Yo, Knock It Off!

Growing up, i learned not to complain about anything. There was no point, unless i was looking for a beating. A lot of my circumstances i didn’t even recognise as abusive or neglectful,  and any time i did, i was adept at putting it away somewhere inside myself and never thinking about it again.

When i got away and out on my own, that changed a little. I became hypersensitive to some low-level wrongs (the value i’m placing on these may not be anyone else’s), like being misunderstood, spoken to harshly, feeling excluded or ignored. I had no idea how to address these issues, but i had a great deal of experience with passive-aggressive behaviours, and that became my routine method of handling them. I was the stereotypical wife who slammed kitchen cupboards and furiously cleaned the house. When my husband would ask me what was wrong, i’d snap Nothing, stonefaced.

My second way to express it, was to GTFO; i’d leave the situation immediately, sometimes even end the relationship (if there was one) entirely. My past is probably littered with dead relationships with people who have no idea why i left. I’m a pro at ghosting. When the person who gave you life treats you the way my mother treated me, i think it can create a hard, twisted, dead part inside you.* I have the ability to cut off contact, completely, utterly, and immediately, with a loved one. I close a door between us and it is done. It’s only been in the last couple of years that i’ve been addressing this practise of mine, and it’s been quite the sticky wicket.

More than a few times i’ve heard from friends that there is an uncrossable line inside me, a place where none can come. That one can only know me so well, before approaching the locked door. Implacable me. The big fat NOPE. Reading my blog, you might find that strange, but let me assure you that the observation is correct and well-earned. I was raised in hiddenness, taught that i was bad and dirty, drank down a steady draught of shame until it spilled out of my body and filled the space around me and i had to grow gills to breathe in it. Until only a few short years ago, i believed that if you really knew me, you’d leave me. Immediately, and in disgust. And so i learned tricks to manipulate people into sticking with me. I didn’t think it out as consciously as i share this. Heh. No, i knew i was a sneak and a fake –my mother had told me these things since i can remember– but i didn’t think clearly that i must control the flow of information about me in order to have relationships with anyone. It was the subconscious impetus that guided all my interactions with other humans that i desired to have in my life. I was the Beast who’d give access to anywhere in the castle, save the wing that houses his dying rose. And if i caught you sniffing around, you’d likely get a similar reaction to his; a lot of roaring and throwing things.

If you really knew me, you would leave me.

I have a speckled, rocky, treacherous, traitorous history with friendship. I’ve spent decades now trying to unravel and decipher what i did, what they did, where my culpability lies and where it actuallyseriouslynoreally wasn’t me, it was them. I want to know the truth. One thing i’m not afraid of is truth. Okay, that’s not entirely true, as it is also not totally true that lies are pain. But the lie i was forced to live as truth caused me nothing but pain and suffering and separated me from life and those around me who were truly living it. So, in this particular instance i am not at all afraid (anymore, cuz laws yes, was i ever!) to know what i did wrong and where and to whom.

This need to control every aspect of how i present myself to various loved ones and sundry, has bled into every interaction i have. Just day-to-days, it’s not necessarily a high price to pay, or even wrong. I’m of the opinion that when the cashier asks me how i am today, it’s okay for me to respond Fine, even if i’m far from it, for various reasons. they’re just doing they’re job, i don’t feel like mentioning how much my day sucks, there’s a bunch of people in line behind me and they ain’t here for that, etc. There are times though, when my fear and shame-based tightlipped interactions and forced joviality have cost me too much. I’ve come away hurt and diminished.

All this to relate something that happened to me yesterday.

I went to see a movie with my husband. The last time we went to a theatre we were with one of our sons, and the person sitting behind him kept kicking his seat. He wanted to handle it on his own, and so i had to sit back and watch him do it in a way that i wouldn’t have. Grrr, but he’s grown and he gets to, and that’s good for both of us. I’m excellent at standing up for other people, known and loved or not. But last night my son wasn’t there and the seat-kicking was happening to me, and it wasn’t just 1 person, it was half the row, and it wasn’t just any group, it was a group of teenagers. Ugh.

Teenagers are a tough group for me. Not because i don’t like them – i like them very much. I have a patience, understanding, and tolerance for them that i don’t see often enough. It’s a good quality, but it comes from a bad place, and has required some understanding and some tempering to know when to use it and to what degree. My teen years were hell, and a lot of my peers were awful to me, and if they weren’t awful, they stood by and watched or ignored while i was teased and bullied every single day. So i carried unresolved pain and anger into my adulthood, and when you add in some of my teenage parts, this created an unhealthy need in me for teenager’s approval. I wanted them to like me and think i’m cool. I used them as bandages for old wounds. When mania had hold of me, i’d gravitate towards younger people. I was trying to relive those years; to fix the loneliness, the exclusion, the mean girls who made sport of me, the cute boys who didn’t want me, the parties and crazy adventures to which i was never invited. The fat, dirty, dishevelled, poor, weird girl.

These kids were just being kids, sure, but we were watching a horror movie. I love horror movies, i love being startled, freaked out, and have the everloving crap scared outta me (in a movie – IRL i hate these things because i often lose control of the face). I couldn’t get any buildup of suspense because my chair was being jiggled by giggly teenagers every 30 seconds or less. I consciously decided to handle it. I thought about it and figured they might not respond like i’d want, and briefly went over in my mind what i was willing to do about it. I asked myself how far i’d go, and quickly ran over a few likely scenarios, but not too deeply, because movie.

I started with a polite request for them to stop kicking my seat. It resumed after mere minutes, at which time i looked pointedly back at them, raised 2 of my fingers and said, That’s twice. It only stopped for a few minutes, but i gave them a break while they went and got more snacks and used the washroom. After a couple of minutes of settle-back-in-your-seats time, i looked back at them and said, loudly enough for the entire theatre to hear, Yo, knock it off! When i received more chair jiggling less than 2mins later, i got up and complained to management, who followed me back to my seat, taking note while i pointed out the 6 or so teens that were causing my problem.

I sat back down and was hit with intense body reaction. I was shaking and had to bring my breathing under control… But it wasn’t hard, and i settled quickly. I decided that if it didn’t stop at that point, i was prepared to go and ask for a refund and try again tonight. There were a couple of minor jiggles in the first 2 or 3mins after they were warned, but nothing after that. When the movie was nearly over and it was mushy, tying-up-loose-ends stuff, i asked myself what i’d do if they came for me in any way as we were leaving. I decided i didn’t need to even look at them. If they had words for me, i might ignore or i might engage, depending on what they said, but i found i wasn’t angry at them. I bore no ill will at all. They were just kids being kids, but i had the right to enjoy my movie undisturbed, and part of growing up is realising it’s not just about you.

I didn’t even need to process it with my husband on the way home, which is a wow kinda thing. I’m very introspective (hahaha, no kidding, H) and will often go over human interactions somewhat *ah* obsessively. This happened, i handled it, and it was no big deal. They may understand or not – it doesn’t matter. They may talk about me and what a bitch i was – not my business. I have a circle of friends who know me and care about me and they are more than enough. I don’t need everyone to like me. It’s an unhealthy and impossible goal, and it doesn’t shield me from pain and abandonment anyway. Plus, i’m not a teenager anymore and they are not my peers.

It’s not a big deal, but it is. To hide who i am and to take the shit some people will heap on me was what i was born to do. Standing up for myself, even in small ways like this one, saying No, or Stop! don’t come naturally to me. In fact, it goes against my entire upbringing. That is to say, it’s a helluva thing for me to do, and i’m a bit pleased with myself right now.

Thought i’d share.

Therapy tomorrow. Yeehaw.

I’ll post again soon.
Love and Peace,
~H~

*”Can”, not “will” or “must”.

Sometimes I’m Just Wrong

As people with a history like mine often do, i’ve had severe dental phobia most of my life. To have to hang my mouth open and have someone poking around in there, sometimes causing me pain, can be a brutal trigger. As a child, my mother stopped caring about my dental health around the time she was committed; i was in grade one. The only time she’d bring me in was for an emergency, which happened occasionally. I wasn’t much for brushing, which resulted in a few abscesses and a couple of pulled teeth.

Once on my own i just dodged the dentist. I finally paid attention when i found an excellent family physician during my pregnancy with my second child. She urged me to attend to my teeth, which were becoming problematic.
I required many appointments to get my teeth cleaned and a number of fillings followed. Neither the hygienist nor the dentist seemed to realise or care about my severe anxiety, and i was shamed and lectured every visit, guaranteeing more avoidant behaviour. It wasn’t until i was well into therapy with my current counsellor that i finally dealt with my fear head-on.

I found a nice lady dentist who’d been doing it for decades, and i went to talk to her. No cleaning, just x-rays, and a chat about what i was looking at to get my teeth shipshape. I told her of my phobia. (No, really? Like my huge, watering eyes and clenched fists didn’t already announce it.) I indicated as delicately as i could that it was trauma-based. She was immediately receptive, kind and gentle in her response, and assured me that i wasn’t her only patient with these issues. She said she’d work with me, to help me overcome my anxiety as much as possible (at my pace), and to attain and maintain healthy teeth and gums.

I know a fair number of people who use sedation dentistry to handle this issue, but i wanted to at least try to do it without drugs of any kind. I prepared as best i could; going over what was going to happen in my head, looking at pictures i’d taken of the dentist’s office, and the chair that i’d be sitting in, the ceiling that i’d be looking at (they have tellies up there – how smart is that?), i thought of how i feel in a dentist’s chair, and went over the different methods i could use to cope:

– focused breathing,
– body mindfulness,
– reminding myself that the intensity of the feelings are a response to trauma that’s no longer happening,
– stopping the hygienist and asking for a break,
– stopping the hygienist and talking briefly about the feelings,
– stopping the hygienist and rescheduling,
– using an anti-anxiety med beforehand,
– sedation dentistry,
– maintain dental health as best i can on my own, do more therapy around the issue, and try again at a later date.

I was stiff as a board the first time i sat for a cleaning; eyes as big as saucers, hands and feet clenched hard enough to cramp. The hygienist had a soft, soothing voice, and she calmed my jangled nerves with banter about her children, a recent move, a holiday. Her demeanor was quiet and kind, and i knew she wasn’t going to hurt me. Cleaning my teeth properly would take a few visits, they’d already told me, but i never sensed any disapproval from her, and there was never the slightest hint of a tsk or a tut-tut in her voice.

Then it’s time for my dentist to do some fillings, some caps, and even a root canal, to preserve my teeth for as long as possible. Her voice is also soft (i think dentists may cultivate this voice – also smart) but her vibe is jovial, even goofy. Her assistant is sarcastic, with a deadpan delivery, and between the 2 of them, they provide a great service and a show besides, which distracted and delighted me so much that i came to look forward to seeing them. Not even kidding.

I settled in to regular maintenance, and then the recession hit. We had to let go of our dental insurance, and i didn’t want to stress our already squeaky budget, when i knew my teeth were in good shape, and i was now diligent and conscientious with care. We still had a son at home who required extensive orthodontic work, and so i stopped going for a couple of years. When our financial situation improved,  i went back, thinking there’d be no problem.

Oh, but there was.

I missed a number of appointments, for which i provided lame excuses, and i’d call after and reschedule with a self-deprecating chuckle. Six months later i did the same thing, i missed my first appointment and called, saying it had totally slipped my mind and i’d be there for sure next time. The receptionist fixed another time with me, but i noted something in her voice before we hung up – a hesitancy. I felt uneasy.

She called me mid-morning the next day.
She told me that they wanted very much to continue providing me with dental care, but in order for that to happen they were going to require the cost of the appointment up front. She explained that my dentist couldn’t continue losing money when i didn’t show up, that it wasn’t fair for her or anyone.
I bristled. Feelings flooded my body, and i reacted with offense.

“This feels like i’m being punished for being mentally ill,” i said.
“I’m going to have to discuss this with my husband and i’ll get back to you,” i said.

To my credit, before the end of the phone call, i knew she had me dead to rights. But shame is a massive trigger, and i was dissociated and edgy for the rest of the day. It took me a while to bring it up with my husband, but not too long, and he understood right away. I called the receptionist back within a day or 2, and told her i knew they had to do what they were doing. And then i paid them.

I was anxious about the cleaning. I thought about why. It wasn’t just being embarrassed – it was a few things. There’d been a break in my association with them, one where i wasn’t in therapy, and i hadn’t had to deal with some of the triggers that dentistry touches on. I was now back in therapy, and learning to stay in my body during times when i feel emotions and/or physical sensations that i don’t want to feel. I understood why i was dodging. I knew i was setting myself up to miss my dates with my dentist.
I was trying to avoid all the feelings.

I showed up on time, and prepared. I knew i was going to feel awkward and embarrassed, which was normal and appropriate to feel, because i’d done them wrong. I hadn’t meant to, and i knew that. I knew they would all be gracious and kind, as they had always been, and they were. When the cleaning was done, my dentist was there at reception, and she gently asked me, “Do you understand that we had to do what we did?”

I told her that i did, and i told them all that i was sorry. I told them that it hadn’t occurred to me that i was costing her money, or inconveniencing anyone – but it should have, and i was ashamed about it.

She said, “You know, we just wouldn’t have had you back if we didn’t like you so much, eh?” And i could see that that was true.

I could also see that, while i’d fucked up, i’d also done some things right.

I’d been honest about my mental illness and my fears and anxieties from the jump.
I’d carefully built relationship with them, so much so that when i started behaving poorly, they tolerated that behaviour for as long as they could – perhaps longer than they should have done, and only for my benefit.
And when they finally called me out, i accepted responsibility for my actions.
Yes, for the briefest of moments -the space of a phone call- i reacted badly, but i knew almost immediately that i was in the wrong, and why, and that i could and would put it right and it was going to be okay.

I got caught doing something shitty, and i reacted by trying to avoid taking the blame. To assuage my chagrin by haughtily providing an excuse.

I’m not bad – i’m sick!

While that is true in a way, it’s neither appropriate nor is it helpful to apply that in this instance. After i hung up the phone i felt it right away – i was convicted in my heart by a jury of me. I’ve identified myself to these people as someone who lives with serious, multiple diagnosis mental illness. I’ve done so first for my benefit, but also for others like me. I want to bring awareness and exposure to those around us, in service to us and apart from that, who have little or no experience with us (or knowledge that they’re having such – because they certainly are, am i right?), and by so doing, help pave a way for fellow neuroatypicals and those living with mental illness to do the same. To see that it can be done, and perhaps they might do it, too.

I feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s a good weight, one i’ve willingly and purposefully shouldered, and it’s a right thing and a steadying force in my life. It gives meaning and provides balance and even serendipity. I would not so inadequately, so boorishly represent a community that has my love so easily, and needs help and understanding so desperately.

The love and life that i’ve found there made my path clear, and set my shoulders squarely towards it.
Yes, part of the reason why i behaved the way i did was the way i was raised and the way my brain responded to try and save me, to help me cope and to perhaps spare me some of the worst of it, that i might survive. And survive i did – and in these last years, even more and better.
Yes, there are reasons -childhood causations- for my behaviour, but in the end, today, right now, at this moment, i am as free and autonomous and aware as i can possibly be, and i am happy and grateful and relieved indeed, to be solely responsible for my choices and actions.

And sometimes i’m just wrong. And i was.
I accepted the consequences, which were fair, and no one abused me and i didn’t die.

I can hardly wait to screw up again.
Heh.

The Tide

I have lost my safe space. It took me years to create and it’s gone. Getting acknowledgment of this has been difficult. Creating change can’t happen without it, nor can the work to make things right again be done by only one person. I cannot do the work that i’ve begun in therapy unless i get my safe space back. I must have a place where i can decompress, where i can be broken, where i can be vulnerable with no (reasonable*) fear.

It never rains but it pours.
I was berating myself for the issues people i love have, but i pulled myself out of it relatively quickly, thanks to some recent work i wrote about a couple of posts ago.

Things have been at such a crisis level that i considered putting therapy aside for a while. In crisis, it is my old pattern to dissociate and do what i think i should do. What i was taught to do was care for everyone else’s needs and to only have thoughts and feelings for others. Well, i can think of myself, but only how i’m not good at helping and i’ve caused my loved ones’ troubles. I’m allowed to think about how i’m bad and i’m a failure.

Fortunately, the personal work i’ve done and am currently doing, made stopping therapy like trying to hold back the tide. Can’t nobody do that, not any of me and not any of them.
That tide rushed in and washed it all away like so many children’s sandcastles.
No stopping. No old ways. Clean salt spray and pristine beaches.

My family is involved, so i won’t be going into specifics, only to say that i’ve been asking for change, but alone in the fight for it for a long time. I’ve been feeling so hopeless after therapy, and up until a few days ago, i didn’t connect the 2 things. Here i will point out that all the work i’ve done to learn about myself, to figure out how i work, and how to get healing and happiness, is invaluable. All the credit for figuring this shit out is mine.

Noticing my distress – that part was easy. Heh. Crying, feeling physically numb and emotionally disconnected (dissociating), switching, drinking, taking off, not eating or sleeping.
Looking at how that upset was manifesting, and then turning my eyes and ears inward, to see what my system would show me and hear what my body is trying to tell me. That second part is not so easy for me. It’s terrifying to me and therefore pretty goddamn hard.
My parts feel threatened and don’t like the atmosphere, and my legs want to get me the fuck outta there. It was so simple once i did those things; checked in to my body and was present and fully conscious of my own thoughts. It came pouring out of me in a rush. A relieved, grateful rush. A tidal wave.

Telling my loved ones what i need and calling out things that are unacceptable to me has helped tremendously.
I think i’m coming into the part of my healing where i refuse to tolerate shit anymore. This is a scary, awful time, but i also feel stronger, more powerful. EMPOWERED by my own actions. As soon as i stood up for myself i felt better. Less scared.

Less scared not to be heard.
Less scared not to be understood.
Less scared to be rejected.
LESS SCARED TO BE ALONE.

My loved ones will hear me, and they will work with me until we understand each other. They won’t reject me nor will they leave me. I know that, i truly do, but when i’m not PRESENT and CONSCIOUS and checking in with my system and more importantly now, CHECKING IN WITH MY BODY… Things can get fucked up mighty fast.

I need my safe space back.
My Bits N’ Pieces need my safe space back.
My body needs my safe space back.
I built this space with my heart and my mind and all my hard work and commitment to my love of my family and my desperate desire to love myself. This place is mine and no one can take it from me, and i know no one actually wants to, but it is an incredible feeling for me to be all fired up like this:

No one, whether dear to me or not, can have this space.
I’ll fight any motherfucker.

Until next time, take as good care as you’re able, and i promise to do the same.
Love and Peace,
~H~
* I say “reasonable” because being vulnerable is probably the hardest, most scary thing i have ever done.

Thanks, I’ll Pass

I’m not celebrating Christmas this year. This will be the third year i’ve not done so. I’m certain about my decision and very comfortable with it, but i’m 100% open to returning to it at some point.

Christmas had become my personal microcosm. It was a vignette of how i once viewed life and the living of it. But as i was getting healthier mentally and emotionally, i could see that it was getting hard for me to continue my growth through the holiday season, or even maintain the status quo until it was over. It had become a frantic sketch of the overwhelmed wife and mother who is desperate to be Martha Stewart but only manages Lucy Ricardo. It was like looking at an old snapshot, with yellow seeping into all the colours and the edges curling up.
Quite a few things were happening for me back then. I realised that i was doing the backstroke in my ocean of despair, which was probably a sign that it was time to get out and dry off. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty that i needed to swim around for as long as i did, but i thought so, so that happened and there you have it. When i stepped out onto the shore i immediately felt the sun’s warmth. I realised the ocean had been cold and brackish, and i had turned blue and prune-skinned. My mourning clothes lay on the ground where i’d left them, but they proved scratchy and a poor fit, so i left them behind and walked on, keeping an eye peeled for something more appropriate for the walk and the weather.

I loved Christmas as a child for all the regular reasons, but mostly because my mother was almost always on her best behaviour. She loved the music, the decorations, the gifts of course, and Oh my! didn’t she love the food. When i was young she made a real effort to make things beautiful and festive, she gave care and thought to my gifts, and when she wanted to, my mom was a helluva fine cook. When she was happy, everyone was happy. She could be brilliant and charming and funny and dear. My grandparents, although they had become careful what and how much they gave her, were wonderfully generous with me, and to the best of my recollection, we spent all, or at least part, of every one of those Christmases with them until i was 7yrs old. Christmases slowly, but steadily declined after that.

The year i turned 8 she fell out with the man i believe to be my biological father and suffered a psychotic breakdown. She was committed, and i was removed from the home and placed in foster care. During that time my uncle was killed while on holiday, and my grandparents were devastated and never recovered. They were completely unable to handle my mother, and they gradually lost interest in seeing me (i’ll never know how much she had to do with that, but i suspect at least some). When she was released it took her some time to get me back, and interestingly enough for this piece, i was returned to her on Christmas Eve. The honeymoon period lasted a couple of weeks,  but by the time next Christmas rolled around she had taken an underage lover and moved us to a small town to hide her crime. She made him a father at 16. She was 34. I was 11.

She proceeded to have 3 more children in the next five years. The boy she stole from his family became a man, but had dropped out of school in grade ten to be with her, and she wouldn’t let him out of her sight long enough to get any education or training that could translate into enough income to care properly for all of us. She wouldn’t even permit him to put in the kind of overtime that might be parlayed into more money or a dogged climb up the ladder won by the sweat of his brow. Even if they liked him and gave him opportunities for advancement, people would eventually figure out that something was off about him, or his home life. Mom’s mask would eventually slip, the house and/or the children would be seen, and then suddenly he had a new job and we had to move, or the other way around.

Mother became less and less able to keep her mask in place, and she coped by isolating and eating. She became angrier, lazier, and fatter. The places we lived became more broken down and she filled them with dirty dishes and piles of unwashed laundry. The children were beaten when they weren’t ignored, and they responded by fighting constantly and destroying everything in the house that wasn’t already broken.
And every Christmas was a little worse than the one before it.

After she died and i had a child of my own, Christmas suddenly became important again. I wanted him to have the perfect ones i’d seen on tv, and i had those distant childhood memories to help me. Some of the people who live in my brain were a great help in this, and they derived happiness and healing from it as well. We all did. It’s probably worthwhile to mention that my son was born a week before Christmas, and i spent December 25th alone with him in a room at the YWCA, listening to Christmas music on the local radio station.  On his first birthday he set fire to the apartment we lived in, but it was professionally cleaned and ready for us by the 25th. Both of them were better than any Christmas i’d had since my grandparents.

I became the Christmas queen. I did it all: the decorating, cards, gifts, cooking, baking, entertaining. Capital E entertaining. Family, friends, friends that were like family… Anyone and everyone. And i was good at it. Maybe not Ina Garten-good, but i put on a mean Roseanne. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I felt happy and functional and almost normal.

In the years that followed i had another child, fell in love and got married, gained a tremendous amount of weight, had another child, had weight loss surgery, and then fell head first into the deep end of my first clinical mania. My childhood was catching up to me, becoming inescapable as i saw myself reflected in my children. My fears and flaws were magnified in the lens of a committed sexual relationship. My old wounds were still raw. Being a mom, being in love, and playing house had proved merely a Band-Aid. I felt like a failure and a fraud and the anguish became so unbearable that i couldn’t control my people. December became one long bender for me, but i still had to keep up appearances for everyone else.

How do you throw a fabulous holiday while you fall somewhere on the scale from tipsy to pass-out drunk? I had varying levels of success. It was never a write-off, but my mental health was lousy and my drinking to cope was obvious and my family is not stupid…

These last few years i’ve been doing markedly better. Don’t misunderstand me though, through all of it i was trying very hard not to be a mess, and i spent time, money, and most of my energy trying to figure my shit out. It just took a long time. You know, wearing mourning clothes and swimming in the ocean of despair and all that, heh. It took time and patience and a lot of work to get some damn traction in my life. Along the way i learned some things about myself that i didn’t know, like:

– I’m not religious;
– I’m much more of an introvert than an extrovert;
– I crave a simple, quiet life;
– I’m a terrible driver;
– I’m a helper and a giver and a lover.

I realised that putting on Christmas was not bringing me the excitement and the joy that it used to. My 2 oldest children were grown and gone, and our youngest was close to legal. The holidays are culturally enjoyable and edifying, but no longer hold any spiritual significance for me. We’ve been experiencing an economic recession where we live for the last few years, and the money could be better spent on other things. I wanted to curtail my drinking, and the holidays are a skating rink made from all the booze i’ve spilled on Christmases past.

So i put up a few decorations, we had a fancy supper and exchanged gifts. And it was pretty good.
The next year i broke my leg and couldn’t put up any decorations or even make supper. We decided to spend our money on a fancy spread in the city downtown, and then we went and saw Star Wars: TFA. There were a few gifts for the kids, but hubby and i didn’t exchange anything. We both liked it.
Last year i cooked and baked for our children and grandchildren, but that was it. Our youngest prefers us to take him shopping and spend the money on new clothes, which i love. Everyone was satisfied.
This year’s holiday season will include Star Wars, Chinese food, and feeding the entire family all day long until they can roll home on their own.

This year i knew i was doing well enough that i could do the Christmas thing if i wanted to… But i just didn’t. The other 2 years of not celebrating Christmas weren’t super-conscious choices. Hubby and i discussed it a little from the mental health and financial standpoint, but we didn’t go much deeper than that.
This year i went deep. I gave it a lot of thought. I was my own 3 ghosts and took myself to all the places and looked at all the Christmases and contemplated what could be.
And i still love Christmas. I’m no Scrooge, humbugging all over other people’s holidays. The decorating is gorgeous and the music is fun and festive – it’s just not in my house right now. Even though there’s no religious meaning for me anymore, Christmas remains very significant from a cultural perspective. I like the generosity and the parties and the FOOOOD! but i’m really enjoying the freedom and power i feel in saying No, i’m not buying anything. I don’t feel guilty or less than or left out by refusing to do so, either. In fact, the rebel in me is revelling in telling corporate North America and conspicuous consumption to shove it up their Black Friday.

I see a very real possibility, even likelihood, that i’ll return to some of the things i used to do during Christmas, like decorating and music and parties. For now though, this feels so good and so right. It’s not often that i have no doubts about a big decision, but i have zero regarding this one. If and when i do return to marking the occasion, it will be on my terms, and in my way. There’ll be no more trying to fix what was wrong with the Christmases of my youth, and i won’t need to put a pretty bow or a star on top of a pile of unresolved issues.
Whatever you do or don’t do for the holidays, i hope it’s a minimum of stuff you don’t want, with a maximum of what you do.

I’ll be here on the other side of all of it, no matter what.

Love and Peace to All-a Y’all,
~H~

Joyful Girl

How to explain how hard just living life can be with my particular set of challenges without it sounding like a pity party? I’m not sure, but i am going to try.

I am not a “safe space” person. I firmly believe that if someone wants one, they can ask, they can try to create, and i can and will respect designated safe spaces. I think it’s a very good idea, and i’ve seen it implemented both well, and terribly. I suppose my Little Crooked House is my safe space, for the most part. There are times though, when it is not, and i’m okay with that.

The word “trigger” has been getting tossed around a lot over the last few years. It became part of the abuse survivor’s lexicon, and it was appropriate. As seems to be becoming the way in our increasingly politically polarised society though, it got tossed back and forth between various ideologies and has emerged a little the worse for wear. I’m going to use it anyway, because it is still appropriate, despite being co-opted for scorn and black comedy. I don’t hold with the disdainful crowd, but i’m all for a little dark humour now and again; laughing at myself and my life has been integral to me making it this far.

I had a lot of profoundly horrible things done to me growing up. My abuse was not occasional, it was nearly constant at times, with only very rare and tragically brief slow periods. My fabulously inventive brain saved me by birthing siblings/friends/protectors/sponges that shared my burdens and made some of the worst things merely the nightmares of an imaginative child.
Before i acknowledged my multiplicity i just thought i was the flakiest person i’d ever known. A veritable all-you-eat buffet of quirks and oddities that seemed completely nonsensical. But as it turned out, some of them made perfect sense once i had all the information.
I was being triggered, and in the early days of dealing with all my Bits N’ Pieces, it was most of the damn time. It was everything from the smell of a certain cologne to the creaking of a door to playground equipment to bugs to change being jangled in a pocket  to meeting someone new. An old song or television program could have me practically catatonic in seconds. Being startled often caused a crying jag or  hyperventilation. In large crowds of people i would suddenly just keel over in a dead faint.

It’s taken years of hard work, but i’m not just raw flesh with no skin anymore. I’ve toughened up, learned to cope. I’ve developed skills that help me get through the day, i’ve tended to the wounds of all the broken people inside of me, been their confessor, borne witness to all their stories. I’ve been their medium, their conduit, and their vessel into which they poured all their terror and rage and pain. It was all burned into me until i finally had a skin – a skin made of scars.

I work that skin every day. I bend, i stretch, i reach, i pivot ’round, i kneel. I nurture it with the oils of understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and i feed it with mindfulness, which for me, has proven to be the water of life. My skin has grown smooth, and supple, and beautiful. There are still very visible scars, some are angry red and keloid. There are still times when i see or hear or smell or am otherwise reminded of some awful thing, and i can still react reflexively from a place of remembered fear and pain.
This morning it happened with a random conversation with a loved one that twisted me in a way that made one of my scars cry out NO!

I don’t expect the rest of the world to tiptoe around me, but i won’t let it trample me, either. I don’t want to live in a world where people are feet and i am an eggshell. I don’t want you to know all my triggers, because i don’t want you to see the abuse when you look at me. I don’t want you not to speak about X or not wear Y, because you know i was abused by someone who X’ed and was wearing Y when they did something terrible to me.

I want you to look at me and see who i am, and feel how you feel about me, regardless of whether that is good or bad, liking or not at all liking, without the shadow that would be cast if you let a cloud of past abuse hang over me.
Today i was triggered. HARD. In my own home, by someone i love more than my own life. I don’t need him to know about it or to understand. This is his home too and it’s not all about me, and i am so glad about that. This is the safest place i know, and my favourite place to be, and today that particular scar got a little softer, a little smoother.

I do it for the joy it brings
‘Cause I’m a joyful girl
‘Cause the world owes me nothing 
And we owe each other the world
I do it ’cause it’s the least I can do
I do it ’cause I learned it from you
And I do it just because I want to 
‘Cause I want to
Everything I do is judged
And they mostly get it wrong
But oh well
Bathroom mirror has not budged
And the woman who lives there can tell
The truth from the stuff that they say
She looks me in the eye
So, you would you prefer the easy way
No, well OK then
Don’t cry
I wonder if everything I do
I do instead 
Of something I want to do more
The question fills my head
And I know there’s no grand plan here
This is just the way it goes
When everything else seems unclear
I guess at least I know
I do it for the joy it brings
‘Cause I’m a joyful girl
‘Cause the world owes me nothing 
And we owe each other the world
I do it ’cause it’s the least I can do
I do it ’cause I learned it from you
I do it just because I want to~Joyful Girl, Ani DiFranco

 

50.

I don’t know how many people actually feel 50yrs old when they get there, but i’m gonna guess a lot do not. Count me amongst their lot. I only barely feel grown up, and even that, not completely. The nature of the way my brain works makes my experience of any age a nebulous thing. I can feel many ages, occasionally at the same time.

Today i should feel awesome, i guess. I don’t.
I’m looking at my life, and i’m in mourning.
I’ve been looking at the positive and ignoring the negative, because really, what’s done is done and now let’s get on with it… Y’know?

Later on today i’m going to be surrounded by the people in the world that matter to me more than anyone. More than myself. That will be good and i’ll be happy.
But right now i feel sad and heavy.
It’s the wreckage.
There’s so much loss in my wake.
It’s the people.
I’ve had to find ways to let them go. To make it okay so that i could move on. So i could get better. I’ve had to examine why i had certain people in my life and let go of the ones that were dragging me down. I’ve taken an unflinching look at the ones who’ve left me, and asked the hard questions about why.

The truth is i didn’t want to let go of any of them, and even more so, i didn’t want any of them to let go of me.
My mother and father had me for purely selfish purposes. They didn’t really want me.
I’ve felt unwanted or rejected or tolerated or graciously accepted for my entire life. Fear of rejection is my core issue.
When my mother’s reasons for having me didn’t work out, she kept me around because she had no one else. It wasn’t because i was her daughter, or because i was an awesome person, it was because i was there and utterly dependent on her and therefore her best option. I think my father probably let me go because he had a number of better options. Options that didn’t involve a lifetime of forced association with my mother.

I was the ugly stepchild after that. Mom added to her number, but i was never one of them. A great many of them made sure that i knew that. They were being charitable in accordance with their beliefs, the idea being that i clearly required charity. I have one family member in my life, but she’s good to everyone.
The kids that were nice to me at school were nice to me because their parents had taught them to be nice to the kids that needed other kids to be nice to them. None of them are my friends now, because they don’t have to be. I have one friend from my school years, and she was my teacher.
Then there are the friends that i made along the way. I’ve lost them all save one that i purposely left behind, and i question that decision almost daily now. I no longer have any of my friends from the past, save one, maybe two. I’m afraid to get too close to them, because i’m afraid that i’ll scare them away again.
Finally, there are the friends i’ve made in the last 10yrs. Since i’ve been here in my Little Crooked House. I’ve pulled away from all of them and no one really noticed. Or minded.

The only friendships i’ve been able to maintain over the last 10+yrs are online. They’re good people. They’ve been kind and supportive. But it’s ONLINE. It’s not intimate. It’s not real life interaction. I think a great number of them would stick with me IRL, but it’s not currently an option, and if it was, i fear it would be because they are who they are, and nothing to do with me being the kind of person that inspires long term friendship.

So…
I guess what i’m saying is i’m sad and alone and feeling sorry for myself and not a little scared.
Based on results, i must continue to consider that i am the common denominator in all of my lost relationships.
More than that though, i need to acknowledge and deal with the fact that every single loss has hurt me a great deal. There has been no friendship that has ended that hasn’t hurt me, that i don’t occasionally obsess over, that i have not grieved, and will continue to grieve.

I wasn’t supposed to make it to 50, but i did. That’s good.
I wasn’t supposed to be the person that i am, and i think that is also good.

But here i sit, in my Little Crooked House, and all i have are my husband and my children and my children’s families and my dogs. And while these are super-wonderful-off-the-charts-excellently-beautiful… It is ALL that i have. And as much as it hurts, i must consider that i’m the reason why. I mean, of course i’m the reason why, but i’m referring to the deep down scary level where the question is,
“Am i a shitty person and a shitty friend?”

I have tried to live with the answer being THEY were shitty, i had shitty taste in people, it’s normal for people to come and go in your life, blahblahblah…

I am very committed to the path that i’m on, and i want to know the truth about everything -especially myself- and so if that means i’ve been a shitty human then that’s what it means. If i am, i can change that. I will change that. I hope i have been, already.

Huzzah. 50.

Let Reality Be Reality

Those who know me might be very confused as to why someone with my personality would have a problem accepting a diagnosis of dissociation.
After all, i do make a rather strong impression. That i’ve changed significantly through study and hard work notwithstanding, people generally remember meeting me. More than that, they probably also have a fairly good idea whether they like me or they don’t; i’m that sort of person. I’m drawn to extremes, i feel things intensely, i have strong opinions, and i don’t mind telling you about them – even though you may not have asked. Heh.

Did you notice the name i use for my site? Histrionica is a name i made up (which i’ve since learned is the name of a beetle) years ago when i joined a scifi fan page. I thought it hilariously appropriate because i can be a tad histrionic upon occasion. I added an “a” to make it sound feminine, and voila!

I revelled in drama growing up. I joined choirs and drama groups every place we lived. I joined every club and after school activity i could in order to get out of the house as much as possible. (Not after school SCHOOL activities, though. School was as hellish as home was, sometimes.) I sang and i acted and i was very, very good. Gifted, by all accounts by all the directors with whom i ever worked. Full of potential and promise. I could sing anything, play anyone convincingly. I could affect any accent you wished, i only had to listen to it for a bit and i could do it. I could ape anyone. I could do you, for anyone who knew you, and they’d know it was you.

And then there was school… UGH. Well, there’s no sense in sugarcoating shit at this stage of the game, so i won’t.

I lied. I lied a LOT. I lied about anything, to anyone, for any reason. For no reason.
It started at home. If i did something wrong, i got hit. I didn’t want to get hit, so i would deny i did the wrong thing, even if i had done it. Pretty typical kid behaviour, except the abuse i was living with exacerbated the problem. Even when i hadn’t done anything wrong, i was consistently treated as if i had. I was the receptacle for all my parent’s unwanted emotions. I grew up believing there was something terribly wrong with me – that i was bad and deserving of punishment. That doesn’t mean i didn’t still try to avoid it.

My first defense was always denial.
Then i’d tell a story about why i couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t do the thing of which i was accused, that i had actually done.

This carried itself into my school performance. I didn’t want to get into trouble, so i would lie. There was so much tumult at home that i often wouldn’t complete my homework, and when the teacher would ask me about it, i’d lie. And i was so strange in my appearance (read: poor and unkempt) and odd in my behaviour, that i would invent grand and fantastical stories as to why. I mean, i knew i was different, if for no other reason than my fellow students would regularly remind me. Some even questioned me about it – mostly the bullies, but every once in a while, a genuine, concerned query would come from a kinder peer. I’d always lie. Well, i told a bit of truth to a couple of friends in high school, but their lack of response only reaffirmed what i’d learned growing up:

1) We do not speak of these things;

2) It’s not a big deal;

3) You deserve what’s happening to you.

Honestly though, i must have had quite the reputation for telling whoppers, so how were they supposed to know when i was telling the truth? I don’t blame them a bit. The one teacher i disclosed to is another story… He was my favourite teacher and he broke my heart and it hurts to this day.

Sorry… A bit off topic, but still somewhat relevant to what i’m trying to relay.

Finally, i must devote some time to my love of fantasy. Growing up, my ability to lose myself in art: books, movies, television, even music – it saved my life. Both figuratively speaking, and i believe, quite literally as well. I didn’t just read Lord of the Rings – i lived it. I read the books through 3 or 4 times, just to go back and be with my friends and have those adventures again. My imagination is very developed, very adept, very intense. I WAS Alice. I was Pippi Longstocking, i was Marcia Brady, i was Ginger AND Mary Ann. I was Velma, and i was the smart one who solved the mystery. I would come home from a day of teachers ignoring me and children torturing me, and i would be Belinda Carlisle on tour with the Go-Go’s, and i would bump into Harrison Ford or Sting at some Hollywood party, where they would see me and ask me out and we’d fall in love…

I would comfort my poor, hurt feelings for hours sometimes, with only enough time left to take orders from Mom over cooking, cleaning, or kid care, and then to bed. Door closed and light off or i’d get yelled at and/or hit. Next day at school, i’d lie to the teacher about why my homework wasn’t done.

Once i got away from school and home, i didn’t need to lie so much. And so i actually didn’t. Over the years though, the one thing i found i couldn’t quite let go of was my penchant for exaggeration. It was like a lingering imprint or a reflex that lessened with age, but still… For many years, i just couldn’t seem to resist embellishing the truth a little. If i lost 10lbs, i’d tell you 20. If i hadn’t slept a wink last night, i’d tell you not for the last 2 or 3. If i ate an entire pizza to myself and you asked what i’d had for supper, i’d tell you salad and fresh fruit. Okay that last one was an outright lie. I admit i still told those sometimes.

It wasn’t until i learned enough about the effects of abuse that i understood why i was lying and telling fish stories. I believed i wasn’t good enough. I was afraid that deep down inside, i was bad. I was trying to hide it – trying to keep others from finding out. It took years of concerted effort, but that kind of behaviour has been behind me for a long time.

I still lie, but only when necessary, or for reasons of self-care or kindness. If you think honesty is the best policy, or lying is always bad, well… This piece isn’t for that subject, but maybe one day i’ll write a bit about my thoughts in this area, and you can read it and see what you think.

Maybe you’re starting to see where i’m going.
Why i resisted my diagnosis so hard, and for so long.
If you are, maybe you can help me out here, because it’s freaking hard to put into words. Blargh. It’s all buzzing around up there in my brain, but it’s like trying to separate the ingredients once you’ve made soup out of them.
Good luck.

This is a mental illness with more baggage than most. A lot of people don’t even believe it exists. Some people fake it in order to escape the consequences of their bad behaviour, or to get attention. Most people’s only experience of it is through ham-handed tv tropes, or as a literary device, including the (in?)famously debunked novels like “Sybil” and “Michelle Remembers”. It’s an illness chock full of drama and controversy. It invites and elicits very strong opinions.

Once i got away from my mother and her influence, i realised i was an abused child. Once i had a child of my own i knew i needed to deal with it or i couldn’t be the kind of mom i wanted to be. Through doing the work, i realised i was mentally ill, but i didn’t know exactly what was wrong – no diagnosis seemed to fit. And then this diagnosis comes along that fits me perfectly, but it appeals to parts of my nature that i’m trying to change or eliminate altogether. Parts like my propensity for embellishment and my tendency towards histrionics. I was terrified that people were telling me what the sick parts of me wanted to hear. Factor in that out of the dozens of people i’d met claiming to be dissociative, they all seemed to be faking it, save one.

I couldn’t allow myself to accept something because it offered a convenient excuse for all the troubles of my life. And i couldn’t allow myself to believe it just because it was perfect for the artist inside me, or even for the little girl who saved her own life with her mutant power of imagination.

What got me there is what you read on my blog in every single post i make.
I was indoctrinated from birth. I was actively brainwashed.
The greatest, most beautiful, powerful, and incredible thing that happened to me when i got away from my mother, is that i was given the opportunity to think for myself. It was slow going until i found my safe place (my person*), but once i had that i was able to work harder and achieve better results. I wanted to know what i thought and why i thought it. As the bible i once studied required of me, i wanted to have a reason for what i believed. From there i learned to study independently, and i was on my way. I didn’t know that there was a name for what i was doing, but i now know it’s called critical thinking.

I’m not going to share with you my step-by-step examination of who i am and what the diagnosis says dissociatives are. It would be an exercise in people-pleasing on my part, and that is something i try to do only because i want to, not because i’m trying to prove something. Like anyone, i still crave those 4As (attention, acknowledgement, acceptance, affection), but that’s not what this is about. Whether or not you believe in the diagnosis, believe that what i share in this blog is genuinely me. This is who i am and how my brain works.

This is life as me, whatever name you give me or box you put me in. I don’t mind.
I want to help myself and be a better human. I hope that by sharing how i’m helping myself, i can do both.

He thought he was gonna die,
But he didn’t.
She thought she just couldn’t cope,
But she did.
We thought it would be so hard,
But it wasn’t…
It wasn’t easy, though!
~Walk Straight Down the Middle, Kate Bush

Love and Peace As Always,
~H~

*Grey’s Anatomy reference, my not-guilty-at-all pleasure.