Sunday, February 8, 2009

Me & Mr. Big

It shouldn't come as a great surprise to anyone that I'm a little bit unusual. There are clues, after all. . . Like, f'rinstance, I dunno, maybe the fact that my first husband is our most frequent visitor here in Harmony. Or the whole living-on-24-acres-with-a-horse-barn-and-a-tractor bit. Whatever; I suspect my regular readers are rolling their eyes and nodding their heads in impatient agreement. We get it, Magdalen, just get to your point.

Well, I don't write too much about being in therapy because -- well, it's boring, isn't it? And private, I suppose. But mostly boring. I've been in therapy with the same therapist for over 15 years, a fact that is as stunning to me as it must be to any sane person. That's a time frame that might lead a reasonable person to suspect that my therapist is paying for her "weekend house" in the South of France on my centime, so to speak. (And, yes, she really does have a house in the South of France.)

But when I think about it, I don't blame my therapist for dragging her feet. I blame over-engineering. Sure, I had a crappy childhood. Who didn't? (No, really -- we had a houseparty a few years ago, and the conversation came around to everyone's crappy childhood. Out of a field of five people, mine didn't come in first, and might not have come in second.) What makes my childhood interesting is that I had something akin to multiple personalities. (The official name for this condition now is "dissociative identity disorder." And after decades of Movie Of the Week and Oprah eps, it's gone mainstream now -- Showtime has a series!) I don't actually know this for a fact, but what I do know strongly suggests it as a hypothesis.

See, I can remember walking to school everyday, but I have no memory of walking home. Ever. This is noteworthy because the school was roughly parallel to our house, one block over. The "correct" route was to walk down the block, around the corner, and back along the parallel street. But we were sneaky lazy brats -- we would cut through our neighbor's yard (it was a large house that had been split into flats, so no one was authorized to care), jog around the back of someone's garage, down a driveway and along to the school. I remember this walk in the schoolbound direction, but I don't think I ever walked that way back home. I think someone else did that trip.

See, I was the kid who went to school. I remember kindergarten, first and second grades with Miss Alice Duell, and so forth, but I have no memories of home until sometime after my 8th birthday, which was when I was in third grade. (I was in all the grades, they just got accordioned into two years, so I kinda sorta skipped a grade.) But as for who was hanging with the sibs, having dindin with the parents -- no clue. And that would be cool, except for one tiny thing: I weigh over 300 pounds. And I really shouldn't.

So, off to therapy. My therapist is amazing -- a national expert in dissociative disorders (a pretty common psychiatric condition, as it includes post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, suffered by vets and rape victims alike). We tried hypnosis, but it didn't work, and I don't know why. I do get it that someone engineered the fracture into different ego states (a technical term; I'd call them personalities, but I have no idea what that means. I have no idea what "ego states" are either, but at least they're the right label) to protect me, well, all of us, from the unpleasantness of whatever stress we were under. That someone was me as well -- a kind of omniscient engineer of my psyche. Early on in my therapy, this engineer got a name, "Mr. Big." (This was in the mid-90s, so the reference is to a George Raft-type Mafioso character, not Carrie Bradshaw's fella.)

I can tell when a dream has Mr. Big in it because I'll be dreaming of someone very impressive: Tiger Woods, Oprah, Barack Obama. Once Mr. Big was a librarian -- hey, they're impressive too! As far as I can tell, Mr. Big started cracking my consciousness into bite-sized bits early on in my childhood. I almost certainly didn't show up until around age five, and for a while my only role was to go to school and be smart.

The mystery is why, when the reason I had to dissociate left the house, did I get the job of running the corporation full time? Because I knew nothing? That's literally what it felt like to me. It wasn't hard to figure who was the mother, the father, the older sister (although there was that embarrassing Christmas when I didn't know my sister's pet names for me!), etc. I just knew nothing about them. Imagine turning on the TV and there's a movie on that seems really interesting, but you've missed the first half-hour. You can tell what's happening, but there's always some aspect of the plot or the characters that eludes you, is always out of reach. I'll know how my movie ends, but will I ever know how it began?

Okay, back to the point about over-engineering. I can be impressed with what Mr. Big accomplished, but he (she? it?) was still just a little kid. Splitting stuff up so no one part knows the yucky bits was a good move. Getting me to run the show after 1964 was okay, too, I guess. But I'm still driving a circus train with no clue what sort of clowns & critters are in the back. And to top it off, I was the youngest of the bunch. I'm serious -- if I'm right that I showed up around 1961 and all the other ego states were around already, they're all older than me. They are also all still only three or four, or five, or maybe six -- but they were there first.

Now, I don't want to mislead anyone. I don't have active personalities that pop in and out. I don't lose time. I remember everything people say to me, or if I do forget a conversation or the like, it's just because I'm human and not everything makes the same sort of impression. I'm sure there was a time when I did lose time, did get faced with people assuming I knew things I didn't know -- in fact, I can remember some of those panicky situations. But I was seven, or nine, and I just feigned stupidity. Hey, I was the youngest; we're expected to be idiots!

But even if I'm not actively cycling among ego states, I still carry all the scars that come from a childhood dedicated to surviving some horror without knowing what that horror was. The obesity is the worst, but there have been other things. I was for decades one of those "best defense is a good offense" types -- very pushy and know-it-all. I lost a LOT of friends that way, and I miss them. I've been excessively clingy and needy. There are good reasons why I didn't marry until my forties. I've sorted a lot of that stuff out, but the obesity -- that's a really tough nut to crack.

At a guess, I'd say some of my child-like parts feel safer being big. (I was the youngest, remember -- "big" probably means "powerful" in some three-year-old's logic.) It's just so unnecessary these days. Even if monsters lurked under my bed 45 years ago, they're long gone. I can deal with the bad stuff now. I even do legal work in cases with children at risk: incest, rape, physical abuse. You'd think this stuff would make my inner kids antsy, and sometimes it does, but mostly they let me soldier on as a moderately competent lawyer.

[Sidebar: Can I tell you how hard it was when I first graduated as a lawyer -- nearly 40 years old -- and I had to do a full day's work when there wasn't always a full day's worth of work to do and I had bored kids inside my head? See, law firms are not the most efficient structures for motivating staff. Mostly they rely on extreme cases of ambition and greed, with the added buttress of fearing humiliation from a partner. None of which worked on me. Back then, I could work really hard in a genuine emergency; hell, almost all of my studying for final exams was in that category. But my law firm assumed I would work like it was an emergency all the time no matter what, and my inner kids got really really bored. I played a lot of solitaire on the computer that first year, and it didn't much improve over the years. I was NOT a good associate. I'm a lot -- a WAY lot -- better now, particularly because it's only part time.]

So, here we are: I'm about to turn 53, I'm making progress on getting my child parts to let me know what they're feeling (anxiety pretty much 24-7, as it happens), and I'm still fat. I know the equation: eat less, mostly plants, and exercise more. It's pretty simple. The one teensy piece I can't figure out is how to tell a bunch of panicked toddlers and pre-schoolers that we won't die if we weigh way less. I've tried speaking calmly to them, but it's no good. I think it will get good, just not anytime soon.

My lingering question is why Mr. Big -- who constructed this 8-lane highway -- couldn't undo some of his impressive work. I don't need the body equivalent of an 8-lane highway. You're a smart cookie, Mr. Big -- surely there's some way of dealing with that?

There is one quirky possibility. I don't know if I believe it, but it's out there in the literature, so I'll just kick it around. Some people believe that memory can have some link to fat cells. Not sure how that works -- like maybe chemicals are released when the fat cells are shrunken through weight loss -- but the idea is that I'd remember bad bad stuff if I lost a lot of weight. And I think, "Oh, I could handle that, how bad could it be?" but there's a reason I don't the answer to that question. There's a reason I don't remember. There's a reason I wasn't at home for 8 years...

But blogging about this is something I can do. I can assure you, Mr. Big thinks it's okay.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Magdalen. That's an impressive post. I knew some of that stuff, but my hat is off to you for putting it out there so publicly.

    Sharyn, one of the friends you *didn't* lose