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Secrecy Privacy

August 1st, 2010

I’ve been keeping secrets deliberately.  Right now it seems like the best thing to do.

At one time I believed that secrets were bad.  One should aways live the kind of life that allowed for complete transparency.  If you kept a secret it probably meant that you were doing something wrong.  You should try to be clear with everyone about everything.

Truth is, it’s more complicated than that.  Sometimes not telling is the best thing to do.  Sometimes it’s the only way to protect yourself.  Because people don’t understand.  They get judgemental, they don’t listen, or they don’t care.  I would rather carry a secret safely all by myself than share it with someone who will shrug and say “whatever”.  Or someone who will argue with me.  Or someone who will misunderstand, forcing me to begin explaining something that I don’t have the energy to explain.

It takes energy to contain the secrets, but not as much as it would take if they came out.

Sometimes I don’t even want to tell someone who would listen, care, and understand.  Because if that person cares about me, and finds the facts upsetting, then I have to deal with my feelings and their feelings.  Now I feel bad for myself, and I feel bad that they feel bad about me feeling bad, etc, which creates a loop of intensifying feedback that builds until I can’t bear it.

I’m not doing anything wrong.  At least, I don’t think so.  But I’m still going to keep my feelings secret.   It’s what’s working for me now.


July 11th, 2010

A few weeks ago, I found out that my dad has Congestive Heart Failure.  I know it doesn’t have to be a death sentence, but it’s still a harsh reminder of his mortality.  I heard the news and wondered:  how will I react?

Things never affect me right away.  I can pretend nothing has changed for a couple of days, and then I’ll catch myself doing something abnormal.

This time, part of me has regressed to age 15, when I was desperate for male attention and approval.  I bought myself a couple of really short miniskirts, and I’ve been furtively but compulsively checking to see how many men are noticing.  It’s not a good thing, especially when they catch me looking at them looking.  It makes me feel exposed and vulnerable.

It’s embarrassing.  I have this habit of watching men’s faces too closely when I’m insecure; looking into their eyes with too much intensity and holding the stare for a few beats too long.  Then I look down, away, anywhere else, because I may as well be wearing a sticker on my forehead that says “DESPERATE”.

It’s especially bad because I’m not 15 anymore.  The 17-year-old at the grocery store checkout counter is young enough to be my son.  I don’t look my age, but I do look too old to be checking out high school boys.

I’ve been seeing my hair stylist for over a year now.  We’ve always been cool.  Last month, sitting in his chair I was aware of his hands on my head, and suddenly got all shy, wondering if he thinks I’m pretty.  Honestly!  I hate this.  Where has my confidence gone?

I have got to get a grip.

Coming Back to Real

June 23rd, 2010

Coming back to myself hurts.  I was frozen for four months.  Now blood flows back into the parts that were frostbitten, and I ache.

What I went through during March through June was a rite of passage.  It was a work thing, but it became personal.  I have never carried that much responsibility before.  I have never been the adult in charge, the one who everyone’s depending on; the one who is secretly terrified of failure; the one who has to figure it out on her own if she doesn’t know what she’s doing.

Forty people and a multi-million-dollar business were depending on me to get it right.  That kind of pressure, sustained for weeks on end…  I couldn’t face it all at once.  I got through by taking one small piece at a time, and trying to survive like that, in bits.  I simply could not look at the big picture.  It was too much

It’s done now, and I’m out the other side.  Crisis averted – the project was a success.  But I’m still waiting for my gears to spin down.  My feet haven’t quite touched ground yet.  My inner eye hasn’t recovered the ability to see widely, after months of chosen myopia.  I’m still missing parts of myself that I shed along the way for the sake of survival.

I miss my friends and family, but when I’m with them I’m almost too tired to speak.  Of course they ask me about the project, from genuine interest, or to be polite, but I especially don’t want to talk about that.  Don’t make me re-live it.  It’s too soon.  Let me rest.  Let me pretend for a while that it never happened, that I didn’t have to grow up that much.

I ache for the pieces of myself that I lost.  I mourn the days and weeks that were consumed by this monster job.

And yet, it has shaped me in new ways.   I have also gained.  When I’m ready to face the big picture, to turn around and see everything that I did and everything that happened, then I’ll meet the new me, with new pieces.  And I think that might be OK.

No Time For Feelings

May 25th, 2010

Work has sucked me dry lately.  The week before last I clocked 71 hours on a high-pressure project.  It’s been a few years since I was pushed this far out of balance, into a life that’s all work and no play.

It’s definitely unhealthy.  My eyes have gotten twitchy.  I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about work, needing to get up and jot down to-do lists that might otherwise be lost by morning.  Then I can’t get back to sleep.

I’ve started to feel panicked, claustrophobic, like a prisoner in my own life.  The place where I work has no windows.  It’s possible to completely lose perspective there, to forget that life goes on outside, that just across the road is a beautiful park filled with birds, butterflies, and flowers.  I don’t even have five minutes to go out and look at it.  I can’t even go to the bathroom without four people stopping me on the way there to ask me questions or tell me what they need from me.

I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore.  I’m just this robot that works and works and works.

It’s a temporary thing.  It’s all on account of a big project that I’ve been working on, starting in January and already on the downswing.  A couple more months and I should be able to breathe again.  Still.  It’s a long time to go without breathing.


April 25th, 2010

I thought that I understood trust.  I thought: If I want to feel relaxed and safe around someone, I need to trust them.  For example, I trust my husband as much as I’ve ever trusted anyone in my life.

But I didn’t understand what it was to receive trust.

My mother never trusted me.  I was a straight A+ student, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and always kept her up to date on my whereabouts.  But if I was a half hour late for my curfew she’d throw a hairy fit, and yell at me that if I was going to be irresponsible she wouldn’t be surprised if I was out on the streets by this time next year, pregnant and addicted to drugs.

My first husband read my journal and then threw what he found there in my face.

I must have internalized an assumption of my basic untrustworthiness without even realizing it.  I don’t know if I’ve ever even fully trusted myself.

My husband trusts me.  He has trusted me for eight years, but I didn’t know it.  I mean, he told me that he trusted me, but I didn’t get it.  I couldn’t take it in, because I didn’t know anything about being trusted.  I thought hearing the words meant that I understood, but I didn’t understand.

Then my ex-husband contacted me and we started up an e-mail correspondence.  I told my husband about it, and he said it was OK.  I had his permission.  He trusted me.  Still, I experienced tremendous levels of anxiety.  I kept asking for more and more reassurance from my husband.  I checked in with him every time I sent an e-mail to my ex, just to make sure things hadn’t changed.  I expected him to go into my Hotmail account and read our e-mails.  I thought “I trust you” meant, you’re not getting into trouble for this today, but who knows how I’ll feel tomorrow.

But eventually, one day, it sank in.  We were having our umpteenth talk about it, and I mentioned my worry that he would read my e-mails and find them upsetting.  His brow furrowed and he asked me “Why would I waste my time doing that?  I trust you.”  And that’s when it hit me.  What trust is.  It’s not something you say to indicate that you’re willing to tolerate a behavior for the time being.  Tolerance has limits.  Trust is something else.  It’s more permanent.  It has to do with who we are at the deepest level of our relationship, not dependent on passing moods.

And the most unexpected part was how much I relaxed once I finally took in the fact that I was trusted.   I realized how exhausting it is to not be trusted, because I was constantly trying to prove my trustworthiness, just like when I used to live with my mother.  The pressure was terrible.

Now that I know he trusts me, I can finally relax.

Playing With Fire

February 22nd, 2010

I have recently reconnected with someone from my past.

This someone was the most important person in my life for many years.  He was instrumental in my highest-flying moments of joy, and in the worst, dark depths.  He was my best friend and my worst enemy.  In the end, he fulfilled a pattern that had been present in my life since childhood:  the ones who say that they love you are the ones that hate you most when no one else is looking.

I focused almost all my energy alternately on pleasing him and rebelling against him.  Relative to how I am now, people say that I looked smaller then, more like a ghost.  (Physically I’m the same size as I was.)   I was more of a sidekick than a wife.

I don’t blame him.  I know his past, and how it shaped him.  After the divorce, I read that two only children should never marry.  You’ve both been brought up as the centre of attention.  You never had to learn to share.  We were two only children in a battle to be at the centre.  He was dominant.  All our space was his space.  All our plans were his plans.  All our friends were his friends.

And yet, he was my best friend for twelve years.  He was my high school sweetheart.  He had some wonderful qualities.  After I left him, despite how bad things had gotten, I missed him unspeakably.  I felt as though I had chewed off my own leg to be free.

Time passed.  Close to ten years after I moved out, I have reconnected with him online.  I barely thought of him anymore by then, but it was nice to share some memories together, and catch up on news.  We started writing more often, re-kindling the friendship side of our connection.

At first it was fun and easy.  But it’s been getting more difficult for me.  The more I know him now, the more it feels like he’s a real presence in my life, the more all those unresolved feelings come floating to the surface.  There were so many things we never talked about, near the end.

Sometimes after an e-mail from him, I can’t sleep at night.  I wake at 3 am with a pounding, racing heart.  All the insecurities I thought I had outgrown are being triggered, almost as though no time has passed at all.  I thought I had forgiven him, but I had only forgotten.  Now that I’m reminded, I can time-travel back to my old self instantly.

I have to stop, look around at my new home, my new life.  I remind myself what year it is, how old I am.  I look in the mirror and see that I’m different.  As soon as I stop focusing on the now, the past snaps me back like an elastic band.

Why don’t I just cut him off again?  Same reason why I can’t sleep at night.  There are too many unresolved issues begging to come to light.  I hope that if I can weather the anxiety, we might be able to talk through some of the past, and heal it.  He has changed.  He went through his own personal hell, and it humbled him.  I can’t bear to lose him again.  I’m willing to let it be messy, difficult, and awkward.  The possibilities are worth the risks.


January 23rd, 2010

Like pain, anxiety is one of those things that you can’t properly remember if you aren’t actually experiencing it.  It’s so visceral and gripping.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to get re-acquainted with anxiety.  I forgot how involuntary it can be.  I could be consciously thinking about anything, even engrossed in conversation with a friend, when suddenly my ears start burning, my heart starts pounding, and I wonder if I’d better run to the bathroom because I might actually puke.

Consciously, I believe that I can handle it all.  I love my job, and I don’t resent being the manager who has to stay calm and absorb the anxieties of everyone else who needs to blow off steam during the workday.  I get satisfaction from seeing someone leave my office feeling noticeably better than when they came in.

But later, I wake up in the middle of the night with my pulse pounding in my ears, and I can’t get back to sleep without a shot of vodka.

There are other things, personal relationships, adding to the stress pile.  Nothing I can do to change that.  The relationships are what they are, and I just have to feel my way through them until they become clearer.

I’m coping by doing as little as possible on evenings and weekends.  The occasional outing to see a friend is healthy.  Otherwise, you’ll find me parked in front of the TV, giving my mind and body a neutral environment to rest in.  I told my volunteer position that I can’t take any shifts for the next few months.  I’m letting my husband do most of the housework.

I don’t anticipate any let-up in the stress for at least another few months.  But still, it’s only temporary.  I’ve survived worse.  I’ll make it through.