it’s not always your fault, part 1

10/28/2019

K made me cry today. Unintentionally, of course; she was going for the opposite.

She brought up in public something I’d said to her in private. It made everyone laugh, and I got defensive. When they left, I tried to explain my (over)reaction. That I know it’s not healthy but I need to be in control of who hears me say what, and that I don’t like other people relaying in my presence something I said to them before, because I have trouble communicating in the first place, and that only further distorts my intended message. And because it draws attention to me that I would never draw to myself by saying certain things in the company of more than two people.

She didn’t understand.

She said she saw nothing wrong with sharing with other people a neutral statement somebody else made, and it didn’t matter who shared it or what effect it had on those others. It didn’t occur to her that I make myself look stupid so often, I don’t need other people making me look stupid in front of additional witnesses. Nor did she take into account that “neutral” statements still say something about the person uttering them; not always something positive. (She claims to have social anxiety by the way. So I kind of expected her to sympathize? But our experiences of anxiety vary wildly.)

But that’s not what made me cry.

What made me cry was how she responded to my saying that I know it’s wrong and I don’t expect her to change, but just want her to understand my seemingly irrational behaviour.

And she said

that maybe I should stop seeing everything in terms of it being something wrong with me, and consider that maybe sometimes, it’s something wrong with other people; maybe it’s something wrong with her?

And I just started sobbing. Straight up bawling, because of how right she was. And I never thought of it that way. My feeling bad is always my fault, and I never even entertain the thought that somebody else might (also) be in the wrong.

I mean, obviously, in this particular case she wasn’t. But I’m pretty sure it was the first time I had ever stood up for myself and for my right to feelings, however irrational. It was an uncharacteristically confrontational behaviour on my part, broaching the subject as soon as I could and being (more or less) unapologetic about it. Putting my feelings first.

I always thought I was selfish. But maybe not in all the ways I could be.

walk down memory lane

A high school friend reached out to me (hi, P). It’s nice, though admittedly somewhat strange, to get back in touch with people who knew you way back when.

I feel so much different, but I am pretty much the same person I was all these years ago: just as dumb and aimless as i was, only now it’s more obvious. I’m more aware of it, so i dont even try to hide it anymore.

Because that’s all I talk about, it may seem as if I were capable of change. I don’t think I am though, and I worry that people like her will give me a chance and I’ll just disappoint them all over again.

(by the way, it’s really quite strange being able to tell you’re idealizing someone as it’s happening. She’s my savior. She understands. She inspired me to quit my job. P, if you’re reading this, please don’t be overwhelmed. it’s normal for me, it happens all the time. and let me tell you what comes next: i see a sign of rejection or mild disapproval, and i withdraw into my shell. Or that’s what usually happens… I’ll do my best not to let it.)

talking to her made me realize that my self-perception is even further from how other people see me. which one is more accurate, then? if, going by what she said, in high school I appeared driven and conscientious, does that mean I was? even though it was the last thing i wanted to be?

I have had people comment that i seem really calm, and i always had to stop myself from laughing in their faces. but, i mean, they only have my behavior to go on, so i guess their impression kind of makes sense??

all this makes me wonder how much of what I think about other people is drastically different from what they believe about themselves or feel internally.

But yeah, apparently people admired my good grades or my English or whatever. but who the fuck genuinely wants to be the teacher’s pet in fucking high school? of course i would rather have had a social life of some sort and had people actually like me,,,, but i was unlikeable and insecure, so i resorted to controlling the only things i knew how to control.

But maybe the image we project unintentionally is more genuine and has more merit than your own self-judgment? if i seemed like a nerd, then, well, i must have been a nerd. so what i didn’t feel like one. so what “driven” or “ambitious” were far from what i would have considered accurate descriptions.

I was so lost. So lost. I had absolutely no clue what i was doing. I clung onto school because that was what gave my life a semblance of meaning or a sense of direction, but the truth was, all I needed was a friend, a true friend who would have called me out on my bs and made me confront all my pain and grief and get real about what i wanted.

but none of that had any chance of happening since i was so proficient in the art of denial and keeping people at arm’s length.

still nothing’s changed.

two I’s in friendship. one I in… I?

The day L left, I went into survival mode. I’ve been hanging on by a thread for going on a decade now, which is more time than we were close friends while she was still here. Of course L is her own person, and I shouldn’t be building my healing around her any more than I should have built my life. She has her own identity that goes way beyond being a signpost for my life or my recovery. Above all else, she’s a dear friend, and the last thing I want is to objectify her like that.

Regardless, in my mind, she stands for everything wrong with me. She wasn’t a person in my eyes; she was way too perfect for that. And by idealizing her, I failed to acknowledge that she, too, might have her own feelings & needs; I was too immature & superficial to meet them, though.

She went on to develop more mutually satisfying relationships, and I was hurt… now I know why: ours was a very asymmetrical one; I got emotional support, she got blind loyalty. Now she gets to be vulnerable and understood, too.

All this being said, even though I understand those dynamics in retrospect, I can’t change the past. Her departure was the catalyst for a process that had been a long time in the making: the disintegration of my own identity.

She is her own person. But, to me, she is also a stark representation of the idea of relying on someone else for your own sense of self, like I did for mine. She deserves more than being reduced to an archetype… but, again, to me she is both.

Since she left, I’ve been… getting by. Coming up with countless ways to not think for myself; to not think at all. I always had poor impulse control. I feel like it might have something to do with not using your internal monologue to its full potential. And when I shut it up altogether to avoid confronting painful feelings & ugly truths about myself, I also deprived myself of a tool that could have been incredibly helpful in regulating my behavior.

It’s not a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” kind of situation. I know I must have always gravitated towards certain types of people because of a natural inclination to follow rather than lead. It’s just that I wouldve saved myself a lot of pain if I had figured it out sooner, and perhaps taken steps to counteract it.

As things stand, I still seek that perfect relationship to lose myself in. I have this need to merge with the other person so completely that there is no more “you” or “I”, there’s just “us”. And I still believe that finding that person will solve all my problems: that they will live my life for me; that they will regulate my behavior; that they will fulfil all my needs.

I don’t (intentionally) deny the other person their right to privacy and their own complex and separate identity… As far as I’m concerned, they can even lead a life all of their own; Ill be sad and jealous, but I’ll understand that I’m not enough for them. But I need them to know & take care of me. To take the lead. Anticipate my needs. Tell me what to think. Is that mommy issues or what? šŸ˜¬

In the absence of a favorite person to cling on to, and with no hope of ever finding one (because now I know it’s simply not possible in the sense in which i mean it), I am completely lost. I know I’ve discussed this before. But here I’m not talking about emptiness or idealization themselves; im talking about how they relate to impulsivity.

I always used to assume that the latter was an attempt to remedy the former, substituting compulsions and obsessions for a personality. I’m afraid the truth is much simpler than that: because I don’t think for myself, all I’m left with are my urges & no way to talk myself out of giving in to them.

It’s hard to exercise any degree of self-control when you have no sense of self. I may or may not be capable of “self-discipline”, but I’ll never find out until I know what my goals are & what’s good for me. Without some sense of your own personhood, there’s no self-discipline; there are just random rules and restrictions. And why follow those, if going against them doesn’t seem to interfere with any of your goals?

Of course I do have goals. Hopes. Ambitions. Which is why numbing out is so frustrating: every time I engage in harmful behaviors, it takes me that one step further from what I’m too afraid to admit I want.

I

am so…

c o n f u s e d.

asymmetry

I’ll definitely continue writing predominantly in English. It’s an invaluable therapeutic exercise that allows me to explore uncomfortable topics in a safe context, not to mention it’s pretty much the only opportunity i get to use & practise english in my day-to-day life.

It never ceases to amaze me how much people talk about themselves. I don’t at all mean it in a bad way… I just never noticed it before. They talk about what they did, what they’re going to do, what they like to do, what happened to them, the new album that came out that they’re so happy about… they’re just never short of ideas.

It’s actually one of my favorite things to do is to listen to people talk about subjects they are passionate about, and to share in their enthusiasm and enjoyment. I don’t know why it has always felt so wrong for me to talk about things that I am interested in. For as long as I can remember, whenever someone asked me what I had been up to, my go-to response would be, oh, you know, nothing much…

yes, it’s true that most of the time i am up to nothing in particular. But even when that’s not the case, i always kind of just assume that whatever I’m doing, the other person is going to find exceedingly, mind-numbingly dull. i’m perpetually confused as to why anybody would be truly interested in my opinions or activities, and it always feels like theyre just being polite or humoring me out of pity.

of course on many occasions i have done quite the same thing, listening to people talk about topics i knew next to nothing about or wasn’t in the least interested in, just to make them feel good about themselves, and that in and of itself felt rewarding to me.

i like the concept of people putting up with eachothers shit in theory, i simply don’t believe it applies to me specifically. i don’t expect other people to be flawless or endlessly entertaining, it’s my own imperfections that are unacceptable. i can understand that everyone else is sometimes funny and sometimes tedious; but i honestly find the idea of bothering someone with my presence, or them finding me boring or annoying, abhorrent and excruciating. which is not to say that it doesnt happen; in fact im positive it happens all the time. the difference is, it’s less because of what i do and more because of what i fail to do. In other words, they can just up and leave.

my default position has always been to expect them to leave, and i am always eternally grateful to every person who, for reasons unclear to me, decides to stay and listen. …But yet I still expect them to leave at some point. it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they have simply had enough. and i really wouldn’t blame them, either; i would probably encourage them, and ask whatever caused them to give me a chance in the first place. some kind of oversight or a momentary lapse of judgment, surely, and then they just didn’t know how to extricate themselves from the relationship without hurting my feelings.

i try to be as unobtrusive as possible, but when i cannot contain myself any longer it comes off as obnoxious or over the top. alternatively i turn into this self-righteous killjoy because im just too self-conscious to join in to whatever fun people are having.

I was re-reading what i’ve written so far, and when i got to the passage about “people putting up with each other’s shit” it felt like new information. Really strange. Like, i know it happens. I do it constantly. But the thought of someone finding a flaw in me and not rejecting me right then and there???? Wild. My friendships are always like, I’m so sorry you have to endure this, is there anything i can do to make the experience any less miserable? if you decide to leave ill understand, just tell me when. Also, thank you for being so kind and patient and trying to fix me even though that’s impossible, I appreciate the effort. i mean i dunno why you’re still here, you can go, im sure you have better things to do than to listen to me go on like that… But enough about me, tell me how you have been!

I’m not saying that that’s the way every individual interaction goes, but I’m always vaguely uneasy when it doesn’t.

at the same time, however, i must admit it’s such a relief. liberating. empowering. …to… own the spotlight for once, and not care about how im going to be received. to indulge my own feelings, my own talkativeness, rather than somebody else’s. therapy’s like that, too: it’s a foreign feeling for me to be listened to, understood, accepted, and for me to not feel guilty about it. i mean i still do. i still feel like im wasting their time. but they validate me. and reassure me. and encourage to keep going.

I think I will.

clingy

Numbed out by the meds though I am, there’s one fear that I still can’t let go of. It’s that my entire life has been a hoax, each friendship a deception, everyone going along with my exaggerated ideas of intimacy where there was none.

My closest friendship turned out to be like that, and since then I have met so many people who are so good at pretending to enjoy your company, I feel like I can trust no-one. I don’t know if they’re just being nice, or they specifically want you to think they like you… or if it’s just easier.

I fear that people can put up a facade but maintain emotional distance. Endure your verbal diarrhea, smile and nod politely, while screaming internally. Or worse, act like they’re bonding with you, but they’re not actually being vulnerable at all and you’re the only one exposing yourself. I fear I lack the capacity to understand people enough for them to want to confide in me or share anything real.

Either that, or they’re like that with everyone, and it’s the “norm”, and I’m the one who expects or needs too much. Too much closeness, too much exclusivity, too much intensity.

I know I don’t seem intense. Disengaged, more like. But once I open up to someone, I latch onto that friendship with all I’ve got. And maybe it comes off as needy, and it’s more than most people can handle.

I wish people would just be honest. If they find me shallow and unlikeable, I’d rather know where I stand than keep living a lie and be disappointed.

The other option is for me to become even more emotionally detached. I don’t care about getting hurt; what I want to avoid is being the butt of the gigantic practical joke that is my life. Would be embarrassing to find out you were fooled into believing someone actually liked you.

Ah I hate this! Why must I think like a 12 yr old???

I am your toxic friend

Some things don’t show… but they eat you up inside.

J and I originally bonded over being annoyed by the same thing somebody did… that’s not a good sign.

I know I’m judgmental… but im not proud of it. And i didnt want that to be the only thing the two of us had in common. I’m not generally critical for the sake of it… it’s more like a defense mechanism. I have too much negative energy of my own to inviteĀ peopleĀ into my life who are mean-spirited for a laugh.

that was my thought processĀ while i was cutting her off. it’s probably the most i have ever come to devalue a person, but even at the time i still realized i was being idiotic; i just couldn’t help it.

The real reason I surgically removed her from my life was that I couldn’t bear that she was moving on whereas i was stuck. She’d used to be so adorkable, and now she was skinnier, prettier, … better.

I don’t hate any of you; I think you all deserve all the happiness in the world. And when i see you happy, i’m happy for you. But at the same time, it’s a painful reminder of my own inadequacy and inability to do anything with my life.

I know my feelings are not about you, they have nothing to do with you, it’s all my low self-esteem. But I can’t rationalize myself out of envy. Envy that’s not directed at any one person in particular, but at the general idea of happiness that to me seems so unattainable.

so if i become distant, im sorry. it’s not your fault, and im simply doing what feels like the right thing to do: deciding not to expose you to any more of my negativity. more often than not, i will isolate myself from people because of how guilty i feel about treating them poorly, even just in my mind.

i hope that feeling guilty about it indicates a degree of choice i have in the matter. perhaps not consciously… yet.

that would mean i can change.

what it’s like when your favorite person leaves

I’m not afraid of being alone
I just don’t know what to do with my time
Between you and me
I thought it would all last a little while longer

Have you ever met somebody and thought to yourself, well, there, now I know what perfection looks like? and i don’t mean in a romantic way. you’re just so in awe of them that you can hardly believe that they’re real, and that you, of all people, should have been so lucky as to be deemed worthy of their friendship. and you can’t find any fault with them, or acknowledge one when it’s pointed out to you by somebody else, because they just don’t understand. but you know better than that; you feel blessed to be in their life in any capacity, no matter how small, and you treasure every morsel of attention or affection thrown your way.

Well, that’s what L was to me… until she wasn’t.

It’s hardĀ notĀ to be in awe of L when you meet her.Ā She is objectively the sweetest person ever, ill give you that. But that’s what makes the whole thing even more confusing: it’s hard to distinguish between all the positive qualities that she possesses and the positive attention she receives based on that from pretty much everyone she meets… and the god-like status to which I have elevated her. The line gets blurry between being genuinely impressed by her inner and outer beauty and the positive vibes she gives off… and the obsessive need to not just have her in my life, but become one with her — impress, imitate, and identify with her — that I still feel.

It’s all well and good to appreciate, even admire, people in your life. indeed L positively impacted mine in more ways than I can count. but it’s important to maintain healthy boundaries. most people, when they come into contact with somebody, no matter how amazing, preserve their basic sense of self. I … didn’t know there was such a thing.

Who keeps company with the wolf will learn to howl

I don’t remember who I was before i met her. And after she left, i was reduced to nothing. why, you might ask. let me explain.

it was a gradual process, her becoming my “substitute personality”. at first there were still parts of me that felt authentic. but over time, my life increasingly became about impressing her. L is a very opinionated girl, and if she disagrees with you or doesn’t like something, she will tell you (sometimes without being asked). what she didn’t take into account was how much i internalized criticism, especially coming from her. how much every piece of unsolicited advice, every backhanded compliment, every joke that had a grain of truth to it, hurt me and made me doubt myself.

i’m not saying she did any of this on purpose — and you may notice a theme of me blaming people for various things wrong with me; youre not wrong, but that’s not exactly what I mean. It’s not my fault that i’m oversensitive, either. i know its my problem that i take everything personally. but it doesn’t change the fact that i was hurt… over and over again. and if it means i have to forgive people for things nobody should apologize for in the first place, just because that’s what i need to move on, so be it.

if L said so then itĀ mustĀ be true!

Be that as it may, L has a lot of charisma. She sometimes jokes about starting her own cult, even. In retrospect, that’s kind of what it felt like to be her “BFF”. It’s not that she wouldn’t let you do you; but it takes a stronger personality than mine not to internalize her pronouncements. What she said was, I like chocolate cake better; what I heard was, Don’t order strawberry. I could read Donald Duck instead of WITCH if I wanted to… not in so many words, but she made it clear that I was wrong.

Yes, that’s the kind of conversation we were having at that age, but the principle remains the same. The dynamic’s the same.

I can’t stress this enough, she is such a positive person, and im infinitely grateful for having her in my life; im a better person for it, and i cant imagine what i’d be without her.

However, she was just too unapologetically herself for me to handle. too mature, too assertive, too confident.

and i was the opposite.

so i stopped liking strawberry cake.

and i no longer devoured comic books.

and over time, i forgot.

and i ditched the things i used to hold dear, and i kept my opinions to myself, buried deep, while enthusiastically nodding in faux-agreement with whatever she was saying, and i only shared with her what i thought she would approve of.

she was this all-encompassing Presence that was always quietly judging me and that i always wanted to please, above all else.

you know what that reminds me of? god, that’s what.

and like all people of faith, i built my life around her.

and then she… left.

At age fifteen, she moved back to India, where she is from, and I practically lost touch with her. but the pain of her leaving, leaving me, was excruciating, unlike anything I’d experienced before (or after). She was quite literally my everything.

When i started high school, i was all alone. my entire world had just fallen apart, and i had no supportive group of friends to fall back on. and to top it all off, i had just hit puberty (yes im a late bloomer).

i was confused, i was alone, and i was helpless. so… i developed an eating disorder.

This is all just one story i can tell myself. there are probably countless more ways to frame the same train of events. but that’s the way it felt to me. and to be honest, it still feels that way, even after all these years.

and i still have no concept of “normal” friendship, and i still don’t let anybody get too close.

that’s the “idealizing” part.

i have yet to devalue.

… before i can reach a happy medium.