Notes to Self

September 1, 2013

Low self-esteem can be exhausting!

Something relatively minor happened at work on Friday and I am still obsessing over it. I have lost sleep because of it.

I have learned by now that when I can’t “let something go”, its because I haven’t resolved it for myself.

The event happened, I reacted, called a few folks, got a resolution and yet I am not done with it.

The issue, I realized this morning, is the way I treated myself when the question first arose. The doubt and worry I had about something so minute. When I talked to a friend/co-worker she told me what to do and it was that simple, yet I was envisioning everyone thinking I was a terrible person! And so I made it a bigger deal than it was, and now I am angry that I did that.

My husband said to focus on the fact that I have recognized his and how that is furthering me along the “road to recovery”- that I am becoming a better person. While I agree, I still can’t stop being completely annoyed.

It isn’t just the event and the ridiculousness surrounding it, it’s that I think so lowly of myself and that I let my family continue to treat me so poorly to encourage the low self-esteem for so long. I am tired of finding more ways and further reaches of how my poor self-image affects my everyday life. I am not surprised by the effects, just where it comes up and how it then affects me.

I am just tired of it. I want to be “normal” and not think twice about little stuff. I want to stop doubting myself so quickly and I want to stop obsessing when I do.

I’m just tired of it all.

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July 30, 2013

because She said so

Saying it aloud makes it seem silly, obvious, as if I should have always known. But the complexities of the mind, the way we learn and the way every little experience has the potential to influence how our personalities develop…I didn’t realize it.

So yesterday when I finally made the connection, the impact was profound. I think it will take time to really understand, and then to change.

I believe beyond all doubt that I am a fat, ugly, disgusting whore who is incapable of being feminine or sophisticated; I am nothing but a bum and will always look like one, despite what I am wearing. I am a failure as a woman, which means I am a failure as a human.

I have lived my life in jeans and t-shirts, rarely venturing out of my comfort zone (and having great anxiety when I did). I’d avoid situations where dressing up was necessary. I never wore makeup. Never cared about my hair or nails. I did the bare minimum.

I avoided mirrors, would run out of bathrooms if another came in and I was trying to redo my pathetic hairstyle (barett, half way up). I felt I had no right to look and even less right to attempt to appear feminine.

I never had many friends. I constantly compared myself to other girls/women, telling myself how unworthy I was of their presence and friendship, and how less of a girl/woman I was because I didn’t dress nicely, do my hair, wear makeup, get my nails done or wear pretty shoes. I was not as worthy of a human being because I was not a good enough female. After all, I was used and no one wants a used person (yes, that is what my mother said to me when I was 13 years old after a very manipulative, abusive 16 year old boy took advantage of me).

I believe all this to be true because She said so.

That is the only reason.

It was an “ah-ha” moment laden with pain. My body cringed as my mind tried to make sense of the simple truth. Because She said so. I could almost see the words come out of her mouth and pave the neuronal pathways that caused the morning tears and tantrums as I went through my wardrobe desperately trying to find something to wear that would take away the negative thoughts and feelings. Day after day the struggle to hide behind cotton and somehow cognitively ignore my own body.  “It’s bad enough you look like a tramp but now you have to dress like a hobo too!” she said one day. Every time I got my hair cut, with a new do, she’d say “oh, well I would have done something different, but if you like it.” Miss Manners was always turning over in her grave at my existence. I stopped going shopping (clothes) with my mother when I was in the 6th grade or so – after she pulled out some frilly shirt (for the hundredth) and I replied “do you really think I would like that?”. It was clear she didn’t know me, didn’t approve of me and wanted me to be something else.  The messages of “I do not approve of you and you are not good enough” came from all directions in various forms. The eye rolls when I came down the stairs. This ’tisk’ when I got a little dirty (as a child mind you).

It was all there, all the information I needed to realize that no, there is and was nothing inherently wrong with me that makes me less of a human or woman. Stop hating yourself and thinking you are undeserving of anything but abuse. Stop trying to fix yourself or deny yourself fundamental love and appreciation for the individual you are.

I look at pictures of myself from when I was a child/adolescent and feel such great, deep sadness. As if I see my potential dying. As if I could have been great but it was lost and I am doomed to being….me. I hate that feeling. I hate thinking that I am nothing but a shell of a person who was wonderful.

And to think that I believe all this to be true simply because She said so.

I don’t know how long it will take me to fully appreciate this realization. I am still in shock. I do know that it is the beginning of brighter days ahead. I just need to figure out how to let all of her words go; how to dust off the little girl that needed love, encouragement and support, and emerge the person I am, that I have always been and will finally love.

July 16, 2013

Obligation

I haven’t spoken to my family for four or so months now.

Within weeks I noticed how much happier of a person I was. I am still finding ways where I am “healing” and am becoming a different person. For example, whenever my husband was in a bad mood I always assumed it was my fault and that he was resenting me and would eventually leave me. I would then try to make him feel better, which ultimately angered him (like everyone, he just wanted to be left alone!). But the other day, when he was tired and cranky, I didn’t blame myself. I didn’t try to fix it and I didn’t think he was going to leave me. I just recognized that he was in a bad mood and that was that. When I realized this change I was floored…first, I never realized that I was doing this and, second, never imagined the link between how my family treated me, how I interpreted their treatment of me and how I applied the effects to every little aspect of my life.

I have received a few emails (“thinking about you…”) and calls (they never leave messages) but I don’t respond. I have nothing to say.

However an email I received (well, was copied on) the other day threw me for a short loop. Evidently my mother required surgery and, based on the little bit of information I received, I can only surmise that she has some form of cancer (pre or very early stage). I had to stop and really think about how I was going to respond. How does illness and death change a relationship, and should it?

I’ve always been there for my family. Done everything I could (above what was needed). I can’t think of anything that needs to be said or done or what would be worth reopening communication. I feel settled in my relationship with all of them, to the extent that until they change, I have nothing to say. I don’t have regret. Death is only a problem for the living. I don’t have to resolve anything with her from my perspective. I think people go to ill and dying relatives with which they severed ties because they need closure or resoluation for something. I don’t.

But the legacy obligation (haven’t you heard that blood is thicker than water and family is all you’ll ever really have?) made me initially take pause and wonder if I should change my approach. But as I worked it all out, I realized that the culture with which I grew up…do it because it’s family and that’s all you’ll ever have…I’m done with that. How I respond to them and how I treat myself as a consequence of the interactions are two very different things. Until I can stop beating myself up for every little thing, I don’t think I can be with them. They destroy me.

All of this change I am encountering – it is powerful stuff. As powerful as all the damage that was done. I am proud of myself for finally being true to me; standing up for myself and my well-being. These are enormous, positive changes that are making me a better person and better wife and mother.

In War, inside

I remember the day I was listening to the radio and a song by The Who resonated most amazingly; “I don’t need to be forgiven”.

I have been searching for the fundamental (irrational?) thought that will lead me to victory. Maybe there isn’t one, but I am finding one that is very influential: while I do not believe I did anything wrong, I have not forgiven myself.

April 16, 2013

A portrait of resistance

It occurred to me yesterday that I have been slowly uncovering all these varying coping mechanisms or ways that my parents shaped my thought processes but I don’t really have a general idea of what a picture of me would look like.

This is what I have so far:

I am a judgmental person (to myself as much as, or more than, to others) because I was always criticized and I learned to be critical.

I have this idea of how the world should work and if people don’t fit my schema then I get angry; much like how my parents and sisters got angry if I didn’t act the way they wanted me to.

I have anxiety, probably because I was never allowed to have my feelings, show anger or voice my disagreement with decisions made without regard to me.

I believe that I will always fail at everything I do, because nothing I did was good enough or the way they wanted it.

I believe I am unworthy of unconditional love and I am only as good (or loved) as what I can do for people, because I was not good, and did not deserve support and encouragement if I strayed from their idea of who and what I should be. The more I did for them, in the way in which they wanted it done, the better a person I was and the more loved I was (and by the way, this is still going on – I was recently kicked off the will because they felt they couldn’t rely on me any longer. A few years ago they kicked my sister off for similar reasons.).

Hmmm, I can’t think of any others right now, although I know there are more.

So I asked my therapist, if I feel like I will always fail at everything that I attempt, why do I try? What makes me have initiative and drive? What makes me continue to take chances and try new things and put myself out there? Why didn’t I just settle for something safe?

His only response was that people often have this core that is resistant. It survives and continues on regardless.

So, instead of painting a picture of my faults, here’s a picture of my resistance:

I have been married to a wonderful man for almost nine years; we have been in love for sixteen (we dated 7 years before getting married).

I have a beautiful, happy, healthy little girl who knows she is loved.

I have a few really good friends and am making more.

I have a job in which I am respected, relied upon and am really good at what I do. I will be promoted soon.

Even though I don’t like what I see in the mirror, I know it’s a superficial disgust and that the person standing there is really a beautiful, kind, loving, intelligent and wonderful person.

Even though I think about the time I spent sad and broken and how that may have kept me from being more than I am now, I also remember the moments that I shined and stepped out of my shell to be truly magnificent.

Despite the lack of consideration, respect and care that my family showed me, I am a caring person who considers other peoples feelings and gives everyone the benefit of the doubt (at least once because I’m not a fool!).

I am not who they are.

I am not who they want me to be.

I am me.

I survived and I resisted.

My picture of resistance is colorful and blooming everyday. It’s made of tears, fear, anxiety and sorrow but it smells like love and joy (and it tastes like coffee).

How about yours?

 

April 15, 2013

A year’s worth of work

Today I realized that it has been almost one year since I returned to therapy. I was surprised by this information, although not in a bad way – just seems like the time went by quickly (but doesn’t it always!).

However the more important bit of information is how this years worth of work was put into action yesterday. And I am quite proud of myself!

My mother stopped by for a visit yesterday, unannounced. I believe this is what you call an ambush.

She walked in demanding to know why I have cut everyone out of our lives. I am not joking – from the moment she entered the room she said “what is going on” – and she wanted the truth, mind you.

She continued to tell me how everyone is so pained and no one understands what’s going on with me and why would I do this to them (note the assignment of victimization here).

I told her that I was busy today and I didn’t want to discuss it right now. I told her that showing up, unannounced to have this conversation was selfish.
She told me that she figured it was the only way I would talk. I told her that didn’t make it right.

Despite my telling her I didn’t want to talk she continued to press. She continued to demand that I do as she commands.

I told her that no one hears or listens to what I say. She said she heard me and she was listening. Yet she pressed on and demanded me to respond. (So she basically admitted to ignoring me, evidently without it registering in her selfish brain that she did so).

Finally, when she said something that really got me really angry I stood up and told her it was time to leave.

I was filled with anxiety and had to breath deep and quickly for a little while. I was a little shaky from the confrontation.

But I had stood up for myself in a way I don’t think I have ever done before. I stated my position and stuck with it. I didn’t cave to her demands. I didn’t give in because that was what they wanted.

I recognized the conditions of this event almost as soon as it started. I saw it for what it was, factually, and didn’t get tied up emotionally.

This wasn’t someone who cared about me or my family. This was someone who cared about her.

I wasn’t being approached out of concern for me, I was being approached out of selfishness and self-centeredness.

It was a good moment for me, to assert myself, protect myself and finally, after so many years, not give up myself to meet their demands.

I think this tells me more than I can hear right now – the promise it holds and the potential for growth.

I think I am closer than I realize to looking in the mirror without disgust.

I think I joked in an earlier post about how long does it take to overcome, likening it to losing weight.

I don’t think I have “overcome” completely, but in this tiny amount of time (and really, one year is so small) I have made huge strides and I can’t tell you how proud of myself I am!

Yeah me!

August 31, 2012

Internal Processor

The past few weeks have been rather even keel – no “ah-ha!” moments but many small victories.

I have been busy processing new information. Trying to understand cause and effect.

 

I have always has a low frustration threshold. I need things to be perfect. I need to be perfect. I need to be such that no one can ever accuse me of being wrong or bad or failing. When things are not perfect or are not going the way I think they should be going I feel that somehow it is all my fault (because I am a terrible, awful person).

 

I only recently became aware of this connection (as simple and obvious as it seems) and am so grateful for this realization. All I need is for one thing to be out of my control or for something to happen and not in a manner that it *should* be happening (mind you I wouldn’t be able to tell you how it should go, just that what is happening is not right!) and I start to lose it – pile on everything negative from the here and now all the way back to my birth. Nice way to live your life.

Ever since my husband and I had our “fight” and he helped me see a few things about myself, I have been able to recognize the start of these death spirals and step away from the moment long enough to prevent an episode. Now that he is aware of these things he has been able to help by distracting my daughter long enough that I can take a few deep breaths. Things have been much better.

 

However, I am not satisfied. I want to know why I do this and what is it that I really expect should be happening? If, for example, my daughter refuses to eat broccoli and I feel like a terrible mother, what is it that I think I realistically could be doing differently? Is this not the topic of thousands of books and billions of other mothers’ worries? Is this not why there are so many recipes out there that “hide” vegetables behind other ingredients? So why should I, or my daughter, be any different? Ah-ha! There’s the question. Why must I be perfect (or rather, why must I never be wrong)?

 

I recall reading Voltaire’s Candide in college and thinking that my life was a lot like that – while I do not know what I should be, I know what I should not be. And when I feel I am what I should not be then I get frustrated and angry and can’t stand to be in my skin.

 

Small victories make big changes. I feel that I am a much happier person today than I was a few months ago. I finally feel like there is hope for me – that I will finally be able to stop fighting myself. Stop worrying all the time. Stop being so frustrated when things aren’t just so. I would like to look in the mirror and see me and not all the things wrong with the reflection.

 

I will continue to process and ask questions and work on meditating. As I tease out these individual components I feel as though I am un-knotting the ties that have bound me for so long. I always thought I was somehow far from the person I could be, the person I wanted to be and the person my husband saw in me.

 

It’s a very good feeling to reclaim yourself.

June 29, 2012

I am what I am (and it’s not in a dress)

My daughter loves water. She loves to play in it, splash in it and, I guess drink it (she is still a baby and gets mostly milk!).

She will splash in puddles, loves to have the indoor and outdoor faucet’s turned on (she gets completely soaked when outside!), she loves her baby pool and bath time and if you have a bucket or glass of water, she will stick her hand or arm into it!

I am pleased with her love for water, and for her lack of fear of the water!

I used to swim competitively. I used to puddle jump and walk in the rain for hours. I still love sitting on the porch when it’s raining. I rarely carry an umbrella.

Last night it rained.

This morning my daughter wanted to go outside (as we usually do before leaving for work/daycare). I couldn’t say no because she put on her jacket and then brought me MY shoes and then brought me HER shoes, and then sat down so I could put her shoes on her feet! There was no saying no to this 15 month old!

So we played and thankfully only her jacket got wet (daddy saved her from sitting in a puddle!). There was still some time before we could leave (waiting for daycare to open) so I decided to show her what happens when you shake the branches on a tree after it has rained.

We stood underneath the tree – her in my arms and I shook. The water rained down and she smiled. I shook again. She giggled. This is living.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

She squealed in delight, she closed her eyes and put her face to the sky, she opened her mouth to catch the rain.

Needless to say we were pretty wet. I wasn’t wearing a jacket (she was but her hair was wet).

I arrived at daycare with a wet shirt (like I had been caught in the rain). I explained myself to a few people and they all thought it was great.

I walked to the car smiling – I had given my daughter a wonderful moment that I will always cherish.

I realized that I am, always have been and always will be, a gal in jeans and not a dress.

Makeup runs in the rain and high heels get stuck in grass. They just don’t fit into my life.

I would rather sleep or cuddle with my husband, daughter or cat than spend that time doing my hair or makeup. I’m a wash-and-go type gal and I should just embrace it!

More importantly, this doesn’t make me less feminine or inferior to other women who do chose to (or need to based on career/office dress policy) spend more time on their appearance.

Maybe, if they had the choice (or more courage?) they would also shake the branches of a wet tree upon the heads of their children.

So keep your pantyhose and your foundation. I’ve made my life without them (and one could argue that I’ve directed my life so I could live without them!?).

I am what I am and I think I am beginning to like me.

June 28, 2012

Passing the baton

Last night my husband put the baby to bed- well, sort of. We both started and I left the room and he finished.

I was tired and was growing more and more frustrated as time went on and she was not falling asleep.  I get upset that things don’t go smoothly because, in my mind, it means I have failed.

My family (both mine and my husband’s side) have put their 2 cents in since my daughter was born and all I hear is them saying you should do this; or you shouldn’t do that; I’m telling you from experience….; you’ll be sorry later on if you keep doing…..

Yes, I let her fall asleep at the breast. No, I never had a bedtime routine.Yes, I held her as much as I possibly could (I still do).

Is she attached to me? Most definitely. Does it sometimes cause me stress? Absolutely. Would I change it? Never.

Yet I cannot be at peace with what I have done, and chose to do. I feel criticized  and judged all the time. I hate family gatherings and wish we could move far away. As if that would matter – even during phone conversations I get judged and criticized.

My mother never really supported my choice to breastfeed and especially didn’t support me going past 6 months. My father wasn’t as vocal about it but he also kept saying I could stop anytime I wanted to.

So when I am not around for my daughter I feel guilty. I feel like she thinks I have abandoned her and no longer love her. This morning my husband took her outside to play while I got her food ready and then showered/got dressed. I found myself rushing (as I always do) because I had to get back to her. I have to be with her all the time (if I am not at work, etc).

Last night as I tried to rest in bed and wait for her to fall asleep I kept getting up and heading toward her door – thinking that she needed me, she needed to know I was there and would cuddle her and love her always. But I also know that she needs to feel that from her daddy as well. She needs to attach to him as well (if I am absent she will stay/play with him. If I am present it is only to me). And it is getting better – she is attaching more and more. But as it gets better I also feel a sense of loss and worry.

I never want her to feel the way I felt from my parents – unloved, un-liked and unsupported. Chances are she will never feel those things but instead may feel smothered – he he.  But the fear is still there.

Ah, so here is another thought that needs examination. Letting other people (i.e., her da-da/my husband) care for my daughter means I am not being a good enough mother and am abandoning her (or something like that). I’ll have to work on this one.

June 27, 2012

Therapy – Week 5

This post has taken me several days to write. It is hard to be so honest and also put words to the feelings and figure out what I am thinking. I cannot bring closure to this post now – I don’t know how to end it. So here is the first part.

My therapist asks me if I know whether or not I believe the negative thoughts I have. There is a difference between believing in and merely thinking something (ha! merely, as if thoughts are that innocuous!).

Apparently if you dissect a thought well enough, and examine the data, one might find many reasons to refute the routine/ubiquitousness of said thoughts.

So let’s give it a go.

Negative thought regarding the other mom’s/families at the daycare which my daughter attends. In the mornings I see BMW’s, Mercedes’, Volvo’s and the like lined up outside of the daycare. Parents in their fancy clothes unload their children in their own fancy clothes. Women have nicely done hair and makeup. They go to their (assumed) glamorous jobs in the city and hoboken (via train, which I know because I overhear them talking about it) and many of the parents in my daughter’s class appear to know each other from playdates, etc. Meanwhile, I drive my dirty Honda (inside and out because I can’t be bothered to clean it) and wear jeans and sneakers. My hair isn’t primped. I don’t wear makeup. I have had no playdates with these girls and their mom’s. They have not emailed me despite my attempts to connect.

I feel that I am inferior to these women (and to the imagined wives of the well-dressed men driving the luxury cars) because I am not as “put together” as they are.I am not as feminine. I am fat, they are not. I don’t have as nice clothes nor the self-esteem to wear them. I don’t have (assumed) as much money or income. I live next to multi-family houses, an apartment complex and near (this is relative because really so do they) a not-so-nice neighborhood. Our public school isn’t great. Theirs town’s is I feel that I am inferior because they aren’t emailing me to get together. I am somehow not worthy of their friendship (and thus my daughter is not of their children’s).

The reality is that I know very, very little about these women and their families. I don’t know a single truth about their lives, relationships and financial states. All I know is appearance. I don’t know what kind of mother’s they are (which is very important to me). I don’t know if they are happy or just pretending to be. I don’t know a thing about these “glamorous” jobs. I would hate to take the train and would hate even more to work in the city!

The clothes I wear are really the best I can do (or are willing to do because if I go out of my comfort zone I feel too uncomfortable) and I don’t have time to iron and dry cleaning is too expensive (and when would I find time to drop off and pick up!). I work in an office of 3 and everyone dresses down. We are banished to the most remote corner of the campus and I sit in front of a computer all day. There is no need to get “dressed up”, except of course for my own benefit.

I cut my hair after my daughter was born and it is growing out. I haven’t been able to get a haircut in several months. I hate the bangs in my face. So after I shower I throw it up haphazardly into a barrette and spray it with hairspray to seal the deal. I don’t blow dry it. I don’t curl it. I hardly brush it more than once a day (it gets very straight and flat if I do). I was wearing makeup before I got pregnant, and even then was often wearing eyeliner. Then I stopped and haven’t gone back. Time, desire…why bother?

On the other hand, there are women I see and I say to myself that I am better than they are (no worries- the double standard and potential hypocrisy isn’t lost on me). For some reason I feel compelled to judge myself and others so definitively.

Last weekend my husband, daughter and I attended a fair. There was a band. Standing near the band was a woman and her daughter (about my daughter’s age) – her husband was standing a bit behind with the stroller. I decided to take my daughter to stand next to the other little girl in hopes that they might dance together. The woman was thin, nice hair, sunglasses, pretty dress. Her daughter was in a pretty dress as well. My child was wearing jean shorts and a cute tank top. She had on a hat (that didn’t really match) and keen sandals. She was sucking on a pacifier because I was trying to get her to nap (pacifier is a relatively new addition since we stopped nursing a few weeks ago).  The little girl leaned in to see the pacifier and the mother commented something about how she doesn’t know what that is. Meanwhile the little girl is sucking on her thumb. Neither the mom or child were dancing. I started dancing with my daughter (even got down on a knee to be at her level) and not only was my daughter dancing, but the other little girl began dancing as well! And giggling!

At that moment I questioned the idea of me being inferior to this woman.

I realized I didn’t understand my logic and reasons for comparing myself in this regard. Maybe my premise is flawed.

What is my premise?

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