She is the type of woman who sweeps over you from the feet up, criticising everything from your shoes to your handbag. She makes your daughter uncomfortable with her relentless grilling, and you feel exhausted by her relentless whining. You are never asked about yourself; how you are and what is happening in your world. You aren’t asked because it doesn’t matter to her. On a gorgeous morning, there you are, minding your business at the bus stop, when she comes along, insisting on sitting near you the whole journey. By the end, you have lost all your energy, and feel discombobulated. Its probably not a good portent, when you spot a person and inwardly groan.
The other day, I was waiting for a bus home after seeing my doctor. My spine was excruciating; lifting my arm had encouraged metal shards in my spinal canal to give a sensation like being stabbed between my shoulder blades. It had taken five different medications to get a few hours sleep the night before. I just wanted to sit in silence, and get home.
Suddenly, she appeared, like a vulture. She immediately noticed that I had cut my hair. “What happened to you!” she demanded, pointing at my head. “I felt like a change,” I replied sharply. “Why would you do that? Why?” she hollered. And in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the critique was coming. Bugger this! In desperation, I hopped on a bus that would take me several blocks from my place, rather than right outside my home. It was worth the extra walk, to get away from her. I am starting to understand that I have rights too. A right to peace of mind, quiet, and to be respected. I dont have to be polite and sit there and take such nonsense. All my energy has to be shared with my daughter and I will be damned if I will allow the likes of her to syphon it away with dribble. Not anymore. The look on her face when I suddenly hopped away and onto the bus was priceless.
When you wake up from a fitful sleep, you tend to have around half of the vigour needed to get through a busy day. If you subject yourself to miserable people, the tank gets drained further. Dont do it! Move or walk away from anyone who pulls this toxic stunt!
True, dat! Most of those I adore have toxic people and situations in their lives that they feel they have to endure. They are pleasant when they want to be assertive; indulge when they yearn to say “no.” It is frustrating, draining and exhausting. These extraneous demands take precious time from our lives; time we aren’t going to get back. You were built to progress, to keep moving. We aren’t built for stationary situations and toxic people. Why do we put up with so much? To get an occasional pat on the head and be told we have behaved according to expectation? So they won’t get angry?
I have lost several people in the past six years whom I adored. Some I expected to travel with my entire life. It is too short for nonsense, this life. How about we make up a list of those with whom our heart comes alive? How about we prepare a list of those with whom we recede into the shadows, deflated? What a difference, hey? How about we start to create a world with only those in the first list. How wondrous that would be! This is your precious life, and it goes so quickly. Too quickly to put up with nonsense. I want to take my next vacation for pleasure, not for escape.
This was me at the end of term 2. I was hanging out for the school holidays, longing for days at home. The last week of term, I was in the city five times for workshops, shows and other commitments. It is a journey of almost two hours each way. I would curl up in the shower each morning, allowing the heat to wash over my spine, willing myself to get going. When you are in that level of pain, you operate on automatic pilot. The promise of a two week break got me through. We have been for walks through our beautiful town, and have had plenty of home days. It has been bliss.
Getting the house in order and planning for Term 3 has been wonderful. Resting when I need to, and playing with my daughter has been a treat. Life gets so busy; too busy. There needs to be retreat as well. I don’t know how anybody with a massive amount of daily pain does it. I certainly don’t know I get through! I do it because I have to. I am grateful that I still can.
This is sometimes where I find myself. I have to rest, and connect with my daughter. I need to lay flat, as it’s the only way I find relief from the relentless pain. It is frustrating when there are so many marvelous things going on, and so many special friends to see. Those closest to my heart are those whom understand and patiently await our return to society. I appreciate them with all my being. No pressure, just love. I am starting to let go of feeling bad if I have to have a day in bed to recover.
These are indeed the best moments; the pockets of time where we can heal and grow strong. On my walks, I have been able to appreciate the sound of the bell birds and kookaburras, the sight of llamas, horses and cows, and the pleasantries exchanged. I have caught up with friends I haven’t seen for well over a year, and it is as though no time has passed. We pick up where we left off, and there is nothing but love. I will keep going on this strange and wonderful journey, and during term, whirl around from event to event. In the holidays, I will continue to retreat into the mists, emerging refreshed. It is how it has to be.
I love the above. For too long I tried to be everything to everyone. I tried to fit into spaces not meant for me. I lost my voice and my boundaries. My life was a free-for-all. I was exhausted. When the drainers were done, there was nothing left. I watched as they flitted from energy source to energy source, surviving quite nicely without me. The fact was, I wasn’t helping them anymore than they were capable of loving me. I have come to learn what love is by uncovering what it isn’t.
Friendship should feel good; you ought to feel assured of your place in their world. I have come to understand that it isn’t based on what you are able to do for that person, but rather who you are. Can you imagine being surrounded by friends who affirm that if you have nothing but yourself to give, that is more than enough? Friends who offer support and call in with food when you are sick? Friends who celebrate and commiserate with you? Friends who love you because you breathe? I am proud to say that I have these friends. I had to fight many a battle to get to them, and the path was fraught with detractors.
I have turned myself inside out for people I called friends. I was used, scoffed at, ignored and discarded. It hurt, but not knowing the light of my own being hurt much more. I had to determine that I deserved better in order to find true friends. I accept invitations when I can. I help whenever I possibly can. It feels as though no time has passed when we have the opportunity to spend time together. We have each other’s back. There is still a child inside my soul, alone and begging the world to love her. My job is to guide this enthusiastic character, so she is steered toward people who are open to loving her as she does them. Boundaries are a good thing. Not everyone is meant to hold the precious key to your heart. I find you aren’t hesitant in showing your vulnerability when it occurs in the presence of a true friend. That is worth holding on for. Stubbornly refuse to hand over the key until you have found your tribe. There will be exchanges of heart and mind, with an equal amount of energy flowing in an endless cycle. That is the safety which comes from having boundaries. Start with being a friend to yourself. Friends will come and they shall stay.
I can’t tell you how much the response meant to me after I posted Til it Happens to you. The support was incredible! I was too overcome to respond for a while. People have asked how I got through it all. I suffered status epilepticus at 13, meaning I had continual seizures which couldn’t be controlled. I stopped breathing and was in a coma. It took a long time to recover from this event (it was predicted I wouldn’t). The next year, I met a monster, and was abused. The finale was being thrown off a building at fifteen. My healing has taken over twenty years. There are some things that have helped.
1. I can’t handle violence of any kind. I can’t discuss literature, nor movies, let alone view them, if they are violent. At first, I didn’t want people to think I was fragile. I didn’t want them to see the distress that talking about violence (parcelled as entertainment to the masses), conjured. I would pretend that it wasn’t hurting me. Nowadays, I don’t pretend. I gracefully bow out of conversations and invitations which would bring me into this sphere.
2. I couldn’t leave the house by myself, even to go to the letterbox. It has taken many years and many small trips to gather the strength to go farther afield. I plan ahead, and the apps I have on my phone make my preparations easier. If you are agoraphobic, be kind to yourself. Every little step is a triumph. My major incentive was that I had to get to the IVF clinic early in the morning, and simply had to do it. It made me braver than I actually felt! Now I take my daughter everywhere, and the freedom is liberating!
3. I have had to confront my deepest fears. The ones I was frightened of encountering, as I would surely fall apart. My fears included rejection, loneliness, being left alone and finding out that people weren’t as they appeared. Confronting these fears has been terrifying, and it has hurt. I have uncovered that people I looked up to were abusive behind closed doors. I have been let down and let go, but I have survived. I learnt not to leave myself behind in the process. Comforting myself became of premium importance.
4. People see a smiling, functional adult when you are out and about. They don’t recollect the child kept alive in Intensive Care on a respirator. They came into my life during a different chapter. I know what it took to get to here. The hundreds of hours of physiotherapy, the scores of surgeries… I have to remind myself of my achievements and give myself a quiet pat on the back.
5. Boundaries are a big one for a survivor. I felt as vulnerable as a newborn when I started to make a life for myself. I believed anything anyone said, and believed everyone was a friend. It has taken trial and many errors to come up with boundaries, and to trust my judgement above all else. It was a revelation, to give myself the space to honour my instincts. If a person or situation doesn’t sit right, and makes me uncomfortable, I walk away. It is imperative to do so, as I have a little girl watching me. I need to display good boundaries so she knows that its okay to be in touch with her own. It has sometimes taken me being struck mute in the company of somebody who is toxic, for me to comprehend that my body is trying to protect me by producing physical symptoms. I am free, and thus I get to decide who stays in my life. It may not be anything that anyone is doing. Rather, they remind me of someone from the past. I still have to honour my discomfort.
6. Things will trigger me on a daily basis, and much of it is out of my control. It could be a song coming on in the supermarket, an aftershave I detect in passing. It might be a conversation, or visiting a friend in a hospital where I had prior surgery. Deep breaths are required, and sometimes a visit to the lady’s restroom to compose myself. I tell myself that my anxiety is a natural reaction, and I am doing fine. If I am with close friends, I will tell them that a memory has come up. If I am not, I will breath deeply, find a focal spot to concentrate on, and reassure myself quietly.
7. I will not drink to excess, nor take tablets to blot out a bad day. Sometimes, the memories hit hard, and along with the massive amount of pain I suffer, it becomes overwhelming. Alcohol is a depressant, and thus, is disastrous as an antidote. I will only have alcohol when in the company of friends at dinner, or as a toast of celebration. It only compounds the depression which inevitably comes after overworked adrenals have crashed. Instead, I go for a walk, swim or am otherwise active. It helps tremendously.
8. I will space out at times. When you hardly sleep, and are in pain, it happens naturally. When you put flashbacks or a panic attack into the mix, let’s say I am sometimes away with the fairies! Writing (and preparing for a writing task), also lends itself to spacing out. If you holler at me on the street and I don’t respond, that’s why! I am escaping into my inner world, which is expansive and magical. I nearly jump out of my skin when I am walking along and a car beeps me. I remain jittery for the rest of the day. I am hyper vigilant; always scanning a crowd for danger, even when in my own world. It’s quite a combination!
9. You are allowed to say “no” to a request. You are allowed to rest. I keep going until I can’t, and at that point, I retreat for a bit. I have to. It is a revelation, when you learn that you can keep free spaces in the calendar. Even thirty minutes to sip tea and daydream is heavenly. I need time alone to restore and reboot. Time is precious, and I try to use it wisely.
10. My survival has been an odyssey of epic proportions. I tried to run from the memories. I attempted to smother them, as one instinctively does a fire. The smoke streams from underneath the cloth, and then the flames explode forth in a cacophony of rage. It is like burning off disease, only to have damaging adhesions form underneath. Running doesn’t work, and it certainly doesn’t help. Over many years, I have visited my places of trauma. I have wept and I have released at each site. I only did so when I was ready. You have to be ready. My natural instinct is still to run when triggered, but now I have tools. They come in the form of a laptop, a paintbrush, a pastel. They come to me as bird song, my walking shoes, my friends and my music.
When I was a child, I had big dreams. I had a determined spirit and an acute awareness that what was being done to me was not only wrong, but evil. I felt as though a cannon had ripped through my psyche, smattering me into pieces. Over time, I have laid out all the pieces, and put them into place. I am glued, sewn, fused and grafted together. I was once a china doll. Now I am reinforced and can never be broken again. It takes time to heal. You will want to give up. You will consider yourself beyond repair. You will want to run and you will try to escape your own mind. You will want to give up. Please don’t. The joy of finally accessing the tools to help you cope are worth the fight.
I would tell my younger self to hold on tight. As a teen, I had to fight to retain my sanity, my heart and my life. I refused to put up with nonsense, nor manipulation. I would walk away, and if I couldn’t leave, I would fight. Fight for the right to live my life in the way it was ordained by the moon and stars before I had even arrived. When one is having continual operations and intensive periods of rehabilitation from such surgery; when one can’t work because of the above, you find yourself vulnerable. Grateful that people are willing to chat briefly to you, grateful for a lift or an invitation to dinner. My boundaries were blurred and I was overwhelmed by any crumb of kindness shown me. I would say to that girl, ‘honey, you can trust your instincts. You have a right to leave any form of cruelty, and run from any lack of empathy. It isn’t worth the pain you will suffer by staying. Trust your first impressions, and measure the benevolence or otherwise in a person’s conversation. It’s laid bare on the table, and your ears aren’t deceiving you. Years of your precious life will be squandered on trying to understand the intricacies of toxicity if you don’t run.’
Groups will be disbanded, and you will move in new circles. People not meant to be in your life will leave, not before offering a few sharp scratches to your already scarred psyche. As you grow older, you will tolerate less nonsense, and savour the real people. Those who weep with you, hold your hand, laugh with you and are present. They want your company for no other reason than that they celebrate you. No masks required.
I wish I could erase the memory of the walking wounded who caused you more pain. I wish you had turned away, no explanation needed nor offered. You didn’t, and its okay. You have resurrected that teenager, the one who was selective about who received the key to her inner world. You have given out multiple copies of the skeleton key. Happily, those who have received this gift unconditionally love you. There is no more hurt to be had. You have yourself, first and foremost. You can love the whole world, without letting it all inside the inner sanctum. Some will appreciate the chandelier, the candles, the frankincense oil, the violet walls, the poetry and art, whilst others would only try to disassemble the sanctuary. Careful with yourself, young woman. You have to firstly love yourself in a manner that will then mirror how others love you. You have yourself forever.