Every hour or so since Friday morning, it’s Sunday afternoon now, my mobile phone has made a strangulated buzzing sound. I know that somewhere amidst the telephones exchanges calls to my landline are being bounced into the void in a similar manner. Each time this happens I know that the infernal tag team of my 87 year old mother and my 59 year old sister have tried to call me yet again. I finally hit the point where I just couldn’t bare dealing with them anymore. My mother is very frail and my sister has learning difficulties, making this admission even more potentially awful, this feels like the nearest I’ve had to a holiday for at least a decade.
For as long as I can remember every day of my life has consisted in some way or other of managing my family. It will start around 9am with my mother moaning about her arsehole and the state thereof, followed by a poisonous selection box of various illnesses and complaints bombarding my ears every couple of hours. No matter what I am doing, you can be guaranteed that it will be disturbed by my sister and mum. To make matters worse, my sister and mother will ask me the exact same list of questions, me knowing full well that they are both in the same room and could easily confer my latest news or non news between each other. The situation has got even worse over the last few years as my mum’s memory has got so bad that she asks me the same questions three times in every single conversation.
So what do we talk about? Nothing
And here comes the long explanation.
About a month ago I had an assessment meeting with mental health services. After my most recent plummet into hell, and subsequent long crawl back out, I finally felt it was time to have another go at therapy. During the interview in which I regaled a few stories about my upbringing which were condensed by the community psychiatric nurse down to two words which were “abusive” and “mother”. As I have mentioned previously, to everyone, their own normality is normal. Whether you are picking through garbage on an Indian rubbish heap all day, being waited on hand and foot without a care in the world as royalty or sewing lampshades out of dead people’s skin like notorious killer Ed Gein, that is your normal day. Growing up, my normal was to be told I was utterly shit at everything I did, that I would fail at everything and the best I could hope for in life was to be a bank clerk and that was probably out of reach to me. I lived, in terms relative to a western society, in squalor. Sleeping on sofas and camp beds amongst mould, damp and insect infestations with no privacy and no telephone all so my parents could maintain a second home four hours drive away that they were too proud to cut their losses and sell at a sane price. Meaning we had to scrape by on nothing so that they could pay a mortgage and rent at the same time. And the guy was right, it was abuse. I can see it much more clearly now as I have got more distance both in time and geographically on the situation. To be allowed to grow up feeling worthless and with limited horizons is child abuse. It may not have the immediate attention grabbing, sympathy inducing, horror of the psychical or sexual kinds but it is still abuse and very wrong.
Over thirty years later my mum still demonstrates the same facility for taking any situation and creating chaos from it on a daily basis after which she then picks up the telephone and complains to me about the consequences of her actions, be it debts, car crashes (she still drives) people she’s upset and ostracised. The constant repetition of situations the world has presented to her time after time to teach her lessons that she refuses to learn. My mum and sister, reverse Midases, turning gold into shit on a daily basis.
So why do I listen to it? I’m sure you are asking by now. Well guilt really, knowing that with an 87 year old mum and a sister with multiple sclerosis (Did I mention that?) any phone call could be their last, I tolerate it all, giving away as little information about myself as I can so as to minimise any opportunities my mum has to poison anything I do and suck away any sense of joy or achievement from it.
For years now the conversations have been virtually identical every day. “Are you going out” “yeah, probably” “what have you done today?” “Oh, various things…” Day in, day out…
Things have come to a head though recently, during my recent week in hospital I spent more time managing the neurosis of my family than I did recovering as they shamelessly pestered the lives out of me, my friends and the hospital staff.
My failing health has also highlighted another problem, the ‘gifts’. Since moving many many miles from my family so that they no longer tread all over my life on a daily basis they have bombarded me with increasingly more random and useless care packages. These weighty parcels, badly address and wrapped, turn up usually whilst I am out. Forcing me to trudge uphill on a two mile round trip to drag back a combination of pound shop ‘bargains’ polyester under / night wear and low grade stationary and art material. Every time I beg them not to send another one as the contents go either in the bin or in a charity shop and every time they send another. Then occasionally, one goes missing and they hound me and the sorting office daily for months to the point were I am embarrassed to collect things I do actually want (I know because I ordered them myself). For many decades now, I have bought my own Birthday and Christmas presents, with my own money I might add, as it is the only way they won’t be a disappointment. The last time my mum and sister were around on my birthday, they left the restaurant early and managed to break my spare door key in the lock. Before summoning me home and thus cutting my birthday short in the process it turned out that they had been pestering passers by in the street to try and break into my flat and get in that way.
Now here is the thing if you have “mental health problems”, regardless of how much therapy you have had or what medication you take, you instantly become unable to comment on anyone else’s appalling behaviour no matter how terrible it may be as you are the crazy one and henceforth responsible for any aspect of pretty much anything that happens. Even if the bulk of your problems were caused by someone else in the first place. Funny old world.
So the straw that broke the camel’s back? Well that would be picking up the first of these parcels since my heart operation. I struggled with it for thirty yards or so before I wondered exactly what all the weight was. At which point I opened it up in the street. It consisted solely of cheap art materials bought from a lidl, a branch of which is less that a minute from my home, if I wanted these things I would have bought them myself and the fact that I hadn’t should have been a bit of a give away. The only thing I actually wanted from this box was a few packets of twiglets the rest of it went straight in the first bin I saw. I felt sick, the sheer waste of money and resources turned my stomach as yet again my family made me an accomplice to their wastefulness. When I told (I am well beyond the asking point) them yet again to stop posting me things I would never use they dismissed me yet again with the most spiteful of phrases “Have you taken your pills today chris?” , their less than subtle hint that the problem was with my reaction and not their erratic behaviour, I realised that I had finally had enough. There is a point beyond which you can’t engage any more, a point where any feeling of guilt ceases to override my need to preserve my own sanity and now that point has been exceeded.
I am loving the peace and quiet, the lack of garbage dripping into my ear, the ability to get on with my day without some bizarre interrogation every few hours or bulletins from the land of the lost. I know that soon the will start hounding my friends and then police and mental health services. At that point I will be forced to engage again but until then I shall live in a brave new world where my days and my mind are my own.