Wednesday, September 20, 2006

State of Life- A Starting Point on the Road to Depression

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately in an attempt to figure out what's behind my funky state of mind and, given the amount of conflict between the essential elements of my self, it's not hard to conclude that my depression most assuredly has a component of existential angst to it. In fact, it's highly probable that all the issues that appear to inhabit the shallow end of existence can ultimately be reduced to the existential level, as well. I haven't really thought that out yet, so I'll start with the current situation and work it out as I go, or at the end of the series --whatever seems natural to me.

I will begin at the shallow of the issues I've identified, starting with the basic elements of my (abnormal) day to day life, ultimately moving into deeper aspects of life and self as I go along. I will not attempt to do this in a single post. (You're welcome.)

#1. The Living Arrangement-- I have not spent a night in my own house, in my own bed since the night of August 27, 2005. This has been incredibly difficult.

As I've mentioned before, we're ensconced with The Mom, a woman I love and admire with all of my being. She's also my very closest friend, as she has been for most of my adult life. But living here after 26 years out of the nest is a strain for all of us.

My dad died in March of 2003 and Mom has adjusted quite well to living alone since then. Her house is about half the size of mine and has three bedrooms: hers, a guest bedroom, and an office/media room with a trundle bed. Rachel and I share the guest room and Alex gets the office/media room. Mom has stuff in every nook and cranny of our room. There are decorative items on the dresser and chest, and the closet and drawers are filled. Things were moved around in order for Rachel and I to have one dresser drawer to share, plus two feet of hanging closet space and a total of 7 linear feet of one-foot-deep closet shelf space. Everything we have with us is expected to be stored in this space, including a portion of Rachel's toys, my books and notes for classes, and all my paperwork associated with normal life and insurance/ home repair stuff.

Needless to say, this space doesn't cut it and things end up stacked on the floor. I keep my laptop by the bed, but the desktop computer and printer that Alex uses for school work sits on a decorative end-table in the den, next to her big TV, which is pretty much always on. My guitar and bass sit on the other side of the TV. Alex has no closet space whatsoever and has two flimsy drawers in the thing that holds the TV in his room, so his stuff ends up on the floor and in other unnatural places as well. All this annoys mom to no end, but what can we do?

I have no place to work, so I sometimes take over the dining room table, which is used an average of twice a month, when Mom invites my brother and his family over for dinner. Because of the distractions of the nearby TV and other general household activity, I usually work late at night, but I don't always get everything done in one session, so I leave things as they are, in my little organized piles. Mom will often take them and stack them into one pile because the cluttered table understandably bugs her. Or she'll take random piles of things and move them somewhere else. Sometimes they'll end up in a box with other of our belongings (like Rachel's toys), which is then deposited in a corner of our room. She doesn't tell me she's moved some things, so I don't necessarily know the papers are under the toys in the box. I'll be going crazy looking for things and she'll say nothing if I don't ask her about them specifically. (Actually, she'll often swear that she didn't move anything, but then, at some point, remember, or she'll just let me figure it out on my own.

Can you spell P-A-S-S-I-V-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E?

So, after a few such incidents, I apologized (again) for my occasional invasion of the dining room table, reminded her that it was the only space I had to work, explained (again) that I needed to have things organized the way I had them, and asked her specifically not to move anything, and told that I'd clear it all up as quickly as I possibly could.

Late one Saturday evening, I came "home" (sadly defined as the place we're currently living rather than my own house) after having been out most of day, I found Mom in her room with the door closed and this in the dining room:

Karen has already pointed out (in a comment on my Flickr page) that this probably doesn't qualify as passive. (Mom is extremely non-confrontational and this kind of thing is about as actively aggressive as I expect she'd ever get.)

So I didn't say anything that night, and I was deliberately silly and light-hearted when I responded with this note, which I left on the table for her to find the next morning:

I guess she didn't like my response because she turned my note faced-down and never said a word to me. When I brought it up later, she tried to dismiss it with some really feeble excuse like she just wanted to see how a different table cloth looked on the table. Right, Mom. And that's why you left the table cloth there, turned my note over and ignored the whole thing?

As I mentioned, she's very non-confrontational, not that a simple request to move my stuff or to find another place to work would be confrontational in the least. I'd just say, okay, and do it. But she'd rather leave a less-than-subtle (albeit kind of mean, from my perspective) hint and ideally, I'd just comply, never saying a word about it.

I do not do well with this kind of thing.

Passive-aggressive behavior does a real number on me. I need direct, honest communication. Anything else does wacky things to my synapses and serotonin levels. And this is only one example of the kind of things my mother has been doing to communicate to us that certain aspects of our presence annoy her. I completely understand that. It's hard to share your space when you used to living alone. By the way, we are not living here for free. If I talk about renting a place closer to our neighborhood, she protests. To me, it feels like psychological warfare in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't game.

So, that's one thing.

(I've got a class to teach in a few minutes and I don't have time to proofread this. So please pardon any slip-ups.)


Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

You can never be an adult in your parent's home. You've also got the worst of both worlds - family dynamics and being a guest with no departure date. I think you are coping pretty damn well under the circumstances!

7:47 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Thanks, AOF. I'm doing the best I can and I'm sure Mom is, too.

Lucky for me, my mother does regard me as an adult and rarely tells me what to do or not to do. However, I am learning a lot of things about her and how she thinks, things that I didn't really pick up on when we weren't living in such close proximity.

More to come on that later on.

8:51 PM  
Blogger dangerblond said...

Er, I have enough space for all three of you over here. You can move in this weekend. I'm not passive-aggressive, I'm aggressive-aggressive. I eat people's yogurt and wear their clothes.

9:15 PM  
Blogger muse said...

Sounds like you're already toying with a good solution: move to a temporary place of your own, it will restore peace with your mom, and you'll have (finally) the feeling that you are in your "home". :) Every woman needs a "rooms of one's own", after all, no?

10:18 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I apologize for the length of this, but it is my sincere desire that this helps to illuminate and at the same time entertain you and your readers.

People with PAPD are characterized by covert obstructionism, procrastination, stubbornness, and inefficiency. Such behavior is a manifestation of passively expressed underlying aggression. In the DSM-IV the disorder is also called negativistic PD.


PAPD patients characteristically procrastinate, resist demands for adequate performance, find excuses for delays, and find fault with those on whom they depend; yet they refuse to extricate themselves from the dependent relationships. They usually lack assertiveness and are not direct about their own needs and wishes. They fail to ask needed questions about what is expected of them and may become anxious when forced to succeed or when their usual defense of turning anger against themselves is removed.

In interpersonal relationships, these people attempt to manipulate themselves into a position of dependence, but others often experience this passive, self-detrimental behavior as punitive and manipulative. People with this disorder expect others to do their errands and to carry out their routine responsibilities. Friends and clinicians may become enmeshed in trying to assuage the patients' many claims of unjust treatment. The close relationships of people with PAPD, however, are rarely tranquil or happy. Because they are bound to their resentment more closely than to their satisfaction, they may never even formulate goals for finding enjoyment in life. People with this disorder lack self-confidence and are typically pessimistic about the future.


PAPD must be differentiated from histrionic and borderline PD. Patients with PAPD, however, are less flamboyant, dramatic, affective and openly aggressive than those with histrionic and borderline PD.


In a follow-up study averaging 11 years of 100 PA inpatients, Small found that the primary diagnosis in 54 was PAPD; 18 were alcohol abusers, and 30 could be clinically labeled depressed. Of the 73 former patients located, 58 (79%) had persistent psychiatric difficulties and 9 (12%) were considered symptom-free. Most seemed irritable, anxious, and depressed; somatic (internal physical) complaints were numerous. Only 32 (44%) were employed full time as workers or homemakers. Although neglect of responsibility and suicide attempts were common, only one patient had committed suicide in the interim. 28 had been readmitted to a hospital, but the disorders of only 34 had been diagnosed as schizophrenia.


Patients with PAPD who receive supportive psychotherapy have good outcomes, but psychotherapy for these patients has many pitfalls. To fulfill their demands is often to support their pathology, but to refuse their demands is to reject them. Therapy sessions can thus become a battleground on which the patient expresses feelings of resentment against the therapist on whom the patient wishes to become dependent. With these patients, clinicians must treat suicide gestures as any covert expression of anger, and not as object loss in major depressive disorder. Therapists must point out the probable consequences of PA behaviors as they occur. Such confrontations may be more helpful than a correct interpretation on changing patients' behavior.

While this is a condensed list of many of the traits of the passive aggressive male; many if not all of these also relate to the human female.
*FEAR OF DEPENDENCY - Unsure of his autonomy & afraid of being alone, he fights his dependency needs - usually by trying to control you.

*FEAR OF INTIMACY - Guarded & often mistrustful, he is reluctant to show his emotional fragility. He's often out of touch with his feelings, reflexively denying feelings he thinks will "trap" or reveal him, like love. He picks fights to create distance.

*FEAR OF COMPETITION - Feeling inadequate, he is unable to compete with other men in work and love. He may operate either as a self-sabotaging wimp with a pattern of failure, or he'll be the tyrant, setting himself up as unassailable and perfect, needing to eliminate any threat to his power.

*OBSTRUCTIONISM - Just tell a P/A man what you want, no matter how small, and he may promise to get it for you. But he won't say when, and he’ll do it deliberately slowly just to frustrate you. Maybe he won't comply at all. He blocks any real progress he sees to your getting your way.

*FOSTERING CHAOS - The P/A man prefers to leave the puzzle incomplete, the job undone.

*FEELING VICTIMIZED - The P/A man protests that others unfairly accuse him rather than owning up to his own misdeeds. To remain above reproach, he sets himself up as the apparently hapless, innocent victim of your excessive demands and tirades.

*MAKING EXCUSES & LYING - The P/A man reaches as far as he can to fabricate excuses for not fulfilling promises. As a way of withholding information, affirmation or love - to have power over you - the P/A man may choose to make up a story rather than give you a straight answer.

*PROCRASTINATION - The P/A man has an odd sense of time - he believes that deadlines don't exist for him.

*CHRONIC LATENESS & FORGETFULNESS - One of the most infuriating & inconsiderate of all P/A traits is his inability to arrive on time. By keeping you waiting, he sets the ground rules of the relationship. And his selective forgetting - used only when he wants to avoid an obligation.

*AMBIGUITY - He is master of mixed messages and sitting on fences. When he tells you something, you may still walk away wondering if he actually said yes or no.

*SULKING - Feeling put upon when he is unable to live up to his promises or obligations, the P/A man retreats from pressures around him and sulks, pouts and withdraws.

A passive-aggressive man won't have every single one of these traits, but he'll have many of them. He may have other traits as well, which are not passive-aggressive.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Who ever the hell said "you can never go home again" should be annointed a genius!And I'm sure this can be used as the new byline for the garden.

Because at once you feel like you may never physically go home, and undoubtably wonder what home is once it is "completely" remade, and as well experience the joys of returning to your mother's home, the "home of your youth" (even if possibly by dint of returning to mothers warm embrace) and all of the realizations that the living situation brings with it (I am the master of sentence mayhem, I know).

Good luck to you both. My suggestion (and I know you didn't ask me for it, so it matches that I don't mind if you wish to hear it), pick your battles, and make the battles you do pick doozies (er, um... I mean good ones, yeah that's it good ones).

1:41 AM  
Anonymous Editor B said...

Yikes. If this is the "shallow end" I'm scared of what lies ahead.

10:47 AM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Dangerblond, thanks for that offer. The thing is, we really need to be in our own space, not someone else's. But that's SO kind of you to even consider taking us on.

Muse, although I know we'll continue to get resistance from Mom about leaving, the realtrick will be finding housing that I can afford.

Thomas, my Mom doesn't have PAPD. She just afraid to express her honest feelings, probably because of some fear of the reaction she'll get. Lots of people are like that and lots of people react to honest and direct communication as if they've been attacked. I think she fears that and just wants to avoid it. So, she has her "tactics" that are more offensive to me than just telling me the truth.

You can never offend me with the truth, but you can offend me by withholding it or altering it to spare me of some reality I'd be better off knowing.

Richard, I really don't want it to sound like it's miserable here. My mom has really been great, considering we've been here since the end of Janusry. It's just certain little things she does. And it is difficult to try to live with just what you can squeeze into a small space. We're all a little strained, but I think most people wouldn't deal with this kind of intrusion as well as she has.

Bart, I call this the shallow end because it deals with the mundane machinations of day to day life. The existential self lives in the deep end and there are things going on there, too.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I didn't think it sounded miserable, just stressfull (which of course when there is too much stress it can be miserable, not that your mother is making miserable, but more stress pushes you more over the misery line). Anyways, it does sound like she is somewhat gracefully dealing with alot, I'm just suggesting that there will be inevitable adjustments (arguements) so I'm suggesting that you choose them rathem than let stress choose for you, and make the most of the adjustment (arguement) by opening honest yet kind communication. (Did I not say all that up in the previous post, I guess I just thought it in my head).

10:42 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

P.S. I think I may be writing more on your blog then on mine (not that mine is meant for me to actually write in). I hope you don't mind.

10:44 PM  
Blogger LisaPal said...

Well, Richard, given the purpose of your blogs, we'd never have gotten to know each other if you didn't expound on things in these spaces. You'll never hear me complain about it, you can count on that.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Karen said...

But will you drape a tablecloth over Richard for writting in your blog so much, that is the question.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Well I wouldn't attempt to alter or withhold truth or what I might perceive as truth after we all perceive things differently, wouldn’t you agree? I tend to view things form a slanted perspective this comes from living with PTSD for so long what my own experiences have taught me is that what is needed in life is some measure of balance. I think I have achieved this … for the most part.
Today was a good example of someone who is out of balance. I had lunch with sergeant French and Torres after we returned from training. While we were eating and discussing the level of the broke back drill we had just finished this elderly woman comes up to out table and after looking at Torres says “I want to thank you for serving My country” maybe it was just a slip of the tongue but her meaning was clear thank the white guys and leave out the Mexican. So this person is out of balance she has good intentions but her personal beliefs get in the way. Your mother probably is like mine in the regard that she doesn’t deal to well with conflict. But Thomas thrives on conflict maybe I am just a bit odd or just another guys looking for the that perfect bagel some where adrift in a never ending sea of Goyyim.

7:06 PM  

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