It seems so odd to me that, at 42 years of age, I am just now beginning to learn about myself: who I am, what I believe in, what I have not been allowing my self to feel, etc. Why does it take a professional to help me figure this all out? Because I haven’t been able to do it on my own, that’s why.
At my last therapy session, I learned about something called Learned Helplessness. Yep – it was a new concept to me too; you can actually learn to be helpless. And I am not talking about the damsel that is always being tied to the railroad tracks (although she could probably use counseling as well – why does she always wind up with men that tie her to train tracks? But I digress…). This is my kind of helpless; the paralyzing can’t make a decision because I am afraid to move ahead with my life kind of helpless.
This was an actual study performed years ago by leading psychologists. Two dogs were placed in two cages, side by side. Each cage was identical with a metal floor and a lever inside. At random times, the floors of both cages were simultaneously shocked with electricity (**see note below) for an uncomfortable length of time. As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of hopping and dancing around being done by the subjects as they tried to escape the shocks coming from the floor. During the course of said hopping about, dog A accidentally tripped his lever, stopping the flow of current to both cages. In short order, dog A learned that tripping this lever would always stop the scary and painful waves radiating from the floor and would immediately hit it whenever they started. Dog B, however, never learned this lesson – even though he also had a lever and it would also stop the shocks to both cages - and eventually he just gave in to depression and just lay there and endured the pain and fear, never trying to avoid it or stop it, just waiting for it to end.
Guess which dog I am?
This was a real eye opener for me. That is basically a blue print for how I live my life. I just sit still, waiting for the pain and the fear, never knowing why it comes or what to do about it when it does. Therefore, I am paralyzed with fear of living on the whole. I have just been sitting still on the sidelines of life, dealing with the depression by not dealing with it, just waiting for it all to end.
And speaking of dog illustrations, my therapist has me write essays about my feelings on certain subjects. She had me write about what I gain from staying overweight, and what I will sacrifice by loosing it. I will put that essay on my other blog if you want to check it out. But at one point I was describing my relationship with food by using the illustration of a mistreated dog; no matter how much I abuse food – ignore it, talk bad about it, kick it to the curb, neglect it – it is always there for me, waiting to be loved, wanting to please. My therapist read that part, paused to look me dead in the eye, then re-read the section substituting “I” for “it”. I was really saying how no matter how much I am ignored, talked bad about, kicked to the curb and neglected, I am always there – waiting to be loved, wanting to please, waiting, waiting, waiting to be thrown some scrap of kindness and affection, some sort of confirmation that I exist and am worthy. I burst into tears and cried and cried; it still hits me hard as I write this and the tears well up again because it is true.
I live my whole life scared to move about in it because I am afraid I will say or do something that will offend someone, somewhere. If I say this thing, will I offend someone? If I do this thing, will my family loose respect for me? That would probably be appropriate if I was planning murder or a bank robbery, or if I planned to perform sexual favors for the entire city of New York. But these are just simple everyday things that I am thinking about. When I am waiting to make a turn into traffic, I often wonder if the driver of the car behind me is angry because I am taking too long. I have entire conversations with this person in my head about how I am just trying to be careful and that I can’t go because there are too many cars coming, etc. I find that I am constantly exhausted by this line of thinking; it affects me everywhere! At work, in the grocery store, driving on the road, talking to my friends, family, strangers. Everywhere I go and everything I do is affected by this. And it isn’t just because of my weight. I think my weight is a symptom of all the other stuff, but it just adds to the CRAZY mix. I could be packaged – for enough servings of Crazy for the whole family, just add water and stir!
So I am starting to implement some new ways into my life. It is hard to turn down the crazy and look for the lever in my cage, but I am pretty sure that I know where it is now. I just have to have the strength to reach for it. It is up to me and within my power to change this, and I am determined to do it.
**NOTE: in spite of the last paragraph, I have to submit to the crazy and add this little note. In case you are wondering, no – it does not make me happy that animals are experimented on that way. I do feel it is cruel. But – having said that – I didn’t do the experiment nor did I ask for it to be done. But it is done and there is nothing I can do about it now. So chill out.