The French Canadian

Last night, I dreamed I was having a passionate affair with a French Canadian. I was on a plane journey that came in two segments, and I felt worried I might miss my connecting flight. We seemed to be in a car driving somewhere—there were exit signs to watch for, directions to follow—and yet we were also having this affair. Snippets of the dream took place in the French Canadian’s bed. At the same time, I was also on a plane.

I don’t know where I was going, but I seemed to have departed from Montreal.

Everyone here at first thinks I am Canadian: all white foreigners are Canadian, because the charity that sends us here is Canadian. And some people still ask if I am going back to Canada after the school year is over. A colleague asked me that just yesterday. So maybe that is the Canada connection.

Then maybe I was thinking about affairs, because Madame Kay is always telling me it would be better for me to see other places and not remain here in my Y-Town. She told me this again Saturday when she drove me to the hospital for (hopefully) my last and final follow-up from typhoid. The response I always have in my mind—but don’t say—is that she is in favour of one-night stands, but what I am seeking is a long and satisfying affair with a place. She doesn’t wait for a response, so I never give one. I just think about my long and passionate affairs. Including, sometimes, the fights. As in, those periods when I can’t seem to adjust here.

However, the French part I can’t explain. Nor can I pin down the reason behind my obsession with planes since coming to Country X. But it is my fourth or fifth flight dream since coming here that I remember—and I don’t remember all my dreams. But it might be this sense of a journey and my worry about whether I’m getting somewhere that stemmed from a rearrangement in my head.

I noticed this only later in the morning. Initially, nothing remarkable happened. I got up, made my tea, heated rice, hung the laundry outside to dry, sat for a while and wrote in my journal. Then I began making breakfast and lunch—pumpkin today. My colleague gave me pumpkin yesterday, and something similar to black pepper, cherry tomatoes, and scallions. All of this seemed like it was going to cook up very nicely in today’s “curry.” But I couldn’t peel the pumpkin. The peel was thicker or harder or more something than usual. The knife kept slipping and I kept cutting my fingers or almost cutting them.

I got frustrated first, then angry. Very quickly, I became angry about EVERYTHING THAT HAS ANNOYED ME AT ANY POINT WITHIN THE LAST TWO DAYS!

Everything.

I’m not very good with anger. I don’t like it. I feel I can’t think straight when I’m angry. I don’t really know what to do with it. I seem to be able to ever surrender to it or shut it off. When I shut it off, I solve the problems that are making me angry (sometimes)—I don’t always just forget about it. But the feeling goes underground.

Today, I tried to just let it be. Without obsessing. Without shutting it off.

Eventually, it came to me that I’m angry about everything that has been unfair in my life. I am angry at the injustice of it all. I grieved over this same issue at some point a month or two ago and felt intensely sad. I suppose I have reached the anger stage.

It is not fair that I have to spend half my life trying to calm down because my family’s torture and abuse made everything into something dangerous, frightening, humiliating, or shaming.

It is not fair that I must “heal” from so much or that I must spend so much time doing it, instead of, say, having tea with the other Madames.

It is not fair that I must try to communicate with myself through the divide that being in parts has created.

It is not fair that I have to try to make sense of the parts, or that it is so effortful to do this, or that it takes up so much of my time.

It is not fair that I am not able to reach my full human potential because of this—as a neighbor, as a friend, as a teacher, as a family member, or as a member of society. I could be doing so much more than I am doing now. But I have to do this instead.

It is not fair that I was tortured as a child, rather than nurtured.

It is not fair that I wasn’t protected.

What happened to me was not fair, and it was not just.

We are told from childhood that life is supposed to be fair. Adults tell us life isn’t fair and then read us storybooks where it is. We believe the storybooks.

For most of my life, I have taken for granted that life isn’t fair—at least my life isn’t fair. And that was that. But I am starting to recognize that I was told life would be fair. The naughty child brings trouble on himself and learns the error of his ways. The person who believes in his worth will attract good things. There was also this sense of contradiction, and a consequent feeling of having been lied to.

I didn’t get what I deserved or what I was worth. I didn’t get what I believed I was worth either, nor can I get it now. Things worked out the way they did for no reason at all. Things are working out the way they are now because of what happened then that I had no control over. I can only live now within the parameters the past has given me.

Which includes:

Time to calm down from things.

Work on healing.

Time communicating between parts.

Effort thinking about the parts.

Most of us need to eat, sleep, exercise, and have relationships to be healthy. I must eat, sleep, exercise, have relationships, and work on healing to be healthy. I know we all have our burdens, but mine (and maybe yours) is greater than average. I was deliberately and systematically tortured. It isn’t on the same plane as life’s ordinary bumps and bruises. And it isn’t fair.

I shouldn’t have been tortured.

I shouldn’t have to do any of this.

I know this sounds like nothing more than a rant, but what it puts into place for me is the idea that it’s possible for life to be a little bit more fair than mine has been. A certain degree of justice is possible. No one’s life is perfect, but they don’t have to be like mine.

It turns out, if a psychopath is not in control of things, the world is very different. It’s a little bit fair. At least sometimes.

But I have spent my whole life accepting injustice—both in the past and in the ongoing present. I accepted a cruel and vindictive partner for many years because I thought nothing better was possible, and that none of us gets the treatment we deserve anyway. I accepted critical and power-hungry supervisors because I thought that is just what happens sometimes. I don’t know what I might have done if I believed life can be more fair, but acceptance is not always the way.

Everything in my childhood was arbitrary and capricious. I lost the father-lottery and everything followed from that single stroke of bad luck. And so I assumed that all else would come down to luck. When I find myself in a good situation, I am grateful. “I have been lucky.” When I find myself in a bad situation, I accept it. “Sometimes, that is just how things go.” Arbitrary and capricious.

I don’t attribute good things to my hard work, my talents, or my good nature. I accept blame at least sometimes, but I don’t hold others accountable. All of that starts to look different if I begin to think life can be fair. It means sometimes good things happen because I have done something right. Bad things might be because of what I have done wrong, or they might be because of what someone else has done wrong.

But life isn’t always an endless series of lotteries. Some of it is a direct result of what I and others have done.

Wow.

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Ruthlessness

It has been raining most of the day. I haven’t gone out except to go to the shop downstairs for staples: potatoes, chillies, sugar. It’s one of those days that makes you think of hot chocolate. There is no powdered chocolate here. I drink very sweet instant coffee, and that kind of does the trick. But it’s a strange day. I feel first sleepy, then sad. I have a plan for the day and abandon it out of fatigue.

It’s only after surrendering to the second nap—which doesn’t come, but I close my eyes at last and relax thinking that it will come—when the sadness crops up.

We have an excess of math teachers now at my school: two teachers left and two new teachers have replaced them, but the new teachers aren’t specialists in the same subjects as the old teachers. They will both be teaching a variety of other subjects beginning Monday: everything from science to class 2 English. It doesn’t affect my life.

Next year though, I wonder If the principal will request a different volunteer teacher who teaches something else, and if I will need to move on to another school. Some part of me thinks this is fine. I’ll broaden my experience of Country X. I’ll learn something. A different part feels sad about this.

So I lay there, not napping, feeling sadness well up that I hadn’t realized was there. And that gets me to thinking about the feelings I don’t feel.

I was sick for most of three weeks. I didn’t want to feel my sickness either. There are parts of being sick I think I didn’t feel. I didn’t feel the all-over-body-pain or the joint aches. But I felt the trauma reactions: the deep ache in my thighs, the chills, the dizziness that are memories of various kinds of torture. Those were too strong to shut out.

, I don’t feel hunger or fatigue. In the past, I haven’t felt afraid when I ought to have felt afraid or shame in situations where most people would feel ashamed. And it makes me realize that part of the splitting is splitting off feelings that a psychopath (my father) would interpret as weakness. I couldn’t afford to seem “weak.” Weakness was the green light to torture me more. I knew this, but I hadn’t connected something else to it.

There are times when I feel I am ruthless. I ruthlessly pursue what I need to do in the long run without concern for the pain it’s causing me in the present. As a child, there were times I ruthlessly destroyed animals to save them pain. Sometimes, I do what might be right, but I don’t feel the pain I ought to be feeling in doing it. It’s not that I have done wrong—I can’t remember everything well enough to know if I always did right or if I sometimes did wrong. But I did things that seemed inhuman. It doesn’t make me feel very comfortable with myself. It makes me feel in some way psychopathic—although I have a conscience, although I am not grandiose, although I have compassion. Sometimes, I have lacked emotional empathy or I have lacked normal human feelings of guilt, shame, fear, or simply empathic distress at having to harm someone or something else. It looks like courage sometimes, these incidents that I don’t feel comfortable with, but it doesn’t feel like courage. It feels like a soullessness, a ruthlessness.

Recognizing that I split off feelings that would make me vulnerable—not because I didn’t want to have them, but because I couldn’t afford to have them and having them could lead to something close to death—recognizing that helped me to make sense of my experience of ruthlessness. I did feel all those things, but I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t know I felt them. The emotions played out in my body in a way that kept them from showing in my face or in my posture, and in a way that kept me from knowing I had so that I wouldn’t feel doubly afraid. The experience of ruthlessness is a way of making sense of that process of splitting. It is how it felt to do very difficult painful things while suppressing their accompanying pain. Also, it gives me a more comprehensible reason for why this happened than finding the emotions intolerable, which somehow doesn’t quite fit for these experiences. It does for other experiences, but not for this one.

This recognition makes a part of me feel it can come home again. Until now, I think I harboured a fear that there was something wrong about me because I could do this. Indeed, there is something terrible about being able to do the things I have done without breaking down. My fears about this kept that part split off, and I couldn’t fully integrate those incidents that I associate with a sense of ruthlessness. I wasn’t ruthless. I was a little girl trying to be brave, and the way I knew to do that was to split off my feelings of weakness, fear, and vulnerability, shame, and guilt, hopelessness, and sorrow. I am both the little girl that split them off and the little girl that felt them.

Cult as culture

On a personal note, I am happy to report that I am continuing to recover. I taught like a normal teacher today instead of a semi-invalid. And it was grand.

That aside, being here in a new environment has sparked a lot of rethinking for me. I thought I would share it. Maybe it will help you too.

We tend to think of what we learn in controlling religious groups (i.e.—cult) as something forced or coercive: we call it brainwashing or programing and attach it to fears of punishment. And cults do tend to be linked to very intense anxieties. The fear of hell or ostracism or whatever it is that we perceive as the consequence of not toeing the line is very strong.

But much of how we learn a cult’s values and practices is no different than how we learn the values and practices of any group. It is only partly the result of sitting in church for many hours a week being told something is true. More powerful than the overt messages conveyed by leaders are the covert messages of ordinary social interactions between cult members: what makes cults different than other groups is their insularity, so the message is not diluted by those coming from outside the group.

In the 2x2s, we can point to the sermons of “workers” (ministers) as the way we learned to be submissive, quiet, and aware of the hierarchy. In reality, that was only one piece: as children, we learned more from the disapproving looks we received when we were loud, boisterous, or too demanding than what was said from the platform. As adults, we learned from how long-term members already behaved. We learned from being responded to in a positive way when we were duly “meek.”

It is not really different than how we learn to be American, or middle class or white, or suburbanite or whatever our other cultural and socio-economic identities might be. And the problems with it are the same: when we leave that environment, we cannot effectively get our needs met—either our interpersonal and psychological needs or sometimes our practical needs met.

I have seen many an assertive, outspoken, confident American unable to get good service in polite New Delhi because those are not helpful skills there. Outside of the 2x2s, a “meek” attitude will often get you steamrolled in aggressive, mainstream American culture. Meekness is not a helpful skill there. Culture shock.

Culture shock always results in increased anxiety. Sometimes, the result is that people run back to cults to curb the anxiety, to feel at home again, and to feel comfortable and understood for who they are. Groups of “exes” can act like foreign enclaves, easing the transition, but the transition is not an easy one, and it goes far beyond just re-examining one’s religious beliefs. It means changing practices that are linked to our identities and who we understand ourselves to be.

For example, I have mentioned that Country X is one of the loudest places on earth—something I had not expected. Here, shouting is a way of life. For the first few months I was here, I felt a little scared all the time. Everyone seemed to be so angry.

For me, loud voices—aside from situations where you need to command authority—represent a loss of control. Maybe you raised your voice because you were angry, or maybe you raised your voice because you got carried away with a joke, but it’s about a loss of control. A person fully in control of themselves never needs to be loud. Everything that needs to be said can be said quietly.

I had never realized this. I thought I was just quiet. But I had never really tried to be loud before. It hadn’t been necessary.

But a month or two ago, I started to realize my quietness was an impediment. On the one hand, I can’t very easily join in conversations, because very often the person who wants to speak to me is talking across the room. Worse, Country Xers favour overlapping patterns of speech. There is no “wait time” before someone else starts speaking. If you want to talk, begin before the last person is finished. Which means you need to talk louder than they are or at least as loud.

So that’s the other problem, because I prefer more wait time than is average for other white Americans, and Country Xers prefer less. I’m sure this is another 2×2 hold out. If you can speak right away after someone else is finished, you didn’t consider what they said properly. You aren’t really listening. You are just thinking about what you want to say. That might not be the same for everyone or for all fields, but I got the idea—probably from the wait time in “meeting” (church services)—that you ought to look like you are thinking things over instead of just always jumping in.

That’s really two problems in one: wait time and volume. And it impedes my full participation in day-to-day social life, because I often can’t get a word in edgewise.

Problem number two is different: it’s about perception and identity and about needing to be able to communicate accurately to others who we are. This isn’t the same thing as having people like us. It means if someone doesn’t like us, they dislike us for qualities we agree we have, not because they misunderstand us. In 2×2 culture, being quiet was a likeable quality (as far as I can remember). A quiet person was someone you wanted to be around. Maybe their good example would rub off on you. It suggested, if nothing else, humility and sincere desire to do right.

Here, it’s not like that. I think my quiet instead suggests a formality, or an uneasiness, possibly even a boredom. In other words, it communicates something I don’t feel. Now, some people are just quiet. That is true. And underneath the cult programming, I am probably just a quiet person. However, “quiet” people here are perfectly capable of having a conversation across the room at volumes you can hear outside. There is quiet and then there is quiet. I suspect I am quiet. Madame Cee is quiet. She came to my house last week, bringing dal because I was sick. I knew she was coming, because I could hear her talking to Miss Japanese on the stairs leading up to my house. She is not quiet. She is only quiet.

My quiet does not communicate accurately how I feel or who I am. The meaning is different in this culture from the culture I am still falling back on to interpret my own behaviour. It is leading to misunderstanding. That is problem #2

Before our midterm holiday, I started to realize some part of this and began to try to be louder. I had conversations across the room. I talked over other people who were talking. I had a little bit of an invisible breakdown that only you, as my closest eight friends or so, know about. Mysteriously, I began to feel something was very wrong inside me, I didn’t immediately connect it to being loud. I just had a general sense of losing my identity. Of course, the loudness was only one piece of it, but it makes an easy example to follow.

Other people understood me better, but I understood myself less. The language of behaviour doesn’t change that fast, and while you are in the midst of trying to make that change—to learn a new language—it’s uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking, and stressful. You really cannot just keep using the new language all the time while you are still “hearing” its meaning in the old language. You find yourself not liking yourself very much when that happens. You need something to withdraw into when the stress gets too much, and you need to make changes gradually—not all at once, not continually. And you need to do things that confirm your identity in other ways.

So I’ll tell you what I have done: I eat lunch with the ladies in my staff room who gather around a table together instead of with the group in Madame Kay’s staff room where half of them sit across the room and talk at full volume to the other half. When I want to chitchat with someone in that staff room—either Madame Kay or one of the other teachers–I sit next to them so that I can talk to them quietly. I do still end up talking loudly, but this way I don’t have to do it all the time. I get a break from it.

I keep in better touch with other friends now, so that at least I get a chance to feel normal. And, when I am well, I will go back to doing my rounds at the holy site. I realize my “kora friends”—mostly elderly men and women—who see me there regularly make me feel normal too.

I know none of you are trying to leave a cult, but if you are ever in that position, I think these are the things you have to do to help yourself manage the transition. A cult is a culture. It is not just a church or a religion or a belief system. And you will experience the same kind of culture shock leaving it as if you were here with me in Country X.

Feelings

When I wake up in the morning, I have the tiniest sense of internal energy. My body does not feel energetic at all: it is quite content to lie on the couch with my eyes closed as long as I will allow that. But there is something inside that is different.

I decide the feeling is optimism. I think I am getting better.

And this prompts some thinking about feelings, because really at 6 am when I got up to prepare breakfast, there was nothing to tell me that I was feeling better. I didn’t jump out of bed, eager to get started on the day. I got up gingerly since mostly things don’t work right first thing these days. Then I watched my legs carefully to make sure they carried me into the kitchen. They don’t seem to know how to act independently anymore. I have to give instructions, especially when they first start going. Later, they get the hang of it again.

Nonetheless, it seems to me I noticed something subtly different, and my feeling of optimism is a way of communicating that general impression to my conscious mind. I think this is really what feelings are for: they are a form of communication, both within the self and between the self and others.

I don’t think I knew this before, or I didn’t completely know it. It has come to me only gradually that feelings have a function. They aren’t there to be pleasant or to add interest to our lives. They aren’t even there to express our personalities. They are there to tell us about the world.

It’s true we also have emotional responses to what our conscious mind thinks about things: we make a cognitive assessment of the situation and then have a feeling about that. That’s not the whole of it though. It might be less than half. We also see things, hear things, feel things, and then non-consciously compare how this looks, sounds, or feels to past situations. Then we have a feeling about it. And the feeling informs us of what to do.

My optimism informs me that I am well enough to try some things. I can sweep the house. I can try washing the dishes and see if that feels too tiring. It says, “You don’t have to stay on the couch quite all day. You can get up a little. Do a few things. Maybe change your clothes.”

I had it backwards for a long time. I assumed my feelings had it wrong, but my conscious mind had it right. My conscious mind needed to find ways to deceive my feelings to be what I might prefer them to be. Outright denial does this. The conscious mind intentionally manipulates one’s view of reality. And one’s feelings are consequently deceived. I can go on feeling all is well when all is not well.

I had to do that as a child. I had to think there was hope when there was really very little. I had to keep trying to do things when there wasn’t much point. I had to dissociate the reality that no matter what I did, I would be tortured, I would be raped. I would have no protection from this and no power to stop it. I had to deceive my feelings into allowing me to move forward.

Depression is your nonconscious mind telling you to stop. “This isn’t working. It isn’t helping.” I think some of what we call “negative self-talk” is a way of trying to describe the feeling to ourselves that the situation we are in isn’t going to get better if we keep going about it in the way we have always done. We perhaps don’t know the best way to describe this feeling. We go about it in a hurtful way, but the intent is positive. The intent is to communicate about our impression of the situation being hopeless.

I think the most depressed I’ve ever been in my adult life was when I was trying to make a marriage work that wasn’t working. My spouse was deeply narcissistic, selfish, easily wounded, and vindictive. The relationship wasn’t meeting my needs. Worse, it was constantly triggering trauma memories and making me confused about who I was. I didn’t listen to the depression and what it had to say: “This isn’t working. This isn’t helping.” Instead, I kept doing more of the same: couples therapy to try to improve communication in the relationship, medication, more self-care to try to improve my mood. I kept trying to change my mood instead of listening to what the mood had to say.

Eventually, I did begin to listen to the depression and I became able to hear what it had to say: “This isn’t working. This isn’t helping.” Then, I began to feel better. I stopped trying to do things that were never going to work anyway. And the relationship ended, almost all on its own. The depression lifted. I know not all depression is like that, but I think feelings are generally like that more often than not. But some of us ignore them, or we don’t know how to respond in a helpful way.

I’ve realized this year that even when my feelings are being triggered by the past, they are also about the present. And in both cases, they are trying to tell me something. If I start feeling suicidal while scrubbing the laundry, it’s because I am feeling tired or my legs are aching from squatting too long. Maybe it’s time to stop working and sit down for five minutes. My feelings might also be telling me about how hopeless the past was, but they are also telling me about the present. They are telling me that what I am trying to do is too difficult. I need to rest a little.

I grew up without empathy or compassion. My father had no capacity for empathy. My mother could, but she was so emotionally labile that usually she couldn’t connect enough with others to feel it or act on it. Her inner world was too intense for her to calm. They didn’t know how to respond to or make sense of their own feelings—let alone mine–so I didn’t learn how to treat my feelings as an adult. I only learned how to deceive myself into feeling something more pleasant. But feelings tell us about reality. When we don’t like what we feel, it’s often because there is something about reality that needs to change. If we keep trying to deceive our feelings into being more pleasant, reality never changes. You don’t leave your emotionally abusive spouse. You don’t rest when your body is tired.

Many of my posts are conversations with myself. I am glad all of you come to listen in. You are as much a part of my life and as valued as the people I see face to face—maybe more so, because you are closer to being in my head than anyone else and yet you accept me. Even cheer me on.

This post is also a conversation with myself. It’s a conversation with Lana, the part who doesn’t like having feelings, and who thinks feelings will make her weak. “See, it’s okay to have feelings. Feelings have a purpose. They help me make better decisions. They are not just vulnerabilities. They are not just mad creatures inside that must be kept under control. Feelings are a language, and what they are trying to tell you about is reality. Listen.”

It’s not that I don’t have feelings or that I am in denial of all of them. But she needs to be present when I am having them. That is what integration means.

Country X update #3: parts, dreams, successful scolding

As it turns out, I still have typhoid. I am not improving in any noticeable way since a week ago. So I went back to the hospital yesterday. They repeated the Widal test for typhoid, and I still test very, very positive. Consequently, the doctor changed the antibiotic I was taking. We will see if this works.

For three hours yesterday in the late afternoon I felt sort of normal, and this began to give me hope that I will again start to get better. But actually I often feel better in the late afternoon. It’s the daytime when the fever returns and I get very weak. Mornings are usually the worst.

The new antibiotic has to be taken every six hours, so I set an alarm to take it in the middle of the night. Actually, I set an alarm twice, because I have started going to bed so early that I needed to wake up for two different doses before morning came around.

In spite of the interruptions, I slept very heavily and I had a lot of vivid dreams. First, I was running away from someone or something. I think it had something to do with the law. I have dreams like that sometimes where I’ve just robbed a bank. Then the getaway car is not there when it is supposed to be and I end up running a la Thelma and Louise, only it is often just me. No Louise. So I was swimming in the ocean—I am not a strong swimmer in my waking life—and got caught up in an enormous wave.

Later, I dreamed about packing up and moving out of an enormous house: a place with perhaps 20 bedrooms, a great hall, a kitchen you could hold a dance party in and a library. The family moving in had an unbelievable number of children, so it was perfect for them. They must have had 40 kids. Before leaving, I explained to them about the ghosts in the house—there were two. One of had a habit of leaving doors open, so you had to doublecheck the doors were locked before going out. Then one of the ghosts showed up to say goodbye to me.

It’s the second moving dream I have had this week. The first one, I was packing up a house with the help of a girlfriend or my ex-girlfriend or just a friend. I often have a kind of nebulous sidekick character in my dreams who seems to be a mélange of everyone I’ve ever been close to: my sister, my best friend, one or two ex-girlfriends, and now sometimes there is a little Madame Kay thrown in. Anyway, the sidekick and I were packing up to move, and I came across a suitcase full of very beautiful men’s clothes—mostly gorgeous ties, but also some shirts and slacks.

I used to dream about fleeing from my parents and from my parents’ house. I think these dreams are in a way related, but there is now more focus on what to take and how to organize things rather than on escaping. (In the old dreams, I never really arrived anywhere. I never got to safety. I was perpetually in the process of leaving.) And it seems like a little bit of a no-brainer to think that I am dreaming about the parts in these recent dreams. The suitcase full of men’s clothes belongs to a transgendered part. The ghost is Ghost and I am turning myself—the house—over to the child parts, which I imagine has something to do with relaxing control and allowing these other voices to be heard.

Yesterday, I was thinking about gut feelings—that part of emotions that happens in your core. I still suppress this. I have little flickers of sensations, but it’s still mostly far away. I feel emotions less directly—as thoughts or in some other physiological sign. I’m trying to allow these sensations to be felt.

I am starting to understand that being raised by a psychopath is in some ways different from any other form of abuse. Because of my dad, it feels dangerous to feel any emotion at all, because the best way to deal with a psychopath is never to reveal anything at all. They should have nothing to work with, so that they can’t figure out an efficient way to torture you. If you feel something, you might inadvertently express something. That is one effect.

The other effect is that psychopathy becomes your model for how other people think and behave. The baseline assumption is that other people aren’t sincere, they are deceptive, and they don’t have anything resembling a rich emotional life. They feel only very simple things: anger, greed, contempt.

So for one part of me—Lana—it is dangerous just to experience feelings. It is okay to talk about feelings or to write about feelings and it is okay to think about them, but it is not okay to have them inside me. Those gut feelings are frightening. I think this has been more on my mind because I have not been well, and it seems to me I dissociate many of the sensations of being sick. The ones that come through are more the result of being triggered and trauma replaying itself. There are physical symptoms I suspect are there and cannot feel. And psychological symptoms unrelated to the disease that I can feel. I need to be able to feel it all.

As I was falling asleep last night, I tried to let those gut feelings come, and they did. I think maybe I was happy. But I’ve realized it’s less important to be able to name or describe the feelings than it is just to experience them. I was happy, I suppose, because I felt better, and because I felt a bit hopeful that the new medicine will work and I will soon recover and feel a bit normal. And also because I called up Madame Kay and had something like a normal, comfortable conversation with her.

Lately, it has occurred to me that just as I am confused by my Country X friends sometimes, they are also confused by me. As a result, I have been watching for that sense of confusion in the other person. Confusion means I have not communicated clearly. It means I expressed something the way someone from a different culture would understand but they don’t. For me, that’s a cultural mishap. It means I did something wrong. Not morally wrong, but pragmatically wrong.

Being able to communicate interpersonally—so that I know what I expressed and I know that the listener understood me—is as important as being able to manage daily life here. It’s like being able to withdraw money from my bank account or buy vegetables. It’s a skill I’m trying to learn these days. My lack of skills here impedes being able to form relationships. Success for me here means being able to form relationships. So I am working at this.

You might say, “Just be yourself.” But it turns out “myself” isn’t a straightforward concept. Where do I end and a lifetime of acquired habits begin? When do acquired habits feel like the self, but aren’t? Most of what I do, I realize, is culture. It isn’t my personal identity. It is just a bunch of things I learned or you could say it’s a language I’ve learned for expressing myself. However, I can express myself in a different language—through different behaviours—if I just learn how.

When you are learning that new language of behaviour, there is a period of discomfort. You are still “hearing” yourself through the language of the old culture while trying to express yourself through the language of the new culture. Sometimes, the other person understands you, but you can’t understand yourself. (As happened in my culture shock phase.) Other times, you understand yourself but the other person doesn’t.

Consequently, these days, I am trying to listen for that understanding. Can I understand what I am expressing? Can the other person understand it? When I’m not successful in this, the emotional feedback I get is a sense of confusion and discomfort—either in myself or from the other person. But this is also progress, because it means I can now read confusion in a Country Xer.

So yesterday, I scolded Madame Kay. Her phone had been switched off for three days–there’s a long story to this, but it’s not very interesting. Understand, however, that Country Xers are expected to pick up the phone. Since she is my friend, I have every right to be annoyed with her for not doing this.

“Where were you!” I demanded. (This was not really a question.)

“At the school.”

“With what SIM!” (Because the long story I am sparing you involves a lost SIM. This was also not a question.)

I think she laughed at that point, but then I got the long explanation of the lost SIM and the process of getting a new one. But what she got out of the scolding, I think, was a sense of being loved and cared about and wanted. Which is what I was trying to communicate.

Monday, the last time I was at school and saw her, I scolded her also, but I gave her the wrong kind of scolding. I gave her an Indian scolding instead of a Country X scolding, and I left the conversation with a sense of confusion about it—her confusion. Because of that, yesterday’s successful scolding was a high watermark for me. I have improved.

In fact, Madame Kay has scolded me three or four times, and on those occasions, I felt hurt and confused. (Why is she so mad at me? Is she mad at me? What exactly is going on here?) But I have acquired the Country X scolding now. I can do it and be understood. I can understand it. The principal scolded me twice this week, and I understood exactly what he meant.

So, a little bit happy.

 

Post-typhoid

I’m just thinking aloud here.

It was difficult for me to be sick. (Scared. Also—was that a body memory or a symptom?) It’s just as difficult for me to recover. It’s time like these when I think people who say I’m a patient person are lying or deeply mistaken. I am not a patient person. I want everything to be fine right now.

All is not fine. It is sort of getting to be okay. I did laundry in the morning. Swept the kitchen. Made breakfast and lunch. I kept it together. As it turns out, that was too much, and I got to school exhausted, and had to rest before starting my work. But at least I have a clean t-shirt to sleep in whenever it dries. And socks.

But that aside, what I miss more than my body is my mind. My mind is my main source of entertainment. It is my TV, my internet, and my X-box. If I didn’t have dissociated parts to sort out, I’d be just as energetically sorting out something else.

Without my mind, I am colossally bored.

On a different note, my mind makes me different—more different than average—but it also gives me the skills to make connections. I am different here also. Again, I need my mind to cross those bridges. Temporarily having lost my mind (or maybe you could say it has gone to sleep), I am lonely as well as bored.

Further, I can’t understand what is going on around me. I understand the languages here even less, the social cues less, everything less. It makes me realize I am accustomed to the idea that if I really, really try to understand, then I can understand. I just have to try very hard. Because usually that does work for me.

These days, I’m too tired to make myself try. It’s the “I can’t make myself try” feeling that is driving me crazy the most. I am frustrated. I am frustrated at the stubbornness of my tired mind, that tells me, “I am too tired,” and stops whether or not I consent to its stopping.

I think this might be a good realization to have. My mind mostly will try. When I am well, it will merrily crunch along, straining to sift through whatever data it can find to help the world make sense to itself even if the strain is intense. My mind is a little bit special that way. It can keep going.

For most of us, when thinking gets difficult, we stop doing it. We reach for a simple explanation even if it doesn’t quite fit, or we forget the whole matter entirely. The rest of humanity functions a little like me when I’m sick. Which sounds arrogant, I suppose. I don’t mean it that way. My mind works the way it does, because it is very, very gifted. But there is nothing that great about that. It’s like having blue eyes. Some people have them. I guess they’re nice. Whatever. Other people who aren’t gifted in that way can probably dance better than me or beat me at cards. Doesn’t matter. I am not saying there are other kinds of smart when I say that. Just that being smart in any way is not a big deal.

But it does mean sometimes I do struggle to understand what it might be like to be someone who isn’t me—I guess we all do. We’re all unique and we all struggle to understand what being someone else might be like. But this kind of thing helps me.

When I am frustrated that sometimes people won’t look for more compelling explanations or search for more satisfactory solutions to problems, this is why. Our brains get tired and refuse to go on. Without realizing it, we decide a tougher stance on crime is the answer (or a softer one), we think terrorists should be defeated (when new ones will just keep popping up), and domestic violence happens because the abuser has low self esteem.

Compassion. Sometimes we can’t think more deeply about something and we can’t look for better answers. Sometimes, our brains just won’t do what they’re told. They’re tired and they stop.

The typhoid post

We had a holiday on Thursday. I confess to not remembering it that well. At 5 a.m., I went to the holy site to meet Miss Japanese and Maths Ma’am for rounds. After a little while, an English teacher I haven’t mentioned before came. She’s the class teacher for one of my classes and the doctor’s wife, so let’s call her Doctor Amma. The two of us walked together for a while and talked about various things—I have no idea what now. Then Madame Cee came along and I walked with her. When she was finished with her rounds, I felt like going, so I went, but she stayed behind to wait for her sister.

In the afternoon, I returned. Madame Kay and National Language Madame and one other of the lady teachers plus some other people were sitting in the grass, so I went and sat with them. I said one or two sentence to Madame Kay and she said one or two sentences to me. Then the conversation shifted to the regional language, and mostly I was silent. After five minutes, it was time for at least some of them to go, and so they split up. I did my rounds—only a few, since I had been there for more than an hour in the morning—and left. As I came out of the place, National Language Madame was also leaving with a few of her friends, so I walked with her and we talked a little. Then her friend wanted to buy something and I went on ahead of them.

What I am getting at I suppose in that lengthy play-by-play is that it was all a bit natural. People came, or I came. There was conversation that I understood or didn’t understand and then we went on about our business. I wasn’t confused about whether I was following the group or going off on my own. I wasn’t sitting in on conversations, not sure if I felt a part of them or not. I was a part of them. When it was time to go, I went.

Things were fine. And I was very happy about that.

That was Thursday. Friday, I woke up feeling fine. A little tired, I think, and my feet hurt very badly for it being first thing in the morning. I made my breakfast and lunch, swept the house, took a bath, wrote in my journal. And then I began to feel very, very sick. Burning hot, shivering, and strangely out of breath. Mostly, I wanted to cry. So I sent the principal a text asking for leave for the day.

Later, Madame Cee took me to the hospital. I saw the doctor. He speculated low calcium and ordered a blood test for typhoid. So I gave them my blood. In the lab, a “holy site friend” saw me and asked what had happened to me. (Maybe.) And Madame Cee said something back on my behalf.

When I returned, they had not done the test for typhoid. The doctor prescribed a calcium tablet and said to come back in five days for the typhoid test.

In the afternoon, I felt quite a lot better anyway, and I had a presentation to give on Saturday, so I sat in bed and finished preparing for it.

Saturday, I woke up feeling except that my feet hurt. I thought I would go on as normal, give the presentation, and be happy to be done with it. I did the household chores and took a bath.

And then again began to shiver violently. But this time the principal called, “Where are you?”

“I’m at my house still.”

“So you cannot give the presentation today?”

“No, sir. Sorry, sir.”

(This is not the exact dialogue. It took a bit longer than that to get down to the point, but you get the idea, I think.)

Again, I spent the day in bed, and again I began to feel a little better in the afternoon. But Sunday I woke up feeling horrible—without the shivering, thankfully. Just weak and out of breath. Like going to the toilet was the equivalent of running up the stairs. Madame Cee turned up at my doorstep at 5:30 am with eggs. “I could not come just now. Very busy. Eat eggs.”

So I ate eggs.

In the afternoon, I thought I was better, so I did my shopping (no rice in the house!), took out the garbage (two weeks old!), and went to call on Madame Cee (busy doing laundry and did not hear me.)

Monday, again horrible. This time, I sent a “leave letter” with Madame Cee, stumbled through making breakfast and lunch and then slept the rest of the morning. At 1:30, my landlord came knocking at the door. My landlord and I speak Hindi together, which is really quite a lifesaver sometimes. Otherwise, all communication would have to go through the children, because his wife does not speak any English at all except for numbers (very helpful) and some grocery items (also very helpful). Landlord Sir’s Hindi is very different from what I am used to—I think only the accent is different—but mostly I understand him.

“Do you want to go to hospital?”

Some other stuff.

“It closes at 2:30.”

I nodded somewhere in there.

“Ok, let’s go.”

So we went.

Waiting for the doctor, a “holy site friend” saw me through the glass of the doorway and nodded at me, smiling, very happy to see me, and I nodded back—happy to see him also.

This time, the doctor prescribed an antihistamine for reasons I cannot fathom that made me unable to wake up Tuesday morning. But I did wake up, and I did feel better. Off I went to school. I even taught two classes. By lunchtime, I was exhausted.

In the evening, Madame Cee and Miss Japanese came by with dal. Then they went off to coach badminton. Later, Madame Tee and the one we call “Century” (there is a post about this if you want to look it up) came by with biscuits and mango juice. Later, Maths Ma’am came bringing her son and vegetables from her garden. (She left with son, but gave me the vegetables, fortunately). So it was a busy night.

In the morning, Madame Cee came with puri and something like samosas—again at an ungodly hour, but she knows I get up early. I ate them and went off to school, feeling a little bit okay.

Anyway, the five days were up, and at 9:30 or so I suddenly remembered I was supposed to go back for the typhoid test. The alcoholic man who is in charge of our health matters—and knows quite a bit about health things and teaches us useful skills like washing our hands and not to use stones when using the toilet—took me in one of the other teacher’s cars.

I gave my blood and back we came again, with instructions to return at 1:30, after lunchtime.

At 1:30, there was no sign of Health-in-Charge. I waited for him. I called him. I sent to a student to search for him in his class. Forty-five minutes later, I asked Dzongkha Madame, who was in fact not free and had to leave her class. But, anyway, these things happen. Probably I should have realized that Health-in-Charge was not coming and asked Dzongkha Madame in the first place because she had been free when I needed to go in the first place.

Lesson learned.

At 2:30, having missed all of one class (although I gave them work and also checked in on them once) and knowing I would miss a second class (but having also sent a student with an assignment for the class), I rode off to the hospital with Dzongkha Madame.

Apparently, I have typhoid. Either that, or it’s a false positive because I have been vaccinated and could not quite get that fact across to the doctor. At any rate, I have three types of pills to take for the next ten days, and a more impressive diagnosis than low calcium.

For the past four days, I have really not been able to think much at all. Clarity came only between the hours of four and seven in the afternoon, when I felt a bit better. The rest of the time, my head has been a wasteland.

In the meantime, however, I have called a few of my friends out of loneliness and, I guess, habit—including Madame Kay. Astonishingly, I had this thought during one of these that I knew what she meant when she said something. I knew the subtext, and I knew what was expected of me. I didn’t know it in a timely fashion, but I did after hanging up the phone. That was nice.

Also, at school today, I seemed to be something of a different person. It’s hard to describe this exactly. Maybe I spoke to more people. Or maybe I was just more relaxed about doing it. At the hospital, I had a pleasant conversation with Tablet-Wallah, whom I feel is something of a friend now (having seen him three times in five days). It was as if some part of me had decided I know how to do this now, and then went about doing it.

Culture shock is an interesting thing. My legs are burning like a ran a marathon, and I want to just go to sleep without eating dinner, but I suddenly know how to talk to people. I know how to get my needs met without feeling I am acting strange or pushy or overly shy. It’s not that I feel more a part of things, but that I feel normal in some way. Normal within myself, instead of peculiar.

That’s also nice.