I have been told that we can’t be defined by one experience. Though I am more than the sum of my parts, am I not the total of my experiences? Despite the challenge of moving beyond some difficult memories, I practice seeing my daughter– daily, if not weekly, as someone who creates amazing paintings, an ambitious college student, generous, and as a person who brings beauty to this world when she insists vases with flowers will help me appreciate beauty. This practice helps me see her as more than her diagnoses of BPD, GAD and OCD and I can convey the more in our conversations.
Despite both of our positive practice, none of us is prevented from feeling the blunt of her disorder’s behaviors. In addition, while she has overcome many of her learning struggles, her severe math anxiety holds her back completing her education. Are these parts of who she is? What about the three major surgeries she suffered through by the time she was fourteen or the loss of three beloved family members, all within the year after her extended stay of a couple of months in the hospital. Try as I might, I have had difficulty letting these difficult memories go. I am reminded in the stillness of a night, when she’s out late, and sometimes even when she’s sitting right beside me.
In some of our darkest times, I remind myself that no one gets out without scars. But while most of her scars are not visible, nor all that she has had to contend with in her twenty some years, sometimes I think people, especially family members, would like to overlook the fairly hefty blocks of crap she’s had to manage. At times, I get the sense that they cannot deal with the whole person that my daughter has become. And she’s perceptive enough to know this.
All this is leading up to a conversation I had with that sister in law. It turns out that a couple of weeks earlier, while at SIL’s house visiting for the weekend, my daughter had rehashed an unpleasant experience involving another family member. As the anniversary of the event approaches, her struggle to resolve her feelings about the experience has become more evident. Her aunt’s response, “I don’t want to take sides” may not have intended to be dismissive, yet the effect was to sweep away all of her feelings. In one month last year, my daughter had her car stolen (it was recovered thankfully), raped, had a “friend” disregard the rape, and ignored by ineffective police, and was let go from a “job” by a family member. Her aunt’s comment felt like one more person who swept her away like day old trash. It isn’t surprising to me that this simple remark led to an evening’s emotional meltdown.
A few weeks after the meltdown, the family met at a park for an informal Father’s Day potluck picnic SIL had arranged. She and I stayed behind. Noting my daughter’s absence at the family picnic, she made a remark about an uncomfortable coolness in the family. I steered her towards the exchange that happened at her home a few weeks ago. Attempting to defend my daughter regarding the event she’s grappling with, I paused for her response. What I received was the line of a Disney song: she needs to “let it go.”
My mind went blank. Let it go? Which part? Stunned into momentary silence, I dug deep knowing this was an opportunity to be an advocate for my daughter and others with mental illness. I shared some info with my SIL about BPD and ways my daughter looks at the people in her world. I explained, “Her remark wasn’t about asking someone to take sides, but rather about confirming that someone had listened. Mirroring back what she had felt and said isn’t taking sides, it’s letting her know that she has been heard.” We moved onto other topics and finally hugged each other goodbye. And while I think she heard me, I am still stunned by her lack of understanding and inability to listen.
“Let it go” rings has rung in my ears ever since.