An Invisible Woman

I’ve been in a terrible mood for the last few weeks. I don’t often get this way, but lately, I snap at my husband over stupid things, get my feelings hurt over stupid things and come out of my corner with my claws out, and shut pretty much everyone out as often as I can. I know it’s directly related to my depression, but it just doesn’t manifest this way, ever. I am just so irritable.

I’ve had a headache since August. I’m not being hyperbolic in saying that. I’m completely serious. I can’t remember a day in the last five months that I didn’t have a headache. I have seen a doctor–my oncologist, actually–and he doesn’t seem terribly concerned about it, but he did suggest that it’s probably a combination of stress and allergies, and as long as I’m taking my allergy medication and nasal spray it’s better, but still there. I look at my life objectively and don’t think there’s much I should be stressed about, but from inside this fish bowl I can certainly attest to having some tension.

There’s always so much to worry about, and I know that worrying doesn’t fix anything, but being a person who is prone to anxiety attacks, low-level worry is just a fact of life. My mother and stepfather are not in good health, I just lost my older brother about a month ago, and more recently, I had to give up a kitten–and yes, it doesn’t sound like such a big deal but I rescued this kitten from the parking lot of our apartment complex where his former owner had dumped him along with their family dog, and this little guy wasn’t properly weaned, was underfed, and before I got hold of him, had already been attacked by some larger stray cats and someone else’s dog. I took care of him for about six weeks, fed him, got him neutered and got his vaccinations, and fell completely in love with him, but I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t keep him. We are allowed only one cat at our apartment, but we already have two (the second one is “illegal” but purposefully overlooked by management) and a third was completely over the line. So I had to give him up to my younger brother, who is a fine caretaker for a cat. The point though, is that I became quite attached to a kitten I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to keep long-term, and it broke my heart to give him away. One of my other cats had also become very attached to him and for the last two weeks she’s been wandering around the house looking for him and giving me these super-sad looks that make me feel so guilty for taking away her friend. So I’m worried about her too, along with my mother, my stepfather, the rest of my family and my older brother’s family who have lost him, plus I’m worried about money, and about my own health–both mental and physical–and my husband’s mental and physical health too, and I wonder–do any of these same people give me even a second thought most of the time? I mean, they must, right? I almost hope they don’t because I would really hate to contribute to someone else in my life having this feeling I have.

And in a weird way, this goes back to me needing to be invisible in order to be as comfortable as I can be. I was a quiet child by nature, but through therapy with my former therapist, I’ve come to understand that I was probably praised for being a “good girl” when I was quiet and played by myself without causing disruption, and assumed that this is the way I am supposed to be. I was further incentivized to be quiet and non-disruptive in school, was made to feel that I was causing problems if I complained to an adult about something, and began to believe it was imperative that I not bother anyone in order to make their lives easier. To this day, it is very, very hard for me to call someone on the phone, though I am perfectly receptive to answering those who call me. I don’t like to raise a fuss about a wrong order at a restaurant, I hate asking questions during meetings, and I pretty much just go along with whatever someone else wants to do, because my greatest fear is bringing attention to myself. And this has caused me so much anxiety in my life. I dress in muted colors, never really express myself with my hair, makeup, or jewelry, and only rarely speak to anyone in public. My therapist saw me once in a red and white striped dress and asked me why I had chosen it, as mostly I showed up to therapy with her in faded jeans, a plain t-shirt in some desaturated shade of blue, gray, or brown, and a gray hoodie three sizes too big. I told her–truthfully–it was laundry day and I was completely uncomfortable when I wasn’t able to blend into the wall behind me.

She suggested that I felt the need to be invisible, and asked me to think about that until our next session, and I did. I realized a lot of ways I forced invisibility onto myself, and though I’ve tried to work on it, I still catch myself trying to be extra quiet if my husband is asleep, or getting quite nervous if someone knocks on the door because it means I’ll have to open the door and probably talk to someone. I remembered that I used to be absolutely filled with dread when, as a child, I would hear my stepfather’s giant diesel pickup truck on the farm road behind the house. He has always been kind to me, but especially in my childhood, so it wasn’t fear of him–it was fear of disturbing him. Very specific. My mother always reminded my brothers and me to let Dad have the remote, not to make too much noise, to let him talk about whatever he wanted to talk about, because he worked hard for us and was very tired when he came home. So her warnings, coupled with my desire to please, made the evening hours at home so uncomfortable, and I never knew why until I was 41 years old. How much of my life have I wasted by refusing to speak up for myself, by trying to blend in with my surroundings, by making myself as invisible as I can be? And it’s a hard trick to learn as an old dog, to speak, when your whole life you’ve been told you’re a good girl when you’re silent.

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January 2, 2021

Having a headache for that long does not sound nice. No wonder you are not in a good mood. Hope it tapers off soon…

January 4, 2021

@mermycohea Thank you for your note. The headaches do persist, but some days they’re mild enough that I don’t have too much trouble focusing. It’s the ones that affect my ability to concentrate that really mess me up.