I feel today like I can’t put things into words the way I want them to be. I keep coming back to the idea of a continuous self really being the main issue for me, at least at this point in my life. And I get how it happened, which helps a lot. I feel a lot less ashamed about what is going on with me.
Learning to calm my body had to happen first. I couldn’t create safety for myself without that. It took a really, really long time. It might have taken less time if I had understood why I needed to do it—that if you aren’t responded to as a child, you aren’t cuddled and rocked when you are activated, you don’t learn how to feel safe again. Your body doesn’t know how to do that.
It had to happen first, because it was too frightening for me to have feelings and needs. I couldn’t respond to my needs until it felt safe for me to know what they were.
I am pretty sure the therapy I had assumed I could calm my body down, and I just hadn’t discovered I could do that. I remember a therapist saying something like, “The feelings come up and then they go down again,” and I remember the wtf of that moment.
Indeed they didn’t. I shut them down hard or they stayed up. I have been working at calming my body down for years now, and Sunday afternoon was really stressful and it took me until Tuesday morning to calm down again. More than 36 hours. And I worked at it. I worked at it really, really hard. Feelings don’t really pass for me on their own. Not for quite a long time.
The other thing I was thinking about is that the same therapist who pointed out that feelings rise and fall also said I needed to learn to soothe myself. So she knew that, but I never got that the soothing had to happen in my body. It sounded to me like words you say to yourself or activities you do. Now, it might be that these things help, but for me it would not have ever mattered what nice things I said and I really couldn’t at that point figure out what activities might be soothing.
Since then, I have realized that doing things which have a resonance for me are in themselves upsetting. The feeling of resonance is activating.
I had to work at it in my body the most. The soothing activities did help once I figured out what they might be—I might have also had hypnotize myself into experiencing them as parts so that I could take in the soothing without being activated.
I have also been thinking about how attachment arises: it comes from someone responding to you over time in an attuned way, and the way the consistent attunement happens is that someone knows you. It’s experience with you. If your parent—who ought to know you—can’t figure out how to respond to you, and other people who might be able to respond to you don’t know you well enough to do that, then human beings aren’t necessarily going to seem like the most likely source of attunement.
I was thinking about this, because I have felt a deep sadness about time passing and wished for other times and places. C is the first person I have really longed for deeply, but I have longed just as deeply for points in my life that occurred in the past.
That happened because the feeling of attunement happened maybe randomly: the planets kind of aligned at that moment, and I got my needs met for a while. My sense of where that attunement came from might not be associated with a human being, because the human beings involved did not necessarily provide that attunement again or in other circumstances. I might have developed an attachment to some part of that experience—pancakes, for example, or the café in Delhi where I used to eat lunch a lot, or a routine, or the train station where for whatever reason I felt at peace on one gloomy fall day in 2003. They become attached also, to circumstances under which I was able to meet my own needs—when situations happened not to overtax my resources. But I can’t control circumstances. They are fleeting, and there is that sense of longing and loss.
That’s one reason I think my memories are sometimes so disconnected. What struck me as relevant about the situation isn’t always what seems like it should be relevant. Other people’s memories are populated, and mine often are not. It’s hard to make things make sense, when it’s so different.
It made my inner world seem unreal as well, I think, because so many things about it were different and did not seem to exist to anyone but me.
I saw C on Sunday, and she cycled through various intense emotions having to do with connection. It struck me later—it has been striking me generally lately—that I do know how she feels when this is going on. I know what the flush of pleasure over connection feels like, I know what the punishing anger feels like, I know what the fear feels when it seems like you absolutely have to run away. And I recognize those feelings in C and in The Boy and in his sister Lonely Child. For a long time, I doubted my perceptions, but as I have spent more time with my own feelings, I am more confident I know what they look like in other people.
The thing is I think no one else really sees them. I don’t know how they can’t, but I really do think they don’t. I think her friends saw C acting very emotionally, but I don’t think they saw fear. There was a day after midterm, the first time I saw her, and I told her friend I had been sick, and C kind of disappeared inside herself. One friend joked C was angry. Madam is here, so C is angry. But she wasn’t angry. She felt afraid. There are a lot of times when C’s feelings aren’t real to anyone else but her, and it creates a very confusing internal world. What do you even feel in that case?