Trauma. I picture little baby me trying to get his needs met and retreating inside himself when those needs felt like too much. I picture little toddler me stumbling around the house in jewelry and high heels being told that these are girls things. I picture a cocoon made of wax that I slowly built up around me both to keep rejection out but to keep those parts of me that faced rejection in.
I was a quiet kid. I don’t think I wanted to be a quiet kid but I never felt like I could compete and so I’ve always felt more comfortable stepping back and letting others fight to be fed. But I watched.
I learned how to not feel my feelings until I convinced myself I didn’t have any. I learned how to put myself in uncomfortable social situations until I convinced myself I was outgoing. I learned how to use language, and sarcasm, and satire, until I convinced myself I was charming and funny. I learned how to be mean.
Jesus, this is all over the place. The mask is melting. I am feeling like a raw nerve walking around in the world, feeling only pain from everything I touch. I was driving behind a big white SUV with a tinted back window and I couldn’t see the traffic in front of me. This has bothered me ever since I can remember but, today, it was intolerable. I was legitimately considering turning into oncoming traffic to get around the larger vehicle when we came to a yellow traffic signal and I could justify stopping to myself to give the vehicles in front of me some distance. We were driving home after looking for very specific sneakers for three hours. Because they have to be the exact brand and colors that I am picturing in my head, whether or not such a thing exists, and no other shoe will do. I don’t remember being like this before. Although, maybe part of it is the pandemic. I used to work downtown next to a bunch of stores and I remember spending entire weekends by myself strolling from store to store trying to find the perfect this or that, always asking myself if it was something I’d seen in an ad somewhere or just made up in my head and needed to have. Maybe it’s having a partner trailing behind me that increases the anxiety. Maybe it’s some hidden factor I can’t determine. Whatever the cause, I feel like I am becoming more and more sensitive by the day. The things that were always a little uncomfortable have become downright intolerable.
I know this sounds like depression. I have had a diagnosis of major depressive disorder since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I remember telling my parents while on the way to bed that I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. (My mom said that made her sad and kissed me goodnight.) I have two suicide attempts under my belt and have taken time from work on three different occasions to go through Intensive Outpatient. I actually just took twelve weeks of disability leave in the fall to go through ECT but that’s a story for another post. The point is, I am well acquainted with my depression and I know it sometimes shows up as irritability or with anxiety… but I keep coming back to a suggestion that was made to me once that depression might be a symptom of trying to function in a world that wasn’t built for me.
But I have functioned in the past. I think. I guess it depends on the definition of function. To a degree, I am functioning now. I have a full-time job, though I work remotely and there’s some interpersonal conflicts at work that have resulted in me having a pretty small workload. I’ve had a full-time job since I moved away from home. I should be grateful. I want to be grateful. Despite all of the mistakes I’ve made, I’ve been consistently employed since 2006 and I actually have a relatively high income and I hate myself because I am drowning in debt and I can’t seem to figure out how to convert income into paid bills and savings and assets. I was thinking I had this great success in my past that I was drifting away from and in trying to build out the contrast, I am seeing right now as I’m typing it how I am just a repeating pattern, a spiral staircase, not sure if I’m going up or down. I started working late in life but have been employed since. Yet my performance reviews all read similar to my report cards from when I was a kid.
Smart but lazy. Has so much potential if he could just buckle down and do the work.
I picture myself in this wax cocoon I’ve built up through years of coping with trauma and many more years watching traumatic things happen to those around me. I built this thick hard shell to keep myself safe and protected. But I’ve been passed around and jostled and there are gouges and scratches and the shell is wearing thin. There’s a fire somewhere and it feels like the heat is coming from all directions and it’s starting to melt and pull away.
I can’t be calm right now. I can’t be caring and understanding and sage right now. I can’t be productive and innovative right now. I can’t be smart and witty and charming right now. I can’t be friends right now. I can’t be lovers right now. I can’t be family right now. I can’t be professional and courteous right now. I can’t understand your double entendre right now. I can’t figure out why your face is moving like that or why your voice sounds like that right now. I can’t figure out what to eat right now. I don’t even know if I’m hungry right now. I can’t be political right now. I can’t fight for social justice right now. I can’t create right now. I can’t plan ahead right now. I can’t stick to a schedule or enforce a routine right now. The mask is melting.
One thought on “The mask is melting.”
I relate to so, so much of this, particularly being a walking raw nerve and just being barely able to do … anything. I so wanted to drop the mask, without really grasping at all how important it was to my survival it has been … and thus how terribly exposed and exhausted I’d be without it (by degrees).
That whole last paragraph? Yep.
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