My re-entry to life back in Texas after going back to my hometown in Michigan has not been smooth. Spending a week in the town I couldn’t wait to leave stirred up a lot of really difficult feelings for me.
I’d mentioned that a bit before, the sense that it’s not “just a place.” It’s actually a place with a lot of baggage. And I thought that not visiting it for 4.5 years was enough time to get over my issues, but it turns out that it wasn’t.
As I previously said, I think I stayed just a bit too long. Actually, everything was fine until we went to my sister’s brand-new McMansion where I also got the snarky comments about my life. I had been keeping all the conversations with her on previous encounters on the visit focused on her and her kids, and wanted to avoid her turning the lens on me.
I was fine with knowing she had the house; I was not fine with how casually she threw around the large dollar amounts she was spending on stuff as though it were nothing. She for sure would have been able to get the medical treatments I had to forego due to cost, because she’s spending double that amount to finish her basement. Something about the way she talks makes me feel like I would be doing just as well as she is if I made the right choices.
She lives in an economically depressed area and still won the game. I lost and now I’m trying to figure out why, which just leads to self-blame.
I thought I had made so much progress on myself in the years away, but surprisingly it seemed like a lot of that was undone by the trip. I’m still feeling out of sorts, defensive, vaguely ashamed. Like I have to justify myself and why I’m not living in my hometown. I had to justify why I’m applying for disability (even though it was so hard for me to apply and I constantly try to convince myself I don’t really need it.)
I even had to justify to my sister why my husband has a second job, which made me feel ashamed and embarrassed. After all, moving back to Texas was supposed to be the economic miracle that would change our finances. It was my big idea to move back here, too.
Maybe I have to admit that the problem is just us. We don’t live lavishly by any means, but just haven’t ever had the kind of career advancement that some people have. And I’m okay with that 99 percent of the time; there’s more to life than money. That’s not just sour grapes, either; I’d rather be kind of broke and have a reasonably happy home life than be rich and miserable.
Still, I’m not immune to feeling bad when people are trying to make me feel bad. That’s something I need to work on in myself: I need to stop taking the bait when it’s swung in front of me.
Growing up, my sister and I were never friends after elementary school. There was always a competitive edge, which was stupid because we were so obviously in completely different lanes. We were such polar opposites: I hung out with the skaters and punks and artsy kids, while she was a popular cheerleader.
She was bright and sunny to my moody wannabe-poet darkness. My dad called me the smart one and her the cute one, as though you can only be one or the other. I knew my role. Of course she’d grow up to have the McMansion and the husband with a lot of money and the kids who do the activities mom wants them to, because that’s the kind of perfect-exterior life she was always aiming for.
Like I said above, most of the time, I truly am just fine with the way my life has turned out. But I can’t be around her with the comparison constantly in my face. She doesn’t understand that not everyone has the same degree of privilege that she does and that’s maddening to me. It feels very much like a “let them eat cake” attitude, which is the opposite of what I stand for.
Sometimes it feels unfair that I’m the one with both the incurable chronic illness and the crappy health insurance. If I had her income and insurance, I could get much better medical care. My husband is usually so awesome that I feel like I got the better end of the bargain compared to my sister anyway, even in spite of my illness.
But seeing my sister again, showing off her conspicuous consumption and making subtle putdowns of things I have that are below her standards, threw me into a tailspin. And yes, my husband working the second job has been way too much for both of us. He’s my touchpoint, the one who makes me feel like life is okay. He’s worked every day since I’ve been back, so I’ve had virtually no time to talk to him and process the trip. I’ve just been so alone and the usual warmth in our relationship has been missing. Things have felt so bad that it scares me a lot. He says I came back more like I used to be, less pleasant to be around.
I should have anticipated that going back home was going to mess me up for a while after I returned. It’s just an unfortunate coincidence that my husband has had to work so much since I got back. Having him work 70 hours a week plus commuting is just way too much for me, and for him too. It’s made us far different from our usual selves, regressing back to the worst times in our marriage.
But now I have to work through the feelings of shame that came up as a result of the trip. I feel like I have to justify myself and why I live here, especially if we’re still struggling. I feel like if my sister doubted my need to get disability, maybe social security will, too. I don’t know what to do about that, since I still haven’t recovered from trying to work full time this past summer. Traveling for a week gave me more to recover from and my body is still telling me it needs rest, even though I’m trying to push through it anyway because I don’t have much choice.
I can admit that I wanted it all: the happy marriage, the physical and mental health to pursue my own career, enough money that things like car repairs and dental work didn’t feel catastrophic. But I only got one of the three. I’m lucky that I got at least one; I have many friends who didn’t get any. That still doesn’t make it easier that some people like my sister get two out of the three. I quite literally wonder: why me?
I sometimes feel like I deserve to suffer more because I did the “wrong things”, even though statistically speaking, more people are in circumstances like mine than my sister’s.
It all goes back to that control issue that keeps popping up with regards to my MS. How much control do I really have over my life? Enough that I don’t want to just lie down and give up altogether, but not so much that I can pretend I have no limitations. My sister doesn’t have MS and also hasn’t had depression since childhood. She’s in good physical and mental health, which gives her a lot more control over her life than I have — but it also makes me feel like I could do better if I could just be thinner. Of course her circumstances are going to be different than mine, in many ways much easier.
But knowing that doesn’t make the inequities easier to bear — especially when on a major level, I feel responsible for my own suffering. I was doing a lot better at keeping things in the proper perspective and not blaming myself so much before I went for the visit. Now I just have to find my way back to that same mental place again.