Where I’m at

I am finding it hard to write these days, although I want to. I am not in an analytical frame of mind. Mostly I am paying attention to feelings. I think I am getting better at it. I can feel when I shut down. It’s a slight feeling—not a massive, slamming kind of shut-down, but just a tiny shift inside. And I know then I just got overwhelmed. I just shut down. I am trying not to do it. When I notice I shut down, I am trying to open back up again.

I am also starting to notice times when I don’t quite feel real, when I am feeling my feelings but something else is going on inside me that makes me disconnect in a different way, and I am trying to address that. Whatever it is that I am shutting down that makes me feel a little bit unreal, I am trying to stop doing it. I don’t really know how, because I haven’t isolated it. This is not a thought kind of thing. It’s something physical, just as noticing I am shut down and trying to open back up to the feelings is physical. I have to do something to my body to fix it, although I don’t really know what it is. But I can do it. When I am rested and there aren’t a thousand things going on, I can do it.

I went for a retreat with the other foreign teachers. It was a lot easier than last year, and I was more mindful of when I was pushing people away also, which probably helped. I don’t think I had ever noticed I am deliberately pushing people away, and it’s making me feel very uncomfortable and left out. I am feeling uncomfortable and left out and so I am pushing people away and it is making me feel more uncomfortable and more left out. I am highlighting my differences from other people rather than looking for common ground. I think it might have also been an easier group to deal with—in previous years, it has felt like there was a kind of “group think” that was required and also that it was not okay to admit to struggling or to frustrations. There seemed to be a resistance to vulnerability and a lot of hiding under the guise of cutting loose and having a good time.

It’s possible it felt different this year because there were only six new teachers, and of those six, only four came. There was no “group think” because the group had not really spent time together before. There was me, and three teachers from last year and four teachers from this year, and one teacher who returned last year, but had served the year before me. Briefly, there were also two teachers who had served two years before me, returned with me, but joined a private school last year. There might have been more humility in the group as a whole, because most of us had been here for a while, and the shiny newness had worn off—making room for the newer teachers to admit that despite the shiny newness of everything, they were tired and maybe lonely.

It was hard to come home and have C not be here. It was really, really hard. I don’t know how hard it would be normally, but it was triggering. The triggering at night when I first got to my house was very, very intense, and I went through the range of emotions—frightened, sad, angry, despairing along with their accompanying distortions, and it was hard.

I am trying to stick with this idea that feelings get better when you feel them. It takes time, but they do get better eventually. I have really started to think that, in addition to actual memories of trauma, what happened to me is that I learned to suppress emotions rather than express them and get help regulating them. I didn’t express them, because it didn’t help. Either my parents were indifferent to my emotions, or they wound me up further. So I learned not to feel them and not to show them, to maybe over-simplify things. And what happens when you do that is the feeling just keeps going. There is something that is supposed to happen with emotions, where your brain registers what is going on and notices that something needs to be done, and it quiets the feeling as this happens. When you suppress emotions, that doesn’t happen—or maybe if you have always suppressed emotions. By suppress, I don’t mean choose not to display. I mean don’t allow the sensations of those emotions to register in your consciousness. As an adult, I can feel emotions in my body, but not display them to other people if I choose not to. As a child, you don’t have that kind of self-control. If you can feel the sensation of the emotions, it’s going to show up on your face.

Anyway, I have this idea I am learning to regulate my emotions and that when I let myself feel emotions in my body, it helps in that process. They will get regulated eventually if I do this, and they won’t hurt so much or be so intense. I have to manage my fear of doing this, which is quite significant, but it’s possible now. It’s possible to lower the fear enough that feelings get through at least some of the time.

One result is that I am noticing “little feelings.” What I mean by that are feelings that are ordinary and not traumatic. They feel dreadful because they connect to trauma, but in themselves, they are ordinary. I noticed when I text C and she doesn’t read it, I feel sad. I could move into a cycle that is much more terrible, of not even noticing I feel sad, and going directly to ashamed and despairing, but if I slow down a little, I notice I am sad. It seems to me that is a “little feeling.” It’s ordinary and normal. We want someone’s attention and they reject us, for whatever reason, and we feel just a wee bit sad. If I don’t shut it down and don’t catastrophize, even unconsciously, I think it would stay there. I would just be a bit sad at not feeling responded to. But it’s hard. It’s hard not to go to a place of feeling terrified that I have been rejected—because if someone rejects me, that must mean they globally devalue me. My mom does, so everyone does. I don’t think my mom could say, “Not right now sweetheart. I am washing dishes just now. In a minute, I’ll do x, y, z.”

Her response was more along the lines of “I hate you. Hurry up and die already.” You know, some variation on that. No concept of setting firm and gentle boundaries. None whatever.

I have no doubt it set up a cycle of desperately wanting her and being violently rejected, because of course no one wants to be globally rejected. No one wants their entire character and being to become worthless in someone else’s eyes. If you are four, and your mom does that, I feel pretty sure you fight it with every fibre of your being. I think that is what I am remembering when I go through the cycle of fear, sadness, anger, despair. I think I am remembering someone setting boundaries in a way that was completely unworkable for me.

You want to find a way to convince your parent there has been some kind of misunderstanding. This is not possible. I can’t be totally worthless to you. You reach in spite of your fear, get rejected again, feel sadness, then anger, then despair. Then reach, because no one can live with that. No one can live in that state of having no worth to someone important to you.

I am trying also to give that “worthless” feeling a different name that normalizes it better. I am trying to call it “rejected.” I feel rejected when that happens. It’s only later that I go to a place of feeling globally devalued. First, I just feel that wee bit of sadness that I don’t get to have my special person pay attention to me at that particular minute.

It helps a lot to feel I have some insight into C. It cuts back on the distortions. She doesn’t respond to me and I know, if she is not actually working (which she could be, but she seems quite glued to her phone, as if there is not much to do at grandma and grandpa’s house right now) that she is a) scared or b) in Detached Mode or c) angry and wanting to punish me or d) in Teen Mode and too busy flirting with boys. Oddly, none of that seems personal to me. None of that is my doing. What is my doing is that sooner or later she comes sneaking back for a little finger-tip touch, a little contact, even if it is just reading my text and not writing anything back. That’s my doing. The other stuff is trauma and not my fault. I know that, because I am doing the same thing, and it is not her fault.

So that’s where I am at.


3 thoughts on “Where I’m at

  1. Ellen July 6, 2016 / 6:20 am

    I relate to a lot of this. Going on the trail to hunt for dissociation is so tricky. Trying to find the point where it happens, where the feeling is, and what it is….I learned not to show feelings also, in order to get any possible love that might be there, I had to do that. I think for a very young child, not showing is equivalent to not feeling. I’m sorry your mother was like this.

    I’m glad your retreat was better this year due to the mix of people. And that you are gaining insight into your reactions to C’s behaviour.

    • Ashana M July 6, 2016 / 6:58 am

      Thanks. I think faking the appropriate emotions was key to getting any warmth available. There was no room for a real child.

  2. desilef July 6, 2016 / 8:13 am

    I love the notion of “little feelings”.

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