Monday, December 01, 2008

A thought

I spent my whole childhood trying to make life easier for my mother, but she still seemed perpetually exhausted and over-burdened. I worked very hard at being self-sufficient, staying out of the way, not asking for anything or any time, getting good grades, being, in essence, "the perfect child". In the end, my efforts did not seem to help relieve my mother's stress. Nothing changed. Perhaps this is where I got the idea that nothing I do is good enough, that working hard comes to nothing, that nothing I do matters. I couldn't make it better, I learned I was powerless.

I also never learned to live for myself. In adolescence, I probably made an effort to try, but then I started living for the boys I was dating. Now, so many years later, I remain single, in a semi-conscious effort to learn to live for myself. So far my efforts have been unsuccessful, yesterday being a prime example. I can't even motivate myself to do the things I want to do. I did not have much problem with motivation when I was a youth. I was constantly anxious about my grades, and pushed myself to be a good athlete. When I did work, I tried to be perfect too, even though I was in jobs that were completely contrary to my nature. This got so exhausting, I eventually ceased to be able to do it, after many starts and stops. When I went back to University full-time in 2003, I was able to regain that motivation to maintain excellent grades, but that is the only time in my adult life I was able to function consistently in any capacity. I had a severely reduced social life during this time, my life was school and nothing else, but that was okay. I enjoy learning, and learning is still a requirement for my mental health.

As a teen, I traded mother for boyfriend. As far as my mother went, I thought it was enough that I maintained my grades. I felt if I did that, and continued to stay out of her way, I was doing my job. I spent all my free time in my room or out of the house. This seemed to work for her, except on the one or two occasions I got myself in trouble with drugs (not including the times I used drugs or drank and didn't get in trouble). To this day I don't think my mom knows how much I used these substances. Of course, she didn't want to know, so maybe she just stuck her head in the sand when she caught a whiff. Our relationship since my parents' divorce has been all about avoidance. I avoided her to stay out of her way, and she avoided me period. I was probably a sore spot for her. Maybe whenever she saw me she was reminded that there was something wrong, and she notoriously disowns evidence of serious wrongness. Was it easier when I moved out? She's still able to not think about my suffering.

When I was home in adolescence, locked in my room, I would feverishly write pages and pages and pages in my journal, analyzing myself, my friends, life, everything, in a frenzied attempt to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. Often I would cry. Not once did anyone ask me what was wrong. I don't know if they heard me or not (they being my mother, brother, and mother's partner, whose house we moved into when I was 16). Cry isn't really the word. Bawl, maybe? It was wretched, from the deepest place inside me that was utterly empty and alone. I had really good friends, yet they had no idea I did this either. They knew I hated my mother and her partner, but they didn't know how I felt about myself.

I guess the relevant insight today is that I still don't know how to live for myself. No matter how much brow-beating, pressure, shame, or guilt I laid upon myself, I could never get myself to do anything, at least consistently. Without an authority figure - parent, teacher, boss - there is nobody to try to get approval from, nobody to make happy, no fear of loss: loss of house and home, loss of job, loss of approval. I've recently stopped trying to motivate myself with negativity, since after so many years...well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. But I haven't found an alternative way to motivate myself. I do things either out of necessity or impulse. I can't decide between activities that are not neccessary. Even my motivation to read or watch a movie is most often motivated by library due dates. One might suggest I set myself deadlines for everything, but since I know they are arbitrary, I can always find an excuse not to meet them. Or, things that are meant to be enjoyable become tedious because they've become chores, "shoulds", and "have to's". In that case, there is no point in doing them because the only reason I want to do them in the first place is because they are enjoyable. Sometimes it is easier to do necessary things than to do something fun, like yesterday. I get a sense of accomplishment from cleaning and doing laundry and taking out the garbage etc. Also relief, and a sense of being 'good'. The past two weeks or so I've managed to do well at keeping up with chores, but there are periods that I have been unable to do dishes or laundry for a month or more. What is regulating these patterns? Now that I think about it, either I take care of my real necessities, or I am being productive creatively with my crafts. I never seem to strike a daily balance between the two and do both. It's an either-or proposition, and maybe this is why I had such a dismal weekend craft-wise. My apartment is looking pretty good though (for me - my standards are, because of physical limitations - low. There are certain things that get done maybe once or twice a year, or less, such as the bathtub and the floors. Cleaning the bathtub is next to unbearable except in very short spurts, and the floor...I sweep, but never wash. Sometimes I go around with a sponge or cloth and clean up specific messes, but that's about it.)

I really need help with motivation, living for myself. I need a place to start. Funnily enough, I've read and done a report on Maslow's "Motivation and Emotion" for school. I seem only to be motivated to maintain the first level of his heirarchy - food and shelter. The rest is a real struggle. I was doing very well with the social aspect from last winter until this fall, but now I've sunk back into relative isolation. The weather and money problems have much to do with this, but I am not making much of an effort either. There have also been some doubts about some of my friendships, and the friend I used to socialize with most often has first moved away, and then I had to sever contact with her because of how her illness was affecting her behaviour and demands on me. I think what has saved me has been the almost daily messaging with JK. Especially since she is the only person on earth besides my therapist who can stand to listen to what's really going on in my life and my mind. I'm grateful for that, to be sure. I think I would have gone really over the edge the past few weeks while my therapist was away if I hadn't been able to be honest with JK. I hope I have been a similar help to her, since she is also going through a lot of suffering, even more than me. It has helped me to be able to write out some positive things that have improved my life, in hopes that it would help her. Unlike R, she doesn't get defensive and think of it as 'advice'. She actually appreciates what I say. Contrasting my friendship with R (even when she wasn't as sick) with my friendship with JK has opened my eyes a bit more, realizing that R probably never had my best interest in mind. To be sure, I have never been the greatest friend to her either, though I tried, especially in the last two years. But I now see the huge extent that R resented my progress in recovery, and completely stopped listening to me altogether as I got better and she got worse. I did not realize how much she got from feeling 'better' than me until our positions switched, and she never was able to adjust. I spent years thinking she was such a great person, so nice and generous with her attention, so mature. There were a few moments over the years when I couldn't help but notice her saying a thing or two that didn't fit with this, but I was able to disregard them and go back to thinking the world of her. Lately I have realized to an extent that her maturity was an act, a very good act. She fooled everyone, including all of her doctors and therapists (which prevents them from helping her), too. Nowadays, she is so sick her behaviour has become blatantly infantile and she doesn't even try to hide it anymore. Well. I don't have that in my life anymore. There are many things we both probably wish we had gotten to say to each other but never did, and I'm trying to let go of it. The point is, she never was the terrific friend I thought she was. She was completely unsupportive. I didn't know, because I'd never had a truly supportive friend before. All my friendships have been marked by jealousy and competetiveness (a result of my low self-esteem, for one thing), but with JK there is just mutual admiration and care. If she is jealous, she doesn't let it affect how she treats me, she doesn't get resentful.

How did I get from not living for myself to talking about friendship? The nature of journal writing, I guess.

By the way, I was originally 'sparked' to write this entry (the first paragraph, anyway) while I was reading this article: Child Abuse and Neglect and the Brain.


I sometimes write things that I don't really mean or believe. These are not to be taken literally, nor as definitive statements about me or my beliefs. Thoughts and emotions are transient, and I reserve the right to change my mind, generalize, exaggerate, give strong opinions, or write other possibly offensive statements. I don't lie, but I may say something that's not true to check whether I believe it or not, or to make a point. Call it creative license. This is my blog, and do have the right to say what I want. I'm using it in creatively therapeutic ways. Whatever the reader may think of me and my words, please believe that my core intentions are always good and I never willingly hurt anyone.