Wednesday, August 3, 2011
(4) The Past
Okay, maybe I lied. The past isn’t as in the past as I said (or hoped) it was, at least not entirely. Rather, the past can be broken into two parts: that which is fixed in time and that which continues in spite of time.
If actions are in the past, and therefore cannot be changed, then perhaps it can be easily understood that those events are solid, past-tense fact. They are what they are, for better or worse, just as immovable and unchangeable as the simple passing of time. Once the action is over, it is over and behind us – may it rest in peace.
Conversely, the feelings, emotions and ethos produced by such events aren’t as fixed in the context of time as the actions themselves are. Rather, uninfluenced by age or fleeting decades, these emotions simply adapt, build and collude with time and manage to open old wounds on new days at the darnedest of times. No matter how distant a past experience was, the impact left on one’s heart and in one’s head can seem as vivid today as the day they happened.
The reason I bring this up now is that it seems to me that we each interact with the world not only as we innately are (for example, I am a Beta-2, INFJ), but as a product of these past emotional occurrences. I am sure the explanation for why I am the way I am is much more easily written off as natural tendency, but the fact is that there is nothing natural about my fear of rejection or continued pain. So much of my life has been driven by my effort to shape what other people thought of me for the positive and, let’s face it, after 25 years I still find myself unsuccessful when measured by another’s ruler.
When I was just a child, my Mother received a phone call from my elementary school requesting that I be pulled from my class and voluntarily enrolled in special education. It was my teacher’s estimation that I was (to use her word) “stupid” and that my inability to read at that stage was a reflection of my capacity to learn. Fortunately for me, my Mother didn’t simply forfeit me to the short bus and, instead, she sought medical help to address my learning difficulties. Following months upon months of diagnostic tests, visits to various doctors and multiple hours of tutoring, I was diagnosed with several learning disabilities: scotopic sensitivity, dyslexia and monocular vision. Essentially what that meant was that I couldn’t see out of my eyes well enough to be to read or learn at the same pace as my peers and that with the right therapy, tools and dedication I’d be able to catch up with the right amount of effort.
Now, taking my teacher’s accusation of “stupid” seriously, I worked my butt off for the rest of my education trying to prove that such a vicious word had little appropriate application to me. I graduated early from high school, was accepted to a competitive private liberal arts college and managed to leave both programs with a high GPA. The thing is, no matter how successful this is or ought to be seen as, I cannot help but feel that it’s not enough. My goal leaving school was to acquire a sexy, off the beaten trail professional position that would remove all doubts from my head of my worth and once and for all silence the cynics on the question of my capabilities. However, now that I’ve relinquished my grad school education and intelligence analysis career aspirations I find myself standing stark naked of societal prestige and horribly self-conscious of the inescapable perception of failure.
Society has its place in life – establishing norms of appropriate, polite behavior; creating a sense of community among seemingly independent family units; and offering stability through organization and institutions to help guide the masses through the uncertainties of human existence. But, society also establishes a concept of “perfection” that, for many, is unattainable. For me, the feeling of deficiency caused by years of struggle at school, by the torturous taunting of fat jokes, by immature relationships built on expectation rather than romance and by the abandonment of friends at inexplicable times makes me more nervous now than ever. Even in writing these words on this post I am gripped by the self-conscious fear of the reader’s thoughts and anxiously hope for acceptance…
To tie this all back into my original point, that the past isn’t as in the past as I hoped, I am cognizant of the paradox my emotions play in my life today. Right this minute, I am sitting at my computer in the master bedroom of a home I purchased with my loving husband with my healthy, happy baby boy asleep in the next room and I have no reason to feel unsafe (the mastiff helps with that), to fear abandonment or to feel judged for my weight, outfit or complexion. I could be completely at ease with the world and my surroundings, but those feelings caused by this or that event way back when run just beneath the surface and come to play a role in my judgments and actions of today.
Obviously I think this means therapy is probably needed, but I can say that despite my natural inclination for pessimism, my learned distrust of human nature and my knee-jerk response of “no” I am at least grateful for the critical perspective the past provides me. Being neither naive nor ignorant, I freely acknowledge my failure to measure up to societal standards and continue to seek peace in my soul for past, present and future decisions – no matter what emotions they cause or failures they are perceived as. After all, writing isn’t a career of purely pop tarts and rainbows and motherhood isn’t glamorous or stretch mark free. I need to shake off my anxieties and bind myself to the notion that what will be will be and that happiness is what I make of it, not what society doles out upon the “worthy.”