Feeling better

I feel better.

It’s been a difficult day. I am leaving in 9 days from Y-Town and shit seriously needs to get done. So I did a lot of laundry—stuff at least needs to be clean. On days like this, stuff seems to absolutely take forever. I don’t know why. I did sit down and just kind of collapse for a while, but I worked steadily in spite of feeling like shit and nothing has actually gotten done aside from washing some sheets.

It’s puzzling.

I cried a lot today. I cried and felt worthless and useless and like I would be forgotten about when I left here.

I felt ashamed about pretty much everything about myself.

And I kind of thought, well, okay the laundry is getting done. I made lunch (kind of). Things are moving along. I am feeling really, really shitty and I am able to keep moving, so that’s probably a good thing. There are tears streaming down my face, and I managed to cook something. Hurrah for carrying on.

I was really trying to resist the urge to articulate my feelings to anyone or try to reach out, because most of the time when I do that it upsets me. Or it upsets the other person. So it’s better when I am at my worse to just do laundry. Other people can reach out to get support in times of need, but I can’t. I don’t know why, but it really doesn’t work out well when I do it. Even the contact with my former therapist wasn’t that great—It did sort of help me stabilize enough to get my work done during a very stressful week, but I also ended up feeling very invalidated and out of synch with her.

I was thinking about how I can’t reach out to anyone. I feel very worthless, like no one even likes me, they just like what I do and then on top of that, I help them only because I want them to like me, because they don’t like me. I am not even supposed to complain or be sad that no one likes me, because that creates a burden on other people. Crazy shit was going around in my head like that, and it was like, okay, just eat lunch.

So I began to think why it was like that. And I thought I’m just hopelessly broken. I began to think how in popular psychology kind of stuff, people create these divisions of healthy and unhealthy people, toxic people and normal people. And I thought I’m just toxic. I am just a bad person, just toxic, and I can’t complain about how shitty it feels to be that way, because it is toxic to other people.

I started to think of therapists, how they viewed me, and I thought they saw me as basically hopeless. When I was younger, it wasn’t like that. No one expects that much from someone entering adulthood. But after 25, I was a hopeless case. You don’t expect that much of someone hopeless.

All of this was bouncing around in my head, and I was feeling really shitty, and that thought suddenly made me feel better. It’s weird. It just came into my head that’s how you would treat someone. If you thought someone was basically a hopeless case, very deeply damaged, you wouldn’t expect that much change out of them. You would see them week after week and not expect much. You would try to get them to see how their behaviour impacts other people. You would try to help them see that they need to change their behaviour in order to be more emotionally independent, because their attempts to be heard and seen and attended to impact other people in negative ways.

It just made things make sense. Not that every therapist has been like that with me, but there is a certain degree of that in my relationships with therapists. I can’t explain why I feel better or why I feel lighter about that. It’s a shitty thing to think about oneself. Maybe it’s that I have a coherent self, or more of one, so that when I see negative views of myself in the eyes of other people it doesn’t feel like their perception becomes who I am. It’s just an opinion, and I feel like I exist outside of other peoples’ opinions of me. I have a life of my own, an existence, and it’s not that I no longer care what other people think—I do care—but I know that things exist outside of our perceptions of those things.

It’s not that I think I am great and therefore it doesn’t matter if people think bad things about me. I don’t really know what I think of myself actually. Maybe I feel less that I need to be worth something or prove anything. I am here, for better or worse, and these are my struggles, and I have to deal with them. Whether I like them or not.

One thought I have had this year is how we are not considerate of other people when we are overwhelmed by our own needs or feelings or impulses. One boy in particular in my Class 3 is very playful and I think maybe also very loving, and he likes a lot of attention. When I have not had very tight boundaries in the class, he becomes very disruptive, because his need for attention and connection is just so great. And one thing I have tried to help him to see is that when he is out of control, it’s very hurtful to other people. He is a lovely, lovely boy, very bright and creative and funny and wonderful, but when he gets carried away, it becomes hurtful to his friends.

I have seen that in C. I have seen her struggle to control her impulses because she knows that it is hurtful. On Thursday, when she really wanted to go back to her grandparents, and I was trying to get her to slow down and reflect a little on what was happening, she was really extremely angry at me. All Punishing Parent, like a cat who wanted to spit. And she said in this very hateful way, “Go get the taxi.” Or something like that. I told her I would in a few minutes. She got up after that and began to make calls—it was intolerable to her to wait.

The thing is that it all felt completely intolerable to her. It felt intolerable to her to wait—and I know exactly what that feels like. I know it feels like the pull inside to be somewhere or go somewhere or do something is making you completely insane. It’s not that I lacked compassion for her state. But I could also see what she was doing: She couldn’t stand the feeling state, so she was acting to get out of the feeling state as quickly as possible as though feelings are death. And they are not death.

Then she sat down again, and it was at that point when I asked her why I was doing that, to get her to see something of my intention and of reality, of the here and now.

I was thinking about this later, how terrible she felt and how angry she was, and all she said was something like an order, which was totally inappropriate, but not anything terrible. She didn’t belittle me or criticize me or tell me how terrible my intentions were or in any way threaten our relationship. Our relationship is important to her, and so she contained that impulse. The feeling of alliance creates motivation to her to control her intense emotions.

And all morning long I was thinking I am too dysregulated to reach out to other people for help with this. They aren’t going to be able to help me with this. I wanted to reach out to C. I wanted to share my unhappiness with her, my sense of existentialism, and my anguish that I would be forgotten. I didn’t. I did send some random texts that might not have been comforting to her, but I didn’t voice my own experience of life, because it would frighten her and lead to more dysregulation.

It has worked for me also—that feeling of an alliance I don’t want to disturb. In my long-term relationship, I would enact this shit for sure. I would voice to my ex (when she wasn’t my ex), all of my anguish and expect her to help me with it. I couldn’t actually see the point of a relationship if they weren’t going to be there for me in times of need. I did not see that relationships can be mainly sources of joy and aliveness, rather than support. I know that people do need support, they do get support from their relationships, but there has to be some kind of middle ground. I have really thought about this a lot in group situations, where the group wants to do something I don’t want to do. I have thought I have to compromise sometimes. The other person likes this. I need to try to cope with it, even if actually it makes me feel that I am going to lose my fucking mind. It isn’t really fair to make them tiptoe around my insanity. It isn’t my fault I am like this, but it also isn’t their fault. So relationships and the feelings of alliance have made me try harder to regulate myself. Not that I typically unload this stuff on other people. Instead, I have withdrawn, so that the pain doesn’t get triggered in the first place. But then I don’t have relationships at all. It’s not actually better for me.

At the moment, all of this childhood pain is surfacing. I feel forgotten about and disregarded, I feel unimportant and unwanted. It’s all this stuff from when I was a child, and from a time when I needed a family to take care of me and value me, and I did not have that kind of family. But I have to be able to cope with it. No matter how hard it is, I have to do it. Things need to get done so that I can leave. C needs me to keep behaving like an emotionally competent adult and not a maniac or a needy baby. My friends need to not have to worry that I will throw myself in the river at any moment, even though I find the idea tempting. All of this is very, very hard, and it needs to be done no matter how hard it is.

Normal

I miss C.

The bedroom is very activating to me this morning, because she slept in it the night before last. I look at her bed, and I think of her body in it, and I miss her being there.

It hurts a lot. I don’t know why it hurts so much, or why I miss her so much. I don’t really understand much of anything at the moment.

One part of me thinks that actually the pain inside me is normal. People feel this. It’s just I am not used to it, so it seems very intense to me. I have been shutting down my feelings my whole life. When I had them, they were always in some way “not me.” So then having them would feel very shocking and confusing. It might not really be that the knives I feel in my chest and throat are such a big deal.

It might be normal people have feelings all of the time, and they don’t especially notice having them, because that is like their air. You don’t think about air.

There is all of this trauma stuff. I know that. But I sometimes think there is also normal stuff that feels shocking and upsetting to me.

And that actually does make sense to me. If I think about my family history—the bit I know about it. If I think of my grandmother, this kind of blunt knife, an insensitive, bustling kind of person, and I think of my highly reactive mother. And I think there is no way my grandmother would have had the thoughtfulness or the skill to help my mother learn to cope with her sensitive, reactive personality. There is no way she would have noticed my mother’s emotional state and helped her learn how to regulate those states. There is no way my grandmother would have had empathy for them. She would have found them annoying and intrusive, an obstacle in her way of getting things done.

So my mother would have felt a lot of shame. “I am having feelings again. I am being bad.” My mother would have felt that a lot, even in the absence of overt abuse. There would have been a mismatch between their temperaments which would have made it hard for my grandmother to help my mother learn to cope with being the person she is. Most of the time, my grandmother would have been annoyed with my mother.

The thing is someone like my grandmother likes the responsiveness and the warmth that goes with having a sensitive personality—someone who feels a lot notices your state and responds to it. She would have liked my mother’s responsiveness to her. But it wouldn’t have worked both ways. She would not have been equally responsive to my mother.

My mother would have felt a lot of shame at being herself, and not learned the emotional skills to be able to manage that shame either. Then I was born. Leave my dad out of it, and you still have disaster.

I think it is completely possible that I look at the bed, think of C, and fully 50% of that is, “I miss people.” Indeed, I do. But it’s shocking to me. It’s still shocking. And, I also feel ashamed. “I miss people and I feel ashamed of having those ‘missing’ kinds of feelings.”

I was thinking this morning that in a family like mine, a family where a child ends up in parts, what is going on in that family is so unnatural, so impossible for a child to adapt to, that it goes without saying that the family dynamic is totally upside-down. If I really think about it, having big, bad emotions was much more acceptable than reading a book, for example. My mother attempted or threatened suicide regularly, and that we had to learn to live with, but wanting to enjoy a quiet activity—that was not okay. That was bad.

I think of my bloggy friend, Ellen, and the things B likes to talk about—they are very normal things. She’s a child, so they are a child’s things. But still, she was that child, and B’s interests were not allowed in Ellen’s family. That part is split off from Ellen, because it was so shameful and so unacceptable to be a normal child.

Given that, I think it makes sense that something like missing a child I care about would feel very shocking and unusual for me, very upsetting. It may not really be that there is anything so wrong with the knives in my chest. It might be I think of her body in my house and to someone else, it’s something they wouldn’t think about or notice, because it’s so normal. It’s intense for me, because it doesn’t feel normal. But maybe it actually is normal. Maybe some of the intensity has to do with finding the normal and average so shocking and so unacceptable.

The past has already happened

It hurts so much.

I went to see C in her village on Wednesday. I didn’t know what to do—she says “don’t come” quite regularly and then is very happy once I get there. Once she gets through the initial moment of pushing me away. Disorganized attachment is hard to figure out. But Wednesday morning I woke up and I thought, yeah, I should probably do this. So I sent her some texts about it. One thing I have learned is that when she really and truly doesn’t want something, she will answer. No answer could mean anything, but a no she clearly articulates.

She didn’t answer and I wrote I will call your grandmother and ask if you are busy. Nothing back. Okay, so maybe if I do that, it’s fine with C. Who knows. I don’t want her to be an object in her life. I don’t want it to be like that with me, but I also know “don’t come” means many things, and not necessarily “don’t come.”

I went then to get help from Maths Ma’am (grandmother doesn’t speak English). I had to wait for about an hour, because someone else happened to come at the same time to pay the water bill, and she took an hour to chit-chat.

This is the part I hate about Country X, actually. I can’t cope sometimes with the meandering, directionless pace of life. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to slow down, but that sense I have at times that no one has any goals or purpose in life, nothing urgent that needs to be done, it kills me. And at those times, I need to remember life requires compromise and they like this. They like standing around (or sitting around, as the case may be) doing nothing in particular.

I think the existential sense of it totally destroys me. It feels like sniffing psychic death.

Anyway.

Finally, she left and the call was made. Yes, it was fine.

So I came.

When C came in the room, she was very angry. I didn’t understand why. I didn’t connect it. She had been at a meeting, and I couldn’t figure out what kind of meeting she was in. Part of this was an English problem. I asked a meeting with whom (via text)? “Wit villager.” Well, to me that’s precise. A single villager is there. For her, speaking a mother tongue that without articles or the plural, this is the concept of villagers. I said, “About what?” “So many things.” So what I have in my head is C is meeting with a single villager who has a lot of complaints to air. WTF.

Anyway, I dropped it, but later I realized she felt criticized.

Getting back to the point, I could see she was angry. I was really happy to see her and I could see she was angry. She was angry the last time I came, but that time it didn’t last. After a few minutes, it evaporated. This time, it didn’t evaporate. For five or ten minutes, in every exchange we had, she was angry. Not in her words, but in her body language.

She asked me if I wanted to go outside, which was confusing also, because she said, “You will go outside?” Which to me sounds like she thinks I have a plan to go outside, and she is confirming the plan. It is not an invitation. How did I indicate I intended to go outside? English is so confusing.

Finally, I realized. It’s a nice day. Let’s go outside. Thank God that is sorted out.

We went outside. I said show me things. What should I show you? So we are getting into some kind of normal conversation. Thank God for that too.

Tell me whose house is house, which is your friend’s house, which is your cousin’s. That kind of thing. She did.

But she was still angry. It was so evident in her body, this kind of tension, like she was prepared to slug someone at any moment. I stopped trying to pretend things were normal, and I said, “You are so angry.” I said it softly. “Why are you so angry?”

“I am not angry.”

I said, “You are.” It’s a hard thing to argue about, and it’s hard to make it sound like it isn’t an attack or an accusation. I said, “Something happened. What happened?”

Finally, she told me. There was an argument with her friend before coming back to her house from the meeting. It was fine, but that angry feeling can linger. I said, “Everyone feels angry sometimes. It’s okay to be angry.”

That is, incidentally, the anti-Country X. You shouldn’t be angry. You shouldn’t be sad. It’s weird. Hit people, and that’s fine, but don’t get angry. Do they never connect when they hit people, they are angry? Or that when they complain about what other people are doing, they are angry? I think they must not know.

She settled down. I ate lunch with her. It was very intense. The last time I saw her, she was talking about going next year to stay with her parents, that if her grades this year weren’t that good, she would go and live with them again. I don’t think she ought to do this. So I reminded her of different things that she told me last year, that she isn’t happy living with her parents. The thing is that her relationship with her parents has probably been much smoother this year, because they are not continually with each other. Every trauma isn’t transmitted between them. And she might think that things have fundamentally changed.

She said I don’t want to remember. The past is really, really painful for her. Pain is not something she wants to reflect on and understand. It’s something to be purged from her awareness as quickly as possible. I said you can’t go through life like that. You can’t make good decisions like that.

She said, “I’ll stay here.” Well that isn’t the point. I suppose she went into the kitchen soon after that, and when she came back she said, “My grandmother is saying you aren’t happy, and I should go back with you and come back tomorrow.”

So she came with me. It was a nice evening. I think I’ll write another post about that—it was nice. Maybe not very interesting to anyone else except me.

When she left the next day, it was hard. It was hard partly because I had to go to school the next day and leave her alone in the house with not much to do. I think after a few hours, this felt overwhelmingly triggering to her. When she wanted to leave, at that particular moment, it looked like I would be allowed to come home, but we did that Country X thing of standing around doing nothing for an hour. Some people had things they did need to do, but mostly it was standing around aimlessly. Maths Ma’am said, “Wait, let’s go together.” So I waited. Then someone said we are supposed to go up and do this other work. Finally, we decided he didn’t mean us. A committee had been appointed to do this work, and we left. Only, we didn’t leave. We stood around some more.

Finally, Maths Ma’am said, “Miss, you can go.”

I came home and told C we had been standing around doing nothing for an hour, and she kind of smiled. I have had in my mind the idea that it’s okay to be more human with her. It’s okay to say what is on my mind. I didn’t really realize I wasn’t doing that, because actually figuring out what is going on internally is totally mentally consuming. I often don’t have normal thoughts around her.

When the question of the taxi back came up, we entered into some disorganized attachment fun that I couldn’t really figure out how to handle. We were talking about seeing her relatives, who live where the taxis come.

I had to go to the bank and get more money. When I was walking there, I began to think how it was to feel caught between emotions and impulses. Wanting to go and wanting to stay at the same time, and the feeling inside that being caught between those two impulses feels intolerable. We were both in that state and not really aware of it. We were talking about relatives, but the relatives weren’t the point.

So I came back and I talked to her about what she was feeling. She said she didn’t feel anything. I believed that. It is not in her awareness, but it’s there. I said, “Look at your hands.” They were continually moving. “What emotion do you see in them?” I touched them and I asked her. She didn’t know. I said, “They look scared and angry to me.”

She got up then and called taxis. No one was going to where she wanted to go. She called her grandmother. I hadn’t realized she really can’t see this. She can’t see, “I am terrified. I feel like I have to run away.” She runs away without realizing how it feels inside to need to run. So much shows in her body and face, I never realized she can’t feel or see what that is. She really does not know.

She sat down again and I talked to her some more. I said, “Why do you think I am telling you this? Why am I talking to you about this?” Because she was feeling trapped and attacked. She couldn’t see my intention.

She said “Because you care me.”

There was a lot of anguish on her face. I really got it then. She feels so bad inside. She feels like she is so bad, her feelings are so bad, that she cannot feel them. She can’t know what they are, because they are bad. I choked up. I told her that. I said, “You are good. What is inside you is good.” I hugged her. She accepted the hug.

I went and got a taxi then. It was the same one she had called, but I guess she wanted a group taxi, which was much cheaper, and I said she can go reserved (meaning alone).

I came back to the house in the taxi and said it is here. I gave her money for the taxi which would be enough to go reserved to her village. She was going to go to a town in between, and change cars there. She has a cousin or something there, or she would get a group taxi or I don’t know. I said you can tell him to go to your village directly, and I told her how much it would cost.

She said thank you. And we went to the door together. She said, “Stay here.” Okay. Whatever.

I said again, “You are good.”

When she left, I fell into total exhaustion.

The thing I thought later, much later, was that in situations of abuse, the child (me), feels several things very strongly. One of them is the parent’s perspective: you are bad. You did something very, very wrong. The child experiences this not as a thought, but as a felt state. The parent’s anger is to the child a felt state of shame. It isn’t just fear. Because the parent does believe the child has done something wrong. So the child is sorry, and wants to be sorry, and wants to be forgiven, and wants to reconnect to the parent. The child feels in her body, “I am bad. I did something bad.” And that remains as a felt state inside the body until it can be integrated with other experiences. And the child also feels angry. The sense of injustice and confusion is one feeling. (It wasn’t that bad. Why am I getting punished so severely?) But there is a real sense of needing to defend the self, of absolute rage, because the child is being attacked and rage is what we feel when we need to defend ourselves like that. That is not about injustice or anything complex. It is just the feeling that goes with needing to defend yourself from attack.

The thing is what is felt by the child in situations of abuse is nearly the full range of human emotions: anger, fear, sadness, shame, remorse. And when these feelings are connected to events and situations which cannot be understood or acknowledged or even thought about without feeling emotionally overwhelmed, life cannot be understood.

I know when I feel angry, it is supposed to be the past, but it isn’t the past alone. It is the past and the present together. I do need to defend myself in the present sometimes, but felt states, impulses, thoughts, and memory of what worked before in similar situations don’t connect, because the felt experience has never been integrated with normal life, and that’s why it feels like such an intrusion. It isn’t really an intrusion. I do things wrong as an adult also, and I feel shame about them. That’s human. It’s the foundation of conscience. It’s not like I never do anything wrong, but the jagged sense comes from that past experienced that couldn’t be integrated. It also means things like shame and anger never become smooth, effective responses that takes into account knowledge of many different situations in which you needed to defend yourself. It’s like I have an impulse to lash out, what do I do with that? I feel like destroying myself, what do I do with that? And it takes time to get to a point where the impulse to lash out becomes something more effective.

I have realized there is a lot of this going on in the present: when I feel terror in my body, I am often thinking, “This might not be okay.” And indeed it might not be. It’s a small unsafety, not a catastrophic one, but it’s the same emotion and some part of my brain needs to get that. It needs to get that these experiences connect. The life-threatening, overwhelming one from childhood is the same felt state as the adult one where maybe someone took my pen and I ought to ask for it back.

The insight for me at the moment is realizing that these strong states—rage, fear and shame, but especially rage and shame—are a part of what happened. One branch of therapy believes that the thoughts in the past need to be “corrected” and I vociferously disagree with that approach. It has happened already. That is what I felt in my body, and it is okay that I felt that way. It is okay to remember I felt that way. It is okay to know what that felt sense in my body was. Because the past is over. It already happened. I am merely acknowledging what was.

It’s okay that what I felt when my parents abused me, I felt ashamed. That wasn’t an error. I was noticing my parents seemed displeased with me, and in my body and in mind that was recorded as the emotion of shame. Shame was just information: They didn’t like that I did that. I don’t need to go back and change that perception. It has already happened. I don’t need to go back and remove the feeling of rage at them. That was information also: I am in danger, I need to defend myself. That’s all that feeling was.

Valued

I had a very low-energy day. I was rejected last night (Don’t come. I’m busy.) and it’s okay for me to be rejected, but I think it does trigger that baby state of hopeless immobility. I think there is a very intense implicit memory involved in rejection and loneliness. I have stopped trying to fight these things and try instead to do what I need to do while they are there. It’s much more difficult, but there was not a lot that actually needed to be done today, so if I moved through the day in a state of sticky lethargy that was kind of okay. I think my past needs to be known as the embodied states they were for me to be able to do whatever comes next.

It does help that I have worked out my mind thinks in broad strokes, and I am likely to ponder my general worth in society rather than, say, my performance on a particular task or some particular relationship and maybe I should not let my mind do that. Maybe I should just focus on the state itself, how it feels in my body, that kind of thing.

The other thing I have had on my mind lately is how that needy baby state is an alert I want something. If I want it a lot, I feel needy baby state very strongly. Needy baby is significant, but the thing I want may or may not be huge or important-sounding. Sometimes the needy baby state is there because I want something and I actually can’t have it. It is okay I can’t have it, but needy baby state is telling me I wish I could.

I felt needy baby a lot, because I wished I could meet C, and a part of me recognizes I probably need to push past C’s defenses and see her anyway. She usually appreciates when I do, but I also need to respect her wishes for a while. I need to let her push me away and still be there for her, because she needs to have some kind of control and autonomy. I had no plan worked out today for how to push past her defenses in a sensitive, loving way, and so I didn’t try to do anything about meeting her. But needy baby was there to remind me that I want to and that I probably ought to.

Finally, I began to send messages about how she might feel ashamed after I leave her, that she has learned she cannot be seen or known, and I see her and after I leave it is possible that she feels she has done something very, very bad and wrong. I was thinking as I did this I am trying to co-regulate both of us. I want to know she is there and I am trying to make her feel seen and known in the moment by discussing what she might have felt in the recent past even though I actually don’t know what she feels exactly now. I am still throwing darts, hoping something resonates for her and she feels seen and like she matters. I began to think about when I came to meet her, I kind of stared for a while. I had been ushered into the altar room, and told where to sit, and I was sitting there watching her, trying to get a read on her emotional state and also orienting myself to where I was and how I felt. And she seemed very defended, very hard, and I realized she feels angry. I am staring at her, and she probably feels as though I am seeing everything wrong with her, and this is really triggering at her. So I stopped staring. After a minute, I said, “Are you happy?” Because I was happy. I said, “You didn’t think I would come, did I?” and that put her at ease a little.

Anyway, I was thinking about that moment, and I sent her a text telling her when I first see her, I always look to see if she is okay, and I am amazed usually that she has no broken bones, no cuts or bruises, she is intact. I don’t know why I am always amazed, but I am and it’s a really good feeling. Because I think actually what I have been doing for myself—realizing there are different minds out there and they think different things—will probably help her. It will probably help her to realize that when her parents look at her they are looking for her mistakes, but I am looking to see that she is healthy and not sick. I think in therapy I was told, “This is the past,” and for me that lacked a precision I need. My parents think the same way they always did. There are other people who think pretty much like they did and still probably do. The fact I am not a child anymore probably doesn’t make that much of a difference, although that is the assumption. The idea of there being different points of view is more to the point for me. I wrote that, and then I said after I see she is okay, I just think she’s amazing. That’s my daughter and she’s amazing. And I said I think that’s what we feel about the people who are special to us.

Around this time, I started to realize I just felt much more alive and connected to what I was doing. I felt more grounded and like things were more real in a sensory, felt way. I thought I’m doing it. I am regulating myself by reaching out to C. I am getting a sense of connection out of it, because I able to address the state of mind I imagine in her. Now, I don’t know if it really fit for her or not, but I think it probably did, because she kept reading.

Later, I called her, as I have started to do in the evenings. She seems to be free in the evenings. She didn’t answer, and I sent her a message that it was okay, as I have also started to do, because I know sometimes the phone rings and she automatically feels scared to answer it or sometimes she feels too sad. Then she thinks I am mad that she didn’t answer….

She called back then, and I heard her voice and immediately felt happy. I do not think I have ever felt that happiness in an embodied way. She was talking to someone else—shouting, and I listened to her shout and it was somehow lovely. She hung up on me or the network cut out or something. Anyway, the happy feeling lasted for an hour or two. I felt really differently about myself because of it. Valued and connected. It was amazing to think this happens. As someone without ongoing attachments, I think it was so painful to feel that sense of being valued come and go according to the vagaries of my undependable relationships that I withdrew from it. Eventually, that feeling of being valued and connected becomes a permanent part of you, but I think someone has to actually feel that way about you. I don’t think you can just hypnotize yourself into feeling that way.

Seeing emotions

I feel so incredibly heavy. How do I work through this?

I told C I would meet her again and she got this look in her eye that I can’t identify, but I recognize from other experiences. Angry, maybe. First, she said, “Not needed.” Okay, well, let’s leave need out of it for the moment. It’s hard to feel so needy, isn’t it? Then she said, “I will tell.”

Anyway, it got to be Monday evening, and I had this idea I ought to follow up. There are buses that go from Y-town on Tuesday and Wednesday. The taxi was ridiculously expensive. They don’t go to C’s village, but they drive by it. I think it might be an hour walking. That would save a lot of money.

C hadn’t been reading my messages. She answered the phone when I called, but she didn’t read my texts. She was reading along, and then suddenly stopped. I thought she had gotten overwhelmed. I kept sending them anyway, not really knowing if that made the situation better or worse.

Finally, after more than a day, I realized no one was reading my messages. Oh, nothing to do with her emotional state. It’s the network. So I turned my phone on and off again and presto! I sent a message and she read it.

I don’t know if that has anything to do with anything, but it did mean shortly after I left her house, she abruptly stopped getting any texts from me. She didn’t get told good night or greeted in the morning, which is something I have done most of the year for her—whenever she has had her phone with her. It might have made her more distrustful, to suddenly have this change in our routine.

So, I talked to her on Monday evening and told her I had thought of coming to her village the next day. She refused. They were very busy doing something or other that I couldn’t understand. And she won’t come here because she is weaving.

I was talking to her and the thought flashed through my mind, “I have done so much for her. Can’t she spend a day or two with me?” And for a second, I felt very offended, very hurt, and then my adult mind kicked in and said to me I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t want that guilty tone leaking into our relationship. I don’t want it to be, “I did this for you, so now you owe me.” She does need a lot, and that needs to be free. It needs to be given freely, or not at all. If there are going to be strings, I shouldn’t offer it to her. It’s true that she ought to consider me, she ought to make time for me, but I don’t think it happens like that. You don’t get consideration via emotional blackmail. Anyway, I didn’t say anything like what I was thinking. I just asked again if she was truly busy, or if she was feeling shy.

It was a disorganized attachment moment, but it wasn’t massively disruptive. It was two people, feeling needy baby feelings, and trying to still behave like somewhat grownup people. I think it went okay.

We hung up then, and I thought over what had happened. I felt so sad. I lay in the bed, where I had been talking to her, feeling really sad. Weirdly, I thought nobody likes me. Every part of me is bad. I had been thinking earlier about needy baby, and how bad it feels to have needy baby—which is what I have been calling that state of feeling really intense longing and sadness. I thought that was happy baby, and she doesn’t like happy baby either. I thought that for about five minutes. Every part of me is bad.

I have been just kind of letting myself feel things, even when they suck. I have been trying to have an attitude of curiosity about it when it feels shitty, and I have tried to notice how it feels in my body, what goes on in my mind when I am in these shitty feeling states.

Anyway, it lifted rather abruptly. Maybe I shut it down. Suddenly, I thought C is talking to me from the perspective of what is normal in her family. What I mean is I feel rejected, and that is accurate, but she is rejecting me based on conditions she believes exists. She isn’t rejecting me because of me. She is rejecting me based on her preconceived notions of how she should be and how people should be.

Our parents are our idea of generic people. We unconsciously believe everyone thinks more or less as they do, with variations on that, so if she is saying I am too busy to see you, she is telling me, “I am supposed to be too busy to see you. I am expected to be doing the things I am telling you I am doing.” And whether she actually is as busy as she says she is, or whether she really is expected to be busy, whether she is outright lying or whether these are distortions or even the absolute truth, that is her understanding of life. It gave me a feeling of being machine-like. I sat with that feeling of being machine-like, and I recognized it. I thought of what VP Ma’am told me—that she would see C doing laundry and in the middle of laundry, her mom would call and demand C take the baby for a nappy change (while her mom was socializing with friends) or do some other chore. Before one chore was finished, another one started up. That would make you feel machine-like, wouldn’t it? If your mom sees you as someone mostly there to do work, you would experience that perception in a felt way, as a machine-like state.

So I sent her a series of texts about that, that I feel worried about her, that I wonder if sometimes she feels like a machine who has to just work, and that she isn’t a machine. She is a person with feelings.

That was last night. I saw when I got up that around this time, during my series of texts (which she didn’t respond to—normally doesn’t, but I think still help), that she had posted on Facebook about her siblings being her soulmates. So she might have felt understood.

I have thought recently about how my own mind works, as someone with trouble regulating emotions and with mentalization and basically it’s not clear a lot of the time why I am having certain emotions, what connects to what. It’s not just about trauma, but like that all the time. And I think that probably happens with C. She may very well not know what connects to what. I was having an intense chat with her, and she very well might not connect a feeling of being understood with the texts I am sending her. She may think instead of her siblings, who are much more acceptable to have that feeling about. Not everything is about me, but it’s also possible that when things are about me, she has absolutely no idea.

In the morning, I sent another series of texts to her. I was thinking about a feeling I have with her that I should not leave my house, I should not leave Y-town. When I walked down from her school in the evening after meeting her, she would get really worried. There might be snakes. She worried about snakes. Well, I was thinking about disorganized attachment and that feeling of not knowing where an attachment figure is. Drives me insane, personally, but I hadn’t thought about that affecting her. I thought about how terrifying it is to feel you don’t know where someone is. I want her to get that pattern, that I go away and come back again, but it might be she doesn’t really want to know I go away and come back again. That implies people can move. They might get lost. My little parts feel that acutely. C might get lost. Her whereabouts must be known at all times, because that lost feeling is so terrible. And mostly I stay home. She imagines me at home, not going anywhere much or very far. She might not like to imagine me going away and coming back again, because in between, I seem lost to her.

Maybe. Anyway, I said that. I asked if she felt worried about it. I didn’t get a reply—she frequently doesn’t.

And then I said something about babies, and when they are left alone with no one to talk to them or play with them, they feel really, really lonely and sad. They feel so lonely it is like being dead inside. I said I thought that might happen to her and when important people leave, she might feel that way again. She might feel the loneliness from when she was a baby.

Later, I noticed she posted an update on Facebook: I hate him.

Evidently, she has been fighting with her boyfriend. A few days ago, it sounded as though she felt sorry over something. Now she’s angry. I don’t think it’s probably disconnected from my texts. If you want your mommy to come, you really, really want her, and she doesn’t come and doesn’t come and you feel so lonely you feel dead, you also might feel angry.

I felt, for a long time after that, very, very heavy, just quite exhausted, and I think it was from imagining that baby sadness. I keep thinking about that film about the mother with postpartum depression trying to get therapy for herself and her baby, and how in the Strange Situation experiment, her baby collapsed on the ground. That was a memory. Mom, I remember when you used to leave me alone for hours. It was like this. I lay on my back because I was a baby and couldn’t sit up yet, and I stared up at the ceiling and I felt dead inside. Absolutely dead. Wanting to cry because I was so lonely, but no one came, so I got tired and stopped crying and then I just felt dead.

If no one sees your emotions, I think you don’t know that they are real. If no one responds in any way, you don’t know you have emotions or that they are information. It becomes like pixels that you don’t see anymore—non-information. If your parents, instead, become dysregulated in response to your emotions, then it’s like your feelings are dangerous. Either non-information or dangerous.

I think probably C’s mother’s family is something like mine. I don’t really know, but she likes being around her grandmother just as I did when I was growing up, but her grandmother created a daughter who abuses C. That is what happened in my family. My grandmother was a narcissist and didn’t respond to my emotionally sensitive mother, who then couldn’t control her emotions around me. Narcissism was easier to cope with than an emotional cyclone, but it didn’t mean that relationship was healing for me.

If so many interactions in real life trigger that kind of implicit memory and either it isn’t seen at all, because to most people it doesn’t make sense, or it pushes the people around you into highly dysregulated, dangerous states, then you never have a chance to integrate that memory. It never becomes a part of you that you can understand, and it remains this mysterious intrusion on normal life. I think that is what usually happens. These baby states keep getting triggered, and they are never seen or understood or soothed.

I am trying to do that differently with C and with myself. I am trying to see that the baby states are real. The feeling of deadness inside that was my lonely babyhood, the needy feeling inside, the sadness at being so lonely—all of those feelings are real. I am feeling them now and they are telling me about the present in their own way: someone just left, for example. Indeed, they do leave. I am alone now. The deadness inside is telling me, yeah, this is the same thing. I am alone. I remember being alone. It felt like being dead. I remember that feeling. I think once the feelings start to seem real, then my experiences can be organized, and I don’t need to have the feelings so intensely. I can be alone without feeling needy or dead or very sad. I don’t know if I am right, but that’s what I am trying at the moment—trying to make those feelings seem real for both of us, so that they can be organized, and attachment can stop being something we lack coherent strategies to form.

I don’t know. But it is just hard work.

The other thought I have around this is that maybe this is why some very explosive relationships develop: when you have similar traumas, you recognize each other’s emotions that aren’t actually real to other people. So at least you feel seen and responded to, but both partners might also be unable to regulate their own emotional states, so there is a lot of friction. You are seen, but not soothed and no one is able to soothe themselves. Also, when people are caught up in very intense emotional states, they stop being able to think about other people’s needs. They are consumed by their own needs. So then there isn’t a lot of give and take. There is more impulsively responding to one’s own needs, more grabbing, more simply running away. The draw is that at least you are seen, and you can start to feel real, but you don’t end up feeling safe. Safety requires less impulsivity, more self-control.

Anyway, I hope that seeing my own emotions and seeing C’s will help both of us.

I wanted to write something before starting my day.

I feel horrible. I will start with that. I hope this is doing something for me, because I feel just awful.

I’ll tell you some ideas I have about it. My minds a bit untidy, so who knows if it will make sense to someone else.

I have an idea that the feelings I have right now are so intense partly because they aren’t regulated. I learned to shut them down. I did not learn how to modulate them. People spend their whole childhoods learning how to keep their nervous systems running smoothly, and I did not because basically you need to learn that from someone else. It is partly physical and partly social, but in both cases you learn it from someone else. And I had parents who were either indifferent or histrionic, so I learned not to go to them to help me regulate my nervous system. They were worse than useless.

And that means my nervous system doesn’t regulate in the normal way. There’s no dimmer switch. I’m still working on that. I miss C and it’s total agony. No dimmer switch. I have this idea that if I sit with that feeling I’ll find the dimmer switch. Maybe not today, but eventually. Every time I sit with the feeling, my brain is working on the dimmer switch.

Neural pathways work on the concept of use. Frequently used neural pathways become very efficient, very fast and very efficient. I think I do know how to regulate now, but it’s a new neural pathway. It’s slow, clunky, and I have to keep myself from hitting the “off” switch by mistake. Because actually you need these feelings. You need the impulse to reach out. You need to notice someone you like to be around isn’t there and maybe contact should be reinitiated. What I have done is shut down the feeling and it ended up as disembodied impulses, which may or may not have resulted in effective strategies for getting contact.

That’s my other thought: without good regulation, these basic social instincts (reach out, proceed cautiously, retreat, defend yourself) don’t end up as coordinated, effective strategies for managing social relationships. I had a cat for many years and I don’t really know what her kittenhood was like: I was informed she used to be taken to an old age home to do therapy work, but she was a shy, unfriendly cat when I took her home. I can’t imagine her doing anything but hiss at old people who wanted her to sit on their laps and let them pet her.

Anyway, she hid under my dresser for the first few weeks I had her home. In the middle of the night, when all was quiet, she would start to feel safe and her loneliness would overtake the fear and she would come and rub her face on my sleeping body and purr loudly. If I woke up and moved, the fear would kick in and she would run back under the dresser. I didn’t sleep well for those weeks, because my nights were punctuated by this needy, frightened cat who would wait for me to fall asleep before coming to ask for affection and love. It was the absolute embodiment of disorganized attachment. I need you, but I am scared of you, and I am being bounced around between very strong emotional states and impulses that don’t result in a coordinated strategy.

If I can get some good regulation going, maybe I can have more coordinated strategies for my social relationships and I will feel more fulfilled in them. Who knows. Worth a shot, anyway. But that’s why I was sitting here for hours, just missing C. Trying to stay in that. I miss her. Indeed, I do. And that doesn’t need to be fixed or interpreted or corrected. I miss her, and it’s very intense because my brain is still trying to bring that down a few hundred notches. That’s a procedure, and procedures need practice before they become smooth and efficient. I am practicing right now.

I noticed as I tried to just be with the sadness and pain of missing her that I felt a little bit of happiness creep up. It felt so good to see her on Friday. It felt so good to hold her in my arms. And it was as though, when the sadness and pain subside a little, other feelings can surface. The longing drowns everything. I can switch off the longing, and the happiness does sometimes pop up, but it is jagged. That has happened before, where I feel like I am jumping between very different emotional states. Yes, that is what happens when you reach for the “off” switch I have been using all of my life instead of the dimmer switch I am learning to use. Life is very, very jagged and basically makes no sense.

Another thought I have had recently is about my break with psychodynamic concepts. It really did help to read some of the articles on attachment: one writer commented that Bowlby faced a lot of opposition for his ideas and the writer pointed out it was because Bowlby essentially turned everything psychiatrists believed on its head. Previously, psychology was concerned with the mind interacting with itself and Bowlby was maintaining our minds interact with each other.

As an example, a psychodynamic therapist would say I am protecting myself from loss by preventing myself from reaching out. And that’s one way of looking at it. But I don’t see it that way. For me, that leaves pieces of the picture out. If you see me and my mother as a system—not now, but when I was small—and that we were working together to create a regulated, comfortable state for both of us to the best of our ability then that view makes more sense to me. I constrained my impulse to reach out to my mother for the things I needed—attention, comfort, support, stimulation—because reaching out overwhelmed my mother. She yelled at me to constrain myself so that she could more easily manage her own emotions, because she had very poor emotional regulation skills due to her own upbringing.

What that view brings into the picture is my understanding of my mother’s view of me, which is part of my memories. When I don’t constrain my impulse to reach out, I am filled with shame. Frightened and filled with shame, although not at the same time. When I reach out, I can’t stay in equilibrium with her. And I am sorry. The “sorry” impulse is one that creates reconnection and it is instinctive. Seeing us a system makes my shame makes sense.

A psychodynamic therapist would see my shame as an attempt to protect myself from rejection, and that is one way of looking at it. But I just can’t do it. It doesn’t really make sense to me. I just can’t see my very young self as being that purposeful or organized. I can, however, see my young mind as being receptive to social cues.

I have also been thinking that there are these disembodied thoughts I have at various points in this cycle of wanting connection that are representations of my mother’s mind in my mind. We see ourselves as others see us. That is a core sociological concept, and psychology typically disregards sociology for reasons I don’t quite understand. So, I feel worthless, and that is my memory of imagining, based on my experience of others’ behaviour towards me, that I was perceived as an object by those people. As an adult, I can understand that my feelings of worthlessness are a perception. I am perceiving that other people do not value me at this particular moment in time. And it’s okay for me to perceive that. It’s possible that they don’t. I am not a diamond. Not everyone will value me at all times.

A really key thought I have had recently is that minds are different. They don’t see things the same way. This plays out in all kinds of way as I move through my day. It’s possible that someone else—my mother, for example—would not value me in this particular moment, because she wouldn’t like what I am doing (for example). But the person in front of me might value me, and their behaviour towards me has some other reason behind it.

At other times, I am aware of that in effect also. Someone who thought in terms of codependency, for example, might see my behaviour as unhealthy attempts to rescue someone else. Someone who believes in altruism might see that same behaviour as very positive and very pro-social. I can imagine particular therapists from my past and think they would see my behaviour as self-serving. One kid I send pancakes with might be very touched that I care so much for C. Someone else might be annoyed at carrying extra stuff. One child might feel disregarded, as though I am treating them like a packhorse and not a person.

I have a lot of minds in my head with different opinions, because people are different. There isn’t one way of looking at things, or one right way to be. One idea I have had recently is to think about the person I am actually interacting with, and not some generic person. Is this comfortable for both of us? Do we both feel valued and regarded when I do this? Does this show respect for their individuality and autonomy and needs as well as mine, or am I using them as an object to meet my own needs? I don’t need the approval of someone who isn’t there or with whom I have no real relationship. But I do need to be considerate. Am I being considerate? That’s the main thing, but it doesn’t mean that these other views don’t run through my mind, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings about those views while they do that.

I never really thought in those terms before: that other people all see things differently, and I would know that. I would have all kinds of views of things in my head. It was like there was always one view, one correct view—frequently, some therapist’s view. And I couldn’t make everything else in my head to make sense.

Maybe that’s enough for one post. More later.

One last thought for the night

Following up on the sad, depressed baby thing….

I don’t think I had any idea that I wanted to be happy. How would I? I just felt this need. No idea the need was for happiness or contentment or love. I have this need, and people don’t like this need.

As a baby, I am sure I didn’t connect that, but as a young child, I think I did. I wasn’t stupid exactly. I knew my mom was taking a nap or trying to wash dishes or doing something aside from being interested in me. And I wanted her attention. And I knew demanding her attention when she was doing everything but pay attention to me was irritating to her. I knew I was being annoying. Annoyance is not hard to work out. Children plow through annoyance with their needs because they have no control—not because they don’t know they are annoying people. Most of the time, anyway. I think.

I also think once I had gotten past the “Oh, a cheerio….” distractibility, I would understand that people don’t like to be interrupted from things they want to do.

I But I needed it so badly. I didn’t know what I needed, but I needed it so much. I just felt this impulse inside me. I don’t think I connected it to wanting love and attention and care.

I don’t think I felt like Happy Baby enough for that to even feel like “me.” I did feel like Needy Baby who Annoys her Mom.

It makes the shame make sense. I didn’t know I wanted to be seen or attended to or that I wasn’t allowed to be the contented child this care would lead to. I didn’t understand that was the goal of my behaviour. I had an impulse, and I connected the annoyance I got in return with my state in the moment when I expressed the impulse.

So the shame would be about the feeling of need, or the impulse to attract attention or to get understanding. It would be about what happened before I got the love and warmth and I then might not even connect the love and warmth to what I did in order to get it.

I have a cold and a fever. I am off to bed now. Good night and take care all.

Baby

Another thought I have had recently is about the kind of baby I was.

I have been thinking about being a loveable baby, and when I think of that baby I might have been, what I am imagining is a baby who feels connected and alive. You feel the way this imaginary baby feels when you are loved and cared for and responded to. That love fills you up with life. That is the basis of feeling you are “good.” That warmth and life that comes with connection feels like “goodness.”

I wasn’t that baby. I was a sad, depressed, needy, lonely, angry baby who was profoundly neglected and abused.

It is very, very hard for me to see that. As an adult, it is just so tragic. I was a lonely baby. I was a baby who felt despair. As soon as I was introduced to the idea, which was quite young, I felt suicidal I was so despairing.

I felt rejected and unwanted. I felt angry because I wanted care. I didn’t know any of the complexities of that, but I wanted it like I wanted food. I wanted that good feeling that comes with care.

That is the baby I was.

I am imagining that baby now and a part of me thinks, “I can’t be that baby. No one wanted that baby. That is a baby who wasn’t wanted.” The baby who felt depressed and lonely felt those things because she wasn’t wanted. So I have to take that in. I was a sad, depressed little baby because I wasn’t wanted.

No one wanted me. And I can’t go back into the past and change that. I can’t make people want me who didn’t want me. I can’t turn those bright patches of connection into swathes of continuous attachment.

What happened happened, and it is over and done with. That was me.

I don’t what to make of that, but I feel really sad.

Deadness

One of the things I was reading talked about co-regulation, that when people are together, we unconsciously act in concert with each other so that we are both staying within the range of emotions that feels comfortable for both of us. We see each other and we respond to each other, and that creates a feeling of aliveness within both of us.

When a parent is caught up in their trauma or drunk or otherwise overwhelmed, they are not able to do this. They cannot take in the child’s signals or respond to them in an attuned way.

One thing that caught my attention in something I read recently was a line about powerful feelings surfacing during moments of stress with a child. Which they do. Raising children is stressful. And when you have trauma, it will surface when your child needs you most. At worst, this will result in frightening and overwhelming behaviour. You might abuse your child. But at best, you won’t be able to see or respond to your child’s emotional state.

In that case, the connection between a parent and a child might be intermittent. The parent might not be able to consistently maintain that connection, and the child might have the ongoing experience of loss. I think that has happened with C. Her mother can see and attend to her sometimes. C can feel a connection to her mother sometimes. When her mother is doing well and able to function and not that stressed, she can create that attuned feeling within C, but it is something that seems to come and go for no reason. It just disappears. And when C reaches out to her mother to get that feeling of attunement back, her mother can’t cope. Old feelings of not being important, feeling overwhelmed and unprotected, feeling attacked for no reason—all of those childhood feelings surface and get addressed to C.

So C cannot reach out to get the connection back after it goes away. That natural impulse to regain connection to a parent after a break in connection gets suppressed.

It’s possible this happened for me too. It depends on how functional my mother was. But I might never have had that feeling of attunement with my mother. I might have only gotten it from people I wasn’t related to and that weren’t ongoing parts of my life. Connection was intermittent and undependable, because it didn’t come from one person. It was more like a rainbow, but people need that. They need connection on an ongoing basis, not just like a rare, unexpected event.

One of the other things I read that really helped me was how it feels to not have that connection. When no one responds to you in an attuned way, it feels like what you are experiencing is not even real. If you cry, and no comes, are you really crying? If no one feeds you when you are hungry, are you really hungry? Maybe you aren’t. You end up with a confusion about your own mind and what is important information, what isn’t important, what is real, what isn’t.

I have that sense a lot still—partly remembered, I think, partly in the present. No one really grasps how C feels or why she behaves the way she does. When I talk about it, I often get a response of frank disbelief, and I find myself wondering does she even feel the way I think she does? Do I really remember that look on her face? Maybe I have misinterpreted her body language. Because I was there and I saw it, but it seems as though it can’t. If you have this infancy where your experiences were not responded to—as though they weren’t real—and an adulthood in which you are experiencing trauma-related emotions that other people don’t have, then it is hard to know what is even real, whether your emotions are real and important. It’s even harder to know what is causing them.

I think that is the bond with C is so intense. I see her. I have disorganized attachment. I can see what she is feeling, and it is real to me. When she put her hood on when it came time for me to go, I know she felt afraid and ashamed. Her body language said, “I feel like hiding.” It was real for me what she felt. But someone who doesn’t understand disorganized attachment might not see that. They might assume she was cold, and they wouldn’t respond. I didn’t respond overtly in any way, but I think I probably do respond without knowing it. She feels seen and known and held, because I see what she is feeling.

In most of her life (and mine), people don’t respond supportively or they don’t respond consistently. Either what she is going through doesn’t exist for them, because they haven’t experienced it and don’t know what disorganized attachment feels like, or they have but aren’t aware of their experiences enough to cope with it. I was reading that an attuned therapist must have their own internal act together. Indeed, they must, because if you don’t, you just react. You might feel smothered by someone feeling worried that you are leaving them. You might want to push away the knowledge of what it feels like to be left behind and so push away the person feeling anxiety about being left.

What I have done with C, which helps me, is try to be aware of my own feeling state around her. Stay aware of her feeling state, and really watch my own and try to manage it.