6-8-13

Human Beings, Human Failings, And Just Being Human
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Anna Karenina
- Leo Tolstsoy -

Young handsome Dad.
I was clearly born with a predisposition to depression, anxiety and depersonalization and I am relatively certain I inherited these traits from my parents.

Having this vulnerability to emotional disorders was exacerbated by the very people who gave me this genetic inheritance -- my mother and father. This put me at risk for being more sensitive to the eccentricities they exhibited.

This is the basic theory behind the Stress-Diathesis model. An inherited or given predisposition combined can potentially lead to a vulnerability to mental illness. Environmental factors exacerbate this vulnerability and can result in all manner of emotional dysfunction -- from mild to severe.
My classy mom

My father's contribution to my life was essentially a "crime of omission" -- his physical absence and lack of emotional support of any kind. My mother was my tormentor and I had no choice but to live by her rules, without questioning or understanding, to survive.



My Father: The Kindness Of A Stranger

The distinguished doctor.
Though never officially diagnosed, it's now obvious my Dad was a Hoarder/Clutterer which manifested itself as a pervasive sense of worthlessness and anxiety. He feared making decisions, making commitments, and had difficulty connecting emotionally with others which led to social isolation. His obsessions, as best I understand, centered on fear of failure. He needed to feel "in control" which he seemed to have found only in the operating room as a surgeon.

As an escape, he resorted to hoarding knowledge at the cost of human interaction and adult responsibilities and spent a good deal of his time in the library, reading incessantly trying to "know everything." He also procrastinated and avoided until he was forced to take last minute actions.

Dad and Paul
My father also seemed to ease his anxiety somewhat with compulsive gambling and lost tremendous amounts of money; this was perhaps a temporary "high" for him, a way to "feel more alive." I honestly don't know.

He could become upset or enraged if faced with the reality that his actions or inaction were destructive and this further fueled his sense of failure. His irresponsibility so enraged my mother she often used it to attack him about anything at any time. He however rarely took out any rage on me. He was most of the time very gentle with me, and we shared many good times. My memories have faded with time, but I can't recall any arguments with my father in my entire life. Perhaps we avoided confrontations, as our relationship was so fragile. I’m sure we must have had some disagreements, but I really don’t recall them.

I now know my Dad never owned more than a few essential pieces of furniture -- a bed, a dresser, a desk, and a lamp. He never cooked for himself as he had no kitchen supplies, but ate at the hospital, or at a few local restaurants he frequented.

On Daddy's shoulders
His living quarters were intolerable. Every open space on the floor and the counters in the kitchen and bath were filled with paper bags, newspapers, magazines, books, garbage and filth and items he "could not part with." I never thought this strange at the time, it was "my reality"; as a child it never occurred to me to question the situation. His compulsive gambling at the racetrack and on the stock market meant nothing to me though my mother reminded me of these "weaknesses" in him constantly.

It wasn't until recently that I realized my father never had a place for me to stay. I couldn't sleep over at his apartment, and rarely visited there, as there were no accommodations for me -- no bed, no toys, no food or snacks, or a even place to sit down save the floor.

None of this was intentional, this was part of his illness. Though it seems difficult to understand, he was terrified of making the wrong decision when purchasing anything. And he seemed incapable of fully comprehending the needs of others, particularly the needs of a little girl, though I believe he cared about me and loved me in his own way.

I cannot find a photo where my Dad and I are anything but happy in each other's company. I believe I loved him dearly as a child, and he loved me dearly in return. Unfortunately he was the victim of his own illness, inadequacies, and my mother's wrath, and disappeared from my life emotionally very early on. He essentially disappeared from my life after my high school graduation.

World class traveler, period.
When my Dad died in 1990, I spoke at his funeral, and indeed felt a sadness at his parting, but I can't honestly say I loved him then or now; that early love was ripped away -- he "abandoned" me, left me to my mother's viciousness.


Since his passing, I don't truly feel love or loss, or any real anger, for a man who was a kind, "gentleman caller," 53 years my senior, who moved in and out of my life, incapable of performing his duties as a father. And yet I'm confused. How could I not love my own father? Here is where I don't think I have integrated my ambivalent feelings about him, and perhaps I never will.


My Mother: A Woman Of Rage And Independent Means

My Beautiful Mother.
My mother is one of the most mysterious and complicated people I have ever known. She was a woman far ahead of her time, one of only nine women (out of 149 graduates) in her Medical School Class in the early 1940's. She was beautiful, the life of the party. She was funny. She was a gourmet cook, a talented seamstress who made her own gorgeous clothes, and was a talented musician; she played piano and had a lovely voice.

She was a savvy business woman and antique collector. She was a world traveler. She was bilingual. She was as handy at plumbing and pruning trees as she was at building her own harpsichord.


But despite her being an internist and later a psychiatrist, my mother was completely lacking in compassion or empathy. She despised weakness in herself or others. She detested men and repeated it was imperative for a woman to be completely independent of any man. She had few if any close friends, only colleagues and "close acquaintances." I don't believe she ever really loved anyone -- her parents, her sister, her brother, her first husband, my father, AnnieBelle (my "nanny") or me. Although it is true I don't know what her definition of love was.

Me and my lovely Mom.
My mother overwhelmed everyone with her power, her glamour, her intelligence, her accomplishments. To me she was something extraordinary, someone my friends' mothers could never live up to, and she reminded me of that frequently; I also could never become the woman she was -- no one could. Women who stayed at home were "lazy." Marriages were "shams." Love was an illusion or "as Freud said, one of the only two socially acceptable psychoses -- Love and Religion."
As a psychiatrist she embraced a strictly biological model of mental illness, yet vacillated constantly between defining her psychiatric patients as incurable genetic aberrations, or in need of extensive psychoanalysis.

She was an outspoken atheist who refused to have me baptized yet initially sent me to a Catholic Convent for primary school. She was an outspoken racist who believed that IQ was clearly related to the color of one's complexion -- "the darker, the dumber." She felt any woman who had more than one child was "a breeder" and expressed this openly to her nieces and nephews who had two or more children.

And she was paranoid and filled with rage. Few slumber parties were allowed at her house as she was certain my "little hoodlum friends would steal the silverware." She was certain I, and most everyone else, was out to undermine her every undertaking -- I was a liar, we all were liars and users and sycophants, ultimately out for her money.
Mom in Greece
She kept every personal detail of her life a secret, particularly her apparently inexcusable failures -- her first marriage, my parents' separation and divorce, and worst of all, my mental illness.

Her most “shameful” secret was that she had been to a psychiatrist during her first marriage for "some kind of rage problem" in the words of her first husband (and I only learned of this by accident from him). However in her unpredictable way she often expressed pride in having been psychoanalyzed by a direct protege of Sigmund Freud (which was indeed true). She claimed this was a requirement for her psychiatric training; that may very well have been the true as well, but I will never know if she was actually still trying to understand and "cure" herself.
My Mother The M.D.
My mother was untouchable in her wrath, in her "perfection," in her "wisdom," though it was obvious in hindsight that everything she despised in others was what she despised in herself. She could never allow herself to be a human being with faults and frailties and so she was a "lesser God" in her own eyes and in the eyes of everyone around her. A doctor first and foremost. And she built an impenetrable fortress around herself. She allowed no one in, and could not do enough to keep that fortress indestructible -- a fortress constructed of deception and confabulation and crazy making that kept me confused and frightened most of the time.

There was no opportunity for me to be her daughter or for her to be my mother in any sense of the word. We were adversaries from the day I was born when I "made her vomit up her chicken dinner during labor."

Her rage fueled my fury, my father's fury, and our sense of worthlessness. My mother emasculated my father and had the power to make him cry. She prevented me from believing any emotion I felt was real.

My mother passed away unexpectedly on September 12, 2001. I have addressed some of my feelings about this in Postscripts.

"... We tell you tapping on our brows,
The story as it should be --
As if the story of a house
Were told or ever could be;
We'll have no kindly veil between
Her visions and those we have seen --
As if we guessed what hers have been,
Or what they are or would be.
Meanwhile we do no harm; for they
That with a god have striven,
Not hearing much of what we say,
Take what the god has given;
Though like waves breaking it may be,
Or like a changed familiar tree,
Or like a stairway to the sea
Where down the blind are driven."

- Edwin Arlington Robinson -

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