It’s going to be one of those days where I know I don’t have it in me to do much and my goals are very basic. Today will be a success if I manage to get through all of my work and avoid being cruel to myself about….everything and anything.
I’m constantly exhausted because I’m so easily triggered into fight-flight-freeze by people and things in the environment. The gentlest breeze can feel like a gale of wind to me. And even when the experience is relatively minor in terms of my dysregulation, the price I pay is exhaustion. It takes a toll to “come up” and then “bring yourself back down”.
I overslept this morning by ninety minutes and didn’t make it to the grocery store. I still have time to exercise but I know I’m not going to. Today I will be a shut-in. And already my cruel inner-critic is testing me by saying, “Stop being a wimp. Stop being a sensitive little boy! Just get outside and exercise. Boo-hoo!” Fuck off, asshole. So what if I’m writing instead of exercising? Writing is soulful and good. Go to hell.
I love bed. It’s the one place where my very large and heavy body feels held in its entirety. Where every touch is soft and silky and smooth. I find it increasingly difficult to get out of it during COVID. Even the anxiety of knowing how I’m negatively impacting my day by hitting the snooze button nine times cannot override the allure of sleeping a bit more. My favorite moment of being in bed is just after hitting the snooze button: I reposition myself into a comfortable position, feel the the soft and warm comforter and sheets against my skin, and gently drift away. That brief moment represents the height of my sensual existence. I long for it even as I describe it. Bed is a sweet mommy. A kind attuned lover. A safe container.
I dreamt about my most recent ex-gf last night. I can’t remember much of it. I remember her being on my couch and feeling trapped by her company. I was full of that feeling of wishing to run away. Restraining the chaos within myself so that she wouldn’t have to see how “ugly” I am. Holding on to something so desperately even though my real self wanted nothing to do with it. It’s pretty on-the-nose from what I recall of the relationship. Or that is, the dream works even at the literal level. I hid for most of the relationship. Or I tried to, anyway. And though my decision to hide is nobody’s fault but my own, there was a wisdom to it (the mistake was not that I necessarily needed to show her who I was, but to trust my instinct that she wasn’t the person with whom to share it with and gracefully walk away).
It will likely come as no surprise when I say that restraining most of my feelings most of the time led to her being shocked when they finally did burst through. The irony is that these two or three “bursts” were so fucking small by the standards of my past, but to her they were confounding and irritating. And I understand that.
I remember being with her at a party around the fourth of July. We were at the sort of house that neither I nor anyone I know could ever afford. A house with a wine cellar that is bigger than my whole apartment. A house with a full view of the ocean and the mountains. There were fine wines and cheese and foods with names I didn’t know. White people. Lost of white people. I remember seeing the housemaid (who was working to bring out the food and clean dishes and such during the party) and wanting so badly to be next to her the whole time. She didn’t strike me as safe just because she was Latina, she struck me as safe because I knew neither of us (nor our families) grew up in these sorts of surroundings, having these sorts of conversations.
I tried, I really did try. I remember looking at myself in the mirror before my gf came over and saying, “There is meaning in giving her this gift–in showing up and being gracious. It will make her happy. All you have to do is keep it together for a few hours. You got this.” So when I arrived, I stood with her as she initiated conversations with others. I remember she and this couple talking about wine (my ex was always networking, even when we went out to dinner together–hustling to make ends meet) and their trips to Tuscany and other places I have never been. The guy in the couple asked me if I had been. I smiled and said with a warm tone of voice that I hadn’t but that it sounded lovely. “So you must know your wines too if you’re dating this one,” he said, keeping the conversation going. I told him I didn’t really know much about wine but that I was trying to learn a bit (which was almost true). Our conversation went quiet and I froze. I didn’t know what to say. “I’m going to go see where my wife went,” he said. Whew. But wait…oh yeah, Jessica went off with his wife to the deck. I look right and left. With whom can I speak? Okay…you got this. It’s not a big deal. You know how much she likes her independence. Don’t crowd her. Let’s prove to her that we can smoothly navigate these worlds like an adult. Just try to look open and friendly and think of having open body language. I stood there for what seemed like thirty minutes but was probably three. I spotted a comfy spot on the couch and I went to it.
Okay, you’re not the best conversationalist at these things. It’s okay. You already knew that. Maybe if you can just sit quietly on the couch here it’s a good thing. It’s giving her space to network and schmooze and I’m still here if she needs me. Maybe I’m being a good enough boyfriend to just be here and not complain. People came and went to that area of the couch. I tried to enter a few conversations but could see that I wasn’t welcome to join.
I hadn’t heard from or seen Jessica in about 80 minutes (if that sounds specific it’s because I remember looking at my watch countless times and trying to measure how long a “good boyfriend” needs to hang in there to prove his goodness). She found me in time for the fireworks. We went out on the deck and everyone began to sing one of those patriotic songs. I’m not joking here, folks. First one person started singing and then everyone joined in. I think it was, “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty…” I remember feeling my heart sink into my stomach. Okay, but Jessica and I can connect on this. We’ve both talked about our issues with patriotism; particularly as it’s expressed in this country. On this we are connected. Surely here I can give her a sarcastic smirk and she’ll know what I’m trying to say. Some lightness. A moment of connection. No. I get a furrowed brow and a tiny head shake–the don’t-embarrass-me look. Nobody could see us and my expression was but a few seconds long and wordless. It wasn’t about this moment–she was already embarrassed and upset by me. It wasn’t about the look. It was about all of it. My inability to navigate these situations that she both enjoys and needs.
She wants to live in these worlds, to work her way into owning a house like this despite the fact that she can’t afford her $1200 rent. But I don’t judge her for this. She grew up in real poverty. And her way of coping has been to distance herself from it; to find a way to run in these upper crust worlds through her work (sommelier and wine seller). To feel anger toward her father for not being a more aggressive go-getter when it comes to income. We all cope in our own ways with our shit. I’m not cross with her for finding a way to deal that works for her. Hell, it’s probably even a less primitive way of dealing with shit than I can claim. But back to the story…
In that one look every feeling that I had tried to fight off for those two hours flooded me. That one facial expression from her was all it took for the restrained feelings to come bursting forth. All I needed was one kind and warm look or gesture to set me back on path. Instead I got disapproval. I waited a few minutes and said, “I can’t hold it–I need to pee”. I didn’t. I just needed to get away and see if I could get myself to calm down so that she wouldn’t see that I was reaching my limit; that my nervous system was going haywire.
I asked the maid where the restroom was. She pointed down the hall with what, I perceived in the moment, an annoyed face. Finally in the bathroom I sat on the toilet for a few minutes and tried to change my self-talk. Or, if I’m honest, I tried to give myself a pep talk. “It’s probably just another hour. You can do anything for an hour. What’s an hour in the scheme of your life? What’s an hour in terms of geological time?” The idea of geological time brought with it a vision of dinosaurs in my head. It soothed me just enough to try again; to get out of the bathroom.
I keep saying that I did my best. I really did. I tried to partake in the conversations she was in. Tried to be polite and gracious. Tried not to be an embarrassment. I was losing steam. It takes more energy than you can imagine to hold everything together when you just want to let it all go. Just then live music began being played inside the house. I remember this being the final straw. The sheer volume of the music set my body on fire. It was that crucial moment where the world feels like a predator and I am its prey. Even in this state I reasoned that if I told Jessica that I was feeling ill and walked home (we were but a mile from my apartment) that everything would still be okay. She insisted on coming with me. I told her it was okay for her to stay (and I really meant it, if not preferred it) but she left. Once in the car she said what I knew all along, “I don’t understand you. That was rude. It was embarrassing.” The floodgates opened up. We had been together for ten months at this point but she had never seen what it really looked like for me to sob. The tears seemed to make her angrier. I remember feeling like a really bad boy. Like….a hopeless wretch that doesn’t belong in the world. Like the sort of person who needs to stay shut-in and avoid people. I didn’t say any of that.
When we arrived at the apartment she insisted on coming in. I could see that she was tired. Tired of the relationship. Tired of me. Tired of not understanding me. I didn’t help her much. It’s like I said before, I spent so much of that relationship hiding. And it was easy to hide in that relationship. An ambitious woman who is always working and making plans is less likely to notice or wonder how I’m doing and where I am. She knew I was unhappy–she wasn’t blind. I just don’t think she knew the extent of how excruciating the relationship was for me. Hell, how excruciating my entire life had been.
“I don’t understand. What gets into you?”
“I just get….scared. Anxious.”
I could tell she was trying. Sort of. I mean, she was trying to a point but not actually accessing empathy. She needed something concrete and tangible. I wish I could tell her that I had been hiding a horrible bladder infection and that there was this real medical reason that made me had to rush home. She would have understood that.
“I need a partner who I can take with me to these sorts of things. Maybe I have to accept that you can’t do that with me.”
She was right. I would never be able to do that with her. And even if I got to place in my life where I was better at being around groups of people, a place in my life where I was better at managing my strong emotions, I’d probably not want to use that super power (hey, it feels like a super power to me!) on wine parties with rich white folks. I’d…go to more museums. The Farmer’s Market. I’d take a road trip to Wyoming and go to their Natural History Museum. More dinosaurs. I’d tolerate crowds at restaurants that I like and not deprive myself of the experience just because the place is full. I’d sit in cafes more frequently. The bottom line is that I would simply enjoy leaving my house without so much fear. And yet, I felt so hurt. I felt like I failed someone again. Like they were just putting up with me.
I began to cry again and she got angry. I wish people understood that sometimes when the tears start rolling for me it’s not me trying to be a victim. It’s not me trying to invalidate their anger or experience. They come involuntarily. It’s like getting annoyed at someone for bleeding. I want, more than anyone else could possibly want, to be able to take life in stride. To hold onto my adult self more consistently. Sometimes I feel like a victim, but I don’t believe I’m a victim. At least, not most of the time. And not with the people I love. She had every right to be disappointed. She was looking for something else. For someone else. She too was holding onto something that wasn’t working even if it was for completely different reasons. But then it came…
“It’s like you’re a little kid sometimes.”
“Please leave,” I said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.”
“You did. And it’s okay. It’s true. But please leave. I need space.”
“I don’t want to. Let’s fix this.”
“We can fix it tomorrow. Or the next day. Please leave.”
I meant it. Sometimes I unconsciously test people. It’s not planned or sociopathic. It’s just…a way of seeing if people will love my ugly sides (fuck off, inner critic–they’re not ugly, they’re just hurt!). This was not one of those times. I wasn’t testing her. I needed to sob. I needed to go into my bedroom and sob. Alone.
It makes sense that I hid my struggles from her most of the time. Or put another way, my gut told me all along that she wouldn’t be able to embrace the beautiful chaotic mess that I am. This doesn’t make her bad. It just makes her the wrong person for me. And yet if I had been able to tell her and show her from the start, we wouldn’t have spent the next 11 months forcing something that wasn’t meant to be.
Two weeks later, I told her that I didn’t want to be with her anymore. I felt calm. It was the truth. Again, not a test–the truth. I had never done this before. I mean, I had never broken up with someone before. It felt strangely liberating. Authentic. She asked me to stay for dinner so that we could have a proper goodbye. I agreed to do so.
Ironically, we had the nicest night I could remember having with her. We expressed the things we appreciated about the other. She told me things that shocked me. Things I never knew she thought or felt. Good things. She told me she’d never dated someone with so little ego. She told me I taught her that not all men are bad. She told me she’d never met someone with so much love in them and that it was healing to her if scary. She reminded me I was the first boyfriend she had ever had and that it was the longest she’d ever been with someone. She apologized for the lack of chemistry and attraction while also thanking me for showing her that she didn’t have to give her body away to someone if she didn’t want to. It’s cruelly and ironically funny that sometimes people wait to share positive things once something is over. I was grateful. I was happy and sad all at once. I drove home hoping Eric was still awake. He was. And I told him. And he was loving because he is loving. Because he loves me. And why would such a wonderful person love me if I wasn’t wonderful too?
I’m not sure why I chose to share that story. Probably just because I started talking about the dream. And probably because I’m trying to (largely owing to a book I’m reading) make peace with myself; to simultaneously embrace that I have this dysregulation disorder (sometimes called BPD) while knowing that it’s on me to heal. Having a disorder but being far more than that disorder. And maybe the book is inspiring me to share my struggles without shame or self-hatred. And, just as importantly, without hate for anyone else.
So here I am. No exercise. Very little food in my fridge. Five clients on their way. Face covered in snot and tears. But I persevere. I do what I need to do most of the time. I’m not sure how I do it. I mean, sometimes I see myself as this person who simply can’t function. Who can’t deal with life and the world. And yet….I have no debt. I don’t make a lot of money but I make more than I ever thought I would (that it barely allows me to survive says something more about the world I’m in than about any failing of mine). I have friends who love me. And my family loves me too (even if imperfectly). Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t exercise today. That I have to stick to turkey and brown rice for another day. It’s just a day. What’s that in geological time? Dinosaurs! Yes!