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.