Complex feelings.

wiki-ad-survivors-isolate-breaking-free

I’m going to talk about something that people who have not experienced prolonged interpersonal abuse rarely understand, and people who have survived it immediately relate to.   The technical psychology term for it is “trauma bonding” but what it refers to, in simple terms, is the complex and multi-faceted feelings a victim has for their abuser.

It’s very hard for me to talk to people in my life about this.  Well meaning people who want to help and who actually care about me a lot, don’t understand this.  This is why it is so important to support survivors of violence by listening to them, validating them and meeting them where THEY are at.  Make sure you clearly understand where they are at, before you begin projecting what you think they should be feeling or where you think they should be at.   If you don’t listen closely, and validate the complexity of the situation, the survivor will shut down and stop sharing with you.  This is not about you.  It was never about you.  If you didn’t live through it, you don’t get a say in how the survivor “should” be feeling.

I’ve known my ex-partner for 17 years, 1 month and 25 days.  We’ve been in a type of relationship for more than half my life.  We were together for 13 years and have been separated/divorced for 4 years, 1.5 months.  Even though we separated we have been (in theory) sharing responsibility for our two children.  In that way, we were still bonded and in a relationship, even though it was at a distance, non-communicative and unproductive.  It was still a type of co-parenting situation, even if we didn’t actually make any real decisions together.

This represents a large portion of my life and a tangled web of complex emotions.

My ex-partner is moving to the other side of the country in 3 weeks.  He’s leaving.  The house we lived in has been sold.  An everything-must-go yard sale planned.  My kids have brought the majority of their possessions here.

And he hasn’t even communicated this with me directly.   Everything I know, I’ve learned through my children.  After over 17 years, he is leaving without even telling me, let alone consulting me or gathering input from me.  Without discussing how this might impact my children, or quite frankly me.

He’s never been one for consent.

Quite honestly, there have been many times over the past four years where I wished for this outcome.  I wished for him to move away, leave us be.  I wished to not be afraid every time I saw a car like his.  I wished to not worry about running into him at the grocery store.  I wished for him not to emotionally abuse the children and I wished not to have to pick up the pieces of that on a weekly basis.  I wished to never see him again.  I didn’t really wish harm on him, I just wished he would move away and let us heal.

I wished for it.  But I didn’t believe he would actually abandon his kids.  I didn’t actually believe he cared so very little about them, that after 4 years of fighting for custody, he would just walk away.

And because I wished for it, people expect me to be happy.  People are congratulating me.  People are thrilled and excited for me.   From the outside, this looks like a dream come true to them.

But honestly, it isn’t.  Not at all.  I’m going through a complex mix of grief, loss, abandonment, fear, anger, anxiety and confusion.  I’m having to face the fact that what I actually wanted is never, and was never, going to happen.

What I actually wanted, was for things to calm down.  I wanted to co-parent, cooperatively, but at a distance.  I wanted us to continue to raise these kids, in separate houses, but working together in their best interest.  I wanted a truce.  I wanted the abuse to end.  I wanted to leave, but I wanted to leave to stop the abuse, not to cut off all contact with him.  I wanted the right to stop the abuse, without sacrificing the entire relationship.  I thought the common bond of sharing children together would continue.  I thought I would be able to talk with him about issues directly related to the children.  I didn’t think we’d be friends, but I had hoped we could co-parent.  I wanted to have a choice.

I never signed up to be a solo parent.  This is not something I feel like celebrating.  I can’t celebrate because I’m grieving.

Truly this is not what I wanted.  I don’t hate him.  I don’t love him, I don’t think I ever did, but I don’t hate him.  I feel deeply sad and disappointed.  I am having trouble trusting and connecting with anyone.  I feel responsible.

And I understand completely that survivors have a complex relationship with their past abusers.  I understand it when people say that they still love the person who raped them.  I have so much compassion for people who have to parent with someone they don’t trust.  Abuse is not simple.  The feelings aren’t simple and survivors need the space to feel accepted for all their confused feelings.

It’s not their fault if they still care about their abuser.  It’s not their fault if they get confused and think it is their own fault.  It’s not their fault if they hope it will get better. It’s not their fault if they dream of reconciliation despite all evidence that the abuser can’t change.   Don’t be disappointed in them.  They can’t help it.  The psychology term for it is trauma bonding, but quite simply they are tormented by self-blame and confusion.

Gaslighting and the cycle of abuse means the survivor feels responsible.

In my case, the abuser has quite literally blamed every aspect of this process, including the abuse and his decision to move, on me.  He told the kids it is my fault he is leaving, because he has “nothing here.”

So, even though you can probably clearly see that it isn’t my fault, I feel responsible.

Even though I intellectually know that it isn’t my fault,  I still feel devastated.  Even though I know intellectually we are better off without his abuse, I’m still scared to be responsible for the kids on my own.

It’s okay to want someone gone, then mourn the overwhelming sense of abandonment.

It’s okay to have whatever feelings you have.  This isn’t a clear situation.  The abuse was designed to confuse you, and that confusion remains long after you leave.

But it’s pretty hard to open up, cry and receive comfort, when you don’t feel entitled to these feelings and when you feel you SHOULD be happy, because it’s what YOU wanted and what people expect.

emotional-trauma-issues-and-children-19-638.jpg

Slide credit: Soni McCarty, LMHC 

 

 

How are you?

how-are-you

How are you?  How are you doing?

Fuck.   They feel like SUCH  loaded questions right now.

99% of the time people want to hear the standard answer:

I’m fine thanks, how are you?

But I can’t lie.  I’m not fine.  That being said, I know that 99% of people don’t have the time or energy to listen to how I’m really feeling.  Maybe they don’t care, maybe they are busy, maybe they don’t have spoons, maybe they are at work, maybe they were just asking to be polite.

I’ve started answering this question with:

The same.  It’s always the same.  I’m always the same.

Until I get the verdict, I’m not going to be fine.  I’m probably not going to be feeling better, and I don’t have the energy to lie about it.

I’m feeling grumpy today.  I’m feeling grumpy because I just want to cry when people ask me how I am.  I want there to be space for me to not be okay.  I want there to be space to just not function for a while.

I came home after a long day.  It’s cold outside, unseasonably cold for May.  I was shivering.  It was time to eat.  I decided to make myself grilled cheese. Comfort food.  What could be simpler?

I burnt the shit out of that sandwich.  So burnt it wasn’t even possible to scrap the black bits off the edges.  Throw it in the garbage burnt.   I wanted to burst into tears.  “You can’t even make a simple sandwich!” screamed the self critical voice in my head.  Somehow this burnt sandwich became a symbol for everything I feel isn’t going right today.

It’s difficult feeling lonely.  It’s difficult feeling like the one who is never “fine.”  I feel like I’ve been losing friends or driving people away from me because my life is complicated and I’m not always easy to be around.  I feel like I’m whining, complaining, self-absorbed, wallowing, not being grateful…lots of self criticism.  I know I’m doing the best I can.  It just never seems like enough.

In all likelihood, there are only a few more weeks of waiting left.  Things are going to shift in my life soon.  Potentially in major ways.  I’m so close to the end of this chapter of the journey.  I’m so close I can almost see the finish line.  I can almost reach out and touch my new life.

But it’s just out of reach.  It’s blurry and uncertain.  After 3.5 years in court and almost 14 months of waiting…a 16 month long total (and counting) trial process…it’s actually no longer possible for me to clearly visualize or imagine it being over.  I used to fantasize about getting the verdict.  Where will I be when I get the call?  Who will I tell first?  How will I feel?  What will happen from there?  So many unknowns.  In a way, waiting has become normal for me.  In another way, it has never felt normal.  I’ve never adjusted to having so little control over my own life.

It’s a unique situation.  Very few people in my life can relate.  It’s gone on for so long, very few people still have time to listen to me talk about it as much as I feel I would like to or need to.  Everyone around me is tired and frustrated too.  Nobody knows quite what to say. I understand.  It’s been a long journey.

I’m so close to the end.  But I’m not fine.  I’m burn out and I’m afraid.

Capitalism = Isolation

capitalism-and-freedom

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.

Depression.

20160219_213203

Depression doesn’t always look the same.  Sometimes it is most clearly described by how I feel when it lifts.  When I’m depressed I’m not actually myself and when the depression lifts I wake up and I’m me again.

When I’m depressed, I am physically exhausted by social contact and social situations, but at the same time I don’t always want to be alone.  One of the reasons social situations are so difficult is because social anxiety is a symptom of my depression, and depression is fueled by my social anxiety.

Over the past few weeks, interactions with others leave me drained. Probably because half the time I’m spending with people I’m hyper aware of whether or not I’m behaving appropriately.  Because depression blunts and numbs some feelings and amplifies others, I’m constantly monitoring myself and thinking:

Am I acting normally?  Can this person tell I’m acting?  Am I smiling enough?  Am I smiling too much?  What should I do with my hands?  Stop picking at your skin! Remember to make eye contact!  Not too much eye contact!  Stop fidgeting!  Is my facial expression appropriate for what they just said?  Make sure your face is responding like a normal person! That was a joke, laugh.  But don’t laugh too much.  Did that sound stupid?  Do they hate me?  Did I make a mistake?  Is my facial expression appropriate?  Oh my god, did I even hear what she just said? Smile.  Act normal

After a short interaction I’m exhausted and I want to flee to a place where I can just be.   This usually means being alone.  I’m completely relieved to be alone.  I often hibernate under quilts and blankets where I feel safe.

But then the loneliness hits.  I text.  Texting is much easier than phone calls or in person hang outs.  When I’m texting I just have to think about the words and not all the other complex social dance behaviours that I’m sure I’m completely mangling.  Texting is safe.  Texting breaks isolation, without crowding me or making me self conscious.

When I’m lonely and depressed, I start to believe I’m literally the only person on the planet who doesn’t have plans at that moment.  All logical reasoning to the contrary is dismissed by my social anxiety brain.   I start to think that nobody likes me, that I’m boring or annoying, that I’ve said terrible things to offend everyone I know.  I feel jealous about the plans and social gatherings of others.  And yet, ironically, I often cancel plans or say no to things I am invited to.   The contradiction of depression is frustrating and impossible.

Depression is panic attacks in crowded places.  Panic attacks about choosing food, or anxiety about eating around other people.   Depression is feeling “fat” when my body hasn’t changed. Depression is anxiety that everything I say or do might get me into trouble or make my situation worse.  Depression is reading my emails over and over and over and over, obsessively, worried that I made a mistake, said the wrong thing or was oppressive.   Depression is paranoia that the email was accidentally sent to the wrong person, somehow ruining my life.  Depression is knowing I have to do something at work, but feeling incapable, afraid and ashamed to ask for help, thus procrastinating and avoiding.

Depression zaps energy.  I’m literally exhausted almost every minute of the day.  It’s not something that can be fixed by more sleep.  Though less sleep makes it much worse.  My body feels heavy and I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.  My bed feels warm and safe in the mornings, but physical pain and stiffness in my body prevents me from lying down for too long. Sometimes I’m drained and have to lie down after taking a shower in the morning.  But somehow I push through it.

I feel like robot, automatically going through the motions of my day.  I check each task off against a mental list.  Breakfast, check, kids to school, check, commute to work, check.  Each day moves through a series of tasks to be completed.  I’m always counting time until the next time I can be alone and rest.  I’m often watching the clock, but I’m never comforted by it. Then after about one day of a weekend alone, I’m lonely and waiting for my kids to return.  It’s a terrible feeling, like you have nothing to look forward to, but are always looking forward to something unimportant.  Maybe the next day will be brighter, maybe the next _____ will break the cycle, maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and feel better.

Depression is being unreasonably and intensely irritated by innocuous things.  Like the sound of someone chewing near me.  I could scream.  My whole body is tense, I can hear every sound.  Depression is losing patience in a split second, in situations I would normally be able to cope with.  Depression is feeling frustrated when people repeat themselves or take a long time to get to the point of their stories.  Depression is hating myself because I know I’m not being as kind as I should be.  Depression is losing my temper at my children, when they are barely doing anything wrong and my rage is uncontrollable like a volcano, then dissolves into guilty desperate tears.  Depression is intense compassion fatigue.  Not having enough energy to have empathy for others and then beating myself up with self judgment afterwards.

Depression means rarely living in the moment.  Depression is being caught in a tangle of awful memories from the past, or absorbed in worries or thoughts about the future.  Or more often, ping ponging back and forth between memories and worries.  In the moment, there is often zoning out, disassociation, numbing and that floating feeling of being something less than human, unable to connect with anyone.  Feeling like my essence of humanness is just beyond reach.

Depression is either crying too much, or (this time) not being able to cry at all.  Depression is either all the feelings right at the surface every single minute, or all the feelings pushed down and boxed up into controlled spaces inside me.

Depression is the darkness in the Fall and Winter months.  Depression is waking in the dark, coming home from work in the dark and forgetting what the warmth of the sun feels like.  Depression is like sitting at a dirty window, watching the normal world proceed just outside my grasp.

Depression is feeling suicidal, obsessing about death and dying.  Sometimes it is destructive impulses, or sometimes, wishing I hadn’t been born at all.  Sometimes it is a passive thought of just not wanting to be alive.  And then the torturous, trapped feeling of knowing that suicide is no longer an option.

Depression is boring.  Like this blog post feels boring.

It’s a world without light.  Depression is obsessive, recurring thoughts.  Depression is feeling like a bore to others, feeling self-obsessed, immature and uninteresting.  Depression is feeling unlovable and like you will always be alone.

Depression lies.

Even if I know that depression lies, it’s not so easy as just snapping out of it.

When I’m depressed I’ve learned that the best I can do is to stay as safe as possible, sleep regularly, eat and drink regularly, self care, be patient with myself, lower my expectations of myself and just do my best.

Because depression always lifts.  It’s not forever.   But it feels awfully bleak.