Last night, I had an on-line meeting to attend for the Country X job, but since this is a developing nation and nothing ever works when you really want it to, I was never really able to access the meeting. And then it was over. Naturally, at that point, I was able to login and access the broadband network I am using without any problem. That’s just how things go.
Then I tripped over a pipe on my walk this morning. Breakfast was cold. The puppy who lives across the street has suddenly taken it into his head to start tearing my clothes (and succeeded). So now I need to mend my clothes.
I’m annoyed with all of that. I’m annoyed with myself. Why does it take me so long to get ready in the mornings? What is it with my compulsion to wear things that take time to locate and put on, like necklaces and bangles, eye make-up, even bindi? Can’t I just wash and go? But, no, I have to do all these annoying “lady things” as Nandhini calls them.
And I’m tired, because I persist in waking up at 5:30 in the morning for no discernible reason, but the meeting that I couldn’t attend kept me up until 11.
So I don’t even have my usual patience with life.
Then I realized it’s Halloween. The worst day ever invented.
There are few reminders of it here. There’s a party shop on the corner that has orange cobwebs and masks hanging in the window. Given that Diwali is Sunday, and that is the biggest party around, I’m not sure why they are bothering. But maybe they feel the Diwali market is already saturated, and it’s old-hat anyway, and it’s time to borrow a different holiday.
And there are also references to Halloween on here and in the Facebook updates from my friends. So I can’t entirely forget.
That’s when I remember the somatic marker hypothesis and the ventromedial cortex, and I can tell you I’m nothing less than relieved.
“The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is a repository of dispositionally recorded linkages between factual knowledge and bioregulatory states. Structures in ventromedial prefrontal cortex provide the substrate for learning an association between certain classes of complex situation, on the one hand, and the type of bioregulatory state (including emotional state) usually associated with that class of situation in past individual experience.” Bechara, et al. Emotion, decision making and the orbitofrontal cortex.
This is nothing more complicated than an association between a certain class of complex situation and a bioregulatory state. WhenI was abused on Halloween, and I was abused especially severely on that occasion, I was angry. So, given that it is Halloween again, I also feel angry.
At some point, this would have been a kind of a time-saver, like knowing your times tables by heart so that you don’t have to add 8 9 times in order to get 72—you just know that’s what it is. It would have allowed me to skip the step of assessing every Halloween anew–I would have just known. Anger was the appropriate response last Halloween. it probably is the appropriate response to this one as well.
So, I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to look deeply into myself to determine what I’m really angry about. I don’t need to try to work through anything. I do know what this is about, what I have felt and thought in the past about this, and what I think and feel now.
I have some things on my mind this morning that are a little difficult to explain, and I am also more aware than usual of the degree of personal exposure involved in trying to explain it in a public blog. But I’ll try anyway. I think it’s worth doing.
For someone with a degree of dissociation going on, “I” is a tricky concept. Which part of my awareness is “me”? I regularly do and say things that feel “not me.” But it’s not that they feel utterly unlike me. They just feel like a someone else kind of “me.”
“I” seems to change, or it can change. The whole is mostly constant, but the location of my subjectivity is not.
It’s tricky. It’s so tricky in fact that the language itself seems to make it more difficult to talk about.
Regardless, I suspect I’ve been working at this from the wrong end to some extent. I’ve been trying to convince myself that all of these “not mes” are actually me. Which they are. And they also aren’t. It depends on where you draw the line around “me.” Anyway, I don’t think it has worked. I don’t even think it’s been a good idea.
Mainly, I think that because it kept me from considering the “me” that is already there. I seem to have rather forgotten about her. Which isn’t unexpected really. She’s rather a forgotten person. Shoved aside. Deliberately ignored. Even by all the other “mes.”
This forgetfulness was intentional. That “I” was a dangerous person to be.
That “I” felt hopeless, depressed, worthless. That “I” had thoughts about self-harming, even suicide.
That “I” is still me.
Fortunately, I haven’t done everything wrong. All of those posts about magical thinking. They were crucial. Because the barrier between “me” and all the other “mes” was in what I believed it all meant.
This is where it gets confusing again. If you believe feelings make reality, then it becomes very important to control how you feel. So, for example, if you feel hopeless and you believe that feeling hopeless will cause life to become hopeless, then it is important to stop feeling hopeless.
And if you can’t stop feeling hopeless, you might just try to ignore the feeling instead. And you will consequently then also feel unheard, ignored, unimportant even to yourself. Which makes it all feel even more hopeless, doesn’t it?
It isn’t nice.
If, instead, you believe that hopelessness is merely a feeling, a passing physiological state that has purpose–to alert to the possibility that you may be embarking on a wild goose chase, for example–but that has no real power of its own, then you are free to feel.
And you will be rewarded with the full experience of being alive.
I woke up this morning and instead of having only two suitable places to sit and write in my journal, I had five.Now, as it turned out, only two of those turned out to be truly suitable. But I had to sit in all five before I could settle down to business on what is more or less the first order of business for the day. (After going to the loo, and breakfast, and making a cup of tea–but maybe that’s too much information).
It was a little like being Goldlilocks. I didn’t like it.
I am housesitting for a friend of mine–a someone with a much larger home and a garden to boot.
It made the morning rather exhausting and, as usual, it also made me think. Mostly about how hard I work to eliminate the need to choose in my life.I only prepare about five foods on a regular basis. I keep one kind of tea in the cabinet. (In flush times, I might buy as many as four at one time–but my friend, who also enjoys tea–must have twenty in hers). There is only one kind of salad dressing in the fridge at a time. Unless I am running low on the old. Then it might overlap.
I have brought routine to the level of art form.
It is not that I don’t like variety. (I don’t just keep buying the same kind of salad dressing; I do keep cycling through about six or seven favorites). But I don’t like taking the time to choose. When I open the fridge, I really don’t want to have to think about which salad dressing I’d prefer.
I don’t like looking inside at myself and trying to assess and compare my degree of pleasure about one thing versus another. For one, it’s hard. These kinds of things-are not just sitting there at the top of my mind, ready to be plucked up and acted upon–not even what kind of salsa to buy-. And they also seem really unimportant. Kind of like a waste of time.
A total waste of time, in fact. Just pick something.And enjoy it.
That’s what one part of me says. Getting back to my pastry post, every second spent deciding between chocolate and almond croissants is a second spent not eating either one of them. There is definitely a wisdom there.
However, while it might be more practical to just get on with the pastry eating–after all, there is really no such thing as a bad pastry–how will I ever make decisions about the big things in life, if I can’t be bothered to think about where to sit?
I woke up this morning after a very long sleep feeling particularly unrefreshed, fuzzy-headed and achy in that weird “I’m not really that old, but I seem to suddenly have arthritis kind of way.” You know, where everything mysteriously hurts just a little. Every joint seems to be creaky. All of your muscles are stiff.
And then I became irritable and frustrated with it. Which is even less fun than just being tired, fuzzy-headed, and artificially arthritic.
Now, my experience with waking up like that is that not much I do makes a difference. Or, it makes a difference, but only sometimes–and apparently randomly. Sometimes activity that gets me moving–a walk, a brisk bit of dusting–wakes me up and makes me feel better. Just as often, it doesn’t. Sometimes an unexpected pleasure lifts my mood and puts me to feeling right again. But those are hard to plan for.
As often as this low-energy state mysteriously lifts, it remains exactly the same. And I go through the whole day feeling as precisely lethargic as I did when I woke up.
In other words, getting irritable and frustrated at waking up feeling exhausted makes exactly zero difference. It just makes the whole experience that much more unpleasant.
But I had trouble letting go of my unpleasant feelings.
In fact, a little voice spoke up and said something about the irritation being necessary to motivate me to improve things. Which, of course, is nonsense, since I’ll take a walk anyway. And I can’t plan in an unexpected pleasure.
So it made me think.
Because I had a dream about something very similar. Not quite as exciting a dream as the Neiman Marcus one, but revealing nonetheless.
I dreamed I was a having a conversation with someone that I don’t actually know in real life, but in my dreamworld seemed to be something of an acquaintance. She was tapping her foot incessantly and twiddling her hands. She was impatient. I wasn’t any more happy about waiting for whatever we were waiting for than she was, but I had opted for sitting very still.
We were comparing notes on our impatience-managing strategies. Actually, not really comparing notes so much as arguing about it. I explained that my physical state affected my emotional state. Being physically still–breathing deeply and slowly, for example–calmed me down, and being calm made waiting less annoying and more pleasant. She said I was just repressing my feelings.
Fully awake, it’s fairly obvious I was having a conversation with myself. And that my acquaintance was trying to explain some of the reasons I unnecessarily perpetuate unpleasant emotional states. I think I must. Otherwise, I’m just repressing my feelings, and I also won’t be motivated to change my circumstances.
That’s not really true. I don’t have to keep feeling angry about something in order to be able to right the wrong that has made me angry. All I really need to do is note that it did make me angry. And I will proceed from there.
Dan Gilbert makes the rather excellent point that the purpose of our emotions is to orient us toward novel or unexpected information in our environment. “Oh, look, they serve really good cake here!” So then I remember that that’s the place to pick up a cake when I need it. “Damn, he’s a jackass.” And then I remember not to get too close.
We then rapidly employ cognitive strategies that restore us to baseline, so that we are then ready for the next bit of novel or unexpected information that needs our attention. We are not supposed to be on cloud nine all the time. Nor are we supposed to be indignant and pissed off.
But here I am resisting that return to baseline because I think I shouldn’t. I feel actually compelled to maintain this unpleasant emotional state.
If you ever met my mother, you’d probably have a better idea why. I think now she was (is) a borderline/narcissist blend, which meant she was histrionic a good part of the time, and she also expected to be at the center of the universe far more often than was entirely reasonable.
Grown-up tantrums were a weekly occurrence.
As a young person, the most maddening part of her personality for me was how little sense her thought processes seemed to make. I didn’t intend to pick up her bad habits, but I have.
Magical thinking was one habit. Resisting the return to baseline seems to be another.
There are some things we learn because people specifically instruct us to do them. “Brush your teeth,” our parents tell us. So we brush our teeth every day and we keep doing it even after everyone has stopped reminding us. We learned because we were explicitly taught. Other things we learn because they just seem to make sense. We notice the soap doesn’t sink in the bath, and when we push our plastic bath toys down to the bottom of the tub, they pop back up again. So we start learning something about density. Restricting my emotional expression is an example of that in my life. Being cold and unemotional seemed to hold off the worst excesses of my father’s sadism.
And then there are other things we learn just because someone does them in front of us enough that it just seems to be what people do. Like talking, or wearing clothes. Maintaining emotional states longer than necessary may be one of those.
One remarkable aspect of borderlines is that they maintain emotional states longer than most other people, especially very negative ones. Returning to baseline is a lot more difficult for them than for most other people. And so they do spend a lot of time either very angry or very sad. It’s really not much fun. But my mother also seemed to maintain very “happy” states for days on end as well. She didn’t return to baseline too much. She didn’t feel calm, mildly content, and at peace much. If ever.
And maybe I learned that just because it’s what she modeled for me. I certainly doubt my mother told me that I needed to keep feeling because repressing my emotions was unhealthy. Although she could have. My mother started psychotherapy when I was about two. She did spout a fair amount of muddled-up psychobabble.
Still, she may have maintained emotional states for long periods for completely different reasons than I told myself. She might have not known how to return to baseline. Or intense emotions may have made life seem more exciting to her. She may have resisted the return to ordinary life because she didn’t want to be ordinary. She wanted to be grand.
Still, I can tell you that life in the middle is easier and a lot less stressful than being wound up into some kind of emotional pretzel all the time. The “I” of my dream is the one I agree with in my waking, sentient state (even if I am a bit sleepy). Both my acquaintance and I were going to need to wait. Much better to just make the best of the waiting.
I couldn’t sleep last night. I spent an hour lying in bed not sleeping, and then finally gave up.
I thought Rising Damp might put me to sleep. And after a while, it did.
An hour later.
But I’ll tell you what kept me up: feelings. Some people lie awake at night, worrying about problems. I have trouble because I can’t stop feeling.
The thinking that goes with it is a problem too. But it’s the feeling that’s so distracting.
It’s an interesting problem to have.
I’ll tell you the feelings that kept me up last night. There were two of them–one of them pleasant, one of them less so.
We’ll start with the pleasant one. The other one can wait for another day.
I felt like a miracle. You know how parents feel about their children when they are first born? I felt like that.
Not that I have accomplished so much or have better hair than anyone else. (Sorry, YouTube has inflicted too many Destination Beauty commercials on me and it’s getting to me at last.)
(I apologize to everyone that might love hair and beauty, but aren’t we supposed to grow out of this kind of self-obsession?)
Ah, so miracles. Not a miracle like a Destination Beauty guru whose hair is nothing short of a scientific achievement. Not like that at all.
A miracle in the sense that it is a wonder I have all 10 fingers and toes. (And given what they have been through, it is a wonder I still do.) It is a miracle the way my lungs take air in and out, that my heart beats faithfully and regularly and sends the blood streaming through me.
I wrote about shame and guilt this morning because I’ve been thinking a lot about feelings. I was thinking about humiliation and disgust as well, but ran out of time and space (and energy for the whole thing). So, another time.
Progress, and yet it also means I need to be able to cope with having them. Cope in the sense of integrate them into daily life: identify them, differentiate between them, allow them to slide into the background of life because I know what they are.
Presently, I don’t understand them at all. I have no idea what any of the sensations mean or what to call them, nevermind what they signify or how much attention to pay them. They are either relentless and overly stimulating or gone completely, as I resort to numbing them out altogether just to feel “normal” again.
And I suspect that once I let them surface, what always comes with them is sorrow. And that gets tedious.
I wish it weren’t so difficult just to be normal. I really do.
At the vet’s the other night, picking up the prescription that my cat refuses to eat, the receptionist bent my ear a bit about how infrequently they see cats as compared to dogs. Apparently, we can’t tell when cats our cats are sick.
Actually, I can. Over the years, my sick cats have hid behind the books, stopped eating, used the box too much or not at all, and most obviously of all stopped smiling. I don’t know what I mean by smiling, but happy cats do smile. And mine have always intentionally widened their eyes in some kind of bizarre bid to look cuter. There was a point when only one of them did this, but then after a decade or so of living together, the second one picked it up as well. So when they are unwell what I notice first are these little tiny eyes peering at me.
But as I watch mine not eat, use the box too much, and hide under the bed–but still smile–I wonder what she really feels, and whether I can only tell when she’s very sick.
Reading up on her condition, I ran across the apt observation that at least some cats often conceal their physical discomfort from their owners, putting on a show of normalcy until they no longer can. (It’s a predator thing, the writer said.)
And I can’t remember where I ran across that bit of wisdom, or I would link to it and credit it appropriately, but I think it is a predator thing. I think it is about being a predator among other predators that does that to creatures.
Lions, in fact, attack members of their pride who show symptoms of canine distemper. Predators see weakness in others as an opportunity to attack, and although it isn’t actually the reason lions attack their sickened pridemates, it is the reason predatory people attack other people.
If you are around a predator, your best bet is to conceal any sign of weakness, any indication that you can feel pain or sorrow or fear. Your best bet is to behave like another predator.