Emotional Neglect and Being Human

I just recently finished reading a book on emotional neglect entitled Running on Empty by Dr. Jonice Webb. I can highly recommend it for anyone who feels like they’re struggling with a lot of the emotional stuff that should be easy in adulthood but for whatever reason… isn’t. Y’know, things like forcing yourself to do stuff that you don’t want to do, knowing how to self-soothe in healthy ways in response to stress, how to be firm but kind with yourself about your mistakes instead of beating yourself up.

Through reading it, I essentially learned that while contemporary culture tells us that these are inborn character flaws that we should look down on and tsk, tsk people for having… like many other things, they’re skills that for whatever reason, a lot of people didn’t learn growing up. You can learn them as an adult (and indeed, that’s what I’m trying to do now), it’s just hard.

It also lead me to come to terms with my situation in my adolescence in a way I hadn’t before. You see, the book is titled “Overcoming Childhood Emotional Neglect”, and emotional neglect in particular paints a particular picture of the caregiver that… I don’t know, perpetrates it, I guess. Specifically, a picture that tends to paint them as a villain in the mysterious case of “why am I so fucked in the head?”

But at least in my case (and I’m willing to bet in others, as well), I don’t think that’s true. What’s closer to fact is that my mom was in an untenable situation and did the best she could. Essentially my dad left us when I was at the end of elementary school, and left us in such dire financial straits that my mom took on a second (and sometimes even a third) job. Even when my dad came back, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and a lot of my mom’s energy went towards trying to make sure he took his medication, getting him to apply to jobs and just generally even do the basic kind of helping out around the house one expects from a partner. My dad himself had effectively been absent as a father figure since the day he left, and continued to be up until the day I severed ties with him.

As a result, I didn’t really get… PARENTED (at least not emotionally) when I was in high school. My mom always worked, or if she was at home, she was either catching some brief rest before going to her other job, making sure I had something to eat, or using the few threadbare moments she had to keep HER sanity intact. She believed that, since I was a bright kid, I had things handled. At the time, I enjoyed the freedom, but it’s only just now that I’m learning what the cost of it was.

I didn’t get, and then internalize a loving but firm ‘inner parental’ voice that I could use as a guide when I made mistakes, letting me deconstruct where things went wrong so I could learn from them. I, like many kids, had to make my own, and the result was an unbalanced voice that ranged from complete permissiveness (“It’s okay, just don’t let it happen again”) to outright abuse (“Why are you so fucking stupid?! What’s WRONG with you”).

I didn’t really learn how to self-soothe or practice many elements of self-care. When I was upset as a kid, we went to McDonald’s. Or my mom would bring home a treat. As an adult, I routinely eat emotionally… and over-eat, at that. I never really learned to grapple with and accept my emotions (even the distressing ones) as okay to have: I learned to bury them alive in a shallow grave of carbs, or otherwise to just ‘not think about them.’

All that fueled a lot of anger I had for a long time, first towards my dad, and then even towards my mom. But through reading Running on Empty, and thinking more about my mom’s situation at the time has lead me to be a lot more empathetic. If I’d been in her shoes, what more could I have done? We were holding on by the skin of our teeth as best we could, trying to keep the basics intact as far as a roof over our heads and food on the table. A mentally ill, largely unsupportive and increasingly alcoholic husband and a teenage son grappling with anxiety, depression, and unresolved abandonment and self-esteem issues would be overwhelming for even the most emotionally well-prepared person. Essentially, I’ve learned that even though I’m going back and understanding what I didn’t get emotionally growing up, the reasons I didn’t receive that emotional nourishment isn’t necessarily “my mom/dad/caregiver was a bad person.” A lot of the time, they’re the same as anyone else:

Scared. Broken. Dealing with unresolved issues of their own. Doing their best.

No one is given a how-to guide on raising an emotionally healthy family. Until very, very recently, it was just expected that we all knew how, and that silence has let a sickness of ignorance spread that claims thousands of lives and stunts the potential of millions more.

In the end, it’s not about placing blame. It’s about healing through understanding. Less about trying to go back and undo what was done (or wasn’t done), and more about seeking out and giving yourself the love, knowledge, and emotionally nourishing connections I need now, as an adult.


A Turning Point (hopefully)

So I started anxiety meds two days ago. I haven’t gotten a restful sleep either night since. I don’t know whether to blame this on the meds themselves or the myriad of thoughts I have squirreling around in my head keeping me awake. I just got smacked down by a midterm this past week, have two papers due by the end of the month, as well as a Statistics Lab Exam this upcoming Thursday. I’m really beginning to feel the pressure, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to stay focused on maintaining academics while not letting my health deteriorate.

The last two weeks I pulled nighters, and am just generally fucking myself over with my lack of time management skills. The new meds (my doc put me on Zoloft) do seem to, I don’t know, quiet down my internal monologue a little bit. Sometimes it seems like keeping a consistent train of thought going in my head is like talking to a room full of kindergartners hopped up on pixie sticks. The main voice of the instructor keeps getting drowned out because the kids keep shouting out the random things they see/do/think. Those “voices” (I hate using that word, it makes me sound like I’m experiencing auditory hallucinations) are still there, but at least in the past day or so I’ve found them to be much quieter. Part of me keeps pointing out that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, and that this may very well be a placebo effect. But I really, REALLY hope not.

I want to change. I don’t want to keep having to exhaust myself of willpower everytime I have to force myself to do ONE THING I don’t want to do, because the anxiety (and the thoughts that come with it) are too high a mountain to overcome. I don’t want to keep wasting so much time talking myself back from the edge of dropping courses/dropping out of school/saying “fuck it” to whatever happens to frustrating my goals at present. I WANT SO BADLY to be able to jump into the mindset of, “Okay, that sucks, but this is how we’re going t o fix it,” that I had in Vancouver.  I want to be able to start working on something/go to the gym/studying/reading WHEN I want to, and not when I feel stimulated to, and not having to spend several minutes paralyzed with analysis over the pros and cons of every fucking decision I make.

I need this to be a turning point.

Stumbling Towards Progress

An interesting thing happened today. It was a lazy day (I slept in until 11AM, and kinda took the day off from productivity). Later in the afternoon, I got a craving for a DQ Blizzard, and coupled with the stir craze I was starting to feel from being trapped in the house all day, I hopped on my bike and rode down to the nearest Dairy Queen to kill time until the rest of my podcasting crew arrived for our recording. To my dismay, I opened my wallet to find that I’d left my credit and debit cards at home, and that I had no cash on me.

I was initially frustrated, until I remembered that I’d set aside an “anti-spending envelope” to stash my extra cash and cards in unless I needed them, for EXACTLY THAT PURPOSE. This taught me a couple things. One, that I need to create more failsafe mechanisms for when, not if, my willpower fails when it comes to dietary concerns, or other things. This one worked, but there are still other areas of my life which could use “just in case” -type measures.

Second, it showed me that I’ve failed to establish a progressively rewarding system for managing my diet. Unlike my task-completion Quest game, time-tracking, or Fitocracy’s ingenious level-up progression for workouts, I haven’t created a system where I can tangibly see the effects of me sticking to my diet. Sure, over a longer scale I’ll feel better and see the changes on my body, or even see that stats change on my monthly body composition tables, but that doesn’t help my dedication to the cause on a day-to-day, temptation-to-temptation basis.

So here’s my new idea. Every time I’m barricaded by one of my failsafe measures from buying or indulging in some form of junk food, I’ll put away a small amount of money (if I bought it, it’ll be the amount that food item would have cost) away. At the end of the month, I’ll allow myself one big purchase (something other than junk food) with the money I’ve put away. I’ll track the money put away on one of my spreadsheets, so every time I resist a temptation, I’ll be able to see that result of that money going towards something else. It’s still preliminary, but I’ll tweak it as I go.

Other than that, I had a couple of stumbling blocks in the rest of the previous week too. I missed another class on Thursday, albeit a different one than I missed on Tuesday. Lesson learned: when I go to campus, I am to STAY THERE until all my classes are finished for the day. The temptation to just stay home and make justifications for skipping is just too large if I go home in the middle of the day. If this requires that I pack my own healthy lunch ahead of time, so be it, but I will not continually miss classes like I did last year. It’s not an option.

Anyways, those are my thoughts for the day! Thanks, as always, for reading.

Back To School: Challenges, Reflections, and Next Steps

Blargh. I feel like death warmed over today. I’m not even sick, either. The combination of allergy season and the inexplicable dryness of the air in my house has left me leaky, congested, and with eyes the colour of a boiled lobster. And I have to work tonight. Bliss. Oh well. I’ll pick up some antihistamines on my way to work and get some change for laundry this evening, and everything should be hunky dory again by the time I get home tonight.

On the bright side, I started back to school this week. All of my classes seem interesting: the profs are enthusiastic about what they’re teaching, and I have an arsenal of new strategies to bring to bear on my courses this year. I’ve organized a study group, and we’re going to start meeting Friday afternoons in the library on campus. It’s not a lot, but we figure having a regular period of time where we can get in a solid few hours of work would aide us all in performing better in our studies. Plus, y’know, having the social resources if any of us require someone to quiz us on material or offer perspectives on new review strategies. So hopefully that works out.

The Rogues’ Gallery is off to a bit of a slow start this year. While our written contributors have been great about doing written content for the site consistently over the summer, trying to get the cast together for a recording session this past couple weeks has been like herding cats. Add that to the fact that a couple of our members are bowing out for work and school reasons, and the organizational issues which have arisen have been… a bit of a challenge to say the least.

Exercise has been consistent. Diet… has been up and down. As mentioned earlier, I’ve started tracking calories again, so I have a bit more perspective about the significant contribution to my daily total intake that my decisions to ingest junk food make. It’s not easy to succumb to a craving and suddenly BAM: that’s 1/4 of my total intake for the day. That’s a big portion being taken up by crap. Especially since almost every day this week has involved at least one of these binges. I THINK I’ve realized the mistake though. I’m a snacker, and all the food I have in the house, while good, involves effort to prepare and cook. So after work today, I picked up some apples to accompany my almonds for a good boost of sugars that is nonetheless very low on the glycemic index scale. It’s an additional cost, but if it’s spending an extra $5 a week on apples and almonds in exchange for better health (not to mention not spending money on junk food), then it’ll be far worth the investment.

Task completion, again, has been up and down. I’m falling back into my old habits of taking notes when I’m doing an initial read-through of my textbook chapters, which has been shown to be detrimental in me actually being able to draw upon and apply information in new contexts later on. Plus, it takes much longer and is much more mentally taxing. I think it’s just because I’ve done it for SO LONG that I’m having trouble unlearning the conditioning to do so. Oh well, yet another challenge to overcome this semester.

I still need to make an appointment with Student Health Services to start booking in counselling sessions again. Just a weekly review of where I’ve been and where I’m going is something that I think will really aide me. Sometimes all the things in my life I keep track of in my head gets to feel like too much, so it’s nice to bring it into perspective.

To end off, a little bit more good news: What started off as a rejection letter from my editor at The Bookshelf for my review of Linwood Barclay’s latest novel unexpectedly turned into an offer to confer with said editor for a section of The Bookshelf website dedicated to contrary views on popular properties (movies, books, etc). I have a meeting with him on Monday to discuss ideas concerning it, and I’m pretty excited. 🙂

Anywho, I think that’s all for now. Wish me luck in the weeks ahead, and thanks for reading!