When I was a child, my mother suggested I keep a diary. I told her that boys don’t keep diaries, they keep journals.
Or maybe I constructed that memory. Maybe I mentioned to some friends that I was keeping a diary, and they laughed at it until I started calling it a journal.
Memory is like that: We hold them in our heads as if they’re objective truths, while our emotions sculpt them however they please. Want to make yourself sad? Build a memory for that. What to help yourself feel confident? Build a memory for that.
There is some truth in memories; they’re at least based on true events, but the parts we remember, and how the details mesh together, and the specific words and tones that were used, are shaped by our emotions.
Perhaps both things happened: My mother suggested I keep a diary, and so I started. Then I mentioned it to my friends, and they laughed at me. So the next time my mother mentioned it, I reported the terminology change.
Regardless, I didn’t keep a diary very consistently. Throughout most of my life, I haven’t. Around my house are many false-start diaries, some that I kept for days, others for weeks. In some cases, I found an old diary, sometimes years-old, and started adding to it again.
I mention my mother in this because I don’t think it was her desire to make me feel miserable. I think she genuinely wanted to help, she just didn’t know how.
Do scorpions mean to hurt people? Or is it just their nature, because they don’t know how to do anything else?
It’s easy to condemn someone with no remorse, whose destructive actions come from a place of callous indifference to the feelings of others. It’s quite another to condemn someone who truly wants to do the right things, to do the compassionate things, but who is so broken by their own upbringing that they just don’t know how to change, and can’t implement the guidance of others.
My mother was that broken. I use the past tense even though she’s still alive. The Current Her is not very relevant to my life.
I used to be angry, and while there is some rage left, mostly, it’s sadness. Sad that she could never navigate her way out of that darkness, even as she tried. It was on her to do so; she did reach out, spending most of my life in therapy, including several trips to the psychiatric ward of the hospital. The therapy never seemed to take.
I remember she so badly wanted her mental struggles to have a biological cause: She had a hysterectomy and a thyroidectomy. She complained of hypoglycemia. It was her claim of fibromyalgia that was my breaking point, where I told her I couldn’t interact with her anymore.
And I’m sure that there was a biological element to them, but I’m also sure that it wasn’t as large as she wanted it to be.
On one level, she hated being broken, in the same way that I wish I wasn’t broken.
On another though, there’s a power in misery. There is social capital in being broken. Psychologists remind us that negative attention is still attention; if you’ve grown up with a paucity of positive attention, you may well think that negative attention is the only effective way to get noticed.
I was thinking about the SNL character Debbie Downer recently. It’s a facile way for people to show a lack of compassion for people like my mother, and like I can be when I’m falling into toxic patterns.
I often feel like I can’t reach out to people when I’m feeling happy. When I’m happy, I struggle with knowing what to say to others. “Hi, I’m doing well, I hope you are too.” Then what?
Small talk, sure, but small talk is difficult for me to navigate. “Have you seen the latest episode of She-Hulk?” “Sure, it was awesome.” “Really? What kind of classless fool would like that show? I tried to watch it, but oh my God.”
Every word can feel like a landmine. The other day, I spent some time with a dear friend, and there were half a dozen spots where I cringed at my own statements. How would they take that? Did I just offend them?
I used to fight those moments, but now I just let them be. They are fruit flies in my mind, and if I swat at them they fly around and get in my vision. If I just ignore them, they settle in one place and just … persist in peace.
I have lots of experience, way too much experience, Talking While Depressed. So if I’m feeling lonely and want to interact, taking the role of “depressed friend in need of cheering up” is an easy one to play.
Not a good one to play, and to keep things honest, my brain convinces me I’m depressed. Which makes it even worse. How often have I gotten depressed solely as a way to reach out to people?
I do not want this to continue.
I am actively choosing to not let this continue.
Hey, me, remember how much better it feels to honestly connect with someone, on both emotionally meaningful and just for fun levels? Practice that, forget all that stuff about “People will show love if I’m broken”. You’ve mastered that, now work on a new script.
It’s okay to cry when you’re truly sad. Just… stop making yourself sad for the sole purpose of garnering attention. That’s the point.
Anyway, enough reflection for today, time to go do stuff.