Thank you to everyone who commented yesterday. Just so you know, I did actually agree to be put back on the list for the INR at my appointment yesterday, whether or not I am going to do it wasn’t the issue, I had already decided – I’m aware that I don’t always know what’s best for me and that it would be a good idea to at least give it a try. No, yesterday’s post was just me freaking out over it, which is an entirely different thing 😛 I don’t think I was very clear about that though, my head was in a bit of a mess. It still is.
I was doing some homework for Julie yesterday, and found myself writing something interesting. I do that sometimes, I write something and then think ‘oh, THAT explains a lot!’ when I read it back! You’d think it should be the other way round 😛 but still. At my appointment yesterday she was doing some TA assessment thing, asking me questions from a workbook to help her understand my core beliefs and where they come from (so we can work on challenging the unhelpful ones later). Most of the questions were about my family and childhood. I am aware of how things about my childhood influence my behaviour today, so that wasn’t anything new, but I did notice a pattern to my answers. My first reaction to a lot of the questions is ‘I don’t remember’. The questions I found difficult to answer weren’t the ones about events and people, they were the ones about how I or other people felt about something when I was a kid. I’ve always thought I had a bit of a patchy memory of my childhood. I do, but now I realise that actually I can remember quite a few events – but no emotions. I don’t remember being in any of my memories, if that makes sense. I know something happened, I remember the facts about it – like who attended a birthday party, what we did, flashes of games and party food – but I don’t remember being in my body at the time. I remember overthinking things a lot, but I don’t remember feeling.
I have a grand total of…three childhood memories linked to emotions. One was when the girl next door had a birthday party which I wasn’t invited to. We were in the same class at school and had a bit of a rocky relationship – I think we mostly only played together because of our close proximity to eachother because I’m sure she wouldn’t have chosen to play with me, she was always putting me down and she used to dump me the second someone better came along to hang out with. She used me more and more obviously until I finally got sick of it and cut off from her when I was 14. When this party was held we were about eight, and we must have been in one of our falling out phases. I remember sitting on the front steps outside my house while this party was going on, listening to all the kids playing, imagining that they were all laughing at me and feeling really…empty. Not sad – I had this idea that I should cry, but I couldn’t – but empty. Two of my best friends came to my house afterwards and posted a little present for me through the letterbox. It was really sweet of them, I kept it for years. Another memory I have is when I fell out with a girl who had been my best friend since the beginning of school. I remember feeling empty then, again, not sad. Just numb and a bit lost. And finally I remember when our first dog died, again when I was nine. I had absolutely no reaction when mum told me. Not like I was in denial, it wasn’t like I went off and played as if she hadn’t said anything – she told me that Lisa had been put to sleep, and she was crying, and I think I said ‘oh’, gave her a hug and stared into space for an hour or so. Mum was a bit worried by this so she took me outside to where my uncle had dug a grave for Lisa, and had me stroke her body so I could say goodbye. Then I cried, although I don’t remember that.
I didn’t have the normal emotional responses of a healthy child. I know this because I am the oldest of five kids, I have seen my little brothers and sisters grow up, and I also know that I always felt different to the other kids at school. I was popular enough until I was nine, I had friends and parties and sleepovers and nasty comments from other kids didn’t actually hurt me that much, I was far more concerned about my teachers liking me. A boy saying that I was ugly didn’t make half the impression that a teacher telling me off did, I was always utterly devastated when that happened. When my friends and I fell out I would feel cold and empty but rarely cry, and I would overthink things and plot ways to make them like me again. My responses to events were always on an intellectual rather than emotional level. I often felt that this was wrong, and I can think of so many times when I was an older child and teenager when I actually tried to make myself cry and couldn’t, even though I desperately wanted to. When I was being bullied at middle school I don’t think I cried for about three years. It took a lot to break through that – eventually it all came out at once when a teacher I really liked took me aside one lunchtime and virtually forced what was going on out of me. But other than that, I rarely felt anything other than empty. I remember my mum pretty much begging me to tell her what was wrong when I was 11 or 12, but for some reason I couldn’t tell her. I was horribly ashamed of being bullied, I was convinced it was all my fault – why else would no one in my whole year want to be friends with me?
It carried on from when I was about 10 until I was 13, and by then I met all the criteria for post traumatic stress syndrome. I had flashbacks and nightmares, phobias, avoided places and situations that triggered any of these, I was paranoid to the point of thinking my teachers had bugged me and were laughing at me in the staffroom, listening to what I was saying. The police turned up on my doorstep at around about the same time, having found a letter I had written to my teacher (one of many, but none ever sent – this one had fallen out of my pocket accidentally), telling her that I didn’t know what was so wrong with me that no one liked me, and that even though I had been put into a new class by then and was finally making some friends, I still wanted to die. I had been having suicidal thoughts for three years by then, and had just started self harming and messing around with my food. None of the bullying was ever about my weight, if any weight related insult was thrown at me it was something to do with being skinny. I was called ugly a lot though, and a loner, teachers pet, all the usual things that kids say when they want to hurt someone.
I got over most of that quite a long time ago. When I first started therapy at sixteen I talked about it with my psychologist, and after a while I kind of put it to rest. I forgave the girls who had been the ringleaders and understood that so many other kids had joined in just because they wanted to belong too, and creating a common enemy is one way of doing that. I accepted that it wasn’t my fault, I found photographs of me at 11 and 13 years old and realised that I was actually quite a pretty kid. I still have those photos. But despite that, it still affects me. I still feel inferior to everyone. I am still convinced that no one would like me if they really knew me. I still believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that makes people not want to be my friend. It takes me months of reading someone’s blog (or diary at the ED websites I used to belong to) and watching how they interact with other people before I find the courage to say hello to them myself. I don’t have a problem at all with meeting new people face to face – I can go into a new group and talk about the weather until the cows come home – but I find it virtually impossible to get to know anyone.
I don’t know if I would have still developed an eating disorder if I hadn’t been bullied. I think I probably would have at some point – it might have taken another trauma, but there was something up long before the bullying started. I was too detached, too ‘in my head’ and not in my body – I so related to the parts of ‘Wasted’ where Marya talks about her own dissociation as a child. I dissociated a lot, well before the bullying. I would sit in the car and suddenly feel confused about my voice – it wasn’t mine, I didn’t sound like that, but it was coming from me. I would look in the mirror and not recognise myself. I still avoid mirrors, and not only for anorexic reasons, I find them very unsettling. But unlike many people who experience dissociation I was never abused, never in a traumatic accident, never suffered a serious illness, my parents didn’t drink too much or fight very often that I can remember, there were no deaths or losses until I was nine and our dog died. That’s not to say that there was – is – no reason for my detachment…I still think, as have many of the professionals I’ve seen, that it is down to the milk allergy. Like I said a couple of days ago, being in constant pain for the first ten months of your life will hardwire your brain for constant anxiety, hypervigilence and hypersensitivity. No emotional trauma necessary, although the bullying and rape certainly didn’t help.
A badly wired brain is not something I can talk out and put to rest in therapy. I have to constantly fight to create new, more helpful responses to anxiety, to literally lay down new pathways in my brain. I don’t really find knowing all of this a comfort. It’s a relief to have an explanation, I suppose – the milk allergy thing has been thrown around by various psychiatrists since I first saw one at 16. But it also makes me feel quite lost and powerless at times. Biographies of people with eating disorders tend to focus on the traumas which led them to their illness, how they recovered after coming to terms with their past. I don’t know anyone in recovery from similar issues. I do know a few people who have hazy pasts like me, who dissociate and developed anxiety disorders at a very young age for no apparent reason – but none who are ‘in front’ of me in recovery, if that makes sense. When I do come across books or articles addressing this sort of thing they are always academic rather than personal. I want someone to tell me that despite having no history of abuse, they felt like a brain in a jar throughout their childhood, they never recognised themselves in the mirror, they couldn’t cry when they wanted, the only emotions they ever felt were emptiness and anxiety. I want them to tell me that they feel like whole human beings now, present and fully connected to their body and their emotions. I want someone to tell me that it’s possible to rewire your brain through consciously changing your behaviour and thought patterns. I want someone to tell me that one day I am going to feel like I am living rather than just…being. Watching the clock, trying to think and reason my way through things rather than feel, always becoming terrified if I do feel anything other than fear and numbness because there’s so much shoved down there now, I don’t know what the hell to do with it all. Trying to compensate for the lack of meaning and participation in my life through structure, rituals, rules, obsessions, pointless and destructive goals. They are poor substitutes.
Three good things about today:
1. I have no hope of solving a problem if I’m not even aware of it, so there’s a start.
2. Sunny day again – I think I will make the most of it and go for a walk 🙂
3. The rest of the refried beans for dinner, plus more crack (-ed black pepper, hehe) houmous in the fridge, more beetroot, sweet potato, mushrooms, tofutti, gluten free chocolate muffins…I love going along for the big shop on Saturdays!