Fear

I went out to lunch today with a friend I used to work with, about 10 years ago. I hadn’t seen him since falling ill, and it was good to catch up again… even though my story wasn’t as enlightened as I would have liked.

After getting home, I was tidying up when I heard water splashing outside on my balcony. Bit odd that, considering that it’s a bright sunny day here today. I’ve had problems with dirty water running down onto my balcony from the balcony of the unit above before, and had asked the guy who lives there if he could put something under their potplants to catch the excess water. Yet still it kept happening, and I’ve sort of been avoiding dealing with the problem. So I wandered upstairs to knock on my neighbour’s door. Just standing there I felt a rush of fear and my heart starting to race; yet what did I have to lose in this social interaction? My planned speech went something like:

“Hi, I’m Graham from downstairs. I’m wondering if you could help me with a problem I’m having. I’ve just noticed dirty water flowing down onto my balcony from above, and I’d like to find out where it’s coming from so I can stop it”.

Fairly non-threatening kinda stuff. By the time the door opened, my heart was racing. When the woman finally opened the door, she looked frazzled and I think what actually came out of my mouth was more like:

“Hi, I’m Graham from downstairs. I’ve got this dirty water running down onto my balcony, and I’m wondering where it’s coming from”.

Not exactly what I intended to say, but still not too bad. She said she’d been inside working, and hadn’t done anything on the balcony so it must have come from above. She suggested I check upstairs. Hmmm… weird, I thought. Maybe she feels guilty and is lying to cover it up, or maybe there’s some other explanation. I was pretty sure the water was coming from the plants on her balcony.

Anyway, I wandered upstairs to the unit above and knocked on their door. Heart racing again. I got the spiel more accurate this time, and they seemed friendly: a young couple with their son. They invited me in and suggested the problem was coming from the balcony below. We stuck our heads down, and there is a polystyrene box filled with dirty water on the wall surrounding the balcony, next to the plants. I wandered back downstairs feeling a bit disempowered. I hate the way I get so nervous in conflict situations; I’ve had problem neighbours before, and I really don’t like having to deal with it. I wish I did though!

I decided I’d better face the fear, and go back to tell my immediate neighbour that the water is coming from her balcony, and ask her to do something about it. As I knocked on the door, my hands were shaking. I had to knock twice before she answered, and I told her that it looked like the water was coming from the box on her balcony. She said she hadn’t been out there, and I invited her to come down and have a look at my balcony (in case she thought I was making it up, or lying or something). She suggested perhaps a bird had got in the box, and that they like having the lorikeets come up there.

“Well is there something we can do about this, because it’s causing me a problem”, I said.

“I guess I could move it, or take some of the water out”, she said.

“Yeah, that might solve the problem. Thank you”. End of interaction.

Oh man, what a petty, minor little thing to get so stressed out about. But I can’t seem to help my body responding that way. So fearful, so annoying. It took about half an hour to calm down again; I suspect it would have been much longer if my neighbour had been more difficult to deal with and just refused to do anything about the problem. Somehow when people disregard my well-being, I get fearful instead of angry. I hate that! Stop-stop-stop!

Self Acceptance, Emotional Truth, & How to Argue

While reading the introduction to Social Intelligence last night, it occurred to me that if the way I handle emotions is just a function of the way my brain is wired, plus my social conditioning, then what possible reason should I have for beating myself up about that? So I hold my feelings in… big deal! I decided it was finally time to try some radical self-acceptance.

However, this is a problem in the context of my acting practice exercises (rep), where people are always hassling me to “open up” more. I’m slowing getting there, but on the other hand, what if I just didn’t worry about that, and just enjoyed doing the exercise instead. Frankly, I have more fun when we laugh and joke around. They tell me I’m “avoiding”, but I actually enjoy laughing and joking around! I don’t enjoy getting upset, or angry.

So tonight I rocked up with my new I’m-just-going-to-have-fun attitude, and had a great time. Then I started rep’ing with one of the intermediate students, who I basically said “let me have it” to. She kept provoking me and provoking me until I really was angry, and we had a full-on screaming match. I was totally pissed off, and so was she. Then an amazing thing happened… we got to a point where her hostility gave way to upset. I recognised that she was hurt and called her on it, at which point she broke down and I became apologetic and compassionate. I comforted her with a hug, which she accepted, and we actually ended up really feeling connected. Aha! So that’s how a real-world argument is supposed to go! Assuming both partners are actually committed to sorting things out, rather than to just getting-each-other-back, eventually someone admits a vulnerability which moves the other person to compassion. Even though we were both really, genuinely pissed off with each other, I didn’t feel at all angry with her after the argument because we actually reached closure.

This is something I never saw in real world arguments while growing up, which made me fearful of conflict altogether. It turns out that you can have really heated arguments with tremendous emotional intensity, and yet end up with positive feelings towards each other; you’ve just got to be prepared to work to the point where you have closure and compassion for each other.

Stress, Social Intelligence, & How Our Brains Are Wired

I’m currently doing everything I can think of to reduce my stress levels. That’s not entirely trivial, because it’s not as simple as just avoiding stressful situations. For example, much of my non-illness-related stress is created, one way or another, from certain social situations. Simply avoiding social situations isn’t the answer, because that leaves me lonely and isolated… which is also a cause of anxiety and stress. We simply aren’t wired for isolation because we evolved in groups, are interdependent, and require interactions with the opposite sex to reproduce. The weight of millions of years of evolution forces us to socialise.

I figure that one way to reduce unavoidable stress is to master potentially stressful situations so that they no longer causes stress. And one way to do that is to learn as much as I can about the situation in question. Plus I’m just generally fascinated by social dynamics and the way that humans interact to get their needs met. Or not. So I’m currently reading Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, by Daniel Goldman, the guy who wrote Emotional Intelligence. And I’m finding both books are fascinating.

Unlike a lot of the New Age stuff on Mind/Body interactions, Goldman’s work is actually based on neuroscience and the way the brain is wired. And here’s where it gets interesting: Most of the information from our senses passes through the thalamus in our brains, before being distributed to the rest of our grey matter which interprets what’s going on around us, thus affecting our conscious thoughts. The thalamus is like a pre-processor, discarding irrelevant information and organising the rest of our sensory input so it’s easier for the rest of the brain to handle.

However, there is also a bypass circuit which sends sensory information directly from the thalamus to the amygdala without pre-processing it. The amygdala is the part of our brain which handles emotions and is capable of triggering our fight-or-flight response. Interestingly, this means that the amygdala may respond to sensory input that the thalamus discards, meaning we will never be consciously aware of it… But we’ll have an emotional response anyway. It’s not just “happening in our subconscious” as Jungian New Agers would say; it’s actually a different neural circuit that isn’t even connected to the part of our brain that produces conscious thoughts.

In terms of Social Intelligence, this is interesting because our capacity for empathy with another human being is based on this “subconscious” circuit. That’s why we tear up automatically when we see someone crying; unless of course we’ve been taught to consciously suppress this automatic reaction because “boys don’t cry” or something similar. However, suppressing this reaction requires energy and causes stress.

The path that triggers our defensive fight-or-flight response through the amygdala is faster, but less accurate, than the path through the thalamus. So we can find ourselves triggered in situations where there is no real danger. That’s a reasonable trade-off, because there’s little cost associated with running away from something that turns out not to be dangerous; better that than the other way around. Social interactions are an obvious example; we think there is danger because emotions are contagious and therefore we are affected by the emotional state of the people around us. Even if we mis-read them. We can’t help but take on stress if we are around people who are stressed out.

Some people’s amydalae are more sensitised than others, so some people are more sensitive than others. Us sensitive-types pay a price because we don’t just notice when other people are upset… we find it upsetting ourselves because of the emotional contagion caused by the way our brains are wired. And since neural networks learn by repeated exposure to the same stimuli, they can become more or less sensitive to stressful input depending on what we’re exposed to and whether we react habitually or not.

So the long and the short of all this is that stress, anxiety and other emotions really do get processed in a part of our brain that isn’t involved in consciousness. We aren’t even aware when our amygdala is going into fight-or-flight mode… though we may feel anxious, and then rationalise a reason why; which then becomes a viscous cycle unless we break it somehow. I notice at acting class my heart starts racing before I go onstage, even before I’ve consciously had a worrying thought like “I hope the class like what I do!”.

I feel pretty good today; only a bit tired, and very positive. I’m gonna spend the day resting before going to rep tonight. I have quite a big week on, but I’m looking forward to it. Hope you all are too!

Another big weekend!

Just had another big weekend…

Saturday morning I got up bright and early (well, 8:30am-ish) to pick my parents up from the city after their 10 day cruise. They were in a good mood, so everything was pretty sweet… although I almost had a car accident driving them home. I’ve never actually had an accident, and I’m a really careful driver, but something about having my parents around just stresses me out. I immediately feel judged, and it’s not in a positive sense.

I came back home and had a nap before heading out to Men’s group in the afternoon. It seems to be a group of fellow recovering (and perhaps not-so-recovering) “nice guys”. Not a whole heap of assertiveness, too polite & worried about offending other people. At first the meeting seemed to be moving at a glacial pace; lots of talking-around things and too many words for too little communication. But it got more interesting when we started sharing what was going on in the group. My observation that I’d had a number of instances recently of girls I liked falling for jerks (instead of me!) and the whole “nice guy” thing led to an exercise based of some of David Deida’s work about sticking to your mission without being side-tracked by women. This was particularly relevant to me after last weekend’s psychodrama vs spa party debacle, where I ended up glad that I didn’t change my plans when Vanessa invited me around for a girly spa party which didn’t turn out the way it does in my fantasies.

After men’s group we went out for dinner and bonded a bit more, largely talking about the topic on every single guy’s mind: women.

Saturday night I hit a couple of nightclubs in the city to do some approach exercises that my dating coach had set me. I was excited about it as I headed into town, and my excitement turned to dread as I approached the actual door of the nightclub. I wandered around for a while thinking “No way, I’m chickening out”, before deciding that wasn’t the sort of guy I wanted to be. I used to have a full-blown panic attack just walking into a nightclub, but this time it wasn’t so bad. I made my way in, and approached numerous groups of girls with the intention of saying hi, and having a fun 90 second conversation. My heart raced and I felt anxious before every approach, but I think the only way to get over that is to actually learn to do it by practising. About half of the women I approached were friendly and/or receptive, and half hostile. I really appreciated the friendly ones! Special mention goes to the lovely girl on the dance floor who was clearly nervous talking to me, but engaged me anyway instead of just walking away like some did, and the two girls having an argument in which one had just told the other to kill herself. I suggested that wasn’t such a great idea. Awkward!

Later in the evening I met up with Danny, a guy I met at a dating workshop recently, who was keen to try some approaches. We acted as wing men for each other, taking turns approaching. He seems a bit dodgy to me, and was really drunk; but having the support of another guy to go back to if it bombs was really helpful. I don’t think many girls get just how nerve-wracking it is for decent guys to go and approach them, and they’re tired of getting the jerks all the time who don’t really give a fuck. I went home about 1:30am feeling really proud of myself for going through with it.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling pretty good, considering the late night. In fact, I felt the best I had in quite a while. I slept in till mid-day, and then went to a chronic fatigue support group which I had been meaning to go to for about 6 months, but always seemed to have something on at the time. I felt a bit apprehensive about meeting them, but they all turned out to be really lovely. And one of the girls in particular was really sweet. Bonus! It was cool being able to talk to other people who understood what it was like being ill for so long, and who weren’t judgemental. Some were obviously handling it emotionally better than others, but we could all relate on a lot of things from reactions of family members to the devastating effect of the afternoon snooze! I’ve got this plan of recovering before the meeting comes around next month, but I’ll go along anyway.

Sunday night I headed back into the city for more rep (acting practise), which went pretty well. No big breakthroughs or disappointments. Some of the students were expressing scepticism about whether the school we’re at and what we’re being taught is the best method. I find I’m more easily swayed by other people’s opinions on some things than I’d like; maybe they’re right, but hey, I’m having fun and getting heaps of practise at being more assertive so it’s got to be a good thing. I just have this tendency to think “but what if that thing over there is better, and I’m missing out?”.

All in all, it was a really good weekend. I woke up this morning feeling a bit more zoned out than I’d like, and felt disappointed. I have a busy week this week; kinda pushing it to my limit I fear. That seems to make me feel more zoned out and anxious about things generally. But it’s all fun stuff that I want to do. Might have to reschedule some stuff till next week; we’ll see.

I need more energy, the teacher says!

I’m  just going to go stream-of-consciousness with this one:

Went to acting class today. We do “activities” and “doors”, where we work together in pairs. One person is doing an activity in their lounge room, when the other interrupts at the door. The two of us dialogue using repetition, both attempting to get our needs met without directly saying what we want. The inherent conflict inevitably leads to drama.

My activity today was practising Auslan, on the premise that I’d met a deaf girl on an Internet dating site, and my sign language was really rusty so I needed to practise. My Auslan dictionary is difficult to use at the best of times; even more so when I’m nervous because I’ve got an audience watching me. When the partner knocked on the door, things went OK from there. Shit, I can’t even remember who my partner was! Has my short-term memory gone too, or was I just always too self-focused to remember stuff like that? Maybe both.

Anyway, the feedback from the teacher was that “my rep lacks energy”, and I need to boost it up more. Actors do this, because otherwise we end up looking dull and subdued. I think that’s mostly because I’ve always been rather inhibited (or rather, I learned to be because I’m a sensitive person and when I acted more outgoing, I often got hurt). But nevertheless, the message that I need to put more energy into it naturally made me wonder where I’m going to get that from. And it restarted me thinking: Do I lack energy because I’m ill, or am I ill because I lack energy?

Anyway, I’m coughing away as I write this, and feel like I’ve got a mild headache. I woke up with one at 5am this morning and took some Nurofen, went back to bed and felt mostly better by the time I had to get up for class at 8:30 this morning. At the moment, I just feel the usual crap run-down afternoon version of ill.

Love-life wise, things are interesting. I’ve been chatting on the Internet with the woman I had lunch with on Sunday. She sent me pics of her artworks, which I think is quite brave for a creative person to do, suggesting that she trusts me. One was a partially-nude self-portrait, although she only fessed up that it was a self-portrait later via SMS… still, lots of trust there if you ask me! Meanwhile, I’ve fallen pretty badly for a girl at acting class who is both very pretty, and very sweet. A seemingly rare combination. And on the way to rep last night I started chatting up a pretty girl I met at the bus stop, who was unusually friendly for a stranger; we ended up sitting together on the (almost-empty) bus and having a really fun conversation. Perhaps I’m more approachable with my head shaved. I’ve also been working on my conversation skills lately, so it was great to have some success just enjoying talking to an attractive stranger, making her laugh and brightening her day. She seemed quite interested in talking to me: made eye contact and said “hi” when she first sat down, asked about my guitar playing and acting. My pick-up line/opener (note this down all you single guys!) was: “What the heck’s with this weather?”, and just ad-libbed from there. I paniced slightly when she got off the bus earlier than I expected and I slipped her my business card; not a particularly classy move, and given that we both catch that bus regularly I probably didn’t need to do that. I’ll probably see her again. I’ve always felt that the thing that I lacked when it came to relationships was options; I dated people just because they were willing to date me, and didn’t feel like I was in a position to be choosy. Nice to see that changing a bit. Just gotta get that girl from acting class out of my head… she has a boyfriend!

I have a Toastmasters meeting tonight, where I’m doing the timing. Very easy. I even have a short semi-impromptu spiel prepared for when I give the report. That should give me a boost. Meanwhile, I’m off to play a little guitar. I think I’ve developed a Pavlovian association between feeling ill and sitting at the laptop, so after a while it just makes me want to run screaming from the room. Like about now! See ya!

What a weekend!

In the beginning…

The story of last weekend really begins on Friday evening. A bit before then in fact, when two girls from my acting class Vanessa and Monique, both expressed interest in coming with me to a psychodrama introductory evening on Friday night. I thought “Great, be good to have their company”, and I particularly like Monique.

I rang Vanessa Friday to confirm the details, and she said “You’re gonna hate me, but I’m having a girly spa party instead because my parents are away. Wanna come?”. I was already committed to the psychodrama evening, so I said no; but I could come later. A girly spa party did sound a bit like one of my wildest fantasies, especially if costumes were, or became, optional. I checked with Monique, and she was still in for psychodrama.

Psychodrama

I rock up at psychodrama, and Monique is running late. So late, that she never makes it. “Looks like it wasn’t meant to be” (she’s very spiritual). I can’t help but be a bit disappointed, and I work on letting that go… albeit ineffectually.

In the first psychodrama exercise, one of the women in the group role plays going out to dinner with her family and her husband, who don’t get along. The facilitator has the rest of us play various roles including tables, and food on a buffet. I was a creme brulee. It gave the woman involved the opportunity to see what it was like for her husband and family in the situation, and role-play reconciling them. Afterwards we had a sharing session where I revealed my envy at her ability to show great excitement at being able to eat lobster from buffet. Which made me the target for exercise two…

In my exercise, the facilitator had me use other members of the group to portray the fear that I feel about being embarrassed; the shame that holds me back from being myself and being free to express emotions like excitement freely. The fear was a screaming mass of people, standing on chairs and yelling wildly. They were overpowering. Then this was contrasted against the part of me which is able to express myself freely, played by one of the other men I chose from the group; it was small and crouched on the ground. I asked it to get up, and play a bigger role in my life. The facilitator had me swap roles with the small-me, and give me the opportunity to express it’s fear at the possibility of getting hurt. In the end it stood up, we gave it some backing from other people nicked from the overwhelming fear, and the two of us hugged for a while. I felt kind of sad and mildly relieved, as the fear of what other people think and the resulting inhibitions it gives me is like a massive weight on my back.

We did a few more exercises in the group, and each time I found myself moved by what was going on for the other participants, even when the drama wasn’t about my story directly. I left thinking “I could use more of this”, wondering when to fit it in to my schedule without overwhelming me.

The Party

Then I headed over to Vanessa’s party, which was in full swing by the time I got there. There was a bong on the table, and a bunch of people guys and girls lounging about in the spa. Vanessa had given me the distinct impression that it would be girls-only aside from her boyfriend Justin, who she suggested I could bond with. She’s a very loud and insecure girl, and has broadcasted the fact that he cheated on her, widely. Justin and I talked for a while, and he seemed like a friendly enough guy. He’d obviously done a lot of drugs. Not just that evening either, I don’t think.

Eventually there was room in the spa for me to jump in. I’m always really reserved about jumping in at pool or spa parties. I seem to have a really wide personal space exclusion zone, and end up just feeling overwhelmed; while pretending I’m not. One of the girls drank too much, vomited and passed out. Meanwhile another girl who I really liked from class was being toyed with by one of the guys in the spa, and she was totally falling for it. By the end of the evening they were kissing, and in fact all the guys had paired up with a girl… except for me. I kept telling myself not to feel bad about this,… but I really did. It totally triggered my “Why aren’t any of the girls interested in me?” insecurity, which turns out to run extremely deep. Yeah, I know it’s because I’m withdrawn and inexpressive. “Robotic”, to use a term I hear a lot in acting class referring to me. I hate that. And that’s why I hate myself… but fuck it’s hard to change. Being the only guy in the spa not kissing a girl felt just weird, so I jumped out, got changed, and went home. I didn’t even say goodbye to the host Vanessa, as she and Justin were upstairs in the bedroom by this stage. No thanks, I wasn’t keen on walking in on that.

So I went home feeling like shit. Upset. Unhappy. Beating myself up. I tried using the Sedona Method techniques to let go of the emotion behind it, but to no avail. I just hate being trapped in this inhibited personality. Nothing I try to break out of it seems to work as quickly as I’d like. It’s like chipping away slooooowly. Yet other guys just act like pricks, and they get the girls. Yeah, I know that’s how it works, but it pisses me off. When I got home I played guitar for an hour or so; it’s the only thing that seems to sooth my hurt feelings. Went to bed about 3am and couldn’t get to sleep.

Saturday

Saturday was a complete wipe-out. I was exhausted and felt dreadful. Got up every few hours to eat something, and then went back to bed. By evening I was still feeling wretched. I was supposed to go to a farewell for two friends I met at dancing, who are headed overseas. Really didn’t feel in the mood for another party, and I figured it would be kinda painful since dancing was one of the greatest joys in my life which I had to give up when I got CFS. So I was in two minds. I didn’t really feel like another party; at least there wouldn’t be a spa scene at this one though. But the point was moot because I was just too frigging exhausted anyway. So I went back to bed and fell asleep. Got up about midnight and played guitar until 3am, then went back to bed. I just can’t sleep for 24 hours straight regardless of how exhausted I feel. I need to get up and do stuff in order to fall back to sleep again later.

Sunday’s Date

Sunday I woke up feeling reasonable. My emotions had settled down a bit by then, and I logged on to some internet dating sites. Turns out Sunday is the day to meet women online; all the girls who’ve spent yet-another-lonely-Saturday-night decide to take matters into their own hands and hit the Internet on Sunday morning. I ended up chatting to two girls, one named Alyshia was keen to meet up for lunch. She says she’s very sensitive, and was quite brave to ask me out to lunch. I would have asked her, but I had a reunion that afternoon for a personal development course so initially I thought we wouldn’t have time, but when she asked me I decided to just go for it anyway. We had lunch at a cafe, and she obviously enjoyed meeting me; said I had a great sense of humour, and we laughed and joked like old friends. Alyshia is quite artistic and interesting. We seemed to click, and I went off to my reunion feeling quite good.

The Reunion

The reunion was a good opportunity to catch up with some really great, loving people I had met before, including the friend that recommended the acting course to me. He’s still struggling with chronic fatigue symptoms too, and all the bullshit that goes along with it. He seems pretty happy though; he sees it as part of his journey of self-discovery. I remarked at the reunion that when I’m in a good mood, I can be optimistic about it, but when I’m in a bad mood, I wonder whether life is worth living and fantasise about ways of killing myself… none of which are even remotely feasible because I don’t want to hurt the people I care about. Plus there are so many things I want to do still; just wish I felt well enough to do them!

Girls… again!

I chatted online to Alyshia in the evening. She asked me why I was so into the whole exploration of emotions thing, and I admitted to having a family which doesn’t express emotions well, and CFS. She seemed understanding. I think we’ll catch up again. She even inadvertantly gave me an idea for my class activity to use today.

The way I feel about my life always seems to reflect what’s going on between me and the women in my life at the time. I hate the way my moods are so at the mercy of other people. It’s no wonder I feel anxious when people are in my comfort zone. I’m slowly learning to be more reactive through acting class. It’s a struggle to avoid pushing myself into overwhelm by taking on too much; pretty much everything I do is aimed at dealing with my illness and whatever underlying emotional stuff might be driving it.

Anyway, I’m glad that weekend is over. I feel OK today; not too exhausted, nor particularly upset. I’ll be seeing Vanessa & co in class today, so that’s going to be interesting. I’m not really in the mood. We’ll see how I feel when I get there. Think I’ll go play a bit of guitar, have breakfast and then head off to class. Thanks for listening.

PS: Do you like the new theme on the website?

Avoiding Overwhelm

I just watched Session 7, on awareness of stress patterns; which seems very relevant to me. I constantly seem to be on the verge of overwhelm, reminding myself to back off a bit and take things easy. Part of me keeps shouting “But I don’t want to! Yes, there’s a lot to do, but I want to go out and do it!”. Yet when I commit to something and end up feeling overwhelmed, I stop caring and just want to give up. Then I feel bad about not caring any more, and wish I could give a damn.

I made my usual mistake of having an afternoon lie down yesterday, because I was feeling really exhausted after coming home from acting class. Woke up after an hour or so feeling absolutely wretched; I just never usually feel that bad. Then I dragged my sorry ass to my Toastmasters committee meeting last night, where a headache gradually got worse and worse. I’m torn because part of me wants to contribute more, part of me wants to be doing something professional where I get paid, and part of me just wants to rest and get better. I made resting and getting better my goal for 2010, so for the time being, it’s got to be the winner.

I’m reading a really interesting book at the moment called The Sedona Method, which describes a way of releasing emotions which is a little similar to the basis for Soften and Flow, and should calm the amygdala. I’ll comment more about it when I’ve finished, but it looks very interesting. I’d be interested if anyone else has used this method for releasing anxiety or other emotions associated with CFS.

After having a lousy headachey night last night, I’m spending the day relaxing, watching Session 7 on the DVD, reading the book I just mentioned and doing some washing, before meeting up with a very sweet and attractive girl from my acting class for coffee this afternoon. Nothing like pretty girl to boost a young-at-heart man’s energy levels!

PS: If you’re in Australia, there is a show on ABC tonight entitled Stress: Portrait of a Killer which looks worth catching.

People who lack empathy really make me angry

Today’s case in point was my sister. We had an argument over MSN this morning, which started with her well-intentioned advice to help me get better. It consisted essentially of “get out more, and be less self-focused”. In her mind, I’m ill because I stay at home. So I need to get out more and do things for other people. In my reality, I stay at home when I’m exhausted and need to rest. I feel much, much worse when I ignore what my body is telling me and push myself to go out when I’m not feeling well.

The subtle sub-theme is that I’m selfish because I do things that I like, and I don’t do enough things for other people. That really pisses me off, partly because it’s not true, but mostly because it belies a total misunderstanding of who I am. My sister barely spends any time with me, and judges me negatively on things she doesn’t even know about. It leaves me to justify the things I do that make me a good person. I hate that bullshit. We are not good because of what we do, or what we believe. We just are.

This pushes my buttons because my family uses pathetic excuses to avoid actually acknowledging their feelings or anyone else’s. This leads to a lack of empathy and a stubborn refusal to see anyone’s point of view but their own. I don’t want to recount the whole argument, but it was clear that to my sister, understanding another person and how they feel just isn’t important. And frankly, that gives me the shits. Being understood is a very basic human need; I’m not the only one with it, but if you were to talk to people in my family, you’d think I had some sort of problem for wanting understanding instead of unhelpful “advice”. I don’t really mind people giving me advice that I find unhelpful; it’s their reaction when I point out that there are good reasons why what they are suggesting is counter-productive that annoys me. They get on their self-righteous hobby-horse and start making out like I’m a bad person because I’m ill. This is one reason Christian-bible-based religious sects give me the shits. Surely we’ve moved on in our understanding of illness in the 21st century can acknowledge that sick people aren’t necessarily sick because they’re doing the wrong thing. That attitude is just tailor-made for hitting my buttons.

I think my inability to express my anger, and the lack of empathy and understanding I’ve received from my family my whole life, and their invalidation of my sensitivity, are probably the root cause of the stress that I feel. If the amygdala theory is correct, then this is a major contributor to why I’m ill. Not the fact that I stay home and rest when I’m exhausted! I was quite proud of myself for telling my sister to “fuck off” when she was piling on the guilt-inducing nonsense. I don’t need more of that bullshit. Perhaps one day I’ll be thanking her for giving me the opportunity to act more assertively in the face of her misguided judgementalism.

Thanks for the opportunity to vent…