"WHAT HAPPENED IN YOUR HOUSE?"
People did not know about narcissism when I was young and PTSD was something war veterans had. I grew up in a household where the dominant person was a narcissist, my mother. I remember the therapist asking me when I was sick, “What happened in your house?” I said after some thought, “It wasn’t what happened, it was what didn’t happen.”
It’s about the covert part of narcissism. It is hidden. What makes it worse is that people outside the house thought I was making it up. I had a good upbringing and they thought she was sooo nice! So it goes back on you. You alone, seeing something that is not right. You can’t put your finger on it. You can’t talk to people about it because they can’t see it. Is it me you wonder? Am I not OK?
Sometimes I wish I had black and blue marks from a beating because I would then be able to point to that and say, “See, it is wrong”. But there was nothing.
I spent four years on welfare being sick, really sick. When your immune system has crashed, you get everything. Every month I had something. One year, in particular, is gone. I have no memory of it.
I remember wanting to die. If this was life, I didn’t want it.
I REMEMBER SITTING IN THE ATTIC BEDROOM
I remember at one point thinking about my mother and saying to myself that I had spent most of my life trying to understand, trying to connect to her and never being able to. It was like I was on a street and knocking on the front door of my house. I was not allowed inside, a stranger to where I was supposed to live. She would not answer. I saw there were many houses around me and if I turned around I could go to any one of these houses. My mother was not the only person who might love me. So I left the door and walked away. I never had a home, not really. I never went back.
I remember one day sitting in the attic bedroom and I felt like I was coming up from the depths of the ocean, through layers and layers of deep fog, breaking through to the surface. I looked around and was I surprised at my living arrangements. What was I doing here? And I was shocked. Had my soul left? But when you are that sick life loses the gloss and becomes grey. Everything goes together, day and night, feelings and thoughts.
THEY SAY YOU CANNOT SEE BLOOD IN A DREAM
I had night terrors. Terrible, terrible dreams. They say you cannot see blood in a dream, or see someone die. That is not true. My dreams became a source of terror. I was afraid to go to sleep. I had nowhere to go. Not even in sleep.
I had not been able to go into shops much. Often I tried to buy grocery items but ended up walking out because of the stress I experienced. It was the flashing lights on the price tags, the clatter, and noise of the cash registers and the people. I was oblivious the first time I went through the cash-out and stood outside. I wasn’t even aware I had done this and then suddenly it hit me. I had bought some items! Somehow I was getting better!
Small things matter when you are sick. The measuring stick shrinks. Once I used to teach ballroom dancing. I used to be something like a tour guide. I am an artist. But, there was a time just waking up, just getting out of bed took a monumental effort. I was not able to entertain more than a thought at a time.
OK... NOW GET UP
Now — what can I wear? I can’t think. It takes too much effort.
Open the closet.
I pick something. I put it on.
Go to the kitchen.
That was one year.
I remember getting up at three o’clock in the morning to go onto the streets around the bars to pick up beer bottles for the deposits, so I could get some money for something to eat.
I used to walk the railroad tracks to collect grain, stuff that was spilled on the tracks near the terminals. I remember many things.
Four years of things.
I also had panic attacks. I developed agoraphobia.
I was afraid the house would burn down. I unplugged everything and checked two or three times before I would try to leave the house. Lots of times I couldn’t leave. I had a shame. I was flawed so why would anyone want to talk to me, to know me, to love me?
I had a narcissist parent.
First I had to decide I was not going to give my life away anymore to my mother. I would give her no more time. It was enough. I needed to live for me. And then came the emotional work. It was hard. It was something I had seen in a dream. I needed to go into the feelings and say what the feelings were, what I was experiencing. Over time I was able to trust my feelings because my feelings were true. My feelings became my compass because they could tell me what was real in my life. Growing up, my life had been filled with lies. That is part of narcissism. Confusion. Self-doubt. Lies.
It feels like another lifetime. I am years away from that now. It is not who I am today. What I had been was what my mother needed me to be, a false self. I experienced her need to try to destroy my spirit, to kill my core self. I know how important a self is. This topic is deep to me. I listen to people say how ego separates you from God. It is not true. To have no self is to be in hell.
I share my story with you because I have something to say regarding the stigma of mental health.
If a tiger is in a cage and the cage is too small and the tiger develops a crick in his back, we can go by the cage, and most of us do, we say, “There is something wrong with the tiger.” But the tiger is having a healthy reaction to an unhealthy situation. There is nothing wrong with the tiger. Not really.
So naming a ‘mental’ illness is in my opinion, naming the conditions under which an ‘illness’ was created. The tiger is perfectly healthy. It always was. Illnesses are named after conditions.
I HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
That is why a broken leg can heal, or the mind, or the heart.
Because I knew deep inside I was OK and because I would not die or go away to make others feel better, I was able to return to my healthy self. I have some scars. Not everything is gone. I still don’t like loud sounds, large crowds of people and so on, but I am here. I am OK and I am terrific!
PTSD is a like a severe concussion to the psyche, to the mind and heart.
I know there is no such thing as mental illness, not the way many people mean when they say “mental illness”. It’s because I know this, that is why I am fine today. In time doctors will discover this too. We all have to go forward and find our paths. That is life. At one time we used to bleed people when they were sick. We also used to use electroshock treatment as well. Ignaz Semmelweis, one of the first doctors who said washing hands would help reduce infection, was sent to a mental institution and died shortly afterward.
Our system is archaic, but at the same time, we walk together, patients and doctors. We figure things out. We grow. I know they have a deep desire to help. But it does not benefit anyone that they separate themselves out from us behind a barrier of degrees. We are all human and they too have propensities to have illnesses. But that is their core fear, that we are not different.
I have one wish for the doctors and that is that they listen to what we, the patients are saying. If you listened, you could hear us. We are not invisible. And we know things, even if we do not have PhDs.