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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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If I can pinpoint the origins of my issues, will they go away? [20051115|17:10]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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[the weather today is |lj cuts can go to hell.]

Barring that, if I share them, will that achieve the same effect?

[Warning: This is a non-frivolous post. You may wish to run screaming now.]

Fear of abandonment

When I was seven, my parents moved me from Honolulu to Washington state to attend public school. The public schools in Honolulu are abysmal, or at least, they were in the seventies. I attended a private Catholic school briefly, but tuition at those is expensive. Punahou deemed my brainmeats suitably able for admission. However, they didn't want to give my parents any financial aid. Besides, financial aid at the age of seven? Come on. No one not attending college, in my opinion, should have to pay exorbitant fees to obtain a decent (notice I said decent, not outstanding) education.

I digress. I went to live with my grandparents during the school year so I could attend the public schools in Washington State, and I spent my summers in Honolulu with my parents. I remember almost nothing of my first year in Washington. In fact, I have only one clear memory of it. Every night before I went to bed, I drank milk out of a glass with a bunch of purple grapes painted on it. My grandmother sat across the kitchen table from me. A paraffin lamp provided the only light. I sipped my milk slowly and examined the years of graffiti and doodles scratched into the wooden table. My grandfather had made it and it used to be his work bench. I don't remember talking to my grandmother. Apparently, I spoke very little that year, except to answer questions in class and express the most basic needs.

Children are pretty tough to break, so I adapted to the situation by the time third grade started. I think the experience left its mark, though, as difficult as I find recalling anything about it. I can remember, for instance, a house that my grandparents moved out of when I was eighteen months old. I think it's formed a fundamental portion of my unconscious approach to relationships, romantic and otherwise: leave them before they leave you. I can recognize the tendency now and fight it, but my instinct, after crossing a bridge, is to set it alight. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Fear of shame

I remember playing a game in elementary school called heads-up, seven-up. Seven students would stand at the front of the classroom. Everyone else would shut their eyes and bury their heads in their arms on top of their desks, leaving one fist out with their thumb in the air. The seven people at the front would roam the classroom and each one would touch somebody's thumb. When they returned to the front, everyone would open their eyes and had to guess who'd touched their thumb.

Lots of people figured out ways to cheat at this game. For instance, by putting their heads close enough to the edge of the desk to be able to see the shoes of the people walking past. I never cheated in this way. What I did was much, much dumber. Whenever I was one of the people roaming the room and someone would say I'd picked them, I'd say no even if I had. I don't recall why I thought this was acceptable. I guess it's because when someone picked correctly, it was almost always because they'd cheated. So I thought I was getting one up on them by refusing to tell the truth. Eventually, the teacher figured out what I was doing and took me aside to tell me it wasn't okay. I was mortified.

Sometimes I think that life is a game, except all the rules are breakable. I see everyone else breaking them, but think that if I do it, someone's going to point that out and publicly humiliate me. Perhaps this is quite a ridiculous reason for being secretive. Nevertheless, it's there.

Fear of failure

This has been such a driving force in my life, I don't think I can narrow it down to one specific original incident. Perhaps when I dropped out of the school spelling bee in the fourth grade for forgetting to put the "p" in "simply?" Perhaps when I lost the election to be class president to the pretty little blonde girl in my class, and learned that being outspoken, exotic and smart didn't necessarily make you popular? Any time I've failed to win an award, to be the best, at least by the acknowledgment of my contemporaries, I've taken it completely to heart. I've never forgotten a single instance where I didn't achieve the standards I've set for myself, and every time I remember them, I can feel an echo of the hurt they caused. It wouldn't be entirely inaccurate to postulate that the fear of being unsuccessful drove me to amass the list of accomplishments that decorates my CV.

I'm working on letting that go. I'm trying not to be ashamed of my ambitions or my life. I'm trying not to let the fear of judgment by anyone, even the people I love, determine my decision-making process. I have the feeling this is not a struggle that ends. Ever.
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[User Picture]From: communistgnome
2005-11-15 17:32 (UTC)
I haven't found an end to it. I actually glory in the brief moments of respite I find when the strength to ignore those things that just eat at my sense of self-confidence and do something completely outside my normal bounds.

Technically, they are still issues if you know where they come from. They stop being issues when they don't negatively influence your life. I think a big part of it is figuring out a way to forgive ourselves for things we did when we didn't know any better. If I figure out how to do it, I'll be sure to let you know.

My life will be a lot happier the day I can eradicate several Moments of Shame. Or even just one of them.

I don't know...I'm not trying to hijack your post. It just hit a lot of nerves, and I know exactly where you're coming from.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:52 (UTC)
I don't think that having a sympathetic reaction constitutes hijacking a post. If you'd come in and posted a long comment about the difficulties you were having in naming your new puppy, I might have been offended, or at least really confused. As it is though, part of the point of LJ is seeing how your personal experiences resonate with others', and if something you write prompts them to examine their own, that's an achievement for you and for them. While poking at your insecurities might not be the most fun thing to do, doing it in a forum like this, where you can generally count on people to be kind to one another, makes it easier.
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From: 24db
2005-11-15 17:52 (UTC)
*hugs* well I think you're great, take care you
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:40 (UTC)
Well, whaddaya know, I think you're pretty great too. :-D
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From: boxofkittens
2005-11-15 18:32 (UTC)
Not that I can relate to those things you do, but I liked the way you shared them; they make total sense. :o)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:39 (UTC)
You know, it's kinda nifty to hear that someone who doesn't have similar issues understands them anyway. Thanks.
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[User Picture]From: sparklepbass
2005-11-15 19:40 (UTC)
thankyou for not lj-cutting this. x
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:32 (UTC)
Thank you for reading it.
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[User Picture]From: scanner_darkly
2005-11-15 19:47 (UTC)
Interesting, and of course, made me think of my own fears and insecurities, examining them again. Which I think is a good sign of personal writing, if you can read it and relate it to yourself.

My question for you is, what now? What steps do you take to grow stronger? Where do these fears appear in your day-to-day life, now that you see the roots of them in the past?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:31 (UTC)
I imagine you didn't intend for me to answer those questions straightaway in a comment, but thank you for asking them all the same. It's helpful to hear of the sympathetic reactions of others. It's also nice to have them gently prod you forward.
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[User Picture]From: comfortslut
2005-11-15 20:10 (UTC)
I have the feeling this is not a struggle that ends. Ever.

You're right. It doesn't. But it does sharpen over time into ever more specific points that are able to be addressed individually.

The most important thing to remember is, as we change, we will find ourselves re-examining old ground, because the assimilation of what we have learned creates a new context and perspective with which to view and manage the issue.

Sound familiar? Maybe that's because science works exactly the same way.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:28 (UTC)
Hello, you. I was just thinking the other day that I missed your voice on this here forum.

I see your parallel (and raise you an axiom). It's funny how, when I was six, thirteen, nineteen, being on the cusp of thirty seemed like the point at which I'd have everything figured out - career, relationships, home, etc. Because that was years and years away. Plenty of time to tick off all the goals on my list. I think for me, the biggest step towards maturity was learning that I didn't actually want to achieve the magical, static state of perfect happiness, if that's even possible. I like the ingenuity a dynamic system forces out of me, even when it hurts, and will precipitate change if it's not thrust upon me.
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[User Picture]From: mysti77
2005-11-15 21:14 (UTC)
It's very good that you can identify these fears. I have alot of fears, but I cannot identify them very well, or explain them very well. They are just all a blur, I think. I wish I could because then I think I can try to work on them.

But I do have an issue with 'fear of abandonment'. Sometimes I ruin relationships before they have time to go anywhere. I know that one, so I am trying my best not to let it happen again.

But at least your fear of failure has a positive side as well (although frustrating to you), because of it you have accomplished so much more than many people in this world.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:17 (UTC)
I think if you're aware of the sources of your reactions to things and let them just sort of march around in the back of your mind while you're busy living your life, eventually you come to a point where it's less painful to take them out an examine them. It was years before I could even write about some of these memories in a diary that only I would ever read, I was so ashamed of them.

I was actually wondering what you thought you might do now that you're seeing someone seriously here. You're presently on a two-year visa, right? Were you thinking if things worked out, you might stay, or is that too far in the future yet? It's amazing how fast the time goes...
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[User Picture]From: danaid_luv
2005-11-15 21:18 (UTC)
Wow. I could have written your shame and failure paragraphs. Slightly different examples, but same feelings, fears. All you need is a paragraph or two on body image and...Right. This isn't about me.

The above being said, I think I can quietly recognize some of where you're coming from. And I don't know what the answers are... But I have to believe that sharing helps. It's the secrets that can eat away at us w/ no-one to intervene. Not that your flist is burgeoning w/ folks wearing bright red capes & stretchy tights, but it can be a mental/emotional sharing of your load. He*ll, it's just nice to know someone else cares, you know?

Meanwhile, I...don't have the right words in reaction to your being shipped off each year at the tender age of...7? Good God. That would have broken me. You're likely made of tougher stuff, but...well, it obviously did have an effect, yeah? I wish I could have been a kindly teacher to notice you then and scoop you up for the extra amount of loves you needed.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:11 (UTC)
Hm, you're the second person to remark on this not being about you. Although it may not be about you, part of the point of writing stuff like this is to see whether or not it resonates with other people's personal experiences. And like you said, it's comforting to hear that others understand and relate. It takes the sting out of remembrance.

Don't get me wrong, my grandparents were very good to me. They did their best to take care of me, although they were never physically affectionate with me, which was tough sometimes. That's probably another issue I need to address someday, my lack of comfort with initiating touching people. Anyway, I appreciate the sympathetic wishes. *squeezes you* <--see, I get better. :-D
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[User Picture]From: seismic
2005-11-15 21:58 (UTC)
I don't have anything constructive to add, mostly just quiet nodding. Yeah.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:01 (UTC)
S'cool. Thanks for the silent empathy, it's good too.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 13:00 (UTC)
It never really stops, it just sort of ebbs and then starts a new cycle. It's funny, though, there's a part of me that continues to expect that someday, if I work hard enough at it, I'll reach that magical static plateau of ultimate happiness. It's totally unrealistic, and even if it were possible to attain such a state, I imagine it'd bore me to death. :-P
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-11-16 04:43 (UTC)
Issues and all, it sounds like you've lived a fabulous and full life so far.

(pssst, Punahou wasn't worth the money)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 12:57 (UTC)
Thank you, and yes, I suppose I have.

I'll take your word for it. Also, that sucks, considering that tuition is now 13k+ per year. Thirteen grand! For KINDERGARTEN! Seriously, wtf. How can you design a curriculum that's worth thirteen grand for a five-year-old?
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[User Picture]From: shamroq
2005-11-16 06:05 (UTC)
This is yet another favorite of mine.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 12:53 (UTC)
I would ask for a pair of your panties in exchange for the tear I've brought to your eye, but somehow I have the feeling that would get us both in trouble.
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From: enzeru
2005-11-16 06:42 (UTC)
Right on for posting this. You can't unlive what happened in your life, but knowing where all the sinkholes are can show you where not to build upon.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-16 12:42 (UTC)
The other kings said I was daft to build a castle in the swamp, but I built it all the same!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-17 21:29 (UTC)
I chant the mantra. I am pretty and everyone wants to give me candy. I am pretty and everyone wants to give me candy. Say, do you think if I ask, they'll give me Oreos instead? :-D
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[User Picture]From: omniana
2005-11-16 22:00 (UTC)
Well, if you pinpoint issues, you can finally do something about them. This point reminds me of the intro to Death : The High Cost of Living that Tori wrote. I found it when I wasn't feeling too happy and it resonated. A message was if you can't see where you are clearly, you can't see the way to get out of it either. And it takes a lot of courage to face these things. A friend of mine, through some therapy, finally acknowledged that some of her destructive behavior were due to childhood events. And she is realizing this all in her 50's. Best to have the courage to see as soon as possible.

As others have said, these are pretty universal fears, though each person has their own manifestation of them. I definitely share in the fears of shame and failure, and I'll add fear of rejection to that list, though I guess these are in a way interrelated. I've been working on the failure one for some time, and I've dealt with that one with what I call, Accepting My Mediocrity. Most people I explain this to find the need to say how self defeating it is. shrug.

I fully endorse what you are trying to do, not to let your fears to keep you from following your own path. I think the fact that you can see them means you will be able to. Go you! I have hopes that we do learn to deal with these fears as we age though. They say, in our 40's we realize that some of our dreams will not be realized and we have our crisis, and then with each decade we leave another hangup behind. Assuming you have your health, people say that their 80's were their best years. I assume octogenarians are not doing some of the things we can do when younger, but some are much happier I guess.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-11-17 21:37 (UTC)
I'm going to have to dig that out and re-read it. I think constant self-examination is an important part of life. Re-treading certain portions of old ground (say, the humiliating ones) too often can be just as bad as burying them, so it's a delicate balance.

I totally get Accepting My Mediocrity, and I think it has something to do with my experience in science. I know I was pretty good at it. I also know I was exactly that: pretty good. The scientific research community isn't suffering hugely because I'm no longer involved in it. I know what scientific brilliance looks like, and I don't pretend to have it. There are very few who do. I'd say I knew one graduate student in all my time in academia who had it. When we were fourth-years, he was giving seminars to the math department. Not only was he amazing at science, he was also a really nice, humble guy. That's someone to whom I'd consider it positively criminal not to hand a tenure-track position. Of course, that doesn't mean I couldn't make my own worthwhile contribution, just that I don't see it as a big deal that I'm not planning to devote the remainder of my existence on this earth to it.
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