A ninja or shinobi was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, assassination and guerrilla warfare.
It could be said that i was taught all these skills. I was told i was born for a reason, and that it was very important that i do what i was told. I learned to sit quietly in a room full of people and report back on everything i heard. I knew how to read adults; to assess their personality and anticipate their needs. It was important that people liked me. My mother was always keen to know everyone’s business. I could be helpful by being entertaining, or practically invisible. I adapted quickly to my surroundings, sometimes standing out and sometimes blending in.
The people break has been relaxing. I’ve gotten to where i’m aware of the machinations going on in my head, all the time. It’s exhausting. Leaving the house to accomplish daily activities and running into someone i know takes great effort. What’s their name? (If i’m either manic or depressed, it can be hard to recall. If i first heard their name while in one of those states, i won’t remember.) What was our last encounter like? Is the smile on their face genuine? Did i do something wrong last time? Are they secretly upset with me? Do they even like me? Can they tell i’m freaking out? Is it okay to end the interaction now, or would that be rude? Am i talking too much and they want to get away from me? Am i sweating? Does my smile look insane?
Those social anxiety questions aren’t all that’s happening, either. I’ve got the Peanut Gallery yakking in my head the entire time as well. A running commentary from voices i’ve acquired over the years. Judging my appearance, rating my interaction with people i encounter. Giving me advice on everything. Criticising me, criticising them, worrying about how the exchange is going and trying to anticipate what could happen. Doing quick run-throughs of things i could/should be saying. I’m almost always on edge in social situations.
It wasn’t always this bad. It’s been a process. It’s taken hard work to get this twisted up in knots. Of course this is what’s been going on in my brain during social interactions for most of my life, but i wasn’t conscious of it. I’m the poster child of hypervigilance, but i’m also highly dissociative. I’m the clueless cherry on top of the survival sundae. I wasn’t so much into fight or flight, i was frozen. Like, suspended animation. Sort of floating around, but always in the same state. I was the unexamined life. Even when i finally began trying to figure myself out, it was within the boundaries of what my religion would allow. I was bound by their strict definitions and held back by the death grip they had on my perceptions of life, the universe, and everything.
Once i’d extricated myself from religion’s grasp, i started making real headway. It wasn’t demons or sin or soul ties, it was mental illness. I didn’t need gods, prayers, sacrifices, appeals, supplications, confessions, or loving corrections. I’m just mentally ill. When i found the right person to work with, things started clicking relatively quickly. She explained the science behind how my brain worked, pointing me in the direction of books and studies that were more about the hard science of the brain, and less the mushy quagmire of psychology. That was when i began to be aware of everything that was going on in my head. I learned that my brain doesn’t work like most people’s. Some i may have been born with, but some was certainly the result of my upbringing. And while some of the damage is likely irreversible, learning as much as i can about every aspect of my handicap could help me live a more functional and satisfying life. With serious commitment and careful development of a healthy work ethic, i might be both happy and useful.
Some things i’ve learned about myself haven’t been pleasant. I was taught to manipulate from early on. I learned these skills from my mother, and i developed my own tricks to secure my personal safety. I’m incredibly adept. I can fit in with any group of people you put me in. I’ll quickly align myself with the group dynamic and reflect their identity. I’ll talk like them, look like them, and even appear to think like them. It sounds terribly disingenuous, and of course it was, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t consciously done, and my intention was never malicious. I was just trying to survive. My internal air raid siren started going off before i could speak. My brain and my body were always tense, waiting for the next attack. I didn’t know the war was over and i could turn off the alarms. And although i’ve shut down that internal keening, i’m still learning how to stand down. I need regular reminders that the war is over, that i can lay my weapons down.
I now track all the thoughts and voices in my head, and as i stated earlier, it is exhausting. For a long time after i admitted what’d happened to me growing up, i was at their whim. They took all my time and attention. I’ve put my past to bed as well as i can, now i’m on to the business of day-to-day living. It’s taken a while to see that i needed a break from peopling. Even the simplest encounters, like buying groceries, can prove overwhelming for me. And as far as friends go – i prefer short encounters with no more than a couple of people. It’s easier to maintain awareness of what’s going on in my noggin while in smaller groups. Like, two or three. With every added person i become more anxious, and my thoughts start racing. I can lose track and slip into automatic so easily. I don’t want that anymore. I want to be as genuinely myself as i can reasonably and safely be, when in relationships with other humans. I want strong, healthy boundaries. I’m not a beaten dog wandering around with my tail between my legs, hoping someone will pet me. I’m a rescue who went to a great home, where all my needs are well met, and i get all the attention and affection that i require. Now, if i could just hang out at the park with all the other dogs occasionally, without running off yelping because someone comes over for a sniff. Heh.
END of PART II
IMAGE: Negan Scofield