Seeing Red

seeingRed

Despite the goat from Sesame Street, which I absolutely loved as a kid,

I tend to keep my emotions in check and don’t normally allow myself to get too excited or upset about things. I’ve had a few blow-ups with the kids, but it’s usually quite brief and relatively minor. However, this last weekend my father-in-law managed to trigger my fury. I couldn’t sit still and had a hard time sleeping. It was the most I’d gotten worked up in years.

For some background, my father-in-law can be a very generous and caring person. However, he has some sort of serious personality issues going on that eventually emerge. My wife somewhat seriously diagnosed him with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Regardless of what it is, it feels very hard to have a normal relationship with him. The majority of the conversations we’ve had over the years have tended to be him trying to impart his wisdom on us and convincing everyone that he has all the answers. I get the feeling that he doesn’t feel that really has peers and tends to do best when he feels that is in charge or the knower of truth, the last romantic relationships he had were with interns of his(he was a social worker). I believe he feels that his life’s work is to get us to come around to his way of seeing things and thus save the world. His moods can swing unpredictably and he gets sulky and mean spirited.

Because of these tendencies my wife’s parents divorced about 25 years ago and he has a strained relationship with his children. My wife was the only one of his children that would let him stay with them during visits, but after years of feeling manipulated and judged every time he came we put an end to it. He’s always complained about not being able to stay with us and despite repeated denials has constantly tried to either manipulate us or guilt-trip my wife into letting him stay a few nights with us. He had brain surgery a few years ago and the black humor was the thought that perhaps it would help with whatever his issues were.

Last year, we spent a few weeks down in his neck of the woods (staying with my wife’s mother and stepfather). We limited our time with him to a couple of hours a day and didn’t invite him over to dinner every single night as in the past(he had tended to invite himself) since he would get sulky and unpleasant, particularly with my wife’s stepfather. Anyhow, on my wife’s last day (I had left earlier) he came over while she was home alone with the kids. He started criticizing my wife for the birthday present she had given him at the start of the trip(3 weeks earlier!). He went on and on and despite requests for him to leave my mother-in-law’s house he refused, saying “this isn’t your house”. My wife ended up crying in a bedroom with the door locked. We are guessing that he found out that we were letting my wife’s sister-in-law and nieces stay with us for a couple of nights. Several months later he wrote a letter to my wife asking why none of his children would let him stay with him, while my mother -in-law could. My wife wrote him a letter later saying that despite her the fact that she loved him she didn’t feel completely safe around him and used that birthday present incident as an example of why. She also reminded him of his emotionally and physically abusive behavior when she was a kid and how some of his current behavior triggered the flashbacks and provoked anxiety. He still has not apologized or even acknowledged that he may have acted inappropriately in regards to the birthday present incident.

What I’m trying to get across here is that we don’t feel safe around him. When he’s in a good mood and doing things he enjoys then he can be fun to be around for a couple of hours, but you never know when he’s going to go off. He went off last weekend with a letter to the family regarding some issues with pool safety that he had observed. The concerns were valid and worth discussing, but then he proceeded to make personal attacks against some of his kids and even threatened to report us all to child abuse services if we didn’t do what he wanted. My wife’s siblings both e-mailed back basically saying that meeting to discuss safety was a good idea, but that his threats of reporting us and that the use of e-mail for this matter was not appropriate(perhaps the criticisms were not as gentle as they could have been). His responses were even nastier and more unbelievable than the original letter.

I was so worked up, but couldn’t figure out why. My first inclination was that I wanted to write him a letter explaining how he unnecessarily pissed off everyone and could have written a simple letter expressing his concerns and suggesting we all meet to agree upon a strategy for keeping the kids safer around the pool. I started drafting a letter and found myself inserting more barbs and criticism regarding his behaviors and realized I was furious at him. As I’ve sat with this I think I’m furious because of the way his behaviors affect my wife despite the fact that she has been pretty calm throughout this whole thing. She loves her dad and wishes she could have a normal relationship with him, but his acting out just reminds us that he isn’t emotionally safe to be around. It’s just hard for me to have watched my wife try so hard over the years taking care of and trying to please him (an impossible task) only to have him treat her in such a manner. She’s beginning to realize that there is no pleasing him, but it’s been heartbreaking watching her try so hard to be a “good daughter” to him for so long. Here he is threatening us with child abuse charges over pool safety and completely ignore the fact that he offers no emotional safety at all.

I started trying to write this post yesterday but found that the fury I had inside that had me writing droves in the draft letters had kind of dried up. I feel like I can’t get worked up about it anymore. It’s a bit like my maternal grandfather who can be funny and charming but has a really nasty streak. I learned to ignore him years ago, that it wasn’t worth my time to get worked up and to just enjoy his better side while he is still around. Unlike the situation with my grandfather, my father-in-law’s behaviors affect not only my wife much more than it affects me, but also it also affects our kids. I’ve seen him interact well with the kids, but at times he has been a little too forceful with them, enough to make me uncomfortable. Now I’m wrestling more with the idea of what to do? Does it make sense to get worked up over an older man who has probably had emotional issues his entire life? After the lashing out over his unsatisfactory birthday present my wife decided that she was never getting him another present. After this letter, what do we withhold? I wouldn’t leave him alone with my kids, but it doesn’t feel right to completely cut him off either. My wife has been entertaining the idea once again of letting him stay with us(with a strict time limit) despite her concerns because she feels he is getting old and she misses him. She is the one that has suffered the most during his previous visits, so if it’s that important to her I don’t feel right saying no, but should I? I feel everyone is kind of moving on from this, but the part of me that is a dad and husband doesn’t feel right with just letting this pass and attributing it to his eccentricity or craziness.

So to paraphrase my old friend the goat, “I got maaaaad, I got maaaaaad, everybody gets maaaaaad”. However,I just don’t know what to do with it.

Out in the open

NY001

So last week I finally announced the blog someplace. No, I’m not talking about the NSA knowing my blog exists! In this case it was a stereo/audio forum I frequent (Hello to any AK’ers!). I wasn’t really thinking about what kind of response I would get, I just wanted to do the terrifying act of announcing the blog. I got some compliments and constructive criticism which was great. The criticism that made me think the most was the observation that I spend too much time thinking about how I feel. I wasn’t initially sure what to do with that observation. Was it a criticism of my approach to the blog or more about how I deal with my depression/melancholy? For a bit I was afraid I’d be too self conscious to write any more posts.

I thought about this for a few days and realized that the authors of the blogs dealing with personal development that I follow ( Penelope Trunk and James Altucher ) seem to have a lot of advice to share. I don’t always agree with their conclusions but still appreciate where their experiences(and ability to learn from them) had led them to. I on the other hand am still going through some sort of process (what that is exactly, I’m not sure), and don’t feel qualified to recommend anything. All I feel comfortable doing is sharing my process. As my wife would be the first to say, unfortunately most of the process takes place in my head. I tend to ruminate or worry or just free associate without really getting anywhere with my thoughts. I find that the act of writing down what I am feeling helps me somewhat in sorting through all those thoughts and emotions and gives me a hint of what triggered what. With the idea that this blog could help someone in a similar position as me, I can only hope that someone seeing my thoughts and process could gain some insight into their own situation.

Given all that, I still think I need to get more of the original idea for the blog back into action. Before announcing the blog I went back and re-read it from the beginning. In the very first post, I stated that I wanted to keep track of the positive things in my life and to see if that would help with my depression. So I think going forward I will put more emphasis on the positive events, but still allow myself to explore any feelings, positive or negative, that come up. Luckily for me, I had a great father’s day weekend, so I do have some positive events to focus on.

On Saturday, I attended an informal upholstery class that I am taking and was able to finish fixing up a foam cushion. My wife inherited some mid-century daybeds, along with some other fantastic furniture, from her grandparents. The daybeds used old-school latex foam for the seat cushions which sadly were beginning to get crusty and brittle near the edges. At the class, the teacher walked me through the process of trimming off the bad edges, sacrificing the smaller cushion to get the big one back up to size via gluing. It doesn’t sound like much, but I enjoyed learning something new and having something to show at the end of the morning. Since you can’t get latex foam easily I’ll have to use the modern stuff to replace the small cushion, but I’m not too worried. The eventual goal is to make new covers to replace the cracking vinyl ones but we have not been able to agree on a material with my wife. I’m looking forward to learning how to sew the covers once we get that settled.

That evening my mom watched the kids and my wife and I got to go out for dinner. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but when we get time alone it’s a reminder of how well we generally are together. The kids take so much energy and patience that at the end of the day it feels like we have little left to give each other. Despite the fact that we had some mostly disappointing Spanish food, we still had a good time and were able to appreciate each other and feel connected again.

Father’s day itself started with a morning surf session for my mom and me. Despite being in her early 60s she loves to go boogie boarding. When we go surfing together she usually stays close to shore for the smaller waves and white water and I paddle further out on a surfboard to the normal break. The conditions were a bit junky but we both managed to have a great time. Even though we were not in the same area of the beach, it still felt good to be doing one of my favorite activities with someone important to me and to share my joy of surfing. Later that day my dad and sister joined us for a BBQ at our place. Being with my parents and sister feels very comforting to me since I know I can be myself and I get a chance to relax and feel taken care of a bit. My wife and kids made me very sweet cards, and my wife even got me a vintage leather bag( a “manbag”) in celebration of my blog and the work she sees me doing on myself.

So despite my anxiety and disappointment in regards to the ever NSA revelations that had been with me all week(hence the picture up top), I was able to feel connected and positive because I was able to do some outdoor activities, learn something new and complete a project as well as getting to spend time with people I love and feel extremely comfortable with. The positivity carried over into the week and I even got some more work done on the stereo. I may finish her yet!

A mixed bag

Sick Ponies

I’m home with my younger daughter today. She picked up a classmate’s stomach bug and was feverish and vomited last night after complaining of a stomach ache all yesterday. Today, other than not being too hungry she seems much better. I just finished Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood”, which is the follow up to “Oryx and Crake”and the second in a trilogy set in the near future where a man made plague wipes out most of the earth’s population. It’s much more involved than that(touches on genetically modified organisms, corporate take over of government, and other timely topics) but given the stomach bug that’s what I am focusing on. Trying to wash my hands as often as possible.

The time since the last entry has been mixed. My coach and I decided that I would take the space of a month without any scheduled check-ins or meetings with her. This is in line with her realizing that things needed to change, and me realizing that I needed to take more of a role in doing things for myself. It’s nice to know that I can reach out for help if I need it, but I haven’t had any pressing issues come up. I find this experiment kind of exciting. Perhaps some more assertive engaged self will come out of this, or maybe I’ll just keep plodding along and nothing will change, we’ll see. I have been a bit down, but I think that may be understandable, and I’ve taken some opportunities to make more time for activities that I enjoy.

The being down I think is related to the news that a friend’s husband was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form of brain cancer. The doctors are giving him about a year a half to live, but no one knows for sure. My friend and her husband are trying to remain positive and not give up hope. To add to the difficulty in her situation she is also pregnant with their second baby. Besides being upset about the news, it makes me try to imagine how I would cope if I were in that situation. I have a hard time trying to imagine it. It’s also made me realize that I really don’t know when I could lose someone, and that I should take advantage of the time I do have with the people I care about. It can be hard to put into practice, but I’m trying to keep that present. I’ve focused more on that aspect than trying to imagine what I would do if I told I only had 18 months left, I’m a little uncomfortable with what comes up for me. My first thought is that I would want to travel. I would want to go back to South America and Australia. I would want to surf and scuba dive as much as possible. Then I remember I have a family and people who care about me(woops), and I feel incredibly selfish.

I actually did get to go out surfing last week. Part of the plan my coach and I set in place was for me to come up with ideas on how to use the time I would normally be meeting with her. Last week the weather cooperated so I went out for a surf. It was good to be back in the water, and despite the long interval since my last surf session I still remember how to do it(as long as the waves aren’t too big). I did notice that being out of shape was limiting(in terms of paddling for waves mostly) though. So it’s kind of like remembering how to ride a bike in that the motions are kind of ingrained, but the physical aspect plays more of a role than bicycling. Overall it felt great.

In contrast to surfing, the martial arts class I am taking was not as much an overall booster as usual. I went to class last week, and was feeling kind of off. My reactions were either slow or wrong, and I felt that I a lot of stuff I was supposed to know already wasn’t completely accessible to me. We had a seminar/testing event later in the week, and some parts went well, but as part of the testing we had to come up with our own applications of what we were learning, and that was kind of a bust. The Sihing (teacher) used it as a good teaching moment, but I still felt disappointed in myself.

I tend to be hard on myself, and get upset when I can’t do something I feel that I should be able to do. Besides the martial arts class, I think it carries over into most areas of my life. I should be more patient and attentive to my kids and wife. I should be able to pursue a job search(no qualifiers needed!). This is where the saying “Don’t should on yourself” fits, but it’s a hard habit to kick.

Being at home with my daughter so far has brought a lot of these areas into focus. Part of me wants to get some projects done (like this blog post) or continue on the stereo repair (started the process of replacing capacitors(re-capping) last week). Another part thinks that I should spend more time with her since she won’t be young forever and I should enjoy her whenever possible. The problem is that I can only take so much of playing with stuffed animals or her toys. I feel bad about it, but there it is. I guess I’m aiming for a compromise today. Some playing interspersed with TV time for her (yet another thing I “should not” be doing) while I do my thing. Maybe I can try to find an activity suitable for both of us such as walk outside.

Either way, I’ll keep washing my hands.