As I approach my 50th birthday, I’ve come to a crossroads — and I am pretty sure I am suffering from depression.
I have not mentioned it to my GP— although I am having tests for unexplained stomach discomfort — because I’m afraid that if I say anything I will cry and not stop!
I have been married for 29 years and have a 16-year-old daughter, from IVF, and an adopted son, who is 12.
My daughter is sweet-natured, easygoing and very bright, but lacks confidence.
My son is caring, challenging and hard-working, but also lacks confidence.
He has consistently struggled at school and I have battled to get extra support for him.
He also has art therapy for anxiety as he experienced neglect and witnessed extreme domestic violence in his early years.
His birth parents were alcoholics (as was his maternal grandmother) and he has recently been diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, a serious, permanent condition.
When we adopted, we were told he had no health issues.
This diagnosis has totally devastated me. His social worker has painted a very grim picture of the future – and I am not coping with this knowledge.
I love this child desperately, but believe I am the wrong person to be in his life.
I am neither a special, nor a good person and know he deserves better.
When we adopted, we were clear we couldn’t cope with a child with severe learning disabilities, yet here we are faced with one.
To the outside world, my husband is calm, kind and dependable.
But at home, he is very negative, judgmental and quick to anger, which adds to my tension as I am constantly trying to avoid conflict.
He can be particularly nasty and cruel to our son – for example, humiliating him in front of others after a party.
It was the final straw – I want to leave with the children before more damage is done.
I thought the reason for his bad temper and meanness was his stressful job (as he hasn’t always been like this), but he is exactly the same, if not worse, now that he is semi-retired.
Whenever I suggest going to Relate, he says I am just as bad as him. he has said he will go, but I know he won’t be open to their suggestions.
I am close to tears all the time and have thought about suicide a lot recently – the only thing stopping me is the effect on my children.
Do I accept this is the way my life is going to be and put a brave face on it?
Or do I rip the family apart, which will probably undo all my son’s art therapy and cause him great pain?
Please can you offer some advice.
This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail.
On the surface this letter seems to be about your abusive husband and your desire to leave. However, you begin with announcing your age and the fact that you know you are suffering from depression. Since this is what you have chosen to mention first, I would suggest that you know on some level that this, above all else, is the problem. You say that if you begin to open up about how you feel you imagine you might disintegrate entirely. Later in the letter you say you have considered suicide as the only way out. Whilst this may well be a redirected murderous desire against your husband, it nonetheless points to a serious depression that is separate from your acute domestic difficulties (though clearly they are significant in your illness). Suicide would leave both children alone with a man you do not trust around them, so clearly the depression needs to be dealt with first.
You mention that a major symptom is what you call ‘stomach discomfort’ which suggests that there is something absolutely indigestible going on. When you go on to talk about your adopted son’s foetal alcohol syndrome this seems a bit clearer – you are strongly identified with him and he was fed something indigestible and chronically damaging in the womb. You doubt your own ability to feed him better, emotionally.
You give the impression that your daughter is doing better than your son, though you do mention her own lack of confidence. You go on to talk about your son’s early life before you adopted him as very disturbing indeed. He is clearly a deeply traumatized little boy for whom you feel you had to fight. You mention his art therapy and, though you do not say directly whether or not it helps him, you say further down that you would not want him to lose it, so presumably it has been positive. You are disturbed by the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and suggest that you would not have adopted him had you known. It sounds as though you feel extremely guilty about your son and very strongly identified with him. Perhaps you project your own early damage, your own anxiety and vulnerability, your own feeling of having been poisoned in early life into him and he carries those feelings for you. You then feel guilty about this and helpless to assist him. If he is representing some extremely damaged childhood part of you then of course you, a small child yourself in this scenario, cannot help him. Your daughter then takes on the coping, managing side of yourself and is seen by you to be managing. Your husband then is the capable adult (super ego) but he is, or is perceived to be, cruel.
You say the social worker has painted a grim picture of the future. Is this true? I suspect that you interpreted the picture as grim, again projecting your own depression, anxiety and fears onto what he or she said. You then get to the crux of the matter – you love your son but feel wrong for him. It is your own lack of self worth that you are talking about, your own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, not his. Your guilt at adoption, at taking on someone you are perhaps too weak to help seems to have overwhelmed you. Not only do you project your feelings into him, you also introject his perceived feelings into yourself – he is helpless and in need and you then feel the same.
You then say you feel not special and not good and wish you were a better person for him. This seems to me to be about you and your early childhood. I wonder what your mother was like. Did she seem weak and helpless, unable to assist you when you needed her? Or was she strong and domineering and made you feel pathetic and inacapable? I suspect it was the former and you are identified with her, since your husband (father?) is the capable but cruel one in your current life. I think you are living out your situation with your parents with your son playing the role of your more vulnerable side and you are playing your rather crushed and depressed mother. Obviously, as ever with letters, I am guessing wildly. [There is something interesting about the IVF and adoption – perhaps there is guilt attached to both, something about not being a natural mother/woman that plagues you].
You then go on to describe your husband who, like all abusers, reserves his abusive behaviour for the home, relying on people a) not to tell and b) not to fight back. You are clear about how he behaves and clear about what you would like to do about it. ‘I want to leave.’ You sound strong and decisive, clear-headed and reasonable. But you immediately backtrack. You start to suggest reasons for your husband’s anger (and doubtless there are lots of them – he will have his own demons) although you then discount them.
You are certain he will not respond to therapy and then you almost immediately descend into suicidal thoughts as the only way out, then blaming yourself for having the thoughts and worrying that leaving the abusive relationship will jeopardize your son’s art therapy. Will your behaviour – suicide or divorce – harm your son, you seem to ask? Obviously, you already know the answer to these questions, which will harm and which will help. You seem only to remain clear in short moments, immediately denigrating and discounting your own thoughts. This, again, seems like a very early kind of confusion in which your own thoughts were discounted and denied in your childhood home. Now you are doing it for yourself. You do know your feelings but you then worry that they are somehow wrong (they are not).
You talk about ripping the family apart and yet you have described a family about which you feel ambivalent to say the least. You say you are inadequate to help your son, your husband is aggressive and both children unconfident and anxious. Mainly, however, you describe a very depressed mother with chronically low self-esteem. You describe, I imagine, yourself and your own mother. You are identified strongly with her and with your son, mainly introjecting from her, mainly projecting into him. Your husband is playing the role of cruel super ego.
The main issue here is your own depression. You have said how you feel and what you want to do. This sounds right. You have also said that your fear, anxiety and lack of self-worth is stopping you taking the only helpful action – leaving with the children. However, in order not to drown in remorse and fear afterwards you need to address your own state of mind first or during – with therapy and/or medicine. Otherwise your acute self-doubt will continue whatever course of action you take.
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