For a very long time, I didn’t ‘do’ anger.
In the family I grew up in, the adults were allowed to be angry, and even my sister was, but for some reason I wasn’t.
When bad things happen, what do our thoughts do? Self-blame, paranoia, overwhelm, meaning-making, catastrophising? These thought patterns were my loyal companions until well into my thirties.
Real hope isn’t cheap. Real hope is born out of a bloody struggle. Hope has guts. Hope is what you’re left with when you’ve stared down the despair. So how did I get from hopelessness to hope?
Years ago, when I first started therapy, I was invited to imagine a safe place. I didn’t understand the concept at all. First off, I didn’t understand how powerful positive visualisations can be. Secondly, I didn’t know how to feel safe. And thirdly, I didn’t have anywhere that I could summon to mind and feel positive about. Bummer.
Self-care is entirely counter-intuitive to survivors of abuse. To me as an abused child it is obvious that I am bad. I am being hurt because I am bad. And I am bad because I hurt. It’s a never-ending cycle of self-evident obviousness.
I’m not comfortable with the term ‘mental illness’.
I know there’s a lot of rhetoric around ‘parity of esteem’ for physical illness and mental illness, and that’s why the term has been pushed to the fore. But for me, mental illness and being traumatised are two different things.
I could cope with it no longer. Every part of me—eyelids, throat, bowels—everything was clenched tight in a ball of furious unbearability. This feeling—such a feeling!—loomed up over me like some prehistoric sea-monster, ready to snap me up and devour me, ready to pilfer my bones and pick apart my brain. This feeling was too much.
‘Dissociative parts of the personality’ grabbed the headlines, but my inability to set boundaries was the silent assassin destroying me from the inside… I said yes to everyone else, and no to myself. Other people mattered; I did not. And so, breakdown.
Crisis makes sense. The adrenaline of it can become addictive, or be all we’ve known. Life doesn’t feel right if things aren’t frantic, if relationships aren’t disastrous. Crisis can be an attachment cry. Crisis is the language of emotions that we don’t know how to regulate.
For a long time, therapy sessions would end with a fairly typical exchange. I would express frustration at myself for not doing enough, and gently but firmly the response from my therapist would go, ‘Be kind to yourself.’