Progressing

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The good news (in my mind) is that in spite of my intensely unpleasant reaction to Monday’s therapy session, my brain seems to continue to chug along, integrating as I am hoping it will.

This morning, I began to think I might be able to guess at the therapist’s perspective, and it was adequately explanatory. I didn’t, with this hypothesis in mind, feel befuddled by her responses to me or some of the decisions she made.

It has to do with what aspects of the self seem to be “I.”

If you take the Apparently Normal part as “I,” then washes of intense emotions will seem to be intrusions of someone who is not the self.

Go back a step. If the Apparently Normal part was formed by authority figures who lacked empathy and did not model an awareness or responsiveness to feelings–either their own or the child’s–then one’s developing sense of self is likely to be minus emotions. Either minus all emotion, or minus emotions deemed to be too intense or minus unacceptable emotions. Competent adults don’t have those emotions, and they cannot be included as elements of the self. Children might have those emotions, but adults don’t. You learn to disavow them and when they come sneaking back, you might consider them to be childish leftovers. Because they have not been integrated into your present, adult view of yourself, they will come heavily linked to unprocessed childhood events when they were most intensely activated.

The person who disavows these experiences and emotions will seem to be the “self.” The disavowed emotions and experiences will be seen to belong to some other “self.” Past selves or child selves.

You won’t, in that case, see that the feeling of loss experienced when you dropped your freshly brewed cup of coffee was the same loss you felt when your mother, for example, took all your toys away and burned them. (Didn’t happen to me, but this does happen.) You won’t see that loss feels like loss, and dropping your coffee as an adult evokes some of the same emotions as your mother’s unresponsive, heartless abuse. Adults experience loss as well as abused children.

You might be surprised by the intensity of your reaction to the dropped cup of coffee, which could be more intense because you have disowned it: why should you try to regulate it? It isn’t your emotion. It belongs to this troublesome, unwanted child within you who persists in trying to point out that, while your mother might not be part of your life, you continue to experience feelings of loss and it could, potentially, be useful to consider how your mother intentionally or negligently pushed you into situations where you felt it with painful intensity.

I presume I saw things this way once. I didn’t always see my felt emotions as part of being alive. I saw them as intrusive elements of the past I needed to expunge. Seeing things in that way did help me, I would imagine, to get through life, hold down a job, and stay focused on present-day goals rather than find myself dysregulated and overwhelmed by all the linkages I might need to make to pain.

At the current moment, I don’t feel that way. I think felt emotions are part of being authentically myself. They aren’t always pleasant, but they are real, and they do tell me things about the present as well as the past which are information if, at times, confusing and unclear. I think Apparently Normal is something I do when I feel too frightened or ashamed to be authentic. It is a retreat from life.

But if my therapist, whom I am prepared to meet again on Monday in order to be sure it really is not going to work out with her, is of the mindset that Apparently Normal is me, and my washes of intense emotions are dissociative states, which are not me–if somehow, she believes I cannot be washed in fear of Yuri and simultaneously be located firmly in the room and aware I am with her and reporting on the state of my own mind to her, then she will be alarmed that I sobbed and alarmed that I took a minute to digest surprise what fear feels like and also that I feel it so intensely for Yuri, and she will try to keep that from happening.

Which makes her acceptance of me in what felt (to me) to be a checked-out, numb state make sense, and her alarm in moments when I felt authentically connected to myself–emotional, but still able to think and reflect (my criteria).

Integration is an interesting process.

Thursday

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I woke up at 3 am worried that C was having a pregnancy scare.

I do not know why.

There are logical pieces to it. Rather ominously, she replied to someone who asked about the photo she took of meeting her boyfriend–one where she looked very sad and worried–“You know the meaning.”

To a worried me, that could mean I decided to have sex with my boyfriend.

I don’t really have any idea what her actual sexual experiences have been. Country X kids are somewhat confusing about this, and somehow manage to appear more and less experienced as Western teens simultaneously. And C does not always want me to think of her as a little kid who knows nothing about these things. So I am not sure if she has had sex before, or if she is still in the stage where holding hands is a huge deal.

And then there was also my chats with IT Ma’am and C’s aunt, who mostly seemed to be worried about pregnancy. Not about being sexually active when she might be too immature to know what she actually feels comfortable doing or not doing. Which, of course, makes it seem more possible she might be sexually active at 15, when I have been assuming she isn’t.

Dysregulation and ordinary teenage narcissism can create an internal environment where things can seem like a big deal which really are not.

What I am getting at is there are vague reasons to worry and yet there is nothing I can do about it. It’s not especially helpful to worry about it. Possibly not helpful at all.

I think I am worried because the Country X people in Canada said she hoped to get a contract to me soon. Me, poking my frightened little head out. Lots of fear, and at 3 in the morning, the fact that my daughter could be pregnant and forced to drop out of school despite my best efforts, is the most reasonable cause of that fear I can think of.

Let’s get back to narcissistic jealousy. Happiness for me = narcissistic parents ready to attack me. My head’s a hard place to be lately.

Making connections

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So I like to look at things in different ways. I mean, if I have been looking at something in one way and that way of looking at things doesn’t seem to be helpful, then I might start to think: well, what if that were not true? What if I were to look at it in some other way? Would giving this a different meaning or seeing it within a different context feel better? Would it seem more accurate? Would it account for little bits that didn’t make sense before?

I was thinking about self-harm and suicidal ideation, because I had pretty intense urges to hurt myself yesterday. I have been thinking (assuming) this is about guilt and/or shame: I am so bad, I deserve this.

And yet, when the part came out, the part did not say, “I am bad.” It said, “It’s too loud,” which I took to mean, I am too dysregulated. The activation inside me is too intense, too confusing and too overwhelming.

This has happened before. I can’t remember what happened–maybe just a very long day at school. I came home and a part told the same friend something much the same: “Everybody is screaming. It’s too loud.”

I was out for a walk, thinking about this. It crossed my mind that we, as humans, most deeply wish to communicate. What if I looked at self-harming as communication, rather than as an actual desire to harm? I thought, “Let me just try on that thought and see what happens when I do that?”

I thought, “What if, instead of this most deeply about a desire to hurt myself, what if this is about trying to communicate the pain I am already in?”

And that was interesting. That was an interesting thought. I don’t really have a doubt that, as part of the trauma, we remember my caregiver wanted to hurt me. She or he felt rage and believed I needed to be punished and then that person hurt me like this and this and this. I don’t doubt that we clearly remember that rage against us, nor do I doubt that we don’t sometimes enact that. I am not discounting that.

But what if some other piece of it is this: Someone raged at me and then I hurt. It hurt like this and this and this. What if, picturing my skull breaking open the day before, I was thinking: the pain inside is so great it is like my brain is breaking apart?

Maybe this is communicative rather than malicious?

It seemed to bring me full-circle, as though a thought had been carried to its logical conclusion. It connected me to the child who had been hurt. When someone humiliates and shames me, I hurt.

It’s hard to explain the importance of that–the importance of this subject. The shame is about disconnection. When children are abused, their abusers never behave as though the child is actually hurting or has any reason to be hurt. At best, the child is treated as though she ought to understand about this: after all, she was bad. This is to be expected. The shame is so great, this hurt child cannot be owned as oneself, because the need for connection to other human beings is so great.

Connection is what we do. We might talk about standing alone, being courageous, but look around–standing alone is incredibly rare. We are supported by people who exist in our minds when we stand against those who are in front of us.

Coming back to the “I” who was hurt and claiming that experience as our own–this was me, it happened to me, and it hurt–well, I think that opens up possibilities. It opens up the idea that I might be hurting now, and I might need to do something about it. All kinds of things.

The analysis

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I finally feel a bit normal.

Dysregulated, but in a way that allows my mind to engage with the dysregulation. I can engage my ability to reason and reflect along with the feelings at the same time, in other words. So that’s nice.

I didn’t really know what to do or how to calm down enough to know what was wrong, if that makes any sense. I was walking home and tried a grounding strategy a commenter suggested, and that sent images through my mind of smashing my own skull. Not pleasant.

I don’t know if that was because I calmed down enough to start to tap into the distress or if it intensified it.

I got home and sent a message to a good friend from a part: “Can we talk to you? It’s loud in here.”

Okay, so that was helpful. Things are too intense. It was helpful to myself to know what the problem seemed to be, and I am sure it was also helpful to feel some connection to my friend (even though she was sleeping at the time).

I have some more reflections on the session with the therapist that I had on Monday. I think there will be more to come, as I am thinking about not just what happened for me in 50 minutes, but what it reminds me of about therapy in general. I haven’t seen a therapist in four years. I can’t remember how long I saw that particular therapist I saw before I left for Country X. It might have been two years. But there was a long gap before that, as I stopped therapy when I went to graduate school and began teaching, because school and work full-time along with a substantantial commute made it impossible to continue. In other words, it’s been quite a long time since I saw a therapist, and I have changed substantially since then.

I hope you won’t get bored.

The therapist asked a lot of questions about what I had discussed or not discussed with a therapist before. Well, it’s been four years. I don’t exactly remember. She wanted to know what I had discussed with therapists prior to the most recent one–what were the goals? Well, that was 12 years ago. She wanted to know what the goals were. Fuck if I know.

Trying to answer those questions, I was acutely aware of how life feels in parts: that it is often authentically experienced as scattered moments rather than as readily identifiable patterns. I thought about one therapist and what I remember most is staring at her rug for long periods of time. She exclaimed once, “You’re individuating!” And I wondered why this felt important to her and what evidence of that happening she was responding to. She used to say I hadn’t had adequate mirroring, and I wondered where one goes with that. It’s not something you can time-travel to fix. She used to tell me as I learned to self-soothe things would get better, and that I needed to stop depending on other people to soothe me. Those are things I remember.

The thing that strikes me is that particular therapist’s assumption that I would understand where she was coming from and that she didn’t need to explain. I also take away from it that when I went into a freeze state–staring at the carpet seems like a freeze state to me–she was patient, and did not push, which was at least not harmful. But she did not know how to help or even that I might need help.

I remember the one I saw after she retired used to ask me, “And how do you take care of yourself?” when I was unable to pin down what was happening during conflicts. Why was my partner responding to me in the way she was? What about her response was upsetting me. The therapist seemed to believe boundaries would fix everything. To me, looking back, her expectations look much more like tit-for-tat. Hurt her the way she is hurting you, and she’ll stop.

She tried to point out “healthy ways” to set boundaries and I now see them as unassailable ways to fight.

That’s my honest opinion a decade or so down the line. Not that boundaries aren’t important or that I shouldn’t stand up for myself in a conflict. It’s just what I see as her motives. Not actually very good. At some point in her life, she had felt given permission to get other people to behave the way that she wanted by punishing them for misbehaviour, and she assumed that I would respond well to the same kind of permission.

What I think now is that people are free to choose and you need to find the strength to accept their choices. My ex was free to choose to intentionally hurt me, and I needed to find the strength to accept that she does that and to her this represents a valid choice. Those aren’t choices I am willing to make and as it turns out I don’t want to be around someone who sees that choice as an acceptable one, but I need to allow her to make that choice. Standing up for myself does not take away her choice to hurt me intentionally. That choice remains hers to make.

What I am getting at is that what was memorable to me about my therapy experiences weren’t the things that interested the therapist I saw on Monday.

She wanted to know what I talked about in therapy when I was in college. I know it had to do then with my family and with sexual abuse, but fuck if I know what the specifics were. It was 25 years ago.

The therapist seemed to be a bit younger than me–I don’t know if she actually was or not. If she were 10 years younger than me, it might be difficult for someone that age to think about what it is like to remember what happened when they were in still late childhood. That’s one possibility.

A lot of the session seemed to hinge on memory and how we experience it and understand it. Early on, something came up and she said the usual thing, I guess, which is that it protects us not to remember. Now, I am aware people think this, but the evidence is pretty strongly against it, that people who don’t remember traumas have more intrusive symptoms, more disruptions in relationships and are generally less happy than people with the same kinds of trauma who do remember.

So I explained why I think people have trouble remembering trauma, or one of the reasons, which has to do with our constructing meaning out of events collectively.  If no one else saw the “ghost,” you start to think there is no ghost. If no else sees you are being harmed, you find yourself unsure that the harm is occurring, even though you seem to be feeling pain.

She said this happens only when you are little.

I looked at her for a minute. She was very sure of herself. “Okay.”

I am not going to argue about this. I said what I think. You said what you think. We have established we disagree about it.

But I can imagine she thought of my attempts to describe previous experiences of therapy and she presumed I am protecting myself from something. I don’t think that necessarily. Get away from the assumption of the need to forget as a dominant motivation, and other things start to crop up as possible explanations: I am a teacher; there are many reasons I have observed that people don’t remember things. Among them, it didn’t seem important or worth remembering in the first place. Or, that information has not been accessed in a long time, and the neural pathway to it is not very strong.

I am reminded of the tissue incident as I write about this, because it seemed to create some confusion. In talking about the therapist handing me tissues, I was pointing out my willingness to see this as rejecting. I don’t know what the therapist intended by it. I am not in her head. I don’t even know what most people intend by it, since I have never done it before. People do cry around me from time to time–students do, parents do more often than I ever expected. Tissues don’t usually cross my mind.

But my thought about what it meant–get yourself together, stop crying, this is making me uncomfortable–told me about the lens through which I was viewing her already. People refer to this as a distortion, but I won’t go that far. It sounds judgmental to me. It’s a lens, a preconceived notion. It’s not possible to go through life without these. We need to have some framework through which to interpret reality, even if that framework may be imperfect or inaccurate.

This is part of the therapist’s lens: Forgetfulness is motivated by a desire for self-protection, to avoid the pain of memory. She probably does not think of this as a lens, nor does she probably wonder periodically, “If I didn’t what I think, how would I understand this? Are there other ways to think about this that are more interesting or that seem to be more accurate?” I don’t think most people do that.

What I think about my own forgetfulness is that it does not protect me, because I already have the fragments within my mind which constitutes memory. I already know. So not thinking about them or reflecting upon them makes my world less comprehensible to me, but it does not protect me from pain. It does, however, protect other people from that pain. They don’t have those fragments, and if I don’t construct a memory out of them, then there is nothing for them to know. I do think people learn forgetting as a coping strategy, because forgetfulness helps other people to cope, but I don’t think it’s as simple as our minds protecting us by not remembering.

There were four points in the session when connection with the therapist seemed to be possible, times when I felt connected to myself. The second was our discussion about memory, because this question of memory interests me. We disagreed. I don’t know if the therapist understood this as disagreeing.

Anyway, we did.

The first time was when she asked me who cared for me as a child, and I thought of who those people were: Aisha, Ksymcia, Nata. Losses. And I began to sob.

She got the tissues. I tried to box it up. I told her about Aisha or at least the fact of her existence. After that, the question of memory came up.

The third time was when I was telling her about trying to put a dismembered corpse back together. I can’t remember how that came up. I told her how distressing it was to be unable to get the pieces to fit.

She said something like, “Do you remember that?” I didn’t somehow quite catch the words. Well, I was telling her what I remembered. I couldn’t understand the question. It seemed to suggest that what I was telling her did not seem to fall under the category of memory for her–“Is there a “real” memory?” she seemed to be asking. What’s a real memory for her?

I think I just said yes. I remember it.

But it was another dysjunction between us.

The last time was when she asked me something to do with trafficking–the answer ought to have been Yuri. I know I mentioned this in my first post about.

I felt suddenly frightened. So, I paused, surprised about it, and told her. She might have asked something about that, or maybe I volunteered. I said I seemed to be afraid of speaking. It might be that Yuri is someone I cannot talk about, or it might be that Yuri did not like when I spoke.

She said, “Let’s leave this for now.”

Later, I came back to it. I just said, “It’s interesting.”

And she said again, “Let’s leave that.”

After that, I checked out and performed.

Now, in retrospect, what I think was so dysregulating about the session was the intensity of my desire to connect, and my inability to do so–the combination of this pain that’s really separation distress and fear.

 

 

 

The morning after

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I still don’t really have any feelings. I have very little felt sensation of myself. It’s frustrating, because until I feel safe enough to feel emotions, there seems to be little I can do to regulate them. Off = stuck on max setting.

I don’t really have a strategy for dealing with this. It hasn’t happened in a long time. I know this used to be how I felt all day, every day, but I am not accustomed to it anymore and I don’t like it.

I have suicidal and self-harming urges, but they aren’t embedded within any context. There is no real place to go with them.

I don’t know what to do.

Post-therapy

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So I had the appointment.

It felt more or less like a job interview. Or an interview for a news article perhaps. Has an intake session ever felt that way to you? Do they always?

I thought, during it, I am telling someone else these things, but I am very much on my own with it. This is not having help. This is doing the hard work while also trying to answer a lot of questions. I’m still on my own with this.

I probably felt that way because I am used to doing it alone. I suppose I had hoped it would be doing what I do alongside someone who knows what I do and wants to help with that, rather than in the presence of someone trying to do something quite different.

I took quite a lot of what she did as an indication that having actual feelings felt too dangerous for her and I needed to stop feeling as quickly as possible. I spent most of the session quite disconnected from any sense of my self.

This may not really have been fair. Perceptions aren’t reality. She asked me about people who had cared for me as a child, and I began to cry. I just miss them so much.

She came and brought me a box of tissues and I took that as, “Clean yourself up, get yourself together, because this is making me uncomfortable.” Again, that might not be fair. But I tried very hard to stop crying and in the process bottled things up pretty hard, so that I no longer had any feeling inside.

All of it made me realize why therapy had not been helpful to me. It’s designed for people who get slammed by their emotions and can’t function. It’s not designed for people who become automatons with pleasant manners when under stress.

I am reminded prostitution is essentially acting. No one is supposed to realize the utter disconnection between your presentation of yourself and what is going on inside.

There was another point when she asked me something to do with being trafficked, and she asked a question to which the answer ought to have been Yuri. I felt very frightened, and I said that. I said I felt afraid to speak. She said, “We don’t have to talk about that today. We can leave that aside.” I might have said something more about it and she said, more definitively, “Let’s leave that aside for right now.”

Well, I thought it was interesting. I know I feel afraid of Yuri. I feel afraid to talk about him out loud, but sitting in a room telling someone this feeling I am having right now, that’s fear. It can be named and understood and it need not be overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be frightening to feel fear. That’s powerful stuff.

But it was also powerful to be able to make that connection between fear and speech. Something about Yuri makes me afraid to speak. That’s what I’m trying to do, make those kinds of connections, because I believe that makes them more manageable–like digesting food you have chewed instead of attempted to swallow whole. To me, that’s interesting and I think helpful.

She didn’t seem to think so.

I think I need to work out what her perspective might be, and what typical therapy is trying to do. I am as mystified now as I was when I started therapy 25 years ago, and I suspect it’s so much a part of her beliefs about how therapy ought to be done that she will not be able to see it or explain it.

Spinning

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Lots of stuff going on in my poor, overwhelmed brain.

The therapy appointment is this afternoon. Let’s see.

I know perfectly well no matter what the therapist does I will be slammed with shame afterward just for having someone listen to me for 50 minutes and will, more than likely, feel suicidal after this.

I suppose I should construct a plan for what happens after I leave the office. Business as usual may not be the idea.

I am reminded of one therapist who used to ask me, “So how do you take care of yourself?” What it looks like to me now is more along the lines of, “This is reality. You may not like it, but you can still plan for it.”

Of course, in those days, I wouldn’t have known how to do that. I didn’t know what was wrong or how to respond to it.

I think there is a mindset at work with someone like my ex or even, in some cases, like my friend and it has to do with narcissistic jealousy–a deep-seated sense of deprivation that’s hard for me to grasp. I always wonder, was I like this at some point? And I don’t know the answer to that.

It’s a sort of obsession with small injustices, and maybe it comes from not being able to process those injustices. You obsess over things you can’t understand, and maybe if the deepest kind of injustice can never be named or acknowledged, you never know what to make of the small bumps and bruises of life as it happens in the present. Maybe, if you are like me, and your parents intentionally attacked your social status in order to enhance their own, but if you can’t acknowledge this in later life, you never understand that inconveniences in your present life are not always the result of someone doing that now. Certainly, people do.

I don’t know. But I am trying to put together my sense, which overwhelms me these days in certain moments or even for hours at a time, of not being wanted on this planet and of just being this massive intrusion into a life I am not entitled to participate in and the people whose mindset and personality originally gave rise to that feeling about myself.

It’s my own little idea, but I feel like people live on in our minds as a pattern. If we grow up with someone or spend long years in their company, we know more or less what they might think of someone, and I presume when I feel this way, I am imagining my parents’ view of me or of what I am doing. I have a theory that the pain can be more easily handled when it is placed within a specific context. In other words, I need to imagine not just my state of sadness and shame, but the person on the other end of that–my parents, or the person in the same room with me, or both.

Because, the thing is, my parents aren’t one-offs. My dad might be at the absolute extreme of it, and my mom might be a bit worse than usual, but if I shut down my entire mental process around what motivates narcissists and bullies, I won’t be equipped to deal with quite a few people who might pop up in my life–and have.

So that’s the hope. When the shame shower hits, try to examine the edges of it. I am imagining someone else. Who is it? Not literally who is it, necessarily, but what kind of mind is it?

A few things happened this morning. A principal I need a recommendation from called back at last and apologized for not getting the letter to me and talked about a job she wants to give me. Which was all very nice.

Then I bit the bullet and called the other guy I need a letter from. I guess we worked at the same school 7 years ago–I hadn’t realized it was so long ago. But I have been at that school since then, and the man who was the principal there when I left I never liked or considered to be a decent human being and it seems he has been demoted along with maybe a dozen other administrators in the district for basically hiring all of his friends.

Ironically, it seems that this is what the principal who called me wants to do….

The district had someone else in mind for a long-term sub position, and she said she knows him and is not in favour of him taking those classes.

Feels weird.

I know if I were in his position, I would not be happy to have the rug yanked out from under me like that.

Let’s see though.

I had some other little thoughts pop up during the morning that were interesting to me. The first was this kid who was school captain during my first year in Country X messaged me, and we chatted for a bit, basically about what we were eating. I thought this is a nice way to start the day–just a pleasant little conversation.

I get so mired in heavy stuff and serious emotions, that I forget this is actually the way I would prefer to start the day. Just: I’m happy to see you. Yeah, me too….

Then I was chatting with this kid who is my neighbour in Y-town. I taught her in seventh grade, and her brother was friends with this boy who lived in my house for a few months. For a while, he came to my house to do his homework, and it seemed like it really helped both boys to sit together and work on their homework. So I asked her about her brother’s grades, which were not good, and I also went out on a limb and told her I missed her.

The first thing I thought was how in Country X, this is kind of normal–I mean, what I was doing, because I was trying to get some other stuff done and I was also chatting with her, but this is basically the way Country X-ers work. Not in isolation or with total focus, but I’ve got this stuff to do and it’s nice to have this company while I do it. It’s not great for getting things done quickly, but there is a naturalness to it.

She used to take things to C for me pretty often and I once got some advice about a sweater for C from her. She’s just this really nice kid. I don’t really get her family situation. There’s a new baby in the house and a total of four kids at home, but no evidence of a father around. This girl has herself said she has no father. So I went out on a limb and said, “I miss you.” She said, “I miss you more ma’am.” Which is something kids say there: I love you more, I miss you more, you are more beautiful than me. But I was touched by that. Touched that I am remembered at all.

We began to talk about C after that. She said I must be missing her, so I said some things to that and she said some other things and in the course of that, she mentioned, “C is always talking about you.”

Well, it used to be C never said anything about me to anyone–not even her best friends. It was in this box of secret, vulnerable things she didn’t share with anyone.

 

That was really touching.

So I am mulling that.

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The idea is always that reflection will make things better. I hope it will. Hard to say still.

Emotions–the warping of my mind that happens with traumatic triggers, when I know their intensity is leading to cognitive distortions–seems to happen too quickly to track, and what I am always trying to do is slow things down, calm things down, quiet them so that I can get a better look at them.

I printed out an application for a sub job, stopping on my way back to buy a shirt. I don’t think I really have a suitable interview shirt anymore. The last one I wore was not very good quality, and the fabric is beginning to pill.

These are two difficult things. Job stuff and clothes. So I was walking home and kind of washed with shame, feeling generally that I am an imposition on the world and an intrusion.

I was thinking about this, knowing my parents did that to me. I started to wonder how this could be. How do you have children and then just really not like them? I understand finding them challenging and sometimes annoying, but not so annoying your child feels afraid to move or to speak.

And then I began to think about my friend’s daughter, how everything seems to be too much for her. “I can’t cope with this,” is a frequent refrain, as if things will disappear if they realize they are beyond her. She seems to be perennially shocked at the normal setbacks and frustrations of life, as if she just doesn’t know how they happen. She’s not always like this, because life is not annoying all the time. But when it’s annoying, that’s how she reacts–as though it’s just so unexpected.

I realized that’s my mom. She never expected life to be something she had to adapt to, and she didn’t have the tools to manage ordinary frustrations and losses that happen in the course of the day–she only voiced them, as though she thought the universe might fix them if she simply spoke up. My grandmother was something of the same way.

When someone does not experience ordinary losses that occur in childhood–most through the parent setting boundaries and not giving you what you want–in a context which allows you to come to terms with those losses, that person finds loss unmanageable in adulthood. So, if your parent cannot cope with your distress over loss, and indulges you in order to avoid trying to cope with your baby rage and sadness, or if your parent demands you suppress all indications of your distress at experiencing loss, you don’t integrate loss as a part of life. It becomes this thing that must be avoided at all costs, because you never developed the tools for dealing with it and you probably also never integrated the experiences of loss enough to understand what losses might be inevitable and what losses you ought to protest.

That was my mom. Annoyed about everything.

 

Middle Ground

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I’m in a bad place. I don’t know why this is.

I find that frustrating. I find myself cycling through longing, shame and hopelessness without actually knowing the reason. Mornings are hard, but not normally quite this hard.

I went downtown yesterday to once again visit the cathedral. I had in my mind consciously, while I was there, this is Ksymcia’s church. I’m here because I am coming to terms with her in some way, or trying to.

I felt very emotional, tried to calm down, and then the security guard started talking to me. He had quite a lot to say. It was surprising. There have been days when I seem to appear to be more open and random people do talk to me, but I think it’s somewhat rare. It is LA, and I am not friendly.

I lost my sense of grounding after that, and didn’t really return to a place where I felt centered again or in touch with what I had come there to work through. Next time, I guess.

I went for a coffee after that. I had fallen asleep on the train on my way there, and naps in the daytime always leave me in a strange place. Coffee helps with that. So I found a Starbucks I remembered as being fairly quiet and having a decent space for seating. There are a thousand places for coffee around there, but hardly anywhere is actually set up for people to sit. You are expected to grab your stuff and go. There was a new place I hadn’t seen before–new since I used to live there–and I wondered about that. Lots of young people in there–it’s a college area–and I thought their coffee is probably shit.

Anyway, I got my coffee and wrote in my journal for a while. A group of teenagers came in wearing bow ties and amazing dresses–Quincenera party? I don’t know. I wanted to take their picture and felt it was too weird to ask. It made for a change.

Then I went on to a second-hand shop because I have this hope of actually getting a job, but I have only one blazer I can really wear. I dropped it off on Saturday for cleaning–there’s something on it, like I brushed off a crumb with dusty hands. It made me think it creates a crisis if something happens to that one particular blazer. It seems wise to pick up one or two more. So I did that. I bought one almost identical to the one I have, and another one that’s more stylish (I think), but I can’t imagine how to make a shirt with a collar work under that. I don’t know what you’re really supposed to wear with it. Still, it was $6.95. I’ll work it out.

There was a dress on the new items rack and I thought that looked interesting–just for fun. One of the staff members came up to me to talk about the dress: she liked it. She said I had good taste.

So that was a second stranger to just randomly strike up conversation with me that day.

That was yesterday. I woke up early to a student messaging me. “How are you?” “Still sleepy.” “Ok sleep maam.” But C’s father was online and I said something to him. He said he was at the cremation grounds: normally, men need to stand watch over the body until the body can be burned or the dogs will eat the corpse. Everyone will go to the grounds and view it, I suppose–I’m not sure, people have always told me not to go places like that. I’ll fall sick. They excuse me. Anyway, someone had died.

I asked him what happened, and felt a surge of terror for his kids. He has a new baby. I guess the baby must be six months old now.

After a while, he said his cousin died and we chatted about that for a while. His cousin was 34. I think he might be 32 himself now, maybe still 31.

He said he felt he didn’t know what to do, and I could remember that feeling. The sense of confusion about it. I remember it specifically about not understanding physical aspects of horrifying, traumatic deaths, but it’s more generally about being unable to take in or process the cessation of life that’s completely unexpected. It was startling to recognize my own experience in his and to know that they actually connect, despite the differences in circumstances.

It reminded me too of C’s response to my leaving–when I used to live there and would visit her at school. The times she didn’t walk me out, she would get tears in her eyes and then seem to fiddle with things.

It seemed the same kind of thing: abandonment felt just as shocking. Not my leaving, obviously, but the core, early abandonment. The break in attunement must have felt just as shocking as a death for her.

I ended up in the kitchen this morning at the same time as my friend. I was unloading the dishwasher and she was making a cup of tea, having just woke up. I cast about for topics to talk about. Not my job situation–she’ll just get anxious, and that will make it harder on me. Not the dad’s cousin death–she can’t seem to handle death.

I don’t think I mentioned that: one of my colleagues committed suicide. This was three years ago, but I hadn’t known, and the assumption was it was related to workplace bullying from the principal. I told my friend about it, because I felt rather shaken by it. Her response was puzzling to me, but most closely seemed to resemble disgust. Distress and then disgust, like she needed to quickly get the discomfort away from her.

So she can’t handle death.

Finally, I talked to her about her son’s suit–she had mentioned this to me yesterday.

It really struck me how I couldn’t bring up something related to myself, because I felt too vulnerable and I couldn’t bring up anything which seems to me to be actual life, because she can’t handle the strong emotions that goes with it, and that kind of left her and lite. Such emotional impoverishment. I wanted so badly to have someone enter into my emotional world with me, and it’s so much harder because most of the time, I am just dealing with trauma, but even other things I did not want to connect over, because she is randomly critical and I have too much going on already to want to invite that.

And then I thought about my own struggles, how intense the longing is, how it cycles through guilt and shame. I thought how it feels so overwhelming I don’t know that I always think about how it affects other people to be around that.

I thought of it recently in the context of my friend’s cat. It was acting strangely, sort of limping, sort of just wobbling. It was unclear if she had an injured leg or if she was just confused. My friend took her into the vet, but in the process, I could feel my friend’s terror about the whole thing. It was hard for me to cope with later, after she left. She didn’t do anything overtly expressive, but I could feel it. I know she felt that.

Anyway, I thought I am struggling with these feelings. I can’t even identify what’s setting them off, but I miss C, and she is sleeping or studying and the last thing she really needs is to have her own separation distress activated.

These are difficult feelings. They are difficult for me and they are also difficult for other people. I don’t know what I might take away from that, but just that they can feel so loud and so overwhelming and yet the rest of the world is still there, still needing various things from me, which might include keeping it together.

Fragments

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Falling asleep last night, probably feeling something quite difficult–it’s usually difficult at night–and I suddenly made this connection between the pain I felt and bullying.

I thought this feeling I have of being worthless and unimportant, this is about someone enhancing their feelings of status by bullying me, and it’s not processed or understood, because it’s so impossible to understand why your parents would do that. It’s clearly about my parents.

Narcissistic wounding is, “Someone is enhancing their sense of status by degrading mine.” At the time I thought this, it seemed immensely profound. Maybe it isn’t.

But it made me think someone who has been bullied by their own parents is likely to be hyper-alert to indicators of status: things like being excluded or not considered (as though you aren’t really part of the group and don’t need to be considered), these are all indications that someone might be intentionally lowering your social status in order to enhance their own.

Status has biological consequences: people with less status in society have higher levels of cortisol. Just like standing next to someone I feel cares about me enhances my feelings of well-being, automatically and without effort, perceiving oneself to have higher status decreases anxiety.

If I am both very alert to that and unable to make sense of it, well, that explains some things.

Then I was also thinking about my friend and her daughter. Daughter reacts to ordinary problems as though they are an imposition. Her dog has been vomiting a lot lately. Actually, since my friend asked me to leave. Since then, the dog began to vomit and the daughter’s rash flared up. Her wedding is in a month. No one around here sees this as a stressful life event, but it seems to me obvious it is.

Anyway, the dog vomited in my room once and once early in the morning when I was in the kitchen, but no one else seemed to be up. In both cases, I cleaned it up. I mean, it’s a dog. Pets vomit from time to time. It was 5 minutes out of my life at most. If I were so busy I didn’t feel I had 5 minutes to give to a dog, that would be different, but I have 5 minutes. It’s not a big deal.

But the daughter seems to be very bothered by this, as though dog vomit is the last straw in an already overwhelming life. She was quite–apologetic?–about my cleaning it up those two times. Surprised, anyway.

This kind of thing gives me the impression that ordinary life struggles and setbacks don’t seem to figure into either of their thinking about life, that unpleasant things will happen and these things are part of life and things you can live through.

I was talking to my friend the other day and there were catfood dishes and cans sitting in the sink soaking. I was cleaning out my coffee maker, which always leaves this horridly big coffee-grind mess in whatever was in the sink. So after washing the coffee maker, I rinsed the cans out and put them in the recycling bin and rinsed the two plates. It might have taken two minutes. Anyway, I was just standing there talking. I wasn’t exactly overburdened with things to do.

My friend was anxious about this, and very apologetic. I just explained the coffee makes a mess and if you leave the grounds in something, the coffee becomes difficult to remove. But it struck me. These are people for whom rinsing out two cat food cans and two plates is a big deal. It’s strange. To me, that’s just lazy.

I am sure there is some kind of meaning attached to it for them, maybe something to do with unfairness. It’s beyond me, but I know they probably aren’t the only ones like this.

I don’t know if this really connects, but I thought about the dog vomit and Daughter’s entrenched view of life as something that ought not to involve cleaning up vomit. It made me think of Nata, and how for Daughter, it seems like life would be fine if all of these little things were perfect, and I think life would be fine if Nata would just come back. Just a she feels life ought not to involve cleaning up vomit several times a day, I feel life ought not to involve murder. For most people, it doesn’t involve murder, but people are murdered. You can’t go through life unable to accept that it does happen when it has.

I know the comparison is extreme–they are hardly on the same level. But it does make me think.