Category Archives: history

Progress? Who knows….

Tonight I learned how to make Christmas cards with two friends of mine and about ten other women at our local library.

While checking out one of the card-making stations set up by the instructor, I recognized a woman carrying a cane who came in along with two other younger women.  She was the mother of one of the girls who, in junior high school, made my life a living hell for several months.

At the end of eighth grade and beginning of ninth grade, I was the main character in one of those two-against-one-best-friends-betray-a-weaker-friend-mean-girls-scenarios that you see portrayed in so many movies, TV shows, commercials and… cold-blooded crime shows.

Of course, since it is my story, there is so much more to it than that.  But for now I’d rather just write about tonight.

When I saw the mother walk in, I quickly assessed if her daughter was with her and I didn’t see her at first.  So I thought, good.

It turned out, however, that I was wrong.  As everyone seated themselves for the class and got comfortable, it turned out that indeed, the “evil one” was going to make Christmas cards, too.

It did not occur to me to leave, so we’ll call that progress.  And I did not have an anxiety attack, also progress.  I did decide to avoid being near her, which meant a certain amount of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not too sure how to grade that one.  Maybe it was just some good, old-fashioned self-care.

If I had never met this person before, and knew nothing about her, I’d be under the impression that she was a nice woman who was close to her mother and enjoyed some of the same things I do.  All that might even be true to a certain extent.  I mean, we were actually friends for a time way back when, so there must be something in common.

At any rate, I do know about her.  I know what she is capable of.  I know what I carry around with me to this day because of her and the other girl involved.

People like her are the reason that people like me leave their hometown and never come back.  I did leave for ten years but circumstances brought me back here and now it looks as if I am here to stay.

I actually had her as a customer once at the Terrible Job.  At the time I had no way to avoid waiting on her.  She seemed nervous and hyper and like she was trying to please me.  And the whole time I’m thinking, “Ha!  Your son is in prison.  You raised a violent criminal!  Why am I not surprised?  Your violence led to a second generation of violence.  Ha!”

I expected to see some sign of this tragedy in her face, but there was nothing there for me to see.  I also wanted to see some sign of sorrow or shame for what she did to me way back when.  But again, there was nothing to see.

No, people like her do not carry their own shame.  They carry no sense of responsibility for the effects of their actions on others.  Instead, they give their shame over to their victims.

Over forty years later and I’m still having to deal with such things.

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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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Blast From the Past

I was Halloween shopping at Wal-Mart last week when I heard a familiar voice call to me.  I turned around to find an elderly man sitting in one of those motorized scooters and, though the voice was familiar, his appearance threw me for a loop.

It was Doug!  He had been a contractor at my old place of employment and back then, he had been a very large and very intimidating man.  From the very first day I had to deal with him I was very uncomfortable.  He came into our office every single morning and every single evening to do his job.  He was foul-mouthed, bossy, angry and left a mess for us to clean up every single time.  Nobody liked working with him.

However some employees knew him outside of work.  They didn’t have to work with him like I did.  He was a gentleman around them and they clearly liked him and would stop to chat him up when they saw him.  They knew him from church.

That was so odd to me as I found not one thing to like or appreciate about the man.  My only experience of him was as a sexist bully.

Eventually he was fired when he pissed-off someone who mattered more than those of us who had been complaining about him for a couple years.

So in that moment at Wal-Mart, I had to make a decision.  Should I be short with him and try to get away like I would have had to back in the day?  Nope.  He has no power over me any more.  So my decision was to talk with him as if the way he is now was the way he had always been.  It was still an odd conversation.

When he talked about how surprised “we” had been when I quit my job, I wondered how he could possibly know about that since he had been fired and no longer worked there before I left.  When he said I was missed, again I wondered how he could possibly have known that.  He was speaking about my quitting the same way people who really had liked me have spoken to me about it.  The truest and most tactful thing I could say in that moment was that I missed a couple people there but not too many of them.

It was an odd encounter but it made me realize some things.  For one thing, I guess that he has both of those people inside of him–the miserable, selfish, and aggressive person I was stuck working with and the polite, friendly, interested church-goer who is capable of making a positive impression on someone when it suits his purposes.  I wouldn’t have thought something like that was possible!

For another thing, I don’t have to be affected by either of those versions of Doug.  I don’t have to waste valuable energy trying to figure this person out.  I don’t have to like him.  I don’t have to approve or disapprove him.  He’s got his place in this world and I have mine.  I don’t have to be affected because I have boundaries now that I didn’t have back then.  Boundaries are so very important!!!

The last thing I realized is that I have been very powerless throughout most of my life.  Many people have taken advantage of me in order to benefit their own situation or at least make their lives easier.  Those people tend to become my enemies.  Casting people in the role of enemy has often been my only recourse–a boundary of sorts.

As I heal and gain power within myself, I am also gaining skills and that may help me to repel the people and behaviors that would take advantage of me.  Only time will tell but right now it’s looking pretty good.

 

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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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Loose Ends

One of the sources of my anxiety is the lack of completion in my life.  Everything is half-started or half-finished or however you want to look at it.  The yard, the house, my hobbies, obligations, wishes, desires.  It’s everywhere I look and everywhere I go.

It’s overwhelming.

I made a decision that I would start finishing things.  It didn’t matter what it was or how small a project.  The idea was that finishing things would be satisfying.  Satisfaction would ease my anxiety.  And so I began my quest.

There was a bag of baby yarn that had been bothering me for a couple years.  There was a couple of untouched skeins in there and many scraps and partial skeins wound into balls.  Uneven amounts of each colors.  Some with sparkle and some were plain.  But I looked in the bag and determined there was enough yarn to make one baby blanket.  If I made the blanket now, then when someone has a baby, I already have a gift.  If no baby is born in my circle for a couple of decades, then I have a gift for my first great-grandchild.  I finished the blanket a couple weeks ago and it did feel so very satisfying.

Next project was going to be a cross stitch throw.  I pulled out the bag it was in expecting to organize myself for a few minutes and begin.  Ha!  Inside that project were six more tucked away.  Damn!  For some reason, I put away the throw and selected a bell pull instead.  It was farther along, so perhaps that is why I picked it for completion.

That project is fairly aggravating but I’m working on it every day anyway and interspersing it with tinier projects so I don’t lose hope.

One of those tinier projects is a pillow I set aside about twenty years ago.  Yep, it has been sitting in a drawer for twenty years.  I pulled it out with fresh eyes and thought to myself, are you kidding???  It was almost finished!  Why in the world did you put it away???  It took me all of 15 minutes to sew the edges, stuff it, and close up the opening.  Yes, this is what I’m dealing with.

It turns out I was right about this being a way to heal my anxiety.  I feel satisfied and accomplished.  I feel encouraged and motivated.  My mind is feeling a bit like its old self.  There are times during each day that I actually look forward to some aspect of my life.

If I weren’t as healed as I am, this would probably not be possible yet, this tying-up of loose ends.  Basic self-care is crucial when it comes to mental illness.  A certain amount of healing is necessary to be able to move forward even a little bit.  Permitting myself to live this way is an important component.  Not judging myself is very important as well.

So there was ground-work that had to be laid in order for me to take this next step.  And this step, this finishing of things, is also part of the healing package.  It brings me back to myself, who I used to be and what I used to do.

I lost myself over the years.  I became completely externally focused.  I didn’t know how to do my life any other way and I did that until I had nothing left to give.

How glad I am that I am no longer living like that.  I will never again live my life that way.  Before, disappointing others was the worst thing I could do.  Now, disappointing myself would be the worst thing I could do.

Today’s project to finish was a very tiny one indeed.  We have a cupboard with a very stiff door on it.  The knob was hard to grip so opening the door was a pain all these years we have lived in this house.  I went to the hardware store, bought a new ceramic knob with a good edge on it, came home, and installed it in one minute.  Voila!  The cupboard door is no longer hard to open.  Since it’s where I keep some of my half-finished projects, I can be proud of myself and satisfied every time I open that door from now on.

I think I came up with a good plan for myself.

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Triggers

I have come a long way in the past three years, just about, since I walked off the Terrible Job.  At that time I was a shadow of myself.  Clinical depression, anxiety, incredible work-related stress from a toxic job environment, PTSD, unresolved grief issues…. all that and more! left me in a very fragile condition.  The moment I walked out that door was the first moment of real self-care that I had ever attempted in my life.  And that is what I have been doing ever since.

Lately, I have been able to exercise a certain amount of detachment when it comes to what is going on with symptoms of my mental and emotional illnesses.

For example, this past week I learned that other people had been invited to events that I might have expected we would also be invited to.  However, we were not invited.  Both times it bothered me but for different reasons.  And one of the “slights” hurt a whole lot more than the other one, even though that one was not actually personal in nature and was completely understandable.

That’s how triggers work.  Crap from the past that was stuffed way, way down gets unexpectedly dredged up, and the emotions are just as painful now, even out of context, as they might have been back in the day.  If only there had been a safe way to express them at the time of the original hurt.  But there wasn’t a safe way or even a known way to express the emotions.  So someone like me will place them into something like suspended animation forever and just carry them around for years and years without realizing that those emotions are just biding their time.  In an unguarded moment, they come back to life and once again you have to decide what to do with them.

Decisions about emotions sounds strange.  But that is what I did subconsciously in the past and that is what I must now do deliberately in the present.  In the past I had to stuff things down because I was overwhelmed and because I was mainly on my own to figure out these things in the trenches.  It was a way to go.  I don’t have to stuff things down now.  I have space to work in and I even have some skills.  These skills are very new but they are there.

This detachment that I am able to feel these days is a very useful skill for now.  It allowed me to sit with some very, very uncomfortable feelings for a couple of days.  Then I felt able to look at the situation and see other possible scenarios to explain why we were left out.  I acknowledged that maybe we were actually left out because nothing had actually been planned ahead of time.  Other personalities were thrown into the mix and nothing could be done about it at the last minute.

Once I got that far, I was able to talk about what happened.  That was not very satisfying but it was another chance to organize my ideas about being left out.

A day or two after that, I wrote out what happened and how it made me feel.  That was hard because I still want to judge myself.  There is still that voice which wants to tell me, you are not worthy of being included therefore you are foolish to be hurt when you’re not included.  Not a good or accurate message at all but that voice is so persistant!!!

After I wrote it all out, I felt quite a bit better the next day.  A couple days later we got an unexpected invitation from the same source and there it was:  the physical, visible, undeniable proof that my voice is a liar.  We are worthy, we are loved, we mean something, we matter.

What an awful lot of hard work it is to heal and grow in spite of the burden of mental and emotional illness.  This is why it is a priority for me.  It is very hard work and I do not have the stamina to do this while also working and being out there in the world at the level I used to be able to be.

As frustrating as it is to be working on the triggers, I am seeing progress.  I used to just get lost in my stronger emotions.  Now  I am seeing a fairly clear way through them, which gives me reason to hope.

 

 

 

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Truth!

On Super Bowl Sunday I learned the truth about something that happened twenty-three years ago.

Back then a decision was made without my knowledge or input and which affected my life in, what I have supposed to be, a negative way.  Of course, I’ll never know for sure that there might have been an easier and more satisfying path than the one I am on.  But I think it was a good possibility.

As stories were being told around the dinner table before the football game started, there was one story I had never heard before.  I thought I had heard all the stories, the funny ones, the embarrassing ones, the somewhat scary ones.  But this one was new to me.

As soon as the story was told, I knew in my heart that I was hearing the reason for why that decision was made twenty-three years ago.  It made more sense than anything else I had been told prior to this moment.

Actually, it makes “that decision” seem quite sensible on some level.

If I had been told at the time it happened, I like to think I would have been understanding.  I usually am supportive when people tell me their troubles.

I still would have disagreed about the decision that was made as a result.  But it seems to me from this vantage point that perhaps a compromise could have been reached.  Maybe it didn’t have to be a jump off the cliff kind of decision.  Maybe clearer minds might have prevailed.

Of course we always did fly by the seat of our pants, due to lacking any kind of problem-solving skills and emotional maturity.

I’ve always been a big fan of truth.  But I don’t always have the truth to work with, which really burns my butt sometimes.

Now that this thing was told, and now that I know what this thing was and the whole world failed to explode, I have to wonder if we have gotten onto a new path.  It seems like maybe we have.  This feels new on a very deep level.

I have not actually tried to talk about it since the telling of the story.  People tell me things when they want to tell me, not when I want to hear it.  I was raised by poor communicators and I have collected poor communicators for much of my adult life, which makes sense.  I plan to just wait and see.

It would be nice if it turns out that the truth really does set you free.

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