I thought I did well having company the first two days, but by Thursday night, I began to crash. I’ve been here only four months and now with a perfect stranger while Richard and his nephew went off to work at a job-site Wednesday and Thursday. How weird it was to me they left her in a house she’d never been to, with a woman she’d never met, and somehow we’re supposed to get along.
She’s taking her Master’s courses so a lot of time was on the computer in the same office as mine. I quickly learned I can’t be there at the same time. She’s a distraction, unable to focus on her schoolwork, so she chats with people online and talks at me, complaining about school, gossiping, playing on Facebook, fretting about everything, saying if it can’t get resolved she won’t be able to sleep. All I could do was say, “Uh huh,” I couldn’t even comprehend the email I was trying to read.
This is why I haven’t had company since my birth father and his fiancee’s visit several years ago. That visit did not go well either, even to the point of him asking what did I do with his daughter inferring I was purposely different and could therefore transform myself back into someone more to his liking.
Richard and I were talking Friday evening, as we related about my difficulty with any sort of relationship, tears began to fall. I am dealing with many of the unseen things us TBIers deal with on a daily basis, but having a glimpse of the life I’m missing by having others here is tremendously painful. I miss having friends, close and accepting friends, something I don’t feel I’ve had post-injury. My brain was (and still is) fried.
So here are two people in my home living the life I used to, teaching, traveling, being involved, they even both love to read. I used to read five books at a time because I got bored, I’m lucky to finish a book now. Reading is too much work and again, without the memory mechanism, it is quickly forgotten anyway.
Post-injury I am reclusive, never seeking attention, not doing well in my relationships (very common with TBI). I simply don’t have brain capacity or processing speed for all the details involved, I end up wiped out in no time. And having a memory, I have learned, is vitally important for relationships because it is foundational. In our culture if someone does not remember it often offends the other person deeply. There is a reason why the divorce statistics for TBI are above 80%.
Being reclusive is survival, not a choice. I learned the hard way it is best to live with blinders on because seeing the life I’ve been denied is tremendously painful. I’ve always said some of us with TBI were left with just enough awareness for life to be piercingly painful over and over again.
I cried too because my not being able to tolerate visitors harms Richard’s relationships and I did not want his life to become small and isolated like mine. I cried because within this TBI shell is a lot of loneliness and the inescapable feeling of being caged.
We talked about solutions, I said it is best if I wasn’t here when he had company. He asked if we should buy another house for me to live, have my own space, my own life. Confused and scared I asked what about the relationship? I said I don’t think more distance would be the answer, it always seems with folks who can’t handle TBI, distance is all we get. He said he didn’t want distance either, we were both relieved.
He said after this hunting season folks would no longer come stay. That broke my heart. He reassured me it would be okay. I finally came around to realize if people have the funds to travel, they can afford to stay somewhere if they really want to see you. For this hunting season we’ve talked about ideas where I could go, we’ll see where that road leads.
I also thought of the man the Social Worker at rehab talked about when he had a family reunion. His successful strategy, although difficult for others to accept, was to ask when the most important time was for him to be there and he could be there for two hours. He communicated other times he’d be on his own, walking the dog, resting.
Saturday morning Richard and I were both awake at 3am, equally upset, unable to sleep, we talked about the struggle to deal with this tender situation, and what to do. He said his nephew is different with her here and he did not expect the toxic chemistry between them. He said he wished they’d come to stay for a day or two so we could get to meet his future wife, but staying for two weeks is too much. We talked about all the weird things going on with them and between them.
Monday I woke with horrible stomach/intestinal discomfort from having a little ice cream at dinner Sunday. I completely forgot I am now lactose intolerant! I stayed home most of the day but I had to get out of the house, I escaped while Richard and his family were gone. I did not want to be here when they returned, I was irritated, tense, anxious and needed out.
I drove up into the hills onto a road I’d never been on and stopped at a hitching post at a trail head. It was a beautiful spot, I made sure I had cell phone reception and rested. I could feel the weight fall from my shoulders, feeling lighter, more at peace. I cannot think, move or breathe at home, I feel trapped, needing to be congenial and kind. I was at my wit’s end, irritated they were here and wanted them gone! Not very welcoming or warm-hearted, but it’s what I was feeling and I know I struggle with having people in my space. Neither Richard nor I can fathom why in the heck they will not take us up on our offer to take the spare vehicle so the nephew can show the fiancée around. He’s been here seven out of the last eight summers, he knows his way around.
I watched my time making sure to be home before dinner so Richard wouldn’t worry, but I really did not want to come back home. The two parties in the relationship are not good for each other, immature addicts feeding off each other. I could not take one more minute of these 34- and 46-year-olds playing Slug Bug in the back seats of the truck. I could not take the ongoing emotional games and banter about their wedding plans and the drama (this is his third marriage, her second). I couldn’t take the iPad, laptop, cell phones, texting, playing farm on Facebook, I felt we were babysitting. I couldn’t fake it, I couldn’t smile at the things they do and think are funny, I just couldn’t.
Driving back home I knew what I was feeling was very real, it was important for me to get away before I said or did something that would hurt someone. I need trustworthiness, consistency, integrity, honesty and openness and I’ve not found them within this tender situation. While I know it is Richard’s family, this is also my home and quite frankly were they not related I would have nothing to do with them.
When I got home I was still pent up, I quietly told these things to Richard while his family was downstairs. At dinner everyone was awkwardly quiet, his nephew did not eat much (atypical), no one wanted to be at the table. Richard said he thought the fiancée may have overheard what we said. He and I talked, I said I’ll not be participating in much, I can’t be around them.
I apologized to Richard, because of the awkwardness being around the quiet me, unable to engage. I’ve seen it, here, and before, the downcast eyes unable to look me in the face.
I said I hope there is not a rift caused by this between him and his nephew and hoped he could talk to him before he leaves. I apologized for causing him to sacrifice having visitors, he reassured me by saying he picked me and our relationship comes first.
Update – Richard talked to his nephew first thing this morning and he told me they had a good talk. Richard, in his classic straight talking, honest manner shared our concerns and expressed my need for space. We’re not trying to get rid of them. It was his nephew who said the trains run everyday inferring they could leave at any time, but again, that is not our intention. Richard told him he still loved him and there was no rift between them, this would change nothing. I am very proud of Richard!
We’ll see what happens, folks. If we didn’t care about them both we wouldn’t have said anything at all. I believe we are doing the right thing and have their best interest and the best interest of a potential new human being in mind. I would imagine Richard is one of the few people in his nephew’s life who speaks the truth to him.
(Richard helped with this post as we’re working together to resolve our particular TBI issues.)