Category Archives: peer pressure

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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Out to Lunch

Today I took myself out to lunch at our local Wendy’s.  It has been three and a half years since the last time I ate there.

Wendy’s was the nearest place for lunch when I was still working at the Terrible Job.  Back then, I went there most days for lunch.  The last few weeks before I quit, I’d sit at my table furiously eating my spicy chicken sandwich and fries and looking at Facebook on my phone.  I mean that I was actually furious.  By the time my lunch break happened, I would have already had a lousy day and it would have been about six hours since last eating anything.  As hungry as I was, I never finished my meal either.  It was during the time period that I was restricting my food intake–sort of an act of aggression but directed at myself.  I’d eat about half my food and then angrily throw away the rest of it and drag myself back to work.

Yes, I was quite a mental mess by then.

Since today is Sunday, I knew I would not run into any former customers or former co-workers.  It would be safe for me to eat there.

Growing up I was of the mindset that I had to go where I likely would be treated badly.  I didn’t really have a policy of avoiding troublesome people.  Well, often enough there was no other option.  I was a kid, I had to go to school.  Going to school involved walking on public streets.  I was just a kid.  What else was I going to do?

Some unhappy kids skipped school, did drugs, got into fights.  Those did not seem like good options for me.

As an adult, I kept up that habit of staying in bad situations.  Often I volunteered for such.  Then came the day when I was at the end of my rope and I decided to go home from the Terrible Job.  I promised myself I would no longer do things that were sure to end in trouble or unhappiness for me.  No longer do I tolerate toxic people or situations.  Sure, it limits where I can go at certain times of the day in this small, crappy town.  But this is my little gift to myself.  I no longer participate in my own victimization.

Today it is Sunday.  I can go to Wendy’s if I want.

I ordered my spicy chicken and fries.  I ate until I was full.  I people-watched.  It felt so normal and safe.  It felt like taking back a little bit of my life, but on my terms.  No self-judgment or self-criticism.  Nobody prying into my personal life.  No having to explain anything to anyone.

It’s really hard to basically start life all over again but not moving away to do it.  Old habits and old distractions and old dangers are everywhere.  I am new, or at least I want to be, and I am surrounded by old.  It has been a very good exercise in letting go and learning how to be detached in a healthy way.

I can do this thing.

 

 

 

 

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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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Graceful Exit

I have belly dance tonight and I don’t want to go.  It has not been fun for me in quite some time.

As usually happens in my life, either I have outgrown them or they have outgrown me.  Usually when that happens, there is a sudden break.  Something ugly happens or I have to just quit and people end up being shocked and hurt.  Bridges get burned.

The graceful exit is something I have had to teach myself.  It’s hard being a bridge burner in a small town!!!  But I didn’t really think I would have to do it with the belly dancing.  Belly dancing,  and this troupe, has meant a lot to me and I just didn’t foresee things evolving the way they have.

There are factions now.  Roughly split between younger and older.  One group wants big venues and recognition.  One group likes the learning and fellowship and exercise.  One group seems able to successfully do both with little stress.  Our teacher wants to be the good guy and try to please all and offend none.  But she really, really is drawn to the big venue and recognition group.  And everybody brings to it personal issues that are as individual as can be.

Then there is me.  I really thought that if I explained myself (and what I need because of my anxiety and what I will try to do to support the group) that it would work.  I imagined that they in turn would help me find my way.

That did not happen.

I am disappointed.  While I am certainly not quitting, I am now on something of a break while I wait for the opportunity that will welcome me within my limitations and help me to thrive in some way.

Tonight I’m going to rehearsal as moral support for my friend who has been left in charge while the teacher is overseas.  Also, I have a finished sewing project to bring in for another dancer.  So, there is that.

One big reason that I have declined to participate in an upcoming big performance, in a very large venue, is that I remembered the incredible stress from last year when much of the troupe made little effort to come to rehearsals, etc.  I vividly remember having to perform a dance that was not polished and it actually flopped.  It was a pretty big venue where we wanted to do really well.  We older ones had begged and begged ahead of time, and warned and warned, but nobody listened.  Everybody acted like it was no big deal, like we were being unreasonable.

When we started up again in the fall, I made several suggestions to fix a couple of the big problems and got dismissed each time.  I shut-up about it.

So, imagine my surprise this year when someone else made the same suggestions and they were embraced!   Of course, now there is much less time to work with.  Those very same dancers are now soooo nervous and verrrry eager to have extra rehearsals.

Oh, at first they said the same old things–it’ll be fine, it’ll all come together, it always does…. Then suddenly they got high standards.  There’s only a few weeks until the gig!!!  And they are starting to be critical of the weaker dancers to the point they don’t want to include them.  Hmmm.  We have always been inclusive before and supportive.  But now that they are calling all the shots, things have changed.

It’s insulting and disappointing.  But I am taking it as a valuable learning experience.  I don’t think I have burned any bridges, though I feel certain that I am being misunderstood.

The graceful exit is not the simple solution I thought it would be.  There is still a lot on my mind and a lot of work to do to salvage something out of this.  I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how it turns out.

 

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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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I Waited Too Long

It’s fall, my favorite season.  This will be my third fall as an unemployed, and for all intents and purposes, retired person.  It’s hard to bring up any particular memories from the other two fall seasons.  I spent so much of my energy that first year or two after the End of the Terrible Job just breathing, walking, eating, and sleeping.  There were other activities for sure.  But my main emphasis was navigation of the basics of sustaining physical life.

I thought that by taking care of the basics I would be allowing for the evolution of my emotional health.  I thought that all my reading and learning would help me to gain skills in the area of balanced and healthy relationships.

I am healing and I am improving my relationships to a certain extent.  But it seems to me that it is not enough and that it will not be enough at this stage of the game to ever become what I might have become.

At the store recently I was leaving as a former co-worker entered.  She looked right at me for a moment and then smoothly turned away so as to not have to speak.  So subtle was the turn away that I might have been able to dismiss it.  Except that this was not the first time I have been snubbed by former co-workers.  This was a person who I had very little of a direct working relationship with and had mostly gotten along with.  Mostly because I always went with her flow.  I went along to get along.

Years ago a customer of hers committed suicide.  It became known because of how he did it and so it made the newspaper.  I knew him also because I had worked with him at a previous job.  I had liked him but knew that he was intense and very held-in.  I was not entirely surprised at how his life ended.  She, however, was completely blind-sided and felt that because she had interacted with him for about three minutes a day for a few years, that she knew him and knew he would NEVER do such a thing.  She tried to explain it as some kind of huge misunderstanding and seemed on some level to believe that it was a murder.  I could not convince her otherwise and finally gave up trying to educate her about depression.

So, this is the person who snubbed me in the grocery store.  No great loss I suppose.

This has happened a few times with different people over the past couple of years.  Others have been polite to me and a couple are still friends.  But the ones who treat me rudely and dismissively are bothersome for some reason.

I have burned bridges, or had them burned for me, all my life.

I think that I never had the sense of worth that I needed to navigate normal life.  Sometimes it didn’t matter.  When I was surrounded by decent people, they allowed me to just be who I am without harsh judgment.  When I was surrounded by toxic people, then my weaknesses became entirely who I was.

There were turning points over the years that slipped through my fingers because I didn’t recognize them as such.  I didn’t even know what the problem was.  Now I do know, but I think, so what now?

Do I blow off all of my relatives because I am so incompatible with them?  No, I don’t, not all of them anyway.

Do I move away to a place where the people are more open-minded so I don’t have to hold back so much?  There are other considerations so, no, I don’t.

I am the responsible one.  I do my duty to the best of my ability.

If I needed to live somewhere else, I needed to have done that decades ago instead of purposely coming back here to slay the demons.  If I needed to blow off the toxic relatives I needed to do that before my sister did it first, which left me as the only one to take care of aging parents.

I wasn’t thinking that way, though, when I was younger and hopeful and full of energy.

I know people who have started over at this stage of the game.  They did so successfully I might add.  They are people who have a happy disposition and who believe in their own worth.  They have each had terrible difficulties in life.  But they have a resilience that I do not have and cannot seem to figure out how to develop.

There are good reasons for me to keep trudging along and I will.  A lot of what I am doing now, working on now, are things that I wish I had known to do when I was a kid or in my twenties or even thirties.  It’s very daunting to be in my fifties and having to re-raise myself almost from scratch.

Onwards anyway!

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