Angry Teen (mostly)

Last night, I saw C online at around 5:30 or maybe closer to 6. They have some downtime then before study time. I suppose she is using someone else’s phone. Or something. Anyway, I just said, “Are you okay?”

“Yap.” And she wanted a voucher.

I said no this time. That is what happens, I think. You need support and you keep asking for it, in different ways, until you finally run up against a boundary. Then you have to cope with the feelings you have about the boundary, your anger about it, and the fear of what will happen to you if you get angry. It seemed to be time to start saying no though, because I don’t know what she is planning to do with the voucher and whether it will be something supportive to her or something destructive.

She said it’s fine. I’ll go to the shop outside school and buy it myself. Which is, of course, against the rules. I said some other things. I love you and sometimes I need to say no to you. She read it and didn’t answer. After a few minutes, she disappeared, possibly because it was time to study. At that time, they study in the classrooms, and I think there is actual adult supervision, instead of just kids sitting on their beds studying or playing, as they see fit. This was around 6.

Anyway, I called the matron. I just asked what the boarders were doing. Going up to study. She had just called them to go up. She asked if I had something to say. I said, no, I just wondered where Chimmi was. I suppose she wondered, but it’s hard to explain the situation, that I was wondering what the odds were that she was bluffing vs. really going to bunk and also whether she disappeared because she was expressing something or it was just time to go. I just wanted to know if I was right, and it was time to go to the classrooms. It was. I thought she probably wouldn’t risk going to the shops.

They have dinner at 7 and are supposed to be studying again at 8, but no one actually checks on them. Some of them study. Some don’t.

It is about a 40 or 45 minute walk to C’s school. I heated dinner, ate a bit, and went. It sounded like she needed steadying. Whether I would be steadying or more dysregulating seemed like an open question, but basically it’s all trial and error anyway.

I went. When I got there, I sat on her bed. It took her a while to come down—she wasn’t among the first students to come rushing from the classrooms higher up the hill. Someone shouted to her outside something about my being there. When she came inside, she asked why I had come. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. Probably I should have said something, but I couldn’t think what.

She straightened some things up and went to get her dinner. It was a hard evening. She cycled through distrust and anger mostly. She wouldn’t make eye contact. She frantically shouted to other people about getting a voucher. I finally said, “How do I help you?” I said, “It is hurting you so much you don’t even want to be inside your body.” She said, “You don’t want to help me.” So it was like that. The way she behaved reminded me of something I have seen before: an animal running around in a cage, maybe, looking in a terrified way for an opening to escape through. It was terribly difficult and painful to watch. I didn’t know what to do, so mostly I did nothing. I tried to breathe and stay calm and inside my own body. All I really had to offer was the fact of my body being there with her, which perhaps does help.

Later in the evening, there was a kind of gathering around of other students. Attention somehow came around to her. It was almost eight by then. They were talking to C, and asking about me. Where I lived was one of the questions. I suppose they must have thought I must live closer, because I had come the last 3 nights and I have been coming on Friday evenings every week for the last few weeks. C said, in the Regional Language, “Roka lekpala.” Roka is a pronoun. Lekpala I have heard before, but I don’t know the meaning. It seemed to be pushing her into a different mood. She smiled in a more relaxed way, something more healthy adult.

I asked what she was saying. I asked her and I asked the other students. No one would tell me at first. I didn’t think it was probably a bad thing. The expressions didn’t match that. Finally a girl I know from the lower school said, “It means good.” I asked a friend in the morning and she confirmed. The Regional Language is a very vague language, as is the National Language, but I think the Regional Language is a trade language that has become widespread enough in the last 50 years or so to become the mother tongue of many people. I am not sure. But the vocabulary is very limited, and words have a broad range of meanings. Lekpala can mean love or like or is good or is kindhearted. Someone was talking about some rings for sale, and used the same word to talk about the rings, meaning they were of good quality. So C was either saying that I am good or kindhearted. They talked some more about me, and I think it was in the same vein.

On Monday, when I came for their program, my friend’s daughter who is in eleventh grade there got a very bad toothache, and I walked her home. First, I tried calling her mom, but she didn’t hear the phone. Then I went with her to make sure she got home. There are these other things that students have noticed now.

Anyway, C got a little calmer after that, but it was still very on and off, and when I left finally, I did not kiss her. It seemed to be too much. When I got home, she was online again. I tried telling her some things, and she read a few comments, and then stopped. I think she was still in a state or in a state again.

Something is happening to me though. It is happening in my body. It is not my mind. I leave C and I feel immensely grounded. It’s a pattern. It doesn’t last forever, but it can last for hours sometimes or even until the next morning. Later, the trauma stuff surfaces again, and I have to deal with shame and suicidality and all of the usual shit, but the first reaction I feel is calm. I think it’s a hormone, and I don’t feel it as strongly when I am with her, because the trauma stuff is louder when she is physically present, but there is this balance between trauma and this grounded feeling and as soon as the trauma stuff subsides, this other thing happens in my body. It’s amazing. It’s not me intentionally grounding myself. It’s not me taking care of the little parts. It is nothing in my head, and it seems to happen whether the visit goes well or badly. It is physical. It is something physical that happens, and I think it can happen to some extent when the person is not there. I think I was leveraging this when I started really trying to work with the trauma stuff maybe a year ago. I had a lot of grief to contend with whenever I thought of various attachment figures, but this other, physical thing was helping me through it.

 

 

The day after

Yesterday was Teacher’s Day. Or Teachers Day. Or Teachers’ Day. They don’t seem to know. Anyway, we had a “program” at school. I came early to hang posters for a contest, which did not come out particularly well, because in typical Country X style, students (and teachers) kept submitting them after the deadline. We hung them and then had to rearrange them, and it did not look particularly nice at the end.

Anyway.

C wrote a Facebook update—I had given her back her phone on Friday evening, and she was busy making good use of it. It said, “Happy Teachers Day to all the teachers in [Country X], especially ma [sic] mama ash and sis…[IT Ma’am].” This was, I think within minutes of my sending her a text that I would miss her that day—either a few minutes before or a few minutes after.

I have started to think she needs to know she can be remembered and missed, and that she can continue to be present to me even when we are not in actual contact. She is continuous, and she does not stop existing or having value to people suddenly or out of the blue.

I had told her I was coming for the program in the evening at her school. She hadn’t looked happy about this, but I told her I wanted to see her cousin, and this seemed to be okay.

Anyway, at 2:30 or so when I was just dropping off to sleep for a nap, she sent a text asking for junk food and cake and pancakes. So I got up and began to get things together to see her. I had mixed feelings about complying with her demands—sometimes it feels that way, like a demand I am complying with. But I know this has never happened before for her. She has never been able to say, essentially, “Can we get ice cream, Mommy?” and have that be an acceptable request and something that can be enjoyed together. I don’t think she has been able to enjoy asking for a treat and getting it. I thought of a 5-year-old and the excitement of asking for a treat and thinking you might get it, and that’s just a lovely feeling for the child, isn’t it? That hope and anticipation. She has never had that before. She has had to weigh carefully whether the treat was worth risking psychological annihilation for. It’s terrible to think about it that way. Asking for the treat, and the anticipation of the treat, that’s really half the fun, isn’t it? Let her enjoy what it is like to ask when there is no fear of anger or rejection.

Also, she also cannot say, “Mom, I miss you.” She feels much less vulnerable asking for stuff.

I kind of weighed that—junk food and cake and pancakes—is a little overkill, but this is a child who has never been allowed to ask for a treat before. I felt okay about it. Actually, I felt really good about it. I felt she is getting a little slice of childhood. She is getting to be five. I can introduce boundaries later and suggest maybe she can get either junk food or pancakes or cake, but not all three. I am not starting from zero with C, where I am getting her accustomed to what to expect from me. I am getting her unaccustomed to something that was already there, which was having no voice.

I went up. She was chewing pawn when I got there. I know the smell, and I saw the packet on her friend’s bed, where she had been lying before I came in. So I took her phone away from her. There is no connection between the misdeed and the consequence, but I couldn’t think of anything better at that moment. She wasn’t happy about this, but she was accepting. She wasn’t devastated and didn’t tantrum.

Then I saw her friend drinking out of a beer can covered in black tape. I saw this the last time I was there and thought I was being paranoid. Now the thing is it appears to be the same can as the last time. So maybe there is not actually beer in it. It’s an extremely peculiar thing to keep around and sometime maybe I will go early and look at this can when the students are at evening study and I will see what it really is.

I somehow thought that this was a good time to discuss this with her. It wasn’t. I don’t know what I was thinking actually. Anyway, she was angry. The bell rang—I guess for tea time and she told me to go to the multipurpose hall where the event would be held. I went up. There was no sign of anything starting. Students told me maybe it would start in half an hour. So I went back down again. I met her cousin as I was walking down and she said something about C or asked something. I can’t remember. I said she’s angry at me right now. I took her phone away. That maybe wasn’t the real reason C was angry. Probably, she was angry for other reasons. I brought up her shame around alcohol, because both of her parents drink and it’s probably not an easy topic for her. But I made the excuse of the phone. Her cousin said, “Good. Don’t give it back to her. She’s using it all the time. I tell her to study and she gets really angry.” After a few minutes, C came back with tea, and she had a different expression. I motioned for her to come. Then her cousin says she is calling you to go inside with her.

So that was Monday. Lots of other things happened, but that was the main event.

Sunday

I took C to my house yesterday. On Saturday, I didn’t know if they had an outing or not and the matron called me on Sunday morning and told me they did. So I sent C a text that I would come up at 11 (when the outing started) and get her. I think it is easier when I walk with her to my house. I think she is frightened of coming, but the fear is easier to cope with when I am there.

It was difficult for me to walk down with her. I kept thinking of being away from her after this year—I can come back to Country X, but I will probably not be placed in the same town as her, and I kept thinking of how to tell her. And it was just so painful. It took maybe 30 minutes for her friends to get ready to go, and then we had to walk down and downhill it is maybe a 30 minute or 40 minute walk, and the whole time it was hurting so badly, and I wanted to just get it over with. I wanted to be able to tell her and be done with it, and it was so hard to be patient and calm and wait.

Then we got in site of the town area, and C began to say she wanted to see her uncle first. I began to kind of lose it inside. The pain felt unbearable to keep waiting through and the chances were good also that she would go to her uncle’s house and he would expect her to stay until the end of the outing and I would not get to see her at all. I told her no, that she needed to come to my house. I was really distressed at that point. I wasn’t angry, but I was really, very deeply distressed, and I knew I was kind of losing it. I wasn’t able to manage the situation with her, and C began to get angry. I don’t think she said anything, but it was in her body. We haven’t worked very much with coping with boundaries. I took the phone away and wouldn’t give it back. Then I said I would give it back only on weekends. I set that boundary, but generally I set very few with her, because it is so stressful for her and it seems like hard enough work for her to cope with the boundary that I leave. She wants me to leave, but that doesn’t make it easier to cope with that pain. Anyway, it wasn’t a situation we have dealt with that much since I came back.

I told myself to get it together. It’s not a matter of not showing my feelings, but actually calming them down so that I can think and respond to the present situation better. I guess I got something inside done after that, because things got better. I said come to my house first, then go to your uncle’s house after that. It seemed to be okay. I suppose she felt scared to come, then she was looking for things to be scared of (her uncle might feel hurt), and I responded to that. I responded to her fear in a soothing way. (In the end.)

So she parted from her friend and went on to my house. I asked her to make tea and she refused. I think this was, to some extent, a cultural moment. I think she understood my request as an actual choice, rather than a polite instruction. But I wanted her tea. It’s a difficult conversation, and I wanted her tea. It calms me down. Anyway, I just asked why she wouldn’t make tea. Then she said yes. She went and made coffee. Okay, whatever. She was in the mood for coffee. It was fine.

Then she sat in the chair in my bedroom and I sat on the bed. I said I needed to tell her something and it wasn’t good. That was all the introduction I gave. Then I explained the law had changed and that we had thought it wouldn’t affect us, but it does. I said I have to leave after 3 years and only come back after a year. She didn’t say anything. She just kind of shrunk into herself. I pulled her to me and hugged her, and she began to cry—just silent tears. I held her for a long time, it seemed, and I kissed her face and her hair. I began to cry also and she looked up at me—I suppose she felt the wetness on my cheek. She said, “Don’t cry.”

After a while, she sat up straight and it was really like watching someone switch. It was like the pain and the closeness had gotten to be too much and she had shut them down and brought out some other feeling. It was a very abrupt change in states. I said, “Do you want to make pancakes now?”

So we went into the kitchen. She didn’t want to make them. It was interesting. I started handing her things and telling her what to do and she said, “You do it and I will watch.” She felt too shy to do anything. I gave her eggs and told her to break them, and she wouldn’t do that. It was like I had asked her to give a speech. I said, “You have been breaking eggs since you were five years old. You can break eggs.” But it really was like she thought she could break eggs wrong, like that might be too much vulnerability for her. Anyway, she did it very carefully (as you can imagine) and I took the egg shells out of her hands and put them in the dustbin. From there she seemed to be more okay. I told her to smell the milk. It was one week old (with no refrigeration. It ought to have spoiled, but it didn’t seem to have spoiled. There was a long conversation over that. I think perhaps because of confusion over what I really wanted. Anyway, the milk was fine, so I told her to pour it. Then I got the flour and told her to stir while I poured it in. The batter seemed to be about right for cooking when I suddenly realized the spatula had broken. I was going to tell her to go and buy one—I was explaining to her what I needed. She wanted me to go, and she wanted chow mein, and she wanted to use my laptop to chat on facebook.

I went. I had this feeling she felt very vulnerable, and she didn’t want to leave the house. She wanted to be in my house, where she is starting to feel safe. So I went and got everything. When I came back, I saw her sitting on the floor using my computer and I thought sometimes you feel fragile and you want your mom to take care of you, and I thought maybe she felt that way. I asked if she wanted chow mein. She did—it was lunch time then. We ate together, and then I made pancake. She sat in my bedroom and I went in the kitchen and made pancakes. After we ate them, I took the dishes and washed up. I still had that idea in my mind, that she felt fragile and wanted to be taken care of, so I did that. Then I sat in the chair next to her while she chatted. We didn’t talk that much. I did talk to her—I talked to her about how she feels when I am leaving her. I talked to her about her dad a little. I don’t know what she took in. I asked if the letters I send her help. She said they did.

I sat and wrote her a letter, and then I just sat there. I was really extremely tired by this point and that is probably what I would have done if she hadn’t been there: just sat, thinking. I saw it was getting time to go and I gave her money. She had asked for money earlier, and I had had an idea that I should start giving her less money, and buy more things for her myself, because she doesn’t know how to handle money. It is too much, too abruptly and her friends are starting to take advantage of her and, I suppose, of me. But that day did not seem to be the day to change the boundaries on anything, and having her own money reduces her feelings of vulnerability.

Anyway, she looked at it in a kind of startled way. Maybe she had forgotten she had asked for it. She had been in a different mode earlier and maybe the urge to have money had disappeared along with the mode. She looked at her watch and realized the time. She told me to stay here. She would go up with her friend. I had that feeling of being put safely on a shelf again. She needed to be able to picture me in my house, and to feel that she knew where I was, and that I am safe. It is an odd feeling for me.

I told her to message me when she got to the hostel and she said she would.

We went to the door together. It was dim—my hallway is dark—and I looked suddenly at the light switch, thinking of turning it on, but it didn’t seem actually necessary. We were going to stand there for less than a minute. She said, “What?”

“Nothing.”

“Okay, bye.” She started to turn to go.

I hugged her and kissed her and she put one hand on my back and hugged me back. The reciprocating seems to be, in my mind, about feeling less shame. Sometimes it is the VC just really wanting to connect, but other times it is about the shame subsiding enough to let the need to connect and be warm come through. It is feeling that she can is worthy of having someone welcome her warmth and her love. Her shame is not just about needing love, but about wanting to give it, because it is about herself and her authentic feeling. As the shame resurfaces, she reciprocates less. She stops calling me “mom.” She stops saying, “I love you,” in response to me. She stops replying to any text at all, and it can feel like she is indifferent to me, but it is about her trying to manage her shame. She comes out too much, and gets too much connection, and she is overwhelmed by shame. She pulls back more and the shame is less. So I need to have that in mind: this is going to ebb and flow for her, as the shame surfaces.

Some other things happened, but it is time to go now.

 

Saturday, Teen

Today feels unmanageable. I am in a state and I don’t know how to get out of it. I know perfectly well how to shut my feelings down and get through things, but I can’t have relationships that way. I can’t be responsive that way. I stop being skillful. I can get through a birthday party or a baby shower that way, but I asked C to come to my house today. It won’t get me through a conversation with her. It won’t get me through any conversation with her, and I need to talk to her about some serious things. I either need to talk to her about coping skills or I need to talk to her about my leaving Bhutan.

This is doubly hard because I feel so alone and I feel that no one cares, and the stress of feeling alone pushes me into a more dysregulated place than I would otherwise be in. I wonder about this, but I can’t think clearly enough to have any constructive thoughts about this.

People can respond in very triggering ways. I don’t know if it is worse in Country X or if this just happens. I ended up talking to VP Ma’am about the situation. I didn’t really want to, but she brought up the topic, and stress shows on me. She thought maybe I was sick. She said pretty much everything that would make me feel worse. I was listening to her and I thought because I have relational trauma, relationships are going to trigger me. People are going to say things to me that wind me up, and somehow I am going to have to figure out how to cope with this, or I will have no relationships. So I stood there and listened and said mostly what I thought might be appropriate things and just tried to stay calm inside myself. I focused on myself and how I was feeling and gave her a fraction of my attention, because what was going on inside myself was the main event really.

There were two things she said, in various ways, that were really difficult to cope with. One was that basically it is not safe to have feelings. I should try my best to get rid of them in some way. I don’t think this is a distortion. I think this is her attitude about feelings. I think it might be most Country X-ers attitude about feelings. That’s the part I wonder about. Anyway, she said in various ways it’s going to affect you negatively to have feelings. Stop having them, and we also talked about not trusting other people. She feels it is necessary to wear a mask and pretend all is well when things are not well at all. I wasn’t surprised by that, but it made me feel absolutely crazy paranoid to hear it. Then she talked about fate. If it is fate for C and I to be together, then we will be together. On the one hand, this made me feel devastatingly helpless. On the other, factually, this seems untrue to me. C has choices about it. I have choices about it. Her parents have choices about it. There is not a lot of fate involved. It’s all human beings. I am leaving because of human beings. The legislative body changed the immigration laws. The immigration ministry decided 3 people will not be allowed to stay (and it is only 3 of us that are affected by this part of the decision). Basically, one person, the immigration minister has decided I should not stay. It is not fate. It is one human being and his power over my life. The idea of karma is in contrast to fate—karma means you are creating your own fate as you go along. But somehow it is rarely understood this way. Karma is more frequently understood as an enshrinement of helplessness.

The bell rang and I thought, “Okay, now I can talk myself down off the ceiling.” I went back to the staffroom—we had been talking outside VP Ma’am’s classroom. Maths Ma’am wanted to go to the bank. I don’t know my account number and she owes me money. She has been repaying me 2,000 a month, but then they changed my account number and she cannot deposit into it. So we went. Maths Ma’am doesn’t wind me up. Either she is kind or she is silent. She is a lot easier to be around than most people. So that helped. Then I went to teach my class.

That was yesterday. The kids cleaned their classrooms and then we went home. There was a football game in the afternoon we had to go to, so we needed to be back at 2:30. I came home and lay down. I was totally exhausted, but I didn’t sleep. C sent me a text. She wanted a recharge. I felt worried about her. I don’t know why I was worried—if I felt insane, or if she was really struggling. “I want something from you,” seems very often to mean, “I want you.” I recharged her and asked if she was okay. I said I felt worried about her. She didn’t answer. She didn’t thank me for the recharge. She didn’t say anything. I took that to mean she wasn’t okay.

I sent her texts in response to that, like spread over time. Every few minutes, I sent another one. Things like I am here and I love you. I asked if she was feeling that pull in her heart to be with someone. I said that feeling is called loneliness. I said to be nice to herself so she feels less scared to connect with people. I realized it was late and I had not made lunch, so I went to the shop and bought two minute noodles and ate them before going to the football game. At the football game, I went on texting her. She was reading them, but not answering. Eventually, I started thinking about the idea of just being there, so I began to text her normal things. I asked what she was doing and she didn’t answer. I said I am watching a football game at school. I had an idea it would help to know where I was and what I was doing, that having a picture of me in my surroundings would help. Then I said tomorrow is Easter and usually kids eat a lot of chocolate on Easter, but she doesn’t like chocolate, so I will have to buy her cake. This was about 2 hours after her initial text.

I got a response at last. She asked if they had an outing tomorrow. On Thursday, I had asked if she would come to my house and had tried to find out from her if I needed to get permission from her matron to take her down or if she would be allowed to leave on her own, but they are not told in advance.

So then we exchanged texts about coming down, and I asked if she wanted to stay the night, or if it hurt her to be in my house. I felt like I had the Teen at that point. She said no, it didn’t hurt her. I think actually it does, but she is shutting down the pain so much, she doesn’t realize it. It might be the pain hits her later and she doesn’t connect it. She has been in my house only a few times and stayed in it overnight only once. Anyway, the point is to keep giving her choices. It isn’t to force her to confront pain she is not yet prepared to cope with. She said she would come in the afternoon. I called the matron then, but she didn’t answer. I sent a text back to C to that effect and said I would ask later. She did not respond to that, but I didn’t feel worried. It didn’t require a response really.

Then later when I did call the matron, the matron also didn’t know, so I sent C a text about that also. I didn’t get a response to that either, and that also felt okay.

Later, thinking about the Teen, and feeling that I had been texting with the teen, I felt a lot of warmth for her. I don’t think I have always been very conscious that I am talking to the Teen, and I think very often the Teen disappears when I am there. What I mean to say is that I don’t know the Teen all that well.

I see the Teen from a distance, when I am watching C interact with her friends or when she is posting on Facebook. In the past, the Teen has made me worried. I haven’t trusted her to take care of C or to make good decisions about her life. But the Teen is trying to grow up. The Teen is trying to differentiate, and sometimes this means cutting herself off from pressure of adult influence so that she can individuate. Sometimes this means it feels she doesn’t give a shit about me or what I think of a situation. It means, probably, in the moment, she cannot lean on the wisdom of more experienced people, because those more experienced people do not necessarily recognize her right to pursue her own dreams.

There is something so lively and wonderful about the Teen, so brave, and so authentic, and I just felt so much warmth. I felt this sense of a flower opening, which I often have with C, and I felt so privileged to see this developing person that she probably often keeps hidden from disapproving adults.

That was last night. Now it’s Sunday, and I am in a state.

Calming down

I went to see C last night. I started to think it would help me to see her, and sometimes it is okay to do that, if I am respectful that she is still getting her needs met. I didn’t know how she would feel about switching up the meeting time from Friday to Thursday. Anyway, I sent a text that said I wanted to come to her friend and I didn’t get anything back.

I arrived earlier than I thought I would, and they were still in the classrooms for “evening study.” There was a dog that had taken a dislike to me so I was heading into the hostel when I saw C. She asked me why I had not gone inside. I told her because I had been talking to one of the girls and then I was talking to the dog. That seemed to be okay with her.

It is strange to feel her worry for me. That question was about worry. “You were outside in the dark and it is not where you are supposed to be and maybe you were not safe.” There is a feeling I have about it, kind of a picture in my head, and it’s kind of like I need to be in the place she put me last. I need to stay in those places, so that I will be safe. I have a feeling of being a toy in Toy Story being expected to stay on the toy shelf. It makes me think the worry comes from having adults in her life that are not actually very capable and do not seem to be capable of taking care of themselves. They cannot completely be trusted to decide where they are supposed to stay. The other thing about this is that I feel differently about myself and about taking care of myself because of her. I feel my own vulnerability more strongly and I feel more motivated to be responsible towards myself, because I know she values me.

Anyway, she went to wash the dishes then. When she came back, her cousin had come and her cousin went to get dinner. I had brought momos to C and she kind of hid them behind something. I don’t know when she planned to eat them. I didn’t say anything. I just noticed it. C straightened the books and clothes on her friend’s bed while she was waiting for dinner to come. She seemed very normal.

She asked if I had brought her phone. I told her no. It was not Friday and I told her I would bring it on Friday. So we discussed that. It seemed to be okay, but I guess she was probably disappointed. “You don’t want to come tomorrow?” she looked worried, but I think she was worried about her phone and not about seeing me. I said I would either come or send it up tomorrow.

I had been talking to VP Ma’am and then, on the walk up, a boy in her class about C’s participation in a debate on Saturday. So I told her I had heard about that and I had heard she did a good job. She disagreed with me and she asked who told me, so I said the boy’s name. I said I was proud of her. She was still folding clothes and arranging books in stacks. I made her stop and look at me. “I am proud of you.” I could tell she was not really taking it in. I wanted her to hear it at least a little bit, that someone could be proud of her.

Dinner came then. I didn’t talk much while they ate together. I was thinking about leaving her and I started to think she’s fine. For once, she is kind of okay, and I don’t need to tell her exactly right now. I can let her have a nice evening with me right now and talk to her later. I came to feel better and I do feel better. I don’t need to actually tell her. I asked if she would come down on Sunday. She said she would. I asked if they had an “outing.” She didn’t know. I asked what time she wanted to come. She didn’t know that either.

Then she said, “It’s going 7:30. You go now.”

I asked some other question about meeting her on Sunday, maybe the time again. I can’t remember.

She said, “Go now,” with kind of big eyes. I could see at this point she was having trauma activated. Her body had become stiff. I could see the stiffness of it. I suppose that is from intense fear. I pulled her to me and hugged her and kissed her. I did this twice. She was very stiff, but I think she still likes it. I told her I would send her a text when I got home. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge now that this is important, but I think it really is. I think she needs to know after the parting that I am still there. I am still safe.

I walked home after that in the dark, and it was a pleasant walk. I felt, again, very calm and grounded leaving her. I think there were moments when I had various trauma thing surface—they had before I came—and I just took note that it was happening. That had happened on the way up: I became very dissociated and felt unreal and disconnected. I just noted that it was happening and that I probably felt very scared to go up. The approach is going to be scary and it’s okay. It’s just baby trauma.

In the night, it became very difficult for me though. I was just terrified. I started to think this is how a baby feels when it cries for mom. It’s really terrified. Babies have no brakes on their feelings, and the feeling just consumes them. I lay in bed, and I felt the extreme tension in my stomach. I guess I slept eventually and I felt terrified in the morning. Later, I started to feel better though. I began to feel that I could think again. A plan began to form in my head about C.

I suppose I felt more hopeful because she was coping when I came, or seemed to be. It might be better to try to keep her at the high school here: it will be less change for her and less upset than being with her parents. I can maybe talk to her uncle or her grandmother about taking charge of her later in the year, especially if she is doing well in school and I can support her financially through them. Then I can reapply to return in a year. I won’t probably get placed here, but they seem to place teachers at schools in this region quite a lot of the time. It might be possible to be at a nearby school so that at least sometimes I can see C. Meanwhile, I can try to concentrate on teaching her self-regulation skills more and on trying to explain how her own baby trauma is affecting her, so that she is more able to manage without me. I will ask C what she wants, but I think this might be what she wants. I will ask her on Sunday and we can go from there.

The thing is it is nice to feel my brain is still kind of working.

I just sent C a text though—I suddenly remembered she asked for a voucher, and I forgot. It was interesting to feel how much I felt afraid after I sent it. She’s in class. She won’t see the text until later, so it isn’t the lack of response. It’s the approach, even when she is not actually there at that moment. It’s very scary to me.

Feeling foreigner stress

Special Country X annoyances I did not fully appreciate before:

People who yell when they walk into a room for no discernible reason. You know, just so that people notice they have walked into the room.

People who hum.

People who say absolutely every thought they have out loud, even when no one is listening.

Last, but not least, adults who cannot read silently. Seriously, in a staff meeting, if there is a slide on a Powerpoint screen, you will hear 24 adults independently reading out loud.

People who like to read out loud for me in case I failed in 2nd grade and cannot read independently. They get through a paragraph and I have to tell them I have finished reading the page.

Since I am on a roll here, I don’t know why people have to fight constantly about petty things. The conflict here is constant. And don’t kids normally stop arguing about who bumped into whom by fourth grade? Or am I just unaware?

 

Care

It feels like I have been struggling all week. I get kind of stabilized and then I lose it and I am not sure why. I mean, I am not sure why this week feels harder than last week or the week before.

There is something in what happened on Sunday that feels very painful though and maybe that is some part of it. It doesn’t make sense, actually, but it hurts so much I find it hard to even think about.

It is when I was leaving. I told C to walk out with me. I didn’t realize she was also leaving the hostel—I might have guessed that she was, because she had just gotten dressed, but I didn’t think about it. I pulled her by the wrist, and I said, “Walk out with me.” I don’t know what she said then. She might have said wait. That hurts though. It’s not the part that hurts the most, but it does hurt.

Her skin felt so good. I suppose I am feeling the vulnerability of that. It felt so good, because it is C’s skin. I know what her skin feels like, and when I touch I recognize it as being hers, and I think the recognition is painful in some way to me. I think it has to do with continuity. Hugging her is not like hugging anyone else, because it is her. I know what her body feels like to hold and I know what her body does when I hold it. I know what it is expressing to me when it does different things.

Anyway, we walked out, and I could feel her shifting into Detached Mode. I could feel the stiffness in her body, and a sense that was something like rage. I was walking very close to her and she lifted her arms to do something with her hair and when she did that, she bumped into me in a way that felt like a push.

The thing is, though, that she was walking with me. She was struggling with her feelings of fear and distrust and anger, but she was walking with me. Sometimes, I have this feeling that I “ought” to feel hurt by what she does or that I “should” feel rejected. But I don’t. I was walking next to her and I could feel how much she wanted to push me away, literally, physically wanted to push me, but she went on walking beside me and the sense I have instead of being hurt is how valued I am, and I think that’s what is making me struggle so much. It is so difficult for her to cope with what is going on inside her head. It is so painful and so difficult, and she is trying so hard because the relationship with me is so important to her.

I think I have been struggling, because I don’t feel confident I have a right to interpret my world in my own way. The ways her behaviour might be interpreted by someone else would be very different, and I know that, and I don’t feel I have the right to my own view about it. I don’t feel I have the right to feel very honoured by what she is doing or to believe that she is working so hard to cope with what is inside her because she values the connection with me. There was a point when maybe she controlled her behaviour because I am an authority figure, because she was worried about what other people will think, but now I don’t feel it’s about that. She is controlling her behaviour because she values me and she doesn’t really want me to go and she doesn’t actually want to hurt me. There are times when she is angry at me and she says hurtful things to me—when I told her we had called her mother, one of the things she said was that at midterm, she will go to some other place, she won’t stay with me. Actually, I don’t think her family will consult with me about where she goes at midterm. Maybe they will, but I think she will just be given instructions. Anyway, the point is really that not staying with me at midterm doesn’t hurt me, but she could say things that would hurt me if she tried harder. She said it to hurt me, because she was angry, but with a little more effort she could have found something much more hurtful to say.

She wants to hurt me because she is in pain, but she doesn’t want to hurt me because she loves me and this restraint she exercises when she is in so much turmoil inside is as expressive of how much she values me as a different child constantly reaching out to me.

In popular, we have the idea that we might make someone fight their demons for us or that somehow our love can save someone and inevitably it turns out to be untrue. The person always loses their battle with addiction or whatever it is. Love is never a strong enough motivator. I suppose I am putting her behaviour into those terms, but that is what it looks like. She is trying to cope with what is in her head so that she can have a relationship with me and so that she does not really push me away. It won’t be enough if I cannot help her cope, but there is just something so profoundly moving about seeing someone work to maintain a connection and a relationship when it is so clearly difficult.

When we got to the gate and began to go in different directions, I hugged her. I probably kissed her hair. I usually do. I said, “I love you,” and she said, “Okay, go now,” in hoarse, wounded kind of way. It was clearly hurting at this point, and she could not reveal her vulnerability in her words. She couldn’t say, “I love you too,” although she says it when we text. She had said it before I came up. So I suppose that’s something else I need to interpret in my own way, because I don’t feel rejected by her being unable to reveal her vulnerability in her words. It felt to me to be in her body and in her face. What I saw was, “It is hurting so much that you are walking away from me. As soon as I can’t see you, I worry what will happen to you.” The pain is not because she loves me: it is baby trauma. The fear about what will happen to me is not love either. That is also baby trauma, but the baby trauma gets activated because of the care between us. And I have just never felt cared about like this. Never in my whole life have I felt so much care.

And More Still Me

It seems like I had some insight last night and again this morning about the importance of self-constancy and object-constancy or whatever it is called. It’s so important and I think also so much a part of the pain.

I was imagining reaching for a parent figure who isn’t reliable, who is suddenly triggered by anger or is overcome by depression or is just not in an empathetic frame of mind. As a child, you are forming your sense of self, and we get that from other people. We see ourselves as we imagine others see us (the mirror self). And the idea you will get from that is that you are not the same all of the time. Sometimes, it seems that the child does not exist to the parent at all. They have kind of disappeared to the parent and it’s going to create a sense of one’s own self as someone who disappears. Other times the child is bad or shameful to the parent, and then it’s like still being there, but being an entirely different person. It’s confusing, but I think it creates an ongoing grief for the child in the heart of the child. The connection to the parent cannot be retained, but the self cannot be held in mind either.

I look back at my childhood, all the terrible, shameful, painful parts of it, and I think, “But I was still me. That happened to me and I was still me. Different things are happening to me now, but I am the same person. I have grown up and learned a lot of things since then and I have a lot more power too, but I am still me. That was me in my memories and I am me now.” There are times when more conventional approaches to trauma seem to deny that and keep the feeling of inconstancy alive.

A sense of connection to the past—to all its good and bad parts—is necessary and important. Those things happened to me. They were very painful, but I was still me. I don’t have to chop off bits of me to survive. I don’t have to shut down certain feelings or deny particular feelings in order to be okay. I can be okay now, like this, with these memories and the feelings I have about those memories and inside the memories.

I am still me.

I guess I was contrasting this with how I imagined it before, which is simply that maybe I never had the experiences that allowed me to form a continuous self. Now, I think of it differently. It was not a failure to develop, but a development in a different direction. In reality, I had experiences that created a discontinuous sense of self. I had a parent who did not behave as if I could be remembered or held in mind as a continuous person, and that is a part of the trauma—these experiences where I seemed to no longer exist to my parent. There was an ongoing loss of connection, self and other, because of my parent’s inability to behave in a consistent and predictable manner towards me. My mother appeared to stop being herself and I seemed to stop being myself to her. Every time that happened, and it probably happened many times a day, I felt grief for the connection, for my mother, and for myself. I had all of these actual deaths to contend with and there was also this. The people who died were the ones who seemed to be able to remember me, who seemed to be able to hold me in their minds as someone who existed through time and remained the same person, and I think that added to things. When they died, there was a loss of the person I was to them, but I persisted. I am still here. Whoever I am.

Worries

The last 36 hours or so have been very difficult. I don’t know why exactly. I have been too wound up to even be able to pinpoint the reason. I guess Sunday was the first time I have really spent that long in C’s hostel. Most visits have been brief, and I was there for I guess about an hour and a half. It seemed like there was a lot of closeness during the discussion about the phone. C seemed very present, and she probably extended more of herself. It was probably also the first time something like that had happened to her, where an authority figure listened to her talk about her needs and desires and then considered them in a thoughtful way. I think it probably triggered a lot of feelings for her.

I wasn’t with her most of the time I was there. She was running around doing her own things. That might have triggered her even more. Somewhere in her mind, she might have wondered and been anxious: “Am I allowed to do my own things? Am I allowed to flee from the closeness when it feels too scary for me?”

I don’t know exactly. But when I left, she was in Detached Mode walking out and slipping towards Abused Child as we parted. I sent her a text when I got home, and no one replied to me—not C, not the girl whose phone it is. So I know that triggered me for my own reasons. But it also worried me because it’s a shift in the pattern. For two weeks, I have sent a text when I got home, and then got a series of follow-up texts in reply from her. There was a shift this time, and it was as though I finally had the old pattern of relating worked out.

Real people are moving targets. Their needs shift. Their experiences vary. I don’t know how to respond to the new pattern or what it means.

I am keenly aware that, with C, I am just guessing. It’s a totally new set of needs for me, I am playing it by ear all of the time, making it up as I go along and hoping for the best. It’s harder sometimes because I have no one in real life to talk about it with. I can talk about it, but the responses I get are not really helpful. I don’t know anyone trying to parent a child with an attachment disorder and you really can’t parent a teenager with an attachment disorder in the same way as a typical teenager. I have learned this somewhat the hard way. There are times when reaching out to others only serves to emphasize my isolation, or it gives me more triggers to deal with than I had before. My least favourite response is a frequent one: “Don’t worry.” Okay, I spent 42 years trying not to feel unpleasant emotions. As it turns out, that doesn’t work out well in the long run. The fact is, I don’t know what to do, and until I know I am going to feel worried. The key isn’t to disconnect from the feeling, but to understand that I am worried. I cannot turn to someone else for advice and feel that I know, because no one around me knows either. Even people far away don’t know. They might understand the issues but they don’t know C. They don’t know what is going on for her at this moment, and neither do I. I need to be with the worry and to accept it, and that’s going to bring down my level of anxiety much better than trying to disconnect from my feelings.

The other thing is that I am not entirely sure what has triggered my worry. The change in the pattern is certainly part of it, and the feeling that I don’t know what to do. I am not sure how to respond to her or whether or not I need to step in with soothing. I sent a text to her friend last night and asked if C had recharged her, because C has used up quite a lot of her balance texting. I thought the voucher C had asked me for was for this girl, but I didn’t feel sure we had understood each other. I got a response back that seemed to be from C—no, she hadn’t. the voucher had been for someone else. Probably, she hadn’t told me, because she thought I would be angry at how much time or money she was spending talking on the phone. I don’t think C quite understands yet what my own criteria for phone usage is: it should be to get support from people who care about her. That’s probably a conversation we need to have when I give her the phone back for the weekend.

I haven’t worked with C on using any grounding techniques and that somehow needs to happen to, so that she can recognize when she feels more grounded and when she feels less grounded. She needs some kind of standard to judge things against in terms of whether or not she is okay, because the one she is using now is probably a lot like mine was: Am I having unpleasant feelings right now?

I suppose I need to consider that: When is a good time to do those things? I was thinking of calling her to my house on Saturday night—Sunday is my Easter and I wanted to play with her. But it happens to be a busy weekend for her also, preparing for Teacher’s Day. And I also think spending the night in my house is too much right now. It’s too intense and too many feelings.

Maybe I was worried about that: my gut instinct is than an overnight stay is too much, but there are all these other reasons it makes sense to do it. Except that C is C. Except that she has an attachment disorder. Except that she is not like other teenagers. Except that I live in reality, and not among widgets. Maybe I was afraid to live in reality. Sometimes the sense of compulsion to live among widgets and not acknowledge her uniqueness or my uniqueness is overwhelming. Our own minds are always the models for how we imagine other people. Added onto that we have our experiences with other people. So when I talk to other people about her or about myself, that is what they are doing. They are starting from themselves and their own experiences in order to understand me and to understand her. It leads to a sense of widgety-ness, because I am not like them and she is not like other kids they know.

It makes it harder, perhaps, because I am worried and they are not worried. So, in some cases, my worry makes it very clear that I don’t know what to do: Because I don’t know what to do. They are not worried, and so it makes it seem to them and sometimes to me that they do know what to do. It’s an illusion though. They just know less and so they have a feeling of confidence. I know more. I know more about C and I know more about disordered attachment and that is the reason I am so worried. I know more and I also know what I don’t know. The people around me know less, and they don’t know what they don’t know.

If I think I shouldn’t call her to my house for an overnight stay because it will be too intense for her, I am probably right. Invisible people in my head imagine this is not a big deal and that she is not as fragile as I think she is, but they are wrong. Invisible people in my head also think that because she cannot cope with her grief and trauma that gets triggered when she feels close to me, she does not care for me or she is not grateful, but that is also not true. She is grateful and she does care. That is part of what she cannot cope with.

She pushed me away, emotionally, at the moment of our parting, because she does care and she is grateful and she cannot cope with her shame about needing to be taken care of and she cannot cope with her feelings of vulnerability at worrying what will happen to me when I get out of eyesight and she cannot make sure I am safe anymore. If you don’t know what disordered attachment is like, you won’t know that. And most people don’t. Most people have absolutely no idea about it. I have a vague idea, but most people have no idea whatsoever.

More later. Time for school.

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