I feel somewhat unprepared to write this blog entry, and almost considered not writing it altogether, but really, writing this entry after this past week gets to the crux of what I wanted to do with this project. Please forgive me, as thoughts will surely be scattered and the writing weak.
I had a difficult week. For the most part, I think I have been coping better than I expected these past few months. I have been angry and resentful, but these are understandable responses to reconciling histories of abuse after the fact. This week had me ticking off every depression symptom you will hear in a commercial for Zoloft.
A little background to this week—my family is looking to get me married. I am 23 years-old, very insecure, very rebellious, and overweight. Ever since I was a child, I avoided learning anything that could be described as even remotely domestic. However, my family is well-loved, my brother is highly regarded in the community, and I have a pleasant personality and a good education. Regardless, my mother and I are both insecure about the process in different ways and it just becomes a beast fraught with irrationality. I fear judgment from the people asking about me, and my mother can’t articulate my good qualities being so clouded by my shortcomings.
My mother has become obsessed with marrying me off, and compounding that with her already dismissive parenting has made life at home emotionally volatile. My mother alternates rapidly between cutting down any of my genuine interests and emphasizing how desperately she wants to refashion me in her image. She oscillates between a cruel, dismissive attitude about things I find value in and an almost naïve giddiness over the prospect of finding a guy.
It’s difficult to give words to because it does cut deep. I am 23 years old. I am not about to completely change everything about myself—and even if I tried, it would take at least a few months, if not years to develop habits contrary to how I live now.
And it saddens me to admit that up until this past month, that was exactly what I planned to do. I have lived a life full of anxiety, self-loathing, and fear. At the same time, I have explored my interests, challenged myself intellectually, and befriended some amazing people. These are not things I can abandon readily. I used to think I had to. I used to think that this life was finite and at some point, I would have to suppress all of my interests because they weren’t good—I was not good—and succumb to a life of docility. But tracing the toxic behaviors in my family (and in myself) has humanized these people who so often looked down at the things I found value in. Iconoclasm is sometimes good.
However, it is certainly a process—and a painful one. And it is sickening to have to hear how flawed one is over and over again and how they must change every fundamental aspect of their personality.
I went to see one of my favorite bands the other day, and as I was getting ready and exiting the house I had to hear how worthless my interest in music was, how shameful it was, how “good girls” don’t engage in those spaces. “When are you going to stop?” As if it was something that diminished my value in some human marketplace.
I can look at that and recognize rationally that there is no moral judgment that could possible be attached to seeing live shows or playing music. But the reality is that I grew up hearing that. I was hit and shamed over it when I was a kid. It can be the most meaningless drivel in the world, but I take it to heart. I believe it, even if I don’t act on it. And from the time and place she’s coming from—yeah, it’s scandalous. She can’t see the anachronism in her thought process.
And there is the practical aspect of it—it doesn’t “look good” in my community if girls go to shows. I can’t start talking to a guy with the intention of getting married and openly discuss this important part of my life. It’s symbolic of a larger problem. I have a political life, a social and cultural life that are more radical than what my community allows. There’s the risk any person I’m matched with will resent it, tell his mother who will then report it to community leaders and get me in trouble with religious leaders (at least symbolically in trouble). That information could find its way to my brother whose judgement is even more scathing than my mother’s. That risk is probably immensely slim, and the consequences close to nothing, but that fear has been with me for years.
My mother can be exceptionally cruel. It’s something I hate admitting because, of course, I love her to death and she has been through hell in her life; it has understandably shaped her into who she is. To call back to a previous post—we are both vulnerable subjects. Her cruelty, which in other circumstances could perhaps easily be shrugged off, is very precise and cutting in our context.
So being at home has been difficult. I had mostly confined myself to my room. My mom can’t comprehend the impact her words have on me. When this particular permutation of it started in early September, it was so painful. She had sat me down, told me she’d spoken to some women but they admitted to not being interested because I wasn’t slim enough. And she told me all of this with such condescension. As if I was not aware that I was overweight. That I wasn’t aware that a woman with a very thin son would perhaps not be interested in a girl like me.
My mother is very prideful. I cried, asked her to please not talk about it anymore, that I was happy for the first time in a long time and that this was bringing me down, but she persisted because she’s a type-A fixer who genuinely has solved countless problems and thus thinks that she can talk out every issue to a resolution, but when it doesn’t work she lashes out. Her responses got more and more aggressive and verbally abusive, permeated with a discourse of it being her right and her duty as a mother. I ended up self-harming right then. It was such an instantaneous thing. She was swearing at me, I hurt myself, and then we were both stunned and my face was bleeding.
That certainly ended the conversation, and unfortunately, that has been my go-to at least twice before. To stop her from completely demoralizing me, I perform some spectacular self-harm and scare the shit out of both of us. I do not judge self-harming. I learned that from my therapist. She talked about how if it was something I relied on to cope, then we could acknowledge it as that and if it was something I wanted to change, we could work on it. However, in these instances, it’s different from the coping kind. This is immediate. What I imagine seeing red feels like, except the act turns inward. And because there is absolutely no time to think, it can be dangerous.
Now that I think about it, these acts of self-harm have always arisen after (or during) altercations with my mother. This was seemingly harmless (although it made things feel worse at the time because my nose is one of the few things I’m happy with about my body—now there’s a puffy scar across the bridge. C’est la vie…), but in middle school I remember stopping myself from doing far more violent things to myself—my arms jutting out right before I could slam my head into our ceramic sink comes to mind.
Anyway, this was all about a month ago, and our dynamic is far less hostile but the content of our exchanges is very much the same. I avoid her, she speaks about some potential husband loud enough for me to make it out vaguely. I started knitting (as a coping mechanism, ironically), she became overcome with excitement over me becoming domesticated.
It took its toll this week. I’m still coming to terms with the abuse in my past, so to hear someone who may have my best interest at heart but is expressing it in borderline abusive ways was not something I could handle. I used all the coping mechanisms I had—writing, guitar, knitting, music, but I mostly just wept while I did all of those things and then got increasingly frustrated that they weren’t working. I ended up sleeping most of the time. In spite of myself, I refused to eat for a couple days, worked out, and celebrated when I lost weight. I withdrew from commitments, ignored friends, and just cried it out.
And on some level it worked. I put it out there that I was struggling and people responded. I gave my body and mind the time it needed to process damaging information, relied on others, and now feel good and have taken a lot of steps to getting myself out of this situation. For one, I’ve started applying for jobs again. Distance will probably be the most effective way to avoid falling into this slump again, so first I need to work on financial independence.
I suppose the best way for me to think about this is in how this experience was enabling. It is easy to focus on the negatives of having those days where I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t stop crying for long enough to go see friends. But once that passed, it was the memory of that feeling that drove me to bite the bullet and submit applications. A determination to not slump to that again, bolstered by the support and love of people who genuinely don’t want me to change, helped me overcome the otherwise stagnating fear of rejection that prevents me from applying to jobs. This is definitely different from before. The last time I was in this bad a slump, I became unrecognizable to myself—dispassionate and removed about everything. This time, I forced myself to put it out there in public ways—writing on tumblr, telling friends I wasn’t well—it’s not easy when shame is such a part of your nature, but it worked. And I’m glad that I was able to articulate even a sliver of what my scattered mind wants to get across in this post.
To close, I just want to mention that there was a lot of chance that played into me getting out of this slump. For example, I happened across this very poignant question to Mariella Frostrup (“I find it hard to cope with my critical mother”) which resonated very strongly and appeased my “hysterical need to be understood” (there’s my of Montreal reference for the post 😉 ).