It’s so easy to blow up your problems
It’s so easy to play up your breakdown
It’s so easy to fly through a window
It’s so easy to fool with the sound
It’s so tough to get up
It’s so tough
It’s so tough to live up
It’s so tough on you-
“Moving in Stereo”- The Cars
If I had to guess, I’m not the lone ranger as far as anxiety issues go. In the middle of the shit storm there is nowhere so alone, especially when I’m surrounded by people and I have to maintain a professional, cool façade no matter what. I am one of those people who is never more alone than when I’m in a crowd. Dealing with people is twice as difficult when all I want to do is run and get away from them.
I think that was a good part of the reason why my health went south so quickly about 10 years ago. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, and the façade couldn’t hold.
Thankfully I don’t get the panic attacks and what I call extreme anxiety spells terribly often anymore, but here in the past few weeks I have discovered that I am just as vulnerable to them as I ever have been. Part of the solution, or at least a way to cope with anxiety in a healthier manner, seems counterintuitive: I have to admit to my vulnerability. I have to realize when I’m trying to move too fast, do too much, or when I’m shouldering blame that doesn’t belong to me, and I’m not good at it. My idea of boundaries is to be completely open or completely shut down, which I know isn’t healthy. I’m one of those people who always feels as if I owe other people something, even when I don’t.
When I was growing up I had the concept of noblesse oblige drilled into my head. Because I was sickly and my medical costs were outrageous, I was made to feel guilty about that. I was also made to feel as if my medical issues were my fault and that I had no right to complain if I didn’t have clothing that fit right, or if I didn’t have glasses when I needed them. Because my medical issues were expensive, and I was painfully aware of it, I was the one who helped Dad out at his shop, and I was the one who did all the household chores when Mom had her back injury and was bedridden- while my sisters played sports (which I couldn’t do because of my health issues) and had actual social lives (which I didn’t have anyway.)
Because I had certain abilities, my parents and even (some) teachers held me to a higher standard than the rest of the kids. I was expected to do without, to tolerate more, to do more, to be more, to accomplish more, and not just in my areas of strength. I still remember my 9th grade algebra teacher almost throwing a fit at me because I truly struggled to get through that stuff. Higher math did not make a lick of sense to me then, and it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me now. I can get through basic math, and I can understand percentages and ratios, but that’s about it. He accused me of “slacking” in his class (as in why could I get straight As in every other subject but his.) The truth was that I spent a lot more time and effort trying to get a B or C in that class than I did getting straight As in everything else.
I got grounded for any grade lower than a B, regardless of the subject, while it was perfectly fine for either of my sisters to maintain a C average- across the board- without inviting scrutiny. To her credit (even though she was a ruthless and sadistic bitch) my oldest sister, in spite of her average IQ, did manage to be an honor student (didn’t take much then, and takes even less now) and wormed her way into Miami University (one of the most expensive colleges in Ohio.) Eventually she did graduate and get a degree, and a submissive husband from a wealthy family, but Dad pretty much ended up paying for a 7 year long bacchanalia. Few women have ever had the tolerance for alcohol as Butterface. Even when she ended up in jail for DUI (which she got out of, thanks to her future husband’s family’s connections) Dad put up bail money for her so she wouldn’t have to spend the night in jail. He also made sure to point out to me that he would not do the same for me, as according to him, I “know better,” and she doesn’t.
Granted, I was very clandestine with my high school/ college drinking. Since I could only afford to go to a local technical college (all Dad’s money was going toward Butterface’s beer, and anything else she couldn’t get financial aid or her boyfriends to pay for) if I wanted to enjoy a fifth of MD20/20, I’d simply to go to a friend’s house, get blitzed, and crash where I partied. Oh, and I did. Frequently.
I don’t know why so many years later I get bitter about my past. A lot of the things that happened to me weren’t fair, and I was held to a number of double standards, but it could have been a lot worse.
I can’t balance out the inequities of life, but I do need to end the guilt trips. I’m tired of being made to feel guilty for taking up valuable oxygen, and I’m tired of believing that the only time I’m worth anything is when I’m overextended and burned out. I’m also tired of taking the blame for others’ ineptitude, and feeling as if I always have to take up their slack.
I’m only human, and the gifts that I’ve been given have always been balanced with gaping holes. I have some wiring that other people don’t have, but I’m missing a lot of wiring too.
What I gleaned from the double standards imposed on me was that it was perfectly OK for me to give and do to the end of my strength and ability, and not to expect anything in return. To a point that’s OK, but perhaps my recent forays into the wonderful world of anxiety are sending a message. I can only do so much, and beyond that, tough titty.
2 thoughts on “Moving in Stereo, Noblesse Oblige and the Double Standard”
This was really good–it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this.
Something you may know intellectually, but have a hard time believing, is that while being held to higher standards as you were can be a huge drag, there are big disadvantages to the opposite approach.
In many ways, my experience was the opposite of yours. Many of my teachers didn’t think I was particularly intelligent, due mostly to my immaturity and love of comics, I think. My cumulative GPA in high school was 2.47.
Yeah, there’s something very free about not having huge expectations placed on you, but at the same time, you don’t learn to struggle and strive for the things you want. If something isn’t handed to you, it’s too hard to achieve. I’m oversimplifying to a degree, but that’s a challenge that I had to face when i was younger.
There’s no typical life.
Smak, I see you were a precious only male child, which probably explains how you got away with murder. I was the disappointing third female child, so I had to compensate for my gender and poor health with something. My parents were well acquainted with the concept of children “earning their keep.” Dad was a bit ahead of his time because he expected each of us to either go to college or learn a trade. I did both.
Weird thing is, my mother actually apologized to me over the weekend regarding my rather unlovely childhood. I told her she had nothing to be sorry for because she did the best she did with what she had. For being a person with untreated bi-polar disorder, trying to cope with three kids born in the span of three years, she tried. She did some things right and some things- well- she tried, and that’s all any parent can do. As far as my own parenting goes, I’m delighted that my son is gainfully employed, not in a correctional institute, and is not a serial killer, at least as far as I know.
I agree that perhaps a little too much harshness is better than no expectations at all. The strongest and most worthy people I know are those who have gone through the fires of adversity. It’s probably better that my parents and teachers had no idea what hyperlexia or Asperger’s/ “high functioning autism” was. Had they known, I probably would have been left alone in my ivory tower, or herded off in slobbering ignonimy with the “LD kids.”
In today’s common “wisdom”, my wiring would have excused me from having do anything I didn’t want to do. Had my parents been the permissive type, I could be 44 years old, rolling around on the floor wearing Hello Kitty jammies and watching Ren and Stimpy re-runs all day.
I wouldn’t have had to do anything uncomfortable (like deal with people) but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do anything worthwhile either.
Steve-o thanked me a few weeks ago for “being a hard ass.” I was, to a degree, but one thing is for sure. There is no such thing as a perfect parent- or an “ideal” child.