“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

“Sorry Seems to be The Hardest Word” (Bernie Taupin)

So, the other day in one of my posts, I talked about how guilty those of us with bipolar often feel because of the strain it can place on others.  After reading some messages from you Grasshoppers, I know that others feel this in relation to their own mental illness.  In fact, in an article published by the National Institute of Health, it states:  “The stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness held by both the public and those who have a mental illness lead to feelings of shame and guilt, loss of self-esteem, social dependence, and a sense of isolation and hopelessness.”  Basically, any of us can experience guilt based on what we have, and not just necessarily by what we do.

Some of you commented that one way to combat the guilt tied to actions/behaviors/words/etc.  was to apologize to those who were hurt by these things.  I’ve been talking about this very issue with my counselor, and I totally agree.  I’ve been wanting to apologize for a long time.  But, my problem (among many) is how to go about it.

How can words possibly convey the burdens and hurt I’ve inflicted on others during my life as a bipolar?  Will the words sound genuine if I speak them?  More ‘real’ if I write them?  What exactly do I apologize for?  Being mentally ill in the first place?  What I’ve ‘done’ during the course of this sickness?  Both?

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Photo by Bruno Thethe on Pexels.com

If I were to list all of the people I should apologize too, the list would be too long for the gigs I’m allowed on this site.  Seriously.  I have tons of family members I know I’ve hurt.  Ex hubbies.  Friends I’ve had.  I’d have apologize to entire classes for the times I was down and not totally ON for them, which is what each of my classes deserves every time I’m in front of them. And, sorries should go to people I haven’t been kind to since I was so far down to even be able to care like I should.

When I try to apologize to family, I can’t do it verbally.  I get so choked up at the hurt I’ve caused that talking is difficult.  Just writing this is making the tears begin.  But, that’s no excuse for not apologizing…period.

My mom has taken the brunt of this illness.  It was really starting to show itself when I was a teen, and the acting out I did during manic times and the anger I expressed to her during my depressive states is shameful to me.  Mom was my scapegoat for everything I was feeling but couldn’t describe or handle at the time.  I remember sitting at the table when I was around 16 or so, and she had made me an Italian sausage sandwich…onions, peppers, the works.  She served it to me and I threw it across the kitchen, hitting a quilt she was hand-quilting while yelling and crying.  Mom had no idea what was wrong, but instead of yelling back and punishing me, she hugged me.  I’ll never forget that.

Another time in high school, I called my mom a ‘bitch’ for no good reason.  Actually I screamed that word to her in her face.  Right after, I stormed out of the house and rode my bike to my grandparents house.  My grandpa was waiting for me in the kitchen with some food for me.  Mom had called him, just to tell him how upset I was and what I said.  I started nibbling, and grandpa sat down at the terry cloth covered table with me and told me he had never been disappointed in me during my entire life, but today he was.  I sobbed.  Having my grandpa say that told me how far I’d gone in hurting my mom.  I apologized to her when I got home, and she accepted it with no further mention.  That, my Grasshoppers, is forgiveness.

During the breakdown I had, mom took care of me everyday for a few weeks.  Everyday.  I know what an incredible burden that had to be and the guilt I feel for putting my 73 year old mom through such a trial haunts me constantly.  She saved my life and never once said anything to make me feel responsible for what was happening.  The words “I’m sorry” don’t even say a fraction of what I want too…but other words don’t exist that do.

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And my son?  For all of his growing up years I tried so so so hard to hide my mental illness.  His dad and his family don’t believe in ‘weakness’ and being ‘sick’ isn’t an option.  How could I admit what was swirling through my brain and how that was affecting me to someone who rebuffed anything that had to do with mental illness?  Plus, I wanted my son-shine to have the best childhood possible.  So I wore the tightest masks I could find;  I’d be damned if I’d let him see my illness.  There was no way I’d have wanted him to carry any burden of it around as a kid.  My job was to be a mommy and make his growing up years happy and stable.

But when I decided to ‘come out’ with being bipolar, which was a necessity after my breakdown, my son (26) became such a support to me.  To be honest, it took him a while to accept this unmasked me since he had never really seen it before.  But now?  He handles all of my moods, cycles, insecurities, crying, quietness, hyperactivity and everything else with support, care, and understanding.  He’s been my rock, which makes me feel like I’m failing him as a mom now.  But he says he’s supposed to take care of me (since I’m an elder…WTF?) and says that just how it is.  I don’t agree with that, but him doing it is more than I can ever thank him for.  And not being the mom he still deserves is something I’ll never be able to make up for.  He’s going to be moving out in a couple of weeks, but only 2 miles away so he’ll be close if I need him.

And these 2?  They’re just the tip of the ice burg.  What about apologizing to my ex-hubbies?  I know my sensitivity, impulsiveness, strong emotional reactions, periods of depression and the list goes on, affected each of them.  Would I still be married to O’s dad if I wasn’t bipolar?  Would I have saved my son from going through a divorce had I been honest with him about the severity of what was happening to me?  I don’t know.  But the question makes me ruminate often.

My sis and dad have been so affected by this too.  Both have their own struggles with mental illness (hello…genetics anyone?) and so many times when I’ve wanted to support them, I can’t because of the state I’m in.  How can I apologize for this neglect, when I know how important support really is?

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So yes, apologizing is necessary, at least for me.  I’m not going to say I’m sorry for having this brain disorder.  That I can’t help.  But to my family, friends, students, and so many other people that have been affected by me having this fucking bastard (you didn’t think I’d leave that out, did you?) of an illness, I am so sorry for what I’ve put you through.  So very sorry.  Please forgive me for all of these overwhelming burdens I’ve placed on your shoulders.  I don’t know any other words that truly reflect how shamed I am by this.  I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.

Maybe Elton John was wrong.  Maybe sorry isn’t the hardest word to say.  Actually,  finding the words that will convey the depth of this apology is much more difficult.  I just hope to find them someday, because I owe them to a lot of people.

Kristi xoxo

 

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