Saturday, October 31, 2015

Consolation Prizes

I've mentioned here before that, as a child and teen, I had a habit of looking for "consolation prizes" when bad things happened to me.  Some people call them "silver linings."  Sometimes they were good things that might not have otherwise happened; sometimes they were simply lessons I'd learned.  I liked to believe everything happens for a reason because it makes everything life doles out so much easier to swallow.  I fell out of that habit though.  I want to get back into it.  Here are some consolation prizes for which I'm thankful.  They might get a little weird.

1) I'm thankful my mother is as low functioning as she is. 
It's terrible for her, and of course I would prefer she be her best self and happy, but if she has to be cruel and work against me, being severely mentally ill and low functioning to the point that strangers can tell is a good thing for me.  It made her easier to cut from my life.  When I told people the truth about things she had said and done, no one seemed to doubt me.  I still have relationships with some of my extended family (the ones I like best) and do not feel like I have to fear what she says about me to them or to strangers anymore because I appear sane and trustworthy and she does not.  She also does not have the stick-to-it-tiveness to hire a hitman or steal my identity (fingers crossed) or anything else she might dream up against me in her darkest hours.

There are a lot of people with parents who have personality disorders and the like who aren't quite so lucky.  A high functioning parent who has a tendency towards cruelty and viciousness is a terrible thing.  It can make people call you a liar and treat you poorly.  It can make you doubt your own sanity.  My mother's spiral into darker depths saved me from that.  I did go through the self-doubt as so many of us do, but I know it was easier than it could have been, and for that I am thankful.

2) I'm thankful the dad I grew up with isn't biologically related to me.  Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, and maybe his health problems are mostly related to his paraplegia rather than genetics, but I don't see any way being related to him would have made my life better.  He's not so nice, and I'm pretty sure I got at least a few extra IQ points from my hyper-educated biological father.  I'm 99% sure my parents would agree with that too -- no matter how mad they got at me, they never seemed to stop believing I was significantly smarter than them.  Plus, now that I know who my biological father is, I have siblings with whom I'm on speaking terms.  Even if we never become close, just being their sister is something I treasure.

3) I'm thankful for the parts of my parents that wanted me to excel.  They had the same high expectations of me that I had for myself, and they were willing to put money into my education.

4) I'm thankful for the parts of my parents that wanted me to shut up and leave them alone.  Had they been exclusively helicopter parents who overprotected and coddled me, I might not have become self-sufficient as easily, but when they were sick of me, I had to figure out how to handle things myself.  I learned how to stick up for myself, physically and financially and (sort of) emotionally.  Perhaps I could have learned these skills via good parenting instead, but from what I've read, only about 50% of people have fully functional parents anyway, and I got what I needed, so for that I am thankful.

5) I am thankful I am hypersensitive and couldn't take anybody's shit even as a child.  Most of the things I have always hated most about myself can be traced back to being hypersensitive -- crying easily, getting upset easily, even fainting easily -- but I know there are ways this quality has actually served me well.  I think Dante would have abused me in worse ways had he not known I would scream and tell our parents.  My complaints and tears were a great source of irritation for my parents, but at no point did I just shut up and accept what was dished out, even when it would have been easier for all involved.  I hated that about myself -- the tears and complaints felt like more of a compulsion than a choice -- but in hindsight I think it was actually an effective defense mechanism in that house.  I have worked to change gears as an adult, especially since I have control over my own situation now and can usually just get myself what I need rather than complain about it, but I think being willing to complain is still useful.  When I can't take matters into my own hands and the most reasonable thing to do is file a formal complaint or call the police, I can do that, and that's a useful thing to know.

6) I am thankful for my childhood perfectionism and terror of doing anything wrong.  This is another quality I have spent a lot of time hating about myself.  It took me until my twenties to realize I was going to get yelled at just about the same regardless of what I did, so I spent my entire childhood and college years trying to be perfect.  I wasted a lot of time I could have been having fun feeling completely stressed instead.  If I did things just so, my parents would be happy and no one would yell at me, I thought erroneously.  However, as stressed as it made me, I did get good grades, and those helped me get out.  I stayed out of trouble and -- because I tried so hard to be perfect  -- when that still wasn't enough, I was eventually able to see that it wasn't my fault.  Accepting that your parents' bad behavior isn't all your own fault can be really hard, especially when they can point to things you might have done to provoke it (I'm going to let you in on a secret -- it still isn't your fault).

From what I've read, there are two routes children of unpredictable parents tend to take:  attempted perfection and rebellion.  I attempted perfection while Dante rebelled.  While I believe rebellion would have been more fun and I might still have turned out fine, attempted perfection has landed me in an okay place, so I'm making peace with the route I took.  Besides, I'm really glad I didn't turn out like Dante.  He still lives in that house.

6) I am thankful I was slightly fat as a child.  I honestly think I might have been in better health my entire life had I been raised by parents who fed me reasonably and occasionally took me to the park, but since I wasn't and I did spend all of my childhood slightly fat and miserable about it, I learned about nutrition and exercise myself, which has served me well.  Had I been as thin as Dante, I might never have forced myself to learn these skills and might thus have worse health now as an adult, as I know Dante does because he posts about it in online forums under a username I'm sure he thinks is anonymous. 

7) I am thankful my parents didn't allow me to go to therapy.  Maybe I would have recovered more quickly if I'd had professional help earlier, but I've also heard of people who learned not to trust therapists at all because of how their parents used their mental health against them.  The parents accused them of being crazy and painted fantastic pictures for their therapists of what terrible, troubled children they were.  I can only imagine how that would have broken me down.  Because my parents didn't allow me to go to therapy, it was something I reached out for on my own when I got out, and it has been gloriously helpful.  In my opinion, therapy is the #1 life hack of all time.

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