I had a childhood with a lot of tension (as many people do), and there’s a family history of stressed-out women dealing with difficult life circumstances. So I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, (or both), but I have gone to counselors, therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists at all the major stress points in my life. I’m not ashamed of that. I think it takes intelligence and strength to seek help. Those times include:
- When I was 15 and despairing of my mother’s and stepfather’s violent arguments over his drinking.
- When I was in my early 20s in college, just needing some clarity about boundaries, self-esteem and relationship problems.
- During and after my first marriage. Longer afterward, because I wanted to get to the bottom of why I made a bad choice and try to dispell some of the simmering anger I have always carried with me.
- During and after my second marriage, when I realized I had married a selfish alcoholic man who had no intentions of changing. He’s not a bad guy. he was just a very bad guy for me.
- No counseling for a long time in my third (current) marriage. About three years in, I went for counseling when my younger daughter was 2 or 3, when I was going nuts over my extremely irritating mother’s presence in my life and my house.
- In 2008, when my older daughter was having serious school issues and stress with me, and afterward when she ran away at the urging of her lover.
- Again in 2012, after my husband’s affair and my resulting despair.
In 2012, I started working with the best psychologist I’ve ever had, and I still see him periodically. He got me through the rough days right after my suicide attempt when I was trying to cope with my husband’s affair and my own depression. He talks to me frankly when he sees me making progress or making excuses. And when I ask him for an opinion or clarification, he gives that too.
I found him through the recommendation of a dear friend who I like and respect, and the psychiatrist on tap at the mental hospital (required after a suicide attempt) approved too. So today, I see my psychatrist quarterly for meds and my psychologist every 2-3 weeks to work through my life.
I didn’t explain much to my younger daughter when I went to the mental hospital. Her father only told her that I had been sad and upset, and I needed to go and get some help. She was only 14 at the time. Not ready to hear that her daddy had fucked around and her mama couldn’t cope with that on top of all the other life stresses and my poor self-image and weak coping skills. Not ready to hear that her mother could have killed herself, or that she wanted to.
She may never be ready. Children shouldn’t have to bear the burden of their parents’ personal pains and dramas, if there is any option to protect them.
But I’ve recently uncovered a hidden cost for giving her this peace of mind.
We were talking about my mother, who was funny, unpredictable and hotheaded for decades before her dementia sapped her humor and judgment. I mentioned something that my mom and I had often quasi-joked about — that her mother was 75% crazy, my mom was about 50%, and I’m about 25%. I told the daughter that hey, maybe she’d dodge the mental bullet since the crazies seem to improve with each generation. Her smile looked a little pained.
So I asked her if she ever thought about the time when I was having such problems and went into the mental hospital. She nodded immediately and said, “Every day. It terrifies me.”
That floored me. Apparently, for the past three years, she has been quietly worrying about my mental stability and my family’s history of emotional/mental health issues and relationship problems. She’s also worried how much fragility she’s inherited.
I was so sad that I hadn’t thought to help her through this before now.
And I also got pissed, thinking how fucking unfair it is that I will bear this stigma in her mind, of being the mentally weak and disordered person in the household. All over something horrible that her father did and which it would be wrong of me to burden her with.
Maybe someday when she is fully grown, if she needs to know, and if she asked me directly, I will tell her. But not as a nearly-18-year-old young woman. Not yet.
And it disgusts me that — for her sake — I’m bearing the “don’t mind me, I’m just crazy” label alone, and she doesn’t know about the horrible thing her father did.
No easy answers to this.