Angry

I seem to be swinging around to anger this morning. Okay, so I am angry. Just enraged.

I was thinking about a dance performance C was in last October. It happened to be a point in the year when her own mother was gone for 2 or 3 weeks: she had gone to Timbuktu to help C’s stepfather set up his new house there. He had moved in July, I guess. I saw them moving the day he left. I had happened to be at VP Ma’am’s house, and they are neighbours, so I saw C carrying furniture down to the hill to the road.

Anyway, there was something special about this particular performance. I had gone alone, but many of the teachers were there, and they were getting together afterwards to eat something that one of the teachers had brought to share with everyone. I don’t know what the occasion or if there was one, but at the end I wanted to see C and congratulate her. I suppose I had felt very involved with this process, because C’s friends had all asked me to look at their dances, and so I had watched them after school quite a few times. C had not said anything to me, but she must have felt something that I was there, and she probably also knew that I watched her when they were dancing.

It was also around this time that C had stayed too late at school in the evening practicing or pretending to practice, and her class teacher had scolded her harshly, and I had held her while she sobbed inconsolably. That might have been a few weeks earlier. Her mother might have been home at that point. Then also it was around this time that I came to C’s house for the first time. I had told her to come to my house to study for her IT exam and she had agreed and then not come, because the games coordinator had insisted that she dance instead, although the exam was the following week. And I had insisted she come to my house and study. I had been very angry at her and I made her come to my house, and the confrontation over this was very intense. Because I had been so angry I was speechless for about five minutes, and then I was very tender with C. Afterward, I insisted on walking C home. I didn’t trust her to get herself home, since she had lied to me about where she was, although only kind of. I think reason for the intensity might be hard to explain, because it was a quiet angry. I never raised my voice at C, and I did not say anything about why I was angry until she got to my house. Then I tried to explain that the games coordinator is not thinking about her future: the exam was next week, her marks are going to affect her future, but she is already a very good dancer, and it won’t impact her future.

Well, what I was explaining probably wasn’t relevant. She wants to please the dance coordinator and she is afraid to be close to me, but I didn’t know any of that at the time. Anyway, she cried again, but not inconsolably. Just gently, and I talked to her softly and held her hand while she cried. Then I answered her questions about IT, and I walked her home. She wasn’t happy about it, but she was resigned to it.

And at her house, I stayed for maybe 10 minutes before leaving. I didn’t let her make tea, because I wasn’t staying long, but I sat in her house for a while. When I left, she walked with me to the door, and I turned right before leaving and stroked her face. After getting home, I felt totally panicked. What have I done? I hadn’t adopted her as daughter at that point, and I thought what kind of line had I crossed? So I chatted with her and got nowhere (negative questions are impossible to get a clear answer to), then I called her. Well, nothing got cleared up, except that she was happy.

I know now how she felt when I did that, but at the time I had no idea. She felt overwhelmed with tenderness and warmth and longing, because she felt I wanted her. It must have felt that no one had ever seen her as someone you might be tender or gentle with. She is either a workhorse or foolish for having so many tender, vulnerable feelings.

It might have been the following week that she danced. So all of that happened, and her mother was still gone. After the dance performance, the teachers wanted me to eat with them and I remember IT Ma’am’s friend holding onto me and not allowing me to leave, but I wanted to say something to C. I finally got her to let go of me, explaining I will come back, and I went and said something to C, and I think I put my arm around her, and her shoulders were stiff and stooped. Then I went and ate. Somehow, by the time I had eaten, C still had not left. Maybe there was cleanup work to do. We left around the same time, and we walked somewhat together. When we parted, C said, “Goodbye, Ma’am,” very gravely, with her big, wide eyes on me, and I said good night to her. It was a lovely night.

I think I feel angry because she is so delightful, and her parents have hurt her so badly and I cannot imagine how you can hurt a child like that. She is just trying to grow up. I know I feel a joy in her existence that they do not feel, and I do not know how you cannot feel it for your own child. Her cousin is in my Class 4 this year, and they are very much alike. They are both so full of life. Her cousin delights me. I cannot help being delighted by the life in her. She laughed very loudly in class yesterday and I could not punish her for being too loud, because I was too delighted by her joy in life. It is so much like C, just to be so alive and so fully engaged in living.

I think that is the thing about the dance performance. Dance brings out that spark in C that is her life force that is otherwise suppressed a lot of the time. I think her parents recognize that C is a good dancer and feel a pride in that, but not the joy in her being herself when she does it. They are getting narcissistic supply, but not connection. And I cannot understand it. I can’t understand how they have raised to feel as though she can never be loved or wanted or appreciate, because she is such a delight.

I was also thinking, during the dance performance, of a literary activity last year, where C helped out as a captain, mostly just controlling the students, but also with keeping score. I think it was a spelling contest. I was trying to squeeze in time to check she was studying. In retrospect, it seems fairly stupid. But anyway, that was my project. She was in Class 8 and 13 years old and didn’t know her times tables. Not even her 3s. So I was quizzing her and she was far from in the mood for this. I know she really wanted to tell me to shove it, but she put up with it. She didn’t have much choice about it.

If it happened now, I am sure she would be enraged. But last year things weren’t as clear in the relationship and I think she was a lot less frightened. I sat with her on the steps leading down from what would normally be the green room, but is just an alcove here. Children kept walking back and forth. She said, “Go, they are disturbing.” I have this odd sense about small things she has said and done like that. Picking lint off my clothes, which she used to do all the time. Once, I was trying to help her work on her auditory processing issues, and one little girl who is one of my student’s sisters came and leaned against my back. C scolded her for disturbing me. Scolding her hostel mates and telling them to sweep. Once, her (older) cousin was at her house, and I came and they argued, because C would not walk her cousin home. It is not far. She could have gone and come back, but I was there and she did not want to leave me. C cares about me, and it is really very genuine. I think when she feels frightened and angry, she really, really wants to hurt me, but the care she feels deep in her heart is nonetheless very genuine.

And she loves me more than my parents ever did. I cannot come to grips with that. It is just absolutely too much pain, but the contrast is striking. She is a child. She is very deeply hurt and does not know how to have relationships, but the care she feels for me is stronger than my own parents ever felt. I know that is true. I don’t know how it is true. It is just a feeling of certainty inside. It is not a certainty that keeps me safe or anything. She will certainly get angry and want to hurt me and she is not my caretaker anyway. It is not about that. But she cares.

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Not settled

I feel like I am drowning. I can’t pinpoint why. I suppose it was the dance performance last night combined with a contact from C that I never had time to get settled with combined with lots of work that isn’t getting done, and working with VP Ma’am, who stresses me out more than I expected. We had club yesterday, and so we spent an hour together, but it was more my club than the last time. I don’t know if that helped me or not. I just didn’t have patience for it, at the end of a long day.

It might be cultural, to some extent, and it’s a part of the culture I am shielded from normally, because I create my own little world most of the time. I mean, it is my class. The students have to follow my rules, and my rules are the ones which make me feel comfortable enough to teach. I suppose I should ask someone about it, because there are two ideas bumping around in my head. One of them is that in Western cultures, one person speaks at a time. There is not a lot of wait time between speakers—it is less than in most Asian cultures (minus Country X)—but generally if one person persists in speaking, all of the other speakers drop out. I suppose it has to do with monochronocity, or whatever it is called. We do things one at a time. We wait in line. We take turns. We speak one at a time. As much as people complain we are constantly multi-tasking, come here and you’ll see how it could be worse.

Here, typically six people talk at once. If I call on one particular student, that student will mumble something unintelligible and six people whose voices I don’t want to hear will speak loudly all at the same time. It does not just happen to me. I have witnessed them doing this to other teachers.

The difference is that this reads to me as disrespectful. I did not give you permission to speak. I am your teacher. You need my permission to speak, and I did not give you permission to speak. I need to ask about this. Because students were talking yesterday during club time while VP Ma’am was speaking. They were having side conversations. Now VP Ma’am is in her 50s. She is one of the most experienced teachers at the school. The students ought to respect her, and having a side conversation while she is talking seems to me utterly unacceptable. And yet she went on. She tolerated it. I did not. Last week, I did not say anything, but this week I couldn’t take it. I said something to the student about it. I can’t remember what.

The thing is, very important people will come to the school and speak. They will come as the chief guest and get tea served first and have a wooden bowl full of fruits placed before them and get all of the best treatment, and the parents who have come to the event will talk the whole time they are giving the opening speech. They will stand when the person arrives to show respect, and then ignore that person from there on out. They will stand up and leave while he is speaking if he is giving a closing speech. I am not kidding.

So while I can’t cope with everyone talking at once, I don’t know if it communicates the disrespect I feel it is communicating. I still can’t allow it to happen when I am in charge, because then there is not clear communication. When students are not proficient in English, then checking for understanding is very important, and it also makes them safe. In Country X, instructions are usually not clear, the person with authority does not check to make sure the message is understood, and the students are punished for not living up to expectations they were not aware of, and they cannot ask for clarification because then they will be scolded for not listening carefully. So they are in a bind. I try to make absolutely clear expectations are communicated clearly so that students know what to expect. If they are punished, they know exactly what they did wrong and why. It is not coming out of the blue. So I check. I try to speak clearly and to check before going onto the next topic that the previous topic was well understood, so that they don’t have to feel the anxiety of not knowing what to do or that they might be punished arbitrarily.

And this is not the Country X pattern. The Country X pattern is to wander well around the point and then vent your frustration on your underlings because they didn’t understand. It is hard for me to fathom how this happened, except that maybe nothing new has had to be communicated until recently, and people have not learned how to do that.

But I think this is really the least of my issues today. The hard part is much more that I went to the dance performance, and certain students appreciated that I came. C was not there—her performance was a few weeks ago and I did not go to it because I was tired and she was so dysregulated that week—but other students I knew were, and I also thought about her and remembered the times I have seen her dancing. I had all of these memories of her, of being in our multipurpose hall during activities, and of seeing her dance at various times during the last 2 years, and I had this appreciation from other students. I suppose it was a lot, and I cannot get settled today. I couldn’t get settled yesterday, and I cannot get settled today.

I can’t get a handle on it.

Getting settled

Yesterday, a few times in the course of the day, I felt really worried about C. I don’t know why I did. Sometimes that happens to me and it is some other trigger in my own life and sometimes there is something really going on with her. It is hard to know what to do, especially since she has been so dysregulated and I have not really been okay either.

In the evening, I finally sent her a text. I have sent maybe 3 texts in the last week and a half. I know she has her phone with her now, so she reads them, but she doesn’t reply. I haven’t sent texts that really required a reply. One of them was something like, “I was thinking about you and feeling proud of you.” Another one, something like, “I am here.” The third one, “I won’t come to your hostel. It should be your choice.” I might have it mixed up, but it was something like that. Then this one, “I was feeling worried about you today. Are you okay?” I didn’t know if I would get a reply, and I had to sit with that. With having sent it, with being vulnerable, and with not knowing how she might respond internally to that. About an hour later, I checked my phone. I guess I had been busy in the kitchen or something. “Yap.”

So I felt she was okay. It was one word, but that was the tone of being okay. Okay and maybe I little bit happy to be checked on and cared about. I got the answer around the time I was heading to bed, and it got to me in a way that made it hard for me to sleep for a little while. I am not sure how to say how I felt. It seemed impossible that she was okay, that someone might be okay, and maybe I had a sense of her preciousness to me. It was hard to be with the happiness.

I thought I would write about it for a while, and get settled, but it is not working out that well. Someone has left there phone in the staffroom, but not left it on silent, and it is tweeting at me every few minutes and I am running out of time.

There is a dance show in the evening that the high school is putting on. I suppose C might be performing. She normally would be. I will go and see if she is there.

More later.

The puppy that ought to be drowned

It hurts so much.

I feel completely worthless, like there is just absolutely no hope for me.

In one of her novels, Agatha Christie makes a comment about there sometimes being one puppy in a litter that is just wrong, and you end up needing to drown it, and I feel like that puppy. No hope for me. Better to just call it quits on myself. I am not in a state when I think this. I feel calm.

That’s the problem actually. I have to do the laundry. I need to get breakfast on, and I don’t have time or energy to concentrate on my feelings. Pushing things down to get through things seems to do that. It seems to prompt total despair. I have also noticed when I push the feelings down, I get more rabbit-mind. I have more thoughts running around saying unpleasant things to me. Rabbit mind happens when I can’t attend to feelings, and feelings take effort to attend to. Sometimes I don’t have it in me to do that. It still takes effort for me to feel. It doesn’t come automatically for me. I have to work at it. It is probably completely unlike how an upset person with less trauma history feels, because I have this extra step. Calm down, concentrate, work at a sense of safety. Then feel. Then regulate the feelings. Someone else feels automatically and then works at regulation. I don’t feel safe enough to feel, but I still have emotions, and the emotions play out in my thoughts. Even when you lose the physical experience of having emotions, emotions alter your thinking, so you get the distortions.

It helps me to think about this though, because it helps me understand why this is happening to me. It might be that I am suppressing my physical experience of emotions, but I have an idea I am actually losing my ability to do that. I have an idea this is a new skill for me, integrating my physical experiences, and because it is new, under stress, or when I just don’t have the energy or concentration to give to it, I stop being able to do it. It’s like someone under stress trying to speak in a new language loses their ability to control grammatical construction. It’s a new skill, and under stress they lose it. Under stress, I lose the ability to integrate emotions into my experience.

In therapy, this was always confusing. There was this idea that I felt the need to deny my emotions, but if I knew I had an emotion, I had no problem saying I had it. The hard part was something I didn’t even know about. I didn’t know you were even supposed to feel emotions in your body the way I do now. I did feel them in my body, but not in the same way.

In other words, it was not necessarily the fact of the emotion that was the problem. It wasn’t, for example, that I felt disallowed from feeling anger or sadness or whatever. It wasn’t always that those emotions felt forbidden to have or to express. Instead, it was the actual physical experience of it. I felt afraid of having it, and I also did not know how to have it. I don’t think I felt I had a right to be in my own body, inside my own experiences, and I also felt afraid to be inside my body. It was too vulnerable to be there.

It makes me cut myself some slack. I’m new at this. It’s still hard. It’s going to get easier. But right now I need to go scrub the laundry, and then I need to make lunch. I can’t juggle everything. Not being able to juggle it all is very painful, but that’s where I am right now. It will get better. I will learn how to do this eventually, and it will come automatically and effortlessly, but I am like a little kid learning to ride a bike still. Every time someone says, “Hey, look at that!” I lose my concentration and I fall off the bicycle. Someday, I’ll get good enough at this that I can also look around. I can wash dishes while still processing emotions. Right now, it’s just hard. It’s a new skill and the emotions are very painful. There is hope for me. I am not the puppy that needs to be drowned.

Baby trauma

So I got through things. I wrote my lesson plans for last week, which weren’t done because I had been too busy trying to calm down all week to actually write things done. I drew a lot of lines in my grade book and made it look like I had been doing something or at least planned to do something, which actually the Department Head never asked to look at. He is supposed to give feedback on my assessments, but he really didn’t look at anything. I have no idea what he might write. He came to my 2nd period class while they were meditating, made everyone paranoid about having neat and tidy stacks of things in front of themselves so that they couldn’t concentrate, flipped through a few of their notebooks and went away again. But anyway I did what I thought I needed to do in order to prepare and had one less thing I might worry about later. Then VP Ma’am gave me a soft copy of her appraisal form and I duly plagiarized because this is Country X and who cares if it is your own work or not. Things got done.

I thought about some stuff in the course of the day that may or not turn out to be relevant later. In assembly, some boys were talking and I thought about making them stop. They weren’t paying any attention. The Look accomplished exactly nothing. Then I thought, “They aren’t mine. I don’t really care that much.” Last year, that would have been C’s area to supervise, and I would have cared. She worked really hard to control her section, and the boys did not always listen to her and none of the other captains really bothered at all to control their sections. So I always supported her, because she was the only one doing her job to the absolute best of her ability, and it was really frustrating for her sometimes.

And maybe that’s important. If someone isn’t yours, you care but not that but not that much. There are degrees of caring. Not everyone gets the same dosage. Or maybe I was just shut down today with the stress of doing the appraisal work.

After school, I had this profound sense of loneliness and isolation, that seemed to be connected to that thought of their being degrees. I just felt cut off from life and from everyone, not entirely, to a large extent, and I felt very sad and alone. I also felt somewhat hopeless. I seem to have chosen this fairly ascetic life for myself. There aren’t a lot of close connections or even the possibility of close connections perhaps. Is it really worth doing? Am I worth doing these things for?

You can see where that might go. I had a sense of just kind of walking through mud in life.

At home, at last, I started to think maybe I don’t have close connections to many people, but I might be on the path toward a life with a deep sense of connection to myself and to a sense of purpose. I don’t know where that will lead, if it’s an important thought, or just me feeling ashamed and despairing today in the wake of a lot of stress.

For some reason, I began to think of the cycle of how I feel related to a sense of vulnerability to the way babies feel when their mommies don’t come. I mean, if mommy is there, they might feel joy—just happy in their whole bodies to interact with mommy. Then maybe mommy isn’t there. They want mommy and mommy isn’t there and mommy doesn’t come. Then you get sadness and anger. If you think about what happens when mommy doesn’t come, an angry cry comes next. It is wanting first, then frantic, then angry. If mommy still doesn’t come, you get despair. The baby stops crying. Now, in the normal course of life, mommies don’t always come. Dr. Spock recommended against coming, I believe. That’s how sleep training arose. But somehow, something about my not being tended to as a baby was traumatic. Maybe it happened more often, or maybe mommy was there and hit me instead of rocking me, or maybe I generally did not get rocked or held or comforted enough to learn how to cope with all of those feelings. I don’t know. Nonetheless, it made me think the cycle in my head is baby trauma. It’s exactly the cycle of an infant being neglected. Now, the shame maybe isn’t. The shame is maybe an extra layer, but the shame seems to be me in my own head trying to shut down the desire to reach out, and maybe it happened later, or maybe it happened because my mom abused me and made me feel I had no right to ask for her to attend to me in some way—like hitting or yelling. I don’t know.

It made me think my feelings I have when I think of C are mainly not feelings for C. They are trauma. They are no more about her than the terror I have when I hear power tools reflects my feelings about sawing boards. They affect my thinking—emotions do—and so it seems that they are about C, but they are not. I would have those same feelings about anyone I felt close to, whether they were a kind or a cruel person, whether they cared authentically for me or were putting on a show. I do have real feelings for C, but they are frequently buried under intense trauma feelings.

And that’s all it is. As difficult as the feelings are, they are trauma. They are baby trauma. They are not me, or my deep and authentic self, or anything more complicated than that. Healing from them might turn out to be complicated, but the basic background of it is not. Someone neglected and abused me instead of nurturing me when I was a baby, and I am reliving that emotionally every time I reach for someone and want to feel close or connected. I feel it more strongly with close relationships. Maybe just close relationships.

It seems somehow worth dealing with. Address the baby trauma and I might know how I really feel about people. I might be able to get more joy from my connections. A lot of things could happen. I suppose it could seem hopeless—I still am affected by the saw and by the truck idling outside. It doesn’t though. I don’t feel it is hopeless. I feel like this can be done. It’s worth doing. I’ll have to figure it out.

Integration sucks

I still have a lot of work left to do that is all due this morning, and here I am writing a post. The jury is out on whether this will help me get settled, so that I can concentrate, or if I am just reaching and reaching.

I have an idea of what is happening when I feel very ashamed: my adult self believes it, and abandons me. I am left with just feelings and no one to take charge or do anything. I began to think about what do I do when C feels very ashamed. Well, I am there, and I love her. I need to do something like that for me. Because what happens is my adult self leaves, or it shuts down the feelings so that I can cope. It’s like there is no one inside to be with me through this. There is no one inside who continues to care about me. Either I don’t care, or I disappear.

I begin to have a sense of what I have gone through, that this is me, not the tiny child it is easier to be compassionate towards, but me. And I have really been that badly hurt. I think that’s the hard part. It’s so hard to believe. It’s hard to believe I have been so badly hurt, and hard to believe I can survive that hurt. It’s hard to believe I can be anything other than this wounded, damaged individual who has nothing left over to give, and yet I am trying to give. I am trying so hard.

At the moment, it seems I am failing at it.

That’s the other thing. Integration is not fun. Integration means you get to see all of your mistakes and how your pain has affected your life in negative ways and is still affecting it. Integrations means I no longer know how to shut down my emotions so that I can get my work done, or if I do I can feel that it’s causing me a lot of distress to do that. Integration means I have to face my failures, and I have to feel shame about them, and I have to know it’s because my parents did not love me or care about me or want me and I have to feel grief about that. Integration means I get to see all of the broken bits, all of the pain, and that life still has to continue. I still need to present how I am assessing my students to the Department Head and I need to do that while feeling I don’t deserve anything. I don’t deserve my dreams. It’s not reality, but as an integrated person, I get all of my feelings, so I get to feel unworthy and unloved and unwanted.

The thing is there needs to be someone inside listening to this. I cannot simply disappear into the overwhelming feelings. There needs to be a witness, a listener, or feeling the feelings again and again doesn’t help. Just like I would sit with C while she felt the depth of her shame, I need to sit with myself. I don’t really know how to do that yet. That’s the problem.

C’s

I didn’t really explain this, but I had an idea about Aliya. She wasn’t mine. I loved her like she was mine, but she was not mine. She did not love me like I was hers. She loved me, but it was not in the same way or to the same degree. There is a different feeling when someone loves you, but you are not theirs. There are limits. I know, because there are other students I feel close to and that I take a special interest in. One girl comes to my house at least a few times a week usually, just to kind of drop in. I care about her. It’s a kind of aunty feeling I have for her. She is not mine. I care, but she is not mine.

To my dad, I was less than nobody. I was a paper plate. Relationships mostly lie somewhere in between that, like my aunty feeling for the girl who visits me.

But I am C’s.

I don’t know how to explain that, but I think this is what has been so hard about the last two weeks for me. All of that pain she is feeling, all of the anger, it is because I am hers. She is angry for not respecting her boundaries because she needs me to see her. She is afraid of my leaving her because she needs me to see her. Behind all of her trauma reactions and her pain and her anger and her detachment, I am hers like no one else is. She is prepared, at any moment, not to be mine. She is ready to put the brakes on her feelings for me, but I am hers.

And it’s scary. I think it is something primal and very young that I am feeling. I don’t think it’s the more sophisticated, “She might leave me.” It is just a shaking all through my body, an awareness that I actually exist and I could stop existing.

In the afternoon, I think I am really going to get some work done. I feel energized and determined. For about five minutes. Then this fear floods me. It seems to be about C. Normally, I would go and see her around now. I would be thinking what to bring her. It was around 2 pm.

I feel really worried she is missing me or that she might feel abandoned. I sent her a text on Thursday that I won’t come to see her. It is her choice. So she knows why I am not showing up.

I still feel worried, and there is a bit of cycling involved. Some shame. Some self-hatred.

It feels really important not to contact her, to let her tell me when she wants me. She needs me to be there, but she also needs some control. I am giving her control. She has a right to that.

Around four, she posts about problems with friends. It’s awful for me, the pain I feel on her behalf, the intense sadness that she is hurting. I don’t comment on her post. I think that embarrasses her. After a while, I “like” it. She is not on messenger, but eventually I send her a message so that she can read it when she is ready to. Just that I am here and I care about her all the time, that we are always connected.

I really miss her.