When I came out to my parents, I was offered an ultimatum: change my mind and pretend that I had just been going through a phase or get out of their home and their lives completely. Years later, when I’d begun talking with my mother again after years of cut off communication she got angry with me about something I’d said and called me a liar. She didn’t respect liars, she told me, writing that my family had never disowned me, seemingly rewriting conversations that had long ended. In some ways, I wish I still had a copy of that e-mail from her as a reminder to myself of her remarkable ability to not only reinvent the past but thoroughly believe it.
After a recent argument with my partner where I shut down emotionally, I realized that I don’t have the ability to discern between healthy disagreements and gas lighting. Because of years of living with my mother and the years I spent in an abusive relationship, both of which where it was common to be told that my memory was incorrect, especially when they had done something particularly manipulative or cruel, I get really defensive or shut down when my version of the past doesn’t match someone else’s. If my memory of the events leading up to an argument differ from my partner’s, I can’t deal with the argument. I either feel like I’m going to be be punished for arguing that she’s wrong about what happened, upset that no one ever believes me, or paranoid that no one will ever believe me and that my memory is really just shitty and not to be trusted. It doesn’t help that my memory isn’t always trustworthy about certain things. When I get emotional, my ability to recall what is happening around me goes out the window. This has gotten worse over the years as I’ve been in more aggressive treatment for recurring major depressive episodes to the point that I don’t always trust my memory of current events.
A good friend of mine has a habit of asking me if I remember when x happened, only I have no recollection of what he’s talking about. And under normal circumstances this would probably be fine, but at times, I feel like he’s trying to convince me of a memory that isn’t mine and I feel an urge to protect myself against what feels like a “false” memory. All of this makes me feel like I am losing my mind, which is the way I felt when I was actually being gas lit by people in my life on a regular basis. Only now that I’m not, I don’t know how to convince my brain that it’s not happening anymore. Part of how I protect myself is by limiting conversations with my mother to things that we agree on and by refusing to argue with her about things. If she says something that I disagree with, I say one thing while mentally reassuring myself of my own truth at the same time and then change the subject. By not engaging her, I don’t give her as much opportunity to gaslight me. Which, I realize is kind of the same thing I do with my friend subconsciously, agreeing and changing the subject but disagreeing in my head and telling myself that it’s okay.
I think it is progress to have recognized this pattern in myself even if I don’t know how to change it yet. It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, but that’s how these things usually go. My partner and I talked this over the other day, so she is aware of what is going on in my head. My depression being in remission makes it easier, I think. Thankfully it’s summer, which is always easier for me to get through. Between the light and the endorphins from walking everywhere, my mood has been pretty even. I’m hoping that I can keep things stable through the fall and maybe even into the winter months if I keep walking and getting outside. My therapist and I are already starting to talk about tactics for hopefully keeping me out of the hospital this winter, so maybe if I’m able to stay on top of everything for once, it’ll make a difference. I’m certainly starting out in a strong place. As for all of this, it’s something I’ll bring up with her the next time I see her because I’m sure she’ll have ideas too. It’s just another one of those gifts in the never ending cycle my past brings. Thank god for trauma therapy.