When given this prompt, I wondered–what was the thing I had to work hardest at?
Not being pregnant. Or giving birth. Or being a parent.
I did work hard at training for the Chicago Marathon even though I hated running and would get the runner’s trots constantly and ended up running half marathons most Saturdays leading up to the actual marathon. But that’s not quite it, either.
It was hard getting my undergraduate and graduate degrees while working full time.
It was hard learning how to talk and hear at 2 when I was finally diagnosed as deaf and fitted with hearing aids.
But the hardest thing is healing from childhood trauma. I am still working on it, and will probably have to keep working hard at healing for the rest of my life. It pervades everything in my life, tangling even the most simple action in a complex web of shame and guilt and fear and loss and grief.
I have to keep reminding myself to be kind to myself even as I want to punish myself for failing at being normal by cutting or picking or scratching or gouging or binge-eating or drinking, and I have to remind myself to be kind to myself instead of going further into the shame spiral if I do fall and do one of these things. It is so so hard to stop these things, because self-punishment is so ingrained–“If I punish myself, then maybe my dad won’t punish me so hard.”
How do you tend to your inner child? It used to be such a difficult concept–how do I be kind to myself? I have to admit that having my own daughter has really helped. What do I do to care for her? I need to do that to myself. Feed her healthy food? Feed myself healthy food. How do I talk to her when she misbehaves? Kindly, but firmly. Take her to play and exercise? Do the same for myself.
The grief process is so complicated, too. Every time I think I am in an okay place, another wave of grief at the loss of my siblings or my mother or the idea of a normal family washes over me, and I get caught up in an obsessive search online for any shred of info about my siblings or my mom, for any sign that they are doing okay all things considering, and then the dark cloud cloyingly settles around me for a few days. It’s so hard to grieve people who aren’t dead.
Anxiety and PTSD affects a lot of interpersonal relationships still–it’s so hard to try to figure out if I’m in trouble at work, if someone is angry at me (when 99% of the time they are not, but I am hyper sensitive to facial emotions and will leap to the worst possible conclusion). I sometimes have to take an Ativan before a meeting that I’m afraid will involve constructive feedback, because my brain immediately thinks “DANGER, IMMA BE FIRED” and “I’M SUCH A FAILURE.” it helps me to disengage just enough to take a step back and look at it as a skill separate from who I am as a person–and look at ways to improve it instead of getting immediately defensive. Sometimes I wonder how I manage to work most days given my desire to run away.
Fighting depression, though, is undoubtedly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to work on. It comes. It goes. It improves, then goes downhill. I have to drag myself to work, outside, during the bad spells of depression. I have to gather up a little strength and courage to go to the psychiatrist yet again to get my medicine adjusted yet again to get to a good place yet again.
It’s tiring constantly working on something over and over again, when you keep thinking, “but I should be past this now!” But it’s not necessarily related to the trauma by itself–it’s also how my brain is wired. Mental illnesses run in both sides of my family of origin, and trauma only compounds it.
Maybe some day I will be done with the task of healing my brain and psyche, but I don’t think that day will ever come–and I think that’s why it’s so freaking hard to work on it all the time. So really, my job is to try to work hard at monitoring my moods, my body, and to stay stable as much as I can, and with time, more healing will come.
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