Homesick

This is the saddest and most homesick I have been since coming here. It’s the lack of the buffer of actual work: my day is all social navigation. And it’s never-ending the last three days, because school is monopolizing my life. It’s one of those things that I am sure I can’t fathom, because I am a foreigner.

The list of things I don’t get: the desire to be together all the time, the aimlessness and lack of goal-directedness, and the relentless focus on food and alcohol. Two of them I know are about being a foreigner. I am an introvert and it’s also how you survive as an expat: you periodically withdraw into a world of your own making. But Western cultures usually emphasize independence and tolerance of difference.

So it’s pretty weird to have dinner with your colleagues rather than your family or even your friends every night for three nights in a row. I have other things I’d like to do, but you would expect everyone else to have other priorities as well outside of Country X.

Then there is also the idea that we will spend all day pretty much sitting around and then enjoy this so much we want to keep doing that on into the evening. When, you know, you could be training for a marathon or writing a book about something.

The food and drinking thing, I realize, is my own. I came back surprised that Americans seem to relentlessly talk about food: well, Country Xers don’t necessarily talk about food, but they eat all of the time here. People like food, but I really don’t. From time to time, a great food experience is wonderful, but I can’t really get worked up over what is basically scalloped potatoes every day. So that’s my own thing. I eat to live most of the time, not live to eat.

I thought of coping with this by writing about how it feels to live through the murder of someone close to you, because that’s the reality I live with every day and can’t share.

First of all, no matter who is there or isn’t there, I feel alone, because someone is missing not just temporarily but always. And I also never feel alone, because I feel her presence: She is internalized as a part of me, and yet is never physically real or differentiated enough to be company.

There is also the constant pressure to live up to the expectations of the missing person, which collide with survivor’s guilt to make me feel that I must be someone beyond merely human. A dead person cannot accept your developing, flawed self in the way a living person works with you over time to both expect and negotiate your real self. A dead person seems to demand a saint.

So, that’s it. That’s what it’s like. I am leaving out the grief which expands and recedes according to the calendar and, often, happenstance of reminders or my own need for a support and understanding that is permanently gone. I didn’t mention it, because I thought, “Well, maybe it won’t always be like that.”

But it probably will. I think it fades, but what I wrote above–“expands and recedes”–well, I think that’s always true. You don’t think about the absent person for ages and then suddenly you are standing in your kitchen sobbing over some unexpected thing that just got to you when you least expected it. I suspect this continues to happen–maybe less often. Maybe those patches when it is every day dry up and disappear. Maybe I won’t always wish that the fall would simply pass by and I wouldn’t count the days until December or even January when it might seem the worst of the grief might be over. But those unexpected surges: I think that continues to happen to anyone who has lost someone close to them–whether that person was murdered or not.

Anyway, this is my stab at connection. The loneliness is killing me today.

 

The Day After

Well, I survived. Out of any Halloween, this has by far been the easiest. My goal for the 31st was to stay reasonably emotionally stable, eat three meals and, if possible, wash some clothes that have been piling up. I succeeded on all counts, even with the laundry although it seemed to send me into some kind of emotional tail spin.

It doesn’t just evaporate when the day is over, but I do know life slowly begins to become easier. Other stresses surface—I need to go to the Capital City for visa purposes and it’s very long journey. I will meet C’s dad there, since that is where he lives, and I will need to more emphatically sort out the mess of our relationship. G would like me to visit his parents in Remote, Cold Village and cold is terrible for me…

I look at this and I think this sounds, in a way, normal. I have obligations to other people which strain my internal resources. This was never really true prior to coming to Country X. My therapist last year asked me about self-care. It was difficult to explain I don’t actually do anything aside from care for myself. Even work is to allow me to buy myself the things I need. It made me think we live in such different worlds. I didn’t have anyone tugging at my sleeve demanding care—just me. Other women have partners and children and even demanding friends. I try to eat three meals a day, get enough sleep, keep my house clean enough that I enjoy it, wash my clothes so that I feel okay about going out in public, leave for work on time so that I don’t feel stressed all the way there. That’s my self-care.

To move on from that, the 1st was also a holiday here, but not a real holiday. The shops were mostly closed, but we had a school program in the morning. It finished around 11 and I had in my mind to visit C’s aunt and uncle although they had not specifically invited me and I risked showing up and being an inconvenience to them. The odd thing about this is that VP Ma’am asked me for lunch.  (She is not our VP and has not been for years, but I called her that in 2015, when she was and it seems easier to stay with the same nicknames.)

I felt this terrible letdown when she told me to come for lunch. The thing is that I haven’t been to her house for quite a long time and there wasn’t any actual commitment with C’s relatives to offer as an excuse and it seemed to me I kind of had to go. There are other people who say “come to our house” and they don’t really mean it. It’s just said in the moment, but if you never show up they will not ever remember telling you that. She is not one of them. If she says “come for lunch” she means report at 12 pm sharp. Lunch will be ready and she will be sad if you aren’t there to eat it.

But she said it and I just felt my joy slipping away as I thought I also have tests to mark. I don’t have the energy for two social events in a day. Certainly not two social events and marking and also not crying for hours at a time. I felt really upset at being trapped into this situation. She was quite annoying that morning. There is a dance they do at the close of events and it’s not particularly difficult, although I have to watch people and copy them, so I have started to participate in this if the audience is not too large. She was behind me, and quite angry most of the time-singing loudly in a very unpleasant, harsh voice, complaining at how boring it is (I thought, “You’ve done this dance before. It ought not to be a surprise to you that it’s a serious, solemn event.”) Since I have to watch, it was really distracting.

Going home with her—she was walking around the main part of town looking for dried meat to buy—she was equally annoying, complaining she had a headache and getting the meat was so difficult. It was hard for me to understand this: yes, headaches are uncomfortable, I’m all for taking a Tylenol and being done with it and I know she’s not going to, but eight times…I got it the first time. And about the meat, well, it’s a hassle but it’s not meat, for God’s sake. It’s not trying to find an organ donor.

She was like that for a while, repeating the same topics, complaining a lot, and then after a while she started to become less repetitive and more coherent and consequently more interesting to talk to. I enjoyed my time with her after that. I thought sometimes I just need to wait for people to calm the hell down, because I had anticipated an unpleasant, boring lunch in the first place.

Then I came home and collapsed for a few hours. I tried to contact C’s relatives with no luck at all and I wondered about what to do, but the thing is their son had told them that he was going to my house the day before, and I thought probably he didn’t show up, because I had imagined an early bed and then not been able to consider sleep. So the lights were out, although I was awake and home. I thought he must need something and I felt guilty it. Not that I had actually done anything wrong, but I would have helped him if he had felt welcome to come. I made him felt unwelcome unintentionally.

Finally, I went to their house and I found the son home alone. So he had a speech to give the next morning and a math test. That’s what he needed. I helped him with his speech a little and then the family came home: the little one was turning four and they had gone for a picnic. The little one has very pronounced anxious/resistant attachment and what seems to me to be controlling attachment. He gets loudly and dramatically into things to get his mother’s attention and he basically wants attention all the time. He cannot play with his older brother, who is eight, because he sees his brother as a threat. The one with the speech is the oldest boy (there is an older girl studying in boarding school) and I wondered how he could concentrate at all with the little one making so much noise.

I played with the little one partly so he would shut up and let the older one write. Certain things seem like new and exciting ideas to him. One is the idea of taking turns. So if you give me your car, I will use it play with you, and then I will give it back so you can have a go too. I am not going to steal it. Since I have been to his house a few times, he knows this and he gives me his toys to play with, but he had no idea this would happen the first time I took his toy from him. The other thing that struck me about him was how he both cried for comfort and struck out angrily when it was offered. It occurred to me later this seemed to be very much about trust. “I want closeness, but if you come close you may hurt me.”

There was this weird episode in the middle of the evening where I wanted to bury himself under his mother’s National Dress, which is a long skirt kind of thing. Of course, this was a bit much for her, as having someone pull up your skirt so they can get under it feels weird, even if it’s your son. I thought, “He feels ashamed.” Hiding usually means shame. It’s a specific social fear. So I gave him his jacket and put it over his head so he could hide in that. After a while, he started to seem to like that and eventually he came and buried his face in my side….”This feels so good….”

Shame is part of socialization. Without it, you can’t really accept boundaries or understand that you aren’t allowed to do something you want to do. This starts a kind of grief process. I want that toy. I can’t have it. Now I need find a way to feel okay without the toy. Without shame, the boundary isn’t internatlized: as soon as you can, you snatch it. So it’s important to be able to process xhame.

I recognized the signs of anxious/resistant attachment in myself the next morning when I got up, feeling that attachment pain. I want comfort, but I don’t trust myself to provide it. This seem reasonable when I grew up with people for whom my emotions were not real. I needed them, but they would be as likely to do something that helped themselves as to help me. I am my own attachment figure, so that’s internalized. The comfort I offer cannot be trusted to work. Some of what I feel inside is uncertainty about whether to trust the comfort being offered.

Jam

What I am getting at is that today is a difficult day for me. I feel that deep sense of sadness and longing which is like knives in my chest.

One layer of this is that I felt this way when Nata died. That is one connection. It is the same kind of pain, not because the past is living on inside me and repeating itself without my consent, but because it is difficult to process or cope with it all and I feel again the same impulse: I need help.

For the person who lacks object constancy it feels that the events which caused the feeling are repeating themselves rather than the self repeating a similar reaction to different events.

I need help today because the burden of understanding an event that is painful is overwhelming and I needed help then because the task of saving her was also beyond me. It is not the same event repeating itself, but my perception of needing help.

She didn’t die again. I need help again.

There is a tendency to cope with overwhelming feelings by claiming they belong to our childhoods, as though only children have feelings. This allows a person with parents who had an impaired Theory of Mind to maintain coherence, because the adults in the child’s life lacked empathy, implying that the adult did not have the same feelings and could not understand.

Actually, the adult did, but could not remember them. If the chosen way to cope with dysregulation is to stop processing the overwhelming feelings, then the adult cannot actually remember being the person who had those feelings. The adult cannot place themselves in the child’s shoes because the adult never learned about those feelings.

People like me seek therapy because the strategy of moving on quickly past emotions stops working as life becomes more complex and demanding. There begin to be too many things to move past. We don’t want to actually change this strategy: that’s too difficult, and so often we find other ways to more emphatically and decisively carry on.

It seems easier to do this, and if we have someone else who encourages us to carry on like this, then we gain enough support that it may actually work. We don’t “heal,” but we can function again.

The other end of this is that the two strategies that worked with the parent were 1) wait until the parent happens to be in the mood to take care of you and 2) exaggerate your affect so that parent has no choice but to attend to you because it’s actually causing them pain.

This is the attachment “wound.” It’s uncertainty: do I exaggerate this emotion so that someone pays attention to it, or do I shut it down completely? The wound is not a wound. It’s a desire to connect, to be seen and to be understood, and to have one’s regulation needs attended to.

I find that as I dial down emotions to something tolerable, they begin to feel much more relatable and comprehensible. I can see better how other people have them and the other situations I have them in, and they frighten me less.

So that’s the other thing: if your strategy for getting paid attention to was to make it so uncomfortable for the parent not to attend to you that they were left with little choice about it, then your emotions become something frightening to the parent. They look at you and see someone who frightens them. You don’t mean to frighten them. It’s just that it works, and you need a diaper change or to be fed or whatever. You internalize this view of yourself as someone frightening, and become frightened of yourself.

This creates an isolation: you don’t want to see yourself reflected in someone else’s eyes, because that reflection may turn out to be monstrous. But the lack of reflection is deathly lonely.

What happens later is that you have to act like you are on fire to get attention and the thing is that you aren’t pretending to feel this way. You feel like you are on fire.  The dysregulation becomes not just a default, but a strategy. You begin to experience yourself as monstrous also, because the pain inside is so great.

It’s perhaps easy to justify this as “just survival.” The problem for me is I have such mixed feelings about it, that trying to survive is not necessarily positive. I wish my dad hadn’t survived. What I did at times to survive was so humiliating and so dehumanizing sometimes I feel I am alive but no longer human. I lost my dignity rather than my life, and I am not sure I came out ahead.

In the short term, I think that because of my parents’ narcissism, I didn’t develop a normal, healthy focus on myself. I don’t know how to explain this well, but it comes up in the context of today’s pain.

I was thinking last night as I came home that this is Nata’s death anniversary, but she is dead. I don’t think she cares one way or the other what I do. She has gone wherever dead people go. But I am very much alive, and I am sad. I wasn’t raised to believe it’s alright to try to alleviate my own sadness. Nothing I did to attend to myself worked, because my mother was so interfering. Only if I sent her off into a dissociated haze could I do anything.

This in itself is awful to think about. I didn’t cause my mother’s depression, but I contributed to it. Maybe. Or maybe not.

The upshot of this is that I bought jam, which costs a whole dollar fifty. If you calculate that my salary is about 400 a month and about half of this needs to be saved for the kids’ school tuition, then you can understand why jam is a luxury for me. Jam won’t bring Nata back, but it might take the edge off.

The whole topic reminds me of the incident with the most recent therapist when she accused me of having distorted thinking when I believed my friend was trying to hurt me over not cleaning her house when she wanted me too.

I am working at object constancy, not maintaining incoherent views of my objects. I can think my friend is trying to hurt me and still value our friendship, but also get out of the way of her emotional arrows. I can think I had a terrible relationship with my mother and still care about myself and try to learn how to have constructive and helpful relationships with other people. This is what is missing in people with regulation problems–an acceptance of the whole of the person. The “goodness” is kept separate from “badness.”

I am not arguing for keeping abusive people in your life, just for coherence.

I am for some reason thinking a lot about Yuri. He gave me his own world, one in which no one cared about him or helped and he needed to rely on a combination of acting and magical thinking to cope. I may be mistaken about him, but I imagine a childhood of orphanages, delinquency and prison. There is an image out there on the internet somewhere of a helpless kid some idiot parent has tattooed on the knees with stars, a la Vor V Zakone, as though their one ambition in life is to get their kid to be a criminal.

Whether the image is real or not, I don’t know, but it reminds me of Yuri. He had other choices, but he didn’t know what they were. I learned from him how to stand there and take shit. I learned how to control myself from him, not because I knew how to be calm, but because I knew how to make myself do things even when I wasn’t calm.

It’s hard to think about today and not remember his brutality. For him, that was how life was. I hope he’s dead now, but he’s also a part of me. The difference is only that I know I have other choices. I don’t need to be brutal. I can be, but I can be otherwise.

 

Death anniversary

The 31st of October in 1986, Nata died.

I write this and wonder if that’s true. I also wonder if she existed. I wonder if what I think I remember are real things or if I have imagined them.

At 4 in the morning–which is when I normally get up, it’s not as shockingly intrusive as it sounds–I woke up feeling as though knives were carving up my chest.

I have learned this is what sadness feels like. I had not expected sadness to feel like knives, but it seems to. Actually, it may be loneliness. I missed Nata. I fell back to sleep, but still feel the same pain when I woke up to daylight. It waxes and wanes, but does not go away.

We have the school concert this weekend. I don’t really have anything to do at school. I am supposed to look after the girls, but they don’t need anything from me. I loaned one of them a safety pin. I also made sure no one stole the bottled water we had kept for the head of local government for about an hour. That was the extent of my usefulness. Other people speak in the regional language and I try to sort out what they are trying to do and can only work this out after they are well under way.

I miss C, because the time of the school concert was this intense experience for her, where she sort of came alive. It might have been because of me, or because she had a new boyfriend, or her parents were temporarily gone. I was consumed with worry, because they were gone and her boyfriend was in tenth grade and three years older than her, and I have been teaching boys for a long time, and pretty much boys in tenth grade date middle schoolers because they like the power trip and not much else.

So it was intense for me too, for different reasons.

At the show, a kindergartener seemed particularly happy to see me, so I talked to her for a while, and I was surprised to observe how little kids in Y-town can now speak English. I believe she may have been the kindergartener who came to my house, but I am so oddly distracted here that people are vague to me for a much longer time than they ought to be.

I let her sit in my lap, because Counter Xers have an entirely different sense of what it means to be in an audience and they don’t give a ripe fig whether the people behind them can see. If they want to see, they just stand on their chairs and God help you if you are seven and too short to see a thing. It’s been years since a child sat on my lap, and this was an interesting experience for me.

The thing is she sat there and I couldn’t help but think I sat on my father’s lap and he sexually abused me and I cannot fathom it. I really can’t. I don’t know how you imagine a seven-year-old as a sexual object, never mind the morality of it. I know, intellectually, it’s because you don’t see the seven-year-old. You see your own mind and assume that’s all that exists.

Then I came home, famished, having gone too school too early for dinner and gotten home well past my dinner time, and I chatted with C’s dad while I figured out what might be easy to throw together.

He said he missed me, which he says sometimes. I find it kind of disarming how unafraid he is to show a softer side of himself, like he doesn’t know men aren’t supposed to have one. Or maybe my idea of masculinity is 100 years behind.

Anyway, I said maybe I should call him. I was thinking he probably feels some kind of separation anxiety. C’s disorganized attachment comes from a family with disorganized attachment, I would guess, and probably no one has stable object relations. It’s possible I made the wrong choice in this situation.

We talked for a bit, and I think I was sort of overwhelmed with processing the evening and also the mechanics of life and I rather distractedly ended the call when dinner was just about ready.

We went back to chatting, and he said, “Did you hear me?”I had an idea he was still talking when I hung up the phone, but doubted my perception of this and anyway this is what Country Xers do. They are done talking so, click, they end the call. Goodbyes and hellos are not big things here. If you have something more to say, well that’s too bad, because they are done listening.

I did, however, feel like an asshole for hanging up on him, so I said sorry and asked him to repeat it. And I also called him back so we could have a do-over. I am not keen on being an asshole.

He said, I love you, which he has said before and I have written about on here and I don’t especially know what to make of. I said, “I love you, too.” Because I do care about him. I felt aware of his vulnerability, although he doesn’t seem to be.

We then had a chat about what this meant, probably mainly because I can’t grasp he means this in a romantic sense. Well, he does. I can’t actually connect those particular dots. Country X somehow makes me feel like a granny. It’s hard for me to understand that I have evidently not shown how I feel about myself to other people. Just because I feel like a granny does not, it appears, mean other people see me as a granny.

I was aware he had opened up to me and I couldn’t formulate any kind of coherent response. I told him I was speechless, which was true. I was aware that it’s probably possible to respond without hurting anyone too deeply, but I couldn’t think clearly enough to respond at all.

He is aware it evokes a sadness for me. He has said this before, that he feels he has hurt me when he shares his feelings with me. I didn’t respond to this well either. I think it’s ok to tell someone how you feel about them. Feelings are ok. People won’t always love you back, but there’s nothing wrong with telling someone you do. The sadness has nothing to do with him, and it only occurred to me later that this doesn’t mean he doesn’t see it.

The thing is Nata is fucking dead. She bled to death in my arms, and it’s hard to imagine how life just goes on. I have gone on, but in such a state that I didn’t entirely notice, but the rest of the world is not me, and it does not care. People fall in love, have affairs, give birth, keep their house clean or let it fall into disarray, eat, sleep, carry on with daily life.

C’s dad said he would ask me again in a week. I am, in a way, not surprised about this. I am a mess and it’s possible, unconsciously, my mess has invited other messes. When I might otherwise simply want to survive until after the day has passed, I have tests to mark, exam preparation to navigate, and an extra-marital affair to work out.

Oh, and Galay has a heart problem of some kind, and I don’t know the nature of the problem, because the doctors don’t tell people anything coherent unless you ask them yourself, and I am afraid he will die too.

True North

Some ideas have come together for me recently. They seem somewhat coherent, as though they aren’t missing too many pieces. When I have an interesting idea which resonates, but seems to be incomplete, I find I ought not to get too excited about it, as later I won’t buy into it any longer.

I’ll begin with something I read recently, which stuck in my mind: when the baby’s feelings are reflected back, but not marked (exaggerated so as to show the feelings are not one’s own), then feelings seem to be something “out there” rather than existing within the baby’s own body. So if the parent simply has affective empathy–the baby’s distress is felt by the parent, but not as they baby’s–then the baby’s feelings seem “real” but outside of the self.

Put that together with the idea that the parent is impulsive and unpredictable and I think I start to understand myself. If feelings and, indeed, all perceptions seem to be “out there,” then I might have ended up feeling anxious about the very nature of reality. There are times when I feel compulsively anxious about C in a way that I think is frightening for her if she realizes I feel that way, and I have been thinking this is because my working model of close relationships has been activated: “Okay, mom, how do I feel now? What is real now?” More importantly, “Who am I now?” C isn’t my own mother, but that’s the model of relationships I have: I don’t know what reality is–perception is something “out there” and it can change at any second.

When I imagine my childhood, I think this is half how children feel–“Mom, what’s happening? What do I do? How do I understand it?” But not that it can change at any second. That’s my mother’s impulsivity.

This is not flattering to me to talk about, but I think this is what happened. I think this is how my parents’ mental illnesses distorted my understanding of the world and myself.

My other thought has to do with my relationship to good feelings within myself. I am more and more convinced that my mother’s borderline personality, high levels of narcissism and anxious attachment led her to impulsively interfere with my pursuit of nearly all positive feelings–not necessarily because of anything to do with me, but because of her own internal sense-making: her inability to interact with other minds made everything refer to herself. So things like, “She isn’t happy like that when she is with me,” (and subsequent feelings of loss and guilt), led her to want me not to play or enjoy myself. Only, either that was clearly unacceptable or her mind was a soup, and she didn’t know that. She just wanted to find a way to stop me.

I think what normally happens in infancy and early childhood is you learn that yourself is a source of potential pleasure, because there are so many things you can do that feel good. I am amazed at my capacity to make my fingers wiggle and so I feel wonder and this feeling of wonder feels good. Then, later, as we are socialized into being considerate of others, we start to learn that maybe some things that feel good to us can’t be done, because they don’t feel good to other people. So I can’t take the toy out of your hand even though I like it, because then you cry. But I can play with my trucks….

Because of the foundation in infancy of the self being a source of good feelings, the socialization doesn’t result in a sense that one’s whole existence is bad: instead, the patterns are understood as undesirable behaviours. The self can remain “good.”

But if it’s everything or there is not any sense of a pattern to discouraged behaviours (because it depends on the vagaries of my mother’s moods), then the self feels “bad.”

Couple that with a lack of emotional “skin,” because the ability to mentalize has been stalled or regresses to psychic equivalence so that the thought, “I am bad,” seems to be real, and you are well set up for feeling one’s true being is rooted in negative feelings.

More than that, there is no way to independently restore one’s own sense of goodness or self-esteem: self-regulation is not possible, because the roads toward it have been cut off.

It leads to the grandiosity of narcissism: good feelings seem to be located outside of the self–feelings are somewhere “out there” and so good feelings must be gotten from others. One can only feel pleasure if other people have a sense of pleasure about you.

The whole construct helps me to understand C better, and the things about her that hurt or puzzle me: she, like me, is looking for a feeling of goodness outside herself. To be seen is to feel her own “badness,” so being close to someone in an authentic way is to risk having her “true” bad self (which is not true at all) discovered. She comes close and then wants to run away, but she runs toward superficial relationships or relationships with people she feels she can control so that she doesn’t need to risk losing those feelings of goodness.

This is all rather circular, as many things are confused or reversed–“true” and false, inside and outside, good and “bad.” What seems to be real is not real, and what seems unreal or hallucinatory may actually be real, what is outside the self is felt to be inside and the self appears to be outside.

In normal development, the child only sort of knows how other people see him most of the time, but he knows how it feels to do things. It’s only in adolescence that we develop the cognitive capacity to fully experience ourselves as social beings, who feel ourselves doing what we do as well as what other people think about what those behaviours mean or what we think they mean. It’s not something that happens overnight, but it’s not a continuous development either: there is a big jump in the early teen years that makes perspective-taking easier. Freud calls this the “observing” ego, but it’s our imagination of other people and how they see us.

For a child who has a parent with empathy failures, I think the “doing” self is compartmentalized from the “observing” self, so that some positive feelings can be obtained without activating the working model of the self, which is inevitably bad and evil.

I think this is the source of the sense of hunger in the kids: the Boy becomes someone who behaves as a kind of eating machine. He is his hunger, rather than someone who feels hungry. He has become mindless so that he can enjoy being, because the “other” is someone understood as desirous of wanting to steal his good feelings. Getting good feelings actually becomes a kind of contest, in which he has “won” over a malignant world. It’s a very sad and doomed way to be, and I hope it won’t always be like this for him.

I think I am one stepped removed from this, in which I don’t see good feelings as even being possible: I don’t feel a sense of injustice at being blocked from having them. I soldier on without many pleasures: life is very austere for me, and I often feel pleasure in life has quite literally died.

This is, of course, Nata’s and maybe other’s deaths also and my stalled grief. She gave me feelings of goodness and she is no more now. That source of goodness is now blocked and I don’t know how to get back to it. You can imagine someone in their celestial, perhaps angelic state, but it’s not the same as seeing your joy at seeing them reflected back at you as their joy at seeing you.

Grief is not an impulse you can release and cathect yourself out of having to feel again. It’s a process if figuring your life out again, of reshuffling the pieces so that the gaping hole they have left in it is not quite so big.

I don’t actually know where to go from here. The times my thoughts end up at Nata’s death, I often find myself at a mental standstill, as though I am still at the side of her body. Life carries on and yet it seems impossible that it will do so or even that it has for the last 30 odd years. Somehow, I am here. She is not coming back, and yet the sadness at recognizing this is so deep, I cannot fathom living with it. I have lived with it, because i have compartmentalized it. It’s not really a good way to live.

Some of it, I think, is self-centered, frozen from the child I was: my life has come to a standstill, how can it go on for everyone else?

Grief

So it’s Sunday, but it’s also a holiday, which now means I am to some degree obligated to engage with the world. I cannot just clean the house and work in the garden–or, at worst, collapse under attachment weirdness.

I did not intend to write about grief today. I had some other things on my mind, which I will also write about later. Youtube thought I would like this video. I did. Thank you, Youtube, for not suggesting I would like to meet Muslim singles and instead getting the algorithm right.

People typically regulate emotions together: it is our ability to co-regulate which makes us desire contact. Children without attachment figures do not learn to use others to help them to regulate. They are forced to do it themselves and then have no way to add social knowledge to their repertoire beyond what they can gain through instinct and trial and error. It makes these children emotionally very brittle and lacking in resilience so that even ordinary life challenges can be unmanageable. It can create a tendency towards using control as a strategy: since the interior world cannot be managed, the exterior world must. In fact, children with disorganized attachment typically develop controlling attachments with their parents.

I was reading also, in a different study, that people perceive a hill to be less steep when accompanied by a friend than when alone. Doing things together makes them seem easier, because someone can help us manage our internal state.

When we experience grief, the person we share this feeling with is also trying to regulate the feelings of loss with us, but because it is usually our grief and not their grief, it can be difficult to do this with us. Their responses are often aimed at what will make them feel better, but not us. For example, they may suggest an easy solution (have you tried acupuncture?) because this seems realistic to someone not connected to the profoundness of the problem. They may suggest looking at the bright side, because for someone not grieving, it’s not very difficult to turn their attention away from the source of sadness. They cannot really grasp the difficulty of reconfiguring your life or your sense of reality after an intense loss or trauma.

It isn’t precisely what the video says, but it’s what I think. 

What I think happens in the case of mental illness in the family, which I believe is the real source of childhood abuse, is that whole communities develop where even the people experiencing loss are not able to realistically cope with their own loss. They adopt the coping strategies of people unaware of the loss involved in having a family member who is mentally ill and then feel the lack of effectiveness of those strategies lies within themselves.

I saw a meme recently about parenting children with attachment difficulties. It made the analogy that it is like driving in the dark with no headlights, your hands tied behind your back, and an octopus around your neck.

I thought it’s tempting to believe people with headlights, their hands-free and no octopus are doing so much better–we must find out what they are doing. But it’s not their great driving skills making things so much easier. It’s the headlights, the lack of rope, and the absence of an octopus that make the difference. People who don’t have someone mentally ill in their family cannot tell you how to cope with having someone who is.

My trauma is extremely profound, but my thought today is that it need not be overwhelming to me. It is overwhelming to other people, who do not actually need to come to terms with those issues, but it need not be overwhelming to me.

Unfairness

I took a nap yesterday. This is always somewhat of a risky thing to do because, however tired I am, what happens when I wake up is sometimes worse than being sleepy all day. I usually wake up disoriented and with incomprehensible emotions. It does not always go away before bedtime.

So I woke up like that. All evening, I felt bad. I felt very, very bad–so confused I felt almost sick. And The Boy made high-pitched noises while I felt very, very bad. I wanted to pay some attention to myself, to process what I was feeling so that I could feel better, but my energy mostly went to controlling my temper.

I have found he does this. When I am intent on something else, he begs for attention in ways he knows will make me feel angry.

The evening was painful and difficult, but uneventful. I kept my temper.

I was cooking dinner and I had to be near the sink, which is difficult for me anyway. The tap leaks. I have heard the men who work at school can fix this, but I don’t have any money right now to pay them.

I felt very, very angry, and I tried to pay some attention to this. I had actual thoughts about this, which is rare. I don’t usually have any thoughts about my emotions. There is a disconnect that develops between my thoughts and my emotions when I am stressed.

I knew I was angry about waking up. The tap and the high-pitched noises didn’t help, but it began with waking up. So I began to think about that.

I thought about foster care, that I was angry about it. Why did I have to go somewhere when my parents were being bad? Why didn’t they have to leave. I missed my dolls and my toys and probably the cat–there might have been one.

Knowing myself, this kind of thinking makes sense–that I wouldn’t connect people with care, or understand these new people were intended to care for me. I wanted my possessions so that I could use them to care for myself.