Attachment issues

I am trying again to write something, even if it doesn’t make sense or isn’t interesting. It’s difficult these days. Really difficult.

Here goes.

I am absolutely dead, dead tired. I sent The Boy home a few days ago, because he stayed out playing video games until 9:30 in the evening. In my view, that is too late to be running around without permission from anyone to be running around—mainly because the boys who don’t have adequate adult supervision in their lives are the ones doing it, and eventually The Boy might get caught up in the things those boys do to kill the pain of not being cared for.

I was very, very angry. I told him to go to bed and we would talk about it in the morning. In the morning, I made breakfast. He went and played in the park we have now while I cooked, and then I told him to go home. He came back a few hours later: My mom isn’t home. Where is your dad? At the local holy site. Go find your dad.

He went.

The next day his mom showed up at my house. Where is The Boy? He’s not with you? Well, obviously not. I made coffee for her and her semi-English speaking friend and went to find The Boy. It didn’t take long. It’s hard to hide in the bazaar. I brought him back, contacted his mother (who isn’t really his mother, it turns out. His mother is dead.)

Then sent him off, explaining there is a lot of work at home (they are farmers), but he has no work and he didn’t bring his books home, so there isn’t studying to do much, and it’s better he help out than run around getting into mischief. Very teary, he went.

I know it’s terrible for him. Sending him home is absolutely the worst possible punishment for him, but actually I cannot provide the structure and supervision he needs right now during the holiday. I am too fucking tired.

I would never do this to C. I most certainly have an attachment to The Boy, but it’s not the attachment I have for C. I would never tell her to leave my house for any reason. But maybe they are also different. C can’t approach. The Boy can’t leave. Clearly, they both have attachment problems, but of slightly different varieties.

So I was thinking about attachment. My issues are not all the past. They are also the present, and how I am responding to attachment concerns in the present because of the person I am now.

I got up this morning and felt a lot of negative feelings. A ripping kind of sensation in my heart, which I suppose is sadness, shame, despair. I started to see how I cycled through these. There would be a reaching for connection during which I was anxious and dissociated—the desire to connect being too shameful to bear—and then I would feel shame and despair. First sadness, then shutdown and reaching, then shame and despair. This is about attachment. I used to have a hard time in the mornings. I just felt so much sadness when I woke up. Probably because I was alone, but also because I wanted the connection I might get later. I wanted C. Last year, I began meeting her in the mornings to help her math. She avoided it, but I went, and I checked in with her (Did you finish your homework? Mainly.) From the time I woke up, I missed her.

This isn’t about the past. It’s about attachment and my reactions to it in the present. I have trauma from the past, and that adds to it and complicates things, but this is me trying to cope with the present. I don’t have a sense of an attachment being continuous or reliable. I want to continually check on it, from the moment I get up, like the relationship is an animal about to breathe its last breath. And I can’t. Socially, you can’t do that. It’s intrusive to do that. I am like this because I haven’t had reliable attachments. Historically, people have come and gone, if not physically then emotionally. That is my knowledge of how relationships behave. They disappear suddenly. In that sense, it is the past, but it is also the present. I am sensitive to indications that the relationship is at stake, and I am responding to those clues in the present, just like I respond to a sudden rise in wind and gathering clouds by bringing an umbrella, because that is an indicator of rain.

The hard part is that I was also shamed for seeking confirmation that the relationship was still there. I was rejected and I was shamed. So I am also sensitive to indications that my search for connection might not be welcomed, that it might be intrusive and inappropriate. I don’t really know what will be okay in relationships—in general, but also in the particular relationships I have—and I am responding to these clues about what might be crossing someone’s boundaries. I certainly don’t want someone checking in with me every ten minutes to see if the relationship is still there.

I have to be able to cope with the shame, actually with each of those feelings. I have to be able to cope with that feeling of my heart being ripped apart, which I think is sadness and longing. I think it is so intense, because it isn’t regulated. I am learning to regulate it, but I am also learning that it is allowed. The feeling has to be allowed before it is regulated. You can’t regulate feelings you are shutting off. I think it will get better. I think the despair will get better, since I know what it is about better. It’s not this alien experience: why do I feel so depressed? Because I am not getting the connection I want right now, and at least some part of me believes it is best to stop trying at least for the moment. The feeling of “better not to try” is despair.

That’s where I am today.

Different states

I meant to write something all day. I am having a hard time writing at all—both on here and privately, just in my journal. Writing in my journal actually feels even worse. The shame shower is intense. I feel almost instantly suicidal. Seeing myself is all it is.

I read something about attachment sensitivities in adopted children. It really said something to me. It matched what I am seeing in C and in other kids in my classes. The sensitivity mentioned was breaks in attunement, and it gave the example of a kid asked to pick up her napkin who doesn’t really want to (as kids don’t). And she pouts and maybe stomps her feet or something—showing sensitivity to the break in attunement. And I thought of C. I thought of C having attachment sensitivities and then displaying them at home in front of her parents, and how that sensitivity to the break in attachment would not get soothed. She would get scolded or beaten. I thought about myself, and what would have happened to me—that I would have been spanked or given a lecture about my attitude or something even worse. And what if our parents had the same sensitivities to breaks in attunement and then we didn’t want to do what we were told, and we needed to be soothed through the experience of being sensitive to it. What if our sensitivities sparked insanity in our mothers. It made a lot of stuff make sense, that those feelings would get shut down instead of integrated into the person.

And it also said something about the normal socializing effect of shame and what would happen if the child was not able to do that due to lack of secure attachments. Yes, I think it could feel like it does to me: like shame is all you are.

The last thing I thought (in this chain of thoughts the brief article sparked) was how my caregiver likely didn’t see me as the same child over time and didn’t respond to me as the same child, and I think that’s where the sense of being a discontinuous person comes from. The child experiences feelings as total, as the whole self, but most caregivers experience the child as the same child in the grips of different emotional states. Because of that, the child also learns to see herself as the same child in different emotional states. In my case, my mother had the same problem with attachment and trust that I do, and she did not, and I did not. Feelings were shut down, creating these jagged emotional states, and I was responded to as though my feelings were me. I can see how I did not develop a sense of self-constancy.

Attunement

Lots of stuff floating around in my head.

I have been thinking why C and I have the relationship we do. I think about this from time to time, think of answers even, and am not satisfied. I was thinking too about what makes contact with me so scary for her—she is in her village. They are voting here, and it involves many of the educated people around needing to do pollwork of some kind, and it also involves people traveling to the places their families live or used to live. (There are a lot of ancestral houses which sit empty the entire year, because no one actually lives there anymore. Once a year, people come home, have a big religious ritual, do some house repair and go off again to their jobs and families elsewhere.) The voting comes back-to-back with a holiday. Anyway, we get five days off, because people need to travel “home” and then back again.

C called me from her village when she arrived there, and sounded happy kid—kind of normal. The most normal I have heard her sound in a long time. Then I called her the next day and gave her holiday greetings, and she was much more guarded. She hasn’t answered the phone since then. I send a text message in the morning wishing her a nice day and things like that, and I call once in the evening and let it ring. Then since she doesn’t answer, I send a text before I go to bed. Just good night I love you I am not mad we are still connected. Usually I get a request for a recharge twice a day also.

What came to me after the crazyland on Thursday was that I am most likely right about how I interpret her behaviour, and what it means about how she is feeling inside, and that is the basis of our relationship, or some part of it. She is communicating in this very indirect way that I understand well enough to respond to in a way that feels attuned to her. So she asks for a recharge and I know, while she also would like phone time, what she really wants is some excuse to feel the connection with me. The feeling of connection comes from the sense of attunement. It comes from feeling someone gets you and is responding in an attuned way, even if none of it is stated.

The recharge request says I feel vulnerable and I want to know if I am wanted and if someone can take care of me, and that’s how I respond to her. If it were for a long period of time, I would have to think about the money this is costing me to just recharge her, but I do feel that when she feels safe enough to ask for attention and care from me in a different way, she will do that. She does know other ways of relating. I don’t know how the recharge came up as a safe point of interaction, but it is that for her. It might have come up because when her parents were here, and C lived near school, I knew she got home when she came online, because she never used to take her phone with her. It stayed in the house. If she was using her phone, she was home. And usually she came online around 5:30 or six at the latest. So she might be at the neighbour’s house or whatever for an hour or so after school, and then she would come home to do her chores, and I knew she was home, because I saw her come online. If she didn’t come online, then I knew she didn’t have balance on her phone and she couldn’t, and I would recharge her. I recharged her because it made me worried not to know if she had come home on time in the evenings and because it made me worried to feel she had no way to reach out to me if she couldn’t cope on her own. It is probably that memory, of my noticing when her balance was used up, and then doing something about it that makes her feel safe. It is this memory of having her need for connection met—the phone, after all, represents connection, doesn’t it? Before midterm, I felt much more ambivalent about these requests, because they were frequent and I was thinking how will this affect her relationship to money in the longterm. Since then, she has stopped asking. I do give her money every day. Not that much, but enough that she can buy a voucher for herself or a bag of chips or a pen.

On Thursday, when the distortions took hold, it seemed to me that I am wrong about this. No one else would interpret her behaviour in that way. They would see greed and a desire to take advantage of me. After I left crazyland, I felt more secure in thinking I am right. I am, at least, more right than anyone else would be. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have the relationship we do. What feels good to her, and also makes her feel so ashamed, is the attunement. She gets her needs met or at least some of them, although she is afraid to ask to have them met.

Maybe that isn’t quite what I mean. It is getting needs met, because she has needs, but in a broader sense, it is someone responding to her in a way that acknowledges her real feelings. The interplay between two people is what makes you feel connected and alive, and it is missing for her most of the time, because she is trying to constrain her own feelings and she is also trying not to see the feelings of others so that she doesn’t have to feel the judgment and rage she expects to find there. The absence of that connection between two people makes us feel lonely and dead inside.

Last Sunday, C came down, and The Boy was also here. C’s friends were asking him a lot of questions, and he felt very shy. He said he felt so shy he couldn’t even understand them. C sensed his feelings of vulnerability, and because he had gotten food on his face eating, she took her thumb and wiped food away from his mouth. That’s attunement. He felt like a little, frightened boy, and she responded to him as thought that is what he was, although he is 12 years old and quite able to wipe food away from his mouth. That is what happens with me and C, at least sometimes. Enough that she keeps coming back, hoping the feeling of connection will still be there and that she can still have a feeling of being attunded to someone.

 

Distortions

Something else kind of emerged from this.

I have been really worried this week about C. Really, really worried. And I know some of it was my normal disorganized attachment stuff. She left. I felt sad.

Then (not consciously), I felt, “She’s gone. I must have done something bad.” So worried. Part of it. It didn’t seem like all of it. Gradually, it started to emerge to me that it was also that C had blocked me on Facebook. I think I had realized just before she came to my house on Sunday, so not much time to process, and it didn’t seem like such a huge thing except that at some time earlier in the week, she had felt threatened by something or other and felt the need to push. So she pushed. I was busy and didn’t notice the push.

Last night, in the small hours of the morning, I began to think she hurt me on purpose. That is what is wrong. It frightens me because that is punishing parent, and that is one piece of it. She hurt me intentionally.

But also because it means she was really frightened or hurt by something that day. She wasn’t okay, and that’s why she felt the need to hurt me. So I was worried. What frightened her and why did she push? Well, I was writing to her about shame earlier in the week. It might have been around then. Specifically, I was saying, you are the same person when you feel ashamed as you are when you feel good, and when you feel you are bad and worthless, I still love you. I feel the same warmth and care for you when you feel you are bad as I feel for you at other times. It might have been that, because that would have been a very big deal for her to read. I don’t think she necessarily reads all of my letters. I don’t know how many of them she does read, but she might have read that one. Of course, the trigger might have been something I had no way of knowing about and didn’t cause, but it might have been that.

So I wrote her a letter this morning, and I said something like you hurt me and I still love you. It was a variation of what I had said last night: the relationship between us is still there. And that helped me, I think. It helped me to articulate that. It’s hard to know how to meet her needs, because she is meeting me along with friends and trying to pretend these are normal social occasions instead of deeply emotional events. Also, I don’t get any feedback in between. But that does meet her needs, or could. As a little kid, I think you need to know that you when you throw a tantrum and hit your mom or whatever, she still loves you. She’s not going to lock you in your room and go away forever.

I have very different thoughts about relationships now than I used to. I think they are very much my own thoughts. They aren’t things I have picked up from other places. Maybe I mean relationships with people who have attachment disorders, since I have one and many of the people I spend the most energy on do also. One of them is that one difference between C and VP Ma’am is power. When I can see that C is in a mood, I stay with her. She can do whatever she does, and I don’t leave until it has subsided somewhat. When VP Ma’am is in a mood, I emotionally duck. I stay physically distant from her, because she hits me or pushes me sometimes and she also makes sudden, critical comments. Those things wind me up. On top of everything else in my normal life that is difficult, I can’t cope with VP Ma’am’s disorganized states.

I can’t cope with hers, because she has power than I do. She is more senior than I am in the school and she is also about 10 years older. At a practical level, what I think this means is her motivation not to hurt me is lower and my perception of her desire to hurt me is different. When C wants to hurt me, it really, really does hurt. It hurts that she wants to hurt me, but I don’t actually feel vulnerable. I don’t feel she could do something that had an actual impact on my life. I think that’s quite a huge difference, and it explains to me in my own mind that while C and VP Ma’am seem to both have disorganized attachment, I want to help C heal and I don’t have any such motivation to help VP Ma’am. If you don’t have greater power than someone, then you end up in a very vulnerable position when that person cannot control the impulse to punish a loved one they feel anger towards. I have more power than C, and I think it is likely that I always will, because of the nature of our relationship.

My other thought is that when you feel connected to someone—you feel that person cares about your problems and your point of view—you develop an interest and motivation to have empathy for them. You start to care how you affect them. I once had the idea that it was all about boundaries. I no longer think that. I think it’s about that delicate dance between trying to attune to other people, and then letting them know what it feels like for you when you aren’t being considered. Boundaries are part of that, but they aren’t all of it—not by a long-shot. If you are in a relationship where someone is constantly lashing out at you, being firm is probably not going to make a difference, because detachment makes people care less. I don’t think it’s about being vulnerable all the time either. I think actually you cannot make someone with equal power who lashes out at you stop. They have to want to, and they might not. But if you aren’t able to attune to them, they won’t care very much how their behaviour impacts you.

Anyway, to return to C and worrying about her, I had this awful day on Wednesday. It felt more and more I was losing my mind. Then I had this thought in the middle of the night about C hurting me, that it showed she was worried or frightened and was pushing, and I felt better thinking I know what is troubling me. She is frightened by something. That is what is worrying me.

Then I went to school, and I was free during second period, as was Arts Sir and for some reason he took it upon himself that day to discuss my departure from Country X, including the question, “What will you do if you can’t come back?” So I began to lose my mind again. I was already stressed and he was talking to me about it and I could feel myself just absolutely losing my mind as we talked. I went home at lunch for a coffee in order to escape and get some down time, and that helped. Maybe not much though. Then the class next to mine did not have a teacher last period, and they were fighting. The day period they had been fighting rather seriously over some name-calling. That is Angry Boy’s class, and he’s in this vulnerable place of feeling valued and loved and special for the first time in his life, and really trying to please me. Which means he is in a very vulnerable place. I was worried about that class and I also had to be very harsh with both classes to get them to behave, and I was not able to stay in the class I was supposed to be teaching for long. It was pretty chaotic and unpleasant.

At the end of class, I sent The Boy to my desk with my backpack, and I went to meet with the Literary Club. When I got home, I discovered my purse was not inside my back.

Shit like this always happens to me when I am on the verge of losing my mind. It’s a combination of losing small bits of time and upsetting the students. I don’t know whether it might have been lost or stolen, because the chaos in the classes meant I wasn’t watching my things the way I normally might, and I also might have set off all of the loose cannons in the class. I am not skillful in handling difficult behaviour when I am losing my mind.

So. No purse. I imagined many, many problems arising, and I felt sad at the sense of possible betrayal, because a student might have stolen it. I was quite a mess.

Then in the morning, I made the pancake delivery, and the Friend gave me a note from C asking for money, which I couldn’t give her, because I had lost my purse. She was going to her village.

I lost my mind completely. The distortions were amazing, like actually everything I think about having use and value in her life is mistaken. She does not care for me. She only takes advantage. I have essentially no worth and I don’t know how I will go on with life. It’s like a form of cruelty to have to live.

But I had breakfast to make, Club members to meet with, classes to teach, so I got on with the day. I got to school, and one of the Club members presented me with my purse. The effect was amazing. It was like the funhouse mirrors abruptly broke. I felt in that moment that it was clear my insanity was insanity, and not me discovering the truth (which is how it can feel). I also felt that the way I normally interpret C’s behaviour (as disorganized attachment, and not sociopathy) is accurate or at least more accurate than thinking I have no worth to her or anyone else. Everything felt suddenly clear. It was odd.

It occurred to me not long after that what had been wrong all week was that C was leaving. I had forgotten, I guess, that they were expecting a week-long holiday for elections, and it would come immediately after a holiday already set on the calendar which signals the end of the monsoon, and it would make sense that she would go to her village for that week.

I thought later also that it makes sense that this would be difficult. If you have a parent who also has disorganized attachment, then departures feel like punishment—they feel threatening, and the parent is likely to mount a (counter) attack as a defense against the perceived punishment of a departure, so for C, leaving would feel very worrying, very frightening. She would be very primed for an attack.

And that is why she pushed, and why sometime mid-week last week, she hurt me, probably intentionally—maybe in order to protect herself from the anticipated attack or maybe just to hurt me enough that I would go away and leave her safely out of harm’s way.

I felt better then. The mystery of what was wrong with C had been cleared up.

In the afternoon, she called me and told me she had arrived at her village. We had a very normal conversation—the most normal conversation I think we have ever had. Something is working.

Punishment

I am getting it now. I think so anyway.

I am working through the formation of my conscience. I was punished for things catastrophically—by being assaulted and by being deprived of my basic needs—but the mechanism of punishment is fundamentally the same. Other terrible things happened too, but this is one piece of what I have to deal with.

I did stuff my mother didn’t like, as all kids do, and she punished me as parents do, only the punishment was so extreme and she was so unable to help me cope with the emotional aftermath of punishment, that it all kind of stalled out in my mind. It never became something I could be consciously aware of and modulate like a thinking adult. It was all just impulse.

Also, she punished me for stuff that most people don’t get bothered by. It didn’t help me become a considerate member of society. Quite the opposite.

She punished me with abandonment and she punished me through physical and emotional assault. What emerged in my mind as the pattern for right and wrong was wanting connection and warmth and making errors of any kind.

C left on Sunday, and I felt really sad and then ashamed. Because leaving was punishment. Some part of my mind remembers that and is thinking, okay, we are being punished now, what did we do wrong? It understands that leaving means we did something bad.

The other pattern is really kind of just existing. If my mom noticed me, it wasn’t going to be in a good way. I was in one of the shops buying something, and I was very friendly and smiley with the shopkeeper and I suddenly, for a second, became aware of myself. I just kind of had this picture in my mind of myself and how I looked in that moment, being friendly and smiley. And I felt abruptly washed over with shame and angry. Being myself is bad. It seems to me that the punishment was so erratic, that that was the main pattern which emerged. There must have been times when actually I couldn’t find any pattern to the wrongdoing. The only constant seemed to me to be me or that someone noticed me. Something like that.

The important thing about this, maybe, is that the solution isn’t to say, well, really I am not doing anything wrong right now, so I will stop feeling ashamed. That closes off my awareness of the feeling, but not the feeling itself. Feelings don’t turn off through an act of will. I think that’s what I have tried to do in order to cope.

More later. I am really, really tired….

Having an impact

The distortions are hitting me really hard right now. I don’t know why. C came down with a bunch of friends to my house for a short while. Now she has gone. Her leaving has made me feel very intensely, and basically my mind has gone insane.

I think I am worthless and this is a permanent condition. If suicide had more dignity to it, I would go for that. Where I am right now is thinking I have to muddle through the best I can, being what I am: a toxic, terrible, selfish person with delusions of goodness.

It’s astonishing to think this is happening to me because someone left me to go to school. Being left is so traumatic, that I just kind of go insane. I think I never let myself exactly get to this place before, where people were inside my heart and could do this to me. That’s why it’s hitting me so hard. The triggers have been less intense in the past, because I didn’t allow as much connection to form. There hasn’t been anyone to leave me in a long time.

Also, C blocked me on Facebook and I feel really, really sad. I don’t think she probably blocked me today or even yesterday. She isn’t on Facebook that much, and we don’t chat. I just leave messages periodically for her to see, so that whenever she is online and feeling vulnerable, perhaps, there is something loving and warm to look at. Wednesday, she was online late at night, and she might have done it then out of a sense of fear that she was doing things she shouldn’t. She might not even remember she has done it. I can’t trace it back to something in particular that I have done.

It’s an hour later. I had a chat with C’s ex-boyfriend, who said C pretends not to know him. Then the Boy came home and we bought shoes for school. I have kind of found my mind again. But a lot of stuff is swirling around in my head. One thought is that the abuse I experienced really was severe. It doesn’t get fixed overnight. And I also thought, as I have thought a few times recently, that I don’t know what C experienced at home, but I think it was quite severe. That is not going to get fixed overnight either.

Some stuff happened while she was here. The Boy was here, and he was feeling shy, so he wanted momos and said he didn’t. Then he didn’t get any. I got up very quickly to give him momos, and C gave me a look like did I just shit on the carpet? I should have done something, and I didn’t. I don’t know why. It’s possible that I actually was angry at her, but I think it is hitting me very forcefully that I impact people. I am not invisible, and I think that’s hard for me to cope with. So I was coping with that, and I didn’t give her the reassurance I think she needed. It seemed to me she went away after that.

It happened yesterday also. I was supervising grass-cutting and some other stuff, and some of the students were being very difficult about it, and I got very angry. So I was walking from one place to the other, and I could see some of the students noticed I was angry. I didn’t feel I was necessarily emoting that much—I didn’t feel myself to be fuming—but it was enough of a change that they felt it. I could feel something in them in response to what was in me. Then they commented, and I told them. Some of the students don’t want to work, and I am angry.

I impact people. How I feel impacts people, even when I don’t express it intentionally. It might be that that has not actually happened that much before. In the past, I might have shut down the anger more completely, and it’s possible it would not have been visible. I don’t want to. It’s scary.

Saturday Night

I wrote a long post yesterday and seem to have lost it. I can remember it, but I don’t really have time.

It is Sunday, and usually sometime in the week, I get a note from C that says basically, “I want money. And don’t come.”

Which I interpret as, “Are you still going to take care of me? I am scared. Maybe you don’t want me. Are you there? I can’t tell if you are there or not.”

Up to now, I send the money with the Friend so that C gets reassurance on the first part, and then I tell her I am going to come anyway. And I do.

This week, I have been writing to her about it. In the past, I have explicitly said this is how I am hearing it. I am hearing you are worried whether I am still here and whether I will take care of you, and I am here and I will take care of you still. But this week, I have been writing to her about the feelings she had so strongly when it was outing time, and I came to get her and she would not come. She cycled through modes pretty hard, and she felt very ashamed and sad when I left. So during the week—I send her a letter every day, along with pancakes and sometimes other stuff—I wrote to her about shame. I said in a few different ways, “I love you when you feel ashamed. When you feel really, really bad and that no one can love you, I love you. I don’t stop caring about you when you feel you are bad.”

I didn’t get a note last night, and I felt worried. I didn’t know what that meant: if she was coping better, and didn’t need to check, or if she is too afraid to reach out in any way. I sent a message before I went to bed. Just good night I love you. I had no idea if she had her phone with her or not, but anyway my heart is constantly on display anyway, so I went ahead with it.

A while later, when I was sleeping, I got a message asking for a recharge. I had turned off the volume for message alerts and forgotten about it, so I didn’t notice until maybe an hour later, after I woke up again. It was getting near to 10 o’clock.

I said yes and some other stuff. In the past, I would not have said yes. I would have said it’s late. The shops are closed. Most of them were. The one that was open didn’t have vouchers for her phone. (There are two phone companies in Country X.) I kept sending her messages. Some of them, “I am here” kinds of things. Some of them updates on the progress. I said they didn’t have her kind of voucher, only the other one. (Somebody else in the hostel would have that phone company and she can use someone else’s phone.) She said okay. Send that. So I went back to the first shop. I got the voucher and came home again, and I sent the voucher numbers.

I was really worried, because this hasn’t happened in a long time. I haven’t gotten these frantic messages that she needed to talk to someone at night. It could mean she was more frantic, and less able to keep it together. Or it could mean that she felt safe enough with me again to show her franticness. Something happened with her after midterm, where she was in adult mode or detached mode more of the time and reaching less. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing for her, or what caused it. It might be that the matron has made her feel unsafe being close to me: the other teachers seem to notice how much I care and appreciate it, but the matron is a different case.

Anyway, it was worrying. I sent her texts over the next 30 minutes or so. Some of these were about shame, because shame is a part of the dynamic. After a while, she stopped reading. Maybe it was too much, too stimulating, too activating, too everything. I don’t know. I felt really very worried. I was worried she wasn’t coping. I know it’s my disorganized attachment also. I am worried because closeness makes me feel scared, and she reached out to me. I fell asleep and woke up a few times in the night. At after midnight, she hadn’t read my last texts. At 4:30 am, she had. I sent her a message, “I am here and I love you.”

She didn’t answer and I didn’t expect an answer. I don’t know how this stuff lands for her. I tried really hard to be there for her last night and I have no idea if I was. I am throwing darts a lot, just hoping something hits.

Another spin on things

So I have been thinking about how this other boy, maybe we should call him Angry Boy—I might have mentioned him once before and called him that—feels wonderful when I come to his class. I don’t think the change in him is just me. He has a good class teacher this year. I have noticed this over the course of the year. His class teacher is Arts Sir’s wife, and I have mentioned her a few times as National Language ma’am.

Anyway, his class teacher is very strict and very consistent and also kind. Most of the teachers, when there is some health problem with the kids, are pretty indifferent about it. Or they panic. But I have noticed when they are genuinely sick, this teacher calls their parents and sends them home. I have not really seen any of the other teachers doing that. Kids sit in class with 102 degree fevers and just kind of suffer through it. But this teacher has twice sent kids in my class home when they were actually quite sick.

She is also one of the few people I find comforting when I am upset. Almost everyone else just winds me up more, and I have learned it is better not to say anything to anyone when I feel distressed. But National Language Ma’am actually listens and responds to me rather than reacting, and somehow it really helps.

So I think actually she is a big part of Angry Boy’s transformation. He spends his day in a class where he feels he is safe. The boundaries are clear for him, so that he can trust them to be there and her strictness helps him feel he can control his behaviour. The kids are quite terrified of her, because she uses pretty severe corporal punishment, but she is consistent. She isn’t lenient until her frustration is unbearable, and then beat the crap out of them, which some teachers do.

It’s the same feeling C has for me when she sees me. I have been thinking about that feeling, because I am suppressing it most of the time. I have that feeling for other people—I have it for C. But it’s hard to take, and most of the time, I shut it down. I think it has begun to come out in a dissociated kind of way. The last time I went to C’s hostel to collect her, because I thought she was going to be too scared to come, I felt it. I was walking out of the hostel with her, and I felt wonderful. She was actually angry and in a mixed kind of state, I think, if I remember right. And I felt very happy anyway.

I guess one thought I have about that—because it’s unexpected that I would be happy when she is kind of pushing—is that I still love her. She can have disorganized attachment, and feel a lot of very upsetting things when she is getting connection, and I can still love her. I don’t have to make the disorganized attachment go away before I have positive feelings for her. I can love her exactly as she is, and she can make me feel joy that she exists, even with all of her trauma.

But I think I have to be able to feel that feeling in order to understand the feeling that Angry Boy and C have for me. Except that it’s hard. I think it is hard, because in my childhood that feeling is very closely connected with loss and shame. I felt wonderful being with my mom, perhaps, and I reached for her, and she was angry with me. I didn’t get the connection I wanted, and I got shamed and punished for reaching instead. There was no mirror in my mom of “you are wonderful to me too.”

Our children want us. If you grew up unwanted and you have children, there is always some point when your child wants you, when you are absolutely like ice cream with chocolate syrup and cherries on top to her, and it’s going to trigger shame. C wants me, and I have to cope with that.

Hitting nerves

This is kind of the first time in my life that I have felt I don’t have time for myself. People in the past have told me something like stay focused on you. This is the first time I have ever felt I knew what they were talking about. It also feels like the first time when boundaries have really felt important. I think that is what I am so grumpy about. Boundaries are important because they are not being respected by someone I believe should respect them, and then I have to set them, and actually it makes me really mad. I have, in the past, been very aware that I was doing things because I chose to do them. Whatever the outcome, what I was doing was my choice to do or not do. The actions were mine. So I have at times been very involved in the lives of other people, and I have felt that was my choice. I am doing this thing that might be of benefit to someone else because I want to do it and because it has meaning for me. C’s role in my life is like that. I chose her. I chose all the difficulties and work and worry involved in that.

I am a little bit less clear about the Boy, because I didn’t consciously choose him or invite him. He showed up, and I had to decide what to do about it fairly quickly without a lot of information. I don’t actually know what benefit I am bringing to him or what the problems he is struggling with are, and I feel more ambivalently about him. I think it is probably more painful to me, because he chose me. C didn’t choose me. She accepted, but she didn’t choose me. C couldn’t choose me. She wouldn’t have been able to do that. But it saves me grappling with that pain. She routinely pushes me away, and that saves me pain.

On Sunday, I went to meet C. The matron was not very happy about this—speaking of boundaries, I pushed hers. I repeatedly do that, because I want what I want. I want to help C, and I think I know what she needs, and I can’t let anyone stand in my way. So I am probably triggering her something fierce. Anyway, she relented, as she kind of has to, and I got there earlier than I expected to. It was pouring down rain, and the girls were in their classrooms, studying. After a while, I thought of meeting the matron. Although she might be a loose cannon, and I am sure I piss her off, I kind of like her. Also, I had ruffled her feathers, so I thought of going to smooth them down. I walked the little bit to her house: she lives just next to the girls’ hostel.

She saw me and said, “I hope you didn’t meet C just now.”

“No, they are studying now.” Not exactly happy to see me. I said I had gotten there early, and we are after all both math teachers. It might be nice to talk about something besides C.

There was kind of an awkward silence. She asked if I wanted tea. I told her no twice—I was given coffee anyway. I asked her about the curriculum review we had both been doing at our respective schools. So we talked after that, more naturally. Interestingly, she said before I had come, her toddler had been crying. The toddler was all smiles now. I didn’t say, but I thought, “Because her mom is happy now.”

After a while, some of the other teachers came over—I guess, for dinner. I could smell cooking when I came in. One of them I sort of know—I don’t know why. I have talked to him before. He started talking to me about C eventually. He said they could tell I really care about C. The other parents don’t come very often, but they see me very frequently. And he also said that he can tell from talking to C that she feels cared about.

I didn’t really know how to respond to that. I don’t think I responded that authentically. Anyway, I left soon after that. But it stayed with me, because after C sits with me for a while and usually either ignores me or pushes me away, and then gets angry at some point, and then hugs me goodbye, I don’t really know what happens. When I saw her in the hostel more frequently, I had spies and they told me, but I have lost access to my spies so I don’t really know.

When I saw her uncle, he said her friends were saying C had not been talking to anyone—just yes or no. But that might have been because of the boil, and all the shame around the boil and about her body. The week before, the Friend had said C was always playing. I wouldn’t be able to tell what kind of playing—it’s a part-y kind of thing to do.

It made me think something. There is this boy I mentioned in one of my classes. I have taught him for two years now, and he has problems with anger, which this week I have been thinking are about a perception of being under threat. Anyway, there was this thing about not wearing his full school uniform (missing those white sleeves most of the younger boys hate). When he started wearing them, there was this change in him, like maybe I can be a good boy. Maybe I can be liked. Maybe I can make somebody happy instead of perpetually disappointing and angering people. It was very noticeable as a change in him. In the classroom, he took on a fearful, wounded look at times that was quite different, quite vulnerable. So I knew something was going on inside him, and he was also happy. I mean, I have not really ever actually seen him happy. He is serious or he is angry. Not happy.

When I come to the classroom, I can see he has this feeling inside that we have when someone special has appeared on the scene, like, “Oh, God has arrived.” Well, maybe not quite that, but something equally intense—what your puppy feels when you get home. My person is here. It’s a great feeling. The change began to emerge in this boy last week.

Then the teacher at the matron’s house made the comment about C feeling cared about, and I started to think C felt that last year. I thought that joyfulness was her personality, but that feeling was my person is here. Someone cares about me, I am special to someone, and my person is here. I don’t have any idea what she was like before I met her, because I saw only the “teachers are here” mask or I didn’t notice her. But the person I saw once I had established a connection with her, this person who was bursting with life, that was because of me. I did that to her. The joy is part of her personality, but I brought it out. And I didn’t know that was possible. I didn’t know I could change someone’s life that way. But I have.

Bodies

It hurts so badly. I don’t really know why.

I miss C. A lot. I don’t know why I miss her more than usual, but I do.

I woke up thinking about something she posted on Facebook last year about a boyfriend: My hand wanted you, my body wanted you. At the time, I was really shocked. Country X-ers don’t talk like that, not even teenagers on Facebook. I was thinking today what an honest statement that was, and how much someone with disorganized attachment wants connection, wants physical connection, wants their body to be okay and wants touch to be okay.

Something happened to C’s body—she got this horrible boil on it—and I wrote a long letter to her about it on Monday, because I guessed that she might feel ashamed. I told her, in the long version of this, that things happen to our bodies and we get sick, and when we get sick sometimes it feels dirty. But we as people are not dirty. We get well again. That dirty feeling is not who we are. I told her she is not dirty, and I love her.

Anyway, I was thinking how much I want C, how much I want to hold her in my arms. And also how much it hurts to want her. I cannot think about holding her in my arms without tears streaming down my face. I don’t know why that happens, why it hurts so much. I don’t have any real idea. But I know that I have coped my whole life by trying not to feel things, and now I am trying to cope by managing my feelings instead. So I am trying to manage this pain instead of trying to make it go away. And it’s hard. It is really, really hard.