“Didn’t your parents teach you to cut your meat?” they asked as I sat in front of them with a fork and knife in my hands. I don’t remember, I thought. Maybe not. All I knew was that the knife felt awkward in my hands, squeaked across the plate, and wasn’t cutting very well.
They must have taught me, though. I was eighteen and living with my boyfriend’s parents. A Hungarian/German family that loved cooking, and loved food. Being a picky eater with extreme sensitivities to taste, texture, and type of food, plus a strong difficulty eating in front of other people (they always ate together at the table) made it very difficult for me to show them I appreciated what they were doing for me.
After all, I was very much starving before they allowed me to move in with them. But there were foods I couldn’t eat (many I still can’t eat 20+ years later) and I really struggled to cut my meat.
Now that I know myself more, I can say with assurance that I likely could cut my food, and had been taught – I just couldn’t do it then, while I was at the table, with people so close, and myself being so aware of every movement that I wasn’t able to think, function, or even hold a knife.
Even now after many years of experience and over twelve years of marriage, I struggle to hold utensils when even my husband is close to me. It isn’t like he is a stranger or anything, but that feeling of being watched seems to reduce me to struggle with even the basic of tasks.
It isn’t that I can’t, or that I won’t, or that I am seeking attention by pretending to be helpless – it is that in certain situations, my focus shifts to the point where I can’t think of anything else but my own awkwardness – which has the pleasant effect of causing the very thing I am trying to avoid… embarrassment.
Afterward I want to defend myself. It isn’t like I can’t do these things – and I certainly don’t want people to think of me like that… yet in that moment, in that situation, truly I can’t.
I would like to say that I am getting better at this, but I still struggle with it most of the time. It is the reason I need to work alone. It is the reason that when we were trying to adopt our children, having the social workers watching everything caused me so much stress. It is the reason I often fail when I am around other people.
I have even found that it isn’t just when someone is close enough to watch that this is a challenge for me. It is also as difficult if I think someone might be listening/watching (such as neighbours outside, even if what I am doing is in). It is even as strong of an issue if while I am doing… whatever… I so much as think of a situation when that might happen.
My functioning drops, and what I could have done well if I was alone, I can no longer seem to do at all – and that leaves me feeling inadequate and ashamed.