When your entire family house is a trigger

As of today, I have three more nights left in San Francisco, and these last three will be spent at my parents’ place. We purposely structured the trip this way so that I wouldn’t have to be with them for more than 2-3 nights at a time. Chris is only with me for another night, and he’s leaving tomorrow morning. He has to leave to preserve his mental health. I’m staying to see friends and also to attempt to spend more time with my parents. Yet I always feel conflicted about spending more time with them.

Everything is a trigger for me here, from the endless building clutter to the thick layers of dust on everything to how most things seem broken, dirty, or mistreated. This afternoon, I attempted to dust off the cabinet and desk surfaces in the dining area, and when I rinsed out the sponge, the color wasn’t the usual pale grey I see when I dust at home; it was a dark black color. When I tried to open the front door from the inside, the knob fell off. In the kitchen, the faucet leaks unless you turn the knob to an exact angle. Most of the pantry drawers and doors are not closing properly. A door stopper wasn’t installed on the back of the bathroom door, so someone must have slammed the door against the wall, which resulted in a big hole the size of the bathroom door knob on the wall behind it. That hole, while hastily patched up, is visibly still there. The paint in nearly every room is conspicuously chipping away; in the basement, all the walls have chipped away and peeled so much that they are nearly all grey. In the room leading to the backyard, my dad must’ve taken down all the curtains… and for whatever reason, been too cheap to replace them. Instead of curtains or shades, large pieces of scrappy black torn cloth cover the windows. Being in that room really feels like living in tenement housing.

And last weekend, I noticed humongous cob webs developing in all the front windows in the living room behind the mini blinds. These cob webs were so thick and hairy that they resembled the types of cob webs you typically see in abandoned homes or attics. I had to take out the vacuum cleaner to remove them because they were grossing me out so much. That should give you a sense of exactly how dusty and unclean this place is.

The clutter and dirt of this house is one thing. The other trigger is the fact that Ed isn’t here anymore. And for me, unsurprisingly, his presence is always strongest to me in this house, a place where he was treated like a second class citizen and never given the love he really deserved. Being pregnant while here, I am especially cognizant of how sad it is that my growing baby will never get to know her sweet, generous uncle. Every time she moves, I wonder if she can sense how I am just a little bit more tense while here.

And the last thing is that while here, I really have no idea when my mom’s fuse is going to blow and what will make her start screaming and yelling or throwing a fit about. While waiting for the laundry to finish so we could separate what to pack in my luggage vs. Chris’s, she asked me to sit and talk to her on the couch. She asked me all kinds of basic questions about Chris’s work and office, and I asked her why she didn’t just ask him while at dinner. All she does is sit there like a statue, saying absolutely nothing to him other than asking him if he wants more food. She has zero awareness of how unenjoyable and annoying she makes the experience. But my mom disregarded all of that and said, “Why can’t I ask you this questions? Why do I need to ask him?” And yet, she always wonders why Chris leaves earlier than I do.

Then, she proceeded to launch into a series of complaints about her friends, and it suddenly dawned on me which friends she claims are “true” and “honest” vs. those who are not: all the ones who are true and honest, in her mind, are all the ones who materially have far, far less than she does. These are the ones who can barely make their rent payments, who have been out of work for a number of years, who rent a single room in a house from another homeowner who needs company but not the money. These are the people she has nothing to be jealous of.

And when I say she complains, it’s not just a sentence or two. She will literally go on and on for five to ten minutes and not shut up unless I tell her to stop or change the subject. So when she called one of her friends a hypocrite, someone who I know has always been good to our family, I had to interject. “Why are you calling her a hypocrite? You also do hypocritical things.”

Her face turned, and she was obviously pissed. “When have I been a hypocrite?”

I told her that she said she refuses to go out to eat because she’s scared of the Delta Variant, yet she’s happy to offer to go to restaurants when she or my dad choose it, even going as far as San Jose to eat, which made zero sense to me. She got even more angry, insisting she never said that. “I said I didn’t want to eat with your relatives! They are all freeloaders and treat me like an ant! When we go out, I just want it to be the four of us! I can’t stand those people!”

That actually wasn’t true…at all. I asked her to eat out with Chris and me during the weekdays, and she refused multiple times. My dad repeatedly refused and said he didn’t feel safe, especially having had heart surgery just 7 years ago. And she insisted she never said she didn’t want to go and that instead, we just never invited her. There was no point in arguing further; she was going to believe the lie she told herself and make herself out to once again be a victim, with the other person (in this case, me) being the aggressor.

“You know, this just shows that you are against your parents, and do you know what Jehovah does to kids who are against their parents?” she sneered. Throughout this conversation, she repeatedly told me to stop yelling when I was speaking at my regular volume.

I stood up at that point and told her I didn’t have the energy to deal with her. If she didn’t want to own up to things she herself said, this conversation was done, I told her. While I could feel my blood pressure going up, I refused to indulge her in her delusional, dysfunctional nonsense. I refuse to let her try to emotionally manipulate me into thinking I was hurting her and “going against” her.

I went to get the laundry out of the dryer, and she literally pulled out the towels from my hands and ran off. Yep, here she goes again, I thought to myself while folding clothes, throwing her little tantrum in a “woe is me” moment; “my life is so awful, and you don’t care. I suffer from depression and anxiety, and you don’t do anything to make me feel better.” The only thing keeping her from yelling and slamming doors at that point was that Chris was sound asleep, and I purposely started folding clothes in the bedroom where he was so she’d leave me alone.

The hardest part about dealing with a paranoid, delusional, and mentally ill parent is that you have to realize that nothing you can do will really make them happy or save them. You can do literally everything on their checklist that they want you to do, but they will find some way to make it seem like you have done something to wrong them or “go against” them, and they will bitch and moan endlessly to make you feel bad or guilty about yourself. I cannot help someone who does not want to be helped; I’ve had to remind myself this numerous times, even with my brother when he was struggling. She doesn’t believe therapy or a psychologist could help; she’s never expressed her feelings to any medical professional. Instead, she hides behind an extremely fake veneer each time she’s in front of them. She throws “depression and anxiety” around to make us all feel guilty and kowtow to her every wish and need. And sometimes, it’s really hard to feel sorry for her when she’s attacking YOU. It’s why sometimes, I get mad at my dad for not being more sensitive and empathetic, but then on the other hand, he’s probably just so fed up with her constantly instigating.

It’s emotionally exhausting being here, sometimes even for just a day. If all goes well with my little baby in my womb, I don’t even know if I could stand one day in this house with them and the baby. That may just set me off and make ME want to jump out the window.

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