Sunday, 14 December 2008

"You Can't Take The Weight of a Single Ounce of Shame"

If it's gotten boring over here, blame my dissertation. I'm trying to finish it this year and folks, it's getting me down. I don't want to write too much about my professional stuff here but let's just say poor Freedom Girl is probably sick to death of hearing me rant about whether I'll ever finish and why I can't write short drafts and how miserable I am. And also how working in a room that hovers around 60 degrees Fahrenheit most of the time is not impossible, but is not massively pleasant, either. End of rant. Follow me on Twitter if you want this self-pity in real time.

wrote recently about making a plan to live and eat more healthily. It's an admirable goal. For me, the thing I need to make a goal for is not so much how I eat (it's ok, I'm not worried about it, and FG makes sure I don't run off the rails too much and survive on cheese, granola bars, and coffee alone). It's more about mental health.


That's not easy to write about... but here it goes... as I've mentioned before, I have a problematic relationship with my family. My dad and I didn't even talk for over three years, and though things are ok there now, well, there's some leftover baggage, how could there not be? And more pressingly, my relationship with my mom is just so damn fraught. I sometimes wonder if I should migrate to Wordpress and do a whole series of ranting passworded posts about her which no one would actually have to read, of course, but which might do me some good. Is that a big hassle for everyone, the Wordpress migration? Or is there any way yet to password protect a Blogger post?

I blogress. So there are issues. And mostly I muddle through, putting FG through lengthy sessions of venting and decompressing after family visits or phone calls, but mostly getting on with life. Other times, though, I have to be honest: I fucking fall apart. The scary thing for me is that I don't know know what will set me off, or when.

As Tina would say, TMI ahead.

The other night, FG and I were messing around. And in the course of this messing around, which was getting serious but had not yet progressed to getting nekkid, she grabbed my boxer shorts, a handful on either side, and pulled me down towards her, and I freaked out. I felt myself grow cold and a wave of feeling tiny, small, helpless, and saturated with shame overcame me. Gently, I disengaged from her, and tried to explain what was wrong. Of course she felt terrible, though it was not her fault at all, really. I really couldn't move past feeling upset. She tried to comfort me and I couldn't let her even touch me. Eventually I explained enough and she went to sleep, as did I eventually; the only way I could get comfortable was curled up tight, one arm in my stomach and the other over my neck. For context... ass-grabbing is a perfectly normal & acceptable part of our repertoire. But something about pulling my shorts instead triggered something in my head. I don't know exactly what it was, though. I'm pretty stone, and that's fine with me, but this was something more, this was not a sane boundary but a minefield of distress that I've barely even acknowledged.

In the course of talking about this incident the next night, and all the feelings about my childhood and myself that it brought up, FG said two things that struck me and that have led me to write this post. One was that I really, really need to talk this stuff over with a therapist. So, I thought, if Jess can post her physical health goals, maybe I should post my mental health goals, too. I'm reluctant and it's logistically a bit challenging (see re: dissertation, above) but in the new year, I aim to start to address these problems in a systematic way, with hopefully effective professional help.

The second thing she said was that she can't be my entire support system; and in the context of that, she said how I go through life and everything seems ok, and, "I'm the only one who knows something is wrong." That's a powerful point. I think somewhere in my head I believe that if only she sees me fall apart, it means I've got it under control. Which of course is nonsense. So to lighten her burden, if only symbolically, and in a gesture of combating shame, I'm saying to all of you--I go through life, and mostly it's fine, but something is wrong, and I know I need to deal with it, and I'm working on it.

Post title: Melissa Etheridge, "Heroes & Friends"


CAB said...

Forgive me, because I know you don't have a clue who I am, but I wanted to tell you that (a) it takes a very strong individual to know that they need help and to seek it out. So be proud that you were able to share this post and that you have decided to get some professional help. (b) *hugs*

Leo MacCool said...

Thanks, CAB. You know, I don't know who you are, but based on your comments, I have the feeling I'd like to know you. I was updating the old blogroll today and went to add your blog--only to realize, sadly, you don't have one. If you do start one, let me know, ok?

CAB said...

I appreciate the thought - I actually blog on Multiply.

As you mentioned - I like the fact that I can mark certain blogs as private.

appple said...

leo, you're tough and awesome and you will get through this just fine. and whenever you need to expand your support system, you know i'm an email away.

em said...

Hi. I don't think I have commented here before though I have been reading you for awhile. This really hit me hard, there's this woman see...? And I'm the only one she tells, or I used to be and god, you have no idea how much I worried about her. So I'm writing to say I suspect it must be hard, and I'm really glad you wrote this post.

em said...

Oh, I blog at

Sublimefemme said...

Dear Leo, CAB is right! The feeling of being wounded/unworthy is something I struggled with, and it wasn't until I addressed the root causes of those feelings that I was able to move forward in my life. It takes a lot of courage to do this, but it ultimately may end up being the best gift you ever give yourself.

Perhaps this goes without saing, but a good therapist will help you to deal with both your professional (the diss) and personal goals. They're probably more related than is readily apparent.

Finally, have I already recommended to you Joan Bolker's Writing Your Dissertaiton in 15 minutes a day? Despite the jokey title, I've found it to be the best book on the market for diss writers.

Good luck and hang in there, Leo!


LL Cool Joe said...

What amazes me, is the way our upbringing just filters through out whole being like osmosis, for the rest our lives. We manage to filter out or even block so many of the memories for so long and then something triggers off an emotion and it's like a floodgate being opened and out it all comes.

Of course it takes a powerful person to close the gate again, until you get to a stage where you haven't got strength to that anymore, and then you need someone else to help you.

Maybe you've reached that stage?

Does any of what I've said actually make any sense? :/

Anonymous said...

"I go through life, and mostly it's fine, but something is wrong, and I know I need to deal with it, and I'm working on it." I read this line over and over again because I see this in myself.

My philosophy is that I don't need to be perfect, I just need to be real & if that part of me is scary well then that's what it is. I tell myself, "don't fear the truth so much and it can't really hurt you."

Manny tight, barely able to breathe, hugs from me to you, sweet Leo. said...

OMG thank god. I was seriously considering dropping your ass for being too normal and not sharing any of the fucked-upped-ness Jess and I carry.


That was a close one.

Luv & stuff,
You and Freedomgirl's biggest CT fan. :)

MLC said...

I am sure we all have a few demons in the closet and the only way around that is to open the door and really look at them.

Needing help to do so is a courageous act - and writing is great. Get a journal if you don't want the family finding it.

I really like Pema Chodron and her writing -- because you need more reading and writing to do in graduate school.


Jess said...

Leo, my bro. I feel your pain about wishing blogger had the option of password protected entries.

Part of me likes that it doesn't though because I usually just end up venting my shit publicly, and all of the comments/feedback usually make me feel like I'm not alone in my insanity. That's comforting.

If you ever need to vent your shit to someone other than FG, please feel free to email me/call me or whatever. I'd be happy to listen.

Oh, and I second MLC, Pema Chodron's books are truly awesome.

Anonymous said...

On your dissertation woes: I am a decent writer, but I struggle with it. One of the strategies that's helped me most is dedicating an hour every morning to writing. Sometimes all I do is read thru things I've already written or scribble down a few notes. But I find that doing this increases the amount of time I spend productively writing.

On the blogression: I love wordpress and have been thinking of putting up some password protected posts myself.

On the rest: *hug* and yes, broaden your support system. The more people who share your troubles, the easier they are for everyone to bear. And don't say you don't want to "burden" people - I know you'd be upset if someone you loved didn't want to "burden" you!

Freedomgirl said...

hey baby, like i have said before, everything you are was always already alright with me.

@Tina: you crack me up. let me tell you, we haven't even scratched the surface. wow, that was a close one though. before you drop our sorry asses, give us a heads up so we can try to redeem ourselves ;)

Otter said...

I would just say that FG is brilliant and insightful for being able to say that she can't be your full support system. That's a really hard thing to recognize. Also, good for you for being able to say when you're uncomfortable. That takes some work.