mental health

I’ll Take Water, Thanks

No family may be better than two families
Photo by Paula Schmidt from Pexels

“You can’t choose your family.” Everyone knows that tired old phrase. Never mind that it isn’t precisely true. All of us defy those words when we settle into the groups we DO choose, composed of loved ones who don’t share our blood but mean every bit as much to us as the people who can donate a kidney or liver lobe to us. They also prove that old adage of “blood is thicker than water” wrong. Oftentimes, they stand beside us when our official, legal family members find it uncomfortable to stick with us through panic attacks, depressive fugues, and other mental health taboos no one likes to talk about.

The family we CHOOSE keeps us sane.

The family we have no input on? Those are the people who – more times than not – drive us over the cliff. They stop listening, they don’t hear us (and, yes, there’s a difference between those two things), they trample over our words, and they misunderstand our states of mind. If they don’t experience the same shamble of disorders we do, they have no frame of reference and fail (epically) to assist us. Even when they mean well, they do more damage than good. Old traumas resurface time and time again, reopening old wounds that have never properly healed.

Because these are the people closest to us (in my case, anyway. I recognize I can’t speak for everyone). They know our history more than anyone else; they were present for the majority of it. Odds are, they were the first people we ever attempted to talk to, to approach with the chaos in our minds. And there’s a pretty good chance they were the first people to dismiss our concerns. (Family’s great and all, but they usually screw up) It’s a Mobius Strip that no one ever quite escapes from.

And then your dumb ass gets married.

You DO choose your spouse (most of the time. I’m aware arranged marriages still exist). However, the family that comes with them? Yeah, you don’t get a say there. You’re stuck with whatever hand the Universe feels like dealing you, and not everyone lucks out in the deal. Some do – I won’t deny that. The rest of us come to realize all of those “in-law” tropes exist for a reason. And marriage shackles you to whatever lunatics your spouse is related to TILL DEATH DO YOU PART!

Granted, you have no legal obligations to THEM. (I know – I checked the marriage certificate just to make sure) But suddenly you have ties to more people with ZERO comprehension of your mental tolerances. Not to mention you’re expected to swallow their “quirks,” no matter how badly they scrape at human sensibility. (To say nothing of your anxiety levels) And when they push you over the edge, YOU’RE the problem. (As always – Wow, sounds just like home)

Fucking bullshit.

The family you create over the years, made up of the people who know you, accept you, understand you, and love you ranks above any level of blood relation. Maybe they can’t donate an organ to save your life, but they’ll hold your hand while you go through the transplant and recovery. They’ll cheer you on and bring you soup or saltines or a glass of water while your body copes. They kick your ass when it’s needed, dragging you out of bed and forcing you to get your shit together when you’ve wallowed in too much self-pity. THOSE people are worthy of the “family” label – not the ones who share your name.

That’s not to say you WON’T incorporate genuine family members into that group. I know people out there who love their parents and siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles – you name it. The word “family” needs to mean more than “individuals you’re related to.” It should stand for everything I described above. And if that includes relations, so be it. But, for a lot of people I know, it doesn’t. Because those blood relatives are a major source of the problem.

There are shredded pieces of the Mobius Strip of my immediate family. We’ve worked through some things, but there are a lot of problems that still continue to cycle around and around again, never making a breakthrough. I love them – I never doubt that – and I’ll do anything for them. But my parents…my parents still drive me over the cliff at times. No matter how often I try to explain things to them, they fail to hear me, see me. They circle the outside of my chosen family – because they don’t understand me the way my friends do.

Look at your family. Your REAL family. Don’t let the definition of the word weigh down your shoulders. You have one – everyone does – that’s surrounding you and supporting you and cheering you on. When you shift the way you look at that word, it lightens the burden on your mind. Maybe it IS water running through that family instead of blood. So what? Look at the world around you and all of the things WATER accomplishes.

mental health

Count to…

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

~Aristotle

My father is a blunt person (I inherited a lot of his personality – to the chagrin of my mother). When we were growing up, he took a frank stance with all of us. No, we weren’t supposed to get into fights. Why? Because the person that starts a fight is always the person that gets caught. (Definitely a fact) However, while we were never to throw the first punch, he had no qualms if we threw the second. (Metaphorically or physically)

I took the lesson to heart. While I never laid a finger on anyone (siblings don’t count), I knew exactly where to use my words. I’m a writer, after all, and I always have been. A few well-placed phrases, and I cut people to pieces. (Girls are mean. Anyone that says differently lives in a dream world) With rare exceptions, my emotions built over weeks and even months – gifting me plenty of time to build my arguments. My opponent felt blind-sided, assuming I was working off the top of my head.

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it?

Gut punches fail us. Our brains shut down, overwhelmed with furious emotion. We might as well revert back to grunting Neanderthals. The ability to express our message, our feelings, or even conduct a coherent argument vanishes. Instead, we sputter, our blood pressure surges, and we’re left with kindergarten-level taunting. It isn’t until later (in bed or in the shower), when our body regains homeostasis, that we’re able to construct the sentences we WANTED to use.

Hours too late.

Which is where the adage “count to ten” starts to make sense. When you stop, breathe, and think, you regain common sense. Your blood pressure may not return to normal in that time, but at least it won’t surge into stroke-risk zones. Some call it holding a grudge to bank embers over time before releasing statements. I call it reasonable. You save your brain, you maintain better health, and, honestly, they’re just pissed they can’t respond to your eloquence. Patience is a virtue, after all.

I’m not a person that believes anger is unacceptable or has no place. It’s an emotion, same as happiness or misery; you have a right to feel and express it. I’m not one to condone violence, but getting angry has it’s place. You FEEL angry for a reason, and people have a right to know they’ve pushed you past your tolerance limit. There’s no guarantee they’ll change, but at least you let that frustration into the open.

Holding anger in ISN’T healthy.

Take your time to examine WHAT, exactly, bothers you. Think through your reasons and arguments. THEN let your words out. You won’t dissolve into name-calling and ridicule (or, at least if you do, it’ll be elevated above schoolyard terms), and the vein in your forehead won’t threaten to explode. Calm anger IS a thing. It’s damn hard to react to (and a lot of fun, frankly). Staying ice cold while the other person pushes themselves towards a stroke is therapeutic.

I don’t apologize for feeling and expressing my anger. I’m a human being, and I’m entitled to EVERY emotion I’m capable of. I won’t start a fight. I never have. But I have finished a lot of them.