All mixed up.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post.  Even tonight as I sit down to type this, I’m not clear on what I’m going to write about.

I’ve been focused on my children and my family for the last few months.  It’s been difficult to connect or find the energy to do much other than collapse on the couch to watch Netflix at the end of each busy day.  I have my children with me full time now.  Their father moved to another part of the country and they haven’t seen him since October.  He didn’t plan a visit for Christmas.

We are all of us coping with this abandonment in different ways.

For me, there has been an incredible amount of anger.

I don’t feel comfortable in the anger.  I don’t feel comfortable with how little patience I have and how quickly I snap at people or shut them out if they cross a line from support into offering advice.  I’ve isolated myself more than usual.

The anger is just barely covering a deep well of sadness and fear.  Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed with the amount of trauma my small family has endured in the past few years.  I worry about the impact it will have on my children.  I worry about not having the right help for them.  I worry about not being patient enough.  I worry about being a solo parent, all the responsibility on me.  I worry about the lifelong impact of parental abandonment after years of emotional abuse and neglect.

I think about the research that has been done about adverse childhood experiences  (ACEs) in relation to trauma theory and the negative impact on health.  For those who might not be familiar with the research, here is a visual representation:

 

My kids have experienced emotional abuse and neglect and physical neglect at times.  I don’t know for certain about physical and sexual abuse.  I may never know.  They have a parent with a mental illness.  Their parents are divorced and their mother is a survivor of family violence.  There is a history of substance abuse on both sides of their family (though not with either parent).

I try not to think about it.  I try to think about the research on resilience which shows that if children have even one positive, consistent and stable adult in their life, it mitigates the impact of ACEs.   I try to believe.  I need to believe it is true in order to function on a daily basis, rather than fall into a pit of hopeless despair.

My older child was recently diagnosed with learning disabilities.  This did not come as a surprise to me.  For two years her father refused to consent for the testing to be re-done.  Earlier testing had been inconclusive for a number of reasons and it was recommended to be repeated.  He refused to agree.  He denied she had any learning issues and blamed me for instilling anxiety in both my children.

Yesterday, as I listened to the feedback from the psychologist.  I heard her saying again and again how different aspects of the test results, including some of the discrepancies between the recent and prior testing, could be linked to the impact of trauma on a developing brain.

Essentially, she was talking about the impact of ACEs on my child’s brain.

I felt numb.  What reaction is normal?  How can a caring parent just accept these things?  How to function and keep moving forward, filled with the knowledge that my kids have experienced trauma?

Intellectually, I know it isn’t my fault.  I know I’ve done the best I could.  But the dark voice inside tells me that it is my fault.  That I never should have had children.  That someone with a mental illness like mine should never have been a mother.  That I never should have had children with an abusive partner.  That I should have left him sooner.  That I should have stayed with him to protect the kids…

All the ways…all the blame.

I push it all down.   Try to keep busy.  Try to block out the thoughts and worries.  Turn on the TV.  Pick up my cell phone.  Browse the internet mindlessly for hours.

In the evening, I feel a sense of panic.  I’m a fraud.  I’m not capable.  I find myself thinking old thoughts, falling back into old thought patterns.  “I can escape my responsibilities by hurting myself”  and “It’s too hard.  I can’t do it. I’m a failure”  I think about self harm and suicide.  Then berate myself for how literally insane it is.  I can’t die.  I’m simultaneously gripped in a tight knot of constant fear and terror about dying and leaving my kids alone with their father, and desperate to escape from a life that often feels TOO painful to endure.   I think about suicide and actively wish I was not alive, while at the same time worrying about getting sick or having an accident, and the consequences on my children if I’m not here 100% of the time and 100% functional.

It’s exhausting.  I honestly want to sleep and watch TV, curled in warm blankets, for many days.  I want to escape from SO much responsibility.  But I can’t.  I get up each day, and I function.  I do ALL the things.  I keep going, because I have to.

My mind is a bit all over the place recently.  Instead of having a certain set of trauma memories and flashbacks which bother me consistently, I have been experiencing mixed up flashes of a whole spread of my traumatic experiences.  Memories popping into my mind, unexpectedly, and me pushing them back down again.

I started a new job, teaching a course at the university I went to during the years before my separation.  Going back to the campus brought back memories of those two years, when I was so unwell, cutting myself and ending up in the emergency room on a regular basis.  I received ECT the week I completed my last semester.  I felt depressed and trapped and I hadn’t yet made the connection to my abusive marriage.  During those years, it was still JUST ME.  I felt like I’d exhausted every treatment option and I was ready to give up.  I wrote a post-it note suicide notes to my children but then went to the hospital and had my injuries treated.  I felt like I was falling into pieces and not able to put them together again.  I never felt calm or safe.  I had nightmares and woke up screaming and trying to escape from imagined abusers.

My brain also dredged up memories and flashbacks of the undergraduate professor who sexually assaulted me in my apartment, less than a year after my graduation.  It happened in December.  I sat frozen on my couch while he touched me.  I didn’t fight back, I didn’t say no.  I just froze and disassociated, my eyes fixed on his black and gold scarf.  I was powerless to stop him. The only reason it ended was that at some point he noticed that I was completely gone and even he didn’t want to touch a statue.  It took what felt like hours before I could even speak to ask him to leave.  I remember crying, but as a statue would cry, tears moving over a frozen face.

In a way, I feel safer now that my ex-husband doesn’t live in the city.  But I still tense up when I see a car like his.  I still get jumpy at night sometimes, thinking I hear someone in the house.  I still get anxious about something happening to the kids, even a minor injury, that he might get angry about.  I am in equal parts afraid he will respond to my mandatory email updates about the children, and furious that he ignores me so completely.  I feel at the same time invisible and caged.   I feel trapped in a cage.

The cage of abuse and trauma.  I don’t know how to escape and I don’t know how to release my children from the cage either.  When abuse has gone on for so long, the abuser doesn’t even have to be in the same city, or have contact with you, to control you with the fear of what MIGHT happen.  The bars of the cage are memories, fears, and what ifs.  The fear alone is enough to modulate our behaviour, even with little or no contact from him.

I’m tired.  I get tired of hearing myself say that I’m tired.  But I’m tired.  I’m always tired.

Yes, there are good days and things to be thankful for.  This post isn’t ungrateful or dismissive of the blessings in my life.  It’s more to say that no matter how bright the joys and how wonderful the blessing, I still feel caged.  I still wonder how it can be possible to “live a normal life”  or “be healed” or “recovered”  after so much trauma.

I know it’s possible.  I know that ACEs aren’t a death sentence.  I know that our family has a lot of support, a lot of strengths and a lot of STRENGTH.

But some days PTSD makes it hard to be optimistic.  Is a bird in a cage optimistic about escaping?  Or in captivity do they gradually stop singing and lose their vibrancy?  A bird doesn’t belong in a cage.

And neither do I.

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Not my art.  Taken from Pinterest online

Capitalism = Isolation

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We live in a society that glorifies productivity, busyness and wealth.  I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how this capitalist value system doesn’t work for people with disabilities including chronic mental illness.  I’ve also been thinking about how glorifying busyness means devaluing human connection, caring and many tasks that are associated with women’s unpaid labour (housework, childcare, health care); as well as, devaluing self care (especially for women).

Those are a lot of big words.  As I’m adjusting to reduced energy levels and increased amount of symptoms related to my physical and mental health issues, I’ve been recognizing the need to slow down.  I’ve been more aware of my disability than usual.  I’ve been very keenly aware of how many people around me are addicted to, or glorify, being busy to the point of workaholism.  I’m aware of how many people around me are literally too busy to make a human connection.  I’m aware of how many people are putting careers first, trying to get ahead, trying to get rich…and putting off connection “for later” or for “when I’m successful enough.”   It’s incredible how many people are too busy to spend time with friends.  Too busy to go on a date.  Too busy to have a telephone call other than in the car in between “essential” tasks.

I’ve been reflecting on what is actually important to me and why I often feel like I just don’t fit in anywhere.

Quite honestly I have no interest in being so busy that I am too exhausted to enjoy my life.  I don’t want to be rich.  I don’t want to be famous.  I don’t want to have a bigger house or a fancier job. I don’t want to be the boss.  I don’t want to have fame.

I just want human connection, peace and happiness and I don’t think money can buy those things.  Neither can workaholism achieve them.  I want to have time to enjoy  my kids while they are young.  I want to spend the day cuddled in bed with a partner.  I want to have someone to cook for.  I want long talks over coffee.  I want to have someone to talk about my day with.  I want to be comforted when I’m afraid.  I want to create memories.  I want to feel like I have space to breathe!  And I want someone else who feels the same way.

It’s occurred to me that there is a much larger social problem going on around me when people I talk to don’t have time to meet for a coffee.  Not just one or two people, but the majority of people I know are so busy they have almost every minute of their lives scheduled.   I’ve been thinking a lot about how our society glorifies being busy.   Society equates being busy with being valuable.   Being productive with having inherent worth.

But where does that leave people who choose to stay home to take care of their children?  Where does it leave those who are living with either permanent disability or temporary illness?   When we don’t value unpaid caring labour we are not valuing some of the most important work in our society.  When we equate productivity and earning power with self worth we perpetuate abelism and the view point that disabled people are somehow less than whole, less than valuable or even expendable.

Equating productivity with self worth means that I’ve been conditioned to believe that resting, self caring, and hobbies have no inherent value.  This is not true.

Equating earning power with value, means that when I entered the workforce my years of full time parenting were not viewed as relevant experience, even though I was applying for jobs in the helping profession.

Capitalism creates a world where burn out is expected.  It is almost worn as a badge of honour by some people, how many hours they work and how much money they earn.

Lately as I’ve been forced to slow down and accept my own limitations, I wonder if some workaholics will have regrets.  I wonder when people are old and rich, but alone if they will feel sad.  I wonder if people feel satisfied with the lives they have, or if like me, they are yearning for more.  I wonder how many people in our society are deeply yearning for connection.  Connection to one another, connection to community, connection to nature and connection to something bigger than themselves.

It could be a radical act to accept our self worth is not connected to our net worth.

It could be a radical act to deeply value self care and caring for others.

It could be a radical act to care for our communities and help those around us who are less able, while still viewing them as complete and valuable human beings.

It could be a radical act to value connection.

(please note this blog entry is NOT meant to devalue the struggles of those who don’t have enough money for the basics of life, or who need to work long hours to provide the basics for themselves. Captialism is responsible for this as well, because a more communal philosophy would place stronger social safety nets in place, including a living wage!)

Can’t make everyone happy.

One of the ways I’ve coped with trauma in my life is to try to make everyone happy all the time.  When I was a child I thought my role was to “be nice” and to “be a good friend” and to take care of others, pay attention to my friends’ feelings, be considerate, be polite and do well in school always.  Essentially to be perfect all of the time.

I took this to such an extreme that I thought it was my responsibility to save, fix and adapt to my abusers.  Somewhere along the way I did not learn that it’s okay to be mean to protect myself.  It’s okay not to be nice to abusive people.  It’s okay to say NO, even to scream it and it’s not something to feel guilty for.  As an adult I STILL struggle with internalizing this.

I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to figure out what part of all my traumas is my fault.   What could I have done differently?  How could I have seen it coming?  Maybe if I’d been a better friend, she wouldn’t have died.  What if?  Maybe people are mad at me?  Maybe I made a horrible mistake at work and everyone blames me.   A good portion of my internal dialogue is convinced that somehow I’m a terrible mistake.  I’m not really a good person.  If only everyone could see!  Then they’d know the truth.

So as an adult, in most areas of my life I try to be the peacemaker.  I try to listen to everyone’s side of the story.  I try to minimize or avoid conflict at all cost.  I feel incredibly uncomfortable, even panicky when people around me are angry.  And if there is a conflict, you can bet it’s somehow my fault and I will feel guilty about it.

The irony, is I support survivors of violence every day.  I’ve told over a hundred or more women that what happened to them isn’t their fault.  I’ve told friends, I’ve told family members.  Heck, I’ve even told my abusers that things that happened to them weren’t their faults.  You were a child!   You couldn’t have known!   You did everything you could to protect yourself!   You aren’t to blame, he’s an abusive person.   You were in the wrong place and the wrong time.  You couldn’t have prevented it.  Your are doing what you can to take care of yourself.  It’s not your fault.  I believe you.

But at the end of the day, I treat myself with contempt and blame.  I feel like literally everything is my fault.  Always.  I try to depersonalize.  I know intellectually that most people aren’t even thinking about me, let alone blaming me for things that go wrong.  But deep down, I fear that I’m just a flawed person and I feel panicky when I realize I can’t keep everyone happy all the time with sacrificing myself.  And even if I do sacrifice myself, people around me have their own feelings and can be mad, hurt, angry and scared and there is not a connection to me.

A lot of women grew up with the message to “be good” and not to show anger.  Angry girls get labeled bitches.  Assertive girls get labeled bossy or rude.  Angry girls are judged.  People like calm, pretty, patient and loving girls.  We are surrounded by this covert and overt messaging from birth.  The labels put on us almost before we take our first breaths.

Why do so many girls and women feel such intense guilt and even shame around saying no?  Why do so many girls and women feel that anger is an unacceptable emotion and that they are bad for having it?  Why do I feel this way?  How do I make room for myself without feeling guilty?  How to say no without feeling afraid and ashamed?

These days, the world has become a scary place.  I’ve had to take breaks from social media and the news because I’m so devastated by the hatred and violence I see.  I feel the urge to isolate myself, connect less, spend more time alone.  Because I don’t feel very safe in the world anymore.  It’s rare that I feel truly safe.  As a survivor of violence, living with PTSD I feel scared most of the time.  But current events have triggered a different level of fear.

And sadness.  Because all the caring in the world can’t fix this mess.  I could be the best person in the world and I couldn’t make all my friends feel safe.  I want everyone to be in a bubble where they feel safe and protected.

I am a good person. I genuinely help people because I care about them and I want to.  It’s not because it’s an obligation or how I was raised.  It’s not just the expectation placed on me.  I think I was always this empathetic person. I always cared deeply, perhaps too deeply.  And it’s always hurt me.

But right now it hurts too much.  I just want to say NO MORE TRAUMA and hide from the world.  My brain feels overwhelmed with conflict.  I’m afraid about everything I do, that it will somehow make things worse.  When I’m alone at least I can think and I only have to monitor myself and my environment, not other people and their reactions.  Sometimes the guilt feels too much and I just don’t want to make a mistake or let someone down.  I’m also terribly afraid of being hurt or betrayed by someone else.  Sadly, this is a lonely way to live.  I just want to be in a bubble and feel safe and protected too.

Being lonely feels safer right now.  Because I can’t make everyone happy all of the time.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t make anyone happy, ever.

I can’t even make myself happy.