I had a pretty severely depressed day yesterday. To the point that the will to live was feeble and the desire to die was stronger than it’s been in recent years.
Yes, despite all that I have to live for (see post below), I’ve gone through periods of fairly debilitating depression, and particularly MORE so now…because I’m turning 40 this year, because I’m going to take Mr. RSG and the smart girls to see my dad and stepmother in Colorado, whom I haven’t seen in 29 years (and have only been in contact by phone for the past 10), because I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do when the girls are in school all day long in the fall.
Everything is changing on the inside. Everything is in upheaval.
Without going into a lot of details, my mother, step-dad and two of my sisters were pretty cruel to me over the years. On good days they ignored me, on bad days they were abusive (verbally, and emotionally and physically abusive). Every once in a while, my grandmother and grandfather would get in on the fun and write nasty letters to me too telling me what a horrible ingrate I was and how I should be written out of the family and how dare I cause problems after all my mother did for me (I think they had me confused with someone else because she did NOT pay for my college education but I worked while going to school and I paid my own way).
I am just now accepting all the ways the loss of my real dad as a child and the abusive family I had shaped me and continued to impact my life with my girls and my husband. I’ve hidden it pretty well, but I have had a lot of rage built up inside me from all the crap they put me through but I had to deny in order to survive and not look crazy. It has been coming out in its own way though – in how I would snap at my husband, or yell angrily at the girls for small irritations, or even get overly pissed off at the neighbors and get defensive when there was spats between their kids and mine (nobody came to my aid when I was being bullied, so I made it an unconscious promise that nobody would get away with bullying my kids).
Therapy is helping, but sometimes it sends me into a darker moods because of all the stuff it’s turning up.
The good thing about it is that my therapist understands what I’m going through. She finds it completely understandable that I struggle with suicidal thoughts. She gave me an interesting interpretation to consider. It’s less about wanting to really physically die, and it may not even be about ending the emotional pain I’m in, but that there is a part of me that needs to die – the old identity of who I was – so I can be who I really am supposed to be. Which is the hard part…because I always harbor this desire to go back into science because of the financial security it brings. Plus the fact that my ego is stroked every time I think that I was a woman in the STEM field.
I just don’t know if I’m that woman anymore. And if I’m NOT that woman anymore…who the hell AM I???
In light of all the research I’ve done on attachment theory, what the therapist said makes sense. From everything I have read, insecure attachments to your mother, and absent fathers (through death, divorce, or just emotional distance) cause a LOT of internal conflict because you build your identity based on falsehoods about yourself as a means to survive.
I became this strong, fiercely independent person (I became both a fighter and a ‘fixer’) who hated the idea of being tied down by marriage and family because of what I saw in my own family and what I was told by my mother. She used to say, “all men are assholes”…and given the fact I had an absent father (not that he wanted to be…things just got complicated) and a step-father with a drinking problem, it was not that easy to look beyond that message. I was pretty hell-bent on not having a marriage and kids at all, but a string of affairs and a reliable, financially stable career to not be dependent on anyone. Well, I started off on that path (having more than a few lovers and working hard in my chosen field) until I met my husband, then…well, I changed my mind. Sort of.
There’s been a HUGE struggle these past 6 years. I am of two minds. There is a part of me that loves being a mother, loves being close to my children and husband and understands ALL TOO CLEARLY the pain of not having a close, intact, family…and there is the part of me that resents the massive changes to my lifestyle and my identity. Whereas I once came and went as I pleased, and had seen many things and done many things in the nearby city of Chicago. I had challenging work to keep my mind busy (forensics for a while, then medical genetics at a private university), and long-standing friends who liked spending time with me. I enjoyed my ‘city life’ a LOT. I didn’t party, but I loved being surrounded by the beautiful architecture and learning about the history of the city and seeing the museums and going on the historical tours now and then.
This has been the center of my internal struggle for about 6 years now. I think that it would be ‘easier’ in some ways to either love being a parent or to absolutely hate being a parent, because at least you’d be able to act fairly single-mindedly (either immersing yourself completely and selflessly into parenting, or checking out of parenting completely – through divorce or emotionally checking out by hiding out at work).
The problem, I’m finding out, with being ambivalent about being a parent is that you swing between two extremely strong conflicting emotions and you tend to feel guilty for the negative aspects of your feelings or worse, you feel guilty because you DO act harshly due to those negative aspects of your feelings. So you sit, suspended between these two emotions, feeling immense love for your child and sometimes immense regret for all the difficulties having children brings. And then you judge yourself for that regret (and how it manifests), and it makes you feel ashamed…because what kind of human being has these feelings?
Well, I can tell you what kind of human being does. It’s one that has been broken by their own parents and family. One who has not had permission to be who they really are supposed to be.
My therapist…I hated her at first (because my ego didn’t want to think she would know what I needed to hear), and now I’m really appreciating her insights and what she brings to the table.
What I found most intriguing about my therapist? She is 47 years old (but looks in her 30s), with a 3 1/2-year-old son, she is firm believer in attachment theory, and she used to be an opera singer. She knows what its like to be an older mother, a working mother, and giving up a dream for something more ‘practical’.
The best thing I think she’s giving me is permission to be. Permission to be angry, permission to be hurt, permission to be afraid of the process of burying and mourning who I was and discovering who I am supposed to be, permission to be compassionate to myself while the part of my I cling to is dying because it has to in order to make room for who I will become.
She tells me this pain and confusion and depressed feelings are a ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ and ‘healthy’ part of the process of real growth. I am doing exactly as I should be doing through this process. What a relief that is to hear, even if it hurts to go through to get to the other side.
With further conversation, she stumbled onto my identity dilemma: while I have the mind of a scientist, I have the heart of an artist/creative type. In order to escape my family, I chose the practical side of me and developed that at the expense of that creative side of me. I never pursued my artistic ambitions, but gave them up really early in my life when I knew they were unsupported.
I have some more work to do…to uncover the truth about who I am and who I am to become. I have some ideas…but still I need to uncover in what ways I will give expression to who I really am.