So, this post is one that is extremely personal to me (‘cause, up to this point, the posts haven’t been??). I’ve known what I want to say for a while now, but have not been able to bring myself to sit down and write it out. There are likely many reasons for this, but they all end up in the same place – fear (or terror, which is the new word that I’m supposed to be dealing with).
Terror that speaking up and out will be met with criticism and alienation. I have spent so much of my life building myself into the person that I want other people to perceive me as that I have often hidden what I actually am: a broken and flawed individual.
You might be saying, “but everyone is broken and flawed”, and you are correct. But how often do people come right out and say it. How often do we let our cracks show? How often do we stand up and say “LOOK AT ME! I’M DAMAGED AND I WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW IT!”? How often do we say, “I’m bleeding from scars you can’t see but they hurt me in ways that I can never fully express”? From my experience, we don’t.
We live in a world where everyone is pretending to be perfect (or giving the façade of perfection – or at least normalcy). We get so caught up in hiding ourselves to make others happy without giving any consideration to what that does to us. We use the word “crazy” to describe any action that might be considered out of our perception of normal. We dismiss. We don’t ask “why”. We say “they were acting crazy”. Or “you’re being irrational”. We don’t see where that “crazy” is coming from. What is the root of it? Usually, it comes from an unresolved conflict within that person. Sometimes, there might be greater psychological issues at play, I’m not trying to dismiss that cause. But for the most part, when we talk about someone acting “crazy”, they aren’t. If you take the time to look a little deeper, you will see, it usually comes from a place of fear – terror.
Really, as I sit here and type this am I actually absorbing the difference between fear and terror. I always thought they were synonymous, with terror being slight more potent than fear, but in general, interchangeable. But they are not. Fear can be useful. It can trigger survival instincts or raise warnings that something may be dangerous or heighten your awareness in risky situations. Fear can also make you better. Fear of failure can push you to do your best work, to focus harder – it can drive you. Terror – terror is paralyzing. Terror is a plague that attacks your insides and eats away at parts of you that you can’t see. Terror is the void. It has no use. It doesn’t challenge you. It shuts you down. Fall victim to terror long enough and it will consume you. It is that part that leaves you motionless, weeping silently where no one can hear and no one can reach. Terror stops your breath and brings you as close to death as possible while still living. Fear can be overcome. Terror must be exhumed.
For a long time I have been attempting to overcome the fear of success. I have been pushing and pushing myself, but every time I pick up momentum or get presented with exciting opportunities, I back away. I can’t figure out why. I blame it on being too busy. I make up excuses. I say “tomorrow I’ll do it” and then tomorrow remains tomorrow until I run out of tomorrows and the opportunity has passed or the momentum I had built is gone and I need to start from scratch. I have been looking for fear, but really, I have been terrified. Terrified I would be noticed.
This is where the root of my terror lies. I grew up as the invisible child. When my mom would have one of her rages, it was always better to pretend like I wasn’t there. I would hide quietly in my room and hope she would forget I was home. I would sit motionless in fear that the slightest sound would draw the rage towards me. As I grew, this became common place. I didn’t know how to fit in at school, so I kept to myself. It seemed like any group of friends I had didn’t last long before I was once again ostracized. As I got older, I learned the rules of how to fit in and by the time I got to university things had changed, but not before the need to remain hidden was deeply ingrained. Being seen became terrifying.
This manifested in my relationship. I had a desperate need for my partner to see me, but could not express it and made myself a supplicant to him in order to earn his approval (which never came). I became resentful and the relationship dissolved. He was also not interested in seeing the broken part of me. The rubble under which my true self was hiding.
Now I’ve begun to pick up that rubble and reassemble it. It’s hard and slow, but what is being built is much more beautiful than what it had been when I was the mash of fragments collected in the appearance of an organized fashion.
Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi) is the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold. For me, this is therapy. In ancient times (thanks for being specific!), the Japanese aristocracy (possibly the Emperor, my internet is turned off to focus on my writing therefore I can’t look up the facts, so I’m going from memory) would ship their broken pottery to China to be repaired and would receive it back stapled together and looking pretty ugly. The Emperor (I’m pretty sure this time) commissioned a new style of pottery repair. What was created was kintsugi, where gold was used to bond the broken pieces together creating veins running through the piece. Pottery that had been Kintsugi-ed (yup, just made that up! Now a verb!) was so beautiful that people started breaking their pottery just to have it put back together in that fashion. It was thought that a piece was more beautiful after the repair than before. Eventually, I think the Emperor put a ban on doing this, or something… it’s all on Wikipedia. You can look it up!
Anyhoo, that’s what therapy is to me. It is my Kintsugi process – beautiful idea, no? Except, I’m the pottery and now someone is pouring molten gold into all my cracks and it burns like fire and makes me want to scream!!!! (I love metaphors!)
Therapy is hard. It is brutally hard. It is ass kicking, ball slapping, kick you in the teeth hard. It sucks about 90% of the time. Usually, when I leave therapy, I am in a melancholy trance for the rest of the day – and that means it’s working. That means my therapist is doing a good job. I’m PAYING to feel like this.
Because before I was put together with staples and now I have veins of gold.
Therapy is one of those things often perceived as only for the “crazy”. I try to talk openly about therapy and my process because it has had a profound impact on my life. I try to encourage my friends to start going. I even brag about my therapist on Facebook and encourage others to start seeing her (because she is a genius!). Usually, I will get a couple people who message me and ask that I not mention that they had inquired. I tell them all I can and hope they will follow through (if not with my therapist, with any therapist). I know that they are worried about the perceptions of other people if they ever found out they were thinking of going. The questions and the judgement. I know - I’ve been there. “But why do you need to see a therapist? You’re perfectly normal.” “You don’t need that. Your life is amazing.” “Has something happened? Are you keeping something from me?”
The truth is everyone is keeping things from everyone else. Everyone is fighting their own personal battles. Everyone has something that makes them unhappy. Even those people who appear perfectly “normal” (actually, especially those people who appear perfectly normal). The judgement comes from a fear within the other person. If you, who appears normal, needs to see a therapist, then maybe I have to see a therapist and I don’t want to see a therapist because I’m afraid of what I might find if I look beyond the surface of consciousness. The fact is facing your demons and seeking help in the process is probably about the bravest thing a person can do for themselves. It takes a lot of guts to admit that you want to change and be willing to do the work to achieve it. And the type of change you work towards in therapy is something that you can’t (or shouldn’t have to) do alone. It’s dangerous.
Therapy takes you into the darkest caverns of your soul and you need someone there with a flashlight to lead you through otherwise you run the risk of getting lost down there forever. Metaphor aside, it’s no joke. You toy with despair for long enough and bad things can happen if you don’t have someone guiding you through and checking in. A therapist will dole out the pain in chunks, which is why the process takes so friggin’ long. It is no quick fix.
This week was another breakthrough week. YAY! Breakthrough! Except we are doing so well that we have moved into an even deeper level of the subconscious which means even more excruciatingly painful feelings are dredged up. I cried so hard that I dry heaved for 45 minutes and almost vomited while convulsing on the couch. Shiny happy fun times! I left the house in a haze and I still feel half-drunk. It’s Tuesday, my appointment was on Thursday. Thursday night I could barely function. I had plans with a friend and had to apologize the entire night because I could barely focus and I just wanted to lay down and die. I spent two of the next four days walled up inside my apartment, not even opening my door to take out the garbage. I needed to recover.
This breakthrough was unexpected too (I guess they all kind of are, but this one especially). I went in feeling on top of the world (which should have been a warning sign that my body was ready [strong enough] to be open to a new issue). Things were wonderful, but on the subway to the appointment (literally, 5 stops from her office) something triggered and I couldn’t shake it. I walked in a said “I think I saw a trigger on my way in.” Within 3 minutes, I was destroyed. I had seen a woman on stretcher at one of the stops and it triggered the memory of my mother on a stretcher after her suicide attempt when I was 14 years old.
I had found my mother after school one day overdosed in the washroom and had to call the ambulance. When she was taken to the hospital, I had to sit with the admitting nurse and give my mom’s details. I think I took her purse, I know I grabbed her address book. After that, the nurse asked if there was anyone I could call and directed me to the phone. I called my aunt, who came to the hospital. As well, I called my sister(s?). My oldest sister was in shock and couldn’t process what I was saying right away and hung up without much comment. It wasn’t until later when my aunt called her that she apologized for her reaction earlier. It was just so… well, yeah. After I had made the calls, I sat in the waiting room for a while until my aunt arrived. I was all alone. When my mother was finally conscious again, we were allowed to go see her. The doctor pulled my aunt aside to talk to her and I was alone with my mother. That’s when she said the words that are burned into my memory forever “I thought this was what you wanted.”
I had gotten upset with her the night before because I was tired of being poor. I was halfway through my grade 9 year at a school of fairly middle to upper middle class students. I had a good group of friends, but they could afford to do things I couldn’t. They wore the “cool” clothes and got stylish haircuts (my mom still cut my hair – I can tell a hilarious story about when I tried to explain to my mother what “layers” were and the cut that resulted). I saw my brief acceptance in jeopardy because I was poor and I was sick of it. My mother stopped working shortly after I was born. And yes, when I was in my teens she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which she likely suffered from for a few years before, but that does not explain the years before that. She quit on life. She became a recluse and I was a teenager and I was angry that she didn’t plan for my care. All legitimate concerns of a 14 year old girl.
My mother later denied ever having said those words or blamed it on the drugs but that does not change the impact they have on an impressionable child. That event was probably the most scarring of my upbringing. The last vestige of concern for my own well-being had been extinguished.
I have recalled that event many times in the past 18 years. The significance was never lost on me. I tried to play it off. Wear it as a badge of honour (look what I survived and still turned out okay). But it lived in me. The thing I had not relived until Thursday was the abandonment by all the other people who were supposed to take care of me.
I had taken care of my mother for as long as I could remember. The sense of abandonment from her had been brewing all my life. But the other people – that’s what I had never considered. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve come to understand how young you really are at 14. My niece turns 14 this year and the image of her in my place breaks my heart. How could anyone let a little girl sit alone in an emergency room after her mother almost died? Where was the help for me?!
We went to live with my aunt for about 6 months and then my mom and I were on our own again. My mom had to see a psychiatrist regularly, but not me. The system failed me and now I am living with the repercussions of that.
That’s what I relived this week. It sucked.