Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mental HELLth problems

This post is a vent. It's pent-up stress released in words. 
If you don't like reading about other people's emotions, you may want to skip this post. 
I'll return to my regularly scheduled un-hoarding tomorrow!

I learned the hard way that there is no shame in having a mental health problem. There is no shame in getting help for it. There is shame in avoiding treatment, and making your friends and relatives' lives miserable. There's a reason that Alcoholics Anonymous's 8th step is make a list of all persons we have harmed and make amends. Mental health problems hurt. Hoarding hurts. Eating disorders hurt.

But does it work the other way? What about the people who hurt us? The people who hoard? The people who got violent and slammed our hands in freezer doors when we spilled coffee? The people who told us we were fat and made oinking noises when we would eat at dinner?

This weekend, the husband and I found out that we each have family members with cancer who likely only have a very few months to live. In my case, it's my paternal grandmother.

I've always had a tenuous relationship with her. She blatantly ignored my father's mental health issues and never did anything more for him than suggest that he "control his temper." At holiday dinners growing up she would make oinking noises in my direction while I ate but in the same breath would tell my sister to eat more. She constantly openly insulted my mother for having a messy house, for not being a better wife (to a guy who constantly threatened to leave her after he'd throw objects around the house?!), for marrying my father in the first place. She was the one who taught my father that overweight women were disgusting, worthless creatures. Given that my mom was overweight and I was getting there by the end of high school, my therapists and I acknowledge that she played a role in my eating disorder.

Yes, my mom has problems. But she needs help, not insults. And I didn't need to hear those insults either. I didn't need oinking noises to tell me how fat I was, I needed someone to show me how to eat normally. I've always desperately wanted a good relationship with my grandmother, but every time I tried, I got hurt.

But right before the husband and I got married,we had some serious problems because of how involved his mother was in our wedding. I'll skip the details, but what she did bordered on sabotage on more than one occasion. She wanted her son to marry an nice Jewish girl, and this little German Lutheran girl just wasn't going to work for her boy.

Grandmom was the one who convinced me to stay.

Grandmom had gone through the same thing when she married my grandfather. They ended up eloping and it worked out well in the end, but for many years she was deeply despised by her in-laws and shunned by her own parents. In a way I owe my wonderful marriage to her.  She taught me to cook; she taught me about style and interior design...about having a household budget and working hard to move out of the socio-economic class you grew up in. I love that. Those things are important to me.

*That* relationship is the one I wanted to have with her all the time. But I last spoke to her over a year ago, and I had to hang up the phone crying because I couldn't take the hurtful words she kept dishing out about my mother. I'd begun therapy at that point and I realized that she was a "toxic" person in my life, someone who was not helping in my recovery. I haven't talked to her since.

Grandmom's not going to change. She's 91. She's mellowed substantially to my mother because my mom is her primary caregiver. I realize that time is running out and I just have to swallow my pain on this one. She's not going to change and I'm strong enough and sensible enough to ask her to change topics when she gets insulting, and to realize that her opinions are not the truth.

Maybe that's part of recovery. Maybe that's what I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. She can spout her insults, and those are her truths. But they don't have to be mine. I've learned more about letting people's insults go because I've been forced to deal with her insults along with her ... dare I say it?... love. I am so afraid of getting hurt emotionally when I see her this week. But it's time for me to move on from the hurt in the past, and take advantage of what time is left.


  1. Whoever said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me", was dead wrong. Those wounds are the hardest to heal.

    1. Amen! Sometimes a single insult can stick with you forever. I hear that a lot from friends of mine with eating disorders. Thanks for reading, Karin, and for your kind comment.

  2. thanks for sharing. it sounds like she has her own mental health problems, and you are able to recognize the good times with her-not sure if you are a praying person or not, but hopefully she will find her own peace towards the end of her life.

    1. you're absolutely right, this seems like something to pray on, and pray on often. Thank you for the reminder that this isn't just about me finding peace, but also about helping her find peace as well. Thank your for your comments.

  3. Bless your heart as you deal with your grandma. You've summed her up and know what you need to do. I know how hard it is. I have a wonderful relationship, but his negativity and criticism really get to me. I've had to learn to let it slide off - and I'm almost 60! Good luck to you. And you're inspiring me not to be a hoarder even though Dad keeps giving me things "I should keep".

    1. Thank you so much for your support! And thank you for your comment. Keep resisting those things you "should" keep!

  4. I was given the advice of "have no expectations" when dealing with a difficult family member and found it works wonders for me. I now have no expectations that they will act how I expect an average decent person to. It has been quite liberating knowing I no longer have to react to how they treat me (I shed far too many tears over them) and that I can pick and choose what I listen (and respond) to.
    All the best in finding what works for you.

  5. Just one perfectly aimed insult can scar you for life.. I wish you strength dealing with this emotionally difficult situation.
    But those are her issues, probably stemming from scars of her own, that she was never able to process through like you are doing.

  6. Wow, talk about an intense relationship. I can't believe she insulted you that way at the dinner table--that about makes me cry. I give you a lot of credit for trying to find the positive side of her personality before she is gone forever.

  7. Humanity is so gosh-darn complicated. *sigh*
    I wish you the best in going through this latest roller coaster. It is nice to hear that while this relationship has its downs, you can also see some big positives.


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