Monday 2 December 2019

Leap of Faith with #PTSD

I've just sat down to work after watching my three youngest children at their regular climbing wall sessions. Watching children learn, develop and extend themselves never ceases to amaze me. As I walked around the zones, I chatted to a young girl who was waiting to do what is called, 'The Leap of Faith' - which requires, after roping up, jumping out to an aerial swing before being lowered down. Nervously, she shared with me that she had sweaty hands and was worried that as such, she would not be able to grip the swing. She reminded me of myself, of my own sweaty hands and fears. But of my being brave too. I climb mountains, swim in deep sea, and generally take new opportunities that push me beyond my perceived capabilities - over the years, this pushing through has taken the form of chairing a charity for which I organised major events and did fieldwork; running (small) companies; engaging in public speaking; doing an MA; writing and promoting books, writing, producing and directing plays and arts events - all these things terrify me but I nevertheless do them. With each endeavour fear rises up like Snowdon, and, face like flint, legs and belly like jelly - hands slick and a quiver too - I have to start climbing all over again. I've been fighting #fear all my life. This has sometimes made me quite scary, you have to be, to face fear down, or so I thought. I put on a smiley-face now, along with the brave one, which likely makes me look like a clown. I act like one too.

As a mother, I try very hard not to communicate any residual fear to my children (Will the fear, like oil reserves ever dry up? Will I ever be the sheik of shriek?) though I am still sometimes hypervigilant with them - hovering for instance, during risky stuff, like a demented beaky bird when I should just fly off and let them fly. I am still sometimes overly reactive if one of them falls over or cries out - their cries soon drowned by my own well-crafted ones; I try not to worry about them missing out in some way, as such I have to take off my Big Chief Interferer Bonnet on a regular basis; I manage worry when they are away or out of my 'control' with 'get a grip woman' talk - courtesy of my patient and statistical husband, or indeed myself - I have faith reserves that I can summon up, but this takes effort - like pumping breast milk in a restaurant behind a scarf; whereas the fear reserves spring up so easily instead, drawn as they are from vast reserves of deep pain and trauma laid down when I was little but built upon by the (actually, two) earthquakes I have been in, the (past) abusive relationships and the near death experiences I have had. It is always a battle not to look back, not to sorrow, not to regret, not to look down, but, face like flint, to drive forwards. Having a superhero disguised as an engineer for a husband helps. As for the four children - don't tell me there is no God.

I'm not sure of the exact cause, but I've suffered from #complexPTSD since I was a child.It could have started when my mother took us from Spain where we had been living, back to Zimbabwe where she told us we would never see my father again. Soon afterwards she introduced us to a stepfather who assaulted me violently on a number of occasions - the welts that grew on the inside were far worse than those on the outside of my girl's body. Or it could have been the sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother's sister's husband. A sensitive, artistic, truth-seeking child, I was not allowed to speak of these traumas, which in any case were denied. The fact that I spoke out about or reacted to what had happened in my family of origin meant that I was the object of more punishment, ostracisation and blame. Compounded by all the blame, #PTSD was my closest companion and my deepest shame. I still shake, and the small hands that used to pour sweat still get clammy on occasions. Given these events took place in an environment where I should have been cared for caused deep chasms of remembered trauma - painful events of the past were faultlines, as deeply grooved as African earth in the dry season. Trauma, pushed deeply into my body, nevertheless manifested in the present, throwing up migraines, vivid nightmares, extreme jumpiness and hypervigilance, that in my teens and twenties, developed into anxiety, depression, sleep and eating disorders and drug and alcohol dependency - having my eldest son put a full stop to penultimate thing 1 and mostly, thing 2 - though I'm best off avoiding those kinds of parties. Like long-gone fags, you always fancy one, but they're a smoking gun.

A master of disguise, and my actor father's daughter, I tried to hide all my symptoms, especially the shaking and the sweating, of which I was deeply ashamed; I took on the cloak of self-loathing that my parents and sister gave me and hid under it, disguised as many things, (you would never have guessed, oh how 'I' hid.) None of these guises of me were the bright, authentic, God-created/ive me, she only emerged years later after I began to escape. E'gads, perhaps she's not here yet lads. Get on your ponies and flee! My sister, who has been quite open about wanting to be the only daughter, delighted in provoking me and making me weep; she thought it was hysterical that I was so easy to terrify, and took great delight in scaring me in various ways; I was so satisfyingly and easily terrified to tears. I learnt quickly to try and hide any weaknesses. As I grew, I learnt coping mechanisms - humour became a tool - I fended people off by being sharp-tongued. Outside of the family I found comfort in friends and the families of friends, in unsuitable boyfriends. As a young adult I developed all the physical symptoms that come with complex PTSD, myriad physical symptoms, including an irregular heartbeat and digestive disorders. Nevertheless I was an intrepid adventurer, but let loose prematurely on the world and without any family lifeboats, I took risks, some of which nearly killed me. I learnt to be 'very strong', to never ask for help or money (from the age of fourteen I was earning my own money), not to trust people, to cope on my own, and to be wary of intimacy.

Until I took my own leap of faith and actually found a faith, not least, someone outside myself to trust, as well as my divine, ever-listening, ever-actually-hearing husband I did not begin to heal properly and to come to understand rather than ignore the confusing eruptions of PTSD. (Humorous Husband does so much hearing of me, that if I did not also make him laugh or talk politics and home-schooling and much else in-between, he might have thrown me out with the peelings.) I still manage my symptoms, but I did not seek help for PTSD specifically, nor fully understand what it was that I suffered from, until recent years when, having left my abusive family of origin a few years before I had to deal with them during a recent court case (which precipitated a phase of profound healing, beneath rock bottom - in those dark and scary fissures in my infant earth.) I only stopped 'being strong' when my mind and body finally reached their limit and began breaking down, only then did I get the specific and professional help I needed. Such is the armour that I have built up over the years that I still struggle to ask for help, even from those nearest and dearest. True healing lies, I believe, beyond the professionals, in my case, without and deeply within. Only we have the tools, 'they' can only do so much, though being able to voice things to my husband or close friends has helped enormously - and the occasional shrink though they're like gold dust, and often you have to do the gold-mining. My hands still sweat occasionally, as when I watch my own children climb a rock face or walk too close to a precipice, or even at sports days or when my daughter acts or sings or dances solo. They sweated slightly this morning - in memory or empathy with the young girl I was encouraging to jump - that girl who drew on her own reserve of faith and took the leap of faith. Her smile afterwards was sunshine to the soul.