Kimberly (kimberly_a) wrote,

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Childhood Catch-22

I made this new icon recently, because it's how I've been feeling lately: this little girl, wearing pink, standing so still and proper and erect, hidden inside a tree with her hands clasped in front of her, so perfect and yet so rigid, shut off from everything, protected but also isolated, perhaps hiding there from outside dangers, or perhaps put there to punish her (like my dad locked in the closet).

When I made the icon, I wasn't really sure why the image spoke to me, but this evening I realized that recent events have been really triggering for me: triggering childhood stuff that still plagues me, stuff I've written about here a lot in the last several months, but which seems to become clearer and more upsetting as time goes on. It makes me wonder about why these issues have been getting more upsetting instead of less, even though I'm talking about it—here, with my therapist, with Shannon, with friends—and would therefore expect that I would be working through it all, that I would be growing stronger and not weaker.

But maybe me growing stronger is actually what makes it all more upsetting. Because what I'm getting increasingly upset about is the fact that I was raised to expect a critical response to weakness. And I'm growing more and more aware of how strongly I was sent that message and more and more aware of how absolutely fucked up that message is. And the more fucked up it seems, the more upset I get. So the more I question those childhood messages, the more I reject them, the more upset (angry? hurt? confused? lost? all of the above?) I become.

I've previously friends-locked all journal entries about these issues, in an effort to spare my mom's feelings, to respect her privacy by not speaking my opinions openly, and to avoid her inevitable temper tantrum if she were to read about my feelings on these topics. But ...
  1. My mom has stated (in email in June) that she will not read this journal again (and I therefore feel under no obligation to spare her feelings).
  2. The reason she will not read this journal again is because she insists on her right to state her opinions about everything, even if those opinions are hurtful or harmful (and I therefore feel under no obligation to hold back on speaking my own opinions).
  3. I've decided not to cower in fear of my mom's criticism of me (and I therefore refuse to hide my feelings in order to avoid her reactions).

My mom has never shown much respect for my opinions or feelings, and I've tended to follow her example in that. Well, I'm trying not to follow her example in much of anything these days, so I've decided to start writing openly about these issues. I'm tired of feeling like her opinions and desires and emotions matter more than mine. I'm tired of hiding in a corner (or a tree, like the little girl in my icon). I'm tired of being afraid and letting it make me feel bad about myself. I also figure that other people may share similar issues & get something out of knowing they aren't alone. And I don't think a lot of people read this journal anymore, anyway, so who really cares? I'll write whatever I want to & not hide it unless I feel a need to do so. And right now, about this, I don't.

So I've been having problems dealing with some childhood emotional issues to varying degrees since my bronchitis started up in October 2012, and they have been only growing more insistent through the kidney disease diagnosis, the cataract surgeries, the gum grafts, and some other things that have happened in between, including a lot of hurtful email exchanges with my mom. What are these "childhood emotional issues" of which I speak? Let's get specific. Here are some things I was taught growing up:
  1. It is not okay to be weak. If I am weak, I am doing something "wrong"—I am being inconvenient to others, and I should not do this.
  2. It is not okay to talk about feeling ill, because it is "whining." This, too, is annoying to others. I should not be annoying to others.
  3. As an adjunct to #2, I exaggerate all of my physical and mental health issues. In fact, I often imagine (or purposely manufacture) health problems where no real problems even exist. I am, in short, a hypochondriac.
  4. Even my my health issues that are medically proven to exist (e.g., the kidney disease) are somehow my own fault: not taking care of myself, not seeing the right doctors, not insisting on the right tests, etc.

It is quite obvious to me, now, looking at it rationally, that these lessons create a circular problem, a Catch-22. I should not complain about health problems because it makes me an inconvenient whiner (and I'm probably just imagining or exaggerating the problems anyway), and yet if I don't speak up loudly enough about my health problems, then I just have to "face the consequences" (a quote from my mom regarding my kidney disease).

So having times when I really am weak, really need help from other people and am truly unable to do things myself trigger a lot of self-recriminations. For example, there's a definite, not-particularly-quiet part of me that believes that the gum problems and resultant dental bone loss are my fault. I should have taken better care of my teeth and gums. I should have done something sooner about the gum recession. I should have insisted that my dentist take it more seriously. And my weakness during this recovery period is obviously an exaggeration to get people to bring me ice cream and art supplies.

Of course, the periodontist and dental hygienist assure me that there are several big causes of this kind of gum recession, and oral hygiene is only one. Genetics play a large role, apparently, as does a history of wearing braces. Even people with perfect oral hygiene can develop this kind of problem if they're unlucky enough to have the wrong genetics and orthodontic history. And the periodontist/surgeon assures me that my current degree of physical weakness is not unusual.

But I fight a strong instinct to blame myself. I am 100% certain that my mom would say that all the dental/periodontal stuff is my fault. I'm trying to block out the Mom Voice in my head and be kinder to myself, but it's difficult ... and I criticize myself for that, as well. I know I shouldn't let those old feelings eat at me anymore, now that I've identified them, but I still do ... and that inability to stand strong against those old hurts is its own kind of weakness ... and weakness is not okay. Here we go again with the circular self-criticism.

I don't tend to think very kindly toward myself, and I don't tend to expect others to be kind, either. I tend to be afraid to really need other people, to really be helpless, because—in some deep part of me—I expect to be blamed for it. I expect people to think badly of me, to roll their eyes behind my back, to believe that I am exaggerating, to believe that it is all my own fault, etc.

I don't expect people to bring me colored pencils and ice cream. I don't expect people to come over and just sit and color with me, providing undemanding, supportive companionship when I'm hurting. I don't expect people to be truly glad to help, honestly happy to give me rides without complaining about the inconvenience and my annoying demands.

I don't expect people to be kind to me, because my mom isn't very kind to me, and I'm not very kind to me. So even when people are being kind to me, I am still afraid of this neediness, this weakness. It feels like I'm doing something wrong, like someone is going to complain that I am being annoying, that I am inconveniencing them. But Shannon takes care of me and says kind things and assures me that he doesn't believe that any of this is my fault, that he doesn't believe I'm exaggerating. I believe him, but I believe my mom, too. So this whole situation is confusing and upsetting, making me feel like I don't entirely trust either side, because they conflict so strongly.

But right now I am extremely tired & not thinking very clearly, so I'm going to wrap this up and go try to sleep. I was too upset to sleep earlier & was just lying there crying, but now that I've gotten this all out, maybe it'll be easier.

A Few Examples of Childhood Events That Taught Me
These Particular Emotional Lessons

(Just Because I Wrote These Earlier
and So Figured I'd Go Ahead and Post Them
Because They're Somewhat Relevant)

LJ friends have read the infamous Beach Ball Story, about how my mom broke my arm when I was 6. She tried to pull a prank on me by kicking a beach ball upon which I was sitting, with the intention of making me "fall on my ass" (the words she usually uses when telling this "humorous" story), but accidentally kicked my arm instead, breaking it, and how she told me to stop crying afterward because "it isn't that bad." My mom tells this story like it's funny ... though she leaves out that last bit about telling me to stop crying. Apparently, I'm the only one who remembers that part.

LJ friends have heard how my vision got bad in 3rd or 4th grade & so I obviously had trouble with the eye exam when I saw the optometrist that year, but my mom just smacked me on the arm and told me to "stop messing around," that I was just pretending to have bad vision because I wanted glasses. I'd never indicated any desire for glasses, but my mom apparently just assumed that I must have some ulterior motive for "faking" a health problem.

Some people have heard the Mickey Mouse Watch Story. When I was little (maybe 3 or 4), I had swimming lessons. We visited a pool, and I was practicing by swimming back and forth from one side of the pool to the other while my mom lay on a beach lounge chair nearby. Then, on one of my laps, I found myself in the middle of the pool & unexpectedly too tired to make it to the either side. I panicked & began dog paddling and floundering, crying out in fear, and my mom had to dive into the pool fully clothed to rescue me. She was wearing a Mickey Mouse watch which was ruined by the water. My mom still complains 40 years later about the fact that I broke her Mickey Mouse watch, though she says it like she's being funny.

This week I remembered a time when I fell off the monkey bars in kindergarten & the nurse called my mom to come pick me up. My mom came on her bike, with a little trailer she had that hooked onto the back that could hold a kid or two, and I remember her giving me hell for dragging her all the way out there to pick me up "for no reason." She was a housewife at the time, so what crucial stuff could she have possibly been doing that was more important than taking care of her hurt kid? Except, of course, that I wasn't actually hurt, just shamming to get attention. Obviously.

EDITED the next morning TO ADD: I'm friends-locking this. Seriously. What was I thinking? There are way too many assholes on the Internet, and this stuff makes me too vulnerable, at least right now.

EDITED the morning after that one TO ADD: Unlocking this again, for all of the reasons discussed within the journal entry. I don't want to be afraid of assholes, whether they're related to me or not.
Tags: asking for stuff, assertiveness, childhood, emotions, fear, fear of being judged, feeling lost, friends, gums, helplessness, honesty, kidneys, kindness, mental health, mom, openness, self-blame, self-care, self-compassion, self-doubt, selfishness, shannon, support, weakness

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