December 5, 2012

Even overachievers get the blues

Thank you Jesus, it’s all my parents fault.

No, seriously.

My therapist actually said those words.

Yes I’m seeing a new therapist but that’s beside the point.

Apparently, psychologists had no trouble detecting that those who rebel against authority do so because they were raised in either oppressive or very lenient circumstances. It took them a little longer to explain why those that attach the same importance to authority, but with a plus instead of a minus in front of it, exhibit an extreme sense of duty, responsibility, and guilt to and for everyone and everything, even if they were raised very laissez-faire.

You see where I am going with this.

Minimal boundaries, and minimal guidance. When you give a child free reign over its life, you also give them a terrible burden of responsibility that exceeds their knowledge of the world. If the child does not know that the fence is there to separate the front yard from the motorway, the safe zone from potential harm, then this responsibility also comes with a terrible sense of guilt: you chose to leave the safe zone, and if you got hit by a car, it is your own fault. We gave you freedom, you should have known how to handle it.

First I sat in my therapist’s office in amazement and catatonia, tears rolling down my face as only evidence of the effect this had on me. Why isn't this printed out in pamphlets and distributed in schools across the globe? Am I the only person in the world not to know about this? 
Then I walked for about two hours before getting on a train that would take me home, watching pieces of my psyche drop down like Tetris blocks, fitting into perfect shapes and clearing the screen for the next level.
I hugged and kissed my parents when I got home. They were happy that I had a breakthrough, even though I did not tell them what it was. I love those people more than anything in this world. I know it was no picnic getting me for a child. A child like me required, demanded free reign, even if she could have used a little more guidance. I am a glorious conglomerate of both their characters and temperaments. I accepted the dispositions they gave me and took them to a whole new level. And not only that, I have a baby sister who did the same. We're a cool bunch. I hope never to lose the pride, gratitude and humility that their love has given me.

I just needed an explanation.

This is why I have no measure. Because every step could be a splash in a puddle or a dive from a cliff.

This is why I take risks, but not responsibility. Because they could be the same thing for all I know.

This is why everything I touch does indeed turn to gold. Because I have had to develop an acute sense of choosing my battles. Which I lose at the drop of a hat the very next second.

This is why I can make people feel adored and despised in the same sentence.

And this is why, on a bad day, a raised eyebrow feels like a slap across the face. Because a misunderstanding might as well be the Trojan War.

This is why, on a bad day, I will ask for reassurance as annoyingly  and persistently as a three-year-old. But why? Tell me. Tell me again. Why? Tell me again. Please make sure that what you're telling me is the truth because I will take you for your word, very literally. It's all I know.

This is why I want to save the world but can’t get a blood test. Because I forget my age and place in this universe.

This is why, on a bad day, I will beat myself up for not being able to grant, give and secure everyone what they want, even if they never asked it of me. Because I apparently need to feel holier than Christ and be responsible for everyone’s happiness.
This is why, on a bad day, I feel like I am not allowed to express insecurity. Because the confidence that friends and family apparently have in me makes me feel guilty for admitting that there is a shit-ton of questioning, backpedaling and uncertainty behind every "achievement." Because, who am I to claim weakness in the face of all elsewhere-existing adversity in this world?

This is why, on a bad day, I will feel like the Chieko girl from Babel. Remember her? The one who spreads her legs from underneath her schoolgirl uniform and throws herself at police officers her father’s age, desperate and exasperated from lack of connection, getting empty stares, rejection and contempt no matter how hard she tries. I raise my emotional skirt and flash intimacy at those I feel connected with, and yet, on a bad day, I feel like I still come across as deaf and dumb. What language do I speak, that it is so difficult to convey? How can all this excess that I pour out be understood as a lack? And what fiction am I after, that I should feel so threatened to fall off the mark?


  1. You just described me perfectly. Absolutely. Every single thing you said. Though it never dawned on me that it was anything other than my personality. I tend to pick and choose the parts of my childhood I think have molded me. My mom tends to be the untouchable and unquestionable constant. Every mistake she might have made was made with good intention. Every leniency she gave me had a reason (a reason I was even able to articulate as a child). Every strict rule she had was made with good intention (that, again, I knew in the very moment, as a kid) Of course, everything I just said, I said objectively, as an illustration of my thought process, not because I believe it is true. I know my mother is not infallible, and she made me crazy sometimes. She still does sometimes. But I KNOW it goes both ways. After mothering me for 17 years, I can't even believe the woman is sane. I was a terrible teenager because I was. I chose to be. I enjoyed it, for the most part. Even when a doctor told me I had thus-n-such disorder and blah-fuckety-blah syndrome, I never considered the possibility that it was *why* I thought or behaved the way I did. In fact, doing so just tends to piss me off. Because I like myself. And I'm not giving all that credit to a disorder. What doctors would say is *disordered* I would say is merely a personality fault, which I will always be fixing in some way. Yes, medication helped... okay, medication saved my fucking life.... But the *I* that I know as *ME* is not because of a disorder or because someone done me wrong.... unless you want to talk about my father.... then I would tell you that every single thing that makes me *ME* is due to the very simple, maddening, sickening fact that he was my bogeyman that made me feel weak. That right there. Making me feel weak. Helpless. Incapable. AFRAID. Yeah. I would kill a man without conscience for that one simple thing. Without mercy. It is why I refuse to accept that there may exist anything in this version of reality that I cannot accomplish. And it is why, when I am up against something I truly cannot do, I belittle its importance until it has been rendered completely invalid. I hate psychiatrists. I hate needing one.

    1. ... and I believe that the multitude of comments on this post just proved my point :)

      There are two paragraphs missing from this post, with details about my upbringing that I decided to leave out. No pathology, just privacy. It's fascinating and frustrating living back home, having my parents serve as 24-7 mirrors and illustrations of character traits that it took me years to trace back to them, and that I chose not to have as part of my own character. Wow, I do that. Wow, I do that too. Wow, I don't want to do that anymore.

      It's funny, almost everyone I know hates psychiatrists, and psychologists. I hated them in college, when I had to take classes where the psych department lecturers would act superior because they could apparently predict and pigeon-hole all human behavior. I guess therapists have to learn to be a bit nicer if they want to earn their paychecks :) I have only had experience with psychologists in therapy, and I learned a great deal from them. I have great respect for anyone that can tell me something that I don't already know.

      But what makes me happiest is that third part of the human make-up that I firmly believe in: after genetics and upbringing, there is that element in all of us that makes our families say "I don't know where she gets it from." The black sheep element, or accidental psychological mutation, if you will, to be tested out for survival of the fittest.


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