More on PPD

I wonder if any of this sounds familiar to my siblings?  I know one young brother says that he remembers Mom crying all the time.

I knew I was struggling with postpartum depression when my daughter was just six weeks old. I cried every day, and tossed and turned every night. I was nervous and anxious. Suicidal. But instead of talking to my husband or reaching out for help, I suffered in silence. I slapped on a smile and pretended everything was OK. I lied even though I knew I should have been open and honest about my struggles. I knew I should’ve told someone — anyone —how miserable I was. How unhappy I was. That I wanted to die. But the truth was I couldn’t tell anyone about my postpartum depression (PPD) because I was scared. Scared others would see me as flawed and unstable; worried people would see me as an unfit parent. I couldn’t tell anyone about my PPD because I was terrified that if people saw who I’d become, they’d take my daughter away from me.

It all started with the crying. A few tears here. A heaving, uncontrollable sob over there. I would cry if I spilled a glass of water or if my coffee got cold. I would cry because my husband was going to work; because I was tired; because I was hungry; because the house was a mess. When the baby would cry, I would sob beside her even louder and for longer. Everything triggered a sobbing response from me, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop crying. I’d soothe the baby, and the tears would begin again anew. Nothing helped, and everything else only seemed to make it worse.

Before long, the tears came without rhyme or reason, and soon, they streamed down my face unnoticed. I could comfortably carry on a conversation while crying. Then, however, the sadness shifted. I became angry and anxious. I’d tense up the moment I heard my daughter’s cries. I’d stiffen at the thought of touching or even holding her. I became bitter and resentful, and the rage I felt consuming me was absolutely blinding.

When I found myself recoiling from my daughter, I knew something was wrong.

When I told myself that I hated my daughter, I knew things needed to change.

When I wanted to leave and abandon her, I knew I was sick.

But then, one cold November day, I couldn’t keep it together any longer. I couldn’t hide it any longer. I couldn’t keep it a secret. My daughter was having a fitful afternoon, and she was teething, screaming, crying, and refusing sleep. I did everything I could, but I felt my will collapsing. Then I had a vision; a disturbing, terrifying vision. I saw myself holding my daughter, feeding her, rocking her, and coddling her, and then the next, I was squeezing her. Hard. The way a mother should not hold her child.

The Answer

One of the long-standing questions I’ve always had is:  what exactly happened that made Dad check Mom into the hospital when I was about 6 months old?

No one seems to know, or if they know, they aren’t telling.  I asked my sister once, and that was a disaster.

But I recently had a FB convo with some of my online friends, and in the course of that, the significance of something I’ve known forever finally, FINALLY struck me.

Here’s something I wrote 2 years ago:

The family had been limping along for months, if not years, in denial, trying to function as best they could with a mother running the home who was increasingly nonfunctional. My dad never talked much about it, but he referred a couple of times to things such as, “soiled clothing being put back in drawers,” instead of being washed, and that I “had diaper rash so bad that [my] butt was bleeding”.

I think I missed one super-important thing about these statements.

These are the ONLY two specific things that I can remember my dad ever saying to me about this period.

And I finally realize that there’s a good chance my dad was actually telling me what the crucial incident was.

If these two discoveries happened simultaneously, wouldn’t that be enough to make you realize that something was seriously wrong?

Mom had a lifelong habit of putting things off, and also hoarding things.  Her apartment was home to stacks of newspapers and old magazines, “waiting for the boy scout paper drive”.  Her kitchen counter always had dirty dishes on it, along with old vitamin bottles.  I can’t tell you what it was like cleaning out her fridge (well obviously I can, I did it many times, but it would take too long and that’s not the point).  So the idea that she would have stuffed shit-soiled clothing in a drawer to be “taken care of later” is not out of character.

I was the first infant she had dealt with in this particular house.  My next oldest brother was about 2YO when they moved in, and about 3YO when I was born.  So if he wasn’t toilet trained by the time they moved in, he was probably on the way — and at any rate, a toddler doesn’t require as many diaper changes as an infant.

There were three floors between the bedrooms and the basement, where the laundry was.  There was a laundry chute, but you wouldn’t throw soiled clothing down it to sit with relatively clean clothing.

I have to do a LOT of guessing from here on out, but –

I am assuming cloth diapers – disposable diapers were invented in 1948, so they’d been around for 20 years, but I suspect they would have been seen as an extravagance.  I also have to assume there was a diaper pail in the bedroom or bathroom somewhere.

The simplest thing to do would be to put such clothing in with the cloth diapers, maybe?  But diapers get bleached, I am guessing, so that wouldn’t work, in my mother’s mind.  Clothes just don’t go in with diapers.  (Or if disposables were being used, then clothes to be washed would not go in with trash.)

The next obvious thing to do would be to have a second diaper pail or other container for soiled clothing.  This was not the kind of solution that would come easily to my mother.  And if one wasn’t already there — and she couldn’t just go out to buy one, because she didn’t drive — and if she had asked Dad about it, he probably would have said something like, “You don’t need a second diaper pail, just take care of it right away” — the groundwork was already well-laid by now that my mother didn’t hold up her side of the deal — anyway, if the solution wasn’t right there when she needed it, I can totally see her deciding that a dresser drawer was a good enough “container”, and stuffing it in there to somehow deal with it later.  Only “later” never comes.

It’s unclear to me from the words my father used whether his discovery was an ongoing thing, or a one-time thing.  My gut feeling is that he discovered something that had been going on for a while, enough to be shocking.

Now, throw in the fact that whatever happened, happened sometime in the fall:  after all the older kids, including my sister, had gone back to school after the summer.  So now my mom didn’t have my sister around all day to do her work.  It would have been more-or-less the first time since my birth that she was on her own with all the housework and chores.

It’s even possible that it could have been my sister’s job to deal with the soiled clothing in the drawer:  and maybe that worked over the summer, but once school started, maybe she forgot, or maybe my dad found it before she could get to it one day.

Finally, for Dad to be home, it would have had to happen on a weekend, during the evening/night, or at lunchtime.  The fact that my sister was apparently present would rule out lunchtime.  So it was probably outside of normal office hours.

So you’ve got Mom’s established habit of putting things off.  And whether it was because of postpartum depression, or a lack of interest in having yet another baby, it’s clear that Mom was neglecting me and my diaper changes.

So maybe I needed a diaper change.  Maybe Mom refused to do it, or said she’d do it later.  Maybe Dad tried to make her do her job.  Maybe she couldn’t or wouldn’t.  Maybe Dad finally took care of me, or watched Mom while she did it, and found that I was bleeding.  Maybe that’s also when he found the soiled clothing, and found out whatever the rigmarole was around that.

So I can easily see where that would have led to a fight.  But they fought all the time, in my memory, so what would make this one different?

The physical neglect of a baby, to the point of injury?

The shock of finding shit-soiled clothing in a drawer?  Maybe in multiple drawers?  Who knows, maybe there wasn’t a clean item of clothing left for me to be put into.

Either or both of those together might do the trick in a normal household.  But this one had been coping with dysfunction, jumping over the missing stair, for quite some time.  People were adept at making excuses for behavior that was outside the realm of normal.  I don’t know if those two things would have been enough, or not.  My gut is, maybe not.

I think there’s probably one more ingredient missing:  which would be the clue from my sister, that my mother didn’t seem to know what was happening.

I still think this indicates a psychotic break or other acute episode.  Maybe Mom was just out of it, or maybe during the fight she said the kind of bizarre things that people say in a psychotic break, or maybe she even tried to harm me.  Maybe she got angry at actually having to take care of me (!) and tried to do something violent to me — shaking me or something.

I think something like that would have been required to get Dad to realize that he had to get actual medical help, get her out of the house, maybe just get her away from me for my safety — even during an evening or night or weekend.

ETA:  a few days after I wrote this post, I remembered one other fact I was told by my dad.

On at least one occasion, Mom was out wandering around at night, in the park that was across from our house, in just her nightgown.

Remember this all happened somewhere around October or November, so it would have been too cold to simply be out for a breath of fresh air or a walk, without a coat or footwear.

Maybe this fact completes the puzzle.  Maybe I was crying and I woke Dad up.  At first he didn’t know where Mom was.  Maybe he went looking for her first, or maybe he took care of me first – hard to say.  If he thought she was just in the bathroom or something, maybe he went looking for her and then found out she had left the house.  Or maybe he took care of me and found me bleeding and the soiled clothing, then went looking for Mom.

Either way, I’m assuming that when he found her, she wasn’t particularly lucid.  And I’m guessing that this would have been enough of a jolt for him to realize that she wasn’t well, and needed care outside of what could be done in the home.

Today, one would call 911 in this situation.  But in 1969, 911 was still in its infancy.  So Dad would have had the choice of calling the police, the ambulance, or the fire department.  Obviously nothing was on fire.  Presumably no crime had been committed.  So it would have been an ambulance — but no bones were broken, no one was bleeding (except me and my diaper rash).  And an ambulance in the middle of the night attracts attention, too.

I can see where Dad would have not called an emergency service, but would have taken her to the hospital himself.  He might possibly even have gotten Mom back home and into bed, with the intention of calling her doctor in the morning, and when he did so the doctor told him to take Mom to the hospital.

There’s one more tiny piece of evidence that what my father told me was significant:  which is that diaper changes for us younger kids have always been voiced by my older siblings as a source of contention and resentment.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “We changed your diapers!” from my older siblings.  And changing a diaper is unpleasant enough, sure.  But the way they say it, I think it means more than just an unpleasant task done by unwilling teenagers.

If it was known to my older siblings that the incident that led to my mother’s hospitalization, which led to her psychological analysis, and finally to the breakdown of the marriage, “started” with me and my diapers — which is a huge oversimplification, of course, but one that isn’t hard to conclude —  then it isn’t hard to imagine that those diaper changes, and therefore me, is where the blame would go.

And “We changed your diapers!” becomes not only an accusation against the person who needed the diaper changes– “It was YOUR fault!”– but also a defense — “It wasn’t OUR fault!”

Tumblr user actualanimevillain:

sometimes you say or do bad things while you’re in an awful mental place. sometimes you say things that are rude or uncalled for or manipulative… no one is perfect. but once you’re through that episode, you need to take steps to make amends. you need to apologize.

“i couldn’t help it, i was having a bad episode” is a justification, not an apology.

“i’m so fucking sorry, i fucked up, i don’t deserve to live, i should stop talking to anyone ever, i should die” is a second breakdown and a guilt trip. it is not an apology.

when you apologize, the focus should be on the person you hurt. “i’m sorry. i did something that was hurtful to you. even if i was having a rough time, you didn’t deserve to hear that,” is a better apology. if it was a small thing, you can leave it at that.

if you caused significant distress to the other person, this is a good time to talk about how you can minimize damage in the future. and again, even if it is tempting to say you should self-isolate and/or die, that is not a helpful suggestion. it will result in the person you’re talking to trying to talk you out of doing that, which makes your guilt the focus of the conversation instead of their hurt.

you deserve friendship, and you deserve support. but a supportive friend is not an emotional punching bag…  what you say during a mental breakdown doesn’t define you. how you deal with the aftermath though, says a lot.

Fruitcake and Memories

Modified from a FB post:

Here’s a Christmas memory, rediscovered this weekend at Fred Meyer.

Grandma’s fruit and nut cake. Made by one of the bakeries my dad used to be in charge of, in Beatrice, NE. I’ve been there a time or two in my childhood, when Dad would take us along on business trips.

Dad and I were the only two in the family who liked the fruitcake. He’d always get one at the holidays. He’d pack two of the little pre-wrapped slices in my school lunch.

Being the VP of production, he had explained to me how high the quality was, how a lot of commercial fruitcake was made with cheaper ingredients, or skimped on the expensive ones like the fruit and nuts – and thus were dry or tasteless.

This one is moist, chock full of nuts and candied fruit and a hint of booze. It actually falls apart because there isn’t that much flour holding it all together. The candied cherries were always my favorite, and I knew my dad was right because every single slice ALWAYS has a cherry in it. I can’t remember ever in my life getting a slice that didn’t contain a piece of bright red cherry.

In 2000, we had moved from Texas, which was within a days’ driving distance of Dad, clear out to Oregon. And Dad had been diagnosed with cancer.  Husband and I both had new jobs and not much vacation time, so we stayed in Oregon that Christmas, in our rented house.

On the phone with Dad late that year, we must have been talking about the fruitcake and I said how much I missed it. Dad said he’d get one for me. (This was long before e-commerce caught on, and you could just order one online.)

But I didn’t get my fruitcake. Dad died just a couple of months after Christmas, at the beginning of March. It was one of the few times I could remember him letting me down, but of course he was fighting cancer – I couldn’t expect him to care about a fruitcake for me.

When Dad died, my husband and I were staying in his room, as Dad had been moved to a hospital bed in the living room.  I took the opportunity to go through his things, his closet and dresser drawers:  retrieving such items as the “Czech Hockey” sweatshirt my husband had given him (which I still wear to hockey games); the pajama pants I had sewn for him ages ago, which I then wore until they were threadbare; the “Maid Rite” tee shirt that we had gotten him; the sweater I had knitted for him, at his request.

One thing I didn’t find was a Sacajawea dollar.  Dad had really liked those coins, and he had sent one to me.  I used to carry it with my pocket change, along with a small piece of CFM hardware my husband had given me from when we first met, and occasionally a small ingot that had come from my grandfather’s job at a foundry — although that talisman was a little heavy to carry every day.

One day at work, I had dropped a handful of change, and the Sacajawea dollar my dad had given me had rolled far, far under a vending machine where I couldn’t retrieve it.  (Side note:  a couple of my co-workers, mechanical engineers on the maintenance side of things, spent weeks figuring out how to get it back for me.  Eventually they managed it by using a pallet jack to lift up the entire machine.  Thanks Steve and Brett.)

Three months later, in June, Mom died. Once again, most of us were staying in Dad’s house, and my oldest brother decided to clean out the chest freezer in the basement. He came back upstairs headed for the garbage can, laughing about the fruitcake he’d found in there.

I don’t remember exactly what I did: I think I shouted and ran for the kitchen, to rescue MY FRUITCAKE THAT MY DAD HAD GOTTEN FOR ME AFTER ALL.

Also, once again, while staying in his room, I went through my Dad’s stuff — more out of not knowing what else to do than anything.  I had been pretty thorough the first time, two months earlier, of course not knowing I’d be back so soon:  but this time, I found a bank envelope in a top dresser drawer.  To this day I would swear that envelope hadn’t been in that drawer two months before.


Not just one; over a DOZEN, probably 20.  (Well maybe 19, after he had sent me the one.)  It was like Dad had given me a whole envelope full of them, so I’d never, ever run out.

Along with these two occurrences, there was a third thing that happened, along these same lines.  I can no longer remember exactly what it was, nor what order the three things happened in.  But there was a third thing that happened or turned up, a third thing that would not have meant anything to anyone else except my father and me.  I was the only one who would understand those specific things, their significance.  And in my memory at least, these three things also all happened within like 30 minutes:  boom, Boom, BOOM.

I felt like the first one was a coincidence; the second was a little freaky.  But when the third thing happened, it left no room for doubt in my mind, and it made me feel like my Dad hadn’t left me completely alone just yet.

Maybe Dad couldn’t save me from The Susan Incident, could no longer hold anyone to account for how they treated me.  But he was sending me a message, that he wasn’t completely gone, and he still loved me.

It comforted me to think so.

And foolishly, whenever that third thing happened, I spontaneously spoke about those things, and how I interpreted them.  As it happens, I spoke about it to Joe.  (It was stupid on my part, but back then I didn’t understand everything the way I understand it now.)

And what did my formerly favorite brother do?  He took that one small bit of comfort I had found, and he had to tear it down.

He said something mocking my experience, dismissing it as insignificant, something like, “You do realize that all those things happened months ago, and those things are just coincidences?”

What. An. Ass.

What kind of person says something like that to someone who is grieving, and has just found a bit of relief?

One who is completely lacking in empathy.  An angry person.  A hateful, hurtful person.  A person looking to crush another person’s hope.

A person who is out to deliberately cause that other person pain.

Also, probably, an unhealthy, wounded person.

…if you empathize with your child, you want your child to be fulfilled in life, to be a happy person. And if you are an unhappy, unfulfilled person yourself, you are not going to want other people to be happier than you are.  (George Lakoff)

I remember the first time I read this quote, I immediately thought of my mother.  And she probably passed that way of thinking on to most of her kids.

I did understand that, with Mom’s death, they were all now grieving too. But even if you are grieving yourself, what kind of person would turn on an also-grieving little sister like that?

But this wasn’t an isolated thing.  There was another incident, similar in shape to that.  When I was in my first year of college, I was kind of excited to find that guys were interested in me, that I was noticed for something other than my brains.  I had always been “the smart girl”; suddenly, on a campus where everyone was smart, I was also “pretty”.  I had related a story of how a guy had stopped to hold a door open for me when I was much further away than politeness would have dictated.

Joe’s response was this:

“You may be one of the best-looking things on campus, but remember, there’s not a whole lot on campus.”

I still remember it word for painful word, 30 years later.

I was 18.  He was 32.

(Incidentally, that is how old I was when our parents died.  And I was supposed to hold it together, not “over-react” etc.  When at that age he was being petty AF.)

Again, those words were meant to tear me down, to destroy my pleasure at something that made me happy.  From a 30-something to an 18YO at her first year of college.

And I can see now that his own unhappiness, maybe because of jealousy, is probably the source of this deliberately mean behavior.

Recently I had a flash of insight:  maybe they treat me the way that they do, react to me the way that they do, because they are jealous and angry that I UNFAIRLY managed to come out of this dysfunctional family relatively unscathed  — it’s unfair, you see, if you are in the habit of thinking that I, my birth, my existence, is the root cause of all the dysfunction.

How dare I not be affected, when I’m the very thing that fucked everything up?

Sure, I had it better than they did.

I don’t deny it — but I also didn’t cause it.

Jealousy of a younger sibling probably isn’t wholly unusual, in itself.  I have a dear friend whose FOO includes her and a brother of similar age, and a sister who is several years younger.  Their FOO included a whole lot of dysfunction also:  a molesting father who eventually committed suicide.

And my friend has told me how for a long time she was jealous of her little sister, for growing up with more money, in a nicer house.  After several years though, she came to realize that that was just a fact of being born later:  families usually become wealthier over time, and younger children often live in better financial situations than older children.

It certainly wasn’t anything to do with the sister herself, and my friend realized that to be jealous of her for it was inappropriate.

Similarly, if my siblings are angry and jealous of me for having had it “better”, emotionally as well as financially — what does that have to do with me?  Fuck all, that’s what.

And to be angry or jealous of me for it is also entirely inappropriate.

(Also, there’s a few disadvantages that I’m sure they never thought about.  Like that part where I was only 32 when our parents died.  And none of my 30-something friends even knew what the hell to say to me, so they just didn’t say anything. 

In contrast, while experiencing my husband’s double bereavement 2 years ago at the age of 49, I have seen practically everyone he knows offer sympathy, support, and their own similar experiences.  So I am guessing that’s what my siblings got from their extended circle also — whereas I got nothing from mine, because I and my friends and co-workers were so much younger.)

If my friend can manage to come up with that on her own, after her own horrible childhood, I see no reason for my siblings to not be able to do so as well.  They’re supposed to be smart people.

That is, if they were interested in improving the relationship with their little sister, as my friend was.

However there’s one other little problem with that idea, unique to our family, and that is — if you’re jealous of me for having had it so much better, then you will have to admit that The Divorce was A GOOD THING.

I’ve never denied that their experiences were horrible.  I know — intellectually at least — that they were subject to years of manipulation, dysfunction, and they were so unhappy and depressed that suicide was in the cards for at least one of them.

Then there’s me, with my completely different (better) experiences.  Too young to understand, too un-indoctrinated to be angry over the fact of The Divorce, and it all turned out OKAY FOR ME.

How unfair.  How dare I.  How dare I not go through the pain that they did, because I was only an infant.  How dare I benefit from what my Dad did, once he understood what was really happening…


…Seventeen years later, the fruitcake I picked up at Fred Meyer this weekend tastes just like it always has. It’s chock full of nuts and a hint of booze, and has candied cherries in every slice.

Love you and miss you, Dad.  Thanks for the fruitcake, and everything else.

At Least I’m Not ENTIRELY Alone

Q: Loving the hater

My older sister, now in her early 50s, just doesn’t like me. I have spent many years trying to build a relationship with her and return her hate with kindness, but no matter what I do, things don’t change. She often hosts family gatherings and doesn’t invite me, or when she does, it’s at the very last minute and through my mom. When we are both at the same gathering, sometimes things go well, and once every year or two, she’ll start screaming at me for no apparent reason except for “you think you’re better than everyone else,” which I don’t, though it is true I have always been very different from the rest of my family, which is very conservative politically and socially (and I’m not). Another sister said that my siblings are uncomfortable with me and keep their distance because I had been in a same-sex relationship in my 20s and am now married to a man. My son is an only child, and he longs to have close relationships with his cousins. And I would like to know my nephews better. I keep trying to initiate get-togethers, and she either doesn’t answer or is noncommittal. A few weeks ago I called and she didn’t call back, though she did look up my LinkedIn profile, which was very strange and hurtful to me. My son keeps asking me why he can’t see his cousins (who live 1.5 hours away). I’m trying to figure out how much to keep trying to amend the relationship with my sister, and if so, how. Or maybe I should stop trying, for it causes me so much pain, especially this time of year.


I am sorry. I think this time of year can be so ironically cruel for anyone who doesn’t have a picturesque family experience (even the decorations at Target are screaming at us to “BE MERRY! BE BRIGHT!” Good grief!) that it makes it worse, when you start to imagine what families are “supposed” to be like, and how warm and welcoming and communal everyone is supposed to be feeling all the time. But unfortunately, that warm and loving family relationship that you wish for—and that you may very well have done your part to try to achieve for years and yearssimply might not be possible with your sister. I get why you want to give the gift of close cousin relationships to your son, but honestly, for him to see his Mom treated this way, and to associate family gatherings with potential explosive behavior is not anywhere near the fun frolic that good childhood memories are made of. I think it might be time to give yourself some peace by understanding that your sister—for whatever reasons, but all her own—is incapable of building a truly sisterly relationship with you. And that you have to take what you choose to embrace of the rest of your family relationships. They may be your allies or not, intervene on your behalf or do nothing of the sort, but that is almost beside the point – right now, you’ve been spending years trying to move a boulder that not only won’t budge, but somehow manages to spit on you as well.  As for your son, you can reveal more and more to him over the years as he is old enough to understand, but for now, a simple “I wish we could be closer to them too. Sometimes, though, families can’t always spend time together” can start a conversation, seeing where he goes from there, and following his lead. And over time, you can put some of that no-longer-wasted energy into building an extended “family” of friends and neighbors who actually are capable of providing the connections that you’re longing for.

Modern ECT

Notes from here

“Today, ECT is administered to an estimated 100,000 people a year, primarily in general hospital psychiatric units and in psychiatric hospitals. It is generally used in treating patients with severe depression, acute mania, and certain schizophrenic syndromes. ECT is also used with some suicidal patients, who cannot wait for antidepressant medication to take effect… This treatment is usually repeated three times a week for approximately one month. The number of treatments varies from six to twelve.”

Might explain why Mom was hospitalized for a month each time.

Current Events

Written about Chump, but if the shoe fits…

Once again, this is a well-understood psychological construct.  It’s not unusual, special, speculative, or unique.  IT’S HOW CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE.

Can you love someone who did bad things?

Notes from here.

“How do you reconcile your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly?

[People asking this question] are in what is known as “secondary trauma,” experts say, meaning they were not the person… [attacked], but they experience a deep sense of betrayal from a person they thought they knew. Continue reading “Can you love someone who did bad things?”

(Not) Facing Reality

My day job is seeing things people can’t or choose not to see. In other words, I’m a psychiatrist… I make my living treating acute and sub-acute mental and behavioral health emergencies, which means people don’t end up on my radar unless they’ve comported themselves in ways that are generally determined to be unstable and unsafe. In some cases it’s florid psychosis, dementia, or mania, and in others it’s severe depression and suicidality, or unbridled poly substance abuse or personality disorder.

“I can’t help but be reminded of the numerous families that remain apprehensive and reluctant to agree to proactive measures, even in the face of the crisis that has befallen them. Despite the reality that no one’s gotten any sleep or peace, and their loved one is on a rampage destined for destruction, they hesitate to act and often inadvertently prolong everyone’s suffering in the process. They contain the dysfunction for as long as they can, rather than face hard truths about their new reality.Continue reading “(Not) Facing Reality”