I dreamed I fell asleep in the library of my old school with my girlfriend–there was a mattress there as libraries will have in dreams. And when I woke up, it was to the school board filing in for a meeting. Leaving, I apologized profusely to the principal and began to worry about laundry. I seem to have started taking in laundry for a living, and there was a lot of it to do and I was late.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you this, except that it speaks to my state of mind.
Also, the cat tried waking me up for an hour before giving up and going back to sleep. I don’t know why she thought we should be getting up earlier today. Perhaps I fed her earlier last night, or maybe there was an unusual spike in the traffic outside and she got confused about the time. Maybe she spent the night chasing imaginary mice and was famished. I don’t know. But I’m not really at my best.
At this hour, I usually stare around the room trying to remember things like my name and where I keep the spoons (the same place I kept them yesterday it turns out, which is also the same place I’ve kept them for the last eight years). I also wonder about the day. What kind of day will it be? What will I do? I am not awake enough for planning anything. I’m just at the wondering stage.
And it’s mostly an affective wondering. I’m wondering about my mood. What kind of mood am I in? What kind of mood will I be in the rest of the day? And I’m probably wondering who I am today as well.
But I wish I wouldn’t do that.
I know some people who have fairly stable moods. If they wake up on the wrong side of the bed, they are likely to go to sleep still feeling that way. I don’t. As in yesterday: deep despair, a bit of thinking, then fine–productive and busy the rest of the day in a mindless, neutral kind of way–not happy, not sad really. Just busy. But that isn’t unpleasant.
Most days are like that–an assortment of moods and feeling states throughout the day. Not 57 varieties, but two or three at least. So why do I proceed on the assumption that I will just be in one mood and will have one kind of day when I will most likely have two or three kinds of days in a single day?
Why do I have the understanding the moods are a kind of destiny? They come and settle in and you are stuck with them for the rest of the day. Where did I get that idea? And more vexingly why do I persist in thinking this when the evidence clearly indicates the opposite is true–at least of me?
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 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.
I dissociate. For years, that’s actually been my normal state.
Consequently, sitting in a therapist’s office, trying to talk about–well, a lot of things actually–often ends with me staring at the carpet feeling dizzy and not able to think about anything at all.
Sometimes, they notice this.
Usually, what she will ask is how I feel in my body.
I hated this. I understood vaguely what it was designed to do. I also found it completely ineffective. What I didn’t like was that it shoved me back in my head. Because there I was, trying to formulate words, trying to be in a sense analytical and notice things that primarily seemed rather scientific.
“Let’s see here. My mouth is dry. My heart is beating faster. My respiration is shallow. My palms are moist and cold.”
It pushed me even further away from any kind of emotional experience I might be having.
I actually don’t know why it didn’t help, but I’m starting to understand what they might have been expecting me to feel instead: a gut feeling, a feeling in the very inside of me that I never had at all. Not even when I wasn’t busy tracing patterns in the carpet with my eyes.
We have this thing called the enteric nervous system (ENS), sometimes referred to as the “second brain” due to its tremendous complexity, and this may be the reason we get funny feelings sometimes. In fact, the ENS stretches all the way from our esophagus down to the large intestine, so we also ascribe feelings to our hearts that are occurring in our gullets.
We just don’t know yet. We know that the ENS regulates our digestion and that it can keep doing this even if the CNS goes off-line, but we don’t really know what else it does. Perhaps more than it would seem it does. Perhaps less than we imagine.
But I can tell you that since starting this whole process of integration, I’ve been having odd feelings in my abdomen–not gas. I’ve always had that. My favorite food is rice and lentils, after all, and barring that rice and beans.
No, this is different. These were clearly meant to be emotions. In fact, they typically intensify at moments when I seem to be putting two and two together and coming up with myself in the process. They seem to be about the process of integration itself.
And it’s started to occur to me that it isn’t one particular feeling that occurs in my abdomen. It is all of them. But they are still a bit flattened out, a bit disconnected from the rest of my internal, physiological experiences. So it’s hard to say. It’s hard to differentiate.
They are also hard to get used to. It’s like being able to feel your own heartbeat. Tedious to listen to all the time, isn’t it? Easier when it just fades into the background. Sometimes, I can’t sleep because of what I feel. It’s not upsetting. Just distracting. Just too much stimulation.
But as these feelings become more connected, I’m starting to be able to tell a few of them apart. Sleepiness is one of them. Sleepiness, I’m finding, is lovely. Sleepiness starts in my abdomen and spreads all the way up to my head in this delicious dizzy sensation. It goes all the way out to my arms in a way I can’t even explain. Sleepiness is wonderful.
And it’s probably the reason I’ve been so unproductive the last few days. I’ve been enjoying sitting here, doing nothing much, feeling drowsy.
Sadness. I’ve begun to tell that one apart as well, although it’s a little more difficult. That one goes all the way up to my throat.
So, when I am usually drinking my 6 cups of tea and pondering ideas for blog posts, I was Skyping with four individuals half-way around the globe from me.
I do think it went rather well. With any luck, I did convince them that they should want me to teach in one of their schools, and I will find myself on their side of the world in a few months, teaching in a place that may or may not have regular electricity but that will have walls and benches in the classroom. Yippee!
Oh, and chalk and a blackboard. Also, big plusses….
At any rate, I enjoyed it. Which suggest to me either I’m nuts (a possibility) or it went well (hopefully also a possibility).
I’ve been watching a sitcom called Reggie Perrin and he has two young subordinates known as Ant and Ste who are comically enthusiastic. I believe it is Ste (and I may have it backwards here) who says about every new idea, “I am almost physically excited!” And then does an odd sort of fist pump after that.
I was almost physically excited. I may have, in fact, been physically excited by the interview.
You can catch the Ant/Ste/Reggie interaction at 6:18 or so.
Make of that what you will.
I was thinking about this last night, lying awake. Not the excitement, because I didn’t know about that part yet. But the job and the change it means for me.
I am not scared of the change, but I am sad. For many reasons really. I love this city. I have, after many years of holding myself at a distance from nearly everyone, friends I enjoy. I have colleagues that have become friends that I would like to keep seeing.
I cannot bring the cat with me. I do, in fact, expect her to drop dead any day now, but she is not actually dead. Or even very sick. She is just old. That kind of old and really keeping it together that people usually do drop dead suddenly in the midst of. “She always seemed so young!” we say at their funerals.
But she was 95.
Which, when I look at the age conversion charts in the vet’s office, is about where she is. Except cats have these really weird life spans–dying of age-related diseases at anywhere from 8 years to 30.
And it seems to me for the last week or so that I have pushed away that sadness, somewhat out of habit perhaps.
I have had to make a number of very significant changes in my life over the years, some of them rather abrupt and sudden. It has often worked out that there was a moment when I needed to act, or at least it felt that way. And if I did not seize the moment, the opportunity to make the change would be lost.
Sometimes, the moment was about external circumstances–someone made an offer they aren’t going to make again. And sometimes it’s about state of mind. I was fed up enough, angry enough, brave enough that I had the energy for the change. And if I did not make the change, I risked letting the will to do so disappear.
So I sometimes feel afraid to let my trepidation, my sorrow about change rise to the surface. I’m afraid it will make me lose my nerve. Or even that managing the negative emotions will become so all consuming, I’ll be unable to do what I actually need to do from a practical standpoint to move forward.
I realize now it won’t though. I can have all of my feelings about this change.