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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hardwired

I woke up yesterday feeling raw and on edge. It had taken me what seemed like forever to fall asleep the night before, and even then the sleep was patchy. There were brief bits of rest followed by bursting wide awake into the still-dark hours of the morning. I needed sleep; both Trent and I had doctor's appointments to go to yesterday, but I just couldn't find my way to that needed rest. When I got up, I almost felt sick with stress and worry. I made up my mind, I just wasn't going to go to my appointment. To heck with it. But I got up and stepped into the shower, unhappy about going, but unhappy about not going and still having it hanging over my head.

"What's wrong with me?" I wondered. "Why am I always so worried?" I was a bundle of nerves over going to see my doctor. I was worried about what he might say, and how I might respond. Doctor Mike and I have an unusual relationship. First of all, I never call him Doctor Last-name-here. I call him Mike or Mikey. Some people find it shocking and disrespectful, but I knew him when he was a brilliant kid who cut up my Aunt Alice's garden hose because he was bored, or threw rocks at the girls (my cousins) in true "bad"-boyish fashion. 

Having this type of relationship with your doctor can have both good and bad side effects. I can ask him about anything. Hugs are exchanged. When I was the last patient he saw at his first medical practice, he kissed the top of my head while I sat at the reception desk to write my check for the visit. On the other hand, he can be so straightforward with me that it can hurt my feelings. Several years ago, in the visit that resulted in me finding out I was diabetic, he told me I weighed too much in such a blunt way that I went home and cried. Trent can tell you this is true, he was there for both the visit and the crying.

I was trying to think of all of the concerns I needed to talk to him about, but I kept thinking, "He's going to say something mean about how much I weigh. And then I am going to fire right back and tell him I'm glad he went to medical school so that he could learn to state the obvious. Jerk." As I stepped into the shower, I wasn't angry at Mike. I was upset with myself. Why was I like this? What made me worry so much about what might happen, and how to deal with it? To borrow a line from Full Metal Jacket, what was my major malfunction? 

And then it started to hit me. I have become this way as a product of my experiences. Suddenly I remembered being a little girl in Chicago, and knowing it was almost time for my Papa to get home from work. I would go out on the front sidewalk to see if he was walking down the street. There he was! My Papa was coming! But what should I do? Should I run up to him and throw my little arms around his legs because I loved him so much and I was so happy to see him coming home? But what if it made him mad? He might be angry all evening, and that might mean seeing him walk into the room, doubling over his belt to spank one or all of us. So I waited to see his face and his emotion. If he called out my name and smiled, that meant I could safely run to him and give him my love. I had to be prepared, have a Plan A and a Plan B. I had to worry.

Then my thoughts went to the orphanage where Liz and I were placed after our mother's death. And I continued to learn to worry about my actions and their results. I had to be grateful for what I received. I had to act like I was happy with my situation. I couldn't be too happy, though, because I was a bad person who deserved every horrible thing that ever happened to me. It was all my fault. But then again, if I was too serious, I was an ungrateful wretch and a sinner who didn't realize how lucky I was that I had been taken in and cared for even though I didn't deserve it. I learned to try and be prepared for whatever extreme I might be confronted with, and I was usually prepared for the wrong one.

Then, a reprieve, or so I thought. We had relatives in another state who would take these two orphans into their home. We would be part of a family again. Before the first day was over, I had a new name. I was told by Alice that I would be called by my middle name, which was Katrina. It was a while before I realized that was not my middle name at all. It was the name of her brother's dog. Although I have learned to make a joke about it, I know that it is a telling sign of how little she cared about me. Within short order, she dumped Liz on her mother. But I spent almost two years with her, the primary target of her anger and hate. I lived in fear because I never knew what the day would bring.

Again, I tried to read the cues of her behavior, tone of voice, facial expressions. But I never seemed to get on top of the situation. One morning, I might wake up to a smiling woman who spoke almost kindly to me as I ate my breakfast. The next, I might be pulled out of my bed by my ankles, my head crashing on the linoleum floor, because there was something that made her mad. Lie, or avoid telling the truth in an effort to avoid making her angry? Be tied to the back fence at night and told that she hoped the boogeyman would come and get you, something terrifying for an eight-year-old. Miss picking up a piece or two of paper that blew into the yard? Pick up every piece, and have them all scattered through the yard to pick up again and again. Do something wrong? Be stripped naked, then dressed in a diaper and be sent out to clean up the back yard looking like the stupid baby you are. And the beatings. And being told that you are stupid. You are worthless. You were never wanted. You are crazy like your father.

The relief when she sends you away from the dinner table, and calls you back to tell you that the family has just voted to send you away to live with her mother because they don't want you any more. The joy at going to someone else, someone who will not beat you. Then being told that you shouldn't be happy, because that person has hated you from the first moment they laid eyes on you. The knowledge that they could make you come back.

Then it really hit me, why I was stressed. I was hardwired to run through mental scenarios so that I could be prepared for whatever might happen. I had learned that to survive, I had to think on my feet. And then, the biggest mental revelation of all, why I had really been stressed over seeing Doctor Mike. I was afraid that he would offer condolences to me over Alice's recent death. That was the possibility that I simply could not bear. Because the truth is that when I knew Alice was dead, I felt nothing. I am grateful that I have enough humanity not to have rejoiced over her death. I felt sad for the effect losing her might have on her family. But I could not bear the thought of anyone feeling sad for me that she was dead. I had lost nothing with her passing.

So I went into my day, still on edge, still feeling raw. The first person who was kind to me, our dear friend Lexi at Trent's doctor's visit, made me begin to cry. I told her of my thoughts about Alice's death, and she hugged me and gave me permission to cry. She also gave me the gift of telling me that it was okay that I felt nothing at this cruel person passing out of my life. That I should be proud of myself for feeling nothing rather than feeling relief or happiness at her passing. That it was proof that Alice did not win, and that I was a better person. I was able to face the rest of my day. And how did it go? The worries were unfounded, I'm glad to say. Even though I found out I might need surgery, everything felt lighter and easier. Will I still spend time worrying? Yes. I am hardwired that way.