Tuesday, 21 November 2017

          MENTAL HEALTH GUEST POST

I've had the pleasure of getting to know Kathia, who went through a horrendous upbringing and depression and has learned to look out for herself. This is her brave story, and, today, her journey towards learning to heal.

The painting Kathia made several years ago,
representing her settling into adulthood
and coming to terms with some of her past.

     Depression is… personal.

     Everyone has an opinion on it and its treatment, ranging from “You have to be crazy if you’re seeing a therapist!” to “Your body is amazing and has the ability to heal any ailments.”
     I started consulting at a young age, and I’ve seen my share of therapists. A lot of them, Canadian government employees. The health care system may be free; it doesn’t mean you’re going to find yourself a gem. Finding the right shrink can take years and I didn’t want to wait that long…

     I’ve learned quite recently that not everyone is capable of doing the level of introspection I have survived on for years. I guess I am lucky then as paid shrinks were out of my mom’s budget. When even Christmas was donation based, a paid shrink was out of the question. I read a lot and had a
very critical eye, able to discern from a young age what is realistic and what is definitely fantasy. I also watched an incredible amount of TV, so I can rightfully call it “Aunt TV”, as it raised me and taught me a lot of what I know today. I loved Auntie’s documentaries a lot. That and Bugs Bunny.
So, my way of dealing with my problems has always been through my daydreaming states. Long bus drives, boring classes, naughty corner both at school and at home. This little piggy was quite naughty. Well this little piggy had a lot of adult problems to deal with.

     Because I can’t pinpoint the start of my depression, I tend to wonder if I had been in either a state of denial all this time or just too busy to mother my mom.
Introspection is fantastic, you get to know yourself very well, but it can turn you into a narcissist as well. Or maybe that were just my mother’s words, as apparently, I was gifted with everything I touched. Even today I have to fight her to make her realize that no, I can’t do everything, please get an expert to do it for you. Introspection can help you up to so much… Eventually, you need someone else to help you sort things out. But I managed to jump in and survive teenhood, and waddle through the adult world. I’m still trying to find the safe shore every now and then.

     Ever since I was a kid, I didn’t want to grow up. I wished Peter Pan would find me and bring me to Never-Never Land. Most kids want to be adults, I feared the day it would come. I watched my mom crash and burn, go from one abusive boyfriend to another differently abusive one. It’s like she tried all the types just to make sure they really weren’t good for her.

That’s when she would forget I even existed.

     She once told me about the two friends she had growing up. They would be mean to her, but when they’d quarrel with one another, they would stop talking to each other and remember that my mom was still around. They’d be extra nice to her until they made up again. Then they’d go back to their old ways, either tormenting or ignoring her. This charade went on for a long time. Long enough that it was now encoded within her DNA and whenever a “new boyfriend” would come along, I’d suddenly become the third wheel she had been. By age 6, I could make myself a few easy snacks, Aunty TV was there anyway. When a burglar tried to climb through the window, I ran to the kitchen and threw cayenne powder at his face. That’ll teach him! She was already not there when I came back from Kindergarten, and with a boyfriend in tow, I was invisible. But fear not, whenever things turned nasty, I was there to rub her back and tell her all the bad things I’d do to the awful man if he came here again. We were buddies again! Until the next fling…

     My dad was one of those awful boyfriends who threatened to kill me and my mother at the point of a gun and then to kill himself. He tried to strangle my mom multiple times, almost killing her and breaking her legs more than once. I’m lucky I only get a little disturbed and start crying when I hear glass breaking. Then again, I was only a baby/toddler. However, I do remember one instance, at 11, where I freaked out in the middle of the biographical movie centered around Tina Turner’s tormented life. How I reacted back then, as she got beaten up, makes me suspect I saw more than I dare remember. I saw and heard things as a kid I wasn’t ready for. I learned I can’t trust men, because men cheat and then give venereal diseases to their girlfriends. Boil your boyfriend before sex! I learned to become a little adult, and adults didn’t like that.

     My mother also had no backbone, so I had to step up for her and it was demanding. It meant that for years I acted as a pillar for her, and later for friends, while putting my own needs and feelings on the backburner. It also meant she never had my back.

     One summer, at age 13, I spent hours away – 11 by train – to see the only boyfriend my mom had had who really loved me. The sweetest man who I secretly call my
dad. Well, he was an addict and a drunk, because my mom doesn’t do normal. My rationalization of that night is that someone had laced his casual drugs with something really bad and he went NUTS. My dad lived in a trailer parked on one of his friend’s property near his house. I remember having a strange feeling right before his friend left me in a hurry. I had asked to come with him to the convenience store, but as I was picking up the change I had dropped on the lawn a mere meter from his pick-up truck, he just drove away. Fast. My dad started yelling my name and it sounded like despair mixed with utter rage. Had he found out I had dumped 2 of his beers into the sink during his nap? Knowing him, that wouldn’t be enough to tick him off.

     The man who would die for me was calling my name that night and I felt nothing but fear. So I ran. I ran to the friend’s house, which was empty, as I heard my
dad screaming my name over and over again, hot on my trail. I grabbed a cordless phone and locked myself in the bathroom. A madman was banging on the door, a scene reminiscent of the Shining and me, a little ball curled atop the toilet’s cover crying and paralyzed, not knowing what to do… The screams and banging eventually stopped and I called my mom, because that’s the first person I thought about. I called her and hoped she would help me. I told her what had just happened and how scared I was for my life, how I thought I was going to die, and she told me this:
     “Oh I’m so sorry honey, but… there’s nothing I can do. … I have to go.” And hung up.
     She hung up on me just like that. In retrospect, I should have called the cops, she should have told me to. But she didn’t. She didn’t have my back. I looked at the floor and waited. Waited and waited.
     At one point I couldn’t take it anymore and opened the door. I somehow expected him to jump out of nowhere and attack me, but he had left. I looked around and nothing. No sound, but my heartbeat.
Thu-Thump-Thu-Thump. I was still afraid of being there, so I walked cautiously towards the shed and stole a bike, went down the crazy steep and awfully long lane down the mountain road. At the bottom of that slope were train tracks sticking out by 2 inches I knew would make me and the bike fly high. Eyes wide open, I repeatedly wished for my safety. At the speed I was travelling, the train tracks barely made a bump under the wheels and my feet were no longer on the pedals, but the bike broke and the pedals got stuck. By some miracle, the wheels kept on going. Eventually, unable to pedal, I ditched the bike in a dike and ran to the nearest house. Luckily, it was full of old ladies and they let me stay the night.
    
     My dad doesn’t remember what happened. I don’t think he would want to remember; it would break him. So my mom didn’t have my back, but she did want me. I think she wanted a friend, or one of those cute easy kids. Easy kids come from normal families, not yours, mom. To give her a break, her past is worse than mine. So that’s why I can forgive her. Hard to believe right? She still snubs me if she has a boyfriend and then I’m back to being her #1 idol when she’s single. Oh mother…
    
     I had a bit of a chaotic beginning obviously, so no wonder I bit my peers, spat at them, hit and kicked them and refused to mingle. I wanted to be left alone, yet also wanted to have fun with them. I was very conflicted. But I did superbly alone. I was top of all my classes until 4th grade of high school. Then I got friends. Hard to do when you move every 2 years. I never did ask my mom about that but I suppose my real dad was the reason. Next time you see an unhinged kid, tell yourself that they might need love and security. Not every one of them have such crappy pasts, but from experience, quite a few have had the rocky ride. A good friend of mine suffered multiple types of abuse as a kid, I can tell you this kid was angry. And he is still angry, but he’s learning to let go.
     My elementary school years were spent in a classroom for unhinged kids. We were labeled and everyone knew who we were. The other kids were told not to mingle with our kind. Good thing my grandma found some money to get me out of there. Private schools will turn a blind eye to your past as long as you show them where the cash is. One year was enough and all my grandma could afford, bless her.
    
     But you know what? I cleaned up my act on my own because I was given a chance at being in a normal setting. I became what I call a “boring teen”. I was not unhinged anymore, knew what was wrong and had my mom’s apartment to myself for the last 2 years before graduation. Even if I didn’t throw any party, I was pretty proud of it, and child services knew nothing about it.

     But all this damage, it lingered, it ate at me and today, I’m still fighting with self-worth. I still believe, deep inside of me that everyone I know and love will one day betray me. That I’m not worth loving and not worth anyone’s time. It’s hard. Especially when instead of looking for my absent dad in my boyfriends, I was searching for my emotionally absent mom. Being told that you are no longer desired to your face was not just heartbreaking, it was shattering. I kept wondering if I would ever be enough. At the same time, that proud part of myself, the one that stood up for my mom all these years when she took different forms of abuse, told me I should not change my appearance only to please a man. I should change for myself.
     But it lingers. I look at my baby pouch and wonder why I haven’t bounced back. I don’t snack, eat pretty well and sometimes super healthy and used to go to the gym regularly. Nothing. NOTHING. I hated my body, the one thing I thought I could trust turned its back on me. It made me want to push everyone away.
     At one point in time, my mom befriended a very good and well-known shrink in our province. She exchanged cleaning services for consultations and finally, we had ourselves a nice match. That friend-shrink, whom I called the Wise Lady helped me through some of those feelings I couldn’t let go of. The abuse at the hand of my aunt (not Aunt TV, she was always the nicest) who was a hard drug addict and some parts of my childhood I wish had been different, but it wasn’t enough. Back then it felt like it was enough, but I know today that there’s still more that needs to be touched.


     fI really started to notice signs of depression when I got pregnant overseas in a country I didn’t understand the language of, and my employer's bankruptcy left me and my peers jobless. Money issues and stress were my constant visitors. I wanted this baby, but I was not sure if this was the right time and place anymore. I felt alone and isolated, and I really really really wanted a baby shower. I missed my friends back home. We talked on Facebook, but I yearned for real face-to-face. I was stuck onto a piece of broken ice drifting away into the ocean, away from everyone else. I kept my pregnancy a secret because deep down, I thought no one cared. I didn’t think anyone would have wanted to support me. I was also hit with many unanswered feelings from the past and many weird dreams. All at once, my past came back to haunt me.

     I was going to be a mom.

     Having kids with my husband seemed like a good idea. There has been a cycle of abuse and damage going on in my family for generations, and I wanted to end it with my new family. I wanted to set things right and see little us making us proud. But I was troubled. Isn't this the moment to feel overjoyed? I thought I was an anomaly. Maybe I wasn't ready when I thought I was. I had forgotten that my past had never been resolved and no role model to emulate. And how much the books and media lie. I didn’t know how to mom.

     When our little boy was born, I felt nothing motherly. I liked him, but we didn’t bond. I became disappointed in me, in my son, … that the event didn’t happen the way I imagined it should. Then within 3 months, my husband finally was transferred to Canada, my home country.
Making friends was difficult, now with a child, even more. I was bored of moms who had nothing to talk about but their children or who does their hair or nails. I was withering.
     My son was starting to walk and show some behavioural problems I recognized too well.
     Oh no.
     I did not need this.
     I started not liking motherhood at all.
     I felt trapped.
What had I done?
     I had no friends, and the closest family I had was 3,576 km away – that’s 2222 miles. We were having trouble affording days out and both my husband and I had thoughts of running away. Then things settled down a bit. We were considering buying our first house and having another child because we didn’t want a lonely only child. At least, I felt strongly on the subject. My husband lost his job in the middle of our purchase, we almost got sued and I was due soon, but we found financing through our bank and our second son was born.
     This time, we connected instantly, like old friends finding each other again. We moved into the new house and have been managing better. My husband received a good severance package supposed to last us long enough for him to find work again. Until the economy crashed, big time. It was the worst time to be an engineer in the oil and gas industry.

     But he got a new job and we’ve been slowly recovering.
     In the meantime, we had a lot of self-discovery time for ourselves. I learned to let go of some past guilt through writing letters and it worked, thanks to a new shrink I found. She has been the best so far. But she recently retired before we got to the part where I learn to let go of my anger, sadness and psychological bruises from my aunt, my dad, and my mother. People tell us to let go. It’s not that easy. I tried techniques and it helped alleviate the anger, but every now and then, I will be doing chores, and random thoughts will enter my head… I will think about my past and get angry or cry.    
     It’s still there. It’s still affecting me.
    
     This past made me who I am; fragile, afraid of people, but too outwardly, seeking the attention I never received. It’s a little better, but I still feel inadequate in dealing with other human beings. It feels like what I say is often taken the wrong way. I have a filter, but it’s thin. I’m straightforward and don’t do well with sugar coating things. I try. But I’m still learning and I feel like an adult-child amongst those adults. It’s like they know how it works. Everyone around me seems to know what role to play and how to play it well. Women around me know what being a mom is. I’m finally starting to enjoy it thanks to my second son, and my firstborn's mood has been improving steadily. We're closer than when we started and I know it was never his fault; he was probably reacting to all that stress I was having. He’s doing much better now that I understand more about myself.
     My healing has had a rippling effect within my family. I’ve been going deep down and moving the sludge around. Talking to my husband has helped a lot, too, I should give credit were credit is due. He’s had to deal with depression himself but listened to my problems – a.k.a. me ranting about my past, the analysis I came up with, and possible solutions. The more we talked, the more details I remember and it has helped frame a lot into context.

     Little by little, my pile of sludge lessens until maybe one day, I’m free of my past. But will that truly be enough?

     I still have feelings of not belonging, I’m still afraid people won’t like me because I’m broken. If I mend myself, will these feelings disappear? I wonder if I can have normal after my past. But I have learned to cope better, learned to accept the past as the past, even if it still angers or saddens me, and I have learned to see other people’s points of view.
     Mainly my mom’s.
     She didn’t know how to mom or love either, because her household was devoid of both. I believe that even if I’m good at going deep down and analyzing myself, I want to see a professional, but a really good one I feel gets me and my way of wanting to deal with my past.

     I don’t know whether you can have access to free ones in your country or not, but if not, consider this: Life is worth going through with all its ups and downs, but if all you can focus is on the negative, or if past trauma has left you afraid of interacting with people, going out of your shell, being yourself, anything that keeps you from being free… go see a professional.

     I often cannot tell when my body is incapable of taking any more stress and I now realize my body has been weakened tremendously. I have an incredible amount of stress I put on my shoulders over the years and there are a few things I noticed I haven't gone deep enough, maybe I’m lazy, maybe I’m afraid… But I know, I need someone else to ask me the right questions and dig up some old dirt.

     And a regular massage.

     Yes, it’s money I’m spending… on myself. It’s worth it, because my mental and physical health is worth it.

     I’m worth it.

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