Spoiler Alert for Final Fantasy X.
To quote a meme I saw, “I’m okay but it’s a fragile king of okay so be gentile with me. I’m Eggshell Fine: currently whole but easily crushed.” I’m a functional human being, but I’m stressed, I don’t have enough time and energy for everything throughout my day, and I’ve been so sleep deprived these last few weeks that I’ve developed an eye twitch that refuses to go away. All of that would be okay if I didn’t have to deal with the nightmares and anxiety caused by silent random encounters at work with my former abuser—my own mother.
Due to our schedules, I hadn’t been able to see my therapist in over a month. The last appointment had been a bit brutal emotionally as we covered a bit of ground concerning my abusive mother. Then I had to go to work processing all these unearthed feelings. Once I had calmed down, she came into the store to do her shopping. On break, I explained to my husband my encounter with her and he panicked because we had just sent my brother a gift card from our grandma and he worried she may have gotten a hold of it as that day of the week was typically her day to take him. Eventually I confirmed that a gift card hadn’t been used in any purchase during the time frame she was there and was able to relax…until towards the end of my shift when someone I knew asked if my mother sells her crochet work.
A few days later, my other brother came into the store about an hour before my shift ended. He eventually became reluctant to tell me something, but he eventually came out with it as his lack of a filter overpowers my desire to have nothing to do with her. He was like Cindy from the Brady Bunch not wanting to tattle. He tells me that my mother wishes me a Happy Birthday. WTF? If that weren’t bad enough, he goes onto explain that he asked her why she would want to. “Well, I know we’ve had our differences, but she’s still my daughter.” I wanted to throw up hearing that and soon after I pretended I needed to get back to my work. She hasn’t wished me a happy birthday in ten years—why now? And “differences”? That’s what she calls year of emotionally and mentally damaging behavior?? If she had treated me anything like a daughter, maybe I wouldn’t be in therapy in the first place trying to process all the emotional damage and neglect!
After that night, I started writing down all the instances involving her—the work encounters, the nightmares, the times I looked in the mirror and saw her staring back at me. I figured it would be easier to explain everything at my therapy appointment if I had something tangible to reference when I needed to.
I had seven pages filled by the time I went to my appointment nearly a month later.
“So how have things since our last appointment?”
“Well…I started writing everything involving Kim,” I said, holding out the notebook.
“Oh goodness! I forgot what her name was for a moment! What made you start calling her by her name?”
“I called her ‘Mother’ because it sounded like an evil step-parent. But she isn’t my mother in any capacity. She’s an egg donor at best.”
“That’s such a power move! You’ve made quite a bit of progress!”
“Absolutely! By changing her status, you’re taking control! You’re the one calling the shots.”
I didn’t think something as simple as changing what I call her would be progress. I felt like I haven’t made any progress because I sucked at keeping my feelings under control when she’s around.
“I almost had it one day. I was working service desk with another associate and she was at the belted self-checkouts. I kept telling myself ‘I’m calm. I’m zen.’ And I managed to stay calm! But just when I thought she was going to leave and go on with the rest of her day…she came up to the service desk. And my brain…panicked. I hid in the back pretending to do return audits, but really I was trying not to throw up.”
“Why on Earth did she come up there?”
“To let someone know she spilled water at the belts. ‘So if someone sees it, sorry that was me! Lololololololol!’” I sarcastically mocked Kim’s sickly sweet Disney Princess tone. “I didn’t know (associate’s name) knew her and they were talking like best buds catching up. Doesn’t surprise me that yet another person doesn’t know Kim is a monster.”
“She puts up a front, but you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find out what Kim is really like.”
“True, but how many people actually get that opportunity? Certainly not the guy from the other day. I knew him from somewhere but couldn’t put my finger on it. Turns out he was Kim’s old chiropractor. But him bringing her up isn’t what bothered me—it was him saying ‘Yeah. I hear you two don’t get along.’ What the fuck? I certainly didn’t tell him that! I didn’t even know who he was until like two seconds ago. You know, she can’t ruin her nice image by telling people the truth that the final straw in years of emotional and mental abuse was screaming at me until I cried over laundry soap and then making my life a living Hell for the week leading up to me moving out of the house!”
At this point, I was completely frustrated.
“Why does she still bother me?” I sighed. “I know what happened to me. I can’t change what happened to me. I know how it affected me. I’m doing better without her. It’s been nearly ten years since I went no contact. So why the fuck does she still have an effect on me?”
“Because you were conditioned to put your guard up when you lived with her so naturally you’re anxious when she’s around.”
Why didn’t I ever think of that? I’ve been wondering why after nearly ten years of no contact she still bothers me. I always just assumed it was the general anger I feel about a parent treating their child the way she treated me, which is part of it. It should have been obvious—I knew what she did, how it had made me feel, and how it continues to affect me, but somehow didn’t make the connection I was conditioned to feel anxiety around her because of it.
“That’s…that’s a valid point,” I said.
“I didn’t go to school for nothing. You can change the way you feel when she’s around. Instead of feeling anxious and tense when she’s around, try to feel…maybe pity for her. Like ‘She probably has nothing going on in her life and that’s just sad.’ Or even annoyance. ‘Ugh. Of course she’s here!’ Or laugh it off.”
I realized what she was trying to do: she was trying to get me to take baby steps like I did when I overcame the fears of driving I had that were partially caused by an incident involving Kim. I try to stay perfectly calm when Kim is around and the results have not been so great.
“Wait…you want me to basically Tidus laugh at the situation?” I asked.
There’s a moment in Final Fantasy X where Tidus does the most uncomfortable fake laugh known to man after Yuna explains she fakes cheeriness to hide her sadness and tries to get Tidus to do the same. In the next section of the game, Seymour scolds her for not keeping up her cheerful façade after watching a lot of people get slaughtered by Sin because people depend on summoners to defeat this reincarnating beast that ravages the world and therefore as a pillar of hope for the people she should not express sorrow. I always hated this advice because I felt that it was bullshit she had to hide her negative emotions just to make others happy and fake being a cheerful human—something I related all too well living with a parent who gave me a hard time for expressing negative emotion.
But when my therapist gave similar advice with the notation “you can change the way you feel”, it made me see this advice in a new light. Eventually, in the game, the player finds out that the only known way of vanquishing Sin will result in the summoner’s death and the party explains to the unknowing Tidus they weren’t hiding this common piece of knowledge from him, but that it was too hard to say. Before Rikku blurts out the truth, the biggest hint that there’s more to the pilgrimage than the game lets on is when the party teases Yuna and Tidus’ narration states, “It was only later that I realized the only one really laughing then…was me. Laughing must have been the only thing keeping them going.” Otherwise there was practically zero indication that Yuna planned to sacrifice herself or that her friends disagree yet accept her choice to become a summoner as the party was extremely good at hiding their feelings or saying things in a way that didn’t let on the end result of the pilgrimage yet its context was understood by those who knew. They couldn’t change Yuna’s mind about her choices, but they could change how they reacted to the situation.
In this sense, perhaps being able to control emotions could be seen as a way to just get through the day without breaking down constantly. Yes, without an outlet to properly express or process the negative feelings its bad advice, but coupled with therapy it maybe could be beneficial.
I tried explaining this laughing scene with Tidus and my therapist noted that I seemed to relate to this character a lot. She noted parallels between Tidus and me as we both have a neglectful, abusive, alcoholic parent we haven’t seen in ten years that are viewed favorably by many people due to how they present themselves in public, a fact which is rather frustrating as the child who dealt with the brunt of their worst qualities. The actions of those abusive parents have resulted in strained relationships with the other parent, nightmares, and unresolved feelings. Like Jecht, Kim also turned into a monster (though in the metaphorical sense rather than a literal one), but very few people are aware she is that monster. Kim is so much like Jecht that its kind of scary–even more so considering the game came out just before or around the time she started becoming verbally and emotionally abusive towards me in a subtle way.
Before the appointment was over, we came up with a more concrete therapy plan. I saw she wrote “reduce nightmares and PTSD symptoms”. I felt shocked and unsurprised at the same time, but overall strangely relieved because I always debated if I did have PTSD and now I no longer had to wonder as it was made official by a professional.
It ended up being the first appointment where I didn’t cry afterwards so despite feeling eggshell fine I’m making some progress.