changing my focus
I never learned how to eat properly, so I’ve been trying to learn, over the last four years. I don’t eat junk food anymore. I try to eat regularly, even when I don’t feel like it. Lately, my big thing is adding dietary fiber, and drinking a lot of fluids. Yet somehow, I feel worse, not better. Whole sections of my body hurt, most of the time I’m awake. My energy level is low. I’ve been feeling not just depressed but defeated.
I saw my doctor Friday, and at that point, I felt like I had a handle on things — that they were getting better slowly. I am to see a specialist next month for a routine screening thing that I’m overdue for. My doctor had a new conjecture for me Friday that allowed me to stop obsessing over my latest worry. I ate very well Friday, I think partly from the relief. Saturday, Spouse and I were out and about, so I didn’t eat well, and I had barely any fluids. Saturday night, late, I had the worst episode that I have had in years. Something is clearly out of whack. I spent Sunday in bed, propped up on pillows, surfing the Internet for answers. I didn’t find any, but I think I do understand the human digestive system better.
Today I woke up in despair. New things hurt. Tangentially related to what’s going on with my body, I realized I was having a philosophical crisis that strikes at the heart of my identity. The more I talked out the subject, the more miserable I felt. I cried. If the world is how I was now seeing it, my whole life becomes a lie.
I decided lying in bed further was narrowing my focus too much. So I went for a walk, because being amongst trees and flowers, birds and squirrels, clouds, streetlights and sidewalks, always makes me feel better, as well as think better. My first stop was Uncle Boulder. I gingerly leaned up against him, and talked through my issues again. I cried some more. Then I listened to the wind, which blew strongly and coldly, sweeping up my skirt. I thought of Literata’s Ostara post on the sacred element of Air. I tried to just be, in the moment. Gradually, the seed of a thought occurred to me. I thanked UB and everyone there, as is my custom, then I slowly ambled around our neighborhood, developing the thoughts further.
I’ve spent years now, trying to learn to love myself. But I realized today that I’ve been treating the symptoms, not the core problem. The core problem, as I now see it, is that I don’t perceive myself as having a ‘center’. I don’t put myself first, unless I’m under siege. So when I left my family of origin, to marry Spouse, there was no siege. For the first time in my life, I was free to develop however I thought best. But I didn’t really decide anything. I went with the flow, let things happen to me, and then I responded to them. I waited for something to make itself known to me as priorities I should have. I didn’t choose.
I could have chosen. And in hindsight, clearly I should have. But I didn’t know how.
My mother and I are not much alike in personality or temperament or interests or talents. But somehow I have followed in her footsteps in so many life experiences, most of which are negative. She was always dieting, so I grew up not knowing how to eat properly. When she was anxious or afraid, she ate to compensate; I went the other way, and stopped eating. The worse I felt, the less energy I had available to deal with my life. So, life happened to me. My mother had anxiety disorders, and so do I. From my mother I learned to chew on my fingers when I’m stressed, to scratch skin blemishes until they bleed. To get hysterical, and wait for someone else to swoop in and fix things. Although that last one, I actually stopped doing that. Because I had several times where the problem I was facing was being utterly alone, and lost. So I did get hysterical, but no rescuer came. And then I had to rescue myself, but with less energy. So nowadays I skip the hysterics.
Back to my story. It’s not just the unfortunate symptoms I share with my mother, but I think we share the core problem, and I think our core problems occurred in the same way. I think the same thing happened to her father. When each of us were children, our inner senses of self (i.e., ‘centers’) were over-written by the actions of the parent we were most attached to. That parent faced an overwhelming situation, that they were not equal to, and instead of turning inward, or to another adult, for aid and comfort, they turned to their child for emotional support. And they insisted that their child put the parent’s needs first, not the child’s own needs. So even if we, as children, had a sense of self/center, previous to these situations occurring, our awareness of those centers disappeared. And our new sense of our selves was displaced onto other people.
There have been a few times in my life where I’ve been on the cusp of grabbing hold of something I deeply desire. And then a second option appears, and ‘everyone else’ (although not usually Spouse) tells me this second option is really much better for me. It’s going to ‘lead to’ more. It’s impressive, it pays better, it is ‘solid and secure’. Only a fool would take the first option, with this second option available. I’ve let myself be talked out of the first option. Time and time again.
The second option never turns out to be something that makes me happy. But my mother (or whomever) would continue to insist that it was a better option. That I would learn to love it, because it’s so clearly ‘right’.
I never do learn to love it. I feel like something’s missing, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I find my way back to it, in a roundabout way. I face the choice again, and sometimes it’s me who finds and takes the second option. Out of fear. Out of terror really — if I chose what I really want, the world as I know it would end. Because that did happen. When my mother turned to me for emotional support 39 years ago, if I had said, “No, I’m still a child; I have to do what’s right for me. Lean on your husband or your parents or your sister, or look within, but I can’t help you”, my life today would be totally different. (Of course, I might be dead too.)
Spouse always encourages me to make my own choices. He rarely even has an opinion about any of them (or at least, nothing that he shares with me). It’s taken six years without contact with my parents for me to circle back around to my first option. There is no second option to confuse things. There is only: do I grab the brass ring? And I’m afraid. I want it, I’ve always wanted it. But what if I can’t make it work? What if I fail at it? And also, what if I succeed at it? What if I could have succeeded at it, any of the other times I chose something else?
Or maybe I learned something from all those other second options, and now I’ve grown into the role I’m about to assume. Because it is true that I will do it differently now than I could have done it 9 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 21 years ago, or 28 years ago.
And as for my philosophical crisis… I’ve realized recently that ‘everything is local’. What is possible in one location is not possible in others. My ideas on the subject probably need to be clarified in their own post. But for now I take comfort in thinking that what I’ve always held to has worked for me. Maybe it’s not true of the whole world; maybe it doesn’t need to be. I don’t live in the whole world, I live here and now. I can learn from the approaches used by others in diverse times and places, but I don’t have to feel bound by what was true for them.
And I need to get reacquainted with my inner selves. Who are we and what do we want?