Perceptions

I’m often curious how others perceive me.  At work this past week, I’ve been used as a manager, mediator, problem-solver and substitute therapist… yet every night as I left work, I had to fight the vivid thoughts of suicide.  Am I really that good at hiding my internal chaos, that people don’t see the stress that I am under; or do they not care?

The nature of my dissociation, means that I can compartmentalise and hide the chaos.  Just like everyone else, I have a “work face” that I present to those around me.  But even with each “face” we present to the world, things show through.  Over the last three months, my eating has become more of a problem… to the point that my jeans are now, literally, falling off me.  Isn’t that a visual clue of the chaos that is going on behind the scenes?  Yet, no one mentions it… making it like a dirty secret that exists in plain sight.

I became curious about this, after reading We must see past what it seems… a post about Melody’s struggles after her husband suffered a brain injury, and they were forced to sell many of their possessions.  When they put their farm equipment up for sale on their property, a neighbour complained about the eyesore it created… Melody’s husband response –

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

When did society, as a generalisation, stop caring about the people around them?  I know the research behind the disintegration of the community, and the individualisation of the population… I get that… but it also makes me sad, and more than just a bit frustrated.

In her blog post, Melody asks what would happen if we each wore a sign which told of the struggles and fears we are facing.  Would seeing such a sign change the way in which we act towards each other?  I’d like to think it would, but would it?  For a start, would the signs we wore be honest?  Part of the reason why we have a “work face”… “party face”… “school face”… etc, is so that we can protect ourselves a little from the harshness of the world, and to fit into the group that we find ourselves in.  So would you want to wear a sign saying “I’m going through a painful divorce” (one of the signs on Melody’s blog post), in all of those situations?  I doubt that many of the signs we would wear would be G rated, or appropriate in all situations.

So what is the alternative?  One of the big things for me, is something as simple, and complex, as respect.  If we respect each other, then we don’t need to wear any signs, because we’ll be treating each other as individuals with unique needs, wants and problems.  We’ll be seeing each other… really seeing each other.  Seeing past the protective sarcasm, to the hurt underneath.

Of course, if we did this all the time, or were particularly empathetic, then our emotional reserves would be constantly running on empty… but I do think there’s a balance.  I think we can treat each other with respect, without losing ourselves in the process.  I once read a story about a domestic abuse survivor who used to go to her children’s weekly sporting events with evident bruises… she said that many of the people there would look at the bruises, and some would come up and ask why she didn’t leave her partner, even offer to help her leave.  But the one person who made the difference, approached her, and simply said “I’m here if you ever want to talk”.  There was no judgements or advice, just a respectful opening.  There was no promise of help, or saving the woman, but a respectful, gentle opening of a door.

It’s this sort of respect that can change lives.

How many times when you were a child, did an adult get down to your level, and really communicated with you?  I don’t remember one incident of that happening to me, and maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything… but maybe it would have… who knows?

—————-
Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Deciphering me
via FoxyTunes

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28 thoughts on “Perceptions

  1. This is a wonderful post. I’ve thought of these things often. Would you mind if I posted a link to it at a UK disability-related blog? I think people there might like it, but feel free to say no, I don’t want to do that if you’re not ok with it.

      • Thanks :). I had just thought of putting it in a comment on the latest post here:

        http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2011/08/its-all-in-your-head-or-social-model.html

        as I feel it fits well with the problems around being believed. I appreciate that you might prefer not, though, especially since it’s a more general site rather than survivor-specific. If you like, I could just leave it with you and you could leave a comment yourself if it felt ok.

        Best Wishes

        • Hi Jan,

          Sorry if I sounded defensive, I was worried about where the link was going 🙂

          I read the post and it was interesting on several levels… to me the post was about someone not being treated as an individual, and not getting adequate medical attention; yet the comments almost seemed to be more of a discussion about whether she used the term “social model” correctly. It could be the focus of the blog, but that alone is a good example of what I was talking about here.

          As a note, I read broadly, and learn from different areas… not just the survivor community 🙂 We all need that outside perspective and balance in life. In part, this post was inspired by the anniversary of the Stanford Prison Experiment, which has parallels in the Abu Gharib abuse of prisoners. It shows how people can lose their ability to see the humanity in others. I think we lose that too easily.

          Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

          Take care,
          CG

          • You didn’t sound defensive at all :). I read about the Stanford Prison Experiment when I was 17, and it was a bit of a life-changing moment. I wonder whether those of us who are survivors of abuse are more able to go against the trend in situations like that, because we’ve already experienced, and to a certain extent weathered, being the odd one out.

            Anyway, nice talking to you 🙂 Look after yourself.

            • Hi Jan,

              I hope we would, but like any community, survivors are a mix of people who will have a mix of reactions to any given situation. I’d like to think that I would be like Christina Maslach, and speak out; but until the situation happens, I don’t think we can ever be sure.

              Take care,
              CG

  2. I recently posted about Laura Cummings, a mentally disabled woman a couple towns over from me. The entire community apparently whispered about the horrors she was facing, but no one did anything. It is easier to not get involved because when you hear the bad news then people can say “Oh, that’s terrible.” And then continue on with their day 😦

    • Hi Sandy,

      I read your posts about Laura Cummings, and was thinking of her situation when I was writing this as well. How many people ignored her plight within that community? How many ignore what is right under their noses? It makes me so sad. We call ourselves a civilisation, yet we don’t act very civilised at times.

      Take care,
      CG

  3. CG, this is a great post. You (and Melody) are so right about people being caught up in their own stuff, they never seem to notice the world around them. That, of course, is a bad thing, and smacks of the lack of respect you talk about.

    I also thought your ability to observe the crazy-making goings on around you was really positive. This is something I can often only do when truly grounded – at other times I get caught in the spin and the issues. It’s only when I take a step back and am truly grounded that I see what’s what.

    I wonder what would happen if you said to people at work (with “talk to the hand” stance) – “Sorry, I can’t help you right now, I have my own issues to deal with.” Would it make them stop and think? Would it make them realise they are being overly demanding, even disrespectful? Would it make them see that sign, even though it’s not really there?

    ((hugs))

    • Hi Kerro,

      In all honesty, I don’t think the people at work have any concept of what others are going through, and they don’t particularly care. If I said what you suggested, they would go back to their little clique and complain about me being mean. In some ways it’s easier to listen and get it over with.

      I suppose I observed this all so keenly this past week because I was looking for reasons to keep on going. It’s approaching Father’s Day here, and that always causes a level of chaos that I need to try and navigate around.

      Thanks and take care,
      CG (((hugs)))

  4. I often say I am a bit Picasso-esque… not nearly put together as well as people think I am. So I fake it until I make it. It’s a strength that we can be so versatile, and continue to function even while we are broken, but the double edge is that then often people have no clue that there is anything wrong on the inside until we do something drastic. Honesty is incredibly important with those around you, but how much honesty is always the trick. I tend to make sure people know that I have stressors going on in life, so that if I appear to be acting off they understand why, and I am fortunate to be among a community of people that does offer assistance in times of difficulty. Only a very few people know about the dissociation, and they are the ones that will ask me how I am holding together. They are also the ones that I know I can say, “Not well,” and they always seem to know how to help. I hope that you can find people like that around you. It’s so hard to do it by yourselves. If not, if ever you need someone to chat with, just say the word. I will help however I can.

    • Hi Storm Dweller,

      It sounds like you’ve got some really good support around you. To have a few people that you consider safe enough to share pieces of the truth is great.

      I know what you mean about the Picasso-eque feeling… sometimes things slip a little further than they should 🙂

      Take care,
      CG

  5. CG, I had to think about this post for a while because you really hit on a BIG point with me.

    I don’t want to sound negative or cynical but I think that people are so stinkin’ self-centered that they don’t really *see* other people at all.

    I’ve often wanted to try an experiement a aquaintance of mine mentioned a long time ago. We were talking about social interactions and how it’s very normal for people to say, “Hello, how are you?” and the other to say, “I’m fine, how are you?” and then go along their lives. The person I was speaking with said that she wondered what would happen if she actually told someone the truth instead of saying “I’m fine.” She bet that if she said “I’m doing terribly.” people wouldn’t actually notice and that they would just say “Oh? That’s great, see you later.”

    It’s a world/human problem unfortunately. Actually…now that I think about it, I HAVE done that experiement and the person I was talking to just moved on! Wow, I just remembered that! Sheesh!

    I guess my point is that people are selfish and it sucks. But, it doesn’t have anything to do with you CG. People don’t see either because they don’t want to or because they’re too concerned with themselves.

    I guess I can be a little positive and say that I think the people here prove that everyone’s not like that. So I take back my previous statement. 🙂

    It’s harder in “real-life” though because those are the people who see us all of the time and when they don’t care or they ignore the warning signs that something’s wrong, it can really hurt and eat away at a person’s feelings of self-worth.

    I’m sorry that people are showing you humanity’s bad side CG. I don’t know if it helps to know that it’s not just you or if that just makes it sadder?

    Ugh! Maybe I should think of a more positive comment? I’m sorry. 😦

    • Hi tb,

      I prefer honesty over anything else, so thanks for your comment in all it’s honesty 🙂

      I think you’re right that people don’t see others. Sometimes they don’t see the people living under their own roof. Isn’t that how abuse so often happens? People put on blinders?

      I’ve done similar things with that cheesy social interaction. I’ve also deliberately changed what I ask, to see if people are listening to my question. Sometimes they pick up on it, but sometimes they don’t. I often do it with supermarket check-out people, mainly because I think they must get so bored hearing the same thing with each customer.

      I think the way society interacts with each other, is important for each of us, so if does have something to do with me. I know I can’t change the big things, but I’d like to see some glimmer of hope. I suppose I was holding out for a glimmer of hope, and kept on having it dashed. I know that the survivor community can be incredibly accepting and understanding, but I think I need some of that in my real world life.

      Last night, my sign would have read “I’m going to have to put my cat down soon, and I can’t cope”. If I wore that sign into work, most people would tell me to toughen up, or tell me their own stories – which would, of course, be worse than what I’m experiencing.

      I had hoped that my suicidal stuff might have eased, but it hasn’t. Nothing anyone here has done, just where I am at the moment.

      Take care,
      CG

      • I understand CG. I wish I could see the goodness of our community in real life too, I really do.

        Is Winnie having trouble!!?? I would never tell you to toughen up about a pet that is loved.

        I think you should keep holding on to hope and I’ll try to be better about it myself. Maybe we’ll be surprised. Wouldn’t that be nice?

        As for the suicidal thoughts/ideations, I really don’t know how this couldn’t have happened considering the Hell you’ve been through recently. You got through it but it was bound to have an effect. I absolutely hate saying this because it will sound like a platitude but, try to remember the times in the past when things were dark and remember that it passess. See! I know, I hated saying that! I know you’d tell me something similar though if I was feeling like this.

        Be safe and if there’s something nice that you can do for something, even if it’s small, please try.

        *safe hugs if you like*

  6. (((((((((((CG))))))))))) if ok.
    We hear you. Couple of years ago that was exactly where we were – struggling through a day at work trying to push away thoughts of suicide while helping everyone else and then going home to collapse, exhausted, wondering why we didn’t just get it over with. We tried Tai’s experiment, with much the same response, no one ever offered to listen or even asked what was wrong. They just walked off and carried on with their lives.
    Really sorry to hear about your cat, can only imagine how hard that must be, we’d be devastated if we lost ours.
    Thinking of you,
    Bay

  7. I’m so sorry about your cat. Poor baby…poor mommy.

    At this end, if someone were to try and reach out for emotional support I would probably suggest they talk to a professional, or at least someone else. I don’t care how childish or selfish I sound, but having never received support when I’ve tried to reach out (especially in my community the past 7 years), and never asking or expecting more than someone to listen, I am closed. I’m not handling my own difficulties as it is.

    I used to feel worthwhile when I helped others, by simply listening or getting them going in the right direction, but that empathy is gone.

    As for what tai mentioned, I have been responding honestly to a “How are you” question for months. My responses have been anything from “This summer has been emotionally draining and difficult” to “It would really help if we had some support” and have never gotten a reply other than “That’s good” or along those lines.

    I’ve cried in line buying groceries and self-injured in public (fun with dissociation) and later realized no one asked and/or seemed to notice. So f*** them.

    Experience is subjective, I know, but I’m at a loss as to why. I’m sorry it sounds so crass, I’m fed up. It just seems more important at this time to try and keep myself under control so my family can be stable.

    I really used to have that respect and I hope I do again someday.

    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,

      I don’t think that sounds selfish. We only have so much in our emotional reserves, and if we need all of that ourselves, then we aren’t in a place to help others. Then there’s the issue of reciprocation of that support, and it can be tough to give if you haven’t received it when you’ve asked. I do believe in Karma, but I don’t believe in being a doormat.

      People often don’t know how to handle honesty and others distress. I really think we need classes on emotional stuff in schools. Some schools now offer this, and have shown the results in higher grades and less disruptive behaviour.

      I’m sorry you were overlooked when in distress. That’s the thing about society that I hate. Over here an elderly couple were hit by a car and lay on the side of the road for hours before someone came to their aid. It’s sad.

      I hope you can gain that respect again too.

      Take care,
      CG

  8. I read your first paragraph and I knew right away that I would be able to relate to this post. There have been countless times when people have come to me with similar issues, and they haven’t a clue that while I am giving them advice, I have these unrelenting thoughts of suicide dancing around in my head. They don’t suspect a thing.

    I actually do believe that we are very talented at hiding our inner turmoil. But you’re saying that you have suffered dramatic weight loss, and they still haven’t seemed to notice. I think that they see it, and the reasons they don’t mention it could vary. Some people ignore it because they are too self-absorbed to care. Some people get extremely uncomfortable when they see someone in distress, and they sort of freeze up and say nothing. Some people only see us in our “work hat”, and even though we may have given *them* advice on a personal level, they find *us* unapproachable on a personal level. They feel that perhaps we are “off limits” in that regard.

    For me, I think that is mostly the case, although I see many people that fit into the first two categories as well. But primarily, I think most of the people I work with find me unapproachable on a personal level.

    Having said that…. the reason this is so upsetting in your case is that these people have no idea what may be causing your weight loss, and they don’t even bother to ask. You could have a serious medical condition, and no one has come to you to say…. “Hey, are you okay?”…. and that’s sad. Very sad. It’s as though somewhere throughout the generations, people in general have lost the ability to show empathy.

    Now I’m going to confess something. I have been guilty of this. I feel terrible about it, and I hope that I’ve learned from it. About 5 years ago, I worked with this woman who never much cared for me, and she didn’t hide it. She had put in for the position that ultimately went to me, and she resented me for it. So needless to say, I avoided her as much as possible. I was actually a bit afraid of her.

    Well, about 2 years ago, I noticed that she was rapidly losing weight. I never approached her to see if she was okay, and 6 months later she died of pancreatic cancer. I feel so guilty for that. She was suffering all this pain, and she knew she was going to die, and I didn’t bother to say “Hey, are you okay.”

    She wasn’t the first person that I’ve neglected to approach either. I have always had this intense fear of rejection, so I have spent many years of my life not approaching people because of my fear of rejection. I think I’ve now become a bit stronger over the years about accepting rejection, but it’s still an issue for me.

    Now that I’ve shown what a terrible person I’ve been in the past, all I can do now is hope that I do better in the future. This post is a very important one, and it has given me a lot to think about. I’m very glad that you wrote it, and expressed what you have observed with your circumstances.

    As for your weight loss, I hope that you will look after your health. I hope your therapist will help you keep a handle on it as well. As for your cat. I’m at a loss for words. I’m so sorry.
    (I can’t help but notice that both you and your cat are losing weight at the same time.)
    And now on top of that, you have Father’s day approaching. I definitely understand the chaos that will cause.

    I truly am sorry that all of this is causing you so much distress. And I agree with what you mentioned above about having classes to teach kids how to deal with emotional situations. That would make a huge difference, I believe.

    I’m sorry for rambling again, but I can’t seem to control myself. 😉 Either I say nothing at all, or I write a novel.

    Seriously though…. please take care. Be healthy, and know that I’m thinking of you. Great post, CG

    • Hi Mareeya,

      I know that talking about personal issues with people can cause discomfort – especially when they’re like me, and throw up “go away” signs. So I can’t really fault those around me. I deter questions, rather than invite them.

      I suppose what gets me, is that they’re willing to keep on dumping their problems on me, despite warnings that I might not be doing so well. My weight loss isn’t healthy; but then, women at work prize attractiveness, so maybe they think it’s deliberate? I don’t know. Allison hasn’t said anything… so as I said, maybe I’m making a mountain our of a molehill with my weight.

      The issue of society not respecting and caring for each other is still very present though. I can understand difficulties such as the one you describe with a co-worker… when there’s past history, it adds a layer of difficulty to the situation that is often hard to see past. I’ve also been guilty of not asking questions of others… I haven’t wanted to intrude on their privacy. That could be seen as disrespectful, or respecting their privacy; I don’t know. When you’re a private person, you tend not to ask questions of others, but find out things by listening in on conversations.

      You haven’t shown what an awful person you are Mareeya… you’ve shown you’re human. There are shades of gray everywhere, and the situation you describe has emotional undercurrents which mean it isn’t black and white. So please, go easy on yourself.

      Don’t apologise for rambling, I really appreciate your reply… it made me think, and that’s always good 🙂

      Take care,
      CG

  9. “I suppose what gets me, is that they’re willing to keep on dumping their problems on me, despite warnings that I might not be doing so well. My weight loss isn’t healthy; but then, women at work prize attractiveness, so maybe they think it’s deliberate?”

    Okay….. this is just my opinion, but this paragraph right here tells me that you work with some fairly shallow people. It sounds as though they are the type of people who feel that everything is so much about them that they can’t or won’t look beneath the surface of your weight loss.
    Especially if they continually dump their issues on you without bothering to say … “Hey, how are *you* doing?

    I agree. Your weight loss isn’t healthy. It isn’t healthy because of why it’s occurring, and that is the part that worries me the most. I’m glad that you have the self awareness to know ‘why’ you’re doing it, and hopefully you can reach out to Allison next time you see her.

    I’m also glad that I can be honest with you without feeling judged for my shortcomings. I really like that about you. I come on here and I blurt out what’s on my mind without sugar coating it, and you are always so cool with it. In fact, you prefer it that way. Therefore, I’m able to communicate with you the way that I want people to communicate with me. 🙂

    I totally understand the reasons behind not wanting to eat, but please take care of yourself, okay? ~ Mareeya

    • Hi Mareeya,

      Yes, there are some pretty shallow women in amongst those that I work with. Often their first comment about a person is regarding their looks. Their education and demeanour are a poor second and third – if mentioned at all.

      I’ve mentioned it to Allison, and she doesn’t think anything of it. She writes a note about it, and we move on… see, I’m obviously making a mountain out of a molehill.

      You’re human Mareeya, and I for one, shouldn’t be passing judgement on you. Judgements are designed to make one person feel superior, and they are rarely useful, or worthy of the superiority. So yeah, I prefer honesty 🙂 Feel free to share as much, or as little as you like; it’s totally up to you.

      Thanks for your concern…

      Take care,
      CG

  10. Very good post! I have wondered the same things. There are so many “elephants in the room” in this world, and so many people are afraid to speak. I also remember something Dr. Phil ( on American TV) said. I don’t watch him much, but once he said we compare ourselves to others, but what we fail to realize is we compare ourselves to others’ outside face ( how they present to the world) and not to their genuine self. That is so true…..
    Lothlorien

    • Thanks Lothlorien 🙂

      I hate comparisons… they’re rarely helpful for anyone involved. Yet, we (as a society) seem to do an awful lot of comparing – whose got the bigger tv, child with the better grades, higher salary, happier… But, it is a superficial comparison, as indicated by Dr Phil; that’s part of the reason why I liked Christina Aguilera’s video of Beautiful… it’s easy to look on the surface, but you don’t necessarily know what is happening underneath.

      Take care,
      CG

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