my pockets hurt

Saturday, March 11, 2017

I have a decision to make.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we got into a fight with my parents at Christmas and we haven’t reached any kind of resolution. To make a long story short, it was a fight over money. They did something they thought was nice, but because they didn’t consult us, we asked for additional information. They found our request insulting. Basically they thought we were looking a gift horse in the mouth. Words were exchanged that gave us insight into how they see us. It wasn’t pretty. 

January was tense. I avoided them at all costs. By February, when they still hadn’t provided us with the additional information we’d requested, I contacted their estate planner – something they’d said I could do. This provoked a very nasty email from my father, which gave us even further insight into how they think about us. It was… ugly. Thankfully they’ve been out of the country ever since.

(BTW, our financial advisor assured us that having the additional information was a wise idea.)

So we’re kind of… done. Exhausted. Unwilling and unable to continue. 2016 really showed us their stripes in a way that was somehow fundamentally different. All the bad visits we had and all the words that were exchanged added up. I’m sure it’s also because my husband and I found the 2016 sobering: we dealt with deaths, illnesses, surgeries and greatly increased responsibilities at work. Perhaps it’s because we finally have financial security and this makes my parents feel unnecessary, and maybe even uncomfortable about having judged us.

They’re coming home in a few days and I have to deal with this. I can continue to avoid them and say that we’re just busy. And we could continue to have contact with them very sporadically and just keep trying to write off their behavior with various excuses. But inevitably they’re going to impose some larger request on our time: to stay at our house, to have us come visit, or to travel with them. And we’ll need to decline. And all the neurocircuitry in my head is screaming: “you have a filial obligation!” and “you owe them because they paid for grad school/fertility treatments/ski trips!” The loudest neurons are screaming: “they conditioned you to never disappoint them!”

I met with my therapist today and we discussed this last thought pattern. I’m terrified of disappointing them because they terrorized me growing up. However… when we began to talk about this fear, it seemed kind of ironic. Despite my never-ending quest to please them, they’ve always given me the impression that my husband and I are a continual source of disappointment. With the exception of recognition for achievements from external sources of authority (like degrees or promotions) they consistently offer critiques about our lives. When someone treats us like children at our age/tax bracket/education level – what are we left to think? 

They just think we aren’t very good people.

And you know what? If I were to really be honest, I’ve bought it hook, line & sinker. My husband always asks why I think I’m not a nice person when – on paper – I am a VERY nice person. (I work with sick kids, I volunteer, and I treat people in my life kindly.) I’ve always pointed to my more borderline-y moments and argued that I’d made some fundamental mistakes in the past which have hurt people. He just shakes his head.

But… ever since this damn fight at Christmas, I keep going back over our actions and thinking: we’re not doing anything wrong, so why are they implying we are? Why do they ALWAYS make us feel like we’re doing something wrong? And why do I keep people in my life who fundamentally, don’t respect us? Yes, they’re my parents and they know they need to take care of me but this is not how it’s done. This is not care. This is control.

I have a decision to make. I have to grab the controls. And I have to decide how.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

DSM-5 301.81

You know how the country is kind of falling apart and everyone feels like they’re going insane? Like how suddenly wrong is right and up is down? Like how half your family/friends/acquaintances/countrymen literally don't understand what you’re saying anymore? Like how you’re scared to stop being constantly vigilant but you’re also completely exhausted and just want to hide under the covers? Like how sometimes screaming at the top of your lungs feels like the only thing that makes any sense?

Welcome to life under the control of a narcissist. 

THIS. This exact feeling of spinning out of control and never knowing what kind of chaos you’re going to encounter around the next corner – this is what it feels like to be subject to the control of a pathological narcissist. THIS is what it’s felt like for 42 years, being my parents’ child.

I’m not going to link to all the articles in the popular media lately on this topic – but they’re there. I’m not going to link to all the peer-reviewed scientific studies of treatment failures for this flavor of personality disorder – but they’re there. Let me summarize them all for you: 

pathological narcissists are incurable and impossible to deal with. 

And I don’t mean “impossible to deal with” as in: “oh, knock it off, you’re being so difficult.” I mean: there is literally nothing you can do or say that makes the situation better. Ever. You can’t try reason or logic, you can’t try mollification, you can’t even try anger. NOTHING WORKS.

I guess in some ways, the last three weeks – despite being deeply unsettling and not the least bit triggering – have been oddly validating. For the first time, I could (should I choose to) say to another rational adult: “Hey, you know how this president is making you feel? That guy is like my dad’s clone. So I’ve had some struggles.” And that rational adult might actually, TRULY, understand what I’d felt.

So my parents came for Christmas and it was, predictably, horrible. Four days of counting the seconds until they left. My father made oblique references to future visits and I literally did not reply because I’m not actually sure I can tolerate being around them at this point. After 4 VERY unpleasant visits in 2016, I’ve reached a point where I’ve pretty much given up. We don’t have a relationship. I can barely tolerate calls with them at this point. (See previous statements about nothing working, being impossible, ect)

The argument that began at Christmas has actually dragged into February and I, quite literally, do NOT have time for this shit. My husband and I are both trying to navigate very demanding new responsibilities at our respective jobs while also trying to maintain our health and relationship. Dealing with added nonsense is well, just that. Nonsense.

You know how everyone just wishes we’d wake up from this awful national nightmare and we’d literally never have to talk about these terrible people again?


Sunday, November 13, 2016


You know what's nice? When you have family that offers to help out when you're scared and having surgery.

I remember when my dad had a cardiac catheterization when I was in college. He told the nurse that it was important I take him because I wasn't sympathetic enough to his illness - that I didn't understand the seriousness of it. He said I was self-centered like all people my age. (He didn't think I could hear him but I was standing in the hall crying; I was so worried about his condition.) But I heard him and that's why I made it a point to attend - or at least offer to attend - every major surgery my parents had in my adulthood. I drove to CT when my mom had lumps removed in her breasts and her varicose veins done. I flew out to Ohio to help my father recover from his open heart surgery and his spinal stenosis. As an only child, it just seemed like the responsible thing to do.

I always knew it didn't go both ways. My parents get pretty preoccupied with their own lives; they're retired, and they want their retirement to be fun. Besides, when my parents visit it's always about their needs, so having them around when I'm sick never really works in my favor. That's why didn't tell them about the week I was in the hospital in 2004 or the week I was in the hospital in 2008. Stupidly, I decided to tell them I was having surgery this week. As an only child, it just seemed like the responsible thing to do.

Of course they didn't offer to help. They didn't offer to come keep me company or help out with cooking and chores. They just complimented me on how capable my husband was of taking care of everything - which I guess is something because for the first 8 years of our relationship, all they did was tell me what a terrible person he was. Ironically, they started liking him when he took care of me when I was in the hospital! I guess they really do think that he can just take care of everything!

Anyway, it's just nice when you have family that offers to help. Even when you don't NEED help, just the offer makes you feel less alone during a scary time. Or at least, I guess that's how it makes you feel - I wouldn't really know.

Friday, October 07, 2016

honestly, baffled

August: wife of best friend dies

Mom: I’d like to get her something – what do you think she could use?
Me: I don’t know but I’ll ask. Thinks to self: oh, I dunno, a housekeeper, driver, nanny…

Me (to best friend): hey there, my mom wants to buy you something – anything you need?
Friend: Actually… you know what… I would like to go do a spa day with you to rest & relax.

Me (to mom): She said a spa day. Don’t know if that’s what you had in mind but it was the first thing she mentioned – and she doesn’t usually ask for things.
Mom: Sounds like a great idea!

September: horrible visit to parents’ house

Mom: So what spa do you want to go to?
Me: Um… I have no idea. I don’t know a lot about spas. I know there’s one near her house – you could try there?
Mom: Well I don’t know about spas in your state! What do you want to have done?
Me: Thinks to self: bullshit, you lived here for 30 years and you go to spas all the time. Well… I guess just a day-package type thing. Can’t you just do a gift-certificate?
Mom: Well I don’t know what you want to do. You have to tell me.
Me: Let’s just table the idea. I don’t really have time to research this right now since I’m helping her find therapy and other basic needs.
Mom: Well let me know when you have time to look into it.
Me: Um… if it’s YOUR gift, shouldn’t YOU look into it?

October: emails from hell

Mom: I was just thinking about the spa idea for you two.  Let me know when you decide on a place that works for both of you.
Me: OK. Here are 3 spas near her house. Just pick whatever you're comfortable with.
Mom: I have been doing a little investigating of the places you have suggested for a spa day. Are you thinking of trying to do this before you have your surgery on Nov. 11th?
Me: Thinks to self: um, that’s not my surgery date…
Mom: One place, while I'm sure is lovely, is out of sight price wise. The other place, not surprisingly, because it is a day spa, is much more reasonable. I can do a gift certificate online for two packages.  It sounds like this is what I can afford right now. I have a lot of charity expenses right now, too, but I think I can swing this.  Thanks to Uncle Sam and my Social Security checks!

Me: Um… if you can’t afford this, you aren’t obligated to do this. I’m sure my friend forgot we even talked about it; she has so much on her mind.
Mom: Well, it is too expensive, but I will honor the commitment I made.
Me: Okaaaay….? Also, it’s very unlikely we’re going to fit this in before my surgery. I’m only free 1 of those weekends and we both have so much going on right now I don’t want to pressure her to fit it in if she can’t.
Mom: Well do you want to call her and make a plan?
Me: Not really. She’s struggling with getting laundry done and making the kids’ lunches right now. I don’t think scheduling this is a top priority at the moment. We’ll do it eventually.
Mom: Well I wanted to get her something she can use now. I guess just let me know when you want to do this and I’ll order the gift certificate online.
Me: Thinks to self: well that’s clearly not going to happen. And who cares what YOU wanted. YOU didn’t think of something, and she didn’t ask for that.

And. Scene.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

you have GOT to be kidding me...


So I stumbled upon this website a while back while researching ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Events). Because someone like me who has a host of Axis I diagnoses and a glaring Axis II diagnosis, is pretty much likely to have a pretty ugly ACE score. And as I read the website it described, well, me. I have somatization up the wazoo:
  • IBS w/complications
  • CFS w/myalgia
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines
  • Telogen effluvium
  • Eczema
  • Scoliosis
Some even argue that my chronic UTI’s and even my Raynauds Disease could somehow be related (poor self-care and low-grade autoimmune symptoms respectively).

But as I mentioned in a recent post, I have to have a hysterectomy in about a month for a new problem: adenomyosis. Initially, I assumed that this had nothing to do with any of the above. Still, it was kind of annoying that it was another illness that would be pretty difficult to discuss in public: “oh yeah, I’m taking next week off to have my uterus removed since its lining is trying to grow into my musculature!” Not really water-cooler talk. But it wasn’t a psychiatric or even psych-related diagnosis so I was kind of happy about that. (You know what a bitch mental illness is when it’s a treat to have a regular-person illness.)

But then I was talking to the husband the other night about the cause of adenomyosis. Essentially, endometrial tissue is part of one’s immune system. And there are theories out there linking its occasional freakout to autoimmune disease. (Oh, did you catch that part about the flu-like symptoms? I DID.) And from an epidemiological standpoint, people with my cluster of somatizations are much, MUCH more likely to develop adenomyosis. 

So here’s my PSA for the week:

Hey parents! Don’t scare the shit out of your kids - especially the kinda sensitive ones. They’ll be traumatized and that trauma will cause a LIFETIME of health problems - oh and probably reduce that lifespan to boot. So, you know, maybe try to chill the fuck out when you’re together. 


Sunday, September 25, 2016


I emailed my parents today and told them the Antarctica trip was "too long" of a trip to take during the school year. Who knows if they'll buy it – who cares. I read and reread the last post about 100 times and we both came to the realization that we'd be idiots to lock ourselves on a boat with them for 14 days.  We'll pick another destination I told them… I'm not sure if I believe that. Frankly, the toll that visit took on me was astounding. I came back so depleted that I wound up getting an incredibly bad cold that I'm still not over.  Maybe it's turned into pneumonia or asthma or just simply got my chronic fatigue so flared up that I feel sick all of the time. But as I told my self and this blog a few months ago: taking care of them does not work and only makes me sicker. Occasionally I should listen to myself…

So the new rule will be this: I will never, ever, agree to spend any time with them while I am in their presence. Clearly I get too dysregulated to make good decisions. I will make up some excuse about needing to check with work or something but I will never commit until I am home and in my right mind. There probably should be other rules, but for now this is the easiest one I can think of and that's the most likely to be able to implement.

I cannot control them, but I can control my own actions. And it's becoming ever increasingly clear that I must control decisions around my health. I feel like this post should have some sort of big mic drop at the end but honestly… The whole thing is just sad.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Fool me once

This is going to be a bit… scattered. I’m trying to work out what the hell happened this weekend so I can see if I can make sure it never happens again.

So back to Christmas. (Yes, sorry, the saga goes that far back) We visited my parents at their house and it was not a great visit. My husband got a terrible stomach bug, which meant that some of the diversions I’d scheduled didn’t pan out. Most disturbingly, my parents’ didn’t really seem to appreciate that my husband was incredibly sick and just could not do certain things. I could tell that they were frustrated by his lack of energy and how limited our activities became. I wound up spending a huge amount of time worrying about everyone. On the last night they’d scheduled a dinner party with friends of theirs – even though my husband had barely eaten in a week and was weak as a kitten. It was one of the more thoughtless things they’ve done in quite a while and I seethed the whole night. Afterwards, with a major snowstorm barreling down on us, we drove to the airport where we stayed overnight so we wouldn’t miss our flight. My father complained and chided us for taking our rental car to the dinner party. As I drove through the terrible storm with my very sick husband next to me, I wondered if we should ever visit them again.

However. Since we’d had all this down time, my parents became obsessed with planning our “annual family ski trip.” Their main criteria were that we commit to plans ASAP and that we find a location that could accommodate their dog. My husband and I grudgingly agreed to a time and place – though both of us felt bullied into it. But what could we say? No, we’re not going skiing with you because we don’t like you? All the excuses are too implausible or too harsh. And on some level we like skiing but we always approach these trips with such trepidation – especially since it usually means that we’re taking almost half our vacation days with my parents. Finally, when they insisted I choose plane flights on the spot I had a meltdown. I told them that I was far too overwhelmed to make a decision on how we’d fly to this pretty inaccessible location. I couldn’t even consult my husband since he was too sick at that point. I promised I’d take care of it as soon as we got home and things had quieted down. And of course, when I did book the flights I was so distracted and upset I still wound up making costly errors.


So fast forward to February and we make the incredibly long & complicated trek out to the mountain they’d chosen. But the entire trip, I just kept thinking about how my husband and I would finally have a few days out of our busy schedule to spend together, doing something we loved. But when we arrived, dead tired, we were informed that they’d decided (since this was a school vacation week) the mountain was too crowded. To remedy the problem, they’d hired a private ski instructor to take us around for 2 of our three days. All dreams of spending time alone vanished. We’d be with them – and more importantly, living by their dictates – the entire time. I seethed. The ski instructor was a nice enough guy but by that point I’d shut down. Seeing me so upset, my husband shut down as well. We’d taken off the better part of week for this trip, spent a fair amount of money, and we were having a terrible time. On the last night as my father criticized me for mentioning my Chronic Fatigue diagnosis, I wondered if we should ever visit them again.

And unlike other visits, this time I had data. For Christmas, my husband had bought me a heart rate monitor. One of the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue is a racing pulse and it’s been helpful for me to keep track of what sets it off. Well, during that brief visit, my resting pulse shot up to unhealthy levels.


By March, I’d decided that I wasn’t bringing up any future trips – we’d just let things lie. But of course, my dad couldn’t have that. One night on the phone, he informed me that he and my mother were signing up for an extended cruise in December. Despite promising to celebrate Christmas at our house for the first time ever, he went back on his word. Insulted and frankly incensed, I decided to draw a hard line in the sand. They were still welcome but we were staying at our house regardless of what they did. They could not bring their dog and the day after the holiday we were going to go on a trip by ourselves somewhere we’d enjoy. Although my husband said my email wound up coming off as business-like, I tried to soften what I knew would be a blow: If you'd like to plan another time to get together you are always welcome here. We could also come to your house this summer to celebrate your 70th birthdays in person if that would interest you.”

They finally relented, agreed to come for a few days at the holidays after their December cruise and said, of course they wanted us to come visit for Labor Day weekend. I felt like I’d stood up for myself but I also worried that I’d played on their fears of losing contact with us to my advantage. I try to take the high ground whenever we interact because otherwise, I find that I can all too easily stoop to their (childish) level. And then I end up feeling even worse about myself.


So as you may have noticed, yesterday was Labor Day. And we flew out for the weekend and it was awful. (I know, you’re shocked.) We’ve had a hell of a summer. For a short time this spring we were worried that I had ovarian cancer. (I don’t – I just need a hysterectomy.) One of my students was diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer. Our friend DIED from a rare, terminal cancer. My husband had a strange health problem that caused him daily pain for reasons that remain a mystery. And then on Thursday, one of my husband’s students was diagnosed with a rare, terminal cancer. We’ve been running on fumes, dreading this trip to my parents’ house and now we were leaving completely shell-shocked. The trip was doomed to failure.

Still, we tried to be patient with my parents and do whatever made them happy but our frustration tolerance was incredibly limited. I immediately ran a 100 degree fever, developed a blinding headache and my resting pulse shot up by 10 points overnight. Finally, Sunday night, my husband and my dad got into it over politics, which led to a particularly heated argument. I knew my husband wasn’t actually THAT mad – he was just exhausted and upset. (And in his defense, my father was saying horribly racist statements.) But my parents couldn’t read any of this and my mom got very judgmental. “Don’t lecture me,” she said as my husband tried to calm her down after the storm had blown over. Hurt, tired and confused, my husband gave up and, then after my father begged us to pretend that all was well so my mom wouldn’t yell at him for weeks, we filled the remaining few hours of the trip with stony platitudes. Leaving for the airport yesterday, my husband offered an olive branch and said he was sorry to have lost his temper – that he’d just been overwhelmed lately. My mother barely acknowledged his statement. “Well it’s all over now, right?” She said. No mom. No, it’s not.

And of course it’s not over. Because as a present for getting tenure, my parents gave my husband a present with so many strings attached it’s kind of hilarious. They offered to pay for a family trip for the four of us wherever he wanted to go in the world. He’s dreamed of going to Antarctica since he was little and we’ve been eyeing a great trip we’d planned to go on when he turned 50. We’d have to save up a bit but it we could afford it by then. But then, hearing my parents’ offer, we – stupidly – jumped at the chance. We got all excited about the idea and started looking up dates and facts about penguins. And then the fight happened and as we drove to the airport yesterday, bleary-eyed from a fitful night’s sleep, I wondered for the 1 millionth time: should ever visit them again?