Last spring I spent a delightful afternoon in my sunny, hot back garden in the shade of our plum tree with a lovely friend. She's creative too - she's a musician and writer and enjoys art. Since my recovery from depression, I began hosting art afternoons in my house. Very successfully, considering that once upon a time I hated being in the house for too long. (I ground to a halt this year hosting these events, so must return to it). Unfortunately the other attendee creatives couldn't make it this day, so it was just we two. Didn't do a stroke of art but t'was good to natter.
The subject raised was families - parents, siblings, and the parting of the ways. Both of us had had to “divorce” a family member or two, for the sake of our sanities, and boy - does it feel good! Since both of us could remember, certain close family members had been unpleasant or indifferent, ignoring our trials and tribulations and emotional health, or teasing or challenging. No sympathy. More a case of “pull yourself together.” If not actually said, certainly implied. Both my friend and I had grown up with these problems, and not just occasional problems, but problems that blighted our lives, although we may not have realised it at the time. And you certainly put up with it while you're growing up, because you have to, to a certain extent and you didn't know any different. I used to have double whammies. I'd be teased about something. I'd respond emotionally and unhappily, as you would, particularly when young, and I'd then be told off for whining about it. It's only in retrospect, or with age and a bit of wisdom, do you acknowledge that this happened and now know that this was wrong. In my case this contributed big time to my future depression and anxiety.
My friend told me there came a time when her relative went too far, negatively affecting her daughter. Something had to be done, and that “something” was to split from this person, and only see them when absolutely necessary, if ever. Many people may say: “But you can't do that! They're family!” My initial, emotional response was/still is: “Yes, you bloody well can. You're not obliged to them (emotional blackmail), and even if you are, you shouldn't care if they were the Queen of England. They're not your friends and you don't want them in your life! They're nasty and not in the least bit supportive. You're adult, in charge of your own life, and you can choose who your friends and supporters are. If the toxic people just happen to be family members - too bad!” Looking back at the issue in calm and studied fashion, I still feel that way. Even more so after I completely recovered from depression. As for obligations - if these people cause real toxicity, obligations can take a flying leap through the nearest window - hazzah!
They say families are thicker than blood. That doesn't mean that you have to associate with them through thick and thin, just because you happen to share their genes, you have the same parents or surname. Not if they're unpleasant and non-supportive. You can choose your friends, and that should include your family, particularly if they cause you pain and always will do.
A year after I began the recovery process from depression, both my parents died within days of one another. They'd been devoted, and my father had suffered for ten years after my mother's severe dementia caused her admittance into a specialist nursing home. I loved them dearly despite their approach towards my emotional health during my upbringing. We had been good friends - dad and I were particularly close - and I had, on the whole, found them easy to talk to. But neither of them had a clue as to how to raise me.
My mother had had no problem bringing up my two older brothers, who were virtual strangers to me, always (it's only in latter years that I've grown a little closer to the older, more understanding, one), but a sensitive, creative daughter? What do we do with her and her moods? The cutting remarks mother said to me over the years scarred me emotionally, on top of my troublesome hormones. She spoke from the hip. Couldn't help herself.
We - Husband and I - have learned something new, gleaned off Mind, the mental health charity. We had assumed that my brain had been incorrectly wired since birth, exacerbated by childbirth, but, according to extensive research that Husband read about recently,years of the kind of treatment I had endured at the hands of family can result in negative mental wiring. Fascinating. Here's the Mind link.
My mother reached her eighties and proved her physical health when she and I took a two mile walk near her home. Towards the end of the walk she jumped nimbly over a ditch and asked me if I needed a hand! I was so proud of her. Shortly after this, dementia began to destroy her mind. She became nicer (a fact commented on by a sister-in-law), and more sympathetic and willing to discuss subjects that she'd dismissed in the past - “Haven't got time for that. Must get on.” I couldn't believe it. It didn't last. The dementia grew severe and her final ten years were spent in the nursing home, being wheeled into the courtyard for tea. Tragic. I felt so sad for dad. He didn't deserve this. They'd been devoted, having met during the war and marrying immediately afterwards.
Dad grew more biting towards me towards the end of their lives. “What's the silly cow done now?” And barked at me. I “should” do this, “shouldn't” do that. He'd been the softer of the two of them. No wonder I suffered.
I didn't put up with this treatment as I grew older and wiser. I answered my mother back when I'd reached my forties. Yes! *Fist pump*. And when my father barked at me once too often in later years, I told him what I thought of the family and walked out on him. I couldn't stay angry for too long. He was in his nineties and might drop dead tomorrow, and I didn't want to end on a row. I became the wise adult in this situation - I rang him and we smoothed the path.
There're many instances of rotten treatment within my family. Husband and I weren't invited to a family wedding (hated weddings anyway, but that wasn't the point). Snotty nosed relative had always judged me. Who the **** did she think she was? I didn't give a doodah about her holier than thou opinion, anyway. Frankly, Ma'am, I don't give a damn, then or now. But of course it hurt, and I was furious initially. Our friends were gobsmacked to learn this. My older brother, stressed to the eyeballs at one time, told me to shut up and that I ruined everything when I tried to explain my medication to a relative. When later, I enquired after his health and that explosion, instead of apologising, he uttered: “Oh, that. Water under the bridge.” Great. I was gobsmacked, as was Husband.
So yes, I've been envious/jealous of people's close relationships with their families, and felt awkward when people asked us why we never visited mine (because we had no desire to), or they never saw us.
Then I had a medication crisis five years ago and the brilliant mental health team put me on a medication combination and gave me Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Thus armed with the tools to self-help, I began to feel better than I've ever felt before, and nothing and no-one was going to get in the way of that. The parents had died. There was nothing in the way of my quitting family. Husband had tried to convince me that my family was largely at fault, but I'd always defended them: “Just the way they are.” I think part of my cure was the final admission that they had been hugely instrumental in the growth of my depression and anxiety.
In the last few years, I've heard tales of friends and similar situations. Thank God! I'm not alone! A friend had had to “divorce” her mother. Another friend had done the same with her parents. And of course, my creative friend confided with me her own story. I do text a certain couple of family members occasionally. I do care about their welfare. But socialising? No thanks.
Of course, this applies to toxic “friends” as well. We reach a stage in life (and it should be sooner rather than later, certainly when you have that elusive confidence) that any toxic person - the people who you can't count on as a real friend - should be removed from your life. Not as in the Queen's words regarding President Trump at the London Olympics, 2012: “Make it look like an accident, Mr. Bond.” That would be just plain wrong. *sulk*. Make it a simple case of non-communication. In the case of those of us who suffer from depression, it's even more essential to our fragility.
So - I dare you. Don't put up with it if you don't need to. Quit that person, then see how it feels. Good, innit?
Read more from Jo at her blog, Creating My Odyssey