Today has felt like a long day, partly because it has contained a lot of emotions, some of them almost uncontrollably strong ones. I woke feeling fairly cheery and not too bad, but unfortunately my mother hadn't. She has been in a bizarre, touchy mood all day and I have found this incredibly hard to deal with. You try to help and she bites your head off or lectures you. I've several times retreated to my room, with the door closed and the music on loud, bunkering down. Before I go on, let's get this clear, I do love my mother, I really do, deeply, I hate it when I see her hurting. I hate it even more when I see her hurting and not taking steps that could make a huge difference to this, like dealing with any mental health issues.
I wish she could understand that mental health isn't a taboo, or shouldn't be, that it isn't a sign of weakness, that it is often normal after trauma to the brain (she had a brain tumour ten years ago), that she doesn't have to hurt like she does, that it can get better. Even hurts from years and years ago, from her father, from her mother's death, can be dealt with, can be healed, can be acknowledged. Acknowledgement of problems is a huge issue in this house; she will not acknowledge the impact her illness had on her and on the rest of us, in the immediate family, the four of us, individually and as a unit. It's not her fault. I don't blame her for getting ill, none of us do, it happens, she didn't choose it. But I do feel angry that she's never allowed it to be voiced, that it was a difficult time for us all, that it has had difficult repercussions, made more difficult by their silence. I can understand not wanting to worry your children, especially when they are small, but I was part-adult - helping care for her - and treated as child - never told anything. But not being told is far more terrifying and uncertain.
Partly perhaps she doesn't want to admit her own weakness, that she, who is so proud of self-sufficiency, wasn't able to be, and isn't as able to be as she once was. No one is entirely comfortable facing their own mortality, especially when it becomes real for the first time. The echoes of her mother's illness and death must have been huge, terrifying, breaking like waves across her conciousness - she died aged 54 of a brain tumour that was discovered very suddenly. I have been aware for many years of the devastation her mother's death wrought on my mother and of how our relationship has never quite managed to recapture the closeness she enjoyed with her mother.
The word 'repression' is one you would associate the nineteenth century and with early twentieth century psychiatry, but it has resurfaced here. Nothing is acknowledged, nothing talked of openly, only ever in occasional snatched whispers, if at all. My mother's behaviour is at times erratic, she will begin things then forget them, move something then forget where she has put it, she shows signs of intense frustration with her physical limitations. It is something I understand deeply, but she never allows me to empathise. Instead any discussion of health becomes a competition - you have a doctor's appointment, she has those, lots; you ache, she aches more and more thoroughly. So I keep quiet. I say nothing. I pretend to be ok. The end result is that I find it incredibly hard to talk about how I am feeling, physically, emotionally, mentally. It is far easier with a blank page than a person, with doctors it is near impossible.
Another thing that frustrates me about her, because I love her, is the way that she rarely does anything to minimise her own suffering, it is almost as though she prefers to wallow in the feeling awful or the problem than to deal with it or face it. Often it takes very little - an ibuprofen - to help. There is an element of hopelessness in her sometimes, that there is no point taking an ibuprofen because it probably wouldn't help anyway.
There is a less pleasant side to all this, she is a master of the "poor mes", the sulk, the audible sigh, the posture, the flounce, even hysteria and tears. I have never known anyone sulk as she does, even thwarted toddlers in shopping centres could learn from her. She shares that same need to control, to dominate, to be in charge of every situation. There were seeds of this behaviour in her before she was ill - I remember particularly around map reading on holiday - but it has become far worse since. Personally I believe that some of this underlies her inability to get on with her own father, they were just too similar and vying for control. But her behaviour has deteriorated. The last counsellor I had could not see why we didn't just stand up to her, but this would be disastrous, it would push her further away, into the land where she believes that no one understands her or loves her, she would simply see it as a personal attack, no matter how tactfully or lovingly phrased. In fact I don't know what the answer is.
From all this you might be gathering that my mother is generally not a terribly pleasant person - she is, or can be, lively, with a real zest for life. She has many friends and when other people are around is a totally different person. And as I've said earlier, I do love her, very very much and I want her to be better and to be happier. She is a person who is hurting. I want my dad to have an easier time of it too, to be able to have his own opinions, his own life, his own interests. I want my sister to be less stressed by being at home, to be able to have a relationship with our parents again. I want to be less monumentally stressed by everyday living, or surviving. I want simple things like cooking a meal to stop being a huge emotional battle. But I don't know how.
Part of me thinks that I can't change my mother, or my family, all I can do is learn to live with them and control my reactions to them. But then on days like today when I've ended up in tears and exhausted by the violence of my emotions (and I do find the violence in how I feel scary at times) I feel like that can never be the answer or even a useful way of surviving. Anyhow, surely life is about more than that?
Answers on a postcard.