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Slowly regaining some perspective

In 2009 after our father died my world went very wrong. Already fragile from watching him die from a, quite frankly, relentless and evil revolting illness, I was terribly traumatised.

But I had 3 children, one of whom turned 4 on the day of the night Dad died. I had all the chaos and responsibility of a busy mum at Christmas and I had much to do each day.

I kept my suffering locked away. Things were far, far worse for our mother who had lost her best friend, soul mate and only true love and who didn’t have a home full of children to keep her going and get her up in the morning. I put her needs before mine – of course – and I don’t regret that at all. She was going through her own version of crazy and hell, and needed someone to rant repetitively at each day. I hope it kept the crazy at bay a little to spill out some of the trauma but I suspect it was the emotional equivalent of shouting “OW!” in reaction to her intense pain.

The way to keep going is to act, to put on a front, to ignore all calls to deal with the trauma. I blinked away thoughts and tears, I laughed too hard and too loud, I bought cheap shiny crap to brighten my world. I didn’t have the time or the space to fall apart or fall away for a while. I drank too much. I ate badly. I poisoned myself as I threw everything at the nagging monster who wanted to drag me down and make me grieve for a time and, worse still, think about what had happened.

I wanted, rightly or wrongly, huge happiness and laughter and distraction. I wanted fun and antithesis to the horrors. I’d seen a dead body. I’d seen the excruciating pain and suffering leading up to that body and hadn’t witnessed a peaceful end to a life that ended too soon. I was haunted by images and saw an apparition regularly at night for a few days of Dad slouched in a chair in his worst state as he had been before the end. I realise now it was flashbacks and a form of PTSD. I wanted him to haunt me but when he did I was terrified because I was just watching him suffer all over again. It was the wrong Dad. It had been 9 months of bad news and phone calls and terror. It just kept getting more and more bad and more and more painful. The helplessness was dreadful, witnessing the cruelty of a disease that caused so much pain and distortion to our big bear of a Dad broke all our hearts. I couldn’t fully take on board or discuss just how dreadful it was. So I kept on trying to make the pain go away and make it leave me alone.

8 months after Dad died I was supposed to celebrate my fortieth birthday but it was impossible. Every celebration was hard. Not just because he wasn’t there but because I couldn’t shake off the feeling that life is grim and cruel. We went to my husband’s niece’s wedding just 5 months after Dad died and I felt like a ghost, not completely there, slightly removed from everything. A desire to run away from everything (which I’ve always had) became stronger than ever. I wanted to hide.

I guess it was a kind of breakdown.

But I couldn’t have a breakdown. I had a home and three kids and a business to support and life kept finding me other things to deal with.

I look back now at the last 9 years, since 2008, when it became clear that Dad’s treatment was not going to work and I realise that while denial is a coping strategy, it’s not sustainable.

My anxiety since has been at an all time high. Everything causes me angst. My memory and organisation has never recovered. I spent years thinking “who’s next” and I still find every niggle and illness my family have terrifies me while I imagine deadly illnesses. It seemed safer to float in a state of permanent anxiety and be ready for anything than to relax and be fooled again. Escapism had to be alcohol and the most shallow and pointless TV I could find. Films had to be comedy or drama but no fear or heartbreak.

I’m writing this because for all these years I haven’t been able to be completely honest about how it’s affected my already very sensitive self.

It’s increased my fear of losing people. It was already abnormal because of losing a baby sister when I was 3 and probably being genetically predisposed to be highly sensitive. Taking anyone into my life still feels like a huge risk now.

I fell deeply into social media for my socialising, and it was mostly very therapeutic and much easier than physical relationships. Anyone who criticises social media as an alternative to conventional physical, face-to-face socialising really doesn’t understand. It was good for me and I have met some amazing very real people online.

But my feeling of “Oh God, this is all going to go wrong” prevailed. I hurt very easily and panicked at every misunderstanding.

I’m just feeling now as if I’m in a position to see why people upset me so easily. But when you’re comparing your own suffering with others’ and think theirs is worse it’s not as easy to quantify your own.

Over more recent months and years I dramatically shrank my online contacts and acquaintances in an attempt at self-preservation but other than creating a kind of holiday from risk of conflict it’s not made me feel much better.

I have to put myself back in the line of risk and I have to see it for what it is. I have taught myself some tips for detaching myself from other people’s reactions so that I can be less distressed at times of anxiety crisis. It’s not easy and it never will be but it’s better than being lonely or leaving people thinking I want them out of my life when that simply isn’t true.

If you feel I’ve deserted you or neglected you or overreacted to you, this is why: I simply didn’t have the emotional capacity to deal with perspective. Everything was enormous and I reacted like an animal in mortal danger. I’m not better off with fewer friends, I’m better off with no conflict and that’s what I’m working on now.

Thank you for reading this far.

Sorry.

I don’t know where to start. I really don’t know where to start.

I don’t know where things begin so where do I pick up from?

So I’ll start with reasons:

Anxiety, childhood and adult traumas, being misunderstood and misjudged, being bullied, mystery stomach pains, mystery exhaustion, anxiety exhaustion, insomnia exhaustion, social exhaustion, overstimulation exhaustion, hormonal problems, problems with executive functioning (in my case this means never knowing what order to do things in or how long they will take), untapped and unexplored creative yearnings, a feeling of wanting badly to fit but knowing I never will, a need to find solitude and space beyond the realms of what others consider “normal”, an intense hypersensitivity to everything going on around me, extreme empathy which means I literally suffer with people as well as feeling sympathy for them, low self-esteem, fear. In more recent years pain from hyper-mobility causing me to use my muscles badly. Uncommon reactions to foods, medicines and other stimuli. Massive emotions that cause me to feel hurt, heartbroken, moved, ecstatic, frightened, offended and traumatised and also highly amused and deeply in love and overpowered by music more easily than most. (I have to stop myself bursting into tears about the big feels of life literally every day. Often just because a sound is beautiful or something happens just at the right time). Absolute terror at any prospect of conflict. Fear of phone calls, fear of unexpected events or visitors, fear of losing people. Massive, massive, massive fear of losing friendships – so massive I don’t fall into friendships easily. Inconsolable sadness and frustration if misunderstood. Crushing pain in my chest and around my rib cage and back as if my heart is hurting lasting days if someone upsets me or misunderstands me. Socialising replay and fallout where I am kept awake by reruns of everyone I’ve talked to that day and then knackered while I try to recover.

That’s just a few things off the top of my head!

So why these reasons?

Because I’m fed up. And I’m sure some people are fed up too.

I just want to get on with my life. I don’t want to keep shrinking my world because people think I’m someone I’m not or I’ve said or implied something I haven’t just because I’m an individual and don’t always have the social energy to explain myself. I’m fed up with feeling people expect me to do life differently from the way I’m doing it and not just loving me for who I am. I am so tired of being afraid. So tired.

I don’t want help, guidance, counselling, drugs, advice, tips, or pressure to conform. I just want to get on with my big feels life and not be judged.

So, my point:

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry if you don’t “get” me. I’m sorry if you misunderstand me, I’m sorry if you think I’ve offended you or not measured up to your ideas of how I should fit into your world. I am genuinely, truly sorry if you don’t think much of me. I’m sorry you can’t see beyond what you think I am based on the way I held myself the last time you saw me or what you think I thought based on my silence the last time you tried to interact with me, or the way my words entered your brain in a different way from the way they left my brain and you didn’t stop to think that it’s not me you should be blaming. I’m sorry if you read my self-preservation as hostility or rudeness.

I’m sorry that because I’m not like you you think I must be faulty or bad or bad-hearted or in need of some kind of fixing.

I’m sorry. I am sorry.

I don’t want a world that is shrunk to tiny because I can’t muster the energy to act for your sakes every day. And yet that’s where I find myself.

I don’t want to keep thinking “Who the heck am I?” because I’m this to you, that to her, the other to him and neglectful to myself. Acting every day in different ways is pretty shattering.

I’m clever. I have a degree. I’ve studied a vast array of subjects. I’m great at research. I fix what needs fixing, I patch what needs patching, I find help for things I think are a fault and learn to love what I know is not a fault but simply my individuality. I had to be very brave and consider others’ feelings from a very young age and I’ve lived this way ever since. I’m always looking at how others are feeling and wondering what I can do and feeling part of you as if we are all joined in some way. I will literally be happier if you are happy and beside myself with worry if you are not.

I don’t expect you to research me. I don’t expect you to completely understand. What I did expect was for people to just realise and accept they simply don’t fully understand me and that was fine – they just shouldn’t judge.

An “Oh! You’re not like me?! Hell, that’s just fine” kind of acceptance would be great.

But people don’t always just accept. They don’t even know they’re not accepting. They look for ways to adjust me regularly because there’s comfort in familiarity and sometimes I don’t always do all your familiar stuff like you’d like me to. Deep down you find it hard to think it’s okay. You know you do.

I’d love it if you could try though.

Do you know how hard I’ve been trying all my life?

This isn’t a call for pity or sympathy. Nor is it navel-gazing, self-indulgence. It’s more of an outward-looking study of human behaviour around those who are not fully understood, and it’s an apology that I can’t not give a flying fig and move on or ignore or just be happy to hate the way some can because I love people and I can’t cope with bad feeling.

I give lots of figs.

So why am I sorry?

I’m sorry that’s it’s not my fault and that there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m sorry that I’m surprisingly happy with the way I am and you’re not so much. No really – I know you think I’m breaking some kind of unwritten rules that don’t actually exist. I know. I feel it. I feel it very well. I am tuned into little adjustments in your approval that you’re probably not even registering yourself. But subconsciously you’re point-scoring me a heck of a lot of minuses. I’m sorry that I have to shrink away from so many of you so often because being misunderstood is so physically difficult as well as so emotionally devastating. I’m sorry that my way of demonstrating caring is different sometimes from your way of demonstrating caring and that you can’t always see that both ways are acceptable. I’m doing big cares in ways you haven’t even thought of and you don’t know you’re breaking masses of my social rules and I’m not even mentioning it or holding it against you.

I’m sorry because there is so much more potential for all of us to be more joined by empathy and yet… and yet…

Well. I’m just sorry I am. Because I feel we’re all missing out.

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