Wishing I Weren’t Sensitive

I wish I knew how to be insensitive, knew how to put matters out of my head and go on with my life as if nothing happened, but I don’t seem to be able to do that. Even after enduring months of being relentlessly hounded by my dysfunctional brother, even after I took him back to Colorado, I worry about him, worry about his well-being, wonder who he is aggravating, wonder what trouble his mouth is getting him into. There’s nothing I can do though, so worrying is foolish. I can’t control his behavior for him — no one can control another person’s behavior. I remember as a child wondering why he argued with my father since he knew it always got him a beating. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t keep his mouth shut as I did. It wasn’t until my mother was dying that I ever stood up to my father or broke one of his unwritten rules. (I did for her what she could never do for me — stood up to him — which seemed to connect some sort of karmic circle and brought me peace when she died.)

My family was a pool of unwritten rules. Somehow I could understand those rules while other of my siblings couldn’t. Even now, when we are all getting old, those rules still dominate. I guess those rules are why I was “allowed” to stay here to look after my father. I knew never to disturb him when he was praying or reading or doing anything, actually. I knew not to open the windows when the air conditioning was on. I knew not to eat his food, read his newspaper before he did, disturb his paperwork. Most of my siblings knew I was here to shield my father from the world (though we didn’t use those words), but my dysfunctional brother couldn’t understand. I didn’t even know there were all these unwritten rules until he started screaming about my changing “the rules.”

[Oddly, my sister who is here helping has broken many of the same “rules” that got my brother kicked out of the house, which is one of the things that sent him into emotional overdrive. He said it was unfair, and he was right.]

I came here to look after my father partly because I had nowhere else to go after the death of my life mate/soul mate (and when my father is gone, I will again have nowhere to go). But mostly I came to see if I could unwind my ties to the past so that after my father is gone, I wouldn’t still be whining over my unhappy childhood. It’s working, I suppose. I just never expected to be buffeted by such emotional storms, never expected my brother to come and shake things up even more, never expected a lot of what has happened, such as finding a nearby dance studio and taking dance classes.

I hoped that by doing for my father what he could never do for me (I pay attention to his needs though he had always been unable to pay attention to my mine) that a karmic circle would be closed when he was gone and I could finish out my life strong and wise and bold and ready for whatever happens.

But all I seem to do is cry, which is so not my idea of a strong woman, or a wise one, or a bold and independent one.

I thought my brother’s coming here fifteen months ago was a portent of my father’s passing, but although at the time father seemed near to death, my brother’s presence, however unwelcome, stimulated him and brought him to life. (Which is one reason I endured his presence all these months — there was something powerful going on beneath the surface I could feel but couldn’t understand.)

My father seems to be recovering from his most recent hospital stay. With my future on hold once again, there is a chance I can still accomplish whatever it is I need to accomplish by being here. I just wish I knew what it was. Perhaps it’s one of those unwritten rules even I am not sensitive enough to read.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Pricked Conscience

Thank you for all your prayers, thoughts, concern, love.

After I abandoned my dysfunctional brother on the streets of Fort Collins and drove the 1000 miles back to where I am caring for my 97-year-old father, all I could do was weep. I felt terrible that no one cared. I wondered how it was possible in a world of 7,184, 285,500 people, my brother could be so unloved. And then I realized the truth. I cared, and so did all of you. Not that it makes any difference to him (at least as far as I know), but it makes a difference to me.

Even though he ended up angry, abusive, demanding, it wasn’t always so. He’d been in my life from the moment I was born, and I’d looked up to him. I remember him as a radiant and charming child. A brilliant youth. A teenager who refused to let himself be beaten (with a belt, no less) into submission. A young man who felt at home no matter where he roamed. A middle-aged man who struggled with problems greater than his ability to solve.

I thought I wanted him out of my life, and I do. For the past fifteen months, he hounded me relentlessly, wanting more from me than I could ever have given him, though to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what he wanted. He settled for a place to camp in the garage and an occasional bag of groceries, but I knew that wasn’t enough. (As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t even solve my own problems, let alone his.)

At the end of the road in Colorado, as he stood there by the car drinking his bribe and exchanging a last few words, I mentioned that he always wanted one more thing from me but he never gave me anything.

“Yes, I did,” he responded. “I pricked your conscience.”

I didn’t think of that remark again until this morning when I got out of a safe and comfortable bed and remembered his saying he needed to find a place to camp by the railroad tracks. I flushed the toilet and remembered that he had to find a place to relieve himself out in the open. I took a cold drink from the refrigerator and remembered that his beverages could only be the temperature of the outside world. I fixed something to eat and remembered the dumpster he pulled his dinner from last night. I drove to the store and remembered how painful it was for him to walk because of his sciatica.

He used to scream, “You’re living like a millionaire while I have to live like a dog, and you don’t even appreciate it.” I always responded that millionaires didn’t have people knocking on their windows for attention dozens of times a night. But the truth is, he is right. I am living like a millionaire — warm bed, hot food, cold drinks, pristine toilet, kitchen, safety, comfort, and friends who care about me.

So thank you, all of you. You mean more to me than you will ever know.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A House of Ghosts

An online friend, someone who only knows me through my blog posts, emails, and projects we have worked on together, made an astute remark.

She said, in response to my blog about the double rainbow, “I do think you are more perceptible to the outside world and that life is moving forward when you get out of the house. You won’t find any possibilities in the house — you have to be able to get out when you can.” I found that comment interesting because I hadn’t noticed the deadness of this the house until the last few days. It’s always been a place of dying and grief, paranoia and imprisonment. I first visited this house to help with my dying mother. I came to stay after the death of my life mate/soul mate to help my elderly father and to get through my shockingly painful grief. For the first three years I was here, my father would set the burglar alarm around 7:00pm and he didn’t give me the alarm code, so I was basically a prisoner of his paranoia, and now my brother is making me a prisoner of his paranoia and psychoses.

ThiStarss deadness was especially apparent to me this morning. I went to pick up a rental vehicle to take my brother back to Colorado (a foolish waste of money, since he insists he doesn’t have time to get ready) and while I was sitting in that sparse office, I could feel my spirits rise. Since my brother refuses to go tomorrow, that means I have the vehicle for my own use, and I could go . . . wherever. During the long ride back here, I felt that optimism, and even after a confrontation with my brother, who claimed the SUV was too small, he couldn’t be ready, and various other ranting objections, I kept that feeling of optimism. But now that I’ve been back in the house a couple of hours, I feel the cement hardening around my feet and my heart, and I can barely muster the energy to . . . well, to do anything.

I never had much belief in ghosts, but this place does seem haunted, if only by my own unhappiness.

I don’t really have anywhere I want to go, but I think I’ll head out on the highway for a couple of hours, and see what I can see — maybe some stars. It’s supposed to be a good night for stargazing.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Sundowners Syndrome and Other Night Time Horrors

For many people, night is a time of relaxation and rest, especially when it comes time to sleep, but for others, night is . . . well, it’s a nightmare.

For example, Sundowners Syndrome frequently affects people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and sometimes elderly hospital patients. These people react to the sun going down with confusion, anxiety, aggressiveness, agitation, restlessness, anger, even disorientation and hallucinations. My father had such problems when he was hospitalized for an operation a few years ago, and the inordinate anxiety lasted for months afterwards. It’s one of the reasons I am here to look after him. Although at 97 years of age, he can still mostly take care of himself, he does need someone to do the things he can’t do for himself such as grocery shopping, some cookiSunrise/Sunsetng, cleaning, etc. More than that, though, he needs someone here at night because he is prone to panic attacks when he is alone after dark.

Those who suffer from bipolar disorder or narcissistic personality disorder seem to be afflicted with something similar to Sundowners syndrome, especially when it comes to night rages. These people can often control themselves during the light of day, but as the night progresses, their rage escalates, which makes even the generally well-balanced members of their families miserable, angry, and depressed.

Such night rages are often accompanied by insomnia and sleep deprivation, though I don’t know whether the lack of sleep is the result of the rage or a contributing factor. Although no one knows for sure what causes such night rages, there are various surmises. The rages could be a result of the build-up of stress during the day. They could be a result of fragmented circadian rhythms. Or they could have a biological basis, perhaps due to a disruption in the cholinergic system. (The cholinergic system is the network of nerve cells that uses acetylcholine in transmitting nerve impulses.)

I’m very aware of this nightmarish cycle since so often my dysfunctional brother inflicts his rage on me. He doesn’t physically inflict his rage on me, just verbally, though the fury he focuses on me sometimes feels like a physical assault — his anger is that powerful. Sometimes his anger isn’t directed at me specifically. He has a whole list of people who have “ruined his life” and he nourishes his anger against them as if his fury were a venomous hothouse plant. He seems to have such a stake in this anger that he cannot let it go, but what that stake is, I don’t know. Perhaps his rage makes him feel alive. Perhaps he is afraid of owning up to his own culpability in how he has ended up. Perhaps some sort of inner demon has him in thrall.

This conjecture, of course, is futile. He seems to have at least two cyclical patterns of disorder (bipolar swings and narcissistic rage, though he could have Sundowners Syndrome or something I have yet to identify — perhaps even alcohol-induced dementia), but since he has never been diagnosed, I have no idea that the truth is. All I know is that his night rages are impossible to predict, control, or deal with.

Because of him, my nights have become rather stressful, though occasionally, when his all his cycles wind down, so does he, and peace reigns. I have learned, however, never to take the quiet nights as a sign of things getting better, but simply to be grateful for them.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Destination: Joy

I’ve been writing about my problems dealing with my emotionally unstable brother, and the writing has been helping me find peace and sanity in the madness of my current life. Normally, my brother wouldn’t be a major issue, but he is currently camping out in my father’s garage and seems to think I am here for his convenience, to be his scapegoat / sounding board / disciple. When my brother goes into one of his demanding (demented?) states, he continually bangs on my windows for attention. I usually respond to the first few raps, but when he gets abusive, I ignore him. bookHe does not like being ignored, and will pound on my windows until I respond. If I don’t respond, he keeps rapping. Relentlessly.

I’ve been keeping a journal of his actions. The other night he rapped forty-one times. Actually, it was more like 123 times since each time he tries to get my attention, he knocks on three different windows in two different rooms. Finally, he got so angry at being ignored, he broke a window. This panicked me. I was afraid that the patterns of childhood would repeat themselves, and he would be punished unmercifully for his actions.

I’m ashamed to admit, I screamed at him. Until he came here with all his emotional baggage, I haven’t screamed at anyone since childhood, hadn’t even known that it was still in me to raise my voice in such a manner, but I was furious, fearful, faithful to old conditionings I only vaguely remembered. My father had said that if my brother broke a window, he’d have my brother arrested, but when I told my father about the broken window, he just shrugged the matter off, which gives me hope that some of the old patterns of fear and punishment are finally being destroyed. At least in me. I truly do not know if there is hope for my brother because he doesn’t seem to see a need for change.

I came here to my father’s house to look after my aged parent, of course, but I also came for redemption, though I’m not sure what or whom I am trying to redeem. I just know I didn’t want to be carrying the same patterns of thought throughout my entire life, and I somehow felt that looking after my father and allowing him to be as independent as possible would help close the circle of the past. If the universe is unfolding as it should, it might not be an accident that my brother showed up here, too. (In fact, he has often told me he doesn’t know why he is here.) He is a big part of the puzzle of my youth. I’ve always felt torn between my brother and my father, as if I were the rope in their tug-of-war. Each seemed to want my total loyalty, though neither ever really did anything to warrant such loyalty.

The shackles of the past seem to be diminishing rapidly now. Oddly, I woke up this morning with an inward smile that has been with me the whole day. It could be that I really am doing some good here, perhaps even finding that redemption I am seeking, maybe even finding a bit of freedom.

I used to think that freedom came from being unencumbered by the past, that I could only be free when both my father and brother were out of my life, but now I see that one can be free even while cumbered. It’s a matter of gracefully and lightfully carrying one’s past and present as one travels into a more joyful future.

A friend sent me this quotation by Danielle La Porte in response to yesterday’s blog, I Come From a Narcissistic Family:

Freedom does not come from a checklist, and a ‘zero inbox’ is not a life aspiration.
If liberation is a chore, it’s not really liberation.
You can’t contract your way to freedom.
You can’t punish your way to joy.
You can’t fight your way to inner peace.
The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.
Let me offer this again, in reverence to your life force:
The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.
And again, with respect to your potential:
The journey has to feel the way you want the destination to feel.

Since my destination is joy (I didn’t realize until this very moment that joy is in fact, my destination), my journey also has to feel like joy. And my inner smile is telling me that it is possible.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.