Weird stuff in my head

I have been crying a lot today. I have also been eating potato chips with Country X ketchup (which is kind of more like barbecue sauce) and watching Gavin and Stacy clips and SNL. I think a part of me is getting that I can feel really bad and later not feel bad.

The sad part of me really wants to be seen. She wants all of that sadness and despair to be seen and to matter and for someone to care about it. I think it does not quite feel me yet. Kind of. But then its sense of me-ness kind of slips away. I have a feeling it slips away when the pain becomes too great. It gets shut down then, and it’s hard to think something is you when you can’t feel it. You can’t even feel that echo of, “Oh, I felt that way when this happened.”

I have been thinking about the sense of aliveness that comes from feeling seen and cared about. I see some of the kids in my classes going through that. The Boy’s sister is one of them. There is a boy in each of my class 4s I see going through that too. Friday, one of the boys—Angry Boy, I have mentioned him before—was acting up in the class. He made noises at one point, and I could see that wave of pleasure go through him when I reprimanded him, like”Oh, she noticed me. I got her attention.”

The other boy just kind of goes insane. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like he’s been taken over by Happy Baby force and starts playing in whatever way he can. Today, he saw me and started wrestling with the boy next to him, grinning the whole time, like he’s so happy he doesn’t know what to do with himself.

C has gone through this too. Last year, I remember seeing it. I have pictures in my mind of times she just began to play. I didn’t know she was going through anything. I just thought that was her personality. I hadn’t known her very well before I really started to take an interest in her and give daily support to her. I did know her, but not very well.

When someone notices you and pays attention to you and responds to you and this has not happened very much before in your life, then it’s like the lights coming on.

It’s Happy Baby that feels so shameful, and it is split off for that reason. Problems in performance are shame-inducing for me, but Happy Baby is more so. I have never really felt it before. I have never felt, “Oh, I am doing something I like, that resonates for me, and I am happy.” There was too much anxiety at wanting connection with myself, at wanting to do things that feel good to me. I know that’s hard to grasp, but I know this happy feeling inside me feels like a good feeling.

The thing is I didn’t recognize the thing that felt good as being the trigger. I noticed what came after it. So, in the past, I might have thought done something I enjoyed and then suddenly thought about how much time I was wasting. I never would have realized the cause being the feeling of connection, which sensitized me to noticing the anxious thought of having work to do, or shame about spending too much money on internet vouchers, or whatever. I never would have thought doing things that feel good to me might be where it all started, because there is no real part of me thinks there is something wrong with watching SNL for example. I don’t think there is something wrong with cheering myself up when I am sad either. In fact, there is not really anything tying the things that feel good together in my mind aside from the sensation of feeling good. I mean, I would feel just as ashamed about having a nice conversation with someone or giving C’s friend CW money last night (which I did). It’s the warm bubble inside that feels shameful.

Human beings look for patterns. I have a suspicion my mother was so reactive and so sensitive, that the only commonality to what seemed to make her angry was that bubble of happiness. There was no other pattern.

Last year, around this time, I felt very happy because of C, but it was less in my body. There was much more a sense of hope and optimism, like a positive distortion of my thoughts, rather than a feeling inside.

So I was crying and feeling sad and bereft and then watching comedy clips and feeling happy inside. Part of me was taking note of this—I think just seeing that feelings come and go. They don’t last forever. They always lasted forever before, probably because I didn’t feel like one person. In some way, it was like I was stuck being whatever feeling I had forever even when the feeling went away, because the sense of being that person ended with that emotion.


The present

I am responding to the present. I was thinking about that this morning. Something is really happening in my mind lately that is making it is easier to connect things—easier to connect emotions and events. I am processing a lot more. Some of it, I think, is belief. It never seemed possible that I could be responding to the present in this way. It didn’t make any sense. I had no idea even what about the present I was responding to.

But I am seeing some of the people around me go through the same things I am. There are one or two children in each of my classes who are going through some of the same things I am, and VP Ma’am is, and C is. So I am watching people around me, and it makes me realize it is not all about this deep old wound that needs to be found and cleaned out, so to speak, and once that is done, everything is fine. It is about the present.

I watch these kids in class and I can see once they become sensitized—once there is that moment of connection—a lot of how they respond after that depends on what happens around them. If something happens, and they seem to be under threat, they respond angrily. If it doesn’t they don’t. It isn’t as though there is all of this pent-up anger about the past that needs to be released. Thinking about their childhoods would make them angry, but this isn’t suppressed anger. This is someone came into their personal space, or took their ruler without permission, or criticized them when they were in a sensitive moment.

They have been conditioned into finding connection dangerous, and once that happens they are hypervigilant, and they will become very reactive to threat. But if there is no threat, they don’t react.

That is what is going on in my brain. I am sensitive right now, and I am reacting a lot internally, and I just have a lot of feelings to calm down. All of the calming down is going to teach me that connection is not dangerous. This normally happens when we are kids. People around us teach us what is dangerous and what isn’t. We aren’t born knowing what to be afraid of and what not to be afraid of, and our culture and our family and our parent teach us via their emotions. We get scared and don’t need to be scared, and the calm of the people around us gets transferred to us, and then we learn that’s okay. We aren’t scared of it anymore. Eventually. We aren’t scared of dangerous things, and the alarm of everyone around us gets transferred to us in the same way and we learn we should be afraid. We learn through our own experience also, but we learn a lot without actually getting hurt.

Anyway, in the past this has felt like it couldn’t be possible, and my brain has felt to me like a very mysterious place to be, and also like what is in it can’t be there. It’s not possible. I think I pathologized, rather than accepting it. It feels so much better not to see it as a sign of how defective I am, but just to accept it.

I came to school and I was writing this in the staff room. It was mostly quiet, but the students had arrived and they were carrying plastic jugs to the taps to fill up for handwashing by the classrooms later, because there are not very many taps at the school. If everyone stood around at the same taps to wash their hands at lunch time, about 600 students would give up the whole thing as a lost cause and eat with dirty hands. And they do eat with their hands mostly.

So the kids were carrying plastic jugs to the taps, and generally when they do this, they bang on them. And I was in a sensitive place. I felt scared.

It helped a lot to realize oh, yes, they are making loud noises and I am in this sensitive place and it scares me. In the past, I would not have had any idea why I was scared. I get that’s what transference is supposed to be, but there is some different flavour to transference that makes it feel different to me: maybe because it contrasts past and present, and my parents have probably not actually changed. My mother is probably still out-of-control at home. She probably still screams and throws things when she feels rejected. I am not in that house, but the dynamic within my family is not an artifact. It continues to exist. I am just not in it.

This isn’t about time changing. It is about my social environment changing. But the social environment continues to exist. It is not even the past for me, because there are other people like my parents. They can’t realistically hit me, but they do express their emotions in the same ways. They do intrusively demand my attention just as my mother did.

I gave the pancakes and some other things, money and a letter also, to VP Ma’am’s daughter in the morning to give to C. This had a lot of meaning for me. Walking away, I felt very emotional. When I got to school, I began to feel worthless and suicidal—something like that. I have begun to recognize this as rejection. I feel rejected now. I began to think back on what had just happened, and I realized I had parted from someone at a sensitive moment. I also thought there was probably a point when a parting would have been an expression of anger. My mother walked away from me as an expression of anger, just as I have learned to do: I constrain the impulse most of the time, but I have done it.

It isn’t the meaning of the behaviour in this moment—the girls are walking to their school and I am walking to my school—but it has had that meaning before, and I do have to process that. Oh, yes, partings sometimes mean someone is angry at me and didn’t like something I did. Hmmm. Not this time though. We all left with smiles on our faces. And that helped a little. I still felt insane, but less so. It isn’t always the external world I am reacting to in these moments. Sometimes it’s my own mind—it’s something I thought. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by shame suddenly and then I will look back and realize I just had something I haven’t done cross my mind. That’s what did this to me. I am having an emotional reaction of disapproval to myself.

It’s different for me, because there aren’t words. I didn’t get that far, I think. I think for other people it’s easier than this. Their shame cascades in shaming words. They know what they feel bad about. I just think life is hopeless and I am worthless in a global way and I can’t even readily name what started it all. Now, I am being able to name what started it.

More later.


I am having a hard time.

Tonight seems a bit better, but last night I felt totally insane and I continued to feel insane in the morning.

On Wednesday, I saw C, as I described in an earlier post. That had something to do with it. In the morning, during first period, which is usually a time I am alone or nearly alone in the staff room, I was writing something. I hadn’t brought my laptop charger and there was no battery—very frustrating—but I was writing by hand. I was thinking about meeting C and touching her. I was thinking about that, how it feels so good to touch her.

And then suddenly VP Ma’am walked in. She had some English question, which I answered and then when the question was answered, she lingered—I think sensing that I didn’t want her to stay very long, but not wishing to go.

At that point, I needed to shift my thoughts toward teaching my next class. But she lingered, and I then did not have time to prepare for my class, and I had to go late to my class. It was only a matter of minutes, but it seems like that frequently happens. I know how long five minutes is. If I have a lot I want to do, then there will only be five minutes to do it, and if someone comes along and hems and haws through those five minutes, I cannot do much to hurry it along. Usually, they don’t. And then suddenly someone does.

I went to my class and managed as best I could, but I was really quite livid from feeling trapped into this conversation, when I had been in the middle of this time with myself that I really needed to have. The whole day was hard, but I suppose I managed. Pretty much, as soon as I was alone again, I felt insane. Just more and more insane.

This morning, I got up really early, thinking I would get some work done. I am behind on nearly everything I ought to be doing. Instead, I realized I needed to process and calm down. By 8 am, I felt almost normal. Then I was reading an article online in the staffroom and very much enjoying reading it, and VP Ma’am came in again with some other question. I don’t really mind her questions. It’s just sometimes I wonder, why then? Does she know I need time alone? She might.

I have noticed that people actually are responding to me. Not all of the time, but some of the time they are. After lunch, when I had a free period, I was very intent on my work, and one of the National Language teachers came in. I knew it was her, but I didn’t look up, and she was as it turned out carrying a staple gun and shot it off to get my attention. She sad, in fact, it was to get my attention and to interrupt me, and made a joke about it. But there are these times when I am very intent on something and enjoying myself and my work, and someone does something to get attention, because they don’t like that.

Before first period, another teacher came into the staffroom making loud attention-grabbing noises like a small boy. (He is one of the oldest men on the staff, so imagine someone in his 60s). He does that. I began to deal with this by telling him Good morning or whatever when he came in the room, because it is so clearly about attention.

The thing is they want attention when I am working, and it makes no difference to them that I lose my train of thought, I lose all of the pleasure of working, because they feel left out of what I am doing and so they want me to stop doing it. So it very well might be that VP Ma’am saw me doing something intently and felt impulsively like she wanted my attention.

Anyway, what I was reading online was about late-term abortion for medical reasons—it was someone’s personal story. After VP Ma’am left I began to think about why that was such a tender moment for me, and why I felt so enraged at her interrupting me from it and then prolonging the interruption. And it made me realized that while I don’t feel at all sure of what really happened to me in childhood, some things seem like they did happen.

I think I did have a miscarriage. Things are starting to connect in my mind in a way that makes my life make real sense instead of a forced sense. There are feelings inside that provide resonance and authenticity and make it possible to make connections between events. I had that miscarriage in 8th grade, I think, and later, taking biology classes and learning about genetic diseases, I think there was a sense of recognition, like, “Oh, the baby might have died because there was something wrong with it. It might not have been that I was a bad mother and couldn’t protect her.” And there is a feeling inside about it. I am not just putting together logical pieces or things I might have just as easily imagined.

I am having feelings, authentic feelings, not dissociated guesswork, but real feelings inside my body, and it is creating an entirely different experience for me. I am starting to be able to link events in my life in the present as well as the past, because the feelings are there inside me. That’s probably why I felt so insane. Me. Shameful. Deserve to die.


There is something about this that I think relates to C. Emotionally, there is a linkage. It feels so good to touch C, to feel that she has all of her body parts, and she is okay. It feels really, really good. She’s my baby. She isn’t that baby. She isn’t the baby I lost, but I do call her baby. She is this evidence for me that life goes on. Somehow it also seems important to me that I am the same person. These are the same hands, even if they are a lot older. The same hands that held my tiny, dead fetus strokes C’s hair.

Lots of C

On Sunday, I gave C curry in The Boy’s hot case. I thought she would send it down on Monday—I think I told her it was his lunch box.

Anyway, she didn’t. In the evening I sent her a text about it. Tuesday, the hot case did not arrive still. I sent another text. Wednesday, I pretty much figured I would have to go and get it myself. There was something about the hot case that she couldn’t cope with.

I was walking home, and ran into one of her old neighbours, a day student at the same school. Not in the same class, but in the same school. She said C was sick.

Not surprising maybe. C had to know after 3 days I would come for the hot case, and in the past she has had some vague but intense physical pain when she expected to see me. Isn’t disordered attachment fun?

I walked up as soon as school got out. I saw her before I got to the hostel. She and her friends were standing near a holy site kind of thing—a small one. She had that so depressed she might be dead look on her face. I went and stood next to her.

“Why you come?”

I said her friend had told me she was sick. I asked her what happened. Some kind of mysterious pain in her side. Gone, evidently. She began to cheer up. She asked a friend to get the hotcase for me. Why a friend needed to get it, I don’t know. Maybe she wasn’t allowed to leave her assigned place, or maybe she couldn’t bear the hotcase. I went with the friend to the gate of the hostel and waited there. The dog who bites sometimes and can’t make up his mind about me was sitting in the pathway. It seemed better to wait. We were upon the point of making friends when the friend returned with the hot case.

I went back up and C was standing near the holy site where she had been before, but in the road. I stood next to her and talked to her for a while. I can’t really remember what was said. Mostly arrangements. I would see her Sunday. She didn’t want to come down. She wanted to study. I don’t think she actually does study when she gives that excuse. It’s just hard to come to my house. I said okay. She should get to have some choices.

She again wanted vouchers. She had that beautiful, shy, I adore you look on her face. I don’t really know what causes that. It would melt a stone. Still, I did think for a minute and said yes. I thought, but I don’t really know what I thought about. I hugged her and went down again.

There was a very long chat over text when I got to my house, because she wanted 100 and I had given 50. I asked her why before deciding, and I told her I was thinking about it and thinking was important to do for her. These exchanges I think are important, even if they over something minor. That experience of having someone ask your point of view and take it into consideration. I eventually said yes. It was based on the reasons she gave me and also thinking she wants balance left over just in case. Who knows if this is right or wrong: she might be talking on the phone all the time and not studying at all. But the exchange over it makes her feel heard. And it’s going a lot better than before midterm. There is less desperation. The little parts aren’t screaming.

I don’t really know what she does on the phone, if she talks to the people she says she wants to talk to, or if she tells me the people she believes I will approve of. She does lie to get what she wants. There isn’t much I can do about that. Sometimes you have to do your best and just let go.

She has been telling me lately she misses me. This is partly to get vouchers out of me—I want to chat with you, she says. Then sends 2 or 3 messages at most, which doesn’t cost 50. But I think it is also true. I think she does miss me.

But I also can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine why anyone would miss me or want me. I think it’s a failure in my ability to imagine attachment altogether. It’s sad actually. Really, really sad.

There is one more thing. One of C’s friends whom I have never really met—I have seen her, actually, but not ever talked to her beyond good morning—has been chatting with me on Facebook. Not often, but maybe 3 times. She is actually a real person. I know that she is. I recognize her from seeing her in the bazaar. The first time, she asked to adopt her as sister, and I said yes for some reason. I just had a warm feeling about her in that moment and impulsively agreed. I don’t have any idea what that means.

But there are times when I wonder if I am really chatting with C. It does just sound a lot like her. Their names are very similar—different by only one letter, but it isn’t really that suggestive. They are both very common names. CZ and CW and the Z name rhymes with the W name. However, for girls, those two second names are among the most common. It’s somehow more the voice and the feeling I have when I am chatting. It just feels the same.

Also, tonight, the madam dropped off and I think only C does that. Every other student says, “Yes, madam.” “No, madam,” “Good night, madam.” “Did you eat dinner, madam?” It wouldn’t be maybe terribly surprising, if that helped C cope with her shame, to pretend to be someone else for a while, someone with almost the same name but who isn’t actually her.

I think probably some stuff about ordinary life got left out. Maybe I am repeating. I am not sure. I was sick for a while. I thought of sending The Boy back to his house while I was sick, and it was just too difficult. But it was hard. And if I am not okay, he becomes less regulated—maybe that’s the word. He didn’t come home when he was supposed and stayed a long time out playing before doing his homework, and I knew it was because I didn’t have the energy to force him to come home. He needs me to be strong, and I am not strong.

I took leave for 2 days, then we had a holiday, then the king of Thailand died, and we had a “day of mourning.” Saturday was a full work day for us, however. By then I was feeling somewhat better, but I didn’t get to rest. I came home and The Boy had not washed his school uniform as instructed, he had not done any homework. He had, however, made noodles for lunch and left a big mess in the kitchen.

I asked his friend outside where he was. At the video game shop. So I got him and called him home and made him clean the kitchen. Then then the next day he was grounded. I didn’t let him leave the house. I didn’t let him play with his friend. This has probably never happened to him, because most Country Xers just hit their kids. It’s painful, but quick. You don’t spend a whole day having to think about what you have done and what the consequences were. Physical violence creates a conditioning, but doesn’t create impulse control.

Anyway, that seemed to be okay in the end. What has to be done. Then I went to meet C, and she was very much in a dysregulated, disordered attachment state. And I came home and couldn’t calm down. The Boy is used to lots of noise. He is used to sleeping with the lights on and he isn’t tired at 8 pm the way I am, and he also is not used to sleeping alone. Country Xers very often never learn to stop being afraid of the dark. I don’t know how this happened, but some of them just keep the lights burning all night long.

That particular night, it was hard for me. I made him turn off the light and finally sent him to the other room to watch cartoons, because I could not calm my body down. In the morning, I couldn’t calm down either.

Suddenly, I thought of checking the alarm time. I don’t change it, but the Boy has done this a few time, and I wake up in the small hours of the morning and can’t sleep again. The first time, I am sure it was an accident. He didn’t know what the dials did. He turned them, and still had no idea. After it happened, I told him not to. He did it again.

Anyway, I checked it. When would I have woken up? 11:30 pm. I was livid. Absolutely livid, because if I can at least sleep decently, then there is some hope I can cope with the rest of life. If I can’t even sleep, then life pretty much goes to hell.

I scolded him pretty harshly, and I asked him why he did it. He didn’t like being grounded, and he thought I would let him play sooner. Well, that might be the case, but it seems unlikely. Unless he is stupid, he can see that that doesn’t change the time. And he could also see I was looking at my watch and not the clock.

More likely, he was angry, and that is his way of punishing me. But I cannot have someone with passive aggressive behaviour in my house. I can’t have someone who wants to hurt me in my house, even if he is 12 and I am an adult. I’ll never be able to calm the fuck down.


After that, I was very activated and I just could not calm down, and I had this child in the house who, partly being a child and partly having disordered attachment, doesn’t accept boundaries. If he wants something, he takes it. He has broken, stolen, or lost quite a number of my things since he came to the house. This is actually not very unusual Country X behaviour, and the parents complain that their kids are very naughty—meaning, they don’t accept boundaries.

Anyway, I spent some time thinking about this in the morning. Being angry and thinking.

When I got to school—he went ahead of me—I sat him down and told him I can’t do it. I can’t have him stay in my house. I am unable to care for him. I have too much work and too much other stress.

Which is true.

He was sad and accepted it. In the evening he called me from his house with an idea to bring me vegetables and stay in the evening. I said no. He accepted that, and brought vegetables, which is okay.

In the evening, however, he appeared at my house asking to stay. The hard part about this somehow is there is this cultural difference and for me no really means no. If I don’t need to say no, I will not say no. If I am not sure, I will discuss it and if I can say yes, I will say yes.

But Country Xers sometimes start with no and work from there. You really do have to fight for things, because no does not always mean no. So The Boy is trying a strategy that has worked for him before. A guilt trip (vegetables), then pleading.

I told him to go to his house. It was going to get dark soon and he should have left for home a long time ago. I told him to call me when he got home.

He didn’t call. Finally, around 8 pm I realized he hadn’t called, and I called his mom. Not there.

After a while, I got a call from him a bit later. He had gone to his aunt’s house, where I had told him not to go, because I know what he is doing. He is avoiding having to face being home, and avoiding the problem isn’t going to make it go away.

Also, that’s the third strategy: first guilt, then pleading, then defiance.

This morning, I feel so angry about it. It’s all so complicated, and I can’t calm down enough to think straight. But it is my house, and I don’t want to have to hit someone in order to make that person respect it. And that is how it feels. It feels as though I need to hit him in order to make him understand that the house is not his to live in.

I just can’t calm down today.


I feel today like I can’t put things into words the way I want them to be. I keep coming back to the idea of a continuous self really being the main issue for me, at least at this point in my life. And I get how it happened, which helps a lot. I feel a lot less ashamed about what is going on with me.

Learning to calm my body had to happen first. I couldn’t create safety for myself without that. It took a really, really long time. It might have taken less time if I had understood why I needed to do it—that if you aren’t responded to as a child, you aren’t cuddled and rocked when you are activated, you don’t learn how to feel safe again. Your body doesn’t know how to do that.

It had to happen first, because it was too frightening for me to have feelings and needs. I couldn’t respond to my needs until it felt safe for me to know what they were.

I am pretty sure the therapy I had assumed I could calm my body down, and I just hadn’t discovered I could do that. I remember a therapist saying something like, “The feelings come up and then they go down again,” and I remember the wtf of that moment.

Indeed they didn’t. I shut them down hard or they stayed up. I have been working at calming my body down for years now, and Sunday afternoon was really stressful and it took me until Tuesday morning to calm down again. More than 36 hours. And I worked at it. I worked at it really, really hard. Feelings don’t really pass for me on their own. Not for quite a long time.

The other thing I was thinking about is that the same therapist who pointed out that feelings rise and fall also said I needed to learn to soothe myself. So she knew that, but I never got that the soothing had to happen in my body. It sounded to me like words you say to yourself or activities you do. Now, it might be that these things help, but for me it would not have ever mattered what nice things I said and I really couldn’t at that point figure out what activities might be soothing.

Since then, I have realized that doing things which have a resonance for me are in themselves upsetting. The feeling of resonance is activating.

I had to work at it in my body the most. The soothing activities did help once I figured out what they might be—I might have also had hypnotize myself into experiencing them as parts so that I could take in the soothing without being activated.

I have also been thinking about how attachment arises: it comes from someone responding to you over time in an attuned way, and the way the consistent attunement happens is that someone knows you. It’s experience with you. If your parent—who ought to know you—can’t figure out how to respond to you, and other people who might be able to respond to you don’t know you well enough to do that, then human beings aren’t necessarily going to seem like the most likely source of attunement.

I was thinking about this, because I have felt a deep sadness about time passing and wished for other times and places. C is the first person I have really longed for deeply, but I have longed just as deeply for points in my life that occurred in the past.

That happened because the feeling of attunement happened maybe randomly: the planets kind of aligned at that moment, and I got my needs met for a while. My sense of where that attunement came from might not be associated with a human being, because the human beings involved did not necessarily provide that attunement again or in other circumstances. I might have developed an attachment to some part of that experience—pancakes, for example, or the café in Delhi where I used to eat lunch a lot, or a routine, or the train station where for whatever reason I felt at peace on one gloomy fall day in 2003. They become attached also, to circumstances under which I was able to meet my own needs—when situations happened not to overtax my resources. But I can’t control circumstances. They are fleeting, and there is that sense of longing and loss.

That’s one reason I think my memories are sometimes so disconnected. What struck me as relevant about the situation isn’t always what seems like it should be relevant. Other people’s memories are populated, and mine often are not. It’s hard to make things make sense, when it’s so different.

It made my inner world seem unreal as well, I think, because so many things about it were different and did not seem to exist to anyone but me.

I saw C on Sunday, and she cycled through various intense emotions having to do with connection. It struck me later—it has been striking me generally lately—that I do know how she feels when this is going on. I know what the flush of pleasure over connection feels like, I know what the punishing anger feels like, I know what the fear feels when it seems like you absolutely have to run away. And I recognize those feelings in C and in The Boy and in his sister Lonely Child. For a long time, I doubted my perceptions, but as I have spent more time with my own feelings, I am more confident I know what they look like in other people.

The thing is I think no one else really sees them. I don’t know how they can’t, but I really do think they don’t. I think her friends saw C acting very emotionally, but I don’t think they saw fear. There was a day after midterm, the first time I saw her, and I told her friend I had been sick, and C kind of disappeared inside herself. One friend joked C was angry. Madam is here, so C is angry. But she wasn’t angry. She felt afraid. There are a lot of times when C’s feelings aren’t real to anyone else but her, and it creates a very confusing internal world. What do you even feel in that case?

What I thought

This is harder to write about. Stuff happened, I had some thoughts about it. The thoughts are hard to pin down.

I have been thinking the really bad, terrible thing I feel have to do with the Looking Glass Self, and the self I formed when I imagined how my parents and others viewed me. There is one self where I kind of just don’t matter. I am a stone. That is the feeling you would have about yourself if the people around you are not attached to you. You are one of 35 children in the class. You are one of ten kids in the neighbourhood. You are not anyone’s special girl or boy, because the attachment with your parents is disrupted. And it is also the feeling you would have if your parents lack empathy and responsiveness to you.

There is also the feeling of being absolutely hopeless and worthless. I had this very sensitized mother, very reactive, and it would mean she was frequently very irritable. I couldn’t do anything to synch up with her. I was never going to get it right. That’s the self-view that would come out of this. I am just kind of a doomed person, because I cannot attune to my mentally ill mother.

The more I am able to keep these feelings at a dull roar—not shut down, but low enough to examine—the more I see that in this moment, I might not matter to the person I am talking to. I might not be able to succeed at this particular task. But I can take in other information also. It isn’t so global, and I don’t get lost in the feeling or have to push it away. It can be as a feeling, as a normal feeling.

But I was also thinking about attachment, and that attachment develops because someone is consistently able to respond to us in an attuned way. They seem to get us. And a lot of that has to do with experience of that person. It comes from a sense of investment also—that’s MY baby, so I had better take care of it—but also from experience. The mother knows her baby because she has been with it for so long. If my mother was shutting her feelings down in order to cope with them, she wouldn’t know me. She wouldn’t be processing emotional information, and she wouldn’t be able to attune to me, and I would not feel attached to her to the extent that I otherwise would.

There is also this other element—that the people we feel closest to are the one’s whose views and emotions we attend to the most. They are our audience, and we care about their feelings and their opinions the most, and the people we don’t feel close to, we don’t care that much about. We don’t take on their perspective except in a fairly limited way.

If a child lacks solid attachment to a group of people, then that view that is most important shifts from moment to moment, and since people sometimes see the same things very differently, the child won’t develop a consistent sense of themselves. The guy walking down the street might have equal importance as an audience for their behaviour as their teacher does. At the same time, the child is looking for attachment. Any source of protection and attunement will do. There isn’t the stabilizing force in the child’s mind of the attachment figure as being the most important audience for behaviour even when that figure is not present, which is what other children have.

I was thinking about the 2-minute noodles, and realized that attunement for me came as a series of isolated moments. They didn’t come from consistent people. They were pretty much chance. So the other part of this is that the human at the other end of the attunement may not emerge as the salient feature of the experience. It might be the 2-minute noodles. I was thinking about this and looking at the hand of a girl holding onto a bar of a window in the classroom I was facing, as I waited for C to come to meet me, and that formed a very strong image in my mind. This odd, unexpected thing—the hand in the window–became this very intense image in my mind, and I thought I am feeling something emotional right now, a very strong feeling, and I don’t know what to attach it to, because people have not been consistent sources of attunement to me, so I am waiting for C, and I am attaching my feelings of anticipation not to her, but to this disembodied hand in the window. It’s like my brain doesn’t know what is signal and what is noise. It doesn’t know the feeling I am having now, this feeling of longing and anticipation, has to do with C. I am looking around and this odd and unexpected image has appeared for me, and I am linking it to that, because I don’t know to link this feeling to people. It hasn’t consistently had anything to do with people, or maybe I was afraid to link it to people.

Anyway, it gave me a sense of the discontinuity in my mind to think of that—the discontinuity within myself and also the discontinuity of my impressions of life.

I think this is something that changes as you become able to process emotions and develop positive attachments. Your self becomes stable, because who is important to you becomes stable. You are able to maintain relationships with a finite number of people who see you in a continuous way over time, and that becomes internalized. That has what is beginning to happen for me. I have been working on emotion regulation, and my relationship skills have improved, and mentally I am not pushing/pulling so much and the same people have remained important to me over a period of time, and I am starting to internalize their view of me. I am letting their view of me count instead of shutting that down, and I am not sort of drifting from one attuned moment to the next. It is getting attached to real human beings.

What happened

It’s Sunday. So I went to see C. They didn’t seem to be praying when I came—maybe I was late, but there seemed to be girls in the classrooms studying. I don’t know. I began to get kind of paranoid about it and then I realized, something slightly different has happened. The school looks different than it usually does, and I am sensitized because I am expecting connection, so this is distrust. A feeling of distrust has been activated by the change in routine, and it is making me paranoid. Then I was okay.

She took a long time to come, and then when she did come, she did not come to meet me. Her friends sat with me, and she continued on to the shop to buy junk food for all of the hostel. She had evidently taken orders.

I waited a while and then I thought she isn’t able to come. She can’t come to me. It is absolutely too painful for her to come, and I said to her friends I am going to get her. And I went. I walked very purposely and briskly and I thought after a minute I probably look angry, and I tried to tone it down a little. I did feel purposeful, but I have seen when I am that intent on something, I scare children and I didn’t want to scare C or scare her friends.

That was an interesting moment for me, to think about how I might be perceived by others and to alter it, because I think I frequently don’t want to know.

Then I went into the shop and she was standing there buying things. I stroked her hair a little. I knew the man and the woman behind the counter were aware that this is my daughter. I go to that shop and buy things for C, and they know I am meeting her and I had that moment of being aware, this is her. This is the child I am going to meet.

After a minute, I had a feeling of pleasure and I realized C felt it too. There was a pleasure for us in being together. A second later, C began to get very distressed, very fussy. There was some problem with the money. She had too much money left over, and that must mean she had forgotten to buy something for her friends.

It’s so interesting to see this in front of me: she had a moment of pleasure in connection and then when something went wrong shortly after that, she was sensitized. She was sensitized to feeling worry about having made a mistake, and she reacted quite strongly. I don’t think she ordinarily would react that way. I tried to be soothing. I don’t know if I was or not.

Then we went out, and there was someone at the gate then, so C was worried about that. Her friend said it would be fine, so we continued, but C was clearly in a different state by then. I kind of insisted she sit with me for a minute. She wanted to go. I don’t know if that was the right thing or the wrong thing. She was really distressed, very much in the midst of that disordered attachment state of wanting to come close and wanting to flee. I stood for a moment near her, stroking hair while she sat on the bench, and I just said, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Looking back on that, I think that was the right thing to do. It struck me as evidence I have lost my mind—I was aware in some part of me that I look like her lover. This must look just very strange. But she is my child, and my child was upset, and that is kind of what you do. Looking back on that, I think that was the right thing, because it is brighter in my mind, and I think actually these bright moments are moments when I feel attunement. The flat parts are when I am not able to synch up with other people, and I can’t form a feeling of connection with them. The bright moments are the moments when I feel alive, and I feel alive because I am being human. I am attuned with people around me. It happens when the world seems able to accommodate me, but I think it also happens when I am able to accommodate the world.

I am not completely sure, but I think so. I think that feeling of brightness has to do with feeling attuned—with it feeling safe enough that I can take in information and process it emotionally and respond to the world in an attuned way. It works both ways: what is going on outside of me and what it allows me to do inside so that I can respond. I think there have been many times when I have been able to do this within myself; I have been able to create at least momentarily a world where it feels peaceful and I feel safe, because of something I have done to make it that way. I did the thing I liked to do, or I had an experience I chose to have. But it can happen with other people, when I am able to attune to them. And I think that might have happened. I think I might have been attuned to C and done what she needed when she was distressed and in angry child mode.


She left soon after that, and I gave her cousin the things I had brought and then took out the tiffin of potato curry, and that really hit her in a different way. The shift in expression on her face was dramatic and immediate. We had had a conversation about food earlier in the week via texting and I said sometime I would cook for her—she complained the food at school was tasteless. It was like something suddenly, absolutely got through. She knew I cared.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, a lot of analysis. That will come next.


I have had a sense recently of how things are for me—how things are when you are in parts. It is different than it is for other people. Qualitatively different.

I had one sense of this as I went to the shop to buy vouchers for the second time that day and I thought to myself the aunty who runs it might judge me. Indeed, she might, and I shoved the shame down and didn’t care. Of course, the shame is still there. I have just ceased to allow it to enter my brain for processing—like cutting a part of your body which has lost feeling. And I felt different. I felt like I don’t give a fuck what she thinks.

That is me making sense of me in the absence of one of my feelings. It isn’t the other way around. I am not imagining I don’t care and shoving down the shame. I am cutting off access to my feelings like I have turned off a spigot, and then I am imagining myself as the person without that feeling. And I do this. I do this to get things done that need to be done, that are important, like helping my daughter to feel like I am there even if she doesn’t know the appropriate way to ask for support. I see C doing this also. It looks like a switch being flipped. It is quite dramatic. I think it isn’t dramatic to anyone else—I think it looks like normal C to other people. But I know her and I can see the change. So we do this. We turn things on and off inside us so that we can behave somewhat normally in front of other people. To cope with overwhelming feelings of shame that come up in response to our expectation of how other people might feel about our needs, we turn off our awareness of our own emotions. And then we feel like different people.

Neurologically, or whatever, I think this comes out of our natural ability to filter sensory information and selectively use our attention so that relevant information is given importance and irrelevant information is ignored. Even though it is relevant, the shame is filtered out because it is too overwhelming, and we have a subjectively different sense of ourselves. If you are switching things on and off like that, it creates a sense of discontinuity. Intense emotions creates a sense of discontinuity also, because they indicate to us that we should pay attention to different stimuli. Anger tells us pay attention to threat, for example. Distrust says pay attention to anything unusual or different. We respond to stimuli with emotions and then the emotions affect the stimuli we are most attentive to. Extreme emotions create very strong shifts in our attention.

Something else I realized this week is how fractured my experience of life has been. I was thinking of this because I was sick, and when I am sick I want 2 minute noodles. It’s a very definite craving. I feel unwell or upset and I want Wai-Wai. I don’t even like Wai-Wai. And I think this is because when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I stayed overnight at a friend’s house. There were four of us friends and we all had a sleep-over and the arrival time was something like 6 or 7, which to my family was dinner time. So I didn’t eat dinner. I thought we are going for dinner. Then I got there and everyone had already eaten dinner. I was the only one who hadn’t realized we would not eat dinner together.

I was hungry. And there was no dinner and being 11 years old maybe and me, I didn’t say anything.

There was, however, dessert—strawberry ice cream. I ate a big bowl of strawberry ice cream on an empty stomach and very soon afterwards vomited. I don’t even remember the parents, but they were solicitous. They wanted to know if I wanted to go home. They were kind. And the story came out that I hadn’t eaten dinner, and the mother made me 2 minute noodles. I had never had 2-minute noodles before.

I am sure I crave 2-minute noodles when I am sick because of that one experience of having been cared for when I felt sick. She wasn’t an important person in my life. I never went to that friend’s house again, and she moved away at the end of that school year. But there was this single experience of being treated like a human being, being cared for when I didn’t feel well, and it made an enormous impression on me. And 30 years later, I still want 2-minute noodles when I am sick.

Until recently, I don’t think I would have had any way to understand that. It would not have made any sense to me that this experience would make an impression on me. I might have eaten 2-minute noodles as comfort food without knowing why, or I might have ignored the craving because it did not make any sense to me. I wouldn’t have understood that they would be comforting to me, or that there was any reason for the craving.

A lot of my life is like that: little bits of disconnected things, moments of aliveness and safety, when it seemed okay to feel, and those moments are sometimes brilliant and indelible and sometimes completely darkened: that moment of care with the 2 minute noodles is flattened. No emotion to it, and yet I can infer what I must have felt. It’s so strong I don’t feel anything.

Other people’s lives aren’t like that. They aren’t this coming in and out of a flatness that is mostly my normal. And also a lot of stuff I am doing impulsively, without knowing the reason behind it. It might not look impulsive—my life has been pretty sedate, not a lot of thrill-seeking, but I haven’t known my own mind or what motivated me. No one else has either, and that has been the hard part.

I think that has been hard, to have a different internal life than most other people do, and to be unable to make sense of my own mind. There was nothing cultural, nothing handed down to me, about how it works. Other people do have the same kind of mind as I have had—I am not the only person with childhood abuse and attachment problems. But they don’t understand themselves either.

More later.

I got it

I write a lot about C and not much about the Boy, but plenty is going on with the Boy also. Lots of anger, lots of crying, a fair amount of hitting the walls. It’s very hard for him.

So, I had a long day at school yesterday. We had a special program and this being Country X, first of all, there was no advance notice that this would extend beyond lunchtime. (Saturday is a half day of school and frequently the kids get dismissed and get to home by 11:30.) Then, it also being Country X, the 3 pm anticipated end time extended until nearly 5.

Yesterday, the Boy asked me if he could go to his aunt’s house after school. Yes, wash your school uniform, study for an hour, and then go. I came home and he wasn’t home, as expected. However, the school uniform was not washed, the kitchen was a mess, and to add to that the toilet had not been fully flushed after someone had gone #2.

It was clear he hadn’t paid attention to anything I had said and instead gone off to play with friends. I was enraged. I asked the Friend’s brother who was playing outside about the Boy’s whereabouts. With a classmate who is usually a good boy (I am very disappointed in him) at the video game place.

I went and got the Boy. Livid. I told him to come home and wash dishes.

I still feel angry thinking about it. This is my house. There is no obligation upon me to take care of him or allow him to stay with me. It is not the situation with C, where I have told her you are my daughter and I will take care of you no matter what happens. I have made no such promise to him. It creates considerable difficulty for me to have him in my house all the time. I don’t get downtime. I have more than double the amount of work, because he is old enough to take care of himself but he doesn’t really know how to do anything. He can’t even sweep. He washed the dishes and I washed them again, because they were still covered in orange-tinted oil.

I am still livid thinking about it. I came home expecting to get some downtime, expecting peace and quiet, and what I got instead was this absolute, flagrant disrespect of my living space. And no downtime, because then I had an upset child to deal with.

I was angry and I knew I was angry because it was touching upon this childhood wound, that had to do with respect for me and for my boundaries—that sense that I am something simply to be used and discarded. I can’t quite articulate now, but I knew, this is my wound. This is me. No one would be happy in this situation, but it is getting added to because of my wound.

In that moment, I knew exactly why my parents abused me. My mother had that wound, and I being a child did not have an understanding of her needs yet and didn’t have control of my impulses yet and I was also trying to meet my own needs which she was neglecting. The moment when I told The Boy to go wash his school uniform, she would have hit me. She would have attacked me with every intent to destroy me, because in that moment she would have lost all capacity for empathy for me. We don’t have empathy when we feel threatened. The fight impulse does that. It says, “Get this dangerous thing off me. Get it away from me.”

I didn’t hit The Boy and I didn’t abuse him, because I was able to communicate to him without increasing the rift between us too dramatically. I had a certain degree of skill. And I also could calm myself down. I got home and did some work and began to calm myself down a little, and I started to realize that the Boy had come home and I wasn’t there, and the pain is really intense for him. That is a very strong trigger for him. So he would be trying to distract himself from the pain with junk food and a friend and he would also be trying not to think about me. He wouldn’t be thinking, “She wants me to wash my school uniform,” because he would be trying not to think about me at all.

I don’t know what to do exactly. I don’t know how to help him with the pain of my not being here when he comes home, because I have no control over when I come home from school. The principal just decides things. He doesn’t tell us in advance. He doesn’t consider that advance warning might be appreciated—and that’s also a very Country X approach, is basically to force other people to do what you want them to do. If he told us in advance, we might complain, and he wouldn’t be able to keep us until 5 pm on a Saturday. He would have to relent. But he didn’t tell us ahead of time, and in the moment in front of teachers from other schools who are also there, we can’t say anything.

That is something I have begun to catch onto. In Country X, people fight all the time. There isn’t trust or teamwork or compromise a lot of the time. Sometimes there is, but often there isn’t. It is not always exactly like this, but it often is. And very often what people try to do in order to get their needs met is to try to compel others to meet them. This is a new country, and a hundred years ago, it was run by war lords, and 50 years ago there were still landowners and serfs. Many middle-aged adults grew up desperately, desperately poor and they also grew up in boarding schools with very harsh disciplinary methods. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Anyway, I can’t control my schedule. I can’t even prepare ahead of time, and this is going to happen again. I have some thinking to do.

But in that moment, I got it. I got why my mom brutalized me.