Friday, August 7, 2009

Who Do You Think I Am?

One thing I have real difficulty with still, and that is my place among other people.

There are some fine lines in this area; I'll try to be as clear as possible.

I am happy in my own company; I am somewhat reclusive but not, I think, dangerously so. I am terminally shy, something that seems to run in my family; all my siblings seem to be more comfortable with themselves than with others.

When I was sick, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how other people saw me. I was very, very bad at it, of course, but it meant a great deal to me. My perceptions of the world I lived in and the people who populated it were so bad that very little in the way of human relationships made sense to me, and I was constantly trying to figure things out, with almost no success.

As Doc put it to me: "Julia, any given situation can be viewed in one hundred different ways, and 99 of those are likely to be wrong." I had a lot of re-training to do.

Let me see if I can give an example.

Nearly 15 years ago, I was living almost a thousand miles away from my parents. I was working for a non-profit organization and not making much money. My older sister called to say, hey, I know you're not planning to come home for Christmas, but the parents aren't getting any younger, and I'd buy you a plane ticket if you'll come home.

I was stunned. I was furious. I was so upset that I cried, literally, for 15 hours, and then I called my sister back and read her a very incoherent riot act.

I now believe that she meant what she said, no more, no less. But my interpretation went like this: I know you're not planning to come home for Christmas because you're thoughtless and a loser and you're completely irresponsible financially, but the parents aren't getting any younger, and I'd buy you a plane ticket if you'll come home because God knows you don't have the money and wouldn't spend it on somebody else if you did. Since you can't run your life on your own, why not just do what we tell you, and after Christmas you can go back to pretending you're a grownup.

I was more than a little difficult to deal with.

These days, after a lot of work, I am better; at least I no longer assume that people know or think the worst of me. But while I no longer assume what others think of me, it's also true that I can't read the opinions of others well at all.

On the whole I think I would rather be uncertain than dead wrong.

This all came about because of a long meeting I had with my boss this afternoon. I've worked for him for almost five years. We get along well and I respect him. But on days like today I truly could not tell you whether he was sympathetic with the problem I was trying to solve, whether he had had a bad day, or whether he was sorry he had ever hired me.

With friends and even some family members, I find it difficult to know whether I am welcomed or tolerated as the odd aunt.

I tend to keep a certain distance in most relationships, as if to say "
I like me; if you don't like me, that's too bad - you don't know me as well as I do. If you did, you'd like me better; meantime, we'll both be happier in other company." I always know where the (emotional) door is. I seldom need to use it any more, but I still like to know where it is.

I call things like this - unhealed leftovers from the bad old days - emotional limps, and I'm really not sure how to fix this one.


  1. (I wish I could quote and cut/paste here.)

    The Doc who said there might be 100 views of a situation with only one correct view should be bitch slapped. He/she could have remarked that if a view of a situation hurts you to craziness, then it's probably an incorrect view. Just living as long as you have you have already learned how very few people are terribly hurt by, for example, the ordinary sentence your Sister offered.

    By default, things are good. Making complex situations real is not a life objective for the bi-polar or chronically depressed. Making LIFE real ENOUGH to please you and not harm other is a virtuous objective.

    The Doc could instead suggested The Virtues of Chosen Delusions, AKA: Personal Myth, How you want to be, and fuck what The Doc thinks you want or should be. The Doc is living in a delusion, too. He/she has achieved a certain profession which is rife with delusion, and making a damned good living at it. Suggest to The Doc that he's living in a delusion of competence might, just might trigger a situation he/she cannot cope with.

    More on personal myth some other time. But for now, start observing it other people. Choose those for which the myth works for them and does not harm others.

  2. I'm going to respond to as much of your comment as i can, as I'm grateful you took the time to write it.

    When I wrote about 100 perceptions, most of them wrong - I was referring to one doctor's treatment of one patient, that worked very well. I know enough about the variations in depression and in humans that I wouldn't ever try to recommend a treatment for someone else.

    My doctor wasn't talking about pain, specifically. He was saying that after a lifetime of illness, my ability to interpret the world around me was very poor, and he was correct.

    He absolutely did NOT suggest that pain must be, as you put it, the result of an incorrect view. But he did say (more or less) that I needed to re-learn how to evaluate what was going on around me.

    I've learned for myself that any time I'm absolutely certain of what's happening between human beings, chances are very good I'm missing some information. There are always things going on that I don't know about that affect the facts - and that, I think, is true for most of us.

    I can't make life more real or less real, more complex or less complex. It is what it is. But by taking my medication and observing the world and myself, I'm learning to to respond to life in a way that works for me and, wherever possible, for those around me, and to participate in the world at the level that suits me. That feels very good to me.