I’ve Been Hiding. The Truth About Why.

I’ve been hiding.  I can’t post another picture or go to my studio and start making another piece of art.

I can’t even answer my friend’s text messages. I can’t keep pretending that everything is ok.  That this past week was the same as any other. But I can’t lie about it.

So I’m going to say it out loud, here, because the hiding makes me feel worse. The hiding makes me feel like I’ve done something wrong, that I should be hiding.

I learned to hide early in my life and did it for many years.  But I’m not doing it anymore. I can’t live the life I’ve made for myself if I am not honest about it.

I’m stuck in a bad place and I feel like I can’t move on with my life until I write this.

My mother is 93, is very sick, and has been for some time.  And I am not doing anything to help her.

She is in Assisted Living and my sister and brother help take care of her.  I’ve written before about my problems with my family, and how I no longer see them.

That was not an easy decision and one I have struggled with especially since my mother’s health is failing.    I made this decision because it’s unhealthy for me to be around them.

Being in therapy these past few months has helped me understand why this is.  I think I always knew it but didn’t want to believe it.   Understanding it and having the right words to speak about it has been helpful.

My family is a trigger.  The trauma is still hard for me to articulate, it was not one event.  I do know some things about it, such as being frightened by my violent and controlling father and bullied by my brother.

Now, when I have contact with anyone in my birth family, the trauma is triggered and I revert to the small frightened child I was growing up.  Sometimes it is worse than others, but I always experience panic attacks to differing degrees.

This past week, I also became dissociated, something that has not happened to me in a long time.

According to the website Mind, dissociation…” is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event. If you dissociate for a long time, especially when you are young, you may develop a dissociative disorder. Instead of dissociation being something you experience for a short time it becomes a far more common experience, and is often the main way you deal with stressful experiences.”

During dissociation, I felt disconnected from myself.  It was as if I had left my body and was sitting next to myself. It wasn’t that I was distracted, it was that my mind was blank.  Thinking and talking were difficult. I was numb. I was going through the motions, taking pictures, feeding the animals doing what work I could,  without feeling anything.

That night, Jon sat in his study watching TV on his iPhone, which he never does.  When I asked him why he was watching it without me, he said it was because I wasn’t there.  

It lasted for days and was awful.  I don’t want it to happen to me again.

Experiencing this as the person I am now and knowing that I was in a dissociated state often in my life was upsetting.   In the past when it happened it was so familiar to me that I never knew it wasn’t the way I was supposed to feel.

It was also revealing. It made me understand how serious and damaging my childhood was.  And how harmful being triggered back to that time still is.

I have always felt like I didn’t belong in my family.  I always wanted to be accepted by them and felt I wasn’t.  I often hid my true self in order to try to “fit in.”  As I came to understand it more, I tried to talk to them about it and what I was feeling.  But it never worked.  Either they didn’t want to hear it, or they just didn’t understand.

Even now, there are times I realize I’m still looking for their approval.

At the same time, my great fear is to go back there. To be pulled back into a life where feeling this way is “normal”.  I’ve written before that when I’m around my birth family I lose myself, now I understand that there is a word, a diagnosis for what I am experiencing.

I hear stories from people all the time who are taking care of their mothers. They fly and drive to other states and countries to be there for them, to share the caretaking with their siblings.

I wish I could help take care of my mother.  It makes me sad that I have chosen not to.  I could do it. But it would destroy who I am.  And I am not willing to give up my life anymore.

Not the life I have now.  It’s too good.

Jon, the farm and my studio have become my home, my safe place.  Jon understands, knows and supports me like no one else ever has in my life.   He loves me for who I truly am.

So  I’m going to protect my life by protecting myself.  By making the best decisions I can, taking responsibility for them, and being happy when I can be.  By not hiding anymore, doing the work that fulfills me and spending time with people who are nourishing and know and like who I truly am.

54 thoughts on “I’ve Been Hiding. The Truth About Why.

  1. I hear you loud and clear. I couldn’t be there for my my mother either the last years of her life. I had in my mind said goodbye a few years before that. I couldn’t put myself in a toxic state again. Ever. Do I feel guilty I wasn’t there when she suffered greatly and alone? Yes. But it would have destroyed me to put myself back in that place I felt as a child.

  2. Just know there are those of us who understand because of similar family issues and that the past can be so painful. You are in my prayers, Maria. Family can be very difficult. Jon and the farm are love and healing.

  3. Hang in there Maria. We are all flawed humans with flawed backgrounds. Do what you must to stay sane and healthy. Family dynamics are so fraught with guilt and struggle. I have to remind myself to love “me” even when it seems I am being selfish.

  4. I cannot find the words right now to tell you how this touched me. Your compassionate, nurturing, creative soul survived and became what it was meant to be. I feel that the donkeys give you such powerful strength and peace because their souls understand yours.
    I know that since the assault on women’s rights was decreed last week, I have been angry, sad, afraid… unable to focus on creative or home projects, things I love. I’m Jon’s age and hate that I’m still fighting men’s control over women and much more.

    I send you a hug and I know many others will be doing the same.

  5. I hear you.
    I honor you
    I commend you
    I respect you
    Standing in your awareness and power, and coming here to share, such strength in that vulnerability.

  6. Thank you deeply for sharing that very intimate part of yourself. I was able to go back and caretake my mother without feeling I was giving up myself. But that was me. I never felt I was in the right family either. And when I look back at the short-sighted decisions I agreed to which my family thought was in my best interest, they were just so wrong for who I was. My family, with the exception of my grandmother, never got how brilliant and special their daughter was.

  7. There is a lot of love, admiration and acceptance out here for the person you are.
    We are ALWAYS on your side.

  8. Maria,

    I am so pleased you are setting boundaries and realize the triggers in your life.

    Maria, you are an amazing woman and creative artist.
    The childhood experienced has been bleak and dark, unable to revisit is the best
    answer for your sanity and life.

  9. I am SO proud of you. Stay away from them. You do not owe them Anything.
    “Save yourself” I often tell friends and myself.
    Protecting yourself is the absolute right thing to do.
    You are surrounded by love and beauty and goodness.

  10. Hugs. I know that story all too well. Society often gaslights us when we are honest about our experiences/feelings about our families. I’m glad that you have a safe place to explore it and are taking care of yourself.

  11. I know what the state of dissociation feels like, or rather the state of not feeling. I have experienced times when the two parts of myself were talking to each other and it was a frightening experience. It is good that you have identified what was happening, and have a safe life to return to now. Stay safe. You don’t owe your family anything. You are loved and valued NOW . There’s a saying I learned that I find helpful – “don’t go into your mind (or past) alone. It isn’t safe.”
    You mentioned nasty comments in another post. I cannot imagine anyone saying anything nasty to you. Unfathomable.
    You don’t need to post this, but will hopefully see it. You are so very much loved in the present

    1. Thanks for writing LoisJean. I posted your message because I think it’s good for other people to see too. it’s helpful. That saying is really interesting and good to remember.

  12. Dear Maria,

    Please try not to beat yourself up over the family care giving predicament you feel you may be in. I recently wrote Jon this passage:

    “Thanks for the Nightcrawling book review, Jon. I am suddenly forced to think seriously about abandoning my very needy and dillusional sister, not literally, but I have to arrange for her to be cared for in an assisted living facility just west of Toronto by the end of August. This is a very hard decision for me but, at age 71, I find myself no longer able to afford to live alone, our Lease is up, and I have to come to terms with things, be pragmatic and get on with my own life, so to speak. I look forward to reading Nightcrawling, a very interesting-sounding book. Except for the sex worker aspect, and the age difference, I feel drawn to this book. And, my son is a policeman (not a corrupt one) but I’m going to live with him and his lovely family in North Carolina so my situation is certainly life changing.”

    Now, I find my health is also suffering.

    I have devoted the past 14 years to ministering to my mom who has now passed, then my sister, Marion, who passed in 2018, and the past 4 years have been a struggle living with my remaining sister. I find I just cannot do it any longer, especially when our landlady gave us legal notice this past Friday that she wants her house back since she owns it. Perhaps the timing of this was meant to be for a reason. I am so looking forward to seeing my daughter again, and living with her, my son and his lovely wife, along with their adorable, recently adopted 3 siblings! I feel very guilty leaving my sister, as she is very needy and lonely, but enough is enough. At age almost 70, she will just have to take charge of her own life and learn how to live without me. We have two nieces, their families, a brother in assisted living who are not that far away, plus she is financially independently wealthy. I keep coming up with “positives” for her but I know she is terrified. Am I fair wanting a few happy years in my “twilight”? I’ve come to the conclusion that I am! 🙂 It’s going to be a bit of a rough road ahead, but I know I will get through it!

    Best Wishes and Happy Fourth of July!

    Thanks, as always, for your wonderful photos and blog!


  13. Hi Maria: I posted a rather long comment, but I’m not sure it went through. Just let me know whenever. If not, I’ll do it again. Thanks! 🙂

  14. May God bless you, dear Maria. How brave of you to do what is the hard thing in order to protect yourself and your life. You have thousands who love you for just who you are, so you don’t owe us any explanation at all, but it is so kind and honest of you to share your life then and now with us. Mandy of us have the same feelings about our families, too. So, I hope you can feel the big hugs that are being sent to you today because you have expressed what so many of us are feeling also.

  15. Maria, You are a brave and strong woman. It is not an easy path but you know it is right. I understand.

  16. Thank you for your bravery and honesty in sharing all this. My heart aches for you in such a painful situation. May your path bring you continued healing, strength, and renewed joy of creation.

  17. One of the basic rules of first aid, as taught by the Red Cross and others is this:
    “Make sure that performing first aid isn’t going to be hazardous to your health.”
    Although they are referring to things like walking on thin ice or entering an area with noxious fumes without safety gear, I think it applies to emotional situations, as well.
    You are doing the right thing.
    And you do plenty of good things right where you are now. Be well.

  18. Bravo Maria! I totally agree with your decisions – they are right for you (and for many of us), so don’t feel guilty about it. I’m so thankful you have Jon and the animals and your life now. Enjoy it! Love you. Be blessed.

  19. Your post resonates with me, family dynamics are unique and sometimes difficult. Moving to CO with my husband and kids saved us both from the sometimes traumatic families we grew up in. You’re right to protect your soul from toxic relationships. Blessings and hugs to you Maria! As Christopher Robin told Pooh Bear… You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think!

  20. “I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.” — Georgia O’Keeffe. Words of wisdom, not just for one’s art but for one’s life.

  21. Thank you for trusting us enough to share what you are going through. So many of us have “been there done that”. Keep your focus on who you are and your many talents. I wish your blog friends were close enough to tell you all of this in person. Please know we are lifting you to the light!!!

  22. Support!!!! I have learned and advised some folks; when your own family isn’t working , MAKE A NEW FAMILY!!!! Yes you have and I am so proud of you!!!from your own words “You are enough” and thank you for reminding us oh so often “We are enough” to be and live who we are!!!

  23. Dear Maria,
    I have never met you in person but if I could I would send you a daily basket with hugs.
    Dissociation is familiar to me for similar reasons and I know how it can set you back when you get lost in it.
    It is a sad thing that it is born in self-protection and kills who we are if we don’t eradicate it. But all in good time.
    I cannot believe how honest and humble your post is. You are sending such a loving message.
    Honour thyself before honouring thy family, or something like that.
    I am deeply touched by the courage you show in writing this article. How brave. How strong.
    And how lovely that you find solace not just in your art but also in the beautiful farm and the animals in your life.
    No-one can take that away from you.
    The only association you need is the one with your inner self.
    Keep writing, keep creating, Maria, I follow you with a deep sense of kinship and love!

  24. I can relate to your feeling of never fitting in. Yet, I was the one there for my dad which I don’t regret. I made 20 10-hour trips to help keep him at home. And I tried to be there as much for my mother as I could, but I was a nontraditional student and had a grant because I’m disabled. She needed me, but she also lived 5 hours away and I could not help much except I cared for her in her last days. Unfortunately, I was always the chosen one since I’m no longer married to help (I have three sisters). But as time has worn on, I’m really angry for letting my mother make me feel bad about myself. And angry at myself for letting other people make me feel bad and taking it. Perhaps I shouldn’t write this but I have MS and other chronic diseases. In short, I was the last person who should have had to fill the family caregiving role. My family always made light of my health problems nor did they acknowledge my severe financial problems because of my health issues. It was abusive. They were never short on cutting remarks. In short, I wish I would have did more to take care of myself in all of my relationships. So don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself. I wish I had.

    1. That anger can be so helpful if we allow ourselves to feel it. It really is there to protect us. I’m sorry for your past Wisconsin Jean, but I hope you’re in a better place.

  25. One of the most indidious and least understood biases in senior care is the expectation/pressure on adult children. Caregivers have to learn that the sweet/frail/grumpy/funny person who they see and help right now had a life that we know nothing about. It is not our place to judge family members for what they do, or do not do.

    I love this post, Maria; it is an excellent teaching moment.

    1. I think of that when I’m at the Mansion Jeanne. I never wonder why some people never have visitors. It also allows me to be there for them in a way them in a way their family can’t.

  26. Time will help. I am 80. My large family abandoned myself and my sister when I was 17, sister 12. We became emancipated, but it was not called that then. Orphans. Nine aunts and uncles on my mother’s side, same on my father’s side, mostly all affluent. They could have helped but were to stingy. Mentally I took a giant imaginary pair of scissors and cut them out of my life. I became the black sheep of the family. I have no guilt whatsoever. A very generous family took us in and gave us love and support. We were lucky. Dysfunctional family can really mess you up if you let them. My advise is move on and do not look back. No guilt! Just get up every morning and make something. Kiss Jon for me. I love you both. From one fiber artist to another, lone Ruth

  27. I so appreciate your courage in sharing this, Maria. Speaking the truth can be the hardest thing of all. But, like they say, it can set you free.

    I grew up in a “happy” family, except my mom was never happy, and we kids were led to believe it was our fault. Now my mom is 92 and suffers from dementia. It’s hard to see her like that, but it’s also a relief to be free of her future judgment (I don’t think I will ever be able to extricate myself from the weight of her past judgments).

    I know it may feel selfish to make a commitment to care for yourself, but realistically, it’s the only thing you can do. I salute your honesty. Thanks again for sharing.

  28. Our first responsibility is to take care of ourselves lovingly.

    End of life for parents hits everyone hard. No matter what you do, or don’t do, there is guilt. It’s an uncharted land and we only get to drive it once trying to learn it without a map. There’s bound to be bumps.

  29. Thanks Maria. I feel there is so much benefit in sharing our stories, coming out of hiding as you’ve bravely done here. I think there are more of us out there than we realize. I too made a conscious decision years ago to disengage from all my family for similar reasons. I also experience dissociation, but do find it happens less frequently and for shorter periods now than it used to. Glad you’re on the other side of it now. Be well.

  30. My heart goes out to you as you work through this. I saw a lot of myself and my family in your story. I’m still in touch with some of them, but not closely. Sometimes it feels like avoidance, and I feel guilty. Sometimes it feels like I’m preserving my health. I’m glad you are taking care of yourself, and I’m glad you came out of hiding to share.

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