Unhappiness

I am not really recovered from coming back from C’s village. Transitions can be hard for me. Losses can be hard. I am not particularly surprised that I don’t feel okay, but I am surprised maybe that it’s going on for so long. I can’t seem to return to a balanced place.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is how much being around other people destroys my enjoyment of life. I don’t know why this should be. It may be a misperception, but it seems to me that whenever I begin to enter into a calm place or I begin to feel some enjoyment of life, someone comes along and makes it impossible to continue to do it. This is not only children–who might be expected to push boundaries. It is also sometimes adults. My general experience of human beings is that I can expect continual conflict, and that being around people means a total loss of pleasure in life.

Yesterday, I was reading something particularly interesting and it was an online article, so Facebook was open mainly because I still have this habit of being available to C although she no longer turns to me in times of stress. So an acquaintance who runs the post office around here wanted me to tell my female friend to accept his friend request. He met her briefly, they exchanged pleasantries. I don’t think she probably much remembers him.

Well, I wasn’t going to do that. It’s up to her who she accepts and who she doesn’t, and I suspect he cheats on his wife. I said she is rarely online, which is true, and she may not have noticed his request. I suggested he may want to wait until she is less busy–she’s teaching in a reading program right now.

Then he asked how I contact her. I said by phone and messenger, but that we don’t have a lot of contact, which is also true. So he wanted her phone number. I suggested she might feel angry if I gave out her phone number. He said she shouldn’t. I said most people do feel angry if someone gives out their phone number without permission.

By this point I had completely lost my concentration on my reading and my mood as well. I had provided him with all of these opportunities to bow out of his request gracefully, but it was as if he couldn’t hear “no” until it came in this fairly direct way.

Why do people do this? The answer, I am sure, is that they don’t realize a polite refusal is nonetheless a refusal. Other people in their experience must acquiesce in order to maintain the politeness. But I find many people are like this. You set a boundary, and you have to keep setting it. Nothing changes, except you find them unpleasant to be around.

Some of this is also the kids, I know. They don’t know how to have relationships. They struggle with self-control. They haven’t matured developmentally enough to consider other people. It’s not their fault, but sometimes I feel such despair.

In the village, I went for a walk with the Girl. I couldn’t leave her out, but I sort of knew if the Girl is with me, this will be a joyless walk. She complained about how hot it was (then why did you come?). She commented in an alarmed way at some skin peeling off the ends of her fingers. Now, I don’t have any idea why this happens. It does happen, but I don’t know why or what to do about it. When it happens to me, time passes and it goes away. I just agreed with her: indeed, the skin on your fingers is peeling.

I find it hard to relate to her constant distress. I can’t really keep my attention on it. Country Xers seem capable of commenting on the heat several dozen times a day, but I can’t really maintain an interest in weather.

I know this has to do with how I cope with distress–just move on. No one can change the heat, so maybe we should o something pleasant which distracts us from it. (Of course, it’s also difficult for me to relate to, as it is considerably cooler here than Los Angeles in the summertime.)

Anyway, I wondered why the Girl didn’t realize that while she finds her anxiety fascinating, other people do not. If she wants to have people around, she needs to find some kind of common ground with them. But people don’t.

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Distrust

C came this morning.

I was full of feelings I couldn’t really decipher, and I went in the kitchen to make breakfast and cried. Things went through my mind that made sense as possibly causal, but it also crossed my mind that perhaps it was like mornings or falling asleep. She came. I was reminded of sad things, because I felt sad about her coming.

She had a plan to spend the day with her friends. The way she talked about it, it sounded like she wanted to leave immediately and then go off with her friends the entire day. She said she would take The Boy with her, but not the girl, because the girl wanted to play football. I said the girl does not want to play football. I am forcing her to go. She was excited about it for 2 days, and then when it turned out to be a less than 100% thrilling, she didn’t want to go anymore. But I am insisting she stick with it.

The Girl has so few coping skills she feel as though she cannot tolerate any distress and her strategy is to exaggerate her emotions in hopes that someone else will relieve it. I suppose that’s why.

Anyway, it made C’s plan to take one child and not the other make no sense at all. It became impossible to discuss this with C. She just kept repeating that The Girl wanted to go to football. It was a puzzling conversation, and then C retreated.

I started to think yesterday that she feels real fear when she acts this way. When she is distressed about a reunion or departure, the fear at those times is not imaginary or played up. She might not be processing the fear, but it exists. Her brain really is flooded with hormones. I feel a very deep sadness about this.

When a child has been abused, the things that would normally comfort a child become potentially frightening. Vulnerability is this opening to vent rage on someone too helpless to retaliate or an opportunity to use the child’s need for proximity to exploit them. What comes out of this is a deep distrust: if I express vulnerable feelings, then someone will use that as an opportunity to hurt me. If someone wants me to be close to them, it’s because they want me to do something that feels good to them, but hurts me.

 

 

Exploitation

C is supposed to come today.

I felt happy about this and now I don’t. I try to maintain curiosity about what is going on in my mind, and to see it as a filter for reality. A different filter would make reality seem different. So I try to maintain this awareness that my mind exists. It is not directly reality entering my brain.

The reason I don’t feel happy is that I began to think she does not actually want to see me. She needs to use my laptop for a project she needs to do over vacation, which may actually be true. I began to mentally prepare myself to feel like an object and to feel exploited.

People who use dismissive strategies don’t find as much reward in relationships. They have their own agendas and find reward in activities and accomplishments, but not human beings. Human beings are either a means to an end or an impediment to their activities. The more pronounced the use of dismissive strategies, the more this will be true.

C alternates between dismissive and anxious strategies. It’s possible to do this. People who alternate between very extreme strategies are considered to be psychopathic, but ordinary people use low-numbered strategies and manage to get through life without robbing banks or murdering people.

It’s completely possible for C to see me as only a laptop provider, and not a full-fledged human being. It’s hurtful when people do this.

I once saw a therapist who told me about another client whose wife was very dramatic and expressed her feelings in frightening ways. He said as his client’s self-esteem improved, he was less upset by this, and would tell his wife he would come back later, when she was calmer.

I now think his wife used very anxious strategies to maintain the relationship: she exaggerated her emotions to maintain the attention of her partner. Her husband, in contrast, increased his use of dismissive strategies by ignoring her. The extreme nature of their use of protective strategies increased and became more entrenched rather than improved over time. But the husband lost awareness of his emotions, and forgot that having someone yell and throw things is upsetting and confusing. He was not safer or more supported, but he stopped complaining about it, and so our therapist saw it as success.

It’s not my goal to stop feeling hurt. Instead, it’s my goal to think in a way that allows for uncertainty and doubt and reflects more sources of information.

I think there was a point in my life when I dd not see minds existing as minds. There were distortions in my thinking and by this I don’t mean there were particular thoughts I tended to revert to: that’s possible, but it’s not what I mean.

I mean there may have been a point when I did not see minds as existing as minds: thoughts were reality, and so I could not tolerate thoughts, because to me they seemed real.

In other words, in the past I might have had the thought that I am only a laptop provider and then felt compelled to ensure I wasn’t one, because if someone has that thought about me, then that is who I am.

I have one particularly clear memory of an incident with my ex-wife–most experiences with her are not clear, but this one is. I often felt upset and did not know why or what had happened to lead up to this.  But this one I remember very vividly.

I recall helping her with a sewing project. She was making cat toys stuffed with catnip. She sewed the edges with the sewing machine, and I sewed up the little hole left in order to stuff them by hand. When I finished with this, she was somehow very dismissive about it, and I felt exploited. I tore out the stitches that I had made, because I never wanted to be anyone’s slave again. I would rather not have relationships at all than be exploited.

In therapy, there was no discussion of this. The therapist assumed my actions were meant to communicate with my partner and that I was behaving vindictively. It’s not that I didn’t try to get across what I thought and felt, but there was not sufficient space in what he believed to accommodate my experiences. He couldn’t grasp that I assumed my actions did not communicate to my partner. Whether they did or not, I don’t know, but I grew up in a world so unresponsive it was very easy for me to revert to a presumption that what I did would not matter one way or another to anyone other than myself. He assumed my behaviour was covertly aggressive, and I was being deceptive about this, because i did not want to acknowledge the aggressive nature of my actions. It did not cross his mind that I assumed she did not care. I did not expect any reaction to my tearing out the stitches and it seems to me, if I remember right, that I was correct in my expectation and there was not one. I lived in a world where I was my only audience and my actions communicated only to myself.

The confusion was about the nature of reality: I felt I could change a perception only by changing reality. I could change the feeling of being exploited only by undoing te exploitation.

The Big Kids

The Big Kids have come home–C and G. C is not with me. She stopped off at her grandparents’ house and won’t come here until next week. G is here and will leave the day after tomorrow.

I have lots of feelings about this. I find journeys very stressful, and the kids have been on a journey for days. G went to Border Metropolis to meet C a week ago, but C was with her mother and stepfather in Timbuktu until Saturday. Saturday, her stepfather drove her part of the way there, and she came to meet G only on Sunday. They were supposed to depart on Sunday by bus, but C claimed there were no taxis to get there. I find this unlikely, but C seemed to believe it.

Anyway, I had asked G to wait for her, despite having wasted money on a bus ticket he can’t return. Everyone assured me it was perfectly safe for C to travel alone in a taxi across the country, but I realized (after a long think) that I still felt worried and while I couldn’t quite decipher whether C felt safe alone or not, it didn’t feel safe to me. People use denial to cope a lot here. I am not sure they consider sexual assault and harassment accurately.

So all day I did not hear from either one of them. C does this and G slept through my calls and did not have enough balance on his phone to reply. As they came closer, G told me on Facebook where he was. He did not tell me where C was, and so I began to worry that C wasn’t with him.

Worrying about young people is normal, but I know I worry when I can’t find people because I assume death is a real possibility. I couldn’t find someone and when I found her, she was dead, so these two ideas are linked in my mind. It’s not something I want to teach impressionable young people, who are learning how to cope with danger.

I was aware this was tricky for me. When C did begin to message me, I didn’t know at first where she was. I could have, but I wasn’t thinking rationally enough to do that. There were some dots I didn’t connect.

Because of that, we had this difficult conversation, where she became defensive and rude to me. I carried on with my own agenda–we will not be rude to each other. I said there is something missing in what you are telling me and I am confused. She was rude about this too.

Finally, G told me that C had come with him until the turnout for C’s village. Ah, well, a logical person might have worked this out, but I was not one of them. C calmed down pretty much immediately. C had not been able to imagine what I didn’t know.

I called C a short while later. She was still in the car and it was hard to hear her. She said she would call me when she got home. Unlike other times, she did call me after she arrived at her grandparents’ house. I told her I was very happy she got there safely, which is true.

One of the issues I have been aware of recently is jealousy–The Girl is extremely jealous, and it has made me aware that jealousy is real and motivating for people. Not that I don’t ever feel jealous myself, but I have become aware that there are situations when I don’t feel jealous, but someone else would be and this can create a gap in our communication. I imagine it may mean something to C that I care more about whether she arrives safely or not than whether or not I have her attention.

The other thing is G is here, and I feel something I can’t describe–a pride in his existence, somehow. It’s something new.

 

So Bad

When I woke up this morning and sat down to write, I felt so bad. Dirty and disgusting and horrible.

What I have been trying to do in these situations is to remind myself this is something that happened or a perception of something that happened. It’s a social sense. It isn’t me. My idea is based on the assumption that my difficulties come from disruptions in processing information, and these disruptions have led to problems with forming a continuous self, so that there is no sense of connection between the self in different moments. I feel ashamed now and I am the same person now as at other times when I don’t feel ashamed.

In a shorter term sense, it limits the bad feelings to the present moment. I feel like I am bad now, but I am not always going to feel that way. I suppose there is a motivation to believing that feeling bad is a part of the self–it gives the illusion of some control, even though that control is not real. If external events lead to feelings internally and those feelings are not very often good feelings, it’s quite frightening.

I have an image of a rubber ball being bounced. That’s how a child with callous parents feels. A child with caring parents still does not have much control over what happens inside themselves, but the people around her are helping that child to have good feelings. There is this layer of protection, like swaddling, which are the caring people around her.

That’s one piece.

Unsteady

Things are not very stable at home at the moment.

The Girl tends to express a lot of anger, some of it overtly, but much of it covertly. I mentioned her punching animals in the nose. She reports her own dog bit her. Well, I wonder why….

Her main solution to this is to move on to someone else. I won’t give her her own way, and she wants to go home again. So yesterday, she went home to find her mother drunk, fought with her mother, and went to stay with her brother instead.

This would all be fine, except that she said hurtful things to The Boy, which I had shared with her and evidently should not have, because her motive for repeating it was to wound him.

So the Boy came home, but in a guarded state. This was alright, except that the anxiety overwhelmed him and by evening he felt like running away. I kind of get how the pressure builds up, because it happens to me too. So in the evening when he asked to stay overnight with his friend, I let him. It’s Friday night, I am not sure how much kids are normally allowed to stay overnight with their friends, but a sleepover sounds ok to me.

After he left, I realized he had stolen money from me. I went to look for him, and he was not at his friend’s house. I don’t know where he is or what his plan actually had been.

The Girl is still at her brother’s house, which is fine. I suppose in a few days, she will get angry at him too and want to come back. I don’t know how to help her with her anger exactly. If I had an idea, I would try it. It doesn’t bode well for her future, but I don’t really know what to do. You cannot rage at people to get your way, and if you use abandonment to exact revenge on people (which is what she is trying to do), then generally they lose interest in you. It doesn’t keep working.

At some point, you have to accept the boundaries other people set for you, and learn to work within them. You cannot continually ramp up aggression and live any kind of decent life.

Meanwhile, I am home alone and starting on a project of my own. I am trying to write out a memoir kind of thing about my traumatic past while weaving in what is happening in the present–somewhat like my blog, but more coherent. It’s possible it may turn out to be readable, but I also think writing will help me to make sense of it more deeply.

It’s quite difficult, to put it mildly, and yesterday in the middle it seems that I switched. I left a message for C’s dad that I loved him. I came back from going to the bathroom and saw that I had done this. I don’t know how it happened–if I had simply typed into the wrong window (I tell C I love her all the time) or if some part of me couldn’t hold in the impulse anymore.

It is something I periodically want to say to him. I feel it. But for adult men and women who are not related, I suspect, “I love you” is always romantic, and that isn’t what I am trying to say. My brain is a confusing place, and it’s not very clear to me what I do feel.

It’s possible I was writing, and felt overwhelmed, and I just wanted to reach out. That expectation that there will be a reward on the other end of reaching out does feel like love. There is this gratitude you feel in anticipation of receiving support.

Anyway, he came back online later and said, “I love you too.” Life moved on.

Anxiety

The kids went home yesterday afternoon. In the morning, The Boy was sick–he had been vomiting the previous night and not told me. So he didn’t want to go to football, and The Girl says there are no girls to play with. It’s only boys. I think they are both actually frustrated not to experience immediate success. They don’t have the emotion-regulation skills or the self-compassion to persist.

It made for an interesting morning, because they were both home and we had nothing in particular to do. Without the schedule, things are free-form, but I don’t have great ideas about what teenagers ought to do with their spare time. Tuesday, I had to go to school to do some work, and they went downstrairs to the neighbour’s house and watched violent movies on television for hours. That was clearly not a good idea. So I had the Girl work in the garden for about an hour and a half and the Boy stayed inside and read books and drew pictures.

It was very interesting, because The Boy is sometimes naturally very interesting to talk to and to be with. At other times, he makes unfunny jokes and plays up to get attention and I end up feeling sort of mechanical. (That’s nice dear….) But at other times, the back and forth flows very naturally.

This is interesting, because The Girl cannot do this. She cannot do something of her own and bring it back to show me or be looking at something and point out something that interests me. When she tries to do this, she imitates The Boy and does whatever he did last that interested me. She does not have her own ideas. When she is looking at something and points it out to me, I usually have a hard time understanding why it has any interest for her. Yesterday, she was pointing out that some boys seemed to be on their way to go swimming. (Swimming during the monsoon is quite dangerous.) I agreed that the river was their destination. They are not students at our school, although they used to be. I had a hard time understanding why she cared if they went swimming or not or why I should care. I recall one day when some boys were walking down the road–I think it may have been the same boys–and she said, “Look, there is X walking with his friends.” Indeed, there he was, walking with his friends.

Why does she care that he is walking with his friends?

So she strikes out with me much of the time, and it was sad to see this. It was sad for me to see how naturally the boy could interest me in his activities and how hard it is for her to do the same thing. I felt sad that she was losing out on this kind of interaction.

The thing about being anxious is that it leaves her unable to develop her own interests very fully. She is very good at helping me when I need help, but she does not know how to have her own interests and then share them with me. It may be that she’s simply wrong about imagining my mind and in time she will improve. But I think it may also be the anxiety–she can’t leave me and my interests long enough to explore the world.

Of course, in Country X, where people don’t go to the shop alone, exploring the world is less done, but I still think everyone needs some of this. Everyone needs to have things that they like to do and that they get some satisfaction and joy out of doing.

I was watching a video about anxious-ambivalent attachment–it’s a strange situation clip. In it, the mother starts off playing with her baby. He’s found a phone and he offers her the receiver to pretend to talk. She says, “Is this the best toy you could find?” and offers him a different toy. Now, it’s hard for me to understand why a mother playing with her baby would reject the toy she offers him. They are, after all, baby toys.

But I can imagine something like this playing into the Girl’s make-up. You can’t develop your own interests with a parent who seems bent on destroying them.

The thing is that, although I have trouble imagining the mother’s motives, I don’t think she is bent on destroying him as a separate person from her. I don’t think she probably realizes this is the likely outcome.

Anxiety usually makes you present-focused and concerned with short-term results. It also makes you self-focused, because your own survival seems to be at stake. Given that I believe this about anxiety and I am guessing an anxious baby results from an anxious mother, then the mother’s reasons for rejecting her child seem to me to be more likely to have something to do with her feelings in this moment.

What would they be?

Because my own mother interfered with me quite often. I don’t think this began at 7 or 10 or 11, or only in the years when I was old enough to make note of it and remember it later. It began with my saying, “Mommy, bird,” and my mom not understanding why I might want to look at a bird, just as I don’t understand why I might want to look at some boys walking down a road.