Once upon a time, there was a very nice girl. Or perhaps she was nice without qualification. The road to hell is paved with adverbs, or so I’ve been told.
Who decided adverbs were verboten anyway (Have I asked this before? Is it a groundhog-day question)?
Once again, I digress. I do it frequently: it’s a feature not a glitch. I don’t have ADHD, I’m simply a butterfly.* My son has ADHD to my guilt and dismay. One cannot escape genetics: his parents, being who they are, increased his odds of being differently-abled. On the bright side, I also gave him smarts. *
Once upon a time, there was a nice girl. She was nice because it was in her nature: gentle was how she was made. She was nice because to act differently generated feeling of guilt she didn’t enjoy. She’d learned that giving into her nastier impulses would lead to prolonged bouts of metaphoric self-flagellation. It was easier to be nice.
There was also fear. Once upon a time, there was a nice girl who was afraid not to be. If she wasn’t nice, all the time, nobody would like her or want to be with her. She would be alone, forever, rejected.
The nice girl thought people would respond in kind. She thought nice was the logical behavioural choice. Logic doesn’t drive most human behaviour, however, and a lack of boundaries combined with gentle is never going to end well.
The nice girl was nice without limits, and she gave without reservation. Okay, sometimes there was reservation, but she gave regardless. It didn’t make people respond in kind, it made them ask for more. Reciprocity wasn’t a feature. Her lack of boundaries didn’t make for great friends; it showed people she could be walked on with selfish disregard, consequence-free. When she did push back, the apologies came without true understanding or perpetrator change.
The nice girl had yet to realize that if you let people treat you badly s, they’ll continue. They won’t stop because you’re nice. They’ll carry on until you make changes.
I’m a nice person. I’m kind, bordering on doormat, because it’s in my nature, and because conflict and possible rejection feel fatal. Obsequiousness, even when it’s subtle, prevents that. To a degree. Until people get used to treating you not just badly, but very badly indeed.
My mother had surgery recently. They removed the lower lobe of her right lung and the cancer that was festering therein. The tests of her lymphatic system showed no metastases; my relief was profound. Ditto that she survived the surgery: my neuroses had me reliving her death over and over until the surgeon’s office called to apprise.
Death wasn’t the worst part of the imaginings. I had my imaginary grieving father to deal with, and calls to make, and funeral home prep to take care of. I wasn’t sure about the clothes for the imaginary funeral. When I drift away from reality, I go all in. I just wish my nose wouldn’t get stuffed up when I cry.
The need to be functional right now has kept me somewhat anchored. It helps that this isn’t my first time: I’ve pulled myself out of dissociative drifts before. Stay on target. I didn’t have time to attend to the absence of my people until later in the day.
Not one call. Not one text. Not the morning of, and not the night before. No messages of support from “friends” who’d received them me when they dealt with their serious and potentially devastating life events. Heart attacks. Brain tumours. Surgeries.
I’m really trying not to be “tit for tat” about it.
Nothing? Not even an email? A Snap?
I got one text the following day from one friend, asking how things had gone. I was grateful it had gone well, because I love my mom, and because I didn’t know what I would’ve said to them if it hadn’t.
It’s hard when anger and grief are fighting inside you for supremacy. Luckily, in a foresighted move, I scheduled an appointment with my counsellor for the day after mom’s surgery. I even refrained from dropping passive-aggressive texts into the group chats.
Mom survived her extremely serious and potentially fatal surgery today just fine, thanks for asking.
Where do I go from here? What do you do with friendships that feel broken? Although nothing in my recent history with my friends suggests they were going to behave better. They’re often toddler-like. So am I, I suppose.
The good thing about blaming yourself for everything is that it eventually becomes a habit.
My counsellor dislikes my friends and gets frustrated by the way I doormat for them. My son dislikes a couple of them as well. He finds them selfish and self-centred, a judgement handed down long before my mom had chunks of her lung removed. He doesn’t know that I trained my friends to treat me this way.* My counsellor does. She’s excited about the changes this slap in the face seems to be generating. She’s been pushing me to develop an appropriate spine for some time.
I wonder what they’ll look like in the execution? How do I navigate the differences in the relationships? I don’t want it to be obvious or overt: I also don’t want to have a post mortem. I’m not interested in what they have to say (I’m not a monster: I already know nothing dire demanded their attention). I’m done accepting after-the-fact justifications of hurtful choices. It’s too many times. My friends have been demoted. We can still hang out, have fun, and dance to loud music. We can still camp, and day drink, and lounge. Only one thing has changed: my personal stuff is no longer their business.
My head says they no longer have the right, but my heart wonders if I’m being vindictive.
I’m angry, but I don’t want to be angry. I’m hurt, and I don’t want to be hurt. This is a harsh lesson about boundaries and the pointlessness of sycophancy.
Part of me wonders about fault? I listen to podcasts as I soak my bones in the bath (the upcoming gas bill is going to be lit). A recent topic was narcissism. It’s a popular subject of discussion, people are talking about it everywhere. Maybe this is my problem. Maybe this is why my friends aren’t nice to me? Maybe I’m a narcissist? Maybe ignoring me on the day of my mother’s very serious surgery is people preserving their mental health?
Another friend (different group) who I also didn’t hear from on surgery day called me on the afternoon after. We talked about my mom, the surgery, work, our kids, whatever. I told her about the narcissism podcast. I told her I was afraid that maybe the narcissist was me and this was the problem in my relationships.
It’s nice when you can make people laugh.
Once upon a time, there was very nice girl. She was nice because she chose to be: she felt better about herself when she was kind and ethical, when she saved the earthworms and the polar bears. She was a content girl: she had solid boundaries and held firm when people encroached. She believed in her value as a person, and in the beauty of the occasional adverb.
*Before they “improved” things, they would’ve diagnosed me with Asperger’s, which comes with an affection for sparkles and squirrels.
*I love this song, and I always sing loud. Safe travels, Mr. Bowie.
*If one parent has mental illness, the chance that your child will inherit some form of neurodivergence is around forty percent. With both parents, that number doubles. It varies slightly between this disorder and that, but overall, the odds are similar despite neurotic difference.
*This is the same group of friends that behaved badly regarding the post-cancer trip to Mexico to celebrate the end of my radiation treatments.
Image (header): Michael Martchenko, amandawtwong
Image: Thrive Global