Airport

I have these interesting thoughts until I sit down to write. Then I futz around, not doing much and the thoughts disappear. Some of this is that I am in the airport. I have been killing time for the first nine hours of many. I left Country X in the late morning, and it is now the middle of the night. It’s the first stop of 2, and I have completed the first of three flights. I think it was a seven hour flight. The next one is five maybe. Then there is the long one—11 hours. I have found it’s better that way actually, broken up with long stops. It helps with adjusting to the idea of going to the other side of the world as well as the condition of my body. The long, direct flight which is possible now (not from Country X, but neighbouring countries) I have found to be torturous.

One thought is that on these long journeys, I dissociate really heavily. There is at times an overwhelming, crushing sleepiness that overcomes me and I wake up confused. That has something to do with it. As children, I think we learn to regulate our degree of stimulation with the help of mothers or siblings who play with us and interact with us. When no one comes, you just check out, and these long gaps when I have nothing to do, I think I do that. Probably everyone does to some extent, but mine is this hardwired response. There is no stimulation. It’s all dreary and lonely. Sleep or just get spacy. A normal person might reach more for interaction of some kind, even an internal interaction, and I suspect I just slow down and then finally stop altogether.

Then also I was thinking about couples—there was a couple in the Capital City who have been teaching for the last three years and are leaving now, just like me—and I watched their behaviour. I would think of it as enmeshed behaviour, but my new thought about it is that all of us work together to keep our level of arousal and affect within a certain tolerable range. We don’t, for the most part, do this alone. The quality that gives it that enmeshed, walking on eggshells quality has to do with trying to stay within a very narrow range. And I think people do that when they have trouble with regulation. They can’t get back to baseline very easily, so they try not to move very far from it. I was like that, and that was why the staff room with all of its emotional expression was so hard for me. At the end of the year, I found it a lot easier. Immensely so.

The advice for couples like that is always to become more independent and to spend more time apart, pursuing their own interests, and that’s kind of what I was told when in a relationship one might see as being enmeshed. But I don’t think that does anything, or addresses the problem. The problem is inside, and it’s still there no matter how independent and alone you are. That is what I have found about myself, anyway. Actually, it’s easier to stay in that very narrow range when I am alone. I am more challenged around other people, and I have to work harder to stay grounded and coping.

The other thing is that I have been holding sadness in for a long time, and it needs to be processed, but I kind of can’t right now. I look back on the last 24 hours, and I know there are all of these emotions that I am blunting so that I am not overwhelmed. But I can’t do it right now.

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One more thing

A last thought for the night.

C makes me realize that connection feels much the same. The relationship with your mom when you are an infant feels like falling in love, which is how it felt with C in the beginning of our relationship and how it sometimes feels now. I think that is because it is new.

And what this does in my mind is think that it doesn’t matter that much, as an adult, that I won’t have a nurturing “mom” relationship ever. Any positive, mutual relationship feels like that and actually meets my needs. I don’t need to be rocked and held or have someone tend to me like an infant. A partner or a child gives the same sense of belonging and connection.

The thing about being a child and having a mother is the mother sees you as you are: a child who needs things. What provides the connection is being seen. I am not a child who needs quite so many things now. I can tend to most of my own needs. But being seen is the foundation.

I can be seen. For me, that changes everything. It is like I am not broken forever. There wasn’t some developmental moment I missed and can never have again. It is though this lack of connection in the past stigmatized me in my own mind so that my lack of love in the past made me unloveable in the present. Maybe because I could not accept my own losses.

We learn from others what is real. Maybe I was waiting for someone else to tell me they were real. Maybe, unable to accept my losses, I could not see the hope that still existed.

Musing

I wonder about the trajectory of all of this—where is it going?

I was with C’s dad, C, his two other kids and we began to drive back to the main town and tears filled my eyes. I cannot actually remember what went through my head at that moment. Probably something. Stuff usually does.

And then I thought: it’s a moment of parting. So I am sad. Oh. Okay.

That might not seem a big deal, but it is to me. It’s like all of these long, complicated thoughts got reduced to a simple connection that makes it all easier to cope with. I don’t need to ruminate, because I know what it is.

Something similar happened in the morning. I was walking to a café for breakfast and coffee—this is the capital city. They have cake and croissants and espresso drinks. So I was carrying some old clothes, because I am done with them now and I am not taking them with me. And I got really, really overwhelmingly

sad. Bleak, hopeless, like life was going to end. And after a minute, I was like, Oh, shit, it’s the plastic bag. It is the memory of carrying my stuff in a bag, leaving foster care. I am on the verge of a parting, and that memory was activated.

It didn’t make it go away, which was kind of the difference from my previous expectations. I once, many years ago, imagined I would connect dots like that and all would be well. First of all, I couldn’t connect dots like that because the memories were just too painful. Second, you still have to cope with the feelings. They are still hard. It’s just you can stop feeling like a lunatic for having them, and just concentrate on calming the feelings. It doesn’t fix everything, but it makes it a little easier.

Magic for me

Today I spent the afternoon with C, C’s dad and his two other kids.

I see stuff other people don’t see, but it is real. That thought just bounced through my head. It is almost as though I have thought all my life that I lived in some kind of parallel universe where most of my experience existed only for me. Maybe that is the magic of C for me.

C’s eyes teared up throughout the afternoon. Pretty sure no one saw that. C might not even have felt that she was sad and ashamed and wanted to reach out. But I saw it. And I wasn’t making shit up. That existed.

I am a writer through and through although actually I hardly ever write anything aside from my blog, but I write in my head a lot as I go through life. There I am—living my life, and there is usually a voice in my describing my life for me.

One reason I think I do that is that it can feel that my life does not exist at all. It is really that I did not know how to find those points of connection with other people. Sometimes they are just too far apart, sometimes I don’t know how to say it, sometimes I don’t know who might be willing to stretch a bit to find that point of connection.

Person in search of an audience. Or something.

I did not share the teariness with anyone, but in the past not feeling as though anyone else saw it or had a feeling about it might have given it a surreal, dreamy quality that was more story-like than real. And yet if you have disordered attachment, you know exactly what that is, don’t you? I want to be close, and it feels like I can’t. And years and years of sadness at having that happened. I wanted to be close and I couldn’t. There was no one to be close to, or I didn’t know how, or the person I wanted to be close to wasn’t safe.

There was a moment when C kind of lightened up. It’s interesting, because I could see she wanted to be close: All of us with attachment disorders do this thing where we want to reach up. VP Ma’am sort of adjusts her sleeves. C and I fix our hair. But it is “up.” C did that, and it was a like a minute later, she worked it out, and she said something to her step sister and they ran off to look at the deer in the nature park we were walking around in.

And it was great. It was a great moment to watch: she wanted connection, and she just worked out how to get it in a socially appropriate, likely way. Because, of course, that’s the difficulty. You want connection, and it doesn’t always come out right. You reach for someone who can’t connect to you, or you do it in a way that they can’t connect to you in or that people don’t like. Actually, that’s part of growing up and part of life—working out how to get connection, where is that sweet spot where we are all happy? How can I reach out without intruding on someone else?

I think if you are afraid to connect, or you are disorganized in your attempts at connection (like VP Ma’am—can I use your laptop, and then wandering out of the room immediately after), you miss out on a lifetime of growing experience about how to work with other human beings.

That magic moment did not exist for anyone else, where I saw my daughter feeling safe and reaching for the connection she needed and wanted—and getting it.

That’s why I am her mom. Because it is magic for me.

Disorganized

I thought I would write something, although my heart is not entirely in it.

I had tea with C’s biological father and it did something to me. I don’t know what really. It made me feel settled. I have an idea there is something biological to it. Maybe it’s nothing like that. But I wonder if, because I am attached to C, and he is like her, I settle around him in the same way I settle around C. Only he doesn’t have an attachment disorder as far as I can tell, so I am not trying to sort out how to respond to his disorganization.

I think actually you can see an attachment disorder in certain moments because we have unnaturally sparkly eyes. I have seen them in the matron, and in VP Ma’am, in C’s mom, and in a former boss who first loved me and then fired me.

He doesn’t have them, although he got teary a lot when I spoke to him. Of course, that could be just that it wasn’t that kind of moment.

So I will tell you what has been on my mind, aside from meeting C’s dad and talking with him.

I noticed one difference from the last time I was here in the Capital City is that I feel less confused. Things in my mind are smoother.

It seems as though in times of stress, something cognitive happens that is quite significant. My working memory seems to fall apart, and I cannot coordinate similar situations into models for what to do, which leads to things like putting my shoes on before my socks.

Not literally, but it is that kind of thing.

I don’t know what causes it—if I am trying to avoid certain kinds of memories that might be too intensely dysregulating when I am already dysregulated and that is affecting everything, or if it just that trauma shrinks your ability to coordinate your thinking. But it is something you feel. I had never thought about that. You feel this difference in how your brain is working. And this difference in how my mind is working is distinct from any emotional response. I can have my emotions under control, feel pretty grounded, but if it is a disorganizing situation, it still happens. I’ll walk out of the house, lock the door, and realize I have no shoes on.

This distinction between the emotion and the cognition was not apparent before, because my emotions were not under control in those situations—I think I was pretty numb and anxious—and it makes sense when you feel anxious that you would be forgetful. But if you don’t feel anxious, and instead you feel sad maybe but grounded and okay, then it is really noticeable that my brain is still working in this other way.

It also made some of my behaviours make sense that I have never thought about: at these moments, I instinctively try to reduce the number of variables involved. Like, it’s much easier if I don’t need to carry on a conversation at the same time. In a stressful situation, I usually prefer to be alone, because then I have less to juggle. I come up with very organized lists in my mind for the sequence of events so that I don’t forget anything. If it’s a routine disorganizing moment, I have a very strict routine. Because then I don’t forget things. I can keep track of what needs to be done.

Generally, I think those are good strategies, but if you don’t know why you are doing them, they just seem kind of OCD.

I also tend to avoid mixing my worlds. If I know someone from one context, I tend not to mix them with people from another context—like it’s hard for me to be around foreigners and Country Xers at the same time. Because I have more to keep track of then, don’t I? There are more connections then, because there are two different contexts.

The thing is that that disorganization creates these very disorganized experiences. It goes beyond the inconvenience of not being able to get my shit together. It creates a patchiness about every situation. And it is very nice to experience life at the moment in a way that is much more linear, and less patchy.

The other thing is that I have never had anyone I could tell that to, that life is this way for me. I couldn’t have explained it, probably, but I also don’t know who might have worked hard enough to listen if I did try to explain it. And it is so important to have someone that does understand how life feels on a daily basis when it is so different from what seems to be average.

Anyway, I guess that’s not wildly fascinating, but it is really interesting to feel inside myself and to have an awareness of when it is happening. It is also nice to feel it

Yesterday (forgot to post this)

I had quite a day. Well, maybe not particularly. But my head is full of stuff bouncing around in it.

I am in the Capital City now and it’s different for me than the last time I was here. It’s hard to describe, but I will try, because the main thing that happened today is I realized my experiences are real. I am not making this stuff up.

I don’t mean the abuse—that’s the part of it that is acceptable to talk about and people can understand and relate to. I mean the other stuff. The way things feel to me at other times, ordinary things.

The thing is that it has seemed that things could be made up, because it is easier to deal with them if you do make a story out of them. It kind of makes them make more sense, so if I tell myself about them in a way that doesn’t feel real, that is maybe too romanticized or in some way feels fictionalized, that’s easier.

But the way I feel inside and the way life feels to me, the part that seems to be different from what most other people feel, I do feel. And there are other people who feel the same things I do, and there are reasons for it.

It is far beyond just the schemas that arose from being abused. It is more than flashbacks. Something happened that changed my entire experience of being alive, and it is quite real. I think it can be changed but, even if it can’t, I can work with it. I can accept that I am like this.

What happened, mainly, is I left C with her biological father who is astonishingly like C—very much seems to speak from the heart just as C does, looks like C almost exactly. And he asked me to come to his house and stay with him, although I think he is a poor man and probably has no space in his house, and C first said rather abruptly, “Uncle wants to leave,” meaning the driver. A few minutes later, he asked again and C looked pretty much blank. Somewhere in there was some texting.

I kept thinking about this later, her total lack of expression at that moment, when two important people in her life came together and met for the first time. What happened?

And then later in the evening, I thought how everyone describes her as “frank.” That is a very typical description of her from friends writing TBHs (To be honest), for example.

Those two thoughts came together in my mind and I thought she has an attachment disorder. She absolutely does. She is the kid on the playground who runs up to strangers for a chat but keeps her distance from her parents, because she has relationship needs, but all of the feelings associated with relationships are too distressing. It is absolutely real. About one tenth of the time, when I am writing texts like “You are in my heart” kind of randomly in the day just to reach out with whatever might help her, I feel like this is really important and it helps. And the other nine tenths of the time I feel like a madwoman who must be terrifically needy and lonely to be doing this shit.

I am not mad. I am seeing her experience of disorganized attachment and responding to it at least minimally responsively. I am telling her, indirectly, I know separations are stressful for you, and I care about that, but it is also okay. It is okay for you to feel the stress of separation, and it is also okay for the separation to happen.

Which is what normally happens when you are little. You are distressed over a separation and someone sees your distress, acknowledges that distress as real, and takes some action to soothe your distress.

And somehow, this didn’t happen for C. Nor did it happen for me, and so that distress of the separation never became a perception that could be acknowledged or made sense of. That idea that separations from important people are distressing and stressful, but still manageable events never became a part of my emotional landscape. It became something else. It became my distress over separations is very bad. It is a life-threatening, but I cannot express my distress in any way or take any action to soothe it. It is both overwhelming and hopeless.

What I have been trying to communicate to C over the last year is that the distress is real. I see it. I know it exists. It is not bad, and it can be managed.

That blank expression at the moment of reunion from one important person and a separation from another important person would have happened because she totally shut down. She was so terrified of one separation and one reunion that she shut down entirely, and she wanted it to be over with quickly because it was disorganizing her. Those feelings of distress and anxiety over both events were bad and wrong, could not be acknowledged, and could not be managed either. They were both unreal and hopeless.

That’s why she went blank.

This happens because in your own family normal attachment behaviours are not responded to the way that a child needs them to be responded to. The parent does not know how to respond to attachment, because their own attachment is disorganized. So the child cries over a separation and they don’t know how to soothe that child. It might not even be that they respond in a rejecting way, but they themselves respond in a disorganized way that isn’t effective. The parent might rock the child, then hit them, then leave them in the crib to cry for hours, then want to play.

That is something I have noticed about VP Ma’am. She gets disorganized around me. She rushes forward, reaches out in some way that isn’t always quite appropriate, and then runs away again before I even respond to her. Or she lashes out. It used to drive me insane—why does she ask me things if she can’t be bothered to listen to the answer? Why does she seem to revert to broken English around me (which I can’t figure out)? Because she becomes disorganized. She stops being able to coordinate the information she is taking in through her senses with her experiences and create an effective plan of action. Her mind falls apart entirely.

I have also noticed I instinctively recognize that disorganized state, and it frightens me. As soon as I see her when she is in that state, I want to flee. Because the disorganized state does not always end well. It ends with feeling disregarded (because she reaches out, I respond to her, and she doesn’t take in my response) or worse—attacked. I think anyone with a parent who has disorganized attachment recognizes that state.

Disorganized attachment is passed down.

Something must create it initially, but after that it gets passed down. And I think it actually means that no element of living within relationships gets managed smoothly. Looking for points of connection doesn’t get managed. Feeling ashamed (I just did something wrong and we need to re-connect again) doesn’t get managed. Setting boundaries doesn’t get managed. You don’t even manage separations. Because none of those perceptions are permitted. Ironically, this means they manifest as overwhelming impulses, with no coordination between the desire (whatever it is) and memories of other experiences of that desire—which would normally give you a roadmap of how to do it. It’s just kind of patchy. Like snuggling worked well that time my aunt came over when I was six, maybe we should snuggle. (Thinking of the second time I tutored C, when she pressed her body against mine, something totally inappropriate for a 14-year-old Country X child to be doing to a teacher.)

From a therapeutic point of view, I think what helps with an attachment disorder is to widen one’s range of acceptance a bit beyond what is normal in society so that the feeling behind it can be seen as real. From there, the person with the attachment disorder can start to integrate that feeling and begin to make different choices about it. (Like maybe we shouldn’t snuggle, but I can tell you something I did today.) There are no choices about how to get a need met when it seems that that need cannot be seen or be real. Of course, it isn’t that simple.

Because shame is the foundation of conscience, and conscience is shaped by punishment and rejection of various kinds. Conscience is something felt, and not just articulated, and a person with an attachment disorder feels implicitly that everything to do with relationships is wrong without being able to articulate that. I mean, you feel it is wrong, but that actually makes no sense within your conscious mind.

So you reach out, and you feel ashamed. You set a boundary and you feel ashamed. Everything makes you ashamed. And there is no way around it. So regulating that shame so that you can reshape your conscience to accommodate the reality of relationships is part of the process. It’s pretty dreadful. As a process, it’s awful. I keep having to do things that feel wrong to the absolute core and I have to be able to stay in touch with my feelings enough that I can begin to have other feelings that would let me know it’s safe.

And you’re afraid. I have spent so long just calming the fear in my body, but that’s the only way to do it. Lie there—mostly when I am beginning to relax enough to sleep or when I have woken up from sleep—and just control my breathing and notice my body is afraid and just keep working at calming myself so that my body can begin to learn that it doesn’t need to be afraid right now.

It’s fucked up, but there you are. If you shut down the shame, the other feelings don’t get integrated, and you never quite notice that, in this case, it seems to be okay. Or it isn’t okay, and the reason it isn’t okay is X. And the fear just has to be gone through. Again and again. It’s quite horrible, but it has to be done.

There’s more.

Shame baby

I have been spending a lot of time in shame. This is mainly because I have to do various things to prepare to leave. Mainly, I have to write a letter of recommendation for myself that the principal can edit and sign. That’s hard. It’s hard to sit down and write good things about myself that I think a future employer might want to know about me. I didn’t directly have bad feelings about myself while doing it, but it hit me at other times, in the convoluted way my brain seems to work. But I know those kinds of things do it to me. I know things like that are a core reason for it. I know, later, when I am cooking and life feels unbearably impossible for vague reasons, it’s because of the letter I was writing early.

It’s so hard to offer myself up for approval.

I have noticed people with attachment problems (according to my totally unprofessional assessment) vacillate between being very sensitive to the views of others and not giving a shit. I don’t think that’s probably healthy. I think a middle ground on how much you care about other people’s views of you might make for a better life. Don’t give a shit, and you won’t notice that you are pleasing anyone even if you do happen to—and you aren’t likely to, because you aren’t holding in your mind things you can do and might like to that would also please other people.

So I have been writing this letter and trying to still give a shit, which makes me feel horrible basically. I am trying to stay in that and still kind of cope. Essentially, I feel like I am offering up a turd. Like, this is the best most wonderful turd I can offer you. I know it’s a turd, but a turd is all I have to give you.

It sucks. It sucks to feel like my best possible turd.

Last night, I started to think to some part of me emotions really do feel like separate people to me. To my baby brain, these really intense emotional states did not feel like they could all belong to the same person. I was thinking how shamey-turd state doesn’t feel like it could be the same person as happy baby state or dead baby state (totally dissociated, staring at the mobile for hours kind of state). I was kind of trying to help myself imagine these states as being continuous: shamey-turd baby is the same person as happy baby. I also began to think that to shamey-turd baby, happy baby feels like a forbidden object, not an emotion happening to the same person, but a totally separate object that shamey-turd baby wants and is not allowed to have.

I think maybe these imaginings helped, because later in the afternoon, it suddenly came to me that I am angry at not getting to feel happy and loved and wanted. I am angry and sad. And I don’t mean in an adult, “this is unjust” kind of way, but like “I want that balloon. I really want it a lot and nobody is giving it to me.”

You know how toddlers get really, really angry about things.

Also, I was thinking how the things that seem to trigger me—some of them, the narcissistic wounds, like I am not important, I don’t matter, I am not being considered, my boundaries and my rights have been violated—those are sensibilities that are supposed to alert you to relationships that are not very sturdy. If someone doesn’t seem to consider you as part of the group, maybe it’s because you aren’t part of the group and you need to move on.

But that was my family. I needed them. There wasn’t some other group of girls to sit with at the lunch table when these people didn’t want me.

No wonder I remember those feelings and impressions as being significant. They were meant to be significant. Those are significant indicators of group membership. Not that we are considered in all things at all moments even by the people who care about you most, but if you keep getting the sense that your point of view doesn’t matter, probably the relationship you have with those people is not very strong. People with whom we have a strong alliance attend to us. People who don’t, well, don’t.

I ought to know. I have been a foreigner for three years. I know why sometimes I seem to just float invisiblity. I am, for some people, simply not there.

Anyway, these were my parents. And yet I had this periodic sense: these are not people I belong to, this relationship is not trustworthy, I don’t seem to matter or to be important. Trauma made that feeling patchy for me, not integrated into other experiences, and so now when similar things happen that are not so devastating as child abuse, those feelings of being disregarded sweep over me like I have been dropped into a bucket of low self-esteem.

There’s more to this, but the “Oh, yeah,” factor is giving me a headache right now.

So that’s what this is. When I feel overwhelmed with shame, it’s that perceptual, emotional piece of what happened that I haven’t been able to form into a coherent memory, because for normal memories to form, you need to have emotions within a range of intensity that allows your brain to function smoothly, and I could not regulate this feeling before. It was much too intense.

Our memories are associative. They aren’t linear. They branch. So my brain frequently comes upon other things that involve that same perception, and I can’t make sense of it. Again and again, I have not been able to make sense of it, because it stopped working properly.

Or something.