Last Friday, I drove blindly home through monsoon-like conditions. There was no visibility, just the horizontal stream of rain and gale force winds. The storm came out of the blue. I left the Home Depot just as normal rain began. Five minutes later, I was jerking the steering wheel to avoid crashing tree branches and the rush of water across the road. I couldn’t see beyond the front of the car, but I feared rising water or falling power lines would strand me. I knew the roads by heart and could wend myself home at a crawl. Once I arrived home, closed the garage door and shut off the car, I rested my head on the steering wheel, shaken and relieved.
The storm came on the heels of a recent family visit. I drove hundreds of miles to see family members I had not seen for a few years. I had been anxious in the weeks prior. The separation of time and distance had allowed me to become more of who I wanted to be – to have the family that I wanted to have. My fear was that what I had grown, together with my husband and daughter – a family built on respect and love and kindness – would be made less than by an offhand comment or reminder of what kind of person I really was – angry, judgmental, unkind, selfish, fat, ugly, cruel and responsible for that which befell my family of origin.
It seems silly, at my age and with my life experience, to be turned into a sulky 14 year old with an axe to grind (albeit not the Lizzie Borden kind). I’m perceptive enough to know that it might happen, intelligent enough to run through the emotional tools at my disposal and yet I still want to run away and hide my nose in a book. Every family has its history, both negative and positive, but as I recounted mine to a friend over coffee the other night, I realized that no – my family is pretty damned weird. Suicide, murder, mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions, unwanted pregnancies…some people would call it colorful. I find it weighty and gray and have spent my life trying to separate from it.
I once read that dealing with people who have mental illness is like dealing with a force of nature. Without blame, without negative characterization, with an acceptance that it just is. As a bystander, raised on fear and unpredictability, the best that I can do is to stay out of the way and not put myself in the path of destruction. I have many friends, off and online, who deal with depression and bipolar disorders. The key phrase is deal with. With borderline or narcissistic personality disorders, you, the bystander, are the one who gets dealt with and turned around, until you feel like the problem is yours. They take on a “what me worry?” persona, while you’re left scrambling to find your footing. Acceptance, compassion, self-protection – it’s the necessary trifecta to come out the other side with your marbles intact.
Like the roads I crept down during the storm, the journey home, to the life I now live, is known to me. The path is well-trodden. The whispers that tell me I’m not good enough, that I should have done more, will sink into the crevices of my mind. I will be depressed and moody for awhile, until the present engulfs the past and I shove it back in the corner. Will I ever feel right? Will I ever feel like I belong in this fortunate life? Will I ever believe that it’s okay for me to be happy? My Buddha mind notices these recurring fears with curiosity and affection and softly reminds me that I have passed through the storm and that I am home. Shaken, but relieved.