Losing my mind

I am going to lose my fucking mind.

It works kind of in patches. Like I’ll get a good stretch of 10 or 15 minutes and then melty brain sets in again. It so happened that the principal decided (actually the guy in the head office decided) that we ought to have a mandatory meeting for all of the teachers following the last exam in the morning. Now, the assumption is generally that if there is no exam, we are free to start our holidays. And I need to get C from her hostel and take her to my house and pet her for a little while. You know, because she is going away for two weeks and if you don’t get a send-off of any kind, you kind of feel like a stone and not a person. So the idea here is just that she is not a stone.

There are these other constraints, because she is going with another family who happens to be travelling to her village according to their schedule, which she kind of needs to be able to follow since they are taking her. They aren’t her particular friends, so she needs to be considerate of them.

And then I am leaving first thing in the morning for a workshop, so I really do need her to go with them, so that she is gone and safely with her grandparents before I leave.

C’s last exam ends at 11:15, and the meeting starts at 12:45, and I have no idea when the family is going, because C is being a Country X-er and being vague about time. Possibly, because the family is being equally vague. It’s clear I won’t be able to give her a nice send-off, and sit with her until the family leaves, and it’s also clear that she’s not prepared for any of this. She is aware only of her own restrictions, because the principal only announced the meeting yesterday morning, and I haven’t discussed it properly with C.

So this is going to be fun.

It’s important I not lose my mind, because she is going to lose hers.

I got several patches of urgent messages yesterday, and it was somehow very tiring. They were mostly about recharges, and I mostly gave them to her, because I knew she was in a terribly stressful situation—exams, a departure and a reunion, all major stresses—and I thought it might help her to feel I was there, just to be given what she wanted. In the morning, I couldn’t because I was proctoring an exam and I didn’t happen to have any vouchers on me. And I explained about it, and I got back, “But I want it just now.” And I told her, “I know it’s hard to wait, baby. I will give it to you at lunchtime.” I am sure after that she retreated into a defended, paranoid place, but it was the best I could do. If no one yells at the baby or hits her, maybe the baby will heal a little and be able to grow up.

The hard part is the imagined audience I have in my mind, that disapproves of all of this and declares that, since she is very tiring to me, I need to back off from the relationship. I get this advice when I disclose how it feels sometimes. It’s tiring. C is very, very tiring sometimes, and I am coping (I think), but I am very, very tired sometimes. The harder part of that is thinking that actually I am pretty sure this is helping her. It’s not fixing the whole problem, and it can’t, but I am almost certain it is helping her. It’s okay for me to be tired for a while. I will live through that, even if at points it is hard to cope with, because I am doing something that has a deep meaning for me. The invisible audience says I am sacrificing myself for someone who doesn’t care that much about me and does not give me anything back, but I know what I am getting back is a sense of meaning that is important to me.

The invisible audience believes I feel helpless, like C is calling all of the shots, but I don’t. I know I am making decisions that are my decisions, but that they exist within certain constraints. Like that if I am not skillful in responding to C’s emotions, I will get to deal with a very dysregulated child who does not have the ability to calm herself down. Being skillful makes sense. She’s not calling the shots, but if you don’t feel your baby, she will cry and you will have to cope with the crying.

What’s hard to grasp, for my invisible audience, is she does not really want to be this way. It’s not freely chosen. She does not have the skills to do better. She has lots of trauma to deal with, and no specialized coping skills. It’s not selfishness that she does the things she does. It is not pure insensitivity that last night she said come at 11:15. I want a mirror. (Because she is concealing her need behind a demand for a material object.) And this morning, when she began to want to push away her sadness at parting from me, she said don’t come, and if you come to hostel I will not come to your house. That’s not just playing with my feelings. That is melty brain. She just can’t cope, and pulling me and pushing me seems like it will help. It’s not going to, but what does she know?

The other thing the invisible audience doesn’t realize is that I would have a lot of stress in any close relationship. I don’t know that it would be easier with a “healthy” person. My issues would be exactly the same. Stuff would trigger me, even if it were not intended to, even if it were actually caring, well-meaning behaviour. And it might be harder because, with C, at least I have power. I am an adult and she is a child, and I have power, and I also have a responsibility that maybe motivates me more to deal with the fall-out. Maybe with a peer, I would just fuck things up. I have no idea.

So.

I have isolated something. I am phobic of sadness. I was writing about this in my last post. It is absolutely true. It doesn’t completely make sense, because I have felt lots of sadness for years, but maybe it was while I was in a dissociated state. Maybe I could avoid fully taking it in. C is pushing me away but I also want to push her away, because I am also sad, and I want to not be sad also. I want to push the source of the sadness away so that I don’t get punished for being sad.

The problem is not that there is anything wrong with sadness. The problem is people might hit me if I am sad. I am pretty sure about that. I mean, I am pretty sure I am afraid I will be punished for it. There are other issues, but this is kind of the current one.

Sometimes the sadness is not really that great. It seems that way, at least. I have been realizing I feel sad about a lot of small things. C didn’t message me back. I feel sad. It’s not a huge, crushing wave of sadness. If I let it in, that’s a small sadness, but I would automatically fight it if I weren’t trying so hard to attend to my feelings. When I make mistakes and feel ashamed of them, I feel sad. I don’t know that it’s an enormous sadness. Sometimes it’s just a little sadness. But I would ordinarily push that away, which triggers despair instead. Despair is not actually easier to deal with, but hiding under the bed didn’t get me in trouble. Clinging to my mommy did. It’s sad.

C is going, and I feel sad. I think it’s not a crushing sadness. It’s a medium one. I was crying some gentle tears this morning and feeling sad, and it didn’t seem very bad. It’s just that I am afraid of it, so I shut it down. Then all of this other stuff happens. It probably wasn’t the only problem to begin with, but I have worked through some other stuff and this is what is left.

The thing is I am very, very afraid of it. This morning, thinking of her departure, I feel like I am going to crawl out of my skin. The closer it comes to the time I need to go and get her, the worse it feels.

It’s very important I not lose my mind today. I lost my mind in December when she left. I did not like it. I would not like it if I did now. I need to still be attentive to C and her needs. I need to be an adult, and I need to be an empathetic, available adult—not a detached, uncaring adult. A mask of capability isn’t going to help.

Wish me luck.

 

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Fossils

I was reading some articles on Schema Therapy, because that is sort of what I have been trying to do with myself in a kind of modified way, and I realized some pieces fit for me, but the underlying assumptions of it are not mine. I mean, I might be right or Jeffrey Young might be right, or a bit of each, but we don’t conceive of it in the same way. The original idea is that individuals with borderline personality disorder (which is kind of what it was designed for) were deeply emotionally deprived as children and still are children in many ways. I think, instead, that the modes are memories of childhood: they are unprocessed traumatic events in which I was a child, and a part of that memory of trauma is the felt experience of being a child. I think that mainly because it makes sense to me. It fits. I look at normal, non-traumatized small children and I think, “That’s how I feel.” In difficult moments, I feel exactly like that child does, only I was abused as a part of that experience. I wanted the red one and not the blue one just like a normal 1 or 2 year-old, and I fussed, and I got brutalized. That feeling of fussing is part of the memory and wanting the red one is part of it too, and really the only memory I have of that kind of memory is the emotion of it, because I was too young to form any other memory of it.

What I mean is that there are these feelings that are normal and every young child feels them, but they were never integrated or processed because my parents did not help me regulate myself. They did quite the opposite. I am looking at C to understand myself also. I think I feel many of the same things she does, but it’s sort of like blinking when it’s in my head. It happens too fast to catch. But I look at her or even at VP Ma’am when they are in a punitive mode and they want to hurt me and I think, “That’s rage.” That’s, “I want the red one.” Babies and young kids feel rage when they don’t get what they want, but the parent soothes them through their rages and things like, “I want the red one,” become pinpricks of disappointment. I mean, there are more significant and painful reasons for the rages, but the intensity of the feeling is about being a baby, and having no ability to self-regulate that yet, because it hasn’t been learned. When your parents are abusive and neglectful, it doesn’t get learned, because you are assaulted instead of soothed.

C likes to reject me and abandon me. I always have this odd feeling about it, like this doesn’t hurt, but I kind of think it’s supposed to. Last night, I suddenly had this thought, “She wants to hurt me. That’s why it feels like it is supposed to hurt me. It is supposed to hurt me. It is supposed to hurt me when she disobeys me (sometimes, not always) and it is supposed to hurt me when she rejects me.” She gets that abandonment hurts, because she has been abandoned, and it hurts her. Sometimes, she is simply retreating to keep herself safe, but when I have the feeling that this is supposed to hurt, it might be that it is intended that way.

When you are angry, you want to hurt someone, and this is the way her unregulated baby-rage is surfacing. You can call it “Punitive Parent,” but it is someone who feels very angry and wants to punish the other and has amassed various ways of doing this over a lifetime. I was watching a 2-year-old who didn’t like her bow a few months ago. She hit her mom and then clung to her for comfort. Yeah, that’s an angry baby. Now, imagine an angry baby whacked on the head or left in a crib to cry for hours, instead of being cuddled and talked to or distracted. That desire to punish doesn’t get regulated. It just sort of comes out in a wave.

If you think of an infant who is hungry and not being fed, it’s a much more intense rage than that 2-year-old feels. They aren’t organized enough to hit, but that baby’s body is completely flooded with rage.

There’s more to it than that, but I am just getting across the idea that the emotional lability of borderline feels like a set of fossils to me. They feel like trauma memories, and they get wandered through on the way to other places. If the emotions are regulated in the process of this wandering, I think the fossils stop being fossils. They get integrated.

There are four parts to my cycle that has to do with relationship trauma. I have it kind of figured out today: fear, sadness, anger, and despair. I feel the suicidality when I shut down the feelings of sadness. That is what makes me feel despair, shutting the sadness down. I am afraid of the sadness or of the experience that is connected to sadness (closeness, usually) and then I might get angry about not having it, but any form of backing away from it or from the experience leads to despair and suicidality. Even a decision to back away from something based on practical considerations and in no way designed to shut down my feelings does it.

Then I have all kinds of feelings and thoughts about being in such despair. But what it is concealing is just sadness. I don’t get to talk to C right now. I feel sad. That’s it. It’s not something terribly complicated. I have all of this complicated trauma to deal with, but the baby trauma is very simple.

I think really every part of the cycle has to do with avoiding sadness, and I think the reason for it is that I wasn’t allowed to cry. It’s odd to consider this because I cry a lot. I feel sad a lot. But I have been feeling a sadness for the last 24 hours or so that is different. It’s very hard to allow in. That might be because of the content: that it’s somehow recognizably distinct from other sadnesses, because it is baby sadness. Or because I feel my body more. Or I don’t know what, but I am starting to see I am afraid of feeling sad. And I really do think that’s because I wasn’t allowed to cry. As a baby, I was neglected, and I wasn’t allowed to cry, and now I am scared to. I am afraid to feel the emotion that leads to tears.

Every part of that cycle gives me melty brain, I have realized. If I am in any of those states, I cannot think reasonably. If possible, it is better to try to completely clear my mind of thoughts and concentrate on the feeling and on staying in it while also regulating its intensity. If I can remember that, then I think many things might get better in my life. Already, I am starting to be able to tie sudden onsets of feeling shitty to particular events, which helps me to realize I need to not engage those thoughts. Even if it’s a real issue that I need to consider, it needs to wait. At the moment, that thought is a part of melty brain, and I need to attend to my state of arousal before attempting to think. I guess it just changes my perspective to think of it as a fossil—not a fossil that can be ignored, but a fossil that does not have quite the same deep meaning about who I am as I have assumed in the past.

For example, at some point in the evening, I had an intense feeling of being broken and unfixable, and it occurred to me that’s a fossil. When I was a toddler and young child and nothing I did pleased my parents or interested them or created any point of connection short of complete self-annihilation, I felt broken. When my mother attacked me out of the blue, I felt broken and unfixable. I felt no one could ever want me or love me. That’s a fossil.

And it didn’t create the same upset inside me to feel broken. I felt a deep sadness, and I was able to not move away from it for a few seconds at least—it is really hard not to move away from the sadness. When I felt suicidal, I knew, “That’s because I shut the sadness down. I couldn’t take the sadness or the fear of the sadness, and I shut it down, and that leads to despair and feeling suicidal. When I get more energy, I will try to let the sadness in again—because I have to make a deliberate effort to let it in. In the meantime, I am going to have suicidal thoughts.” It helped calm things down a lot, and it also gave me hope, because I do believe these trauma fossils can be integrated. It won’t be like this forever. I don’t know what will happen when it’s not like this, but it has to be better than what is going on now.

Suicidal feelings

No, I have it backwards. My implicit memories are of my reaching out to get my attachment needs met and withdrawing in order to maintain the bond with parents by complying with their wish for me to not have needs.

I have this new idea that my suicidal feelings and wishes to self-harm are implicit memories of trying to take their perspective and in that way attempt to maintain the bond with them. It felt like they wanted me to be dead, and that I was also bad and needed to be punished. Those seemed to be their deepest wishes about me. They were violent, but I don’t think your parents need to be violent to generate that feeling that they would like you to be dead. It’s an inner deadness they seem to be after, one in which there is no “you” left—no needs, no feelings, no transgressive opinons, nothing difficult.

It’s untenable though. You can’t really die. You can’t realistically tell your parents to stuff it. I mean, you can and most of us do, but you can’t mean it.

That feeling that I am worthless, that is me thinking I need to go into my little hole and try as best I can to be psychically dead. Despair is a response to the impossibility of my position. It isn’t the cause of the suicidal ideation. It can be, but in this case I think it isn’t. The despair follows the suicidality, because that’s not really going to work. I cannot psychically kill myself even though I have to try. Nothing is going to work. I am just fucked.

The bond

I have some more thoughts about the grief for the bond now.

The thing about people who are mentally ill, have intense trauma, or are addicted to substances is that their challenges affect their ability to form a bond. There are two parts to this: the bond motivates us to take the perspective of the other. When we feel no relationship to another person, we don’t care that much how they feel or what their experiences are like. I think it’s a really core part of racism. In a society where one group has more power than another, this tendency to not care how other people feel because you have no bond to them—not even a shared group identity—has an enormous societal impact. The feeling of alliance to another person makes you interested in imagining life from their perspective.

If, from childhood, your ability to bond to other people is impaired in some way, you don’t get as many experiences with imagining someone else’s mind, and empathy is both cognitive (based on what you know about how other people feel and think) and emotional. There is less to draw on when you get to imagining the next mind you want to imagine. It’s kind of a Matthew problem. You have less motivation, then you have less ability, then you are less motivated. The lack of bonding makes you less able to bond, because the bond leads to a better ability to empathize. That’s what I think anyway.

So my parents did not have an ability to bond, and they were not able to empathize with me. They were not able to empathize and they did not have the bond that would have motivated them to. At the same time, the bond is a source of pain—at least it was for my mother. The bond in the present, for what it is, keeps triggering memories of a painful bond in the past, and so my mother kept attacking the bond. She was not really attacking me, it seems. She was attacking the bond between us. She was attacking my ability to trust her or depend on her. I see C doing this. She attacks the bond. She says don’t come and see me, she doesn’t answer phone calls or reply to texts, she lies and erodes my ability to trust her. She attacks the bond between us. The bond is what seems to be hurting her, and she attacks it.

I think about my parents, and I think they also attacked the bond between us. They made it impossible for me to trust them, they made it difficult for me to even tolerate their physical presence. What was most at stake was the bond. It’s not all of what happened, but it’s a big part of it, and it’s the part I haven’t worked through yet. They weakened the bond, and yet I could not survive without that bond. I needed them to bond to me and to care enough to keep me at least slightly safe. I had to keep trying to repair the bond. What I am remembering is my need to repair the bond, the fear of reaching out to repair it, and the devastation I felt when the bond was weakened again. It was an ongoing experience of creating and losing a bond. I am remembering chronic grief. That is the largest part of what is inside me.

I have heard that having a mentally ill family memory usually does involve chronic grief, and I think that is the main reason for it. The person is there, but they cannot maintain a bond with you. When they are functioning well, they might be able to do this. They might be able to bond. You are constantly mourning something that can be felt only briefly and then is lost again, and yet you need it. It is not possible to come to terms with its absence.

The other side of this is that anyone highly dependent on someone else is usually very motivated to try to get the other person to care—to bond with them so that there is a reason to take care of the dependent person. So an abused child sometimes tries very hard to take on the perspective of the person they perceive themselves to be dependent on. They need to create a sense of alliance with the abuser, so that the abuser cares enough to restrain their abusive behaviour. The child is motivated to take on the harmful beliefs of the abuser, because shared beliefs create this alliance.

I think that is some of what happens when I feel worthless. I think it is a memory of trying frantically to take on the perspective of my abusers, so that I could form enough of a bond to them that maybe they wouldn’t hurt me so much. When I do that, I feel a grief for myself and also for my future. The worthlessness forecloses the possibility of being myself or feeling any joy at being myself, and it also forecloses the possibility of bonding to anyone aside from my parents, because I have no worth. It’s not really wonder that worthlessness inevitably leads to hopelessness.

In childhood, shame and feelings of worthlessness meant I withdrew from other people and specifically withdrew from my parents, and that preserved the bond between us. They didn’t want to be troubled by me, and it meant I could fulfill their desire not to be troubled with a child’s needs, but it also did this other thing, where I lost my own feeling of myself as a person who has a future or potential. There are these two intense sources of loss: the loss of the bond to the parent, because it keeps getting attacked, and the loss of a feeling of value or potential about the self. This is how I survived my childhood, is by going back and forth between these two intense sources of loss: the loss of the bond to my parents and the loss of my belief in my potential or value. It’s devastating to consider. Really, really devastating.

To continue, however, I think this underlies a lot of the difficulty in feeling and the dissociation that people like me have. The fear is that the feeling will threaten the bond with the parent, or whomever might be taking on that role of the close person: your parent is your first model for what other people want and expect from you. There are two choices: to distance yourself from other people so that preserving a bond doesn’t matter or you erase yourself in order to maintain the bond. Much has been made of this, but I have never heard exactly that this is done due to an implicit memory of creating a bond being the source of survival nor that taking on someone else’s perspective is a part of creating the sense of alliance that creates a bond.

But I think that is in my head a lot: this thought or this feeling or this behaviour is going to threaten the bond with my parents, whom I no longer need to the same extent.

It explains the degree of fear I feel: this is going to threaten the bond with my parents, which is going to threaten my survival, because I need them in order to survive. I need for them to want to take care of me and to not want to kill me, and having a bond with them does that. Except they have no desire to do anything to bond with me. They have no desire to take on my perspective or imagine what life is like for me. Everything is on my shoulders. I have to try to take on theirs.

Mistrust

I think I am starting to feel a little bit different now, like maybe a little of this is getting worked through. I think I feel a little bit more that I can talk and I can noise, I can be more of a presence. It’s not that I was totally silent before, but that I shut myself off from connection to do this, so that I wouldn’t have to know if I was wanted or not.

I noticed it last night, when I went to meet C. She has different friends now, and I like them better. Most of them were my students two years ago, or I have their little brothers or sisters in my class. C will not sit next to me anymore. She sits on the floor or on the opposite bed from me. I think she is trying to titrate the degree of connection, and therefore the degree of pain. But the thing about sitting across from me is that she sees me. In that sense, there is more connection.

Anyway, I was sitting on her friend’s bed—she has moved her own bed away from her ex-friends, because they were constantly fighting. It seemed to me that the two friends she was fighting with are equally troubled, and I am happy to see her with different friends. The old friends seemed artificial to me, and one of them I disliked from my first encounter with her. It was a day when C made a call to IT Ma’am, and then began to cry. It was, in fact, this friend whose bed I was sitting on who informed of it. I hadn’t realized what C was doing, and this girl who I taught 2 years ago very quietly, “Ma’am, she’s crying.” Anyway, this other friend that C has been fighting with and moved her bed away from was standing near us as I held C while she cried, and the girl had a kind of indifferent, predatory look on her face. She had made a joke earlier that day about me—something about “mummy” as if to make fun of C’s vulnerability—and then she went to stand near C and stare in this indifferent, vaguely sociopathic way while C cried. That was in March, I think. Anyway, at that time, I wanted to warn C to avoid this girl. She wasn’t going to be a good friend for C. But then later I thought it better to stay out of it. C is a big girl. She can choose her own friends.

I am not sure what the point of that story is, except that I was sitting in a different place, and C was sitting across from me. This was different than the last few times I have come, when C was there alone with me or with only one friend, because she is fighting with her other friends. It had a much different feeling to it on this other bed, and I had an implicit sense that C was more supported and connected. The girl whose phone I always use to keep in touch with C was right over me, and she was singing badly in a playful way, and I was sitting below her between the girl I had taught two years ago and another whose class I had substituted in for two months at a stretch. Across from me, sat C, between a girl whose younger sister has been in my class for two years and another girl I taught two years ago and whose younger brother is in my class this year. It was a different feeling for me, because I have these histories with the other girls, but I think it was also different for C, because these girls are more stable and more genuinely caring.

There was a bit of gossip and some talking. For a while, C was talking about the schools near her village as though she wanted to change schools. I asked what they were talking about, and the girl next to me said, “Nothing,” and refused to say. It might be she has been thinking about changing schools: she is pushing. It might be I was in that frightened place where I get paranoid. There are other reasons they might not tell me. I have no way of knowing what C is really thinking, and no real way to know: I felt paranoid before she left in December, and indeed she did not come back until she was kind of pushed to come back, and that might happen again. It’s not entirely unlikely. There is not much I can do about it, except regulate the fear. The thing is that right now it is really hurting for her. It is hurting because she feels closer to me, and also because there is this separation looming, and she will want to push me away in order to push the pain away. The bond is triggering pain, and she will want to attack the bond in order to diminish the pain. I can’t do anything about this, except remain steady.

After a while, the topic of C going to her village came up. I said, more or less, than I didn’t believe her about the plans she was making. I said to call the girl she was planning to get a lift with. She wouldn’t call her. I said, “I will go and search for her then.” She said that the girl would get annoyed. I said if I call her, she cannot say anything to me. Do all parents do a lot of calling their kid’s bluffs? Anyway, another girl went and called her. The girl was a Class 12 girl, and I didn’t know her.

I got it sorted out what she was really planning, which was what C said, although C had to tell her—I don’t really think they were lying, but they could have been. She was feeding the girls answers as though she was. However, it doesn’t really matter. My concerns got addressed anyway.

I asked the girl when they were planning to leave for her village, and she said imprecisely 30th. I asked afternoon or evening and got back “afternoon.” I explained to the girl that I was taking C to my house—C claims to not want to come, but I think she is afraid of being left behind and she does want to come down. I explained C would be at my house and when they are ready to leave to call. And I also said she needs to take good care of C and if anything happens to her, I will be very angry. I said this three or four times, and there was quite a lot of laughter. I was quite serious though, and I think C knows that. I have said this to her before. I asked for the girl’s name and she told me, and I might have thanked her or something. I wished her luck in her exams and she went out again, with the girls still laughing about my threats.

I suppose I stayed for a while after that. I was there for about an hour, but the conversation was not remarkable. There was gossip about kids using drugs at my school, which they are. One girl asked if that was true. I said they have been using drugs since they were in Class 6. After the bell for study time rang, I left. C walked me out with one of her new friends, which she has started doing—just latching onto whatever girl is not busy and will give her support. She walked ahead of me, but the other girls have to wait for me to walk through the doorway first, because I am a teacher. So I walked out of the room, and C was there and her friend was not, and I walked next to her and put my arm around her waist as we walked. The friend walked along on the other side of me. This wasn’t really her plan, I am sure. She was hoping to put a barrier between us, so that the closeness would be diminished. But I know she needs hugs. She needs that connection. It’s so very painful, but she needs it, so I just keep kind of trying to slip it past her defenses, whenever there is an opening. We walked out, and I had my arm around her waist and held her close to me. She said, “Don’t touch me,” without moving away from me. I could feel the tension in her body when she said it. It was very much a switch in that moment, suddenly very defended and angry. I think I backed off from something I was doing when she said that, but I didn’t pull away from her. I still held her next to me. It seemed to die down a bit after that.

We got to the gate and I fumbled with various things for a minute. I touched C’s face and said, “Come here,” which I say when I am about to hug her. She didn’t move towards me, but said, “Go now.” So I kept my hand on her face, and didn’t pull her towards me at all.

I walked home and when I got home, I sent the usual text to her friend that I had reached home and C was in my heart. I forgot that I had changed the alert on my phone so that it wasn’t that incessant beeping it does (so that I hear C’s messages). Because of that, I didn’t see the reply for a long time later. I was listening, but I forgot what I needed to listen for.

It was just: “Why.” I was dissociated at that point, and didn’t really connect everything appropriately, so she didn’t get a well-attuned reply nor did she get a timely reply.

In the morning, I woke up late, and had to rush, but I made C pancakes and wrote a long note to her about how special she is to me, and how that specialness comes from the bond between us. I told her the story of The Little Prince and how the fox said, “Once you tame me, I will become special and different from all the other foxes for you.” And I told her it is like that. She is special and different from every other child to me, and I am different and special from every other person to her, because of the relationship between us. She does not always read my letters for a long time—possibly there are notes she never reads. Sometimes I come and the last note I wrote is still sitting somewhere. The letter I wrote her on Mother’s Day she didn’t read for weeks, if at all. But anyway, it’s like her maybe plan to transfer schools without telling me. I can’t do anything further. Just keep trying, and hoping something helps. You keep throwing darts sometimes and hope something eventually hits.

But she is in a place of feeling a lot of mistrust at the moment. It’s a hard place to be in.

I have been thinking about my mom lately, and it popped into my head again today while I was making lunch. I guess I was thinking about cooking and moms and also C, because IT Ma’am is angry at her and not returning her calls and C is really sad, although C is not directly saying this. I was thinking how C misses her mom’s cooking and actually from my observations, her mom almost never cooks. Like once in a month will C’s mom cook—when C is doing some approved activity and not available at meal-making time. I suppose she might make lunch, because C is at school and not there to prepare. I make lunch at the same time as breakfast, but in C’s house, they might make three separate meals a day. Most people do.

Anyway, when you have a strained bond with your parent, you probably don’t have a continuous sense of your parent. You have a sense of your parent as being several different people, and you miss the one who nurtures. You miss the mom who cooks for you, even if this mom is rarely seen. You miss the mom who nurtures you, even if that mom appeared only once or twice in your entire childhood. You miss that mom.

I do not remember a mom who cared for me at all. I mean, my mom did things, but there was no care involved. It just had to be done. I don’t remember ever connecting with her over my need to be cared for and her wish to care for me, the way I connect with C. I see C with clean clothes that look newish—they don’t have holes in them, and they aren’t so old you can’t scrub the dirt out of them anymore, which is what I used to see her in. And I feel happy. I think, “I bought that shirt that looks so nice on her.” And I feel happy looking at her. I feel happy she looks cared for. (C’s family is not poor: they are living in dysfunctional poverty.) I don’t ever remember my mother making food I really liked and feeling very happy to get to eat something I liked and her feeling happy she could make me that particular food. Maybe I never felt safe enough to experience care even when she gave it to me. But it seemed to me she made cookies, for example, because she liked cookies and because it made her feel like a good mom—like she was accumulating points on a mom-chart. Everything seemed to be about her in terms of motivation. There never seemed to be any connection to me and my sister.

So I don’t remember feeling cared for, and I don’t remember her ever wanting to listen to me talk. I kind of remember obliging her with an account of my day, like we were going through the motions of something, but I never remember feeling she wanted me or wanted to listen to me. It is a very profound sense of just never being wanted.

And I found myself thinking, “Why did she never want to listen to me?”

It seems to me I have gotten some insight into her dysfunction and some of the dynamics involved in her abusiveness, but it’s as though she never pulled out of it. To contrast it with myself maybe, I have all of these triggers, but there are chunks of the day when I am fairly normal. I can have conversations. I can listen to people and talk to them. Similarly, VP Ma’am attacks me sometimes and there are more times lately when I just don’t feel like revealing anything personal to her, because it might be used in the next round, but there are times when she is really interested in me. There is a point of intersection, perhaps, where what I have to say lines up with her desire to listen, and I feel wanted. Otherwise, we would never have gotten to this point, where I seem to her to be close enough to start triggering her baby trauma.

But it’s as though, with my mom, she was never normal. She was never in a place where she could relate to me or extend interest to me. It’s hard to imagine. How could she just never have any interest in me? It’s hard to fathom. Still, I reach into my past and it really feels like “never.” She never wanted me, she was never interested in me, she never wanted to nurture me or care for me. I remember a friend saying something about how you remember those good times and you always long for them to be like that, and I don’t remember them. I remember times when she was happy and I felt if I stayed out of the way and didn’t attract her attention, she wasn’t going to attack me and so I felt safe. I don’t remember any connected times, even ones that might have been wishful thinking. I remember moments of freedom, where I could quietly go about enjoying myself alone without fear of her, but I don’t remember connection.

How could she never be able to connect? What was really wrong with her?

Was it really that she had so little capacity to empathize with me that she could not respond to me in a connected way? That happens to me when I teach sometimes, because they have me teaching these little kids I have no experience or training with. I have no idea why they have done this. It’s someone’s idiot idea, I am sure. And there are times when I am really, really frustrated with them and then I suddenly realize, Oh, fuck, I don’t know how to do this. That’s why I feel so angry at them. They are trying really, really hard to please me, and I have no idea how to get across to them what is expected of them or how to enable them to meet my expectations. They are getting more and more distressed and agitated, because they don’t know what is expected, and I am not able to help them, because I have no training in how to teach 8 and 9-year-olds. I have no fucking idea. Was my mom like that all the time?

There is no real answer to this, no way to go back and understand it. It has within it a degree of resolution for me, however: my mom is ill. She is really, really ill, and I don’t know why. I don’t know what caused it. It is not semi-obvious like it is with my dad, where I know his own mother was psychotic and very likely tortured him to get the demons out or something like that. My mom’s mother seems identifiably lacking in empathy, but her level of dysfunction is nowhere near to what my mom’s was, and I don’t know why. I mean, I don’t know what happened. But my mother is ill. That is truly the source of my grief. My mother was and is mentally ill, and she could not care for me.