Yesterday I wrote 1 line. One blank line.
It was all I could muster.
On my birthday, I had wanted to celebrate me. To celebrate my more than just survival this year, my growth, my success. But I guess there were none to celebrate.
Instead, I spent the day in bed, alone. Quiet. Trying to protect my loved ones from the typhoon of me. Trying not to make the mistake that would hurt them more.
34 years old. Seems young to me. This life is mine to live. But I waste it.
I am weak and stupid. I let fear block my way.
I’d like to re-join the life that I was building but I can’t find the way.
I let fear keep me inside. Alone. Quiet. Disconnected.
What am I even so afraid of?
Last month, it all seemed so clear, so possible.
Then the slide began. I could sense it coming.
Like the smell of the sea before a storm.
I’m scared to write. I don’t know what’s going to come out. There are so many clearer ideas in my head lately*.
I feel a bit like I’m standing at the edge of a diving board and my life is the swimming pool. I came up here because I wanted to dive in. But now that I am finally here, I am faced with how terrifying the dive might be. And I’m scared that once I set on this path, I won’t be able to unknow or unfeel this life. If I leap, I can’t turn back. Like you can’t stop a dive once it’s started.
Jumping would mean that I am really closing a door on the life I thought I would have. The life I thought I would have when I was a teenager. The life I thought I would have when I got married. The life I thought I would have a few months ago. There’s a ‘whole new world. a new fantastic point of view.’
I also started very intensive ‘integration therapy’ twice a week. It’s very intense and powerful. We are trying to find and nurture my sense of self after trauma. We are trying to strengthen neuropathways that I didn’t even know I had. And through this I am discovering my “inner wise woman” – my sense that I exist as a whole and complete person with wants and needs. (wow. I can’t believe I wrote that. I’m so not quite there yet.)
So, here I stand on the edge of the diving board, wanting to dive into my life and give it my all. But scared. Scared of the leap. Scared of leaving behind my precious coping mechanisms that have kept me ‘safe’ all these years. And most of all, scared of the pain of love. Scared of the intense pain that I would feel over love lost. Scared of the intense vulnerability that comes with all of this.
But I have to try. I have one shot and I might as well make the most of it. I know that I won’t really regret trying even if I fail. But I will regret sitting idly by while my time ticks away. (like my dad did…)
So I’ll raise my mason jar of coffee with milk and maple syrup in a toast to myself. Here here! To trying to join in this thing called life.
L’chaim. To life!
*I stopped taking daily seroquel and replaced it with abilify in my medication cocktail. The sedation that I thought was the illness turns out to have been (obviously) the sedative that I took each day. I’m able to stay awake past 10pm and the idea of travelling to a different time zone is now a possibility again.
Abuse is a funny sort of thing. I mean not funny “ha ha”, but more like funny “oh”.
I met a great person in a trauma survivors group. As a youth, she was beat up by her mother. A lot. The more she cried, the harder she’d get hit. So she learned not to cry. She learned to avoid looking weak at all costs. She couldn’t hide the scars on her body. So she added her own markings to her body- tattoos, piercings. But still, she could not cry. She learned that it was okay to show her scars on her body but she would never look weak or cry.
Now me on the other hand, my mother would push until I cried and then she would leave. The fight was never over until I cried. But if I ever showed my scars/pain in public, she would attack me even harder. So I learned to make sure things always looked ‘normal’ but I knew that it was okay to cry.
Let me try to write this like a mad lib:
My mother attacked me when I ______ (acted weak/ acted strong).
When I cried she would ______ (hit harder/ back off).
So I learned to survive by acting _______ (strong/ weak).
She wanted the public to think that I was ______ (weak/ strong).
She thought that my _____ (visible scars/ emotional numbness) was evidence that I was ______ (that I was weak/ that I was strong). She was wrong.
My mother created a narrative of me and adjusted her actions to fit it.
My mother thought that scars and bruises would show that I was weak. I will show her that my scars make me strong and tough. I will own my scars – not her.
My mother thought that hiding emotional reactions would show that i was strong. I will show her that hiding emotional reactions is weak. I will own my emotional reactions – not her.
Let’s add another option to our mad lib:
My mother attacked me when I ______ (acted weak/ acted strong/ never).
When I cried she would ______ (hit harder/ back off/ hug me).
So I learned to survive by acting _______ (strong/ weak/ authentically).
She wanted the public to think that I was ______ (weak/ strong/ me).
She thought that my _____ (visible scars/ emotional numbness/ being) was evidence that I was ______ (that I was weak/ that I was strong/ loved).
She was _____ (wrong/so wrong/ kind).
My _______ (scars/ emotional numbness/ feeling of being loved) make me _______ (strong/ weak/ free).
I dreamed about my mom again last night. She was chasing me. I screamed at her in the lobby of a theatre and pulled her hair. She screamed. Then I screamed. Then I ran away. Terrified.
I woke up feeling scared and unsettled. This was the second night in a row. Like I’m being haunted by the ghost of my mother. (except she’s alive).
I’m scared to go to sleep tonight. I feel like she’s there, in my dreams, waiting for me to drop my guard and fall asleep. Then she’ll pounce. She’s angry that I’m writing about her. Her anger still makes me very scared.
I don’t feel safe.
Safety is the first non-tangible thing a baby needs to feel in order to relax her survival instincts and allow her brain to give attention to developing into a complete person. Without safety, the baby is consumed by fear. We are wired that way. When fear leads the way, all thoughts are obviously focused on creating safety. When the fear gets out of the way, her brain is able to focus on thoughts, words, people, feelings. Life.
Fear has been leading the way in my brain for as long as I can remember. Anxiety is just another word for FEAR. I feel anxious = I am afraid. When the fear gets out of the way I can think. I can breath. I can be creative. I can be alive.
Long ago I learned that people are unpredictable, dangerous and will emotionally hurt you if you let them. At a young age, I developed two key coping mechanisms to assuage the fear. I either dissociated around others or found reasons to be alone. But the pain of being alone for too long also made me dissociate. I dissociated into depression and also into hypomania. In other words, I could only really feel safe when I hid my mind from my brain.
“There are times when the mind is dealt such a blow it hides itself in insanity. While this may not seem beneficial, it is. There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” ― Patrick Rothfuss
This strategy seemed to sort of work for me. It allowed me periods of time where I could be creative, intellectual and engage with others in what felt like an authentic way.
But… becoming a parent changes everything. When I became a mother, my fear for my baby’s safety was more powerful than my fear for my own. It led the way. I just couldn’t let myself fall into insanity and dissociate. I had to build for her a feeling of safety and predictability to ease her fears.
I assumed her fears were enormous like mine. I thought that safety was a very perilous thing that could be broken with ease. I had to focus all my energy on preventing my daughter from feeling always afraid like I was.
To create this safety for my daughter, I never put her down. I never let anyone hold her. I didn’t want her to think that she wasn’t seen. I wanted her to know that I would be there. That she didn’t owe me anything. She didn’t have to laugh and perform for me to keep me interested and engaged.
Like any new mother, I put my own fears onto my daughter. The problem was… I just have so so many fears.
When she was a newborn, I developed a new coping mechanism. I contained my fear by creating and following highly rigid routines. I found safety within my routines. I thought my daughter needed them to feel safe too.
I didn’t address the fear- I just replaced my frequent dissociation with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). (I’m brilliant.)
It’s time to address the fear.
These routines aren’t working anymore. They don’t make me feel good. They make me feel trapped. They have been suffocating me. So, I started dissociating a lot. This doesn’t feel good either. It’s not helping build relationships with those I love.
I need to figure out how to empower myself to conquer the fear – to find safety within myself. I need to trust that I can keep my mind inside my body.
My new therapist said that she will help me find that safety within myself. She will help me strengthen the other parts of my brain that have been pushed aside while fear led the charge. It’s called ‘integration therapy’.
There’s a very scared little girl inside of me and it’s time for her to stop running the show.
How much can I procrastinate writing this… all week apparently.
Unfortunately my award winning strategy for living with bipolar 2 isn’t working very well. (I’ll have to postpone my Oprah show appearance again.)
I thought I was doing really well at this ‘life’ thing. I thought the daily motions that I was working really hard to complete were meeting my goals of giving my kids a decent mother and making my husband’s life less miserable. (Can you feel the self loathing?)
But as this year’s winter depression got worse, my husband and my employer finally ran out of patience (not together but it happened at the same time) and forced me to hear some feedback that I’ve been ignoring for a long time. Not only was I failing at both of my goals, my efforts were aimed in the wrong directions.
The feedback that I finally heard was this:
(I don’t want reassurance. This is true and it’s important that I see it for what it is.)
I am volatile. I am overweight. I am overly critical. I expect perfection from others but rarely provide it. I am judgemental. I am messy. I am lazy. I am not nurturing. I am overly intense. My intensity is not appropriate for the situations.
This list is how they described me. But it’s really how I would have described my mother. Ouch.
I was just working so hard to not cause pain to the people I love. But instead of protecting them, I was actually instilling fear in them. I don’t even know if they were more afraid of my anger or my silence. Are they afraid of pushing me over the edge or of me pushing them down?
The only way I knew to make them less afraid was to stay out of their way but then I learned that wasn’t really what they wanted. Something needed to change. I knew it deep down but I wasn’t sure if it was worth investing more energy in the lost cause of fixing me. I was in a deep hole.
After a lot of crying in the shower and more deep self hatred. I realized that I had to get more and different help to figure out how to take more effective action or I would really lose everything. I learned that I didn’t necessarily need to work harder, I needed to work smarter. And I needed some more tools for that.
So, I called every mood disorder/bipolar organization for help finding services (they were not helpful). Then I called almost every psychologist in the directory (many of them were not helpful). I finally felt empowered to try something new. I felt like I had a bit more agency over my life but I still wasn’t sure what that meant.
When I realized that the routine and rules that I had created and held sacred weren’t actually protecting me from failure after all, I felt a bit more freedom to stray from the prison I had created for myself. I gave myself more permission to check in with my body and mind and consider listening to myself. I had been a prisoner to my own routine.
The new therapist that I’ve started seeing focuses on very intense trauma repair work. It’s very raw and very intense. We work on reintegrating myself with myself. We don’t over-analyse the trauma. I’ve done that already.
I’ve also made huge efforts at work to be punctual and remember that I’m not invisible and am being paid to do a specific job- not just to sit in a chair.
Also, I’ve lost 15 pounds since mid-March. I’m feeling empowered to step away from my routines because they weren’t working. I started overeating to manage anxiety but for a long time, I’ve been over-eating because I was afraid to break the routine. And I’m realizing just how disconnected I have been.
Something is opening inside of me.
When did it close? Was I always so shut down? So reserved?
After that, my mind went very wonky for a while (for a variety of reasons #bipolar?). I chased it round and round the mulberry bush until the late fall when I got a wake up call from my psychiatrist. She told me I could benefit from taking a leave from work to participate in an 8 week intensive trauma therapy program. I knew this was asking too much. I knew that I couldn’t tell my husband that I was taking a leave from work to spend more time focusing on myself.
I skipped my nephew’s bar mitzvah, stopped fantasizing about fixing the relationship with my parents and blocked their phone numbers from my phone. They were dead to me and I dissociated enough to believe it. I forgot what they looked like, sounded like, and avoided any reminders of my past.
“I’m sick of therapy. I’m sick of over-analyzing myself. I’m not that interesting. I’m sick and tired of traipsing around in my crazy mind….I feel okay enough. I’m mostly able to take care of many daily tasks. I just want to stop focusing on my mental state and focus on nurturing my family.” – me, Nov 2014
I shut down the emotional part of me. It was too overwhelming, too all consuming. It felt too selfish to keep indulging and listening to it. I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere anyways.
I tried to put my emotional needs aside. I made peace with the idea that I would never truly feeling anything and worked to give my kids and husband the appearance of what they needed. But…now I see that it didn’t exactly work.
I just couldn’t connect in a meaningful way. I eventually stopped talking much. I didn’t think anyone would notice if I spoke or not and every idea I had just seemed like a waste of words. I wasn’t thinking of anything to say anyways. I didn’t trust my thoughts and I was teaching myself to ignore them. I wasn’t totally sure that I was really in the room anyway.
My new therapist said that she admires my skill of dissociation. She said that it was an important tool in my survival. But that now it’s time to move past that and reintegrate myself with myself. She is helping me find/create my inner self.
What my family needed wasn’t for me to seem okay. They needed me to actually be okay. And at that time, without more intensive therapy and more medication roulette, I just couldn’t get there. Honestly, I’m still not sure I ever will be. But I need to try. Not harder, but differently.
I’d like to give them a true me. A thinking, feeling, safe woman and mother. I’d like to give myself that too. Maybe I will always be a wounded person, but I’d like to be a wounded person who can actually feel and be present.