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This will (unfortunately) continue to explore this idea of anger.  Let me please preface this by saying I am completely torn at the moment since I’m trying hard to resolve my current anger with deep breathing, mindfulness, and empathy.  Despite my best efforts, I’m still very angry.  Here is the situation.  I was enjoying a nice ride on a summer afternoon, simply commuting, but really taking notice of the sunshine and the lack of heavy traffic and the way the grass was so so so green along this stretch of rather unremarkable road.  I was lost in thoughts about colors and sunlight when my sister, the middle one, called and told me that mom was looking for me because her knee went out….again.  I was maybe 20 minutes away so I just drove over.

It feels like a broken record just skipping over and over again.  Mom goes from managing to complete break down.  Everything in everyone’s world must accommodate this.  It is 11 p.m. and I’m just wrapping up a day’s worth of unplanned-for care-taking.  Forget that I was invited to a gathering of friends I had not seen in a couple of years…I had to go get groceries that we had no room for in the already over-stuffed fridge.  I had to water the unplanted plants that I begged my mom not to purchase knowing that nearly two months after the green spree they would still be sitting in their little containers on the the patio…in fact over-running the patio so that no one can even sit in a chair out there.  I had to do the ridiculous pet-feeding.  Can someone verify that this is indeed a vet’s inside joke?  Okay, the dog gets a little dry kibble, a mix in of organic meat and veggie thing, and a scooping of canned green beans (it is a scoop of pumpkin pie mix if it is in the am) – then that gets microwaved for 9 secs and 70% power.  The cat has a similar deal, minus the pumpkin/green bean thing – but, yes, still microwaved.  Then I went grocery shopping.  Then I started dinner.  This is where the evening began to go downhill.  It began when the dog was pawing at something underneath my mom’s recliner.  I flipped the chair back expecting to find a dog toy, rather I found a Vicodin.  Okay…stray nacortics….great.  My mom has been hitting up the Vicodin, no shock.  I got a prescription of Vicodin for RA pain too.  I also got it post Gallbladder surgery and other procedures.  I still have it all in the old prescription bottles.  I barely use it, if at all, since I have felt so friggin’ high on it and because it kills my already messed up stomach.  So, there is that.  Next, my mom, who claims to be on Weight Watchers, wants a wilted lettuce salad.  Well, here comes bacon.  Someone please tell me if I’m wrong, but having to combat RA is bad just on its own; throw in obesity and (as I know) that can only make things worse.  The joints of a healthy, but obese person, are already under stress just from weight alone, right?  And, here, today, this knee joint is acting up…so, it would then make sense to fry up bacon, use the remaining BACON GREASE, add SUGAR, SALT (yeah, there is something else an obese person needs), and other stuff to create a “dressing” that then is dumped all over the lettuce so that it wilts into a greasy, sugary, salty, plus crumbled bacon, SALAD?  I don’t get that.  I asked my mom if we really needed to do this “salad.”  She asked why I was asking, to which I replied, “because I don’t want to have to clean up the frying pan.”  This was a truth.  She told me that, at most, she only has bacon maybe once a week.  This has to be impossible.  There was one week where the frying pan had to be cleaned following bacon at breakfast, then I had to clean it again following a BLT for a late lunch, and then the next day it was a fried ham steak – just fancier and thicker bacon.  So this conflict over the “salad” escalated and turned into the typical, I’m mean and my mom suffers more than is humanly possible to understand or empathize with.  My dad showed up and things just kind of got worse.

This down-turned economy has hit him hard.  He is extremely worried about how to make ends meet.  As part of my mom’s many issues, she now has had an audiologist offer to design a hearing aid so that she can hear p, t, th, and some other vowels more clearly.  My dad freaked a little a the cost of this designer hearing aid and asked my mom if he could get the specs for the device and then shop the hearing aid around.  This is what my dad does.  I think that the Jeep dealer maybe made $100 comission by the time my dad ran deal after rebate after promotion over him.  My mom was not going to have any part of that.  She blew up, starting bawling about how she is “a cripple” and how my dad could just take it go to all the stores he wants….and so on and so forth.  Two seconds later I was asked to go fetch her sleeping pills so that she could retire to her recliner.  I brought down a pill and then was scolded for not bringing the whole bottle.  Then I supervised the dog’s peeing, fetched a pillow, and somewhere got the dishes from dinner done, noticing how the green beans that I had to cut and trim the bad parts off of, all got thrown away…so that was a great investment of my time there.  I was getting madder by the minute.  My mom had my dad dig out crutches, which then she snapped about how they were not sized right and who messed with them…and my dad tried to fix them only to be told it still wasn’t right.  Then my mom had to go to the bathroom.

Flashback to Christmas of 2008.  Same thing, or something like it.  We are all gathered at my middle sis’s house.  My mom and dad are really, really late.  My mom has something give and the whole holiday, I kid you not, the whole holiday is completely efffffed up…not because something medical requires attention, but it is HOW she whips the whole matter of fact medical thing into a life or death, she should just be dead and out of our hair, and why, why, why, why me thing.  At that point, my maternal grandmother had been deceased a little while and we had all of her nursing home things in the basement – along with wall to wall and floor to ceiling other relics (a la hoarding issues). So my dad put my mom in her mom’s former wheelchair.  Then we had to put this high-chair toilet thing in our 1st floor tiny bathroom.  Well, that toilet thing made a reappearance tonight and it just reminded me off all that wonderful holiday drama.  Our family is supposed to meet for father’s day on Sunday at this lovely park.  I doubt that we can do that now.  It is frustration all over again.

What is more frustrating is that I’m now considering if I’ll actually be able to do this ELECTIVE surgery that I’ve been working up to.  I’ve saved up some money to cover what the insurance can’t, yet, I’m worried about the burden I’ll be on my family as I try to bounce back from it.  Will it be just one more thing to stress my dad?  My youngest sis is scheduled for a lumber fusion at the end of July.  I’m scheduled for mid July.  Then, who knows what my mom will ask of this ortho-god-doc who she wants to have do a knee replacement operation on her STAT.  How is that fair to my dad?  My youngest sis absolutely needs the fusion.  My mom will probably also absolutely need the replacement.  Where does that leave me?  I believed that I need this help too – mostly so that I don’t slide down the slippery slope of despair into my mom’s poor quality of life.  I asked her tonight if losing some significant weight would help this whole knee thing…I asked while I was obliging her mood by frying up the damn bacon.  She said no.  She assures me that really overweight people get knee replacements as much as normal sized people.  But again, if losing weight, even just by making a smart choice in the realm of what is a healthy salad and what is an excuse to eat bacon, could help the situation, then wouldn’t that be something to attempt with a real attempt at attempting?

I’m so frustrated.  I helped.  I did everything that was asked of me.  I had to go against my better judgment.  I had to listen to the moaning, gasping, and sighing that went on and on (like it does even on “good” days).  I had to hear my parents fight.  I saw how tired and old and beaten down my dad looked when I glanced at him working on an order, punching the keys of his laptop out of frustration and regret.  Sometimes people ask me, “if you could go back to some point of your life, knowing what you know now, would you do something differently?”  I think I know where I would go and what I would do, but I wonder about my dad….would he think to have never married my mom?  I know he will be loyal and dedicated until his dying breath…but is her spiraling into these snaps and breaks on an ever-more frequent basis draining the life out of him….her sole provider?  It is all so irrational and messy and dark.

This is that anger.  I take and deep breath and I try to imagine myself in her shoes.  I can and I can’t.  I have pain – all the time, sure, I’m not taking medication.  I’m twenty-six years younger.  I have crunching noises that I started to hear in my knees last December…they hurt and I often marvel at the capacity of our skeletal system to endure the things humans slam it with.  I can’t empathize with my mom’s situation.  I drove by a road-kill fox on my way to work today and I empathized more with it.  This makes me feel like a mega-brat.  How can I care more about a fox I never met than the now complete invalid of my mom?  What is wrong with me?  I pray to God that I will not go to my grave without having ever achieved some sort of forgiveness/reconciliation/atonement with my mom.  She has buried her sister, mother, and father and never really achieved healthy relationships with them during their lives.  My mom was always, and continues to be, a very angry human.

As much as I don’t want to be her, I get consumed by my anger in moments like this.  I can be so peaceful, so positive, so intellectual, so proactive…and then I’m thrown from my tracks with my mom having one her crisis situations.  I’ve tried so hard to be this somebody, anybody else, that the anger of having to try for that fuels the fire more.  Simply put, I have mom issues.  It breaks my heart to see this suffering that I perceive in my dad, the ultimate caretaker.  I can sympathize forever on that, but I can’t with my mom.  Going back to being little kids, my middle sis can’t understand why I just can’t be nicer.  “I did what see asked me to do for her,” I counter.  “But you weren’t caring or warm about it.  You did it like it was a job,” she would say…..and, that is the truth.

The term “Caregiver” implies “care.”  I’m not that person.  I don’t do this routine over and over again because I care.  I do it out of birth order duty and proximity.  My youngest sis is too far, the middle sis is too busy being a mom.  The pure fact of my singleton status, leaves me.  I’ve seen the news magazine stories where the one family member is plagued by some life-changing thing: brain damage, ALS, cervical trauma, and the family members rally around this one individual showering him/her with love, attention, devotion, positivity….they care.  I wonder if my mom believes that she should have that too.  We do what we have to and that is about it.  So sad.  So so so sad.

I’ve said that I don’t suffer from RA. I do, however, contend that I suffer because of RA.  Tonight is the perfect example of how this shadow of RA (mom’s RA) continues to impact my family.

I promise to get back to something more positive as there are other things to discuss in the larger scheme of things.  I’m just fired up on this right now, so – as I thought it would – my writing has been cathartic…phew!

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“With the care that it receives from its mother each infant is able to have a personal existence, and so begins to build up what might be called a continuity of being. On the basis of this continuity of being the inherited potential gradually develops into an individual infant. If maternal care is not good enough then the infant does not really come into existence, since there is no continuity of being; instead the personality becomes built on the basis of reactions to environmental impingement.” (from “The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship,” 1960)

“Maternal failures produce phases of reaction to impingement and these reactions interrupt the ‘going on being’ of the infant. An excess of this reacting produces not frustration but a threat of annihilation. This in my view is a very real primitive anxiety, long antedating any anxiety taht includes the word death in its description.” (from “Primary Maternal Preoccupation,” 1956)

D. W. WINNICOTT

Thanks to Winnicott and the whole transition object idea, I think that I have some semblance of an understanding as to what went on in my own infancy.  My mom, dad, and grandmother complete this tale as they have filled in the blanks over the years.  Let me begin.

My parents attended the same high school but one year apart.  They grew up in southern Illinois and went to a large high school, so they didn’t know each other.  My dad was, and God bless him for it still, a nerd.  My mom was a socialite.  My dad’s parents were blue-collar working class types.  My mom’s parents were more middle-class merchants.  The possibility of these two ever getting married was probably some bookie’s worst odds nightmare.  And yet…. My dad got into The University of Illinois’ College of Engineering…M.E. (those of you who know engi-nerding know what that means, eh?).  My mom attended junior college at first, and then later transferred to UIUC for her Education degree (yeah, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree on that one either, although I tried, tried, tried to do other careers less kid-related).  My mom did all that sorority stuff and my dad wore glasses and carried a slide calculator.  This sounds so cliche doesn’t it?

My parents met from sharing a ride from U of I to their hometown together.  My mom must have seen something about my dad and that was it.  She dumped her boyfriend, made sure my dad knew she was interested, and the rest is ball and chain – forty years ago this summer.  This was just as the 60’s were wrapping up and the 70’s were setting in.  My dad took a job requiring them to eventually settle in the Chicago burbs, which gave my mom the opportunity to teach school in a nearby town to where I eventually grew up.  She did this very, very briefly (three years maybe) and then once I was on the schedule, she became the stay-at-home-housewife-super-mom (that my “super mom” middle sister is now).  My parents designed and built the same home that they still have today.  They had a dog and a baby on the way.  Both of their parents lived five and a half hours away and the one and only aunt I would have was a busy singleton living in the city.  Their world was small, neat, and tidy – just like how the house used to be.

I am told that I was “right on time” with my due date.  The labor was four hours long in the fourth month of the year at four in the morning.  Other than these details, the number four has never been a special number to me.  My mom claims that the doctor who delivered me was drunk after partying late into the night following a day of golfing.  Whatever the case, drunk doctor, promptness, whatever…I was born a healthy baby.  My parents were overjoyed and their lives changed – as change is the ever-present factor of life.  They brought me home to the house on the lightly wooded lot near a park.  My mother tells me that she knew right away that something was wrong with her.  She claimed to be overwhelmed by sadness while the rest of the family was basking in joy.  She couldn’t ever hold me and soothe me.  I screamed and pushed and fought against her touch.  Although I nursed, she claims it was always a “power struggle” and that I was never gentle.  I spent my days screaming fitfully, driving her crazy, and then when my dad would return home, I would coo and giggle and fall asleep on his stomach while he crashed on the couch.  This pattern continued, according to my mom, and she felt terrified by the madness of her situation, her mind, the torture of being left along with me all day long.  She asked my dad if she could “see someone.”  He said no.  Who knows the real way that conversation went down, but my guess is she didn’t divulge the severity of the situation and my dad, not having had any relatives ever seek mental health treatment, didn’t understand or ever rationalize that a woman who should be so grateful for a healthy newborn, a lovely new home, and the freedom to stay in it and raise said baby could not be happy.  Nonetheless, my mom’s postpartum depression deepened.  Her resentment at me for being a sweet baby each day my dad came home only fueled this negative experience all the more.  There is actually a picture of me pulling myself up, even before I could walk, to look out the window at the driveway waiting for my dad to come home.  I think I’ve even remembered this at some point because I did this for a couple of years and later saw my youngest sister do the exact same thing, although it was a different dog posing alongside in her picture seven years later.

Psychology claims that children can not make memories prior to around the age of three.  Yet, despite my being able to give an accurate narrative of those three precious years, there is something profound that must have taken place because I am 100% certain that the mother-child bond was not established and never really has been in all the years since.  I know that I had my transitional object (still do, and yes I am in my mid-thirties)…Baby Bear.  “Baby” went everywhere with me.  I had a cute little nursery that both of my parents worked so lovingly on prior to my arrival.  There was a favorite blanket and another stuffed animal (long gone now) and these things, plus my books, were my world.  My mom read books too – on how to raise the perfect kid.  The early 70’s were full of some hippie-type child rearing theories, and I was guinea pig for them all.  There was this idea that if I was constantly crying that I should be left along to “cry it out.”   My sister, the “super mom,” would never, never do that for, if her baby cries, then there is something wrong.  Yet, I was left to cry and scream, and grip the railings of my crib.  Maybe there was some level of fear that I experienced when the one parent that I did bond with, my dad, left the house to go to work.  I was left with a mom who must have been such a bundle of mental woes that even a newborn could sense it.  This may be where some of the anger started.  I’m sure that it is.

When I was three, my sister was born.  Her delivery was early, funny because she spent the rest of her life arriving to things late.  If we were two of the Seven Dwarfs I’d be Doc and she would be Sleepy.  Being premature, she was tiny, frail, sickly, and in need of constant attention.  She bonded with my mom and I must have grown more resentful at yet another thing that upset my mojo.  I guess feeling as if I’ve had to always fight for the limelight became a neurosis of mine even way back then.  With two kids, things actually went along pretty well.  My sister and I got along for the most part and were highly complementary.  Where I was tough and messy and wild, she was cute and girlie and quiet.  And for almost four years we enjoyed this family of four.  My mom room-mothered at my Elementary school and still managed to play her regular tennis games and go for her morning jogs before whipping up breakfast.  The house continued to come along as newer furniture and appliances were added to the home.  My dad continued to enjoy the success of the growing economy.  We had Star Wars.

This brings me back to the beginning of my previous entry to when my mom first got “sick” – the pregnancy of my youngest sister.  Her delayed delivery in 1983, which was when my Grandma took me to see Return of the Jedi.  I can correlate the end of my happy childhood existence with the completion of the original trilogy.  My mom got sick, the diagnosis came – along with a chain-smoking Swedish au pair – and the family’s life was changed forever.

Again, there is something to be said for the level of stress my mom must have been under in the years leading up to RA.  I have a friend, my age, who also experienced a tragic stressful event in her young life and then developed her first flare up.  If stress is in fact some major contributor, then I feel sorry for my mom’s situation.  Yet, the anger is there too since a nine year old kid could not possibly understand these concepts then.  All that kid, and the toddler, and the infant versions of me knew was that I would be left alone to cry my saline tears into “Baby” and all along I could never find words, any kind of language, for that type of despair.  Now, even as I understand the forces in play, I feel absolutely clinical about it.  Now, as I make an adult life for myself as a patient with the same damn disease, I feel safe in knowing how different everything is.  I am not the past.  I am not my mom, even though physical appearance is uncanny.  I would love for D.W. or any of his disciples to take a crack at this dynamic and let me know if I’ve done a “good enough” job of developing.  If I tie my development into an adult to Winnicott’s theories, than one must wonder how successful development could be possible.

If I believe in the magic of George Lucas’s long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, then maybe I was just tapping into the force and claiming my arrival into adulthood as a Jedi who has embraced the good in everything; while my Mom – – I mean, my “RA Mom” – – represents Darth Vadar’s slide into the Dark Side (of RA in this case).  There is still some good in her, but, she is ruled by the suffering of her condition, meaning that I have to take that burried goodness on faith and believe that it is there.  As glib as that analysis might seem, I promise that I can show how this turning to the Dark Side has been so very complete.  Again, I do not mean to sound mean.  Certainly I am bitter; RA took my mom from me when I was a little kid.  However, just like Vadar was Skywalker’s father, those two chose different paths through life.  While RA is my mom’s entire world, it doen’t own me.  Sometimes I feel that writing this blog tends to refute that claim, but I write because it helps to free me of the thoughts that might otherwise burden me for far to long.  Thus, I will elaborate on this story, the more current part, as I continue this blog.  But that will be a leap into the more recent past and part of a different post.

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