I had a breakdown on Tuesday night. My emotional bank was exhausted.
Actually, I think it began on Monday, if you want to be picky. Or maybe it was earlier.
It was a tough, strange week. All last week leading up to Easter, I had the feeling that something bad was going to happen. Not like a car crash bad, but more like the sense of impending doom, waiting for my dad t show up and start ranting and raging. Yes, holidays weren’t exactly days of celebration when I was growing up. I grew more despairing and anxious.
On Good Friday, I exclaimed to my husband, “I don’t give a shit about Easter.” He admonished me, “Holly….!” I didn’t care. I couldn’t feel any emotions because it was the time of year I used to stuff it all into a bottle and contain it. I just wanted to go ahead and skip church and be done with it. And yet I wanted to go to church, because the beauty of Mass, the smells and bells as it were, are calming to me. But when it is in conjunction with a holiday of fear, it’s the one of very few times per year that I simply do not want to go to church because of anxiety.
Yet I made it to the Easter Vigil. Once the Mass began, when the bishop lit the napalm to create an indoor bonfire, when the candles drew its light from the Paschal Candle, and as the light passed from person to person, I was able to relax and enjoy the celebration. I even cried–a big improvement from my numb anxiety earlier–when a friend and several parishoners’ babies were baptized. It was joyful.
Nobody snapped. Nobody raged. Nobody forced any of us to walk on eggshells.
On the other side of Easter Sunday, I felt much better.
Then on Monday, I went to work. I’m not sure what happened, but I felt like a character in a video game with depleted reserves. trigger trigger trigger -10pts. trigger trigger -15 pnts. trigger trigger trigger KNOCKOUT BLOW!
I’d been struggling with triggers for a while. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that occasionally I would feel like I was a child again. Like a child again, standing there, listening to my father talk and talk and yell and rage and explain why exactly I made a mistake, and start calling me an ungrateful spoiled brat, going on and on.
Dad would yell–and he sat next to a anniversary clock so I could actually see the passage of time–for 15 to 20 minutes. Sometimes half an hour, if he was very enraged. It would be about things like not taking out the recycling. Or if he perceived we were spoiled brats. Or if he perceived that the world was conspiring against him so he would yell and yell and assert his authority and convince us that it’s what he says when he says how he says, even if we ARE doing things exactly the way he wants, but he changed the Matrix so the rules were different.
I tried very hard not to cry when I stood there, looking at him, saying, “yes dad. yes dad. yes dad” and listening to him mocking my responses. I often zoned out. I was a shell. It wasn’t me he was yelling at. It’s my outer self. Like a dream. Or a out-of-body experience during surgery. I was looking out of my eyes through these tunnels. Being like this kept me from crying, because it wasn’t me. Crying would invite more punishment.
I would notice how my arms and my legs coursed with pain, as they struggled with the fight-or-flight response. I noticed how my heart arched and twisted. I was a failure. The message always came through quite clearly. I didn’t please dad. I’m a failure. and then my psyche ran out of energy. The wall that separated it from me always weakened after a length of time. When my mind entered my body again, the shock, the pain, the fear was all too much, and I would start crying.
Then dad would wrap up his rage. Sometimes with a “you have no reason to cry! You have everything you could ever want. You have clothes. You have a house over your head. You have your expensive hearing aids. You have no reason to cry. You’re just being a spoiled brat.” The knife would hit my heart. And twist. I’m expensive, I remembered thinking. I’m spoiled. I had no reason to be sad. But why did I feel so sad? I must have really been a spoiled brat.
I tried not to cry at work. Yet, all of these emotions surged forward. My emotions, like a migraine, seized my heart, and and wouldn’t let loose its grip. Everything triggered me like crazy afterwards. Crying is a trigger, because crying meant punishment. People correcting me at work was a trigger, even though I’d long since reached a point where I could be taught without being triggered. I regressed. All that progress. Temporarily gone.
And now I couldn’t even get the damn tears to stop.
I went home early. I had so little energy to walk to the bus stop. My arms and legs still hurt. My heart ached. I felt stuck.
I called the Employee Assistance Program when I got home. It was free, the EAP representative said at the employee orientation guest stressed. It’s free. And it’s here to help you.
I was surprised when a live person answered. I told them what happened, and why. I cried again when they told me I could be helped. There were no appointments available for a few weeks, so the counselor said she would call one of their affiliates. Meanwhile, she gave me some tips for dealing with the triggers.
“Try to get out of your head. Think about the ground under your feet. Think about the wind. Just get out of your head. Maybe get a stone, you know, a worry stone? Put it in your pocket and feel it whenever you feel a trigger coming on.” I held back a choking sob. How sweet of them. I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve this help, I thought.
I soon got a call back from a different counselor. I went over the same thing again with her, and she made an appointment for next Tuesday. Great. Near home. And free because it’s EAP.
Read more: Part Two