I’m nervous to write. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Either the flood gates will open and I will be overwhelmed by all that I need to say or… nothing… blank stare, blank page, and I will have to face the fact that I actually have no thoughts, no story to tell, nothing to write.
Yesterday was my birthday. 36 years old. Feels different this time. I feel like I am coming into myself. Becoming a person that I can be proud of, a woman with integrity and ability.
But when did I get so fat? don’t answer that.
And why did I check out of my own life and myself for so long? don’t answer that either.
This year’s birthday validated the sense that I am becoming a person deserving of belonging and acceptance. My colleagues celebrated with fancy donuts yesterday for all of us with September birthdays- I was neither the star of the show nor ignored. I got some really thoughtful cards that were very personal. People “got” me. My kids bought me flowers and cake and an actual birthday gift to support my newest hobby. It was really nice.
I’m not sure what else to write about. Looks like I was right- I have nothing to say. That’s not true. I have things to say, but maybe I just don’t want to jinx anything… things are pretty good right now. Maybe I’ll write more tomorrow.
September is almost over. My husband called out my “September Blues” as soon as the first leaf (and tear) fell. He stayed on my team all month and helped keep my shame at bay. With one day left in the month, I feel confident saying that I survived September 2017. (note: The confidence to say that I will survive tomorrow was not something I’ve ever had.)
I survived my birthday too. I made myself the gymnastics birthday party I’ve wanted for a while. Friends came with all their kids and we all did gymnastics together. I was probably the only adult looking forward to it but most of my friends showed up and I think everyone had fun. I don’t have many friends but the ones I have are gold.
So, all in all, September was totally okay. I think. My memory is really shot. There might have been lots of crying and dissociating… But I survived without noticeable scars, so that’s what counts.
Since this is my birthday post (annual)… I should probably reflect and analyze my life maybe.
On my birthdays, I typically look backward with shame and regret. But this year, I don’t want to. If I allowed myself to actually admit it, I would probably say the positive version of, “this year wasn’t a shit show of me screwing everything up”. But I can’t actually say that. I might jinx it.
I wish that I wrote more often. But there aren’t words and ideas in my head anymore. I just think about today and the logistics of the coming week. This is probably typical of my phase in life. (and maybe the meds and all the pot don’t help with the motivation.)
I don’t really have much… I’m struggling to find the word of what I am missing… optimism? ambition? hope for the larger world? activism? Maybe this is also typical of my phase in life, but I don’t want to stay this apathetic about the world.
I feel like I did all the big things already. I finished university, got a job, got married, had (awesome) kids, got diagnosed with mental illness… But now what? I don’t have any grand ideas about what I want to tackle next.
I don’t see myself going to feed children in starving countries when I can barely feed my own kids. I used to feel like I could volunteer my time to help others but my time is all accounted for now. I don’t have any to offer.
Maybe it’s my time of life, maybe it’s my mental illness, maybe it’s my meds, but either way, I will sit here and drink my tea and try to remember when pizza day is for the grade 3’s and not be sure what the next adventure is.
Don’t you just hate it when you spend years helping someone you love escape an abusive relationship (and protect her, and care for her kids, and scoop her off the floor and dry her tears) and just when she starts to feel whole again, she reconnects with her abuser? I would hate that too…if it wasn’t me who did it.
In the fall, I dropped by my parents’ apartment one day while I was driving by. I hadn’t seen them in 3 years. I was in a deep depression, feeling very alone and really needed someone to be really happy to see me. They were.
Since then, I’ve met my mom for coffee, introduced her to my kids, and started talking to her on the phone once in a while. At first, I was able to set and maintain very clear boundaries with her. I just ignored the potentially hurtful things that she said and focused on the positives. But I feel that my boundaryis beginning to slip. I feel I am being pushed too close to her spider’s web.
The borderline witch persona inside my mother peaked her head out last week. I shouldn’t have been surprised… but it really gets me every time.
I was hurting and asked her to help me in a way that I needed, rather than the way that she wanted to be seen helping. This triggered her rejection sensors. From there, she went into survival mode and (as always) kicked me when I was down. #storyofmylife.
I desperatly want to repair my relationship with my mom. I want to help her feel less alone, less lost. But she hasn’t changed. The behaviours that pushed me away (and tore me apart) are still engrained in her. I know now that it’s not her fault, that she has a serious mental illness and that her motivation is self-protection and not directly intent to hurt, but that doesn’t make the slaps sting less.
By going back to my mom, letting her into my new life and into my head, I think that I may have hurt the people who have really been there for me throughout these impossible years. I imagine that they feel frustrated, used and see me as ungrateful. They all worked hard with love to help me escape my abuser just to have me turn around and jump back into the lion’s den.
The people who were there for me- I can count you on one hand and I don’t thank you enough. IJ, HB, SA, SJ and (of course) OA, you kept my life together while I fell apart. You all became a team with a mission to save my kids and protect me from myself. You made sure that I had a life to come back to. For that I am eternally grateful. Thank you.
I didn’t mean to choose between hurting you and trying to heal my mother. But at first, it felt so good to see her. It felt good to be kind to her. It helped me see that there were good things that I learned from her and could share with my kids (reading, academia, traditions, cooking badly). Her superficial good lured me in and I forgot why I had pushed away.
I began to feel guilty for abandoning her. I began to feel responsibility to help her heal, to teach her to be the person she thought she was. I felt a need (an urgent, pressured need) to ‘fix’ our family and bring all of my siblings back together with her. I thought that they were all just waiting for me to come around (they weren’t).
I see now that the strength and empathy that I felt towards her was actually only possible because I had cut her out of my life and my head for so long. Her absence made me forget that she is a dangerous and manipulative person to be around.
I want so badly to be a good person who can be kind to her old, sad mother. But she just won’t let me – she can’t keep the witch at bay.
As always, Alanis Morisette articulates my deep feelings:
“I want to be big and let go of this grudge that’s grown old. All this time I’ve not known how to rest this bygone. I want to be soft and resolved, clean of slate and released. I want to forgive the both of us.”
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.