Showing posts with label death. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death. Show all posts

Sunday, 14 October 2012

On Growing Up in the Dark

I have abandonment issues, to put it bluntly. I'm haunted every day by the ghosts of my past: people I love know they can't leave me without saying good bye. No nipping out to the dairy for milk while I sleep, because if I wake with them gone, it brings back all the feelings that I have no memories for.

Confusion, fear and anger are the strongest; the "jacket feelings" that protect the smaller, but more intense, vulnerable ones. These are the feelings you might see if you come across me like that, and if you're the one that caused it, be ready for a tongue-lashing! But we all know anger is a secondary emotion, caused by the other two. It's protective. Holds people at bay or stops them from attempting to go there again. It projects the confusion and fear you're feeling onto those that "caused" it and makes you feel better in the short term.

But it's not fair. They've done nothing wrong. They're just going about their business, not remembering your emotions run a little differently. Not at first, anyway. They learn pretty quickly after the first couple of times.

Injured, feral animal.

Hiding under the jacket feelings is pure primal misery. I have no way to describe these emotions, because I didn't have the language for them at the time, and if you let it loose, you can't think like an adult at the same time. All you can do is either be comforted, or cry it out - cry until your body tells you that crying is worthless, like a baby being sleep-trained. I can tell you which is better: being comforted. It's over sooner and you bounce back much quicker and next time it's not quite as bad. You've been heard. You're loved. Crying it out leaves you wrecked and exhausted, like you have a really shit hangover, complete with headache and dehydration and you can't function worth a damn if you don't sleep it off over several hours.

Most people who go through this don't explore under the jacket feelings. It's scary stuff. I didn't until I'd been in counselling over a year, some of which were intensive 5 hour sessions. (Yeah, I needed a fair bit of help for my inner fruit-loopery.) Tell ya what though, remembering what it's like to be a toddler with big feelings and not knowing what they are, and having no control over them really is an eye opener. Nothing but gentle parenting after that - whoa baby!

I wasn't actually abandoned as a child. Not really. Mum died of cancer when I was almost three years old. It was really quick from the time they found out and when it happened and I didn't really know what was going on. Perhaps I was being "protected", but the upshot is a little girl eventually knew her mummy was gone and wasn't coming back. She didn't know why, or if it was her fault. She didn't know how her mummy felt about leaving her. She'd always come back before - why not this time? This little girl only knew that the one to whom she was most strongly attached, the woman on which her little world depended, who fulfilled her every need and who she trusted completely, was gone. Would no longer be there with her, for her, think about her, take care of her... love her.

And though she knew there were other people who loved her, it could never be the same.

The only memory I have from that time, is going to visit at the hospital. I was standing beside a hospital bed. I remember the metal on the side of it, which was about level with my face. I didn't look at who was on the bed. A woman (I think, my grandmother, but not sure) urged me, "tell your mother you love her," and I did, because it was true, but I didn't know why I was being urged to say it. I'm not sure if she replied. I don't even know if I was heard. I don't remember.

I think that could have been the last time I saw her.

From then on, I knew that to have complete trust and reliance in another person was dangerous and could be earth shattering. At that age, I blocked out my desires for emotional reassurance and became someone who had to know everything. A very "strong", confident, self reliant person. So much so that I couldn't accept help as I saw in it a sign of weakness. Every. Single. School report I received growing up contained the words, "responsible", "mature", "capable", "conscientious". Mistakes were out of the question. I was (still am, though I work hard to repair it) a perfectionist. Adultified.

No, I wasn't abandoned really. But I have abandonment issues still, 30 years later.

I still yearn to know how mum thought. What she was feeling, knowing she was leaving me behind? What did her voice sound like? How did her face change when she smiled? What did she struggle with? Did she have any advice for me? What were her opinions on... anything?

All I have are some wedding photos, some hand-written recipes and her wedding dress.

I wish I had more.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and knowing what I do, this is my recommendation for anyone in the awful, awful position of leaving your children behind.

Write letters. Thousands, if you can. One for every occasion you can think of. Give advice and tell stories of when you were going through the same thing. Letters for birthdays and Christmases and graduations and weddings, and new children being born.

Video yourself reading stories and singing songs (for different age levels as they grow) until you get hoarse. Share your favourites and say why they are your favourite.

Plant a tree, or something else lasting, together, and document the time well, with video, picture and writing.

And share all your feelings. Because as adults, and even as children we can know intellectually that you never wanted to leave. But unless we hear it from your mouth, in your words, we'll always feel in the dark, just hoping.

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lily image source

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The World Is Bored With Your Problems

We've all said it. I can't actually remember a time when I've said it, but I can sure remember feeling it, then feeling guilty about that. And before I really started paying attention to what came out of my mouth, ie, before impressionable little people entered my life, I'm sure it would have been something tactless, empathyless former me would have spouted.

"I'm totally over hearing about (insert latest natural disaster/war here)"

I've heard it plenty, and it's always said with complete obliviousness to the merest idea that others might be feeling empathy for the continued suffering of victims. Or even that the victims may still be suffering and there's a chance that they'll never "get over it."

It's a wobbly old world. This time 2 years ago, I was probably holding onto a door frame and waiting for yet another aftershock to pass. "The Big One" hit that morning - a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, just 10 kilometres deep and we considered ourselves lucky!

Nobody died.

Lucky indeed; the quake happened at 4.35am and most people were in the relative safety of their beds. Boy did it make the news though!

People weren't unaffected. Liquefaction rivers drifted through dining rooms, water was undrinkable (for those that even had any), the power was out, sewerage lines broken and shops and petrol stations were understandably closed for business. But we knew people cared. Of course they did. It was new news and for that day, there was a whole television station (maybe two!) dedicated to constant updates on the well being of Christchurch citizens. We were in a state of emergency, and people cared. For a bit.

Just about six months later, it happened again, but this time in the daytime and we did not consider ourselves lucky. It killed 185 people. Injured thousands. But we knew people cared; search and rescue teams from all over the world flocked to Christchurch and we felt cared for and loved. Everything that could be done, was being done.

Three weeks along and it was Japan's turn. A magnitude 9 quake followed by a tsunami. A complete tragedy - never ever have I felt for the victims of a natural disaster more than this, with our own so fresh and recent in my mind. I was very pleased to know New Zealand's own SAR team immediately went to help as theirs did for us. I watched it nightly on the news and thought often about the people there.

Then it happened.

I overheard it around the end of March while walking down the street. A street in my town! Where we couldn't walk near some of the buildings for safety's sake, and the roads were still decorated with cracks and liquefaction!

"I'm totally over hearing about that tsunami"

I'm glad it wasn't one of my friends, or even acquaintances.
I don't think I could have remained friends on those terms.

"I'm totally over hearing about (insert latest natural disaster/war here)"

It affects me when I hear it.

I'm not short on problems of my own, some of which may seem pretty trivial, others less so. And they don't always play nice in my head, which has led to depression (crying in the bottom of the shower because it feels too hard to turn the shower off and get dressed kinda depression), self-medicating with food, and self-hate. THIS IS OBVIOUSLY NOT THE FAULT OF THE PERSON SAYING FLIPPANT COMMENTS. There has to be fertile ground there already for tiny seeds like that to grow into brambles from hell. But it seems that every so often, no matter how much I try to sweep up those seeds, some will get lodged in a crack somewhere and take root. I start thinking Did I talk too much about what's going on for me at the moment? Are they totally "over" hearing about me too? My current problems are nothing compared to tsunami/drought/wildfire/hurricane victims... and I dial back the depth of my conversations with them to just trivialities. I can't help it.

Paranoid? Maybe.

Except now my friends are an empathetic bunch. A lot of my long time friends always have been, but I have managed to just drift away from some who might just be "over" hearing about anything that isn't them. I believe my world is a more optimistic place because of it.

Do flippant comments affect you?

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Top photo supplied by Chris Watson.
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