Be a little patient

We’re on day 3 of the new year and I’m yet to write any of my typical end of year posts for 2015: what I did for christmas, my review of the previous year, my goals for the next.

It’s not that there’s nothing to say. I mean, 2015 saw me complete the remortgage on the house, return to self-employment and move the man I love in with me. If that wasn’t awesome enough, for some bizarre reason that man asked me to marry him and I said yes. And — on a slightly less life-changing level — I lost weight, had my first foreign holiday (and went topless on the beach), got lost in Oxford, got myself a giant bunny and saw my dad for the first time in a couple of years. Amongst other things.

A busy year all in, and plenty to write about, but instead I’m sat here feeling restless and agitated. Instead of focusing on all the massive AWESOME cool stuff that I did / achieved / went through in 2015 I remember the times I skipped a mornings work to lay in bed because my head was telling my silly things or spent 3 hours on twitter because it’s the closest I’d get to adult company and the isolation was setting in. I think of the income I didn’t get because I was too busy doing favours – saying yes when I should have said no. Or just generally procrastinating.

I think about the times I shouted at my kids because they were doing ordinary kid stuff because outside pressure and the PMS and life was making it difficult to relax. I think about the wine and takeaway curries I consumed when I should have been working out and eating homemade food. I think of the failed budgets, the overspending, the constantly fluctuating savings. Most of all I spend a lot of time wondering when I’ll feel normal again.

But what is normal? When you’ve spent the vast majority of your life in situations where you’ve had to build walls and exercise control over the minutiae because it’s the only thing you’re allowed control over; when your relationships are based on defending your emotional health rather than cultivating it; when you’ve spent so long living with oppression that freedom scares the fuck out of you… none of what you “know” is normal. There’s no going back to normal, because there was no normal to begin with.

So… I guess what I’m trying to say is that 2016 is going to be about defining a new normal. Allowing myself to continue building on what I’ve done, finding out who I am and being gentle on myself when I fail. Mark Manson said, in his piece Shut Up and Be Patient (which basically feels like it was written for me at exactly the time I needed it):

There are a thousand tons of emotional and psychological cargo being hauled across the vast oceans of your unconscious. Be a little patient, fucker.

& I think I can do that. :)

Realising I’m an extrovert

I’ve spent a huge portion of my life telling the world (and myself) that I don’t like people. It’s nothing personal: people are lovely I’m sure. I just find them hard work. I always assumed I was a bit of an introvert, preferring my own company; chatting on social media is plenty of interaction where I can more easily create boundaries and step away with ease.

But this weekend I realised I’m wrong. That I am the very definition of an extrovert. That is, I am energised by social interaction, and isolation leaves me anxious, withdrawn and at its very worst, depressed.

You’d think I’d have been clued in when I went self-employed originally and found myself chatting up the postman and inviting in religious callers for a cup of tea, until the isolation (amongst other things) pushed me back into full time employment.

You’d think I’d have been clued in when, before Gaz moved in, I would regularly ask Gaz to come over for an extra night because the thought of spending those hours alone in the time between my kids going to bed and them waking up in the morning drove me to despair (and crying into my wine).

You’d think I’d have been clued in when, after going back to self-employment in July, after a short period of “yay I can do whatever I like” the reality of sitting alone day in, day out — particularly during the summer when I didn’t even have the kids to break the monotony — hit me hard, giving me one of my longest ‘low’ periods yet.

Nope, I was oblivious. I knew working alone was getting to me, but I didn’t realise to what extent. However, as a bit of an ‘experiment’ I asked Gaz if he’d take me out on Saturday. We went to a local pub that usually has live music over the weekend, and I drank and danced and talked to people and connected and told people how fab they looked and — aside from one wanker who wouldn’t leave me the fuck alone — generally felt energised and happy and awesome. I’m still feeling ‘high’ today!

Maybe I really was an introvert, and I have changed as I’ve grown. Or maybe that’s what I told myself so that I could more easily deal with every past attempt at socialising being questioned, controlled, critiqued. It’s easier to pretend you don’t like people than to admit your relationship is failing, after all.

OK, so this weekend was just one occasion. I can’t guarantee that getting out and being with people is the answer to my problems. It sure as hell has given me the motivation to attempt to do something about them, though. I need to stop talking about “getting out of the house” and actually do it. Game on…

The Problem with Empathy

Today’s post was going to be a review of the pizza place that Gaz and I went to on Friday night, but rather last minute I thought I’d swap it out for something a bit more personal; something that has been bothering me all week.

I’ve talked a little before about some of the side effects of having been in an emotionally abusive relationship, including excess empathy:

As a result of spending a huge part of my life waiting for incidents and accidents I’ve developed a weird sort of hypervigilance. I have empathy up to the eyeballs which allows me to very quickly identify with other people’s range of moods and feel spectacular depths of happiness [..] and, conversely, sadness.

Apparently this is quite normal in those who’ve been through abuse:

It is the act of putting oneself second above others, worrying about the needs and wants of others, and being completely reactionary toward others. What that means is that the person in question becomes hypersensitive to the emotions and emotional states of their abusers, in order to adjust their own behaviors, emotions, and responses accordingly. It is a survival mechanism born out of a moment of great need.

Empathic Perspectives: The Abused Empath

The problem is, while I have started to recognise this in myself and how it applies to relationships, and have been working on toning it down using Gaz’s more reasonable emotional response to situations as a benchmark, I still have issues with “3rd party” situations: things that occur that are outside of my personal “sphere”, and oftentimes completely out of my control.

The heavy social and traditional news media focus on the refugee crisis this week has been hugely difficult for anyone with an ounce of empathy, unsurprisingly. I have found it mentally crippling. I spent a huge portion of the week browsing social media with images disabled in my browser so that I wouldn’t have to see THAT photo again. Because to do so would wipe me out for a couple of hours, alternating between hopeless crying and feelings of utter uselessness and despair.

I have had to switch myself back and forth between retweeting and sharing stories / campaigns to raise awareness (and money) and complete emotional shutdown in a desperate attempt to maintain some level of control and be able to function as an adult (i.e. to work, communicate rationally, etc)

I understand why people are sharing those photos: I get it. I can’t quite decide if I think it’s entirely necessary, but I get it.

The problem with empathy is that in my head (against my better judgement and logical thinking) the world’s problems become my problems. And I realise that sounds ridiculously narcissistic, but trust me, it’s not something I actually want to feel. I don’t mean for this post to sound so “me me me”. I’m not telling you this now because I want pity. I don’t want pity. I definitely don’t need pity. This crisis is clearly not about me.

I’m telling you this because I want people to understand that someone who doesn’t participate in extended campaigning, or doesn’t share those pictures, or doesn’t stick hashtags on pictures of their own kids looking forlorn to exploit people’s emotions (thanks for that) so that they (the viewer) stick another fiver on the pile is not necessarily avoiding it because they don’t care, or lack compassion, or don’t want to help this horrible situation. No, it might actually be quite the opposite.

If you have the means to do so, please consider donating your time, your money, or necessary goods to aid the refugee crisis. The Independent has a good list of ways to help. Don’t tell me what you’ve done though, I don’t need to know just to believe you’re a good person (and neither should anyone else.)

In defence of spur of the moment decisions

I think often as a grown up, being able to spend time thinking about and rationalising decisions before acting them out is considered a desirable trait. Sleep on it, we’re told. Write pro/con lists and weigh up consequences.

I say bollocks to that.

Last year I came out of a counselling session with the realisation that my relationship was toxic. I ended it straight away.

A week later Tony mentioned OKCupid on twitter and I suddenly decided I need to get laid (classy bird, me) so I signed up and uploaded the first picture of my face to grace the interwebs in over 10 years. I found Gaz. (Although he says that picture was terrible. Nice to know.)

Not so long after that, Gaz and I met. I made a decision that night which worked out pretty well…

While I was on holiday with the kids earlier this year, I woke early one morning and decided to ask Gaz to move in with me. He said yes. (He moves in this weekend.)

A month or so ago I suddenly decided I needed to quit my job. I asked Gaz if it would be a terrible idea. He said it was … but I did it anyway. I have all of my original clients’ ongoing support and jobs booked in the calendar til September.

So, you know… maybe spur of the moment decisions aren’t so bad. After so many years of letting my head talk me out of everything, letting my heart rule for a while seems to be working out OK.

Moving on from emotional abuse (TW)

Trigger warning: emotional abuse, link to/veiled references to sexual abuse

One of the hardest parts about moving on from an emotionally abusive relationship has been recognising the impact that it has had on aspects of my personality and my own behaviour. I am regularly taken by surprise by my reactions to seemingly inconsequential events because of expectations based on previous experience. I will often detach, feeling like I am watching both the situation unfold and my own emotions that follow, knowing that often my reaction is disproportionate to what has happened, but feeling completely powerless to do anything about it. As someone who considers themselves strong and independent and able to deal with an incredible amount of trials and tribulations (TW), this is physically painful to me and does nothing to ease the trauma.

Take for example this every day sort of incident: not long after Gaz and I started seeing each other, he was walking through the kitchen of his flat when stubbed his toe on a portable radiator he had against the back wall. He yelped in pain/surprise and I physically winced. Not in sympathy or acknowledgement of his pain, but because of a sudden overwhelming fear that enveloped my body. My eyes started to water, I felt adrenaline surging through my body as the fight or flight reaction took hold. My body, my reaction, completely out of tune with what should have been an “oooh, are you ok love?” response. It took hours for me to ‘come down’ from that, and it was only months later that I was able to fully explain to Gaz what I had experienced in that moment. He, of course, didn’t even remember stubbing his toe (why should he?)

I know now that this response is caused by conditioning: that over time I have experienced so much negativity following incidents like that, that even though logically I knew I was safe and Gaz would react like a normal / rational person, my brain thought I was ‘in for it’. That I should expect verbal abuse because it would be all my fault.

I’m getting better at dealing with those sorts of incidents. Gaz tripped up the stairs recently (I’m making him sound incredibly clumsy) and although I had a wibble, my immediate emotional response was concern rather than fear.

However, one thing I still struggle with particularly during periods of high anxiety (generally in the week or so when I’m off the pill, and when I’m overly stressed or very tired) and can’t seem to shake is a different sort of fear: fear of abandonment. If I feel that I’ve done anything ‘wrong’ or that I’m causing upset I start to panic. Trigger for this can vary from something as harmless as a sarcastic comment meant in humour to Gaz physically turning around/away from me (with completely innocent intent). When this happens I am again gripped by feelings I have no control over, and this usually results in one of two reactions: I cry, and act like a needy child wanting reassurance, or I start to use passive aggressive behaviour in a push away/pull you close cycle, making sarcastic comments or resurfacing tiny irrelevant incidents in my head from months past to use as ‘ammo’ in case I need to argue, to fight. This in itself is a form of emotional abuse and it kills me that I recognise the things in my behaviour that have been done to me.

I have yet to wrap my head around why, when I was in that harmful relationship, I completely failed to spot or identify with any of the feelings that I experience now. I had no idea that I felt actual physical fear when I knew I was likely to be used as the excuse or blame for an incident not of my causing. It was just normal. It was how it was. To know that I was so completely out of touch with my own mind that I could not recognise something as powerful as fear makes me really, really fucking angry. And ashamed that I could be so stupid.

As a result of spending a huge part of my life waiting for incidents and accidents I’ve developed a weird sort of hypervigilance. I have empathy up to the eyeballs which allows me to very quickly identify with other people’s range of moods and feel spectacular depths of happiness (which itself causes me so much fucking pain: try being that person in the playground who cries at the sight of their child at the end of the school day “just because”) and, conversely, sadness. Anyway, this hypervigilance was vital in dealing with someone who operated on a very small scale of ‘okay’ and meant that I could try and react appropriately to nip a problem in the bud before it developed into a full blown argument. Of course this meant using the one thing I felt like I had any control over to try and placate and please: my body. The irony of this isn’t lost on me… having to fuck your way out of an argument is not empowering and the person in control was clearly never me.

The hypervigilance remains, but not everyone operates on a such a small scale of black or white in their emotional range. “Normal” people experience a range of feelings, which confuse my little internal radar. When Gaz comes home from work after a shit day and I can see the tiredness in his eyes and the stress in his expression, the “deal with this” alarm kicks in. I backtrack in my head to what I could have done, what part of my day made his stress my fault. A tiny part of my brain reminds me again and again that this wasn’t me but the tiny voice is drowned out by the shouts of “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” and “FIX THIS SHIT”. Of course I can’t fix it, because it’s not my problem nor responsibility to fix anything, and so the despair and uselessness floods in and Miss Fear of Abandonment comes aknocking.

I am getting better. Sometimes, when I feel something affecting the stability of my mood, I can talk myself down or distract myself from it. Sometimes I can fix things with a long run. Sometimes I type out stupidly long blog entries (although I usually delete them). Sometimes I spend money unnecessarily (less ideal). Mostly I just lean on Gaz and remember that I am very lucky to have found someone who isn’t scared by the journey I have yet to take, and who hasn’t faltered when I’ve needed him so far.

20 signs your relationship is probably over

It’s really quite easy to live day to day in a bad relationship because good people don’t like to think that other people — the people they love and are committed to — are anything but good too. But…

  1. If you need to ask permission to see your friends
  2. If you have to justify extending the length of your outings beyond a set curfew
  3. And endure repeated abusive phone calls if you’re just a tiny bit late
  4. If you need to explain why you bought yourself new underwear
  5. If you need to defend shaving your legs or cutting your hair
  6. If you have to put a PIN on your phone to get some privacy
  7. If the only ideas or plans that are acceptable are your partner’s
  8. If you work all day, parent all night, and still have to do ALL the housework, cook all the meals, wash all the clothes
  9. If you need to catch someone out in a lie to get the truth
  10. If you daren’t mention male friends or colleagues for fear of an argument
  11. If your idea of happiness is defined as not having an argument that day
  12. If your friends are rendered speechless at your partner’s behaviour (even if they’re too polite to say it’s dickish)
  13. If you feel like you’re losing your mind because you can’t keep track of the stories and spin
  14. If you are feel physically scared of a reaction to something, even if you’ve never been hit
  15. If everything is always “your fault” or “in your head”
  16. If you find yourself constantly making excuses for behaviour: your partner is tired, stressed, or they’ve had a hard day at work
  17. If you feel you need to make excuses to get out of sexual contact you don’t want
  18. Or feel the need to engage in sexual contact because it’s easier than saying no
  19. If you spend hours every week fantasising about leaving and trying to figure out if you can handle the finances on your own
  20. If you know in your gut that it is over, but are holding on for the sake of your family or children

…you probably need to leave.

It’s easy to normalise and justify each of the items in the list above as “just one-offs” and separate problems, each with their own little causes and ultimately, each with their own solutions. But they are not one-offs, they are pieces of a bigger puzzle. And you probably need to leave.

(Please don’t wait 12 years to do it.)

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