February 08, 2007

The Rules

The Rules govern everything I do, from entering the Adult Ed classroom or staying in Stop and Shop (I no longer even enter) to looking at people and smiling a "Hello". "They" make The Rules, but who are They? I don't know. They are not the voices, not precisely, because I don't hear voices any longer, yet The Rules remain in force. All I know is that a certain They do, and I can't disobey, I can only hope for a sudden change in them, or a relaxation of a certain rule so that I can move in the direction I need to go.

That's what Dr O did not understand when we first met, or at least during my first stay at her hospital. We were in my room talking about how hard it was for me to leave it to go to the dayroom to watch TV or meet people, when another patient came to the door and called me to the phone. Oh no, not the phone, I hated the phone at all times, but especially now. But I had to answer it, that was the Rule of the moment. So I asked Dr O if she minded waiting while I told the person at the other end I'd call them back. She shook her head and I went to do so. When I got back, she was livid. She said, You just up and left the room! I thought you couldn't leave the room because of the Rules! Were you lying?

I frowned, nonplussed. I didn't understand what she was talking about. Didn't she understand? The Rules changed the moment that patient said there was a phone call. I had no choice but to go to answer it, whether I wanted to or not. I hated the phone. Never wanted to answer it. But I had to. That's how I got medication; when they called me to the med room, The Rules shifted and I was forced to leave the room and expose myself to all the dangers of the hallway just to take the pills I so hated. Then, according to The Rules, I was to immediately return, no stopping, no talking, no looking left or right, just take the pills and go back to the room.

Dr O nodded, no longer angry. She seemed to finally get it, what The Rules were all about. They would crop up again and again over the years until she knew enough to ask me when it was The Rules that was causing a certain behavior. But that first episode of anger scared me; I didn't know what I'd done wrong and there she was accusing me of being a liar, all because of a misunderstanding. But I was all too familiar with misunderstandings and how they could grow into life-long resentment, how anger meant someone hated you forever...and I was afraid this would be the inevitable upshot. It took me a while to get over that, and as you can see, I still haven't forgotten it.

But Dr O has gotten furious with me since then, especially when I refused to take the medications and still she has stuck by me, hasn't dumped me...yet. I still keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, whatever that means. Too many people in my life have gotten angry then left me for good, way too many, for me to trust that she won't eventually as well. Only Lynnie and Joe have stuck around, furious or not, and whether I am angry with them or not; they have never given up on me for good. Others have enjoyed my company for years, my good moods and my generosity, but the first time I make them angry, they not only leave, they leave me for good, no looking back. What sort of friends are those, I ask you? The friends I have now, and I count them on both hands, I generally have not gotten angry with nor made them angry somehow...Just watch it when I do. They will be off like a lightning bolt, never turning to look back.

This is NOT one of The Rules: Never show your anger, never show your true feelings, because that will give people ammunition to hate you. The Rules are for Them, not for me. The statement above is a rule, small r. It protects me from pain, it does not serve Their purpose, so it is not a Rule. Does this make sense? They, I mean, "They" have not made this necessity a Rule, it is merely an unfortunate fact of my life, that I must not allow my anger to surface, not with the person I'm angry at. The Rule involved might have to do with, May I cross the floor of this restaurant alone? Or May I walk home from this place? May I get my mail when others are around?

Someone will say, Rules are made to be broken, but I wonder what that statement means. Why make them if they are to be broken? What's the point? Do I have the quote right? Anyone have thoughts on this?

Posted by pamwagg at February 8, 2007 07:09 PM


Hi Paula and Kate,

Actually, the Rules are as old as the hills, but I never talk about them as much as I do other things. They are just there, being Rules. But Dr O knows about them and has from the start. However, I do not think they are compulsions, because a compulsion would have to be the same from day to day, since the essence of a compulsion is that you do it over and over. But the Rules keep changing. There are Rules for every situation, created in the instant the situation comes up, so that I don't know from one moment to the next what I will or won't be permitted to do, unless it does happen to be a repeat of something I was or was not allowed to do. But as you can tell from my description of that incident with the phone, even the seemingly same act can subtly differ, with highly variably Rules resulting. In one situation I was not allowed to leave the room, but when called to answer the dreaded phone, the Rules demanded that I leave at once...Hope this clears things up a little. The Rules are sadistic, or the Rulemakers are, that much I can tell you. On the other hand, when I follow the Rules I do feel safe.

Thanks for the comments. I always appreciate you guys!

a BD from PW

Posted by: Pam W at February 14, 2007 08:44 PM

Dear Pam, the Rules that confine you sound to me like compulsions. And these compulsions rob you of your free will which is unfortunate. You are certainly wise enough to live without the Rules but you need to have faith in yourself. I have some obsessive traits too, mainly having to do with numbers. I feel as if focusing on particular numbers will provide me with some kind of safety. But at the same time I know it's an illusion. It's like enforcing a superstition (I'm typically nervous around the number 13 though in the I Ching hexagram 13 means Fellowship with Men) instead of letting it go. Lately, I've been trying to resist this subtle number fixation which isn't too hard because the only numbers I encounter are the microwave timer and the treadmill timer. But what you describe with the Rules seems like a much more intense compulsion than mine. I can detach from it but for you it seems too pervasive. Yes, I do think these Rules are meant to be broken, unless, of course, you naturally agree with some of them but then that would be a choice and not a compulsion. Do you ever feel you can override them?

I'm sorry Pam, I haven't been following your blog for a few days, lost in Kate world as I seem to do cyclically. I feel as if I work everyday but it doesn't seem as if I accomplish enough. Oh well more of the winter blues. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog and post comments. Your comments are so smart and thoughtful. You always get me to think more deeply. I will respond to your comments within the next three days (tomorrow I will be out helping my brother clean his house).

Very fondly :>D

Posted by: Kate K. at February 13, 2007 04:11 PM

Dear Pam,
This is the first time I have heard about "the Rules" which sound to me very suspiciously like the old virulent voices coming at you from a new direction.(Will they never cease?) Although I am worried about this manifestation of your illness, I will not address my opinion fully right now. Now is the time to remind you that I am still here. Although I have found it necessary to hibernate for a yet unknown period of time, I must remind you that I am still and will ever be your friend of the heart. I have never taken advantage of your generosity and then left you. I have never been angry with you, although once my thoughtless words caused you to be angry with me and you were so hurt that you ended our relationship. I was filled with remorse, but I respected your wishes. I thought you were gone forever and I cried. I have never told you that. I kept reading your blog faithfully, as I do now, but I did not comment in keeping with your wishes. One glorious day the text of your blog was an olive branch, disquised as an Emily Dickinson poem, asking me to come home to you. I flew back on the wings of a humingbird. I have remained as your friend ever since, loving you, worrying about you, and always keeping in mind your sweet fragility. I just had to write this. My heart cried ou at the thought that you had forgotten to include me in those who remain loyal to you. I know you understand my present situation, but your readers do not. This is as it should be. You are the siren whose call brings the special people who comment on your political stance, your tasty recipes, your experiences regarding your illness, your exquisite poetry et al. However, I needed to reaffirm our unique friendship for you and for any who have noticed my comments in the past and have wondered about their absence of late. You are ever in my thoughts, my darling Feebster. Ever so sincerely, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at February 9, 2007 11:20 AM

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