Category Archives: suicide

CTFlyer200

Can we flee my husband’s family?

Cary’s classic column from

They’ll drive us crazy if we stay. We want to move to Colorado!


Dear Cary,

This is hardly a new topic, but here goes.

My husband and I have been married about a year and a half. We met, instantly fell in love and got married a short time later. We are in our mid-30s and know ourselves well, so there was no reason to wait. And we are crazy happy with each other. Unfortunately, this whirlwind courtship and wedding situation didn’t give me as much time in retrospect as I could have used with his family. Not that I would have ditched my honey, but I probably wouldn’t be living where we are now, which is the crux of the problem. Here’s the cast:

His mother: where fun goes to die. Literally. My husband’s father, whom he dearly loved, killed himself about 15 years ago rather than continue being married to her, although only my husband knows this and she wouldn’t believe it anyway. She is the typical old Catholic, martyr, misery-loves-company type. Refuses to say anything positive to my husband. Couldn’t congratulate him on our wedding day, much less contribute a dime toward it and she is very, very comfortable financially. I am polite to her, but I don’t see us getting particularly chummy when every time I see her, she unloads about something my husband did 20 years ago. She’s 70 years old and no, she’s not mentally ill — she’s just a bitch. When I lost my job about a year ago and our fridge died in the summer, we asked for help. Her answer? “Well, you’ll just have to wait for a sale and get it yourself!”

His brother: AKA Golden Boy. Which I find ironic since he has done nothing of note in his entire life except get married in the Catholic Church and pop out a couple of kids, so he gets the lifetime free pass for whatever bullshit he wants to pull. He’s lazy, uneducated, a freeloader, thief, cheats on his wife, and everything out of his mouth is a lie. His best skill is probably getting his mother to pay for whatever he wants by pointing at the kids and saying, “I really need ____, but it’s so expensive with the kids …” Total con man and he plays his mother like a fiddle. He just stole my husband’s golf clubs out of our garage and I can’t wait for how his mother justifies it so it’s my husband’s fault.

His maiden aunt: She owns the house we rent. She’s pretty nice although she believes family comes before all else, meaning we should dismiss every stupid thing the brother does because “That’s just the way he is!” She’s 75.

So we all live about two blocks apart. We moved into this house because it was sort of a wedding present from the aunt, the rent was affordable, and we were planning on having kids. Not a good idea in the 450-square-foot apartment we were already sharing with two cats in the city. Now, after a year and a half, we are ready to bolt. Except that we can’t just yet — any apartment we can find is even more per month. So we are saving our money and plan to move to Colorado in a couple of years. Great, right?

Except that MIL and aunt are expecting us to hang around and take care of them in their old age like they did with their mother. MIL can kiss my ass and we have no problem leaving her to Golden Boy — he more than owes it to her. But the aunt … she’s kinda nice and we don’t know how to handle that. She HAS given us a place to live and all. Should we be preparing her for this ahead of time (which will undoubtedly lead to endlessly complaining about how we don’t appreciate family and more of the MIL’s bitching) or just keep it all quiet and tell them after we’ve bought the house and the moving truck is packed? The grandmother died at 95 and there’s no way in hell I’m staying here 20 years in this situation. And I know this sounds really petty, but let’s be honest — the aunt and MIL make it very clear that my husband and I just don’t “count” as much as Golden Boy because he has kids, so you know where the inheritance is going.

So do we prep them or gleefully skip out?

Desert Gal

Cary's Loire Valley Writing Retreat

Dear Desert Gal,

I hear something in your voice. I hear a self-assured quality that seems at odds with what you are actually asking, or saying. You are saying that you have married into a family that you find intolerable. It is not something you can gleefully skip out on, even if you go to the moon. Nor can these characters be neatly labeled and placed in boxes. You can divorce your husband if you want out of the situation. But otherwise, you’re in. This is the family you married into.

So here is what I first suggest. Take the long view. And try the high road.

Your mother-in-law may be a truly impossible individual. But try the high road. Go to her and say that you love her son very much, that you recognize that you may not live up to her ideal of a daughter-in-law, that you would like to be accepted as a part of the family, but that your dreams for such a life are taking you to Colorado. Tell her that you recognize that she and the aunt (her sister?) will need some help in the years to come, and ask her if there is a plan in place, and what her hopes and expectations are for your role in that plan. Tell her that if she hasn’t thought it through yet, that you hope she will. Offer to help her come up with a plan if she does not have one.

Give it a shot. Like many people, she and her sister might prefer not to think about the future and plan for it but just wait until it happens and then hope their families take care of them, and make life holy hell for everyone just on general principle. But you have a chance, now, to put everything on the table and see what happens. You have a chance, now, to start the conversation. You can offer to help by creating a plan. And you can make it nonnegotiable that you and your husband are moving to Colorado.

I also hear something else that I think is significant: Your husband’s father killed himself when your husband was a teenager or young man. It is understandable that because of the enormity of this event one might wish to reduce it to ironic dimensions: that he killed himself, literally, to get away from his wife. But suicide reverberates through a family in many ways no matter what explanation we give it. Each person in this family was without a doubt affected by his suicide in ways that they may not understand and probably cannot or will not communicate. It is there, that suicide, in your husband’s psyche and in the dynamics of the family.

You say you and he know yourselves well, so there was no reason to wait to get married. But if you truly knew yourselves well, you would have known that, perhaps because of the pain and chaos of your early lives, you tend to make impulsive decisions. Knowing that you tend to make impulsive decisions, you might have waited. But you plunged yourselves into a situation from which you now wish to escape. So you want to escape to Colorado. That may be yet another impulsive move. So if you truly want to know yourselves well, you should know this: that you tend to make big decisions on impulse.

It sounds like I am scolding you, doesn’t it? I apologize. I have no place to scold. I have no right. Let me try to get at what truly bothers me. My guess is that your husband was deeply affected by his father’s suicide, and that it is present in your relationship today in ways you are not aware of. And I sense that this unresolved pain is pushing you to vacate the premises. But it will go with you. Unless you and he examine how his father’s suicide has affected him, and how his current family relationships are affecting both of you, my guess is that no matter what you do, eventually you will experience emotional upheavals that seem to come out of the blue, and you will not know how to deal with them.

I feel this in your tone: You want a quick solution. And yet your actual situation calls for exactly the opposite.

I’m not saying don’t move to Colorado. By all means move to Colorado. Get out of there. But no matter where you go, you will be blindsided by events in the evolving family drama unless you begin working now to understand how that dynamic operates.

How about this: You have the conversation with your mother-in-law, the two of you move to Colorado as planned, but then you promise me to embark on a course of self-exploration so you can bring to consciousness the ways that his father’s suicide is operating today in your relationship.

Here is a very quick gloss on that. You say that your husband shared a secret with you, which is that his father killed himself to get away from his wife. If your husband is relying on such a story to cover over the enormous feelings he must even to this day be experiencing as a result of that suicide, then he has some work to do. It will be painful but liberating work. It will involve facing the loss of his father. It will involve facing his own guilt about the ways he might have prevented that suicide if only he were a better son, if only he had loved his father more, etc.

If he clings to this story that his mother is to blame for his father’s suicide, then in the years to come when his mother truly needs his help, it will be hard for him to play the role of loving caregiver and son, of protector and provider. Unless he takes some action to reconcile, he may also feel constant guilt for having, in a sense, abandoned his mother after his father’s suicide.

This sounds fine on paper. It is easy to say but hard to get. You have to get it. 

For instance, a few months back I was driving the truck along Lincoln Boulevard by Golden Gate Park in the fog, bellyaching to myself as usual, when something “became real” for me. I felt in my chest something that I had perhaps known intellectually for some time: That my frail, demented 85-year-old father was never going to get up out of his bed and give me the warm, encouraging pat on the shoulder or the wise, clear, practical advice that I for so many years resented him for not giving me. Holy shit. What have I been thinking? There was no more father out there to blame. The only father I had was within me. The only father I needed, also, was within me. Whatever fatherly support or strength or advice I felt I needed, I would have to create for myself, or find somewhere within me. I had to embody that strength.

It was a visceral thing. With agonizing slowness, the heart learns.

That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. You can know the facts of this suicide, but certain things must be felt. So I suggest you find someone to help you and your husband work through his father’s suicide now, so it doesn’t creep up on you two for the next few years until you feel like you are losing your mind because lately you’ve been breaking down in tears at unexpected moments and some depression has overtaken your husband and he’s angry and resentful and drinking too much and getting violent and suicidal and you cannot find him in the gloom and you are wondering, where the hell did this come from?

Don’t wait for that. Confront this now. Go ahead and move to Colorado and find somebody to work with about this. You can have a good life and make all this work out. But you cannot ignore it. It will not work itself out on its own.

 

CTFlyer200

My lover shot himself

 

Write for Advice

Dear Cary,

In my early twenties, I went to graduate school to study English literature.  I was deeply passionate about the written word and knew from the moment that I could read that I wanted to devote my life to this pursuit.  Idealistic, I felt like providence had led me to that moment in my life, and I was ready to enter the academic and literary world where I would finally “belong.”  Instead, I was met with a small circle of individuals who had greater desires for tenure than the actual sharing of knowledge and appreciation of language.  The program was more clinical than I needed it to be.  I was miserable in that environment and left graduate school early feeling confused and betrayed by the system that I had worked so hard to enter.

After leaving, I sank into a deep depression, only partly cured by a new relationship.  I met a poet and fell for him quickly, all my passion for language being channeled toward him instead.  I loved his poetry and the emotions that he conveyed with words.  I felt fulfilled through my relationship with him (although it was a tumultuous one) and was inspired to write as we shared the same creative spirit.  It was a long-distance relationship though, and he cheated with a woman he then married only a few months later. 

In mourning that relationship, I met another writer who picked me up off the floor more times than I care to admit.  I hate to sum him up as just a “writer” too, because he was everything to me.  He had the same acute sensitivity to the world that I do. Every pain I ever felt echoed the same inside of him.  We took turns spinning into depression and then giving/accepting consolation.  We fell in love with each other’s words over and over again.  Even his emails were art to me.  He was the most precious part of my life and I trusted him implicitly (although his love of story telling often led to superior forms of embellishment). 

He shot himself in the head almost four years ago. 

I miss him.

All of this is to say that I do not know what to do with myself. I feel like I have writer’s block of the mouth and pen.  I shy away from everyone and anything that I used to gravitate to because I feel so wounded by it all (whatever “it” is).  I don’t know how to connect with people anymore.  I don’t know how to write anymore.  I feel so profoundly but have no outlet.  I am disappointed in life, do not know how to go on without my partner even after several years, and do not know how to find others like me or make myself understood by those that are different.  I am not under the impression that life should be happy all the time.  However, I would like the ability to experience just a little bit of it every once in a while.  Sometimes.

What should I do to get out of this current un-life?  How do I find others with the same sensitivity to the world that can relate to me and I them?  What do I need to do to feel inspired to write again?

Thank you for being there,

Despairing Former Writer

 

Cary Tennis Online Writing Workshop

 

Dear Despairing Former Writer,

How do we recover from loss? We do it slowly. I am not surprised that you are still recovering from this traumatic loss, or series of losses — the loss of your graduate school dream, the loss of your intimate partner, the loss of your own creative practice.

As a first step, I suggest that you see someone trained in the treatment of depression and ask, candidly, if you appear to be depressed. If the answer is yes, then spend some time working with a therapist who is trained in the treatment of depression, sorting things out, getting help and support. I know what depression is like, and I know it can be treated and life can get better, and I also know the numbness and hopelessness and sense of worthlessness that come with depression.

At least find out. If you aren’t depressed, it will be good to have an expert opinion to that effect. You may just be grieving.

Either way, write through this pain. If you have not tried doing morning pages, as suggested in the book The Artist’s Way, try that. It is a good way to habituate oneself to daily writing after a period of inactivity. You do not need to feel inspired to write in order to write. You need only to write. Strangely enough, the writing will cause the inspiration, not the other way around.

May I share something with you? I, too, sought the companionship of fellow lovers of literature in graduate school and I, too, despaired and left, after learning mainly how to drink in bars.

I, too, have lived through bouts of depression. I have gotten help both professional and nonprofessional. What I cling to, and what I keeps me on this side of the suicide line, here with the living and not over the cliff with the suicides, is knowing that things will get better and that the steps I take will slowly help. In the bad times, in the down times, I do things to get through the day.

Writing will sometimes get you through the day. This morning I have been writing about my father, who had literary dreams but did not finish things, and how sad that was for me as a boy to watch, and how I have at times repeated my father’s pattern. And I have been thinking how painful it is to want to do better than one’s father, and the conflict that can bring, and how after leaving the family and all its particular horrors one wishes to find one’s genial tribe, and how there are many false tribes that will disappoint you, and how one’s true tribe are not found where you think they would be found — not necessarily in the graduate English department but out on the lawn smoking pot or working in mailrooms or as cab drivers, or devoutly following a calling.

In seeking our tribe we are often drawn to the ones who burn the brightest and promise the most. But do the ones who burn the brightest really have what we need, or are we just drawn to them because they burn so brightly? It seems to me it is often those who burn the brightest who let you down the hardest. Having fallen for this writer, having lost him so traumatically, you must be wary now of any trust, and not know how to distinguish between the dazzlers and the true friends. You may be wary that the ones who will dazzle you will also break your heart but not know who else to turn to. This is sure: Your heart cannot stand to be broken again. You need someone to be good and strong and kind to you. You do not need another romance with death.

Let me ask you this: Is there anyone among your close friends that you can totally rely on? Is there anyone you can lean on? Someone who loves you unconditionally? Family, a friend, a fellow lover of literature, a woman friend, someone? You need someone, not a lover, but a friend, not necessarily a brilliant person but a loyal person. Maybe a therapist would play that role; that is often the unexpected beauty of therapy, that we are able to fall in a kind of love with someone in an unproblematic way, for our own good, to reawaken our own capacity for love. This person need not understand your aesthetic complexities. You just need someone you can lean on.

I will tell you a little about my own recent experience of depression. First, some bad things happened, so it wasn’t like depression came out of nowhere; bad things happened both medically and socially. So when I sought treatment for depression, the professionals’ first thought was that I was socially isolated and needed IPT — InterPersonal Therapy. It then became apparent that I had some deeper issues that needed a psychodynamic approach. But out of that psychodynamic approach finally came the strength for me to essentially do IPT — to repair my social network. So now I am answering the telephone and responding to emails. I am cherishing the friends I have. I am reaching out. That is helping. Also I am working methodically on my literary craft. That, too, is helping. And I participate in 12-step meetings. That, too, is helping.

Maybe you still need to grieve this loss completely. I’m not sure, frankly, how one does that. I suppose that for each person it is personal. But there is some good to be had by saying it out loud: I need to grieve. I am grieving. Out of that comes acceptance of the melancholy, the heaviness and slowness. One can say, I am feeling heavy and slow with grief still. That does not mean there is something wrong with me, just that something terrible happened.

Something terrible happened. You are not over it yet. Eventually you will be.

Ask a professional about depression. Strengthen your social network. Identify people who are there for you. Lean on them. And write your way through it, too, not trying to be brilliant, but trying to tell the truth.

WhatHappenedNextCall

 


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