Psychoanalyzing my Dad

Recently, my dad has done a shitty thing. He’s always been selfish and unreliable, but this was a new low. While speaking with my counsellor about this recently, he asked if I knew why my dad might be like this. I know this wasn’t the intention, but his question prompted me to begin a process of internet searches and unprofessional diagnoses in an effort to understand my dad for the first time in my life.

I recently wrote a post about my childhood, and a lot of that content involved my dad, so there will be some overlap. Just a heads up.

My dad has been what he is for as long as I can remember. At a young age, I accepted that he would never change. I never had language that described my dad succinctly; when it came up, I could only say that my dad was my dad. He was different. And not in a good way. To explain the problem, I would have to explain everything. And I hardly have the language to do that. But language is the vehicle I am currently using to communicate this story, so I’m going to have to try.

The Story:

I don’t remember my dad being an especially unique parent until his divorce from my mom. He briefly lived in a townhouse where my sister and I stayed part-time, then we moved in with his girlfriend. I’m increasingly convinced that household was abusive, but I still can’t explain why. My sister has more specific memories, but I just remember how I felt. There were countless little things that all culminated in a shitty situation. When they broke up a couple years later, we quickly moved in with his next girlfriend. My dad asked if I thought it was too soon; I said it was; it happened anyway. After that relationship ended, my dad, my sister, and I lived in a townhouse. My dad promised me he wouldn’t move in with another girlfriend until I graduated high school. But six months later, we moved in with his next girlfriend. (Throughout this time, my sister and I lived part-time with our mom) Eventually they got married, but last year they divorced. My dad lives alone now (with my sister still visiting part-time) but he has a new girlfriend.

Then there were the broken promises. For years on end, my dad would claim we would take a family vacation in the Summer, and it never happened. At one point, we were going to get a dog. Nope. My dad would promise me a ride, or say my sister and I would get home at a certain time. No. These might sound petty, but the consistent inconsistency was frustrating.

But again, it was mostly the little things. Never being able to visit my friends. Being looked at like a brat when I asked to turn up the heat because I was cold. Having my dad scream at me if I got upset about any of this. When he got married without inviting my sister and I, I never expressed my sadness because I knew he would get mad. We always had to be happy for him. We always had to forgive him.

And I’ve always loved him. He’s my dad. I’ve been convinced that he loves me, because he makes a point of saying it every once in a while. That he loves me and I’m the reason he’s gotten through everything. And he gets incredibly clingy when I don’t live with him. But after some research and reflection, I’m not sure of these things anymore.

Current Thoughts:

I’ve become somewhat convinced that my dad has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, or some undiagnosable level of narcissistic traits.

I have thought this in the past, but I forgot about it, since my dad is not the person I picture when I think “narcissist”. He doesn’t seem to have an inflated ego, and doesn’t go around bragging about how great he is. But he has so many other features, and exhibits these traits in subtler ways. Yesterday, my mom said something about my dad thinking he’s the centre of the universe and everyone else is just a satellite, and it made me think there’s something to this theory of mine.

My dad is selfish; this has always been obvious. His needs come first, and everyone else is an afterthought. But what’s always struck me as more pathological is the way my dad reacts to other peoples’ emotions. He seems GENUINELY confused. He doesn’t just seem angry when his actions impact other people; he seems surprised. Like it never occurred to him. That can’t just be regular selfishness. To this point, one symptom of NPD is “Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others.”

Further, as I said, criticizing my dad in any way is futile. He gets extremely angry. Though not a diagnostic criterion, it is a feature of NPD to react with disproportionate anger and hostility to anything threatening one’s ego.

Many of the diagnostic criteria involve an inflated sense of self-worth, which I never saw in my dad. But on reflection, there is something there. He owns a soccer academy and thinks he’s going to fundamentally change Soccer in North America, maybe leading to international success for the men’s team. That’s a bit much. He also had trouble working with others before he was self-employed, as he doesn’t like taking orders. And he’s done well in the business world, which is apparently correlated with NPD diagnosis.

I might be grasping at straws, but in some areas, this assessment makes so much sense. My dad has always lived in his own world, disconnected from the thoughts and feelings of others. He has made countless decisions with little or no regard to anyone but himself.

When I began reading about narcissistic parents, what I found disturbed me. It is claimed that narcissists have children, not to care for the child, but to have someone they can control and someone who will love them. Essentially, they don’t love the child; they want to fill their own emotional needs. And when I look at my childhood, this kind of makes sense. Whenever my dad has told me how much he loves me and that I’ve gotten him through so much, it’s possible that he’s trying to make me feel guilty enough to stick around. Maybe he ignores me when I live with him but gets clingy when I move out because he wants to control me. Looking back, I think he’s only really expressed affection when he’s in danger of losing me. So there’s that.

I’ve also read that children of narcissistic parents often learn to view their own needs as selfishness, and thus have trouble expressing them. This has been a huge issue for me. It feels nearly impossible for me to ask for anything, because it feels so selfish and inappropriate. I shouldn’t need anything from other people. I can’t inconvenience them.

Maybe I’m reading too much into things that aren’t there. But a lot of what I am reading makes sense, and whether this diagnosis is true or not, framing my dad’s personality in terms of narcissism makes a lot of things make sense. He’s always been an unpredictable enigma, but this helps me understand him a little better. Of course, what I’m reading suggests that my dad doesn’t love me, but there’s not a whole lot of evidence to dispute that either. So I don’t know. That’s all I have for right now.

I’ll also quickly mention that my dad grew up during the violence and terrorism going on in Northern Ireland, so that’s another possible cause to look into. I know internet-diagnosing people with mental disorders is one of the most unbearable things a person can do, but it’s helping me understand myself, so I think it’s okay?

Sarah

Working on Fear of Death

I just wrote an update post and thought I had nothing of note to say, but I just realized I was wrong.

A couple years ago, I wrote about my crippling fear of death. The other day, I talked to a counselor about this for the first time, and it actually really helped. But before explaining my counselling session, I should try explaining this bizarre fear again.

Since about 2015, I have had a near-constant fear of death. I can’t explain away the irony that I have been suicidal at times since this began; mental illness is weird. But I am always afraid that I could die any second, and that my life would mean nothing because I haven’t done anything important yet. It ties into an existential anxiety about the reality that everybody dies and the desperation to attach meaning to my temporary existence.

I am aware that statistics suggest I will live for several more decades. I have spent time looking through Stats Canada data to make sure of this. But I just have this overwhelming feeling that I will die young. I find it difficult to plan for my future, because I don’t feel like I will have one. Making plans for later in life feels like deciding what I’ll spend the money on if I win the lottery. Because of this constant fear of death, I never feel safe. I imagine the bus I’m on crashing, or nuclear war breaking out today, or a plane crash-landing onto my house. It’s obviously very distressing.

After speaking with my counselor, I have learned a bit about why I feel this way. For one, I realized that this started around the time I found out that a girl who had gone to my babysitter’s died in a car crash. She was 19. I also spend a lot of time watching the news, where freak accidents are reported on regularly.

These things might play a role in creating my fear of death, but what sustains it? I realized that the thought of letting go of this fear ironically terrifies me. I feel like constantly expecting my death protects me somehow. I can’t handle disappointment and changes of plans, so thinking about a future that nobody is guaranteed is really hard for me. I guess I’m trying to prepare myself in case I do die young. I want to avoid a situation where I’m slowly dying on the ground, thinking about all the things I’ll never be able to do. Like “Joke’s on you death; I knew this was going to happen the whole time.” I also feel like having this fear pushes me to create a legacy NOW. In reality, this is hardly true. Sometimes, I will desperately write in an attempt to get all my thoughts out into the world while I still can. So cool, I have a journal and a blog. But a real legacy is built over decades, and I can’t plan that far in advance.

So I’m going to stop ruminating on these fears, as difficult as it is. And yes, there is a small probability that death sneaks up on me while I’m not expecting me. But there is a much larger probability that I stop living in constant fear long enough to make something of myself. So I guess that’s something?

Sarah

The things I learned in Undergrad

My undergraduate experience hasn’t been very conventional. And I’ve hated myself for that since I returned to school in Fall 2015.

But I just finished a 10-minute guided meditation on self-forgiveness (because apparently I’m a person who meditates now), and as cringey and fluffy as it sounds, I realized something important. Namely, that I have learned so much more since I started university in 2012 than I ever could have if things had gone differently.

I wouldn’t be who I am today if I had graduated in 2016 with my friends from high school. If I hadn’t switched programs. If I didn’t take time off for eating disorder treatment. Maybe things would have been easier, but they wouldn’t have been better. Because I went to university to learn, and that’s what I did.

2012-2013

I began first-year as an anxious but generally happy super-Christian. I went to church twice a week, I volunteered with a youth group, and I planned to declare Religious Studies as my major in second year. I hardly know that 17-year-old version of me now. I feel compassion for her, because I remember that Christianity gave her a purpose and a community, before it gave her crippling self-hatred for being a sinner and stifled her dreams. I feel compassion for her, but I barely know her. These days, she rarely crosses my mind. Anyways, at some point, this girl decided God was telling her to become a nurse. When I didn’t get into the Nursing program for the following year, I decided to major in Psychology for my second year then transfer into Accelerated Nursing.

2013-2014

At the end of Summer 2013, after university education and life experience left me doubting Christianity for months, I made the decision that I was no longer a Christian. When I went back to school in September, all my friends thought I was going to hell, I had no hobbies or interests outside the church, and I had no direction or purpose for my life. I tried turning to science to give me some sense of meaning. I thought if I learned HOW our species and our planet ended up where they are now, I would also know WHY. I wanted to switch into Biology. Then Biochem. Then general Life Sciences. Then physics. Eventually, I decided to stay in psychology after all and do something to help those with mental illness. I developed Bulimia in the Fall, and barely attended any classes in the Winter. I went to the Psych ER three times with suicidal thoughts. At some point, I thought a change of scenery might help, so I applied to double major in Math and Writing at a different university in January 2015. Over the Summer, I experienced a trauma and my eating disorder became restrictive and took over everything. (When I talk about this, I like to clarify that my eating disorder COINCIDENTALLY became worse and more restrictive at the same time, but restrictive eating disorders are not generally more or less severe than other eating disorders)

2014-2015

Just typing in those years brings me immense sadness. This year must have been the most miserable in my life to date. In the Fall, I couldn’t work, and I was waiting until January to return to school. I watched documentaries under a blanket in my room all day, and had energy/motivation for little else. All I cared about was food and calories and weight. And to be honest, I probably needed it at that time, because everything else had gone to shit. I accepted a referral to a Day Hospital program, because I thought I would be magically better in 8 weeks and go back to school like nothing happened. I started attending classes in February, and relapsed immediately. I still only cared about food and calories and weight. I dropped all my classes in late March or early April because I didn’t have the mental capacity to learn anything. I returned to the Day Hospital program in April. While there, I decided to return to my original university, as it was closer to my home so my parents would be nearby and the trigger of commuting would be gone. This school doesn’t have a writing program, so I intended to double-major in Math and English.

2015-2016

I managed to mostly maintain my recovery through the Summer. I met Jenn in the Fall. She made me happy and was a great motivation for recovery. I’m still getting over our breakup, so I’ll just say the recovery stuck and Jenn did not. I also decided to only major in Math, as that meant graduating with a BSc instead of a BA, and the English courses at this school are not remotely writing-related.

2016-2017

Jenn broke up with me a few days before classes started in September, so I started the term suicidal. I was in the hospital a few times for overdosing, and was very nearly admitted as a psychiatric inpatient. I managed to get my shit together just in time, and got through the term. In the Winter, my roommate was admitted inpatient, and everything was about her for months. I sound unsupportive and I honestly am, but I had zero support and she was incredibly selfish during this time. I don’t want to get into the details, but our friendship became very toxic, and it was all very difficult for me. I made no changes to my program this year, believe it or not.

After 6 years of undergrad, I will (if all goes to plan) finally receive my degree in 2018. That degree will tell the world that I came to university and I learned about math. And I used to take comfort in knowing it wouldn’t say anything else. Like the fact that it took me 6 years to achieve, or the fact that I changed my mind on my program 20394 times, or the fact that I entered school wanting to be a missionary, or the fact that I lost a year of school to complete eating disorder treatment. But today, I kind of wish my degree wouldn’t just say I learned math. I wish it would say that I learned where I stand on religion, how to survive when I don’t want to, how to cope in unhealthy ways, how to cope in healthy ways, how to break and then put myself back together, how to love, the fact that I love women, what heartbreak feels like, how to put my life back together a second time, what I really want to do with my life, and how to work towards the life I really want. Because I learned all those things, and looking back, I wouldn’t change my path one bit, because those struggles and setbacks and detours made me grow into the person I am today. And I learned things about myself and the world that I will use for the rest of my life. So my undergrad hasn’t been conventional, but thank god it hasn’t been.

Sarah

Weirdass Mood

This post will be brief, and strange. I am in a very strange mood. I might be happy?
I have been listening to Kimya Dawson songs for a couple hours and I feel very inspired and at peace with life and just… so strange.
I want to talk to all my friends about the fact that we’re all going to die someday. It’s a fact I think about a lot, but usually it causes me great anxiety, and right now it’s fine? Not because I’m feeling suicidal or anything like that… I just think the world is going to be okay? I don’t know. That’s all.

Sarah

In Transition

Today, a lot of things changed.

I moved out of a place I shared with my toxic best friend (whose best friend status is currently under evaluation). I moved in with 4 strangers whom I will live with during my final year of undergrad. Both my Summer courses began (I attended neither due to the move). I guess that’s not very many things, but it feels like everything.

I need my routines. My routines comfort me. My routines ground me in reality. But I’m in a new house now, and I’m taking different classes, so things will be different. My routines have to change.

This might sound bizarre, but I simultaneously feel like life isn’t real and that I’m falling off the edge of a cliff. I don’t know what to do with myself. What do I do tomorrow morning for breakfast? When do I shower? Do I need to prepare more for Wednesday’s classes? I just want to lie in bed on my laptop forever.

I was excited to use this Summer to fight my social anxiety, so I could be a happier person by Fall. And I still plan to do that. But everything feels so scary right now.

I can’t explain it. But I just feel so afraid. I’m afraid to socialize with the people in my house. I’m afraid of how my social situation will change as I rethink my closest friendship. I’m scared my Summer courses will be terrible, and that I’ll be miserable all Summer. I’m afraid to get a part-time job, and then have to do it. I’m afraid of finishing my undergrad next year. I’m scared to go to grad school, which will probably be in Germany. I’m scared to get a real job after that. I’m afraid of everything I’ll ever have to do for the rest of my life. And I thought facing my fears would feel liberating, but I’m remembering all these times I was forced to face them repeatedly and my anxiety did not improve. That’s where the depression sets in, where life starts feeling like a long list of things I don’t want to do. Usually, my efforts to avoid anxiety (like isolation) cause depression, so it’s a bummer when it’s caused by the anxiety itself. Like what am I supposed to do to live a full, happy life?

Clearly, my thoughts are now devolving into chaos, so I will take this opportunity to politely excuse myself from the internet.

Sarah

Feeling Positive

My desire to write is typically inversely correlated to my mood, turning my blog into a heap of depression. But right this second, I am feeling genuinely happy, and I want to write about it. This may be related to the fact that I should be studying, but regardless, here is happy Sarah.

I feel obligated to mention that objectively, my life hasn’t gotten much better. My roommate is out of the hospital, but our relationship is irreversibly damaged, and we have decided to live apart next year (aka May 1st). The Summer is a terrifying swirl of unknowns; I don’t know where I will live, where I will work, who I will hang out with, or whether I will enjoy my classes. So it’s an anxiety-provoking time, which conveniently follows a Wellbutrin increase (which is great for mood, not so much for anxiety). Blah blah negativity blah.

But today, right this moment, I feel happy. Maybe meditating for the past 6 days has caused me to achieve enlightenment, but I somehow doubt it.

Today is a snow day (because Canada), so I get to spend the day curled up in my apartment. If it didn’t lower my mood long-term, I would spend every day like this. Fortunately, I can enjoy this day indoors guilt-free with the certainty that I will resume my usual activities tomorrow.

I planned to go to the gym today, so I did something resembling a home workout with moderate kitten interference, because I want those gains. Then I showered and got right back into my cozy pajamas. Then I did my daily chores (feeding the cat, laying out tomorrow’s outfit, etc.) and meditated. The only thing left to accomplish today is studying for my midterm tomorrow, but I’m already feeling fairly confident about it.

So here I am, feeling clean and warm in my cozy pajamas, mindful and full of endorphins, hanging out with my cat and reading about commutative rings. Everything about this day brings me joy, which is something I haven’t felt in a while, so I want to appreciate it while it’s here.

I am facing very stressful situations later this week, and the uncertainties about the Summer will continue to cause anxiety, but right this second, I feel joy.

I don’t recognize myself and have strong urges to insert a bitter, cynical comment. But the things that make me cynical and bitter will still be around when this joy passes, so right now, I’m just going to enJOY it. I’m so funny.

Sarah