- Hello friends, I decided after originally posting this piece that I had been remiss to not include some more context. As I had mentioned, I began writing this a couple of months ago, as writing is a big part of my healing process. I was struggling in getting to the finish line. I still felt the need to protect my family somehow and wasn’t sure if I’d publish it at all. Then, last Thursday happened. I was grocery shopping with my daughter. She looked at me and pointed past me saying ”mommy there’s a guy who wants you.” I turned around and to my surprise, my youngest brother was standing there. Keep in mind, I hadn’t seen him in a little more than two years aside from a call he made to me the Christmas just after my psychosis. We said hi. I felt slightly uncomfortable and awkward. He leaned in for a hug and had tears in his eyes- he said ”I miss you” It took me off guard. I said, ”Thank you for saying that.” He asked if I had the same number and I said yes. He leaned in for another light hug and said, ”We all miss you.” To which I replied, ”Well, you all have my number.” He asked if I was ok and I told him that I was great. We talked briefly about our kids and their schools at which point he leaned down again to say “you’re doing ok?” I said yes, I was fine, to which he replied, ”Really?..” His tone was odd as if he wanted me to confide in him. As if he didn’t believe I was ok. As if I were fragile. As if we were close. Over 2 years had passed and we live on the same small island. An island I had not planned on living on again. The space in between this time had been horrendously difficult for all of the reasons you already know. I was confused. I felt a bit flooded. His tone and affect- his approach toward me was slightly inappropriate in terms of boundaries all things considered. He is my brother. We were quite close when we were young…very close. But it has been nearly 20 years since those days. I was considering the encounter and thought perhaps this was his way of wanting to open up and that he would be calling me. This adult person is a stranger to me now, likewise he does not know me as my nearly 46 year old self. We departed. When I returned home i could feel my MS flaring up, which is what happens when I experience stress- emotional stress in particular. As settled in from our errands to my surprise, I had a notification that there was a new comment on my latest post which was several months old. To my shock and utter disappointment, it was a comment from my Father. It was an incredibly bitter, angry and untrue account of who I am. He chose to, after not communicatIng with me for over 2 years, to come to MY blog and leave a comment addressing my followers- (on a post that had nothing to do with him whatsoever). This is what he chose instead of calling, or emailing, or writing to his daughter directly. It was hurtful and so without hesitation, I decided to post this piece. Shortly after, my brother followed up with some unkind comments on my post. So here I was again reawakened from my peaceful life with more vitriol from my family of origin. I had been healing for over 2 years and now this. Why? What was their motivation? Did my brother not like the response he received, so he ran to tell my father, like a good loyal son? Why the anger? Why now? I was reminded. This is how my parents operate. This is how they have always operated. Rallying the troops, in full attack mode, teeth bared, no apologies, no facts, no filter. This is nothing new and the very reason I had chosen to stay quiet to protect myself. Upon reading his comment to my followers, I realized these people no longer deserve my protection. The comments my bother left; the very same brother I saw at the grocery store who seemed so very concerned for me, has left hateful and false comments here and has addressed a dear friend of mine who is a perfect stranger to him. He felt compelled to be sure she knew that I was a liar. This is the “toxic love” I speak about and protect myself from. When my Aunt (and Friend) posted words of support, my brother further accused me of being non transparent, while counting on me to be kind. So per his request, I have since made his comments, and my fathers comments visible for all to see.
I’m not sure what my family of origin is so afraid of. My blog is my safe space to share with others while providing support without judgement, something I have always craved. I do not speak of my childhood family. I’ve been living my life happily despite my personal struggles. I work hard to create happiness within this season. I do not speak of my family. I intentionally do not discuss those who have characterized me as an unstable, mentally ill person. Those who tried to convince my chosen loved ones to have me committed though not even the medical doctors treating me would consider doing that. I have not had any intention of discussing this with others because it casts my family in a bad light and regardless of the hurt it has caused, I decided to take the high road. I left my door open. They never came. Until now. They decided to come here, invading my space- Angrily addressing people who know me instead of coming directly to their daughter; their sister, in a loving fashion- particularly if they do believe she’s somehow unwell and unstable. So, here I am. This is why I felt it necessary to publish this. For what is true. For what is right. For, in being vulnerable, we are brave and in that space, we find true happiness and joy. This much I know is true.
Silence. When things are the most difficult, I disappear. i stop connecting. I don’t discuss what is really going on…this is where I’m able to find the quiet which otherwise eludes me completely as a single mother to 2 precocious young girls. The silent version of me can be confusing to those who are not familiar with the Tricia Rose who is struggling. The truth is, I’ve been running on survival Mode for nearly 3 years now and I’m weary. I’m so very weary. This is the Tricia Rose I don’t let many see. i have two daughters who depend on me and if I let it all go, then I may not have the ability to make it theough the day for them. So I go quiet. If you are a friend or family member in my life and have been wondering where I have been outside of social media; I’m here. I’m still here. Focusing on all of the best things and working hard to remain rooted in gratitude. The thought that the family i’ve been building for the last 10 years may end up looking different than I had hoped it would, my grief surrounding the loss of my family of origin came to haunt me. I’ve not shared anything on this subject because I’ve felt protective of them…of myself too. But it is time. Here’s my story.
The Ties that Bind: Love, Loss, Grief & Tenderness
If you have followed me here, you know my story. Here’s the cliff note version if you missed it: I had an MS relapse in July, 2019. To treat the symptoms, I was overmedicated with oral prednisone which led to my going into *psychosis. This led to my family having to abruptly move from the town and people we loved in order to not only get the medical attention that I needed- but also to be closer to family and more help. This brings me to here and now. My husband’s family has been invaluable in terms of their love and support. In fact, they knew something was wrong before Andrew ever even asked them for help. They could tell I wasn’t ok based on how I was communicating. His sister was so concerned, she hopped in her car at 7:00 one evening and headed to Walla Walla. My sister in law left her 4 children and the opera production she was involved in to care for me; for us……because she knew something was off with me.
- a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.”they were suffering from a psychosis”
- relating to or affected by mania.”the manic interludes in depression”
- showing wild, apparently deranged, excitement and energy.”a manic grin”
I felt compelled to spell out the definition of what i was sufferIng as a result of being over-medicated to be sure that there was no confusion about what I was actually experiencing. When I was in this state of altered reality on top of the mania which caused sleeplessness, my MS became worse in some ways. I wasn’t sleeping and my body needed sleep in order to heal. I was doing way too much because I had boundless, ”false” energy which contributed to my inability to let my damaged nerves begin the healing process. Aside from that, my behavior was at times erratic and completely out of character- which led to my sister in law driving across state without any notice nor thought for herself. Conversely, in the beginning of my deteriorating mental state, my family of origin had no clue that anything was wrong. Instead of ignoring the behavior, they became angry, defensive and antagonistic. As a result, by the time I was at the peak of my psychosis, I believed that my family of origin had ”ex-communicated” me. I was having some hallucinations at this time and I truly thought that my dad had contacted me to tell me that I was no longer welcome in the family. As a result of my believing this, I couldn’t be anywhere near my family which was easy in the beginning, as we didn’t live close. Any gentle nudge given to me by Andrew or my sister in law towards my reachIng out to my family was met with aggressive behavior. The idea that Andrew might have even been on the phone with them would send me in to a tailspin of agitation. it was during this time that I began sending emails to a few of our family members and closest family friends. In those emails I aired out every single dark secret and dirty laundry item that I’d ever endured at the hands of my family and by my mother more specifically. Let’s be honest, every family has their own relationship dynamics. We all play our own roles, especially in a large family like mine (6 children – 2 parents – that’s a lot of personality!) But remember my mental state at the time I wrote those emails! There were things there that weren’t at all true but plucked from some place in my mind. A distorted memory or experience became the truth. In psychosis there are varying levels of truth and fiction within the alternate reality. Of course that is the case as our memories are still stored in our brains! We’re pulling the ideas from some nugget of truth however distorted. I have many examples of this but one that comes to mind is this idea I had, that my mother beat me from a very young age- even as a baby in diapers. The reality is, my mom had told the story, on more than one occasion, of the time she went to get me out of my crib after my nap. I had taken off my poopy diaper. She recalled that it was like I was “finger-painting” on the walls with my poop. She also tells of her response and how she spanked me so hard and more than once, that she scared herself. She called her mother in tears afterwards, as she recounts. My mother has told this story more times than I can count. Did my mother beat me from the time I was in diapers growing up? No. She did not. In my mentally ill state, I took the memory of that story and turned it in to something else. The truth of that story became information to feed my alternate reality. There are many things I wrote in those e-mails that were incredibly hurtful to my family. My mom was the central target which was difficult for the entire family. Of course, my mom is beloved. Those emails were never meant to be seen by my siblings nor my parents. A concerned family member passed the email along to my brother who then shared it with my parents and other siblings. By this time, they knew I was suffering from psychosis. It was difficult for them, I’m certain, because they couldn’t be anywhere near me. The hospital was very careful. I could not talk to or see them until I was out of the psychosis. The unfortunate part about having psychosis as a result of being over medicated in the way that I had been, meant that there was really no treatment for it- other than to get the meds out of the system. It took what seemed to be an eternity.
Towards the end of October, I had come out of my psychosis. My brain wasn’t yet healed from the trauma. I was still confused and had very little memory of what truly happened. I was emotionally fragile having lost so much. On top of that, I was suffering from quite a bit of pain and lack of mobility as a result of the MS monster. One thing i did know for sure…I needed to reach out to my family to tell them how sorry I was. I started with an email to my parents. My email expressed how sorry I was and acknowledged how difficult it must have been for them as parents. My mom responded saying that she loved me and nothing could change that. We scheduled a time to have a phone call between Andrew, myself and my parents. When the time came, I dialed their number. as we waited for them to pick up the line, I felt a lot of anxiety. I felt just terrible for what had happened. They answered. I said, ”Hi, it’s me“ They responded with, “hi”….then silence. Andrew and I looked at each other. This was a confusing if not awkward moment. Andrew put his head in his hands. He was anxious. I could feel it. I knew what he was thinking because I was thinking the same thing. As a parent, knowing the physical and emotional trauma your daughter had been going through and not having the ability to see or talk to her for three months as she went through it would be absolutely horrendous. As a mother/father on the other side of the line, my response would be much different than, ”hi” and silence. I felt their anger. It was pulsating in to the receiver. Lump in my throat and pit in my stomach, I broke the silence. “Like my email said, I just can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for you and I’m so very sorry.”
Their response in a nutshell:
1.) You obviously have unresolved issues with this family (I didn’t. I’ve had therapy. I’ve done the work. I’d created boundaries that worked for me.)
2.) We need to sit down with a counselor. You and all of your siblings and go through everything to hash this out once and for all. (I had no unresolved issues. nothing to hash out..and 7 against 1?)
3.) Arre they giving you any anti-depressants? (This confused the hell out of me because I wasn’t depressed.)
4.) Have you read the emails? (No, we don’t nor do the doctors feel that reading them now would be good for my healing.)
5.) Andrew handled the entire situation terribly…
and cue… I finally start crying because i had been pushed too far.
Then, from my mom with a complete change in tone. In a more kind tone, ”Well, you’re obviously too emotionally fragile to talk about this now. We can talk when you’re a little better. Also, we’ll be in town next week for Halloween to visit your brother. Just wanted to let you know.”
I wrote to each of my siblings individually to apologize for what had happened. One didn’t respond at all. This particular sibling had sent some pretty unkind and revelatory messages during my illness because they did not know me well enough to realize I was actually sick. They told me exactly how they felt about me. I’ll never forget it and in fact believe those messages were the tipping point leading to my belief that the family had excommunicated me. Three others wrote nearly identical emails stating that of course they knew i was sick, that they loved me – BUT… Andrew made the situation terrible by not letting anybody know what was going on. This really confused me. Based on conversations I had with both my sister in law snd Andrew, I thought he had been in regular contact with the family. I spoke to Andrew about it. He had no idea what they were talking about. Throughout the entire ordeal he missed only one day of communication. That was the day he was able to finally get some food, some fresh clothes and most importantly, some sleep. For the first time in 4 days! After going through his phone to show me the texts… he buried his face in his hands. He had been completely pushed to his limits in every way. I think a simple, ”Thank you for taking such good care of our daughter/granddaughters/sister” would have sufficed.
Andrew and I were both hurt by the response. Andrew asked me to consider what they’d been through. That they loved me more than anything and that it would all be ok. Andrew was always giving them the benefit of the doubt and looking for the best in everyone. ”Tricia Rose, your family loves you so much!” he would say. Yeah, I know. I don’t doubt that for a minute. I have never doubted their love…truth be told, through this ordeal the type of love they had to offer was toxic.
I called my parents here and there. I got the Marco Polo app to make it easier for Facetime. My kids love it! We sent some messages that way. I called the day before Thanksgiving to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. Often, the holiday itself gets crazy with kids and cooking and I did not want to miss the acknowledgement. I asked my mom about their plans as they live in a different city than I do. She said that they were going to be at my brother’s this year. All the siblings were going. This was news to me. None of my siblings had reached out. I wasn’t asked what my plans were. I wasn’t invited. I live an hour or less away from my brother. During that conversation, my mom made it clear that any reaching out should be coming from me.The voice inside me was screaming! “But I did reach out and I apologized and I was sick when I wrote those emails…so why do i have to keep apologizing?” That was all my inside voice. In reality, I just sat there silent. This was often my pattern.
Despite these things I really tried to maintain. I reached out here and there. My girls sent their Marco Polo video messages to my parents which were now going unanswered – (My mom and dad didn’t like the fragmented communication. It was their way or no way, I guess.) This was hurtful and confusing to my girls, so we stopped sending them.
After the Thanksgiving incident, I heard from my mom that her side of the family was going to be getting together for Christmas. She asked if I (we) could make it. I told her that since Andrew would be working on that day, I wouldn’t be able to because I wasn’t yet well enough to do that on my own. She asked, ”mentally or physically?” Traveling with the girls was not something I would be able to do at that point as my MS was really flared up. I had no idea what she meant in asking about my mental wellness. I’d been out of psychosis for over a month at that point. It wasn’t long after that, I learned my mom had told people that I’d suffered from mental problems for years. The narrative was that I suffered from some sort of mental illness. Bi-polar does run on my mother’s side of the family and this was the ball that was chosen by my family of origin and they ran with it when I went in to psychosis. Despite all evidence to the contrary by multiple Doctors and specialists who had treated me. To say this was hurtful would be an understatement. It was a gut punch. I continued on. Reaching out occasionally. Of course, on birthdays and holidays and with any news of my girls. I was hurt by the knowledge that they were telling people a version of my life that was false, but decided I would simply live my life in love and forgiveness and that in doing that, the truth would become self evident.
In March, 2020, I received a text message from my mom. It read: Hi. I have Georgia’s birthday present but something has come up and I may not get to the post office to get it there on time. My response: That’s just fine! It will give her something to look forward to! She texted back: It’s been a really hard week around here. I asked her if everyone was ok. She answered yes, but – “you should call some time. But not today. Today is not a good day.” I answered, ok mom. You call me whenever it’s easy for you. A few hours later I received a phone call from my cousin (who is beloved by me and more like a sister). She said, ”Congratulations Auntie!!” I had no idea what she was talking about. She said – wait…you don’t know!? …. know what? ….. Your sister had the baby! A little girl! ….. wait, what? Is everything ok? Is this what my mom was talking about when she said things had been hard?….BUT also…. my mom was just communicating with me and made no mention of it! I explained all of this to my cousin and she couldn’t believe it. There was absolutely nothing wrong with baby or momma. Everything was fine. Not only was everything fine, my parents were in town! In other words, they were quite close to my town. A perfect opportunity to finally have a visit! Perhaps even an opportunity to hand deliver the birthday gift for my daughter who was celebrating her 6th birthday in just one day. Why in the world would my mom not give me the news of my new niece? What was so difficult in their lives that needed to be discussed over the phone? Why wouldn’t she bother to mention that they were here? I was so upset. I texted my sister congratulating her. I then blocked my mom. I no longer had the bandwidth for her toxicity and manipulations. This was not only bizarre behavior, it was just plain mean. It was also not the first time I had experienced this type of hurtful and unhealthy behavior from her.
To be clear, I did not block my siblings nor my dad. I figured that they would ask me what happened and why I blocked mom. I would tell them the truth and maybe we could work it out.
The next morning was my sweet Gigi’s 6th birthday. We had big breakfast plans and were making this particular birthday extra special, as she had experienced so much trauma in the past year. I was busy making the waffle batter when my oldest sister texted me: “Happy Birthday to Georgia! It’s a good thing mom’s here or I would have forgotten.” I said thanks! She asked what we were doing and I quickly answered. I was in the thick of preparing our traditional breakfast celebration. She then texted, ”How are you?” … wow. I didn’t answer. I was intent on focusing on my daughter’s special day. I hadn’t heard from my sister since Christmas. It’s March 13th. I don’t have time to answer that question. I know what this is. I’ve experienced it more times than I can count. It’s a triangulation of communication. She knows I’ve blocked mom. Instead of coming right out and asking me why, she’s fishing. Its a manipulative way of communicating and I want no part of it. I will not bite. A few minutes later she texts: Where’d you go?” Ok…I can respond to this one. It’s a fair question. My response is simply the truth. I am super busy doing birthday stuff. No time to text. Her response had the tone of sarcasm I’m all too familiar with. Almost a scoff…..”Umm….ok….” By the end of the day, she’s blocked me as has another sister. I hear from no one. We received Georgia’s birthday gift from my parents She sent a Marco Polo to them as a thank you. I would never keep my children from their grandparents. My birthday came and went, no word. Charlotte’s birthday came and went, no word. Still today, September, 2021 – no word.
I’m a much healthier person now, in terms of knowing what is my responsibility and what is not. I am not the guilty party. I have done nothing wrong. I was sick. I am not perfect. I made questionable choices in my younger adult years (like many people do). I may have chosen a life that my family didn’t approve of. I may have become an agnostic- which made it difficult for me to communicate in an authentic way with my family who happens to be in my opinion, legalistic in their Christian world view. This doesn’t mean that I have mental problems, nor does it mean that I’m mentally ill. Perhaps the idea that i must be suffering from mental problems makes it easier for them to justify their own response to what happened to me. I can’t be sure of the why of it- but the why is not relevant. What matters is how I live my life. The example that I am to my children. Living out our lives in the most authentic way! Leading in love and being rooted in gratitude. This is my mantra. My door is always open to my family, as long as they have healthy boundaries and reasonable expectations. This is the only way. I cannot allow for the toxicity. I am breaking the cycle for myself and for my daughters.
It has taken me a very long time to get to this point in my life; to the point of holding my boundaries and knowing that I don’t have to belong to my family origin as my tribe. I learned what unconditional love was through my in-laws. During the height of my psychosis I could be terribly mean to my sister in law. The person who dropped everything to be sure we had as much support as we needed. I’d lash out, she’d show up with a gift. A special hand cream or some chocolate or a scarf. Things that belonged to her. A token to remind me that she loved me no matter what. When I came out of psychosis and apologized in tears as I thanked her for everything she did for me and my family, her response was- “That’s what family does! You were sick, you have nothing to be sorry for!” This is what unconditional love looks like. I felt that all the way to my bones in a way I never had before. I will be ever grateful for that lesson. No judgement, no holding a grudge, no shame to carry. It was not mine to carry. Big breath. Hands outstretched to the heaven’s type of breath. So. Much. Gratitude.
We human beings have an inherent need to belong to our families of origin. It’s biology. It was important for our survival. Without the tribe…the village, we would more than likely die. Our human brains have not completely evolved out of the notion while our society has. If we feel we don’t belong or that our family of origin is unhealthy, the anxiety that exists is tremendous. The idea that you may be healthier as a person if you keep a distance creates even more anxiety. It Is a survival mechanism. Our neuropathways are wired to have that fear response when considering the fact that maybe we don’t really have a tribe. Let me tell you something. My tribe is massive. It’s filled with support, love and authenticity. I am thriving in a way that I never knew possible despite our struggles and even through the pain and especially through the grief. A friend once said to me that I should try to grieve a little bit every day and maybe- even try grieving with someone. In some cultures this is just common practice; a part of the culture. I am eternally grateful for that. The gift of grief is powerful. And you are not alone. I know there are so many of you grieving something today. Find your tribe. Hold them close. They do not have to share your blood because blood is not always thicker than water….and that’s ok too! You are worthy of unconditional love and forgiveness. You are worthy to have the freedom to be your most authentic self without judgement. Find your tribe! They are out there… I promise you it will set you free of all of the things that are not yours to carry.
*This piece is dedicated to my Grandma Donna Rhea Rose who has never wavered in her love for me. She has been the source of consummate love and support through these few years.
*I acknowledge that my family loves me in the way that they know how to. I am grateful for the life my parents gave me. There was a lot of love in my family. There is a lot of love in my family– It’s just not always the healthy kind of love for me. My parents started their family young and sacrificed a lot. I am ever grateful. My door is open when they’re ready to accept my boundaries.