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Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back (and a comment from the husband)

The last two posts I have shared with you a problem that occurred while vacationing in paradise with my family (husband, daughter, son and future daughter-in-law). Basically, I got my feelings hurt in three ways (having breakfast alone every morning, my children not reading my novel, and my family playing without me). I used Tara Brach’s R.A.I.N method to settle my elevated emotional state. Now, let me move on to what happened next …

My husband showed up for breakfast and I started out calmly trying to tell him that I wanted him to spend more time with me – i.e., at least come to breakfast so I didn’t have to eat alone. That went fine but when it came time discuss my hurt feelings about my kids not reading my book and not playing games (which I brought along to play while hanging by the water), my hurt resurfaced and tears ran down my cheeks.

What I wanted my husband to say – what I needed him to say – was “You’re right, honey, it would hurt anyone’s feelings if their own children ignored their achievement.” AND “I think playing games sounds like fun. Let’s do that this afternoon when it’s too hot to be in the ocean anyway.” AND “I appreciate your getting up early every morning and making sure the family gets the best chairs in the best spot.”

What he said was ….. drum roll …. “Do you think you should take some Xanax?”

boxers

KAPOW!

All right, now let me say right now that my husband is wonderfully supportive, always always in my corner, has had to handle a lot of turmoil because of bi-polar disorder. He often – usually – says the right thing or at least doesn’t say the wrong thing.

But, I guess he’d had too much rest or too much sun or too many frozen beverages. Because what he did say was exactly the wrong thing to say.

Gaslighting

Do you know the term gaslighting? I think it actually comes from the movie Gaslight, which was produced in 1944 with Ingrid Berman and Charles Boyer.

The exact definition is: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.

There is even an article on it in Psychology Today: (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/communication-success/201704/7-stages-gaslighting-in-relationship)

Now, my husband does not manipulate me in any way. In no way do I want to make light of the psychological effects of such manipulation. I am not a victim of gaslighting. But, this one episode made me feel like I was losing my sanity.

Feeling Crazy

Let me see if I can explain this better. I often worry that I’m “crazy”. My husband (and others) assure me that since I do worry about it, I’m not. According to him, only truly crazy people think they aren’t. I don’t know about that but it sounds good.

Anyway, when he asked me if I needed Xanax, it was as if he said, “You really are crazy and you need to be medicated.” This forced me to question if I was wrong to believe my kids should read my book, or wrong to want my family to spend time doing things we all enjoy, or wrong to want to eat breakfast with my husband. Was I just wrong? Was I being too emotional and was there no “rational” reason to be hurt and angry?

What made it worse is that the statement was from my husband. Remember, I said earlier that he is always calm with me, always patient, always helping me manage my distress. So, when he said this it felt like he was saying, “Okay, you’re going too far into crazy-land. Take a chill pill.”

Now What?

I spent the entire day in a bad place. Angry one minute. Despairing the next. I tried to stay in a shell as much as I could but there was no way my family didn’t notice that mom was distressed.

I was “over it” the next day – or at least, had put it on a back burner of my heart. But when we returned home, I felt …. I’m struggling to find the exact right term … distant, discordant, distrustful. It was like we existed on two different planets. I was on the “I’m getting mentally healthier planet.” He was on the “my wife’s got some serious problems planet.”

We got along fine. It was that I no longer trusted him to see me correctly. I felt like he saw me through the lens of mental illness. And, while I still struggle and always will, I am much healthier and able to recognize my symptoms and implement management strategies.

Help!

I began to seriously think we needed couple’s counseling. I felt so far away from him. We peacefully coexisted but we weren’t a team or a couple. Not a good place. At one point, I wondered if he’d notice if I moved out.

Thankfully, I had an appointment with my therapist. I told her about the entire scenario and she validated that my feelings are always right. She further reinforced that I did an excellent job using R.A.I.N to handle what in the past would have been debilitating emotions. When I mentioned my husband’s comment about taking a Xanax, this is what she said …

“For most of your marriage, he has lived with someone who didn’t handle overwhelming emotions in a productive way. You have gone through a significant change. You are a different person and he needs to re-learn this new you. Because you have changed, your relationship must also change.”

I likened it to a couple facing the empty nest or a couple with their first child. Life no longer looks the same. My often-unbalanced-self has left the home and we now must re-create our lives with this new, intuitively-grounded-self. Do I live in a perfectly adjusted wise mind? Heck no! But I’m better able to see when I’ve gone wonky and I’m letting emotions control the world. I also am able to sense when I’ve let my boundaries lapse and make the necessary adjustments.

I use R.A.I.N. faster and because of that, I am able to understand where my emotions are really coming from. That allows me to address the real problem.

I have been able to explain all of this to him and we are in a better place. Counseling may still be warranted – and he’s more than willing – we’ll just see.

This episode was very difficult but I think I learned to do better about figuring out what I need and asking for it in a very specific way. I think my husband is doing better not jumping to a “she’s just being too emotional” mindset. After 26-years, we will make it. One day at a time.

A Note To Dave

Dave edits these blogs so I can’t keep any secrets. So, Dave, thank you for all your years of rescuing me from myself. I think I can handle the life vest now! I don’t believe I could have ever faced all of these issues without knowing you are in my corner.

Also, feel free to write your own comments at the bottom of this. Every story has two-three-four sides and I never want you to feel your perspective is discounted.

Dave’s Comments:

So, to be honest, your statement of “Okay, you’re going too far into crazy-land. Take a chill pill.” was probably dead-on. I certainly didn’t “mean it” that way or certainly in any derogatory way, but that’s probably a pretty accurate statement and I certainly understand why you felt that way. I was shocked at the time that it upset you, because I’ve probably said that 20 other times over the past few years and every single time previously you have said something like: “Ya – that’s probably a good idea”.

The other thing from the “other perspective” is this: You stated “I got my feelings hurt in three ways (having breakfast alone every morning, my children not reading my novel, and my family playing without me).” I strongly supported (in my mind at least), the point about the kids not reading your novel. I said that I was very disappointed in that – didn’t defend them and thought it was a crappy thing to do. While I know they didn’t do it to hurt your feelings, it was something they should have done just to be nice if nothing else. I totally get “why” this hurt your feelings – and I feel those were totally “rational” and valid for anyone. The other two I’m not sure I “get”, but they’re still your valid emotions. From my perspective, the breakfast thing is really unfair as you went out of your way proactively to encourage me to sleep in every day since I was so tired and stressed from work. You even went so far as to say things like you enjoy your quiet time in the morning with your coffee – I bought-in that you were truly OK with it. And, I genuinely appreciated it (and still do). I believe (although wouldn’t swear to it) that I told you upfront if you ever wanted company, feel free to wake me up. And, on the ‘playing without you’ or playing the games you brought, my perspective is you simply should have asked to play games– we would have all been very happy to play. And, we did end up playing them and we all had a great time. Yes – it would have been nice for one of us to bring it up or suggest it earlier, but no one was trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. On the other activities, I did ask you virtually every time if you wanted to do it (although I knew you probably didn’t) so not sure what to do there – I know you want us to do stuff like that………. So, while I see two of them from a different vantage point, I do understand your perspective on those two as well – I really do. I just didn’t see them that way at the time. Reflecting on it now, I wonder if one thing hurt your feelings and the other two were mostly kerosene being thrown on the fire? NOT saying they didn’t hurt your feelings – just wondering if you could have handled them OK if the reading piece didn’t happen……

I love you – and I love your progress – and agree it’s a good thing for me to re-evaluate my going-in “take” when I see you being “too emotional” from my where I sit. JYou are a different person (as am I). And, yes – we’ll make definitely make it. We both need to tweak and adjust as we navigate the journey ahead, and that’s part of the joy of the journey. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Resource:

Tara Brach has many excellent resources. Use this link for an excellent article specifically on RAIN: https://www.tarabrach.com/articles-interviews/rain-workingwithdifficulties/

She also has several YouTube videos on this topic. Simply search: Tara Brach RAIN

DISCLAIMER: PLEASE READ

I am not a therapist. I have no relevant diploma. I have no fancy letters behind my name. I am a sufferer with years of therapy. I am an expert only in the sense that I am enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. But hard knocks are an excellent teacher. If you suffer, I highly recommend you find a professional to help you and develop a personalized treatment plan. This blog is MY experience and while I pray it’s helpful, I am not qualified to diagnose or treat anyone for anything. (Well, I am a great math teacher—especially fractions!).

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    In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....

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