Monday, August 23, 2010

I Wanted to Write about Cooking, but This is What Came Out

So while many of my academic friends are starting their semesters or gearing up to start them, I'm waist-deep in my summer quarter and taking the day off because I'm sick.

I've been thinking a lot about how I grew up -- or specific shaping experiences from my childhood -- and how they affect me now, how they color my view of the world. And I'm thinking that they do. I see possible menace around most corners. Sometimes it seems amazing to me that people don't kick in locked doors and smash through glass much more often than they do. I guess some part of me doesn't really believe in safety or security. Many of my dreams are about being chased or found -- or acquiescing to some terrible more powerful person in order to live through it. (I guess that sums up some aspects of my childhood pretty well.) I also have a terrible temper, a really low threshold for frustration.

I've explored all this -- written about it, talked about it, addressed it. I was in therapy once, though I think we focused on other things, and it seems like therapy is probably the next step now, but I also had a bad therapy experience. (Don't get me started about therapists I've known from the way past and the problems I can see with therapy.) My former therapist said I had a lot of stuff that was right on the surface. If the point is to talk this stuff out in order to get it out of my subconscious, well, I've done that. I know at least some of the ways in which this childhood stuff colors my life. But what do I do about that, dammit? I want practical strategies, not to just talk about it all the time. I told this to my former therapist, but I think developing practical cognitive strategies wasn't really his strong point. Of course, he also wanted me to go get diagnosed and medicated as manic depressive. I will admit that I feel like I've spent a fair amount of my life trying to cope with fluctuating moods, but not in a manic depressive way. More of a turbulent way. (Super rapid cycling?) A friend of mine said it really well. What did she say? She said I was. . .unpredictable? Something like that. Well, if you think it's hard to predict how I'm going to respond when you're a different person, imagine how much harder it is to live inside that? I try for self-awareness, growth, self-acceptance, but there's a lot going on in here. I often don't know what's going on! It's not that I'm deliberately emotionally dishonest, but I've got a lot of conflicting emotions, some that are elusive even to me! I'm trying to be more mindful. And Tot definitely deserves someone more in control. I certainly don't want to recycle that particular childhood with different players. AL says that a good therapist would help me to see it differently, would ask me different kinds of questions that would help me see it in a different way. It's hard for me to imagine that there's territory I haven't explored, read about, written about, talked to other people about, etc., but I guess that's when you go to therapy. So that is likely coming up in the coming months.

I also really have an aversion to some of the discourse around childhood experiences like mine. The victim discourse. The overuse of the word "abuse." I do understand when people say "I'm this way because this happened to me when I was a kid and I'm still dealing with it" but I don't like to do that. I guess I really want to pass as normal in some ways. I know I'm not. But I don't want people to look at me as some maladjusted misfit either playing the victim card. Yes, I have the credibility to play that card. But I like being able to pass. I really don't want to blame my present lot on my childhood -- that was a long time ago and I'm an adult. But I can see the ways all this fear and crap self-esteem sort of lowers the horizon of my expectations. Sometimes life seems so bleak. (On the other hand, there are great gifts of all this too. I think I understand better when people living under political oppression say that they wonder if every car they hear is for them, if soldiers or whoever are going to break in and drag them out from their beds. How do people live with that, most Americans wonder? You just do, I want to say. You can't help yourself. You live with it, around it, under it. You get used to it, even as it weighs on you, even as you wonder if your kids will make it home from school. You half-expect something to blow up between here and every there you go to.)

But why does all of this lead to crap self-esteem even eons hence? I know I didn't deserve those experiences. I really do know. I know the circumstances and life histories that led to those experiences. I've done work on forgiving the people involved. I can conjure up anger at them if I want. But it does me no good except that anger is a firey emotion and is not as debilitating as grief. But it's all so stupid. Of course, having a child has brought all this up. I wanted to be better by the time I had a kid. I get so mad -- and at what? The fact that being a toddler, he has different priorities. He doesn't understand the importance of getting out the door right now before the cat scrambles out. Or that he can't have his way all the time. Ridiculous. He's a child. He needs love and discipline, not a mom who flashes red because of stupid things. I really do think a part of this is that I feel so worn down that those flashes of anger are also flashes of energy. I need to work out, which is the only thing that I've decided I really must do today, even in the face of a bunch of work that should get done but which is not compatible with the relaxing and recuperating taking a sick day ought to involve.

Why is all this on the surface and why do I feel compelled to share it? Well, I saw a website that advertises parent coaching. It might good. It might be totally inspired. I don't know. But it basically said that when I lose my cool, this reflects on my maturity level. Parenting is about the parents. And while I totally agree with this, reflecting on it in the moment only contributes to my feeling terrible about myself, something I'm trying to work on. I'm actively trying to have a better outlook and not indulge in the ridiculous self-fulfilling self-talk that I'm undeserving and undisciplined and nothing good is ever going to happen for me (a line of logic that my lived life already proves false, but these things aren't logical). Somehow saying to myself that I've got problems or that I'm not good at controlling my temper means that I'm a totally terrible person, rather than a person with an important flaw that I'm working on. So I'm not that mature. Okay, I can live with that. But is parenting really all about the parents? Is this discourse really about blaming parents for all that happens with kids, when that's really just not fair at all? (I'm not linking to these websites because I don't feel I'm representing them fairly or accurately. I haven't participated in their programs, so I can't really say. But I wonder if I would want to participate in their programs or if this is just another way to make parents feel bad or what?)

Why post this on my blog? To own it? To come out? I don't know exactly. I'm writing it because though I really want to write about other things, this is what's come out. But that doesn't explain publishing it. Hmmm. I guess I'm pressing publish because I need to connect with others, share, be heard and listen to what others have to say. Your turn.


I feel flipping fantastic! Worth 50 mg of Zoloft my friends. Surely if I worked out regularly, my frustration would just melt away. So much of my life is good. Blessed, really. Thank you, Legs of Steel 2000!


Ianqui said...

(My word veri is sterress...very interesting...)

I'm not sure I have any insight to give you about this, since my kid is the same age. Sometimes it relieves my stress to laugh at him if he wants something he's not supposed to have. You should have seen the fit he threw this morning when I wouldn't let him play with the portable screen that we put in the window when it's open. His frustration about that particular item was so cosmically absurd that I just laughed at him, and eventually playing Rihanna's Umbrella song got him to forget about it. So maybe instead of getting angry, you can gain amusement from the absurdity of toddlers?

In your case, it sounds like parent coaching would be a variant of anger management, and that probably wouldn't be such a bad idea. And bonus--it can probably carry through to other parts of your life.

Finally, without meaning to be glib, given your concern about menace lurking, I wouldn't recommend the Steig Larsson books if you haven't already read them. That subject matter, combined with the childhood aspect of the protagonist, may push your buttons.

Earnest English said...

Ianqui: I love this idea of seeing these stressful moments as funny and absurdist rather than frustrating. I have relearned responses before -- learning to laugh at myself specifically. I can do that. I will say that the duration of my anger/frustration is getting shorter and shorter. So that's good. I can get myself to calm down with self-talk pretty fast. But I'm definitely going to try this.

Thanks also for the heads-up about those books. While the work I do includes reading about some very heinous things that people do to one another, I also can't really cope with watching movies that include graphic victimization. I wish I weren't that way, weren't so sensitive, but there it is. Desensitizing myself to bad things in films is just not something I think worth *working* on. In fact, I'd say that many of us are way too desensitized already. I'll avoid those books.

Sisyphus said...

Hmm, could you find a feminist therapist? I know some feminist websites, and I think maybe shapely prose, had aggregated some lists of feminist therapists. I don't promise that they would be perfect people, but that someone explicitly grounding their practice in those beliefs would be closer to what you're trying to work toward. I think also cognitive behavioral approaches would be more "nuts-and-bolts" training and less bringing out the unknown unconscious.

And in other news: yay beets! I want to try making this recipe but don't have any orange at the moment:

Ink said...

First of all, hugs.

Maybe it is a question of finding the right therapist? Mine is not all about rehashing the past (though things do come up, of course) but she focuses on helping me develop tools for dealing with present situations.

And I think it's significant that I started seeing her right after becoming a parent. :)

But I tried several others before finding her. Seriously, I'd do one session and never go back if I didn't feel the click. I knew right away when I met her that she was a good fit.

So perhaps a little shopping?