loose connections

Another long and warbly blog-as-shrink post about the dysfunctional relationship I have with my parents. 

In the car with Dad, travelling the hour and a half cross-country to a football match.  We were both trying hard to talk in a way we don’t usually: deeper business things than we’d speak of around Mum, shared self-employment workflow gripes.  It had surprised me, his level of conversational effort.  Then we spoke about sport, we led into our shared physical attributes, many of which I’ve inherited from him and most of which I’m grateful for – build, metabolism – if not the hair, or increasing lack of it.  He could have kept that.

Then he said: “speaking of the things we share, do you ever think you might have problems with depression?”

That came out of the blue and I sort of froze.

“Um, dunno.  Maybe?” I said, and looked out of the window to my left, away from him, scared of eye-contact.  We’d spoken of such things before, but not for a couple of years.

In that moment I saw myself through his lens.  It wasn’t easy viewing.  Had my parents finally considered my lifestyle – although it’s been roughly the same for over two years – and recognised that I might not always be happy, that my sluggish silence around them might indicate more than an overly protracted teenage phase?

How bad did I get?  I was ok really, wasn’t I?  It was something I’d pondered from time to time.  Sure I get down-days like everyone, perhaps a little more frequently given my general lack of contact with humans, but it never got that bad, did it?

I’ve read around the subject a little, for a number of reasons including general personal interest.  My gloominess is never as all-consuming and paralysing as I’ve seen it described.  I shake myself out of it eventually; I do something or am lightened by something, I see a great goal, take a walk, watch a gorgeous sunset, drive into the mountains, absently stare at a ludicrously beautiful female in the street.  There’s usually something which jolts me out and forces perspective.  It’s never been the case that I can’t get out of bed or leave the flat, can’t move or function.

No, I’m well enough acclimatised to coping with sporadic unhappiness and able to ride it without pills, thanks.

He went on to advertise antidepressants, which he’s now taken for twenty years or more, and how they help him.  Apparently he experimented with coming off them recently and his mood rapidly plummeted so he resumed again; only low dosages but enough.  They really help, he underlined.  And it’s important too, because your moods affect the people close to you.

“Well I’m alright.  There’s no-one close to me.”

It was intended it as blackly comic but he didn’t laugh.  I can never predict when he’ll laugh.  A primary tactic of mine in breaking down barriers and getting closer to people is light teasing.  I’ve never felt comfortable doing this with Dad, so sensitive and serious is he about always being in the right.  His anger is formidable and he often seems to emit a general sense of obfuscation, a glaring inability to say ‘I don’t know’ about things he clearly doesn’t know.  He has a tendency to try and smugly predict gameshow answers out loud, to generate a fillip of superior righteousness, however small.  Not always successfully.  It’s always mildly amusing when he’s wrong.

Perhaps he wanted me to take antidepressants so I’ll be happier and more upbeat on my visits home and Mum won’t worry about me.  Yet I still can’t imagine ever being chatty around them.

Maybe there’s an extent to which we all tend to regress around our parents, presenting earlier versions of ourselves which accurately reflect their experience of us.  When you reach the stage of bringing home a partner you begin to present a combination of two sides: the old you who your parents know, together with the current you who is liked or maybe even loved by your partner – and who you probably like better as a result; a more developed and happier side of you.  Without that you still keep showing the old you.  If you never had a brilliantly open relationship with your parents to start with, the upshot is that you’ll likely slump into a self-fulfilling despondency.

Little impels me to disclose much detail to my family; I am that infamous “dark horse” and “closed book”.  I’d happily disclose more to a complete stranger; to you, than to them.  There’s a natural reticence with them that shames me.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t occasionally feel like snapping.

ACTUALLY PARENTS, I AM A ROUGHLY NORMAL-SEEMING, ARTICULATE PERSON WITH OPINIONS AND THINGS TO SAY TO MOST PEOPLE.  JUST NOT TO YOU, OK?!

Is it because they essentially bore the tits off me?  The endless commentary of minutiae and tales of village life which I find it impossible to feign an interest in.  You’re not allowed to say that though, because it’s cruel.  Family is The One Big Thing we must universally cherish above everything else.

Dad will offer help if asked and if it doesn’t clash with any other plans he’s made, but he won’t go out of his way.  He regularly visits the city where I live on business.  He never tells me.  We never go for a coffee or a pint.  It’d probably feel awkward if he did.  He never visited me in my three years in London.  He’s not that bothered.

Maybe I speak so little because I know my words would  go in one ear and out the other, they’d be distracted by thinking about what they want to say next about themselves, or by nothing in particular – which would be easier than listening, then asking a related question and.. you know, having a conversation.  My experience of trying to do this is so often disappointing that I stopped trying.  Now I try to listen, often on cruise-control, and ask questions in the gaps.

They seem to ignore that I’m perfectly chatty and outgoing with my brother, his wife and children, where it’s possible to have adult conversations, to be stupid and muck about with the kids.  And equally mixing with new people at extended family functions.  Their gaze or attention makes me feel artificial, like I’m alienating them by not behaving as they expect.  Perhaps they view it as an act.

Despite all this, Dad’s question wasn’t without a cause.  I probably look miserable and am uncommunicative around them, with little other stimuli than books, the internet and the dog.  But I feel I’ve somehow developed strength in being a loner for such a time.  You develop a pattern of habits which protect you; an appetite for newness, places and experience, an acceptance and fearlessness about being alone for the vast majority of time.  While it’s far from ideal, it means you don’t malinger as much as you might.

It’s a difficult notion for my parents, or possibly most people to empathise with though, because loners are an unorthodox minority group: misunderstood, untrusted, usually responsible for serial killings and massacres.

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