Struggle with Feelings of Failure

from my journal for Monday, October 15

I am having a really hard time.  I had planned to pick up my meds between 8-9AM.  I got up at 7, so tired, so hard to get out of bed.  Did usual morning routine as fast as I could up to feeding Mocha.  I planned to take her out, then walk her in & down the stairs, go to the clinic, pick up meds, come back by the café, attach Mocha to a chair outside, get breakfast.  I was feeling too tired & sick to cook.  I set out at 8:35.  At one point it looked like it made more sense to come back here & leave Mocha.  But when I got here it was 8:55.  Too late to do the rest.  Too late to get my meds while the morning window was still open.  So I made breakfast, settled in with third cup of tea — washed dishes while it was brewing — and finished the story of Will and Trisha.

The book is The Education of Will, and it was recommended by my therapist.  It’s the story of a traumatized dog (Willie), adopted by a professional dog trainer (Trisha).  In order to be able to help him, she has to address her own traumas.  She had 3 horrible traumas: molested by her sister’s boyfriend at 15, and soon after, she was on stage with a bunch of other teenagers, and they witnessed a man fall to a bloody death.  Finally, I think it was in her late 20’s, she was raped painfully by a date, and felt guilty as though it was her fault.  Something most of us learn early from a culture which says “She was wearing a short skirt/she smiled at him with a come-on look, etc.”   I think “what happened to her is much worse than what happened to me.”

I read the acknowledgements and saw how many many friends she had.  I saw that she had built up a business working with difficult dogs and succeeded.  After two failed marriages, with her third husband she built a life that works for her.  I feel jealous, and then I feel angry at myself for not doing better.  

She talks about working with a yoga teacher who taught her a lot.  He gave her exercises, but she wasn’t able to do them at home.  She said it was because she didn’t want to give up her story that she was a victim.  I have been finding it increasingly difficult to do the physical things I know will help — long walks, a few yoga stretches, meditating, going to back and balance classes, adding in aerobics…  I periodically feel exhausted, see that I’m trying to do too much, and give myself a break, but I’ve been wondering if I’m being “lazy,” not using will power to make myself stretch, meditate, etc.

After I finished my third cup of tea and the book, I found myself virtually paralyzed.  I couldn’t think what to do next.  I just wanted to sit there and do something distracting.  So I got the poster that I had just brought back from Staples where it was attached to foam core.  I saw that there was room to put it in my window, so I made a document that said CIRCLE DANCE and LET US JOIN OUR HANDS AND HEARTS TO BUILD A BETTER WORLD.  I printed it out, cut the paper into strips, taped them to the top of the poster, and put it in my window that faces the covered walkway.  I see that I did this instead of something more distracting — playing computer solitaire — or something more “productive” — sorting mail — because it fed my heart and soul.  To take something I love and profoundly believe in, and put it out there in a way that it can reach those people who want to be reached.

So am I lazy? am I a failure at living?  I don’t think I’m lazy so much as exhausted — I still find it hard to tell that I’m exhausted and to validate that I have good reason to be exhausted.  “What do you mean you’re tired?  You haven’t done anything.”  Mother’s voice.  What if there had been someone to say “Of course you’re tired.  Why don’t you rest, and I’ll bring you some milk and cookies/cup of tea.”  I’m also without motivation.  Everything I look at — that has to be done, like washing dishes — or that I want to contribute to, like standing with survivors of sexual abuse — just looks too hard to do, or there’s no group of people near enough to join, and trying to start something is way beyond me.

Having written and typed all this, I ask myself if I can look at myself from the perspective the work with Erica has given me.  First of all, when I look at Trisha’s sexual traumas, I compare being molested by my father at 12 and raped by a date at 17.  That’s “much less” than what happened to her.  I’m failing to acknowledge that I was also traumatized at the very beginning of my life by being left alone too much.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for an infant, who can’t get out of its crib and go find something to eat, the truth is that it will die if someone else doesn’t come and bring food.  The moment the reptilian brainstem concludes that the baby is going to die is when trauma happens.  The baby can neither fight nor flee, so it adopts the instinctive default “Freeze.”  In my case, this happened often, and I wasn’t always fed when I was hungry.  In fact, those were the days when you were supposed to feed your baby every four hours, and not pick her up when she cries because she will be spoiled.  For my mother, that was not only expert advice, but an excuse to ignore me when she didn’t want to be bothered with me. 

The fact that I was traumatized before my brain and nervous system had developed, meant that traumatic reactions were built into my system in a very deep way: an overactive amygdala, the fear detector, and a smaller hippocampus, which may have to do with memory processing, especially emotional memory.  If it weren’t for neuroplasticity, I would have been stuck with a system fixed in trauma.  Fortunately it’s possible to heal.  Unfortunately, if the trauma is that deep, it can take a long time.  I really can forgive myself for not getting better faster, for being a “failure at living.”  People who have some idea of what I am up against have said to me “What you have done is HUGE.”  But I still find it very difficult to believe it.

Most likely my sense of helplessness and despair are a result of being totally exhausted, by the political idiocy, the environmental madness, and the fact that my dog was attacked and got a bloody nose, and her behavior was very different, probably “shocked” for many days afterward.  I also have to give myself credit for: signing up to write a personal message and send already addressed and stamped postcards to people who haven’t voted very much and encouraging them to vote, going ahead and scheduling a time to teach folk dance here, and making the poster into something I could put in my window.

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