I talked to Mom about some of the things I’d written in my last post, particularly:
- wishing I had a support system for recovering from depression similar to the excellent support she’s getting for her recovery from knee replacement surgery
- being willing to help her out with her recovery but needing something in return
- including sharing care of Dog and asking her to order her groceries online
- family therapy
- how I felt in response to her dismissive ‘goodbye’
She seemed pretty understanding and concerned about me. She reluctantly agreed to order her own groceries, then explained that the place where she’ll be receiving physical therapy 3x/week is near the supermarket. We can go grocery shopping together after her therapy. She also offered monetary compensation (TBD).
She seemed reluctant to engage in family therapy, asking, “well, what do we need to work on?” I realized that, while I’ve been discussing her behavior fairly extensively with Wakana, I haven’t actually talked to Mom about it/its effect on me. That’s not really fair.
So, I told her how I felt when she started talking about all the things she’ll need me to do and coming home from rehab, then abruptly said “goodbye” without taking a moment out of what she was doing to look at me. She said she had no idea I felt that way, I had wanted to know everything she would need so she was trying to help me by telling me. She thought we’d already hugged goodbye and I was saying I had to go so she didn’t want to hold me up. She hadn’t meant to be dismissive, nor to hurt me – of course not! She said I need to let her know when she’s doing something like that, at the time when she’s doing it.
I really felt like she was concerned about me, felt bad to learn that she’s been hurting me, and genuinely wants the feedback that will help her better communicate her love and caring. But I found it very hard to give her that feedback, and I’m concerned that if I try to do it “in the moment” I might say it in a way that’s hard for her to hear – or outright hurtful – and we’ll both respond to each other in ways that hinder our efforts to develop a healthier relationship. We’ve been doing that kind of thing my whole life, after all. I wrote that I want her to have support in listening to me, but just as (if not more) importantly, I need support in communicating this stuff to her! I find it horribly uncomfortable, I’m afraid I’m going to break her, I feel like I’m violating some essential, fundamental, unspoken rule. I need help learning it’s okay to tell her how I feel, especially in response to her behavior.
Wakana can help with that – she’s already been helping a great deal – but I think there’s only so much she can do without seeing both sides of the equation. Everything she knows about my mother is from my perspective; a family therapist would get to know each of us as an individual and have the opportunity to observe how we interact with each other during therapy sessions. Ze could support both of us in trying new ways of interacting that might help us both get what we want and need out of our relationship. Ze could help me recognize when I am misinterpreting Mom’s behavior, draw Mom’s attention to nonverbal cues about my emotional responses, get us both to say those things we think we’re not allowed to say – or think the other person already knows.
I’m not sure how much I should
push for assert my need for family therapy, or if I should just accept that it’s not something she’s comfortable with and keep working on my own stuff that prevents me from being honest with her. I have Wakana, I have Codependent No More – which has been sitting on my shelf collecting dust – I have other stuff.
NO!!! I’ve been doing this my whole life! Enough already! She wants me to be a huge part of her recovery; I need her to be at least minimally involved in mine. I appreciate that she’s willing to work with me, but at the very least I need her to help me feel more comfortable expressing my needs to her. I need support in asserting myself, help feeling like it’s safe. I’m not entirely confident she’ll be able to give me enough such support on her own; the work I’ve been doing can only help so much. We don’t have to dive into family therapy as soon as she gets home (in about a week), but I at least need it to be an option. A safety net, if you will.
I strongly encourage family therapy. It’s recommended that for anyone with mental health issues, individual therapy can only go so far, so it’s considered a vital step to recovery. I think it’s especially important in your case, since you live with her and so she’s a big part of your life. You could tell her this, about how most treatment providers recommend family therapy and consider it an essential part of recovery from mental illness (maybe Wakana could talk to her on the phone and attest to this). Though I also think it’s only fair to give your mom a bit of a break to recover from her surgery before looking into that, as it’s hard work!
As for asserting yourself, yeah, that can be really tough (coming from experience with my folks), but definitely important. It can help, if you feel like you are in a bad mood and might be unfair or snippish to her in the moment, to take a mental (or actual) note of what bothered you, and bring it up later when you’re calm and level-headed. (Though not too much later so she still remembers what happened.)
Knowing that family therapy is recommended for anyone with mental health issues is very helpful. I think presenting it to her that way might help. And yeah, it’s only fair to give her some more time to recover. Maybe part of the reason why she seems reluctant is because she’s thinking, “I can’t even climb a flight of stairs yet!” I can do the research so we’ll have a list of therapists to try by the time she’s ready.
Maybe Mom and I can create a code word or signal or something I can do in the moment. It won’t communicate the complexities of what’s bothering me and how, but it will let her know something is up. We can talk about it then or agree to talk about it later when I’ve cooled off. That might also help in public, where she seems to be embarrassed by any display of conflict (e.g. anger in my voice). What do you think?
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