We think we know who/what we are, but that image of ourselves is often at odds with what other people think. For example, if I disagree with some people, they call me negative. If I say no when someone asks me to do something, I risk being called contrary. If I want to do things my own way, I’m accused of being manipulative. If I try to set boundaries, I am called a vindictive, vengeful bitch.
Actually, only one person in my life ever dared called me a bitch. If anyone else did, he would not be in my life. It’s not that I want such a person in my life, of course, but my father allows my homeless brother to camp out in the garage, and it is my father’s house. (I don’t want to get into the morality of the situation, or how I am “enabling” my brother by not calling the cops, or how I should leave and let my 97-year-old father fend for himself. I’ve heard it all before, and anyway, that’s not what this post is about.)
When you live with someone with mental problems who insists that it is you who are out of touch with reality, it’s even harder at times to know the truth. Perhaps I am vindictive and vengeful as he says. Perhaps I’m negative, manipulative, and contrary as others say. I don’t think I am, but if I were, would I know?
A friend’s mother is going blind. One day this friend wore a pair of mismatched socks (they were part of a fun set of puposely mismatched socks, not mismatched by accident). The mother looked at the one purple sock and the one pink sock and said, “I love your red socks.” No amount of talking could convince the woman the socks were anything but a matched pair of red socks. It’s what she saw, and since she believed her eyes, what she saw must be the truth. And in a way, it was the truth — her truth. She did see red socks even though everyone else saw pink and purple.
Besides all the other nastiness my brother spews, he claims I have a dissociative personality disorder. If I did, would I know? I think I would — there should be gaps in memory, strange looks from friends, questions about things I have said — but my brother is the only one who insists I said things I don’t remember saying, who says I did things I don’t remember doing.
There was a time in my younger years where I would have worried about the truth of his allegations because I did feel unbalanced, as if one mental step to either side would send me over a cliff to insanity, but now I know the truth. I am sane. (It’s possible, of course, we are all insane, that life is a form of insanity, but that’s a path I don’t want to explore.)
So, what gives me the confidence to believe I am sane when others allege the opposite? The profound grief I experienced after the death of my life mate/soul mate.
Grief is a totally insane situation, with hormones of all kinds on overdrive, brain chemistry out of whack, emotions out of control, pain so deep it makes it impossible to breathe, tears that flow like open faucets without your volition, dizziness and nausea and a loss of equilibrium that make the world seem totally alien. And yet, somehow, through it all, I could feel the truth of grief, that whatever I experienced was normal. It’s this belief in the normality of grief’s insanity that gave me the courage to write about grief and connect with others going through the same thing. It’s what gave me the ability to explain grief to my fellow bereft, and to assure them that despite what they were feeling, they were not crazy.
And neither was I.
Grief brings strange blessings, and this was my blessing, the thing that is now helping me through a bizarre situation — the utter belief in my sanity.
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.