Switching, new memories and feeling rough around the edges

It’s been a hard week. I went looking for my diploma in the boxes where I keep stuff packed away. I didn’t consciously focus on anything as I dug through photos, old clothes and paperwork. I didn’t find my diploma. And then everything began to fall apart. It started with some massive dissociative episodes, then my sleep became disrupted and anxiety, paranoia and cognitive shutdown set in.

By yesterday, I was in a state I haven’t experienced in well over a year. I was vacillating between being in my sympathetic and dorsal systems. Feeling like fleeing or dizzy and shut down. Woven in and out of those two states, were the memories of a fancy handmade dress I had when I was little (something I found in one of my boxes) and a man’s hand grasping at the dress while he said “dirty little princess”. The memories were intrusive and I was terrified of what else might arise. Half the time I was riding in the passenger seat as Little took over and felt anxious and confused.

I have my boys this week so I did all I could to keep it together while showing up for them as much as possible. I let them know I was having a hard time so they would understand why I couldn’t always respond to them.

The memory wasn’t a particularly awful one, comparatively, but it felt gross and unavoidable. I certainly tolerated it better than I have when similar things have come up in the past. I am trying to make space for this experience, meanwhile am also pissed off that my carefully constructed routine and ground were temporarily dismantled and broken.

I slept a little better last night and am so far not struggling today. Someone I know recently said that we have to get rid of our attachments to the past in order to move forward in life and feel good. Tell me, how do you stop being attached to something that literally informed every aspect of your being? That continues to demand processing and attention every day even though it happened 30-45 years ago?

The long winter’s night

(Art credit: Keeping Hope Alive by Phatpuppyart-studios on Deviantart here)

I’ve kept to myself for months now. The pandemic has made that easier. Once every few weeks, a friend from town comes for a socially distanced visit on my back patio. We have to choose the day carefully so it’s warm enough for us to sit outside and chat comfortably for an hour or two. I hear from my childhood friend occasionally and my friend with trauma and I connect when one of us needs support. My eldest and their partner are here all the time but we are content to have brief chats and then go about our separate lives in the same house. I don’t know how long it’s been since I left social media. Six months, maybe?

My younger kids come to stay every other week and those weeks are the hardest. I love them, appreciate the time we have together, and I struggle because their presence is triggering and it’s hard work to stay truly present with them.

In the beginning of the pandemic, being so isolated was challenging; I tried to find meaningful things to do with my time but found I had little energy or focus for those tasks. The stress of the pandemic, coupled with my own state of mind, make it extremely challenging for me to accomplish most projects and sometimes even chores. At some point a few months ago, I stopped trying to accomplish anything other than surviving each day and do just the chores that keep us alive and healthy.

I wake up each day an hour or so before sunrise. The darkness and the quiet give my nervous system time to set a calm baseline for the day to come. And I love to watch the light change. There’s a moment during the gloaming time when color comes back to the world. From my window, I can see it happen while I’m sitting in my bed. One minute, everything outside seems swathed in shades of dark blue and grey. The next, the rocks on the mountains spark a hint of orange that softly glows. If I happen to catch that moment as it happens, I put on some warm clothes and go outside.

Did you know that the birds don’t just start singing at some point during sunrise? The smaller birds will click and chuck for a time before singing. This morning I went outside just in time to hear those first small sounds beginning. It’s been about twenty minutes and they are just starting their songs. The always silent trees, also seem to wake up when the light returns. I see their thin top branches reaching for the first rays of light as it set them softly afire with a warm golden color.

The winter sunrise mirrors my own process in high speed. I am the rocks on the mountains, the whispering birds and the bare-limbed trees in the dawn of my own becoming. The warmth of my own embodiment, a product of this last year’s work, is slowly awakening my inner world and I am beginning to see myself as a landscape with the potential to eventually fill out with oxygen giving leaves, frolicking animals and life sustaining fruits and flowers.

As I write this, the mountains are now aflame with a deep pink and I hear the sounds of the crows and jays calling to one another in their secret languages.

I have needed, still need, the time and space to dwell in my inner land of darkness. Intentionally allowing myself to live in my own long winter’s night is an achingly slow process; I cannot yet see my inner world, except in the glimpses I catch in glimmers and the now less frequent triggers. I imagine most of myself as still sleeping the vast unconsciousness of hibernation. Perhaps some aspects of myself thrive in this darkness because they can more easily move about unseen. But I know most of me needs the warmth and discernment that comes with light.

Perhaps the me I am familiar with as myself is the fox or owl who thrives while most others sleep. Some brave and small part of my greater whole has taken it in stride to be the sentinel who keeps watch through the long night; they pass the time by recalling stories, sharpening tools, protecting the village from roving animals and armed raiders and occasionally laughing at the darkness because they know it will not last forever. I have stood watch through a night that has lasted years. I know I have nodded off at times, only to awaken to find fences that were torn down by wild winds or pillagers. I feel exhausted from this long watch and dawn gives me hope that I will eventually have my day in the sun.

Trying to find my way forward during the pandemic

I was just beginning to get a grip on my life after moving and now everything has been thrown into chaos by the pandemic. The kids are home all the time, seemingly emotionally adjusted to the quarantine. I spent the first two weeks of the staying home oscillating between dissociation and panic with big feelings. It’s been almost a month and after a few days of monitoring my mental health, I’ve decided I’m depressed. I was developing new ways of coping and it was challenging before the pandemic. The neural pathways to the new coping mechanisms aren’t deep enough yet, haven’t been traveled enough times, and so I’ve reverted to my old ways.

Shut it all down.
Squelch any uncomfortable or scary feelings.

Try to focus on anything other than what’s causing disregulation.
Shut it down.

The old pathways are there and they are deep. But I can’t quite go softly into that good night. The part of me that was awakened by the trauma work I’ve been doing is fighting against the closedown. I’m in a strange in between place. I can use my old coping mechanisms without thinking but they no longer feel comfortable. I feel myself being pulled down by waves of unconsciousness but my head keeps popping up above the water and my mind is telling me to stop treading and swim.

I keep wondering if I should force myself to do things I used to enjoy. Should I trim my nails and pick up the ukulele, even though I’m not inclined to do so? Go for a walk, even though leaving the house creates a tremendous amount of anxiety about contracting COVID? Maybe I could spend a day coloring and binging Netflix once the boys go back to their dad’s place. None of it sounds appealing and what I need to do is make masks for the people I love so they can stay safer when they leave their homes. I feel so little control over my life right now and giving people masks helps me feel a sense of agency. And I do enjoy the routine of sewing the same thing over and over again. I can listen to my favorite podcasts and stay focused enough to make well crafted masks. The repetition is soothing.

When I check in with myself honestly, I feel like a tremoring bundle of raw nerves. The rage against the patriarchy and abusers lives just under the surface of my flat mood. Fear of contracting COVID or having a loved one get it, get very ill and/or die. The push and pull of wanting to sink back into old ways of being versus doing my best to walk a new path that honors my feelings and the reality of what’s happening. Perhaps I need to stick to soothing right now and see what happens.