Where to start, that always seems to be the question. I don’t want to approach this in the Dickensian style of ‘I was born’ because I’m not trying to write a book merely go back and look at a few key moments and how little steps led to a big fall. There are, however, probably a few basics that need to be addressed as they do impact on the way my mind worked [and to a degree still works].
I’m the eldest child and apparently was one of those ‘easy‘ babies. The eat, sleep and grow type but my brother, David was born two years later with Downs Syndrome and then three years after that my sister who had severe health problems as a small child. This meant that mum and dad were pretty much run off their feet and lived on little to no sleep for quite a few years. Without understanding it fully I absorbed the idea that my part in this was to be healthy, happy and helpful. I was loved without doubt but it was a difficult time for everyone and it became a part of my nature at a very young age to ‘appear’ to be in no distress or unwell. That in itself is not so bad as I am sure there are many out there who have experienced similar situations but it did mean that when things did go wrong or I was hurt or unhappy I learnt to hide it as I didn’t want to be a burden. This was why when I was hurt badly by a neighbor over a number of years I never said anything – I learnt to take a mental step to the side so to speak and put pain elsewhere.
As I grew it turned into a point of pride for me. The ability to continue with life, put things aside, compartmentalizing my emotions became a defining trait but one that came with a price, I learnt to lie and lie very well so that no one would think there was anything wrong and superficially of course that appeared to be the case.
As young adult I was slowly learning to move past that and become a little more in touch with who I was and who I wanted to be but the fates are at times heartless and I was stalked, attacked and badly injured at 21. My family didn’t know of this until years later as I did what I had learnt to do so long ago, take a mental step to the side and continue but underneath the polished surface I was starting to fracture. I didn’t know it at the time but I was starting to break under the pressure of suppressing negative emotions and at that point in time it WAS only the negative ones I suppressed.
Fast forward a few years and you’ll find me back at university where I met my first husband and much to my surprise discovered despite being told that I would never have children that I was pregnant. I spent the large part of those 9 months utterly terrified as the internal damage and scar tissue from surgeries and other issues meant that each time there was significant growth I’d start to go into early labor.
Lots of time spent in hospital or sitting with my feet raised but toward the end it seemed to settle and in fact my son was born 2 weeks overdue. I have never loved anyone so fiercely and so instantaneously in all my life as I did my boy. Having him was the greatest joy I had ever known and in that moment, when they first handed him to me I was so overcome and so utterly grateful for the gift of this precious child.
Now in the movies this is where the story ends, troubled girl with emotional detachment issues works past them even after a second wound, meet a boy, falls in love and has a baby and then they all live happily ever after. Well to quote Blade Trinity
Everyone knows movies are full of shit.
The fissures in my psyche were still growing and anyone who has had a child will tell you of the terrible fears you have for them, the world is such a dangerous place and they are so small and need your protection and I was no different. As the fears rose, even just simple worry something happened that hadn’t for quite a while, I started getting migraines again.
They were in a way psychosomatic, By which I mean when fear or other similar emotions came to close to the surface of my consciousness my brain would give me crippling pain [my own personal aversion therapy – not fun] and it was here I discovered what I foolishly thought was way to maintain my balance. Pain killers, they create a soft barrier between you and the world, not enough to immobilize me but enough to keep the anxiety in check without having to tell anyone about the panic attacks or the real reason behind the sleepless nights.
To be fair they did what I wanted them to but they also did something I didn’t expect; they distanced me from ALL strong emotions not just the anxiety. I didn’t realize what was happening at the time but I was withdrawing from those around me, including my husband. I gave him no chance to help because I never told him I needed it. Somehow I managed to convince myself that as long as I was able to leave the house, go to work, make meals, look after my son and support my husband with his university and sport then I was fine. A huge lie of course, totally aside from the fact that carrying a codeine addiction around isn’t something you can hide for any length of time, there was a larger problem. I was still fracturing under the surface only this time I was utterly unaware of how close I was to a tipping point.
As anyone can probably guess my marriage ended, I didn’t even really put up a fight because all my energy was being directed to not completely collapsing at the thought of losing Matt. I don’t know if things would have been different but I regret deeply that I never had the courage to tell him what was going on in the last 12 months.
We had loved each other, very much actually and had always had a lot of fun together. He was one of the few people I had met who appreciated my somewhat dry sense of humor as he had one quite similar and I enjoyed the way his mind worked. Too many people have trouble making mental connections from point A to point D without requiring steps in between, he didn’t which was fun for me as I hadn’t met many others like me before. However in those last 12 months I was more of a photocopy of the girl he knew and one who was becoming more of a stranger each day. Between financial problems [drug addictions even legal ones are expensive after all], my lying about the money situation and my withdrawal into myself he was left with really nothing to work with and so eventually he left.
My son stayed with me which was the only true joy I had in the midst of everything. He was such a clever boy [yes I know all parents think their children are amazing] and so much fun to play with and here is the second chance I had to halt what was coming. If I taken the chance to reach out to family or even a professional to help me understand what was happening to me a great deal may have been different. I thought there must be something so very wrong with me, as a person not medically, because I couldn’t cope with things that others seemed to deal with easily. The anxiety continued to grow as did the sense of isolation. Both my parents were still working, my sister in another state and in the first year after our separation Matt was a little sporadic in taking Michael to stay with him. He would have if I had pressed the issue as he loved his son so very much but I was still of the mentality that explaining why I needed some extra help was somehow going to make everyone think I was weak and a failure.
Fast forward a little further in time and you’ll find me superficially going through the motions of life but underneath the utter desperation was growing along with such a sense of exhaustion. I’d been battling myself for most of my life and in full-out war with myself for at least 3 years, it was inevitable what happened. I broke, shattered is probably the best word and in doing so I just quit. Suicide can seem like a reasonable choice, especially when you deny yourself the luxury of any pity. In my mind my son deserved better than a weak mother who couldn’t even control her emotions and needed drugs to do get through the day without a panic attack.
Well obviously that didn’t end as I planned it to seeing as I am here all these years later writing about it. What came next was in a way worse. Still not telling anyone about the anxiety, the panic attacks, the assault from years before I was diagnosed as bi-polar and the medication they put me on fractured my sense of reality. Two years of trying to get my life back so I could have my son back, seeing him only on the weekends and floundering in a world I didn’t recognize any more only to fail again and again.
Eventually I stopped the medication but didn’t seek further help and did what so many think will fix things, I moved. Only problem was when I moved I came with me and fairly quickly things escalated out of control. The anxiety grew a life of its own, within a few months I was unable to leave the house without full-blown panic attacks and sleep and I became distant friends. My father or mother would pick up my son and drive to Toowoomba so I could visit but even that became almost impossible. How can you explain that you don’t want to go out to lunch or the park without telling just why that is? Once again I had a chance to reach out and explain but Pride born of fear and doubt silenced me yet again. Lying was a habit by this point but Oh I wish I had told Matt why I kept cancelling my visits with Michael but he had a new wife and a new life and I hated the idea of them knowing just how much of a mess I was. [as if it wasn’t perfectly obvious]
Foolish wasn’t it, they thought so much less of me because they had no idea why I was slowly fading from Michael’s life. They never even knew that I’d been misdiagnosed and that a portion of the problems that I’d had in the last few months in Brisbane were as a result of a chemical psychotic break due to a medication that actually exacerbated my problems.
All they believed, all they knew until recently, was that I was mentally unstable and selfishly using it as an excuse to miss visits with my son. So I stopped calling, stopped going to Brisbane to watch him play sport and for a good long time there stopped doing anything except survive each day. I convinced myself it was for the best, every time I thought of Michael the pain would rip through me like a knife and by body would instantly start producing severe pain in an attempt to stop me feeling any emotion at all.
So in the end I stopped thinking about anything and simply read my brain into oblivion, plowing through up to 8 or 9 books in a 24 hour period [speed reader – always have been but it increased dramatically during that period] and continued to self medicate with pain killers.
My father would still drive to Toowoomba but it would be to take me shopping as I couldn’t even leave the house to do my groceries without passing out by the time I reached the letterbox. Years passed like that until one day I could no longer even sit on the veranda of the house and something inside me snapped, I got angry so very very angry and before I could fall back into the fog I made some calls. Finally I spoke to a professional about what had happened in the past and how I had ended up with an addiction to pain killers and exactly what had been happening to me for years. It was the right thing to do as it seems I’d been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder manifesting itself in extreme anxiety and hyper vigilance for well over a decade, all of which was treatable and all of which was not my fault.
I wasn’t weak merely human and damaged but even then my pride this time born of shame kept me from reestablishing connections with my family and friends. Slowly, oh so very slowly I left behind the pain killers and the ant-anxiety medication and learnt to meditate and practice mindfulness techniques to keep the panic at bay when it started to rear its head [as it still does to this day].
Bit by bit taking back pieces of my life and forging them into something new, someone stronger because I understood finally that needing help or feeling helpless didn’t make me weak. Sadly I still couldn’t bring myself to reach out to Michael, I couldn’t even begin to think how to explain what had happened and make him understand how desperately I had missed him and how very much I loved him.
I knew my being absent for all those years had hurt him, how couldn’t it have. Matt and Sarah loved him, had been there when I wasn’t and that too hurt on a level that is almost impossible to describe. What sort of mother would have done what I did and so I was too ashamed to face them as well. The longer it drew on the harder it became. I would find myself siting in the early hours of the morning looking at the photos of him that I had collected from everyone and watched him grow up, picture by picture, without me in any of them. So I waited, I’m not sure even today for what I was waiting but when it came I acted and was given a chance I probably don’t deserve to know my son as he is today and he is wonderful. I’m so proud of him and so very grateful for the chance he has given me and also to Matt and Sarah for helping him be the person he is now despite the damage I must have done.
It’s the reason why I’m writing this because I can’t keep carrying this pain in my head anymore not if I want to have a real relationship with him. Somewhat like lancing the poison from a wound these words record my fall, the choices I made to isolate myself and the price I paid for that isolation in the loss of a decade of my son’s life. Obviously there is more to the story that what I have covered here but what I have written covers the places where I could have reached out and didn’t, as I said in a previous post it’s about choices made and prices paid.
Others have paid their own price for my choices but I cannot speak for them only myself. I’m not the person I was then and I’m not the girl who became that person, I’m something new, something stronger and something much more real than I have ever been. So thank you for sharing my walk down memory lane, this doesn’t change the past but it may let me leave it in the past so that I can give all of myself to the present and the future.