destabilization

It was not the first time he raped me, but it was the first time my mind severely broke. In the middle of it, while I was crying, my stepfather said, “I don’t know why you’re crying, I’m not doing anything to you.” My mind felt like it was bulging so hard it was going to shatter my skull, and at some point I completely dissociated and went away. The conflict between what I knew was happening, and what I was being told was happening, was too great. Before I left, I remember thinking that I had to pick one or the other, what he was saying or what I believed, and so I consciously picked believing him because the constancy of his and my mother’s versions of reality was so overwhelming, and they had all the power because I was a child. Obviously this wasn’t the first gaslighting experience in my childhood home; this technique was constant, daily, and applied to lies big and small. But this time, the conflict was so great, my body was screaming at me in pain, and my mind could not endure it any more.

The gaslighting that’s happening in my country is definitely hitting me hard, and it’s obviously affecting me because of my history. Except to watch Saturday Night Live, I have not turned on the television since the election. During the campaign, I rushed to mute it or turn it off anytime a Republican was on the screen, but since the election the risk is constant that he or his liars will appear — since they are causing chaos every single day — and so I’ve just kept the television off completely. I keep my computer speakers muted because some websites autoplay ads or videos and I once had to hear his voice before I could get to the mute button. If I have to read their lies, my stomach gets wet and wobbly, and I feel a kind of panic that is hard to convey in a way you can really understand. My eyes fill with tears, my breath becomes shallow, I instantly sweat, I feel frantic and start pacing like I have to run to save my life, it’s that intense. It’s hard. I keep thinking I will eventually get used to it, maybe this will be good, by throwing me completely and headlong into a non-stop gaslighting government, I will become inoculated and immune. Maybe that would be good. Hasn’t happened yet.

These flopped. Tough, hard, unpleasant.

But what has happened is that since the election, my cooking has failed every time. My knitting has failed every time. I have been making cinnamon rolls since 1979, and until now, I only had one batch that wasn’t scrumptious, back in ~1988. Even then, they weren’t a failure as much as they just weren’t as soft and puffy as usual. Since the election, I have tried to make them five different times, and they were all complete failures. The Moroccan chickpea soup that I can make blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back, failure. The shakshuka? Either the eggs are cooked too much, or they’re slimy and the whites are raw. Chocolate chip cookies, the most reliable thing ever, nope. Lemon cakes, nope. Flops.

These at least worked, although I’m not very proud of any of them (but I am proud of my friends).

Except for the pussy hats, curiously enough, all my knitting has failed too. I’ve tried to make hats for grandkids — failures, either giant or tiny. The Kai-Mei socks, that pattern I’ve made easily in the past, gloriously beautiful socks, failures. I have to completely frog the one I made in New York and start again. I’ve been making patterns I’ve made before, simple things, and each one has failed. Scarves, shawls, hats, socks, failures one after another. I try to be mindful, to pay attention, to be present; I put on music that I love and enjoy, I remember to breathe, lower my shoulders, find the pleasure of making, which is my oldest pleasure after reading. And yet it all fails.

My self-care has been hard to maintain, too, but like with my cooking and knitting I do keep trying. I have a sense that all those things are important to helping me keep going. My already failing memory is worse than ever before, and I’m sure that’s related too, connected to the mental overwhelm of trying to battle for the truth of things.

I’ve had a LOT of therapy, and especially I’ve worked on learning how to trust my own perceptions. According to this site (and validated by my own experience, “People who are victims of gaslighting may behave in ways that cause them to appear unstable because they have learned that they cannot trust their perceptions and cannot count on the validation of their thoughts or feelings. They are also less likely to continue to voice their emotions and feelings, knowing that they are likely to be invalidated.” YEP. My sole strategy at this point is to avoid, leave, run away, turn off, disappear however I can, but I wanted to see if there were known strategies for dealing with gaslighting, and I found this kind of horrifying article — horrifying because it’s like they looked at the current slate of Republicans in charge and just took notes. For each strategy used by these people, the article lists some counter-strategies you should employ. I’m in no way strong enough even to stand and listen, so they won’t work for me but I’m glad to share them in case you are stronger than me in this regard.

I just want to be able to cook and knit again. I just want to comfort myself with those things, and show my love through them. It has taken me a while to notice that this is a long pattern, now; at first it was just weird. Huh. Why did my lemon cakes flop? Or That’s weird, I know how to knit a fucking hat. I finally realized that this has been going on since November. I want my cooking and knitting back. Any ideas?

You might also like these posts:

4 thoughts on “destabilization”

  1. Gaslighting is SO EVIL. So so evil. And you’re so right, that’s exactly what’s happening. BUT the fact that it’s happening publicly, in a national forum, means we have others who can confirm that no, our experience is the truth, not what’s being said to us. At least we can be united in that, so many of us, because normally it’s so isolating. But still: evil!

    My suggestion re: the knitting and cooking may not be right for you at this time, but since you asked … what would happen if you let those things go? Just for right now, not forever. Making things, feeding ourselves and others, keeping ourselves and others warm — so comforting and so nurturing and centering, and we all need that right now. But maybe it’s time to take a wee break, maybe try something new? Some other way to meet those needs, just for a little while? I don’t know. There’s a fine line between persistence and the self-harm that comes from grasping after something that’s not working. I’ve been trying so hard to practice surrender/release lately with some physical ailments and some parenting issues and I think it’s helping a little bit, so that’s where this advice is coming from. But again, may not be something that’s right for you right now, and that’s okay, too. <3 <3 <3

    1. That is an interesting idea, and one I hadn’t thought of. It helped to realize (just yesterday) that this is now a pattern, not just individual failures. That relieved me of some of the pressure of it . . . ah, this is about feeling destabilized. But that’s a very good idea, and there are other things I can try instead. And if they don’t work either, I can let them go for now. I have been able to read without trouble, and that’s not the worst temporary replacement. Thank you for the loving suggestion! I am definitely going to set aside my knitting, and satisfy myself with simple food for a while. No need to turn something I ordinarily love into an ongoing source of frustration, and I am pretty sure that I’ll be able to do them again one day.

      (Even if it pisses me off that he is even stealing these things from me, that horrible man.) (But then I open my hand and just take care of myself.) <3 <3 <3

  2. I have a dear friend, an artist, who feels every time she draws now she is failing…I have felt that about my writing too. Maybe we are all so shaken and things are rearranging inside us (and surely outside us) and we need to move in different directions to adapt. Perhaps just temporarily.

    1. Really? That’s helpful to hear that, even though I wish it weren’t true for any of us. I think we are all so shaken, the ground is shaking and consequently our insides are in disarray. My mind is dislodged, my sense of self is under siege and my efforts are all focused on resisting that IN ADDITION TO resisting the government. I hope for myself, and for your artist friend, and for you, and all the rest of us, that this is temporary (most especially temporary because the government changes!), that we will resettle ourselves and have found a different kind of strength and artistry. Thank you for telling me this, and all the love to you and your friend. xoxoxo

Leave me a comment -- I'll respond shortly!