Instinct

My office is once again in (mostly) office form–instead of guest room form–so I decided I should use it this morning to do what I claim as my profession, and to write down some words.

 

The thing that has been most striking, and on my mind, in the past several hours remains the reactions that I have seen from people in particular contexts.  Some of the reactions I anticipated, and some of them I was taken aback by, but the thing that kept popping into my mind this morning was a vaguely remembered expression of C.S. Lewis that said something about the true nature of a person being shown when they were surprised or scared.  That idea stuck with me. If you sneak up on me and surprise me, I yell, potentially cry, and sometimes punch you. I have a lot of fear and unresolved pain on the inside, so that comes out. Cursing also comes out. I’m a woman who uses “vulgarity” with regularity, so it isn’t a hidden part of me suddenly exposing itself, but just my daily self being repeated before you.  

 

But last night I watched the Chicago Bears miss out on their big game hopes by one point with a field goal kick that should have sailed through between the posts, but for a timeout called at the most inopportune moment.  And when that loss, which was felt deeply by many, happened, there was one woman in particular whose inner self became an outer self. I’d love to know C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on what football exposes, because WOW.

 

Now, I’ve not had a good vibe from this woman from the start–for the record.  I think she is dishonest, manipulative, self-aggrandizing… But other people seem to like her just fine, so I generally keep my vibes to myself.  Last night, however, she started yelling at the television, and not just at the general disappointment toward a team but directly at a young man who did his absolute best under tremendous pressure, and didn’t meet the expectations of the whole world that was watching.  She called him a “fucking bastard” repeatedly, and demanded that he be traded by morning or … I don’t really think she is in a position to make threats against the franchise given that she is an unemployed, 50-something woman who lives in shared housing and drinks every night, so I’m not sure what she would do if they didn’t trade Parkey today.  She doesn’t seem to have much influence over the team.

 

Nevertheless, I made deescalating comments, like, “he’s just a boy”, and “you know he can make the kick, he just did it 10 seconds ago”, and “you’ve not kicked a field goal in your life, so it really isn’t fair to judge so harshly”.  She persisted, despite my objections, so I took a different approach and praised the Bears for the best season since 1985, and commented on how excited I was for next season, when they would come back even stronger. That positive outlook didn’t dissuade her either.  She just kept cussing out a boy on the screen for being a complete failure.

 

I kept thinking to myself, “This is the truth of who she is.  This is a variation on Lewis, and I am seeing the heart of this woman exposed.  No wonder she gives me the negative vibes! Her heart is hate-filled, fearful, bitter, and angry.”

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, please.  I’ve been in that space. I’m not judging her for being in that space.  I’m just ruminating on what is inside vs. outside, and what brings the inside out.  She probably has a reason that holds some validity for being as she is, currently. And I wish her all the best in working through that and coming out the other side with a better outlook and more love in her heart.  I suspect that her current situation, with the shared housing and the inability to hold down a job, are key factors in her unhappiness, and I hope that she finds a way to gain more stability. But the thing that I am so challenged by is the lying that is required to pretend that you feel one way when you so clearly feel another.

 

At some point in my history I was so good at feigning “okay” that my mind literally walled off years of abuse.  Complete repression of years of my life and experiences is the ultimate in lying, I suppose–even if it is subconscious and you have no idea that you are doing it.  But once that stuff started to come out and be remembered, the need to let it out was too great to ignore. Anger, pain, abandonment, neglect, betrayal, and more were all swirling around inside, and the ability to contain that was not an ability I possessed.  Of course, it came out at the wrong times and toward the wrong people, more often than not. I had trouble maintaining relationships or keeping jobs. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check and would have outbursts of rage or tears in the middle of situations where such things made no sense.  It was a crazy time, and it was made especially challenging because I didn’t have good mental health care during that stage and didn’t have anyone who could effectively help walk me through that chaos.

 

There were times when I worked to hold in all of that stuff and just “pretend’ life wasn’t plagued by these issues.  I could do it for a short time, but then the chaos would come out and things would spiral and I would find myself alone and broken once more.  It wasn’t until I started to let the chaos live on the outside that things started to balance out. It wasn’t until I started to accept that this was a part of who I am, and a way that I will always be, in some sense, that I could live without having a different person emerge when I was scared or surprised.  

 

Now I am the same person all of the time.  

 

Granted, we all have moments when we don’t speak honestly.  I might have a bad headache, but still go to your party–pretending it isn’t a big deal because I want to participate in your event. But that isn’t what I mean.  I mean that the fundamentals of who I am are on display all of the time.

 

I am boisterous, stubborn, intelligent, brutally honest, compassionate, a great listener, an over-sharer, and I will cry, yell, curse, or whatever else I feel moved to do in the course of everyday conversation without reservation.  I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not one to back down from a fight. And I will talk to anyone and everyone present to try to make connections, because I am in love with community as and ideal. Oh yes–and I am extremely idealistic.

 

But if you have met me, you probably know all of that, because I wear it on my sleeve.  I don’t hide any of that. You don’t need to root it out or search for it. It is standing right in front of you.

 

I had a conversation last night with a woman I just met.  It became very in depth very quickly, and we were arguing a bit about hunger.  She didn’t believe my statistics about hunger related deaths in the U.S., and she felt that homeless/hungry people here are being too picky.  “If you are hungry you would eat anything”, she said. And I disagreed.

 

Obviously, my disagreement didn’t make sense to her, and this caused a mini argument.  I hold to the idea that no person should be put in a position where they are hungry enough that they would eat anything, and that it dehumanizes people to say that they should take whatever they can get, when the rest of us clearly choose only our favorites from a fancy menu of curated items.  Why shouldn’t the homeless and the working poor have options like the rest of us? Are they less human because they have less resources? Why not make certain they have resources, instead of demanding they suck it up and take what they clearly do not want?

 

At one point in the conversation, she said to me, “I’ve never been that hungry and you have never been that hungry, so we can’t understand.”

 

“I have been that hungry.  I’ve eaten my meals out of dumpsters.”

 

And there it was … I put my inside firmly on my outside.  

 

She looked at me wide-eyed for a moment and then said that she was sorry that I had been put in that position.  The conversation turned and we discussed something else. There was little else that she could say because the experience of taking whatever I could get trumped her thought experiments about what might be.  

 

But again I was thinking about the instincts.  I was thinking about the way that she made assumptions about who I am and what I have experienced because here we both were watching the Bears lose in a bar in Edgewater.  Very different lives have brought us to this moment. Very different experiences have shaped us. But she instinctively believed, by my dress and my speech and my position in the world, that we shared so much more than we actually do.

 

I didn’t disclose that I eat because of Meals on Wheels and foodstamps programs.  I didn’t disclose that I don’t care that the IRS is closed because I don’t need to file a return due to a lack of income.  But I did disclose that I am writing about racism, childhood trauma and abuse, and a history filled with challenges. I did disclose that I had surgery in November and that I manage a number of illnesses, including fibromyalgia.  I did disclose where I live, and what I do, and the birth order that puts me into middle child territory. I didn’t hide who I am or how I am. So I don’t need to be scared or surprised for the real Christy to pop out. She is always here.

 

I wonder, at times, why we all feel so much need to hide our true selves.  Are we so terrible, at our core, that we won’t find love and life and friendship and care if we are honest?  Are our issues so complex that they cannot be dealt with or resolved?

 

I don’t believe that is true.

 

In fact, I think that being genuine and true affords us more room and more time and more energy for developing strong bonds and working out what challenges us.  I believe that my life became less complicated and more positive once I started seeking to live without hiding and holding up a facade for others to view.

 

Granted, the woman at the bar who was tearing the proverbial flesh from a young boy whose best wasn’t good enough to win a game doesn’t seem like the kind of person whom you want to have “out and proud”.  But at least if her true nature was out there, something could be done to guide her into a healthier and happier space. Right now, everyone around her just feeds into the lie that she is doing fine–when she clearly isn’t feeling balanced and happy and good at all.

 

Those gut reactions are telling you something about yourself and where you are and what you need.  But if you keep your instincts hidden and locked behind doors, only letting them out when you are shocked, scared, or mad at football, you cannot hear what they are saying.  You cannot listen to what they are saying about you and your position and your needs if you keep them bottled or boxed.

 

In order to hear and see and cope, you need to start wearing those inner things on the outside.  You need to start letting the instincts flow out.

 

It isn’t an easy process, assessing the inner workings and letting them become a part of your persona, out there for everyone to see.  It is actually a very challenging process, that leaves you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and, often, wounded. But I believe that the work is worth it.  

 

I believe that having the deep things become visible in the shallows makes you better, stronger, and more beautiful.  Because working on those inner things is what offers your the opportunity for transformation. Doing that is what can make what was instinctual become obsolete, and change the way that you interact with the world.  

 

I still have moments of rage on occasion, but for the most part, that is gone.  That instinct isn’t strong anymore, because I have spent years working through why I felt that way–what brought it on, what left me out of control, and how I could change that.  I don’t need to rage at football players, because I don’t need to rage at all. Or if I do feel enraged, I know that something needs to be changed in my life, immediately, because I am being triggered in extremely negative ways–which is why after a particularly angry night a couple months ago, I broke off a relationship that was not healthy.  

 

Had I not embraced this instinct, however, and gotten down to the root of it, I wouldn’t have the insight to know that I was being triggered and that relationship needed to end.  Had I not let my rage become a part of me, and accept it and understand it and cope with it, I would not have been able to make such an informed, wise decision.

 

So, let your inner stuff come out.  Work your way through it. (Preferably with a qualified professional.) And live as a whole person, without hiding parts of you somewhere inside.  Let your instincts out, and be who you truly are–even if that is a vulgar, stubborn woman with a huge heart and too many tears.

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Too Much

Yesterday was too much.

In fact, the too much started the day before, and I didn’t do a good job of mitigating it at the outset.  But who is great at mitigating, really?

On Thursday, when I took the bus to the doctor, there was so much chaos.  There was a woman who insisted her daughter, who looked to be about 10, was 6, so she didn’t need to pay fare for the girl.  And she kept arguing with the driver long after she go to her seat (not having paid, and seemingly having gotten what she wanted).  She would yell some angry assertion about his dumbness and him minding his business, which I am relatively certain he wanted to do, but she kept yelling out offending shit, and it is really hard to mind your business when someone is shouting theirs at you through the bus.

Not long after, a man got on the bus without paying.  We waited several minutes while the driver tried to get the man to leave or pay, to no avail.  So, finally, and with much frustration, the driver went on with the route.  I was running late by this point, and getting internally frustrated by that lateness.  And then the lady with the very-old-looking-probably-not-6-year-old started up again.  She was now angry that the driver let the other man get by without paying.  Even though she had gotten by with not paying fare for the child.  It became a mess of people yelling out random shit about the offenses against them, when the only person who could rightfully be upset, in my opinion, was the driver of the bus.

It got to be too much.  I quickly snagged a seat that let me curl up toward the window and cranked the volume on my headset.  But too late.  Tears started forming, for one reason or another in the corners of my eyes.  Was it fear? Frustration?  Stress?  Anxiety?

Whatever it was, it threatened to pour down my cheeks, which would not have been a great thing and would have added to my emotional upheaval.  So I pushed it back.

There is and has been a place to push things since my childhood.  I know it well.  So many things were too much for my small psyche, and I could not deal—not just would not, but literally was incapable—with that excess.  So, it got pushed into the place.

Obviously, the place isn’t a physical space, as far as we know.  There are multiple synapses that stop firing or misfire or disconnect in the dissociative brain.  It would be much easier if there was one spot that held all the excess. Maybe then we could zap that space into connection, or cut it out altogether, or some other frighteningly macabre way of coping.

As It happens, there isn’t an easy solution, macabre or no.

Once I got off that bus, onto another, and eventually to my appointment, the overwhelmed feeling should have dissipated.  But it didn’t.

That question.  The question.  “When did you first become aware that your speaking was different?”

I was meeting with a vocal specialist.  The troubles with my voice have kept me from living life in the way I would otherwise choose.  I long for my singing voice.   It is definitely time to address the situation.  But, maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, or shoved into the place, there was the fear of this question.

I didn’t notice.  Tony noticed.  Tony mocked me, mimicked me, publicly shamed me.  He told me, in the most hateful and terrible ways, that my voice was different—a strange way of clearing my throat, or making a guttural sound where there ought not be one for an English speaker, or the way that my words have a bit of a sing-song ending at times.  He used that vocal abnormality to hurt me.

And when she asked the question, and I tried to respond, I cried.

The thing is that the place sometimes overflows.  No amount of strength or determination can keep all the too much things from spilling over at times—usually at very inopportune times.  And the place overflowed onto my face and neck in the voice doctor’s exam room.

She was kind.  She was understanding.  And she let me get through that little moment when the place door creeped open a sliver and stuff spilled out, and then she got on with our work.  She showed me the inside of my throat while I was speaking and singing.  She referred me for voice therapy, changed up my meds, and referred me to neurology.  Seeing my throat and my tongue and my voice box in action made the moment when I cried seem miles away.  There are reasons.  They can be addressed.  And that brought all sorts of relief, and shoved Tony’s asinine behaviors back into the place.  Those behaviors might come out in next week’s therapy session, but for now they are not overwhelming anymore.

You might think that is the end of the story.  I faced the overwhelming events and got on with my life, yes?

No.

The feeling didn’t lift.  I watched Netflix.  I worked on crafts.  I took a shower.  I took a nap.  I went for a swim.  I got a haircut.  I took a walk.  I wrote.  I entertained the dog.  I texted with friends.  And through all of the really good coping strategies, the feeling still stuck.  It wouldn’t leave.

And it became more and more pronounced.  It became more anxious, more desperate, more affecting.  Until last night when the place sort of exploded into the forefront of my brain.

Here’s the thing.  The place scares some people, but some people take it in stride.  I’m forced to take it in stride, whether I want to or no.  And I know that the preference for others is to not take it in stride.  There are only a few people in my life who can and will and do stick around when the place shows its face.

Last night, it unleashed itself in full force upon the “bae of the day”.  (I call him that not because he is expendable or will be replaced tomorrow, but because I’m not going to use his actual name here—too early for that.  Plus, it rhymes, and who doesn’t love that?)

I think that I was a bit shocked when all the overwhelming feelings channeled into me having crazy anxiety over what and how and why we were connecting with one another.  I am experienced enough to know that it is best to let things play out in new relationship of any kind, and not to force it.  But the place doesn’t know that as well as I do.  The place might be in my head, but it doesn’t usually communicate with the other areas in the brain, so it doesn’t act with reason.  And this irrational fear that I was misreading all the signs and that I wasn’t important and that I was secretly being played came flying out of the place.  And bae of the day has NOTHING to do with all that shit that escaped the place.  He has in no way acted in a manner that would make the place’s emotional outburst reasonable.  But, again, the place doesn’t act with reason.

But here is the beautiful part of the story.  He met the place with unflinching care, kindness, and understanding.  He engaged the place with honesty and respect.  He accepted the place, and he honored it, and in doing so he accepted and honored me in ways that I don’t even fully understand.  Nobody has ever met the place with as much grace as bae of the day met it.  And because he did, he immediately shut it down.

He shut it down not in a way that made me force my feelings and overwhelmed state back into the place.  He shut it down in a way that let me leave it out.  He shut it down in a way that allowed me to let it be, let it show, and potentially let it go.

And this morning I was thinking about it, as I woke in peace and felt lighter than I have in many days, and I wondered what life might be like if all the people met my place in like manner.  I’ve spent about 35 years managing and monitoring the place.  I’ve been trying to stuff more and more into that place as more and more things turned out bad and wrong and painful.  And I can count on one hand the number of people I trust to meet the place with the grace, kindness, and understanding that is required to process, and to make the place a bit smaller.  But what if there were more than a handful of people who allowed the place and its secrets and its struggles to come out into the light?

That would be earth-shattering.  That would change everything.  That would be a total life-altering experience.  And that would heal so much that is broken.  The place is filled with brokenness.  That is its hallmark.  That is its purpose.  That is its truth.  It is filled with every shard that ever broke away from my heart and my spirit.  It is filled with every hurt I cannot bear.

But when someone else bore the hurt with me, everything changed.  That hurt couldn’t hurt me quite as much anymore.

I’ve learned over a lifetime of keeping the place stocked with secret pain that people don’t like to bear the hurt with me.  I’ve seen the little cracks that open up end relationships, create dangerous situations, and bring shame and judgment upon me.  And I cannot imagine EVER opening the door to let everything out at once.  That might be downright lethal.

But I have more hope today than I did yesterday.  I have more hope that there are people out there like bae of the day.  I have more hope that the place could potentially be emptied bit by bit, shard by shard.  I have more hope that there is healing, and that my whole life doesn’t need to be defined by this PTSD label (though some of it will always be there—my brain scans will attest to that).

And if you are a person who has quit me or threatened me or judged me over the place, I forgive you and I understand that.  I have days like yesterday, when I cannot even cope with what lives inside of that place, so I certainly have no hard feelings toward others who cannot cope with it.

If you are a person who understands this post, and feels the weight of the place in your own spirit, know that there is help out there, and you need not be ashamed or afraid—but you are also totally allowed to feel ashamed or afraid, you are entitled to those feelings.

And if you are a person who has faced the place and stayed in my life, you are fucking amazing.  And I will cling to your responses, continually holding on to the hope that the place might empty, and my heart might heal.  I love you like crazy.

There are these challenges to living with a dissociative disorder.  There are these struggles with managing the rage and the depression and the isolation that such disorders cause.  There are these outcomes of loss and further pain that accompany the misunderstandings about and the actions precipitated by such disorders.  But there are also these people who understand, and who love, and who respect, and who assist, and who offer chances and graces and changes.

I am so grateful for the people who support me in any and all ways.  But I am most grateful for those who let the place be a part of me, and don’t shy away, and let me work my way through it and toward an integrated brain and a more balanced life.  Too much suddenly becomes a tolerable amount when you find those who would bear the weight alongside you.

I’ve found another who will help me bear the weight of the place. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to know him.  I’m grateful for what he carries.

Today is a tolerable amount.