the dad I always wanted him to be. My mom was terribly excited, but I wasn’t convinced.

My mom said that he reads the Bible and prays with her. Does he really read the Bible? Well…he listens to it when it is read. Does he really pray with you? Well…he says amen after I pray. Or is he just doing what you want so you don’t leave? My mom believes that my dad has faith. Now he is finally the man she wants him to be. She believes what she wants to believe despite evidence to the contrary. It’s helping her to love and live with him again.

You see, I think I wanted my dad to find God for me. Then everything would somehow be magical and perfect. I wanted to feel happy, but instead I felt betrayed. God loves my dad but he surely doesn’t love me. Look what happened.

I can be a fair weather Christian at times. When things are going well, I am pretty happy with God. When things aren’t going well, I don’t go out and seek God more like some people do. Instead I get angry. I shake my fist and ask God why he would do something like that to me. Why are you punishing me God? If you have complete control why did you allow this to happen? Are you even there? Don’t you care about me? What did I do to deserve this? Why? WHY???

I didn’t feel like God could love both my dad and me simultaneously. In fact, God was one of the few places I could find solace from my dad as a child. He mocked and laughed at my mother for going to church. I wanted God more because my dad wasn’t there. Faith was almost an act of rebellion.

I question if my dad has real faith. But that isn’t for me to judge. I have a very limited capacity to trust both God and man which makes me more skeptical. I didn’t expect my dad’s crime then his subsequent faith would shake my foundation to its very core. I had to go back and examine my life. Part of my foundation was held together with childlike beliefs which held no merit. I had to re-evaluate what is truth versus what is just a coping mechanism. It was a process I had to work through. I had no idea it would leave me questioning everything I ever believed in.

I had to separate myself from my parents and find my own way.

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…

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 51

  1. Paul started working for a small family business. They had their office party at a hibachi grill this past week. It really was a nice time. Afterwards, Paul and I drove around to look at the Christmas lights.
  2. I finished reading a book on boundaries. I found out I have a lot of work to do. I find that I feel guilty setting boundaries with certain people (like my mom). Even blogging at times makes me feel guilty. Guilt is a feeling I need to work through to set boundaries and write about my life, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve done something wrong. I never realized that before.
  3. This is a big one. My mom apologized to me this week. Last Sunday she came by my house, even though we can’t have Christmas and she doesn’t ‘visit’ because of COVID, and asked me why I didn’t answer when she tried to call me. She has a tendency to call at the worst times like when I am in the middle of making supper. She said she was having a hard time and thank God her sister Jan was around to help her through it unlike me. If she left a message saying she needed to talk to someone, I would call her back. This time she came over and angrily asked me what I was doing that was so important I couldn’t take her call. Her visit left me angry and upset for several days until she apologized.
  4. Christmas lights! I love them so much I might leave some up year round.
  5. Baking Christmas cookies. Yesterday I made roll out Christmas cookies with icing. Today I made Amish sugar cookies. I found some of my grandma’s old recipes that I will also try out in the next couple days. We are getting together with Cindy’s family on Christmas Eve and I am planning on bringing a lot of the food.
  6. It’s only 5 days until Christmas and I am pretty much ready for it. Now we just need some snow!!
  7. Our investment from selling our business finally came through!!! The dividend check should get us through for awhile! I’m grateful to not have to worry so much about money. Arabella just got on the waiting list for residential mental health treatment. Unfortunately it looks like our insurance will not be covering it and it is very, very expensive. It will be worth it if she gets the help she needs and her quality of life improves. It helps to have options available for financing it if we need to. I was really stressing out about it.
  8. We went out to eat this week to celebrate the investment. We had a really nice family time with our two oldest kids. Of course my mom tried calling while we were out to eat and I didn’t answer. Can’t win them all I guess.
  9. I’m grateful that I now have over 900 followers. I never thought I would get to this point when I first started. I read a book a couple years back from a blog of a lady that was training to run her first marathon. I thought, wow, I want to try blogging and running a marathon. Now here I am writing about personal things I never thought I would be writing about. And here you are right with me!
  10. I never thought I would be saying this but I’ve reached the point in my life that yoga and meditation sounds better than pounding my body by doing marathons. While I still want to run, I have no desire to race anymore. What is one more medal anyway? I no longer want to be on stage. I’ve had my lead roles. I no longer want to sing in front of people. I no longer long for high stress hobbies. My body is tired and wants rest. My mind is ready to embrace a slower pace. It’s time to try something new. I’m grateful to be ready to accept the aging me.