Category Archives: dysfunction

Princess Stella

Many moons ago I wrote about the cat my sister was giving me, even though I didn’t really want it, but I didn’t really tell her that, so… it was pretty much my own fault I would be taking in a cat I didn’t want.

The cat’s name was Stella and she was a princess.  She came into my house in September and immediately took over.  Other than those first moments out of the cat carrier, her paws never touched the floors.  Instead, she leaped through the air and flew from table top to counter top to buffet top to… you get the idea.

Although I am aware that MY cats occasionally sneak onto these forbidden surfaces, they wouldn’t dare do it in front of me because it is against the rules at my house.

And so my cats were stunned and hurt to see Princess Stella getting away with these shocking maneuvers.  She basically took over the house, all their special spots and hiding places, and she took over me, their human mother.  And she lorded it over them.

Hour by hour, day by day, they became more hurt and dejected.  They started staying outside as much as possible to avoid the princess.  And I felt guiltier and angrier about it by the minute.

I began to see that a pattern from childhood had repeated itself in the present day and I needed to break that pattern.

This cat, that I never wanted in the first place, was clearly not working out.  I had to tell my sister “no” for the first time in my life.  I had to do it fast and I had to mean it.  In spite of the possibly good intentions she had, in spite of the trouble and expense she had gone to, in spite of my almost-out-of-control panic that had been triggered by this situation, I had to say that the princess was just not fitting in and would have to go.

Ah, sweet emotional illness…. I was a wreck.

But I did it!!!  I gave that damn cat back!  It’s kind of funny now, but at the time it was completely stressful and traumatic.

Even now, seven months later, I consider the whole episode to be a significant turning point in my development as a human being with a sense of agency.  It gives me something to build on as I move forward in life.  And it gives me a way to know better what I want for myself and to believe that I deserve to have what I want.

In a strange way, I owe this turning point to a little black and white cat.  Thank you Princess Stella!

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In Defense of Me

I had a little text exchange earlier today.

My sister sent me a picture and two videos of the kitten she is giving me in the fall.  I did not want a new cat as I have three and that is enough.  But my sister cleverly sent a picture first and then asked me if I would like to have a new kitten.  She would pay for all the shots, the spaying, and bring her to me from N. Carolina since they were coming up anyway.  It was a cute cat, and my sister always gets her way, and one of my cats is 19, so how long would I have to wait to be back down to three cats anyway.  So, I said yes.

Now my sister sends regular updates via text, which is considerate, I suppose.

Today I felt compelled to thank her for her efforts which are allowing me to see my kitten grow up even though she is hundreds of miles away.

Instead of responding with a “you’re welcome” she texted back with “You’re welcome to come down and see her and bring her back with you.”

Gahhhhhhh!

Why would I want to drive myself all the way down to Asheville, NC to pick up a cat (that I probably shouldn’t have said yes to) when you’re coming up to New York anyway in September???  In fact, all of this was your idea to begin with.  In fact, about a hundred whyshouldI’s raced through my mind when she responded the way she did.

The safest answer I could come up with was, it wasn’t in the budget to make a big trip this year.

Her answer:  Budget?  It’s a couple of tanks of gas!  We have plenty of room for you.

Gahhhhhhhh!

This convo was exactly like nearly every exchange with my mother.  No matter what I say in answer to any question, large or small, my answer is up for grabs, correction, improvement.  How did these people get so far into my brain?  Why do I have to defend everything all the time????

It’s the boundaries again.  I never learned good boundaries.  Neither did they.  But they are okay with it and I am not.

I can not be okay with poor boundaries.  I will never get better if I don’t firm up the boundaries.

And why am I still thinking about it and turning it over and over in my mind an hour later?

I get so stuck sometimes.

I probably should have sucked it up weeks ago and turned down the kitten even though she is super cute.  But I didn’t and now I am entangled.

My answer that shut down the exchange: I would have to fly.  That’s a hell of a drive and I’m not up to it these days.

She had nothing but an “oh, okay” for that one.

Score!

Such small successes in this journey, but I’ll take it.

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Scarred for Life!

I read an article recently that discusses what happens to children who have been traumatized at certain crucial stages of development when they grow up.  The author’s opinion was that trauma during the terrible twos and again during puberty had a permanent effect on the individual.

Awhile back I read a different article about a study.  The study involved a group of children who had been bullied at certain ages and checked in with them at intervals for their entire lives.  The study reached the same conclusion–that particular childhood stages were very vulnerable for psychological damage and that the damage is virtually permanent.  The bullied children as adults tended to remain unsuccessful outsiders throughout adulthood no matter what.

Well, I could have told them that!

It’s kind of nice to know that the way I turned out is not my fault.  I did not choose to hang onto the past and fear the future.  I did not choose to wallow in grief or get lost in worry and anxiety.  Instead, this is basically what I became “made of” due to the timing of events and how those events mixed with my “self” during my childhood and youth.

This means to me that my task is not about weaknesses or flaws.  I don’t need a cure.  I need to accept who I am now.  I need healing and purpose.  My task is to keep finding my way.

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Christmas Liberation

Christmas is crazy isn’t it?  I don’t know why more people don’t just cry uncle and start doing what they want for the holiday instead of what they think they have to do.  Maybe they just haven’t hit that brick wall yet.  I hit the wall years ago thanks to the Terrible Job.  And now I am slowly building a celebration that makes sense and has a quieter kind of joy to it.

There was a bit of a glitch to deal with last week, though.  My aunt in Texas sent me a second Christmas card which kind of startled me.

Then I opened it and got really pissed off.

Inside was a $25 gift certificate for IHOP.  The Christmas card contained her instructions for what I was to do with the certificate.  She wanted me to enjoy lunch with my mother on her.  She hoped my mother would learn someday that people are more important than things.  As “your wise aunt” has already discovered.

Knowing what I know about the terrible rift in their relationship, I found this to be incredibly condescending.  And I was very resentful that she elected to put me in the middle of it as her peacemaker.  Did she really think I would team up with her against my own mother?

Old me would not have seen this boundary violation for what it is.  Old me would have obediently followed her instructions and then gotten hugely whomped on by my mother who would have been more than happy to vent all the toxins right back on me.  Old me would have been buried in the unhealthiness of both sisters and a rift that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Phew.  Old me is gone.  But new me did not know how to make this into a fun or satisfying mission.  Life is just messy I guess.

I had to think for a couple days about what to say in my note when I sent the card back.  I came up with a benign yet truthful explanation for why I was returning the gift card.  Personally I thought my note was a work of art.

But my aunt was pissed.  She emailed her response to my note.  It contained an interesting mix of charm and aggression–what we call “stroke-slap” at our house.  Stroke-slap is a way of putting someone in their place without totally alienating them.  Sort of  like the Stockholm Syndrome without having to physically hold someone hostage.

Needless to say, the email did not win me over to her “side”.  I am not without a certain amount of understanding of why she would be angry with her sister (who has been my very own mother all these years).  I can understand both sides and I can understand how it all came to be as the inevitable result of being raised by my grandmother who had untreated bi-polar depression.

We ALL need healing.  We ALL need to build a self from the ground up since that process got interrupted very early in life.  And we pretty much each will have to do this individually.

Or maybe parallel-ly would work better.  That should be a word because it is definitely a thing that I am trying to do.  It’s my way of being in relationship with someone who does not understand boundaries WHILE I am building the necessary boundaries.  And hoping that some bit of it will sink in so that the other person can begin to see that boundaries are a thing and that they are good.

Boundaries have the potential to liberate a soul.  And that is what we all want even if we don’t realize it.

My response to the somewhat astonishing email was short and to the point.

And she responded AGAIN with the stroke-slap business.

I decided to let her have the last word which was a smiley emoticon.

If nothing else, I can now see when I am in over my head with people.

Yes, this did bring me down while it was happening.  Luckily I have such low expectations of Christmas that feeling down wasn’t exactly a tragedy for me.  I let it flow and did some comforting self-talk and Voila!  The down feeling gradually receded on its own.  This healing thing is really happening!  It’s taking a long time but it’s happening.

This Christmas just might be a turning point in the journey.

 

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True Story!

In fifth grade, ecology was a big topic.  So that year, the downtown merchants association held a poster contest.

I was so excited.  My idea was to draw an example of road-making using recycled glass bottles.  It was something I had seen in one of the ecology films they showed us.

It was tricky artwork.  I had to draw a steam roller which was very difficult.  I planned to use colored cellophane for the broken glass in the blacktop.  And of course, there was a human figure sitting on the steam roller running the thing.

The girl drawing next to me admired my work but I was highly critical of it.  It wasn’t coming out as perfect as I wanted and I said I would probably draw something different for the contest.

She asked if she could copy my idea for her poster and I kind of scoffed.  Then she offered to split the prize with me if it won.  I didn’t really think it would win, but I agreed.  We made a deal.

She copied my work down to the very last detail.  It couldn’t have been more identical if she’d used tracing paper.

I went on to draw a very perfect and very ordinary picture of bottles being washed out in a sink.

Amazingly enough, when the prizes were announced, my “partner” had won second prize!  It was $5.00!  So, $2.50 for me!!  Not a huge prize, but woo hoo, it was money!!

When I noticed how proud and happy she was acting, as if the whole thing had been her idea alone, I reminded her that she had said we would split the prize if she won.  My expectation was that she would acknowledge our deal and let me know how I would get my money.

What she actually said was, “I did NOT!  You’re just JEALOUS!”

I wish I could go back in time just to see the expression on my face.  It must have been comical.

I did feel a little stupid as I realized what I had done to myself.  I guess I should have gotten it in writing!!  But I was not jealous and I was the opposite of a liar.  She was the liar.

So here we are in the year 2016.  How has each of us fared since grade five?

I am an unemployed civil servant who had a nervous breakdown and will likely never work again.

She is a nurse with a masters degree who was hired a few years ago to set up a brand new cancer center with all the decision-making powers to go with that job.  She hired a head-hunting agency who found this job for her.

On Facebook she likes to post heart-warming memes to boost morale.  She posts every time she gets a manicure or massage or goes on a cruise or meets someone famous.  She looks very happy and I imagine she is.

Maybe I’d be happy too if I didn’t have to worry about the impact I might be having on others.

We are both married, she for a second time, and have children and grandchildren.

I don’t want the same things she wants or has.  Except maybe for her supreme sense of self.

I can’t be the only person she has treated that way.  I think most people will take advantage of someone who doesn’t know how to take care of themselves.  They might even tell a little white lie to soothe away any tiny bit of guilt they might feel for taking advantage.  It appears she does far more good in this world than harm.

For me the most shocking thing about that story is that a ten-year-old girl was able to come up with such an ugly lie so quickly and naturally:  I did not, you’re just jealous.

At least she got $5.00 and her picture in the paper.  And I got the first of many, many life’s lessons.  And I still don’t know what to make of most of them.

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Roots of Anxiety

This morning I checked in with Facebook as usual and saw that my belly dance troupe is looking for a head count for two upcoming gigs.  One is on August 3 and the second is on August 27.

I was instantly triggered.  It seems my anxiety over this issue of troupe performances is only increasing rather than healing.  I withdrew from a performance on July 30.  That one is big and I was never asked for any input–probably because they already suspected what my response would be.  “Don’t sign up for it if no one is going to make rehearsals a priority” because that’s how I roll.  They signed up for it, got accepted, and sure enough rehearsals are sparsely attended.

Once the troupe was committed to it, I spoke to the teacher about my anxiety and not wanting my entire summer to be ruined with stress, as it was last year, so I wanted to play it by ear and decide my participation closer to the event.  I thought that was a good solution.   I know the dances, would come to rehearsals, and would fit myself in where needed without disruption.  I thought she heard me.

Within days of that conversation a head count was called for and no consideration or acknowledgement of my concerns was part of the request.  Since an answer was wanted ASAP, my answer had to be no.

I know my situation has been discussed by others and there seems to be almost zero understanding.  Disappointing to be sure.

Today I am thinking my anxiety for this particular situation is mostly due to anger.  Anger which I do not know how to process or express in a healthy way.  Zero clue.  Except maybe for writing about it.

The anger stems from powerlessness.  The powerlessness stems from being disregarded, not listened to, or ever agreed with.  Not being supported or understood.  Saying what I think and being dismissed.  Then someone else says the same thing and it’s suddenly a great idea.

There is subtle bullying at rehearsals.  Favoritism.  And I know enough about many of the people to have an idea that these behaviors come from their own issues and foibles.  Nothing personal about it all.  Except that it does play out in my life so that part of it is very personal.  I suppose I have unwittingly made it personal.

I never really knew I had any power at all.  I’ve always been “other” oriented which is basically giving away your power.

I have seen where there were disagreements and other dancers say, Oh, I don’t care, I’m doing what I want.  And then they do.  And they move on from the issue.  Nothing really changes, but no one seems to care all that much.  What is it like to live life caring so little?  Easy, it must be very easy.

If I weren’t emotionally ill, maybe none of it would effect me so heavily.  It would be easier to let go of things.  In fact, if I were healthy, maybe I would just try and find another belly dance class to participate in because the reality of it is this:  I don’t fit in and I can’t fake it anymore.  I mainly stay with this group because of my friend that I choreograph with and a couple other friends who are beginners and just starting to build some “bellydanceconfidence”.  Class itself hasn’t been fun for me in a very long time.  Nothing is fun when you only do it for other people.

I have not answered the Facebook head count query yet.  I guess my answer has to be no again.  This is not a group of people who can support me while I heal at least not during performance season.  I kind of already knew that but it is still very disappointing.

Life is so completely frustrating with emotional illness in the mix.

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Time Travel?

My life story contains some traumatic turning points.  In between those turning points I have often managed to sail along somewhat smoothly and occasionally even thrive.  In order to do that, however, I was drawing against my reserves.  Little did I know that I would eventually come up dry.  And that is where I find myself these days.

When I quit the Terrible Job, I kept looking for causes of my troubles because that seemed like a way to find a solution.  There was a lot of “I chose this, because that happened” and “when that happened, I began to believe this” and so on.

I worked my way back in time and kept asking myself “Is this where it went wrong, is this when I reached a point of no return?”

It seemed to me that at age 13 I still had a chance to make a happy life for myself.  At that age, I still thought I was pretty cool and equal to everyone else, even though there were people in my life who would beg to differ.  There had been some childhood problems and issues but it seemed recoverable in a way that my life from age 14 did not.

I believe that an important part of my personality became “frozen” at whatever developmental stage I had reached by age 14.

This means that from that point on, each challenge in my life was approached and possibly solved in the way a 14-year-old might try and solve it.  Even when I had learned better ways, there was still that freaked-out 14-year-old in the background pulling some of the strings.

I used to say 14 is really awkward at 40.  If that is true, then how much more awkward is it at 54???  It does feel weird, I promise you that.

People in my life that had a proper youth, at least as far as I can know that, seem to be better off as adults than I have ever been.  They can roll with the punches and eventually bounce back.  They seem to have an understanding of human nature that I skipped right over.  They don’t beat themselves up endlessly.  They forgive themselves.  They are satisfied more or less with what they have and have accomplished.  I’m not saying they have it easier.  I’m saying they have resilience.

I want that resilience for myself.  I have to build it from scratch, though.  Thirteen-year-old me just might be able to help.

I want to combine the knowledge I have gathered through 54 years of experience with the kind of person I was before my life derailed.  Sort of like– if only I knew then what I know now–but in reverse.

I am making steady progress and continue to feel different inside which enables me to start making different and healthier decisions.  It’s incredible to me how slow this process is and I have to keep reminding myself just how long it took me to get to this point.  A long, long time!!!  So, just keep going, that’s all I can do.

 

 

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