by: Heather Fawn
An honest piece about dealing with a sometimes cruel psyche, and “going after good”……
I am convinced that my psyche is trying to hurt me.
For anyone abused as a child, the default mode of comfort is pain and suffering.
For four years, I had horrible intrusive thoughts. The sweeter the person, the closer the relationship, the more by brain introduced some kind of horrible atrocity movie reel in my head. At night, I would try to lie peacefully next to my boyfriend at the time and see myself stabbing him in the back. I would go over to a friend’s house and imagine clocking her adorable mother in the head with the heavy, blunt end of a glass tumbler. Sometimes, for no real reason, I would suddenly be overwhelmed that I had unknowingly backed into a pedestrian with my car.
These thoughts, the more I resisted them, the more I tried to mentally backpedal, to say I would never… the larger the thoughts became. They became heavier and had more power the more vigorously I fought them. I would try to counteract with all kinds of rationalizing. I would cry, I would agonize over watching the murder of friends, lovers, myself, all with my bare hands. When I finally went to see a counselor, their only true consolation and insight was that many people endured these images.
It got to the point where I had to stop watching the news, stop watching violent tv shows and movies. I couldn’t even hear horrific anecdotes without my imagination glomming onto the information to create a motion picture that would make Jeffrey Dahmer cry himself to sleep. Sometimes I would forget, and when I realized I had forgotten, the thoughts would come back. A waking nightmare. The moment I would realize that I was talking to someone sans mental carnage, that was the moment where, in my mind, I would be assaulted with a loop of their murder and my trial in court and my sadness at their death and the ruining of my life.
At first, I just drowned in the thoughts. They overwhelmed me to the point that I was convinced I was insane. But I realized I didn’t want to do anything I saw on those mental murder scenes. Inside me was a very strong desire to not only protect the people I cared about from this strange murderer who had my hands, but an intense, sickened plea for the images to stop. So I tried to do a little internet diagnosis and, loosely, the psychological theory behind obsessive thoughts is that everyone has strange thoughts, but people with obsessive compulsive tendencies attach unnecessary weight and meaning to otherwise harmless images that the brain conjures. The better one’s imagination is, the more jazzed up, realistic, and frightening the party gets. Until everyone is dead. At least, that’s what happened in my brain. Other people think about jumping in front of buses or stuffing rocks into their pants during important business meetings, or perhaps, covering themselves in marmalade and running down the middle of the interstate. Everybody’s crazy is different.
One thing that kept me from seeking help is that I didn’t want to be barred from working with kids. I knew my brain vomit was internally unbearable, but I knew I had nothing to fear in terms of actually ever harming anyone. I didn’t want any wet-behind-the-ears Freud wannabe running with half an hour’s worth of information on my turmoil and declaring me unfit for a normal life, to be forever pumped full of SSRIs and never really understood.
I also did a lot of my own research on my problem, for which there is startlingly little layman’s literature. One form of cognitive-behavioral therapy involves immersion in the thoughts, in an attempt to desensitize. I took all of five minutes to decide that ruminating over every vivid detail of how I might be involved in ganking someone, be arrested for ganking, and grieve over said ganking…to decide that that was not going to get me anywhere but the psyche ward.
What instantly stopped these images, or, at the very least, changed the quality of my life away from incessant fear and self-loathing, was actually comedy. I watched Sara Benincasa talking about her mental breakdown and OCD and I felt a sense of camaraderie. Genuine relief came when I was introduced to Maria Bamford. She specifically addresses these thoughts, calling them, “Unwanted Thought Syndrome”. The quieting of my maniacal brain was profound. Suddenly there was another human being making my agony funny. “As long as I keep the ice cube trays full, no one will die…” Some of the first words of my mental health savior that I ever heard, and I laughed so hard that I knew I’d never need medication, but hard enough that if someone had seen me, they probably would have recommended it. Whenever my thoughts start to creep into “mass murder reel”, one of Bamford’s songs pop into my head with their witty and soothing one-liners.
Writers and comedians who share their deepest, darkest secrets don’t just make those of us who fear our monstrosities feel better, they relieve the pressure of shame and secrecy. One lad or lady’s dirty laundry is another’s breath of fresh air.
Though I have come a long way from cowering in a bathroom somewhere, freaking out because suddenly the sky is so blue that it feels like a devastating mistake, that I am in the wrong place, that I am going to die right where I stand…though I can usually deal with nice weather and nice people, I still struggle.1
My biggest hurdle is going after good. I have sometimes settled for “abysmal” in the department of relationships, and sometimes even friendships. People’s crappy behavior seems unavoidable and commonplace. My past is stuffed with file after file of canceled plans, missed calls, lack of support, absenteeism. I have evolved from victim to martyr to angry demander to indifferent over the years. I have pouted and pleaded and ignored and accepted. I have taken what I could get. I have settled for nothing, even.
But I realize that people are not vending machines. And everyone either chooses, or tries really hard, to give whatever they’re capable of giving. You can’t get mad at a radio for not being able to play your dvds. The hardware just isn’t there. One either accepts the radio for the AM/FM transmissions, or one goes out and searches for a dvd player.
Common sense that my family wasn’t ever going to teach me, learned after nearly three decades of my sensitive feelings being shoved into trash incinerators.
And then, when something really good comes into my life, after the euphoria no longer feels like it’s going to kill me (maybe I’ve been programed to feel things in extremes), I look for flaws. I try to find a reason to feel jilted, miserable, neglected, ignored, deprived. I’m like a negativity detective. I use tools. I have lint rollers and magnifying glasses. I twist everyday language and wring it out to inspect idiosyncrasies for hidden deceit or condescension. I marvel at how easily someone can give me all of their trust when, although I consider myself worthy of it, there are so many people out there who are inherently unworthy of trust.
When things are good, my goal is to just let them be. Only time and patience and flexibility— things I am great with from my years of intensive independence training (i.e. isolation)—only these tools are the things that are going to bring me peace of mind.
I could continue to be cynical and miserable about all of the possible ways that my heart can be ground into meaty spaghetti sauce, I could relive the past in various internal scenarios just to soften a blow that, in all likelihood, could never come. Or I can stop being suspicious. I can stop all of it. It’s all old habits, bad lessons, maladaptive attitudes.
I can choose to do something different for myself. I can be optimistic. I can let the feelings that already flow profusely from behind my sternum like a ceaseless geyser be acceptable, welcome, and necessary. I can incorporate an attitude that, yes, people are not vending machines, and I can’t expect to get Cheetos every time I give something I consider to be of value, but I can expect something else just as delicious. Maybe something I haven’t ever tasted before, ever seen before. And maybe it will be the best thing I ever reached into oblivion for. Because there are no guarantees, but there are a lot of things that can happen that are way better than sure things. Something given freely is the best thing to receive. It’s best to receive just as freely.
So my psyche may be cruel, at times, but somehow this darkness is warped and mutilated by stubborn warmth, a prevailing optimism, and an undying openness to people who give a shit about other people. Maybe not everyone, though. I’m no saint, but I’m willing to be open to others on a case-by-case basis.
Everyone wants to be happy. Some of us have to work really hard at it. But I don’t give up. I never will. I know I have the capacity for deep pain. And from this depth comes the ability to experience deep pleasure. Including joy. And no matter what, I will never let go of that. I welcome anyone into my realm who sees that being vulnerable is the only way to truly be strong. The courage to let beauty into one’s life regardless of the negative background noise from the ancient, crotchety parts of our brains. The best way to defeat your internal bad guy is to be everything they say you can’t be, to get everything they say you shouldn’t have, and to love more bravely than reason necessitates. Yes, being happy is hard work. I will sweat with a smile on my face and sympathize with the negative side of me, who really needs to lighten up for once.
- Ironically, I used to think people who said they had panic attacks were just making it up. And honestly, I sometimes still do. Because if you’re like me, you do everything you can to make sure no one knows. In fact, if anyone sees me acting squirrely, it makes it worse. I’m mostly in “remission”, but if you see me acting a little Stepford Wife-y, it’s probably because I’m fighting my amygdala. [↩]