“I rarely get sick,” I often tell people. This may be true, or it could be a lie. It doesn’t seem like I do, but sometimes I think, like childbirth, once I’ve recovered, I somewhat forget it happened. A while ago, I caught the cold that my family was passing around. When it wasn’t gone in the requisite seven to ten days, I started to worry and wonder what was wrong with me.
I started with the most obvious and easily treated problems: Bronchitis, Sinus Infection or Pneumonia and then, after a few days moved to the more serious illnesses: Pertussis, Pleurisy, Legionnaire’s Disease, Emphysema, Tuberculosis, or the big daddy, Lung Cancer. This is my typical train of thinking, though I’ve never been right.
Before Google and my favorite bookmarked pages: WebMD, MayoClinic.com and CDC.org, I called my mother, the nurse, for advice.
“Mom!” I once cried into the phone. “I have something on my leg—I think it’s a varicose vein—or maybe a blood clot!” I softly sobbed while carefully inspecting my leg. After a few minutes, I realized it was nothing but the remnants of a band-aid; crisis averted. My mother wasn’t pleased, though these incidents never stopped her from walking me through all of my symptoms and letting me know I was either on the right track and might want to see the doctor, or that no, having to pee a lot is not a sign of a tumor and no, I probably don’t need a hysterectomy.
Now, before I call my mother, I simply type in my symptoms and the Internet generates a list of all the possibilities I can consider and weigh out the probabilities.
“Pain in right side”=Appendicitis, Ectopic Pregnancy, Kidney Stones, and Hernia.
Add, “while inhaling,” the list grows to include: Liver Failure and Heart Attack.
Add, “during sex”, and “on Tuesday:” head to the hospital immediately.
It’s more than just entertainment—it’s an important part of my life—not because I’m self-obsessed, although that could have something to do with it, and not because I’m morbid or want something to happen. It’s more that I’m a planner—I need to figure out the answer to, “What Will I Do If . . . “
Over the years I’ve planned, anticipated, and diagnosed the foulest and most hideous of events, especially tragedies and deep hurts. It doesn’t matter if the rash I think I have only affects middle-aged black men who live in the Congo–I won’t take a chance and will need to rule it out, and then convince myself to never, ever go to the Congo, just in case. It doesn’t matter if logically I know that everything is okay, if I have a feeling that disrupts me, I will listen to it and allow it to take me all the way to the dark side of any situation.
Fear? Yes, of course, but it’s not succumbing to fear as much as trying to have some kind of control over it. The worst case scenario doesn’t usually occur, but if it does–I’ll be ready.
Today would have been my seven and a half year anniversary, but instead, Cher and I are divorced. The fact that we’re divorced does not surprise me–there were plenty of times I mentally planned for that–but the reasons why and the way we divorced is nothing I ever imagined. That really sucks the most…being someone who plans for the worst possible outcome to be blindsided…it doesn’t really seem fair. Oh, I knew that night, the night I sat waiting for her surrounded by the Christmas presents I wrapped for our family drinking a glass of Cabernet in my chair watching It’s a Wonderful Life; I knew then, but that wasn’t nearly enough time to prepare for the reality of the blow when it came.
So where does that leave me now? A woman who worries to the point of obsession over events that may or may not manifest and then has the added worry that if I don’t worry enough or imagine worse, then I’ll be right back where I was on December 22, 2012 when my world came crashing down around me. I don’t know how a person can quite live like that, but here I sit trying to figure out how I can.
I honestly don’t know how to trust anyone again. The person I trusted more than anyone in my life: more than any friend, lover, or relative–in more ways than I even realize–she violated that trust and forever changed me. That act of betrayal–the one thing for which I never prepared–damaged who I am as a person. I can move past the act itself; I can forgive her for hurting me and I know that she didn’t do it to purposely cause me harm or to be vindictive or sadistic. I know she had her own reasons and was influenced by overwhelming feelings and a deep need to move away from our relationship and I know more than anything that it can’t be un-done. The ship sailed and it will never come back to port again; there is NOTHING that can be done to change or take back what has already been rendered, which I guess is part of the problem. She can’t make it up to me and she can’t make it right again; she hurt me and then abandoned me to be devastated alone so that she could start her new life over with someone else. I don’t know how anyone ever gets over something like that. I don’t know how I will allow myself to trust someone like that again, because I just don’t think I could survive that kind of heartbreak ever again.
I would much rather contact a rare rash that only affects middle-aged black men who live in the Congo…
In some ways I feel a little bit like I have an emotional case of PTSD. Freud said that our repressions guide us, and I truly believe that’s true.
The Ego feels a demand from an instinct which it wishes to withstand, because it suspects that satisfaction is dangerous, would evoke a traumatic situation, a collision with the outer world; but it cannot master it, because it has not yet the strength necessary. The Ego then treats the risk from the instinct as though it were an outside danger, and makes an attempt at flight; it withdraws from that part of the Id, leaving it to its fate, after having refused it all the help which it normally affords to instinctual impulses. We put it, that Ego undertakes a repression of these instinctual impulses. By the act of repression the Ego follows the pleasure principle, which otherwise it is wont to correct, and it suffers harm on this account. The harm consists in the fact that the Ego has now imposed a lasting limitation on its sphere of power. The repressed instinctual impulse is henceforth isolated; it is left to itself and inaccessible, but this means that it cannot be influenced. It goes its own way.
–Freud: Dictionary of Psychoanalysis
The trauma of what happened is not only a part of me, it guides me. And I don’t want it to.
Resistance in Dream Interpretation: A resistance is the sure sign of conflict. There must be a force present which is trying to express something, and another which is striving to prevent its expression.
There’s a small part of Gone With the Wind, where Rhett and Scarlett are on their honeymoon in New Orleans and Scarlett wakes up screaming from a nightmare:
Scarlett: Oh, Rhett. I was so cold and hungry and so tired I couldn’t find it. I ran through the mist and I couldn’t find it.
Rhett: Find what, honey?
Scarlett: I don’t know. I always dream the same dream and I never know. It seems to be hidden in the mist…
Scarlett: Rhett, do you think I’ll ever dream that I’ve found it and that I’m safe?
Rhett: Dreams don’t work that way, but when you get used to being safe and warm you’ll stop dreaming that dream. And, Scarlett, I’m going to see that you are safe.
When you get used to being safe and warm, you’ll stop dreaming that dream…
I’ve told myself this for many, many years and there were times that I felt safe and warm and didn’t worry as much, and there were times I felt safe and warm when I worried more. You see, Rhett said he would see that Scarlett was safe, but yet, in the end he left her standing in the Atlanta fog in despair. Yes, she was at times a complete and total bitch to him, but he knew that going in. And when she realized the error of her ways, and realized she did indeed love Rhett, instead of giving her the chance to make it up to him–he left her. He didn’t keep the promise to see that she was safe, and then demonized her for just being who she always was. At least Scarlett was straight up honest with Rhett the entire time; he knew that she loved Ashley and not him, it was his own ego that led him to believe that he could change her and when he couldn’t–he abandoned her.
What does all of this mean for me and for anyone else? That’s what I’m trying to work out, somewhat unsuccessfully. My repression is not so much the trauma, although I’m sure there are parts of that I have repressed and haven’t and won’t deal with in a conscious state for a long time, if ever. I think my true repression is my ability or inability as it were, to trust. If I don’t acknowledge that fact, if I keep it somewhere safe, I consciously think that I’m keeping myself safe, but as Freud points out, I’m doing nothing but allowing it to cause me harm and linger in my unconscious; my Ego abandons my Id, just like Rhett abandoned Scarlett…
My only hope is that like illnesses and childbirth, once I recover I’ll forget about it and be able to move on to obsessing about something much more interesting. I’ll stop having the dream because I’ll realize that I don’t need anyone but myself to keep me safe and warm; I’ll remember that my self-worth is not attached to the decisions that another person made on my behalf; I’ll know that I can’t truly have a relationship without the fear of being hurt because if I don’t put myself all the way out there, I’ll be denying myself the joy that comes along with the risk of the pain. I know all of this, but I’m still having a hard time logging on to the idea. Perhaps I just need more time to feel safe and warm. Perhaps I shouldn’t dwell in the worry so much and instead know that like Scarlett, I can worry about some things tomorrow, because “Tomorrow is another day…”