Trust me. I truly understand self-pity. And I’ve never liked it myself. Not in me, not in anyone else, either. Self-pity is kind of toxic, I understand that. People don’t want to get any of that negative energy on them as we all have stuff to deal with. I get that. I have been getting it throughout most of my 48 years of life. I got it to the point that when I’ve committed myself to inpatient therapy once in my early twens, I was kind of annoyed with the thick display of self-pity by most other patients. I didn’t see myself like them and I think, I wasn’t. For I was unable to settle for the cheesy and condescending getting humoured by therapists. I had come here to discuss real problems and more than anything – find solutions as to how to deal with them, not “I want to feel better doc, are you gonna do something about it?”-type problems. I am self-started that way. When I’m lost, I look for new direction or a perspective myself first. I even prefer looking for direction myself instead of taking suggestions from others. Previously, if there was no perspective, I’d make one for myself. Like anyone would do, right? And then I go towards that new goal. I don’t need anyone to be the Diesel engine behind me, clocking my pace. I think, I’m safe to say I have not given in to self-pity for the most part of my adult life. And in retrospect, the journey was a pretty bumpy one as it is. Did that stop me? No. Did it deter me from goals I’d have set for myself? Not really. Sure, when you get bullied out from a job or if something else didn’t work out as planned, you take the setback, you take the low blows, you dust yourself off and get back up as soon as possible. The sooner, the better, ideally – right away. I think I’m safe to say that I’ve pretty much operated along those lines for the most part.
Not so any more since 2007. Something knocked the wind out of me. I’m still not sure, whether it was one single major setback or the series of such following my divorce in 2003. What I do know, though, is that I’ve braved the low blows grown-up life kept serving me, one after another. The divorce following a layoff in 2001, friends turning away from me, the return to being self-employed being harder than anticipated and more low blows coming from that. I went back to vocational school, expanded on my qualifications, started a project while being at school, completed both school and the project, with not so shabby results, I dare say. Found a job on payroll in my previous career again, started that, got up to speed even before officially showing up the first day and would like to think – and heard so from colleagues – that I was productive from day one. Not to much appreciation in the guy who was actually supposed to show me the ropes and take me under his wings, who quickly demasked himself as a first class bully about week 1 into the job. I fought to stay on. Built new alliances, eventually escalated the matter to the CEO through the help of those new alliances. I lost anyway. Found a new job quick, got up to speed again. I even prepared migrating to a different country in 2006. Had all the red tape and career prospects more or less covered and finally went there in person to go and check the place out firsthand. And realized that my health might not agree with the local climate I had chosen to become my new home. So I felt better advised to cancel the whole thing and took a new full time job as editor for a tech publication. That’s when I started to falter for the first time in my life and when anxiety had taken over to the extent that I was no longer able to function. And it quickly went downhill from there.
To cut a long story a little shorter: I had a life. In spite of the fact that I’ve been suffering majorly from the outcomes of PTSD that came about because of hospitalization in the first weeks and months of my life. I have no distinct memories, faint images at best when I induce a mild trance by myself – something I’ve learnt from a former therapist – and let the images come forth. Horrifying images that easily qualify for a nightmare for anyone. Like being ripped from your bed early and undergoing painful probing and testing, possibly without any anesthesia at the time, since they may not have been sure about the doesage with this tiny package of human life of only 4.5 pounds. In hindsight – the shock to the system should have better killed me. But no. I must have had such a strong survival instinct that I didn’t die. And didn’t die in the process of being basically quarantined for months on end with the only physical contact most likely being rough and painful. I don’t remember, but my body does as it goes into a full fight-or-flight response upon someone coming within 3 feet of me, walking or standing behind me or so much as to invade my privacy by staring – and not necessarily at me. My body has meticulously filed away every painful intrusion, every rough handling, every disturbing noise coming from neighbouring beds with more infants. The noise, the cold white lights, the busy nurses (for the most part nuns back then, quickly trained in providing basic medical care). And the doctor’s visits every morning, often followed by more painful tests. The tube-feeding. The alien environment. My mind doesn’t remember it, but my body does. It has never forgotten and the agony of those first months manifesting itsself physically has been a constant companion – for 48 years. Poor sleep bordering on insomnia, panic attacks eversince to the point where I quickly learnt to focus my mind on something very, very mundane so I’d keep my young mind from falling apart. Panic when entering a room with people, panic and sweating when getting stuck in a traffic jam on the way to work, panic when having all eyes turn on me when being on stage. Panic attacks of varying degrees have been one of the sidelining outcomes of the experiences of those first weeks and months throughout all of my 48 years. I can safely say that until recently, there has barely been a peaceful moment in my life. Ever. For the PTSD alone, not to mention the regular stresses everyone is exposed to. And needless to say that with this much baggage to carry around, my romantic relationships have never lasted too long, either. After my divorce, I’ve given up and given myself permission to remain single and alone for the rest of my days on earth. I’ve told myself that there were still plenty of other meaningful encounters to be made, other worthwhile experiences to be lived through. It’s o.k.
But you know what’s not o.k.? The likely prospect of getting bullied again and for something, I didn’t exactly choose myself, either! Sure, the coping is not easy and might even produce possible inconveniences for peers as well. I kept those parts that might become inconvenient for others away from them as much as I could. And exactly how does this work? I think, the permanent survival mode trains you to “think on your feet” pretty much from the start. Letting the mind drift away or anything like that – rarely happens, unless when in solitude and when being in a place that I can be sure to be safe from unexpected intrusion. In our urban societies, it’s pretty hard to find such places, right? Which is one of the reasons, my (ex-) wife and I moved out of the city and I’ve never regretted it. But back to coping: Thinking on your feet becomes your best trusted friend. And what exactly was the content of this thinking on your feet? It is about thinking up a normal response in a situation that overwhelms your system with a cascade of warning signals and alarms going off in your body – and you need to do so instantaneously, so it comes across as realtime. Can you see the stress coming from that? At least this is what my coping was about. Maybe it’s a known technical term taught in CBT, I don’t know and it’s too late in the day for me to look it up now as I usually do. I call it cognitive intervention. It’s the cognitive act of stopping your emotional system right in its tracks from employing a pattern to run that follows a trigger situation. Again, can you imagine the effort that goes into that in day-to-day life? People like me can’t respond from their guts, as my response would likely be blown out of proportion or at the very least come across as inappropriate or simply impossible to understand. So I have to imagine, what a normal person might do in this case and situation. Always. With pretty much every human interaction. To give yourself an idea of this: Think of your last fight with someone, when you had to really hold back in order not to freak out or become violent or such. Think of the emotional effort that went into holding back. Can you see yourself doing this all the freaking time?
I’m not even complaining about that. I’m just putting it out there for anyone, who might have a strong enough interest to actually read my ramblings. Coping is coping and shit happens all the time. I’ve had major shit happen to me at the start, which I didn’t choose and I’m left to deal with it. You know what? OK! That is really ok.! But there are new outcomes now and after having braved this quietly for the most part, I really can’t do it without a tiny bit of understanding in my peers any longer. In other words: I can’t be bullied anymore. I can’t bring myself to revving up the engine another gazillionth time only to have someone else be the proverbial wall I hit when running at top speed. I can’t take another full crash any more. And I sure as hell can’t take living out the rest of my days impoverished, singled out, anxiety-ridden and without any direction. I don’t need a miracle. But I need kindness and understanding and a little bit of rope.
Too much to ask for?
(On a side note: I think, I’d be well advised in coming back to Kimberly’s blog about hope and change whenever loss of perspective and courage sets in. She and her excellent blog are a life-saver!)