Underneath my yellow skin

When Perception Becomes Reality; An Infinity Loop

when perception is reality.
Is this how you see me?

About a week ago, I received a frantic email from my mother. She needed a new password for a website, and she was having a hard time making one the website would accept. She sent me their requirements and asked me to clarify what they wanted. She added that maybe I could just do it for her because she was having such a hard time with it. I looked at the requirements, and they were pretty standard. The password must be at least eight characters with (at least) one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number, and one special character. I sent her back an explanation and an example and told her to try it one more time; if she still couldn’t do it, I would help her. She emailed me back asking if the number counted as a character, and I said yes. Everything you input, I told her, counts as a character.

A few days later, she called me. She had tried and tried, but couldn’t get it to work. She asked me to help her, and I reluctantly agreed. I hasten to add that I was reluctant because I thought she could do it on her own, and I didn’t want to baby her, not because I didn’t want to help her. My mom is, in her own words, a bit of a technophobe, and she she becomes irrationally freaked out and anxious any time she has to do something on the computer that is outside her comfort zone. In addition, English is her third language, and she doesn’t speak it on the regular these days, so having to do all this shit in her third language probably doesn’t help, either.

Let me tell you a little story about when we both worked at the county (different departments). She called me up one day and said, “I can’t get this website to work.” I walked her through it. I said, “Put the address in the address bar.” That took more explanation. Then, “Did you press Enter?” Mom: “I have to do that?” I’m telling you this to show you my mom’s mentality when it comes to computers. It’s so strange to me because she’s an extremely intelligent and competent woman. She was the first psychologist to practice sandplay therapy in Taiwan–in fact, she brought it to the country all by her damn self. She has a two-year waiting list of people wanting to learn it from her (at least she did when she first started. It might have eased up now that there are more certified sandplay therapists in Taiwan, all trained by her). It’s hard for me to understand how something as simple as a resetting a password can reduce her to such despair.

Yes, I know it’s partly an age thing and a not having grown up with computers thing, but I didn’t, either. I didn’t touch my first computer until I was in college, and everything I know is self-taught or gleaned from the brain of my techie brother. I don’t know nearly as much as he does, but I know more than average about computers I would guess. Again, this isn’t to slag on my mother, but to point out that there’s no reason for her to get so upset about computer basics. It also makes me sad that it’s so anxiety-inducing for her. I can bet that when she was told she had to reset her password, she started freaking out, which makes it all that much harder. Then, she probably started obsessing over it in the back of her mind. She built it up so much, when she sat down to tackle it, she was already in a state of panic. Then, with each successive failure, it only reinforced her helpless and hopeless feeling.

By the time I sat down with her, she had already tried twice for an hour each time to reset her password. She sent me the page, and I made up a password that would both fit their requirements and be easy for her to remember. Or, to be honest, for me to remember in case I need to help her with it again. It worked the first time, and we went page by page through the application she needed to fill out. Ten minutes later, we were done with no problem at all. She couldn’t stop saying how she had agonized over it for so long (two hours), and I was able to do it in ten minutes. I gently suggested she should take some basic computer classes so that it wouldn’t be such a stressor for her. She couldn’t stop talking about how she couldn’t do it, no matter how hard she tried. She was somehow able to get past the reset stage once, but then couldn’t figure out what to do next. Then, she was back to the reset page.

I tell this story not to shame my mother or to say how great I am at computers (I’m really not. Resetting passwords is pretty basic, though my mother doesn’t think so. She said, “How many people would know how to do that?” I said, “Most people who use the internet on a regular basis.”), but because it made me realize how easy it is to let your perception of something become the reality. What do I mean by that? Let’s take the example of my mom and the password. When she found out she had to reset her password, I’m sure she got tense and anxious. “I’m bad at computers. I hate doing this. I can’t do this!” but in Taiwanese was probably on loop in her brain the entire time. This would interfere with her reading comprehension, especially as computer lingo really is a language of its own. She asked why they had to make it so difficult. I said it was really for her own safety. I admitted it was one of the more complicated requirements I’ve seen, but nothing outre. I didn’t say outre to her, though, because that would have been pretentious.

I bet most of the time she was trying to type in the password, she was focused on how much she hated doing it and how much she sucked at computers. It doesn’t help that you can’t see the password as you’re typing it, either, and you have to confirm it without seeing it as well. All this probably added to her propensity to make mistakes, which made her feel even more inadequate, and, thus, the cycle started. By the time she was done, she was more convinced than when she had started that she was terrible at computers and could never learn how to use them properly. When I suggested she take computer classes, she said, “Yes, I probably should take them once a month or so.” I said that wasn’t often enough to retain whatever she learns, which she knows. She’s letting her fear get in the way of her learning a very useful tool for her.

She did the same thing with photographing the sandtrays of her clients. It’s part of the therapy process to take several pictures of each tray. When she started, she used a Polaroid camera, which was clumsy and obviously not ideal. After several years, my brother urged her to use a digital camera, but she resisted for the longest time because she didn’t want to learn the technology. When she finally gave in (after many years), she was astounded at how much better it was. If you asked her to go back to Polaroid, she’d probably look at you as if you were out of your mind. However, it took a lot of strong urging on my brother’s part to get her to try it. If he hadn’t pushed, she might still be using a Polaroid.

I feel the same way about her and computers. She uses one on a regular basis, and she’s adapted to it better than many of her peers, but she’s so resistant to learning more than just how to let a thousand emails sit unread in her inbox. Back to how it’s applicable to me. I have a shitty self-image. I can admit that freely. I used to think I was toxic to everyone around me ¬†and everyone would be better off if I were dead. After a ton of therapy and taiji, I slowly lost that feeling. I reached a state of what I call neutral. I wasn’t a poison, but I wasn’t a positive, either. The world wouldn’t be better off with me dead, but I wasn’t really adding much to it being alive, either. No, it doesn’t sound terrific, but it’s a hell of a lot better than where I used to be.

In the past few months, though. I’ve been slipping. I find thoughts of, “It doesn’t matter if I’m alive” and “Who would really miss me if I’m gone?” creeping into my brain, and it’s disturbing because these thoughts are now so alien to me. It’s also difficult because they feel as if they’re coming from outside of me rather than inside. It’s what happened when I became deeply suicidal after taking SSRIs for the second time. I had constant intrusive thoughts of wanting to kill myself, but I didn’t really want to kill myself. That’s where I’m at now. Not the suicidal part. I’m not suicidal, but the ‘I’m worthless’ part. The worrying about what I’m saying all the time part and the hyper-consciousness of other people’s reactions to me.

Side note: The start coincided with when my doc started lowering my thyroid dosage, which is also when I began five months of bronchial/sinus issues. Not saying any of it connected, but I can’t help wondering.

My reaction to feeling like a full-on freak again is to shut down or keep my emotions to myself. I used to not say what I think at all, figuring no one wanted to hear it. Then, I decided I should speak my mind as best I can all the time. Now, I’m swinging back to the other side of not thinking I should ever talk. The problem is, when I’m constantly censoring myself, I don’t get any feedback (duh!), and I reinforce my notions that I shouldn’t say anything. The weirdest part is that I can clearly see this happening as if I’m observing it from the outside, and, yet, I feel helpless to stop it. In the past, I took it as gospel that I was worthless and should just keep my mouth shut. Now, I know it’s not true (though perhaps I don’t need to be as mouthy as I am), but I still feel that way. It’s a strange dichotomy, and a definite mindfuck.

It is much easier to see issues in other people; it’s harder to realize it when you have the same issues. It’s probably because I have a psychology background that I can look at my mother’s unreasonable fear of technology and extrapolate about my own fears from it. I guess it’s a good thing that I realize this current spate of depression and low self-esteem isn’t really me, but what am I going to do about it is the question.



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