It’s amazing how fast I can get used to doing nothing. I thought that not having to work would make time move more slowly this week, but it actually hasn’t been too bad. Perhaps I really did need to take the time off, because I haven’t been bored. Having nothing to do has felt OK. Or maybe that’s just the bones of the depression; that ability to sit and stare at a wall for long periods of time without wanting to find something to occupy me.
After J telling me last week that she thought we shouldn’t be carrying on with the therapeutic work we’ve been doing lately, I anticipated that therapy would be frustrating. I wasn’t sure there was much point in going to my sessions if we weren’t going to delve into the difficult stuff. I don’t have endless money to throw at treatment, and if we’re not going to work on what needs to be worked on, the idea of going there just to be with her seemed somewhat indulgent.
In my sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday it was different, but I didn’t feel like we weren’t doing any work. I just spoke about things that don’t normally come up – things that feel unimportant compared to all the trauma, destructiveness and despair. But it was interesting what emerged when I didn’t focus on the usual topics.
We ended up discussing relationships more generally. That’s important work of course. My sense of worthlessness affects how I relate to every person in my life. In all my relationships, I feel as though the other person is better than me. I don’t know how to relate to people without offering them something or doing something for them. What came up was my sense of relationships as needing some kind of currency. I have to pay for what I receive.
That led on to a discussion about ‘unconditional love’, which I found pretty frustrating. I was irritated by it because I don’t believe such a thing exists, and J clearly does. My view is that in every relationship, it’s possible for us to do something that will make the other person stop loving us. It might be unlikely, but it isn’t impossible. That sounds cynical, but to me it’s realistic. I’d like to think that unconditional love is not just a myth people tell themselves, I really would. But it’s hard to see it as anything other than a strategy people use to fool themselves into thinking they are safe and secure. I am so glad they have that comfort, but I can’t buy into it.
When J asked ‘what about unconditional love for yourself?’, the concept felt so ludicrous I actually found it hard not to laugh. Again, it sounds wonderful and I am happy that other people experience it, but it isn’t something I can in any way relate to.
My experience growing up taught me that love is always conditional. When I look back at how my brother used my love for him to manipulate me into sexual acts, it makes sense that I feel this way. I looked up to him and wanted nothing more than for him to love me and enjoy spending time with me. He twisted that into a weapon and used it to completely destroy the innocent child I was. After he was found out, he frightened me, ignored me or was totally dismissive for the rest of the time he lived with us. I had nothing more to give him, so I received no more love from him.
I had another very significant experience that solidified this perspective for me later in my life; coming out to my parents. They’ve always been quite liberal, hippy types, and as far back as I can remember I was told they’d love me no matter what. I wasn’t nervous about telling them I was gay, because this had led me to believe it wouldn’t be an issue.
Their reaction was a huge shock. Nothing in their response echoed their promises to me growing up, or their espoused values. There was no hiding their disappointment in me. My dad was so disgusted or distressed by my news he was physically ill. And my mum found it appropriate to tell me that, though there was no need for me to know.
All I needed was their support in this exciting, but challenging and scary time, and they refused to discuss it. When I met the woman who would become my wife and we were living hundreds of miles apart, I couldn’t speak about her in the house. She wasn’t welcome to visit. My dad didn’t even acknowledge her existence.
My parents completely rejected me and ignored what I was going through, just as they had when I was little and they found out about the abuse. This was the only time since then that I’d really called on them for emotional support, and once again, none was offered. I was left to deal with it on my own, hiding out in the same bedroom where I’d cried alone in the aftermath of the abuse. It was different pain and loneliness, but the experience had definite parallels.
I think after that, the core belief was set in stone. People only want me around if I am happy, entertaining, or useful. I have no value if I share anything real and painful. And I certainly have no right to ask anyone to help me with that stuff. The message I’ve always taken on board is that it is not OK to be needy and to ask for things.
That makes it almost impossible for me to reach out now, for fear of rejection or humiliation or losing the relationship. I’ve had a lot of kind offers from friends this week, who’ve asked if I’d like them to come over for a coffee and a chat. And while I am touched that they offered, I can’t accept. I can’t let myself believe that they really want to see me like this, or that if they do they will ever want to see me again.
So I’ve mostly been painting, walking, and hanging out with my dog. I also had a pretty awesome cuddle with a chicken. And for now, that feels like enough.
Main photo: Mario Micklisch, Creative Commons.