I awoke suddenly this morning to the sound of three loud raps at the door, or so I thought. It was alarming and my heart sped up, my stomach clenched, and I felt the stress I went to bed with return. Now fully awake, I realized the dogs were sleeping soundly at my side, so there couldn’t have been knocks at the door. How does this happen? This subconscious “Wake up, wake up!” that startles me to life and into a state of panic? “Hurry, NOW, wake and remember.” “You’ve been stressed, remember?” Oh, yes! I do remember now, having forgotten while chatting in my dream about some artist. I’m here! I haven’t forgotten! I am still here—vigilant, caring, holding fast.
I have been ill. Nothing specific, my usual CFS response to life and to worry, to time passing, to aging, to sick friends, to missed and missing loved ones, to my granddaughter’s recent distress. There was a cascade of events that, having passed, left me with “The Stress Response.” I’m sure there’s a book by that title and if there isn’t, there should be.
What I was left with after this morning’s startling wake-up call, was the knowledge that more than half of the work I did at my job (see Working without the whip) was busywork. How productive was that? Not very. But more in tune, likely, with my obsessive personality than working comfortably from home at my own pace.
“Working” gave me a false sense of accomplishment, even when I was organizing and cataloging mounds of information so they could be located in the future. I was half artist, half archivist. And now all that archived information sits untended and unused since I left, because my position was not refilled. A dark library. Eighteen years of work. So when I saw Emma‘s comment this morning asking me to be gentle on myself for not feeling as productive, and Lauren‘s saying I’m too hard on myself, and I agreeing wholeheartedly, I wondered, “then who’s holding the whip?”
It’s no secret. A workaholic father, a striving, manic-depressive and half-drunken mother (I won’t mention my sister, who is still living), and suddenly I am cast as the lazy one in the family. I always felt free to laze, to play, to wander, to daydream and forget to do what I was asked. That angered them and I was warned to get off my “fat ass.” For my mother, getting things done—even the laborious, mind-numbing chore of cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundry, day in and day out, until you die—was proof that you were worthy of this existence. That you were paying for your sins.
My mother believed in a Hell-fire God. She believed that she had been judged and sentenced to this life—her life—for her rebellious youth. She often roamed the house at early hours, leaving notes to God that she had learned her lesson and would pay her mother back ten-fold, if only He would forgive her.
My mother died one week before I turned twenty-one. It was a miserable time for me, not knowing I was pregnant with my first child, my father disappearing into his own grief, I was orphaned and alone. Soon after my second child was born, I awoke to find my mother standing at the foot of my bed in the dark. She was as real as this morning’s knock. I was terrified. I believed she had come to take me with her. Years of analysis have helped me understand how my mother lives inside me. Why I would want to join her. Why I continue to allow her restriction and her punishment. It keeps her alive.
The rap on the door? That would be my mother.