Feathered dinosaurs

I have been letting things percolate.

Saturday was therapy. Nine a.m.. I am never actually on time. I have come to understand this is about sensitivity and, with it, impulsivity when it comes time for approaches. This might sound different than what I mean.

What I mean is the uncertainty of approaches raises my level of alertness to stimuli. More things seem potentially important and in need of my attention, which makes it harder to organize my actions or decide priorities. I don’t notice this as indecisiveness although someone else might feel that way in that situation. What I notice is I find myself making up the bed or picking up that stray sock I dropped on the way to the washing machine yesterday when maybe I ought to let that go.

A Freudian would say I am avoiding going. I think my ability to process and organize is overwhelmed and that makes it harder to reach my goal of leaving on time. Maybe my house needs to be clean, maybe I need to dress better, maybe I need to get that email sent off. It is too many things. I see too many things that need to be done. There are too many possible perspectives to consider. And that’s because uncertainty is making me alert, and my alertness makes stimuli stronger, and too many stimuli are making demands on my attention. Freud would see a goal. I see it as difficulty in organizing myself to achieve a goal.

So I was 2 minutes late. Not more than that. I am generally 2 to 3 minutes late to therapy.

I got there and no one was there, so I sat down and began to write my check. I had gotten as far as the date–so not long–when Therapist arrived. Her babysitter had been late. She apologized, and I said truthfully that I had been literally waiting 30 seconds and not to worry about it–she hadn’t inconvenienced me in the slightest. Of course, it crossed my mind that she also might become disorganized as approaches loom and might also be picking up stray socks when it’s time to pick up the car keys, and that in itself can feel shameful. I can’t get it together is how it feels, and there is a sense of your competence mysteriously evaporating.

This may or may not have any bearing on our session–this matter of being late.

After the formalities (check, receipt, how have you been?) I began by telling her an observation I had made about a teacher/pupil interaction. The student was struggling and I more or less forced him to stay with his difficult emotions while trying to problem-solve. His teacher rushed in to set a boundary on one occasion and to help on another. She had a sense of franticness about her: I cannot let this go on. And I speculated it might be because she couldn’t bear whatever emotion this sparked for her.  It seemed likely.

I had not told her one of my mental occupations is to practice mentalizing and to try to imagine people’s inner lives. This helps me make sense of their behavior as well as my own: we aren’t utterly unique and there are times I might occupy later precisely the same mental space as I have seen someone else occupy in the past. If I have thought it through ahead of time because I saw someone else experiencing it, it becomes easier to process in the moment, when I need to respond quickly. When I am watching someone else and imagining their mental state, I don’t need to act. I can think through what they might be feeling or thinking at my leisure, because it’s not my life and I don’t need to do anything.

She said right away, “I am going to challenge you.”

I know my heart sank. I didn’t understand the need for conflict. I often don’t. I think I probably need to be able to understand why people do seek out conflict, but so far I have not had much luck. There is an emotional rush involved in trying to win at something that I don’t enjoy, but some people do.

She asked then, “Do you think that’s always the case?” Something like that.

Well, I didn’t quite know how to answer that. Why would that matter. I was talking about approximately 3 minutes in time, and what might have been happening in those 3 minutes. I am sure what happened within those 3 minutes also happens at other points of time, and the points of time when the same dynamic is going on probably look much the same as this one.

I said, “In situations like that, yes.”

I mean, it’s kind of like saying do you think all birds are birds. We could discuss when is it a bird and when is it a feathered dinosaur with wings, but I am talking about birds right now. Birds interest me.

She said, “Don’t you think there are times when that isn’t going on?” Or something like that.

I said no. Birds are birds. I am not at this moment terrifically interested in things that appear to be birds but are, in fact, not birds. I suspect a part of me is irritatingly literal. She asked me what I thought. No, I don’t think that. I am telling you what I think, and I didn’t say that.

She asked this three more times. A question asked once is a question. A question asked more than that is a demand with a mask over its face. She said something about distortions at some point, that she was challenging my black and white thinking.

I kept saying no. I finally said, “No. Full stop.”

I cannot actually fathom her motives for any of this. I suspect it has something to do with things that are unspeakable. We cannot speak about people silencing the emotional experiences of others because those experiences are too painful to witness. Saying cold-blooded animal with wings are sometimes dinosaurs and not birds is like saying since it is not always a bird and we cannot be certain about this, we cannot speak about birds. The existence of birds becomes unknowable and unspeakable. We become stalled in debating the very existence of birds.

And yet I think it is knowable and speakable. At the very least, it’s interesting to talk about birds and to think about them.

It’s Friday. Our appointment is tomorrow. I have no idea what to say to her. I think we need to be able to talk about birds. We need to be able to say there are times when people silence the emotional experiences of others because they are too painful to themselves. This cannot be something she cannot bear. And yet saying birds exist, I believe they exist, I believe we can know when it’s a bird and when it’s something merely birdlike and you have to be able to deal with that reality does not make her able to deal with that reality.

I feel the need to figure this out because when I don’t have a plan in mind we end up talking about topics that bore the life out of me. We talk about whether I meditate or go to the gym (no and no) and things of that nature, and I feel like I am talking to someone on the Autism Spectrum and the pain of keeping my attention on something that holds no interest for me for 50 minutes just to be polite makes me want to cry.

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Post-Halloween

It usually starts to get somewhat easier after Halloween has passed. I begin to sleep better, as I get more exposure to sunlight in the mornings and less in the evenings. The decorations come down and are traded for what are, for me, more neutral holiday symbols.

I don’t know if it will get easier this year or not. It might.

I saw my therapist on Saturday. She had had a GI infection all week and we hadn’t seen each other for two weeks. She asked me how I had been. I said I lived through it. She asked if I would normally describe a week that way. I said no.

I was somewhat appalled at this point that she forgot how hard this was for me.

She said she knew fall was hard for me. I said fall is hard because of Halloween. She had been vomiting all week. I felt I ought to try to be charitable that she might forget my troubles completely.

I think the worst possible feeling about what happened might be that the lives of the girls I grew up might simply not matter to anyone other than me. They were the ultimate in disposable human beings when they were alive, and when one of them was brutally murdered, this was forgettable too.

So I didn’t feel charitable about it.

At the time, I didn’t know how to communicate any of that. We moved on. She asked various questions about how I had coped. I answered dutifully. I am not sure what the point of these kinds of questions are. I functioned. I did not get through the pain of it by, say, shooting up heroin, but there is very little she could have done if I had. I ate rather more than my fair share of junk food and watched quite a bit of old movies.

I didn’t know how to describe how it felt to me that made it difficult. I tried. I don’t know why it is difficult. Anyone with PTSD probably feels as I do. I don’t know how to say, well, I feel like smashing my hands with a hammer when I wash dishes, but I actually don’t know why. It makes it harder to wash dishes.

I suspect some of my inability to explain comes from speaking to someone used to people who unknowingly strive to cope using dissociation, when I am trying not to. They want the urge to break their own hands to be blotted from their awareness, and I want to be able to experience the emotion that lies under the impulse I am aware of: partly because I think the emotion would be easier to work with and partly because dissociation has not gone well. You end up half dead doing that.

She asked me if teaching was the right profession for me, which seemed rather extreme. I said I like teaching, but also that I think all jobs have their stresses. There is no career in which I can wrap myself up in cotton wool until difficult anniversaries pass.

I have learned this in the past few years: life proceeds, regardless of whether you can manage the pace of life or not and all you can do is the best you can with that.

We had been talking about parts the previous session, and she did remember that. Not that I had held my dead lover in my arms as she drew her last breath on this green earth 31 years ago, but that I have dissociated parts. I felt I probably had to talk about them.

So I did. I did not feel that comfortable about it. I felt rather like this was torture that needed to be endured. The whole session felt that way really, like something terrible which needed to be gone through.

Then I went home, and lay in bed without thinking what I was doing and it was probably five hours later before I even noticed I had done that or that time was passing while I lay there, watching old movies. I don’t have any real idea what to do when it’s this bad. I lay there the entire day. I spent a lot of today, the next day, in bed too.

My mind does feel now as though it has begun to sort of wake up, but I wonder about this. Why does it seem that my consciousness actually evaporates when I am under severe stress and what do I do about that?

 

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I got the email Thursday night sometime, that I was approved to teach in Country X for 2018. They are sending me back to Y-town. The email warns that there may still be changes and the placements are not final, but somehow I trust there won’t be. The snag for me would be housing, because Y-town is something of a boomtown. They are still in the midst of a building a hydropower plant somewhere nearby, and it has brought quite a number of new people to town to work on the project from all over Country X. I don’t really know how many, but in an area of 3,000 people even 20 new families living in the central town area has an impact.

Anyway, I left a message for C on Faceback afterwards. She got it later and sometime in the night–around 11–I saw she was online and we chatted about it.

“You got here, Mom?”

“Yes, I did.”

“But I won’t stay here.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Timbuktu [the town where her mother and stepfather live–it’s the middle of nowhere, so I call it Timbuktu]. Am fade [sic] up with Y-town.”

“Is there a high school in Timbuktu?” (I think there isn’t. The school goes up to tenth grade, as far as I know.)

“I won’t qualify.” There is an exam C has to pass in December that determines whether she has a place in a public school. There is a pass mark, which is pretty low, and a qualifying mark that is quite a lot higher.

Can you see it? Push, hide, shame….Disorganized attachment fun. Go away, relationships are dangerous. I’m afraid. I’m not allowed to have relationships and I am not good enough to have one.

I might have mentioned this in my last post, but I think I forgot to. With my friend, I began to realize there is this pattern where during stressful times she impulsively reaches out to me and says kind, warm things that pull me towards her. Once I am there, she hates my guts. It creates the sense of being deceived. I don’t think she is intentionally deceiving me, although she seems to interpret her behaviour that way. I think she has dramatically different emotions and therefore different perceptions at different times. But it creates the sense she has pulled me to her for the sole purpose of emotionally pummelling me.

I think of a child experiencing this from a parent, repeatedly, the same cycle: being drawn in with warmth and the promise of nurturing and then being rejected or humiliated or controlled–treated in some way that makes the parent feel more powerful and therefore safer. That’s what C feels when I draw her to me. Do you really mean this? If I trust you, are you going to hurt me?

I cannot remember ever trusting my mother or feeling drawn to her. I only remember submitting to her attention when she felt like giving it to me, because I felt I had to. But when I was very little, before I can remember anything, I am sure I did fall for what later would have felt like a deception. I needed a relationship so badly I would have risked abuse even after I began to put things together.

The fear I feel now is about that deception. If someone seems to like me or enjoy my company, I don’t know whether or not to expect a trick. And the thing is I do have all of these people in my life who do have some version of relational trauma, and I am not a little girl anymore, but being invited forward and then pushed away, attacked and put down or criticized and controlled still hurts. I am still a human being with feelings and it does still hurt. On top of that, there are people who have real power over me, even though I am an adult.

I had a principal who did not renew my contract out of the same disorganized attachment. My friend took away my home at the worst possible time of year–before school had started and I did not even know how much work I would be getting or where I might get called to work. Everyone has vulnerabilities, and adults are clever enough to know how to exploit them. They can harm you by sullying your reputation in front of your boss or creating friction in your social circle by spreading rumours about you. Teachers can bully your children, as the matron did C when the matron was angry at me. There are all kinds of way to get power over someone, even between equals. So there are real things to be afraid of.

But the fear I have about people is about that cycle of abuse, the seduction and then the violent rejection.

 

Reversal

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A while ago, my friend got really angry at me over her perception that I hadn’t kept an agreement we had over my cleaning her house. Now, her memory of the agreement does not match actual written correspondence between us. Since she does not call or show willingness to see me in person, we just email and text. This means it’s written down.

The thing is my friend seems to not actually feel she meant kind or understanding things she has said, and she gets really angry at me for not realizing this. Personally, I think at the moment she says them, she’s responding impulsively. She perceives it as being manipulative (although not in those words): I said x so that you would do y. You did not do y, so I am angry I ever said x. I am not really sure the sense she makes out of her behaviour later is really what goes on in the moment inside her. It doesn’t matter much though. (The idea that there could be some kind of moral problem with saying nice things just to get someone to do what you want has not evidently crossed her mind.)

My point is I’ve had this opportunity to think about her being angry and the dynamic involved in that, because I assume she responds like someone with relational trauma.

When I used to visit C, she more or less hated me every time I saw her for about two months. I went to see her 3 times a week, and most of the time, she was furiously angry when I arrived. I stayed until she stopped being furiously angry and was settled down again. Then she would say, “You better go,” with tears in her eyes. Eventually, the anger stopped surfacing so quickly and she was more afraid.

I’m dealing with some of the same issues, I always assume, even when I am not necessarily aware of them in the moment, and my mother had some of the same issues, so what I glean from these other situations helps me understand myself now as well as what I grew up with. We aren’t entirely unique.

I think the pattern is the expectation that relationships are not safe to have or something you are even permitted to have. Entering into a relationship means looking for danger, armouring up, and searching for ways to protect yourself–like putting the other person down, so that you don’t feel so vulnerable, or being controlling so the whole thing feels more predictable, or pushing the person away with harsh words.

I thought of how I experienced this as a small child, with a mother who felt she wasn’t allowed to engage with me. She wasn’t just lazy or indifferent or selfish, although it’s possible she was those things too. She perceived relationships as dangerous and if she started to feel a longing to be close to me, she perceived me as a threat.

Now when you are little and forming an idea of yourself and your parent perceives you as an actual, real frightening threat to themselves, what idea of yourself do you form? I can’t be myself, because I am actually a danger.

The best I could

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I was reading yesterday about the right temporoparietal junction, which is the area of the cerebral cortex where the temporal lobe meets the parietal lobe, on the right side (as the name implies). It seems to be involved in tasks which involve shifting attention between different stimuli, and is especially implicated in tasks involving false beliefs. In other words, if I know where the doll is hidden, but I have to understand that Sally Ann doesn’t because someone moved it while she was out of the room, I need to be able to take into account that Sally Ann does not know what I know and will search for it in the place she (falsely) believes it to be.

This is important to me because these kinds of tasks involve mentalization: thinking about someone else’s (and one’s own) thoughts, beliefs, motives and feelings. The ability to mentalize is something which seems to be break down during stress for people with borderline personality disorder, and I suspect in others with relational trauma.

Anyway, it’s something I feel I am working on. I have an instinct that this is key, and I do a lot of just trying to keep being aware of myself as someone who thinks and feels even when those feelings and thoughts are distressing. In other words, I don’t so much work at eliminating distressing thoughts and feelings, but try to keep it within a tolerable range and not numb out so that respond I impulsively and reflexively without actually knowing why I am doing what I am doing. Sometimes that means just holding onto an awareness of the unpleasantness of the sensation of the emotion for as long as I can manage it, because that eventually seems to lead to some part of my brain eventually saying, “Oh, I think this is sadness…” or anger or whatever. And then it kind of gets better.

So I was reading about this part of the brain, and I suddenly realized something which I basically already know: children really have no ability to think about false beliefs below the age of two, and it’s pretty limited until about five. Kids at four years old are on the cusp: some four-year-olds know that Sally Ann will look in the place where she last saw the doll, but many won’t. At five, nearly all children who don’t have Autism Spectrum Disorder will know this.

And it just occurred to me so if my mother was a lunatic, essentially, and had distorted beliefs about me (that I was trying to ruin her life, say, rather than call attention to my loneliness or my hunger or whatever feeling I had), before around three at the earliest, I had absolutely no way to think about this. I had probably also no way to think about my father’s obsession with death or corpses or even the idea that the corpses could not feel pain when he mutilated them. These aren’t situations about false beliefs, but they are about minds which were quite different from mine.

I have an idea some of the most severe abuse I experienced occurred before I was five, and a lot of it before I was four. The way these memories are encoded would be different than memories where I have an awareness of being a mind which thinks. I think memories of being very young when my mother was viciously attacking me would have encoded her mental state as merely my feeling about her mental state: “My mom is angry at me,” is encoded as, “I am bad.” In other words, as though the mental state is merely a reality: my mom thinks  I am bad is not possible as a thought, because three-year-olds can’t think about thoughts.

When those memories come rushing back, I feel again that sense of badness as I did as a toddler. I know some people feel this is a maladaptive belief which will remain troublesome until it is corrected, but I feel it is an attempt to tell a story, which will be a lot less troublesome when I can hear the story.

The story is my mom got really mad about things and she yelled at me and sometimes hit me and said I was bad, and it felt really terrible when she did those things. And the thing is if my mom had been sort of normal, my distress at feeling overwhelmed by this sense of badness (which is essentially guilt) would have prompted my mother to lay off. Right? I suppose that’s probably why I remember it the way I do: I remember the message I needed my mother to hear. Listen, mom, I feel terrible. I feel so full of badness I want to tear off my own skin. Mom, stop, I am overwhelmed.

That’s what I think today. I think about this little toddler me and what I felt, and I think knowing how it actually felt is important. I think that’s part of the story. And I can’t really imagine telling myself, years after the fact, well, I’m sorry this happened to you, but you got it all wrong. You had the wrong feelings. Your misunderstanding of the situation has more or less ruined my life.

I can’t really do that. I think of my toddler self who just felt unbearably, excruciatingly bad and I feel prompted to simply accept this happened. It was awful. It hurt me. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault what happened and it wasn’t my fault how I made sense of it. I did the best I could

 

New job

I had an interview yesterday. Fifteen minutes and then they said they wanted to hire me. I suppose that was their plan: fifteen minutes and then a decision. No discussion among the panel, no checking your references to see you are as great as you say you are. Just, “We’d like to hire you.”

It’s the same thing I have been doing–just day-to-day substituting, but closer to where I live. It was gratifying.

It also meant I have some things to do now: another TB test, some online trainings, more fingerprints (but they pay). I went to the DMV to get a new ID, because I lost mine more than a decade ago and never replaced it. That means I’ve had only my passport as a form of identification, and it ends up making me a little crazy–like what if I lose that?

Anyway, it wasn’t a terrific surprise that I woke up in a more distressed place than usual.  I wonder what is really happening in my mind when this goes on. Why do I feel drowned in emotions that don’t really make sense? Why even do I seem to be more focused on myself, and on whatever my thoughts have prompted me to believe about myself?

I don’t have answers to this. I think it helps to try to continue to be able to think. I think being able to engage in any kind of “I am a person thinking about my own mind” sort of thinking makes a long-term difference.

My other thought about this is that, for one, actually having the sensation of the emotion (as painful as it is) makes it easier to be with it rather than feel I need to do something. Losing awareness of the feeling catapults me into a place where I am restraining urges or holding onto thoughts that, for me, feel annoying: pointless, like chatter.

In addition, being aware of the sensation of the feeling connects me to being the person who has had that feeling in the past and is likely to have that feeling again. In other words, since I probably cannot think rationally, during these times, it’s no use running down the rabbit hole of “am I a worthwhile human being?” But allowing myself to have the emotions of someone who feels I have no worth (or whatever distressing feeling I am having) connects me to being the person who felt that way as a child and is likely to experience set backs in the future which might lead me to feel that way again.

I think there’s a benefit to that. It sucks to feel worthless, and it most definitely felt terrible to feel worthless when I was five or two or whatever, so rather than debating over the fact of the matter, which I think mostly leads to shame, (I am not worthless, so then I am not allowed to feel the sucky feelings I have right now, so now I feel like I can’t really exist as a feeling person….) it’s much better to build a sense of compassion for myself as someone who sometimes has painful feelings.

They are building a deck on my neighbours house. Circular saw going for the last hour–on and off–can’t really cope anymore….

Have a nice Saturday.

Tired and Burnt out

I stayed home sick Wednesday as well. The hard thing about this is my mind is free just spin.

It was okay, more or less. Not amazing. C is taking what are called trial exams, which count for 5% of her grade. I feel worried about her, because I don’t know her midterm grades still. I asked the class teacher. He promised. He did not. I asked him for about 2 months. Then I asked my friend for the principal’s phone number. I used to have it, but I think I lost it. She said she would ask him for me. He promised. He hasn’t. It’s so hard being far away. This kind if thing just wears you down.

C probably won’t qualify for 11th grade. She will be crushed. But if she is at all improved over last year, that would be a way to encourage her. You improved, C, keep trying and maybe you will.

I am worried really that she’s scared. It’s just a feeling– not that something will happen, but just I am being pulled. And I can’t come.

My friend emailed me last night as I struggled to sleep. I wouldn’t be so placenta-ed to my phone, but there is C.

My friend said some important-looking mail had come, including a paycheck perhaps.  She wanted to leave it on her front porch for me. She said I know this sounds inhospitable. Then she said she hoped we could get past this. Well, her approach would be unlikely to make anything improve. I feel like I am in 2nd grade.

I said if it seems important, please don’t leave it on your porch all day. Keep in mind, someone will most likely be home. I didn’t respond to her hope of getting past things while simultaneously being rude. (I just want to make a point of making sure you know I don’t want you to actually knock on the door.) It’s her mind fighting itself and I prefer not to come between it.

In which I cannot keep my pronouns straight

I saw my therapist on Monday this week. I had stayed home sick with a cold, but I thought it might be easier to come in then than during an evening after work when I might still be recovering.

It went more smoothly. She started off asking if I still thought it was a good fit, which of course hurt my feelings although I had also been wondering this. I said I thought our issues were a normal part of relationships. It takes time to get to know each other. It is not necessarily a smooth process.

That said, we went on to more serious stuff. Nata, my miscarriage. I went away feeling much lighter.

As time goes on, I sense that things about my mother and how she affected me are clicking into place. A kind of mental unjamming.

There is a predictable pattern to relationship trauma emotions. This is what I feel I have noticed, among other things. The flip among states happens so fast because you are so vigilant. The alertness makes you observant and reactive.

Thinking of this as schema therapy modes is very useful. They intersect with some basic emotions. What I feel in close relationships about having needs and what C feels, my mother felt towards me although I was the child. Children do meet some of their parents’ relationship needs– enough to activate responses once learned as a child.

Here, I am imagining myself as a child, experiencing my mother’s relational trauma.

So you get the Vulnerable Child who has relationship needs and might feel lonely or affectionate, might want to pull you close in order to get a need met for warmth or attention or just stimulation. This might feel like the warm, nice mommy. Then once you are pulled close, there is the Abused Child who has a list of hurts and grievances, bandaids to be applied and scraped knees to kiss. Or, you could get an anxious parent, aware only of unease about closeness and not knowing what the unease might be.

In a parent, this comes through as a list of the child’s shortcomings and errors, either resentfully or fearfully. If these aren’t addressed to satisfaction, then the parent becomes angry and punishing. This is really frightening.

What it means is a child who continually feels deceived by the false hope of being accepted and cared for. Then picked apart, then terrified.

On the other end of this is a child who grows up with the expectation that approaching a parent or anyone close means looking for what’s wrong with you. Isn’t that the reason behind the shame for merely making an appearance and being seen? A deprived parent unable to locate a reasonable source of her feelings of deprivation settles on your weight on your posture or the way you did your chores or your tone of voice. But the real source is the parent not knowing how to meet her own needs what they are or even whether one is allowed to meet them, and maybe also childhood memories of the same terror the child now feels in being found wanting.

And this might escalate to the histrionic version of Angry Child who wants to express needs and feelings but feels consumed by guilt or shame.

Or to the Punishing Parent who gets needs met by force. What that feels like is anger and a fight response.

So tangled up, but I feel it all fits together.

There is another piece to this: histrionic displays perhaps come as a result of having grown up with a parent who was depressed or drunk or self-absorbed or even simply ill and could only be roused by deep alarm. It’s a learned strategy: seriously, attend to me!!!! But to a child from a parent, it’s traumatizing.

The effect of all of this is several-fold: the sense of being continually betrayed or deceived makes intimate relationships feel permanently uncertain and also that when someone really does get close, they won’t like you. You always seem to get played.

In reality, the parent who made you feel this way was responding to themselves and their own feelings and desires more than to the child. The parent brought you close and discovered a listener to hear their feelings of deprivation, not realizing the child might feel something about being identified as the parent’s source of pain when she never started this fire in the first place.

My friend says kind things to me, I realize, at times of parting. I realize that she says them because, impulsively, she does not want me to leave and in those moments she might actually feel that way. But later, she does not really remember feeling that way about me. The person who said them does not really seem to be her, and promises and implications she has laid out feel like corners someone else has forced her into–me, it seems then–when it’s her desire to avoid loss that pushed her into saying them, and not me.

That’s the kind of thing I mean: Later, it feels to me that she lies about even liking me, and I feel used almost in a mechanical sense, even though I don’t quite know what has been gotten out of me. Just that something must have been. I think it feels mechanical because she does view the world in a mechanical way: people are like levers she pulls, trying to figure out how to get her needs met, not knowing how to work relationships in more naturalistic ways. Not knowing really how to get serve-and-return. The mechanical sense may come doubly from the feeling that comes with shutting down attachment feelings the trauma feelings that go with them; You end up kind of blank, shutting down all of this.

But really I think it may not exactly be manipulative that she does this. Her way of seeing the world is so different at different times that it becomes difficult to see a pattern to it. There is a coherence problem, which goes beyond what I am writing here, but this same kind of coherence problem created a coherence problem within me.

Mindlessness

I saw my therapist on Wednesday. I had worked a half day in the morning, so I wasn’t as exhausted as I sometimes am.

My friend had sent me a nasty email in the morning. I read it right before class, and responded simply, “You do seem very angry about this.”

In kindergarten, we had gone over the calendar and colored pumpkins. All very Halloween-y, all very difficult for me, but the day went okay.

So I started off by saying it had been a difficult day. I mentioned the email and I mentioned something about Halloween being difficult.

We talked about the email for a bit, and she broke off and asked which I wanted to talk about first: the email or Halloween. Well, I said the email, because I thought we were about to wrap that up in a minute or two. I didn’t have much more to say about it.

She, however, did, and we spent the entire session on it.

There was a moment, answering her many, rapid-fire questions when I realized she is emotionally shut down. We are both in this kind of mindless state where we aren’t aware of ourselves of thinking, feeling people and are only acting.

Earlier in the week, I had realized when I act impulsively, I don’t hurt. I can enact the hurt without feeling the pain of that hurt when I am in that state. It was a strange realization. I might know I am hurting, but the physical sensation of pain goes away.

So we were doing that.

It was a difficult session. She really wanted me to express more of my own feelings to my friend. She felt I was acting self-protectively. I told her  it’s my job to protect myself. She said, “But if you’re always protecting yourself….”

I don’t believe not expecting someone who seems overwhelmed by their own mental state to be able to take in mine means I am always protecting myself from hurt.

She asked what it would be like to be able to bring wounded feelings to someone and have them acknowledge my hurt. I can’t remember what I said, but most of the time I feel my wounded feelings aren’t really about the present. I mean, some of it is and some of it isn’t, and it’s so consuming to entangle it, I don’t necessarily get to the point of knowing which is which before life has basically moved on.

She asked, in kind of a poignant way, “How would it feel for you if you could have that from your parents?” Well, I would think my parents were possessed. My parents can’t hear about consequences or about minds outside their own. A strange mind is an assault on them, a danger. If they began to see from my point of view I would know they were no longer themselves anymore. You can’t spend your whole life wishing your parents weren’t mentally ill and trying to imagine how life might be if they weren’t. It’s more exhausting to imagine life as it might have been than simply to deal with what is. At some point, there has to be a way to accept that they are, and to begin to think given what is, what can I make out of the life that I have? And to focus not on one’s deprivation, but on what hope there might still be.

Not that there isn’t a place for seeing deprivation and not that there needs to be some kind of time-limit on how long you are allowed to notice it before you are forced to move on. I think it is something that always recurs, in fact. At every important life moment, you will see what might have been or you will see what seems to be normal for other people but that you will never have.

When you have mentally ill parents, at every graduation, wedding, bar mitzvah, holiday gathering, christening, whatever….you will either see what it is like to have normal parents be a part of these events when yours aren’t, or you will see yourself needing to manage parents who are emotional toddlers on grownup legs when other people have parents they don’t need to babysit.

But I can’t set up camp and live in that place. This is my life. It isn’t fair. I can’t really do anything about that. It’s a deeper societal problem: in reality, mentally ill people need help raising their children. Society cannot either accept that people with mental illnesses need help nor that there will always be some parents with mental illnesses. I don’t think society at large can accept that mental illness is a permanent part of the vast range of human experience. It contradicts too deeply held a value: we are each of us responsible for ourselves and our own families. The practical application of this is that problems get passed down through generations and generations.

She has this idea that I am lonely and I need more relationships. She thinks I am pushing people away. She thinks this is the answer.

She thinks I am seeing my friend in a distorted way.

She asks me about this I think four times, something like, “Are you sure you aren’t reading into this?” Not those words, but something like that.

I wonder if my own reading hits a wound for her: sometimes people do mean to hurt you. When someone is angry, our instinct is to wound. As we become older and more able to regulate our emotions, our cognitive biases let up a little, and we stop hitting people on the heads for stealing our toys. But when you cannot acknowledge that someone you trusted and depended on wanted  to cause you pain, then you find yourself unable to talk about it later.

I wonder if she won’t allow me to identify that my friend at the moment of the email wanted to hurt me, because there are people she cannot identify as having wanted to hurt her: if this idea that sometimes harm is intentional is unspeakable for her and she needs it to be unspeakable to me.

People can hurt you, I suppose, but it cannot be intentional and unremorseful. And yet it is sometimes. Not necessarily because people are evil, but because emotion creates cognitive biases. Then later, people find ways to justify what they did while in a state of mindlessness.

I finally asked what the purpose of this was: Why was she pushing so aggressively for me to agree with her? She didn’t think she was being aggressive, so we left it at that. I was feeling really suffocated at this point, as if I had no space to breathe or to think my own thoughts.

 

Communicating

I started another post, realized I had forgotten what point I was trying to make abandoned it. This is my second attempt at it.

With that unpromising start, off we go.

I suppose I’ll relay my last session. It did not go nearly so well as the previous one. She started off by asking me whether I felt my relationship needs were being met. I said probably not. We talked about this for a lot of the session. She asked questions. I answered them. I felt again very much like I was being interviewed for a job: “Can you describe your educational philosophy? How have you handled difficult parents? What classroom management strategies do you use?”

No, they are mostly not being met. No, I don’t think there is any particular solution to this at present. No, I am not especially happy at this. No, I don’t want to express any emotion about this. No, I don’t want to try to imagine what life might be like if things were different and I did not have the problems I have. My choices are to accept how things are right now at present and to make the best of life as it is or to be miserable about it. I have chosen to accept myself where I am right now and to make the best of things. At least then I get some enjoyment out of life. When I begin to compare the life I have with the way I might wish it were, all I am is unhappy.

I finally said, “I am so bored.” It really did just feel boring. It’s really hard to maintain a conversation about a topic that is not of interest for so long. I suppose it might have been about 30 minutes. I suppose it was something like me trying to talk about fishing, which I know nothing about and care about even less.

In the course of it, I said basically people want to do things their way. I find this exhausting to do all day, and I need to be alone much of the time so that I can do things my way.

The session felt like a reflection of that. The therapist would like to talk about my relationship needs and how they are not being met, so we are. More than that, the therapist does not give me time to think about anything. If I pause to think, she changes the question. So both the topic and the way we are discussing the topic are what the therapist would like to do. They are not what I would like to do. I don’t know what I would like to do, because the therapist won’t allow me to do what I need to do in order to know. My beliefs are playing out in the room. I can’t say why that is happening, but it leaves me unsurprised. This has been most of my experience with humanity.

I could fight to do things my way, but there is no satisfaction for me in forcing someone else to do things my way in the same manner people insist I do things their way. There is nothing gratifying in getting someone to listen to you whilst knowing they don’t like listening to you.

Anyway, she said, “What would you like to talk about?” I said I didn’t know. Not to be difficult, but at that point the boredom felt excruciating. I wasn’t really aware of anything beyond that.

The session was nearly over by then. She mentioned on my intake form I had said I wanted to talk about “the memories.” I hadn’t.

I find this an odd expression though. I am not sure why that is. What are “the” memories? Which memories are we referring to? It sets certain memories apart from other memories. Obviously. But I am still puzzled by it.

It gives me the sense that there is something different about how other people think about their traumatic pasts that I don’t really know about. It suggests an apartness to it, that certain thoughts or feelings are “the memories” and other thoughts aren’t.

I wondered if “the memories” is what happens for people for whom trauma is ego dystonic, and for them certain experiences feel like an interruption to the person they normally are.

She said I could talk about whatever comes up.

I felt puzzled by that too. My past feels omnipresent. It never “comes up.” Things don’t really come up for me. I sort of labour away at an idea, kind of slog through until something holds together in some way. It’s not a style of thinking in which things “come up” very often.

Again, I had that feeling of wishing I understood what people mean by things. I asked her, and it didn’t help that much. I don’t think she had ever thought about it before. I don’t think she had ever come across someone who does not know what “comes up” means.

But I thought about how she felt in the session–sort of a bounciness to her way of thinking. Things do “come up” for someone like that. They just sort of spring to mind.

That aside, I had some thoughts later on why the session went in the way that it did. They are just thoughts.

We had a connected session, in which she was teary-eyed at the end. It seemed to me she came to the next session feeling anxious and vulnerable, either because the expectation of connection made her feel vulnerable or something happened at home (she had childcare issues and pushed back the session 15 minutes).

So she started off asserting her authority: I am the expert. I am here to fix you. And she pointed out my defectiveness: you seem to be struggling with relationships.

Now, the normal responses are to adopt a childlike kind of stance: Yes, I am defective and please help me, or my defectiveness is unfair and I want to pout for a bit about it, or a more teenage I’m not defective so there.

I did not really do any of those things. It wasn’t satisfying to her, and so this strategy of pushing at a wound to get a response didn’t get her the sense of reassurance she was seeking and she kept at it until I more or less couldn’t take it anymore.

As teachers, we talk about not eliciting the child voice in students by avoiding taking on the parent voice. What is meant by this is that if you don’t scold the student like a child, they don’t pout and whine like a child, and the door stands open to more effective and adult problem-solving. I had never thought about how therapists can deliberately talk to clients from the position of experts and this deliberately evokes in the client a response of helplessness and need that can meet the need of the therapist for safety and security.

I don’t really know if that’s why she did that, but some people do.

What I had said, I realized on the intake form, was I wanted to integrate.

And I also said I needed to talk about grief.