Yesterday I met with the specialist, who is not only very personable, but allayed my fears. I was pretty exhausted all day yesterday. I tried to go to bed early. But, as often happens, the later it got, the more active my brain was, so I had to keep turning the light on to reach for pen and paper, and scribble notes to myself. It took me quite a while to get sleep, but I had good and interesting dreams for the first time in a while. I woke up, expecting to feel energized and ready to do things. Instead, I feel like death warmed over.
I have been realizing that my whole mindset about how to act in the world, what resources I’m allowed to utilize in the process of trying to do what I want to do, is hopelessly flawed. I need to scrap it, and start over, doing something completely different. And while I’m doing that new thing, I also need to tell myself new stories about what it means.
Somehow I’ve developed a very complex and a very comprehensive relationship to pain. When that pain is (only) emotional, I can tolerate levels that would kill someone else. But because I do not die, nor am I obviously maimed, I usually don’t give myself credit. I don’t make accommodations for myself. Instead of saying to myself, “Wow, that last experience was really intense, and really poisonous. Not only do we need to find a different strategy in the future, but we need to take time and resources to make sure we recover fully from that bad experience”, I tend to berate myself for being adversely affected. I tend to think that I should have been able to perform like a champion, and impress everyone who is watching, as if only normally-arduous things were being asked of me.
To return to my earlier metaphor, my emotional energy is an aquifer. But in addition to too many wells, the area in and around the spring is choked with trash. Toxic waste has been dumped nearby, and is leaching into the water table.
So even when I take the time and make the effort to haul away the (obvious) debris, the spring is still sluggish, and weak.
That does not mean that the spring itself is worthless or not worth bothering with. It means the spring needs more help to counteract what is hurting it.
I’ve spent months if not years trying to figure out why it’s so hard to find things to do that I actually enjoy doing. Spouse keeps telling me, “Concentrate on doing what you like! Don’t worry about everything else.” It seems like it should be easy to know what I like doing, but it isn’t. And the effort involved to try to figure it out has mostly been too hard.
But I now see that’s because although the debris is (mostly) gone, the toxic waste remains. So all the good work I have done does not persist long-term, because it only deals with the symptoms. The underlying issues have not been addressed at all.
First, I need to get rid of every thing that is causing me emotional pain. This is somewhat complicated by the fact that I have often sought out and volunteered for things that cause me emotional pain.
I have already begun this process. I stopped (or didn’t start) reading books I had checked out from the library, with topics that are painful and upsetting. I took myself off the waiting list for the Hunger Games trilogy. I’m no longer reading about the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Same thing with books on global warming.
I have some relationships that have troubled me for some time, that I’m not quite sure what to do about. In one of them, I left two months ago, then came back. Out of fear — worry that without the interactions with these people (even though those interactions are often hurtful and outright damaging), I will somehow cease to exist. Another relationship is of much longer standing. I’ve known the person involved all my life. I am genuinely fond of them. But I have never found a way to talk about both historical events and current issues between us that trouble me, that result in the other person responding to my concerns, and us talking about them. And now there is a new issue – well, really, it’s a new iteration of an old issue — and I’m wondering if there’s any point in saying anything. Or maybe it’s just time to let go of the relationship altogether. Hell, does the situation actually qualify as a ‘relationship’ if we never talk about anything that bothers us?
If I completely give up on trying to have a relationship with anyone I’ve known all my life, will I cease to exist? It feels like I will. It feels like my whole past will turn into something that did not happen. Maybe because there won’t be anyone to remember it with me.
The few people that I knew loved me, whom I also loved – we were involved in a more-or-less healthy actual relationship — are dead.
Somehow I fear their love for me can be taken away from me, can be negated. It seems like there shouldn’t be any way that could happen. Even if other people don’t agree that that love existed, and that it had effects on me, their opinions can’t change my experience of my reality. Right?
Except that, growing up, usually my mother but often other people too, would regularly tell me that things I experienced (that they were not present for) not only did not happen, but could not have happened. I was told my feelings were not just bad and unacceptable, but incorrect, sometimes impossible.
They said it was “love” when it hurts you. That’s how you know it’s “love”, because it hurts. “I’m only doing this thing that hurts you because I love you. It’s for your own good. You’ll thank me some day.”
I knew there was something wrong with all of this. I could feel it in my gut. But logic only took me so far. As I got older, I kept getting closer to the edge of the abyss. When I’m with people I’m not related to, I often feel emotionally supported and nourished. They call that “love”. I enjoy being around them; we have fun; it feels good. When we disagree, we can talk about it, and try to resolve things. But when I’m around my parents or siblings or most of my relatives, I’m afraid all the time; my stomach hurts. I can’t ever relax. Except that I have to let down my guard sometimes, but it’s usually a disaster. I don’t trust anybody. When I try to address issues that trouble me, people laugh, or just ignore me. Or they attack, because now they know where I’m vulnerable. My parents say this is “love”. When I read books, “love” always means the former sort, not the latter. But if my parents don’t love me, how can anyone else ever love me? So either “love” means what my parents say it means, which dooms me to emotional pain all the time, supposedly normal and necessary, and I need to stop whining about it. Or “love” means what books and my friends say it means, where I feel good, and I am more able to do things I want to do. But if that’s true, then my parents definitely don’t love me. Because I never feel good around my parents.
So emotional pain became linked in my bodymind with my parents’ definition of “love”. Which is why I sought it out so often. The worse I feel, the more I must be “loved”, right?
Spouse confounded this. As did other friends. And over time, the proportions of feeling-good-love began to outweigh feeling-bad-love. And I found I was able to do more, accomplish more, feel better about myself, make a better quality of friend, etc., etc. But then I would visit my parents, and feel terrible the whole time, which was (becoming) less familiar, and so less comfortable.
In theory, it seems like eliminating things that hurt me should be easy and uncomplicated. But it’s not. That’s how I went back to, well, a whole series of relationships that I knew were not working for me, but if I don’t have someone defining me, how can I exist?
And the more I try to not only do whatever they want, but do it before they know they want it, or do it better than they expected I could do, the less energy and time I have available for my own concerns. Which seem less and less important, since these other people don’t value them, unless my time and energy are going towards their concerns. If they think about me at all, they seem to conceive of me as being a machine, not an organism.
One very big difference between machines and organisms (beyond the obvious: unalive vs. alive) is that organisms set limits; organisms push back. Organisms have preferences, which they seek out, and will fight to keep. Organisms may defend territory and kin, and will repel invaders however they can. And they won’t feel guilty about it either!
I need to embrace my inner organism!