"You're too sensitive." I heard these words many times when I was a kid. From my father. I could never disagree with those words. But with those words, the conversation ended. And I was left with the feeling that I should apologize. But the moments came and went quickly, so I would end up leaving the house to go outside, away from everyone. Or, if I were feeling especially crushed, off to my bedroom I'd go, to cry and listen to music (my favorite asylum).
Fast-forward to my 50's, and bubbles of my far past still come to the surface and burst, leaving me covered in yucky feelings. My bi-polar disorder can make me unwillingly inappropriate. My "feelings" can make me incredibly hard on myself. Growing up in an alcoholic family made me an expert in hostility and confrontation. I can thrive on turbulence and conflict, but then, I'm left with the feeling that I owe apologies. And I have learn over the years that "sorry" only works a few times. There is a great line in one of the episode of Lady Dynamite, the brilliant Netflix series centering on comedian Maria Bamford and her experiences with her own bipolar disorder. In a session with her life coach, played by the impeccable Jenny Slate, the coach tells her "You know what they say; bipolar...bye-bye friends."
I have always worried about losing friends, always wanted more and more friends, and could never understand when people did not like me. My mom tried to point out that I could not like everyone I met. True enough. But even at a young age, I was good at sympathizing with the bully who had a bad home life, or the snooty cheerleader who was only admired for her beauty and not her brains. I didn't particularly want to hang out with them, but I didn't necessarily think that they were bad or vicious people.
Oh, and I am a pretty big people-pleaser: probably due to the fact that I always felt out of place during my youth in a small town. I was a peer-pressure junkie, trying too hard to fit in with my straight neighborhood buddies, my marching band mates, and my school friends. Ever the clown, I was always seeking validation. Even if my jokes weren't all that funny. Hell, I was the King of Trying Too Hard.
So, when a person who knows me well points out that I am acting erratically and, rather than asking "Are you ok?" they immediately blame it on my mania (and they could be most likely correct). They may act dismissive and arrogant; that hurts. Or, if I mess something up by my own hand, this misstep may trigger a trip down nightmare lane to when my father was telling me that I am too sensitive. And I'm a kid again. And I wonder, what did I ever do to you, Dad? To make you angry and mean to me? I was a kid. How could I have made you belittle my feelings me and brush me off?
Over years and years of therapy (you bipolar folks and I know that we're probably never getting away from therapy, because we most always second-guess our actions and reactions), I've talked about being gay in my conservative small town (now, forever ago, since I've moved on from the conservative wasteland that I escaped). I've talked about my inability to find a stable relationship (that has been fixed by my husband), I'm just about to embark on conversations about the lousy relationship between my father and me when I was a boy again, a subject that I thought that I had come to terms with years ago. (For the record, I've forgiven him. He did the best he could.) And I can't change the past. But I'm going to start talking about not trying to please people. I'm going to start talking about not feeling sorry for who I am. I'm going to learn to look after myself more, and not put other people's needs in in front of my own...so I don't feel resentful or let down when I do something for somebody, when I am been the epitome of reliability, and I'm never given thanks.
And this is it. The last time that I'm going to self-pity. I'm going to be there for me. And not apologize for being me anymore.
Because, as the wise David Sedaris says "If you're looking for sympathy, you'll find it between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.”