Thursday, April 19, 2007

People are fragile things, you should know by now

I talk to my parents every day. And as soon as I hear my dad's voice, I know if it's a good day or not.

I fret about my father, whose health has been quite fragile for the last year. This man was always larger than life, totally in charge, always quick to laugh, quick to anger, but regardless of the emotion - and they were always extreme (which of course I cannot relate to), full of energy, full of motion.

And now he's had one ailment after another for over a year. And so many days, he just seems frail. And it scares me. I hate it.

There have always been ups and downs with him. And growing up, our household was always focused on making sure Dad was OK. Not being in the way if he was tired after a long day of work - and he worked a lot. Not making him angry. Not making things worse if he wasn't feeling well.

This is not to say he couldn't be fun. Sometimes, he was so much fun. Sometimes, life was a huge, fabulous adventure. But you didn't necessarily know what you were going to get. Collectively, a lot of our energy went to keeping things fine.

And of course, for the outside, we were always fine. Fine. How are we? Oh, we're fine. We're great! Things are great and fine and they could probably not even be finer! Yippee! Pom-poms! F! I! N! E! Fine!

I have always been so used to saying I was fine fine fine. Until one day I was just so spectacularly not fine. One day last year I started to cry and just couldn't stop. But if you asked, I was fine!

Seriously. If you asked how I was, a big tear might roll down my cheek if I was having a really bad day. And I would still smile, look you straight in the eye and said, "Fine, thanks! How are you?"

I found a therapist, because I felt like I'd lost my shit and just couldn't put it back together by myself. I didn't even know what all the pieces were. I knew what some of them were, but not all. And I didn't know how they ought to fit together.

And here's the funny thing. The first time I saw her, I started to cry. And said, "I don't really know why I'm here, besides the fact that I've lost my shit. Because really, I'm fine."

The really interesting thing to me was that what I wound up working on was not what I thought I was there for. I thought I was there for a broken heart. And it turned out, much like an iceberg, that while you're trying to deal with the stuff that's apparent, it's the myriad things below the surface, the ones of a magnitude you cannot even fathom, that are actually tearing you apart.

I saw her for almost a year - just stopped seeing her a month or so ago. Because it got to the point that I would go in and when she asked how I was, I would say, very genuinely, "I feel good! Things are good!" And I didn't really have things to talk about.

The last time I saw her, I thanked her for some very specific things. She enabled me to talk to my dad about things that upset me in how we relate to each other. And about how choices he makes affect me and how I feel.

Not in an accusatory way. Just in an, "I care about you and want you to be OK. But you need to help me be OK, too." way.

I had, without knowing it, been carrying around years of anger. I could be furious with him within seconds for the most seemingly innocuous thing. Why? Because this anger and resentment was always simmering, just below the surface. I just didn't know it.

How exhausting and unhealthy is that to lug around? How much does that NOT help you get into or stay in healthy relationships?

I am not angry anymore, just sometimes scared. And tired. I feel like I have so many skills now that I didn't have a year ago. I'm much more of a whole, healthy person than I was. I am very thankful for that.

But it doesn't mean that I'm totally fine, every day. None of us are. Even though I'd really like us to be.


  1. dagny taggart4/19/2007 6:05 PM

    Thinking I might need a good therapist myself, actually. I hope things are more "fine" than not, for you.

  2. Awesome insight! I spent my childhood tiptoeing around my dad's moods, and it wasn't until I went into therapy at 26, that I was finally able to speak with my father and deal with the demons. Good for you for having the strength and determination to go through with therapy, as it can be a scary and emotionally draining experience!!

  3. Your path to a happier self is encouraging and I think you have incredible strength.

    It's terrifying to see a parent experience illness. Especially once given insight into their perspective.

    My Dad is thankfully in remission, the whole terrible ordeal of his diagnosis and treatment has brought our family closer.

    But I still wonder, perhaps too often, is this going to take my Dad from me, someday?

  4. Thanks for writing that.

  5. THAT was a post which helped ME. Man! I've been struggling with this do I/don't I become a therapist thing for a while now. I've been discouraged because the people I've worked with don't WANT help. I want to help the people who want help, and you prove that they are out there.



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