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Coming Unstuck

A student’s tale of the pain behind the very necessary decision to create some distance from a controlling parent. By Jay Sulak

Note: themes of suicide, abuse, toxicity, depression, anxiety

It took me a week after my attempt to tell my mother that I had tried to commit suicide. She slapped me, sharp and dry. She asked what she’d ever done to me and why would I ever want to end it all. I didn’t tell her why I attempted to end my life. I couldn’t honestly answer her. It has taken me months to admit to myself that she was part of the reason.

I was constantly on edge, waiting for a panic attack. Most of the time, we were quiet in the comfort of our family house. Every night, we ate dinner together and spent evenings watching movies. When my depression was really bad, I would tell her that I was feeling drained and empty. She would stroke my hair and call me pretty. But then a storm would come. My mother has called me all kinds of things including lazy, useless, selfish and a slut. She has tried before to get into my laptop to read what I may have said about her to my friends. She has threatened to commit suicide “because you did that so easily.” She says I use depression as an excuse. Half the time, I don't know if she means it or if it’s just a spur of the moment thing to say. More often than not I have stayed quiet in order to avoid provoking her further.

My mother has slapped me twice while I have been an adult. It was like a needle poked the blood clot in Mum’s throbbing anger and it exploded, raging and messy. Voices would get louder and louder until my ears were ringing curses in the silence. Before the anti-smacking law, slaps and shoves were a way to reset my brain and shock me into listening. Bookshelves would topple, screaming would pierce my ears and plates would break. I would say sorry and eventually, she calmed and would sometimes apologise. But a part of me felt betrayed and sick.

If you can’t decide whether I need pity or whether I deserved it, then you understand my own conflict. Hell, I could barely stand myself. I have lived with my mother my whole life. I am her puppy. She gave me everything I have, down to my underwear. She justifies things by saying, "I paid for fucking everything, I’ll give you a bill since I’m your fucking maid.” And, “pay me for everything you've ever owned and then you can do whatever you want." I would spend many nights wondering if this shoving and shouting ever happened at my best friend's house, my cousins' or my nephews'. Sometimes, I wished I were a dog and was unable to understand her words. But I recognised the patterns in her behavior.

was emotionally committed to being in a toxic environment. I was never in denial of my conditions, but I had disregarded the idea of leaving. I was riddled with questions: What if I break her? What if she takes it out on my sister? I rarely slept before 2am, because I was afraid of the next day. When I did sleep, I would stay in bed as long as possible, comfortable in my personal space.

The last few years have been particularly strenuous. I have spent this time at university, being educated about my place in society. University is a safe space to grow and learn. On the other hand, living with my workaholic mother and distant sister felt like a rigid schedule. My mother worked tenhour shifts, came home for dinner and didn’t talk unless she was in the mood.

"Sometimes, talking is tear jerkingly amazing. Sometimes, talking is emotionally draining and unproductive"

I could not rely on her to meet my expectations. To overcome my fears, I needed to set personal boundaries. I have had to test and retest different rules, so we can feel more comfortable around each other. Sometimes, talking is tearjerkingly amazing. Sometimes, talking is emotionally draining and unproductive. I am regularly in the situation of my words backfiring and being shot back at me. My counsellor has taught me skills to cope away from the reliance of other people. I have had to set boundaries to keep in my mind: say no, keep to commitments, limit my time at home, breathe and walk away. I feel the safest venting to my best friend and counsellor, who both allow me to share my thoughts. Conversations with these people are mentally healing and I’ve realised how important it is to find a healthy way to move forward.

Losing parents is the hardest thing. Whether they are saints or assholes, they’re undeniably the ones responsible for your existence. All relationships can turn ugly and people can become incompatible. For anyone who has struggled with emotionally toxic people, you will know that a certain level of guilt strings us to this space. You will know when it is the right time.

If you are feeling mentally unwell or in an abusive situation, talk to a doctor or another authority figure. Getting a second opinion helps with clarifying any concerns and having a clear sense of perspective is really important.


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