a difficult session

I had a rough meeting with my therapist yesterday. I appreciated that rather than the inane “how are you doing?”, she started by asking “how have the last few weeks been for you?” I started saying the first words that came to mind: “Turbulent. Draining. Stressful.” I could have added “painful”, but I moved on instead.

I talked disjointedly about recent events, and how I didn’t want to talk about things because I’m tired of thinking about them; somehow this led to the idea that maybe I’m overstating all of my issues. Maybe life wasn’t as bad as I have imagined it to be, or maybe I’ve exaggerated and magnified everything to the point where I’ve created my own distorted thought patterns. I told her about my desire to interview and interrogate people from my past who might know the answers I seek: what did I do to hurt you, was I really a terrible person, was my home life as damaging as I think. I want the unvarnished truth from everyone to confirm the worst things I think about myself and everything I remember about my past.

She said there are several problems with that line of reasoning. First, everyone’s “truth” is different based on their perception, their biases, and their memory of what really happened. In addition, even if they had the information I seek, these people may not want to be 100% honest with me (who among us is completely honest, after all?). Finally, if they told me I wasn’t a bad person, or that they liked me and I was a positive presence in their life, I am so deeply programmed in my thought patterns that I wouldn’t believe what they say. I would throw away their evidence because it didn’t fit my narrative. The only conclusion I can make is that things must have been bad enough at an early age that my sense of self was badly damaged, which caused me to remember my entire experience through the filter of distorted thinking. I think the way I do because I was in a bad situation, and my memories of my life may not be entirely accurate.

We went on to discuss the difficulties with my daughter’s current situation and the negative effects on the entire family. I told her about how I went unfiltered for a few minutes and said things which I believe to be true, but were very hurtful for my daughter, which my wife sat by and didn’t say a word during or afterward. That pretty much sums up the family dynamic in our house for the past several years: Nicole is the victim, I’m the control-freak bad guy, and Annie won’t tell me what she thinks. Instead we paper over things with conversations about unimportant things, and distract ourselves with fish or Fakebook or videos of cats. We can discuss the most inane things, but meaningful things get ignored. Annie won’t tell me what she’s really thinking, whether she agrees with me or if she thinks I’m full of crap. Right now we can’t even sell an item on Fakebook because I think she disagrees with me and just can’t say so.

Sometimes I wonder if I have misled my therapist into thinking the current situation is worse than it really is. Her opinions about my family’s actions and words are filtered through what I choose to tell her, and this leads me to question some of her statements. She wants a more complete picture though, and she has asked a couple of times if I might bring Annie in for a session or two to talk about the situation. I scoffed a little, because I don’t think that would be successful at all.

Stay tuned, for I fear worse times are ahead.

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disorders on order

I feel like I’m being pulled in many different directions right now, like that Stretch Armstrong doll when I was a kid. I don’t have much time for myself, and I have to be “on” a lot. I’m often asked to solve the emergency of the day. I have to play different roles for different people, and it is really tiring right now. I need a break, but I don’t have time for a break. I have one vacation day remaining at work, and I need it for something fun in September.

I have so many unfinished tasks and projects, and it’s a trigger for anxiety. I can feel it closing in around the edges of my vision. I wish I had the motivation to finish a few things, or just to make progress, but I give up because I can’t break things down into manageable pieces. It’s all or nothing, and I know it is distorted thinking, but as a result I’m mentally paralyzed.

I have been officially diagnosed with social anxiety and general anxiety, and I’m certain I have ADD and some elements of OCD. I don’t know how likely it is that someone has all of these things going on, but here I am. My new therapist asked me to consider if I might be on the mild side of the autism spectrum. I’m skeptical, but I’m doing some research to see what I think. I don’t think I need another label at this time, so I will ask her to table that discussion and help me work on social anxiety (which currently seems to be my biggest problem).

mind reader

I hate having to be a psychic, but I do it all the time. How else would I find out what horrible things my friends and loved ones feel about me, let alone what the barbarians in public think? It’s all about me of course, and while people won’t tell me what they’re actually thinking, with just a glance I can read people’s minds and know how they really feel about me.

This is ludicrous, of course. While I can pick up on non-verbal communication as well as the next person, there’s no way I know what they are thinking. What I’m really doing is making an assumption based on my interpretation of what is said and those non-verbal cues, and usually my assumption is incorrect.

I define my self-worth based in part on what I believe others think about me, because it is difficult for me to believe that I am worthy of someone’s love or friendship. I am constantly trying to get a real-time gauge on where I stand with a person, which is impossible if the person isn’t explicitly telling me their honest feelings. People very rarely do that of course; sometimes they filter their thoughts, sometimes they lie, and sometimes they say nothing.

I assume the worst when people don’t speak to me, whether due to physical distance (I’m too far away to hear), social norms (people don’t often speak to strangers), or by choice (someone could speak but is choosing to ignore me). In each of those cases, I feel like I have to fill in the blanks with what I believe their thoughts are at a given moment. Then I interpret those invented thoughts through the “I’m not worthy” filter, and reach the illogical conclusion that everyone is thinking negatively toward me in some way. This black-and-white thinking is clearly distorted, but I fall into the trap every time.

When I can look at things logically, I can see things from a less judgemental perspective. Strangers are probably not thinking about me very often, and possibly not at all. Acquaintances may have a nuanced opinion about me, while friends apparently like me despite my flaws. Loved ones care about me for my positive qualities. I don’t have to be on-guard against others’ negative thoughts all the time; that’s just an artificial defense mechanism that I learned during childhood.

However, thinking logically is difficult when your spouse is giving you the silent treatment, and you can’t figure out why. It’s easy to be emotionally insecure when a social interaction doesn’t go as you think it should. Fears of rejection, awkwardness around people, and feelings of inadequacy cause me to fall back into the pattern of self-centered, black-and-white thinking. I spend a lot of mental energy in this way, and it detracts from my well-being.

high inquisitor

I have questioned my memory of the person I was in the past. I think I was a decent person, but at the same time broken, awkward, and angry due to the years of abuse. I tend to remember the worst of who I was and how I treated people, and I remember the stupid things I did because of early-onset bipolar. These feelings happen during my depressive moods, and I have a difficult time escaping the darkness that envelops my thought processes.

I have this irrational desire to question my old friends to find out what I was like from their perspective and see how terrible a person I really was. I found something I wrote here during a depressive spiral in 2011:

I keep going back to my memory to try to find the answers on my own, but I need [old friends’] testimony as evidence to build the case against myself. I want to know if they remember everything the way I do, if their story checks out with the alleged facts in my mind. I have to know what they were thinking or feeling at the time, why they did what they did, why they cared about me in the first place, what I did to drive them away, … and why they decided they could no longer trust me. I need them to tell me how badly I hurt them, and if those scars remain, and if they think about those times with sadness or anger. I want them to confirm that I was really the monster I think I was.

I’ve had people from the past tell me they remember me as a basically good person and a good friend who seemed to have things figured out. Maybe I really fooled them, which makes me a disingenuous fraud, or they aren’t being truthful; either way, I don’t believe them. I think they are trying to protect my feelings, trying to be supportive and kind rather than honest. That’s not what I want from them; I want the unvarnished facts, don’t pull your punches, give it to me straight … I can handle the truth.

I want to know … but I don’t know if I have the right to ask these questions. I want to put people I’ve loved through this insane line of questioning even though it might hurt them now more than I ever did before. Sometimes I’m prepared to torture my friends and family to get the truth, and fuck the consequences. … I know I shouldn’t do this, to myself or my loved ones, but I’m still obsessed. I still want to know, even if I have to hurt them to get the answers.

 

I have had to accept that people from my past grew up and let go; they’ve moved on, lived their life, and made their choices … while leaving me in their past. They have forgotten the exact details of that afternoon in 1986, or that weekend in 1989, or that evening in 1993. They don’t remember what song was playing, or what cookies we shared, or where we sat in the grass. They have done what adults do, leaving the details to fade into the background, just remembering the highlights, maybe feeling a little nostalgia when looking at an old yearbook, but then closing the yearbook and coming back to the present.

Sometimes I don’t know how to do that. Sometimes I want to punish myself by examining everything in painful detail, repeatedly analyzing what went wrong and what I could have done to fix it, wishing I could go back and just make a small revision or two, and wanting to find out how the story could have ended.