My mind is a little bit of a mess. Anyone surprised? Not particularly? Okay. Yeah, me neither.
My mind is in one of those places where connections seem to almost be made. But not quite. Synapses are being forged, perhaps, but not quite.
It’s been a really hard week. I do think there are anniversaries all through the spring that are hard, and it’s hard to grieve the losses these anniversaries remind me of when I am wired to feel afraid to have feelings or to remember. Difficulties get intertwined.
It’s very hard to go to bed at night and to wake up in the mornings. These seem to be points of very painful triggering. I am having trouble sleeping also, but at the same time it seems like things get done at these times–in my mind, I mean. The sleeplessness and the upset seems at least somewhat productive.
One idea I have had very loudly and clearly has been how very frightened I felt as a child. It’s really only as I feel that fear in my body and start to be able to connect it to myself that I really realize the intensity and the realness of it. It’s hard for me to think as an adult about what it is like to be a child who literally cannot trust or rely on anyone, but when I actually feel what it was like to be that child, I get it profoundly.
I am starting to have some empathy for myself, meaning I can construct mentally my own child’s mind at times in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. I have thought of myself as a child in a way that’s almost like an object, and that’s mainly goal-oriented and functional, rather than felt or real.
I have in the past been told and probably myself tried to think in this way: “You were trying your best to survive.” And that seems almost like someone sitting at a desk, mapping out survival strategies to see which ones might work or be most effective. And that’s not at all what happened. I was in the grip of emotions and impulses of various kinds, many of them conflicting. If I didn’t reach out for help as a young child, it is because my mouth and my body felt literally paralyzed. There was no part of me mapping that out in a coherent way. It was felt, not thought out.
It has also been on my mind how much one’s own experiences must–there is no other choice–form the basis of one’s reality. So if I personally have witnessed murder, for example, then that is a part of my personal reality. And it’s not part of someone else’s felt reality who hasn’t experienced murder up close, even if they know intellectually it happens. It is not real for them in their decision-making process in the way it is and was for me.
In the past, I think I have assumed my own reality is faulty. It’s based on my experiences, and my experiences are beyond the pale. It’s like I thought I need to base my decisions on someone else’s life, which is more typical, because that’s going to be more likely to fit reality now.
Yet you can’t. Our brains don’t work that way. I really do need to trip through murder as a possibility on my way to other thoughts, and I absolutely have to be able to regulate whatever emotions come up for me as that happens.
I have also been thinking that typically we use others to help us regulate ourselves. That impulse to make other people see our perspectives so that they can either help us understand it or take some action about it, is normal and healthy. It’s called co-regulation and pretty much everyone I see around me does it.
My perspective is incomprehensible for most people a fair amount of the time. They have no understanding of why I would be feeling or thinking the way that I do in many moments. It’s pretty hard for me to grasp and I live with it every day. I cannot use co-regulation as a strategy very often, because what happens when I try to do that is my perspective is invalidated–either I am interacting with someone who can’t see why I would be feeling that, or I am interacting with someone who might feel the same way under the same circumstances but doesn’t understand any better than I do why it feels that way. I really need to go through a lot alone.
But when I can regulate myself, it starts to be able to connect better to other people. It’s sort of horrible, because I need more support and I get less of it.
That’s just how it is.
I have a third thought, which is about probability. Our automatic mental processes understand probability. If something–like rejection, for example–has happened frequently in the past, your unconscious mental processes will know that, and your emotions will reflect that. My conscious mental processes can modulate that, but I don’t think they can replace it. I am going to go into situations where a certain outcome happened frequently in the past, and my emotions are going to reflect that, even if it’s not likely now. And I have to deal with that. I have to cope with whatever feeling that brings up for me while doing whatever I cognitively understand I need to do.
Another thought has been about how a feeling of connection is achieved. It’s achieved through being understood and responded to as well as being able to understand and respond to someone else in an automatic way. If a lot of stuff inside me is incomprehensible, and if my looney-toons parents make it so that I can’t really figure out what other people are thinking and feeling, that sense of connection will be hard for me to achieve. It will be even harder if I have been more or less programmed to feel ashamed of revealing myself to others–hard for them to respond to me if I can’t reveal anything authentic about myself. Harder still if what I do end up revealing doesn’t make any sense.
So the feeling of starving for connection–that intense longing I sometimes feel–I don’t think it’s entirely about the past. I am starving for connection now, and I am going to get connection only when I can manage my own feelings enough that what I do end up revealing to other people is comprehensible to them.
Last thought: When I do trust someone, as I am starting to, that is going to feel very risky for me. Whenever you begin to trust that you could connect to others, after a life-time of not being able to because you just couldn’t work out how, it’s the first one and the only one. What I mean is, you have to start somewhere, and that first try doesn’t feeling like someone losing one of many. It’s like losing all you’ve got. And when you know what it is to lose the only source of connection and comfort you have–because that has happened to me twice at least–it’s pretty frightening. That loss is overwhelming to risk, just the sheer amount of pain involved. It’s hard to even imagine thinking about going through that again.
So that’s where I am now. There is this nexus between the past and the present, where I am identifying emotions and perceptions I have had that recur in the present and I am just seeing that is the same thing. It’s the same emotion or experience, and this is why I might be having it again. I might be reminded of it because some tangential element is the same, and I just need to process that memory so that things make sense, or it might be because human beings just have only a finite emotional experience and sadness is sadness, fear is fear, and anger is anger. Those emotions tell me about my present too.
In other words, sometimes it’s something like I was shopping for fabric yesterday and I suddenly felt really sad and suddenly I realized the guy behind me seemed to be speaking Farsi on the phone. I don’t entirely know why that connection is there in my brain, but it is. It’s tangential, but I do feel a sense of longing when I hear it. Or it might be that as I continued to shop, I felt that clenching in my heart, that is just terrible sadness and I know that’s about wanting connection. I was shopping for C. I wanted to buy fabric she would like and as it got closer to either finding a fabric that she would like or striking out on the whole thing, I was feeling what it might be like not to be able achieve a sense of connection with someone. That’s not tangential. It’s the same feeling, because it’s the same thing. She’s not my mom, but it’s not just my mom I have failed to be able to understand or please and I don’t always know what C likes, and not being able to connect to her because I can’t imagine her tastes does make me sad.
And it makes me that sad because connection is the emotional life blood of human beings.