I wish I had read “How To Survive Mother’s Day: Suggestions for Catholic Abuse Victims” by Mary Pezzulo yesterday. Yesterday was Mother’s Day – in all its sentimental and commercial glory – and I struggled with guilt, self-loathing, despair, and anger as I considered past years and the years to come coping with my mother.
Freshman year of college, I discovered that the reason life sucked so much was because I had depression, and had had it since my early teens. (When I called home to tell my parents, my father was open to the possibility and set up an appointment with my doctor; my mother did not believe me. I ended up canceling the appointment with my doctor.)
In the past year, I have seen a lot of content on Facebook about anxiety and anxiety disorders. Apparently it’s a socially popular mental illness right now. To my surprise, slowly, I started to recognize much of what they were saying as attributes of my own life, either in the past or very much currently, and more than occasionally. After doing some research, I have sufficient reason to believe that I used to have a moderate anxiety disorder, which even now I have only partially overcome.
Only since yesterday, fateful day, have I begun to realize the abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother – emotionally and, for a time, physically. And I’m scared to say it because usually when people talk about childhood abuse, they mean sexual abuse or they mean over the top and typically unprovoked beatings. They may even mean neglect. And psychology recognizes emotional and even a certain spiritual abuse, but it is spoken of and written about much less frequently. And I’m afraid of someone telling me I’m wrong or to be quiet – that my childhood was fine and privileged.
And it was privileged. Mum signed me up for and took me to extracurricular activities, we never went hungry or wore worn out clothing, I attended public school and then Catholic school and then she agreed to homeschool us when we begged her to. My forms of rebellion included getting a hotmail address, creating accounts on home school forums, and reading online manga without her knowledge – very sheltered, Catholic, and innocent of me I know. There was also one other thing, worse, hidden away, but that’s something I’m still coming to terms with.
And yet inside me, every time I have a chance to interact in a new social environment, I feel a sense of dread. And if my interactions were unsuccessful and awkward, I go home feeling ashamed and hopeless and I hate myself. And if they were successful, I go home feeling elated, but with anxiety as I try not to replay the scenes in my head and I try not to analyze everything I said for errors.
In a group of more than about 5 people I don’t know, I won’t say a word. I can’t. My brain is silent, just taking in what other people say. In class, when I do think of something to contribute, in the moments leading up to raising my hand, my heartbeat eliminates all semblance of calmness and I bail. If I were then called on to say something, I would say it without a problem because, without time to think, I can’t get anxious. But I’m deathly afraid of being wrong, of saying something stupid, of being made fun of.
– Once, in a creative writing class, I got up the nerve to make a suggestion for someone’s story. The professor rejected it, saying, “Stupid ideas are good but we really need ….” I almost cried right there in my seat – my eyes did get very wet – and I never offered anything again.
My mother made me feel stupid, called me stupid, rejected my feelings, told me to stop crying even if she had just hit me, said she should have trained her children like German shepherds, thought we should stop whatever we were doing the exact moment she spoke and do what she commanded, decided at random that children weren’t allowed to make noises at the table, thought dinner time was the best opportunity for lecturing someone on bad behavior, was cranky and yelled most days but insisted we obey her cheerfully, she refused to listen or to explain, only expected us to obey. When my sister and I approached our parents and said they should just explain to us what they want and why we did wrong, they explained that we obeyed faster if they hit us.
Sometimes, even in my college apartment, the sound of heavy footsteps will wake me in terror that it’s my mother coming. Which is partly why I dislike the sound of slippers on bare floors and why I try to ignore that sound now that I wear slippers on my fiancé’s cold hardwood.
I get through life alright – I have a few friends, I’ve worked jobs, and I have an active future ahead of me. So I dislike the idea of disorders, even though I’m sure its helpful to the psychology community. First of all, “I have a disorder” sounds awful to me. No offense to people who do have disorders because it’s not you, but it’s such an unfriendly word and I wouldn’t want to think of myself that way. And second, people are only labelled with disorders when it noticeably negatively affects their life. Most people don’t know what I struggle with – they just think I’m shy and I don’t get along with my mother. And that silences me, because I feel like I must be overreacting, since I’m doing alright in my life and nobody thinks there’s anything significantly wrong with me. And it’s that apparent order of my life conflicting with the disorder inside that makes life very hard to work out.
Maybe we need to start approaching mental health like there’s hurt or disorder in most people because I generally find that to be true, whether the victim knows it yet or not.
I have a still image in my head of a time when I must have told my dad I was going to raise my children very differently. He said that everybody says that and then you become parents. But I swear, if I have to face my fear and see professionals, I will do it, just so my children will never ever be treated like annoying, worthless human beings.