I woke up with the usual ache in my heart. I really missed C. I had woken up in the night and called her then—it’s after school. Maybe a good time? It wasn’t. The phone is always switched off. (Saving battery? Probably.)

I know from years past that this isn’t entirely about C. I woke up and ached before. I get that experiences form a web of associations. Missing C is just one of them.

It doesn’t clarify how to respond to it or how it will help. I still really don’t know. I don’t feel I know what’s causing it, why I am like this, or what will help.

I am starting to get how I felt to me as a child. I suppose that’s valuable. A struggle with this though because it’s so hard to grasp how my mother could have seen me or behaved towards me the way that she did. Because I suspect my morning blues started off with a mother who was just never happy to see me, who just never had an answering feeling of joy towards me and who also could not understand or respond to my separation distress—which is what I feel when I wake up. Where is everyone?

How could you not be happy to see your child? I suppose if you can’t understand why your child would be happy to see you.

My friend has to get her picture taken today because she is an endowed chair. She’s been putting this off for as long as possible, and finally the tech department has told her you’re the only one we don’t have a picture of for the website. Or whatever. She can’t delay things longer.

I told her she looked nice. (I thought she did.)

“Uhhch.” That’s an approximation of the sound she made. Disgust at herself. It’s not really unusual for her to respond that way. It’s not because of the compliment exactly—her sleep problems, her indecision and anxiety over how to proceed get the same response from her. It’s a reaction to being seen.

I don’t exactly know how this happened. Her own mother was neglected as a child, because during most of her growing up years, her father was dying and then her mother was a single mother and struggling to raise two children. So maybe she just didn’t get enough opportunity to learn how to bond, and then had trouble bonding with her children. I have no idea.

But that’s the response of someone who has learned to look at herself with disgust. That’s learned, like seeing African Americans as dangerous or frightening. You learn to see yourself that way because someone else has seen you that way. But why would anyone? Why would someone have seen me that way?

Why would someone see C that way? And she does. I know that she does. She used to see me and be filled with sadness and shame. I couldn’t figure it out then, but I look back at the time she was at my school with me, when I saw her frequently, and I know she did. I know she saw me and anticipated rejection and humiliation. Why?

If you don’t understand why they would be filled with joy at seeing you. If you have learned to see yourself with disgust and you cannot comprehend why your child sees you and feels joy. Fully 50% of the feeling you have when you see your child is the reflection of their joy at seeing you. But what if my mother saw me full of joy at seeing her and it brought back blurred, inchoate memories of being an infant whose mother was never happy to see her?

And I have no idea why my grandmother would have responded that way to my mother, but I look back at my grandmother and I know that very easily could have been the case. My grandmother was more predictable and felt safer to me to be around, but she was a very selfish person. She could have been considerably worse than she was: she put food on the table, she cleaned the house. Her family’s physical needs were attended to. Her selfishness was a mindset and not exactly a reality. I don’t know how to explain that about her. I can tell you she was mercilessly unaware of my mother’s sensitivities. I mean, there is a point when you say something and you realize for reasons you might not understand, it hurt that person and you just back off because it’s not that important.

Anyway, one of the things I have been thinking is that the more I take in the reality of C and the joy she gives me, the better I feel. My pain seems to be exacerbated by my internal uncertainty over what it’s okay to feel. I noticed this when various people have sent pictures of her to me. I look at them and I feel relieved. I feel she is okay, all is well in her world, and I feel better.

I deny myself that feeling, and I feel worse.

I don’t know how to explain my internal war over it, or why it makes such a difference. It isn’t a war of words. I am not “beating myself” up. It’s more a matter of how I ought to cope with my distress at separation. I think my go-to response is distraction or avoidance. The impulse is to reach out. My response to the impulse is to vacillate between suppressing that impulse and indulging it.

A part of the thought process I have about it is what affect does it have on her when I indulge it? My assumption has been mostly that that’s going to be a negative thing. It exposes her to my anxiety about separation and teaches her that separations cannot be endured, and it also sends the message that she isn’t free to live her own life. She needs to look after me.

But she has not needed to be present or even be aware of these things that make me feel better. At these times, when I feel reassured she is still there, I realize it isn’t her attention on me that necessarily feels good. It is her existence as an autonomous person with a life outside me that feels good. It’s complicated and I don’t have it worked out. There are just bits of thoughts—pictures, sensations—swirling up in my mind that don’t quite make sense yet.

It’s just this idea that she can breathe without me. I look at her pictures at those times when someone has sent them to me, and I am struck by her physicality. This is clearly a memory of what I have experienced of her, but this process of letting myself remember does something to me that allows me to think this is true in the present. I remember the warmth of her skin. Mostly that.

If I remember the warmth of her skin, and if I can allow myself to feel my joy at that warmth, then I feel okay. At least for a while.

I don’t know how to explain this. I am just saying something seems to be going on in my mind that I wasn’t expecting. I think it’s about object permanence. I expect in these moments when I reach for connection with her that it has something to do with needing reassurance about my own importance to her, but I feel I am always important to her. Even when she behaves in ways I feel hurt by, I still feel she loves me. I cannot explain why I feel that way. But I think because I do have that sense, I feel safe enough to do what needs to be done in order to do this other kind of important work—which it turns out does not really require anything from her. It’s something I am doing inside me.

I think what happened is my natural instincts to do what leads to forming object permanence were discouraged and I became ashamed of them. I may have, in other relationships, externalized them in a kind of plea to get them met, and that infringed on the other person’s autonomy in ways that harmed my relationships. It doesn’t have to be like that. I can meet my attachment needs—if there truly is an attachment involved—through what is going on in my own mind to some extent.