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.