Heartsick

I sat in the cardiologist’s office Tuesday afternoon, hoping for answers. I needed something better. I needed to hear him tell me that it was all wrong.

A couple of months ago, I stopped taking my heart medication. I didn’t tell anyone, because I knew they wouldn’t agree with my decision. But I had reached my limit. Not only had I gained over 30 pounds in less than a month, but I had become severely depressed, to the point of suicide. Admittedly, I am depressed without the medication — but this was profoundly different. After a week of stopping the medication, I lost half of the weight and felt considerably better.

I told the nurse at my program that I had stopped. I thought my evidence would be enough that she would agree with my decision. Except it wasn’t that easy. Because both she and I knew that without taking the medication, my cardiac symptoms would be worse — and they were.

I didn’t want to start the medication again. I called my cardiologist. I left a message with the doctor. Two weeks went by with no response. I called again. I told the assistant that my side effects were severe, and that I needed another option. My cardiologist got back to me later that day. You need that medication. There are no other options.

No other options. What kind of choice is that? Take the pill and find your fat(ter) self running into traffic, or don’t take the pill and feel dizzy all the time, but alive. I’m sure that is a lose/lose situation.

There was no room for discussion. I called back offering names of medications I had researched, but received no responses. I couldn’t even get an appointment until two months later. After three cancellations, I was fed up. And so were my supports.

I needed more answers. I skipped my last group therapy session to call as many cardiologists as I could, until I could find one that would take me on — and have an appointment available that was still in 2017.  I must have called at least a dozen numbers before I found one that was taking new patients. I made an appointment for a few weeks later.

It’s been so hard to treat my PTSD because most of the medications affect the heart. But my psychiatrist has been willing to work cautiously with medications. He wants to be able to work with my cardiologist so I can be treated the most effectively for both issues. And my cardiologist has been consistently unavailable, making it really difficult to move forward with anything.

As much as I wanted answers, I didn’t want to go to that appointment. I wanted to cancel. I wanted to pretend everything was okay, and that I didn’t need any heart doctor. But it wasn’t just me that was waiting on this appointment. It was my therapist, my psychiatrist, the nurse, and my supports. Because they wanted answers, too.

And they were concerned. My last few x-rays showed cardiomegaly. I had avoided dealing with it, but when the nurse at my program found out, she said I needed to tell the doctor. I knew what cardiomegaly was. I knew it all too well. My father had it. It led to his congestive heart failure, which led to his death. I knew it wasn’t something I should brush off. I knew I also had other symptoms that fit under CHF. They knew I had those symptoms, too, which is why they told me I needed to tell the new cardiologist as soon as I saw him.

But I was so afraid. Afraid of having something else to deal with. Afraid of another diagnosis. Afraid that this somehow meant that I was just like my father, that I had his heart. And if I had his heart, I must be like him in every way. And that’s not who I wanted to be. That’s not how I wanted to live or die.

I never had the records sent to the cardiologist. I didn’t want to deal with it. I really wanted to start fresh. I thought maybe I would I tell him. Maybe. We’ll see how it goes. Let me just deal with the medication issue first.

I didn’t tell him. I couldn’t. I found the words to tell him about my POTS and about the medication. I told him what my doctor said about my inability to work. And it took everything in me not to break down and cry on the floor when he told me the words I never wanted to hear. Your doctor is right. There really are no other options. It isn’t safe for you to work.

Once I heard those words, I knew I was done. I couldn’t handle anything more than I had already been handed. He explained why there was no other medication. He said he could tell me all of these other treatments that people came up with, but none of them work, none of them do what this medication does. I could drink all of the fluids and salt everything I eat and it still wouldn’t be enough. Yes, it will cause me to gain weight. And I think, over time, I could probably learn to deal with that. But I can’t learn to deal with wanting to die every day. That’s not a side effect I can tolerate for the rest of my life.

I wish there was an easy answer. I wish I didn’t have to take this medication. I wish I could go back to the way things were before all of this happened. But that’s not reality.

Freedom in Death

One year ago today, my father passed away.

I prepared to grieve. I prepared to be an absolute emotional mess. But I wasn’t.

I cried this morning. I’m not even sure exactly why. But my immediate reaction was to push all of my feelings down. I wanted to run. I wanted to escape myself for a little while. But I knew it wasn’t healthy. I knew I would end up sitting on a corner somewhere, smoking until my lungs gave out and my emotions were dead. My usual go-to form of self-destruction and emotional numbing as of late.

But then where would that put me? I try to be the exact opposite of my parents. Nothing like my mother, nothing like my father. It’s been difficult enough struggling with my heart issue, trying to remind myself that my being sick doesn’t make me like him. But he was also a person who suppressed his emotions, until they came out in the worst ways. The same thing I’ve done, the same thing I’ve been doing. While it might be in a different form, it is nonetheless what he would do, and how he would be. I have just been repeating the cycle.

I froze for a bit, unsure of myself, unsure of what to do. As much as I didn’t want to feel, I also didn’t want to be overwhelmed with emotions. So I baked. As a distraction. And it worked. The urge to bury my feelings was gone. The urge to self-destruct was gone. But the grief was still there.

Grief is complicated in general. I think it’s even more complicated when you’ve gone through trauma, when you have different parts. I have to be understanding that some parts of me know my father differently than I do. Some hate him. Some have experienced pain because of him. And some love him, because they knew him as daddy. They don’t know who he was as a person; they only know the experiences they had of him, the memories they hold of him. Just like people on the outside that knew him, knew him only as they saw him. I can’t take that away from them. I can’t just dismiss their grief, because they are grieving someone different.

It’s easier for me to consider other people’s grief before my own. I never told my grandmother the truth about her son. It would serve no purpose; it would only cause pain.

But it’s so much harder for me to accept the parts of me that grieve for the man I don’t want to grieve for, to love the person that I hate, to feel sad about someone I feel such strong anger for. To take that away from them would be dismissing and invalidating them, much in the same way my father did to me.

So I let them grieve. I let myself feel however I needed to feel in each moment that passed through the day.

I remembered how he felt when he got sick. I remembered his pain, his wanting to give up and just die. I remembered how much he suffered in the end. It was in those times that I related to him the most, because I knew what it felt like to be in so much pain that you wanted your life to end. I understood him.

It’s a bit ironic that my father died on Independence Day. He gained his freedom; freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from a life he didn’t want to live.

And in his death, I also gained freedom. The fear of him, the worry about his health, the guilt I felt for leaving him behind, they all died when he died.

My father was not a father.

The only picture I have of my father is the one I took from his obituary when he died last year. That’s it.

I still laugh to myself when I come across his obituary.

David B. M., 60, of Belleville, passed away Monday July 4, 2016.
Mr. M was employed by the United States Postal Service for 35 years, retiring 9 years ago.

That was the main part of his obituary, aside from the location of his memorial and who he was survived by. The most important statement that should summarize a person’s life, and his was that he happened to have a decent job as a federal employee. No he was a loving husband and father. No words of greatness or how amazing a person he was. Just that he lived, worked, and died.

And as brief and vague as his obituary was, it was the truth. He was no loving father, no doting husband. He was a man who worked and died. It’s what he did in between that will never be written in any obituary, or acknowledged by anyone.

This is the first Father’s Day that my father is not alive, but not the first he’s been absent from. He died long before his actual death. He was physically alive, but mentally and emotionally dead for a long time. And it wasn’t just because of his illness. I know he spent the last years of his life in misery. I know that he wanted to die. And I know that my mother wanted him to die, too, because his death came with a decent payment. She did not love him. He was a burden to her, a roadblock to her moving forward with whatever game she calls her life.

But I refused to treat him like she did. I did my best to take care of him regardless of my hatred towards him for all that he had done to me. And it took everything in me to not take him with me when I ran away, because I knew he would not survive long after my absence. I wanted to save him from her, even though he never saved me from her when he was strong and able.

My father didn’t die because he was so heartbroken over my absence, as my mother would like me and others to believe. He died because he had multiple heart attacks, a stroke, congestive heart failure, and a plethora of other health conditions that he was lucky enough to survive as long as he did with.

It’s so complicated, that simultaneous hatred and love for someone. It’s not the same experience I have with my mother — I only have hatred for her. But my father was different. He wasn’t like her. In many ways, he was a victim of her, just like my brother was (and still is), just like I was. And I think that’s why I felt sorry for him. I think that’s how I rationalized his treatment of me. He acted that way because of her. As if he didn’t know any better.

But that’s my child-like way of looking at him, because adult me knows he had to know better. My mother may have asked him to hold me down while she hurt me, but my father is the one that lifted his arms to hold down mine. My mother may have been yelling, but my father is the one that chose to beat me and bash my head into the kitchen wall.

My father could have chosen to walk away. He could have chosen to divorce her. He could have fought for custody. In the very least, he could have told her “this is not okay” every night she took me into the shower. But he did none of that, and that was his choice, not hers.

My love for my father is not so much love for him, but love of the idea of what I wanted him to be, of what I wanted to be to him. I wanted to be daddy’s little girl. I wanted to feel worthy of love, worthy of care, worthy of support, worthy of not being hurt all of the time just for existing. I wanted him to hug me. I wanted him to tuck me into bed at night. I wanted him to teach me things that only fathers know.

And I wanted him to save me. Because he was the only person in my life that could have saved me from my mother. He was the only person in my life who knew exactly what mommy was doing to her children every night. But he chose apathy. He chose inaction. He chose her over himself. He chose her over his children.

If heartbreak killed my father, it wasn’t heartbreak over me leaving; it was heartbreak over knowing what he did and didn’t do.

If my father had just said no, if he had just said stop, all our lives could be different right now. He could still be alive. My mother would be in prison. My brother would be free, maybe even married to a nice woman instead of married to his own mother.

And I would still have my family, a father that loved me, and a life without hurt.

Instead, I am spending Father’s Day reminded of all the ways my father was never really a father. Because real fathers don’t hurt their children. Real fathers don’t watch their children suffer. Real fathers put their children first. My grief is not in missing my father, it’s in missing what I wanted him to be.

I just wanted him to save me. Was that so much to wish for?

No answers

I call my dead father’s cell phone. He never answers, because he’s dead and the phone is disconnected. But I still keep calling. I still keep hoping he answers the phone.

I’m not sure why I keep calling. There’s just so many things I want to say to him. There’s so many questions that I want answered. But he’s dead, burned to ashes, gone away forever.

Why didn’t you stop her? Why did you help her? Why didn’t you protect us? Why did you become just like her?

He leaves me with no answers.

Sometimes I call my mother’s cell phone. She never answers, either, but she’s not dead, and the phone isn’t disconnected. It just rings and rings then goes to voicemail.

I left her a voicemail once. I told her I was sorry for being a failure, for being a bad daughter. I asked her for forgiveness.

I wanted her to answer. I wanted her to tell me she missed me. I wanted her to tell me she loved me and that it was all just a big mistake. I wanted her to tell me she was sorry, too. I wanted a mother. I wanted her to give me a reason to live, because in that moment, I had planned to kill myself, and I wanted to feel an ounce of love before I died.

I still call her, hoping one day she will answer. But I don’t call her to apologize. I call her because I want answers.

I want to know what I did wrong.  I want to know why she hurt me.

I want to know how she lives every day knowing what she did to her children, knowing what she did to others. How does it not eat her up inside? How does she get through the day feeling worthy enough to still be alive?

I want her to know how I live every day, constantly reminded of what she did to me. I want her to know that I am eaten up inside. I want her to know that most days, I still struggle to find myself worthy enough to still be alive.

I want her to know she broke me. Every time she raped me, beat me, burned me, bruised me, made me sick…she shattered me.

I want to know if she knows that. I want to know how that makes her feel. I want to know if she even feels at all.

I called her again the other day. I didn’t want to ask her anything. I didn’t want an answer.

I wanted to tell her I didn’t need her anymore. I wanted to tell her goodbye. I wanted to tell her fuck you.

Because now I know the problem was never with me. It was with her.

Sometimes, there are no answers. And sometimes, there are answers hidden within no answers.

This is not my family.

I still remember what my mother wrote to me

You made your decision to disown your family.

It wasn’t a decision to disown my family. It was a decision to save my life.

And I am reminded of that decision every day.

I left a life behind. A life I can never go back to. A life full of people I can’t see anymore.

One of my best friends graduated from college last week. I wanted to be there to support him, in the same way he was there to support me when I graduated college last year. But I couldn’t. I could only experience his moment through pictures he posted on social media. Because I can never go back to that place again. I can never take the risk of my mother seeing me, of finding me, of hurting me. I can never return to the only place I knew for 29 years of my life, my home, my friends, my family. And that hurts in a way I’m not sure I can ever explain in words.

For all those months after my escape, I went through my hardest moments alone. I spent holidays alone. I stayed in the hospital alone. I struggled to explain to every person taking down my information that I had no emergency contact, no next of kin, no person to notify. No mother? No father? No siblings? No one? They could never seem to understand how I had no family. Didn’t they hear? I disowned my family.

And now here I am, smack dab in the middle of a family that is not my own. I’m going through shit with people by my side from a family that is not my own. I am spending time with people from a family that is not my own. I am living in a house that is not my home.

Now it’s different. I went to the cardiologist appointment with someone by my side, someone who cared enough to take the time to come with me, because she knew I wasn’t going to speak up for myself. But she doesn’t know I don’t speak up for a reason. She doesn’t understand I’ve been trained not to speak up for myself.

I went through my surgery with her by my side. As the cardiologist stitched up my incision, she said “I’m going to go out and tell your mother how everything went.” In that moment I realized that’s who should be here: my mother, my family. Instead here was this woman, of no relation to me, standing by me through a hard time. She isn’t my mother, but she cares and supports me more than my biological mother ever did, strong enough that even my doctor mistook her for my own family member.

I always dreamed of having a real family, but I never knew what it looked like. I didn’t really imagine other people, I just imagined my parents being different. I imagined living a life with a mother who didn’t rape and abuse, and a father who hugged instead of hit. I imagined going out places instead of being stuck inside of that prison. I imagined that they would change, but they never did.

Thirty-one years later, I found that family. A normal family where I don’t have to be afraid to go to bed at night and I can eat food without being punished for it and I can go outside and see the world whenever I want. I found a family with a man who asks if I’ve done my homework every Friday, because he knows I have a paper due that night. I found a family with a teenager that asks where I’m going each time there’s a stranger parked outside the house waiting to pick me up for a date. I found a family with a kid I can joke around with so much, we both end up rolling on the floor. I found a family with a woman who tells me goodnight and gives me a hug before she goes to sleep. I found a family that makes sure I’m eating enough, a family that always makes sure I have what I need.

It’s a normal family. It’s a family I never experienced. And it’s not my family. Because I’m not sure I fit into a normal family. I am not sure it’s fair for them to have to deal with me. It’s not fair for them to have to make sure I am eating like a normal person. It’s not fair for them to have to hold my head off the floor every time I pass out. It’s not fair for them to care for me, when I can barely find it within me to care about myself. I am a burden. And they did nothing to deserve that.

As much as I’m included in everything they do, I still feel like an outsider. I feel like someone who doesn’t belong. Because I don’t belong. This is not my family. I am alone. In the middle of a room full of people, as crazy as some of them may be, I am the only one that doesn’t belong.

It’s ironic. My own family treated me like the outsider my whole life. Yet the truth is I never belonged with them anyway, because I was nothing like them. And now, with a family who is treating me like I belong, I find myself pushing away.

I ended up crying in the corner of the living room yesterday. The family had a barbecue. Other family members were there. And for a few hours I felt okay. I talked, I listened, I even got dragged into a mini-trip with a woman who had just learned my name. And then right before dinner, something clicked in me. This is not my family. I do not belong here. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

They sat down together in the kitchen and I isolated myself in the corner of another room. I knew I was going to cry. I tried so hard to hold in the tears. I tried to look at my phone, act busy, but then she came over to ask if I was okay and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the tears in anymore.

She asked if it was my heart. I knew she meant my arrhythmia, so I said no. But my heart was broken in a different way, a way that I can barely explain. A broken heart that continues to break each time I realize all that I never had.

She knew something was wrong and kept asking me what it was, and I kept trying to hold it all in. I’m fine. I finally broke down and told her, this isn’t my family, this is yours. I couldn’t hold in the tears anymore. She grabbed tissues and tried to comfort me, while blocking me from everyone else in the other room. She told me that I was family, that she adopted me, that I belong. She had told me it all before, but it still didn’t feel right.

I got what I always dreamed of as a little girl. Love, care, support, safety, and all of the things a real family should be. Yet even though I am the safest, happiest, and most balanced I have ever been, I am still reminded of what I don’t have: my family. They are gone forever. Some dead, some gone away, some too dangerous to recognize they exist, but regardless, still gone. I am one standing, both disowned by my family and disowned to them.

This is not my family. I don’t want to be a burden to them.

I don’t understand how I got here.

In my rage, I learned something.

I am sitting here, several hours past my bed time, waiting for my Ativan to kick in so my heart will stop pounding and I can go to sleep. All because I became enraged over a social media post.

One of the pages I follow on Facebook posted this story: Mom Dies In Hospital, Then Son Writes Obituary Saying He’s Glad She’s Dead.

I was immediately drawn to it, as the headline sounded just like something I would write for my own mother’s obituary. I thought about what it would be like for me when my mother dies, if I am fortunate enough to outlive her. A friend once asked me if I would go to my mother’s funeral. I told him I would. Not to pay my respects, but to see for myself that she is dead. I wanted the same for my father, but to see him would have meant seeing my (very much alive) mother, and I couldn’t risk that.

Even though I have thought about my mother’s death, I never once thought about what I would write in her obituary. My father’s obituary was lacking. I guess it was better to not say much at all than to say the truth of who he really was.There was no emotion behind it. Just his demographic information. I thought about how I would write it, but stopped myself because I had (and still do) an unresolved compulsion to protect my father. Even so, my father knew he was an asshole. He admitted it.

But my mother, that’s a different story. I feel no need to protect her. She has already done a magnificent job of protecting herself her whole life, at the expense of everyone else. It doesn’t matter what truth I or anyone speaks, she will always turn it back and away from her true self. But she can’t do that when she’s dead.

As morbid as it sounds, I feel like writing obituaries for both of them. For their symbolic death, if anything. Let me write their eulogies, too. They won’t be filled with fluff and niceties. They would be filled with the truth and emotion.

Anyway, after reading this article, I felt an immense sense of respect for the son. To come out with such honesty and raw emotion had to have taken a lot of courage. I commented on the post as such.

Then I made the mistake of reading the other comments. Quite a few of them echoed similar sentiments that I had. Then I came across this:

Why wait until she’s deceased to come forward. Should have been done that. Whatever if she did do that then God made her suffer before her passing. It breaks my heart to see people come out like this in the end.

Why wait until she’s deceased to come forward? Because the fear is gone. She is dead. She can no longer hurt anyone. So many people severely abused by a parent continue to live in fear until the day that parent dies. That’s why.

Should have been done that? Maybe they did. Maybe no one listened. Are victims only limited to speaking out once? Is it a case of you’ve had your say, now let it go? We don’t have that option. We live with that shit for the rest of our lives. Or maybe the mother denied everything just like so many abusers do. I don’t see any abusive mothers coming out of the woodwork admitting they are abusers.

If she did do that? REALLY? We are doubting the victim now?. You just proved my earlier point of no one listening. People don’t want to come forward because the victims are the ones scrutinized instead of the abusers. Especially when a mother is involved, because God forbid a mother abuses her child, no, that NEVER happens.

I won’t even get into the rest of that comment right now. This person’s continual comments only added to my rage. Focus on healing their families and not on making the parent look bad. Don’t keep the heartache going around. How do you get to feel better about yourself for something you should have done long time ago. If you would have been said something you wouldn’t have had to wait til mom is deceased to start feeling better. To put in the obituary like that. Nobody probably believes them now anyway. Some should have seen signs. It’s always one person you can talk to. There are signs and there are people to tell.

I responded to some of her comments, but nothing was getting through to her. I told her it had nothing to do with feeling better about oneself. Abused children and adults have a hard enough time feeling good about anything. It wasn’t about making the parent look bad. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. No one should sit there and call that duck an elephant. This was about sharing the truth.

I managed to maintain my composure online, as I like to conduct myself with respect even when I disagree, and fight back knowledge instead of emotion. But on the inside, I was burning. Once she said if you had just said something, I completely lost it. I sat at my computer, yelling at my screen. I was angry.

If I had just said something? You think I didn’t want to say anything? There’s always people to tell? WHERE WERE THEY? No one was listening to me. No one was seeing the signs. Where were these magical, abuse-stopping folks I should have told. Because of course it’s the child’s fault for not saying anything. Let’s not shift any blame to the people who are actually doing the abusing (and the neglecting, for those in power that stood silent). Nope. It must be my fault. Even though I was just a child forced into silence in order to save my life. And now you want to force me and others into silence in our adulthood? Get the fuck out of here.

I got myself so worked up that I could barely breathe. This person was a stranger, but her words affected me so much. And for once, I didn’t turn any of that anger inward. I was angry at this woman. I was angry at every adult that chose silence over honesty. I wasn’t angry at me.

I realized, in that moment of rage, that this was just what I needed. Without thinking, I had admitted out loud (to myself) that I was just a child. I admitted that I couldn’t have said anything. I just spent a week suppressing my anger against others because I wanted to believe that my own silence was my fault. I allowed myself to do that. What I couldn’t allow was someone else faulting me for it.

It was through my need to defend the countless other children who couldn’t speak out, that I finally realized the truth within myself. I was not to blame. No child is to blame.

I get it now.

The Good Family

I want my daddy to come back to life so I can tell him I’m sorry. I don’t know what I did to be bad, but maybe he will forgive me.

I want to go back home to my mommy so I can tell her I’m sorry. I don’t know why I was always so evil, but maybe she can just love me.

I wrote those words one month ago and could not bring myself to post them. How could I miss people that caused me so much pain? How could I still want love from the people who broke me? Maybe they weren’t that bad after all. Maybe they were good enough and that’s why I still miss them. I want everything to be my fault. I don’t want to let go of the wish that I had a good family.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that they were bad people. It doesn’t make sense that they were good people. I’m forever trying to rationalize a situation that was never rational.

My brother wasn’t hurt as badly. My mother loved him. He was allowed to have friends. He could eat most of the time. He had so many good things. But I didn’t get any of that. If our mother was really a bad person, then she wouldn’t have treated my brother so nicely. He would have been tortured, too, but he wasn’t. So then maybe I was the problem. Maybe my mother was a really great mother, and I was just too bad of a child.

Part of me doesn’t want to see what that really was. That I wasn’t a bad child at all, and my brother was no more deserving than I was of good things. That my mother treated my brother that way because it was all a part of her game. That she used him to make me feel like I was the bad one. That my brother and I were both pawns in my mother’s sociopathic game — my brother the apath, and I the empath. It worked out perfectly.

My parents could have kept me at home, but they chose to send me to school. They could have kept me starving, but they always ended up feeding me. They could have let me bleed, but they took me to get stitches. They could have ended my life, but they chose to let me live. Bad people wouldn’t make those choices. Good people would.

Part of me doesn’t want to see the other side of all of that. That I went to private school because it fed their need to feel superior, not because I deserved an education. That I should have never been starving, because a child never deserves to go without food. That I would have never needed stitches had they not made me bleed. That letting me live only to continue to hurt me wasn’t really letting me live at all.

I don’t want to accept that reality. I want to live in my fantasy world, where my family was good and I was the bad one. Where I was the reason that everything happened the way it did. Where I was the cause of all of their problems. Where if I had just been good, if I had just been a better child, my parents wouldn’t have had to do what they did. 

That was the world they created for me. That’s what I was made to believe as a child, and I carried those beliefs right into my adulthood.

I still want that good family. I still want to believe that I can in some way erase everything that happened and make it all better.Maybe if I just apologize, if they can just see how sorry I am, they will love me and we can be a family again.

But my family doesn’t even want me. They never came after me. No one tried to make sure I was okay. They went on as if I never existed at all. I became a topic of conversation to be avoided, a topic worse than politics or religion. I offended them by escaping, just like I had offended them for existing.

If they really loved me, if they really cared, they would have looked for me. As much as I live in fear of them, I also long for their love and care. I want my mother to love me. I want to be the good child. I want the good family that children are supposed to have.

Sometimes I fantasize about my mother finding me. I imagine her knocking on my front door. I open it, and she’s standing there. She reaches out to hug me, and I start to cry. But she doesn’t really hug me, she stabs me in the heart. 

In that moment, I’m not sad or angry. As I stand there bleeding, I am happy. Because I know my mother cared enough to come and kill me. She loved me enough to end my pain.

And all I ever needed was her love and care.