Blanket inhibition

I attended a writers’ talk this evening and, while I was listening, a few questions bubbled up that I wanted to ask. But the time for questions didn’t come until the end. By which point I’d forgotten all but one, and I was second-guessing whether it was relevant, whether it was a question that would contribute to the discussion, whether it mattered, whether it was selfish…let alone how to word it. So I didn’t ask it.

I had made the decision on my way there that I would ask a question because it was a show of support to the writers giving the talk. But I rationalised not asking the question because I thought no one would be interested in the answer except me, or maybe the writers wouldn’t want to answer it because it was a bit sticky.

The thing is, this sounds like anxiety. And in past similar situations, it’s felt very much like anxiety. But I’m beginning to believe it’s fabricated anxiety. The underlying problem, if I excavate my psyche, was that too much time had passed for me to be connected to the question anymore. At the point in the talk where I got curious, I had to stop myself interjecting or raising my hand to ask it there and then, and I was disappointed and frustrated that I couldn’t, but this is such a common occurrence for me that I didn’t even notice it until I came to write this post. By the time I was able to ask questions, it didn’t feel important anymore. But I knew that I’d decided that it was important, at least enough to ask, so I was rifling through the sock drawers of my mind trying to find a justification compelling enough to sway me. And I found plenty of justifications, but they were all for different things.

For a long time I had assigned my timidity when it came to asking questions to the bracket of social anxiety or shyness. I’m realising more and more how much it seems to be a feature of my unofficial ADHD. For many years I’ve had to repress my natural inclinations in order to conform to society’s expectations. But while I got very good at blanket inhibiting the ‘wrong’ response, I’ve never gotten all that good at the ‘right’ one. I often understand what it is, but I almost just as often still fail to execute it. This created a sad vacuum of inaction in my life that I’ve harboured a great deal of shame for, and while I’ve been working to deconstruct both the vacuum and the shame cage around it for over two years now, I still don’t fully understand its mechanisms.

If only I could have accepted I was different, instead of convincing myself I was worse.

If only we could all.

A mild quarrel

I had plenty of sleep last night, and woke up feeling lively. My son and I danced, and made stamp pictures, and talked about Pokemon, and were out earlier than usual to get some things to supplement our breakfast from the local shop, which we then enjoyed as a sort of mini morning picnic on our picnic step close to where I alarmed some passers-by the other day. I was having a lovely time.

And then it all changed. And not because something terrible happened. But because I was involved in what was, probably, from the outside, a mild quarrel, but what my brain perceived as me being accused of being such a terrible mother and all round person that it was barely believable.

I won’t be so uncouth as to go into further detail, but it’s fair to say that, while my brain had plenty of fodder saved up to fuel that interpretation for me, it probably wasn’t what was actually happening, and even if it was, my body did not need to take it so personally.

I always feel ashamed when my trigger gets pulled. For being so weak as to allow it. Giving someone that kind of power over me is a deeply troubling occurrence. But I also get inarticulate and kind of stupid; I lose all the faculties that my most primitive sense of self-worth is attributed to.

The shame is compounded when my son is a witness. Yuck, I never want him to see me like that. Disempowered. Reactive. Defensive. Small. I want to be able to lead him by example through difficult conversations with equanimity, compassion, curiosity, and integrity. In those moments, I fall woefully short of the standards I strive towards. I worry that all the good work I have done will be somehow undone in a moment of weakness.

I am fairly confident this shame spiral is an over-reaction. I am fairly confident that – based on everything I know about trauma, shame, people – if I was an outsider looking in, I would deem it a gross over-reaction. But I’m not an outsider looking in.

I have spent the day trying to recover from this fucking mild quarrel where nothing particularly bad happened. Luckily (or maybe unluckily), it happened on a Sunday, when my only expectations of myself were to run and to write. There was plenty of time to dig in.

I can always tell when I’ve been thrown out of myself because I roam the house looking for anything and nothing. I also do this when I’m excited, but when I’m excited the roaming is an attempt to regulate the surge of energy coursing through me. When the gun’s been fired I’m looking for something to fill the void where the bullet once was. I caught myself doing this within minutes of being left to my own devices, at about half eleven this morning. It took me until half nine tonight to get myself back.

And I am back. I’m good. If that’s what it took then that’s what it took. It used to take longer. Be nice if it didn’t take anything.

Twice round the block

I decided to start running a few days ago. I ordered my shoes, they arrived ahead of schedule, and then I bashed my foot and knelt on a screw while modifying my son’s bed. Which I found quite amusing, because it’s a bit of a pattern for me to injure myself right after I’ve decided to do something physical, as if my brain didn’t provide enough self-sabotage on its own. I also found it interesting that both of the body parts in question are the sites of prior, more significant injuries that will likely impact my ability to run long term. Like my body was saying Oh, shame, look, you can’t run, remember your dodgy foot and your dodgy knee? Aww man, you’re gonna have to sit this one out, I think. Nothing you can do, not your fault or anything, just maybe just come back to it one day when everything’s healed. Or, you know, maybe not, it’s up to you, no pressure. Running’s probably just not for you anyway to be honest, I’d probably just find something better to do. That’s probably best, I’d say.

However, I wasn’t even in the vicinity of that wavelength this time. I don’t know by which virtue I escaped it, but escape it I did. So I jogged on my mini trampoline for half an hour this afternoon, testing out my apparatus. And it was fucking fine. Then this evening, I took it to the streets. And I ran two whole miles, I think. Well, that’s what my Christmas Fitbit says, anyway. And it was fucking fine.

We’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but my inkling that I need to lay the gauntlet down for myself with an absurd running challenge of some description is getting more vicious. So that should be interesting.

And I’ve ordered myself some running socks. Things are getting serious.

Glad we got that straight

I think if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s the fact that, Seth Godin, I am not. While he may have been the inspiration and impetus for this blog, and just an all round positive influence in my life, we don’t have a lot in common. I like to think it’s easier for him to blog daily, but maybe I’m just conning myself. Maybe it’s far less about privilege and personality and brain hardware, and far more about choices. The problem is, sometimes, we’re not making our choices as consciously as we think we are, and how much of that are we even in control of?

For a time, about a year ago, writing daily was easier for me than not writing daily. And not because I had something I needed to say, but because the process was important to me; the endeavour was important to me, and losing what I had built within myself was not worth any temporary gain to time or energy.

But then I did lose it, because I did have something I needed to say, and I was scared to say it, and so I let writing become more about the outcome than the process. And what I had built within myself was no longer factored into the question. I had forgotten.

I had a pet research interest while doing my masters – emotional interference. It’s not a particularly well-researched phenomenon and so naturally, before COVID descended, I was designing a study to explore it further. And then when COVID descended I designed a completely different study in a completely different area of not-well-researched phenomena. I have a suspicion that emotional interference is an important link between ’emotional dysregulation’ and ‘executive dysfunction’. Basically, you’re more likely to get distracted by something emotionally pertinent. You’re more likely to perform worse while distracted by something emotionally pertinent. If you feel things more strongly, or feel strong emotions more frequently, it stands to reason this will present more of a challenge to your focus and attention. Thus, understanding the emotional aspect may be key to managing the cognitive challenges.

I didn’t even notice I was making the choice to switch from process to outcome. If I’d noticed, I could have consciously reassessed. And I would have, because I’m good at that. But I didn’t see it at all. I was swept up in the preoccupation of the words I was keeping to myself. I was feeling things, and those things caught my gaze. I knew there was a problem – I wasn’t writing daily anymore. And I knew the problem came when there was something I needed to say. The thing I missed – because my attention was caught by the thing I needed to say – was that the thing I needed to say wasn’t the problem; it was just a distraction.

Sometimes the thing isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s just a distraction to be ignored.

Wanna play?

I went out last night and I currently have the alcohol shakes, but I’ve been excited about writing this blog post for the last four hours. During which time I’ve also been hiding in bed, mostly in the fetal position, listening to Brené Brown and Dax Shepard talk to people, with my eyes closed and three water vessels within arms reach, waiting for the world to stop swaying quite so much. And also very glad that I didn’t accidentally go out-out any time close to when I need to be a parent. My fingers can just about hit the right keys now, so I’ll press on.

There’s a certain threshold of alcohol beyond which I am simply not able to control my actions. Once I’ve crossed that threshold I’m basically just a product of my inputs up to that point. It’s like the human checks out and just leaves the program to do whatever it’s going to do. I’ve always felt like other people seem to more gradually progress toward incapacitation, while my brain seem to drop off a cliff quite a bit before my body stops being able to do stuff, but that could just be a disparity of perception.

I generally try to give the cliff a wide margin, because I’m always a bit scared what the human will find in the memory banks when it finally comes back online. And I know if I get anywhere close to the cliff, I’ll probably think it’s a good idea to down my drink and see if I can fly. So I try to keep my distance, but sometimes it sort of sneaks up on me.

Cliff-diving wasn’t on my agenda for last night, but there were at least a couple of drinks put in front of me that I wasn’t expecting and certainly hadn’t accounted for, so…wheeeeeee!

Now, I’ve been various shades of offputting drunk person over the years, and it’s often quite instructive as to where I most need to do my work at that time. A latent and unacknowledged rage toward men…my self-worth being tied to my perceived value as a sexual object…feeling trapped in a relationship because of what I’d been conditioned to believe love was supposed to be… You know, all the usual stuff. But this time, rather than pointing out my most tender emotional wounds, I was gifted a moment of delightful searing clarity for a completely different reason. Because last night, when I jumped off the cliff, I became my four year old son.

Seriously; I was just running around, having a nice time, getting up in everybody’s business, touching everyone, talking to random strangers trying to get them to play with me, missing all the social cues when people weren’t really interested in playing with me, not really understanding what was going on around me but using my four-year-old logic to come up with my own explanations, and then using those explanations to come up with ways to try to get people to play with me.

And, I don’t know, I mean, yeah, an adult acting like a very extravagant four year old is annoying and certainly not acceptable in polite society, but, like, I feel like I can’t be mad at myself for just wanting to play, you know? Like, yeah, you definitely need to get a bit better with boundaries and consent, Yve, but your heart was in the right place.

Coincidentally, when I was writing a description of my son a few weeks ago, after going through all the unequivocally glorious things about him, I added “his excitement can lead him to get disruptive sometimes – respecting other people’s boundaries and personal space is a big lesson for him at the moment”.

So, basically, I’ve come to the understanding that, if I’m ever going to go out-out again, I’m going to require adult supervision.