Sometimes, I lie to myself.
I don’t realize I’ve been lying to myself — and therefore, the world at large — because as it turns out, the lie was just a coping mechanism I created to better make sense of nonsense.
Once upon a time, I met a character named Anxiety and because being near Anxiety made me feel stressed out, I then made the decision to not be friends with Anxiety. If Anxiety were an associate at school or work, I . . . dis-associated.
In dissociating from Anxiety, I honestly believed I was protecting myself from the discomfort and effects of being friends with it. Add to that the fact that Anxiety often brought a friend along called Depression — another character I’d been exposed to many times and didn’t enjoy — the separation between us only grew.
The problem with this pattern of dissociating is that the more I believed I was immune and protected from Depression or Anxiety, the more insidious power they had over me.
If I felt not-good-enough — whether it was because of my physical condition or due to some guy — surely that wasn’t Anxiety. I was too good for Anxiety, and then one day, I allowed myself to get completely obliterated because I had no fucking clue that my greatest fear was not being enough (or, you know, being too much).
I haven’t much talked about my Dark Period on my blog because it’s not directly related to stroke recovery, yet ultimately the big irony is that everything is related. In a great Universe of energetics, absolutely everything exists on a sliding scale. I can’t pretend it never happened because it helped shape who I am now.
I also held it close to my chest, oh-so-preciously, because it could prove to you all the underlying truth of a huge fear. But I’m going there today. My Dark Period happened from roughly 2007-2010. The parasitic fear I had completely lied to myself through was that I was not good enough. “Good enough” really spanned an obscene amount of territories, to name a few:
- a good enough student (even though I was)
- a good enough friend (even though I was)
- a good enough person
- a good enough girlfriend
- beautiful enough
- smart enough
- worthy enough
You probably get the picture. Anything and everything I ever desired to be also came with a terrifying fear that I wasn’t “it” enough.
Or, on the other end, that I was “too much” of it.
I’d grown up fairly volatile. Not because I was naturally a hot mess, but because there have been a lot of hot messes around me all my life. And although our world can often be a hotbed of volatility (terrorism, fear culture, bad politics, etc.), I also noticed that generally speaking no one out and about expressed discomfort they must have had going on inside.
And so I modeled what I saw. Though I had a storm raging within me — the long-held, cumulative debris of years of unprocessed crap — it was safer for me to construct a persona of calm and “niceness.”
Because Peaceful Pamela and People-Pleasing Pamela and Nice Pamela — who, by the way, never ever swore and never ever missed a day of school until she was 16 (because she was at home in a vicious argument with her father that day) — was easier to manage, easier to take in than Stormy-As-Shit, Pissed-Off Pamela, Peaceful-People-Pleaser Pamela became my default in the external world.
It feels important to me to point out here that Peaceful Pamela and Pissy Pamela are both legitimate parts of who I am; they just aren’t complete pictures of the whole. And I wasn’t free to be who I truly was until I quit making the darker parts of me wrong. We’ll get to this soon.
Anyway, there are nuances to Peaceful and People-Pleasy Pamela. She would take on another flavor when involved with a guy. She was attentive, to be sure, and as always, keenly observant of the people around her, because she needed to know how she could bend and how low, for them.
Nowhere would this behavior manifest more strongly than with a guy. In 2007, the stars aligned and I would unwittingly enroll in a masterclass in soul growth: Self-Worth Triggers 101.
You may know how the story goes. When it was good, it was delicious; when it was bad it was agony. On again, off again, then on . . . and a lot of off, but I’d always find my way back.
And those lies I told myself, that I was depression-proof, anxiety-proof, in-fucking-vincible — they let the darkness slip in at full force. I walked around, the living dead, for what felt like ages. I went through the motions of the living but felt empty. Went to class, learned to wear the mask of “everything is okay” around people who were tired of hearing me moan about the ex/sort-of-ex/really ex because I didn’t want to be a drag. (And therefore learned to keep the peace.)
Peaceful Pamela never purposefully caused trouble. But you know what? She totally did, anyway. It was because she carried the quiet burden of truth on her shoulders, and she never set it down. So Peaceful Pamela became unsustainable because her pain was constantly on a low hum. She knew that she was making her needs less important than others’ needs and demands, and after always trying to meet their requests the hum became louder and louder. That hum was her inner voice growling, “THIS IS NOT HOW I WANT TO BE IN THE WORLD.”
My burden found an outlet. (It always would.) I took out the rage on an innocent bystander, someone who threatened the presence of a comforting roommate I had then (my only source of safety at the time), by acting inexcusably passive-aggressive with her. Her own Peacekeeper persona let me do my unconscious thing unchallenged for months.
As the ex-sort-of-ex-now-really-an-ex saga played on and on, I found myself continuing to try to adapt to his needs, wants, expectations and in so doing, found all the more ways I did not, could not, measure up. And to bring it back to stroke recovery, yes, some of those demands were downright cruel —
“I did not sign up to take care of a handicap for the rest of my life,” he once said.
“Why would you wait until the last minute to make your way to the train doors when you can’t get there fast enough?!” he once said.
“Your breath stinks from that anti-seizure medication; you should stop taking it,” he once said.*
He wasn’t looking for a partner like me.
And because I kept insisting on being his partner, I perpetuated this horrendous cycle for far. Too. Long.
Fast forward to the day I had a self-proclaimed liberation from my little psychological prison. I had raged — again — for the last time. And the absurdity of the situation may have brought me to my knees in laughter rather than sorrow had it not been for that inner voice finally busting me out of there — unlocking the shackles and shoving me through the iron gates: “I will not spend the rest of my life at the whim of somebody who clearly could not care less about me.”
From that moment, I declared myself free. My heart softened and relaxed, at last, because I’d snatched it back for myself.
Never again would I allow another wounded man (and I didn’t see him as anything but, even then as I demonized him) tell me who I could or could not be. I would be the authority now, the one who got to determine how I would be in this world, to want what I fucking wanted.
I could not have learned this with a gentler lesson. Had it not been him, it would have been someone else. As I share this story publicly I feel protective of him, and I say with complete clarity, now, nearly a decade after the fact, that I will always hold this (definitely, definitively, forevermore) ex in my heart with unconditional love.**
He helped deliver to me a gift I couldn’t have received on my own.
One day I asked a published memoirist for help with structuring my memoir, and she advised me to completely cut out any mention of him.
“He doesn’t deserve a place in your story of recovery,” she had said. “Cut out the loser.”
And as much as I might like to pretend this never happened (and that I’d had an active role in creating the situation), it ultimately has become one of my most important soul growth lessons. Even today, I can peel back layer after layer and find more opportunities to learn about who I am and how I want to show up, wholly and true.
I share this with you today because this is the kind of darkness that can flare up in a big, new way after stroke. These are the depths of some very real, raw truths during the journey, and I will share more of my honest — and previously hidden — experiences in the very first Honestly October.
*I did stop taking the pills for a time and ended up seizing in his arms while we walked home one night.
**Please note that the fact that I love him does not mean that I have any room for him in my active life anymore. I hold him in esteem, tenderness, and care, but though we are now on “speaking terms,” we are rarely in touch.
To our healing,
PS. This post was really scary for me to decide to share with the entire world. If it spoke to you somehow, please reach out to me in the comments. 😉