Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Childhood memories? What childhood memories?

I was almost an adult before I realized that it was strange that I can’t remember much of my childhood. The normal state of affairs is not to have a large, fuzzy blank between the ages of, say, 3 and 13. It's disconcerting not to be able to trust your own memory. It's even worse to have people recount stories that you don't remember AT ALL, even though you were there. On occasion, my father will mention something traumatic that happened when I was a teen or tween and I can't recall it in the slightest. Given that a big chunk of what I do remember is either upsetting or just plain weird, I always kind of figured I was repressing memories. It's a bit disturbing to think that all those memories might bob to the surface of my mind one day, as I have already spent enough on therapy to install an Olympic-sized swimming pool in my shrink's backyard. Or maybe just send him on a really nice vacation. But I digress.

Recently, though, my therapist explained something that made me feel much better about the whole deal. Apparently, most parents interact with their children in a way that helps them make sense of the world. (What? You mean other kids don't have to figure it all out for themselves as they go along? Damn, that must be nice. Not that I'm bitter.) These repeated interactions, where your parents help you process the events of your young life, also help you to encode memories. I never really had anyone to consistently help me with, well, anything. Forget having anyone who could help me make sense of my world. I lived in a world that didn't make sense for anyone else, either. And so where a child with more support would have processed events and encoded them into memories, I just lived through events and then forgot them.

For me, this explanation was kind of a relief. I was already well aware that I didn't have anyone who could really help shepherd me through my growing-up years, so that didn't exactly come as a shock. I'll definitely take that explanation over feeling like I have all of these unremembered traumas circling below the surface, just waiting to float up and bite me. Awesome it is not -- but I'll take what I can get.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And then I stuck a pen in my eye

I just had one of those crazy-making conversations with my mother. You know, the kind where she pushes all of your buttons the way that only your mother can, making you so crazy that you would stick a pen in your eye if it would only help you get off the phone faster?

I did manage to narrowly avoid stabbing myself with any blunt instruments (or sharp ones, for that matter), solely by virtue of the fact that I managed to actually hang up the phone a mere 15 minutes into the discussion. This was shortly after working our way through her recurring conversational themes:

1. When I get my life together, I will... (choose any random ongoing desire and insert here).
2. Because God says that I am right about... (insert conservative political position/religious belief here)
3. Your father... (insert overly dramatic sigh and explanation of how he has so wretchedly and evilly wronged her in the past)
4. The last people I hired to help me... (insert story about how personal organizer/roofer/contractor/dog walker has wronged her as well)
5. I'm organizing the house and I don't know why I can't just get it finished this time.

These five topics, in one permutation or another, sprinkle every. single. conversation. Seriously. Every single conversation that I have with my mother. She is the only person I know who returns repeatedly and frequently to the same themes in her conversations, very often even using the exact same verbiage over and over (when I get my life together...).

This verbal stuckness very much reflects the stuckness that she has in life. She has such chronic good intentions about getting the house cleaned and organized, but is utterly unable to do so. She also has the classic hoarder lack of insight as to why this might be. She also has a markedly inflexible belief system, which ranges from life-dominating religious dogma to consistently viewing herself as a victim.

I understand that, as a hoarder, her brain works differently from the way that mine does. She is so mired in her belongings in part because of this lack of insight and inability to process information in a way that leads to making good decisions. The rest of the script, though, continues to baffle me. Every time we talk on the phone, no matter what we're talking about, most of her five themes play a prominent role in the conversation. I have no idea if this is an issue common to hoarders, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Does anyone else have a similar, I-can't-let-go-of-my-script experience when conversing with a hoarder? Because seriously, if I have to sit through one more of these conversations, I might actually stick a pen in my eye.