Not binary

Things continue to be very difficult. I put a ‘please do not disturb’ sign on my door at work on Friday and so apart from two meetings did at least manage to get quite a bit done. But I still felt very fragile. Such big stuff being absorbed and integrated at the moment. K and I did a phone session on Friday after work, but the end of the call hurt because it came unexpectedly with a three minute warning after it felt like we’d only been talking for 10 minutes. She said we could work for longer if I wanted to, and I did want to, but spending even more money just seemed silly so I said no. It was one of those days where nothing was going to be enough, but at least I’ve explained the bulk of the OH appointment and the meeting with my AL, so she’ll have some idea what is going on tomorrow and we won’t have to go through it all. And it helped me make sense of where I am and why it brought up so much pain making the disclosure at OH on Thursday.

I said how I’d realised after our session on Monday that it’s not that I think what happened to me as a baby was my fault, but that how my body has responded is my fault. And now I know why I get pain and other symptoms I should be able to stop them. She seemed genuinely confused that I would think this. And I said I knew it wasn’t rational or true, I know that somatisation and emotional dysregulation and my central nervous system going into hyper-drive all happens automatically, but this is the core and implicit belief I operate from. And we know where this comes from. When I was 20 and was about 6 months in to the constant head pain my Mum used to scream at me for being selfish for having a headache all the time. And she told me in my mid-20s I talked about my physical symptoms too much and would make my boyfriend at the time leave me. I mean I’m sure the shame comes from long before this time, but the way she behaved about my chronic pain is one of the most painful things I can remember experiencing. She even said she hoped the neurologist would find something actually wrong with me, so that then my head pain wouldn’t be her fault! She’d rather I had a tumour or something organic than something that she knew was because of the way she had parented me.

K talked about how my poor nervous system is shredded and shot to  pieces, and how if a baby has no safe holding, and is screamed at persistently and experiences prolonged abuse, and cannot express its emotions because it is unsafe to do so, then of course all the feelings will become internalised. I remember reading an article about how the neural pathways that cause chronic pain like mine are set in place before an infant is 9 months old. I told K this, and that I know it’s not that baby’s fault that our body is like this, but regardless I still hold enormous amounts of shame and fear over my pain and nervous system dysregulation. And I got so much better for so long after doing Mickel Therapy 7 years ago, so it is hard not to blame myself for things not being okay energetically and from a pain perspective now – I must be getting it all wrong again. Things are different, the fatigue is not like it was, the symptoms are never as long-lasting and entrenched, but right now the familiar feeling of dragging through treacle with a brain full of cotton wool is a too frequent visitor. And whilst I know there is joy in my life I just can’t access it. Every single thing feels like way too much effort. And voices in my head that are not mine whisper throughout the day and night that suicide is the only way out. I won’t act on these voices, but they tell me how bad parts are feeling, that these voices are back again after a long time of not needing to say these words.

I’ve been thinking about how I’ve ended up in such a demanding job, and how it would be easier if it was just a pathological thing where I’ve been so driven due to a need to succeed and prove myself and get external validation, but that’s not really accurate. In many ways academic success, and how much joy and fulfillment I get from my work, has been my saviour. Even in my early 30s when I was doing a lot of drugs, my PhD studies kept me on the edge of a hedonistic and chaotic world that a huge part of me was desperate to belong in. I think it’s partly why the realisations I’ve had recently have brought up so much grief and resentment – I haven’t ended up in some high-powered and meaningless job in a drive to succeed, I’ve ended up in a career I absolutely love where I am doing something that really matters and makes a difference, and I am not cut out for it. It hurts so much because something that has brought me so much joy and excitement and has so often left me inspired and full of self-belief is making me ill at the same time. If I were to have to walk away my life would be poorer. Lots of people talk of walking away from stressful careers and not looking back. It would not be like that for me. And I hope more than anything that I can find a way to make this work more sustainable for me. K reminded me when I was struggling with anxiety and overwhelm over how much I have to do over the next six weeks that I always get through and get everything that needs doing done, but she also said how pleased she is that I’ve finally started the dialogue at work because we’ve seen me struggle through relentlessly for years now and it just isn’t good for me to keep going like this.

Thinking this through lately I can see a lot of links with the past and how there have been times when I’ve been so happy, but still plagued by this lingering darkness inside me. One of my alters, Lucie, wrote something a couple of weeks ago after she’d come out and spent some time talking to K about the time we were hospitalised for a suicide attempt. She wrote about what she had needed after that time, and I want to write it into a separate post, but some of it stands out as being relevant to this stuff I’m working through with regards how much joy there is in my life and how all that I still struggle with doesn’t cancel that out. Lucie had told K that back then she needed someone to see what was wrong with her and that she was multiple and that was why she felt fine one minute [apart from constant head pain] and plagued by horrifying and intolerable feelings the next. And she wrote after that session how she needed someone to see that her first class Law degree and ability to get up and go to work every day wasn’t because she was “fine” but because she was fragmented.

The problem is this darkness that has always lingered in me, a darkness that no amount of light can erase. A darkness that means no matter how happy I am there is still pain and blackness. When I started university I was the happiest I’d ever been – new friends, not being bullied for being clever, being able to join social justice societies and talk about current issues and  academic interests, away from Mum, finding a place where I was free, where no one knew where I was and what I was doing, being free to be me at last without fear of ridicule – and yet I self-harmed more than ever and drank myself to oblivion nearly every night. I was happy but out of control. I fell in love but the darkness wouldn’t leave me alone. The happiness wasn’t an illusion, it just couldn’t cover up the past. It’s the same now – no matter how good things are there are shadows and demons that live in me. I am split.

Back then Lucie needed someone to tell her what was wrong with her. She needed someone to see the parts and talk to them, someone to hold the baby and stop it screaming inside her head, someone to see she was both – broken, but also living a successful life with friends and hope and a future,that one doesn’t cancel out the other. It is not binary. My life isn’t and never has been either/or. I have always had a huge capacity for joy, excitement, adventure, laughter, friendship. My life is not a fake. I am not a narcissist hiding behind a false front (which of course is one of my greatest fears as I see how much dissociation is needed to keep me living the life I do). I am so many of the things people think I am. It’s just that I am also so many things that I never share.

I truly don’t know how I will ever begin to tell people more of what I struggle with and need, but this evening I took a friend and another swimming parent up on their offers to take Nina to and from training on a Monday evening so that she can do one of the key sessions that she’s always had to miss because I’m not back from therapy in time to take her and I can come home to an empty house. Maybe this is a step in the right direction of acknowledging to myself that it is not my fault I am how I am…

 

4 thoughts on “Not binary”

  1. I can really relate to one of the points you mention: knowing why you have symptoms makes you feel you should be able to stop them. In fact, I think most of us probably go to therapy, because we want relief from symptoms. We’re willing to understand the cause as a means to feeling better. We don’t go to therapy in order to accept that we are always going to feel bad. I remember this from therapy too. The therapist would explain why something very painful was happening, and I would be left thinking, “Ok, so what do I do about that?” And there were no actual answers, not just in the short-term, but ever. For myself, I needed better explanations for my symptoms. I’m getting there, I think. We’ll see. For me, it was all about learning to think more clearly about very painful things, which has been extraordinarily difficult.

    You bring up something else interesting, which is the question of blame, but also a relentlessness to life you allude to in your other post. It’s not your baby self’s fault that all of this happened, but somehow your adult self still has to figure out how to cope with the fall-out. This has been hard for me too. On difficult days or days when I am sick, I am reminded that no matter how bad I feel, my body still needs to eat three times a day (for example). I still need to drag my sorry ass out of bed and cook, because I’m hungry. My metabolism does not grind to a halt because I can’t cope. It carries on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, these comments gave me a lot to think about, especially the point about the relentlessness of life because at first I thought you meant my relentless approach to life and that gives me a lot to think about in terms of how my defence mechanisms sometimes make life feel more relentless than it perhaps needs to, but at the same time those defences kept me alive (and still do to a certain extent as, like you, it’s about keeping going and caring for ourselves even when it feels impossible). Thanks for commenting.

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