Monday, March 18, 2013

May I Have a Copy of the Agenda Please?

This sure is some freaky, tiring shit. Bad week overall. Much crying (though I suppose that could be seen as an improvement as I had been well-trained not to do so?) and leaving of work.

It’s like a civil war inside me, and I don’t know who is winning at any given moment, or even always which side I’m on. So much smoke and fog and pain and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing and I just want it to stop.

On the one hand I’m thinking: I have achieved so much, I have such a great spouse and friends and kid, and I like myself. I’ve developed ways of living in the world that make me feel like a good and valuable person. Clearly whatever happened in the past can’t have affected me so much, right? Can’t I just forget it? And then I remember that I have nauseating panic attacks at the very thought of romantic physical affection, which, hm, seems odd and unfortunate, and even before that was true there were things I strangely hated (e.g. making out) and places that hurt, and I have spent years and years approaching a sense of being truly present in the world without consistently or even frequently achieving it and wishing I could be like other people …

Not that I have a choice at this point. There’s no un-knowing something. Once the connections had been made, the game was up. But I wish I had a schedule, you know? Like when you’re at a kid’s concert and you think you’re going to die from boredom interspersed with embarrassment but at least you have the program and can check off each performance and know that there will be an end to it.

I have the feeling that I have so successfully cut communication off between the bad bits and the parts of me I like that I might have, er, a bit of a struggle opening those channels back up. But in the meantime the tiny chinks that have broken open are leaking this noxious gas out and there aren’t any windows to open.

Work is, surprisingly, going okay, especially considering I’m giving approximately 50% effort. I see now that my need to keep constantly busy is likely not the healthiest thing, but I also become overwhelmed with guilt when I don’t work as hard.

My husband is being so great. Sample text exchange:

Ditto my friends, who in addition to supporting me in innumerable ways send me things like this:

I showed that to my therapist and he cracked up.

And you all. Thank you so, so much for listening and advising and not being judgmental. This blog is probably as valuable as the therapy. And a lot cheaper.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

If You're Feeling Anxious, I Probably Didn't Mean You

I am worried that I have set off a storm of self-recrimination among the mothers. Let me reassure:

When I say I "keep the house clean," I mean:

  • No one in the family has fleabites all over
  • I do not have to worry that my child will realize in the middle of the day that the cat pee smell is coming from his own shirt and spend the rest of the day trying not to sit near anyone
  • There may be dirty dishes on the table or counter or in the sink, but not in the cupboard
  • The washcloths and dish sponges are not usually rancid
  • There is never mold on the bread, cheese, bathroom, and dishwasher all at the same time
  • I don't yell "if I didn't have KIDS this house would be clean"
  • I don't leave cigarette butts and ashes all over
  • My eight year old doesn't have to wash and fold his own clothes if he wants to wear something clean

When I say "I don't freak out," I mean:

  • I don't start banshee howling when I miss an exit on the freeway
  • I don't break things when I'm mad
  • I don't jump in the car in a fury and drive away in a spray of gravel
  • I don't engage in road rage that ends in being pulled over
  • I don't shut down every tough conversation

When I say "I don't lose my keys all the damn time," I mean:

  • I am neurotic about knowing where my keys are all the damn time because I hated hated hated being stranded someplace while my mother did a banshee howl and turned her purse inside out and tried to figure out who she could call to get us
  • I can lock my front door because I don't lose my keys, which means my kid does not come home to interrupt burglars in progress (yes this happened)

When I say "making sure there is enough money," I mean:

  • The bank account is not overdrawn every month
  • Creditors are not harassing us all the time
  • The gas and electric are not shut off

These are not things that will individually (or even all together) ruin a child. Children are tough. These are things that made me especially upset given everything else that was going on. I overdo these things because I am so fearful of under-doing them.

(Giving physical affection, not hitting, and not routinely mocking or shaming a child for being upset? Non-negotiable.)

Monday, March 11, 2013


Getting a lot of testimonials on the video I mentioned in my last post. Check it out if you’re having running issues. One way I check myself as I run is to see if far-off objects are bouncing up and down, which means I am. A little bounce is inevitable unless you’re sprinting, but you shouldn’t be pogo-sticking.

I’m also getting a lot of women telling me that they have some of the other kind of issues that I do. As I said to a friend: it may be the curse of the smart responsible woman – many of us were forced into this role in some ways (usually by insufficient – or worse – parenting plus something – or things – really bad happening). Not that I think my personality isn’t mine, but my overwhelming sense of failure and shame if I don’t take care of everyone and everything perfectly? That I could do without.

As for what exactly happened to me, I know I’ve been vague. It’s hard to spell it out (duh – it took over 30 years). Part of that is because my mother, whom I love dearly and who has grown into an amazing person, does not come off well. And part of it is because in some ways the exact things that happened don’t really matter.

But (some) of the story is: My brother and I were unwanted, to the point where my brother went 10 days without a name after he was born (because they hadn’t really believed it would happen, I guess?). My mother was immature, resentful, and lonely. My father was older, aloof, and moody. My parents took no pictures of us – I mean NONE. They rolled my crib into the bathroom and closed the door when I cried because I would wake my brother up (this is a “funny” family story). I felt amazed and lucky when either of them held me any longer than necessary. My father was sometimes fun and loving but sometimes violent, somewhat toward me but much more toward my older brother, who would have been diagnosed as being on the spectrum were he growing up these days. My mother was enraged by my brother too. I became hypervigilant and spent a lot of time trying to help him avoid punishment for typical Asperger behaviors. I tried to be perfect so as to avoid punishment myself. I drew picture after picture of a man spanking a child until my mother told me it was weird and I should stop.

That was the first 5 years. When I was 5 my father died in a motorcycle crash. Chaos of a different kind ensued, including a mother who intermittently did not parent and a tenuous financial situation. When I was 9 we moved to a new house where we were rather isolated. When I was 11 or 12 I was molested by a family member who was living with us for a time. I told my mother and the behavior stopped but she never discussed what she'd said to the person, nor did she discuss it with me any further. When I was 12 a boyfriend of my mother's moved in with us. He tortured and molested me over the next year and a half or so. He left and came back several times; I never knew when he would be there. I tried to tell my mother but she did not hear me. From the time my father died, I had been terrified of losing my mother too. I did what I had to do to keep the family from being broken apart.

My family was partly salvaged by my sane, responsible, caring stepfather, who entered the picture when I was 15. It took years, but my mother grew up eventually. She has apologized to me and my brother in a genuine way. She ended up caring for my grandparents despite having always insisted she couldn’t and wouldn’t, and she set out quite consciously to be a nicer person overall. I was very angry with her for a long time but when I forgave her, it was (and is) real. (Her ex-boyfriend I doubt I will ever be able to forgive. I do not know what became of him and it is probably best that I don’t know. He should be old enough at this point that no one else is in danger.)

Many of the things my mother did I liked. I kept a mental list of what I did and didn’t want to do like her. And in fact I have stuck to that list. The main things I do differently (aside from watching for abuse, obviously): giving my son as much physical affection as he wants; not saying “you’re just feeling sorry for yourself”; not spanking; less criticism of everyone and everything; not freaking out in front of my kid; being willing to talk about sad things (ahem - aside from my own); making sure there is enough money; keeping the house clean and vermin-free; and not losing my keys all the damn time.

If you look at the risk factors for and symptoms of “complex PTSD,” I can check too many off. But I have compartmentalized things amazingly well. My self-image in most areas is pretty intact. I have avoided most self-destructive behaviors (workaholism being the hardest one to kick). I did have severe somatization (aka hypochondria) for a while but running seemed to cure it. I can trust people - thank heavens, because I have to trust a lot of them/you. And all of the good changes that I have made over the past few years are robust.

Hearing how I have taught people to become runners makes me happy because I know running is partly why I am as sane as I am. It has been one of my lifesavers. That's why I'll keep saying it: get out there, Maggots.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Catching My Breath for a Minute

I finally found a video I like on improving your running form. I've gotten a lot of questions on barefoot running, and my opinion at the moment is that barefoot running probably forces people into better running form, but the actual barefoot state is not required. Some of us run the "right" way naturally, and running slowly is more likely to reinforce good habits, but take a look at this to check your technique.

In other news. The past few days have been ok. Whereas last week was AWFUL. So awful that I texted my therapist. This was not a big deal to him or probably to most people but the barrier of not wanting to be That Patient is huge to me. That Patient being the one who is so dependent and needy and unwilling to take steps to help themselves that you cringe when they contact you. I realize that sending one measly text in, what, a couple of months is about as close to being That Patient as sending a fan letter is to being John Hinckley Jr., but in my bad moments my ability to zoom out is harder to accomplish than it is on Google maps using 3G, and the bad moments were many.

The therapist had given me homework (at my request): "Try to think about The Events for 60 seconds only, just once." Me, ever the overachiever, thought I'd push a little harder and - bam! I was thinking about it nonstop. Pretty much every moment of every day that my mind was not fiercely engaged on another topic, I was thinking about this. Waking up, going to sleep, running, everything. Monday I texted my therapist. Tuesday I saw him, after which he offered extra sessions and wondered if he should speak directly with my psychiatrist and whether I had any anxiolytics available to me. THAT PATIENT! was shrieking in my head. "I'd rather you didn't, though I'm not sure why," I said. "Because you don't want people talking about sensitive subjects and making plans about you behind your back," he said. "Oh. Well, yes, that," I allowed. I did, however, make sure to tell people (including my husband) about it. So I've got people watching my back. Which reminds me of the time I got hammered at a wedding and a group of us went out afterward and I insisted on going skinny dipping in a lake in the dark. My boyfriend at the time (a nice one) and one of our friends, who were not drunk, did not think this was a good idea, but they humored me and swam out in a protective circle around me. This is a lot less fun, though. (Though that turned into the worst hangover ever ... one of those Lesson Learned episodes.)

Oddly enough, Wednesday was much better. (Hmmm. Could it be - the therapy?) (And I texted my therapist that I was doing well, thereby to my mind bringing my tab back to zero in regards to my text of last week.)

I felt better even before getting through The Big Meeting Wednesday about the future of my projects where I had to talk with the CEO, the Dean, the Chief, the creepy guy, etc. etc. This meeting was such a big deal that I just sort of gave up. E.g., I thought about wearing a suit or some such, but realized that I wanted to dress the way I feel comfortable. Hello bright yellow Target dress:

Oh and, the outcome of the meeting - at least in terms of plans for the next year - was ... pretty good. !! This will not hurt my state of mind one bit.

Aside: One of the Big Wigs, Botoxed to a fine sheen, entered the meeting laughing merrily and said "This is so funny! We're renovating our vacation house and had to gut two of the bathrooms - we're talking 1980s bathrooms! - and they mixed up the colors. The funny part is that after they fixed it they left all the wrong-color cabinets and things at the house and said 'Sell them on ebay or something'! What on earth am I going to do with them?" (There were a few strained smiles. "Habitat for Humanity?" someone suggested. Fortunately most of the people I work for are not entitled idiots. But you can see why I feel nervous about my shabby but honest educational projects involving trainees working with the underserved.)

And, in line with his perceptiveness plus tenacity, HB finally insisted on me telling him what was wrong. "Mom. You have been distracted, sad, in a bad mood, and you keep saying you're fine or that it has nothing to do with me, but will you please tell me WHAT IS GOING ON?"

He knows that sad things happened to me as a kid - mainly my father dying when I was five, and having little money - that aren't going to happen to him. So I sat down and explained that sometimes grownups who had something bad or sad happen to them when they were kids for some reason get sad all over again for a while when they're grown up, and that was happening to me, but it would go away, and I was talking to a counselor about it. "Like when you lie on a couch and everything?" "Well, no couches, just chairs." "Ok then!" he said. "Thanks for letting me know. That's very helpful." (I don't know what I would have told him had he not had some knowledge of my crap childhood. That would have been a much harder discussion.)

In the midst of last week I couldn't see through to how this would ever get better. Just what the hell is going on around here? Someone needs to shape this place up. Jeez. My ignorance as to all of this is epic. I've been doing some reading - knowledge, power etc. - and have been startled by a lot of things. I did not know, for instance, that my episodes of overwhelming anxiety/fear/self-loathing/etc. are flashbacks. I thought a flashback was always visual like a movie, not just a feeling. Nor did I know what dissociation is (though that's not a simple topic, apparently). In general, I kind of thought no one else felt this way. And I couldn't understand how part of me can be doing so great and part ... so very not. Very black and white thinking, which is odd for me.

I'm both encouraged and frightened to think about the things I might learn next. The chaos state feels like wading in a river and slipping on a rock and suddenly being swept into a fierce current and thinking you'll never find your footing again and you're going under and you'll be over the waterfall in a moment. Then the current slows and one foot finds a little purchase and then the other does and you can stop and wipe the water from your eyes and catch your breath. For a minute.