This is probably the most personal thing I'm going to post on this blog - and I don't know if I will leave it out here...
I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that when other people look at me, they don't see what I see in the mirror.
My reflection is an assemblage of parts, none of them "right". One eye is smaller than the other, my nose is big, chin is weak, skin is blotchy and my teeth are small, yellow and broken. Add to that being middle-aged and fat, colouring my hair every 3 weeks to keep the gray away, and the Botox every once in a while to hide that one giant wrinkle across my forehead! (I frown in my SLEEP! Who the hell frowns in their sleep???)
I grew up in a home where I was told on a regular basis that I was fat, ugly stupid, lazy, no good and ungrateful. Put-downs like that occurred on an almost-daily basis for about 6 or 7 years... The main culprit was my mother's husband - and she sat there and let it happen - until the day she started joining in.
There is a commercial on Canadian television right now about how children absorb the negative things in their life and take them with them everywhere. One thing that commercial doesn't say is that some of us take those things all the way to adulthood.
Anyone who tells you that you can get past something like that has NO idea how much you internalize such a message! It goes down to your bones and permeates your soul until it is as black as the hateful words thrown at you. This isn't a bunch of strangers making you "feel inferior without your consent" (as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said), this is your family telling you are worthless - repeatedly - during the most impressionable time of your life. These are supposed to be the people who love you and protect you - but they don't.
I'm sure I wear that perception of myself like an invisible cloak that alerts others to my insecurities and vulnerability, and it attracts those who would exploit those feelings to their own ends.
Like my first "serious" boyfriend T.
Of course I was having sex with him; I was 16 and had raging hormones.
About a year after I met him, we were at his best friend's house one summer day. We had spent too much of the day in the sun and I lay down on the couch in the family room with some cold packs while the guys played pool. I probably dozed off and I'm sure they thought I was asleep or I wouldn't have overheard the advice that T was giving to J.
"Always date the ugly girls, because they'll be really grateful to you and have sex with you."
That day was almost 40 years ago; and since that day I have never felt or believed that I was anything but ugly.
If I'd had any sense or self-esteem or confidence, that would have been the last time I saw him, but it wasn't.
A few weeks later, he decided to join the navy instead of continuing to work a series of dead-end jobs - did I mention he was a high-school drop-out? It was a month later that he headed off to Halifax, after extracting a promise from me that I wouldn't date anyone else and that I'd wait for him.
Fast-forward to January, and it was time for me to fill out the applications for university. Sunday afternoon was the only time I spoke to T, he would call for all of 5 minutes once a week. During our call that day, I told him about the application process and then asked him if he could find out where he would be assigned that spring after he finished basic training. He asked why and I said that I would apply to university in Halifax or Victoria based on his assignment.
There was total silence on the phone line for a minute. And then came the words that finally broke whatever spell it was he held me under:
"You should give up on this crazy idea you have of going to university, you're too stupid to go to university."
I hung up. And didn't answer when he called back. Ever again.
I'd like to say that was the day I gained a sense of my self and found confidence and overcame all the horrible behaviour heaped on me (and my sister) by my mother and her husband. But I never did.
To this day, I wake up every morning loathing myself. My serious relationships have always been with men who were much like T - the type who use you, but make you feel that you should be grateful for the attention.
One time, I tried to talk to the person I thought was my best friend about these feelings. She said I was always so negative and insecure that no one wanted to be around me. I've learned to shut it all away inside me, to never talk about it, to never trust people with my heart.
I'm alone and very, very lonely.
I apologize constantly for things - even those over which I have no control. Small errors are magnified in my mind, and if I make big mistakes - and I made a REALLY bad one earlier this year - that "good for nothing" phrase bounces around in my head for weeks afterward to the point that I feel I can't face people. It's probable that the negative self-talk of a lifetime causes me to sabotage my own life.
Somehow, I've even found a way to work for people who treat me that way; including the man who finally sent me on a tailspin into a major depression two decades ago. He didn't want an assistant, and it was obvious from Day 1 that he disliked me intensely (I learned later that he was having an affair with the woman who had been doing my job, the director's assistant). Two years into my job, he came into my office one day, closed the door, and told me that all my coworkers hated me and that no one in the office wanted to work with me. He said there was nothing I could do to change this and that the best solution for everyone would be for me to quit my job.
Over the next few months, I retreated into myself, until another coworker - who obviously DIDN'T hate me - took me to the employee assistance group. Literally took me. She booked the appointment and asked me to go for a walk with her one day and walked me in there.
It took 6 months of therapy and Prozac to get me back to an even keel - as even as I could be. During that time, I took several months off for stress leave. While I was away, our director left - and I returned from my leave to find a very nasty letter from him saying things about my poor work ethics and bad habit of leaving my coworkers to pick up the pieces of my errors. Instead of taking the letter to the union (I was working for the government at the time), I ripped it up.
Nowadays, my work life is organized with colour-coded files abounding and notebooks filled with details and electronic files laid out by date, location, event, etc. I come in early and leave late, and I foolishly come in to the office when I'm sick, which only makes things worse.
But my home is a mess, a place where no one comes. And maybe I keep it that way so that I don't have to invite anyone in - literally and figuratively. If I know I will have guests, I clean frantically for days, only to revert to slovenliness once they're gone.
Today is World Mental Health Day - time to acknowledge that the demons inside our heads can be as bad as the bacteria and viruses and cancers that attack our bodies. They don't even have to be as extreme as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe depression.
I've been writing this post in bits and pieces since the last mental health day a year ago. If I work on it too long, it sends me back into the black hole that always seems to lurk on the edges of my consciousness.
I would give anything to not feel this way, but every piece of available data I can find on this version of avoidant personality disorder indicates that it worsens with age - which could explain the panic attacks I started having about 5 years ago. The data also shows that recovery from this disorder is almost impossible, with most doctors recommending coping skills, like breaking a pattern of negative self-talk, to keep the demons at bay.
I foolishly believed for years that maybe when my stepfather died I would feel some sense of release. But in the four months since his death (and he lived to be almost 90), all the pain has come bubbling up to the surface and the panic attacks have returned worse than before.
The internet is probably the wrong forum for talking about things like this since it seems of late that the hate and trolling is worse than before, but there are also areas of light where one can seek and find solace, comfort, information and kinship with those who share whatever affliction one might have.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Rev. John Watson (aka Ian McLaren), circa 1890