Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Own Most Shameful Secrets

I don't really know if these count as secrets since they are things my husband and best friend seem to know about me, whether I want them to or not (I'd prefer no one knew them, honestly), but they are things I hate about myself.  I feel like I should document these so I don't just sound like I'm exclusively complaining about my family all the time and think that I'm perfect.  I am not perfect.

1) I have trouble with emotional dysregulation.  Feeling normal and grounded is like walking a tightrope, and any little upset -- things most people either bounce back from or scarcely even notice -- can plunge me into panic or hopelessness and despair.  I don't like this about myself.  My mother is the same way.  Therapy coupled with reading as much as I possibly can about mental illness and mood disorders taught me that this is a normal side effect of growing up with two parents who have the same problem.  It's one of my worst "maladaptive behaviors."  I also learned from a book that one of the best ways to combat emotional dysregulation is to keep practicing staying calm, which seems idiotically simple but does seem to help.  It's kind of like weight training or training your body for anything else -- keep trying and, little by little, it gets more doable.  I feel stupid for not knowing this before my thirties.  I mean, multiple episodes of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" focus on how to be a calm, emotionally mature human being, and I'm learning this same stuff at the same time as my preschooler.  I'm afraid if I don't master it fast enough, she'll turn out as emotionally messed up as me.  I think I hide this problem pretty well most of the time, but I'm also afraid I don't.

2) I don't like having emotions and I wish I could make them stop.  Some are fine, but the majority of emotional reactions I feel are sadness or despair or worry, and I'd rather have no emotions at all than keep dealing with these ones.  I brought this problem to my therapist as one of the things I wanted to change about myself, and she said I can't change this.  She said it's normal human being stuff and I'm like this permanently.  I don't know what other people do to make having emotions bearable.  I feel like people who don't have life-long mood disorders or mentally ill parents won't even fully grasp what I'm talking about on this one.  I'm afraid someone who doesn't get it will tell me, "Everyone has emotions.  What makes you think you're special?  Stop complaining so much."

3) I'm deeply ashamed of my home.  I think this might be a "children of hoarders" thing.  I don't like having people inside or even seeing the outside because, in spite of paying professional landscapers to take care of the mowing and edging, there are still weeds to fight back and I still don't know what I'm doing in terms of gardening.  It's a nice house.  People visit and say nice things because it gives a good first impression.  I do let people visit because I want to have friends and family and don't want to become someone who caves in to fear, but I wish it could all be invisible.  It's not visitor-ready at a moment's notice, and I don't even know how close to "normal" it is.  All I have to go on is the mess I grew up in and what other people's houses look like when they are expecting me.

I can't walk down the street without analyzing other homes' landscaping and comparing them to my own and feeling disgusting.  This is why I don't like going outside anymore.  I can't focus on anything else when I walk my dog and my daughter.  Even when other yards are weedier than my own and I don't judge them for that because honestly who cares, I still can't seem to stop judging my own for being visibly imperfect.  People used to call the city on my parents for letting their lawn grow wild and leaving a totaled car parked in the driveway with a poster board sign on it.  I know my home is nothing like that, but I don't know where the line stands between "normal" and "my parents."  I want to feel I'm beyond reproach, whether I'm thinking of my house or my body or pretty much anything else mine.  I don't like worrying what people will say about me or my home or how disgusting I am as a human being because there is a huge weedy bush that keeps growing back in my backyard where a better homekeeper would have flowering plants and a thicker layer of mulch.  I want it all to be invisible.  I find the longer I live somewhere, the more disgusted I feel by my home and the more I worry about people seeing it.  Familiarity seems to breed contempt when it comes to things I own.  Things look so much nicer when they aren't mine to feel self-conscious about. 

I've been working on building habits for keeping my home clean and maintained for the last decade, but I feel like it will take me until retirement age to reach a level of competence that other people achieve by their mid-twenties.  I also think I stress over my home more than "normal" people, which is even more obnoxious because it isn't even contingent upon my continued incompetence at housekeeping.  Anxiety is a whole separate beast.  I don't like having anxiety, especially when I don't have any idea how to fix it. 

4) Sometimes I think everyone I know would be better off if I'd died a long time ago.  No one needed me a long time ago.  My husband would probably have a better wife if I hadn't come along, my daughter wouldn't even exist so nothing would be worse for her, my best friend has tons of other friends anyway, and my existence doesn't really affect other people.  My mother would probably even be happier, or would at least have been happy temporarily because of the pity she would have received from having a dead child (I'm not the first person to say my mother seems like someone who would have gotten off on my death, so please consider that this might not just be my callousness or hyperbole), which is the one reason I'm really glad I didn't die young.  Because fuck that.  Neither my life nor my death will be devoted to trying to make her happy.  One of the feelings that has kept me alive is spite.

When my daughter was a baby, I thought about dying a lot.  I wouldn't call it postpartum depression because it wasn't the worst depression I've felt by a long shot and I felt like it was primarily brought on by extreme sleep deprivation, but I wanted to be dead.  I thought, If I were dead, people would line up to help my husband and baby, because I was having trouble getting things done and, while I don't give the best first impression, they are very cheerful, likable people.  He would have a better wife, my baby would have a better mother, and my life insurance policies are worth significantly more than anything else I can offer them. 

Later I realized that no one would actually line up to help my family.  As likable as my husband is, he's not the best at asking for help, and people seem to prefer to do nothing anyway.  I'm also all my daughter has, and I don't know how long she could survive without me.  I don't feel like I'm worth more than I did back then, but I do feel like things would be worse for my family if they had to hire help to replace me.  My death would cause a lot of inconvenience, probably for years.  The thing that is really hard is knowing that I increase my daughter's ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score by being depressed but would also increase it by being dead.  I feel like it's impossible for me to be good enough not to cause her harm.  That's why I wish I'd died a long time ago.  I couldn't make her life worse if I hadn't forced her into existence in the first place.

In a lot of ways, my life has improved year by year for my entire life, partly because of increased independence, partly because of increased distance from my parents, and partly from self-education about mental health and -- if I do say so myself -- sheer force of will.  I keep trying.  But I'm not sure I will ever be able to try enough to make things all better, and for that I feel weak and disgusting.  I don't want to be broken like my mother.  I believe that everyone is good at their core, even if that core is so covered in the residue of pain and anger and fear that it can't be seen by other people.  I don't feel "not good enough" so much as I fear other people will never think I'm good enough.  I don't know what I'm afraid of.  I am a grown adult of independent means, but I'm still somehow afraid that if people feel I'm as useless my parents seem to think I am that I will somehow be voted out of here.  I don't know what "here" means in this instance or how the voting would happen, but I feel like I constantly need to prove my worth.

I don't think all the time about the feelings noted above.  I don't walk around sobbing and telling my daughter how much everything is terrible.  I generally confine these writings to naptime and after she goes to bed at night.  I try everyday to be my best, but my "best" isn't always that impressive.  I wanted to mention these feelings because they've never really gone away completely and they sometimes feel like little weights tied all over my body.  I really want my daughter to build good cleaning and self-care and mental health habits all her life so that she doesn't have to expend this much brain power on just maintaining her living space and feeling okay, but what if I can't be good enough at it myself to teach her properly?  It feels like my heart is being squeezed by a vice grip when I think of the likelihood I won't "break the cycle" of these disorders and she will have to battle the same personal problems as me.  She is wonderful.  She deserves better.

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