Moving the Needle

You’ve heard me say it before – the rules regarding diet and exercise are different if you’re fat. How many times did I exercise until I injured myself and diet until I felt faint, only to watch the scale fail to move, or worse, go up? Even my husband, who truly believed the “just make calories in less than calories out” lie, couldn’t believe it when I showed him that at the end of a week, the scale had crept up another two pounds.

Cut to now. For the last few weeks, my weight has settled into a range between 142.5 and 144.5. I weigh myself every day, and on those days I’m toward the top end, I limit my carb intake and when I’m at the lower end, I don’t worry about it. I always keep in mind the advice I received before surgery: Stop eating when you lose interest, not when you’re full.

Then came a day when I realized that I had eaten my normal yogurt breakfast, then a dozen graham crackers between breakfast and my lunch salad, then jellybeans until I had a whacking sugar headache. What the hell was I doing?

I needed to figure out a better way to deal with that cycle, otherwise I’d be right back where I started.

First, I stepped back. What’s going on with me? We’ve had some stressful uncertainty lately, and I realized that the stress was making me eat too much of all the wrong foods.

Second, I talked to someone about my anxiety. I admitted that I was terrified of having to move again, knowing that we would likely move to a place that was smaller and less well-situated. I was losing patience and hope about the rebuild – everything is taking months longer than it should. And also, I need to buy a formal for some upcoming events, and I’m terrified that, given my history, I’ll buy a dress and by the time I need it, it won’t fit.

Third, I took the time to address the sources of the anxiety. I increased my depression medication. I wrote to my county supervisor about the permit situation. I signed a lease for another year on this house, with the understanding that we may leave sooner than a year (but no sooner than 7 months). I know that I am exercising every day, with Sundays off. I acknowledged that I have the support of my family in eating a healthy, balanced diet, so there was no reason for my weight to go up.

Fourth, I took a day off. I have the privilege of not having to work, so I slept in. I took my time over my morning tea. I sat on the couch watching crappy television and doing crochet. I let the mental break sink in and remind me that nothing is on fire, nobody’s bleeding, and we’re not going to be thrown into the street tomorrow. I am fine.

After my day off, I had my normal routine: wake up, weigh myself, hit the stationary bike. When I stepped on the scale, my weight was down half a pound from the day before – down to 143.2 – still in the good range.

Back when I was nearing 250 pounds, this would be about the time that the scale would have started creeping up, not just because I would have been stress eating, but because my metabolism was trying to protect me from the danger by hanging on to every calorie. I would panic, exercise like crazy and stop eating in an effort to lose weight and when it backfired, I’d say “Fuck it, it’s futile, I may as well have some pizza.”

Now, even modest changes will move the scale in the direction I want it to go, and when that happens, I feel encouraged and continue to drink a lot of water, snack on fruit, and get on the bike every morning. I feel that I cannot say it often enough: weight loss works differently for fat people vs. thin people. As of this morning, I’m at 141 even.

A Year in My Head

I was looking through my memories on Facebook and found this from a year ago (two weeks after losing my house in a fire):

“…Everyone, to include my psychiatrist, has remarked on how well I’m doing. How together I have things. How resilient I’m being. Here’s what’s going on inside: When things are apocalyptic (my house is gone, the plague is making a resurgence, Trump has largely dismantled our government) the only solace I have is routine. I make lists. I check things off my list. I pick one task at a time, and do the thing. I take meetings where I focus on the task at hand, because that keeps me from dwelling on things that are out of my control – when we’ll be able to even go and look through the wreckage, what might be left, etc. If I’m not working, that’s all I have – thinking about my nonexistent house.

I am overstimulated to the point of collapse. Everyone eats too loudly. Too much light in my mother’s spare bedroom. The dining room table is too high (why does my tiny little mother have a bar-height dining table??). There isn’t anyplace I can sit comfortably and work. Those things are hard, but moaning about it won’t change them – they are my reality for the next few months. I’m hoping that by then, we’ll have worked out a lot of the kinks and I can feel productive….”

That was the day my therapist basically said to me “of course you’re on the spectrum – what did you think?” For a year now, I have been evaluating things in a very different light. At the time I wrote that, I felt like a raw nerve. When I get stressed, life looks like a fight on the old Batman tv show.

Everything is too bright, too loud, too fast. When I’m stressed, I feel everything in my skin in a way I’ve never tried to describe, but I always think of it as being “negatively charged.” Not only do I not want anything to touch my skin because it’s so hypersensitive that any touch is painful, but even sounds, bright lights, and unpleasant smells create a physical sensation that, because I cannot properly express exactly what’s wrong, makes me go directly to crying. It’s like being an infant in an uncomfortable diaper – I am inconsolable, but unable to communicate the source of my distress.

Six weeks after losing my house, my husband and I moved into a rental about 30 minutes from our old house. It’s on a quiet street in a wealthy suburb, so the houses are on large lots and everything in our neighborhood is quiet and tidy.

And yet, the feeling of discomfort persists. Every time I leave the house, it’s like I can physically feel the neighbors’ eyes on me, and in my mind, they’re judging me for going out so often. And every time, I have to say to myself “I used to have a [whatever I’m going out for], and I need it!” As though I need their approval to buy a new ladle or laundry basket or lamp. I feel defensive, even though in reality, our neighbors have been nothing but wonderful to us.

This is my constant battle: I don’t want to let anyone down. Ever. In any way. Even when they expect nothing from me. I also am constantly on the edge of a complete breakdown.

I keep that breakdown at bay with lists, spreadsheets, and as much routine as I’m capable of creating (another by-product of my brain – I am unable to create habits of any kind). But every interaction with another person puts a little wobble in the balance I’m trying to create. What did they mean by that? Does that wave mean they want me to talk to them, or can I keep walking? How good of an excuse do I need to get out of going to their party/taking their phone call/helping them with their project?

I am often told that I have everything together, that I am someone that people look up to for my ability to organize. I understand that it is always meant as a compliment, but each bit of praise for my ability to keep myself from exploding in a cloud of anger and despair is another expectation I have to meet. To lose my shit, to fail, to be unable to do something would be to let someone down, and that’s the thing I fear more than anything.

This is what it looks like in my head – an immense mountain made of individual grains of fear, anxiety, depression, and confusion being separated into manageable piles with a pair of tweezers.

Planning for the Future

My weight has held steady at around 143-144 for the past couple of months, and I have created a nice routine of getting up and hitting the bike, and my eating is generally decent, but I’ve bumped up against a pretty big issue. I know I will have to buy new formals for the inevitable round of holiday parties at the end of this year. I’ve been looking at all the places I used to shop, and every time, it’s the same.

I’m terrified to buy a new formal, because there’s some part of me that says that because I have failed in the past, I will fail again, and if I buy something now, by the time I need it, it will be too small.

Those of you with weight issues know that sometimes, there’s literally nothing you can do. I would pare down my calorie intake to the barest minimum and work out for an hour a day (on top of holding down a job and maintaining a household) and I might still see the scale creep up. When that happened, it was easy to drown my sorrows in pizza, thinking “Fuck it. I can’t lose weight, so why am I making myself miserable?”

These days, when the scale starts creeping up, it does so by ounces, not by pounds. And normally it doesn’t take much to get it back to where it should be – an extra 15 minutes on the bike, skip the toast with my morning yogurt, that sort of thing. Still, I am having real issues overcoming the fear of failure.

Now that the weight loss has stopped, I still don’t have the body I wanted, so it’s hard to feel like it’s been a total success. In my dreams, I would lose weight and immediately become supermodel levels of beautiful, and I’m not even close. Decades of living in a larger body have left their marks not just where you’d expect – my stomach, butt, and upper arms – but in places I didn’t realize would be so affected. I now have deep nasolabial folds (the ones that go from the sides of your nose to the corners of your mouth). My neck looks like a cow’s with folds of loose skin hanging off it. Between the crepey skin on my body and the added wrinkles on my face, I went from looking 10-15 years younger than I was to looking 10-15 years older.

I’m struggling to tell myself that it’s natural to want to feel good about yourself, and that even if I don’t change another thing, I’m still a worthwhile person. But it’s hard. Right about now, I’m very much feeling like I traded one problem for another, and I’m not sure where to look for a solution to this new one.

The Flavor of Anti-Vaxx

I got this email at 4:30pm yesterday from the mother of the boy we drive to school in the mornings:

Hi Monkey,
So yeah, Carpooligan has been tested positive for whooping cough. Just thought you should know. Even the vaccine isn’t protecting kids at Gryffindor, so if the Goddess gets a mild cold and cough, I’d think about getting her tested.
Carpooligan was partially vaccinated, by the way, but did not have the booster. I chose not to get it because I didn’t think it was effective against the strain that goes around…
He’ll be back at functions Saturday and school on Monday, so no carpool buddy the next few days.
Hope you’re all well!

 

The tone of this email infuriates me. “This isn’t a big deal! He was ‘sort of’ vaccinated, so it’s not my fault. Even the vaccine isn’t 100% effective.”

 

I want to break this down just to figure out why it makes me want to sue this woman for everything she’s got, then burn it all, and her along with it.

 

  1. “Carpooligan has been tested positive for whooping cough.” Two weeks ago, she could have sent me an email that said “Carpooligan has been exposed to whooping cough and he’s not vaccinated.” A week ago, she could have said “I think that cough Carpooligan has might be whooping cough.” But she waited until after he tested positive to say anything to anyone. The lack of concern for anyone else is staggering.
  2. “Even the vaccine isn’t protecting kids at Gryffindor…” As I said, there is a small population of parents who opted out of the vaccine, but no vaccine is 100% effective. The pertussis vaccine is more effective in children than in adults, but is still not at 100%.  So, of the ~150 children at my kid’s school, roughly 5% aren’t vaccinated at all (so, about 8 kids), and another 3-6 will get it even if they were vaccinated. That’s 11-14 out of about 150. But that’s just the kids. Every one of those kids has parents, and many of them have siblings. Those people have jobs and friends and come into contact with thousands of people, so it’s not just about my kid having to miss school if she gets sick. It’s about spreading the disease along vectors you never thought about.
  3. “Carpooligan was partially vaccinated, by the way, but did not have the booster.” If he didn’t get the booster, he’s not protected. I don’t know what comfort she’s trying to offer with “partially vaccinated,” but maybe she’s just trying to tell me that she’s not a crazy antivaxxer. But if she’s not opting out on the grounds that vaccines are dangerous or against God’s will, why aren’t her kids vaccinated?
  4. “I chose not to get it because I didn’t think it was effective against the strain that goes around…” Aaaah! With her housewife medical degree, she decided two years ago (when her kid was in seventh grade and legally required to either have his vaccinations updated or provide an opt-out form) that the vaccine against pertussis, which has been shown to protect 98% of children who receive all their boosters, wasn’t the right one for the strain of pertussis that is currently being passed around. So, not only a medical hobbyist, but also a prognosticator. How about this: you chose not to get it because you have four children with four different schedules and signing an opt-out form is WAY easier than making an appointment and taking your kid to the doctor to get his shots updated? Because, having known this woman for 6 years now, I’d bet good money that her logic went “Taking my kid to the doctor is expensive and inconvenient, but signing a form is easy. I’ll do that!” It makes me wonder just how many of these opt-outs are really parents who can’t be bothered to just take their kid to the doctor. It makes me feel that schools should require more than just an easy signature on a form. They should require parents who choose to opt out to either provide a doctor’s note signed within the last week stating that their child has a medical condition that precludes vaccinations, or pay $10 and attend an hour-long lecture about vaccines and why they’re important. Something that would take about as long and cost about as much as just going to the doctor for the shot.
  5. “Hope you’re all well!” Fuck you. We’ve got whooping cough.

Yes to Everything

When I was 17, my boyfriend and I were at his brother’s house. The brother was 10-ish years older than us, and my boyfriend idolized him: everything he did was cool, everything he liked was cool, everything he was was cool. He had long hair and the biggest nose I’d ever seen, and I thought he seemed a nice guy. As we left his house, he said to me “You don’t like anything, do you? You haven’t said one nice thing about anything all day. It makes me sad that you don’t feel pleasure at anything.”

It stung because, while it wasn’t true, I didn’t know how to correct that perception. When I was a kid I didn’t admit to liking anything or anyone, because that knowledge was power my family routinely used against me. My best friends were mocked as dorks for wearing the wrong sneakers or having the wrong haircuts. The boys I liked were not only told that I liked them (which I, of course, could never do myself), but that telling came with laughter at what a joke it was for me to like someone who would never like me back because I was ugly, I was fat, I was a loser. My defense was to deny liking anything.

After I graduated college, I got a job in an accounting department. My boss was a woman about my mother’s age, and I don’t think I ever saw her sad. Even when she pulled out her wallet and showed me the clipping she always carried of her 2-year-old daughter’s obituary, she never seemed sad about it. And she liked everything. She liked lutefisk and country music, and she was willing to be friends with anyone, no matter how grouchy or antisocial (my main evidence being her friendship with me).

I’ve met other people along the way who were shameless about loving whatever they loved. If I denigrated it, rather than shrink away from it, they took it upon themselves to educate me about what I’m missing. I was so excited to see that, rather than being made weak by revealing the things they liked, they drew people to them. It was fun to be around someone enthusiastic about things, and who was willing to give anything a try. The love was infectious.

I’ve tried hard to be that person. The one who loves everything unapologetically and encourages others to do the same. I feel like I’ve finally arrived. When checking into my hotel at the beginning of this residency, I spent a good 15 minutes talking to the staff behind the desk about writing and the kinds of stuff we did in getting our MFA. As I checked out, the woman behind the desk told me that she was thinking about me this week, and studied extra hard, and got her first A on an English paper.

That was it – a little chat about how great it was to learn to write well. A little encouragement. And now someone else is happy because they’ve done well. Why did I waste so much time with “no”?

Disestablishmentarianism

Three weeks or so ago, my right hip went out. It hurts to walk. It hurts to bend over. It’s not so much that the motion itself hurts, although it does. The worst part is that whatever muscle lifts the leg forward is weak. My right leg has about a quarter the range of motion as my left leg. It means that I limp even when I’m not in pain, and that my balance is shot.

But for three weeks, I’ve been putting off going to the doctor. At first, I told myself that I had pulled something running. It’s true, the problem showed itself the day after I had done my first 3-mile run in a couple of weeks. I took hot baths, put compresses on it, took ibuprofen. The hip would feel a little better, then a little worse.

Then I realized that it wasn’t just my hip. It was also my knee. This is the same knee that I had injured tripping over the mountain of crap in my daughter’s room. But did the knee problem cause the hip problem, or the other way around?

I’m telling myself these things in an effort to diagnose myself so that I don’t have to go to the doctor.

And then I realized why I don’t want to see the doctor. The last time I went to a doctor for my knee, he said that I needed an MRI.

“I can’t have an MRI.”
“Why not?”
“Because I have a magnet in my hand, and once it’s ripped out of my hand in the MRI thing, there’s no telling where it might go.”
“Why do you have a magnet in your hand?”
“Because I had someone put it there.” (I didn’t want to give this guy the entire long story of what led me to getting it, and it wasn’t relevant.)
“Can it be removed?”
“No.”

He ended up telling me that he couldn’t find anything wrong. Which was his shorthand for “since you decided you don’t want an MRI, I decided I don’t want to treat you.”

I’m not excited about going through that exercise again. I’m in pain, and I’m worried that I’m going to need something like a knee replacement or a hip replacement because the damage is getting worse and worse, but obviously I’m not so worried that I’m willing to actually go to the doctor.

A lifetime of not being taken seriously and being told that all the problems I’ve ever had have been due to my weight, is it any wonder that I’m not keen on the medical establishment?

Having a Ball

This is the dream I had on the night of 10/14. No, I don’t know what it means.

There were eight of us that first day. We’d wanted to form a softball team, but we couldn’t get anyone else, so used to just hang out and play Frisbee and then go for a drink. That day it’d been hot and nobody really felt like standing on the asphalt and sweating. We were on our way to our cars when Gary called us back in and said “You’ve got to see this!”

“This” was a little steel marble.

“Okay, we’ve seen it. Can we go get a drink?” Phil said, clearly pissed at being dragged back inside for something that didn’t involve naked women or beer.

“No, check it out,” Gary said, and picked it up. He let go, and the thing bounced, once, twice, gaining momentum as it bounced.

“Whoa!” Bert said, as we all had the same realization.

It wasn’t just bouncing and gaining momentum. Each time it bounced, instead of describing an arc from one bounce to the next, it would loop, zigzag, double back on its path and bounce again in an unexpected place. Gary was starting to look a little freaked out, because it was also going faster.

“How do you catch it?” Jill asked, dodging as it went flying past her shoulder.

Gary had gone white. The proud, smug smile that had been on his face a second ago was gone, replaced with a bloodless grimace.

“I don’t know. It was…smaller when I caught it the first time.”

“What do you mean, smaller?” Phil asked.

“Like the size of a beebee.”

The thing was zipping around the office now, knocking things off desks, denting the wallboard. Pam and Jill ran into the break room to get away from it, and, after it hit her in the shoulder, Evie locked herself in the ladies’ room. The boys all stayed around trying to catch the thing, but it wasn’t like they could just put their hands out and catch it. It was the size of an egg and going so fast that it had broken the window of one of the offices.

Jill and Pam came back with a large metal bowl that still had the remains of jello salad in it. You know, the kind that looks like vomit. Pam took the plastic lid off the bowl, and Jill leapt around trying to catch it. She finally cornered it and it bounced into the bowl, and Pam shoved the lid on. She handed it to Gary, and he took the bowl in one hand and held the lid on with the other.

We looked around the office at the devastation. In five minutes, it had broken a window, put at least a hundred dents in the walls, knocked out one light fixture, and left not a single desk untouched. Before we could even talk about how we were going to explain it, Gary started to look panicked. He had one hand over the top of the bowl, but the ball inside was distorting the lid, stretching the plastic up toward Gary’s hand. The plastic was cracking, turning white even as Gary was trying to push the ball back down into the bowl.

Evie came out of the ladies’ room, looking around to make sure it was safe.

“Did you catch it?”

“Sort of,” Phil said.

***

I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before. Well, I mean, I know why, but, you know. We found a digital recorder, and Phil and Jill and Bert decided to make a funny car commercial. They had raggedy-looking steering wheels around their necks, and they did a silly little dance and talked about how we should all “Come on down to Bert’s Car Locker where you can still find a car that runs! Get ’em now before they’re all gone! HeeHEE!”

They did a stupid dance, and Pam and I laughed.

I looked out the window, but we were clear. Now that most of the buildings had been pummeled flat, it was easy to see it coming. There was nothing to hide the sight of a steel sphere the size of a van rocketing toward one. At first, we tried to avoid doing things to get its attention, thinking that if we wore the wrong colors or moved in the wrong way or exuded the wrong odors, it would be attracted to us and crush us flat. Some of us made effigies of it and made sacrifices and obeisance to it.

There was no way to stop it, save being encased in a similar sphere of your own. We tried making one, but it’s harder than it looks. Especially with plywood. Weapons didn’t affect it. Anything that didn’t hit it dead-on was deflected by its round surface. Anything that did hit it head-on made no impression whatever. Nuclear blasts had been aimed at it, and, other than making one side of it glow white hot for a while, no change was apparent to either its form or its movement. But I think the blasts made it hate us more.

Some people decided that it wasn’t sentient. There was no appeasing it, no angering it, nothing that they could to do alter its course. They developed a fatalistic mindset, going out just like they always did, living their lives as usual. Their ranks were thinning. Some relocated to caves and underground bunkers. They fared better, but we didn’t know much about them. Evie had decamped for New Mexico after Gary was killed when a movie theater they were sheltering in was crushed to rubble. I hope she got there. New Mexico must be a beautiful place, with horses and long, long rows of sausages, as far as the eye can see. And brown cars. I like brown cars the best.

***

We’re not sure now much longer we have. But that’s been true for as long as there’ve been people, hasn’t it?  It’s still technically in our orbit, but it’s going fast enough that it could escape our orbital plane and establish its own. And yet, people still say that it’s not sentient. I’ve heard it thinking. I can hear its heartbeat. I can feel that it knows me. It’s wreaking havoc with the tides when it comes close, which is to say every month or two, despite the altars and offerings of the last of our frozen foods and hair. Its orbital period can’t be calculated, because it’s flight is as erratic as a bat’s. Nothing about it can be calculated, except its size, which has been increasing steadily. It’s now slightly smaller than the planet Mercury, but bigger than our moon. That’ll change by early next year, and in four years, it’ll be bigger than Mars.

I’ve chosen to call it Sama’el, and to make my offerings, and to accept my fate. In this life, can any of us do more than that?

 

Empathy’s Sharp Little Teeth

When I was little, we listened to the radio all the time. Does anyone do that anymore? I mean, in their houses? It seems like nowadays with iPods and iPhones and Pandora, nobody listens to the radio anymore except maybe in the car and at the doctor’s office where they always seem to play the kind of music that was new back when people listened to the radio all the time.

Anyway, when I listened to music, it changed me. Listening to the Beatles sing “Run For Your Life,” I would feel that I was doing exactly that – running through the house, staring wildly behind me at the ghost of John Lennon who would rather see me dead. I would shake my head, trying to erase the image of someone chasing me, trying to hurt me. If the music happened to be in a minor key, I would inevitably cry. I think that my parents ascribed my tears or frenzy or euphoria to something going on in my life, but that was never true. My “Run For Your Life” frenzy lasted exactly two minutes and twenty-five seconds.

Music isn’t the only thing that changes me. Right now, I’m reading Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World, and it’s having the same unfortunate effect. As the characters sink further into desperation and hopelessness, I feel that my own life is somehow slipping out of control, although when I take a step back, nothing could be further from the truth. Financially, I’m not teetering on the brink with a mountain of debts and a questionable career path. Personally, I’m not the sort to indulge my fantasies of throttling random children I don’t like. And, most importantly, my relationship with my spouse is not based on a mistaken notion of the person I suppose my spouse to be based on my own needs and insecurities. The book has gaping plot holes that make me downright angry (do they have no bail bondsmen in Wisconsin?), but I am sucked in anyway.

And yet, I realize that my dreams are increasingly frantic. My business dealings leave me feeling out of my depth and worried that things aren’t happening the way they should because there’s something I’m not doing. I tend to see only that I have a whole lot of irons in the fire and not the fact that I have many capable, willing friends and associates to help me tend them.

When I talked to my therapist, she said that of course I feel overwhelmed. That I demand more of myself than is perhaps reasonable. When I told her about my need to not only do many things, but to do each of them perfectly, she laughed at the notion. When I shared my feelings of frustration that I have so many ideas crowding in my brain that I can’t capture them all or act on most of them because I can’t write them down fast enough, she was nearly bug-eyed.

But the worst? The absolute killer that will send me under my bed in a fœtal position for a week? Hearing from my real, actual friends about real actual problems they’re experiencing in their real, actual lives that I can’t do anything about. That doesn’t come with any music, I can’t argue that it’s not believable, or that I don’t have to care.

I feel like letting the world in just hurts. It hurts my heart, it hurts the other people in my life who have to deal with me freaking out for no reason they can see or understand. I wish I knew what to do. I really do.

I’m the Monster

It’s been a while since I posted, but I have a good excuse. I published the newest issue of Lunch Ticket, did the last stuff I needed to do for my grad school residency, and drove down to Los Angeles.

I’m down here for ten days at a time, and I’ve gotten fairly good at packing. But I’ve never been so good at packing that I haven’t forgotten something crucial and had to hit the Target near the school.

Being in Los Angeles is kinda nice. It’s anonymous. Back home, I see people I know everywhere – at the supermarket, at the gym, at every restaurant I frequent. Here at this Target, nobody knows me. It’s like being invisible or wearing a mask.

I took my purchases up to the bank of registers, but out of twenty or so registers, only four were open, each with a line of at least five people. Everyone shifted from foot to foot, looked at each other, thumbed their phones. The woman in front of me looked at the long lines off to our right and remarked to her husband that she hated this Target because it was always crowded. As I turned my head to look at the crowd, a tall Native American-looking man two registers over turned toward me. His mouth dropped open, and he reached up with one hand, as though about to point to the ceiling.

The man’s shorter brother put an arm around the man’s back, and as his hand encircled the taller man’s waist, the tall guy’s head began to shake. His arm twitched, and his legs folded under him. With a practiced motion, the brother gently guided him to the ground.

That’s when I noticed that the brother, who now stood guard over his shaking, drooling sibling and told
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See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me

“Don’t see me!”

My 6-year-old nephew holds his hands over his face. He’s angry because I teased him, and his punishment is to withhold himself from me. “Don’t see me.”

I admire my nephew for being able to be angry. For being able to look at someone who’s an authority figure over him and say that he’s angry and that they deserve punishment. I admire him because he can do something I can’t. When I’m confronted with authority, I can’t express anger. In fact, I can’t even feel it.

I used to work for a large company. My boss was very social and the two of us split the work of our department up between us – she schmoozed her superiors and made PowerPoint presentations, I did the actual tasks. She regularly told me that if I didn’t like working there, I could quit.  That I, a glorified marcomm dork in a job that paid over $100k a year and came with great benefits, could just waltz out of that office and find another job. In tech writing. During a recession.

I had frequent discussions with my boss about the source of our disconnect, but she never saw it as a disconnect. She saw our inability to work together as something I did on purpose, as though I was a different person outside of work – one who loved social gatherings, cats, and knitting – and just chose to be introverted, sarcastic and OCD at work to piss her off.

In these confrontations, she would tell me that my task execution was fine, but she hated everything else about me. I didn’t come to work early enough – she got up at 5 so she could be at work by 7. I didn’t stay at work long enough – she never left before 5:30. I didn’t interact enough with people from other departments – she scheduled meetings and lunches and get-togethers with other departments. I didn’t act happy enough – she acted like every day was a birthday party. Every word she spoke had the same meaning: Why can’t you be more like me?

She’s not the only person in my life who has excoriated me for being the person I am. My parents, my teachers, every authority figure in my life took me to task at some point for not being more social, for not being more cheerful, for not being more extroverted.

There was never a way to express my frustration with adults. As a child, I didn’t know words like “introvert” or “circumspect,” so I didn’t have any way to defend myself. I couldn’t explain that I hated big crowds. That being dragged to parties with people I didn’t know made me anxious and exhausted. That my bad moods weren’t just me being willful, but because I was overstimulated and unable to escape. And without a defense for my bad behavior, I was guilty as charged.

When you’re little, it’s easy to feel hopeless and sad because the adults around you don’t understand you. It’s commonly thought that the reason children in the “terrible twos” are so cranky all the time is that their reasoning ability outstrips their ability to communicate, leading to frustration. What happens when that inability follows you throughout your whole life? What happens when it’s not your ability to communicate that’s lacking, but the willingness of those around you to listen?

It takes a sense of power to feel angry. To express anger, a person has to start with the belief that they’ll be understood by the person they’re talking to. But when you’ve been misunderstood your whole life, you don’t have that. Anger gives you courage; to take away anger is to dis-courage.

I moved away from my family and quit that job, but I still struggle when it comes to feeling that I have the right to be the person that I am without explanation or justification. I struggle with the feeling that I could pour out a sea of words, and they would never be enough, because what I need isn’t for people to listen to me.

What I need is for them to see me.