Tough Love

30 Sep

before you quote

We were all at the mercy of Auntie’s moods.  We never knew from one day to the next how she was going to react.  If we got in a disagreement about something, or she didn’t like the way I handled a discipline situation with one of the kids, she would “get even” by not cooking dinner, sulking and either giving everyone the silent treatment, or snapping at us.  It got to be a familiar and tiresome pattern.  It didn’t matter what I said or how I said it, she would take it personally and sulk for days.  It wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but when she was upset with me, instead of just giving me the silent treatment, the kids got it as well.  I would get home from work and the kids would pull me aside and tell me things she had said or done when they got home from school. I would listen and tell them I would talk to her and get her side of the story.  I thought that was only fair since I wasn’t home to witness the things they told me that happened. When I approached my Aunt to find out what happened and to get her side of the story, she would get upset and take it like the kids were sneaking and talking behind her back.  I explained to her countless times that I had told them to come to me.  I didn’t tell her why, but I didn’t think the kids should approach her about anything because her reactions were so unpredictable.

My Aunt was bound and determined to be “right”, no matter what. She knew it all and you couldn’t tell her anything.  You didn’t dare disagree with her.  If you cared for her, then your were expected to side with her; and whether or not you agreed didn’t matter.  In her mind, you were either for her or against her–period. When I went back to work, she started playing everyone against each other.  She would tell me one thing and my husband another. It was the same with the kids.  After a while, my oldest two children started avoiding her altogether. My husband spent more and more time out in the garage tinkering and less time inside with the family. He would later confide in me that he was avoiding her too.

There was no consistency and we never knew what to expect from one day to the next. If things happened to be going well, it felt even worse because I knew it was only a matter of time before the other shoe would drop.  Life was getting more and more unpredictable and we were all miserable.  I suggested several times to my Aunt that she go to a doctor to see if there was a different medication she could try for her Bipolar Disorder symptoms.  The more I mentioned it, the more she stubbornly dug her heels in and refused, saying she could handle her symptoms on her own.  I was terribly frustrated.  On one hand I didn’t want to say anything that may hurt her feelings, and on the other I just wanted her gone.  I felt intense regret that I’d ever invited her to stay with us. The more time went by, the more disgusted I got with the situation.  I worried about my kids and my marriage and I could see the evidence of how our decision to open up our home and our family to her negatively impacted our lives.  I was in a very difficult position.  I couldn’t make her take medication if she didn’t want to, and I couldn’t get her to see how irrational and erratic her behavior had become.  When we were able to talk without her getting defensive, I’d be relieved and think that we had made some progress; only to be met with her sulking a few days later, as if the conversation had never even happened!

At the end of March, Auntie would finally push me too far…

…next…tough love part 2…

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Choices Part 2

21 Sep

I-have-great-expectations-for-the-future,-because-the-past-was-highly-overrated.Before Auntie came, my missing income already had my husband and me on edge.  After she arrived, I was in a constant state of overwhelm from the added stress she was creating in my home. Finally, in February, I landed a new job and was set to start the first week of March. I was extremely relieved at the prospect of having a decent income again, and to be honest, I was thrilled to be getting out of the house!  I figured with me gone Monday through Friday, my Aunt and I would get along better.  I thought maybe things were getting tense because we were spending too much time together.  That might have been true for me, but not so much for Auntie.  After I went back to work, her behavior became increasingly more erratic and irrational. I’d only been back to work a week when there was a major blowout.  It soon was crystal clear to me that because she wasn’t getting the attention she was used to, she wasn’t above doing anything she could to get it back.

My two oldest kids were home each day with her after school until my husband and youngest daughter got home around 6 pm.  Most days, I would get there about an hour after that.  Those few hours my Aunt spent  alone with the kids proved to be just enough time to stir up even more drama. Since she was helping out, my Aunt felt justified speaking her mind about everything from where I put my coffee cups to how I disciplined my kids.  I would politely listen to what she had to say out of respect for her, but most times I didn’t agree with her point of view; especially when it came to my kids.  When she took it upon herself to arrange my kitchen cupboards the way she thought they should be, I was irritated, but I let it go.  I had learned by then that it was prudent to pick my battles.  When she started giving my kids her own consequences after my husband and I had already handled things the way we thought appropriate, I wasn’t so willing to let it go.  Now she was overstepping her boundaries and I was getting fed up.

Initially, when my Aunt told me things the kids did while she was watching them, I trusted her and took her at her word, and they were given consequences accordingly.  They’d protest and argue, but I didn’t pay it much attention.  I told them that my Aunt was an adult, and their dad and I entrusted them to her care when we were at work, which meant they were to respect her and do as they were told.  It wasn’t until my 9-year-old son approached me and said, “Mom, Auntie is lying!” that I started to wonder what was going on.  I thought at first it was normal kid stuff; testing boundaries, etc.  Before she came to live with us, they had only met Auntie once.  My son was too young then to remember her.  I chalked it up to my kids resenting this person they barely knew telling them what to do; especially my oldest daughter, who was 16 and fought authority no matter where it came from!  I attributed the difference in stories partly to my kids wanting to get out of consequences for their behavior and partly and to my Aunt’s poor short-term memory and hearing. I myself had experienced issues with my Aunt due to her not hearing half of what I said.  She would interpret the missing parts herself instead of asking me to clarify, and she was always way off base. The short-term memory issue stemmed from the only medication she would take for her symptoms–Xanax.  It is not normally prescribed for long-term treatment of Bipolar Disorder, and is known to cause people to be forgetful. I tried to tell her about it, I tried showing her research I found about it, but discussing her meds with her wasn’t worth the frustration.  She had her view and no one was going to convince her otherwise. She was right; everyone else was wrong and didn’t know what they were talking about.  No one was immune to her stubbornness or know-it-all attitude, not even her doctor.

My Aunt had that same hard-headed, stubborn attitude about pretty much everything. It was getting hard for me to be understanding, and even harder to bite my tongue.  She’d lived with us for almost three months, and nothing was getting better. In fact, it was about to get much worse.

…next…tough love…

Choices

13 Sep

depression-1A person with Bipolar Disorder experiences moments of Mania, where they are euphoric, have tremendous energy, and sometimes even feel invincible.  There is also a crash downward into Depression after the Manic episode occurs. Some people experience these shifts a few times a year, others can have symptoms  with shifts as often as several times a day.  It really depends on the person and their chemistry.  Those who experience contrasting moods to the extent that they happen several times a day tend to be very restless and irritable.  Auntie was one of them.  One minute she would be goofing around, having fun playing with the kids, and I’d see a glimpse of the woman I remembered. The next she was annoyed, treating the kids harshly, and stomping off in a snit, leaving my husband and I looking at each other in confusion over what had just happened.  Worse, the kids would be bewildered and ask, “What’d I do?”  The only person in the house who was “safe” from Auntie’s moods; at least directly, was my husband.  Auntie had been through several abusive relationships, and I think she had a fear of men; though she’d never admitted it.  I believe that was probably the only thing that kept my husband out of the line of fire.  She would come to me to complain about him instead.

Over time, I found myself dreading being home with Auntie and would find any excuse to get out by myself for a while. I didn’t recognize this woman, and I grew weary of pointless discussions that went on and on, in circles for hours, with no resolution.  There was a lot of finger-pointing and blaming going on and she took absolutely no responsibility for any part in anything that happened.  In her eyes she was never wrong and to hear her tell it, my husband, kids, and I were mean, horrible people who did things purposely to hurt her!  I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that this woman who had known me my entire life was accusing me of acting in ways I just wasn’t capable of.  The things she accused my husband and kids of doing were even worse.  She acted as if she thought everyone had some hidden agenda or ulterior motive.  I was constantly having to defend myself as well as my husband and kids to her and it was getting to be so surreal!  I wondered when she had gotten so bitter and cynical.  After all, Auntie had raised two children.  Surely, she had to have experienced these kinds of things before.  Why was she getting so bent out of shape over “kid stuff”??

I started going to Starbucks every morning after dropping my youngest off at preschool.  I’d get my favorite coffee, pull into the parking lot across the street and sit in the car.  I’d park in front of a small pond at the far end of the parking lot, the furthest away from the all stores and activity, and watch the mama ducks and their ducklings play follow the leader, while enjoying the solitude and my coffee.  It was during these moments that I would try to make sense out of the things that were going on.

After a while of taking time to myself each morning, I decided to have a talk with Auntie.  I couldn’t understand where her behavior was coming from and I wanted to see what we could work out to try to lessen the tension in the house.  The conversation wasn’t going as I’d hoped; we were getting nowhere, and I had decided to drop the subject for the day when Auntie confided in me about her Bipolar Disorder.  In the next breath she told me she didn’t need to be treated for it and she could handle it just fine on her own. She said she had been prescribed medication for her symptoms but was not taking it.  When I asked her why she stopped taking the medication if the doctor felt she needed it, she said she didn’t like how it made her feel.  She said she had only tried the one medication and had never gone for her follow up visit to let the doctor know how it affected her…

…next…choices part 2

 

New Year…New Life…Part 2

11 Sep

I-am-not-going-to-come-out

Having someone move in with you is always an adjustment, and I believe that you never really know someone until you live with them.  I knew some things about Auntie; like the fact that she didn’t drive,  she had some health problems, was a bit eccentric, and was barely on speaking terms with her kids. I knew that she’d been married and divorced several times,  that her last long-term relationship had ended, and that she received Social Security Disability payments every month that she planned on saving up to get her own place. I’m not the type to pry into someone’s personal life, so I never asked her what her disability was.  I figured if she wanted to tell me, she would. Looking back on it now, I wish I would have asked.  Her disability was Bipolar Disorder with symptoms severe enough that they kept her from obtaining/keeping gainful employment.  I didn’t know when I invited her to stay with us, and I am still amazed that neither my Mom nor Auntie felt that piece of information significant enough to share. In the countless conversations over the years with both of them, the subject never came up–not even once!

Living with someone with untreated Bipolar Disorder is not something I’d recommend to anyone, certainly not those with children, and especially not after what my family and I were put through.

***I feel it’s important for me to add that this in no way is meant to say that people with Bipolar Disorder are bad people.*** 

What I AM saying is this:

If you have Bipolar Disorder (AKA Manic Depression) and you’ve been prescribed medication, then your physician feels you cannot manage your symptoms on your own.  If he or she is willing to sign disability paperwork and you are granted Social Security Disability; then your doctor and the federal government are in agreement that your symptoms are severe enough to keep you from functioning in even normal activities of daily living, to include keeping a job. Further, if you are aware that you need medication and knowingly refuse to take it, you suffer and those who love you suffer right along with you.  After all, there is a reason why what a doctor gives you is called a “prescription” not a “suggestion”.   A very unfortunate and painful lesson I learned first hand.

A few days after Auntie arrived, the arguments began. It started out innocently enough.  She felt displaced and uncomfortable because she wasn’t in familiar surroundings.  She was also nursing some recent wounds.  She was heartbroken having just been through a very painful breakup to be followed by the added insult of discovering her daughter had gotten a hold of her bank card number and was using it for everything from ordering pizza to wiring money to friends. The first three or four times she blew up at me for no reason, I took it in stride.  I knew she was going through a rough time and I tried my best to be patient with her.  I gave her as much sympathy and understanding as I could under the circumstances. I assumed it was just the adjustment period and would get better given time.   It didn’t.  She started not only blowing up at me, but the kids as well.   She would hold grudges and sulk for days. Auntie’s moods were increasingly erratic and unpredictable. It didn’t take long before everyone in the house had at least gone a round or two with her.

If you would like to read more about Bipolar Disorder or the disability criteria, please have a look at the below links:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356
http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20436786,00.html

http://www.disabilitysecrets.com/win-can-you-get-disability-for-bipolar-disorder.html
http://bipolar.about.com/od/disability/a/disability_bp.htm

…next…choices

New Year…New Life

8 Sep

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During the time I was dealing with losing my job and sorting out the issues with my friend, a family friend came back into my life.  She and my mom had been friends since they were kids, I’d known her since birth, and we considered her family.  I’d grown up calling her my Aunt, her children my cousins, and so on.  She and I had always been close and I was very fond of her.   She had always been a unique individual, free-spirited, or what my mother liked to call “flaky”.  It wasn’t unusual for years to go by without hearing from her.  I’d wonder how she was doing  and would eventually track her down.  I had done just that earlier that year in May, a couple of months before losing my job. We talked every few days from then on.

About a month later, I was talking to her during the hour-long drive home in the early morning hours from my ghost tour job in Saint Augustine.  She confided in me that she was in a horrible living situation and desperate to get out, but had nowhere to go. I called her back the next day after talking it over with my husband and invited her to come stay with us. The plan was for her to stay as long as she needed until she had saved enough money to get her own place.  I was excited to have her come and stay, but there was an uneasiness in my gut when I thought about it. Figuring it was just the idea of someone living with us causing it, I made the call anyway and brushed it off.  Unfortunately, like so many times before when I ignored that inner voice; what I now call my soul voice, I made the wrong decision.   I remembered her as a sweet, nurturing presence in my life when I was a kid,  and as someone I could always talk to, no matter what. I felt my kids would benefit from her being around since I intended to return to work full-time when I found another job and she’d be there with them when I couldn’t be.  They’d have another adult with a positive presence in their lives. She’d benefit by getting out of her current living situation and have a place to stay with people who loved and appreciated her, and she could save up the money to start over.  She offered to help out with the kids, cooking, etc., in return for staying with us.  I figured it was a win-win situation for all concerned.

She arrived December 1, 2012.  She’d changed her name over the few years that passed from the last time I’d seen her until I tracked her down and called her in May.  The day she arrived, she asked that we not call her by her former name.  She reasoned that it bothered her because she’d been through hell and having coming out on the other side, she felt that person was long gone.  In hindsight, I can see where the red flag should have gone up for me.  After all, I’d known her all my life as that person.  Chalking it up to one of her many eccentricities, I didn’t give it much thought at the time.  It felt strange and awkward calling her by this new name, but wanting to respect her wishes, I compromised and just called her “Auntie.”  I would find out her name wasn’t the only thing that had changed since I’d seen her last.

…next…new year…new life…part 2

Frenemies Part 2

2 Sep

relationship is rightAbout a week later, I was on Facebook looking around and saw that my friend had posted some photos from her baby shower.  I looked at the picture and it was a picture of her, me, and the other third that we had posed for right before the shower began.  The caption read, “I would like to thank Jen and _____ for giving me my baby shower…” I honestly don’t remember the rest of it. I was the one who collaborated with my friend and her family to plan the shower. I was the one who spent the money on the decorations, the games, the prizes, all of it!  The other third comes back into the country a week prior to the shower, brings a dish, and gets 1/2 the credit for my hard work?? I was seething! I’d suspected I was being used, and now after seeing that, I knew I had! I felt like I didn’t even know who this person was anymore! I did know that I couldn’t talk to her until I was calmer, and it took me a couple of months at least.  During that time, if she called I would let it go to voice mail.  I didn’t want to write her off just yet; I felt I at least owed it to her to tell her how I felt and give her a chance.  I also knew that if I talked to her before I was ready, the conversation wouldn’t go well.  I knew in my gut that she would turn the issue back onto me and make it about how I’m too sensitive or how I’d overreacted.  As hurt and angry as I was, I didn’t want to end up saying things I didn’t mean or that I couldn’t take back. Several weeks later, my husband ran into her and she made a snide remark about me not returning her calls.  When he mentioned it to me,  l couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.  Although she was guilty of the same thing, when I brought it up to her, she told me to stop being so sensitive!

It was now December.  Eight months had passed since the baby shower.  In that time I’d gone to her home to see her baby, had a nice visit, and afterwards I decided again it was best to keep things to myself. I so desperately wanted to be wrong when it came to her!  As usual, it would only be a matter of time before something else would happen to have me kicking myself for not speaking up when I had the chance…

…next…new year…new life…

Frenemies

18 Aug

After a while, the other part of the threesome moved a few hours away for a job and though we spoke a lot at first, after a while I was out of sight and out of mind.  I started to see things on Facebook that would perplex me.  She would come to town and not bother to mention it.  She would go out with mutual friends and I’d see pictures with her tagged in them.  The worst was when I asked her what she was doing for her birthday because I wanted to treat her to dinner.  She told me that she was spending it with family, but maybe we could go to dinner the following day.  The following day came and went.  I called her several times and left messages.  She said she’d fallen asleep.  That evening, I was on my Facebook page looking around and what do I see?  Pictures from her “family” birthday celebration with none other than the “other third” in attendance.  Although I tried not to let it bother me, it did.  It felt like a slap in the face.  First I was confused, then I was angry, then I was hurt. Still, I said nothing.

A few months later, she and I were talking on the phone.  She was telling me about her new job, and she mentioned how busy she had been.  I remember thinking that she couldn’t have been too incredibly busy; after all she’d been to town several times and had gone places with mutual friends, but hadn’t bothered with me in months.  I wanted to call her out on it, but didn’t; thinking it wasn’t my place to question her activities.  She could do what she wanted.  I was upset about it, but as usual, I just stuffed it down deep and left it there. Another couple of weeks went by and she called to ask me a question that left me in awe at the sheer nerve of the request.  She asked me to give her a baby shower.  With every ounce of my being I wanted to say no, but I didn’t.  I heard myself agreeing before I could believe what I was saying!

After the call was over, I remember sitting there trying to rationalize it to myself.  Why me?  Well, the other third was out of the country again.  Was that it?  Always trying to see the good in people, I decided she must not have anyone else she felt comfortable asking.  She had family that was more than capable, but for whatever reason she didn’t seem to want to ask them to do it.  During the time I was busy planning her baby shower, buying invitations, making up games, purchasing decorations and making party favors, I would speak to her once in a while.  The conversations were usually about her shower and a little bit of small talk.  The day of the shower came and everything went well, although I felt really uncomfortable.  I didn’t know why; we’d been friends for years, but something just felt off.  A week or so after the shower I finally figured it out…

…next…Frenemies part 2