Obviously, I’m in the midst of an identity crisis. I’m depressed. And, just in time for the full-on adulthood of my thirties, I’ve developed an anxiety disorder. I thought I was OCD, but it turns out I’m probably just OCPD. In what I understand to be the typical fashion, as an adult child of an alcoholic, I discover I have repressed rage issues. And I am absolutely terrified of turning into my mother. I’m my own little cocktail of neuroses…just like everybody else. And really, it’s mainly that last part that’s bothering me.
The complex mixture of flaws that make up my character, well, everyone has one. But everyone has a different one. Gone are the days of writing off divergent behavior or personality tics as a midlife crisis or, you know, a personality tic. Psychoses and their respective diagnoses are so prevalent and terribly sophisticated now that you can’t even drop ADD into polite conversation and escape with a discreet nod or a concerned, “Oh dear.” We’re so well versed that we are unable to stop ourselves from asking, “Are you sure it’s not ADHD?”
I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but I’m guessing it’s because it makes me feel lonely. More lonely. If I had an all encompassing label for what’s going on with me, I wouldn’t have to think so hard about how to explain it. Someone else would have already done that for me. They might have given me some idea what to expect next. Maybe I could even find someone to talk to who already has what I’ve got on the résumé.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t have a name for this and I feel a little too old to call it growing pains. I’m not saying I want to be autistic or schizophrenic just to be able to call a spade a spade. I don’t want Lou Gehrig’s disease just so I can have a hero. I’m lucky my problems are as manageable as they are. And I know it. It would be nice though to have a little solidarity. But that’s another thing, people don’t like to talk about the feelings they can’t completely explain.
Whatever it is, I’ve tried to be responsible about it. I’ve been to therapy. I’m medicated and that mostly controls the anxiety and helps to even out the depression. I’ve thought about going to Al-Anon, but it feels too churchy too me. I exercise and try to eat right and drink in moderation—though these are my comforts, I admit. But I can’t escape this gloomy feeling that the more I learn, about myself, the less I know.
My granny got married last summer. When she first introduced her daughters to Ed, soon to be her beau and soon after that her December-December second husband, it went like this: “I’d like you to meet my oldest daughter Emily, this is Angela, Mary, Ellen…and this is the Queen of England.” I’ll let you guess which one my mother is.
When she was very young, her siblings called her Alice after that girl gone down the rabbit hole. In high school, when she and my father first started up, she wanted to change her name to Tuesday. In her forties, finally tired of his surname and unsatisfied with her own, she picked a new last name out of the French telephone book.
I have come to refer to her, to other people, as Blanche. If you were to call her and get the machine, you’d hear it in her voice. She is a Tennessee Williams creation in the flesh and she is always relying on the kindness of strangers. She is beautiful and strange and passionate and delusional and fragile. She’s the most stubborn perfectionist I’ve ever met. I haven’t said much about her up to now because I simply don’t know where to begin.
I could tell you of the wild things. That she kept me out of the company of other children until I went to school, preferring that I socialize with adults and encouraging me to make imaginary friends. That I went along on dates with her from time to time. That once, when she wanted to go on vacation with her sister and couldn’t afford to, she wrote out post cards for Angela to mail from Hawaii, stopped answering the phone for two weeks, and only left the house to go to the tanning salon.
All those things are true, but they’re not exactly material. Not to the dilemma at hand. I suppose the problem has always been that she was never much of a mother and that led the way to me never having been much of a child. I know that sounds fairly common—a very relatable dysfunction for a 70s child. It was, after all, the me generation. But our situation, it was more traditional than that. More like a 50s dream gone wrong. She cooked, she cleaned, she beamed—she wanted a family, but it didn’t work out the way she’d planned it. And I don’t think she ever recovered from that.
I look at the memories I have of that time, when I was young and she was about the age I am now, and I see a relevant figure. Troubled childhood, overactive imagination, unlucky in love, emotional imbalance, OCPD, and so on. It looks eerily familiar. And when the panic sets in I remind myself that for all my bemoaning my spinster state, I never married the wrong guy and had a kid I couldn’t handle raising. And hey, I’m doing my best.
What scares me after that? I remember that she went to therapy. She exercised and ate right and drank in moderation. She dated and had friends. She loved me dearly and she was doing her best. She never married again after divorcing my dad, nearly thirty years ago, and I doubt she ever will. She’s over fifty now and she’s still riding the wind. She’s alone and I understand why. I even think she understands, but I don’t think she’s that happy about it.
I’ve always thought about these things. And I used to tell myself I was different because I never got myself into anything I couldn’t get myself out of…not like her. Now that I’ve learned so much and know so little, I wonder, how good is that? How is that better?