This Field Was Intentionally Left Blank posted a piece on their blog the silent wave about a man on the autism spectrum who lives with his grandmother. This piece is in response:
My grandmother is 97 and I haven’t spoken to her in more than two years. One reason for this is that she would want me to live with her, the same way I believe she fostered dependence in my mother. I live in a different state from her. I get disability benefits, but have my own apartment. I know it is important that I remain as independent as possible. I also know how family dynamics work, and how a parent with a dominant personality can overcome that of a child, especially one who is vulnerable, different in some way.
For example, I recently read The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright, about a woman who was never able to escape from her domineering mother to become her own person. She never developed into a fully functioning adult. She and her mother had an almost incestuous relationship in that they shared a bed and that her mother would photograph her in various stages of undress. My mother would walk in on me when I was in the bedroom I shared with my brother, undressing. When I got angry at her for doing that – my father was always careful to knock first – she would say that her mother did that to her, like why would I make a big deal about it.
There is also a condition known as Munchhausen by proxy, in which a parent causes a child to be ill in order to call attention to themselves or to have someone to take care of.
After my parents’ divorce, when I was nine, my brother was five, and my mother was about the age that I am now, my grandmother said that my mother would just lie on the floor and cry. My grandmother would tell me that story when I would say that I was glad that my mom and dad had finally divorced, because there was finally peace and quiet, no more fighting. I would feel guilty as though I was the one who made my mother cry by not being there.
My mother suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of my younger brother. She was hospitalized many times afterwards, continuing into our adulthoods. My grandmother blamed my father for her illness. She was diagnosed with many things during the rest of her life, but only one I heard straight from a mental health professional was schizoaffective disorder. She had worked as a high school math teacher prior to when I was born, then became a stay-at-home mom. After the divorce, she was unable to return to teaching, however, because of her mental health issues.
My grandmother sent her money every month to pay for food, rent, and other expenses. She bought her a car. My mother continued to live in a different city and state than my grandmother, but was attached through this tie of financial obligation. Because of my grandmother’s “help,” my mother never again learned to support herself or to navigate the system in order to get help.
This is why I feel the need to break away.
When I was still working, when I seemed unhappy while talking to my grandmother on the phone, she would say, “If I sent you $100, would that help?” To which I’d angrily reply “No.” She would also say, “You’re always welcome here, honey.”
Maybe these are normal, grandmotherly things to do. I could be completely off in pathologizing the intergenerational relationships. It could be a matter of degree rather than kind. Parents want to help their children out when they are in need. Grandparents like to be generous. There is a time, though, when they need to use tough love, and teach their children to help themselves, to survive on their own.
When my mother was in hospice for cancer, I was back on disability. My grandmother said, “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” and said she’d pay me to live with my mother and “drive her around.” That would take me away from what supports I’d managed to find in the city where I live.
In the article, the man describes how he and his grandmother disagree on religion, but agree not to bring it up. This is not the case with my grandmother and me. I have tried over the years not to bring up politics because I can’t seem to have a discussion with someone who disagrees with me without becoming angry. Or it could just be that my grandmother never gave me credit for my beliefs or respected them. Instead, she acted as though I was brainwashed saying, “You’ve been listening to people who hate America.”
I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum a few weeks ago. I’m also diagnosed with OCD and bipolar disorder. I am not saying that any of these conditions are my grandmother’s fault. I am simply saying that they perhaps make me more vulnerable to the influences of someone who doesn’t believe in my abilities or respect my boundaries, unless I cut off all contact.
As I write this, it is the night before Christmas Eve, and the holidays are difficult for those of us who are estranged from our families. A family friend, a woman my age who I grew up with, who my grandmother helped raise, who I used to think of as a sister before we grew apart during adolescence, has said to make sure I won’t regret it if I don’t reconcile with my grandmother before her death. I am running out of time to deal with my anger towards my grandmother, and to see if I can get to the place where I can forgive.
This is a beautiful and heartwarming article written by Tom Clements, who has also been known as The Autistic Buddha. He asked me if I was interested in publishing one of his essays on this blog, to which I enthusiastically replied that I’d be honored. Because it is indeed an honor for me to have an amazing soul such as Tom to make such a request. His writing is truly touching, elegant in its apparent simplicity, and nothing short of perfect in choice of words. A fascinating read, that includes the right synergy of sentiment, history, and lightheartedness. Tom has also written at least two articles that I know of for the galactically cool website, The Art Of Autism; I’ve included links below. 🙂 Thank you for this honor, dear Soul-Brother, from the bottom of my heart! I would love to meet your Nan; after reading this, I feel like…
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