Common Courtesy isn’t so Common

I would like to tell a tale about two people who work together: I’ll call person one Kay and person two Doris. They both work dealing with customers over the phone.

Kay is a consummate professional. She has plenty of personal issues, including mental illness that has severely debilitated her in the past. However each and every day that she is at work she is polite, friendly, considerate and respectful to her customers and colleagues around her. It doesn’t matter how bad she feels, the professional face is never ever dropped.

Doris, well Doris is just a bitch. She too has problems in her personal life, no diagnosis of mental illness but she has other issues. The difference is that Doris lets her personal mood affect those around her. On a whim she will be snappish, terse, rude and unpleasant. She makes the workplace a very uncomfortable environment – her teammates are constantly walking on eggshells trying not to say anything that will cause her to snap.

Doris has had a number of complaints made against her by coworkers and even supervisors of other departments. She has had to have meetings with the managers to address her behaviour. If Doris doesn’t like something a customer has said, or the way they have said it, her demeanour will suddenly change and she goes very cold and unfriendly. She has been known to yell at coworkers if they did something that annoyed her, such as if they request that she ask nicely instead of demand that they switch lunches.

In start contrast, Kay hasn’t had a single complaint against her. In fact at least once or twice a week she is commended by a customer, or a colleague for her “exemplary” behaviour. This really amuses Kay because, despite her troubles, she doesn’t see what she does as out of the ordinary. She believes it is completely natural to show respect and courtesy to those around her. And on the days that she doesn’t think she can manage to maintain her professionalism – she takes the day off and hides from the world. Simple as that.

The character of Kay is me. I see it as my job to always treat others in the way that I want to be treated. It doesn’t matter how bad I feel inside – no one else around me is responsible for my feelings, they don’t deserve to be punished for it. I work with Doris (not her real name), and while I have compassion for her personal problems, I find it difficult to understand the way she behaves towards people who haven’t done anything to her. I can’t reconcile her behaviour towards customers or other staff, when there is no way while I still breathe that I would treat anyone I worked with, or worked for in that way.

I long for my life to be easy. And if I can do small things to make it easier – like be pleasant to others, not make others unnecessarily angry or agitated, and generally be well liked – then I will do that. It takes far less energy to be polite to people than it does to be rude or unpleasant.

And I know who in this story I would rather work with!

No Words…

Today I have no words of honesty to write.

It’s not that I have writer’s block, or don’t know what to say. It’s that I don’t know how to say it, not to this blog, not even to myself.

Words swim around my head aimlessly, and I can’t ascribe any meaning to them. Just when I think I’ve about grabbed a thought by the coattails, it slinks around the corner, slipping into the shadows, gone before I could get a proper hold. Gone before I could stare into the revelations of my soul.

I’m trying to sort out how I am feeling, but it’s as though I have put a wall around my own insight, blindfolded myself from knowledge of me.

I just don’t know about anything today.

A Diagnosis for My Boy

So I’m not the only one in my family with mind problems now. Not that I’m exactly happy about this diagnosis, but it at least gives me someone else other than myself to focus on. Someone to watch out for and spend time and effort in helping to overcome difficulties that arise.

I had confirmation from the paediatrician today that my eight year old son has a combination of Aspergers and ADHD. In some ways I’m not surprised, little things about him troubled me from an early age. But he is very high functioning, so I wasn’t too concerned until he started school, and his teacher’s have worried because he’s struggled in a few areas (social, emotional, concentration, and other little things). We’ll be exploring medication options at the next visit with the paediatrician to help with the ADHD, she thinks that focussing on treating the ADHD will also relieve some of the symptoms of Aspergers that he presents with.

I don’t know a whole lot about either of these conditions, but I do know that I want to help my son in the best way that I can. I know that I’ll be doing a whole lot of research now. And researching things is something I love doing – I really should have been a scientist. Having a focus in my external life, learning about something new, will help me to stay out of my internal world for a while. And although I constantly yearn to escape into my mind, I know it’s not really a healthy way to be. But with a new focus I’ll have to stay in the land of the living, not in my dreams.

The Negative Spiral

Oh joy of joys. I’m headed towards a depression again. I fucking hate the fact that I can see my mood swings ahead of time – because even though I know they are coming, I am powerless to stop them. In many ways ignorance is bliss. But I can see the train wreck coming, and there isn’t a fucking thing I can do about it.

It starts. I’ve been grudgingly getting up in the mornings with just enough time to get ready for work. I do as little work as possible so that I avoid trouble. I come home and go straight to my bed where I lie around until I have to get up to get dinner for the monsters. And it’s straight back to lazing on the bed until I fall asleep. I’m letting the house get messy again, I just don’t have the motivation to tidy up. Worse yet I haven’t even started packing up my belonging even though there are only weeks left until I move house.

Instead of being productive – I have been retreating from the world and spending way too much time in the dark place of my mind. The unhealthy, unhappy section where I evaluate my life so far and realise I’ve wasted it. I haven’t done any of the things I would measure success by.

I thought I had all the time in the world, to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m 35 and I’ve fucking wasted my life and have next to nothing to show for it. Now I’m sitting here wishing I could go back in time, return to the time I finished high school and choose a different life path. I feel like my life is over and I’ve zero to show for the effort (or lack thereof).

I’ve been told “you’re only 35, you’ve still got the rest of life ahead of you”. Right. My stupid brain says I’m 35 with personal neuroses that have totally fucked up my mind. I’m a single parent of an 8 year old and a 7 year old – it’s not like I can make life changing decisions without being concerned with what impact it will have on them. Even if I didn’t have them binding me here – I’m so far introverted that I don’t actually have any friends. I have work colleagues (all interactions stay at work) and family (who I try to avoid where possible). How could I go out into the world and do anything when I can’t even deal normally with people around me?

In my mind it becomes so dire that I even take to wishing, genuinely wishing that I could be anyone else. If I had one wish in this entire world – I wouldn’t wish for money, or fame, or love, or whatever makes people happy. I wouldn’t even wish to be free of my mental illness. No. I would wish to be someone else. To be a completely different person in a completely different life. I’m so unhappy in this one, and don’t see anyway to make it change, to make it better. I’d like to give up and begin again. I wish life was like a video game – where if you got stuck, or fucked up you could just start again. Totally erase the save game and begin fresh.

I don’t like being 35 and full of regret. It’s really sad and pathetic. But I’m too afraid to change. My fear holds me back from doing the things that I really want to do. I’m terrified of making the wrong choice and fucking things up – so I make no choices and fuck things up anyway. Yeah I know it’s not particularly logical. But that’s how it is in my overcrowded brain.

I guess the one saving grace of my current situation is that I’m not in a full blown depression yet. Just heading there. I’ve still got feelings – even though they are negative ones – but just having those means I’m still present. It’s the numbness I hate, not feeling anything. Because when I don’t feel anything, when I just don’t care about anything – that is when I do the most damage to myself, and to the people around me. When I don’t feel anything, when I retreat into oblivion, I stop eating, I stop showering, I stop going to work, I stop getting out of bed. I stop everything – except thinking. Thinking about ending the nothingness and the urge to cause myself physical pain just so that I feel something, anything. Because at that point, even emotional torture has lost it effect, and I’ll need to make myself feel pain in other ways.

In my warped mental state if I feel pain, I can convince myself that I’m still here, that I haven’t slipped away into a sort of purgatory where there is no escape. But even more frightening than the self harm, is the notion of wanting it all to end. To slip away into nothingness, cease to exist. I’m not suicidal as such – I don’t actively want to die. But when I am numb I just want to cease to exist, to close my eyes and float away effortlessly and painlessly. I want to fade away, be forgotten, just a faint memory carried away on a breeze.

Right now I remember how bad it was the las time I felt that way, the last time I fell into the darkness so far I almost didn’t make it out alive. And that scares me more than anything – the thought of slipping back down there unable to save myself. I don’t want to go back there – but I’m terrified that I can’t stop myself. Because even now – there is that part of me the soul-eater who whispers in my ear that the dark pit is where I belong. She attempts to convince me that self destruction is inevitable and I should give up and give in. She’s urging me to let the darkness come, that this is what I deserve for whatever wrongs I’ve done to the universe.

It’s not true. It can’t be true. I know this, logically I know this. But knowing one thing and feeling something else makes my existence almost impossible. The conflict, the war, sometimes I think that self destruction is the only way to make the shouting in my head stop. The only way to bring peace of mind. That’s what I most desire: peace of mind.

Driving Me Out of My Mind

Ever been halfway through an action and wonder how you got there? Happens all the time, but the thing that scares me the most is it happens when I am driving (usually to work). Sometimes when I am driving I really wonder how the hell I’ve managed to get through the task without an accident.

My mind sometimes gets lost in a train of thought, and then I’ll come back to reality and wonder how I ended up this far up the road, when I don’t really recall crossing the past several intersections, or changing lanes, or turning left, or anything really. For several moments horror engulfs me because I don’t know if I’ve gone through red lights, or gone faster than the speed limit, or indicated when I switched lanes.

The scariest part is that I don’t always remember what was occupying my mind before I was snapped out of my reverie and brought back to reality. It’s like my mind has gone through the previous moments with a black marker and struck them off so I can’t read what was written. Sometimes I worry that I’ve blacked out. But since my car is still in its own lane, and no one is blaring their horn at me, it’s safe to say I’ve been conscious the whole time, if not aware.

I lose myself in my thoughts during other actions too, but none of them scare me in the way it does when it happens while I am driving. Each time I get in the car, I consciously remind myself how important it is to pay attention. I fight to keep my focus, to stay aware. Then it slips, and I’m gone for a couple of minutes, until I snap back to reality and fear is pooling in my stomach and chest.

Sometimes I wonder how on earth anyone would think it was okay to give me a drivers licence. I also wonder how anyone isn’t fazed at the thought of giving me any sort of responsibility. No one questions giving me important tasks at work (things that would have dire consequences if I got them wrong). No one worries about me being a single parent of 2 young children. Sometimes I think its a revelation that I’m even allowed to live by myself, let alone left in charge of other people.

I know I’m too hard on myself. But when I space out like I do, when I find it so easy to retreat into my head, I wonder. I wonder how I managed to get as far in life as I have without serious accidental injury, how I haven’t accidentally set the house on fire, or crashed my car. Sometimes I almost think that it’s a bloody miracle!

Like a Broken Record.

I have a tendency to obsess over things. Clearly, I obsess over my thought as I spend way too much time inside my head. But I obsess over little things too. Things that should have little to no relevance in my life.

When I visit my parents, sometimes I help my mum with hanging out the washing. I obsess over her peg basket – how it is filled with pegs of all different shapes, sizes, colours and different stages of bleaching by the sun. When I hang up an article of washing, I have to search for two pegs that match. They have to be identical – right down to how much they have faded by exposure to the weather. When we both lived at home, my brother used to deliberately use two pegs that were completely different. I’d have to spend time going around the washing line, fixing each piece of washing so that identical pegs were used.

If I get my hand “dirty” because I had to use it to touch a railing, or elevator button, or something else that is public access – my hand is effectively rendered useless until I have scrubbed it clean, or at the very least smothered it in antibacterial gel. Help me if I have to wait longer than a minute before I can do one or the other. By that time, I fancy I can actually feel the germs crawling over my skin, spreading up my arm.

All of the times I’ve had an intravenous drip in my hand/arm – within minutes of it being inserted I am fixated on it. Something in my mind snaps, and I have a singular focus on the drip, panic floods me and all I do is mutter repeatedly how it needs to come out, needs to come out now. It is as if I can simply will it out if I repeat the mantra enough times. I get hung up on the needle under my skin, and like a dog with a bone I just can’t let the obsession go.

I have been listening to the same 7 songs on repeat for the past 6 or so weeks. That should have driven me mad (maybe it has and I just don’t realise it!) But apparently my fixation on this band’s music has left no room for any other music in my life right now. I’m very familiar with this type of obsession, getting well keen into a band, or an actor, or something and saturating myself in nothing but said fixation. Eventually I’ll lose interest, but for now it’s like being in love – I can’t imagine not feeling so passionately and strongly as I do about said band right now.

If I have had even the tiniest most insignificant unpleasant or embarrassing interaction with a person – the event plays over and over in my mind like a broken record. There are several stages to this. The first 50,000+ mental replays are the embarrassment/anger phase – where I’m repeatedly reviewing the interaction trying to make sense of what happened. Stage 2 is the beating myself up about it – another 50,000+ replays chiding myself for not reacting appropriately, or saying the wrong thing, or not saying the right thing. Basically it’s about abusing myself relentlessly because I didn’t handle the situation in the “best” way. The final stage is trying to change the past in my head – recreating the scenario and imagining all the alternative outcomes that could have occurred. Inserting the snappiest comeback, or not reacting, or reacting differently. In my mind I am rewriting what happened in a manner that creates the best possible outcome for me. All in all, I will be hung up about a particular interaction for days and even weeks at a time, unable to move past it until I’ve played it out enough times in my head.

I have a ritual when I get in to work in the morning – I open my desk drawer to pull out my notebook, pen, highlighter, calculator and ruler and I have to line them all up on my desk parallel to the edge of the desk. My coworkers sometimes tease me by nudging things out of place when I leave my desk. Of course I notice, I always notice, and I have to realign them when I get back.

These are just a handful of things I obsess over. I kind of find them funny when I look at them through the eyes of “the scientist” because logically none of those things matter. The world won’t end if I use 2 different pegs, or don’t line up my pen to my notebook and make sure they are parallel to the desk edge. I won’t die if I don’t wash my hands immediately after pressing the elevator button, and the drip in my hand won’t kill me. But, for whatever silly reason in my head, if I don’t comply with these rules I’ve created for myself, it all seems to come crashing down around me and I can’t “keep calm and carry on”.

I put it down to my need for control. When my mind is running riot, at least I have these little things that I can control. I suppose they allow me to make sense of my strange and sometimes scary world.

Confessions of a Drama Queen

As a child I was called a “drama queen” by my family. It was because my emotional range was never mild. When I was happy I was over the moon, when I was sad it was like my world was ending, I could fly into a rage and out of it again at the drop of the hat. I never felt anything by halves.

The depth and range of my emotions allowed me to excel at performing arts because I could put myself emotionally into a characters shoes and genuinely act the part. From the beginning I loved the theatre, and I always thought that it was my interest in acting that influenced my melodramatic style. Of course now I realise my dramatic flair was what led to my love of the theatre.

I abused my acting skills – particularly when I was getting into trouble or wanted someone to feel bad for me. With a single thought I’d put on the water works in an instant, turning the tables and becoming the victim. I learned that lying was infinitely easier for me because I could make myself believe the lie just through feeling it. I became a master at manipulating the emotions of others.

When it came to strangers and people I wanted to keep at a distance – I was a human chameleon, forever changing my persona to suit whatever “role” I decided to play. I created different personas for different situations, complete with names, backstories, and particular traits. When I went out to a pub or club, if a guy came up to me to talk – I was “Nicky from London”, or “Jade from New York” always “in town for a few weeks” just for business. I would make up some fancy career and even put on the relevant accent to enhance the lie.

Of course I look back now and realise I wasn’t a very nice person. I obscured myself in layers and layers of bullshit. It made it impossible for anyone to get to know me, to understand me. I thought it was to protect me from being hurt, but really it was to gain the upper hand so that I could make people bend to my will. I was an expert at emotional blackmail, at lying to get my own way, and just manipulating outcomes to benefit me.

Hindsight is a bitch – and I see now that none of this made me happy. It made me lonely and alone. I didn’t form true friendships because I couldn’t be myself, I couldn’t give people a chance to see me. I was selfish, and self centred, and spoiled because I was used to getting my own way. It was my way, or tears and tantrums until I got my way. I broke people. I’m sad to say it, but I did.

Sure I know some of my behaviour it wasn’t entirely within the realm of my control, but I still hold myself accountable and feel bad about the things I did. Since being diagnosed with, and treated for Bipolar, I have learned what self control is. I no longer manipulate people or use emotional blackmail to get my own way. I still hide my true feelings, but I don’t falsify them to upset others, or make them feel bad for me.

I can still be a drama queen, but I keep it mostly within the realm of my mind, or in story telling. I don’t play with people’s emotions anymore, I’ve grown up and abandoned using people as toys.

A Peek into a Private Journal Entry.

I was looking through my notebook for something to write about (it seems writer’s block was upon me tonight). And I was reading a journal entry I had written last week when it was still school holidays and my children hadn’t returned from holidaying with their dad at his parents place in the country.

Whilst a lot of this particular entry contains rather embarrassing stuff that I would never share with anyone (which is why I write it in my private journal) there is part of it that I want to share. Clearly at the time I wrote it I wasn’t in the right state of mind (however that tends to be the only time I write in my journal).

But in this entry, even though I was having irrational reactionary thoughts – a part of my mind was still self aware that I was being moderately delusional. And even though it’s not really funny, the way I wrote down my train of thought kind of makes me laugh due to the absurdity.

Fuck I am losing my grip. I had thoughts before of not being here when the kids come home. Those thoughts then moved on to running away somewhere. And what actually went through my mind next was “Too bad I don’t have a current passport – I could buy a ticket to London and disappear”. Of course then I think “Thankfully I DON’T have a passport”. Then next thing I know I’m seriously considering applying for a passport just so I could do it. When I am considering shit like this in all seriousness – it is not a good sign. It is a sign I am cracking up.

It hasn’t been the only entry of this kind recently. The rest of this entry, and the others like it, are really too messed up to go into detail on. But lets just say I was on the verge of checking out of reality for a while. This isn’t the first, or last, time that I have had an irrational thought process like this. But sadly, in the past, I didn’t have that self aware part. The part that knew my thinking was irrational, and could stop me from following those thoughts into action. In the past I just used to follow my impulses for better or worse (usually the latter) without thinking about how this would impact the future.

Thankfully I now seem to have part of me that remains present and tethered to this world – even when my impulsive responses kick in. And for the time being this self aware part of me has a hold strong enough bring me back from the brink. It keeps me grounded. It also keeps me alive.

It’s times like these when I am actually glad for that “fracturing” of my mind into different aspects – because it means that my tendency towards internal conflict leads to indecision, and procrastination, and ultimately not following through on a lot of impulsive behaviour. The mood stabilizers help me not to get too extreme, so I can retain a modicum of self restraint. Even if the restraint isn’t a conscious effort, but rather simply due to those aspects of my mind failing to agree on a course of action.

They sit and argue it out, and ultimately I’m rendered immobile, until it washes over and I can think straight again. I guess it can be useful being a thinker rather than a doer.

Making my Heart Skip a Beat

As much as I sometimes loathe the fact that I feel things so deeply, there is a particular aspect of my empathy that I do rather enjoy. I love that it is strikingly easy for my heart to “skip a beat”. You know that excruciating and wonderful feeling where your stomach flutters, something in your heart twinges, and you shiver? Those physical manifestations of falling in love?

All I have to do for my body to produce those automatic responses is to read a romantic tale of two lovers in a novel, or watch a charming love story play out in a movie. I don’t have to try too hard to feel those feelings, I don’t need to actually have someone to make me feel that way. I can just engage myself in a story and physically feel all the emotions a character has. It allows me to live vicariously, to feel the depths of those feelings in a simulation, not needing to rely on real life experience. My imagination is so vivid – I can not only see the story in my mind – I can feel it in my body.

At times like these, I appreciate my ability to feel things so wholly and completely – body and mind. It’s not always pleasant, but these moments make it totally worth it. It reminds me that underneath my stoicism, my cynicism, my loneliness and my determination to keep others at arms length –  there is a hopeless romantic who is completely and utterly in love with even the notion of love. And the revelation that I am a hopeless romantic brings a fond smile to my lips. There is some sadness twinged within the smile, because I never truly forget how lonely I really am, but once in a while being a hopeless romantic is enough.

it also strikes me as funny that I am such a romantic – because outwardly not many people would really know that. I am not too fond of physical displays of affection directed towards me. I’m not really a touchy feely type – I have to be the right mood to engage in hugging and kissing anyone (even family). I’m more likely to wave and nod my head in greeting a loved one that I am to hug them.

And yet, and yet, I dream of exactly those things – of being held and being kissed, and walking hand in hand. Even though that germophobic part of my mind screams about the unsanitary and ghastly things that occur with the exchanging bodily fluids.  The thought of swapping saliva, or letting someone’s sweaty palms touch my skin actually repulses me. It makes my skin itch, and my stomach drop (not in a good way). But the closeness, the intimacy, That is something I paradoxically crave yet detest. I want it so bad, even though the thought of it makes my stomach whirl unpleasantly.

Funny how contradictory it makes me.

For who could ever learn to love a beast?

I was out to lunch with a couple of my co-workers the other day, and one of them happened to ask me “Are you seeing anyone at the moment?” My answer to that was a resounding “no” as if I thought she was completely nuts for asking. She didn’t seem to understand why I would say “no” like that, and though I never explained myself – it did get me thinking.

What was my reasoning to be incredulous at the thought that I’d be dating anyone? I think my disbelief stems more from my wondering – who the heck would want to be with me? I’m sure I have many redeeming qualities – I know I am loyal, I have the capacity to be loving, I am genuine and honest, and sometimes have a rather mischievous sense of humour. But that sort of stuff takes time for someone to learn.

At first glance I am somewhat aloof and detached. I have difficulty trusting other people, and tend to keep to myself. But more crucially I’m damaged goods – a single parent of 2 children, AND I live with Bipolar disorder. I mean if my ex couldn’t live with me – even though we have 2 children together – who the fuck would want to put up with me? I know I have many days where I’d like to check out and be someone else so I didn’t have to put up with me.

It’s not like I necessarily believe I’m actually really truly damaged goods. It’s more like I don’t feel like I am whole (I wonder if I ever will be). And if I can’t be whole for myself, I don’t think I can be whole for anyone else.

I’m awfully lonely though, and I’d love to have someone who truly understands me in my life – my own Mr. Right. But I don’t think I have the capacity to be anyone’s Ms. Right. At least not in the way anyone would need me to be, the way they would deserve to have me be. I am too particular, I need my life to be a certain way or I can’t function. I wouldn’t want anyone to have to accommodate my peculiarities because it would be asking too much.

I wish knew better when I got into the relationship with my ex. I didn’t realise the kind of person I am. If I did; there is no way I would have gone that far. I wouldn’t have let it get serious enough to have a family. I would never have willingly put anyone into the situation where I just make them miserable because of the parts of me I cannot control.

Now, I have to live with the fact that I emotionally damaged someone else because of my illness. And I constantly worry that I’m going to ruin my kids and make them miserable. I do the best I can, but sometimes I don’t have anything left to give my kids. My energy, my attention, my affection – they are all limited resources and there are times I don’t have them to give. And if there are times I can’t even give them to my own flesh and blood, what hope would anyone who “chooses” to be with me have?

I’d like to say that I believe that there is somebody for everybody, but it is my belief that there are always exceptions to every rule. And I happen to be an exception in this case.

Note 1: This is not a pity party, I don’t need to be told that I am “whole” or that I will find “Mr. Right” someday. This post expresses personal feelings that I had to get out of my brain into the real world. I currently accept the above as my place life. I acknowledge that I may not always feel this way, but at least for the foreseeable future this is how I see it.

Note 2: The title of this post is a quote from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991)