Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Guantanamo Bay: Well, At Least It's Warm There.

As you know, I live with my living parent, not by choice, but out of a coin toss between here and my SUV. It's another seemingly subzero mid-April Chicago day, yet I believe nary anything colder runs than the blood through some people's veins. Me? No. I'm not a screeching temper-loser. I don't yell. (Hi, Valium!) I either silently cold-shoulder a conflict, out-intellectualize purposefully, passive-aggressively retort or, you know, write. If I'm vehement or impassioned about a stance on a topic of debate or discussion, I might raise my voice, but it's never out of disrespect or ill-spirit. Conversely, if I feel belittled for no valid reason, or accused of something unjustly, at times I'll speak more vigorously.

My son lives here much of this time as well, more so now that his father's job schedule hours have changed. While my parent keeps threatening to throw us out if we don't abide by her iron fist regulations and demands, and agree with her sociopolitical, narrow-minded, homophobic, conservative viewpoints about the world (apparently, she's going to heaven and I'm not), my strongest impetus is to believe that when the day finally comes when Luke and I are able to and DO, in fact, leave, she will mentally shatter. Which, of course, will be all my fault, because her personality type is (which I may have alluded before) to blame every ill of the world on anyone but herself. In a standard two-faced manner, one day I'll be told to pack my bags and the next day told that I am so incapable, incompetent and sick that I'll never be able to live independently and thus will require round-the-clock care.

Not having seen my son since Monday morning, I wanted to catch up with him as we went upstairs after picking him up from school, when I was dead-tracked and, when asked to stop what I was doing and listen to a 10-minute Pavarotti classical aria, and I said I didn't want to at the moment, was told, "You know, fuck you. Never mind. You're never interested in anything I like. Go on, go upstairs. Go do your thing." I didn't snap my "No." I factually, simply stated that I didn't feel like hearing the music. (It's nothing personal. I'd say the same thing to Luke if he asked me to listen to a Biggie Smalls CD.) Meg and I had to laugh just a little because I asked her if I was a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay and she said, "Maybe solitary confinement would be nicer!" I said, "Why do you think I'm in my room?"

It was made both worse and better by Luke's presence. On the one hand, she typically picks fights with me when he's not home, because 90% of the time, he completely Papa Bear's me. On the other hand, it's a minus because she could hear us both laughing when I finally escaped her vulturous clenches of rage and escaped to the safety of the house's upper floor. Then we both got yelled at. Then stuff was being banged around downstairs and we could hear her blowing her nose loudly and obviously.

Luke and I get in trouble and screamed at and verbally assaulted for some of the pettiest, stupidest, most trivial nonsense (please, must I use ad hominem twice in 2 situations in one week?) one could ever imagine in the transoms of the universe, because my psychiatrist and I have come to the conclusion that my parent, who in addition from being chronically depressed, has Borderline Personality Disorder. We first thought Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but after reviewing the criteria for both, it's not the latter in significance, though there are elements of it interspersed in her ritualistic negative undertones.

I have my own mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, still some PTSD) yet have only studied other mental illnesses at length for the last 2 years in grad school. While I *did* get an A in the class on diagnostics, truer words were never spoken than when Guy said, as a doctor, sometimes it's the hardest to treat the ones you love. Mental illness runs rampant on my maternal side of the family--paranoid schizos, OCD's, depression, substance abuse, and most recently, a suicide. (Or, as my mother says, so-and-so was "a little off," or "not all with it," or "off her rocker.") After dinner one night, as I was covering which-relative-had-what, my mother asked me if I thought she was mentally ill. I chickened out and only told her that I knew she had depression, which she kind of denied. She's plateaued on the same low dose of an anti-depressant her PCP gave her like 20 years ago, which does nothing.

What's the DSM-5 criteria for Borderline, you ask? To make the diagnosis, the person must identify with at least 5 of the 9 demarcated characteristics, so these are the ones that stand out to me:

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. (See above.)

2. A pattern of unstable and an intense interpersonal relationship characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. (Example: My mother, who only has a high school diploma, raves to friends and other family that I'm studying at a swanky graduate school, and how proud she is, but puts me down about my school and schedule, the financial aid, and has told me more than once to just quit the program and get a job.)

3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. ("I'm just your slave!" "All anyone ever does is take advantage of me." Desperate attempts to completely control not only her environment but the people around her.)

4. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g. intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days). (Example: MAJOR mood swings and shifts of personality display.Very easily startled. Will stay on task or work quietly unless someone is within earshot, at which point, she'll wince, moan and become markedly agitated.)

5. Chronic feelings of emptiness. (Self-explanatory. While she volunteers at her church, our suggestion is that she adopt a more altruistic AND TIME CONSUMING cause so that she is not so perpetually wrapped up in her own thoughts. Something to give her meaning outside of the home and not having to do with the family. I'm wondering if my pastor can pull something out for her to do.)

6. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights). (I've been slapped twice, called a bitch, told "Fuck you," am persistently insulted and demeaned, and lest we forget the smashing of dishes which I photographed, and vulgar outbursts over inconsequential things, accompanied by irrationality and crying outbursts.)

7. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe disassociative symptoms. (She literally thinks her life is the product of bad luck, others' maltreatment of her/us, my treatment of her, Luke or my disrespect, or the usual scapegoat, Dad. Something is everyone's fault.)

It's sad. It's very sad. If I even begin to suggest she visit an actual psychiatrist for proper medical treatment or see a real counselor on a regular basis, oh my, the stigma latches on. It's ironic and probably unnerving for her that I'm in the field of psychology because she's so anti-psychology, mostly a generational regurgitation passed from the beak of bird to bird to bird in her family tree's nest.

One might argue, "Why don't you/didn't you just take the time out to sit and listen to the aria?" In a word: autonomy. A different agenda. Yes, agreeably for all that my mother does to feed and house me in a clean, safe place (her summer garden decorations notwithstanding, which I trip and fall over constantly), I should probably be more gracious in resigning to her requests, whether they be insignificant or significant, timely or untimely. Still, I am a 41-year old woman with a packed schedule and a child with whom I like to spend time (usually). I have friends I want to see. I have a lot of work to do. My methods of decompression do not mesh with hers. Mostly, Luke and I just try to stay out of the line of fire.

I finished, ironically, Family and Couples Therapy today and decided it's definitely NOT the specialty I want to burst through. What did I learn the last 15 weeks? That every family is dysfunctional in some way. Some worse than others. A friend asked, "What happened to 'Can't we all just get along?'" to which I responded, that compassion can only take place after everyone gets their hands off of one another's choking throats.

But she said I'd make a great divorce mediator. With today's lush marriage crumbling market (it's up to 75% fail rate!), it makes perfect sense. Seek therapy, mediate with the divorce mediator (who might also counsel) to work out the details, visit the accountant, use the lawyer's services only to draw up legal papers for court, then buy yourself a funeral plot. Then take a tropical vacation to Guantanamo Bay. It can't be any worse than living with your parents when you're middle aged or getting a messy divorce.

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