The painful road to healing

Over the past several days I have been thinking a lot about the path to healing, both physically and emotionally. For me, I have been battling  physical pain, to the point I am seeing a physical therapist to help alleviate or manage my pain. This process very much falls into the “no pain, no gain” category, as I am in more pain now as I am working muscles and pushing myself in ways I’ve avoided for a long time.  I am confident that sticking to the program and trusting in my therapist things will get better.

On the emotional side, over the same few days, the situation with my friend Jane’s stepdaughter Mary has taken a painful turn. As I have talked about in many previous blogs, Mary is not a typical 16-year-old girl. She is very withdrawn, makes no effort to fit in socially and claims she has no need for friends or relationships with anyone who doesn’t share 100% of her interests. She is very artistic and talented, yet prefers to create and keep her work to herself, not share with others, even family. Unlike most girls her age,she has no interest in clothes, opting to wear the same clothes day after day, regardless of how dirty they may be. She will go days without showering and even when she does, usually to appease her father or Jane, it is obvious she has not used soap or washed her hair. To say the girl is a “mess” is both figuratively and literally true and an understatement. Since I have known Jane, Mary has transitioned from family therapy to one-on-one therapy, seeing both a therapist and psychiatrist who prescribed an anti-depressant/anxiety medication to help her manage day-to-day without completely shutting down emotionally. Sadly, these steps have made little to no impact, at least not when Mary is in Dick and Jane’s home.

Yesterday, when Jane went up to turn off lights and shut doors, as the girls are back in school and she wanted make sure the dogs couldn’t get into anything (neither Mary nor her sister Sue are known to keep their rooms clean). On the floor, just inside the door was Mary’s journal. Now, many may say that reading a journal is a huge invasion of privacy and I tend to agree. However, in this case, with the lengthy path to help this girl, with all methods seeming to fail and she seems more miserable than ever, a glimpse into her how she is really feeling could be very beneficial.  Let’s just say there was a lot of insight gained, all sad and tragic. And that is where the pain comes into play.

In my previous posts I’ve focused on Jane and how her relationship, or lack their of, with Mary has affected her. This is because I too am a stepmother, I see things more from Jane’s point of view because it is so similar to my own. But today it’s about Dick, the pain he has experienced trying to help his daughter. I honestly can’t imagine how this man felt seeing his daughter’s feelings in black and white. Some of what she wrote, a few with illustrations to accentuate the emotion, were hard for me to read. How can someone so young, so privileged, so loved feel this way about herself, her family and the world around her? This girl is convinced EVERYONE hates her, that is a failure as a human being and yes, she mentioned on more than one occasion that everyone might be better off if she was gone/dead. Luckily, the suicide of a former classmate in the past few weeks made her realize, sadly for the first time in a year, that dying is not what she wants, so that is good sign, but the fact that she has been harboring these feelings, keeping them a secret from her parents and therapist is disturbing. Just last week her therapist suggested that Mary reduce the frequency of her sessions, that she was improving. Nothing in this journal suggests that and its far more likely that Mary has found a way to convince her doctor that she is better off than she is to avoid therapy.

Dick made a point to talk with Mary last night. He did not tell her he knew about the journal, he was hoping to open a dialogue and touch on topics found within the pages without confessing he had read them. She had no interest in talking or addressing the obvious fact that she is clearly unhappy. This morning, Jane checked and Mary had written in her journal last night, clearly annoyed by Dick’s attempts to talk to her and feeling that it was her responsibility to make everyone feel better when they all hate her. The illustration of a “Happy” Mary saying she was tired or not feeling well along with a “Crazy” Mary who knows she is hated and how life would be better for others without her. This is CLEARLY not a girl who is well-adjusted and “fine”. I feel for Dick, he has tried everything he knows to help, followed through on all the professionals suggestions and yet, the most painful revelation of all is his child is hurting, more than even he realized, and nothing is helping.

I hope this family can gain some peace after all this pain, but my guess is there is more pain to come before it gets better.

Advertisements

Bitch, advice, ignore…repeat

This morning I woke up to a string of texts from my friend Jane, as I do most mornings. The topic, as it is most morning, Jane’s on-going frustration with Mary, Dick’s oldest daughter. It is Thursday and this is the third morning this week, because they have the girls, that I have had the same discussion with Jane. And not just this week, pretty much every other week for as long as I can recall. To be clear, I totally understand Jane’s frustration, if I were in her place I don’t think I would have lasted as long.  While the life of a step-parent is difficult, Jane’s is damn near impossible, especially when it comes to Mary.

I have touched on Mary in previous blogs, but let’s give this girl a deep-dive, shall we. She is about to turn 16 years old and while most “normal” girls her age are all about boys, shopping, spending time with friends and getting their driver’s license, Mary has no interest, in any of those things. She has told Dick she has no interest getting her license, hates to shop, and she has no real friends. Now, before anyone get all sappy feeling sorry for poor little Mary, she has no friends because she chooses not to. She is artistic, very talented in fact, but she has zero interest in taking classes to develop those talents. She makes zero effort to socialize and when she does, it is more with her sister’s friends who are a few years younger. She is smart and can told a conversation on a variety of topics, I know this for a fact, I’ve had conversations with her, but unless she is 100% engaged and in control of the discussion, she will sit, not just quietly, but uncomfortably awkward, to the point the at others are uncomfortable as well. She is hateful and rude to her sister, Jane and Dick, and due to her recent diagnosis of depression, no one will say anything to upset her. Now, I am not making light of depression or mental illness. I myself have suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety and have a family history of other mental health issues- but with Mary, I see more a manipulative teen working her parents and therapists against each other to keep anyone from really making her do anything to improve her situation and relationships.

For the past year Mary has been openly dismissive (at best), rude and hateful to Jane. The reasons have been analyzed in countless discussion between Jane and I, between Dick and the therapist, between Dick and Jane, even between Dick, Jane, myself and my husband- literally nothing has changed, other than Mary is more brazen and feels more in control of the adults in her life. Dick has voiced his frustrations with the main therapist that Mary has been working with, telling her that the suggestions to rebuild the relationship with his daughter are falling short and expressing concern for behaviors he is witnessing. Just last week in fact, he sent a detailed email about his concerns, to which the therapist replied that the process takes time and to be patient. This week, she tells him that Mary can cut back sessions to twice a month vs. weekly. Hmmmm, how odd that Dick sees no improvement, actually in some areas things are worse and now they are going to cut back on sessions. I have told Jane and Dick that I feel Mary is manipulating the therapist, telling her what she feels is the “right thing to say” to convince her that she is fine and doesn’t need therapy (which she has been against from the start, but it was ordered by the court due to the uncooperative nature of the family dynamic between the girls’ parents).

I feel like Jane is on a merry-go-round, an endless loop of bitching about Mary, asking for advice, ignoring the advice and repeating the same pattern day after day. I want to be there for Jane, as I know she has few, if any, other friends who understand the life of a stepmom, but it’s getting exhausting. I have told Jane to disengage. Mary is old enough to take care of herself, make her own meals, do her laundry and whatever else she needs. Anything more, she  needs to ask her father. If Mary can not be civil, then there is no reason for Jane to be her chauffeur or maid. I’ve suggested focusing solely on her relationship with the younger daughter, Sue. Make plans to do things outside of the house with Sue on the weeks the girls are home (as Jane does not work) vs. feeling you are a hostage in your own home. I said that maybe seeing the benefit Sue is getting from being decent may make Mary rethink her choices with regards to her attitude. Nope- day in and day out Jane sits at home fuming over how Mary will grunt if spoken to or literally hide to avoid engaging with Jane in any way (yes, Mary hid in the pantry the other day thinking Jane had left the house!). I couldn’t live that way. Life with “the girl” hasn’t always been easy, but there has always been civility in our home and my husband has always made sure I was treated with respect.

So, I’m at a loss. I want to be a good friend, but I’m literally worn out. I know that sounds selfish, Jane is actually living this nightmare, not just dealing with texts, calls and late nights with lots of talk and even more adult beverages. I guess I will continue to do as I have been, listen, offer encouragement and suggestions, then vent to you fine folks to I can purge until the next round. Cheers!

Sometimes saying nothing speaks volumes

More with my friend Jane.

Jane is not a southern belle, but I love her anyway. Not being from the south I feel there are times where patience is not Jane’s strongest virtue. She is a “fixer”- in her world there is a problem, you fix it or you talk it to death. The ongoing issues with the kids and the resulting strain on her marriage with Dick they have a list of therapist on retainer like most southern belles have caters! There is one for the family, one for each kid, one for marriage counseling and now, one for Jane.

Now, one might thing with all these professionals and scheduled (and paid for) time to talk, there would be no need to have your issues consume your life. Well, the issues aren’t fixed, so guess what, the search for a fix continues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of therapy- been down that road myself and found it very helpful. However, the key to good therapist/patient relationship is each party must know when to speak and when to LISTEN. Jane has a hard time with the latter.

What I didn’t share in my last blog was for the first several years of her relationship and marriage to Dick, she had positive and loving relationship with his two girls. Something happened that caused a shift, seemingly overnight. The theory is the girls’ mother, who will call Medusa, came up on some online venting of Jane’s (oh the power of social media) and shared it with the girls to prove Jane to the evil stepmother Medusa has painted her to be all along. There was no proof this actually happened (yes, she vented and yes, Medusa found it, but the part about the girls knowing)- but this is what Jane holds on to as the reason for everything that is wrong, especially with Mary, the older of the two. Rather than address it at the time, one of the many therapist said it should not be addressed, at least not with the children. Jane could not fully accept this and could never let it go. Without fail this is brought up in any conversation about girls or the current state of her relationship. I have told her she needs to move on, leave it in the past and look toward the future, both for her marriage, her relationship with her stepdaughters and her own sanity- but bless her heart, she just can’t. I have advised to just do as the therapists have suggested, to let the girls come to some peace on their own and not force the situation, but of course, keep a mental inventory of everything that is happening should you need it later. But God love her, she can’t. In no time at all she is wanting to bring it up or discuss whether or not it should be addressed in a session (we are going on YEARS with this now).

Personally- I see no good coming from addressing what Jane feels is the elephant in the room. I think the only thing that will come from this is her true (and negative) feelings about the girls and their mother will become the focus. I truly believe she will look like the bad guy, whereas now she is kind of looking like a victim of a bitter ex-wife and a bratty teenage girl. I wish I could get her to see the benefit of keeping her mouth shut, at least on this topic. She got caught, it sucks and feel for her, as we all need to vent from time to time and she thought she was in a safe space, but to rehash it now will only look like she is needing to defend and validate what happened so long ago. Medusa will come out smelling like a rose and Mary will have validation for her hateful behavior.

So, now we wait to see how this plays out. I hope Jane will find a safe place with her new therapist and in turn find some peace in her life, lord knows she deserves at least that!