Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." Genesis 9:13

Monday, August 30, 2010

What you should never say to your disabled child

(In writing this I am ignoring the fact that during my actual childhood my parents weren't aware of my disability.  However, the same words were used to comfort me for many years, and they were not good words, although well-intended).

I've written a lot in the last year about my hurt over the divide between my sister and myself.  I want to have a relationship with her.  I have a pathetic need for her to like me.  I have experienced tremendous hurt over and over as we've started to see ok and then we're not.

Please, please don't mention hormones, new baby, lack of sleep, stress of new motherhood, etc. as I talk tonight.  This has gone on for so many years I can't remember otherwise.

And for so long I've held onto this stupid false hope.  You see, my mother always told me that we'd grow up to be friends.  And for 32 years, since my sister was born, I have waited for this.  We never had anything in common.  I was sensorily defensive, I was hiding from the severe sexual abuse, I was feeling guilty because I couldn't protect her from it, and I was shy and awkward with people.  She was much less intense, such an easy personality.  That was true of both of us from infancy on.  She was "easy".  I was not.  I was the one who followed rules precisely (concrete thinking), who cared about grades (not that hers weren't good, but she wouldn't have cried over a B as I did.  I love more intensely and with more hurt resulting from that.

That alone isn't easy to grow up with.  But add in mental illness?  She was so often my victim.  She had to deal with my rage, my mood swings, my insomnia (we shared a room.  Maybe not the best thing).  She had to have known how jealous I was of her friendships when I had only a few friends, none of whom were friends enough to make it past graduation.

She put up with worse things.  I know there were several times I hit her.  Not just kids fighting, but I was an adult and could have been arrested for assaulting a minor.  She can, like most siblings, make me more angry than any other person on earth.  And for someone who already grew up with abuse, having a (undiagnosed) mentlaly ill sibling smack you undoubtedly leaves a scar.

Being the adult sibling of someone with mental illness can't be fun either.  I know it was scary for her that she might pass the genes on.  There are times when my illness trumps things and it's not fair to anyone, but it's the way it is.  I had to spend at least an hour of her baby shower trying to calm down from my mother's boyfriend's being obnoxious for a 2 hour drive in a quiet room. I can't help but wonder who will be there when my mom isn't, and I hate that I probably feel like an impending burden to my sister.  This may be why she resents me.  I don't need a lot of help now, and I'm fully aware that if I need help after my mom is gone that I'll institutionalize myself rather than depend on a sibling.

But those words of my mom's?  I always believed them.  I really though that no matter what someday we'd magically be friends.  For a long time I assumed it would happen when we both had kids.  My mom and her sister had 5 girls in 3 1/2 years and were/are best friends, partly because of the experience of raising all of us together.

There have been times when I questioned it, times like her wedding when I was so hurt I didn't know if I'd chose to have any relationship with her at all, ever.  But then things have improved.  And then declined.

In the last years as I've gotten better we've done better.  Sometimes.  But even then bipolar screws with me.  I assume that if things go well for a little while that things are fixed.  I am wrong about this.  I don't do a good job of seeing the whole picture, and the whole picture is this:  my sister is nice to me when she tries.  I think she sees what I want so badly  but can't give it to me.

Yesterday I realized the truth:  my sister will be nice to me sometimes.  She will be thankful if I make or give the baby something.  She'll even give me some chances to be Aunt Jen that are meaningful.  But the basic belief I've had all these years that if I just wait things will be ok just because we are sisters:  that is wrong.  As long as I say "oh, you sound tired, did you have a bad night?" and am responded to with "I don't HAVE bad nights" because I'm apparently insinuating something insulting, I can't do a thing to make that stop.   I'm just trying to make conversation, asking about my niece in a brief way since my mom had used my phone to call her about some clothes she was buying and we were on the way out the door of the store.  Nothing I ever do is going to change the nasty tone of voice she uses to talk to me at least 45% of the time when she does bother.  She's never going to initiate any relationship; I will never get an email from her that's not a response to mine.   I can't buy, beg, or just  expect into existence her love or friendship.  I can't make her believe that I'm not the same as I was years ago, or that I'm actually not just a burden she's supposed to be nice to.  And my mother's promise? That was just words.  Words I've heard thousands of times.  Words that have now just resulted in a lot of hurt.  Words that if I weren't mentally ill might have come true.  But there is too much in our past and I will never prove myself to my sister, and no wonder because she's been hurt too many times.  And our childhood didn't exactly leave a lot of capacity for extra hurt.                                            

I feel for her.  As I said, I've hurt her.  I've also apologized, and I've also never done these things when it wasn't related to being acutely ill.  I've apologized for things I said that weren't wrong way too many times.  I've done everything I can do, and I still have no clue what to ever expect.  However, she has deeply wounded me as well, and in her case it is much more intentional.  I think she feels it's better to hurt me first than to be hurt.  Except I have no desire to hurt her.  None.  Ever.

My mother, master of denial, tries to tell me that I don't hear the sneer and anger in her voice that I say I do.  My mother seems to think I'm paranoid.  I'm well aquainted with paranoid.  Paranoid doesn't come while I desperately hope and pray for the opposite; paranoia I don't detect as a separate feeling, it is just the overwhelming sense of _____________ is going to get me.  For years I was very paranoid about showers.  I was sure someone would attack me in the shower.  Childhood association, but I was living alone with multiply locked doors and  the fear that kept me from showering except every other day was much stronger than my ability to reduce it to wants or feelings.  I believed I was in danger with every fiber of my being.  In contrast I have fought every urge I have had to accept that my sister doesn't like me much tooth and nail and the end result is that no, she doesn't.  If she did she wouldn't be so scornful and resentful when I asked a simple question.

I'm not saying she doesn't try.  Being the sibling of a mentally ill person isn't easy.  Last week she didn't cancel my scheduled visit because she didn't want to hurt me.  instead she left a fairly rude comment that let me know she didn't want me to come.  I understand she did not want to hurt me, but she treated me like I wasn't capable of understanding something as simple as "I'm overwhelmed.  Maybe next week?".  And that's so unfair because I do not tromp on people's lives just because I want to.  It's just that her trying only further shows how little she wants to try.

So, all this is another promise made that can't be fulfilled.  it's another thing that is going to hurt me forevermore. And that just isn't what I need.  Yet what can I do?  Cut her off?  That hurts me. Put up with it? That hurts me.  Confront her?  That somehow would hurt me, I have no doubt.

Mostly though, I wish my mother had shut up with the hope.  This messed up relationship is one of my greatest hurts and I can do nothing about it.  I hate that.

1 comment:

Michal Ann said...

Of course you hate this. All I can say is that I'm really really sorry, Jen.