This morning my younger kids saw something I never wanted them to see. I’m proud of the way they responded but heartbroken that they were called upon to show up for something so intense. I had a breakdown. A big one. It started with dissociation, quickly turned into massive shaking and then went into a full blown episode.
Let me back up a bit. For the last few days I’ve been having trouble holding myself together. I’ve been valiantly fighting my depression but other things have been coming up. I’ve been thinking a lot about how hard it is for me to be close to my husband. I love him so much, I’m attracted to him, I love the way my body and heart feel when we’re intimate but something’s stopping me from reaching out to him. Over the weekend I told him I’d been thinking about this (a big step for me) and his response was sweet and understanding, though I imagine he’s frustrated. I told him I was going to try some herbs and exercises that might increase my sex drive and I’ve already started down this path.
Maybe it was a coincidence but a few days ago I started having more and more dissociative episodes, along with moments where my brain just stops and I’m sort of frozen for a few seconds or minutes. I attributed it to the intense winds we were having because this has happened before during times when the barometric pressure is all over the place. I knew going to the grocery store on my own was risky but I felt pretty confident about my ability to manage anything that might arise and I really wanted my kids and husband to enjoy their time having a Doctor Who marathon without my husband having to make an unscheduled trip to the store. So I went and it was a complete bust. I started at the produce section and was choosing apples when I suddenly thought “I don’t know how to choose apples”. Then I looked around and I felt intensely alone in the midst of all the people and lights and colors and I just disappeared. Then, as is often the case, I panicked. I picked up my bags and left the store, abandoning my cart along with an english cucumber and two apples.
I was shaking, shivering really, by the time I got outside and called my husband. In that moment of panic I told him I thought I might need to go back into therapy. I don’t want to. I really, really don’t want to but I think I need to. I did manage to go back in and finish the shopping, only because my husband stayed on the phone with me the whole time.
Back to this morning. When I felt the episode coming on, all I could think about was how I didn’t want my boys to see me like that. I tried to hold it back, stop it before it got out of control but that rarely works and it certainly didn’t this morning. My youngest saw me struggling and without a word gave me a big, long hug. My older boy got up to help me fill a glass of ice water. Nothing was helping, not the hugs, the cold rag on the back of my neck or my attempts to will it to stop. I was holding my head, pulling on my hair and pacing but I knew what I had to do. I needed to put my head in the sink and spray cold water over my scalp and neck. But I didn’t want my boys to see me do it. I was aware enough to recognize their presence and worry and I kept thinking that they shouldn’t have to see me suffering like that. That if they saw it they would know on a deeper level that I’d experienced things so horrible that 40 years later I was still suffering. I wanted to protect them from that but I couldn’t.
I finally sprayed my head with cold water and felt all the feelings I’d been holding back come rushing into my awareness and vibrating out of my body. I stood there, head over the sink and ice cold water running through my hair and down my sides, and I sobbed. I sobbed for myself, everything I’ve been through and all the work I still have to do, and I sobbed for my boys who, as witnesses to this pain, must suddenly know of horrors they could not have imagined before. When I finally collapsed onto the floor they quietly came closer and sat on either side of me. My youngest called our dog in and she licked the tears from my face while I continued to cry, more quietly now but unable to stop. They stayed with me until I settled down and was able to look around the room and feel my body stabilize. Then they went back to their seats at the kitchen table, finished their breakfasts and waited for me to be able to take them to school.
I asked them later if the experience had been scary for them and they said “a little” but didn’t ask any questions. They seemed to accept my reassurance that I was ok and wandered off to their room where they quietly read until I was ready to take them to school.
The thing is, now I’m really angry. I’m already angry with my dad for perpetrating abuse that has impacted every area of my life, my entire life. For years I’ve been angry that my kids have to live with a mother who is not always emotionally available. What must they think now? I know they have questions about my childhood. They know my father was a bad man and certainly that’s enough information considering their ages. What they saw this morning was raw trauma pouring out of me. They witnessed my pain, the pain that I try so hard to keep from them. I can only hope that the love and safety we’ve given them counterbalances the knowledge that there are people in the world who hurt others so badly that the suffering can be endless.