Sometimes, there are too many choices for me to function well. Today, I was already spent at 9:47 am. What should I be doing? What do I need to focus on? Why can’t I do all the things that need done? How do I even choose what to do? Will I fail if I pick the wrong thing? Can I fail? Surely, some things should take priority over others. But what? Why am I like this? Should I push through it? Will I hurt myself if I try? Should I rest instead? Have the last few days been difficult? Why don’t I know if they have or not? Why can’t I feel things? Is it normal to be numb all the time? Am I ok or in pain? Or stressed? Why don’t I know? Shouldn’t I know? That seems like something people are usually aware of. And on and on and on. My mind is racing, but my body is locking up and shutting down. Dora will probably have to do quite a bit of work today, pulling me back to reality over and over. Let’s see how things go, I guess.
I don’t know what to say, but I’m freezing up, so I need to do something.
There’s going to be a baby shower in my family soon. It’s being held in a private residence, and the people who live there don’t mind if Dora comes, but the people that they’re renting the house from won’t allow it. It’s private space, so the ADA is a bit grey here, and if in doubt, I try to respect private space and the people involved. Access to public space is the intent of the law, after all, and I want to respect people’s choices about their own homes. It’s the decent thing to do.
So there’s some drama there because my cousin, who’s scheduling it, is like bending over backwards trying to find a way to make this work, and I appreciate that. She’s being really kind.
I also feel like I have to go, because I’ve never really been given a choice about these events. From childhood, I have been forced to attend every bridal and baby shower to which I’ve been invited, because, you know, I’m a girl. If I’m honest, really honest with myself, going to these parties has caused me more damage than I care to admit.
For years, I’ve been broken-hearted about my lack of a meaningful love life, and both weddings and bridal showers just served to reinforce my worthlessness. But I had to go, so I went.
And baby showers?
Do any of you remember my old entry called “Diagnosis”? Well, the lady in the painting is me. I received the diagnosis in… 2004, I think. It still hurts. Honestly, that’s mostly because I was basically like ‘nope. into the pain box you go. not dealing with you. nope. nope. nope. you’re just too big and complex and i don’t want to be honest with myself about this topic and no. bye!’
I say that, but at the same time, I got an onslaught of really horrible thoughts dumped into my head about how I was so fundamentally flawed, I couldn’t even be a woman right. Like, somehow the fact that I have glands and organs that just decided to stop working is a sign of how truly flawed I am as a person, since 99% of the females on the planet do not fail in even this basic way.
Add in the fact that my grandmother who is a dangerous, passive-aggressive lady may well be there, and perhaps you can see why my husband suggested that attending the event without Dora might be a bad idea.
So I told my cousin not to worry about it, that I was sorry that I was changing the answer that I gave her just last night, that I would figure something out. But now, she feels bad about the whole thing, and so does her grandmother (a kind lady who smiles easily). And I don’t want her to feel bad, so I should go without Dora.
But I don’t want to hurt myself any more because I already have mountains of pain and lies to dig through and process, so maybe I shouldn’t go at all. If I choose not to go, for my wellbeing, then everything with the location and the invitations she’s already ordered just sorts itself out nicely.
But I’m making people upset by not going, and I don’t know how to communicate ‘it’s ok; i didn’t want to go anyway because i hate baby showers,‘ without sounding rude or… whatever characteristic is associated with disliking things that I am supposed to like.
Yes! I know that I am supposed to be able to experience other people’s happiness with them instead of ‘making everything about myself.’ I have been told already. Thanks. I don’t know how to do that when the events in question are both bound up in unhealed traumas that I never get to make progress on because every time they surface, people essentially tell me that I shouldn’t have them in the first place, so I have to bury them again.
I just… ARGH!
Why? Just why?
I can already tell that I shouldn’t go to this. The healthiest choice I can possibly make is to avoid being hurt any further, whether that makes sense to anyone else or not. The only alternative I have is to go, sit silently, pretend that I’m having a decent time, and just marinate in my pain… like I always have, because it makes people happy to think that I am happy about the same things that they are.
I am so jealous of my husband and brothers for not being invited, not being put in this situation, and not being expected to enjoy this type of thing. It’s just difficult sometimes.
Right now, I just feel scared. Tense. Like someone is going to yell at me. I did so many things right today.
- I woke up on time to get my husband to work and keep the car.
- I got the car to the repair shop early and managed Dora in the crowded lobby.
- I went to the car rental place, answered the questions I could, completed the process, and brought the car home.
- I bought the yarn I’ve been meaning to get so that I can make a gift for a friend.
- I went to the post office at my husband’s request to pick up a package; it wasn’t there.
- I exercised for 40 minutes today, when I really haven’t put forth any effort since the winter started. (For me, <20 degrees Fahrenheit is too intense. I don’t have winter gear that’s actually good at preventing frostbite, and I have bad circulation all year round, so winters are tough enough without feeling my skin change texture after 5 minutes.)
- I went to the post office again, waited in line, showed them the tracking number, and asked them to check on it for me. (They found it!)
- I picked up my husband on time and we made it home safely.
That was all good. All of it. Moreover, Dora was in public, on duty, five different times today. That’s five places where strangers can:
- Talk to her instead of me while she’s supposed to be focusing
- Try to pet her
- Tell me that “it’s fine” when I ask them not to pet her
- Look at me strangely when I body block them and move her behind me so they can’t pet her when they try again after I’ve already told them no
- Ask me who I’m training her for
- Ask me if I know when I have to give her to the disabled person
- Ask me if she’s a therapy dog when her vest says “service dog” and we are in a place where therapy dogs don’t work (restaurants, repair shops, gas stations, banks, etc.)
- Ask me what she’s trained to do (which is simultaneously asking me to explain my disability to them despite us never having met before)
- Try to talk to me while I’m clearly talking to someone else, like the cashier or the government employee
- Continue trying to talk to me after I ignore their first comment (because I’m just trying to move things along for me, the paid employee in front of me, and everyone in line behind me)
- Tell me that I’m going to rip her throat open with her collar if I’m not careful (yeah, that was a fun day)
- Ask me if she’s necessary for a medical purpose and then keep hounding me when I say “yes” because they totally think I’m lying
- Make an offhanded remark about how ‘they should have put up a sign’ (which will presumably say “No service animals allowed here. Go ahead and sue us. We dare you.”)
- Backtrack when they finally understand that she’s a service dog and that’s what I meant when I said that I need her for a medical reason
… I’m sure there’s more, but honestly, I’m tired of thinking up things that have happened to me in the last calendar year. For someone who already had social anxiety, believed she was a toxin that drained life from those around her, believed she was invisible, etc., it’s really been overwhelming.
So… what do I feel guilty about?
Staying home tonight, taking a bubble bath, and trying to relax. I chose to do that because I realized that I was staring blankly into space and once my eyes stop focusing, things only go downhill. Going out in public (again) may have pushed me into a meltdown. Better to take care of myself, right?
So why do I feel so guilty for NOT GOING? No one is blaming me! Why won’t my muscles release? Why can’t I breathe normally or just believe that I’m done for the day? I’m so tired.
Do you remember the day that I asked you if you would just write a list of all the rules down for me? Did I ask you to post it inside the coat closet in the dining room, or wasn’t I brave enough to open the door and ask? I honestly can’t remember what really happened on that day. It makes me a bit sad, truth be told, but what can I do? It’s not like I’m guaranteed perfect memories of each day of my life. Oh well. Let’s move on.
Whether I did or not, I wanted to ask you to just finally write down everything that I could get in trouble for doing and post that list somewhere where I could find it. Somewhere that I could check. Somewhere that I could go and study it so that I could learn how to be good. So that you wouldn’t hit me any more. So that you wouldn’t yell at me any more.
I knew that you weren’t ok. Honestly, I don’t even know if you knew it yet, or if you thought that I was too young to understand or remember, but I knew. I could see how fragile you were, and I knew that you could be crushed by anything that came along, anything unexpected, anything difficult. I knew that the world was a very dangerous place for you, that you couldn’t handle living in it, and that you needed someone to protect you from the bad things in the world.
I tried. I promise that I did.
I was like… three? Five? There wasn’t much that I could do, but I really did my best to protect you. I wish that you hadn’t hit me so often. I wish that you hadn’t screamed at me.
You laughed one day, when you saw me sobbing, making my way back the hall to my room as punishment, before you had even found what I had done wrong. To your credit, you didn’t punish me for whatever it was, which was good, since my self punishment was already enough. But you know, you didn’t come and comfort me either. Didn’t you realize that something was wrong? That there was a reason I was so terrified of your wrath that I just braced for it and tried to minimize the damage?
I guess not. Maybe you weren’t healthy enough for that yet.
Did you understand the terror that I lived in, not knowing what things I could do without getting in trouble? Did you know how it felt, not knowing what choices were safe to make? Do you know now? Do you understand that this is why I still can’t make decisions for myself more than 20 years later? Do you know that this is why I’m so scared of the unknown, why I measure my performance in everything I do, why I can’t relax? Do you see?
I don’t know. I’m not going to ask you. You still get defensive about it, even with your anxiety medication and your years of counseling. You still attack me instinctively, rather than admitting that you did anything wrong. It is possible to be injured enough that you can’t avoid hurting people AND to acknowledge that your actions and words had consequences.
I’m not your enemy. I know that you didn’t even know that you had mental illness yet. I know that you were willing to put in the effort to grow and heal; I’ve seen you do it in the decades since then. I am even starting to understand why you developed those defenses.
It’s ok. You’re safe now.
So please, some day, listen to me talk about the pain you caused me. Please apologize for it. I already know that you never intended to hurt me, that you were already overwhelmed, and money was tight, and your young family was struggling, and you had baggage from bad relationships before you married dad, and there were issues left over from when grandpa was an alcoholic and you weren’t safe at home either, and more and more and more. It’s ok. I don’t hate you, but I do need to hear you say that you’re sorry. I do need to hear you tell me that you love me. I need to know that there is a way forward, and that you’re willing to help me heal and grow as well.
I’ve been processing my pain for a while. I’ve revised my treatment plan many times, and you know that Dora is just the latest addition to the mix. You know that she’s helping me, and I hope you can see the progress that I’ve made over the last year. But now, I’ve reached a point where things are getting a bit hard.
I’m reading a book, mom. It’s in the other room, and I don’t want to lose my momentum by getting up and bringing it here, so you’ll have to forgive me for not telling you the title. It’s about childhood trauma, fractured minds, and the healing process for people who experience more pain than they are equipped to handle. I don’t think I have multiple personalities, but I do know that there are memories that I’m afraid to think about, even today. I know that I have a defense mechanism that provides me with a safe world to live in, where I can be beautiful and smart, powerful and necessary. I know that I go there whenever I can’t stand living as myself. I know that it’s not normal, and that it could be unhealthy, and that it’s quite sad on some level that there have been years when I have spent more time living as a fantasy version of myself than as me.
I want to be whole. I want to be able to look at the darkest times and the brightest times in my life and feel the emotions that go with them. And to look away afterwards! But I’m not there yet.
I’m scared, mom. What am I going to find? How hard will it be? My body is crying, but my face is neutral. I can feel the disconnect even now. What am I mourning? Do you know?
Well, I just wanted to talk to you for a bit. I hope your day is going well, and that you make progress in becoming less defensive. I believed you when you admitted that it was a flaw of yours and that you’re working on it. That was…. 3 weeks ago, I think. I still believe you, and I hope that it works.
Maybe one day, I’ll have you read this for real. And I’ll try to keep breathing, and Dora will probably have to perform at least one of her tasks, because I can’t imagine showing this to you without having a panic attack.
Today is January 14th, 2018.
Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like I’m making any progress at all. I want to just drop everything, get back on meds, and throw my hands up in surrender. I can’t learn life skills- are you kidding me?! I’m too weak and dumb and useless to change anything!
But sometimes, I manage to do something with ease, and I think that’s where the growth is.
Today, my husband asked me to make a phone call, and I did. No panic attack. No anxiety from just considering it. I just called them, asked for what I needed, listened, scheduled an appointment, and then asked about (and scheduled) the appointment I’ve been too afraid to schedule for the last few weeks.
And I’m still ok. And my husband said thank you when he saw the event show up on our calendar. And that’s it!
And I think that these small events are where the progress happens, but I don’t notice them every time, because they are manageable now. I’ll try to catch more of them as they happen; I need that hope so I can keep going.
Last night, I ran out to the store quickly to get some last minute items for a surprise house guest. I left The Flutenist with Dora and our guest and set out to the store. Success! Got the stuff! A few hurdles along the way, but I cleared them fine! Hurray!
I got home and found out that Dora had not been herself while I was gone. She was sad and listless. “She kind of wandered around,” they said. After I returned, she stayed right with me, often laying her head on my lap or snuggling close, for almost an hour.
She’s been doing this when I leave her inside for 45 minutes to mow our grass. (Dog + lawnmower = trouble, I think. 🤔) I finish up and come in and then she naps on my leg for more than 30 minutes. If I get up, she looks at me carefully to be sure I’m not leaving again. I just thought it was separation anxiety; she is a rescued dog, after all. But now?
It looks like affection to me. Given a choice, Dora would rather be with me than on her own. Me- the person who was a toxin passively killing those around her. Me- whose death would not have been remembered or noticed by anyone. Me.
(Depression and being actively suicidal create some horrible thoughts. I am not saying I believe them, but I need them here to show the contrast.)
Over and over, Dora chooses me. Me. I hope that one day, I’ll understand why.
We’re almost at the end of Dora’s formal training, although we will probably continue her private training for several months. Once she reaches the level we want her to stay at, we’ll need to keep practicing skills so she stays sharp.
I’m looking forward to be done with all the driving and the evenings we have to schedule around. I’m looking forward to being able to rest a bit, but I don’t know what it will look like.
It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest. Transitions always are.