Sunday, 8 November 2015
Weights and Imbalances
Weights and Imbalances- 1984-1995
It is very difficult for me to confirm my older sister's diagnosis as mentally ill. That seems truly twisted on my part because being subjected to and observing her behaviour for so many years, how could I not perceive her as disturbed, ill ? My mother and blood father disagreed deeply about this with my Dad stating that my sister had become totally spoiled. Mother, for reasons of her own history, assumed all the guilt for my sister's condition yet felt there was a particular bond between them. My step-father first witnessed my sister as out of control and would often say that " she's well until she isn't ". From the outside of the misshapen family circle, everyone would say " your poor sister, she's ill", " she can't help it", " you must try to understand"... Up to a point, I do. But I also witnessed how manipulative, controlling and selfish she could be. How she obtained what she wanted when she wanted and how much she took us for granted. Again, later on, we were all told that this was also part of her illness. At one point, my mother and step-father wished to place her under supervised care because they could no longer deal with the incessant and extreme highs and lows, the sheer unpredictability and scale of her behaviour. However, my sister was totally capable of obtaining a public defender who kept her out of this safer and professional situation. And, I believe, that there was no talk of committing her to a " mental institution"-it was to be a retreat or halfway house that would allow her more freedom and safety. I do understand my sister's not wishing to go anywhere-I do. As a result, my parents and my sister were lost in the system and my parents had to find solutions practically on their own . But it was my sister who was able enough to manipulate the system in her favour with little regard for how it influenced family life and members.
There were many other episodes that I observed throughout my years that revealed her conscious and unconscious control over all of us. I rarely spoke to her about trying new things, new attitudes and perspectives because I could tell that, though she would listen, she would not hear. Consequently, similar discussions occurred over and over again. What was important for her was to be the constant focus of attention and energy. Plus, she was an interesting person. The years went by when family member after family member would spend hours, days talking to her or very tolerant Vermont friends being generous with their time and means taking care of her, feeding her, listening to her. When someone ever gave up in exhaustion, attention, they would be expelled by phone or by a very threatening, rageful letter condemning them to the deepest depths of Hell. And so it is that I remain unconvinced of her inability to assume any responsibility for herself and her actions over the many years.
In the years between 1984 and 1994, the drama disappeared and re-appeared. In 1984, she threw herself out of a hospital window and luckily she escaped with only a broken wrist. She moved from house to house which my parents provided her with and, very briefly, she became involved in sculpture at which she was truly brilliant. After being supplied with costly materials, casting, promotion and exhibitions, my sister told my parents that she no longer wished to do this one thing that would assist her in becoming more independent and perhaps even happier. She even gained outside recognition for her work and that was the operative word- work. There is no denying that the physical work was hard and precise, but she was good at both. Perhaps it was the demand for more sculptures or the expectation of my parents for her to try to extricate herself from the confines of her world and of theirs. My sister did not wish to work for her independence. Perhaps she never wanted to be independent.
During this period, my own life was taking its own twists and turns. I found many teaching jobs in Paris, Boston and the School for International Training in Vermont. I even taught at my step-father's college in exchange for drama classes. Plus, I got engaged which I never thought would happen due to my transient life mixed with still unpacked bundles of explosive material that was my past. I travelled across Canada and lived in Vancouver for over 2 years taken on as a cultural arts administrator for a French-Canadian organisation. Because my fiance wished to pursue a film career in LA and I still clung to my contact with Europe, we parted in San Francisco . It was during our three years together that I began to experience and notice the powerful after-shocks of my very early life. I began to have night-terrors and often could not sleep with my fiance. I wouldn't tolerate any form of pressure to do anything having experienced the emotional dictatorship of my sister. The effects of this also seeped into all forms of employment- my tendency to rebel, to not accept any form of authority and to undermine any framework that supported my perceived imprisonment and control. Looking back many years later, I must admit that I didn't make things any easier for my fiance. As for employers, unless they handled their authority compassionately and wisely, they frequently became targets of mistrust and their employment a torture that no one else could see.
From 1991-1994, I was back in Vermont with one foray to France in 1991 where the memory of being burned with cigarette butts surfaced causing me to return for deeper, trickier self-investigation. My parents had kindly rented me a small schoolhouse nearby because, really, they needed to have a life of their own when they could and I just needed to be separate from the dramatic atmosphere. Which, as it turns out, I did not help as I plunged deeper into my black muck of pain, rage, guilt. I began to self-harm. This would occur most often when I couldn't get things to work-cars, windows, etc. My rage and sadness simply shot into my hands and I would claw my face, arms and chest. It was as if a tornado had cut a path through unvented emotion and I was left completely drained and startled by what had just happened. I did not do this for attention. I was just so angry and my emotions were like a small child chained up in a dark room that no one entered or at the bottom of a forgotten well. This behaviour would also happen if I felt deeply hurt in family conversations. Because so much had taken place when I was pre-verbal, words were not my vehicle for communication. Added to that my first language was French then had to be switched to English didn't help. So, when my heart saw a glimpse of being able to share what was experienced or felt, words just tumbled out like clumsy, heavy weights. Everyone else seemed so articulate to me and I simply fell into a searingly painful silence that I held onto until alone. What I was trying to say got mirrored by my sessions of self-scratching and everyone finally could see and understand with each mark on my body. Whenever I felt hurt, people had to see it.
I feel very sorry that my parents had to see this which must have been so reminiscent of my sister. I moved to the Berkshires in order to follow intensive psychotherapy plus energy healing that would support both myself and my body. I was also under the supervision of psycho-pharmacologist at Austin Riggs. So, 1994-1995 were exceedingly painful. However, at the beginning of ' 95, I began a fairly strict regimen of walking almost 4 to 6 miles a day which would take the energy of emotion and discovery out for exercise and fresh air! And at the end of the summer, I embarked on a totally different route- that of theatre and in London. I had achieved a great deal in the Berkshires and I received such support from my parents. Of course, the situation with my sister continued to plague them and, once again, I felt very ambivalent about leaving them. I departed for England on my sister's birthday in early October. I liked that coincidence very much!