I woke up from a nap and was staring out the window. I had that familiar sense I ought to be doing something and I went on doing nothing. After a while, I started to realize it felt good. It felt good to lie there and watch the clouds come slowly over the hilltops. It felt good to watch the trees move in the breeze. It felt good to listen to the wind blow around the house. It felt good to watch the wasp crawl up the glass of the window. All of these things felt good.
And I also thought I have things I need to do, but they don’t need to be done exactly now. There is no one who urgently needs me, there is no work that urgently must be done. I started to also think that people do this. People go on vacation so they can do exactly this. People stop doing sometimes. It’s okay for me to stop doing.
Deep inside, I think there was the fear that if I did something like that, if I lay there in bed and watched the trees move, I would fall into some kind of depression. I had never noticed that if I do something like this, it touches some very deep part of myself that creates an emotional sense of singing.
I was afraid as I lay there, actually. I didn’t feel emotionally afraid, but my body was afraid. I don’t exactly get how this happens, how I feel something inside my body I know is an emotion, but it doesn’t seem to touch my heart in a way that emotionally feels like that. But anyway, my body was afraid. I lay there with the feeling of singing and also the fear and I don’t really know what happened. Eventually I wanted a coffee and I got up.
Later, I realized the fear had subsided. I just felt calm. So that was nice. Sometimes I shut things down, and I think the feelings have subsided and they haven’t. I just switched them off. That might have happened. I don’t know.
But this calm place lets me feel me. I hadn’t known that. It was like the calm place was everything I wasn’t allowed to do. I don’t know how to explain that. I know where it came from though. It came from relationships with people who felt left out and rejected when I found connection with myself. It started with my mother and there was a long-term relationship where the same thing happened. They didn’t really want to interact with me, but they didn’t want me to interact with myself either. Or maybe they just needed reassurance that I was still there. It came out in my mother in the form of criticism of everything I did: if I was reading, I should be playing. If I was playing quietly, I should be playing with friends in a more active way. I don’t honestly think she cared that I was a quiet child. I think she felt lonely, and once she found me, she needed something acceptable to say. Ordering her child around was acceptable.
I think this idea that I couldn’t be this quiet, reflective person carried over into therapy. Ours is a doing culture, and there is always this assumption that if we are not doing and are not busy, something is wrong. And if I am not able to connect to my feelings, I won’t know why I am watching the trees outside. I won’t know that this feels good to me. I will just think I am depressed. I got the idea I ought to be active, that you sort of have to fight off the depression. When I reached out to my therapist, her advice was something like this. When I felt myself in freeze mode, she suggested ways to get moving again. She did suggest some breathing, which would be a way to calm down, but she mainly focused on moving again. Which makes things worse actually. Until I calm down, I am more and more hypervigilant and reactive. I can’t just push through things, although I did when I was younger.
What did work was creating a sense of not being alone—through evocative music, or contact with her, or writing with my blog—so that I could calm down a notch enough to think again and start to make connections, so that I could identify why I felt trapped. A lot of times VP Ma’am was making me feel trapped. She was standing next to me in a clear state of terror because she hadn’t done something and she also has this history of abuse and can’t regulate and I couldn’t get away from her or the terror in her body my mirror neurons were telling me about. Recognizing I feel trapped right now, and it’s because I want to plan for my class and VP Ma’am is demanding I answer some question right now or something like that helped a lot. When I didn’t know the cause, it seemed very big and overwhelming.
The trauma theories tend to talk about moving out of a freeze state into an active one, but an active state is not calm. It channels the terror into aggression, for sure, but that isn’t positive. I don’t feel it is positive when instead of wanting to hide, I feel like being snarky to someone.
There is something else: the past has already happened. I don’t need to win over the past. I don’t need to emerge triumphant. It is past. For better or worse, it happened, and I am here now. I don’t need to gain mastery over what happened. I was a child when it happened and in many instances, if you want to see it as a contest, I lost. I don’t need to see that as an adult I wouldn’t lose. As an adult, I am not in that situation.
Something kind of funny happened in the last week or so. Funny strange, not funny ha-ha. It was like things got unjammed inside of me. As soon as the performance evaluation was over and I bought a plane ticket and I came to terms with my shitty job performance this year, it was like I need to attend to the future now. I need to start looking ahead. It began to seem real that things needed to be done, and arrangements needed to be made.
I went to see C on Saturday, because time seemed to be speeding ahead full-tilt, and I can’t seem to ever predict the school schedule or what C needs to do. I wanted C to meet my friend, Maths Ma’am. She knows her. Maths Ma’am was her maths teacher in class 6. But she knows her as a teacher, not as a human being. I want Maths Ma’am to give C money next year, but that isn’t going to work if C is too afraid.
It was a difficult negotiation—the matron was being difficult about it. Country X-ers don’t typically see things the way I do: they don’t value balance. Life tends to be all or nothing. So C should be studying all the time, apparently. Having a serious conversation with someone who will provide financial support to her over an 11 month period. But they also have very little sense of the future. Exams are in 3 days. That’s the priority. Of course, it is a priority, but life is going to continue to happen after exams are over. And that needs to be attended to also. Here, it often feels like the current crisis is all there is, and Country Xers frequently live from one crisis to the next. Their lives look to me like a series of crises punctuated by periods of fierce denial. It’s a weird place.
But they were a feudal society run by warlords 50 years ago.
Anyway, Maths Ma’am got a five-minute meeting with C out of the matron via an intermediary. So I did that. And I came home sort of in that frame of mind—what else needs to be done? I felt mentally prepared to move into job searching for 2017. It began to seem real that something might happen after C’s last exam in 2 weeks. It began to seem like I ought to move towards it.