Friday, May 13, 2011

If I had...

If I had but a single bright seed of hope, then this dreary drudgery would not feel so futile.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Put On Your Happy Face

When I was in junior high and high school, as soon as I got home from school or from whatever after school activity I was engaged in, my mother would ask me about my day. If I said anything negative, anything about the kids at school picking on me or not getting the part I wanted in a play or that I had a headache or whatever, she would proceed to lecture me on how good my life was and how much worse other children had it and how I should be grateful for all the wonderful things I had. My mother taught rhetoric and oration, she was a very persuasive speaker. And since I wanted to be a good daughter, I would listen to everything she said. And her telling me that feeling any negative emotions was a form of selfishness and that allowing myself to feel bad made me a bad person would literally tear me up inside. Because I did feel negative emotions. The other kids did pick on me, rather viciously at times, and it hurt. And I naturally felt disappointed when I didn't get something that I had tried really hard to achieve. And I did get headaches, rather severe headaches. (I found out much later that they were migraines.) I know now that her lectures were a form of emotional abuse though I didn't realize it at the time, and even if someone had told me my mother was abusing me, I wouldn't have believed it, because I LOVED my mother and I KNEW that she loved me.

And maybe she did love me. She probably did. But it was a very conditional kind of love. If I did what she wanted me to do, she would give me her approval and some limited affection. But if I ever “disappointed” her, she would withdraw all approval and affection and lecture me about how I was being lazy and selfish and a generally bad person. I dreaded those lectures more than I have dreaded anything else in my life before or since. In her defense, when I was in grad school, she told me that her father was physically abusive to her mother. He was possibly abusive to her and her brothers as well (though I don't know for sure). So she didn't exactly have the greatest role models for parenting. But for whatever reason, she was extremely emotionally abusive and it left some very deep scars.

But as a child, and even as a young adult, I really, REALLY didn't want to disappoint my mother and receive one of her lectures, so I developed what I called my “happy face”. Every day, when I got home, before I went inside, I would stand outside for a few minutes burying any negative emotions deep inside myself and creating a contented persona for her to interact with. This persona had to be more than a thin mask. My mother was a smart, perceptive women, and in order to fool her, I basically had to turn my whole body into a puppet that could convincingly portray the good daughter that she wanted me to be. It was a lot like acting in a play. But in some ways, it was also like intentionally developing a split personality. A “happy face” personality that I could use to protect my real self from my mother's attempts to create the perfect daughter through emotional manipulation.

Admittedly, everyone has to pretend to emotions that they don't feel occasionally. Some people find it easier than others. And some people are better at it than others. However, despite my years of experience at pretending to be someone other than I was for my mother, I never found it easy. I hated it. I just wanted to be myself and be loved and accepted for what I really was rather than for what I pretended to be. However, because of those years of experience, I am very, very good at pretending to be happy and social. At least for short periods of time. It is exhausting. Ask any experienced actor. Pretending to be something you are not, convincingly pretending, is hard work.

Anyway, just recently, I had to put on my “happy face” again. A very good friend of mine produced a very large jousting tournament and asked me to help out with certain things during the days leading up to the event and the three days of the event. Now, I was happy to help him out. He is a good friend and I wanted to support the event. However, some of the things he asked me to do were things that I find particularly stressful. But because I was a visible part of the staff of the event, I could not be seen looking stressed out and miserable, so I buried myself deep inside that “happy face” persona during the times I was at the event. Once I left the event, I allowed myself to escape the prison of that persona and let my real emotions out. I would usually start crying as I was driving home, and once home, I would cry for hours at a time. My sleep disorder was also causing major problems, so in addition to being exhausted from the stress of wearing my “happy face” for hours on end, I was also exhausted from lack of sleep. I was eating Valium like candy, but it wasn't really helping.

Fortunately, my husband, FuzzyPony and DA gave me a great deal of emotional support. And even SH, though he didn't really know what was going on with me (I didn't want to add to the stress he was already under from both producing and performing in the tournament), gave me some emotional support as well. And somehow, I made it through the event and managed to do everything that I had committed to do and more. But it was not a fun experience. (Though the jousting tournament itself was wonderful, and I really did enjoy watching my sweetie compete.) Therefore, in the future, I will be much more careful about what I commit to do, no matter how much I want to avoid disappointing my friends. Though it stood me in good stead this past week, I do not ever want to have to put on my “happy face” again.