This is what optimism looks like.

Sometimes, to discover something new, you have to get lost first.

Sometimes, to discover something new, you have to get lost first.


I made a wrong turn on my way to teach at an unfamiliar location. First, you have to deal with the irrational thinking: Don’t panic. You are early. You have time to turn around and get back on track.  And what if you were late? Is that a catastrophe?  Is it life or death? No seriously.  Will anyone die if I’m late? No. Of course not. So it’s not a catastrophe; it’s an inconvenience.  My GPS will get me back where I need to be. And hey, (here’s the second part of this optimistic thinking job ) isn’t it great that GPS is so available these days? Right here on my cellphone.  I remember how much stress getting lost cost me back in the way back, before I had that. It’s nice to be able to let that particular stresser go. And look, there’s one of my favorite restaurants. Now I know where I can go for lunch in this unfamiliar city. How cool is that? Oh, what’s that? A restaurant with “all organic Japanese salads ” What is that?” I’ve never eaten any place like that before. Maybe I’ll try that for lunch. Trying new things makes me feel pretty good -I like adventures.  It’s a good thing I took that wrong turn back there.

Yes, I really think that way. No, it does not come naturally.  Does it for some people? I can’t help but think so. In fact, I tend to feel thus kind of optimistic thinking comes naturally for almost everyone else but me. That statement has some key words in it that makes me think I may have some irrational thinking in that area, but that’s a job for another day. Right now, the important thing for me to is to carefully practice my optimistic thinking. Two things happened there just now. First, I avoided the downward spiral my PTSD wanted to toss me into that was going to start with panicking over getting lost, and spiral into unfounded conclusions like, “I’m going to get fired!” and probably shoot off from there into doubt of my self worth. Second, I practiced the habit of looking for aspects of my situation that might actually be positive.  That’s really, really hard. If it sounded a little forced there, especially at the beginning,  it’s because it WAS. You don’t start off naturally brushing your teeth regularly without someone, you, mom, your girlfriend -working on it. Reinforcing the habit. And until it becomes a habit, it doesn’t feel natural. Ever tried to diet? You have to consciously practice those good eating habits. It doesn’t just magically happen. For some reason, people don’t realize you can apply the same principles to you thoughts. You can consciously practice optimistic thinking. Until it becomes a habit.

I can’t wait to find out what an organic, Japanese salad tastes like.

Advertisements

Communication Breakdown

Standing in a tunnel, shouting in the wind...

Standing in a tunnel, shouting in the wind…

This is what it’s like to live with someone with a communication disorder:

Child comes and snuggles in my lap. “I love you, ” I say.

“I you.”

“Aw, thank you. You’re my favorite person.”

She nods in agreement.  “And- I smell.”

“Ah,” I say, knowingly.  We’ve had this conversation before.  “You want some orange juice. ”

She smiles and hugs me, and I get up to get her some orange juice.

 

Forever.

wpid-wp-1409373211006.jpeg

Sometimes I contemplate my memories and I feel terrified. Not because of their content: it’s the good memories that make me feel this way.

Someone who had some authority in the matter once told me that NO MEMORY is genuine. That is, the very first time we remember an event, even split seconds after it happened, the memory is flawed. It’s not what really happened, but a recreation. It’s our brain massing together some chemicals to retell a story the best we can recall. We are fooling ourselves if we think of our memories as an exact recording of events–a movie printed on the filmstrip of our mind. Physically, that’s what a memory is–a bunch of chemicals, which is the first place things can go wrong, if that brain recipe isn’t just right–whipped together in your skull mixing bowl to recreate what you think happened. Even things you think are perfectly factual: a smell that you feel went along strongly with the memory, isn’t going to be remembered the same way, or at all, by someone who was standing right there next to you as the event unfolded. I’m reminded of the cilantro conundrum, where they finally proved that people that loved cilantro and people who hated cilantro REALLY WERE actually tasting cilantro in a wholly different way from one another.

But the memories I’m worried about–the issue isn’t that someone else might be remembering them differently–although I’m sure you can see where that aspect can lead to miles of discussion. The problem for me is realizing that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get a filmstrip of what’s happening. Here is one of those memories that inspire such terror in me, something that just happened:

My little daughter comes into the bedroom. I’ve had a long week–my first week at a new job, and I’m still reeling from the loss of the wedding and my new unsure ground with her dad. He’s not here of course. We don’t know where he is. That’s typical. But I’m relaxed. I’m laying on the bed, the patio door is open and its grown dark, the cat is petting himself on my outstretched hand as I just doze. Suddenly that little bundle of sweetness bounces in and perched on the bed near my head. I can just see her face in the fading blue light. Her eyes are glimmering and in that smile shape. Yes, she’s smiling. There are the dimples. “I want more juice bottle.”

“Okaay…”

Just the slightest shadow passes over her smile because I am slow to answer and haven’t jumped up to get her juice. Did I understand her and what she wanted? Is she going to have to wait a -to her toddler mind–unbearable long time for me to shake off my sleepiness and get up to get her more juice? I am quick to reassure her:

“I’m going to get you more juice. But…you’ll have to pay me first.”

The shadow leaves, and the smile actually grows bigger. Oh! This is a game. The slightest of thoughtful crinkles touches her eyes and she starts to turn to leave. Oh goodness, she actually has something in mind! Is she heading for her piggy bank? Or has she thought of something incredible and funny and unexpected? Part of me wants to find out, but part of me really wants what I originally intended, not just for me, but for the effect it will have on her. So I let her off the hook.

“I’ll need your best kiss.”

What do you know, it possible for that smile to get bigger. That look on her face is just what I was hoping for: she is surprised and bemused and very happy because I’ve asked for something she knows she good at and she can deliver. She actually winds up. Sits back and straightens up and takes a big healthy breath in, and then dives in and gives me the sweetest baby kiss on my right cheek. It’s not even too slobbery. And I try so hard to freeze that moment in mind.

Even as I’m getting up and walking into the kitchen, as I’m getting the juice, as I’m responding to her chatter with, I admit it, half a mind, I am trying to cement that one moment in my mind. The sweet squeak and timber of her voice. The sound of her breath. The way that kiss felt–carrying with it that incredible gentle softness of touch that only babies and very small children have. I want it recorded like a move, but I’m already realizing it’s hopeless. I try to recall other details from the environment. The way the mattress felt, the feel of the cool air and the night sounds from outside the patio, the cat’s purr. Was the cat purring? Oh God, see? Already I’m not sure. And you’re supposed to remember these kind of details, to help you recall the important parts of the memory. Recall, not play back. Redo. Recreate. It is slipping away from, becoming intangible, sliding away down the drain of my mind to get lost in some great homogenous river.

I try to think back to similar moments with my older kids. From when they were little like this one. I start to reassemble memories, but there’s nothing there I can just play back. I can hear each one of their little voices. Each one’s was different and sweet. The oldest–even when he was small, he always sounded a little worried, earnest. Tiny Tim’s really was the tiniest, like you would imagine belonging to a little cartoon mouse. And my older daughter, she has this one constant note in her voice, like her own specially minted bell, that is always ringing the way a tuning fork would, behind every sound she makes. It’s there in her adult voice still, and it was already there in her little voice. I can imagine the things they said. Every morning, while I was pregnant with his sister, Tiny Tim would come in at the break of dawn and curl up with me and whisper, “I love you mom.” and then he would put his mouth up against my belly and whisper, “I love you, little sister.” I KNOW this happened. But even as I “remember” it, I realize I am just recreating it. I don’t actually remember–have printed on mindfilm, any of the moments where this happened. As I turn it around and around in my head, I can come up with a setting. Early in the morning–I need the bedroom, then. Where did we live at the time? Ah, right. That bedroom. Once I have that, I can even supply the most likely bedspread for the time. Oh, that awful lamp. That was there too. But the more I build the picture, the more I despair. Because that’s all I’m doing: reassembling the pieces, painting a collage of what logically must have all gone together–and voila! My brain spits out a “memory” at the end. But it’s not. It’s not real. Even if I put it all back together just right, if I somehow managed to hold all the minute pieces all these years and somehow miraculously stuck them all back together exactly right–it’s not the memory from 17 years ago. I made it brand new, just now.

And what kills me, what really kills me, is that I know that I did the same thing back then, that I just did right now: I thought, “I want to remember this moment forever.”

The Wedding is Off. Again.

I wish I could say that I had been excitedly publishing my wedding plans for months in this blog. The truth is, I start this blog at the end, not the beginning.

The truth is, I would have been afraid to anyways.

It doesn’t matter if my (now-ex) fiancee promised and swore up and down that this wedding would happen. That just this once, he would keep his promises. I guess deep down, I knew he wouldn’t. So I was afraid to say much about it, to plan it, to do things to get ready for it -to enjoy it- the way other brides get to. Because you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And sure enough, every other week or so, he’d have a mood swing and the wedding would be off. Most likely our relationship would be off and he’d bee packing his stuff. And then a day or two later, a couple of weeks later, or maybe the next day, I get a text from him, “Hey, what was the title of the book you wanted to read, again?” Or I come home and find him sitting in my living room in front of the computer, looking at me like I’m crazy when I’m surprised to see him there.

I shouldn’t have let it stall off my wedding planning and set-up. I shouldn’t have even let it it get to me. After SIX YEARS of this, it shouldn’t get to me.

But it did, every time. And every time I stopped the wedding stuff until he decided it was better and back on again, AND until even later, when I decided he was better and it was back on again. And then finally I realized that I was out of time and not ready. Not to mention that the money was gone–spent on a boat and an obscenely priced car stereo system purchase during his manic states.

So I decided I was going to ACT like it didn’t get to me (even though it always does). I did not stop preparing for the wedding even when he packed his stuff, or reduced me to tears, or told me it was off because he didn’t love anyone, could never feel love. I told myself that logically he always flips back (and he always does) and just to keep forging on. Sir Ernest Shackleton is my freakin’ hero!

And it was working. I kept my happiness journal every day. I just said “ok,” and worked on my rational thinking, no matter what he said or did. I pulled out my CBT journal every time I couldn’t breathe. I found a cake maker, I reserved the reception hall. I got our daughter her flower girl dress, and started working out the food logistics with one of the bestest friends I ever had. And the more I got done, the more antagonistic he got. And I just took it and took it and took it. So I don’t know what happened.

I just snapped.

After a particularly bad weekend that included him yelling at me about the way I walked in a parking lot because he didn’t like the customer service we got from Sprint, he sent the following texts,

“I’m starting to seriously think we are better off not being together.”

and

“I don’t want to get married.”

and

“I need you to clean the computer.”

My intention was to be calm and logical about it and just tell him, again, “Ok.” I really don’t know what keeps happening though. When it next came up, and I calmly told him I wasn’t working on the wedding any more, he was surprised. I think that was the thing that broke my camel back. The last thing he said to me about it was that he didn’t want to get married and here he was surprised to find out that we weren’t getting married. This stuff…these awful things, wouldn’t stop coming out of my mouth. Nothing outrageous–no accusations of baby eating and associating with communists–just told him exactly how he had been making me feel over the last year or so since we set the wedding date. And it’s not like, I hadn’t told him before. I did, calmly and logically, careful to use my “I” language. Was I too nice? Does he need me to act like an angry little child before he believes a word I say? Or did the noise in his head just drown out my voice? I don’t know, but he was surprised. And… because he was surprised that we weren’t getting married, that I seemed…upset, for some reason…I just flipped to the darkside. The. Words. Would. Not. Stop. Coming. Out. Of. My. Mouth.

Even the next day, when he tried to send me some harmless little text message–his way of saying, “We are gradually, over the course of the next day or so, forget anything ever happened (including any wedding plans),” the words kept coming! I said things at this point that I knew would set off his depression and anger–the “stepping on eggshells zone” –and I just kept going. I wound myself up. I couldn’t concentrate enough to use my CBT. I had a bad dissociative episode and got lost in my own neighborhood for hours. Three days later and he came over to drop off some paperwork–but first he wanted to talk. He held out all his dysfunctional signals for me to take and start pretending everything was ok again, and instead of taking them and getting on with things again, the Words came again. I left him dejected and tearful sitting in his car out in the parking lot. And I wish I could say that I don’t care. But it’s the opposite. I feel awful. I feel like an out-of-control monster. But the Words won’t stop.

Which brings me to the whole point of this post. See, the thing I never got, the thing that always rubs me the wrong way, is this little piece of wisdom you get, not just from CBT media, but from a lot of sources. That if you love yourself, and are careful not practice irrational thinking in your relationship, your relationship will be good. Happiness is in the journey.

“To be loved, I have to love myself.”

“The right person will be attracted to me.”

“True love can occur if I like myself first.”

“Reading minds can lead to misunderstanding.”

Forgiveness. Take responsibility for your feelings. Stop bringing up old hurts, and they magically won’t be a problem in your relationship anymore.

But:

“Rejection doesn’t mean I’m unlovable.”

“I have a lot to offer the *right* person.”

“Sometimes love may take time to find.”

“I don’t want to enable others.”

Well, which is it? If I’m all shiny and happy, will I have good relationships? Am I supposed to WORK on making things better? Or is it that I’m supposed to avoid negative people, even if it’s my loved one, in order to stay happy? What if your loved one refuses to cooperate and no matter how freaking happy and understanding you are, they remain negative and combative? Is there a zen way to reject someone that keeps bringing you pain? Or are you supposed to be so freakin’ zen you can find your quiet spot and somehow win them over? Is it then your fault if your relationship continues to suck? Are you just NOT happycalmunderstandingemtionallywelcoming the freak enough?!!!

I can’t help but feel these relationship gurus-counselors-psycologists-experts are really saying, “Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t and we don’t actually know why. BUT if we don’t mention both at the same time, maybe we can keep fooling you into thinking its all one way other the other instead of Just. Completely. Random.”

For scientific discovery give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” Sir Raymond Priestly, Antarctic Explorer and Geologist.

Love.

One of the things I explain to people when they are trying to understand why someone would stay in an abusive relationship is that your experiences and environment growing up can be a factor.  I would quip, “I listened to the little pope in my head!”
Now I have Deepak Chopra in my pocket:
“Love doesn’t need a reason. It speaks from the irrational wisdom of the heart.”