I’ve been reading a variety of self-help books in and around trashy sci-fi and research for the NaNo I probably won’t write this month (between work and family fights and now my Dad’s being in the hospital with a complication he’ll get over, but it’s going to take most of a week). While I’m not a fan of the genre, per se, I’ve felt the need for a different perspective than therapy (and something besides writing in my journal, which I suck at) to supplement all the therapy I’ve been doing until just the last two weeks. The good self-help books share some things in common– they underline the essential truth that we are all human, that we make mistakes and can’t be omniscient, and that this is okay in the long run, even if it sucks in the moment. The best books, self-help or otherwise, underline the even more essential truth that I think anyone who’s really going to be ok at the “adult” thing has to accept: everyone else is as messed up as you, at one point or another, whether or not they’re better than you at hiding that fact.
The minute you really, really grasp that absolutely everyone in the world is or has been as fucked up as you, and that everyone– everyone, unless they’re, you know, a delusional psychopath or otherwise not well in their minds– runs in circles in their own heads, all the time, saying oh my god I don’t know what I’m doing I’m not ready for this I don’t know what I’m doing someone else fix this for me I don’t want to deal with this why can’t I go back to bed until it’s fixed like magic? That feeling, that hide-under-the-covers-from-the-real-world sensation– it’s as universal a truth as death and taxis never coming within the time they say you’ll hail them.
But accepting that truth, that everyone else is as messed up as you? It’s a double-edged sword. Because in one sense, it’s freeing– you can be as human as you like, be as you as you like, because anyone who dares to judge you is just a hypocrite and they can go straight to hell. The flip side of that token, though, is that at any given moment that you’re having your own “this adult thing really sucks” meltdown, someone on whom you would like to rely is doing the same thing– which winds you up even more, because how dare they?!? Don’t they know you’re trying to hide from the world, and you were trying to get them to help you fix things?
It’s hard to maintain compassion when you want someone else to help you and maybe even have gotten far enough in your shitty self-help books to be honest about it, and then people let you down– you feel like a kicked child, betrayed in the vilest of ways, because you were open and honest and got rejected, instead. Even when the reason had more to do with someone else’s failures and less to do with their indifference to or dislike of you.
That feeling of rejection is exhausting, hard to bounce back from– it’s a feeling you’re neveready for and the shock of it drains your batteries, leaving your limp. You feel wiped out because you’ve done what you’re supposed to: been honest, up front with your boundaries/needs/expectations, and instead, you’ve gotten nothing, not the something (anything) that you had hoped might result. Hope might be that thing that wings, but rejection is that solo crash when you’re flying blind, too close to the sun, and not at safe cruising altitude with a competent copilot.
And it’s ok to feel angry at that rejection, at that failure; in some cases, it’s okay to decide that persistent failure or unreliability by the other so-called adults in your life is reasonable enough basis to limit your interactions with them or cut them out all together– but goddamn, does it suck, the loss of somebody else whom you’d hoped maybe, might help.
I don’t regret the row I had with my mother and brother around my birthday, because it was a tempest in a meta-conflict that represented my entire childhood’s role reversal dynamic and my refusal to be made to be the mom anymore. I made my expectations clear to my brother well in advance, and he chose lack of conflict with the crazy mother over actually doing something considerate for the person who actually tries to be helpful and not a pain in the ass. I don’t regret, either, the words I had with my mother, because despite the fact that I’m essentially beating my head against a brick wall and she won’t ever get it, the fact still remains: why the hell did I turn my whole life upside down if it wasn’t to stand up for myself, no matter what? I am standing up for myself, because no one else will, regularly.
I know what I want, and I know what I feel even if I don’t know where that leads in terms of “want” in the long term. I can be relied on to buy myself flowers. I can be relied on to take a mental health day when I really need it, and not cast aspersions on my general ability to do my damned job. There’s nothing wrong with my expressing that I’m done with somebody’s bull, even if it means deciding that I’m going to be narrowing my social circle, or what I trust to tell others. There’s nothing wrong with telling people to go to hell when they betray your trust, especially when you’ve specifically asked it of them and then they blithely stomp on it (you).
I don’t regret the row I had with my therapist, either– she knew I was in a wound-up place the last several weeks but chose to push all my money buttons and essentially deliberately trigger a panic reaction in me because my insurance company wasn’t responding quickly enough to the claims she’d submitted and which I had diligently been working on and following up with her about– by email, out of session. The fact that she essentially manipulated me into freaking out about it during a session I was paying her for– I was paying her to talk about her not getting paid, instead of her actually paying her own billing person to do that for her– and that it was only after I had gotten my higher-up benefits folks sicced on the claim and forwarded the response to her that she “apologized?” Well. We hadn’t been agreeing about several things for the last while, and while there are things I’ve learned while working with her, I’ve also been fed up with her resistance to my attempts at telling her that certain “therapeutic” tendencies of hers drive me batshit, and that sometimes I just need straight talk. So– while I am still furious about her lack of professionalism (even if in general I agree she had the right to get paid) because I think she knew better but was reckless about how I would respond to her putting the screws on me– in a session I paid for– in the end, while it sucks that I don’t have anyone, currently, to talk and vent to, I suppose it’s just as well, because she wasn’t really fully listening to me. Still. It’s a lost relationship, and one that I’d fought hard to keep, one that I worked at because I hate talking aloud about feelings, and now it is gone.
I had a not-row with some people in my work group on Friday– we were supposed to go out to do something that didn’t involve my crazy family for my birthday, and for one reason or another they all bailed or flaked and didn’t do the work to realize where we were going or how long it would take– and I got all the way there, then had to turn around and come home, alone. I am not going to have a big “you all suck, you let me down” conversation with them, but I won’t be asking for any help or to socialize in the future. It makes me sad, because I had hopes for that group, but I don’t have the patience or time to keep expending effort on people who can’t pay attention. The end.
In the meantime, though, my busy but grown up friends and some of my family did send me nice wishes, including folks I miss like all hell, and people I haven’t done all that well keeping in contact with. My friend Dani even sent me the most beautiful flowers, which were the perfect thing Friday night when I got home ready to crawl into bed– and instead got to spend a half-hour arranging a giant bouquet of gerberas. I have slowly been sending responses, and am going to try to catch up, because all these folks are family of sorts, friends and people worthy of love & loving responses.
My dad, of course, was responding to my blues in an overdemonstrative manner that proves another point in those self-help books: we have to learn how to say thank you, even if the praise makes us uncomfortable and we don’t feel worthy. We’re being hypocrites to ourselves, elsewise– you can’t tell someone to butt the hell out of your life because you’re worth something, then protest too much in the next breath. You’ve got to learn to accept that praise and attention are their own form of help, and if they’re not in the form you specifically asked for, well– you don’t refuse to look at a rainbow just because it’s not happening on the day of your wish.
In the end, though, all the self-help books won’t help you accept– you can get as old as you like but inside your head, you’ll never feel ready for the things life throws at you, and you’ll often feel angry or depressed or self-righteous or some other amped-up feeling when something that’s really, truly not fair happens to you and you have to deal with it all by yourself, because that’s just the way that life is. And that is what it is– but you can’t wallow. And even though you’re not ready, you’ve got to leap off the cliff and hope your wings are on right, maybe, this time, and flap, flap like hell and head for the horizon and try to ignore the ground because looking down doesn’t get you forward.
This week, the flying freakout is dad getting older, and getting him what he needs in the hospital, even if that means dealing with my self-absorbed avoidant shit of a brother, because it’s medical and therefore not feelings but clinical for him, so he feels free to butt in even though, at the end of the day, I’m the pertinent historian and caretaker. (Ok, so I’m not yet done being mad at my brother for being a tool. That’s ok, as long as I fight with him where my dad can’t see.) It includes returning emails and calls from friends and putting off plans for this week but setting them up for next week and not trying to hide in a hole just because I know I’m going to freakout about becoming a caretaker and desperately want to say to someone with the power to make it so: please, don’t make it slow, whatever you do. Because I can wish that all that I want, as awful as that thought may be on one hand (and as miserably hopeful for everyone’s lack of suffering on the other), but life is all the freakouts and missed connections and temper tantrums, not just the plans you’ve postponed to have a nice time some day.
You’ve got to have the nice time when it’s there, even if it’s not when you planned, and you weren’t ready for it. Here’s the thing: you’re never ready. And that’s sort of okay.