Family Systems, Cognitive Distortions and Camping

Me and the family are going camping this weekend.  It was my idea.  I was looking forward to it until last night when I got out of my car, walked up to my front door and noticed this…

20130710_223715

In case you can’t figure it out, that’s a picture of approximately 5 million different types of insect life? species? gathering around my outside light.

I’m not afraid of all bugs, I’m just really grossed out by two types of bugs. Roaches and fleas.

BUT….in my mind every bug is assumed to be either a roach or a flea until I can determine, with certainty, that they are neither.

Growing up in a Portuguese household (or at least my Portuguese household) having a cockroach was one sign that your family failed and you were probably going to die because of all the diseases they carried.

A Portuguese mother (or at least my Portuguese mother) initially assumes that any bug she sees is a roach.

The bug would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was not a roach before my mother would even reconsider her decision to move out and start a new life with a new identity.

That’s where my fascination with Canada begins.  As I got older I imagined my mother moving there  because it was my belief that they had very few bugs due to the climate.

Give me a break, the blog isn’t called “National Geographic”.

Side note- This is also where, I think, moving to Canada became my primary way of dealing with something that bothers me.

There is no greater insult in my family than “Her house probably has cockroaches.”  For many years I believed that everyone’s house smelled like Clorox, Lysol and fish.

Now with my mom, the whole thing would sort of transform when we were in Portugal.  Over there, fleas (pulgas) were the equivalent of cockroaches.  I swear I heard the word pulgas at least 30 times a day when we stayed in my Grandparent’s farm  house. They lived simply and fleas were the last thing on their minds. My mother became obsessed.

So, their house had fleas. No one (except for my mother) cared about it. There was no one she could talk to about it because the house only had three rooms. It’s the same house they raised 8 kids in.  Fleas were small potatoes compared to what probably went on in there.  Everyone else in that town probably had the same problem. There were animals everywhere on every farm spreading the joy of fleas to all.  So she began to take on some very strange behaviors in trying to identify and extinguish the fleas without making it obvious.

See, it is very rude to tell the person whose house you are staying in that they have fleas or even let on that you carry the suspicion.  It is perfectly acceptable to talk about it with 35,000 of your closest friends.

After making sure that none of the bugs congregating around my front light were roaches or fleas (thanks again, mom) I then began to think about the scene in a hotel we were staying at in Georgia when we found a roach in the room.  My anger only escalated when the manager refused to call it a cockroach.  He called it a Palmetto Bug.  I googled “roach” on my phone and showed him a picture of a bug that had a striking resemblance to the one in my room.

His response was “This is Georgia, get used to it”.

My response was “I’m from NJ.  I’m paying you. I don’t need to get used to it.”

Needless to say, after about 2 hours they agreed to fumigate the perimeter around our room daily while we were there.  I can deal with growing an extra toe as a result of being exposed to chemicals.

Where was I?  Oh Camping…. yes. That whole Georgia thing was important in an unnecessary sort of way.

I’ve only gone camping once.  I was maybe 11 years old and went with the Boy Scouts.  I had a horse shoe thrown at me because I really didn’t feel that merit badges were all that important. Honestly, I thought camping meant I got to get away from my parents for a week to do whatever I wanted. The Boy Scouts, apparently, did not feel this way about camping.  So that’s when the whole horse shoe thing happened  (I can be quite stubborn and unreasonable). It ended well enough, I got to eat some cheese and crackers around a fire but vowed never to go camping again.

“I shall never go camping again.”

I’m pretty sure that’s what it sounded like in my head.

In making this most recent decision to go camping I forgot about bugs and my prior experience with camping until I observed what you see in that picture. In case you forgot what it looked like…

20130710_223715

If you think that’s bad, I assure you that it was much more disturbing in real life.  It was like that scene in Pee-Wee’s Great adventure when he was saving the snakes from the fire in the pet shop. Except I wasn’t holding snakes. I was looking at bugs.

In that moment I gained an extraordinary amount of clarity as to the impact that family history and other past experiences can have in influencing present day reactions.

The idea of camping went from becoming pleasant to gross and boring. I forgot about the rewards or benefits that drove my initial decision making and added significant weight to the costs associated with the activity I was so enthusiastic about only minutes before.  These costs were not based on any credible evidence- they were apocalyptic fantasies that came out of some weird Sci-Fi novel involving Portuguese people and the Boy Scouts; and ended with me and my family living on a glacier in Canada feeding on penguins and snow for survival.

Again…not National Geographic.

So I stopped myself and thought….

“Hey.  I’m a therapist.  I have Degrees that tell me I should be able to deal with this.”

I decided to apply a simple thought record.

First I became mindful of the thinking going on in my head.  I found that my thinking consisted mainly of associations between the bugs and camping. Due to that negative association, I think, my mind went to supporting that association further by focusing on past negative memories of camping.  I was allowing one bad experience and my mother’s definition of what it means to see a bug, push the narrative around the camping trip from something positive to something more negative.

Next I became attentive to the emotions I was experiencing.  They weren’t horrible, just a low level sense of discomfort. Annoyance. Maybe a 20 out of a 100 on a scale.

My automatic reaction, something to the effect of “I really don’t want to go”, was probably the product of these two phenomena. I rated the strength of the belief at around 35 out of 100.

I thought about what a rational response to “I really don’t want to go” might look like and I came up with several:

-I get to fish with my daughters (using a loose definition of the term “fishing”)  

-We’ll be out of our usual chaotic environment for two-three days

-Bridget will able to really use the telescope I bought her as stars and planets would be more visible

-I’ll be able to spend time with my wife without the distraction of the late night push to “get stuff done”

-We won’t have to run to one of the 80 weekly activities that are scheduled for the kids.

These statements led me back to my pre-bug belief that “Camping will be a great experience.” I rated that belief an 80 out of 100.

I then looked at my post-bug belief of “I really don’t want to go” and re-rated it.  I came up with a 5 out of 100.

I know I took a really long time in explaining something relatively simple.  I do that all the time.  It annoys me as well.

I guess I should say I have nothing against Mom or the Boys Scouts of America.

2 thoughts on “Family Systems, Cognitive Distortions and Camping

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s