Please leave old baggage well alone!

When the bags have been put down, there is little point in tampering with them

I have for the past few weeks been seeing a therapist, which is exactly what prompted this post. The reason that I decided to push my pride aside and let my extensive psychological knowledge (yes, I am boasting!) go, was because I knew I needed help. The reason that I needed it, was because I am suffering from ongoing health problems which significantly afflict a large portion of my life (sob). With no quick and clear end of these health problems subsiding any time soon, I decided that I wanted help with reducing the psychological stress that arose from them. Thus I opted to see a therapist…

Now baggage can come in many different shapes and sizes; formed for, and as a result of, different factors and exerts its influence in a whole range of different ways. Many of us, I believe are born with a certain amount of ready packed baggage in the form of personality traits which aren’t always helpful. Then of course there is the amount of baggage that is accrued as we travel through life. I have always been very much aware that I have been prone to the acquisition of such baggage due to a lifetime of difficult events and situations. From early childhood I have very much struggled to overcome challenges, which I believed made me  resilient to a lot of other situations that I had to face through the years.

It is maybe due to this awareness that I have always been keen to tackle these problems head on. Maybe it was ever since I learnt about Freud’s concept of repression and how damaging it could be, that I have been determined to lay my issues to bed in the best ways possible. I think this is why I find it very hard to be dishonest now, even in situations whereby lying would be the kindest thing to do: “No you don’t look fat”, “yes, of course I think you can do it”, “no, I don’t mind”. It is almost like an allergy to dishonesty. Personally I like to be told things straight, so that any problems can be addressed and misunderstandings can be avoided. This naturally applies when I am dealing with myself. I don’t like to pretend I’m happy when I’m not. I want to examine what it is that I find difficult or what causes unsavoury emotions because otherwise how will these things be rectified?

There are a lot of issues from my childhood and teenage years that I found although I could address them, I couldn’t lay them to rest. There was a part of the healing process that was out of my hands. These came in the form of acknowledgement from my parents of certain difficult times, when perhaps they conducted themselves in a way that made things particularly hard for me at the time and therefore rendered a lot of unresolved emotion. I am lucky in the respect that I later became able to have candid conversations with my parents whereby I received apologies, reassurance and explanations. I genuinely believed that this enabled me to let the past hurt and destruction go.

This may be true, at least on a cognitive level and I really do not feel that I harbour resentment for anything that I was put through as a result of my parents failings. I know it wasn’t easy for either of them and both of them had to battle to find their own happiness, which meant that they couldn’t always put me first. I don’t blame them. They are only human and they possess amazing qualities that not only do I admire them for, but I have them to thank for some of these qualities being instilled in me.

My problem with baggage seemed to be a fairly recent one. It is a problem that unnerves me a fair bit, having always endeavoured to let the past go and look ahead. My problem comes when the baggage resurfaces in the worst and most powerful form possible. It is a sweep of such drowning and sorrowful emotion that I never feel that my tears are enough to relieve it. This is a very strange experience to me, as I cannot recall a period where I have felt so knocked, vulnerable and helpless. Explanation of such phenomena would benefit from a partial explanation of some themes in my life.

Betrayal: My mum left my dad when I was about 5 years old. I remember that there was an element of betrayal in how I felt about it. Maybe because I was a daddy’s girl, maybe because my dad felt betrayed and this transferred down to me, maybe because she quickly moved in with her friend who then became an unconventional step-father figure.

When I was 14, my mum then left me for a quiet life with a fat stupid man, instead of helping me through some of the most difficult years of my life so far. Not long after that, my dad seemed to transfer all of his love and attention to his gold digging girlfriend and her “IVF” kid.

I suppose this is sufficient to set the basis for a sensitivity towards betrayal, which I also suppose runs hand in hand with the other predominant theme of baggage in my life: Abandonment.  It is the two of these themes that sets perfect conditions for feelings of isolation which have been primed further by the fact that I am an only child, I don’t have a close family, I have tended to live geographically apart from where my friends and school have been and, I suppose, I err on the side of being alone because it beats the hell out of being left alone.

As you may be able to tell, I am frightfully aware of all these “psychological frailties” and so it truly does unnerve me when I feel emotions that I have not felt for years now enveloping me. Or do I? Actually I think not. As previous blog posts (and the lack of over the past month) have shown, my health has been pretty Goddamn awful. It is this, in actual fact that makes me feel so bereft, as I am sure it would to anyone who had a limited social circle/family nearby, a demanding job, a limited bank account and a preference to jolly well be healthy again!

I did in fact, warn the therapist straight away that I am an individual that has always psychoanalyzed myself, which at times may not be very productive but on the most part has fared me well. So I thought that I would bear with him when he wanted to discuss my past;  I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he wanted to explore my past and had little to say when I was not forthcoming in such a subject and wanted to discuss my present problems. But there is only so much patience and bullshit that I am prepared to take. Let me please illustrate for you a little how one of my lasts sessions went:

Me: I get really upset and feel really lonely because of this illness… it stops me from being able to do things and I feel isolated because I feel I can’t join in with everyday life. I’m just constantly stressed out and worried by this.

Him: lonely? What makes you feel lonely?

Me: The fact that I have to keep going through this illness and no one can really give a quick solution or make it better and nobody really understands how it feels to have this day in day out. (I kindly embellish to give him an opportunity to say something sensible) I get frustrated because I communicate clearly to others what the problem is and how it makes me feel and they seem to understand, but then at some point – be it a couple of hours, days, weeks- they will do or say something, that makes it seem like they don’t understand at all. (I give him an example of my mum listening to me tell her what the health problem diagnosis was and then suggest advice from a woman who had something vastly different)

Him: So you don’t feel understood?

Me: No I feel understood but I feel like people forget.

Him: You feel forgotten? You must have felt forgotten when your mum kicked you out, or your dad bla bla bla.

__________________________________________________________________

Yes quite. I am all for therapy but I am not for amateur therapy, especially not when it entails dragging up emotion from the past unnecessarily. The next time I got upset about the stress of my health condition, I was actually convinced that all of this awful unresolved emotional trauma was still weighing down heavily on me. I believe I sobbed to my boyfriend that this was so. Sorry boyfriend, I was misled. I know that I have resolved my issues a long time ago, and I know that sometimes naturally there may be some residue of left-over emotion at poignant points in life. This is not reason enough to indulge in past grievances that have well and truly been laid to rest. In fact I am aggrieved that a “therapist” would prey on someone emotionally vulnerable for quite different reasons and seek to dig up past woes, when in actual fact all the person wants is some better coping mechanisms for stress arising from a physical ailment.

I am all for exploring the past and I do think that this can be a terribly helpful process for those who’ve never endeavoured to before, in some cases. I have though, and to rehash old news is frankly a waste of my time. I look to better the present. So dear Mr Therapist, I will reiterate: please leave old baggage well alone!

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Misery loathes company

Misery loathes company... with the exception of a cat

It is true that people love to moan but that isn’t necessarily them being miserable. Quite the contrary in fact; there is something rather cheering about moaning on occasion to one’s peers. “What is with this weather?”, “Aren’t our lecturers shit?!”, “If I have to hear about the recession one more time!…” etc, etc. Moaning is, to all intensive purposes, therapeutic. The mere proclamation of how crap something is, is satisfying providing a feeling that is qualitatively different to any other. The reward produced by moaning is much more accessible than a reward gained by praising someone/thing- and even then the reward doesn’t necessarily come from the expression of praise, but more the feeling generated directly by the object of praise.

Misery, however, is not so jolly (forgive my stating of the obvious). Misery is so aptly communicated in the very word itself and leaves little need for synonyms. I found myself this past week in a very miserable state indeed. It all arose because of my current health predicament which is ever unpredictable, and positively crippling at times. So it was that I was in a great deal of discomfort and pain, wondering why this had occurred and when I would even begin to see an end in sight. I have already covered the whole feeling of despair and desolation and do not intend to dwell on this again. What I have become more interested in is my mental tendencies when I am oh so miserable. I have come to closely monitor these tendencies and attempted to explore and overcome them in solitary “self-psychoanalysis”.

Tendency 1: Self Deprecate

This is a funny tendency because when I’m not miserable, I really am rather impressed with myself, discounting those natural periods of uncertainty and the odd wobble! However, this dirty and altogether unconstructive tendency slowly rears its cruel and spiteful head as I bury mine deeper into the tear-stained pillow (or blanket or scarf – these days, whatever’s handy!). It’s that niggle telling me that I’m weak for not coping, I’m a fraud for boasting about how resilient I usually am, a hypocrite for dismissing other peoples’ problems in the past. The truth is, it’s pretty fucking hard to cope recently, I don’t boast about my resilience, merely comment on past triumphs over trauma and I haven’t really been dismissive of people who quite clearly are struggling, just those who are being pathetic. Nevertheless, in the moment of misery, I like to pile it all on!

My best friend has said to me that she has also been guilty of “emotional cutting” and that there is really no good in doing it and that I should just stop it! Obviously she is right, but I am increasingly having my suspicions that there is a part of me that likes to kick me when I’m down. It’s on my to-do list to put that part of me in its place. Will keep you posted.

Tendency 2: Get Angry

This can come either before or after the self-depreciation. If it’s before, it usually then neatly follows that I think I’m a horrible person for getting angry/ a mental person/ both. If it is afterwards,boy am I angry. I often think that if I was a male I would be one of those testosterone twats that go around thumping things. So intense is my anger that I do feel that I have to physically release it somehow. Fortunately for my furnishings and those close to me, it is usually just expressed in a howl of anguish. Sometimes that helps.

Why do I get angry? It can be the whole “why me?” martyr routine, but I rarely tolerate that because even in my own head filled with the roaring of anger and sadness, it sounds pathetic and very narcissistic. More frequently, it is the undefinable anger that has no cognition behind it, just this whole overwhelming and physically consuming emotional impact. It serves no purpose and usually it is fleeting, although it has been known to linger a little. My anger then peters out to be replaced by the next tendency.

Tendency 3: Guilt

This is such a hard emotion to feel for several reasons, one being that it conflicts with a stubborn part of me that thinks “Why the hell should I feel guilty?!”. I also find this emotion a much harder one to overcome through internally talking myself through things. There is an obstinate certainty that will not be shifted through inward reasoning that asserts that I should be sorry for my behaviour, my thoughts, my feelings. Sometimes, it may be a little accurate by illuminating something which I have overlooked in my haze of misery tendencies. I frequently find myself apologising to my boyfriend for being unwell, for crying, for not being able to be more fun. I genuinely do feel guilty for all of these things.

He is wonderful and reassures me that it’s not my fault and that everything will be ok. And then I feel guilty for feeling like I’m being needy for wanting reassurance, even though I apologised without that motive at all. And thus the guilt cycle follows.

Tendency 4: Run Away

This is by far my most strongest and recurring urge, driven in part by the force of all of the other tendencies. It is borne from a couple of instrumental factors; the first is that I have always been fiercely independent and only really cried out for help when things have gotten really bad. I am used to being able to get a grip of myself, look my problem in the face and fight it with words, determination and a renewed outlook. It therefore unsettles me a great deal when I am not so successful at this and people see me as I usually appear only to myself and on rare occasions a few other unprivileged spectators: Messy and shaken. I get such powerful urges to retreat away into myself until I can grasp a better handle of my own feeble state.

The second instrumental factor runs parallel with the first. I have always been able to communicate rather well, whether through confrontations, conversations, written word or action, when I have a problem I can generally outline it effectively to those around me (where appropriate of course!). Yet when I am battered from a constant cascade of tears that continually and torrentially fall, weak from the accompanying sore and heavy head, exhausted from the illness, the worry and those tears of misery, the words don’t come. The breath is there, but it comes as nothing but a pre-empt to yet more tears and then there is no more energy. And it is not just that. In the continual tirade of worry, anxiety, internal turmoil there is barely room to formulate what it is that you would say if you could. So I find myself curled in a foetal ball, waiting for it to subside so that I can once again speak clearly.

I’m hoping that by directly addressing these tendencies in written form, no less, I may be more equipt to overcome them as and when they may next occur. Clearly it would be easier if circumstances did not arise as frequently as to allow these emotional daemons to rise, however life is not always that relenting and the best I can do is saddle myself up for the ride.

I’ll never love company when I’m miserable but hopefully I won’t loathe it so much.