Thursday, January 24, 2008

Esteem and Self-Esteem

My ex-husband often meets me on the opposite side of a footbridge from where I work to hand over Connor. He never crosses it. Today for the first time I crossed it on a different day without Connor and looked into the oily waters below. That is where my husband tried to commit suicide 4 years ago, by walking into the shallow, slow flowing water. Maybe that is why he never wants to cross, and see the water below. Or maybe he just wants me to do the walking, who's to tell?

Anyway today for the first time it affected me. I realised I never asked him, or I Don't recall asking him, WHY???? Why did he want to commit suicide? things must've been very bad. He would've felt hopeless, helpless, worthless. Yet to look at his situation you never would've guessed. We had been trying to have a baby for 5 years and had just been successful via IVF. Money was not tight, I was going back to work after paid maternity leave and we had a great bunch of supportive friends. He had gained a law degree as a mature student and was working on a high profile case. His career as a lawyer appeared to mean a lot to him, and to be an integral part of his identity. He'd say "I'm a commercial litigator, that's what I do" and our friends would look up to him and value his advice.

This whole suicide thing is eating at me today, and there is nobody I can ask really, my peace of mind (the ex-wife) will never be a priority.

I don't remember him ever saying "I felt desparate, lonely, unloved". Just before he tried to drown himself I was telling him about a friend of mine who had given up her job because she couldn't cope with the stress of small kids and working, and he said "If anyone's going to have a nervous breakdown around here, it's me" thereby reserving his right to a breakdown.

At the time of his suicide attempt. I had just had the happiest year of my life. I was off work for 9 months with my beautiful, longed for baby. Our marriage was not unhappy, we did a lot together and had a good sex life, although we did not communicate well. After the suicide attempt he begged me to check him into a secure facility, and from there on in I became the enemy. I had just gone back to work full time and was quite stressed about childcare arrangements. He discussed his problems only in hushed tones with his psychiatrist, and I was not allowed in on the underlying problems, just reassured that it was a deep biological depression. So I took to researching the problem. Whenever I asked him what the problem was he would say, it is a chemical imbalance in my brain, I kept on delivering my child to childcare, working all day and visiting my husband in the evening before taking connor home, putting him to bed and doing it all again the next day. On the outside all the psych talked about were his control issues, which were real. I had definitely been a victim of those and I still am. I really had no idea what was going on.

In short I don't think I took it seriously. I remember saying to Simon "All I want is a functional husband" which on reflection was not the most sympathetic thing. His pre-emptive remark reserving the breakdown, the difficult method of suicide that he chose (if he had meant it wouldn't he have tied something to his legs and jumped into deep water?) and the refusal to discuss all but the medical details added to the objective fact that his life was not so bad, added to the extraordinarily busy life I was leading myself made me just assume it was a "cry for help" or had, as he himself said, some sort of brain-chemical abberation which would be fixed presently with drugs. His psych likened it to a heart attack, it comes on suddenly and requires a long recovery and a change in habits. We did not have an extraordinarily combative or unhappy marriage so I can only blame the job.

Anyway he gave up the marriage and the job whilst still apparently in a deep biological depression - not a time to be making life changing decisions I would've thought. He also courted and moved in with someone new - if he had low self esteem he hid it very well - behind a blustering self-confidence. Which brings me to the point of this post.

If I was feeling desparate, out of control and suicidal I would not ponce around proclaiming my expertise, I would keep a low profile. I suspect this might be a male thing. I feel dreadfully out of my depth in my job a lot of the time. I ask advice, I tell my seniors honestly what I think I am capable of. I confide in my girlfriends if I can't cope and I ask for help. I certainly don't lie and cover up until it comes to crisis point.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

This (Autistic) Life

I have vowed never to capitalize on my brother's disability. I am in no way entitled. I hope I do not offend anyone with this post, particularly my references to "normal" which we all know is a nebulous concept. But I was driving to work the other day, and thinking about how my Autistic brother has made me who I am today, and I found tears streaming down my face. I have recently met a new friend with an Autistic son, it is lovely to know her, and to perhaps see what my mum went through when I was too young to remember. My first memories of my brother was that he was a beautiful child. I went out on an image search to try to find a picture as beautiful as he was, but noone came near, and then I remembered the little boy in the movie Kolya who was impossibly sweet and innocent. He was like that.

I am three years older than him, so I remember waiting for him to learn to talk. We waited and waited. I remember him saying a few little words/phrases, but they disappeared somehow. People kept on telling us about children they knew who didn't talk until they were 3,4,5... By this time I was old enough to be on my parents journey too. I kept on hoping, along with them, as each milestone passed, that he would soon make a developmental leap.

I think he taught me to be in for the long haul, and somehow to cope with disappointment. Hoping and praying will not make it happen.

Soon we realised this was not going to happen, then my focus shifted, he became my project I was determined that he would be as normal as possible. I took him around with my friends. I made sure he never wore dorky clothes or got a dorky haircut, or had greasy hair. I stood up for him when people teased him. I taught him to swim, to ride a bicycle...

Through it all though, he threw me into sharp contrast. When he was being naughty, I was super-good. When he failed, I succeeded spectacularly.

I think subconciously both my older brother and I had to make it up to our parents somehow.

And then I moved out of the project phase. For a while I think I forgot about him. My life got interesting. I met my first boyfriend, I left home to go to University, and so did my brother. This must've been a sad time for him.

He left home too, and has since then lived in a very lovely sheltered community.

Having opined in an earlier post that I have been looking for my father in the men I hook up with, another possibility has often occured to me. That I am actually looking for a younger brother. I have never been out with anyone older than me, and my partners are often, at some level projects they are little, defenceless, inadequate, and

I am the archetypal older sister out to defend, protect and heal them.

Recently he has had health difficulties having at 36 the first ever seisure of his life. Suddenly I am his big sister again, wanting to rush to his side, defend him, deny there is anything wrong, to make him normal

I never dared to stop and think what it would've been like to have a normal younger brother. Imagine, handsome, successful, intelligent, with a family of his own. Someone who would visit me, maybe overtly look up to me in some way (rather than tacitly). What a gift it would be. Maybe finally I am mourning the loss of that man. Maybe that was what the tears were about.

But the man that he is has made me the woman I am today, maybe more compassionate, maybe more succesful but perhaps most importantly able to love people who give almost nothing back.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Sum of True Love

I am almost certain I have never know true love, but maybe if you put together all the crushes, first kisses, close friendships with men, the great sex, the marriage proposals, cathartic moments of understanding, companionship, adventure... maybe just maybe all together it would add up to true love.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Lure of Pre-History

I'm not sure if this is a side effect of turning 40, the internet, globalisation, facebook, or what, but old boyfriends are crawling out of the woodwork. Two of my more serious ex-boyfriends from my 20's appear to have emigrated across the world too, worse still they are happy, successful, godamn pillars of society.

One of my ex's (NOT the one that got away) emailed me last year to say he would be in town and would I like to meet up. Sure! why not? it's been 20 years surely enough water under the bridge for any acrimony to have subsided, and surely all remnants of lust will be gone, surely?

Neil saw this differently. He did not want me to see this fellow. He was adamant that no good could come of it, he said once a man has slept with a woman he feels confident to, if not entitled to, do it again. The more he became angry the more determined I became to meet this man, I was curious. The reason I told Neil that this old boyfriend had got in touch, was not to seek his approval, but in the interests of honesty and transparency. There is a subplot here, in that Neil was in fact sleeping with his own ex at the time, which makes his outrage hilarious in retrospect.

I did meet the ex, during the day, for coffee, in a public place, it was good to catch up on him and his family that I had once known to well. But there was something else, it was comforting to be with someone who had known me so well, so long ago. And yes, he was still and attractive man, and I suspect he saw the same in me. We do occaisionally email, on birthdays and Christmas, but we keep it to a minimum, an unspoken but I suspect conscious rule on both sides.

So NO all remnants of lust were not gone, Neil was right in a way. Dan had a similar experience with an ex-girlfriend. He was in a vulnerable place having just been separated, they were both away from home. When they met, he describes the feelings between them as overwhelming. I can fully understand this I think it was a love is worth the wait moment as described by Mir. She also describes how well they know each other (below), which I think is likely to be true of your college boyfriend. Perhaps even, far from visualising the pre-pregnancy body, they actually do not see the post-pregnancy body.

"Otto and I have known each other for coming up on 18 years. I am neither surprised nor particularly bothered by his penchant for lousy jokes. He seems fairly tolerant of my melodramatic streak, and if he can clearly visualize my pre-pregnancy body he’s bright enough not to mention it. Our view of one another is realistic, I think."
I have just read a bit of chick-lit on the same theme pillow talk by freya north. If the timing is right and you are lucky enough to encounter "the one that got away" when you are both free I say go for it, but at 40 the "both free" part is pretty much a contradiction in terms. For me, I will meet them, enjoy the frissant of pre-history and leave it at that.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Divorce challenges self image

Dan's marriage, as I hinted in my last post, has broken down.

As we left the meeting we had this cathartic conversation. He, like me had emigrated to be with his wife. He understood the challenges to self image that divorce brings especially when you are not in your home country.

"I am not the sort of person to get divorced"
"I am not the sort of person who emigrates"

I often liken it to being a small boat that was towed out to sea and abandoned (next to a hostile oil rig). My husband was the tug boat, and now he is holed up on that oil rig.

Like me there are children on Dan's boat, so even if he could brave the storm and get the boat home, he would be taking the children away from what they know. There is no choice but to stay nearby and weather the storm.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Changing partners in the 5th Age

Last month I met an old friend Dan at a work function. The last time I'd seen him he was happily married with teenage kids. I, on the other hand, was going through my divorce. I was jealous of his seemingly perfect life.

Around that time, A mutual friend and colleague of ours, Terry, had left his wife of 35 years for a younger woman. Terry exchanged a long stable marriage for a high maintenance wife who had been single for a long time herself, she has many idiosyncrasies of her own. Worse she appears to expect Terry to worship her whilst seemingly loving her cats more than him.

Last month Dan and I were making light of all this. Having moved in with a new partner myself in the interim period since we last met, and, as you know dear bloggy friends, having had all sorts of horrible dramas and wake up calls, I felt emboldened.

"Terry" I said "should watch out. Changing partners in late mid life is a dangerous thing to do"

"It's is like moving house" I continued "You keep walking into doors, you don't know where the light switches are"

Dan is very funny, quick as a flash he replied "Yes, and in Terry's case its a haunted house".

My experience is also confusing. Although I don't think my house is haunted, there are trip wires and I never know when I am going to set something off.

I wouldn't say don't do it. What I would say is if possible check out the house before you move in. Look for something comfortable, and modern and easy to maintain.

The seven ages of woman

About 15 years ago when I was a graduate student, I was privileged to be invited to a consortium where we would get expert help and advice some from big names in academia. To my delight one of these mentors was a woman. She was very glamourous, tall, fashionable - she had big chunky jewellry, she was edgy, and sooo intelligent. Quite frankly I was in awe.

Years passed, I graduated, crossed the world and, in a quite separate existence, found myself at an academic conference. At some point this sweet little old lady sidled up to me. After peering at her for some time I recognised her as my old mentor. But what had happened? My idol was smaller, gentler, softer.

Maybe the first time I saw her she was a young 45, and now she was 60, but what I really think had happened was that I had gained in stature, emotionally and academically if not physically. She, for her part, had abandoned the killer heels, she had nothing to prove anymore, she was undeniably successful and an expert in her field. None the less it was a peculiar (to me) and vivid illustration of how short life is, and how we pass through these definite phases.

Shakespeare identified the seven ages of man in as you like it.

Fifteen years ago she was the soldier, Full of strange oaths, Jealous in honour,... sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation. Now it was me.