I had some more thoughts today and yesterday. One was about kind of more ordinary people: not me, not my parents, but people I know in my regular life who respond in ways I don’t understand.
It starts with two of the people I have kind of made friends with since coming to Country X. They are my only two non-Country X friends that I have made here in 2 and a half years, and they have both responded very unhelpfully when I have been distressed for reasons I couldn’t really figure out.
I’ll use the example of one of them, because they are quite similar.
It’s a chat session. Sorry. I find them annoying to read. You probably do too.
There’s some kind of greeting and then I say:
Still thinking. (We last chatted after I found out I couldn’t extend my contract. So she knows I am thinking about C.)
She says: You’ll figure it out take your time
Me: There are things I need to be able to imagine very clearly to know what is actually a good idea. So I am concentrating on that.
Her: Everything that happens is what needs to happen. It’ll all work out. Trust and you’ll be okay.
Which, of course, gets me. It gets me for many reasons, one of them is that the lot of them came to Y-town the summer of 2014 (she taught the year I started here), decided like idiots to hike up a mountain in the rain in the dark (with 3 small children in the party) without knowing where they were going or any guide they had lined up ahead of time, and they were forced to rely on a drunk stranger to lead them up the mountain to the monastery where they crashed for the night.
I should have, perhaps, helped them more, but I saw it was 2 in the afternoon and about to come pouring down rain and I wanted no part in their stupidity.
Also, there was my childhood.
I have told her this before. I do not believe everything will work out alright or that everything happens for a reason. I believe people are usually helpful, but you should not hike up a mountain in the rain when you are a guest in someone else’s country. Or anything else foolish. You should take responsibility for yourself.
Usually, in Country X, when everything works out fine, it’s because someone “adjusted” and sacrificed for you. (Just as people “adjusted” the 14 hours between B-town and Y-town for me, and gave me a seat even though I had no ticket and wasn’t entitled to one. And like C’s mom borrowed vegetables for me from VP Ma’am when I stayed for dinner one night because she had none to give me and borrowed potatoes another night from a different neighbour for the same reason.) They adjust because you are a teacher and a foreigner and you are a guest in their country. It doesn’t make sense to extend this attitude to the rest of the world. Don’t make philosophy out of foreigner privilege.
So I said: To be honest, I don’t believe that. Nothing good has happened in my life without a lot of thought and hard work on my part.
She says: I’ve had a different experience.
(But note: you are talking to me, not to you.)
The chat goes on about that for a bit and then she continues with: But remember to take care of yourself first and foremost
And this is something else I don’t get. People have said it a lot to me and I still don’t have the faintest idea what they are saying or why. What else exactly do they think I am going to do? Must be something, but I can’t think of it. I mean, I live alone. I’m single. I don’t have kids except C and she doesn’t live with me. I can’t imagine not taking care of myself. What else would I even do?
So I say: I have exactly 2 people to take care of. I kind of don’t get what you are saying. Do you forget to take care of yourself?
She says: Sometimes I do.
So, I bring this up because I’ve had nearly the same conversation with someone else. That idea of taking a passive approach to life and also the reminder to take care of yourself, as though, at 43 years old, I might get up one day and forget how to wipe myself. (Well, I guess that could happen. I only started buying toilet paper for the bathroom this year. There are times when water still seems cleaner. Sorry, I’m sure that’s a yuck.)
I clearly live a very different life from her.
I bring this up, because it’s an experience and a perspective I don’t get, and I kind of think I do now. I was thinking about VP Ma’am, and how there are times when I am really stressed (the day C got in trouble at school was one of them) and she then decides I need to attend to her needs. I have thought in the past she was oblivious, but I think now she actually might see I am distressed and cope with her own feelings of vulnerability (something could happen to me) by asking me to meet her needs for proximity. She will see me on a day when I have just a ton of work to do, or I have been really knocked off balance by something and I am struggling to get settled again, and command me to sit and drink tea with her. Sometimes I tell her matter-of-factly, “I need to do X right now.”
On the occasions when I have acquiesced, VP Ma’am has made it harder for me to regulate myself because then I also feel trapped. She also usually attacks me. The day that C got in trouble at school, and I was just absolutely beside myself, she spent most of the walk up to the government buildings telling me how worthless C was. C is my child. Telling me any child is worthless upsets me, but telling me C is worthless makes me want to kill someone. Every bit of me had to bite my tongue and not counter-attack, because she is my child, and what I want to do is protect her. It is absolutely instinctive. I feel C is threatened and I am ready to fight wild bears.
So it was this absolutely horrible day and she made it significantly more horrible—something I hadn’t expected at all. I really expected her to be nice to me that day and she wasn’t.
But I imagine this is what happens to my 2 friends who tell me to “take care of myself first.” I have only one person who does this to me, and it’s kind of this weird, unusual thing I don’t get, because it otherwise doesn’t happen to me, but they must have people in their lives who do this a lot to them.
I think it’s possible my mother did this. Those days when she suddenly wanted my company, that happened because she felt vulnerable and wanted me to meet her need for proximity. Because I was a child and unable to soothe her attachment needs, she attacked me. I don’t really explicitly remember this, because I just took it for granted that she might at any moment attack me anyway.
And they are trying to console me quickly because they think, maybe rightly, that I am going to do this to them. (Because, actually, their response upset me and then I did want to attack them, and it became a difficult conversation after that. I did not attack them, but it became fraught.)
They have someone or several someones who do this a lot to them, and they acquiesced to it. Oh, I had never really thought about that, or what that might be like, because what goes on in my head is somewhat different. There is this equation, where everything I need to do for myself and my work and C is on one side, and how I am going to get it done is on the other side.
They have confused caretaking with compliance. They are thinking of the times when C demands a recharge because she is having an “emergency” and they are thinking I need to “take care of her” and give her the recharge even if I am busy or have something else I need to do, because what she has asked for is a recharge. Rather than C is demanding a recharge and I need to take a breath and get settled because I need to think through what the need really is and try to meet that, and the way I am going to meet that need is to stay centered within myself. Centered and connected to my feelings, because my feelings are going to inform me of what her feelings are. They see it as either/or. Either I take care of C, or I take care of me, and not that these two things are connected: the more connected and settled I am, the more I can connect to her and settle her.
Because they comply. They aren’t taking care of other people. They are complying to other people’s demands of them. This is something I had not thought of.
There was one occasion when my therapist, many years ago, was talking to me about my disastrous, emotionally abusive relationship I had going on and she said, “You get anxious when you can’t feel yourself.”
And it was one of those times when I politely did not inquire what the fuck she meant even though I had nary a clue. How can you not feel yourself? Why would you come to that conclusion? How does it connect to what I was saying? (No idea what I was saying, just remember the disconnect.)
Yeah, that’s what she thought was going on. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. I am pretty sure I was never connected to myself. It wasn’t like I dissociated sometimes under stress. I dissociated all the time. The major flaw with most of the therapy I experienced was that it relied on being able to bring me back to some state I didn’t know existed or what it felt like.
I think I was talking about feeling anxious when I felt trapped, and like I had to comply, because it scares me. Someone used to put me in a box or do worse things when I failed to comply and feeling like I have to comply scares me. This happens to other people too, but I hadn’t understood how they explained it to me. I hadn’t understood they see this is as “caretaking.”