CW : Brief mention of suicidal ideation
My Mom came by today wanting my help in putting together an appeal to one of our fair city’s many “public” institutions. She was flustered and obviously frustrated and since writing thinly veiled passive-aggressive threats at institutions is like 90% of my life at this point (disability, y’all), I waked her through it as best I could, scanning her documents and sending out the final email.
“Yeah, I have four of these to do next week. Food stamps, medicine aid, housing…” She shoots me a pitying look.
Once her papers are sent, she’s mellowing out with a drink and I’m glaring at my computer waiting for KDP to load up a client’s manuscript so I can make a list of all the formatting crap I need to adjust. We chat about nothing until I mention the new painting software I’d bought (Rebelle 3, available for a goddamned steal on Humble Bundle, if you’re interested). I pick up occasional work designing book covers and doing book formatting and I’ve been looking into ways to expand on that skill set. I got to show off some of the really fun features and explained how I was hoping this would expand some of the kinds of designs I could do and at the end of it she looks at me, all smiles and says “I like when you’re happy.”
Little thing, but growing up, I felt like those words would have been a lie.
If I had to sum up my relationship with my mother back in my teens or 20’s, I would not have been kind. At times she was emotionally remote, incredibly judgemental, unsupportive and just generally seemed to passionately dislike everything about me. For years she criticized everything about me physically, talked down about any friend I made, yelled at me when I showed anger or was upset, controlled what I wore, argued with me when I complained about chronic pain and a whole host of other shitty behavior. At times I felt more like her pet than her daughter, something to act cute and make her happy and get the f*ck out of her way when she was pissed off. Actually, if you asked me what my relationship with my mother was, I’d have said that we didn’t have one. When around her, my actions centered around keeping her happy; my life was something I lived in whatever time I had left to myself, secretly. I was only ever really me when I was alone.
It was suffocating and having a chronic illness didn’t help; probably the closest I ever came to thinking about suicide was when I realized that my disability payments weren’t enough to live on my own in NYC and that it was highly likely that I’d have to live with her until one of us died. Luckily, I was proven wrong on that account and was able to get into a supportive housing program and that’s all I’ll say about that.
But…for all that I felt she disliked me, I never doubted that she, in her often fucked-up way, loved me. She was with me at every doctor appointment, every medical procedure, flipping out and yelling at nurses at my bedside during every ER and hospital stay (which was totally not helpful, but pointing it out didn’t help either). She did her parental duties, kept clothing (which she usually picked) on my back, food in my belly. If I’m enjoying something, really enjoying it she tends to watch me more than whatever else is going on and it makes her happy too. Things could have been a lot worse; while my dad was out picketing and/or horndogging it up, she held shit down at home, made sure the lights stayed on and homework got done. I was naive as a kid but not blind; it could have been worse.
It’s taken me what feels like a very long time to stop feeling like my mother was actively trying to make me miserable and see her as she was; a super hot-mess of a human being who did the best she could muster under the circumstances and given her own mental and emotional proclivities. She’s stubborn, never reads the instructions on anything, gets frustrated super-easy and flips out at the slightest sign of stress and she’s just bad at handling other people’s emotions. You need a shoulder to cry on – yeah, she’s not the best bet. I’m guessing having a sensitive, very empathic child who then goes and gets diagnosed with an ongoing saga of chronic illnesses was probably the worst thing for her personality to try to handle. And so, she fucked up. A lot. Yes, sometimes we got along. Sometimes we manipulated each other. Sometimes shit got ugly. If we’d been the same age, it would have been a reality show.
But, I don’t doubt she loves me and it’ s weird sometimes, living in this paradox of someone loving me who is also not good for my psyche in anything but small, controlled doses and that I can’t easily walk away from or even say “no” to very often. It’s been a weird thing for me wrapping my head around how I’ve been taught “love” works and my actual experiences of it. The common idea is that someone who loves you doesn’t hurt you, but the majority of my experiences, especially in childhood, have been with people who did hurt me – but who I’m also pretty sure loved me. Maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe someone can do both, be both at the same time. Does it matter? Does it change things?
At least with me and my Mom, distance has made the difference. Or maybe it’s age – she’s mellowed out much more over the years and I’ve made some progress stomping that part of me that’s a craven people-pleaser, so I’m better at holding my boundaries. We can talk and I can help her with paperwork and she’ll bring me portions of her senior-center meals. We won’t talk about anything important, anything deep, because she sucks at that, but sometimes we go shopping and sometimes she’ll randomly buy me socks because I don’t have enough and when she start saying how I should move back in with her, I can smile and say no fucking way in hell. It’s a better relationship then I thought I’d get.