Archive for July, 2014
I was having dinner at an unremarkable neighborhood traittoria the other night, when I glimpsed something remarkable.
The busboy, having been asked to toast the bread for an adjoining table, threw the basket of bread on a counter with a naked ferocity. His fists were shaking and I looked around to find that no one was taking notice of this guy’s presence, let alone the rage in his face and body.
I felt a tension in my neck, and I realized that, being me, I had two choices, neither of which, alas, involved shining the moment on.
I could either: a) feel more stress as a contagious link to another person’s hostile energy; or b) enact an experiment to see whether or not the heart of this person could be positively impacted by a warm connection.
I chose the latter. When the busboy approached to slam glasses of water on the table, as I had seen him do on other tables, I headed him off at the pass.
I lightly and quickly touched his shoulder, looked him in the eye and said, “You’re working really hard tonight.”
His dark eyes softened in the warmth of recognition. I saw his anger literally dissolve.
I began to wonder about the power of recognition and support. How it could be used to change the sense of isolation many people talk to me about. How connection can change the way we live and feel.
I’m not saying that every angry person can be reached or so easily converted to having a softer attitude or position. I am saying that there is a danger of total disconnection between people, if we let it be. This could be one reason depression is so common.
Maintaining the appearance of well-being and prosperity is the normal state people strive for, no matter how they feel. In the act of masking ourselves, we often lock other people out of our reality, dismissing the importance of contact and connection; erasing the truth that other people have an effect on our well-being.
We all need to be addressed with tenderness; the kind that acknowledges our human connection.
Not talking here about a sexual thing. That’s a different matter.
The heart of human support is not as powerfully available via technology, I believe, nor does it have to be a major event to participate in the give and take of it.
Connecting with other people from the heart is a daily practice, and is, along with laughter, a mighty powerful anti-depressant.
Another word for this is
As in, this is all we need.
If your mother was mentally ill, undoubtedly Mother’s Day, for you, was not the holiday it was supposed to be. In fact, the very existence of mothers who are emotionally and psychologically unfit to mother, as well as the experience of having a mentally ill mother, is still taboo and most commonly, a conversation left unspoken.
When a mentally ill mother “passes” as normal, often there is no one who reflects back to the child that there is something seriously amiss in the behaviors and expressions of the mother, and yeowwwww, that lack of acknowledgment and support hurts. The kind of hurt that is lifelong and personality bending. Dark secrets are held in the hearts of these children, self-esteem is nowhere to be found, emulated or developed, and shame is deeply felt.
For every Mother’s Day tribute urging a shout out and outpouring of gratitude for Mom, there is a bellowing rebuke to those for whom celebrating Mom would not only be crazy, but wrong. For every sentimental essay and love letter to mother, the woman who “taught us to be women and men”, the message is a queasy reminder that no such role model was present for children who lacked the loving reflection and guidance of a mentally well mother.
For every Mother’s Day article advising that we seek to be better daughters and sons, the missing piece is that if a mother is mentally sick, chances are 100% that the child has tried just about everything to win the impossible love of that mother. These children can legitimately be regarded as experts in the strategies of being “the good child”. They were experts as children. They had no choice. Children who fail to be loved by the mentally ill mother become grown children who feel that they, themselves, are at fault, for failing to be “good enough” to be loved by Mom.
Today, on Mother’s Day, I salute all those who were cast into this role as “the good child”, having to survive a mentally ill mother. Your job has been to separate from your mother’s illness, a heroic task; and acknowledge the loss of the mother you wanted to have, one of the hardest psychological truths in life to face. I hope that on each Mother’s Day, and the days in- between, you are able to understand and celebrate the love you have to give, and the fierce strength in you, that kept you alive! Bravo, and remember: The world is full of people who can and cannot love. Choose only the lovers.