Notes to Self

December 30, 2012

Do as I do, child

I just read possibly the most influential two paragraphs that I will ever read as a parent.

For a few months now (maybe longer), I have been aware of, although trying desperately to ignore, the frustration my daughter sometimes exhibits and how it is so similar to the tantrums I have thrown. I believe that I have already taught her one of the most negative attributes of my personality. I recognize that toddlers get frustrated, and that throwing things or knocking them over is a basic response to frustration. Maybe it is just me imagining the worst (after all, aren’t I responsible for all negativity in my family?), but it has made me aware that this child is already a sponge.

Therapy has really been helping me – the realizations I have made have resulted in far less stress and frustration (which we figured out recently may also be from constant low grade anxiety). But I do still have my moments where the fact that the couch on which my toddler is trying to climb is covered with toys and blankets, (and isn’t it awful how I can’t keep the house organized and clean because I am such a terrible mother and wife) so I am left with no choice but to clean it off in a few sweeps, sending everything to the floor. Do as I do, child.

When my daughter gets frustrated (usually because her fine motor skills are limiting her in her play), I try to talk her through it, keeping my voice low and calm. Sometimes it works, but you can’t expect toddlers not to express their frustration!

The book suggested that parents ask their children, or a family member if the child isn’t old enough, what was the most positive lesson taught by example and what was the most negative. Then, the author suggested parents to look to their own childhood.

Being a full-time working mom, I find that after doing the basic necessities and spending as much time with my daughter and husband as I can (and don’t forget the cat!), I haven’t much time for other things. There are a lot of things I would like to do to help take better care of myself, but I don’t. I think about how it would set a wonderful example for her to see mommy putting her needs ahead of dishes or the like, and also that I feel I am important enough to make sure I do what is needed to be healthy (like exercise and eat well) and look nice (I haven’t had a hair cut in 6 or more months!). But I don’t.

I wonder if I will ever have the motivation (as I was typing that word, motivation, I wondered if it really should have been self-love) to take care of myself and set a good example for my daughter. I do everything I can to show her every moment how much I love her, how proud I am of her and what a wonderful little girl she is. But I just can’t do the same for myself. Do as I do, child.

I think I got this ridiculous “selflessness” from my father. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how absurd his behavior is. He’ll eat the garbage food (whether it is over processed carbs or nearly rotten veges or fruit) because that is good enough for him, he doesn’t mind. Meanwhile he’s obese and can’t walk well. I never had good role models for taking care of myself and as much as I want to be that for my daughter, I just don’t know how.

It is a strange type of self-punishment to not take care of myself. As if I am not worthy. Or it won’t matter because I will always be fat and ugly so why bother. And what’s worse…if I try and fail (not sure what would qualify as failing) then it serves me right for trying to be something that I’m not (this really relates to my wardrobe, hair style and makeup…trying to be more feminine, professional and just overall nicely presented).

So I do the bare minimum and close my eyes around mirrors. I try not to have pictures taken of me but I certainly don’t look at them if I do. I often wonder if it is apparent that I have little respect for myself. I wonder if that’s why I have only a few friends.

Although I started this post a few days ago, it will be the second I posted today. So I can’t help but feel that I am ending up with more “stuck” places than places of resolution and relief.

In weight loss, the saying is that you didn’t gain it overnight so don’t expect it to come off so quickly. I wonder what do they say regarding therapy?

Could it be that simple?

I am having a hard time dealing with…life today. I am so completely frustration and annoyed. I am crying and throwing things. I just can’t deal.

We plan to have two other families over for a New Year’s Eve dinner (with their children) and I have been cleaning and reorganizing the house or nearly 3 days (this includes setting up new toy organizers and moving a table to the attic). And I still have to do the basic cleaning (bathroom, stove, vacuum, etc). I take time off of work to clean…forget just relaxing and, oh maybe getting a hair cut!

I can’t believe my anger. I can’t handle the chaos and the mess and the shit everywhere so you can’t fucking get to a jacket (which is laying on the floor) without first moving three other jackets, a backpack, a few newspapers, maybe some empty boxes from a shipment, etc, etc. You can’t prepare dinner on the counter because there are too many unwashed dishes and tupperware containers. Yeah, the wine glasses from when Sandy hit are STILL SITTING THERE.

My daughter wouldn’t take a nap today. She ran around all morning. Today she didn’t want to nap and I had no patience for it so I put her in her crib and told her to take a nap. Forty-five later (and tears from the both of us) I took her out. She said she was hungry. Now she is asleep and I can’t do much because she is on the couch with my husband instead of in her crib.

So I am standing at the sink, tears streaming from the overwhelming anxiety (apparently I suffer from chronic low-level anxiety) and trying desperately to figure out why I get so upset when the house is messy and why I can’t control myself right now. I want to scream and hit things and smash them to bits I am so fucking frustrated.

And then it occurs to me. In all that I have been learning about my parents and how I grew up – that I acted only in ways that would minimize their distain for me and maybe keep them loving me for a day longer – I recalled how angry my mother would get when there were dishes piled up or the table got covered with crap (forget about when she tried to vacuum and we were watching TV). Oh, the screaming and “I can’t do it all!”; “I don’t get paid to be your mother”…. we were frozen with no clue as to how to respond, or what to do. I think we usually helped clean (in silence). I remember feeling completely responsible for the mess – I was such a messy, no good child. I didn’t clean up after myself and was lazy. I was eight.

 

So when I realized that I may be displaying similar behavior’s that my daughter would adapt, I felt a huge sadness come over me. All I want is to fix this, fix me. I can’t go on with these episodes.

 

I am so worried about what these other families will think – that we live in complete disorder and filth! They will think how terrible and pathetic I am. How lazy and disgusting. I can’t let them go to the second floor because one bedroom is filled with “I don’t know where else to put this right now” crap, our bedroom has unfolded clothes in baskets on the floor and the bathroom needs a good cleaning. Yes, that is what they will think.

 

I still don’t know how to make this anger stop or how to get rid of the anxiety (that overwhelming feeling that I must be doing something other than what I am doing and, if I don’t, then the world will stop).  I feel helpless and a little hopeless.

 

Like my daughter says: “I stuck”.

December 21, 2012

Where you end and I begin

According to my therapist, when children are young there is not much separation between them and their primary caregiver(s) (i.e. parents) – they see themselves and their world through their parents. It is the job of the parents to reflect back a positive image of the child (so the child sees their self in a positive way) and as time goes on, the parent must allow the child to develop into an individual – to separate from the parent. This involves allowing the child to differ in opinion and “rebel”; to be unhappy with decisions made by the parents and to voice such opposition. However, the key is for the parent(s) is to maintain love for and acceptance of that child no matter what (you know, unconditional love).

 

Evidently, many parents fail at this. Instead of viewing their child as a separate, discrete individual, they see the child as an extension of themselves. And they expect the child to act accordingly. My therapist likened it to how one might expect an arm to move as you tell it to and imagine how upset you would be if this arm went left when you told it to go right. How dare it not do as you instructed!

 

In my quest to figure out WHY I have the thought processes and behaviors that I do, I am trying to understand the connection between my parents parenting and my current mental state. I do not feel that I can change until I understand why, to the extent that I can.

I am struggling to draw connections between the parenting I received and the thoughts I now have to change. I imagine there is a flow chart that can be drawn – some way to schematically show the if/than arguments.

 

My parents were never happy with what I did, how I behaved or dressed or talked. I was never what they wanted me to be  – regardless of the situation or conditions. I was always lacking something – I didn’t get all A’s or the haircut was nice but my mother would have preferred something different. Of course these are the stereotypical things that parents say – that most folks discuss in therapy. But taken together, over a lifetime, and mixed with other major traumatic events in my life (which I believe were inevitable consequences of circumstance), I am left with this:

1) I do not trust my own judgement, which causes anger and frustration (the death spiral)

2) I do not think I am worthy of love or have any right to ask someone to do something for me (I build walls and don’t let people in; I have no pride)

3) I am not, and never will be or could be, feminine, pretty or sexy (I never look in mirror’s and go through mental hell when I have to wear anything but jeans)

4) No matter what I do, try to do or want to do, I will fail (I have no hobbies or goals in life and no sense of accomplishment)

 

Up until a year or so ago everything I did was done to make my parents and sisters happy. For example, even after I moved out I would mow the lawn, rake and shovel. I would sometimes send my husband (much to his significant dismay). I listened to complaints and ran errands and let them blow me off for someone (or something) else (and never said a peep). I did it because it made them happy and that meant I was good and maybe they would love me. I beamed whenever I was told how helpful I am! This would make me want to do more.

But I am now realizing how much of my actions (or lack thereof) were done just to take care of their mental health. I won’t argue or speak up for myself because that angered them. I won’t tell them my opinion or not go along with their plans because that angers them. I will stay close to home so I can take care of you, even if I hate this damned state. I will put up with the hurt and criticism, judgement and insults – because you are family and, as you have always told me, all I have to count on in this world is my family. When no one else will be there, you will. I view myself according to how I think my family would view me and the decision I am about to or have just made. And since their view of me is/was never favorable (unless I had just done something for them and in accordance with their preferences), then all I think is that I have and will fail.

 

Action will correct my thought processes. My therapist says I need to stand up for myself and confront them when they say or do something I don’t like or when they ask of me something I do not wish to do. When asked why I don’t do this I said it is because it’s not worth the hassle. When I have spoken up I just get questioned more “well don’t you think that ___” or “why do you think that ____”. It’s tiring and I don’t want to deal with it.

So here’s another “cause” – they don’t listen and they don’t pay attention. The last time I went clothes shopping with my mother I was in the 6th grade. She pulled some awful, ruffled shirt off the rack and I replied (rather loudly) “do you really think that is something I would like?”. And that was that.  With all of the choices I have made with my daughter – they still question and criticize. They have not heard me or paid any attention such that they would understand and appreciate that all my decisions are based on what is in the best interest of my daughter, rather than what I do or do not want or what they expect. No, I will not wake her up from her nap so we can be on time for appetizers. No, we will not stay past her bedtime; she gets cranky and unhappy. We will go home so she can sleep.

Last night I was talking with my mother and she started lecturing in a very disapproving tone. I fell silent (as I have been doing – and then I just say I have to go and hang up). But then I thought about it and decided to “confront” her (and by the way, I should mention that confrontation scare the hell out of me – with anyone – my heart pounds, my voice quivers).  So I told her what I thought and she just kept challenging me and I realized that I didn’t know how to stop it. What did I need to say to get her to stop talking? My life isn’t your business unless I make it your business. And if you don’t like something it isn’t your natural right to tell me so.

I am seeing clearly how I have become what I am. The logic is unfolding and the consequences come forth as if challenging me to refute their existence.

Self-doubt; you are a product of not having been heard or given the opportunity to safely make mistakes. No, it would not have been tragic if the skirt I was trying to make didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I would have learned something from it. I would have tried again and become more skilled. Except I just gave up. Lost interest in trying anything since I would only fail.

 

Overall I am hopeful for my recovery. While I see there is a lot of active, in the moment work to do; I think I can change.

I need to change. I am tired of being negative and self-hating.

My daughter needs me to change. I need me to change.

I don’t feel that I have really worked through all of this information such that I feel clarity. But I am getting closer. This has helped.

Inch by inch, row by row…..

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