Today, I went back to counseling (at the university). I went there for awhile last year and made little progress, but I had a different counselor today who really helped me a lot. I realized, with his help, that I am carrying around tons of guilt from many sources. When I was fourteen (and just starting high school), two of my friends (let’s call them R and D) past away. Neither of them was a very close friend, but I had known each of them for a few years and was fond of them both. R was in my orchestra class in mid school – that was a fairly close-knit group of about forty people. I had known D for about two years and he had recently started dating my best friend. While not my first exposure to death, their deaths were my first experience with unnecessary, preventable deaths.
R was hit by a drunk driver over Labor Day weekend and I found out about him on Tuesday at school, over the intercom – “There has been a rumor going around school that R was killed in a car crash by a drunk driver over the weekend. This is unfortunately true. The funeral will take place at ___. Please feel free to come to the counseling office if you need help.
On Wednesday, I noticed D trying to cut himself with a mechanical pencil. A brief word on D: he was, no doubt, severely mentally ill and he was not receiving proper care. I decided that the counselors were overloaded with helping people deal with R’s death, so I would wait a week and then tell them. That night, D took a replica gun from his house, went to a nearby church and asked the people there to pray for him because he was possessed by daemons. His mother, meanwhile, called the police and reported that D had pulled a gun on her (she neglected to say that it was an ineffective replica – but she was very worried at the time) and then left. The police found him at the church and shot him. A few days later, there was a long newspaper article about everything that had gone wrong – his family couldn’t afford his medication, he probably wasn’t on the right medication, he fell through the cracks in the counseling system transitioning from mid school to high school, police are trained to shot to kill (thankfully, they now carry tasers – one good thing has come of this), his mother told the police he had a real gun, etc. etc. I cannot help feeling guilty and wondering if I had gone to the counseling office that afternoon, would D be alive today? Would they have been able to help him in time? Logically, I know that there were so many things wrong, so many pitfalls, that it probably could not have made a huge difference. But, when I think about D (which isn’t often), I can’t help feeling guilty and partially responsible for his death. It’s been over five years ago. I must let it go.
Another issue we discussed was my relationship with my mother, specific to my grades. I’m not entirely sure how to explain it all. One thing that I need to understand is how my mother can have so much control over me. I am 19 years old and live in an on-campus apartment 250 miles from home during the school year (and at my parents’ house over the summer and winter breaks). My parents and I agreed that they would pay my undergraduate tuition, room, board and books; and that I would be on my own for grad school. Because of this agreement, I am financially dependent on my parents and must either meet my mother’s expectations or suffer the consequences of failing. The expectations: maintain a 3.5 GPA, take at least 17 credits per semester (or fewer with a job), be an active member of at least three on campus organizations, work in a lab (starting my junior year – next fall), and maintain a large group of friends. I am very introverted, so I don’t have a huge group of friends (I have a group of five very close friends and several friends online – though online friends don’t “count”). My GPA is 3.2. I expect it to rise without the influence of the evil organic chemistry this semester. I expect it would rise faster if I could take fewer credits (I only need to take 12.5 per semester to graduate on time). But I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.
The consequences of failure are very passive. My mother sends me on guilt trips. She excels at this – I think she had me fully trained to send myself on guilt trips for anything remotely my fault since around age five or six. Of course, my mother also completely discounts the affect of guilt trips. I’m not sure how to explain exactly what the punishment is. Well, obviously, there is a requirement of studying harder. I’ve also noticed that I’m paying for more and more of my undergrad expenses which I am not really allowed to question. I mentioned it once to my mom and her response was that I needed to bear more of my expenses since I “didn’t appreciate their [Mom and Dad’s] help.” She didn’t mention the grades. I prodded further (until I felt it was no longer safe to do so) and she avoided the issue directly, but she did tell me to remember that nothing in this world is more important than my GPA at this point in time. I think the most recent storm (fall grades) have past and I’m not terrified of calling home anymore. I still get the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I
One thing that worries me greatly is that I have been (seriously) suicidal several times in my life, starting at age 11. In most of those cases what pushed me over the edge from “Death isn’t so bad (abstract idea)” to “I must die ASAP” was knowing that an issue with my parents over my grades (note that my lowest GPA ever was 3.0) was looming/occurring. After I started taking Prozac, I’ve found that I am unable to seriously contemplate suicide, for which I am extremely grateful. But I honestly sometimes wonder why and how I am still alive today. Actually, I can explain it. I wanted to find a way that would be painless, certain and look like an accident (to minimize pain to my family – in order, my sisters, then my dad and least of all my mom). Couldn’t find one. And after the storm had passed I was always able to convince myself that it wouldn’t happen again. I think I now realize that it will happen again. No matter how well I do, there will always be something I could have done better. Even if I earn straight A+’s, my mother still can harp on my weight or social life/skills. The saddest thing about it is that she is does love me very much and her way of showing love is to try to force me to reach the highest possible standards. If she were to back off for a minute, though, I think she would find that I am perfectly capable of setting and reaching my own goals. I look forward to grad school. At that time, I will financially independent of my parents and will have the right to withhold my grades from them (and will do so).
I am also very worried for my younger sister (A). She will start middle school next year and K (my other sister) will be going away to college. My mother (in my observation) doesn’t really become a harmful person until the middle school years…and stops when? I don’t know. K and I were a great help and comfort to each other and were able to lean on each other. A will be all alone. Mom and Dad have considered hosting a foreign exchange student after Kendra and I are in college. I can’t decide if I should encourage them to do so or not. I’m sure having another person present will help A, but I would feel sorry for anyone who has to enter my mother’s household and stay there for longer than a week or two.
I wish I knew what to do to get my mom off my back. To be honest, I don’t think there really is any good method except ‘wait it out.’ I have tried to bring it up nicely. I’ve tried to discuss it reasonably. I’ve had Dad talk to Mom. K is the aggressive one. She has fought fire with fire, including running away for a few days three times (incidentally, Mom and Dad decided to pretend those never happened – to the point of forbidding anyone to mention it to me). I can’t imagine doing that. If I were to run away, I would run away for good, only to return when I had my life under control. K isn’t me, though. Dad is most ept at circumventing Mom. I haven’t figured out how he does it. Her criticisms seems to either bounce off him or stick strongly enough that she knows she has gone too far. I suppose it’s because he is her equal, and he didn’t grow up under her thumb.
The counseling appointment gave me a lot to think about. The result of these thoughts was an all-out emotional explosion and crying fest. Well, a few months ago, I was struggling greatly to feel any emotion at all, so I suppose this is progress…