I’ve begun my journey back into what many would consider “real life” – the job hunt. Coming back from a longer-term illness is going to be an adventure, that’s for sure but the first things have begun – Vocational Rehabilitation has been a life-saver. Being on a fixed-income has been a bitch, to say the least. I’m beyond tired of it, as has cutting my own hair so, ask and see what you get. They can assist with the cost of interview clothes and as my income is low enough, that’s covered. Then came the hair: also covered. So comes the day of my “transformation.” No clothes but the haircut came and while I like the hair, I took a good look at myself for the first time in a long time.
I’m growing older and it’s showing. And, the feeling I got from that wasn’t a good one either.
I’m hoping it’s because I’ve been through a great deal – and I have. And yes, I’ve lived it. Unfortunately, it’s showing on my face, along with the weight loss. Then came the reconstruction of my resume – a formidable task given I lost much of that information through moves and computer upgrades. Good thing I have lists from the SSI applications. My job placement counselor and I have met and having to reconstruct a resume were both insightful and humbling; about as humbling as looking at myself after my haircut. I saw for the very first time both HOW and WHY. And it was not pretty either.
In therapy, a tool that was used for me was a timeline to identify key events that led to another. It was very useful as I was working out some terrible and painful issues and trying to place perspective upon them. It hit me that what I was doing with my job placement worker was much the same: Another timeline of a different sort – an employment timeline. Normally, it wasn’t a big deal. But for me, it brought up a great deal of emotion. I was able to gain a great deal of perspective for the very first time of not just myself but also my children. I saw for the first time every symptom of bipolar disorder playing out on the computer my job placement counselor was typing: the multiple jobs in a short period of time, the breaks between them, the inability to KEEP permanent employment and having to continue to perform contract work BECAUSE of that inability to KEEP permanent employment. Then came the issues as to why I LEFT my jobs which had to be disclosed. And for this woman, mental illness is always assumed to be a factor so it was alright to disclose. But for me, I could SEE it and FEEL it powerfully. Grandiosity – my thinking I was always right, the rest of the world was stupid, how I never needed help because I knew more than everyone, how I thought I was doing just fine when, in fact, I truly WASN’T. Then came the constant interpersonal conflicts and me wondering why I wasn’t connecting with other people on the job – I wasn’t a person even I would want anything to do with! The inability to finish what I’d start, my inability to ask questions when I didn’t know an answer for anything. Then here comes the money issues; overspending, not paying my bills on time – or at all – because I wanted something else first, my priorities in bill paying were WAY off (Rent first? Are you joking?!? Car payment? Oh that can come LATER!). Then here come those mood swings! The highs so high I was yodeling at the top of my lungs in the Swiss Alps and lows so low you’d wonder if I was at the darkest deepest depths of the ocean never to return. Ah, and the men. Yes, dating. Match.com, Yahoo! I could flirt like no tomorrow and I could get that date but KEEP THEM? Never. Oh, the list was endless. It was PAINFULLY obvious. And it wasn’t like I wasn’t getting treatment. That’s the worst part: I WAS. I was in counseling and having medication prescribed. The problem was, it was the WRONG medication. And, I was sober – and attending AA, actively participating in the program.
But as I said, I also saw, through the years, what happened to my daughter and sons through this time and it became crystal clear as to what they must have seen and felt, as well as why they are so bitterly hurt and angry now. God, what I put them through! My mood swings were so bad for them and they were so young. To see their mother go so high – I was fun, exciting to be around but then? Absolutely angry, yelling at the top of her lungs in fury for no reason at all? God, what a nightmare I was! Then when I was involved in their activities AND working? MAJOR stress. That was a huge trigger for lashing out at me. And for the kids, a MAJOR embarrassment. I even had one of my sons tell me that their friends didn’t want me to be their scout leader because I “was so angry and mean to them.” I can’t imagine what I did to them there; I was the mother they wanted to be proud of but yet, they couldn’t. It was their father who had the place they could go to and was the more sociable, not mom. I’d try to go to events but things would manage to go wrong – ALWAYS. There was always an excuse. I destroyed them, hurt them terribly, most notably my youngest who got stiffed the most by being simply the youngest. The job bouncing DID NOT HELP. I’d gain a job then lose it so money was both loose then tight. After a while, the kids would say, “So you lost your job again?” For them, it was heartbreaking and caused them to worry needlessly. And as I was divorced, guess what the kids would do? Tell their father who was LESS than thrilled as he’s paying child support; alimony had long quit under our agreement that I got screwed by, according to many attorneys I’ve spoken with over the years; I never should have been treated as I was. But it was what I had and I had to live with it. So, into debt, I went. DEEP into debt. And more stress and the kids took the brunt – as did my mental health. Now SNAP, Medical Assistance, AND GA would have helped – had I known about them; another symptom of my issues. But for the kids? It didn’t matter. They saw it all, lived it all and WORRIED about it all when they were too much too young to do so. I tried to get them not to but they loved me so much, they wanted to make me feel better as kids want to help. They always do. Then comes the multiple moves, loss of my car and then….having to move to take care of my mother. THAT was gut-wrenching. That one was foreseen by both my ex-husband and me even when we were married but with the damage done BEFORE? This, I truly believe, was what broke the kids’ hearts the most. Abandonment became huge for them. “Mom left us behind.” And, honestly, I don’t blame them. I WAS ANGRY over this, honestly. I didn’t want to go, but yet I HAD to go – I had nothing where I was but yet my mother desperately needed me. I had no job, no home and could provide nothing to the kids like my ex-husband could. I tried to be a “long distance mother” but it wasn’t the same; my mother’s care became a major battle for me and my mental health and I believe the kids could see it and hear it in my phone calls to them. When they visited me, they SAW it first hand. I was angry, stressed out, bitter….then to see their grandmother dying was too much. Upon my return, I had changed for them. My mood swings were out of control and on top of that, the kids had grown up on me. They had changed. I had lost touch with them; they now had lived and as much as I tried to “fit in” I couldn’t. And when I did fall apart, it was frightening for them. I wasn’t their mother any longer; I was a stranger. By now they were in high school and for them? I was an embarrassment and wanted me hidden – and it wasn’t the normal “I don’t want to be seen with my parents.” I didn’t know my kids any longer. They didn’t want me around and once I was in the hospital JUST ONCE and had to go through the humiliating hoops of being “legally” homeless, they were beyond finished. It was too much for them. They were so ready to focus on themselves and their own lives. Mom? For them, she was too much of a burden to worry about.
Then, after having one too many battles with the ex-husband, I dropped out entirely to focus on myself. I had to. I couldn’t deal with the garbage being tossed my way. But to the kids, this was something that stuck with them; the constant issues with my ex-husband and me. They saw me as the one bashing him, and I admit that I did so, though I know he did his fair share I know what they see – me against him. He had moved on, I had not in their minds. My youngest reveres his father. Me? I’m nothing to him. My daughter doesn’t speak of me or even TO her maternal grandfather. My sons DO speak to him as they’ve always been close – and they’re both in the military now, my father being a veteran. I know now they’re in pain and suffering and I can feel it and understand why.
It all took me having to return to process things to get back to work to see this before my eyes; the pain and the suffering from both sides; just as much as seeing me in front of the mirror for who I truly am. If there’s any good that can come from this, I can now SEE this a great deal more clearly than ever before, a great thing. I can see how I was struggling and that I truly needed help but wasn’t getting it, which frightens me. I hope that someday, I can speak to my kids of this, openly and honestly to tell them “Hey, I get it now. You won’t get what I went through but I can see you suffered horrendously because of what I said and did; you worried about me and I put you through total hell – and I made you pay for my actions.” As much as I’ve said to them “I did the best I could with what I had,” I now can see I wasn’t. I wasn’t in any shape to be their mother in an active sense. I wasn’t being TREATED – AT ALL. But I am now and I am so grateful for that. I now am LIVING and moving ahead for myself, not to gain anyone’s approval but my own. I move forward because I choose to. Not because I must – other than finances that I wish to have for true independence.
I guess my reflection in the mirror doesn’t look so much “older” after all; it appears to be softening as I become relaxed and my life changes and takes shape into a new form. And it will continue to do so, I truly believe that.