Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Paved With Good Intentions

I am not one for passive-aggressive notes on the internet. Wanted to state that at the front, so as to not have this note seen as a "you know who you are, neener neener," sentiment. Certainly not the intention. If you are in the mood to be ornery, patronizing, or offended, stop reading. Come back when I'm Sunshine Sabina. I'll be fine.  However, if you are also sick of the world and the people in it, or just remember a time when you were, or have noticed me a little grumpier or distant lately and want to know why, you are welcome to finish reading. This has been on my mind for about half a year. It's kind of personal, but also applicable to a broader audience than just myself.

Lately, I have felt very much attacked from all angles about almost every area of my life. Not an all-out frontal attack (I can handle those just fine)--more like a little swarm of stinging bugs over and over and over. I think this is the pressure a lot of women feel in our society.  So, echoing the cries of people everywhere, I add my voice to the call against the exhausting problem of Judgement.

Not judgement in the righteous, hey-you-should-seriously-pick-a-side-already, is-something-morally-right-or-wrong judgement. Judgement in the "Seriously, leave me ALONE, I'm sick-of-feeling-the-need-to-justify-myself-to-you-people!" judgement. The "Man, I could give you and your uber-righteous self a real cussing right now," judgement. 

I could write a really thoughtful, generally applicable post about the topic of Judgement, and point out how it's a common problem that everybody fights. They do. But I'm not going to. I'm just going to give an example.

Example : Clutter-Busting
(a)"Oh my goodness, you must be so busy; your house is a mess."
"Wow, you have a ton of stuff."
(b)(standing talking to me as I frantically try to finish the dishes so I can do homework, after working for 10 hours) "It's okay that your house is a disaster, you're really busy. It's so sad you don't have anyone to help you, this must just be so hard on you. tsk tsk what terrible family you have, making you do this all on your own. In the meantime, juslemmeknowifyouneedanythingbye." 
Or, the worst:
(c)"What's gotten into you?? Are you sick? Why are you suddenly getting rid of so much stuff?"
(d)"Wow, I don't think I could find 7 boxes of D.I.(local thrift shop) donations from my whole house, even if I tried! If you didn't keep so much junk in the first place...don't you wish you had done this earlier?"
(e)[Tour Guide Barbie tone, Vaseline smile]"Wow, Sabina, I'm so proud of you! Look how clean your living room/kitchen/hallway/van is!"

...Wow, I didn't realize exactly how irritated this made me. I just popped a key off my keyboard I was typing so hard. Sorry, Quotation Mark Key. Let's get you back on there. There we go. Take a breath. 

       Okay. Here we go.  
            (a-b) (response 1) : I, personally, have a lot of stuff. I get that. I know I do. A lot of it is stuff I don't even like, or want. Some of it is stuff that I have to have (like the 5 office-sized banker boxes full of medicine and medical equipment). The point is, yes I have a ton of stuff. 
                     I also have a lot of baggage, manifested through my stuff. When my family blew apart (starting the end of high school and moving through my undergrad years), I didn't turn to alcohol. I didn't starve myself  or throw up on purpose or cut myself or pierce myself. I didn't go whoring around to all the sleazy easy boys. I didn't leave the Church or get angry with God. I dealt with my medical depression as best I could through it all and I leaned heavily (too heavily, sometimes) on my friends instead of withdrawing into suicidal stupor. No, instead of any of those things, I went a much less obvious route.
          I collected stuff. 
          I wouldn't let go of a single childhood thing. Trinkets, papers, gifts from people, clothes I hated or didn't fit (or both), textbooks from college classes, presents from exes, notes from ward members. More than that, I kept programs from events, stupid things people offered me (No, I don't want all your 'craft drawer' that you don't feel like moving. No, I don't want your half set of dishes, or your fondue set with pieces missing). I said "sure" even though I didn't want them. I surrounded myself with "stuff" because I had no foundation. My world was getting ripped to pieces and I was grasping at straws. 
        To be clear, I didn't keep "garbage" (though arguably I needed to throw away the programs). I didn't keep candy wrappers or anything like that. Just stuff. 
        This is not an uncommon problem. As I have natural pack-rat tendencies, most people didn't even realize what was happening. They just knew I was a terrible roommate and a "messy" person who couldn't even keep a clean room.  Even I thought that was the case. I recognized the symptom, not the problem, and therefore the real cause never got dealt with.
         On top of that psychological hang-up, I had a solid year toward the end of my undergrad that involved not being able to leave the couch. My internal organ tissue was deteriorating, my immune system was attacking my body as it was breaking down. This caused skin issues, breathing issues, allergy issues, and most acutely, extensive internal bleeding that left me pretty much Miserable. The doctors didn't realize what was happening until an emergency procedure around the holidays; by then it was a very long recovery after 8 months of problem. I slogged through the year in the midst of tremendous physical pain and emotional exhaustion.  Many people didn't even realize this was happening, but all the same, de-cluttering didn't even make the list of energy-burning possibilities.
          As I got to the point I was up and around again, my family moved out our our 20-year residence, a 5-bedroom home (and I moved away from my ward family and town and school) into a 2 bedroom apartment in a different city. Holy Not Enough Space, Batman. The plan was to obtain another little house, hasn't happened yet, but it was a doable plan at the start. A hopeful plan. We hung on to that hope as long as we could, and just when we realized it wasn't going to work, my mother ended up in a frantic battle for her life that lasted almost a year. We are just on the tail end of it. Psychological hang up aside, physical "decluttering" took a back burner. 
(c-d) Response 2: Why I am getting rid of so much stuff--this is the happier part of the post, so don't fret, rant is over.
Frankly, it's because I have done a lot of healing (physical, emotional, mental). Counseling and scripture study and direct application of the Atonement have helped to heal/are healing the underlying problems. I've let go of a lot of things that were holding me back--the idea that I needed people's approval or even  friendship to survive, the idea that I "failed" because I didn't get good grades or because I left school without graduating, the idea that I needed to apologize to the world for their misfortune of having to look at my ugly and overweight (not the same thing) body, the longing for being able to do the things I wanted even though I couldn't anymore. I wrote a blog post about this utter paradigm shift back in January, you can find it  here (don't fret, it's significantly shorter than this post).  I realized that my deeper problems were manifesting themselves primarily through my clutter. 

Also, Mom is feeling better. As I am no longer as immediately concerned about coming home to her dead, it is easier for both of us to focus on clearing out the house. 

That all stated, there is one last thing. 
(e) This one is hard. "Wow, Sabina, I'm so proud of you! Look how clean your living room/kitchen/hallway/van is!".   'Why is that a problem to say?' one thinks. 'Didn't she just say she was happy she was healing and stuff? Gosh, they are just trying to be nice!' 
You are right. They are well-intentioned people, thinking they are being kind. Here is the problem; and it's specific:
I'm not proud of myself for keeping a clean house. I'm proud of myself for healing. I expect myself to keep a clean house, and now I am healthy enough to meet that expectation. Some people who understand the problem are truly giving a compliment, because they know what it means for me to be able to do these things.
That isn't what most are saying. That "compliment," in those tones, says something different. It comes off as "Well, I'm glad you finally care enough to get your act together," or, even worse, implies that their expectation is that I am an inherently cluttered and messy person, and therefore it is beyond my ability or understanding to be clean and orderly. Since when do you get to be "proud of me" in that tone? That's something you say to your dog, or a 5 year old problem child. I'm glad that my soul is healing enough that I can move forward ], and that my life has calmed down enough that dishes register on the "important daily task" radar (versus, you know, "not dying" or "family not dying"). But all you see is a 20-something who isn't capable enough to keep a clean house. So...keep your patronizing tone to yourself. 

So. I'm getting rid of things, which is great, and I was messy, which was less great. But it's not a character flaw--it is trauma recovery and intentional personal improvement. Many people have recognized the need for assistance, but few have recognized the "why" behind the problem. Even the well-intentioned people give patronizing comments in surprised tones (see c-e). I have a couple of friends and a few family members that are honestly supportive with no snarky remarks--in fact, no remarks at all! That is the best road. It makes me feel very loved and honestly wanted. No judgement, no patronizing backhanded compliments, just help and love and support. 

I understand that this is a sensitive topic for me, so I'm a little more easily offended than other people, but I think that's my point. The problem is deeper than the symptoms, and therefore the healing more meaningful than simply "I got organized...finally." 

I recognize that this healing is accompanied by a hefty dose of "bugger off", which is a tremendously reactive attitude and not a good idea in the long term. I'm rather sensitive right now and not in the mood to deal with people. I'll get around to it later. In the short term, though, it's exactly what I need to counteract 24 solid years of SeriouslyUnhealthyBoundaries, both iner- and intra-personal. 

So if I seem a little off, or a little unavailable...I'm probably sorting a box somewhere.