Last night, I spoke to one of my closest friends about the events of this past week and how I’ve been dealing–or not dealing–with all of it.
It was one of those conversations we used to have when we first met–that blush of–me, too! It reminded me just how alike we’ve always been and why we have always been close.
Our friendship has had its ups and downs this year, with a lot of it being sort of indifferent due to things going on in our lives. We spent five years of our lives in daily contact–for better or for worse–and were often each other’s sole support system. It went from that to adapting and letting things breathe. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but our friendship actually improved during this time–though we stopped regularly sharing things and started leaning on other people more.
So, it was nice that–despite how much has changed–we are often the only people who really understand what the other is going through.
My breakdown the other night was the culmination of a whole lot of shit that’s been going on since a year ago this month. It wasn’t just Fogg’s illness. Though that was a big part of it. It was just the catalyst. I’ve spent a year pretty alone. With my cats. And it’s been really good for me after so many years of living with people. It’s helped me really understand myself and adopt behaviors that are good for me–no one else. It’s brought back more of my fierce independence and removed some of my inherent people pleasing from the equation.
But I get lonely. A lot. And, while I have many friends, somewhere along the way, I taught them to forget me. Or maybe that’s just who they are. I don’t know. I’ve never been very social, so maybe that’s it. In any case, I’ve felt this need to abandon my old friends who hurt me routinely and–instead–find new people who would somehow fix everything by being the people I need them to be. I sometimes forget, though, that relationships are about two people and no one can make anyone feel or be anything. It’s all a negotiation. I can ask for what I need. I can find people more likely to honor me. But that’s about it.
As vulnerable as I think I am–as much as I share–I realize that I still kind of withhold little reservoirs of myself. And those reservoirs build up into something larger–until the dam breaks–and then Thursday night happens.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “depression lies” before. (And if you haven’t before, now you have). I think the same can be said for anxiety and ptsd.
Certain things cause my ptsd to flare. The biggest one? Being asked to physically care for other people/things in a way that requires a lot of sacrifice. Especially if it’s a situation where I was not really given a choice. I love caring for people and am someone who just automatically does it. People sense it about me, and it’s why I often attract really damaged people. People tell me about their lives all the time. They seem to know I’ll listen–that I’ll help–and I totally will. It’s been a thing my whole life. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s actually who I am or if it’s something I was conditioned to be because of who I was born to–and how I was raised.
In any case, you will almost always find me making selfless choices completely voluntarily. And in those instances, that fills my cup. It’s why I want to be a therapist. I’m a helper. I get joy from it.
But, when it’s forced on you, it can be brutal. It takes a whole lot, and it’s much harder to take good care of yourself. For me, it becomes impossible. I was raised with this malignant sense of duty. With responsibility that was unreasonable and stifling. The idea that caring for someone should be automatic and should be full-throttle. That my needs never meant anything. That the only thing that mattered was that other person and if they were okay. I wasn’t on the list because I was not in need of fixing.
Which creates some pretty crappy things in a child. Things like no self-worth, but a super hero fixer mentality at the same time. Where I’m the ONLY person who can fix it, so if I fail, I’m even worse that the nothing I already knew I was. And it comes with a complicated maze of self-pride based on straw men and this inability to say no–ever. This inability to rest. This inability to ever really get my needs met or even feel loved.
When my ptsd flares, most days, it connects directly to that feeling. To being 26 and totally alone with this terminally ill woman who looks like my mother but who isn’t my mother anymore. To being angry and hurt by how alone I really am in this nightmare of a situation that highjacked my entire life. And just wanting someone to hold me and tell me I’ll be alright. And wanting to escape every single day. So that when her death finally came, the following day, I felt free.
It connects to being six years old and having to prop up the adults and be the good girl who never caused any problems–who was invisible to everyone, but especially herself.
It triggers this lie in me. Like depression, ptsd is a liar. This lie that I am totally alone. That no one gives a shit if I live or die. That I will always be alone. That I am not lovable. That no one will never love me. That I won’t ever love anyone else. That I should just fucking give up and that I should just stop trying. Which makes me withdraw, hardcore, and get really really angry and heartbroken.
And doing that creates a truth in the lie. Because I am powerful. And those feelings motivate actions–or inactions–that create the reality I so do not want. That, before I acted, only existed in my head.
The reality? When I was growing up, I had a great Mama who loved me beyond words–who often failed, but tried so hard. Who didn’t know how to fix it. I had great teachers and a few friends, too. Who also failed. Who didn’t know because I never asked. When Mama was dying, I found community–a community I appreciated–that propped me up. But I fixated on the people who weren’t there. With Fogg’s illness, I had a few people supporting me in the ways they could–which wasn’t what I always wanted or needed–but they tried. And that all counts for something.
I can’t always feel the love people give me. I don’t need a lot from people. I am often the one propping other people up. I enjoy being the person who sees other people. But it hurts when people don’t do that for me. And I can’t always ask for what I need. I can’t always be who I need to be. So, how can I expect anyone else to be those things for me?
I acknowledged that yesterday–in a voicemail where it just sort of tumbled out–thanking this person for listening to me the day prior and acknowledging that he is such a great friend and that he is always there for me when I need him. He thanked me later because–turns out–he really needed to hear that too.
Being seen is a big deal for me. It’s one of the things that allows me to be selfless and to have it not feel like too much. My boss is great at this. So is our CEO. (He just emailed me yesterday to tell me what a phenomenal job I’ve been doing). I would work this hard anyway, but when people see that it’s not easy and that I’m special? It doesn’t take anything from me. It makes me able to give more of myself and want to be more involved.
I really need those things. Where people see my best intentions and don’t harp on all the ways I fail. Because–believe me–I’ve noted all those ways and have beat myself up so many times. That small criticism that means nothing to anyone else starts that spin cycle over and over again until I’m paralyzed and can’t break free.
I need people to acknowledge that I matter to them because I honestly don’t know. I get caught up in the dysfunction of my brain, and it’s hard to tell those feelings off when all the evidence supports what it says.
But I’m getting better at recognizing the lies I tell myself. I’m getting better at breathing through the pain I often feel and actually letting it pass instead of holding onto it like a life preserver. Suffering is always optional.
My friend last night surprised me by saying he was almost laughing because he felt just like I did, and he shared a lot of what’s been going on with him lately–stuff I had no idea about. I laughed to myself because I had created this alternate reality of what his life was like in my head–and I was jealous.
But then I realized–huh–it’s not just me. And that allowed me to have compassion for my friends who are probably feeling just like me in many ways.
It was interesting because I had a conversation the other day with someone I’ve had some pretty heartbreaking moments with, and I was struck by something: how alike our experiences of one another were…and how we were both so damn alone when the person who could’ve understood was right in front of us. But we were both so wrapped up in our isolation that we never even tried and pushed each other away more.
The whole thing has reminded me of something I learned when Mama died. The idea that when I most want to hole up in oblivion? I need to reach out. But I can’t just phone it in. I have to be vulnerable. Like in ways that scare the crap out of me. In ways that are embarrassing and unsafe. Lay it all out and just say what I’m feeling. Because more often than not, I’ll probably get, “Me, too.”
We create so many barriers because of hurt and shame and anger. We forget to hold on to the things that connect us. We forget to see each other and never let anyone see us in hopes of protecting ourselves. When, in reality, those shells just keep us isolated and hurt.
I’m taking that to heart today. And while I may be a bit quiet in the days to come, I will meet vulnerability with vulnerability. And will do my best to have compassion–especially when my feelings are hurt.