Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Self-Analysis (Or Lack Thereof)

Another unedited excerpt of Wrecking Ball

Self-Analysis (Or Lack Thereof)

Here, I comment about the craft of writing, not the actual text itself.

Throughout the process of writing, both of my sisters have contributed their own written accounts. I’ve used these submissions as background research. Primary sources such as these have been frequently illuminating. Raw emotion, however, often enters the picture. It would be unrealistic to expect otherwise. Turbulent times are being discussed, emotionally loaded memories are being reconsidered once more.

In its proper proportion, energy and enthusiasm are helpful, but angry commentary is not especially productive. Anger and resentment has crept in from time to time into these first-person accounts. Many of these issues have been held inside for a long time, never fully resolved. Forgiving and forgetting might be the best solution of all. Writing can be a catharsis, both for the writer and the active participants of any memoir.

Examining what I have read already, my sister Sara could be seen in literary terms as an unreliable narrator. She views no need within herself for personal change, defensively projecting her problems onto others. It’s her against the world, in her deliberately cloistered existence, and everyone else is a threat to freedom and autonomy. For those disinclined to see the truth as she sees it, she rarely has any time, nor any patience. Being an avoidant, evasive personality is her stock in trade.

Sara is a mass of contradictions. She complains repeatedly that she has been, with frequency, passed over by virtue of being the youngest born. Yet, curiously, she does not stand up for herself. She believes she’s been infantilized, reduced to the status of a perpetual child by two siblings and two parents. Instead, she’s never developed the skills to get her ideas across in a competitive, active, vocal family. Should criticism of any form be voiced, even constructive criticism, she retreats into herself. She talks a good game, but she can’t back it up.

Sara, in addition, holds significant resentment towards me. It is true that, when she was a child, my sister Melissa and I teased her. I wish we had not, but she was much younger than us and an easy target. I can’t think of a single child who wasn’t put through similar treatment. Most kids learn to put those times behind them, but Sara’s sensitivity will not allow her to move on with her life.

What she suffers from most is a victim complex. Her delusions of persecution are much of what holds her back, from a maturation and development standpoint. Contrary to what she thinks, none of us ever perceived of her contemptuously or dismissively. When I was very sick and suicidal, I was trying to will myself to take my own life. She’s never completely processed the fear and worry she felt during that time.

Sad to say, she’s not been willing to understand my struggles, compulsively focused instead on her own emotional reaction to the outside world. And what she has not mentioned in any of her accounts is her own suicide attempt and hospitalization, not long afterwards. The attempt upset me considerably. The woman who I was dating at the time helped me through it efficiently and effectively, and I’m lucky for that.

I remember feeling guilty that the years of family upheaval caused by my illness might have been the mitigating circumstances. But if this discussion is to serve out its best purpose, it needs to take a very different direction. That upon which she has been writing of late has little to nothing to do about an intent, or any intent, to end one’s own life. Nor does it have really all that much to do about me or anyone else. What is really laid before us is mostly a study of envy and inadequacy.

In writing this book, I’ve noted that of each family member has struggled with mental illness. Ranking who got the worst roll of the dice isn’t, as I’ve learned, an especially helpful exercise. Sara’s resistance to seeking treatment is meant to stand in for the vast number of people who, for their own reasons, delay or prolong seeking help. I’ve included her bitter vitriol to showcase how certain people with a chronic illness may respond to those who wish to help them get better.

My heart goes out to those who have been caretakers to the reluctant and suspicious. No person can be saved if he or she isn’t willing to make the first tentative, wobbly steps towards recovery. We learn much with time, though it takes some of us longer than others to hear it. Resources exist, but people can be extraordinarily stubborn.

Reading The Paradoxical Commandments, written by Kent M. Keith, has often provided me with words of wisdom and strength. I’ve found it especially helpful when managing a relationship with family members who have mental illness and chronic health conditions. Here are three commandments, the three that may be the most useful for these purposes.

1. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.

Help people anyway.

2. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

3. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

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