Rescuing my son and talks with my mom

My son finally broke down yesterday and told me that he is completely miserable at college. He hates dorm life, the food, being away from us/his girlfriend of four years/his cat, and trying to get through his classes while being so nauseous.

My first instinct was to go into rescue mode, which is my default when someone close to me tells me that they’re having problems. I also know that this is not necessarily the healthiest response.

I want my son to feel empowered to make the decision on his own about whether or not he should stay at school. Either way, he will most likely be coming back home for good at the end of the semester. The real question is whether he can make it until then.

I’m scared for him because his mental health is clearly in crisis. He doesn’t want to drop out and owe money, so I will be trying to see if he can drop out due to mental health concerns and not have to pay the tuition back. I’ve heard that’s possible but I don’t know how attainable it is.

All I know is that I want him to be feeling well again. This is his first really major mental health crisis, though I knew he had some tendencies. I am afraid of him becoming a suicide statistic, to be honest.

The campus is the second-largest in the country. They have as many students on campus as we had people in two of the “tri-cities” combined where we lived in Michigan. I’m not surprised that he’s struggling with feeling overwhelmed by that.

I am worried about the long-term repercussions of him being there, too. He’s already starting to be afraid of being in cars again (an old phobia he’d mostly overcome, originating in witnessing his brother get hit by a car.)

So while I wait for all this to play out, I messaged my mom to update her about how Dylan’s doing. I was kinda annoyed that she said maybe he’s having more trouble because he never went away to any camps or anything. Maybe that’s the case but I can’t change it now, and we couldn’t afford it when he was at an age when it would have counted.

She also implied that it’s a problem for him that we have a close relationship and that it’s making it harder to separate. Maybe that’s making it harder, I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be “too close” to your kid.

Then I told her that my husband had a really rough weekend last week with chemo, and that I constantly feel like I’m bracing for things to get worse while also simultaneously trying to be normal. It’s an extremely difficult balancing act, to be honest.

She said that I was so strong and that she herself couldn’t imagine going through what I am, which was kinda nice to hear. But she’s right: she really has no idea what I’m going through.

I also told her that last weekend I was so low and depressed that I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and that I reached out to my male friend because I knew he’d understand (which he did and helped me through it.)

And then I told her that upon hearing about Dylan, another friend who lives in Houston (whom I stayed with briefly when I moved down here) offered to pick him up and take him to her house for a getaway weekend to relax by the pool. She has sons the same age, so she gets it. That would totally freak him out but it was a very kind offer.

Then my mom said that I am so lucky to have such good friends who will be there for me in a crisis and called me “blessed” to have it. Which I guess I am. I may not have a lot of people to see every day but I do have a lot of people I can count on when I’m in crisis. Fortunately, my true crises are rare and I get through most of them by myself.

I also told her about my oldest moving out and how good that’s been for our relationship, and I mentioned that my daughter said we can move in with her if it’s ever needed and we can pool our expenses.

I know that I am very lucky to have a kid who feels such a strong sense of obligation to our family and lucky that her boyfriend goes along with it. She told him on like their second date that taking care of her family if necessary is non-negotiable, and we extended the same to him by letting him stay with us for a year to keep him safe from Covid.

My mom said she doesn’t have that (and I strongly suspect she’d been drinking) and that she’s resigned herself to being the only one she can count on.

I don’t know if she was unintentionally telling me something about her relationship with my dad. It would certainly be a surprise if she was, both because she’s always talked about how great her marriage is and also because her life wouldn’t be possible in its current state without my dad.

To be honest, if she needed a place to stay, I’d probably take her in—but there would be ground rules and boundaries. In general, boundaries are the one thing I’ve worked most on developing over the course of the past years. I know that she’s not in a place to feel comfortable with boundaries yet and honestly, she may never be. And I know my sister has even stronger boundaries than I do.

But I do feel very, very thankful that my life has such good people in it, people who will do anything for me. I would do the same for them as well and often have.

Yet I also don’t think it’s just a matter of luck, either. I’ve worked very hard for a very long time to cultivate these relationships—to my husband, my kids, my friends. I try not to take more than I give.

It is these relationships that make me feel like I might possibly be okay once my husband is gone. Like my mom said, I am too young to be thinking about this. But life decided otherwise, so I have to figure out how to cope and hope that I gain a lot of wisdom in the process.

A good day

I’ve been taking advantage of not needing as much sleep lately. I seem to be getting more “spoons” and I’m really grateful for that. I feel all around a lot more competent.

But I’m still wondering what to do next. I’m still disabled, though functioning at a higher level than before.

I am trying to exercise more, which helps.

But I don’t know what to do with my career. I don’t know if I should go back to grad school and try again. Maybe the third time will be the charm.

I would still love to be a therapist. I do worry a little bit about whether my self-care practices are strong enough to do that job.

I don’t know what to do about my writing, either. I still have almost zero motivation to do it. But on the other hand, I also feel like maybe I could really make something of myself if I put in the effort.

I no longer feel like I’m destined to spend the rest of my life alone with nothing to fill my days. I could still become like one of the writers I admire who have friends and a following. But I’m obviously not going to get there by being unmotivated.

At least one issue is more or less settled: my husband no longer wants to move to a walkable neighborhood in Dallas like Oak Lawn. Yes, it’s very LGBT-friendly and we would be surrounded by more people like us. But as he put it, there’s some value in “poisoning the well” where we are now and contributing to turning this area blue. It’s already starting to happen.

I honestly really like it where we live now. Our landlord hasn’t raised our rent in 5 years, so we’re now paying well below the market rate. And let’s face it: neither of us really wants to move anytime soon, especially because we would have to downsize so much.

If I were to get a two-bedroom apartment somewhere, it would probably cost more than we’re paying for a 4-bedroom house. Right now there are only 3 of us living here, though that can change (especially when my youngest comes home on breaks.)

I guess I was feeling more unsettled than I thought with not knowing if we’d be moving. Knowing that I’m staying put gives me a sense of stability that I really need right now.

The only constant is change

My husband had a really bad, completely awful weekend. He’s now coming around to the other side of this chemo cycle, so I can let out my breath a bit.

Understandably, the focus is on him, as it should be; he’s the one who is fighting to stay alive. But I admit to sometimes wishing anyone at all cared about how I was holding up through all of this. (Answer: not well at all.)

But life goes on anyway.

My son at college is getting involved in groups, which I think is so great and I’m so proud of him. Being social doesn’t come naturally to him at all, so I know how much he’s pushing past his natural tendencies.

I did coach him a lot on social things before he went to college. Mainly, I just reassured him repeatedly that he was likable and he should assume that people would like him. (And I also warned him against bragging—a common trap for smart kids, ask me how I know?) I also encouraged him to ask other people questions about themselves.

I know how to make friends, I just can’t seem to do it myself.

He’s also had bad nausea and stomach problems pretty much since he’s been away at school. He went to the doctor yesterday and they diagnosed him with an ulcer. I talked to my daughter about that and she said she had similar symptoms starting at the same age, which have progressed to being pretty much constant stomach pain now.

Mind you, my husband had the stomach problems first, and we see where that led him.

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter has had more contact with me in the past few days since she moved out than she ever had while she was still living here. She sends me pictures by text, mostly of how her cat is doing. I like the contact, though. We seem to be getting along very well now that she’s moved out.

But I still can’t write anything for Medium yet. I broke my streak when I shared an article with my mom about why you should apologize to your kids. That’s still a hill I’m willing to die on. I just don’t know how to get my writing momentum back again.

I need to find a way to get more writing clients, too, since my main client has cut my work by a third. I feel like I am capable of doing more. I just have to decide if I want to pursue more writing work or try going back to school for my masters to become a therapist.

I guess a lot of that depends on my husband and how long he’ll be around. I try convincing myself he’ll be around for several more years. But yesterday I brought up the idea of getting new dressers (we still have hand-me-downs that don’t match) and said that he could get financing for one year with no interest.

He asked how I knew if he’d still be around in a year. And though it was extremely sobering to hear, I don’t actually know if he’ll still be around in a year.

So again I wonder: why doesn’t anyone ever ask how I’m doing? I don’t even know if my husband will still be alive in 12 months. I’m honestly starting to wonder if maybe he knows something I don’t.

Moving forward

I realized something really important last night while I was exercising. (I’m already back to exercising for an hour at a time and it feels so good.)

I have to plan for what I’m going to do without J.

Two of my three kids are now out of the house. I have also made some significant changes so I no longer need nearly as much sleep.

What this all means is that I have to figure out what the next phase of my life will be. I can’t just sit around and wait for J to die.

It actually feels weird to think intentionally about what else I want from life, almost like it’s disloyal to him to have plans for after he’s gone. But I have to spend some time figuring out what else I want.

My kids don’t need as much from me anymore; they’re pursuing their own big new plans. I’m there to provide emotional support (and some financial support, in the case of my youngest.) But they have picked up their own batons to run their own races.

Now I need to figure out what I want to do. Do I want to think about moving somewhere else someday and if so, where? Do I want to leave myself open to the possibility of remarriage someday? Maybe not everyone would be garbage.

Do I want to become a therapist? Do I still want to be a writer? What would make me feel like I’ve come alive again? I’ve spent so much time mourning the fact that my husband will die early that I haven’t really even thought about the fact that I won’t.

I may not want to continue without him but I’m going to, like it or not. What kinds of things do I want to be in my future?

Friends

So it doesn’t look like my instant friendship with my doppelgänger panned out. That’s okay, really. Just knowing there’s someone else out there going through the same thing I am is helpful but sadly probably not that unusual, either.

On the other hand, my suicidal ideation was so, so bad yesterday. I reached out to the only person who would truly understand how deep suicidal ideation can go.

It was the same male friend I wrote about a few months ago, back when we had discussed our mutual attraction. We hadn’t really talked a lot since then, since I told him that I felt like we had discussed too much for it to be cool in my marriage.

But the fact remains that this particular friend is literally the only other human I have contact with who knows about the intensity of suicidal ideation, so overwhelming that you can barely even breathe through it.

Talking to him got me through it. I am sure my husband will be jealous that I talked to my friend anyway, even though it was strictly platonic.

To be honest, I actually *wish* that there would be a romantic future with this friend once J’s gone, if for no other reason than that I wouldn’t ever have to be alone.

But that is not going to be the case and I know there won’t be any shortcuts to escape my overwhelming grief. I am going to have to feel that in all of its horrible, life-changing ways.

I’m going to have to learn how to be alone, probably for a very long time (if not the rest of my life.)

In the meantime, my extreme drowsiness is getting much better and I’m not sleeping as much, which is a good thing. But the bad thing is that my income is being gradually reduced from my freelance work.

I have to try to find clients again and I know how to do it. I’m not excited about the timing but life is what it is.

I am reading the sequel to the book I read to change my mindset to see more possibilities— I read the original to get me motivated to move down here and now I’m reading the sequel. I started exercising again and it boosted my endorphins so much that I’m going to keep it up.

Life still looks pretty bleak; I can’t lie. This is overall not a fun time to live through. But at least I feel like it might be worth sticking around for it, which is something.

Strength

I know almost nothing about the Lord of the Rings, to be honest. I’ve never read the books and couldn’t make it through more than 30 minutes of the movie.

My husband and oldest daughter are big fans, though.

I decided to look up the distinction between Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White to try to understand what my daughter told me yesterday.

And wow, wow, wow. I am beyond honored and humbled to have that comparison given to me.

It’s kinda funny. All three of my kids see me as this person who’s really committed to growth and to making sacrifices for them. They hold my husband in higher esteem than me, of course, as everyone does. But that doesn’t mean I come in a distant second.

I still don’t feel that way. In my head, I’m still the same as the worst version of myself that I’ve ever been, even though according to my kids, that old version of me is long gone.

I’ll be honest: I’m struggling a lot with suicidal ideation again. I don’t think I can handle going through my husband’s death, at all. I think that’s why yesterday affected me so profoundly—it made it very undeniably real to me, in ways I couldn’t avoid.

I have to keep reminding myself that maybe my kids want and need me around too. It’s just SO HARD to keep going sometimes. Death seems so peaceful in comparison.

But I think my kids see my strength as a reason to go on themselves. (I know they do because they’ve told me or written it in cards.)

It just seems kinda ironic that to be seen as a pillar of strength, you have to keep going when it feels like you can’t.

I just wish for a life with only normal problems instead. I don’t feel cut out for this inspiration porn lifestyle.

Unexpected support

I had a very chance encounter with someone in one of my cancer support groups.

It was so surreal that I’m not sure if anything will even come of it. But I’ve been looking for a real-life support network and I found someone I have eerie amounts of things in common with.

Like me, she has a husband with a stage IV cancer diagnosis and she also has major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

She lives about 2.5 hours away (in the opposite direction of where Dylan’s at school.) She’s very political in the same ways as I am. Her undergrad major was also sociology and she’s working as a therapist in search of licensure but is currently unemployed.

Like me, she’s also a night owl but is incredibly sleepy during the day. She’s not religious (rare for Texas) but also uses the exact same term I do to explain the things that seem like weird coincidences: “the universe” made it happen.

She’s seriously my alter-ego. She’s very pro-LGBT and likes to read. She even likes indie music a lot like I do!

But she’s also 17 years younger than me. That seems like a lot. (Though I was very flattered that she said I seriously didn’t look my age.)

Still, maybe I have made a friend who really gets me. That doesn’t happen every day—especially not with someone who’s spouse is going through the exact same thing mine is.

Maybe she’ll become a real friend or maybe she’ll wake up tomorrow, wondering what the hell happened. At least it gave me the tiniest bit of hope that my story isn’t completely over, even if it feels like it’s all ending.

Too much

So much happened yesterday, lots of it significant. I don’t really even know where to begin.

I guess I’ll start with my daughter. I had an even more productive conversation with her. I can sum it up in a few highlights:

She assured me yet again that if anything happens to us and either I alone or some combination of me/J/Adam need a place to live, we can move in with Amy and her boyfriend. She repeatedly stated that in the same way my door’s open if she ever needs it, she’s extending the same offer to me as well.

She and I actually talked at great length about the communication style differences between me and my mom. Long story short, I used to communicate more like my mom and I changed gradually after we moved down here. She said the “old me” was like Gandalf the grey and the “new me” is Gandalf the white. She doesn’t hold against me the things “old me” did anymore.

She also apologized to me for putting me in the “bad cop” role, assigning me all the responsibility for the bad things that happened shortly after we moved here. She realized it couldn’t all be my fault and that in solely blaming me, she was taking away both my husband’s agency and her own.

Interestingly, she takes a similar approach as I do about the people who bullied her: she now understands that their lives were probably much more miserable than hers was and she tries to view them with compassion. But like me, she struggles to give herself compassion.

She actually wholeheartedly agreed with my assessment of my mom’s communication style and though I was clear not to try to bias her against my mom, she saw a lot of it for herself. Most importantly, my mom’s good intentions don’t make a close relationship in themselves.

Or, as she put it about the differences between my mom and my mother-in-law: “Grandma Sue is batshit crazy most of the time but she listens to me and tries to understand, even though she usually gets it wrong. Nana {my mom} has the right views of people but she doesn’t spend any time trying to understand me.”

Nailed it. And with a mom like that who doesn’t show much interest in me or her grandkids, it’s really no wonder I’ve been diagnosed with avoidant personality disorder. I try to keep challenging myself on a regular basis to reach outside my comfort zone and be there for people, especially those closest to me.

But then the day got super awful. My husband threw up at least three times yesterday, the first time that’s happened since he’s been on chemo. There’s also the fact that people close to me throwing up makes me feel very panicked—though I suspect that I am going to get much more used to it and likely even see it.

But this is about so much more than just him vomiting or my phobia of it. It’s that I feel like he’s turning another corner, a worse one. He’s been in pain since his surgery in February (and has been coughing since then, too.)

Maybe I’m catastrophizing—I probably am, because I remember some good times we’ve had since then—but it seems like on the whole, he’s gotten worse since February. For the most part, he’s been mostly having bad days. The good days are the exception.

And I just wonder how many good days are left. If he’ll have some almost-miraculous treatment regimen change that will take him back to how he was even a year ago, or if he will continue getting worse in a progressive fashion.

I’m honestly really scared and really sad because it feels like the best days are already mostly behind us.

I would give anything to go back in time, before we knew he was sick, and have a few of those times back, just to relive them. I didn’t think they would end so fast. I didn’t think I would have to spend such a large percentage of my life with only good past-tense memories.

I’m not ready for this. I had tried to convince myself that J would be one of those people who’s still alive 15 years after diagnosis. I see their stories sometimes and am inspired by them.

But the more statistically realistic probability is that we’re already on the downward spiral. I’m not so sure anymore that he’ll even still be around when Dyl graduates college.

None of this is what I want at all. I just want to scream and yell and cry about how fucking unfair this is.

Mothers and daughters

My daughter is in the process of moving out on her own. She has IKEA furniture to put together and is anticipating that the total move will take a few days.

It was interesting today. We had a couple of pretty lengthy talks. Honestly, I should have known she was transgender many years earlier than I did, just because our relationship is so typical of a mother and her oldest daughter.

We are SO much alike that it causes clashes with each other sometimes. More often, it’s her getting frustrated with me, rather than vice versa. But we have similar shortcuts we use in our speech (like a “Charlie flowchart” which refers to that meme from It’s Always Sunny, which uses a very complicated-looking flow chart to explain a theory) and even physically, down to how we react to certain medications the same.

My mother and I are a lot alike too. While sometimes my daughter and I clash, I don’t think it’s the same as how I clash with my mom. But my daughter might tell you differently, I really don’t know.

I can say (and she has acknowledged this before, many years ago) that I have made a very concerted effort to have a better communication pattern with her than I do with my mom.

What I know about my mom is that she still supremely gaslights me about certain things—specifically, about things that I feel like she handled poorly.

Instead of admitting that she handled something poorly, she nearly always says that she “never said that.”

In fact, it was in response to me writing an article for Medium about why you should apologize to your kids (since deleted) which she refused to read at all that I think broke my writing streak. I told her that the article was mostly about things *I* have done wrong as a parent.

But I also told her that I wrote that you shouldn’t deny that you ever said something because it makes your child question their own reality. She got very, very defensive and said she decided not to read my article.

Then she didn’t talk to me for almost two weeks. I lost my momentum about writing around that time and haven’t really regained it yet.

The fact (yes, fact) is that she gaslights me about certain things. She absolutely insists that there’s no possible way I remember things correctly—essentially calling me a liar, rather than take ownership of something she said or did.

I know she’s the child of an alcoholic who has at times had serious drinking problems herself. (I don’t know the current status of her drinking.) I don’t know how much that has to do with anything. I just recognize it as very dysfunctional and want nothing to do with it.

It has taken me at least 25 years to be able to somewhat friendly with my mom in spite of this. The behavior is still there on her part and the only way I can have a relationship with her is to ignore it, which is a very huge deal for me. I honestly feel sometimes like I’m a much healthier communicator than she is, which I find sad, to be honest.

The extremely ironic thing is that she’s convinced that many people are gaslighting her, when as far as I can tell, she’s the one actually doing the gaslighting.

But I honestly truly don’t trust myself as a result of growing up with that. I don’t know if I am just as guilty of gaslighting as she is and similarly can’t see it.

All I know is that I try to be extremely aware of myself and to correct misunderstandings when I discover them or they’re pointed out to me, then try to do better.

I really, really want the gaslighting to stop with me. If you tell me I did something wrong, I might say I never intended it that way but I always sincerely apologize. Doesn’t matter if it’s to my kids or my husband or whatever.

I’ve recently realized that no matter how good my relationship with my mom ever gets, there’s always going to be that profound unwillingness to own fault in anything on her part and that’s just something I have to live with.

My daughter

I had a tiff with my daughter yesterday that started out making me feel awful but ended up making me feel like I’ve totally won at parenting. (Even if I didn’t actually “win” at parenting, I’m still claiming the victory and holding on to it for a while.)

I had originally said I would get her dishes for her new apartment but she didn’t get me a list of what she needed. Today, she finally did and I was a bit shocked by the price because I was expecting it to be cheaper.

Mind you, it’s not outrageously expensive, just about $50 more than it would be to get her a set from Walmart. I had saved my old Corelle dishes in our old basement in Michigan, fully intending them to be hers when she moved out. Long story short, she and my husband made a mutual decision not to bring them down when we moved here and I honestly felt bad about that.

I’ve already spent over $500 on supplies for her new apartment. Plus I am giving her our old sofa and a blue recliner that I got when I was pregnant with Adam. (She claimed dibs on the blue chair, since it has sentimental attachment for her.) And I just got her a new bed last year.

She told me that she doesn’t like taking financial help from me because she knows I’ll get anxious about the cost. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate, though I see why she’s extra sensitive to it. When we were at Target the other day buying her supplies, when the cashier rang up the total and it was a bit over $300, I said, “Wow, that was more than I thought.”

She took that comment to mean I was super stressed out about it but I honestly wasn’t at all.

So basically, I’ve somehow fucked up massively when it comes to her and money. It’s true that I do get anxious about money; that’s just one of the reasons why my husband calls me his “little bird.” (The meaning of that actually comes from a Bible verse Matthew 6:26 about how the birds don’t worry about how they’ll be fed, yet the Heavenly Father feeds them and surely I’m more valuable than they are.)

So yeah, I have a lot of anxiety. Everyone knows it and it’s worst about money. And unfortunately, that has negatively affected my daughter and her relationship with me.

BUT—when I came home, after having already told her by phone that I wouldn’t be able to afford the dishes, we had a really good talk. Like, she actually said the kind of things that I’ve wanted to hear from my youngest son and haven’t since he’s been away at college.

She said that our relationship is strong because we can actually talk about important stuff and the money aspect of things is so much less important. She actually compared our relationship to having a positive beneficial effect like therapy!

And she said that the fact that she’s moving into such a great apartment is proof of the “Texas gamble” having paid off. She had such an incredibly difficult time adjusting to the move down here and that has always been one of my biggest regrets.

It’s kind of ironic that I didn’t realize until yesterday that she’s almost exactly at the same age that I was when I had her. In retrospect, it seems like I was so young. And yes, I’m very glad that she gets to skip the hardships we went through.

On that note, she said that she used to feel like it was the best move for everyone on balance but she was kind of the necessary collateral damage. But now she feels like it also has become one of the best things for her, too—especially when she compares how she’s doing to how her classmates at the art school she attended in Michigan have turned out so far.

And she mentioned the fact that Dylan is able to go to college and live in a dorm—something that once seemed so impossible for any of my kids to afford. We really are getting ahead, even if sometimes it feels like we’re not.

She also said that the most valuable thing to her is knowing that she always has a home where she is welcome if she ever needs to return, no questions asked. Even if I’m widowed and living in a one-bedroom apartment, I’ll still take her in, even if she has to sleep on the couch. And I’m really glad she acknowledged that and it means something to her.

She knows she’s doing a lot better than she would be if we had stayed in Michigan. She doesn’t have to start out with the same struggles that my husband and I did, and as she put it, isn’t that what every parent wants, for the next generation to do better than you did?

We’ve come a long way together, especially since we’ve been down here in Texas. It hasn’t always been a smooth road, to be sure, but everything works out in the end.