Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fourteen: a "blogging-as-therapy" post

If you're a long-time reader of my blog, you may remember that I went through a stage when I was very self-conscious of who I was in my youth. I was kind of embarrassed by it, in a way I guess. I had issues with integrating who I was with who I am. Yeah, I just had issues.  We all have issues, right? It's no big deal. And I am mostly through with it. I've worked through it, partly through writing some great blog posts on here where you guys helped me come to terms with who I was and who I am and that it's all ok and no one really cares and it all works together to make me who I am and I can like who I am and like who I was, even though I may not like parts of who I was and still not like parts of who I am now and still want to become better even though I accept where I'm at and everything will all be ok.  It really will be ok. I don't judge you and you don't judge me and we try to create a safe space here on my blog where we all have our own stuff, right? Because we're all imperfect and we're all just doing the best we can. Ok.  So we're all clear on that.

So. But sometimes I still like to use my blog as therapy. Writing is a great therapeutic tool.

And so you see my daughter, my oldest daughter, my firstborn, this one that turned me into a mother . . . she turned 14 in May . . . 14?! How can this be? Yes. 14.  And this turned my head around and whipped my mind around in circles and kind of kept me up at night in reflective thinking, flashbacking to some kind of memories and aching and wondering how such silly old memories could still seem to hurt so much, remembering and wishing I didn't remember some things. Then wondering how she and I are so different and our experiences will be so different (of course, because we are different), but then how we might be the same, and how can I be her mother, how can I best help her through these years, and why were they so hard for me, why were they just so hard and what was I supposed to learn from them . 14 was a transformative year for me. A hard year in a lot of ways. Much of this was through my own dumb choices which I recognize, but which I was blind to at the time, I guess. Who knows. What do we really know at 14.
14. Ugh.

I turned 14 in the middle of 8th grade. I had already had 5 so-called "boyfriends" (eeeeek, please please remember that little clause about not judging too harshly). I'd had a boyfriend attempt suicide. A friend who had been raped. A few friends who used drugs (although I had never had it offered to me). And one of these so-called boyfriends who did clearly only want "one thing" - he asked for it as his Christmas present. Nice. I had my older sister call and break up with that one for me - because I was very clearly mature enough to handle this on my own. hahahahahahah.

 I also got mono at the end of 8th grade which meant I was very sick for what felt like forever. I ended up in the hospital  for 3 or 4 days with abscessed tonsils that had to be drained. Then towards the end of that summer when I was 14 I had to have my tonsils taken out, which was awful. So it felt like I was very sick that entire summer.

Anyway, I don't know how others would have described me at that time. I guess I was shy? Insecure? Self-conscious? That sounds pretty typical of a teenage girl, but I think maybe it went beyond that.

You see, I had a problem with talking.
Let me explain.

My first "boyfriend" was in 6th grade, but I've told my kids that we didn't even talk, so it hardly even really qualified as a relationship.  And that's no exaggeration.  I mean I did not exchange words with this poor boy, ever. I even called him one night (our one and only phone conversation) and we said hello and then sat on the phone listening to each other breathe for 20 minutes. I kid you not. I'd like to say we share equal blame for this, which I suppose must be true to some extent.  But I just don't really understand it.  Why didn't we say anything to each other?!? How did that even happen? I don't know. And then the thing is, this kind of thing kept happening throughout my relationships.  So I began to see that it must be me.

It was excruciating.

 I think all of my so-called boyfriends had given me lines at some point such as "you should talk more" "why don't you talk" "you're too quiet" "what are you thinking" (except for the boy who I never actually talked to).  These words would swarm around my head like bees and buzz so loudly I couldn't hear anything else until I couldn't even hear any of my own thoughts anymore and I would clam up even more than I had been before.  Teenage Kristen Rule #1: If you wanted me to talk, don't bring attention to the fact that I wasn't talking.  Some of the time, until they brought it up I wasn't even aware that I "wasn't talking".  It was just comfortable quietness or listening to them talk, or laughing, or whatever.  But then.  Once I was aware.  Then it always became awkward self-consciousness. Which I hated. Was I talking enough? What if I wasn't? What if I was too quiet? Was it not ok to be quiet?  Other times, usually when I was very emotional, I would have so many thoughts and feelings and something would happen where I would physically shut down and I could. not. talk.  I could not make words come out of my mouth.  It is very hard to explain - but it's almost like standing at the edge of a high diving board and just not being able to make yourself jump off. I would be frozen. Shut down. One of those things.  Anyway.  And it just kept happening.  So I knew it just wasn't one other person who felt like I didn't talk enough.  It was me.  As a 13 and 14 year old girl I felt very acutely that something was wrong with me.

Summer after 8th grade. 14.
My first church youth conference. I had a boyfriend who was going. This was a boyfriend who would take the phone and play basketball with it sometimes across the room sometimes when I wasn't "talking", just throwing it into the trash can over and over, and I would sit in silence.  I remember that. Why did I sit there? I don't know.  I can't remember if we had broken up officially at that point when we went to youth conference, maybe we had. Maybe we were kinda sorta getting back together.  I don't remember all the details.  We were riding in big charter buses to drive several hours to a college campus for the conference.  I sat next to him. He leaned his head on my shoulder and slept. I really liked him. I thought I did. I had a heart that liked too much too early and yearned to be liked - and I mistook all sorts of other things for being liked in return.  How could I have protected myself? This is what I ask myself. Maturity would have helped. Self-confidence... Why didn't I have any?  I don't know.

At any rate, as things went on at the youth conference my 14 year old self felt like I was being given very clear signals that this boy still liked me and we were very much still together.  There were unmistakable signs. Clear actions on his part.  At least the first night there were.  And then the next day there were various workshops to attend etc and I felt like he ignored me completely. We didn't go to workshops together like we could have. Or go eat meals together at the cafeteria. I didn't see him anywhere, although I tried.  He didn't try to see me. I felt discarded.  He didn't talk to me again for the next 2 days of the conference.

The last night of the 3 day conference there was a dance. I was tired of feeling so confused and sad and used.  I waited around at the dance for him to show. He did.  He didn't ask me to dance.  I gathered every bit of courage I had and asked him to come with me for a walk outside so we could talk.  Because we needed to talk . . . . didn't we?  Because I needed to know why he'd been ignoring me.  I needed to know where we stood.  I needed to know why he had acted (very clearly) that first night like he liked me if he really didn't.  Oh my poor little 14 year old heart.

So we walked down a sidewalk and sat down on a bench. I had words in my head that I wanted to say. So many words. Like a huge puzzle of words. I had to say them. I had to. They were exploding out of my head, but it felt so hard so hard to get it out of my mouth.  And we sat. We sat. The silence. The longer the silence built, the harder it became to say anything at all. What was wrong with me? What was my problem?!? He started picking flowers off of a nearby bush and dropping them on the ground and crushing them beneath his shoe.  I watched. Agonizing.  And we sat in silence. And I felt paralyzed. I wanted to speak. I wanted him to speak. I couldn't get any words to come out of my mouth. Nothing.  I felt like I couldn't even move. I don't know how long we sat there.  How long could it have been....?  Finally he said something like "well, if you're not going to talk, I'm going to go."
And he stood up and walked away.

I sat.

I looked at the crushed flowers on the sidewalk by my feet.

The next morning we boarded the buses to go back home. All of my friends, including this boy, somehow ended up on a different charter bus than me. I don't remember how that happened, as we had all been on the same bus when we had come.  As if I wasn't already feeling crushed and heartbroken enough (and also hating, hating myself), for some reason this added to it.  I sat in a seat by the window, overwhelmed by such overpowering feelings I could not even deal with it. It wasn't just the sadness, although there was that. It was the self-loathing - this not being able to believe what had happened, not wanting to accept this part of myself, this way that I was, this thing I did. Then the rejection. And feeling alone. And the happy noise of the bus all around me but not being a part of any of it. And it was too much.  It was too much for some part inside of me that just broke into pieces.  And it was then, on the way home from youth conference on that bus, there in that window seat, sure that no one was paying attention to me (and they weren't), that I first self-harmed. I won't go into details because you really don't need to know. But I feel like this was the age (if not before) when I began having depressive episodes.  This was definitely the beginning of one. I feel like they continued ever since although I didn't recognize it as such until much much later.

And I hope you don't feel like I am placing any blame on this particular boy or what he did, although rejection can certainly play into triggers for this kind of thing. My goodness, I can only have very vague and compassionate views of what goes on in any 14 year old boy's head. And certainly I am very forgiving of any poor boy who did his best to like/love me back in my teenage years. Sigh.

And so, that was one of the defining turning points during the summer after my 8th grade year.  Along with having mono/being hospitalized with abscessed tonsils and then getting my tonsils taken out. It was just a bad summer.

My problems with talking, by the way, continued to plague me well throughout my dating years, even into my marriage, although Zac has been able to patiently work that out with me when I would shut down over the years.  It's been a hard long process even with him, which I am somewhat embarrassed to admit. But he never told me I didn't talk enough or that I was too quiet. So that is to his credit.

So, you may think I am making a bigger deal out of all of this than I should. I certainly don't see any point in comparing what should be a big deal and what shouldn't. And this is just my story, one part of my story - I can only tell my own and what it meant to me. I look at my sweet daughter, my 14 year old daughter, and I know she will have her own story to tell, which will not be like mine (in the time since I first started this post, she has gone to her first youth conference!!).  And I hope I will be able to help her navigate through her own. I hope she will not have to suffer in the same ways I did. I hope she will be confident and will be loved and love when she is more ready. (So far there has been no mention of any boys (fingers crossed).) But I also hope that there was some purpose to what I have gone through. That there is some reason for it all in helping me become who I am.

This is only one little story of me being 14.
It is hard sometimes to think about.
But it takes out some of the sting to tell it out loud.

(me second from left, a couple days before I was hospitalized with the abscessed tonsils. I got very sick very quickly. This is pictured with my siblings and visiting cousins)

"If I don't write to empty my mind,
I go mad."
- Lord Byron


Christina said...

I am so sorry that I did not know how hard high school was. :( I was too busy laughing with you and thinking you were one of the coolest people ever. I am so glad that we got to hang out a couple of weeks ago ... that you still have that amazing laugh and you are still cool. :)Thank you for being brave and sharing your yesteryears!

Linda said...

Our oldest son just turned 14 too, and it has caused us to reflect a bit about life at that age and hoping that he has a better experience. Thanks for sharing.

I used to really freeze when it came to talking with boys. I used to make lists of things we could talk about, then when my brain would freeze,I could refer to that list.

I always enjoyed our talks at BYU, so you must have improved :). I am so glad to have you as a friend!

Michael Cummings said...

As a guy in your 8th grade class (and some of the following High School years) - I had no idea. My memories of you in 8th grade were "the shy girl" and "the writer" (mostly brought on by Mike Huff, but that's another tale all together :) ). This only confirms the suspicion I've held about those years - that I was blind and dumb and living in a sheltered pocket universe with minimal contact with reality. FWIW, I'm sorry.

Mom M. said...

Gee Kristen, I had no idea you were going through any of that! But I have experienced what you describe. About having so much to say and yet not having it form into words and come out. It's an awful feeling. I remember just feeling frozen. Words swarming around in my mind but not coming together in such a way that I could speak it. I think I missed an awful lot with you kids growing up. Must have not been very in tune!! Glad you survived! Love you!

MATA said...

I'm thinking that I was honored that you felt comfortable enough with me that I did not even KNOW you had a shut-down mode. Oh, I must have seen it at times during your sophomore year, and maybe I just thought that it was a down day for you, but I didn't recognize it if you were every struggling when we were talking. I know that I was a generally oblivious person about others' emotions while I was having a great time my senior year. I hope, hope, hope that the times and talks we shared are remembered fondly by you! Because they sure are by me. :) **love**

Ashley Case said...

Why were those years so hard for everyone? I used to think I was the only one that suffered during those years! You've always been a great conversationalist as long as I've known you (but then again, we talk books a lot, and I think the connection there helps. Lol!) Either way, I think you are a wonderful mother for your adorable 14 year old girl. And your experiences will help you understand her and help her when she feels like no one is paying attention. :)

davidsonlaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
davidsonlaw said...

I wonder if that was the same youth conference I attended at about the same time. My stake, the Mount Vernon VA Stake, and what seemed like a kajillion others, went down to VaTech and stayed in the dorms. I was next door neighbors with Jon Bytheway. Sorry to hear that it was a tough experience for you. I had a hard time getting girls to talk to me, but that was a different thing altogether. (edited to remove an obvious and embarrassing typo)

SLMeredith said...

I find it astonishing that you remember so much about so many painful things about your childhood. I never wrote down my thoughts. If my parents ever found them, I would have gotten in big trouble. You can't very well write down that you wish your dad would die in a work-related accident (insurance bonus!) and have that in the house somewhere. I also find it interesting that having friends was so painful. I had none at that age. Not any good ones that I could actually talk to. Not any who I felt gave a damn about me. But I don't remember what that felt like. I remember it felt lonely sometimes. But that's about all I can conjure. I didn't even know what grade I'd be in at 14. Anyway, all of that reminded me of that conversation we had about artists, and how clearly they seem to be able to remember pain and how I am not like that. I did eventually have a close friend or two in high school. I stayed at my best friend's house every single night of my junior year, and much of senior year, too. Her family kind of adopted me, and it was nice to be around a family that acted like a family, that actually liked each other. A family that actually like me, too. Right up until our plans to go to the same college and be roommates fell through . . . And I so didn't want to be completely alone again. I had been alone all my life, and had finally found someone who loved me and understood me, and I just didn't want to be alone again. And I couldn't face that pain, it hurt too much, so I cut up my hand, and the pain stopped. Like magic. That cutting business really works! But there was a problem with a lack of planning, and there was a problem with needing stitches, and there was the problem that it was on my left hand and I'd never be able to hide it even if I used my mom's sewing stuff to stitch it up myself (which I was pretty sure I could do, and which I later did with a friend when I accidentally cut myself in Madagascar, so I know now that I could have done it). So I had to tell. I think I didn't tell people at school the truth. But I did tell my parents and I did tell my best friend and we did tell her parents, my adopted family. And then they figured out that I was probably in love with her, and then I wasn't welcome at the house so much anymore. That sucked. Becoming a persona non grata with the family I'd come to think of as my adopted family was disappointing as it meant that they had never REALLY loved me as I thought they had. Oh well. After high school I never kept that cutting a secret, though. And I was never really ashamed of it. I probably would have been honest about it at school if all the parents hadn't freaked out so much about it. It was just a symptom of being deeply unhappy. And I was still deeply unhappy, and I didn't consider that a secret. But that was 20 years ago. Now I am deeply happy. And I can tell that story and remember the details of it, but I cannot conjure that pain. Once I got to college, I found peace with being alone. I actually like myself, I guess I'm actually an introvert, and I eventually accepted that I might just always be alone. And as soon as I accepted that, I found myself with lots of friends. I guess you can find friends a lot easier from a place of contentedness than you can from a place of need. And now I have lots and lots of people who get me. All of them are academics, and all of them are adults, so I never would have found them as a child, but now I have them. I have people who appreciate that I am so much not like most other people. I am happy and well-loved, and the pain that I experienced for all of my childhood has been cried away over the years so that it is really all gone.

SLMeredith said...

Could I cut again? Maybe so. I don't know. If I hurt that much again for some reason, I'm sure I could. It is a useful tool. It is effective. For me, it was never an addiction. Like some people can take pain meds to deal with a temporary pain crisis whereas others are addicted to pain meds, some people are addicted to cutting. But I never was. And there are lots of ways that people cope with extreme emotional pain, and they vary in healthfulness, but I'm not all bent out of shape about ultimately being a cutter, personally. It's not any more shameful than being a drinker, or a door slammer, or a wall-puncher, or a sitter-on-the-floor-crying-for-days like my mother was. It's not the best, to be sure, but it's just the symptom, it's not the problem. My problem was that I never felt loved my whole life and was desperate not to lose that once I'd found it. Lucky for me, I haven't been short on that for many, many years now and I don't foresee ever being short of it again. So I should be ok, but you never know. Anyway, that's my story. And I tell that story with nothing tugging on my heart strings because although I am mostly still the same person as that 18-year old me was, I don't hurt like that anymore, and it's been so long that I have that I can't even conjure what it felt like.

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