I grew up in a household with a father that did not allow us to show any emotion other than happiness. We were expected to wear a facade of perfection at all times. Perfection equaled love, and as the youngest child of 5, I watched as my elder siblings pushed all his boundaries and get punished for it. He would go weeks giving them the silent treatment, laugh in scorn if they questioned his authority or ideas, and for several years disowned one of my sisters for living with a man without being married to him. Cardinal sin in his world, as a minister. He refused to allow my mother or me (since we were the only two still living in the house) to speak of her, not even her name. Ironically, or perhaps more accurately – subconsciously – he spent those years calling me by her name instead of my own. Was it possible for him to feel guilt?
But his feelings of guilt, his shunning of my sister or anything else he may have done, never mattered. Because the only time I saw the weakness in his hard-line stance on parenthood was during those years when my name was not the one he used. I got very accustomed to answering to Kim, bile filling my throat every time I responded to it but knowing I could not correct him without my own silent treatment waiting in the wings. Today, I laugh during the first half of the “Devil Wears Prada” when Miranda calls Andy by the incorrect name “Emily” every day. It’s a power play. It happens in the world of high fashion just as much as it happens in our individual family units. And I know it all too well.
I lived in a shell growing up. I created it, hard and strong, around myself as protection. I spent most of the time my father was in the house (which wasn’t often as he spent most of his life at the church, with this “flock”) in my bedroom reading and dreaming of leaving as soon as the high school diploma was placed in my hand. When he wasn’t around my mother and I formed a strong bond of love and friendship, and to this day I believe the only reason I have a semblance of self-confidence in myself is completely her doing.
Her’s and my late husband. Because one of the first things he told me was that he never expected or wanted me to be “perfect”. He loved me warts and all, through every ugly emotion, through the days my depressions were so bad I could not get out of bed, through the good and the bad. He helped me unshackle myself from the indoctrination of the institutionalized religion I had grown up in and from the father who believed he was god.
When I was 24 I was diagnosed as bipolar. It is a complicated disease that never ends – even when one does all the correct things: maintains the correct dosage of numerous medications, keeps to a regular schedule, gets enough sleep every night, exercises every morning, eats a healthy diet and goes to countless appointments in sterile offices of shrinks and therapists, there is no guarantee that life will remain on an even keel from day to day. In one moment I will be on top of the roller coaster, staring out at the world which is my oyster, and in next the ride will plummet down the rails sending me spiraling into an abyss that I do not know if and when I will return from.
Because I became a professional at hiding my emotions, it is a role I fall easily into to this day, years after I left my parent’s household. Yet, the moment I cross the threshold into their home, I feel the suffocation arising in my chest and I feel the voice that is me, the one I have tried to cultivate for the past 28 years, no longer exists. I fall back into the pattern of the nodding, mute, pleasing daughter. The last time I spent a significant amount of time around my father I was so overwhelmed with the stress and battles ranging inside me to squelch my voice that I lost 12 pounds in 3 weeks.
Since the loss of my husband and those weeks spent with my father, I have found a new side effect of being bipolar. Rage. Anger. Moments of fury that I feel at times will consume me. But then again, I have always admired the mythical Phoenix, so perhaps being given the chance to rise from the ashes of my old self would be a blessing. A chance at a second life.
This weekend was particularly bad. The holidays are coming up. A contentious election was just decided in this country and we are more divided than ever as a nation. My mother has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. It is her wish we all come home for Thanksgiving. I will do this for her and only her. I cannot imagine anyone else I would do this for, to purposefully put myself in the situation I am about to face with the emotions that have been stirring in me for weeks. I have already stopped eating. I find myself googling how much of the prescription medication I have at home I can take to never wake up again. I keep hoping a hurricane will magically form in the Atlantic and cancel my ability to fly north. I cannot imagine what this Thanksgiving repast will be like – currently I am imagining it being about as close to hell as one can get while still alive.
And so I broke. This weekend I broke. The anger, rage, sadness and fear – about my parents, losing my mother, having to come face-to-face with death again, when I am still struggling with grief – came out. I have moved to a new city, a new state. I am 2,000 miles away from the man I am seeing and my best friend. I am alone. And for a bipolar person going through the nose dive of a seasonal depression (and I don’t care how much sunlight there is – no matter where you are when the time changes, it fucks with us bipolars) being alone with my thoughts, my fears, my growing anxiety of returning to my roots everything imploded.
I thought I did the right thing. I thought I reached out to those who could understand me – a sister who shares a common (but not the same) disease and my partner. I came away from my conversations with them battered and bruised and broken. My sister told me I was angry, angry and selfish and that I had no right to be (when did she become my father?). My partner told me, for the umpteenth time I was “spinning”, I was “yelling at him” (I wasn’t, my voice was barely raised), and that I “needed to get my shit together”. I sat on my back porch staring at the sunlight dappling through the lush palm fronds and cried. I cried for what felt like hours. I cried until I was empty inside and nothing was left but despair.
Because what do you do when the people you think have your back, those that you have opened yourself up to completely, stick knife after knife in that same back? What gives them the right to be angry, to act out and yet you cannot? I do not forget. I remember countless times dealing with my sister’s bouts of hysteria, anger, self-destruction. I have watched numerous episodes of my partner throwing things in anger and frustration (he has had to buy numerous cell phones due to this). And yet I am not allowed to speak my mind, to let it out, to rail against heaven and earth without being pigeonholed into being labeled “crazy, a bitch, uncontrollable”.
I am angry and I think I have every right to be. I spent 18 years of my life having my voice stifled by a man who had complete control over my world. I refuse to let others do that to me. And yet, these people and their comments make me feel as if I am in the wrong. I should not be the hysterical woman. I should control my emotions. I should never speak.
In two days, they will get their wish.
© Sorrow & Kindness