“I’m not as smart as you. I’d probably be okay if I was smarter.”
“That’s not true, Mai! You are very smart.”
“Do you really think so?”
My sister and I were doing dishes after supper. I had come to visit parents and Mai, who lived just upstairs from my parents’ apartment, joined us. Mai is paranoid schizophrenic.
“You got 96% in your nursing program. Intelligence is not your problem. You have a mental illness. That is different.”
“I did, didn’t I? I used to be a good nurse.”
“I’m sure you were.”
Mai would attempt to take her life at least once a year, resulting in the eventual loss of her job, and much of her independence.
“Do you want me to do the washing? You must be tired.” Mai set down her dishtowel and backed away from the sink.
“I am just fine. We are almost done.”
“You’re probably just tired.” Mai removed herself from the kitchen area of the apartment and sat down.
I realized in the that moment that it was actually Mai who was tired, but somehow, she was unable to articulate that, so she projected her feelings onto me. It was an aha moment for me, and explained much of Mai’s behaviour. I would notice it when we went out together. If she would suggest that I was hungry, cold, or whatever, it really meant that she was.
“Mai is unable to speak directly to whatever is bothering her,” I explained to my Mother later on. “So we can’t take what she says at face value.”
“It must be part of her illness,” my Mother deduced.
I agreed at the time, but then it became apparent to me that my Mother did the same thing. Her hidden messages were not as easy to detect.
“How can you keep a husband and work full-time?” she might ask me, which I would take as criticism. Or, she would say: “You were out having lunch with a friend, what about your husband and children? What did they do for lunch?” Such statements would grate on my nerves, until I decided not to take them personally and investigate what she was really saying.
“Did you ever want to work outside the home, Mom?”
“Oh, I would have loved to, but your father wouldn’t let me. A woman’s place is in the home. When I did go to work, it was only after I threatened to leave, but he never liked it.”
My Mother’s seemingly judgmental comments were actually expressions of regret for the limitations she felt in her own life. Apart from not being allowed to work outside the home, my Mother also didn’t cultivate any personal friendships. “My children are all I need,” she would say.
My family, I came to understand, are masters at hiding the truth. It warranted a look at my own behaviours and communications.
I am highly skilled in convincing myself that immediate gratification far outweighs longterm gain, thus my ongoing issues with weight (or should I spell that wait?). Put a high calorie, non-nutritious snack in front of me, and I will go for it everytime – hungry or not. I convince myself that I deserve this, or I’ll be good tomorrow, or that it’s just this one time, all of which are lies. Thor is my co-consipirator in this process. We support each other’s need to overindulge.
So what, I have ask myself, is the hidden message behind this behaviour? And if I am to get honest with myself, what will that look like?
Clearly, I have work to do.